Part 2 out of 6
sudden jibe. As though continuing aloud some internal debate, he held
a onesided argument to the effect that it was no use going farther
north. Ducks, weather, and charts figured in it, but I did not follow
the pros and cons. I only know that we suddenly turned and began to
'battle' south again. At sunset we were back once more in the same
quiet pool among the trees and fields of Als Sound, a wondrous peace
succeeding the turmoil. Bruised and sodden, I was extricating myself
from my oily prison, and later was tasting (though not nearly yet in
its perfection) the unique exultation that follows such a day, when,
glowing all over, deliciously tired and pleasantly sore, you eat what
seems ambrosia, be it only tinned beef; and drink nectar, be it only
distilled from terrestrial hops or coffee berries, and inhale as
culminating luxury balmy fumes which even the happy Homeric gods knew
On the following morning, the 30th, a joyous shout of 'Nor'-west
wind' sent me shivering on deck, in the small hours, to handle
rain-stiff canvas and cutting chain. It was a cloudy, unsettled day,
but still enough after yesterday's boisterous ordeal. We retraced our
way past Sonderburg, and thence sailed for a faint line of pale green
on the far south-western horizon. It was during this passage that an
incident occurred, which, slight as it was, opened my eyes to much.
A flight of wild duck crossed our bows at some little distance, a
wedge-shaped phalanx of craning necks and flapping wings. I happened
to be steering while Davies verified our course below; but I called
him up at once, and a discussion began about our chances of sport.
Davies was gloomy over them.
'Those fellows at Satrup were rather doubtful,' he said. 'There are
plenty of ducks, but I made out that it's not easy for strangers to
get shooting. The whole country's so very civilized; it's not _wild_
enough, is it?'
He looked at me. I had no very clear opinion. It was anything but
wild in one sense, but there seemed to be wild enough spots for
ducks. The shore we were passing appeared to be bordered by lonely
marshes, though a spacious champaign showed behind. If it were not
for the beautiful places we had seen, and my growing taste for our
way of seeing them, his disappointing vagueness would have nettled me
more than it did. For, after all, he had brought me out loaded with
sporting equipment under a promise of shooting.
'Bad weather is what we want for ducks,' he said; 'but I'm afraid
we're in the wrong place for them. Now, if it was the North Sea,
among those Frisian islands--' His tone was timid and interrogative,
and I felt at once that he was sounding me as to some unpalatable
plan whose nature began to dawn on me.
He stammered on through a sentence or two about 'wildness' and
'nobody to interfere with you,' and then I broke in: 'You surely
don't want to leave the Baltic?'
'Why not?' said he, staring into the compass.
'Hang it, man!' I returned, tartly, 'here we are in October, the
summer over, and the weather gone to pieces. We're alone in a
cockle-shell boat, at a time when every other yacht of our size is
laying up for the winter. Luckily, we seem to have struck an ideal
cruising-ground, with a wide choice of safe fiords and a good
prospect of ducks, if we choose to take a little trouble about them.
You can't mean to waste time and run risks' (I thought of the tom
leaf in the log-book) 'in a long voyage to those forbidding haunts of
yours in the North Sea.'
'It's not very long,' said Davies, doggedly. 'Part of it's canal, and
the rest is quite safe if you're careful. There's plenty of sheltered
water, and it's not really necessary--'
'What's it all for?' I interrupted, impatiently. 'We haven't _tried_
for shooting here yet. You've no notion, have you, of getting the
boat back to England this autumn?'
'England?' he muttered. 'Oh, I don't much care.' Again his vagueness
jarred on me; there seemed to be some bar between us, invisible and
insurmountable. And, after all, what was I doing here? Roughing it in
a shabby little yacht, utterly out of my element, with a man who, a
week ago, was nothing to me, and who now was a tiresome enigma. Like
swift poison the old morbid mood in which I left London spread
through me. All I had learnt and seen slipped away; what I had
suffered remained. I was on the point of saying something which might
have put a precipitate end to our cruise, but he anticipated me.
'I'm awfully sorry,' he broke out, 'for being such a selfish brute. I
don't know what I was thinking about. You're a brick to join me in
this sort of life, and I'm afraid I'm an infernally bad host. Of
course this is just the place to cruise. I forgot about the scenery,
and all that. Let's ask about the ducks here. As you say, we're sure
to get sport if we worry and push a bit. We must be nearly there
now--yes, there's the entrance. Take the helm, will you?'
He sprang up the mast like a monkey, and gazed over the land from the
cross-trees. I looked up at my enigma and thanked Providence I had
not spoken; for no one could have resisted his frank outburst of good
nature. Yet it occurred to me that, considering the conditions of our
life, our intimacy was strangely slow in growth. I had no clue yet as
to where his idiosyncrasies began and his self ended, and he, I
surmised, was in the same stage towards me. Otherwise I should have
pressed him further now, for I felt convinced that there was some
mystery in his behaviour which I had not yet accounted for. However,
light was soon to break.
I could see no sign of the entrance he had spoken of, and no wonder,
for it is only eighty yards wide, though it leads to a fiord thirty
miles long. All at once we were jolting in a tumble of sea, and the
channel grudgingly disclosed itself, stealing between marshes and
meadows and then broadening to a mere, as at Ekken. We anchored close
to the mouth, and not far from a group of vessels of a type that
afterwards grew very familiar to me. They were sailing-barges,
something like those that ply in the Thames, bluff-bowed,
high-sterned craft of about fifty tons, ketch-rigged, and fitted with
lee-boards, very light spars, and a long tip-tilted bowsprit. (For
the future I shall call them 'galliots'.) Otherwise the only sign of
life was a solitary white house--the pilot's house, the chart told
us--close to the northern point of entrance. After tea we called on
the pilot. Patriarchally installed before a roaring stove, in the
company of a buxom bustling daughter-in-law and some rosy
grandchildren, we found a rotund and rubicund person, who greeted us
with a hoarse roar of welcome in German, which instantly changed,
when he saw us, to the funniest broken English, spoken with intense
relish and pride. We explained ourselves and our mission as well as
we could through the hospitable interruptions caused by beer and the
strains of a huge musical box, which had been set going in honour of
our arrival. Needless to say, I was read like a book at once, and
fell into the part of listener.
'Yes, yes,' he said, 'all right. There is plenty ducks, but first we
will drink a glass beer; then we will shift your ship, captain--she
lies not good there.' (Davies started up in a panic, but was waved
back to his beer.) 'Then we will drink together another glass beer;
then we will talk of ducks--no, then we will kill ducks--that is
better. Then we will have plenty glasses beer.'
This was an unexpected climax, and promised well for our prospects.
And the programme was fully carried out. After the beer our host was
packed briskly by his daughter into an armour of woollen gaiters,
coats, and mufflers, topped with a worsted helmet, which left nothing
of his face visible but a pair of twinkling eyes. Thus equipped, he
led the way out of doors, and roared for Hans and his gun, till a
great gawky youth, with high cheek-bones and a downy beard, came out
from the yard and sheepishly shook our hands.
Together we repaired to the quay, where the pilot stood, looking like
a genial ball of worsted, and bawled hoarse directions while we
shifted the Dulcibella to a berth on the farther shore close to the
other vessels. We returned with our guns, and the interval for
refreshments followed. It was just dusk when we sallied out again,
crossed a stretch of bog-land, and took up strategic posts round a
stagnant pond. Hans had been sent to drive, and the result was a fine
mallard and three ducks. It was true that all fell to the pilot's
gun, perhaps owing to Hans' filial instinct and his parent's canny
egotism in choosing his own lair, or perhaps it was chance; but the
shooting-party was none the less a triumphal success. It was
celebrated with beer and music as before, while the pilot, an infant
on each podgy knee, discoursed exuberantly on the glories of his
country and the Elysian content of his life. 'There is plenty beer,
plenty meat, plenty money, plenty ducks,' summed up his survey.
It may have been fancy, but Davies, though he had fits and starts of
vivacity, seemed very inattentive, considering that we were sitting
at the feet of so expansive an oracle. It was I who elicited most of
the practical information--details of time, weather, and likely
places for shooting, with some shrewd hints as to the kind of people
to conciliate. Whatever he thought of me, I warmed with sympathy
towards the pilot, for he assumed that we had done with cruising for
the year, and thought us mad enough as it was to have been afloat so
long, and madder still to intend living on 'so little a ship' when we
could live on land with beer and music handy. I was tempted to raise
the North Sea question, just to watch Davies under the thunder of
rebukes which would follow. But I refrained from a wish to be tender
with him, now that all was going so well. The Frisian Islands were an
extravagant absurdity now. I did not even refer to them as we pulled
back to the Dulcibella, after swearing eternal friendship with the
good pilot and his family.
Davies and I turned in good friends that night--or rather I should
say that I turned in, for I left him sucking an empty pipe and
aimlessly fingering a volume of Mahan; and once when I woke in the
night I felt somehow that his bunk was empty and that he was there in
the dark cabin, dreaming.
7 The Missing Page
I WOKE (on 1st October) with that dispiriting sensation that a hitch
has occurred in a settled plan. It was explained when I went on deck,
and I found the Dulcibella wrapped in a fog, silent, clammy, nothing
visible from her decks but the ghostly hull of a galliot at anchor
near us. She must have brought up there in the night, for there had
been nothing so close the evening before; and I remembered that my
sleep had been broken once by sounds of rumbling chain and gruff
'This looks pretty hopeless for to-day,' I said, with a shiver, to
Davies, who was laying the breakfast.
'Well, we can't do anything till this fog lifts,' he answered, with a
good deal of resignation. Breakfast was a cheerless meal. The damp
penetrated to the very cabin, whose roof and walls wept a fine dew. I
had dreaded a bathe, and yet missed it, and the ghastly light made
the tablecloth look dirtier than it naturally was, and all the
accessories more sordid. Something had gone wrong with the bacon, and
the lack of egg-cups was not in the least humorous.
Davies was just beginning, in his summary way, to tumble the things
together for washing tip, when there was a sound of a step on deck,
two sea-boots appeared on the ladder, and, before we could wonder who
the visitor was, a little man in oilskins and a sou'-wester was
stooping towards us in the cabin door, smiling affectionately at
Davies out of a round grizzled beard.
'Well met, captain,' he said, quietly, in German. 'Where are you
bound to this time?'
'Bartels!' exclaimed Davies, jumping up. The two stooping figures,
young and old, beamed at one another like father and son.
'Where have you come from? Have some coffee. How's the Johannes? Was
that you that came in last night? I'm delighted to see you!' (I spare
the reader his uncouth lingo.) The little man was dragged in and
seated on the opposite sofa to me.
'I took my apples to Kappeln,' he said, sedately, 'and now I sail to
Kiel, and so to Hamburg, where my wife and children are. It is my
last voyage of the year. You are no longer alone, captain, I see.' He
had taken off his dripping sou'-wester and was bowing ceremoniously
'Oh, I quite forgot!' said Davies, who had been kneeling on one knee
in the low doorway, absorbed in his visitor. 'This is "_meiner
Freund_," Herr Carruthers. Carruthers, this is my friend, Schiffer
Bartels, of the galliot Johannes.'
Was I never to be at an end of the puzzles which Davies presented to
me? All the impulsive heartiness died out of his voice and manner as
he uttered the last few words, and there he was, nervously glancing
from the visitor to me, like one who, against his will or from
tactlessness, has introduced two persons who he knows will disagree.
There was a pause while he fumbled with the cups, poured some cold
coffee out and pondered over it as though it were a chemical
experiment. Then he muttered something about boiling some more water,
and took refuge in the forecastle. I was ill at ease at this period
with seafaring men, but this mild little person was easy ground for a
beginner. Besides, when he took off his oilskin coat he reminded me
less of a sailor than of a homely draper of some country town, with
his clean turned-down collar and neatly fitting frieze jacket. We
exchanged some polite platitudes about the fog and his voyage last
night from Kappeln, which appeared to be a town some fifteen miles up
Davies joined in from the forecastle with an excess of warmth which
almost took the words out of my mouth. We exhausted the subject very
soon, and then my _vis-à-vis_ smiled paternally at me, as he had done
at Davies, and said, confidentially:
'It is good that the captain is no more alone. He is a fine young
man--Heaven, what a fine young man! I love him as my son--but he is
too brave, too reckless. It is good for him to have a friend.'
I nodded and laughed, though in reality I was very far from being
'Where was it you met?' I asked.
'In an ugly place, and in ugly weather,' he answered, gravely, but
with a twinkle of fun in his eye. 'But has he not told you?' he
added, with ponderous slyness. 'I came just in time. No! what am I
saying? He is brave as a lion and quick as a cat. I think he cannot
drown; but still it was an ugly place and ugly--'
'What are you talking about, Bartels?' interrupted Davies, emerging
noisily with a boiling kettle.
I answered the question. 'I was just asking your friend how it was
you made his acquaintance.'
'Oh, he helped me out of a bit of a mess in the North Sea, didn't
you, Bartels?' he said.
'It was nothing,' said Bartels. 'But the North Sea is no place for
your little boat, captain. So I have told you many times. How did you
like Flensburg? A fine town, is it not? Did you find Herr Krank, the
carpenter? I see you have placed a little mizzen-mast. The rudder was
nothing much, but it was well that it held to the Eider. But she is
strong and good, your little ship, and--Heaven!--she had need be so.'
He chuckled, and shook his head at Davies as at a wayward child.
This is all the conversation that I need record. For my part I merely
waited for its end, determined on my course, which was to know the
truth once and for all, and make an end of these distracting
mystifications. Davies plied his friend with coffee, and kept up the
talk gallantly; but affectionate as he was, his manner plainly showed
that he wanted to be alone with me.
The gist of the little skipper's talk was a parental warning that,
though we were well enough here in the 'Ost-See', it was time for
little boats to be looking for winter quarters. That he himself was
going by the Kiel Canal to Hamburg to spend a cosy winter as a decent
citizen at his warm fireside, and that we should follow his example.
He ended with an invitation to us to visit him on the Johannes, and
with suave farewells disappeared into the fog. Davies saw him into
his boat, returned without wasting a moment, and sat down on the sofa
'What did he mean?' I asked.
'I'll tell you,' said Davies, 'I'll tell you the whole thing. As far
as you're concerned it's partly a confession. Last night I had made
up my mind to say nothing, but when Bartels turned up I knew it must
all come out. It's been fearfully on my mind, and perhaps you'll be
able to help me. But it's for you to decide.'
'Fire away!' I said.
'You know what I was saying about the Frisian Islands the other day?
A thing happened there which I never told you, when you were asking
about my cruise.'
'It began near Norderney,' I put in.
'How did you guess that?' he asked.
'You're a bad hand at duplicity,' I replied. 'Go on.'
'Well, you're quite right, it was there, on 9th September. I told you
the sort of thing I was doing at that time, but I don't think I said
that I made inquiries from one or two people about duck-shooting, and
had been told by some fishermen at Borkum that there was a big
sailing-yacht in those waters, whose owner, a German of the name of
Dollmann, shot a good deal, and might give me some tips. Well, I
found this yacht one evening, knowing it must be her from the
description I had. She was what is called a "barge-yacht", of fifty
or sixty tons, built for shallow water on the lines of a Dutch
galliot, with lee-boards and those queer round bows and square stern.
She's something like those galliots anchored near us now. You
sometimes see the same sort of yacht in English waters, only there
they copy the Thames barges. She looked a clipper of her sort, and
very smart; varnished all over and shining like gold. I came on her
about sunset, after a long day of exploring round the Ems estuary.
She was lying in--'
'Wait a bit, let's have the chart,' I interrupted.
Davies found it and spread it on the table between us, first pushing
back the cloth and the breakfast things to one end, where they lay in
a slovenly litter. This was one of the only two occasions on which I
ever saw him postpone the rite of washing up, and it spoke volumes
for the urgency of the matter in hand.
'Here it is,' said Davies _[See Map A]_ and I looked with a new and
strange interest at the long string of slender islands, the parallel
line of coast, and the confusion of shoals, banks, and channels which
lay between. 'Here's Norderney, you see. By the way, there's a
harbour there at the west end of the island, the only real harbour on
the whole line of islands, Dutch or German, except at Terschelling.
There's quite a big town there, too, a watering place, where Germans
go for sea-bathing in the summer. Well, the Medusa, that was her
name, was lying in the Riff Gat roadstead, flying the German ensign,
and I anchored for the night pretty near her. I meant to visit her
owner later on, but I very nearly changed my mind, as I always feel
rather a fool on smart yachts, and my German isn't very good.
However, I thought I might as well; so, after dinner, when it was
dark, I sculled over in the dinghy, hailed a sailor on deck, said who
I was, and asked if I could see the owner. The sailor was a surly
sort of chap, and there was a good long delay while I waited on deck,
feeling more and more uncomfortable. Presently a steward came up and
showed me down the companion and into the saloon, which, after
_this_, looked--well, horribly gorgeous--you know what I mean, plush
lounges, silk cushions, and that sort of thing. Dinner seemed to be
just over, and wine and fruit were on the table. Herr Dollmann was
there at his coffee. I introduced myself somehow--'
'Stop a moment,' I said; 'what was he like?'
'Oh, a tall, thin chap, in evening dress; about fifty I suppose, with
greyish hair and a short beard. I'm not good at describing people. He
had a high, bulging forehead, and there was something about him--but
I think I'd better tell you the bare facts first. I can't say he
seemed pleased to see me, and he couldn't speak English, and, in
fact, I felt infernally awkward. Still, I had an object in coming,
and as I was there I thought I might as well gain it.'
The notion of Davies in his Norfolk jacket and rusty flannels
haranguing a frigid German in evening dress in a 'gorgeous' saloon
tickled my fancy greatly.
'He seemed very much astonished to see me; had evidently seen the
Dulcibella arrive, and had wondered what she was. I began as soon as
I could about the ducks, but he shut me up at once, said I could do
nothing hereabouts. I put it down to sportsman's jealousy--you know
what that is. But I saw I had come to the wrong shop, and was just
going to back out and end this unpleasant interview, when he thawed a
bit, offered me some wine, and began talking in quite a friendly way,
taking a great interest in my cruise and my plans for the future. In
the end we sat up quite late, though I never felt really at my ease.
He seemed to be taking stock of me all the time, as though I were
some new animal.' (How I sympathized with that German!) 'We parted
civilly enough, and I rowed back and turned in, meaning to potter on
eastwards early next day.
'But I was knocked up at dawn by a sailor with a message from
Dollmann asking if he could come to breakfast with me. I was rather
flabbergasted, but didn't like to be rude, so I said, "Yes." Well, he
came, and I returned the call--and--well, the end of it was that I
stayed at anchor there for three days.' This was rather abrupt.
'How did you spend the time?' I asked. Stopping three days anywhere
was an unusual event for him, as I knew from his log.
'Oh, I lunched or dined with him once or twice--with _them_, I ought
to say,' he added, hurriedly. 'His daughter was with him. She didn't
appear the evening I first called.'
'And what was she like?' I asked, promptly, before he could hurry on.
'Oh, she seemed a very nice girl,' was the guarded reply, delivered
with particular unconcern, 'and--the end of it was that I and the
Medusa sailed away in company. I must tell you how it came about,
just in a few words for the present.
'It was his suggestion. He said he had to sail to Hamburg, and
proposed that I should go with him in the Dulcibella as far as the
Elbe, and then, if I liked, I could take the ship canal at
Brunsbüttel through to Kiel and the Baltic. I had no very fixed plans
of my own, though I had meant to go on exploring eastwards between
the islands and the coast, and so reach the Elbe in a much slower
way. He dissuaded me from this, sticking to it that I should have no
chance of ducks, and urging other reasons. Anyway, we settled to sail
in company direct to Cuxhaven, in the Elbe. With a fair wind and an
early start it should be only one day's sail of about sixty miles.
'The plan only came to a head on the evening of the third day, 12th
'I told you, I think, that the weather had broken after a long spell
of heat. That very day it had been blowing pretty hard from the west,
and the glass was falling still. I said, of course, that I couldn't
go with him if the weather was too bad, but he prophesied a good day,
said it was an easy sail, and altogether put me on my mettle. You can
guess how it was. Perhaps I had talked about single-handed cruising
as though it were easier than it was, though I never meant it in a
boasting way, for I hate that sort of thing, and besides there _is_
no danger if you're careful--'
'Oh, go on,' I said.
'Anyway, we went next morning at six. It was a dirty-looking day,
wind W.N.W., but his sails were going up and mine followed. I took
two reefs in, and we sailed out into the open and steered E.N.E.
along the coast for the Outer Elbe Lightship about fifty knots off.
Here it all is, you see.' (He showed me the course on the chart.)
'The trip was nothing for his boat, of course, a safe, powerful old
tub, forging through the sea as steady as a house. I kept up with her
easily at first. My hands were pretty full, for there was a hard wind
on my quarter and a troublesome sea; but as long as nothing worse
came I knew I should be all right, though I also knew that I was a
fool to have come.
'All went well till we were off Wangeroog, the last of the
islands--_here_--and then it began to blow really hard. I had half a
mind to chuck it and cut into the Jade River, _down there_,' but I
hadn't the face to, so I hove to and took in my last reef.' (Simple
words, simply uttered; but I had seen the operation in calm water and
shuddered at the present picture.) 'We had been about level till
then, but with my shortened canvas I fell behind. Not that that
mattered in the least. I knew my course, had read up my tides, and,
thick as the weather was, I had no doubt of being able to pick up the
lightship. No change of plan was possible now. The Weser estuary was
on my starboard hand, but the whole place was a lee-shore and a mass
of unknown banks--just look at them. I ran on, the Dulcibella doing
her level best, but we had some narrow shaves of being pooped. I was
about _here_, say six miles south-west of the lightship, _[See Chart
A]_ when I suddenly saw that the Medusa had hove to right ahead, as
though waiting till I came up. She wore round again on the course as
I drew level, and we were alongside for a bit. Dollmann lashed the
wheel, leaned over her quarter, and shouted, very slowly and
distinctly so that I could understand; "Follow me--sea too bad for
you outside--short cut through sands--save six miles."
'It was taking me all my time to manage the tiller, but I knew what
he meant at once, for I had been over the chart carefully the night
before. _[See Map A]_ You see, the whole bay between Wangeroog and
the Elbe is encumbered with sand. A great jagged chunk of it runs out
from Cuxhaven in a north-westerly direction for fifteen miles or so,
ending in a pointed spit, called the _Scharhorn_. To reach the Elbe
from the west you nave to go right outside this, round the lightship,
which is off the Scharhorn, and double back. Of course, that's what
all big vessels do. But, as you see, these sands are intersected here
and there by channels, very shallow and winding, exactly like those
behind the Frisian Islands. Now look at this one, which cuts right
through the big chunk of sand and comes out near Cuxhaven. The
_Telte_ _[See Chart A]_ it's called. It's miles wide, you see, at the
entrance, but later on it is split into two by the Hohenhörn bank:
then it gets shallow and very complicated, and ends in a mere tidal
driblet with another name. It's just the sort of channel I should
like to worry into on a fine day or with an off-shore wind. Alone, in
thick weather and a heavy sea, it would have been folly to attempt
it, except as a desperate resource. But, as I said I knew at once
that Dollmann was proposing to run for it and guide me in.
'I didn't like the idea, because I like doing things for myself, and,
silly as it sounds, I believe I resented being told the sea was too
bad for me. which it certainly was. Yet the short cut did save
several miles and a devil of a tumble off the Scharhorn, where two
tides meet. I had complete faith in Dollmann, and I suppose I decided
that I should be a fool not to take a good chance. I hesitated. I
know; but in the end I nodded, and held up my arm as she forged ahead
again. Soon after, she shifted her course and I followed. You asked
me once if I ever took a pilot That was the only time.'
He spoke with bitter gravity, flung himself back, and felt his
dramatic pause, but it certainly was one. I had just a glimpse of
still another Davies--a Davies five years older throbbing with deep
emotions, scorn, passion, and stubborn purpose; a being above my
plane, of sterner stuff, wider scope. Intense as my interest had
become, I waited almost timidly while he mechanically rammed tobacco
into his pipe and struck ineffectual matches. I felt that whatever
the riddle to be solved, it was no mean one. He repressed himself
with an effort, half rose, and made his circular glance at the clock,
barometer, and skylight, and then resumed.
'We soon came to what I knew must be the beginning of the Telte
channel. All round you could hear the breakers on the sands, though
it was too thick to see them yet. As the water shoaled, the sea, of
course, got shorter and steeper. There was more wind--a whole gale I
'I kept dead in the wake of the Medusa, but to my disgust I found she
was gaining on me very fast. Of course I had taken for granted, when
he said he would lead me in, that he would slow down and keep close
to me. He could easily have done so by getting his men up to check
his sheets or drop his peak. Instead of that he was busting on for
all he was worth. Once, in a rain-squall, I lost sight of him
altogether; got him faintly again, but had enough to do with my own
tiller not to want to be peering through the scud after a runaway
pilot. I was all right so far, but we were fast approaching the worst
part of the whole passage, where the Hohenhörn bank blocks the road,
and the channel divides. I don't know what it looks like to you on
the chart--perhaps fairly simple, because you can follow the twists
of the channels, as on a ground-plan; but a stranger coming to a
place like that (where there are no buoys, mind you) can tell nothing
certain by the eye--unless perhaps at dead low water, when the banks
are high and dry, and in very clear weather--he must trust to the
lead and the compass, and feel his way step by step. I knew perfectly
well that what I should soon see would be a wall of surf stretching
right across and on both sides. To _feel_ one's way in that sort of
weather is impossible. You must _know_ your way, or else have a
pilot. I had one, but he was playing his own game.
'With a second hand on board to steer while I conned I should have
felt less of an ass. As it was, I knew I ought to be facing the music
in the offing, and cursed myself for having broken my rule and gone
blundering into this confounded short cut. It was giving myself away,
doing just the very thing that you can't do in single-handed sailing.
'By the time I realized the danger it was far too late to turn and
hammer out to the open. I was deep in the bottle-neck bight of the
sands, jammed on a lee shore, and a strong flood tide sweeping me on.
That tide, by the way, gave just the ghost of a chance. I had the
hours in my head, and knew it was about two-thirds flood, with two
hours more of rising water. That meant the banks would be all
covering when I reached them, and harder than ever to locate; but it
also meant that I _might_ float right over the worst of them if I hit
off a lucky place.' Davies thumped the table in disgust. 'Pah! It
makes me sick to think of having to trust to an accident like that,
like a lubberly cockney out for a boozy Bank Holiday sail. Well, just
as I foresaw, the wall of surf appeared clean across the horizon, and
curling back to shut me in, booming like thunder. When I last saw the
Medusa she seemed to be charging it like a horse at a fence, and I
took a rough bearing of her position by a hurried glance at the
compass. At that very moment I _thought_ she seemed to luff and show
some of her broadside; but a squall blotted her out and gave me hell
with the tiller. After that she was lost in the white mist that hung
over the line of breakers. I kept on my bearing as well as I could,
but I was already out of the channel. I knew that by the look of the
water, and as we neared the bank I saw it was all awash and without
the vestige of an opening. I wasn't going to chuck her on to it
without an effort; so, more by instinct than with any particular
hope, I put the helm down, meaning to work her along the edge on the
chance of spotting a way over. She was buried at once by the beam
sea, and the jib flew to blazes; but the reefed stays'l stood, she
recovered gamely, and I held on, though I knew it could only be for a
few minutes, as the centre-plate was up, and she made frightful
leeway towards the bank.
'I was half-blinded by scud, but suddenly I noticed what looked like
a gap, behind a spit which curled out right ahead. I luffed still
more to clear this spit, but she couldn't weather it. Before you
could say knife she was driving across it, bumped heavily, bucked
forward again, bumped again, and--ripped on in deeper water! I can't
describe the next few minutes. I was in some sort of channel, but a
very narrow one, and the sea broke everywhere. I hadn't proper
command either; for the rudder had crocked up somehow at the last
bump. I was like a drunken man running for his life down a dark
alley, barking himself at every corner. It couldn't last long, and
finally we went crash on to something and stopped there, grinding and
banging. So ended that little trip under a pilot.
'Well, it was like this--there was really no danger'--I opened my
eyes at the characteristic phrase. 'I mean, that lucky stumble into a
channel was my salvation. Since then I had struggled through a mile
of sands, all of which lay behind me like a breakwater against the
gale. They were covered, of course, and seething like soapsuds; but
the force of the sea was deadened. The Dulce was bumping, but not too
heavily. It was nearing high tide, and at half ebb she would be high
'In the ordinary way I should have run out a kedge with the dinghy,
and at the next high water sailed farther in and anchored where I
could lie afloat. The trouble was now that my hand was hurt and my
dinghy stove in, not to mention the rudder business. It was the first
bump on the outer edge that did the damage. There was a heavy swell
there, and when we struck, the dinghy, which was towing astern, came
home on her painter and down with a crash on the yacht's weather
quarter. I stuck out one hand to ward it off and got it nipped on the
gunwale. She was badly stove in and useless, so I couldn't run out
the kedge'--this was Greek to me, but I let him go on--'and for the
present my hand was too painful even to stow the boom and sails,
which were. whipping and racketing about anyhow. There was the
rudder, too, to be mended; and we were several miles from the nearest
land. Of course, if the wind fell, it was all easy enough; but if it
held or increased it was a poor look-out. There's a limit to strain
of that sort--and other things might have happened.
'In fact, it was precious lucky that Bartels turned up. His galliot
was at anchor a mile away, up a branch of the channel. In a clear
between squalls he saw us, and, like a brick, rowed his boat out--he
and his boy, and a devil of a pull they must have had. I was glad
enough to see them--no, that's not true; I was in such a fury of
disgust and shame that I believe I should have been idiot enough to
say I didn't want help, if he hadn't just nipped on board and started
work. He's a terror to work, that little mouse of a chap. In half an
hour he had stowed the sails, unshackled the big anchor, run out
fifty fathoms of warp, and hauled her off there and then into deep
water. Then they towed her up the channel--it was dead to leeward and
an easy job--and berthed her near their own vessel. It was dark by
that time, so I gave them a drink, and said good-night. It blew a
howling gale that night, but the place was safe enough, with good
'The whole affair was over; and after supper I thought hard about it
8 The Theory
DAVIES leaned back and gave a deep sigh, as though he still felt the
relief from some tension. I did the same, and felt the same relief.
The chart, freed from the pressure of our fingers, rolled up with a
flip, as though to say, 'What do you think of that?' I have
straightened out his sentences a little, for in the excitement of his
story they had grown more and more jerky and elliptical.
'What about Dollmann?' I asked.
'Of course,' said Davies, 'what about him? I didn't get at much that
night. It was all so sudden. The only thing I could have sworn to
from the first was that he had purposely left me in the lurch that
day. I pieced out the rest in the next few days, which I'll just
finish with as shortly as I can. Bartels came aboard next morning,
and though it was blowing hard still we managed to shift the
Dulcibella to a place where she dried safely at the mid-day low
water, and we could get at her rudder. The lower screw-plate on the
stern post had wrenched out, and we botched it up roughly as a
make-shift. There were other little breakages, but nothing to matter,
and the loss of the jib was nothing, as I had two spare ones. The
dinghy was past repair just then, and I lashed it on deck.
'It turned out that Bartels was carrying apples from Bremen to
Kappeln (in this fiord), and had run into that channel in the sands
for shelter from the weather. To-day he was bound for the Eider
River, whence, as I told you, you can get through (by river and
canal) into the Baltic. Of course the Elbe route, by the new Kaiser
Wilhelm Ship Canal, is the shortest. The Eider route is the old one,
but he hoped to get rid of some of his apples at Tönning, the town at
its mouth. Both routes touch the Baltic at Kiel. As you know, I had
been running for the Elbe, but yesterday's muck-up put me off, and I
changed my mind--I'll tell you why presently--and decided to sail to
the Eider along with the Johannes and get through that way. It
cleared from the east next day, and I raced him there, winning hands
down, left him at Tönning, and in three days was in the Baltic. It
was just a week after I ran ashore that I wired to you. You see, I
had come to the conclusion that _that chap was a spy_.
In the end it came out quite quietly and suddenly, and left me in
profound amazement. 'I wired to you--that chap was a spy.' It was the
close association of these two ideas that hit me hardest at the
moment. For a second I was back in the dreary splendour of the London
club-room, spelling out that crabbed scrawl from Davies, and
fastidiously criticizing its proposal in the light of a holiday.
Holiday! What was to be its issue? Chilling and opaque as the fog
that filtered through the skylight there flooded my imagination a
mist of doubt and fear.
'A spy!' I repeated blankly. 'What do you mean? Why did you wire to
me? A spy of what--of whom?'
'I'll tell you how I worked it out,' said Davies. 'I don't think
"spy" is the right word; but I mean something pretty bad.
'He purposely put me ashore. I don't think I'm suspicious by nature,
but I know something about boats and the sea. I know he could have
kept close to me if he had chosen, and I saw the whole place at low
water when we left those sands on the second day. Look at the chart
again. Here's the Hohenhörn bank that I showed you as blocking the
road. _[See Chart A]_ It's in two pieces--first the west and then the
east. You see the Telte channel dividing into two branches and
curving round it. Both branches are broad and deep, as channels go in
those waters. Now, in sailing in I was nowhere near either of them.
When I last saw Dollmann he must have been steering straight for the
bank itself, at a point somewhere _here_, quite a mile from the
northern arm of the channel, and two from the southern. I followed by
compass, as you know, and found nothing but breakers ahead. How did I
get through? That's where the luck came in. I spoke of only two
channels, that is, _round_ the bank--one to the north, the other to
the south. But look closely and you'll see that right through the
centre of the West Hohenhörn runs another, a very narrow and winding
one, so small that I hadn't even noticed it the night before, when I
was going over the chart. That was the one I stumbled into in that
tailor's fashion, as I was groping along the edge of the surf in a
desperate effort to gain time. I bolted down it blindly, came out
into this strip of open water, crossed that aimlessly, and brought up
on the edge of the _East_ Hohenhörn, _here_. It was more than I
deserved. I can see now that it was a hundred to one in favour of my
striking on a bad place outside, where I should have gone to pieces
in three minutes.'
'And how did Dollmann go?' I asked.
'It's as clear as possible,' Davies answered. 'He doubled back into
the northern channel when he had misled me enough. Do you remember my
saying that when I last saw him I _thought_ he had luffed and showed
his broadside? I had another bit of luck in that. He was luffing
towards the north--so it struck me through the blur--and when I in my
turn came up to the bank, and had to turn one way or the other to
avoid it, I think I should naturally have turned north too, as he had
done. In that case I should have been done for, for I should have had
a mile of the bank to skirt before reaching the north channel, and
should have driven ashore long before I got there. But as a matter of
fact I turned south.'
'Couldn't help it. I was running on the starboard tack--boom over to
port; to turn north would have meant a jibe, and as things were I
couldn't risk one. It was blowing like fits; if anything had carried
away I should have been on shore in a jiffy. I scarcely thought about
it at all, but put the helm down and turned her south. Though I knew
nothing about it, that little central channel was now on my port
hand, distant about two cables. The whole thing was luck from
beginning to end.'
Helped by pluck, I thought to myself, as I tried with my landsman's
fancy to conjure up that perilous scene. As to the truth of the
affair, the chart and Davies's version were easy enough to follow,
but I felt only half convinced. The 'spy', as Davies strangely called
his pilot, might have honestly mistaken the course himself,
outstripped his convoy inadvertently, and escaped disaster as
narrowly as she did. I suggested this on the spur of the moment, but
Davies was impatient.
'Wait till you hear the whole thing,' he said. 'I must go back to
when I first met him. I told you that on that first evening he began
by being as rude as a bear and as cold as stone, and then became
suddenly friendly. I can see now that in the talk that followed he
was pumping me hard. It was an easy game to play, for I hadn't seen a
gentleman since Morrison left me, I was tremendously keen about my
voyage, and I thought the chap was a good sportsman, even if he was a
bit dark about the ducks. I talked quite freely--at least, as freely
as I could with my bad German--about my last fortnight's sailing; how
I had been smelling out all the channels in and out of the islands,
how interested I had been in the whole business, puzzling out the
effect of the winds on the tides, the set of the currents, and so on.
I talked about my difficulties, too; the changes in the buoys, the
prehistoric rottenness of the English charts. He drew me out as much
as he could, and in the light of what followed I can see the point of
scores of his questions.
'The next day and the next I saw a good deal of him, and the same
thing went on. And then there were my plans for the future. My idea
was, as I told you, to go on exploring the German coast just as I had
the Dutch. His idea--Heavens, how plainly I see it now!--was to choke
me off, get me to clear out altogether from that part of the coast.
That was why he said there were no ducks. That was why he cracked up
the Baltic as a cruising-ground and shooting-ground. And that was why
he broached and stuck to that plan of sailing in company direct to
the Elbe. It was to _see_ me clear.
'He improved on that.'
'Yes, but after that, it's guess-work. I mean that I can't tell when
he first decided to go one better and drown me. He couldn't count for
certain on bad weather, though he held my nose to it when it came.
But, granted that he wanted to get rid of me altogether, he got a
magnificent chance on that trip to the Elbe
lightship. I expect it struck him suddenly, and he acted on the
impulse. Left to myself I was all right; but the short cut was a
grand idea of his. Everything was in its favour--wind, sea, sand,
tide. He thinks I'm dead.'
'But the crew?' I said; 'what about the crew?'
'That's another thing. When he first hove to, waiting for me, of
course they were on deck (two of them, I think) hauling at sheets.
But by the time I had drawn tip level the Medusa had worn round again
on her course, and no one was on deck but Dollmann at the wheel. No
one overheard what he said.'
'Wouldn't they have _seen_ you again?'
'Very likely not; the weather was very thick, and the Dulce is very
The incongruity of the whole business was striking me. Why should
anyone want to kill Davies, and why should Davies, the soul of
modesty and simplicity, imagine that anyone wanted to kill him? He
must have cogent reasons, for he was the last man to give way to a
'Go on,' I said. What was his motive? A German finds an Englishman
exploring a bit of German coast, determines to stop him, and even to
get rid of him. It looks so far as if you were thought to be the spy.
Davies winced. '_But he's not a German_,' he said, hotly. 'He's an
'Yes, I'm sure of it. Not that I've much to go on. He professed to
know very little English, and never spoke it, except a word or two
now and then to help me out of a sentence; and as to his German, he
seemed to me to speak it like a native; but, of course, I'm no
judge.' Davies sighed. 'That's where I wanted someone like you. You
would have spotted him at once, if he wasn't German. I go more by
a--what do you call it?--a--'
'General impression,' I suggested.
'Yes, that's what I mean. It was something in his looks and manner;
you know how different we are from foreigners. And it wasn't only
himself, it was the way he talked--I mean about cruising and the sea,
especially. It's true he let me do most of the talking; but, all the
same--how can I explain it? I felt we understood one another, in a
way that two foreigners wouldn't.
He pretended to think me a bit crazy for coming so far in a small
boat, but I could swear he knew as much about the game as I did; for
lots of little questions he asked had the right ring in them. Mind
you, all this is an afterthought. I should never have bothered about
it--I'm not cut out for a Sherlock Holmes--if it hadn't been for what
'It's rather vague,' I said. 'Have you no more definite reason for
thinking him English?'
'There were one or two things rather more definite,' said Davies,
slowly. 'You know when he hove to and hailed me, proposing the short
cut, I told you roughly what he said. I forget the exact words, but
"abschneiden" came in--"durch Watten" and "abschneiden" (they call
the banks "watts", you know); they were simple words, and he shouted
them loud, so as to carry through the wind. I understood what he
meant, but, as I told you, I hesitated before consenting. I suppose
he thought I didn't understand, for just as he was drawing ahead
again he pointed to the suth'ard, and then shouted through his hands
as a trumpet "Verstehen Sie? short-cut through sands; follow me!" the
last two sentences in downright English. I can hear those words now,
and I'll swear they were in his native tongue. Of course I thought
nothing of it at the time. I was quite aware that he knew a few
English words, though he had always mis-pronounced them; an easy
trick when your hearer suspects nothing. But I needn't say that just
then I was observant of trifles. I don't pretend to be able to
unravel a plot and steer a small boat before a heavy sea at the same
'And if he was piloting you into the next world he could afford to
commit himself before you parted! Was there anything else? By the
way, how did the daughter strike you? Did she look English too?'
Two men cannot discuss a woman freely without a deep foundation of
intimacy, and, until this day, the subject had never arisen between
us in any form. It was the last that was likely to, for I could have
divined that Davies would have met it with an armour of reserve. He
was busy putting on this armour now; yet I could not help feeling a
little brutal as I saw how badly he jointed his clumsy suit of mail.
Our ages were the same, but I laugh now to think how old and _blasé_
I felt as the flush warmed his brown skin, and he slowly propounded
the verdict, 'Yes, I think she did.'
'She _talked_ nothing but German, I suppose?'
'Oh, of course.'
'Did you see much of her?'
'A good deal.'
'Was she--,' (how frame it?) 'Did she want you to sail to the Elbe
'She seemed to,' admitted Davies, reluctantly, clutching at his ally,
the match-box. 'But, hang it, don't dream that she knew what was
coming,' he added, with sudden fire.
I pondered and wondered, shrinking from further inquisition, easy as
it would have been with so truthful a victim, and banishing all
thought of ill-timed chaff. There was a cross-current in this strange
affair, whose depth and strength I was beginning to gauge with
increasing seriousness. I did not know my man yet, and I did not know
myself. A conviction that events in the near future would force us
into complete mutual confidence withheld me from pressing him too
far. I returned to the main question; who was Dollmann, and what was
his motive? Davies struggled out of his armour.
'I'm convinced,' he said, 'that he's an Englishman in German service.
He must be in German service, for he had evidently been in those
waters a long time, and knew every inch of them; of course, it's a
very lonely part of the world, but he has a house on Norderney
Island; and he, and all about him, must be well known to a certain
number of people. One of his friends I happened to meet; what do you
think he was? A naval officer. It was on the afternoon of the third
day, and we were having coffee on the deck of the Medusa, and talking
about next day's trip, when a little launch came buzzing up from
seaward, drew alongside, and this chap I'm speaking of came on board,
shook hands with Dollmann, and stared hard at me. Dollmann introduced
us, calling him Commander von Brüning, in command of the torpedo
gunboat Blitz. He pointed towards Norderney, and I saw her--a low,
grey rat of a vessel--anchored in the Roads about two miles away. It
turned out that she was doing the work of fishery guardship on that
part of the coast.
'I must say I took to him at once. He looked a real good sort, and a
splendid officer, too--just the sort of chap I should have liked to
be. You know I always wanted--but that's an old story, and can wait.
I had some talk with him, and we got on capitally as far as we went,
but that wasn't far, for I left pretty soon, guessing that they
wanted to be alone.'
'_Were_ they alone then?' I asked, innocently.
'Oh, Fräulein Dollmann was there, of course,' explained Davies,
feeling for his armour again.
'Did he seem to know them well?' I pursued, inconsequently.
'Oh, yes, very well.'
Scenting a faint clue, I felt the need of feminine weapons for my
sensitive antagonist. But the opportunity passed.
'That was the last I saw of him,' he said. 'We sailed, as I told you,
at daybreak next morning. Now, have you got any idea what I'm driving
'A rough idea,' I answered. 'Go ahead.'
Davies sat up to the table, unrolled the chart with a vigorous sweep
of his two hands, and took up his parable with new zest.
'I start with two certainties,' he said. 'One is that I was "moved
on" from that coast, because I was too inquisitive. The other is that
Dollmann is at some devil's work there which is worth finding out.
Now'--he paused in a gasping effort to be logical and articulate.
'Now--well, look at the chart. No, better still, look first at this
map of Germany. It's on a small scale, and you can see the whole
thing.' He snatched down a pocket-map from the shelf and unfolded it.
_[See Map A]_ 'Here's this huge empire, stretching half over central
Europe--an empire growing like wildfire, I believe, in people, and
wealth, and everything. They've licked the French, and the Austrians,
and are the greatest military power in Europe. I wish I knew more
about all that, but what I'm concerned with is their sea-power. It's
a new thing with them, but it's going strong, and that Emperor of
theirs is running it for all it's worth. He's a splendid chap, and
anyone can see he's right. They've got no colonies to speak of, and
_must_ have them, like us. They can't get them and keep them, and
they can't protect their huge commerce without naval strength. The
command of the sea is _the_ thing nowadays, isn't it? I say, don't
think these are my ideas,' he added, naively. 'It's all out of Mahan
and those fellows. Well, the Germans have got a small fleet at
present, but it's a thundering good one, and they're building hard.
There's the--and the--.' He broke off into a digression on armaments
and speeds in which I could not follow him. He seemed to know every
ship by heart. I had to recall him to the point. 'Well, think of
Germany as a new sea-power,' he resumed. 'The next thing is, what is
her coast-line? It's a very queer one, as you know, split clean in
two by Denmark, most of it lying east of that and looking on the
Baltic, which is practically an inland sea, with its entrance blocked
by Danish islands. It was to evade that block that William built the
ship canal from Kiel to the Elbe, but that could be easily smashed in
war-time. Far the most important bit of coast-line is that which lies
_west_ of Denmark and looks on the North Sea. It's there that Germany
gets her head out into the open, so to speak. It's there that she
fronts us and France, the two great sea-powers of Western Europe, and
it's there that her greatest ports are and her richest commerce.
'Now it must strike you at once that it's ridiculously short compared
with the huge country behind it. From Borkum to the Elbe, as the crow
flies, is only seventy miles. Add to that the west coast of
Schleswig, say 120 miles. Total, say, two hundred. Compare that with
the seaboard of France and England. Doesn't it stand to reason that
every inch of it is important? Now what _sort_ of coast is it? Even
on this small map you can see at once, by all those wavy lines,
shoals and sand everywhere, blocking nine-tenths of the land
altogether, and doing their best to block the other tenth where the
great rivers run in. Now let's take it bit by bit. You see it divides
itself into three. Beginning from the west the _first piece_ is from
Borkum to Wangeroog--fifty odd miles. What's that like? A string of
sandy islands backed by sand; the Ems river at the western end, on
the Dutch border, leading to Emden--not much of a place. Otherwise,
no coast towns at all. _Second piece:_ a deep sort of bay consisting
of the three great estuaries--the Jade, the Weser, and the
Elbe--leading to Wilhelmshaven (their North Sea naval base), Bremen,
and Hamburg. Total breadth of bay twenty odd miles only; sandbanks
littered about all through it. _Third piece:_ the Schleswig coast,
hopelessly fenced in behind a six to eight mile fringe of sand. No
big towns; one moderate river, the Eider. Let's leave that third
piece aside. I may be wrong, but, in thinking this business out, I've
pegged away chiefly at the other two, the seventy-mile stretch from
Borkum to the Elbe--half of it estuaries, and half islands. It was
there that I found the Medusa, and it's that stretch that, thanks to
him, I missed exploring.'
I made an obvious conjecture. 'I suppose there are forts and coast
defences? Perhaps he thought you would see too much. By the way, he
saw your naval books, of course?'
'Exactly. Of course that was my first idea; but it can't be that. It
doesn't explain things in the least. To begin with, there _are_ no
forts and can be none in that first division, where the islands are.
There might be something on Borkum to defend the Ems; but it's very
unlikely, and, anyway, I had passed Borkum and was at Norderney.
There's nothing else to defend. Of course it's different in the
second division, where the big rivers are. There are probably hosts
of forts and mines round Wilhelmshaven and Bremerhaven, and at
Cuxhaven just at the mouth of the Elbe. Not that I should ever dream
of bothering about them; every steamer that goes in would see as much
as me. Personally, I much prefer to stay on board, and don't often go
on shore. And, good Heavens!' (Davies leant back and laughed
joyously) 'do I _look_ like that kind of spy?'
I figured to myself one of those romantic gentlemen that one reads of
in sixpenny magazines, with a Kodak in his tie-pin, a sketch-book in
the lining of his coat, and a selection of disguises in his hand
luggage. Little disposed for merriment as I was, I could not help
'About this coast,' resumed Davies. 'In the event of war it seems to
me that every inch of it would be important, _sand and all._ Take the
big estuaries first, which, of course, might be attacked or blockaded
by an enemy. At first sight you would say that their main channels
were the only things that mattered. Now, in time of peace there's no
secrecy about the navigation of these. They're buoyed and lighted
like streets, open to the whole world, and taking an immense traffic;
well charted, too, as millions of pounds in commerce depend on them.
But now look at the sands they run through, intersected, as I showed
you, by threads of channels, tidal for the most part, and probably
only known to smacks and shallow coasters, like that galliot of
'It strikes me that in a war a lot might depend on these, both in
defence and attack, for there's plenty of water in them at the right
tide for patrol-boats and small torpedo craft, though I an see they
take a lot of knowing. Now, say _we_ were at war with Germany--both
sides could use them as lines between the three estuaries; and to
take our own case, a small torpedo-boat (not a destroyer, mind you)
could on a dark night cut clean through from the Jade to the Elbe and
play the deuce with the shipping there. But the trouble is that I
doubt if there's a soul in our fleet who knows those channels. _We_
haven't coasters there; and, as to yachts, it's a most unlikely game
for an English yacht to play at; but it does so happen that I have a
fancy for that sort of thing and would have explored those channels
in the ordinary course.' I began to see his drift.
'Now for the islands. I was rather stumped there at first, I grant,
because, though there are lashings of sand behind them, and the same
sort of intersecting channels, yet there seems nothing important to
guard or attack.
'Why shouldn't a stranger ramble as he pleases through them? Still
Dollmann had his headquarters there, and I was sure that had some
meaning. Then it struck me that the same point held good, for that
strip of Frisian coast adjoins the estuaries, and would also form a
splendid base for raiding midgets, which could travel unseen right
through from the Ems to the Jade, and so to the Elbe, as by a covered
way between a line of forts.
'Now here again it's an unknown land to us. Plenty of local galliots
travel it, but strangers never, I should say. Perhaps at he most an
occasional foreign yacht gropes in at one of the gaps between the
islands for shelter from bad weather, and is precious lucky to get in
safe. Once again, it was my fad to like such places, and Dollmann
cleared me out. He's not a German, but he's in with Germans, and
naval Germans too. He's established on that coast, and knows it by
heart. And he tried to drown me. Now what do you think?' He gazed at
me long and anxiously.
9 I Sign Articles
IT was not an easy question to answer, for the affair was utterly
outside all my experience; its background the sea, and its actual
scene a region of the sea of which I was blankly ignorant. There were
other difficulties that I could see perhaps better than Davies, an
enthusiast with hobbies, who had been brooding in solitude over his
dangerous adventure. Yet both narrative and theory (which have lost,
I fear, in interpretation to the reader) had strongly affected me;
his forcible roughnesses, tricks of manner, sudden bursts of ardour,
sudden retreats into shyness, making up a charm I cannot render. I
found myself continually trying to see the man through the boy, to
distinguish sober judgement from the hot-headed vagaries of youth.
Not that I dreamed for a moment of dismissing the story of his wreck
as an hallucination. His clear blue eyes and sane simplicity threw
ridicule on such treatment.
Evidently, too, he wanted my help, a matter that might well have
influenced my opinion on the facts, had he been other than he was.
But it would have taken a 'finished and finite clod' to resist the
attraction of the man and the enterprise; and I take no credit
whatever for deciding to follow him, right or wrong. So, when I
stated my difficulties, I knew very well that we should go.
'There are two main points that I don't understand,' I said. 'First,
you've never explained why an _Englishman_ should be watching those
waters and ejecting intruders; secondly, your theory doesn't supply
sufficient motive. There may be much in what you say about the
navigation of those channels, but it's not enough. You say he wanted
to drown you--a big charge, requiring a big motive to support it. But
I don't deny that you've got a strong case.' Davies lighted up. 'I'm
willing to take a good deal for granted--until we find out more.'
He jumped up, and did a thing I never saw him do before or
since--bumped his head against the cabin roof.
'You mean that you'll come?' he exclaimed. 'Why, I hadn't even asked
you! Yes, I want to go back and clear up the whole thing. I know now
that I want to; telling it all to you has been such an immense
relief. And a lot depended on you, too, and that's why I've been
feeling such an absolute hypocrite. I say, how can I apologize?'
'Don't worry about me; I've had a splendid time. And I'll come right
enough; but I should like to know exactly what you--'
'No; but wait till I just make a clean breast of it--about you, I
mean. You see, I came to the conclusion that I could do nothing
alone; not that two are really necessary for managing the boat in the
ordinary way, but for this sort of job you _do_ want two; besides, I
can't speak German properly, and I'm a dull chap all round. If my
theory, as you call it, is right, it's a case for sharp wits, if ever
there was one; so I thought of you. You're clever, and I knew you had
lived in Germany and knew German, and I knew,' he added, with a
little awkwardness, 'that you had done a good deal of yachting; but
of course I ought to have told you what you were in for--roughing it
in a small boat with no crew. I felt ashamed of myself when you wired
back so promptly, and when you came--er--' Davies stammered and
hesitated in the humane resolve not to wound my feelings. 'Of course
I couldn't help noticing that it wasn't what you expected,' was the
delicate summary he arrived at. 'But you took it splendidly,' he
hastened to add. 'Only, somehow, I couldn't bring myself to talk
about the plan. It was good enough of you to come out at all, without
bothering you with hare-brained schemes. Beside, I wasn't even sure
of myself. It's a tangled business. There were reasons, there are
reasons still'--he looked nervously at me--'which--well, which make
it a tangled business.' I had thought a confidence was coming, and
was disappointed. 'I was in an idiotic state of uncertainty,' he
hurried on; 'but the plan grew on me more and more, when I saw how
you were taking to the life and beginning to enjoy yourself. All that
about the ducks on the Frisian coast was humbug; part of a stupid
idea of decoying you there and gaining time. However, you quite
naturally objected, and last night I meant to chuck the whole thing
up and give you the best time here I could. Then Bartels turned up--'
'Stop,' I put in. 'Did you know he might turn up when you sailed
'Yes,' said Davies, guiltily. 'I knew he might; and now it's all come
out, and you'll come! What a fool I've been!'
Long before he had finished I had grasped the whole meaning of the
last few days, and had read their meaning into scores of little
incidents which had puzzled me.
'For goodness' sake, don't apologize,' I protested. 'I could make
confessions, too, if I liked. And I doubt if you've been such a fool
as you think. I'm a patient that wants careful nursing, and it has
been the merest chance all through that I haven't rebelled and
bolted. We've got a good deal to thank the weather for, and other
little stimulants. And you don't know yet my reasons for deciding to
try your cure at all.'
'My cure?' said Davies; 'what in the world do you mean? It was jolly
decent of you to--'
'Never mind! There's another view of it, but it doesn't matter now.
Let's return to the point. What's your plan of action?'
'It's this,' was the prompt reply: 'to get back to the North Sea,
_via_ Kiel and the ship canal. Then there will be two objects: one,
to work back to Norderney, where I left off before, exploring all
those channels through the estuaries and islands; the other, to find
Dollmann, discover what he's up to, and settle with him. The two
things may overlap, we can't tell yet. I don't even know where he and
his yacht are; but I'll be bound they're somewhere in those same
waters, and probably back at Norderney.'
'It's a delicate matter,' I mused, dubiously, 'if your theory's
correct. Spying on a spy--'
'It's not like that,' said Davies, indignantly. 'Anyone who likes can
sail about there and explore those waters. I say, you don't really
think it's like that, do you?'
'I don't think you're likely to do anything dishonourable,' I
hastened to explain. 'I grant you the sea's public property in your
sense. I only mean that developments are possible, which you don't
reckon on. There _must_ be more to find out than the mere navigation
of those channels, and if that's so, mightn't we come to be genuine
'And, after all, hang it!' exclaimed Davies, 'if it comes to that,
why shouldn't we? I look at it like this. The man's an Englishman,
and if he's in with Germany he's a traitor to us, and we as
Englishmen have a right to expose him. If we can't do it without
spying we've a right to spy, at our own risk--'
'There's a stronger argument than that. He tried to take your life.'
'I don't care a rap about that. I'm not such an ass as to thirst for
revenge and all that, like some chap in a shilling shocker. But it
makes me wild to think of that fellow masquerading as a German, and
up to who knows what mischief--mischief enough to make him want to
get rid of _any_ one. I'm keen about the sea, and I think they're apt
to be a bit slack at home,' he continued inconsequently. 'Those
Admiralty chaps want waking up. Anyway, as far as I'm concerned, it's
quite natural that I should look him up again.'
'Quite,' I agreed; 'you parted friends, and they may be delighted to
see you. You'll have plenty to talk about.'
'I--I'm,' said Davies, withered into silence by the 'they'. 'Hullo! I
say, do you know it's three o'clock? How the time has gone! And, by
Jove! I believe the fog's lifting.'
I returned, with a shock, to the present, to the weeping walls, the
discoloured deal table, the ghastly breakfast litter--all the visible
symbols of the life I had pledged myself to. Disillusionment was
making rapid headway when Davies returned, and said, with energy:
'What do you say to starting for Kiel at once? The fog's going, and
there's a breeze from the sou'-west.'
'Now?' I protested. 'Why, it'll mean sailing all night, won't it?'
'Oh, no,' said Davies. 'Not with luck.'
'Why, it's dark at seven!'
'Yes, but it's only twenty-five miles. I know it's not exactly a fair
wind, but we shall lie closehauled most of the way. The glass is
falling, and we ought to take this chance.'
To argue about winds with Davies was hopeless, and the upshot was
that we started lunchless. A pale sun was flickering out of masses of
racing vapour, and through delicate vistas between them the fair land
of Schleswig now revealed and now withdrew her pretty face, as though
smiling _adieux_ to her faithless courtiers.
The clank of our chain brought up Bartels to the deck of the
Johannes, rubbing his eyes and pulling round his throat a grey shawl,
which gave him a comical likeness to a lodging-house landlady
receiving the milk in morning _déshabillé._
'We're off, Bartels,' said Davies, without looking up from his work.
'See you at Kiel, I hope.'
'You are always in a hurry, captain,' bleated the old man, shaking
his head. 'You should wait till to-morrow. The sky is not good, and
it will be dark before you are off Eckenförde.'
Davies laughed, and very soon his mentor's sad little figure was lost
That was a curious evening. Dusk soon fell, and the devil made a
determined effort to unman me; first, with the scrambled tea which
was the tardy substitute for an orderly lunch, then with the new and
nauseous duty of filling the side-lights, which meant squatting in
the fo'c'sle to inhale paraffin and dabble in lamp-black; lastly,
with an all-round attack on my nerves as the night fell on our frail
little vessel, pitching on her precarious way through driving mist.
In a sense I think I went through the same sort of mental crisis as
when I sat upon my portmanteau at Flensburg. The main issue was not
seriously in question, for I had signed on in the Dulcibella for good
or ill; but in doing so I had outrun myself, and still wanted an
outlook, a mood suited to the enterprise, proof against petty
discouragements. Not for the first time a sense of the ludicrous came
to my assistance, as I saw myself fretting in London under my burden
of self-imposed woes, nicely weighing that insidious invitation, and
stepping finally into the snare with the dignity due to my
importance; kidnapped as neatly as ever a peaceful clerk was
kidnapped by a lawless press-gang, and, in the end, finding as the
arch-conspirator a guileless and warm-hearted friend, who called me
clever, lodged me in a cell, and blandly invited me to talk German to
the purpose, as he was aiming at a little secret service on the high
seas. Close in the train of Humour came Romance, veiling her face,
but I knew it was the rustle of her robes that I heard in the foam
beneath me; I knew that it was she who handed me the cup of sparkling
wine and bade me drink and be merry. Strange to me though it was, I
knew the taste when it touched my lips. It was not that bastard
concoction I had tasted in the pseudo-Bohemias of Soho; it was not
the showy but insipid beverage I should have drunk my fill of at
Morven Lodge; it was the purest of her pure vintages, instilling the
ancient inspiration which, under many guises, quickens thousands of
better brains than mine, but whose essence is always the same; the
gay pursuit of a perilous quest. Then and there I tried to clinch the
matter and keep that mood. In the main I think I succeeded, though I
had many lapses.
For the present my veins tingled with the draught. The wind humming
into the mainsail, the ghostly wave-crests riding up out of the void,
whispered a low thrilling chorus in praise of adventure. Potent
indeed must the spell have been, for, in reality, that first night
sail teemed with terrors for me. It is true that it began well, for
the haze dispersed, as Davies had prophesied, and Bulk Point
Lighthouse guided us safely to the mouth of Kiel Fiord. It was during
this stage that, crouching together aft, our pipe-bowls glowing
sympathetically, we returned to the problem before us; for we had
shot out on our quest with volcanic precipitation, leaving much to be
discussed. I gleaned a few more facts, though I dispelled no doubts.
Davies had only seen the Dollmanns on their yacht, where father and
daughter were living for the time. Their villa at Norderney, and
their home life there, were unknown to him, though he had landed once
at the harbour himself. Further, he had heard vaguely of a
stepmother, absent at Hamburg. They were to have joined her on their
arrival at that city, which, be it noted, stands a long way up the
Elbe, forty miles and more above Cuxhaven, the town at the mouth.
The exact arrangement made on the day before the fatal voyage was
that the two yachts should meet in the evening at Cuxhaven and
proceed up the river together. Then, in the ordinary course, Davies
would have parted company at Brunsbüttel (fifteen miles up), which is
the western terminus of the ship canal to the Baltic. Such at least
had been his original intention; but, putting two and two together, I
gathered that latterly, and perhaps unconfessed to himself, his
resolve had weakened, and that he would have followed the Medusa to
Hamburg, or indeed the end of the world, impelled by the same motive
that, contrary to all his tastes and principles, had induced him to
abandon his life in the islands and undertake the voyage at all. But
on that point he was immovably reticent, and all I could conclude was
that the strange cross-current connected with Dollmann's daughter had
given him cruel pain and had clouded his judgement to distraction,
but that he now was prepared to forget or ignore it, and steer a
The facts I elicited raised several important questions. Was it not
known by this time that he and his yacht had survived? Davies was
convinced that it was not. 'He may have waited at Cuxhaven, or
inquired at the lock at Brunsbüttel,' he said. 'But there was no
need, for I tell you the thing was a certainty. If I had struck and
_stuck_ on that outer bank, as it was a hundred to one I should do,
the yacht would have broken up in three minutes. Bartels would never
have seen me, and couldn't have got to me if he had. No one would
have seen me. And nothing whatever has happened since to show that
they know I'm alive.'
'They,' I suggested. 'Who are "they"? Who are our adversaries?' If
Dollmann were an accredited agent of the German Admiralty--But, no,
it was incredible that the murder of a young Englishman should be
connived at in modern days by a friendly and civilized government!
Yet, if he were not such an agent, the whole theory fell to the
'I believe,' said Davies, 'that Dollmann did it off his own bat, and
beyond that I can't see. And I don't know that it matters at present.
Alive or dead we're doing nothing wrong, and have nothing to be
'I think it matters a good deal,' I objected. 'Who will be interested
in our resurrection, and how are we to go to work, openly or
secretly? I suppose we shall keep out of the way as much as we can?'
'As for keeping out of the way,' said Davies, jerkily, as he peered
to windward under the foresail, 'we _must_ pass the ship canal;
that's a public highway, where anyone can see you. After that there
won't be much difficulty. Wait till you see the place!' He gave a
low, contented laugh, which would have frozen my marrow yesterday.
'By the way, that reminds me,' he added; 'we must stop at Kiel for
the inside of a day and lay in a lot of stores. We want to be
independent of the shore.' I said nothing. Independence of the shore
in a seven-tonner in October! What an end to aim at!
About nine o'clock we weathered the point, entered Kiel Fiord, and
began a dead beat to windward of seven miles to the head of it where
Kiel lies. Hitherto, save for the latent qualms concerning my total
helplessness if anything happened to Davies, interest and excitement
had upheld me well. My alarms only began when I thought them nearly
over. Davies had frequently urged me to turn in and sleep, and I went
so far as to go below and coil myself up on the lee sofa with my
pencil and diary. Suddenly there was a flapping and rattling on deck,
and I began to slide on to the floor. 'What's happened?' I cried, in
a panic, for there was Davies stooping in at the cabin door.
'Nothing,' he said, chafing his hands for warmth; 'I'm only going
about. Hand me the glasses, will you? There's a steamer ahead. I say,
if you really don't want to turn in, you might make some soup. Just
let's look at the chart.' He studied it with maddening deliberation,
while I wondered how near the steamer was, and what the yacht was
'I suppose it's not really necessary for anyone to be at the helm?' I
'Oh, she's all right for a minute,' he said, without looking up.
'Two--one and a half--one--lights in line sou'-west by west--got a
match?' He expended two, and tumbled upstairs again.
'You don't want me, do you?' I shouted after him.
'No, but come up when you've put the kettle on. It's a pretty beat up
the fiord. Lovely breeze.'
His legs disappeared. A sort of buoyant fatalism possessed me as I
finished my notes and pored over the stove. It upheld me, too, when I
went on deck and watched the 'pretty beat', whose prettiness was
mainly due to the crowd of fog-bound shipping--steamers, smacks, and
sailing-vessels--now once more on the move in the confined fairway of
the fiord, their baleful eyes of red, green, or yellow, opening and
shutting, brightening and fading; while shore-lights and
anchor-lights added to my bewilderment, and a throbbing of screws
filled the air like the distant roar of London streets. In fact,
every time we spun round for our dart across the fiord I felt like a
rustic matron gathering her skirts for the transit of the Strand on a
busy night. Davies, however, was the street arab who zigzags under
the horses' feet unscathed; and all the time he discoursed placidly
on the simplicity and safety of night-sailing if only you are
careful, obeying rules, and burnt good lights. As we were nearing the
hot glow in the sky that denoted Kiel we passed a huge scintillating
bulk moored in mid-stream. 'Warships,' he murmured, ecstatically.
At one o'clock we anchored off the town.
10 His Chance
'I SAY, Davies,' I said, 'how long do you think this trip will last?
I've only got a month's leave.'
We were standing at slanting desks in the Kiel post-office, Davies
scratching diligently at his letter-card, and I staring feebly at
'By Jove!' said Davies, with a start of dismay; 'that's only three
weeks more; I never thought of that. You couldn't manage to get an
extension, could you?'
'I can write to the chief,' I admitted; 'but where's the answer to
come to? We're better without an address, I suppose.'
'There's Cuxhaven,' reflected Davies; 'but that's too near, and
there's--but we don't want to be tied down to landing anywhere. I
tell you what: say "Post Office, Norderney", just your name, not the
yacht's. We _may_ get there and be able to call for letters.' The
casual character of our adventure never struck me more strongly than
'Is that what _you're_ doing?' I asked.
'Oh, I shan't be having important letters like you.'
'But what are you saying?'
'Oh, just that we're having a splendid cruise, and are on our way
The notion tickled me, and I said the same in my home letter, adding
that we were looking for a friend of Davies's who would be able to
show us some sport. I wrote a line, too, to my chief (unaware of the
gravity of the step I was taking) saying it was possible that I might
have to apply for longer leave, as I had important business to
transact in Germany, and asking him kindly to write to the same
address. Then we shouldered our parcels and resumed our business.
Two full dinghy-loads of Stores we ferried to the Dulcibella, chief
among which were two immense cans of petroleum, constituting our
reserves of heat and light, and a sack of flour. There were spare
ropes and blocks, too; German charts of excellent quality; cigars and
many weird brands of sausage and tinned meats, besides a miscellany
of oddments, some of which only served in the end to slake my
companion's craving for jettison. Clothes were my own chief care,
for, freely as I had purged it at Flensburg, my wardrobe was still
very unsuitable, and I had already irretrievably damaged two
faultless pairs of white flannels. ('We shall be able to throw them
overboard,' said Davies, hopefully.) So I bought a great pair of
seaboots of the country, felt-lined and wooden-soled, and both of us
got a number of rough woollen garments (as worn by the local
fishermen), breeches, jerseys, helmets, gloves; all of a colour
chosen to harmonize with paraffin stains and anchor mud.
The same evening we were taking our last look at the Baltic, sailing
past warships and groups of idle yachts battened down for their
winter's sleep; while the noble shores of the fiord, with its villas
embowered in copper foliage, grew dark and dim above us.
We rounded the last headland, steered for a galaxy of coloured
lights, tumbled down our sails, and came to under the colossal gates
of the Holtenau lock. That these would open to such an infinitesimal
suppliant seemed inconceivable. But open they did, with ponderous
majesty, and our tiny hull was lost in the womb of a lock designed to
float the largest battleships. I thought of Boulter's on a hot August
Sunday, and wondered if I really was the same peevish dandy who had
jostled and sweltered there with the noisy cockney throng a month
ago. There was a blaze of electricity overhead, but utter silence
till a solitary cloaked figure hailed us and called for the captain.
Davies ran up a ladder, disappeared with the cloaked figure, and
returned crumpling a paper into his pocket. It lies before me now,
and sets forth, under the stamp of the Königliches Zollamt, that, in
consideration of the sum of ten marks for dues and four for tonnage,
an imperial tug would tow the vessel Dulcibella (master A. H. Davies)
through the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal from Holtenau to Brunsbüttel.
Magnificent condescension! I blush when I look at this yellow
document and remember the stately courtesy of the great lock gates;
for the sleepy officials of the Königliches Zollamt little knew what
an insidious little viper they were admitting into the imperial bosom
at the light toll of fourteen shillings.
'Seems cheap,' said Davies, joining me, 'doesn't it? They've a
regular tariff on tonnage, same for yachts as for liners. We start at
four to-morrow with a lot of other boats. I wonder if Bartels is
The same silence reigned, but invisible forces were at work. The
inner gates opened and we prised ourselves through into a capacious
basin, where lay moored side by side a flotilla of sailing vessels of
various sizes. Having made fast alongside a vacant space of quay, we
had our dinner, and then strolled out with cigars to look for the
Johannes. We found her wedged among a stack of galliots, and her
skipper sitting primly below before a blazing stove, reading his
Bible through spectacles. He produced a bottle of schnapps and some
very small and hard pears, while Davies twitted him mercilessly about
his false predictions.
'The sky was not good,' was all he said, beaming indulgently at his
incorrigible young friend.
Before parting for the night it was arranged that next morning we
should lash alongside the Johannes when the flotilla was marshalled
for the tow through the canal.
'Karl shall steer for us both,' he said, 'and we will stay warm in
The scheme was carried out, not without much confusion and loss of
paint, in the small hours of a dark and drizzling morning. Boisterous
little tugs sorted us into parties, and half lost under the massive
bulwarks of the Johannes we were carried off into a black inane. If
any doubt remained as to the significance of our change of
cruising-grounds, dawn dispelled it. View there was none from the
deck of the Dulcibella; it was only by standing on the mainboom that
you could see over the embankments to the vast plain of Holstein,
grey and monotonous under a pall of mist. The soft scenery of the
Schleswig coast was a baseless dream of the past, and a cold
penetrating rain added the last touch of dramatic completeness to the
staging of the new act.
For two days we travelled slowly up the mighty waterway that is the
strategic link between the two seas of Germany. Broad and straight,
massively embanked, lit by electricity at night till it is lighter
than many a great London street; traversed by great war vessels, rich
merchantmen, and humble coasters alike, it is a symbol of the new and
mighty force which, controlled by the genius of statesmen and
engineers, is thrusting the empire irresistibly forward to the goal
of maritime greatness.
'Isn't it splendid?' said Davies. 'He's a fine fellow, that emperor.'
Karl was the shock-headed, stout-limbed boy of about sixteen, who
constituted the whole crew of the Johannes, and was as dirty as his
master was clean. I felt a certain envious reverence for this
unprepossessing youth, seeing in him a much more efficient
counterpart of myself; but how he and his little master ever managed
to work their ungainly vessel was a miracle I never understood.
Phlegmatically impervious to rain and cold, he steered the Johannes
down the long grey reaches in the wake of the tug, while we and
Bartels held snug gatherings down below, sometimes in his cabin,
sometimes in ours. The heating arrangements of the latter began to be
a subject of serious concern. We finally did the only logical thing,
and brought the kitchen-range into the parlour, fixing the
Rippingille stove on the forward end of the cabin table, where it
could warm as well as cook for us. As an ornament it was monstrous,
and the taint of oil which it introduced was a disgusting drawback;
but, after all, the great thing--as Davies said--is to be
comfortable, and after that to be clean.
Davies held long consultations with Bartels, who was thoroughly at
home in the navigation of the sands we were bound for, his own boat
being a type of the very craft which ply in them. I shall not forget
the moment when it first dawned on him that his young friend's
curiosity was practical; for he had thought that our goal was his own
beloved Hamburg, queen of cities, a place to see and die.
'It is too late,' he wailed. 'You do not know the Nord See as I do.'
'Oh, nonsense, Bartels, it's quite safe.'
'Safe! And have I not found you fast on Hohenhörn, in a storm, with
your rudder broken? God was good to you then, my son.'
'Yes, but it wasn't my f--' Davies checked himself. 'We're going
home. There's nothing in that.' Bartels became sadly resigned.
'It is good that you have a friend,' was his last word on the
subject; but all the same he always glanced at me with a rather
doubtful eye. As to Davies and myself, our friendship developed
quickly on certain limited lines, the chief obstacle, as I well know
now, being his reluctance to talk about the personal side of our
On the other hand, I spoke about my own life and interests, with an
unsparing discernment, of which I should have been incapable a month
ago, and in return I gained the key to his own character. It was
devotion to the sea, wedded to a fire of pent-up patriotism
struggling incessantly for an outlet in strenuous physical
expression; a humanity, born of acute sensitiveness to his own
limitations, only adding fuel to the flame. I learnt for the first
time now that in early youth he had failed for the navy, the first of
several failures in his career. 'And I can't settle down to anything
else,' he said. 'I read no end about it, and yet I am a useless
outsider. All I've been able to do is to potter about in small boats;
but it's all been _wasted_ till this chance came. I'm afraid you'll
not understand how I feel about it; but at last, for once in a way, I
see a chance of being useful.'
'There ought to be chances for chaps like you,' I said, 'without the
accident of a job such as this.'
'Oh, as long as I get it, what matter? But I know what you mean.
There must be hundreds of chaps like me--I know a good many
myself--who know our coasts like a book--shoals, creeks, tides,
rocks; there's nothing in it, it's only practice. They ought to make
some use of us as a naval reserve. They tried to once, hut it fizzled
out, and nobody really cares. And what's the result? Using every man
of what reserves we've got, there's about enough to man the fleet on
a war footing, and no more. They've tinkered with fishermen, and
merchant sailors, and yachting hands, but everyone of them ought to
be got hold of; and the colonies, too. Is there the ghost of a doubt
that if war broke out there'd be wild appeals for volunteers, aimless
cadging, hurry, confusion, waste? My own idea is that we ought to go
much further, and train every able-bodied man for a couple of years
as a sailor. Army? Oh, I suppose you'd have to give them the choice.
Not that I know or care much about the Army, though to listen to
people talk you'd think it really mattered as the Navy matters. We're
a maritime nation--we've grown by the sea and live by it; if we lose
command of it we starve. We're unique in that way, just as our huge
empire, only linked by the sea, is unique. And yet, read Brassey,
Dilke, and those "Naval Annuals", and see what mountains of apathy
and conceit have had to be tackled. It's not the people's fault.
We've been safe so long, and grown so rich, that we've forgotten what
we owe it to. But there's no excuse for those blockheads of
statesmen, as they call themselves, who are paid to see things as
they are. They have to go to an American to learn their A B C, and
it's only when kicked and punched by civilian agitators, a mere
handful of men who get sneered at for their pains, that they wake up,
do some work, point proudly to it, and go to sleep again, till they
get another kick. By Jove! we want a man like this Kaiser, who
doesn't wait to be kicked, but works like a nigger for his country,
and sees ahead.'
'We're improving, aren't we?'
'Oh, of course, we are! But it's a constant uphill fight; and we
aren't ready. They talk of a two-power standard--' He plunged away
into regions where space forbids me to follow him. This is only a
sample of many similar conversations that we afterwards held, always
culminating in the burning question of Germany. Far from including me
and the Foreign Office among his targets for vague invective, he had
a profound respect for my sagacity and experience as a member of that
institution; a respect which embarrassed me not a little when I
thought of my _précis_ writing and cigarette-smoking, my dancing, and
my dining. But I did know something of Germany, and could satisfy his
tireless questioning with a certain authority. He used to listen rapt
while I described her marvellous awakening in the last generation,
under the strength and wisdom of her rulers; her intense patriotic
ardour; her seething industrial activity, and, most potent of all,
the forces that are moulding modern Europe, her dream of a colonial
empire, entailing her transformation from a land-power to a
sea-power. Impregnably based on vast territorial resources which we
cannot molest, the dim instincts of her people, not merely directed
but anticipated by the genius of her ruling house, our great trade
rivals of the present, our great naval rival of the future, she
grows, and strengthens, and waits, an ever more formidable factor in
the future of our delicate network of empire, sensitive as gossamer
to external shocks, and radiating from an island whose commerce is
its life, and which depends even for its daily ration of bread on the
free passage of the seas.
'And we aren't ready for her,' Davies would say; 'we don't look her
way. We have no naval base in the North Sea, and no North Sea Fleet.
Our best battleships are too deep in draught for North Sea work. And,
to crown all, we were asses enough to give her Heligoland, which
commands her North Sea coast. And supposing she collars Holland;
isn't there some talk of that?'
That would lead me to describe the swollen ambitions of the
Pan-Germanic party, and its ceaseless intrigues to promote the
absorption of Austria, Switzerland, and--a direct and flagrant menace
to ourselves--of Holland.
'I don't blame them,' said Davies, who, for all his patriotism, had
not a particle of racial spleen in his composition. 'I don't blame
them; their Rhine ceases to be German just when it begins to be most
valuable. The mouth is Dutch, and would give them magnificent ports
just opposite British shores. We can't talk about conquest and
grabbing. We've collared a fine share of the world, and they've every
right to be jealous. Let them hate us, and say so; it'll teach us to
buck up; and that's what really matters.'
In these talks there occurred a singular contact of minds. It was
very well for me to spin sonorous generalities, but I had never till
now dreamed of being so vulgar as to translate them into practice. I
had always detested the meddlesome alarmist, who veils ignorance
under noisiness, and for ever wails his chant of lugubrious
pessimism. To be thrown with Davies was to receive a shock of
enlightenment; for here, at least, was a specimen of the breed who
exacted respect. It is true he made use of the usual jargon,
interlarding his stammering sentences (sometimes, when he was
excited, with the oddest effect) with the conventional catchwords of
the journalist and platform speaker. But these were but accidents;
for he seemed to have caught his innermost conviction from the very
soul of the sea itself. An armchair critic is one thing, but a
sunburnt, brine-burnt zealot smarting under a personal discontent,
athirst for a means, however tortuous, of contributing his effort to
the great cause, the maritime supremacy of Britain, that was quite
another thing. He drew inspiration from the very wind and spray. He
communed with his tiller, I believe, and marshalled his figures with
its help. To hear him talk was to feel a current of clarifying air
blustering into a close club-room, where men bandy ineffectual
platitudes, and mumble old shibboleths, and go away and do nothing.
In our talk about policy and strategy we were Bismarcks and Rodneys,
wielding nations and navies; and, indeed, I have no doubt that our
fancy took extravagant flights sometimes. In plain fact we were
merely two young gentlemen in a seven-ton pleasure boat, with a taste
for amateur hydrography and police duty combined. Not that Davies
ever doubted. Once set on the road he gripped his purpose with
child-like faith and tenacity. It was his 'chance'.
11 The Pathfinders
IN the late afternoon of the second day our flotilla reached the Elbe
at Brunsbüttel and ranged up in the inner basin, while a big liner,
whimpering like a fretful baby, was tenderly nursed into the lock.
During the delay Davies left me in charge, and bolted off with an
oil-can and a milk-jug. An official in uniform was passing along the
quay from vessel to vessel counter-signing papers. I went up to meet
him with our receipt for dues, which he signed carelessly. Then he
paused and muttered _'Dooltzhibella,'_ scratching his head, 'that was
the name. English?' he asked.
'Little _lust-cutter_, that is so; there was an inquiry for you.'
'A friend of yours from a big barge-yacht.'
'Oh, I know; she went on to Hamburg, I suppose?'
'No such luck, captain; she was outward bound.'
What did the man mean? He seemed to be vastly amused by something.
'When was this--about three weeks ago?' I asked, indifferently.
'Three weeks? It was the day before yesterday. What a pity to miss
him by so little!' He chuckled and winked.
'Did he leave any message?' I asked.
'It was a lady who inquired,' whispered the fellow, sniggering. 'Oh,
really,' I said, beginning to feel highly absurd, but keenly curious.
'And she inquired about the Dulcibella?'
'Herrgott! she was difficult to satisfy! Stood over me while I
searched the books. "A very little one," she kept saying, and "Are
you sure all the names are here?" I saw her into her kleine Boot, and
she rowed away in the rain. No, she left no message. It was dirty
weather for a young fräulein to be out alone in. Ach! she was safe
enough, though. To see her crossing the ebb in a chop of tide was a
'And the yacht went on down the river? Where was she bound to?'
'How do I know? Bremen, Wilhelmshaven, Emden - somewhere in the North
Sea; too far for you.'
'I don't know about that,' said I, bravely.
'Ach! you will not follow in _that_? Are not you bound to Hamburg?'
'We can change our plans. It seems a pity to have missed them.'
'Think twice, captain, there are plenty of pretty girls in Hamburg.
But you English will do anything. Well, viel Glück!'
He moved on, chuckling, to the next boat. Davies soon returned with
his cans and an armful of dark, rye loaves, just in time, for, the
liner being through, the flotilla was already beginning to jostle
into the lock and Bartels was growing impatient.
'They'll last ten days,' he said, as we followed the throng, still
clinging like a barnacle to the side of the Johannes. We spent the
few minutes while the lock was emptied in a farewell talk to Bartels.
Karl had hitched their main halyards on to the windlass and was
grinding at it in an _acharnement_ of industry, his shock head
jerking and his grubby face perspiring. Then the lock gates opened;
and so, in a Babel of shouting, whining of blocks, and creaking of
spars, our whole company was split out into the dingy bosom of the
Elbe. The Johannes gathered way under wind and tide and headed for
midstream. A last shake of the hand, and Bartels reluctantly slipped
the head-rope and we drifted apart. 'Gute Reise! Gute Reise!' It was
no time for regretful gazing, for the flood-tide was sweeping us up
and out, and it was not until we had set the foresail, edged into a
shallow bight, and let go our anchor, that we had leisure to think of
him again; but by that time his and the other craft were shades in
the murky east.
We swung close to a _glacis_ of smooth blue mud which sloped up to a
weed-grown dyke; behind lay the same flat country, colourless, humid;
and opposite us, two miles away, scarcely visible in the deepening
twilight, ran the outline of a similar shore. Between rolled the
turgid Elbe. 'The Styx flowing through Tartarus,' I thought to
myself, recalling some of our Baltic anchorages.
I told my news to Davies as soon as the anchor was down,
instinctively leaving the sex of the inquirer to the last, as my
informant had done.
'The Medusa called yesterday?' he interrupted. 'And outward bound?
That's a rum thing. Why didn't he inquire when he was going _up_?'
'It was a lady,' and I drily retailed the official's story, very busy
with a deck-broom the while. 'We're all square now, aren't we?' I
ended. 'I'll go below and light the stove.'
Davies had been engaged in fixing up the riding-light. When I last
saw him he was still so engaged, but motionless, the lantern under
his left arm. and his right hand grasping the forestay and the
half-knotted lanyard; his eyes staring fixedly down the river, a
strange look in his face, half exultant, half perplexed. When he
joined me and spoke he seemed to be concluding a difficult argument.
'Anyway, it proves,' he said, 'that the Medusa has gone back to
Norderney. That's the main thing.'
'Probably,' I agreed, 'but let's sum up all we know. First, it's
certain that nobody we've met as yet has any suspicion of _us_' 'I
told you he did it off his own bat,' threw in Davies. 'Or, secondly,
of _him._ If he's what you think it's not known here.'
'I can't help that.'
'Thirdly, he inquires for you on his way _back_ from Hamburg, three
weeks after the event. It doesn't look as if he thought he had
disposed of you--it doesn't look as if he had _meant_ to dispose of
you. He sends his daughter, too--a curious proceeding under the
circumstances. Perhaps it's all a mistake.'
'It's not a mistake,' said Davies, half to himself. 'But _did_ he
send her? He'd have sent one of his men. He can't be on board at
This was a new light.
'What do you mean?' I asked.
'He must have left the yacht when he got to Hamburg; some other
devil's work, I suppose. She's being sailed back now, and passing
'Oh, I see! It's a private supplementary inquiry.'
'That's a long name to call it.'
'Would the girl sail back alone with the crew?'
'She's used to the sea--and perhaps she isn't alone. There was that
stepmother--But it doesn't make a ha'porth of difference to our
plans: we'll start on the ebb to-morrow morning.'
We were busier than usual that night, reckoning stores, tidying
lockers, and securing movables. 'We must economize,' said Davies, for
all the world as though we were castaways on a raft. 'It's a wretched
thing to have to land somewhere to buy oil,' was a favourite
observation of his.
Before getting to sleep I was made to recognize a new factor in the
conditions of navigation, now that the tideless Baltic was left
behind us. A strong current was sluicing past our sides, and at the
eleventh hour I was turned out, clad in pyjamas and oilskins (a
horrible combination), to assist in running out a kedge or spare
'What's kedging-off?' I asked, when we were tucked up again. 'Oh,
it's when you run aground; you have to--but you'll soon learn all
about it.' I steeled my heart for the morrow.
So behold us, then, at eight o'clock on 5th October, standing down
the river towards the field of our first labours. It is fifteen miles
to the mouth; drab, dreary miles like the dullest reaches of the
lower Thames; but scenery was of no concern to us, and a
south-westerly breeze blowing out of a grey sky kept us constantly on
the verge of reefing. The tide as it gathered strength swept us down
with a force attested by the speed with which buoys came in sight,
nodded above us and passed, each boiling in its eddy of dirty foam. I
scarcely noticed at first--so calm was the water, and so regular were
the buoys, like milestones along a road--that the northern line of
coast was rapidly receding and that the 'river' was coming to be but
a belt of deep water skirting a vast estuary, three--seven--ten miles
broad, till it merged in open sea.
'Why, we're at sea!' I suddenly exclaimed, 'after an hour's sailing!'
'Just discovered that?' said Davies, laughing.
'You said it was fifteen miles,' I complained.
'So it is, till we reach this coast at Cuxhaven; but I suppose you
may say we're at sea; of course that's all sand over there to
starboard. Look! some of it's showing already.'
He pointed into the north. Looking more attentively I noticed that
outside the line of buoys patches of the surface heaved and worked;
in one or two places streaks and circles of white were forming; in
the midst of one such circle a sleek mauve hump had risen, like the
back of a sleeping whale. I saw that an old spell was enthralling
Davies as his eye travelled away to the blank horizon. He scanned it
all with a critical eagerness, too, as one who looks for a new
meaning in an old friend's face. Something of his zest was
communicated to me, and stilled the shuddering thrill that had seized
me. The protecting land was still a comforting neighbour; but our
severance with it came quickly. The tide whirled us down, and our
straining canvas aiding it, we were soon off Cuxhaven, which crouched
so low behind its mighty dyke, that of some of its houses only the
chimneys were visible. Then, a mile or so on, the shore sharpened to
a point like a claw, where the innocent dyke became a long, low fort,
with some great guns peeping over; then of a sudden it ceased,
retreating into the far south in a dim perspective of groins and
We spun out into the open and leant heavily over to the now
unobstructed wind. The yacht rose and sank to a little swell, but my
first impression was one of wonder at the calmness of the sea, for
the wind blew fresh and free from horizon to horizon.
'Why, it's all sand _there_ now, and we're under the lee of it,' said
Davies, with an enthusiastic sweep of his hand over the sea on our
left, or port, hand. 'That's our hunting ground.'
'What are we going to do?' I inquired.
'Pick up Sticker's Gat,' was the reply. 'It ought to be near Buoy K.'
A red buoy with a huge K on it soon came into view. Davies peered
over to port.
'Just pull up the centre-board, will you?' he remarked abstractedly,
adding, 'and hand me up the glasses as you re down there.'
'Never mind the glasses. I've got it now; come to the main-sheet,'
was the next remark.
He put down the helm and headed the yacht straight for the troubled
and discoloured expanse which covered the submerged sands. A
'sleeping whale', with a light surf splashing on it, was right in our
'Stand by the lead, will you?' said Davies, politely. 'I'll manage
the sheets, it's a dead beat in. Ready about!'
The wind was in our teeth now, and for a crowded half-hour we wormed
ourselves forward by ever-shortening tacks into the sinuous recesses
of a channel which threaded the shallows westward. I knelt in a
tangle of line, and, under the hazy impression that something very
critical was going on, plied the lead furiously, bumping and
splashing myself, and shouting out the depths, which lessened
steadily, with a great sense of the importance of my function. Davies
never seemed to listen, but tacked on imperturbably, juggling with
the tiller, the sheets, and the chart, in a way that made one giddy
to look at. For all our zeal we seemed to be making very slow
'It's no use, tide's too strong: we must chance it,' he said at last.
'Chance what?' I wondered to myself. Our tacks suddenly began to grow