by Captain W. E. Johns



X.                    FOOTPRINTS TELL A TALE  (Pages 138 – 154)


“Squatting on the floor of the rest-house, in the uncertain light of the candle, Mishu told his story.  And it was an even more sinister one than Ginger expected.  It took some time to tell, but, briefly, the essence of it was this”.  A white man had been murdered.  Some natives, members of the Bungoro Tribe, had seen hyenas digging and found the body, but said nothing for fear of being blamed.  Mishu had heard and had gone to investigate, discovering that the dead man was Simmonds, killed by a bullet to the head.  Simmonds rifle and equipment had been taken.  Mishu covered the grave with stones so hyenas could not disturb it.  Mishu had noted the tracks and found a set made by a heavy man in boots.  (“There were many tracks, he said” is the illustration between pages 152 and 153).  Simmonds had also left tracks and following them led Mishu to a camera hanging in the bushes.  Mishu had this hidden and now produced it.  Simmonds had been photographing something before he was killed.  Mishu had foolishly told the headman of the local village about the murder and that there would be trouble.  There had been poaching in the Game Reserve and the villagers knew more about it than they pretended, even if they were not the actual poachers.  They didn’t want any enquiries and thought it would be better if the body of Simmonds was never discovered, so they resolved to kill Mishu in a way that would look like the work of a man-eater.  Mishu had accepted a drink of native beer and woke up tied hand and foot with rawhide thongs.  He had been taken out to be eaten by the leopard.  “By what magic he had been found, and rescued, was beyond his understanding”.  Biggles explains how they found him.  Mishu says the murder occurred to the north, close to the frontier with Sudan and Biggles concludes the Black Elephant could not have done it; Mishu agrees.  Biggles notes there is a roll of film in the camera and seven photographs have been taken.  He says as soon as they have an aircraft, someone can take them down to Kampala to get them developed.  Ginger sleeps whilst Biggles keeps watch, then they swap.  The next morning Algy arrives in the Mosquito, followed shortly afterwards by Bertie in the Proctor.  Biggles tells them what has happened and Algy offers to fly back to Kampala to get the photographs developed.  The others get in the Proctor to visit the scene of Simmonds murder.  After landing, Mishu points out the way the killers would have arrived and left.  He thought there was one white man, with four or five porters.  Biggles consults his map and thinks they came from the region of Lake Rudolf.  Mishu says “Many bad white mens come looking for gold and buy elephant tusks from black men in Uganda and Kenya.  They hide because it is against the Government”.  They return to the airstrip and later Algy arrives with the photographs.  The first two prints were of the same subject, and showed a number of natives hacking the tusks out of a dead elephant.  Faces could be seen and the headman of the village is recognised.  The next two prints showed simply the remains of a dead rhino with its horns cut off and vultures feeding on it.  The last three photographs showed a heavily-built white man, dressed in cross bandoliers and with a dark rough beard.  Two natives with spears were next to him and also several local people.  Between them lay four elephant tusks and several rhinoceros horns.  Mishu has never seen the white man before, but says he has heard of him and believes he comes down from Ethiopia.  His former employer, Major Harvey had looked for this man but never found him.  Biggles, Ginger and Mishu fly towards Lake Rudolf in the Mosquito and Algy and Bertie fly in the Proctor to go and see if they can find this man before he gets across the frontier.  Ginger spots an extended mark on the ground.  “It was not distinct enough to be a road, yet it was much too wide to be a game track.  Sometimes it faded out, only to appear again farther on, always running eastwards in the direction of the lake”.  Mishu thinks it might be a cattle track.  Ginger asks if there could be a connection between the Black Elephant and the man they are looking for.  “I was just turning that over in my mind,” answered Biggles.  “It wouldn’t surprise me.  We’ve already decided that Cetezulu must hand over his looted cattle to somebody.  According to Mishu, this fellow who killed Simmonds comes from Ethiopia.  May be that’s where the cattle go”.  Seeing smoke ahead, they come across a native camp, without any white men.  Mishu says these are Ethiopians who have come across the border.  Biggles says “This looks to me like the terminus of Cetezulu’s long trail, the place where he sells his loot and then goes into hiding”.  Ginger receives a radio message from Algy saying they have spotted the man with four natives, making camp beside a stream about twenty-five miles south-west of Latonga, between the northern limit of the bamboo swamp and a big belt of elephant grass.  They have a tent pitched.  Biggles suspects they are waiting to buy the cattle from the Black Elephant.  He hopes to catch them all together.  Ginger has already told Algy to return to Latonga and now Biggles does so as well.