by Captain W. E. Johns



XXI.        STERNE TAKES A HAND  (Pages 237 – 246)


At a house on the outskirts of the village of Jebel Zaloud, in a house that once had been the residence of the merchant Ali Ben Sadoum, is the Air Headquarters of the British Expeditionary Force in Palestine.  Biggles and Algy awake in chairs having been there all night and are called in to see the General who has been up most of the night working on important dispatches.  The General asks which one of them is Bigglesworth and he then asks if Biggles was the one whose intervention led to the stay of execution for Sheikh Haroun Ibn Said, otherwise known as El Shereef.  Biggles says “Quite, sir.  I hope to repay you for your consideration”.  Biggles says that Haroun Ibn Said, a good friend of the British, was innocent, framed by El Shereef himself.  Biggles explains that Hauptmann Erich von Stalhein is El Shereef.  There is a knock at the door and the General is told that Major Sterne has arrived.  The General calls for Sterne to come up.  “Biggles, after a nod to Algy, stepped back against the far wall”.  Sterne enters dressed in flowing Arab robes.  The General tells Sterne that Haroun Ibn Said is not El Shereef.  “Not El Shereef!” cried Sterne.  “What nonsense!  If he isn’t El Shereef, then who is?”  “You are, I think,” said Biggles quietly.  “Don’t move – von Stalhein”.  “Ah,” he said softly, and then again, “Ah.  So I was right”.  “You were,” said Biggles shortly, “and so was I”.  Von Stalhein raises his hands and as he does so he tears off the top of his burnous and throws it in Biggles face.  He then goes through the window “like a bird”.  Everyone chases after him but von Stalhein gets on a horse and gallops off.  The General gets in his car and chases after von Stalhein, with Biggles in the back and Algy on the running board.  A mile away is Kantara and von Stalhein gets to the British aerodrome before he can be overtaken.  Von Stalhein then jumps into a Bristol Fighter warming up on the tarmac and takes off.  The General tells Baines, his driver, to stop at the nearby archie battery and the General then tells the lieutenant there to shoot down the Bristol.  “Get it and I’ll promote you to Captain in to-night’s orders”.  The archie battery opens fire at the plane which escaping into the distance.  “Biggles was torn between desire to watch the frantic but methodical activity of the gunners – for he had seldom stood at the starting end of archie – and the machine, but he could not tear his eyes away from the swerving two-seater; knowing from bitter experience just what von Stalhein was going through, he felt almost sorry for him”.  Shells burst all around the Bristol and eventually one bursts between the wings and the aircraft takes a “dizzy earthward plunge”.  The aircraft disappears behind a hill and comes down over the German side of the lines.  They all hear “the sinister but unmistakable sound of an aeroplane hitting the ground”.  “Biggles drew a deep breath.  “Well,” he said slowly, “that’s that”.