by Captain W. E. Johns



XI.           WHAT HAPPENED TO ALGY  (Pages 145 – 158)


After watching Biggles and the others depart, Algy had cleaned his rifle to kill time but the time passed slowly.  Once a distant echo reached his ears but it was so faint he could not make it out (presumably this was the three shots fired by Biggles).  When the sun sinks, Algy’s anxiety turns to alarm.  He climbs the nearest hill and shouts for them but to no avail.  Hours pass.  Eventually, he hears a sound and grabbing his rifle, Algy goes off to investigate.  He sees, two or three miles away, a long line of camels, a caravan!  Algy is in a dilemma.  Should he try to contact the caravan or let an opportunity pass that may not be repeated?  What if they are hostile Tuareg?  He decides on a compromise, following the caravan until he can find out who the riders are.  It is while he is creeping round a buttress of rocks that he finds a lance.  It is buried deeply, with sand silted up around it and little more than the point protruding.  “He did not know, of course, that the weapon he was feeling had once belonged to Mazeus, son of Hystomannus; or that his was the first hand to touch it since that fatal night, more than two thousand five hundred years before, when the haboob had overtaken Cambyses’ army.  But he remembered vaguely what Kadar had said about a lance, and realized that by an amazing chance he had stumbled on the same weapon”.  Leaving it behind, Algy follows the caravan and is able to get close.  He sees the night riders are Tuareg.  The camels are heavily loaded and one has a distinctive white stocking on a near foreleg that Algy recalls seeing when Kadar had bought camels for his caravan.  These Tuareg must be the ones who attacked their caravan and killed everybody, making off with their stores.  “What ought he to do?  What would Biggles do in such circumstances?”  Algy follows them for “hour after hour” until they make camp.  Algy watches with astonishment as one Arab picks up a two-gallon petrol can and drinks from it.  “Incredible though it appeared, the ignorant savages were actually drinking petrol” (a footnote adds that “drinking petrol is a very common practice with native races in many parts of the world”).  Algy recognises Zarwan and Algy then sets off at a trot back to the aircraft in the hope that Biggles in there and he can inform him.  “They were not there.  They were, it will be recalled, just bursting out of the tombs of the dead, pursued by the bats, but, of course, he knew nothing about that”.  Exhausted, Algy “flung himself down to rest, and to think”.