Behind the Throne - William Le Queux - ebook

Behind the Throne ebook

William Le Queux

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Opis

”Of course the transaction is a purely private one. There is, I suppose, no chance of the truth leaking out? If so, it might be very awkward, you know.” „None whatever. Your Excellency may rely upon me to deal with these people cautiously. Besides, they have their own reputation to consider–as well as ours.” „And how much do you say they offer? „ asked His Excellency in Italian, so that the English servants, if they were listening, should not understand. „If you accept their conditions as they stand, they pay one hundred thousand francs–four thousand pounds sterling–into your account at the Pall Mall branch of the Credit Lyonnais on Monday next,” replied the other in the same language.

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Liczba stron: 440

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Contents

I. THE CAT'S-PAW

II. FRIENDS OF HER EXCELLENCY

III. IN WHICH MARY REVEALS CERTAIN SUSPICIONS

IV. CONTAINS A MYSTERY

V. IS MAINLY ABOUT A WOMAN

VI. DISCLOSES CERTAIN STRANGE FACTS

VII. AN AFTERNOON AT THORNBY

VIII. THE TRAITOR

IX. HIS EXCELLENCY LEARNS THE TRUTH

X. "FOR MARY'S SAKE!"

XI. THE SECRET AGENT

XII. CONCERNS SOME CURIOUS INSTRUCTIONS

XIII. THE VILLA SAN DONATO

XIV. IN THE SILENCE OF NIGHT

XV. THE PERIL OF A NATION

XVI. FATHER AND DAUGHTER

XVII. THE SAZARAC AFFAIR

XVIII. COUNTING THE COST

XIX. THE SACRIFICE

XX. TELLS THE TRUTH

XXI. THE EAR OF THE MINISTER

XXII. CONCERNS A MAN'S DUTY

XXIII. THE PLOT

XXIV. IN THE CHAMBER OF DEPUTIES

XXV. BILLY GRENFELL IS PHILOSOPHIC

XXVI. A MILLIONAIRE'S TACTICS

XXVII. VITO IS INQUISITIVE

XXVIII. "WAS SAZARAC YOUR FRIEND?"

XXIX. AROUND THE THRONE

XXX. THE PATH OF THE TEMPTER

XXXI. IN WHICH A DOUBLE GAME IS PLAYED

XXXII. THE BIRTH OF LOVE

XXXIII. MRS FITZROY'S GOVERNESS

XXXIV. IN CONFIDENCE

XXXV. THE CAPTAIN IS OUTSPOKEN

XXXVI. IN THE TWILIGHT HOUR

XXXVII. AT ORTON COURT AGAIN

XXXVIII. "SILENCE FOR SILENCE!"

XXXIX. REVELATIONS

XL. THE STORY OF CAPTAIN SOLARO

XLI. A WOMAN'S FREEDOM

I. THE CAT’S-PAW

“OF course the transaction is a purely private one. There is, I suppose, no chance of the truth leaking out? If so, it might be very awkward, you know.”

“None whatever. Your Excellency may rely upon me to deal with these people cautiously. Besides, they have their own reputation to consider–as well as ours.”

“And how much do you say they offer?” asked His Excellency in Italian, so that the English servants, if they were listening, should not understand.

“If you accept their conditions as they stand, they pay one hundred thousand francs–four thousand pounds sterling–into your account at the Pall Mall branch of the Credit Lyonnais on Monday next,” replied the other in the same language.

“And your share, my dear Angelo?”

“That is apart. I have arranged it.”

“And they’ll profit a million, and dress our unfortunate infantry in shoddy?”

“Possibly, but what does it really matter? A soldier’s clothes are of little concern, as long as he is well armed.”

“But the boots?–the contract is for boots as well.”

“Your Excellency forgets that the English soldiers have more than once been sent into the field in boots made of brown paper. And they were of English make! Ours are German–and we must expect the foreigner to take advantage of us.”

“Yes, but we know well the reputation of these people.”

“Of course. But from the English firm we get nothing–the English are too honest;” and the thin, sallow-faced Sicilian laughed scornfully towards his superior, Signor Camillo Morini, senator of the kingdom of Italy and Minister of War.

His Excellency, a tall, well-built, well-dressed man of sixty or so, in a suit of light grey tweed, whose hair was only just turning white, whose carefully trained moustache showed but few silver threads, and whose dark, deep-set eyes were sharp and observant, stood at the window gazing thoughtfully out upon the green level English lawn where his daughter Mary and some visitors were playing tennis.

He remained silent, his back to Angelo Borselli, the man in black who had travelled from Rome to Leicestershire to urge him to accept the bribe of four thousand pounds from the German firm of army contractors. Camillo Morini was a man with a strange, adventurous history–a man who, had he not lived entirely in the political world, would have been termed a knight of industry, a self-made man who, by his own ingenious craft and cunning, had risen to become one of Italy’s chief Ministers, and a senator of the kingdom. He entertained some scruples as regards honesty, both political and financial, yet General Angelo Borselli, the bureaucrat, who was Under-Secretary, for the past ten years had been busily engaged in squeezing all the profit possible out of the office he held.

Morini and Borselli had for years assisted each other, or, to be more truthful, Morini, who seemed to exercise a kind of animal magnetism over men, had used Borselli for his own ends, and the Under-Secretary had been the Minister’s cat’s-paw ever since the days of Victor Emmanuel when they were deputies together at Montecitorio. Upon the stormy sea of Italian politics they had sailed together, and although many times they had run before the wind towards the shoals of exposure, they had somehow always managed to escape disaster.

Borselli had, by His Excellency’s clever manoeuvring, been given the rank of general although a comparatively young man, and had been appointed Under-Secretary of War, while the pair had, in secret, reaped a golden harvest, even against Morini’s will. When deputy, and little better than a political adventurer, he had been compelled to make his politics pay; but as Minister, with the responsibility of office upon him, he had at first worked for the benefit of Italy. Yet, alas! so contaminating had been the corruption about him that he found it well-nigh impossible to act disinterestedly, and very soon all his highest resolves had been cast aside, and with Borselli ever scheming and ever prompting at his elbow, he was constrained, like his fellow-members of the Cabinet, to seek profit where he could.

In Italy, under the regime of the late King Humbert, Ministers soon became millionaires–in francs–and Camillo Morini was no exception.

A born leader of men, gifted with a marvellous tact, a keen, clear foresight, a wide knowledge of men, and a deep, wily cunning, he held the confidence of his sovereign, the late lamented king, and took care that nothing occurred to shake or to imperil it. He was a poseur, and owed his position to his ingenious methods and his plausible tongue. His highly respectable exterior was inspiring, and the veneer of elegant refinement of manner had opened to him the best social circles in Rome and Paris. He was a good linguist, and had been an advocate in Florence in the days when he made the law a stepping-stone into politics and fat emoluments.

General Angelo Borselli, the soldierly, middle-aged man of the sallow face in funereal black, always acted the part of the cringing underling, yet at heart he really hated and despised the man whom he was bound to call “His Excellency.” It was, however, Borselli’s active brain which evolved those neat schemes by which a portion of the public funds of poor strangled Italy went into their joint pockets, he who inspired the Press and kept at bay the horde of political opponents. It was General Borselli who made suggestions, who juggled so cleverly with figures, and who ruled the Ministry of War with a rod of iron.

The two men detested each other, yet, held together by the bond of mutual peculation, they played constantly into each other’s hands, and both had become wealthy in consequence.

Noticing that the Minister remained silent, still looking forth upon the lawn, the other, with a strange glance of evil envy, remarked–

“You are surely not becoming scrupulous! The commission is only a fair one. If those pigs of Germans want the contract they must pay for it.”

Camillo Morini snapped his bony fingers, but still remained silent. At heart he longed to free himself of all this dishonesty at the expense of the comfort and safety of the army. Indeed he knew that by such transactions his country was being imperilled. Recent disasters in Abyssinia had been due directly to the defective arms and ammunition supplied to the troops. The contractors had all paid him heavy bribes, and the brave sons of Italy had gone forth armed with rubbish, and were defeated in consequence.

Yes. He longed to become honest, and yet with all his heavy expenses, his splendid palace in Rome, his magnificent old villa on the hillside outside Florence, his great tracts of wine-lands and olive-gardens in the Apennines, and that house he rented as a summer residence in England, how could he refuse these alluring presents? They were necessary for his position–for his existence. His eyes were fixed upon his daughter Mary, a neat, trim figure in a cream flannel dress; his daughter who believed so implicitly in him, and who regarded him as her ideal of probity and uprightness. He sighed.

“Perhaps you consider a hundred thousand francs not quite enough?” remarked the man behind him. “I told the agent in London yesterday, when he came to Claridge’s, that I expected you would want another twenty thousand, but he said his firm could not possibly afford it. He is remaining in London until to-morrow for your decision. He intended to come down here and see you, but I forbade it.”

“Quite right! Quite right! Keep all such persons as far from me as possible, Angelo,” was the Minister’s quick reply. “I’ve had more than enough of them.”

The other smiled, still standing erect on the hearthrug, his back to the fireplace, his hands in his trousers pockets, smoking a cigarette.

“Of course,” he said, “I tried to get all I could out of him, but a hundred thousand was his absolute limit. Indeed I wanted to make it German marks, not francs, but it was useless. I have brought with me the acceptance of the contract,” he added. “The decree only requires your endorsement,” and he drew from his pocket a paper which he opened and spread upon the big old-fashioned writing-table of the library.

The Minister, however, still hesitated, while his companion smiled within himself at what he regarded as a sudden and utterly unnecessary pang of conscience.

“This cheap contracting is simply sacrificing the lives of our poor men,” declared Morini suddenly, turning at last from the window and facing the man who was so constantly his tempter.

“Bah! There are cheap contracts and secret commissions in all the departments–marine, public-works–even at the Ministry of Justice.”

“I know, I know,” groaned the Minister. “The whole system is rotten at the core. I’ve tried to be honest, and have failed.”

“Your Excellency must admit that our department does not stand alone. It is to be regretted that our poor conscripts are half starved, and our soldiers armed with faulty ammunition, but surely we must live as well as those in the other ministries!”

“At the sacrifice of Italy?” remarked the Minister in a hard tone. “I really do not believe, Angelo, that you possess any conscience,” he added bitterly.

“I possess, I think, about the same quantity as your Excellency,” was the other’s satirical reply, as he twisted his dark moustache. “Conscience and memory are the two most dangerous operations of the politician’s intellect. Happy the man who indulges in neither.”

“Then you must be very happy indeed,” remarked His Excellency, with a dry laugh. “But,” he added, sighing, “I suppose I must fall in with your suggestion for this, the very last time. You say that the money will be placed to my account at the Credit Lyonnais next Monday–eh?”

The Under-Secretary nodded in the affirmative, and then the Minister took up a pen and with a quick flourish scribbled his signature at the head of the document which gave slop-made uniforms and brown-paper boots to fifteen regiments of Italian infantry.

II. FRIENDS OF HER EXCELLENCY

HER Excellency Signora Morini was an Englishwoman, and for that reason the Minister rented Orton Court, that picturesque old Queen Anne house in Leicestershire, where, with their daughter Mary, they each year spent August and September, the two blazing months of the Italian summer.

Standing back amid wide level lawns, high box-hedges, quaint old flower-gardens, and spreading cedars, about four miles out of Rugby on the Leicester road, it dominated a wide stretch of rich, undulating pastures of bright fresh green, so pleasing to the eye after the sun-baked, thirsty land of Italy. The house, a quaint, rambling old place full of odd nooks and corners, was of time-mellowed red brick, partly ivy-covered, with a wide stone portico, spacious hall, and fine oak staircase. One wing, that which faced the tennis-lawn, was covered with roses, while around the lawn itself were iron arches over which trailing roses also grew in abundant profusion.

The Morinis kept but little company when in England. They came there for rest after the mad whirl of the Roman season, and so careful was His Excellency to keep his true position a secret, and thus avoid being compelled to make complimentary calls upon the English Ministers and officials in London, that very few persons, if indeed anyone in the neighbourhood, were really aware that the tall, courteous foreigner who came there for a few weeks each year–Mr Morini, as they called him– was actually one of the most powerful Ministers in Europe.

They were civil to their neighbours in a mild, informal way, of course. Foreigners are always regarded with suspicion in England. Madame Morini made calls which were returned, and they usually played tennis and croquet in the afternoon; for Mary, on account of her bright, cosmopolitan vivacity, was a particular favourite with everyone.

The local clergy, headed by the rural dean and his wife, were fond of drinking tea on the pretty lawn of Orton Court, and on this afternoon among the guests were several rectors and their curates, together with their women-folk. The wife of the Minister of War had been the daughter of a poor Yorkshire clergyman. She had, while acting as English governess in the family of a Roman prince, met her husband, then only a struggling advocate in the Florence courts, and, notwithstanding that she was a Protestant, they had married, and she had never for one moment repented her choice. Husband and wife, after those years of strange ups and downs, were still entirely devoted to each other; while Mary, their only child, they mutually idolised.

The scene upon that sunny lawn was picturesque and purely English.

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