The Island Mystery/Chapter 12
“Grand Hotel des Champs d’Élysèes, Paris,
June 4, 1914.
My dear Gorman,—
“I arrive at the excellent Beaufort’s Hotel the day after to-morrow. I hope that you will dine with me that evening at 8 p.m. There are matters of importance. Corinne accompanies me. She is adorable as ever, in good form and full of peas. We have had a time of a life, rattling, since I saw you. Now—alas and damn—there are matters of importance. The Emperor—but I can write no more—Corinne awaits me. We go to paint Paris blue, she and I, once again. Then—damn and alas—London and the virtuous life of your English middling class.
Gorman did not hesitate for a moment. He made up his mind to accept the invitation even if he had to miss the most important division which Parliament enjoyed during its whole session. The prospect of seeing Konrad Karl and Madame Ypsilante practising middle-class virtue in Beaufort’s Hotel was by itself sufficiently attractive. The promise of important affairs for discussion was another lure. Gorman loves important affairs, especially those of other people. But the mention of the Emperor interested him most. The introduction of his name made it certain that the important affairs were those of Salissa. And Gorman had always been anxious to understand in what way the Emperor was mixed up with Megalia and how he came to exercise an influence over that independent state.
Gorman was dressing for dinner—was, in fact, buttoning his collar—when his landlord entered his room and handed him a card. Gorman looked at it.
Dealer in Jewels and Precious Stones,
Old Bond Street.”
Written across the corner of the card were the words: “Business important and urgent.”
Gorman glanced at his watch. He had no time to spare if he meant to be at Beaufort’s at eight. Punctuality was no doubt one of the middle-class virtues which the King and Madame Ypsilante were at that moment practising. Gorman hesitated. The landlord, who had once been a butler, stood waiting.
“Tell him,” said Gorman, “to call to-morrow at eleven.”
“Beg pardon, sir,” said the landlord, “but the gentleman says his business is most pressing.”
Gorman reflected. If Goldsturmer had given the landlord five shillings—and this seemed likely—the business must be very pressing indeed; and King Konrad Karl could not yet have become an absolute slave to the virtue of punctuality.
“Show him in here,” said Gorman; “that will save time.”
Goldsturmer slipped into the room and stood meekly near the door.
“Sit down,” said Gorman. “Sit on the bed if you can’t find a chair, and tell me what you want with me, as quickly as you can.”
“It’s very kind of you,” said Goldsturmer, “to receive me at this hour. Nothing but the very pressing nature of my business—but I will get to the point. You will doubtless remember a certain rope of pearls. Let me see, it must have been in March——”
“I don’t remember any rope of pearls,” said Gorman. “I take no interest in pearls.”
“No? Still I hoped you might recollect those pearls. They were the finest I ever had in my hands.”
Goldsturmer spoke in a tone of pained regret. It seemed to him a sad thing that there should be any man in the world who took no interest in pearls.
“Madame Ypsilante bought them,” said Goldsturmer.
“There’s no use coming to me,” said Gorman, “if you’ve failed to get your money. I’ve nothing to do with the lady.”
“She paid,” he said. “Otherwise she would not have got the pearls. There was another lady who might have bought them, an American, a Miss Donovan.”
“But Madame got them,” said Gorman.
“Yes. But perhaps Miss Donovan might have them now, through me, at the original price.”
Gorman began to be interested.
“Madame tired of them?” he asked. “Wants to sell?”
“Tired of them!” said Goldsturmer. “No. For any one who loves pearls that would be impossible. But desires to sell. Yes.”
“Well,” said Gorman. “That’s her affair and yours. I don’t see that I have anything to do with it.”
“Before I agree to buy,” said Goldsturmer, “I should like to be sure that the American lady, Miss Donovan, still wishes for the pearls. I do not want to lock up my capital. I cannot afford to lock up so large a sum. I must be assured of a purchaser before I buy from Madame Ypsilante. It is not every one who can pay for such pearls. Ah! if you had seen them! They are suited for the wearing of a queen. Only a queen should have them.”
Miss Donovan was, of course, a queen. Gorman wondered whether Goldsturmer knew that. He looked at the little Jew sharply. Goldsturmer’s face wore a far-away dreamy expression. He seemed to be thinking of his pearls draped round the neck of an Empress, a Czarina or some other lady of very high estate who would wear them worthily.
“Only a queen,” he murmured, “should wear those pearls.”
“Madame Ypsilante is the next best thing to a queen,” said Gorman.
A faint smile flickered across Goldsturmer’s mouth.
“I would rather,” he said, “that a real queen, a queen by right of law, wore them. Tell me, Mr. Gorman, is Miss Donovan still willing to buy them?”
“I’m sure I don’t know,” said Gorman. “I haven’t seen her for weeks. She’s yachting in the Mediterranean with her father. If I were you I’d give up Miss Donovan and look out for a queen.”
“Thank you,” said Goldsturmer. “But if I give up Miss Donovan I think I shall not buy the pearls from Madame Ypsilante. There are, alas, few queens.”
Gorman was not, after all, more than five minutes late for dinner. The King was waiting for him, but without any sign of impatience. Madame Ypsilante entered the room a minute or two later.
She was wearing a purple velvet dress which struck Gorman as a very regal garment. Round her neck was a magnificent rope of pearls. Gorman had no doubt that they were those of which Goldsturmer had spoken. They were finer than any he had ever seen. It was easy to believe that there was no other such necklace in the world and that only a queen should wear them. But they suited Madame Ypsilante. She would, so far as her appearance went, have made a very fine queen.
During dinner the conversation was about Paris. The King spoke of pleasant adventures there, of the life he and Madame had lived, of the delight of having money to spend, really enough of it, in a city like Paris. He told his stories well, his vehemently idiomatic English emphasizing his points. He became lyrical in his appreciation of the joys of life. When dessert was on the table and port took the place of champagne he lapsed into a philosophic mood.
“The damned gods of life,” he said, “are blind of one eye. They are lame and they limp. They are left-handed. They give the oof, the dollars, the shekels, and do not give the power to enjoy. The Americans—your Donovan, for example. What does he know of pleasure? The English of your middling classes. What is Paris to them? They have money but no more. Those left-handed gods have given a useless gift. On me and on Corinne they have bestowed the power, the knowledge, the skill to enjoy; and we, damn it all, have no money.”
The King sighed deeply. Madame Ypsilante had tears in her eyes. She was in full sympathy with the King’s new mood. Gorman was astonished. The price which Mr. Donovan had paid for the crown of Salissa was a large one. Even after ten thousand pounds had been spent on Madame Ypsilante’s pearls there was a sum left which it would be difficult to spend in a few weeks.
“Surely,” he said, “you haven’t got rid of all the money yet? You can’t have spent it in the time. I didn’t think you could be hard up again so soon. Even when I heard that Madame wanted to sell her pearls——”
“Sell my pearls!” said Madame. “But never! Never, never!!”
There were no tears in her eyes then. The mood of self-pity induced by the King’s reflections on left-handed gods had passed away. She looked fierce as a tigress when she shot out her next question to Gorman.
“Who has said that I wish to sell my pearls? Who has said it? I demand. I insist: Tell me his name and I will at once kill him. I shall pluck out his heart and dogs shall eat it.”
Gorman did not care whether Goldsturmer’s heart was eaten by dogs or not. He did want to understand how it came that the astute Jew expected to have the pearls offered to him. It was plain that Madame Ypsilante did not want to sell them and that she had not suggested the sale.
“It was Goldsturmer,” said Gorman, “who told me. He seemed to think that Miss Donovan might buy them.”
Madame at once knocked down two wine-glasses and a vase of flowers.
“That cursed offspring of the litter of filthy Jews who make Hamburg stink! Tell him that I will pull out his hair, his teeth, his eyes, but that never, never will that American miss touch one of my pearls. I will not sell, will not, will not.”
The King looked round. He satisfied himself that the waiters had left the room.
“Alas,” he said, “alas, my poor Corinne! But consider. There is an English proverb: the horse needs must trot along, trot smart, when it is the devil who drives.”
“He is the devil, that Emperor,” said Madame. “But not for any Emperor will I part with one single pearl.”
“Look here,” said Gorman. “There’s evidently been some mistake about Goldsturmer and the pearls. I don’t profess to understand what’s happening, but if I’m to help you in any way——”
“You are to help damnably,” said the King. “Are you not our friend?”
“In that case,” said Gorman, “before I go a step further into the matter I must know what on earth the Emperor has got to do with Madame’s pearls.”
“The Emperor,” said Madame Ypsilante, “is a devil.”
“Take another glass of port,” said the King. “No? Then light a cigar. If you will light a cigar and fill for yourself a glass of brandy—also for Corinne—I will tell you about the Emperor.”
Gorman filled Madame’s glass and his own. He was particular about Madame’s. Brandy had a soothing influence on her. He did not like her habit of throwing things about in moments of excitement. He also lit a cigar.
“I will make my breast clean of the whole affair,” said the King. “Then you will understand and help us. The Emperor has spilt cold water all over Salissa—that is over the sale of the island to the American.”
“The Emperor must have very little to do,” said Gorman, “if he has time to waste in fussing about a wretched little island like Salissa. How did he hear about the sale?”
“I think,” said the King, “that Steinwitz must have permitted the cat to jump out of the bag. Steinwitz smelt rats, of that I am sure.”
“I daresay you’re right,” said Gorman. “I rather thought Steinwitz was nosing around. But why does the Emperor mind? That’s what I’m trying to get at.”
The King shrugged his shoulders.
“Who knows?” he said. “Real Politik, perhaps. What you call—— How do you call Real Politik?”
“Haven’t got a word for it,” said Gorman. “For the matter of that we haven’t got the thing. We manage along all right with sham politics, Ireland and Insurance Acts and the rest of it. If real politics lead to trouble over places like Salissa I prefer our home-made imitation. But Real Politik or not, the thing’s done; so what’s the good of the Emperor talking?”
“The Emperor,” said the King, “says ‘Buy back. Take again your island. Foot—no, it is foot of a horse—hoof, or boot away the American. Give him his price and let him go.’ And I cannot. It is no longer possible to give back the oof.”
“I quite understand that,” said Gorman. “Your six weeks in Paris and Madame’s pearls——”
“The Emperor shall not touch my pearls,” said Madame Ypsilante. “Rather would I swallow them.”
“The American,” said the King, “will perhaps accept a reduced price. The island is not an amusing place. Dull, my friend, dull as ditch mud. By this time he has found out that Salissa is as respectable as Sunday, as golf, as what you call a seasonable ticket. He will not want to keep it. He will accept a price, perhaps, if I offer.”
“I don’t expect he’ll accept a price at all,” said Gorman, “reduced or increased. I don’t know, of course. He may be dead sick of the place already; but I’ll be surprised if he is. You’ll find when you ask him that he’ll simply refuse to part with the island.”
“But,” said the King, “he must. As I have just said to Corinne, when the devil drives the horse to water it needs must take a drink. The Emperor has said that Salissa is once more to return to the Crown of Megalia.”
“The Emperor may say that,” said Gorman, “but it doesn’t at all follow that Donovan will agree with him.”
“But the Emperor——! It is not for Mr. Donovan to agree or disagree with the Emperor. When the Emperor commands it is a case of knuckles down. But you do not know the Emperor.”
“I do not,” said Gorman, “but I’m inclined to think that you take an exaggerated view of him. After all, what can he do to Donovan or to you for that matter? Come now, suppose you won’t or can’t buy back the island, what happens? What’s the alternative? There must be an alternative of some sort.”
“There is—yes, there certainly is an alternative.”
The King paused and looked apprehensively at Madame Ypsilante.
“He can’t lay hands on you,” said Gorman, “if you stick to Paris or even London. That Emperor isn’t particularly popular in either city.”
The King, his eyes still fixed on Madame Ypsilante, nodded sideways towards Gorman. The nod was a very slight one, barely perceptible. It suggested the need of extreme caution. Gorman is a quick-witted man and he saw the nod, but he failed altogether to guess what the alternative was.
Madame Ypsilante noticed the expression of the King’s face when he looked at her. She also saw the nod that was meant for Gorman. She became uneasy. Her eyes had a hard glitter in them. Gorman at once refilled her glass. That soothed her a little. She did not break anything. But she spoke:
“Konrad, at once tell me all that the Emperor said.”
“Corinne,” said the King, “my beloved Corinne, it will make no difference to you. The future and the past will be as six to one and half a dozen to the other. You will always be Corinne. Have no fear, and—as my friend Gorman would say, do not take off your hair.”
“Tell me,” said Madame.
“The Emperor,” said the King, “has said to me, ‘Buy back the island or else marry the American.’ In that way also Salissa would return to the Crown of Megalia.”
Gorman fully expected that Madame Ypsilante would at once have broken every glass on the table. It would not have surprised him in the least if she had torn handfuls of hair off the King’s head. To his amazement she laughed. It was a most unpleasant laugh. But it was not the laugh of a lunatic. It was not even hysterical.
“That imbecile,” she said, “that miss!”
Her contempt for the girl left no room for jealousy. Madame Ypsilante did not seem to care whether the King married or did not.
“I don’t think much of that plan,” said Gorman. “Your Emperor may be the everlasting boss you seem to think——”
“In the register of Lloyd’s,” said the King, “he takes place in the class A 1st.”
“But,” said Gorman, “he hasn’t much sense if he thinks that a girl like Miss Donovan can be married off in that way to any one he chooses to name. I’m not saying anything against your character, sir——”
“My Konrad,” said Madame Ypsilante, “is Konrad.”
“Exactly,” said Gorman. “Those are my points put concisely in two words. First he’s yours and next he’s himself. No. I don’t think that you’ve much chance of buying back the island, but you’ve no chance at all of marrying the girl.”
“I do not want either the one or the other,” said the King. “I do not care the cursing of a tinker, not a two-a-penny damn if I never put my eye on the island or the girl. Arrange which you prefer. I place both into your hands, my dear Gorman. I leave them there. I shall put my foot on the bill if you buy and the price is moderate. I shall toe the scratch if you arrange that I lead the American to the altar of Hymen. Settle, arrange, fix down which you will.”
Gorman gasped. He was always ready to give disinterested advice in the King’s affairs. He was even willing to lend a helping hand in times of difficulty; but he was startled at being asked to act as plenipotentiary for the sale of a kingdom or the negotiation of a royal marriage.
“Do you mean to say,” he said, “that you expect me to arrange the whole thing?”
“You have tumbled to the idea with precision,” said the King. “You have caught it on. You are wonderful, my friend. Thus everything arranges. You go to Salissa and tell the American the wishes of the Emperor. Corinne and I return to Paris. If a sale is arranged——”
“I will not part with my pearls,” said Madame. “Neither for the Emperor nor for any one.”
“Corinne!” said the King reproachfully. “Would I ask it of you? No. If a sale is arranged I give a bill to the American, a bill of three months, and for security I place at his disposal—I pledge the revenue of Megalia for ten years; for a hundred years. If it seems more desirable that I marry; good, I am ready. The American girl comes to Paris. I meet her. We marry. The Emperor is satisfied. It is upon you, my dear Gorman, to fix it down.”
“I don’t see,” said Gorman, “how I can possibly undertake—— It’s asking a lot, you know. Besides——”
“You are my friend,” said the King. “Can I ask more than too much from my friend?”
“Besides,” said Gorman, “it’s no kind of use. Donovan isn’t likely to sell. He certainly wouldn’t accept your bill if he did sell. And marrying the girl is out of the question. What’s the good of my undertaking impossibilities?”
The King stood up. With his cigar between his fingers he raised his right hand above his head. He laid his left hand upon his shirt front. It was an impressive and heroic attitude.
“For Gorman, M.P.,” he said, “there are in the world no impossibilities. For his talents all careers are open doors. When Gorman, M.P., says ‘I do it,’ the damned thing at once is done. I offer—— But no. I do not offer where I trust—— I confer upon Gorman, M.P., the Order of the Royal Pink Vulture of Megalia, First Class. You are Knight Commander, my friend. You are also Count Gorman if you wish.”
Madame Ypsilante slipped from her chair and knelt down at Gorman’s feet. She took his right hand and kissed it with every appearance of fervour.
“You will do it,” she said, “for the sake of Konrad Karl. Oh, Sir Gorman, M.P., you would do it at once if you understood. Poor Konrad! He is having so much delight with me in Paris. This time only in our lives it has come to us to have enough money and to be in Paris. It is cruel—so cruel that the Emperor should say: ‘No. Give back the money. Go from Paris. Be starved. Have no pearls, no joy.’ But you will save us. Say you will save us.”
Gorman’s position was an exceedingly difficult one. Madame Ypsilante had firm hold on his hand. She was kissing it at the moment. He was not at all sure that she would not bite it if he refused her request.
“I’ll think the whole thing over,” he said. “I don’t expect I can do anything, but I’ll look into the matter and let you know.”
Madame mouthed his hand in a frenzy of gratitude. She wept copiously. Gorman could feel drops which he supposed to be tears trickling down the inside of his sleeve. The King seized his other hand and shook it heartily.
“It is now as good as done,” he said. “Let us drink to success. I ring the bell. I order champagne, one bottle, two bottles, three, many bottles in the honour of my friend Sir Gorman who has said: ‘Damn it, I will.’”
Under the influence of the second bottle of champagne the King escaped from his heroic mood. Gorman began to realize that a certain cunning lay behind the preposterous proposal he had listened to.
“I shall inform the Emperor,” said the King, “that you go to Salissa to arrange according to his wish. I shall say: ‘M.P. Count Sir Gorman goes. He is a statesman, a financier, a diplomat, a man of uncommon sense.’ The Emperor will then be satisfied.”
“He’ll probably be very dissatisfied when I come back,” said Gorman.
“That will be—let me consider—perhaps eight weeks. In eight weeks many things may happen. And if not, still Corinne and I will have had eight weeks in Paris with oof which we can burn. It is something.”