In the late afternoon of the second day our flotilla reached the Elbe at Brunsbüttel and ranged up in the inner basin, while a big liner, whimpering like a fretful baby, was tenderly nursed into the lock. During the delay Davies left me in charge, and bolted off with an oil- can and a milk-jug. An official in uniform was passing along the quay from vessel to vessel countersigning papers. I went up to meet him with our receipt for dues, which he signed carelessly. Then he paused and muttered 'Dooltzhibella', scratching his head, 'that was the name. English?' he asked.
'Little lust-cutter, that is so; there was an enquiry for you.'
'A friend of yours from a big barge-yacht.'
'Oh, I know; she went on to Hamburg, I suppose?'
'No such luck, captain; she was outward bound.' What did the man mean? He seemed to be vastly amused by something.
'When was this--about three weeks ago?' I asked, indifferently.
'Three weeks? It was the day before yesterday.'
'What a pity to miss him by so little!' He chuckled and winked.
'Did he leave any message?' I asked.
'It was a lady who enquired,' whispered the fellow, sniggering.
'Oh, really,' I said, beginning to feel highly absurd, but keenly curious. 'And she enquired about the Dulcibella?'
'Herrgott! she was difficult to satisfy! Stood over me while I searched the books. "A very little one," she kept saying, and "Are you sure all the names are here?" I saw her into her kleine Boot, and she rowed away in the rain. No, she left no message. It was dirty weather for a young fräulein to be out alone in. Ach! she was safe enough, though. To see her crossing the ebb in a chop of tide was a treat.'
'And the yacht went on down the river? Where was she bound to?'
'How do I know? Bremen, Wilhelmshaven, Emden--somewhere in the North Sea; too far for you.'