It turns out that Carruthers has a talent for disguise (as if, perhaps, he were some kind of real spy…).
The rough marine garb he bought in a slop-shop in Amsterdam has served him well. Having successfully fooled a guesthouse owner in Esens and a drunk in Dornum that he’s some kind of German merchant sailor, he’s emboldened enough on the evening of October 25 to shadow von Brüning on a train and actually stand next to him at a level crossing without being recognised.
How does he do this? And from whom does he draw his inspiration when it comes to pretending to be someone he is not?
Well, on the first point, there is a heavy reliance on ‘comforters’ and ‘mufflers’ – scarves to you and and me – into which one can bury one’s face. Carruthers has also acquired a peacoat that might have quite big collars that can be turned up. He’s also shaved off his moustache entirely and is likely to have two-day’s worth of stubble by now. One assumes he also has a cap of some sort, leaving him capable of pretty much covering up his whole head.
Develop a seaman’s gait or ‘roll’ in order to suppress the upright manner of a youthful London club-man and my guess is that Carruthers could indeed be transformed – or at least be unrecognisable on a dark Frisian street in October. And we must remember too that Carruthers can speak German, so even when engaged in conversation, at the railway ticket office or the pub, he can just about pass muster.
He does admit at one point: “I knew no fo’c’sle German, but had a smattering of fo’c’sle English, gathered from Cutcliffe Hyne and Kipling.” And here perhaps is a clue to how Carruthers manages to throw himself so effectively into the part of an all-action sailorman – he’s clearly imagining himself to be Captain Kettle!
Captain Kettle was the creation of the aforementioned Cutcliffe Hyne, and starred in a number of of very successful adventures stories though out the 1890s and early 1900s. Captain Kettle stories appeared in magazines alongside other iconic works of the time, including H G Wells’s ‘War of the Worlds’, and it’s said that Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ contains key phrases and images taken from Kettle adventures. Indeed, the image of Captain Kettle himself bears a striking resemblance to Joseph Conrad himself.
By donning his disguise, therefore, Carruthers is placing himself right in the middle of a literary landscape full of adventurers, action-heroes and discoverers of dark things abroad. No wonder he seems to be so comfortable in his comforter.