William Le Queux.

The Day of Temptation online

. (page 1 of 19)
Online LibraryWilliam Le QueuxThe Day of Temptation → online text (page 1 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

The Day of Temptation
By William Le Queux
Illustrations by Maurice Grieffenhagen
Published by Ward, Lock, and Co Ltd, London.
This edition dated 1919.

The Day of Temptation, by William Le Queux.





"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

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

"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

"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

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?"

"He can only know through Vittorina," answered the Doctor quickly. "If
she remains in Italy, he will still be in ignorance. The Ministry at
Rome knows nothing, but her very presence here will arouse suspicion."

"Then I'll risk all, and go to Italy," said the younger man decisively.
"I don't relish that long journey from Paris to Pisa this weather.
Thirty-five hours is too long to be cramped up in that horribly stuffy

"If you go, you must start to-morrow, and travel straight through,"
urged the Doctor earnestly. "Don't break your journey, or she may have
started before you reach Livorno."

"Very well," his young companion answered. "I'll go right through, as
you think it best. If I start from here at six to-morrow morning, I
shall be in Livorno on Monday morning. Shall I wire to Paolo?"

"No. Take him by surprise. You'll have a far better chance of
success," urged the other; and, pushing the decanter towards him, added,
"Help yourself, and let's drink luck to your expedition."

Romanelli obeyed, and both men, raising their glasses, saluted each
other in Italian. The younger man no longer wore the air of gay
recklessness habitual to him, but took a gulp of the drink with a forced
harsh laugh. In the eyes of the usually merry village doctor there was
also an expression of doubt and fear. Romanelli was too absorbed in
contemplating the risk of returning to Italy to notice the strange
sinister expression which for a single instant settled upon his
companion's face, otherwise he might not have been so ready to adopt all
his suggestions. Upon the countenance of Doctor Malvano was portrayed
at that moment an evil passion, and the strange glint in his eyes would
in itself have been sufficient proof to the close observer that he
intended playing his companion false.

"Then you'll leave Seaton by the six-thirty, eh?" he inquired at last.

Romanelli nodded.

The Doctor touched the gong, and the maid entered. "Fletcher," he said,
"the Signore must be called at half-past five to-morrow. Tell Goodwin
to have the trap ready to go to Seaton Station to catch the six-thirty."

The maid withdrew, and when the door had closed, Malvano, his elbows on
the table, his cold gaze fixed upon his guest, suddenly asked in a low,
intense voice, "Arnoldo, in this affair we must have no secrets from
each other. Tell me the truth. Do you love Vittorina?" The foppish
young man started slightly, but quickly recovering himself, answered -

"Of course not. What absurd fancy causes you to suggest that?"

"Well - she is very pretty, you know," the Doctor observed ambiguously.

The young man looked sharply at his host. "You mean," he said, "that I
might make love to her, and thus prevent her from troubling us, eh?"

The other nodded in the affirmative, adding, "You might even marry her."

At that instant the maid entered, bearing a telegram which a lad on a
cycle had brought from Uppingham for the Doctor's guest. The latter
opened it, glanced at its few faintly-written words, then frowned and
placed it in his pocket without comment.

"Bad news?" inquired Malvano. "You look a bit scared."

"Not at all; not at all," he laughed. "Merely a little affair of the
heart, that's all;" and he laughed in a happy, self-satisfied way.
Arnoldo was fond of the society of the fair sex, therefore the Doctor,
shrewd and quick of observation, was fully satisfied that the message
was from one or other of his many feminine acquaintances.

"Well, induce Vittorina to believe that you love her, and all will be
plain sailing," he said. "You are just the sort of fellow who can
fascinate a woman and compel her to act precisely as you wish. Exert on
her all the powers you possess."

"I'm afraid it will be useless," his companion answered in a dry,
hopeless tone.

"Bah! Your previous love adventures have already shown you to be a
past-master in the arts of flattery and flirtation. Make a bold bid for
fortune, my dear fellow, and you're bound to succeed. Come, let's take
a turn across the lawn; it's too warm indoors to-night." Romanelli
uttered no word, but rose at his host's bidding, and followed him out.
He felt himself staggering, but, holding his breath, braced himself up,
and, struggling, managed to preserve an appearance of outward calm.
How, he wondered, would Doctor Malvano act if he knew the amazing
information which had just been conveyed to him? He drew a deep breath,
set his lips tight, and shuddered.



On the same night as the Doctor and his guest were dining in the remote
rural village, the express which had left Paris at midday was long
overdue at Charing Cross. Presently a troop of porters assembled and
folded their arms to gossip, Customs officers appeared, and at last the
glaring headlights of the express were seen slowly crossing the bridge
which spans the Thames. Within a couple of minutes all became bustle
and confusion. The pale faces and disordered appearance of alighting
passengers told plainly how rough had been the passage from Calais.
Many were tweed-coated tourists returning from Switzerland or the Rhine,
but there were others who, by their calm, unruffled demeanour, were
unmistakably experienced travellers.

Among the latter was a smart, military-looking man of not more than
thirty-three, tall, dark, and slim, with a merry face a trifle bronzed,
and a pair of dark eyes beaming with good humour. As he alighted from a
first-class carriage he held up his hand and secured a hansom standing
by, then handed out his companion, a well-dressed girl of about
twenty-two, whose black eyes and hair, rather aquiline features and
sun-browned skin, were sufficient evidence that she was a native of the
South. Her dress, of some dark blue material, bore the stamp of the
first-class costumier; attached to her belt was the small satchel
affected by foreign ladies when travelling; her neat toque became her
well; and her black hair, although a trifle awry after the tedious,
uncomfortable journey, still presented an appearance far neater than
that of other bedraggled women around her.

"Welcome to London!" he exclaimed in good Italian.

For a moment she paused, gazing wonderingly about her at the great
vaulted station, dazed by its noise, bustle, and turmoil.

"And this is actually London!" she exclaimed. "Ah! what a journey! How
thankful I am that it's all over, and I am here, in England at last!"

"So am I," he said, with a sigh of relief as he removed his grey felt
hat to ease his head. They had only hand-baggage, and this having been
quickly transferred to the cab, he handed her in. As he placed his foot
upon the step to enter the vehicle after her, a voice behind him
suddenly exclaimed -

"Hullo, Tristram! Back in London again?"

He turned quickly, and recognised in the elderly, grey-haired,
well-groomed man in frock-coat and silk hat his old friend Major Gordon
Maitland, and shook him heartily by the hand.

"Yes," he answered. "London once again. But you know how I spend my
life - on steamboats or in sleeping-cars. To-morrow I may start again
for Constantinople. I'm the modern Wandering Jew."

"Except, that you're not a Jew - eh?" the other laughed. "Well,
travelling is your profession; and not a bad one either."

"Try it in winter, my dear fellow, when the thermometer is below zero,"
answered Captain Frank Tristram, smiling. "You'd prefer the fireside
corner at the club."

"Urgent business?" inquired the Major, in a lower tone, and with a
meaning look.

The other nodded.

"Who's your pretty companion?" Maitland asked in a low voice, with a
quick glance at the girl in the cab.

"She was placed under my care at Leghorn, and we've travelled through
together. She's charming. Let me introduce you."

Then, approaching the conveyance, he exclaimed in Italian: "Allow me,
signorina, to present my friend Major Gordon Maitland, - the Signorina
Vittorina Rinaldo."

"Your first visit to our country, I presume?" exclaimed the Major, in
rather shaky Italian, noticing how eminently handsome she was.

"Yes," she answered, smiling. "I have heard so much of your great city,
and am all anxiety to see it."

"I hope your sojourn among us will be pleasant. You have lots to see.
How long shall you remain?"

"Ah! I do not know," she answered. "A week - a month - a year - if need

The two men exchanged glances. The last words she uttered were spoken
hoarsely, with strange intonation. They had not failed to notice a
curious look in her eyes, a look of fierce determination.

"Terribly hot in Leghorn," observed Tristram, turning the conversation
after an awkward pause of a few moments. Vittorina held her breath.
She saw how nearly she had betrayed herself.

"It has been infernally hot here in London these past few days. I think
I shall go abroad to-morrow. I feel like the last man in town."

"Go to Wiesbaden," Tristram said. "I was at the Rose ten days ago, and
the season is in full swing. Not too hot, good casino, excellent
cooking, and plenty of amusement. Try it."

"No, I think I'll take a run through the Dolomites," he said. "But why
have you been down to Leghorn? Surely it's off your usual track."

"Yes, a little. The Ambassador is staying a few weeks for the
sea-bathing at Ardenza, close to Leghorn, and I had important

"She's exceedingly good-looking," the Major said in English, with a
smiling glance at the cab. "I envy you your travelling companion. You
must have had quite an enjoyable time."

"Forty hours in a sleeping-car is scarcely to be envied this weather,"
he answered, as a porter, recognising him in passing, wished him a
polite "Good journey, I hope, sir?"

Continuing, Tristram said, "But we must be off. I'm going to see her
safe through to her friends before going to the office, and I'm already
nearly three hours late in London. So good-bye."

"Good-bye," the other said. "Shall I see you at the club to-night?"

"Perhaps. I'm a bit done up by the heat, but I want my letters, so
probably I'll look in."

"Buona sera, signorina," Maitland exclaimed, bending towards the cab,
shaking her hand and raising his hat politely.

She smiled, returning his salute in her own sweet, musical Tuscan, and
then her companion, shouting an address in Hammersmith, sprang in beside
her, and they drove off.

"You must be very tired," he said, turning to her as they emerged from
the station-yard into the busy Strand.

"No, not so fatigued as I was when we arrived in Paris this morning,"
she answered, gazing wonderingly at the long line of omnibuses and cabs
slowly filing down the brightly lit thoroughfare. "But what confusion!
I thought the Via Calzaiuoli in Florence noisy, but this - !" and she
waved her small hand with a gesture far more expressive than any words.

Frank Tristram, remarking that she would find London very different to
Florence, raised his hand to his throat to loosen his collar, and in
doing so displayed something which had until that moment remained
concealed. A narrow ribbon was hidden beneath his large French cravat
of black silk tied in a bow. The colour was royal blue, and from it was
suspended the British royal arms, surmounted by the crown, with a silver
greyhound pendant, the badge known on every railway from Calais to
Ekaterinbourg, and from Stockholm to Reggio, as that of a King's Foreign
Service Messenger. Captain Frank Tristram was one of the dozen
wanderers on the face of the earth whose swift journeys and promptness
in delivering despatches have earned for them the title of "The
Greyhounds of Europe."

So engrossed was the dark-haired girl in contemplating her strange
surroundings that she scarcely uttered a word as the cab sped on swiftly
through the deepening twilight across Trafalgar Square, along Pall Mall,
and up the Haymarket. Suddenly, however, the blaze of electricity
outside the Criterion brought to Frank Tristram's mind cherished
recollections of whisky and soda, and, being thirsty after the journey,
he shouted to the man to pull up there.

"You, too, must be thirsty," he said, turning to her. "At this cafe, I
think, they keep some of your Italian drinks - vermouth, menthe, or

"Thank you - no," she replied, smiling sweetly. "The cup of English tea
I had at Dover did me good, and I'm really not thirsty. You go and get
something. I'll remain here."

"Very well," he said. "I won't be more than a minute;" and as the cab
drew up close to the door of the bar, he sprang out and entered the long

His subsequent movements were, however, somewhat curious.

After walking to the further end of the bar, he ordered a drink, idled
over it for some minutes, his eyes glancing furtively at the lights of
the cab outside. Suddenly, when he had uttered a few words to a passing
acquaintance, he saw the vehicle move slowly on, probably under orders
from the police; and the instant he had satisfied himself that neither
Vittorina nor the cabman could observe him, he drained his glass, threw
down a shilling, and without waiting for the change turned and continued
through the bar, making a rapid exit by the rear door leading into
Jermyn Street.

As he emerged, a hansom was passing, and, hailing it, he sprang in,
shouted an address, and drove rapidly away.

Meanwhile the cabman who had driven him from Charing Cross sat upon his
box patiently awaiting his return, now and then hailing the plethoric
drivers of passing vehicles with sarcasm, as cab and 'bus drivers are
wont to do, until fully twenty minutes had elapsed. Then, there being
no sign of the reappearance of his fare, he opened the trap-door in the
roof, exclaiming -

"Nice evenin' miss."

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryWilliam Le QueuxThe Day of Temptation → online text (page 1 of 19)