THE RAIDERS' FATE.
IT was nearly nine o'clock that night before Biggles joined the others at Algy's flat in a side-turning off Baker Street. He found them yawning in their chairs with the debris of a meal on the table in front of them.
"Anything left?" he asked, glancing at the remnants. "We've had bacon and eggs. How will that suit you?" replied Algy.
"Fine. Pour me out a cup of that coffee, and I'll tell you the rest of the story; it won't take long."
"Go ahead," answered Algy, passing the coffee.
Biggles lit a cigarette and threw the dead match into the fireplace. "Have you seen an evening paper, by any chance?" he inquired.
Algy shook his head.
"I thought not or you'd have had more to say when I came in. Well, it's all over."
"What's all over?"
"Blackbeard's Air Fleet. It isn't any more-or not much of it. It's busted wide open."
" Come on; out with it!" cried Algy impatiently. "What's happened?"
"Well, this is the story as far as I can make it out," went on Biggles, "although you must understand that the Air Ministry are not saying much about it; I've had to guess part of it, although they helped me with a few broad hints. This was the order of it, and it all hung on those papers Ginger snaffled in Russia. As far as I remember, not one of us looked at them, although it wouldn't have mattered very much if we had, as they were in Russian, but they meant a dickens of a lot to that fellow we met in Christianbad-what was his name?- Hesterley. He sent the whole story to England in code while we were kicking our heels in that cell. No wonder Blackbeard was upset."
Biggles dropped his voice to a dramatic whisper.
"Last night was the night decided for a full-dress rehearsal of Blackbeard's Air Fleet's raid on Great Britain; thirty flying-boats were to take part, landing at nine different bases on the English coast. The numbers of the machines and the exact positions of the objectives were all set out in those papers, together with the names of the people taking part, and all the rest of it. Well, there was the story, and the Air Ministry wasted no time.
As far as can at present be ascertained, only two of those machines succeeded in getting back to the base in Russia. Some were damaged, and must have gone down in the North Sea trying to get back; one, they say, is down on the Dutch coast. The evening papers have got hold of a story about a lot of mysterious aircraft wreckage being washed up here and there on the east coast. The Ministry have denied any knowledge of the matter to the press, as they were bound to without running the risk of starting a war, and, as a matter of fact, they've succeeded in hushing the thing up pretty well. The newspapers have guessed that there is a lot more behind it, of course, but in the national interest they are allowing the thing to drop."
"But what happened?" cried Algy.
Biggles shook his head. "I doubt if we shall ever know for certain, but a wink is as good as a nod to a blind horse, and I have my own opinion."
"You think "I believe that as soon as our people got the word, they made a lightning raid on every base that had been laid down in this country. Not only were the bases named in the papers, but there was a map marking their exact positions. Well, they collared the whole works, and quite a number of the personnel, I believe; they will probably be deported in due course. Every one of the black flyingboats-or, I should say, nearly very one-crashed on landing, and that to my mind can only have been brought about by one thing.
The submerged lights must have functioned, or the pilots would not have attempted to land; but I should say they functioned in the wrong places."
"You mean-our people shifted them?"
"Exactly. The lights were switched on, but instead of the illuminated positions being nice sheltered coves, they were amongst shoal, sand and rocks. You can imagine what happened. The machines would either buckle up or tear their keels out when they bumped into terra firma. They would certainly stick if they did not actually crash, and I expect our people were watching to pick up the survivors. Mind you, this is only assumption on my part, but I know for a fact that the machines all piled up where they came down, and that is the only way I can account for it. It seems a bit drastic, I must admit, but when all is said and done, the treatment handed out to these fellows was nothing like as drastic as that which they would have handed out to us when the time was ripe."
"They've got what they asked for," agreed Algy, "and they'll think twice before they try anything like that again. Was that all they said at the Air Ministry?"
"Pretty well. I made a full and complete report which was taken down in writing by a shorthand typist. At the finish I was thanked by the Chief of the Air Staff on behalf of the Secretary of State for Air-which, of course, means the Government-and asked to extend their thanks to my 'gallant and duty-devoted comrades.' "
"Was that all?" asked Algy bluntly. "Didn't they even offer to pay our expenses? This trip has cost a bit of money one way and another."
A slow smile spread over Biggles' face as he slowly took an envelope from his pocket. "
You do me less than justice, as our friend Blackbeard would say," he said reprovingly. "I have a cheque which makes rather good reading, to be divided between you and me in such proportions as we may decide, being the chief partners in the affair, so to speak.
There is a further cheque for 500 for Smyth, to do what he likes with, and another for the same amount for this ginger-headed young rascal-wait a minute, my lad, I haven't finished yet-in my name, to be devoted to, his education, in any way that I may think fit. As an' alternative, if he prefers it, the Service will take charge of him, in which case he will proceed to Cranwell as an aircraft-apprentice. Which is it to be, Ginger? "
"Do I have any say in my education?" asked Ginger shrewdly.
"Within reason. What's your idea of it?"
"To go to a civil flying-school and get my tickets-flying and ground-engineer's licences."
"That's all right with me. You can start in as soon as you like. You may learn to fly, but you won't be able to take your tickets just yet because you're still under age."
"Never mind that; as long as I can fly, that's all I care.
When I get my hands on a joystick I shall be able to hold my own with you guys on the next show we do."
"Well, I'm taking the amphibian tomorrow for complete overhaul; I'll take you down with me, if you like," concluded Biggles.
"O.K., big boy!" cried Ginger enthusiastically