by Captain W. E. Johns



XI.                   THE UNKNOWN DIAMONDS  (Pages 160 – 184)


This story was unique to this book and never published elsewhere.


“Air-Commodore Raymond, head of the little-publicized Special Air Section at Scotland Yard, glanced up from his desk as Biggles walked in.  “Morning Bigglesworth,” he greeted briefly.  “Busy?”  “Not particularly, sir” is the reply.  Raymond shows Biggles five uncut diamonds, which he believes have been smuggled into the country.  They were found in the safe of a small-time pawnbroker, suspected of dealing in stolen property.  The man says he bought them from someone he doesn’t know.  It may be true “In any case he wouldn’t dare to squeal for fear of what the underworld might do to him when he comes out of prison”.  “He’s gone down for five years.  Nothing was said about these diamonds at the trial, one reason being that as they had no history we couldn’t prove they’d been stolen.  There’s no law in this country against possessing diamonds.  We had all the evidence we wanted for a conviction without them.  The important thing about that is, the person who brought these diamonds into the country may not know they are now in the hands of the police”.  The current police theory is that the diamonds were stolen from the person who smuggled them in and then sold to the pawnbroker.  Biggles asks “What’s the next move?”  The Air-Commodore sat back in his chair.  “Now look, Bigglesworth.  There’s more to this than mere smuggling.  Diamonds, like gold, help to stabilize the economy of every civilized country.  Any quantity of uncontrolled stones would lower the price of honest diamonds in the world markets.  That in turn would upset the value of those held as security for loans by banks and business houses.  The consequences of a slump would be serious”.  Experts have agreed the diamonds in question come from South-West Africa, where the most valuable diamond field in the world is Alexander Bay, at the mouth of the Orange River (at 2432 km, the longest river in South Africa, extending to Namibia).  In South Africa, prospecting for diamonds is forbidden by law as is possession of an uncut diamond.  The actual diamond fields are protected by patrols, fences, searchlights and so on.  It’s hard to get diamonds out by surface craft but aircraft may be involved.  Raymond wants Biggles to go to South Africa to see if there’s a clue to be picked up at that end and if there are any traces of aircraft operation in the district in question.  There is only one private aircraft service registered north of Orange River and that is a German doctor named Shultz, but he has been vetted by the police and found to be all right.  His line of business is exporting monkeys for medical research.  He flies them to Algeria.  Biggles says “People certainly choose some queer occupations.  Fancy being a monkey-monger!”  Biggles agrees to go.  (A new paragraph starts after a break and the chapter is headed “2”).  “For a week the old Air Police Halifax – which may have seen more service than any aircraft of its type – had kicked the air behind it over those harsh, unlovely areas of South-West Africa, which, by a whim of nature, yield the earth’s most exquisite jewels”.  They had been shadowed by a South African Police patrol to Kleetmanshoop airfield, where Biggles had satisfied the officer in charge by producing papers which showed that he was on an official flight of survey, mapping a projected new route to the Cape.  This subterfuge had been arranged by Air-Commodore Raymond to cover the real purpose of the expedition.  It had served its purpose admirably, facilitating maintenance at the several airfields on which the Halifax had landed.  Biggles had supported the papers he carried by not staying more than two days at any one place, using in turn the aerodromes from Windhock in the north to Uperton in the south.  To the east and west of this line lay most of the territory under inspection, the Namib Desert running as far as the sea to the west, and the notorious Kalahari to the east”.  (It so happens that I own the map of Europe and Africa that used to hang in W. E. Johns office when he wrote this story.  The only three towns shown in this area of the map of Africa are “Windhoek”, (NB – the penultimate letter is an “E” not a “C”).  Keetmanshoop” (NB – there is no “L” in this word) and “Upington” and not Uperton as the book has it.  Were these careless errors by either the typist and print setters misreading Johns handwriting or had he deliberately changed all names?  There seems to be no sense in the latter so it must be the former).  Biggles is actually looking for an aircraft on the ground or indications that one had landed.  “This was not such a hopeless task as it might appear, for although there were hundreds of thousands of square miles to cover it was only necessary to search the level areas on which it was possible for an aircraft to land.  Mountains, rock country, and swamp, such as the vast Etosha Pan, could be ignored.  However, there was nothing to show for a week’s hard work”.  Biggles has Ginger, Algy and Bertie with him, but lightens the labour by allowing everyone in turn to have a day off.  “It was on the eighth day that they saw their first Bushmen, those small primitive natives who, retreating before the tide of civilization, have learned how to exist in conditions which no other race could endure”.  On a day, which was technically Ginger’s day off, all four of them are in the aircraft.  Ginger had chosen to come to see the monkey’s if they called on Shultz’s zoological establishment.  Biggles is searching an area of flat country when he sees some containers of some sort.  Chancing a landing, Biggles finds that “the objects were what have become known as jerry-cans, those excellent petrol containers used by the German forces in the war.  Biggles picked one of them up.  “It’s full!” he exclaimed, in a voice of astonishment”.  They are then approached by six undersized, wizened, brown men, whose only garment was a small skin apron.  They carried miniature bows and arrows, and spears, and their attitude was definitely hostile.  (“Their attitude was definitely hostile” is the illustration opposite page 173).  Conversation was not possible but the airmen try to indicate that they did not want the cans.  Biggles points to his mouth as if he was thirsty.  “Upon this the natives went into a huddle and did some uncouth chattering”.  One man then gives Biggles some water from one of the cans.  Biggles gives the men cigarettes and Ginger notices that one man already has a tin full of tobacco.  Biggles and his comrades return to their aircraft where Biggles speculates on where the bushmen have got the things that have.  “They’ve obviously been in touch with a white man,” answered Algy.  Biggles says “Since Shultz lives no great distance away he’s most likely to be the Santa Claus”.  Biggles wonders what service the bushmen provide for reward.  It can’t be catching monkeys as there are none in these blistering sands. They are to be found where there is food, water and shade.  Murmured Bertie:  As they say in the newspapers at home, the police are anxious to interview Mr. Shultz, who they think might be able to assist them in their enquiries”.  (A new paragraph starts after a break and the chapter is headed “3”).  “There was no difficulty in locating Dr. Shultz’s establishment, for in a district where a real house was a phenomenon the few that did brave the waste were as conspicuous as bees on a whitewashed ceiling.  It was in the elbow of a valley and even had a patch of cultivated ground.  Wheel marks converged on a wood-and-corrugated-iron building large enough to accommodate an aircraft.  Biggles lands and two white men walk towards them, one aged about fifty and one in his early twenties.  Doctor Schultz is the elder of the two and Biggles introduces himself and his crew.  The other man is Schultz’s pilot, Herr Leffers.  The doctor invites them to lunch, where he explains his unusual occupation.  He had been “engaged in experimental work on monkey gland in connexion with the human body” and had set up a laboratory where monkeys could be easily and cheaply acquired.  Then he started supplying zoos and medical institutions.  Now, with the atom bomb and research into the effects of radio-activity, demand has soared.  America alone takes five hundred a week.  Monkeys are now more profitable than medicine.  The monkeys are caught by the Hottentots.  His aircraft was a converted war-time Dornier, fitted with cages to take sixty monkeys at a load.  The Dornier takes them to Algiers and from there they go by regular air services.  Leffers is to take the next load at dawn.  They go to a big shed filled with cages of monkeys and one or two larger species chained to benches.  One grey-faced beast with a long tail has a bandaged shoulder.  The doctor says the monkey cut himself trying to escape.  Biggles strokes the creature but it tries to bite him.  Biggles then offers to buy the creature when he says “May I buy this poor chap?  I’ve taken a fancy to him”.  Doctor Shultz tells Biggles he is already sold.  Biggles and his comrades then take their leave and fly to Windhock, where they have the fuel tanks of their aircraft topped up.  Biggles wants to fly home, via Algiers, and wants to send a cable to Marcel Brissac of the French Surete to meet him there.  Biggles says that Schultz is the smuggler and he is sewing diamonds under the skin of monkeys.  “If what I felt weren’t diamonds then that monkey has got a nasty row of boils on the way”.  (A new paragraph starts after a break and the chapter is headed “4”).  “Two days later the Halifax lands at the big international airport at Algiers and Marcel Brissac is there to meet them.  “What cooks, old cabbage?” he demanded.  Biggles tells Marcel all about the suspected diamond smuggling and gets him to watch Leffers when he lands and particularly, the grey face monkey with the long tail.  In due course, Leffers lands and Marcel reports back that all monkeys go to the depot except the grey-face one which is to be on the next Air-France plane to London.  “He wears a label to a man named Shultz, to be collected at London Airport”.  Biggles asks Marcel to send a cable he has composed to Raymond and then flies on to London to get there before the monkey arrives.  He suggests that Marcel accompanies the grey-face monkey on part of its journey to Paris, before it goes on to London, just to make sure the animal is not dropped off on the way.  At London airport, Biggles is met by Air Commodore Raymond and Inspector Gaskin as well as a plain clothes man and a police surgeon.  There is also a senior officer of Customs and Excise and a representative of the R.S.P.C.A.  A gentleman with a car arrives to collect the monkey.  Raymond confirms he is there for the monkey and says it has to be examined for infectious disease.  The man says he has never had problems before, when his brother sends him monkeys from South Africa.  The doctor soon finds the lumps and says he will look to see what they are.  This prompts Shultz to own up, saying the monkey is carrying diamonds.  Raymond asks Shultz if he has had a burglar in his house lately and when Shultz admits he has, Raymond says “Then you have him to thank for spoiling a neat, but nevertheless unpardonable, scheme”.    (A new paragraph starts after a break but the chapter is just headed with an asterix ‘*’).  “The end of this ingenious attempt to evade Customs duties can be imagined.  Shultz – the one in England – wisely chose to make a clean breast of the business”.  His brother had bought diamonds from the Bushmen for a mere song.  It was confirmed that the money made was actually handed to a charitable institution in Germany devoted to the care of war-mutilated German soldiers.  Shultz had to pay a heavy fine and lost the diamonds.  By the time the South African police got to his brother, he and Leffers had both gone, never to be seen again.  It was presumed they flew to Germany in the Dornier.  The monkeys in the district have cause to be grateful to Biggles.  “To-day, if you go to the Zoo, and happen to notice a grey-faced monkey with a long tail giving himself airs, it may be because he is the only one of his tribe ever to have carried a fortune in diamonds and lived to tell a tale of a real piece of ‘monkey business’.