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Last episode, taken from The Hotspur issue: 1013 April 7th 1956.

The man with more grit than the desert railway he runs!

Danny bribes a band of rebels with a chest of silver he doesn’t have!

The Revolt.

As the big diesel-driven train sped smoothly across the Azakand Desert, Danny Dixon took off his bowler hat and stuck his head out of the window of the guard’s van. Away across the sun-baked sands he could see lines of tents, vehicles, and horses, and here and there the gleam of steel. “I don’t like the look of that, mate,” he muttered, chewing the stem of his old clay pipe. “The whole desert’s alive with troops. What’s going on?” With Danny in the guard’s van was Hassan, the son of the Emir of Azakand. Danny, who was an engineer on the payroll of the Star Oil Company, had been given the job of running the new Azakand Railroad which the oil company had built. The oil company had concessions in the oil wells of Azakand. The Emir had sent Hassan along to work with Danny because he wanted the youngster to learn something about the running of the iron road. “Those are the troops of Sheik Dhaga,” explained Hassan, spotting a banner fluttering over the tents. “He is the most powerful ruler in Azakand, next to my father, and he has his own army. His troops must be engaged in military exercises in the desert. “They look a bit too blooming warlike for my peace of mind,” grunted Danny, frowning suspiciously. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the old sheik wasn’t up to something.” Azakand was full of puffed-up local rulers who were always out to make trouble. Most of them were jealous of their boss, the Emir, and more than one attempt had been made to overthrow him. Sheik Dhaga particularly fancied himself as an up-and-coming candidate for the Emir’s throne. “Let’s hope we don’t get any trouble this week, that’s all,” went on Danny. “I don’t want any boneheaded sheik throwing a spanner in the works just when my job’s almost finished. This week was a very important week for Danny, for it marked the end of the trial period of the new railroad. In the oil company’s contract with the Emir was a special clause. Unless an agreed number of trains were run over the railroad in the first few months, the Emir wouldn’t have to pay the cost of building it. The crafty Emir had done his best to wriggle out of paying, but thanks to Danny’s watchfulness the trains had run as scheduled, and this week would see the contract completed. “For some time there have been rumours that Sheik Dhaga is planning a revolt,” said Hassan as the train rolled on its way, leaving the tents and troops behind. “He wants to overthrow my father and rule Azakand himself.” “He can revolt as much as he likes as long as he doesn’t delay the train service,” grunted Danny. “If I were you, I’d warn your old man to keep a close eye on him, mate.” The train continued on its way without any trouble and finally reached the terminus of the track, the oil wells, where Mr Stagshaw, the general manager of the oil company, was waiting for it. “Hullo, mate,” said Danny, stepping out. He greeted everybody in the same amiable way, whether boss or engine-greaser. “I had a message that you wanted to see me. What’s on your mind?” “We’re having a bit of trouble with the Emir, Danny,” explained Mr Stagshaw as they walked towards the office, followed by Hassan. “It’s about the new airport we’re planning. He won’t agree to having it built because he says it’ll cost too much money.” “The old fox won’t dig into his cash box if he can help it,” grinned Danny. “Even if he is making millions out of the oil concessions.” “You’ve got more influence with the Emir than anybody else around here,” went on Mr Stagshaw, “so we’re hoping you might have a talk with him and persuade him to change his mind.” Danny scratched his chin. It was true that he got along pretty well with the Emir, mainly because they were both keen draughts players. Danny was the only man in Azakand whom the Emir couldn’t beat at draughts. “I’ll see what I can do,” Danny promised. “But it’s easier to swim the blooming Channel in a suit of armour than to get the old Emir to agree to something he’s set his mind against.” When the train, hauling a cargo of oil, set out that evening on its return journey to El Aza, the capital of Azakand, Danny and Hassan were aboard it. Danny sat in the guard’s van wearing a thoughtful look on his face. He was trying to figure out a way of persuading the Emir to change his mind about the building of the airport. But when they were halfway across the desert, Danny’s thoughts were suddenly interrupted. The train clanked to an abrupt halt, jerking his bowler hat over his eyes. “Lumme, now what’s gone wrong?” he gasped. It was quite dark by this time. When he pushed his head out of the window he could see nothing except a red light on the track ahead. He jumped out and sprinted towards the engine, followed by Hassan. By the engine stood the Arab driver, waving his arms and arguing furiously. He was surrounded by half a dozen armed Arabs. “What’s going on?” demanded Danny. “Revolt has broken out!” gasped the engine driver. “Sheik Dhaga’s troops are seizing control of the railroad. They say they are taking over this train and no more trains will be allowed to run until the Emir has surrendered.

Danny Drives On.

“Resistance is useless,” snapped the leader of the ambushers to Danny. “You will obey orders promptly unless you want your throats slit. Sheik Dhaga is not a man to be trifled with.” Danny chewed his pipe stem. He was weighing up the situation. He wasn’t going to surrender the train to Sheik Dhaga’s men if he could help it. A wooden barrier had been placed across the track, but it was not strong enough to stop or derail the train. The half-dozen Arabs were the real menace. “Well, I suppose we can’t argue with you blokes,” said Danny, shrugging. “But what’s going to happen to us, that’s what I want to know?” “That is for Sheik Dhaga to decide,” retorted the Arab leader. “I might make it worth your while to let us go,” mentioned Danny casually. “Suppose I told you that this train was carrying a chest of silver for the Emir?” A greedy gleam crept into the Arab leader’s eyes. “A chest of silver?” he echoed. “By Allah, Sheik Dhaga will be most interested in that. He needs funds to continue the revolt. Where is this chest of silver?” “Look in the box-car at the end of the train,” suggested Danny. The Arabs headed for the box-car. Hassan stared at Danny in astonishment. “But there’s no chest of silver on the train, Danny, sir,” he whispered. “I didn’t say there was, did I?” remarked Danny cheerfully. “I just said suppose I told them there was. There’s no harm in inviting the blokes to look in the box-car, is there?” He hurried after the Arabs, who now had the box-car open and were inside searching for the supposed chest of silver. They were so intent in their task that they didn’t notice Danny at the door. The first they knew of his presence was when they heard the door slam and the key turn in the lock. Danny had locked them in. “Open this door!” yelled the Arab leader, thumping on the door furiously with the butt of his rifle. “There’s no silver here! Open the door or I’ll shoot the lock off!” “Go ahead, mate,” said Danny good-humouredly, and he waved to the driver and Hassan. “Help me get this box-car uncoupled quickly.” Hassan grinned. Between them they got the box-car uncoupled. Then they dashed back to the engine and Danny took over the controls himself. A moment later the train was moving, leaving the box-car behind, with the infuriated Arabs trying to shoot their way through the locked door. Danny opened the throttle. The train hit the flimsy wooden barrier at full speed and hurled it clear of the track. Beyond the barrier the desert was full of points of light, the camp fires of Dhaga’s army.

Shots were fired at the train as it roared on, but none of them did any damage. Soon it was clear of the danger zone and a few hours later came safely to a halt at El Aza station.

Everything seemed quite in the capital. The Emir didn’t seem to be worrying himself much about the revolt. The palace was in darkness when Danny strode through the gateway, followed by Hassan. The Emir was in bed. He was rather peeved when he finally emerged from his bed chamber, after Danny had insisted that the guards should rouse him. “This is a most inconvenient hour to pay a call my friend,” grumbled the Emir. “Much as I enjoy the sight of your august countenance, I must remind you that the night is made for sleeping. Have you no bed to go to?” “There are more important things to do than snooze, mate,” retorted Danny. “You’re in trouble. A revolt has broken out. Sheik Dhaga is trying to seize control of the country.” “That is no reason why I should have my rest disturbed,” protested the Emir. “I have been faced with revolts before. My army will take care of Dhaga in good time.” “But he’s got control of the railway line between here and the oil wells. He’s not allowing any trains to pass.” The Emir smiled serenely. This wasn’t going to worry him. If the trains were stopped for a week, the oil company wouldn’t be able to complete the contract. Then the Emir wouldn’t have to pay for the railroad. “It is the will of Allah,” beamed the Emir. “I cannot be blamed if a rebellious sheik chooses to take over the Iron Road. Rest assured that my troops will make every effort to restore order as soon as possible. In the meantime let us return to bed.” Danny snorted. “Wait a minute, there’s another thing I want to talk to you about. This airport. The country badly needs an airport, and the oil company wants you to agree—” “Friend Danny,” interrupted the Emir, “as Allah is my witness, nothing would give me greater delight than to have a new airport. Alas the country cannot afford it—” “You’d soon afford it, mate, if you wanted to,” grunted Danny. “Look let’s talk it over—” “I am much too tired now.” “Well, first thing tomorrow morning—” “Tomorrow morning I set out for my summer palace in the hills for a holiday,” murmured the Emir, stroking his beard serenely. “Holiday?” echoed Danny. “With a revolution going on in your blooming country?” “What better time to take a holiday than when a revolution is going on?” smiled the Emir. “Good night, my friend.”


The Armoured Train

A fine country this is,” stated Danny gloomily as he sat, facing Hassan, in his little office the next day. “Rebellion flaring up all round us, the train service practically at a standstill, and your old man toddles off for a holiday as if he hasn’t a care in the world.” The Emir had departed for his summer palace with the question of the airport still unsettled. But it wasn’t the airport that was worrying Danny now. He was worrying about the trains being held up. It was a very sticky situation for Danny. But as he sat scratching his head and wondering what he was going to do about it, the door suddenly burst open and in rushed a dusty and disheveled Arab. He was one of the Emir’s guards. “Honoured Hassan,” gasped the Arab, “you must return to the palace. As heir to the throne, you must prepare yourself to take over your father’s duties at once.” “Me?” yelped Hassan, startled. “You don’t mean my father is dead?” “Not yet,” puffed the Arab, “But the news may come any minute. Disaster has befallen us. Sheik Dhaga’s troops have ambushed your father. He escaped with a handful of guards, but is now besieged in his summer palace by the rebels.” “I warned him he wasn’t taking that Dhaga bloke seriously enough,” put in Danny grimly. “How long can he hold out?” “Not more than a day. The sheik has a heavy gun and is shelling the palace.” “Can’t you get help there in time?” The guard shook his head. “The road is very bad. It is not suitable for transporting troops in a hurry.” There was a rail track to the Emir’s palace, but as the trains are out of action the Emir had set out on his journey by car. “Well, there seems to be only one way to save the situation, mate,” decided Danny quickly. “We must get troops there by train.” “But Dhaga’s rebels will stop the train.” “Not if it’s an armoured train,” said Danny. “We’ve got to make it strong enough to bulldozer its way through. I’ll get along to the workshops right away. There are some steel plates lying around somewhere.” He jammed his old bowler on his head. “You’ll have to take charge of your old man’s army now, Hassan, mate,” Danny added, “so you go and rustle up some troops and guns. Leave the rest to me.”

As Hassan rushed off with the guard. Danny headed briskly for the engine sheds. There were plenty of Arab workers available. Danny set them to work riveting steel plates to the sides of the coaches and goods trucks. By noon the armoured train was ready. The goods trucks were loaded with supplies and ammunition and machine-guns. The coaches were packed with the Emir’s best troops. And there was also a small army of Arab platelayers, equipped with spare rails and sleepers in case the track had to be repaired on the way. The train pulled by one of the newest and most powerful locomotives, which Danny drove himself. “If old Dhaga tries to attack this little lot,” muttered Danny grimly as the long train clanked out of the station, “he’s got a blooming shock coming.” For several miles the train rolled on without trouble. Then a crackle of shots sounded. Over a ridge of sand dunes ahead, riding furiously towards the railroad track, came a party of Arab horsemen. “Rebels,” muttered Danny, and he gave a sharp toot on the whistle. “Let ‘em have it, lads!” From behind the armoured plates of the train, burst a hail of lead. Rifles cracked. Machine-guns chattered. The rebels pulled up, startled. Then, with spurts of dust rising all around them as bullets ploughed up the sand, they wheeled their horses and fled. “That’s scared ‘em off,” grinned Danny. The train rumbled on. There were no more attacks. Having discovered that the train carried a very painful “sting,” the rebels seemed inclined to keep out of its way. When at last they came in sight of the hills where the Emir’s summer palace lay, Danny was beginning to hope that they would reach their destination without further trouble. But he was mistaken. Suddenly a terrific explosion sounded. A great column of dust rose into the air just ahead. Danny brought the train to an abrupt stop. “Lumme, that’s torn it,” he muttered, peering ahead in dismay. “The rebels have blown up the track!”


The Four-Wheeled Bomb.

“What are we going to do now?” demanded Hassan. A great gap had been torn in the track by the explosion. All that was left of the rails was a tangle of twisted metal. Danny and Hassan stood gazing at the wreckage. “There’s only one thing for it,” said Danny. “We’ve got to lay a new section of track. It’s a good job I brought along a gang of platelayers and spare rails. The troops can cover the workers from the train while the track is being laid.” In a few minutes the platelayers were at work. “While these blokes get on with the job,” decided Danny, “I’m going to take a walk along the track to see if any other damage has been done.” “I’ll come with you,” said Hassan promptly. Danny armed himself with a rifle and set off, followed by the Emir’s son. Ridges of rock rose on either side of the track, but there was no sign of any rebels. In the distance they could hear the boom of a heavy gun. From the hills columns of smoke were rising. “That’s from your old man’s palace,” Danny muttered to Hassan. “The rebels are still shelling it. There won’t be much of it left if we don’t get there soon.” “The guns can’t be far away from here,” said Hassan. “if we could find it—” He broke off abruptly. They had turned a bend in the track. Ahead, three Arabs were at work on the rails. “Rebels,” whispered Hassan. “They must be the men who blew up the track. It looks as if they’re planning to blow up some more of it.” Danny raised his rifle. “All right, you blokes, stick your hands up!” he barked. The Arabs whirled round in alarm, hastily raising their hands. “Tie ‘em up,” said Danny to Hassan. The Arabs had been planting dynamite on the track, and while Hassan tied them up, Danny removed it. Just beyond the ridge bordering the track he found an old lorry containing more dynamite. “That’s useful,” muttered Danny, a thoughtful grin on his face. “Their camp can’t be far from here. Let’s see if we can find it. Even if the rebels see us they won’t stop us. They’ll think we’re the dynamite party coming back. Leaving the scowling Arabs tied up by the track, Hassan clambered into the lorry with Danny. They travelled about a quarter of a mile along a bumpy track and then halted at the top of a slope that ran down to a valley. In the valley was a rebel force. Beside an ammunition dump was the heavy gun that was shelling the Emir’s palace. “We’ll soon put that lot out of action,” said Danny. He fixed a fuse to the dynamite in the back of the lorry and got Hassan to light it while he himself started the lorry up. Danny released the brake and the lorry began to run down the slope. Danny leaped out at the vehicle got under way. The rebels didn’t see it coming until it was too late. A deafening explosion filled the valley. The lorry had crashed into the gun and blown it to bits. The loss of their gun took all the heart out of the rebels. By the time the armoured train reached the Emir’s palace they had fled. “I owe you my life, friend Danny,” beamed the Emir, meeting Danny in the shattered courtyard. “I shall see that you are richly rewarded when I return to El Aza.” “When you return to El Aza, mate, I shan’t be there,” said Danny. “The revolt is smashed now and the trains will be running to the oil wells as usual tonight. Our contract will be completed on time and my job will be done. I’ll be pushing off to a new job in some other country.” The Emir looked disconcerted. He was wondering where he was going to find another draughts player as good as Danny. “There’s no hurry, my friend,” he said hastily. “We must finish our game of draughts before you go.” He clapped his hands for a servant. “Bring in the draughts board.” “There is no draught board, Highness,” murmured the servant apologetically. “That last rebel shell smashed it to pieces.” The Emir’s face fell. He tried desperately to think of some other excuse to detain Danny. “Sorry, but I’ll have to be off, mate,” said Danny casually. “I reckon we’ll have to call our draughts tournament a draw.” “Wait!” exclaimed the Emir, a gleam of inspiration in his eyes. “I have just remembered—you cannot leave my country.” “Why not?” “The airport,” beamed the Emir. “You will have to stay in Azakand to take charge of the building of it.” “But I thought you couldn’t afford an airport.” The Emir smiled. He couldn’t afford to lose a draughts player like Danny either. He was choosing the lesser of two evils.

“I have changed my mind,” he said. “The airport will be built—and you will stay in Azakand to build it.” Danny filled his clay pipe and grinned. “I thought I’d bring you round to my way of thinking in the end, mate,” he remarked.



© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2010