“Now He’s a German”

Welcome to Part Nineteen of our current Tale for Our Time, my serialization of Erskine Childers’ mélange of spying and sailing set against the great-power rivalry on the road to the bloodbaths of the Western Front. If you’ve a chum who’s a fan of classic fiction in audio form, don’t forget our Mark Steyn Club gift membership.

Meanwhile, in tonight’s episode of The Riddle of the Sands, an important clue has been under Carruthers’ and Davies’ noses all along:

He held out to me a small volume, whose appearance was quite familiar to me, if its contents were less so. As I noted in an early chapter, Davies’s library, excluding tide-tables, ‘pilots’, etc., was limited to two classes of books, those on naval warfare, and those on his own hobby, cruising in small yachts. He had six or seven of the latter, including Knight’s Falcon in the Baltic, Cowper’s Sailing Tours, Macmullen’s Down Channel, and other less known stories of adventurous travel. I had scarcely done more than look into some of them at off-moments, for our life had left no leisure for reading. This particular volume was—no, I had better not describe it too fully; but I will say that it was old and unpretentious, bound in cheap cloth of a rather antiquated style, with a title which showed it to be a guide for yachtsmen to a certain British estuary. A white label partly scratched away bore the legend ‘3d.’ I had glanced at it once or twice with no special interest.

‘Well?’ I said, turning over some yellow pages.

‘Dollmann!’ cried Davies. ‘Dollmann wrote it.’ I turned to the title-page, and read: ‘By Lieut. X——, R.N.’ The name itself conveyed nothing to me, but I began to understand. Davies went on: ‘The name’s on the back, too—and I’m certain it’s the last she looked at.’

‘But how do you know?’

‘And there’s the man himself. Ass that I am not to have seen it before! Look at the frontispiece.’

It was a sorry piece of illustration of the old-fashioned sort, lacking definition and finish, but effective notwithstanding; for it was evidently the reproduction, though a cheap and imperfect process, of a photograph… Underneath the picture was the name of a yacht and a date…

‘Sixteen years ago,’ said Davies. ‘He looks thirty odd in that, doesn’t he? And fifty now.’

‘Let’s work the thing out. Sixteen years ago he was still an Englishman, an officer in Her Majesty’s Navy. Now he’s a German.’

How does that happen? Members of The Mark Steyn Club can hear me read Part Nineteen of The Riddle of the Sands simply by clicking here and logging-in. Earlier episodes can be found here.

That quick tour of the Dulcibella’s library includes a reference to “Knight’s Falcon in the Baltic” – which is, in fact, an 1887 tome called The “Falcon” in the Baltic: A Coasting Voyage from Hammersmith to Copenhagen in a Three-ton Yacht by E F Knight, barrister, soldier, sailor, journalist and prolific author. Not many people read E F Knight these days – although they should: among other pleasures, The “Falcon” in the Baltic includes a rhapsodic description of wienerschnitzel. But a lot of people do read books that draw heavily on Knight: Arthur Ransome learned to sail from Knight’s book Sailing, and Nancy, Titty and the rest of his Swallows and Amazons consult it frequently; and likewise Erskine Childers drew on Falcon for Riddle of the Sands.

Here’s where the Dulcibella is headed – west to Norderney – while Dollmann is also en route, by train to Norden on the mainland:

Mention of German Bight and the BBC Shipping Forecast the other night prompted several nostalgic sighs from UK listeners and those far from home. John Downes:

“For fans of the BBC shipping forecast (assuming they still have that)….”

Yes, Mark, we do. It comes on at 0520 each morning. And when it finishes at 0530 I know it’s time for me to leave the house and start my journey to work.

When I lived abroad and in a different time zone I made a point of listening. Mention of Gibraltar Point, North Foreland, and Rattray Head conjured visions of home.

This is for you and other Rattray Headcases, John:

They’ve probably replaced it by Stormzy or some such, but that was “Sailing By” by Ronald Binge. As I said here, I miss what they used to call “light music”.

If you’ve yet to hear any of our more than two dozen Tales for Our Time, you can do so by joining The Mark Steyn Club – and don’t forget our special Gift Membership. Oh, and please join me tomorrow for Part Twenty of The Riddle of the Sands.