THE YACHT I LOST

OUR adventures toward the Baltic began almost disastrously, because I
put into the planning of them too much wisdom and calculation. We had a
month of time at our disposal. Now, a fifty-ton yacht in foreign parts
thinks nothing of a month. It is capable of using up a month in mere
preliminaries. Hence, with admirable forethought, I determined to send
the yacht on in advance. The _Velsa_ was to cross from her home port,
Brightlingsea, to the Dutch coast, and then, sheltered by many islands,
to creep along the coasts of Hanover, Holstein, Schleswig, and Denmark,
past the mouths of the Elbe, Weser, and Eider, to the port of Esbjerg,
where we were to join her by a fast steamer from Harwich. She was then
to mount still farther the Danish coast, as far as Liim Fjord and, by
a route combining fjords and canals, cross the top of the Jutland
peninsula, and enter the desired Baltic by Randers Fjord. The banal
way would have been through the Kiel Canal. Yachts never take the Liim
Fjord; but to me this was a fine reason for taking the Liim Fjord.
Moreover, English yachts have a habit of getting into trouble with
the German Empire in the Kiel Canal, and English yachtsmen are apt to
languish in German prisons on charges of espionage. I was uncertain
about the comforts provided for spies in German prisons, and I did not
wish to acquire certitude.

So the yacht was despatched. The skipper gave himself the large
allowance of a fortnight for the journey to Esbjerg. He had a beautiful
new 30-horse-power engine, new sails, a new mast. Nothing could stop him
except an east wind. It is notorious that in the North Sea the east wind
never blows for more than three days together, and that in July it never
blows at all. Still, in this July it did start to blow a few days before
the yacht’s intended departure. And it continued to blow hard. In a
week the skipper had only reached Harwich, a bare twenty miles from
Brightlingsea. Then the yacht vanished into the North Sea. The wind
held in the east. After another week I learned by cable that my ship
had reached the Helder, in North Holland. By a wondrous coincidence, my
Dutch skipper’s wife and family are established at the Helder. The east
wind still held. The skipper spent money daily in saddening me by
cable. Then he left the Helder, and the day came for us to board the
mail-steamer at Harwich for Esbjerg.

[Illustration: 0123]

She was a grand steamer, newest and largest of her fine. This was her
very first trip. She was officered by flaxen, ingenuous, soft-voiced
Danes, who had a lot of agreeable Danish friends about them, with whom
they chattered in the romantic Danish language, to us exquisite and
incomprehensible. Also she was full of original Danish food, and
especially of marvelous and mysterious sandwiches, which, with small
quantities of champagne, we ate at intervals in a veranda cafe passably
imitated from Atlantic liners. Despite the east wind, which still held,
that steamer reached Esbjerg in the twinkling of an eye.

When I say the twinkling of an eye, I mean twenty-two hours. It was in
the dusk of a Saturday evening that we had the thrill of entering an
unknown foreign country. A dangerous harbor, and we penetrated into it
as great ships do, with the extreme deliberation of an elephant.
There was a vast fleet of small vessels in the basin, and as we slid
imperceptibly past the mouth of the basin in the twilight, I scanned the
multitudinous masts for the mast of the _Velsa_. Her long Dutch streamer
was ever unmistakable. It seemed to us that she ought to be there. What
the mail-steamer could do in less than a day she surely ought to have
done in more than a fortnight, east wind or no east wind. On the map the
distance was simply nothing.

I saw her not. Still, it was growing dark, and my eyes were human eyes,
though the eyes of love. The skipper would probably, after all, be on
the quay to greet us with his energetic optimism. In fact, he was bound
to be on the quay, somewhere in the dark crowd staring up at the great
ship, because he never failed. Were miracles necessary, he would have
accomplished miracles. But he was not on the quay. The _Velsa_ was
definitely not at Eshjerg. We felt lonely, forlorn. The head waiter of
the Hotel Spangsberg, a man in his way as great as the skipper, singled
us out. He had a voice that would have soothed the inhabitants of
purgatory. He did us good. We were convinced that so long as he
consented to be our friend, no serious harm could happen to our
universe. And the hotel was excellent, the food was excellent, the
cigars were excellent. And the three chambermaids of the hotel, flitting
demurely about the long corridor at their nightly tasks, fair, clad
in prints, foreign, separated romantically from us by the palisades of
language–the three modest chambermaids were all young and beautiful,
with astounding complexions.

The next morning the wind was north by east, which was still worse than
east or northeast for the progress of the yacht toward us. Nevertheless,
I more than once walked down across the wharves of the port to the
extreme end of the jetty–about a mile each way each time–in the hope
of descrying the _Velsa’s_ long, red streamer in the offing. It was
Sunday. The town of Esbjerg, whose interest for the stranger is strictly
modern and sociological, was not attractive. Its main street, though
extremely creditable to a small town, and a rare lesson to towns of
the same size in England, was not a thoroughfare in which to linger,
especially on Sunday. In the entire town we saw not a single beautiful
or even ancient building. Further, the port was asleep, and the strong,
gusty breeze positively offensive in the deceptive sunshine.

We should have been bored, we might even have been distressed, had we
not gradually perceived, in one passing figure after another, that the
standard of female beauty in Esbjerg was far higher than in any other
place we had ever seen. These women and girls, in their light Sunday
summer frocks, had beauty, fine complexions, grace, softness, to a
degree really unusual; and in transparent sleeves or in no sleeves at
all they wandered amiably in that northerly gale as though it had been
a southern zephyr. We saw that our overcoats were an inelegance, but
we retained them. And we saw that life in Esbjerg must have profound
compensations. There were two types of beautiful women, one with
straight lips, and the other with the upper lip like the traditional
bow. The latter, of course, was the more generously formed, acquiescent
and yet pouting, more blonde than the blonde. Both types had the effect
of making the foreigner feel that to be a foreigner and a stranger in
Esbjerg, forcibly aloof from all the daily frequentations and intimacies
of the social organism, was a mistake.

[Illustration: 0130]

In the afternoon we hired an automobile, ostensibly to inspect the
peninsula, but in fact partly to see whether similar women prevailed
throughout the peninsula, and partly to give the yacht a chance of
creeping in during our absence. In our hearts we knew that so long as
we stood looking for it it would never arrive. In a few moments, as
it seemed, we had crossed the peninsula to Veile, a sympathetic
watering-place on its own fjord, and were gazing at the desired Baltic,
whereon our yacht ought to have been floating, but was not. It seemed a
heavenly sea, as blue as the Mediterranean.

We had driven fast along rather bad and dusty roads, and had passed
about ten thousand one-story farmsteads, brick-built, splendidly
thatched, and each bearing its date on the walls in large iron figures.
These farmsteads, all much alike, showed that some great change,
probably for the better, must have transformed Danish agriculture about
thirty or forty years ago. But though farmers were driving abroad in
two-horse vehicles, and though certain old men strolled to and fro,
smoking magnificent pipes at least a foot and a half long, the weight
of which had to be supported with the hand, there was little evidence of
opulence or even of ease.

The passage of the automobile caused real alarm among male cyclists and
other wayfarers, who, in the most absurd, girlish manner, would even
leap across ditches to escape the risks of it. The women, curiously,
showed much more valor. The dogs were of a reckless audacity. From every
farmyard, at the sound of our coming, a fierce dog would rush out to
attack us, with no conception of our speed. Impossible to avoid these
torpedoes! We killed one instantaneously, and ran over another, which
somersaulted, and, aghast, then balanced itself on three legs. Scores
of dogs were saved by scores of miracles. Occasionally we came across a
wise dog that must have had previous altercations with automobiles, and
learned the lesson. By dusk we had thoroughly familiarized ourselves
with the flat Danish landscape, whose bare earth is of a rich gray
purple; and as we approached Esbjerg again, after a tour of 120 miles,
we felt that we knew Jutland by heart, and that the yacht could not fail
to be waiting for us in some cranny of the port, ready to take us to
other shores. But the yacht had not come.

Then the head waiter grew to be our uncle, our father, our consoler. It
is true that he told us stories of ships that had set forth and never
been heard of again; but his moral influence was invaluable. He soothed
us, fed us, diverted us, interpreted us, and despatched cables for us.
We called him “Ober,” a name unsuitable to his diminutive form, his few
years, and his chubby face. Yet he was a true Ober. He expressed himself
in four languages, and could accomplish everything. In response to all
our requests, he would murmur in his exquisitely soft voice, “Oh, yes!
oh, yes!” He devised our daily excursions. He sent us to Ribe, the one
ancient town that we saw on the peninsula, in the cathedral of which was
a young girl who had stepped out of a picture by Memling, and who sold
post-cards with the gestures of a virgin saint and the astuteness of a
dealer. He sent us to the island of Fano, where the northeaster blows
straight from Greenland across a ten-mile bathing-beach peopled by
fragile women who saunter in muslin in front of vast hotels beneath a
canopy of flags that stand out horizontally in the terrible breeze. He
provided us with water-bottles and with plates (for palettes ), so that
we could descend to the multicolored port, and there, half sheltered
from the wind by a pile of fish-boxes and from the showers by an
umbrella, produce wet water-colors of fishing-smacks continually in
motion.

Day followed day. We had lived at Esbjerg all our lives. The yacht was
lost at sea. The yacht had never existed. The wife of the skipper, or,
rather, his widow, had twice cabled that she had no news. But the Ober
continued to bear our misfortunes with the most astounding gallantry.
And then there came a cable from the skipper, dated from the island
of Wangeroog…. Wan-geroog! Wangeroog! What a name for an impossible
island! What a name for an island at which to be weatherbound! We knew
it not. Baedeker knew it not. Even the Ober had not heard of it. We
found it at last on a map more than a hundred miles to the south. And
I had been walking down to the jetty thrice a day to gaze forth for the
_Velsa’s wein!_

[Illustration: 0136]

The skipper in his cable asked us to meet him at Friedrichstadt, on the
Eider, in Holstein, Germany. The trains were very slow and awkward. The
Ober said:

“Why do you not take an automobile? Much quicker.”

“Yes; but the German customs?”

“Everything shall be arranged,” said the Ober.

I said:

“I don’t see myself among the German bureaucracy in a hired car.”

The Ober said calmly:

“I will go with you.”

“All the way?”

“I will go with you all the way. I will arrange everything. I speak
German very well. Nothing will go wrong.”

Such a head waiter deserved encouragement. I encouraged him. He put
on his best clothes, and came, smoking cigars He took us faultlessly
through the German customs at the frontier. He superintended our first
meal at a small German hotel. I asked him to join us at table. He bowed
and accepted. When the meal was over, he rose and bowed again. It was a
good meal. He took us through three tire-bursts amid the horrid wastes
of Schleswig-Holstein. He escorted us into Friedrichstadt, and secured
rooms for us at the hotel. Then he said he must return. No! no! We could
not let him abandon us in the harsh monotony of that excessively tedious
provincial town. But he murmured that he must depart. The yacht might
not arrive for days yet. I shuddered.

“At any rate,” I said, “before you leave, inquire where the haven is,
and take me to it, so that I may know how to find it.”

He complied. It was a small haven; a steamer and several ships were in
it. Behind one ship I saw a mast and a red pennant somewhat in the style
of the _Velsa_.

“There,” I said, “my yacht has a mast rather like that.”

I looked again. Utterly impossible that the _Velsa_ could have arrived
so quickly; but it was the _Velsa_. Joy! Almost tears of joy! I led the
Ober on board. He said solemnly:

“It is very beautiful.”

So it was.

But our things were at the hotel. We had our rooms engaged at the hotel.

The Ober said:

“I will arrange everything.”

In a quarter of an hour our baggage was on board, and there was no hotel
hill. And then the Ober really did depart, with sorrow. Never shall
I look on his like again. The next day we voyaged up the Eider, a
featureless stream whose life has been destroyed by the Kiel Canal, to
its junction with the Kiel Canal, eighty-six dull, placid kilometers.
But no matter the dullness; we were afloat and in motion.

We spent about seventy-two hours in the German Empire, and emerged from
it, at Kiel, by the canal, with a certain relief; for the yacht had
several times groaned in the formidable clutch of the Fatherland’s
bureaucracy. She had been stopped by telephone at Friedrichstadt for
having passed the custom-house at the mouth of the Eider, the said
custom-house not being distinguished, as it ought to have been, by the
regulation flag. Again we were stopped by telephone at Rendsburg, on the
canal, for having dared to ascend the Eider without a pilot. Here the
skipper absolutely declined to pay the pilot-fees, and our papers were
confiscated, and we were informed that the panjandrum of the harbor
would call on us. However, he did not call on us; he returned our
papers, and let us go, thus supporting the skipper’s hotly held theory
that by the law of nations yachts on rivers are free.

We were obliged to take a pilot for the canal. He was a nice,
companionable man, unhealthy, and gently sardonic. He told us that the
canal would be remunerative if war-ships paid dues. “Only they don’t,”
he added. Confronted with the proposition that the canal was very ugly
indeed, he repudiated it. He went up and down the canal forever and
ever, and saw nothing but the ships on it and the navigation signals. He
said that he had been piloting for twelve years, and had not yet had the
same ship twice. And there were 150 pilots on the canal!

We put him ashore and into the arms of his wife at Kiel, in heavy
rain and the customary northeaster, and we pushed forward into the
comparative freedom of Kiel Fjord, making for Friedrichsort, which
looked attractive on the chart. But Friedrichsort was too naval for us;
it made us feel like spies. We crossed hastily to Moltenort, a little
pleasure town. Even here we had not walked a mile on land before we
were involved in forts and menacing sign-boards. We retreated. The
whole fjord was covered with battle-ships, destroyers, submarines,
Hydro-aëroplanes curved in the atmosphere, or skimmed the froth off
the waves. The air was noisy with the whizzing of varied screws. It was
enormous, terrific, intimidating, especially when at dusk
search-lights began to dart among the lights of the innumerable
fjord passenger-steamers. We knew that we were deeply involved in
the tremendous German system. Still, our blue ensign flew proudly,
unchallenged.

[Illustration: 0141]

The population of Moltenort was not seductive, though a few young men
here and there seemed efficient, smart, and decent. The women and girls
left us utterly unmoved. The major part of the visitors were content
to sit vacantly on the promenade at a spot where a powerful drain,
discharging into the fjord, announced itself flagrantly to the sense.
These quiet, tired, submissive persons struck us as being the raw
slavish material of the magnificent imperial system, and entirely
unconnected with the wondrous brains that organized it and kept it
going. The next morning we departed very early, but huge targets were
being towed out in advance of us, and we effected our final escape into
the free Baltic only by braving a fleet of battleships that fired into
the checkered sky. Sometimes their shells glinted high up in the sun,
and seemed to be curving along the top edge of an imaginary rainbow.
We slowly left them astern, with, as I say, a certain relief. Little,
unmilitary Denmark lay ahead.

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