BIGGLES – AIR COMMODORE
by Captain W. E. Johns
XIV. WHERE IS THE SEAFRET? (Pages 199 – 215)
As the day is fast dawning, Biggles and Ginger set off along the beach, keeping as close to the jungle as possible. Where it meets the sea, the vegetation curves round to meet the sea and they have to force a way through the undergrowth. Reaching high ground, they see the dinghy on the sand just around the headland. They make their way to it and find it undamaged with the oars still in place. Biggles says he is tempted to go and have a look at the cliff where the submarine came out. “There must be a cave or a hidden creek there”. Rowing to the right place, they find nothing and Ginger is embarrassed. Biggles rows back to their original starting point for their mission, behind the islet. “Don’t forget that this place is alive with octopuses,” warned Ginger. “Don’t you mean octopi?” suggested Biggles. “What does it matter?” protested Ginger. “Had you been here last night and seen them you wouldn’t have stopped to consult your pocket dictionary, I’ll bet”. They decide to haul the dinghy ashore and pass the day in the shade of a mass of rock at the higher end of the islet. Biggles is sceptical about the submarine. “The fact is, you didn’t see a submarine at all; you only thought you saw one,” concluded Biggles. The day passes and then they are disturbed by an aero engine. A seaplane suddenly takes off. Biggles is amazed. “Seaplane! You didn’t see a seaplane – you only thought you saw one,” mocked Ginger, getting his own back for Biggles’s gibe earlier in the day. The plane scouts around then returns to the cliff. Night begins to draw in. Biggles says he is going to look at the cliff again. Rowing the dinghy round to the cliff, this time they see a cave. The cave is only exposed at low tide. It was high water when they went round that morning. Biggles and Ginger decide to meet with Sullivan at the pre-planned rendezvous and row there and wait in pitch darkness. Time passes and it soon becomes clear that the destroyer isn’t coming. Eventually, they hear a marine aircraft taxi-ing over water. “It’s an aircraft, and if it isn’t Algy we shall shortly be in the cart – up salt creek without a paddle, as the sailors say”. (I imagine the sailors actually say it slightly differently). Biggles lets out a hail and Algy’s call answers immediately. “Where’s the Seafret?” asks Biggles. “She was torpedoed this morning – at least, that’s what it looked like”. Biggles turned stone cold. “Good heavens!” he ejaculated. “Was she sunk?” “No, Sullivan managed to beach her”. The Seafret had been in the little bay at Hastings Island. No lives were lost. Algy was sent to fetch Biggles and Ginger. Biggles thinks quickly. He tells Algy about the hidden base on the eastern side of Elephant Island that they have discovered. Biggles asks Algy to remain by the islets with their aircraft “but don’t get too close to the rock or you may find an octopus in the cabin when you go to take off”. Biggles says he and Ginger will go and explore the cave by dinghy. “More direct methods will be demanded to hoist them skyward, but until we know just what we’ve got to destroy it is difficult to know how to apply them”. Using the dinghy, they tow the Nemesis into place. Algy hands Biggles a torch. “Two hours later he embarked on one of the most desperate adventures of his career”.