I SAY, Davies,’ I said, ‘how long do you think this trip will last? I’ve only got a month’s leave.’
We were standing at slanting desks in the Kiel post-office, Davies scratching diligently at his letter-card, and I staring feebly at mine.
‘By Jove!’ said Davies, with a start of dismay; ‘that’s only three weeks more; I never thought of that. You couldn’t manage to get an extension, could you?’
‘I can write to the chief,’ I admitted; ‘but where’s the answer to come to? We’re better without an address, I suppose.’
‘There’s Cuxhaven,’ reflected Davies; ‘but that’s too near, and there’s–but we don’t want to be tied down to landing anywhere. I tell you what: say “Post Office, Norderney”, just your name, not the yacht’s. We may get there and be able to call for letters.’ The casual character of our adventure never struck me more strongly than then.
‘Is that what you’re doing?’ I asked.
‘Oh, I shan’t be having important letters like you.’
‘But what are you saying?’
‘Oh, just that we’re having a splendid cruise, and are on our way home.’
The notion tickled me, and I said the same in my home letter, adding that we were looking for a friend of Davies’s who would be able to show us some sport. I wrote a line, too, to my chief (unaware of the gravity of the step I was taking) saying it was possible that I might have to apply for longer leave, as I had important business to transact in Germany, and asking him kindly to write to the same address. Then we shouldered our parcels and resumed our business.
Two full dinghy-loads of Stores we ferried to the Dulcibella, chief among which were two immense cans of petroleum, constituting our reserves of heat and light, and a sack of flour. There were spare ropes and blocks, too; German charts of excellent quality; cigars and many weird brands of sausage and tinned meats, besides a miscellany of oddments, some of which only served in the end to slake my companion’s craving for jettison. Clothes were my own chief care, for, freely as I had purged it at Flensburg, my wardrobe was still very unsuitable, and I had already irretrievably damaged two faultless pairs of white flannels. (‘We shall be able to throw them overboard,’ said Davies, hopefully.) So I bought a great pair of seaboots of the country, felt-lined and wooden-soled, and both of us got a number of rough woollen garments (as worn by the local fishermen), breeches, jerseys, helmets, gloves; all of a colour chosen to harmonize with paraffin stains and anchor mud.
The same evening we were taking our last look at the Baltic, sailing past warships and groups of idle yachts battened down for their winter’s sleep; while the noble shores of the fiord, with its villas embowered in copper foliage, grew dark and dim above us.
We rounded the last headland, steered for a galaxy of coloured lights, tumbled down our sails, and came to under the colossal gates of the Holtenau lock. That these would open to such an infinitesimal suppliant seemed inconceivable. But open they did, with ponderous majesty, and our tiny hull was lost in the womb of a lock designed to float the largest battleships. I thought of Boulter’s on a hot August Sunday, and wondered if I really was the same peevish dandy who had jostled and sweltered there with the noisy cockney throng a month ago. There was a blaze of electricity overhead, but utter silence till a solitary cloaked figure hailed us and called for the captain. Davies ran up a ladder, disappeared with the cloaked figure, and returned crumpling a paper into his pocket. It lies before me now, and sets forth, under the stamp of the Königliches Zollamt, that, in consideration of the sum of ten marks for dues and four for tonnage, an imperial tug would tow the vessel Dulcibella (master A. H. Davies) through the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal from Holtenau to Brunsbüttel. Magnificent condescension! I blush when I look at this yellow document and remember the stately courtesy of the great lock gates; for the sleepy officials of the Königliches Zollamt little knew what an insidious little viper they were admitting into the imperial bosom at the light toll of fourteen shillings.
‘Seems cheap,’ said Davies, joining me, ‘doesn’t it? They’ve a regular tariff on tonnage, same for yachts as for liners. We start at four to-morrow with a lot of other boats. I wonder if Bartels is here.’
The same silence reigned, but invisible forces were at work. The inner gates opened and we prised ourselves through into a capacious basin, where lay moored side by side a flotilla of sailing vessels of various sizes. Having made fast alongside a vacant space of quay, we had our dinner, and then strolled out with cigars to look for the Johannes. We found her wedged among a stack of galliots, and her skipper sitting primly below before a blazing stove, reading his Bible through spectacles. He produced a bottle of schnapps and some very small and hard pears, while Davies twitted him mercilessly about his false predictions.
‘The sky was not good,’ was all he said, beaming indulgently at his incorrigible young friend.
Before parting for the night it was arranged that next morning we should lash alongside the Johannes when the flotilla was marshalled for the tow through the canal.
‘Karl shall steer for us both,’ he said, ‘and we will stay warm in the cabin.’