The Day of Temptation. A Story of Two Cities - William Le Queux - ebook

The Day of Temptation. A Story of Two Cities ebook

William Le Queux

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Opis

The style ofThe Day of Temptationis very melodramatic and overwritten – adjectives and adverbs abound to the confusion of the reader. The book is very much set in high society and sometimes reminds me of the immortal Daisy Ashford – I’m sure books like this were among her inspiration.

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Liczba stron: 384

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Contents

I. ALIENS.

II. THE SILVER GREYHOUND.

III. ONE OF A CROWD.

IV. "THE MAJOR."

V. TRISTRAM AT HOME.

VI. IN TUSCANY.

VII. DOCTOR MALVANO.

VIII. HER LADYSHIP'S SECRET.

IX. BENEATH THE RED, WHITE, AND BLUE.

X. THE MYSTERY OF GEMMA.

XI. SILENCE IS BEST.

XII. A WORD WITH HIS EXCELLENCY.

XIII. A DISCOVERY IN EBURY STREET.

XIV. THE DOCTOR'S STORY.

XV. THE SHADOW.

XVI. "TRAITORS DIE SLOWLY."

XVII. SMAYLE'S DILEMMA.

XVIII. WHAT LADY MARSHFIELD KNEW.

XIX. A SECRET DESPATCH.

XX. "THE GOBBO."

XXI. AT LYDDINGTON.

XXII. THE UNKNOWN.

XXIII. A RULER OF EUROPE.

XXIV. BY STEALTH.

XXV. A WOMAN'S DIPLOMACY.

XXVI. THE PALAZZA FUNARO.

XXVII. ON THE NIGHT WIND.

XXVIII. THE TRICK OF A TRICKSTER.

XXIX. ENTRAPPED.

XXX. "I BEAR WITNESS!"

XXXI. FIORI D'ARANCIO.

I. ALIENS.

“ONE fact is plain. Vittorina must not come to England.”

“Why? She, a mere inexperienced girl, knows nothing.”

“Her presence here will place us in serious jeopardy. If she really intends to visit London, then I shall leave this country at once. I scent danger.”

“As far as I can see, we have nothing whatever to fear. She doesn’t know half a dozen words of English, and London will be entirely strange to her after Tuscany.”

The face of the man who, while speaking, had raised his wine-glass was within the zone of light cast by the pink-shaded lamp. He was about twenty-eight, with dark eyes, complexion a trifle sallow, well-arched brows, and a dark moustache carefully waxed, the points being trained in an upward direction. In his well-cut evening clothes, Arnoldo Romanelli was a handsome man, a trifle foppish perhaps; yet his features, with their high cheek-bones, bore the unmistakable stamp of Southern blood, while in his eyes was that dark brilliance which belongs alone to the sons of Italy.

He selected some grapes from the silver fruit-dish, filled a glass with water and dipped them in–true-bred Tuscan that he was–shook them out upon his plate, and then calmly contemplated the old blue Etruscan scarabaeus on the little finger of his left hand. He was waiting for his companion to continue the argument.

The other, twenty years his senior, was ruddy-faced and clean-shaven, with a pair of eyes that twinkled merrily, square jaws denoting considerable determination, altogether a typical Englishman of the buxom, burly, sport-loving kind. Strangely enough, although no one would have dubbed Doctor Filippo Malvano a foreigner, so thoroughly British was his appearance, yet he was an alien. Apparently he was in no mood for conversation, for the habitual twinkle in his eyes had given place to a calm, serious look, and he slowly selected a cigar, while the silence which had fallen between them still remained unbroken.

The man who had expressed confidence again raised his glass to his lips slowly, regarded his companion curiously across its edge, and smiled grimly.

The pair were dining together in a large, comfortable but secluded house lying back from the road at the further end of the quaint, old-world village of Lyddington, in Rutland. The long windows of the dining-room opened out upon the spacious lawn, the extent of which was just visible in the faint mystic light of the August evening, showing beyond a great belt of elms, the foliage of which rustled softly in the fresh night wind, and still further lay the open, undulating country. Ever and anon the wind, in soft gusts, stirred the long lace curtains within the room, and in the vicinity the sweet mellow note of the nightingale broke the deep stillness of rural peace.

Romanelli ate his grapes deliberately, while the Doctor, lighting his long Italian cigar at the candle the servant handed him, rested both elbows on the table and puffed away slowly, still deep in contemplation.

“Surely this girl can be stopped, if you really think there is danger,” the younger man observed at last.

At that instant a second maid entered, and in order that neither domestics should understand the drift of their conversation, the Doctor at once dropped into Italian, answering–

“I don’t merely think there’s danger; I absolutely know there is.”

“What? You’ve been warned?” inquired Arnoldo quickly.

The elder man raised his brows and slowly inclined his head.

Romanelli sprang to his feet in genuine alarm. His face had grown pale in an instant.

“Good heavens!” he gasped in his own tongue. “Surely the game has not been given away?”

The Doctor extended his palms and raised his shoulders to his ears. When he spoke Italian, he relapsed into all his native gesticulations, but in speaking English he had no accent, and few foreign mannerisms.

The two maid-servants regarded the sudden alarm of their master’s guest from London with no little astonishment; but the Doctor, quick-eyed, noticed it, and, turning to them, exclaimed in his perfect English–

“You may both leave. I’ll ring, if I require anything more.”

As soon as the door had closed, Arnoldo, leaning on the back of his chair, demanded further details from his host. He had only arrived from London an hour before, and, half-famished, had at once sat down to dinner.

“Be patient,” his host said in a calm, strained tone quite unusual to him. “Sit down, and I’ll tell you.” Arnoldo obeyed, sinking again into his chair, his dark brows knit, his arms folded on the table, his eyes fixed upon those of the Doctor.

Outwardly there was nothing very striking about either, beyond the fact that they were foreigners of a well-to-do class. The English of the elder man was perfect, but that of Romanelli was very ungrammatical, and in both faces a keen observer might have noticed expressions of cunning and craftiness. Any Italian would have at once detected, from the manner Romanelli abbreviated his words when speaking Italian, that he came from the Romagna, that wild hot-bed of lawlessness and anarchy lying between Florence and Forli, while his host spoke pure Tuscan, the language of Italy. The words they exchanged were deep and earnest. Sometimes they spoke softly, when the Doctor would smile and stroke his smooth-shaven chin, at others they conversed with a volubility that sounded to English ears as though they were quarrelling.

The matter under discussion was certainly a strangely secret one.

The room was well furnished in genuine old oak, which bore no trace of the Tottenham Court Road; the table was adorned with exotics, and well laid with cut-glass and silver; while the air which entered by the open windows was refreshing after the heat and burden of the August day.

“The simple fact remains, that on the day Vittorina sets foot in London the whole affair must become public property,” said Malvano seriously.

“And then?”

“Well, safety lies in flight,” the elder man answered, slowly gazing round the room. “I’m extremely comfortable here, and have no desire to go wandering again; but if this girl really comes, England cannot shelter both of us.”

Romanelli looked grave, knit his brows, and slowly twirled the ends of his small waxed moustache.

“But how can we prevent her?”

“I’ve been endeavouring to solve that problem for a fortnight past,” his host answered. “While Vittorina is still in Italy, and has no knowledge of my address, we are safe enough. She’s the only person who can expose us. As for myself, leading the life of a country practitioner, I’m respected by the whole neighbourhood, dined by the squire and the parson, and no suspicion of mystery attaches to me. I’m buried here as completely as though I were in my grave.”

The trees rustled outside, and the welcome breeze stirred the curtains within, causing the lamp to flicker.

“Yet you fear Vittorina!” observed the younger man, puzzled.

“It seems that you have no memory of the past,” the other exclaimed, a trifle impatiently. “Is it imperative to remind you of the events on a certain night in a house overlooking the sea of Livorno; of the mystery–”

“Basta!” cried the younger man, frowning, his eyes shining with unnatural fire. “Can I ever forget them? Enough! All is past. It does neither of us good to rake up that wretched affair. It is over and forgotten.”

“No, scarcely forgotten,” the Doctor said in a low, impressive tone. “Having regard to what occurred, don’t you think that Vittorina has sufficient incentive to expose us?”

“Perhaps,” Romanelli answered in a dry, dubious tone. “I, however, confess myself sanguine of our success. Certainly you, as an English country doctor, who is half Italian, and who has practised for years among the English colony in Florence, have but very little to fear. You are eminently respectable.”

The men exchanged smiles. Romanelli glanced at his ring, and thought the ancient blue scarabaeus had grown darker–a precursory sign of evil.

“Yes,” answered Malvano, with deliberation, “I know I’ve surrounded myself with an air of the most severe respectability, and I flatter myself that the people here little dream of my true position; but that doesn’t effect the serious turn events appear to be taking. We have enemies, my dear fellow–bitter enemies–in Florence, and as far as I can discern, there’s absolutely no way of propitiating them. We are, as you know, actually within an ace of success, yet this girl can upset all our plans, and make English soil too sultry for us ever to tread it again.” A second time he glanced around his comfortable dining-room, and sighed at the thought of having to fly from that quiet rural spot where he had so ingeniously hidden himself.

“It was to tell me this, I suppose, that you wired this morning?” his guest said.

The other nodded, adding, “I had a letter last night from Paolo. He has seen Vittorina at Livorno. She’s there for the sea-bathing.”

“What did she say?”

“That she intended to travel straight to London.”

“She gave him no reason, I suppose?” Arnoldo asked anxiously.

“Can we not easily guess the reason?” the Doctor replied. “If you reflect upon the events of that memorable night, you will at once recognise that she should be prevented from coming to this country.”

“Yes. You are right,” Romanelli observed in a tone of conviction. “I see it all. We are in peril. Vittorina must not come.”

“Then the next point to consider is how we can prevent her,” the Doctor said.

A silence, deep and complete, fell between them. The trees rustled, the clock ticked slowly and solemnly, and the nightingale filled the air with its sweet note.

“The only way out of the difficulty that I can see is for me to hazard everything, return to Livorno, and endeavour by some means to compel her to remain in Italy.”

“But can you?”

Romanelli shrugged his shoulders. “There is a risk, of course, but I’ll do my best,” he answered. “If I fail–well, then the game’s up, and you must fly.”

“I would accompany you to Italy,” exclaimed the other, “but, as you are aware, beyond Modane the ground is too dangerous.”

“Do you think they suspect anything at the Embassy?”

“I cannot tell. I called the other day when in London, and found the Ambassador quite as cordial as usual.”

“But if he only knew the truth?”

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