The Riddle of the Sands: A Record of Secret Service [NOOK Book]

Overview

One of the first great spy novels, The Riddle of the Sands is set during the long suspicious years leading up to the First World War. The story builds in excitement as two young men on a sailing holiday discover a German plot to invade England. This edition is complemented by a fine introduction which examines the novel in its political and historical context. - ;'About this coast... In the event of war it seems to me that every inch of it ...
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The Riddle of the Sands: A Record of Secret Service

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Overview

One of the first great spy novels, The Riddle of the Sands is set during the long suspicious years leading up to the First World War. The story builds in excitement as two young men on a sailing holiday discover a German plot to invade England. This edition is complemented by a fine introduction which examines the novel in its political and historical context. - ;'About this coast... In the event of war it seems to me that every inch of it would be important, sand and all.'

Executed in 1922 for his involvement in Irish republicanism, Childers in remembered most vividly for his ground-breaking spy novel, The Riddle of the Sands (1903). In spite of good prospects in the Foreign Office, the sardonic civil servant Carruthers is finding it hard to endure the emptiness and boredom of his life in London. He reluctantly accepts an invitation from a college friend, Davies, the shyly intrepid yachtsman, and joins him on a sailing holiday in the Baltic. The
regeneration of Carruthers begins as he is initiated into the mysteries of seamanship, but the story builds in excitement as Carruthers and Davies discover a German plot to invade England.

Like much contemporary British spy fiction, The Riddle of the Sands reflects the long suspicious years leading up to the First World War and the intricacy of its conception and its lucid detail make it a classic of its genre. This edition is complemented by a fine introduction which examines the novel in its political and historical context. -
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Another hot new series from Penguin, "Great Books for Boys" offers a handful of top adventure stories from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Each volume sports a nice vintage-looking cover to complete the spell. Great fun (and girls can read them, too!).


—Michael Rogers
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199982561
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, UK
  • Publication date: 7/2/1998
  • Series: Oxford World's Classics Series
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • File size: 4 MB

Meet the Author

Robert Esrkine Childers was born in 1870 to Anglo-Irish parents, and was raised in Ireland. He was educated at Haileybury and Trinity College, Cambridge, and from 1895 to 1910 was a clerk in the House of Commons. During his long holidays he spent time sailing the North Sea and the Channel in a tiny yacht, and explored the shoals of the German, Dutch and Danish coasts. He volunteered at the outbreak of the Boer War and afterwards wrote a personal record, In the Ranks of the C. I. V., which was the fifth volume of The Times History of the War in South Africa, as well as two other books exposing the antiquated uses of cavalry against modern armaments. He published his only novel, The Riddle of the Sands, in 1903. He married Mary (Molly) Alden Osgood, whom he had met on a visit to Boston, in 1904.

In 1910 he resigned his post at the House of Commons in order to be free to work for the Irish cause, and the following year published The Framework of Home Rule, advocating full dominion status for Ireland. During the First World War he did reconnaissance work in the Royal Naval Air Service, served in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and then as an Intelligence Officer. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. After the war he settled in Ireland to work and write for its complete independence.

When the Free State was established he joined the Republican army, and, in 1922, was one of the many leaders who were arrested and shot by firing squads in the tragic civil war that followed. John Buchan later wrote of him 'no revolution ever produced a nobler or purer spirit'.

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Read an Excerpt

The Riddle of the Sands


By Erskine Childers

Modern Library

Copyright © 2002 Erskine Childers
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780812966145

CHAPTER 1

The Letter

I have read of men who, when forced by their calling to live for long periods in utter solitude–save for a few black faces–have made it a rule to dress regularly for dinner in order to maintain their self-respect and prevent a relapse into barbarism. It was in some such spirit, with an added touch of self-consciousness, that, at seven o’clock in the evening of 23rd September in a recent year, I was making my evening toilet in my chambers in Pall Mall. I thought the date and the place justified the parallel; to my advantage even; for the obscure Burmese administrator might well be a man of blunted sensibilities and coarse fibre, and at least he is alone with nature, while I–well, a young man of condition and fashion, who knows the right people, belongs to the right clubs, has a safe, possibly a brilliant, future in the Foreign Office–may be excused for a sense of complacent martyrdom, when, with his keen appreciation of the social calendar, he is doomed to the outer solitude of London in September. I say “martyrdom,” but in fact the case was infinitely worse. For to feel oneself a martyr, as everybody knows, is a pleasurable thing, and the true tragedy of my position was that I had passed that stage. I had enjoyed what sweets it had to offer in ever dwindling degree since the middle of August, when ties were still freshand sympathy abundant. I had been conscious that I was missed at Morven Lodge party. Lady Ashleigh herself had said so in the kindest possible manner, when she wrote to acknowledge the letter in which I explained, with an effectively austere reserve of language, that circumstances compelled me to remain at my office. “We know how busy you must be just now,” she wrote, “and I do hope you won’t overwork; we shall all miss you very much.” Friend after friend “got away” to sport and fresh air, with promises to write and chaffing condolences, and as each deserted the sinking ship, I took a grim delight in my misery, positively almost enjoying the first week or two after my world had been finally dissipated to the four bracing winds of heaven. I began to take a spurious interest in the remaining five millions, and wrote several clever letters in a vein of cheap satire, indirectly suggesting the pathos of my position, but indicating that I was broad-minded enough to find intellectual entertainment in the scenes, persons, and habits of London in the dead season. I even did rational things at the instigation of others. For, though I should have liked total isolation best, I, of course, found that there was a sediment of unfortunates like myself, who, unlike me, viewed the situation in a most prosaic light. There were river excursions, and so on, after office-hours; but I dislike the river at any time for its noisy vulgarity, and most of all at this season. So I dropped out of the fresh air brigade and declined H–’s offer to share a riverside cottage and run up to town in the mornings. I did spend one or two week-ends with the Catesbys in Kent; but I was not inconsolable when they let their house and went abroad, for I found that such partial compensations did not suit me. Neither did the taste for satirical observation last. A passing thirst, which I dare say many have shared, for adventures of the fascinating kind described in the New Arabian Nights led me on a few evenings into some shady haunts in Soho and farther eastward; but was finally quenched one sultry Saturday night after an hour’s immersion in the reeking atmosphere of a low music-hall in Ratcliffe Highway, where I sat next a portly female who suffered from the heat, and at frequent intervals refreshed herself and an infant from a bottle of tepid stout.

By the first week in September I had abandoned all palliatives, and had settled into the dismal but dignified routine of office, club, and chambers. And now came the most cruel trial, for the hideous truth dawned on me that the world I found so indispensable could after all dispense with me. It was all very well for Lady Ashleigh to assure me that I was deeply missed; but a letter from F–, who was one of the party, written “in haste, just starting to shoot,” and coming as a tardy reply to one of my cleverest, made me aware that the house party had suffered little from my absence, and that few sighs were wasted on me, even in the quarter which I had assumed to have been discreetly alluded to by the underlined all in Lady Ashleigh’s “we shall all miss you.” A thrust which smarted more, if it bit less deeply, came from my cousin Nesta, who wrote: “It’s horrid for you to have to be baking in London now; but, after all, it must be a great pleasure to you” (malicious little wretch!) “to have such interesting and important work to do.” Here was a nemesis for an innocent illusion I had been accustomed to foster in the minds of my relations and acquaintances, especially in the breasts of the trustful and admiring maidens whom I had taken down to dinner in the last two seasons; a fiction which I had almost reached the point of believing in myself. For the plain truth was that my work was neither interesting nor important, and consisted chiefly at present in smoking cigarettes, in saying that Mr. So-and-So was away and would be back about 1st October, in being absent for lunch from twelve till two, and in my spare moments making précis of–let us say–the less confidential consular reports, and squeezing the results into cast-iron schedules. The reason of my detention was not a cloud on the international horizon–though I may say in passing that there was such a cloud–but a caprice on the part of a remote and mighty personage, the effect of which, ramifying downwards, had dislocated the carefully-laid holiday plans of the humble juniors, and in my own small case had upset the arrangement between myself and K–, who positively liked the dog-days in Whitehall.

Only one thing was needed to fill my cup of bitterness, and this it was that specially occupied me as I dressed for dinner this evening. Two days more in this dead and fermenting city and my slavery would be at an end. Yes, but–irony of ironies!–I had nowhere to go to! The Morven Lodge party was breaking up. A dreadful rumour as to an engagement which had been one of its accursed fruits tormented me with the fresh certainty that I had not been missed, and bred in me that most desolating brand of cynicism which is produced by defeat through insignificance. Invitations for a later date, which I had declined in July with a gratifying sense of being much in request, now rose up spectrally to taunt me. There was at least one which I could easily have revived, but neither in this case nor in any other had there been any renewal of pressure, and there are moments when the difference between proposing oneself and surrendering as a prize to one of several eagerly competing hostesses seems too crushing to be contemplated. My own people were at Aix for my father’s gout; to join them was a pis aller whose banality was repellent. Besides, they would be leaving soon for our home in Yorkshire, and I was not a prophet in my own country. In short, I was at the extremity of depression.

The usual preliminary scuffle on the staircase prepared me for the knock and entry of Withers. (One of the things which had for some time ceased to amuse me was the laxity of manners, proper to the season, among the servants of the big block of chambers where I lived.) Withers demurely handed me a letter bearing a German post-mark and marked “Urgent.” I had just finished dressing, and was collecting my money and gloves. A momentary thrill of curiosity broke in upon my depression as I sat down to open it. A corner on the reverse of the envelope bore the blotted legend: “Very sorry, but there’s one other thing–a pair of rigging screws from Carey and Neilson’s, size 1 3/8, galvanized.” Here it is:

Yacht Dulcibella, Flensburg, Schleswig-Holstein, 21st Sept.

Dear Carruthers, I daresay you’ll be surprised at hearing from me, as it’s ages since we met. It is more than likely, too, that what I’m going to suggest won’t suit you, for I know nothing of your plans, and if you’re in town at all you’re probably just getting into harness again and can’t get away. So I merely write on the offchance to ask if you would care to come out here and join me in a little yachting, and, I hope, duck shooting. I know you’re keen on shooting, and I sort of remember that you have done some yachting too, though I rather forget about that. This part of the Baltic–the Schleswig fiords–is a splendid cruising-ground–A1 scenery–and there ought to be plenty of duck about soon, if it gets cold enough. I came out here via Holland and the Frisian Islands, starting early in August. My pals have had to leave me, and I’m badly in want of another, as I don’t want to lay up yet for a bit. I needn’t say how glad I should be if you could come. If you can, send me a wire to the P.O. here. Flushing and on by Hamburg will be your best route, I think. I’m having a few repairs done here, and will have them ready sharp by the time your train arrives. Bring your gun and a good lot of No. 4’s; and would you mind calling at Lancaster’s and asking for mine, and bringing it too? Bring some oilskins. Better get the eleven-shilling sort, jacket and trousers–not the “yachting” brand; and if you paint bring your gear. I know you speak German like a native, and that will be a great help. Forgive this hail of directions, but I’ve a sort of feeling that I’m in luck and that you’ll come. Anyway, I hope you and the F.O. both flourish. Good-bye.

Yours ever, Arthur H. Davies.

Would you mind bringing me out a prismatic compass, and a pound of Raven Mixture.

This letter marked an epoch for me; but I little suspected the fact as I crumpled it into my pocket and started languidly on the voie douloureuse which I nightly followed to the club. In Pall Mall there were no dignified greetings to be exchanged now with well-groomed acquaintances. The only people to be seen were some late stragglers from the park, with a perambulator and some hot and dusty children lagging fretfully behind; some rustic sightseers draining the last dregs of the daylight in an effort to make out from their guide-books which of these reverend piles was which; a policeman and a builder’s cart. Of course the club was a strange one, both of my own being closed for cleaning, a coincidence expressly planned by Providence for my inconvenience. The club which you are “permitted to make use of” on these occasions always irritates with its strangeness and discomfort. The few occupants seem odd and oddly dressed, and you wonder how they got there. The particular weekly that you want is not taken in; the dinner is execrable, and the ventilation a farce. All these evils oppressed me to-night. And yet I was puzzled to find that somewhere within me there was a faint lightening of the spirits; causeless, as far as I could discover. It could not be Davies’s letter. Yachting in the Baltic at the end of September! The very idea made one shudder. Cowes, with a pleasant party and hotels handy, was all very well. An August cruise on a steam yacht in French waters or the Highlands was all very well; but what kind of a yacht was this? It must be of a certain size to have got so far, but I thought I remembered enough of Davies’s means to know that he had no money to waste on luxuries. That brought me to the man himself. I had known him at Oxford–not as one of my immediate set; but we were a sociable college, and I had seen a good deal of him, liking him for his physical energy combined with a certain simplicity and modesty, though, indeed, he had nothing to be conceited about; liked him, in fact, in the way that at that receptive period one likes many men whom one never keeps up with later. We had both gone down in the same year–three years ago now. I had gone to France and Germany for two years to learn the languages; he had failed for the Indian Civil, and then had gone into a solicitor’s office. I had only seen him since at rare intervals, though I admitted to myself that for his part he had clung loyally to what ties of friendship there were between us. But the truth was that we had drifted apart from the nature of things. I had passed brilliantly into my profession, and on the few occasions I had met him since I made my triumphant début in society I had found nothing left in common between us. He seemed to know none of my friends, he dressed indifferently, and I thought him dull. I had always connected him with boats and the sea, but never with yachting, in the sense that I understood it. In college days he had nearly persuaded me into sharing a squalid week in some open boat he had picked up, and was going to sail among some dreary mud-flats somewhere on the east coast. There was nothing else, and the funereal function of dinner drifted on. But I found myself remembering at the entrée that I had recently heard, at second or third hand, of something else about him–exactly what I could not recall. When I reached the savoury, I had concluded, so far as I had centred my mind on it at all, that the whole thing was a culminating irony, as, indeed, was the savoury in its way. After the wreck of my pleasant plans and the fiasco of my martyrdom, to be asked as consolation to spend October freezing in the Baltic with an eccentric nonentity who bored me! Yet, as I smoked my cigar in the ghastly splendour of the empty smoking-room, the subject came up again. Was there anything in it? There were certainly no alternatives at hand. And to bury myself in the Baltic at this unearthly time of year had at least a smack of tragic thoroughness about it.

Continues...

Excerpted from The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers Copyright © 2002 by Erskine Childers. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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First Chapter

CHAPTER 1

The Letter

I have read of men who, when forced by their calling to live for long periods in utter solitude–save for a few black faces–have made it a rule to dress regularly for dinner in order to maintain their self-respect and prevent a relapse into barbarism. It was in some such spirit, with an added touch of self-consciousness, that, at seven o’clock in the evening of 23rd September in a recent year, I was making my evening toilet in my chambers in Pall Mall. I thought the date and the place justified the parallel; to my advantage even; for the obscure Burmese administrator might well be a man of blunted sensibilities and coarse fibre, and at least he is alone with nature, while I–well, a young man of condition and fashion, who knows the right people, belongs to the right clubs, has a safe, possibly a brilliant, future in the Foreign Office–may be excused for a sense of complacent martyrdom, when, with his keen appreciation of the social calendar, he is doomed to the outer solitude of London in September. I say “martyrdom,” but in fact the case was infinitely worse. For to feel oneself a martyr, as everybody knows, is a pleasurable thing, and the true tragedy of my position was that I had passed that stage. I had enjoyed what sweets it had to offer in ever dwindling degree since the middle of August, when ties were still fresh and sympathy abundant. I had been conscious that I was missed at Morven Lodge party. Lady Ashleigh herself had said so in the kindest possible manner, when she wrote to acknowledge the letter in which I explained, with an effectively austere reserve of language, thatcircumstances compelled me to remain at my office. “We know how busy you must be just now,” she wrote, “and I do hope you won’t overwork; we shall all miss you very much.” Friend after friend “got away” to sport and fresh air, with promises to write and chaffing condolences, and as each deserted the sinking ship, I took a grim delight in my misery, positively almost enjoying the first week or two after my world had been finally dissipated to the four bracing winds of heaven. I began to take a spurious interest in the remaining five millions, and wrote several clever letters in a vein of cheap satire, indirectly suggesting the pathos of my position, but indicating that I was broad-minded enough to find intellectual entertainment in the scenes, persons, and habits of London in the dead season. I even did rational things at the instigation of others. For, though I should have liked total isolation best, I, of course, found that there was a sediment of unfortunates like myself, who, unlike me, viewed the situation in a most prosaic light. There were river excursions, and so on, after office-hours; but I dislike the river at any time for its noisy vulgarity, and most of all at this season. So I dropped out of the fresh air brigade and declined H–’s offer to share a riverside cottage and run up to town in the mornings. I did spend one or two week-ends with the Catesbys in Kent; but I was not inconsolable when they let their house and went abroad, for I found that such partial compensations did not suit me. Neither did the taste for satirical observation last. A passing thirst, which I dare say many have shared, for adventures of the fascinating kind described in the New Arabian Nights led me on a few evenings into some shady haunts in Soho and farther eastward; but was finally quenched one sultry Saturday night after an hour’s immersion in the reeking atmosphere of a low music-hall in Ratcliffe Highway, where I sat next a portly female who suffered from the heat, and at frequent intervals refreshed herself and an infant from a bottle of tepid stout.

By the first week in September I had abandoned all palliatives, and had settled into the dismal but dignified routine of office, club, and chambers. And now came the most cruel trial, for the hideous truth dawned on me that the world I found so indispensable could after all dispense with me. It was all very well for Lady Ashleigh to assure me that I was deeply missed; but a letter from F–, who was one of the party, written “in haste, just starting to shoot,” and coming as a tardy reply to one of my cleverest, made me aware that the house party had suffered little from my absence, and that few sighs were wasted on me, even in the quarter which I had assumed to have been discreetly alluded to by the underlined all in Lady Ashleigh’s “we shall all miss you.” A thrust which smarted more, if it bit less deeply, came from my cousin Nesta, who wrote: “It’s horrid for you to have to be baking in London now; but, after all, it must be a great pleasure to you” (malicious little wretch!) “to have such interesting and important work to do.” Here was a nemesis for an innocent illusion I had been accustomed to foster in the minds of my relations and acquaintances, especially in the breasts of the trustful and admiring maidens whom I had taken down to dinner in the last two seasons; a fiction which I had almost reached the point of believing in myself. For the plain truth was that my work was neither interesting nor important, and consisted chiefly at present in smoking cigarettes, in saying that Mr. So-and-So was away and would be back about 1st October, in being absent for lunch from twelve till two, and in my spare moments making précis of–let us say–the less confidential consular reports, and squeezing the results into cast-iron schedules. The reason of my detention was not a cloud on the international horizon–though I may say in passing that there was such a cloud–but a caprice on the part of a remote and mighty personage, the effect of which, ramifying downwards, had dislocated the carefully-laid holiday plans of the humble juniors, and in my own small case had upset the arrangement between myself and K–, who positively liked the dog-days in Whitehall.

Only one thing was needed to fill my cup of bitterness, and this it was that specially occupied me as I dressed for dinner this evening. Two days more in this dead and fermenting city and my slavery would be at an end. Yes, but–irony of ironies!–I had nowhere to go to! The Morven Lodge party was breaking up. A dreadful rumour as to an engagement which had been one of its accursed fruits tormented me with the fresh certainty that I had not been missed, and bred in me that most desolating brand of cynicism which is produced by defeat through insignificance. Invitations for a later date, which I had declined in July with a gratifying sense of being much in request, now rose up spectrally to taunt me. There was at least one which I could easily have revived, but neither in this case nor in any other had there been any renewal of pressure, and there are moments when the difference between proposing oneself and surrendering as a prize to one of several eagerly competing hostesses seems too crushing to be contemplated. My own people were at Aix for my father’s gout; to join them was a pis aller whose banality was repellent. Besides, they would be leaving soon for our home in Yorkshire, and I was not a prophet in my own country. In short, I was at the extremity of depression.

The usual preliminary scuffle on the staircase prepared me for the knock and entry of Withers. (One of the things which had for some time ceased to amuse me was the laxity of manners, proper to the season, among the servants of the big block of chambers where I lived.) Withers demurely handed me a letter bearing a German post-mark and marked “Urgent.” I had just finished dressing, and was collecting my money and gloves. A momentary thrill of curiosity broke in upon my depression as I sat down to open it. A corner on the reverse of the envelope bore the blotted legend: “Very sorry, but there’s one other thing–a pair of rigging screws from Carey and Neilson’s, size 1 3/8, galvanized.” Here it is:

Yacht Dulcibella, Flensburg, Schleswig-Holstein, 21st Sept.

Dear Carruthers, I daresay you’ll be surprised at hearing from me, as it’s ages since we met. It is more than likely, too, that what I’m going to suggest won’t suit you, for I know nothing of your plans, and if you’re in town at all you’re probably just getting into harness again and can’t get away. So I merely write on the offchance to ask if you would care to come out here and join me in a little yachting, and, I hope, duck shooting. I know you’re keen on shooting, and I sort of remember that you have done some yachting too, though I rather forget about that. This part of the Baltic–the Schleswig fiords–is a splendid cruising-ground–A1 scenery–and there ought to be plenty of duck about soon, if it gets cold enough. I came out here via Holland and the Frisian Islands, starting early in August. My pals have had to leave me, and I’m badly in want of another, as I don’t want to lay up yet for a bit. I needn’t say how glad I should be if you could come. If you can, send me a wire to the P.O. here. Flushing and on by Hamburg will be your best route, I think. I’m having a few repairs done here, and will have them ready sharp by the time your train arrives. Bring your gun and a good lot of No. 4’s; and would you mind calling at Lancaster’s and asking for mine, and bringing it too? Bring some oilskins. Better get the eleven-shilling sort, jacket and trousers–not the “yachting” brand; and if you paint bring your gear. I know you speak German like a native, and that will be a great help. Forgive this hail of directions, but I’ve a sort of feeling that I’m in luck and that you’ll come. Anyway, I hope you and the F.O. both flourish. Good-bye.

Yours ever, Arthur H. Davies.

Would you mind bringing me out a prismatic compass, and a pound of Raven Mixture.

This letter marked an epoch for me; but I little suspected the fact as I crumpled it into my pocket and started languidly on the voie douloureuse which I nightly followed to the club. In Pall Mall there were no dignified greetings to be exchanged now with well-groomed acquaintances. The only people to be seen were some late stragglers from the park, with a perambulator and some hot and dusty children lagging fretfully behind; some rustic sightseers draining the last dregs of the daylight in an effort to make out from their guide-books which of these reverend piles was which; a policeman and a builder’s cart. Of course the club was a strange one, both of my own being closed for cleaning, a coincidence expressly planned by Providence for my inconvenience. The club which you are “permitted to make use of” on these occasions always irritates with its strangeness and discomfort. The few occupants seem odd and oddly dressed, and you wonder how they got there. The particular weekly that you want is not taken in; the dinner is execrable, and the ventilation a farce. All these evils oppressed me to-night. And yet I was puzzled to find that somewhere within me there was a faint lightening of the spirits; causeless, as far as I could discover. It could not be Davies’s letter. Yachting in the Baltic at the end of September! The very idea made one shudder. Cowes, with a pleasant party and hotels handy, was all very well. An August cruise on a steam yacht in French waters or the Highlands was all very well; but what kind of a yacht was this? It must be of a certain size to have got so far, but I thought I remembered enough of Davies’s means to know that he had no money to waste on luxuries. That brought me to the man himself. I had known him at Oxford–not as one of my immediate set; but we were a sociable college, and I had seen a good deal of him, liking him for his physical energy combined with a certain simplicity and modesty, though, indeed, he had nothing to be conceited about; liked him, in fact, in the way that at that receptive period one likes many men whom one never keeps up with later. We had both gone down in the same year–three years ago now. I had gone to France and Germany for two years to learn the languages; he had failed for the Indian Civil, and then had gone into a solicitor’s office. I had only seen him since at rare intervals, though I admitted to myself that for his part he had clung loyally to what ties of friendship there were between us. But the truth was that we had drifted apart from the nature of things. I had passed brilliantly into my profession, and on the few occasions I had met him since I made my triumphant début in society I had found nothing left in common between us. He seemed to know none of my friends, he dressed indifferently, and I thought him dull. I had always connected him with boats and the sea, but never with yachting, in the sense that I understood it. In college days he had nearly persuaded me into sharing a squalid week in some open boat he had picked up, and was going to sail among some dreary mud-flats somewhere on the east coast. There was nothing else, and the funereal function of dinner drifted on. But I found myself remembering at the entrée that I had recently heard, at second or third hand, of something else about him–exactly what I could not recall. When I reached the savoury, I had concluded, so far as I had centred my mind on it at all, that the whole thing was a culminating irony, as, indeed, was the savoury in its way. After the wreck of my pleasant plans and the fiasco of my martyrdom, to be asked as consolation to spend October freezing in the Baltic with an eccentric nonentity who bored me! Yet, as I smoked my cigar in the ghastly splendour of the empty smoking-room, the subject came up again. Was there anything in it? There were certainly no alternatives at hand. And to bury myself in the Baltic at this unearthly time of year had at least a smack of tragic thoroughness about it.

Copyright 2002 by Erskine Childers
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Introduction

The Riddle of the Sands is the first modern English espionage novel. Long before World War I, but in an atmosphere of growing mistrust between Britain and Germany, two English sailors stumble into a secret spying mystery on the treacherous and stormy mudflats of the German coast. They sail the Dulcibella into wild wind and weather, and enter a battle of wits with the sea as well as with the mysterious Herr Dollmann and his innocent daughter, Clara. Childers' narrative style is clear and uncomplicated, and his sailing adventure is a joy to read, still popular after one hundred years. He hauled spies and detectives into the twentieth century by favoring fact over romance and combined nineteenth-century adventure from Scott and Stevenson with schoolboy stories, Kipling's Empire, and prophecies of war. The Riddle of the Sands was also a powerful influence on John Buchan, the inventor of the modern thriller.

Erskine Childers was born in England in 1870, the second of five children, but after being orphaned as a young boy he grew up in Ireland. He was an avid sailor, as The Riddle of the Sands (1903), his only work of fiction and his greatest publishing success, attests. Childers fought with the British Army in the Boer War in South Africa and later in World War I, but his growing commitment to Irish independence led him to smuggle guns into Ireland in 1914 and to join Sinn Fein after the war. In 1922, he was executed by firing squad for treason against the British government.

The five Childers children had a traumatic childhood after their linguist father died of tuberculosis when Erskine was six years old. Their mother was immediately takenaway to protect the children from the infection, which she had caught from her husband and eventually died of nine years later. The Childers children went to live with their maternal aunt and her large family in a big country house in Ireland. Erskine was educated at the private English school of Haileybury, and he took a first-class degree in law at Trinity College, Cambridge. After university, he began work in the House of Commons as a government civil servant but volunteered for the British Army when the Boer War broke out in South Africa in 1899. After the war, with persuasion from friends, he published his diaries and letters home to his sisters as a still highly readable account of his service in an artillery unit, In the Ranks of the CIV (1900), which made him a minor literary lion. But Childers was also a sailor, and for years spent most of his free time exploring the coasts of Ireland, France, and the North Sea countries in small boats, sometimes with friends or his elder brother, Henry, but often alone, venturing into German and Danish waters as far east as the Baltic, 360 miles from London.

After he had become a success with The Riddle of the Sands in 1903, Childers met and instantly fell in love with Molly Osgood of Boston, Massachusetts, who became his wife nine weeks later. They had a blissful and strong marriage, and two sons. Childers' family life represented the maturing of his purpose, and Molly was the love of his life. But Childers never wrote another novel. In his own eyes, The Riddle of the Sands had made him an authority on the military solution to the German Question, and he determined that this was his true calling, and he turned his back on fiction. "The result of that decision was that Erskine would, in the years to come, write only serious books, books designed to be influential. Books in which the best qualities of his writing, his descriptive talents and his sense of humor, were ruthlessly excluded."

After his marriage, while Childers was working hard at trying to get elected to Parliament, he found his politics changing toward a more sympathetic view of the Irish Question. In 1908, he became committed to Home Rule, Irish independence from British rule. By 1914, he had become so devoted to the cause that he carried out a highly successful gun-running operation, using his yacht to smuggle nine hundred rifles and twenty-five thousand rounds of ammunition into Ireland from Germany for the southern Irish Volunteers.

Only a few days later, war was declared between Britain and Germany, and Childers, already a member of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, became attached to the Royal Naval Air Service. His task was to teach navigation to the pilots on HMS Engadine, a primitive aircraft carrier, formerly a cross-Channel ferry. Minesweeping and attacks on German submarines became part of the Engadine's duties, and Childers took part in the Cuxhaven Raid on December 25, 1914, where he found himself flying over Norderney, the setting of The Riddle of the Sands. The raid was not a military success, but Childers was described by Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, as having displayed "daring and ardor" on the raid. The Admiralty "also marked Childers' contribution by sending a copy of The Riddle of the Sands to every ship in the navy." Later in the war Childers served at Gallipoli, keeping enemy planes away from the evacuation from the beaches, and he spent the first part of 1916 doing pioneering air photographic reconnaissance work in Egypt, for which he was promoted to Lieutenant-Commander and awarded the Distinguished Service Cross the following year.

In August 1917, Childers was posted to Dublin as an assistant secretary at the Imperial Convention on Ireland. He later recorded: "I only waited until the end of the war, when I had faithfully fulfilled my contract with the British, to join in the movement myself." In 1919, he formally associated himself with Sinn Fein and became their propaganda and publicity expert. Childers spent the remaining four years of his life working with growing fervor for the Irish Republican cause. He moved his family to Dublin in 1920, and accompanied de Valera, president of the Irish Parliament, to London for the historic summit with British Prime Minister Lloyd George in 1921.

Nevertheless, despite his unceasing propaganda work throughout the civil war in Ireland in 1921 and 1922, Childers was doomed. He was an Englishman, he held a British military rank, and he was continually published as an "expert" on British military issues. At the outbreak of World War I, the British naval authorities, needing Childers' help as an expert in sailing in German waters, had only been able to locate him by sending a telegram to the Volunteers' headquarters in Dublin. This was remembered by the Irish Republican movement when Childers was mysteriously released after his first arrest by the British in 1921. As a stimulus to ever-increasing direct involvement in the Republican cause, Childers' resolutely English past, and The Riddle of the Sands, can be seen as a direct link to his execution by firing squad in 1922 for treason against the British government.

At the turn of the twentieth century, the British popular press and many politicians were convinced that Germany was about to invade Britain, and, more importantly, that Britain was completely unprepared for this threat. German rearmament was only one of the factors behind this, but since 1870 a torrent of sensational invasion stories had appeared in newspapers and magazines. Although Childers had had the idea for The Riddle of the Sands since early 1901, he did not know what to do with it. He wrote to his friend Basil Williams in mid-1902 to report his progress: "It's a yachting story, with a purpose, suggested by a cruise I once took in German waters. I discover a scheme of invasion directed against England." But Childers was very definite that this novel was not just fiction, but a "clarion warning" to politicians to make Britain better prepared. The book was advertised as "A Record of Secret Service, edited by Erskine Childers," and a late postscript was inserted almost at printing stage to welcome some very recent defense measures for which the book had pleaded.

The novel's theme is the relationship between Britain and Germany, in language, loyalty, and state of aggression. Carruthers is summoned by his old school friend Davies to help untangle a mystery that Davies stumbled across while doing some dangerous sailing off the German coast because Carruthers speaks German "like a native." Carruthers listens to the daughter of the man Davies suspects, and he guesses that, although she has probably spoken German since childhood, Clara Dollmann is an Englishwoman. Davies' German is terrible, but he forges his way through technical conversations with seamen and woos Clara with dogged inaccuracies. The German locals enjoy trying their English words out on the Englishmen, but the old Danish lady refuses to speak German at all, and reduces conversation attempts to silence. She is a living reminder of an older German invasion, of Denmark in 1864, foregrounded here by the hidden threat in the present, only gradually comprehended by the Englishmen.

Carruthers is a friendly and straightforward narrator, endearing in his forced adaptation to primitive and smelly conditions on Davies' yacht, and admirable as a man of action. Davies is an adorable hero, shy and bumbling on land, but a master sailor fearless in fog and in storms. There are also a beatific father figure and savior, a likeable but formidable German adversary, the villain with a secret past, and then there is the girl. Childers never liked her: "I was weak enough to spatchcock a girl into it and now find her a horrible nuisance," he wrote to a friend. But, nuisance or not, Clara Dollmann is structurally necessary to the plot. She adds humanity to Davies' motivation, and, although possibly the most dated of all the characters, she is still believable and real.

Carruthers and Davies are impressed by Germany and its attempts to create its own empire in emulation of Britain. The Riddle of the Sands offers a fascinating social history because it shows what it was like to have not yet experienced the horror of war between Britain and Germany. Davies is enthusiastic about the Kaiser, soon to be reviled in almost all British popular fiction as the devil incarnate. "That Emperor of theirs is running it for all it's worth. He's a splendid chap, and anyone can see he's right." The organization of Germany's industrial power is described admiringly. "For two days we traveled slowly up the mighty waterway that is the strategic link between the two seas of Germany. Broad and straight, massively embanked, lit by electricity at night till it is lighter than many a London street; traversed by great war vessels, rich merchantmen, and humble coasters alike, it is a symbol of the new and mighty force which, controlled by the genius of statesmen and engineers, is thrusting the empire irresistibly forward to the goal of maritime greatness."

The Riddle of the Sands was published in May 1903, and it has probably sold more than two million copies. Childers was infuriated when The Riddle of the Sands was described as fiction, because for him the prospect of German invasion was real and the danger obvious. Many reviewers at the time disagreed as to exactly what the book was. The Scotsman critiqued, "One hesitates to class it in the category of fiction," while St. James' Gazette called it, "a breezy and thoroughly entertaining romance." Other readers had no doubts. In 1910, "at a much-publicized state trial in Leipzig, two British naval officers, Captain Trench and Lieutenant Brandon, were charged and found guilty of espionage." A copy of The Riddle of the Sands had been found in their belongings in Borkum (one of the towns featured in the novel), which Lieutenant Brandon enthusiastically admitted to having read three times. A modern British historian is adamant that "The Riddle of the Sands and The Thirty-Nine Steps remain key texts to the understanding of British attitudes towards intelligence."

Childers' sailing adventure was recognized as a classic by John Buchan, author of The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915), over twenty years later. "It is a tale of the puzzling out of a mystery which only gradually reveals itself, and not till the very end reaches its true magnificence; but its excitement begins on the first page, and there is a steady crescendo of interest. . . . [The characters] are the most truly realized of any adventure story that I have met, and the atmosphere of grey Northern skies and miles of yeasty water and wet sands is as masterfully reproduced as in any story of Conrad's."

Most critics balk at the amount of sailing detail in The Riddle of the Sands, which is a pity, because sailing is necessary to make the plot work. Boats run aground and can go nowhere until the tide returns, so the characters must find another way around their difficulty. Secret channels in the sands can only be found when the tide is high, and knowledge of these is power. Sailing is the only way of getting to the islands, where the secret lies, and the ability to use boats in fog is Davies' own secret weapon.

You don't need to be a sailor to enjoy or even understand this story. It probably helps to know that a binnacle and a mizzen are part of a boat, and that "taking soundings" tells you how much water is between you and the seabed, but The Riddle of the Sands can be enjoyed wholly without having ever sat in a boat. Childers' talent was to be able to go straight to the point, describing exactly why Carruthers felt such a useless waste of space on his first trip out, or how Davies' skill, and luck, as a sailor saved his life in the storm off the Hohenhorn. And the charm of the book comes from reading about the wet, salty, chilly, and aching physical work of sailing, and how enjoyable it is, once it's over. Childers was completely happy at sea in a small boat, and this enthusiasm makes his writing come from the heart.

Childers was the subject of five separate biographies in the 1970s alone, followed by a film of The Riddle of the Sands in 1979. In the mid-1990s, there was another wave of interest in his life with two more biographies, and a "continuation" of the adventures of Carruthers and Davies. Some of these works focus on his sailing, some on his Irish Republican politics, but all begin with The Riddle of the Sands. As part of the tradition of novels from the "school of physical endurance," originating in Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped (1886), The Riddle of the Sands redirected adventure writing into new channels. John Buchan's The Power-House (1913), and his Richard Hannay novels in particular, show a clear descent in plot elements from The Riddle of the Sands. The Power House "capitalizes on the mixture of complacency and latent frenzy that grips the English in the face of a coming war with Germany." Carruthers' brilliant exercise in disguise while doubling back to Esens to look for the heart of the mystery is the clear forerunner of everything that Richard Hannay and Peter Pienaar did in The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915), Greenmantle (1916), Mr Standfast (1919) and The Three Hostages (1924). Captain W. E Johns' Biggles stories also demonstrate a debt to Childers. Biggles's sphere is in the sky, not the sea, and he is resolutely military, but his disguises and his struggles of physical endurance, in and out of war, go straight back to Carruthers in the fog on the sandbank.

When you read this book you are transported back in time. You won't get wet or salty, your arms won't ache from rowing across a choppy sea, and you won't crash your head or bark your shins against inconvenient parts of the Dulcibella, but you will revel in its adventures, and plunge into a spying mystery as invigorating and stimulating as the waters of the North Sea.

Glossary
binnacle: built-in case on a boat for the compass

Boulter's: Boulter's Lock on the River Thames at Maidenhead, a popular boating spot for Londoners

ducks: white twill trousers worn for outdoor summer activities by the Edwardian gentleman, notoriously easy to get dirty, and so, when worn, they inferred the wearer's implied unconcern with their cleaning, since servants would of course attend to this

electricity: for a canal to be lit by electric light at this date in history was very up-to-date and extravagant

galliot: a square-sterned sailing vessel

Gladstone: bag like a briefcase, with two equal-sized compartments joined with a hinge, commonly used in Edwardian times for overnight stays and short trips

hardy Corinthian: an early nineteenth-century term of admiration for a sporting gentleman

helmet: a woolen-knitted cap to cover the lower face and neck, also called a balaclava, after the Battle of Balaclava (1854), where these garments were first made popular by British soldiers

jibe: 'gybe' or 'gibe', to change course by swinging the sail across to catch the wind in that direction, an action carrying a lot of force in the weight and speed of the sail's boom

kedge: a small anchor used to pull the boat along, by throwing it some distance away and then pulling against it

lee: the sheltered side away from the wind

luff: to steer a boat nearer the wind, to catch the wind from an opponent's sails

Mahan: Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840-1914), American naval historian, given the rank of Rear Admiral Retired in 1906

'meiner Freund': Davies has correctly made 'mein' masculine, as Carruthers is male, but he has used the wrong form. 'Mein Freund' would be correct. Davies' German is not

Minories: street in the City of London between Aldgate and the Tower of London, a seedy commercial district in Edwardian times, and a long way from Carruthers' office in Westminster

mizzen: the mast behind the ship's mainmast

Morvern Lodge: fictional country house in Scotland, here used by Childers to signify high society. Childers was not from high society himself, but from the intellectual gentry, and an invitation from this stratum of society would have been very attractive to his hero as one of Childers' alter egos

Norfolk jacket: particular style of tweed jacket with many pockets, worn when shooting, all-round country wear

painter: the rope used to tie a boat to its mooring

Prussia: formerly a German kingdom, but after 1870 it was the center of Bismarck's new Germany

portmanteau: a large suitcase, commonly made of stiff leather, opening into two equal-sized compartments

Procrustean beds: after Procrustes, the robber from Greek mythology who killed his victims by fitting them to a bed frame and stretching them to fit, or cutting off the parts which were too long

Solent, Southampton Water: the stretch of water in the English Channel between the south coast of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, the traditional playground for English yachting

smack: a fishing boat

the Stores: the Army & Navy Stores, a department store in London, but in Childers' time the long-established reliable source of camping, hunting, sporting, and safari equipment for anywhere in the British Empire

Teuton: from the Germanic tribe of the Roman period, but used as an adjective to mean typically German, for example in thoroughness

twig: to understand or realize something

Kate Macdonald is a specialist in early twentieth-century detective and spy fiction, and is the editor of the John Buchan Journal. She holds a Ph.D. in English literature from University College, London, and she lives and works in Belgium.
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Reading Group Guide

While on a sailing trip in the Baltic Sea, two young adventurers-turned-spies uncover a secret German plot to invade England. Written by Childers—who served in the Royal Navy during World War I—as a wake-up call to the British government to attend to its North Sea defenses, The Riddle of the Sands accomplished that task and has been considered a classic of espionage literature ever since, praised as much for its nautical action as for its suspenseful spycraft.
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  • Posted April 30, 2009

    One Of The First Spy Novels

    If you are used to reading spy novels by modern authors such as Ken Follett, you will find "The Riddle of the Sands" a bit slow. It is interesting from an historical perspective because it was one of the first spy novels published, (second only to Kipling's "Kim", I understand) and because of the British characters' concern about the threat of war with Germany when the book was published, about 1910. The characters operate in German waters by sailing yacht, and there is much about boating, navigation, and sailing, so if you are a sailor, you might enjoy that aspect of the book. I thought the book was worth reading even if it was not spellbinding. Merton Munson

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2006

    A powerful flop!

    The title of the Riddle of the Sands is exotic but beyond that - this is an unbelievably boring tale of two friends who come together at some godforsaken islands to reveal a British traitor. That¿s the gist of the novel. But what follows is a convoluted storyline full of slang, garbled nautical lingo rendered in half completed sentences that have no head or tail. Understanding such a text will require a supercomputer not to speak of a mere mortal. The writer seems to have written this book in some opium-induced hallucinatory trance. This is a heck of a one-way trip to self-congratulatory egotism, if I ever saw

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2014

    Historic novel

    Very interesting

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2014

    Twoleg

    Watched in anger but did nothing.

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    Posted March 4, 2014

    Dashingpaw

    Stared in interest then nodded and ran back.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2014

    StormStar

    StormStar hissed, quickly picking up the kitten, running back to camp.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2013

    Kitchen

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2013

    Rooms that are storage closets

    Blocked off

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2013

    Jade to ross

    Ok (;

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2013

    Im moving to..

    Rosses house all res

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    Posted April 20, 2013

    Atom

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