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During that third week of May the situation in Baskul had become much worse and, on the 20th, AirForce machines arrived by arrangement from Peshawar toevacuate the white residents. These numbered about eighty,and most were safely transported across the mountains introop-carriers. A few miscellaneous aircraft were also employed,among them being a cabin machine lent by the Maharajahof Chandapore. In this, about 10 A.M., four passengersembarked: Miss Roberta Brinklow, of the Eastern Mission;Henry D. Barnard, an American; Hugh Conway, H.M. Consul;and Captain Charles Mallinson, H.M. Vice-Consul.
These names are as they appeared later in Indian andBritish newspapers.
Conway was thirty-seven. He had been at Baskul fortwo years, in a job which now, in the light of events,could be regarded as a persistent backing oft he wrong horse.A stage of his life was finished; in a few weeks' time, or perhapsafter a few months' leave in England, he would be sentsomewhere else. Tokyo or Teheran, Manila or Muscat; peoplein his profession never knew what was coming. He had beenten years in the Consular Service, long enough to assess hisown chances as shrewdly as he was apt to do those of others.He knew that the plums were not for him; but it was genuinelyconsoling, and not merely sour grapes, to reflect that hehad no taste for plums. He preferred the less formal and morepicturesque jobs that were on offer, and as these were oftennot good ones, it had doubtless seemed to others that he wasplaying his cards rather badly. Actually, he felt he had playedthem rather well; he had had a varied and moderately enjoyabledecade.
He was tall, deeply bronzed, with brown short cropped hairand slate-blue eyes. He was inclined to look severe and broodinguntil he laughed, and then (but it happened not so very often)he looked boyish. There was a slight nervous twitch nearthe left eye which was usually noticeable when he worked toohard or drank too much, and as he had been packing and destroyingdocuments throughout the whole of the day and nightpreceding the evacuation, the twitch was very conspicuouswhen he climbed into the aeroplane. He was tired out, andoverwhelmingly glad that he had contrived to be sent in themaharajah's luxurious air liner instead of in one of the crowded troop-carriers. He spread himself indulgently in thebasket seat as the plane soared aloft. He was the sort of manwho, being used to major hardships, expected minor comfortsby way of compensation. Cheerfully he might endure the rigorsof the road to Samarkand, but from London to Paris hewould spend his last tenner on the Golden Arrow.
It was after the flight had lasted more than an hour thatMallinson said he thought the pilot wasn't keeping a straightcourse. Mallinson sat immediately in front. He was a youngsterin his middle twenties, pink-cheeked, intelligent without beingintellectual, beset with public school limitations, but also withtheir excellences. Failure to pass an examination was the chiefcause of his being sent to Baskul, where Conway had had sixmonths of his company and had grown to like him.
But Conway did not want to make the effort that an aeroplaneconversation demands. He opened his eyes drowsily andreplied that whatever the course taken, the pilot presumablyknew best.
Half an hour later, when weariness and the drone of the enginehad lulled him nearly to sleep, Mallinson disturbed himagain. "I say, Conway, I thought Fenner was piloting us?"
"Well, isn't he?"
"The chap turned his head just now and I'll swear it wasn'the."
"It's hard to tell, through that glass panel."
"I'd know Fenner's face anywhere."
"Well, then, it must be some one else. I don't see that itmatters."
"But Fenner told me definitely that he was taking this machine."
"They must have changed their minds and given him one ofthe others."
"Well, who is this man, then?"
"My dear boy, how should I know? You don't suppose I'vememorized the face of every flight-lieutenant in the Air Force,do you?"
"I know a good many of them, anyway, but I don't recognizethis fellow."
"Then he must belong to the minority whom you don'tknow." Conway smiled and added: "When we arrive in Peshawarvery soon you can make his acquaintance and ask himall about himself."
"At this rate we shan't get to Peshawar at all. The man'sright off his course. And I'm not surprised, either -- flying sodamned high he can't see where he is."
Conway was not bothering. He was used to air travel, andtook things for granted. Besides, there was nothing particularhe was eager to do when he got to Peshawar, and no one particularhe was eager to see; so it was a matter of complete indifferenceto him whether the journey took four hours or six. Hewas unmarried; there would be no tender greetings on arrival.He had friends, and a few of them would probably take him tothe club and stand him drinks; it was a pleasant prospect, butnot one to sigh for in anticipation.
Nor did he sigh retrospectively, when he viewed the equallypleasant, but not wholly satisfying vista of the past decade. Changeable, fair intervals, becoming rather unsettled; it hadbeen his own meteorological summary during that time, aswell as the world's. He thought of Baskul, Pekin, Macao, andother places -- he had moved about pretty often. Remotest ofall was Oxford, where he had had a couple of years of donhoodafter the War, lecturing on Oriental History, breathing dust insunny libraries, cruising down the High on a push-bicycle. Thevision attracted, but did not stir him; there was a sense in whichhe felt that he was still a part of all that he might have been ...Lost Horizon
A Novel. Copyright © by James Hilton. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from Lost Horizon by James Hilton
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