The Island Mystery/Chapter 5


DONOVAN was, I believe, relieved when he heard that he could not buy the whole kingdom of Megalia. The price would have been enormous, but he would not have hesitated to pay it if, by paying, he would have got what he wanted. The more he looked into the business of kingship, the less he liked it. The idea of Court etiquette worried him. Donovan disliked dressing for dinner, a form of activity to which he was unaccustomed. He got it into his head that the father of the reigning monarch in a state like Megalia might be called on to wear uniforms, troublesome things with unusual buttons and straps, and change them two or three times a day. He feared that such a combination of exertion and worry would still further disorder the action of his heart. He saw no prospect of quiet indolence among a people which went in for revolutions as a pastime. Salissa, on the other hand, seemed almost an ideal spot. There were not likely to be any regular postal arrangements. There was certainly no cable. Since there were less than a hundred inhabitants a liberal pension could be given to each. Pensioners are notoriously peaceful and unobtrusive people.

Miss Daisy was a little disappointed at first; but only at first. Once she hit on the idea that her kingdom would be the “dinkiest” in Europe, indeed in the world, she was pleased. The negotiations were rushed through at a pace which struck even Gorman as indecent. But everybody concerned was in a hurry. Konrad Karl was afraid that the Emperor might hear of the sale through the Megalian ambassador in London. But that gentleman—he was a Count, I think—was under the influence, probably in the pay of the Emperor, and had been instructed to ignore King Konrad Karl as much as possible. He heard nothing about the matter. Madame Ypsilante was in a hurry for obvious reasons. Miss Daisy Donovan had looked at the pearl necklace two or three times, and there was a horrible possibility that she might regard it as a suitable ornament for a queen. Miss Daisy was eager to see her island kingdom as soon as possible. Donovan himself was finding London less restful than ever. He wanted to get the Salissa business settled out of hand.

It was settled early in April. I never heard the exact date of the signing of the papers, but April the 1st would have been appropriate. An immense document was drawn up by a solicitor, a cousin of Gorman’s who lived in a small west of Ireland town. Gorman said he gave the job to this particular man because no London lawyer would have kept the matter secret. My own impression is that no London solicitor would have undertaken the job at all. There cannot be any recognized legal form for the sale of kingdoms. However, Gorman’s cousin did his work excellently. The document looked well. He attached eight enormous seals to it, and he had several of the most important clauses translated into Latin. It must have been as good as it looked. Later on nearly every ambassador in Europe had a look at the “instrument”—Gorman called it an instrument sometimes, sometimes a protocol—and they were all baffled. The American ambassador in Megalia offered Gorman’s cousin a post in the U. S. A. diplomatic service, a high testimonial to his abilities. Miss Daisy and her heirs became the independent sovereigns of the Island of Salissa. Donovan promised to pay down the purchase money as soon as he was satisfied that the island really existed. The most Gorman could screw out of him in the way of an advance was £5,000.

The evening after the “instrument” was signed, Gorman had a visit from Goldsturmer, the well-known jeweller. The man, a rather unctuous, but very suave and polite German Jew, was shown into Gorman’s sitting-room.

“I think,” he said, “that you are a friend of his Majesty, King Konrad Karl of Megalia?”

Gorman was on his guard and determined to give away no information of any kind. The King’s nervous fear of the Emperor’s displeasure had impressed Gorman with the necessity of keeping the sale of Salissa as secret as possible; but he could hardly avoid admitting that he knew King Konrad Karl. The affairs of the wine company had occupied some space in the daily papers, and the names of the directors had been published. His name and the King’s had appeared together very frequently.

“And perhaps,” said Goldsturmer, “you also know Madame Ypsilante?”

“I have seen the lady,” said Gorman.

Goldsturmer was not in the least discouraged by Gorman’s reticence.

“I cannot,” he said, “expect you to answer more frankly unless I am equally frank with you. I am at this time engaged in a business transaction of some importance with Madame Ypsilante. The sum of money involved is very large. It is”—Goldsturmer’s tone became reverent—“£10,000.”

“Can she pay?” said Gorman, “not that it’s any affair of mine whether she can or not.”

“The lady herself cannot pay; but the King—she tells me that his Majesty has recently sold an estate situated in Megalia to a wealthy American. Now if that is true——

“Perhaps in that case the King might pay,” said Gorman.

“I wonder,” said Goldsturmer, “if the sale has taken place?”

“Shouldn’t think it likely,” said Gorman.

Goldsturmer paused. For quite a minute he sat looking at Gorman. Then he said:

“In a matter of this kind I am prepared to pay for information which would be of use to me. I shall speak frankly. It would be worth my while to give one per cent. of the sum involved to any one who could tell me whether the sale which Madame mentioned to me has really been effected.”

“Ah,” said Gorman, “one per cent. on, did you say, £10,000?”

“It would amount to £100.”

“I wish I could earn it,” said Gorman, “but unfortunately I know nothing at all about the matter.”

Political life, so Gorman has often told me, is the very best education obtainable in one respect. The politician learns to lie fluently and without discomfort. Even politicians are not, of course, always believed, but they know how to lie in a way which makes it very difficult for any one to give expression to unbelief. Goldsturmer may actually have believed Gorman. He certainly pretended to. He did not even offer a two per cent. bonus.

“I must ask you to pardon me,” he said, “for occupying your time with my inquiries. I thank you for the way in which you have received me. Good-bye.”

He bowed his way to the door. Then he turned to Gorman again.

“You will understand, I am sure, that mine was a purely business inquiry. I am not interested in any of the scandal which unfortunately is connected with the name of his Majesty, or with that of the charming lady of whom I spoke. Still less am I concerned with the state affairs of Megalia. I have no connection with Megalia.”

Gorman sat thinking for a while after Goldsturmer left him. The jeweller’s visit and his questions were natural enough. Such inquiries are made every day. There was nothing surprising in the offer of one per cent. on the money which was to change hands in return for information. Gorman was a politician. It was not the first time he had been offered a commission. He hoped it would not be the last. What puzzled him was Goldsturmer’s final remark. Why should the man have said he had no interest in the state affairs of Megalia unless indeed he was interested, was on the track of a suspected secret?

Once more Gorman lamented the fact that women were mixed up in a business affair.

“Damn Madame Ypsilante,” he said.

Then, finding some relief for his feelings in expressing them aloud:

“Damn that woman’s tongue.”

Gorman was puzzled and therefore anxious. His commission on the sale of Salissa—his rake-off, as Donovan called it—was large, a sum which Gorman did not want to lose. He was most anxious that the transaction should be successfully completed and the money actually paid. The King’s evident nervousness about the Emperor impressed him unpleasantly. Gorman was not a student of foreign politics. He did not know precisely what the Emperor’s position was. Megalia was nominally an independent state. Its King could, he supposed, cede a portion of territory to a foreign power without consulting any other monarch. Yet the Emperor evidently had to be considered, might put a stop to the whole business. Konrad Karl had no doubts about that, and he ought to know.

I am sure that I should be doing Gorman an injustice if I were to represent him as anxious only about the commission. He had a queer liking for the unfortunate Konrad Karl. He wanted—as everybody who knew her did—to gratify Miss Daisy Donovan. And he took a sporting interest in the sale of Salissa. There was a novelty about the purchase of the position of reigning monarch which appealed to Gorman, and there were all sorts of possibilities about the situation and its future developments.

A week later, just as he was beginning to forget Goldsturmer’s visit, Gorman had fresh cause for anxiety. I remember the day very well. I was lunching at my club, a club of which Gorman is also a member. As I entered the room I saw him sitting at a table near the window. I intended to join him, for Gorman is always good company. When I reached his table I saw that he already had a companion—Steinwitz, the director of the Cyrenian Sea Steam Navigation Company. I turned away at once, for Steinwitz is a man whom I particularly dislike. Gorman caught sight of me and called:

“Come and sit here. There’s plenty of room. The waiter can lay another place.”

“Thanks,” I said, “but I’ve just caught sight of a man at the far end of the room whom I particularly want to talk to.”

“Talk to him later on,” said Gorman, “Come and sit here now.”

There was something in Gorman’s tone which made me think he really wanted me to sit at his table, that he had a motive in pressing me as he did. But I was not going to lunch in the company of Steinwitz. I have nothing definite against the man; but I do not like him. I shook my head and found a seat at the far end of the room.

Afterwards—months afterwards—Gorman told me that he wanted me very badly that day, me or some one else. He wanted a third person at his table. Steinwitz was asking inconvenient questions, talking about matters Gorman did not want to discuss. The presence of a third person might have saved Gorman some awkwardness.

Steinwitz was insistent and determined. He laid hold on Gorman before lunch and clung to him until they sat down together.

“You remember asking me,” said Steinwitz—“let me see, it must have been a couple of months ago—you remember asking me for information about Megalia.”

“Did I?” said Gorman.

“And I told you it was a rotten country—no trade, no harbours, no tourist traffic, no anything. Well—rather an odd thing happened yesterday. A man came into my office—by the way, you know him, I think—Donovan, the American millionaire——

“Oh, yes, I know him. Owns a pretty daughter, doesn’t he?”

“She was with him,” said Steinwitz—“a romantic sort of girl, I should say, by the look of her. Head stuffed full of silly fancies.”

Steinwitz’ eyes were on Gorman all the time he was speaking. Gorman says he felt very uncomfortable, but I am sure he did not show it.

“I scarcely know the girl,” said Gorman. “What did old Donovan want with you?”

“Wanted to charter a steamer, captain, crew and all, one of our boats. Said he was going for a cruise off the coast of Megalia and wanted a biggish ship and officers who know the Cyrenian Sea thoroughly.”

“Odd fancies the Americans have,” said Gorman. “However, he can pay for what he wants. If half what they say about him is true, he could buy up your whole fleet without missing the money.”

“He certainly did not boggle over the figure I named.”

“Oh, you let him have the ship then?”

“Certainly. Trade is dull in those parts now. As a matter of fact the Ida was lying up.”

Gorman pretended to yawn by way of showing how very little interest he took in the matter.

“Hope he’ll enjoy the trip,” he said. “Doesn’t sound an attractive country by your account.”

“Well,” said Steinwitz, “there are some interesting things to see. There’s the Island of Salissa, for instance.”

Gorman was startled by the mention of Salissa. He may possibly have shown his surprise. Steinwitz went on:

“By the way, talking of Salissa, Goldsturmer told me a curious thing the other day. You know Goldsturmer, don’t you?”

“The jewel man?”

“Yes. He says your friend Donovan has bought the island of Salissa from that picturesque blackguard King Konrad Karl. I wonder if that can be true. Goldsturmer says he has it on the best authority.”

“Those ‘best authorities’,” said Gorman, “are invariably liars. I have known scores of them.”

“I daresay you’re right,” said Steinwitz; “anyhow, in this case the authority wasn’t one that I should care to rely on. It was Madame Ypsilante—a very charming lady, but——

He shrugged his shoulders.

“I wouldn’t care to bet my last shilling,” said Gorman, “on the truth of a statement made by Madame Ypsilante.”

“In this case,” said Steinwitz, “her story was a ridiculous one, absurd on the face of it. She said that the American girl wants to set up as a monarch and that Konrad Karl had sold her the right to call herself Queen of Salissa.”

“Either Goldsturmer was pulling your leg,” said Gorman, “or Madame was pulling his. Was she trying to get anything out of him?”

“Pearls,” said Steinwitz. “There is a certain rope of pearls——

“That accounts for the whole thing,” said Gorman.

Steinwitz seemed quite satisfied that it did. But he was not inclined to drop the subject altogether.

“A sale of that sort,” he said, “would be impossible. The Emperor wouldn’t permit it.”

Then Gorman made a mistake. For the first time he showed a real interest in what Steinwitz said. There is every excuse for him. He wanted very much to understand the Emperor’s position; and Steinwitz had already heard—possibly believed—the story of the sale of Salissa.

“What on earth has the Emperor got to do with it?” said Gorman. “Megalia is an independent state, isn’t it?”

Steinwitz laughed.

“Very few states,” he said, “are independent of the Emperor.”

There was something in the way he spoke, a note of arrogance, a suggestion of truculence, which nettled Gorman.

“Donovan,” he said, “is a free citizen of the United States of America. That’s what he says himself. I don’t expect he cares a damn about any emperor.”

“Ah well,” said Steinwitz, “it does not matter, does it? Since he has not bought the Island of Salissa, no question is likely to arise. The Emperor will not object to his wandering round the Cyrenian Sea in the Ida.”

Gorman was singularly dull when he joined me in the smoking-room after luncheon. I do not recollect any other occasion on which I found him disinclined to talk. I opened the most seductive subjects. I said I was sure Ulster really meant to take up arms against Home Rule. I said that the Sinn Féiners were getting stronger and stronger in Ireland, and that neither Gorman nor any member of his party would be returned at the next General Election. Gorman must have wanted to contradict me; but he did not say a word. It was only when I got up to go away that he spoke; and then he made a remark which had no bearing whatever on anything which I had said.

“Women,” he growled, “are hell. In business they’re red hell.”