The Island Mystery/Chapter 4
IT was Gorman’s misfortune that all through the Megalia negotiations he had to deal with women as well as men, indeed sometimes with women rather than men.
Donovan held it as an article of faith that anything in the world can be bought for money, if only there is money enough. But Donovan would not have insisted on justifying his faith by putting it to the test. No one does that. Not even a church, though firmly convinced of its own infallibility, will bludgeon the world into an acceptance of its claim by making decisions about matters which are susceptible of proof. Donovan would have been quite content to believe that he could purchase the Crown of Megalia without actually doing so. It was Miss Daisy, who had no theories about the power of money, who insisted on becoming a queen.
King Konrad Karl knew perfectly well that he could not sell what Donovan wanted to buy.
“I would,” he said, “sell Megalia with damnable pleasure. Your friend’s daughter might be Queen or Empress or Sultana. You, my dear Gorman, might be king consort when you married her. But you know and I know and Corinne knows—alas! we all know—that if I attempted a coup d’état of that kind the Emperor would at once put in my wheel a spoke. It is a cursed pity; but what can we do? We must, as you once said to me, Gorman, be content to leave it at that.”
Madame Ypsilante was present when Gorman first suggested the sale of Megalia. She cut into the conversation with a very pertinent remark.
“The price,” she said, “would be enormous.”
Madame is a lady of expensive tastes and appreciates the advantage of possessing money. There was at that time in Goldsturmer’s Bond Street establishment a rope of pearls which she very much wished to possess. Miss Daisy Donovan had seen it and admired it greatly. This fact rendered Madame’s desire almost overwhelming.
“The price of a kingdom,” she said. “Consider.”
Her fine eyes opened very wide as she considered the price which Donovan might be induced to pay for Megalia. The King sighed deeply.
“Alas!” he said. “The Emperor.”
“Damn the Emperor,” said Madame.
She had every reason to wish evil to the Emperor. His malignant respect for conventional morality had driven her from the precincts of his court, had been the prime cause of the misfortunes which had nearly overwhelmed her and Konrad, and now the Emperor stood between her and the possession of the most magnificent pearls in Europe. It was no wonder that she cursed him. Konrad Karl did not rebuke her disloyalty. He merely shrugged his shoulders, feeling that it was no use damning the Emperor. That potentate would not moult a feather though Madame Ypsilante cursed him all day long. Madame herself felt the uselessness of losing her temper with some one she could not hurt. She asked the King to give her a glass of brandy. That stimulated her imagination.
“This American,” she said, “is no doubt a fool, and his daughter imbecile. Do not contradict me. All young girls are imbecile. As for the father, if he were not a fool would he wish to buy Megalia? Megalia, my God! The world is full of things desirable to buy; and he asks for that.”
The King nodded. He knew Megalia. The man who wanted to buy it was certainly a fool. Gorman was forced to admit that Donovan showed less wisdom than might be expected in wishing to spend money on a kingdom of that kind.
“Then,” said Madame, “the affair is simple. He buys. You sell. He pays. You take. We skip. I love London—yes, very well. But after all there are other cities. We skip. The Emperor acts. The American curses. What is that to us?”
The King shook his head. The plan was simple. Unfortunately the world is not big enough for the working out of really great conceptions.
“We should be pursued. They would take us by the collar. We should be compelled to disgorge the swag.”
“We should not be so compelled,” said Madame. “I should at once buy pearls and diamonds, and I should conceal them. You, Konrad, would have nothing to disgorge.”
It is certain that the King had a real affection for Madame Corinne. Gorman called it an infatuation. No doubt he even trusted her. It is just conceivable that he would have allowed her to wander off by herself with several hundred thousand pounds worth of jewels while he argued with the Emperor and Donovan and the U. S. Ambassador. But Gorman pointed out a fatal defect in the scheme.
“I don’t deny,” he said, “that there’s a soft spot somewhere in Donovan. But he’s not that particular kind of fool. You may take it from me, Madame, that the price won’t be paid till you have delivered the goods. You won’t get more than a few thousands in advance until Miss Daisy is actually sitting on a throne with a gold crown on her head.”
“There is no crown in Megalia,” said the King. “There never was. If there had been it would not be there now. I should have brought it with me when I made my scoot.”
“Donovan won’t bother about that point,” said Gorman. “In fact, I expect he’d buy a new crown in any case. He wouldn’t like the idea of his daughter appearing in anything second-hand. What he wants for her is the right to wear a crown.”
“That,” said the King, “is exactly the pinching shoe. That she cannot have. We are at a dying—no, a dead lock.”
“Somehow,” said Madame, “we must have the money. If that girl, that miss, who is more imbecile than all other jeunes filles—if she obtains that rope of pearls from Goldsturmer, those pearls which ought to be mine, I shall go mad and take poison, very terrible poison, and die in front of your eyes, Konrad.”
With a view to showing how mad she could go if she tried, she threw her brandy glass on the floor and hacked at it with the heel of her shoe. The carpets in Beaufort’s hotel have the softest and deepest pile of any carpets in Europe. Madame’s first two or three hacks did no more than snap the stem of the glass. To complete its destruction she stood up and stamped on it.
Gorman may have feared that she would trample on him next. He told me that she really was a very alarming sight. Stimulated by terror, his mind worked quickly.
“Look here,” he said to the King, “I’ve got a suggestion to make. Get Madame to sit down and keep quiet for a few minutes.”
The King had an experience, gathered during six years of intimacy, of Madame’s ways. He knew what to do with her. He got another glass of brandy and a box of cigarettes. He set them on a table beside a deep armchair. Madame suffered herself to be led to the chair.
“Now, my friend Gorman,” said the King, “if you have a key which will open the dead lock, make it trot out.”
“What Donovan wants,” said Gorman, “is a kingdom for his daughter. Not Megalia in particular, but some kind of right to wear a crown. Any other kingdom would do as well.”
“But there is no other,” said the King. “In all the courts of Europe there is no other king in such a damned hole as I am, no other king who would sell even if he could.”
“I don’t know Megalia well,” said Gorman, “but there must surely be some outlying corner of that interesting country—an island, for instance—which you could make over, sporting, mineral and royal rights, to Donovan; just as England gave Heligoland to the Germans and somebody or other, probably the Turks, gave Cyprus to the English. The thing is constantly done.”
“But the Emperor,” said the King. “Again and always the Emperor. All roads lead to Rome. All realpolitik brings us in the end back to the Emperor.”
“My idea,” said Gorman, “would be, to choose a small island, quite a small one, so small that the Emperor wouldn’t notice it was gone. As a matter of fact I expect a small island would suit Donovan better than the whole country. He has a weak heart and has come over to Europe for rest and quiet. He won’t want to be bothered with the politics and revolutions and complications which will be sure to arise in a large tract of land like Megalia.”
“A revolution,” said the King, “arises there regularly. A revolution is biennial in Megalia.”
“In a really small island,” said Gorman, “that would not happen. A man like Donovan would feed the inhabitants until they got too fat for revolutions. Now the question is, do you own an island of that kind?”
“There is,” said the King, “Salissa. There is certainly Salissa. My predecessor on the throne, my cousin Otto, resided in Salissa until——. He thought it a safe place to reside because it was so far from the land. He even built a house there. It is, I am told, a charming house. Hot and cold. Billiard and No Basement. Self-contained, Tudor and Bungalow, ten bed, two dressing, offices of the usual, drainage, commanding views, all that is desirable. But, alas for poor Otto! Salissa was not safe. He had forgotten that Megalia has a navy, a navy of one ship only, but that was enough. It cooked the goose of Otto, that Megalian Navy. The Prime Minister and the Commander of the Forces and the Admiral arrived at Salissa one day in the Navy. That was the end of Otto.”
“I hope,” said Gorman, “that the inhabitants of Salissa aren’t a bloodthirsty lot. I wouldn’t like to think of Miss Daisy being murdered. Besides, there’d be complications. The assassination of an odd prince doesn’t much matter to any one. But an American millionaire! The sudden death of a man like Donovan would mean a panic in Wall Street, and there’d have to be a fuss.”
“The inhabitants!” said the King. “They would not kill a baby. They are lambs, ducks, kids, doves. They bleat. They coo.”
“The Prime Minister,” said Gorman, “the Commander of the Forces and the Admiral could be squared, I suppose?”
“They would not want to kill her,” said the King. “She would not be their queen.”
“Sounds all right,” said Gorman, “if you can be sure of selling the whole thing without reservation of any kind to him. The royal rights are essential. Remember that. There must be no ‘subject-to-the-Crown-of-Megalia’ clause in the deed.”
“The Emperor need not know,” said the King. “Salissa is very small, and far, very far, from the land. If we keep the transaction shady—that is to say, dark—the Emperor will not tumble into it.”
Madame swallowed her last sip of brandy.
“The price?” she said.
“You cannot,” said Gorman, “expect as much for a small island like that as if you were able to sell the whole kingdom; the revenue can’t be anything much.”
“There is no revenue in Megalia either,” said the King.
“But Donovan is getting what he wants. His daughter will be a reigning queen. I daresay we’ll be able to screw him up to——”
“The price of that rope of pearls,” said Madame, “is ten thousand pounds.”
“Oh,” said Gorman, “we’ll get that and a bit over.”
“At once,” said Madame, “cash down. For if we have to wait and wait for months that imbecile girl will buy the pearls. Do not say no. I know it. I have a feeling. There is a presentiment. And if she gets those pearls I shall——”
Gorman did not want her to go mad again.
“Couldn’t you see Goldsturmer,” he said, “and arrange with him to give you the refusal of the pearls, say, three months from now?”
“Goldsturmer,” said Madame, “is a devil. He will not trust me for one day, although he knows Konrad well.”
Goldsturmer would probably have said that he refused to trust Madame because he knew Konrad well.
Gorman promised to lay the Salissa proposal before Donovan, and to get him, if possible, to pay at least ten thousand of the purchase money in advance.
“But above all,” said the King, “let him hold tight to his tongue, and you, my friend Gorman. This is no affair about which a song can be made in the market place. If the Emperor were to hear a whisper—Gorman, you do not know the Emperor. His ears are long. If he were to hear there would be an end. There would be no sale.”
“Donovan,” said Gorman, “would probably offer the Emperor five per cent. of the purchase money if there was any trouble.”
“Five per cent.!” said the King. “The Emperor! God in heaven!”
King Konrad Karl probably feared God in heaven very little. But there is no doubt that he had a nervous dread of the Emperor.