BIGGLES IN AFRICA
by Captain W. E. Johns
VIII. SAVAGES (Pages 120 – 136)
Ginger comes round to find Biggles bandaging him. Ginger’s face has been badly cut by the knife thrown at him, but the cut isn’t deep. Biggles asks about the whereabouts of Sarda. Ginger points at the smoking remains of the rest-house. Ginger explains how he never intended to shoot Sarda but the gun went off when the knife was thrown at him. The building collapsed on Sarda before he could pull him clear. Biggles says “It may sound callous, but I’m no hypocrite, and I don’t mind telling you that I feel happier with him out of the way”. Ginger explains what happened to him and that the Puss Moth is about three miles away. Biggles is glad that he and Algy were only given dope and not poison. Biggles suspects Leroux gave Sarda the dope to put them out of action. His aircraft engine must have been playing up and he landed at their secret landing-ground to come back and steal their machine. Biggles, Algy and Ginger go out to the Puss Moth with tools from their kit, intending to repair it. They are able to confirm that it is Harry Marton’s machine. They can still see the original red dope under the exhaust pipe. Ginger suspects the fault was faulty lubrication and being a qualified ground engineer, he sets to work for an hour and a half on the plane. The cause of the trouble is a piece of cotton waste in an oil lead. As Ginger finishes the repair a line of “savage warriors” appear. “Nude except for a short skirt of leopard skin and a garter-like fringe of white hair bound below their knees, they fitted perfectly into the inhospitable landscape. All were armed with short-handled broad-bladed assagais”. (An assegai is a light spear made of wood with a flat iron blade. Johns spells the plural as “assAgais” but it is more often spelt “assEgais” with an ‘E’). but Biggles asks the warriors what they want. “What you make with my master’s aeroplane?” asks the leader of the warriors. “You go and tell your master that we’re taking his aeroplane to Insula, where he can have it just as soon as he brings my aeroplane back” says Biggles. “If you no give aeroplane, then we take it” declared the other impudently. “You insolent rascal; you talk to me like that and I’ll thrash the skin off your back. Be off, and sharp’s the word”. “The savage did not move a muscle”. “Did you hear me? Cried Biggles, in a voice that cut through the air like the crack of a whip. The savage stood his ground”. Biggles asks Ginger to get the rifle. “Perhaps you’ve heard it said that Englishmen always keep their word. Think hard on that, because in one minute by my watch I’m going to shoot at any one I see within spear-throw”. (In one minute by my watch I’m going to shoot at any one I see within spear-throw - is the illustration on page 131). The warriors back away until their leader finds himself alone. Then “he turned and followed the others in the slow, insolent, provocative manner sometimes employed by small children when made to do something against their will. Biggles’s eyes narrowed. “You cheeky swine,” he snarled, and throwing up the rifle, sent a shot whistling in the direction of the cause of his ire”. The native runs off. A distant hum of aero engines alerts them to the Dragon in the sky. Not wanting to be caught on the ground, Biggles and Algy clear a runway whilst Ginger starts their plane up. A spear hits the plane as Biggles and his friends try to take off, “he saw the savages closing in on the machine in a wild charge”. They have a hair-raising take off and Biggles looks for the Dragon. (To his surprise it was two or three miles away - is the frontispiece illustration taken from a line on page 134). Biggles decides to return to Insula to fill up their tanks with fuel. “Keep your eye on those n****rs and see which way they go when they move off. I’m going to Insula”. (This is the fourth Biggles book to feature the use of the very offensive “N” word by W. E. Johns. The word appears four times in this book, once in this chapter, “Savages” and then once in the next chapter, Chapter IX, “Biggles Sums Up” and twice in Chapter XI, “Crashed by a Rhino”. Of course, in its day, the word was in regular use and not considered offensive at all, otherwise it would not have appeared in a children’s book, where even mild expletives are watered down. The word remained in all Oxford editions of this book, however, as early as 1962, in the Armada paperback version, the word in this chapter was changed to “cut-throats”. In the last edition published in 1985, where the book is one of five books featured in THE BEST OF BIGGLES, a Chancellor Press Omnibus, the word was replaced with the word “fellows”).