Part 4 out of 6
couldn't resist adding this). But directly you really _want_ me you
turn round and go for me.'
'Oh, I didn't mean all that, really,' said Davies; 'I'm sorry--I was
'I know; but it's your own fault. You haven't been fair with me.
There's a complication in this business that you've never talked
about. I've never pressed you because I thought you would confide in
'I know I haven't,' said Davies.
'Well, you see the result. Our hand was forced. To have said nothing
about Dollmann was folly--to have said he tried to wreck you was
equal folly. The story we agreed on was the best and safest, and you
told it splendidly. But for two reasons I had to harp on the
daughter--one because your manner when they were mentioned was so
confused as to imperil our whole position. Two, because your story,
though the safest, was, at the best, suspicious. Even on your own
showing Dollmann treated you badly--discourteously, say: though you
pretended not to have seen it. You want a motive to neutralize that,
and induce you to revisit him in a friendly way. I supplied it, or
rather I only encouraged von Brüning to supply it.'
'Why revisit him, after all?' said Davies.
'But don't you see what a hideous fix you've put me in? How caddish I
feel about it?'
I did see, and I felt a cad myself, as his full distress came home to
me. But I felt, too, that, whosesoever the fault, we had drifted into
a ridiculous situation, and were like characters in one of those
tiresome plays where misunderstandings are manufactured and so
carefully sustained that the audience are too bored to wait for the
_dénouement._ You can do that on the stage; but we wanted our
'I'm very sorry,' I said, 'but I wish you had told me all about it.
Won't you now? Just the bare, matter-of-fact truth. I hate sentiment,
and so do you.'
'I find it very difficult to tell people things,' said Davies,
'things like this.' I waited. 'I did like her--very much.' Our eyes
met for a second, in which all was said that need be said, as between
two of our phlegmatic race. 'And she's--separate from him. That was
the reason of all my indecisions.' he hurried on. 'I only told you
half at Schlei. I know I ought to have been open, and asked your
advice. But I let it slide. I've been hoping all along that we might
find what we want and win the game without coming to close quarters
I no longer wondered at his devotion to the channel theory, since,
built on conviction, it was thus doubly fortified.
'Yet you always knew what might happen,' I said. 'At Schlei you spoke
of "settling with" Dollmann.'
'I know. When I thought of him I was mad. I made myself forget the
'Which recurred at Brunsbüttel?' I thought of the news we had there.
'Davies, we must have no more secrets. I'm going to speak out. Are
you sure you've not misunderstood her? You say--and I'm willing to
assume it--that Dollmann's a traitor and a murderer.'
'Oh, hang the murder part!' said Davies, impatiently. 'What does
'Well, traitor. Very good; but in that case I suspect his daughter.
No! let me go on. She was useful, to say the least. She encouraged
you--you've told me that--to make that passage with them.'
'Stop, Carruthers,' said Davies, firmly. 'I know you mean kindly; but
it's no use. I believe in her.'
I thought for a moment.
'In that case,' I said, 'I've something to propose. When we get out
of this place let's sail straight away to England.' '(There,
Commander von Brüning,' I thought, 'you never can say I neglected
'No!' exclaimed Davies, starting up and facing me. 'I'm hanged if we
will. Think what's at stake. Think of that traitor--plotting with
Germans. My God!'
'Very good,' I said. 'I'm with you for going on. But let's face
facts. We _must_ scotch Dollmann. We can't do so without hurting
'Can't we _possibly_?'
'Of course not; be sensible, man. Face that. Next point; it's absurd
to hope that we need not revisit them--it's ten to one that we must,
if we're to succeed. His attempt on you is the whole foundation of
our suspicions. And we don't even know for certain who he _is_ yet.
We're committed, I know, to going straight to Norderney now; but even
if we weren't, should we do any good by exploring and prying? It's
very doubtful. We know we're watched, if not suspected, and that
disposes of nine-tenths of our power. The channels? Yes, but is it
likely they'll let us learn them by heart, if they're of such vital
importance, even if we are thought to be _bona fide_ yachtsmen? And,
seriously, apart from their value in war, which I don't deny, are
they at the root of this business? But we'll talk about that in a
moment. The point now is, what shall we do if we meet the Dollmanns?'
Beads of sweat stood on Davies's brow. I felt like a torturer, but it
could not be helped. 'Tax him with having wrecked you? Our quest
would be at an end! We must be friendly. You must tell the story you
told to-day, and chance his believing it. If he does, so much the
better; if he doesn't, he won't dare say so, and we still have
chances. We gain time, and have a tremendous hold on him--_if_ we're
friendly.' Davies winced. I gave another turn to the screw. 'Friendly
with them _both,_ of course. You were before, you know; you liked her
very much--you must seem to still.'
'Oh, stop your infernal logic.'
'Shall we chuck it and go to England?' 1 asked again, as an
inquisitor might say, 'Have you had enough?' No answer. I went on:
'To make it easier, you _do_ like her still.' I had roused my victim
'What the devil do you mean, Carruthers? That I'm to trade on my
liking for her--on her innocence, to--good God! what _do_ you mean?'
'No, no, not that. I'm not such a cad, or such a fool, or so ignorant
of you. If she knows nothing of her father's character and likes
you--and you like her--and you are what you are--oh Heavens! man,
face it, realize it! But what I mean is this: is she, _can_ she be,
what you think? Imagine his position if we're right about him; the
vilest creature on God's earth--a disgraceful past to have been
driven to this--in the pay of Germany. I want to spare you misery.' I
was going to add: 'And if you're on your guard, to increase our
chances.' But the utter futility of such suggestions silenced me.
What a plan I had foreshadowed! An enticing plan and a fair one, too,
as against such adversaries; turning this baffling cross-current to
advantage as many a time we had worked eddies of an adverse tide in
these difficult seas. But Davies was Davies, and there was an end of
it; his faith and simplicity shamed me. And the pity of it, the
cruelty of it, was that his very qualities were his last torture,
raising to the acutest pitch the conflict between love and
patriotism. Remember that the latter was his dominant life-motive,
and that here and now was his chance--if you would gauge the
bitterness of that conflict.
It was in its last throes now. His elbows were on the table, and his
twitching hands pressed on his forehead. He took them away.
'Of course we must go on. It can't be helped, that's all.'
'And you believe in her?'
'I'll remember what you've said. There may be some way out. And--I'd
rather not talk about that any more. What about the wreck?'
Further argument was futile. Davies by an effort seemed to sweep the
subject from his thoughts, and I did my best to do the same. At any
rate the air was cleared--we were friends; and it only remained to
grapple with the main problem in the light of the morning's
Every word that I could recollect of that critical conversation I
reviewed with Davies, who had imperfectly understood what he had not
been directly concerned in; and, as I did so, I began to see with
what cleverness each succeeding sentence of von Brüning's was
designed to suit both of two contingencies. If we were innocent
travellers, he was the genial host, communicative and helpful. If we
were spies, his tactics had been equally applicable. He had outdone
us in apparent candour, hiding nothing which he knew we would
discover for ourselves, and contriving at the same time both to gain
knowledge and control of our movements, and to convey us warnings,
which would only be understood if we were guilty, that we were
playing an idle and perilous game, and had better desist. But in one
respect we had had the advantage, and that was in the version Davies
had given of his stranding on the Hohenhörn. Inscrutable as our
questioner was, he let it appear not only that the incident was new
to him, but that he conjectured at its sinister significance. A
little cross-examination on detail would have been fatal to Davies's
version; but that was where our strength lay; he dared not
cross-examine for fear of suggesting to Davies suspicions which he
might never have felt. Indeed, I thought I detected that fear
underlying his whole attitude towards us, and it strengthened a
conviction which had been growing in me since Grimm's furtive
midnight visit, that the secret of this coast was of so important and
delicate a nature that rather than attract attention to it at all,
overt action against intruders would be taken only in the last
resort, and on irrefragable proofs of guilty intention.
Now for our clues. I had come away with two, each the germ of a
distinct theory, and both obscured by the prevailing ambiguity. Now,
however, as we thumbed the chart and I gave full rein to my fancy,
one of them, the idea of Memmert, gained precision and vigour every
moment. True, such information as we had about the French wreck and
his own connection with it was placed most readily at our disposal by
von Brüning; but I took it to be information calculated only to
forestall suspicion, since he was aware that we already associated
him with Dollmann, possibly also with Grimm, and it was only likely
that in the ordinary course we should learn that the trio were
jointly concerned in Memmert. So much for the facts; as for the
construction he wished us to put on them, I felt sure it was
absolutely false. He wished to give us the impression that the buried
treasure itself was at the root of any mystery we might have scented.
I do not know if the reader fully appreciated that astute
suggestion--the hint that secrecy as to results was necessary owing
both to the great sum at stake and the flaw in the title, which he
had been careful to inform us had passed through British hands. What
he meant to imply was, 'Don't be surprised if you have midnight
visitors; Englishmen prowling along this coast are suspected of being
Lloyd's agents.' An ingenious insinuation, which, at the time it was
made, had caused me to contemplate a new and much more commonplace
solution of our enigma than had ever occurred to us; but it was only
a passing doubt, and I dismissed it altogether now.
The fact was, it either explained everything or nothing. As long as
we held to our fundamental assumption--that Davies had been decoyed
into a death-trap in September--it explained nothing. It was too
fantastic to suppose that the exigencies of a commercial speculation
would lead to such extremities as that. We were not in the South Sea
Islands; nor were we the puppets of a romance. We were in Europe,
dealing not only with a Dollmann, but with an officer of the German
Imperial Navy, who would scarcely be connected with a commercial
enterprise which could conceivably be reduced to forwarding its
objects in such a fashion. It was shocking enough to find him in
relations with such a scoundrel at all, but it was explicable if the
motive were imperial--not so if it were financial. No; to accept the
suggestion we must declare the whole quest a mare's nest from
beginning to end; the attempt on Davies a delusion of his own fancy,
the whole structure we had built on it, baseless.
'Well,' I can hear the reader saying, 'why not? You, at any rate,
were always a little sceptical.'
Granted; yet I can truthfully say I scarcely faltered for a moment.
Much had happened since Schlei Fiord. I had seen the mechanism of the
death-trap; I had lived with Davies for a stormy fortnight, every
hour of which had increased my reliance on his seamanship, and also,
therefore, on his account of an event which depended largely for its
correct interpretation on a balanced nautical judgement. Finally, I
had been unconsciously realizing, and knew from his mouth to-day,
that he had exercised and acted on that judgement in the teeth of
personal considerations, which his loyal nature made overwhelming in
What, then, was the meaning of Memmert? At the outset it riveted my
attention on the Ems estuary, whose mouth it adjoins. We had always
rather neglected the Ems in our calculations; with some excuse, too,
for at first sight its importance bears no proportion to that of the
three greater estuaries. The latter bear vessels of the largest
tonnage and deepest draught to the very quays of Hamburg,
Bremerhaven, and the naval dockyard of Wilhelmshaven; while two of
them, the Elbe and the Weser, arc commerce carriers on the vastest
scale for the whole empire. The Ems, on the other hand, only serves
towns of the second class. A glance at the chart explains this. You
see a most imposing estuary on a grander scale than any of the other
three taken singly, with a length of thirty miles and a frontage on
the North Sea of ten miles. or one-seventieth, roughly, of the whole
seaboard; encumbered by outlying shoals, and blocked in the centre by
the island of Borkum, but presenting two fine deep-water channels to
the incoming vessel. These roll superbly through enormous sheets of
sand, unite and approach the mainland in one stately stream three
miles in breadth. But then comes a sad falling off. The navigable
fairway shoals and shrinks, middle grounds obstruct it, and shelving
foreshores persistently deny it that easy access to the land that
alone can create great seaboard cities. All the ports of the Ems are
tidal; the harbour of Delfzyl, on the Dutch side, dries at low water,
and Emden, the principal German port, can only be reached by a lock
and a mile of canal.
But this depreciation is only relative. Judged on its merits, and not
by the standard of the Elbe, it is a very important river. Emden is a
flourishing and growing port. For shallow craft the stream is
navigable far into the interior, where, aided by tributaries and
allied canals (notably the connection with the Rhine at Dortmund,
then approaching completion), it taps the resources of a great area.
Strategically there was still less reason for underrating it. It is
one of the great maritime gates of Germany; and it is the westernmost
gate, the nearest to Great Britain and France. contiguous to Holland.
Its great forked delta presents two yawning breaches in that singular
rampart of islets and shoals which masks the German seaboard--a
seaboard itself so short in proportion to the empire's bulk, that, as
Davies used to say, every inch of it must be important'. Warships
could force these breaches, and so threaten the mainland at one of
its few vulnerable points. Quay accommodation is no object to such
visitors; intricate navigation no deterrent. Even the heaviest
battleships could approach within striking distance of the land,
while cruisers and military transports could penetrate to the level
of Emden itself. Emden, as Davies had often pointed out, is connected
by canal with Wilhelmshaven on the Jade, a strategic canal, designed
to carry gunboats as well as merchandise.
Now Memmert was part of the outer rampart; its tapering sickle of
sand directly commanded the eastern breach; it _must_ be connected
with the defence of this breach. No more admirable base could be
imagined; self-contained and isolated, yet sheltered,
accessible--better than Juist and Borkum. And supposing it were
desired to shroud the nature of the work in absolute secrecy, what a
pretext lay to hand in the wreck and its buried bullion, which lay in
the offing opposite the fairway!
On Memmert was the depot for the salvage operations. Salvage work,
with its dredging and diving, offered precisely the disguise that was
needed. It was submarine, and so are some of the most important
defences of ports, mines, and dirigible torpedoes. All the details of
the story were suggestive: the 'small local company'; the 'engineer
from Bremen' (who, I wondered, was he?); the few shares held by von
Brüning, enough to explain his visits; the stores and gear coming
from Wilhelmshaven, a naval dockyard.
Try as I would I could not stir Davies's imagination as mine was
stirred. He was bent on only seeing the objections, which, of course,
were numerous enough. Could secrecy be ensured under pretext of
salving a wreck? It must be a secret shared by many--divers, crews of
tugs, employees of all sorts. I answered that trade secrets are often
preserved under no less difficult conditions, and why not imperial
'Why the Ems and not the Elbe?' he asked.
'Perhaps,' I replied, 'the Elbe, too, holds similar mysteries.'
Neuerk Island might, for all we knew, be another Memmert; when
cruising in that region we had had no eyes for such things, absorbed
in a preconceived theory of our own. Besides, we must not take
ourselves too seriously. We were amateurs, not experts in coast
defence, and on such vague grounds to fastidiously reject a clue
which went so far as this one was to quarrel with our luck. There was
a disheartening corollary to this latter argument that in my new-born
zeal I shut my eyes to. As amateurs, were we capable of using our
clue and gaining exact knowledge of the defences in question? Davies,
I knew, felt this strongly, and I think it accounted for his lukewarm
view of Memmert more than he was aware. He clung more obstinately
than ever to his 'channel theory', conscious that it offered the one
sort of opportunity of which with his peculiar gifts he was able to
take advantage. He admitted, however, that it was under a cloud at
present, for if knowledge of the coastwise navigation were a crime in
itself we should scarcely be sitting here now. 'It's something to do
with it, anyhow!' he persisted.
18 Imperial Escort
MEMMERT gripped me, then, to the exclusion of a rival notion which
had given me no little perplexity during the conversation with von
Brüning. His reiterated advice that we should lose no time in picking
up our anchor and chain had ended by giving me the idea that he was
anxious to get us away from Bensersiel and the mainland. At first I
had taken the advice partly as a test of our veracity (as I gave the
reader to understand), and partly as an indirect method of lulling
any suspicions which Grimm's midnight visit may have caused. Then it
struck me that this might be over-subtlety on my part, and the idea
recurred when the question of our future plans cropped up, and
hampered me in deciding on a course. It returned again when von
Brüning offered to tow us out in the evening. It was in my mind when
I questioned him as to his business ashore, for it occurred to me
that perhaps his landing here was not solely due to a wish to inspect
the crew of the Dulcibella. Then came his perfectly frank explanation
(with its sinister _double entente_ for us), coupled with an
invitation to me to accompany him to Esens. But, on the principle of
_'tinieo Danaos'_ etc., I instantly smelt a ruse, not that I dreamt
that I was to be decoyed into captivity; but if there was anything
here which we two might discover in the few hours left to us, it was
an ingenious plan to remove the most observant of the two till the
hour of departure.
Davies scorned them, and I had felt only a faint curiosity in these
insignificant hamlets, influenced, I am afraid, chiefly by a
hankering after _terra firma_ which the pitiless rigour of his
training had been unable to cure.
But it was imprudent to neglect the slightest chance. It was three
o'clock, and I think both our brains were beginning to be addled with
thinking in close confinement. I suggested that we should finish our
council of war in the open, and we both donned oilskins and turned
out. The sky had hardened and banked into an even canopy of lead, and
the wind drove before it a fine cold rain. You could hear the murmur
of the rising flood on the sands outside, but the harbour was high
above it still, and the Dulcibella and the other boats squatted low
in a bed of black slime. Native interest seemed to be at last
assuaged, for not a soul was visible on the bank (I cannot call it a
quay); but the top of a black sou'wester with a feather of smoke
curling round it showed above the forehatch of the Kormoran.
'I wish I could get a look at your cargo, my friend,' I thought to
We gazed at Bensersiel in silence.
'There can't be anything _here_?' I said.
'What _can_ there be?' said Davies.
'What about that dyke?' I said, with a sudden inspiration.
From the bank we could see all along the coast-line, which is dyked
continuously, as I have already said. The dyke was here a substantial
brick-faced embankment, very similar, though on a smaller scale, to
that which had bordered the Elbe near Cuxhaven, and over whose summit
we had seen the snouts of guns.
'I say, Davies,' I said, 'do you think this coast could be invaded?
Along here, I mean, behind these islands?'
Davies shook his head. 'I've thought of that,' he said. 'There's
nothing in it. It's just the very last place on earth where a landing
would be possible. No transport could get nearer than where the Blitz
is lying, four miles out.'
'Well, you say every inch of this coast is important?'
'Yes, but it's the _water_ I mean.'
'Well, I want to see that dyke. Let's walk along it.'
My mushroom theory died directly I set foot on it. It was the most
innocent structure in the world--like a thousand others in Essex and
Holland--topped by a narrow path, where we walked in single file with
arms akimbo to keep our balance in the gusts of wind. Below us lay
the sands on one side and rank fens on the other, interspersed with
squares of pasture ringed in with ditches. After half a mile we
dropped down and came back by a short circuit inland, following a
mazy path--which was mostly right angles and minute plank bridges,
till we came to the Esens road. We crossed this and soon after found
our way barred by the stream I spoke of. This involved a _détour_ to
the bridge in the village, and a stealthy avoidance of the
post-office, for dread of its garrulous occupant. Then we followed
the dyke in the other direction, and ended by a circuit over the
sands, which were fast being covered by the tide, and so back to the
Nobody appeared to have taken the slightest notice of our movements.
As we walked we had tackled the last question, 'What are we to do?'
and found very little to say on it. We were to leave to-night (unless
the Esens police appeared on the scene), and were committed to
sailing direct to Norderney, as the only alternative to duck shooting
under the espionage of a 'trustworthy' nominee of von Brüning's.
Beyond that--vagueness and difficulty of every sort.
At Norderney I should be fettered by my letter. If it seemed to have
been opened and it ordered my return, I was limited to a week, or
must risk suspicion by staying. Dollmann was away (according to von
Brüning), 'would probably be back soon'; but how soon? Beyond
Norderney lay Memmert. How to probe its secret? The ardour it had
roused in me was giving way to a mortifying sense of impotence. The
sight of the Kormoran, with her crew preparing for sea, was a pointed
comment on my diplomacy, and most of all on my ridiculous survey of
the dykes. When all was said and done we were _protégés_ of von
Brüning, and dogged by Grimm. Was it likely they would let us
The tide was swirling into the harbour in whorls of chocolate froth,
and as it rose all Bensersiel, dominated as before by Herr Schenkel,
straggled down to the quay to watch the movements of shipping during
the transient but momentous hour when the mud-hole was a seaport. The
captain's steam-cutter was already afloat, and her sailors busy with
sidelights and engines. When it became known that we, too, were to
sail, and under such distinguished escort, the excitement
Again our friend of the customs was spreading out papers to sign,
while a throng of helpful Frisians, headed by the twin giants of the
post-boat, thronged our decks and made us ready for sea in their own
confused fashion. Again we were carried up to the inn and overwhelmed
with advice, and warnings, and farewell toasts. Then back again to
find the Dulcibella afloat, and von Brüning just arrived, cursing the
weather and the mud, chaffing Davies, genial and _débonnaire_ as
'Stow that mainsail, you won't want it,' he said. 'I'll tow you right
out to Spiekeroog. It's your only anchorage for the night in this
wind--under the island, near the Blitz, and that would mean a dead
beat for you in the dark.'
The fact was so true, and the offer so timely, that Davies's faint
protests were swept aside in a torrent of ridicule.
'And now I think of it,' the commander ended, 'I'll make the trip
with you, if I may. It'll be pleasanter and drier.'
We all three boarded the Dulcibella, and then the end came. Our
tow-rope was attached, and at half-past six the little launch jumped
into the collar, and amidst a demonstration that could not have been
more hearty if we had been ambassadors on a visit to a friendly
power, we sidled out through the jetties.
It took us more than an hour to cover the five miles to Spiekeroog,
for the Dulcibella was a heavy load in the stiff head wind, and
Davies, though he said nothing, showed undisguised distrust of our
tug's capacities. He at once left the helm to me and flung himself on
the gear, not resting till every rope was ready to hand, the mainsail
reefed, the binnacle lighted, and all ready for setting sail or
anchoring at a moment's notice. Our guest watched these precautions
with infinite amusement. He was in the highest and most mischievous
humour, raining banter on Davies and mock sympathy on me, laughing at
our huge compass, heaving the lead himself, startling us with
imaginary soundings, and doubting if his men were sober. I offered
entertainment and warmth below, but he declined on the ground that
Davies would be tempted to cut the tow-rope and make us pass the
night on a safe sandbank. Davies took the raillery unmoved. His work
done, he took the tiller and sat bareheaded, intent on the launch,
the course, the details, and chances of the present. I brought up
cigars and we settled ourselves facing him, our backs to the wind and
spray. And so we made the rest of the passage, von Brüning cuddled
against me and the cabin-hatch, alternately shouting a jest to Davies
and talking to me in a light and charming vein, with just that shade
of patronage that the disparity in our ages warranted, about my time
in Germany, places, people, and books I knew, and about life,
especially young men's life, in England, a country he had never
visited, but hoped to; I responding as well as I could, striving to
meet his mood, acquit myself like a man, draw zest instead of
humiliation from the irony of our position, but scarcely able to make
headway against a numbing sense of defeat and incapacity. A queer
thought was haunting me, too, that such skill and judgement as I
possessed was slipping from me as we left the land and faced again
the rigours of this exacting sea. Davies, I very well knew, was under
exactly the opposite spell--a spell which even the reproach of the
tow-rope could not annul. His face, in the glow of the binnacle, was
beginning to wear that same look of contentment and resolve that I
had seen on it that night we had sailed to Kiel from Schlei Fiord.
Heaven knows he had more cause for worry than I--a casual comrade in
an adventure which was peculiarly his, which meant everything on
earth to him; but there he was, washing away perplexity in the salt
wind, drawing counsel and confidence from the unfailing source of all
his inspirations--the sea.
'Looks happy, doesn't he?' said the captain once. I grunted that he
did, ashamed to find how irritated the remark made me.
'You'll remember what I said,' he added in my ear.
'Yes,' I said. 'But I should like to see her. What is she like?'
'Dangerous.' I could well believe it.
The hull of the Blitz loomed up, and a minute later our kedge was
splashing overboard and the launch was backing alongside.
'Good-night, gentlemen,' said our passenger. 'You're safe enough
here, and you can run across in ten minutes in the morning and pick
up your anchor, if it's there still. Then you've a fair wind west--to
England if you like. If you decide to stay a little longer in these
parts, and I'm in reach, count on me to help you, to sport or
We thanked him, shook hands, and he was gone.
'He's a thundering good chap, anyhow,' said Davies; and I heartily
The narrow vigilant life began again at once. We were 'safe enough'
in a sense, but a warp and a twenty-pound anchor were poor security
if the wind backed or increased. Plans for contingencies had to be
made, and deck-watches kept till midnight, when the weather seemed to
improve, and stars appeared. The glass was rising, so we turned in
and slept under the very wing, so to speak, of the Imperial
'Davies,' I said, when we were settled in our bunks, 'it's only a
day's sail to Norderney, isn't it?'
'With a fair wind, less, if we go outside the islands direct.'
'Well, it's settled that we do that to-morrow?'
'I suppose so. We've got to get the anchor first. Good-night.'
19 The Rubicon
IT was a cold, vaporous dawn, the glass rising, and the wind fallen
to a light air still from the north-east. Our creased and sodden
sails scarcely answered to it as we crept across the oily swell to
Langeoog. 'Fogs and calms,' Davies prophesied. The Blitz was astir
when we passed her, and soon after steamed out to sea. Once over the
bar, she turned westward and was lost to view in the haze. I should
be sorry to have to explain how we found that tiny anchor-buoy, on
the expressionless waste of grey. I only know that I hove the lead
incessantly while Davies conned, till at last he was grabbing
overside with the boat-hook, and there was the buoy on deck. The
cable was soon following it, and finally the rusty monster himself,
more loathsome than usual, after his long sojourn in the slime.
'That's all right,' said Davies. 'Now we can go anywhere.'
'Well, it's Norderney, isn't it? We've settled that.'
'Yes, I suppose we have. I was wondering whether it wouldn't be
shortest to go inside the Langeoog after all.'
'Surely not,' I urged. 'The tide's ebbing now, and the light's bad;
it's new ground, with a "watershed" to cross, and we're safe to get
'All right--outside. Ready about.' We swung lazily round and headed
for the open sea. I record the fact, but in truth Davies might have
taken me where he liked, for no land was visible, only a couple of
'It seems a pity to miss over that channel,' said Davies with a sigh;
'just when the Kormoran can't watch us.' (We had not seen her at all
I set myself to the lead again, averse to reopening a barren
argument. Grimm had done his work for the present, I felt certain,
and was on his way by the shortest road to Norderney and Memmert.
We were soon outside and heading west, our boom squared away and the
island sand-dunes just apparent under our lee. Then the breeze died
to the merest draught, and left us rolling inert in a long swell.
Consumed with impatience to get on I saw fatality in this failure of
wind, after a fortnight of unprofitable meanderings, when we had
generally had too much of it, and always enough for our purpose. I
tried to read below, but the vile squirting of the centre-board drove
'Can't we go any faster?' I burst out once. I felt that there ought
to be a pyramid of gauzy canvas aloft, spinnakers, flying jibs, and
'I don't go in for speed,' said Davies, shortly. He loyally did his
best to 'shove her' along, but puffs and calms were the rule all day,
and it was only by towing in the dinghy for two hours in the
afternoon that we covered the length of Langeoog, and crept before
dark to an anchorage behind Baltrum, its slug-shaped neighbour on the
west. Strictly, I believe, we should have kept the sea all night; but
I had not the grit to suggest that course, and Davies was only too
glad of an excuse for threading the shoals of the Accumer Ee on a
rising tide. The atmosphere had been slowly clearing as the day wore
on; but we had scarcely anchored ten minutes before a blanket of
white fog, rolling in from seaward, swallowed us up. Davies was
already afield in the dinghy, and I had to guide him back with a
foghorn, whose music roused hosts of sea birds from the surrounding
flats, and brought them wheeling and complaining round us, a weird
invisible chorus to my mournful solo.
The fog hung heavy still at daybreak on the 20th, but dispersed
partially under a catspaw from the south about eight o'clock, in time
for us to traverse the boomed channel behind Baltrum, before the tide
left the watershed.
'We shan't get far to-day,' said Davies, with philosophy. 'And this
sort of thing may go on for any time. It's a regular autumn
anti-cyclone--glass thirty point five and steady. That gale was the
last of a stormy equinox.'
We took the inside route as a matter of course to-day. It was now the
shortest to Norderney harbour, and scarcely less intricate than the
Wichter Ee, which appeared to be almost totally blocked by banks, and
is, in fact, the most impassable of all these outlets to the North
Sea. But, as I say, this sort of navigation, always puzzling to me,
was utterly bewildering in hazy weather. Any attempt at orientation
made me giddy. So I slaved at the lead, varying my labour with a
fierce bout of kedge-work when we grounded somewhere. I had two rests
before two o'clock, one of an hour, when we ran into a patch of
windless fog; another of a few moments, when Davies said, 'There's
Norderney!' and I saw, surmounting a long slope of weedy sand, still
wet with the receding sea, a cluster of sandhills exactly like a
hundred others I had seen of late, but fraught with a new and unique
The usual formula, 'What have you got now?' checked my reverie, and
'Helm's a-lee,' ended it for the time. We tacked on (for the wind had
headed us) in very shoal water.
Suddenly Davies said: 'Is that a boat ahead?'
'Do you mean that galliot?' I asked. I could plainly distinguish one
of those familiar craft about half a mile away, just within the limit
'The Kormoran, do you think?' I added. Davies said nothing, but grew
inattentive to his work. 'Barely four,' from me passed unnoticed, and
we touched once, but swung off under some play of the current. Then
came abruptly, 'Stand by the anchor. Let go,' and we brought up in
mid-stream of the narrow creek we were following. I triced up the
main-tack, and stowed the headsails unaided. When I had done Davies
was still gazing to windward through his binoculars, and, to my
astonishment, I noticed that his hands were trembling violently. I
had never seen this happen before, even at moments when a false turn
of the wrist meant death on a surf-battered bank.
'What is it?' I asked; 'are you cold?'
'That little boat,' he said. I gazed to windward, too, and now saw a
scrap of white in the distance, in sharp relief.
'Small standing lug and jib; it's her, right enough,' said Davies to
himself, in a sort of nervous stammer.
He handed, or rather pushed, me the glasses, still gazing.
'Dollmann?' I exclaimed.
'No, it's _hers_--the one she always sails. She's come to meet m--,
Through the glasses the white scrap became a graceful little sail,
squared away for the light following breeze. An angle of the creek
hid the hull, then it glided into view. Someone was sitting aft
steering, man or woman I could not say, for the sail hid most of the
figure. For full two minutes--two long, pregnant minutes--we watched
it in silence. The damp air was fogging the lenses, but I kept them
to my eyes; for I did not want to look at Davies. At last I heard him
draw a deep breath, straighten himself up, and give one of his
characteristic 'h'ms'. Then he turned briskly aft, cast off the
dinghy's painter, and pulled her up alongside.
'You come too,' he said, jumping in, and fixing the rowlocks. (His
hands were steady again.) I laughed, and shoved the dinghy off.
'I'd rather you did,' he said, defiantly.
'I'd rather stay. I'll tidy up, and put the kettle on.' Davies had
taken a half stroke, but paused.
'She oughtn't to come aboard.' he said.
'She might like to,' I suggested. 'Chilly day, long way from home,
'Carruthers,' said Davies, 'if she comes aboard, please remember that
she's outside this business. There are no clues to be got from
A little lecture which would have nettled me more if I had not been
exultantly telling myself that, once and for all, for good or ill,
the Rubicon was passed.
'It's your affair this time,' I said; 'run it as you please.'
He sculled away with vigorous strokes. 'Just as he is,' I thought to
myself: bare head, beaded with fog-dew, ancient oilskin coat (only
one button); grey jersey; grey woollen trousers (like a deep-sea
fisherman's) stuffed into long boots. A vision of his antitype, the
Cowes Philanderer, crossed me for a second. As to his face--well, I
could only judge by it, and marvel, that he was gripping his dilemma
by either horn, as firmly as he gripped his sculls.
I watched the two boats converging. They would meet in the natural
course about three hundred yards away, but a hitch occurred. First,
the sail-boat checked and slewed; 'aground,' I concluded. The
row-boat leapt forward still; then checked, too. From both a great
splashing of sculls floated across the still air, then silence. The
summit of the watershed, a physical Rubicon, prosaic and slimy, had
still to be crossed, it seemed. But it could be evaded. Both boats
headed for the northern side of the creek: two figures were out on
the brink, hauling on two painters. Then Davies was striding over the
sand, and a girl--I could see her now--was coming to meet him. And
then I thought it was time to go below and tidy up.
Nothing on earth could have made the Dulcibella's saloon a worthy
reception-room for a lady. I could only use hurried efforts to make
it look its best by plying a bunch of cotton-waste and a floor-brush;
by pitching into racks and lockers the litter of pipes, charts,
oddments of apparel, and so on, that had a way of collecting afresh,
however recently we had tidied up; by neatly arranging our
demoralized library, and by lighting the stove and veiling the table
under a clean white cloth.
I suppose about twenty minutes had elapsed, and I was scrubbing
fruitlessly at the smoky patch on the ceiling, when I heard the sound
of oars and voices outside. I threw the cotton-waste into the
fo'c'sle, made an onslaught on my hands, and then mounted the
companion ladder. Our own dinghy was just rounding up alongside,
Davies sculling in the bows, facing him in the stern a young girl in
a grey tam-o'-shanter, loose waterproof jacket and dark serge skirt,
the latter, to be frigidly accurate, disclosing a pair of
workman-like rubber boots which, _mutatis mutandis,_ were very like
those Davies was wearing. Her hair, like his, was spangled with
moisture. and her rose-brown skin struck a note of delicious colour
against the sullen Stygian background.
'There he is,' said Davies. Never did his 'meiner Freund,
Carruthers,' sound so pleasantly in my ears; never so discordantly
the 'Fräulein Dollmann' that followed it. Every syllable of the four
was a lie. Two honest English eyes were looking up into mine; an
honest English hand--is this insular nonsense? Perhaps so, but I
stick to it--a brown, firm hand--no, not so very small, my
sentimental reader--was clasping mine. Of course I had strong
reasons, apart from the racial instinct, for thinking her to be
English, but I believe that if I had had none at all I should at any
rate have congratulated Germany on a clever bit of plagiarism. By her
voice, when she spoke, I knew that she must have talked German
habitually from childhood; diction and accent were faultless, at
least to my English ear; but the native constitutional ring was
She came on board. There was a hollow discussion first about time and
weather, but it ended as we all in our hearts wished it to end. None
of us uttered our real scruples. Mine, indeed, were too new and
rudimentary to be worth uttering, so I said common-sense things about
tea and warmth; but I began to think about my compact with Davies.
'Just for a few minutes, then,' she said.
I held out my hand and swung her up. She gazed round the deck and
rigging with profound interest--a breathless, hungry
interest--touching to see.
'You've seen her before, haven't you?' I said.
'I've not been on board before,' she answered.
This struck me in passing as odd; but then I had only too few details
from Davies about his days at Norderney in September.
'Of course, _that_ is what puzzled me,' she exclaimed, suddenly,
pointing to the mizzen. 'I knew there was something different.'
Davies had belayed the painter, and now had to explain the origin of
the mizzen. This was a cumbrous process, and his hearer's attention
soon wandered from the subject and became centred in him--his was
already more than half in her--and the result was a golden
opportunity for the discerning onlooker. It was very brief, but I
made the most of it; buried deep a few regrets, did a little
heartfelt penance, told myself I had been a cynical fool not to have
foreseen this, and faced the new situation with a sinking heart; I am
not ashamed to admit that, for I was fond of Davies, and I was keen
about the quest.
She had never been a guilty agent in that attempt on Davies. Had she
been an unconscious tool or only an unwilling one? If the latter, did
she know the secret we were seeking? In the last degree unlikely, I
decided. But, true to the compact, whose importance I now fully
appreciated, I flung aside my diplomatic weapons, recoiling, as
strongly, or nearly as strongly, let us say, from any effort direct
or indirect to gain information from such a source. It was not our
fault if by her own conversation and behaviour she gave us some idea
of how matters stood. Davies already knew more than I did.
We spent a few minutes on deck while she asked eager questions about
our build and gear and seaworthiness, with a quaint mixture of
professional acumen and personal curiosity.
'How _did_ you manage alone that day?' she asked Davies, suddenly.
'Oh, it was quite safe,' was the reply. 'But it's much better to have
She looked at me; and--well, I would have died for Davies there and
'Father said you would be safe,' she remarked, with decision--a
slight excess of decision, I thought. And at that turned to some rope
or block and pursued her questioning. She found the compass
impressive, and the trappings of that hateful centre-board had a
peculiar fascination for her. Was this the way we did it in England?
was her constant query.
Yet, in spite of a superficial freedom, we were all shy and
constrained. The descent below was a welcome diversion, for we should
have been less than human if we had not extracted some spontaneous
fun from the humours of the saloon. I went down first to see about
the tea, leaving them struggling for mutual comprehension over the
theory of an English lifeboat. They soon followed, and I can see her
now stooping in at the doorway, treading delicately, like a kitten,
past the obstructive centre-board to a place on the starboard sofa,
then taking in her surroundings with a timid rapture that broke into
delight at all the primitive arrangements and dingy amenities of our
den. She explored the cavernous recesses of the Rippingille, fingered
the duck-guns and the miscellany in the racks, and peeped into the
fo'c'sle with dainty awe. Everything was a source of merriment, from
our cramped attitudes to the painful deficiency of spoons and the
'yachtiness' (there is no other word to describe it) of the bread,
which had been bought at Bensersiel, and had suffered from
incarceration and the climate. This fact came out, and led to some
questions, while we waited for the water to boil, about the gale and
our visit there. The topic, a pregnant one for us, appeared to have
no special significance to her. At the mention of von Brüning she
showed no emotion of any sort; on the contrary, she went out of her
way, from an innocent motive that anyone could have guessed, to show
that she could talk about him with dispassionate detachment.
'He came to see us when you were here last, didn't he?' she said to
Davies. 'He often comes. He goes with father to Memmert sometimes.
You know about Memmert? They are diving for money out of an old
Yes, we had heard about it.
'Of course you have. Father is a director of the company, and
Commander von Brüning takes great interest in it; they took me down
in a diving-bell once.'
I murmured, 'Indeed!' and Davies sawed laboriously at the bread. She
must have misconstrued our sheepish silence, for she stopped and drew
herself up with just a touch of momentary hauteur, utterly lost on
Davies. I could have laughed aloud at this transient little comedy of
'Did you see any gold?' said Davies at last, with husky solemnity.
Something had to be said or we should defeat our own end; but I let
him say it. He had not my faith in Memmert.
'No, only mud and timber--oh, I forgot--'
'You mustn't betray the company's secrets,' I said, laughing;
'Commander von Brüning wouldn't tell us a word about the gold.'
('There's self-denial!' I said to myself.)
'Oh, I don't think it matters much,' she answered, laughing too. 'You
are only visitors.'
'That's all,' I remarked, demurely. 'Just passing travellers.'
'You will stop at Norderney?' she said, with naive anxiety. 'Herr
I looked to Davies; it was his affair. Fair and square came his
answer, in blunt dog-German.
'Yes, of course, we shall. I should like to see your father again.'
Up to this moment I had been doubtful of his final decision; for ever
since our explanation at Bensersiel I had had the feeling that I was
holding his nose to a very cruel grindstone. This straight word,
clear and direct, beyond anything I had hoped for, brought me to my
senses and showed me that his mind had been working far in advance of
mine; and more, shaping a double purpose that I had never dreamt of.
'My father?' said Fräulein Dollmann; 'yes, I am sure he will be very
glad to see you.
There was no conviction in her tone, and her eyes were distant and
'He's not at home now, is he?' I asked.
'How did you know?' (a little maidenly confusion). 'Oh, Commander von
I might have added that it had been clear as daylight all along that
this visit was in the nature of an escapade of which her father might
not approve. I tried to say 'I won't tell,' without words, and may
'I told Mr Davies when we first met,' she went on. 'I expect him back
very soon--to-morrow in fact; he wrote from Amsterdam. He left me at
Hamburg and has been away since. Of course, he will not know your
yacht is back again. I think he expected Mr Davies would stay in the
Baltic, as the season was so late. But--but I am sure he will be glad
to see you.'
'Is the Medusa in harbour?' said Davies.
'Yes; but we are not living on her now. We are at our villa in the
Schwannallée--my stepmother and I, that is.' She added some details,
and Davies gravely pencilled down the address on a leaf of the
log-book; a formality which somehow seemed to regularize the present
'We shall be at Norderney to-morrow,' he said.
Meanwhile the kettle was boiling merrily, and I made the tea--cocoa,
I should say, for the menu was changed in deference to our visitor's
tastes. 'This _is_ fun!' she said. And by common consent we abandoned
ourselves, three youthful, hungry mariners, to the enjoyment of this
impromptu picnic. Such a chance might never occur again--_carpamus
But the banquet was never celebrated. As at Belshazzar's feast, there
was a writing on the wall; no supernatural inscription, but just a
printed name; an English surname with title and initials, in cheap
gilt lettering on the back of an old book; a silent, sneering witness
of our snug party. The catastrophe came and passed so suddenly that
at the time I had scarcely even an inkling of what caused it; but I
know now that this is how it happened. Our visitor was sitting at the
forward end of the starboard sofa, close to the bulkhead. Davies and
I were opposite her. Across the bulkhead, on a level with our heads,
ran the bookshelf, whose contents, remember, I had carefully
straightened only half an hour ago, little dreaming of the
consequence. Some trifle, probably the logbook which Davies had
reached down from the shelf, called her attention to the rest of our
library. While busied with the cocoa I heard her spelling out some
titles, fingering leaves, and twitting Davies with the little care he
took of his books. Suddenly there was a silence which made me look
up, to see a startled and pitiful change in her. She was staring at
Davies with wide eyes and parted lips, a burning flush mounting on
her forehead, and such an expression on her face as a sleep-walker
might wear, who wakes in fear he knows not where.
Half her mind was far away, labouring to construe some hideous dream
of the past; half was in the present, cringing before some sickening
reality. She remained so for perhaps ten seconds, and then--plucky
girl that she was--she mastered herself, looked deliberately round
and up with a circular glance, strangely in the manner of Davies
himself, and spoke. How late it was, she must be going--her boat was
not safe. At the same time she rose to go, or rather slid herself
along the sofa, for rising was impossible. We sat like mannerless
louts, in blank amazement. Davies at the outset had said, 'What's the
matter?' in plain English, and then relapsed into stupefaction. I
recovered myself the first, and protested in some awkward fashion
about the cocoa, the time, the absence of fog. In trying to answer,
her self-possession broke down, poor child, and her retreat became a
blind flight, like that of a wounded animal, while every sordid
circumstance seemed to accentuate her panic.
She tilted the corner of the table in leaving the sofa and spilt
cocoa over her skirt; she knocked her head with painful force against
the sharp lintel of the doorway, and stumbled on the steps of the
ladder. I was close behind, but when I reached the deck she was
already on the counter hauling up the dinghy. She had even jumped in
and laid hands on the sculls before any check came in her precipitate
movements. Now there occurred to her the patent fact that the dinghy
was ours, and that someone must accompany her to bring it back.
'Davies will row you over,' I said.
'Oh no, thank you,' she stammered. 'If you will be so kind, Herr
Carruthers. It is your turn. No, I mean, I want--'
'Go on,' said Davies to me in English.
I stepped into the dinghy and motioned to take the sculls from her.
She seemed not to see me, and pushed off while Davies handed down her
jacket, which she had left in the cabin. Neither of us tried to
better the situation by conventional apologies. It was left to her,
at the last moment, to make a show of excusing herself, an attempt so
brave and yet so wretchedly lame that I tingled all over with hot
shame. She only made matters worse, and Davies interrupted her.
'_Auf Wiedersehen_,' he said, simply.
She shook her head, did not even offer her hand, and pulled away;
Davies turned sharp round and went below.
There was now no muddy Rubicon to obstruct us, for the tide had risen
a good deal, and the sands were covering. I offered again to take the
sculls, but she took no notice and rowed on, so that I was a silent
passenger on the stem seat till we reached her boat, a spruce little
yacht's gig, built to the native model, with a spoon-bow and tiny
lee-boards. It was already afloat, but riding quite safely to a rope
and a little grapnel, which she proceeded to haul in.
'It was quite safe after all, you see,' I said.
'Yes, but I could not stay. Herr Carruthers, I want to say something
to you.' (I knew it was coming; von Brüning's warning over again.) 'I
made a mistake just now; it is no use your calling on us to-morrow.'
'You will not see my father.'
'I thought you said he was coming back?'
'Yes, by the morning steamer; but he will be very busy.'
'We can wait. We have several days to spare, and we have to call for
'You must not delay on our account. The weather is very fine at last.
It would be a pity to lose a chance of a smooth voyage to England.
'We have no fixed plans. Davies wants to get some shooting.
'My father will be much occupied.'
'We can see _you_.'
I insisted on being obtuse, for though this fencing with an unstrung
girl was hateful work, the quest was at stake. We were going to
Norderney, come what might, and sooner or later we must see Dollmann.
It was no use promising not to. I had given no pledge to von Brüning,
and I would give none to her. The only alternative was to violate the
compact (which the present fiasco had surely weakened), speak out,
and try and make an ally of her. Against her own father? I shrank
from the responsibility and counted the cost of failure--certain
failure, to judge by her conduct. She began to hoist her lugsail in a
dazed, shiftless fashion, while our two boats drifted slowly to
'Father might not like it,' she said, so low and from such tremulous
lips that I scarcely caught her words. 'He does not like foreigners
much. I am afraid ... he did not want to see Herr Davies again.'
'But I thought--'
'It was wrong of me to come aboard--I suddenly remembered; but 1
could not tell Herr Davies.'
'I see,' I answered. 'I will tell him.'
'Yes, that he must not come near us.
'He will understand. I know he will be very sorry, but,' I added,
firmly, 'you can trust him implicitly to do the right thing.' And how
I prayed that this would content her! Thank Heaven, it did.
'Yes,' she said, 'I am afraid I did not say good-bye to him. You will
do so?' She gave me her hand.
'One thing more,' I added, holding it, 'nothing had better be said
about this meeting?'
'No, no, nothing. It must never be known.'
I let go the gig's gunwale and watched her tighten her sheet and make
a tack or two to windward. Then I rowed back to the Dulcibella as
hard as I could.
20 The Little Drab Book
I FOUND Davies at the cabin table, surrounded with a litter of books.
The shelf was empty, and its contents were tossed about among the
cups and on the floor. We both spoke together.
'Well, what was it?'
'Well, what did she say?'
I gave way, and told my story briefly. He listened in silence,
drumming on the table with a book which he held.
'It's not good-bye,' he said. 'But I don't wonder; look here!' and he
held out to me a small volume, whose appearance was quite familiar to
me, if its contents were less so. As I noted in an early chapter,
Davies's library, excluding tide-tables, 'pilots', etc., was limited
to two classes of books, those on naval warfare, and those on his own
hobby, cruising in small yachts. He had six or seven of the latter,
including Knight's Falcon in the Baltic, Cowper's Sailing Tours,
Macmullen's Down Channel, and other less-known stories of adventurous
travel. I had scarcely done more than look into some of them at
off-moments, for our life had left no leisure for reading. This
particular volume was--no, I had better not describe it too fully;
but I will say that it was old and unpretentious, bound in cheap
cloth of a rather antiquated style, with a title which showed it to
be a guide for yachtsmen to a certain British estuary. A white label
partly scratched away bore the legend '3d.' I had glanced at it once
or twice with no special interest.
'Well?' I said, turning over some yellow pages.
'Dollmann!' cried Davies. 'Dollmann wrote it.' I turned to the
title-page, and read: 'By Lieut. X--, R.N.' The name itself conveyed
nothing to me, but I began to understand. Davies went on: The name's
on the back, too--and I'm certain it's the last she looked at.'
'But how do you know?'
'And there's the man himself. Ass that I am not to have seen it
before! Look at the frontispiece.'
It was a sorry piece of illustration of the old-fashioned sort,
lacking definition and finish, but effective notwithstanding; for it
was evidently the reproduction, though a cheap and imperfect process,
of a photograph. It represented a small yacht at anchor below some
woods, with the owner standing on deck in his shirt sleeves: a
well-knit, powerful man, young, of middle height, clean shaved. There
appeared to be nothing remarkable about the face; the portrait being
on too small a scale, and the expression, such as it was, being of
the fixed 'photographic' character.
'How do you know him? You said he was fifty, with a greyish beard.'
'By the shape of his head; that hasn't changed. Look how it widens at
the top, and then flattens--sort of wedge shaped--with a high, steep
forehead; you'd hardly notice it in that' (the points were not very
noticeable, but I saw what Davies meant). 'The height and figure are
right, too; and the dates are about right. Look at the bottom.'
Underneath the picture was the name of a yacht and a date. The
publisher's date on the title-page was the same.
'Sixteen years ago,' said Davies. 'He looks thirty odd in that,
doesn't he? And fifty now.'
'Let's work the thing out. Sixteen years ago he was still an
Englishman, an officer in Her Majesty's Navy. Now he's a German. At
some time between this and then, I suppose, he came to
grief--disgrace, flight, exile. When did it happen?'
'They've been here three years; von Brüning said so.'
'It was long before that. She has talked German from a child. What's
her age, do you think--nineteen or twenty?'
'Say she was four when this book was published. The crash must have
come not long after.'
'And they've been hiding in Germany since.
'Is this a well-known book?'
'I never saw another copy; picked this up on a second-hand bookstall
'She looked at it, you say?'
'Yes, I'm certain of it.'
'Was she never on board you in September?'
'No; I asked them both, but Dollmann made excuses.'
'But _he--he_ came on board? You told me so.'
'Once; he asked himself to breakfast on the first day. By Jove! yes;
you mean he saw the book?
'It explains a good deal.'
'It explains everything.'
We fell into deep reflexion for a minute or two.
'Do you really mean _everything_?' I said. 'In that case let's sail
straight away and forget the whole affair. He's only some poor devil
with a past, whose secret you stumbled on, and, half mad with fear,
he tried to silence you. But you don't want revenge, so it's no
business of ours. We can ruin him if we like; but is it worth it?'
'You don't mean a word you're saying,' said Davies, 'though I know
why you say it; and many thanks, old chap. I didn't mean
"everything". He's plotting with Germans, or why did Grimm spy on us,
and von Brüning cross-examine us? We've got to find out what he's at,
as well as who he is. And as to her--what do you think of her now?'
I made my _amende_ heartily. 'Innocent and ignorant,' was my verdict.
'Ignorant, that is, of her father's treasonable machinations; but
aware, clearly, that they were English refugees with a past to hide.'
I said other things, but they do not matter. 'Only,' I concluded, 'it
makes the dilemma infinitely worse.'
'There's no dilemma at all,' said Davies. 'You said at Bensersiel
that we couldn't hurt him without hurting her. Well, all I can say
is, we've _got_ to. The time to cut and run, if ever, was when we
sighted her dinghy. I had a baddish minute then.'
'She's given us a clue or two after all.'
'It wasn't our fault. To refuse to have her on board would have been
to give our show away; and the very fact that she's given us clues
decides the matter. She mustn't suffer for it.'
'What will she do?'
'Stick to her father, I suppose.'
'And what shall we do?'
'I don't know yet; how can I know? It depends,' said Davies, slowly.
'But the point is, that we have two objects, equally important--yes,
equally, by Jove!--to scotch him, and save her.'
There was a pause.
'That's rather a large order,' I observed. 'Do you realize that at
this very moment we have probably gained the first object? If we went
home now, walked into the Admiralty and laid our facts before them,
what would be the result?'
'The Admiralty!' said Davies, with ineffable scorn.
'Well, Scotland Yard, too, then. Both of them want our man, I dare
say. It would be strange if between them they couldn't dislodge him,
and, incidentally, either discover what's going on here or draw such
attention to this bit of coast as to make further secrecy
'It's out of the question to let her betray her father, and then run
away! Besides, we don't know enough, and they mightn't believe us.
It's a cowardly course, however you look at it.'
'Oh! that settles it,' I answered, hastily. 'Now I want to go back
over the facts. When did you first see her?'
'That first morning.'
'She wasn't in the saloon the night before?'
'No; and he didn't mention her.'
'You would have gone away next morning if he hadn't called?'
'Yes; I told you so.'
'He allowed her to persuade you to make that voyage with them?'
'I suppose so.'
'But he sent her below when the pilotage was going on?'
'She said just now, "Father said you would be safe." What had you
been saying to her?'
'It was when I met her on the sand. (By the way, it wasn't a chance
meeting; she had been making inquiries and heard about us from a
skipper who had seen the yacht near Wangeroog, and she had been down
this way before.) She asked at once about that day, and began
apologizing, rather awkwardly, you know, for their rudeness in not
having waited for me at Cuxhaven. Her father found he must get on to
Hamburg at once.'
'But you didn't go to Cuxhaven; you told her that? What exactly _did_
you tell her? This is important.'
'I was in a fearful fix, not knowing what _he_ had told her. So I
said something vague, and then she asked the very question von
Brüning did, "Wasn't there a _schrecklich_ sea round the Scharhorn?"'
'She didn't know you took the short cut, then?'
'No; he hadn't dared to tell her.'
'She knew that _they_ took it?'
'Yes. He couldn't possibly have hidden that. She would have known by
the look of the sea from the portholes, the shorter time, etc.'
'But when the Medusa hove to and he shouted to you to follow
him--didn't she understand what was happening?'
'No, evidently not. Mind you, she couldn't possibly have heard what
we said, in that weather, from below. I couldn't cross-question her,
but it was clear enough what she thought; namely, that he had hove to
for exactly the opposite reason, to say _he_ was taking the short
cut, and that I wasn't to attempt to follow him.'
'That's why she laid stress on _waiting_ for you at Cuxhaven?'
' Of course; mine would have been the longer passage.'
'She had no notion of foul play?'
'None--that I could see. After all, there I was, alive and well.'
'But she was remorseful for having induced you to sail at all that
day, and for not having waited to see you arrived safely.'
'That's about it.'
'Now what did you say about Cuxhaven?'
'Nothing. I let her understand that I went there, and, not finding
them, went on to the Baltic by the Eider river, having changed my
mind about the ship canal.'
'Now, what about her voyage back from Hamburg? Was she alone?'
'No; the stepmother joined her.'
'Did she say she had inquired about you at Brunsbüttel?'
'No; I suppose she didn't like to. And there was no need, because my
taking the Eider explained it.'
I reflected. 'You're sure she hadn't a notion that you took the short
'Quite sure; but she may guess it now. She guessed foul play by
seeing that book.'
'Of course she did; but I was thinking of something else. There are
two stories afloat now--yours to von Brüning, the true one, that you
followed the Medusa to the short cut; and Dollmann's to her, that you
went round the Scharhorn. That's evidently his version of the
affair--the version he would have given if you had been drowned and
inquiries were ever made; the version he would have sworn his crew to
if they discovered the truth.'
'But he must drop that yarn when he knows I'm alive and back again.'
'Yes; but meanwhile, supposing von Brüning sees him _before_ he knows
you're back again, and wants to find out the truth about that
incident. If I were von Brüning I should say, "By the way, what's
become of that young Englishman you decoyed away to the Baltic?"
Dollmann would give his version, and von Brüning. having heard ours,
would know he was lying, and had tried to drown you.'
'Does it matter? He must know already that Dollmann's a scoundrel.'
'So we've been supposing; but we may be wrong. We're still in the
dark as to Dollmann's position towards these Germans. They may not
even know he's English, or they may know that and not know his real
name and past. What effect your story will have on their relations
with him we can't forecast. But I'm clear about one thing, that it's
our paramount interest to maintain the _status quo_ as long as we
can, to minimize the danger you ran that day, and act as witnesses in
his defence. We can't do that if his story and yours don't tally. The
discrepancy will not only damn him (that may be immaterial), but it
will throw doubt on us.'
'Because if the short cut was so dangerous that he dared not own to
having led you to it, it was dangerous enough to make you suspect
foul play; the very supposition we want to avoid. We want to be
thought mere travellers, with no scores to wipe out, and no secrets
to pry after.'
'Well, what do you propose?'
'Hitherto I believe we stand fairly well. Let's assume we hoodwinked
von Brüning at Bensersiel, and base our policy on that assumption. It
follows that we must show Dollmann at the earliest possible moment
that you _have_ come back, and give him time to revise his tactics
before he commits himself. Now--'
'But _she'll_ tell him we're back,' interrupted Davies.
'I don't think so. We've just agreed to keep this afternoon's episode
a secret. She expects never to see us again.'
Now, he comes to-morrow by the morning boat, she said. What did that
mean? Boat from where?'
'I know. From Norddeich on the mainland opposite. There's a railway
there from Norden, and a steam ferry crosses to the island.'
'At what time?'
'Your Bradshaw will tell us--here it is: "Winter Service, 8.30 a.m.,
due at 9.5."'
'Let's get away at once.'
We had a tussle with the tide at first, but once over the watershed
the channel improved, and the haze lightened gradually. A lighthouse
appeared among the sand-dunes on the island shore, and before
darkness fell we dimly saw the spires and roofs of a town, and two
long black piers stretching out southwards. We were scarcely a mile
away when we lost our wind altogether, and had to anchor. Determined
to reach our destination that night we waited till the ebb stream
made, and then towed the yacht with the dinghy. In the course of this
a fog dropped on us suddenly, just as it had yesterday. I was towing
at the time, and, of course, stopped short; but Davies shouted to me
from the tiller to go on, that he could manage with the lead and
compass. And the end of it was that, at about nine o'clock, we
anchored safely in the five-fathom roadstead, close to the eastern
pier, as a short reconnaissance proved to us. It had been a little
masterpiece of adroit seamanship.
There was utter stillness till our chain rattled down, when a muffled
shout came from the direction of the pier, and soon we heard a boat
groping out to us. It was a polite but sleepy portofficer, who asked
in a perfunctory way for our particulars, and when he heard them,
remembered the Dulcibella's previous visit.
'Where are you bound to?' he asked.
'England--sooner or later,' said Davies.
The man laughed derisively. 'Not this year,' he said; 'there will be
fogs for another week; it is always so, and then storms. Better leave
your yawl here. Dues will be only sixpence a month for you.
'I'll think about it,' said Davies. 'Good-night.'
The man vanished like a ghost in the thick night.
'Is the post-office open?' I called after him.
'No; eight to-morrow,' came back out of the fog.
We were too excited to sup in comfort, or sleep in peace, or to do
anything but plan and speculate. Never till this night had we talked
with absolute mutual confidence, for Davies broke down the last
barriers of reserve and let me see his whole mind. He loved this girl
and he loved his country, two simple passions which for the time
absorbed his whole moral capacity. There was no room left for
casuistry. To weigh one passion against the other, with the
discordant voices of honour and expediency dinning in his ears, had
too long involved him in fruitless torture. Both were right; neither
could be surrendered. If the facts showed them irreconcilable, _tant
pis pour les faits._ A way must be found to satisfy both or neither.
I should have been a spiritless dog if I had not risen to his mood.
But in truth his cutting of the knot was at this juncture exactly
what appealed to me. I, too, was tired of vicarious casuistry, and
the fascination of our enterprise, intensified by the discovery of
that afternoon, had never been so strong in me. Not to be insincere,
I cannot pretend that I viewed the situation with his single mind. My
philosophy when I left London was of a very worldly sort, and no one
can change his temperament in three weeks. I plainly said as much to
Davies, and indeed took perverse satisfaction in stating with brutal
emphasis some social truths which bore on this attachment of his to
the daughter of an outlaw. Truths I call them, but I uttered them
more by rote than by conviction, and he heard them unmoved. And
meanwhile I snatched recklessly at his own solution. If it imparted
into our adventure a strain of crazy chivalry more suited to
knights-errant of the Middle Ages than to sober modern youths--well,
thank Heaven, I was not too sober, and still young enough to snatch
at that fancy with an ardour of imagination, if not of character;
perhaps, too, of character, for Galahads are not so common but that
ordinary folk must needs draw courage from their example and put
something of a blind trust in their tenfold strength.
To reduce a romantic ideal to a working plan is a very difficult
'We shall have to argue backwards,' I said. 'What is to be the final
stage? Because that must govern the others.'
There was only one answer--to get Dollmann, secrets and all, daughter
and all, away from Germany altogether. So only could we satisfy the
double aim we had set before us. What a joy it is, when beset with
doubts, to find a bed-rock necessity, however unattainable! We
fastened on this one and reasoned back from it. The first lesson was
that, however many and strong were the enemies we had to contend
with, our sole overt fee must be Dollmann. The issue of the struggle
must be known only to ourselves and him. If we won, and found out
'what he was at', we must at all costs conceal our success from his
German friends, and detach him from them before he was compromised.
(You will remark that to blithely accept this limitation showed a
very sanguine spirit in us.) The next question, how to find out what
he was at, was a deal more thorny. If it had not been for the
discovery of Dollmann's identity, we should have found it as hard a
nut to crack as ever. But this discovery was illuminating. It threw
into relief two methods of action which hitherto we had been hazily
seeking to combine, seesawing between one and the other, each of us
influenced at different times by different motives. One was to rely
on independent research; the other to extort the secret from Dollmann
direct, by craft or threats. The moral of to-day was to abandon the
first and embrace the second.
The prospects of independent research were not a whit better than
before. There were only two theories in the field, the channel theory
and the Memmert theory. The former languished for lack of
corroboration; the latter also appeared to be weakened. To Fräulein
Dollmann the wreck-works were evidently what they purported to be,
and nothing more. This fact in itself was unimportant, for it was
clear as crystal that she was no party to her father's treacherous
intrigues, if he was engaged in such. But if Memmert was his sphere
for them, it was disconcerting to find her so familiar with that
sphere, lightly talking of a descent in a diving-bell--hinting, too,
that the mystery as to results was only for local consumption.
Nevertheless, the charm of Memmert as the place we had traced Grimm
to, and as the only tangible clue we had obtained, was still very
great. The really cogent objection was the insuperable difficulty,
known and watched as we were, of learning its significance. If there
was anything important to see there we should never be allowed to see
it, while by trying and failing we risked everything. It was on this
point that the last of all misunderstandings between me and Davies
was dissipated. At Bensersiel he had been influenced more than he
owned by my arguments about Memmert; but at that time (as I hinted)
he was biased by a radical prejudice. The channel theory had become a
sort of religion with him, promising double salvation--not only
avoidance of the Dollmanns, but success in the quest by methods in
which he was past master. To have to desert it and resort to spying
on naval defences was an idea he dreaded and distrusted. It was not
the morality of the course that bothered him. He was far too
clear-headed to blink at the essential fact that at heart we were
spies on a foreign power in time of peace, or to salve his conscience
by specious distinctions as to our mode of operation. The foreign
power to him was Dollmann, a traitor. There was his final
justification, fearlessly adopted and held to the last. It was rather
that, knowing his own limitations, his whole nature shrank from the
sort of action entailed by the Memmert theory. And there was strong
common sense in his antipathy.
So much for independent research.
On the other hand the road was now clear for the other method. Davies
no longer feared to face the imbroglio at Norderney; and that day
fortune had given us a new and potent weapon against Dollmann;
precisely how potent we could not tell, for we had only a glimpse of
his past, and his exact relations with the Government were unknown to
us. But we knew who he was. Using this knowledge with address, could
we not wring the rest from him? Feel our way, of course, be guided by
his own conduct, but in the end strike hard and stake everything on
the stroke? Such at any rate was our scheme to-night. Later, tossing
in my bunk, I be-thought me of the little drab book, lit a candle,
and fetched it. A preface explained that it had been written during a
spell of two months' leave from naval duty, and expressed a hope that
it might be of service to Corinthian sailors. The style was
unadorned, but scholarly and pithy. There was no trace of the
writer's individuality, save a certain subdued relish in describing
banks and shoals, which reminded me of Davies himself. For the rest,
I found the book dull, and, in fact, it sent me to sleep.
21 Blindfold to Memmert
'HERE she comes,' said Davies. It was nine o'clock on the next day,
22nd October, and we were on deck waiting for the arrival of the
steamer from Norddeich. There was no change in the weather--still the
same stringent cold, with a high barometer, and only fickle flaws of
air; but the morning was gloriously clear, except for a wreath or two
of mist curling like smoke from the sea, and an attenuated belt of
opaque fog on the northern horizon. The harbour lay open before us,
and very commodious and civilized it looked, enclosed between two
long piers which ran quite half a mile out from the land to the
road-stead (Riff-Gat by name) where we lay. A stranger might have
taken it for a deep and spacious haven; but this, of course, was an
illusion, due to the high water. Davies knew that three-quarters of
it was mud, the remainder being a dredged-out channel along the
western pier. A couple of tugs, a dredger, and a ferry packet with
steam up, were moored on that side--a small stack of galliots on the
other. Beyond these was another vessel, a galliot in build, but
radiant as a queen among sluts; her varnished sides and spars
flashing orange in the sun. These, and her snow-white sail-covers and
the twinkle of brass and gun-metal, proclaimed her to be a yacht. I
had already studied her through the glasses and read on her stern
Medusa. A couple of sailors were swabbing her decks; you could hear
the slush of the water and the scratching of the deck-brooms. '_They_
can see us anyway,' Davies had said.
For that matter all the world could see us--certainly the incoming
steamer must; for we lay as near to the pier as safety permitted,
abreast of the berth she would occupy, as we knew by a gangway and a
knot of sailors.
A packet boat, not bigger than a big tug, was approaching from the
'Remember, we're not supposed to know he's coming,' I said; 'let's go
below.' Besides the skylight, our 'coach-house' cabin top had little
oblong side windows. We wiped clean those on the port side and
watched events from them, kneeling on the sofa.
The steamer backed her paddles, flinging out a wash that set us
rolling to our scuppers. There seemed to be very few passengers
aboard, but all of them were gazing at the Dulcibella while the
packet was warped alongside. On the forward deck there were some
market-women with baskets, a postman, and a weedy youth who might be
an hotel waiter; on the after-deck, standing close together, were two
men in ulsters and soft felt hats.
'There he is!' said Davies, in a tense whisper; 'the tall one.' But
the tall one turned abruptly as Davies spoke and strode away behind
the deck-house, leaving me just a lightning impression of a grey
beard and a steep tanned forehead, behind a cloud of cigar smoke. It
was perverse of me, but, to tell the truth, I hardly missed him, so
occupied was I by the short one, who remained leaning on the rail,
thoughtfully contemplating the Dulcibella through gold-rimmed
pince-nez: a sallow, wizened old fellow, beetlebrowed, with a bush of
grizzled moustache and a jet-black tuft of beard on his chin. The
most remarkable feature was the nose, which was broad and flat,
merging almost imperceptibly in the wrinkled cheeks. Lightly beaked
at the nether extremity, it drooped towards an enormous cigar which
was pointing at us like a gun just discharged. He looked wise as
Satan, and you would say he was smiling inwardly.
'Who's that?' I whispered to Davies. (There was no need to talk in
whispers, but we did so instinctively.)
'Can't think,' said Davies. 'Hullo! she's backing off, and they've
Some parcels and mail-bags had been thrown up, and the weedy waiter
and two market-women had gone up the gangway, which was now being
hauled up, and were standing on the quay. I think one or two other
persons had first come aboard unnoticed by us, but at the last moment
a man we had not seen before jumped down to the forward deck.
'Grimm!' we both ejaculated at once.
The steamer whistled sharply, circled backwards into the road-stead,
and then steamed away. The pier soon hid her, but her smoke showed
she was steering towards the North Sea.
'What does this mean?' I asked.
'There must be some other quay to stop at nearer the town,' said
Davies. 'Let's go ashore and get your letters.'
We had made a long and painful toilette that morning, and felt quite
shy of one another as we sculled towards the pier, in much-creased
blue suits, conventional collars, and brown boots. It was the first
time for two years that I had seen Davies in anything approaching a
respectable garb; but a fashionable watering-place, even in the dead
season, exacts respect; and, besides, we had friends to visit.
We tied up the dinghy to an iron ladder, and on the pier found our
inquisitor of the night before smoking in the doorway of a shed
marked 'Harbour Master'. After some civilities we inquired about the
steamer. The answer was that it was Saturday, and she had, therefore,
gone on to Juist. Did we want a good hotel? The 'Vier Jahreszeiten'
was still open, etc.
'Juist, by Jove!' said Davies, as we walked on. 'Why are those three
going to Juist?'
'I should have thought it was pretty clear. They're on their way to
Davies agreed, and we both looked longingly westward at a
straw-coloured streak on the sea.
'Is it some meeting, do you think?' said Davies.
'Looks like it. We shall probably find the Kormoran here,
And find her we did soon after, the outermost of the stack of
galliots, on the farther side of the harbour. Two men, whose faces we
took a good look at, were sitting on her hatch, mending a sail.
Flooded with sun, yet still as the grave, the town was like a dead
butterfly for whom the healing rays had come too late. We crossed
some deserted public gardens commanded by a gorgeous casino, its
porticos heaped with chairs and tables; so past kiosques and _cafés,_
great white hotels with boarded windows, bazaars and booths, and all
the stale lees of vulgar frivolity, to the post-office, which at
least was alive. I received a packet of letters and purchased a local
time-table, from which we learned that the steamer sailed daily to
Borkum _via_ Norderney, touching three times a week at Juist (weather
permitting). On the return journey to-day it was due at Norderney at
7.30 p.m. Then I inquired the way to the 'Vier Jahreszeiten'. 'For
whatever your principles,
Davies,' I said, 'we are going to have the best breakfast money can
buy! We've got the whole day before us.'
The 'Four Seasons' Hotel was on the esplanade facing the northern
beach. Living up to its name, it announced on an illuminated
sign-board, 'Inclusive terms for winter visitors; special attention
to invalids, etc.' Here in a great glass restaurant, with the
unruffled blue of ocean spread out before us, we ate the king of
breakfasts, dismissed the waiter, and over long and fragrant Havanas
examined my mail at leisure.
'What a waste of good diplomacy!' was my first thought, for nothing
had been tampered with, so far as we could judge from the minutest
scrutiny, directed, of course, in particular to the franked official
letters (for to my surprise there were two) from Whitehall.
The first in order of date (6th Oct.) ran: 'Dear Carruthers.--Take
another week by all means.--Yours, etc.'
The second (marked 'urgent') had been sent to my home address and
forwarded. It was dated 15th October, and cancelled the previous
letter, requesting me to return to London without delay--'I am sorry
to abridge your holiday, but we are very busy, and, at present,
short-handed.--Yours, etc.' There was a dry postscript to the effect
that another time I was to be good enough to leave more regular and
definite information as to my whereabouts when absent.
'I'm afraid I never got this!' I said, handing it to Davies.
'You won't go, will you?' said he, looking, nevertheless, with
unconcealed awe at the great man's handwriting under the haughty
official crest. Meanwhile I discovered an endorsement on a corner of
the envelope: 'Don't worry; it's only the chief's fuss.--M--' I
promptly tore up the envelope. There are domestic mysteries which it
would be indecent and disloyal to reveal, even to one's best friend.
The rest of my letters need no remark; I smiled over some and blushed
over others--all were voices from a life which was infinitely far
away. Davies, meanwhile, was deep in the foreign intelligence of a
newspaper, spelling it out line by line, and referring impatiently to
me for the meaning of words.
'Hullo!' he said, suddenly; 'same old game! Hear that siren?' A
curtain of fog had grown on the northern horizon and was drawing
shorewards slowly but surely.
'It doesn't matter, does it?' I said.
'Well, we must get back to the yacht. We can't leave her alone in the
There was some marketing to be done on the way back, and in the
course of looking for the shops we wanted we came on the Schwannallée
and noted its position. Before we reached the harbour the fog was on
us, charging up the streets in dense masses. Happily a tramline led
right up to the pier-head, or we should have lost our way and wasted
time, which, in the event, was of priceless value. Presently we
stumbled up against the Harbour Office, which was our landmark for
the steps where we had tied up the dinghy. The same official appeared
and good-naturedly held the painter while we handed in our parcels.
He wanted to know why we had left the flesh-pots of the 'Vier
Jahreszeiten'. To look after our yacht, of course. There was no need,
he objected; there would be no traffic moving while the fog lasted,
and the fog, having come on at that hour, had come to stay. If it did
clear he would keep an eye on the yacht for us. We thanked him, but
thought we would go aboard.
'You'll have a job to find her now,' he said.
The distance was eighty yards at the most, but we had to use a
scientific method, the same one, in fact, that Davies had used last
night in the approach to the eastern pier.
'Row straight out at right angles to the pier,' he said now. I did
so, Davies sounding with his scull between the strokes. He found the
bottom after twenty yards, that being the width of the dredged-out
channel at this point. Then we turned to the right, and moved gently
forward, keeping touch with the edge of the mud-bank (for all the
world like blind men tapping along a kerbstone) and taking short
excursions from it, till the Dulcibella hove in view. 'That's partly
luck,' Davies .commented; 'we ought to have had the compass as well.'
We exchanged shouts with the man on the pier to show we had arrived.
'It's very good practice, that sort of thing,' said Davies, when we
'You've got a sixth sense,' I observed. 'How far could you go like
'Don't know. Let's have another try. I can't sit still all day. Let's
explore this channel.'
'Why not go to Memmert?'_ I said, in fun.
'To Memmert?' said Davies, slowly; 'by Jove! that's an idea!'
'Good Heavens, man! I was joking. Why, it's ten mortal miles.'
'More,' said Davies, absently. 'It's not so much the distance--what's
the time? Ten fifteen; quarter ebb--What am I talking about? We made
our plans last night.'
But seeing him, to my amazement, serious, I was stung by the
splendour of the idea I had awakened. Confidence in his skill was
second nature to me. I swept straight on to the logic of the thing,
the greatness, the completeness of the opportunity, if by a miracle
it could be seized and used. Something was going on at Memmert
to-day; our men had gone there; here were we, ten miles away, in a
smothering, blinding fog. It was known we were here--Dollmann and
Grimm knew it; the crew of the Medusa knew it; the crew of the
Kormoran knew it; the man on the pier, whether he cared or not, knew
it. But none of them knew Davies as I knew him. Would anyone dream
for an instant--?
'Stop a second,' said Davies; 'give me two minutes.' He whipped out
the German chart. 'Where exactly should we go?' ('Exactly!' The word
tickled me hugely.)
'To the depot, of course; it's our only chance.'
'Listen then--there are two routes: the outside one by the open sea,
right round Juist, and doubling south--the simplest, but the longest;
the depot's at the south point of Memmert, and Memmert's nearly two
miles long.' _[See Chart B]_
'How far would that way be?'
'Sixteen miles good. And we should have to row in a breaking swell
most of the way, close to land.'
'Out of the question; it's too public, too, if it clears. The steamer
went that way, and will come back that way. We must go inside over
the sands. Am I dreaming, though? Can you possibly find the way?'
'I shouldn't wonder. But I don't believe you see the hitch. It's the
_time_ and the falling tide. High water was about 8.15: it's now
10.15, and all those sands are drying off. We must cross the See-Gat
and strike that boomed channel, the Memmert Balje; strike it, freeze
on to it--can't cut off an inch--and pass that "watershed" you see
there before it's too late. It's an infernally bad one, I can see.
Not even a dinghy will cross it for an hour each side of low water.'
'Well, how far is the "watershed"?'
'Good Lord! What are we talking for? Change, man, change! Talk while
we're changing.' (He began flinging off his shore clothes, and I did
the same.) 'It's at least five miles to the end of it; six, allowing
for bends; hour and a half hard pulling; two, allowing for checks.
Are you fit? You'll have to pull the most. Then there are six or
seven more miles--easier ones. And then--What are we to do when we
'Leave that to me,' I said. 'You get me there.'
'Supposing it clears?'
'After we get there? Bad; but we must risk that. If it clears on the
way there it doesn't matter by this route; we shall be miles from
'What about getting back?'
'We shall have a rising tide, anyway. If the fog lasts--can you
manage in a fog _and_ dark?'
'The dark makes it no more difficult, if we've a light to see the
compass and chart by. You trim the binnacle lamp--no, the
riding-light. Now give me the scissors, and don't speak a word for
ten minutes. Meanwhile, think it out, and load the dinghy--(by Jove!
though, don't make a sound)--some grub and whisky, the boat-compass,
lead, riding-light, matches, _small_ boat-hook, grapnel and line.'
'Yes, and the whistle too.'
'We're after ducks.'
'All right. And muffle the rowlocks with cotton-waste.'
I left Davies absorbed in the charts, and softly went about my own
functions. In ten minutes he was on the ladder, beckoning.
'I've done,' he whispered. 'Now _shall_ we go?'
'I've thought it out. Yes,' I answered.
This was only roughly true, for I could not have stated in words all
the pros and cons that I had balanced. It was an impulse that drove
me forward; but an impulse founded on reason, with just a tinge,
perhaps, of superstition; for the quest had begun in a fog and might
fitly end in one.
It was twenty-five minutes to eleven when we noiselessly pushed off.
'Let her drift,' whispered Davies, 'the ebb'll carry her past the
We slid by the Dulcibella, and she disappeared. Then we sat without
speech or movement for about five minutes, while the gurgle of tide
through piles approached and passed. The dinghy appeared to be
motionless, just as a balloon in the clouds may appear to its
occupants to be motionless, though urged by a current of air. In
reality we were driving out of the Riff-Gat into the See-Gat. The
dinghy swayed to a light swell.
'Now, pull,' said Davies, under his breath; 'keep it long and steady,
above all steady--both arms with equal force.'
I was on the bow-thwart; he _vis-ŕ-vis_ to me on the stern seat, his
left hand behind him on the tiller, his right forefinger on a small
square of paper which lay on his knees; this was a section cut out
from the big German chart. _[See Chart B]_ On the midship-thwart
between us lay the compass and a watch. Between these three
objects--compass, watch, and chart--his eyes darted constantly, never
looking up or out, save occasionally for a sharp glance over the side
at the flying bubbles, to see if I was sustaining a regular speed. My
duty was to be his automaton, the human equivalent of a marine engine
whose revolutions can be counted and used as data by the navigator.
My arms must be regular as twin pistons; the energy that drove them
as controllable as steam. It was a hard ideal to reach, for the
complex mortal tends to rely on all the senses God has given him, so
unfitting himself for mechanical exactitude when a sense (eyesight,
in my case) fails him. At first it was constantly 'left' or 'right'
from Davies, accompanied by a bubbling from the rudder.
'This won't do, too much helm,' said Davies, without looking up.
'Keep your stroke, but listen to me. Can you see the compass card?'
'When I come forward.'
'Take your time, and don't get flurried, but each time you come
forward have a good look at it. The course is sou'-west half-west.
You take the opposite, north-east half-east, and keep her _stern_ on
that. It'll be rough, but it'll save some helm, and give me a hand
free if I want it.'
I did as he said, not without effort, and our progress gradually
became smoother, till he had no need to speak at all. The only sound
now was one like the gentle simmer of a saucepan away to port--the
lisp of surf I knew it to be--and the muffled grunt of the rowlocks.
I broke the silence once to say 'It's very shallow.' I had touched
sand with my right scull.
'Don't talk,' said Davies.
About half an hour passed, and then he added sounding to his other
occupations. 'Plump' went the lead at regular intervals, and he
steered with his hip while pulling in the line. Very little of it
went out at first, then less still. Again I struck bottom, and,
glancing aside, saw weeds. Suddenly he got a deep cast, and the
dinghy, freed from the slight drag which shallow water always
inflicts on a small boat, leapt buoyantly forward. At the same time,
I knew by boils on the smooth surface that we were in a strong
'The Buse Tief,' _[See Chart B]_ muttered Davies. 'Row hard now, and
steady as a clock.'
For a hundred yards or more I bent to my sculls and made her fly.
Davies was getting six fathom casts, till, just as suddenly as it had
deepened, the water shoaled--ten feet, six, three, one--the dinghy
'Good!' said Davies. 'Back her off! Pull your right only.' The dinghy
spun round with her bow to N.N.W. 'Both arms together! Don't you
worry about the compass now; just pull, and listen for orders.
There's a tricky bit coming.'
He put aside the chart, kicked the lead under the seat, and, kneeling
on the dripping coils of line, sounded continuously with the butt-end
of the boat-hook, a stumpy little implement, notched at intervals of