by Captain W. E. Johns


First published March 1953



The “BIGGLES” Books by Captain W. E. Johns – Page 2 – featuring 15 books. 


TITLE PAGE – Page 3 – This page has a small vignette of an aeroplane




ILLUSTRATIONS – Page 7 – (eight illustrations by Stead facing pages 33, 64, 72, 89, 97, 128, 136 and 153)



I.                      DARK DEEDS  (Pages 9 – 24)


The book opens (as usual with the Air Police stories) with Biggles being called in to see Air Commodore Raymond.  “Good morning, Bigglesworth.  Come in.  Take a pew.  Help yourself to cigarettes”.  Raymond tells Biggles he is having a spot of difficulty in Africa, but he can’t say exactly where.  “And what am I to look for?” asks Biggles.  “A black man” replies Raymond.  “As there are quite a number of black men in Africa that shouldn’t be difficult” replies Biggles.  Raymond describes the man.  “He stands six foot six and is broad in proportion”.  “He’s a menace, and as things are going, an extremely dangerous one”.  The man is known as Cetezulu and calls himself ‘The Black Elephant, Lord of Africa’.  “This scoundrel has embarked upon a career of wholesale murder and robbery without parallel anywhere in the last fifty years”.  He wears the old Zulu warrior’s equipment – leopard skin, ostrich feathers and so on.  Some say he was born in Kimberley and worked in the mines where he killed a foreman.  Other says he was born in Kenya and brought up at a Mission School as he speaks English well.  He first became known on a native Reserve in Kenya, where he became conspicuous as an agitator determined to stir up strife with the workers.  In debt with a storekeeper, he hit him over the head with a bottle.  Next, he was heard of as a game poacher and murdered a game ranger.  “From that time he has moved about Africa, leaving a trail of the most brutal murders.  He has killed blacks and whites without discrimination, seizing their possessions and burning their homes.  In a word, he has instigated a reign of terror which, if it goes on, will end in much of the country being depopulated.  People are leaving their homes and going to the cities for protection”.  The Black Elephant moves around central Africa rapidly.  “He strikes, and runs, travelling only by night and hiding in thick cover by day.  Which means, really, that he disappears.  He moves far and fast.  We have it on record that he had travelled fifty miles a day for a week”.  He now has a gang numbering thirty or more.  His very name strikes terror into the natives and they are more likely to choose to serve him that invite certain death by opposing him.  Ordinary ground forces are too slow to catch him.  “Cars, jeeps, motor-cycles and light vans, can only operate on tracks or smooth ground.  Cetezulu knows that perfectly well and stays in rough country, which is not difficult in Africa.  As I told you at the beginning, the black devil moves across country at fantastic speed.  The last raid, two days ago, was a particularly horrible murder in Northern Rhodesia.  A white woman and her four children, with one or two loyal black servants were burnt alive in their own bungalow”.  Biggles asks “How many people have actually seen this brute?”  The answer is that few have seen him at close quarters and survived.  The best witness is a Masai tribesman named Mishu, who was a gun-bearer to a Major Harvey.  Cetezulu killed Harvey with an assegai (spear) but Mishu was able to get away after witnessing the murder.  Biggles says “You’re not going to suggest, I hope, that my total strength of four men is capable of arresting thirty or more black desperadoes – even if we could find them?”  “Er-no” says Raymond.  “What can I do about it then?” asks Biggles.  “That’s what I want you to tell me”, is the reply.  Biggles thinks and says that if the Black Elephant is stealing hundreds of head of cattle, which is currency in Africa, he must put them somewhere for safe keeping.  They would need an ample water supply.  Instead of looking for “this elusive brigand” it is more profitable to look for the cattle.  An aircraft can cover a lot of ground.  “Follow your chains of water holes and at the end of one of them you’ll find the stolen cattle.  Wait by the cattle and sooner or later the Lord of Africa will roll up to count his wealth”.  Raymond asks Biggles to arrest Cetezulu.  Biggles shakes his head.  “Nothing doing.  I’ve too much regard for my body to offer it as a pin-cushion for assegais.  This man and his gang are murderers.  They know that if they’re caught they’ll swing (hanging was the capital punishment for murder until 1965).  They’ll see to it that they don’t get caught.  Not fewer than fifty men would be needed to fight it out with that bunch of savages”.  Raymond responds with “If he attempted to use force you would be justified in doing the same thing”.  Biggles replies “In other words, I wait until I have a spear stuck in me and then I can shoot back.  Oh no.  There’s only one sensible way of dealing with an armed murderer – shoot first”.  “That’s a bit savage” says Raymond.  Biggles replies “We’re dealing with a savage.  Kid glove methods will get you nowhere except in a wooden box under the ground”.  Biggles adds “I’ll take on the job on the understanding that there’s no interference by bureaucrats at home.  I want no bleating in the House of Commons about a poor innocent native being shot.  I’ll have my orders in writing, too.  I’m not being made a scapegoat for a political racket.  Oh – oh yes, I know all about that.  Nobody says a word if fifty British tommies are bumped off; but let one poor benighted heathen get the works and the balloon goes up.  Then people wonder why things are going to pot”.  Biggles agrees to the task.  “I take on this job knowing that the Black Elephant will kill me if he can.  Others have tried to do that.  If they get hurt themselves in the process I don’t saturate my pillow with tears worrying about it.  In this case, if one of us has to get shot, I shall do my best to see that it isn’t me.  As long as we’re clear about that, I’ll go ahead”.  That being agreed, Biggles asks for a list of the Black Elephant’s crimes so he can see his movements.  Biggles leaves.