Insular Nonsense or Clever Plagiarism?

As Dominion Day draws to a close, I want to thank all my fellow Canadians who swing by here each day, and especially through the long battle to slay Section 13 in the Great White North. As Erskine Childers must have surely reflected on either side of the Irish Sea in the course of his short complicated life, one can love a land notwithstanding its woeful politics. So welcome to Episode Eighteen of our current nightly audio caper: The Riddle of the Sands, Childers’ shipboard adventure rooted in the great-power rivalry of the years leading up to August 1914. In tonight’s episode, we meet the young fräulein with whom Davies is smitten:

He sculled away with vigorous strokes. ‘Just as he is,’ I thought to myself: bare head, beaded with fog-dew, ancient oilskin coat (only one button); grey jersey; grey woollen trousers (like a deep-sea fisherman’s) stuffed into long boots. A vision of his antitype, the Cowes Philanderer, crossed me for a second. As to his face—well, I could only judge by it, and marvel, that he was gripping his dilemma by either horn, as firmly as he gripped his sculls… Then Davies was striding over the sand, and a girl—I could see her now—was coming to meet him. And then I thought it was time to go below and tidy up.

And so, while the anti-type of the Cowes Philanderer hurries to the girl, Carruthers does his best to make the Dulcibella’s saloon “a worthy reception-room for a lady”. Then he hears the sound of oars:

Our own dinghy was just rounding up alongside, Davies sculling in the bows, facing him in the stern a young girl in a grey tam-o’-shanter, loose waterproof jacket and dark serge skirt, the latter, to be frigidly accurate, disclosing a pair of workman-like rubber boots which, mutatis mutandis, were very like those Davies was wearing. Her hair, like his, was spangled with moisture, and her rose-brown skin struck a note of delicious colour against the sullen Stygian background.

‘There he is,’ said Davies. Never did his ‘meiner Freund, Carruthers,’ sound so pleasantly in my ears; never so discordantly the ‘Fräulein Dollmann’ that followed it. Every syllable of the four was a lie. Two honest English eyes were looking up into mine; an honest English hand—is this insular nonsense? Perhaps so, but I stick to it—a brown, firm hand—no, not so very small, my sentimental reader—was clasping mine. Of course I had strong reasons, apart from the racial instinct, for thinking her to be English, but I believe that if I had had none at all I should at any rate have congratulated Germany on a clever bit of plagiarism. By her voice, when she spoke, I knew that she must have talked German habitually from childhood; diction and accent were faultless, at least to my English ear; but the native constitutional ring was wanting.

An obviously English girl purporting to be German? That’s unlikely to end well. If you’re a member of The Mark Steyn Club you can hear Part Eighteen of our serialization of The Riddle of the Sands simply by clicking here and logging-in. All previous episodes can be found here.

Larry Gavin, one of our Manx Steyn Club members, thinks our choice of summer yarn is all a bit obvious:

Blimey. I’m sensing a Steyn club cruise, retracing the steps of the story. What larks!

But New Mexico member Fran Lavery is on board with that:

I could go for that, as long as they don’t forget the egg cups, the breaks for some onshore dining and imbibing and throw in some stops for duck hunting! Yes, I would be game for that sort of thing. I like the idea of going on a sailing yacht, too. Could the club swing that, Mark, someday? Huh, could we?

Actually, we have considered Baltic cruises, Fran. So no reason why we couldn’t try the other end of the Kiel Canal. Farewell, New Hampshire; hello, Heligoland!

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And do join me tomorrow for the nineteenth episode of The Riddle of the Sands.