by Captain W. E. Johns



VI.                   AN ILLUMINATING DISCOVERY  (Pages 78 – 91)


The next morning Ginger awakes, stiff with cold.  He tries the radio again and reaches Algy, who gets Biggles.  Ginger can’t give his exact position, but he can give his altitude on the mountain.  The Auster is a “write-off” so it will be a question of walking to the nearest point he can be picked up.  With the knowledge of the direction and velocity of the storm, which Biggles had seen, that would mean that Biggles could hopefully find him by following the seven thousand foot contour.  If Ginger hears the Proctor he can light a fire to show his exact position.  Feeling better, Ginger surveys the land around him.  “To the east, the ground fell sharply to the timber line, about a thousand feet below, where, in a more gentle gradient, the scrub met the great rain forest, which persisted until it merged into the brown face of the Central African tableland.  At the base of the last foothill, a bright green band, like the hem of a skirt, was conspicuous”.  Ginger eats a bar of chocolate from his iron rations and lights a fire when he hears a plane and waves.  (“Ginger stood in a conspicuous position and waved” is the illustration between pages 88 and 89).  It is Biggles in the Proctor, who drops him a miscellaneous collection of stores and equipment likely to be useful to him.  “It comprised, among other things, tins of jam, meat, biscuits and condensed milk, packed into a rucksack.  There was a rifle, cartridges, pocket-compass, hatchet, first-aid outfit and mosquito repellent”.  There was also a note from Biggles telling him to walk down the mountain and keep east.  If he failed to get through the forest before nightfall, he was to light a fire to show his progress, otherwise they will conclude some harm has come to him.  When he reaches open ground where it was possible to make a landing, the Proctor would pick him up.  Ginger waves to show he understands and the Proctor flies away, presumably for Kampala.  Ginger has a meal and then sets off.  At first the going is easy but when he reaches the rain forest, the tangle of vegetation appears impenetrable.  Walking along, looking for an opening, Ginger finds a game track and he follows that, risking an encounter with a wild beast.  He loads his rifle.  Plagued by flies, Ginger makes good progress.  He finds a mysterious-looking pool that can provide him with a drink and sets down to make a meal.  A movement catches his eye.  “Out of the rough herbage, about fifty yards away, rose an animal which hitherto he had seen only in captivity.  It was a gorilla”.  Ginger is not particularly alarmed and he backs away, but the gorilla charges him. Ginger fires wildly, missing the creature, but the great ape turns aside and plunges into the forest.  Ginger goes on until he finds a fallen tree where he can quickly have his lunch, a few biscuits smeared with jam.  By four o’clock, Ginger is on the lower slopes but still not out of the forest.  He pushes on and sees that the trees are beginning to thin out.  An open glade brings him to a halt and he sees that the bright green band he had seen earlier was a broad expanse of bamboo swamp, caused by water draining down from above.  Ginger goes to examine this obstacle.  “It proved to be an even more difficult one than he expected.  The ground was reasonably firm, but the knotty stems of the bamboo stood so close together that getting through them was clearly going to be a long and tedious business.  It would, he decided, be folly to risk being benighted in such a jungle”.  Ginger decides to camp this side of the bamboo but he hears a noise, which he thinks is a buffalo bellowing.  Ginger forces his way into the bamboo to see what he will might have to face in due course.  “The slim stems and long green leaves surround him on all sides and formed a trellis about his head”.  “Without warning he broke suddenly into a veritable cavern in the crowding vegetation.  At least, it struck him as a cavern, or a tunnel, because, although the track was the best part of thirty feet wide, the canes on each side had bent over under the weight of their feathery tops to meet overhead, thus forming an arched corridor”.  Ginger finds the discarded hide of a recently dead calf.  It is not a buffalo but a young domestic cow.  Ginger sees the bamboo has been cut and that the whole tunnel is man-made.  With a flash, Ginger realises that this has been made by the Black Elephant, a secret track up which he can drive his stolen cattle, screened from all sides and above.  Ginger checks his compass and sees the road runs due north and south.  Ginger leaves the way he came in.  He knows he has to get this information to Biggles.  Hearing an aeroplane, Ginger dare not risk lighting a fire, for fear the smoke will be seen by Cetezulu’s men, so he cannot make the planned signal.  The aircraft circles for a while and then the drone fades away.  Ginger settles for the night outside the bamboo, with his rifle across his knees.  After a long while, hearing no noise, he risks a little fire as much for its cheerful company as for any other reason and then he dozes off.