BIGGLES FLIES WEST
By Captain W. E. Johns
V. UNEXPECTED DIFFICULTIES (Pages 82 - 97)
Nearly a month later, Biggles, Algy, Ginger and Dick are flying at five thousand feet over a sapphire sea, with jungle to the right, stretching to the horizon. It had taken them a fortnight to clear up their affairs and make the necessary arrangements in London, which had included the acquisition of the necessary passports, visas and carnets. (A footnote tells us “A private aeroplane cannot just travel about the world from country to country as some people suppose. Before flying over a foreign country a pilot must first obtain permission in writing from the Government of that country. It will be understood, therefore, that when several countries are involved, the preparations for a long-distance flight are often a tedious and tiresome process, although the aero clubs of the countries concerned do their best to expedite permits and provide facilities”). Nearly a week had been spent crossing the Atlantic, and then several more days of bustle and anxiety in the United States while Biggles sought an aircraft suitable for their purpose. In the end he had selected a Sikorsky amphibian, four-seater, twin-engined monoplane with a large luggage compartment. Biggles had also insisted on taking a collapsible rubber boat in case of an emergency landing. Our heroes land at the island harbour of Marabina and a boat pulls alongside containing an official, “a dark-skinned, pompous-looking little man” speaking Spanish. Biggles says “We had better go with this fellow or we may get into trouble. The smaller the place the bigger idea the officials have of their importance; at least that’s my experience. And the more native blood white people get into their systems the more delight in letting people like ourselves see that they are as good as we are”. “Aren’t these people white?” asked Dick, in a rather surprised tone. “About one in a hundred are pure white,” returned Biggles, as he prepared to follow the boat. “It’s the same in all these Central American towns. After the great days of Spanish colonization were over in these parts the settlers seemed to go to pieces, and now they are so mixed up with the natives and the negroes, who were originally imported from Africa as slaves, that it's hard to tell which are white, which are half and half, and which are natives. Most of them are a mixture of the lot, as you can see from the colour of their skins, which can be any shade between black and white". (After the words “that’s my experience”, the rest of this passage about race is cut out of the Red Fox reprint published in 1996). Taken into a customs office, they meet a “swarthy, cadaverous-looking man, with two armed policemen in attendance”. Biggles greets him politely and the greeting is returned rather coldly. The official examines their passports “with irritating slowness”. “Do you speak English?” Biggles asks him quite nicely. The man at the desk takes no notice. Biggles glanced at the others. “In a case like this the great thing is to keep one’s temper,” he said, sotto voce (in a quiet voice). “I have an increasing suspicion that this fellow is going to be awkward”. Biggles can speak in halting Spanish but the official pours out a stream of words every time Biggles speaks. “As far as I can make out, he says there should be another paper which we haven’t got”. Biggles and his comrades find themselves locked up. Biggles suspects they will be accused of some technical offence just so they can be fined, which will probably go in the official’s pocket. – “not that one can altogether blame them, because it’s their only source of income”. “I’d see him to the dickens before I’d stand for being blackmailed,” protested Ginger indignantly. Biggles smiled sadly. “In these little tinpot states, particularly in Central and South America, the best policy is to pay up and look pleasant,” he said evenly. “Otherwise it only costs you more in the end, to say nothing of the delay”. Time passes and Algy gets angry. “Come on, Biggles, let’s raise a stink” he says. Biggles looks out of a window and sees his amphibian aircraft being searched. Policemen enter their cell and they are told that an American aeroplane has been stolen, so they have to submit to being searched. Biggles money is in letters of credit and travellers’ cheques “so they won’t be able to rob us of much”. “After that they submitted to the indignity of being searched, a proceeding that was carried out very thoroughly. Everything was taken from their pockets, including the map of the island and Dick’s doubloon”. Biggles on looking out of the barred window of their holding room sees “our friend of the cadaverous face” walking with Deutch. It all becomes clear as to why they are being held and have had their possessions taken off them. Biggles says that the treasure map will do Deutch no good as Biggles altered it, just in case it fell into enemy hands. Everyone settles for the night “in the least uncomfortable positions they could find”.