BIGGLES IN AFRICA
by Captain W. E. Johns
XII. THE SNAKE IN THE GRASS (Pages 171 – 195)
They awake the following morning “stiff but clear-headed, and refreshed by a sleep that not even the inhospitable conditions of the hut could deny them”. They hide their kit bags, rather than carry them, by hanging them from trees out of sight in the forest using wires from the Puss Moth. Biggles spends sometime searching around the western side of the hut for the telephone wire and he then finds the receiver in a wooden box at the foot of a tree, half covered by leaves. They then follow the telephone wire towards their objective. The wire initially follows the southern boundary of the forest and then after several miles across outcrops of grey stone until they finally merged in an extensive range of mountains. Biggles says “Lack of water is going to worry us more than the food shortage, and I think it is extremely unlikely that we shall find water this side of those mountains; the colour of the vegetation would probably reveal it if there were any, and I don’t see a spot of green anywhere”. “For hours they marched while the sun climbed high into the heavens and tortured them with burning rays of white light that dried the perspiration on their skins as quickly as it formed”. They continue on and on. “Ginger in particular was suffering severely, but not for the world would he have admitted it”. Eventually Biggles turns away from following the telephone wire when he sees a game path which he hopes will lead to water. They are soon in a state of near collapse. “Stick it, chaps, we can’t be far (a)way (the letter ‘a’ is missing in the first edition) from water now” Biggles says encouragingly. “But his heart was sick with anxiety, for he knew that in all their travels they had never been in such a desperate plight”. They find a small pool of stagnant foul water and drink deeply. Biggles finds a dead zebra that has recently been killed by a lion and they eat some of that, cooked over a fire that they start. They then find a place in the rocks to spend the night, each taking a watch to keep look out. Ginger is given the first watch “which is usually reckoned to be the easiest”.
Ginger is soon under attack from mosquitoes. “Suddenly he stiffened and his mouth grew dry with horror as a dreadful uproar broke out somewhere below him. It began with a ferocious, snarling roar that was instantly drowned in a shrill scream of mortal terror”. The noise wakes Biggles up. They light a fire to try and drive away the mosquitoes. They can hear what they assume to be a lion “slobbering about in the blood of the wretched creature it has just killed”. Much to Ginger’s consternation, Biggles goes to get more brushwood for the fire. Ginger wakes Algy to tell him what is going on. Biggles sets off and steps on a coiled python which wraps itself round him. Ginger and Algy run to his rescue and together they fight the snake off. They return to their camp. Biggles has changed his mind about getting firewood. They change their guard system to having two people awake whilst one sleeps for an hour before swapping positions. They then settled down for the second time to pass the night.