Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers

Part 5 out of 6

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.7 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

a foot, and often before used for the same purpose. All at once I was
aware that a check had come, for the dinghy swerved and doubled like
a hound ranging after scent.

'Stop her,' he said, suddenly, 'and throw out the grapnel.'

I obeyed and we brought up, swinging to a slight current, whose
direction Davies verified by the compass. Then for half a minute he
gave himself up to concentrated thought. What struck me most about
him was that he never for a moment strained his eyes through the fog;
a useless exercise (for five yards or so was the radius of our
vision) which, however, I could not help indulging in, while I
rested. He made up his mind, and we were off again, straight and
swift as an arrow this time. and in water deeper than the boat-hook.
I could see by his face that he was taking some bold expedient whose
issue hung in the balance ... Again we touched mud, and the artist's
joy of achievement shone in his eyes. Backing away, we headed west.
and for the first time he began to gaze into the fog.

'There's one!' he snapped at last. 'Easy all!'

A boom, one of the usual upright saplings, glided out of the mist. He
caught hold of it, and we brought up.

'Rest for three minutes now,' he said. 'We're in fairly good time.'

It was 11.10. I ate some biscuits and took a nip of whisky while
Davies prepared for the next stage.

We had reached the eastern outlet of Memmert Balje, the channel which
runs east and west behind Juist Island, direct to the south point of
Memmert. How we had reached it was incomprehensible to me at the
time, but the reader will understand by comparing my narrative with
the dotted line on the chart. I add this brief explanation, that
Davies's method had been to cross the channel called the Buse Tief,
and strike the other side of it at a point well _south_ of the outlet
of the Memmert Balje (in view of the northward set of the ebb-tide),
and then to drop back north and feel his way to the outlet. The check
was caused by a deep indentation in the Itzendorf Flat; a
_cul-de-sac,_ with a wide mouth, which Davies was very near mistaking
for the Balje itself. We had no time to skirt dents so deep as that;
hence the dash across its mouth with the chance of missing the upper
lip altogether, and of either being carried out to sea (for the
slightest error was cumulative) or straying fruitlessly along the

The next three miles were the most critical of all. They included the
'watershed', whose length and depth were doubtful; they included,
too, the crux of the whole passage, a spot where the channel forks,
our own branch continuing west, and another branch diverging from it
north-westward. We must row against time, and yet we must negotiate
that crux. Add to this that the current was against us till the
watershed was crossed; that the tide was just at its most baffling
stage, too low to allow us to risk short cuts, and too high to give
definition to the banks of the channel; and that the compass was no
aid whatever for the minor bends. 'Time's up,' said Davies, and on we
went. I was hugging the comfortable thought that we should now have
booms on our starboard for the whole distance; on our starboard, I
say, for experience had taught us that all channels running parallel
with the coast and islands were uniformly boomed on the northern
side. Anyone less confident than Davies would have succumbed to the
temptation of slavishly relying on these marks, creeping from one to
the other, and wasting precious time. But Davies knew our friend the
'boom' and his eccentricities too well; and preferred to trust to his
sense of touch, which no fog in the world could impair. If we
happened to sight one, well and good, we should know which side of
the channel we were on. But even this contingent advantage he
deliberately sacrificed after a short distance, for he crossed over
to the _south_ or unboomed side and steered and sounded along it,
using the ltzendorf Flat as his handrail, so to speak. He was
compelled to do this, he told me afterwards, in view of the crux,
where the converging lines of booms would have involved us in
irremediable confusion. Our branch was the southern one, and it
followed that we must use the southern bank, and defer obtaining any
help from booms until sure we were past that critical spot.

For an hour we were at the extreme strain, I of physical exertion, he
of mental. I could not get into a steady swing, for little checks
were constant. My right scull was for ever skidding on mud or weeds,
and the backward suck of shoal water clogged our progress. Once we
were both of us out in the slime tugging at the dinghy's sides; then
in again, blundering on. I found the fog bemusing, lost all idea of
time and space, and felt like a senseless marionette kicking and
jerking to a mad music without tune or time. The misty form of Davies
as he sat with his right arm swinging rhythmically forward and back,
was a clockwork figure as mad as myself, but didactic and gibbering
in his madness. Then the boat-hook he wielded with a circular sweep
began to take grotesque shapes in my heated fancy; now it was the
antenna of a groping insect, now the crank of a cripple's
selfpropelled perambulator, now the alpenstock of a lunatic
mountaineer, who sits in his chair and climbs and climbs to some
phantom 'watershed'. At the back of such mind as was left me lodged
two insistent thoughts: 'we must hurry on,' 'we are going wrong.' As
to the latter, take a link-boy through a London fog and you will
experience the same thing: he always goes the way you think is wrong.
'We're rowing _back_!' I remember shouting to Davies once, having
become aware that it was now my left scull which splashed against
obstructions. 'Rubbish,' said Davies. 'I've crossed over'; and I

By degrees I returned to sanity, thanks to improved conditions. It is
an ill wind that blows nobody good, and the state of the tide, though
it threatened us with total failure, had the compensating advantage
that the lower it fell the more constricted and defined became our
channel; till the time came when the compass and boat-hook were alike
unnecessary, because our hand-rail, the muddy brink of the channel,
was visible to the eye, close to us; on our right hand always now,
for the crux was far behind, and the northern side was now our guide.
All that remained was to press on with might and main ere the bed of
the creek dried.

What a race it was! Homeric, in effect; a struggle of men with gods,
for what were the gods but forces of nature personified'? If the God
of the Falling Tide did not figure in the Olympian circle he is none
the less a mighty divinity. Davies left his post. and rowed stroke.
Under our united efforts the dinghy advanced in strenuous leaps,
hurling miniature-rollers on the bank beside us. My palms, seasoned
as they were, were smarting with watery blisters. The pace was too
hot for my strength and breath.

'I must have a rest,' I gasped.

'Well, I think we're over it,' said Davies.

We stopped the dinghy dead, and he stabbed over the side with the
boat-hook. It passed gently astern of us, and even my bewildered
brain took in the meaning of that.

'Three feet and the current with us. _Well_ over it,' he said. 'I'll
paddle on while you rest and feed.'

It was a few minutes past one and we still, as he calculated. had
eight miles before us, allowing for bends.

'But it's a mere question of muscle,' he said.

I took his word for it, and munched at tongue and biscuits. As for
muscle, we were both in hard condition. He was fresh, and what
distress I felt was mainly due to spasmodic exertion culminating in
that desperate spurt. As for the fog. it had more than once shown a
faint tendency to lift, growing thinner and more luminous, in the
manner of fogs, always to settle down again, heavy as a quilt.

Note the spot marked 'second rest' (approximately correct. Davies
says) and the course of the channel from that point westward. You
will see it broadening and deepening to the dimensions of a great
river, and finally merging in the estuary of the Ems. Note, too, that
its northern boundary, the edge of the now uncovered Nordland Sand,
leads, with one interruption _(marked A),_ direct to Memmert, and is
boomed throughout. You will then understand why Davies made so light
of the rest of his problem. Compared with the feats he had performed,
it was child's play, for he always had that visible margin to keep
touch with if he chose, or to return to in case of doubt. As a matter
of fact--observe our dotted line--he made two daring departures from
it, the first purely to save time, the second partly to save time and
partly to avoid the very awkward spot marked A, where a creek with
booms and a little delta of its own interrupts the even bank. During
the first of these departures--the shortest but most brilliant--he
let me do the rowing, and devoted himself to the niceties of the
course; during the second, and through both the intermediate stages,
he rowed himself, with occasional pauses to inspect the chart. We
fell into a long, measured stroke, and covered the miles rapidly,
scarcely exchanging a single word till, at the end of a long pull
through vacancy, Davies said suddenly;

'Now where are we to land?'

A sandbank was looming over us crowned by a lonely boom.

'Where are we?'

'A quarter of a mile from Memmert.'

'What time is it?'

'Nearly three.'

22 The Quartette

HIS _tour de force_ was achieved, and for the moment something like
collapse set in.

'What in the world have we come here for?' he muttered; 'I feel a bit

I made him drink some whisky, which revived him; and then, speaking
in whispers, we settled certain points.

I alone was to land. Davies demurred to this out of loyalty, hut
common sense, coinciding with a strong aversion of his own, settled
the matter. Two were more liable to detection than one. I spoke the
language well, and if challenged could cover my retreat with a gruff
word or two; in my woollen overalls, sea-boots, oilskin coat, with a
sou'-wester pulled well over my eyes, I should pass in a fog for a
Frisian. Davies must mind the dinghy; but how was I to regain it? I
hoped to do so without help, by using the edge of the sand; but if he
heard a long whistle he was to blow the foghorn.

'Take the pocket-compass,' he said. 'Never budge from the shore
without using it, and lay it on the ground for steadiness. Take this
scrap of chart, too--it may come in useful; but you can t miss the
depot, it looks to be close to the shore. How long will you be'?'

'How long have I got'?'

'The young flood's making--has been for nearly an hour--that bank (he
measured it with his eye) will be covering in an hour and a half.'

'That ought to be enough.'

'Don't run it too fine. It's steep here, but it may shelve farther
on. If you have to wade you'll never find me, and you'll make a deuce
of a row. Got your watch, matches, knife? No knife? Take mine; never
go anywhere without a knife.' (It was his seaman's idea of

'Wait a bit, we must settle a place to meet at in case I'm late and
can't reach you here.'


'Don't_ be late. We've got to get back to the yacht before we're

'But I may have to hide and wait till dark--the fog may clear.'

'We were fools to come, I believe,' said Davies, gloomily. 'There
_are_ no meeting-places in a place like this. Here's the best I can
see on the chart--a big triangular beacon marked on the very point of
Memmert. You'll pass it.'

'All right. I'm off.'

'Good luck,' said Davies, faintly.

I stepped out, climbed a miry glacis of five or six feet, reached
hard wet sand, and strode away with the sluggish ripple of the Balje
on my left hand. A curtain dropped between me and Davies, and I was
alone--alone, but how I thrilled to feel the firm sand rustle under
my boots; to know that it led to dry land, where, whatever befell, I
could give my wits full play. I clove the fog briskly.

Good Heavens! what was that? I stopped short and listened. From over
the water on my left there rang out, dulled by fog, but distinct to
the ear, three double strokes on a bell or gong. I looked at my

'Ship at anchor,' I said to myself. 'Six bells in the afternoon
watch.' I knew the Balje was here a deep roadstead, where a vessel
entering the Eastern Ems might very well anchor to ride out a fog.

I was just stepping forward when another sound followed from the same
quarter, a bugle-call this time. Then I understood--only men-of-war
sound bugles--the Blitz was here then; and very natural, too, I
thought, and strode on. The sand was growing drier, the water farther
beneath me; then came a thin black ribbon of weed--high-water mark. A
few cautious steps to the right and I touched tufts of marram grass.
It was Memmert. I pulled out the chart and refreshed my memory. No!
there could be no mistake; keep the sea on my left and I must go
right. I followed the ribbon of weed, keeping it just in view, but
walking on the verge of the grass for the sake of silence. All at
once I almost tripped over a massive iron bar; others, a rusty
network of them, grew into being above and around me, like the arms
of a ghostly polyp.

'What infernal spider's web is this?' I thought, and stumbled clear.
I had strayed into the base of a gigantic tripod, its gaunt legs
stayed and cross-stayed, its apex lost in fog; the beacon, I
remembered. A hundred yards farther and I was down on my knees again,
listening with might and main; for several little sounds were in the
air--voices, the rasp of a boat's keel, the whistling of a tune.
These were straight ahead. More to the left. seaward, that is, I had
aural evidence of the presence of a steamboat--a small one, for the
hiss of escaping steam was low down. On my right front I as yet heard
nothing, but the depot must be there.

I prepared to strike away from my base, and laid the compass on the
ground--NW. roughly I made the course. ('South-east--south-east for
coming back,' I repeated inwardly, like a child learning a lesson.)
Then of my two allies I abandoned one, the beach, and threw myself
wholly on the fog.

'Play the game,' I said to myself. 'Nobody expects you; nobody will
recognize you.'

I advanced in rapid stages of ten yards or so, while grass
disappeared and soft sand took its place, pitted everywhere with
footmarks. I trod carefully, for obstructions began to show
themselves--an anchor, a heap of rusty cable; then a boat bottom
upwards, and, lying on it, a foul old meerschaum pipe. I paused here
and strained my ears, for there were sounds in many directions; the
same whistling (behind me now), heavy footsteps in front, and
somewhere beyond--fifty yards away, I reckoned--a buzz of guttural
conversation; from the same quarter there drifted to my nostrils the
acrid odour of coarse tobacco. Then a door banged.

I put the compass in my pocket (thinking 'south-east, southeast'),
placed the pipe between my teeth (ugh! the rank savour of it!) rammed
my sou'-wester hard down, and slouched on in the direction of the
door that had banged. A voice in front called, 'Karl Schicker'; a
nearer voice, that of the man whose footsteps I had heard
approaching, took it up and called 'Karl Schicker': I, too, took it
up, and, turning my back, called 'Karl Schicker' as gruffly and
gutturally as I could. The footsteps passed quite close to me, and
glancing over my shoulder I saw a young man passing, dressed very
like me, but wearing a sealskin cap instead of a sou'-wester. As he
walked he seemed to be counting coins in his palm. A hail came back
from the beach and the whistling stopped.

I now became aware that I was on a beaten track. These meetings were
hazardous, so I inclined aside, but not without misgivings, for the
path led towards the buzz of talk and the banging door, and these
were my only guides to the depot. Suddenly, and much before I
expected it, I knew rather than saw that a wall was in front of me;
now it was visible, the side of a low building of corrugated iron. A
pause to reconnoitre was absolutely necessary; but the knot of
talkers might have heard my footsteps, and I must at all costs not
suggest the groping of a stranger. I lit a match--two--and sucked
heavily (as I had seen navvies do) at my pipe, studying the trend of
the wall by reference to the sounds. There was a stale dottle wedged
in the bowl, and loathsome fumes resulted. Just then the same door
banged again; another name, which I forget, was called out. I decided
that I was at the end of a rectangular building which I pictured as
like an Aldershot 'hut', and that the door I heard was round the
corner to my left. A knot of men must be gathered there, entering it
by turns. Having expectorated noisily, 1 followed the tin wall to my
_right,_ and turning a corner strolled leisurely on, passing signs of
domesticity, a washtub, a water-butt, then a tiled approach to an
open door. I now was aware of the corner of a second building, also
of zinc, parallel to the first, but taller, for I could only just see
the eave. I was just going to turn off to this as a more promising
field for exploration, when I heard a window open ahead of me in my
original building.

I am afraid I am getting obscure, so I append a rough sketch of the
scene, as I partly saw and chiefly imagined it. It was window (A)
that I heard open. From it I could just distinguish through the fog a
hand protrude, and throw something out--cigar-end? The hand, a clean
one with a gold signet-ring, rested for an instant afterwards on the
sash, and then closed the window.

{graphic Sketch here}

My geography was clear now in one respect. That window belonged to
the same room as the hanging door (B); for I distinctly heard the
latter open and shut again, opposite me on the other side of the
building. It struck me that it might be interesting to see into that
room. 'Play the game,' I reminded myself, and retreated a few yards
back on tiptoe, then turned and sauntered coolly past the window,
puffing my villainous pipe and taking a long deliberate look into the
interior as I passed-- the more deliberate that at the first instant
I realized that nobody inside was disturbing himself about me. As I
had expected (in view of the fog and the time) there was artificial
light within. My mental photograph was as follows: a small room with
varnished deal walls and furnished like an office; in the far
right-hand corner a counting-house desk, Grimm sitting at it on a
high stool, side-face to me, counting money; opposite him in an
awkward attitude a burly fellow in seaman's dress holding a diver's
helmet. In the middle of the room a deal table, and on it something
big and black. Lolling on chairs near it, their backs to me and their
faces turned towards the desk and the diver, two men--von Brüning and
an older man with a bald yellow head (Dollmann's companion on the
steamer, beyond a doubt). On another chair, with its back actually
tilted against the window, Dollmann.

Such were the principal features of the scene; for details I had to
make another inspection. Stooping low, I crept back, quiet as a cat,
till I was beneath the window, and, as I calculated, directly behind
Dollmann's chair. Then with great caution I raised my head. There was
only one pair of eyes in the room that I feared in the least, and
that was Grimm's, who sat in profile to me, farthest away. I
instantly put Dollmann's back between Grimm and me, and then made my
scrutiny. As I made it, I could feel a cold sweat distilling on my
forehead and tickling my spine; not from fear or excitement, but from
pure ignominy. For beyond all doubt I was present at the meeting of a
_bona-fide_ salvage company. It was pay-day, and the directors
appeared to be taking stock of work done; that was all.

Over the door was an old engraving of a two-decker under full sail;
pinned on the wall a chart and the plan of a ship. Relics of the
wrecked frigate abounded. On a shelf above the stove was a small
pyramid of encrusted cannon-balls, and supported on nails at odd
places on the walls were corroded old pistols, and what I took to be
the remains of a sextant. In a corner of the floor sat a hoary little
carronade, carriage and all. None of these things affected me so much
as a pile of lumber on the floor, not firewood but unmistakable
wreck-wood, black as bog-oak, still caked in places with the mud of
ages. Nor was it the mere sight of this lumber that dumbfounded me.
It was the fact that a fragment of it, a balk of curved timber
garnished with some massive bolts, lay on the table, and was
evidently an object of earnest interest. The diver had turned and was
arguing with gestures over it; von Brüning and Grimm were pressing
another view. The diver shook his head frequently, finally shrugged
his shoulders, made a salutation, and left the room. Their movements
had kept me ducking my head pretty frequently, but I now grew almost
reckless as to whether I was seen or not. All the weaknesses of my
theory crowded on me--the arguments Davies had used at Bensersiel;
Fräulein Dollmann's thoughtless talk; the ease (comparatively) with
which I had reached this spot, not a barrier to cross or a lock to
force; the publicity of their passage to Memmert by Dollmann, his
friend, and Grimm; and now this glimpse of business-like routine. In
a few moments I sank from depth to depth of scepticism. Where were my
mines, torpedoes, and submarine boats, and where my imperial
conspirators? Was gold after all at the bottom of this sordid
mystery? Dollmann after all a commonplace criminal? The ladder of
proof 1 had mounted tottered and shook beneath me. 'Don't be a fool,'
said the faint voice of reason. 'There are your four men. Wait.'

Two more _employés_ came into the room in quick succession and
received wages; one looking like a fireman, the other of a superior
type, the skipper of a tug, say. There was another discussion with
this latter over the balk of wreck-wood, and this man, too, shrugged
his shoulders. His departure appeared to end the meeting. Grimm shut
up a ledger, and I shrank down on my knees, for a general shifting of
chairs began. At the same time, from the other side of the building,
I heard my knot of men retreating beachwards, spitting and chatting
as they went. Presently someone walked across the room towards my
window. I sidled away on all fours, rose and flattened myself erect
against the wall, a sickening despondency on me; my intention to
slink away south-east as soon as the coast was clear. But the sound
that came next pricked me like an electric shock; it was the tinkle
and scrape of curtain-rings.

Quick as thought I was back in my old position, to find my view
barred by a cretonne curtain. It was in one piece, with no chink for
my benefit, but it did not hang straight, bulging towards me under
the pressure of something--human shoulders by the shape. Dollmann, I
concluded, was still in his old place. I now was exasperated to find
that I could scarcely hear a word that was said, not even by pressing
my ear against the glass. It was not that the speakers were of set
purpose hushing their voices--they used an ordinary tone for intimate
discussion--but the glass and curtain deadened the actual words.
Still, I was soon able to distinguish general characteristics. Von
Brüning's voice--the only one I had ever heard before--I recognized
at once: he was on the left of the table, and Dollmann's I knew from
his position. The third was a harsh croak, belonging to the old
gentleman whom, for convenience, I shall prematurely begin to call
Herr Böhme. It was too old a voice to be Grimm's; besides, it had the
ring of authority, and was dealing at the moment in sharp
interrogations. Three of its sentences I caught in their entirety.
'When was that?' 'They went no farther?' and 'Too long; out of the
question.' Dollmann's voice, though nearest to me, was the least
audible of all. It was a dogged monotone, and what was that odd
movement of the curtain at his back? Yes, his hands were behind him
clutching and kneading a fold of the cretonne. 'You are feeling
uncomfortable, my friend,' was my comment. Suddenly he threw back his
head--I saw the dent of it--and spoke up so that I could not miss a
word. 'Very well, sir, you shall see them at supper to-night; I will
ask them both.'

(You will not be surprised to learn that I instantly looked at my
watch--though it takes long to write what I have described--but the
time was only a quarter to four.) He added something about the fog,
and his chair creaked. Ducking promptly I heard the curtain-rings
jar, and: 'Thick as ever.'

'Your report, Herr Dollmann,' said Böhme, curtly. Dollmann left the
window and moved his chair up to the table; the other two drew in
theirs and settled themselves.


'Chatham,'_ said Dollmann, as if announcing a heading. It was an easy
word to catch, rapped out sharp, and you can imagine how it startled
me. 'That's where you've been for the last month!' I said to myself.
A map crackled and I knew they were bending over it, while Dollmann
explained something. But now my exasperation became acute, for not a
syllable more reached me. Squatting back on my heels, I cast about
for expedients. Should I steal round and try the door? Too dangerous.
Climb to the roof and listen down the stove-pipe? Too noisy, and
generally hopeless. I tried for a downward purchase on the upper half
of the window, which was of the simple sort in two sections, working
vertically. No use; it resisted gentle pressure, would start with a
sudden jar if I forced it. I pulled out Davies's knife and worked the
point of the blade between sash and frame to give it play--no result;
but the knife was a nautical one, with a marlin-spike as well as a
big blade.

Just now the door within opened and shut again, and I heard steps
approaching round the corner to my right. I had the presence of mind
not to lose a moment, but moved silently away (blessing the deep
Frisian sand) round the corner of the big parallel building. Someone
whom I could not see walked past till his boots clattered on tiles,
next resounded on boards. 'Grimm in his living-room,' I inferred. The
precious minutes ebbed away--five, ten, fifteen. Had he gone for
good? I dared not return otherwise. Eighteen--he was coming out! This
time I stole forward boldly when the man had just passed, dimly saw a
figure, and clearly enough the glint of a white paper he was holding.
He made his circuit and re-entered the room.

Here I felt and conquered a relapse to scepticism. 'If this is an
important conclave why don't they set guards?' Answer, the only
possible one, 'Because they stand alone. Their _employés,_ like
_everyone_ we had met hitherto, know nothing. The real object of this
salvage company (a poor speculation, I opined) is solely to afford a
pretext for the conclave.' 'Why the curtain, even?' 'Because there
are maps, stupid!'

I was back again at the window, but as impotent as ever against that
even stream of low confidential talk. But I would not give up. Fate
and the fog had brought me here, the one solitary soul perhaps who by
the chain of circumstances had both the will and the opportunity to
wrest their secret from these four men.

The marlin-spike! Where the lower half of the window met the sill it
sank into a shallow groove. I thrust the point of the spike down into
the interstice between sash and frame and heaved with a slowly
increasing force, which I could regulate to the fraction of an ounce,
on this powerful lever. The sash gave, with the faintest possible
protest, and by imperceptible degrees I lifted it to the top of the
groove, and the least bit above it, say half an inch in all; but it
made an appreciable difference to the sounds within, as when you
remove your foot from a piano's soft pedal. I could do no more, for
there was no further fulcrum for the spike, and I dared not gamble
away what I had won by using my hands.

Hope sank again when I placed my cheek on the damp sill, and my ear
to the chink. My men were close round the table referring to papers
which I heard rustle. Dollmann's 'report' was evidently over, and I
rarely heard his voice; Grimm's occasionally, von Brüning's and
Böhme's frequently; but, as before, it was the latter only that I
could ever count on for an intelligible word. For, unfortunately, the
villains of the piece plotted without any regard to dramatic fitness
or to my interests. Immersed in a subject with which they were all
familiar, they were allusive, elliptic, and persistently technical.
Many of the words I did catch were unknown to me. The rest were, for
the most part, either letters of the alphabet or statistical figures,
of depth, distance, and, once or twice, of time. The letters of the
alphabet recurred often, and seemed, as far as I could make out, to
represent the key to the cipher. The numbers clustering round them
were mostly very small, with decimals. What maddened me most was the
scarcity of plain nouns.

To report what I heard to the reader would be impossible; so chaotic
was most of it that it left no impression on my own memory. All I can
do is to tell him what fragments stuck, and what nebulous
classification I involved. The letters ran from A to G, and my best
continuous chance came when Böhme, reading rapidly from a paper, I
think, went through the letters, backwards, from G, adding remarks to
each; thus: 'G. . . completed.' 'F.. . bad. . . 1.3 (metres?).. .2.5
(kilometres?).' 'E . . . thirty-two. .. 1.2.' 'D. . . 3 weeks...
thirty.' 'C.. .'and soon.

Another time he went through this list again, only naming each letter
himself, and receiving laconic answers from Grimm--answers which
seemed to be numbers, but I could not be sure. For minutes together I
caught nothing but the scratching of pens and inarticulate
mutterings. But out of the muck-heap I picked five pearls--four
sibilant nouns and a name that I knew before. The nouns were
'Schlepp-boote' (tugs); 'Wassertiefe' (depth of water); 'Eisenbahn'
(railway); ' (pilots). The name, also sibilant and thus easier to
hear, was 'Esens'.

Two or three times I had to stand back and ease my cramped neck, and
on each occasion I looked at my watch, for I was listening against
time, just as we had rowed against time. We were going to be asked to
supper, and must be back aboard the yacht in time to receive the
invitation. The fog still brooded heavily and the light, always bad,
was growing worse. How would _they_ get back? How had they come from
Juist? Could we forestall them? Questions of time, tide,
distance--just the odious sort of sums I was unfit to cope with--were
distracting my attention when it should have been wholly elsewhere.
4.20--4.25--now it was past 4.30 when Davies said the bank would
cover. I should have to make for the beacon; but it was fatally near
that steamboat path, etc., and I still at intervals heard voices from
there. It must have been about 4.35 when there was another shifting
of chairs within. Then someone rose, collected papers, and went out;
someone else, _without_ rising (therefore Grimm), followed him.

There was silence in the room for a minute, and after that, for the
first time, I heard some plain colloquial German, with no
accompaniment of scratching or rustling. 'I must wait for this,' I
thought, and waited.

'He insists on coming,' said Böhme.

'Ach!' (an ejaculation of surprise and protest from von Brüning).

'I said the _25th_.'


'The tide serves well. The night-train, of course. Tell Grimm to be
ready--' (An inaudible question from von Brüning.) 'No, any weather.'
A laugh from von Brüning and some words I could not catch.

'Only one, with half a load.'

'. . .meet?'

'At the station.'

'So--how's the fog?'

This appeared to be really the end. Both men rose and steps came
towards the window. I leapt aside as I heard it thrown up, and
covered by the noise backed into safety. Von Brüning called 'Grimm!'
and that, and the open window, decided me that my line of advance was
now too dangerous to retreat by. The only alternative was to make a
circuit round the bigger of the two buildings--and an interminable
circuit it seemed--and all the while I knew my compass-course
'south-east' was growing nugatory. I passed a padlocked door, two
corners, and faced the void of fog. Out came the compass, and I
steadied myself for the sum. 'South-east before--I'm farther to the
eastward now--east will about do'; and off I went, with an error of
four whole points, over tussocks and deep sand. The beach seemed much
farther off than I had thought, and I began to get alarmed, puzzled
over the compass several times, and finally realized that I had lost
my way. I had the sense not to make matters worse by trying to find
it again, and, as the lesser of two evils, blew my whistle, softly at
first, then louder. The bray of a foghorn sounded right _behind_ me.
I whistled again and then ran for my life, the horn sounding at
intervals. In three or four minutes I was on the beach and in the

23 A Change of Tactics

WE pushed off without a word, and paddled out of sight of the beach.
A voice was approaching, hailing us. 'Hail back,' whispered Davies;
'pretend we're a galliot.'

'Ho-a,' I shouted. 'where am I?'

'Off Memmert,' came back. 'Where are you bound?'

'Delfzyl,' whispered Davies.

'Delf-zyl,' I bawled.

A sentence ending with 'anchor' was returned.

'The flood's tearing east,' whispered Davies; 'sit still.'

We heard no more, and, after a few minutes' drifting 'What luck?'
said Davies.

'One or two clues, and an invitation to supper.'

The clues I left till later; the invitation was the thing, and I
explained its urgency.

'How will _they_ get back?' said Davies; 'if the fog lasts the
steamer's sure to be late.'

'We can count for nothing,' I answered. 'There was some little
steamboat off the depot, and the fog may lift. Which is our quickest

'At this tide, a bee-line to Norderney by compass; we shall have
water over all the banks.'

He had all his preparations made, the lamp lit in advance, the
compass in position, and we started at once; he at the bow-oar, where
he had better control over the boat's nose; lamp and compass on the
floor between us. Twilight thickened into darkness--a choking, pasty
darkness--and still we sped unfalteringly over that trackless waste,
sitting and swinging in our little pool of stifled orange light. To
drown fatigue and suspense I conned over my clues, and tried to carve
into my memory every fugitive word I had overheard.

'What are there seven of round here?' I called back to Davies once
(thinking of A to G). 'Sorry,' I added, for no answer came.

'I see a star,' was my next word, after a long interval. 'Now it's
gone. There it is again! Right aft!'

'That's Borkum light,' said Davies, presently; 'the fog's lifting.' A
keen wind from the west struck our faces, and as swiftly as it had
come the fog rolled away from us, in one mighty mass, stripping clean
and pure the starry dome of heaven, still bright with the western
after-glow, and beginning to redden in the east to the rising moon.
Norderney light was flashing ahead, and Davies could take his tired
eyes from the pool of light.

'Damn!' was all he uttered in the way of gratitude for this mercy,
and I felt very much the same; for in a fog Davies in a dinghy was a
match for a steamer; in a clear he lost his handicap.

It was a quarter to seven. 'An hour'll do it, if we buck up,' he
pronounced, after taking a rough bearing with the two lights. He
pointed out a star to me, which we were to keep exactly astern, and
again I applied to their labour my aching back and smarting palms.

'What did you say about seven of something?' said Davies.

'What are there seven of hereabouts?'

'Islands, of course,' said Davies. 'Is that the clue?'


Then followed the most singular of all our confabulations. Two
memories are better than one, and the sooner I carved the cipher into
his memory as well as mine the better record we should have. So, with
rigid economy of breath, I snapped out all my story, and answered his
breathless questions. It saved me from being mesmerized by the star,
and both of us from the consciousness of over-fatigue.

'Spying at Chatham, the blackguard?' he hissed.

'What do you make of it?' I asked.

'Nothing about battleships, mines, forts?' he said.


'Nothing about the Ems, Emden, Wilhelmshaven?'


'Nothing about transports?'


'I believe--I was right--after all--something to do--with the
channels--behind islands.'

And so that outworn creed took a new lease of life; though for my
part the words that clashed with it were those that had sunk the

'Esens,' I protested; 'that town behind Bensersiel.'

'Wassertiefe, Lotsen, Schleppboote,' spluttered Davies.

'Kilometre--Eisenbahn,' from me, and so on.

I should earn the just execration of the reader if I continued to
report such a dialogue. Suffice to say that we realized very soon
that the substance of the plot was still a riddle. On the other hand,
there was fresh scent, abundance of it; and the question was already
taking shape--were we to follow it up or revert to last night's
decision and strike with what weapons we had? It was a pressing
question, too, the last of many--was there to be no end to the
emergencies of this crowded day?--pressing for reasons I could not
define, while convinced that we must be ready with an answer by
supper-time to-night.

Meantime, we were nearing Norderney; the See-Gat was crossed, and
with the last of the flood tide fair beneath us, and the red light on
the west pier burning ahead, we began insensibly to relax our
efforts. But I dared not rest, for I was at that point of exhaustion
when mechanical movement was my only hope.

'Light astern,' I said, thickly. 'Two--white and red.'

'Steamer,' said Davies; 'going south though.'

'Three now.'

A neat triangle of gems--topaz, ruby, and emerald--hung steady behind

'Turned east,' said Davies. 'Buck up--steamer from Juist. No, by
Jove! too small. What is it?'

On we laboured, while the gems waxed in brilliancy as the steamer
overhauled us.

'Easy,' said Davies, 'I seem to know those lights--the Blitz's
launch--don't let's be caught rowing like madmen in a muck sweat.
Paddle inshore a bit.' He was right, and, as in a dream, I saw
hurrying and palpitating up the same little pinnace that had towed us
out of Bensersiel.

'We're done for now,' I remember thinking, for the guilt of the
runaway was strong in me; and an old remark of von Brüning's about
'police' was in my ears. But she was level with and past us before I
could sink far into despair.

'Three of them behind the hood,' said Davies: 'what are we to do?'

'Follow,' I answered, and essayed a feeble stroke, but the blade
scuttered over the surface.

'Let's waif about for a bit,' said Davies. 'We're late anyhow. If
they go to the yacht they'll think we're ashore.'

'Our shore clothes--lying about.'

'Are you up to talking?'

'No; but we must. The least suspicion'll do for us now.'

'Give me your scull, old chap, and put on your coat.'

He extinguished the lantern, lit a pipe, and then rowed slowly on,
while I sat on a slack heap in the stern and devoted my last
resources of will to the emancipation of the spirit from the tired

In ten minutes or so we were rounding the pier, and there was the
yacht's top-mast against the sky. I saw, too, that the launch was
alongside of her, and told Davies so. Then I lit a cigarette, and
made a lamentable effort to whistle. Davies followed suit, and
emitted a strange melody which I took to be 'Home, Sweet Home,' but
he has not the slightest ear for music.

'Why, they're on board, I believe,' said I; 'the cabin's lighted.
Ahoy there!' I shouted as we came up. 'Who's that?'

'Good evening, sir,' said a sailor, who was fending off the yacht
with a boat-hook. 'It's Commander von Brüning's launch. I think the
gentlemen want to see you.'

Before we could answer, an exclamation of: 'Why, here they are!' came
from the deck of the Dulcibella, and the dim form of von Brüning him
self emerged from the companion-way. There was something of a scuffle
down below, which the commander nearly succeeded in drowning by the
breeziness of his greeting. Meanwhile, the ladder creaked under fresh
weight, and Dollmann appeared.

'Is that you, Herr Davies?' he said.

'Hullo! Herr Dollmann,' said Davies; 'how are you?'

I must explain that we had floated up between the yacht and the
launch, whose sailors had passed her a little aside in order to give
us room. Her starboard side-light was just behind and above us,
pouring its green rays obliquely over the deck of the Dulcibella.
while we and the dinghy were in deep shadow between. The most studied
calculation could not have secured us more favourable conditions for
a moment which I had always dreaded--the meeting of Davies and
Dollmann. The former, having shortened his sculls, just sat where he
was, half turned towards the yacht and looking up at his enemy. No
lineament of his own face could have been visible to the latter,
while those pitiless green rays--you know their ravaging effect on
the human physiognomy--struck full on Dollmann's face. It was my
first fair view of it at close quarters, and, secure in my background
of gloom, I feasted with a luxury of superstitious abhorrence on the
livid smiling mask that for a few moments stooped peering down
towards Davies. One of the caprices of the crude light was to
obliterate, or at any rate so penetrate, beard and moustache, as to
reveal in outline lips and chin, the features in which defects of
character are most surely betrayed, especially when your victim
smiles. Accuse me, if you will, of stooping to melodramatic
embroidery; object that my own prejudiced fancy contributed to the
result; but I can, nevertheless, never efface the impression of
malignant perfidy amid base passion, exaggerated to caricature, that
I received in those few instants. Another caprice of the light was to
identify the man with the portrait of him when younger and
clean-shaven, in the frontispiece of his own book; and another still,
the most repulsively whimsical of all, was to call forth a strong
resemblance to the sweet young girl who had been with us yesterday.

Enough! I shall never offend again in this way. In reality I am much
more inclined to laugh than shudder over this meeting; for meanwhile
the third of our self-invited guests had with stertorous puffing
risen to the stage, for all the world like a demon out of a
trap-door, specially when he entered the zone of that unearthly
light. And there they stood in a row, like delinquents at judgement,
while we, the true culprits, had only passively to accept
explanations. Of course these were plausible enough. Dollmann having
seen the yacht in port that morning had called on his return from
Memmert to ask us to supper. Finding no one aboard, and concluding we
were ashore, he had meant to leave a note for Davies in the cabin.
His friend, Herr Böhme, _'the distinguished engineer',_ was anxious
to see over the little vessel that had come so far, and he knew that
Davies would not mind the intrusion. Not at all, said Davies; would
not they stop and have drinks? No, but would we come to supper at
Dollmann's villa? With pleasure, said Davies, but we had to change
first. Up to this point we had been masters of the situation; but
here von Brüning, who alone of the three appeared to be entirely at
his ease, made the _retour offensif_.

'Where have you been?' he asked.

'Oh, rowing about since the fog cleared,' said Davies.

I suppose he thought that evasion would pass muster, but as he spoke,
I noticed to my horror that a stray beam of light was playing on the
bunch of white cotton-waste that adorned one of the rowlocks: for we
had forgotten to remove these tell-tale appendages. So I added:
'After ducks again'; and, lifting one of the guns, let the light
flash on its barrel. To my own ears my voice sounded husky and

'Always ducks,' laughed von Brüning. 'No luck, I suppose?'

'No,' said Davies; 'but it ought to be a good time after sunset--'

'What, with a rising tide and the banks covered?'

'We saw some,' said Davies, sullenly.

'I tell you what, my zealous young sportsmen, you're rash to leave
your boat at anchor here after dark without a light. I came aboard to
find your lamp and set it.'

'Oh, thanks,' said Davies; 'we took it with us.'

'To see to shoot by?'

We laughed uncomfortably, and Davies compassed a wonderful German
phrase to the effect that 'it might come in useful'. Happily the
matter went no farther, for the position was a strained one at the
best, and would not bear lengthening. The launch went alongside, and
the invaders evacuated British soil, looking, for all von Brüning's
flippant nonchalance, a rather crestfallen party. So much so, that,
acute as was my anxiety, I took courage to whisper to Davies, while
the transhipment of Herr Böhme was proceeding: 'Ask Dollmann to stay
while we dress.'

'Why?' he whispered.

'Go on.'

'I say, Herr Dollmann,' said Davies, 'won't you stay on board with us
while we dress? There's a lot to tell you, and--and we can follow on
with you when we're ready.'

Dollmann had not yet stepped into the launch. 'With pleasure,' he
said; but there followed an ominous silence, broken by von Brüning.

'Oh, come along, Dollmann, and let them alone,' he said brusquely.
'You'll be horribly in the way down there, and we shall never get any
supper if you keep them yarning.'

'And it's now a quarter-past eight o'clock,' grumbled Herr Böhme from
his corner behind the hood. Dollmann submitted, and excused himself,
and the launch steamed away.

'I think I twig,' said Davies, as he helped, almost hoisted, me
aboard. 'Rather risky though--eh?'

'I knew they'd object--only wanted to make sure.'

The cabin was just as we had left it, our shore clothes lying in
disorder on the bunks, a locker or two half open.

'Well, I wonder what they did down here,' said Davies.

For my part I went straight to the bookshelf.

'Does anything strike you about this?' I asked, kneeling on the sofa.

'Logbook's shifted,' said Davies. 'I'll swear it was at the end

'That doesn't matter. Anything else?'

'By Jove!--where's Dollmann's book?'

'It's here all right, but not where it should be.' I had been reading
it, you remember, overnight, and in the morning had replaced it in
full view among the other books. I now found it behind them, in a
wrenched attitude, which showed that someone who had no time to spare
had pushed it roughly inwards.

'What do you make of that?' said Davies.

He produced long drinks, and we allowed ourselves ten minutes of
absolute rest, stretched at full length on the sofas.

'They don't trust Dollmann,' I said. 'I spotted that at Memmert


'First, when they were talking about you and me. He was on his
defence, and in a deuce of a funk, too. Böhme was pressing him hard.
Again, at the end, when he left the room followed by Grimm, who I'm
certain was sent to watch him. It was while he was away that the
other two arranged that rendezvous for the night of the _25th._ And
again just now, when you asked him to stay. I believe it's working
out as I thought it would. Von Brüning, and through him Böhme (who is
the 'engineer from Bremen'), know the story of that short cut and
suspect that it was an attempt on your life. Dollmann daren't confess
to that, because, morality apart, it could only have been prompted by
extreme necessity--that is, by the knowledge that you were really
dangerous, and not merely an inquisitive stranger. Now we know his
motive; but they don't yet. The position of that book proves it.'

'He shoved it in?'

'To prevent them seeing it. There's no earthly reason why _they_
should have hidden it.'

'Then we're getting on,' said Davies. 'That shows they know his real
name, or why should he shove the book in? But they don't know he
wrote a book, and that I have a copy.'

'At any rate he _thinks_ they don't; we can't say more than that.'

'And what does he think about me--and you?'

'That's the point. Ten to one he's in tortures of doubt, and would
give a fortune to have five minutes' talk alone with you to see how
the land lies and get your version of the short cut incident. But
they won't let him. They want to watch him in our company and us in
his; you see it's an interesting reunion for you and him.'

'Well, let's get into these beastly clothes for it,' groaned Davis.
'I shall have a plunge overboard.'

Something drastic was required, and I followed his example, curious
as the hour was for bathing.

'I believe I know what happened just now,' said I, as we plied rough
towels in the warmth below. 'They steamed up and found nobody on
board. "I'll leave a note," says Dollmann. "No independent
communications," say they (or think they), "we'll come too, and take
the chance of inspecting this hornets' nest." Down they go, and
Dollmann, who knows what to look for first, sees that damning bit of
evidence staring him in the face. They look casually at the shelf
among other things--examine the logbook, say--and he manages to push
his own book out of sight. But he couldn't replace it when the
interruption came. The action would have attracted attention _then,_
and Böhme made him leave the cabin in advance, you know.'

'This is all very well,' said Davies, pausing in his toilet, 'but do
they guess how we've spent the day? By Jove, Carruthers, that chart
with the square cut out; there it is on the rack!'

'We must chance it, and bluff for all we're worth,' I said. The fact
was that Davies could not be brought to realize that he had done
anything very remarkable that day; yet those fourteen sinuous miles
traversed blindfold, to say nothing of the return journey and my own
exploits, made up an achievement audacious and improbable enough to
out-distance suspicion. Nevertheless, von Brüning's banter had been
disquieting, and if an inkling of our expedition had crossed his mind
or theirs, there were ways of testing us which it would require all
our effrontery to defeat.

'What are you looking for?' said Davies. I was at the collar and stud
stage, but had broken off to study the time-table which we had bought
that morning.

'Somebody insists on coming by the night train to somewhere, on the
_25th_,' I reminded him. 'Böhme, von Brüning, and Grimm are to meet
the Somebody.'


'At a railway station! I don't know where. They seemed to take it for
granted. But it must be somewhere on the sea, because Böhme said,
"the tide serves."'

'It may be anywhere from Emden to Hamburg.' _[See Map B]_

'Ho, there's a limit; it's probably somewhere near. Grimm was to
come, and he's at Memmert.'

'Here's the map... Emden and Norddeich are the only coast stations
till you get to Wilhelmshaven--no, to Carolinensiel; but those are a
long way east.'

'And Emden's a long way south. Say Norddeich then; but according to
this there's no train there after _6.15_ p.m.; that's hardly "night".
When's high tide on the 25th?'

'Let's see--8.30 here to-night--Norddeich'll be the same. Somewhere
between 10.30 and 11 on the 25th.'

'There's a train at Emden at 9.22 from Leer and the south, and one at
10.50 from the north.'

'Are you counting on another fog?' said Davies, mockingly.

'No; but I want to know what our plans are.'

'Can't we wait till this cursed inspection's over?'

'No, we can't; we should come to grief.' This was no barren truism,
for I was ready with a plan of my own, though reluctant to broach it
to Davies.

Meanwhile, ready or not, we had to start. The cabin we left as it
was, changing nothing and hiding nothing; the safest course to take,
we thought, in spite of the risk of further search. But, as usual, I
transferred my diary to my breast-pocket, and made sure that the two
official letters from England were safe in a compartment of it.

'What do you propose?' I asked, when we were in the dinghy again.

'It's a case of "as you were",' said Davies. 'To-day's trip was a
chance we shall never get again. We must go back to last night's
decision--tell them that we're going to stay on here for a bit.
Shooting, I suppose we shall have to say.'

'And courting?' I suggested.

'Well, they know all about that. And then we must watch for a chance
of tackling Dollmann privately. Not to-night, because we want time to
consider those clues of yours.'

'"Consider"?' I said: 'that's putting it mildly.'

We were at the ladder, and what a languid stiffness oppressed me I
did not know till I touched its freezing rungs, each one of which
seared my sore palms like red-hot iron.

The overdue steamer was just arriving as we set foot on the quay.
'And yet, by Jove! why not to-night?' pursued Davies, beginning to
stride up the pier at a pace I could not imitate.

'Steady on,' I protested; 'and, look here, I disagree altogether. I
believe to-day has doubled our chances, but unless we alter our
tactics it has doubled our risks. We've involved ourselves in too
tangled a web. I don't like this inspection, and I fear that foxy old
Böhme who prompted it. The mere fact of their inviting us shows that
we stand badly; for it runs in the teeth of Brüning's warning at
Bensersiel, and smells uncommonly like arrest. There's a rift between
Dollmann and the others, but it's a ticklish matter to drive our
wedge in; as to _to-night,_ hopeless; they're on the watch, and won't
give us a chance. And after all, do we know enough? We don't know why
he fled from England and turned German. It may have been an
extraditable crime, but it may not. Supposing he defies us? There's
the girl, you see--she ties our hands, and if he once gets wind of
that, and trades on our weakness, the game's up.'

'What are you driving at?'

'We want to detach him from Germany, but he'll probably go to any
lengths rather than abandon his position here. His attempt on you is
the measure of his interest in it. Now, is to-day to be wasted?' We
were passing through the public gardens, and I dropped on to a seat
for a moment's rest, crackling dead leaves under me. Davies remained
standing, and pecked at the gravel with his toe.

'We have got two valuable clues,' I went on; 'that rendezvous on the
25th is one, and the name Esens is the other. We may consider them to
eternity; I vote we act on them.'

'How?' said Davies. 'We're under a searchlight here; and if we're

'Your plan--ugh!--it's as risky as mine, and more so,' I replied,
rising with a jerk, for a spasm of cramp took me. 'We must separate,'
I added, as we walked on. 'We want, at one stroke, to prove to them
that we're harmless, and to get a fresh start. I go back to London.'

'To London!' said Davies. We were passing under an arc lamp, and, for
the dismay his face showed, I might have said Kamchatka.

'Well, after all, it's where I ought to be at this moment,' I

'Yes, I forgot. And me?'

'You can't get on without me, so you lay up the yacht here--taking
your time.'

'While you?'

'After making inquiries about Dollmann's past I double back as
somebody else, and follow up the clues.'

'You'll have to be quick,' said Davies, abstractedly.

'I can just do it in time for the 25th.'

'When you say "making inquiries",' he continued, looking straight
before him, 'I hope you don't mean setting other people on his

'He's fair game!' I could not help saying; for there were moments
when I chafed under this scrupulous fidelity to our self-denying

'He's our game, or nobody's,' said Davies, sharply.

'Oh, I'll keep the secret,' I rejoined.

'Let's stick together,' he broke out. 'I shall make a muck of it
without you. And how are we to communicate--meet?'

'Somehow--that can wait. I know it's a leap in the dark, but there's
safety in darkness.'

'Carruthers! what are we talking about? If they have the ghost of a
notion where we have been to-day, you give us away by packing off to
London. They'll think we know their secret and are clearing out to
make use of it. _That_ means arrest, if you like!'

'Pessimist! Haven't I written proof of good faith in my
pocket--official letters of recall, received to-day? It's one
deception the less, you see; for those letters _may_ have been
opened; skilfully done it's impossible to detect. When in doubt, tell
the truth!'

'It's a rum thing how often it pays in this spying business,' said
Davies, thoughtfully.

We had been tramping through deserted streets under the glare of
electricity, I with my leaden shuffle, he with the purposeful forward
stoop and swinging arms that always marked his gait ashore.

'Well, what's it to be?' I said. 'Here's the Schwannallée.'

'I don't like it,' said he; 'but I trust your judgement.'

We turned slowly down, running over a few last points where prior
agreement was essential. As we stood at the very gate of the villa:
'Don't commit yourself to dates,' I said; 'say nothing that will
prevent you from being here at least a week hence with the yacht
still afloat.' And my final word, as we waited at the door for the
bell to be answered, was: 'Don't mind what _I_ say. If things look
queer we may have to lighten the ship.'

'Lighten?' whispered Davies; 'oh, I hope I shan't bosh it.'

'I hope I shan't get cramp,' I muttered between my teeth.

It will be remembered that Davies had never been to the villa before.

24 Finesse

THE door of a room on the ground floor was opened to us by a
man-servant. As we entered the rattle of a piano stopped, and a hot
wave of mingled scent and cigar smoke struck my nostrils. The first
thing I noticed over Davies's shoulder, as he preceded me into the
room, was a woman - the source of the perfume I decided--turning
round from the piano as he passed it and staring him up and down with
a disdainful familiarity that I at once hotly resented. She was in
evening dress, pronounced in cut and colour; had a certain exuberant
beauty, not wholly ascribable to nature, and a notable lack of
breeding. Another glance showed me Dollmann putting down a liqueur
glass of brandy, and rising from a low chair with something of a
start; and another, von Brüning, lying back in a corner of a sofa,
smoking; on the same sofa, _vis-à-vis_ to him, was--yes, of course it
was--Clara Dollmann; but how their surroundings alter people, I
caught myself thinking. For the rest, I was aware that the room was
furnished with ostentation, and was stuffy with stove-engendered
warmth. Davies steered a straight course for Dollmann, and shook his
hand with businesslike resolution. Then he tacked across to the sofa,
abandoning me in the face of the enemy.

'Mr--?' said Dollmann.

'Carruthers,' I answered, distinctly. 'I was with Davies in the boat
just now, but I don't think he introduced me. And now he has
forgotten again,' I added, dryly, turning towards Davies, who, having
presented himself to Fräulein Dollmann, was looking feebly from her
to von Brüning, the picture of tongue-tied awkwardness. (The
commander nodded to me and stretched himself with a yawn.)

'Von Brüning told me about you,' said Dollmann, ignoring my illusion,
'but I was not quite sure of the name. No; it was not an occasion for
formalities, was it?' He gave a sudden, mirthless laugh. I thought
him flushed and excitable: yet, seen in a normal light, he was in
some respects a pleasant surprise, the remarkable conformation of the
head giving an impression of intellectual power and restless, almost
insanely restless, energy.

'What need?' I said. 'I have heard so much about you from Davies--and
Commander von Brüning--that we seem to be old friends already.'

He shot a doubtful look at me, and a diversion came from the piano.

'And now, for Heaven's sake,' cried the lady of the perfume, 'let us
join Herr Böhme at supper!'

'Let me present you to my wife,' said Dollmann.

So this was the stepmother; unmistakably German, I may add. I made my
bow, and underwent much the same sort of frank scrutiny as Davies,
only that it was rather more favourable to me, and ended in a carmine

There was a general movement and further introductions. Davies was
led to the stepmother, and I found myself confronting the daughter
with quickened pulses, and a sudden sense of added complexity in the
issues. I had, of course, made up my mind to ignore our meeting of
yesterday, and had assumed that she would do the same. And she did
ignore it--we met as utter strangers; nor did I venture (for other
eyes were upon us) to transmit any sign of intelligence to her. But
the next moment I was wondering if I had not fallen into a trap. She
had promised not to tell, but under what circumstances? I saw the
scene again; the misty flats, the spruce little sail-boat and its
sweet young mistress, fresh as a dewy flower, but blanched and
demoralized by a horrid fear, appealing to my honour so to act that
we three should never meet again, promising to be silent, but as much
in her own interest as ours, and under that implied condition which I
had only equivocally refused. The condition was violated, not by her
fault or ours, but violated. She was free to help her father against
us, and was she helping him? What troubled me was the change in her;
that she--how can I express it without offence?--was less in discord
with her surroundings than she should have been; that in dress, pose
and manner (as we exchanged some trivialities) she was too near
reflecting the style of the other woman; that, in fact, she in some
sort realized my original conception of her, so brutally avowed to
Davies, so signally, as I had thought, falsified. In the sick
perplexity that this discovery caused me I dare say I looked as
foolish as Davies had done, and more so, for the close heat of the
room and its tainted atmosphere, succeeding so abruptly to the
wholesome nip of the outside air, were giving me a faintness which
this moral check lessened my power to combat. Von Brüning's face wore
a sneering smile that I winced under; and, turning, I found another
pair of eyes fixed on me, those of Herr Böhme, whose squat figure had
appeared at a pair of folding doors leading to an adjoining room.
Napkin in hand, he was taking in the scene before him with fat
benevolence, but exceeding shrewdness. I instantly noticed a faint
red weal relieving the ivory of his bald head; and I had suffered too
often in the same quarter myself to mistake its origin, namely, our
cabin doorway.

'This is the other young explorer, Böhme,' said von Brüning. 'Herr
Davies kidnapped him a month ago, and bullied and starved him into
submission; they'll drown together yet. I believe his sufferings have
been terrible.'

'His sufferings are over,' I retorted. 'I've
mutinied--deserted--haven't I, Davies?' I caught Davies gazing with
solemn _gaucherie_ at Miss Dollmann.

'Oh, what?' he stammered. I explained in English. 'Oh, yes,
Carruthers has to go home,' he said, in his vile lingo.

No one spoke for a moment, and even von Brüning had no persiflage

'Well, are we never going to have supper?' said madame, impatiently;
and with that we all moved towards the folding doors. There had been
little formality in the proceedings so far, and there was less still
in the supper-room. Böhme resumed his repast with appetite, and the
rest of us sat down apparently at random, though an underlying method
was discernible. As it worked out, Dollmann was at one end of the
small table, with Davies on his right and Böhme on his left; Frau
Dollmann at the other, with me on her right and von Brüning on her
left. The seventh personage, Fräulein Dollmann, was between the
commander and Davies on the side opposite to me. No servants
appeared, and we waited on ourselves. I have a vague recollection of
various excellent dishes, and a distinct one of abundance of wine.
Someone filled me a glass of champagne, and I confess that I drained
it with honest avidity, blessing the craftsman who coaxed forth the
essence, the fruit that harboured it, the sun that warmed it.

'Why are you going so suddenly?' said von Brüning to me across the

'Didn't I tell you we had to call here for letters? I got mine this
morning, and among others a summons back to work. Of course I must
obey.' (I found myself speaking in a frigid silence.) 'The annoying
thing was that there were two letters, and if I had only come here
two days sooner I should have only got the first, which gave me an

'You are very conscientious. How will they know?'

'Ah, but the second's rather urgent.'

There was another uncomfortable silence, broken by Dollmann.

'By the way, Herr Davies,' he began, 'I ought to apologize to you

This was no business of mine, and the less interest I took in it the
better; so I turned to Frau Dollmann and abused the fog.

'Have you been in the harbour all day?' she asked, 'then how was it
you did not visit us? Was Herr Davies so shy?' (Curiosity or malice?)

'Quite the contrary; but I was,' I answered coldly; 'you see, we knew
Herr Dollmann was away, and we really only called here to get my
letters; besides, we did not know your address.' I looked at Clara
and found her talking gaily to von Brüning, deaf seemingly to our
little dialogue.

'Anyone would have told you it,' said madame, raising her eyebrows.

'I dare say; but directly after breakfast the fog came on, and--well,
one cannot leave a yacht alone in a fog,' I said, with professional

Von Brüning pricked up his ears at this. 'I'll be hanged if that was
_your_ maxim,' he laughed; 'you're too fond of the shore!'

I sent him a glance of protest, as though to say: 'What's the use of
your warning if you won't let me act on it?'

For, of course, my excuses were meant chiefly for his consumption,
and Fräulein Dollmann's. That the lady I addressed them to found them
unpalatable was not my fault.

'Then you sat in your wretched little cabin all day?' she persisted.

'All day,' I said, brazenly; 'it was the safest thing to do.' And I
looked again at Fräulein Dollmann, frankly and squarely. Our eyes
met, and she dropped hers instantly, but not before I had learnt
something; for if ever I saw misery under a mask it was on her face.
No; she had not told.

I think I puzzled the stepmother, who shrugged her white shoulders,
and said in that case she wondered we had dared to leave our precious
boat and come to supper. If we knew Frisian fogs as well as she
did--Oh, I explained, we were not so nervous as that; and as for
supper on shore, if she only knew what a Spartan life we led--

'Oh, for mercy's sake, don't tell me about it!' she cried, with a
grimace; 'I hate the mention of yachts. When I think of that dreadful
Medusa coming from Hamburg--' I sympathized with half my attention,
keeping one strained ear open for developments on my right. Davies, I
knew, was in the thick of it, and none too happy under Böhme's eye,
but working manfully. 'My fault'--'sudden squall'--'quite safe', were
some of the phrases I caught; while I was aware, to my alarm, that he
was actually drawing a diagram of something with bread-crumbs and
table-knives. The subject seemed to gutter out to an awkward end, and
suddenly Böhme, who was my right-hand neighbour, turned to me. 'You
are starting for England to-morrow morning?' he said.

'Yes,' I answered; 'there is a steamer at 8.15, I believe.'

'That is good. We shall be companions.'

'Are you going to England, too, sir?' I asked, with hot misgivings.

'No, no! I am going to Bremen; but we shall travel together as far
as--you go by Amsterdam, I suppose?--as far as Leer, then. That will
be very pleasant.' I fancied there was a ghoulish gusto in his tone.

'Very,' I assented. 'You are making a short stay here, then?'

'As long as usual. I visit the work at Memmert once a month or so,
spend a night with my friend Dollmann and his charming family' (he
leered round him), 'and return.'

Whether I was right or wrong in my next step I shall never know, but
obeying a strong instinct, 'Memmert,' I said; 'do tell me more about
Memmert. We heard a good deal about it from Commander von Brüning;

'He was discreet, I expect,' said Böhme.

'He left off at the most interesting part.'

'What's that about me?' joined in von Brüning.

'I was saying that we're dying to know more about Memmert, aren't we,

'Oh, I don't know,' said Davies, evidently aghast at my temerity; but
I did not mind that. If he roughed my suit, so much the better; I
intended to rough his.

'You gave us plenty of history, commander, but you did not bring it
up to date.' The triple alliance laughed, Dollmann boisterously.

'Well,' said von Brüning; 'I gave you very good reasons, and you

'And now he is trying to pump me,' said Böhme, with his rasping

'Wait a bit, sir; I have an excuse. The commander was not only
mysterious but inaccurate. I appeal to you, Herr Dollmann, for it was
_apropos_ of you. When we fell in with him at Bensersiel, Davies
asked him if you were at home, and he said "No." When would you be
back? Probably soon; _but he did not know when_.'

'Oh, he said that?' said Dollmann.

'Well, only three days later we arrive at Norderney, and find you
have returned that very day, but have gone to Memmert. Again (by the
way) the mysterious Memmert! But more than ever mysterious now, for
in the evening, not only you and Herr Böhme--'

'What penetration!' laughed von Brüning.

'But also Commander von Brüning, pay us a visit in _his_ launch, all
coming from Memmert!'

'And you infer?' said von Brüning.

'Why, that you must have known at Bensersiel--only three days
ago--exactly when Herr Dollmann was coming back, having an
appointment at Memmert with him for to-day.'

'Which I wished to conceal from you?'

'Yes, and that's why I'm so inquisitive; it's entirely your own

'So it seems,' said he, 'with mock humility; 'but fill your glass and
go on, young man. Why should I want to deceive you?'

'That's just what I want to know. Come, confess now; wasn't there
something important afoot to-day at Memmert? Something to do with the
gold? You were inspecting it, sorting it, weighing it? Or I know! You
were transporting it secretly to the mainland?'

'Not a very good day for that! But softly, Herr Carruthers; no
fishing for admissions. Who said we had found any gold?'

'Well, have you? There!'

'That's better! Nothing like candour, my young investigator. But I am
afraid, having no authority, I cannot assist you at all. Better try
Herr Böhme again. I'm only a casual onlooker.'

'With shares.'

'Ah! you remember that? (He remembers everything!) With a few shares,
then; but with no expert knowledge. Now, Böhme is the consulting
engineer. Rescue me, Böhme.'

'I cannot disclaim expert knowledge,' said Böhme, with humorous
gravity; 'but I disclaim responsibility. Now, Herr Dollmann is
chairman of the company.'

'And I,' said Dollmann, with a noisy laugh, 'must fall back on the
shareholders, whose interests I have to guard. One can't be too
careful in these confidential matters.'

'Here's one who gives his consent,' I said. 'Can't he represent the

'Extorted by torture,' said von Brüning. 'I retract.'

'Don't mind them, Herr Carruthers,' cried Frau Dollmann, 'they are
making fun of you; but I will give you a hint; no woman can keep a

'Ah!' I cried, triumphantly, 'you have been there?'

'I? Not I; I detest the sea! But Clara has.' Everyone looked at
Clara, who in her turn looked in naive bewilderment from me to her

'Indeed?' I said, more soberly, 'but perhaps she is not a free

'Perfectly free!' said Dollmann.

'I have only been there once, some time ago,' said she, 'and I saw no
gold at all.'

'Guarded,' I observed. 'I beg your pardon; I mean that perhaps you
only saw what you were allowed to see. And, in any case, the fräulein
has no expert knowledge and no responsibility, and, perhaps, no
shares. Her province is to be charming, not to hold financial

'I have done my best to help you,' said the stepmother.

'They're all against us, Davies.'

'Oh, chuck it, Carruthers!' said Davies, in English.

'He's insatiable,' said von Brüning, and there was a pause; clearly,
they meant to elicit more.

'Well, I shall draw my own conclusions,' I said.

'This is interesting,' said von Brüning, 'in what sense?'

'It begins to dawn on me that you made fools of us at Bensersiel.
Don't you remember, Davies, what an interest he took in all our
doings? I wonder if he feared our exploring propensities might
possibly lead us to Memmert?'

'Upon my word, this is the blackest ingratitude. I thought I made
myself particularly agreeable to you.'

'Yes, indeed; especially about the duck shooting! How useful your
local man would have been--both to us and to you!'

'Go on,' said the commander, imperturbably.

'Wait a moment; I'm thinking it out.' And thinking it out I was in
deadly earnest, for all my levity, as I pressed my hand on my burning
forehead and asked myself where I was to stop in this seductive but
perilous fraud. To carry it too far was to court complete exposure;
to stop too soon was equally compromising.

'What is he talking about, and why go on with this ridiculous
mystery?' said Frau Dollmann.

'I was thinking about this supper party, and the way it came about,'
I pursued, slowly.

'Nothing to complain of, I hope?' said Dollmann.

'Of course not! Impromptu parties are always the pleasantest, and
this one was delightfully impromptu. Now I bet you I know its origin!
Didn't you discuss us at Memmert? And didn't one of you suggest--'One
would almost think you had been there,' said Dollmann. 'You may thank
your vile climate that we weren't,' I retorted, laughing. 'But, as I
was saying, didn't one of you suggest--which of you? Well, I'm sure
it wasn't the commander--'

'Why not?' said Böhme.

'It's difficult to explain--an intuition, say--I am sure he stood up
for us; and I don't think it was Herr Dollmann, because he knows
Davies already, and he's always on the spot; and, in short I'll swear
it was Herr Böhme, who is leaving early to-morrow. and had never seen
either of us. It was you, sir, who proposed that we should be asked
to supper to-night--for inspection?'

'Inspection?' said Böhme; 'what an extraordinary idea!'

'You can't deny it, though! And one thing more; in the harbour just
now--no--this is going too far; I shall mortally offend you.' I gave
way to hearty laughter.

'Come, let's have it. Your hallucinations are diverting.'

'If you insist; but this is rather a delicate matter. You know we
were a little surprised to find you _all_ on board; and you, Herr
Böhme, did you always take such a deep interest in small yachts? I am
afraid that it was at a certain sacrifice of comfort that you
_inspected_ ours!' And I glanced at the token he bore of his
encounter with our lintel. There was a burst of pent-up merriment. in
which Dollmann took the loudest share.

'I warned you, Böhme,' he said.

The engineer took the joke in the best possible part. 'We owe you
apologies,' he conceded.

'Don't mention it,' said Davies.


'He_ doesn't mind,' I said; 'I'm the injured one. I'm sure you never
suspected Davies, who could?' (Who indeed? I was on firm ground

'The point is, what did you take _me_ for?'

'Perhaps we take you for it still,' said von Brüning.

'Oho! Still suspicious? Don't drive me to extremities.'

'What extremities?'

'When I get back to London I shall go to Lloyd's! I haven't forgotten
that flaw in the title.' There was an impressive silence.

'Gentlemen,' said Dollmann, with exaggerated solemnity, 'we must come
to terms with this formidable young man. What do you say?'

'Take me to Memmert,' I exclaimed. 'Those are my terms!'

'Take you to Memmert? But I thought you were starting for England

'I ought to; but I'll stay for that.'

'You said it was urgent. Your conscience is very elastic.'

'That's my affair. Will you take me to Memmert?'

'What do you say, gentlemen?' Böhme nodded. 'I think we owe some
reparation. Under promise of absolute secrecy, then?'

'Of course, now that you trust me. But you'll show me
everything--honour bright--wreck, depot, and all?'

'Everything; if you don't object to a diver's dress.'

'Victory!' I cried, in triumph. 'We've won our point, Davies. And
now, gentlemen, I don't mind saying that as far as I am concerned the
joke's at an end; and, in spite of your kind offer, I must start for
England to-morrow' under the good Herr Böhme's wing. And in case my
elastic conscience troubles you (for I see you think me a
weather-cock) here are the letters received this morning,
establishing my identity as a humble but respectable clerk in the
British Civil Service, summoned away from his holiday by a tyrannical
superior.' (I pulled out my letters and tossed them to Dollmann.)
'Ah, you don't read English easily, perhaps? I dare say Herr Böhme

Leaving Böhme to study dates, post-marks, and contents to his heart's
content, and unobserved, I turned to sympathize with my fair
neighbour, who complained that her head was going round; and no
wonder. But at this juncture, and very much to my surprise, Davies
struck in.

'I should like to go to Memmert,' he said.

'You?' said von Brüning. 'Now I'm surprised at that.'

'But you won't be staying here either, Davies,' I objected.

'Yes, I shall,' said Davies. 'Why, I told you I should. If you leave
me in the lurch like this I must have time to look round.'

'You needn't pretend that you cannot sail alone,' said von Brüning.

'It's much more fun with two; I think I shall wire for another
friend. Meanwhile, I should like to see Memmert.'

'That's only an excuse, I'm afraid,' said I.

'I want to shoot ducks too,' pursued Davies, reddening. 'I always
have wanted to; and you promised to help in that, commander.'

'You can't get out of it now,' I laughed.

'Certainly not,' said he, unmoved; 'but, honestly, I should advise
Herr Davies, if he is ever going to get home this season, to make the
best of this fine weather.'

'It's too fine,' said Davies; 'I prefer wind. If I cannot get a
friend I think I shall stop cruising, leave the yacht here, and come
back for her next year.

There was some mute telegraphy between the allies.

'You can leave her in my charge,' said Dollmann, 'and start with your
friend to-morrow.'

'Thanks; but there is no hurry,' said Davies, growing redder than
ever. 'I like Norderney--and we might have another sail in your
dinghy, fräulein,' he blurted out.

'Thank you,' she said, in that low dry voice I had heard yesterday;
'but I think I shall not be sailing again--it is getting too cold.'

'Oh, no!' said Davies, 'it's splendid.' But she had turned to von
Brüning, and took no notice.

'Well, send me a report about Memmert, Davies,' I laughed, with the
idea of drawing attention from his rebuff. But Davies, having once
delivered his soul, seemed to have lost his shyness, and only gazed
at his neighbour with the placid, dogged expression that I knew so
well. That was the end of those delicate topics; and conviviality
grew apace.

I am not indifferent at any time to good wine and good cheer, nor was
it for lack of pressing that I drank as sparingly as I was able, and
pretended to a greater elation than I felt. Nor certainly was it from
any fine scruples as to the character of the gentleman whose
hospitality we were receiving--scruples which I knew affected Davies,
who ate little and drank nothing. In any case he was adamant in such
matters, and I verily believe would at any time have preferred our
own little paraffin-flavoured messes to the best dinner in the world.
It was a very wholesome caution that warned me not to abuse the
finest brain tonic ever invented by the wit of man. I had finessed
Memmert, as one finesses a low card when holding a higher; but I had
too much respect for our adversaries to trade on any fancied security
we had won thereby. They had allowed me to win the trick, but I
credited them with a better knowledge of my hand than they chose to
show. On the other hand I hugged the axiom that in all conflicts it
is just as fatal to underrate the difficulties of your enemy as to
overrate your own. Their chief one--and it multiplied a thousandfold
the excitement of the contest--was, I felt sure, the fear of striking
in error; of using a sledge-hammer to break a nut. In breaking it
they risked publicity, and publicity, I felt convinced, was death to
their secret. So, even supposing they had detected the finesse, and
guessed that we had in fact got wind of imperial designs; yet, even
so, I counted on immunity so long as they thought we were on the
wrong scent, with Memmert, and Memmert alone, as the source of our

Had it been necessary I was prepared to encourage such a view,
admitting that the cloth von Brüning wore had made his connexion with
Memmert curious, and had suggested to Davies, for I should have put
it on him, with his naval enthusiasms, that the wreck-works were
really naval-defence works. If they went farther, and suspected that
we had tried to go to Memmert that very day, the position was worse,
but not desperate; for the fear that they would take the final step
and suppose that we had actually got there and overhead their talk, I
flatly refused to entertain, until I should find myself under arrest.

Precisely how near we came to it I shall never rightly know; but I
have good reason to believe that we trembled on the verge. The main
issue was fully enough for me, and it was only in passing flashes
that I followed the play of the warring under-currents. And yet,
looking back on the scene, I would warrant there was no party of
seven in Europe that evening where a student of human documents would
have found so rich a field, such noble and ignoble ambitions, such
base and holy fears, aye, and such pitiful agonies of the spirit.
Roughly divided though we were into separate camps, no two of us were
wholly at one. Each wore a mask in the grand imposture; excepting, I
am inclined to think, the lady on my left, who, outside her own
well-being, which she cultivated without reserve, had, as far as I
could see, but one axe to grind--the intimacy of von Brüning and her
stepdaughter--and ground it openly.

Not even Böhme and von Brüning were wholly at one; and as moral
distances are reckoned, Davies and I were leagues apart. Sitting
between Dollmann and Dollmann's daughter, the living and breathing
symbols of the two polar passions he had sworn to harmonize, he kept
an equilibrium which, though his aims were nominally mine, I could
not attain to. For me the man was the central figure; if I had
attention to spare it was on him that I bestowed it; groping
disgustfully after his hidden springs of action, noting the evidences
of great gifts squandered and prostituted; questioning where he was
most vulnerable; whom he feared most, us or his colleagues; whether
he was open to remorse or shame; or whether he meditated further
crime. The girl was incidental. After the first shock of surprise I
had soon enough discovered that she, like the rest, had assumed a
disguise; for she was far too innocent to sustain the deception; and
yesterday was fresh in my memory. I was forced to continue turning
her assumed character to account; but it would be pharisaical in me
to say that I rose to any moral heights in her regard--wine and
excitement had deadened my better nature to that extent. I thought
she looked prettier than ever, and, as time passed, I fell into a
cynical carelessness about her. This glimpse of her home life, and
the desperate expedients to which she was driven (whether by
compulsion or from her own regard for Davies) to repel and dismiss
him, did not strike me as they might have done as the crowning
argument in favour of the course we had adopted the night before,
that of compassing our end without noise and scandal, disarming
Dollmann, but aiding him to escape from the allies he had betrayed.
To Davies, the man, if not a pure abstraction, was at most a noxious
vermin to be trampled on for the public good; while the girl, in her
blackguardly surroundings, and with her sinister future, had become
the very source of his impulse.

And the other players? Böhme was _my_ abstraction, the fortress whose
foundations we were sapping, the embodiment of that systematized
force which is congenital to the German people. In von Brüning, the
personal factor was uppermost. Callous as I was this evening, I could
not help wondering occasionally, as he talked and laughed with Clara
Dollmann, what in his innermost thoughts, knowing her father, he felt
and meant. It is a point I cannot and would not pursue, and, thank
Heaven, it does not matter now; yet, with fuller knowledge of the
facts, and, I trust, a mellower judgement, I often return to the same
debate, and, by I know not what illogical bypaths, always arrive at
the same conclusion, that I liked the man and like him still.

We behaved as sportsmen in the matter of time, giving them over two
hours to make up their minds about us. It was only when tobacco smoke
and heat brought back my faintness, and a twinge of cramp warned me
that human strength has limits, that I rose and said we must go; that
I had to make an early start to-morrow. I am hazy about the
farewells, but I think that Dollmann was the most cordial, to me at
any rate, and I augured good therefrom. Böhme said he should see me
again. Von Brüning, though bound for the harbour also, considered it
was far too early to be going yet, and said good-bye.

'You want to talk us over,' I remember saying, with the last flicker
of gaiety I could muster.

We were in the streets again, under a silver, breathless night;
dizzily footing the greasy ladder again; in the cabin again, where I
collapsed on a sofa just as I was, and slept such a deep and
stringent sleep that the men of the Blitz's launch might have
handcuffed and trussed and carried me away, without incommoding me in
the least.

25 I Double Back

'GOOD-BYE, old chap,' called Davies.

'Good-bye,' the whistle blew and the ferry-steamer forged ahead,
leaving Davies on the quay, bareheaded and wearing his old Norfolk
jacket and stained grey flannels, as at our first meeting in
Flensburg station. There was no bandaged hand this time, but he
looked pinched and depressed; his eyes had black circles round them;
and again I felt that same indefinable pathos in him.

'Your friend is in low spirits,' said Böhme, who was installed on a
seat beside me, voluminously caped and rugged against the biting air.
It was a still, sunless day.

'So am I,' I grunted, and it was the literal truth. I was only half
awake, felt unwashed and dissipated, heavy in head and limbs. But for
Davies I should never have been where I was. It was he who had
patiently coaxed me out of my bunk, packed my bag, fed me with tea
and an omelette (to which I believe he had devoted peculiarly tender
care), and generally mothered me for departure. While I swallowed my
second cup he was brushing the mould and smoothing the dents from my
felt hat, which had been entombed for a month in the sail-locker;
working at it with a remorseful concern in his face. The only
initiative I am conscious of having shown was in the matter of my
bag. 'Put in my sea clothes, oils, and all,' I had said; 'I may want
them again.' There was mortal need of a thorough consultation, but
this was out of the question. Davies did not badger or complain, but
only timidly asked me how we were to meet and communicate, a question
on which my mind was an absolute blank.

'Look out for me about the 26th,' I suggested feebly.

Before we left the cabin he gave me a scrap of pencilled paper and
saw that it went safely into my pocket-book. 'Look at it in the
train,' he said.

Unable to cope with Böhme, I paced the deck aimlessly as we swung
round the See-Gat into the Buse Tief, trying to identify the point
where we crossed it yesterday blindfold. But the tide was full, and
the waters blank for miles round till they merged in haze. Soon I
drifted down into the saloon, and crouching over a stove pulled out
that scrap of paper. In a crabbed, boyish hand, and much besmudged
with tobacco ashes, I found the following notes:

(1) _Your journey_. [See Maps A and B.] Norddeich 8.58, Emden 10.32,
Leer 11.16 (Böhme changes for Bremen), Rheine 1.8 (change), Amsterdam
7.17 p.m. Leave again _via_ Hook 8.52, London 9 am.

(2) The coast-station--_their_ rondezvous--querry is it Norden? (You
pass it 9.13)--there is a tidal creek up to it. High-water there on
25th, say 10.30 to 11 p.m. It cannot be Norddeich, which I find has a
dredged-out low-water channel for the steamer, so tide 'serves' would
not apply.

(3) _Your other clews_ (tugs, pilots, depths, railway, Esens, seven
of something). Querry; Scheme of defence by land and sea for North
Sea Coast?


Sea_--7 islands, 7 channels between (counting West Ems), very small
depths (what you said) in most of them. Tugs and pilots for patrol
work behind islands, as I always said. Querry; Rondezvous is for
inspecting channels?


Land_--Look at railway (map in ulster pocket) running in a loop all
round Friesland, a few miles from coast. Querry: To be used as line
of communication for army corps. Troops could be quickly sent to any
threatened point. _Esens_ the base? It is in top centre of loop. Von
Brooning dished us fairly over that at Bensersiel.


Chatham_--D. was spying after our naval plans for war with Germany.

Von Brooning runs naval part over here.

Where does Burmer come in? Querry--you go to Breman and find out
about him?

I nodded stupidly over this document--so stupidly that I found myself
wondering whether Burmer was a place or a person. Then I dozed, to
wake with a violent start and find the paper on the floor.
Panic-stricken, I hid it away, and went on deck, when I found we were
close to Norddeich, running up to the bleakest of bleak jetties
thrown out from the dyke-bound polders of the mainland. Böhme and I
landed together, and he was at my elbow as I asked for a ticket for
Amsterdam, and was given one as far as Rheine, a junction near the
Dutch frontier. He was ensconced in an opposite corner to me in the
railway carriage, looking like an Indian idol. 'Where do you come
in?' I pondered, dreamily. Too sleepy to talk, I could only blink at
him, sitting bolt upright with my arms folded over my precious
pocket-book. Finally, I gave up the struggle, buttoned my ulster
tightly up, and turning my back upon him with an apology, lay down to
sleep, the precious pocket nethermost. He was at liberty to rifle my
bag if he chose, and I dare say he did. I cannot say, for from this
point till Rheine, for the best part of four hours, that is, I had
only two lucid intervals.

The first was at Emden, where we both had to change. Here, as we
pushed our way down the crowded platform, Böhme, after being greeted
respectfully by several persons, was at last buttonholed without
means of escape by an obsequious gentleman, whose description is of
no moment, but whose conversation is. It was about a canal; what
canal I did not gather, though, from a name dropped, I afterwards
identified it as one in course of construction as a feeder to the
Ems. The point is that the subject was canals. At the moment it was
seed dropped in unreceptive soil, but it germinated later. I passed
on, mingling with the crowd, and was soon asleep again in another
carriage where Böhme this time did not follow me.

The second occasion was at Leer, where I heard myself called by name,
and woke to find him at the window. He had to change trains, and had
come to say good-bye. 'Don't forget to go to Lloyd's,' he grated in
my ear. I expect it was a wan smile that I returned, for I was at a
very low ebb, and my fortress looked sarcastically impregnable. But
the sapper was free; 'free' was my last conscious thought.

Even after Rheine, where I changed for the last time, a brutish
drowsiness enchained me, and the afternoon was well advanced before
my faculties began to revive.

The train crept like a snail from station to station. I might, so a
fellow-passenger told me, have waited three hours at Rheine for an
express which would have brought me to Amsterdam at about the same
time; or, if I had chosen to break the journey farther back, two
hours at either Emden or Leer would still have enabled me to catch
the said express at Rheine. These alternatives had escaped Davies,
and, I surmised, had been suppressed by Böhme, who doubtless did not
want me behind him, free either to double back or to follow him to

The pace, then, was execrable, and there were delays; we were behind
time at Hengelo, thirty minutes late at Apeldoorn; so that I might
well have grown nervous about my connexions at Amsterdam, which were
in some jeopardy. But as I battled out of my lethargy and began to
take account of our position and prospects, quite a different thought
at the outset affected me. Anxiety to reach London was swamped in
reluctance to quit Germany, so that I found myself grudging every
mile that I placed between me and the frontier. It was the old
question of urgency. To-day was the 23rd. The visit to London meant a
minimum absence of forty-eight hours, counting from Amsterdam; that
is to say, that by travelling for two nights and one day, and
devoting the other day to investigating Dollmann's past, it was
humanly possible for me to be back on the Frisian coast on the
evening of the 25th. Yes, I could be at Norden, if that was the
'rendezvous', at 7 p.m. But what a scramble! No margin for delays, no
physical respite. Some pasts take a deal of raking up--other persons
may be affected; men are cautious, they trip you up with red tape; or
the man who knows is out at lunch--a protracted lunch; or in the
country--a protracted week-end. Will you see Mr So-and-so, or leave a
note? Oh! I know those public departments--from the inside! And the
Admiralty! ... I saw myself baffled and racing back the same night to
Germany, with two days wasted, arriving, good for nothing, at Norden,

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest