by Captain W. E. Johns



III.                   A CLOSE THING  (Pages 41 – 56)


“Later the same day found Ginger in the Auster, with Mishu, complete with assegai, sitting beside him, on a south-westerly course for Lake Tanganyika.  As it is the longest lake in the world there was no possibility of missing it”.  When they reach the location, Mishu makes signs “that it was time to go down”.  Ginger throttled back, and while he was losing height made a close study of the area for the best landing-place.  (“Ginger throttled back, making a close study of the area for the best landing place” is the illustration between pages 32 and 33).  He flies up and down several times to make sure there are no obstructions likely to damage the machine.  They land and get out and unload the aircraft and Mishu makes camp.  Ginger has a little tent with a folding camp-bed.  Mishu has his spear with him and Ginger his rifle.  Mishu sets off the make enquiries leaving Ginger alone.  “Like most people accustomed to living in a city he found there was something disconcerting in the fact that, although they were not to be seen, he was sharing the territory with some of the most dangerous animals in the world”.  Night falls and the great African moon rises.  There being no sign of Mishu, Gingers goes to bed to try and sleep but he is disturbed by the mournful howl of a hyena.  Ginger throws a tin of condensed milk at a group of them.  He then sees movement on the skylight and assumes it to be Mishu returning, but when he sees three figures, he realises it is not.  There is a line of men traveling from south to north.  Ginger believes it could be the Black Elephant and his men as Ginger is on his suspected line of march.  “The time factor was about right, too.  The negro would just about have had time to reach the district.  Biggles had worked the whole thing out from the evidence available, and it now looked as if his conclusions were correct”.  Ginger wonders what to do.  He wants to inform Biggles immediately, but there is danger in taking off in the dark over unexamined ground and he doesn’t want to leave Mishu.  Ginger decides to wait until morning.  He is disturbed by a rhinoceros but it wanders off.  Mishu then arrives.  His manner was alert and his speech terse.  Pointing in the direction of the scrub he said one word.  Cetezulu!”.  (Pointing in the direction of the scrub Mishu said one word.  Cetezulu!” is the illustration between pages 64 and 65).  Ginger asks how he knows and Mishu says he heard from some members of his tribe returning from hunting.  He had then trailed the raiders to their hiding-place, which was in the clump of mixed scrub and trees.  “It looked, thought Ginger optimistically, as if the Black Elephant had made his last raid”.  The camp is packed away in the Auster, which is made ready for a quick take-off and Ginger and Mishu swing the tail of the machine so that its nose is pointing over its landing-track.  “Upon such trivial details do vital events depend; for had the machine not been moved the story might have had a different ending”.  Ginger sees a magnificent gemsbok (a large antelope) and is admiring it when it is shot and falls.  From the grass beyond springs an enormous native with a rifle, followed by half a dozen others.  The wounded animal gets up and runs past Ginger drawing attention to him and the plane.  Ginger and Mishu scramble into the plane and desperately try to take off. Straight in front of them, is a lioness with two cubs.  Ginger just manages to lift the machine over them.  (This is the scene depicted on the cover of the book).  They fly to safety and Ginger shudders at the closeness of the near disaster had the lioness not stood up.  Arriving back at Kampala, Ginger finds Biggles and tells him he has seen “The Elephant”.  Ginger says he was only a hundred yards away from him.  “I’d say he was even closer than that,” said Biggles in a curious voice.  “Stepping forward he drew something from the rear of the fuselage, just below the elevators, and held it up.  It was an assegai”.  Biggles says they need to get weaving and he walks towards the other machines.