by Captain W. E. Johns



XIV.                        NATURE TAKES A HAND  (Pages 149 - 161)


Biggles can't find any other way out of the loft so he starts trying to cut through the loft cover to open the catch.  Stitzen hears noises in the loft and sends von Stalhein up to investigate.  Von Stalhein opens the loft cover and scans his torch to the right.  Biggles raises hit foot and thrust it into the middle of von Stalhein's back sending him flying.  Biggles climbs down the steps and locks von Stalhein in the loft.  Biggles runs out the front door and then waits.  Stitzen lets von Stalhein out of the loft and then Biggles returns, covering them both with his gun.  Biggles then locks the two of them in the store room.  Biggles then gets an empty cocoa tin from the pantry and then gets all the Mauser pistols from the armory and disposed of them about his person.  Then he fills his pockets with cartridges and he takes all the rifles and guns from their racks.  It is an awkward load but he only has a short distance to go.  Taking the back exit through the gap in the cactus hedge that Ginger had told him about, Biggles drops the rifles and guns in two feet of water and hides the Mausers and cartridges in the hedge.  He then takes the drawing he took from the drawing-office and puts it into the cocoa tin and secures the lid tightly and buries it carefully.  Biggles then becomes aware of something large, black, soft and heavy, on the back of his left hand.  He goes to shake it off "in this he succeeded, but at the cost of such an excruciating pain that he instinctively clutched at his hand with a cry of agony.  It was as if he had been stabbed with a red hot needle, only the pain, instead of being local, shot right up his arm.  For a second or two he stood there, scarcely able to think, conscious only of the pain.  Then, the initial shock passing, he knew what had happened, and the reaction produced such a wave of nausea that he nearly fainted.  He had been bitten, bitten by what is probably the most loathsome, and certainly one of the most venomous, insects of tropical America - a tarantula".  (It is interesting to note that it is now known that a tarantula bite is in fact no worse than a bee sting).  Biggles cuts open the wound with his penknife and sucks the wound, spitting out blood and venom with it.  Biggles then staggers back towards the laboratory of the bungalow he has left and gets some permanganate of potash to rub into the wound.  As he leaves in a state of near collapse, stumbling over the dead body of Elizabeth the panther in the process, Biggles knows he must hide.  "Hardly knowing what he was doing, and certainly without knowing where he was going, he blundered on, merely taking the easiest way across the mesa.  As in a sort of horrid nightmare he saw that the dawn was breaking.  Still he stumbled on, sometimes swaying, sometimes resting, conscious of only one thing, and that was the dreadful throbbing in his arm, now swollen beyond recognition.  His hand was a round ball from which the fingers projected like rigid stumps".  Biggles staggers to Joe Clarke's place and he and his wife, Lil, put Biggles in a primative bed and give him "Tequita - sort o'native booze" to drink.  Joe asks Biggles where his pal is.  Biggles says he will be on the river, most likely downstream, look for a plane.  Biggles passes out.  "He had sunk into a nightmare in which Liebgarten and von Stalhein were searing the flesh from the bone of his arm with red-hot irons".