The Island Mystery/Chapter 19
THE next fortnight was something of a disappointment to Gorman. He admits that. He had made his choice between Ireland and Salissa. It certainly seemed as if he had chosen wrongly. I remember—everybody remembers—how exciting Irish affairs were during the latter half of July, 1914. The country was like a pot, full of water on the verge of boiling. Every day an event of some sort formed like a bubble far down in the depths of Irish life, rose rapidly, and burst on the surface with a little splash. The bubbles were large or small, sometimes no more than pinheads in size, but they were evidences that the boiling point was very near. The surface of the water, that region where governing persons and leaders of public opinion air themselves, was already agitated with odd-looking swirls, sudden swayings, unaccountable swellings, all very ominous of imminent turmoil.
There were landings of arms here and there, furiously denounced by the people who had run their own cargoes the week before or intended to run them the next week. There were hurried gatherings of committees which sat in private conclaves and then issued manifestos which nobody read. Minor officials were goaded into orgies of fussiness. Major officials, statesmen, escaped when they could, to the comparative calm of suffragette-haunted public meetings in England. A Buckingham Palace Conference set all sorts of people arguing about constitutional precedents. It was recognized on all sides that a settlement of the Irish question must somehow be reached. Gorman, if he had stayed at home, would have been in the thick of it all. It is perhaps wrong to say that he would have enjoyed himself thoroughly; but life would have been an interesting and exciting thing. Salissa remained provokingly dull and uneventful.
Gorman went to the cave again, on the day after he had first seen the tanks and run von Moll’s petrol to waste. He went by himself. The Queen and Phillips took no further interest in the mystery for the moment. They went off together early in the day and did not return until evening. Even Gorman could not blame them. It was their last day together. It was gloriously fine. The island, with its white cliffs, its golden-sanded coves, its vineyards, its pleasant, shaded groves, was a paradise for lovers. And the Ida—Captain Wilson insisted on that—sailed the next day, carrying Phillips away with her.
Gorman achieved very little by his second visit to the cave. He took with him several tools, a short axe, a screw-driver and a hammer. He forced open some of the packing-cases which were piled near the cistern. They were filled with steel bars of various sizes, steel wrought into various shapes and odd-looking coils of copper wire. Gorman knew little of engineering or mechanics. He was merely puzzled by what he saw. It seemed to him that von Moll had used the cave as a storehouse for uncompleted machines of a complicated kind. What the machines were he did not know. Why von Moll, acting no doubt by the Emperor’s orders, should have dumped them there was beyond guessing.
Though Gorman was disappointed he found life on Salissa pleasant enough. He was exceedingly comfortable, thanks to Smith’s devotion to duty. He had many long talks with Donovan, which he enjoyed, for Donovan was always amusing and stimulating. He saw a great deal of the Queen, helped her to make plans for the future of the island, listened when she talked about Phillips. There was a mixture of shyness with frank simplicity in the way she spoke about her lover which Gorman found very attractive. Sometimes he went out with Kalliope’s lover in the largest island boat and watched the casting of nets. Once or twice he tried to get into intimate conversation with Smith, hoping that the man, caught off his guard, might drop a hint that would give some clue to the meaning of the cisterns, the petrol, the machinery and the Emperor’s curious interest in the island. But Smith took shelter behind the manner of a good servant, the most impenetrable of all defences. Gorman never got anything out of him except a deferential “Yes, sir,” or, in reply to some leading question, “Don’t know, sir, I’m sure.” Or perhaps, “Indeed, sir!” in a tone of respectful surprise.
Gorman was at that time inclined to think that he had made a mistake in not going home on the Ida. Apart from the exciting movements of Irish affairs about which he could only speculate, he felt sure that it was in London, not on the island, that the most important developments of the Salissa mystery would take place. He wanted to know what Steinwitz was doing, and whether Konrad Karl was still enjoying his spendthrift holiday in Paris. He would have liked to be in a position to watch the fussy activities of Sir Bartholomew Bland-Potterton. Later on I was able to tell him something, not of Steinwitz or Konrad Karl, but about Sir Bartholomew. It was impossible to live in London during the latter part of July without perpetually bumping against Bland-Potterton. He was like the ball on a rapidly spun roulette board. He seemed to be flung about from place to place with extreme rapidity in an utterly irregular manner. It was impossible to guess where he would be or in what direction he would move. I came across him one day in Cockspur Street. He was signalling wildly for a taxi-cab. He grasped my arm with his left hand and shook it with frenzied vehemence.
“Just off to the Foreign Office,” he said. “Can’t wait to talk now. Haven’t a minute. See you later.”
There was no reason why he should have stopped to talk to me even if he had not been going to the Foreign Office. I should certainly not have tried to detain him. Bland-Potterton bores me. I did indeed see him later, though I certainly did not want to. It was at a reception, a gorgeous but uncomfortable affair in Ellesmere House. Bland-Potterton was in a corner with a highly decorated foreigner who looked like a stage brigand. I found out afterwards that he was the Megalian ambassador. Bland-Potterton was talking to him with intense earnestness.
Another day he dashed at me in the smoking-room of the club. I was half asleep at the moment and desired nothing in the world so much as to be let alone. But Bland-Potterton woke me by whispering in my ear. He might just as well have spoken in the ordinary way. There was only one other man in the room and he was quite asleep. Besides, Bland-Potterton’s whisper carries further than most men’s conversational voices.
“Have you,” he hissed, “any news from Gorman? A letter? A message? Anything?”
“No,” I said, “I haven’t. Why the deuce should I? Is he gun-running, or threatening to vote against the Government, or likely to be arrested?”
“No, no, no. Nothing of that sort. Nothing to do with Ireland. It’s this unfortunate business with the Emperor. But I mustn’t say any more. The Embassies are nervous, you know.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Which Embassies?”
“The—the—the—well, practically all except the Chinese.”
“Wonderful people the Chinese,” I said. “So calm. We ought to imitate them more than we do.”
Bland-Potterton did not think so. He went on fussing. He rushed about London, creating small whirlpools behind him as if he had been a motor-boat. I had the greatest difficulty at times in not being sucked into his wake.
All this Gorman would have enjoyed hugely. I felt sorry that he was missing it. However, in the end he had his compensation.
One day during the last week in July—Gorman is no more to be relied on for an exact date than Donovan or the Queen—a steamer arrived in Salissa. She was a remarkable looking steamer and flew a flag which neither Gorman nor Donovan had ever seen before. She had two small guns, mounted one on the fore-deck and one right aft. She had a smart, well-cared-for look, as if she were a yacht, or belonged to some navy. But she was very old. Gorman says that she reminded him of the pictures of the royal yacht in which Queen Victoria came to Ireland to open Kingstown harbour at the very beginning of her reign. She was a paddle steamer. She had an exaggerated form of fiddle bow, a long bowsprit and two tall masts on which sails might easily have been set.
Gorman is nothing of a sailor and is almost totally uninterested in ships. This steamer must have been very old-fashioned indeed to have struck him as being odd. She arrived in the harbour at midday and splashed about a good deal with her paddles as if she were rather pleased with herself and thought she had a right to the admiration of the islanders. There was only one modern thing about her. The splayed-out wires of a Marconi installation stretched between her masts.
Gorman was sitting with Donovan when the steamer arrived. They had spent a pleasant hour discussing, in a desultory manner, whether a nation gains or loses by having a titled aristocracy. Donovan preferred the British to the American system. Statesmen, he pointed out, must make some return to the rich for the money which they provide to keep politics going. It is on the whole better to give titles than to alter tariffs in return for subscriptions to party funds. The subject was not a very interesting one and both men were pleased when the arrival of the steamer gave them a new topic.
“Seems to me,” said Donovan, “that Daisy might gather in some revenue by charging harbour dues. This is the second ship, not reckoning the Ida, which has put in here since I arrived.”
“I don’t know that flag,” said Gorman. “Not that that means anything. I don’t suppose there are half a dozen flags that I do know.”
“There was some mention made of an Emperor,” said Donovan. “Daisy seemed to think that one might come nosing round, thinking to buy the island. Perhaps that’s him.”
“Hardly in that steamer,” said Gorman. “She looks as if she’d been built a hundred years ago. One of the first ever launched, I should think.”
“Well,” said Donovan, “I’m not an expert in the habits of European Emperors; but I’ve always been told that the state coach in which the King of England goes to open Parliament dates back quite a bit in the matter of shape. An Emperor might feel that he owed it to his historic past to sail the ocean in the nearest thing he could get to the ark of the patriarch Noah.”
The argument was sound; but Gorman was not inclined to think that the Emperor was paying a visit to Salissa in person. He was just going to say so when Smith came on to the balcony. He carried a pair of field glasses in his hand, which he laid on the table beside Donovan’s chair.
“Beg pardon, sir,” he said. “I brought up the glasses thinking you might want to look at the strange steamer.”
“Do you know the flag, Smith?” asked Gorman.
“No, sir, can’t say I do. But she looks like a foreigner. Not English. Shall you want anything more, sir?”
Gorman did not at the moment want anything which Smith would supply. He wanted information, but it was useless to ask for that. Smith, who seemed uninterested in the steamer, left the balcony.
Donovan gazed at the steamer through the glasses.
“Well,” he said, “if it’s not an Emperor, it’s the next thing. That’s our little friend Konrad Karl standing on the deck.”
He handed the glasses to Gorman.
King Konrad Karl stood beside the gun on the after-deck of the steamer. He looked neat and cool. He was dressed with care in well-fitting light grey clothes, a soft grey hat and white shoes. The glasses were powerful. Gorman could even see that he wore a pale mauve tie.
“I’m pleased to see that monarch,” said Donovan. “He seemed to me less starched than most members of your aristocracies when I met him in London. Where’s Daisy? She’ll be sorry if she misses the opportunity of welcoming a fellow monarch to her shores.”
“I’m afraid,” said Gorman, “that she’s off at the far side of the island. She told me this morning that she was going over there to plan out an electric power station. There’s a waterfall somewhere. I haven’t seen it myself. The Queen’s idea is to make use of it to light the island.”
Donovan took up the glasses when Gorman laid them down. He watched the steamer.
“The King is wasting no time,” he said. “He’s coming ashore right now. They’re lowering a boat. I wonder what brings him here.”
“He’s probably come to persuade you to give the island back to him, re-sell it.”
“That deal,” said Donovan, “is closed. I’ll be obliged to you, Gorman, if you’ll make that plain to him.”
“I expect the Emperor has sent him.”
“I’d expect some pretty lively bidding,” said Donovan, “with the Emperor and a king in the ring, if the island was up for auction. But it’s not. I’m not going back on my bargain. I’m very well satisfied with Salissa as a place of residence. I feel I might live a long time on Salissa. Come to think of it, there’s no reason why any one should ever die here. It’s worry and annoyance preying on the human heart, which kill men.”
A boat put off from the steamer’s side as Donovan spoke. It rowed towards the palace steps. King Konrad Karl sat in the stern.
“Gorman,” said Donovan, “it will prolong my days if you go down and meet that king. Make it plain to him that it’s no kind of use his trying to talk me round, because I’m not going to listen to him. He’s welcome to stay in the palace as long as he likes. But he’s not to worry me. If he seems any way determined on talking business, you quote the certificate of that doc.”