BIGGLES FLIES WEST
By Captain W. E. Johns
I. AN UGLY CUSTOMER (Pages 31 - 46)
“Through the fog-frosted glass of his attic window Dick Denver stared with unseeing eyes at the muddy waters of the River Thames as it surged sullenly through the grey November murk towards the sea”. Dick Denver, is aged fifteen and he is sad having heard “the Seadream has made her last voyage and his father would come home no more”. He has never known his mother and the woman who did look after him when his father was away at sea died when he was thirteen. Since then he has fended for himself, living in a tiny attic in Wapping, which his father shared when home. He first read of the wreck of the Seadream in one of the papers he had been selling. Then he heard that his father was one of two or three survivors in hospital in Boston, America. Then weeks of silence had ended an hour ago when Dick was visited by an unknown sailor with a letter for him from his father. The sailor had informed Dick that he found his father, Jack Denver, bleeding to death from a knife wound to his back and the sailor had promised to deliver a letter to Dick at Number 1, Bride's Alley, Wapping, Port of London. Dick, now alone, can't face reading the letter and is contemplating it when he hears footsteps coming up to his attic room. Dick drops the letter amongst some unsold papers. A mysterious stranger arrives. “There was something so sinister in his manner and appearance that, prompted by an acute instinct of self-preservation, Dick recoiled backward into the room”. “In stature he was short, but broad, and obviously of great physical strength, an impression that was emphasized by arms that hung nearly down to his knees, like those of a gorilla. Indeed, he was not unlike a great ape, for the backs of his hands, now slowly opening and closing, were covered with downy red hair. His face, like his body, was short and broad, with a wide, thin-lipped mouth that was not improved by a large, semi-circular scar, like a crescent moon, at one corner. His eyebrows, the same colour as the hair on his hands, were straight, shaggy, and hung far over his little restless eyes. A greasy blue jersey covered his powerful torso and suggested that he was a sea-faring man”. The man asks if Joe Dawkin has been there and if he has bought Dick a letter. The man wants the letter and threatens Dick with a knife. Dick smashes a window with a chair and screams for help. Dick then dodges the man’s arm and flees for his life. In the street outside, he bumps in Biggles (who makes his first appearance in the book on page 38). Biggles is introduced from Dick's point of view and first referred to as "the one the others had called Biggles". With him are Algy and Ginger. They go to Dick's attic loft and Biggles kicks open the locked door. (Enter Biggles - is the illustration on page 41). The man appears to have just found the letter as it is in his hand (unopened). “What are you doing in this lad’s room?” asked Biggles sharply. “That’s no business of yourn,” growled the other, scowling. “I’m sorry to disappoint you, my friend, but I happen to have made it my business,” rapped out Biggles coldly, “Put that letter down”. “Are you looking for trouble, Mr. Nosey Parker?” asks the man. Biggles says he doesn’t “want to make this a police court job any more than you do”. Biggles sends Ginger for a policeman and offers the stranger the chance to put the letter down, the knife in his pocket, and go, otherwise “I’ll see to it that you are clapped somewhere where you won’t be able to make a nuisance of yourself for a long time to come. We don’t stand for robbery with violence in this country, as you’ll soon learn to your cost. Now then, make up your mind. Which is it going to be?” Hearing a policeman arrive, the man threatens “I’ll remember you the next time I see you, my cock. Maybe you won’t chirp so loud then”. “We’ll talk about chirping when that time comes,” replied Biggles coolly. The policeman arrives and Biggles declines to press any charges and the man leaves. “Biggles puts his hand in his pocket and slipped something into the policeman’s palm”. “Sorry I had to trouble you”, he said softly. “Much obliged for your assistance, but everything is all right now, I think”. “Thank you, sir. Glad I could be of service”. (It seems rather strange to a modern reader that Biggles effectively tips the policeman with money). Biggles asks Dick if there is somewhere they “can tear a plate of crumpets to pieces” and Dick suggests the “Jolly Shipmates” coffee tavern. They set off for a meal.