by Captain W. E. Johns



II.            DOWN THE AFRICAN TRAIL  (Pages 26 – 44)


(On page 27 there is a map of Western Europe and Africa showing the Imperial Airways Routes from London to Cape Town – Interestingly, this is based on a real Imperial Airways map that used to hang in W. E. Johns office and that very same map now hangs over the desk where I type this as I purchased it from Sotheby’s in an auction of Johns personal letters and paperwork).

Ten days later, a Dragon Moth lands in Malakal in Central Africa.  Biggles, with Algy and Ginger, have followed the Imperial route all the way, the same as Harry Marton.  Biggles chats with a local engineer called Harker but finds out little information.  Our heroes then fly to Insula and Biggles’ advice to his comrades is “if it becomes necessary to mention young Marton, leave it to me.  Eyes open and mouths shut is our motto”.  They meet the “fellow in charge of the aerodrome”, a man called Luke Sarda.  Ginger takes one look at Sarda and says “I should say he’s the sort of bloke who would stab his blind grandmother for her money-box”.  “As Ginger had observed, if appearances were anything to go by the man looked capable of any vice or crime.  In the first place he was clearly a half-breed, with the black predominant, although his hair was long and straight.  His mouth was large, with loose lips, from a corner of which a ghastly scar ran transversely across his face to the opposite side of the forehead, straight across the right eye – or rather, the socket where it should have been”.  Biggles says they are there to make a report on the aerodrome for the government.  Sarda does his best to put Biggles off from staying there by telling him of the fever and disease present.  Biggles asks in passing if this is the place where Marton landed before his disappeared.  “Biggles caught Sarda’s eyes (? Johns has just told us he only had one!) on him, and what he saw in them sent a cold shiver down his spine”.  Biggles says they are going to stay a day or two.  Sarda sees a centipede on the wall of their hut and skilfully throws a heavy knife at it, pinning it to the wall.  When Sarda leaves, Biggles tells the others that Sarda is a liar.  He said there hadn’t been a plane there for six months, but fresh engine oil outside the hangar has come from an aircraft within the last two days.  They clear their hut up as best they can and settle down for the night listening to the noises of the wildlife of Africa.  Biggles says to Ginger “I don’t know any more about them than you do, except hyenas and jackals, and we’ve seen plenty of them, haven’t we, Algy?  Algy nodded.  “Too many,” he answered moodily”.  When a series of ghastly chuckles and gurgles alarm Ginger, he asks “What in the name of goodness is that?”.  “Hyenas,” replied Biggles laconically.  “If you say “what’s that” again, I’ll throw you out to them”.