Welcome to Episode Twenty of our nightly audio adventure, The Riddle of the Sands. We have discussed this book’s influence in Britain in the years before the Great War, but Paul Cathey, a Colorado member of The Mark Steyn Club, wonders about its impact across the North Sea:
I would like to know what the Germans made of this story pre-WWI. Was state espionage so rudimentary that they missed it? It seems inconceivable that they would be unaware of its importance while the British were taking its import seriously.
That’s a very interesting question, Paul, and I’ll look into it. I do know that the Kaiser’s men were aware of a sudden uptick in Frisian cruisers from Blighty. In 1910, for example, a pair of gentlemen yachtsmen, Captain Bernard Trench RM and Lieutenant Vivian Brandon RN, were sufficiently inspired by Erskine Childers’ novel to reenact its route and acquire information about His Imperial Majesty’s naval installations. Unfortunately, they were captured, tried and gaoled by a military tribunal in Leipzig, until Kaiser Bill decided to pardon them three years later. Captain Trench and Lieutenant Brandon returned to London just in time to join the Admiralty’s intelligence department before war broke out.
In tonight’s episode, unlike Trench and Brandon, Carruthers and Davies are staying one step ahead of the authorities. They find themselves at a Frisian resort, albeit out of season:
We had made a long and painful toilette that morning, and felt quite shy of one another as we sculled towards the pier, in much-creased blue suits, conventional collars, and brown boots. It was the first time for two years that I had seen Davies in anything approaching a respectable garb; but a fashionable watering-place, even in the dead season, exacts respect; and, besides, we had friends to visit…
Flooded with sun, yet still as the grave, the town was like a dead butterfly for whom the healing rays had come too late. We crossed some deserted public gardens commanded by a gorgeous casino, its porticos heaped with chairs and tables; so past kiosques and cafés, great white hotels with boarded windows, bazaars and booths, and all the stale lees of vulgar frivolity, to the post-office, which at least was alive. I received a packet of letters and purchased a local time-table… Then I inquired the way to the ‘Vier Jahreszeiten’. ‘For whatever your principles, Davies,’ I said, ‘we are going to have the best breakfast money can buy! We’ve got the whole day before us.’
The ‘Four Seasons’ Hotel was on the esplanade facing the northern beach. Living up to its name, it announced on an illuminated signboard, ‘Inclusive terms for winter visitors; special attention to invalids, etc.’ Here in a great glass restaurant, with the unruffled blue of ocean spread out before us, we ate the king of breakfasts, dismissed the waiter, and over long and fragrant Havanas examined my mail at leisure.
There is an hotel called The Four Seasons – Vier Jahreszeiten – in Norderney today, but I’m pretty certain it’s not the one Carruthers and Davies put in at. And in lieu of “the king of breakfasts” they offer a “breakfast buffet” (dread concept). If you’re a member of The Mark Steyn Club you can hear Part Twenty of our serialization of The Riddle of the Sands simply by clicking here and logging-in. All previous episodes can be found here.
Here’s where our chaps are at present – breakfasting in Norderney in the east but with their minds on Memmert in the west:
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