On our recent jaunt in the north of Germany, we took the opportunity to re-read Erskine Childers 1903 German-invasion-scare novel, The Riddle of the Sands.
This passage occurs when Davies and Carruthers (yes, the narrator is called Carruthers!) meet a channel pilot on the Friesian coast and he takes them duck hunting.
‘Yes, yes,’ he said, ‘all right. There is plenty ducks, but first we will drink a glass beer; then we will shift your ship, captain–she lies not good there.’ (Davies started up in a panic, but was waved back to his beer.) ‘Then we will drink together another glass beer; then we will talk of ducks–no, then we will kill ducks–that is better. Then we will have plenty glasses beer.’
This was an unexpected climax, and promised well for our prospects. And the programme was fully carried out. After the beer our host was packed briskly by his daughter into an armour of woollen gaiters, coats, and mufflers, topped with a worsted helmet, which left nothing of his face visible but a pair of twinkling eyes. Thus equipped, he led the way out of doors, and roared for Hans and his gun, till a great gawky youth, with high cheek-bones and a downy beard, came out from the yard and sheepishly shook our hands.
Together we repaired to the quay, where the pilot stood, looking like a genial ball of worsted, and bawled hoarse directions while we shifted the Dulcibella to a berth on the farther shore close to the other vessels. We returned with our guns, and the interval for refreshments followed. It was just dusk when we sallied out again, crossed a stretch of bog-land, and took up strategic posts round a stagnant pond. Hans had been sent to drive, and the result was a fine mallard and three ducks. It was true that all fell to the pilot’s gun, perhaps owing to Hans’ filial instinct and his parent’s canny egotism in choosing his own lair, or perhaps it was chance; but the shooting-party was none the less a triumphal success. It was celebrated with beer and music as before, while the pilot, an infant on each podgy knee, discoursed exuberantly on the glories of his country and the Elysian content of his life. ‘There is plenty beer, plenty meat, plenty money, plenty ducks,’ summed up his survey.
Image from the cover of the recent beautifully designed Penguin edition.