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To Kiel in the 'Hercules' By Lewis R. Freeman Characters: 38387

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

The names of "Norderney" and "Borkum" on the list of seaplane stations to be inspected seemed to strike a familiar chord of memory, but it was not until I chanced upon a dog-eared copy of "The Riddle of the Sands" on a table in the "Commission Room" of the Hercules that it dawned upon me where I had heard them before. There was no time at the moment to re-turn the pages of this most consummately told yarn of its kind ever written, but, prompted by a happy inspiration, I slipped the grimy little volume into my pocket. And there (as the clattering special which was to take us to Norddeich, en route to Norderney, turned off from the Bremen mainline a few miles outside of Wilhelmshaven) I found it again, just as the green water-logged fields and bogs of the "land of the seven siels" began to unroll in twin panoramas on either side. Opening the book at random somewhere toward the middle, my eye was drawn to a paragraph beginning near the top of the page facing a much-pencilled chart. "... The mainland is that district of Prussia that is known as East Friesland." (I remember now that it was "Carruthers," writing in the Dulcibella, off Wangerogg, who was describing the "lay of the land.") "It is a short, flat-topped peninsula, bounded on the west by the Ems estuary and beyond that by Holland, and on the east by the Jade estuary; a low-lying country, containing great tracts of marsh, and few towns of any size; on the north side none. Seven islands lie off the coast. All, except Borkum, which is round, are attenuated strips, slightly crescent-shaped, rarely more than a mile broad, and tapering at the ends; in length averaging about six miles, from Norderney and Juist, which are seven and nine respectively, to little Baltrum, which is only two and a half."

As I turned the book sideways to look at the chart the whole fascinating story came back with a rush. What man who has ever knocked about in small boats, tramped roads and poked about generally in places where he had no business to poke could forget it? The East Friesland peninsula, with its "seven little rivers" and "seven channels" and "seven islands," was the "take off" for the German army which was to cross the North Sea in barges to land on the sands of "The Wash" for the invasion of England. And this very line over which our rickety two-car special was clinkety-clanking-I wished that "Carruthers" could have seen what a pitiful little old single-track it had become-was the "strategic trunk" over which the invading cohorts were to be shunted in their thousands to the waiting deep-sea-going barges in the canalized siels. There was Essen, which was to have been the "nodal centre" of the great embarkation, and scarcely had I located it on the map before its tall spire was stabbing the north-western skyline as we drew in to the station.

A raw-boned, red-faced girl, her astonishingly powerful frame clad in a man's greasy overall, lowered the barrier at the high-road crossing, the same barrier, I reflected, which had held up "Carruthers," Von Brunning, and the two "cloaked gentlemen" on the night of the great adventure. Four "land girls," in close-fitting brown corduroys, with great baskets of red cabbages on their shoulders, were just trudging off down the road to Dornum, the very "cobbled causeway flanked with ditches and willows, and running cheek by jowl with the railway track" which "Carruthers" had followed by midnight, with "fleecy clouds and a half moon overhead," in search of the Benser Tief. There was even a string of mighty barges towing down the narrow canal of the "Tief" when we crossed its rattling bridge a few minutes later. And just as "Carruthers" described, the road and railway clung closely together all the way to Dornum, and about halfway were joined by a third companion in the shape of a puny stream, the Neues Tief. "Wriggling and doubling like an eel, choked with sedges and reeds," it had no more pretensions to being navigable now than then. It still "looped away into the fens out of sight, to reappear again close to Dornum in a more dignified guise," and it still skirted the town to the east, where there was a towpath and a piled wharf. The only change I was able to note in the momentary halt of the train was that the "red-brick building with the look of a warehouse, roofless as yet and with workmen on the scaffolds," had now been covered with red tile and filled with red cabbages.

It was at Dornum that "Carruthers" (who was masquerading as a German sailor on his way to visit a sister living on Baltrum) fell in at a primitive Gasthaus with an ex-crimp, drunken with much schnappsen, who insisted on accompanying him on a detour to Dornumersiel, where he had planned to do a hasty bit of spying. From the right-hand window I caught a brief glimpse of the ribbon of the coastward road, down the length of which the oddly-assorted pair-the Foreign Office précis writer and the one-time "shanghai" artist-had stumbled arm-in-arm, treating each other in every gin-shop on the way.

"Carruthers'" detour to the coast carried him out of sight of the railway, so that he missed the little red-brick schoolhouse, close up by the track, where the buxom mistress had her whole brood of young Fritzes and Gretchens lined up along the fence of the right-of-way to wave and cheer our train as it passed. How she received word of the coming of the "Allied Special" we could only conjecture, but it was probably through some Workmen's and Soldiers' Council friend in the railway service. But even so, as the schoolhouse was three miles from the nearest station and had nothing suggestive of a telephone line running to it, she must have had her banzai party standing by in readiness a good part of the forenoon session. Hurriedly dropping a window (they work rather hard on account of the stiffness of the thick paper strap), I was just able to gather that the burden of the greeting was "Good morning, good morning, sir!" repeated many times in guttural chorus. If any of them were shouting "Welcome!" as one or two of our party thought they heard, it escaped my ears. They did the thing so well one was sure it had been rehearsed, and wondered how long it had been since those same throaty trebles had been raised in the "Hymn of Hate." If "Carruthers" spying visit to Dornumersiel resulted in anything more "revealing" than the dig in the ribs one of the youngsters got from the mistress for (apparently) not cheering lustily enough, he neglected to set it down in his story. This little incident prepared us for much we were to see later in the way of German "conciliation" methods.

"Carruthers," when he returned to the railway again and took train at Hage, made the journey from the latter station to Norden in ten minutes. The fact that our special took twenty is sufficient commentary on the deterioration of German road-beds and rolling stock. Norden, which is the junction point for Emden, to the south, and Norddeich, to the north, is a good-sized town, and we noticed here that the streets were beflagged and arched with evergreen as at Wilhelmshaven, doubtless in expectation of returning troops. While our engines were being changed, a couple of workmen, standing back in the depths of a tool-house, kept waving their hands ingratiatingly every time the armed guard (who always paced up and down the platform while the train was at a station) turned his back. What they were driving at-unless co-operating with the children in the general "conciliation" program-we were not able to make out.

From Norden to Norddeich was a run of but three or four miles, but a bad road-bed and a worse engine made the journey a tedious if fitting finale to our painful progress across the East Frisian peninsula. Halting but a few moments at the main station, the train was shunted to a spur which took it right out to the quay where the great dyke bent inward to form a narrow artificial harbour. A few steps across the slippery moss-covered stones, where the falling tide had bared the sloping landing, took us to where a small but powerfully engined steam launch was waiting to convey the party to Norderney. Manned by naval ratings, it had the same aspect of neglect which characterized all of the warships we had visited. The men saluted smartly, however, and on our expressing a wish to remain in the open air in preference to the stuffy cabin, they tumbled below and brought up cushions and ranged them along the deck-house to sit upon. The Allied officers dangled their legs to port, the German officers to starboard, while the ex-sailor and the "plain clothes" detective from the Workmen's and Soldiers' Council disposed themselves authoritatively in the wheel-house.

A few minutes' run between heavy stone jetties brought us to the open sea, where the launch began threading a channel which seemed to be marked mostly by buoys, but here and there by close-set rows of saplings, now just beginning to show their scraggly tops above the falling water. It was the sight of these latter marks-so characteristic of these waters-that reminded me that we had at last come out into the real hunting ground of the Dulcibella, where "Davies" and "Carruthers" had puzzled out the solution of "The Riddle of the Sands." Norderney and Juist and Borkum and the other of the "seven islands" strung their attenuated lengths in a broken barrier to seaward, and between them and the mainland we were leaving astern stretched the amazing mazes of the sands, alternately bared and covered by the ebb and flow of the tides. Two-thirds of the area, according to "Carruthers," were dry at low water, when the "remaining third becomes a system of lagoons whose distribution is controlled by the natural drift of the North Sea as it forces its way through the intervals between the islands. Each of these intervals resembles the bar of a river, and is obstructed by dangerous banks over which the sea pours at every tide, scooping out a deep pool. This fans out and ramifies to east and west as the pent-up current frees itself, encircles the islands, and spreads over the intervening flats. But the further it penetrates the less scouring force it has, and as a result no island is girt completely by a low-water channel. About midway at the back of each of them is a 'watershed,' only covered for five or six hours out of the twelve. A boat, even of the lightest draught, navigating behind the islands must choose its moment for passing these."

"I trust we have 'chosen our moment' carefully," I said to myself after reading those lines and reflecting what a large part of their time the Dulcibella, Kormoran, and all the other craft in the "Riddle" had spent careened upon sand-spits. To reassure myself, I leaned back and asked one of the German officers if boats didn't run aground pretty often on that run. "Oh, yes, most often," was the reply, "but only at low water or when the fog is very thick. With this much water, and when we can see as far as we can now"-there was about a quarter of a mile of visibility-"there is no danger. Our difficulty will come when we try to return this evening on the low water."

It may have been my imagination, but I thought he put a shade more accent on that try than a real optimist would have done under similar circumstances. But then, I told myself, it was hardly a time when one could expect a German officer to be optimistic about anything.

Heading out through the well-marked channel of the Buse Tief, between the sands of the Itzendorf Plate to port and Hohe Riff to starboard, twenty minutes found the launch in the opener waters off the west end of Norderney where, with its light draught, it had no longer to thread the winding of the buoyed fairway. Standing on northward until the red roofs and white walls of the town sharpened into ghostly relief on the curtain of the mist, course was altered five or six points to starboard, and we skirted a broad stretch of sandy beach, from the upper end of which the even slopes of concreted "runs" were visible, leading back to where, dimly outlined in their darker opacity, a long row of great hangars loomed fantastically beyond the dunes. Doubling a sharp spit, the launch nosed in and brought up alongside the landing of a slip notched out of the side of the little natural harbour.

The Commander of the station-a small man, but wiry and exceedingly well set up-met us as we stepped off the launch. Then, and throughout the visit, his quiet dignity of manner and ready (but not too ready) courtesy struck a welcome mean between the incongruous blends of sullenness and subserviency we had encountered in meeting the officers in the German warships. He saluted each member of the party as he landed, but tactfully refrained from offering his hand to any but the attached German officers. It was this attitude on the part of the Commander, together with the uniformly courteous but uneffusive demeanour of the other officers with whom we were thrown in contact, that made the visit to Norderney perhaps the pleasantest of all the many inspections carried out in Germany.

Walking inland along a brick-paved road, we passed a large canteen or recreation club (with a crowd of curious but quite respectful men lined up along the verandah railings to watch us go by) before turning in to a fine new brick-and-tile building which appeared to be the officers' Casino. Leaving our overcoats in the reception room, we joined the dozen or more officers awaiting us at the entrance and fared on by what had once been flower-bordered walks to the hangars. As we came out upon the "tarmac"-here, as with all German seaplane and airship stations, the runs for the machines in front of the hangars are paved with concrete instead of the tarred macadam which is used so extensively in England and France-the men of the station were seen to be drawn up by companies, as for a review. Each company stood smartly to attention at the order of its officers as the party came abreast of it, and we-both Allied and German officers-saluted in return. As we passed on, each company in turn broke rank and quietly dispersed to barracks, their officers following on to join the party in the furtherest hangar, where the inspection was to begin. The discipline appeared to be faultless, and it was soon evident that the men and their officers had arrived at some sort of a "working understanding" to tide them over the period of inspection, if not longer.

The two representatives of the Workmen and Soldiers who had accompanied our party from Wilhelmshaven were allowed to be present during the inspection, and with them two other "white-banders" who appeared to have been elected to represent the men of the station. All other men had been cleared out of the sheds in conformity with the stipulations of the armistice. Some unauthorized individual-apparently a mechanic-who, halfway through the inspection, was noticed following the party, was summarily ordered out by the Commander. He obeyed somewhat sullenly, but though we subsequently saw him in gesticulative confab with some of his mates on the outside, he did not venture again into any of the hangars. That was the nearest approach to insubordination we saw in Norderney.

The officers of the station-now that we saw them, a score or more in number, all together-were a fine, business-like looking lot. All of them wore some kind of a decoration, most of them several, and among these were two or three of the highly-prized Orders "Pour le Mérite." As Norderney was the "star" seaplane station, that body of keen-eyed, square-jawed young flying officers undoubtedly included the cleverest naval pilots at Germany's disposal. What their many decorations had been given for there was, of course, no way of learning; nor did we find out whether the presence of so many of them at the inspection was voluntary or by order. Though, like their Commander, quiet and reserved, they were invariably courteous and willing in doing anything to facilitate the tedious progress of inspection.

There was an amusing little incident which occurred during the course of inspection in connection with a very smart young German officer, who, from the moment I first saw him at the door of the Casino, I kept telling myself I had encountered somewhere before. For half an hour or more-while checking the names and numbers of the machines in my notebook as inspection was completed-my mind was running back through one German colony or foreign settlement after another, trying to find the scene into which that florid face (with its warm, wide-set eyes and its full, sensual mouth) fitted. Dar-es-Salaam, Windhoek, Tsingtau, Yap, Apia, Herbertsh?he-I scurried back through them all without uncovering a clue. Where else had I met Germans? The southern "panhandle" of Brazil, the south of Chile, Bagdad- That was the first name to awaken a sense of "nearness." "Bagdad, Bagdad Railway, Assur, Mosul," I rambled on, and just as I began to recall that I had encountered Germans scattered all along the caravan route from the Tigris to Syria, the object of my interest turned up those soulful eyes of his to look at one of the American officers clambering into the "house" of the "Giant" monoplane seaboat under inspection at the moment-and I had him.

"Aleppo! 'Du Bist Wie Eine Blume!'" I chortled exultantly, my mind going back to a night in June, 1912, when, the day after my arrival from the desert, the American Consul had taken me to a party at the Austrian Consulate in honour of some one or other who was about to depart for home-wherever that was. Young Herr X-- (I even recalled the name now) and his brother, both on the engineering staff of the Bagdad Railway, were among the guests, the former very smitten with a sloe-eyed sylph of a Greek Levantine, whose mother (so a friendly gossip told me) had been a dancer in a café chantant in Beirut before she married the Smyrna hairdresser who afterwards made a fortune buying licorice root from the Arabs. The girl (there was no denying the lissome grace of her serpentine slenderness) was sipping her pink rose-leaf sherbet in a balcony above the open court when Herr X-- had been asked to sing along towards midnight, and the fervid passion of his upturned glances as he sung "Du Bist Wie Eine Blume" as an encore to "Ich Liebe Dich" had made enough of an impression on my mind to need no more than the reminder vouchsafed me to recall it.

Evidently (perhaps because I had not furnished him with a similar reason) Herr Romeo did not trace any connection between my present well-rounded, "sea-faring" figure and the sun-dried, fever-wrecked anatomy I had dragged into Aleppo in 1912, for I noted that his eyes had passed over me impersonally twice or thrice without a flicker of recognition. The explosiveness of my exultant chortle, however, must have assailed the ear of the German officer standing a couple of paces in front of me, for he turned round quickly and asked if I had spoken to him.

"No-er-not exactly," I stammered, adding, at the promptings of a sudden reckless impulse, "but I would like to ask if you knew when Lieutenant X-- over there left

the Bagdad Railway for the flying service?"

"He was at the head office in Frankfurt when the war began, and joined shortly afterwards," the young officer replied promptly, stepping back beside me. Then, as the somewhat surprising nature of the query burst upon him, a look of astonishment flushed his face and a pucker of suspicion drew his bushy brows together in a perturbed frown. "But may I ask-" he began.

"And his brother who was with him in Aleppo-the one with the scar on his cheek and the top of one ear sliced off," I pressed; "where is he?"

"Died of fever in Nishbin," again came the prompt answer. "But" (blurting it out quickly) "how do you know about them?"

Being human, and therefore weak, it was not in me to enlighten him with the truth, and to add that I was merely a second-class Yankee hack writer, temporarily togged out in an R.N.V.R. uniform to regularize my position of "Keeper of the Records" of the Allied Naval Armistice Commission. No, I couldn't do that. Indeed, everything considered, I am inclined to think that I rendered a better service to the Allied cause when I squared my shoulders importantly and delivered myself oracularly of, "It is our business to know" (impressive pause) "all."

My reward was worthy of the effort. "Ach, it is but true," sighed the young officer resignedly. "The English Intelligence is wonderful, as we have too often found out."

"It is not bad," I admitted modestly, as I strolled over to make a note of the fact that the machine-gun mounting of one of the Frederichafens had not been removed.

I could see that my young friend was bursting to impart to Lieutenant X-- the fact that he was a "marked man," but it was just as well that no opportunity offered in the course of the inspection. That the ominous news had been broken at luncheon, however, I felt certain from the fact that when, missing X-- from the group of officers who saluted us from the doorway of the Casino on our departure, I cast a furtive glance at the upper windows, it surprised him in the act of withdrawing behind one of the lace curtains. I only hope he has nothing on his conscience in the way of hospital bombings and the like. If he has, it can hardly have failed to occur to him that his name is inscribed on the Allies' "black-list," and that he will have to stand trial in due course.

It's a strange thing, this cropping up of half-remembered faces in new surroundings. The very next day, in the course of the visit to the Zeppelin station at Nordholz-but I will not anticipate.

Under the terms of the armistice the Germans agreed to render all naval seaplanes unfit for use by removing their propellers, machine-guns, and bomb-dropping equipment, and dismantling their wireless and ignition systems. To see that this was carried out on a single machine was not much of a task, but multiplied by the several scores in such a station as Norderney, it became a formidable labour. To equalize the physical work, the sub-commission for seaplane stations arranged that the British and American officers included in it should take turn-and-turn about in active inspection and checking the result of the latter with the lists furnished in advance by the Germans. At Norderney the "active service" side of the program fell to the lot of the two American officers to carry out. The swift pace they set at the outset slowed down materially toward the finish, and it was a pair of very weary officers that dropped limply from the last two Albatrosses and sat down upon a pontoon to recover their breath. It was, I believe, Lieut.-Commander L-- who, ruefully rubbing down a cramp which persisted in knotting his left calf, declared that he had just computed that his combined clamberings in the course of the inspection were equal to ascending and descending a mountain half a mile high.

Practically all of the machines at Norderney were of the tried and proven types-Brandenburgs, Albatrosses, Frederichafens, Gothas, etc.-already well-known to the Allies. (It was not until the great experimental station at Warnemünde, in the Baltic, was visited a fortnight later that specimens of the latest types were revealed.) The Allied experts of the party were greatly impressed with the excellence of construction of all of the machines, none of them appearing to have suffered in the least as a consequence of a shortage of materials. The steel pontoons in particular-a branch of construction to which the Germans had given much attention, and with notable success-came in for especially favourable comment. (The Commander of the station, by the way, showed us one of these pontoons which he had had fitted with an engine and propeller and used in duck-shooting.) The general verdict seemed to be that the Germans had little to learn from any one in the building of seaplanes, and that this was principally due to the fact that they had concentrated upon it for oversea work, where the British had been going in more and more for swift "carrier" ships launching aeroplanes. It was by aeroplanes launched from the "carrier" Furious that the great Zeppelin station at Tondern was practically destroyed last summer, and there is no doubt that this kind of a combination can accomplish far more effective work-providing, of course, that the power using it has command of the sea-than anything that can be done by seaplanes. It was the fact that Germany did not have control of the sea, rather than any lack of ingenuity or initiative, that pinned her to the seaplane, and, under the circumstances, it has to be admitted that she made very creditable use of the latter.

The one new type of machine at Norderney (although the existence of it had been known to the Allies for some time) was the "giant" monoplane seaboat, quite the most remarkable machine of the kind in the world at the present time. Though its span of something like 120 feet is less than that of a number of great aeroplanes already in use, its huge breadth of wing gave it a plane area of enormous size. The boat itself was as large-and apparently as seaworthy-as a good-sized steam launch, and so roomy that one could almost stand erect inside of it. It quite dwarfed anything of the kind I had ever seen before. Nor was the boat, spacious as it was, the only closed-in space. Twenty feet or more above the deck of it, between the wings, was a large "box" containing, among other things, a very elaborately equipped sound-proof wireless room. The technical instruments of control and navigation-especially the very compact "Gyro" compasses-stirred the Allied experts to an admiration they found difficult to restrain.

One of the German officers who had accompanied us from Wilhelmshaven told me something of the history of this greatest of monoplanes. "This flying boat," he said, while we waited for the somewhat lengthy inspection to be completed, "was the last great gift that Count Zeppelin" (he spoke the name with an awe that was almost adoration) "gave to his country before he died. He was terribly disappointed by the failure of the Zeppelin airship as an instrument for bombing, and the last months of his life were spent in designing something to take its place. He realized that the size of the mark the airship offered to the constantly improving anti-aircraft artillery, together with the invention of the explosive bullet and the increasing speed and climbing power of aeroplanes, put an end for ever to the use of Zeppelins where they would be exposed to attack. He set about to design a heavier-than-air machine that would be powerful enough to carry a really great weight of bombs, and the 'Giant' you see here is the result.

"As Count Zeppelin did not believe that it would ever be possible to land a machine of this weight and size on the earth, he made it a flying boat. But it was not intended for flights over water at all in the first place-that was to be simply for rising from and landing in. It was to be kept at one of our seaplane stations on the Belgian coast, as near as possible to the Front, and from here it was to go for bombing flights behind the enemy lines. But before it was completed experience had proved that it was quite practicable to land big machines on the earth, and so the 'Giant' found itself superseded as a bomber. It was then that it was brought to the attention of the Naval Flying Service, and we, recognizing in it the possibilities of an ideal machine for long-distance reconnaissance, took it over and completed it. Now, although a few changes have been made in the direction of making it more of a 'sea' machine, it does not differ greatly from the original designs of Count Zeppelin."

As to how the machine had turned out in practice he was, naturally, rather non-committal. The monoplane, he thought, had the advantage over a biplane for sea use that its wings were much higher above the water, and therefore much less likely to get smashed up by heavy waves. He admitted that this machine had proved extremely difficult to fly-or rather to land-and that it had been employed exclusively for "school" purposes, for the training of pilots to fly the others of the same type that had been building. Now that the war was over, he had some doubts as to whether these would ever be completed. "We are having to modify so many of our plans, you see," he remarked na?vely.

On the fuselage of several of the machines there were evidences that signs or marks had been scratched out and painted over, and I took it that the words or pictures so recently obliterated had probably been of a character calculated to be offensive to the visiting Allied officers. One little thing had been overlooked, however, or else left because it was in a corner somewhat removed from the ebb and flow of the tide of inspection. I discovered it while passing along to the machine shops in the rear of one of the hangars, and later contrived to man?uvre myself back to it for a confirmatory survey. It was nothing more or less than a map of the United States which some angry pilot had thoroughly strafed by stabbing with a penknife blade. I was not able to study it long enough to be sure just what the method of the madness was, but-from the fact that the environs of New York, Pittsburg, Philadelphia and Detroit had been literally pecked to pieces-it seemed possible that it might have been an attack on the industrial centres-perhaps because they were turning out so much munitions for the Allies.

There were two other maps tacked up on the same wall. One was of Africa, with the ex-German colonies coloured red, with lighter shaded areas overflowing from them on to British, Belgian, French, and Portuguese possessions. This may have been (I have since thought) a copy of the famous map of "Africa in 1920," issued in Germany early in the war, but I had no time to puzzle out the considerable amount of explanatory lettering on it. So far as I could see, this map was unmarked, not even a black mourning border having been added.

The third map was of Asia, and a long, winding and apparently rather carefully made cut running from the north-west corner toward the centre completely defeated me to account for. The fact that it ran through Asia Minor, Northern Syria, and down into Mesopotamia seemed to point to some connection with the Bagdad Railway-perhaps a strafe at an enterprise which, first and last, had deflected uselessly so huge an amount of German money and material.

The inspection over and the terms of the armistice having been found most explicitly carried out, we returned to the reception room of the Casino for lunch. Although the Commander protested that all arrangements had been made for serving us with mittagessen, our senior officer, acting under orders, replied that we had brought our own food and that this, with a pitcher of water, would be quite sufficient. The water was sent, and with it two beautiful long, slender bottles of Hock which-as they were never opened-only served to accentuate the flatness of the former.

We heard the officers of the station trooping up the stairs as we unrolled our sandwiches, and just as we were pulling up around the table some one threw open a piano in the room above our heads and struck three ringing chords. "Bang!"-interval-"Bang!"-interval-"Bang!" they crashed one after the other, and the throb of them set the windows rattling and the pictures (paintings of the station's fallen pilots) swaying on the wall.

"Prelude in G flat," breathed Major N-- tensely, as he waited with eye alight and ear acock for the next notes. "My word, the chap's a master!"

But the next chord was never struck. Instead, there was a gruff order, the scrape of feet on the floor, and the slam of a closed piano, followed by the confused rumble of several angry voices speaking at the same time. Then silence.

"Looks like the majority of our hosts don't think 'Inspection Day's' quite the proper occasion for tinkling Rachmaninoff on the ivories," observed Lieutenant-Commander L--, U.S.N., after which he and Major N-- began discussing plans for educating the popular taste for "good music" and the rest of us fell to on our sandwiches.

The fog-that all-pervading East Frisian fog-which had been thickening steadily during the inspection, settled down in a solid bank while we sat at lunch. With a scant dozen yards of visibility, the Commander rated the prospects of crossing to the mainland so unfavourable that he suggested our remaining for the night at one of the Norderney hotels still open, and going over to Borkum (which we were planning to reach by destroyer) the next morning by launch. It was the difficulty in securing a prompt confirmation of what would have been a time-saving change of schedule which led Captain H-- to reject the plan and decide in favour of making an attempt to reach Norddeich in, and in spite of, the fog. The Commander shook his head dubiously. "My men who know the passage best have left the station," he said; "but I will do the best I can for you, and perhaps you will have luck." He saw us off at the landing with the same quiet courtesy with which he had received us. He was a very likable chap, that Commander; perhaps the one individual with whom we were thrown into intimate contact in the course of the whole visit to whom one would have thought of applying that term.

Noticing that the launch in which we were backing away from the landing was at least double the size of the one in which we had crossed, I asked one of the German officers if the greater draught of it was not likely to increase our chances of running aground.

"Of course," he replied; "but the larger cabin will also be much more comfortable if we have to wait for the next tide to get off."

As the launch swung slowly round in the mud-and-sand stained welter of reversed screws, I bethought me of the "Riddle" again, and fished it forth from my pocket. It was disappointing to leave without having had a glimpse of the town where "Dollmann" and his "rose-brown-cheeked" daughter Clara had lived, but the fog closed us round in a grey-walled cylinder scarcely more in diameter than the launch was long. But we were right on the course, I reflected, of the dinghy which "Davies" piloted with such consummate skill through just such a fog ("five yards or so was the radius of our vision," wrote "Carruthers") to Memmert to spy on the conference at the salvage plant on that desolate sand-spit. I turned up the chapter headed "Blindfold to Memmert," and read how, sounding with a notched boathook in the shallows that masterly young sailor had felt his way across the Buse Tief to the eastern outlet of the Memmert Balje, the only channel deep enough to carry the dinghy through the half-bared sandbanks between Juist and the mainland. Our own problem, it seemed to me, was a very similar one to that which confronted "Davies," only, in our case, it was the entrance of the channel where the Buse Tief narrowed between the Hohes Riff and the Itzendorf Plate that had to be located. Failing that, we were destined to roost till the next tide on a sandbank, and that meant we were out for all night, as there would be no chance of keeping to a channel, however well marked, in both fog and darkness.

Ten minutes went by-fifteen-twenty-with no sign of the buoy which marked the opening we were trying to strike. Now the engines were eased down to quarter-speed, and she lost way just in time to back off from a shining glacis of steel-grey sand that came creeping out of the fog. For the next ten minutes, with bare steerage way on, she nosed cautiously this way and that, like a man groping for a doorway in the dark. Then a hail from the lookout on the bow was echoed by exclamations of relief from the German officers. "Here is the outer buoy," one of them called across to us reassuringly; "the rest of the way is well marked and easy to follow. We will soon be at Norddeich."

Presently a fresh buoy appeared as we nosed on shoreward, then a second, and then a third, continuing the line of the first two. Speed was increased to "half," and the intervals of picking up the marks correspondingly cut down. Confident that there was nothing more to worry about, I pulled out "The Riddle" again, for I had just recalled that it was about halfway to Norddeich, in the Buse Tief, that "Carruthers" had brought off his crowning exploit, the running aground of the tug and "invasion" lighter-with Von Brunning, Boehme, and the mysterious "cloaked passenger"-as they neared the end of the successful night trial trip in the North Sea. Substituting himself for the man at the wheel by a ruse, he had edged the tug over to starboard and was just thinking "What the Dickens'll happen to her?" when the end came; "a euthanasia so mild and gradual (for the sands are fringed with mud) that the disaster was on us before I was aware of it. There was just the tiniest premonitory shuddering as our keel clove the buttery medium, a cascade of ripples from either beam, and the wheel jammed to rigidity in my hands as the tug nestled up to her final resting-place."

And very like that it was with us. It was a guttural oath from somewhere forward rather than any perceptible jar that told me the launch had struck, and it was not till after the screw had been churning sand for half a minute that there was any perceptible heel. It had come about through one of the buoys being missing and the next in line out of place, one of the Germans reckoned; but whatever the cause, there we were-stuck fast. Or, at least, we would have been with any less resourceful and energetic a crew. If their very lives had depended on it, those four or five German seamen could not have worked harder, nor to better purpose, to get that launch free. At the end of a quarter of an hour their indefatigable efforts were rewarded, and a half hour later we were settling ourselves in the warm compartment of our waiting train. The Hun has no proper sense of humour. Reverse the r?les, and any British bluejackets I have ever known would have run a German Armistice Commission on to the first sandbank that hove in sight, and damned the consequences.

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