Part 1 out of 6
Riddle of the Sands
by Erskine Childers
[Redactor's Note: This text is in ISO 8859-1, the "Windows: character
set. However it should also be useable with DOS browsers as there are
only a few high order characters. Italics are preserved by surrounding
with the "_" character.
Maps are in separate "TIFF" files, which may [not at this time. . .]
or may not be available at PG. "Riddle" is said to be one of the best
spy and sailing yarns ever written.
An HTML version of "Riddle" (the basis of this text)is available at
http://eldred.ne.mediaone.net/ along with a biography of Erskine
Childers. The story reflects on an earlier time when men and guns
crossed easily across frontiers and the most important thing to take
on a cruise besides a "prismatic compass" was a pound of your
favorite pipe tobacco.]
The Riddle of the Sands (1903)
A record of Secret Service Recently Acheived
* 1 The Letter
* 2 The Dulcibella
* 3 Davies
* 4 Retrospect
* 5 Wanted, a North Wind
* 6 Schlei Fiord
* 7 The Missing Page
* 8 The Theory
* 9 I Sign Articles
* 10 His Chance
* 11 The Pathfinders
* 12 My Initiation
* 13 The Meaning of our Work
* 14 The First Night in the Islands
* 15 Bensersiel
* 16 Commander von Brüning
* 17 Clearing the Air
* 18 Imperial Escort
* 19 The Rubicon
* 20 The Little Drab Book
* 21 Blindfold to Memmert
* 22 The Quartette
* 23 A Change of Tactics
* 24 Finesse
* 25 I Double Back
* 26 The Seven Siels
* 27 The Luck of the Stowaway
* 28 We Achieve our Double Aim
* Epilogue and Postscript
Maps and Charts
* Map A -- General Map
* Chart A -- Stranding of the Dulcibella
* Map B -- East Friesland
* Chart B -- Juist, Memmert, Norderney
* Sketch -- Memmert Salvage Depot
A WORD about the origin and authorship of this book.
In October last (1902), my friend 'Carruthers' visited me in my
chambers, and, under a provisional pledge of secrecy, told me frankly
the whole of the adventure described in these pages. Till then I had
only known as much as the rest of his friends, namely, that he had
recently undergone experiences during a yachting cruise with a
certain Mr 'Davies' which had left a deep mark on his character and
At the end of his narrative--which, from its bearing on studies and
speculations of my own, as well as from its intrinsic interest and
racy delivery, made a very deep impression on me--he added that the
important facts discovered in the course of the cruise had, without a
moment's delay, been communicated to the proper authorities, who,
after some dignified incredulity, due in part, perhaps, to the
pitiful inadequacy of their own secret service, had, he believed,
made use of them, to avert a great national danger. I say 'he
believed', for though it was beyond question that the danger was
averted for the time, it was doubtful whether they had stirred a foot
to combat it, the secret discovered being of such a nature that mere
suspicion of it on this side was likely to destroy its efficacy.
There, however that may be, the matter rested for a while, as, for
personal reasons which will be manifest to the reader, he and Mr
'Davies' expressly wished it to rest.
But events were driving them to reconsider their decision. These
seemed to show that the information wrung with such peril and labour
from the German Government, and transmitted so promptly to our own,
had had none but the most transitory influence on our policy. Forced
to the conclusion that the national security was really being
neglected, the two friends now had a mind to make their story public;
and it was about this that 'Carruthers' wished for my advice. The
great drawback was that an Englishman, bearing an honoured name, was
disgracefully implicated, and that unless infinite delicacy were
used, innocent persons, and, especially, a young lady, would suffer
pain and indignity, if his identity were known. Indeed, troublesome
rumours, containing a grain of truth and a mass of falsehood, were
After weighing both sides of the question, I gave my vote
emphatically for publication. The personal drawbacks could, I
thought, with tact be neutralized; while, from the public point of
view, nothing but good could come from submitting the case to the
common sense of the country at large. Publication, there-fore, was
agreed upon, and the next point was the form it should take
'Carruthers', with the concurrence of Mr 'Davies', was for a bald
exposition of the essential facts, stripped of their warm human
envelope. I was strongly against this course, first, because it would
aggravate instead of allaying the rumours that were current;
secondly, because in such a form the narrative would not carry
conviction, and would thus defeat its own end. The persons and the
events were indissolubly connected; to evade, abridge, suppress,
would be to convey to the reader the idea of a concocted hoax.
Indeed, I took bolder ground still, urging that the story should be
made as explicit and circumstantial as possible, frankly and honestly
for the purpose of entertaining and so of attracting a wide circle of
readers. Even anonymity was undesirable. Nevertheless, certain
precautions were imperatively needed.
To cut the matter short, they asked for my assistance and received it
at once. It was arranged that I should edit the book; that
'Carruthers' should give me his diary and recount to me in fuller
detail and from his own point of view all the phases of the 'quest',
as they used to call it; that Mr 'Davies' should meet me with his
charts and maps and do the same; and that the whole story should be
written, as from the mouth of the former, with its humours and
errors, its light and its dark side, just as it happened; with the
following few limitations. The year it belongs to is disguised; the
names of persons are throughout fictitious; and, at my instance,
certain slight liberties have been taken to conceal the identity of
the English characters.
Remember, also that these persons are living now in the midst of us,
and if you find one topic touched on with a light and hesitating pen,
do not blame the Editor, who, whether they are known or not, would
rather say too little than say a word that might savour of
The maps and charts are based on British and German Admiralty charts,
with irrelevant details omitted.
1 The Letter
I HAVE read of men who, when forced by their calling to live for long
periods in utter solitude--save for a few black faces--have made it a
rule to dress regularly for dinner in order to maintain their
self-respect and prevent a relapse into barbarism. It was in some
such spirit, with an added touch of self-consciousness, that, at
seven o'clock in the evening of 23rd September in a recent year, I
was making my evening toilet in my chambers in Pall Mall. I thought
the date and the place justified the parallel; to my advantage even;
for the obscure Burmese administrator might well be a man of blunted
sensibilities and coarse fibre, and at least he is alone with nature,
while I--well, a young man of condition and fashion, who knows the
right people, belongs to the right clubs, has a safe, possibly a
brilliant, future in the Foreign Office--may be excused for a sense
of complacent martyrdom, when, with his keen appreciation of the
social calendar, he is doomed to the outer solitude of London in
September. I say 'martyrdom', but in fact the case was infinitely
worse. For to feel oneself a martyr, as everybody knows, is a
pleasurable thing, and the true tragedy of my position was that I had
passed that stage. I had enjoyed what sweets it had to offer in ever
dwindling degree since the middle of August, when ties were still
fresh and sympathy abundant. I had been conscious that I was missed
at Morven Lodge party. Lady Ashleigh herself had said so in the
kindest possible manner, when she wrote to acknowledge the letter in
which I explained, with an effectively austere reserve of language,
that circumstances compelled me to remain at my office. 'We know how
busy you must be just now', she wrote, 'and I do hope you won't
overwork; we shall _all_ miss you very much.' Friend after friend
'got away' to sport and fresh air, with promises to write and
chaffing condolences, and as each deserted the sinking ship, I took a
grim delight in my misery, positively almost enjoying the first week
or two after my world had been finally dissipated to the four bracing
winds of heaven.
I began to take a spurious interest in the remaining five millions,
and wrote several clever letters in a vein of cheap satire,
indirectly suggesting the pathos of my position, but indicating that
I was broad-minded enough to find intellectual entertainment in the
scenes, persons, and habits of London in the dead season. I even did
rational things at the instigation of others. For, though I should
have liked total isolation best, I, of course, found that there was a
sediment of unfortunates like myself, who, unlike me, viewed the
situation in a most prosaic light. There were river excursions, and
so on, after office-hours; but I dislike the river at any time for
its noisy vulgarity, and most of all at this season. So I dropped out
of the fresh air brigade and declined H--'s offer to share a
riverside cottage and run up to town in the mornings. I did spend one
or two week-ends with the Catesbys in Kent; but I was not
inconsolable when they let their house and went abroad, for I found
that such partial compensations did not suit me. Neither did the
taste for satirical observation last. A passing thirst, which I dare
say many have shared, for adventures of the fascinating kind
described in the New Arabian Nights led me on a few evenings into
some shady haunts in Soho and farther eastward; but was finally
quenched one sultry Saturday night after an hour's immersion in the
reeking atmosphere of a low music-hall in Ratcliffe Highway, where I
sat next a portly female who suffered from the heat, and at frequent
intervals refreshed herself and an infant from a bottle of tepid
By the first week in September I had abandoned all palliatives, and
had settled into the dismal but dignified routine of office, club,
and chambers. And now came the most cruel trial, for the hideous
truth dawned on me that the world I found so indispensable could
after all dispense with me. It was all very well for Lady Ashleigh to
assure me that I was deeply missed; but a letter from F--, who was
one of the party, written 'in haste, just starting to shoot', and
coming as a tardy reply to one of my cleverest, made me aware that
the house party had suffered little from my absence, and that few
sighs were wasted on me, even in the quarter which I had assumed to
have been discreetly alluded to by the underlined _all_ in Lady
Ashleigh's 'we shall _all_ miss you'. A thrust which smarted more, if
it bit less deeply, came from my cousin Nesta, who wrote: 'It's
horrid for you to have to be baking in London now; but, after all, it
must be a great pleasure to you' (malicious little wretch!) 'to have
such interesting and important work to do.' Here was a nemesis for an
innocent illusion I had been accustomed to foster in the minds of my
relations and acquaintances, especially in the breasts of the
trustful and admiring maidens whom I had taken down to dinner in the
last two seasons; a fiction which I had almost reached the point of
believing in myself. For the plain truth was that my work was neither
interesting nor important, and consisted chiefly at present in
smoking cigarettes, in saying that Mr So-and-So was away and would be
back about 1st October, in being absent for lunch from twelve till
two, and in my spare moments making _précis_ of--let us say--the less
confidential consular reports, and squeezing the results into
cast-iron schedules. The reason of my detention was not a cloud on
the international horizon--though I may say in passing that there was
such a cloud--but a caprice on the part of a remote and mighty
personage, the effect of which, ramifying downwards, had dislocated
the carefully-laid holiday plans of the humble juniors, and in my own
small case had upset the arrangement between myself and K--, who
positively liked the dog-days in Whitehall.
Only one thing was needed to fill my cup of bitterness, and this it
was that specially occupied me as I dressed for dinner this evening.
Two days more in this dead and fermenting city and my slavery would
be at an end. Yes, but--irony of ironies!--I had nowhere to go to!
The Morven Lodge party was breaking up. A dreadful rumour as to an
engagement which had been one of its accursed fruits tormented me
with the fresh certainty that I had not been missed, and bred in me
that most desolating brand of cynicism which is produced by defeat
through insignificance. Invitations for a later date, which I had
declined in July with a gratifying sense of being much in request,
now rose up spectrally to taunt me. There was at least one which I
could easily have revived, but neither in this case nor in any other
had there been any renewal of pressure, and there are moments when
the difference between proposing oneself and surrendering as a prize
to one of several eagerly competing hostesses seems too crushing to
be contemplated. My own people were at Aix for my father's gout; to
join them was _a pis aller_ whose banality was repellent. Besides,
they would be leaving soon for our home in Yorkshire, and I was not a
prophet in my own country. In short, I was at the extremity of
The usual preliminary scuffle on the staircase prepared me for the
knock and entry of Withers. (One of the things which had for some
time ceased to amuse me was the laxity of manners, proper to the
season, among the servants of the big block of chambers where I
lived.) Withers demurely handed me a letter bearing a German
post-mark and marked 'Urgent'. I had just finished dressing, and was
collecting my money and gloves. A momentary thrill of curiosity broke
in upon my depression as I sat down to open it. A comer on the
reverse of the envelope bore the blotted legend: 'Very sorry, but
there's one other thing--a pair of rigging screws from Carey and
Neilson's, size 1 3/8, _galvanized_.' Here it is:
Flensburg, Schleswig-Holstein, 21st Sept._
DEAR CARRUTHERS,--I daresay you'll be surprised at hearing from me,
as it's ages since we met. It is more than likely, too, that what I'm
going to suggest won't suit you, for I know nothing of your plans,
and if you're in town at all you're probably just getting into
harness again and can't get away. So I merely write on the offchance
to ask if you would care to come out here and join me in a little
yachting, and, I hope, duck shooting. I know you're keen on shooting,
and I sort of remember that you have done some yachting too, though I
rather forget about that. This part of the Baltic--the Schleswig
fiords--is a splendid cruising-ground--Al scenery--and there ought to
be plenty of duck about soon, if it gets cold enough. I came out here
_via_ Holland and the Frisian Islands, starting early in August. My
pals have had to leave me, and I'm badly in want of another, as I
don't want to lay up yet for a bit. I needn't say how glad I should
be if you could come. If you can, send me a wire to the P.O. here.
Flushing and on by Hamburg will be your best route, I think. I'm
having a few repairs done here, and will have them ready sharp by the
time your train arrives. Bring your gun and a good lot of No. 4's;
and would you mind calling at Lancaster's and asking for mine, and
bringing it too? Bring some oilskins. Better get the eleven-shilling
sort, jacket and trousers--not the 'yachting' brand; and if you paint
bring your gear. I know you speak German like a native, and that will
be a great help. Forgive this hail of directions, but I've a sort of
feeling that I'm in luck and that you'll come. Anyway, I hope you and
the F.O. both flourish. Good-bye.
Yours ever, ARTHUR H. DAVIES.
Would you mind bringing me out a _prismatic compass_, and a pound of
This letter marked an epoch for me; but I little suspected the fact
as I crumpled it into my pocket and started languidly on the _voie
douloureuse_ which I nightly followed to the club. In Pall Mall there
were no dignified greetings to be exchanged now with well-groomed
acquaintances. The only people to be seen were some late stragglers
from the park, with a perambulator and some hot and dusty children
lagging fretfully behind; some rustic sightseers draining the last
dregs of the daylight in an effort to make out from their guide-books
which of these reverend piles was which; a policeman and a builder's
cart. Of course the club was a strange one, both of my own being
closed for cleaning, a coincidence expressly planned by Providence
for my inconvenience. The club which you are 'permitted to make use
of' on these occasions always irritates with its strangeness and
discomfort. The few occupants seem odd and oddly dressed, and you
wonder how they got there. The particular weekly that you want is not
taken in; the dinner is execrable, and the ventilation a farce. All
these evils oppressed me to-night. And yet I was puzzled to find that
somewhere within me there was a faint lightening of the spirits;
causeless, as far as I could discover. It could not be Davies's
letter. Yachting in the Baltic at the end of September! The very idea
made one shudder. Cowes, with a pleasant party and hotels handy, was
all very well. An August cruise on a steam yacht in French waters or
the Highlands was all very well; but what kind of a yacht was this?
It must be of a certain size to have got so far, but I thought I
remembered enough of Davies's means to know that he had no money to
waste on luxuries. That brought me to the man himself. I had known
him at Oxford--not as one of my immediate set; but we were a sociable
college, and I had seen a good deal of him, liking him for his
physical energy combined with a certain simplicity and modesty,
though, indeed, he had nothing to be conceited about; liked him, in
fact, in the way that at that receptive period one likes many men
whom one never keeps up with later. We had both gone down in the same
year--three years ago now. I had gone to France and Germany for two
years to learn the languages; he had failed for the Indian Civil, and
then had gone into a solicitor's office. I had only seen him since at
rare intervals, though I admitted to myself that for his part he had
clung loyally to what ties of friendship there were between us. But
the truth was that we had drifted apart from the nature of things. I
had passed brilliantly into my profession, and on the few occasions I
had met him since I made my triumphant _début_ in society I had found
nothing left in common between us. He seemed to know none of my
friends, he dressed indifferently, and I thought him dull. I had
always connected him with boats and the sea, but never with yachting,
in the sense that I understood it. In college days he had nearly
persuaded me into sharing a squalid week in some open boat he had
picked up, and was going to sail among some dreary mud-flats
somewhere on the east coast. There was nothing else, and the funereal
function of dinner drifted on. But I found myself remembering at the
_entrée_ that I had recently heard, at second or third hand, of
something else about him--exactly what I could not recall. When I
reached the savoury, I had concluded, so far as I had centred my mind
on it at all, that the whole thing was a culminating irony, as,
indeed, was the savoury in its way. After the wreck of my pleasant
plans and the fiasco of my martyrdom, to be asked as consolation to
spend October freezing in the Baltic with an eccentric nonentity who
bored me! Yet, as I smoked my cigar in the ghastly splendour of the
empty smoking-room, the subject came up again. Was there anything in
it? There were certainly no alternatives at hand. And to bury myself
in the Baltic at this unearthly time of year had at least a smack of
tragic thoroughness about it.
I pulled out the letter again, and ran down its impulsive staccato
sentences, affecting to ignore what a gust of fresh air, high
spirits, and good fellowship this flimsy bit of paper wafted into the
jaded club-room. On reperusal, it was full of evil presage-- 'Al
scenery'--but what of equinoctial storms and October fogs? Every sane
yachtsman was paying off his crew now. 'There ought to be
duck'--vague, very vague. 'If it gets cold enough' . . . cold and
yachting seemed to be a gratuitously monstrous union. His pals had
left him; why? 'Not the "yachting" brand'; and why not? As to the
size, comfort, and crew of the yacht--all cheerfully ignored; so many
maddening blanks. And, by the way, why in Heaven's name 'a prismatic
compass'? I fingered a few magazines, played a game of fifty with a
friendly old fogey, too importunate to be worth the labour of
resisting, and went back to my chambers to bed, ignorant that a
friendly Providence had come to my rescue; and, indeed, rather
resenting any clumsy attempt at such friendliness.
2 The 'Dulcibella'
THAT two days later I should be found pacing the deck of the Flushing
steamer with a ticket for Hamburg in my pocket may seem a strange
result, yet not so strange if you have divined my state of mind. You
will guess, at any rate, that I was armed with the conviction that I
was doing an act of obscure penance, rumours of which might call
attention to my lot and perhaps awaken remorse in the right quarter,
while it left me free to enjoy myself unobtrusively in the remote
event of enjoyment being possible.
The fact was that, at breakfast on the morning after the arrival of
the letter, I had still found that inexplicable lightening which I
mentioned before, and strong enough to warrant a revival of the pros
and cons. An important pro which I had not thought of before was that
after all it was a good-natured piece of unselfishness to join
Davies; for he had spoken of the want of a pal, and seemed honestly
to be in need of me. I almost clutched at this consideration. It was
an admirable excuse, when I reached my office that day, for a
resigned study of the Continental Bradshaw, and an order to Carter to
unroll a great creaking wall-map of Germany and find me Flensburg.
The latter labour I might have saved him, but it was good for Carter
to have something to do; and his patient ignorance was amusing. With
most of the map and what it suggested I was tolerably familiar, for I
had not wasted my year in Germany, whatever I had done or not done
since. Its people, history, progress, and future had interested me
intensely, and I had still friends in Dresden and Berlin. Flensburg
recalled the Danish war of '64, and by the time Carter's researches
had ended in success I had forgotten the task set him, and was
wondering whether the prospect of seeing something of that lovely
region of Schleswig-Holstein, _[See Map A]_ as I knew from hearsay
that it was, was at all to be set against such an uncomfortable way
of seeing it, with the season so late, the company so unattractive,
and all the other drawbacks which I counted and treasured as proofs
of my desperate condition, if I _were_ to go. It needed little to
decide me, and I think K--'s arrival from Switzerland, offensively
sunburnt, was the finishing touch. His greeting was 'Hullo,
Carruthers, you here? Thought you had got away long ago. Lucky devil,
though, to be going now, just in time for the best driving and the
early pheasants. The heat's been shocking out there. Carter, bring me
a Bradshaw'--(an extraordinary book, Bradshaw, turned to from habit,
even when least wanted, as men fondle guns and rods in the close
By lunch-time the weight of indecision had been removed, and I found
myself entrusting Carter with a telegram to Davies, P.O., Flensburg.
'Thanks; expect me 9.34 p.m. 26th'; which produced, three hours
later, a reply: 'Delighted; please bring a No. 3 Rippingille
stove'--a perplexing and ominous direction, which somehow chilled me
in spite of its subject matter.
Indeed, my resolution was continually faltering. It faltered when I
turned out my gun in the evening and thought of the grouse it ought
to have accounted for. It faltered again when I contemplated the
miscellaneous list of commissions, sown broadcast through Davies's
letter, to fulfil which seemed to make me a willing tool where my
chosen _rôle_ was that of an embittered exile, or at least a
condescending ally. However, I faced the commissions manfully, after
leaving the office.
At Lancaster's I inquired for his gun, was received coolly, and had
to pay a heavy bill, which it seemed to have incurred, before it was
handed over. Having ordered the gun and No. 4's to be sent to my
chambers, I bought the Raven mixture with that peculiar sense of
injury which the prospect of smuggling in another's behalf always
entails; and wondered where in the world Carey and Neilson's was, a
firm which Davies spoke of as though it were as well known as the
Bank of England or the Stores, instead of specializing in
'rigging-screws', whatever they might be. They sounded important,
though, and it would be only polite to unearth them. I connected them
with the 'few repairs'
and awoke new misgivings. At the Stores I asked for a No. 3
Rippingille stove, and was confronted with a formidable and hideous
piece of ironmongery, which burned petroleum in two capacious tanks,
horribly prophetic of a smell of warm oil. I paid for this miserably,
convinced of its grim efficiency, but speculating as to the domestic
conditions which caused it to be sent for as an afterthought by
telegram. I also asked about rigging-screws in the yachting
department, but learnt that they were not kept in stock; that Carey
and Neilson's would certainly have them, and that their shop was in
the Minories, in the far east, meaning a journey nearly as long as to
Flensburg, and twice as tiresome. They would be shut by the time I
got there, so after this exhausting round of duty I went home in a
cab, omitted dressing for dinner (an epoch in itself), ordered a chop
up from the basement kitchen, and spent the rest of the evening
packing and writing, with the methodical gloom of a man setting his
affairs in order for the last time.
The last of those airless nights passed. The astonished Withers saw
me breakfasting at eight, and at 9.30 I was vacantly examining
rigging-screws with what wits were left me after a sulphurous ride in
the Underground to Aldgate. I laid great stress on the 3/8's, and the
galvanism, and took them on trust, ignorant as to their functions.
For the eleven-shilling oilskins I was referred to a villainous den
in a back street, which the shopman said they always recommended, and
where a dirty and bejewelled Hebrew chaffered with me (beginning at
18s.) over two reeking orange slabs distantly resembling moieties of
the human figure. Their odour made me close prematurely for 14s., and
I hurried back (for I was due there at eleven) to my office with my
two disreputable brown-paper parcels, one of which made itself so
noticeable in the close official air that Carter attentively asked if
I would like to have it sent to my chambers, and K--was inquisitive
to bluntness about it and my movements. But I did not care to
enlighten K--, whose comments I knew would be provokingly envious or
wounding to my pride in some way.
I remembered, later on, the prismatic compass, and wired to the
Minories to have one sent at once, feeling rather relieved that I was
not present there to be cross-examined as to size and make.
The reply was, 'Not stocked; try surveying-instrument maker'--a reply
both puzzling and reassuring, for Davies's request for a compass had
given me more uneasiness than anything, while, to find that what he
wanted turned out to be a surveying-instrument, was a no less
perplexing discovery. That day I made my last _précis_ and handed
over my schedules--Procrustean beds, where unwilling facts were
stretched and tortured--and said good-bye to my temporary chief,
genial and lenient M--, who wished me a jolly holiday with all
At seven I was watching a cab packed with my personal luggage and the
collection of unwieldy and incongruous packages that my shopping had
drawn down on me. Two deviations after that wretched prismatic
compass--which I obtained in the end secondhand, _faute de mieux_,
near Victoria, at one of those showy shops which look like jewellers'
and are really pawnbrokers'--nearly caused me to miss my train. But
at 8.30 I had shaken off the dust of London from my feet, and at
10.30 1 was, as I have announced, pacing the deck of a Flushing
steamer, adrift on this fatuous holiday in the far Baltic.
An air from the west, cooled by a midday thunderstorm, followed the
steamer as she slid through the calm channels of the Thames estuary,
passed the cordon of scintillating lightships that watch over the
sea-roads to the imperial city like pickets round a sleeping army,
and slipped out into the dark spaces of the North Sea. Stars were
bright, summer scents from the Kent cliffs mingled coyly with vulgar
steamer-smells; the summer weather held Immutably. Nature, for her
part, seemed resolved to be no party to my penance, but to be
imperturbably bent on shedding mild ridicule over my wrongs. An
irresistible sense of peace and detachment, combined with that
delicious physical awakening that pulses through the nerve-sick
townsman when city airs and bald routine are left behind him,
combined to provide me, however thankless a subject, with a solid
background of resignation. Stowing this safely away, I could
calculate my intentions with cold egotism. If the weather held I
might pass a not intolerable fortnight with Davies. When it broke up,
as it was sure to, I could easily excuse myself from the pursuit of
the problematical ducks; the wintry logic of facts would, in any
case, decide him to lay up his yacht, for he could scarcely think of
sailing home at such a season. I could then take a chance lying ready
of spending a few weeks in Dresden or elsewhere. I settled this
programme comfortably and then turned in.
From Flushing eastward to Hamburg, then northward to Flensburg, I cut
short the next day's sultry story. Past dyke and windmill and still
canals, on to blazing stubbles and roaring towns; at the last, after
dusk, through a quiet level region where the train pottered from one
lazy little station to another, and at ten o'clock I found myself,
stiff and stuffy, on the platform at Flensburg, exchanging greetings
'It's awfully good of you to come.'
'Not at all; it's very good of you to ask me.'
We were both of us ill at ease. Even in the dim gaslight he clashed
on my notions of a yachtsman--no cool white ducks or neat blue serge;
and where was the snowy crowned yachting cap, that precious charm
that so easily converts a landsman into a dashing mariner? Conscious
that this impressive uniform, in high perfection, was lying ready in
my portmanteau, I felt oddly guilty. He wore an old Norfolk jacket,
muddy brown shoes, grey flannel trousers (or had they been white?),
and an ordinary tweed cap. The hand he gave me was horny, and
appeared to be stained with paint; the other one, which carried a
parcel, had a bandage on it which would have borne renewal. There was
an instant of mutual inspection. I thought he gave me a shy, hurried
scrutiny as though to test past conjectures, with something of
anxiety in it, and perhaps (save the mark!) a tinge of admiration.
The face was familiar, and yet not familiar; the pleasant blue eyes,
open, clean-cut features, unintellectual forehead were the same; so
were the brisk and impulsive movements; there was some change; but
the moment of awkward hesitation was over and the light was bad; and,
while strolling down the platform for my luggage, we chatted with
constraint about trivial things.
'By the way,' he suddenly said, laughing, 'I'm afraid I'm not fit to
be seen; but it's so late it doesn't matter. I've been painting hard
all day, and just got it finished. I only hope we shall have some
wind to-morrow--it's been hopelessly calm lately. I say, you've
brought a good deal of stuff,' he concluded, as my belongings began
Here was a reward for my submissive exertions in the far east!
'You gave me a good many commissions!'
'Oh, I didn't mean those things,' he said, absently. 'Thanks for
bringing them, by the way. That's the stove, I suppose; cartridges,
this one, by the weight. You got the rigging-screws all right, I
hope? They're not really necessary, of course' (I nodded vacantly,
and felt a little hurt); 'but they're simpler than lanyards, and you
can't get them here. It's that portmanteau,' he said, slowly,
measuring it with a doubtful eye. 'Never mind! we'll try. You
couldn't do with the Gladstone only, I suppose? You see, the
dinghy--h'm, and there's the hatchway, too'--he was lost in thought.
'Anyhow, we'll try. I'm afraid there are no cabs; but it's quite
near, and the porter'll help.'
Sickening forebodings crept over me, while Davies shouldered my
Gladstone and clutched at the parcels.
'Aren't your men here?' I asked, faintly.
'Men?' He looked confused. 'Oh, perhaps I ought to have told you, I
never have any paid hands; it's quite a small boat, you know--I hope
you didn't expect luxury. I've managed her single-handed for some
time. A man would be no use, and a horrible nuisance.' He revealed
these appalling truths with a cheerful assurance, which did nothing
to hide a naive apprehension of their effect on me. There was a check
in our mobilization.
'It's rather late to go on board, isn't it?' I said, in a wooden
voice. Someone was turning out the gaslights, and the porter yawned
ostentatiously. 'I think I'd rather sleep at an hotel to-night.' A
'Oh, of course you can do that, if you like,' said Davies, in
transparent distress of mind. 'But it seems hardly worth while to
cart this stuff all the way to an hotel (I believe they're all on the
other side of the harbour), and back again to the boat to-morrow.
She's quite comfortable, and you're sure to sleep well, as you're
'We can leave the things here,' I argued feebly, 'and walk over with
'Oh, I shall have to go aboard anyhow,' he rejoined; 'I _never_ sleep
He seemed to be clinging timidly, but desperately, to some diplomatic
end. A stony despair was invading me and paralysing resistance.
Better face the worst and be done with it.
'Come on,' I said, grimly.
Heavily loaded, we stumbled over railway lines and rubble heaps, and
came on the harbour. Davies led the way to a stairway, whose weedy
steps disappeared below in gloom.
'If you'll get into the dinghy,' he said, all briskness now, 'I'll
pass the things down.
I descended gingerly, holding as a guide a sodden painter which ended
in a small boat, and conscious that I was collecting slime on cuffs
'Hold up!' shouted Davies, cheerfully, as I sat down suddenly near
the bottom, with one foot in the water.
I climbed wretchedly into the dinghy and awaited events.
'Now float her up close under the quay wall, and make fast to the
ring down there,' came down from above, followed by the slack of the
sodden painter, which knocked my cap off as it fell. 'All fast? Any
knot'll do,' I heard, as I grappled with this loathsome task, and
then a big, dark object loomed overhead and was lowered into the
dinghy. It was my portmanteau, and, placed athwart, exactly filled
all the space amidships. 'Does it fit?' was the anxious inquiry from
Scratching at the greasy wall to keep the dinghy close to it, I
received in succession our stores, and stowed the cargo as best I
could, while the dinghy sank lower and lower in the water, and its
precarious superstructure grew higher.
'Catch!' was the final direction from above, and a damp soft parcel
hit me in the chest. 'Be careful of that, it's meat. Now back to the
I painfully acquiesced, and Davies appeared.
'It's a bit of a load, and she's rather deep; but I _think_ we shall
manage,' he reflected. 'You sit right aft, and I'll row.'
I was too far gone for curiosity as to how this monstrous pyramid was
to be rowed, or even for surmises as to its foundering by the way. I
crawled to my appointed seat, and Davies extricated the buried sculls
by a series of tugs, which shook the whole structure, and made us
roll alarmingly. How he stowed himself into rowing posture I have not
the least idea, but eventually we were moving sluggishly out into the
open water, his head just visible in the bows. We had started from
what appeared to be the head of a narrow loch, and were leaving
behind us the lights of a big town. A long frontage of lamp-lit quays
was on our left, with here and there the vague hull of a steamer
alongside. We passed the last of the lights and came out into a
broader stretch of water, when a light breeze was blowing and dark
hills could be seen on either shore.
'I'm lying a little way down the fiord, you see,' said Davies. 'I
hate to be too near a town, and I found a carpenter handy here--There
she is! I wonder how you'll like her!'
I roused myself. We were entering a little cove encircled by trees,
and approaching a light which flickered in the rigging of a small
vessel, whose outline gradually defined itself.
'Keep her off,' said Davies, as we drew alongside.
In a moment he had jumped on deck, tied the painter, and was round at
'You hand them up,' he ordered, 'and I'll take them.'
It was a laborious task, with the one relief that it was not far to
hand them - a doubtful compensation, for other reasons distantly
shaping themselves. When the stack was transferred to the deck I
followed it, tripping over the flabby meat parcel, which was already
showing ghastly signs of disintegration under the dew. Hazily there
floated through my mind my last embarkation on a yacht; my faultless
attire, the trim gig and obsequious sailors, the accommodation ladder
flashing with varnish and brass in the August sun; the orderly, snowy
decks and basket chairs under the awning aft. What a contrast with
this sordid midnight scramble, over damp meat and littered
packing-cases! The bitterest touch of all was a growing sense of
inferiority and ignorance which I had never before been allowed to
feel in my experience of yachts.
CKQUOTEDavies awoke from another reverie over my portmanteau to say,
cheerily: 'I'll just show you round down below first, and then we'll
stow things away and get to bed.'
He dived down a companion ladder, and I followed cautiously. A
complex odour of paraffin, past cookery, tobacco, and tar saluted my
'Mind your head,' said Davies, striking a match and lighting a
candle, while I groped into the cabin. 'You'd better sit down; it's
easier to look round.'
There might well have been sarcasm in this piece of advice, for I
must have cut a ridiculous figure, peering awkwardly and suspiciously
round, with shoulders and head bent to avoid the ceiling, which
seemed in the half-light to be even nearer the floor than it was.
'You see,' were Davies's reassuring words, 'there's plenty of room to
_sit_ upright' (which was strictly true; but I am not very tall, and
he is short). 'Some people make a point of head-room, but I never
mind much about it. That's the centre-board case,' he explained, as,
in stretching my legs out, my knee came into contact with a sharp
I had not seen this devilish obstruction, as it was hidden beneath
the table, which indeed rested on it at one end. It appeared to be a
long, low triangle, running lengthways with the boat and dividing the
naturally limited space into two.
'You see, she's a flat-bottomed boat, drawing very little water
without the plate; that's why there's so little headroom. For deep
water you lower the plate; so, in one way or another, you can go
I was not nautical enough to draw any very definite conclusions from
this, but what I did draw were not promising. The latter sentences
were spoken from the forecastle, whither Davies had crept through a
low sliding door, like that of a rabbit-hutch, and was already busy
with a kettle over a stove which I made out to be a battered and
disreputable twin brother of the No. 3 Rippingille.
'It'll be boiling soon,' he remarked, 'and we'll have some grog.'
My eyes were used to the light now, and I took in the rest of my
surroundings, which may be very simply described. Two long
cushion-covered seats flanked the cabin, bounded at the after end by
cupboards, one of which was cut low to form a sort of miniature
sideboard, with glasses hung in a rack above it. The deck overhead
was very low at each side but rose shoulder high for a space in the
middle, where a 'coach-house roof' with a skylight gave additional
cabin space. Just outside the door was a fold-up washing-stand. On
either wall were long net-racks holding a medley of flags, charts,
caps, cigar-boxes, banks of yam, and such like. Across the forward
bulkhead was a bookshelf crammed to overflowing with volumes of all
sizes, many upside down and some coverless. Below this were a
pipe-rack, an aneroid, and a clock with a hearty tick. All the
woodwork was painted white, and to a less jaundiced eye than mine the
interior might have had an enticing look of snugness. Some Kodak
prints were nailed roughly on the after bulkhead, and just over the
doorway was the photograph of a young girl.
'That's my sister,' said Davies, who had emerged and saw me looking
at it. 'Now, let's get the stuff down.' He ran up the ladder, and
soon my portmanteau blackened the hatchway, and a great straining and
squeezing began. 'I was afraid it was too big,' came down; 'I'm
sorry, but you'll have to unpack on deck--we may be able to squash it
down when it's empty.'
Then the wearisome tail of packages began to form a fresh stack in
the cramped space at my feet, and my back ached with stooping and
moiling in unfamiliar places. Davies came down, and with unconcealed
pride introduced me to the sleeping cabin (he called the other one
'the saloon'). Another candle was lit and showed two short and narrow
berths with blankets, but no sign of sheets; beneath these were
drawers, one set of which Davies made me master of, evidently
thinking them a princely allowance of space for my wardrobe.
'You can chuck your things down the skylight on to your berth as you
unpack them,' he remarked. 'By the way, I doubt if there's room for
all you've got. I suppose you couldn't manage--'
'No, I couldn't,' I said shortly.
The absurdity of argument struck me; two men, doubled up like
monkeys, cannot argue.
'If you'll go out I shall be able to get out too,' I added. He seemed
miserable at this ghost of an altercation, but I pushed past, mounted
the ladder, and in the expiring moonlight unstrapped that accursed
portmanteau and, brimming over with irritation, groped among its
contents, sorting some into the skylight with the same feeling that
nothing mattered much now, and it was best to be done with it;
repacking the rest with guilty stealth ere Davies should discover
their character, and strapping up the whole again. Then I sat down
upon my white elephant and shivered, for the chill of autumn was in
the air. It suddenly struck me that if it had been raining things
might have been worse still. The notion made me look round. The
little cove was still as glass; stars above and stars below; a few
white cottages glimmering at one point on the shore; in the west the
lights of Flensburg; to the east the fiord broadening into unknown
gloom. From Davies toiling below there were muffled sounds of
wrenching, pushing, and hammering, punctuated occasionally by a heavy
splash as something shot up from the hatchway and fell into the
How it came about I do not know. Whether it was something pathetic in
the look I had last seen on his face--a look which I associated for
no reason whatever with his bandaged hand; whether it was one of
those instants of clear vision in which our separate selves are seen
divided, the baser from the better, and I saw my silly egotism in
contrast with a simple generous nature; whether it was an impalpable
air of mystery which pervaded the whole enterprise and refused to be
dissipated by its most mortifying and vulgarizing incidents--a
mystery dimly connected with my companion's obvious consciousness of
having misled me into joining him; whether it was only the stars and
the cool air rousing atrophied instincts of youth and spirits;
probably, indeed, it was all these influences, cemented into strength
by a ruthless sense of humour which whispered that I was in danger of
making a mere commonplace fool of myself in spite of all my laboured
calculations; but whatever it was, in a flash my mood changed. The
crown of martyrdom disappeared, the wounded vanity healed; that
precious fund of fictitious resignation drained away, but left no
void. There was left a fashionable and dishevelled young man sitting
in the dew and in the dark on a ridiculous portmanteau which dwarfed
the yacht that was to carry it; a youth acutely sensible of ignorance
in a strange and strenuous atmosphere; still feeling sore and
victimized; but withal sanely ashamed and sanely resolved to enjoy
himself. I anticipate; for though the change was radical its full
growth was slow. But in any case it was here and now that it took its
'Grog's ready!' came from below. Bunching myself for the descent I
found to my astonishment that all trace of litter had miraculously
vanished, and a cosy neatness reigned. Glasses and lemons were on the
table, and a fragrant smell of punch had deadened previous odours. I
showed little emotion at these amenities, but enough to give intense
relief to Davies, who delightedly showed me his devices for storage,
praising the 'roominess' of his floating den. 'There's your stove,
you see,' he ended; 'I've chucked the old one overboard.' It was a
weakness of his, I should say here, to rejoice in throwing things
overboard on the flimsiest pretexts. I afterwards suspected that the
new stove had not been 'really necessary' any more than the
rigging-screws, but was an excuse for gratifying this curious taste.
We smoked and chatted for a little, and then came the problem of
going to bed. After much bumping of knuckles and head, and many giddy
writhings, I mastered it, and lay between the rough blankets. Davies,
moving swiftly and deftly, was soon in his.
'It's quite comfortable, isn't it?' he said, as he blew out the light
from where he lay, with an accuracy which must have been the fruit of
I felt prickly all over, and there was a damp patch on the pillow,
which was soon explained by a heavy drop of moisture falling on my
'I suppose the deck's not leaking?' I said, as mildly as I could.
'I'm awfully sorry,' said Davies, earnestly, tumbling out of his
bunk. 'It must be the heavy dew. I did a lot of caulking yesterday,
but I suppose I missed that place. I'll run up and square it with an
'What's wrong with your hand?' I asked, sleepily, on his return, for
gratitude reminded me of that bandage.
'Nothing much; I strained it the other day,' was the reply; and then
the seemingly inconsequent remark: 'I'm glad you brought that
prismatic compass. It's not really necessary, of course; but'
(muffled by blankets) 'it may come in useful.'
I DOZED but fitfully, with a fretful sense of sore elbows and neck
and many a draughty hiatus among the blankets. It was broad daylight
before I had reached the stage of torpor in which such slumber
merges. That was finally broken by the descent through the skylight
of a torrent of water. I started up, bumped my head hard against the
decks, and blinked leaden-eyed upwards.
'Sorry! I'm scrubbing decks. Come up and bathe. Slept well?' I heard
a voice saying from aloft.
'Fairly well,' I growled, stepping out into a pool of water on the
oilcloth. Thence I stumbled up the ladder, dived overboard, and
buried bad dreams, stiffness, frowsiness, and tormented nerves in the
loveliest fiord of the lovely Baltic. A short and furious swim and I
was back again, searching for a means of ascent up the smooth black
side, which, low as it was, was slippery and unsympathetic. Davies,
in a loose canvas shirt, with the sleeves tucked up, and flannels
rolled up to the knee, hung over me with a rope's end, and chatted
unconcernedly about the easiness of the job when you know how,
adjuring me to mind the paint, and talking about an accommodation
ladder he had once had, but had thrown overboard because it was so
horribly in the way. When I arrived, my knees and elbows were picked
out in black paint, to his consternation. Nevertheless, as I plied
the towel, I knew that I had left in those limpid depths yet another
crust of discontent and self-conceit.
As I dressed into flannels and blazer, I looked round the deck, and
with an unskilled and doubtful eye took in all that the darkness had
hitherto hidden. She seemed very small (in point of fact she was
seven tons), something over thirty feet in length and nine in beam, a
size very suitable to week-ends in the Solent, for such as liked that
sort of thing; but that she should have come from Dover to the Baltic
suggested a world of physical endeavour of which I had never dreamed.
I passed to the aesthetic side. Smartness and beauty were essential
to yachts, in my mind, but with the best resolves to be pleased I
found little encouragement here. The hull seemed too low, and the
mainmast too high; the cabin roof looked clumsy, and the skylights
saddened the eye with dull iron and plebeian graining. What brass
there was, on the tiller-head and elsewhere, was tarnished with
sickly green. The decks had none of that creamy purity which Cowes
expects, but were rough and grey, and showed tarry exhalations round
the seams and rusty stains near the bows. The ropes and rigging were
in mourning when contrasted with the delicate buff manilla so
satisfying to the artistic eye as seen against the blue of a June sky
at Southsea. Nor was the whole effect bettered by many signs of
recent refitting. An impression of paint, varnish, and carpentry was
in the air; a gaudy new burgee fluttered aloft; there seemed to be a
new rope or two, especially round the diminutive mizzen-mast, which
itself looked altogether new. But all this only emphasized the
general plainness, reminding one of a respectable woman of the
working-classes trying to dress above her station, and soon likely to
give it up.
That the _ensemble_ was businesslike and solid even my untrained eye
could see. Many of the deck fittings seemed disproportionately
substantial. The anchor-chain looked contemptuous of its charge; the
binnacle with its compass was of a size and prominence almost
comically impressive, and was, moreover the only piece of brass which
was burnished and showed traces of reverent care. Two huge coils of
stout and dingy warp lay just abaft the mainmast, and summed up the
weather-beaten aspect of the little ship. I should add here that in
the distant past she had been a lifeboat, and had been clumsily
converted into a yacht by the addition of a counter, deck, and the
necessary spars. She was built, as all lifeboats are, diagonally, of
two skins of teak, and thus had immense strength, though, in the
matter of looks, all a hybrid's failings.
Hunger and 'Tea's made!' from below brought me down to the cabin,
where I found breakfast laid out on the table over the centre-board
case, with Davies earnestly presiding, rather flushed as to the face,
and sooty as to the fingers. There was a slight shortage of plate and
crockery, but I praised the bacon and could do so truthfully, for its
crisp and steaming shavings would have put to shame the efforts of my
London cook. Indeed, I should have enjoyed the meal heartily were it
not for the lowness of the sofa and table, causing a curvature of the
body which made swallowing a more lengthy process than usual, and
induced a periodical yearning to get up and stretch--a relief which
spelt disaster to the skull. I noticed, too, that Davies spoke with a
zest, sinister to me, of the delights of white bread and fresh milk,
which he seemed to consider unusual luxuries, though suitable to an
inaugural banquet in honour of a fastidious stranger. 'One can't be
always going on shore,' he said, when I showed a discreet interest in
these things. 'I lived for ten days on a big rye loaf over in the
'And it died hard, I suppose?'
'Very hard, but' (gravely) 'quite good. After that I taught myself to
make rolls; had no baking powder at first, so used Eno's fruit salt,
but they wouldn't rise much with that. As for milk, condensed is--I
hope you don't mind it?'
I changed the subject, and asked about his plans.
'Let's get under way at once,' he said, 'and sail down the fiord.' I
tried for something more specific, but he was gone, and his voice
drowned in the fo'c'sle by the clatter and swish of washing up.
Thenceforward events moved with bewildering rapidity. Humbly desirous
of being useful I joined him on deck, only to find that he scarcely
noticed me, save as a new and unexpected obstacle in his round of
activity. He was everywhere at once--heaving in chain, hooking on
halyards, hauling ropes; while my part became that of the clown who
does things after they are already done, for my knowledge of a yacht
was of that floating and inaccurate kind which is useless in
practice. Soon the anchor was up (a great rusty monster it was!), the
sails set, and Davies was darting swiftly to and fro between the
tiller and jib-sheets, while the Dulcibella bowed a lingering
farewell to the shore and headed for the open fiord. Erratic puffs
from the high land behind made her progress timorous at first, but
soon the fairway was reached and a true breeze from Flensburg and the
west took her in its friendly grip. Steadily she rustled down the
calm blue highway whose soft beauty was the introduction to a passage
in my life, short, but pregnant with moulding force, through stress
and strain, for me and others.
Davies was gradually resuming his natural self, with abstracted
intervals, in which he lashed the helm to finger a distant rope, with
such speed that the movements seemed simultaneous. Once he vanished,
only to reappear in an instant with a chart, which he studied, while
steering, with a success that its reluctant folds seemed to render
impossible. Waiting respectfully for his revival I had full time to
look about. The fiord here was about a mile broad. From the shore we
had left the hills rose steeply, but with no rugged grandeur; the
outlines were soft; there were green spaces and rich woods on the
lower slopes; a little white town was opening up in one place, and
scattered farms dotted the prospect. The other shore, which I could
just see, framed between the gunwale and the mainsail, as I sat
leaning against the hatchway, and sadly missing a deck-chair, was
lower and lonelier, though prosperous and pleasing to the eye.
Spacious pastures led up by slow degrees to ordered clusters of wood,
which hinted at the presence of some great manor house. Behind us,
Flensburg was settling into haze. Ahead, the scene was shut in by the
contours of hills, some clear, some dreamy and distant. Lastly, a
single glimpse of water shining between the folds of hill far away
hinted at spaces of distant sea of which this was but a secluded
inlet. Everywhere was that peculiar charm engendered by the
association of quiet pastoral country and a homely human atmosphere
with a branch of the great ocean that bathes all the shores of our
There was another charm in the scene, due to the way in which I was
viewing it--not as a pampered passenger on a 'fine steam yacht', or
even on 'a powerful modern schooner', as the yacht agents advertise,
but from the deck of a scrubby little craft of doubtful build and
distressing plainness, which yet had smelt her persistent way to this
distant fiord through I knew not what of difficulty and danger, with
no apparent motive in her single occupant, who talked as vaguely and
unconcernedly about his adventurous cruise as though it were all a
protracted afternoon on Southampton Water.
I glanced round at Davies. He had dropped the chart and was sitting,
or rather half lying, on the deck with one bronzed arm over the
tiller, gazing fixedly ahead, with just an occasional glance around
and aloft. He still seemed absorbed in himself, and for a moment or
two I studied his face with an attention I had never, since I had
known him, given it. I had always thought it commonplace, as I had
thought him commonplace, so far as I had thought at all about either.
It had always rather irritated me by an excess of candour and
boyishness. These qualities it had kept, but the scales were falling
from my eyes, and I saw others. I saw strength to obstinacy and
courage to recklessness, in the firm lines of the chin; an older and
deeper look in the eyes. Those odd transitions from bright mobility
to detached earnestness, which had partly amused and chiefly annoyed
me hitherto, seemed now to be lost in a sensitive reserve, not cold
or egotistic, but strangely winning from its paradoxical frankness.
Sincerity was stamped on every lineament. A deep misgiving stirred me
that, clever as I thought myself, nicely perceptive of the right and
congenial men to know, I had made some big mistakes--how many, I
wondered? A relief, scarcely less deep because it was unconfessed,
stole in on me with the suspicion that, little as I deserved it, the
patient fates were offering me a golden chance of repairing at least
one. And yet, I mused, the patient fates have crooked methods,
besides a certain mischievous humour, for it was Davies who had asked
me out--though now he scarcely seemed to need me--almost tricked me
into coming out, for he might have known I was not suited to such a
life; yet trickery and Davies sounded an odd conjuncture.
Probably it was the growing discomfort of my attitude which produced
this backsliding. My night's rest and the 'ascent from the bath' had,
in fact, done little to prepare me for contact with sharp edges and
hard surfaces. But Davies had suddenly come to himself, and with an
'I say, are you comfortable? Have something to sit on?' jerked the
helm a little to windward, felt it like a pulse for a moment, with a
rapid look to windward, and dived below, whence he returned with a
couple of cushions, which he threw to me. I felt perversely resentful
of these luxuries, and asked:
'Can't I be of any use?'
'Oh, don't you bother,' he answered. 'I expect you're tired. Aren't
we having a splendid sail? That must be Ekken on the port bow,'
peering under the sail, 'where the trees run in. I say, do you mind
looking at the chart?' He tossed it over to me. I spread it out
painfully, for it curled up like a watch-spring at the least
slackening of pressure. I was not familiar with charts, and this
sudden trust reposed in me, after a good deal of neglect, made me
'You see Flensburg, don't you?' he said. 'That's where we are,'
dabbing with a long reach at an indefinite space on the crowded
sheet. 'Now which side of that buoy off the point do we pass?'
I had scarcely taken in which was land and which was water, much less
the significance of the buoy, when he resumed:
'Never mind; I'm pretty sure it's all deep water about here. I expect
that marks the fair-way for steamers.
In a minute or two we were passing the buoy in question, on the wrong
side I am pretty certain, for weeds and sand came suddenly into view
below us with uncomfortable distinctness. But all Davies said was:
'There's never any sea here, and the plate's not down,' a dark
utterance which I pondered doubtfully. 'The best of these Schleswig
waters,' he went on, is that a boat of this size can go almost
anywhere. There's no navigation required. Why--'At this moment a
faint scraping was felt, rather than heard, beneath us.
'Aren't we aground?' I asked. with great calmness.
'Oh, she'll blow over,' he replied, wincing a little.
She 'blew over', but the episode caused a little naive vexation in
Davies. I relate it as a good instance of one of his minor
peculiarities. He was utterly without that didactic pedantry which
yachting has a fatal tendency to engender In men who profess it. He
had tossed me the chart without a thought that I was an ignoramus, to
whom it would be Greek, and who would provide him with an admirable
subject to drill and lecture, just as his neglect of me throughout
the morning had been merely habitual and unconscious independence. In
the second place, master of his _métier_, as I knew him afterwards to
be, resourceful, skilful, and alert, he was liable to lapse into a
certain amateurish vagueness, half irritating and half amusing. I
think truly that both these peculiarities came from the same source,
a hatred of any sort of affectation. To the same source I traced the
fact that he and his yacht observed none of the superficial etiquette
of yachts and yachtsmen, that she never, for instance, flew a
national ensign, and he never wore a 'yachting suit'.
We rounded a low green point which I had scarcely noticed before.
'We must jibe,' said Davies: 'just take the helm, will you?' and,
without waiting for my co-operation, he began hauling in the
mainsheet with great vigour. I had rude notions of steering, but
jibing is a delicate operation. No yachtsman will be surprised to
hear that the boom saw its opportunity and swung over with a mighty
crash, with the mainsheet entangled round me and the tiller.
'Jibed all standing,' was his sorrowful comment. 'You're not used to
her yet. She's very quick on the helm.'
'Where am I to steer for?' I asked, wildly.
'Oh, don't trouble, I'll take her now,' he replied.
I felt it was time to make my position clear. 'I'm an utter duffer at
sailing,' I began. 'You'll have a lot to teach me, or one of these
days I shall be wrecking you. You see, there's always been a
crew--'Crew!'--with sovereign contempt--'why, the whole fun of the
thing is to do everything oneself.'
'Well, I've felt in the way the whole morning.'
'I'm awfully sorry!' His dismay and repentance were comical. 'Why,
it's just the other way; you may be all the use in the world.' He
We were following the inward trend of a small bay towards a cleft in
the low shore.
'That's Ekken Sound,' said Davies; 'let's look into it,' and a minute
or two later we were drifting through a dainty little strait, with a
peep of open water at the end of it. Cottages bordered either side.
some overhanging the very water, some connecting with it by a rickety
wooden staircase or a miniature landing-stage. Creepers and roses
rioted over the walls and tiny porches. For a space on one side, a
rude quay, with small smacks floating off it, spoke of some minute
commercial interests; a very small tea-garden, with neglected-looking
bowers and leaf-strewn tables, hinted at some equally minute tripping
interest. A pervading hue of mingled bronze and rose came partly from
the weather-mellowed woodwork of the cottages and stages, and partly
from the creepers and the trees behind, where autumn's subtle fingers
were already at work. Down this exquisite sea-lane we glided till it
ended in a broad mere, where our sails, which had been shivering and
complaining, filled into contented silence.
'Ready about! ' said Davies, callously. 'We must get out of this
again.' And round we swung.
'Why not anchor and stop here?' I protested; for a view of
tantalizing loveliness was unfolding itself.
'Oh, we've seen all there is to be seen, and we must take this breeze
while we've got it.' It was always torture to Davies to feel a good
breeze running to waste while he was inactive at anchor or on shore.
The 'shore' to him was an inferior element, merely serving as a
useful annexe to the water--a source of necessary supplies.
'Let's have lunch,' he pursued, as we resumed our way down the fiord.
A vision of iced drinks, tempting salads, white napery, and an
attentive steward mocked me with past recollections.
'You'll find a tongue,' said the voice of doom, 'in the starboard
sofa-locker; beer under the floor in the bilge. I'll see her round
that buoy, if you wouldn't mind beginning.' I obeyed with a bad
grace, but the close air and cramped posture must have benumbed my
faculties, for I opened the port-side locker, reached down, and
grasped a sticky body, which turned out to be a pot of varnish.
Recoiling wretchedly, I tried the opposite one, combating the
embarrassing heel of the boat and the obstructive edges of the
centre-board case. A medley of damp tins of varied sizes showed in
the gloom, exuding a mouldy odour. Faded legends on dissolving paper,
like the remnants of old posters on a disused hoarding, spoke of
soups, curries, beefs, potted meats, and other hidden delicacies. I
picked out a tongue, re-imprisoned the odour, and explored for beer.
It was true, I supposed, that bilge didn't hurt it, as I tugged at
the plank on my hands and knees, but I should have myself preferred a
more accessible and less humid wine-cellar than the cavities among
slimy ballast from which I dug the bottles. I regarded my hard-won
and ill-favoured pledges of a meal with giddiness and discouragement.
'How are you getting on? ' shouted Davies; 'the tin-opener's hanging
up on the bulkhead; the plates and knives are in the cupboard.'
I doggedly pursued my functions. The plates and knives met me
half-way, for, being on the weather side, and thus having a downward
slant, its contents, when I slipped the latch, slid affectionately
into my bosom, and overflowed with a clatter and jingle on to the
'That often happens,' I heard from above. 'Never mind! There are no
breakables. I'm coming down to help.' And down he came, leaving the
Dulcibella to her own devices.
'I think I'll go on deck,' I said. 'Why in the world couldn't you
lunch comfortably at Ekken and save this infernal pandemonium of a
picnic? Where's the yacht going to meanwhile? And how are we to lunch
on that slanting table? I'm covered with varnish and mud, and
ankle-deep in crockery. There goes. the beer!'
'You shouldn't have stood it on the table with this list on,' said
Davies, with intense composure, 'but it won't do any harm; it'll
drain into the bilge' (ashes to ashes, dust to dust, I thought). 'You
go on deck now, and I'll finish getting ready.' I regretted my
explosion, though wrung from me under great provocation.
'Keep her straight on as she's going,' said Davies, as I clambered up
out of the chaos, brushing the dust off my trousers and varnishing
the ladder with my hands. I unlashed the helm and kept her as she was
We had rounded a sharp bend in the fiord, and were sailing up a broad
and straight reach which every moment disclosed new beauties, sights
fair enough to be balm to the angriest spirit. A red-roofed hamlet
was on our left, on the right an ivied ruin, close to the water,
where some contemplative cattle stood knee-deep. The view ahead was a
white strand which fringed both shores, and to it fell wooded slopes,
interrupted here and there by low sandstone cliffs of warm red
colouring, and now and again by a dingle with cracks of greensward.
I forgot petty squalors and enjoyed things--the coy tremble of the
tiller and the backwash of air from the dingy mainsail, and, with a
somewhat chastened rapture, the lunch which Davies brought up to me
and solicitously watched me eat.
Later, as the wind sank to lazy airs, he became busy with a larger
topsail and jib; but I was content to doze away the afternoon,
drenching brain and body in the sweet and novel foreign atmosphere,
and dreamily watching the fringe of glen cliff and cool white sand as
they passed ever more slowly by.
'WAKE up!' I rubbed my eyes and wondered where I was; stretched
myself painfully, too, for even the cushions had not given me a true
bed of roses. It was dusk, and the yacht was stationary in glassy
water, coloured by the last after-glow. A roofing of thin upper-cloud
had spread over most of the sky, and a subtle smell of rain was in
the air. We seemed to be in the middle of the fiord, whose shores
looked distant and steep in the gathering darkness. Close ahead they
faded away suddenly, and the sight lost itself in a grey void. The
stillness was absolute.
'We can't get to Sonderburg to-night,' said Davies.
'What's to be done then?' I asked, collecting my senses.
'Oh! we'll anchor anywhere here, we're just at the mouth of the
fiord; I'll tow her inshore if you'll steer in that direction.' He
pointed vaguely at a blur of trees and cliff. Then he jumped into the
dinghy, cast off the painter, and, after snatching at the slack of a
rope, began towing the reluctant yacht by short jerks of the sculls.
The menacing aspect of that grey void, combined with a natural
preference for getting to some definite place at night, combined to
depress my spirits afresh. In my sleep I had dreamt of Morven Lodge,
of heather tea-parties after glorious slaughters of grouse, of salmon
leaping in amber pools--and now--
'Just take a cast of the lead, will you?' came Davies's voice above
the splash of the sculls.
'Where is it?' I shouted back.
'Never mind - we're close enough now; let--Can you manage to let go
I hurried forward and picked impotently at the bonds of the sleeping
monster. But Davies was aboard again, and stirred him with a deft
touch or two, till he crashed into the water with a grinding of
'We shall do well here,' said he.
'Isn't this rather an open anchorage?' I suggested.
'It's only open from that quarter,' he replied. 'If it comes on to
blow from there we shall have to clear out; but I think it's only
rain. Let's stow the sails.'
Another whirlwind of activity, in which I joined as effectively as I
could, oppressed by the prospect of having to 'clear out'--who knows
whither?--at midnight. But Davies's _sang froid_ was infectious, I
suppose, and the little den below, bright-lit and soon fragrant with
cookery, pleaded insistently for affection. Yachting in this singular
style was hungry work, I found. Steak tastes none the worse for
having been wrapped in newspaper, and the slight traces of the day's
news disappear with frying in onions and potato-chips. Davies was
indeed on his mettle for this, his first dinner to his guest; for he
produced with stealthy pride, not from the dishonoured grave of the
beer, but from some more hallowed recess, a bottle of German
champagne, from which we drank success to the Dulcibella.
'I wish you would tell me all about your cruise from England,' I
asked. 'You must have had some exciting adventures. Here are the
charts; let's go over them.'
'We must wash up first,' he replied, and I was tactfully introduced
to one of his very few 'standing orders', that tobacco should not
burn, nor post-prandial chat begin, until that distasteful process
had ended. 'It would never get done otherwise,' he sagely opined. But
when we were finally settled with cigars, a variety of which, culled
from many ports--German, Dutch, and Belgian--Davies kept in a
battered old box in the net-rack, the promised talk hung fire.
'I'm no good at description,' he complained; 'and there's really very
little to tell. We left Dover--Morrison and I--on 6th August; made a
good passage to Ostend.'
'You had some fun there, I suppose?' I put in, thinking of--well, of
Ostend in August.
'Fun! A filthy hole I call it; we had to stop a couple of days, as we
fouled a buoy coming in and carried away the bobstay; we lay in a
dirty little tidal dock, and there was nothing to do on shore.'
'Well, what next?'
'We had a splendid sail to the East Scheldt, but then, like fools,
decided to go through Holland by canal and river. It was good fun
enough navigating the estuary--the tides and banks there are
appalling--but farther inland it was a wretched business, nothing but
paying lock-dues, bumping against schuyts, and towing down stinking
canals. Never a peaceful night like this--always moored by some quay
or tow-path, with people passing and boys. Heavens! shall I ever
forget those boys! A perfect murrain of them infests Holland; they
seem to have nothing in the world to do but throw stones and mud at
'They want a Herod, with some statesmanlike views on infanticide.'
'By Jove! yes; but the fact is that you want a crew for that
pottering inland work; they can smack the boys and keep an eye on the
sculls. A boat like this should stick to the sea, or out-of-the-way
places on the coast. Well, after Amsterdam.'
'You've skipped a good deal, haven't you?' I interrupted.
'Oh! have I? Well, let me see, we went by Dordrecht to Rotterdam;
nothing to see there, and swarms of tugs buzzing about and shaving
one's bows every second. On by the Vecht river to Amsterdam, and
thence--Lord, what a relief it was!--out into the North Sea again.
The weather had been still and steamy; but it broke up finely now,
and we had a rattling three-reef sail to the Zuyder Zee.'
He reached up to the bookshelf for what looked like an ancient
ledger, and turned over the leaves.
'Is that your log?' I asked. 'I should like to have a look at it.'
'Oh! you'd find it dull reading--if you could read it at all; it's
just short notes about winds and bearings, and so on.' He was turning
some leaves over rapidly. 'Now, why don't you keep a log of what we
do? I can't describe things, and you can.'
'I've half a mind to try,' I said.
'We want another chart now,' and he pulled down a second yet more
stained and frayed than the first. 'We had a splendid time then
exploring the Zuyder Zee, its northern part at least, and round those
islands which bound it on the north. Those are the Frisian Islands,
and they stretch for 120 miles or so eastward. You see, the first two
of them, Texel and Vlieland, shut in the Zuyder Zee, and the rest
border the Dutch and German coasts.' _[See Map A]_
'What's all this?' I said, running my finger over some dotted patches
which covered much of the chart. The latter was becoming
unintelligible; clean-cut coasts and neat regiments of little figures
had given place to a confusion of winding and intersecting lines and
'All _sand,_' said Davies, enthusiastically. 'You can't think what a
splendid sailing-ground it is. You can explore for days without
seeing a soul. These are the channels, you see; they're very badly
charted. This chart was almost useless, but it made it all the more
fun. No towns or harbours, just a village or two on the islands, if
you wanted stores.'
'They look rather desolate,' I said.
'Desolate's no word for it; they're really only gigantic sand-banks
'Wasn't all this rather dangerous?' I asked.
'Not a bit; you see, that's where our shallow draught and flat bottom
came in--we could go anywhere, and it didn't matter running
aground--she's perfect for that sort of work; and she doesn't really
_look_ bad either, does she?' he asked, rather wistfully. I suppose I
hesitated, for he said, abruptly:
'Anyway, I don't go in for looks.'
He had leaned back, and I detected traces of incipient
absentmindedness. His cigar, which he had lately been lighting and
relighting feverishly--a habit of his when excited--seemed now to
have expired for good.
'About running aground,' I persisted; 'surely that's apt to be
He sat up and felt round for a match.
'Not the least, if you know where you can run risks and where you
can't; anyway, you can't possibly help it. That chart may look simple
to you'--('simple!' I thought)--'but at half flood all those banks
are covered; the islands and coasts are scarcely visible, they are so
low, and everything looks the same.' This graphic description of a
'splendid cruising-ground' took away my breath. 'Of course there _is_
risk sometimes--choosing an anchorage requires care. You can
generally get a nice berth under the lee of a bank, but the tides run
strong in the channels, and if there's a gale blowing--'
"Didn't you ever take a pilot?' I interrupted.
'Pilot? Why, the whole point of the thing'--he stopped short--'I did
take one once, later on,' he resumed, with an odd smile, which faded
'Well?' I urged, for I saw a reverie was coming.
'Oh! he ran me ashore, of course. Served me right. I wonder what the
weather's doing'; he rose, glanced at the aneroid, the clock, and the
half-closed skylight with a curious circular movement, and went a
step or two up the companion-ladder, where he remained for several
minutes with head and shoulders in the open air.
There was no sound of wind outside, but the Dulcibella had begun to
move in her sleep, as it were, rolling drowsily to some taint send of
the sea, with an occasional short jump, like the start of an uneasy
'What does it look like?' I called from my sofa. I had to repeat the
'Rain coming,' said Davies, returning, 'and possibly wind; but we're
safe enough here. It's coming from the sou'-west; shall we turn in?'
'We haven't finished your cruise yet,' I said. 'Light a pipe and tell
me the rest.'
'All right,' he agreed, with more readiness than I expected.
'After Terschelling--here it is, the third island from the west--I
pottered along eastward.' _[See Map A]_
'Oh! I forgot. Morrison had to leave me there. I missed him badly.
but I hoped at that time to get--to join me. I could manage all right
single-handed, but for that sort of work two are much better than
one. The plate's beastly heavy; in fact, I had to give up using it
for fear of a smash.'
'After Terschelling?' I jogged his memory.
'Well, I followed the Dutch islands, Ameland, Schiermonnikoog, Rottum
(outlandish names, aren't they?), sometimes outside them, sometimes
inside. It was a bit lonely, but grand sport and very interesting.
The charts were shocking, but I worried out most of the channels.'
'I suppose those waters are only used by small local craft?' I put
in; that would account for inaccuracies.' Did Davies think that
Admiralties had time to waste on smoothing the road for such quixotic
little craft as his, in all its inquisitive ramblings? But he fired
'That's all very well,' he said, 'but think what folly it is.
However, that's a long story, and will bore you. To cut matters
short, for we ought to be turning in, I got to Borkum--that's the
first of the _German_ islands.' He pointed at a round bare lozenge
lying in the midst of a welter of sandbanks. 'Rottum--this queer
little one--it has only one house on it--is the most easterly Dutch
island, and the mainland of Holland ends _here_, opposite it, at the
Ems River'--indicating a dismal cavity in the coast, sown with names
suggestive of mud, and wrecks, and dreariness.
'What date was this?' I asked.
'About the ninth of this month.'
'Why, that's only a fortnight before you wired to me! You were pretty
quick getting to Flensburg. Wait a bit, we want another chart. Is
this the next?'
'Yes; but we scarcely need it. I only went a little way farther
on--to Norderney, in fact, the third German island--then I decided to
go straight for the Baltic. I had always had an idea of getting
there, as Knight did in the Falcon. So I made a passage of it to the
Eider River, _there_ on the West Schleswig coast, took the river and
canal through to Kiel on the Baltic, and from there made another
passage up north to Flensburg. I was a week there, and then you came,
and here we are. And now let's turn in. We'll have a fine sail
to-morrow!' He ended with rather forced vivacity, and briskly rolled
up the chart. The reluctance he had shown from the first to talk
about his cruise had been for a brief space forgotten in his
enthusiasm about a portion of it, but had returned markedly in this
bald conclusion. I felt sure that there was more in it than mere
disinclination to spin nautical yarns in the 'hardy Corinthian'
style, which can be so offensive in amateur yachtsmen; and I thought
I guessed the explanation. His voyage single-handed to the Baltic
from the Frisian Islands had been a foolhardy enterprise, with
perilous incidents, which, rather than make light of, he would not
refer to at all. Probably he was ashamed of his recklessness and
wished to ignore it with me, an inexperienced acquaintance not yet
enamoured of the Dulcibella's way of life, whom both courtesy and
interest demanded that he should inspire with confidence. I liked him
all the better as I came to this conclusion, but I was tempted to
persist a little.
'I slept the whole afternoon,' I said; 'and, to tell the truth, I
rather dread the idea of going to bed, it's so tiring. Look here,
you've rushed over that last part like an express train. That passage
to the Schleswig coast--the Eider River, did you say?--was a longish
one, wasn't it?'
'Well, you see what it was; about seventy miles, I suppose, direct.'
He spoke low, bending down to sweep up some cigar ashes on the floor.
'Direct?' I insinuated. 'Then you put in somewhere?'
'I stopped once, anchored for the night; oh, that's nothing of a sail
with a fair wind. By Jove! I've forgotten to caulk that seam over
your bunk, and it's going to rain. I must do it now. You turn in.'
He disappeared. My curiosity, never very consuming, was banished by
concern as to the open seam; for the prospect of a big drop,
remorseless and regular as Fate, falling on my forehead throughout
the night, as in the torture-chamber of the Inquisition, was alarming
enough to recall me wholly to the immediate future. So I went to bed,
finding on the whole that I had made progress in the exercise, though
still far from being the trained contortionist that the occasion
called for. Hammering ceased, and Davies reappeared just as I was
stretched on the rack--tucked up in my bunk, I mean.
'I say,' he said, when he was settled in his, and darkness reigned,
'do you think you'll like this sort of thing?'
'If there are many places about here as beautiful as this,' I
replied, 'I think I shall. But I should like to land now and then and
have a walk. Of course, a great deal depends on the weather, doesn't
it? I hope this rain' (drops had begun to patter overhead) 'doesn't
mean that the summer's over for good.'
'Oh, you can sail just the same,' said Davies, 'unless it's very bad.
There's plenty of sheltered water. There's bound to be a change soon.
But then there are the ducks. The colder and stormier it is, the
better for them.'
I had forgotten the ducks and the cold, and, suddenly presented as a
shooting-box in inclement weather, the Dulcibella lost ground in my
estimation, which she had latterly gained.
'I'm fond of shooting,' I said, 'but I'm afraid I'm only a
fair-weather yachtsman, and I should much prefer sun and scenery.'
'Scenery,' he repeated, reflectively. 'I say, you must have thought
it a queer taste of mine to cruise about on that outlandish Frisian
coast. How would you like that sort of thing?'
'I should loathe it,' I answered, promptly, with a clear conscience.
'Weren't you delighted yourself to get to the Baltic? It must be a
wonderful contrast to what you described. Did you ever see another
'Only one,' he answered. 'Good night!'
5 Wanted, a North Wind
NOTHING disturbed my rest that night, so adaptable is youth and so
masterful is nature. At times I was remotely aware of a threshing of
rain and a humming of wind, with a nervous kicking of the little
hull, and at one moment I dreamt I saw an apparition by candle-light
of Davies, clad in pyjamas and huge top-boots, grasping a misty
lantern of gigantic proportions. But the apparition mounted the
ladder and disappeared, and I passed to other dreams.
A blast in my ear, like the voice of fifty trombones, galvanized me
into full consciousness. The musician, smiling and tousled, was at my
bedside, raising a foghorn to his lips with deadly intention. 'It's a
way we have in the Dulcibella,' he said, as I started up on one
elbow. 'I didn't startle you much, did I?' he added.
'Well, I like the _mattinata_ better than the cold douche,' I
answered, thinking of yesterday.
'Fine day and magnificent breeze!' he answered. My sensations this
morning were vastly livelier than those of yesterday at the same
hour. My limbs were supple again and my head clear. Not even the
searching wind could mar the ecstasy of that plunge down to smooth,
seductive sand, where I buried greedy fingers and looked through a
medium blue, with that translucent blue, fairy-faint and angel-pure,
that you see in perfection only in the heart of ice. Up again to sun,
wind, and the forest whispers from the shore; down just once more to
see the uncouth anchor stabbing the sand's soft bosom with one rusty
fang, deaf and inert to the Dulcibella's puny efforts to drag him
from his prey. Back, holding by the cable as a rusty clue from heaven
to earth, up to that _bourgeois_ little maiden's bows; back to
breakfast, with an appetite not to be blunted by condensed milk and
somewhat _passé_ bread. An hour later we had dressed the Dulcibella
for the road, and were foaming into the grey void of yesterday, now a
noble expanse of wind-whipped blue, half surrounded by distant hills,
their every outline vivid in the rain-washed air.
I cannot pretend that I really enjoyed this first sail into the open,
though I was keenly anxious to do so. I felt the thrill of those
forward leaps, heard that persuasive song the foam sings under the
lee-bow, saw the flashing harmonies of sea and sky; but sensuous
perception was deadened by nervousness. The yacht looked smaller than
ever outside the quiet fiord. The song of the foam seemed very near,
the wave crests aft very high. The novice in sailing clings
desperately to the thoughts of sailors--effective, prudent persons,
with a typical jargon and a typical dress, versed in local currents
and winds. I could not help missing this professional element.
Davies, as he sat grasping his beloved tiller, looked strikingly
efficient in his way, and supremely at home in his surroundings; but
he looked the amateur through and through, as with one hand, and (it
seemed) one eye, he wrestled with a spray-splashed chart half
unrolled on the deck beside him. All his casual ways returned to
me--his casual talk and that last adventurous voyage to the Baltic,
and the suspicions his reticence had aroused.
'Do you see a monument anywhere?' he said, all at once' and, before I
could answer; 'We must take another reef.' He let go of the tiller
and relit his pipe, while the yacht rounded sharply to, and in a
twinkling was tossing head to sea with loud claps of her canvas and
passionate jerks of her boom, as the wind leapt on its quarry, now
turning to hay, with redoubled force. The sting of spray in my eyes
and the Babel of noise dazed me; but Davies, with a pull on the
fore-sheet, soothed the tormented little ship, and left her coolly
sparring with the waves while he shortened sail and puffed his pipe.
An hour later the narrow vista of Als Sound was visible, with quiet
old Sonderburg sunning itself on the island shore, amid the Dybbol
heights towering above--the Dybbol of bloody memory; scene of the
last desperate stand of the Danes in '64, ere the Prussians wrested
the two fair provinces from them.
'It's early to anchor, and I hate towns,' said Davies, as one section
of a lumbering pontoon bridge opened to give us passage. But I was
firm on the need for a walk, and got my way on condition that I
bought stores as well, and returned in time to admit of further
advance to a 'quiet anchorage'. Never did I step on the solid earth
with stranger feelings, partly due to relief from confinement, partly
to that sense of independence in travelling, which, for those who go
down to the sea in small ships, can make the foulest coal-port in
Northumbria seem attractive. And here I had fascinating Sonderburg,
with its broad-eaved houses of carved woodwork, each fresh with
cleansing, yet reverend with age; its fair-haired Viking-like men,
and rosy, plain-faced women, with their bullet foreheads and large
mouths; Sonderburg still Danish to the core under its Teuton veneer.
Crossing the bridge I climbed the Dybbol--dotted with memorials of
that heroic defence--and thence could see the wee form and gossamer
rigging of the Dulcibella on the silver ribbon of the Sound. and was
reminded by the sight that there were stores to be bought. So I
hurried down again to the old quarter and bargained over eggs and
bread with a dear old lady, pink as a _débutante,_ made a patriotic
pretence of not understanding German, amid called in her strapping
son, whose few words of English, being chiefly nautical slang picked
up on a British trawler, were peculiarly useless for the purpose.
Davies had tea ready when I came aboard again, and, drinking it on
deck, we proceeded up the sheltered Sound, which, in spite of its
imposing name, was no bigger than an inland river, only the hosts of
rainbow jelly-fish reminding us that we were threading a highway of
ocean. There is no rise and fall of tide in these regions to
disfigure the shore with mud. Here was a shelving gravel bank; there
a bed of whispering rushes; there again young birch trees growing to
the very brink, each wearing a stocking of bright moss and setting
its foot firmly in among golden leaves amid scarlet fungus.
Davies was preoccupied, but he lighted up when I talked of the Danish
war. 'Germany's a thundering great nation,' he said; 'I wonder if we
shall ever fight her.' A little incident that happened after we
anchored deepened the impression left by this conversation. We crept
at dusk into a shaded back-water, where our keel almost touched the
gravel bed. Opposite us on the Alsen shore there showed, clean-cut
against the sky, the spire of a little monument rising from a leafy
'I wonder what that is,' I said. It was scarcely a minute's row in
the dinghy, and when the anchor was down we sculled over to it. A
bank of loam led to gorse and bramble. Pushing aside some branches we
came to a slender Gothic memorial in grey stone, inscribed with
bas-reliefs of battle scenes, showing Prussians forcing a landing in
boats and Danes resisting with savage tenacity. In the failing light
we spelt out an inscription: 'Den bei dem Meeres-Uebergange und der
Eroberung von Alsen am 29. Juni 1864 heldenmüthig gefallenen zum
ehrenden Gedächtniss.' 'To the honoured memory of those who died
heroically at the invasion and storming of Alsen.' I knew the German
passion for commemoration; I had seen similar memorials on Alsatian
battlefields, and several on the Dybbol only that afternoon; but
there was something in the scene, the hour, and the circumstances,
which made this one seem singularly touching. As for Davies, I
scarcely recognized him; his eyes flashed and filled with tears as he
glanced from the inscription to the path we had followed and the
water beyond. 'It was a landing in boats, I suppose,' he said, half
to himself. 'I wonder they managed it. What does _heldenmüthig_
mean?'--'Heroically.'--Heldenmüthig gefallenen,' he repeated, under
his breath, lingering on each syllable. He was like a schoolboy
reading of Waterloo.
Our conversation at dinner turned naturally on war, and in naval
warfare I found I had come upon Davies's literary hobby. I had not
hitherto paid attention to the medley on our bookshelf, but I now saw
that, besides a Nautical Almanack and some dilapidated Sailing
Directions, there were several books on the cruises of small yachts,
and also some big volumes crushed in anyhow or lying on the top.
Squinting painfully at them I saw Mahan's Life of Nelson, Brassey's
Naval Annual, and others.
'It's a tremendously interesting subject,' said Davies, pulling down
(in two pieces) a volume of Mahan's Influence of Sea Power.
Dinner flagged (and froze) while he illustrated a point by reference
to the much-thumbed pages. He was very keen, and not very articulate.
I knew just enough to be an intelligent listener, and, though hungry,
was delighted to hear him talk.
'I'm not boring you, am I?' he said, suddenly.
'I should think not,' I protested. 'But you might just have a look at
They had indeed been crying aloud for notice for some minutes, and
drew candid attention to their neglect when they appeared. The
diversion they caused put Davies out of vein. I tried to revive the
subject, but he was reserved and diffident.
The untidy bookshelf reminded me of the logbook, and when Davies had
retired with the crockery to the forecastle, I pulled the ledger down
and turned over the leaves. It was a mass of short entries, with
cryptic abbreviations, winds, tides, weather, and courses appearing
to predominate. The voyage from Dover to Ostend was dismissed in two
lines: 'Under way 7 p.m., wind W.S.W. moderate; West Hinder 5 a.m.,
outside all banks Ostend 11 a.m.' The Scheldt had a couple of pages
very technical and _staccato_ in style. bland Holland was given a
contemptuous summary, with some half-hearted allusions to windmills,
and so on, and a caustic word or two about boys, paint, and canal
At Amsterdam technicalities began again, and a brisker tone pervaded
the entries, which became progressively fuller as the writer cruised
on the Frisian coast. He was clearly in better spirits, for here and
there were quaint and laboured efforts to describe nature out of
material which, as far as I could judge, was repellent enough to
discourage the most brilliant and observant of writers; with an
occasional note of a visit on shore, generally reached by a walk of
half a mile over sand, and of talks with shop people and fishermen.
But such lighter relief was rare. The bulk dealt with channels and
shoals with weird and depressing names, with the centre-plate, the
sails, and the wind, buoys and 'booms', tides and 'berths' for the
night. 'Kedging off' appeared to be a frequent diversion; 'running
aground' was of almost daily occurrence.
It was not easy reading, and I turned the leaves rapidly. I was
curious, too, to see the latter part. I came to a point where the
rain of little sentences, pattering out like small shot, ceased
abruptly. It was at the end of 9th September. That day, with its
'kedging' and 'boom-dodging', was filled in with the usual detail.
The log then leapt over three days, and went on: '_13th. Sept._--Wind
W.N.W. fresh. Decided to go to Baltic. Sailed 4 a.m. Quick passage E.
S. to mouth of Weser. Anchored for night under Hohenhörn Sand. _14th
Sept.--Nil. 15th Sept._--Under way at 4 a.m. Wind East moderate.
Course W. by S.: four miles; N.E. by N. fifteen miles Norderpiep
9.30. Eider River 11.30.' This recital of naked facts was quite
characteristic when 'passages' were concerned, and any curiosity I
had felt about his reticence on the previous night would have been
rather allayed than stimulated had I not noticed that a page had been
torn out of the book just at this point. The frayed edge left had
been pruned and picked into very small limits; but dissimulation was
not Davies's strong point, and a child could have seen that a leaf
was missing, and that the entries, starting from the evening of 9th
September (where a page ended), had been written together at one
sitting. I was on the point of calling to Davies, and chaffing him
with having committed a grave offence against maritime law in having
'cooked' his log; but I checked myself, I scarcely know why, probably
because I guessed the joke would touch a sensitive place and fail.
Delicacy shrank from seeing him compelled either to amplify a
deception or blunder out a confession--he was too easy a prey; and,
after all, the matter was of small moment. I returned the book to the
shelf, the only definite result of its perusal being to recall my
promise to keep a diary myself, and I then and there dedicated a
notebook to the purpose.
We were just lighting our cigars when we heard voices and the splash
of oars, followed by a bump against the hull which made Davies wince,
as violations of his paint always did. 'Guten Abend; wo fahren Sie
bin?' greeted us as we climbed on deck. It turned out to be some
jovial fishermen returning to their smack from a visit to Sonderburg.
A short dialogue proved to them that we were mad Englishmen in bitter
need of charity.
'Come to Satrup,' they said; 'all the smacks are there, round the
point. There is good punch in the inn.'
Nothing loth, we followed in the dinghy, skirted a bend of the Sound,
and opened up the lights of a village, with some smacks at anchor in
front of it. We were escorted to the inn, and introduced to a
formidable beverage, called coffee-punch, and a smoke-wreathed circle
of smacksmen, who talked German out of courtesy, but were Danish in
all else. Davies was at once at home with them, to a degree, indeed,
that I envied. His German was of the crudest kind, _bizarre_ in
vocabulary and comical in accent; but the freemasonry of the sea, or
some charm of his own, gave intuition to both him and his hearers. I
cut a poor figure in this nautical gathering, though Davies, who
persistently referred to me as 'meiner Freund', tried hard to
represent me as a kindred spirit and to include me in the general
talk. I was detected at once as an uninteresting hybrid. Davies, who
sometimes appealed to me for a word, was deep in talk over anchorages
and ducks, especially, as I well remember now, about the chance of
sport in a certain _Schlei Fiord_. I fell into utter neglect, till
rescued by a taciturn person in spectacles and a very high cap, who
appeared to be the only landsman present. After silently puffing
smoke in my direction for some time, he asked me if I was married,
and if not, when I proposed to be. After this inquisition he
It was eleven before we left this hospitable inn, escorted by the
whole party to the dinghy. Our friends of the smack insisted on our
sharing their boat out of pure good-fellowship--for there was not
nearly room for us--and would not let us go till a bucket of
fresh-caught fish had been emptied into her bottom. After much
shaking of scaly hands, we sculled back to the Dulcibella, where she
slept in a bed of tremulous stars.
Davies sniffed the wind and scanned the tree-tops, where light gusts
were toying with the leaves.
'Sou'-west still,' he said, 'and more rain coming. But it's bound to
shift into the north.'
'Will that be a good wind for us?'
'It depends where we go,' he said, slowly. 'I was asking those
fellows about duck-shooting. They seemed to think the best place
would be Schlei Fiord. That's about fifteen miles south of
Sonderburg, on the way to Kiel. They said there was a pilot chap
living at the mouth who would tell us all about it. They weren't very
encouraging though. We should want a north wind for that.'
'I don't care where we go,' I said, to my own surprise.
'Don't you really?' he rejoined, with sudden warmth. Then, with a
slight change of voice. 'You mean it's all very jolly about here?'
Of course I meant that. Before we went below we both looked for a
moment at the little grey memorial; its slender fretted arch outlined
in tender lights and darks above the hollow on the Alsen shore. The
night was that of 27th September, the third I had spent on the
6 Schlei Fiord
I MAKE no apology for having described these early days in some
detail. It is no wonder that their trivialities are as vividly before
me as the colours of earth and sea in this enchanting corner of the
world. For every trifle, sordid or picturesque, was relevant; every
scrap of talk a link; every passing mood critical for good or ill. So
slight indeed were the determining causes that changed my autumn
holiday into an undertaking the most momentous I have ever
Two days more preceded the change. On the first, the southwesterly
wind still holding, we sallied forth into Augustenburg Fiord, 'to
practise smartness in a heavy thresh,' as Davies put it. It was the
day of dedication for those disgusting oilskins, immured in whose
stiff and odorous angles, I felt distressfully cumbersome; a day of
proof indeed for me, for heavy squalls swept incessantly over the
loch, and Davies, at my own request, gave me no rest. Backwards and
forwards we tacked, blustering into coves and out again, reefing and
unreefing, now stung with rain, now warmed with sun, but never with
time to breathe or think.
I wrestled with intractable ropes, slaves if they could be subdued,
tyrants if they got the upper hand; creeping, craning, straining, I
made the painful round of the deck, while Davies, hatless and
tranquil, directed my blundering movements.
'Now take the helm and try steering in a hard breeze to windward.
It's the finest sport on earth.'
So I grappled with the niceties of that delicate craft; smarting
eyes, chafed hands, and dazed brain all pressed into the service,
whilst Davies, taming the ropes the while, shouted into my ear the
subtle mysteries of the art; that fidgeting ripple in the luff of the
mainsail, and the distant rattle from the hungry jib--signs that they
are starved of wind and must be given more; the heavy list and wallow
of the hull, the feel of the wind on your cheek instead of your nose,
the broader angle of the burgee at the masthead--signs that they have
too much, and that she is sagging recreantly to leeward instead of
fighting to windward. He taught me the tactics for meeting squalls,
and the way to press your advantage when they are defeated--the iron
hand in the velvet glove that the wilful tiller needs if you are to
gain your ends with it; the exact set of the sheets necessary to get
the easiest and swiftest play of the hull--all these things and many
more I struggled to apprehend, careless for the moment as to whether
they were worth knowing, but doggedly set on knowing them. Needless
to say, I had no eyes for beauty. The wooded inlets we dived into
gave a brief respite from wind and spindrift, but called into use the
lead and the centre-board tackle--two new and cumbrous complexities.
Davies's passion for intricate navigation had to be sated even in
these secure and tideless waters.
'Let's get in as near as we can--you stand by the lead,' was his
formula; so I made false casts, tripped up in the slack, sent rivers
of water up my sleeves, and committed all the other _gaucheries_ that
beginners in the art commit, while the sand showed whiter beneath the
keel, till Davies regretfully drew off and shouted: 'Ready about,
centre-plate down,' and I dashed down to the trappings of that
diabolical contrivance, the only part of the Dulcibella's equipment
that I hated fiercely to the last. It had an odious habit when
lowered of spouting jets of water through its chain-lead on to the
cabin floor. One of my duties was to gag it with cotton-waste, but
even then its choking gurgle was a most uncomfortable sound in your
dining-room. In a minute the creek would be behind us and we would be
thumping our stem into the short hollow waves of the fiord, and
lurching through spray and rain for some point on the opposite shore.
Of our destination and objects, if we had any, I knew nothing. At the
northern end of the fiord, just before we turned, Davies had turned
dreamy in the most exasperating way, for I was steering at the time
and in mortal need of sympathetic guidance, if I was to avoid a