BIGGLES FLIES WEST
By Captain W. E. Johns
First Published September 1937
“The moon is up, the stars are bright,
The wind is fresh and free;
We’re out to seek for gold to-night,
Across the silver sea.
The world was growing grey and old;
Break out the sails again!
We’re out to see a realm of gold,
Beyond the Spanish Main.
Alfred Noyes: Drake
List of illustrations – Page 8 (Frontispiece by Howard Leigh and six illustrations by Alfred Sindall on pages 41, 99, 135, 149, 191 and 241. There is also a map drawn by Dick’s father on page 67 and between pages 50 and 51 there are photographs of the front and rear of a doubloon and a piece of eight belonging to W. E. Johns himself)
PROLOGUE (Pages 9 - 29)
This prologue is one of Johns few historical prologues and is split into three parts.
I. Murder on the Main (Pages 9 - 15)
Louis Dakeyne, a half French, half Dutch fierce and deadly pirate in his prize stolen Spanish ship, "Santa Anna" has captured the ‘Rose of Bristol’. Dakeyne has a fearsome reputation as he “spared neither man nor maid, or old or young of any nationality”. The crew of the Rose have been in a fight to the death with the pirates and only their Captain, John Chandler, has been taken alive after being clubbed down. He is flogged for information but won’t talk. Now they are executing the Captain by making him walk the plank, with his hands tied behind his back he walks towards a watery grave. Before his dies, Chandler turns and tells the pirates that on board his ship is a cursed gold doubloon; that a pirate called Joseph Bawn, who was hanged at Port Royal “this day last week”, had spat upon three times just prior to hanging and cursed every one into whose hands the gold doubloon should fall. This curse has led to Chandler's own fate. Chandler says “With my last breath I beseech my God to strengthen now that curse until - ”. Dakeyne’s pistol blazes and he shoots Chandler dead, his body falling into the sea. The pirates see an albatross and then an approaching storm. “All hands aloft” cries the quartermaster, Jamacia Joe (the incorrect spelling of ‘Jamacia’ in the first edition and all flying jacket editions is corrected to Jamaica Joe in the Hampton hardback reprint and all paperback reprints).
II. The Curse (Pages 15 - 27)
“In setting down the disasters that befell the Santa Anna following immediately after the murder of Captain John Chandler, it is not suggested that these were caused directly by the sacrilegious words of a drunken buccaneer on the scaffold at Port Royal, but that they were the indirect cause is certain. There is no question about the incident happening. We know from the famous chronicles of Exquemelin, (Alexandre Exquemelin c1645 - 1707) the surgeon who served under the most notorious pirate captains, including the celebrated Morgan, and who afterwards wrote an account of his adventures, that Joseph Bawn was a pirate of the most villainous type”. Bawn was hanged at Port Royal in January 1689 and Sir John Modyford, Governor of Jamaica at that time, refers to the condemned pirate’s frightful curse in a letter to Lord Arlington, Secretary of State to Charles II’s ‘Cabal Cabinet’. (That name is an acronym formed from the names of the five privy councillors, Clifford, Arlington, Buckingham, Ashley and Lauderdale, who formed the Council’s Committee for Foreign Affairs). Disasters befall the crew of the "Santa Anna". Struck by a hurricane for seven days, nine men are killed. The crew split into two parties, those who wish to jettison the treasure with the curse doubloon in it and those who side with the Captain and want to keep it. Dakeyne's party kill the other half. “Dakeyne and his adherents crept upon them with loaded muskets and delivered such a volley that half of them fell dead or dying. The rest were easily dispatched”. When one sailor notices a patch of what looks like white dust on the back of the Captain's hand, they think he has the plague and the remains of the crew desert, leaving Dakeyne to sail the ship alone. The deserting crew are picked up by a Spanish ship and are all hanged. Dakeyne sails into another storm and unable to control the ship alone just goes to his cabin to await his fate. He awakes to find the ship has run aground inside what appears to be a land locked harbour, having drifted through a narrow channel between high rocks. Dakeyne hides the treasure. “He set to work with commendable method and determination, but he had neither the time nor inclination to dig a hole; instead, he selected a depression in the rocks, a hole large enough to take perhaps two or three casks lying one on top of another, and into this he began to pour the coins. He did not like the idea of handling the gold, and he looked at the minted pieces suspiciously as he scooped them into the piece of canvas he was using as a carrier; but his heart grew lighter with each load he carried, hoping that the treacherous piece was already in the hole”. Dakeyne then settles down to draw a map as to its location and is alarmed to hear and see a snow-white albatross. He goes to shoot it but it flies away. He props his loaded pistol up by a heavy church candlestick. Suddenly a doubloon drops out of the folds of his silken doublet having got caught up on him when he transferred the treasure. “He knew what it was. He did not know how he knew, but he knew. Knew that the one coin that had slipped out of the canvas carrier was THE coin. The doubloon to which still clung the dying pirate’s curse”. His trembling hand on the desk causes his gun to fall and it goes off, killing him. He falls across his desk and his body is to remain there undisturbed and in silence for two hundred and fifty years.
III. Time Marches On (Pages 27 - 29)
As the years pass, the rocks by the harbours narrow mouth cave in leaving the ship land locked. The masts collapse and the creeping jungle slowly covers the entire ship to such an extent that it can't be seen. Time moves on, ships call for water. A shipwrecked mariner is cast away on the island for a year and after rescue will die a pauper’s death, not knowing that once he had made a frugal meal within a yard of enough doubloons to pay a prince’s ransom. King and Queen’s of England come and go. Then during the reign of George the Sixth a running sailor tries to hide in the little dell of green moss only to have rotting timbers collapse beneath his weight. “Thus was the silence broken”.