The Island Mystery/Chapter 18
I AM uncomfortably aware that this history of recent events in Salissa is sadly deficient in the matter of dates. I am not to blame. If I could I should date each chapter accurately. Unfortunately, not one of the people chiefly concerned kept a diary. They all remember events very well and are most willing to describe them for me, but they cannot remember exactly when things happened. I am therefore particularly pleased to be able at this point to give two definite dates. The Ida arrived at Salissa with Gorman on board on July 8. She left again on July 11. I dragged this information out of Captain Wilson. He no longer has access to the Ida’s log-books. They passed into Steinwitz’ hands and disappeared when his office was closed at the outbreak of war. But Captain Wilson kept a private notebook. He referred to it, with considerable reluctance, when I pressed him.
Taking these two dates as fixed, we are able to say for certain that von Moll reached the island during the night of July 7 and 8, ten days after the Serajevo assassinations. He was occupied with his business in the cave all day of July 8. He left Salissa early on July 9. He might easily have made any one of three or four ports on the mainland before evening that day. A telegram sent to Berlin might have been in the hands of some responsible person that night. Smith’s letters would follow at once by a special messenger. We may take it that the Emperor’s secret service agents, perhaps the Emperor himself, knew on July 10 that the island would not be resold to King Konrad Karl.
The sailing of the Ida so soon as three days after her arrival puzzled me at first. Captain Wilson would say nothing except that he obeyed orders. As a matter of fact he seems to have worried everybody until he got the order he wanted. The Ida carried very little cargo to the island on her second voyage and was unloaded in a few hours. Captain Wilson received from the Queen the lists she had prepared of tools, engines and material for carrying out her schemes of improvement. He was given a few letters by Donovan and by Smith. Then there was no reason why he should not start.
Nor was there any reason why Gorman should not have gone with him. It was, indeed, plainly Gorman’s duty to get back to England as quickly as possible. His mission had completely failed. The Queen would not sell the island. She would certainly not marry Konrad Karl. Ireland was at the moment passing through a crisis, and Gorman, as one of her statesmen, ought to have been at hand with advice. But Gorman—he owes a good deal of his attractiveness to this—never allows himself to be hampered by words like “ought” and “duty.”
An Irish crisis is an interesting thing; but it is by no means uncommon, and the details are always more or less the same. The affairs of Salissa had certain novel features which were exceedingly attractive and Gorman had never before had an opportunity of mixing himself up in foreign politics. English statesmen, especially Liberals, who regard Ireland with serious intensity of feeling, offer great opportunities to men of Gorman’s temperament. But he thought that still more amusement might be obtained by playing politics with people like Steinwitz, von Moll, and the immensely pompous Emperor.
Donovan was anxious that Gorman should stay on the island. He listened, reluctantly, to all the Queen had to tell him. He heard about the cisterns in the cave. He was told of von Moll’s mysterious activities, of Smith’s suspicious conduct, of the Emperor’s fixed determination to get the island back for Konrad Karl. He professed to regard the whole business as a bore.
“Buried treasure, pirate hoards and other mysteries,” he said, “have no kind of attraction for me. I feel sort of discouraged when they bubble up round me. You’re young, Daisy, and naturally inclined to romantic joys. Just you butt in and worry round according to your own fancy. There’s only one thing I’d rather you didn’t do. Don’t get interfering in any serious way with Smith. Smith’s a valuable man.”
Later on he spoke to Gorman.
“As a public man,” he said, “your time has got value. You’re wanted, Gorman, and that’s a fact. The cause of Ireland is a sacred trust and I’m not speaking against it; but if a subscription to the party funds would set you free for a month—— Now can another patriot be hired at a reasonable salary to take your place? If he can, you name the figure and I’ll write the cheque. The fact is, it’ll be a mighty convenient thing to me if you’ll take hold of things here. Daisy’s dead set on unearthing mysteries. I don’t say there aren’t any mysteries. There may be. But it doesn’t suit me to be wrapped up in them. Then I understand that one of your European monarchs is fidgeting round, wanting to take this island off my hands. Daisy says he’s an Emperor. Now I won’t have emperors worrying me. I’ve never gone in for emperors to any extent, and I’m not inclined to begin now. I’m a plain American citizen with democratic principles and a disordered heart. I’d be obliged to you, Gorman, if you’d stay here and kind of elbow off that Emperor when he intrudes. There’s only one point about which I’d like you to be careful. I mentioned it to Daisy. She tells me that Smith answers to the name of Fritz and she regards that as a suspicious circumstance. Now, it doesn’t matter a cent to me whether Smith calls himself Fritz or Leonardo da Vinci or Ivanovitch Ivanokoff. So long as he isn’t signing cheques one name is as good as another. And if Smith writes letters to the Emperor—that’s what Daisy says—I don’t see that it hurts me any. Every man has his own little pleasures, and in a free country he oughtn’t to be hindered in the pursuit. I’ve known men who collected stamps. It seemed foolish to me, but it didn’t interfere with me. Same thing with Smith. I don’t happen to care about writing letters to emperors, but Smith does. See?”
Gorman did not want to worry or annoy Smith in any way. He recognized the man’s value. His mind was more actively curious than Donovan’s. He wanted to know what was going on, what von Moll had been doing, what the Emperor aimed at, what Smith’s real business was, but he also appreciated, no less than Donovan, good food, comfort and smooth service. He liked to be sure that his wants would be supplied, his wishes anticipated, his habits intelligently studied. Without Smith life on Salissa would be robbed of a great deal which made it attractive.
When Gorman made up his mind to stay on Salissa he wrote three letters. One of them was to King Konrad Karl and was addressed to an hotel in Paris. He said briefly that the Donovans would not sell the island and that it was not the least use trying to arrange a marriage with the Queen. He advised the King to enjoy himself as much as he could in Paris and to spend his money before it was taken from him. He added a postscript.
“If the Emperor sends a man called von Moll to negotiate with you—a sort of naval officer who likes giving orders—ask him whether he had many casualties in his last sea battle.”
His next letter was to Steinwitz. In it, too, he announced the complete failure of his mission.
“The fact is,” he added, by way of explanation, “that these Americans don’t know enough about your Emperor to be properly impressed. Could you send along a good-sized photo of him, in uniform if possible? I am sure it would have a great effect.”
Then he wrote to Sir Bartholomew Bland-Potterton. Knowing how all members of our governing classes delight in official fussiness he threw his letter into a telegraphic form.
“Things more complicated than anticipated,” he wrote. “Will Government recognize Salissa as independent state? Query attitude President U. S. A. Urgent.—Gorman.”
He read over what he had written with extreme satisfaction. It pleased him to think that Steinwitz would immediately go out and buy an enormous photograph of the Emperor; that he would send it out to Salissa with perfect confidence in the effect it would produce. It was also pleasant to think of Konrad Karl and Madame Ypsilante making efforts to get rid of the remains of Donovan’s money by scattering it about the streets of Paris. But his despatch to Bland-Potterton pleased him most of all. He imagined that gentleman, swollen with the consciousness of important news, dashing off to the Foreign Office in a taxi-cab, posing Ministers of State with unanswerable conundrums, very probably ruffling the calm waters of Washington with cablegrams of inordinate length and fierce urgency.
He rang the bell for Smith.
“I’ve just written some letters,” he said; “will you send them off to the Ida and ask Captain Wilson to have them posted when he arrives in London or earlier if he calls at any intermediate port.”
“Yes, sir. Certainly, sir. Beg pardon, sir, but will you be staying on in the palace?”
“For a week or two, Smith.”
“Thank you, sir. I’ll make all arrangements. Your luggage will be fetched from the steamer. If you leave your keys with me I’ll see to the unpacking.”
Gorman had no keys.
“By the way, Smith, what’s your Christian name?”
“I asked,” said Gorman, “because I’d a sort of idea that Captain von Moll called you Fritz last night.”
“Very likely, sir. I didn’t notice. It struck me, sir—I don’t know whether you noticed it—that the German gentleman wasn’t quite himself after dinner. He might have called me Fritz, mistaking me for some one else. I understand, sir, that Fritz is a common name in Germany.”
“Very likely,” said Gorman.
Smith left the room. In ten minutes he was back again.
“Luncheon is served, sir. In the small verandah at the south end of the palace. Shall I show you the way?”
He guided Gorman to the small verandah, a pleasant, shady place, opening off the room in which they had dined the night before.
“Is the Queen coming?” asked Gorman.
“I’ve sent a maid to inform her Majesty the luncheon is served, sir.”
Smith stood ready for his duties at the end of the table. Gorman noticed that three places had been laid.
“Mr. Donovan coming?” he asked.
“No, sir. Mr. Donovan scarcely feels well enough. I’m expecting Mr. Phillips, sir. He’s with her Majesty.”
“Ah,” said Gorman. “They may be late.”
They were late. A quarter of an hour late. Gorman guessed the reason at once. No formal announcement was made, but he felt certain that in the course of the morning they had arrived at a satisfactory understanding and were engaged to be married. Gorman felt satisfied that the Emperor’s plan for the Queen’s future was not quite hopeless.
Luncheon was a difficult meal for him. He did his best to keep up a conversation, but neither the Queen nor Phillips seemed capable of understanding what he said. If they answered him at all they said things which were totally irrelevant. For the most part they did not answer. They gazed at each other a good deal and Gorman detected Phillips trying to hold the Queen’s hand under the table. Philips dropped his fork three times. The Queen looked very pretty, much prettier than she had the night before when she was angry with von Moll.
Gorman, in spite of his cynicism, is a kind-hearted man. It gave him a great deal of pleasure to see a girl and a boy in a condition of almost delirious happiness. But he felt that they ought not to be entirely selfish. They intended, apparently, to go off after luncheon, to a distant part of the island, accompanied by Kalliope, whom they could not well shake off. Gorman did not want to be left alone all the afternoon.
“What about going to that cave?” he said. “I’d rather like to find out what von Moll was doing there yesterday.”
The Queen and Phillips looked at each other. They had done little less except look at each other since they came in to luncheon. But this time they looked with a new expression. Instead of fatuous felicity, their faces suggested disappointment.
“I think we ought to do it,” Gorman went on. “That fellow may have been up to any kind of mischief. By the way, is his cave the one the cisterns are in?”
“Yes,” said the Queen.
“That seems to me to settle it,” said Gorman. “We certainly ought to take the matter up vigorously and at once.”
“I suppose so,” said Phillips.
Gorman was really anxious to find out what had been going on in the cave. The fact that von Moll had been acting under the Emperor’s orders stimulated curiosity. It had been puzzling enough to discover, in England, that the Emperor was very anxious to remove the Donovans from the island, and was prepared to adopt all sorts of tortuous ways to get rid of them. It was much more puzzling to find a German naval officer engaged in storing large quantities of rubber tubing in a cave. Gorman confesses that he was utterly unable to make any sort of guess at the meaning of the affair. He was all the more anxious to begin his investigation.
The Queen and Phillips cheered up a little when the party started for the cave. Kalliope rowed, as usual. Gorman—all successful politicians are men of tact—settled himself in the bow of the boat. The Queen and Phillips were together in the stern and held each other’s hands. Gorman pretended to look at the scenery. Kalliope made no pretence at all. She watched the lovers with a sympathetic smile. She was in no way embarrassed by them.
No one—I judge by Gorman’s description—was ever more helplessly in love than Phillips. But even he was roused to other feelings when the boat grounded on the stony beach in the cave. He slipped his hand from the Queen’s and sprang ashore. Even from the boat, before crossing the steep stretch of stones, there were some interesting things to be seen. Von Moll had left his rubber tubing in three great coils in front of the cisterns. Gorman and the Queen followed Phillips. The three stood together and stared at the hose. Phillips estimated that there must have been three or four hundred yards of it. The ends of each coil were fitted with brass caps intended to screw together. Any one of them might have been screwed to the cocks of the cisterns.
There were also many large packing-cases, stacked at the end of the row of cisterns. These were strong, well-made cases and carefully nailed up. The only tool possessed by the party was Phillips’ clasp knife, a serviceable instrument for many purposes, but no use for opening well-secured packing-cases. Gorman fetched one of the iron rowlocks from the boat, but nothing could be done with it. The cases were very heavy. Gorman and Phillips together could not lift one. It seemed likely that they contained metal of some sort.
The cisterns stood exactly where the Queen and Phillips had seen them before. But now they were full instead of being empty. Phillips and then Gorman tapped them one after another. They were all full, up to the very tops. Phillips wasted no time in speculating about what they contained. The rubber hose was unintelligible. The packing-cases could not be opened. It was at all events possible to find out what the cisterns contained. Phillips turned on one of the taps. A thin, strongly smelling liquid streamed out.
“I know that smell,” said the Queen. “It’s—it’s——”
It is extraordinarily difficult to recognize a smell in such a way as to say definitely what it belongs to. Phillips and Gorman sniffed. Like the Queen they knew the smell but could not name it. It was Gorman who fixed it first.
“Petrol,” he said.
“Of course,” said the Queen. “I knew I recognized it.”
“That’s it,” said Phillips. “I was thinking of Elliman’s Embrocation; but it’s petrol, of course.”
“There must be gallons of it here,” said Gorman. “Thousands of gallons.”
Phillips, stretching his arms wide, began to make rough measurements of the cisterns.
“Now why on earth,” said Gorman, “should the Emperor want to store up huge quantities of petrol in this cave?”
It seems odd now that any one could possibly have failed to guess what the petrol was for and why it was there. But early in 1914 very few people were thinking about a war with Germany. Gorman, as a politician, must have heard some talk of such a possibility; but no doubt he regarded all he heard as part of the game that politicians play. Gorman is a man with the instincts of a sportsman. He thought, without any bitterness, of the war threat as a move, not a very astute move, on the part of an imperialist party anxious for office. It was comparable to those which his own party played. The Queen and Phillips had never thought about European politics at all.
And nobody, at that time, had guessed at the part which submarines were to play in war. Civilians, even well-informed men like Gorman, regarded submarines as toys, chiefly dangerous to the crews who manned them. Phillips probably knew how they were propelled. Gorman did not. He had never given a thought to the subject. Like most of the rest of us he associated petrol only with motor-cars or possibly with flying machines. It did not connect itself in his mind with submarines.
“That Emperor!” said Gorman. “I’m hanged if I understand.”
“The Emperor?” said the Queen. “Why should the Emperor be mixed up with it?”
“Why should the Emperor be mixed up with the island?” said Gorman. “Why should the Emperor be mixed up with you? Why should the Emperor be mixed up with anything? I don’t know. I can’t guess. But it was the Emperor who sent the stuff here.”
Phillips was a young man of practical mind, very little given to inquiring into causes and reasons. But he had a thoroughly British respect for the rights of property and the privileges of ownership.
“Anyhow,” he said, “he’s no earthly right to dump his stuff here without asking leave. Salissa isn’t his island.”
From the tap which he had already turned on the petrol was flowing freely. It trickled down among the stones, and some of it had already reached the sea. It was spreading, a smooth, thin film across the water of the cave.
“I vote we run it all off,” he said.
He looked at the Queen and then at Gorman.
“If a man puts his cow on my lawn,” said Gorman, “I suppose I’ve a right to turn it out again.”
That was approval enough for Phillips. He walked deliberately along the line of cisterns, turning on the taps as he went.
“Hold on a minute,” said Gorman. “We don’t want the stuff flowing over the Queen’s shoes. She must get into the boat.”
A few minutes later the water of the cave was entirely covered with petrol. The air was acrid with the smell of it. The Queen held her handkerchief to her nose.
“Let’s get out of this as quick as we can,” she said.