by Captain W. E. Johns



XII.                 THE FORTUNE OF WAR  (Pages 224 – 231)


“Luck,” remarked Squadron Leader Wilkinson, with unusual solemnity, “is a frivolous lady, and about as reliable as a meteorological report.  On day, when things look grim, she’ll blow you a kiss; the next, just when you think you’re on top of the world, she’ll slap your face.  The trouble is, you don’t know which it’s going to be”.  Wilks talks about one of his pilots, Tony Luke.  “From being a steady pilot he just went – well, gaga” says Wilks.  Biggles says he heard the details from Joe Fairwell, who commanded the squadron Tony was in prior to going to Wilks’s squadron.  Biggles then tells the dozen officers gathered around the fire in the ante-room of 666 Squadron the story.  It started with a crash.  Tony had shot down a Junkers 88 but French gunners were firing and a lump of shrapnel hit his engine and bought Tony down.  When he woke up, he was in bed with a broken back – or so he thought.  He had crashed in the grounds of a chateau and been pulled clear by a mother, a Countess and her daughter, Marie.  They called the R.A.F. and the M.O. (Medical Officer) came out and asked if Tony could stay there as it was dangerous to move him with the back injury.  “Marie was a pretty girl, and Tony was a good-looking lad.  The result was inevitable.  They fell in love with each other”.  “Tony was hardly in a financial position to ask the hand in marriage of the daughter of one of the oldest and richest families in France.  He was too young, anyway, to think seriously of marriage.  Besides, he knew that he might be killed any day”.  Tony lied to the M.O. to pretend he was worse than he really was in order to stay on.  Feeling guilty, Tony debated in his mind about whether he should tell the truth or just go.  He tossed a coin but Lady Luck had deserted him.  It came down heads, which meant go.  He got dressed and departed via a window, leaving a note for the Countess.  At dawn, some French troops found him staggering down the road and took him to hospital.  Marie, finding Tony gone, discovered he was in the hospital and set off in a car to visit him.  A German bomb exploded near her car and blew it to pieces.  Marie was killed outright and before she died, she sent a message to Tony saying “Tell him that I shall be waiting for him, up there”.  The news is kept from Tony until he is discharged from hospital fit for duty.  After hearing about the death of Marie, Tony flew like a madman.  He shot down seven Huns in a week and piled up a score of twenty-eight inside two months.  “The truth of the matter was, I have no doubt, he was looking for Old Man Death and he didn’t care who knew it”.  Biggles says from what I hear, he’s still crazy, roaring about in the blue – looking for her.  Wilks adds “And now, at last, he’s found her”.  “He and I ran into a bunch of Messerschmitts this afternoon.  We got three of them.  Then they got him – in flames.  He jumped clear, from twenty thousand – without a parachute”.


This chapter was originally a story written for adults that did not feature Biggles at all.  It was originally called “Reunion” and was published in the November 1941 issue of “Britannia and Eve” magazine.  It was then collected as the first story in a compilation book called “Sky Fever and Other Stories” published in June 1953.  The opening page of the original story “Reunion” is interesting as it reworks elements of the opening page to the first ever Biggles story “The White Fokker” with lines such as “Jerry Francis, still in his teens, punctuated the narrative with an irritating falsetto laugh.  He had killed a man an hour ago.  In the six months since he had left Eton, he had killed eighteen – or was it twenty?  Was it only six months?  He wasn’t sure; time had become curiously telescoped lately”.  (The opening page of the first Biggles story has the following lines about Biggles “He had killed a man not six hours before.  He had killed six men during the past month – or was it a year? – he had forgotten.  Time had become curiously telescoped lately”.  The story also refers to his “irritating little falsetto laugh”).  The C.O. (Commanding Officer) in “Reunion” is the Hon. Bertie Parkinson and he is asking Squadron Leader Luke about Tony Harcourt.  It is Squadron Leader Luke who tells the story (in the re-write Tony is given the surname “Luke” as Harcourt is already another character).  Tony crashes in the grounds of a convent and falls in love with Sister Marguerite after the Abbess gives permission for Tony to stay due to his back injury.  It is not explicitly stated, but it is strongly hinted that the couple make love and then Tony leaves out of guilt.  Sister Marguerite drowns herself in a lake.  Tony is then flying like a madman as he also wants to die.  At the end of the tale, Parkinson is given a message that Tony has been killed.  He deliberately rammed a Heinkel at twenty thousand feet and didn’t bale out.