Ducking the Question

Welcome to Part Six of the latest audio entertainment in our series Tales for Our Time: The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers – a spy story of German machinations in the Frisian Islands that speaks to us still over a century later.

Last night’s episode featured Carruthers’ musings on the 1864 Second Schleswig War, which cost Denmark a lot of territory. Bart Nielsen, a First Week Founding Member of The Mark Steyn Club, writes:

Mark, thank you for bringing this tale to life. My grandmother was born about nine miles north of the 1864 boundary between Germany and Denmark. As a young girl she rode her bicycle daily to a Danish farm in Germany to work and help support her widowed mother. Before the Great War around the time of our current tale, having lost her mother as well, she came to America, making the trans Atlantic crossing on the Lusitania. It was difficult for that generation in Jutland to make their way in a greatly reduced Denmark, which led to a turn of the century boom in Danish immigration to the US. About one quarter of Danes in the world live in the US, mostly due to the Battle of Dybbøl.

That’s a remarkable statistic, Bart. We value our Danish Steyn Clubbers, both those in America and also those back in Denmark. I’m proud to say we have members in Copenhagen, Hvidovre, Jerup, Lynge, Gejsing, Allerod, Jyderup, Virum, all over the map – and the more Danes the merrier.

Tonight’s episode begins in what was then Germany and is now Denmark …but Davies keeps dropping hints that he’d like to get out of there and head west:

‘Bad weather is what we want for ducks,’ he said; ‘but I’m afraid we’re in the wrong place for them. Now, if it was the North Sea, among those Frisian Islands——’ His tone was timid and interrogative, and I felt at once that he was sounding me as to some unpalatable plan whose nature began to dawn on me.

He stammered on through a sentence or two about ‘wildness’ and ‘nobody to interfere with you,’ and then I broke in: ‘You surely don’t want to leave the Baltic?’

‘Why not?’ said he, staring into the compass.

‘Hang it, man!’ I returned, tartly, ‘here we are in October, the summer over, and the weather gone to pieces. We’re alone in a cockle-shell boat, at a time when every other yacht of our size is laying up for the winter. Luckily, we seem to have struck an ideal cruising-ground, with a wide choice of safe fiords and a good prospect of ducks…’

‘It’s not very long,’ said Davies, doggedly. ‘Part of it’s canal, and the rest is quite safe if you’re careful. There’s plenty of sheltered water, and it’s not really necessary——’

‘What’s it all for?’ I interrupted, impatiently. ‘We haven’t tried for shooting here yet. You’ve no notion, have you, of getting the boat back to England this autumn?’

‘England?’ he muttered. ‘Oh, I don’t much care.’ Again his vagueness jarred on me; there seemed to be some bar between us, invisible and insurmountable. And, after all, what was I doing here? Roughing it in a shabby little yacht, utterly out of my element, with a man who, a week ago, was nothing to me, and who now was a tiresome enigma. Like swift poison the old morbid mood in which I left London spread through me.

But Davies has his reasons, as Carruthers is about to find out. Members of The Mark Steyn Club can hear Part Six of our tale simply by clicking here and logging-in. Earlier episodes can be found here.

Here’s their log so far. The Dulcibella started in Flensburg, sailed to Sonderberg (as it then was) and then up and over to Augustenberg, before heading south to the firth of Schlei:

We’ll be back here with Part Seven of The Riddle of the Sands tomorrow evening. You can listen to it either as an old-fashioned nightly radio serial twenty minutes before you lower your lamp, or save it up for an almighty binge-listen on a long car journey.

If you’re minded to join us in The Mark Steyn Club, you’re more than welcome. You can find more information here. And, if you have a chum you think might enjoy Tales for Our Time (so far, we’ve covered Conan Doyle, Baroness Orczy, Dickens, Forster, Conrad, Kipling, Kafka, Gogol, Jack London, Scott Fitzgerald, Robert Louis Stevenson and more), we’ve introduced a special Gift Membership that lets you sign up a pal for the Steyn Club. You’ll find more details here. Oh, and don’t forget, over at the Steyn store, our Steynamite Special Offers on books, CDs, and much more.

Speaking of the cruising life, following last year’s sold-out inaugural Mark Steyn Club Cruise and this year’s sold-out second cruise, we’ve now announced a third. Details here.