Ginger In Australia
Biggles held the letter in his hand for a moment, hesitating. Then, knowing no amount of hesitation would change the outcome if it were bad news, he ripped the envelope open and took out the single sheet of paper.
Bertie, watching, saw a mixture of emotion flit across his face and waited to hear what Algy had to say.
Biggles was silent so long Bertie had to ask, "what does it say, old boy? How's Ginger? Has Algy seen him? Will he be alright?"
Biggles looked at him sombrely. "Algy's seen him," he admitted. "He's still unconscious, but there is some slight progress. The doctor's hopeful. The problem is the concussion coming on top of all the other things." He passed his hand over his face and yawned. "I'm tired. I'll have to get some sleep before I fly down there or I'll end up in the bush. That wouldn't help anybody," he murmured dryly.
Bertie agreed. He was finding it hard to keep his eyes open. They went into town and booked into a hotel, intending to make an early start in the morning. Biggles rang the hospital from his room and managed to have a word with Algy.
"He doesn't seem so deeply unconscious now," Algy told him, clutching at straws. "I've been talking to him, although he doesn't know I'm here. I did think he squeezed my hand, but it could have been just a muscle spasm."
"I'll be down there first thing tomorrow," promised Biggles. "Let's hope there'll be some improvement overnight."
He put the telephone down and went to bed. Although he was tired, sleep refused to come for a long time. Images of Ginger chased themselves through his head and he could not get rid of them. He thought about the first time they had met in the hut on the railway embankment1, and about how he had been impressed by the boy's resilience and resourcefulness. He had watched Ginger grow up, mentally if not in any great measure physically, and had seen him experience the pain of love and loss. Eventually the strain of the day's events took its toll and Biggles fell into an uneasy sleep haunted by the sight of Ginger grey and bloodstained lying in the outback.
Dawn saw them heading back for Thargomindah and by nine o'clock they had joined Algy at Ginger's bedside. Ginger's face was pale and smooth, his wound carefully dressed and tended, his hair neatly brushed; he could have been asleep. By contrast Algy was unshaven and looked as though he hadn't slept since Biggles had departed in search of von Stalhein.
"Last time, when Ginger got shot in the head2, he wasn't out as long as this," Algy remarked worriedly. "He was up and about in no time."
"Last time he got treatment straightaway," Biggles reminded him. "I flew him back in the Dragon, then we used O'Neilson's car to drive him to the jetty before we could fly him to hospital in Port Stanley. This time he was lost in the outback for a day before he could get help. That's bound to make a difference."
Biggles looked at his cousin critically, noticing his bloodshot eyes and general air of weariness. He made Algy take a rest, pointing out that they were there now in case Ginger woke up.
Algy rubbed his eyes wearily, acknowledging he needed sleep. "There were times when I could quite happily have got in bed beside Ginger," he confessed. "Sitting on a hard chair is no fun." He went off to find a hotel for a few hours well deserved rest.
Biggles settled himself at the bedside and took Ginger's hand. It was limp and lifeless.
"Talk to him, old boy," urged Bertie. "He may not be able to respond, but he can hear you. We used to get quite a few people concussed out hunting. I got to be a dab hand at dealing with it," he murmured.
"I don't know what to say," confessed Biggles.
"Say anything. Tell him about what happened. Tell him you're worried about him but he'll be alright. Tell him about the past. It doesn't matter, just talk to him."
Awkwardly Biggles started to tell Ginger about the raid on the opal convoy, feeling he was wasting his time. Bertie chipped in, talking to Ginger as if he were his old self. Biggles stiffened. He thought Ginger's hand had twitched in his. Algy had said that, he recalled. With more hope he continued his narrative. As the time passed he became more and more convinced that Ginger was coming out of his coma.
"You're right, Bertie," he exclaimed. "I think he can hear what's going on."
Bertie smiled. "I may look like a silly ass," he told Biggles, "but sometimes I do know what I'm talking about."
Ginger moved his head and made a slight sound but there was a long way to go before he regained consciousness proper.
The sun had set in a blaze of glory and Algy had rejoined the comrades refreshed from his rest before Ginger's eyes fluttered open. He stared uncomprehendingly at Biggles and then vaguely at Algy and Bertie in turn.
"Welcome back, laddie," Biggles greeted him with a smile. "You've been away a long time."
Ginger looked puzzled. "What are you doing here?" he croaked eventually. His eyes focussed on the hospital room. "Where am I?"
Briefly Biggles told him what had happened to him and why he was in hospital.
"I don't remember," muttered Ginger vaguely, his hand to his head. "I can't think."
"You're going to be like that for a while," Bertie told him. "You have to take things easy while you're getting better. You can't rush it. You need to get plenty of sleep and rest during the day. Light duties only, I'm afraid."
Bertie proved to be accurate in his diagnosis. Eventually Ginger made a complete recovery, but at first he suffered from frequent low grade headaches and he was grounded for a while until he could pass the medical.
As Bertie remarked when Ginger was finally given a clean bill of health: "I told you so, old boy. I'm an expert on being knocked out. It's happened to me so many times."
They all laughed at the seriousness of his expression and Bertie looked pained.
1 See Biggles And The Black Peril
2 See Biggles In The Argentine