The Island Mystery/Chapter 22
KING KONRAD KARL slept badly that night. Donovan’s plan seemed to him quite hopeless. He went to bed fully persuaded that he and his beloved Corinne would have to embark next day and make a considerable voyage in an open boat. I do not blame him for being disturbed at the prospect. I am fond of boats myself and can enjoy a ten-tonner very well; but nothing would induce me to go to sea with Madame Ypsilante in anything less comfortable than a well-equipped steam yacht of 1,000 tons. Besides there was the pursuit of the Megalian navy to be considered.
The King was not the only person who missed his proper sleep. Gorman lay awake for two hours. He was tormented by the feeling that it was barbarous to turn Konrad Karl and Madame Ypsilante adrift in a boat. Donovan was more fortunate. He slept untroubled by any worry about his guests. It seemed to him the simplest thing in the world that the King should marry Madame next day. Stephanos should perform the ceremony. Stephanos officiated at all the islanders’ marriages.
There was, as it turned out, neither a flight nor a wedding next day. Madame Ypsilante developed a feverish chill. She was plainly quite unfit for a boat voyage and in no condition to be married. The Queen and Kalliope took up the work of nursing her with enthusiasm. The Queen would not listen to a word Gorman said to her. Her view was that Madame Ypsilante was the heroine of a splendid romance, that she had fled to her fiancé across land and sea, braving awful dangers, enduring incredible hardships for dear love’s sake. She felt that she would have done the same thing herself if Phillips, by any trick of fate, had been marooned on a South Pacific island. There was plainly no use trying to hint at delicate proprieties to a girl in such a mood. Gorman, after one or two attempts, gave it up.
He had, indeed, quite early in the day, other things to attend to. At about ten o’clock there were signs of great activity on board the Megalian navy. The crew—there appeared to be about fifteen men altogether—was paraded on deck and addressed from the bridge by the admiral. The speech must have been an exciting and important one, for the admiral gesticulated violently. When he stopped, the crew cheered. Gorman watched the proceedings. He was interested—as an expert—in the effects of oratory.
When the cheering was over, the admiral gave two or three orders. The crew immediately began to run about the deck in a confused and tumultuous manner. After a while they settled down to the work of getting the covers off the steamer’s two guns. Some shells—Gorman supposed they must be shells—were carried on deck. The guns were swung round and pointed at the palace. Then they were loaded. A solemn business, very carefully carried out under the immediate eye of the admiral.
King Konrad Karl came running to Gorman. He was in a state of considerable excitement.
“That admiral,” he said, “has it in mind to stone the palace. He has stones for those guns. I know it.”
“If it was a matter of stones,” said Gorman, “but they look to me more like shells.”
“Shells, stones, it is the same. He will batter, destroy, slay. Gorman, my friend, it must not be.”
“Why the devil does he want to do it?” said Gorman. “Now don’t say Real Politik or the Emperor. I simply can’t believe that either one or the other would set that pirate shooting at us.”
“It is Real Politik, without doubt,” said the King. “And it is the Emperor. But it is also me, me, Konrad Karl of Megalia. I am—what is it you say in English?—I am wanted. And I go. I offer myself. I become a ewe lamb of sacrifice. I say good-bye. I leave Corinne. I go. Then the admiral will not stone the palace.”
“Don’t start for a minute or two yet,” said Gorman. “The pirate is sending a boat ashore. We may as well hear what he has to say.”
It was the admiral himself who landed. He was in full dress. His uniform was almost entirely covered with gold braid. Gold cords with tassels at their ends hung in festoons across his chest and down his back. He carried a large sword in a highly gilt sheath. On his head was a cocked hat with a tall pink feather in it, perhaps a plume from the tail of the Megalian vulture.
Gorman received him with great respect and led him up to Donovan’s room.
The admiral saluted Donovan gravely, and held out a large paper carefully folded and sealed. Donovan offered him a cigar and a drink, in a perfectly friendly way. The admiral replied by pushing his paper forward towards Donovan. He knew no English. That was the only possible way of explaining the fact that he ignored the offer of a drink. Donovan nodded towards Gorman, who took the document from the admiral and opened it.
“Seems to me to be a kind of state paper,” he said. “Rather like an Act of Parliament to look at; but it’s written in a language I don’t know. Suppose we send for the King and get him to translate.”
“If it’s an Act of Parliament,” said Donovan, “we’d better have Daisy up too. She’s responsible for the government of this island.”
The admiral guessed that his document was under discussion. He did not know English, but he knew one word which was, at that time, common in all languages.
“Ultimatum,” he said solemnly.
“That so?” said Donovan. “Then we must have Daisy.”
I am inclined to think that Miss Donovan will never be a first-rate queen. She is constitutionally incapable of that particular kind of stupidity which is called dignity. In that hour of her country’s destiny, her chief feeling was amusement at the appearance of the admiral. She did not know, perhaps, that the guns of the Megalian navy were trained on her palace. But she ought to have understood that dignified conduct is desirable in dealing with admirals. She sat on the corner of the table beside her father’s chair and swung her legs. She smiled at the admiral. Now and then she choked down little fits of laughter.
King Konrad Karl took the matter much more seriously.
He unfolded the paper which Gorman handed to him. He frowned fiercely and then became suddenly explosive.
“Deuce and Jove and damn!” he said. “This is the limitation of all. Listen, my friends, to the cursed jaw—no, the infernal cheek, of this: ‘The Megalian Government requires——’”
He stopped, gasped, struck at the paper with his hand.
“Go on,” said Gorman. “There’s nothing very bad so far. There is a Megalian Government, I suppose?”
“But I—I am the Megalian Government,” said the King.
“It will be time enough to take up those points of constitutional law afterwards. Let’s hear what’s in the paper first.”
The King read on. His anger gave way by degrees to anxiety and perplexity.
“I cannot translate,” he said. “The English language does not contain words in which to express the damned cheek of these flounders. They say that you,” he pointed to the Queen, “and you, Donovan, and you, my friend Gorman, must go at once on the Megalian navy. It will carry you to Sicily. It will put you there in a dump, and you must embark before noon. Great Scott!”
“Oh, but that’s just silly,” said the Queen. “We shan’t take any notice of it.”
“In that case the admiral shoots,” said the King. “At noon, sharp up to time, precise.”
“Well,” said Donovan, “I guess I don’t mean to move.”
“But,” said the King, “he can shoot. The navy of Megalia has shells for its guns. It has six. I know it, for I bought them myself when I sat on that cursed throne. Six, my friends.”
“That’s a comfort, anyway,” said Donovan. “According to my notion of the efficiency of that navy it will miss the island altogether with the first five and be darned lucky if it knocks a chip off a cliff with the sixth.”
The Queen stopped swinging her feet and laughing at the admiral. She was much more serious now. There was a gleam in her eyes which caught Gorman’s attention.
“Father,” she said, “I’m going to hoist the American flag. I have one in my room.”
“Seems a pity,” said Donovan. “Your blue banner is nice enough.”
“No one,” said the Queen, “would dare to fire on the Stars and Stripes.”
Miss Donovan, though an independent queen, was a patriotic American citizen. In those days there were a good many patriotic American citizens who believed that no one would dare to fire on the Stars and Stripes. King Konrad Karl knew better.
“Alas,” he said, “your Stars! your Stripes! if it were the Megalian Government it would not dare. But this is not the ultimatum outrage of the Megalian Government. Behind it, in the rear of its elbow, stands——”
“Of course he does,” said Gorman.
“That darned Emperor?” said Donovan.
“Daisy,” said Donovan, “I just hate to shatter your ideals, but I reckon that Emperor would as soon fire on one flag as another; and what’s more, I’m not inclined to think that Old Glory is liable to do much in the way of putting up a battle afterwards. It’s painful to you, Daisy, as a patriotic citizen; but what I say is the fact. In the Middle West where I was raised we don’t think guns and shooting constitute the proper way of settling international differences. We’ve advanced some from those ideas. We’re a civilized people, specially in the dry States where university education is rife and the influence of women permeates elections. We’ve attained a nobler outlook upon life.”
The Queen was on her feet. Her eyes were flashing. Her lips trembled with indignation.
“Father,” she said, “are you going to let yourself be bullied by—by that thing?” She pointed to the admiral with a gesture of contempt. “Are you going to sneak on to his ship? Oh, if I were a man I’d hoist the Stars and Stripes and fight. If they killed us America would avenge us.”
“You take me up wrong, Daisy,” said Donovan. “I don’t say I wouldn’t fight if I had a gun. I might, and that’s a fact. But the way I’m fixed at present, not having a gun, I intend to experiment with the methods of peaceful settlement. I’m not above admitting that I share the lofty notions of the cultivated disciples of peace. I’m a humanitarian, and opposed on principle to the sacrifice of human life. I just hate butting in and taking hold. The disordered nature of my heart makes it dangerous for me to exert myself. But it seems to me that this is a case in which I just have to. But if I do, I want to handle things my own way. So you run away now, Daisy. Get that blue banner of yours fluttering in the breeze, defying death and destiny.” He turned to Konrad Karl. “I’d be obliged to you,” he said, “if you’d tell that highly coloured ocean warrior that I count on him not to start shooting till the time mentioned in his ultimatum. That leaves me an hour and a quarter to work with the nobler weapons of civilized pacifist conviction. Tell him to go back to his ship and see that his men don’t get monkeying with those six shells. Gorman,” he went on, “you get hold of Smith and send him up here to me.”
I think it was then that Gorman first realized the strength of Donovan’s personality. The Queen, though she was in a high passion of patriotism and defiance, left the room without a word. Konrad Karl spluttered a little, uttering a series of ill-assorted oaths, but he walked off the Megalian admiral and put him into a boat. Gorman himself did what he was told without asking for a word of explanation.