The Island Mystery/Chapter 23

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GORMAN led Smith to Donovan’s room. The man must have known all about the Megalian admiral’s threat. He probably understood, better than any one else on the island, the meaning and purpose of the ultimatum presented to Donovan. But he showed no signs of embarrassment or excitement. When Gorman summoned him—he was brushing a pair of Konrad Karl’s trousers at the moment—he apologized for having put Gorman to the trouble of looking for him. When he entered the room where Donovan waited he stood quietly near the door in his usual attitude of respectful attention.

Donovan greeted him as if he had been a friend and not a servant.

“Take a chair, Smith, and sit down. I want to talk to you.”

Smith refused to accept this new position.

“Beg pardon, sir,” he said, “but if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather stand. Seems more natural, sir.”

Gorman, who had followed Smith into the room, hovered uncertainly near the door. He very much wanted to hear what Donovan had to say; but he was not quite sure whether he was meant to be present.

“Any objection to my staying?” he asked. “I’m interested in international peace movements and Hague Conferences. I’d like to hear how you mean to work this affair.”

“Sit down,” said Donovan, “but don’t get interrupting. Now that I’ve taken hold I mean to handle this damned business my own way.”

Gorman sat down and lit his pipe. Donovan turned to Smith.

“You’re a valuable man, Smith,” he said, “and I’d like to retain your services.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Smith. “I’ve done my best to give satisfaction.”

“But if you’re to stay on with me,” said Donovan, “we’ve got to have some straight talk. I’d like it to be clearly understood that your engagement with me is to be a whole-time job for the future.”

“More satisfactory, sir, certainly.”

“At present,” said Donovan, “you’re also engaged by Mr. Steinwitz.”

“Not by Mr. Steinwitz, sir, if you’ll excuse my correcting you. By the Emperor.”

Gorman groaned deeply. Smith turned to him, solicitous, anxious to be of use.

“Beg pardon, sir, can I do anything for you, sir? Anything wrong, sir?”

“No,” said Gorman, “no. The mention of the Emperor upsets me a little. That’s all. Don’t do it again, if you can help it, Smith. I’m sorry, Donovan. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

Smith turned to Donovan again.

“Perhaps I should say, sir, the Imperial Secret Service.”

“Salary?” said Donovan.

He showed no surprise, anger or disgust. Smith was equally cool. He answered the question snapped at him as if it had been the most natural in the world.

“Well, sir, that depends. The salary varies according to circumstances. And there are allowances, travelling, sir, and subsistence, sometimes.”

“Average?” said Donovan, “average net profit?”

Smith thought for a minute before answering. He was apparently anxious to be accurate and honest.

“I think, sir, I may say £200 a year, taking one thing with another.”

“Well,” said Donovan, “I’ll double that, in addition to what I’m paying you at present; on condition that you’re in my service only. As I said before, Smith, you’re a valuable man.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Smith. “Very generous of you. I appreciate the offer, but——

He paused. He had some objection to make, but he hesitated to put it into words.

“I treble the Emperor’s two hundred pounds,” said Donovan.

“I beg pardon, sir. I wasn’t meaning to stand out for a larger salary. That’s not my point, sir. What I was going to say, sir, was——

Again he hesitated.

“Patriotic scruples?” said Donovan. “Loyal to the Emperor? Feel kind of mean deserting the service of your country?”

“Oh no, sir, not at all. Scruples aren’t in my line, sir, and I am Swiss by birth. No particular feeling of loyalty to anybody. The fact is, sir, a man must keep his self-respect. I daresay you’ll understand. I had no objection to taking on a valet’s job, sir, in the way of business, as an agent of the Intelligence Department. But it’s rather a different thing, sir—if you catch my point—to enter domestic service as a profession. A man doesn’t like to lose caste, sir.”

“That’s a real difficulty,” said Donovan. “As an American citizen I understand your feeling and respect it. See any way out?”

“It occurs to me, sir—it’s for you to decide, of course. But it occurs to me that if I might enter the Intelligence Department of Salissa, there’d be no interference with my work in the palace. Anything I could do to make you comfortable. But as agent of the Queen’s Secret Service I should be—— I hope you catch my point, sir. You see I held a commission at one time in the Megalian Army.”

“You may consider yourself engaged, Smith,” said Donovan, “or perhaps I ought to say nominated, as head of the Intelligence Department of the Kingdom of Salissa.”

“Thank you, sir. When would you like me to take over my new duties?”

“You can begin right now,” said Donovan.

“Very good, sir. I beg to report that England declared war on Germany this morning. The news came by wireless to the admiral.”

Gorman dropped his pipe and sat upright suddenly.

“Good Lord!” he said. “England. Germany. I say, Donovan, if this is true——

Donovan motioned him to silence with a wave of his hand.

“Salissa,” he said, “is a neutral State.”

“But,” said Gorman, “if there’s a European war——

Donovan ignored him.

“Smith,” he said, “that admiral informs me that he has orders to deport us from this island and dump us down somewhere in Sicily. That so?”

“Yes, sir,” said Smith. “Those are the Emperor’s orders. Very urgent orders. In the case of your refusal to obey, the admiral is to fire on the palace.”

“So I understand,” said Donovan. “Now what I want you to do is to go off to the steamer and negotiate with the admiral.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Shall we say £500? or ought I to go higher?”

“I don’t think,” said Smith, “that it will be necessary to give so much. If you will allow me to suggest, I’d say an offer of £10.”

For the first time since the interview began Donovan was startled.

“Ten pounds!” he said. “Do you mean ten?”

“Giving me permission to rise to twenty pounds if necessary,” said Smith.

“But an admiral!” said Donovan. “Remember he’s an admiral.”

“Yes, sir. But admirals aren’t quite the same thing here as in England. Don’t belong to the same class. Don’t draw the same salary.”

“Make it twenty-five pounds,” said Donovan. “I’d be ashamed to offer less to a Tammany boss.”

“Very good, sir, just as you please, sir.”

“Right,” said Donovan. “And now we’ve got that settled, and we’ve three-quarters of an hour to spare, before the bombardment is timed to begin. There are one or two points I’d like to have cleared up. But I wish you’d sit down, Smith, and take a cigar. As head of the Intelligence Department of this kingdom——

“If you’re quite sure, sir, that there isn’t anything you want me to fetch. A drink, sir?”

“Not for me,” said Donovan. “I want to talk.”

Smith sat down, stretched himself comfortably in a deep chair and lit a cigar.

“What’s the Emperor’s game?” said Donovan. “What’s he after? What the hell does he mean by monkeying round this island ever since I bought it?”

“Well,” said Smith, “I haven’t got what you could call official knowledge of the Emperor’s plans. My orders came to me through Steinwitz, and Steinwitz doesn’t talk unnecessarily.”

The servant manner and the cockney accent disappeared when Smith sat down. He talked to Donovan as one man of the world to another.

“Still,” said Donovan, “you’ve got some sort of idea.”

“Last December,” said Smith, “I was in London keeping an eye on King Konrad Karl. The Emperor liked to know what he was doing. One day I got orders to take delivery of some large cisterns from a firm in Germany, paying for them by cheque drawn on my own account. They were consigned to me as water cisterns. My business was to ship them to Hamburg and hand them over to Captain von Moll. That’s all I was told. But I happened to find out what von Moll’s orders were. He was to land those cisterns in Salissa. I satisfied myself that they were here as soon as I arrived with you on the Ida. Von Moll concealed them very well; but he was a bit careless in other ways. He seems to have lived in the palace while he was here and he left some papers lying about, torn up but not burnt. One of them was a letter from Steinwitz. Phillips, the officer of the Ida, had his eye on those papers. I swept them up and destroyed them.”

“And the cisterns?” said Donovan. “What are they for?”

“If you consider the geographical position of Salissa, you’ll see in a moment. The island lies a bit off the main steamer route between Marseilles and the Suez Canal; but not too far off. Now I happen to know that the Emperor places great reliance on submarines. In the event of a war with England he depends on submarines to cut the trade routes and sink transports. But submarines operating in the Mediterranean require bases of supply.”

“Petrol?” said Gorman.

“And spare parts,” said Smith. “That was the idea, I think. So long as the island was under the Crown of Megalia there was no difficulty. Megalia wasn’t in a position to interfere with the Emperor’s plans.”

“The Megalian navy certainly isn’t first-rate,” said Donovan.

“But when you purchased the island,” Smith went on, “things were different. You might object to the use the Emperor proposed to make of it. Your Government might have backed you up. How far do you think your Government will back you?”

“Darned little,” said Donovan.

“So Steinwitz seemed to think. But the Emperor wasn’t taking any unnecessary risks. He preferred that the island should return to the Crown of Megalia. I think that’s the whole story so far as I know it. Perhaps now I ought to be getting off to see that admiral.”

“You can make sure of managing him, I suppose,” said Donovan.

“Oh, yes. But it may take a little time. He’ll want to talk and I must consider his self-respect.”

“Quite so,” said Donovan. “We all like to keep our self-respect, even admirals.”

Smith stood up.

“Very well, sir,” he said, “and if there’s nothing you want, sir——

“Nothing,” said Donovan.

“I shall be back in time to serve luncheon, sir.”

The Smith who left the room was Donovan’s valet, not the head of the Intelligence Department of Salissa.

“Now that,” said Donovan, “is an example of the pacifist method of settling disputes, without appealing to force or sacrificing human life.”

“I admire it,” said Gorman. “I have a higher opinion of pacifism this minute than I ever had before.”

“It’s civilized,” said Donovan, “and it’s cheap. I don’t say it can always be worked as cheap as this; but it’s cheaper than war every time.”

“I wonder,” said Gorman, “if it would work out on a large scale. Take the case of the Emperor now.”

“There are difficulties,” said Donovan. “I don’t deny that there are difficulties. It isn’t always easy to get hold of the right man to pay, and it’s no use paying the wrong one. You must find the real boss, and he has a trick of hiding behind. I remember a case of an elevated street car franchise in a town in the Middle West. We paid three times and didn’t get it in the end owing to not striking the man who mattered. Still, the thing can be done, and according to my notion it’s the best way out, better than fighting. You mentioned this darned Emperor. Well, I don’t know. He’d have to be paid, of course; but the big grafter, the man who’d take the six-figure cheque, is likely not the Emperor. I don’t know. You’d have to find that out. But the principle’s sound. That’s why I call myself a pacifist. There’s tosh talked about pacifism, of course. There always must be tosh talked—and texts. I don’t undervalue texts as a means of influencing public opinion. But the principle is the thing. It’s business. Pay a big price to the man who can deliver the goods. If you pay a big enough price he’ll hand over.”

“That’s all right,” said Gorman, “when you’re dealing with business men. But there are other men, men who aren’t out for money, who want——

Donovan yawned.

“There are lunatics,” he said, “but lunatics don’t run the world. They get shut up. Most men aren’t lunatics, and you’ll find that the pacifist idea works out. It’s the everlasting principle of all commerce.”

It is impossible to say whether Donovan’s pacifist principles would have been of any use in Europe in 1914. They were not tried, and he admitted that they would not work with lunatics. But the everlasting principle of all commerce proved its value in the case of the Megalian admiral. He did not even bargain at any length. Smith returned in rather less than half an hour, with the news that the admiral had accepted £26 10s. He made only one stipulation. It may have been a desire to preserve his self-respect or a determination to observe his orders in the letter which made him insist on firing one shot before he left Salissa.

“He won’t aim at the palace, sir,” said Smith.

“There’d be a better chance of his missing it, if he did,” said Donovan. “It makes me nervous to see men like those sailors playing about with guns.”

“Yes, sir. That’s so, sir. But in this case I don’t think you need have any anxiety. The shot will go right over the palace. I laid the gun myself before I left the ship. I don’t know if I mentioned it to you, sir, but I was in the artillery when I held a commission in the Megalian Army.”

The admiral fired his shot at noon precisely. The shell soared high above the palace, passed over the cliff behind and dropped harmlessly somewhere in the sea.

The Queen and Kalliope stood behind the flagstaff from which the blue banner of Salissa flew. At the sound of the shot, while the shell’s shriek was still in her ears, the Queen gave her order. Kalliope, hauling hand over hand on the halyard, ran up the Stars and Stripes. It flew out on the breeze. The Queen, flushed with pride and patriotism, defied the might of the Megalian navy.

“Fire on that if you dare,” she said.

The admiral weighed his anchor, fussily, with much shouting and swearing, and steamed slowly out of the harbour. As he went he dipped his ensign, saluting the Queen’s flags.

Konrad Karl, standing at the window of Madame Ypsilante’s room, saved that lady from hysterics by announcing that the bombardment was over.