by Captain W. E. Johns



IX.                   WHEELS WITHIN WHEELS  (Pages 120 – 137)


The day after the funeral, Biggles shows his friends Bruce Allan’s map.  He found it on the floor of his machine.  Allan had divided the area he was going to search up into sections, numbered one to six.  It was reasonable to suppose he started with number one.  Biggles thinks he was shot where line one crosses the bamboo belt.  Knowing roughly the speed the Black Elephant is travelling, that would put him between sixty and eighty miles north of that.  They discuss possible ways of getting the Black Elephant out of the bamboo.  Bertie suggests setting fire to the bamboo and burning them out.  Ginger tells him it’s too green and lush and wet in the bottom.  Ginger suggests asking Mishu.  The whole team fly up in the Mosquito to Latonga airstrip.  There is no sign of Mishu.  They go to a native kraal, “an evil-smelling group of bee-hive-shaped grass huts in a depression, at the bottom of which was a pool of stagnant water”.  “A few men and women lolled about, but most of them slipped furtively into the huts on the appearance of the white men”.  Biggles ask who is the headman and an elderly man is pointed out.  He asks if anyone has seen Mishu and is met with a “sullen silence”.  The headman says he knows of no such man.  “This was a palpable lie, for Mishu had said he was well known there”.  Getting nowhere, they leave but Biggles says “Those louts are lying.  They know plenty, and for that reason they’re going to say nothing.  They’ve been up to something, although whether it is anything to do with Mishu we don’t know”.  Biggles thinks something has happened to Mishu.  Biggles wonders why the Black Elephant hasn’t taken their cattle.  Maybe he lets them keep them to keep their mouths shut.  Biggles tells Algy to fly with Bertie back to Kampala and in the morning, they can then bring both aircraft up here.  Biggles and Ginger will stay and watch what happens when the native think they have gone.  When night time arrives, Biggles and Ginger go to look round the village.  Ginger wonders if the natives will try anything.  “No” says Biggles.  “They may be a bad lot, but I fancy they’ve got more sense than to interfere with white men.  They may not know we’re here”.  They take their rifles as they remember talk of a man-eating leopard in these parts.  There is no light or movement in the village.  Biggles is about to go back where there is a rustle and several figures emerge from a hut.  A torch breaks into a crackle of flame, held by someone in a bundle of rags and feathers.  In the bright orange glare of the torch a barbaric picture took shape.  (“In the bright orange glare of the torch a barbaric picture took shape” is the illustration between pages 136 and 137).  “It consisted of perhaps a dozen men, armed with spears, who raised a long burden on their shoulders and then moved forward, following the man who held the light aloft and sometimes waved it from side to side.  This leader, Ginger realised, was the local witch doctor; but what mysterious rites were being performed he could not guess”.  The bundle is taken outside the village and left.  The natives then leave.  Investigating the place where the bundle has been left, they smell an overpowering stench.  The bundle is Mishu, gagged and trussed up and left as food for the hyenas.  Mishu is alive.  Biggles has to shoot an animal that comes at them in the darkness.  They are not sure what it was, but Mishu says it was a leopard.  “If that brute is only wounded he’s liable to kill somebody,” remarked Ginger.  “The people he’s most likely to kill are those in the village, and they deserve all they get,” replied Biggles coldly.  “Why should we take any chances by following the beast into cover for their benefit”.  Mishu is able to walk and he explains that his food was poisoned and when he was helpless, he was tied up.  “Mishu explained that it was the place where old men and women, who were no longer any use, were put.  Also, he added darkly, people who the headman or the witch doctor did not like.  In that way it was always easy to account for a death.  Tomorrow they would have taken away the thongs from what was left of his body”.  Biggles asks Mishu why they did this to him and Mishu says he will tell them.