Importance of signalling

Leaving Copenhagen had been exciting, and Elspeth had helped Roger with the engine, even being allowed to shut it off herself, although Roger remained within easy reach. They had spent much of the rest of the morning going through various engine routines, with Elspeth standing in front of the controls and miming what she would do in various situations. At midday, Bridget had quietly made a point of sitting next to her and had asked her a few questions about school. Titty and Dick had remained on deck from breakfast until well after lunch and were now asleep in their bunks, as befitted people who would be on watch for half the night. Peggy and Roger were also below getting some sleep, as they would have the evening watch.

Bridget and Elspeth, although officially off-watch, remained on deck as extra lookouts, since Mac would not allow them to stand watch at night. Dot was beginning to prepare supper, and was scraping carrots in the galley. Colin was sitting next to Mac at the helm, waiting for the next order. They had seen plenty of smaller sailing ships early in the day, but by the late afternoon they were seeing fewer. It was Elspeth who spotted the red sails first.

"Sail on the port bow!" she yelled cheerfully. Dot came up the companion way briefly to admire the ship before returning to the galley.

"I wonder if they're doing the same as us, only in reverse." said Bridget.

"If they're heading to Copenhagen, they would have to be tacking." Elspeth agreed. "I wonder if we'll see them again when they come about."

"They'll probably pass astern of us on the next tack. That's if they are tacking."

"She's a beautiful boat anyway."

"Almost like something out of a dream."

"That's the way she's catching the light. It's no so long until sunset. Do you think we should be helping Dorothea?"


They had reduced sail after supper, although the wind was not especially brisk. The children had been chivvied off to bed rather reluctantly. Mac, Titty and Dick were looking at charts on the cabin table. Dorothea had gone below. Roger had the helm and Peggy was on look out, checking off landmarks and lights in the dusk. Peggy glanced behind them. Behind them a boat was signalling in Morse, the white light barely discernible against the afterglow of the sunset. Idly she read the signal. Then far from idly, she read it as it was repeated again.

"Mac!" she let out a bellow that would have done her Uncle Jim credit.

"It's Goblin signalling us. It's Susan signalling. I'm sure of it." she explained rapidly to Roger and then had to explain again as the others came hurtling up the companion way. "Hi, Titty, get me a light to signal with, quickly."

"Are you sure? How do you know?" Mac asked.

"They're signalling "Sea bear" in Morse." Peggy explained. "I've got to signal back. I don't know how long they were signalling for. They may give up at any minute."

"Let her signal." said Mac. "It can't do any harm. But I'm not willing to change course on a wild goose chase now."

"But Goblin is somewhere in the Gulf of Finland, surely." said Dorothea

"And surely we'd have seen her and recognised her? It's not long after sunset now." said Titty handing Peggy their most powerful torch.

"You would," Dick said, "But Dot and I have never seen Goblin. Has Peggy?"

"Only the once." said Roger, "quite a long time ago, but Bridget was on deck all afternoon. Surely you'd recognise Goblin, Bridget?"

"Bridget did," said Elspeth abruptly, "but she didn't know she had. Remember the boat with the red sails that you said was like something out of a dream, Bridget? She was something out of a memory. You'd seen her before as a wee child, but you didn't recognise her."

"You'd be about five or six the last time you saw her. And she does have red sails." said Titty.

"Tell us everything you noticed." said Mac and the two girls explained as well as they could when and where they had seen the little ship and what course she had been on.

"We have to meet them." Peggy interrupted, eyes still on that faint light. "Something's wrong. They need help from us. We have to go back. It's still Susan signalling. Why don't they put Nancy on signalling? She's much more in practice and Susan sails nearly as well."

"Titty, take the tiller."

"Aye sir"

"Peggy, keep your eyes on Goblin and keep pointing towards them."

"Aye sir"

"Elspeth can you manage the engine?"

"Aye sir"

"I shall need Roger on deck."

"Aye sir"

"We'll use the wind to bring us about and then we'll need to use the engine. If we play around trying to tack ourselves we'll lose her entirely. Dot and Bridget on the foresail. Dick, Roger and Colin on the Mainsail. I shall want both sails down quickly when I say".

"Aye sir." And the crew scrambled forwards.

"Peggy, signal Goblin to heave to. Let's not chase a moving target."

"Aye sir"


"Aren't they going to send their dinghy over?" asked Mac, as Peggy watched the flashes Goblin intently.

"No." said Peggy, "They're asking us to send Roger and Titty over in our dinghy."

"But theirs is already in the water."

"Can't do." said Peggy shortly.

"What do you mean, "can't do"?" Mac spluttered.

"That's what they signalled." said Peggy, her voice tense. "I can't see Nancy; I can't see John. I thought I could see John at first, but then he crossed into the light – I presume that's Jim – Similar height and build anyhow."

"We're ready to go as soon as you give the word." said Titty, who sounded no less worried.

"Very well." said Mac. "I would like to know what they think they're doing. Off you go, Titty, you're relieved of your watch. Yes, you hadn't notice the time, had you? Children go below."

Reluctantly, they went.

"Mac." Dot said, as quietly as she could when the business of lowering the dinghy was accomplished and Roger was rowing steadily across to Sea bear. "That's Bridget's brother who appears not to be, well not there."

Mac gave her a quick, sideways glance. "Why do you think I sent them below? If it is bad news of some description, then let's at least spare her seeing Titty and Roger hear it. I thought Peggy was being panicky, but I'm beginning to wonder why they wouldn't signal to explain more."

"Peggy isn't the sort to worry without reason. Or even with a reason." Dot explained.

"You can go below and see how Bridget is, if you like, but she's got my two with her, and they always do come up trumps when it matters. She's not the one who needs you."

Dot caught the direction of his glance and went forward to stand by Peggy. She could not find any words. Peggy glanced at her, gave a half-smile, and then resumed her scrutiny of the smaller boat.

"They've gone below." said Peggy, although she knew perfectly well Dorothea had seen that for herself. "All except Jim – if that's him."

It seemed a very long time until Susan, Roger and Titty came on deck. Susan and Roger rowed back to the Sea-bear.

"Let me explain, Roger," Susan was saying as her head reached the level of deck. "Permission to come aboard?"

Things could not be so bad, Dot thought, if Susan could still remember to make the request.

"It's perfectly alright, Peggy." said Susan, "At least, Nancy and John are fine and there's nothing for you to worry about. Where's Bridget, is she worrying too?"

"Of course I was." said Bridget coming up the companionway. "Anyone would be. Why could you not signal to say you were alright? Where are Nancy and John? What are you doing here? Why hasn't Titty come back?"

"I didn't realise you hadn't got the telegram." Susan explained. "Nancy and John are fine, although I expect they're pretty bored by now. They had to take a message back to London by train. I expect they got there a couple of days ago. Titty will come back with the dinghy when we go across again. We expected to find you waiting for us in Copenhagen. I didn't know about mother going to Australia."

"Dad sent a letter for us to pick up in Copenhagen to say she'd got there safely." said Bridget.

"In time." added Dot, who knew this would matter far more to Susan than to Bridget.

Susan nodded her thanks, but continued, looking at Mac, "We met an Englishman in Helsinki. He's very ill indeed and needs to get home quickly. I'm fairly sure it's his liver." Everyone else nodded and looked grave, except Colin, standing next to Elspeth on the companionway, who hissed anxiously to his sister "What's the liver?"

Eyes still fixed on Susan, Elspeth pointed to where she thought it was.

"Not bad." said Susan, but gently moved Elspeth's hand up a couple of inches higher up.

"It's only been the two of us to handle Goblin since Riga and we've sailed pretty much non-stop. We were hoping you'd let Roger or Titty or maybe both come back with us."

"Only I said it had better be me." said Roger, "And Jim agreed. Titty isn't much good with engines, really, and she's much better than me at surveying. Sailing too. Dick knows what he's doing with an engine, and Elspeth's got a real feel for it. You don't need me here. So, if you don't mind me going, Mac?"

"And if I said I did mind? I notice you've already packed your knapsack."

Roger grinned at him. "I thought I'd better be polite about it." he said," but I'm not about to leave Susie in the lurch."

"Go on with you," said Mac, "but I can't spare Titty as well, nor any of the others if we're to cover what we planned. We're already one short as it is."

"We left our section unfinished." said Susan. "We should be fine with three of us."

"Anything else we should know?" asked Mac. "Don't want to be unwelcoming, but the sooner both boats are moving again the happier we'll be. Is there anything else you need that we can supply? Medical things?"

Susan shook her head. "I kitted out the medical kits exactly the same in each boat. We've only used some of the sticking plasters and a bit of the witch-hazel. There's nothing we've got that will help a liver."

Good -byes were said and Sea-bear's dinghy was rowed to and from the Goblin one last time. Strangely the ship's children made no demur when they were promptly sent back to their bunks after sails were once again hoisted. The older ones remained on deck, conferring about altering watch rotas and plotting a new course. Dorothea glanced down into the cabin and saw the curtains pulled across their bunks.

"Goodnight!" she called softly.

"Good night, Dot!"


There was no sound from Colin's bunk. Dorothea decided that he must already be asleep.

"She's gone." whispered Bridget.

Elspeth's feet made almost no sound as she pattered across to Bridget's bunk.

"Well done on not answering, Colin" said Elspeth, as she slid under the curtain. "She'd have been sure to tell you weren't in your bunk."

"What do we think John and Nancy are up to?" began Bridget, taking the chair (well, pillow really) since they were in her bunk.

"Your brother is in the Navy isn't he? Do you think he's gone back because they're going to start a war?" suggested Colin, "It would be quicker to go by rail really."

"What about this Nancy, why would she go back?" Elspeth inquired.

"Anyone would want Nancy on their side in a war." said Bridget, certain events from last summer crowding back into her mind. "She's the best at secret plans, really. Although Titty's pretty good too." she added loyally. "But she's training to be a games mistress, so I don't think it that likely that she'd go back for that."

"An army of hockey teachers would be pretty terrifying." Elspeth mused.

"Elspeth doesn't really get on in hockey lessons." explained Colin, unnecessarily.

"I'm getting used to it now." His sister maintained stoutly. "But we're getting off the point. If there really is going to be a war, why would we still be heading for the German coast? Dad would say it was too dangerous."

"So would Susan. And she would be a lot more worried if John was going to fight in a war. I don't think it is that." said Bridget.

"Don't they have to say there's going to be a war, before there is going to be one?" Colin asked.

"Declaration of war." said Elspeth thoughtfully, "Yes I think it does, but I don't know how much warning they have to give."

" You mean we could turn up to wherever we're surveying and find the place covered in German soldiers who capture us?" both girls could hear the note of panic in Colin's voice now.

"I'm sure there would be no danger of that." said Elspeth hastily." There are probably rules or something. It's not like hide-and-seek, coming ready or not."

"Even we have rules when we have private wars." said Bridget, "We give at least a day's notice, in case of grown-up business getting in the way. Mostly it has to be Sunday now because of Peggy's work."

"Your holidays sound a lot more fun than ours." said Colin.

"But you've got the Sea-bear."

"Ships aren't as important as friends." said Elspeth. This was still a rather uncomfortable topic for all three of them, so she continued swiftly. "My theory is this; that your brother and your friend are off on a spying mission. Like Richard Hannay."


"You know, Colin, in The thirty-nine steps and Greenmantle."

"I didn't really understand Greenmantle." Colin admitted, "and I thought Richard Hannay was a soldier anyway."

"Not in the first one."

"If the Army can do it, the Navy can do it just as well, maybe better." said Bridget.

"We won't argue about that." said Elspeth diplomatically. "But do you think they might have gone somewhere to spy?"

"Susan doesn't lie." said Bridget, "so they have gone back to London and they have gone by train. But she might not say everything, so maybe they haven't gone back directly. Maybe they are spying."

"So are we really." said Colin, "we're looking at things secretly."

"I asked Daddy and he said it wasn't, because we aren't at war and its only stuff that's there for everyone to see. He said we're just being discrete and cautious. If.."

"It sounds as if they have finished talking." Elspeth interrupted, "You can always tell by the tone of Dad's voice."

"We had better be discrete and cautious then." said Colin as he scurried back to his own bunk.

We didn't even mention the man with the liver, thought Bridget as she drifted off to sleep. We must talk about him tomorrow.