THE ISLAND MYSTERY
G. A. BIRMINGHAM
Author of "Gossamer," "General John Regan," "Spanish Gold," etc.
NEW YORK GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY
Copyright, 1918, By George H. Doran Company
Copyright, 1918, By The Frank A. Munsey Company
Printed in the United States of America
BY G. A. BIRMINGHAM
THE ISLAND MYSTERY GOSSAMER MINNIE'S BISHOP AND OTHER STORIES GENERAL JOHN REGAN THE LOST TRIBES SPANISH GOLD LALAGE'S LOVERS THE SEARCH PARTY THE SIMPKINS PLOT THE MAJOR'S NIECE PRISCILLA'S SPIES THE RED HAND OF ULSTER THE ADVENTURES OF DR. WHITTY THE SEETHING POT THE BAD TIMES HYACINTH FROM DUBLIN TO CHICAGO
NEW YORK GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY
WHOSE DISLIKE OF SUBTLE BOOKS AND "BRAINY" PEOPLE I SHARE
THE ISLAND MYSTERY
In 1914 there were not twenty men in England who had ever heard of the island of Salissa. Even now—I am writing in the spring of 1917—the public is very badly informed about the events which gave the island a certain importance in the history of the war. A couple of months ago I asked a well-known press-cutting agency to supply me with a complete collection of all references to Salissa which had appeared in our newspapers. I received a single short paragraph from a second-rate society weekly. It ran thus:
"Is it true that our new Minister for Balkan Problems has a curious story to tell about a certain island in the Mediterranean, and is there a lady in the case?"
The Minister referred to is, of course, Sir Bartholomew Bland-Potterton. The island must be Salissa. It is a clear proof, if proof is required, of the efficiency of our press censorship that this should be the only reference to the island in any newspaper in the course of three years. We have blundered a good deal during the war; but it cannot be said of us that we have allowed our press to supply the enemy or any one else with information likely to be of value.
Such knowledge as the public now possesses has come to it, not through newspapers, but by way of gossip. Sir Bartholomew sometimes talks, and the words of a man in his position are repeated in the smoking-rooms of clubs, round tea tables and elsewhere. Unfortunately gossip of this kind is most unreliable. The tendency is to exaggerate the picturesque parts of the story and to misinterpret motives. It is slanderous, for instance, to suggest that Sir Bartholomew was in any way attracted by the lady who bore the title of Queen of Salissa. He never spoke to her or even saw her. His interest in the Salissa affair was that of a patriotic statesman. He told me this himself, yesterday after dinner.
It was Sir Bartholomew who drew my attention to the exhaustive monograph on the Island of Salissa written by Professor Homer Geldes, of Pearmount University, Pa., U.S.A. The book was published ten years ago, but has never been widely read. I am indebted to the professor for the following information.
Salissa is derived by Professor Geldes from a Greek word Psalis, which means an arched viaduct. It is a doubtful piece of etymology, but if it were reliable the name seems appropriate enough. The island, according to the maps published in the book, appears to be a kind of roof supported by the walls of caverns. It is possible that the professor has exaggerated this peculiarity. He was naturally anxious to make good his derivation of the name. But there are certainly many caves under the fields and vineyards of Salissa. There is one excellent natural harbour, a bay, about a mile wide, in the south coast of the island. It is protected from heavy seas by a reef of rock, a natural breakwater, which stretches across and almost blocks the entrance of the bay.
In the chapter on Ethnography I find that the people are of a mixed race. A Salissan, I gather, might boast with equal truth of being a Greek, a Turk, a Slav, or an Italian. His skull is dolichocephalic. His facial angle—but it is better for any one interested in these points to read Professor Geldes' book for himself. No regular census has ever been made on the island; but in 1907 there were forty-three inhabitants. The number has probably increased since then.
The principal industries are set down, rather grandiloquently, as agriculture and fishing. A small quantity of poor wine is made by the inhabitants for their own use. The religion of these islanders, like their race, is mixed. It seems to consist of some vague pagan beliefs and the observance of a few Christian ceremonies. The people are not in any way bigoted. Their priesthood—if it can be called a priesthood—is patriarchal. There are no taxes, no police, no courts of justice, no regular laws, indeed no government, though the island is, or was, part of the Kingdom of Megalia.
My friend Gorman, who spent some time there, says that Salissa was a delightful place to live on until the Great Powers discovered its existence. But I do not quote Gorman as a reliable authority on a question of this kind. He is an Irishman, Member of Parliament for Upper Offaly, and therefore naturally at home on an island with no government. There are people who prefer to live under settled conditions, who like paying taxes, who appreciate policemen. It is not likely that they would have been happy on Salissa three years ago. They would certainly not like to live there now.
It is scarcely necessary to add—any one who possesses an atlas can find this out for himself—that Salissa lies 47 miles (nautical) south-east of the nearest point of the Megalian coast, and thus occupies a position of supreme strategic importance. Sir Bartholomew kindly allows me to quote him on this subject. I took down the words he used and read them over to him afterwards.
"The Power," he said, "which controls the Near East controls the world. The Power which dominates the Cyrenian Sea holds the Near East in its grasp. The Island of Salissa is the keystone of the Cyrenian Sea. The German dream of world power depends, at the last analysis, on the use of the Island of Salissa as a submarine base."
This reads like a quotation from a political speech. It is nothing of the sort. Sir Bartholomew always talks in that way. He made this statement to me yesterday evening after dinner, when I told him that I had undertaken to write the story of recent events in the island. The pronouncement, coming from a man like Sir Bartholomew, admittedly the greatest living authority on all Near Eastern questions, justifies the writing of this book.
Whether I am the man to attempt the work is another question. Gorman, Michael Gorman, M.P., would no doubt do it better. Though he has no financial interests in the island, he was mixed up in its affairs and knows a great deal about them. But Gorman will not do it. He says, perhaps truly, that there is no money in histories of recent events. William Peter Donovan paid heavily for his knowledge of Salissa and is certainly entitled to such credit as may be won by writing a history of the recent troubles. But Donovan has devoted his later years to the cult of indolence, and he suffers from disordered action of the heart. Miss Daisy Donovan—I prefer to use her original name—might have given us a picturesque account of the events in which she played the leading part. But she is now very fully occupied with more personal affairs. Lieutenant-Commander Phillips, R.N.R., is barred by professional regulations from writing the story, and in any case he had no direct knowledge of the beginning of it. King Konrad Karl II of Megalia knows most of the facts, but it is doubtful whether the British public would tolerate a book from the pen of a man who is legally an alien enemy.
I have, at all events, leisure to devote to the work, and I have heard the story from the lips of those chiefly concerned. They have allowed me to question them on various points, and placed all, or almost all, they knew at my disposal.
Konrad Karl II began to reign over Megalia in 1908. He obtained the throne through the good offices of his uncle, who wanted to get rid of him. Konrad Karl, at that time prince, was the hero of several first-rate scandals, and had the reputation of being the most irrepressible blackguard of royal blood in all Europe. He was a perpetual source of trouble in the Imperial Court. Gorman says that the Emperor pushed him on to the vacant throne in the hopes that the Megalians would assassinate him. They generally did assassinate their kings, and would no doubt have cut the throat of Konrad Karl II if he had not left the country hurriedly after reigning two years.
As king in exile Konrad Karl made a tour of the central European courts, staying as long as he could in each. He was never allowed to stay very long because of Madame Corinne Ypsilante. This lady had shared with him the palace, but not the throne, of Megalia. She accompanied him in his flight and subsequent wanderings. In these democratic days Grand Dukes, Kings, and even Emperors, must have some regard for appearances if they wish to keep their positions. It is painfully necessary to avoid open and flagrant scandal. Madame Corinne was a lady who showed wherever she was. It was impossible to conceal her. Konrad Karl did not even try.
Some time in 1912 or 1913 he arrived, still accompanied by Madame, in London. His reputation, and hers, had preceded him. English society did not receive him warmly. He occupied a suite of rooms at Beaufort's, the expensive and luxurious hotel which is the London home of foreign royalties and American millionaires. Kings, I suppose, can hold out longer than ordinary men without paying their bills. Konrad Karl was in low water financially. His private fortune was small. Madame Corinne had no money of her own, though she had jewels. Perhaps Mr. Beaufort—if the proprietor of the hotel is indeed a Mr. Beaufort—makes enough money out of the millionaires to enable him to entertain impecunious kings.
My friend Gorman made the acquaintance of Konrad Karl early in 1913. Gorman is a man who lives comfortably, very much more comfortably than he could if he had no resources except the beggarly L400 a year which his country pays him as a reward for his popularity with the people of Upper Offaly. He makes money in various ways. His journalistic work brings him in a few hundreds a year. Enterprises of a commercial or financial kind add very considerably to his income. In 1913 he was interested in the Near Eastern Winegrowers' Association, a limited liability company which aimed at making money by persuading the British public to drink Greek wine. He heard of Konrad Karl, and at once invited that monarch to become one of the directors of the company. Konrad Karl was not a Greek, and his country did not produce wine which any one except a Megalian could drink. His value to Gorman lay in the fact that there was not another limited liability company in all England which had a King on its Board of Directors.
One of the least objectionable of the wines which Gorman's company sold was put on the market as Vino Regalis. The advertisements hinted without actually stating that the King had succeeded in carrying off a thousand dozen bottles of this wine out of the royal cellars when he fled from his subjects in Megalia. The bottles in which Vino Regalis was sold had yards of gold foil wrapped round their necks. They were in their way quite as splendid and obtrusive as Madame Corinne was in hers. I always think that Gorman must have had the lady before his eyes when he arranged the get-up of that wine.
The company prospered for a while, until the public became aware of the quality of the wine sold. Then came a collapse. But Gorman did pretty well out of it. The King also did pretty well. He drew fees as a director, a special honorarium in recognition of the value of his title, and his share of the profits. The profits were large, but he spent all he got as he received it. Madame Corinne is an expensive lady, and the King was just as badly off after the collapse of the company as he had been before he became a director. He consulted Gorman about his future. This was a very wise thing to do. Gorman probably knows more ways of making money than any man in London.
The consultation—the true starting point of the story of the Island of Salissa—took place in one of the King's rooms in Beaufort's. Madame Corinne was not there. She had, I think, gone to the opera. Gorman and the King dined well, as men do who can command the services of the chef at Beaufort's. The wine they drank was not Vino Regalis. After dinner they sat in front of a fire. Brandy and coffee were on a small table set between their chairs. They smoked large and excellent cigars.
"My friend," said the King, "I find myself in a tight place. I am, as the English say, broke like a stone."
The King prided himself on his mastery of that esoteric English by which the members of various sets, smart, sporting and other, conceal the meaning of what they say from outsiders, especially from foreigners who have acquired their knowledge of our language by painful study of dictionaries and grammars.
"Since the wine company went on the burst," said the King, "I have not a stiver, not a red cent, not in all my pockets the price of one damned drink."
"If I might venture to advise you, sir," said Gorman.
"Advise? Certainly advise. But drop or, as you say in England, knock up calling me 'sir.' I am no longer a king. I resign. I abdicate. I chuck up the sponge of royalty. What the hell, my dear Gorman, is the good of being a king when there are no shekels?"
"I shouldn't do that if I were you," said Gorman. "After all, royalty is an asset. A title like that—kings aren't at all common, you know—is worth money in the market."
The King drank a glass of brandy with an air of great dejection.
"In what market? Who will buy?"
"Well," said Gorman, "I suppose you might marry. There must be lots of wealthy girls who would like to be called queen."
The King leaned forward and smacked Gorman heartily on the knee.
"You have hit the business end of the nail," he said. "I am ready. I shall marry. Produce the lady, or, as you say in England, cough her up."
Gorman had not expected this prompt and enthusiastic approval of his suggestion. He had not a list of heiresses in his pocket.
"But," he said, "there's Madame Ypsilante."
"Corinne is reasonable," said the King. "I should not, of course, show my cold shoulder to Corinne. She would share the loot. She and I together."
Gorman knew that the King was a blackguard entirely without principle or honour; but this proposal startled him.
"I have it," said the King. "Something has happened—no, occurred to me. There is in this hotel at this moment an American, an oof-bird, a king of dollars."
Gorman knew Donovan pretty well; as indeed he knew all wealthy Irish-Americans. It was Gorman's business to cross the Atlantic from time to time to get money for the support of the Irish Party. Donovan had been for many years a generous subscriber to these funds.
"There is a daughter," said the King. "I have not put eyes on her. She may be—but it does not matter what she is, not a curse, not a damn from the Continent. I shall still have Corinne. The American oof-girl may have the eyes of a pig. I do not care."
It is not easy to shock Gorman. Indeed, I should have said beforehand that it was impossible to shock him. But I have his assurance that Konrad Karl did it. It is true that Gorman himself had suggested marriage to the King as a way out of his difficulties. But marriage with an unnamed and unknown heiress is one thing. The King's plan, frankly worked out, for insulting and robbing a girl whom Gorman knew personally was quite a different matter. Miss Daisy Donovan is a bright-faced, clear-eyed, romantic-souled girl. She had finished her course of study in one of the universities of the Middle-west without becoming a cultivated prig. In spite of the fact that history, economics, emasculated philosophy and a kind of intellectual complexion cream called literature had been smeared all over her by earnest professors, she had never learned to take herself, life or society at all seriously. She had all the vitality which gives American women their singular charm and none of the appalling earnestness of high endeavour which sometimes leads even very charming women into repulsive kinds of foolishness. The thought of a marriage between Miss Daisy and King Konrad Karl—with Madame Ypsilante in the near background—affected Gorman with a feeling of physical nausea.
The King possessed a certain capacity for sympathy. He guessed something of what was in Gorman's mind.
"After all," he said, "she would be a queen. It is something. You have said so yourself, my friend. You cannot have an omelette without the sacrifice of an egg. But I see—I see very plainly that you do not wish me to marry the Donovan oof-girl. You will not back me up. Good. I back down. I bear no malice. I wish you success. I shall eat cake at your wedding without envy. To you the American with pigs' eyes—yes, I am sure she has pigs' eyes. To me Corinne. To which of us happiness? eh, my friend?"
Gorman felt that it would be perfectly impossible to convince the King that he had no wish to marry Miss Daisy or her fortune.
"All right," he said. "Leave it at that if you like."
"I have left it," said the King, "at that, precisely at that, though I do not like it at all."
"And now," said Gorman, "let's get back to your own affairs. You say that you're in a tightish place just for the moment."
"I am in a hell hole," said the King.
"Why not go back to the Emperor? He must do something for you. After all, he's your uncle. He can't let you go under altogether. Of course you'll have to eat humble pie, do the repentant prodigal and all that sort of thing."
"I should with gladness eat any pie—even pie made of the fatted calf of the prodigal; but—there is Corinne. The Emperor regards Corinne very much, my dear Gorman, as you regard me. I do not complain. You and the Emperor are no doubt right. You hit your nails on the head, both of you, when you say of Corinne and me—they are blackguards. But I prefer Corinne and no veal pie to veal pie and no Corinne. Yes, my friend, I choose Corinne every time."
I have met King Konrad Karl once or twice, and I have, of course, heard a good deal about him. He is, unquestionably, a scoundrel. But I agree with Gorman that he is a frank and therefore an attractive scoundrel. Besides, his fidelity to Corinne is a redeeming feature, perhaps the only redeeming feature of his character.
Gorman is, if not a blackguard, at all events an adventurer, and therefore kin to the King. He saw the impossibility of leading Corinne to the foot of the imperial throne; and he felt that, after all, the King was right from his own point of view. Corinne was more desirable than many fatted calves. He cast about for some other way out of the difficult position.
"We might," he said, "make something out of Megalia."
"Nothing," said the King. "I have been in Megalia and I know it. It is a one-dog country. There is nothing in it. I have tried it, and I know."
"We might start a Megalian Development Company," said Gorman.
"A company, perhaps," said the King, "but development of Megalia, never."
"I was not thinking of actually developing it. That would be the company's business afterwards. Not that it will be easy to start the company. It won't. Nobody knows anything about the damned place."
"That is our best chance," said the King. "If any one did know Megalia, the company would be—what is it you say—a scrub down—no—a wash-up—ah, I have it—a wash-out."
"You'd grant concessions, I suppose," said Gorman.
"I do not know exactly what a concession means," said the King, "but if any one will pay for it I will give them permission to make the people of Megalia into sausages and kidneys. Believe me, my friend, that is the only development of which the Megalians are capable. They are pigs—Gadarene pigs."
"We won't suggest that in the prospectus," said Gorman. "Our company, if we ever get it started, must be humanitarian, altruistic; I'm not sure that it ought not to be a little religious—mission of civilization. That's the note to strike."
"And you expect to make money out of—out of that? out of what you teach in your schools for Sunday?"
"It's just exactly out of that that money is made."
"The English," said the King, "are a great people, very wonderful. You—even you, my friend, who are not English, but Irish—you will not let me marry because of Corinne. You wish me to eat humble pie while poor Corinne goes hungry, and yet you will make money out of a company for reforming the people of Megalia, making them civilized, Christian—a thing that is not at all possible—ever, in any way. Tell me, my friend, could you not start a company to develop, reform, improve Corinne and me. Believe me, it would be easier to do."
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."
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'etat 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 Real Politik 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.
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 L5,000.
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—"L10,000."
"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, L10,000?"
"It would amount to L100."
"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?"
"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 Feiners 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."
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 anaemic 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 mediaeval. 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 anaemic 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."
History says little about them, but there doubtless have been queens who lacked dignity, queens with high spirits and little sense of decorum, queens who outraged pompous chamberlains and brought shame into the lives of stately chancellors. The behaviour of the new queen of Salissa caused no scandal; but that was only because there was no one in her small court who had any sense of the dignity proper to queens. The major domo's feelings would certainly have been outraged if he watched Queen Daisy make her first royal progress. But he was shut up in his cabin. The other servants might have quivered with shame and disgust if they had seen—but they saw nothing, having turned away their eyes from beholding vanity.
After the cable had ceased rattling through the hawse hole Miss Daisy demanded a boat. Scarcely waiting for Captain Wilson's word, Mr. Phillips rushed to lower one. Lashings were cast loose, the boat was swung outboard and manned with a speed which would have done credit to a smart yacht's crew. Miss Daisy ran to her cabin. The oarsmen sat ready to push off. Mr. Phillips stood in the stern sheets, the tiller between his feet. Miss Daisy appeared at the top of the accommodation ladder. She held a large parcel in her hand.
"Catch," she said to Mr. Phillips, "it's the flag."
She flung it. Mr. Phillips with a wild grab saved it from the sea. Miss Daisy laughed joyously.
"Catch again," she said, "the palace keys."
A bunch of keys crashed on the floor boards of the boat between the feet of the man who rowed stroke. Mr. Phillips picked them up. Miss Daisy, disdaining a helping hand held out by Smith, skipped down the steps; her skirt held tight in one hand she leaped into the boat.
"Quickly," she cried, "oh, quickly, quickly! Please don't be long."
"Shove off," said Mr. Phillips, "and pull like—pull like——"
"Say it," said Miss Daisy, "say it, if it will make them go quicker."
"Pull," said Mr. Phillips, "pull like—billy-o."
The men pulled. Not even the expected invocation of bloody hell would have stirred them to greater exertions. The boat sprang forward. She sped towards the palace. The water bubbled round her bows, swished and foamed in the wake astern of her. Mr. Phillips brought her up alongside a broad flight of white steps. The men clawed at the smooth stone with their fingers. The Queen stepped ashore.
She stood on the lowest step, a figure poised for swift eager motion, a flushed excited girl, a queen with palpitating heart and eyes full of dancing merriment. The steps, blazing white in the sunshine, led up to a broad platform where a tall flagstaff stood. Behind was all the fantastic wonder of the palace, the porticoes, slender carved columns, stone lacework of flying buttresses, spires, hollowed spaces of dark shade, points of sparkling light, broad surfaces of dazzling whiteness. Mr. Phillips leaped ashore and passed the Queen, bounding up the steps to the platform. He carried in his hand the parcel which she had flung into the boat. He reached the flagstaff. He knotted a light line round his waist. He swarmed up the bare pole. He rove the line through the block at the top of the staff and slid to earth again. He bent the halyard to the flag. It ran up, a neat ball. With a sharp chuck at the line Mr. Phillips broke it out. The Royal Standard of Salissa fluttered in the morning breeze, pale blue, glorious.
Mr. Phillips shouted:
"Long live the Queen! long live the Queen!"
The Queen, still standing on the bottom step, gave a little cry of delight. The men in the boat sat still, with puzzled grins on their faces. Mr. Phillips bounded down to them, leaping the steps in threes and fours.
"Cheer, you blighters," he said, "unless you want your silly skulls smashed. Cheer like billy-o. Long live the Queen!"
The men scrambled to their feet and responded. Their cheers rang out. One of them, moved to enthusiasm, seized his oar and beat the water with the flat of the blade. Like a man with a flail he raised the oar high and brought it down with loud smacks on the water, splashing up sparkling drops, rocking the boat in which he stood. He was not a native of Salissa, not a subject of the Queen, but his action expressed the enthusiasm of devoted loyalty.
The Queen bowed, blushing, laughing, breathless with excitement.
Across the bay came the sound of shouting from the men on board the Ida, ragged cheers. The steamer's syren shrieked. Mr. Donovan stood on the bridge, the rope which controlled the syren in his hand. The Queen waved to him. Five revolver shots rang out in quick succession.
"Good old Wilson!" said Mr. Phillips. "I wouldn't have thought he had it in him to fire a royal salute."
He gave Captain Wilson credit which was not his due. It was Smith, the steward, who fired the revolver. Afterwards that loyal servant excused himself to Mr. Donovan.
"Beg pardon, sir," he said, "perhaps I oughtn't to have fired without orders; but it seemed the proper thing to do, sir."
"Do you always carry a gun in your pocket?" said Mr. Donovan.
"Only when I'm among Eastern peoples, sir. It's wiser then. Not in England, sir."
The Queen, standing radiant in the sunshine before her palace, gave her first royal command.
"Mr. Phillips," she said, "take the keys and come along."
They ran up the steps together, past the flagstaff, crossed a space of smooth white rock, and reached the great door which faced them. Mr. Phillips fitted the key and flung the door wide. A gloomy cool space lay before them. They were standing in bright sunshine and a glow of reflected light. Their eyes failed to penetrate the darkness before them. It was as if a thick black curtain hung inside the door. The Queen hesitated on the threshold. Mr. Phillips entered the room. He threw open the shutters and flung the great windows wide. Broad belts of light crossed the room. The sunshine flooded it. The morning breeze blew in, driving before it the heavy stagnant air.
The Queen entered.
She stood in a great hall. Round the walls hung pictures in tarnished frames. Rich furniture, damp-stained and worm-eaten, stood stiffly arranged as if for some great function. Only here and there was evidence of some disorder. A table was upset near the fireplace. The covering of a chair had been torn, and the hair stuffing of its cushions bulged through the rent. The ashes of a wood fire and the charred remains of half-burnt logs were on the hearth. Some papers lay scattered on the floor near one of the windows.
The Queen, subdued, quieter, went on tip-toe round the room. She touched the furniture and the pictures softly, as she passed them. There was in her a feeling, half fear, half reverence, for the things which had once belonged to the dead King Otto. Phillips, moved by an impulse of curiosity, crossed the room to where the torn papers lay. He stooped down and picked up some of the fragments. For the most part they were blank. On one or two there were words in a language he did not understand. Only one fragment interested him. It was the corner of a torn envelope. It bore an English stamp and a London postmark.
"Your Majesty," he said.
She did not hear or did not reply. Mr. Phillips was not used to intimate association with royal persons. He tried another form of address. "Your Serene Highness," he said.
The Queen looked round.
"Do you mean me?" she said.
"Yes, your Excellency," said Phillips.
The Queen laughed aloud. The sound of his voice and her own, the ready merriment of her laughter, awoke her from the fear and reverence, scattered the vague feeling of mystery which hung over her.
"Don't you do it," she said. "I'm queen of this island right enough, but I don't mean to spend the rest of my life walking on stilts. I'm not that kind of queen. I'm a genuine democrat all the time. Don't you forget that. Now call me Miss Daisy, same as you used to on board."
Mr. Phillips blushed.
"Miss Daisy," he said, "how long is it since the last king lived here?"
"I don't know," she said, "and I don't care. Centuries and centuries, I expect. Come and explore, I want to see the whole of the palace and let the light and air into every room."
She had shaken off entirely all vestiges of the sense of oppression which had come on her when she first breathed the heavy stale air of the hall and saw it with its decayed furniture, huge and dim before her. It was full of sunlight now and she was merry again in the sunlight and fresh air.
She ran from room to room, pulling shutters back, flinging wide the windows. Phillips followed her, listened to her while she planned these for her father's rooms, those for her own, how breakfast should be laid on summer mornings on a balcony right over the water, how midday meals should be eaten in a shaded portico.
"And this," she said, "shall be your room, for you're to spend all your holidays here. See, if you open the window you can take a header right into the blue water—Oh, isn't it a beautiful colour?—and have a morning swim."
Phillips was ready to take a header from any window at the Queen's command. He would ask nothing better than to spend, not holidays only, but all his days there on the island with her. If he could enter her service—he wondered whether the Queen of Salissa would start a Royal Navy of her own.
They passed from room to room. They ran up winding staircases and emerged in tiny turret chambers, glass enclosed like the tops of lighthouses. They found a roof garden set round with huge stone urns full of dry caked earth. Once, no doubt, flowers had bloomed in them. Flowers, so the Queen determined, should bloom in them again. They descended to cool, spacious kitchens, to cellars where wine had been stored. They passed through a narrow doorway and found suddenly that the sea was lapping at their feet. They were underneath the centre of the house. Around them were high walls. From the water itself arose thick round pillars, supports of the vaulting on which the great hall rested. The light, entering for the most part through the water, was blue and faint. The stones beneath the water gleamed blue. The pillars as they rose changed from blue to purple. The water sighed, murmured, almost moaned. It seemed as if it tried to cling to the smooth stone work, as if it sank back again disappointed, weary of for ever giving kisses which were not returned. They stood in silence, looking, listening. Then Phillips spoke. His voice sounded strangely hollow. He sank it to a whisper.
"Miss Daisy," he said, "how long is it since the last king lived here?"
"Why do you ask me that again?" she said. "I don't know. A hundred years ago, perhaps. They killed him, you know. I wonder if they threw his body into the sea there?"
"Was it last December?"
"Of course not. How can you be so silly? As if any one would kill a king last December! They only did things like that centuries ago."
Phillips took from his pocket the torn envelope he had picked up in the great hall.
"Look," he said, "I found that near the fireplace in the hall we went into first."
"It's an old envelope," she said. "It must have belonged to the king they killed. How interesting! Fancy their having had envelopes in those days!"
"The postmark on it," he said, "is London, and the date is December 15, 1913. Some one was in the house since then, living in it."
The Queen clapped her hands.
"Oh, splendid," she said. "A mystery. It was the one thing I longed for. A mystery, a ghost, a secret chamber and all those beautiful things. I was quite afraid the house was too sunny for mystery until we came down here. There might be anything here, in this blue light, brigands or wandering spirits, or the old gods of the island. Now I call it just perfect. Thank you so much, Mr. Phillips, for finding me that paper. Now we can just brood on that brigand. It must have been a brigand. Or do you think the assassins came back, driven by pangs of conscience, to the scene of their crime, and just dropped that envelope so as to give a clue? There always are clues, aren't there? Oh, I am glad you found it."
As she spoke there came a thin high sound, a ghostly wail. It echoed back from the walls, repeating itself. The sound was broken among the pillars, came confusedly to the listening ears. The waters stirred uneasily, sucking at the walls and the pillars with a kind of fierce intensity. Her hand sought his arm, caught it, held it tightly.
"It's the steamer's syren," said Phillips. "They must be signalling."
She loosed her hold of his arm and turned from him.
"How can you say such a thing? Just when I thought it was the ghost of the murdered king crying for vengeance."
"I am sure they're signalling for us," he said. "We'd better go."
The Queen, closely followed by Phillips, hurried through the cellars, along narrow passages, up a dozen different flights of stairs. They lost themselves several times. Twice they arrived by different routes at the large central kitchen. Twice they left it by different doors. They grew hot with laughter and bewilderment. Then they heard the steamer's syren and grew hotter still with impatience. At last, breathless and flushed, they reached the steps at which they had landed.
Eight boats lay clustered round the steamer. One of them was her own, a heavy white boat, carvel built, with high freeboard. Four men sat in her, resting on their oars. The other seven were island boats, gaily painted red and green, high prowed, high sterned. The biggest of them had a mast stepped right forward, a mast which raked steeply aft, across which lay the yard of a lateen sail. Six oarsmen sat in her. The other island boats were smaller. There were only two rowers in each. They had the same high bows and high sterns curving inwards, the same low freeboard amidships where the rowers sat. In them were many women and children.
On the deck of the Ida stood a little group of men. Captain Wilson's neat alert figure was easily recognizable. Mr. Donovan's white Panama hat was unmistakable. Phillips declared that the smaller man who stood beside Mr. Donovan was Smith, the steward. A little apart from them stood a tall bare-headed man. He had a long white beard. There seemed to be some kind of consultation going on. When the Queen and Phillips appeared on the steps below the castle the group on the steamer broke up. Captain Wilson, Mr. Donovan and Smith took places in the Ida's lifeboat. The old man went into the largest of the island boats. He stood in the stern, his hand on the carved end of her huge tiller. The eight boats, tailing out in a long procession, rowed slowly towards the castle steps.
"They must be your subjects," said Phillips. "They are coming to swear allegiance."
"My!" said the Queen. "What shall I say? What shall I do? What will they do? They can't all kiss my hand. There must be forty of them."