Commander von Brüning
TO RESUME my story in narrative form.
I was awakened at ten o'clock on the 19th,
after a long and delicious sleep,
by Davies's voice outside,
talking his unmistakable German.
in my pyjamas,
I saw him on the quay above in conversation with a man in a long mackintosh coat and a gold-laced navy cap.
He had a close-trimmed auburn beard,
and an animated manner.
It was raining in a raw air.
They saw me,
and Davies said:
Here's Commander von Brüning from the Blitz --that's "meiner Freund" Carruthers.'
(Davies was deplorably weak in terminations.)
The commander smiled broadly at me,
and I inclined an uncombed head,
for a moment,
the quest was a dream,
and I myself felt unutterably squalid and foolish.
I ducked down,
heard them parting,
and Davies came aboard.
'We're to meet him at the inn for a talk at twelve,'
His news was that the Blitz's steam-cutter had come in on the morning tide,
and he had met von Brüning when marketing at the inn.
'Kormoran' had also come in,
and was moored close by.
It was as clear as possible,
that the latter had watched us,
and was in touch with the Blitz,
and that both had seized the opportunity of our being cooped up in Bensersiel to take further stock of us.
What had passed hitherto?
Von Brüning had greeted Davies with cordial surprise,
and said he had wondered yesterday if it was the
'Dulcibella' that he had seen anchored behind Langeoog.
Davies had explained that we had left the Baltic and were on our way home;
taking the shelter of the islands.
'Supposing he comes on board and asks to see our log?'
'Pull it out,'
I rather funk this interview;
what are we to say?
It's not in my line.'
We resolved abruptly on an important change of plan,
replaced the log and charts in the rack as the first logical step.
They contained nothing but bearings,
and the bare data of navigation.
To Davies they were hard-won secrets of vital import,
to be lied for,
however hard and distasteful lying was.
I was cooler as to their value,
but in any case the same thing was now in both our minds.
There would be great difficulties in the coming interview if we tried to be too clever and conceal the fact that we had been exploring.
We did not know how much von Brüning knew.
When had our surveillance by the
Apparently at Wangeroog,
but possibly in the estuaries,
where we had not fired a shot at duck.
Perhaps he knew even more --Dollmann's treachery,
and our subsequent movements --we could not tell.
On the other hand,
exploration was known to be a fad of Davies's,
and in September he had made no secret of it.
It was safer to be consistent now.
After breakfast we determined to find out something about the
which lay on the mud at the other side of the harbour,
and accordingly addressed ourselves to two mighty sailors,
whose jerseys bore the legend
and who towered conspicuous among a row of stolid Frisians on the quay,
all gazing gravely down at us as at a curious bit of marine bric-à-brac.
The twins (for such they proved to be) were most benignant giants,
and asked us aboard the post-boat galliot for a chat.
It was easy to bring the talk naturally round to the point we wished,
and we soon gained some most interesting information,
delivered in the broadest Frisian,
but intelligible enough.
They called the
'Kormoran' a Memmert boat,
It seemed that off the western end of Juist,
the island lying west of Norderney,
there lay the bones of a French war-vessel,
wrecked ages ago.
She carried bullion which has never been recovered,
in spite of many efforts.
A salvage company was trying for it now,
and had works on Memmert,
an adjacent sand-bank.
'That is Herr Grimm,
the overseer himself,'
pointing to the bridge above the sluice-gates.
(I call him
'Grimm' because it describes him exactly.)
A man in a pilot jacket and peaked cap was leaning over the parapet.
'What's he doing here?'
They answered that he was often up and down the coast,
work on the wreck being impossible in rough weather.
They supposed he was bringing cargo in his galliot from Wilhelmshaven,
all the company's plant and stores coming from that port.
He was a local man from Aurich;
an ex-tug skipper.
We discussed this information while walking out over the sands to see the channel at low water.
'Did you hear anything about this in September?'
'Not a word.
I didn't go to Juist.
I would have,
if I hadn't met Dollmann.'
What in the world did it mean?
How did it affect our plans?
'Look at his boots if we pass him,'
was all Davies had to suggest.
The channel was now a ditch,
with a trickle in it,
running north by east,
and edged by a dyke of withies for the first quarter of a mile.
It was still blowing fresh from the north-east,
and we saw that exit was impossible in such a wind.
So back to the village,
bleak little place.
We passed friend Grimm on the bridge;
wearing -shoes.- Approaching the inn:
'We haven't settled quite enough,
'What about our future plans?'
'But I don't see how we can.
We must see how things go.
It's past twelve,
and it won't do to be late.'
I leave it to you.'
I'll do my best.
All you've got to do is to be yourself and tell one lie,
if need be,
about the trick Dollmann played you.'
The next scene: von Brüning,
sitting over coffee and Kümmel at a table in a dingy inn-parlour overlooking the harbour and the sea,
Davies with a full box of matches on the table before him.
The commander gave us a hearty welcome,
and I am bound to say I liked him at once,
as Davies had done;
but I feared him,
for he had honest eyes,
but abominably clever ones.
I had impressed on Davies to talk and question as freely and naturally as though nothing uncommon had happened since he last saw von Brüning on the deck of the
He must ask about Dollmann --the mutual friend --at the outset,
if questioned about that voyage in his company to the Elbe,
must lie like a trooper as to the danger he had been in.
This was the one clear and essential necessity,
where much was difficult.
Davies did his duty with precipitation,
and blushed when he put his question,
in a way that horrified me,
till I remembered that his embarrassment was due,
and would be ascribed,
to another cause.
'Herr Dollmann is away still,
said von Brüning.
(So Davies had been right at Brunsbüttel.)
'Were you thinking of looking him up again?'
I'm sure he's away.
But his yacht is back,
I believe --and Fräulein Dollmann,
'she's a very fine boat that.'
Our host smiled,
gazing thoughtfully at Davies,
who was miserable.
I saw a chance,
and took it mercilessly.
'We can call on Fräulein Dollmann,
with a meaning smile at von Brüning.
'will he be back soon,
do you think?'
The commander had begun to light a cigar,
and took his time in answering.
after some puffing,
'he's never away very long.
But you've seen them later than I have.
Didn't you sail to the Elbe together the day after I saw you last?'
part of the way,'
with great negligence.
'I haven't seen him since.
He got there first;
'Gave you the slip,
'Of course he beat me;
I was close-reefed.
there was a heavy blow --a devil of a heavy blow.
I thought of you that day.
How did you manage?'
it was a fair wind;
it wasn't far,
He nodded towards the window whence the
'Dulcibella's' taper mast could be seen pointing demurely heavenwards.
'She's a splendid sea-boat,'
'A thousand pardons!'
said von Brüning,
'Don't shake my faith in her,'
I put in.
'I've got to get to England in her.'
I was only thinking that there must have been some sea round the Scharhorn that day;
a tame affair,
who did not catch the idiom in the latter sentence.
we didn't go that way.
We cut through the sands --by the Telte.'
In a north-west gale!'
The commander started,
ceased to smile,
and only stared.
(It was genuine surprise;
I could swear it.
He had heard nothing of this before.)
'Herr Dollmann knew the way,'
'He kindly offered to pilot me through,
and I wouldn't have gone otherwise.'
There was an awkward little pause.
'He led you well,
said von Brüning.
there's a nasty surf there,
But it saves six miles --and the Scharhorn.
Not that I saved distance.
I was fool enough to run aground.'
said the other,
'It didn't matter,
because I was well inside then.
Those sands are difficult at high water.
We've come back that way,
('And we run aground every day,'
'Is that where the
'Medusa' gave you the slip?'
asked von Brüning,
still studying Davies with a strange look,
which I strove anxiously to analyze.
'She wouldn't have noticed,'
'It was very thick and squally --and she had got some way ahead.
There was no need for her to stop,
I got off all right;
the tide was rising still.
I anchored there for the night.'
under the Hohenhörn,'
'Under the -what-?'
'Go on --didn't they wait for you at Cuxhaven?'
'I don't know;
I didn't go that way.'
The commander looked more and more puzzled.
'Not by the ship canal,
I changed my mind about it,
because the next day the wind was easterly.
It would have been a dead beat across the sands to Cuxhaven,
while it was a fair wind straight out to the Eider River.
So I sailed there,
and reached the Baltic that way.
It was all the same.'
There was another pause.
He had told his story well,
using no subtlety.
I knew it was exactly how he would have told it to anyone else,
if he had not had irrefutable proof of foul play.
The commander laughed,
suddenly and heartily.
'Upon my word,
your friend amuses me.
It's impossible to make him spin a yarn.
I expect he had a bad time of it.'
'That's nothing to him,'
'he prefers it.
He anchored me the other day behind the Hohenhörn in a gale of wind;
said it was safer than a harbour,
and more sanitary.'
'I wonder he brought you here last night.
It was a fair wind for England;
and not very far.'
'There was no pilot to follow,
'With a charming daughter --no.'
Davies frowned and glared at me.
I was merciful and changed the subject.
'we've left our anchor and chain out there.'
And I made confession of my sin.
as it's buoyed,
I should advise you to pick it up as soon as you can,'
said von Brüning,
'or someone else will.'
'we must get out on this next tide.'
there's no hurry,'
partly from policy,
partly because the ease of the shore was on me.
To sit on a chair upright is something of a luxury,
however good the cause in which you have crouched like a monkey over a table at the level of your knees,
with a reeking oil-stove at your ear.
'They're honest enough about here,
While the words were on my lips I remembered the midnight visitor at Wangeroog,
and guessed that von Brüning was leading up to a test.
Grimm (if he was the visitor) would have told him of his narrow escape from detection,
and reticence on our part would show we suspected something.
I could have kicked myself,
but it was not too late.
I took the bull by the horns,
before the commander could answer,
I forgot about that fellow at Wangeroog.
The anchor might be stolen,
as he says.'
Davies looked blank,
but von Brüning had turned to me.
'We never dreamed there would be thieves among these islands,'
'but the other night I nearly caught a fellow in the act.
He thought the yacht was empty.'
I described the affair in detail,
and with what humour I could.
Our host was amused,
and apologetic for the islanders.
'They're excellent folk,'
'but they're born with predatory instincts.
Their fathers made their living out of wrecks on this coast,
and the children inherit a weakness for plunder.
When Wangeroog lighthouse was built they petitioned the Government for compensation,
in perfect good faith.
The coast is well lighted now,
and windfalls are rare,
but the sight of a stranded yacht,
with the owners ashore,
would inflame the old passion;
depend upon it,
someone has seen that anchor-buoy.'
'wrecks' had set me tingling.
Was it another test?
Impossible to say;
but audacity was safer than reserve,
and might save trouble in the future.
'Isn't there the wreck of a treasure-ship somewhere farther west?'
'We heard of it at Wangeroog' (my first inaccuracy).
'They said a company was exploiting it.'
said the commander,
without a sign of embarrassment.
'I don't wonder you heard of it.
It's one of the few things folk have to talk about in these parts.
It lies on Juister Riff,
a shoal off Juist.
-[see Map B]- She was a French frigate,
bound from Hamburg to Havre in 1811,
when Napoleon held Hamburg as tight as Paris.
She carried a million and a half in gold bars,
and was insured in Hamburg;
foundered in four fathoms,
and there lies the treasure.'
'Never been raised?'
'No. The underwriters failed and went bankrupt,
and the wreck came into the hands of your English Lloyd's.
It remained their property till
but they never got at the bullion.
for fifty years it was never scratched at,
and its very position grew doubtful,
for the sand swallowed every stick.
The rights passed through various hands,
'86 were held by an enterprising Swedish company,
which brought modern appliances,
fished up a lot of timber and bric-à-brac,
and then broke.
two Hamburg firms have tackled the job and lost their capital.
Scores of lives have been spent over it,
and probably a million of money.
Still there are the bars,
'And what's being done now?'
recently a small local company was formed.
It has a depot at Memmert,
and is working with a good deal of perseverance.
An engineer from Bremen was the principal mover,
and a few men from Norderney and Emden subscribed the capital.
By the way,
our friend Dollmann is largely interested in it.'
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Davies's tell-tale face growing troubled with inward questionings.
'We mustn't get back to him,'
'It's not fair to my friend.
But all this is very interesting.
Will they ever get those bars?'
that's the point,'
said von Brüning,
with a mysterious twinkle.
'It's an undertaking of immense difficulty;
for the wreck is wholly disintegrated,
and the gold,
being the heaviest part of it,
sunk the deepest.
Dredging is useless after a certain point;
and the divers have to make excavations in the sand,
and shore them up as best they can.
Every gale nullifies half their labour,
and weather like this of the last fortnight plays the mischief with the work.
Only this morning I met the overseer,
who happens to be ashore here.
He was as black as thunder over prospects.'
it's a romantic speculation,'
'They deserve a return for their money.'
'I hope they'll get it,'
said the commander.
'The fact is,
I hold a few shares myself.'
I hope I haven't been asking indiscreet questions?'
all the world knows what I've told you.
But you'll understand that one has to be reticent as to results in such a case.
It's a big stake,
and the -title is none too sound.- There has been litigation over it.
Not that I worry much about my investment;
for I shan't lose much by it at the worst.
But it gives one an interest in this abominable coast.
I go and see how they're getting on sometimes,
when I'm down that way.'
'It -is- an abominable coast,'
'though you won't get Davies to agree.'
'It's a magnificent place for sailing,'
looking wistfully out over the storm-speckled grey of the North Sea.
He underwent some more chaff,
and the talk passed to our cruising adventures in the Baltic and the estuaries.
Von Brüning cross-examined us with the most charming urbanity and skill.
Nothing he asked could cause us the slightest offence;
and a responsive frankness was our only possible course.
date after date,
and incident after incident,
were elicited in the most natural way.
As we talked I was astonished to find how little there was that was worth concealing,
and heartily thankful that we had decided on candour.
My fluency gave me the lead,
and Davies followed me;
but his own personality was really our tower of strength.
I realized that as I watched the play of his eager features,
and heard him struggle for expression on his favourite hobby;
all his pet phrases translated crudely into the most excruciating German.
He was convincing,
because he was himself.
'Are there many like you in England?'
asked von Brüning once.
Of course --lots,'
'I wish there were more in Germany;
they play at yachting over here --on shore half the time,
drinking and loafing;
laid up in the middle of September.'
'We haven't seen many yachts about,
For my part,
I made no pretence of being a Davies.
Faithful to my lower nature,
I vowed the Germans were right,
not without a secret zest,
drew a lurid picture of the horrors of crewless cruising,
and the drudgery that my remorseless skipper inflicted on me.
It was delightful to see Davies wincing when I described my first night at Flensburg,
for I had my revenge at last,
and did not spare him.
He bore up gallantly under my jesting,
but I knew very well by his manner that he had not forgiven me my banter about the
'You speak German well,'
said von Brüning.
'I have lived in Germany,'
'Studying for a profession,
was my prepared answer to the next question,
but again (morbidly,
perhaps) I saw a pitfall.
That letter from my chief awaiting me at Norderney?
My name was known,
and we were watched.
It might be opened.
how casual we have been!
'May I ask what?'
'The Foreign Office.'
It sounded suspicious,
but there it was.
'Indeed --in the Government service?
When do you have to be back?'
That was how the question of our future intentions was raised,
prematurely by me;
for two conflicting theories were clashing in my brain.
But the contents of the letter dogged me now,
'when at a loss,
tell the truth',
was an axiom I was finding sound.
So I answered,
in about a week.
But I'm expecting a letter at Norderney,
which may give me an extension.
Davies said it was a good address to give,'
said von Brüning,
the joke had apparently ceased to amuse him.
'But you haven't much time then,
'unless you leave your skipper in the lurch.
It's a long way to England,
and the season is late for yachts.'
I felt myself being hurried.
you don't understand,'
'-he's- in no hurry.
He's a man of leisure;
I translated my cruel question.
with simple pathos.
'If I have to leave him I shan't be missed --as an able seaman,
He'll just potter on down the islands,
running aground and kedging-off,
and arrive about Christmas.'
'Or take the first fair gale to Dover,'
laughed the commander.
we're in no hurry: and we never make plans.
And as for a passage to England straight,
I'm not such a coward as I was at first,
but I draw the line at that.'
'You're a curious pair of shipmates;
what's your point of view,
'I like this coast,'
'And --we want to shoot some ducks.'
He was nervous,
and forgot himself.
I had already satirized our sporting armament and exploits,
and hoped the subject was disposed of.
Ducks were pretexts,
and might lead to complications.
I particularly wanted a free hand.
'As to wild fowl,'
said our friend,
'I would like to give you gentlemen some advice.
There are plenty to be got,
now that autumn weather has set in (you wouldn't have got a shot in September,
I remember your asking about them when I saw you last).
And even now it's early for amateurs.
In hard winter weather a child can pick them up;
but they're wild still,
and want crafty hunting.
You want a local punt,
and above all a local man (you could stow him in your fo'c'sle),
and to go to work seriously.
if you really wish for sport,
I could help you.
I could get you a trustworthy --'
it's too good of you,'
in a more unhappy accent than usual.
'We can easily find one for ourselves.
A man at Wangeroog offered --'
interrupted von Brüning,
'I'm not surprised.
You don't know the Frieslanders.
as I said,
but they cling to their little perquisites.'
(I translated to Davies.)
'They've been cheated out of wrecks,
and they're all the more sensitive about ducks,
which are more lucrative than fish.
A stranger is a poacher.
Your man would have made slight errors as to time and place.'
'You said they were odd in their manner,
I put in.
this is very kind of Commander von Brüning;
but hadn't we better be certain of my plans before settling down to shoot?
Let's push on direct to Norderney and get that letter of mine,
and then decide.
But we shan't see you again,
I am cruising westwards,
and shall probably call at Norderney.
Come aboard if you're there,
I should like to show you the Blitz.'
as heartily as I could.
Our party broke up soon after this.
I must take leave of you,'
said our friend.
'I have to drive to Esens.
I shall be going back to the Blitz on the evening tide,
but you'll be busy then with your own boat.'
It had been a puzzling interview,
but the greatest puzzle was still to come.
As we went towards the door,
von Brüning made a sign to me.
We let Davies pass out and remained standing.
'One word in confidence with you,
'You won't think me officious,
I only speak out of keen regard for your friend.
It is about the Dollmanns --you see how the land lies?
I wouldn't encourage him.'
'but really --'
'It's only a hint.
He's a splendid young fellow,
but if anything --you understand --too honest and simple.
I take it you have influence with him,
and I should use it.'
'I was not in earnest,'
'I have never seen the Dollmanns;
I thought they were friends of yours,'
looking him straight in the eyes.
'I know them,
but' --he shrugged his shoulders --'I know everybody.'
'What's wrong with them?'
I speak out of pure friendliness to you as strangers,
You I take to have discretion,
or I should not have said a word.
I will add this.
We know very little of Herr Dollmann,
of his origin,
He is half a Swede,
certainly not a Prussian;
came to Norderney three years ago,
appears to be rich,
and has joined in various commercial undertakings.
Little scope about here?
there is more enterprise than you think --development of bathing resorts,
speculation in land on these islands.
he's perfectly straight in that way.
But he's a queer fellow,
of eccentric habits,
as I say,
little is known of him.
just a warning.
I saw that to press him further was useless.
'And look here,'
as we walked down the passage,
'if you take my advice,
you'll omit that visit to the
He gave me a steady look,
'How much do you know,
and what do you mean?'
were the questions that throbbed in my thoughts;
but I could not utter them,
so I said nothing and felt very young.
Outside we joined Davies,
who was knitting his brow over prospects.
'It just comes of going into places like this,'
he said to me.
'We may be stuck here for days.
Too much wind to tow out with the dinghy,
and too narrow a channel to beat in.'
Von Brüning was ready with a new proposal.
'Why didn't I think of it before?'
'I'll tow you out in my launch.
Be ready at 6.30;
we shall have water enough then.
My men will send you a warp.'
It was impossible to refuse,
but a sense of being personally conducted again oppressed me;
and the last hope of a bed in the inn vanished.
Davies was none too effusive either.
A tug meant a pilot,
and he had had enough of them.
'He objects to towage on principle,'
'Just like him!'
laughed the other.
A dogcart was standing before the inn door in readiness for von Brüning.
I was curious about Esens and his business there.
was the principal town of the district,
four miles inland.
'I have to go there,'
'about a poaching case --a Dutchman trawling inside our limits.
That's my work,
you know --police duty.'
Had the words a deeper meaning?
'Do you ever catch an Englishman?'
your countrymen don't come so far as this --except on pleasure.'
He bowed to us each and smiled.
'Not much of that to be got in Bensersiel,'
'I'm afraid you'll have a dull afternoon.
I know you can't leave your boat altogether,
and it's no use asking Herr Davies;
but will -you- drive into Esens with me and see a Frisian town --for what it's worth?
You're getting a dismal impression of Friesland.'
I excused myself,
said I would stop with Davies we would walk out over the sands and prospect for the evening's sail.
'till the evening.
Be ready for the warp at 6.30.'
He jumped up,
and the cart rattled off through the mud,
crossed the bridge,
and disappeared into the dreary hinterland.
Clearing the Air
'HAS he gone to get the police,
do you think?'
'I don't think so,'
'Let's go aboard before that customs fellow buttonholes us.'
A diminished row of stolid Frisians still ruminated over the
Friend Grimm was visible smoking on his forecastle.
We went on board in silence.
'First of all,
where exactly is Memmert?'
Davies pulled down the chart,
and flung himself at full length on a sofa.
The reader can see Memmert for himself.
South of Juist,
-[see Map B]- abutting on the Ems delta,
lies an extensive sandbank called Nordland,
whose extreme western rim remains uncovered at the highest tides;
the effect being to leave a C-shaped island,
a mere paring of sand like a boomerang,
nearly two miles long,
but only 150 yards or so broad,
of curiously symmetrical outline,
except at one spot,
where it bulges to the width of a quarter of a mile.
On the English chart its nakedness was absolute,
save for a beacon at the south;
but the German chart marked a building at the point where the bulge occurs.
This was evidently the depot.
'Fancy living there!'
for the very name struck cold.
No wonder Grimm was grim;
and no wonder he was used to seek change of air.
But the advantages of the site were obvious.
It was remarkably isolated,
even in a region where isolation is the rule;
yet it was conveniently near the wreck,
as we had heard,
lay two miles out on the Juister Reef.
it was clearly accessible at any state of the tide,
for the six-fathom channel of the Ems estuary runs hard up to it on the south,
and thence sends off an eastward branch which closely borders the southern horn,
thus offering an anchorage at once handy,
and sheltered from seaward gales.
Such was Memmert,
as I saw it on the chart,
taking in its features mechanically,
for while Davies lay there heedless and taciturn,
a pretence of interest was useless.
I knew perfectly well what was between us,
but I did not see why I should make the first move;
for I had a grievance too,
an old one.
So I sat back on my sofa and jotted down in my notebook the heads of our conversation at the inn while it was fresh in my memory,
and strove to draw conclusions.
But the silence continuing and becoming absurd,
I threw my pride to the winds,
and my notebook on the table.
'I'm awfully sorry I chaffed you about Fräulein Dollmann.'
'Didn't you see I couldn't help it?'
'I wish to Heaven we had never come in here,'
in a hard voice;
'it comes of landing -ever-.'
(I couldn't help smiling at this,
but he wasn't looking at me.)
'Here we are,
taken in charge,
arranged for like Cook's tourists.
I couldn't follow your game --too infernally deep for me,
but --'That stung me.
'I did my best.
It was you that muddled it.
Why did you harp on ducks?'
'We could have got out of that.
Why did you harp on everything idiotic --your letter,
the Foreign office,
'You're utterly unreasonable.
Didn't you see what traps there were?
I was driven the way I went.
We started unprepared,
and we're jolly well out of it.'
Davies drove on blindly.
'It was bad enough telling all about the channels and exploring --'
you agreed to that yourself!'
'I gave in to you.
We can't explore any more now'.
'There's the wreck,
hang the wreck!
It's all a blind,
or he wouldn't have made so much of it.
There are all these channels to be --'
hang the channels!
I know we wanted a free hand,
but we've got to go to Norderney some time,
and if Dollmann's away --'
'Why did you harp on Miss Dollmann?'
We had worked round,
through idle recrimination,
to the real point of departure.
I knew Davies was not himself,
and would not return to himself till the heart of the matter was reached.
'you brought me out here to help you,
as you say,
I was clever,
and --liked yachting (I couldn't resist adding this).
But directly you really -want- me you turn round and go for me.'
I didn't mean all that,
'I'm sorry --I was worried.'
but it's your own fault.
You haven't been fair with me.
There's a complication in this business that you've never talked about.
I've never pressed you because I thought you would confide in me.
'I know I haven't,'
you see the result.
Our hand was forced.
To have said nothing about Dollmann was folly --to have said he tried to wreck you was equal folly.
The story we agreed on was the best and safest,
and you told it splendidly.
But for two reasons I had to harp on the daughter --one because your manner when they were mentioned was so confused as to imperil our whole position.
because your story,
though the safest,
at the best,
Even on your own showing Dollmann treated you badly --discourteously,
say: though you pretended not to have seen it.
You want a motive to neutralize that,
and induce you to revisit him in a friendly way.
I supplied it,
or rather I only encouraged von Brüning to supply it.'
'Why revisit him,
'But don't you see what a hideous fix you've put me in?
How caddish I feel about it?'
I did see,
and I felt a cad myself,
as his full distress came home to me.
But I felt,
whosesoever the fault,
we had drifted into a ridiculous situation,
and were like characters in one of those tiresome plays where misunderstandings are manufactured and so carefully sustained that the audience are too bored to wait for the -dénouement.- You can do that on the stage;
but we wanted our -dénouement.-
'I'm very sorry,'
'but I wish you had told me all about it.
Won't you now?
Just the bare,
I hate sentiment,
and so do you.'
'I find it very difficult to tell people things,'
'things like this.'
'I did like her --very much.'
Our eyes met for a second,
in which all was said that need be said,
as between two of our phlegmatic race.
'And she's --separate from him.
That was the reason of all my indecisions.'
he hurried on.
'I only told you half at Schlei.
I know I ought to have been open,
and asked your advice.
But I let it slide.
I've been hoping all along that we might find what we want and win the game without coming to close quarters again.'
I no longer wondered at his devotion to the channel theory,
built on conviction,
it was thus doubly fortified.
'Yet you always knew what might happen,'
'At Schlei you spoke of "settling with" Dollmann.'
When I thought of him I was mad.
I made myself forget the other part.'
'Which recurred at Brunsbüttel?'
I thought of the news we had there.
we must have no more secrets.
I'm going to speak out.
Are you sure you've not misunderstood her?
You say --and I'm willing to assume it --that Dollmann's a traitor and a murderer.'
hang the murder part!'
'What does -that- matter?'
but in that case I suspect his daughter.
let me go on.
She was useful,
to say the least.
She encouraged you --you've told me that --to make that passage with them.'
'I know you mean kindly;
but it's no use.
I believe in her.'
I thought for a moment.
'In that case,'
'I've something to propose.
When we get out of this place let's sail straight away to England.'
Commander von Brüning,'
'you never can say I neglected your advice.')
starting up and facing me.
'I'm hanged if we will.
Think what's at stake.
Think of that traitor --plotting with Germans.
'I'm with you for going on.
But let's face facts.
We -must- scotch Dollmann.
We can't do so without hurting -her-.'
'Can't we -possibly-?'
'Of course not;
it's absurd to hope that we need not revisit them --it's ten to one that we must,
if we're to succeed.
His attempt on you is the whole foundation of our suspicions.
And we don't even know for certain who he -is- yet.
to going straight to Norderney now;
but even if we weren't,
should we do any good by exploring and prying?
It's very doubtful.
We know we're watched,
if not suspected,
and that disposes of nine-tenths of our power.
but is it likely they'll let us learn them by heart,
if they're of such vital importance,
even if we are thought to be -bona fide- yachtsmen?
apart from their value in war,
which I don't deny,
are they at the root of this business?
But we'll talk about that in a moment.
The point now is,
what shall we do if we meet the Dollmanns?'
Beads of sweat stood on Davies's brow.
I felt like a torturer,
but it could not be helped.
'Tax him with having wrecked you?
Our quest would be at an end!
We must be friendly.
You must tell the story you told to-day,
and chance his believing it.
If he does,
so much the better;
if he doesn't,
he won't dare say so,
and we still have chances.
We gain time,
and have a tremendous hold on him ---if- we're friendly.'
I gave another turn to the screw.
'Friendly with them -both,- of course.
You were before,
you liked her very much --you must seem to still.'
stop your infernal logic.'
'Shall we chuck it and go to England?'
I asked again,
as an inquisitor might say,
'Have you had enough?'
I went on:
'To make it easier,
you -do- like her still.'
I had roused my victim at last.
'What the devil do you mean,
That I'm to trade on my liking for her --on her innocence,
to --good God!
what -do- you mean?'
I'm not such a cad,
or such a fool,
or so ignorant of you.
If she knows nothing of her father's character and likes you --and you like her --and you are what you are --oh Heavens!
But what I mean is this: is she,
-can- she be,
what you think?
Imagine his position if we're right about him;
the vilest creature on God's earth --a disgraceful past to have been driven to this --in the pay of Germany.
I want to spare you misery.'
I was going to add:
'And if you're on your guard,
to increase our chances.'
But the utter futility of such suggestions silenced me.
What a plan I had foreshadowed!
An enticing plan and a fair one,
as against such adversaries;
turning this baffling cross-current to advantage as many a time we had worked eddies of an adverse tide in these difficult seas.
But Davies was Davies,
and there was an end of it;
his faith and simplicity shamed me.
And the pity of it,
the cruelty of it,
was that his very qualities were his last torture,
raising to the acutest pitch the conflict between love and patriotism.
Remember that the latter was his dominant life-motive,
and that here and now was his chance --if you would gauge the bitterness of that conflict.
It was in its last throes now.
His elbows were on the table,
and his twitching hands pressed on his forehead.
He took them away.
'Of course we must go on.
It can't be helped,
'And you believe in her?'
'I'll remember what you've said.
There may be some way out.
And --I'd rather not talk about that any more.
What about the wreck?'
Further argument was futile.
Davies by an effort seemed to sweep the subject from his thoughts,
and I did my best to do the same.
At any rate the air was cleared --we were friends;
and it only remained to grapple with the main problem in the light of the morning's interview.
Every word that I could recollect of that critical conversation I reviewed with Davies,
who had imperfectly understood what he had not been directly concerned in;
as I did so,
I began to see with what cleverness each succeeding sentence of von Brüning's was designed to suit both of two contingencies.
If we were innocent travellers,
he was the genial host,
communicative and helpful.
If we were spies,
his tactics had been equally applicable.
He had outdone us in apparent candour,
hiding nothing which he knew we would discover for ourselves,
and contriving at the same time both to gain knowledge and control of our movements,
and to convey us warnings,
which would only be understood if we were guilty,
that we were playing an idle and perilous game,
and had better desist.
But in one respect we had had the advantage,
and that was in the version Davies had given of his stranding on the Hohenhörn.
Inscrutable as our questioner was,
he let it appear not only that the incident was new to him,
but that he conjectured at its sinister significance.
A little cross-examination on detail would have been fatal to Davies's version;
but that was where our strength lay;
he dared not cross-examine for fear of suggesting to Davies suspicions which he might never have felt.
I thought I detected that fear underlying his whole attitude towards us,
and it strengthened a conviction which had been growing in me since Grimm's furtive midnight visit,
that the secret of this coast was of so important and delicate a nature that rather than attract attention to it at all,
overt action against intruders would be taken only in the last resort,
and on irrefragable proofs of guilty intention.
Now for our clues.
I had come away with two,
each the germ of a distinct theory,
and both obscured by the prevailing ambiguity.
as we thumbed the chart and I gave full rein to my fancy,
one of them,
the idea of Memmert,
gained precision and vigour every moment.
such information as we had about the French wreck and his own connection with it was placed most readily at our disposal by von Brüning;
but I took it to be information calculated only to forestall suspicion,
since he was aware that we already associated him with Dollmann,
possibly also with Grimm,
and it was only likely that in the ordinary course we should learn that the trio were jointly concerned in Memmert.
So much for the facts;
as for the construction he wished us to put on them,
I felt sure it was absolutely false.
He wished to give us the impression that the buried treasure itself was at the root of any mystery we might have scented.
I do not know if the reader fully appreciated that astute suggestion --the hint that secrecy as to results was necessary owing both to the great sum at stake and the flaw in the title,
which he had been careful to inform us had passed through British hands.
What he meant to imply was,
'Don't be surprised if you have midnight visitors;
Englishmen prowling along this coast are suspected of being Lloyd's agents.'
An ingenious insinuation,
at the time it was made,
had caused me to contemplate a new and much more commonplace solution of our enigma than had ever occurred to us;
but it was only a passing doubt,
and I dismissed it altogether now.
The fact was,
it either explained everything or nothing.
As long as we held to our fundamental assumption --that Davies had been decoyed into a death-trap in September --it explained nothing.
It was too fantastic to suppose that the exigencies of a commercial speculation would lead to such extremities as that.
We were not in the South Sea Islands;
nor were we the puppets of a romance.
We were in Europe,
dealing not only with a Dollmann,
but with an officer of the German Imperial Navy,
who would scarcely be connected with a commercial enterprise which could conceivably be reduced to forwarding its objects in such a fashion.
It was shocking enough to find him in relations with such a scoundrel at all,
but it was explicable if the motive were imperial --not so if it were financial.
to accept the suggestion we must declare the whole quest a mare's nest from beginning to end;
the attempt on Davies a delusion of his own fancy,
the whole structure we had built on it,
I can hear the reader saying,
at any rate,
were always a little sceptical.'
yet I can truthfully say I scarcely faltered for a moment.
Much had happened since Schlei Fiord.
I had seen the mechanism of the death-trap;
I had lived with Davies for a stormy fortnight,
every hour of which had increased my reliance on his seamanship,
on his account of an event which depended largely for its correct interpretation on a balanced nautical judgement.
I had been unconsciously realizing,
and knew from his mouth to-day,
that he had exercised and acted on that judgement in the teeth of personal considerations,
which his loyal nature made overwhelming in their force.
was the meaning of Memmert?
At the outset it riveted my attention on the Ems estuary,
whose mouth it adjoins.
We had always rather neglected the Ems in our calculations;
with some excuse,
for at first sight its importance bears no proportion to that of the three greater estuaries.
The latter bear vessels of the largest tonnage and deepest draught to the very quays of Hamburg,
and the naval dockyard of Wilhelmshaven;
while two of them,
the Elbe and the Weser,
are commerce carriers on the vastest scale for the whole empire.
on the other hand,
only serves towns of the second class.
A glance at the chart explains this.
You see a most imposing estuary on a grander scale than any of the other three taken singly,
with a length of thirty miles and a frontage on the North Sea of ten miles,
of the whole seaboard;
encumbered by outlying shoals,
and blocked in the centre by the island of Borkum,
but presenting two fine deep-water channels to the incoming vessel.
These roll superbly through enormous sheets of sand,
unite and approach the mainland in one stately stream three miles in breadth.
But then comes a sad falling off.
The navigable fairway shoals and shrinks,
middle grounds obstruct it,
and shelving foreshores persistently deny it that easy access to the land that alone can create great seaboard cities.
All the ports of the Ems are tidal;
the harbour of Delfzyl,
on the Dutch side,
dries at low water,
the principal German port,
can only be reached by a lock and a mile of canal.
But this depreciation is only relative.
Judged on its merits,
and not by the standard of the Elbe,
it is a very important river.
Emden is a flourishing and growing port.
For shallow craft the stream is navigable far into the interior,
aided by tributaries and allied canals (notably the connection with the Rhine at Dortmund,
then approaching completion),
it taps the resources of a great area.
Strategically there was still less reason for underrating it.
It is one of the great maritime gates of Germany;
and it is the westernmost gate,
the nearest to Great Britain and France,
contiguous to Holland.
Its great forked delta presents two yawning breaches in that singular rampart of islets and shoals which masks the German seaboard --a seaboard itself so short in proportion to the empire's bulk,
as Davies used to say,
'every inch of it must be important'.
Warships could force these breaches,
and so threaten the mainland at one of its few vulnerable points.
Quay accommodation is no object to such visitors;
intricate navigation no deterrent.
Even the heaviest battleships could approach within striking distance of the land,
while cruisers and military transports could penetrate to the level of Emden itself.
as Davies had often pointed out,
is connected by canal with Wilhelmshaven on the Jade,
a strategic canal,
designed to carry gunboats as well as merchandise.
Now Memmert was part of the outer rampart;
its tapering sickle of sand directly commanded the eastern breach;
it -must- be connected with the defence of this breach.
No more admirable base could be imagined;
self-contained and isolated,
accessible --better than Juist and Borkum.
And supposing it were desired to shroud the nature of the work in absolute secrecy,
what a pretext lay to hand in the wreck and its buried bullion,
which lay in the offing opposite the fairway!
On Memmert was the depot for the salvage operations.
with its dredging and diving,
offered precisely the disguise that was needed.
It was submarine,
and so are some of the most important defences of ports,
and dirigible torpedoes.
All the details of the story were suggestive: the
'small local company';
'engineer from Bremen' (who,
the few shares held by von Brüning,
enough to explain his visits;
the stores and gear coming from Wilhelmshaven,
a naval dockyard.
Try as I would I could not stir Davies's imagination as mine was stirred.
He was bent on only seeing the objections,
were numerous enough.
Could secrecy be ensured under pretext of salving a wreck?
It must be a secret shared by many --divers,
crews of tugs,
employees of all sorts.
I answered that trade secrets are often preserved under no less difficult conditions,
and why not imperial secrets?
'Why the Ems and not the Elbe?'
holds similar mysteries.'
Neuerk Island might,
for all we knew,
be another Memmert;
when cruising in that region we had had no eyes for such things,
absorbed in a preconceived theory of our own.
we must not take ourselves too seriously.
We were amateurs,
not experts in coast defence,
and on such vague grounds to fastidiously reject a clue which went so far as this one was to quarrel with our luck.
There was a disheartening corollary to this latter argument that in my new-born zeal I shut my eyes to.
were we capable of using our clue and gaining exact knowledge of the defences in question?
felt this strongly,
and I think it accounted for his lukewarm view of Memmert more than he was aware.
He clung more obstinately than ever to his
conscious that it offered the one sort of opportunity of which with his peculiar gifts he was able to take advantage.
that it was under a cloud at present,
for if knowledge of the coastwise navigation were a crime in itself we should scarcely be sitting here now.
'It's something to do with it,
MEMMERT gripped me,
to the exclusion of a rival notion which had given me no little perplexity during the conversation with von Brüning.
His reiterated advice that we should lose no time in picking up our anchor and chain had ended by giving me the idea that he was anxious to get us away from Bensersiel and the mainland.
At first I had taken the advice partly as a test of our veracity (as I gave the reader to understand),
and partly as an indirect method of lulling any suspicions which Grimm's midnight visit may have caused.
Then it struck me that this might be over-subtlety on my part,
and the idea recurred when the question of our future plans cropped up,
and hampered me in deciding on a course.
It returned again when von Brüning offered to tow us out in the evening.
It was in my mind when I questioned him as to his business ashore,
for it occurred to me that perhaps his landing here was not solely due to a wish to inspect the crew of the
Then came his perfectly frank explanation (with its sinister -double entente- for us),
coupled with an invitation to me to accompany him to Esens.
on the principle of -'tinieo Danaos'- etc.,
I instantly smelt a ruse,
not that I dreamt that I was to be decoyed into captivity;
but if there was anything here which we two might discover in the few hours left to us,
it was an ingenious plan to remove the most observant of the two till the hour of departure.
Davies scorned them,
and I had felt only a faint curiosity in these insignificant hamlets,
I am afraid,
chiefly by a hankering after -terra firma- which the pitiless rigour of his training had been unable to cure.
But it was imprudent to neglect the slightest chance.
It was three o'clock,
and I think both our brains were beginning to be addled with thinking in close confinement.
I suggested that we should finish our council of war in the open,
and we both donned oilskins and turned out.
The sky had hardened and banked into an even canopy of lead,
and the wind drove before it a fine cold rain.
You could hear the murmur of the rising flood on the sands outside,
but the harbour was high above it still,
'Dulcibella' and the other boats squatted low in a bed of black slime.
Native interest seemed to be at last assuaged,
for not a soul was visible on the bank (I cannot call it a quay);
but the top of a black sou'wester with a feather of smoke curling round it showed above the forehatch of the
'I wish I could get a look at your cargo,
I thought to myself.
We gazed at Bensersiel in silence.
'There can't be anything -here-?'
'What -can- there be?'
'What about that dyke?'
with a sudden inspiration.
From the bank we could see all along the coast-line,
which is dyked continuously,
as I have already said.
The dyke was here a substantial brick-faced embankment,
though on a smaller scale,
to that which had bordered the Elbe near Cuxhaven,
and over whose summit we had seen the snouts of guns.
'do you think this coast could be invaded?
behind these islands?'
Davies shook his head.
'I've thought of that,'
'There's nothing in it.
It's just the very last place on earth where a landing would be possible.
No transport could get nearer than where the Blitz is lying,
four miles out.'
you say every inch of this coast is important?'
but it's the -water- I mean.'
I want to see that dyke.
Let's walk along it.'
My mushroom theory died directly I set foot on it.
It was the most innocent structure in the world --like a thousand others in Essex and Holland --topped by a narrow path,
where we walked in single file with arms akimbo to keep our balance in the gusts of wind.
Below us lay the sands on one side and rank fens on the other,
interspersed with squares of pasture ringed in with ditches.
After half a mile we dropped down and came back by a short circuit inland,
following a mazy path --which was mostly right angles and minute plank bridges,
till we came to the Esens road.
We crossed this and soon after found our way barred by the stream I spoke of.
This involved a -détour- to the bridge in the village,
and a stealthy avoidance of the post-office,
for dread of its garrulous occupant.
Then we followed the dyke in the other direction,
and ended by a circuit over the sands,
which were fast being covered by the tide,
and so back to the yacht.
Nobody appeared to have taken the slightest notice of our movements.
As we walked we had tackled the last question,
'What are we to do?'
and found very little to say on it.
We were to leave to-night (unless the Esens police appeared on the scene),
and were committed to sailing direct to Norderney,
as the only alternative to duck shooting under the espionage of a
'trustworthy' nominee of von Brüning's.
Beyond that --vagueness and difficulty of every sort.
At Norderney I should be fettered by my letter.
If it seemed to have been opened and it ordered my return,
I was limited to a week,
or must risk suspicion by staying.
Dollmann was away (according to von Brüning),
'would probably be back soon';
but how soon?
Beyond Norderney lay Memmert.
How to probe its secret?
The ardour it had roused in me was giving way to a mortifying sense of impotence.
The sight of the
with her crew preparing for sea,
was a pointed comment on my diplomacy,
and most of all on my ridiculous survey of the dykes.
When all was said and done we were -protégés- of von Brüning,
and dogged by Grimm.
Was it likely they would let us succeed?
The tide was swirling into the harbour in whorls of chocolate froth,
and as it rose all Bensersiel,
dominated as before by Herr Schenkel,
straggled down to the quay to watch the movements of shipping during the transient but momentous hour when the mud-hole was a seaport.
The captain's steam-cutter was already afloat,
and her sailors busy with sidelights and engines.
When it became known that we,
were to sail,
and under such distinguished escort,
the excitement intensified.
Again our friend of the customs was spreading out papers to sign,
while a throng of helpful Frisians,
headed by the twin giants of the post-boat,
thronged our decks and made us ready for sea in their own confused fashion.
Again we were carried up to the inn and overwhelmed with advice,
and farewell toasts.
Then back again to find the
and von Brüning just arrived,
cursing the weather and the mud,
genial and -débonnaire- as ever.
'Stow that mainsail,
you won't want it,'
'I'll tow you right out to Spiekeroog.
It's your only anchorage for the night in this wind --under the island,
near the Blitz,
and that would mean a dead beat for you in the dark.'
The fact was so true,
and the offer so timely,
that Davies's faint protests were swept aside in a torrent of ridicule.
'And now I think of it,'
the commander ended,
'I'll make the trip with you,
if I may.
It'll be pleasanter and drier.'
We all three boarded the
and then the end came.
Our tow-rope was attached,
and at half-past six the little launch jumped into the collar,
and amidst a demonstration that could not have been more hearty if we had been ambassadors on a visit to a friendly power,
we sidled out through the jetties.
It took us more than an hour to cover the five miles to Spiekeroog,
'Dulcibella' was a heavy load in the stiff head wind,
though he said nothing,
showed undisguised distrust of our tug's capacities.
He at once left the helm to me and flung himself on the gear,
not resting till every rope was ready to hand,
the mainsail reefed,
the binnacle lighted,
and all ready for setting sail or anchoring at a moment's notice.
Our guest watched these precautions with infinite amusement.
He was in the highest and most mischievous humour,
raining banter on Davies and mock sympathy on me,
laughing at our huge compass,
heaving the lead himself,
startling us with imaginary soundings,
and doubting if his men were sober.
I offered entertainment and warmth below,
but he declined on the ground that Davies would be tempted to cut the tow-rope and make us pass the night on a safe sandbank.
Davies took the raillery unmoved.
His work done,
he took the tiller and sat bareheaded,
intent on the launch,
and chances of the present.
I brought up cigars and we settled ourselves facing him,
our backs to the wind and spray.
And so we made the rest of the passage,
von Brüning cuddled against me and the cabin-hatch,
alternately shouting a jest to Davies and talking to me in a light and charming vein,
with just that shade of patronage that the disparity in our ages warranted,
about my time in Germany,
and books I knew,
and about life,
especially young men's life,
a country he had never visited,
but hoped to;
I responding as well as I could,
striving to meet his mood,
acquit myself like a man,
draw zest instead of humiliation from the irony of our position,
but scarcely able to make headway against a numbing sense of defeat and incapacity.
A queer thought was haunting me,
that such skill and judgement as I possessed was slipping from me as we left the land and faced again the rigours of this exacting sea.
I very well knew,
was under exactly the opposite spell --a spell which even the reproach of the tow-rope could not annul.
in the glow of the binnacle,
was beginning to wear that same look of contentment and resolve that I had seen on it that night we had sailed to Kiel from Schlei Fiord.
Heaven knows he had more cause for worry than I --a casual comrade in an adventure which was peculiarly his,
which meant everything on earth to him;
but there he was,
washing away perplexity in the salt wind,
drawing counsel and confidence from the unfailing source of all his inspirations --the sea.
said the captain once.
I grunted that he did,
ashamed to find how irritated the remark made me.
'You'll remember what I said,'
he added in my ear.
'But I should like to see her.
What is she like?'
I could well believe it.
The hull of the Blitz loomed up,
and a minute later our kedge was splashing overboard and the launch was backing alongside.
said our passenger.
'You're safe enough here,
and you can run across in ten minutes in the morning and pick up your anchor,
if it's there still.
Then you've a fair wind west --to England if you like.
If you decide to stay a little longer in these parts,
and I'm in reach,
count on me to help you,
to sport or anything else.'
We thanked him,
and he was gone.
'He's a thundering good chap,
and I heartily agreed.
The narrow vigilant life began again at once.
'safe enough' in a sense,
but a warp and a twenty-pound anchor were poor security if the wind backed or increased.
Plans for contingencies had to be made,
and deck-watches kept till midnight,
when the weather seemed to improve,
and stars appeared.
The glass was rising,
so we turned in and slept under the very wing,
so to speak,
of the Imperial Government.
when we were settled in our bunks,
'it's only a day's sail to Norderney,
'With a fair wind,
if we go outside the islands direct.'
it's settled that we do that to-morrow?'
'I suppose so.
We've got to get the anchor first.
IT was a cold,
the glass rising,
and the wind fallen to a light air still from the north-east.
Our creased and sodden sails scarcely answered to it as we crept across the oily swell to Langeoog.
'Fogs and calms,'
The Blitz was astir when we passed her,
and soon after steamed out to sea.
Once over the bar,
she turned westward and was lost to view in the haze.
I should be sorry to have to explain how we found that tiny anchor-buoy,
on the expressionless waste of grey.
I only know that I hove the lead incessantly while Davies conned,
till at last he was grabbing overside with the boat-hook,
and there was the buoy on deck.
The cable was soon following it,
and finally the rusty monster himself,
more loathsome than usual,
after his long sojourn in the slime.
'That's all right,'
'Now we can go anywhere.'
We've settled that.'
I suppose we have.
I was wondering whether it wouldn't be shortest to go inside the Langeoog after all.'
'The tide's ebbing now,
and the light's bad;
it's new ground,
with a "watershed" to cross,
and we're safe to get aground.'
'All right --outside.
We swung lazily round and headed for the open sea.
I record the fact,
but in truth Davies might have taken me where he liked,
for no land was visible,
only a couple of ghostly booms.
'It seems a pity to miss over that channel,'
said Davies with a sigh;
'just when the
'Kormoran' can't watch us.'
(We had not seen her at all this morning.)
I set myself to the lead again,
averse to reopening a barren argument.
Grimm had done his work for the present,
I felt certain,
and was on his way by the shortest road to Norderney and Memmert.
We were soon outside and heading west,
our boom squared away and the island sand-dunes just apparent under our lee.
Then the breeze died to the merest draught,
and left us rolling inert in a long swell.
Consumed with impatience to get on I saw fatality in this failure of wind,
after a fortnight of unprofitable meanderings,
when we had generally had too much of it,
and always enough for our purpose.
I tried to read below,
but the vile squirting of the centre-board drove me up.
'Can't we go any faster?'
I burst out once.
I felt that there ought to be a pyramid of gauzy canvas aloft,
and what not.
'I don't go in for speed,'
He loyally did his best to
'shove her' along,
but puffs and calms were the rule all day,
and it was only by towing in the dinghy for two hours in the afternoon that we covered the length of Langeoog,
and crept before dark to an anchorage behind Baltrum,
its slug-shaped neighbour on the west.
we should have kept the sea all night;
but I had not the grit to suggest that course,
and Davies was only too glad of an excuse for threading the shoals of the Accumer Ee on a rising tide.
The atmosphere had been slowly clearing as the day wore on;
but we had scarcely anchored ten minutes before a blanket of white fog,
rolling in from seaward,
swallowed us up.
Davies was already afield in the dinghy,
and I had to guide him back with a foghorn,
whose music roused hosts of sea birds from the surrounding flats,
and brought them wheeling and complaining round us,
a weird invisible chorus to my mournful solo.
The fog hung heavy still at daybreak on the 20th,
but dispersed partially under a catspaw from the south about eight o'clock,
in time for us to traverse the boomed channel behind Baltrum,
before the tide left the watershed.
'We shan't get far to-day,'
'And this sort of thing may go on for any time.
It's a regular autumn anti-cyclone --glass thirty point five and steady.
That gale was the last of a stormy equinox.'
We took the inside route as a matter of course to-day.
It was now the shortest to Norderney harbour,
and scarcely less intricate than the Wichter Ee,
which appeared to be almost totally blocked by banks,
the most impassable of all these outlets to the North Sea.
as I say,
this sort of navigation,
always puzzling to me,
was utterly bewildering in hazy weather.
Any attempt at orientation made me giddy.
So I slaved at the lead,
varying my labour with a fierce bout of kedge-work when we grounded somewhere.
I had two rests before two o'clock,
one of an hour,
when we ran into a patch of windless fog;
another of a few moments,
when Davies said,
and I saw,
surmounting a long slope of weedy sand,
still wet with the receding sea,
a cluster of sandhills exactly like a hundred others I had seen of late,
but fraught with a new and unique interest.
The usual formula,
'What have you got now?'
checked my reverie,
ended it for the time.
We tacked on (for the wind had headed us) in very shoal water.
Suddenly Davies said:
'Is that a boat ahead?'
'Do you mean that galliot?'
I could plainly distinguish one of those familiar craft about half a mile away,
just within the limit of vision.
do you think?'
Davies said nothing,
but grew inattentive to his work.
from me passed unnoticed,
and we touched once,
but swung off under some play of the current.
Then came abruptly,
'Stand by the anchor.
and we brought up in mid-stream of the narrow creek we were following.
I triced up the main-tack,
and stowed the headsails unaided.
When I had done Davies was still gazing to windward through his binoculars,
to my astonishment,
I noticed that his hands were trembling violently.
I had never seen this happen before,
even at moments when a false turn of the wrist meant death on a surf-battered bank.
'What is it?'
'are you cold?'
'That little boat,'
I gazed to windward,
and now saw a scrap of white in the distance,
in sharp relief.
'Small standing lug and jib;
said Davies to himself,
in a sort of nervous stammer.
or rather pushed,
me the glasses,
it's -hers ---the one she always sails.
She's come to meet m --,
Through the glasses the white scrap became a graceful little sail,
squared away for the light following breeze.
An angle of the creek hid the hull,
then it glided into view.
Someone was sitting aft steering,
man or woman I could not say,
for the sail hid most of the figure.
For full two minutes --two long,
pregnant minutes --we watched it in silence.
The damp air was fogging the lenses,
but I kept them to my eyes;
for I did not want to look at Davies.
At last I heard him draw a deep breath,
straighten himself up,
and give one of his characteristic
Then he turned briskly aft,
cast off the dinghy's painter,
and pulled her up alongside.
'You come too,'
and fixing the rowlocks.
(His hands were steady again.)
and shoved the dinghy off.
'I'd rather you did,'
'I'd rather stay.
I'll tidy up,
and put the kettle on.'
Davies had taken a half stroke,
'She oughtn't to come aboard.'
'She might like to,'
long way from home,
common courtesy --'
'if she comes aboard,
please remember that she's outside this business.
There are no clues to be got from -her-.'
A little lecture which would have nettled me more if I had not been exultantly telling myself that,
once and for all,
for good or ill,
the Rubicon was passed.
'It's your affair this time,'
'run it as you please.'
He sculled away with vigorous strokes.
'Just as he is,'
I thought to myself: bare head,
beaded with fog-dew,
ancient oilskin coat (only one button);
grey woollen trousers (like a deep-sea fisherman's) stuffed into long boots.
A vision of his antitype,
the Cowes Philanderer,
crossed me for a second.
As to his face --well,
I could only judge by it,
that he was gripping his dilemma by either horn,
as firmly as he gripped his sculls.
I watched the two boats converging.
They would meet in the natural course about three hundred yards away,
but a hitch occurred.
the sail-boat checked and slewed;
The row-boat leapt forward still;
From both a great splashing of sculls floated across the still air,
The summit of the watershed,
a physical Rubicon,
prosaic and slimy,
had still to be crossed,
But it could be evaded.
Both boats headed for the northern side of the creek: two figures were out on the brink,
hauling on two painters.
Then Davies was striding over the sand,
and a girl --I could see her now --was coming to meet him.
And then I thought it was time to go below and tidy up.
Nothing on earth could have made the
'Dulcibella's' saloon a worthy reception-room for a lady.
I could only use hurried efforts to make it look its best by plying a bunch of cotton-waste and a floor-brush;
by pitching into racks and lockers the litter of pipes,
oddments of apparel,
and so on,
that had a way of collecting afresh,
however recently we had tidied up;
by neatly arranging our demoralized library,
and by lighting the stove and veiling the table under a clean white cloth.
I suppose about twenty minutes had elapsed,
and I was scrubbing fruitlessly at the smoky patch on the ceiling,
when I heard the sound of oars and voices outside.
I threw the cotton-waste into the fo'c'sle,
made an onslaught on my hands,
and then mounted the companion ladder.
Our own dinghy was just rounding up alongside,
Davies sculling in the bows,
facing him in the stern a young girl in a grey tam-o'-shanter,
loose waterproof jacket and dark serge skirt,
to be frigidly accurate,
disclosing a pair of workman-like rubber boots which,
-mutatis mutandis,- were very like those Davies was wearing.
was spangled with moisture,
and her rose-brown skin struck a note of delicious colour against the sullen Stygian background.
'There he is,'
Never did his
sound so pleasantly in my ears;
never so discordantly the
'Fräulein Dollmann' that followed it.
Every syllable of the four was a lie.
Two honest English eyes were looking up into mine;
an honest English hand --is this insular nonsense?
but I stick to it --a brown,
firm hand --no,
not so very small,
my sentimental reader --was clasping mine.
Of course I had strong reasons,
apart from the racial instinct,
for thinking her to be English,
but I believe that if I had had none at all I should at any rate have congratulated Germany on a clever bit of plagiarism.
By her voice,
when she spoke,
I knew that she must have talked German habitually from childhood;
diction and accent were faultless,
at least to my English ear;
but the native constitutional ring was wanting.
She came on board.
There was a hollow discussion first about time and weather,
but it ended as we all in our hearts wished it to end.
None of us uttered our real scruples.
were too new and rudimentary to be worth uttering,
so I said common-sense things about tea and warmth;
but I began to think about my compact with Davies.
'Just for a few minutes,
I held out my hand and swung her up.
She gazed round the deck and rigging with profound interest --a breathless,
hungry interest --touching to see.
'You've seen her before,
'I've not been on board before,'
This struck me in passing as odd;
but then I had only too few details from Davies about his days at Norderney in September.
-that- is what puzzled me,'
pointing to the mizzen.
'I knew there was something different.'
Davies had belayed the painter,
and now had to explain the origin of the mizzen.
This was a cumbrous process,
and his hearer's attention soon wandered from the subject and became centred in him --his was already more than half in her --and the result was a golden opportunity for the discerning onlooker.
It was very brief,
but I made the most of it;
buried deep a few regrets,
did a little heartfelt penance,
told myself I had been a cynical fool not to have foreseen this,
and faced the new situation with a sinking heart;
I am not ashamed to admit that,
for I was fond of Davies,
and I was keen about the quest.
She had never been a guilty agent in that attempt on Davies.
Had she been an unconscious tool or only an unwilling one?
If the latter,
did she know the secret we were seeking?
In the last degree unlikely,
true to the compact,
whose importance I now fully appreciated,
I flung aside my diplomatic weapons,
or nearly as strongly,
let us say,
from any effort direct or indirect to gain information from such a source.
It was not our fault if by her own conversation and behaviour she gave us some idea of how matters stood.
Davies already knew more than I did.
We spent a few minutes on deck while she asked eager questions about our build and gear and seaworthiness,
with a quaint mixture of professional acumen and personal curiosity.
'How -did- you manage alone that day?'
she asked Davies,
it was quite safe,'
was the reply.
'But it's much better to have a friend.'
She looked at me;
I would have died for Davies there and then.
'Father said you would be safe,'
with decision --a slight excess of decision,
And at that turned to some rope or block and pursued her questioning.
She found the compass impressive,
and the trappings of that hateful centre-board had a peculiar fascination for her.
Was this the way we did it in England?
was her constant query.
in spite of a superficial freedom,
we were all shy and constrained.
The descent below was a welcome diversion,
for we should have been less than human if we had not extracted some spontaneous fun from the humours of the saloon.
I went down first to see about the tea,
leaving them struggling for mutual comprehension over the theory of an English lifeboat.
They soon followed,
and I can see her now stooping in at the doorway,
like a kitten,
past the obstructive centre-board to a place on the starboard sofa,
then taking in her surroundings with a timid rapture that broke into delight at all the primitive arrangements and dingy amenities of our den.
She explored the cavernous recesses of the Rippingille,
fingered the duck-guns and the miscellany in the racks,
and peeped into the fo'c'sle with dainty awe.
Everything was a source of merriment,
from our cramped attitudes to the painful deficiency of spoons and the
'yachtiness' (there is no other word to describe it) of the bread,
which had been bought at Bensersiel,
and had suffered from incarceration and the climate.
This fact came out,
and led to some questions,
while we waited for the water to boil,
about the gale and our visit there.
a pregnant one for us,
appeared to have no special significance to her.
At the mention of von Brüning she showed no emotion of any sort;
on the contrary,
she went out of her way,
from an innocent motive that anyone could have guessed,
to show that she could talk about him with dispassionate detachment.
'He came to see us when you were here last,
she said to Davies.
'He often comes.
He goes with father to Memmert sometimes.
You know about Memmert?
They are diving for money out of an old wreck.'
we had heard about it.'
'Of course you have.
Father is a director of the company,
and Commander von Brüning takes great interest in it;
they took me down in a diving-bell once.'
and Davies sawed laboriously at the bread.
She must have misconstrued our sheepish silence,
for she stopped and drew herself up with just a touch of momentary hauteur,
utterly lost on Davies.
I could have laughed aloud at this transient little comedy of errors.
'Did you see any gold?'
said Davies at last,
with husky solemnity.
Something had to be said or we should defeat our own end;
but I let him say it.
He had not my faith in Memmert.
only mud and timber --oh,
I forgot --'
'You mustn't betray the company's secrets,'
'Commander von Brüning wouldn't tell us a word about the gold.'
I said to myself.)
I don't think it matters much,'
'You are only visitors.'
'Just passing travellers.'
'You will stop at Norderney?'
with naive anxiety.
'Herr Davies said --'
I looked to Davies;
it was his affair.
Fair and square came his answer,
in blunt dog-German.
I should like to see your father again.'
Up to this moment I had been doubtful of his final decision;
for ever since our explanation at Bensersiel I had had the feeling that I was holding his nose to a very cruel grindstone.
This straight word,
clear and direct,
beyond anything I had hoped for,
brought me to my senses and showed me that his mind had been working far in advance of mine;
shaping a double purpose that I had never dreamt of.
said Fräulein Dollmann;
I am sure he will be very glad to see you.
There was no conviction in her tone,
and her eyes were distant and troubled.
'He's not at home now,
'How did you know?'
(a little maidenly confusion).
Commander von Brüning.'
I might have added that it had been clear as daylight all along that this visit was in the nature of an escapade of which her father might not approve.
I tried to say
'I won't tell,'
and may have succeeded.
'I told Mr Davies when we first met,'
she went on.
'I expect him back very soon --to-morrow in fact;
he wrote from Amsterdam.
He left me at Hamburg and has been away since.
he will not know your yacht is back again.
I think he expected Mr Davies would stay in the Baltic,
as the season was so late.
But --but I am sure he will be glad to see you.'
'Medusa' in harbour?'
but we are not living on her now.
We are at our villa in the Schwannallée --my stepmother and I,
She added some details,
and Davies gravely pencilled down the address on a leaf of the log-book;
a formality which somehow seemed to regularize the present position.
'We shall be at Norderney to-morrow,'
Meanwhile the kettle was boiling merrily,
and I made the tea --cocoa,
I should say,
for the menu was changed in deference to our visitor's tastes.
'This -is- fun!'
And by common consent we abandoned ourselves,
to the enjoyment of this impromptu picnic.
Such a chance might never occur again ---carpamus diem.-
But the banquet was never celebrated.
As at Belshazzar's feast,
there was a writing on the wall;
no supernatural inscription,
but just a printed name;
an English surname with title and initials,
in cheap gilt lettering on the back of an old book;
sneering witness of our snug party.
The catastrophe came and passed so suddenly that at the time I had scarcely even an inkling of what caused it;
but I know now that this is how it happened.
Our visitor was sitting at the forward end of the starboard sofa,
close to the bulkhead.
Davies and I were opposite her.
Across the bulkhead,
on a level with our heads,
ran the bookshelf,
I had carefully straightened only half an hour ago,
little dreaming of the consequence.
probably the logbook which Davies had reached down from the shelf,
called her attention to the rest of our library.
While busied with the cocoa I heard her spelling out some titles,
and twitting Davies with the little care he took of his books.
Suddenly there was a silence which made me look up,
to see a startled and pitiful change in her.
She was staring at Davies with wide eyes and parted lips,
a burning flush mounting on her forehead,
and such an expression on her face as a sleep-walker might wear,
who wakes in fear he knows not where.
Half her mind was far away,
labouring to construe some hideous dream of the past;
half was in the present,
cringing before some sickening reality.
She remained so for perhaps ten seconds,
and then --plucky girl that she was --she mastered herself,
looked deliberately round and up with a circular glance,
strangely in the manner of Davies himself,
How late it was,
she must be going --her boat was not safe.
At the same time she rose to go,
or rather slid herself along the sofa,
for rising was impossible.
We sat like mannerless louts,
in blank amazement.
Davies at the outset had said,
'What's the matter?'
in plain English,
and then relapsed into stupefaction.
I recovered myself the first,
and protested in some awkward fashion about the cocoa,
the absence of fog.
In trying to answer,
her self-possession broke down,
and her retreat became a blind flight,
like that of a wounded animal,
while every sordid circumstance seemed to accentuate her panic.
She tilted the corner of the table in leaving the sofa and spilt cocoa over her skirt;
she knocked her head with painful force against the sharp lintel of the doorway,
and stumbled on the steps of the ladder.
I was close behind,
but when I reached the deck she was already on the counter hauling up the dinghy.
She had even jumped in and laid hands on the sculls before any check came in her precipitate movements.
Now there occurred to her the patent fact that the dinghy was ours,
and that someone must accompany her to bring it back.
'Davies will row you over,'
'If you will be so kind,
It is your turn.
I want --'
said Davies to me in English.
I stepped into the dinghy and motioned to take the sculls from her.
She seemed not to see me,
and pushed off while Davies handed down her jacket,
which she had left in the cabin.
Neither of us tried to better the situation by conventional apologies.
It was left to her,
at the last moment,
to make a show of excusing herself,
an attempt so brave and yet so wretchedly lame that I tingled all over with hot shame.
She only made matters worse,
and Davies interrupted her.
She shook her head,
did not even offer her hand,
and pulled away;
Davies turned sharp round and went below.
There was now no muddy Rubicon to obstruct us,
for the tide had risen a good deal,
and the sands were covering.
I offered again to take the sculls,
but she took no notice and rowed on,
so that I was a silent passenger on the stem seat till we reached her boat,
a spruce little yacht's gig,
built to the native model,
with a spoon-bow and tiny lee-boards.
It was already afloat,
but riding quite safely to a rope and a little grapnel,
which she proceeded to haul in.
'It was quite safe after all,
but I could not stay.
I want to say something to you.'
(I knew it was coming;
von Brüning's warning over again.)
'I made a mistake just now;
it is no use your calling on us to-morrow.'
'You will not see my father.'
'I thought you said he was coming back?'
by the morning steamer;
but he will be very busy.'
'We can wait.
We have several days to spare,
and we have to call for letters anyhow.'
'You must not delay on our account.
The weather is very fine at last.
It would be a pity to lose a chance of a smooth voyage to England.
The season --'
'We have no fixed plans.
Davies wants to get some shooting.
'My father will be much occupied.'
'We can see -you-.'
I insisted on being obtuse,
for though this fencing with an unstrung girl was hateful work,
the quest was at stake.
We were going to Norderney,
come what might,
and sooner or later we must see Dollmann.
It was no use promising not to.
I had given no pledge to von Brüning,
and I would give none to her.
The only alternative was to violate the compact (which the present fiasco had surely weakened),
and try and make an ally of her.
Against her own father?
I shrank from the responsibility and counted the cost of failure --certain failure,
to judge by her conduct.
She began to hoist her lugsail in a dazed,
while our two boats drifted slowly to leeward.
'Father might not like it,'
so low and from such tremulous lips that I scarcely caught her words.
'He does not like foreigners much.
I am afraid ...
he did not want to see Herr Davies again.'
'But I thought --'
'It was wrong of me to come aboard --I suddenly remembered;
but I could not tell Herr Davies.'
'I will tell him.'
that he must not come near us.
'He will understand.
I know he will be very sorry,
'you can trust him implicitly to do the right thing.'
And how I prayed that this would content her!
'I am afraid I did not say good-bye to him.
You will do so?'
She gave me her hand.
'One thing more,'
'nothing had better be said about this meeting?'
It must never be known.'
I let go the gig's gunwale and watched her tighten her sheet and make a tack or two to windward.
Then I rowed back to the
'Dulcibella' as hard as I could.
The Little Drab Book
I FOUND Davies at the cabin table,
surrounded with a litter of books.
The shelf was empty,
and its contents were tossed about among the cups and on the floor.
We both spoke together.
what was it?'
what did she say?'
I gave way,
and told my story briefly.
He listened in silence,
drumming on the table with a book which he held.
'It's not good-bye,'
'But I don't wonder;
and he held out to me a small volume,
whose appearance was quite familiar to me,
if its contents were less so.
As I noted in an early chapter,
was limited to two classes of books,
those on naval warfare,
and those on his own hobby,
cruising in small yachts.
He had six or seven of the latter,
including Knight's Falcon in the Baltic,
Cowper's Sailing Tours,
Macmullen's Down Channel,
and other less-known stories of adventurous travel.
I had scarcely done more than look into some of them at off-moments,
for our life had left no leisure for reading.
This particular volume was --no,
I had better not describe it too fully;
but I will say that it was old and unpretentious,
bound in cheap cloth of a rather antiquated style,
with a title which showed it to be a guide for yachtsmen to a certain British estuary.
A white label partly scratched away bore the legend
I had glanced at it once or twice with no special interest.
turning over some yellow pages.
'Dollmann wrote it.'
I turned to the title-page,
The name itself conveyed nothing to me,
but I began to understand.
Davies went on:
'The name's on the back,
too --and I'm certain it's the last she looked at.'
'But how do you know?'
'And there's the man himself.
Ass that I am not to have seen it before!
Look at the frontispiece.'
It was a sorry piece of illustration of the old-fashioned sort,
lacking definition and finish,
but effective notwithstanding;
for it was evidently the reproduction,
though a cheap and imperfect process,
of a photograph.
It represented a small yacht at anchor below some woods,
with the owner standing on deck in his shirt sleeves: a well-knit,
of middle height,
There appeared to be nothing remarkable about the face;
the portrait being on too small a scale,
and the expression,
such as it was,
being of the fixed
'How do you know him?
You said he was fifty,
with a greyish beard.'
'By the shape of his head;
that hasn't changed.
Look how it widens at the top,
and then flattens --sort of wedge shaped --with a high,
you'd hardly notice it in that' (the points were not very noticeable,
but I saw what Davies meant).
'The height and figure are right,
and the dates are about right.
Look at the bottom.'
Underneath the picture was the name of a yacht and a date.
The publisher's date on the title-page was the same.
'Sixteen years ago,'
'He looks thirty odd in that,
And fifty now.'
'Let's work the thing out.
Sixteen years ago he was still an Englishman,
an officer in Her Majesty's Navy.
Now he's a German.
At some time between this and then,
he came to grief --disgrace,
When did it happen?'
'They've been here three years;
von Brüning said so.'
'It was long before that.
She has talked German from a child.
What's her age,
do you think --nineteen or twenty?'
'Say she was four when this book was published.
The crash must have come not long after.'
'And they've been hiding in Germany since.
'Is this a well-known book?'
'I never saw another copy;
picked this up on a second-hand bookstall for threepence.'
'She looked at it,
I'm certain of it.'
'Was she never on board you in September?'
I asked them both,
but Dollmann made excuses.'
'But -he --he- came on board?
You told me so.'
he asked himself to breakfast on the first day.
you mean he saw the book?
'It explains a good deal.'
'It explains everything.'
We fell into deep reflexion for a minute or two.
'Do you really mean -everything-?'
'In that case let's sail straight away and forget the whole affair.
He's only some poor devil with a past,
whose secret you stumbled on,
half mad with fear,
he tried to silence you.
But you don't want revenge,
so it's no business of ours.
We can ruin him if we like;
but is it worth it?'
'You don't mean a word you're saying,'
'though I know why you say it;
and many thanks,
I didn't mean "everything".
He's plotting with Germans,
or why did Grimm spy on us,
and von Brüning cross-examine us?
We've got to find out what he's at,
as well as who he is.
And as to her --what do you think of her now?'
I made my -amende- heartily.
'Innocent and ignorant,'
was my verdict.
of her father's treasonable machinations;
that they were English refugees with a past to hide.'
I said other things,
but they do not matter.
'it makes the dilemma infinitely worse.'
'There's no dilemma at all,'
'You said at Bensersiel that we couldn't hurt him without hurting her.
all I can say is,
we've -got- to.
The time to cut and run,
was when we sighted her dinghy.
I had a baddish minute then.'
'She's given us a clue or two after all.'
'It wasn't our fault.
To refuse to have her on board would have been to give our show away;
and the very fact that she's given us clues decides the matter.
She mustn't suffer for it.'
'What will she do?'
'Stick to her father,
'And what shall we do?'
'I don't know yet;
how can I know?
'But the point is,
that we have two objects,
equally important --yes,
--to scotch him,
and save her.'
There was a pause.
'That's rather a large order,'
'Do you realize that at this very moment we have probably gained the first object?
If we went home now,
walked into the Admiralty and laid our facts before them,
what would be the result?'
with ineffable scorn.
Both of them want our man,
I dare say.
It would be strange if between them they couldn't dislodge him,
either discover what's going on here or draw such attention to this bit of coast as to make further secrecy impossible.'
'It's out of the question to let her betray her father,
and then run away!
we don't know enough,
and they mightn't believe us.
It's a cowardly course,
however you look at it.'
that settles it,'
'Now I want to go back over the facts.
When did you first see her?'
'That first morning.'
'She wasn't in the saloon the night before?'
and he didn't mention her.'
'You would have gone away next morning if he hadn't called?'
I told you so.'
'He allowed her to persuade you to make that voyage with them?'
'I suppose so.'
'But he sent her below when the pilotage was going on?'
'She said just now,
"Father said you would be safe."
What had you been saying to her?'
'It was when I met her on the sand.
(By the way,
it wasn't a chance meeting;
she had been making inquiries and heard about us from a skipper who had seen the yacht near Wangeroog,
and she had been down this way before.)
She asked at once about that day,
and began apologizing,
for their rudeness in not having waited for me at Cuxhaven.
Her father found he must get on to Hamburg at once.'
'But you didn't go to Cuxhaven;
you told her that?
What exactly -did- you tell her?
This is important.'
'I was in a fearful fix,
not knowing what -he- had told her.
So I said something vague,
and then she asked the very question von Brüning did,
"Wasn't there a -schrecklich- sea round the Scharhorn?"'
'She didn't know you took the short cut,
he hadn't dared to tell her.'
'She knew that -they- took it?'
He couldn't possibly have hidden that.
She would have known by the look of the sea from the portholes,
the shorter time,
'But when the
'Medusa' hove to and he shouted to you to follow him --didn't she understand what was happening?'
she couldn't possibly have heard what we said,
in that weather,
I couldn't cross-question her,
but it was clear enough what she thought;
that he had hove to for exactly the opposite reason,
to say -he- was taking the short cut,
and that I wasn't to attempt to follow him.'
'That's why she laid stress on -waiting- for you at Cuxhaven?'
mine would have been the longer passage.'
'She had no notion of foul play?'
'None --that I could see.
there I was,
alive and well.'
'But she was remorseful for having induced you to sail at all that day,
and for not having waited to see you arrived safely.'
'That's about it.'
'Now what did you say about Cuxhaven?'
I let her understand that I went there,
not finding them,
went on to the Baltic by the Eider river,
having changed my mind about the ship canal.'
what about her voyage back from Hamburg?
Was she alone?'
the stepmother joined her.'
'Did she say she had inquired about you at Brunsbüttel?'
I suppose she didn't like to.
And there was no need,
because my taking the Eider explained it.'
'You're sure she hadn't a notion that you took the short cut?'
but she may guess it now.
She guessed foul play by seeing that book.'
'Of course she did;
but I was thinking of something else.
There are two stories afloat now --yours to von Brüning,
the true one,
that you followed the
'Medusa' to the short cut;
and Dollmann's to her,
that you went round the Scharhorn.
That's evidently his version of the affair --the version he would have given if you had been drowned and inquiries were ever made;
the version he would have sworn his crew to if they discovered the truth.'
'But he must drop that yarn when he knows I'm alive and back again.'
supposing von Brüning sees him -before- he knows you're back again,
and wants to find out the truth about that incident.
If I were von Brüning I should say,
"By the way,
what's become of that young Englishman you decoyed away to the Baltic?"
Dollmann would give his version,
and von Brüning,
having heard ours,
would know he was lying,
and had tried to drown you.'
'Does it matter?
He must know already that Dollmann's a scoundrel.'
'So we've been supposing;
but we may be wrong.
We're still in the dark as to Dollmann's position towards these Germans.
They may not even know he's English,
or they may know that and not know his real name and past.
What effect your story will have on their relations with him we can't forecast.
But I'm clear about one thing,
that it's our paramount interest to maintain the -status quo- as long as we can,
to minimize the danger you ran that day,
and act as witnesses in his defence.
We can't do that if his story and yours don't tally.
The discrepancy will not only damn him (that may be immaterial),
but it will throw doubt on us.'
'Because if the short cut was so dangerous that he dared not own to having led you to it,
it was dangerous enough to make you suspect foul play;
the very supposition we want to avoid.
We want to be thought mere travellers,
with no scores to wipe out,
and no secrets to pry after.'
what do you propose?'
'Hitherto I believe we stand fairly well.
Let's assume we hoodwinked von Brüning at Bensersiel,
and base our policy on that assumption.
It follows that we must show Dollmann at the earliest possible moment that you -have- come back,
and give him time to revise his tactics before he commits himself.
'But -she'll- tell him we're back,'
'I don't think so.
We've just agreed to keep this afternoon's episode a secret.
She expects never to see us again.'
he comes to-morrow by the morning boat,
What did that mean?
Boat from where?'
From Norddeich on the mainland opposite.
There's a railway there from Norden,
and a steam ferry crosses to the island.'
'At what time?'
'Your Bradshaw will tell us --here it is:
due at 9.5."'
'Let's get away at once.'
We had a tussle with the tide at first,
but once over the watershed the channel improved,
and the haze lightened gradually.
A lighthouse appeared among the sand-dunes on the island shore,
and before darkness fell we dimly saw the spires and roofs of a town,
and two long black piers stretching out southwards.
We were scarcely a mile away when we lost our wind altogether,
and had to anchor.
Determined to reach our destination that night we waited till the ebb stream made,
and then towed the yacht with the dinghy.
In the course of this a fog dropped on us suddenly,
just as it had yesterday.
I was towing at the time,
but Davies shouted to me from the tiller to go on,
that he could manage with the lead and compass.
And the end of it was that,
at about nine o'clock,
we anchored safely in the five-fathom roadstead,
close to the eastern pier,
as a short reconnaissance proved to us.
It had been a little masterpiece of adroit seamanship.
There was utter stillness till our chain rattled down,
when a muffled shout came from the direction of the pier,
and soon we heard a boat groping out to us.
It was a polite but sleepy portofficer,
who asked in a perfunctory way for our particulars,
and when he heard them,
'Dulcibella's' previous visit.
'Where are you bound to?'
'England --sooner or later,'
The man laughed derisively.
'Not this year,'
'there will be fogs for another week;
it is always so,
and then storms.
Better leave your yawl here.
Dues will be only sixpence a month for you.
'I'll think about it,'
The man vanished like a ghost in the thick night.
'Is the post-office open?'
I called after him.
came back out of the fog.
We were too excited to sup in comfort,
or sleep in peace,
or to do anything but plan and speculate.
Never till this night had we talked with absolute mutual confidence,
for Davies broke down the last barriers of reserve and let me see his whole mind.
He loved this girl and he loved his country,
two simple passions which for the time absorbed his whole moral capacity.
There was no room left for casuistry.
To weigh one passion against the other,
with the discordant voices of honour and expediency dinning in his ears,
had too long involved him in fruitless torture.
Both were right;
neither could be surrendered.
If the facts showed them irreconcilable,
-tant pis pour les faits.- A way must be found to satisfy both or neither.
I should have been a spiritless dog if I had not risen to his mood.
But in truth his cutting of the knot was at this juncture exactly what appealed to me.
was tired of vicarious casuistry,
and the fascination of our enterprise,
intensified by the discovery of that afternoon,
had never been so strong in me.
Not to be insincere,
I cannot pretend that I viewed the situation with his single mind.
My philosophy when I left London was of a very worldly sort,
and no one can change his temperament in three weeks.
I plainly said as much to Davies,
and indeed took perverse satisfaction in stating with brutal emphasis some social truths which bore on this attachment of his to the daughter of an outlaw.
Truths I call them,
but I uttered them more by rote than by conviction,
and he heard them unmoved.
And meanwhile I snatched recklessly at his own solution.
If it imparted into our adventure a strain of crazy chivalry more suited to knights-errant of the Middle Ages than to sober modern youths --well,
I was not too sober,
and still young enough to snatch at that fancy with an ardour of imagination,
if not of character;
for Galahads are not so common but that ordinary folk must needs draw courage from their example and put something of a blind trust in their tenfold strength.
To reduce a romantic ideal to a working plan is a very difficult thing.
'We shall have to argue backwards,'
'What is to be the final stage?
Because that must govern the others.'
There was only one answer --to get Dollmann,
secrets and all,
daughter and all,
away from Germany altogether.
So only could we satisfy the double aim we had set before us.
What a joy it is,
when beset with doubts,
to find a bed-rock necessity,
We fastened on this one and reasoned back from it.
The first lesson was that,
however many and strong were the enemies we had to contend with,
our sole overt foe must be Dollmann.
The issue of the struggle must be known only to ourselves and him.
If we won,
and found out
'what he was at',
we must at all costs conceal our success from his German friends,
and detach him from them before he was compromised.
(You will remark that to blithely accept this limitation showed a very sanguine spirit in us.)
The next question,
how to find out what he was at,
was a deal more thorny.
If it had not been for the discovery of Dollmann's identity,
we should have found it as hard a nut to crack as ever.
But this discovery was illuminating.
It threw into relief two methods of action which hitherto we had been hazily seeking to combine,
seesawing between one and the other,
each of us influenced at different times by different motives.
One was to rely on independent research;
the other to extort the secret from Dollmann direct,
by craft or threats.
The moral of to-day was to abandon the first and embrace the second.
The prospects of independent research were not a whit better than before.
There were only two theories in the field,
the channel theory and the Memmert theory.
The former languished for lack of corroboration;
the latter also appeared to be weakened.
To Fräulein Dollmann the wreck-works were evidently what they purported to be,
and nothing more.
This fact in itself was unimportant,
for it was clear as crystal that she was no party to her father's treacherous intrigues,
if he was engaged in such.
But if Memmert was his sphere for them,
it was disconcerting to find her so familiar with that sphere,
lightly talking of a descent in a diving-bell --hinting,
that the mystery as to results was only for local consumption.
the charm of Memmert as the place we had traced Grimm to,
and as the only tangible clue we had obtained,
was still very great.
The really cogent objection was the insuperable difficulty,
known and watched as we were,
of learning its significance.
If there was anything important to see there we should never be allowed to see it,
while by trying and failing we risked everything.
It was on this point that the last of all misunderstandings between me and Davies was dissipated.
At Bensersiel he had been influenced more than he owned by my arguments about Memmert;
but at that time (as I hinted) he was biased by a radical prejudice.
The channel theory had become a sort of religion with him,
promising double salvation --not only avoidance of the Dollmanns,
but success in the quest by methods in which he was past master.
To have to desert it and resort to spying on naval defences was an idea he dreaded and distrusted.
It was not the morality of the course that bothered him.
He was far too clear-headed to blink at the essential fact that at heart we were spies on a foreign power in time of peace,
or to salve his conscience by specious distinctions as to our mode of operation.
The foreign power to him was Dollmann,
There was his final justification,
fearlessly adopted and held to the last.
It was rather that,
knowing his own limitations,
his whole nature shrank from the sort of action entailed by the Memmert theory.
And there was strong common sense in his antipathy.
So much for independent research.
On the other hand the road was now clear for the other method.
Davies no longer feared to face the imbroglio at Norderney;
and that day fortune had given us a new and potent weapon against Dollmann;
precisely how potent we could not tell,
for we had only a glimpse of his past,
and his exact relations with the Government were unknown to us.
But we knew who he was.
Using this knowledge with address,
could we not wring the rest from him?
Feel our way,
be guided by his own conduct,
but in the end strike hard and stake everything on the stroke?
Such at any rate was our scheme to-night.
tossing in my bunk,
I be-thought me of the little drab book,
lit a candle,
and fetched it.
A preface explained that it had been written during a spell of two months' leave from naval duty,
and expressed a hope that it might be of service to Corinthian sailors.
The style was unadorned,
but scholarly and pithy.
There was no trace of the writer's individuality,
save a certain subdued relish in describing banks and shoals,
which reminded me of Davies himself.
For the rest,
I found the book dull,
it sent me to sleep.
Blindfold to Memmert
'HERE she comes,'
It was nine o'clock on the next day,
and we were on deck waiting for the arrival of the steamer from Norddeich.
There was no change in the weather --still the same stringent cold,
with a high barometer,
and only fickle flaws of air;
but the morning was gloriously clear,
except for a wreath or two of mist curling like smoke from the sea,
and an attenuated belt of opaque fog on the northern horizon.
The harbour lay open before us,
and very commodious and civilized it looked,
enclosed between two long piers which ran quite half a mile out from the land to the road-stead (Riff-Gat by name) where we lay.
A stranger might have taken it for a deep and spacious haven;
was an illusion,
due to the high water.
Davies knew that three-quarters of it was mud,
the remainder being a dredged-out channel along the western pier.
A couple of tugs,
and a ferry packet with steam up,
were moored on that side --a small stack of galliots on the other.
Beyond these was another vessel,
a galliot in build,
but radiant as a queen among sluts;
her varnished sides and spars flashing orange in the sun.
and her snow-white sail-covers and the twinkle of brass and gun-metal,
proclaimed her to be a yacht.
I had already studied her through the glasses and read on her stern
A couple of sailors were swabbing her decks;
you could hear the slush of the water and the scratching of the deck-brooms.
'-They- can see us anyway,'
Davies had said.
For that matter all the world could see us --certainly the incoming steamer must;
for we lay as near to the pier as safety permitted,
abreast of the berth she would occupy,
as we knew by a gangway and a knot of sailors.
A packet boat,
not bigger than a big tug,
was approaching from the south.
we're not supposed to know he's coming,'
'let's go below.'
Besides the skylight,
'coach-house' cabin top had little oblong side windows.
We wiped clean those on the port side and watched events from them,
kneeling on the sofa.
The steamer backed her paddles,
flinging out a wash that set us rolling to our scuppers.
There seemed to be very few passengers aboard,
but all of them were gazing at the
'Dulcibella' while the packet was warped alongside.
On the forward deck there were some market-women with baskets,
and a weedy youth who might be an hotel waiter;
on the after-deck,
standing close together,
were two men in ulsters and soft felt hats.
'There he is!'
in a tense whisper;
'the tall one.'
But the tall one turned abruptly as Davies spoke and strode away behind the deck-house,
leaving me just a lightning impression of a grey beard and a steep tanned forehead,
behind a cloud of cigar smoke.
It was perverse of me,
to tell the truth,
I hardly missed him,
so occupied was I by the short one,
who remained leaning on the rail,
thoughtfully contemplating the
'Dulcibella' through gold-rimmed pince-nez: a sallow,
wizened old fellow,
with a bush of grizzled moustache and a jet-black tuft of beard on his chin.
The most remarkable feature was the nose,
which was broad and flat,
merging almost imperceptibly in the wrinkled cheeks.
Lightly beaked at the nether extremity,
it drooped towards an enormous cigar which was pointing at us like a gun just discharged.
He looked wise as Satan,
and you would say he was smiling inwardly.
I whispered to Davies.
(There was no need to talk in whispers,
but we did so instinctively.)
she's backing off,
and they've not landed.'
Some parcels and mail-bags had been thrown up,
and the weedy waiter and two market-women had gone up the gangway,
which was now being hauled up,
and were standing on the quay.
I think one or two other persons had first come aboard unnoticed by us,
but at the last moment a man we had not seen before jumped down to the forward deck.
we both ejaculated at once.
The steamer whistled sharply,
circled backwards into the road-stead,
and then steamed away.
The pier soon hid her,
but her smoke showed she was steering towards the North Sea.
'What does this mean?'
'There must be some other quay to stop at nearer the town,'
'Let's go ashore and get your letters.'
We had made a long and painful toilette that morning,
and felt quite shy of one another as we sculled towards the pier,
in much-creased blue suits,
and brown boots.
It was the first time for two years that I had seen Davies in anything approaching a respectable garb;
but a fashionable watering-place,
even in the dead season,
we had friends to visit.
We tied up the dinghy to an iron ladder,
and on the pier found our inquisitor of the night before smoking in the doorway of a shed marked
After some civilities we inquired about the steamer.
The answer was that it was Saturday,
and she had,
gone on to Juist.
Did we want a good hotel?
'Vier Jahreszeiten' was still open,
as we walked on.
'Why are those three going to Juist?'
'I should have thought it was pretty clear.
They're on their way to Memmert.'
and we both looked longingly westward at a straw-coloured streak on the sea.
'Is it some meeting,
do you think?'
'Looks like it.
We shall probably find the
And find her we did soon after,
the outermost of the stack of galliots,
on the farther side of the harbour.
whose faces we took a good look at,
were sitting on her hatch,
mending a sail.
Flooded with sun,
yet still as the grave,
the town was like a dead butterfly for whom the healing rays had come too late.
We crossed some deserted public gardens commanded by a gorgeous casino,
its porticos heaped with chairs and tables;
so past kiosques and -cafés,- great white hotels with boarded windows,
bazaars and booths,
and all the stale lees of vulgar frivolity,
to the post-office,
which at least was alive.
I received a packet of letters and purchased a local time-table,
from which we learned that the steamer sailed daily to Borkum -via- Norderney,
touching three times a week at Juist (weather permitting).
On the return journey to-day it was due at Norderney at 7.30 p.m. Then I inquired the way to the
'For whatever your principles,
'we are going to have the best breakfast money can buy!
We've got the whole day before us.'
'Four Seasons' Hotel was on the esplanade facing the northern beach.
Living up to its name,
it announced on an illuminated sign-board,
'Inclusive terms for winter visitors;
special attention to invalids,
Here in a great glass restaurant,
with the unruffled blue of ocean spread out before us,
we ate the king of breakfasts,
dismissed the waiter,
and over long and fragrant Havanas examined my mail at leisure.
'What a waste of good diplomacy!'
was my first thought,
for nothing had been tampered with,
so far as we could judge from the minutest scrutiny,
in particular to the franked official letters (for to my surprise there were two) from Whitehall.
The first in order of date (6th Oct.)
--Take another week by all means.
The second (marked
'urgent') had been sent to my home address and forwarded.
It was dated 15th October,
and cancelled the previous letter,
requesting me to return to London without delay --'I am sorry to abridge your holiday,
but we are very busy,
There was a dry postscript to the effect that another time I was to be good enough to leave more regular and definite information as to my whereabouts when absent.
'I'm afraid I never got this!'
handing it to Davies.
'You won't go,
with unconcealed awe at the great man's handwriting under the haughty official crest.
Meanwhile I discovered an endorsement on a corner of the envelope:
it's only the chief's fuss.
--M --' I promptly tore up the envelope.
There are domestic mysteries which it would be indecent and disloyal to reveal,
even to one's best friend.
The rest of my letters need no remark;
I smiled over some and blushed over others --all were voices from a life which was infinitely far away.
was deep in the foreign intelligence of a newspaper,
spelling it out line by line,
and referring impatiently to me for the meaning of words.
'same old game!
Hear that siren?'
A curtain of fog had grown on the northern horizon and was drawing shorewards slowly but surely.
'It doesn't matter,
we must get back to the yacht.
We can't leave her alone in the fog.'
There was some marketing to be done on the way back,
and in the course of looking for the shops we wanted we came on the Schwannallée and noted its position.
Before we reached the harbour the fog was on us,
charging up the streets in dense masses.
Happily a tramline led right up to the pier-head,
or we should have lost our way and wasted time,
in the event,
was of priceless value.
Presently we stumbled up against the Harbour Office,
which was our landmark for the steps where we had tied up the dinghy.
The same official appeared and good-naturedly held the painter while we handed in our parcels.
He wanted to know why we had left the flesh-pots of the
To look after our yacht,
There was no need,
there would be no traffic moving while the fog lasted,
and the fog,
having come on at that hour,
had come to stay.
If it did clear he would keep an eye on the yacht for us.
We thanked him,
but thought we would go aboard.
'You'll have a job to find her now,'
The distance was eighty yards at the most,
but we had to use a scientific method,
the same one,
that Davies had used last night in the approach to the eastern pier.
'Row straight out at right angles to the pier,'
he said now.
I did so,
Davies sounding with his scull between the strokes.
He found the bottom after twenty yards,
that being the width of the dredged-out channel at this point.
Then we turned to the right,
and moved gently forward,
keeping touch with the edge of the mud-bank (for all the world like blind men tapping along a kerbstone) and taking short excursions from it,
'Dulcibella' hove in view.
'That's partly luck,'
'we ought to have had the compass as well.'
We exchanged shouts with the man on the pier to show we had arrived.
[Illustration: Chart B of Juist,
and Part of Norderney]
'It's very good practice,
that sort of thing,'
when we had disembarked.
'You've got a sixth sense,'
'How far could you go like that?'
Let's have another try.
I can't sit still all day.
Let's explore this channel.'
'-Why not go to Memmert?'- I said,
that's an idea!'
I was joking.
it's ten mortal miles.'
'It's not so much the distance --what's the time?
quarter ebb --What am I talking about?
We made our plans last night.'
But seeing him,
to my amazement,
I was stung by the splendour of the idea I had awakened.
Confidence in his skill was second nature to me.
I swept straight on to the logic of the thing,
the completeness of the opportunity,
if by a miracle it could be seized and used.
Something was going on at Memmert to-day;
our men had gone there;
here were we,
ten miles away,
in a smothering,
It was known we were here --Dollmann and Grimm knew it;
the crew of the
'Medusa' knew it;
the crew of the
'Kormoran' knew it;
the man on the pier,
whether he cared or not,
But none of them knew Davies as I knew him.
Would anyone dream for an instant --?
'Stop a second,'
'give me two minutes.'
He whipped out the German chart.
'Where exactly should we go?'
The word tickled me hugely.)
'To the depot,
it's our only chance.'
'Listen then --there are two routes: the outside one by the open sea,
right round Juist,
and doubling south --the simplest,
but the longest;
the depot's at the south point of Memmert,
and Memmert's nearly two miles long.'
-[See Chart B]-
'How far would that way be?'
'Sixteen miles good.
And we should have to row in a breaking swell most of the way,
close to land.'
'Out of the question;
it's too public,
if it clears.
The steamer went that way,
and will come back that way.
We must go inside over the sands.
Am I dreaming,
Can you possibly find the way?'
'I shouldn't wonder.
But I don't believe you see the hitch.
It's the -time- and the falling tide.
High water was about 8.15: it's now 10.15,
and all those sands are drying off.
We must cross the See-Gat and strike that boomed channel,
the Memmert Balje;
freeze on to it --can't cut off an inch --and pass that "watershed" you see there before it's too late.
It's an infernally bad one,
I can see.
Not even a dinghy will cross it for an hour each side of low water.'
how far is the "watershed"?'
What are we talking for?
Talk while we're changing.'
(He began flinging off his shore clothes,
and I did the same.)
'It's at least five miles to the end of it;
allowing for bends;
hour and a half hard pulling;
allowing for checks.
Are you fit?
You'll have to pull the most.
Then there are six or seven more miles --easier ones.
And then --What are we to do when we get there?'
'Leave that to me,'
'You get me there.'
'Supposing it clears?'
'After we get there?
but we must risk that.
If it clears on the way there it doesn't matter by this route;
we shall be miles from land.'
'What about getting back?'
'We shall have a rising tide,
If the fog lasts --can you manage in a fog -and- dark?'
'The dark makes it no more difficult,
if we've a light to see the compass and chart by.
You trim the binnacle lamp --no,
Now give me the scissors,
and don't speak a word for ten minutes.
think it out,
and load the dinghy --(by Jove!
don't make a sound) --some grub and whisky,
grapnel and line.'
and the whistle too.'
'We're after ducks.'
And muffle the rowlocks with cotton-waste.'
I left Davies absorbed in the charts,
and softly went about my own functions.
In ten minutes he was on the ladder,
'Now -shall- we go?'
'I've thought it out.
This was only roughly true,
for I could not have stated in words all the pros and cons that I had balanced.
It was an impulse that drove me forward;
but an impulse founded on reason,
with just a tinge,
for the quest had begun in a fog and might fitly end in one.
It was twenty-five minutes to eleven when we noiselessly pushed off.
'Let her drift,'
'the ebb'll carry her past the pier.'
We slid by the
and she disappeared.
Then we sat without speech or movement for about five minutes,
while the gurgle of tide through piles approached and passed.
The dinghy appeared to be motionless,
just as a balloon in the clouds may appear to its occupants to be motionless,
though urged by a current of air.
In reality we were driving out of the Riff-Gat into the See-Gat.
The dinghy swayed to a light swell.
under his breath;
'keep it long and steady,
above all steady --both arms with equal force.'
I was on the bow-thwart;
he -vis-à-vis- to me on the stern seat,
his left hand behind him on the tiller,
his right forefinger on a small square of paper which lay on his knees;
this was a section cut out from the big German chart.
-[See Chart B]- On the midship-thwart between us lay the compass and a watch.
Between these three objects --compass,
and chart --his eyes darted constantly,
never looking up or out,
save occasionally for a sharp glance over the side at the flying bubbles,
to see if I was sustaining a regular speed.
My duty was to be his automaton,
the human equivalent of a marine engine whose revolutions can be counted and used as data by the navigator.
My arms must be regular as twin pistons;
the energy that drove them as controllable as steam.
It was a hard ideal to reach,
for the complex mortal tends to rely on all the senses God has given him,
so unfitting himself for mechanical exactitude when a sense (eyesight,
in my case) fails him.
At first it was constantly
'right' from Davies,
accompanied by a bubbling from the rudder.
'This won't do,
too much helm,'
without looking up.
'Keep your stroke,
but listen to me.
Can you see the compass card?'
'When I come forward.'
'Take your time,
and don't get flurried,
but each time you come forward have a good look at it.
The course is sou'-west half-west.
You take the opposite,
and keep her -stern- on that.
It'll be rough,
but it'll save some helm,
and give me a hand free if I want it.'
I did as he said,
not without effort,
and our progress gradually became smoother,
till he had no need to speak at all.
The only sound now was one like the gentle simmer of a saucepan away to port --the lisp of surf I knew it to be --and the muffled grunt of the rowlocks.
I broke the silence once to say
'It's very shallow.'
I had touched sand with my right scull.
About half an hour passed,
and then he added sounding to his other occupations.
'Plump' went the lead at regular intervals,
and he steered with his hip while pulling in the line.
Very little of it went out at first,
then less still.
Again I struck bottom,
Suddenly he got a deep cast,
and the dinghy,
freed from the slight drag which shallow water always inflicts on a small boat,
leapt buoyantly forward.
At the same time,
I knew by boils on the smooth surface that we were in a strong tideway.
'The Buse Tief,'
-[See Chart B]- muttered Davies.
'Row hard now,
and steady as a clock.'
For a hundred yards or more I bent to my sculls and made her fly.
Davies was getting six fathom casts,
just as suddenly as it had deepened,
the water shoaled --ten feet,
one --the dinghy grounded.
'Back her off!
Pull your right only.'
The dinghy spun round with her bow to N.N.W.
'Both arms together!
Don't you worry about the compass now;
and listen for orders.
There's a tricky bit coming.'
He put aside the chart,
kicked the lead under the seat,
kneeling on the dripping coils of line,
sounded continuously with the butt-end of the boat-hook,
a stumpy little implement,
notched at intervals of a foot,
and often before used for the same purpose.
All at once I was aware that a check had come,
for the dinghy swerved and doubled like a hound ranging after scent.
'and throw out the grapnel.'
I obeyed and we brought up,
swinging to a slight current,
whose direction Davies verified by the compass.
Then for half a minute he gave himself up to concentrated thought.
What struck me most about him was that he never for a moment strained his eyes through the fog;
a useless exercise (for five yards or so was the radius of our vision) which,
I could not help indulging in,
while I rested.
He made up his mind,
and we were off again,
straight and swift as an arrow this time,
and in water deeper than the boat-hook.
I could see by his face that he was taking some bold expedient whose issue hung in the balance ...
Again we touched mud,
and the artist's joy of achievement shone in his eyes.
we headed west,
and for the first time he began to gaze into the fog.
he snapped at last.
one of the usual upright saplings,
glided out of the mist.
He caught hold of it,
and we brought up.
'Rest for three minutes now,'
'We're in fairly good time.'
It was 11.10.
I ate some biscuits and took a nip of whisky while Davies prepared for the next stage.
We had reached the eastern outlet of Memmert Balje,
the channel which runs east and west behind Juist Island,
direct to the south point of Memmert.
How we had reached it was incomprehensible to me at the time,
but the reader will understand by comparing my narrative with the dotted line on the chart.
I add this brief explanation,
that Davies's method had been to cross the channel called the Buse Tief,
and strike the other side of it at a point well -south- of the outlet of the Memmert Balje (in view of the northward set of the ebb-tide),
and then to drop back north and feel his way to the outlet.
The check was caused by a deep indentation in the Itzendorf Flat;
a -cul-de-sac,- with a wide mouth,
which Davies was very near mistaking for the Balje itself.
We had no time to skirt dents so deep as that;
hence the dash across its mouth with the chance of missing the upper lip altogether,
and of either being carried out to sea (for the slightest error was cumulative) or straying fruitlessly along the edge.
The next three miles were the most critical of all.
They included the
whose length and depth were doubtful;
the crux of the whole passage,
a spot where the channel forks,
our own branch continuing west,
and another branch diverging from it north-westward.
We must row against time,
and yet we must negotiate that crux.
Add to this that the current was against us till the watershed was crossed;
that the tide was just at its most baffling stage,
too low to allow us to risk short cuts,
and too high to give definition to the banks of the channel;
and that the compass was no aid whatever for the minor bends.
and on we went.
I was hugging the comfortable thought that we should now have booms on our starboard for the whole distance;
on our starboard,
for experience had taught us that all channels running parallel with the coast and islands were uniformly boomed on the northern side.
Anyone less confident than Davies would have succumbed to the temptation of slavishly relying on these marks,
creeping from one to the other,
and wasting precious time.
But Davies knew our friend the
'boom' and his eccentricities too well;
and preferred to trust to his sense of touch,
which no fog in the world could impair.
If we happened to sight one,
well and good,
we should know which side of the channel we were on.
But even this contingent advantage he deliberately sacrificed after a short distance,
for he crossed over to the -south- or unboomed side and steered and sounded along it,
using the ltzendorf Flat as his handrail,
so to speak.
He was compelled to do this,
he told me afterwards,
in view of the crux,
where the converging lines of booms would have involved us in irremediable confusion.
Our branch was the southern one,
and it followed that we must use the southern bank,
and defer obtaining any help from booms until sure we were past that critical spot.
For an hour we were at the extreme strain,
I of physical exertion,
he of mental.
I could not get into a steady swing,
for little checks were constant.
My right scull was for ever skidding on mud or weeds,
and the backward suck of shoal water clogged our progress.
Once we were both of us out in the slime tugging at the dinghy's sides;
then in again,
I found the fog bemusing,
lost all idea of time and space,
and felt like a senseless marionette kicking and jerking to a mad music without tune or time.
The misty form of Davies as he sat with his right arm swinging rhythmically forward and back,
was a clockwork figure as mad as myself,
but didactic and gibbering in his madness.
Then the boat-hook he wielded with a circular sweep began to take grotesque shapes in my heated fancy;
now it was the antenna of a groping insect,
now the crank of a cripple's self-propelled perambulator,
now the alpenstock of a lunatic mountaineer,
who sits in his chair and climbs and climbs to some phantom
At the back of such mind as was left me lodged two insistent thoughts:
'we must hurry on,'
'we are going wrong.'
As to the latter,
take a link-boy through a London fog and you will experience the same thing: he always goes the way you think is wrong.
'We're rowing -back-!'
I remember shouting to Davies once,
having become aware that it was now my left scull which splashed against obstructions.
'I've crossed over';
and I relapsed.
By degrees I returned to sanity,
thanks to improved conditions.
It is an ill wind that blows nobody good,
and the state of the tide,
though it threatened us with total failure,
had the compensating advantage that the lower it fell the more constricted and defined became our channel;
till the time came when the compass and boat-hook were alike unnecessary,
because our hand-rail,
the muddy brink of the channel,
was visible to the eye,
close to us;
on our right hand always now,
for the crux was far behind,
and the northern side was now our guide.
All that remained was to press on with might and main ere the bed of the creek dried.
What a race it was!
a struggle of men with gods,
for what were the gods but forces of nature personified?
If the God of the Falling Tide did not figure in the Olympian circle he is none the less a mighty divinity.
Davies left his post,
and rowed stroke.
Under our united efforts the dinghy advanced in strenuous leaps,
hurling miniature-rollers on the bank beside us.
seasoned as they were,
were smarting with watery blisters.
The pace was too hot for my strength and breath.
'I must have a rest,'
I think we're over it,'
We stopped the dinghy dead,
and he stabbed over the side with the boat-hook.
It passed gently astern of us,
and even my bewildered brain took in the meaning of that.
'Three feet and the current with us.
-Well- over it,'
'I'll paddle on while you rest and feed.'
It was a few minutes past one and we still,
as he calculated,
had eight miles before us,
allowing for bends.
'But it's a mere question of muscle,'
I took his word for it,
and munched at tongue and biscuits.
As for muscle,
we were both in hard condition.
He was fresh,
and what distress I felt was mainly due to spasmodic exertion culminating in that desperate spurt.
As for the fog,
it had more than once shown a faint tendency to lift,
growing thinner and more luminous,
in the manner of fogs,
always to settle down again,
heavy as a quilt.
Note the spot marked
'second rest' (approximately correct,
Davies says) and the course of the channel from that point westward.
You will see it broadening and deepening to the dimensions of a great river,
and finally merging in the estuary of the Ems.
that its northern boundary,
the edge of the now uncovered Nordland Sand,
with one interruption -(marked A),- direct to Memmert,
and is boomed throughout.
You will then understand why Davies made so light of the rest of his problem.
Compared with the feats he had performed,
it was child's play,
for he always had that visible margin to keep touch with if he chose,
or to return to in case of doubt.
As a matter of fact --observe our dotted line --he made two daring departures from it,
the first purely to save time,
the second partly to save time and partly to avoid the very awkward spot marked A,
where a creek with booms and a little delta of its own interrupts the even bank.
During the first of these departures --the shortest but most brilliant --he let me do the rowing,
and devoted himself to the niceties of the course;
during the second,
and through both the intermediate stages,
he rowed himself,
with occasional pauses to inspect the chart.
We fell into a long,
and covered the miles rapidly,
scarcely exchanging a single word till,
at the end of a long pull through vacancy,
Davies said suddenly:
'Now where are we to land?'
A sandbank was looming over us crowned by a lonely boom.
'Where are we?'
'A quarter of a mile from Memmert.'
'What time is it?'
HIS -tour de force- was achieved,
and for the moment something like collapse set in.
'What in the world have we come here for?'
'I feel a bit giddy.'
I made him drink some whisky,
which revived him;
speaking in whispers,
we settled certain points.
I alone was to land.
Davies demurred to this out of loyalty,
but common sense,
coinciding with a strong aversion of his own,
settled the matter.
Two were more liable to detection than one.
I spoke the language well,
and if challenged could cover my retreat with a gruff word or two;
in my woollen overalls,
with a sou'-wester pulled well over my eyes,
I should pass in a fog for a Frisian.
Davies must mind the dinghy;
but how was I to regain it?
I hoped to do so without help,
by using the edge of the sand;
but if he heard a long whistle he was to blow the foghorn.
'Take the pocket-compass,'
'Never budge from the shore without using it,
and lay it on the ground for steadiness.
Take this scrap of chart,
too --it may come in useful;
but you can t miss the depot,
it looks to be close to the shore.
How long will you be'?'
'How long have I got'?'
'The young flood's making --has been for nearly an hour --that bank (he measured it with his eye) will be covering in an hour and a half.'
'That ought to be enough.'
'Don't run it too fine.
It's steep here,
but it may shelve farther on.
If you have to wade you'll never find me,
and you'll make a deuce of a row.
Got your watch,
never go anywhere without a knife.'
(It was his seaman's idea of efficiency.)
'Wait a bit,
we must settle a place to meet at in case I'm late and can't reach you here.'
'-Don't- be late.
We've got to get back to the yacht before we're missed.'
'But I may have to hide and wait till dark --the fog may clear.'
'We were fools to come,
'There -are- no meeting-places in a place like this.
Here's the best I can see on the chart --a big triangular beacon marked on the very point of Memmert.
You'll pass it.'
I stepped out,
climbed a miry glacis of five or six feet,
reached hard wet sand,
and strode away with the sluggish ripple of the Balje on my left hand.
A curtain dropped between me and Davies,
and I was alone --alone,
but how I thrilled to feel the firm sand rustle under my boots;
to know that it led to dry land,
I could give my wits full play.
I clove the fog briskly.
what was that?
I stopped short and listened.
From over the water on my left there rang out,
dulled by fog,
but distinct to the ear,
three double strokes on a bell or gong.
I looked at my watch.
'Ship at anchor,'
I said to myself.
'Six bells in the afternoon watch.'
I knew the Balje was here a deep roadstead,
where a vessel entering the Eastern Ems might very well anchor to ride out a fog.
I was just stepping forward when another sound followed from the same quarter,
a bugle-call this time.
Then I understood --only men-of-war sound bugles --the Blitz was here then;
and very natural,
and strode on.
The sand was growing drier,
the water farther beneath me;
then came a thin black ribbon of weed --high-water mark.
A few cautious steps to the right and I touched tufts of marram grass.
It was Memmert.
I pulled out the chart and refreshed my memory.
there could be no mistake;
keep the sea on my left and I must go right.
I followed the ribbon of weed,
keeping it just in view,
but walking on the verge of the grass for the sake of silence.
All at once I almost tripped over a massive iron bar;
a rusty network of them,
grew into being above and around me,
like the arms of a ghostly polyp.
'What infernal spider's web is this?'
and stumbled clear.
I had strayed into the base of a gigantic tripod,
its gaunt legs stayed and cross-stayed,
its apex lost in fog;
A hundred yards farther and I was down on my knees again,
listening with might and main;
for several little sounds were in the air --voices,
the rasp of a boat's keel,
the whistling of a tune.
These were straight ahead.
More to the left,
I had aural evidence of the presence of a steamboat --a small one,
for the hiss of escaping steam was low down.
On my right front I as yet heard nothing,
but the depot must be there.
I prepared to strike away from my base,
and laid the compass on the ground --NW.
roughly I made the course.
('South-east --south-east for coming back,'
I repeated inwardly,
like a child learning a lesson.)
Then of my two allies I abandoned one,
and threw myself wholly on the fog.
'Play the game,'
I said to myself.
'Nobody expects you;
nobody will recognize you.'
I advanced in rapid stages of ten yards or so,
while grass disappeared and soft sand took its place,
pitted everywhere with footmarks.
I trod carefully,
for obstructions began to show themselves --an anchor,
a heap of rusty cable;
then a boat bottom upwards,
lying on it,
a foul old meerschaum pipe.
I paused here and strained my ears,
for there were sounds in many directions;
the same whistling (behind me now),
heavy footsteps in front,
and somewhere beyond --fifty yards away,
I reckoned --a buzz of guttural conversation;
from the same quarter there drifted to my nostrils the acrid odour of coarse tobacco.
Then a door banged.
I put the compass in my pocket (thinking
placed the pipe between my teeth (ugh!
the rank savour of it!) rammed my sou'-wester hard down,
and slouched on in the direction of the door that had banged.
A voice in front called,
a nearer voice,
that of the man whose footsteps I had heard approaching,
took it up and called
'Karl Schicker': I,
took it up,
turning my back,
'Karl Schicker' as gruffly and gutturally as I could.
The footsteps passed quite close to me,
and glancing over my shoulder I saw a young man passing,
dressed very like me,
but wearing a sealskin cap instead of a sou'-wester.
As he walked he seemed to be counting coins in his palm.
A hail came back from the beach and the whistling stopped.
I now became aware that I was on a beaten track.
These meetings were hazardous,
so I inclined aside,
but not without misgivings,
for the path led towards the buzz of talk and the banging door,
and these were my only guides to the depot.
and much before I expected it,
I knew rather than saw that a wall was in front of me;
now it was visible,
the side of a low building of corrugated iron.
A pause to reconnoitre was absolutely necessary;
but the knot of talkers might have heard my footsteps,
and I must at all costs not suggest the groping of a stranger.
I lit a match --two --and sucked heavily (as I had seen navvies do) at my pipe,
studying the trend of the wall by reference to the sounds.
There was a stale dottle wedged in the bowl,
and loathsome fumes resulted.
Just then the same door banged again;
which I forget,
was called out.
I decided that I was at the end of a rectangular building which I pictured as like an Aldershot
and that the door I heard was round the corner to my left.
A knot of men must be gathered there,
entering it by turns.
Having expectorated noisily,
I followed the tin wall to my -right,- and turning a corner strolled leisurely on,
passing signs of domesticity,
then a tiled approach to an open door.
I now was aware of the corner of a second building,
also of zinc,
parallel to the first,
for I could only just see the eave.
I was just going to turn off to this as a more promising field for exploration,
when I heard a window open ahead of me in my original building.
I am afraid I am getting obscure,
so I append a rough sketch of the scene,
as I partly saw and chiefly imagined it.
It was window (A) that I heard open.
From it I could just distinguish through the fog a hand protrude,
and throw something out --cigar-end?
a clean one with a gold signet-ring,
rested for an instant afterwards on the sash,
and then closed the window.
[Illustration: Sketch --Memmert Salvage Depot.}
My geography was clear now in one respect.
That window belonged to the same room as the banging door (B);
for I distinctly heard the latter open and shut again,
opposite me on the other side of the building.
It struck me that it might be interesting to see into that room.
'Play the game,'
I reminded myself,
and retreated a few yards back on tiptoe,
then turned and sauntered coolly past the window,
puffing my villainous pipe and taking a long deliberate look into the interior as I passed --the more deliberate that at the first instant I realized that nobody inside was disturbing himself about me.
As I had expected (in view of the fog and the time) there was artificial light within.
My mental photograph was as follows: a small room with varnished deal walls and furnished like an office;
in the far right-hand corner a counting-house desk,
Grimm sitting at it on a high stool,
side-face to me,
opposite him in an awkward attitude a burly fellow in seaman's dress holding a diver's helmet.
In the middle of the room a deal table,
and on it something big and black.
Lolling on chairs near it,
their backs to me and their faces turned towards the desk and the diver,
two men --von Brüning and an older man with a bald yellow head (Dollmann's companion on the steamer,
beyond a doubt).
On another chair,
with its back actually tilted against the window,
Such were the principal features of the scene;
for details I had to make another inspection.
I crept back,
quiet as a cat,
till I was beneath the window,
as I calculated,
directly behind Dollmann's chair.
Then with great caution I raised my head.
There was only one pair of eyes in the room that I feared in the least,
and that was Grimm's,
who sat in profile to me,
I instantly put Dollmann's back between Grimm and me,
and then made my scrutiny.
As I made it,
I could feel a cold sweat distilling on my forehead and tickling my spine;
not from fear or excitement,
but from pure ignominy.
For beyond all doubt I was present at the meeting of a -bona-fide- salvage company.
It was pay-day,
and the directors appeared to be taking stock of work done;
that was all.
Over the door was an old engraving of a two-decker under full sail;
pinned on the wall a chart and the plan of a ship.
Relics of the wrecked frigate abounded.
On a shelf above the stove was a small pyramid of encrusted cannon-balls,
and supported on nails at odd places on the walls were corroded old pistols,
and what I took to be the remains of a sextant.
In a corner of the floor sat a hoary little carronade,
carriage and all.
None of these things affected me so much as a pile of lumber on the floor,
not firewood but unmistakable wreck-wood,
black as bog-oak,
still caked in places with the mud of ages.
Nor was it the mere sight of this lumber that dumbfounded me.
It was the fact that a fragment of it,
a balk of curved timber garnished with some massive bolts,
lay on the table,
and was evidently an object of earnest interest.
The diver had turned and was arguing with gestures over it;
von Brüning and Grimm were pressing another view.
The diver shook his head frequently,
finally shrugged his shoulders,
made a salutation,
and left the room.
Their movements had kept me ducking my head pretty frequently,
but I now grew almost reckless as to whether I was seen or not.
All the weaknesses of my theory crowded on me --the arguments Davies had used at Bensersiel;
Fräulein Dollmann's thoughtless talk;
the ease (comparatively) with which I had reached this spot,
not a barrier to cross or a lock to force;
the publicity of their passage to Memmert by Dollmann,
and now this glimpse of business-like routine.
In a few moments I sank from depth to depth of scepticism.
Where were my mines,
and submarine boats,
and where my imperial conspirators?
Was gold after all at the bottom of this sordid mystery?
Dollmann after all a commonplace criminal?
The ladder of proof I had mounted tottered and shook beneath me.
'Don't be a fool,'
said the faint voice of reason.
'There are your four men.
Two more -employés- came into the room in quick succession and received wages;
one looking like a fireman,
the other of a superior type,
the skipper of a tug,
There was another discussion with this latter over the balk of wreck-wood,
and this man,
shrugged his shoulders.
His departure appeared to end the meeting.
Grimm shut up a ledger,
and I shrank down on my knees,
for a general shifting of chairs began.
At the same time,
from the other side of the building,
I heard my knot of men retreating beachwards,
spitting and chatting as they went.
Presently someone walked across the room towards my window.
I sidled away on all fours,
rose and flattened myself erect against the wall,
a sickening despondency on me;
my intention to slink away south-east as soon as the coast was clear.
But the sound that came next pricked me like an electric shock;
it was the tinkle and scrape of curtain-rings.
Quick as thought I was back in my old position,
to find my view barred by a cretonne curtain.
It was in one piece,
with no chink for my benefit,
but it did not hang straight,
bulging towards me under the pressure of something --human shoulders by the shape.
was still in his old place.
I now was exasperated to find that I could scarcely hear a word that was said,
not even by pressing my ear against the glass.
It was not that the speakers were of set purpose hushing their voices --they used an ordinary tone for intimate discussion --but the glass and curtain deadened the actual words.
I was soon able to distinguish general characteristics.
Von Brüning's voice --the only one I had ever heard before --I recognized at once: he was on the left of the table,
and Dollmann's I knew from his position.
The third was a harsh croak,
belonging to the old gentleman whom,
I shall prematurely begin to call Herr Böhme.
It was too old a voice to be Grimm's;
it had the ring of authority,
and was dealing at the moment in sharp interrogations.
Three of its sentences I caught in their entirety.
'When was that?'
'They went no farther?'
out of the question.'
though nearest to me,
was the least audible of all.
It was a dogged monotone,
and what was that odd movement of the curtain at his back?
his hands were behind him clutching and kneading a fold of the cretonne.
'You are feeling uncomfortable,
was my comment.
Suddenly he threw back his head --I saw the dent of it --and spoke up so that I could not miss a word.
you shall see them at supper to-night;
I will ask them both.'
(You will not be surprised to learn that I instantly looked at my watch --though it takes long to write what I have described --but the time was only a quarter to four.)
He added something about the fog,
and his chair creaked.
Ducking promptly I heard the curtain-rings jar,
'Thick as ever.'
Dollmann left the window and moved his chair up to the table;
the other two drew in theirs and settled themselves.
'-Chatham,'- said Dollmann,
as if announcing a heading.
It was an easy word to catch,
rapped out sharp,
and you can imagine how it startled me.
'That's where you've been for the last month!'
I said to myself.
A map crackled and I knew they were bending over it,
while Dollmann explained something.
But now my exasperation became acute,
for not a syllable more reached me.
Squatting back on my heels,
I cast about for expedients.
Should I steal round and try the door?
Climb to the roof and listen down the stove-pipe?
and generally hopeless.
I tried for a downward purchase on the upper half of the window,
which was of the simple sort in two sections,
it resisted gentle pressure,
would start with a sudden jar if I forced it.
I pulled out Davies's knife and worked the point of the blade between sash and frame to give it play --no result;
but the knife was a nautical one,
with a marlin-spike as well as a big blade.
Just now the door within opened and shut again,
and I heard steps approaching round the corner to my right.
I had the presence of mind not to lose a moment,
but moved silently away (blessing the deep Frisian sand) round the corner of the big parallel building.
Someone whom I could not see walked past till his boots clattered on tiles,
next resounded on boards.
'Grimm in his living-room,'
The precious minutes ebbed away --five,
Had he gone for good?
I dared not return otherwise.
Eighteen --he was coming out!
This time I stole forward boldly when the man had just passed,
dimly saw a figure,
and clearly enough the glint of a white paper he was holding.
He made his circuit and re-entered the room.
Here I felt and conquered a relapse to scepticism.
'If this is an important conclave why don't they set guards?'
the only possible one,
'Because they stand alone.
Their -employés,- like -everyone- we had met hitherto,
The real object of this salvage company (a poor speculation,
I opined) is solely to afford a pretext for the conclave.'
'Why the curtain,
'Because there are maps,
I was back again at the window,
but as impotent as ever against that even stream of low confidential talk.
But I would not give up.
Fate and the fog had brought me here,
the one solitary soul perhaps who by the chain of circumstances had both the will and the opportunity to wrest their secret from these four men.
Where the lower half of the window met the sill it sank into a shallow groove.
I thrust the point of the spike down into the interstice between sash and frame and heaved with a slowly increasing force,
which I could regulate to the fraction of an ounce,
on this powerful lever.
The sash gave,
with the faintest possible protest,
and by imperceptible degrees I lifted it to the top of the groove,
and the least bit above it,
say half an inch in all;
but it made an appreciable difference to the sounds within,
as when you remove your foot from a piano's soft pedal.
I could do no more,
for there was no further fulcrum for the spike,
and I dared not gamble away what I had won by using my hands.
Hope sank again when I placed my cheek on the damp sill,
and my ear to the chink.
My men were close round the table referring to papers which I heard rustle.
'report' was evidently over,
and I rarely heard his voice;
von Brüning's and Böhme's frequently;
it was the latter only that I could ever count on for an intelligible word.
the villains of the piece plotted without any regard to dramatic fitness or to my interests.
Immersed in a subject with which they were all familiar,
they were allusive,
and persistently technical.
Many of the words I did catch were unknown to me.
The rest were,
for the most part,
either letters of the alphabet or statistical figures,
once or twice,
The letters of the alphabet recurred often,
as far as I could make out,
to represent the key to the cipher.
The numbers clustering round them were mostly very small,
What maddened me most was the scarcity of plain nouns.
To report what I heard to the reader would be impossible;
so chaotic was most of it that it left no impression on my own memory.
All I can do is to tell him what fragments stuck,
and what nebulous classification I involved.
The letters ran from A to G,
and my best continuous chance came when Böhme,
reading rapidly from a paper,
went through the letters,
adding remarks to each;
'F ...bad ...1.3 (metres?) ...2.5 (kilometres?).'
'E ...thirty-two ...1.2.'
'D ...3 weeks ...thirty.'
and so on.
Another time he went through this list again,
only naming each letter himself,
and receiving laconic answers from Grimm --answers which seemed to be numbers,
but I could not be sure.
For minutes together I caught nothing but the scratching of pens and inarticulate mutterings.
But out of the muck-heap I picked five pearls --four sibilant nouns and a name that I knew before.
The nouns were
'Wassertiefe' (depth of water);
also sibilant and thus easier to hear,
Two or three times I had to stand back and ease my cramped neck,
and on each occasion I looked at my watch,
for I was listening against time,
just as we had rowed against time.
We were going to be asked to supper,
and must be back aboard the yacht in time to receive the invitation.
The fog still brooded heavily and the light,
was growing worse.
How would -they- get back?
How had they come from Juist?
Could we forestall them?
Questions of time,
distance --just the odious sort of sums I was unfit to cope with --were distracting my attention when it should have been wholly elsewhere.
4.20 --4.25 --now it was past 4.30 when Davies said the bank would cover.
I should have to make for the beacon;
but it was fatally near that steamboat path,
and I still at intervals heard voices from there.
It must have been about 4.35 when there was another shifting of chairs within.
Then someone rose,
and went out;
-without- rising (therefore Grimm),
There was silence in the room for a minute,
and after that,
for the first time,
I heard some plain colloquial German,
with no accompaniment of scratching or rustling.
'I must wait for this,'
'He insists on coming,'
(an ejaculation of surprise and protest from von Brüning).
'I said the -25th-.'
'The tide serves well.
Tell Grimm to be ready --' (An inaudible question from von Brüning.)
A laugh from von Brüning and some words I could not catch.
with half a load.'
'At the station.'
'So --how's the fog?'
This appeared to be really the end.
Both men rose and steps came towards the window.
I leapt aside as I heard it thrown up,
and covered by the noise backed into safety.
Von Brüning called
and the open window,
decided me that my line of advance was now too dangerous to retreat by.
The only alternative was to make a circuit round the bigger of the two buildings --and an interminable circuit it seemed --and all the while I knew my compass-course
'south-east' was growing nugatory.
I passed a padlocked door,
and faced the void of fog.
Out came the compass,
and I steadied myself for the sum.
'South-east before --I'm farther to the eastward now --east will about do';
and off I went,
with an error of four whole points,
over tussocks and deep sand.
The beach seemed much farther off than I had thought,
and I began to get alarmed,
puzzled over the compass several times,
and finally realized that I had lost my way.
I had the sense not to make matters worse by trying to find it again,
as the lesser of two evils,
blew my whistle,
softly at first,
The bray of a foghorn sounded right -behind- me.
I whistled again and then ran for my life,
the horn sounding at intervals.
In three or four minutes I was on the beach and in the dinghy.
A Change of Tactics
WE pushed off without a word,
and paddled out of sight of the beach.
A voice was approaching,
'pretend we're a galliot.'
'where am I?'
'Where are you bound?'
A sentence ending with
'anchor' was returned.
'The flood's tearing east,'
We heard no more,
after a few minutes' drifting
'One or two clues,
and an invitation to supper.'
The clues I left till later;
the invitation was the thing,
and I explained its urgency.
'How will -they- get back?'
'if the fog lasts the steamer's sure to be late.'
'We can count for nothing,'
'There was some little steamboat off the depot,
and the fog may lift.
Which is our quickest way?'
'At this tide,
a bee-line to Norderney by compass;
we shall have water over all the banks.'
He had all his preparations made,
the lamp lit in advance,
the compass in position,
and we started at once;
he at the bow-oar,
where he had better control over the boat's nose;
lamp and compass on the floor between us.
Twilight thickened into darkness --a choking,
pasty darkness --and still we sped unfalteringly over that trackless waste,
sitting and swinging in our little pool of stifled orange light.
To drown fatigue and suspense I conned over my clues,
and tried to carve into my memory every fugitive word I had overheard.
'What are there seven of round here?'
I called back to Davies once (thinking of A to G).
for no answer came.
'I see a star,'
was my next word,
after a long interval.
'Now it's gone.
There it is again!
'That's Borkum light,'
'the fog's lifting.'
A keen wind from the west struck our faces,
and as swiftly as it had come the fog rolled away from us,
in one mighty mass,
stripping clean and pure the starry dome of heaven,
still bright with the western after-glow,
and beginning to redden in the east to the rising moon.
Norderney light was flashing ahead,
and Davies could take his tired eyes from the pool of light.
was all he uttered in the way of gratitude for this mercy,
and I felt very much the same;
for in a fog Davies in a dinghy was a match for a steamer;
in a clear he lost his handicap.
It was a quarter to seven.
'An hour'll do it,
if we buck up,'
after taking a rough bearing with the two lights.
He pointed out a star to me,
which we were to keep exactly astern,
and again I applied to their labour my aching back and smarting palms.
'What did you say about seven of something?'
'What are there seven of hereabouts?'
'Is that the clue?'
Then followed the most singular of all our confabulations.
Two memories are better than one,
and the sooner I carved the cipher into his memory as well as mine the better record we should have.
with rigid economy of breath,
I snapped out all my story,
and answered his breathless questions.
It saved me from being mesmerized by the star,
and both of us from the consciousness of over-fatigue.
'Spying at Chatham,
'What do you make of it?'
'Nothing about battleships,
'Nothing about the Ems,
'Nothing about transports?'
'I believe --I was right --after all --something to do --with the channels --behind islands.'
And so that outworn creed took a new lease of life;
though for my part the words that clashed with it were those that had sunk the deepest.
'that town behind Bensersiel.'
and so on.
I should earn the just execration of the reader if I continued to report such a dialogue.
Suffice to say that we realized very soon that the substance of the plot was still a riddle.
On the other hand,
there was fresh scent,
abundance of it;
and the question was already taking shape --were we to follow it up or revert to last night's decision and strike with what weapons we had?
It was a pressing question,
the last of many --was there to be no end to the emergencies of this crowded day?
--pressing for reasons I could not define,
while convinced that we must be ready with an answer by supper-time to-night.
we were nearing Norderney;
the See-Gat was crossed,
and with the last of the flood tide fair beneath us,
and the red light on the west pier burning ahead,
we began insensibly to relax our efforts.
But I dared not rest,
for I was at that point of exhaustion when mechanical movement was my only hope.
'Two --white and red.'
'going south though.'
A neat triangle of gems --topaz,
and emerald --hung steady behind us.
'Buck up --steamer from Juist.
What is it?'
On we laboured,
while the gems waxed in brilliancy as the steamer overhauled us.
'I seem to know those lights --the Blitz's launch --don't let's be caught rowing like madmen in a muck sweat.
Paddle inshore a bit.'
He was right,
as in a dream,
I saw hurrying and palpitating up the same little pinnace that had towed us out of Bensersiel.
'We're done for now,'
I remember thinking,
for the guilt of the runaway was strong in me;
and an old remark of von Brüning's about
'police' was in my ears.
But she was level with and past us before I could sink far into despair.
'Three of them behind the hood,'
'what are we to do?'
and essayed a feeble stroke,
but the blade scuttered over the surface.
'Let's wait about for a bit,'
'We're late anyhow.
If they go to the yacht they'll think we're ashore.'
'Our shore clothes --lying about.'
'Are you up to talking?'
but we must.
The least suspicion'll do for us now.'
'Give me your scull,
and put on your coat.'
He extinguished the lantern,
lit a pipe,
and then rowed slowly on,
while I sat on a slack heap in the stern and devoted my last resources of will to the emancipation of the spirit from the tired flesh.
In ten minutes or so we were rounding the pier,
and there was the yacht's top-mast against the sky.
that the launch was alongside of her,
and told Davies so.
Then I lit a cigarette,
and made a lamentable effort to whistle.
Davies followed suit,
and emitted a strange melody which I took to be
but he has not the slightest ear for music.
they're on board,
'the cabin's lighted.
I shouted as we came up.
said a sailor,
who was fending off the yacht with a boat-hook.
'It's Commander von Brüning's launch.
I think the gentlemen want to see you.'
Before we could answer,
an exclamation of:
here they are!'
came from the deck of the
and the dim form of von Brüning him self emerged from the companion-way.
There was something of a scuffle down below,
which the commander nearly succeeded in drowning by the breeziness of his greeting.
the ladder creaked under fresh weight,
and Dollmann appeared.
'Is that you,
'how are you?'
I must explain that we had floated up between the yacht and the launch,
whose sailors had passed her a little aside in order to give us room.
Her starboard side-light was just behind and above us,
pouring its green rays obliquely over the deck of the
while we and the dinghy were in deep shadow between.
The most studied calculation could not have secured us more favourable conditions for a moment which I had always dreaded --the meeting of Davies and Dollmann.
having shortened his sculls,
just sat where he was,
half turned towards the yacht and looking up at his enemy.
No lineament of his own face could have been visible to the latter,
while those pitiless green rays --you know their ravaging effect on the human physiognomy --struck full on Dollmann's face.
It was my first fair view of it at close quarters,
secure in my background of gloom,
I feasted with a luxury of superstitious abhorrence on the livid smiling mask that for a few moments stooped peering down towards Davies.
One of the caprices of the crude light was to obliterate,
or at any rate so penetrate,
beard and moustache,
as to reveal in outline lips and chin,
the features in which defects of character are most surely betrayed,
especially when your victim smiles.
if you will,
of stooping to melodramatic embroidery;
object that my own prejudiced fancy contributed to the result;
but I can,
never efface the impression of malignant perfidy and base passion,
exaggerated to caricature,
that I received in those few instants.
Another caprice of the light was to identify the man with the portrait of him when younger and clean-shaven,
in the frontispiece of his own book;
and another still,
the most repulsively whimsical of all,
was to call forth a strong resemblance to the sweet young girl who had been with us yesterday.
I shall never offend again in this way.
In reality I am much more inclined to laugh than shudder over this meeting;
for meanwhile the third of our self-invited guests had with stertorous puffing risen to the stage,
for all the world like a demon out of a trap-door,
specially when he entered the zone of that unearthly light.
And there they stood in a row,
like delinquents at judgement,
the true culprits,
had only passively to accept explanations.
Of course these were plausible enough.
Dollmann having seen the yacht in port that morning had called on his return from Memmert to ask us to supper.
Finding no one aboard,
and concluding we were ashore,
he had meant to leave a note for Davies in the cabin.
-'the distinguished engineer',- was anxious to see over the little vessel that had come so far,
and he knew that Davies would not mind the intrusion.
Not at all,
would not they stop and have drinks?
but would we come to supper at Dollmann's villa?
but we had to change first.
Up to this point we had been masters of the situation;
but here von Brüning,
who alone of the three appeared to be entirely at his ease,
made the -retour offensif-.
'Where have you been?'
rowing about since the fog cleared,'
I suppose he thought that evasion would pass muster,
but as he spoke,
I noticed to my horror that a stray beam of light was playing on the bunch of white cotton-waste that adorned one of the rowlocks: for we had forgotten to remove these tell-tale appendages.
So I added:
'After ducks again';
lifting one of the guns,
let the light flash on its barrel.
To my own ears my voice sounded husky and distant.
laughed von Brüning.
'but it ought to be a good time after sunset --'
with a rising tide and the banks covered?'
'We saw some,'
'I tell you what,
my zealous young sportsmen,
you're rash to leave your boat at anchor here after dark without a light.
I came aboard to find your lamp and set it.'
'we took it with us.'
'To see to shoot by?'
We laughed uncomfortably,
and Davies compassed a wonderful German phrase to the effect that
'it might come in useful'.
Happily the matter went no farther,
for the position was a strained one at the best,
and would not bear lengthening.
The launch went alongside,
and the invaders evacuated British soil,
for all von Brüning's flippant nonchalance,
a rather crestfallen party.
So much so,
acute as was my anxiety,
I took courage to whisper to Davies,
while the transhipment of Herr Böhme was proceeding:
'Ask Dollmann to stay while we dress.'
'won't you stay on board with us while we dress?
There's a lot to tell you,
and --and we can follow on with you when we're ready.'
Dollmann had not yet stepped into the launch.
but there followed an ominous silence,
broken by von Brüning.
and let them alone,'
he said brusquely.
'You'll be horribly in the way down there,
and we shall never get any supper if you keep them yarning.'
'And it's now a quarter-past eight o'clock,'
grumbled Herr Böhme from his corner behind the hood.
and excused himself,
and the launch steamed away.
'I think I twig,'
as he helped,
'Rather risky though --eh?'
'I knew they'd object --only wanted to make sure.'
The cabin was just as we had left it,
our shore clothes lying in disorder on the bunks,
a locker or two half open.
I wonder what they did down here,'
For my part I went straight to the bookshelf.
'Does anything strike you about this?'
kneeling on the sofa.
'I'll swear it was at the end before.'
'That doesn't matter.
--where's Dollmann's book?'
'It's here all right,
but not where it should be.'
I had been reading it,
and in the morning had replaced it in full view among the other books.
I now found it behind them,
in a wrenched attitude,
which showed that someone who had no time to spare had pushed it roughly inwards.
'What do you make of that?'
He produced long drinks,
and we allowed ourselves ten minutes of absolute rest,
stretched at full length on the sofas.
'They don't trust Dollmann,'
'I spotted that at Memmert even.'
when they were talking about you and me.
He was on his defence,
and in a deuce of a funk,
Böhme was pressing him hard.
at the end,
when he left the room followed by Grimm,
who I'm certain was sent to watch him.
It was while he was away that the other two arranged that rendezvous for the night of the -25th.- And again just now,
when you asked him to stay.
I believe it's working out as I thought it would.
and through him Böhme (who is the
'engineer from Bremen'),
know the story of that short cut and suspect that it was an attempt on your life.
Dollmann daren't confess to that,
it could only have been prompted by extreme necessity --that is,
by the knowledge that you were really dangerous,
and not merely an inquisitive stranger.
Now we know his motive;
but they don't yet.
The position of that book proves it.'
'He shoved it in?'
'To prevent them seeing it.
There's no earthly reason why -they- should have hidden it.'
'Then we're getting on,'
'That shows they know his real name,
or why should he shove the book in?
But they don't know he wrote a book,
and that I have a copy.'
'At any rate he -thinks- they don't;
we can't say more than that.'
'And what does he think about me --and you?'
'That's the point.
Ten to one he's in tortures of doubt,
and would give a fortune to have five minutes' talk alone with you to see how the land lies and get your version of the short cut incident.
But they won't let him.
They want to watch him in our company and us in his;
you see it's an interesting reunion for you and him.'
let's get into these beastly clothes for it,'
'I shall have a plunge overboard.'
Something drastic was required,
and I followed his example,
curious as the hour was for bathing.
'I believe I know what happened just now,'
as we plied rough towels in the warmth below.
'They steamed up and found nobody on board.
"I'll leave a note,"
"No independent communications,"
say they (or think they),
"we'll come too,
and take the chance of inspecting this hornets' nest."
Down they go,
who knows what to look for first,
sees that damning bit of evidence staring him in the face.
They look casually at the shelf among other things --examine the logbook,
say --and he manages to push his own book out of sight.
But he couldn't replace it when the interruption came.
The action would have attracted attention -then,- and Böhme made him leave the cabin in advance,
'This is all very well,'
pausing in his toilet,
'but do they guess how we've spent the day?
that chart with the square cut out;
there it is on the rack!'
'We must chance it,
and bluff for all we're worth,'
The fact was that Davies could not be brought to realize that he had done anything very remarkable that day;
yet those fourteen sinuous miles traversed blindfold,
to say nothing of the return journey and my own exploits,
made up an achievement audacious and improbable enough to out-distance suspicion.
von Brüning's banter had been disquieting,
and if an inkling of our expedition had crossed his mind or theirs,
there were ways of testing us which it would require all our effrontery to defeat.
'What are you looking for?'
I was at the collar and stud stage,
but had broken off to study the time-table which we had bought that morning.
'Somebody insists on coming by the night train to somewhere,
on the -25th-,'
I reminded him.
and Grimm are to meet the Somebody.'
'At a railway station!
I don't know where.
They seemed to take it for granted.
But it must be somewhere on the sea,
because Böhme said,
"the tide serves."'
'It may be anywhere from Emden to Hamburg.'
-[See Map B]-
there's a limit;
it's probably somewhere near.
Grimm was to come,
and he's at Memmert.'
'Here's the map ...
Emden and Norddeich are the only coast stations till you get to Wilhelmshaven --no,
but those are a long way east.'
'And Emden's a long way south.
Say Norddeich then;
but according to this there's no train there after -6.15- p.m.;
that's hardly "night".
When's high tide on the 25th?'
'Let's see --8.30 here to-night --Norddeich'll be the same.
Somewhere between 10.30 and 11 on the 25th.'
'There's a train at Emden at 9.22 from Leer and the south,
and one at 10.50 from the north.'
'Are you counting on another fog?'
but I want to know what our plans are.'
'Can't we wait till this cursed inspection's over?'
we should come to grief.'
This was no barren truism,
for I was ready with a plan of my own,
though reluctant to broach it to Davies.
ready or not,
we had to start.
The cabin we left as it was,
changing nothing and hiding nothing;
the safest course to take,
in spite of the risk of further search.
I transferred my diary to my breast-pocket,
and made sure that the two official letters from England were safe in a compartment of it.
'What do you propose?'
when we were in the dinghy again.
'It's a case of "as you were",'
'To-day's trip was a chance we shall never get again.
We must go back to last night's decision --tell them that we're going to stay on here for a bit.
I suppose we shall have to say.'
they know all about that.
And then we must watch for a chance of tackling Dollmann privately.
because we want time to consider those clues of yours.'
'that's putting it mildly.'
We were at the ladder,
and what a languid stiffness oppressed me I did not know till I touched its freezing rungs,
each one of which seared my sore palms like red-hot iron.
The overdue steamer was just arriving as we set foot on the quay.
why not to-night?'
beginning to stride up the pier at a pace I could not imitate.
I disagree altogether.
I believe to-day has doubled our chances,
but unless we alter our tactics it has doubled our risks.
We've involved ourselves in too tangled a web.
I don't like this inspection,
and I fear that foxy old Böhme who prompted it.
The mere fact of their inviting us shows that we stand badly;
for it runs in the teeth of Brüning's warning at Bensersiel,
and smells uncommonly like arrest.
There's a rift between Dollmann and the others,
but it's a ticklish matter to drive our wedge in;
as to -to-night,- hopeless;
they're on the watch,
and won't give us a chance.
And after all,
do we know enough?
We don't know why he fled from England and turned German.
It may have been an extraditable crime,
but it may not.
Supposing he defies us?
There's the girl,
you see --she ties our hands,
and if he once gets wind of that,
and trades on our weakness,
the game's up.'
'What are you driving at?'
'We want to detach him from Germany,
but he'll probably go to any lengths rather than abandon his position here.
His attempt on you is the measure of his interest in it.
is to-day to be wasted?'
We were passing through the public gardens,
and I dropped on to a seat for a moment's rest,
crackling dead leaves under me.
Davies remained standing,
and pecked at the gravel with his toe.
'We have got two valuable clues,'
I went on;
'that rendezvous on the 25th is one,
and the name Esens is the other.
We may consider them to eternity;
I vote we act on them.'
'We're under a searchlight here;
and if we're caught --'
'Your plan --ugh!
--it's as risky as mine,
and more so,'
rising with a jerk,
for a spasm of cramp took me.
'We must separate,'
as we walked on.
at one stroke,
to prove to them that we're harmless,
and to get a fresh start.
I go back to London.'
We were passing under an arc lamp,
for the dismay his face showed,
I might have said Kamchatka.
it's where I ought to be at this moment,'
'You can't get on without me,
so you lay up the yacht here --taking your time.'
'After making inquiries about Dollmann's past I double back as somebody else,
and follow up the clues.'
'You'll have to be quick,'
'I can just do it in time for the 25th.'
'When you say "making inquiries",'
looking straight before him,
'I hope you don't mean setting other people on his track?'
'He's fair game!'
I could not help saying;
for there were moments when I chafed under this scrupulous fidelity to our self-denying ordinance.
'He's our game,
I'll keep the secret,'
'Let's stick together,'
he broke out.
'I shall make a muck of it without you.
And how are we to communicate --meet?'
'Somehow --that can wait.
I know it's a leap in the dark,
but there's safety in darkness.'
what are we talking about?
If they have the ghost of a notion where we have been to-day,
you give us away by packing off to London.
They'll think we know their secret and are clearing out to make use of it.
-That- means arrest,
if you like!'
Haven't I written proof of good faith in my pocket --official letters of recall,
It's one deception the less,
for those letters -may- have been opened;
skilfully done it's impossible to detect.
When in doubt,
tell the truth!'
'It's a rum thing how often it pays in this spying business,'
We had been tramping through deserted streets under the glare of electricity,
I with my leaden shuffle,
he with the purposeful forward stoop and swinging arms that always marked his gait ashore.
what's it to be?'
'Here's the Schwannallée.'
'I don't like it,'
'but I trust your judgement.'
We turned slowly down,
running over a few last points where prior agreement was essential.
As we stood at the very gate of the villa:
'Don't commit yourself to dates,'
'say nothing that will prevent you from being here at least a week hence with the yacht still afloat.'
And my final word,
as we waited at the door for the bell to be answered,
'Don't mind what -I- say.
If things look queer we may have to lighten the ship.'
I hope I shan't bosh it.'
'I hope I shan't get cramp,'
I muttered between my teeth.
It will be remembered that Davies had never been to the villa before.