The Island Mystery/Chapter 14
I'M going, of course,” said Gorman. “The whole thing is interesting, quite exciting.”
He had just given me a detailed account of his interview with Sir Bartholomew Bland-Potterton, and a rather picturesque version of the way King Konrad Karl presented his case.
“Do you expect,” I said, “to be able to persuade Donovan to sell?”
“Of course not,” said Gorman. “I don’t even mean to try.”
“Gorman,” I said, “I’m accustomed more or less to political morality, I mean the morality of politicians. I recognize—everybody must recognize—that you can’t be expected to tie yourselves down to the ordinary standards. But——”
“What are you talking about?”
“Oh, nothing much. Only you’ve accepted a Pink Vulture from Megalia and a baronetcy from England as a reward for services you don’t mean to render. Now is that quite—quite——?”
Gorman looked at me for a minute without speaking. There was a peculiar twinkle in his eyes.
“If I were you,” he said at last, “I’d go back to Ireland for a while. Try Dublin. You have been too long over here. You wouldn’t say things like that if you weren’t becoming English.”
I accepted the rebuke. Gorman was perfectly right. In English public life it is necessary to profess a respect for decency, to make aprons of fig leaves. In Ireland we do without these coverings.
“I shouldn’t wonder,” said Gorman, “if I got some sort of decoration out of the Emperor too before I’m through with this business. Once these ribbons and stars begin to drop on a man, they come thick and fast, kind of attract each other, I suppose. I wonder,” he added with sudden irrelevancy, “what the Emperor’s game is. That’s what I’ve been trying to make out all along. Why is he in it?”
“He wants the Island of Salissa restored to the Crown of Megalia,” I said. “You’ve been told that often enough.”
“Yes, but why? Why? The island isn’t worth having. As well as I can make out it’s simply a rock with a little clay sprinkled on top of it. What can it matter to the Emperor who owns the place? It isn’t as if it were his originally or as if it would become his. It belongs to Megalia. With all the fuss that’s being made you’d think there was a gold mine there.”
The puzzle became more complicated and Gorman’s curiosity was further whetted before he started for Salissa. After leaving my rooms he went to Cockspur Street and called at the office of the Cyrenian Sea Steam Navigation Company. Steinwitz was expecting him and received him in the most friendly manner.
“Sir Bartholomew Bland-Potterton,” said Steinwitz, “rang me up this morning, and told me that you’d undertaken our little negotiation. I need scarcely say that we’re quite satisfied. We feel——”
“By we,” said Gorman, “you mean yourself and the Emperor, I suppose. Now what I want to know is this: Why is the Emperor so keen on——?”
Steinwitz waved that question away with a motion of his hand.
“I do not discuss the policy of the Emperor,” he said.
“You must be the only man in Europe who doesn’t,” said Gorman. “However, I don’t mind. I suppose the Emperor must have some pretty strong reasons for wanting to get Donovan out of Salissa, or he wouldn’t offer to pay a fancy price—it was a fancy price, you know.”
“King Konrad Karl will pay,” said Steinwitz.
“No, he won’t. He can’t. He hasn’t got it. There’s a cool ten thousand gone on a pearl necklace, as well as——”
“Goldsturmer is prepared to buy back the necklace,” said Steinwitz. “I have arranged that.”
“Well,” said Gorman, “it’s your affair, of course. But I wouldn’t be too sure. I don’t think Madame Ypsilante will sell at any price.”
“Madame Ypsilante will do what she must,” said Steinwitz. “The Emperor——”
“I don’t envy the Emperor the job of tackling her,” said Gorman. “He won’t find it a bit pleasant. I daresay he doesn’t know Madame Ypsilante. He wouldn’t be so cocksure of himself if he did. She’s the kind of woman who throws things about if she’s the least irritated. If the Emperor suggests her selling those jewels there’ll be a riot. But it’s no business of mine. If that Emperor of yours really enjoys a rag with a woman like Madame Ypsilante—I should have thought a man in his position wouldn’t care to be mixed up in the sort of scene there will certainly be.”
Steinwitz stiffened visibly. His hair always stands upright on his head. It actually bristled while Gorman was speaking.
“I do not,” he said, “discuss the Emperor in that way. It is enough for you to know this. Madame Ypsilante will sell. Goldsturmer will buy. I myself will settle these matters.”
Gorman was enjoying himself greatly. Nothing in the world gives him more pleasure than intercourse with a man who takes himself seriously. Steinwitz was a real delight. He was solemnly and ponderously serious about himself. He was pontifical about the Emperor.
“Goldsturmer,” said Gorman, “is a Jew, and the Jews are a cautious race. However, if you go to him and say ‘The Emperor’ in an Open Sesame tone of voice he’ll no doubt give in at once.”
“Exactly,” said Steinwitz gravely.
Gorman collapsed then. Steinwitz’ portentous solemnity was too much for him. Sticking pins into a man or an ape is a pleasant sport. They have skins of reasonable density. It is dull work pricking a rhinoceros, even with a rapier.
“About going to Salissa,” he said meekly. “Can you manage to send me there?”
“Certainly,” said Steinwitz. “How soon can you start?”
“At once,” said Gorman. “I’ll buy a tooth-brush on my way to the steamer. I realize that I must waste no time when conducting business for the Emperor.”
“That is so,” said Steinwitz, “but you cannot start before to-morrow. To-morrow at 9 a.m. the Ida leaves Tilbury. She is the steamer which Mr. Donovan chartered from us. She returns to the island according to his orders. If you care to sail on her——”
Steinwitz took up the receiver of the telephone which stood on his desk.
“Is Captain Wilson in the office?” he called. “Captain Wilson of the Ida. Oh, he’s not, but Mr. Phillips is. Very well. Ask Mr. Phillips to come up and speak to me here. Mr. Phillips,” he explained to Gorman, “is first officer on the Ida. I shall give him orders to be ready for you to-morrow.”
There was a brisk tap at the door. Phillips walked in.
“Mr. Phillips,” said Steinwitz, “Mr. Gorman will sail with you to-morrow on the Ida. You will see that a cabin is prepared for him, and tell Captain Wilson, with my compliments, that Mr. Gorman is to be made as comfortable as possible. If there are any particular directions you’d like to give, Mr. Gorman——”
“I prefer Irish to Scotch,” said Gorman, “but I don’t insist on it.”
“Irish? Scotch?” said Steinwitz. “Ah, yes, whisky, of course. Make a note of that, if you please, Mr. Phillips.”
“And I detest tinned salmon,” said Gorman.
“You need not be uneasy,” said Steinwitz. “On our ships no passenger is ever asked to eat tinned salmon. As the guest of the company——”
“Of the Emperor,” said Gorman.
He deliberately winked at Phillips when he mentioned the Emperor. Phillips has a nice, round, sun-burned face, clear eyes and curly hair. Gorman felt that it would be easy to make friends with him. Phillips laughed and then checked himself abruptly. He saw no joke in a reference to the Emperor, but Gorman’s wink appealed to him strongly. Steinwitz frowned.
“That will do, Mr. Phillips,” he said.
He turned to Gorman when the young man left the room.
“You will let me hear from you,” he said. “I shall expect a letter. The Ida will, no doubt, return after she is unloaded. You can give your letters to Captain Wilson.”
“I suppose there’s no other way of sending letters?”
“A coasting steamer, perhaps,” said Steinwitz, “or a fishing boat might put in at the island; but the Ida will be your best means of communicating with me.”
“All right,” said Gorman. “I’ll let you know how things go on. But don’t be too sanguine. Donovan may refuse to sell.”
He rose to go as he spoke. Steinwitz made one more remark before the interview closed.
“One way or other,” he said, “I hear very often from the island.”
The words were spoken in a colourless tone; but Gorman felt vaguely that they were a kind of threat. Steinwitz said that he heard frequently from the island. Gorman thought the statement over. Evidently Steinwitz had a correspondent there, some one who made use of the Ida, of any coasting steamer which turned up, of the fishing boats which put in. Steinwitz would not be entirely dependent on Gorman’s account of his mission. He would hear about it from some one else, would know whether the sale had been pressed on Donovan.
Gorman left the office a little puzzled. The threat suggested by Steinwitz’ last words was veiled but hardly to be mistaken. It certainly seemed to Gorman that he was to be watched by some one on the island, his life spied on, his actions reported to this perfectly absurd German shipowner; by him, no doubt, again reported to the Emperor. The thing seemed almost too good to be true. Gorman, himself a clever man, found it difficult to believe that another clever man—Steinwitz certainly had brains of a sort—could possibly be such an idiot as to practise melodrama, spies, secret reports and all the rest of it, quite seriously.
Gorman found himself wondering what on earth Steinwitz expected to learn from his correspondent in Salissa and what use the information would be to him when he got it. Would Donovan be threatened with the implacable wrath of the Emperor? Would he himself, Michael Gorman, M.P. for Upper Offaly, incur some awful penalty if he did not persuade Donovan to sell, if he did his best—he certainly meant to do his best—to prevent a marriage between Miss Donovan and King Konrad Karl? He chuckled with delight at the prospect and was more than ever glad that he had promised to go to Salissa.
The voyage turned out to be a very agreeable one. Captain Wilson was not, indeed, a cheerful companion. He maintained the attitude of stiff disapproval with which he had all along regarded Salissa and everything connected with that island. He gave Gorman to understand that he meant to do his duty to his employers, to obey orders faithfully, to carry ridiculous things and foolish people to and fro between Salissa and England; but that he in no way approved of the waste of a good ship, quantities of coal and the energies of officers like himself over the silly fad of a wealthy young woman.
Phillips, on the other hand, was friendly from the start. He and Gorman spent many hours together on the bridge or in the cabin. The weather was fine and warm. The Ida slipped quietly across the Bay, found calm days and velvety nights off the coast of Portugal, carried her good luck with her through the Straits of Gibraltar.
A much duller man than Gorman would not have failed to discover that Phillips was deeply in love with the young Queen of Salissa. All talk worked back to her sooner or later. And Phillips became eloquent about her. With naïve enthusiasm he praised her beauty. He raved about the sweetness of her disposition. He struggled hard for words which would describe her incomparable charm.
Gorman says he liked listening to the boy. He himself has never married, so far as I know has never been in love. I suppose there was a certain freshness about Phillips’ raptures. He must have been an attentive listener and he must have shown some sort of sympathy, for in the end Phillips became very confidential. I daresay, too, that Gorman found the whole thing highly amusing when he recollected the Emperor’s plan of marrying Miss Donovan to King Konrad Karl. Phillips was just the sort of obstacle which would wreck the plan, and the Emperor would never condescend to consider that a subordinate officer in the British Merchant Service could be of any importance. There was a flavour about the situation which delighted Gorman.
“When do you mean to marry her?” he asked, one evening.
“Marry her!” said Phillips. “I never thought—I mean I never dared to hope—— It would be such beastly cheek, wouldn’t it? to expect——”
He looked at Gorman, pathetically anxious for some crumb of encouragement.
“She’s a queen, you know,” said Phillips, “and an heiress, and all that. I’m only—— I haven’t a penny in the world except what I earn.”
The boy sighed.
“I don’t see why that should stop you,” said Gorman.
“Do you really think—I mean wouldn’t it be frightful cheek? It’s not only her being a queen and all that; but other things. She’s far too good for me in every way. I’m not clever or anything of that kind. And then there’s her father.”
“I shouldn’t worry about him, if I were you,” said Gorman. “What you’ve got to consider is not the father but the girl. If she’s as much in love with you as you are with her——”
“She couldn’t possibly be,” said Phillips.
“I don’t suppose she could,” said Gorman. “Let’s say half. If she’s half as much in love as you are she’ll manage the old man.”
“I think——” said Phillips, “I really think she does like me a little.”
Then he told Gorman something, not very much, about the scene in the cave. He spoke in broken sentences. He never quite completed any confidence, but Gorman got at something like the facts.
“If you’ve gone as far as that,” he said. “If, as I understand, you’ve kissed her, then—— I don’t profess to give an expert opinion in matters of this kind, but I think you ought to ask her to marry you. In fact, it will be rather insulting if you don’t.”
“And you really think I have a chance? But you don’t know. She might marry any one in the world. She’s the most beautiful girl that any one has ever seen. Her eyes——”
Gorman knew that Miss Daisy Donovan was a nice, fresh-looking, plump young woman with no particular claim to be called beautiful. He stopped listening. His mind had suddenly fixed on a curious point in Phillips’ story of the scene in the cave. He waited until the boy, like Rosalind’s “very good lover,” was “gravelled for lack of matter.” Then he said:
“Where did you say that you were when that happened—the kissing, I mean?”
“In a cave,” said Phillips. “In a huge cave. I had helped her to climb up on to the cisterns, and——”
“Cisterns!” said Gorman. “What the devil did you put cisterns into a cave for?”
“We didn’t put them. They were there. Galvanized iron cisterns. Huge things. Oh, I promised I wouldn’t tell any one about those cisterns. They’re part of the secret of the island. The Queen made me promise. I wish I hadn’t told you.”
“You’ve broken your promise now,” said Gorman. “You may just as well go on.”
It took some time to persuade Phillips to go on; and all Gorman’s sophistries would not induce the boy to say another word about the cisterns in the cave. They were the Queen’s part of the mystery of the island and he would not speak of them. But he did at last confide in Gorman to some extent.
“I think,” he said, “I may tell you about this. I found this out myself.”
He took a letter-case from his pocket and produced from it a corner torn off an envelope.
“Look at that,” he said. “Look at it carefully.”
Gorman stared at the scrap of paper.
“Bit of an envelope,” he said. “Penny stamp, London postmark.”
“Now look at this,” said Phillips.
He handed Gorman part of another envelope, torn in exactly the same way. Gorman looked at it.
“Same sort of envelope,” he said. “Same postmark, different dates.”
“That last one,” said Phillips, “is a corner of an envelope which I got through the post ten days ago. It came from the office, Mr. Steinwitz’ office. The first one I found in the hall of the Queen’s palace the day we landed on Salissa.”
“Well,” said Gorman, “that’s not much to go on. Lots of firms use envelopes like that, and I suppose there are thousands of letters every day with that postmark. Still it’s possible that Steinwitz wrote a letter to some one who was on the island last September. Were there any other bits of paper on that floor?”
“There were,” said Phillips, “but I didn’t pick them up. I intended to next day. But they were gone. The floor had been swept.”
“Oh! Who swept the floor?”
“Smith. I saw him doing it.”
“Now who,” said Gorman, “is Smith?”
“Smith! He was steward on the Ida. Mr. Steinwitz sent him on board just before we sailed. He stayed on the island as servant to the Donovans. Oh, by the way, talking of Smith, perhaps I ought to tell you——”
He told Gorman the story of Smith’s early morning visit to the cave in company with Stephanos the Elder.
“Does Smith ever write letters?” asked Gorman.
“I don’t know. Oh, yes. I remember. The day we docked at Tilbury, after our return voyage, Captain Wilson sent me up to the office with some letters of Mr. Donovan’s. Just as I was starting he called me back and said I might as well take Smith’s letters too. There were three of them, all addressed to Mr. Steinwitz.”
“I think,” said Gorman, “that when I get to the island I’ll have a look at those cisterns of yours.”
“I’ll ask the Queen if I may take you,” said Phillips.
“You and the Queen,” said Gorman, “seem to have formed yourselves into a kind of detective brotherhood for the discovery of the mystery of the island.”
“We thought it would be rather fun.”
“You don’t appear to have found out very much. Suppose you take me into partnership. We could all three work together, except when it is necessary to climb cisterns. Then I’d stay round the nearest corner. What do you think?”
“I’d like to; but I must ask the Queen first.”
“I might be some help.”
“You would,” said Phillips. “I’m not clever, you know. I wish I was. And, of course, the Queen is very young.”
“I’m quite old,” said Gorman, “and amazingly clever.”
“I can see that. I saw it directly I met you.”
“Then you’d better let me help. We’ll see if we can’t catch Smith at some little game.”