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Authors: Captain W E Johns

14 Biggles Goes To War

BOOK: 14 Biggles Goes To War
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Chapter 1

Biggles has Visitors

Major James Bigglesworth, DSO , more often known as Biggles, turned down the page of the book he was reading and pulled his chair a little nearer the fire. 'Algy,' he announced quietly, 'you're smoking too much.'

Captain the Honourable Algernon Lacey deliberately blew a neat smoke-ring into the air before he replied. 'You think so?' he murmured, pushing his finger through the ring.

'I'm sure of it.'

'What are you going to do about it?'

`The question is, rather, what are you?'

`Nothing - that is, unless you can think of something else for me to do besides twiddle my thumbs in front of the fire.'

`Go to the pictures.'

'And see war-flying as it exists in the fertile imaginations of film producers? No, thank you.'

Biggles turned to 'Ginger' Hebblethwaite, their protégé. 'You know, Ginger,' he said sadly, 'the trouble with some people is they don't know when to stop.'

'I'm getting a bit bored myself,' admitted Ginger, frankly.

Biggles frowned. 'My goodness! Another one, eh? If you two feel like that, why don't you take yourselves off and start something?'

`What could we start?'

Biggles shrugged his shoulders. 'Don't ask me. How should I know? If you haven't had enough excitement out of life already, why not go and join an air circus and do a bit of wing-walking, or, maybe, the flying-man act? `They're always looking for new fellows to replace those whose parachutes failed to open.'

'What about you?'

Ì'll sit in a chair and watch. I've done all the tearing up and down the world I'm going to do for a little while.'

`My nerves are getting worn out with sitting here reading tales in the newspapers about collisions in the air and other horrors,' declared Algy. 'What I need is excitement.'

`What you need is a kick in the pants,' growled Biggles, reaching for his book. He was about to resume his reading when there was a light tap on the door and Mrs Symes, the housekeeper, came in.

`There's a gentleman to see you, sir,' she said.

Àh-ha!' ejaculated Biggles, tossing the book aside again. 'Who have we here? Is it the answer to your fervent prayer, Algy, I wonder? Who is it, Mrs Symes?'

`He says his name is Stanhauser - or something like that.'

Biggles raised his eyebrows. `Hm. It sounds as if he might be an interesting sort of a fellow. Show the gentleman in, Mrs Symes.' He rose to his feet to greet the man who, a moment or two later, walked slowly into the room. He was old, not less than sixty years of age, and that he was a gentleman was at once apparent both by his poise and the expression of quiet dignity on his rather sad face. His hair was grey, as was the square-cut beard that

covered his chin, but his steady eyes were blue, and as bright as those of a young man.

He was dressed entirely in black, with the narrow coloured ribbon of a Continental decoration threaded through his buttonhole.

Biggles took his hat, helped him off with his overcoat, and pulled a chair forward. Sit down, sir,' he invited courteously. 'My name is Biggiesworth. These are my friends.'

`Mine is Stanhauser - Max Stanhauser,' returned the other with a rather stiff bow.

`May I offer you a cigarette, sir?' Biggles reached for the box.

'No, thanks; you will pardon my discourtesy, I know, if I smoke one of my own,' was the quiet reply. 'You see,' went on the old man, in explanation, 'my throat gives me a little trouble, so I am obliged to confine myself to a special brand of cigarettes made from pure Turkish leaf. Permit me to offer you one.'

'That's very kind of you - thanks.' Biggles lighted the cigarette and sat back. 'You came to see me, I think?' he prompted.

The merest suspicion of a smile crossed the other's face. 'More than that; I want you to help me,' he answered frankly.

Biggles glanced at Algy, but his face was expressionless. He looked back at his visitor. '

If you will tell me in what capacity I could serve you, perhaps - '

'Very well. I will - how do you say? - put my cards on the table. That will be best, perhaps, for both of us. My name is unknown to you - yes?'

There was just enough accent in the old man's voice to reveal him to be a foreigner.

'I'm afraid I cannot recall having heard it before,' admitted Biggles.

Ì am the Maltovian Ambassador in London, and have been for some time.'

Biggles smiled apologetically. `Maltovia? Forgive me, but my geography is bad. I can't quite place Maltovia.'

`Few people, except those who live in or near that little state, could describe its position precisely on the map, I think. Maltovia is a principality lying slightly to the northeast of the Black Sea.'

Ìn Europe?'

Òf course, but only just. Still, we can claim to be Europeans, and there is much difference between Europe and Asia, which is not far from our eastern frontier.'

'As you say, there is much difference,' agreed Biggles. Ànd what, may I ask, is the trouble in Maltovia?'

`There is no trouble in our country,' was the gentle answer. The trouble is outside, but it may presently reach us. Like many another small state, we find ourselves, in these days of aggression, in danger of being absorbed by a larger one. The story is as old as the hills.

Greedy eyes are upon little Maltovia. Fortunately, in the past we have been safe from the great Powers because they watch each other so closely, and any move by one towards annexation would at once be challenged by the others. But now we are threatened in -

how do you say? - a roundabout manner. On our northern frontier is another state, not large, as countries in Europe go, but larger than we are. I mean Lovitzna. The Lovitznians are our hereditary enemies. 'They have recently made a secret pact with one of the great Powers, in return for which Maltovia is to be theirs.'

`How do you know that?' asked Biggles quickly. `We have our sources of information.'

`But surely your ruling prince will have something to say about that?'

Àt the moment we have no prince, but the Sovereign Princess Mariana, daughter of our late prince, administers our little country with ability and affection.'

Biggles shook his head sadly. 'You need a man in times like this.'

For an instant the old man's eyes flashed. 'We are happy with our princess,' he said softly, 'if others would only leave us in peace.'

Biggles moved uneasily. 'And - er - just what do you think I can do about it?'

`You could be of great assistance to us.'

Ìn what way?'

`The Lovitznians are preparing for an offensive. We have definite proof of that. They know that we have certain defences that would prove serious obstacles to an invasion.

Needless to say, we guard those secrets jealously, but from one direction we are powerless to protect ourselves from observation.'

`You mean—?'

'The sky. Up to the present there has been little flying in our part of the world, which may account for the fact that we now find ourselves in need of pilots. Lovitzna has recently imported some aeroplanes and, secretly, she must have had some pilots trained in the country from which she acquired them. Also, we hear some foreign pilots came with the aeroplanes. Now, every day, they fly over our country, watching, and, no doubt, taking photographs of our defences.'

A frown creased Biggles's forehead. 'But that's a scandalous state of affairs,' he declared indignantly. `Do you mean to say that you allow the air force of another power to fly over your country without permission?'

A sad smile crossed the old man's face. He raised his hands, palms outwards. 'Allow? Do you think that we

should allow them to do that if we could stop them? Now perhaps you understand why I'

ve come to you.'

Biggles shook his head. 'I'm sorry, Mr Stanhauser,' he said quietly, 'but I could not undertake such a job as the one I perceive you have in mind.'

'But you are a great pilot, well skilled in war-flying—'

Ì may know something about the business,' interrupted Biggles, 'but it is not a question of ability. I should get into trouble here if I got mixed up in European affairs, possibly lose my licence. In any case, I would rather not get entangled in a continental fracas.'

`Fracas! You call the extermination of a home-loving people a fracas?'

Biggles flushed. 'Forgive me, I didn't exactly mean that,' he muttered awkwardly. 'It was just a comparative term, that's all.'

`To you, Maltovia is - just a small - affair. I see. Perhaps you are right.' The old man rose. 'I am sorry,' he said simply. 'In my heart when I came here was a ray of hope that you would help us.'

'I am sorry, too, but I've finished with war-flying.' 'You have flown in war before.'

`That is true, but it was not quite the same. Then I was fighting for my own country, which is something every man must be prepared to do.'

Àh, I understand.'

Biggles helped the old man on with his coat, walked with him to the door, and held out his hand. 'Good-night, sir,' he said.

Ànd good-night to you.' The Maltovian Ambassador walked slowly away.

Biggles returned to where the others were still sitting by the fire. There was a thoughtful expression on his face. `You know, I liked that old boy,' he said sadly. 'What I liked about him particularly was the way he kept off the question of money. He was too much of a gentleman to try to bribe me.'

`Then why the dickens didn't you say we'll give him a hand?' demanded Algy coldly.

`Because, if you want to know the honest-to-goodness truth, I can think of no sane reason why we should throw our lives away uselessly fighting for people we do not know, a country we have never seen, and are never likely to see.'

`Who says we should throw our lives away?'

Ì do. Do you suppose that we three could take on a country already equipped, and backed by a great Power? Don't be foolish.'

Algy sighed. 'I suppose you're right,' he admitted reluctantly. 'I - what the deuce!' He broke off as there was a sharp rap on the door, which an instant later was flung open.

A man stood on the threshold, a middle-aged, clean-shaven, hard-featured man, with a square face on which the cheek-bones were high and prominent. The hair round his ears was clipped close.

`Who is Bigglesworth?' he demanded harshly, with a coarse, guttural accent, and without removing his hat.

Biggles had sprung to his feet at the interruption. Now his lips closed in a grim line as he approached the intruder. 'My name is Bigglesworth,' he said icily. 'Pardon me if my memory is at fault, but I do not remember inviting you to my rooms.'

Ì invited myself,' was the curt reply. 'I have come to tell you something.'

`Then perhaps you would say it as quickly as possible.' Ì came to advise you to keep out of other people's business.'

Biggles inclined his head slightly. 'I see,' he said slowly. `By the way, I think you omitted the courtesy of mentioning your name.'

`Zarovitch is my name.'

Ànd you come, perhaps, from - Lovitzna?'

lovitzna is my country.'

Biggles smiled faintly. 'I am pleased to hear it. Then let me give you a piece of advice. I would recommend that you return to Lovitzna with all possible speed before some Englishman gives you a poke on the nose.'

The other's eyes flashed, and his jaw protruded belligerently. 'I am my country's representative in England,' he snapped.

`Then it is a pity your country cannot find you better employment than snooping around following the representatives of other nations,' returned Biggles promptly.

The Lovitznian's mouth set grimly. 'So! You go to Maltovia, eh?'

`Do you - er - mind?'

'I do.'

`Perhaps you would like me to ask your permission?' Biggles's tone was bitterly sarcastic.

The visitor took another pace into the room. A smile played about his lips, but his eyes were cold. 'Listen, young man,' he said. 'I will make you a proposition, a better proposition than the one Stanhauser has offered you.'

Ànd I'll make you one,' answered Biggles softly. `What is it?'

`That you get out of my rooms before I throw you out.' The other forced an ingratiating smile. 'May I ask what it is you don't like about me?'

Biggles reached for a cigarette and tapped it on the back of his hand. 'You may,' he said. '

Since you ask, I don't like

anything about you. I don't like your country, I don't like your face, I don't like your manners, and I don't like your name. I trust I have made myself clear?'

The other breathed deeply. `Yes,' he said, 'you have made yourself quite clear. Perhaps one day I may find an opportunity of making myself - just as clear.'

`Your opinion then, as now, will be a matter of complete indifference to me,' Biggles told him. `Would you mind closing the door as you go out?'

The Lovitznian bowed ironically. Then he went out and slammed the door.

Biggles turned on his heels. His manner was brisk. 'Pass me the telephone directory, Ginger,' he said crisply.

Algy started. 'What are you going to do?'

Ì'm going to ring up the Maltovian Embassy.'

'Why?'

`Why? Why do you suppose?' snapped Biggles. 'I'm going to Maltovia, that's why. You look like getting all the excitement you've been craving for, the pair of you.'

BOOK: 14 Biggles Goes To War
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