Friday, 31 August 2012

The Quartette

Chapter XXII: The Quartette

HIS tour de force was achieved, and for the moment something like collapse set in.

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

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

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

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

'How long have I got'?'

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

'That ought to be enough.'

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

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

'Don't be late. We've got to get back to the yacht before we're missed.'

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

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

'All right. I'm off.'

'Good luck,' said Davies, faintly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two or three times I had to stand back and ease my cramped neck, and on each occasion I looked at my watch, for I was listening against time, just as we had rowed against time. We were going to be asked to supper, and must be back aboard the yacht in time to receive the invitation. The fog still brooded heavily and the light, always bad, was growing worse. How would they get back? How had they come from Juist? Could we forestall them? Questions of time, tide, distance—just the odious sort of sums I was unfit to cope with—were distracting my attention when it should have been wholly elsewhere. 4.20—4.25—now it was past 4.30 when Davies said the bank would cover. I should have to make for the beacon; but it was fatally near that steamboat path, etc., and I still at intervals heard voices from there. It must have been about 4.35 when there was another shifting of chairs within. Then someone rose, collected papers, and went out; someone else, without rising (therefore Grimm), followed him.

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

'He insists on coming,' said Böhme.

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

'I said the 25th.'


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

'Only one, with half a load.'

'. . .meet?'

'At the station.'

'So—how's the fog?'

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

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Blindfold To Memmert

Chapter XXI: Blindfold To Memmert
'HERE she comes,' said Davies. It was nine o'clock on the next day, 22nd October, and we were on deck waiting for the arrival of the steamer from Norddeich. There was no change in the weather—still the same stringent cold, with a high barometer, and only fickle flaws of air; but the morning was gloriously clear, except for a wreath or two of mist curling like smoke from the sea, and an attenuated belt of opaque fog on the northern horizon. The harbour lay open before us, and very commodious and civilized it looked, enclosed between two long piers which ran quite half a mile out from the land to the road-stead (Riff-Gat by name) where we lay. A stranger might have taken it for a deep and spacious haven; but this, of course, was an illusion, due to the high water. Davies knew that three-quarters of it was mud, the remainder being a dredged-out channel along the western pier. A couple of tugs, a dredger, and a ferry packet with steam up, were moored on that side—a small stack of galliots on the other. Beyond these was another vessel, a galliot in build, but radiant as a queen among sluts; her varnished sides and spars flashing orange in the sun. These, and her snow-white sail-covers and the twinkle of brass and gun-metal, proclaimed her to be a yacht. I had already studied her through the glasses and read on her stern Medusa. A couple of sailors were swabbing her decks; you could hear the slush of the water and the scratching of the deck-brooms. 'They can see us anyway,' Davies had said.

For that matter all the world could see us—certainly the incoming steamer must; for we lay as near to the pier as safety permitted, abreast of the berth she would occupy, as we knew by a gangway and a knot of sailors.

A packet boat, not bigger than a big tug, was approaching from the south.

'Remember, we're not supposed to know he's coming,' I said; 'let's go below.' Besides the skylight, our 'coach-house' cabin top had little oblong side windows. We wiped clean those on the port side and watched events from them, kneeling on the sofa.

The steamer backed her paddles, flinging out a wash that set us rolling to our scuppers. There seemed to be very few passengers aboard, but all of them were gazing at the Dulcibella while the packet was warped alongside. On the forward deck there were some market-women with baskets, a postman, and a weedy youth who might be an hotel waiter; on the after-deck, standing close together, were two men in ulsters and soft felt hats.

'There he is!' said Davies, in a tense whisper; 'the tall one.' But the tall one turned abruptly as Davies spoke and strode away behind the deck-house, leaving me just a lightning impression of a grey beard and a steep tanned forehead, behind a cloud of cigar smoke. It was perverse of me, but, to tell the truth, I hardly missed him, so occupied was I by the short one, who remained leaning on the rail, thoughtfully contemplating the Dulcibella through gold-rimmed pince-nez: a sallow, wizened old fellow, beetlebrowed, with a bush of grizzled moustache and a jet-black tuft of beard on his chin. The most remarkable feature was the nose, which was broad and flat, merging almost imperceptibly in the wrinkled cheeks. Lightly beaked at the nether extremity, it drooped towards an enormous cigar which was pointing at us like a gun just discharged. He looked wise as Satan, and you would say he was smiling inwardly.

'Who's that?' I whispered to Davies. (There was no need to talk in whispers, but we did so instinctively.)

'Can't think,' said Davies. 'Hullo! she's backing off, and they've not landed.'

Some parcels and mail-bags had been thrown up, and the weedy waiter and two market-women had gone up the gangway, which was now being hauled up, and were standing on the quay. I think one or two other persons had first come aboard unnoticed by us, but at the last moment a man we had not seen before jumped down to the forward deck. 'Grimm!' we both ejaculated at once.

The steamer whistled sharply, circled backwards into the road-stead, and then steamed away. The pier soon hid her, but her smoke showed she was steering towards the North Sea.

'What does this mean?' I asked.

'There must be some other quay to stop at nearer the town,' said Davies. 'Let's go ashore and get your letters.'

We had made a long and painful toilette that morning, and felt quite shy of one another as we sculled towards the pier, in much-creased blue suits, conventional collars, and brown boots. It was the first time for two years that I had seen Davies in anything approaching a respectable garb; but a fashionable watering-place, even in the dead season, exacts respect; and, besides, we had friends to visit.

We tied up the dinghy to an iron ladder, and on the pier found our inquisitor of the night before smoking in the doorway of a shed marked 'Harbour Master'. After some civilities we inquired about the steamer. The answer was that it was Saturday, and she had, therefore, gone on to Juist. Did we want a good hotel? The 'Vier Jahreszeiten' was still open, etc.

'Juist, by Jove!' said Davies, as we walked on. 'Why are those three going to Juist?'

'I should have thought it was pretty clear. They're on their way to Memmert.'

Davies agreed, and we both looked longingly westward at a straw-coloured streak on the sea.

'Is it some meeting, do you think?' said Davies.

'Looks like it. We shall probably find the Kormoran here, wind-bound.'

And find her we did soon after, the outermost of the stack of galliots, on the farther side of the harbour. Two men, whose faces we took a good look at, were sitting on her hatch, mending a sail.

Flooded with sun, yet still as the grave, the town was like a dead butterfly for whom the healing rays had come too late. We crossed some deserted public gardens commanded by a gorgeous casino, its porticos heaped with chairs and tables; so past kiosques and cafés, great white hotels with boarded windows, bazaars and booths, and all the stale lees of vulgar frivolity, to the post-office, which at least was alive. I received a packet of letters and purchased a local time-table, from which we learned that the steamer sailed daily to Borkum via Norderney, touching three times a week at Juist (weather permitting). On the return journey to-day it was due at Norderney at 7.30 p.m. Then I inquired the way to the 'Vier Jahreszeiten'. 'For whatever your principles, Davies,' I said, 'we are going to have the best breakfast money can buy! We've got the whole day before us.'

The 'Four Seasons' Hotel was on the esplanade facing the northern beach. Living up to its name, it announced on an illuminated sign-board, 'Inclusive terms for winter visitors; special attention to invalids, etc.' Here in a great glass restaurant, with the unruffled blue of ocean spread out before us, we ate the king of breakfasts, dismissed the waiter, and over long and fragrant Havanas examined my mail at leisure.

'What a waste of good diplomacy!' was my first thought, for nothing had been tampered with, so far as we could judge from the minutest scrutiny, directed, of course, in particular to the franked official letters (for to my surprise there were two) from Whitehall.

The first in order of date (6th Oct.) ran: 'Dear Carruthers.—Take another week by all means.—Yours, etc.'

The second (marked 'urgent') had been sent to my home address and forwarded. It was dated 15th October, and cancelled the previous letter, requesting me to return to London without delay—'I am sorry to abridge your holiday, but we are very busy, and, at present, short-handed.—Yours, etc.' There was a dry postscript to the effect that another time I was to be good enough to leave more regular and definite information as to my whereabouts when absent.

'I'm afraid I never got this!' I said, handing it to Davies.

'You won't go, will you?' said he, looking, nevertheless, with unconcealed awe at the great man's handwriting under the haughty official crest. Meanwhile I discovered an endorsement on a corner of the envelope: 'Don't worry; it's only the chief's fuss.—M—' I promptly tore up the envelope. There are domestic mysteries which it would be indecent and disloyal to reveal, even to one's best friend. The rest of my letters need no remark; I smiled over some and blushed over others—all were voices from a life which was infinitely far away. Davies, meanwhile, was deep in the foreign intelligence of a newspaper, spelling it out line by line, and referring impatiently to me for the meaning of words.

'Hullo!' he said, suddenly; 'same old game! Hear that siren?' A curtain of fog had grown on the northern horizon and was drawing shorewards slowly but surely.

'It doesn't matter, does it?' I said.

'Well, we must get back to the yacht. We can't leave her alone in the fog.'

There was some marketing to be done on the way back, and in the course of looking for the shops we wanted we came on the Schwannallée and noted its position. Before we reached the harbour the fog was on us, charging up the streets in dense masses. Happily a tramline led right up to the pier-head, or we should have lost our way and wasted time, which, in the event, was of priceless value. Presently we stumbled up against the Harbour Office, which was our landmark for the steps where we had tied up the dinghy. The same official appeared and good-naturedly held the painter while we handed in our parcels. He wanted to know why we had left the flesh-pots of the 'Vier Jahreszeiten'. To look after our yacht, of course. There was no need, he objected; there would be no traffic moving while the fog lasted, and the fog, having come on at that hour, had come to stay. If it did clear he would keep an eye on the yacht for us. We thanked him, but thought we would go aboard.

'You'll have a job to find her now,' he said.

The distance was eighty yards at the most, but we had to use a scientific method, the same one, in fact, that Davies had used last night in the approach to the eastern pier.

'Row straight out at right angles to the pier,' he said now. I did so, Davies sounding with his scull between the strokes. He found the bottom after twenty yards, that being the width of the dredged-out channel at this point. Then we turned to the right, and moved gently forward, keeping touch with the edge of the mud-bank (for all the world like blind men tapping along a kerbstone) and taking short excursions from it, till the Dulcibella hove in view. 'That's partly luck,' Davies commented; 'we ought to have had the compass as well.'

We exchanged shouts with the man on the pier to show we had arrived.

'It's very good practice, that sort of thing,' said Davies, when we had disembarked.

'You've got a sixth sense,' I observed. 'How far could you go like that?'

'Don't know. Let's have another try. I can't sit still all day. Let's explore this channel.'

'Why not go to Memmert?' I said, in fun.

'To Memmert?' said Davies, slowly; 'by Jove! that's an idea!'

'Good Heavens, man! I was joking. Why, it's ten mortal miles.'

'More,' said Davies, absently. 'It's not so much the distance—what's the time? Ten fifteen; quarter ebb—What am I talking about? We made our plans last night.'

But seeing him, to my amazement, serious, I was stung by the splendour of the idea I had awakened. Confidence in his skill was second nature to me. I swept straight on to the logic of the thing, the greatness, the completeness of the opportunity, if by a miracle it could be seized and used. Something was going on at Memmert to-day; our men had gone there; here were we, ten miles away, in a smothering, blinding fog. It was known we were here—Dollmann and Grimm knew it; the crew of the Medusa knew it; the crew of the Kormoran knew it; the man on the pier, whether he cared or not, knew it. But none of them knew Davies as I knew him. Would anyone dream for an instant—?

'Stop a second,' said Davies; 'give me two minutes.' He whipped out the German chart. 'Where exactly should we go?' ('Exactly!' The word tickled me hugely.)

'To the depot, of course; it's our only chance.'

'Listen then—there are two routes: the outside one by the open sea, right round Juist, and doubling south—the simplest, but the longest; the depot's at the south point of Memmert, and Memmert's nearly two miles long.'

'How far would that way be?'

'Sixteen miles good. And we should have to row in a breaking swell most of the way, close to land.'

'Out of the question; it's too public, too, if it clears. The steamer went that way, and will come back that way. We must go inside over the sands. Am I dreaming, though? Can you possibly find the way?'

'I shouldn't wonder. But I don't believe you see the hitch. It's the time and the falling tide. High water was about 8.15: it's now 10.15, and all those sands are drying off. We must cross the See-Gat and strike that boomed channel, the Memmert Balje; strike it, freeze on to it—can't cut off an inch—and pass that "watershed" you see there before it's too late. It's an infernally bad one, I can see. Not even a dinghy will cross it for an hour each side of low water.'

'Well, how far is the "watershed"?'

'Good Lord! What are we talking for? Change, man, change! Talk while we're changing.' (He began flinging off his shore clothes, and I did the same.) 'It's at least five miles to the end of it; six, allowing for bends; hour and a half hard pulling; two, allowing for checks. Are you fit? You'll have to pull the most. Then there are six or seven more miles—easier ones. And then—What are we to do when we get there?'

'Leave that to me,' I said. 'You get me there.'

'Supposing it clears?'

'After we get there? Bad; but we must risk that. If it clears on the way there it doesn't matter by this route; we shall be miles from land.'

'What about getting back?'

'We shall have a rising tide, anyway. If the fog lasts—can you manage in a fog and dark?'

'The dark makes it no more difficult, if we've a light to see the compass and chart by. You trim the binnacle lamp—no, the riding-light. Now give me the scissors, and don't speak a word for ten minutes. Meanwhile, think it out, and load the dinghy—(by Jove! though, don't make a sound)—some grub and whisky, the boat-compass, lead, riding-light, matches, small boat-hook, grapnel and line.'


'Yes, and the whistle too.'

'A gun?'

'What for?'

'We're after ducks.'

'All right. And muffle the rowlocks with cotton-waste.'

I left Davies absorbed in the charts, and softly went about my own functions. In ten minutes he was on the ladder, beckoning.

'I've done,' he whispered. 'Now shall we go?'

'I've thought it out. Yes,' I answered.

This was only roughly true, for I could not have stated in words all the pros and cons that I had balanced. It was an impulse that drove me forward; but an impulse founded on reason, with just a tinge, perhaps, of superstition; for the quest had begun in a fog and might fitly end in one.

It was twenty-five minutes to eleven when we noiselessly pushed off. 'Let her drift,' whispered Davies, 'the ebb'll carry her past the pier.'

We slid by the Dulcibella, and she disappeared. Then we sat without speech or movement for about five minutes, while the gurgle of tide through piles approached and passed. The dinghy appeared to be motionless, just as a balloon in the clouds may appear to its occupants to be motionless, though urged by a current of air. In reality we were driving out of the Riff-Gat into the See-Gat. The dinghy swayed to a light swell.

'Now, pull,' said Davies, under his breath; 'keep it long and steady, above all steady—both arms with equal force.'

I was on the bow-thwart; he vis-à-vis to me on the stern seat, his left hand behind him on the tiller, his right forefinger on a small square of paper which lay on his knees; this was a section cut out from the big German chart. On the midship-thwart between us lay the compass and a watch. Between these three objects—compass, watch, and chart—his eyes darted constantly, never looking up or out, save occasionally for a sharp glance over the side at the flying bubbles, to see if I was sustaining a regular speed. My duty was to be his automaton, the human equivalent of a marine engine whose revolutions can be counted and used as data by the navigator. My arms must be regular as twin pistons; the energy that drove them as controllable as steam. It was a hard ideal to reach, for the complex mortal tends to rely on all the senses God has given him, so unfitting himself for mechanical exactitude when a sense (eyesight, in my case) fails him. At first it was constantly 'left' or 'right' from Davies, accompanied by a bubbling from the rudder.

'This won't do, too much helm,' said Davies, without looking up. 'Keep your stroke, but listen to me. Can you see the compass card?'

'When I come forward.'

'Take your time, and don't get flurried, but each time you come forward have a good look at it. The course is sou'-west half-west. You take the opposite, north-east half-east, and keep her stern on that. It'll be rough, but it'll save some helm, and give me a hand free if I want it.'

I did as he said, not without effort, and our progress gradually became smoother, till he had no need to speak at all. The only sound now was one like the gentle simmer of a saucepan away to port—the lisp of surf I knew it to be—and the muffled grunt of the rowlocks. I broke the silence once to say 'It's very shallow.' I had touched sand with my right scull.

'Don't talk,' said Davies.

About half an hour passed, and then he added sounding to his other occupations. 'Plump' went the lead at regular intervals, and he steered with his hip while pulling in the line. Very little of it went out at first, then less still. Again I struck bottom, and, glancing aside, saw weeds. Suddenly he got a deep cast, and the dinghy, freed from the slight drag which shallow water always inflicts on a small boat, leapt buoyantly forward. At the same time, I knew by boils on the smooth surface that we were in a strong tideway.

'The Buse Tief,' muttered Davies. 'Row hard now, and steady as a clock.'

For a hundred yards or more I bent to my sculls and made her fly. Davies was getting six fathom casts, till, just as suddenly as it had deepened, the water shoaled—ten feet, six, three, one—the dinghy grounded.

'Good!' said Davies. 'Back her off! Pull your right only.' The dinghy spun round with her bow to N.N.W. 'Both arms together! Don't you worry about the compass now; just pull, and listen for orders. There's a tricky bit coming.'

He put aside the chart, kicked the lead under the seat, and, kneeling on the dripping coils of line, sounded continuously with the butt-end of the boat-hook, a stumpy little implement, notched at intervals of a foot, and often before used for the same purpose. All at once I was aware that a check had come, for the dinghy swerved and doubled like a hound ranging after scent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'I must have a rest,' I gasped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Now where are we to land?'

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

'Where are we?'

'A quarter of a mile from Memmert.'

'What time is it?'

'Nearly three.'

Monday, 27 August 2012

The Little Drab Book

Chapter XX: The Little Drab Book

I FOUND Davies at the cabin table, surrounded with a litter of books. The shelf was empty, and its contents were tossed about among the cups and on the floor. We both spoke together.

'Well, what was it?'

'Well, what did she say?'

I gave way, and told my story briefly. He listened in silence, drumming on the table with a book which he held.

'It's not good-bye,' he said. 'But I don't wonder; look here!' and he held out to me a small volume, whose appearance was quite familiar to me, if its contents were less so. As I noted in an early chapter, Davies's library, excluding tide-tables, 'pilots', etc., was limited to two classes of books, those on naval warfare, and those on his own hobby, cruising in small yachts. He had six or seven of the latter, including Knight's Falcon in the Baltic, Cowper's Sailing Tours, Macmullen's Down Channel, and other less-known stories of adventurous travel. I had scarcely done more than look into some of them at off-moments, for our life had left no leisure for reading. This particular volume was—no, I had better not describe it too fully; but I will say that it was old and unpretentious, bound in cheap cloth of a rather antiquated style, with a title which showed it to be a guide for yachtsmen to a certain British estuary. A white label partly scratched away bore the legend '3d.' I had glanced at it once or twice with no special interest.

'Well?' I said, turning over some yellow pages.

'Dollmann!' cried Davies. 'Dollmann wrote it.' I turned to the title-page, and read: 'By Lieut. X—, R.N.' The name itself conveyed nothing to me, but I began to understand. Davies went on: The name's on the back, too—and I'm certain it's the last she looked at.'

'But how do you know?'

'And there's the man himself. Ass that I am not to have seen it before! Look at the frontispiece.'

It was a sorry piece of illustration of the old-fashioned sort, lacking definition and finish, but effective notwithstanding; for it was evidently the reproduction, though a cheap and imperfect process, of a photograph. It represented a small yacht at anchor below some woods, with the owner standing on deck in his shirt sleeves: a well-knit, powerful man, young, of middle height, clean shaved. There appeared to be nothing remarkable about the face; the portrait being on too small a scale, and the expression, such as it was, being of the fixed 'photographic' character.

'How do you know him? You said he was fifty, with a greyish beard.'

'By the shape of his head; that hasn't changed. Look how it widens at the top, and then flattens—sort of wedge shaped—with a high, steep forehead; you'd hardly notice it in that' (the points were not very noticeable, but I saw what Davies meant). 'The height and figure are right, too; and the dates are about right. Look at the bottom.'

Underneath the picture was the name of a yacht and a date. The publisher's date on the title-page was the same.

'Sixteen years ago,' said Davies. 'He looks thirty odd in that, doesn't he? And fifty now.'

'Let's work the thing out. Sixteen years ago he was still an Englishman, an officer in Her Majesty's Navy. Now he's a German. At some time between this and then, I suppose, he came to grief—disgrace, flight, exile. When did it happen?'

'They've been here three years; von Brüning said so.'

'It was long before that. She has talked German from a child. What's her age, do you think—nineteen or twenty?'

'About that.'

'Say she was four when this book was published. The crash must have come not long after.'

'And they've been hiding in Germany since.

'Is this a well-known book?'

'I never saw another copy; picked this up on a second-hand bookstall for threepence.'

'She looked at it, you say?'

'Yes, I'm certain of it.'

'Was she never on board you in September?'

'No; I asked them both, but Dollmann made excuses.'

'But he—he came on board? You told me so.'

'Once; he asked himself to breakfast on the first day. By Jove! yes; you mean he saw the book?

'It explains a good deal.'

'It explains everything.'

We fell into deep reflexion for a minute or two.

'Do you really mean everything?' I said. 'In that case let's sail straight away and forget the whole affair. He's only some poor devil with a past, whose secret you stumbled on, and, half mad with fear, he tried to silence you. But you don't want revenge, so it's no business of ours. We can ruin him if we like; but is it worth it?'

'You don't mean a word you're saying,' said Davies, 'though I know why you say it; and many thanks, old chap. I didn't mean "everything". He's plotting with Germans, or why did Grimm spy on us, and von Brüning cross-examine us? We've got to find out what he's at, as well as who he is. And as to her—what do you think of her now?'

I made my amende heartily. 'Innocent and ignorant,' was my verdict. 'Ignorant, that is, of her father's treasonable machinations; but aware, clearly, that they were English refugees with a past to hide.' I said other things, but they do not matter. 'Only,' I concluded, 'it makes the dilemma infinitely worse.'

'There's no dilemma at all,' said Davies. 'You said at Bensersiel that we couldn't hurt him without hurting her. Well, all I can say is, we've got to. The time to cut and run, if ever, was when we sighted her dinghy. I had a baddish minute then.'

'She's given us a clue or two after all.'

'It wasn't our fault. To refuse to have her on board would have been to give our show away; and the very fact that she's given us clues decides the matter. She mustn't suffer for it.'

'What will she do?'

'Stick to her father, I suppose.'

'And what shall we do?'

'I don't know yet; how can I know? It depends,' said Davies, slowly. 'But the point is, that we have two objects, equally important—yes, equally, by Jove!—to scotch him, and save her.'

There was a pause.

'That's rather a large order,' I observed. 'Do you realize that at this very moment we have probably gained the first object? If we went home now, walked into the Admiralty and laid our facts before them, what would be the result?'

'The Admiralty!' said Davies, with ineffable scorn.

'Well, Scotland Yard, too, then. Both of them want our man, I dare say. It would be strange if between them they couldn't dislodge him, and, incidentally, either discover what's going on here or draw such attention to this bit of coast as to make further secrecy impossible.'

'It's out of the question to let her betray her father, and then run away! Besides, we don't know enough, and they mightn't believe us. It's a cowardly course, however you look at it.'

'Oh! that settles it,' I answered, hastily. 'Now I want to go back over the facts. When did you first see her?'

'That first morning.'

'She wasn't in the saloon the night before?'

'No; and he didn't mention her.'

'You would have gone away next morning if he hadn't called?'

'Yes; I told you so.'

'He allowed her to persuade you to make that voyage with them?'

'I suppose so.'

'But he sent her below when the pilotage was going on?'

'Of course.'

'She said just now, "Father said you would be safe." What had you been saying to her?'

'It was when I met her on the sand. (By the way, it wasn't a chance meeting; she had been making inquiries and heard about us from a skipper who had seen the yacht near Wangeroog, and she had been down this way before.) She asked at once about that day, and began apologizing, rather awkwardly, you know, for their rudeness in not having waited for me at Cuxhaven. Her father found he must get on to Hamburg at once.'

'But you didn't go to Cuxhaven; you told her that? What exactly did you tell her? This is important.'

'I was in a fearful fix, not knowing what he had told her. So I said something vague, and then she asked the very question von Brüning did, "Wasn't there a schrecklich sea round the Scharhorn?"'

'She didn't know you took the short cut, then?'

'No; he hadn't dared to tell her.'

'She knew that they took it?'

'Yes. He couldn't possibly have hidden that. She would have known by the look of the sea from the portholes, the shorter time, etc.'

'But when the Medusa hove to and he shouted to you to follow him—didn't she understand what was happening?'

'No, evidently not. Mind you, she couldn't possibly have heard what we said, in that weather, from below. I couldn't cross-question her, but it was clear enough what she thought; namely, that he had hove to for exactly the opposite reason, to say he was taking the short cut, and that I wasn't to attempt to follow him.'

'That's why she laid stress on waiting for you at Cuxhaven?'

'Of course; mine would have been the longer passage.'

'She had no notion of foul play?'

'None—that I could see. After all, there I was, alive and well.'

'But she was remorseful for having induced you to sail at all that day, and for not having waited to see you arrived safely.'

'That's about it.'

'Now what did you say about Cuxhaven?'

'Nothing. I let her understand that I went there, and, not finding them, went on to the Baltic by the Eider river, having changed my mind about the ship canal.'

'Now, what about her voyage back from Hamburg? Was she alone?'

'No; the stepmother joined her.'

'Did she say she had inquired about you at Brunsbüttel?'

'No; I suppose she didn't like to. And there was no need, because my taking the Eider explained it.'

I reflected. 'You're sure she hadn't a notion that you took the short cut?'

'Quite sure; but she may guess it now. She guessed foul play by seeing that book.'

'Of course she did; but I was thinking of something else. There are two stories afloat now—yours to von Brüning, the true one, that you followed the Medusa to the short cut; and Dollmann's to her, that you went round the Scharhorn. That's evidently his version of the affair—the version he would have given if you had been drowned and inquiries were ever made; the version he would have sworn his crew to if they discovered the truth.'

'But he must drop that yarn when he knows I'm alive and back again.'

'Yes; but meanwhile, supposing von Brüning sees him before he knows you're back again, and wants to find out the truth about that incident. If I were von Brüning I should say, "By the way, what's become of that young Englishman you decoyed away to the Baltic?" Dollmann would give his version, and von Brüning, having heard ours, would know he was lying, and had tried to drown you.'

'Does it matter? He must know already that Dollmann's a scoundrel.'

'So we've been supposing; but we may be wrong. We're still in the dark as to Dollmann's position towards these Germans. They may not even know he's English, or they may know that and not know his real name and past. What effect your story will have on their relations with him we can't forecast. But I'm clear about one thing, that it's our paramount interest to maintain the status quo as long as we can, to minimize the danger you ran that day, and act as witnesses in his defence. We can't do that if his story and yours don't tally. The discrepancy will not only damn him (that may be immaterial), but it will throw doubt on us.'


'Because if the short cut was so dangerous that he dared not own to having led you to it, it was dangerous enough to make you suspect foul play; the very supposition we want to avoid. We want to be thought mere travellers, with no scores to wipe out, and no secrets to pry after.'

'Well, what do you propose?'

'Hitherto I believe we stand fairly well. Let's assume we hoodwinked von Brüning at Bensersiel, and base our policy on that assumption. It follows that we must show Dollmann at the earliest possible moment that you have come back, and give him time to revise his tactics before he commits himself. Now—'

'But she'll tell him we're back,' interrupted Davies.

'I don't think so. We've just agreed to keep this afternoon's episode a secret. She expects never to see us again.'

Now, he comes to-morrow by the morning boat, she said. What did that mean? Boat from where?'

'I know. From Norddeich on the mainland opposite. There's a railway there from Norden, and a steam ferry crosses to the island.'

'At what time?'

'Your Bradshaw will tell us—here it is: "Winter Service, 8.30 a.m., due at 9.5."'

'Let's get away at once.'

We had a tussle with the tide at first, but once over the watershed the channel improved, and the haze lightened gradually. A lighthouse appeared among the sand-dunes on the island shore, and before darkness fell we dimly saw the spires and roofs of a town, and two long black piers stretching out southwards. We were scarcely a mile away when we lost our wind altogether, and had to anchor. Determined to reach our destination that night we waited till the ebb stream made, and then towed the yacht with the dinghy. In the course of this a fog dropped on us suddenly, just as it had yesterday. I was towing at the time, and, of course, stopped short; but Davies shouted to me from the tiller to go on, that he could manage with the lead and compass. And the end of it was that, at about nine o'clock, we anchored safely in the five-fathom roadstead, close to the eastern pier, as a short reconnaissance proved to us. It had been a little masterpiece of adroit seamanship.

There was utter stillness till our chain rattled down, when a muffled shout came from the direction of the pier, and soon we heard a boat groping out to us. It was a polite but sleepy portofficer, who asked in a perfunctory way for our particulars, and when he heard them, remembered the Dulcibella's previous visit.

'Where are you bound to?' he asked.

'England—sooner or later,' said Davies.

The man laughed derisively. 'Not this year,' he said; 'there will be fogs for another week; it is always so, and then storms. Better leave your yawl here. Dues will be only sixpence a month for you.

'I'll think about it,' said Davies. 'Good-night.'

The man vanished like a ghost in the thick night.

'Is the post-office open?' I called after him.

'No; eight to-morrow,' came back out of the fog.

We were too excited to sup in comfort, or sleep in peace, or to do anything but plan and speculate. Never till this night had we talked with absolute mutual confidence, for Davies broke down the last barriers of reserve and let me see his whole mind. He loved this girl and he loved his country, two simple passions which for the time absorbed his whole moral capacity. There was no room left for casuistry. To weigh one passion against the other, with the discordant voices of honour and expediency dinning in his ears, had too long involved him in fruitless torture. Both were right; neither could be surrendered. If the facts showed them irreconcilable, tant pis pour les faits. A way must be found to satisfy both or neither.

I should have been a spiritless dog if I had not risen to his mood. But in truth his cutting of the knot was at this juncture exactly what appealed to me. I, too, was tired of vicarious casuistry, and the fascination of our enterprise, intensified by the discovery of that afternoon, had never been so strong in me. Not to be insincere, I cannot pretend that I viewed the situation with his single mind. My philosophy when I left London was of a very worldly sort, and no one can change his temperament in three weeks. I plainly said as much to Davies, and indeed took perverse satisfaction in stating with brutal emphasis some social truths which bore on this attachment of his to the daughter of an outlaw. Truths I call them, but I uttered them more by rote than by conviction, and he heard them unmoved. And meanwhile I snatched recklessly at his own solution. If it imparted into our adventure a strain of crazy chivalry more suited to knights-errant of the Middle Ages than to sober modern youths—well, thank Heaven, I was not too sober, and still young enough to snatch at that fancy with an ardour of imagination, if not of character; perhaps, too, of character, for Galahads are not so common but that ordinary folk must needs draw courage from their example and put something of a blind trust in their tenfold strength.

To reduce a romantic ideal to a working plan is a very difficult thing.

'We shall have to argue backwards,' I said. 'What is to be the final stage? Because that must govern the others.'

There was only one answer—to get Dollmann, secrets and all, daughter and all, away from Germany altogether. So only could we satisfy the double aim we had set before us. What a joy it is, when beset with doubts, to find a bed-rock necessity, however unattainable! We fastened on this one and reasoned back from it. The first lesson was that, however many and strong were the enemies we had to contend with, our sole overt foe must be Dollmann. The issue of the struggle must be known only to ourselves and him. If we won, and found out 'what he was at', we must at all costs conceal our success from his German friends, and detach him from them before he was compromised. (You will remark that to blithely accept this limitation showed a very sanguine spirit in us.) The next question, how to find out what he was at, was a deal more thorny. If it had not been for the discovery of Dollmann's identity, we should have found it as hard a nut to crack as ever. But this discovery was illuminating. It threw into relief two methods of action which hitherto we had been hazily seeking to combine, seesawing between one and the other, each of us influenced at different times by different motives. One was to rely on independent research; the other to extort the secret from Dollmann direct, by craft or threats. The moral of to-day was to abandon the first and embrace the second.

The prospects of independent research were not a whit better than before. There were only two theories in the field, the channel theory and the Memmert theory. The former languished for lack of corroboration; the latter also appeared to be weakened. To Fräulein Dollmann the wreck-works were evidently what they purported to be, and nothing more. This fact in itself was unimportant, for it was clear as crystal that she was no party to her father's treacherous intrigues, if he was engaged in such. But if Memmert was his sphere for them, it was disconcerting to find her so familiar with that sphere, lightly talking of a descent in a diving-bell—hinting, too, that the mystery as to results was only for local consumption. Nevertheless, the charm of Memmert as the place we had traced Grimm to, and as the only tangible clue we had obtained, was still very great. The really cogent objection was the insuperable difficulty, known and watched as we were, of learning its significance. If there was anything important to see there we should never be allowed to see it, while by trying and failing we risked everything. It was on this point that the last of all misunderstandings between me and Davies was dissipated. At Bensersiel he had been influenced more than he owned by my arguments about Memmert; but at that time (as I hinted) he was biased by a radical prejudice. The channel theory had become a sort of religion with him, promising double salvation—not only avoidance of the Dollmanns, but success in the quest by methods in which he was past master. To have to desert it and resort to spying on naval defences was an idea he dreaded and distrusted. It was not the morality of the course that bothered him. He was far too clear-headed to blink at the essential fact that at heart we were spies on a foreign power in time of peace, or to salve his conscience by specious distinctions as to our mode of operation. The foreign power to him was Dollmann, a traitor. There was his final justification, fearlessly adopted and held to the last. It was rather that, knowing his own limitations, his whole nature shrank from the sort of action entailed by the Memmert theory. And there was strong common sense in his antipathy.

So much for independent research.

On the other hand the road was now clear for the other method. Davies no longer feared to face the imbroglio at Norderney; and that day fortune had given us a new and potent weapon against Dollmann; precisely how potent we could not tell, for we had only a glimpse of his past, and his exact relations with the Government were unknown to us. But we knew who he was. Using this knowledge with address, could we not wring the rest from him? Feel our way, of course, be guided by his own conduct, but in the end strike hard and stake everything on the stroke? Such at any rate was our scheme to-night. Later, tossing in my bunk, I be-thought me of the little drab book, lit a candle, and fetched it. A preface explained that it had been written during a spell of two months' leave from naval duty, and expressed a hope that it might be of service to Corinthian sailors. The style was unadorned, but scholarly and pithy. There was no trace of the writer's individuality, save a certain subdued relish in describing banks and shoals, which reminded me of Davies himself. For the rest, I found the book dull, and, in fact, it sent me to sleep.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Saturday, 25 August 2012

The Rubicon

Chapter XIX: The Rubicon

IT was a cold, vaporous dawn, the glass rising, and the wind fallen to a light air still from the north-east. Our creased and sodden sails scarcely answered to it as we crept across the oily swell to Langeoog. 'Fogs and calms,' Davies prophesied. The Blitz was astir when we passed her, and soon after steamed out to sea. Once over the bar, she turned westward and was lost to view in the haze. I should be sorry to have to explain how we found that tiny anchor-buoy, on the expressionless waste of grey. I only know that I hove the lead incessantly while Davies conned, till at last he was grabbing overside with the boat-hook, and there was the buoy on deck. The cable was soon following it, and finally the rusty monster himself, more loathsome than usual, after his long sojourn in the slime.

'That's all right,' said Davies. 'Now we can go anywhere.'

'Well, it's Norderney, isn't it? We've settled that.'

'Yes, I suppose we have. I was wondering whether it wouldn't be shortest to go inside the Langeoog after all.'

'Surely not,' I urged. 'The tide's ebbing now, and the light's bad; it's new ground, with a "watershed" to cross, and we're safe to get aground.'

'All right—outside. Ready about.' We swung lazily round and headed for the open sea. I record the fact, but in truth Davies might have taken me where he liked, for no land was visible, only a couple of ghostly booms.

'It seems a pity to miss over that channel,' said Davies with a sigh; 'just when the Kormoran can't watch us.' (We had not seen her at all this morning.)

I set myself to the lead again, averse to reopening a barren argument. Grimm had done his work for the present, I felt certain, and was on his way by the shortest road to Norderney and Memmert.

We were soon outside and heading west, our boom squared away and the island sand-dunes just apparent under our lee. Then the breeze died to the merest draught, and left us rolling inert in a long swell. Consumed with impatience to get on I saw fatality in this failure of wind, after a fortnight of unprofitable meanderings, when we had generally had too much of it, and always enough for our purpose. I tried to read below, but the vile squirting of the centre-board drove me up.

'Can't we go any faster?' I burst out once. I felt that there ought to be a pyramid of gauzy canvas aloft, spinnakers, flying jibs, and what not.

'I don't go in for speed,' said Davies, shortly. He loyally did his best to 'shove her' along, but puffs and calms were the rule all day, and it was only by towing in the dinghy for two hours in the afternoon that we covered the length of Langeoog, and crept before dark to an anchorage behind Baltrum, its slug-shaped neighbour on the west. Strictly, I believe, we should have kept the sea all night; but I had not the grit to suggest that course, and Davies was only too glad of an excuse for threading the shoals of the Accumer Ee on a rising tide. The atmosphere had been slowly clearing as the day wore on; but we had scarcely anchored ten minutes before a blanket of white fog, rolling in from seaward, swallowed us up. Davies was already afield in the dinghy, and I had to guide him back with a foghorn, whose music roused hosts of sea birds from the surrounding flats, and brought them wheeling and complaining round us, a weird invisible chorus to my mournful solo.

The fog hung heavy still at daybreak on the 20th, but dispersed partially under a catspaw from the south about eight o'clock, in time for us to traverse the boomed channel behind Baltrum, before the tide left the watershed.

'We shan't get far to-day,' said Davies, with philosophy. 'And this sort of thing may go on for any time. It's a regular autumn anti-cyclone—glass thirty point five and steady. That gale was the last of a stormy equinox.'

We took the inside route as a matter of course to-day. It was now the shortest to Norderney harbour, and scarcely less intricate than the Wichter Ee, which appeared to be almost totally blocked by banks, and is, in fact, the most impassable of all these outlets to the North Sea. But, as I say, this sort of navigation, always puzzling to me, was utterly bewildering in hazy weather. Any attempt at orientation made me giddy. So I slaved at the lead, varying my labour with a fierce bout of kedge-work when we grounded somewhere. I had two rests before two o'clock, one of an hour, when we ran into a patch of windless fog; another of a few moments, when Davies said, 'There's Norderney!' and I saw, surmounting a long slope of weedy sand, still wet with the receding sea, a cluster of sandhills exactly like a hundred others I had seen of late, but fraught with a new and unique interest.

The usual formula, 'What have you got now?' checked my reverie, and 'Helm's a-lee,' ended it for the time. We tacked on (for the wind had headed us) in very shoal water.

Suddenly Davies said: 'Is that a boat ahead?'

'Do you mean that galliot?' I asked. I could plainly distinguish one of those familiar craft about half a mile away, just within the limit of vision.

'The Kormoran, do you think?' I added. Davies said nothing, but grew inattentive to his work. 'Barely four,' from me passed unnoticed, and we touched once, but swung off under some play of the current. Then came abruptly, 'Stand by the anchor. Let go,' and we brought up in mid-stream of the narrow creek we were following. I triced up the main-tack, and stowed the headsails unaided. When I had done Davies was still gazing to windward through his binoculars, and, to my astonishment, I noticed that his hands were trembling violently. I had never seen this happen before, even at moments when a false turn of the wrist meant death on a surf-battered bank.

'What is it?' I asked; 'are you cold?'

'That little boat,' he said. I gazed to windward, too, and now saw a scrap of white in the distance, in sharp relief.

'Small standing lug and jib; it's her, right enough,' said Davies to himself, in a sort of nervous stammer.

'Who? What?'

'Medusa's dinghy.'

He handed, or rather pushed, me the glasses, still gazing.

'Dollmann?' I exclaimed.

'No, it's hers—the one she always sails. She's come to meet m—, us.'

Through the glasses the white scrap became a graceful little sail, squared away for the light following breeze. An angle of the creek hid the hull, then it glided into view. Someone was sitting aft steering, man or woman I could not say, for the sail hid most of the figure. For full two minutes—two long, pregnant minutes—we watched it in silence. The damp air was fogging the lenses, but I kept them to my eyes; for I did not want to look at Davies. At last I heard him draw a deep breath, straighten himself up, and give one of his characteristic 'h'ms'. Then he turned briskly aft, cast off the dinghy's painter, and pulled her up alongside.

'You come too,' he said, jumping in, and fixing the rowlocks. (His hands were steady again.) I laughed, and shoved the dinghy off.

'I'd rather you did,' he said, defiantly.

'I'd rather stay. I'll tidy up, and put the kettle on.' Davies had taken a half stroke, but paused.

'She oughtn't to come aboard.' he said.

'She might like to,' I suggested. 'Chilly day, long way from home, common courtesy—'

'Carruthers,' said Davies, 'if she comes aboard, please remember that she's outside this business. There are no clues to be got from her.'

A little lecture which would have nettled me more if I had not been exultantly telling myself that, once and for all, for good or ill, the Rubicon was passed.

'It's your affair this time,' I said; 'run it as you please.'

He sculled away with vigorous strokes. 'Just as he is,' I thought to myself: bare head, beaded with fog-dew, ancient oilskin coat (only one button); grey jersey; grey woollen trousers (like a deep-sea fisherman's) stuffed into long boots. A vision of his antitype, the Cowes Philanderer, crossed me for a second. As to his face—well, I could only judge by it, and marvel, that he was gripping his dilemma by either horn, as firmly as he gripped his sculls.

I watched the two boats converging. They would meet in the natural course about three hundred yards away, but a hitch occurred. First, the sail-boat checked and slewed; 'aground,' I concluded. The row-boat leapt forward still; then checked, too. From both a great splashing of sculls floated across the still air, then silence. The summit of the watershed, a physical Rubicon, prosaic and slimy, had still to be crossed, it seemed. But it could be evaded. Both boats headed for the northern side of the creek: two figures were out on the brink, hauling on two painters. Then Davies was striding over the sand, and a girl—I could see her now—was coming to meet him. And then I thought it was time to go below and tidy up.

Nothing on earth could have made the Dulcibella's saloon a worthy reception-room for a lady. I could only use hurried efforts to make it look its best by plying a bunch of cotton-waste and a floor-brush; by pitching into racks and lockers the litter of pipes, charts, oddments of apparel, and so on, that had a way of collecting afresh, however recently we had tidied up; by neatly arranging our demoralized library, and by lighting the stove and veiling the table under a clean white cloth.

I suppose about twenty minutes had elapsed, and I was scrubbing fruitlessly at the smoky patch on the ceiling, when I heard the sound of oars and voices outside. I threw the cotton-waste into the fo'c'sle, made an onslaught on my hands, and then mounted the companion ladder. Our own dinghy was just rounding up alongside, Davies sculling in the bows, facing him in the stern a young girl in a grey tam-o'-shanter, loose waterproof jacket and dark serge skirt, the latter, to be frigidly accurate, disclosing a pair of workman-like rubber boots which, mutatis mutandis, were very like those Davies was wearing. Her hair, like his, was spangled with moisture, and her rose-brown skin struck a note of delicious colour against the sullen Stygian background.

'There he is,' said Davies. Never did his 'meiner Freund, Carruthers,' sound so pleasantly in my ears; never so discordantly the 'Fräulein Dollmann' that followed it. Every syllable of the four was a lie. Two honest English eyes were looking up into mine; an honest English hand—is this insular nonsense? Perhaps so, but I stick to it—a brown, firm hand—no, not so very small, my sentimental reader—was clasping mine. Of course I had strong reasons, apart from the racial instinct, for thinking her to be English, but I believe that if I had had none at all I should at any rate have congratulated Germany on a clever bit of plagiarism. By her voice, when she spoke, I knew that she must have talked German habitually from childhood; diction and accent were faultless, at least to my English ear; but the native constitutional ring was wanting.

She came on board. There was a hollow discussion first about time and weather, but it ended as we all in our hearts wished it to end. None of us uttered our real scruples. Mine, indeed, were too new and rudimentary to be worth uttering, so I said common-sense things about tea and warmth; but I began to think about my compact with Davies.

'Just for a few minutes, then,' she said.

I held out my hand and swung her up. She gazed round the deck and rigging with profound interest—a breathless, hungry interest—touching to see.

'You've seen her before, haven't you?' I said.

'I've not been on board before,' she answered.

This struck me in passing as odd; but then I had only too few details from Davies about his days at Norderney in September.

'Of course, that is what puzzled me,' she exclaimed, suddenly, pointing to the mizzen. 'I knew there was something different.'

Davies had belayed the painter, and now had to explain the origin of the mizzen. This was a cumbrous process, and his hearer's attention soon wandered from the subject and became centred in him—his was already more than half in her—and the result was a golden opportunity for the discerning onlooker. It was very brief, but I made the most of it; buried deep a few regrets, did a little heartfelt penance, told myself I had been a cynical fool not to have foreseen this, and faced the new situation with a sinking heart; I am not ashamed to admit that, for I was fond of Davies, and I was keen about the quest.

She had never been a guilty agent in that attempt on Davies. Had she been an unconscious tool or only an unwilling one? If the latter, did she know the secret we were seeking? In the last degree unlikely, I decided. But, true to the compact, whose importance I now fully appreciated, I flung aside my diplomatic weapons, recoiling, as strongly, or nearly as strongly, let us say, from any effort direct or indirect to gain information from such a source. It was not our fault if by her own conversation and behaviour she gave us some idea of how matters stood. Davies already knew more than I did.

We spent a few minutes on deck while she asked eager questions about our build and gear and seaworthiness, with a quaint mixture of professional acumen and personal curiosity.

'How did you manage alone that day?' she asked Davies, suddenly.

'Oh, it was quite safe,' was the reply. 'But it's much better to have a friend.'

She looked at me; and—well, I would have died for Davies there and then.

'Father said you would be safe,' she remarked, with decision—a slight excess of decision, I thought. And at that turned to some rope or block and pursued her questioning. She found the compass impressive, and the trappings of that hateful centre-board had a peculiar fascination for her. Was this the way we did it in England? was her constant query.

Yet, in spite of a superficial freedom, we were all shy and constrained. The descent below was a welcome diversion, for we should have been less than human if we had not extracted some spontaneous fun from the humours of the saloon. I went down first to see about the tea, leaving them struggling for mutual comprehension over the theory of an English lifeboat. They soon followed, and I can see her now stooping in at the doorway, treading delicately, like a kitten, past the obstructive centre-board to a place on the starboard sofa, then taking in her surroundings with a timid rapture that broke into delight at all the primitive arrangements and dingy amenities of our den. She explored the cavernous recesses of the Rippingille, fingered the duck-guns and the miscellany in the racks, and peeped into the fo'c'sle with dainty awe. Everything was a source of merriment, from our cramped attitudes to the painful deficiency of spoons and the 'yachtiness' (there is no other word to describe it) of the bread, which had been bought at Bensersiel, and had suffered from incarceration and the climate. This fact came out, and led to some questions, while we waited for the water to boil, about the gale and our visit there. The topic, a pregnant one for us, appeared to have no special significance to her. At the mention of von Brüning she showed no emotion of any sort; on the contrary, she went out of her way, from an innocent motive that anyone could have guessed, to show that she could talk about him with dispassionate detachment.

'He came to see us when you were here last, didn't he?' she said to Davies. 'He often comes. He goes with father to Memmert sometimes. You know about Memmert? They are diving for money out of an old wreck.'

Yes, we had heard about it.

'Of course you have. Father is a director of the company, and Commander von Brüning takes great interest in it; they took me down in a diving-bell once.'

I murmured, 'Indeed!' and Davies sawed laboriously at the bread. She must have misconstrued our sheepish silence, for she stopped and drew herself up with just a touch of momentary hauteur, utterly lost on Davies. I could have laughed aloud at this transient little comedy of errors.

'Did you see any gold?' said Davies at last, with husky solemnity. Something had to be said or we should defeat our own end; but I let him say it. He had not my faith in Memmert.

'No, only mud and timber—oh, I forgot—'

'You mustn't betray the company's secrets,' I said, laughing; 'Commander von Brüning wouldn't tell us a word about the gold.' ('There's self-denial!' I said to myself.)

'Oh, I don't think it matters much,' she answered, laughing too. 'You are only visitors.'

'That's all,' I remarked, demurely. 'Just passing travellers.'

'You will stop at Norderney?' she said, with naive anxiety. 'Herr Davies said—'

I looked to Davies; it was his affair. Fair and square came his answer, in blunt dog-German.

'Yes, of course, we shall. I should like to see your father again.'

Up to this moment I had been doubtful of his final decision; for ever since our explanation at Bensersiel I had had the feeling that I was holding his nose to a very cruel grindstone. This straight word, clear and direct, beyond anything I had hoped for, brought me to my senses and showed me that his mind had been working far in advance of mine; and more, shaping a double purpose that I had never dreamt of.

'My father?' said Fräulein Dollmann; 'yes, I am sure he will be very glad to see you.

There was no conviction in her tone, and her eyes were distant and troubled.

'He's not at home now, is he?' I asked.

'How did you know?' (a little maidenly confusion). 'Oh, Commander von Brüning.'

I might have added that it had been clear as daylight all along that this visit was in the nature of an escapade of which her father might not approve. I tried to say 'I won't tell,' without words, and may have succeeded.

'I told Mr Davies when we first met,' she went on. 'I expect him back very soon—to-morrow in fact; he wrote from Amsterdam. He left me at Hamburg and has been away since. Of course, he will not know your yacht is back again. I think he expected Mr Davies would stay in the Baltic, as the season was so late. But—but I am sure he will be glad to see you.'

'Is the Medusa in harbour?' said Davies.

'Yes; but we are not living on her now. We are at our villa in the Schwannallée—my stepmother and I, that is.' She added some details, and Davies gravely pencilled down the address on a leaf of the log-book; a formality which somehow seemed to regularize the present position.

'We shall be at Norderney to-morrow,' he said.

Meanwhile the kettle was boiling merrily, and I made the tea—cocoa, I should say, for the menu was changed in deference to our visitor's tastes. 'This is fun!' she said. And by common consent we abandoned ourselves, three youthful, hungry mariners, to the enjoyment of this impromptu picnic. Such a chance might never occur again—carpamus diem.

But the banquet was never celebrated. As at Belshazzar's feast, there was a writing on the wall; no supernatural inscription, but just a printed name; an English surname with title and initials, in cheap gilt lettering on the back of an old book; a silent, sneering witness of our snug party. The catastrophe came and passed so suddenly that at the time I had scarcely even an inkling of what caused it; but I know now that this is how it happened. Our visitor was sitting at the forward end of the starboard sofa, close to the bulkhead. Davies and I were opposite her. Across the bulkhead, on a level with our heads, ran the bookshelf, whose contents, remember, I had carefully straightened only half an hour ago, little dreaming of the consequence. Some trifle, probably the logbook which Davies had reached down from the shelf, called her attention to the rest of our library. While busied with the cocoa I heard her spelling out some titles, fingering leaves, and twitting Davies with the little care he took of his books. Suddenly there was a silence which made me look up, to see a startled and pitiful change in her. She was staring at Davies with wide eyes and parted lips, a burning flush mounting on her forehead, and such an expression on her face as a sleep-walker might wear, who wakes in fear he knows not where.

Half her mind was far away, labouring to construe some hideous dream of the past; half was in the present, cringing before some sickening reality. She remained so for perhaps ten seconds, and then—plucky girl that she was—she mastered herself, looked deliberately round and up with a circular glance, strangely in the manner of Davies himself, and spoke. How late it was, she must be going—her boat was not safe. At the same time she rose to go, or rather slid herself along the sofa, for rising was impossible. We sat like mannerless louts, in blank amazement. Davies at the outset had said, 'What's the matter?' in plain English, and then relapsed into stupefaction. I recovered myself the first, and protested in some awkward fashion about the cocoa, the time, the absence of fog. In trying to answer, her self-possession broke down, poor child, and her retreat became a blind flight, like that of a wounded animal, while every sordid circumstance seemed to accentuate her panic.

She tilted the corner of the table in leaving the sofa and spilt cocoa over her skirt; she knocked her head with painful force against the sharp lintel of the doorway, and stumbled on the steps of the ladder. I was close behind, but when I reached the deck she was already on the counter hauling up the dinghy. She had even jumped in and laid hands on the sculls before any check came in her precipitate movements. Now there occurred to her the patent fact that the dinghy was ours, and that someone must accompany her to bring it back.

'Davies will row you over,' I said.

'Oh no, thank you,' she stammered. 'If you will be so kind, Herr Carruthers. It is your turn. No, I mean, I want—'

'Go on,' said Davies to me in English.

I stepped into the dinghy and motioned to take the sculls from her. She seemed not to see me, and pushed off while Davies handed down her jacket, which she had left in the cabin. Neither of us tried to better the situation by conventional apologies. It was left to her, at the last moment, to make a show of excusing herself, an attempt so brave and yet so wretchedly lame that I tingled all over with hot shame. She only made matters worse, and Davies interrupted her.

'Auf Wiedersehen,' he said, simply.

She shook her head, did not even offer her hand, and pulled away; Davies turned sharp round and went below.

There was now no muddy Rubicon to obstruct us, for the tide had risen a good deal, and the sands were covering. I offered again to take the sculls, but she took no notice and rowed on, so that I was a silent passenger on the stem seat till we reached her boat, a spruce little yacht's gig, built to the native model, with a spoon-bow and tiny lee-boards. It was already afloat, but riding quite safely to a rope and a little grapnel, which she proceeded to haul in.

'It was quite safe after all, you see,' I said.

'Yes, but I could not stay. Herr Carruthers, I want to say something to you.' (I knew it was coming; von Brüning's warning over again.) 'I made a mistake just now; it is no use your calling on us to-morrow.'

'Why not?'

'You will not see my father.'

'I thought you said he was coming back?'

'Yes, by the morning steamer; but he will be very busy.'

'We can wait. We have several days to spare, and we have to call for letters anyhow.'

'You must not delay on our account. The weather is very fine at last. It would be a pity to lose a chance of a smooth voyage to England. The season—'

'We have no fixed plans. Davies wants to get some shooting.

'My father will be much occupied.'

'We can see you.'

I insisted on being obtuse, for though this fencing with an unstrung girl was hateful work, the quest was at stake. We were going to Norderney, come what might, and sooner or later we must see Dollmann. It was no use promising not to. I had given no pledge to von Brüning, and I would give none to her. The only alternative was to violate the compact (which the present fiasco had surely weakened), speak out, and try and make an ally of her. Against her own father? I shrank from the responsibility and counted the cost of failure—certain failure, to judge by her conduct. She began to hoist her lugsail in a dazed, shiftless fashion, while our two boats drifted slowly to leeward.

'Father might not like it,' she said, so low and from such tremulous lips that I scarcely caught her words. 'He does not like foreigners much. I am afraid ... he did not want to see Herr Davies again.'

'But I thought—'

'It was wrong of me to come aboard—I suddenly remembered; but I could not tell Herr Davies.'

'I see,' I answered. 'I will tell him.'

'Yes, that he must not come near us.

'He will understand. I know he will be very sorry, but,' I added, firmly, 'you can trust him implicitly to do the right thing.' And how I prayed that this would content her! Thank Heaven, it did.

'Yes,' she said, 'I am afraid I did not say good-bye to him. You will do so?' She gave me her hand.

'One thing more,' I added, holding it, 'nothing had better be said about this meeting?'

'No, no, nothing. It must never be known.'

I let go the gig's gunwale and watched her tighten her sheet and make a tack or two to windward. Then I rowed back to the Dulcibella as hard as I could.