Monday, 31 December 2012

All Good Things...

It's been a while since the last post on the Mr Carruthers Presents...Daily blog and that's sort of the reason for this post. This is isn't necessarily the last post, but it could be.

We've been very quiet of late and the blog has reflected that all too literally. I considered ending the blog this time last year and then out of the blue came a fully edited version of FistKrammer, which spurred us on for a while. I live in hope that we will work together again soon and then this blog may serve the purpose it was designed for again.

The pressure to try and come up with something funny here is overwhelming, but I'm sure you'll agree that the first two paragraphs have been pure comedy gold.

Happy Birthday Andy.

That's not me being facetious. It really is Andy's birthday. I really do hope he has a happy one. Maybe I should have started with Andy's birthday and then built up to breaking the bad news.

Happy Birthday Andy. He shares his birthday with Henri Matisse (the French painter, Simon Wiesenthal (Austrian Holocaust survivor and post-war Nazi hunter), Anthony Hopkins (Welsh actor), Ben Kingsley (English actor), Pete Quaife (The Kinks' bassist), Donna Summer (American singer), Alex Salmond (Scottish politician), Bebe Neuwirth (American actress), Val Kilmer (American actor), Konishiki (American sumo wrestler), Dominik Diamond (Scottish TV presenter), Danny McNamara (the lead singer of Embrace) and Lakshmi Tatama (the Indian girl born with eight limbs).

So a happy birthday to them as well.

Every other year on this blog I posted a Review Of The Year and 2012 should be no different. Join me in a walk down Memory Lane. We'll stop just short of Nostalgia Avenue and avoid Painful Flashback Alleyway.

It's the Review Of The Year 2012:

We start the year as we meant to go on: Sherlock Holmesing and silly photos.

We spent the longest February for four years with quotes and obsessing about The Fast And The Furious. Yep.

The Car Go Fast Now cinematic franchise continues to dominate through March, but still alternating with quotes.

After some foolishness, more cars, more quotes, more Sherlock Holmes.

Quotes and Sherlockiness.

Mike rides a duck and we reach 1500 posts.

Horsing Around, The Riddle Of The Sands and mis-spelt tattoos.

The Riddle Of The Sands interspersed with mis-spelt tattoos and missing posters.

The Riddle Of The Sands less interspersed with mis-spelt tattoos and missing posters.


Absolutely nothing.

This. Here. Now.

And so for the moment that's it.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who ever read this blog or helped us out in any way. I'd make a list here, but there are so many I would hate to miss anyone out. I'm going to miss you all out in the hope that your collective disappointment amounts to less than a grudge might in one of you. You know who I mean. Yes, you. I can see you.

I still blog a blog here and there are still some Carruthers related subjects I plan to cover on it, but for the moment this is us signing off in hope that we will do this all again some time.

Happy New Year


Sunday, 16 September 2012


March 1903

IT so happens that while this book was in the press a number of measures have been taken by the Government to counteract some of the very weaknesses and dangers which are alluded to above. A Committee of National Defence has been set up, and the welcome given to it was a truly extraordinary comment on the apathy and confusion which it is designed to supplant. A site on the Forth has been selected for a new North Sea naval base—an excellent if tardy decision; for ten years or so must elapse before the existing anchorage becomes in any sense a 'base'. A North Sea fleet has also been created—another good measure; but it should be remembered that its ships are not modern, or in the least capable of meeting the principal German squadrons under the circumstances supposed above.

Lastly, a Manning Committee has (among other matters) reported vaguely in favour of a Volunteer Reserve. There is no means of knowing what this recommendation will lead to; let us hope not to the fiasco of the last badly conceived experiment. Is it not becoming patent that the time has come for training all Englishmen systematically either for the sea or for the rifle?

Friday, 14 September 2012


By The Editor

AN interesting document, somewhat damaged by fire, lies on my study table.

It is a copy (in cipher) of a confidential memorandum to the German Government embodying a scheme for the invasion of England by Germany. It is unsigned, but internal evidence, and the fact that it was taken by Mr 'Carruthers' from the stove of the villa at Norderney, leave no doubt as to its authorship. For many reasons it is out of the question to print the textual translation of it, as deciphered; but I propose to give an outline of its contents.

Even this must strain discretion to its uttermost limits, and had I only to consider the instructed few who follow the trend of professional opinion on such subjects, I should leave the foregoing narrative to speak for itself. But, as was stated in the preface, our primary purpose is to reach everyone; and there may be many who, in spite of able and authoritative warnings frequently uttered since these events occurred, are still prone to treat the German danger as an idle 'bogey', and may be disposed, in this case, to imagine that a baseless romance has been foisted on them.

A few persons (English as well as German) hold that Germany is strong enough now to meet us single-handed, and throw an army on our shores. The memorandum rejects this view, deferring isolated action for at least a decade; and supposing, for present purposes, a coalition of three Powers against Great Britain. And subsequent researches through the usual channels place it beyond dispute that this condition was relied on by the German Government in adopting the scheme. They realized that even if, owing to our widely scattered forces, they gained that temporary command of the North Sea which would be essential for a successful landing, they would inevitably lose it when our standing fleets were concentrated and our reserve ships mobilized. With its sea-communications cut, the prospects of the invading army would be too dubious. I state it in that mild way, for it seems not to have been held that failure was absolutely certain; and rightly, I think, in spite of the dogmas of the strategists—for the ease transcends all experience. No man can calculate the effect on our delicate economic fabric of a well-timed, well-planned blow at the industrial heart of the kingdom, the great northern and midland towns, with their teeming populations of peaceful wage-earners. In this instance, however, joint action (the occasion for which is perhaps not difficult to guess) was distinctly contemplated, and Germany's rôle in the coalition was exclusively that of invader. Her fleet was to be kept intact, and she herself to remain ostensibly neutral until the first shock was over, and our own battle-fleets either beaten, or, the much more likely event, so crippled by a hard-won victory as to be incapable of withstanding compact and unscathed forces. Then, holding the balance of power, she would strike. And the blow? It was not till I read this memorandum that I grasped the full merits of that daring scheme, under which every advantage, moral, material, and geographical, possessed by Germany, is utilized to the utmost, and every disadvantage of our own turned to account against us.

Two root principles pervade it: perfect organization; perfect secrecy. Under the first head come some general considerations. The writer (who is intimately conversant with conditions on both sides of the North Sea) argued that Germany is pre-eminently fitted to undertake an invasion of Great Britain. She has a great army (a mere fraction of which would suffice) in a state of high efficiency, but a useless weapon, as against us, unless transported over seas. She has a peculiar genius for organization, not only in elaborating minute detail, but in the grasp of a coherent whole. She knows the art of giving a brain to a machine, of transmitting power to the uttermost cog-wheel, and at the same time of concentrating responsibility in a supreme centre. She has a small navy, but very effective for its purpose, built, trained, and manned on methodical principles, for defined ends, and backed by an inexhaustible reserve of men from her maritime conscription. She studies and practises co-operation between her army and navy. Her hands are free for offence in home waters, since she has no distant network of coveted colonies and dependencies on which to dissipate her defensive energies. Finally, she is, compared with ourselves, economically independent, having commercial access through her land frontiers to the whole of Europe. She has little to lose and much to gain.

The writer pauses here to contrast our own situation, and I summarize his points. We have a small army, dispersed over the whole globe, and administered on a gravely defective system. We have no settled theory of national defence, and no competent authority whose business it is to give us one. The matter is still at the stage of civilian controversy. Co-operation between the army and navy is not studied and practised; much less do there exist any plans, worthy of the name, for the repulse of an invasion, or any readiness worth considering for the prompt equipment and direction of our home forces to meet a sudden emergency. We have a great and, in many respects, a magnificent navy, but not great enough for the interests it insures, and with equally defective institutions; not built or manned methodically, having an utterly inadequate reserve of men, all classes of which would be absorbed at the very outset, without a vestige of preparation for the enrolment of volunteers; distracted by the multiplicity of its functions in guarding our colossal empire and commerce, and conspicuously lacking a brain, not merely for the smooth control of its own unwieldy mechanism, but for the study of rival aims and systems. We have no North Sea naval base, no North Sea Fleet, and no North Sea policy. Lastly, we stand in a highly dangerous economical position.

The writer then deals with the method of invasion, and rejects the obvious one at once, that of sending forth a fleet of transports from one or more of the North Sea ports. He combats especially the idea of making Emden (the nearest to our shores) the port of departure. I mention this because, since his own scheme was adopted, it is instructive to note that Emden had been used (with caution) as a red herring by the inspired German press, when the subject was mentioned at all, and industriously dragged across the trail. His objections to the North Sea ports apply, he remarks, in reality to all schemes of invasion, whether the conditions be favourable or not. One is that secrecy is rendered impossible—and secrecy is vital. The collection of the transports would be known in England weeks before the hour was ripe for striking; for all large ports are cosmopolitan and swarm with potential spies. In Germany's case, moreover, suitable ships are none too plentiful, and the number required would entail a large deduction from her mercantile marine. The other reason concerns the actual landing. This must take place on an open part of the east coast of England. No other objective is even considered. Now the difficulty of transshipping and landing troops by boats from transports anchored in deep water, in a safe, swift, and orderly fashion, on an open beach, is enormous. The most hastily improvised resistance might cause a humiliating disaster. Yet the first stage is the most important of all. It is imperative that the invaders should seize and promptly intrench a pre-arranged line of country, to serve as an initial base. This once done, they can use other resources; they can bring up transports, land cavalry and heavy guns, pour in stores, and advance. But unless this is done, they are impotent, be their sea-communications never so secure.

The only logical alternative is then propounded: to despatch an army of infantry with the lightest type of field-guns in big sea-going lighters, towed by powerful but shallow-draught tugs, under escort of a powerful composite squadron of warships; and to fling the flotilla, at high tide, if possible, straight upon the shore.

Such an expedition could be prepared in absolute secrecy, by turning to account the natural features of the German coast. No great port was to be concerned in any way. All that was required was sufficient depth of water to float the lighters and tugs; and this is supplied by seven insignificant streams, issuing from the Frisian littoral, and already furnished with small harbours and sluice-gates, with one exception, namely, the tidal creek at Norden; for this, it appeared, was one of the chosen seven, and not, as 'Carruthers' supposed, Hilgenriedersiel, which, if you remember, he had no time to visit, and which has, in fact, no stream of any value at all, and no harbour. All of these streams would have to be improved, deepened, and generally canalized; ostensibly with a commercial end, for purposes of traffic with the islands, which are growing health resorts during a limited summer season.

The whole expedition would be organized under seven distinct sub-divisions—not too great a number in view of its cumbrous character. Seawards, the whole of the coast is veiled by the fringe of islands and the zone of shoals. Landwards, the loop of railway round the Frisian peninsula would form the line of communication in rear of the seven streams. Esens was to be the local centre of administration when the scheme grew to maturity, but not till then. Every detail for the movement of troops under the seven different heads was to be arranged for with secrecy and exactitude many months in advance, and from headquarters at Berlin. It was not expected that nothing would leak out, but care was to be taken that anything that did do so should be attributed to defensive measures—a standing feature in German mobilization being the establishment of a corps of observation along the Frisian coast; in fact, the same machinery was to be used, and its conversion for offence concealed up to the latest possible moment. The same precautions were to be taken in the preliminary work on the spot. There, four men only (it was calculated) need be in full possession of the secret. One was to represent the Imperial Navy (a post filled by our friend von Brüning). Another (Böhme) was to superintend the six canals and the construction of the lighters. The functions of the third were twofold. He was to organize what I may call the local labour—that is, the helpers required for embarkation, the crews of the tugs, and, most important of all, the service of pilots for the navigation of the seven flotillas through the corresponding channels to the open sea. He must be a local man, thoroughly acquainted with the coast, of a social standing not much above the average of villagers and fishermen, and he must be ready when the time was ripe with lists of the right men for the right duties, lists to which the conscription authorities could when required, give instant legal effect. His other function was to police the coast for spies, and to report anything suspicious to von Brüning, who would never be far away. On the whole I think that they found the grim Grimm a jewel for their purpose.

As fourth personage, the writer designates himself, the promoter of the scheme, the indispensable link between the two nations. He undertakes to furnish reliable information as to the disposition of troops in England, as to the hydrography of the coast selected for the landing, as to the supplies available in its vicinity, and the strategic points to be seized. He proposes to be guide-in-chief to the expedition during transit. And in the meantime (when not otherwise employed) he was to reside at Norderney, in close touch with the other three, and controlling the commercial undertakings which were to throw dust in the eyes of the curious. [Memmert, by the way, is not mentioned in this memorandum.]

He speaks of the place 'selected for the landing', and proceeds to consider this question in detail. I cannot follow him in his review, deeply interesting though it is, and shall say at once that he reduces possible landing-places to two, the flats on the Essex coast between Foulness and Brightlingsea, and the Wash—with a decided preference for the latter. Assuming that the enemy, if they got wind of an invasion at all, would expect transports to be employed, he chooses the sort of spot which they would be least likely to defend, and which, nevertheless, was suitable to the character of the flotillas, and similar to the region they started from. There is such a spot on the Lincolnshire coast, on the north side of the Wash, known as East Holland. It is low-lying land, dyked against the sea, and bordered like Frisia with sand-flats which dry off at low water. It is easy of access from the east, by way of Boston Deeps, a deep-water channel formed by a detached bank, called the Long Sand, lying parallel to the shore for ten miles. This bank makes a natural breakwater against the swell from the east (the only quarter to be feared); and the Deeps behind it, where there is an average depth of thirty-four feet at low-water, would form an excellent roadstead for the covering squadron, whose guns would command the shore within easy range. It is noted in passing that this is just the case where German first-class battleships would have an advantage over British ships of the same calibre. The latter are of just too heavy a draught to navigate such waters without peril, if, indeed, they could enter this roadstead at all, for there is a bar at the mouth of it with only thirty-one feet at high water, spring tides. The former, built as they were with a view to manœuvring in the North Sea, are just within the margin of safety. East Holland is within easy striking distance of the manufacturing districts, a vigorous raid on which is, the writer urges, the true policy of an invader. He reports positively that there exist (in a proper military sense) no preparations whatever to meet such an attack. East Holland is also the nearest point on the British shores to Germany, excepting the coast of Norfolk; much nearer, indeed, than the Essex flats alluded to, and reached by a simple deep-sea passage, without any dangerous region to navigate, like the mouth of the Channel and the estuary of the Thames from Harwich westwards. The distance is 240 sea-miles, west by south roughly, from Borkum Island, and 280 from Wangeroog. The time estimated for transit after the flotillas had been assembled outside the islands is from thirty to thirty-four hours.

Embarkation is the next topic. This could and must be effected in one tide. At the six siels there was a mean period of two and a half hours in every twelve, during which the water was high enough. At Norden a rather longer time was available. But this should be amply sufficient if the machinery were in good working order and were punctually set in motion. High water occurs approximately at the same time at all seven outlets, the difference between the two farthest apart, Carolinensiel and Greetsiel, being only half an hour.

Lastly, the special risks attendant on such an expedition are dispassionately weighed. X—, though keenly anxious to recommend his scheme, writes in no blindly sanguine spirit. There are no modern precedents for any invasion in the least degree comparable to that of England by Germany. Any such attempt will be a hazardous experiment. But he argues that the advantages of his method outweigh the risks, and that most of the risks themselves would attach equally to any other method. Whatever skill in prediction was used, bad weather might overtake the expedition. Yes; but if transports were used transhipment into boats for landing would in bad weather be fraught with the same and a greater peril. But transports could stand off and wait. Delay is fatal in any case; unswerving promptitude is the essence of such an enterprise. The lighters would be in danger of foundering? Beside the point; if the end is worth gaining the risks must be faced. Soldiers' lives are sacrificed in tens of thousands on battlefields. The flotilla would be demoralized during transit by the assault of a few torpedo-boats? Granted; but the same would apply to a fleet of transports, with the added certainty that one lucky shot would send to the bottom ten times the number of soldiers, with less hope of rescue. In both cases reliance must be placed on the efficiency and vigilance of the escort. It is admitted, however, in a passage which might well make my two adventurers glow with triumph, that if by any mischance the British discovered what was afoot in good time, and were able to send over a swarm of light-draught boats, which could elude the German warships and get amongst the flotillas while they were still in process of leaving the siels; it is admitted that in that case the expedition was doomed. But it is held that such an event was not to be feared. Reckless pluck is abundant in the British Navy, but expert knowledge of the tides and shoals in these waters is utterly lacking. The British charts are of no value, and there is no evidence (he reports) that the subject has been studied in any way by the British Admiralty. Let me remark here, that I believe Mr 'Davies's' views, as expressed in the earlier chapters, when they were still among the great estuaries, are all absolutely sound. The 'channel theory', though it only bore indirectly on the grand issue before them, was true, and should be laid to heart, or I should not have wasted space on it.

One word more, in conclusion. There is an axiom, much in fashion now, that there is no fear of an invasion of the British Isles, because if we lose command of the sea, we can be starved—a cheaper and surer way of reducing us to submission. It is a loose, valueless axiom, but by sheer repetition it is becoming an article of faith. It implies that 'command of the sea' is a thing to be won or lost definitely; that we may have it to-day and lose it for ever to-morrow. On the contrary, the chances are that in anything like an even struggle the command of the sea will hang in the balance for an indefinite time. And even against great odds, it would probably be impossible for our enemies so to bar the avenues of our commerce, so to blockade the ports of our extensive coast-line, and so to overcome the interest which neutrals will have in supplying us, as to bring us to our knees in less than two years, during which time we can be recuperating and rebuilding from our unique internal resources, and endeavouring to regain command.

No; the better axiom is that nothing short of a successful invasion could finally compel us to make peace. Our hearts are stout, we hope; but facts are facts; and a successful raid, such as that here sketched, if you will think out its consequences, must appal the stoutest heart. It was checkmated, but others may be conceived. In any case, we know the way in which they look at these things in Germany.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

We Achieve Our Double Aim

Chapter XXVIII: We Achieve Our Double Aim

WHEN, exactly, the atmosphere of misunderstanding on the stranded tug was dissipated, I do not know, for by the time I had fitted the rowlocks and shipped sculls, tide and wind had caught me, and were sweeping me merrily back on the road to Norderney, whose lights twinkled through the scud in the north. With my first few strokes I made towards the lighter—which I could see sagging helplessly to leeward—but as soon as I thought I was out of sight of the tug, I pulled round and worked out my own salvation. There was an outburst of shouting which soon died away. Full speed on a falling tide! They were pinned there for five hours sure. It was impossible to miss the way, and with my stout allies heaving me forward, I made short work of the two-mile passage. There was a sharp tussle at the last, where the Riff-Gat poured its stream across my path, and then I was craning over my shoulder, God knows with what tense anxiety, for the low hull and taper mast of the Dulcibella. Not there! No, not where I had left her. I pulled furiously up the harbour past a sleeping ferry-steamer and—praise Heaven!—came on her warped alongside the jetty.

'Who's that?' came from below, as I stepped on board.

'Hush! it's me.' And Davies and I were pawing one another in the dark of the cabin.

'Are you all right, old chap?' said he.

'Yes; are you? A match! What's the time? Quick!'

'Good Heavens, Carruthers, what the blazes have you done to yourself?' (I suspect I cut a pretty figure after my two days' outing.)

'Ten past three. It's the invasion of England! Is Dollmann at the villa?'


'Is Dollmann at the villa?'


'Is the Medusa afloat?'

'No, on the mud.'

'The devil! Are we afloat?'

'I think so still, but they made me shift.'

'Think! Track her out! Pole her out! Cut those warps!'

For a few strenuous minutes we toiled at the sweeps till the Dulcibella was berthed ahead of the steamer, in deeper water. Meanwhile I had whispered a few facts.

'How soon can you get under way?' I asked.

'Ten minutes.'

'When's daylight?'

'Sunrise about seven, first dawn about five. Where are we bound?'

'Holland, or England.'

'Are they invading it now?' said Davies, calmly.

'No, only rehearsing!' I laughed, wildly.

'Then we can wait.'

'We can wait exactly an hour and a half. Come ashore and knock up Dollmann; we must denounce him, and get them both aboard; it's now or never. Holy Saints! man, not as you are!' (He was in pyjamas.) 'Sea clothes!'

While he put on Christian attire, I resumed my facts and sketched a plan. 'Are you watched?' I asked.

'I think so; by the Kormoran's men.'

'Is the Kormoran here?'


'The men?'

'Not to-night. Grimm called for them in that tug. I was watching. And, Carruthers, the Blitz is here.'


'In the roads outside—didn't you see her?'

'Wasn't looking. Her skipper's safe anyway; so's Böhme, so's the Tertium Quid, and so are the Kormoran's men. The coast's clear—it's now or never.'

Once more we were traversing the long jetty and the silent streets, rain driving at our backs. We trod on air, I think; I remember no fatigue. Davies sometimes broke into a little run, muttering 'scoundrel' to himself.

'I was right—only upside down,' he murmured more than once. 'Always really right—those channels are the key to the whole concern. Chatham, our only eastern base—no North Sea base or squadron—they'd land at one of those God-forsaken flats off the Crouch and Blackwater.'

'It seems a wild scheme,' I observed.

'Wild? In a way. So is any invasion. But it's thorough; it's German. No other country could do it. It's all dawning on me—by Jove! It will be at the Wash—much the nearest, and as sandy as this side.'

'How's Dollmann been?' I asked.

'Polite, but queer and jumpy. It's too long a story.'


'She's all right. By Jove! Carruthers—never mind.'

We found a night-bell at the villa door and rang it lustily. A window aloft opened, and 'A message from Commander von Brüning—urgent,' I called up.

The window shut, and soon after the hall was lighted and the door opened by Dollmann in a dressing-gown.

'Good morning, Lieutenant X—,' I said, in English. 'Stop, we're friends, you fool!' as the door was flung nearly to. It opened very slowly again, and we walked in.

'Silence!' he hissed. The sweat stood on his steep forehead and a hectic flush on either cheek, but there was a smile—what a smile!—on his lips. Motioning us to tread noiselessly (a vain ideal for me), he led the way to the sitting-room we knew, switched on the light, and faced us.

'Well?' he said, in English, still smiling.

I consulted my watch, and I may say that if my hand was an index to my general appearance, I must have looked the most abject ruffian under heaven.

'We probably understand one another,' I said, 'and to explain is to lose time. We sail for Holland, or perhaps England, at five at the latest, and we want the pleasure of your company. We promise you immunity—on certain conditions, which can wait. We have only two berths, so that we can only accommodate Miss Clara besides yourself.' He smiled on through this terse harangue, but the smile froze, as though beneath it raged some crucial debate. Suddenly he laughed (a low, ironical laugh).

'You fools,' he said, 'you confounded meddlesome young idiots; I thought I had done with you. Promise me immunity? Give me till five? By God, I'll give you five minutes to be off to England and be damned to you, or else to be locked up for spies! What the devil do you take me for?'

'A traitor in German service,' said Davies, none too firmly. We were both taken aback by this slashing attack.

'A tr—? You pig-headed young marplots! I'm in British service! You're wrecking the work of years—and on the very threshold of success.'

For an instant Davies and I looked at one another in stupefaction. He lied—I could swear he lied; but how make sure?

'Why did you try to wreck Davies?' said I, mechanically.

'Pshaw! They made me clear him out. I knew he was safe, and safe he is.'

There was only one thing for it—a last finesse, to put him to the proof.

'Very well,' I said, after a moment or two, 'we'll clear out—silence, Davies!—as it appears we have acted in error; but it's right to tell you that we know everything.'

'Not so loud, curse you! What do you know?'

'I was taking notes at Memmert the other night.'


'Thanks to Davies. Under difficulties, of course, but I heard quite enough. You were reporting your English tour—Chatham, you know, and the English scheme of attack, a mythical one, no doubt, as you're on the right side! Böhme and the rest were dealing with the German scheme of defence A to G—I heard it all—the seven islands and the seven channels between them (Davies knows every one of them by heart); and then on land, the ring of railway, Esens the centre, the army corps to mobilize and entrench—all nugatory, wasted, ha! ha!—as you're on the rights—'

'Not so loud, you fiend of mischief!' He turned his back, and made an irresolute pace or two towards the door, his hands kneading the folds of his dressing-gown as they had kneaded the curtain at Memmert. Twice he began a question and twice broke off. 'I congratulate you, gentlemen,' he said, finally, and with more composure, facing us again, 'you have done marvels in your misplaced zeal; but you have compromised me too much already. I shall have to have you arrested—purely for form's sake—'

'Thank you,' I broke in. 'We have wasted five minutes, and time presses. We sail at five, and—purely for form's sake—would rather have you with us.'

'What do you mean?' he snarled.

'I had the advantage of you at Memmert, in spite of acoustic obstacles. Your friends made an appointment behind your back, and I, in my misplaced zeal, have taken some trouble to attend it; so that I've had a working demonstration on another matter, the invasion of England from the seven siels.' (Davies nudged me.) 'No, I should let that pistol alone; and no, I wouldn't ring the bell. You can arrest us if you like, but the secret's in safe hands.'

'You lie!' He was right there; but he could not know it.

'Do you suppose I haven't taken that precaution? But no names are mentioned.' He gave a sort of groan, sank into a chair, and seemed to age and grizzle before our very eyes.

'What did you say about immunity, and Clara?' he muttered. 'We're friends—we're friends!' burst out Davies, with a gulp in his voice. 'We want to help you both.' (Through a sudden mist that filmed my eyes I saw him impetuously walk over and lay his hand on the other's shoulder.) 'Those chaps are on our track and yours. Come with us. Wake her, tell her. It'll be too late soon.'

X— shrank from his touch. 'Tell her? I can't tell her. You tell her, boy.' He was huddling back into his chair. Davies turned to me.

'Where's her room?' I said, sharply.

'Above this one.'

'Go up, Carruthers,' said Davies.

'Not I—I shall frighten her into a fit.'

'I don't like to.'

'Nonsense, man! We'll both go then.'

'Don't make a noise,' said a dazed voice. We left that huddled figure and stole upstairs—thickly carpeted stairs, luckily. The door we wanted was half open, and the room behind it lighted. On the threshold stood a slim white figure, bare-footed; bare-throated.

'What is it, father?' she called in a whisper. 'Whom have you been talking to?' I pushed Davies forward, but he hung back.

'Hush, don't be frightened,' I said, 'it's I, Carruthers, and Davies—and Davies. May we come in, just for one moment?'

I gently widened the opening of the door, while she stepped back and put one hand to her throat.

'Please come to your father,' I said. 'We are going to take you both to England in the Dulcibella—now, at once.'

She had heard me, but her eyes wandered to Davies.

'I understand not,' she faltered, trembling and cowering in such touching bewilderment that I could not bear to look at her.

'For God's sake, say something, Davies,' I muttered.

'Clara!' said Davies, 'will you not trust us?'

I heard a little gasp from her. There was a flutter of lace and cambric and she was in his arms, sobbing like a tired child, her little white feet between his great clumsy sea-boots—her rose-brown cheek on his rough jersey.

'It's past four, old chap,' I remarked, brutally. 'I'm going down to him again. No packing to speak of, mind. They must be out of this in half an hour.' I stumbled awkwardly on the stairs (again that tiresome film!) and found him stuffing some papers pell-mell into the stove. There were only slumbering embers in it, but he did not seem to notice that. 'You must be dressed in half an hour,' I said, furtively pocketing a pistol which lay on the table.

'Have you told her? Take her to England, you two boys. I think I'll stay.' He sank into a chair again.

'Nonsense, she won't go without you. You must, for her sake—in half an hour, too.'

I prefer to pass that half-hour lightly over. Davies left before me to prepare the yacht for sea, and I had to bear the brunt of what followed, including (as a mere episode) a scene with the step-mother, the memory of which rankles in me yet. After all, she was a sensible woman.

As for the other two, the girl when I saw her next, in her short boating skirt and tam-o'-shanter, was a miracle of coolness and pluck. But for her I should never have got him away. And ah! how good it was to be out in the wholesome rain again, hurrying to the harbour with my two charges, hurrying them down the greasy ladder to that frail atom of English soil, their first guerdon of home and safety.

Our flight from the harbour was unmolested, unnoticed. Only the first ghastly evidences of dawn were mingling with the strangled moonlight, as we tacked round the pier-head and headed close-reefed down the Riff-Gat on the lees of the ebb-tide. We had to pass under the very quarter of the Blitz, so Davies said; for, of course, he alone was on deck till we reached the open sea. Day was breaking then. It was dead low water, and, far away to the south, between dun swathes of sand, I thought I saw—but probably it was only a fancy—two black stranded specks. Rail awash, and decks streaming, we took the outer swell and clawed close-hauled under the lee of Juist, westward, hurrying westward.

'Up the Ems on the flood, and to Dutch Delfzyl,' I urged. No, thought Davies; it was too near Germany, and there was a tidal cut through from Buse Tief. Better to dodge in behind Rottum Island. So on we pressed, past Memmert, over the Juister Reef and the Corinne's buried millions, across the two broad and yeasty mouths of the Ems, till Rottum, a wee lonesome wafer of an islet, the first of the Dutch archipelago, was close on the weather-bow.

'We must get in behind that,' said Davies, 'then we shall be safe; I think I know the way, but get the next chart; and then take a rest, old chap. Clara and I can manage.' (She had been on deck most of the time, as capable a hand as you could wish for, better far than I in my present state of exhaustion.) I crawled along the slippery sloping planks and went below.

'Where are we?' cried Dollmann, starting up from the lee sofa, where he seemed to have been lying in a sort of trance. A book, his own book, slipped from his knees, and I saw the frontispiece lying on the floor in a pool of oil; for the stove had gone adrift, and the saloon was in a wretched state of squalor and litter.

'Off Rottum,' I said, and knelt up to find the chart. There was a look in his eyes that I suppose I ought to have understood, but I can scarcely blame myself, for the accumulated strain, not only of the last three days and nights, but of the whole arduous month of my cruise with Davies, was beginning to tell on me, now that safety and success were at hand. I handed up the chart through the companion, and then crept into the reeling fo'c'sle and lay down on the spare sail-bags, with the thunder and thump of the seas around and above me.

I must quote Davies for the event that happened now; for by the time I had responded to the alarm and climbed up through the fore-hatch, the whole tragedy was over and done with.

'X— came up the companion,' he says, 'soon after you went down. He held on by the runner, and stared to windward at Rottum, as though he knew the place quite well. And then he came towards us, moving so unsteadily that I gave Clara the tiller, and went to help him. I tried to make him go down again, but he wouldn't, and came aft.

"'Give me the helm," he said, half to himself. "Sea's too bad outside—there's a short cut here."

"'Thanks," I said, "I know this one." (I don't think I meant to be sarcastic.) He said nothing, and settled himself on the counter behind us, safe enough, with his feet against the lee-rail, and then, to my astonishment, began to talk over my shoulder jolly sensibly about the course, pointing out a buoy which is wrong on the chart (as I knew), and telling me it was wrong, and so on. Well, we came to the bar of the Schild, and had to turn south for that twisty bit of beating between Rottum and Bosch Flat. Clara was at the jib-sheet, I had the chart and the tiller (you know how absent I get like that); there was a bobble of sea, and we both had heaps to do, and—well—I happened to look round, and he was gone. He hadn't spoken for a minute or two, but I believe the last thing I heard him say (I was hardly attending at the time, for we were in the thick of it) was something about a "short cut" again. He must have slipped over quietly ... He had an ulster and big boots on.'

We cruised about for a time, but never found him.

That evening, after threading the maze of shoals between the Dutch mainland and islands, we anchored off the little hamlet of Ostmahorn, gave the yacht in charge of some astonished fishermen, and thence by road and rail, hurrying still, gained Harlingen, and took passage on a steamer to London. From that point our personal history is of no concern to the outside world, and here, therefore, I bring this narrative to an end.

Monday, 10 September 2012

The Luck Of The Stowaway

Chapter XXVII: The Luck Of The Stowaway

AT Esens Station I reversed my Norden tactics, jumped out smartly, and got to the door of egress first of all, gave up my ticket, and hung about the gate of the station under cover of darkness. Fortune smiled still; there was no vehicle in waiting at all, and there were only half a dozen passengers. Two of these were the cloaked gentlemen who had been so nearly left behind at Norden, and another was von Brüning. The latter walked well in advance of the first pair, but at the gate on to the high road the three showed a common purpose, in that, unlike the rest, who turned towards Esens town, they turned southwards; much to my perplexity, for this was the contrary direction to Bensersiel and the sea. I, with my bundle on my shoulder, had been bringing up the rear, and, as their faithful shadow, turned to the right too, without foreseeing the consequence. When it was too late to turn back I saw that, fifty yards ahead, the road was barred by the gates of a level crossing, and that the four of us must inevitably accumulate at the barrier till the train had steamed away. This, in fact, happened, and for a minute or two we were all in a group, elaborately indifferent to one another, silent, but I am sure very conscious. As for me, 'secret laughter tickled all my soul'. When the gates were opened the three seemed disposed to lag, so I tactfully took my cue, trudged briskly on ahead, and stopped after a few minutes to listen. Hearing nothing I went cautiously back and found that they had disappeared; in which direction was not long in doubt, for I came on a grassy path leading into the fields on the left or west of the road, and though I could see no one I heard the distant murmur of receding voices.

I took my bearings collectedly, placed one foot on the path, thought better of it, and turned back towards Esens. I knew without reference to the map that that path would bring them to the Benser Tief at a point somewhere near the timber-yard. In a fog I might have followed them there; as it was, the night was none too dark, and I had my strength to husband; and stamped on my memory were the words 'the tide serves'. I judged it a wiser use of time and sinew to anticipate them at Bensersiel by the shortest road, leaving them to reach it by way of the devious Tief, to examine which was, I felt convinced, one of their objects.

It was nine o'clock of a fresh wild night, a halo round the beclouded moon. I passed through quiet Esens, and in an hour I was close to Bensersiel, and could hear the sea. In the rooted idea that I should find Grimm on the outskirts, awaiting visitors, I left the road short of the village, and made a circuit to the harbour by way of the sea-wall. The lower windows of the inn shed a warm glow into the night, and within I could see the village circle gathered over cards, and dominated as of old by the assertive little postmaster, whose high-pitched, excitable voice I could clearly distinguish, as he sat with his cap on the back of his head and a 'feine schnapps' at his elbow. The harbour itself looked exactly the same as I remembered it a week ago. The post-boat lay in her old berth at the eastern jetty, her mainsail set and her twin giants spitting over the rail. I hailed them boldly from the shore (without showing them who I was), and was told they were starting for Langeoog in a few minutes; the wind was off-shore, the mails aboard, and the water just high enough. 'Did I want a passage?' 'No, I thought I would wait.' Positive that my party could never have got here so soon, I nevertheless kept an eye on the galliot till she let go her stern-rope and slid away. One contingency was eliminated. Some loiterers dispersed, and all port business appeared to be ended for the night.

Three-quarters of an hour of strained suspense ensued. Most of it I spent on my knees in a dark angle between the dyke and the western jetty, whence I had a strategic survey of the basin; but I was driven at times to relieve inaction by sallies which increased in audacity. I scouted on the road beyond the bridge, hovered round the lock, and peered in at the inn parlour; but nowhere could I see a trace of Grimm. I examined every floating object in the harbour (they were very few), dropped on to two lighters and pried under tarpaulins, boarded a deserted tug and two or three clumsy rowboats tied up to a mooring-post. Only one of these had the look of readiness, the rest being devoid of oars and rowlocks; a discouraging state of things for a prospective boat-lifter. It was the sight of these rowboats that suggested a last and most distracting possibility, namely, that the boat in waiting, if boat there were, might be not in the harbour at all, but somewhere on the sands outside the dyke, where, at this high state of the tide, it would have water and to spare. Back to the dyke then; but as I peered seaward on the way, contingencies evaporated and a solid fact supervened, for I saw the lights of a steamboat approaching the harbour mouth. I had barely time to gain my coign of vantage before she had swept in between the piers, and with a fitful swizzling of her screw was turning and backing down to a berth just ahead of one of the lighters, and not fifty feet from my hiding-place. A deck-hand jumped ashore with a rope, while the man at the wheel gave gruff directions. The vessel was a small tug, and the man at the wheel disclosed his identity when, having rung off his engines, he jumped ashore also, looked at his watch in the beam of the sidelight, and walked towards the village. It was Grimm, by the height and build—Grimm clad in a long tarpaulin coat and a sou'wester. I watched him cross the shaft of light from the inn window and disappear in the direction of the canal.

Another sailor now appeared and helped his fellow to tie up the tug. The two together then went aft and began to set about some job whose nature I could not determine. To emerge was perilous, so I set about a job of my own, tearing open my bundle and pulling an oilskin jacket and trousers over my clothes, and discarding my peaked cap for a sou'-wester. This operation was prompted instantaneously by the garb of two sailors, who in hauling on the forward warp came into the field of the mast-head light.

It was something of a gymnastic masterpiece, since I was lying—or, rather, standing aslant—on the rough sea-wall, with crannies of brick for foothold and the water plashing below me; but then I had not lived in the Dulcibella for nothing. My chain of thought, I fancy, was this—the tug is to carry my party; I cannot shadow a tug in a rowboat, yet I intend to shadow my party; I must therefore go with them in the tug, and the first and soundest step is to mimic her crew. But the next step was a hard matter, for the crew having finished their job sat side by side on the bulwarks and lit their pipes. However, a little pantomime soon occurred, as amusing as it was inspiriting. They seemed to consult together, looking from the tug to the inn and from the inn to the tug. One of them walked a few paces inn-wards and beckoned to the other, who in his turn called something down the engine-room skylight, and then joined his mate in a scuttle to the inn. Even while I watched the pantomime I was sliding off my boots, and it had not been consummated a second before I had them in my arms and was tripping over the mud in my stocking feet. A dozen noiseless steps and I was over the bulwarks between the wheel and the smoke-stack, casting about for a hiding-place. The conventional stowaway hides in the hold, but there was only a stokehold here, occupied moreover; nor was there an empty apple-barrel, such as Jim of Treasure Island found so useful. As far as I could see—and I dared not venture far for fear of the skylight—the surface of the deck offered nothing secure. But on the farther or starboard side, rather abaft the beam, there was a small boat in davits, swung outboard, to which common sense, and perhaps a vague prescience of its after utility, pointed irresistibly. In any case, discrimination was out of place, so I mounted the bulwark and gently entered my refuge. The tackles creaked a trifle, oars and seats impeded me; but well before the thirsty truants had returned I was settled on the floor boards between two thwarts, so placed that I could, if necessary, peep over the gunwale.

The two sailors returned at a run, and very soon after voices approached, and I recognized that of Herr Schenkel chattering volubly. He and Grimm boarded the tug and went down a companion-way aft, near which, as I peeped over, I saw a second skylight, no bigger than the Dulcibella's, illuminated from below. Then I heard a cork drawn, and the kiss of glasses, and in a minute or two they re-emerged. It was apparent that Herr Schenkel was inclined to stay and make merry, and that Grimm was anxious to get rid of him, and none too courteous in showing it. The former urged that to-morrow's tide would do, the latter gave orders to cast off, and at length observed with an angry oath that the water was falling, and he must start; and, to clinch matters, with a curt good-night, he went to the wheel and rang up his engines. Herr Schenkel landed and strutted off in high dudgeon, while the tug's screw began to revolve. We had only glided a few yards on when the engines stopped, a short blast of the whistle sounded, and, before I had had time to recast the future, I heard a scurry of footsteps from the direction of the dyke, first on the bank, next on the deck. The last of these new arrivals panted audibly as he got aboard and dropped on the planks with an unelastic thud.

Her complement made up, the tug left the harbour, but not alone. While slowly gathering way the hull checked all at once with a sharp jerk, recovered, and increased its speed. We had something in tow—what? The lighter, of course, that had been lying astern of us.

Now I knew what was in that lighter, because I had been to see, half an hour ago. It was no lethal cargo, but coal, common household coal; not a full load of it, I remembered—just a good-sized mound amidships, trimmed with battens fore and aft to prevent shifting. 'Well,' thought I, 'this is intelligible enough. Grimm was ostensibly there to call for a load of coal for Memmert. But does that mean we are going to Memmert?' At the same time I recalled a phrase overheard at the depot, 'Only one—half a load.' Why half a load?

For some few minutes there was a good deal of movement on deck, and of orders shouted by Grimm and answered by a voice from far astern on the lighter. Presently, however, the tug warmed to her work, the hull vibrated with energy, and an ordered peace reigned on board. I also realized that having issued from the boomed channel we had turned westward, for the wind, which had been blowing us fair, now blew strongly over the port beam.

I peeped out of my eyrie and was satisfied in a moment that as long as I made no noise, and observed proper prudence, I was perfectly safe until the boat was wanted. There were no deck lamps; the two skylights diffused but a sickly radiance, and I was abaft the side-lights. I was abaft the wheel also, though thrillingly near it in point of distance—about twelve feet, I should say; and Grimm was steering. The wheel, I should mention here, was raised, as you often see them, on a sort of pulpit, approached by two or three steps and fenced by a breast-high arc of boarding. Only one of the crew was visible, and he was acting as look-out in the extreme bows, the rays of the masthead lights—for a second had been hoisted in sign of towage—glistening on his oilskin back. The other man, I concluded, was steering the lighter, which I could dimly locate by the pale foam at her bow.

And the passengers? They were all together aft, three of them, leaning over the taffrail, with their backs turned to me. One was short and stout—Böhme unquestionably; the panting and the thud on the planks had prepared me for that, though where he had sprung from I did not know. Two were tall, and one of these must be von Brüning. There ought to be four, I reckoned; but three were all I could see. And what of the third? It must be he who 'insists on coming', the unknown superior at whose instance and for whose behoof this secret expedition had been planned. And who could he be? Many times, needless to say, I had asked myself that question, but never till now, when I had found the rendezvous and joined the expedition, did it become one of burning import.

'Any weather' was another of those stored-up phrases that were apropos. It was a dirty, squally night, not very cold, for the wind still hung in the S.S.W.—an off-shore wind on this coast, causing no appreciable sea on the shoal spaces we were traversing. In the matter of our bearings, I set myself doggedly to overcome that paralysing perplexity, always induced in me by night or fog in these intricate waters; and, by screwing round and round, succeeded so far as to discover and identify two flashing lights—one alternately red and white, far and faint astern; the other right ahead and rather stronger, giving white flashes only. The first and least familiar was, I made out, from the lighthouse on Wangeroog; the second, well known to me as our beacon star in the race from Memmert, was the light on the centre of Norderney Island, about ten miles away.

I had no accurate idea of the time, for I could not see my watch, but I thought we must have started about a quarter past eleven. We were travelling fast, the funnel belching out smoke and the bow-wave curling high; for the tug appeared to be a powerful little craft, and her load was comparatively light.

So much for the general situation. As for my own predicament, I was in no mood to brood on the hazards of this mad adventure, a hundredfold more hazardous than my fog-smothered eavesdropping at Memmert. The crisis, I knew, had come, and the reckless impudence that had brought me here must serve me still and extricate me. Fortune loves rough wooing. I backed my luck and watched.

The behaviour of the passengers struck me as odd. They remained in a row at the taffrail, gazing astern like regretful emigrants, and sometimes, gesticulating and pointing. Now no vestige of the low land was visible, so I was driven to the conclusion that it was the lighter they were discussing; and I date my awakening from the moment that I realized this. But the thread broke prematurely; for the passengers took to pacing the deck, and I had to lie low. When next I was able to raise my head they were round Grimm at the wheel, engaged, as far as I could discover from their gestures, in an argument about our course and the time, for Grimm looked at his watch by the light of a hand-lantern.

We were heading north, and I knew by the swell that we must be near the Accumer Ee, the gap between Langeoog and Baltrum. Were we going out to open sea? It came over me with a rush that we must, if we were to drop this lighter at Memmert. Had I been Davies I should have been quicker to seize certain rigid conditions of this cruise, which no human power could modify. We had left after high tide. The water therefore was falling everywhere; and the tributary channels in rear of the islands were slowly growing impassable. It was quite thirty miles to Memmert, with three watersheds to pass; behind Baltrum, Norderney, and Juist. A skipper with nerve and perfect confidence might take us over one of these in the dark, but most of the run would infallibly have to be made outside. I now better understood the protests of Herr Schenkel to Grimm. Never once had we seen a lighter in tow in the open sea, though plenty behind the barrier of islands; indeed it was the very existence of the sheltered byways that created such traffic as there was. It was only Grimm's métier and the incubus of the lighter that had suggested Memmert as our destination at all, and I began to doubt it now. That tricky hoop of sand had befooled us before.

At this moment, and as if to corroborate my thought, the telegraph rang and the tug slowed down. I effaced myself and heard Grimm shouting to the man on the lighter to starboard his helm, and to the look-out to come aft. The next order froze my very marrow; it was 'lower away'. Someone was at the davits of my boat fingering the tackles; the forward fall-rope actually slipped in the block and tilted the boat a fraction. I was just wondering how far it was to swim to Langeoog, when a strong, imperious voice (unknown to me) rang out, 'No, no! We don't want the boat. The swell's nothing; we can jump! Can't we, Böhme?' The speaker ended with a jovial laugh. 'Mercy!' thought I, 'are they going to swim to Langeoog?' but I also gasped for relief. The tug rolled lifelessly in the swell for a little, and footsteps retreated aft. There were cries of 'Achtung!' and some laughter, one big bump and a good deal of grinding; and on we moved again, taking the strain of the tow-rope gingerly, and then full-speed ahead. The passengers, it seemed, preferred the lighter to the tug for cruising in; coal-dust and exposure to clean planks and a warm cuddy. When silence reigned again I peeped out. Grimm was at the wheel still, impassively twirling the spokes, with a glance over his shoulder at his precious freight. And, after all, we were going outside.

Close on the port hand lay a black foam-girt shape, the east of spit Baltrum. It fused with the night, while we swung slowly round to windward over the troubled bar. Now we were in the spacious deeps of the North Sea; and feeling it too in increase of swell and volleys of spray.

At this point evolutions began. Grimm gave the wheel up to the look-out, and himself went to the taffrail, whence he roared back orders of 'Port!' or 'Starboard!' in response to signals from the lighter. We made one complete circle, steering on each point of the wind in succession, after that worked straight out to sea till the water was a good deal rougher, and back again at a tangent, till in earshot of the surf on the island beach. There the manœuvres, which were clearly in the nature of a trial trip, ended; and we hove to, to transship our passengers. They, when they came aboard, went straight below, and Grimm, having steadied the tug on a settled course and entrusted the wheel to the sailor again, stripped off his dripping oilskin coat, threw it down on the cabin skylight, and followed them. The course he had set was about west, with Norderney light a couple of points off the port bow. The course for Memmert? Possibly; but I cared not, for my mind was far from Memmert to-night. It was the course for England too. Yes, I understood at last. I was assisting at an experimental rehearsal of a great scene, to be enacted, perhaps, in the near future—a scene when multitudes of seagoing lighters, carrying full loads of soldiers, not half loads of coals, should issue simultaneously, in seven ordered fleets, from seven shallow outlets, and, under escort of the Imperial Navy, traverse the North Sea and throw themselves bodily upon English shores.

Indulgent reader, you may be pleased to say that I have been very obtuse; and yet, with humility, I protest against that verdict. Remember that, recent as are the events I am describing, it is only since they happened that the possibility of an invasion of England by Germany has become a topic of public discussion. Davies and I had never—I was going to say had never considered it; but that would not be accurate, for we had glanced at it once or twice; and if any single incident in his or our joint cruise had provided a semblance of confirmation, he, at any rate, would have kindled to that spark. But you will see how perversely from first to last circumstances drove us deeper and deeper into the wrong groove, till the idea became inveterate that the secret we were seeking was one of defence and not offence. Hence a complete mental somersault was required, and, as an amateur, I found it difficult; the more so that the method of invasion, as I darkly comprehended it now, was of such a strange and unprecedented character; for orthodox invasions start from big ports and involve a fleet of ocean transports, while none of our clues pointed that way. To neglect obvious methods, to draw on the obscure resources of an obscure strip of coast, to improve and exploit a quantity of insignificant streams and tidal outlets, and thence, screened by the islands, to despatch an armada of light-draught barges, capable of flinging themselves on a correspondingly obscure and therefore unexpected portion of the enemy's coast; that was a conception so daring, aye, and so quixotic in some of its aspects, that even now I was half incredulous. Yet it must be the true one. Bit by bit the fragments of the puzzle fell into order till a coherent whole was adumbrated. [The reader will find the whole matter dealt with in the Epilogue.]

The tug surged on into the night; a squall of rain leapt upon us and swept hissing astern. Baltrum vanished and the strands of Norderney beamed under transient moonlight. Drunk with triumph, I cuddled in my rocking cradle and ransacked every unvisited chamber of the memory, tossing out their dusty contents, to make a joyous bonfire of some, and to see the residue take life and meaning in the light of the great revelation.

My reverie was of things, not persons; of vast national issues rather than of the poignant human interests so closely linked with them. But on a sudden I was recalled, with a shock, to myself, Davies, and the present.

We were changing our course, as I knew by variations in the whirl of draughts which whistled about me. I heard Grimm afoot again, and, choosing my moment, surveyed the scene. Broad on the port-beam were the garish lights of Norderney town and promenade, and the tug, I perceived, was drawing in to enter the See-Gat.

Round she came, hustling through the broken water of the bar, till her nose was south and the wind was on the starboard bow. Not a mile from me were the villa and the yacht, and the three persons of the drama—three, that is, if Davies were safe.

Were we to land at Norderney harbour? Heavens, what a magnificent climax!—if only I could rise to it. My work here was done. At a stroke to rejoin Davies and be free to consummate our designs!

A desperate idea of cutting the davit-tackles—I blush to think of the stupidity—was rejected as soon as it was born, and instead, I endeavoured to imagine our approach to the pier. My boat hung on the starboard side; that would be the side away from the quay, and the tide would be low. I could swarm down the davits during the stir of arrival, drop into the sea and swim the few yards across the dredged-out channel, wade through the mud to within a short distance of the Dulcibella, and swim the rest. I rubbed the salt out of my eyes and wriggled my cramped legs ... Hullo! why was Grimm leaving the helm again? Back he went to the cabin, leaving the sailor at the helm. . . We ought to be turning to port now; but no—on we went, south, for the mainland.

Though one plan was frustrated, the longing to get to Davies, once implanted, waxed apace.

Our destination was at last beyond dispute. The channel we were in was the same that we had cut across on our blind voyage to Memmert, and the same my ferry-steamer had followed two days ago. It was a cul-de-sac leading to one place only, the landing stage at Norddeich. The only place on the whole coast, now I came to think of it, where the tug could land at this tide. There the quay would be on the starboard side, and I saw myself tied to my eyrie while the passengers landed and the tug and lighter turned back for Memmert; at Memmert, dawn, and discovery.

There was some way out—some way out, I repeated to myself; some way to reap the fruit of Davies's long tutelage in the lore of this strange region. What would he do?

For answer there came the familiar frou-frou of gentle surf on drying sands. The swell was dying away, the channel narrowing; dusky and weird on the starboard hand stretched leagues of new-risen sand. Two men only were on deck; the moon was quenched under the vanguard clouds of a fresh squall.

A madcap scheme danced before me. The time, I must know the time! Crouching low and cloaking the flame with my jacket I struck a match; 2.30 a.m.—the tide had been ebbing for about three hours and a half. Low water about five; they would be aground till 7.30. Danger to life? None. Flares and rescuers? Not likely, with 'him who insists' on board; besides, no one could come, there being no danger. I should have a fair wind and a fair tide for my trip. Grimm's coat was on the skylight; we were both clean shaved.

The helmsman gazed ahead, intent on his difficult course, and the wind howled to perfection. I knelt up and examined one of the davit-tackles. There was nothing remarkable about it, a double and a single block (like our own peak halyards), the lower one hooked into a ring in the boat, the hauling part made fast to a cleat on the davit itself. Something there must be to give lateral support or the boat would have racketed abroad in the roll outside. The support, I found, consisted of two lanyards spliced to the davits and rove through holes in the keel. These I leaned over and cut with my pocket-knife; the result being a barely perceptible swaying of the boat, for the tug was under the lee of sands and on an even keel. Then I left my hiding-place, climbing out of the stern sheets by the after-davit, and preparing every successive motion with exquisite tenderness, till I stood on the deck. In another moment I was at the cabin skylight, lifting Grimm's long oilskin coat. (A second's yielding to temptation here; but no, the skylight was ground glass, fastened from below. So, on with the coat, up with the collar, and forward to the wheel on tiptoe.) As soon as I was up to the engine-room skylight (that is to say, well ahead of the cabin roof) I assumed a natural step, went up to the pulpit and touched the helmsman on the arm, as I had seen Grimm do. The man stepped aside, grunting something about a light, and I took the wheel from him. Grimm was a man of few words, so I just jogged his satellite, and pointed forward. He went off like a lamb to his customary place in the bows, not having dreamt—why should he?—of examining me, but in him I had instantly recognized one of the crew of the Kormoran.

My ruse developed in all its delicious simplicity. We were, I estimated, about half-way to Norddeich, in the Buse Tief, a channel of a navigable breadth, at the utmost of two hundred yards at this period of the tide. Two faint lights, one above the other, twinkled far ahead. What they meant I neither knew nor cared, since the only use I put them to was to test the effect of the wheel, for this was the first time I had ever tasted the sweets of command on a steamboat. A few cautious essays taught me the rudiments, and nothing could hinder the catastrophe now.

I edged over to starboard—that was the side I had selected—and again a little more, till the glistening back of the look-out gave a slight movement; but he was a well-drilled minion, with implicit trust in the 'old man'. Now, hard over! and spoke by spoke I gave her the full pressure of the helm. The look-out shouted a warning, and I raised my arm in calm acknowledgement. A cry came from the lighter, and I remember I was just thinking 'What the dickens'll happen to her?' when the end came; a euthanasia so mild and gradual (for the sands are fringed with mud) that the disaster was on us before I was aware of it. There was just the tiniest premonitory shuddering as our keel clove the buttery medium, a cascade of ripples from either beam, and the wheel jammed to rigidity in my hands, as the tug nestled up to her resting-place.

In the scene of panic that followed, it is safe to say that I was the only soul on board who acted with methodical tranquillity. The look-out flew astern like an arrow, bawling to the lighter. Grimm, with the passengers tumbling up after him, was on deck in an instant, storming and cursing; flung himself on the wheel which I had respectfully abandoned, jangled the telegraph, and wrenched at the spokes. The tug listed over under the force of the tide; wind, darkness, and rain aggravated the confusion.

For my part, I stepped back behind the smoke stack, threw off my robe of office, and made for the boat. Long and bitter experience of running aground had told me that that was sure to be wanted. On the way I cannoned into one of the passengers and pressed him into my service; incidentally seeing his face, and verifying an old conjecture. It was one who, in Germany, has a better right to insist than anyone else.

As we reached the davits there was a report like a pistol-shot from the port-side—the tow-rope parting, I believe, as the lighter with her shallower draught swung on past the tug. Fresh tumult arose, in which I heard: 'Lower the boat,' from Grimm; but the order was already executed. My ally the Passenger and I had each cast off a tackle, and slacked away with a run; that done, I promptly clutched the wire guy to steady myself, and tumbled in. (It was not far to tumble, for the tug listed heavily to starboard; think of our course, and the set of the ebb stream, and you will see why.) The forward fall unhooked sweetly; but the after one lost play. 'Slack away,' I called, peremptorily, and felt for my knife. My helper above obeyed; the hook yielded; I filliped away the loose tackle, and the boat floated away.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

The Seven Siels

Chapter XXVI: The Seven Siels

SELECTING the very humblest Gasthaus I could discover, I laid down my bundle and called for beer, bread, and Wurst. The landlord, as I had expected, spoke the Frisian dialect, so that though he was rather difficult to understand, he had no doubts about the purity of my own German high accent. He was a worthy fellow, and hospitably interested: 'Did I want a bed?' 'No; I was going on to Bensersiel,' I said, 'to sleep there, and take the morning Postschiff to Langeoog Island.' (I had not forgotten our friends the twin giants and their functions.) 'I was not an islander myself?' he asked. 'No, but I had a married sister there; had just returned from a year's voyaging, and was going to visit her.' 'By the way,' I asked, 'how are they getting on with the Benser Tief?' My friend shrugged his shoulders; it was finished, he believed. 'And the connexion to Wittmund?' 'Under construction still.' 'Langeoog would be going ahead then?' 'Oh! he supposed so, but he did not believe in these new-fangled schemes.' 'But it was good for trade, I supposed? Esens would benefit in sending goods by the "tief"—what was the traffic, by the way?' 'Oh, a few more barge-loads than before of bricks, timber, coals, etc., but it would come to nothing he knew: Aktiengesellschaften (companies) were an invention of the devil. A few speculators got them up and made money themselves out of land and contracts, while the shareholders they had hoodwinked starved.' 'There's something in that,' I conceded to this bigoted old conservative; 'my sister at Langeoog rents her lodging-house from a man named Dollmann; they say he owns a heap of land about. I saw his yacht once—pink velvet and electric light inside, they say——'

'That's the name,' said mine host, 'that's one of them—some sort of foreigner, I've heard; runs a salvage concern, too, Juist way.'

'Well, he won't get any of my savings!' I laughed, and soon after took my leave, and inquired from a passer-by the road to Dornum. 'Follow the railway,' I was told.

With a warm wind in my face from the south-west, fleecy clouds and a half-moon overhead, I set out, not for Bensersiel but for Benser Tief, which I knew must cross the road to Dornum somewhere. A mile or so of cobbled causeway flanked with ditches and willows, and running cheek by jowl with the railway track; then a bridge, and below me the 'Tief'; which was, in fact, a small canal. A rutty track left the road, and sloped down to it one side; a rough siding left the railway, and sloped down to it on the other.

I lit a pipe and sat on the parapet for a little. No one was stirring, so with great circumspection I began to reconnoitre the left bank to the north. The siding entered a fenced enclosure by a locked gate—a gate I could have easily climbed, but I judged it wiser to go round by the bridge again and look across. The enclosure was a small coal-store, nothing more; there were gaunt heaps of coal glittering in the moonlight; a barge half loaded lying alongside, and a deserted office building. I skulked along a sandy towpath in solitude. Fens and field were round me, as the map had said; willows and osier-beds; the dim forms of cattle; the low melody of wind roaming unfettered over a plain; once or twice the flutter and quack of a startled wild-duck.

Presently I came to a farmhouse, dark and silent; opposite it, in the canal, a couple of empty barges. I climbed into one of these, and sounded with my stick on the off-side—barely three feet; and the torpedo-boat melted out of my speculations. The stream, I observed also, was only just wide enough for two barges to pass with comfort. Other farms I saw, or thought I saw, and a few more barges lying in side-cuts linked by culverts to the canal, but nothing noteworthy; and mindful that I had to explore the Wittmund side of the railway too, I turned back, already a trifle damped in spirits, but still keenly expectant.

Passing under the road and railway, I again followed the tow-path, which, after half a mile, plunged into woods, then entered a clearing and another fenced enclosure; a timber-yard by the look of it. This time I stripped from the waist downward, waded over, dressed again, and climbed the paling. (There was a cottage standing back, but its occupants evidently slept.) I was in a timber-yard, by the stacks of wood and the steam saw-mill; but something more than a timber-yard, for as I warily advanced under the shadow of the trees at the edge of the clearing I came to a long tin shed which strangely reminded me of Memmert, and below it, nearer the canal, loomed a dark skeleton framework, which proved to be a half-built vessel on stocks. Close by was a similar object, only nearly completed—a barge. A paved slipway led to the water here, and the canal broadened to a siding or back-water in which lay seven or eight more barges in tiers. I scaled another paling and went on, walking, I should think, three miles by the side of the canal, till the question of bed and ulterior plans brought me to a halt. It was past midnight, and I was adding little to my information. I had encountered a brick-field, but soon after that there was increasing proof that the canal was as yet little used for traffic. It grew narrower, and there were many signs of recent labour for its improvement. In one place a dammed-off deviation was being excavated, evidently to abridge an impossible bend. The path had become atrocious, and my boots were heavy with clay. Bearing in mind the abruptly-ending blue line on the map, I considered it useless to go farther, and retraced my steps, trying to concoct a story which would satisfy an irritable Esens inn-keeper that it was a respectable wayfarer, and not a tramp or a lunatic, who knocked him up at half-past one or thereabouts.

But a much more practical resource occurred to me as I approached the timber-yard; for lodging, free and accessible, lay there ready to hand. I boarded one of the empty barges in the backwater, and surveyed my quarters for the night. It was of a similar pattern to all the others I had seen; a lighter, strictly, in the sense that it had no means of self-propulsion, and no separate quarters for a crew, the whole interior of the hull being free for cargo. At both bow and stern there were ten feet or so of deck, garnished with bitts and bollards. The rest was an open well, flanked by waterways of substantial breadth; the whole of stout construction and, for a humble lighter, of well-proportioned and even graceful design, with a marked forward sheer, and, as I had observed in the specimen on the stocks, easy lines at the stern. In short, it was apparent, even to an ignorant landsman like myself, that she was designed not merely for canal work but for rough water; and well she might be, for, though the few miles of sea she had to cross in order to reach the islands were both shallow and sheltered, I knew from experience what a vicious surf they could be whipped into by a sudden gale. It must not be supposed that I dwelt on this matter. On limited lines I was making progress, but the wings of imagination still drooped nervelessly at my sides. Otherwise I perhaps should have examined this lighter more particularly, instead of regarding it mainly as a convenient hiding-place. Under the stern-deck was stored a massive roll of tarpaulin, a corner of which made an excellent blanket, and my bundle a good pillow. It was a descent from the luxury of last night; but a spy, I reflected philosophically, cannot expect a feather bed two nights running, and this one was at any rate airier and roomier than the coffin-like bunk of the Dulcibella, and not so very much harder.

When snugly ensconced, I studied the map by intermittent match-light. It had been dawning on me in the last half-hour that this canal was only one of several; that in concentrating myself on Esens and Bensersiel, I had forgotten that there were other villages ending in siel, also furnished on the chart with corkscrew streams; and, moreover, that Böhme's statistics of depth and distance had been marshalled in seven categories, A to G. The very first match brought full recollection as to the villages. The suffix siel repeated itself all round the coast-line. Five miles eastward of Bensersiel was Neuharlingersiel, and farther on Carolinensiel. Four miles westward was Dornumersiel; and farther on Nessmersiel and Hilgenriedersiel. That was six on the north coast of the peninsula alone. On the west coast, facing the Ems, there was only one, Greetsiel, a good way south of Norden. But on the east, facing the Jade, there were no less than eight, at very close intervals. A moment's thought and I disregarded this latter group; they had nothing to do with Esens, nor had they any imaginable raison d'étre as veins for commerce; differing markedly in this respect from the group of six on the north coast, whose outlook was the chain of islands, and whose inland centre, almost exactly, was Esens. I still wanted one to make seven, and as a working hypothesis added the solitary Greetsiel. At all seven villages streams debouched, as at Bensersiel. From all seven points of issue dotted lines were marked seaward, intersecting the great tidal sands and leading towards the islands. And on the mainland behind the whole sevenfold system ran the loop of railway. But there were manifold minor points of difference. No stream boasted so deep and decisive a blue lintel as did Benser Tief; none penetrated so far into the Hinterland. They varied in length and sinuosity. Two, those belonging to Hilgenriedersiel and Greetsiel, appeared not to reach the railway at all. On the other hand, Carolinensiel, opposite Wangeroog Island, had a branch line all to itself.

Match after match waxed and waned as I puzzled over the mystic seven. In the end I puzzled myself to sleep, with the one fixed idea that to-morrow, on my way back to Norden, I must see more of these budding canals, if such they were. My dreams that night were of a mighty chain of redoubts and masked batteries couching perdus among the sand-dunes of desolate islets; built, coral-like, by infinitely slow and secret labour; fed by lethal cargoes borne in lighters and in charge of stealthy mutes who, one and all, bore the likeness of Grimm. I was up and away at daylight (the weather mild and showery), meeting some navvies on my way back to the road, who gave me good morning and a stare. On the bridge I halted and fell into torments of indecision. There was so much to do and so little time to do it in. The whole problem seemed to have been multiplied by seven, and the total again doubled and redoubled—seven blue lines on land, seven dotted lines on the sea, seven islands in the offing. Once I was near deciding to put my pretext into practice, and cross to Langeoog; but that meant missing the rendezvous, and I was loth to do that.

At any rate, I wanted breakfast badly; and the best way to get it, and at the same time to open new ground, was to walk to Dornum. Then I should find a blue line called the Neues Tief leading to Dornumersiel, on the coast. That explored, I could pass on to Nesse, where there was another blue line to Nessmersiel. All this was on the way to Norden, and I should have the railway constantly at my back, to carry me there in the evening. The last train (my time-table told me) was one reaching Norden at 7.15 p.m. I could catch this at Hage Station at 7.5.

A brisk walk of six miles brought me, ravenously hungry, to Dornum. Road and railway had clung together all the time, and about half-way had been joined on the left by a third companion in the shape of a puny stream which I knew from the map to be the upper portion of Neues Tief. Wriggling and doubling like an eel, choked with sedges and reeds, it had no pretensions to being navigable. At length it looped away into the fens out of sight, only to reappear again close to Dornum in a much more dignified guise.

There was no siding where the railway crossed it, but at the town itself, which it skirted on the east, a towpath began, and a piled wharf had been recently constructed. Going on to this was a red-brick building with the look of a warehouse, roofless as yet, and with workmen on its scaffolds. It sharpened the edge of my appetite.

If I had been wise I should have been content with a snack bought at a counter, but a thirst for hot coffee and clues induced me to repeat the experiment of Esens and seek a primitive beer-house. I was less lucky on this occasion. The house I chose was obscure enough, but its proprietor was no simple Frisian, but an ill-looking rascal with shifty eyes and a debauched complexion, who showed a most unwelcome curiosity in his customer. As a last fatality, he wore a peaked cap like my own, and turned out to be an ex-sailor. I should have fled at the sight of him had I had the chance, but I was attended to first by a slatternly girl who, I am sure, called him up to view me. To explain my muddy boots and trousers I said I had walked from Esens, and from that I found myself involved in a tangle of impromptu lies. Floundering down an old groove, I placed my sister this time on Baltrum Island, and said I was going to Dornumersiel (which is opposite Baltrum) to cross from there. As this was drawing a bow at a venture, I dared not assume local knowledge, and spoke of the visit as my first. Dornumersiel was a lucky shot; there was a ferry-galliot from there to Baltrum; but he knew, or pretended to know, Baltrum, and had not heard of my sister. I grew the more nervous in that I saw from the first that he took me to be of better condition than most merchant seamen; and, to make matters worse, I was imprudent enough in pleading haste to pull out from an inner pocket my gold watch with the chain and seals attached. He told me there was no hurry, that I should miss the tide at Dornumersiel, and then fell to pressing strong waters on me, and asking questions whose insinuating grossness gave me the key to his biography: He must have been at one stage in his career a dock-side crimp, one of those foul sharks who prey on discharged seamen, and as often as not are ex-seamen themselves, versed in the weaknesses of the tribe. He was now keeping his hand in with me, who, unhappily, purported to belong to the very class he was used to victimize, and, moreover, had a gold watch, and, doubtless, a full purse. Nothing more ridiculously inopportune could have befallen me, or more dangerous; for his class are as cosmopolitan as waiters and concierges, with as facile a gift for language and as unerring a scent for nationality. Sure enough, the fellow recognized mine, and positively challenged me with it in fairly fluent English with a Yankee twang. Encumbered with the mythical sister, of course I stuck to my lie, said I had been on an English ship so long that I had picked up the accent, and also gave him some words in broken English. At the same time I showed I thought him an impertinent nuisance, paid my score and walked out—quit of him? Not a bit of it! He insisted on showing me the way to Dornumersiel, and followed me down the street. Perceiving that he was in liquor, in spite of the early hour, I dared not risk a quarrelsome scene with a man who already knew so much about me, and might at any moment elicit more. So I melted, and humoured him; treated him in a ginshop in the hope of giving him the slip—a disastrous resource, which was made a precedent for further potations elsewhere. I would gladly draw a veil over our scandalous progress through peaceable Dornum, of the terrors I experienced when he introduced me as his friend, and as his English friend, and of the abasement I felt, too, as, linked arm in arm, we trod the three miles of road coastwards. It was his malicious whim that we should talk English; a fortunate whim, as it turned out, because I knew no fo'c'sle German, but had a smattering of fo'c'sle English, gathered from Cutcliffe Hyne and Kipling. With these I extemporized a disreputable hybrid, mostly consisting of oaths and blasphemies, and so yarned of imaginary voyages. Of course he knew every port in the world, but happily was none too critical, owing to repeated schnappsen.

Nevertheless, it was a deplorable contretemps from every point of view. I was wasting my time, for the road took a different direction to the Neues Tief, so that I had not even the advantage of inspecting the canal and only met with it when we reached the sea. Here it split into two mouths, both furnished with locks, and emptying into two little mud-hole harbours, replicas of Bensersiel, each owning its cluster of houses. I made straight for the Gasthaus at Dornumersiel, primed my companion well, and asked him to wait while I saw about a boat in the harbour; but, needless to say, I never rejoined him. I just took a cursory look at the left-hand harbour, saw a lighter locking through (for the tide was high), and then walked as fast as my legs would carry me to the outermost dyke, mounted it, and strode along the sea westwards in the teeth of a smart shower of rain, full of deep apprehensions as to the stir and gossip my disappearance might cause if my odious crimp was sober enough to discover it. As soon as I deemed it safe, I dropped on to the sand and ran till I could run no more. Then I sat on my bundle with my back to the dyke in partial shelter from the rain, watching the sea recede from the flats and dwindle into slender meres, and the laden clouds fly weeping over the islands till those pale shapes were lost in mist.

The barge I had seen locking through was creeping across towards Langeoog behind a tug and a wisp of smoke.

No more exploration by daylight! That was my first resolve, for I felt as if the country must be ringing with reports of an Englishman in disguise. I must remain in hiding till dusk, then regain the railway and slink into that train to Norden. Now directly I began to resign myself to temporary inaction, and to centre my thoughts on the rendezvous, a new doubt assailed me. Nothing had seemed more certain yesterday than that Norden was the scene of the rendezvous, but that was before the seven siels had come into prominence. The name Norden now sounded naked and unconvincing. As I wondered why, it suddenly occurred to me that all the stations along this northern line, though farther inland than Norden, were equally 'coast stations', in the sense that they were in touch with harbours (of a sort) on the coast. Norden had its tidal creek, but Esens and Dornum had their 'tiefs' or canals. Fool that I had been to put such a narrow and literal construction on the phrase 'the tide serves!' Which was it more likely that my conspirators would visit—Norden, whose intrusion into our theories was purely hypothetical, or one of these siels to whose sevenfold systems all my latest observations gave such transcendent significance?

There was only one answer; and it filled me with profound discouragement. Seven possible rendezvous!—eight, counting Norden. Which to make for? Out came the time-table and map, and with them hope. The case was not so bad after all; it demanded no immediate change of plan, though it imported grave uncertainties and risks. Norden was still the objective, but mainly as a railway junction, only remotely as a seaport. Though the possible rendezvous were eight, the possible stations were reduced to five—Norden, Hage, Dornum, Esens, Wittmund—all on one single line. Trains from east to west along this line were negligible, because there were none that could be called night trains, the latest being the one I had this morning fixed on to bring me to Norden, where it arrived at 7.15. Of trains from west to east there was only one that need be considered, the same one that I had travelled by last night, leaving Norden at 7.43 and reaching Esens at 8.50, and Wittmund at 9.13. This train, as the reader who was with me in it knows, was in correspondence with another from Emden and the south, and also, I now found, with services from Hanover, Bremen, and Berlin. He will also remember that I had to wait three-quarters of an hour at Norden, from 7 to 7.43.

The platform at Norden Junction, therefore, between 7.15, when I should arrive at it from the east, and 7.43 when Böhme and his unknown friend should leave it for the east; there, and in that half-hour, was my opportunity for recognizing and shadowing two at least of the conspirators. I must take the train they took, and alight where they alighted. If I could not find them at all I should be thrown back on the rejected view that Norden itself was the rendezvous, and should wait there till 10.46.

In the meantime it was all very well to resolve on inaction till dusk; but after an hour's rest, damp clothes and feet, and the absence of pursuers, tempted me to take the field again. Avoiding roads and villages as long as it was light, I cut across country south-westwards—a dismal and laborious journey, with oozy fens and knee-deep drains to course, with circuits to be made to pass clear of peasants, and many furtive crouchings behind dykes and willows. What little I learnt was in harmony with previous explorations, for my track cut at right angles the line of the Harke Tief, the stream issuing at Nessmersiel. It, too, was in the nature of a canal, but only in embryo at the point I touched it, south of Nesse. Works on a deviation were in progress, and in a short digression down stream I sighted another lighter-building yard. As for Hilgenriedersiel, the fourth of the seven, I had no time to see anything of it at all. At seven o'clock I was at Hage Station, very tired, wet, and footsore, after covering nearly twenty miles all told since I left my bed in the lighter.

From here to Norden it was a run in the train of ten minutes, which I spent in eating some rye bread and smoked eel, and in scraping the mud off my boots and trousers. Fatigue vanished when the train drew up at the station, and the momentous twenty-eight minutes began to run their course. Having donned a bulky muffler and turned up the collar of my pea-jacket, I crossed over immediately to the up-platform, walked boldly to the booking-office, and at once sighted—von Brüning—yes, von Brüning in mufti; but there was no mistaking his tall athletic figure, pleasant features, and neat brown beard. He was just leaving the window, gathering up a ticket and some coins. I joined a queue of three or four persons who were waiting their turn, flattened myself between them and the partition till I heard him walk out. Not having heard what station he had booked for, I took a fourth-class ticket to Wittmund, which covered all chances. Then, with my chin buried in my muffler, I sought the darkest corner of the ill-lit combination of bar and waiting-room where, by the tiresome custom in Germany, would-be travellers are penned till their train is ready. Von Brüning I perceived sitting in another corner, with his hat over his eyes and a cigar between his lips. A boy brought me a tankard of tawny Munich beer, and, sipping it, I watched. People passed in and out, but nobody spoke to the sailor in mufti. When a quarter of an hour elapsed, a platform door opened, and a raucous voice shouted: 'Hage, Dornum, Esens, Wittmund!' A knot of passengers jostled out to the platform, showing their tickets. I was slow over my beer, and was last of the knot, with von Brüning immediately ahead of me, so close that his cigar smoke curled into my face. I looked over his shoulder at the ticket he showed, missed the name, but caught a muttered double sibilant from the official who checked it; ran over the stations in my head, and pounced on Esens. That was as much I wanted to know for the present; so I made my way to a fourth-class compartment, and lost sight of my quarry, not venturing, till the last door had banged, to look out of the window. When I did so two late arrivals were hurrying up to a carriage—one tall, one of middle height; both in cloaks and comforters. Their features I could not distinguish, but certainly neither of them was Böhme. They had not come through the waiting-room door, but, plainly, from the dark end of the platform, where they had been waiting. A guard, with some surly remonstrances, shut them in, and the train started.

Esens—the name had not surprised me; it fulfilled a presentiment that had been growing in strength all the afternoon. For the last time I referred to the map, pulpy and blurred with the day's exposure, and tried to etch it into my brain. I marked the road to Bensersiel, and how it converged by degrees on the Benser Tief until they met at the sea. 'The tide serves!' Longing for Davies to help me, I reckoned, by the aid of my diary, that high tide at Bensersiel would be about eleven, and for two hours, I remembered (say from ten to twelve to-night), there were from five to six feet of water in the harbour.

We should reach Esens at 8.50. Would they drive, as von Brüning had done a week ago? I tightened my belt, stamped my mud-burdened boots, and thanked God for the Munich beer. Whither were they going from Bensersiel, and in what; and how was I to follow them? These were nebulous questions, but I was in fettle for anything; boat-stealing was a bagatelle. Fortune, I thought, smiled; Romance beckoned; even the sea looked kind. Ay, and I do not know but that Imagination was already beginning to unstiffen and flutter those nerveless wings.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

I Double Back

Chapter XXV: 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. 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 Bremen.

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, with no leisure to reconnoitre my ground; to be baffled again there, probably, for you cannot always count on fogs (as Davies said). Esens was another clue, and 'to follow Burmer'—there was something in that notion. But I wanted time, and had I time? How long could Davies maintain himself at Norderney? Not so very long, from what I remembered of last night. And was he even safe there? A feverish dream recurred to me—a dream of Davies in a diving-dress; of a regrettable hitch in the air-supply—Stop, that was nonsense! ... Let us be sane. What matter if he had to go? What matter if I took my time in London? Then with a flood of shame I saw Davies's wistful face on the quay, heard his grim ejaculation: 'He's our game or no one's'; and my own sullen 'Oh, I'll keep the secret!' London was utterly impossible. If I found my informant, what credentials had I, what claim to confidences? None, unless I told the whole story. Why, my mere presence in Whitehall would imperil the secret; for, once on my native heath, I should be recognized—possibly haled to judgement; at the best should escape in a cloud of rumour—'last heard of at Norderney'; 'only this morning was raising Cain at the Admiralty about a mythical lieutenant.' No! Back to Friesland, was the word. One night's rest—I must have that—between sheets, on a feather bed; one long, luxurious night, and then back refreshed to Friesland, to finish our work in our own way, and with none but our own weapons.

Having reached this resolve, I was nearly putting it into instant execution, by alighting at Amersfoort, but thought better of it. I had a transformation to effect before I returned North, and the more populous centre I made it in the less it was likely to attract notice. Besides, I had in my mind's eye a perfect bed in a perfect hostelry hard by the Amstel River. It was an economy in the end.

So, at half-past eight I was sipping my coffee in the aforesaid hostelry, with a London newspaper before me, which was unusually interesting, and some German journals, which, 'in hate of a wrong not theirs', were one and all seething with rancorous Anglophobia. At nine I was in the Jewish quarter, striking bargains in an infamous marine slop-shop. At half-past nine I was despatching this unscrupulous telegram to my chief—'Very sorry, could not call Norderney; hope extension all right; please write to Hôtel du Louvre, Paris.' At ten I was in the perfect bed, rapturously flinging my limbs abroad in its glorious redundancies. And at 8.28 on the following morning, with a novel chilliness about the upper lip, and a vast excess of strength and spirits, I was sitting in a third-class carriage, bound for Germany, and dressed as a young seaman, in a pea-jacket, peaked cap, and comforter.

The transition had not been difficult. I had shaved off my moustache and breakfasted hastily in my bedroom, ready equipped for a journey in my ulster and cloth cap. I had dismissed the hotel porter at the station, and left my bag at the cloak-room, after taking out of it an umber bundle and substituting the ulster. The umber bundle, which consisted of my oilskins, and within them my sea-boots and a few other garments and necessaries, the whole tied up with a length of tarry rope, was now in the rack above me, and (with a stout stick) represented my luggage. Every article in it—I shudder at their origin—was in strict keeping with my humble métier, for I knew they were liable to search at the frontier custom-house; but there was a Baedeker of Northern Germany in my jacket pocket.

For the nonce, if questions were asked, I was an English seaman, going to Emden to join a ship, with a ticket as far as the frontier. Beyond that a definite scheme of action had still to be thought out. One thing, however, was sure. I was determined to be at Norden to-morrow night, the 25th. A word about Norden, which is a small town seven miles south of Norddeich. When hurriedly scanning the map for coast stations in the cabin yesterday, I had not thought of Norden, because it did not appear to be on the coast, but Davies had noticed it while I slept, and I now saw that his pencilled hint was a shrewd one. The creek he spoke of, though barely visible on the map, flowed into the Ems Estuary in a south-westerly direction. The 'night train' tallied to perfection, for high tide in the creek would be, as Davies estimated, between 10.30 and 11 p.m. on the night of the 25th; and the time-table showed that the only night train arriving at Norden was one from the south at 10.46 p.m. This looked promising. Emden, which I had inclined to on the spur of the moment, was out of court in comparison, for many reasons; not the least being that it was served by three trains between 9 p.m. and 1 a.m., so that the phrase 'night train' would be ambiguous and not decisive as with Norden.

So far good; but how was I to spend the intervening time? Should I act on Davies's 'querry' and go to Bremen after Böhme? I soon dismissed that idea. It was one to act upon if others failed; for the present it meant another scramble. Bremen is six hours from Norden by rail. I should spend a disproportionate amount of my limited time in trains, and I should want a different disguise. Besides, I had already learnt something fresh about Böhme; for the seed dropped at Emden Station yesterday had come to life. A submarine engineer I knew him to be before; I now knew that canals were another branch of his labours—not a very illuminating fact; but could I pick up more in a single day?

There remained Esens, and it was thither I resolved to go to-night—a tedious journey, lasting till past eight in the evening; but there I should only be an hour from Norden by rail.

And at Esens?

All day long I strove for light on the central mystery, collecting from my diary, my memory, my imagination, from the map, the time-table, and Davies's grubby jottings, every elusive atom of material. Sometimes I issued from a reverie with a start, to find a phlegmatic Dutch peasant staring strangely at me over his china pipe. I was more careful over the German border. Davies's paper I soon knew by heart. I pictured him writing it with his cramped fist in his corner by the stove, fighting against sleep, absently striking salvos of matches, while I snored in my bunk; absently diverging into dreams, I knew, of a rose-brown face under dewy hair and a grey tam-o'-shanter; though not a word of her came into the document. I smiled to see his undying faith in the 'channel theory' reconciled at the eleventh hour, with new data touching the neglected 'land'.

The result was certainly interesting, but it left me cold. That there existed in the German archives some such scheme of defence for the North Sea coast was very likely indeed. The seven islands, with their seven shallow channels (though, by the way, two of them, the twin branches of the Ems, are by no means so shallow), were a very fair conjecture, and fitted in admirably with the channel theory, whose intrinsic merits I had always recognized; my constant objection having been that it did not go nearly far enough to account for our treatment. The ring of railway round the peninsula, with Esens at the apex, was suggestive, too; but the same objection applied. Every country with a maritime frontier has, I suppose, secret plans of mobilization for its defence, but they are not such as could be discovered by passing travellers, not such as would warrant stealthy searches, or require for their elaboration so recondite a meeting-place as Memmert. Dollmann was another weak point; Dollmann in England, spying. All countries, Germany included, have spies in their service, dirty though necessary tools; but Dollmann in such intimate association with the principal plotters on this side; Dollmann rich, influential, a power in local affairs—it was clear he was no ordinary spy.

And here I detected a hesitation in Davies's rough sketch, a reluctance, as it were, to pursue a clue to its logical end. He spoke of a German scheme of coast defence, and in the next breath of Dollmann spying for English plans in the event of war with Germany, and there he left the matter; but what sort of plans? Obviously (if he was on the right track) plans of attack on the German coast as opposed to those of strategy on the high seas. But what sort of an attack? Obviously again, if his railway-ring meant anything, an attack by invasion on that remote and desolate littoral which he had so often himself declared to be impregnably secure behind its web of sands and shallows. My mind went back to my question at Bensersiel, 'Can this coast be invaded?' to his denial and our fruitless survey of the dykes and polders. Was he now reverting to a fancy we had both rejected, while shrinking from giving it explicit utterance? The doubt was tantalizing.

A brief digression here about the phases of my journey. At Rheine I changed trains, turned due north and became a German seaman. There was little risk in a defective accent—sailors are so polyglot; while an English sailor straying about Esens might excite curiosity. Yesterday I had paid no heed to the landscape; to-day I neglected nothing that could conceivably supply a hint.

From Rheine to Emden we descended the valley of the Ems; at first through a land of thriving towns and fat pastures, degenerating farther north to spaces of heathery bog and moorland—a sad country, but looking at its best, such as that was, for I should mention here that the weather, which in the early morning had been as cold and misty as ever, grew steadily milder and brighter as the day advanced; while my newspaper stated that the glass was falling and the anticyclone giving way to pressure from the Atlantic.

At Emden, where we entered Friesland proper, the train crossed a big canal, and for the twentieth time that day (for we had passed numbers of them in Holland, and not a few in Germany), I said to myself, 'Canals, canals. Where does Böhme come in?' It was dusk, but light enough to see an unfamiliar craft, a torpedo-boat in fact, moored to stakes at one side. In a moment I remembered that page in the North Sea Pilot where the Ems-Jade Canal is referred to as deep enough to carry gun-boats, and as used for that strategic purpose between Wilhelmshaven and Emden, along the base, that is, of the Frisian peninsula. I asked a peasant opposite; yes, that was the Ems-Jade Canal. Had Davies forgotten it? It would have greatly strengthened his halting sketch.

At the bookstall at Emden I bought a pocket ordnance map of Friesland, on a much larger scale than anything I had used before, and when I was unobserved studied the course of the canal, with an impatience which, alas! quickly cooled. From Emden northwards I used the same map to aid my eyesight, and with its help saw in the gathering gloom more heaths and bogs once a great glimmering lake, and at intervals cultivated tracts; a watery land as ever; pools, streams and countless drains and ditches. Extensive woods were marked also, but farther inland. We passed Norden at seven, just dark. I looked out for the creek, and sure enough, we crossed it just before entering the station. Its bed was nearly dry, and I distinguished barges lying aground in it. This being the junction for Esens, I had to wait three-quarters of an hour, and then turned east through the uttermost northern wilds, stopping at occasional village stations and keeping five or six miles from the sea. It was during this stage, in a wretchedly lit compartment, and alone for the most part, that I finally assembled all my threads and tried to weave them into a cable whose core should be Esens; 'a town', so Baedeker said, 'of 3,500 inhabitants, the centre of a rich agricultural district. Fine spire.'

Esens is four miles inland from Bensersiel. I reviewed every circumstance of that day at Bensersiel, and boiled to think how von Brüning had tricked me. He had driven to Esens himself, and read me so well that he actually offered to take me with him, and I had refused from excess of cleverness. Stay, though; if I had happened to accept he would have taken very good care that I saw nothing important. The secret, therefore, was not writ large on the walls of Esens. Was it connected with Bensersiel too, or the country between? I searched the ordnance map again, standing up to get a better light and less jolting. There was the road northwards from Esens to Bensersiel, passing through dots and chess-board squares, the former meaning fen, the latter fields, so the reference said. Something else, too, immediately caught my eye, and that was a stream running to Bensersiel. I knew it at once for the muddy stream or drain we had seen at the harbour, issuing through the sluice or siel from which Bensersiel took its name. But it arrested my attention now because it looked more prominent than I should have expected. Charts are apt to ignore the geography of the mainland, except in so far as it offers sea-marks to mariners. On the chart this stream had been shown as a rough little corkscrew, like a sucking-pig's tail. On the ordnance map it was marked with a dark blue line, was labelled 'Benser Tief', and was given a more resolute course; bends became angles, and there were what appeared to be artificial straightnesses at certain points. One of the threads in my skein, the canal thread, tingled sympathetically, like a wire charged with current. Standing astraddle on both seats, with the map close to the lamp, I greedily followed the course of the 'tief' southward. It inclined away from the road to Esens and passed the town about a mile to the west, diving underneath the railway. Soon after it took angular tacks to the eastward, and joined another blue line trending south-east, and lettered 'Esens—Wittmunde Canal.' This canal, however, came to an abrupt end halfway to Wittmund, a neighbouring town.

For the first time that day there came to me a sense of genuine inspiration. Those shallow depths and short distances, fractions of metres and kilometres, which I had overheard from Böhme's lips at Memmert, and which Davies had attributed to the outside channels—did they refer to a canal? I remembered seeing barges in Bensersiel harbour. I remembered conversations with the natives in the inn, scraps of the post-master's pompous loquacity, talks of growing trade, of bricks and grain passing from the interior to the islands: from another source—was it the grocer of Wangeroog?—of expansion of business in the islands themselves as bathing resorts; from another source again—von Brüning himself, surely—of Dollmann's personal activity in the development of the islands. In obscure connexion with these things, I saw the torpedo-boat in the Ems-Jade Canal.

It was between Dornum and Esens that these ideas came, and I was still absorbed in them when the train drew up, just upon nine o'clock, at my destination, and after ten minutes' walk, along with a handful of other passengers, I found myself in the quiet cobbled streets of Esens, with the great church steeple, that we had so often seen from the sea, soaring above me in the moonlight.