The Island Mystery/Chapter 15
THERE is no doubt that the Donovans owed their comfort on Salissa very largely to Smith, the ship’s steward, who had entered their service at the last moment, and, as it seemed, accidentally.
Donovan would never have achieved the rest and quiet he desired without Smith. Advocates of the simple life may say what they like; but a man like Donovan would have lived in a condition of perpetual worry and annoyance if he had been obliged to go foraging for such things as milk and eggs; if it had been his business to chop up wood and light the kitchen fire. He would not have liked cleaning his own boots or sweeping up the cigar ends and tobacco ash with which he strewed the floors of the palace. He would not have slept well at night in a bed that he made himself. He would have gone without shaving most days—thereby becoming uncomfortable and most unsightly—if he had been dependent on his own exertions for a supply of hot water and a properly stropped razor.
His daughter would have made a poor queen if it had fallen to her lot to cook meals for herself and her father, if she had spent a morning every week at a wash-tub and another morning with an iron in her hand. There were no labour-saving devices in the palace. King Otto had a remarkable taste for fantastic architecture; but it had not occurred to him to run hot and cold water through his house or to have a lift between the kitchen and the upper storeys. There was not even in the whole palace a single sink in which a plate could conveniently be washed. It is impossible to be a queen in any real and proper sense if you have to spend hours every day doing the work of a kitchen-maid. Queens, and indeed all members of aristocracies, ought to be occupied with thoughts of great and splendid things, wide schemes of philanthropy, sage counsels for the elevating of the masses. But the human mind will not work at social and political philosophy if it is continually worried with problems of scouring pans and emptying slops. That is why there must be a class of menials, perhaps slaves, in society, if any advance is to be made towards the finer civilization.
It was Smith who saved the Queen from becoming a drudge and Donovan from unfamiliar kinds of toil which would probably have still further injured his heart, would certainly have broken his temper.
Salissa was not by any means a desert island. It was inhabited by intelligent, kindly people, who kept milk-giving cows and hens which laid eggs. It was well cultivated. Grapes and wheat grew there. There were fish in the surrounding sea, and the islanders possessed boats and nets. Nor were the Donovans castaways of the ordinary kind. They had a large house, luxuriously furnished. They had ample stores of every kind. Nevertheless they could scarcely have lived on Salissa—they would certainly not have tried to live there long—if they had not had Smith with them. Picnicking is delightful for a short time. A picnic unduly prolonged degenerates rapidly through all the stages of discomfort, and ends in actual hardship.
Smith organized the life of the palace. Every morning an island boat crossed the harbour bringing eggs, milk and fish. Every evening just at sunset it came again with more milk and if necessary more eggs. Four island girls were brought from the village by Stephanos the Elder, and—this was the impression left on the Queen’s mind—solemnly dedicated to domestic service. Smith taught them the elements of housework. Two boys were taken from the fields and handed over to Smith. He taught them to polish boots, clean knives, and make all kinds of metal—silver, brass and copper—shine splendidly. Smith’s work was made easier for him by Stephanos the Elder. That old man spent two hours every day in the palace. He did not bring osier rods with him, but the girls knew, and the boys knew still better, that his arm was strong and that pliant rods hurt horribly. There were no corners left unswept in the rooms of the palace, no plates unwashed, no failure in the supply of cans of hot water for Donovan’s bedroom or the Queen’s. At first Smith did all the cooking himself. Later, when one of the girls showed some intelligence, he attended only to the more difficult and complex dishes. He never allowed any one else to wait on Donovan. The organization was not accomplished at once. For a few days life in the palace was exciting, full of surprises and occasions for laughter. For a few days more it was a very well-arranged picnic, rather less exciting than it had been, with meals which could be confidently reckoned on and many minor comforts. At the end of a fortnight it had settled down into something like the smooth routine of a well-managed English country house.
But the Queen, even when things in the palace were well ordered, did not find the island dull. She explored it all. With Kalliope as guide she climbed rocks, descended into lonely coves, walked through fields and vineyards, wandered over the pasture land of the upper plateau. She rowed, taking turns at the oars with Kalliope, into many caves and found fascinating landing-places among the rocks. One fine day she sailed all round her kingdom in the largest of the island boats, manned and steered by Kalliope’s lover.
She did not forget that she was a queen. She learnt the names of all her subjects. She made plans for many improvements. Roads should be built, houses rebuilt, water should run about in pipes and women turn taps instead of carrying great pitchers on their heads. Motor tractors, instead of small bullocks, should drag the island ploughs. Motor engines should drive the fishing boats. Every evening, Kalliope sitting by her, the Queen drew maps, designed cottages, and made long lists of things which the Ida should, in due time, fetch from England.
She started a school in the great hall of the palace. Smith explained to Stephanos the Elder what was wanted and he undertook the duties of attendance officer. The Queen’s idea was to encourage the children with gifts of chocolates. Stephanos, who must have had the mind of a Progressive, established a system of compulsory education. The Queen spoke very few words of the children’s language, and Kalliope, who acted as assistant mistress, did not know much English. But the laws of arithmetic, so the Queen felt, must be of universal application, two and two making four, by whatever names you called them. And the Alphabet must be a useful thing to learn whatever words you spell with it afterwards. So the Queen drew Arabic numerals on large sheets of paper and tried to impress on a giggling group of children that the figures corresponded in some way to little piles of pebbles which she arranged on the floor. She succeeded in teaching them that K, written very large, and held up for inspection, was in some way connected with Kalliope. She failed to persuade them that S could have anything to do with Stephanos the Elder. S, perhaps because it is so curly, always made the children laugh uproariously. The mention of the name of Stephanos made them suddenly grave again. He was no subject for merriment, and it seemed impossible that a sign so plainly comic as S could possibly be associated with him.
The mystery of the island was the Queen’s only disappointment. It remained obstinately undeveloped. No more suspicious scraps of paper were to be found anywhere. Smith hardly ever stirred outside the palace. The cisterns were, indeed, still in the cavern, but no change took place in them. They stood there, great, foolish, empty tanks of galvanized iron, entirely meaningless things. The Queen came to regard them without wonder. They were just there, that was all. Little by little the mystery ceased to interest her, ceased even to be a disappointment.
Then one day, just as she was beginning to forget it, the mystery suddenly became exciting again.
It was still Kalliope’s habit to sleep, wrapped in a rug, on the floor at the foot of the Queen’s bed. Smith commanded and the Queen entreated, but the girl refused to occupy a room of her own or to sleep on a bed. Every morning about seven she woke, unrolled herself from her rug, tiptoed across the room and pulled back the curtains. The flood of sunlight wakened the Queen and the two girls went together to bathe from the steps below the Queen’s balcony.
One morning Kalliope gave a sudden shout of excitement when she pulled back the curtains.
“Mucky ship!” she cried.
She ran from the window. The Queen, blinking and no more than half awake, was seized by the arms and pulled out of bed. Kalliope was the least conventional of lady’s-maids. She loved, even worshipped and adored, her mistress, but she had no idea whatever of propriety of behaviour. Bedclothes were scattered on the floor. The Queen, staggering to her feet, was dragged across the room to the window. Kalliope pointed to the harbour with a finger which trembled with excitement.
“Mucky ship,” she said.
Kalliope’s English was improving in quality. The Queen had forbidden her to say “damn” or “bloody” but about “mucky” she had received no instructions. It still seemed to her a proper epithet for any ship. In this case it was unsuitable. The ship, a small steamer, which lay at anchor in the harbour, looked more like a yacht than a cargo boat. Her paint was fresh. Her hull had fine lines. Her two masts and high yellow funnel raked sharply aft. The brasswork on her bridge glittered in the sunlight. But Kalliope stuck to her epithet.
“Mucky ship,” she said, “once more.”
“Once more” was a recent addition to her English. She had picked the phrase up in the Queen’s school, where indeed it was in constant use. She knew what it meant; but it was not clear why she used it about the steamer.
The Queen was excited, almost as much excited as Kalliope. Even to dwellers in seaport towns there must, I think, always come a certain thrill when a ship arrives from the sea. In Salissa, where ships rarely come, where no steamer had been seen since the Ida sailed, the sudden coming of a strange craft was a moving event. And the manner of her coming stirred the imagination. A ship which sails in by day is sighted far off. Her shape is seen, her flag is read, perhaps, long before she reaches the harbour. Half the interest of her coming disappears as she slips slowly in, gazed at by all eyes, speculated on, discussed by every tongue. But a ship which arrives by night is full of wonder. At sunset she is not there. In the darkness she steals in. No one sees her approach. She is there, rich in possibilities of romance, to greet eyes opening on a new day.
The Queen and Kalliope had no morning swim that day. They were eager to dress, to go out, to row across to the strange ship. They had no time to waste in bathing. As they dressed they ran to and fro about the room, never willing to take their eyes off the steamer for very long. It was interesting to watch her. Men were busy about her decks and a tall officer could be seen on her bridge. A boat was swung out and lowered from the davits. She was manned by four rowers. The anchor cable of the steamer was hove short. A warp was passed down to the boat and made fast in her stern. Then the anchor was weighed and hung dripping just clear of the water. The rowers pulled at their oars. The boat shot ahead of the steamer. The warp was paid out for awhile and then made fast on board the steamer. The work of towing began. The boat, moving slowly in short jerks, headed for the shore. The officer on the steamer’s bridge directed the rowers, shouting. They made for the entrance of the great cave. Close under the cliffs the steamer’s anchor was dropped again. Another anchor was run out by the attendant boat, then another, and a fourth. At last the steamer lay, moored bow and stern, broadside on to the cliff, a few yards from the mouth of the cave.
The Queen, fully dressed at last, ran to her father’s room. Kalliope was at her heels. Donovan was in bed and still asleep. At that hour Smith had not even brought him his cup of coffee or his shaving water. The Queen was less ruthless than Kalliope had been. She did not pull her father out of bed; but she wakened him without pity.
“Father,” she said, “a steamer has arrived. She came during the night. She looks like a yacht. Do you think she can be a yacht? I wonder who’s on board of her.”
Donovan sat up and yawned.
“Is she going off again right now?” he asked.
“Oh no,” said the Queen, “she has gone in quite close to the shore. She has put out four anchors. She looks as if she meant to stay for weeks.”
“Then there’s no darned hurry,” said Donovan, “and no need for me to strain my heart by getting out of bed at this hour. Just you run away, Daisy, and take that girl of yours with you.”
“But, father, don’t you want to see the yacht? Don’t you want to know who’s in her?”
“We’ll send Smith after breakfast,” said Donovan, “and ask the proprietor to dine.”
Mr. Donovan lay down again and put his head on the pillow.
“But I can’t possibly wait till dinner-time,” said the Queen.
“Well, luncheon,” said Donovan.
His voice was a little muffled. After lying down he had taken a pull at the bedclothes and had arranged the corner of the sheet over his mouth and ear.
The Queen gave him up; but she was not willing to wait even till luncheon-time or to trust Smith to deliver the invitation. Kalliope shared her impatience.
“Go row,” she said, “quick—quick—slick.”
“Slick” was a word which she had recently learned from Smith. He often used it in urging on his staff of housemaids. He was forced to use an English word now and then when he could not express his meaning in the Megalian language. There is no equivalent to “slick” in Megalian.
What the Queen wanted most at the moment was to be quick and slick in getting off. She and Kalliope ran down to the steps where their boat lay moored. Smith was there, looking at the strange steamer.
“Oh, Smith,” said the Queen, “is it a yacht?”
“Don’t know, your Majesty,” said Smith. “Never saw her before. She looks to me like a foreigner, your Majesty, not an English boat.”
“Well, I’ll soon find out,” said the Queen. “We’re going off to her.”
Kalliope had already cast off the boat’s mooring rope and sat ready at the oars.
“Beg pardon, your Majesty,” said Smith, “but it might be as well for me to go off first. Foreign sailors are not always as polite as they might be. Not knowing that your Majesty is Queen of the island they might say things which were disrespectful.”
The Queen would not listen to this suggestion.
“Come along with us if you like,” she said, “but I’m not going to wait till you come back.”
Smith stepped into the boat and took his seat in the bow. Kalliope had the oars. The Queen sat in the stern.
The men on the deck of the steamer were very busy. They were overhauling and coiling down what looked like a long rubber hose. An officer, a young man in a smart uniform, was directing the work. When the boat was near the steamer, the officer hailed and asked in German what boat it was. Kalliope was rowing vigorously. Before any answer could be made to the hail the boat ran alongside the steamer.
The Queen had learned German at school, carefully and laboriously, paying much attention to the vagaries of irregular verbs. She began to think out a sentence in which to describe her boat, herself and her servants. But Smith took it for granted that she knew no German. Before her sentence had taken shape he answered the officer. The young man leaned over the bulwark of the steamer and stared at the Queen while Smith spoke. Then he went away. Smith explained to the Queen what had happened.
“I asked him to call the captain, your Majesty. I told him that you are the Queen of the island. I was speaking to him in German, your Majesty.”
The Queen knew that. She might be slow in framing a German sentence when an unexpected demand for such a thing was made on her, but thanks to the patience and diligence of a certain fat German governess, she could understand the language fairly well. She had understood every word that Smith said. He had not told the young officer that she was Queen of the island. He had described her as the daughter of the rich American who had bought Salissa from King Konrad Karl. She made no attempt at the moment to understand why Smith said one thing in German and offered her something slightly different as a translation; and she did not question him on the point. She was content to leave him to suppose that she knew no German at all.
The boat, which had run quickly alongside of the steamer near her bow, now lay beside the accommodation ladder which hung amidships. A tall officer stood on the platform outside the bulwarks and looked down at the Queen. He was a heavily built blonde man with neatly trimmed beard and moustache. He wore a naval uniform and stood stiffly erect, his heels together, while he raised his hand to the formal salute. The Queen spoke to Smith.
“Ask him,” she said, “if he will come ashore and breakfast with us.”
Before Smith could translate, the officer replied to her.
“I speak English,” he said, “it is not necessary that he translate. I have the honour to present myself—Captain von Moll.”
“Very pleased to meet you, Captain von Moll. Won’t you come ashore and breakfast with us?”
“I regret that is impossible,” said von Moll. “I am much occupied.”
He spoke slowly, pronouncing each word carefully. He looked steadily at the Queen, not taking his eyes from her face for a moment. His words were civil. His attitude was strictly correct. But there was something in his stare which the Queen did not like, a suggestion of insolence. She felt that this man regarded her as an inferior, a member of an inferior sex perhaps, or one of an inferior race. American women, especially American girls, are not accustomed to think of themselves as men’s inferiors. American citizens find it impossible to believe that any one in the world can look down on them. The Queen was not annoyed. She was piqued and interested.
“Perhaps,” she said, “you will come for luncheon or dinner. We dine at half-past seven.”
Von Moll saluted again with formal politeness.
“I will dine with you,” he said, “at half-past seven. Meanwhile I am sorry that I cannot ask you to come on board and see my ship. My men are much occupied.”
The Queen signed to Kalliope and the boat left the steamer’s side.