The Island Mystery/Chapter 21
I DO not think that the Emperor’s plan for restoring Salissa to the Crown of Megalia by means of a marriage would have worked, even if there had been no such person as Maurice Phillips. The Queen did not like Konrad Karl. She was not, of course, openly disagreeable or uncivil to him. She was too sweet-tempered and good-hearted to be disagreeable to any one, and she had a strong sense of what was due to a guest in her house. But it was plain enough not only to Gorman, but to the King himself, that she did not like him. This does not appear to have been the King’s fault. Konrad Karl had many of the instincts of a gentleman. It is an odd fact, but I think undeniable, that a man may be a blackguard and remain a gentleman. There was, for instance, no fault to be found with Konrad Karl’s behaviour towards the Queen, though he had come to the island intending to insult her by marrying her. He did his best to talk pleasantly to her, and he could be very pleasant when he chose. He never attempted to flirt with her. His manner was always respectful and he tried to help her in various ways, even going to her school in the mornings and giving the children drawing lessons. She could not herself have told why she disliked him. She certainly had no idea that there was any question of his marrying her. But she slipped into the habit of spending most of her time in the boat with Kalliope. Konrad Karl used to go down to the palace steps and see her off. He never ventured into a boat himself. He had an uneasy feeling that the Megalian admiral was watching him and would kidnap him at once if he left the security of the land.
The Queen’s unfriendliness did not trouble him much.
“The American girl,” he said to Gorman, “would not have done for me, or do I say she would have done for me? Which is it?”
“Well,” said Gorman, “either expresses your meaning and I quite agree with you. She would not have done for you, and in the long run if you didn’t do for her she would certainly have done for you.”
“The English language is wonderful,” said the King. “She would not, and she would. It is the same in English. But my meaning is true. It is well I did not marry her. I must give many thanks to Phillips. If Phillips had not done for her I should have been done for.”
“As it is,” said Gorman, “it’s the Emperor who’s done.”
“Ah,” said the King. “I give in. I give up. I give out. That word ‘done’—it is too much for me.”
It was not like the King to give in to an English idiom. As a rule he rushed at one the minute he heard it with reckless confidence. But he was depressed and lonely on Salissa. He chatted cheerily enough to Donovan. He was always bright and talkative at meals. But he confessed to Gorman several times that he missed Madame Ypsilante very much.
It was Gorman’s curious fortune at this time to receive the love confidences of three different people. Phillips had poured raptures into his ear during the voyage to the island. The Queen, having no one else to treat as a confidant, often talked to him about Phillips. The King was expansive about Madame Ypsilante. One evening he became very sentimental, almost lachrymose. He and Gorman were sitting together near the flagstaff, smoking and looking out towards the harbour where the Megalian navy still lay at anchor.
“Ah,” said the King, “my poor Corinne! She will languish. I think of Corinne and I see that her eyes are full of mourning, like the eyes of a wood dove. Gorman, I cannot bear the weight. It will be better that I take the risk, that I go on the navy. The admiral will make me walk a plank. That is certain. But it might be that I should survive. And then I should rejoin Corinne, poor Corinne who mourns.”
“I don’t expect she’s mourning as much as all that,” said Gorman. “She’s got those pearls, you know.”
“I,” said the King, “I alone am her pearl. But, alas, I cannot even write to her. She will think that I am dead and her heart will fall to pieces.”
“She’s much more likely to think that you’ve married Miss Donovan,” said Gorman.
“Of course she will think that. It was what I came to do. That she will not mind. But if she thinks that I am dead, that the admiral has cooked a goose for me; then she will indeed be sad. Gorman, my friend, what shall I do to reassure her?”
“I can’t possibly advise you,” said Gorman. “I don’t understand women. I should have thought she’d much rather you were dead than married to Miss Donovan.”
“Ah no,” said the King. “Believe me, my friend, you know much; but you do not know the heart of Corinne.”
The King’s faith was very touching. But Gorman still maintains that he was not far wrong about Madame Ypsilante’s feelings. She might not actually have preferred the King’s death; but she certainly did not want to see him married to Miss Donovan.
The King drew a last mouthful of smoke from his cigar and then flung the end of it into the sea.
“Gorman,” he said, “what is it that your great English poet had so beautifully said? ‘If you were the only girl in the world and I were the only boy.’ That is Corinne and me. ‘A garden of Eden just made for two.’ That is Paris. I have always admired the English poets. It is so true, what they say.”
He gazed out across the bay as he spoke. The sun was setting. The water was exquisitely calm. It was a moment for the most luscious sentiment. Even Gorman, to whom sentiment is an abhorrent kind of indecency, felt uncomfortable.
A small boat slipped round the southern headland of the bay. She was rowing fast. The King jumped to his feet suddenly. He pointed to the boat. He waved his arms wildly.
“Buck up,” he shouted, “it is—I will eat my hat—it is Corinne! She comes to me!”
“Nonsense,” said Gorman. “That’s Miss Donovan’s boat. She’s coming home for dinner. Sit down and don’t get excited.”
“I am sorry,” said the King, “but I cannot. It is impossible for me to keep on my hair when Corinne is coming.”
“Corinne isn’t coming,” said Gorman. “How could she?”
“I see her. I see her. The dickens, and Great Jupiter, my eyes see her.”
“You can’t tell one woman from another at that distance. What you see is either Miss Donovan or Kalliope.”
The boat drew rapidly nearer. Gorman stared at her.
“There are three women,” he said. “I wonder who the other is.”
“Corinne. Corinne,” said the King.
To Gorman’s amazement the King was right. The boat reached the landing steps. In her were the Queen, Kalliope and a very dishevelled Madame Ypsilante. That lady was never, at any time of her life, an outdoor woman. When she travelled it was in the wagons-lits of trains-de-luxes, and in specially reserved cabins of steamers. Her journey to Salissa had been performed in far less luxurious ways and her appearance had suffered. Her complexion was streaky. Her hair straggled about a good deal, and several damp-looking locks hung like thick bootlaces around her face. Her dress was crumpled and had two large patches of dirt on it. But all this made no difference to the King. He folded her in his arms and kissed her directly she got out of the boat.
“Corinne,” he said, “now I shall be no longer sad.”
Madame returned his kisses with vigour.
“My Konrad,” she said, “and you are not married after all.”
It was that remark, her greeting to the King, which made Gorman feel sure that he had been right about her feeling, that she really did not like the idea of the marriage.
Konrad Karl took her by the hand and led her into the palace.
The Queen was still sitting in the stern of the boat. Since Madame Ypsilante fell into Konrad Karl’s arms the Queen had turned her back on the landing slip and gazed steadily out to sea. Only when the sound of their footsteps made her sure that her guests were going into the palace did she venture to look round cautiously.
“It’s all right,” said Gorman. “You can come on shore.”
He held out his hand to her.
“And do tell me,” he said, “where you found her. She looked to me rather as if she had been washed up some time yesterday and had spent last night in a cave.”
“Who is she?” said the Queen.
“Her name,” said Gorman, “is Ypsilante, Madame Corinne Ypsilante.”
“She told me that much. But I want to know what is she?”
The question was an awkward one to answer. Gorman did the best he could.
“A friend of the King’s,” he said.
“Well,” said the Queen. “He’ll be able to marry her now. The poor thing was in dreadful distress. She thought he was going to marry me. And she’s engaged to him. She told me so herself.”
I am sure that Gorman did not smile; but there must have been a twinkle in his eyes which betrayed him. The Queen is extremely quick at reading such signs. She turned on him sharply.
“Aren’t they engaged to be married?” she asked.
“Kings,” said Gorman, “are in a peculiar position with regard to these matters. Their matrimonial arrangements are not made in what we regard as the normal way. To speak of a king as being ‘engaged’ is——”
“I’m a queen.”
“Of course. Of course.”
“And I’m engaged to be married; so why can’t he be? Anyhow he is, for she told me so. I asked her and she said yes!”
Gorman did not feel equal to arguing about the precise nature of Madame Ypsilante’s claims on the King.
“You haven’t told me yet where you found her,” he said.
“Kalliope and I,” said the Queen, “were picnicking in a little bay a long way from this, quite the other side of the island. There was a fishing boat standing in towards the shore. It came to our beach and she got out. That’s all.”
“Quite simple after all,” said Gorman. “I suppose you were scarcely even surprised.”
“Well, I was rather,” said the Queen, “just at first until she told me.”
“Told you what?” said Gorman. “You’re skipping all the interesting part.”
“Don’t be stupid,” said the Queen. “She told me about being engaged to the King and thinking that he was going to marry me. Of course, when she thought that she came here as quick as ever she could to see him. Any one would. Not that I’d ever think such a thing about Maurice. But then he wouldn’t. Still, I quite understand her coming here in a boat. But I do wonder what made her think he was going to marry me. He never even tried. Who could have told her such a thing?”
“Probably the Emperor,” said Gorman.
The Queen burst out laughing.
“I believe,” she said, “that if the house fell down and Kalliope eloped with Smith and father took to rowing races with old Stephanos you’d put it all down to the Emperor.”
“I would,” said Gorman.
“Anyhow, I’m going to dress now. Come along, Kalliope.”
Madame Ypsilante, very much to Gorman’s relief, did not appear at dinner. She went straight to bed, intending, so the King said, to stay there for twenty-four hours at least.
Later in the evening, after the Queen had left them, Konrad Karl, Donovan and Gorman sat together smoking. For a while no one spoke. At last Konrad Karl, who had no gift of silence, began:
“My poor Corinne! She was desolate. I told you, Gorman, that she would be desolate, but you would not believe. Yet it was so. Steinwitz said, ‘No. You cannot go with the King.’ But she was more than too much, she was the equal of Steinwitz. She told him all she thought of him. It was much.”
“I don’t like Steinwitz,” said Gorman, “but what I know of Madame’s conduct in moments of strong emotion I’m inclined to pity the man.”
“Then,” said the King, “she was like a bee, making lines for Salissa.”
“She did pretty well,” said Gorman, “considering that she could only get a fishing boat for the last part of the journey. I wonder she got here so soon. But look here, you know—it seems a beastly thing to say, but——”
Here Donovan roused himself.
“I’m not a narrow-minded man,” he said, “and I hope I’m not the victim of prejudice; but I’m afraid——”
King Konrad Karl waved his hand. Then he stood up, swallowed half a glass of brandy and laid down his cigar.
“I am Konrad Karl of Megalia,” he said. “I am a black sheep, very black. I am a blackguard. You say it, Donovan. You say it, Gorman, my friend.”
“I didn’t,” said Gorman.
“Cut that part,” said Donovan. “Nobody wants to start in abusing you.”
“I am,” said the King with an air of simple pride, “I am a blackguard, the blackest guard of all. Good. But I am a King and I am a gentleman. Good. I know that poor Corinne must go. She cannot stay here. That is what you would say, and you are right. I know it. There are les convenances. There is the charming Miss Donovan.”
“That’s it,” said Donovan. “If it were simply a matter of Gorman and me—— I don’t like saying these things—but——”
“But you are right,” said the King. “Right as nails. Corinne must go. But I go with her. To-morrow we depart, she and I. We take a boat. I row with oars. We fly. The navy of Megalia pursues. It overtakes. Good. We die. Perhaps the navy mistakes. It pursues by another route, a way we have not gone. Good. We live. Either way you shut us. No. We shut you. No. I have it. We are shut of us.”
“That’s rather a hopeless programme,” said Gorman. “I don’t suppose you can row much.”
“I cannot row at all,” said the King.
“The navy is a pretty rotten-looking tub,” said Gorman. “But it can hardly help catching you. You won’t even be out of sight before it has steam up.”
The King sat down, looking very miserable. He made no pretence of liking the prospect before him.
“And Corinne,” he murmured, “will be sick, as a dog is sick. She is sick always at sea.”
Gorman and Donovan felt sorry for him. Donovan was particularly irritated at the situation in which he found himself.
“If it wasn’t for my daughter——” he said. “But, damn it all, what can I do?”
“I wonder,” said Gorman, “if it would be possible to—well, shall we say regularize the situation?”
He looked inquiringly at Donovan and then at the King. Donovan grasped the idea first.
“That’s it,” he said. “Look here,” he turned to the King. “Why the hell don’t you marry her at once? Then everything would be all right.”
“Marry her!” said the King. “But that—— Oh, damn! Oh Great Scott! That is impossible. You do not understand.”
“It’s the right thing to do,” said Donovan, “besides being the only possible way out of the hole we are in. And I don’t see the impossibility. If you’re holding back on account of any mediæval European notions about monarchs being a different kind of flesh and blood from other people——”
“It is not that,” said the King.
“If it is,” said Donovan, “you may just go off in a boat and be drowned. I shan’t pity you.”
“But it is not that.” The King jumped about with excitement. “I am a king, it is true. But I am a man of liberated soul. I say ‘Kings, what are kings?’ Democracy is the card to play, the trump. I play it now and always. I have no prejudices. But when you say to me: ‘There is no impossibility, marry Corinne,’ I reply: ‘You do not understand. There is one thing more to reckon with.’ Donovan, you have forgotten——”
“I haven’t forgotten,” said Gorman. “I never get a chance of forgetting. It’s the Emperor, as usual.”
“You have shot the bull in his eye,” said the King. “Donovan, it is that. Gorman knows. There is the Emperor. Therefore I cannot marry Corinne.”
“I’d see that Emperor a long way,” said Donovan, “before I’d allow him to dictate to me.”
“Ah,” said the King, “but you do not understand the Emperor.”
“I don’t believe any one does,” said Gorman.
“Well,” said Donovan, “I do not understand your Emperor. I own up to that. But you think over my suggestion, and you’ll find, Emperor or no Emperor, there isn’t any genuine obstacle.”