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A short story by A. A. Milne

The Secret Of The Army Aeroplane

Title:     The Secret Of The Army Aeroplane
Author: A. A. Milne [More Titles by Milne]

[In the thrilling manner of Mr. William le Queux.]

"Yes," said my friend, Ray Raymond, as a grim smile crossed his typically English face, looking round the chambers which we shared together, though he never had occasion to practise, though I unfortunately had, "it is a very curious affair indeed."

"Tell us the whole facts, Ray," urged Vera Vallance, the pretty fair-haired daughter of Admiral Sir Charles Vallance, to whom he was engaged.

"Well, dear, they are briefly as follows," he replied, with an affectionate glance at her. "It is well known that the Germans are anxious to get hold of our new aeroplane, and that the secret of it is at present locked in the inventor's breast. Last Tuesday a man with his moustache brushed up the wrong way alighted at Basingstoke station and enquired for the refreshment-room. This leads me to believe that a dastardly attempt is about to be made to wrest the supremacy of the air from our grasp!" Immediately I swooned.

"And even in the face of this the Government denies the activity of German spies in England!" I exclaimed bitterly as soon as I had recovered consciousness.

"Jacox," said my old friend, "as a patriot it is none the less my duty to expose these miscreants. To-morrow we go to Basingstoke."

Next Thursday, then, saw us ensconced in our private sitting-room at the Bull Hotel, Basingstoke. On our way from the station I had noticed how ill-prepared the town was to resist invasion, and I had pointed this out bitterly to my dear old friend, Ray Raymond.

"Yes," he remarked, grimly; "and it is simply infested with spies. Jack, my surmises are proving correct. There will be dangerous work afoot to-night. Have you brought your electric torch with you?"

"Since that Rosyth affair, I never travel without it," I replied, as I stood with my back to the cheap mantel-shelf so common in English hotels.

The night was dark, therefore we proceeded with caution as we left the inn. The actions of Ray Raymond were curious. As we passed each telegraph pole he stopped and said grimly, "Ah, I thought so"; and drew his revolver. When we had covered fifteen miles we looked at our watches by the aid of our electric torches and discovered that it was time to get back to the hotel unless we wished our presence, or rather absence, to be made known to the German spies; therefore we returned hastily.

Next morning Ray was recalled to town by an urgent telegram, therefore I was left alone at Basingstoke to foil the dastardly spies. I stayed there for thirteen weeks, and then went with my old friend to Grimsby, he having received news that a German hairdresser, named Macdonald, was resident in that town.

"My dear Jack," said my friend Ray Raymond, his face assuming the sphinx-like expression by which I knew that he had formed some theory for the destruction of his country's dastardly enemies, "to-night we shall come to grips with the Teuton!"

"And yet," I cried, "the Government refuses to admit the activity of German spies in England!"

"Ha!" said my friend grimly.

He opened a small black bag and produced a dark lantern, a coil of strong silk rope, and a small but serviceable jemmy. All that burglarious outfit belonged to my friend!

At this moment the pretty fair girl to whom he was engaged, Vera Vallance, arrived, but returned to London by the next train.

At ten o'clock we proceeded cautiously to the house of Macdonald the hairdresser, whom Ray had discovered to be a German spy!

"Have you your electric torch with you?" inquired my dear old college friend.

"I have," I answered grimly.

"Good! Then let us enter!"

"You mean to break in?" I cried, amazed at the audacity of my friend.

"Bah!" he said. "Spies are always cowards!"

Therefore we knocked at the door. It was opened by two men, the elder of whom gave vent to a quick German imprecation. The younger had a short beard.

"You are a German spy?" enquired Ray Raymond.

"No," replied the bearded German in very good English, adding with marvellous coolness: "To what, pray, do we owe this unwarrantable intrusion?"

"To the fact that you are a spy who has been taking secret tracings of our Army aeroplane!" retorted my friend.

But the spy only laughed in open defiance.

"Well, there's no law against it," he replied.

"No," retorted Ray grimly, "thanks to the stupidity of a crass Government, there _is_ no law against it."

"My God!" I said hoarsely, and my face went the colour of ashes.

"But my old friend Jacass--I mean Jacox--and I," continued Ray Raymond, fixing the miserable spy with his eye, "have decided to take the law into our own hands. I have my revolver and my friend has his electric torch. Give me the tracings."

"Gott--no!" cried the German spies in German. "Never, you English cur!"

But Ray had already extracted a letter from the elder man's pocket, and was making for the door! I followed him. When we got back to our hotel he drew the letter from his pocket and eagerly examined it. I give here an exact copy of it, and I may state that when we sent it to His Majesty's Minister for War he returned it without a word!


DEAR SIR,--In reply to yours of the 29th ult. We beg to say that we can do you a good line in shaving brushes at the following wholesale prices:

Badger 70s. a gross. Pure Badger 75s. a gross. Real Badger 80s. a gross.

Awaiting your esteemed order, which we shall have pleasure in promptly executing,

We are, sir, Yours obediently, WILKINSON and ALLBUTT. MR. JAMES MACDONALD."

That letter, innocent enough upon the face of it, contained dastardly instructions from the Chief of Police to a German spy! Read by the alphabetical code supplied to every German secret agent in England, it ran as follows:

(_Phrase 1_). "Discover without delay secret of new aeroplane."

(_Phrase 2_). "Forward particulars of best plan for blowing up

(1) Portsmouth Dockyard.
(2) Woolwich Arsenal.
(3) Albert Memorial."

(_Phrase 3_). "Be careful of Jack Jacox. He carries
a revolver and an electric torch."

"Ah!" said my friend grimly, "we were only just in time. Had we delayed longer, England might have knelt at the proud foot of a conqueror!"

"Ha!" I replied briefly.

Next morning we returned to the chambers which we shared together in London, and were joined by Vera Vallance, the pretty fair daughter of Admiral Sir Charles Vallance, to whom my old friend was engaged. And, as he stroked her hair affectionately, I realised thankfully that he and I had indeed been the instruments of Providence in foiling the plots of the German spies!


[The end]
A. A. Milne's short story: Secret Of The Army Aeroplane