PROLOGUE Cigars had burned low, and we were beginning to sample the disillusionment that usually afflicts old school friends who have met again as men and found themselves with less in common than they had believed they had. Rutherford wrote novels; Wyland was one of the Embassy secretaries; he had just given us dinner at Tempelhof—not very cheerfully, I fancied, but with the equanimity which a diplomat must always keep on tap for such occasions. It seemed likely that nothing but the fact of being three celibate Englishmen in a foreign capital could have brought us together, and I had already reached the conclusion that the slight touch of priggishness which I remembered in Wyland Tertius had not diminished with years and an M. Rutherford I liked more; he had ripened well out of the skinny, precocious infant whom I had once alternately bullied and patronized. The probability that he was making much more money and having a more interesting life than either of us gave Wyland and me our one mutual emotion—a touch of envy. The evening, however, was far from dull.
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PROLOGUE Cigars had burned low, and we were beginning to sample the disillusionment that usually afflicts old school friends who have met again as men and found themselves with less in common than they had believed they had. Rutherford wrote novels; Wyland was one of the Embassy secretaries; he had just given us dinner at Tempelhof—not very cheerfully, I fancied, but with the equanimity which a diplomat must always keep on tap for such occasions. It seemed likely that nothing but the fact of being three celibate Englishmen in a foreign capital could have brought us together, and I had already reached the conclusion that the slight touch of priggishness which I remembered in Wyland Tertius had not diminished with years and an M.
Rutherford I liked more; he had ripened well out of the skinny, precocious infant whom I had once alternately bullied and patronized. The probability that he was making much more money and having a more interesting life than either of us gave Wyland and me our one mutual emotion—a touch of envy.
The evening, however, was far from dull. We had a good view of the big Lufthansa machines as they arrived at the aerodrome from all parts of Central Europe, and towards dusk, when arc flares were lighted, the scene took on a rich, theatrical brilliance.
One of the planes was English, and its pilot, in full flying kit, strolled past our table and saluted Wyland, who did not at first recognize him. When he did so there were introductions all around, and the stranger was invited to join us. He was a pleasant, jolly youth named Sanders. Wyland made some apologetic remark about the difficulty of identifying people when they were all dressed up in Sibleys and flying helmets; at which Sanders laughed and answered: "Oh, rather, I know that well enough.
Sanders made an attractive addition to our small company, and we all drank a great deal of beer together. I know the place slightly. What was it you were referring to that happened there? Most impudent thing I ever heard of. The blighter waylaid the pilot, knocked him out, pinched his kit, and climbed into the cockpit without a soul spotting him.
Gave the mechanics the proper signals, too, and was up and away in fine style. The trouble was, he never came back. We were evacuating civilians from Baskul to Peshawar owing to the revolution—perhaps you remember the business.
The Indian Survey people had been using it for high-altitude flights in Kashmir. That was the queer part about it. Of course, if the fellow was a tribesman he might have made for the hills, thinking to hold the passengers for ransom.
I suppose they all got killed, somehow. There are heaps of places on the frontier where you might crash and not be heard of afterwards.
How many passengers were there? Three men and some woman missionary. Rutherford nodded. Then he said: "It was never in the papers, or I think I should have read about it. How was that? It was hushed up, you see—I mean, about the way the thing happened.
The government people merely gave out that one of their machines was missing, and mentioned the names. It was plain that he was reconciling the claims of compatriot courtesy and official rectitude. I always thought you air fellows were put on your honor not to tell tales out of school.
I was at Peshawar at the time, and I can assure you of that. Did you know Conway well—since school days, I mean? Did YOU come across him much? He had a most exciting university career—until war broke out.
Rowing Blue and a leading light at the Union and prizeman for this, that, and the other—also I reckon him the best amateur pianist I ever heard. Amazingly many-sided fellow, the kind, one feels, that Jowett would have tipped for a future premier. Yet, in point of fact, one never heard much about him after those Oxford days.
Of course the war cut into his career. He was very young and I gather he went through most of it. Then I believe he went back to Oxford for a spell as a sort of don.
His Oriental languages got him the job without any of the usual preliminaries. He had several posts. History will never disclose the amount of sheer brilliance wasted in the routine decoding F. It was evident that he did not care for the chaff, and he made no protest when, after a little more badinage of a similar kind, Rutherford rose to go. In any case it was getting late, and I said I would go, too.
I was catching a transcontinental train at a very dismal hour of the early morning, and, as we waited for a taxi, Rutherford asked me if I would care to spend the interval at his hotel. He had a sitting room, he said, and we could talk. I said it would suit me excellently, and he answered: "Good.
But he was extraordinarily kind to me on one occasion. I was a new boy and there was no earthly reason why he should have done what he did.
I have often found since then that others who met Conway, even quite formally and for a moment, remembered him afterwards with great vividness. He was certainly remarkable as a youth, and to me, who had known him at the hero-worshipping age, his memory is still quite romantically distinct.
He was tall and extremely good-looking, and not only excelled at games but walked off with every conceivable kind of school prize. A rather sentimental headmaster once referred to his exploits as "glorious," and from that arose his nickname. Perhaps only he could have survived it. He gave a Speech Day oration in Greek, I recollect, and was outstandingly first-rate in school theatricals.
There was something rather Elizabethan about him—his casual versatility, his good looks, that effervescent combination of mental with physical activities. Something a bit Philip-Sidney-ish. I suppose some people must have called Conway that, people like Wyland, for instance. And the complete head-prefectorial mind, did you notice it? But, then, I always fall foul of these sahib diplomats. It was a peculiar experience for me, hearing Sanders tell that story about the affair at Baskul.
It was part of a much more fantastic story, which I saw no reason to believe at all, or well, only one very slight reason, anyway. And yet It would be like trying to sell an epic poem to Tit-Bits. As we went up to the fifth floor he said: "All this is mere beating about the bush. In the corridor a few seconds later I responded: "Are you sure of that?
How do you know? I had been visiting a friend in Hankow and was returning by the Pekin express. On the train I chanced to get into conversation with a very charming Mother Superior of some French sisters of charity.
She was traveling to Chung-Kiang, where her convent was, and, because I knew a little French, she seemed to enjoy chattering to me about her work and affairs in general. The point is that this lady, talking to me about the mission hospital at Chung-Kiang, mentioned a fever case that had been brought in some weeks back, a man who they thought must be a European, though he could give no account of himself and had no papers.
His clothes were native, and of the poorest kind, and when taken in by the nuns he had been very ill indeed. He spoke fluent Chinese, as well as pretty good French, and my train companion assured me that before he realized the nationality of the nuns, he had also addressed them in English with a refined accent.
We joked about these and other matters, and it ended by her inviting me to visit the mission if ever I happened to be thereabouts. This, of course, seemed then as unlikely as that I should climb Everest, and when the train reached Chung-Kiang I shook hands with genuine regret that our chance contact had come to an end.
As it happened, though, I was back in Chung-Kiang within a few hours. The train broke down a mile or two further on, and with much difficulty pushed us back to the station, where we learned that a relief engine could not possibly arrive for twelve hours.
So there was half a day to be lived through in Chung-Kiang—which made me decide to take the good lady at her word and call at the mission. I suppose one of the hardest things for a non-Catholic to realize is how easily a Catholic can combine official rigidity with non-official broad-mindedness. Is that too complicated? Anyhow, never mind, those mission people made quite delightful company.
Afterwards, he and the Mother Superior took me to see the hospital, of which they were very proud. I had told them I was a writer, and they were simpleminded enough to be aflutter at the thought that I might put them all into a book. We walked past the beds while the doctor explained the cases. The place was spotlessly clean and looked to be very competently run. I had forgotten all about the mysterious patient with the refined English accent till the Mother Superior reminded me that we were just coming to him.
It was true; his accent was educated. He was Conway. Fortunately I acted on the impulse of the moment. There was an odd little twitching of the facial muscles that I had noticed in him before, and he had the same eyes that at Balliol we used to say were so much more of a Cambridge blue than an Oxford. Of course the doctor and the Mother Superior were greatly excited.
They agreed, in a rather amazed way, and we had a long consultation about the case. When I told him quite frankly who I was and who he was, he was docile enough not to argue about it. He was quite cheerful, even, in a vague sort of way, and seemed glad enough to have my company. It was a little unnerving, that apparent lack of any personal desire.
James Hilton: Der verlorene Horizont
Rutherford kennt Conway aus gemeinsamer Studentenzeit in Oxford. Dort sei Conway dem Tode nahe und in einem Zustand der Amnesie eingeliefert worden. Rutherford hielt Conways Erlebnisse in einem Manuskript fest. Damit beginnt die eigentliche Handlung des Romans, nun im Stil eines Augenzeugenberichtes. Conway ergreift die Initiative, wird jedoch vom Piloten unvermittelt mit einer Pistole bedroht. Der junge chinesische Pilot kommt dabei ums Leben, kann aber dem polyglotten Conway vorher noch auf Mandarin sagen, dass sie nicht weit von einem Ort namens Shangri-La entfernt seien.
Der verlorene Horizont