The Island Mystery/Chapter 3
GORMAN realized that the development of Megalia was not an enterprise likely to attract the British capitalist. Still all things are possible in business, the business of company promoting. He set to work to collect what information he could about the country. The library of the House of Commons was useless to him. Megalia is the only country in the world about which no Blue Book ever has been published. A belief existed among certain city men interested in mining speculation, that there was copper in the mountains of Megalia; but no one had any exact information on the subject. Longwood, the Balkan correspondent of the New York Press, was in London at this time, and Gorman got hold of him. He had little to say about Megalia except that all the inhabitants are brigands. Steinwitz, managing director of the Cyrenian Sea Steam Navigation Company, professed to be interested in Megalia. He was certainly interested in the fact that Gorman was making inquiries about the country. He said that there were no harbours or possible ports of call on the Megalian coast.
“Nothing,” he said, “can be done with that country. Nothing at all. There is no trade, no traffic of any kind. And there cannot be. If there were anything to be done in Megalia, we should have had a steamer going there. Our ships pass the coast. But they do not call. Never.”
This interview, curiously enough, was the one thing which gave Gorman any hope. Steinwitz was plainly anxious to discourage inquiries about Megalia. And Steinwitz had the reputation of being a very astute man.
Gorman tabulated the information he had acquired. He produced, after some thought, a few notes on Megalia which might be embodied in a plausible prospectus.
1. A Megalian Development Company would have a clear field and no competition to face. Gorman felt that this was a fair deduction from the fact that nobody knew anything definite about the country.
2. The mineral wealth of Megalia is untapped. Nobody had ever taken any copper from the mountains and nobody denied that it was there. It was therefore fair to say that the mineral wealth of the country was untapped.
3. The inhabitants are energetic and enterprising, a vigorous and courageous race. Sluggards and decadents, so Gorman felt, do not become brigands.
That was all the material Gorman had to work with. Except the one fact, which could not be published, that Steinwitz, the director of a German Shipping Company with its headquarters in London, did not want public attention turned to Megalia. The floating of a company, even if the King offered every concession, did not seem to be a hopeful enterprise.
Gorman did not, in the end, attempt to form that company. A second dinner at Beaufort’s showed him another way of saving the unfortunate King Konrad Karl from ruin. This time the invitation came from Mr. Donovan.
The Donovans occupied one of the best suites of rooms in that sumptuous hotel. The old gentleman had the satisfaction of stretching himself in beautifully upholstered chairs and dropping cigar ashes on highly gilt tables. He was suffering, so he believed, from disordered action of the heart, induced by the toil and excitement of making a large fortune. Several doctors agreed in recommending complete rest and quiet. Mr. Donovan was convinced that rest and quiet would be pleasant as well as beneficial. He left Chicago, where such things are certainly not to be found, and sought them in London. For a time he believed he had found them. He sat all day in his room at Beaufort’s, waited on by footmen who wore gold-braided coats, crimson breeches and silk stockings, looking like very dignified ambassadors. He signed cheques payable to Miss Daisy. He exerted himself in no other way. But rest and quiet are hard to come by. Letters pursued him from Chicago. Thoughtless people even cabled to him. Secretaries of benevolent societies discovered him. The London agents of American financiers rang him up on telephones. Finally Miss Daisy, having drunk deep of the delights of London, became restless.
At first she had enjoyed life thoroughly. She had a marble-fitted bathroom for her sole use. She slept in a beautiful bed under a painted ceiling. She tried on dresses for hours every day in front of huge gilt mirrors. She gathered in immense quantities the peculiar treasures of Bond Street. Then she began to yearn for something more. Her father considered her demands, thought of his own disordered heart and asked Gorman to dinner.
The conversation at first ran along natural lines. The sights of London were discussed. The plays which Miss Daisy had seen and the picture galleries she had visited were criticized. Then Gorman was called on to give opinions about the books she had not found time to read. London and its attractions were compared with Chicago and Detroit; Miss Daisy preferred London. Her father said there were points about Detroit, but that quiet was no more obtainable in one than the other. Afterwards politics were touched on. Miss Daisy gave it as her opinion that the Irish Party was rather slow about getting Home Rule. She displayed a considerable knowledge of affairs, and told Gorman frankly that he ought to have been able to buy up a substantial majority of the British House of Commons with the money, many hundred thousand dollars, which her father and other Americans had subscribed.
Gorman has always been of opinion that women are incapable of understanding politics. Miss Daisy’s direct and simple way of attacking great problems confirmed him in his belief that Woman Suffrage would be a profound mistake.
He was relieved when, after dinner, Donovan himself started a new subject.
“I hear,” he said, “that there is a king, a European monarch, resident in this hotel. That so?”
“King Konrad Karl II of Megalia,” said Gorman.
“Friend of yours?”
“Well, yes,” said Gorman. “I’ve had some business connection with him.”
“I’m interested in that monarch,” said Donovan. “It was Daisy drew my attention to him first, and then I made inquiries. He’s not considered a first-class king, I reckon. Doesn’t move in the best royal circles. He could be approached, without diplomatic formalities, by a plain American citizen.”
“There’s not the least difficulty about approaching him,” said Gorman. “I don’t believe you’d care for him much if you knew him, and——”
Gorman cast about for the best way of saying that King Konrad Karl would not be a desirable friend for Miss Daisy. Donovan saved him the trouble of finding a suitable phrase.
“He could be approached,” he said, “by a plain American citizen, if that citizen came with a business proposition in his hand.”
Gorman saw what he believed to be an opportunity. Donovan apparently wanted to do business with the King. Such business must necessarily be connected with Megalia. A company for the development of that country could be founded without difficulty if a man of Donovan’s enormous wealth took up a substantial block of shares. Gorman poured out all the information he had collected about Megalia. Donovan listened to him in silence. It was Miss Daisy who spoke at last.
“What you say about the enterprising nature of those inhabitants interests me,” she said, “but I am not much taken with the notion of copper mining. It seems to me that copper mines would be liable to spoil the natural beauty of the landscape.”
Gorman was, for the moment, too much surprised to speak. He had been in America several times and knew a good many American women. He realized their independence of character and mental vigour. But he did not expect that a young girl, fresh from college, enjoying the first taste of London, would take a leading part in discussing a matter of business. Before he had made up his mind what line to take with Miss Daisy, Donovan shot a question at him.
“What size is that monarchy?” he said.
“The actual boundaries are a little uncertain,” said Gorman, “but I think we may say a hundred miles by about thirty.”
“Inhabitants? Is it considerably settled?”
“I should guess the population at about 10,000.”
Gorman glanced at his daughter. Miss Daisy’s eyes gleamed with pleasurable excitement.
“I’ll buy that monarchy,” said Donovan, “money down, and I expect the King and I won’t fall out about the price. But if I buy, I buy the section and all fixings, royal palace, throne, crown and title. I’m particular about the title.”
Miss Daisy jumped from her chair and ran round the table. She flung her arms round her father’s neck and kissed him heartily, first on one cheek, then on the other.
“You darling!” she said.
Donovan disengaged his head from her embrace and turned to Gorman.
“My little girl has taken a notion,” he said, “that she’d like to be a queen. The thing might be worked by marrying; but we don’t either of us care for that notion. She’d be tied up if she married, and she might tire. My idea—and hers—is that it’s better to buy what we want right out. I don’t say that Megalia is precisely the kingdom I’d have chosen for her. I’d have preferred a place with a bigger reputation, one better advertised by historians. But I realize that the European monarchy market has been cornered by a syndicate, and I can’t just step down and buy what I like. Your leading families, so I understand, have secured options on the best kingdoms and won’t part.”
Miss Daisy was still standing with her arms round her father’s neck. She hugged him as she spoke.
“I shall just love Megalia,” she said. “I’d far rather have it than one three times the size.”
“Well,” said her father, “I guess there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have it.”
Gorman saw several reasons, excellent ones, why Daisy Donovan could never be queen of Megalia. He began to explain them. Kingdoms cannot be bought and sold like horses. There are emperors and other kings to consider. There is the Balance of Power in Europe. There are ambassadors, chancelleries, statesmen. He was not at all sure that the Monroe Doctrine, in an inverted form, might not be an absolute bar to the purchase of a European kingdom by an American. Donovan brushed the difficulties aside.
“Those points,” he said, “will be considered in settling the price. I’m aware that Europe has its prejudices. I’m not out to trample on them. Genuine vested interests owned by other monarchs will be paid for. Ambassadors and chancellors will be taken on and employed at their old salaries as part of a going concern.”
Gorman is, like the Megalians, enterprising and full of courage. He did not believe that the sale of the Crown of Megalia could possibly be carried through; but something might be done which would satisfy Donovan. An estate, carrying with it a title like that of Grand Duchess, might be made over to Miss Daisy. All kings possess the power of conferring titles. If such honours are freely sold in a country like England, there could be no possible objection to the King of Megalia taking a reasonable price for creating a Grand Duchess, even, perhaps, a princess. Donovan’s next words made Gorman determine to try what he could do.
“There’ll be a rake-off from the purchase price,” said Donovan, “for the man who arranges the sale. I don’t kick against a reasonable percentage.”