While working on a sermon the pastor heard a knock at his office door. "Come in," he invited. A sad-looking man in threadbare clothes came in, pulling a large pig on a rope. "Can I talk to you for a minute?" asked the... Read more of Sentry Duty at Free Jokes.caInformational Site Network Informational
Privacy
   Home - Science Fiction Stories - Western Stories


A Suspicious Fishing-smack







From: The Coming Conquest Of England

A raw north wind swept over the island of Walcheren and the mouth of the
West Schelde, ruffling into tiny waves the water of the broad stream,
which in the twilight looked like a shoreless sea. Only those acquainted
with the ground knew that the flashing lights of the beacons at Flushing
on the right and at Fort Frederik Hendrik on the left marked the limits
of the wide mouth of the harbour. Here, in 1809, when Holland was under
the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte, a powerful English fleet had entered
the Schelde to attack Flushing, and take the fortress. In the centre,
between the two lights, which were about three miles apart, the German
cruiser Gefion lay tossing at anchor. On the deck stood Heideck, who on
his return had been promoted to major and appointed to the intelligence
department for the coast district of Holland.

In the afternoon he had seen a vessel entering the Schelde, which the
pilot had identified as one of the fishing-smacks plying between the
Shetland Islands and the Dutch ports. Heideck had informed the captain
of the Gefion of his suspicion that the smack might be intended for
another purpose than trading in herrings. The little vessel had put
in on the left bank, between the villages of Breskens and Kadzand, and
Heideck decided to row across to it.

Six marines and four sailors, under the command of a mate, manned one
of the Gefion's boats, and set out for the left bank in the direction of
the suspected vessel. It cost the oarsmen, struggling with the tide and
wind which came howling from the sea, nearly half an hour's hard work
before they saw the dark hull of the smack emerging clearly outlined
before them. A hoarse voice from on board asked what they wanted.

"His Majesty's service!" answered Heideck, and, as the boat lay to, he
threw off his cloak, so as to spring on deck more easily. Three men,
in the dark, woollen smock and tarpaulined hat of coast fishermen,
approached him and, in answer to his inquiry for the master, told him,
in an unintelligible mixture of Dutch and German, that he had gone
ashore.

"His name?"

"Maaning Brandelaar."

"What is the name of this vessel?"

"Bressay."

The answers were given with hesitation and sullenly, and the three men
showed such evident signs of irritation that Heideck felt they would
have gladly thrown him overboard had it not been for the respect
inspired by his uniform.

"Where from?" he asked.

"From Lerwick."

"Where to?"

"We are going to sell our herrings. We are respectable people, Herr
major."

"Where are you going to sell your herrings?"

"Where we can. The skipper has gone to Breskens. He intended to be back
soon."

Heideck looked round. The smack had put to in a little bay, where the
water was quiet. The village of Breskens and the little watering-place,
Kadzand, were both so near that the lighted windows could be seen. It
was nine o'clock--rather late for the business which Maaning Brandelaar
intended to transact at Breskens.

Heideck sent the marines on deck with orders to see that no one left
the ship before the captain returned. He then ordered a lantern to be
lighted to examine below. It was a long time before the lantern was
ready, and it burned so dully that Heideck preferred to use the electric
lamp which he always carried with him as well as his revolver. He
climbed down the stairs into the hold and found that the smell of
pickled herrings, which he had noticed on deck, was sufficiently
explained by the cargo. In the little cabin two men were sitting,
drinking grog and smoking short clay pipes. Heideck greeted them
courteously and took a seat near them. They spoke English with a broad
Scotch accent, and used many peculiar expressions which Heideck did not
understand. They declared they were natives of the island of Bressay.
Heideck gathered from their conversation that the smack belonged to a
shipowner of Rotterdam, whose name they appeared not to know or could
not pronounce. They were very guarded and reserved in their statements
generally. Heideck waited half an hour, an hour--but still no signs of
the captain. He began to feel hungry, and throwing a piece of money on
the table, asked whether they could give him anything to eat.

The fishermen opened the cupboard in the wall of the cabin and brought
out a large piece of ham, half a loaf of black bread, and a knife and
fork. Heideck noticed two small white loaves in the cupboard amongst
some glasses and bottles. "Give me some white bread," said he. The man
who had brought out the eatables murmured something unintelligible to
Heideck and shut the cupboard again without complying with his request.
His behaviour could not help striking Heideck as curious. He had, as a
matter of fact, only asked for white bread because the black was old,
dry, and uncommonly coarse; but now the suspicion forced itself upon
him that there was some special meaning behind the rude and contemptuous
manner in which his request had been received.

"You don't seem to have understood me," he said. "I should like the
white bread."

"It belongs to the captain," was the reply; "we mustn't take it."

"I will pay for it. Your captain will certainly have no objection."

The men pretended not to hear.

Heideck repeated his request in a stern and commanding tone. The men
looked at each other; then one of them went to the cupboard, took out
the white bread, and set it on the table. Heideck cut it and found it
very good. He ate heartily of it, wondering at the same time why the
men had been so disobliging about it at first. When he took up the bread
again to cut himself off a second piece, it occurred to him that it was
remarkably heavy. He cut into the middle and, finding that the blade
of the knife struck on something hard, he broke the loaf in two. The
glitter of gold met his eyes. He investigated further and drew out,
one after the other, thirty golden coins with the head of the Queen
of England upon them. Thirty pounds sterling had been concealed in the
loaf.

"Very nourishing bread of yours," said he, looking keenly at the men,
who merely shrugged their shoulders.

"What has it to do with us how the captain keeps his money?" said one of
them.

"You are quite right. What has it to do with you? We will wait till
the captain comes. There, put the bread and the money back into the
cupboard, and then make a nice glass of grog for my men, the poor
fellows will be frozen. Here are three marks for you."

The men did as they were asked. One of them went upstairs with the
smoking jug, bringing it back empty some time afterwards, with the
thanks of the Herr major's men.

A few minutes later one of the soldiers appeared at the cabin door and
announced that two men were approaching from land. "Good," said Heideck;
"keep quiet, till they are on deck; then don't let them go down again,
but tell them to come here."

Almost immediately steps and voices were heard above, and in a few
minutes two men entered the cabin. The first, who wore the dress of a
skipper, was of unusually powerful build, broad-shouldered, bull-necked,
with a square weather-beaten face, from which two crafty little
eyes twinkled. The second, considerably younger, was dressed rather
foppishly, and wore a beard trimmed in the most modern style.

"Mynheer Brandelaar?" queried Heideck.

"That's me," replied the man with the broad shoulders, in a brusque,
almost threatening tone.

"Very glad to see you, mynheer. I want to speak to you on a matter of
business; I have been waiting for you more than an hour. May I ask you
to introduce me to this gentleman?"

The Dutchman was slow in answering. It was evident that he was in a
very bad temper and did not quite know what to do. The officer's quiet,
somewhat mocking tone obviously disconcerted him.

He signed to the two sailors to withdraw, then turned to Heideck.

"This gentleman is a business friend. And I should like to know what
I and my affairs have got to do with you at all. I am here to sell my
herrings. I suppose that isn't forbidden?"

"Certainly not. But if you have your business, mynheer, I have mine. And
I think it would be pleasantest for both of us if we could settle the
matter here at once without having to row over to the Gefion."

"To the Gefion? What's the meaning of that? What right have you to use
force with me? My papers are in order; I can show them to you."

"I should like to see them. But won't you be kind enough to tell me this
gentleman's name? It is really of interest to me to make your business
friend's acquaintance."

The second visitor now thought it advisable to introduce himself.

"My name is Camille Penurot," said he; "I am a grocer in Breskens.
Maaning Brandelaar has offered to sell me his cargo, and I have come
with him to inspect the goods."

"And no doubt night is the best time for that," rejoined Heideck in a
sarcastic tone, but with an imperturbably serious air. "Now let me see
your papers, Mynheer Brandelaar."

Just as he had expected, the papers were in perfect order. The fishing
smack Bressay, owner Maximilian van Spranekhuizen of Rotterdam,
sailing with a cargo of pickled herrings from Lerwick. Captain, Maaning
Brandelaar. Attested by the English harbour officials at Lerwick.
Everything perfectly correct.

"Very good," said Heideck. "Rear-Admiral Sir Frederick Hollway of Dover
has not endorsed them, but that was not necessary at all."

These words, uttered with perfect calmness, had an astounding effect
upon the two men. Penurot's pale face turned almost green; Brandelaar's
hard features were frightfully distorted in a grimace of rage. Half
choking in the effort to keep down a furious curse, he drew a deep
breath, and said--

"I don't know any Admiral Hollway, and I have never been in Dover in my
life."

"Well, well! Let us talk about your business--or yours, M. Penurot. Of
course the cargo of herrings which you want to buy is not meant to be
sold at Breskens, but to some business friend at Antwerp? isn't it so?"

No answer was given. Heideck, as if it were the most natural thing in
the world, turned to the cupboard and, before the others had grasped his
intention, took out the second white loaf and broke it in two. This time
a folded paper came to light. Heideck spread it out and saw that it was
covered with a long list of questions written in English.

"Look here," said he, "the gentleman who had this paper baked with
your breakfast bread must be confoundedly curious. 'How strong is
the garrison of Antwerp? What regiments? What batteries? Who are the
commanders of the outer fort? What is the exact plan of the flooded
district? How is the population disposed towards the German troops? How
many German men-of-war are there in the harbour and in the Schelde? How
are they distributed? Exact information as to the number of cannon and
crews of all the men-of-war. How many and which ships of the German
navigation companies are allotted to the German fleet? How many troops
are there on the island of Walcheren? How many in the neighbourhood of
Antwerp? How are the troops distributed on both banks of the Schelde?
Are troops ready to be put on board the men-of-war and transports? Has
a date been settled for that? Is there a plan for employing the German
fleet? What is said about the German fleet joining the French?' That is
only a small portion of the long list; but it is quite enough for anyone
to guess at the nature of the rest of the questions. What the deuce!
Admiral Hollway would like to learn everything for his paltry thirty
pounds! or were they only a little on account? I cannot believe, M.
Penurot, that your Antwerp correspondent would be willing to sell so
much for thirty pounds."

The two men were clearly overwhelmed by the weight of the unexpected
blow. For a moment, when Heideck drew the paper out of the bread, it
looked as if Brandelaar would have thrown himself upon him and attempted
to tear it from him by force. But the thought of the soldiers probably
restrained him opportunely from such an act of folly. He stood where he
was with tightly compressed lips and spitefully glistening eyes.

"I don't understand you, Herr major," exclaimed Penurot with a visible
effort. "I know nothing whatever about this paper. I am an honest
business man."

"And of course, Herr Brandelaar, you had no suspicion of the important
stuffing in your white bread? Now, I am not called upon to investigate
the matter further. It will be for the court-martial to throw light on
the affair."

The grocer turned as pale as death, and lifted up his hands imploringly.

"Mercy, Herr major, mercy! As true as I live, I am innocent."

Heideck pretended not to have heard his assertion.

"Further, I must tell you, gentlemen, that you are confoundedly bad men
of business, to risk your lives for a miserable thirty pounds. That
was an inexcusable folly. If ever you wanted to make money in that way,
really you would have done better to work for us. We would pay a man
five times as much without haggling, if he would furnish us with really
trustworthy information of this kind about the English fleet and army."

At these words, spoken almost in a jovial tone, a gleam of hope showed
itself in the countenance of the two men. The grocer had opened his
mouth to reply, when Heideck signed to him to be silent.

"Be so good as to go on deck for a while, Penurot," said he. "I will
call you when I want to continue the conversation. You shall give me
your company first, Brandelaar. I should like a few words with you in
private."

The man with the fashionably pointed beard obeyed. Then Heideck turned
to the Dutchman--

"This Penurot is the guilty party, isn't he? As a skipper you have
probably never troubled yourself much about politics during your
lifetime: you scarcely had a correct idea of the risk you were running.
If the court-martial condemns you, you will only have your friend
Penurot to thank for it."

"What you say is quite true, sir," replied Brandelaar with well-acted
simplicity. "I have my cargo to sell for the firm of Van Spranekhuizen,
and I don't care a damn for war or spying. I beg the Herr major to put
in a good word for me. I had no suspicion of what was inside the bread."

"So this Penurot has drawn you into the affair without your knowing it.
Did he intend to go with you to Antwerp?"

"I will tell you the whole truth, Herr major! Admiral Hollway at Dover,
who is in control of the intelligence department for the Channel and
the coast from Cuxhaven to Brest, gave me the two loaves for Camille
Penurot. That is all I know of the matter."

"Was it the first time you had to carry out such commissions for Admiral
Hollway?"

"So help me God, the first time!"

"But Penurot was not meant to keep these peculiar loaves for himself?
He, like yourself, is only an agent? If you want me to speak for you,
you must tell me unreservedly everything you know about it."

"Penurot has a business friend in Antwerp, as the Herr major has rightly
guessed."

"His name?"

"Eberhard Amelungen."

"What is he?"

"A wholesale merchant. My cargo is intended for him."

"And how is he connected with Penurot?"

"I don't know. Penurot is an agent who does all kinds of business."

"Oh! and what does the owner, Mynheer van Spranekhuizen, say to your
having anything to do with such things as the conveyance of these
loaves?"

"Mynheer van Spranekhuizen and Mynheer Amelungen are near relations."

"In other words, these two gentlemen have agreed to send the Bressay
from the Shetlands to Dover, and from Dover to Antwerp."

"I know nothing about that, Herr major. I have told you everything I
know. No vessel can go further up the Schelde than Ternenzen, and I can
unload at Breskens just as well as at Ternenzen and send the goods by
rail to Antwerp."

"Now, Brandelaar, go upstairs again and send M. Penurot down to me."

With heavy tread the skipper mounted the narrow ladder, and almost at
once Penurot entered. Heideck, with a wave of his hand, invited him to
sit down opposite and began to speak.

"From what I have seen of Brandelaar I am convinced that he is an arrant
rascal. It was very imprudent on your part to have anything to do with
a man like that. If you are brought before a court-martial, you have him
to thank for it."

"For God's sake, Herr major--my life isn't in danger? I implore you,
have pity on me!"

"It will matter little whether personally I have pity on you. You
will go with me to the Gefion and be brought before a court-martial at
Flushing. The fact that you have been Brandelaar's accomplice cannot be
got rid of. He has just now declared definitely that the two loaves were
intended for you."

"For me? That is a vile lie. I have never received a penny from the
English."

"Well--but, without special reasons, a man doesn't amuse himself by
paying a visit to a herring-smack at night. The cargo could have been
delivered to Herr Eberhard Amelungen without your inspection."

"Eberhard Amelungen?"

"Don't pretend to be so ignorant. Brandelaar has already confessed
so much, that you can easily admit the rest. Amelungen and Van
Spranekhuizen are in a conspiracy to carry on a regular system of
espionage in the interests of England. You are used as an agent, and
Maaning Brandelaar is trying to get out of it by sacrificing you."

"So it seems, really. But I am quite innocent, Herr major. I know
nothing of all that. The last time Brandelaar left the Schelde, he came
to see me here in Breskens and told me that he would soon be back again
and that it would be a good business for me."

"When did that happen?"

"Three weeks ago. I had no reason to distrust Brandelaar, since he had
often supplied goods for Amelungen."

"But why did you come on board to-day?"

"Brandelaar wanted it. He said I could look at the cargo and discuss
whether it should be unloaded here or at Ternenzen."

"Now, M. Penurot, I will tell you something. You will go with me to
Antwerp, where I will call on Herr Amelungen and convince myself whether
you are really as innocent as you say, and as I shall be glad to believe
you are for the present."

The grocer appeared to be getting still more uneasy.

"But you won't take me before the court-martial?"

"That remains to be seen. I can promise you nothing. Everything will
depend on the information which Herr Amelungen gives me about you, and
on your future behaviour. I will now have Brandelaar down again, and you
will remain silent while I speak to him."

"Of course, I will do everything the Herr major tells me."

Brandelaar having been summoned to the cabin, Heideck addressed him as
follows:--

"Listen to me, Maaning Brandelaar. I know everything, and I need
not tell you that it is more than enough to put your neck in danger
according to martial law. But I will show you a way to save yourself. Go
to-morrow to Ternenzen and wait there till you hear from me. I will make
it easy for you to execute your commission; I will write the answers to
Admiral Hollway's questions myself. You can then take them to Dover
to your customer. But at the same time I will give you a number of
questions, to which you will bring me trustworthy answers at Flushing.
If you carry out this mission to my satisfaction, I will pay you 3,000
marks on your return. As you will also have your fee from the Admiral,
you will make a very good thing out of it. But beware of attempting to
betray me; it would turn out an extremely bad job for you. I know where
I can catch you, and you would be imprisoned as soon as you showed
yourself anywhere on the Dutch coast. So you had better think it over
carefully."

The skipper's broad countenance had gradually brightened, and at these
words a cunning grin overspread his features.

"Three thousand marks! If that's a bargain, Herr major, you can count
upon my serving you honourably."

"Perhaps it isn't so much a matter of your honour as of your cleverness.
Unless the information you bring me corresponds with my expectations, of
course the payment will suffer accordingly. The price depends upon the
quality of the goods."

"Oh, you will be satisfied with me. I have connexions over there, and if
you want anything else, you shall see what Brandelaar can do."

"Good! It will be to your own interest to serve me well and faithfully."

Suddenly the skipper again looked thoughtful.

"There is still one thing that troubles me, Herr major."

"What is that?"

"My men have seen an officer and soldiers visit my ship. Suppose they
talk about it over in England and the Admiral should suspect me?"

"He will have no reason to do so, if he is convinced that your
information is correct. He will have other sources of information
besides yourself, and if he finds your statements confirmed, he will
have complete confidence in you."

These words did not allay Maaning Brandelaar's uneasiness.

"Yes, but--you don't mean to give me correct information?"

"Certainly I do. Everything I write for you will be perfectly correct."

This reply was clearly too much for the skipper to understand. He stared
in speechless amazement at Heideck, who proceeded quietly--

"The Admiral wants to know the strength of the German army at Antwerp,
and I will tell you the condition of affairs. We have 120,000 men
in Holland and the small portion of Belgian territory which we have
occupied round Antwerp. In the fortress itself there are 30,000 men; on
the island of Walcheren only 5,000, in occupation of Flushing and other
important points. These are entirely trustworthy facts."

The Captain shook his head.

"If it were not disrespectful, I should think you were making a fool of
me."

"No, my friend, I have no reason to do so; you can go bail for
everything I write, and your fee will be honourably earned. It would be
somewhat different with the news you might take over to the Admiral on
your own responsibility."

Brandelaar nodded.

"I understand, Herr major, and I will act accordingly. But I must
certainly get a fresh crew; these men know too much; that is bad, and
they might make it unpleasant for me."

"No, no, that would be quite a mistake. Keep your men and make no fuss.
When I get to Ternenzen, I will have you and the crew arrested. You will
be examined by me and in a few days set at liberty."

The skipper did not seem to relish this prospect.

"But suppose you should change your mind in the meantime, and take me
before the court-martial?"

"You may confidently trust my word. It will only be a sham examination
to prevent your men getting unprofitable ideas into their heads and
betraying anything which might arouse suspicion across the water. On the
contrary, it will look as if you had had to endure all kinds of dangers
and disappointments; and if my estimate of you is correct, my worthy
Brandelaar, you will not lose the opportunity of extracting an extra fee
from the Admiral to make up for the anxiety you have suffered."





Next: Camille Penurot

Previous: The Adventures Of The Caledonia



Add to Informational Site Network
Report
Privacy
ADD TO EBOOK


Viewed 340