The Island Mystery/Chapter 6
THE Donovans started for Salissa within three weeks of the completion of the sale of the island. This was a remarkable achievement, and the whole credit is due to the amazing energy of Miss Daisy. She was all eagerness to enter into the possession of her kingdom; but she had no idea of going to an unknown island without proper supplies. She bought furniture for her house. King Konrad Karl was of opinion that there must be furniture in it. The Prime Minister, the Commander-in-Chief and the Admiral had almost certainly carried off any jewellery or plate there might have been, after the assassination of the late king. Tables, chairs, carpets and beds, they must, he thought, have left behind, because the Megalian Navy was not big enough to carry very much cargo. But Miss Daisy took no risks. She bought everything necessary for a house of moderate size, and had the packing cases put into the hold of the Ida.
She gave large orders for every kind of portable provisions. She entrusted a wine merchant with the duty of stocking the royal cellars. Certain dressmakers—eight, I believe—were kept busy. The new queen did not actually purchase royal robes; but she got every other kind of clothes from the most fantastic teagowns to severe costumes designed for mountaineering. There might be a mountain in Salissa. The Queen liked to be prepared for it if it were there.
She engaged a staff of servants, hitting on twenty as a suitable number for the household of a queen of a small state. The chief of this band was a dignified man who had once been butler to a duke. Miss Daisy gave him the title of major domo, and provided him with a thick gold chain to hang round his neck. There were alterations to be made in the Ida, a steamer not originally intended to carry passengers. These were left to Steinwitz; but Miss Daisy managed to run down every day to see that the work was being done as quickly as possible. She had interviews with Captain Wilson, who commanded the Ida, and Mr. Maurice Phillips, the first officer. She asked them both to dinner. Captain Wilson, a Scot, was taciturn and suspicious. He regarded the job before him as an objectionable kind of practical joke, likely, before it was over, to impair his natural dignity. Mr. Phillips was filled with delight at the prospect. He was a young man with curly fair hair and cheerful eyes.
The start might have been made in even less than three weeks, if it had not been for the Heralds’ Office. Miss Daisy wanted a banner to hoist over the royal palace in Salissa. She consulted Gorman, and gathered from what he told her that heralds are experts in designing banners. She found her way to the office and explained what she wanted to a suave, but rather anæmic young gentleman who talked about quarterings. Miss Daisy was not to be cowed by jargon.
“Put in any quarterings you fancy,” she said. “I’m not particular. If ghules, argents and ramparts are extra, I am prepared to pay. But don’t you meditate too much on the unforgotten glories of the past. Get a move on.”
That it appeared was the one thing the Heralds’ Office could not do. Miss Daisy stormed at its doors. She telephoned at short intervals all day. She even tried to persuade her father to take part in the persecution. But Mr. Donovan was too wise.
“There are things,” he said, “which cannot be done. No man living, not even a railway boss—can speed up a state department.”
“Any firm in New York,” said Miss Daisy, “would have sent in designs for a dozen banners in half the time that young man in the Heraldry Office has been thinking about one.”
“Heralds,” said Mr. Donovan, “are mediæval. If they laid hold on the idea of an automobile and went in for speed, they’d lose grip on the science of heraldry.”
In the end, goaded and worried by Miss Daisy into a condition of bewildered exasperation, the Heralds’ Office produced a large pale-blue flag. In the middle of it was a white flower, said to be a daisy. It arrived at Southampton by the hand of a special messenger just before the sailing of the Ida. Later on—when that flag became a subject for argument among diplomatists—the heralds disclaimed all real responsibility for it. They said that they had no idea they were making a royal standard. They said that they understood that they were preparing a flag for a young lady’s house-boat. Miss Daisy asserts, on the other hand, that her orders were quite distinct. She told the anæmic young man at their first interview that she wanted a “Royal Banner, done according to the best European specification.”
Nine of the servants refused to sail at the last moment. They alleged that the sleeping accommodation on board the Ida was not what they were accustomed to. The major domo only agreed to go on board when he was given the cabin originally intended for Miss Daisy. She occupied that which had been allotted to a kitchen-maid, one of the deserters. Steinwitz and Gorman, who saw the party off, induced the other ten servants to go on board, apologizing humbly to them and explaining that the cabins in the Ida had necessarily been very hurriedly made. For all the use any of the servants were on the voyage, or afterwards, they might as well have stayed at home. The major domo shut himself up in his cabin and was resolutely seasick even in the calmest weather. The others, though not as sick as he was, pretended to be incapable of doing anything.
The Donovans, Captain Wilson and Mr. Phillips were waited on by a steward, a man called Smith who had been brought from London and added to the ship’s company at the last moment by Steinwitz. He proved to be an excellent servant and a man of varied talents. He took a hand in the cooking, mixed cocktails, and acted as valet to Mr. Donovan, waited at table, made beds and kept the cabins beautifully clean. He even found time to save the major domo from starvation by bringing him soup and dry toast occasionally.
Captain Wilson, who could not get over the idea that he was being made to look ridiculous, remained rather aloof during the voyage. He accepted the cigars which Donovan pressed on him, and was civil to Miss Daisy, but he made no pretence of enjoying himself. Mr. Phillips was in high spirits the whole time. He fell in love with Miss Daisy the moment he saw her. But there was nothing mournful or despairing about the way the great passion took him. He never brooded in silence over the hopelessness of his prospects; though as a subordinate officer in the merchant service, he had not much chance of marrying one of the richest heiresses in Europe. His devotion was like that of a frisky terrier which gambols round an adored mistress. Miss Daisy found him a most agreeable young man.
It was he, and not Captain Wilson, who came to her one evening with the news that they might expect to sight Salissa next morning. Miss Daisy scarcely slept. At five o’clock she was on the bridge. Captain Wilson told her that she might safely go to bed again till seven or eight. But she stayed where she was. Mr. Phillips fetched a cup of tea for her at six and another at seven. She drank both and ate a good deal of bread and butter. When at last the island appeared, a dim speck on a clear horizon line, she danced with excitement, and sent Mr. Phillips below to fetch her father. Mr. Donovan was at breakfast, attended by Smith, and flatly refused to stir. Captain Wilson, satisfied that the island lay just where he expected it, left the bridge and joined Mr. Donovan. Miss Daisy and Mr. Phillips stood together, their eyes fixed on the island.
Salissa is a beautiful island and had the good fortune to look its best when its new queen saw it. The sky was cloudless. The sea was almost calm. The island rose, clear outlined, from the blue water. There are some islands, as there are some complexions, which are best looked at in a light which is not too clear, which require a dimness, a little mist, to make them beautiful. Salissa—Phillips would have said the same of Salissa’s mistress—was at its loveliest on a clear May morning. The island appeared first as a flattened cone, intensely green. Then, as the steamer drew nearer, the cliffs which embraced the natural harbour shone out dazzlingly white. The sea rolled lazily, a belt of foam across the reef which almost blocked the entrance to the bay. Beneath the cliffs, right under them, the colour of the water turned to the palest blue. On the south side of the bay was a sandy beach, and above it a small village, seen to be a village afterwards, at first no more than splashes of bright colour, blue and red. Behind the village, sloping upwards, was a broad stretch of cultivated land.
“Vineyards,” said Mr. Phillips, who had voyaged much about the Cyrenian Sea.
On the north side of the bay, opposite the cottages, a promontory ran out into the water. On it, sometimes on its very edge, sometimes drawn a little back with a space of smooth rocks in front of it, was the house built by King Otto, Konrad Karl’s unfortunate predecessor on the Megalian throne. Perhaps that king himself had a taste for the fantastic. Perhaps he was only a commonplace man who had the luck to employ an architect of airy genius. The house was the palace of a dream of fairyland. It was built of the white stone of the island. Long windows opened on balconies supported on white pillars which stood in the water. There were little glistening spires which rose from steep patches of red roof. There were broad shaded porches and flights of shallow white steps which led down into the water. The ground plan of the house followed the outline of the promontory on which it stood. Only in the upper storey did the eye find rest in a straight line. There nine great windows, green jalousied, gave upon a wide balcony. At one place where the rock had been eaten into by the sea, the architect had built over water which sighed and gurgled among mysterious green shades under vaulted roofs among the foundations of the house.
Miss Daisy, standing on the bridge, clapped her hands and then stood silent and motionless in an ecstasy of delight. Mr. Phillips, his eyes on the girl, rang the ship’s engines to “Dead Slow” and sent a man to summon Captain Wilson.
The steamer slid slowly through the water towards the opening at the south end of the protecting reef. Captain Wilson came on deck. Mr. Donovan followed him. He stood leaning over the bulwarks just forward of the bridge. Miss Daisy ran to him and seized his arm.
“Father,” she cried, “isn’t it all lovely? Isn’t it just a dream? Look at the two cottages. Look at the cliffs and the blue water. Did you ever see such blue——? and now——”
The ship swung slowly round the south end of the reef. The house on the promontory came full in view.
“And now look at the castle. It’s too fairy for anything, isn’t it?”
“Reminds me quite a bit,” said Donovan, “of the hotel at the south end of the Marine Parade at Atlantic City. Kind of fanciful.”
“It’s a dream come true,” said Miss Daisy.
Mr. Donovan turned round. Behind him, in a respectful attitude, stood the major domo. A little further back, grouped together, were his ten fellow-servants, all in respectful attitudes.
“Beg pardon, sir,” said the major domo.
The man, though engaged by Miss Daisy, had from the first refused to recognize her as his mistress. The negotiations in Southampton about the cabin had been carried on with Mr. Donovan. It was to Mr. Donovan that he spoke now.
“Beg pardon, sir,” he said, “but does the family propose to reside here for any length of time?”
Mr. Donovan waved his hand towards Miss Daisy. She realized that, as queen of the island, it was her business to decide the movements of the court.
“Always,” she said. “For ever and ever and ever. I shall never live anywhere else, and when I die I’ll be buried here.”
“In that case, sir,” said the major domo, still ignoring the queen, “I must request, in the name of self and the rest of the staff, to return to England at once, sir, and if I may add a suggestion, sir, I’d say by rail. This ship is not what we’ve been accustomed to in places where we’ve lived before.”
“Well,” said Mr. Donovan, “you can go back if you like. Salissa is a free state, though not a republic; but there’s liable to be some delay if you wait for a train.”
“You nasty beasts!” said Miss Daisy. “You’ve spoiled the whole thing now by being cats. Just when everything was beautiful and I was so happy. I’d like to tell you what I think of you all. Oh, I do wish Mr. Phillips was here. He’d—— Oh, father, would you? I’m sure you could.”
Mr. Donovan looked at her and waited. In time, such was his experience, Miss Daisy usually explained what she wanted pretty clearly.
“I once heard Mr. Phillips talking to one of the sailors,” she said. “He didn’t know I was listening, of course. The sailor had been messing things about in a wrong way, and Mr. Phillips——”
“Language?” said Mr. Donovan.
“It was splendid. I never knew before that there were such words.”
“Well,” said Mr. Donovan, “I haven’t cursed any for quite a bit; but I’m willing to try. But you’d better run up the bridge, Daisy, right now, before I start. I might be kind of held back from some expressions if I knew you were listening.”
Miss Daisy, who was sometimes quite an obedient girl, reached the bridge in time to hear the order given, and to see the anchor splash into the blue water.
Mr. Donovan began to speak slowly and very quietly. It took the women servants nearly two minutes to realize that he was using the most atrocious language. Then they fled. The three footmen stood their ground a little longer. Mr. Donovan raised his voice a little. He felt old powers returning to him. He became fluent. One by one the footmen slank away. Mr. Donovan went on, without passion or heat. He arrived at a terrific malediction which he had found effective many years before in dealing with Italian navvies. The major domo cowered, his hands held to his ears, and vanished into the cabin.
Mr. Donovan took from his pocket a large purple handkerchief. He wiped away the sweat which had gathered on his upper lip. Then he looked round him with an air of satisfaction. There was no one left near him except Smith, the ship’s steward, who stood in a respectful attitude apparently waiting for an opportunity to speak.
“I don’t know,” said Mr. Donovan, “that I can do any more real high-class cursing, without preparation; but if you’re not satisfied I’m willing to try.”
“I was only going to suggest, sir,” said Smith, “that if it would be any convenience to you, sir, and to her Majesty——” Mr. Donovan started. It was the first time Miss Daisy had been given her new title.
“I’d be very glad, sir, to remain with you and do all I can, sir, to make you comfortable—subject to Captain Wilson’s permission. Of course you’ll understand, sir, that I signed on as ship’s steward. I couldn’t leave my duty, sir, if Captain Wilson required me.”
“Smith,” said Mr. Donovan, “you’re a white man. I’ll square things up with Captain Wilson. He can have the use of that sausage skin of a butler on the voyage home. I hope he’ll just set those able-bodied wasters of footmen to shovel coal in the stokehole. I shan’t say a word if he corrects the women with a rope’s end every time they’re seasick. I’m a humanitarian, Smith, opposed to executions and corporal punishment on principle, in a general way; but I’m not a hide-bound doctrinnaire. There are circumstances—I kind of feel that the British domestic servant is one of these circumstances.”
“Yes, sir,” said Smith. “Quite so, sir.”