by Captain W. E. Johns



XIV.                A HOPELESS PROSPECT  (Pages 185 – 194)


“Surely this crowd couldn’t have been in the village when we were up there?” said Algy, as they marched along.  “It’s all a mystery to me,” declared Biggles.  “How they managed to keep themselves hidden until the crucial moment is more than I can imagine”.  Kadar thinks they were at some place beyond the village “and the old hag went and fetched them”.  Kadar thinks they are the descendants of Cambyses’ army.  “How else could they get their white skins?  At least, if they are not white, they are nearly white.  They are certainly not Arabs”.  “I don’t care two hoots about the colour of their skins,” muttered Biggles.  “It is the way they are likely to behave that matters.  They can be Persians, Chinese, Eskimos, Red Indians, or anything else, as far as I am concerned, so long as they don’t try any funny tricks”.  They cross over a drawbridge that passes over a moat and see that it contains a writhing tangle of snakes.  They are then taken to an important-looking building and taken up a long winding flight of stairs where Biggles, Algy, Ginger and Kadar are all locked in a small room lighted by a single square window.  There is a seventy or eighty foot drop to the ground.  They are bought food and water and Kadar tries speaking to the arrivals in several languages but to no avail.  Kadar writes something down to show them and one of the men takes his pencil to write something below it.  After they have left, Kadar looks at the writing and concludes the people are Persians.  He thinks that characters of two words may be interpreted as “sacrifice” and “crocodile”.  Out of the window they watch a torchlight procession coming from the entrance to the village.  It is led by the old hag and they recognise Zarwan.  It goes to the oasis; there is a commotion and then silence.  “I should say that human sacrifice to the crocodile is an ancient religious rite with these people, as it was with other desert tribes years ago,” observed Kadar quietly.  Biggles wishes he had shot the crocodile when he had the chance.  They try to get some sleep and a dozing Ginger slips sideways so his head rests on Biggles leg.  Biggles smokes his last remaining piece of cigarette.