BIGGLES IN FRANCE
by W. E. Johns
7. BIGGLES’ SKY-HIGH SPY (Pages 98 - 116)
(First published in the Modern Boy on 8th December 1934 – Issue 357)
(This is ‘Suspicions’ (Chapter 14) & ‘Off and Away’ (Chapter 15) in the book and the story became “THE FLYING SPY” in “Spitfire Parade”).
“Captain Bigglesworth (we are told “his promotion dated from his meritorious work in bringing down the camera-plane”) (“However, this has to be contrasted with what we are told about Biggles in the story “The Packet” – the second story in “The Camels are Coming” (when Raymond was a ‘Colonel’) with the opening line referring to “Biggles, newly appointed to Captain’s rank since his affair with the White Fokker”) is flying near the “ghastly ruins of Ypres, still being pounded into dust by bursting shells”. “For the great battle for possession of the Ypres Salient was still in progress”. Biggles sees a Camel from an unknown squadron and notices the plane is badly shot up. Biggles’ engine develops a fault and when he flies back to Maranique, the new arrival follows him. They both land at Maranique and the pilot introduces himself as Butterworth of 298, a Canadian. He says they are based up on the coast at Teteghen and he has flown down to take a look at the Lines. On the mess veranda Butterworth tells his story of being chased by German aircraft and shot at. Butterworth offers Biggles a cigarette from a distinctive cigarette case heavily engraved with the initials “F.T.B.” Biggles slips away to make a phone call and then goes with Algy to the aircraft sheds. On the way, Biggles breaks off a thin ash stick from a hedge. Biggles asks Algy if there is anything unusual about the bullet holes in Butterworth’s machine. Algy can see nothing unusual. “Biggles inserted the ash stick in a hole on one side of the fuselage, and pushed it until the point rested in the corresponding hole on the opposite side, where the bullet had emerged”. “It would go through the top part of his leg, wouldn’t it? It couldn’t possibly miss him entirely, could it?” asks Biggles. “Butterworth wasn’t in the cockpit of that aeroplane when that bullet was fired!” Biggles then tells Algy that he knows Frank Butterworth personally. He met him at Lympne the last time he was in England. “Today was the not the first time I have taken a cigarette out of the self same case that that fellow is now flaunting!” “I think that Frank Butterworth is either in a German prison hospital, or he’s staring up at the sky through four feet of Flanders mud”. Biggles thinks the newcomer is a spy. Biggles discusses with Algy a trap. He wants Algy to show Butterworth the map room and leave him there. Biggles has put out a map showing as many squadrons as he can think of – but not in the right places. “If he does pocket it, his next idea will be to get away as soon as he can”. Biggles will be in the air in his Camel. If Butterworth tries to leave with the map, Algy is to run out with a towel and wave it. Biggles will be able to see that whilst in the air. “I shall suggest to him by certain methods that I want him to come back with me. If he doesn’t - ” Biggles shrugged his shoulders expressively. Biggles takes off. Algy returns to the mess where Butterworth is chatting with Mahoney and several other officers. Algy offers to show Butterworth the map room so he can find his way back to their aerodrome if necessary. Butterworth takes his flying gear with him. Algy leaves him in the map room but watches him through a small hole in the wall where a knot has fallen out of a board. Butterworth looks at the map, then puts it in his pocket and goes to get in his plane and takes off. Algy runs out waving a towel. Mahoney asks Algy if Butterworth is taking off and then comments “Bad show about his brother”. Algy asks him what he means. Mahoney says that Butterworth was saying his brother, Frank, was shot down yesterday, “went West” and it’s his brother’s cigarette case he has as he borrowed it from him before it happened. Mahoney also mentions that Butterworth would have been with his brother if he hadn’t lent his aircraft to another pilot who then got shot through the leg. For Algy “understanding of the whole situation flooded his brain like a spotlight, and he ran like a madman towards the hangars, praying that he might be in time to prevent a tragedy”. Meanwhile, having seen the signal, Biggles is chasing after Butterworth and coming up behind him. “At that moment Butterworth looked back over his shoulder. For one fleeting instant Biggles stared into the goggled face, and then moved like lightning, for the Camel had spun round on its axis, its nose tilted upwards, and a double stream of tracer bullets poured from its guns, making a glittering streak past Biggles’ wing-tip”. Biggles turns to shoot down Butterworth but then sees a blazing German Albatross. Behind him are five more. Butterworth had got the leader “with a piece of brilliant shooting at the first burst”. Algy arrives in his Camel and there is a dog fight. An Albatross dives into the ground but it is not said who shoots it down. Biggles fires at an Albatross “he fired again, and saw it jerk upwards to a whip-stall”. Butterworth’s machine ends up on the ground and the pilot is helped from his seat by some nearby troops. Algy waves and signals frantically at Biggles and they return to their aerodrome where the news is that Butterworth is not hurt but merely shaken and returning by tender. Algy says “My word, Biggles, you nearly boobed that time!” and he tells Biggles what he has learned. When Butterworth arrives back, Biggles says to Algy “Shut up – here he comes! Don’t, for goodness sake, say anything about this spy business!” Butterworth thanks Biggles and Algy for helping out with the Huns. He says he pushed off to try to get home before the storm broke and he took the map to make sure of finding his way home. He would have returned it in a day or two and it gave him an excuse to come back. Butterworth says “By the way, did I hear you say something to Algy about a spy? I thought I just caught the word”. “Yes,” replied Biggles. “But it was only a rumour!”