I. The Letter
I HAVE read of men who,
when forced by their calling to live for long periods in utter solitude --save for a few black faces --have made it a rule to dress regularly for dinner in order to maintain their self-respect and prevent a relapse into barbarism.
It was in some such spirit,
with an added touch of self-consciousness,
at seven o'clock in the evening of 23rd September in a recent year,
I was making my evening toilet in my chambers in Pall Mall.
I thought the date and the place justified the parallel;
to my advantage even;
for the obscure Burmese administrator might well be a man of blunted sensibilities and coarse fibre,
and at least he is alone with nature,
while I --well,
a young man of condition and fashion,
who knows the right people,
belongs to the right clubs,
has a safe,
possibly a brilliant,
future in the Foreign Office --may be excused for a sense of complacent martyrdom,
with his keen appreciation of the social calendar,
he is doomed to the outer solitude of London in September.
but in fact the case was infinitely worse.
For to feel oneself a martyr,
as everybody knows,
is a pleasurable thing,
and the true tragedy of my position was that I had passed that stage.
I had enjoyed what sweets it had to offer in ever dwindling degree since the middle of August,
when ties were still fresh and sympathy abundant.
I had been conscious that I was missed at Morven Lodge party.
Lady Ashleigh herself had said so in the kindest possible manner,
when she wrote to acknowledge the letter in which I explained,
with an effectively austere reserve of language,
that circumstances compelled me to remain at my office.
'We know how busy you must be just now',
'and I do hope you won't overwork;
we shall -all- miss you very much.'
Friend after friend
'got away' to sport and fresh air,
with promises to write and chaffing condolences,
and as each deserted the sinking ship,
I took a grim delight in my misery,
positively almost enjoying the first week or two after my world had been finally dissipated to the four bracing winds of heaven.
I began to take a spurious interest in the remaining five millions,
and wrote several clever letters in a vein of cheap satire,
indirectly suggesting the pathos of my position,
but indicating that I was broad-minded enough to find intellectual entertainment in the scenes,
and habits of London in the dead season.
I even did rational things at the instigation of others.
though I should have liked total isolation best,
found that there was a sediment of unfortunates like myself,
viewed the situation in a most prosaic light.
There were river excursions,
and so on,
but I dislike the river at any time for its noisy vulgarity,
and most of all at this season.
So I dropped out of the fresh air brigade and declined H --'s offer to share a riverside cottage and run up to town in the mornings.
I did spend one or two week-ends with the Catesbys in Kent;
but I was not inconsolable when they let their house and went abroad,
for I found that such partial compensations did not suit me.
Neither did the taste for satirical observation last.
A passing thirst,
which I dare say many have shared,
for adventures of the fascinating kind described in the New Arabian Nights led me on a few evenings into some shady haunts in Soho and farther eastward;
but was finally quenched one sultry Saturday night after an hour's immersion in the reeking atmosphere of a low music-hall in Ratcliffe Highway,
where I sat next a portly female who suffered from the heat,
and at frequent intervals refreshed herself and an infant from a bottle of tepid stout.
By the first week in September I had abandoned all palliatives,
and had settled into the dismal but dignified routine of office,
And now came the most cruel trial,
for the hideous truth dawned on me that the world I found so indispensable could after all dispense with me.
It was all very well for Lady Ashleigh to assure me that I was deeply missed;
but a letter from F --,
who was one of the party,
just starting to shoot',
and coming as a tardy reply to one of my cleverest,
made me aware that the house party had suffered little from my absence,
and that few sighs were wasted on me,
even in the quarter which I had assumed to have been discreetly alluded to by the underlined -all- in Lady Ashleigh's
'we shall -all- miss you'.
A thrust which smarted more,
if it bit less deeply,
came from my cousin Nesta,
'It's horrid for you to have to be baking in London now;
it must be a great pleasure to you' (malicious little wretch!)
'to have such interesting and important work to do.'
Here was a nemesis for an innocent illusion I had been accustomed to foster in the minds of my relations and acquaintances,
especially in the breasts of the trustful and admiring maidens whom I had taken down to dinner in the last two seasons;
a fiction which I had almost reached the point of believing in myself.
For the plain truth was that my work was neither interesting nor important,
and consisted chiefly at present in smoking cigarettes,
in saying that Mr So-and-So was away and would be back about 1st October,
in being absent for lunch from twelve till two,
and in my spare moments making -précis- of --let us say --the less confidential consular reports,
and squeezing the results into cast-iron schedules.
The reason of my detention was not a cloud on the international horizon --though I may say in passing that there was such a cloud --but a caprice on the part of a remote and mighty personage,
the effect of which,
had dislocated the carefully-laid holiday plans of the humble juniors,
and in my own small case had upset the arrangement between myself and K --,
who positively liked the dog-days in Whitehall.
Only one thing was needed to fill my cup of bitterness,
and this it was that specially occupied me as I dressed for dinner this evening.
Two days more in this dead and fermenting city and my slavery would be at an end.
but --irony of ironies!
--I had nowhere to go to!
The Morven Lodge party was breaking up.
A dreadful rumour as to an engagement which had been one of its accursed fruits tormented me with the fresh certainty that I had not been missed,
and bred in me that most desolating brand of cynicism which is produced by defeat through insignificance.
Invitations for a later date,
which I had declined in July with a gratifying sense of being much in request,
now rose up spectrally to taunt me.
There was at least one which I could easily have revived,
but neither in this case nor in any other had there been any renewal of pressure,
and there are moments when the difference between proposing oneself and surrendering as a prize to one of several eagerly competing hostesses seems too crushing to be contemplated.
My own people were at Aix for my father's gout;
to join them was -a pis aller- whose banality was repellent.
they would be leaving soon for our home in Yorkshire,
and I was not a prophet in my own country.
I was at the extremity of depression.
The usual preliminary scuffle on the staircase prepared me for the knock and entry of Withers.
(One of the things which had for some time ceased to amuse me was the laxity of manners,
proper to the season,
among the servants of the big block of chambers where I lived.)
Withers demurely handed me a letter bearing a German post-mark and marked
I had just finished dressing,
and was collecting my money and gloves.
A momentary thrill of curiosity broke in upon my depression as I sat down to open it.
A corner on the reverse of the envelope bore the blotted legend:
but there's one other thing --a pair of rigging screws from Carey and Neilson's,
Here it is:
--I daresay you'll be surprised at hearing from me,
as it's ages since we met.
It is more than likely,
that what I'm going to suggest won't suit you,
for I know nothing of your plans,
and if you're in town at all you're probably just getting into harness again and can't get away.
So I merely write on the offchance to ask if you would care to come out here and join me in a little yachting,
I know you're keen on shooting,
and I sort of remember that you have done some yachting too,
though I rather forget about that.
This part of the Baltic --the Schleswig fiords --is a splendid cruising-ground --A 1 scenery --and there ought to be plenty of duck about soon,
if it gets cold enough.
I came out here -via- Holland and the Frisian Islands,
starting early in August.
My pals have had to leave me,
and I'm badly in want of another,
as I don't want to lay up yet for a bit.
I needn't say how glad I should be if you could come.
If you can,
send me a wire to the P.O.
Flushing and on by Hamburg will be your best route,
I'm having a few repairs done here,
and will have them ready sharp by the time your train arrives.
Bring your gun and a good lot of No. 4's;
and would you mind calling at Lancaster's and asking for mine,
and bringing it too?
Bring some oilskins.
Better get the eleven-shilling sort,
jacket and trousers --not the
and if you paint bring your gear.
I know you speak German like a native,
and that will be a great help.
Forgive this hail of directions,
but I've a sort of feeling that I'm in luck and that you'll come.
I hope you and the F.O.
ARTHUR H. DAVIES.
Would you mind bringing me out a -prismatic compass-,
and a pound of Raven Mixture.
This letter marked an epoch for me;
but I little suspected the fact as I crumpled it into my pocket and started languidly on the -voie douloureuse- which I nightly followed to the club.
In Pall Mall there were no dignified greetings to be exchanged now with well-groomed acquaintances.
The only people to be seen were some late stragglers from the park,
with a perambulator and some hot and dusty children lagging fretfully behind;
some rustic sightseers draining the last dregs of the daylight in an effort to make out from their guide-books which of these reverend piles was which;
a policeman and a builder's cart.
Of course the club was a strange one,
both of my own being closed for cleaning,
a coincidence expressly planned by Providence for my inconvenience.
The club which you are
'permitted to make use of' on these occasions always irritates with its strangeness and discomfort.
The few occupants seem odd and oddly dressed,
and you wonder how they got there.
The particular weekly that you want is not taken in;
the dinner is execrable,
and the ventilation a farce.
All these evils oppressed me to-night.
And yet I was puzzled to find that somewhere within me there was a faint lightening of the spirits;
as far as I could discover.
It could not be Davies's letter.
Yachting in the Baltic at the end of September!
The very idea made one shudder.
with a pleasant party and hotels handy,
was all very well.
An August cruise on a steam yacht in French waters or the Highlands was all very well;
but what kind of a yacht was this?
It must be of a certain size to have got so far,
but I thought I remembered enough of Davies's means to know that he had no money to waste on luxuries.
That brought me to the man himself.
I had known him at Oxford --not as one of my immediate set;
but we were a sociable college,
and I had seen a good deal of him,
liking him for his physical energy combined with a certain simplicity and modesty,
he had nothing to be conceited about;
in the way that at that receptive period one likes many men whom one never keeps up with later.
We had both gone down in the same year --three years ago now.
I had gone to France and Germany for two years to learn the languages;
he had failed for the Indian Civil,
and then had gone into a solicitor's office.
I had only seen him since at rare intervals,
though I admitted to myself that for his part he had clung loyally to what ties of friendship there were between us.
But the truth was that we had drifted apart from the nature of things.
I had passed brilliantly into my profession,
and on the few occasions I had met him since I made my triumphant -début- in society I had found nothing left in common between us.
He seemed to know none of my friends,
he dressed indifferently,
and I thought him dull.
I had always connected him with boats and the sea,
but never with yachting,
in the sense that I understood it.
In college days he had nearly persuaded me into sharing a squalid week in some open boat he had picked up,
and was going to sail among some dreary mud-flats somewhere on the east coast.
There was nothing else,
and the funereal function of dinner drifted on.
But I found myself remembering at the -entrée- that I had recently heard,
at second or third hand,
of something else about him --exactly what I could not recall.
When I reached the savoury,
I had concluded,
so far as I had centred my mind on it at all,
that the whole thing was a culminating irony,
was the savoury in its way.
After the wreck of my pleasant plans and the fiasco of my martyrdom,
to be asked as consolation to spend October freezing in the Baltic with an eccentric nonentity who bored me!
as I smoked my cigar in the ghastly splendour of the empty smoking-room,
the subject came up again.
Was there anything in it?
There were certainly no alternatives at hand.
And to bury myself in the Baltic at this unearthly time of year had at least a smack of tragic thoroughness about it.
I pulled out the letter again,
and ran down its impulsive staccato sentences,
affecting to ignore what a gust of fresh air,
and good fellowship this flimsy bit of paper wafted into the jaded club-room.
it was full of evil presage --
'A 1 scenery' --but what of equinoctial storms and October fogs?
Every sane yachtsman was paying off his crew now.
'There ought to be duck' --vague,
'If it gets cold enough' ...cold and yachting seemed to be a gratuitously monstrous union.
His pals had left him;
'Not the "yachting" brand';
and why not?
As to the size,
and crew of the yacht --all cheerfully ignored;
so many maddening blanks.
by the way,
why in Heaven's name
'a prismatic compass'?
I fingered a few magazines,
played a game of fifty with a friendly old fogey,
too importunate to be worth the labour of resisting,
and went back to my chambers to bed,
ignorant that a friendly Providence had come to my rescue;
rather resenting any clumsy attempt at such friendliness.
THAT two days later I should be found pacing the deck of the Flushing steamer with a ticket for Hamburg in my pocket may seem a strange result,
yet not so strange if you have divined my state of mind.
You will guess,
at any rate,
that I was armed with the conviction that I was doing an act of obscure penance,
rumours of which might call attention to my lot and perhaps awaken remorse in the right quarter,
while it left me free to enjoy myself unobtrusively in the remote event of enjoyment being possible.
The fact was that,
at breakfast on the morning after the arrival of the letter,
I had still found that inexplicable lightening which I mentioned before,
and strong enough to warrant a revival of the pros and cons.
An important pro which I had not thought of before was that after all it was a good-natured piece of unselfishness to join Davies;
for he had spoken of the want of a pal,
and seemed honestly to be in need of me.
I almost clutched at this consideration.
It was an admirable excuse,
when I reached my office that day,
for a resigned study of the Continental Bradshaw,
and an order to Carter to unroll a great creaking wall-map of Germany and find me Flensburg.
The latter labour I might have saved him,
but it was good for Carter to have something to do;
and his patient ignorance was amusing.
With most of the map and what it suggested I was tolerably familiar,
for I had not wasted my year in Germany,
whatever I had done or not done since.
and future had interested me intensely,
and I had still friends in Dresden and Berlin.
Flensburg recalled the Danish war of
and by the time Carter's researches had ended in success I had forgotten the task set him,
and was wondering whether the prospect of seeing something of that lovely region of Schleswig-Holstein,
-[See Map A]- as I knew from hearsay that it was,
was at all to be set against such an uncomfortable way of seeing it,
with the season so late,
the company so unattractive,
and all the other drawbacks which I counted and treasured as proofs of my desperate condition,
if I -were- to go.
It needed little to decide me,
and I think K --'s arrival from Switzerland,
was the finishing touch.
His greeting was
Thought you had got away long ago.
to be going now,
just in time for the best driving and the early pheasants.
The heat's been shocking out there.
bring me a Bradshaw' --(an extraordinary book,
turned to from habit,
even when least wanted,
as men fondle guns and rods in the close season).
By lunch-time the weight of indecision had been removed,
and I found myself entrusting Carter with a telegram to Davies,
expect me 9.34 p.m. 26th';
three hours later,
please bring a No. 3 Rippingille stove' --a perplexing and ominous direction,
which somehow chilled me in spite of its subject matter.
my resolution was continually faltering.
It faltered when I turned out my gun in the evening and thought of the grouse it ought to have accounted for.
It faltered again when I contemplated the miscellaneous list of commissions,
sown broadcast through Davies's letter,
to fulfil which seemed to make me a willing tool where my chosen -rôle- was that of an embittered exile,
or at least a condescending ally.
I faced the commissions manfully,
after leaving the office.
At Lancaster's I inquired for his gun,
was received coolly,
and had to pay a heavy bill,
which it seemed to have incurred,
before it was handed over.
Having ordered the gun and No. 4's to be sent to my chambers,
I bought the Raven mixture with that peculiar sense of injury which the prospect of smuggling in another's behalf always entails;
and wondered where in the world Carey and Neilson's was,
a firm which Davies spoke of as though it were as well known as the Bank of England or the Stores,
instead of specializing in
whatever they might be.
They sounded important,
and it would be only polite to unearth them.
I connected them with the
and awoke new misgivings.
At the Stores I asked for a No. 3 Rippingille stove,
and was confronted with a formidable and hideous piece of ironmongery,
which burned petroleum in two capacious tanks,
horribly prophetic of a smell of warm oil.
I paid for this miserably,
convinced of its grim efficiency,
but speculating as to the domestic conditions which caused it to be sent for as an afterthought by telegram.
I also asked about rigging-screws in the yachting department,
but learnt that they were not kept in stock;
that Carey and Neilson's would certainly have them,
and that their shop was in the Minories,
in the far east,
meaning a journey nearly as long as to Flensburg,
and twice as tiresome.
They would be shut by the time I got there,
so after this exhausting round of duty I went home in a cab,
omitted dressing for dinner (an epoch in itself),
ordered a chop up from the basement kitchen,
and spent the rest of the evening packing and writing,
with the methodical gloom of a man setting his affairs in order for the last time.
The last of those airless nights passed.
The astonished Withers saw me breakfasting at eight,
and at 9.30 I was vacantly examining rigging-screws with what wits were left me after a sulphurous ride in the Underground to Aldgate.
I laid great stress on the 3/8's,
and the galvanism,
and took them on trust,
ignorant as to their functions.
For the eleven-shilling oilskins I was referred to a villainous den in a back street,
which the shopman said they always recommended,
and where a dirty and bejewelled Hebrew chaffered with me (beginning at 18s.)
over two reeking orange slabs distantly resembling moieties of the human figure.
Their odour made me close prematurely for 14s.,
and I hurried back (for I was due there at eleven) to my office with my two disreputable brown-paper parcels,
one of which made itself so noticeable in the close official air that Carter attentively asked if I would like to have it sent to my chambers,
and K -- was inquisitive to bluntness about it and my movements.
But I did not care to enlighten K --,
whose comments I knew would be provokingly envious or wounding to my pride in some way.
the prismatic compass,
and wired to the Minories to have one sent at once,
feeling rather relieved that I was not present there to be cross-examined as to size and make.
The reply was,
try surveying-instrument maker' --a reply both puzzling and reassuring,
for Davies's request for a compass had given me more uneasiness than anything,
to find that what he wanted turned out to be a surveying-instrument,
was a no less perplexing discovery.
That day I made my last -précis- and handed over my schedules --Procrustean beds,
where unwilling facts were stretched and tortured --and said good-bye to my temporary chief,
genial and lenient M --,
who wished me a jolly holiday with all sincerity.
At seven I was watching a cab packed with my personal luggage and the collection of unwieldy and incongruous packages that my shopping had drawn down on me.
Two deviations after that wretched prismatic compass --which I obtained in the end secondhand,
-faute de mieux-,
at one of those showy shops which look like jewellers' and are really pawnbrokers' --nearly caused me to miss my train.
But at 8.30 I had shaken off the dust of London from my feet,
and at 10.30 I was,
as I have announced,
pacing the deck of a Flushing steamer,
adrift on this fatuous holiday in the far Baltic.
An air from the west,
cooled by a midday thunderstorm,
followed the steamer as she slid through the calm channels of the Thames estuary,
passed the cordon of scintillating lightships that watch over the sea-roads to the imperial city like pickets round a sleeping army,
and slipped out into the dark spaces of the North Sea.
Stars were bright,
summer scents from the Kent cliffs mingled coyly with vulgar steamer-smells;
the summer weather held immutably.
for her part,
seemed resolved to be no party to my penance,
but to be imperturbably bent on shedding mild ridicule over my wrongs.
An irresistible sense of peace and detachment,
combined with that delicious physical awakening that pulses through the nerve-sick townsman when city airs and bald routine are left behind him,
combined to provide me,
however thankless a subject,
with a solid background of resignation.
Stowing this safely away,
I could calculate my intentions with cold egotism.
If the weather held I might pass a not intolerable fortnight with Davies.
When it broke up,
as it was sure to,
I could easily excuse myself from the pursuit of the problematical ducks;
the wintry logic of facts would,
in any case,
decide him to lay up his yacht,
for he could scarcely think of sailing home at such a season.
I could then take a chance lying ready of spending a few weeks in Dresden or elsewhere.
I settled this programme comfortably and then turned in.
From Flushing eastward to Hamburg,
then northward to Flensburg,
I cut short the next day's sultry story.
Past dyke and windmill and still canals,
on to blazing stubbles and roaring towns;
at the last,
through a quiet level region where the train pottered from one lazy little station to another,
and at ten o'clock I found myself,
stiff and stuffy,
on the platform at Flensburg,
exchanging greetings with Davies.
'It's awfully good of you to come.'
'Not at all;
it's very good of you to ask me.'
We were both of us ill at ease.
Even in the dim gaslight he clashed on my notions of a yachtsman --no cool white ducks or neat blue serge;
and where was the snowy crowned yachting cap,
that precious charm that so easily converts a landsman into a dashing mariner?
Conscious that this impressive uniform,
in high perfection,
was lying ready in my portmanteau,
I felt oddly guilty.
He wore an old Norfolk jacket,
muddy brown shoes,
grey flannel trousers (or had they been white?),
and an ordinary tweed cap.
The hand he gave me was horny,
and appeared to be stained with paint;
the other one,
which carried a parcel,
had a bandage on it which would have borne renewal.
There was an instant of mutual inspection.
I thought he gave me a shy,
hurried scrutiny as though to test past conjectures,
with something of anxiety in it,
and perhaps (save the mark!) a tinge of admiration.
The face was familiar,
and yet not familiar;
the pleasant blue eyes,
unintellectual forehead were the same;
so were the brisk and impulsive movements;
there was some change;
but the moment of awkward hesitation was over and the light was bad;
while strolling down the platform for my luggage,
we chatted with constraint about trivial things.
'By the way,'
he suddenly said,
'I'm afraid I'm not fit to be seen;
but it's so late it doesn't matter.
I've been painting hard all day,
and just got it finished.
I only hope we shall have some wind to-morrow --it's been hopelessly calm lately.
you've brought a good deal of stuff,'
as my belongings began to collect.
Here was a reward for my submissive exertions in the far east!
'You gave me a good many commissions!'
I didn't mean those things,'
'Thanks for bringing them,
by the way.
That's the stove,
by the weight.
You got the rigging-screws all right,
They're not really necessary,
of course' (I nodded vacantly,
and felt a little hurt);
'but they're simpler than lanyards,
and you can't get them here.
It's that portmanteau,'
measuring it with a doubtful eye.
You couldn't do with the Gladstone only,
the dinghy --h'm,
and there's the hatchway,
too' --he was lost in thought.
I'm afraid there are no cabs;
but it's quite near,
and the porter'll help.'
Sickening forebodings crept over me,
while Davies shouldered my Gladstone and clutched at the parcels.
'Aren't your men here?'
He looked confused.
perhaps I ought to have told you,
I never have any paid hands;
it's quite a small boat,
you know --I hope you didn't expect luxury.
I've managed her single-handed for some time.
A man would be no use,
and a horrible nuisance.'
He revealed these appalling truths with a cheerful assurance,
which did nothing to hide a naive apprehension of their effect on me.
There was a check in our mobilization.
'It's rather late to go on board,
in a wooden voice.
Someone was turning out the gaslights,
and the porter yawned ostentatiously.
'I think I'd rather sleep at an hotel to-night.'
A strained pause.
of course you can do that,
if you like,'
in transparent distress of mind.
'But it seems hardly worth while to cart this stuff all the way to an hotel (I believe they're all on the other side of the harbour),
and back again to the boat to-morrow.
She's quite comfortable,
and you're sure to sleep well,
as you're tired.'
'We can leave the things here,'
I argued feebly,
'and walk over with my bag.'
I shall have to go aboard anyhow,'
'I -never- sleep on shore.'
He seemed to be clinging timidly,
to some diplomatic end.
A stony despair was invading me and paralysing resistance.
Better face the worst and be done with it.
we stumbled over railway lines and rubble heaps,
and came on the harbour.
Davies led the way to a stairway,
whose weedy steps disappeared below in gloom.
'If you'll get into the dinghy,'
all briskness now,
'I'll pass the things down.'
I descended gingerly,
holding as a guide a sodden painter which ended in a small boat,
and conscious that I was collecting slime on cuffs and trousers.
as I sat down suddenly near the bottom,
with one foot in the water.
I climbed wretchedly into the dinghy and awaited events.
'Now float her up close under the quay wall,
and make fast to the ring down there,'
came down from above,
followed by the slack of the sodden painter,
which knocked my cap off as it fell.
Any knot'll do,'
as I grappled with this loathsome task,
and then a big,
dark object loomed overhead and was lowered into the dinghy.
It was my portmanteau,
exactly filled all the space amidships.
'Does it fit?'
was the anxious inquiry from aloft.
Scratching at the greasy wall to keep the dinghy close to it,
I received in succession our stores,
and stowed the cargo as best I could,
while the dinghy sank lower and lower in the water,
and its precarious superstructure grew higher.
was the final direction from above,
and a damp soft parcel hit me in the chest.
'Be careful of that,
Now back to the stairs!'
I painfully acquiesced,
and Davies appeared.
'It's a bit of a load,
and she's rather deep;
but I -think- we shall manage,'
'You sit right aft,
and I'll row.'
I was too far gone for curiosity as to how this monstrous pyramid was to be rowed,
or even for surmises as to its foundering by the way.
I crawled to my appointed seat,
and Davies extricated the buried sculls by a series of tugs,
which shook the whole structure,
and made us roll alarmingly.
How he stowed himself into rowing posture I have not the least idea,
but eventually we were moving sluggishly out into the open water,
his head just visible in the bows.
We had started from what appeared to be the head of a narrow loch,
and were leaving behind us the lights of a big town.
A long frontage of lamp-lit quays was on our left,
with here and there the vague hull of a steamer alongside.
We passed the last of the lights and came out into a broader stretch of water,
when a light breeze was blowing and dark hills could be seen on either shore.
'I'm lying a little way down the fiord,
'I hate to be too near a town,
and I found a carpenter handy here --There she is!
I wonder how you'll like her!'
I roused myself.
We were entering a little cove encircled by trees,
and approaching a light which flickered in the rigging of a small vessel,
whose outline gradually defined itself.
'Keep her off,'
as we drew alongside.
In a moment he had jumped on deck,
tied the painter,
and was round at my end.
'You hand them up,'
'and I'll take them.'
It was a laborious task,
with the one relief that it was not far to hand them --a doubtful compensation,
for other reasons distantly shaping themselves.
When the stack was transferred to the deck I followed it,
tripping over the flabby meat parcel,
which was already showing ghastly signs of disintegration under the dew.
Hazily there floated through my mind my last embarkation on a yacht;
my faultless attire,
the trim gig and obsequious sailors,
the accommodation ladder flashing with varnish and brass in the August sun;
snowy decks and basket chairs under the awning aft.
What a contrast with this sordid midnight scramble,
over damp meat and littered packing-cases!
The bitterest touch of all was a growing sense of inferiority and ignorance which I had never before been allowed to feel in my experience of yachts.
Davies awoke from another reverie over my portmanteau to say,
'I'll just show you round down below first,
and then we'll stow things away and get to bed.'
He dived down a companion ladder,
and I followed cautiously.
A complex odour of paraffin,
and tar saluted my nostrils.
'Mind your head,'
striking a match and lighting a candle,
while I groped into the cabin.
'You'd better sit down;
it's easier to look round.'
There might well have been sarcasm in this piece of advice,
for I must have cut a ridiculous figure,
peering awkwardly and suspiciously round,
with shoulders and head bent to avoid the ceiling,
which seemed in the half-light to be even nearer the floor than it was.
were Davies's reassuring words,
'there's plenty of room to -sit- upright' (which was strictly true;
but I am not very tall,
and he is short).
'Some people make a point of head-room,
but I never mind much about it.
That's the centre-board case,'
in stretching my legs out,
my knee came into contact with a sharp edge.
I had not seen this devilish obstruction,
as it was hidden beneath the table,
which indeed rested on it at one end.
It appeared to be a long,
running lengthways with the boat and dividing the naturally limited space into two.
she's a flat-bottomed boat,
drawing very little water without the plate;
that's why there's so little headroom.
For deep water you lower the plate;
in one way or another,
you can go practically anywhere.'
I was not nautical enough to draw any very definite conclusions from this,
but what I did draw were not promising.
The latter sentences were spoken from the forecastle,
whither Davies had crept through a low sliding door,
like that of a rabbit-hutch,
and was already busy with a kettle over a stove which I made out to be a battered and disreputable twin brother of the No. 3 Rippingille.
'It'll be boiling soon,'
'and we'll have some grog.'
My eyes were used to the light now,
and I took in the rest of my surroundings,
which may be very simply described.
Two long cushion-covered seats flanked the cabin,
bounded at the after end by cupboards,
one of which was cut low to form a sort of miniature sideboard,
with glasses hung in a rack above it.
The deck overhead was very low at each side but rose shoulder high for a space in the middle,
'coach-house roof' with a skylight gave additional cabin space.
Just outside the door was a fold-up washing-stand.
On either wall were long net-racks holding a medley of flags,
banks of yam,
and such like.
Across the forward bulkhead was a bookshelf crammed to overflowing with volumes of all sizes,
many upside down and some coverless.
Below this were a pipe-rack,
and a clock with a hearty tick.
All the woodwork was painted white,
and to a less jaundiced eye than mine the interior might have had an enticing look of snugness.
Some Kodak prints were nailed roughly on the after bulkhead,
and just over the doorway was the photograph of a young girl.
'That's my sister,'
who had emerged and saw me looking at it.
let's get the stuff down.'
He ran up the ladder,
and soon my portmanteau blackened the hatchway,
and a great straining and squeezing began.
'I was afraid it was too big,'
but you'll have to unpack on deck --we may be able to squash it down when it's empty.'
Then the wearisome tail of packages began to form a fresh stack in the cramped space at my feet,
and my back ached with stooping and moiling in unfamiliar places.
Davies came down,
and with unconcealed pride introduced me to the sleeping cabin (he called the other one
Another candle was lit and showed two short and narrow berths with blankets,
but no sign of sheets;
beneath these were drawers,
one set of which Davies made me master of,
evidently thinking them a princely allowance of space for my wardrobe.
'You can chuck your things down the skylight on to your berth as you unpack them,'
'By the way,
I doubt if there's room for all you've got.
I suppose you couldn't manage --'
I said shortly.
The absurdity of argument struck me;
doubled up like monkeys,
'If you'll go out I shall be able to get out too,'
He seemed miserable at this ghost of an altercation,
but I pushed past,
mounted the ladder,
and in the expiring moonlight unstrapped that accursed portmanteau and,
brimming over with irritation,
groped among its contents,
sorting some into the skylight with the same feeling that nothing mattered much now,
and it was best to be done with it;
repacking the rest with guilty stealth ere Davies should discover their character,
and strapping up the whole again.
Then I sat down upon my white elephant and shivered,
for the chill of autumn was in the air.
It suddenly struck me that if it had been raining things might have been worse still.
The notion made me look round.
The little cove was still as glass;
stars above and stars below;
a few white cottages glimmering at one point on the shore;
in the west the lights of Flensburg;
to the east the fiord broadening into unknown gloom.
From Davies toiling below there were muffled sounds of wrenching,
punctuated occasionally by a heavy splash as something shot up from the hatchway and fell into the water.
How it came about I do not know.
Whether it was something pathetic in the look I had last seen on his face --a look which I associated for no reason whatever with his bandaged hand;
whether it was one of those instants of clear vision in which our separate selves are seen divided,
the baser from the better,
and I saw my silly egotism in contrast with a simple generous nature;
whether it was an impalpable air of mystery which pervaded the whole enterprise and refused to be dissipated by its most mortifying and vulgarizing incidents --a mystery dimly connected with my companion's obvious consciousness of having misled me into joining him;
whether it was only the stars and the cool air rousing atrophied instincts of youth and spirits;
it was all these influences,
cemented into strength by a ruthless sense of humour which whispered that I was in danger of making a mere commonplace fool of myself in spite of all my laboured calculations;
but whatever it was,
in a flash my mood changed.
The crown of martyrdom disappeared,
the wounded vanity healed;
that precious fund of fictitious resignation drained away,
but left no void.
There was left a fashionable and dishevelled young man sitting in the dew and in the dark on a ridiculous portmanteau which dwarfed the yacht that was to carry it;
a youth acutely sensible of ignorance in a strange and strenuous atmosphere;
still feeling sore and victimized;
but withal sanely ashamed and sanely resolved to enjoy himself.
for though the change was radical its full growth was slow.
But in any case it was here and now that it took its birth.
came from below.
Bunching myself for the descent I found to my astonishment that all trace of litter had miraculously vanished,
and a cosy neatness reigned.
Glasses and lemons were on the table,
and a fragrant smell of punch had deadened previous odours.
I showed little emotion at these amenities,
but enough to give intense relief to Davies,
who delightedly showed me his devices for storage,
'roominess' of his floating den.
'There's your stove,
'I've chucked the old one overboard.'
It was a weakness of his,
I should say here,
to rejoice in throwing things overboard on the flimsiest pretexts.
I afterwards suspected that the new stove had not been
'really necessary' any more than the rigging-screws,
but was an excuse for gratifying this curious taste.
We smoked and chatted for a little,
and then came the problem of going to bed.
After much bumping of knuckles and head,
and many giddy writhings,
I mastered it,
and lay between the rough blankets.
moving swiftly and deftly,
was soon in his.
'It's quite comfortable,
as he blew out the light from where he lay,
with an accuracy which must have been the fruit of long practice.
I felt prickly all over,
and there was a damp patch on the pillow,
which was soon explained by a heavy drop of moisture falling on my forehead.
'I suppose the deck's not leaking?'
as mildly as I could.
'I'm awfully sorry,'
tumbling out of his bunk.
'It must be the heavy dew.
I did a lot of caulking yesterday,
but I suppose I missed that place.
I'll run up and square it with an oilskin.'
'What's wrong with your hand?'
on his return,
for gratitude reminded me of that bandage.
I strained it the other day,'
was the reply;
and then the seemingly inconsequent remark:
'I'm glad you brought that prismatic compass.
It's not really necessary,
but' (muffled by blankets)
'it may come in useful.'
I DOZED but fitfully,
with a fretful sense of sore elbows and neck and many a draughty hiatus among the blankets.
It was broad daylight before I had reached the stage of torpor in which such slumber merges.
That was finally broken by the descent through the skylight of a torrent of water.
I started up,
bumped my head hard against the decks,
and blinked leaden-eyed upwards.
I'm scrubbing decks.
Come up and bathe.
I heard a voice saying from aloft.
stepping out into a pool of water on the oilcloth.
Thence I stumbled up the ladder,
and buried bad dreams,
and tormented nerves in the loveliest fiord of the lovely Baltic.
A short and furious swim and I was back again,
searching for a means of ascent up the smooth black side,
low as it was,
was slippery and unsympathetic.
in a loose canvas shirt,
with the sleeves tucked up,
and flannels rolled up to the knee,
hung over me with a rope's end,
and chatted unconcernedly about the easiness of the job when you know how,
adjuring me to mind the paint,
and talking about an accommodation ladder he had once had,
but had thrown overboard because it was so horribly in the way.
When I arrived,
my knees and elbows were picked out in black paint,
to his consternation.
as I plied the towel,
I knew that I had left in those limpid depths yet another crust of discontent and self-conceit.
As I dressed into flannels and blazer,
I looked round the deck,
and with an unskilled and doubtful eye took in all that the darkness had hitherto hidden.
She seemed very small (in point of fact she was seven tons),
something over thirty feet in length and nine in beam,
a size very suitable to week-ends in the Solent,
for such as liked that sort of thing;
but that she should have come from Dover to the Baltic suggested a world of physical endeavour of which I had never dreamed.
I passed to the aesthetic side.
Smartness and beauty were essential to yachts,
in my mind,
but with the best resolves to be pleased I found little encouragement here.
The hull seemed too low,
and the mainmast too high;
the cabin roof looked clumsy,
and the skylights saddened the eye with dull iron and plebeian graining.
What brass there was,
on the tiller-head and elsewhere,
was tarnished with sickly green.
The decks had none of that creamy purity which Cowes expects,
but were rough and grey,
and showed tarry exhalations round the seams and rusty stains near the bows.
The ropes and rigging were in mourning when contrasted with the delicate buff manilla so satisfying to the artistic eye as seen against the blue of a June sky at Southsea.
Nor was the whole effect bettered by many signs of recent refitting.
An impression of paint,
and carpentry was in the air;
a gaudy new burgee fluttered aloft;
there seemed to be a new rope or two,
especially round the diminutive mizzen-mast,
which itself looked altogether new.
But all this only emphasized the general plainness,
reminding one of a respectable woman of the working-classes trying to dress above her station,
and soon likely to give it up.
That the -ensemble- was businesslike and solid even my untrained eye could see.
Many of the deck fittings seemed disproportionately substantial.
The anchor-chain looked contemptuous of its charge;
the binnacle with its compass was of a size and prominence almost comically impressive,
moreover the only piece of brass which was burnished and showed traces of reverent care.
Two huge coils of stout and dingy warp lay just abaft the mainmast,
and summed up the weather-beaten aspect of the little ship.
I should add here that in the distant past she had been a lifeboat,
and had been clumsily converted into a yacht by the addition of a counter,
and the necessary spars.
She was built,
as all lifeboats are,
of two skins of teak,
and thus had immense strength,
in the matter of looks,
all a hybrid's failings.
from below brought me down to the cabin,
where I found breakfast laid out on the table over the centre-board case,
with Davies earnestly presiding,
rather flushed as to the face,
and sooty as to the fingers.
There was a slight shortage of plate and crockery,
but I praised the bacon and could do so truthfully,
for its crisp and steaming shavings would have put to shame the efforts of my London cook.
I should have enjoyed the meal heartily were it not for the lowness of the sofa and table,
causing a curvature of the body which made swallowing a more lengthy process than usual,
and induced a periodical yearning to get up and stretch --a relief which spelt disaster to the skull.
that Davies spoke with a zest,
sinister to me,
of the delights of white bread and fresh milk,
which he seemed to consider unusual luxuries,
though suitable to an inaugural banquet in honour of a fastidious stranger.
'One can't be always going on shore,'
when I showed a discreet interest in these things.
'I lived for ten days on a big rye loaf over in the Frisian Islands.'
'And it died hard,
After that I taught myself to make rolls;
had no baking powder at first,
so used Eno's fruit salt,
but they wouldn't rise much with that.
As for milk,
condensed is --I hope you don't mind it?'
I changed the subject,
and asked about his plans.
'Let's get under way at once,'
'and sail down the fiord.'
I tried for something more specific,
but he was gone,
and his voice drowned in the fo'c'sle by the clatter and swish of washing up.
Thenceforward events moved with bewildering rapidity.
Humbly desirous of being useful I joined him on deck,
only to find that he scarcely noticed me,
save as a new and unexpected obstacle in his round of activity.
He was everywhere at once --heaving in chain,
hooking on halyards,
while my part became that of the clown who does things after they are already done,
for my knowledge of a yacht was of that floating and inaccurate kind which is useless in practice.
Soon the anchor was up (a great rusty monster it was!),
the sails set,
and Davies was darting swiftly to and fro between the tiller and jib-sheets,
'Dulcibella' bowed a lingering farewell to the shore and headed for the open fiord.
Erratic puffs from the high land behind made her progress timorous at first,
but soon the fairway was reached and a true breeze from Flensburg and the west took her in its friendly grip.
Steadily she rustled down the calm blue highway whose soft beauty was the introduction to a passage in my life,
but pregnant with moulding force,
through stress and strain,
for me and others.
Davies was gradually resuming his natural self,
with abstracted intervals,
in which he lashed the helm to finger a distant rope,
with such speed that the movements seemed simultaneous.
Once he vanished,
only to reappear in an instant with a chart,
which he studied,
with a success that its reluctant folds seemed to render impossible.
Waiting respectfully for his revival I had full time to look about.
The fiord here was about a mile broad.
From the shore we had left the hills rose steeply,
but with no rugged grandeur;
the outlines were soft;
there were green spaces and rich woods on the lower slopes;
a little white town was opening up in one place,
and scattered farms dotted the prospect.
The other shore,
which I could just see,
framed between the gunwale and the mainsail,
as I sat leaning against the hatchway,
and sadly missing a deck-chair,
was lower and lonelier,
though prosperous and pleasing to the eye.
Spacious pastures led up by slow degrees to ordered clusters of wood,
which hinted at the presence of some great manor house.
Flensburg was settling into haze.
the scene was shut in by the contours of hills,
some dreamy and distant.
a single glimpse of water shining between the folds of hill far away hinted at spaces of distant sea of which this was but a secluded inlet.
Everywhere was that peculiar charm engendered by the association of quiet pastoral country and a homely human atmosphere with a branch of the great ocean that bathes all the shores of our globe.
There was another charm in the scene,
due to the way in which I was viewing it --not as a pampered passenger on a
'fine steam yacht',
or even on
'a powerful modern schooner',
as the yacht agents advertise,
but from the deck of a scrubby little craft of doubtful build and distressing plainness,
which yet had smelt her persistent way to this distant fiord through I knew not what of difficulty and danger,
with no apparent motive in her single occupant,
who talked as vaguely and unconcernedly about his adventurous cruise as though it were all a protracted afternoon on Southampton Water.
I glanced round at Davies.
He had dropped the chart and was sitting,
or rather half lying,
on the deck with one bronzed arm over the tiller,
gazing fixedly ahead,
with just an occasional glance around and aloft.
He still seemed absorbed in himself,
and for a moment or two I studied his face with an attention I had never,
since I had known him,
I had always thought it commonplace,
as I had thought him commonplace,
so far as I had thought at all about either.
It had always rather irritated me by an excess of candour and boyishness.
These qualities it had kept,
but the scales were falling from my eyes,
and I saw others.
I saw strength to obstinacy and courage to recklessness,
in the firm lines of the chin;
an older and deeper look in the eyes.
Those odd transitions from bright mobility to detached earnestness,
which had partly amused and chiefly annoyed me hitherto,
seemed now to be lost in a sensitive reserve,
not cold or egotistic,
but strangely winning from its paradoxical frankness.
Sincerity was stamped on every lineament.
A deep misgiving stirred me that,
clever as I thought myself,
nicely perceptive of the right and congenial men to know,
I had made some big mistakes --how many,
scarcely less deep because it was unconfessed,
stole in on me with the suspicion that,
little as I deserved it,
the patient fates were offering me a golden chance of repairing at least one.
the patient fates have crooked methods,
besides a certain mischievous humour,
for it was Davies who had asked me out --though now he scarcely seemed to need me --almost tricked me into coming out,
for he might have known I was not suited to such a life;
yet trickery and Davies sounded an odd conjuncture.
Probably it was the growing discomfort of my attitude which produced this backsliding.
My night's rest and the
'ascent from the bath' had,
done little to prepare me for contact with sharp edges and hard surfaces.
But Davies had suddenly come to himself,
and with an
are you comfortable?
Have something to sit on?'
jerked the helm a little to windward,
felt it like a pulse for a moment,
with a rapid look to windward,
and dived below,
whence he returned with a couple of cushions,
which he threw to me.
I felt perversely resentful of these luxuries,
'Can't I be of any use?'
don't you bother,'
'I expect you're tired.
Aren't we having a splendid sail?
That must be Ekken on the port bow,'
peering under the sail,
'where the trees run in.
do you mind looking at the chart?'
He tossed it over to me.
I spread it out painfully,
for it curled up like a watch-spring at the least slackening of pressure.
I was not familiar with charts,
and this sudden trust reposed in me,
after a good deal of neglect,
made me nervous.
'You see Flensburg,
'That's where we are,'
dabbing with a long reach at an indefinite space on the crowded sheet.
'Now which side of that buoy off the point do we pass?'
I had scarcely taken in which was land and which was water,
much less the significance of the buoy,
when he resumed:
I'm pretty sure it's all deep water about here.
I expect that marks the fairway for steamers.
In a minute or two we were passing the buoy in question,
on the wrong side I am pretty certain,
for weeds and sand came suddenly into view below us with uncomfortable distinctness.
But all Davies said was:
'There's never any sea here,
and the plate's not down,'
a dark utterance which I pondered doubtfully.
'The best of these Schleswig waters,'
he went on,
'is that a boat of this size can go almost anywhere.
There's no navigation required.
Why --'At this moment a faint scraping was felt,
rather than heard,
'Aren't we aground?'
I asked with great calmness.
she'll blow over,'
wincing a little.
but the episode caused a little naive vexation in Davies.
I relate it as a good instance of one of his minor peculiarities.
He was utterly without that didactic pedantry which yachting has a fatal tendency to engender in men who profess it.
He had tossed me the chart without a thought that I was an ignoramus,
to whom it would be Greek,
and who would provide him with an admirable subject to drill and lecture,
just as his neglect of me throughout the morning had been merely habitual and unconscious independence.
In the second place,
master of his -métier-,
as I knew him afterwards to be,
he was liable to lapse into a certain amateurish vagueness,
half irritating and half amusing.
I think truly that both these peculiarities came from the same source,
a hatred of any sort of affectation.
To the same source I traced the fact that he and his yacht observed none of the superficial etiquette of yachts and yachtsmen,
that she never,
flew a national ensign,
and he never wore a
We rounded a low green point which I had scarcely noticed before.
'We must jibe,'
'just take the helm,
without waiting for my co-operation,
he began hauling in the mainsheet with great vigour.
I had rude notions of steering,
but jibing is a delicate operation.
No yachtsman will be surprised to hear that the boom saw its opportunity and swung over with a mighty crash,
with the mainsheet entangled round me and the tiller.
'Jibed all standing,'
was his sorrowful comment.
'You're not used to her yet.
She's very quick on the helm.'
'Where am I to steer for?'
I'll take her now,'
I felt it was time to make my position clear.
'I'm an utter duffer at sailing,'
'You'll have a lot to teach me,
or one of these days I shall be wrecking you.
there's always been a crew' --'Crew!'
--with sovereign contempt --'why,
the whole fun of the thing is to do everything oneself.'
I've felt in the way the whole morning.'
'I'm awfully sorry!'
His dismay and repentance were comical.
it's just the other way;
you may be all the use in the world.'
He became absent.
We were following the inward trend of a small bay towards a cleft in the low shore.
'That's Ekken Sound,'
'let's look into it,'
and a minute or two later we were drifting through a dainty little strait,
with a peep of open water at the end of it.
Cottages bordered either side,
some overhanging the very water,
some connecting with it by a rickety wooden staircase or a miniature landing-stage.
Creepers and roses rioted over the walls and tiny porches.
For a space on one side,
a rude quay,
with small smacks floating off it,
spoke of some minute commercial interests;
a very small tea-garden,
with neglected-looking bowers and leaf-strewn tables,
hinted at some equally minute tripping interest.
A pervading hue of mingled bronze and rose came partly from the weather-mellowed woodwork of the cottages and stages,
and partly from the creepers and the trees behind,
where autumn's subtle fingers were already at work.
Down this exquisite sea-lane we glided till it ended in a broad mere,
where our sails,
which had been shivering and complaining,
filled into contented silence.
'We must get out of this again.'
And round we swung.
'Why not anchor and stop here?'
for a view of tantalizing loveliness was unfolding itself.
we've seen all there is to be seen,
and we must take this breeze while we've got it.'
It was always torture to Davies to feel a good breeze running to waste while he was inactive at anchor or on shore.
'shore' to him was an inferior element,
merely serving as a useful annexe to the water --a source of necessary supplies.
'Let's have lunch,'
as we resumed our way down the fiord.
A vision of iced drinks,
and an attentive steward mocked me with past recollections.
'You'll find a tongue,'
said the voice of doom,
'in the starboard sofa-locker;
beer under the floor in the bilge.
I'll see her round that buoy,
if you wouldn't mind beginning.'
I obeyed with a bad grace,
but the close air and cramped posture must have benumbed my faculties,
for I opened the port-side locker,
and grasped a sticky body,
which turned out to be a pot of varnish.
I tried the opposite one,
combating the embarrassing heel of the boat and the obstructive edges of the centre-board case.
A medley of damp tins of varied sizes showed in the gloom,
exuding a mouldy odour.
Faded legends on dissolving paper,
like the remnants of old posters on a disused hoarding,
spoke of soups,
and other hidden delicacies.
I picked out a tongue,
re-imprisoned the odour,
and explored for beer.
It was true,
that bilge didn't hurt it,
as I tugged at the plank on my hands and knees,
but I should have myself preferred a more accessible and less humid wine-cellar than the cavities among slimy ballast from which I dug the bottles.
I regarded my hard-won and ill-favoured pledges of a meal with giddiness and discouragement.
'How are you getting on?'
'the tin-opener's hanging up on the bulkhead;
the plates and knives are in the cupboard.'
I doggedly pursued my functions.
The plates and knives met me half-way,
being on the weather side,
and thus having a downward slant,
when I slipped the latch,
slid affectionately into my bosom,
and overflowed with a clatter and jingle on to the floor.
'That often happens,'
I heard from above.
There are no breakables.
I'm coming down to help.'
And down he came,
'Dulcibella' to her own devices.
'I think I'll go on deck,'
'Why in the world couldn't you lunch comfortably at Ekken and save this infernal pandemonium of a picnic?
Where's the yacht going to meanwhile?
And how are we to lunch on that slanting table?
I'm covered with varnish and mud,
and ankle-deep in crockery.
There goes the beer!'
'You shouldn't have stood it on the table with this list on,'
with intense composure,
'but it won't do any harm;
it'll drain into the bilge' (ashes to ashes,
dust to dust,
'You go on deck now,
and I'll finish getting ready.'
I regretted my explosion,
though wrung from me under great provocation.
'Keep her straight on as she's going,'
as I clambered up out of the chaos,
brushing the dust off my trousers and varnishing the ladder with my hands.
I unlashed the helm and kept her as she was going.
We had rounded a sharp bend in the fiord,
and were sailing up a broad and straight reach which every moment disclosed new beauties,
sights fair enough to be balm to the angriest spirit.
A red-roofed hamlet was on our left,
on the right an ivied ruin,
close to the water,
where some contemplative cattle stood knee-deep.
The view ahead was a white strand which fringed both shores,
and to it fell wooded slopes,
interrupted here and there by low sandstone cliffs of warm red colouring,
and now and again by a dingle with cracks of greensward.
I forgot petty squalors and enjoyed things --the coy tremble of the tiller and the backwash of air from the dingy mainsail,
with a somewhat chastened rapture,
the lunch which Davies brought up to me and solicitously watched me eat.
as the wind sank to lazy airs,
he became busy with a larger topsail and jib;
but I was content to doze away the afternoon,
drenching brain and body in the sweet and novel foreign atmosphere,
and dreamily watching the fringe of glen cliff and cool white sand as they passed ever more slowly by.
I rubbed my eyes and wondered where I was;
stretched myself painfully,
for even the cushions had not given me a true bed of roses.
It was dusk,
and the yacht was stationary in glassy water,
coloured by the last after-glow.
A roofing of thin upper-cloud had spread over most of the sky,
and a subtle smell of rain was in the air.
We seemed to be in the middle of the fiord,
whose shores looked distant and steep in the gathering darkness.
Close ahead they faded away suddenly,
and the sight lost itself in a grey void.
The stillness was absolute.
'We can't get to Sonderburg to-night,'
'What's to be done then?'
collecting my senses.
we'll anchor anywhere here,
we're just at the mouth of the fiord;
I'll tow her inshore if you'll steer in that direction.'
He pointed vaguely at a blur of trees and cliff.
Then he jumped into the dinghy,
cast off the painter,
after snatching at the slack of a rope,
began towing the reluctant yacht by short jerks of the sculls.
The menacing aspect of that grey void,
combined with a natural preference for getting to some definite place at night,
combined to depress my spirits afresh.
In my sleep I had dreamt of Morven Lodge,
of heather tea-parties after glorious slaughters of grouse,
of salmon leaping in amber pools --and now --
'Just take a cast of the lead,
came Davies's voice above the splash of the sculls.
'Where is it?'
I shouted back.
'Never mind --we're close enough now;
let --Can you manage to let go the anchor?'
I hurried forward and picked impotently at the bonds of the sleeping monster.
But Davies was aboard again,
and stirred him with a deft touch or two,
till he crashed into the water with a grinding of chain.
'We shall do well here,'
'Isn't this rather an open anchorage?'
'It's only open from that quarter,'
'If it comes on to blow from there we shall have to clear out;
but I think it's only rain.
Let's stow the sails.'
Another whirlwind of activity,
in which I joined as effectively as I could,
oppressed by the prospect of having to
'clear out' --who knows whither?
But Davies's -sang froid- was infectious,
and the little den below,
bright-lit and soon fragrant with cookery,
pleaded insistently for affection.
Yachting in this singular style was hungry work,
Steak tastes none the worse for having been wrapped in newspaper,
and the slight traces of the day's news disappear with frying in onions and potato-chips.
Davies was indeed on his mettle for this,
his first dinner to his guest;
for he produced with stealthy pride,
not from the dishonoured grave of the beer,
but from some more hallowed recess,
a bottle of German champagne,
from which we drank success to the
'I wish you would tell me all about your cruise from England,'
'You must have had some exciting adventures.
Here are the charts;
let's go over them.'
'We must wash up first,'
and I was tactfully introduced to one of his very few
that tobacco should not burn,
nor post-prandial chat begin,
until that distasteful process had ended.
'It would never get done otherwise,'
he sagely opined.
But when we were finally settled with cigars,
a variety of which,
culled from many ports --German,
and Belgian --Davies kept in a battered old box in the net-rack,
the promised talk hung fire.
'I'm no good at description,'
'and there's really very little to tell.
We left Dover --Morrison and I --on 6th August;
made a good passage to Ostend.'
'You had some fun there,
I put in,
thinking of --well,
of Ostend in August.
A filthy hole I call it;
we had to stop a couple of days,
as we fouled a buoy coming in and carried away the bobstay;
we lay in a dirty little tidal dock,
and there was nothing to do on shore.'
'We had a splendid sail to the East Scheldt,
decided to go through Holland by canal and river.
It was good fun enough navigating the estuary --the tides and banks there are appalling --but farther inland it was a wretched business,
nothing but paying lock-dues,
bumping against schuyts,
and towing down stinking canals.
Never a peaceful night like this --always moored by some quay or tow-path,
with people passing and boys.
shall I ever forget those boys!
A perfect murrain of them infests Holland;
they seem to have nothing in the world to do but throw stones and mud at foreign yachts.'
'They want a Herod,
with some statesmanlike views on infanticide.'
but the fact is that you want a crew for that pottering inland work;
they can smack the boys and keep an eye on the sculls.
A boat like this should stick to the sea,
or out-of-the-way places on the coast.
'You've skipped a good deal,
let me see,
we went by Dordrecht to Rotterdam;
nothing to see there,
and swarms of tugs buzzing about and shaving one's bows every second.
On by the Vecht river to Amsterdam,
and thence --Lord,
what a relief it was!
--out into the North Sea again.
The weather had been still and steamy;
but it broke up finely now,
and we had a rattling three-reef sail to the Zuyder Zee.'
He reached up to the bookshelf for what looked like an ancient ledger,
and turned over the leaves.
'Is that your log?'
'I should like to have a look at it.'
you'd find it dull reading --if you could read it at all;
it's just short notes about winds and bearings,
and so on.'
He was turning some leaves over rapidly.
why don't you keep a log of what we do?
I can't describe things,
and you can.'
'I've half a mind to try,'
'We want another chart now,'
and he pulled down a second yet more stained and frayed than the first.
'We had a splendid time then exploring the Zuyder Zee,
its northern part at least,
and round those islands which bound it on the north.
Those are the Frisian Islands,
and they stretch for 120 miles or so eastward.
the first two of them,
Texel and Vlieland,
shut in the Zuyder Zee,
and the rest border the Dutch and German coasts.'
-[See Map A]-
'What's all this?'
running my finger over some dotted patches which covered much of the chart.
The latter was becoming unintelligible;
clean-cut coasts and neat regiments of little figures had given place to a confusion of winding and intersecting lines and bald spaces.
'All -sand,-' said Davies,
'You can't think what a splendid sailing-ground it is.
You can explore for days without seeing a soul.
These are the channels,
they're very badly charted.
This chart was almost useless,
but it made it all the more fun.
No towns or harbours,
just a village or two on the islands,
if you wanted stores.'
'They look rather desolate,'
'Desolate's no word for it;
they're really only gigantic sand-banks themselves.'
'Wasn't all this rather dangerous?'
'Not a bit;
that's where our shallow draught and flat bottom came in --we could go anywhere,
and it didn't matter running aground --she's perfect for that sort of work;
and she doesn't really -look- bad either,
I suppose I hesitated,
for he said,
I don't go in for looks.'
He had leaned back,
and I detected traces of incipient absentmindedness.
which he had lately been lighting and relighting feverishly --a habit of his when excited --seemed now to have expired for good.
'About running aground,'
'surely that's apt to be dangerous?'
He sat up and felt round for a match.
'Not the least,
if you know where you can run risks and where you can't;
you can't possibly help it.
That chart may look simple to you' --('simple!'
I thought) --'but at half flood all those banks are covered;
the islands and coasts are scarcely visible,
they are so low,
and everything looks the same.'
This graphic description of a
'splendid cruising-ground' took away my breath.
'Of course there -is- risk sometimes --choosing an anchorage requires care.
You can generally get a nice berth under the lee of a bank,
but the tides run strong in the channels,
and if there's a gale blowing --'
'Didn't you ever take a pilot?'
the whole point of the thing' --he stopped short --'I did take one once,
with an odd smile,
which faded at once.
for I saw a reverie was coming.
he ran me ashore,
Served me right.
I wonder what the weather's doing';
glanced at the aneroid,
and the half-closed skylight with a curious circular movement,
and went a step or two up the companion-ladder,
where he remained for several minutes with head and shoulders in the open air.
There was no sound of wind outside,
'Dulcibella' had begun to move in her sleep,
as it were,
rolling drowsily to some faint send of the sea,
with an occasional short jump,
like the start of an uneasy dreamer.
'What does it look like?'
I called from my sofa.
I had to repeat the question.
'and possibly wind;
but we're safe enough here.
It's coming from the sou'-west;
shall we turn in?'
'We haven't finished your cruise yet,'
'Light a pipe and tell me the rest.'
with more readiness than I expected.
'After Terschelling --here it is,
the third island from the west --I pottered along eastward.'
-[See Map A]-
Morrison had to leave me there.
I missed him badly,
but I hoped at that time to get --to join me.
I could manage all right single-handed,
but for that sort of work two are much better than one.
The plate's beastly heavy;
I had to give up using it for fear of a smash.'
I jogged his memory.
I followed the Dutch islands,
Rottum (outlandish names,
sometimes outside them,
It was a bit lonely,
but grand sport and very interesting.
The charts were shocking,
but I worried out most of the channels.'
'I suppose those waters are only used by small local craft?'
I put in;
'that would account for inaccuracies.'
Did Davies think that Admiralties had time to waste on smoothing the road for such quixotic little craft as his,
in all its inquisitive ramblings?
But he fired up.
'That's all very well,'
'but think what folly it is.
that's a long story,
and will bore you.
To cut matters short,
for we ought to be turning in,
I got to Borkum --that's the first of the -German- islands.'
He pointed at a round bare lozenge lying in the midst of a welter of sandbanks.
'Rottum --this queer little one --it has only one house on it --is the most easterly Dutch island,
and the mainland of Holland ends -here-,
at the Ems River' --indicating a dismal cavity in the coast,
sown with names suggestive of mud,
'What date was this?'
'About the ninth of this month.'
that's only a fortnight before you wired to me!
You were pretty quick getting to Flensburg.
Wait a bit,
we want another chart.
Is this the next?'
but we scarcely need it.
I only went a little way farther on --to Norderney,
the third German island --then I decided to go straight for the Baltic.
I had always had an idea of getting there,
as Knight did in the Falcon.
So I made a passage of it to the Eider River,
-there- on the West Schleswig coast,
took the river and canal through to Kiel on the Baltic,
and from there made another passage up north to Flensburg.
I was a week there,
and then you came,
and here we are.
And now let's turn in.
We'll have a fine sail to-morrow!'
He ended with rather forced vivacity,
and briskly rolled up the chart.
The reluctance he had shown from the first to talk about his cruise had been for a brief space forgotten in his enthusiasm about a portion of it,
but had returned markedly in this bald conclusion.
I felt sure that there was more in it than mere disinclination to spin nautical yarns in the
'hardy Corinthian' style,
which can be so offensive in amateur yachtsmen;
and I thought I guessed the explanation.
His voyage single-handed to the Baltic from the Frisian Islands had been a foolhardy enterprise,
with perilous incidents,
rather than make light of,
he would not refer to at all.
Probably he was ashamed of his recklessness and wished to ignore it with me,
an inexperienced acquaintance not yet enamoured of the
'Dulcibella's' way of life,
whom both courtesy and interest demanded that he should inspire with confidence.
I liked him all the better as I came to this conclusion,
but I was tempted to persist a little.
'I slept the whole afternoon,'
to tell the truth,
I rather dread the idea of going to bed,
it's so tiring.
you've rushed over that last part like an express train.
That passage to the Schleswig coast --the Eider River,
did you say?
--was a longish one,
you see what it was;
about seventy miles,
He spoke low,
bending down to sweep up some cigar ashes on the floor.
'Then you put in somewhere?'
'I stopped once,
anchored for the night;
that's nothing of a sail with a fair wind.
I've forgotten to caulk that seam over your bunk,
and it's going to rain.
I must do it now.
You turn in.'
never very consuming,
was banished by concern as to the open seam;
for the prospect of a big drop,
remorseless and regular as Fate,
falling on my forehead throughout the night,
as in the torture-chamber of the Inquisition,
was alarming enough to recall me wholly to the immediate future.
So I went to bed,
finding on the whole that I had made progress in the exercise,
though still far from being the trained contortionist that the occasion called for.
and Davies reappeared just as I was stretched on the rack --tucked up in my bunk,
when he was settled in his,
and darkness reigned,
'do you think you'll like this sort of thing?'
'If there are many places about here as beautiful as this,'
'I think I shall.
But I should like to land now and then and have a walk.
a great deal depends on the weather,
I hope this rain' (drops had begun to patter overhead)
'doesn't mean that the summer's over for good.'
you can sail just the same,'
'unless it's very bad.
There's plenty of sheltered water.
There's bound to be a change soon.
But then there are the ducks.
The colder and stormier it is,
the better for them.'
I had forgotten the ducks and the cold,
suddenly presented as a shooting-box in inclement weather,
'Dulcibella' lost ground in my estimation,
which she had latterly gained.
'I'm fond of shooting,'
'but I'm afraid I'm only a fair-weather yachtsman,
and I should much prefer sun and scenery.'
you must have thought it a queer taste of mine to cruise about on that outlandish Frisian coast.
How would you like that sort of thing?'
'I should loathe it,'
with a clear conscience.
'Weren't you delighted yourself to get to the Baltic?
It must be a wonderful contrast to what you described.
Did you ever see another yacht there?'
a North Wind
NOTHING disturbed my rest that night,
so adaptable is youth and so masterful is nature.
At times I was remotely aware of a threshing of rain and a humming of wind,
with a nervous kicking of the little hull,
and at one moment I dreamt I saw an apparition by candle-light of Davies,
clad in pyjamas and huge top-boots,
grasping a misty lantern of gigantic proportions.
But the apparition mounted the ladder and disappeared,
and I passed to other dreams.
A blast in my ear,
like the voice of fifty trombones,
galvanized me into full consciousness.
smiling and tousled,
was at my bedside,
raising a foghorn to his lips with deadly intention.
'It's a way we have in the
as I started up on one elbow.
'I didn't startle you much,
I like the -mattinata- better than the cold douche,'
thinking of yesterday.
'Fine day and magnificent breeze!'
My sensations this morning were vastly livelier than those of yesterday at the same hour.
My limbs were supple again and my head clear.
Not even the searching wind could mar the ecstasy of that plunge down to smooth,
where I buried greedy fingers and looked through a medium blue,
with that translucent blue,
fairy-faint and angel-pure,
that you see in perfection only in the heart of ice.
Up again to sun,
and the forest whispers from the shore;
down just once more to see the uncouth anchor stabbing the sand's soft bosom with one rusty fang,
deaf and inert to the
'Dulcibella's' puny efforts to drag him from his prey.
holding by the cable as a rusty clue from heaven to earth,
up to that -bourgeois- little maiden's bows;
back to breakfast,
with an appetite not to be blunted by condensed milk and somewhat -passé- bread.
An hour later we had dressed the
'Dulcibella' for the road,
and were foaming into the grey void of yesterday,
now a noble expanse of wind-whipped blue,
half surrounded by distant hills,
their every outline vivid in the rain-washed air.
I cannot pretend that I really enjoyed this first sail into the open,
though I was keenly anxious to do so.
I felt the thrill of those forward leaps,
heard that persuasive song the foam sings under the lee-bow,
saw the flashing harmonies of sea and sky;
but sensuous perception was deadened by nervousness.
The yacht looked smaller than ever outside the quiet fiord.
The song of the foam seemed very near,
the wave crests aft very high.
The novice in sailing clings desperately to the thoughts of sailors --effective,
with a typical jargon and a typical dress,
versed in local currents and winds.
I could not help missing this professional element.
as he sat grasping his beloved tiller,
looked strikingly efficient in his way,
and supremely at home in his surroundings;
but he looked the amateur through and through,
as with one hand,
and (it seemed) one eye,
he wrestled with a spray-splashed chart half unrolled on the deck beside him.
All his casual ways returned to me --his casual talk and that last adventurous voyage to the Baltic,
and the suspicions his reticence had aroused.
'Do you see a monument anywhere?'
all at once;
before I could answer;
'We must take another reef.'
He let go of the tiller and relit his pipe,
while the yacht rounded sharply to,
and in a twinkling was tossing head to sea with loud claps of her canvas and passionate jerks of her boom,
as the wind leapt on its quarry,
now turning to bay,
with redoubled force.
The sting of spray in my eyes and the Babel of noise dazed me;
with a pull on the fore-sheet,
soothed the tormented little ship,
and left her coolly sparring with the waves while he shortened sail and puffed his pipe.
An hour later the narrow vista of Als Sound was visible,
with quiet old Sonderburg sunning itself on the island shore,
and the Dybbol heights towering above --the Dybbol of bloody memory;
scene of the last desperate stand of the Danes in
ere the Prussians wrested the two fair provinces from them.
'It's early to anchor,
and I hate towns,'
as one section of a lumbering pontoon bridge opened to give us passage.
But I was firm on the need for a walk,
and got my way on condition that I bought stores as well,
and returned in time to admit of further advance to a
Never did I step on the solid earth with stranger feelings,
partly due to relief from confinement,
partly to that sense of independence in travelling,
for those who go down to the sea in small ships,
can make the foulest coal-port in Northumbria seem attractive.
And here I had fascinating Sonderburg,
with its broad-eaved houses of carved woodwork,
each fresh with cleansing,
yet reverend with age;
its fair-haired Viking-like men,
with their bullet foreheads and large mouths;
Sonderburg still Danish to the core under its Teuton veneer.
Crossing the bridge I climbed the Dybbol --dotted with memorials of that heroic defence --and thence could see the wee form and gossamer rigging of the
'Dulcibella' on the silver ribbon of the Sound,
and was reminded by the sight that there were stores to be bought.
So I hurried down again to the old quarter and bargained over eggs and bread with a dear old lady,
pink as a -débutante,- made a patriotic pretence of not understanding German,
and called in her strapping son,
whose few words of English,
being chiefly nautical slang picked up on a British trawler,
were peculiarly useless for the purpose.
Davies had tea ready when I came aboard again,
drinking it on deck,
we proceeded up the sheltered Sound,
in spite of its imposing name,
was no bigger than an inland river,
only the hosts of rainbow jelly-fish reminding us that we were threading a highway of ocean.
There is no rise and fall of tide in these regions to disfigure the shore with mud.
Here was a shelving gravel bank;
there a bed of whispering rushes;
there again young birch trees growing to the very brink,
each wearing a stocking of bright moss and setting its foot firmly in among golden leaves and scarlet fungus.
Davies was preoccupied,
but he lighted up when I talked of the Danish war.
'Germany's a thundering great nation,'
'I wonder if we shall ever fight her.'
A little incident that happened after we anchored deepened the impression left by this conversation.
We crept at dusk into a shaded back-water,
where our keel almost touched the gravel bed.
Opposite us on the Alsen shore there showed,
clean-cut against the sky,
the spire of a little monument rising from a leafy hollow.
'I wonder what that is,'
It was scarcely a minute's row in the dinghy,
and when the anchor was down we sculled over to it.
A bank of loam led to gorse and bramble.
Pushing aside some branches we came to a slender Gothic memorial in grey stone,
inscribed with bas-reliefs of battle scenes,
showing Prussians forcing a landing in boats and Danes resisting with savage tenacity.
In the failing light we spelt out an inscription:
'Den bei dem Meeres-Uebergange und der Eroberung von Alsen am 29.
Juni 1864 heldenmüthig gefallenen zum ehrenden Gedächtniss.'
'To the honoured memory of those who died heroically at the invasion and storming of Alsen.'
I knew the German passion for commemoration;
I had seen similar memorials on Alsatian battlefields,
and several on the Dybbol only that afternoon;
but there was something in the scene,
and the circumstances,
which made this one seem singularly touching.
As for Davies,
I scarcely recognized him;
his eyes flashed and filled with tears as he glanced from the inscription to the path we had followed and the water beyond.
'It was a landing in boats,
half to himself.
'I wonder they managed it.
What does -heldenmüthig- mean?'
under his breath,
lingering on each syllable.
He was like a schoolboy reading of Waterloo.
Our conversation at dinner turned naturally on war,
and in naval warfare I found I had come upon Davies's literary hobby.
I had not hitherto paid attention to the medley on our bookshelf,
but I now saw that,
besides a Nautical Almanack and some dilapidated Sailing Directions,
there were several books on the cruises of small yachts,
and also some big volumes crushed in anyhow or lying on the top.
Squinting painfully at them I saw Mahan's Life of Nelson,
Brassey's Naval Annual,
'It's a tremendously interesting subject,'
pulling down (in two pieces) a volume of Mahan's Influence of Sea Power.
Dinner flagged (and froze) while he illustrated a point by reference to the much-thumbed pages.
He was very keen,
and not very articulate.
I knew just enough to be an intelligent listener,
was delighted to hear him talk.
'I'm not boring you,
'I should think not,'
'But you might just have a look at the chops.'
They had indeed been crying aloud for notice for some minutes,
and drew candid attention to their neglect when they appeared.
The diversion they caused put Davies out of vein.
I tried to revive the subject,
but he was reserved and diffident.
The untidy bookshelf reminded me of the logbook,
and when Davies had retired with the crockery to the forecastle,
I pulled the ledger down and turned over the leaves.
It was a mass of short entries,
with cryptic abbreviations,
and courses appearing to predominate.
The voyage from Dover to Ostend was dismissed in two lines:
'Under way 7 p.m.,
West Hinder 5 a.m.,
outside all banks Ostend 11 a.m.'
The Scheldt had a couple of pages very technical and -staccato- in style.
Inland Holland was given a contemptuous summary,
with some half-hearted allusions to windmills,
and so on,
and a caustic word or two about boys,
and canal smells.
At Amsterdam technicalities began again,
and a brisker tone pervaded the entries,
which became progressively fuller as the writer cruised on the Frisian coast.
He was clearly in better spirits,
for here and there were quaint and laboured efforts to describe nature out of material which,
as far as I could judge,
was repellent enough to discourage the most brilliant and observant of writers;
with an occasional note of a visit on shore,
generally reached by a walk of half a mile over sand,
and of talks with shop people and fishermen.
But such lighter relief was rare.
The bulk dealt with channels and shoals with weird and depressing names,
with the centre-plate,
and the wind,
'berths' for the night.
'Kedging off' appeared to be a frequent diversion;
'running aground' was of almost daily occurrence.
It was not easy reading,
and I turned the leaves rapidly.
I was curious,
to see the latter part.
I came to a point where the rain of little sentences,
pattering out like small shot,
It was at the end of 9th September.
was filled in with the usual detail.
The log then leapt over three days,
and went on:
Decided to go to Baltic.
Sailed 4 a.m. Quick passage E. S. to mouth of Weser.
Anchored for night under Hohenhörn Sand.
---Under way at 4 a.m. Wind East moderate.
Course W. by S.: four miles;
by N. fifteen miles Norderpiep 9.30.
Eider River 11.30.'
This recital of naked facts was quite characteristic when
'passages' were concerned,
and any curiosity I had felt about his reticence on the previous night would have been rather allayed than stimulated had I not noticed that a page had been torn out of the book just at this point.
The frayed edge left had been pruned and picked into very small limits;
but dissimulation was not Davies's strong point,
and a child could have seen that a leaf was missing,
and that the entries,
starting from the evening of 9th September (where a page ended),
had been written together at one sitting.
I was on the point of calling to Davies,
and chaffing him with having committed a grave offence against maritime law in having
'cooked' his log;
but I checked myself,
I scarcely know why,
probably because I guessed the joke would touch a sensitive place and fail.
Delicacy shrank from seeing him compelled either to amplify a deception or blunder out a confession --he was too easy a prey;
the matter was of small moment.
I returned the book to the shelf,
the only definite result of its perusal being to recall my promise to keep a diary myself,
and I then and there dedicated a notebook to the purpose.
We were just lighting our cigars when we heard voices and the splash of oars,
followed by a bump against the hull which made Davies wince,
as violations of his paint always did.
wo fahren Sie hin?'
greeted us as we climbed on deck.
It turned out to be some jovial fishermen returning to their smack from a visit to Sonderburg.
A short dialogue proved to them that we were mad Englishmen in bitter need of charity.
'Come to Satrup,'
'all the smacks are there,
round the point.
There is good punch in the inn.'
we followed in the dinghy,
skirted a bend of the Sound,
and opened up the lights of a village,
with some smacks at anchor in front of it.
We were escorted to the inn,
and introduced to a formidable beverage,
and a smoke-wreathed circle of smacksmen,
who talked German out of courtesy,
but were Danish in all else.
Davies was at once at home with them,
to a degree,
that I envied.
His German was of the crudest kind,
-bizarre- in vocabulary and comical in accent;
but the freemasonry of the sea,
or some charm of his own,
gave intuition to both him and his hearers.
I cut a poor figure in this nautical gathering,
who persistently referred to me as
tried hard to represent me as a kindred spirit and to include me in the general talk.
I was detected at once as an uninteresting hybrid.
who sometimes appealed to me for a word,
was deep in talk over anchorages and ducks,
as I well remember now,
about the chance of sport in a certain -Schlei Fiord-.
I fell into utter neglect,
till rescued by a taciturn person in spectacles and a very high cap,
who appeared to be the only landsman present.
After silently puffing smoke in my direction for some time,
he asked me if I was married,
and if not,
when I proposed to be.
After this inquisition he abandoned me.
It was eleven before we left this hospitable inn,
escorted by the whole party to the dinghy.
Our friends of the smack insisted on our sharing their boat out of pure good-fellowship --for there was not nearly room for us --and would not let us go till a bucket of fresh-caught fish had been emptied into her bottom.
After much shaking of scaly hands,
we sculled back to the
where she slept in a bed of tremulous stars.
Davies sniffed the wind and scanned the tree-tops,
where light gusts were toying with the leaves.
'and more rain coming.
But it's bound to shift into the north.'
'Will that be a good wind for us?'
'It depends where we go,'
'I was asking those fellows about duck-shooting.
They seemed to think the best place would be Schlei Fiord.
That's about fifteen miles south of Sonderburg,
on the way to Kiel.
They said there was a pilot chap living at the mouth who would tell us all about it.
They weren't very encouraging though.
We should want a north wind for that.'
'I don't care where we go,'
to my own surprise.
'Don't you really?'
with sudden warmth.
with a slight change of voice.
'You mean it's all very jolly about here?'
Of course I meant that.
Before we went below we both looked for a moment at the little grey memorial;
its slender fretted arch outlined in tender lights and darks above the hollow on the Alsen shore.
The night was that of 27th September,
the third I had spent on the
I MAKE no apology for having described these early days in some detail.
It is no wonder that their trivialities are as vividly before me as the colours of earth and sea in this enchanting corner of the world.
For every trifle,
sordid or picturesque,
every scrap of talk a link;
every passing mood critical for good or ill.
So slight indeed were the determining causes that changed my autumn holiday into an undertaking the most momentous I have ever approached.
Two days more preceded the change.
On the first,
the southwesterly wind still holding,
we sallied forth into Augustenburg Fiord,
'to practise smartness in a heavy thresh,'
as Davies put it.
It was the day of dedication for those disgusting oilskins,
immured in whose stiff and odorous angles,
I felt distressfully cumbersome;
a day of proof indeed for me,
for heavy squalls swept incessantly over the loch,
at my own request,
gave me no rest.
Backwards and forwards we tacked,
blustering into coves and out again,
reefing and unreefing,
now stung with rain,
now warmed with sun,
but never with time to breathe or think.
I wrestled with intractable ropes,
slaves if they could be subdued,
tyrants if they got the upper hand;
I made the painful round of the deck,
hatless and tranquil,
directed my blundering movements.
'Now take the helm and try steering in a hard breeze to windward.
It's the finest sport on earth.'
So I grappled with the niceties of that delicate craft;
and dazed brain all pressed into the service,
taming the ropes the while,
shouted into my ear the subtle mysteries of the art;
that fidgeting ripple in the luff of the mainsail,
and the distant rattle from the hungry jib --signs that they are starved of wind and must be given more;
the heavy list and wallow of the hull,
the feel of the wind on your cheek instead of your nose,
the broader angle of the burgee at the masthead --signs that they have too much,
and that she is sagging recreantly to leeward instead of fighting to windward.
He taught me the tactics for meeting squalls,
and the way to press your advantage when they are defeated --the iron hand in the velvet glove that the wilful tiller needs if you are to gain your ends with it;
the exact set of the sheets necessary to get the easiest and swiftest play of the hull --all these things and many more I struggled to apprehend,
careless for the moment as to whether they were worth knowing,
but doggedly set on knowing them.
Needless to say,
I had no eyes for beauty.
The wooded inlets we dived into gave a brief respite from wind and spindrift,
but called into use the lead and the centre-board tackle --two new and cumbrous complexities.
Davies's passion for intricate navigation had to be sated even in these secure and tideless waters.
'Let's get in as near as we can --you stand by the lead,'
was his formula;
so I made false casts,
tripped up in the slack,
sent rivers of water up my sleeves,
and committed all the other -gaucheries- that beginners in the art commit,
while the sand showed whiter beneath the keel,
till Davies regretfully drew off and shouted:
and I dashed down to the trappings of that diabolical contrivance,
the only part of the
'Dulcibella's' equipment that I hated fiercely to the last.
It had an odious habit when lowered of spouting jets of water through its chain-lead on to the cabin floor.
One of my duties was to gag it with cotton-waste,
but even then its choking gurgle was a most uncomfortable sound in your dining-room.
In a minute the creek would be behind us and we would be thumping our stem into the short hollow waves of the fiord,
and lurching through spray and rain for some point on the opposite shore.
Of our destination and objects,
if we had any,
I knew nothing.
At the northern end of the fiord,
just before we turned,
Davies had turned dreamy in the most exasperating way,
for I was steering at the time and in mortal need of sympathetic guidance,
if I was to avoid a sudden jibe.
As though continuing aloud some internal debate,
he held a onesided argument to the effect that it was no use going farther north.
and charts figured in it,
but I did not follow the pros and cons.
I only know that we suddenly turned and began to
'battle' south again.
At sunset we were back once more in the same quiet pool among the trees and fields of Als Sound,
a wondrous peace succeeding the turmoil.
Bruised and sodden,
I was extricating myself from my oily prison,
and later was tasting (though not nearly yet in its perfection) the unique exultation that follows such a day,
glowing all over,
deliciously tired and pleasantly sore,
you eat what seems ambrosia,
be it only tinned beef;
and drink nectar,
be it only distilled from terrestrial hops or coffee berries,
and inhale as culminating luxury balmy fumes which even the happy Homeric gods knew naught of.
On the following morning,
a joyous shout of
'Nor'-west wind' sent me shivering on deck,
in the small hours,
to handle rain-stiff canvas and cutting chain.
It was a cloudy,
but still enough after yesterday's boisterous ordeal.
We retraced our way past Sonderburg,
and thence sailed for a faint line of pale green on the far south-western horizon.
It was during this passage that an incident occurred,
slight as it was,
opened my eyes to much.
A flight of wild duck crossed our bows at some little distance,
a wedge-shaped phalanx of craning necks and flapping wings.
I happened to be steering while Davies verified our course below;
but I called him up at once,
and a discussion began about our chances of sport.
Davies was gloomy over them.
'Those fellows at Satrup were rather doubtful,'
'There are plenty of ducks,
but I made out that it's not easy for strangers to get shooting.
The whole country's so very civilized;
it's not -wild- enough,
He looked at me.
I had no very clear opinion.
It was anything but wild in one sense,
but there seemed to be wild enough spots for ducks.
The shore we were passing appeared to be bordered by lonely marshes,
though a spacious champaign showed behind.
If it were not for the beautiful places we had seen,
and my growing taste for our way of seeing them,
his disappointing vagueness would have nettled me more than it did.
he had brought me out loaded with sporting equipment under a promise of shooting.
'Bad weather is what we want for ducks,'
'but I'm afraid we're in the wrong place for them.
if it was the North Sea,
among those Frisian islands --' His tone was timid and interrogative,
and I felt at once that he was sounding me as to some unpalatable plan whose nature began to dawn on me.
He stammered on through a sentence or two about
'nobody to interfere with you,'
and then I broke in:
'You surely don't want to leave the Baltic?'
staring into the compass.
'here we are in October,
the summer over,
and the weather gone to pieces.
We're alone in a cockle-shell boat,
at a time when every other yacht of our size is laying up for the winter.
we seem to have struck an ideal cruising-ground,
with a wide choice of safe fiords and a good prospect of ducks,
if we choose to take a little trouble about them.
You can't mean to waste time and run risks' (I thought of the torn leaf in the log-book)
'in a long voyage to those forbidding haunts of yours in the North Sea.'
'It's not very long,'
'Part of it's canal,
and the rest is quite safe if you're careful.
There's plenty of sheltered water,
and it's not really necessary --'
'What's it all for?'
'We haven't -tried- for shooting here yet.
You've no notion,
of getting the boat back to England this autumn?'
I don't much care.'
Again his vagueness jarred on me;
there seemed to be some bar between us,
invisible and insurmountable.
what was I doing here?
Roughing it in a shabby little yacht,
utterly out of my element,
with a man who,
a week ago,
was nothing to me,
and who now was a tiresome enigma.
Like swift poison the old morbid mood in which I left London spread through me.
All I had learnt and seen slipped away;
what I had suffered remained.
I was on the point of saying something which might have put a precipitate end to our cruise,
but he anticipated me.
'I'm awfully sorry,'
he broke out,
'for being such a selfish brute.
I don't know what I was thinking about.
You're a brick to join me in this sort of life,
and I'm afraid I'm an infernally bad host.
Of course this is just the place to cruise.
I forgot about the scenery,
and all that.
Let's ask about the ducks here.
As you say,
we're sure to get sport if we worry and push a bit.
We must be nearly there now --yes,
there's the entrance.
Take the helm,
He sprang up the mast like a monkey,
and gazed over the land from the cross-trees.
I looked up at my enigma and thanked Providence I had not spoken;
for no one could have resisted his frank outburst of good nature.
Yet it occurred to me that,
considering the conditions of our life,
our intimacy was strangely slow in growth.
I had no clue yet as to where his idiosyncrasies began and his self ended,
was in the same stage towards me.
Otherwise I should have pressed him further now,
for I felt convinced that there was some mystery in his behaviour which I had not yet accounted for.
light was soon to break.
I could see no sign of the entrance he had spoken of,
and no wonder,
for it is only eighty yards wide,
though it leads to a fiord thirty miles long.
All at once we were jolting in a tumble of sea,
and the channel grudgingly disclosed itself,
stealing between marshes and meadows and then broadening to a mere,
as at Ekken.
We anchored close to the mouth,
and not far from a group of vessels of a type that afterwards grew very familiar to me.
They were sailing-barges,
something like those that ply in the Thames,
high-sterned craft of about fifty tons,
and fitted with lee-boards,
very light spars,
and a long tip-tilted bowsprit.
(For the future I shall call them
Otherwise the only sign of life was a solitary white house --the pilot's house,
the chart told us --close to the northern point of entrance.
After tea we called on the pilot.
Patriarchally installed before a roaring stove,
in the company of a buxom bustling daughter-in-law and some rosy grandchildren,
we found a rotund and rubicund person,
who greeted us with a hoarse roar of welcome in German,
which instantly changed,
when he saw us,
to the funniest broken English,
spoken with intense relish and pride.
We explained ourselves and our mission as well as we could through the hospitable interruptions caused by beer and the strains of a huge musical box,
which had been set going in honour of our arrival.
Needless to say,
I was read like a book at once,
and fell into the part of listener.
There is plenty ducks,
but first we will drink a glass beer;
then we will shift your ship,
captain --she lies not good there.'
(Davies started up in a panic,
but was waved back to his beer.)
'Then we will drink together another glass beer;
then we will talk of ducks --no,
then we will kill ducks --that is better.
Then we will have plenty glasses beer.'
This was an unexpected climax,
and promised well for our prospects.
And the programme was fully carried out.
After the beer our host was packed briskly by his daughter into an armour of woollen gaiters,
topped with a worsted helmet,
which left nothing of his face visible but a pair of twinkling eyes.
he led the way out of doors,
and roared for Hans and his gun,
till a great gawky youth,
with high cheek-bones and a downy beard,
came out from the yard and sheepishly shook our hands.
Together we repaired to the quay,
where the pilot stood,
looking like a genial ball of worsted,
and bawled hoarse directions while we shifted the
'Dulcibella' to a berth on the farther shore close to the other vessels.
We returned with our guns,
and the interval for refreshments followed.
It was just dusk when we sallied out again,
crossed a stretch of bog-land,
and took up strategic posts round a stagnant pond.
Hans had been sent to drive,
and the result was a fine mallard and three ducks.
It was true that all fell to the pilot's gun,
perhaps owing to Hans' filial instinct and his parent's canny egotism in choosing his own lair,
or perhaps it was chance;
but the shooting-party was none the less a triumphal success.
It was celebrated with beer and music as before,
while the pilot,
an infant on each podgy knee,
discoursed exuberantly on the glories of his country and the Elysian content of his life.
'There is plenty beer,
summed up his survey.
It may have been fancy,
though he had fits and starts of vivacity,
seemed very inattentive,
considering that we were sitting at the feet of so expansive an oracle.
It was I who elicited most of the practical information --details of time,
and likely places for shooting,
with some shrewd hints as to the kind of people to conciliate.
Whatever he thought of me,
I warmed with sympathy towards the pilot,
for he assumed that we had done with cruising for the year,
and thought us mad enough as it was to have been afloat so long,
and madder still to intend living on
'so little a ship' when we could live on land with beer and music handy.
I was tempted to raise the North Sea question,
just to watch Davies under the thunder of rebukes which would follow.
But I refrained from a wish to be tender with him,
now that all was going so well.
The Frisian Islands were an extravagant absurdity now.
I did not even refer to them as we pulled back to the
after swearing eternal friendship with the good pilot and his family.
Davies and I turned in good friends that night --or rather I should say that I turned in,
for I left him sucking an empty pipe and aimlessly fingering a volume of Mahan;
and once when I woke in the night I felt somehow that his bunk was empty and that he was there in the dark cabin,
The Missing Page
I WOKE (on 1st October) with that dispiriting sensation that a hitch has occurred in a settled plan.
It was explained when I went on deck,
and I found the
'Dulcibella' wrapped in a fog,
nothing visible from her decks but the ghostly hull of a galliot at anchor near us.
She must have brought up there in the night,
for there had been nothing so close the evening before;
and I remembered that my sleep had been broken once by sounds of rumbling chain and gruff voices.
'This looks pretty hopeless for to-day,'
with a shiver,
who was laying the breakfast.
we can't do anything till this fog lifts,'
with a good deal of resignation.
Breakfast was a cheerless meal.
The damp penetrated to the very cabin,
whose roof and walls wept a fine dew.
I had dreaded a bathe,
and yet missed it,
and the ghastly light made the tablecloth look dirtier than it naturally was,
and all the accessories more sordid.
Something had gone wrong with the bacon,
and the lack of egg-cups was not in the least humorous.
Davies was just beginning,
in his summary way,
to tumble the things together for washing up,
when there was a sound of a step on deck,
two sea-boots appeared on the ladder,
before we could wonder who the visitor was,
a little man in oilskins and a sou'-wester was stooping towards us in the cabin door,
smiling affectionately at Davies out of a round grizzled beard.
'Where are you bound to this time?'
The two stooping figures,
young and old,
beamed at one another like father and son.
'Where have you come from?
Have some coffee.
Was that you that came in last night?
I'm delighted to see you!'
(I spare the reader his uncouth lingo.)
The little man was dragged in and seated on the opposite sofa to me.
'I took my apples to Kappeln,'
'and now I sail to Kiel,
and so to Hamburg,
where my wife and children are.
It is my last voyage of the year.
You are no longer alone,
He had taken off his dripping sou'-wester and was bowing ceremoniously towards me.
I quite forgot!'
who had been kneeling on one knee in the low doorway,
absorbed in his visitor.
'This is "-meiner Freund-,"
this is my friend,
of the galliot
Was I never to be at an end of the puzzles which Davies presented to me?
All the impulsive heartiness died out of his voice and manner as he uttered the last few words,
and there he was,
nervously glancing from the visitor to me,
like one who,
against his will or from tactlessness,
has introduced two persons who he knows will disagree.
There was a pause while he fumbled with the cups,
poured some cold coffee out and pondered over it as though it were a chemical experiment.
Then he muttered something about boiling some more water,
and took refuge in the forecastle.
I was ill at ease at this period with seafaring men,
but this mild little person was easy ground for a beginner.
when he took off his oilskin coat he reminded me less of a sailor than of a homely draper of some country town,
with his clean turned-down collar and neatly fitting frieze jacket.
We exchanged some polite platitudes about the fog and his voyage last night from Kappeln,
which appeared to be a town some fifteen miles up the fiord.
Davies joined in from the forecastle with an excess of warmth which almost took the words out of my mouth.
We exhausted the subject very soon,
and then my -vis-à-vis- smiled paternally at me,
as he had done at Davies,
'It is good that the captain is no more alone.
He is a fine young man --Heaven,
what a fine young man!
I love him as my son --but he is too brave,
It is good for him to have a friend.'
I nodded and laughed,
though in reality I was very far from being amused.
'Where was it you met?'
'In an ugly place,
and in ugly weather,'
but with a twinkle of fun in his eye.
'But has he not told you?'
with ponderous slyness.
'I came just in time.
what am I saying?
He is brave as a lion and quick as a cat.
I think he cannot drown;
but still it was an ugly place and ugly --'
'What are you talking about,
emerging noisily with a boiling kettle.
I answered the question.
'I was just asking your friend how it was you made his acquaintance.'
he helped me out of a bit of a mess in the North Sea,
'It was nothing,'
'But the North Sea is no place for your little boat,
So I have told you many times.
How did you like Flensburg?
A fine town,
is it not?
Did you find Herr Krank,
I see you have placed a little mizzen-mast.
The rudder was nothing much,
but it was well that it held to the Eider.
But she is strong and good,
your little ship,
--she had need be so.'
and shook his head at Davies as at a wayward child.
This is all the conversation that I need record.
For my part I merely waited for its end,
determined on my course,
which was to know the truth once and for all,
and make an end of these distracting mystifications.
Davies plied his friend with coffee,
and kept up the talk gallantly;
but affectionate as he was,
his manner plainly showed that he wanted to be alone with me.
The gist of the little skipper's talk was a parental warning that,
though we were well enough here in the
it was time for little boats to be looking for winter quarters.
That he himself was going by the Kiel Canal to Hamburg to spend a cosy winter as a decent citizen at his warm fireside,
and that we should follow his example.
He ended with an invitation to us to visit him on the
and with suave farewells disappeared into the fog.
Davies saw him into his boat,
returned without wasting a moment,
and sat down on the sofa opposite me.
'What did he mean?'
'I'll tell you,'
'I'll tell you the whole thing.
As far as you're concerned it's partly a confession.
Last night I had made up my mind to say nothing,
but when Bartels turned up I knew it must all come out.
It's been fearfully on my mind,
and perhaps you'll be able to help me.
But it's for you to decide.'
'You know what I was saying about the Frisian Islands the other day?
A thing happened there which I never told you,
when you were asking about my cruise.'
'It began near Norderney,'
I put in.
'How did you guess that?'
'You're a bad hand at duplicity,'
you're quite right,
it was there,
on 9th September.
I told you the sort of thing I was doing at that time,
but I don't think I said that I made inquiries from one or two people about duck-shooting,
and had been told by some fishermen at Borkum that there was a big sailing-yacht in those waters,
a German of the name of Dollmann,
shot a good deal,
and might give me some tips.
I found this yacht one evening,
knowing it must be her from the description I had.
She was what is called a "barge-yacht",
of fifty or sixty tons,
built for shallow water on the lines of a Dutch galliot,
with lee-boards and those queer round bows and square stern.
She's something like those galliots anchored near us now.
You sometimes see the same sort of yacht in English waters,
only there they copy the Thames barges.
She looked a clipper of her sort,
and very smart;
varnished all over and shining like gold.
I came on her about sunset,
after a long day of exploring round the Ems estuary.
She was lying in --'
'Wait a bit,
let's have the chart,'
Davies found it and spread it on the table between us,
first pushing back the cloth and the breakfast things to one end,
where they lay in a slovenly litter.
This was one of the only two occasions on which I ever saw him postpone the rite of washing up,
and it spoke volumes for the urgency of the matter in hand.
'Here it is,'
said Davies -[See Map A]- and I looked with a new and strange interest at the long string of slender islands,
the parallel line of coast,
and the confusion of shoals,
and channels which lay between.
By the way,
there's a harbour there at the west end of the island,
the only real harbour on the whole line of islands,
Dutch or German,
except at Terschelling.
There's quite a big town there,
a watering place,
where Germans go for sea-bathing in the summer.
that was her name,
was lying in the Riff Gat roadstead,
flying the German ensign,
and I anchored for the night pretty near her.
I meant to visit her owner later on,
but I very nearly changed my mind,
as I always feel rather a fool on smart yachts,
and my German isn't very good.
I thought I might as well;
when it was dark,
I sculled over in the dinghy,
hailed a sailor on deck,
said who I was,
and asked if I could see the owner.
The sailor was a surly sort of chap,
and there was a good long delay while I waited on deck,
feeling more and more uncomfortable.
Presently a steward came up and showed me down the companion and into the saloon,
horribly gorgeous --you know what I mean,
and that sort of thing.
Dinner seemed to be just over,
and wine and fruit were on the table.
Herr Dollmann was there at his coffee.
I introduced myself somehow --'
'Stop a moment,'
'what was he like?'
in evening dress;
about fifty I suppose,
with greyish hair and a short beard.
I'm not good at describing people.
He had a high,
and there was something about him --but I think I'd better tell you the bare facts first.
I can't say he seemed pleased to see me,
and he couldn't speak English,
I felt infernally awkward.
I had an object in coming,
and as I was there I thought I might as well gain it.'
The notion of Davies in his Norfolk jacket and rusty flannels haranguing a frigid German in evening dress in a
'gorgeous' saloon tickled my fancy greatly.
'He seemed very much astonished to see me;
had evidently seen the
and had wondered what she was.
I began as soon as I could about the ducks,
but he shut me up at once,
said I could do nothing hereabouts.
I put it down to sportsman's jealousy --you know what that is.
But I saw I had come to the wrong shop,
and was just going to back out and end this unpleasant interview,
when he thawed a bit,
offered me some wine,
and began talking in quite a friendly way,
taking a great interest in my cruise and my plans for the future.
In the end we sat up quite late,
though I never felt really at my ease.
He seemed to be taking stock of me all the time,
as though I were some new animal.'
(How I sympathized with that German!)
'We parted civilly enough,
and I rowed back and turned in,
meaning to potter on eastwards early next day.
'But I was knocked up at dawn by a sailor with a message from Dollmann asking if he could come to breakfast with me.
I was rather flabbergasted,
but didn't like to be rude,
so I said,
and I returned the call --and --well,
the end of it was that I stayed at anchor there for three days.'
This was rather abrupt.
'How did you spend the time?'
Stopping three days anywhere was an unusual event for him,
as I knew from his log.
I lunched or dined with him once or twice --with -them-,
I ought to say,'
'His daughter was with him.
She didn't appear the evening I first called.'
'And what was she like?'
before he could hurry on.
she seemed a very nice girl,'
was the guarded reply,
delivered with particular unconcern,
'and --the end of it was that I and the
'Medusa' sailed away in company.
I must tell you how it came about,
just in a few words for the present.
'It was his suggestion.
He said he had to sail to Hamburg,
and proposed that I should go with him in the
'Dulcibella' as far as the Elbe,
if I liked,
I could take the ship canal at Brunsbüttel through to Kiel and the Baltic.
I had no very fixed plans of my own,
though I had meant to go on exploring eastwards between the islands and the coast,
and so reach the Elbe in a much slower way.
He dissuaded me from this,
sticking to it that I should have no chance of ducks,
and urging other reasons.
we settled to sail in company direct to Cuxhaven,
in the Elbe.
With a fair wind and an early start it should be only one day's sail of about sixty miles.
'The plan only came to a head on the evening of the third day,
'I told you,
that the weather had broken after a long spell of heat.
That very day it had been blowing pretty hard from the west,
and the glass was falling still.
that I couldn't go with him if the weather was too bad,
but he prophesied a good day,
said it was an easy sail,
and altogether put me on my mettle.
You can guess how it was.
Perhaps I had talked about single-handed cruising as though it were easier than it was,
though I never meant it in a boasting way,
for I hate that sort of thing,
and besides there -is- no danger if you're careful --'
we went next morning at six.
It was a dirty-looking day,
but his sails were going up and mine followed.
I took two reefs in,
and we sailed out into the open and steered E.N.E.
along the coast for the Outer Elbe Lightship about fifty knots off.
Here it all is,
(He showed me the course on the chart.)
'The trip was nothing for his boat,
powerful old tub,
forging through the sea as steady as a house.
I kept up with her easily at first.
My hands were pretty full,
for there was a hard wind on my quarter and a troublesome sea;
but as long as nothing worse came I knew I should be all right,
though I also knew that I was a fool to have come.
[Illustration: Chart A to Illustrate the Stranding of the
'All went well till we were off Wangeroog,
the last of the islands ---here ---and then it began to blow really hard.
I had half a mind to chuck it and cut into the Jade River,
but I hadn't the face to,
so I hove to and took in my last reef.'
but I had seen the operation in calm water and shuddered at the present picture.)
'We had been about level till then,
but with my shortened canvas I fell behind.
Not that that mattered in the least.
I knew my course,
had read up my tides,
thick as the weather was,
I had no doubt of being able to pick up the lightship.
No change of plan was possible now.
The Weser estuary was on my starboard hand,
but the whole place was a lee-shore and a mass of unknown banks --just look at them.
I ran on,
'Dulcibella' doing her level best,
but we had some narrow shaves of being pooped.
I was about -here-,
say six miles south-west of the lightship,
-[See Chart A]- when I suddenly saw that the
'Medusa' had hove to right ahead,
as though waiting till I came up.
She wore round again on the course as I drew level,
and we were alongside for a bit.
Dollmann lashed the wheel,
leaned over her quarter,
very slowly and distinctly so that I could understand;
"Follow me --sea too bad for you outside --short cut through sands --save six miles."
'It was taking me all my time to manage the tiller,
but I knew what he meant at once,
for I had been over the chart carefully the night before.
-[See Map A]- You see,
the whole bay between Wangeroog and the Elbe is encumbered with sand.
A great jagged chunk of it runs out from Cuxhaven in a north-westerly direction for fifteen miles or so,
ending in a pointed spit,
called the -Scharhorn-.
To reach the Elbe from the west you have to go right outside this,
round the lightship,
which is off the Scharhorn,
and double back.
that's what all big vessels do.
as you see,
these sands are intersected here and there by channels,
very shallow and winding,
exactly like those behind the Frisian Islands.
Now look at this one,
which cuts right through the big chunk of sand and comes out near Cuxhaven.
The -Telte- -[See Chart A]- it's called.
It's miles wide,
at the entrance,
but later on it is split into two by the Hohenhörn bank: then it gets shallow and very complicated,
and ends in a mere tidal driblet with another name.
It's just the sort of channel I should like to worry into on a fine day or with an off-shore wind.
in thick weather and a heavy sea,
it would have been folly to attempt it,
except as a desperate resource.
as I said I knew at once that Dollmann was proposing to run for it and guide me in.
'I didn't like the idea,
because I like doing things for myself,
silly as it sounds,
I believe I resented being told the sea was too bad for me,
which it certainly was.
Yet the short cut did save several miles and a devil of a tumble off the Scharhorn,
where two tides meet.
I had complete faith in Dollmann,
and I suppose I decided that I should be a fool not to take a good chance.
but in the end I nodded,
and held up my arm as she forged ahead again.
she shifted her course and I followed.
You asked me once if I ever took a pilot.
That was the only time.'
He spoke with bitter gravity,
flung himself back,
and felt his pipe.
It was not meant for a dramatic pause,
but it certainly was one.
I had just a glimpse of still another Davies --a Davies five years older throbbing with deep emotions,
and stubborn purpose;
a being above my plane,
of sterner stuff,
Intense as my interest had become,
I waited almost timidly while he mechanically rammed tobacco into his pipe and struck ineffectual matches.
I felt that whatever the riddle to be solved,
it was no mean one.
He repressed himself with an effort,
and made his circular glance at the clock,
and then resumed.
'We soon came to what I knew must be the beginning of the Telte channel.
All round you could hear the breakers on the sands,
though it was too thick to see them yet.
As the water shoaled,
got shorter and steeper.
There was more wind --a whole gale I should say.
'I kept dead in the wake of the
but to my disgust I found she was gaining on me very fast.
Of course I had taken for granted,
when he said he would lead me in,
that he would slow down and keep close to me.
He could easily have done so by getting his men up to check his sheets or drop his peak.
Instead of that he was busting on for all he was worth.
in a rain-squall,
I lost sight of him altogether;
got him faintly again,
but had enough to do with my own tiller not to want to be peering through the scud after a runaway pilot.
I was all right so far,
but we were fast approaching the worst part of the whole passage,
where the Hohenhörn bank blocks the road,
and the channel divides.
I don't know what it looks like to you on the chart --perhaps fairly simple,
because you can follow the twists of the channels,
as on a ground-plan;
but a stranger coming to a place like that (where there are no buoys,
mind you) can tell nothing certain by the eye --unless perhaps at dead low water,
when the banks are high and dry,
and in very clear weather --he must trust to the lead and the compass,
and feel his way step by step.
I knew perfectly well that what I should soon see would be a wall of surf stretching right across and on both sides.
To -feel- one's way in that sort of weather is impossible.
You must -know- your way,
or else have a pilot.
I had one,
but he was playing his own game.
'With a second hand on board to steer while I conned I should have felt less of an ass.
As it was,
I knew I ought to be facing the music in the offing,
and cursed myself for having broken my rule and gone blundering into this confounded short cut.
It was giving myself away,
doing just the very thing that you can't do in single-handed sailing.
'By the time I realized the danger it was far too late to turn and hammer out to the open.
I was deep in the bottle-neck bight of the sands,
jammed on a lee shore,
and a strong flood tide sweeping me on.
by the way,
gave just the ghost of a chance.
I had the hours in my head,
and knew it was about two-thirds flood,
with two hours more of rising water.
That meant the banks would be all covering when I reached them,
and harder than ever to locate;
but it also meant that I -might- float right over the worst of them if I hit off a lucky place.'
Davies thumped the table in disgust.
It makes me sick to think of having to trust to an accident like that,
like a lubberly cockney out for a boozy Bank Holiday sail.
just as I foresaw,
the wall of surf appeared clean across the horizon,
and curling back to shut me in,
booming like thunder.
When I last saw the
'Medusa' she seemed to be charging it like a horse at a fence,
and I took a rough bearing of her position by a hurried glance at the compass.
At that very moment I -thought- she seemed to luff and show some of her broadside;
but a squall blotted her out and gave me hell with the tiller.
After that she was lost in the white mist that hung over the line of breakers.
I kept on my bearing as well as I could,
but I was already out of the channel.
I knew that by the look of the water,
and as we neared the bank I saw it was all awash and without the vestige of an opening.
I wasn't going to chuck her on to it without an effort;
more by instinct than with any particular hope,
I put the helm down,
meaning to work her along the edge on the chance of spotting a way over.
She was buried at once by the beam sea,
and the jib flew to blazes;
but the reefed stays'l stood,
she recovered gamely,
and I held on,
though I knew it could only be for a few minutes,
as the centre-plate was up,
and she made frightful leeway towards the bank.
'I was half-blinded by scud,
but suddenly I noticed what looked like a gap,
behind a spit which curled out right ahead.
I luffed still more to clear this spit,
but she couldn't weather it.
Before you could say knife she was driving across it,
bucked forward again,
and --ripped on in deeper water!
I can't describe the next few minutes.
I was in some sort of channel,
but a very narrow one,
and the sea broke everywhere.
I hadn't proper command either;
for the rudder had crocked up somehow at the last bump.
I was like a drunken man running for his life down a dark alley,
barking himself at every corner.
It couldn't last long,
and finally we went crash on to something and stopped there,
grinding and banging.
So ended that little trip under a pilot.
it was like this --there was really no danger' --I opened my eyes at the characteristic phrase.
that lucky stumble into a channel was my salvation.
Since then I had struggled through a mile of sands,
all of which lay behind me like a breakwater against the gale.
They were covered,
and seething like soapsuds;
but the force of the sea was deadened.
'Dulce' was bumping,
but not too heavily.
It was nearing high tide,
and at half ebb she would be high and dry.
'In the ordinary way I should have run out a kedge with the dinghy,
and at the next high water sailed farther in and anchored where I could lie afloat.
The trouble was now that my hand was hurt and my dinghy stove in,
not to mention the rudder business.
It was the first bump on the outer edge that did the damage.
There was a heavy swell there,
and when we struck,
which was towing astern,
came home on her painter and down with a crash on the yacht's weather quarter.
I stuck out one hand to ward it off and got it nipped on the gunwale.
She was badly stove in and useless,
so I couldn't run out the kedge' --this was Greek to me,
but I let him go on --'and for the present my hand was too painful even to stow the boom and sails,
which were whipping and racketing about anyhow.
There was the rudder,
to be mended;
and we were several miles from the nearest land.
if the wind fell,
it was all easy enough;
but if it held or increased it was a poor look-out.
There's a limit to strain of that sort --and other things might have happened.
it was precious lucky that Bartels turned up.
His galliot was at anchor a mile away,
up a branch of the channel.
In a clear between squalls he saw us,
like a brick,
rowed his boat out --he and his boy,
and a devil of a pull they must have had.
I was glad enough to see them --no,
that's not true;
I was in such a fury of disgust and shame that I believe I should have been idiot enough to say I didn't want help,
if he hadn't just nipped on board and started work.
He's a terror to work,
that little mouse of a chap.
In half an hour he had stowed the sails,
unshackled the big anchor,
run out fifty fathoms of warp,
and hauled her off there and then into deep water.
Then they towed her up the channel --it was dead to leeward and an easy job --and berthed her near their own vessel.
It was dark by that time,
so I gave them a drink,
and said good-night.
It blew a howling gale that night,
but the place was safe enough,
with good ground-tackle.
'The whole affair was over;
and after supper I thought hard about it all.'
DAVIES leaned back and gave a deep sigh,
as though he still felt the relief from some tension.
I did the same,
and felt the same relief.
freed from the pressure of our fingers,
rolled up with a flip,
as though to say,
'What do you think of that?'
I have straightened out his sentences a little,
for in the excitement of his story they had grown more and more jerky and elliptical.
'What about Dollmann?'
'what about him?
I didn't get at much that night.
It was all so sudden.
The only thing I could have sworn to from the first was that he had purposely left me in the lurch that day.
I pieced out the rest in the next few days,
which I'll just finish with as shortly as I can.
Bartels came aboard next morning,
and though it was blowing hard still we managed to shift the
'Dulcibella' to a place where she dried safely at the mid-day low water,
and we could get at her rudder.
The lower screw-plate on the stern post had wrenched out,
and we botched it up roughly as a make-shift.
There were other little breakages,
but nothing to matter,
and the loss of the jib was nothing,
as I had two spare ones.
The dinghy was past repair just then,
and I lashed it on deck.
'It turned out that Bartels was carrying apples from Bremen to Kappeln (in this fiord),
and had run into that channel in the sands for shelter from the weather.
To-day he was bound for the Eider River,
as I told you,
you can get through (by river and canal) into the Baltic.
Of course the Elbe route,
by the new Kaiser Wilhelm Ship Canal,
is the shortest.
The Eider route is the old one,
but he hoped to get rid of some of his apples at Tönning,
the town at its mouth.
Both routes touch the Baltic at Kiel.
As you know,
I had been running for the Elbe,
but yesterday's muck-up put me off,
and I changed my mind --I'll tell you why presently --and decided to sail to the Eider along with the
'Johannes' and get through that way.
It cleared from the east next day,
and I raced him there,
winning hands down,
left him at Tönning,
and in three days was in the Baltic.
It was just a week after I ran ashore that I wired to you.
I had come to the conclusion that -that chap was a spy-.'
In the end it came out quite quietly and suddenly,
and left me in profound amazement.
'I wired to you --that chap was a spy.'
It was the close association of these two ideas that hit me hardest at the moment.
For a second I was back in the dreary splendour of the London club-room,
spelling out that crabbed scrawl from Davies,
and fastidiously criticizing its proposal in the light of a holiday.
What was to be its issue?
Chilling and opaque as the fog that filtered through the skylight there flooded my imagination a mist of doubt and fear.
I repeated blankly.
'What do you mean?
Why did you wire to me?
A spy of what --of whom?'
'I'll tell you how I worked it out,'
'I don't think "spy" is the right word;
but I mean something pretty bad.
'He purposely put me ashore.
I don't think I'm suspicious by nature,
but I know something about boats and the sea.
I know he could have kept close to me if he had chosen,
and I saw the whole place at low water when we left those sands on the second day.
Look at the chart again.
Here's the Hohenhörn bank that I showed you as blocking the road.
-[See Chart A]- It's in two pieces --first the west and then the east.
You see the Telte channel dividing into two branches and curving round it.
Both branches are broad and deep,
as channels go in those waters.
in sailing in I was nowhere near either of them.
When I last saw Dollmann he must have been steering straight for the bank itself,
at a point somewhere -here-,
quite a mile from the northern arm of the channel,
and two from the southern.
I followed by compass,
as you know,
and found nothing but breakers ahead.
How did I get through?
That's where the luck came in.
I spoke of only two channels,
-round- the bank --one to the north,
the other to the south.
But look closely and you'll see that right through the centre of the West Hohenhörn runs another,
a very narrow and winding one,
so small that I hadn't even noticed it the night before,
when I was going over the chart.
That was the one I stumbled into in that tailor's fashion,
as I was groping along the edge of the surf in a desperate effort to gain time.
I bolted down it blindly,
came out into this strip of open water,
crossed that aimlessly,
and brought up on the edge of the -East- Hohenhörn,
It was more than I deserved.
I can see now that it was a hundred to one in favour of my striking on a bad place outside,
where I should have gone to pieces in three minutes.'
'And how did Dollmann go?'
'It's as clear as possible,'
'He doubled back into the northern channel when he had misled me enough.
Do you remember my saying that when I last saw him I -thought- he had luffed and showed his broadside?
I had another bit of luck in that.
He was luffing towards the north --so it struck me through the blur --and when I in my turn came up to the bank,
and had to turn one way or the other to avoid it,
I think I should naturally have turned north too,
as he had done.
In that case I should have been done for,
for I should have had a mile of the bank to skirt before reaching the north channel,
and should have driven ashore long before I got there.
But as a matter of fact I turned south.'
'Couldn't help it.
I was running on the starboard tack --boom over to port;
to turn north would have meant a jibe,
and as things were I couldn't risk one.
It was blowing like fits;
if anything had carried away I should have been on shore in a jiffy.
I scarcely thought about it at all,
but put the helm down and turned her south.
Though I knew nothing about it,
that little central channel was now on my port hand,
distant about two cables.
The whole thing was luck from beginning to end.'
Helped by pluck,
I thought to myself,
as I tried with my landsman's fancy to conjure up that perilous scene.
As to the truth of the affair,
the chart and Davies's version were easy enough to follow,
but I felt only half convinced.
as Davies strangely called his pilot,
might have honestly mistaken the course himself,
outstripped his convoy inadvertently,
and escaped disaster as narrowly as she did.
I suggested this on the spur of the moment,
but Davies was impatient.
'Wait till you hear the whole thing,'
'I must go back to when I first met him.
I told you that on that first evening he began by being as rude as a bear and as cold as stone,
and then became suddenly friendly.
I can see now that in the talk that followed he was pumping me hard.
It was an easy game to play,
for I hadn't seen a gentleman since Morrison left me,
I was tremendously keen about my voyage,
and I thought the chap was a good sportsman,
even if he was a bit dark about the ducks.
I talked quite freely --at least,
as freely as I could with my bad German --about my last fortnight's sailing;
how I had been smelling out all the channels in and out of the islands,
how interested I had been in the whole business,
puzzling out the effect of the winds on the tides,
the set of the currents,
and so on.
I talked about my difficulties,
the changes in the buoys,
the prehistoric rottenness of the English charts.
He drew me out as much as he could,
and in the light of what followed I can see the point of scores of his questions.
'The next day and the next I saw a good deal of him,
and the same thing went on.
And then there were my plans for the future.
My idea was,
as I told you,
to go on exploring the German coast just as I had the Dutch.
His idea --Heavens,
how plainly I see it now!
--was to choke me off,
get me to clear out altogether from that part of the coast.
That was why he said there were no ducks.
That was why he cracked up the Baltic as a cruising-ground and shooting-ground.
And that was why he broached and stuck to that plan of sailing in company direct to the Elbe.
It was to -see- me clear.
'He improved on that.'
but after that,
I mean that I can't tell when he first decided to go one better and drown me.
He couldn't count for certain on bad weather,
though he held my nose to it when it came.
granted that he wanted to get rid of me altogether,
he got a magnificent chance on that trip to the Elbe lightship.
I expect it struck him suddenly,
and he acted on the impulse.
Left to myself I was all right;
but the short cut was a grand idea of his.
Everything was in its favour --wind,
He thinks I'm dead.'
'But the crew?'
'what about the crew?'
'That's another thing.
When he first hove to,
waiting for me,
of course they were on deck (two of them,
I think) hauling at sheets.
But by the time I had drawn up level the
'Medusa' had worn round again on her course,
and no one was on deck but Dollmann at the wheel.
No one overheard what he said.'
'Wouldn't they have -seen- you again?'
'Very likely not;
the weather was very thick,
'Dulce' is very small.'
The incongruity of the whole business was striking me.
Why should anyone want to kill Davies,
and why should Davies,
the soul of modesty and simplicity,
imagine that anyone wanted to kill him?
He must have cogent reasons,
for he was the last man to give way to a morbid fancy.
'What was his motive?
A German finds an Englishman exploring a bit of German coast,
determines to stop him,
and even to get rid of him.
It looks so far as if you were thought to be the spy.
'-But he's not a German-,'
'He's an Englishman.'
I'm sure of it.
Not that I've much to go on.
He professed to know very little English,
and never spoke it,
except a word or two now and then to help me out of a sentence;
and as to his German,
he seemed to me to speak it like a native;
I'm no judge.'
'That's where I wanted someone like you.
You would have spotted him at once,
if he wasn't German.
I go more by a --what do you call it?
that's what I mean.
It was something in his looks and manner;
you know how different we are from foreigners.
And it wasn't only himself,
it was the way he talked --I mean about cruising and the sea,
It's true he let me do most of the talking;
all the same --how can I explain it?
I felt we understood one another,
in a way that two foreigners wouldn't.
'He pretended to think me a bit crazy for coming so far in a small boat,
but I could swear he knew as much about the game as I did;
for lots of little questions he asked had the right ring in them.
all this is an afterthought.
I should never have bothered about it --I'm not cut out for a Sherlock Holmes --if it hadn't been for what followed.'
'It's rather vague,'
'Have you no more definite reason for thinking him English?'
'There were one or two things rather more definite,'
'You know when he hove to and hailed me,
proposing the short cut,
I told you roughly what he said.
I forget the exact words,
but "abschneiden" came in --"durch Watten" and "abschneiden" (they call the banks "watts",
they were simple words,
and he shouted them loud,
so as to carry through the wind.
I understood what he meant,
as I told you,
I hesitated before consenting.
I suppose he thought I didn't understand,
for just as he was drawing ahead again he pointed to the suth'ard,
and then shouted through his hands as a trumpet "Verstehen Sie?
short-cut through sands;
the last two sentences in downright English.
I can hear those words now,
and I'll swear they were in his native tongue.
Of course I thought nothing of it at the time.
I was quite aware that he knew a few English words,
though he had always mis-pronounced them;
an easy trick when your hearer suspects nothing.
But I needn't say that just then I was observant of trifles.
I don't pretend to be able to unravel a plot and steer a small boat before a heavy sea at the same moment.'
'And if he was piloting you into the next world he could afford to commit himself before you parted!
Was there anything else?
By the way,
how did the daughter strike you?
Did she look English too?'
Two men cannot discuss a woman freely without a deep foundation of intimacy,
until this day,
the subject had never arisen between us in any form.
It was the last that was likely to,
for I could have divined that Davies would have met it with an armour of reserve.
He was busy putting on this armour now;
yet I could not help feeling a little brutal as I saw how badly he jointed his clumsy suit of mail.
Our ages were the same,
but I laugh now to think how old and -blasé- I felt as the flush warmed his brown skin,
and he slowly propounded the verdict,
I think she did.'
'She -talked- nothing but German,
'Did you see much of her?'
'A good deal.'
'Was she --,'
(how frame it?)
'Did she want you to sail to the Elbe with them?'
'She seemed to,'
clutching at his ally,
don't dream that she knew what was coming,'
with sudden fire.
I pondered and wondered,
shrinking from further inquisition,
easy as it would have been with so truthful a victim,
and banishing all thought of ill-timed chaff.
There was a cross-current in this strange affair,
whose depth and strength I was beginning to gauge with increasing seriousness.
I did not know my man yet,
and I did not know myself.
A conviction that events in the near future would force us into complete mutual confidence withheld me from pressing him too far.
I returned to the main question;
who was Dollmann,
and what was his motive?
Davies struggled out of his armour.
'that he's an Englishman in German service.
He must be in German service,
for he had evidently been in those waters a long time,
and knew every inch of them;
it's a very lonely part of the world,
but he has a house on Norderney Island;
and all about him,
must be well known to a certain number of people.
One of his friends I happened to meet;
what do you think he was?
A naval officer.
It was on the afternoon of the third day,
and we were having coffee on the deck of the
and talking about next day's trip,
when a little launch came buzzing up from seaward,
and this chap I'm speaking of came on board,
shook hands with Dollmann,
and stared hard at me.
Dollmann introduced us,
calling him Commander von Brüning,
in command of the torpedo gunboat Blitz.
He pointed towards Norderney,
and I saw her --a low,
grey rat of a vessel --anchored in the Roads about two miles away.
It turned out that she was doing the work of fishery guardship on that part of the coast.
'I must say I took to him at once.
He looked a real good sort,
and a splendid officer,
too --just the sort of chap I should have liked to be.
You know I always wanted --but that's an old story,
and can wait.
I had some talk with him,
and we got on capitally as far as we went,
but that wasn't far,
for I left pretty soon,
guessing that they wanted to be alone.'
'-Were- they alone then?'
Fräulein Dollmann was there,
feeling for his armour again.
'Did he seem to know them well?'
Scenting a faint clue,
I felt the need of feminine weapons for my sensitive antagonist.
But the opportunity passed.
'That was the last I saw of him,'
as I told you,
at daybreak next morning.
have you got any idea what I'm driving at?'
'A rough idea,'
Davies sat up to the table,
unrolled the chart with a vigorous sweep of his two hands,
and took up his parable with new zest.
'I start with two certainties,'
'One is that I was "moved on" from that coast,
because I was too inquisitive.
The other is that Dollmann is at some devil's work there which is worth finding out.
Now' --he paused in a gasping effort to be logical and articulate.
look at the chart.
look first at this map of Germany.
It's on a small scale,
and you can see the whole thing.'
He snatched down a pocket-map from the shelf and unfolded it.
-[See Map A]-
'Here's this huge empire,
stretching half over central Europe --an empire growing like wildfire,
They've licked the French,
and the Austrians,
and are the greatest military power in Europe.
I wish I knew more about all that,
but what I'm concerned with is their sea-power.
It's a new thing with them,
but it's going strong,
and that Emperor of theirs is running it for all it's worth.
He's a splendid chap,
and anyone can see he's right.
They've got no colonies to speak of,
and -must- have them,
They can't get them and keep them,
and they can't protect their huge commerce without naval strength.
The command of the sea is -the- thing nowadays,
don't think these are my ideas,'
'It's all out of Mahan and those fellows.
the Germans have got a small fleet at present,
but it's a thundering good one,
and they're building hard.
There's the --and the --.'
He broke off into a digression on armaments and speeds in which I could not follow him.
He seemed to know every ship by heart.
I had to recall him to the point.
think of Germany as a new sea-power,'
'The next thing is,
what is her coast-line?
It's a very queer one,
as you know,
split clean in two by Denmark,
most of it lying east of that and looking on the Baltic,
which is practically an inland sea,
with its entrance blocked by Danish islands.
It was to evade that block that William built the ship canal from Kiel to the Elbe,
but that could be easily smashed in war-time.
Far the most important bit of coast-line is that which lies -west- of Denmark and looks on the North Sea.
It's there that Germany gets her head out into the open,
so to speak.
It's there that she fronts us and France,
the two great sea-powers of Western Europe,
and it's there that her greatest ports are and her richest commerce.
'Now it must strike you at once that it's ridiculously short compared with the huge country behind it.
From Borkum to the Elbe,
as the crow flies,
is only seventy miles.
Add to that the west coast of Schleswig,
say 120 miles.
Compare that with the seaboard of France and England.
Doesn't it stand to reason that every inch of it is important?
Now what -sort- of coast is it?
Even on this small map you can see at once,
by all those wavy lines,
shoals and sand everywhere,
blocking nine-tenths of the land altogether,
and doing their best to block the other tenth where the great rivers run in.
Now let's take it bit by bit.
You see it divides itself into three.
Beginning from the west the -first piece- is from Borkum to Wangeroog --fifty odd miles.
What's that like?
A string of sandy islands backed by sand;
the Ems river at the western end,
on the Dutch border,
leading to Emden --not much of a place.
no coast towns at all.
-Second piece:- a deep sort of bay consisting of the three great estuaries --the Jade,
and the Elbe --leading to Wilhelmshaven (their North Sea naval base),
Total breadth of bay twenty odd miles only;
sandbanks littered about all through it.
-Third piece:- the Schleswig coast,
hopelessly fenced in behind a six to eight mile fringe of sand.
No big towns;
one moderate river,
Let's leave that third piece aside.
I may be wrong,
in thinking this business out,
I've pegged away chiefly at the other two,
the seventy-mile stretch from Borkum to the Elbe --half of it estuaries,
and half islands.
It was there that I found the
and it's that stretch that,
thanks to him,
I missed exploring.'
I made an obvious conjecture.
'I suppose there are forts and coast defences?
Perhaps he thought you would see too much.
By the way,
he saw your naval books,
Of course that was my first idea;
but it can't be that.
It doesn't explain things in the least.
To begin with,
there -are- no forts and can be none in that first division,
where the islands are.
There might be something on Borkum to defend the Ems;
but it's very unlikely,
I had passed Borkum and was at Norderney.
There's nothing else to defend.
Of course it's different in the second division,
where the big rivers are.
There are probably hosts of forts and mines round Wilhelmshaven and Bremerhaven,
and at Cuxhaven just at the mouth of the Elbe.
Not that I should ever dream of bothering about them;
every steamer that goes in would see as much as me.
I much prefer to stay on board,
and don't often go on shore.
(Davies leant back and laughed joyously)
'do I -look- like that kind of spy?'
I figured to myself one of those romantic gentlemen that one reads of in sixpenny magazines,
with a Kodak in his tie-pin,
a sketch-book in the lining of his coat,
and a selection of disguises in his hand luggage.
Little disposed for merriment as I was,
I could not help smiling,
'About this coast,'
'In the event of war it seems to me that every inch of it would be important,
-sand and all.- Take the big estuaries first,
might be attacked or blockaded by an enemy.
At first sight you would say that their main channels were the only things that mattered.
in time of peace there's no secrecy about the navigation of these.
They're buoyed and lighted like streets,
open to the whole world,
and taking an immense traffic;
as millions of pounds in commerce depend on them.
But now look at the sands they run through,
as I showed you,
by threads of channels,
tidal for the most part,
and probably only known to smacks and shallow coasters,
like that galliot of Bartels.
'It strikes me that in a war a lot might depend on these,
both in defence and attack,
for there's plenty of water in them at the right tide for patrol-boats and small torpedo craft,
though I can see they take a lot of knowing.
say -we- were at war with Germany --both sides could use them as lines between the three estuaries;
and to take our own case,
a small torpedo-boat (not a destroyer,
mind you) could on a dark night cut clean through from the Jade to the Elbe and play the deuce with the shipping there.
But the trouble is that I doubt if there's a soul in our fleet who knows those channels.
-We- haven't coasters there;
as to yachts,
it's a most unlikely game for an English yacht to play at;
but it does so happen that I have a fancy for that sort of thing and would have explored those channels in the ordinary course.'
I began to see his drift.
'Now for the islands.
I was rather stumped there at first,
though there are lashings of sand behind them,
and the same sort of intersecting channels,
yet there seems nothing important to guard or attack.
'Why shouldn't a stranger ramble as he pleases through them?
Still Dollmann had his headquarters there,
and I was sure that had some meaning.
Then it struck me that the same point held good,
for that strip of Frisian coast adjoins the estuaries,
and would also form a splendid base for raiding midgets,
which could travel unseen right through from the Ems to the Jade,
and so to the Elbe,
as by a covered way between a line of forts.
'Now here again it's an unknown land to us.
Plenty of local galliots travel it,
but strangers never,
I should say.
Perhaps at the most an occasional foreign yacht gropes in at one of the gaps between the islands for shelter from bad weather,
and is precious lucky to get in safe.
it was my fad to like such places,
and Dollmann cleared me out.
He's not a German,
but he's in with Germans,
and naval Germans too.
He's established on that coast,
and knows it by heart.
And he tried to drown me.
Now what do you think?'
He gazed at me long and anxiously.
I Sign Articles
IT was not an easy question to answer,
for the affair was utterly outside all my experience;
its background the sea,
and its actual scene a region of the sea of which I was blankly ignorant.
There were other difficulties that I could see perhaps better than Davies,
an enthusiast with hobbies,
who had been brooding in solitude over his dangerous adventure.
Yet both narrative and theory (which have lost,
in interpretation to the reader) had strongly affected me;
his forcible roughnesses,
tricks of manner,
sudden bursts of ardour,
sudden retreats into shyness,
making up a charm I cannot render.
I found myself continually trying to see the man through the boy,
to distinguish sober judgement from the hot-headed vagaries of youth.
Not that I dreamed for a moment of dismissing the story of his wreck as an hallucination.
His clear blue eyes and sane simplicity threw ridicule on such treatment.
he wanted my help,
a matter that might well have influenced my opinion on the facts,
had he been other than he was.
But it would have taken a
'finished and finite clod' to resist the attraction of the man and the enterprise;
and I take no credit whatever for deciding to follow him,
right or wrong.
when I stated my difficulties,
I knew very well that we should go.
'There are two main points that I don't understand,'
you've never explained why an -Englishman- should be watching those waters and ejecting intruders;
your theory doesn't supply sufficient motive.
There may be much in what you say about the navigation of those channels,
but it's not enough.
You say he wanted to drown you --a big charge,
requiring a big motive to support it.
But I don't deny that you've got a strong case.'
Davies lighted up.
'I'm willing to take a good deal for granted --until we find out more.'
He jumped up,
and did a thing I never saw him do before or since --bumped his head against the cabin roof.
'You mean that you'll come?'
I hadn't even asked you!
I want to go back and clear up the whole thing.
I know now that I want to;
telling it all to you has been such an immense relief.
And a lot depended on you,
and that's why I've been feeling such an absolute hypocrite.
how can I apologize?'
'Don't worry about me;
I've had a splendid time.
And I'll come right enough;
but I should like to know exactly what you --'
but wait till I just make a clean breast of it --about you,
I came to the conclusion that I could do nothing alone;
not that two are really necessary for managing the boat in the ordinary way,
but for this sort of job you -do- want two;
I can't speak German properly,
and I'm a dull chap all round.
If my theory,
as you call it,
it's a case for sharp wits,
if ever there was one;
so I thought of you.
and I knew you had lived in Germany and knew German,
and I knew,'
with a little awkwardness,
'that you had done a good deal of yachting;
but of course I ought to have told you what you were in for --roughing it in a small boat with no crew.
I felt ashamed of myself when you wired back so promptly,
and when you came --er --' Davies stammered and hesitated in the humane resolve not to wound my feelings.
'Of course I couldn't help noticing that it wasn't what you expected,'
was the delicate summary he arrived at.
'But you took it splendidly,'
he hastened to add.
I couldn't bring myself to talk about the plan.
It was good enough of you to come out at all,
without bothering you with hare-brained schemes.
I wasn't even sure of myself.
It's a tangled business.
There were reasons,
there are reasons still' --he looked nervously at me --'which --well,
which make it a tangled business.'
I had thought a confidence was coming,
and was disappointed.
'I was in an idiotic state of uncertainty,'
he hurried on;
'but the plan grew on me more and more,
when I saw how you were taking to the life and beginning to enjoy yourself.
All that about the ducks on the Frisian coast was humbug;
part of a stupid idea of decoying you there and gaining time.
you quite naturally objected,
and last night I meant to chuck the whole thing up and give you the best time here I could.
Then Bartels turned up --'
I put in.
'Did you know he might turn up when you sailed here?'
'I knew he might;
and now it's all come out,
and you'll come!
What a fool I've been!'
Long before he had finished I had grasped the whole meaning of the last few days,
and had read their meaning into scores of little incidents which had puzzled me.
'For goodness' sake,
'I could make confessions,
if I liked.
And I doubt if you've been such a fool as you think.
I'm a patient that wants careful nursing,
and it has been the merest chance all through that I haven't rebelled and bolted.
We've got a good deal to thank the weather for,
and other little stimulants.
And you don't know yet my reasons for deciding to try your cure at all.'
'what in the world do you mean?
It was jolly decent of you to --'
There's another view of it,
but it doesn't matter now.
Let's return to the point.
What's your plan of action?'
was the prompt reply:
'to get back to the North Sea,
-via- Kiel and the ship canal.
Then there will be two objects: one,
to work back to Norderney,
where I left off before,
exploring all those channels through the estuaries and islands;
to find Dollmann,
discover what he's up to,
and settle with him.
The two things may overlap,
we can't tell yet.
I don't even know where he and his yacht are;
but I'll be bound they're somewhere in those same waters,
and probably back at Norderney.'
'It's a delicate matter,'
'if your theory's correct.
Spying on a spy --'
'It's not like that,'
'Anyone who likes can sail about there and explore those waters.
you don't really think it's like that,
'I don't think you're likely to do anything dishonourable,'
I hastened to explain.
'I grant you the sea's public property in your sense.
I only mean that developments are possible,
which you don't reckon on.
There -must- be more to find out than the mere navigation of those channels,
and if that's so,
mightn't we come to be genuine spies ourselves?'
'if it comes to that,
why shouldn't we?
I look at it like this.
The man's an Englishman,
and if he's in with Germany he's a traitor to us,
and we as Englishmen have a right to expose him.
If we can't do it without spying we've a right to spy,
at our own risk --'
'There's a stronger argument than that.
He tried to take your life.'
'I don't care a rap about that.
I'm not such an ass as to thirst for revenge and all that,
like some chap in a shilling shocker.
But it makes me wild to think of that fellow masquerading as a German,
and up to who knows what mischief --mischief enough to make him want to get rid of -any- one.
I'm keen about the sea,
and I think they're apt to be a bit slack at home,'
he continued inconsequently.
'Those Admiralty chaps want waking up.
as far as I'm concerned,
it's quite natural that I should look him up again.'
'you parted friends,
and they may be delighted to see you.
You'll have plenty to talk about.'
withered into silence by the
do you know it's three o'clock?
How the time has gone!
I believe the fog's lifting.'
with a shock,
to the present,
to the weeping walls,
the discoloured deal table,
the ghastly breakfast litter --all the visible symbols of the life I had pledged myself to.
Disillusionment was making rapid headway when Davies returned,
'What do you say to starting for Kiel at once?
The fog's going,
and there's a breeze from the sou'-west.'
it'll mean sailing all night,
'Not with luck.'
it's dark at seven!'
but it's only twenty-five miles.
I know it's not exactly a fair wind,
but we shall lie closehauled most of the way.
The glass is falling,
and we ought to take this chance.'
To argue about winds with Davies was hopeless,
and the upshot was that we started lunchless.
A pale sun was flickering out of masses of racing vapour,
and through delicate vistas between them the fair land of Schleswig now revealed and now withdrew her pretty face,
as though smiling -adieux- to her faithless courtiers.
The clank of our chain brought up Bartels to the deck of the
rubbing his eyes and pulling round his throat a grey shawl,
which gave him a comical likeness to a lodging-house landlady receiving the milk in morning -déshabillé.-
without looking up from his work.
'See you at Kiel,
'You are always in a hurry,
bleated the old man,
shaking his head.
'You should wait till to-morrow.
The sky is not good,
and it will be dark before you are off Eckenförde.'
and very soon his mentor's sad little figure was lost in haze.
That was a curious evening.
Dusk soon fell,
and the devil made a determined effort to unman me;
with the scrambled tea which was the tardy substitute for an orderly lunch,
then with the new and nauseous duty of filling the side-lights,
which meant squatting in the fo'c'sle to inhale paraffin and dabble in lamp-black;
with an all-round attack on my nerves as the night fell on our frail little vessel,
pitching on her precarious way through driving mist.
In a sense I think I went through the same sort of mental crisis as when I sat upon my portmanteau at Flensburg.
The main issue was not seriously in question,
for I had signed on in the
'Dulcibella' for good or ill;
but in doing so I had outrun myself,
and still wanted an outlook,
a mood suited to the enterprise,
proof against petty discouragements.
Not for the first time a sense of the ludicrous came to my assistance,
as I saw myself fretting in London under my burden of self-imposed woes,
nicely weighing that insidious invitation,
and stepping finally into the snare with the dignity due to my importance;
kidnapped as neatly as ever a peaceful clerk was kidnapped by a lawless press-gang,
in the end,
finding as the arch-conspirator a guileless and warm-hearted friend,
who called me clever,
lodged me in a cell,
and blandly invited me to talk German to the purpose,
as he was aiming at a little secret service on the high seas.
Close in the train of Humour came Romance,
veiling her face,
but I knew it was the rustle of her robes that I heard in the foam beneath me;
I knew that it was she who handed me the cup of sparkling wine and bade me drink and be merry.
Strange to me though it was,
I knew the taste when it touched my lips.
It was not that bastard concoction I had tasted in the pseudo-Bohemias of Soho;
it was not the showy but insipid beverage I should have drunk my fill of at Morven Lodge;
it was the purest of her pure vintages,
instilling the ancient inspiration which,
under many guises,
quickens thousands of better brains than mine,
but whose essence is always the same;
the gay pursuit of a perilous quest.
Then and there I tried to clinch the matter and keep that mood.
In the main I think I succeeded,
though I had many lapses.
For the present my veins tingled with the draught.
The wind humming into the mainsail,
the ghostly wave-crests riding up out of the void,
whispered a low thrilling chorus in praise of adventure.
Potent indeed must the spell have been,
that first night sail teemed with terrors for me.
It is true that it began well,
for the haze dispersed,
as Davies had prophesied,
and Bulk Point Lighthouse guided us safely to the mouth of Kiel Fiord.
It was during this stage that,
crouching together aft,
our pipe-bowls glowing sympathetically,
we returned to the problem before us;
for we had shot out on our quest with volcanic precipitation,
leaving much to be discussed.
I gleaned a few more facts,
though I dispelled no doubts.
Davies had only seen the Dollmanns on their yacht,
where father and daughter were living for the time.
Their villa at Norderney,
and their home life there,
were unknown to him,
though he had landed once at the harbour himself.
he had heard vaguely of a stepmother,
absent at Hamburg.
They were to have joined her on their arrival at that city,
be it noted,
stands a long way up the Elbe,
forty miles and more above Cuxhaven,
the town at the mouth.
The exact arrangement made on the day before the fatal voyage was that the two yachts should meet in the evening at Cuxhaven and proceed up the river together.
in the ordinary course,
Davies would have parted company at Brunsbüttel (fifteen miles up),
which is the western terminus of the ship canal to the Baltic.
Such at least had been his original intention;
putting two and two together,
I gathered that latterly,
and perhaps unconfessed to himself,
his resolve had weakened,
and that he would have followed the
'Medusa' to Hamburg,
or indeed the end of the world,
impelled by the same motive that,
contrary to all his tastes and principles,
had induced him to abandon his life in the islands and undertake the voyage at all.
But on that point he was immovably reticent,
and all I could conclude was that the strange cross-current connected with Dollmann's daughter had given him cruel pain and had clouded his judgement to distraction,
but that he now was prepared to forget or ignore it,
and steer a settled course.
The facts I elicited raised several important questions.
Was it not known by this time that he and his yacht had survived?
Davies was convinced that it was not.
'He may have waited at Cuxhaven,
or inquired at the lock at Brunsbüttel,'
'But there was no need,
for I tell you the thing was a certainty.
If I had struck and -stuck- on that outer bank,
as it was a hundred to one I should do,
the yacht would have broken up in three minutes.
Bartels would never have seen me,
and couldn't have got to me if he had.
No one would have seen me.
And nothing whatever has happened since to show that they know I'm alive.'
'Who are "they"?
Who are our adversaries?'
If Dollmann were an accredited agent of the German Admiralty --But,
it was incredible that the murder of a young Englishman should be connived at in modern days by a friendly and civilized government!
if he were not such an agent,
the whole theory fell to the ground.
'that Dollmann did it off his own bat,
and beyond that I can't see.
And I don't know that it matters at present.
Alive or dead we're doing nothing wrong,
and have nothing to be ashamed of.'
'I think it matters a good deal,'
'Who will be interested in our resurrection,
and how are we to go to work,
openly or secretly?
I suppose we shall keep out of the way as much as we can?'
'As for keeping out of the way,'
as he peered to windward under the foresail,
'we -must- pass the ship canal;
that's a public highway,
where anyone can see you.
After that there won't be much difficulty.
Wait till you see the place!'
He gave a low,
which would have frozen my marrow yesterday.
'By the way,
that reminds me,'
'we must stop at Kiel for the inside of a day and lay in a lot of stores.
We want to be independent of the shore.'
I said nothing.
Independence of the shore in a seven-tonner in October!
What an end to aim at!
About nine o'clock we weathered the point,
entered Kiel Fiord,
and began a dead beat to windward of seven miles to the head of it where Kiel lies.
save for the latent qualms concerning my total helplessness if anything happened to Davies,
interest and excitement had upheld me well.
My alarms only began when I thought them nearly over.
Davies had frequently urged me to turn in and sleep,
and I went so far as to go below and coil myself up on the lee sofa with my pencil and diary.
Suddenly there was a flapping and rattling on deck,
and I began to slide on to the floor.
in a panic,
for there was Davies stooping in at the cabin door.
chafing his hands for warmth;
'I'm only going about.
Hand me the glasses,
There's a steamer ahead.
if you really don't want to turn in,
you might make some soup.
Just let's look at the chart.'
He studied it with maddening deliberation,
while I wondered how near the steamer was,
and what the yacht was doing meanwhile.
'I suppose it's not really necessary for anyone to be at the helm?'
she's all right for a minute,'
without looking up.
'Two --one and a half --one --lights in line sou'-west by west --got a match?'
He expended two,
and tumbled upstairs again.
'You don't want me,
I shouted after him.
but come up when you've put the kettle on.
It's a pretty beat up the fiord.
His legs disappeared.
A sort of buoyant fatalism possessed me as I finished my notes and pored over the stove.
It upheld me,
when I went on deck and watched the
whose prettiness was mainly due to the crowd of fog-bound shipping --steamers,
and sailing-vessels --now once more on the move in the confined fairway of the fiord,
their baleful eyes of red,
opening and shutting,
brightening and fading;
while shore-lights and anchor-lights added to my bewilderment,
and a throbbing of screws filled the air like the distant roar of London streets.
every time we spun round for our dart across the fiord I felt like a rustic matron gathering her skirts for the transit of the Strand on a busy night.
was the street arab who zigzags under the horses' feet unscathed;
and all the time he discoursed placidly on the simplicity and safety of night-sailing if only you are careful,
and burnt good lights.
As we were nearing the hot glow in the sky that denoted Kiel we passed a huge scintillating bulk moored in mid-stream.
At one o'clock we anchored off the town.
X. His Chance
'how long do you think this trip will last?
I've only got a month's leave.'
We were standing at slanting desks in the Kiel post-office,
Davies scratching diligently at his letter-card,
and I staring feebly at mine.
with a start of dismay;
'that's only three weeks more;
I never thought of that.
You couldn't manage to get an extension,
'I can write to the chief,'
'but where's the answer to come to?
We're better without an address,
'but that's too near,
and there's --but we don't want to be tied down to landing anywhere.
I tell you what: say "Post Office,
just your name,
not the yacht's.
We -may- get there and be able to call for letters.'
The casual character of our adventure never struck me more strongly than then.
'Is that what -you're- doing?'
I shan't be having important letters like you.'
'But what are you saying?'
just that we're having a splendid cruise,
and are on our way home.'
The notion tickled me,
and I said the same in my home letter,
adding that we were looking for a friend of Davies's who would be able to show us some sport.
I wrote a line,
to my chief (unaware of the gravity of the step I was taking) saying it was possible that I might have to apply for longer leave,
as I had important business to transact in Germany,
and asking him kindly to write to the same address.
Then we shouldered our parcels and resumed our business.
Two full dinghy-loads of Stores we ferried to the
chief among which were two immense cans of petroleum,
constituting our reserves of heat and light,
and a sack of flour.
There were spare ropes and blocks,
German charts of excellent quality;
cigars and many weird brands of sausage and tinned meats,
besides a miscellany of oddments,
some of which only served in the end to slake my companion's craving for jettison.
Clothes were my own chief care,
freely as I had purged it at Flensburg,
my wardrobe was still very unsuitable,
and I had already irretrievably damaged two faultless pairs of white flannels.
('We shall be able to throw them overboard,'
So I bought a great pair of seaboots of the country,
felt-lined and wooden-soled,
and both of us got a number of rough woollen garments (as worn by the local fishermen),
all of a colour chosen to harmonize with paraffin stains and anchor mud.
The same evening we were taking our last look at the Baltic,
sailing past warships and groups of idle yachts battened down for their winter's sleep;
while the noble shores of the fiord,
with its villas embowered in copper foliage,
grew dark and dim above us.
We rounded the last headland,
steered for a galaxy of coloured lights,
tumbled down our sails,
and came to under the colossal gates of the Holtenau lock.
That these would open to such an infinitesimal suppliant seemed inconceivable.
But open they did,
with ponderous majesty,
and our tiny hull was lost in the womb of a lock designed to float the largest battleships.
I thought of Boulter's on a hot August Sunday,
and wondered if I really was the same peevish dandy who had jostled and sweltered there with the noisy cockney throng a month ago.
There was a blaze of electricity overhead,
but utter silence till a solitary cloaked figure hailed us and called for the captain.
Davies ran up a ladder,
disappeared with the cloaked figure,
and returned crumpling a paper into his pocket.
It lies before me now,
and sets forth,
under the stamp of the Königliches Zollamt,
in consideration of the sum of ten marks for dues and four for tonnage,
an imperial tug would tow the vessel
'Dulcibella' (master A. H. Davies) through the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal from Holtenau to Brunsbüttel.
I blush when I look at this yellow document and remember the stately courtesy of the great lock gates;
for the sleepy officials of the Königliches Zollamt little knew what an insidious little viper they were admitting into the imperial bosom at the light toll of fourteen shillings.
They've a regular tariff on tonnage,
same for yachts as for liners.
We start at four to-morrow with a lot of other boats.
I wonder if Bartels is here.'
The same silence reigned,
but invisible forces were at work.
The inner gates opened and we prised ourselves through into a capacious basin,
where lay moored side by side a flotilla of sailing vessels of various sizes.
Having made fast alongside a vacant space of quay,
we had our dinner,
and then strolled out with cigars to look for the
We found her wedged among a stack of galliots,
and her skipper sitting primly below before a blazing stove,
reading his Bible through spectacles.
He produced a bottle of schnapps and some very small and hard pears,
while Davies twitted him mercilessly about his false predictions.
'The sky was not good,'
was all he said,
beaming indulgently at his incorrigible young friend.
Before parting for the night it was arranged that next morning we should lash alongside the
'Johannes' when the flotilla was marshalled for the tow through the canal.
'Karl shall steer for us both,'
'and we will stay warm in the cabin.'
The scheme was carried out,
not without much confusion and loss of paint,
in the small hours of a dark and drizzling morning.
Boisterous little tugs sorted us into parties,
and half lost under the massive bulwarks of the
'Johannes' we were carried off into a black inane.
If any doubt remained as to the significance of our change of cruising-grounds,
dawn dispelled it.
View there was none from the deck of the
it was only by standing on the mainboom that you could see over the embankments to the vast plain of Holstein,
grey and monotonous under a pall of mist.
The soft scenery of the Schleswig coast was a baseless dream of the past,
and a cold penetrating rain added the last touch of dramatic completeness to the staging of the new act.
For two days we travelled slowly up the mighty waterway that is the strategic link between the two seas of Germany.
Broad and straight,
lit by electricity at night till it is lighter than many a great London street;
traversed by great war vessels,
and humble coasters alike,
it is a symbol of the new and mighty force which,
controlled by the genius of statesmen and engineers,
is thrusting the empire irresistibly forward to the goal of maritime greatness.
'Isn't it splendid?'
'He's a fine fellow,
Karl was the shock-headed,
stout-limbed boy of about sixteen,
who constituted the whole crew of the
and was as dirty as his master was clean.
I felt a certain envious reverence for this unprepossessing youth,
seeing in him a much more efficient counterpart of myself;
but how he and his little master ever managed to work their ungainly vessel was a miracle I never understood.
Phlegmatically impervious to rain and cold,
he steered the
'Johannes' down the long grey reaches in the wake of the tug,
while we and Bartels held snug gatherings down below,
sometimes in his cabin,
sometimes in ours.
The heating arrangements of the latter began to be a subject of serious concern.
We finally did the only logical thing,
and brought the kitchen-range into the parlour,
fixing the Rippingille stove on the forward end of the cabin table,
where it could warm as well as cook for us.
As an ornament it was monstrous,
and the taint of oil which it introduced was a disgusting drawback;
the great thing --as Davies said --is to be comfortable,
and after that to be clean.
Davies held long consultations with Bartels,
who was thoroughly at home in the navigation of the sands we were bound for,
his own boat being a type of the very craft which ply in them.
I shall not forget the moment when it first dawned on him that his young friend's curiosity was practical;
for he had thought that our goal was his own beloved Hamburg,
queen of cities,
a place to see and die.
'It is too late,'
'You do not know the Nord See as I do.'
it's quite safe.'
And have I not found you fast on Hohenhörn,
in a storm,
with your rudder broken?
God was good to you then,
but it wasn't my f --' Davies checked himself.
'We're going home.
There's nothing in that.'
Bartels became sadly resigned.
'It is good that you have a friend,'
was his last word on the subject;
but all the same he always glanced at me with a rather doubtful eye.
As to Davies and myself,
our friendship developed quickly on certain limited lines,
the chief obstacle,
as I well know now,
being his reluctance to talk about the personal side of our quest.
On the other hand,
I spoke about my own life and interests,
with an unsparing discernment,
of which I should have been incapable a month ago,
and in return I gained the key to his own character.
It was devotion to the sea,
wedded to a fire of pent-up patriotism struggling incessantly for an outlet in strenuous physical expression;
born of acute sensitiveness to his own limitations,
only adding fuel to the flame.
I learnt for the first time now that in early youth he had failed for the navy,
the first of several failures in his career.
'And I can't settle down to anything else,'
'I read no end about it,
and yet I am a useless outsider.
All I've been able to do is to potter about in small boats;
but it's all been -wasted- till this chance came.
I'm afraid you'll not understand how I feel about it;
but at last,
for once in a way,
I see a chance of being useful.'
'There ought to be chances for chaps like you,'
'without the accident of a job such as this.'
as long as I get it,
But I know what you mean.
There must be hundreds of chaps like me --I know a good many myself --who know our coasts like a book --shoals,
there's nothing in it,
it's only practice.
They ought to make some use of us as a naval reserve.
They tried to once,
but it fizzled out,
and nobody really cares.
And what's the result?
Using every man of what reserves we've got,
there's about enough to man the fleet on a war footing,
and no more.
They've tinkered with fishermen,
and merchant sailors,
and yachting hands,
but everyone of them ought to be got hold of;
and the colonies,
Is there the ghost of a doubt that if war broke out there'd be wild appeals for volunteers,
My own idea is that we ought to go much further,
and train every able-bodied man for a couple of years as a sailor.
I suppose you'd have to give them the choice.
Not that I know or care much about the Army,
though to listen to people talk you'd think it really mattered as the Navy matters.
We're a maritime nation --we've grown by the sea and live by it;
if we lose command of it we starve.
We're unique in that way,
just as our huge empire,
only linked by the sea,
and those "Naval Annuals",
and see what mountains of apathy and conceit have had to be tackled.
It's not the people's fault.
We've been safe so long,
and grown so rich,
that we've forgotten what we owe it to.
But there's no excuse for those blockheads of statesmen,
as they call themselves,
who are paid to see things as they are.
They have to go to an American to learn their A B C,
and it's only when kicked and punched by civilian agitators,
a mere handful of men who get sneered at for their pains,
that they wake up,
do some work,
point proudly to it,
and go to sleep again,
till they get another kick.
we want a man like this Kaiser,
who doesn't wait to be kicked,
but works like a nigger for his country,
and sees ahead.'
But it's a constant uphill fight;
and we aren't ready.
They talk of a two-power standard --' He plunged away into regions where space forbids me to follow him.
This is only a sample of many similar conversations that we afterwards held,
always culminating in the burning question of Germany.
Far from including me and the Foreign Office among his targets for vague invective,
he had a profound respect for my sagacity and experience as a member of that institution;
a respect which embarrassed me not a little when I thought of my -précis- writing and cigarette-smoking,
and my dining.
But I did know something of Germany,
and could satisfy his tireless questioning with a certain authority.
He used to listen rapt while I described her marvellous awakening in the last generation,
under the strength and wisdom of her rulers;
her intense patriotic ardour;
her seething industrial activity,
most potent of all,
the forces that are moulding modern Europe,
her dream of a colonial empire,
entailing her transformation from a land-power to a sea-power.
Impregnably based on vast territorial resources which we cannot molest,
the dim instincts of her people,
not merely directed but anticipated by the genius of her ruling house,
our great trade rivals of the present,
our great naval rival of the future,
an ever more formidable factor in the future of our delicate network of empire,
sensitive as gossamer to external shocks,
and radiating from an island whose commerce is its life,
and which depends even for its daily ration of bread on the free passage of the seas.
'And we aren't ready for her,'
Davies would say;
'we don't look her way.
We have no naval base in the North Sea,
and no North Sea Fleet.
Our best battleships are too deep in draught for North Sea work.
to crown all,
we were asses enough to give her Heligoland,
which commands her North Sea coast.
And supposing she collars Holland;
isn't there some talk of that?'
That would lead me to describe the swollen ambitions of the Pan-Germanic party,
and its ceaseless intrigues to promote the absorption of Austria,
and --a direct and flagrant menace to ourselves --of Holland.
'I don't blame them,'
for all his patriotism,
had not a particle of racial spleen in his composition.
'I don't blame them;
their Rhine ceases to be German just when it begins to be most valuable.
The mouth is Dutch,
and would give them magnificent ports just opposite British shores.
We can't talk about conquest and grabbing.
We've collared a fine share of the world,
and they've every right to be jealous.
Let them hate us,
and say so;
it'll teach us to buck up;
and that's what really matters.'
In these talks there occurred a singular contact of minds.
It was very well for me to spin sonorous generalities,
but I had never till now dreamed of being so vulgar as to translate them into practice.
I had always detested the meddlesome alarmist,
who veils ignorance under noisiness,
and for ever wails his chant of lugubrious pessimism.
To be thrown with Davies was to receive a shock of enlightenment;
was a specimen of the breed who exacted respect.
It is true he made use of the usual jargon,
interlarding his stammering sentences (sometimes,
when he was excited,
with the oddest effect) with the conventional catchwords of the journalist and platform speaker.
But these were but accidents;
for he seemed to have caught his innermost conviction from the very soul of the sea itself.
An armchair critic is one thing,
but a sunburnt,
brine-burnt zealot smarting under a personal discontent,
athirst for a means,
of contributing his effort to the great cause,
the maritime supremacy of Britain,
that was quite another thing.
He drew inspiration from the very wind and spray.
He communed with his tiller,
and marshalled his figures with its help.
To hear him talk was to feel a current of clarifying air blustering into a close club-room,
where men bandy ineffectual platitudes,
and mumble old shibboleths,
and go away and do nothing.
In our talk about policy and strategy we were Bismarcks and Rodneys,
wielding nations and navies;
I have no doubt that our fancy took extravagant flights sometimes.
In plain fact we were merely two young gentlemen in a seven-ton pleasure boat,
with a taste for amateur hydrography and police duty combined.
Not that Davies ever doubted.
Once set on the road he gripped his purpose with child-like faith and tenacity.
It was his
IN the late afternoon of the second day our flotilla reached the Elbe at Brunsbüttel and ranged up in the inner basin,
while a big liner,
whimpering like a fretful baby,
was tenderly nursed into the lock.
During the delay Davies left me in charge,
and bolted off with an oil-can and a milk-jug.
An official in uniform was passing along the quay from vessel to vessel counter-signing papers.
I went up to meet him with our receipt for dues,
which he signed carelessly.
Then he paused and muttered -'Dooltzhibella,'- scratching his head,
'that was the name.
that is so;
there was an inquiry for you.'
'A friend of yours from a big barge-yacht.'
she went on to Hamburg,
'No such luck,
she was outward bound.'
What did the man mean?
He seemed to be vastly amused by something.
'When was this --about three weeks ago?'
It was the day before yesterday.
What a pity to miss him by so little!'
He chuckled and winked.
'Did he leave any message?'
'It was a lady who inquired,'
whispered the fellow,
beginning to feel highly absurd,
but keenly curious.
'And she inquired about the
she was difficult to satisfy!
Stood over me while I searched the books.
"A very little one,"
she kept saying,
and "Are you sure all the names are here?"
I saw her into her kleine Boot,
and she rowed away in the rain.
she left no message.
It was dirty weather for a young fräulein to be out alone in.
she was safe enough,
To see her crossing the ebb in a chop of tide was a treat.'
'And the yacht went on down the river?
Where was she bound to?'
'How do I know?
Emden --somewhere in the North Sea;
too far for you.'
'I don't know about that,'
you will not follow in -that-?
Are not you bound to Hamburg?'
'We can change our plans.
It seems a pity to have missed them.'
there are plenty of pretty girls in Hamburg.
But you English will do anything.
He moved on,
to the next boat.
Davies soon returned with his cans and an armful of dark,
just in time,
the liner being through,
the flotilla was already beginning to jostle into the lock and Bartels was growing impatient.
'They'll last ten days,'
as we followed the throng,
still clinging like a barnacle to the side of the
We spent the few minutes while the lock was emptied in a farewell talk to Bartels.
Karl had hitched their main halyards on to the windlass and was grinding at it in an -acharnement- of industry,
his shock head jerking and his grubby face perspiring.
Then the lock gates opened;
in a Babel of shouting,
whining of blocks,
and creaking of spars,
our whole company was split out into the dingy bosom of the Elbe.
'Johannes' gathered way under wind and tide and headed for midstream.
A last shake of the hand,
and Bartels reluctantly slipped the head-rope and we drifted apart.
It was no time for regretful gazing,
for the flood-tide was sweeping us up and out,
and it was not until we had set the foresail,
edged into a shallow bight,
and let go our anchor,
that we had leisure to think of him again;
but by that time his and the other craft were shades in the murky east.
We swung close to a -glacis- of smooth blue mud which sloped up to a weed-grown dyke;
behind lay the same flat country,
and opposite us,
two miles away,
scarcely visible in the deepening twilight,
ran the outline of a similar shore.
Between rolled the turgid Elbe.
'The Styx flowing through Tartarus,'
I thought to myself,
recalling some of our Baltic anchorages.
I told my news to Davies as soon as the anchor was down,
instinctively leaving the sex of the inquirer to the last,
as my informant had done.
'Medusa' called yesterday?'
'And outward bound?
That's a rum thing.
Why didn't he inquire when he was going -up-?'
'It was a lady,'
and I drily retailed the official's story,
very busy with a deck-broom the while.
'We're all square now,
'I'll go below and light the stove.'
Davies had been engaged in fixing up the riding-light.
When I last saw him he was still so engaged,
the lantern under his left arm and his right hand grasping the forestay and the half-knotted lanyard;
his eyes staring fixedly down the river,
a strange look in his face,
When he joined me and spoke he seemed to be concluding a difficult argument.
'Medusa' has gone back to Norderney.
That's the main thing.'
'but let's sum up all we know.
it's certain that nobody we've met as yet has any suspicion of -us ---'
'I told you he did it off his own bat,'
threw in Davies.
of -him.- If he's what you think it's not known here.'
'I can't help that.'
he inquires for you on his way -back- from Hamburg,
three weeks after the event.
It doesn't look as if he thought he had disposed of you --it doesn't look as if he had -meant- to dispose of you.
He sends his daughter,
too --a curious proceeding under the circumstances.
Perhaps it's all a mistake.'
'It's not a mistake,'
half to himself.
'But -did- he send her?
He'd have sent one of his men.
He can't be on board at all.'
This was a new light.
'What do you mean?'
'He must have left the yacht when he got to Hamburg;
some other devil's work,
She's being sailed back now,
and passing here --'
It's a private supplementary inquiry.'
'That's a long name to call it.'
'Would the girl sail back alone with the crew?'
'She's used to the sea --and perhaps she isn't alone.
There was that stepmother --But it doesn't make a ha'porth of difference to our plans: we'll start on the ebb to-morrow morning.'
We were busier than usual that night,
and securing movables.
'We must economize,'
for all the world as though we were castaways on a raft.
'It's a wretched thing to have to land somewhere to buy oil,'
was a favourite observation of his.
Before getting to sleep I was made to recognize a new factor in the conditions of navigation,
now that the tideless Baltic was left behind us.
A strong current was sluicing past our sides,
and at the eleventh hour I was turned out,
clad in pyjamas and oilskins (a horrible combination),
to assist in running out a kedge or spare anchor.
when we were tucked up again.
it's when you run aground;
you have to --but you'll soon learn all about it.'
I steeled my heart for the morrow.
So behold us,
at eight o'clock on 5th October,
standing down the river towards the field of our first labours.
It is fifteen miles to the mouth;
dreary miles like the dullest reaches of the lower Thames;
but scenery was of no concern to us,
and a south-westerly breeze blowing out of a grey sky kept us constantly on the verge of reefing.
The tide as it gathered strength swept us down with a force attested by the speed with which buoys came in sight,
nodded above us and passed,
each boiling in its eddy of dirty foam.
I scarcely noticed at first --so calm was the water,
and so regular were the buoys,
like milestones along a road --that the northern line of coast was rapidly receding and that the
'river' was coming to be but a belt of deep water skirting a vast estuary,
three --seven --ten miles broad,
till it merged in open sea.
we're at sea!'
I suddenly exclaimed,
'after an hour's sailing!'
'Just discovered that?'
'You said it was fifteen miles,'
'So it is,
till we reach this coast at Cuxhaven;
but I suppose you may say we're at sea;
of course that's all sand over there to starboard.
some of it's showing already.'
He pointed into the north.
Looking more attentively I noticed that outside the line of buoys patches of the surface heaved and worked;
in one or two places streaks and circles of white were forming;
in the midst of one such circle a sleek mauve hump had risen,
like the back of a sleeping whale.
I saw that an old spell was enthralling Davies as his eye travelled away to the blank horizon.
He scanned it all with a critical eagerness,
as one who looks for a new meaning in an old friend's face.
Something of his zest was communicated to me,
and stilled the shuddering thrill that had seized me.
The protecting land was still a comforting neighbour;
but our severance with it came quickly.
The tide whirled us down,
and our straining canvas aiding it,
we were soon off Cuxhaven,
which crouched so low behind its mighty dyke,
that of some of its houses only the chimneys were visible.
a mile or so on,
the shore sharpened to a point like a claw,
where the innocent dyke became a long,
with some great guns peeping over;
then of a sudden it ceased,
retreating into the far south in a dim perspective of groins and dunes.
We spun out into the open and leant heavily over to the now unobstructed wind.
The yacht rose and sank to a little swell,
but my first impression was one of wonder at the calmness of the sea,
for the wind blew fresh and free from horizon to horizon.
it's all sand -there- now,
and we're under the lee of it,'
with an enthusiastic sweep of his hand over the sea on our left,
'That's our hunting ground.'
'What are we going to do?'
'Pick up Sticker's Gat,'
was the reply.
'It ought to be near Buoy K.'
A red buoy with a huge K on it soon came into view.
Davies peered over to port.
'Just pull up the centre-board,
he remarked abstractedly,
'and hand me up the glasses as you are down there.'
'Never mind the glasses.
I've got it now;
come to the main-sheet,'
was the next remark.
He put down the helm and headed the yacht straight for the troubled and discoloured expanse which covered the submerged sands.
with a light surf splashing on it,
was right in our path.
'Stand by the lead,
'I'll manage the sheets,
it's a dead beat in.
The wind was in our teeth now,
and for a crowded half-hour we wormed ourselves forward by ever-shortening tacks into the sinuous recesses of a channel which threaded the shallows westward.
I knelt in a tangle of line,
under the hazy impression that something very critical was going on,
plied the lead furiously,
bumping and splashing myself,
and shouting out the depths,
which lessened steadily,
with a great sense of the importance of my function.
Davies never seemed to listen,
but tacked on imperturbably,
juggling with the tiller,
and the chart,
in a way that made one giddy to look at.
For all our zeal we seemed to be making very slow progress.
'It's no use,
tide's too strong: we must chance it,'
he said at last.
I wondered to myself.
Our tacks suddenly began to grow longer,
and the depths,
which I registered,
All went well for some time though,
and we made better progress.
Then came a longer reach than usual.
'Two and a half --two --one and a half --one --only five feet,'
The water was growing thick and frothy.
'It doesn't matter if we do,'
'There's an eddy here,
and it's a pity to waste it --ready about!
Back the jib!'
But it was too late.
The yacht answered but faintly to the helm,
and heeled heavily over,
wallowing and grinding.
Davies had the mainsail down in a twinkling;
it half smothered me as I crouched on the lee-side among my tangled skeins of line,
scared and helpless.
I crawled out from the folds,
and saw him standing by the mast in a reverie.
'It's not much use,'
'on a falling tide,
but we'll try kedging-off.
Pay that warp out while I run out the kedge.'
Like lightning he had cast off the dinghy's painter,
tumbled the kedge-anchor and himself into the dinghy,
pulled out fifty yards into the deeper water,
and heaved out the anchor.
beginning to see what kedging-off meant.
Don't sweat yourself,'
jumping aboard again.
'The warp is,
the yacht isn't;
you're dragging the anchor home.
she'll lie well here.
Let's have lunch.'
The yacht was motionless,
and the water round her visibly lower.
Petulant waves slapped against her sides,
scattered as my senses were,
I realized that there was no vestige of danger.
Round us the whole face of the waters was changing from moment to moment,
whitening in some places,
yellowing in others,
where breadths of sand began to be exposed.
Close on our right the channel we had left began to look like a turbid little river;
and I understood why our progress had been so slow when I saw its current racing back to meet the Elbe.
Davies was already below,
laying out a more than usually elaborate lunch,
in high content of mind.
'If you -do- want a sit-down lunch,
there's nothing like running aground for it.
we're as handy for work here as anywhere else.
Like most landsmen I had a wholesome prejudice against running aground,
so that my mentor's turn for breezy paradox was at first rather exasperating.
After lunch the large-scale chart of the estuaries was brought down,
and we pored over it together,
mapping out work for the next few days.
There is no need to tire the general reader with its intricacies,
nor is there space to reproduce it for the benefit of the instructed reader.
For both classes the general map should be sufficient,
taken with the large-scale fragment -[See Chart A]- which gives a fair example of the region in detail.
It will be seen that the three broad fairways of the Jade,
and Elbe split up the sands into two main groups.
The westernmost of these is symmetrical in outline,
an acute-angled triangle,
very like a sharp steel-shod pike,
if you imagine the peninsula from which it springs to be the wooden haft.
The other is a huge congeries of banks,
its base resting on the Hanover coast,
two of its sides tolerably clean and even,
and the third,
that facing the north-west,
ribboned and lacerated by the fury of the sea,
which has eaten out deep cavities and struck hungry tentacles far into the interior.
The whole resembles an inverted E,
a rude fork,
on whose three deadly prongs,
the Scharhorn Reef,
the Knecht Sand,
and the Tegeler Flat,
as on the no less deadly point of the pike,
many a good ship splinters herself in northerly gales.
Following this simile,
the Hohenhörn bank,
where Davies was wrecked,
is one of those that lie between the upper and middle prongs.
Our business was to explore the Pike and the Fork and the channels which ramify through them.
I use the general word
but in fact they differ widely in character,
and are called in German by various names: Balje,
For my purpose I need only divide them into two sorts --those which have water in them at all states of the tide,
and those which have not,
which dry off,
either wholly or partly at low-tide.
Davies explained that the latter would take most learning,
and were to be our chief concern,
because they were the
'through-routes' --the connecting links between the estuaries.
You can always detect them on the chart by rows of little Y-shaped strokes denoting
that is to say,
poles or saplings fixed in the sand to mark the passage.
are only conventional signs,
and do not correspond in the least to individual
which are far too numerous and complex to be indicated accurately on a chart,
even of the largest scale.
The same applies to the course of the channels themselves,
whose minor meanderings cannot be reproduced.
It was on the edge of one of these tidal swatchways that the yacht was now lying.
It is called Sticker's Gat,
and you cannot miss it -[See Chart A]- if you carry your eye westward along our course from Cuxhaven.
so Davies told me,
the last and most intricate stage of the
'short cut' which the
'Medusa' had taken on that memorable day --a stage he himself had never reached.
we went on deck,
Davies arming himself with a notebook,
and the prismatic compass,
whose use --to map the angles of the channels --was at last apparent.
This is what I saw when we emerged.
THE yacht lay with a very slight heel (thanks to a pair of small bilge-keels on her bottom) in a sort of trough she had dug for herself,
so that she was still ringed with a few inches of water,
as it were with a moat.
For miles in every direction lay a desert of sand.
To the north it touched the horizon,
and was only broken by the blue dot of Neuerk Island and its lighthouse.
To the east it seemed also to stretch to infinity,
but the smoke of a steamer showed where it was pierced by the stream of the Elbe.
To the south it ran up to the pencil-line of the Hanover shore.
Only to the west was its outline broken by any vestiges of the sea it had risen from.
There it was astir with crawling white filaments,
knotted confusedly at one spot in the north-west,
whence came a sibilant murmur like the hissing of many snakes.
Desert as I call it,
it was not entirely featureless.
Its colour varied from light fawn,
where the highest levels had dried in the wind,
to brown or deep violet,
where it was still wet,
and slate-grey where patches of mud soiled its clean bosom.
Here and there were pools of water,
smitten into ripples by the impotent wind;
here and there it was speckled by shells and seaweed.
And close to us,
beginning to bend away towards that hissing knot in the north-west,
wound our poor little channel,
mercilessly exposed as a stagnant,
muddy ditch with scarcely a foot of water,
not deep enough to hide our small kedge-anchor,
which perked up one fluke in impudent mockery.
the wind moaning in the rigging as though crying in despair for a prey that had escaped it,
made the scene inexpressibly forlorn.
Davies scanned it with gusto for a moment,
climbed to a point of vantage on the boom,
and swept his glasses to and fro along the course of the channel.
'Fairly well boomed,'
'but one or two are very much out.
that's a tricky bend there.'
He took a bearing with the compass,
made a note or two,
and sprang with a vigorous leap down on to the sand.
I may say,
was the only way of
'going ashore' that he really liked.
We raced off as fast as our clumsy sea-boots would let us,
and followed up the course of our channel to the west,
reconnoitring the road we should have to follow when the tide rose.
'The only way to learn a place like this,'
'is to see it at low water.
The banks are dry then,
and the channels are plain.
Look at that boom' --he stopped and pointed contemptuously --'it's all out of place.
I suppose the channel's shifted there.
It's just at an important bend too.
If you took it as a guide when the water was up you'd run aground.'
'Which would be very useful,'
I want to be able to run through this channel without a mistake.
and plied compass and notebook.
Then we raced on till the next halt was called.
the channel's getting deeper,
it was nearly dry a moment ago;
see the current in it now?
That's the flood tide coming up --from the -west,- mind you;
from the Weser side.
That shows we're past the watershed.'
that's what I call it.
a big sand such as this is like a range of hills dividing two plains,
it's never dead flat though it looks it;
there's always one point,
where it's highest.
Now a channel cutting right through the sand is,
always at its shallowest when it's crossing this ridge;
at low water it's generally dry there,
and it gradually deepens as it gets nearer to the sea on either side.
Now at high tide,
when the whole sand is covered,
the water can travel where it likes;
but directly the ebb sets in the water falls away on either side the ridge and the channel becomes two rivers flowing in opposite directions -from- the centre,
as I call it.
when the ebb has run out and the flood begins,
the channel is fed by two currents flowing to the centre and meeting in the middle.
Here the Elbe and the Weser are our two feeders.
Now this current here is going eastwards;
we know by the time of day that the tide's rising,
-therefore- the watershed is between us and the yacht.'
'Why is it so important to know that?'
'Because these currents are strong,
and you want to know when you'll lose a fair one and strike a foul one.
the ridge is the critical point when you're crossing on a falling tide,
and you want to know when you're past it.'
We pushed on till our path was barred by a big lagoon.
It looked far more imposing than the channel;
after a rapid scrutiny,
treated it to a grunt of contempt.
'It's a -cul de sac-,'
'See that hump of sand it's making for,
pointing to a decrepit stem drooping over the bank,
and shaking a palsied finger at the imposture.
that's just where one goes wrong,
it's an old cut that's silted up.
That boom's a fraud;
there's no time to go farther,
the flood's making fast.
I'll just take bearings of what we can see.'
The false lagoon was the first of several that began to be visible in the west,
swelling and joining hands over the ribs of sand that divided them.
All the time the distant hissing grew nearer and louder,
and a deep,
thunderous note began to sound beneath it.
We turned our backs to the wind and hastened back towards the
the stream in our channel hurrying and rising alongside of us.
'There's just time to do the other side,'
when we reached her,
and I was congratulating myself on having regained our base without finding our communications cut.
And away we scurried in the direction we had come that morning,
splashing through pools and jumping the infant runnels that were stealing out through rifts from the mother-channel as the tide rose.
Our observations completed,
back we travelled,
making a wide circuit over higher ground to avoid the encroaching flood,
and wading shin-deep in the final approach to the yacht.
As I scrambled thankfully aboard,
I seemed to hear a far-off voice saying,
in languid depreciation of yachting,
that it did not give one enough exercise.
It was mine,
in another life.
From east and west two sheets of water had overspread the desert,
each pushing out tongues of surf that met and fused.
I waited on deck and watched the death-throes of the suffocating sands under the relentless onset of the sea.
The last strongholds were battered,
the tumult of sounds sank and steadied,
and the sea swept victoriously over the whole expanse.
hitherto contemptuously inert,
began to wake and tremble under the buffetings she received.
with an effort,
she jerked herself on to an even keel and bumped and strained fretfully,
impatient to vanquish this insolent invader and make him a slave for her own ends.
Soon her warp tightened and her nose swung slowly round;
only her stern bumped now,
and that with decreasing force.
Suddenly she was free and drifting broadside to the wind till the anchor checked her and she brought up to leeward of it,
rocking easily and triumphantly.
Good-humoured little person!
At heart she was friends alike with sand and sea.
It was only when the old love and the new love were in mortal combat for her favours,
and she was mauled in the -fracas-,
that her temper rose in revolt.
We swallowed a hasty cup of tea,
ran up the sails,
and started off west again.
Once across the
'watershed' we met a strong current,
but the trend of the passage was now more to the north-west,
so that we could hold our course without tacking,
and consequently could stem the tide.
'Give her just a foot of the centre-plate,'
'We know the way here,
and she'll make less leeway;
but we shall generally have to do without it always on a falling tide.
If you run aground with the plate down you deserve to be drowned.'
I now saw how valuable our walk had been.
The booms were on our right;
but they were broken reeds,
giving no hint as to the breadth of the channel.
A few had lost their tops,
and were being engulfed altogether by the rising water.
When we came to the point where they ceased,
and the false lagoon had lain,
I should have felt utterly lost.
We had crossed the high and relatively level sands which form the base of the Fork,
and were entering the labyrinth of detached banks which obstruct the funnel-shaped cavity between the upper and middle prongs.
This I knew from the chart.
My unaided eye saw nothing but the open sea,
growing dark green as the depths increased;
showing its white fangs.
The waves grew longer and steeper,
for the channels,
though still tortuous,
now begin to be broad and deep.
Davies had his bearings,
and struck on his course confidently.
'Now for the lead,'
'the compass'll be little use soon.
We must feel the edge of the sands till we pick up more booms.'
'Where are we going to anchor for the night?'
'Under the Hohenhörn,'
'for auld lang syne!'
Partly by sight and mostly by touch we crept round the outermost alley of the hidden maze till a new clump of booms appeared,
meaningless to me,
but analysed by him into two groups.
One we followed for some distance,
and then struck finally away and began another beat to windward.
Dusk was falling.
The Hanover coast-line,
never very distinct,
had utterly vanished;
an ominous heave of swell was under-running the short sea.
I ceased to attend to Davies imparting instruction on his beloved hobby,
and sought to stifle in hard manual labour the dread that had been latent in me all day at the prospect of our first anchorage at sea.
like blazes now!'
he said at last.
I came to a fathom and a half.
'That's the bank,'
'we'll give it a bit of a berth and then let go.'
'Let go now!'
was the order after a minute,
and the chain ran out with a long-drawn moan.
'Dulcibella' snubbed up to it and jauntily faced the North Sea and the growing night.
'There we are!'
as we finished stowing the mainsail,
'safe and snug in four fathoms in a magnificent sand-harbour,
with no one to bother us and the whole of it to ourselves.
no worries of any sort.
It's better than a Baltic cove even,
less beastly civilization about.
We're seven miles from the nearest coast,
and five even from Neuerk --look,
they're lighting up.'
There was a tiny spark in the east.
'I suppose it's all right,'
'but I'd rather see a solid breakwater somewhere;
it's a dirty-looking night,
and I don't like this swell.'
'The swell's nothing,'
'it's only a stray drain from outside.
As for breakwaters,
you've got them all round you,
only they're hidden.
Ahead and to starboard is the West Hohenhörn,
curling round to the sou'-west for all the world like a stone pier.
You can hear the surf battering on its outside over to the north.
That's where I was nearly wrecked that day,
and the little channel I stumbled into must be quite near us somewhere.
Half a mile away --to port there --is the East Hohenhörn,
where I brought up,
after dashing across this lake we're in.
Another mile astern is the main body of the sands,
the top prong of your fork.
So you see we're shut in --practically.
Surely you remember the chart?
confound the chart!'
I broke out,
finding this flow of plausible comfort too dismally suggestive for my nerves.
'-Look- at it,
Supposing anything happens --supposing it blows a gale!
But it's no good shivering here and staring at the view.
I'm going below.'
There was a -mauvais quart d'heure- below,
I am ashamed to say,
I forgot the quest.
'Which soup do you feel inclined for?'
after a black silence of some minutes.
That simple remark,
more eloquent of security than a thousand technical arguments,
saved the situation.
'I'm a white-livered cur at the best,
and you mustn't spare me.
But you're not like any yachtsman I ever met before,
or any sailor of any sort.
You're so casual and quiet in the extraordinary things you do.
I believe I should like you better if you let fly a volley of deep-sea oaths sometimes,
or threatened to put me in irons.'
Davies opened wide eyes,
and said it was all his fault for forgetting that I was not as used to such anchorages as he was.
by the way,'
'as to its blowing a gale,
I shouldn't wonder if it did;
the glass is falling hard;
but it can't hurt us.
even at high water the drift of the sea --'
for Heaven's sake,
don't begin again.
You'll prove soon that we're safer here than in an hotel.
Let's have dinner,
and a thundering good one!'
Dinner ran a smooth course,
but just as coffee was being brewed the hull,
from pitching regularly,
began to roll.
'I knew she would,'
'I was going to warn you,
only --the ebb has set in -against- the wind.
It's quite safe --'
'I thought you said it would get calmer when the tide fell?'
'So it will,
but it may -seem- rougher.
Tides are queer things,'
as though in defence of some not very respectable acquaintances.
He busied himself with his logbook,
swaying easily to the motion of the boat;
and I for my part tried to write up my diary,
but I could not fix my attention.
Every loose article in the boat became audibly restless.
lockers uttered hollow groans.
Small things sidled out of dark hiding-places,
and danced grotesque drunken figures on the floor,
like goblins in a haunted glade.
The mast whined dolorously at every heel,
and the centre-board hiccoughed and choked.
Overhead another horde of demons seemed to have been let loose.
The deck and mast were conductors which magnified every sound and made the tap-tap of every rope's end resemble the blows of a hammer,
and the slapping of the halyards against the mast the rattle of a Maxim gun.
The whole tumult beat time to a rhythmical chorus which became maddening.
'We might turn in now,'
'it's half-past ten.'
sleep through this?'
'I can't stand this,
I must -do- something.
Can't we go for another walk?'
I spoke in bitter,
'Of course we can,'
'if you don't mind a bit of a tumble in the dinghy.'
I reconsidered my rash suggestion,
but it was too late now to turn back,
and some desperate expedient was necessary.
I found myself on deck,
gripping a backstay and looking giddily down and then up at the dinghy,
as it bobbed like a cork in the trough of the sea alongside,
while Davies settled the sculls and rowlocks.
and before I could gather my wits and clutch the sides we were adrift in the night,
reeling from hollow to hollow of the steep curling waves.
Davies nursed our walnut-shell tenderly over their crests,
edging her slantwise across their course.
He used very little exertion,
relying on the tide to carry us to our goal.
Suddenly the motion ceased.
A dark slope loomed up out of the night,
and the dinghy rested softly in a shallow eddy.
'The West Hohenhörn,'
We jumped out and sank into soft mud,
hauled up the dinghy a foot or two,
then mounted the bank and were on hard,
The wind leapt on us,
and choked our voices.
'Let's find my channel,'
Keep Neuerk light right astern of you.'
We set off with a long,
stooping stride in the teeth of the wind,
and straight towards the roar of the breakers on the farther side of the sand.
A line of Matthew Arnold's,
'The naked shingles of the world,'
was running in my head.
'Seven miles from land,'
'scuttling like sea-birds on a transient islet of sand,
encircled by rushing tides and hammered by ocean,
at midnight in a rising gale --cut off even from our one dubious refuge.'
It was the time,
to conquer weakness.
A mad gaiety surged through me as I drank the wind and pressed forward.
It seemed but a minute or two and Davies clutched me.
'It's my channel.'
The ground sloped down,
and a rushing river glimmered before us.
We struck off at a tangent and followed its course to the north,
stumbling in muddy rifts,
slipping on seaweed,
beginning to be blinded by a fine salt spray,
and deafened by the thunder of the ocean surf.
The river broadened,
gathered itself for the shock,
and dissolved in milky gloom.
We wheeled away to the right,
and splashed into yeasty froth.
I turned my back to the wind,
scooped the brine out of my eyes,
faced back and saw that our path was barred by a welter of surf.
Davies's voice was in my ear and his arm was pointing seaward.
'This --is --about where --I --bumped first --worse then nor'-west wind --this --is --nothing.
Let's --go --right --round.'
We galloped away with the wind behind us,
skirting the line of surf.
I lost all account of time and direction.
Another sea barred our road,
became another river as we slanted along its shore.
Again we were in the teeth of that intoxicating wind.
Then a point of light was swaying and flickering away to the left,
and now we were checking and circling.
I stumbled against something sharp --the dinghy's gunwale.
So we had completed the circuit of our fugitive domain,
that dream-island --nightmare island as I always remember it.
'You must scull,
'It's blowing hard now.
Keep her nose -up- a little --all you know!'
We lurched along,
my scull sometimes buried to the thwart,
sometimes striking at the bubbles of a wave top.
in the bows,
I heard the scud smacking against his oilskin back.
Then a wan,
yellow light glanced over the waves.
Let her come!'
and the bowsprit of the
swollen to spectral proportions,
was stabbing the darkness above me.
'Back a bit!
Two good strokes.
Ship your scull!
I clawed at the tossing hull and landed in a heap.
Davies followed with the painter,
and the dinghy swept astern.
'She's riding beautifully now,'
when he had secured the painter.
'There'll be no rolling on the flood,
and it's nearly low water.'
I don't think I should have cared,
however much she had rolled.
I was finally cured of funk.
It was well that I was,
for to be pitched out of your bunk on to wet oil-cloth is a disheartening beginning to a day.
This happened about eight o'clock.
The yacht was pitching violently,
and I crawled on all fours into the cabin,
where Davies was setting out breakfast on the floor.
'I let you sleep on,'
'we can't do anything till the water falls.
We should never get the anchor up in this sea.
Come and have a look round.
It's clearing now,'
he went on,
when we were crouching low on deck,
gripping cleats for safety.
'Wind's veered to nor'-west.
It's been blowing a full gale,
and the sea is at its worst now --near high water.
You'll never see worse than this.'
I was prepared for what I saw --the stormy sea for leagues around,
and a chaos of breakers where our dream-island had stood --and took it quietly,
even with a sort of elation.
'Dulcibella' faced the storm as doggedly as ever,
plunging her bowsprit into the sea and flinging green water over her bows.
A wave of confidence and affection for her welled through me.
I had been used to resent the weight and bulk of her unwieldy anchor and cable,
but I saw their use now;
and snowy sails were foppish absurdities of a hateful past.
'What can we do to-day?'
'We must keep well inside the banks and be precious careful wherever there's a swell.
It's rampant in here,
in spite of the barrier of sand.
But there's plenty we can do farther back.'
We breakfasted in horrible discomfort;
then smoked and talked till the roar of the breakers dwindled.
At the first sign of bare sand we got under way,
under mizzen and head-sails only,
and I learned how to sail a reluctant anchor out of the ground.
we scudded east before the wind,
over the ground we had traversed the evening before,
while an archipelago of new banks slowly shouldered up above the fast weakening waves.
We trod delicately among and around them,
sounding and observing;
heaving to where space permitted,
and sometimes using the dinghy.
I began to see where the risks lay in this sort of navigation.
Wherever the ocean swell penetrated,
or the wind blew straight down a long deep channel,
we had to be very cautious and leave good margins.
'That's the sort of place you mustn't ground on,'
Davies used to say.
In the end we traversed the Steil Sand again,
but by a different swatchway,
after an arduous day,
in a notch on its eastern limit,
just clear of the swell that rolled in from the turbulent estuary of the Elbe.
The night was fair,
and when the tide receded we lay perfectly still,
the fresh wind only sending a lip-lip of ripples against our sides.
The Meaning of our Work
NOTHING happened during the next ten days to disturb us at our work.
During every hour of daylight and many of darkness,
sailing or anchored,
aground or afloat,
in rain and shine,
wind and calm,
we studied the bed of the estuaries,
and practised ourselves in threading the network of channels;
holding no communication with the land and rarely approaching it.
It was a life of toil,
a struggle against odds,
for wild autumnal weather was the rule,
with the wind backing and veering between the south-west and north-west,
and only for two placid days blowing gently from the east,
the safe quarter for this region.
Its force and direction determined each fresh choice of ground.
If it was high and northerly we explored the inner fastnesses;
in moderate intervals the exterior fringe,
darting when surprised into whatever lair was most convenient.
Sometimes we were tramping vast solitudes of sand,
sometimes scudding across ephemeral tracts of shallow sea.
we were creeping gingerly round the deeper arteries that surround the Great Knecht,
examining their convolutions as it were the veins of a living tissue,
and the circulation of the tide throbbing through them like blood.
we would be staggering through the tide-rips and overfalls that infest the open fairway of the Weser on our passage between the Fork and the Pike.
On one of our fine days I saw the scene of Davies's original adventure by daylight with the banks dry and the channels manifest.
The reader has seen it on the chart,
up to a point,
form his opinion;
I can only add that I realized by ocular proof that no more fatal trap could have been devised for an innocent stranger;
for approaching it from the north-west under the easiest conditions it was hard enough to verify our true course.
In a period so full of new excitements it is not easy for me to say when we were hardest put to it,
especially as it was a rule with Davies never to admit that we were in any danger at all.
But I think that our ugliest experience was on the 10th,
owing to some minute miscalculation,
we stranded in a dangerous spot.
was all in the day's work;
the constantly recurring question being when and where to court or risk it.
This time we were so situated that when the rising tide came again we were on a lee shore,
broadside on to a gale of wind which was sending a nasty sea --with a three-mile drift to give it force --down Robin's Balje,
which is one of the deeper arteries I spoke of above,
and now lay dead to windward of us.
The climax came about ten o'clock at night.
'We can do nothing till she floats,'
and I can see him now quietly smoking and splicing a chafed warp while he explained that her double skin of teak fitted her to stand anything in reason.
She certainly had a terrific test that night,
for the bottom was hard,
on which she rose and fell with convulsive vehemence.
The last half-hour was for me one of almost intolerable tension.
I spent it on deck unable to bear the suspense below.
Sheets of driven sea flew bodily over the hull,
and a score of times I thought she must succumb as she shivered to the blows of her keel on the sand.
But those stout skins knit by honest labour stood the trial.
One final thud and she wrenched herself bodily free,
found her anchor,
and rode clear.
On the whole I think we made few mistakes.
Davies had a supreme aptitude for the work.
sometimes every minute,
brought its problem,
and his resource never failed.
The stiffer it was the cooler he became.
that intuition which is independent of acquired skill,
and is at the root of all genius;
to take cases analogous to his own,
is the last quality of the perfect guide or scout.
I believe he could -smell- sand where he could not see or touch it.
As for me,
the sea has never been my element,
and never will be;
I hardened to the life,
and tolerably alert.
As a soldier learns more in a week of war than in years of parades and pipeclay,
cut off from all distractions,
moving from bivouac to precarious bivouac,
to some extent,
for my life on my muscles and wits,
I rapidly learnt my work and gained a certain dexterity.
I knew my ropes in the dark,
could beat economically to windward through squalls,
and estimate the interaction of wind and tide.
We were generally in solitude,
but occasionally we met galliots like the
'Johannes' tacking through the sands,
and once or twice we found a fleet of such boats anchored in a gut,
waiting for water.
was from six to seven feet,
our own only four,
without our centre-plate,
but we took their mean draught as the standard of all our observations.
we set ourselves to ascertain when and how a vessel drawing six and a half feet could navigate the sands.
A word more as to our motive.
It was Davies's conviction,
as I have said,
that the whole region would in war be an ideal hunting-ground for small free-lance marauders,
and I began to know he was right;
for look at the three sea-roads through the sands to Hamburg,
and the heart of commercial Germany.
They are like highways piercing a mountainous district by defiles,
where a handful of desperate men can arrest an army.
Follow the parallel of a war on land.
People your mountains with a daring and resourceful race,
who possess an intimate knowledge of every track and bridle-path,
who operate in small bands,
and move rapidly.
See what an immense advantage such guerillas possess over an enemy which clings to beaten tracks,
moves in large bodies,
and does not
'know the country'.
See how they can not only inflict disasters on a foe who vastly overmatches them in strength,
but can prolong a semi-passive resistance long after all decisive battles have been fought.
how the strong invader can only conquer his elusive antagonists by learning their methods,
studying the country,
and matching them in mobility and cunning.
The parallel must not be pressed too far;
but that this sort of warfare will have its counterpart on the sea is a truth which cannot be questioned.
Davies in his enthusiasm set no limits to its importance.
The small boat in shallow waters played a mighty -rôle- in his vision of a naval war,
a part that would grow in importance as the war developed and reach its height in the final stages.
'The heavy battle fleets are all very well,'
he used to say,
'but if the sides are well matched there might be nothing left of them after a few months of war.
They might destroy one another mutually,
leaving as nominal conqueror an admiral with scarcely a battleship to bless himself with.
It's then that the true struggle will set in;
and it's then that anything that will float will be pressed into the service,
and anybody who can steer a boat,
knows his waters,
and doesn't care the toss of a coin for his life,
will have magnificent opportunities.
It cuts both ways.
What small boats can do in these waters is plain enough;
but take our own case.
Say we're beaten on the high seas by a coalition.
There's then a risk of starvation or invasion.
It's all rot what they talk about instant surrender.
We can live on half rations,
but we must have time.
Meanwhile our coast and ports are in danger,
for the millions we sink in forts and mines won't carry us far.
They're fixed --pure passive defence.
What you want is -boats ---mosquitoes with stings --swarms of them --patrol-boats,
intelligent irregulars manned by local men,
with a pretty free hand to play their own game.
And what a splendid game to play!
There are places very like this over there --nothing half so good,
but similar --the Mersey estuary,
best of all,
with all the Kent,
and Suffolk banks round it.
But as for defending our coasts in the way I mean --we've nothing ready --nothing whatsoever!
We don't even build or use small torpedo-boats.
These fast "destroyers" are no good for -this- work --too long and unmanageable,
and most of them too deep.
What you want is something strong and simple,
of light draught,
and with only a spar-torpedo,
if it came to that.
small yachts --anything would do at a pinch,
for success would depend on intelligence,
not on brute force or complicated mechanism.
They'd get wiped out often,
but what matter?
There'd be no lack of the right sort of men for them if the thing was -organized.- But where are the men?
suppose we have the best of it on the high seas,
and have to attack or blockade a coast like this,
which is sand from end to end.
You can't improvise people who are at home in such waters.
The navy chaps don't learn it,
they're the most magnificent service in the world --in pluck,
and everything else.
They'll -try- anything,
and often do the impossible.
But their boats are deep,
and they get little practice in this sort of thing.'
Davies never pushed home his argument here;
but I know that it was the passionate wish of his heart,
somehow and somewhere,
to get a chance of turning his knowledge of this coast to practical account in the war that he felt was bound to come,
to play that
'splendid game' in this,
the most fascinating field for it.
I can do no more than sketch his views.
Hearing them as I did,
with the very splash of the surf and the bubble of the tides in my ears,
they made a profound impression on me,
and gave me the very zeal for our work he,
But as the days passed and nothing occurred to disturb us,
I felt more and more strongly that,
as regards our quest,
we were on the wrong tack.
We found nothing suspicious,
nothing that suggested a really adequate motive for Dollmann's treachery.
I became impatient,
and was for pushing on more quickly westward.
Davies still clung to his theory,
but the same feeling influenced him.
'It's something to do with these channels in the sand,'
'but I'm afraid,
as you say,
we haven't got at the heart of the mystery.
Nobody seems to care a rap what we do.
We haven't done the estuaries as well as I should like,
but we'd better push on to the islands.
It's exactly the same sort of work,
and just as important,
We're bound to get a clue soon.'
There was also the question of time,
for me at least.
I was due to be back in London,
unless I obtained an extension,
on the 28th,
and our present rate of progress was slow.
But I cannot conscientiously say that I made a serious point of this.
If there was any value in our enterprise at all,
official duty pales beside it.
The machinery of State would not suffer from my absence;
excuses would have to be made,
and the results braved.
All the time our sturdy little craft grew shabbier and more weather-worn,
the varnish thinner,
the decks greyer,
the sails dingier,
and the cabin roof more murky where stove-fumes stained it.
But the only beauty she ever possessed,
that of perfect fitness for her functions,
With nothing to compare her to she became a home to me.
My joints adapted themselves to her crabbed limits,
my tastes and habits to her plain domestic economy.
But oil and water were running low,
and the time had come for us to be forced to land and renew our stock.
The First Night in the Islands
A LOW line of sandhills,
pink and fawn in the setting sun,
at one end of them a little white village huddled round the base of a massive four-square lighthouse --such was Wangeroog,
the easternmost of the Frisian Islands,
as I saw it on the evening of 15th October.
We had decided to make it our first landing-place;
and since it possesses no harbour,
and is hedged by a mile of sand at low water,
we had run in on the rising tide till the yacht grounded,
in order to save ourselves as much labour as possible in the carriage to and fro of the heavy water-breakers and oil-cans which we had to replenish.
In faint outline three miles to the south of us was the flat plain of Friesland,
broken only by some trees,
a windmill or two,
and a church spire.
the shallow expanse of sea was already beginning to shrink away into lagoons,
chief among which was the narrow passage by which we had approached from the east.
This continued its course west,
directly parallel to the island,
and in it,
at a distance of half a mile from us,
three galliots lay at anchor.
Before supper was over the yacht was high and dry,
and when we had eaten,
Davies loaded himself with cans and breakers.
I was for taking my share,
but he induced me to stay aboard;
for I was dead tired after an unusually long and trying day,
which had begun at 2 a.m.,
using a precious instalment of east wind,
we had started on a complete passage of the sands from the Elbe to the Jade.
It was a barely possible feat for a boat of our low speed to perform in only two tides;
and though we just succeeded,
it was only by dint of tireless vigilance and severe physical strain.
'Lay out the anchor when you've had a smoke,'
'and keep an eye on the riding-light;
it's my only guide back.'
He lowered himself,
and I heard the scrunch of his sea-boots as he disappeared in the darkness.
It was a fine starry night,
with a touch of frost in the air.
I lit a cigar,
and stretched myself on a sofa close to the glow of the stove.
The cigar soon languished and dropped,
and I dozed uneasily,
for the riding-light was on my mind.
I got up once and squinted at it through the half-raised skylight,
saw it burning steadily,
and lay down again.
The cabin lamp wanted oil and was dying down to a red-hot wick,
but I was too drowsy to attend to it,
and it went out.
I lit my cigar stump again,
and tried to keep awake by thinking.
It was the first time I and Davies had been separated for so long;
yet so used had we grown to freedom from interference that this would not have disturbed me in the least were it not for a sudden presentiment that on this first night of the second stage of our labours something would happen.
All at once I heard a sound outside,
a splashing footstep as of a man stepping in a puddle.
I was wide awake in an instant,
but never thought of shouting
'Is that you,
for I knew in a flash that it was not he.
It was the slip of a stealthy man.
Presently I heard another footstep --the pad of a boot on the sand --this time close to my ear,
just outside the hull;
then some more,
fainter and farther aft.
I gently rose and peered aft through the skylight.
A glimmer of light,
reflected from below,
was wavering over the mizzen-mast and bumpkin;
it had nothing to do with the riding-light,
which hung on the forestay.
had struck a match and was reading the name on the stern.
How much farther would his curiosity carry him?
The match went out,
and footsteps were audible again.
Then a strong,
guttural voice called in German,
I kept silence.
a little louder this time.
and then a vibration of the hull as boots scraped on it and hands grasped the gunwale.
My visitor was on deck.
I bobbed down,
sat on the sofa,
and I heard him moving along the deck,
quickly and confidently,
first forward to the bows,
where he stopped,
then back to the companion amidships.
Inside the cabin it was pitch dark,
but I heard his boots on the ladder,
feeling for the steps.
In another moment he would be in the doorway lighting his second match.
Surely it was darker than before?
There had been a little glow from the riding-lamp reflected on to the skylight,
but it had disappeared.
I looked up,
and made a fool of myself.
In a few seconds more I should have seen my visitor face to face,
perhaps had an interview: but I was new to this sort of work and lost my head.
All I thought of was Davies's last words,
and saw him astray on the sands,
with no light to guide him back,
the tide rising,
and a heavy load.
I started up involuntarily,
bumped against the table,
and set the stove jingling.
A long step and a grab at the ladder,
but just too late!
I grasped something damp and greasy,
there was tugging and hard breathing,
and I was left clasping a big sea-boot,
whose owner I heard jump on to the sand and run.
I scrambled out,
and followed blindly by the sound.
He had doubled round the bows of the yacht,
and I did the same,
ducked under the bowsprit,
forgetting the bobstay,
and fell violently on my head,
with all the wind knocked out of me by a wire rope and block whose strength and bulk was one of the glories of the
I struggled on as soon as I got some breath,
but my invisible quarry was far ahead.
I pulled off my heavy boots,
and ran in my stockings,
promptly cutting my foot on some cockle-shells.
Pursuit was hopeless,
and a final stumble over a bit of driftwood sent me sprawling with agony in my toes.
I decided that I had made a very poor beginning as an active adventurer.
I had gained nothing,
and lost a great deal of breath and skin,
and did not even know for certain where I was.
The yacht's light was extinguished,
even with Wangeroog Lighthouse to guide me,
I found it no easy matter to find her.
She had no anchor out,
if the tide rose.
And how was Davies to find her?
After much feeble circling I took to lying flat at intervals in the hopes of seeing her silhouetted against the starry sky.
This plan succeeded at last,
and with relief and humility I boarded her,
relit the riding-light,
and carried off the kedge anchor.
The strange boot lay at the foot of the ladder,
but it told no tales when I examined it.
It was eleven o'clock,
past low water.
Davies was cutting it fine if he was to get aboard without the dinghy's help.
But eventually he reappeared in the most prosaic way,
exhausted with his heavy load,
but full of talk about his visit ashore.
He began while we were still on deck.
we ought to have settled more about what we're to say when we're asked questions.
I chose a quiet-looking shop,
but it turned out to be a sort of inn,
where they were drinking pink gin --all very friendly,
and I found myself under a fire of questions.
I said we were on our way back to England.
There was the usual rot about the smallness of the boat,
It struck me that we should want some other pretence for going so slow and stopping to explore,
so I had to bring in the ducks,
though goodness knows we don't want to waste time over -them.- The subject wasn't quite a success.
They said it was too early --jealous,
but then two fellows spoke up,
and asked to be taken on to help.
Said they would bring their punt;
without local help we should do no good.
All true enough,
but what a nuisance they'd be.
I got out of it --'
'It's just as well you did,'
'We shall never be able to leave the boat by herself.
I believe we're watched,'
and I related my experience.
It's a pity you didn't see who it was.
Confound that bob-stay!'
(his tactful way of reflecting on my clumsiness);
'which way did he run?'
I pointed vaguely into the west.
'Not towards the island?
I wonder if it's someone off one of those galliots.
There are three anchored in the channel over there;
you can see their lights.
You didn't hear a boat pulling off?'
I explained that I had been a miserable failure as a detective.
'You've done jolly well,
'If you had shouted when you first heard him we should know less still.
And we've got a boot,
which may come in useful.
Anchor out all right?
Let's get below.'
We smoked and talked till the new flood,
lapping softly round the
raised her without a jar.
there might be nothing in it.
The visitor might have been a commonplace thief;
an apparently deserted yacht was a tempting bait.
Davies scouted this possibility from the first.
'They're not like that in Germany,'
if you like,
they'll do anything.
And I don't like that turning out of the lantern to gain time,
if we were away.'
Nor did I.
In spite of my blundering in details,
I welcomed the incident as the first concrete proof that the object of our quest was no mare's nest.
The next point was what was the visitor's object?
If to search,
what would he have found?
with all our corrections and notes,
and the log.
They'd give us away,'
was Davies's instant conclusion.
Not having his faith in the channel theory,
I was lukewarm about his precious charts.
we're doing nothing wrong,
as you've often said yourself,'
as a true index to our mode of life they were the only things on board that could possibly compromise us or suggest that we were anything more than eccentric young Englishmen cruising for sport (witness the duck guns) and pleasure.
We had two sets of charts,
German and English.
The former we decided to use in practice,
and to hide,
together with the log,
if occasion demanded.
should never leave my person.
Then there were the naval books.
Davies scanned them with a look I knew well.
'There are too many of them,'
in the tone of a cook fixing the fate of superfluous kittens.
'Let's throw them overboard.
They're very old anyhow,
and I know them by heart.'
for he was laying greedy hands on the shelf;
'they'll be found at low water.
I should leave them as they are.
You had them when you were here before,
and Dollmann knows you had them.
If you return without them,
it will look queer.'
They were spared.
The English charts,
being relatively useless,
though more suitable to our -rôle- as English yachtsmen,
were to be left in evidence,
as shining proofs of our innocence.
It was all delightfully casual,
I could not help thinking.
A seven-ton yacht does not abound in (dry) hiding-places,
and we were helpless against a drastic search.
If there -were- secrets on this coast to guard,
and we were suspected as spies,
there was nothing to prevent an official visit and warning.
There need be no prowlers scuttling off when alarmed,
unless indeed it was thought wisest to let well alone,
if we -were- harmless,
and not to arouse suspicions where there were none.
Here we lost ourselves in conjecture.
Whose agent was the prowler?
did Dollmann know now that the
'Dulcibella' was safe,
and back in the region he had expelled her from?
was he likely to return to the policy of violence?
We found ourselves both glancing at the duck guns strung up under the racks,
and then we both laughed and looked foolish.
'A war of wits,
and not of duck guns,'
'Let's look at the chart.'
[Illustration: Map B of East Friesland.]
The reader is already familiar with the general aspect of this singular region,
and I need only remind him that the mainland is that district of Prussia which is known as East Friesland.
It is a -[See Map B]- short,
bounded on the west by the Ems estuary and beyond that by Holland,
and on the east by the Jade estuary;
a low-lying country,
containing great tracts of marsh and heath,
and few towns of any size;
on the north side none.
Seven islands lie off the coast.
which is round,
are attenuated strips,
rarely more than a mile broad,
and tapering at the ends;
in length averaging about six miles,
from Norderney and Juist,
which are seven and nine respectively,
to little Baltrum,
which is only two and a half.
Of the shoal spaces which lie between them and the mainland,
two-thirds dry at low-water,
and the remaining third becomes a system of lagoons whose distribution is controlled by the natural drift of the North Sea as it forces its way through the intervals between the islands.
Each of these intervals resembles the bar of a river,
and is obstructed by dangerous banks,
over which the sea pours at every tide scooping out a deep pool.
This fans out and ramifies to east and west as the pent-up current frees itself,
encircles the islands,
and spreads over the intervening flats.
But the farther it penetrates the less coursing force it has,
and as a result no island is girt completely by a low-water channel.
About midway at the back of each of them is a
only covered for five or six hours out of the twelve.
even of the lightest draught,
navigating behind the islands must choose its moment for passing these.
As to navigability,
the North Sea Pilot sums up the matter in these dry terms:
'The channels dividing these islands from each other and the shore afford to the small craft of the country the means of communication between the Ems and the Jade,
to which description of vessels only they are available.'
The islands are dismissed with a brief note or two about beacons and lights.
The more I looked at the chart the more puzzled I became.
The islands were evidently mere sandbanks,
with a cluster of houses and a church on each,
the only hint of animation in their desolate -ensemble- being the occasional word
suggesting that they were visited in the summer months by a handful of townsfolk for the sea-bathing.
was conspicuous in this respect;
but even its town,
which I know by repute as a gay and fashionable watering-place,
would be dead and empty for some months in the year,
and could have no commercial importance.
No man could do anything on the mainland coast --a monotonous line of dyke punctuated at intervals by an infinitesimal village.
Glancing idly at the names of these villages,
I noticed that they most of them ended in siel --a repulsive termination,
that seemed appropriate to the whole region.
There were Carolinensiel,
Siel means either a sewer or a sluice,
the latter probably in this case,
for I noticed that each village stood at the outlet of a little stream which evidently carried off the drainage of the lowlands behind.
would be necessary at the mouth,
for at high tide the land is below the level of the sea.
Looking next at the sands outside,
I noticed that across them and towards each outlet a line of booms was marked,
showing that there was some sort of tidal approach to the village,
evidently formed by the scour of the little stream.
'Are we going to explore those?'
I asked Davies.
'I don't see the use,'
'they only lead to those potty little places.
I suppose local galliots use them.'
'How about your torpedo-boats and patrol-boats?'
'They -might,- at certain tides.
But I can't see what value they'd be,
unless as a refuge for a German boat in the last resort.
They lead to no harbours.
There's a little notch in the dyke at Neuharlingersiel and Dornumersiel,
which may mean some sort of a quay arrangement,
but what's the use of that?'
'We may as well visit one or two,
'I suppose so;
but we don't want to be playing round villages.
There's heaps of really important work to do,
what -do- you make of this coast?'
Davies had nothing but the same old theory,
but he urged it with a force and keenness that impressed me more deeply than ever.
'Look at those islands!'
'They're clearly the old line of coast,
hammered into breaches by the sea.
The space behind them is like an immense tidal harbour,
thirty miles by five,
and they screen it impenetrably.
It's absolutely -made- for shallow war-boats under skilled pilotage.
They can nip in and out of the gaps,
and dodge about from end to end.
On one side is the Ems,
on the other the big estuaries.
It's a perfect base for torpedo-craft.'
I agreed (and agree still),
but still I shrugged my shoulders.
'We go on exploring,
in the same way?'
keeping a sharp look-out,
we shall always be in sight of land now.'
'What's the glass doing?'
'Higher than for a long time.
I hope it won't bring fog.
I know this district is famous for fogs,
and fine weather at this time of the year is bad for them anywhere.
I would rather it blew,
if it wasn't for exploring those gaps,
where an on-shore wind would be nasty.
I think I'll sleep in the saloon for the future,
after what happened to-night.'
[For this chapter see Map B.]
THE decisive incidents of our cruise were now fast approaching.
Looking back on the steps that led to them,
and anxious that the reader should be wholly with us in our point of view,
I think I cannot do better than give extracts from my diary of the next three days:
'-16th Oct.- (up at 6.30,
yacht high and dry).
Of the three galliots out at anchor in the channel yesterday,
only one is left ...
I took my turn with the breakers this morning and walked to Wangeroog,
whose village I found half lost in sand drifts,
which are planted with tufts of marram-grass in mathematical rows,
to give stability and prevent a catastrophe like that at Pompeii.
A friendly grocer told me all there is to know,
which is little.
The islands are what we thought them --barren for the most part,
with a small fishing population,
and a scanty accession of summer visitors for bathing.
The season is over now,
and business slack for him.
There is still,
a little trade with the mainland in galliots and lighters,
a few of which come from the "siels" on the mainland.
"Had these harbours?"
with a contemptuous laugh.
(He is a settler in these wilds,
not a native.)
Said he had heard of schemes for improving them,
so as to develop the islands as health-resorts,
but thought it was only a wild speculation.
'A heavy tramp back to the yacht,
nearly crushed by impedimenta.
While Davies made yet another trip,
I stalked some birds with a gun,
and obtained what resembled a specimen of the smallest variety of jack-snipe,
and small at that;
but I made a great noise,
which I hope persuaded somebody of the purity of our motives.
'We weighed anchor at one o'clock,
and in passing the anchored galliot took a good look at her.
'Kormoran' was on her stern;
otherwise she was just like a hundred others.
Nobody was on deck.
'We spent the whole afternoon till dark exploring the Harle,
or gap between Wangeroog and Spiekeroog;
the sea breaking heavily on the banks outside ...
Fine as the day was,
the scene from the offing was desolate to the last degree.
The naked spots of the two islands are hideous in their sterility: melancholy bits of wreck-wood their only relief,
save for one or two grotesque beacons,
most -bizarre- of all,
a great church-tower,
standing actually -in- the water,
on the north side of Wangeroog,
a striking witness to the encroachment of the sea.
On the mainland,
which was barely visible,
there was one very prominent landmark,
which from the chart we took to be that of -Esens,- a town four miles inland.
'The days are growing short.
Sunset is soon after five,
and an hour later it is too dark to see booms and buoys distinctly.
The tides also are awkward just now.
(I exclude all the technicalities that I can,
but the reader should take note that the tide-table is very important henceforward.)
'High-water at morning and evening is between five and six --just at twilight.
For the night,
we groped with the lead into the Muschel Balge,
the tributary channel which laps round the inside of Spiekeroog,
and lay in two fathoms,
clear of the outer swell,
but rolling a little when the ebb set in strong against the wind.
'A galliot passed us,
just as we were stowing sails;
too dark to see her name.
we saw her anchor-light higher up our channel.
'The great event of the day has been the sighting of a small German gunboat,
steaming slowly west along the coast.
That was about half-past four,
when we were sounding along the Harle.
'Davies identified her at once as the Blitz,
Commander von Brüning's gunboat.
We wondered if he recognized the
she seemed to take no notice of us and steamed slowly on.
We quite expected to fall in with her when we came to the islands,
but the actual sight of her has excited us a good deal.
She is an ugly,
cranky little vessel,
with one funnel.
Davis is contemptuous about her low freeboard forward;
says he would rather go to sea in the
He has her dimensions and armament (learnt from Brassey) at his fingers' ends: one hundred and forty feet by twenty-five,
one 4.9 gun,
and four maxims --an old type.
Just going to bed;
a bitterly cold night.
---Glass falling heavily this morning,
to our great disgust.
Wind back in the SW and much warmer.
Starting at -5.30- we tacked on the tide over the "water-shed" behind Spiekeroog.
So did the galliot we had seen last night,
but we again missed identifying her,
as she weighed anchor before we came up to her berth.
swore she was the
We lost sight of her altogether for the greater part of the day,
which we spent in exploring the Otzumer Ee (the gap between Langeoog and Spiekeroog),
now and then firing some perfunctory shots at seals and sea-birds ...
(nautical details omitted) ...In the evening we were hurrying back to an inside anchorage,
when we made a bad mistake;
what we had never done before,
ran aground on the very top of high water,
and are now sitting hard and fast on the edge of the Rute Flat,
south of the east spit of Langeoog.
The light was bad,
and a misplaced boom tricked us;
and at 8 p.m. we were left on a perfect Ararat of sand,
and only a yard or two from that accursed boom,
which is perched on the very summit,
as a lure to the unwary.
It is going to blow hard too,
though that is no great matter,
as we are sheltered by banks on the sou'-west and nor'-west sides,
the likely quarters.
We hope to float at -6.15- to-morrow morning,
but to make sure of being able to get her off,
we have been transferring some ballast to the dinghy,
by way of lightening the yacht --a horrid business handling the pigs of lead,
The saloon is an inferno,
the deck like a collier's,
and ourselves like sweeps.
'The anchors are laid out,
and there is nothing more to be done.
---Half a gale from the sou'-west when we turned out,
but it helped us to float off safely at six.
The dinghy was very nearly swamped with the weight of lead in it,
and getting the ballast back into the yacht was the toughest job of all.
We got the dinghy alongside,
and Davies jumped in (nearly sinking it for good),
whenever he got a chance,
attached the pigs one by one on to a bight of rope,
secured to the peak halyards,
on which I hoisted from the deck.
It was touch and go for a few minutes,
and then easier.
'It was nine before we had finished replacing the pigs in the hold,
a filthy but delicate operation,
as they fit like a puzzle,
and if one is out of place the floor-boards won't shut down.
Coming on deck after it,
we saw to our surprise the Blitz,
lying at anchor in the Schill Balje,
about a mile and a half off.
She must have entered the Otzumer Ee at high-water for shelter from the gale: a neat bit of work for a vessel of her size,
as Davies says she draws nine-foot-ten,
and there can't be more than twelve on the bar at high-water neaps.
Several smacks had run in too,
and there were two galliots farther up our channel,
but we couldn't make out if the
'Kormoran' was one.
'When the banks uncovered we lay more quietly,
so landed and took a long,
tempestuous walk over the Rute,
with compass and notebooks.
Returning at two,
we found the glass tumbling down almost visibly.
'I suggested running for Bensersiel,
one of the mainland villages south-west of us,
on the evening flood,
as it seemed just the right opportunity,
if we were to visit one of those "siels" at all.
Davies was very lukewarm,
but events overcame him.
At 3.30 a black,
appearing to trail into the very sea,
brought up a terrific squall.
and there was a deathly pause of ten minutes while the whole sky eddied as with smoke-wreaths.
Then an icy puff struck us from the north-west,
rapidly veering till it reached north-east;
there it settled and grew harder every moment.
'"Sou'-west to north-east --only the worst sort do that,"
'The shift to the east changed the whole situation (as shifts often have before),
making the Rute Flats a lee shore,
while to windward lay the deep lagoons of the Otzumer Ee,
bounded indeed by Spiekeroog,
but still offering a big drift for wind and sea.
We had to clear out sharp,
to set the mizzen.
It was out of the question to beat to windward,
for it was blowing a hurricane in a few minutes.
We must go to leeward,
and Davies was for running farther in well behind the Jans sand,
and not risking Bensersiel.
A blunder of mine,
when I went to the winch to get up anchor,
settled the question.
Thirty out of our forty fathoms of chain were out.
Confused by the motion and a blinding sleet-shower that had come on,
and forgetting the tremendous strain on the cable,
I cast the slack off the bitts and left it loose.
There was then only one turn of the chain round the drum,
enough in ordinary weather to prevent it running out.
But now my first heave on the winch-lever started it slipping,
and in an instant it was whizzing out of the hawse-pipe and overboard.
I tried to stop it with my foot,
stumbled at a heavy plunge of the yacht,
heard something snap below,
and saw the last of it disappear.
The yacht fell off the wind,
and drifted astern.
and had the sense to hoist the reefed foresail at once.
Davies had her in hand in no time,
and was steering south-west.
Going aft I found him cool and characteristic.
(Ever since leaving the Elbe we had had a buoy-line on our anchor against the emergency of having to slip our cable and run.
For the same reason the end of the chain was not made permanently fast below.)
We'll come back to-morrow and get it.
Should have had to slip it anyhow;
wind and sea too strong.
We'll try for Bensersiel.
Can't trust to a warp and kedge out here."
'An exciting run it was,
so to speak,
over an unboomed watershed;
but we had bearings from our morning's walk.
Shoal water all the way and a hollow sea breaking everywhere.
We soon made out the Bensersiel booms,
but even under mizzen and foresail only we travelled too fast,
and had to heave to outside them,
for the channel looked too shallow still.
We lowered half the centre-board and kept her just holding her own to windward,
through a most trying period.
In the end had to run for it sooner than we meant,
as we were sagging to leeward in spite of all,
and the light was failing.
Bore up at -5.15-,
and raced up the channel with the booms on our left scarcely visible in the surf and rising water.
Davies stood forward,
or steady --with his arms,
while I wrestled with the helm,
flung from side to side and flogged by wave-tops.
Suddenly found a sort of dyke on our right just covering with sea.
The shore appeared through scud,
and men on a quay shouting.
Davies brandished his left arm furiously;
I ported hard,
and we were in smoother water.
A few seconds more and we were whizzing through a slit between two wood jetties.
Inside a small square harbour showed,
but there was no room to round up properly and no time to lower sails.
Davies just threw the kedge over,
and it just got a grip in time to check our momentum and save our bowsprit from the quayside.
A man threw us a rope and we brought up alongside,
'Not more so than the natives,
who seemed to think we had dropped from the sky.
They were very friendly,
with an undercurrent of disappointment,
having expected salvage work outside,
All showed embarrassing helpfulness in stowing sails,
We were rescued by a fussy person in uniform and spectacles,
who swept them aside and announced himself as the customhouse officer (fancy such a thing in this absurd mud-hole!),
marched down into the cabin,
which was in a fearful mess and wringing wet,
and producing ink,
and a huge printed form,
wanted to know our cargo,
our last port,
No cargo (pleasure);
What spirits had we?
Tin of Cerebos,
and a damp deposit in a saucer.
Meanwhile the German charts and the log,
the damning clues to our purpose,
were in full evidence,
crying for notice which they did not get.
(We had forgotten our precautions in the hurry of our start from the Rute.)
When the huge form was as full as he could make it,
he suddenly became human,
when we treated him,
It seemed to dawn on him that,
under our rough clothes and crust of brine and grime,
we were two mad and wealthy aristocrats,
worthy -protégés- of a high official.
He insisted on our bringing our cushions to dry at his house,
and to get rid of him we consented,
for we were wet,
and longing to change and wash.
He talked himself away at last,
and we hid the log and charts;
but he returned,
in the postmaster's uniform this time before we had finished supper,
and haled us and our cushions up through dark and mud to his cottage near the quay.
To reach it we crossed a small bridge spanning what seemed to be a small river with sluice-gates,
just as we had thought.
'He showed his prizes to his wife,
who was quite flustered by the distinguished strangers,
and received the cushions with awe;
and next we were carried off to the Gasthaus and exhibited to the village circle,
where we talked ducks and weather.
(Nobody takes us seriously;
I never felt less like a conspirator.)
who is a feather-headed chatterbox,
is enormously important about his ridiculous little port,
whose principal customer seems to be the Langeoog post-boat,
a galliot running to and fro according to tide.
A few lighters also come down the stream with bricks and produce from the interior,
and are towed to the islands.
The harbour has from five to seven feet in it for two hours out of twelve!
Herr Schenkel talked us back to the yacht,
which we found resting on the mud --and here we are.
Davies pretends there are harbour smells,
and says he won't be able to sleep;
is already worrying about how to get away from here.
they were saying that it's impossible,
in strong north-east winds,
the channel being too narrow to tack in.
For my part I find it a huge relief to be in any sort of harbour after a fortnight in the open.
There are no tides or anchors to think about,
and no bumping or rolling.
Fresh milk to-morrow!'