BIGGLES AND THE PIRATE TREASURE
by Captain W. E. Johns
IV. THE CASE OF THE IVORY IDOL (Pages 63 – 79)
This story was unique to this book and never published elsewhere.
“Air Detective-Inspector Bigglesworth had not long returned to the apartment which he shared with his police pilots, after a conference at Scotland Yard, when the housekeeper announced that two gentlemen were below, asking to see him. She couldn’t catch their names, but from their faces she judged them to be people from some outlandish part of the world. When, a minute later, the visitors were shown into the sitting-room, it became evident that, although the callers wore well-cut European clothes, they were from Asia”. One of the men asks “Are you the famous Colonel Bigglesworth?” “The name is right, but the rank is somewhat flattering,” returned Biggles smiling. The man introduces himself as Prince Yuan Sukang and his colleague as his cousin – and Prime Minister – the honourable Mr. Kling. Both are from the state of Kahore, a small country on the northern frontiers of Burma and Thailand. The prince tells Biggles “You will have heard that my country, like the countries around it – Burma, Thailand and Indo-China – are in a state of chaos, of revolution and evil war”. Biggles asks why, therefore, is he in London? The prince replies “There is nothing I can do in Kahore. Law and order is finished. The villages are destroyed. Terrorists beset even the jungle paths. Famine and disease stalk the land. The people die”. The prince explains there is something in Kahore that they wish to have in London. “You would call it a statue, an idol; but to us it is Astana, the god of our ancestors. It is of ivory, very old, very beautiful. You see, many Kahorans, driven from their homes, have fled to India. Some have even come here in ships. Me and my cousin we think of making a small temple here in which our people may not only worship in their own way but talk of plans for the liberation of Kahore, as many countries did in the war. But of what use is an empty temple?” Biggles asks if the statue has any value apart from its religious significance. The prince hesitated for an almost imperceptible moment and then says “No”. The statue is in the temple at Pelanghur, hidden in a secret vault. Only an aeroplane could reach the temple. Biggles says that such an expedition would cost a lot of money – and the statue would have to be declared at customs. “Would that be necessary?” asks the prince. “It most certainly would” declares Biggles shortly. The prince says there is an airfield near the temple, built by a man called Hobbs, who was a tea plantation superintendent. The prince offers a fee of two thousand pounds, one thousand at the start and one at the end. All expenses would also be paid. Biggles says he will need a day to think about it. When the two men leave, Algy asks Biggles “Why didn’t you tell those birds right away that there was nothing doing?” Biggles says they would have gone elsewhere and he wants to think about things. “I could see you didn’t like those fellows” put in Ginger. “So far, there’s nothing to like or dislike about them – aside from the fact that they’re both drug addicts. Opium smokers, probably. Their eyes gave them away. I own I’m a bit prejudiced against the prince because he has obviously ratted on his people by bolting and leaving them to carry the can without a leader”. Biggles suspects the statue is valuable and he has doubts as to the Prince’s title to the statue and the use to which he intends to put it. Biggles thinks the offer of two thousand pounds is too much and that makes him think that it won’t be paid. Ginger wonders why they would go to a police officer if “this pair aren’t on the level”. “You’ve got something there,” agreed Biggles. “Maybe they thought they could buy me. That sort of thing is common in the East. Or perhaps they thought we had facilities denied to ordinary civil pilots – which in fact we have. But the Oriental mind is apt to weave in intricate circles so let’s not waste time guessing”. Biggles goes back to Scotland Yard to research matters and also discuss it with Air Commodore Raymond. Biggles returns with the information that Prince Yuan Sukang is the King of Kahore “and from all accounts is a pretty decent fellow” but the Foreign Office was under the impression that he’d been bumped off. He and his brother had an English tutor. The Foreign Office are puzzled how the prince got into the UK without them knowing about it and how he got money through the Currency Control without being spotted. The upshot is both the Chief and the Foreign Office are curious and Biggles is to follow the thing up to see where it ends. They will accept the offer but the money will go to the Government. (A new paragraph starts after a break). “At five thousand feet the old police Wellington droned its way over the vast jungles of Upper Burma towards its remote objective”. Ginger is in the second pilot’s seat, Algy is in the navigator’s compartment and Bertie is in the cabin with Prince Yuan and his compatriot. A week has elapsed. They had flown to the East and last stopped for fuel at Dum-Dum aerodrome, Calcutta. “The real danger would come when the machine was on the ground, waiting while the idol was fetched from the temple, should terrorists be in the vicinity”. There had been an embarrassing moment at the beginning, when Biggles had to remind the Prince they had not had the first thousand pounds and the Prince had handed over a bundle of notes at the last minute which Biggles stowed in a locker. The plan was to land at the airfield and then Biggles, Bertie, Ginger and Mr. Kling would set off for the temple, leaving Algy and the Prince with the machine. Biggles wanted one of the men with each party in case natives were encountered. The idol was to be wrapped in canvas and carried in slings brought for the purpose. Biggles finds they can still land at the airfield, as he had feared it may now be overgrown, and he does so. He waits five minutes before switching off, then waits another fifteen minutes. When nobody comes, he says “Let’s go”. Mr. Kling leads the way through the oppressively hot jungle, with the air heavy with the stench of rotting vegetation. The forest soon gives way to an ancient temple and Ginger hangs back to admire it as the others go in. As Ginger goes to enter, he his hailed by a gaunt, bearded white man in a tattered tropical kit. This is Hobbs and when Ginger says that he is there with Prince Yuan, Hobbs tells him that Yuan is dead, murdered by his brother in cold blood. Hobbs says that the brother stole Hobbs Moth aircraft and took Kling with him after rifling the treasury. Ginger says they have come for the idol. Hobbs tells Ginger that the eyes of the idol are rubies the size of bantam’s eggs and the inside of the idol is hollow. “Years ago it was human sacrifices they put inside”. Ginger tells Hobbs to make for the landing ground. “When I come back watch for signals. You’re coming home with us, so we look like having a show-down on the spot”. Hobbs leaves. Ginger runs on, to meet the others just coming out with the idol swathed in canvas. “What are you playing at?” shouted Biggles angrily. “I didn’t bring you along to watch. Lend a hand. This thing weighs half a ton”. Ginger gets to speak to Biggles out of earshot of the others. “Hold your hat,” Ginger told him grimly. “You’ve got some shocks coming. Our precious prince is an imposter”. Ginger tells him what he has learnt. Biggles wants to think things over on the way back to the aircraft. They struggle with the heavy idol back to the aircraft. “Sweat streamed from their faces, for the idol was heavier than had been suggested”. (“The idol was heavier than had been suggested” is the illustration opposite page 61). On reaching the aircraft they put it down “the cover slid off, revealing a flat face smiling an inscrutable smile, a round body and hands resting on knees. The eye sockets were empty holes”. Biggles says “Just a minute, we’re taking an extra passenger with us”. Hobbs is signalled and emerges from the jungle. In the tense atmosphere of confrontation, the prince says “So he stayed here”. “He had to, since you stole his machine,” returned Biggles calmly. Biggles tells Hobbs to take it easy. “Thanks to these two beauties I’ve been taking it easy long enough,” rasped Hobbs. “Having set the country afire they’ve the brass face to come back and lift the one holy thing left in this unholy country. What’s inside it, I wonder?” Hobbs seizes the right arm of the idol and raises it high, opening a door in the back and disclosing a filling of what appeared to be brown bricks. It is dope – opium. The ‘Prince’ whips out an automatic: “Two shots crashed as one. The prince crumpled from the knees and slumped forward on his face. Kling was running for the jungle, but Hobbs turned the smoking muzzle of his revolver on him and fired three shots. The third found its mark. Kling pitched forward and lay still”. Biggles snaps “You shouldn’t have done that, Hobbs”. Hobbs replies “This is my best day’s work for a long time”. Biggles confirms that the two men are dead. Hobbs says they would have shot them in the plane and taken everything. Hobbs asks if they went into the vault with Kling. Biggles says he went in alone to confirm the idol was there. Hobbs goes through Kling’s pockets and finds two enormous rubies. “I reckon that when a man sinks low enough to poke out the eyes of his god he can’t go much lower”. Biggles wonders why the ‘Prince’ didn’t just buy his own plane and fly himself there. He checks the thousand pounds he was given to see there is just a single ten pound note and a mass of tissue paper. “So that was why he waited until the engines were ticking over before he coughed up. He gambled I wouldn’t stop to count it”. Biggles decides to leave the idol where it is. “We’ll take the dope with us and drop it in the jungle as we go home”. The rubies can go to the Bank of England until a rightful authority claims them. “No use leaving them lying about loose here”. “Ten minutes later the Wellington was in the air on a course for home. On the abandoned airfield the ivory god, still smiling inscrutably, stared at the jungle with sightless eyes”.