The Island Mystery/Chapter 20

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KING KONRAD KARL took Gorman’s hand and wrung it heartily.

“My friend Gorman,” he said. “How are you? But I need not ask. I see. You are top-tipping.”

“Thanks,” said Gorman. “Salissa agrees with me. And Paris does not seem to have done you any harm.”

“Paris! Ah, in Paris one lives, and I am in the pink. But, alas and damn, I leave Paris. I take trains. I travel fast. I embark.” He waved his hand towards the steamer. “Finally, I arrive.”

“How did you come to embark in that curious-looking ship? I never saw a steamer like her before.”

“That,” said the King, “is the navy of Megalia. I come as a King, in a state.”

“I rather wonder that you trusted yourself to that navy,” said Gorman. “After what you told me about the fate of the late king. It was that same steamer, I suppose, which brought the Prime Minister and the rest of them out here to cut your predecessor’s throat.”

“Otto? Yes. It was the navy. You are right. They killed poor Otto. No doubt they would jump up to the chance to kill me too. But just now they cannot, and I am safe as a bank in England. The Emperor——

“Ah,” said Gorman, “I thought we’d get to the Emperor soon.”

“The Emperor said, ‘Carry the King to Salissa in the navy of Megalia.’ That is all, but that is enough. No, my friend, they will not kill me now. Afterwards perhaps. But afterwards I shall not be here. I shall return to Paris.”

“I wonder you ever left Paris,” said Gorman, “but I suppose that was the Emperor too.”

“You are right. You hit it the first time you shoot. The Emperor sends to me Steinwitz—a cursed pig—a cur dog with mange on him—an outsider from the ranks, that is, I think you say a rank outsider—a bounder, my friend Gorman—a sweeper of chimneys—a swine——

“I’m sure he’s all that. I don’t care for the man myself, but tell me what he said to you.”

“Steinwitz came into my hotel. He said, ‘The American will not sell Salissa. It is necessary that you marry the girl.’ I said ‘Good. Where is she? To-morrow I will do it.’ But he said, ‘The girl is not here. It is for you to go to Salissa at once. She is there.’ Conceive it, my friend. I did not want to leave Paris. We were happy there, Corinne and I. But at once, in a jiffy, I am off to this place and without Corinne. It is a hard line, for me the hardest line.”

“But why the deuce did you do it? Oh, I needn’t ask that. The Emperor, of course. Well, I don’t know whether you’ll be pleased to hear it or not, but you can’t marry the girl.”

“But—you do not quite understand. For me there is no choice. It is: Damn it, I must. The Emperor——

“Even the Emperor can’t make the same girl marry two men. I happen to know that Miss Donovan is engaged to a young fellow called Phillips, and fifty Emperors yelling at her at once wouldn’t make her give him up.”

The King seized Gorman’s hand and shook it heartily. His face expressed great delight.

“Where,” he said, “is the young fellow called Phillips? I wish to see him at once, to embrace him. I shall bestow on him the Order of the Pink Vulture of Megalia, First Class. I shall make him a Count. Do you think, my friend, that he would wish to be a Count? His action is most noble. He is a good sporter. I will now go back to Paris. The Emperor can say no more to me. The young fellow Phillips has married the girl.”

“Not quite married her,” said Gorman, “but it’s nearly the same thing.”

The King waved his hand airily.

“It is quite the same thing. No man of honour—the young fellow Phillips is above all a man of honour—would go backwards from his word. Besides there is your English court of broken promises of marriage. He would not face that. I write at once to the Emperor. I tell him that I regret, that I am desolate, but I can do no more. The young fellow Phillips has cut me up—no, has cut out—that is, he has cut me in. Then I return to Paris. To-day I shall start. The navy of Megalia will get up steam and——

The King stopped abruptly. The smile died on his face. He had all the appearance of extreme dejection.

“My friend,” he said, “it will not work. I forgot one thing. I am up in a tree. What am I to do?”

“What’s the matter?” said Gorman. “You were just saying you’d go back to Paris. That strikes me as an excellent plan. What’s the matter with it?”

“I had forgotten one thing,” said the King. “If I cannot marry the girl, I am no longer any use. The Emperor will not care a damn what happens to me. The Admiral of Megalia is there, Gorman, on the navy. The Emperor’s command no longer protects. The admiral will say, ‘Hell and Hurrah! Now is my chance.’”

“Do you mean to say you think the admiral will assassinate you?”

“It is as certain as two and two and four. If I return to my navy I follow poor Otto at once. The admiral will know that if I cannot marry the girl the Emperor will not care about me. Perhaps it is better after all that I marry her.”

“I’ve told you already that you can’t.”

“Pooh! You are thinking of the young fellow Phillips. A word to the admiral and Phillips will no longer blockade the way.”

“Look here,” said Gorman, “there’s no use talking that kind of nonsense. Your admiral appears to be a man with a taste for murder, but he can’t be allowed to run amok in that way. And Miss Donovan would not marry you even if Phillips was out of the way. Get that into your head once for all.”

“Great Scott and damn!” said the King. “Do you think I want to marry her. No, my friend, there is nothing I desire less except to follow poor Otto. I do not want to marry the girl. To be married to her would make me bored, but it would make me much more bored to die.”

“The thing for you to do,” said Gorman, “is to stay where you are. Don’t go on board your navy. Donovan has asked you to stay at the palace. You’ll be safe here. We won’t even ask the admiral to dinner if you’d rather we didn’t.”

“It will be dull, dull as the water of a ditch,” said the King mournfully.

“You needn’t stay here for ever,” said Gorman. “There’ll be an English ship back in a short time and you can go home in her. Madame will be waiting for you all right.”

“Poor Corinne!” said the King. “I left her in Paris. Steinwitz said so, and he spoke for the Emperor. ‘You go to marry,’ he said, ‘therefore Madame must stay.’”

“From his point of view he was right there,” said Gorman, “and it’s just as well that Madame did not come with you. Donovan is a broad-minded man; but you couldn’t expect him to put up you and Madame in the palace. It would be trying him rather high.”

“Ah,” said the King. “Poor Corinne! She will be desolate.”

“Well,” said Gorman, “you’d better come along now and see Donovan. He ought to be down here to receive you, of course. But these Americans—I’m sure you’ll understand—they’re not accustomed to kings.”

“Say no more,” said the King, “not a word. I go to pay my respects. I bow. I abase myself. I am a king. It is true. But I have no money, only a little, a very little left. He is not a king, but he has money. Gorman, I am not a Bourbon. I am able to learn and forget. He who can write a cheque is a greater man than he who can confer the Order of the Pink Vulture of Megalia. I have learned that. Also I can forget, forget that I am a king.”

We must do Konrad Karl justice. No king was ever more willing to forget his rank than he was. The real trouble with him was that he seldom remembered it.

“Come along then,” said Gorman, “but don’t get talking business to Donovan.”

“Business! Why do you so often misunderstand me, you who ought to know me well? First you think that I desire to marry that girl—as if it were possible that I should. Then you fear that I will talk business. Am I one that talks business ever, to any one, if I can help it?”

“I mean,” said Gorman, “don’t say anything about buying the island or marrying the girl. Donovan’s heart is dicky, or he thinks it is, which comes to the same thing—and any sort of worry upsets him.”

“I see it,” said the King. “I understand. Trust me. Mumm will be the word. Mumm extra sec. Mumm at 190 shillings a dozen. You can trust me.”

King Konrad Karl made himself most agreeable to Donovan. He did not once mention the sale of the island or hint at a marriage with the Queen. He talked about the scenery. He discussed the character, manners and customs of the inhabitants. He inquired whether Donovan were satisfied with the palace, admitted frankly that the accommodation was not all that could be desired. In just such a way an English gentleman might converse with a satisfactory tenant to whom he had let his country house for the hunting season. Donovan repeated the invitation which Gorman had given in his name, and pressed the King to treat the palace as his own during his stay in Salissa. The King accepted the invitation with profuse thanks. Donovan rang a bell which lay on the table beside him.

“I’ll tell Smith,” he said, “to get your luggage ashore right now and fix up a room for you.”

I have always admired Smith. He is not only competent in practical affairs. He has nerve and coolness of a very high order. He found himself in a difficult position when Donovan’s bell sounded. He knew that the King had landed, knew that he was with Donovan and Gorman on the balcony. In Smith’s position I think I should have sent some one else to take Donovan’s orders, one of the island girls, or one of the boys who were by that time presentable footmen. I should, I feel sure, have concealed myself, feigned sickness, made any excuse, rather than face the King in the presence of Donovan and Gorman. But Smith is greatly my superior. He appeared at once in answer to the summons of the bell. He stood half-way between Donovan’s chair and the door which opened on the balcony. He did not even glance at the King. But the King recognized him at once.

“Ah,” he said. “It is, yes. Hell’s delight! It is the excellent Fritz. It is so long since I have seen you, Fritz, I began to think you were dead.”

“No, your Majesty, not yet,” said Smith. “I hope your Majesty is quite well, and Mr. Steinwitz, if you’ll excuse my asking. I hope Mr. Steinwitz is quite well.”

“That swine,” said the King, “is, as always, swallowing in the mire.”

“You’ll excuse my asking, your Majesty,” said Smith, “but I like to hear about Mr. Steinwitz. It was Mr. Steinwitz who got me my present situation—a very good situation, your Majesty.”

“Smith,” said Donovan, “get the King’s luggage ashore. He’s going to stay here for a bit. You must make him as comfortable as you can.”

“Yes, sir,” said Smith. “I’ll see to that, sir, at once. Anything else, sir?”

“Not now,” said Donovan.

“Thank you, sir,” said Smith.

Then he left the balcony. Many men, perhaps most men, would not have gone far away, would have lingered near one of the open windows which gave on the balcony, nervously anxious to hear what was said about them. Smith was not in the least nervous. He went straight to the landing steps and was to be seen a few moments later rowing out to the steamer. He probably guessed pretty accurately what questions Donovan and Gorman would ask. He must have known what King Konrad Karl would tell them. He would discover in due time what they decided to do. There was no real need for eavesdropping. Yet I think most men would have tried to listen.

“Seems to me,” said Donovan to the King, “that you’re acquainted with Smith. I’m not asking questions. It’s no affair of mine, anyway. Don’t say a word unless you like. I’m not curious.”

“I am,” said Gorman, “infernally curious. Who is Smith?”

“For five years,” said the King, “perhaps for more—who knows—he has walked on my shadow. He has been a beagle hound, nose down, on my smell, pursuing it. Never until last April has he run off the tracks.”

“Blackmail?” said Donovan.

The King looked puzzled, though “blackmail” is a word he might have been expected to know. Gorman explained.

“Getting money out of you,” he said, “for hushing up any inconvenient little episodes, undertaking not to tell stories he happened to have heard. You know the sort of thing I mean.”

“No man,” said the King sadly, “can get money out of me. It is like—how do you say?—the riding breeches of the Scottish soldiers, not there. Nor do I say hush about my little episodes. Pooh! my friend Gorman. These episodes, what are they? The English middling classes like to pretend that there are no episodes. But there are, always, and we others—we do not say hush.”

“If it wasn’t blackmail,” said Donovan, “what kept him tracking you?”

“Ask my friend Gorman,” said the King. “He knows.”

“I do not,” said Gorman, “unless——

King Konrad Karl smiled pleasantly.

“Unless——” said Gorman. “Oh, damn it all. I suppose it was the Emperor.”

“You have it,” said the King. “He is of the Emperor’s secret service. He and Steinwitz. Steinwitz I do not like. He is an arrogant. He assumes always the attitude of the dog on top. But of Fritz I make no complaint. He is always civilian.”

“I’d gather that,” said Gorman, “from the little I’ve seen of him. If we must have a spy here—and of course there’s no help for that since the Emperor says so—it’s better to have an agreeable one. His job at present, I suppose, is to keep an eye on Donovan and the island generally.”

“That Emperor,” said Donovan, “seems to me to butt in unnecessarily. But I’m obliged to him. Smith is the best servant I’ve struck since I first took to employing a hired help.”

“It will be sad,” said the King, “when you kill him. A great loss.”

“I don’t know,” said Donovan, “that I mean to kill him. He’s a valuable man.”

“The proper thing to do,” said Gorman, “is to put him on board the Megalian navy and leave him to the admiral.”

“Seems a pity,” said Donovan. “I don’t see how I could make my way along the rugged path of life without Smith. He hasn’t done me any kind of harm so far. I think I’ll wait a bit. It would worry me to have to step down and take hold now. My heart——

“What I can’t get at even yet,” said Gorman, “is the idea in the Emperor’s mind. He piles up scrap iron and ridiculous-looking cisterns in a cave. He deluges the place with petrol. He sets a spy on Donovan. Now what the devil does he do it for?”

The King shrugged his shoulders.

Real Politik, perhaps,” he said. “But how do I know? I am a king, certainly. But I am not a whale on the sea of Real Politik. Your whale is a fish that bores, always. Perhaps if you ask Fritz he will know.”

“By the way,” said Donovan, “what’s the man’s real name?”

“Once,” said the King, “he was Calmet, M. de Calmet. At that time he was French. Later he was Heyduk, a Captain in the army of Megalia. Also he was Freidwig, and he came from Stockholm. He was for some time the Count Pozzaro. I have also heard——

“That’s enough for me,” said Donovan. “I’ll stick to Smith as long as he’ll answer to it. Seems simpler.”

Gorman rose from his chair and crossed the balcony. He stood for a minute or two looking out at the bay. Smith’s boat, rowed steadily, reached the side of the steamer. Smith climbed on board.

“I shouldn’t wonder,” said Gorman, “if we’ve seen the last of our friend Smith.”

“I hope not,” said Donovan. “Why do you think so?”

“Well,” said Gorman, “if I were in his shoes I think I should stay in the Megalian navy. It’ll be rather awkward for him now we’ve found him out.”

“He will return,” said the King.

“I shouldn’t,” said Gorman. “Of course that admiral, being the kind of man he is, it’s risky to stay with him; but then Smith has got to take risks whatever he does. And he may have some sort of safe conduct from the Emperor which will make the admiral nervous about cutting his throat.”

“He will return,” said the King. “It is plain that the Emperor has said to him: ‘Follow the smell of the American.’ He will not leave it.”

“Oh, of course,” said Gorman. “I’m always forgetting the Emperor. If he has given definite orders of that kind they’ll be obeyed. I daresay Smith is telegraphing for definite instructions at this moment. They have a wireless installation, so I suppose he can.”

“Behold,” said the King. “My luggage descends to the boat. Smith will follow. Did I not tell you?”

Two sailors were lowering various suit-cases and bags into the boat. A few minutes later Smith dropped from the steamer’s side and took the oars.

“Donovan,” said Gorman, “the Emperor is evidently really anxious about your smell.”