‘GOOD-BYE, old chap,’ called Davies.
‘Good-bye,’ the whistle blew and the ferry-steamer forged ahead, leaving Davies on the quay, bareheaded and wearing his old Norfolk jacket and stained grey flannels, as at our first meeting in Flensburg station. There was no bandaged hand this time, but he looked pinched and depressed; his eyes had black circles round them; and again I felt that same indefinable pathos in him.
‘Your friend is in low spirits,’ said Böhme, who was installed on a seat beside me, voluminously caped and rugged against the biting air. It was a still, sunless day.
‘So am I,’ I grunted, and it was the literal truth. I was only half awake, felt unwashed and dissipated, heavy in head and limbs. But for Davies I should never have been where I was. It was he who had patiently coaxed me out of my bunk, packed my bag, fed me with tea and an omelette (to which I believe he had devoted peculiarly tender care), and generally mothered me for departure. While I swallowed my second cup he was brushing the mould and smoothing the dents from my felt hat, which had been entombed for a month in the sail-locker; working at it with a remorseful concern in his face. The only initiative I am conscious of having shown was in the matter of my bag. ‘Put in my sea clothes, oils, and all,’ I had said; ‘I may want them again.’
There was mortal need of a thorough consultation, but this was out of the question. Davies did not badger or complain, but only timidly asked me how we were to meet and communicate, a question on which my mind was an absolute blank.
‘Look out for me about the 26th,’ I suggested feebly.
Before we left the cabin he gave me a scrap of pencilled paper and saw that it went safely into my pocket-book. ‘Look at it in the train,’ he said.
Unable to cope with Böhme, I paced the deck aimlessly as we swung round the See-Gat into the Buse Tief, trying to identify the point where we crossed it yesterday blindfold. But the tide was full, and the waters blank for miles round till they merged in haze. Soon I drifted down into the saloon, and crouching over a stove pulled out that scrap of paper. In a crabbed, boyish hand, and much besmudged with tobacco ashes, I found the following notes:
(1) Your journey. Norddeich 8.58, Emden 10.32, Leer 11.16 (Böhme changes for Bremen), Rheine 1.8 (change), Amsterdam 7.17 p.m. Leave again via Hook 8.52, London 9 am.
(2) The coast-station–their rondezvous–querry is it Norden? (You pass it 9.13)–there is a tidal creek up to it. High-water there on 25th, say 10.30 to 11 p.m. It cannot be Norddeich, which I find has a dredged-out low-water channel for the steamer, so tide ‘serves’ would not apply.
(3) Your other clews (tugs, pilots, depths, railway, Esens, seven of something). Querry; Scheme of defence by land and sea for North Sea Coast?
Sea–7 islands, 7 channels between (counting West Ems), very small depths (what you said) in most of them. Tugs and pilots for patrol work behind islands, as I always said. Querry; Rondezvous is for inspecting
Land–Look at railway (map in ulster pocket) running in a loop all round Friesland, a few miles from coast. Querry: To be used as line of communication for army corps. Troops could be quickly sent to any threatened point. Esens the base? It is in top centre of loop. Von Brooning dished us fairly over that at Bensersiel.
Chatham–D. was spying after our naval plans for war with Germany. Von Brooning runs naval part over here. Where does Burmer come in? Querry–you go to Breman and find out about him?
I nodded stupidly over this document–so stupidly that I found myself wondering whether Burmer was a place or a person. Then I dozed, to wake with a violent start and find the paper on the floor. Panic-stricken, I hid it away, and went on deck, when I found we were close to Norddeich, running up to the bleakest of bleak jetties thrown out from the dyke-bound polders of the mainland. Böhme and I landed together, and he was at my elbow as I asked for a ticket for Amsterdam, and was given one as far as Rheine, a junction near the Dutch frontier. He was ensconced in an opposite corner to me in the railway carriage, looking like an Indian idol. ‘Where do you come in?’ I pondered, dreamily. Too sleepy to talk, I could only blink at him, sitting bolt upright with my arms folded over my precious pocket-book. Finally, I gave up the struggle, buttoned my ulster tightly up, and turning my back upon him with an apology, lay down to sleep, the precious pocket nethermost. He was at liberty to rifle my bag if he chose, and I dare say he did. I cannot say, for from this point till Rheine, for the best part of four hours, that is, I had only two lucid intervals.
The first was at Emden, where we both had to change. Here, as we pushed our way down the crowded platform, Böhme, after being greeted respectfully by several persons, was at last buttonholed without means
of escape by an obsequious gentleman, whose description is of no moment, but whose conversation is. It was about a canal; what canal I did not gather, though, from a name dropped, I afterwards identified it as one in course of construction as a feeder to the Ems. The point is that the subject was canals. At the moment it was seed dropped in unreceptive soil, but it germinated later. I passed on, mingling with the crowd, and was soon asleep again in another carriage where Böhme this time did not follow me.
The second occasion was at Leer, where I heard myself called by name, and woke to find him at the window. He had to change trains, and had come to say good-bye. ‘Don’t forget to go to Lloyd’s,’ he grated in my ear. I expect it was a wan smile that I returned, for I was at a very low ebb, and my fortress looked sarcastically impregnable. But the sapper was free; ‘free’ was my last conscious thought.
Even after Rheine, where I changed for the last time, a brutish drowsiness enchained me, and the afternoon was well advanced before my faculties began to revive.
The train crept like a snail from station to station. I might, so a fellow-passenger told me, have waited three hours at Rheine for an express which would have brought me to Amsterdam at about the same time; or, if I
had chosen to break the journey farther back, two hours at either Emden or Leer would still have enabled me to catch the said express at Rheine. These alternatives had escaped Davies, and, I surmised, had been suppressed by Böhme, who doubtless did not want me behind him, free either to double back or to follow him to Bremen.
The pace, then, was execrable, and there were delays; we were behind time at Hengelo, thirty minutes late at Apeldoorn; so that I might well have grown nervous about my connexions at Amsterdam, which were in some jeopardy. But as I battled out of my lethargy and began to take account of our position and prospects, quite a different thought at the outset affected me. Anxiety to reach London was swamped in reluctance to quit Germany, so that I found myself grudging every mile that I placed between me and the frontier. It was the old question of urgency. To-day was the 23rd. The visit to London meant a minimum absence of forty-eight hours, counting from Amsterdam; that is to say, that by travelling for two nights and one day, and devoting the other day to investigating Dollmann’s past, it was humanly possible for me to be back on the Frisian coast on the evening of the 25th. Yes, I could be at Norden, if that was the ‘rendezvous’, at 7 p.m. But what a scramble! No margin for delays, no physical respite. Some pasts take a deal of raking up–other persons may be affected; men are cautious, they trip you up with red tape; or the man who knows is out at lunch–a protracted lunch; or in the country–a protracted week-end. Will you see Mr So-and-so, or leave a note? Oh! I know those public departments–from the inside! And the Admiralty! … I saw myself baffled and racing back the same night to Germany, with two days wasted, arriving, good for nothing, at Norden, with no leisure to reconnoitre my ground; to be baffled again there, probably, for you cannot always count on fogs (as Davies said). Esens was another clue, and ‘to follow Burmer’–there was something in that notion. But I wanted time, and had I time? How long could Davies maintain himself at Norderney? Not so very long, from what I remembered of last night. And was he even safe there? A feverish dream recurred to me–a dream of Davies in a diving-dress; of a regrettable hitch in the air-supply–Stop, that was nonsense! … Let us be sane. What matter if he had to go? What matter if I took my time in London? Then with a flood of shame I saw Davies’s wistful face on the quay, heard his grim ejaculation: ‘He’s our game or no one’s’; and my own sullen ‘Oh, I’ll keep the secret!’ London was utterly impossible. If I found my informant, what credentials had I, what claim to confidences? None, unless I told the whole story. Why, my mere presence in Whitehall would imperil the secret; for, once on my native heath, I should be recognized–possibly haled to judgement; at the best should escape in a cloud of rumour–‘last heard of at Norderney’; ‘only this morning was raising Cain at the Admiralty about a mythical lieutenant.’ No! Back to Friesland, was the word. One night’s rest–I must have that–between sheets, on a feather bed; one long, luxurious night, and then back refreshed to Friesland, to finish our work in our own way, and with none but our own weapons.
Having reached this resolve, I was nearly putting it into instant execution, by alighting at Amersfoort, but thought better of it. I had a transformation to effect before I returned North, and the more populous centre I
made it in the less it was likely to attract notice. Besides, I had in my mind’s eye a perfect bed in a perfect hostelry hard by the Amstel River. It was an economy in the end. So, at half-past eight I was sipping my coffee in the aforesaid hostelry, with a London newspaper before me, which was unusually interesting, and some German journals, which, ‘in hate of a wrong not theirs’, were one and all seething with rancorous Anglophobia. At nine I was in the Jewish quarter, striking bargains in an infamous marine slop-shop. At half-past nine I was despatching this unscrupulous telegram to my chief–‘Very sorry, could not call Norderney; hope extension all right; please write to Hôtel du Louvre, Paris.’ At ten I was in the perfect bed, rapturously flinging my limbs abroad in its glorious redundancies.