by Captain W. E. Johns



XII.                 THE GREAT STAMPEDE  (Pages 173 – 192)


Somewhere far out a lion roared.  “Indeed, so commonplace had this sound become that no one commented on it, all ears being strained to catch the first indication that the cattle were getting nearer”.  When two lions approach, roaring, Ginger “suggested tentatively that if the lions got any nearer they ought to light a fire; but Bertie wouldn’t hear of it, pointing out that a fire would certainly defeat the very object for which they were there.  Ginger replied grimly that if they were devoured by lions, that would defeat their object with even greater certainty”.  The lions go to a stream to drink and eventually leave.  Another two hours pass and then they hear human voices.  A cow bellows.  Presently the sounds of men and cattle on the move become audible.  Eventually it fades in the distance, in the direction of the elephant grass.  Bertie tells Ginger to snatch some sleep and he does so.  Mishu slips off and when he returns, he confirms the herd are in the sixteen-foot-high grass and he thinks all the Black Elephant’s men are with the herd.  Ginger, Bertie and Mishu then set off to meet Biggles aircraft, travelling some two miles to make sure the Elephant doesn’t hear the machine arrive.  A smoke signal brings Biggles, in the Proctor, to the correct spot and he lands.  They tell him what they have seen.  They all get in the aircraft and Biggles flies them back to the Latonga rest-house.  Haynes and Algy are standing there, waiting.  Biggles asks Haynes to lend him as many of his men as he can.  “If you’ll post them at strategic points round the grass we shall have the Elephant where we want him.  The gang can either surrender or fight it out”.  Biggles tells Haynes he has a plan and takes him aside to tell him.  “A slow smile spread over the officer’s face as he listened”.  Haynes says he can spare ten men, the rest can guard the existing prisoners.  Ginger is impatient to know what the plan is.  “We’ll see how several hundred head of cattle behave when two Merlin engines start howling just over their heads.  I don’t think they’ll like that”, Biggles tells him.  Enlightenment dawned in Ginger’s eyes.  “You mean – you’re going to stampede them?”  Biggles plans to fly the Mosquito with Ginger whilst Algy and Bertie can follow in the Proctor.  They see Mishu sharpening his spear with a piece of stone.  Biggles says that as Mishu doesn’t like flying, he can go in the truck with Haynes and the truck sets off.  Biggles gives Haynes a couple of hours to get his men into position.  Then they take off in their respective aircraft.  When they arrive at the elephant grass, “Ginger made out Haynes’s lorry parked in a slight depression, and some Askaris, lying down on both sides of Cetezulu’s retreat.  He wondered if these dispositions had been made without Cetezulu being aware of them.  If he had observed what was going on outside, what did he think of it?  Perhaps he was not worried overmuch, feeling confident that the troops would not dare to enter the grass, where their advantage of discipline and superior weapons would be lost”.  Biggles dives the Mosquito to ten feet above the grass, with his engines flat out.  “Looking down Ginger saw the grass bend under the pressure of the air they displaced”.  The Proctor follows them.  The northern end of the tall grass lashes about as if struck by a cyclone and from all angles, cattle burst out.  “With them were men who, from their behaviour, had no other idea than to avoid being trampled to death”.  Biggles dives again.  There must have been between four and five hundred cattle and the grass is rapidly trampled flat, so it is possible to see what is happening inside.  “Bullocks and cows were streaming away in all directions, but others, apparently not knowing from what they were trying to escape, tore up and down regardless of men who, far from trying to steady the beasts, were dodging about in a desperate effort to keep clear of the bovine storm.  Some that had been knocked down were trying to crawl out.  Others lay still.  The grass belt began to look as if several tanks had been manoeuvring in it”.  A flash of colour catches Ginger’s eye and he sees a figure in flamboyant attire; it is the Black Elephant.  He is knocked down, but gets up and limps away.  They see another black man race to cut off his retreat.  “It’s Mishu!” yelled Ginger.  “Look at him.  He means business”.  The Elephant throws something at Mishu.  “Mishu dodged it.  He ran in close.  His arm went back, and jerked forward.  Cetezulu stumbled and fell.  At that juncture some steers collided with them and hid them from view.  When the animals had passed on both men were flat on the ground.  “I’m afraid poor old Mishu’s had it,” Ginger told Biggles”.  Biggles tells Ginger to tell Algy to land.  Biggles and Ginger then find a safe place to land themselves and get out of their plane.  The scene is a picture of confusion as the Askaris round up their prisoners and mustered them in groups.  Haynes comes up and asks if they know what happened to Cetezulu.  Biggles says he is over on the far side.  “I fancy my man, Mishu, stuck a spear into him.  I should have expected something like that because it was here, on this very spot, that the Elephant murdered Harvey of the Game Department.  Mishu was his gun-bearer for years.  He never said much about it, but judging from the way he behaved just now he must have been nursing his hate, waiting for the chance he got today to square the account”.  They discover Mishu sitting up beside the dead body of the Elephant, Mishu’s spear in his back.  “Mishu shouldn’t have done that,” said Haynes gravely.  Biggles shrugged.  “You can argue that nobody has the right to kill anybody.  Personally, I can’t see that it makes much difference whether Cetezulu was hanged, shot or speared.  He was due to be killed by someone”.  Mishu has broken his leg.  Biggles says he will fly him down to Kampala and he asks Haynes if he would mind if he left him to clean up the mess.  Haynes is content to do so.  Biggles says “I’ll make out my report on the whole business when I get to Kampala and send you a copy”.  In due course, we are told, that Bronnou was tried, sentenced to death and hanged for the murder of Simmonds.  The two natives with him turned King’s evidence to save themselves.  The stolen cattle were rounded up without much difficulty and returned to the stations from which they had been taken.  Mishu was not long in hospital.  On his discharge he was offered the job of gun-bearer to Major Harvey’s successor.  The authorities did nothing about his taking the law into his own hands, ruling that he had acted in self-defence after the Black Elephant had thrown a knife at him.  By the time all these details were cleared up, Biggles and his friends were back in London, attending to other matters.

Read from Wednesday 20th July 2022 (Amy’s Graduation Day) until Saturday 23rd July 2022 (Amy flies to Venice).