The Island Mystery/Chapter 9
NEXT morning the work of unloading the ship began. It went on at high pressure for three days. On the fourth it slackened. Before the end of the week everything was landed.
The donkey engine on the Ida’s fore-deck clanked and snorted. Down in the hold the sweating sailors toiled. Packing-cases, great and small, huge bales and brass-studded trunks were hoisted high, swung clear of the ship’s bulwarks and lowered, with much rattling of chains and gear, into the waiting boats. The ship’s lifeboats and the five largest of the island boats plied to and fro between the steamer and the shore. On the palace steps, islanders—men, women and children—waited to take charge of the cargoes which the boats brought. Captain Wilson was in command on board the Ida. On shore Mr. Phillips directed the unpacking. He had the cases and bales hauled up the flagstaff terrace. There they were prised or cut open. Tables, chairs, carpets, beds, bedding, every article of household furniture were unpacked and carried into the rooms of the palace. The islanders worked willingly. Only when they set down a load in its appointed place, a tall mirror perhaps or a wardrobe, they stood in a group around it, admiring, wondering. Often Mr. Phillips had to pursue them, drag them, push them, to induce them to return for some new burden.
Smith, the steward, worked with amazing energy. Very early on the first day of the unloading, Phillips found him in the large hall of the palace. He was sweeping up the hearth. He had already gathered and burnt the litter of torn papers which lay on the floor. It was a natural act in a good servant; but it seemed to Phillips a waste of energy. Smith apologized at once.
“Yes, sir, as you say, sir, it’ll be time enough to clean up when we get things a bit settled. Perhaps I oughtn’t to have done it, sir. But it seemed to me as how I’d like to clear away the mess, sir, when her Majesty would be passing through the room.”
Phillips was annoyed. The torn papers had interested him. He intended to have collected them all. But Smith, with ill-directed zeal, had burnt them. Not a scrap was left, except the torn envelope which Phillips had in his pocket.
Afterwards Smith proved most useful. He acted as interpreter on shore or aboard whenever an interpreter was wanted. He was active in the opening of packing-cases, careful and skilful in handling glass and china. He planned store-rooms for the provisions which came ashore, arranged the wine in cool cellars, had linen packed away securely.
The Queen ran eagerly from room to room. The arrival of each piece of furniture was a fresh joy to her. She kidnapped small parties of women from among Phillips’ workers and set them to laying carpets or hanging curtains, explaining what had to be done by means of vivid gestures. She moved things which seemed comfortably settled from room to room. Whenever she came across Smith or met Phillips she talked excitedly about colour schemes. She spent a good deal of time in rescuing the brown babies from peril. The mothers, determined to miss no chance of handling strange and wonderful things, laid their infants down in all sorts of odd places, behind doors or in corners at tops of staircases. The Queen tripped over them occasionally, went all the time in terror that one of them would be crushed by passing feet.
Kalliope was deliriously happy. She was a quick-witted girl. Very early in the day she grasped the fact that packing-cases never contained clothes; that trunks might or might not, but generally did. She learned almost at once four English words from the sailors—“damned box” and “bloody trunk.” Armed with the full authority of maid in waiting to the Queen, she stood beside the boats when they arrived. With a gesture of contempt she committed each “damned box” to the care of the men and the less favoured women. She took possession of all personal luggage. Only her special friends were allowed to handle the Queen’s trunks. She put herself in command of four girls, and marched in front of them as they staggered under the weight of great trunks. She had them carried up to the Queen’s rooms. Then with joyful cries of “Bloody trunk, bloody trunk,” she ran through the palace seeking her mistress and the keys. Kalliope unpacked all the clothes herself. Not even the most favoured of her helpers was allowed to touch a garment. It was enough for the others to gaze.
Mr. Donovan took no part whatever in the unloading of the ship or the unpacking on the island. He said frankly that he disliked fuss intensely, and that the weather was far too hot for movement of any kind. He added to Captain Wilson—it seemed necessary to excuse himself to Captain Wilson—that the action of his heart always became more disordered if he mixed himself up with people who suffered from activity. The deck of the Ida was no place for him. The cabins were stuffy and the clamour of the donkey engine made him restless. He went ashore. Smith, who was a wonderfully sympathetic man, led him to a high balcony, well shaded, pleasantly airy. There Mr. Donovan established himself on a deck chair. He smoked a great deal and slept a little. He drank the cocktails which Smith found time to prepare for him. He ate the food Smith brought up to him. He found Salissa a pleasant island and looked forward to great peace, when the Ida, her cargo unloaded, should sail away. He had only one real trouble. Not even Smith could find ice on Salissa. Mr. Donovan sighed over his own want of foresight. The patent freezer had been packed in the very bottom of the hold.
Early in the third day the Queen tired of unpacking and arranging furniture. The excitement of running to and fro through the rooms of the palace faded. The merriment which came of seeing kitchen chairs placed in her bedroom palled. She began to feel that Mr. Phillips would never fully understand the beauty and value of a colour scheme. Her clothes were all safely gathered, unpacked and stored away in fragrant heaps. She wanted rest from the ceaseless laughter of the islanders and the noise of pattering bare feet.
“Kalliope,” she said, “we’ll go for a row.”
Kalliope smiled joyously. “Go row,” she repeated. She had not the faintest idea what the thing meant, but life was for her a passing from one rapturous experience to another. “Go row” was no doubt some untried pleasure. She stood smiling, waiting further enlightenment.
The Queen made the motions of a rower with her arms. Kalliope, pathetically eager to understand, repeated, “Go row, go row.”
The Queen led her to a window and pointed to one of the island boats which had just left the steamer. She went through the pantomime of rowing again. She touched her own breast with her forefinger, then Kalliope’s. The girl understood. She ran from the room, through passages, down steps. She reached the landing place.
“Go row,” she cried.
Then, condescending to the language of her people, she spoke to the men who sat in one of the smaller island boats. In obedience to her command they stepped on shore. They gave their coats and their coloured sashes to the girl. She piled them in the stern, a cushion for her mistress. She took the oars. The Queen came down the steps, carrying in her arms one of the brown babies. She had tripped over it at the end of the passage leading from her room. She sat on the cushion prepared for her with the baby on her knees. Kalliope rowed out across the harbour.
That night the Queen slept for the first time in her new palace. A bed had been arranged for her, and she was eager to leave the small close cabin on the ship. The great room she had chosen for herself attracted her. She thought of the cool night air blowing in through the window, of the wide balcony on which she could sit awhile till sleepiness came over her. No other room in the palace was ready for use. Nor did Mr. Donovan seem anxious to go ashore.
Mr. Phillips was a lover. He was also a young man. He reverenced the lady who was mistress of his heart and queen. He also, as is the way of lovers very much in love, suffered from a conviction that she ought to be guarded and protected. It seemed to him wrong that she, with no other companion than Kalliope, should sleep in a great lonely house on an island where strange people lived. Thus young men, the best of them, show contempt for the courage and ability of the women they admire. The Queen herself laughed at his fears. Mr. Donovan rebuked him.
“Your notions about girls,” he said, “are European. You take it from me, young man, that an American girl knows how to take care of herself. Daisy can go without a leading rein. She can take hold on any situation likely to arise.”
No situation was in the least likely to arise. It was impossible to suspect the gentle islanders of wishing any harm to their new queen. There were no wild animals, no animals at all, except a dog or two and some small cattle.
Phillips was a lover and therefore a prey to anxiety; but he was a healthy young man and had worked hard all day. He turned into his berth and went to sleep at once. Very early in the morning, about three o’clock, he awoke. Nor, for all his twistings and turnings, would sleep come to him again. His imagination, picturing a hundred impossible dangers for the Queen, tormented him. Suddenly he remembered the torn envelope which lay in his pocket. He puzzled himself to find some explanation of its being on the island, in the palace. Some one must have brought it there. Some one sitting in the great hall had read the letter that envelope contained. Some one with assuredly no right to be there, some one—the inference seemed inevitable—with evil in his heart had entered the palace and dwelt there.
Phillips could stand his imaginings no more. He got up, dressed himself and went on deck.
The man who kept—or was supposed to keep—the anchor watch lay fast asleep, coiled up under the shadow of the bridge. The ship was silent save for the lapping of the water against her sides. The island lay, a grey mystery in the half light of earliest dawn. The light increased, and Phillips, standing in the shadow of the deck-house, could fix his eyes on the windows of the room where the Queen lay. He heard, suddenly, the splash of oars, dipped very gently in the water. He looked round and saw a boat, one of the island boats, moving from the ship’s side. There was one man in her, Smith the steward. Phillips reasoned quickly. Smith must have left his cabin stealthily, must have come on deck, must have dropped on board the boat and cast her loose without making a sound. What was he doing? What did he want?
Phillips, deep in the shadow of the deck-house, stood and watched. The boat moved more quickly as she drew further from the steamer. She headed for the sandy beach below the village. A man stood on the shore awaiting her. The light grew brighter every moment. Phillips recognized the waiting man—Stephanos the elder. His long white beard and stately figure were not easily mistaken. The boat grounded and Stephanos stepped on board. Smith pushed off, and rowing rapidly now, coasted the shore of the bay, keeping close inland. The boat was hard to see, for she moved in the shadow of the cliffs. Suddenly she disappeared altogether. Phillips waited and watched. In half an hour the boat appeared again, plainly visible now. She came from the mouth of a great cave, a darker space in the grey face of the cliff. Smith pulled hard. In a few minutes he had landed Stephanos and was on his way back to the steamer.
Phillips met him as he climbed the side and came on board.
“You’re out early this morning, Smith,” he said.
“Yes, sir, pretty early, sir. There’s a lot to be done in the day. I thought as how, if I went ashore, sir, I might get a couple of eggs for Mr. Donovan’s breakfast. He likes a fresh egg.”
“Seagulls’ eggs,” said Phillips.
Smith looked up quickly. For an instant there was a sharp gleam of suspicion in his eyes. Then he dropped them again.
“No, sir; hens’ eggs. There’s hens on the island, sir.”
“Got any?” said Phillips.
“Two, sir, only two.”
He took them from his pocket as he spoke and held them out for inspection. He had certainly got two eggs. Phillips was puzzled. Men seldom search for hens’ eggs—they never find them—in sea caves.
“Just enough for Mr. Donovan’s breakfast, sir.”
“Do you happen to know, Smith”—Phillips asked his question abruptly—“whether any one has been living in the palace lately? Last year, for instance, or at any time since the last king was murdered there?”
“Murdered, sir, how horrible! Was it long ago, sir?”
The assassination of King Otto had been mentioned, even discussed, a dozen times while Smith was waiting at table. Very good servants—and Smith was one of the best—are able, it is believed, to abstract their minds from the conversation of their masters, will actually hear nothing of what is said in their presence. Yet it seemed to Phillips as if Smith were overdoing his pose of ignorance.
“It was years ago, I believe. What I want to know is whether any one has been living in the palace since.”
“Don’t know, sir, I’m sure. Never been here before till I arrived with you, sir. Would you care for me to make inquiries? Some of the natives would be sure to know.”
“Ask that patriarch,” said Phillips, “Stephanos or whatever he’s called. Ask him next time you take him out for a row at six o’clock in the morning.”
He knew that he had startled Smith once when he referred to the seagulls’ eggs. He hoped to take him off his guard this time by showing that he had watched the whole of the morning row. But this time Smith was not to be caught. He made no sign whatever that anything unexpected had been said. He was not looking at Phillips. His eyes were fixed on the palace.
“I beg pardon, sir,” he said after a slight pause, “but perhaps we ought to leave the deck, to go below. Seems to me, sir, that the Queen is going to bathe. She mightn’t like it, sir, if she thought we were here watching her.”
The Queen was descending steps clad in a scarlet bathing dress. It is not likely that she would have resented the presence of spectators on the deck of a steamer nearly half a mile distant. Nor, indeed, is it likely that Kalliope would have been seriously embarrassed, though she saw no sense in wearing clothes of any kind when she intended to bathe. But Mr. Phillips was a young man and modest. One fleeting glimpse of Kalliope poised ready for her plunge was sufficient for him. He turned and left the deck. Smith was already busy with his cooking.