Part 3 out of 6
longer, and the depths, which I registered, shallower. All went well
for some time though, and we made better progress. Then came a longer
reach than usual.
'Two and a half--two--one and a half--one--only five feet,' I gasped,
reproachfully. The water was growing thick and frothy.
'It doesn't matter if we do,' said Davies, thinking aloud. 'There's
an eddy here, and it's a pity to waste it--ready about! Back the
But it was too late. The yacht answered but faintly to the helm,
stopped, and heeled heavily over, wallowing and grinding. Davies had
the mainsail down in a twinkling; it half smothered me as I crouched
on the lee-side among my tangled skeins of line, scared and helpless.
I crawled out from the folds, and saw him standing by the mast in a
'It's not much use,' he said, 'on a falling tide, but we'll try
kedging-off. Pay that warp out while I run out the kedge.'
Like lightning he had cast off the dinghy's painter, tumbled the
kedge-anchor and himself into the dinghy, pulled out fifty yards into
the deeper water, and heaved out the anchor.
'Now haul,' he shouted.
I hauled, beginning to see what kedging-off meant.
'Steady on! Don't sweat yourself,' said Davies, jumping aboard again.
'It's coming,' I spluttered, triumphantly.
'The warp is, the yacht isn't; you're dragging the anchor home. Never
mind, she'll lie well here. Let's have lunch.'
The yacht was motionless, and the water round her visibly lower.
Petulant waves slapped against her sides, but, scattered as my senses
were, I realized that there was no vestige of danger. Round us the
whole face of the waters was changing from moment to moment,
whitening in some places, yellowing in others, where breadths of sand
began to be exposed. Close on our right the channel we had left began
to look like a turbid little river; and I understood why our progress
had been so slow when I saw its current racing back to meet the Elbe.
Davies was already below, laying out a more than usually elaborate
lunch, in high content of mind.
'Lies quiet, doesn't she?' he remarked. 'If you _do_ want a sit-down
lunch, there's nothing like running aground for it. And, anyhow,
we're as handy for work here as anywhere else. You'll see.'
Like most landsmen I had a wholesome prejudice against running
aground', so that my mentor's turn for breezy paradox was at first
rather exasperating. After lunch the large-scale chart of the
estuaries was brought down, and we pored over it together, mapping
out work for the next few days. There is no need to tire the general
reader with its intricacies, nor is there space to reproduce it for
the benefit of the instructed reader. For both classes the general
map should be sufficient, taken with the large-scale fragment _[See
Chart A]_ which gives a fair example of the region in detail. It will
be seen that the three broad fairways of the Jade, Weser, and Elbe
split up the sands into two main groups. The westernmost of these is
symmetrical in outline, an acute-angled triangle, very like a sharp
steel-shod pike, if you imagine the peninsula from which it springs
to be the wooden haft. The other is a huge congeries of banks, its
base resting on the Hanover coast, two of its sides tolerably clean
and even, and the third, that facing the north-west, ribboned and
lacerated by the fury of the sea, which has eaten out deep cavities
and struck hungry tentacles far into the interior. The whole
resembles an inverted E, or, better still, a rude fork, on whose
three deadly prongs, the Scharhorn Reef, the Knecht Sand, and the
Tegeler Flat, as on the no less deadly point of the pike, many a good
ship splinters herself in northerly gales. Following this simile, the
Hohenhörn bank, where Davies was wrecked, is one of those that lie
between the upper and middle prongs.
Our business was to explore the Pike and the Fork and the channels
which ramify through them. I use the general word 'channel', but in
fact they differ widely in character, and are called in German by
various names: Balje, Gat, Loch, Diep. Rinne. For my purpose I need
only divide them into two sorts -those which have water in them at
all states of the tide, and those which have not, which dry off, that
is, either wholly or partly at low-tide.
Davies explained that the latter would take most learning, and were
to be our chief concern, because they were the 'through-routes'--the
connecting links between the estuaries. You can always detect them on
the chart by rows of little Y-shaped strokes denoting 'booms', that
is to say, poles or saplings fixed in the sand to mark the passage.
The strokes, of course, are only conventional signs, and do not
correspond in the least to individual 'booms', which are far too
numerous and complex to be indicated accurately on a chart, even of
the largest scale. The same applies to the course of the channels
themselves, whose minor meanderings cannot be reproduced.
It was on the edge of one of these tidal swatchways that the yacht
was now lying. It is called Sticker's Gat, and you cannot miss it
_[See Chart A]_ if you carry your eye westward along our course from
Cuxhaven. It was, so Davies told me, the last and most intricate
stage of the 'short cut' which the Medusa had taken on that memorable
day--a stage he himself had never reached. Discussion ended, we went
on deck, Davies arming himself with a notebook, binoculars, and the
prismatic compass, whose use--to map the angles of the channels--was
at last apparent. This is what I saw when we emerged.
12 My Initiation
THE yacht lay with a very slight heel (thanks to a pair of small
bilge-keels on her bottom) in a sort of trough she had dug for
herself, so that she was still ringed with a few inches of water, as
it were with a moat.
For miles in every direction lay a desert of sand. To the north it
touched the horizon, and was only broken by the blue dot of Neuerk
Island and its lighthouse. To the east it seemed also to stretch to
infinity, but the smoke of a steamer showed where it was pierced by
the stream of the Elbe. To the south it ran up to the pencil-line of
the Hanover shore. Only to the west was its outline broken by any
vestiges of the sea it had risen from. There it was astir with
crawling white filaments, knotted confusedly at one spot in the
north-west, whence came a sibilant murmur like the hissing of many
snakes. Desert as I call it, it was not entirely featureless. Its
colour varied from light fawn, where the highest levels had dried in
the wind, to brown or deep violet, where it was still wet, and
slate-grey where patches of mud soiled its clean bosom. Here and
there were pools of water, smitten into ripples by the impotent wind;
here and there it was speckled by shells and seaweed. And close to
us, beginning to bend away towards that hissing knot in the
north-west, wound our poor little channel, mercilessly exposed as a
stagnant, muddy ditch with scarcely a foot of water, not deep enough
to hide our small kedge-anchor, which perked up one fluke in impudent
mockery. The dull, hard sky, the wind moaning in the rigging as
though crying in despair for a prey that had escaped it, made the
scene inexpressibly forlorn.
Davies scanned it with gusto for a moment, climbed to a point of
vantage on the boom, and swept his glasses to and fro along the
course of the channel.
'Fairly well boomed,' he said, meditatively, 'but one or two are very
much out. By Jove! that's a tricky bend there.' He took a bearing
with the compass, made a note or two, and sprang with a vigorous leap
down on to the sand.
This, I may say, was the only way of 'going ashore' that he really
liked. We raced off as fast as our clumsy sea-boots would let us, and
followed up the course of our channel to the west, reconnoitring the
road we should have to follow when the tide rose.
'The only way to learn a place like this,' he shouted, 'is to see it
at low water. The banks are dry then, and the channels are plain.
Look at that boom'--he stopped and pointed contemptuously--'it's all
out of place. I suppose the channel's shifted there. It's just at an
important bend too. If you took it as a guide when the water was up
you'd run aground.'
'Which would be very useful,' I observed.
'Oh, hang it!' he laughed, 'we're exploring. I want to be able to run
through this channel without a mistake. We will, next time.' He
stopped, and plied compass and notebook. Then we raced on till the
next halt was called.
'Look,' he said, the channel's getting deeper, it was nearly dry a
moment ago; see the current in it now? That's the flood tide coming
up--from the _west,_ mind you; that is, from the Weser side. That
shows we're past the watershed.'
'Watershed?' I repeated, blankly.
'Yes, that's what I call it. You see, a big sand such as this is like
a range of hills dividing two plains, it's never dead flat though it
looks it; there's always one point, one ridge, rather, where it's
highest. Now a channel cutting right through the sand is, of course,
always at its shallowest when it's crossing this ridge; at low water
it's generally dry there, and it gradually deepens as it gets nearer
to the sea on either side. Now at high tide, when the whole sand is
covered, the water can travel where it likes; but directly the ebb
sets in the water falls away on either side the ridge and the channel
becomes two rivers flowing in opposite directions _from_ the centre,
or watershed, as I call it. So, also, when the ebb has run out and
the flood begins, the channel is fed by two currents flowing to the
centre and meeting in the middle. Here the Elbe and the Weser are our
two feeders. Now this current here is going eastwards; we know by the
time of day that the tide's rising, _therefore_ the watershed is
between us and the yacht.'
'Why is it so important to know that?'
'Because these currents are strong, and you want to know when you'll
lose a fair one and strike a foul one. Besides, the ridge is the
critical point when you're crossing on a falling tide, and you want
to know when you're past it.'
We pushed on till our path was barred by a big lagoon. It looked far
more imposing than the channel; but Davies, after a rapid scrutiny,
treated it to a grunt of contempt.
'It's a _cul de sac_,' he said. ' See that hump of sand it's making
'It's boomed,' I remonstrated, pointing to a decrepit stem drooping
over the bank, and shaking a palsied finger at the imposture.
'Yes, that's just where one goes wrong, it's an old cut that's silted
up. That boom's a fraud; there's no time to go farther, the flood's
making fast. I'll just take bearings of what we can see.'
The false lagoon was the first of several that began to be visible in
the west, swelling and joining hands over the ribs of sand that
divided them. All the time the distant hissing grew nearer and
louder, and a deep, thunderous note began to sound beneath it. We
turned our backs to the wind and hastened back towards the
Dulcibella, the stream in our channel hurrying and rising alongside
'There's just time to do the other side,' said Davies, when we
reached her, and I was congratulating myself on having regained our
base without finding our communications cut. And away we scurried in
the direction we had come that morning, splashing through pools and
jumping the infant runnels that were stealing out through rifts from
the mother-channel as the tide rose. Our observations completed, back
we travelled, making a wide circuit over higher ground to avoid the
encroaching flood, and wading shin-deep in the final approach to the
As I scrambled thankfully aboard, I seemed to hear a far-off voice
saying, in languid depreciation of yachting, that it did not give one
enough exercise. It was mine, centuries ago, in another life. From
east and west two sheets of water had overspread the desert, each
pushing out tongues of surf that met and fused.
I waited on deck and watched the death-throes of the suffocating
sands under the relentless onset of the sea. The last strongholds
were battered, stormed, and overwhelmed; the tumult of sounds sank
and steadied, and the sea swept victoriously over the whole expanse.
The Dulcibella, hitherto contemptuously inert, began to wake and
tremble under the buffetings she received. Then, with an effort, she
jerked herself on to an even keel and bumped and strained fretfully,
impatient to vanquish this insolent invader and make him a slave for
her own ends. Soon her warp tightened and her nose swung slowly
round; only her stern bumped now, and that with decreasing force.
Suddenly she was free and drifting broadside to the wind till the
anchor checked her and she brought up to leeward of it, rocking
easily and triumphantly. Good-humoured little person! At heart she
was friends alike with sand and sea. It was only when the old love
and the new love were in mortal combat for her favours, and she was
mauled in the _fracas_, that her temper rose in revolt.
We swallowed a hasty cup of tea, ran up the sails, and started off
west again. Once across the 'watershed' we met a strong current, but
the trend of the passage was now more to the north-west, so that we
could hold our course without tacking, and consequently could stem
the tide. 'Give her just a foot of the centre-plate,' said Davies.
'We know the way here, and she'll make less leeway; but we shall
generally have to do without it always on a falling tide. If you run
aground with the plate down you deserve to be drowned.' I now saw how
valuable our walk had been. The booms were on our right; but they
were broken reeds, giving no hint as to the breadth of the channel. A
few had lost their tops, and were being engulfed altogether by the
rising water. When we came to the point where they ceased, and the
false lagoon had lain, I should have felt utterly lost. We had
crossed the high and relatively level sands which form the base of
the Fork, and were entering the labyrinth of detached banks which
obstruct the funnel-shaped cavity between the upper and middle
prongs. This I knew from the chart. My unaided eye saw nothing but
the open sea, growing dark green as the depths increased; a dour,
threatening sea, showing its white fangs. The waves grew longer and
steeper, for the channels, though still tortuous, now begin to be
broad and deep.
Davies had his bearings, and struck on his course confidently. 'Now
for the lead,' he said; 'the compass'll be little use soon. We must
feel the edge of the sands till we pick up more booms.'
'Where are we going to anchor for the night?' I asked.
'Under the Hohenhörn,' said Davies, 'for auld lang syne!'
Partly by sight and mostly by touch we crept round the outermost
alley of the hidden maze till a new clump of booms appeared,
meaningless to me, but analysed by him into two groups. One we
followed for some distance, and then struck finally away and began
another beat to windward.
Dusk was falling. The Hanover coast-line, never very distinct, had
utterly vanished; an ominous heave of swell was under-running the
short sea. I ceased to attend to Davies imparting instruction on his
beloved hobby, and sought to stifle in hard manual labour the dread
that had been latent in me all day at the prospect of our first
anchorage at sea.
'Sound, like blazes now!' he said at last. I came to a fathom and a
half. 'That's the bank,' he said; 'we'll give it a bit of a berth and
then let go.'
'Let go now!' was the order after a minute, and the chain ran out
with a long-drawn moan. The Dulcibella snubbed up to it and jauntily
faced the North Sea and the growing night.
'There we are!' said Davies, as we finished stowing the mainsail,
'safe and snug in four fathoms in a magnificent sand-harbour, with no
one to bother us and the whole of it to ourselves. No dues, no
stinks, no traffic, no worries of any sort. It's better than a Baltic
cove even, less beastly civilization about. We're seven miles from
the nearest coast, and five even from Neuerk--look, they're lighting
up.' There was a tiny spark in the east.
'I suppose it's all right,' I said, 'but I'd rather see a solid
breakwater somewhere; it's a dirty-looking night, and I don't like
'The swell's nothing,' said Davies; 'it's only a stray drain from
outside. As for breakwaters, you've got them all round you, only
they're hidden. Ahead and to starboard is the West Hohenhörn, curling
round to the sou'-west for all the world like a stone pier. You can
hear the surf battering on its outside over to the north. That's
where I was nearly wrecked that day, and the little channel I
stumbled into must be quite near us somewhere. Half a mile away--to
port there--is the East Hohenhörn, where I brought up, after dashing
across this lake we're in. Another mile astern is the main body of
the sands, the top prong of your fork. So you see we're shut
in--practically. Surely you remember the chart? Why, it's--'
'Oh, confound the chart!' I broke out, finding this flow of plausible
comfort too dismally suggestive for my nerves. '_Look_ at it, man!
Supposing anything happens--supposing it blows a gale! But it's no
good shivering here and staring at the view. I'm going below.'
There was a _mauvais quart d'heure_ below, during which, I am ashamed
to say, I forgot the quest.
'Which soup do you feel inclined for?' said Davies, timidly, after a
black silence of some minutes.
That simple remark, more eloquent of security than a thousand
technical arguments, saved the situation.
'I say, Davies,' I said, 'I'm a white-livered cur at the best, and
you mustn't spare me. But you're not like any yachtsman I ever met
before, or any sailor of any sort. You're so casual and quiet in the
extraordinary things you do. I believe I should like you better if
you let fly a volley of deep-sea oaths sometimes, or threatened to
put me in irons.'
Davies opened wide eyes, and said it was all his fault for forgetting
that I was not as used to such anchorages as he was. 'And, by the
way,' he added, 'as to its blowing a gale, I shouldn't wonder if it
did; the glass is falling hard; but it can't hurt us. You see, even
at high water the drift of the sea--'
'Oh, for Heaven's sake, don't begin again. You'll prove soon that
we're safer here than in an hotel. Let's have dinner, and a
thundering good one!'
Dinner ran a smooth course, but just as coffee was being brewed the
hull, from pitching regularly, began to roll.
'I knew she would,' said Davies. 'I was going to warn you, only--the
ebb has set in _against_ the wind. It's quite safe--'
'I thought you said it would get calmer when the tide fell?'
'So it will, but it may _seem_ rougher. Tides are queer things,' he
added, as though in defence of some not very respectable
He busied himself with his logbook, swaying easily to the motion of
the boat; and I for my part tried to write up my diary, but I could
not fix my attention. Every loose article in the boat became audibly
restless. Cans clinked, cupboards rattled, lockers uttered hollow
groans. Small things sidled out of dark hiding-places, and danced
grotesque drunken figures on the floor, like goblins in a haunted
glade. The mast whined dolorously at every heel, and the centre-board
hiccoughed and choked. Overhead another horde of demons seemed to
have been let loose. The deck and mast were conductors which
magnified every sound and made the tap-tap of every rope's end
resemble the blows of a hammer, and the slapping of the halyards
against the mast the rattle of a Maxim gun. The whole tumult beat
time to a rhythmical chorus which became maddening.
'We might turn in now,' said Davies; 'it's half-past ten.'
'What, sleep through this?' I exclaimed. 'I can't stand this, I must
_do_ something. Can't we go for another walk?'
I spoke in bitter, half-delirious jest.
'Of course we can,' said Davies, 'if you don't mind a bit of a tumble
in the dinghy.'
I reconsidered my rash suggestion, but it was too late now to turn
back, and some desperate expedient was necessary. I found myself on
deck, gripping a backstay and looking giddily down and then up at the
dinghy, as it bobbed like a cork in the trough of the sea alongside,
while Davies settled the sculls and rowlocks.
'Jump!' he shouted, and before I could gather my wits and clutch the
sides we were adrift in the night, reeling from hollow to hollow of
the steep curling waves. Davies nursed our walnut-shell tenderly over
their crests, edging her slantwise across their course. He used very
little exertion, relying on the tide to carry us to our goal.
Suddenly the motion ceased. A dark slope loomed up out of the night,
and the dinghy rested softly in a shallow eddy.
'The West Hohenhörn,' said Davies. We jumped out and sank into soft
mud, hauled up the dinghy a foot or two, then mounted the bank and
were on hard, wet sand. The wind leapt on us, and choked our voices.
'Let's find my channel,' bawled Davies. 'This way. Keep Neuerk light
right astern of you.'
We set off with a long, stooping stride in the teeth of the wind, and
straight towards the roar of the breakers on the farther side of the
sand. A line of Matthew Arnold's, 'The naked shingles of the world,'
was running in my head. 'Seven miles from land,' I thought,
'scuttling like sea-birds on a transient islet of sand, encircled by
rushing tides and hammered by ocean, at midnight in a rising
gale--cut off even from our one dubious refuge.' It was the time, if
ever, to conquer weakness. A mad gaiety surged through me as I drank
the wind and pressed forward. It seemed but a minute or two and
Davies clutched me.
'Look out!' he shouted. 'It's my channel.'
The ground sloped down, and a rushing river glimmered before us. We
struck off at a tangent and followed its course to the north,
stumbling in muddy rifts, slipping on seaweed, beginning to be
blinded by a fine salt spray, and deafened by the thunder of the
ocean surf. The river broadened, whitened, roughened. gathered itself
for the shock, was shattered, and dissolved in milky gloom. We
wheeled away to the right, and splashed into yeasty froth. I turned
my back to the wind, scooped the brine out of my eyes, faced back and
saw that our path was barred by a welter of surf. Davies's voice was
in my ear and his arm was pointing seaward.
'This--is--about where--I--bumped first--worse then nor'-west
We galloped away with the wind behind us, skirting the line of surf.
I lost all account of time and direction. Another sea barred our
road, became another river as we slanted along its shore. Again we
were in the teeth of that intoxicating wind. Then a point of light
was swaying and flickering away to the left, and now we were checking
and circling. I stumbled against something sharp--the dinghy's
gunwale. So we had completed the circuit of our fugitive domain, that
dream-island--nightmare island as I always remember it.
'You must scull, too,' said Davies. 'It's blowing hard now. Keep her
nose _up_ a little--all you know!'
We lurched along, my scull sometimes buried to the thwart, sometimes
striking at the bubbles of a wave top. Davies, in the bows, said
'Pull!' or 'Steady!' at intervals. I heard the scud smacking against
his oilskin back. Then a wan, yellow light glanced over the waves.
'Easy! Let her come!' and the bowsprit of the Dulcibella, swollen to
spectral proportions, was stabbing the darkness above me. 'Back a
bit! Two good strokes. Ship your scull! Now jump!' I clawed at the
tossing hull and landed in a heap. Davies followed with the painter,
and the dinghy swept astern.
'She's riding beautifully now,' said he, when he had secured the
painter. 'There'll be no rolling on the flood, and it's nearly low
I don't think I should have cared, however much she had rolled. I was
finally cured of funk.
It was well that I was, for to be pitched out of your bunk on to wet
oil-cloth is a disheartening beginning to a day. This happened about
eight o'clock. The yacht was pitching violently, and I crawled on all
fours into the cabin, where Davies was setting out breakfast on the
'I let you sleep on,' he said; 'we can't do anything till the water
falls. We should never get the anchor up in this sea. Come and have a
look round. It's clearing now,' he went on, when we were crouching
low on deck, gripping cleats for safety. 'Wind's veered to nor'-west.
It's been blowing a full gale, and the sea is at its worst now--near
high water. You'll never see worse than this.'
I was prepared for what I saw--the stormy sea for leagues around, and
a chaos of breakers where our dream-island had stood--and took it
quietly, even with a sort of elation. The Dulcibella faced the storm
as doggedly as ever, plunging her bowsprit into the sea and flinging
green water over her bows. A wave of confidence and affection for her
welled through me. I had been used to resent the weight and bulk of
her unwieldy anchor and cable, but I saw their use now; varnish,
paint, spotless decks, and snowy sails were foppish absurdities of a
'What can we do to-day?' I asked.
'We must keep well inside the banks and be precious careful wherever
there's a swell. It's rampant in here, you see, in spite of the
barrier of sand. But there's plenty we can do farther back.'
We breakfasted in horrible discomfort; then smoked and talked till
the roar of the breakers dwindled. At the first sign of bare sand we
got under way, under mizzen and head-sails only, and I learned how to
sail a reluctant anchor out of the ground. Pivoting round, we scudded
east before the wind, over the ground we had traversed the evening
before, while an archipelago of new banks slowly shouldered up above
the fast weakening waves. We trod delicately among and around them,
sounding and observing; heaving to where space permitted, and
sometimes using the dinghy. I began to see where the risks lay in
this sort of navigation. Wherever the ocean swell penetrated, or the
wind blew straight down a long deep channel, we had to be very
cautious and leave good margins. 'That's the sort of place you
mustn't ground on,' Davies used to say.
In the end we traversed the Steil Sand again, but by a different
swatchway, and anchored, after an arduous day, in a notch on its
eastern limit, just clear of the swell that rolled in from the
turbulent estuary of the Elbe. The night was fair, and when the tide
receded we lay perfectly still, the fresh wind only sending a lip-lip
of ripples against our sides.
13 The Meaning of our Work
NOTHING happened during the next ten days to disturb us at our work.
During every hour of daylight and many of darkness, sailing or
anchored, aground or afloat, in rain and shine, wind and calm, we
studied the bed of the estuaries, and practised ourselves in
threading the network of channels; holding no communication with the
land and rarely approaching it. It was a life of toil, exposure, and
peril; a struggle against odds, too; for wild autumnal weather was
the rule, with the wind backing and veering between the south-west
and north-west, and only for two placid days blowing gently from the
east, the safe quarter for this region. Its force and direction
determined each fresh choice of ground. If it was high and northerly
we explored the inner fastnesses; in moderate intervals the exterior
fringe, darting when surprised into whatever lair was most
Sometimes we were tramping vast solitudes of sand, sometimes scudding
across ephemeral tracts of shallow sea. Again, we were creeping
gingerly round the deeper arteries that surround the Great Knecht,
examining their convolutions as it were the veins of a living tissue,
and the circulation of the tide throbbing through them like blood.
Again, we would be staggering through the tide-rips and overfalls
that infest the open fairway of the Weser on our passage between the
Fork and the Pike. On one of our fine days I saw the scene of
Davies's original adventure by daylight with the banks dry and the
channels manifest. The reader has seen it on the chart, and can, up
to a point, form his opinion; I can only add that I realized by
ocular proof that no more fatal trap could have been devised for an
innocent stranger; for approaching it from the north-west under the
easiest conditions it was hard enough to verify our true course. In a
period so full of new excitements it is not easy for me to say when
we were hardest put to it, especially as it was a rule with Davies
never to admit that we were in any danger at all. But I think that
our ugliest experience was on the 10th. when, owing to some minute
miscalculation, we stranded in a dangerous spot. Mere stranding, of
course, was all in the day's work; the constantly recurring question
being when and where to court or risk it. This time we were so
situated that when the rising tide came again we were on a lee shore,
broadside on to a gale of wind which was sending a nasty sea--with a
three-mile drift to give it force--down Robin's Balje, which is one
of the deeper arteries I spoke of above, and now lay dead to windward
of us. The climax came about ten o'clock at night. 'We can do nothing
till she floats,' said Davies; and I can see him now quietly smoking
and splicing a chafed warp while he explained that her double skin of
teak fitted her to stand anything in reason. She certainly had a
terrific test that night, for the bottom was hard, unyielding sand,
on which she rose and fell with convulsive vehemence. The last
half-hour was for me one of almost intolerable tension. I spent it on
deck unable to bear the suspense below. Sheets of driven sea flew
bodily over the hull, and a score of times I thought she must succumb
as she shivered to the blows of her keel on the sand. But those stout
skins knit by honest labour stood the trial. One final thud and she
wrenched herself bodily free, found her anchor, and rode clear.
On the whole I think we made few mistakes. Davies had a supreme
aptitude for the work. Every hour, sometimes every minute, brought
its problem, and his resource never failed. The stiffer it was the
cooler he became. He had, too, that intuition which is independent of
acquired skill, and is at the root of all genius; which, to take
cases analogous to his own, is the last quality of the perfect guide
or scout. I believe he could _smell_ sand where he could not see or
As for me, the sea has never been my element, and never will be;
nevertheless, I hardened to the life, grew salt, tough, and tolerably
alert. As a soldier learns more in a week of war than in years of
parades and pipeclay, so, cut off from all distractions, moving from
bivouac to precarious bivouac, and depending, to some extent, for my
life on my muscles and wits, I rapidly learnt my work and gained a
certain dexterity. I knew my ropes in the dark, could beat
economically to windward through squalls, take bearings, and estimate
the interaction of wind and tide.
We were generally in solitude, but occasionally we met galliots like
the Johannes tacking through the sands, and once or twice we found a
fleet of such boats anchored in a gut, waiting for water. Their
draught, loaded, was from six to seven feet, our own only four,
without our centre-plate, but we took their mean draught as the
standard of all our observations. That is, we set ourselves to
ascertain when and how a vessel drawing six and a half feet could
navigate the sands.
A word more as to our motive. It was Davies's conviction, as I have
said, that the whole region would in war be an ideal hunting-ground
for small free-lance marauders, and I began to know he was right; for
look at the three sea-roads through the sands to Hamburg, Bremen,
Wilhelmshaven, and the heart of commercial Germany. They are like
highways piercing a mountainous district by defiles, where a handful
of desperate men can arrest an army.
Follow the parallel of a war on land. People your mountains with a
daring and resourceful race, who possess an intimate knowledge of
every track and bridle-path, who operate in small bands, travel
light, and move rapidly. See what an immense advantage such guerillas
possess over an enemy which clings to beaten tracks, moves in large
bodies, slowly, and does not 'know the country'. See how they can not
only inflict disasters on a foe who vastly overmatches them in
strength, but can prolong a semi-passive resistance long after all
decisive battles have been fought. See, too, how the strong invader
can only conquer his elusive antagonists by learning their methods,
studying the country, and matching them in mobility and cunning. The
parallel must not be pressed too far; but that this sort of warfare
will have its counterpart on the sea is a truth which cannot be
Davies in his enthusiasm set no limits to its importance. The small
boat in shallow waters played a mighty _rôle_ in his vision of a
naval war, a part that would grow in importance as the war developed
and reach its height in the final stages.
'The heavy battle fleets are all very well,' he used to say, 'but if
the sides are well matched there might be nothing left of them after
a few months of war. They might destroy one another mutually, leaving
as nominal conqueror an admiral with scarcely a battleship to bless
himself with. It's then that the true struggle will set in; and it's
then that anything that will float will be pressed into the service,
and anybody who can steer a boat, knows his waters, and doesn't care
the toss of a coin for his life, will have magnificent opportunities.
It cuts both ways. What small boats can do in these waters is plain
enough; but take our own case. Say we're beaten on the high seas by a
coalition. There's then a risk of starvation or invasion. It's all
rot what they talk about instant surrender. We can live on half
rations, recuperate, and build; but we must have time. Meanwhile our
coast and ports are in danger, for the millions we sink in forts and
mines won't carry us far. They're fixed--pure passive defence. What
you want is _boats_--mosquitoes with stings--swarms of
them--patrol-boats, scout-boats, torpedo-boats; intelligent
irregulars manned by local men, with a pretty free hand to play their
own game. And what a splendid game to play! There are places very
like this over there--nothing half so good, but similar--the Mersey
estuary, the Dee, the Severn, the Wash, and, best of all, the Thames,
with all the Kent, Essex, and Suffolk banks round it. But as for
defending our coasts in the way I mean--we've nothing ready--nothing
whatsoever! We don't even build or use small torpedo-boats. These
fast "destroyers" are no good for _this_ work--too long and
unmanageable, and most of them too deep. What you want is something
strong and simple, of light draught, and with only a spar-torpedo, if
it came to that. Tugs, launches, small yachts--anything would do at a
pinch, for success would depend on intelligence, not on brute force
or complicated mechanism. They'd get wiped out often, but what
matter? There'd be no lack of the right sort of men for them if the
thing was _organized._ But where are the men?
'Or, suppose we have the best of it on the high seas, and have to
attack or blockade a coast like this, which is sand from end to end.
You can't improvise people who are at home in such waters. The navy
chaps don't learn it, though, by Jove! they're the most magnificent
service in the world--in pluck, and nerve, and everything else.
They'll _try_ anything, and often do the impossible. But their boats
are deep, and they get little practice in this sort of thing.'
Davies never pushed home his argument here; but I know that it was
the passionate wish of his heart, somehow and somewhere, to get a
chance of turning his knowledge of this coast to practical account in
the war that he felt was bound to come, to play that 'splendid game'
in this, the most fascinating field for it.
I can do no more than sketch his views. Hearing them as I did, with
the very splash of the surf and the bubble of the tides in my ears,
they made a profound impression on me, and gave me the very zeal for
our work he, by temperament, possessed.
But as the days passed and nothing occurred to disturb us, I felt
more and more strongly that, as regards our quest, we were on the
wrong tack. We found nothing suspicious, nothing that suggested a
really adequate motive for Dollmann's treachery. 1 became impatient,
and was for pushing on more quickly westward. Davies still clung to
his theory, but the same feeling influenced him.
'It's something to do with these channels in the sand,' he persisted,
'but I'm afraid, as you say, we haven't got at the heart of the
mystery. Nobody seems to care a rap what we do. We haven't done the
estuaries as well as I should like, but we'd better push on to the
islands. It's exactly the same sort of work, and just as important, I
believe. We're bound to get a clue soon.'
There was also the question of time, for me at least. I was due to be
back in London, unless I obtained an extension, on the 28th, and our
present rate of progress was slow. But I cannot conscientiously say
that I made a serious point of this. If there was any value in our
enterprise at all, official duty pales beside it. The machinery of
State would not suffer from my absence; excuses would have to be
made, and the results braved.
All the time our sturdy little craft grew shabbier and more
weather-worn, the varnish thinner, the decks greyer, the sails
dingier, and the cabin roof more murky where stove-fumes stained it.
But the only beauty she ever possessed, that of perfect fitness for
her functions, remained. With nothing to compare her to she became a
home to me. My joints adapted themselves to her crabbed limits, my
tastes and habits to her plain domestic economy.
But oil and water were running low, and the time had come for us to
be forced to land and renew our stock.
14 The First Night in the Islands
A LOW line of sandhills, pink and fawn in the setting sun, at one end
of them a little white village huddled round the base of a massive
four-square lighthouse--such was Wangeroog, the easternmost of the
Frisian Islands, as I saw it on the evening of 15th October. We had
decided to make it our first landing-place; and since it possesses no
harbour, and is hedged by a mile of sand at low water, we had run in
on the rising tide till the yacht grounded, in order to save
ourselves as much labour as possible in the carriage to and fro of
the heavy water-breakers and oil-cans which we had to replenish. In
faint outline three miles to the south of us was the flat plain of
Friesland, broken only by some trees, a windmill or two, and a church
spire. Between, the shallow expanse of sea was already beginning to
shrink away into lagoons, chief among which was the narrow passage by
which we had approached from the east. This continued its course
west, directly parallel to the island, and in it, at a distance of
half a mile from us, three galliots lay at anchor.
Before supper was over the yacht was high and dry, and when we had
eaten, Davies loaded himself with cans and breakers. I was for taking
my share, but he induced me to stay aboard; for I was dead tired
after an unusually long and trying day, which had begun at 2 a.m.,
when, using a precious instalment of east wind, we had started on a
complete passage of the sands from the Elbe to the Jade. It was a
barely possible feat for a boat of our low speed to perform in only
two tides; and though we just succeeded, it was only by dint of
tireless vigilance and severe physical strain.
'Lay out the anchor when you've had a smoke,' said Davies, and keep
an eye on the riding-light; it's my only guide back.'
He lowered himself, and I heard the scrunch of his sea-boots as he
disappeared in the darkness. It was a fine starry night, with a touch
of frost in the air. I lit a cigar, and stretched myself on a sofa
close to the glow of the stove. The cigar soon languished and
dropped, and I dozed uneasily, for the riding-light was on my mind. I
got up once and squinted at it through the half-raised skylight, saw
it burning steadily, and lay down again. The cabin lamp wanted oil
and was dying down to a red-hot wick, but I was too drowsy to attend
to it, and it went out. I lit my cigar stump again, and tried to keep
awake by thinking. It was the first time I and Davies had been
separated for so long; yet so used had we grown to freedom from
interference that this would not have disturbed me in the least were
it not for a sudden presentiment that on this first night of the
second stage of our labours something would happen. All at once I
heard a sound outside, a splashing footstep as of a man stepping in a
puddle. I was wide awake in an instant, but never thought of shouting
'Is that you, Davies?' for I knew in a flash that it was not he. It
was the slip of a stealthy man. Presently I heard another
footstep--the pad of a boot on the sand--this time close to my ear,
just outside the hull; then some more, fainter and farther aft. I
gently rose and peered aft through the skylight. A glimmer of light,
reflected from below, was wavering over the mizzen-mast and bumpkin;
it had nothing to do with the riding-light, which hung on the
forestay. My prowler, I understood, had struck a match and was
reading the name on the stern. How much farther would his curiosity
carry him? The match went out, and footsteps were audible again. Then
a strong, guttural voice called in German, 'Yacht ahoy!' I kept
silence. 'Yacht ahoy!' a little louder this time. A pause, and then a
vibration of the hull as boots scraped on it and hands grasped the
gunwale. My visitor was on deck. I bobbed down, sat on the sofa, and
I heard him moving along the deck, quickly and confidently, first
forward to the bows, where he stopped, then back to the companion
amidships. Inside the cabin it was pitch dark, but I heard his boots
on the ladder, feeling for the steps. In another moment he would be
in the doorway lighting his second match. Surely it was darker than
before? There had been a little glow from the riding-lamp reflected
on to the skylight, but it had disappeared. I looked up, realized,
and made a fool of myself. In a few seconds more I should have seen
my visitor face to face, perhaps had an interview: but I was new to
this sort of work and lost my head. All I thought of was Davies's
last words, and saw him astray on the sands, with no light to guide
him back, the tide rising, and a heavy load. I started up
involuntarily, bumped against the table, and set the stove jingling.
A long step and a grab at the ladder, but just too late! I grasped
something damp and greasy, there was tugging and hard breathing, and
I was left clasping a big sea-boot, whose owner I heard jump on to
the sand and run. I scrambled out, vaulted overboard, and followed
blindly by the sound. He had doubled round the bows of the yacht, and
I did the same, ducked under the bowsprit, forgetting the bobstay,
and fell violently on my head, with all the wind knocked out of me by
a wire rope and block whose strength and bulk was one of the glories
of the Dulcibella. I struggled on as soon as I got some breath, but
my invisible quarry was far ahead. I pulled off my heavy boots,
carried them, and ran in my stockings, promptly cutting my foot on
some cockle-shells. Pursuit was hopeless, and a final stumble over a
bit of driftwood sent me sprawling with agony in my toes.
Limping back, I decided that I had made a very poor beginning as an
active adventurer. I had gained nothing, and lost a great deal of
breath and skin, and did not even know for certain where I was. The
yacht's light was extinguished, and, even with Wangeroog Lighthouse
to guide me, I found it no easy matter to find her. She had no anchor
out, if the tide rose. And how was Davies to find her? After much
feeble circling I took to lying flat at intervals in the hopes of
seeing her silhouetted against the starry sky. This plan succeeded at
last, and with relief and humility I boarded her, relit the
riding-light, and carried off the kedge anchor. The strange boot lay
at the foot of the ladder, but it told no tales when I examined it.
It was eleven o'clock, past low water. Davies was cutting it fine if
he was to get aboard without the dinghy's help. But eventually he
reappeared in the most prosaic way, exhausted with his heavy load,
but full of talk about his visit ashore. He began while we were still
'Look here, we ought to have settled more about what we're to say
when we're asked questions. I chose a quiet-looking shop, but it
turned out to be a sort of inn, where they were drinking pink
gin--all very friendly, as usual, and I found myself under a fire of
questions. I said we were on our way back to England. There was the
usual rot about the smallness of the boat, etc. It struck me that we
should want some other pretence for going so slow and stopping to
explore, so I had to bring in the ducks, though goodness knows we
don't want to waste time over _them._ The subject wasn't quite a
success. They said it was too early--jealous, I suppose; but then two
fellows spoke up, and asked to be taken on to help. Said they would
bring their punt; without local help we should do no good. All true
enough, no doubt, but what a nuisance they'd be. I got out of it--'
'It's just as well you did,' I interposed. 'We shall never be able to
leave the boat by herself. I believe we're watched,' and I related my
'H'm! It's a pity you didn't see who it was. Confound that bob-stay!'
(his tactful way of reflecting on my clumsiness); 'which way did he
run?' I pointed vaguely into the west. 'Not towards the island? I
wonder if it's someone off one of those galliots. There are three
anchored in the channel over there; you can see their lights. You
didn't hear a boat pulling off?'
I explained that I had been a miserable failure as a detective.
'You've done jolly well, I think,' said Davies. 'If you had shouted
when you first heard him we should know less still. And we've got a
boot, which may come in useful. Anchor out all right? Let's get
We smoked and talked till the new flood, lapping softly round the
Dulcibella, raised her without a jar.
Of course, I argued, there might be nothing in it. The visitor might
have been a commonplace thief; an apparently deserted yacht was a
tempting bait. Davies scouted this possibility from the first.
'They're not like that in Germany,' he said. 'In Holland, if you
like, they'll do anything. And I don't like that turning out of the
lantern to gain time, if we were away.'
Nor did I. In spite of my blundering in details, I welcomed the
incident as the first concrete proof that the object of our quest was
no mare's nest. The next point was what was the visitor's object? If
to search, what would he have found?
'The charts, of course, with all our corrections and notes, and the
log. They'd give us away,' was Davies's instant conclusion. Not
having his faith in the channel theory, I was lukewarm about his
'After all, we're doing nothing wrong, as you've often said
yourself,' I said.
Still, as a true index to our mode of life they were the only things
on board that could possibly compromise us or suggest that we were
anything more than eccentric young Englishmen cruising for sport
(witness the duck guns) and pleasure. We had two sets of charts,
German and English. The former we decided to use in practice, and to
hide, together with the log, if occasion demanded. My diary, I
resolved, should never leave my person. Then there were the naval
books. Davies scanned them with a look I knew well.
'There are too many of them,' he said, in the tone of a cook fixing
the fate of superfluous kittens. 'Let's throw them overboard. They're
very old anyhow, and I know them by heart.'
'Well, not here!' I protested, for he was laying greedy hands on the
shelf; 'they'll be found at low water. In fact, I should leave them
as they are. You had them when you were here before, and Dollmann
knows you had them. If you return without them, it will look queer.'
They were spared.
The English charts, being relatively useless, though more suitable to
our _rôle_ as English yachtsmen, were to be left in evidence, as
shining proofs of our innocence. It was all delightfully casual, I
could not help thinking. A seven-ton yacht does not abound in (dry)
hiding-places, and we were helpless against a drastic search. If
there _were_ secrets on this coast to guard, and we were suspected as
spies, there was nothing to prevent an official visit and warning.
There need be no prowlers scuttling off when alarmed, unless indeed
it was thought wisest to let well alone, if we _were_ harmless, and
not to arouse suspicions where there were none. Here we lost
ourselves in conjecture. Whose agent was the prowler? If Dollmann's,
did Dollmann know now that the Dulcibella was safe, and back in the
region he had expelled her from? If so, was he likely to return to
the policy of violence? We found ourselves both glancing at the duck
guns strung up under the racks, and then we both laughed and looked
foolish. 'A war of wits, and not of duck guns,' I opined. 'Let's look
at the chart.'
The reader is already familiar with the general aspect of this
singular region, and I need only remind him that the mainland is that
district of Prussia which is known as East Friesland. It is a _[See
Map B]_ short, flat-topped peninsula, bounded on the west by the Ems
estuary and beyond that by Holland, and on the east by the Jade
estuary; a low-lying country, containing great tracts of marsh and
heath, and few towns of any size; on the north side none. Seven
islands lie off the coast. All, except Borkum, which is round, are
attenuated strips, slightly crescent-shaped, rarely more than a mile
broad, and tapering at the ends; in length averaging about six miles,
from Norderney and Juist, which are seven and nine respectively, to
little Baltrum, which is only two and a half.
Of the shoal spaces which lie between them and the mainland,
two-thirds dry at low-water, and the remaining third becomes a system
of lagoons whose distribution is controlled by the natural drift of
the North Sea as it forces its way through the intervals between the
islands. Each of these intervals resembles the bar of a river, and is
obstructed by dangerous banks, over which the sea pours at every tide
scooping out a deep pool. This fans out and ramifies to east and west
as the pent-up current frees itself, encircles the islands, and
spreads over the intervening flats. But the farther it penetrates the
less coursing force it has, and as a result no island is girt
completely by a low-water channel. About midway at the back of each
of them is a 'watershed', only covered for five or six hours out of
the twelve. A boat, even of the lightest draught, navigating behind
the islands must choose its moment for passing these. As to
navigability, the North Sea Pilot sums up the matter in these dry
terms: 'The channels dividing these islands from each other and the
shore afford to the small craft of the country the means of
communication between the Ems and the Jade, to which description of
vessels only they are available.' The islands are dismissed with a
brief note or two about beacons and lights.
The more I looked at the chart the more puzzled I became. The islands
were evidently mere sandbanks. with a cluster of houses and a church
on each, the only hint of animation in their desolate _ensemble_
being the occasional word 'Bade-strand', suggesting that they were
visited in the summer months by a handful of townsfolk for the
sea-bathing. Norderney, of course, was conspicuous in this respect;
but even its town, which I know by repute as a gay and fashionable
watering-place, would be dead and empty for some months in the year,
and could have no commercial importance. No man could do anything on
the mainland coast--a monotonous line of dyke punctuated at intervals
by an infinitesimal village. Glancing idly at the names of these
villages, I noticed that they most of them ended in siel--a repulsive
termination, that seemed appropriate to the whole region. There were
Carolinensiel, Bensersiel, etc. Siel means either a sewer or a
sluice, the latter probably in this case, for I noticed that each
village stood at the outlet of a little stream which evidently
carried off the drainage of the lowlands behind. A sluice, or lock,
would be necessary at the mouth, for at high tide the land is below
the level of the sea. Looking next at the sands outside, I noticed
that across them and towards each outlet a line of booms was marked,
showing that there was some sort of tidal approach to the village,
evidently formed by the scour of the little stream.
'Are we going to explore those?' I asked Davies.
'I don't see the use,' he answered; 'they only lead to those potty
little places. I suppose local galliots use them.'
'How about your torpedo-boats and patrol-boats?'
'They _might,_ at certain tides. But I can't see what value they'd
be, unless as a refuge for a German boat in the last resort. They
lead to no harbours. Wait! There's a little notch in the dyke at
Neuharlingersiel and Dornumersiel, which may mean some sort of a quay
arrangement, but what's the use of that?'
'We may as well visit one or two, I suppose?'
'I suppose so; but we don't want to be playing round villages.
There's heaps of really important work to do, farther out.'
'Well, what _do_ you make of this coast?'
Davies had nothing but the same old theory, but he urged it with a
force and keenness that impressed me more deeply than ever.
'Look at those islands!' he said. 'They're clearly the old line of
coast, hammered into breaches by the sea. The space behind them is
like an immense tidal harbour, thirty miles by five, and they screen
it impenetrably. It's absolutely _made_ for shallow war-boats under
skilled pilotage. They can nip in and out of the gaps, and dodge
about from end to end. On one side is the Ems, on the other the big
estuaries. It's a perfect base for torpedo-craft.'
I agreed (and agree still), but still I shrugged my shoulders.
'We go on exploring, then, in the same way?'
'Yes; keeping a sharp look-out, though. Remember, we shall always be
in sight of land now.'
'What's the glass doing?'
'Higher than for a long time. I hope it won't bring fog. I know this
district is famous for fogs, and fine weather at this time of the
year is bad for them anywhere. I would rather it blew, if it wasn't
for exploring those gaps, where an on-shore wind would be nasty.
Six-thirty to-morrow; not later. I think I'll sleep in the saloon for
the future, after what happened to-night.'
[For this chapter see Map B.]
THE decisive incidents of our cruise were now fast approaching.
Looking back on the steps that led to them, and anxious that the
reader should be wholly with us in our point of view, I think I
cannot do better than give extracts from my diary of the next three
'16th Oct._ (up at 6.30, yacht high and dry). Of the three galliots
out at anchor in the channel yesterday, only one is left ... I took
my turn with the breakers this morning and walked to Wangeroog, whose
village I found half lost in sand drifts, which are planted with
tufts of marram-grass in mathematical rows, to give stability and
prevent a catastrophe like that at Pompeii. A friendly grocer told me
all there is to know, which is little. The islands are what we
thought them--barren for the most part, with a small fishing
population, and a scanty accession of summer visitors for bathing.
The season is over now, and business slack for him. There is still,
however, a little trade with the mainland in galliots and lighters, a
few of which come from the "siels" on the mainland. "Had these
harbours?" I asked. "Mud-holes!" he replied, with a contemptuous
laugh. (He is a settler in these wilds, not a native.) Said he had
heard of schemes for improving them, so as to develop the islands as
health-resorts, but thought it was only a wild speculation.
'A heavy tramp back to the yacht, nearly crushed by impedimenta.
While Davies made yet another trip, I stalked some birds with a gun,
and obtained what resembled a specimen of the smallest variety of
jack-snipe, and small at that; but I made a great noise, which I hope
persuaded somebody of the purity of our motives.
'We weighed anchor at one o'clock, and in passing the anchored
galliot took a good look at her. Kormoran was on her stern; otherwise
she was just like a hundred others. Nobody was on deck.
'We spent the whole afternoon till dark exploring the Harle, or gap
between Wangeroog and Spiekeroog; the sea breaking heavily on the
banks outside ... Fine as the day was, the scene from the offing was
desolate to the last degree. The naked spots of the two islands are
hideous in their sterility: melancholy bits of wreck-wood their only
relief, save for one or two grotesque beacons, and, most _bizarre_ of
all, a great church-tower, standing actually _in_ the water, on the
north side of Wangeroog, a striking witness to the encroachment of
the sea. On the mainland, which was barely visible, there was one
very prominent landmark, a spire, which from the chart we took to be
that of _Esens,_ a town four miles inland.
'The days are growing short. Sunset is soon after five, and an hour
later it is too dark to see booms and buoys distinctly. The tides
also are awkward just now.
(I exclude all the technicalities that I can, but the reader should
take note that the tide-table is very important henceforward.)
'High-water at morning and evening is between five and six--just at
twilight. For the night, we groped with the lead into the Muschel
Balge, the tributary channel which laps round the inside of
Spiekeroog, and lay in two fathoms, clear of the outer swell, but
rolling a little when the ebb set in strong against the wind.
'A galliot passed us, going west, just as we were stowing sails; too
dark to see her name. Later, we saw her anchor-light higher up our
'The great event of the day has been the sighting of a small German
gunboat, steaming slowly west along the coast. That was about
half-past four, when we were sounding along the Harle.
'Davies identified her at once as the Blitz, Commander von Brüning's
gunboat. We wondered if he recognized the Dulcibella, but, anyway,
she seemed to take no notice of us and steamed slowly on. We quite
expected to fall in with her when we came to the islands, but the
actual sight of her has excited us a good deal. She is an ugly,
cranky little vessel, painted grey, with one funnel. Davis is
contemptuous about her low freeboard forward; says he would rather go
to sea in the Dulce. He has her dimensions and armament (learnt from
Brassey) at his fingers' ends: one hundred and forty feet by
twenty-five, one 4.9 gun, one 3.4, and four maxims--an old type. Just
going to bed; a bitterly cold night.
'17th Oct._--Glass falling heavily this morning, to our great
disgust. Wind back in the SW and much warmer. Starting at _5.30_ we
tacked on the tide over the "water-shed" behind Spiekeroog. So did
the galliot we had seen last night, but we again missed identifying
her, as she weighed anchor before we came up to her berth. Davies,
however, swore she was the Kormoran. We lost sight of her altogether
for the greater part of the day, which we spent in exploring the
Otzumer Ee (the gap between Langeoog and Spiekeroog), now and then
firing some perfunctory shots at seals and sea-birds... (nautical
details omitted). . . In the evening we were hurrying back to an
inside anchorage, when we made a bad mistake; did, in fact, what we
had never done before, ran aground on the very top of high water, and
are now sitting hard and fast on the edge of the Rute Flat, south of
the east spit of Langeoog. The light was bad, and a misplaced boom
tricked us; kedging-off failed, and at 8 p.m. we were left on a
perfect Ararat of sand, and only a yard or two from that accursed
boom, which is perched on the very summit, as a lure to the unwary.
It is going to blow hard too, though that is no great matter, as we
are sheltered by banks on the sou'-west and nor'-west sides, the
likely quarters. We hope to float at _6.15_ to-morrow morning, but to
make sure of being able to get her off, we have been transferring
some ballast to the dinghy, by way of lightening the yacht--a horrid
business handling the pigs of lead, heavy, greasy, and black. The
saloon is an inferno, the deck like a collier's, and ourselves like
'The anchors are laid out, and there is nothing more to be done.
'18th Oct._--Half a gale from the sou'-west when we turned out, but
it helped us to float off safely at six. The dinghy was very nearly
swamped with the weight of lead in it, and getting the ballast back
into the yacht was the toughest job of all. We got the dinghy
alongside, and Davies jumped in (nearly sinking it for good),
balanced himself, fended off, and, whenever he got a chance, attached
the pigs one by one on to a bight of rope, secured to the peak
halyards, on which I hoisted from the deck. It was touch and go for a
few minutes, and then easier.
'It was nine before we had finished replacing the pigs in the hold, a
filthy but delicate operation, as they fit like a puzzle, and if one
is out of place the floor-boards won't shut down. Coming on deck
after it, we saw to our surprise the Blitz, lying at anchor in the
Schill Balje, inside Spiekeroog, about a mile and a half off. She
must have entered the Otzumer Ee at high-water for shelter from the
gale: a neat bit of work for a vessel of her size, as Davies says she
draws nine-foot-ten, and there can't be more than twelve on the bar
at high-water neaps. Several smacks had run in too, and there were
two galliots farther up our channel, but we couldn't make out if the
Kormoran was one.
'When the banks uncovered we lay more quietly, so landed and took a
long, tempestuous walk over the Rute, with compass and notebooks.
Returning at two, we found the glass tumbling down almost visibly.
'I suggested running for Bensersiel, one of the mainland villages
south-west of us, on the evening flood, as it seemed just the right
opportunity, if we were to visit one of those "siels" at all. Davies
was very lukewarm, but events overcame him. At 3.30 a black, ragged
cloud, appearing to trail into the very sea, brought up a terrific
squall. This passed, and there was a deathly pause of ten minutes
while the whole sky eddied as with smoke-wreaths. Then an icy puff
struck us from the north-west, rapidly veering till it reached
north-east; there it settled and grew harder every moment.
'"Sou'-west to north-east--only the worst sort do that," said Davies.
'The shift to the east changed the whole situation (as shifts often
have before), making the Rute Fiats a lee shore, while to windward
lay the deep lagoons of the Otzumer Ee, bounded indeed by Spiekeroog,
but still offering a big drift for wind and sea. We had to clear out
sharp, to set the mizzen. It was out of the question to beat to
windward, for it was blowing a hurricane in a few minutes. We must go
to leeward, and Davies was for running farther in well behind the
Jans sand, and not risking Bensersiel. A blunder of mine, when I went
to the winch to get up anchor, settled the question. Thirty out of
our forty fathoms of chain were out. Confused by the motion and a
blinding sleet-shower that had come on, and forgetting the tremendous
strain on the cable, I cast the slack off the bitts and left it
loose. There was then only one turn of the chain round the drum,
enough in ordinary weather to prevent it running out. But now my
first heave on the winch-lever started it slipping, and in an instant
it was whizzing out of the hawse-pipe and overboard. I tried to stop
it with my foot, stumbled at a heavy plunge of the yacht, heard
something snap below, and saw the last of it disappear. The yacht
fell off the wind, and drifted astern. I shouted, and had the sense
to hoist the reefed foresail at once. Davies had her in hand in no
time, and was steering south-west. Going aft I found him cool and
'"Doesn't matter." he said; "anchor's buoyed. (Ever since leaving the
Elbe we had had a buoy-line on our anchor against the emergency of
having to slip our cable and run. For the same reason the end of the
chain was not made permanently fast below.)
'We'll come back to-morrow and get it. Can't now. Should have had to
slip it anyhow; wind and sea too strong. We'll try for Bensersiel.
Can't trust to a warp and kedge out here."
'An exciting run it was, across country, so to speak, over an
unboomed watershed; but we had bearings from our morning's walk.
Shoal water all the way and a hollow sea breaking everywhere. We soon
made out the Bensersiel booms, but even under mizzen and foresail
only we travelled too fast, and had to heave to outside them, for the
channel looked too shallow still. We lowered half the centre-board
and kept her just holding her own to windward, through a most trying
period. In the end had to run for it sooner than we meant, as we were
sagging to leeward in spite of all, and the light was failing. Bore
up at _5.15_, and raced up the channel with the booms on our left
scarcely visible in the surf and rising water. Davies stood forward,
signalling--port, starboard, or steady--with his arms, while I
wrestled with the helm, flung from side to side and flogged by
wave-tops. Suddenly found a sort of dyke on our right just covering
with sea. The shore appeared through scud, and men on a quay
shouting. Davies brandished his left arm furiously; I ported hard,
and we were in smoother water. A few seconds more and we were
whizzing through a slit between two wood jetties. Inside a small
square harbour showed, but there was no room to round up properly and
no time to lower sails. Davies just threw the kedge over, and it just
got a grip in time to check our momentum and save our bowsprit from
the quayside. A man threw us a rope and we brought up alongside,
'Not more so than the natives, who seemed to think we had dropped
from the sky. They were very friendly, with an undercurrent of
disappointment, having expected salvage work outside, I think. All
showed embarrassing helpfulness in stowing sails, etc. We were
rescued by a fussy person in uniform and spectacles, who swept them
aside and announced himself as the customhouse officer (fancy such a
thing in this absurd mud-hole!), marched down into the cabin, which
was in a fearful mess and wringing wet, and producing ink, pen, and a
huge printed form, wanted to know our cargo, our crew, our last port,
our destination, our food, stores, and everything. No cargo
(pleasure); captain, Davies; crew, me; last port, Brunsbüttel;
destination, England. What spirits had we? Whisky, produced. What
salt? Tin of Cerebos, produced, and a damp deposit in a saucer. What
coffee? etc. Lockers searched, guns fingered, bunks rifled. Meanwhile
the German charts and the log, the damning clues to our purpose, were
in full evidence, crying for notice which they did not get. (We had
forgotten our precautions in the hurry of our start from the Rute.)
When the huge form was as full as he could make it, he suddenly
became human, talkative, amid thirsty; and, when we treated him,
patronizing. It seemed to dawn on him that, under our rough clothes
and crust of brine and grime, we were two mad and wealthy
aristocrats, worthy _protégés_ of a high official. He insisted on our
bringing our cushions to dry at his house, and to get rid of him we
consented, for we were wet, hungry, and longing to change and wash.
He talked himself away at last, and we hid the log and charts; but he
returned, in the postmaster's uniform this time before we had
finished supper, and haled us and our cushions up through dark and
mud to his cottage near the quay. To reach it we crossed a small
bridge spanning what seemed to be a small river with sluice-gates,
just as we had thought.
'He showed his prizes to his wife, who was quite flustered by the
distinguished strangers, and received the cushions with awe; and next
we were carried off to the Gasthaus and exhibited to the village
circle, where we talked ducks and weather. (Nobody takes us
seriously; I never felt less like a conspirator.) Our friend, who is
a feather-headed chatterbox, is enormously important about his
ridiculous little port, whose principal customer seems to be the
Langeoog post-boat, a galliot running to and fro according to tide. A
few lighters also come down the stream with bricks and produce from
the interior, and are towed to the islands. The harbour has from five
to seven feet in it for two hours out of twelve! Herr Schenkel talked
us back to the yacht, which we found resting on the mud--and here we
are. Davies pretends there are harbour smells, and says he won't be
able to sleep; is already worrying about how to get away from here.
Ashore, they were saying that it's impossible, under sail, in strong
north-east winds, the channel being too narrow to tack in. For my
part I find it a huge relief to be in any sort of harbour after a
fortnight in the open. There are no tides or anchors to think about,
and no bumping or rolling. Fresh milk to-morrow!'
16 Commander von Brüning
TO RESUME my story in narrative form.
I was awakened at ten o'clock on the 19th, after a long and delicious
sleep, by Davies's voice outside, talking his unmistakable German.
Looking out, in my pyjamas, I saw him on the quay above in
conversation with a man in a long mackintosh coat and a gold-laced
navy cap. He had a close-trimmed auburn beard, a keen, handsome face,
and an animated manner. It was raining in a raw air.
They saw me, and Davies said: 'Hullo, Carruthers! Here's Commander
von Brüning from the Blitz--that's "meiner Freund" Carruthers.'
(Davies was deplorably weak in terminations.)
The commander smiled broadly at me, and I inclined an uncombed head,
while, for a moment, the quest was a dream, and I myself felt
unutterably squalid and foolish. I ducked down, heard them parting,
and Davies came aboard.
'We're to meet him at the inn for a talk at twelve,' he said.
His news was that the Blitz's steam-cutter had come in on the morning
tide, and he had met von Brüning when marketing at the inn. Secondly,
the Kormoran had also come in, and was moored close by. It was as
clear as possible, therefore, that the latter had watched us, and was
in touch with the Blitz, and that both had seized the opportunity of
our being cooped up in Bensersiel to take further stock of us. What
had passed hitherto? Nothing much. Von Brüning had greeted Davies
with cordial surprise, and said he had wondered yesterday if it was
the Dulcibella that he had seen anchored behind Langeoog. Davies had
explained that we had left the Baltic and were on our way home;
taking the shelter of the islands.
'Supposing he comes on board and asks to see our log?' I said.
'Pull it out,' said Davies, 'It's rot, this hiding, after all. I say.
I rather funk this interview; what are we to say? It's not in my
We resolved abruptly on an important change of plan, replaced the log
and charts in the rack as the first logical step. They contained
nothing but bearings, courses, and the bare data of navigation. To
Davies they were hard-won secrets of vital import, to be lied for,
however hard and distasteful lying was. I was cooler as to their
value, but in any case the same thing was now in both our minds.
There would be great difficulties in the coming interview if we tried
to be too clever and conceal the fact that we had been exploring. We
did not know how much von Brüning knew. When had our surveillance by
the Kormoran begun? Apparently at Wangeroog, but possibly in the
estuaries, where we had not tired a shot at duck. Perhaps he knew
even more--Dollmann's treachery, Davies's escape, and our subsequent
movements--we could not tell. On the other hand, exploration was
known to be a fad of Davies's, and in September he had made no secret
It was safer to be consistent now. After breakfast we determined to
find out something about the Kormoran, which lay on the mud at the
other side of the harbour, and accordingly addressed ourselves to two
mighty sailors, whose jerseys bore the legend 'Post', and who towered
conspicuous among a row of stolid Frisians on the quay, all gazing
gravely down at us as at a curious bit of marine bric-à-brac. The
twins (for such they proved to be) were most benignant giants, and
asked us aboard the post-boat galliot for a chat. It was easy to
bring the talk naturally round to the point we wished, and we soon
gained some most interesting information, delivered in the broadest
Frisian, but intelligible enough. They called the Kormoran a Memmert
boat, or 'wreck-works' boat. It seemed that off the western end of
Juist, the island lying west of Norderney, there lay the bones of a
French war-vessel, wrecked ages ago. She carried bullion which has
never been recovered, in spite of many efforts. A salvage company was
trying for it now, and had works on Memmert, an adjacent sand-bank.
'That is Herr Grimm, the overseer himself,' they said, pointing to
the bridge above the sluice-gates. (I call him 'Grimm' because it
describes him exactly.) A man in a pilot jacket and peaked cap was
leaning over the parapet.
'What's he doing here?' I asked.
They answered that he was often up and down the coast, work on the
wreck being impossible in rough weather. They supposed he was
bringing cargo in his galliot from Wilhelmshaven, all the company's
plant and stores coming from that port. He was a local man from
Aurich; an ex-tug skipper.
We discussed this information while walking out over the sands to see
the channel at low water.
'Did you hear anything about this in September?' I asked.
'Not a word. I didn't go to Juist. I would have, probably, if I
hadn't met Dollmann.'
What in the world did it mean? How did it affect our plans?
'Look at his boots if we pass him,' was all Davies had to suggest.
The channel was now a ditch, with a trickle in it, running north by
east, roughly, and edged by a dyke of withies for the first quarter
of a mile. It was still blowing fresh from the north-east, and we saw
that exit was impossible in such a wind.
So back to the village, a paltry, bleak little place. We passed
friend Grimm on the bridge; a dark, clean-shaved, saturnine man,
wearing _shoes._ Approaching the inn:
'We haven't settled quite enough, have we?' said Davies. 'What about
our future plans?'
'Heaven knows, we haven't,' I said. 'But I don't see how we can. We
must see how things go. It's past twelve, and it won't do to be
'Well, I leave it to you.'
'All right, I'll do my best. All you've got to do is to be yourself
and tell one lie, if need be, about the trick Dollmann played you.'
The next scene: von Brüning, Davies, and I, sitting over coffee and
Kümmel at a table in a dingy inn-parlour overlooking the harbour and
the sea, Davies with a full box of matches on the table before him.
The commander gave us a hearty welcome, and I am bound to say I liked
him at once, as Davies had done; but I feared him, too, for he had
honest eyes, but abominably clever ones.
I had impressed on Davies to talk and question as freely and
naturally as though nothing uncommon had happened since he last saw
von Brüning on the deck of the Medusa. He must ask about
Dollmann--the mutual friend--at the outset, and, if questioned about
that voyage in his company to the Elbe, must lie like a trooper as to
the danger he had been in. This was the one clear and essential
necessity, where much was difficult. Davies did his duty with
precipitation, and blushed when he put his question, in a way that
horrified me, till I remembered that his embarrassment was due, and
would be ascribed, to another cause.
'Herr Dollmann is away still, I think,' said von Brüning. (So Davies
had been right at Brunsbüttel.) 'Were you thinking of looking him up
again?' he added.
'Yes,' said Davies, shortly.
'Well, I'm sure he's away. But his yacht is back, I believe--and
Fräulein Dollmann, I suppose.'
'H'm!' said Davies; 'she's a very fine boat that.'
Our host smiled, gazing thoughtfully at Davies, who was miserable. I
saw a chance, and took it mercilessly.
'We can call on Fräulein Dollmann, at least, Davies,' I said, with a
meaning smile at von Brüning.
'H'm!, said Davies; 'will he be back soon, do you think?'
The commander had begun to light a cigar, and took his time in
answering. 'Probably,' he said, after some puffing, 'he's never away
very long. But you've seen them later than I have. Didn't you sail to
the Elbe together the day after I saw you last?'
'Oh, part of the way,' said Davies, with great negligence. 'I haven't
seen him since. He got there first; outsailed me.'
'Gave you the slip, in fact?'
'Of course he beat me; I was close-reefed. Besides--'
'Oh, I remember; there was a heavy blow--a devil of a heavy blow. I
thought of you that day. How did you manage?'
'Oh, it was a fair wind; it wasn't far, you see.'
'Grosse Gott! In _that_.' He nodded towards the window whence the
Dulcibella's taper mast could be seen pointing demurely heavenwards.
'She's a splendid sea-boat,' said Davies, indignantly.
'A thousand pardons!' said von Brüning, laughing.
'Don't shake my faith in her,' I put in. 'I've got to get to England
'Heaven forbid; I was only thinking that there must have been some
sea round the Scharhorn that day; a tame affair, no doubt, Herr
'Scharhorn?' said Davies, who did not catch the idiom in the latter
sentence. 'Oh, we didn't go that way. We cut through the sands--by
'The Telte! In a north-west gale!' The commander started, ceased to
smile, and only stared. (It was genuine surprise; I could swear it.
He had heard nothing of this before.)
'Herr Dollmann knew the way,' said Davies, doggedly. 'He kindly
offered to pilot me through, and I wouldn't have gone otherwise.'
There was an awkward little pause.
'He led you well, it seems?' said von Brüning.
'Yes; there's a nasty surf there, though, isn't there? But it saves
six miles--and the Scharhorn. Not that I saved distance. I was fool
enough to run aground.'
'Ah!' said the other, with interest.
'It didn't matter, because I was well inside then. Those sands are
difficult at high water. We've come back that way, you know.'
('And we run aground every day,' I remarked, with resignation.)
'Is that where the Medusa gave you the slip?' asked von Brüning,
still studying Davies with a strange look, which I strove anxiously
'She wouldn't have noticed,' said Davies. 'It was very thick and
squally--and she had got some way ahead. There was no need for her to
stop, anyway. I got off all right; the tide was rising still. But, of
course, I anchored there for the night.'
'Inside there, under the Hohenhörn,' said Davies, simply.
'Under the _what_?'
'Go on--didn't they wait for you at Cuxhaven?'
'I don't know; I didn't go that way.' The commander looked more and
'Not by the ship canal, I mean. I changed my mind about it, because
the next day the wind was easterly. It would have been a dead beat
across the sands to Cuxhaven, while it was a fair wind straight out
to the Eider River. So I sailed there, and reached the Baltic that
way. It was all the same.'
There was another pause.
'Well done, Davies,' I thought. He had told his story well, using no
subtlety. I knew it was exactly how he would have told it to anyone
else, if he had not had irrefutable proof of foul play.
The commander laughed, suddenly and heartily.
'Another liqueur?' he said. Then, to me: 'Upon my word, your friend
amuses me. It's impossible to make him spin a yarn. I expect he had a
bad time of it.'
'That's nothing to him,' I said; 'he prefers it. He anchored me the
other day behind the Hohenhörn in a gale of wind; said it was safer
than a harbour, and more sanitary.'
'I wonder he brought you here last night. It was a fair wind for
England; and not very far.'
'There was no pilot to follow, you see.'
'With a charming daughter--no.'
Davies frowned and glared at me. I was merciful and changed the
'Besides,' I said, 'we've left our anchor and chain out there.' And I
made confession of my sin.
'Well, as it's buoyed, I should advise you to pick it up as soon as
you can,' said von Brüning, carelessly; 'or someone else will.'
'Yes, by Jove! Carruthers,' said Davies, eagerly, 'we must get out on
this next tide.'
'Oh, there's no hurry,' I said, partly from policy, partly because
the ease of the shore was on me. To sit on a chair upright is
something of a luxury, however good the cause in which you have
crouched like a monkey over a table at the level of your knees, with
a reeking oil-stove at your ear.
'They're honest enough about here, aren't they?' I added. While the
words were on my lips I remembered the midnight visitor at Wangeroog,
and guessed that von Brüning was leading up to a test. Grimm (if he
was the visitor) would have told him of his narrow escape from
detection, and reticence on our part would show we suspected
something. I could have kicked myself, but it was not too late. I
took the bull by the horns, and, before the commander could answer,
'By Jove! Davies, I forgot about that fellow at Wangeroog. The anchor
might be stolen, as he says.'
Davies looked blank, but von Brüning had turned to me.
'We never dreamed there would be thieves among these islands,' I
said, 'but the other night I nearly caught a fellow in the act. He
thought the yacht was empty.'
I described the affair in detail, and with what humour I could. Our
host was amused, and apologetic for the islanders.
'They're excellent folk,' he said, 'but they're born with predatory
instincts. Their fathers made their living out of wrecks on this
coast, and the children inherit a weakness for plunder. When
Wangeroog lighthouse was built they petitioned the Government for
compensation, in perfect good faith. The coast is well lighted now,
and windfalls are rare, but the sight of a stranded yacht, with the
owners ashore, would inflame the old passion; and, depend upon it,
someone has seen that anchor-buoy.'
The word 'wrecks' had set me tingling. Was it another test?
Impossible to say; but audacity was safer than reserve, and might
save trouble in the future.
'Isn't there the wreck of a treasure-ship somewhere farther west?' I
asked. 'We heard of it at Wangeroog' (my first inaccuracy). 'They
said a company was exploiting it.'
'Quite right,' said the commander, without a sign of embarrassment.
'I don't wonder you heard of it. It's one of the few things folk have
to talk about in these parts. It lies on Juister Riff, a shoal off
Juist. _[see Map B]_ She was a French frigate, the Corinne, bound
from Hamburg to Havre in 1811, when Napoleon held Hamburg as tight as
Paris. She carried a million and a half in gold bars, and was insured
in Hamburg; foundered in four fathoms, broke up, and there lies the
'Never been raised?'
'No. The underwriters failed and went bankrupt, and the wreck came
into the hands of your English Lloyd's. It remained their property
till '75, but they never got at the bullion. In fact, for fifty years
it was never scratched at, and its very position grew doubtful, for
the sand swallowed every stick. The rights passed through various
hands, and in '86 were held by an enterprising Swedish company, which
brought modern appliances, dived, dredged, and dug, fished up a lot
of timber and bric-à-brac, and then broke. Since then, two Hamburg
firms have tackled the job and lost their capital. Scores of lives
have been spent over it, all told, and probably a million of money.
Still there are the bars, somewhere.'
'And what's being done now?'
'Well, recently a small local company was formed. It has a depot at
Memmert, and is working with a good deal of perseverance. An engineer
from Bremen was the principal mover, and a few men from Norderney and
Emden subscribed the capital. By the way, our friend Dollmann is
largely interested in it.'
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Davies's tell-tale face growing
troubled with inward questionings.
'We mustn't get back to him,' I said, laughing. 'It's not fair to my
friend. But all this is very interesting. Will they ever get those
'Ah! that's the point,' said von Brüning, with a mysterious twinkle.
'It's an undertaking of immense difficulty; for the wreck is wholly
disintegrated, and the gold, being the heaviest part of it, has, of
course, sunk the deepest. Dredging is useless after a certain point;
and the divers have to make excavations in the sand, and shore them
up as best they can. Every gale nullifies half their labour, and
weather like this of the last fortnight plays the mischief with the
work. Only this morning I met the overseer, who happens to be ashore
here. He was as black as thunder over prospects.'
'Well, it's a romantic speculation,' I said. 'They deserve a return
for their money.'
'I hope they'll get it,' said the commander. 'The fact is, I hold a
few shares myself.'
'Oh, I hope I haven't been asking indiscreet questions?'
'Oh, dear no; all the world knows what I've told you. But you'll
understand that one has to be reticent as to results in such a case.
It's a big stake, and the _title is none too sound._ There has been
litigation over it. Not that I worry much about my investment; for I
shan't lose much by it at the worst. But it gives one an interest in
this abominable coast. I go and see how they're getting on sometimes,
when I'm down that way.'
'It _is_ an abominable coast,' I agreed, heartily, 'though you won't
get Davies to agree.'
'It's a magnificent place for sailing,' said Davies, looking
wistfully out over the storm-speckled grey of the North Sea. He
underwent some more chaff, and the talk passed to our cruising
adventures in the Baltic and the estuaries. Von Brüning
cross-examined us with the most charming urbanity and skill. Nothing
he asked could cause us the slightest offence; and a responsive
frankness was our only possible course. So, date after date, and
incident after incident, were elicited in the most natural way. As we
talked I was astonished to find how little there was that was worth
concealing, and heartily thankful that we had decided on candour. My
fluency gave me the lead, and Davies followed me; but his own
personality was really our tower of strength. I realized that as I
watched the play of his eager features, and heard him struggle for
expression on his favourite hobby; all his pet phrases translated
crudely into the most excruciating German. He was convincing, because
he was himself.
'Are there many like you in England?' asked von Brüning once.
'Like me? Of course--lots,' said Davies.
OCKQUOTE'I wish there were more in Germany; they play at yachting
over here--on shore half the time, drinking and loafing; paid crews,
clean hands, white trousers; laid up in the middle of September.'
'We haven't seen many yachts about, said Davies, politely.
For my part, I made no pretence of being a Davies. Faithful to my
lower nature, I vowed the Germans were right, and, not without a
secret zest, drew a lurid picture of the horrors of crewless
cruising, and the drudgery that my remorseless skipper inflicted on
me. It was delightful to see Davies wincing when I described my first
night at Flensburg, for I had my revenge at last, and did not spare
him. He bore up gallantly under my jesting, but I knew very well by
his manner that he had not forgiven me my banter about the 'charming
'You speak German well,' said von Brüning.
'I have lived in Germany,' said I.
'Studying for a profession, I suppose?'
'Yes,' said I, thinking ahead. 'Civil Service,' was my prepared
answer to the next question, but again (morbidly, perhaps) I saw a
pitfall. That letter from my chief awaiting me at Norderney? My name
was known, and we were watched. It might be opened. Lord, how casual
we have been!
'May I ask what?'
'The Foreign Office.' It sounded suspicious, but there it was.
'Indeed--in the Government service? When do you have to be back?'
That was how the question of our future intentions was raised,
prematurely by me; for two conflicting theories were clashing in my
brain. But the contents of the letter dogged me now, and 'when at a
loss, tell the truth', was an axiom I was finding sound. So I
answered, 'Pretty soon, in about a week. But I'm expecting a letter
at Norderney, which may give me an extension. Davies said it was a
good address to give,' I added, smiling.
'Naturally,' said von Brüning, dryly; the joke had apparently ceased
to amuse him. 'But you haven't much time then, have you?' he added,
'unless you leave your skipper in the lurch. It's a long way to
England, and the season is late for yachts.'
I felt myself being hurried.
'Oh, you don't understand,' I explained; '_he's_ in no hurry. He's a
man of leisure; aren't you, Davies?'
'What?' said Davies.
I translated my cruel question.
'Yes,' said Davies, with simple pathos.
'If I have to leave him I shan't be missed--as an able seaman, at
least. He'll just potter on down the islands, running aground and
kedging-off. and arrive about Christmas.'
'Or take the first fair gale to Dover,' laughed the commander.
'Or that. So, you see, we're in no hurry: and we never make plans.
And as for a passage to England straight, I'm not such a coward as I
was at first, but I draw the line at that.'
'You're a curious pair of shipmates; what's your point of view, Herr
'I like this coast,' said Davies. 'And--we want to shoot some ducks.'
He was nervous, and forgot himself. I had already satirized our
sporting armament and exploits, and hoped the subject was disposed
of. Ducks were pretexts, and might lead to complications. I
particularly wanted a free hand.
'As to wild fowl,' said our friend, 'I would like to give you
gentlemen some advice. There are plenty to be got, now that autumn
weather has set in (you wouldn't have got a shot in September, Herr
Davies; I remember your asking about them when I saw you last). And
even now it's early for amateurs. In hard winter weather a child can
pick them up; but they're wild still, and want crafty hunting. You
want a local punt, and above all a local man (you could stow him in
your fo'c'sle), and to go to work seriously. Now, if you really wish
for sport, I could help you. I could get you a trustworthy--'
'Oh, it's too good of you,' stammered Davies, in a more unhappy
accent than usual. 'We can easily find one for ourselves. A man at
'Oh, did he?' interrupted von Brüning, laughing. 'I'm not surprised.
You don't know the Frieslanders. They're guileless, as I said, but
they cling to their little perquisites.' (I translated to Davies.)
'They've been cheated out of wrecks, and they're all the more
sensitive about ducks, which are more lucrative than fish. A stranger
is a poacher. Your man would have made slight errors as to time and
'You said they were odd in their manner, didn't you, Davies?' I put
in. 'Look here, this is very kind of Commander von Brüning; but
hadn't we better be certain of my plans before settling down to
shoot? Let's push on direct to Norderney and get that letter of mine,
and then decide. But we shan't see you again, I suppose, commander?'
'Why not? I am cruising westwards, and shall probably call at
Norderney. Come aboard if you're there, won't you? I should like to
show you the Blitz.'
'Thanks, very much,' said Davies, uneasily.
'Thanks, very much,' said I, as heartily as I could.
Our party broke up soon after this.
'Well, gentlemen, I must take leave of you,' said our friend. 'I have
to drive to Esens. I shall be going back to the Blitz on the evening
tide, but you'll be busy then with your own boat.'
It had been a puzzling interview, but the greatest puzzle was still
to come. As we went towards the door, von Brüning made a sign to me.
We let Davies pass out and remained standing.
'One word in confidence with you, Herr Carruthers,' he said, speaking
low. 'You won't think me officious, I hope. I only speak out of keen
regard for your friend. It is about the Dollmanns--you see how the
land lies? I wouldn't encourage him.'
'Thanks,' I said, 'but really--'
'It's only a hint. He's a splendid young fellow, but if anything--you
understand--too honest and simple. I take it you have influence with
him, and I should use it.'
'I was not in earnest,' I said. 'I have never seen the Dollmanns; I
thought they were friends of yours,' I added, looking him straight in
'I know them, but'--he shrugged his shoulders--'I know everybody.'
'What's wrong with them?' I said, point-blank.
'Softly! Herr Carruthers. Remember, I speak out of pure friendliness
to you as strangers, foreigners, and young. You I take to have
discretion, or I should not have said a word. Still, I will add this.
We know very little of Herr Dollmann, of his origin, his antecedents.
He is half a Swede, I believe, certainly not a Prussian; came to
Norderney three years ago, appears to be rich, and has joined in
various commercial undertakings. Little scope about here? Oh, there
is more enterprise than you think--development of bathing resorts,
you know, speculation in land on these islands. Sharp practice? Oh,
no! he's perfectly straight in that way. But he's a queer fellow, of
eccentric habits, and--and, well, as I say, little is known of him.
That's all, just a warning. Come along.'
I saw that to press him further was useless.
'Thanks; I'll remember,' I said.
'And look here,' he added, as we walked down the passage, 'if you
take my advice, you'll omit that visit to the Medusa altogether.' He
gave me a steady look, smiling gravely.
'How much do you know, and what do you mean?' were the questions that
throbbed in my thoughts; but I could not utter them, so I said
nothing and felt very young.
Outside we joined Davies, who was knitting his brow over prospects.
'It just comes of going into places like this,' he said to me. 'We
may be stuck here for days. Too much wind to tow out with the dinghy,
and too narrow a channel to beat in.'
Von Brüning was ready with a new proposal.
'Why didn't I think of it before?' he said. 'I'll tow you out in my
launch. Be ready at 6.30; we shall have water enough then. My men
will send you a warp.'
It was impossible to refuse, but a sense of being personally
conducted again oppressed me; and the last hope of a bed in the inn
vanished. Davies was none too effusive either. A tug meant a pilot,
and he had had enough of them.
'He objects to towage on principle,' I said.
'Just like him!' laughed the other. 'That's settled, then!' A dogcart
was standing before the inn door in readiness for von Brüning. I was
curious about Esens and his business there. Esens, he said, was the
principal town of the district, four miles inland.
'I have to go there,' he volunteered, 'about a poaching case--a
Dutchman trawling inside our limits. That's my work, you know--police
Had the words a deeper meaning?
'Do you ever catch an Englishman?' I asked, recklessly. 'Oh, very
rarely; your countrymen don't come so far as this--except on
pleasure.' He bowed to us each and smiled.
'Not much of that to be got in Bensersiel,' I laughed. 'I'm afraid
you'll have a dull afternoon. Look here. I know you can't leave your
boat altogether, and it's no use asking Herr Davies; but will _you_
drive into Esens with me and see a Frisian town--for what it's worth?
You're getting a dismal impression of Friesland.' I excused myself,
said I would stop with Davies we would walk out over the sands and
prospect for the evening', sail.
'Well, good-bye then,' he said, 'till the evening. Be ready for the
warp at 6.30.'
He jumped up, and the cart rattled off through the mud, crossed the
bridge, and disappeared into the dreary hinterland.
17 Clearing the Air
'HAS he gone to get the police, do you think?' said Davies, grimly.
'I don't think so,' said I. 'Let's go aboard before that customs
fellow buttonholes us.'
A diminished row of stolid Frisians still ruminated over the
Dulcibella. Friend Grimm was visible smoking on his forecastle. We
went on board in silence.
'First of all, where exactly is Memmert?' I said.
Davies pulled down the chart, said 'There,' and flung himself at full
length on a sofa.
The reader can see Memmert for himself. South of Juist, _[see Map B]_
abutting on the Ems delta, lies an extensive sandbank called
Nordland, whose extreme western rim remains uncovered at the highest
tides; the effect being to leave a C-shaped island, a mere paring of
sand like a boomerang, nearly two miles long. but only 150 yards or
so broad, of curiously symmetrical outline, except at one spot, where
it bulges to the width of a quarter of a mile. On the English chart
its nakedness was absolute, save for a beacon at the south; but the
German chart marked a building at the point where the bulge occurs.
This was evidently the depot. 'Fancy living there!' I thought, for
the very name struck cold. No wonder Grimm was grim; and no wonder he
was used to seek change of air. But the advantages of the site were
obvious. It was remarkably isolated, even in a region where isolation
is the rule; yet it was conveniently near the wreck, which, as we had
heard, lay two miles out on the Juister Reef. Lastly, it was clearly
accessible at any state of the tide, for the six-fathom channel of
the Ems estuary runs hard up to it on the south, and thence sends off
an eastward branch which closely borders the southern horn, thus
offering an anchorage at once handy, deep, and sheltered from seaward
Such was Memmert, as I saw it on the chart, taking in its features
mechanically, for while Davies lay there heedless and taciturn, a
pretence of interest was useless. I knew perfectly well what was
between us, but I did not see why I should make the first move; for I
had a grievance too, an old one. So I sat back on my sofa and jotted
down in my notebook the heads of our conversation at the inn while it
was fresh in my memory, and strove to draw conclusions. But the
silence continuing and becoming absurd, I threw my pride to the
winds, and my notebook on the table.
'I say, Davies,' I said, 'I'm awfully sorry I chaffed you about
Fräulein Dollmann.' (No answer.) 'Didn't you see I couldn't help it?'
'I wish to Heaven we had never come in here,' he said, in a hard
voice; 'it comes of landing _ever_.' (I couldn't help smiling at
this, but he wasn't looking at me.) 'Here we are, given away, moved
on, taken in charge, arranged for like Cook's tourists. I couldn't
follow your game--too infernally deep for me, but--'That stung me.
'Look here,' I said, 'I did my best. It was you that muddled it. Why
did you harp on ducks?'
'We could have got out of that. Why did you harp on everything
idiotic--your letter, the Foreign office, the Kormoran, the wreck,
'You're utterly unreasonable. Didn't you see what traps there were? I
was driven the way I went. We started unprepared, and we're jolly
well out of it.'
Davies drove on blindly. 'It was bad enough telling all about the
channels and exploring--'
'Why, you agreed to that yourself!'
'I gave in to you. We can't explore any more now.
'There's the wreck, though.'
'Oh, hang the wreck! It's all a blind, or he wouldn't have made so
much of it. There are all these channels to be--'
'Oh, hang the channels! I know we wanted a free hand, but we've got
to go to Norderney some time, and if Dollmann's away--'
'Why did you harp on Miss Dollmann?' said Davies.
We had worked round, through idle recrimination, to the real point of
departure. I knew Davies was not himself, and would not return to
himself till the heart of the matter was reached.
'Look here,' I said, 'you brought me out here to help you, because,
as you say, I was clever, talked German, and--liked yachting (I