The Island Mystery/Chapter 11

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CHAPTER XI


I FIND it necessary to remind myself from time to time that the Queen of Salissa is a young girl, in mind and experience little more than a child. If I think of her as a woman or allow myself to credit her with any common sense, that blight which falls on the middle-aged, her actions become unintelligible.

She ought, no doubt, to have gone straight to her father and told him about the cisterns in the cave. That was the sane thing to do. Donovan was a man of clear understanding and wide knowledge. He would have—I do not know precisely what he would have done, but it would have been something entirely sensible. The Queen dreaded nothing so much as that. She found herself for the first time in her life in touch with a mystery, surrounded by things fascinatingly incomprehensible. Her island held a secret, was the scene—there could be no doubt about it—of a deep, dark, perhaps dangerous plot. She was thrilled. The more she thought of the cavern and the mysterious tanks, the more delightful the thrills became.

She made a confidant of Phillips, choosing instinctively the only person on the island likely to be in full sympathy with her. Phillips was older than she was. He was twenty-eight; but he was a simple, straightforward young man with his boyish taste for adventure unspoiled. He was also deeply in love with the Queen.

I have found it very difficult to get either from the Queen or from Phillips a complete and coherent account of what happened between the discovery of the cisterns and the day when the Ida sailed, taking Phillips away from the island. I gather that they were both the victims of a bad attack of detective fever. They have talked to me quite freely and cheerfully of the “Island Mystery.” That was the Queen’s phrase. About a much more important matter the Queen will not speak at all, and Phillips cannot be induced to dwell on details. I have been obliged to depend mainly on Kalliope for information, and even now Kalliope does not speak English well.

“We have three clues,” said the Queen hopefully, “three really good clues. We ought to be able to unearth the mystery. Detectives hardly ever have so many.”

Phillips named the three clues, ticking them off on his fingers.

“First, the torn envelope; second, Smith’s expedition to the cave before dawn——

“Before dawn,” said the Queen with rapture.

“Third, the cisterns in the cave. Let’s go and see the cisterns.”

“No,” said the Queen. “The great thing is not to be carried away by passion. We must be cold, purely intellectual. We must be thoroughly systematic. We’ll begin with the torn envelope. It happened first.”

They retired to a shady corner of the balcony outside the Queen’s rooms and studied the torn envelope for two hours. They were analytical, keenly and minutely observant, coldly cautious in forming conclusions. They tried every method of detection known to detective science. They held the envelope up to the light in order to discover a watermark. They examined the texture of the paper, the ink and the postage stamp, carefully through a powerful magnifying glass. They scraped one corner of the envelope with the blade of a penknife. They took four photographs, two of the front and two of the back, with the Queen’s hand camera. They talked a good deal about fingerprints.

Phillips had a logical mind and a capacity for synthetic induction. The Queen was perhaps the more careful observer. She had certainly the more brilliant imagination. After two hours’ work they summed up their conclusions, making careful notes with the Queen’s fountain pen on the blank pages at the end of a large diary.

“A man or men——” said Phillips.

The Queen wrote down “A man or men” in the diary.

“Has,” said Phillips, “or have, been present on the island of Salissa at some date between December 15, 1913, and April 30, 1914. The said man or men was or were during part of that period in occupation of the royal palace.”

“Royal palace,” said the Queen, writing rapidly.

“This man—or men, of course—was in correspondence with some person at present unknown, resident in the city of London.”

“That’s very important,” said the Queen. “Anything more?”

“No,” he said, “that’s all I’ve got.”

The Queen handed over the diary. It was Phillips’ turn to write.

“I observed,” she said, “that the envelope is of the kind used by business men, an office envelope; also that the stamp is put on crooked.”

Phillips looked at the stamp. It was put on crooked.

“From this I infer,” said the Queen, “either that the man in London—— What did you call him?”

“Person at present unknown,” said Phillips.

“Either that the person at present unknown was (a) habitually careless about details, or that (b) though usually careful he was in a hurry when he despatched this letter.”

“By Jove!” said Phillips, “but, I say, mightn’t somebody else, an office boy or some one, have put on the stamp?”

“Not on a letter of this kind,” said the Queen. “The writer wouldn’t have trusted any one else.”

“It’s frightfully clever of you,” said Phillips, “to have thought of all that.”

“It does not lead to anything very definite yet,” said the Queen. “But you’ll find it will all fit together—like a jigsaw puzzle you know—when we get to work on the other two clues. We can’t expect to solve a mystery of this sort straight off. We’ve only been at it two hours.”

Kalliope stood all the time at the far end of the balcony watching the Queen. She knew nothing about the investigation of the island mystery which was going on under her eyes. But she was a young woman who had lived a simple and natural life. In some things she was far wiser than her mistress. She seems to have realized that the Queen and Phillips were making, without knowing it, considerable progress into the heart of another, much more enthralling, mystery. As a chaperone Kalliope was negligible.

“The next clue,” said the Queen, “is Smith. We must shadow him.”

“Day and night,” said Phillips.

“And Stephanos. Stephanos was with him when he went to the cavern that morning.”

“Stephanos is in it up to the neck,” said Phillips. They shadowed Smith for the rest of that day. They stole on tip-toe about the house and burst suddenly into rooms where Smith was at work, coming upon him unexpectedly. They hid in cupboards and behind curtains in rooms which Smith was likely to enter. They left letters, written in cipher, and marked coins in prominent places where Smith could hardly fail to see them. Kalliope conceived that an elaborate game of hide-and-seek was being played. She joined in, enthusiastically but unintelligently, concealing herself in various parts of the house without regard to Smith’s habits. Once she remained obstinately hidden for more than an hour under the Queen’s bed.

The results were most unsatisfactory. Smith spent his day sweeping floors, making beds, cooking food and compounding cocktails for Mr. Donovan. His few leisure moments were spent in polishing silver. He was totally uninterested in cipher documents and never looked at marked coins.

Smith still slept on the steamer, so it fell to Phillips to keep guard over him at night. He adopted the ingenious, though not very novel plan of pasting a strip of paper across the door of Smith’s cabin. In the morning, very early, he went to look at the door. The paper was intact.

So far as could be discovered Smith led a dull, laborious but innocent life, working hard all day and sleeping sound at night. But the time spent in shadowing him was not wholly wasted. The Queen and Mr. Phillips enjoyed themselves thoroughly. So did Kalliope. So, I have no doubt, did Smith.

“I do call this sleuth work jolly,” said the Queen. “Let’s try old Stephanos.”

They gave a whole day to Stephanos the Elder. During the early hours he sat outside the door of his cottage, rolling cigarettes in thin brown paper and smoking them. When the Queen came near him he stood up and bowed gravely. When she passed he sat down again. At noon he went indoors and dined. The Queen sent Kalliope across the harbour to the palace with a note to Smith. She returned with a large basket. The Queen and Phillips picnicked on the beach.

Early in the afternoon Stephanos walked through the vineyards which lay behind the village and sat down under a mulberry tree. The Queen stalked him. She made her approach in a most approved fashion, creeping through some low bushes with the utmost caution. She was even careful to advance against the wind in case Stephanos should have an unusually acute sense of smell. Phillips and Kalliope watched her from a hiding-place near the village. When she got within twenty yards of the old man, he rose to his feet, laid his hand on his heart and bowed to the Queen with dignified courtesy. If he felt any surprise at seeing the Queen crawling along the ground on her stomach he did not show it. His face expressed paternal but quite respectful benignity. The Queen returned from this expedition very much heated, with her hair dishevelled. Kalliope spent some time trying to rub the dirt off the front of her frock.

An hour later Stephanos climbed slowly to the high plateau of the island and sat down on the edge of a cliff. This time Phillips stalked him, making his way up the steep gully which led to a part of the cliff behind the old man’s seat. Stephanos sat gazing at the sea, apparently unconscious that any one was near him. But when Phillips emerged from his gully the old man was there waiting for him, bowing with placid politeness just as he had bowed to the Queen.

The complete failure of this sleuth work would have been a disappointment to many people. The Queen and Phillips remained perfectly cheerful and laughed happily at their own misfortunes.

Kalliope regarded them with some wonder. The ways of highly civilized people were strange to her. She became slightly contemptuous of Phillips and wondered that the Queen tolerated him so long. Kalliope had a lover of her own, a young man much more direct and rapid than Phillips was. She was of opinion that a very diffident lover was unsatisfactory. He wasted time. It seemed to her foolish to spend hours talking and consulting in the corner of a balcony, playing hide-and-seek about a house, and a whole day climbing over an island, when it was quite easy to kiss and be happy at once. She longed to express her sympathy, condole with the Queen over Phillips’ insulting apathy. It was, perhaps, fortunate that Kalliope’s English was wholly insufficient for such confidences.

Before the next day was over Kalliope thought better of Phillips.

The envelope yielded little useful information. The shadowing of Smith and Stephanos was entirely useless. But neither the Queen nor Phillips lost heart. They were as eager as ever to solve the mystery. There remained the third clue, the cisterns in the cave.

The Queen, Phillips and Kalliope started early next day. They went in the small island boat which Kalliope rowed. Smith was on the palace steps to see them off. He had with him a large basket packed with food.

“Thank you, Smith,” said the Queen. “I expect we’ll be back for luncheon, but we may not. One never knows. We meant to be back yesterday, but——

“Yes, your Majesty,” said Smith. “Not knowing where you thought of going, I packed the basket.”

“Oh, not far,” said the Queen. “Still, we may not be back.”

Smith stood respectful as a footman who has closed his mistress’ carriage door until the boat pushed off. Then he sat down on the steps below the flagstaff and lit a pipe. It was, perhaps, an idle morning with Smith. He seemed in no hurry to go back to his work. He sat smoking and watched the boat as she crossed the harbour. He saw her reach the mouth of the cave and disappear into its depths. Soon afterwards another boat put off from the beach below the village. Smith watched it too. There was one man on board. It also headed for the mouth of the cave. Smith knocked the ashes out of his pipe, stood up and went into the palace.

Kalliope poled the boat through the narrow part of the cave, rowed her briskly across the lagoon within and beached her on the steep slope beyond. Phillips leaped ashore and held out his hand to the Queen. They stumbled a little on the round stones. It is very difficult to walk steadily over stones which roll under the feet. The Queen laid her hand on Phillips’ arm. She went more securely with this support, so she held to it, leaning a good deal of her weight on it.

“There!” she said. “Look at them. Aren’t they the most ridiculous things you ever saw?”

No doubt the tanks, with their grey fronts and great spouts sticking out of them, had an absurd appearance. They reminded Phillips of the prehistoric monsters which artists sometimes draw in our comic papers. They had the same look of stupid largeness. There was the same suggestion of gaping malevolence. In the cool blue light of the cave they looked grotesquely inappropriate. Phillips’ first impulse was to laugh aloud. But he was a young man with a conscience. It was his duty to examine the cisterns, to find out if possible what they were, not to make fun of them.

He walked up to the nearest one and turned on the tap. Nothing came out. He tried the next one with the same result. He walked along the whole line of tanks and turned on every tap. The tanks were apparently empty. Mr. Phillips picked up a stone and struck each tank several times. The sound was hollow. If there had been any doubt about that the echoes would have convinced him. There was a fusillade of hollow tappings.

Phillips, placing his foot on the tap of one of the tanks, climbed up.

“Well,” said the Queen from below. “What have you found?”

“They’re very large,” said Phillips. “They go back a long way. They’d hold gallons and gallons of whatever they’re supposed to hold, and there are round lids with handles to lift them off by.”

“Oh,” said the Queen. “I would like to see. I think I could get up.”

Phillips thought so too. He stretched out a helping hand. The Queen put her foot on a tap and grasped the hand. Phillips pulled. The Queen sprang upwards, holding the hand tight. She reached the top of the tank breathless and sat down. Phillips still held her hand.

It is doubtful whether the Queen ever realized the full size of those tanks, or even saw the lids which Mr. Phillips had mentioned. The light was very dim. The situation, in spite of the grotesque appearance of the tanks, was exceedingly romantic. Long stalactites hung, faintly gleaming, from the roof. The water, strangely blue, mourned against the stones of the beach, sighed through the deep recesses of the cave. The world and all common things seemed very remote.

Ten minutes later the Queen suddenly started. She wriggled rapidly along the edge of the tanks until she sat five or six yards away from Phillips.

“Oh,” she cried, “there’s Kalliope!”

They had left Kalliope at the boat, but she had not stayed there. She was standing in front of the tanks looking up at the Queen and Phillips. She stood quite still. It was impossible to know how long she had been there.

“Damn Kalliope!” said Mr. Phillips fiercely.

Kalliope smiled quietly. She showed no signs of embarrassment. She did not pretend to be looking in any other direction. She had been kissed herself more than once by her own lover, and had found it pleasant. It did not strike her as in any way odd that the Queen should like kisses too.

“Help me down, quick,” said the Queen.

She did not wait for the help she asked. Disdaining even the foothold of the tap she slid over the edge of the tank and came down with a crash on the rolling stones at Kalliope’s feet. Phillips followed her with a single bound.

Kalliope pointed with her finger to a boat, another boat, which had just grounded on the beach. Stephanos the Elder stepped from it and bowed low to the Queen, bowed so low that his long beard almost touched the ground.

“Well, I’m blest!” said Phillips.

“My!” said the Queen, “isn’t it lucky I saw Kalliope just when I did? Fancy if that old fellow had caught us! I don’t so much mind about Kalliope, though of course it was awful. But I never could have looked the old man in the face if he had seen us.”

Later on, while they sat at luncheon on the sand of a little cove near the entrance of the cave, the Queen suddenly burst into a peal of merry laughter.

“Say,” she said, “he stalked us rather better than we stalked him yesterday, didn’t he?”

Next day the Ida, with Phillips on board, set sail for England.