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Behind the Throne

William Le Queux

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  Behind the ThroneBy William Le QueuxPublished by Methuen and Co Ltd, 36 Essex Street, London WC.This edition dated 1914.

  Behind the Throne, by William Le Queux.


  ________________________________________________________________________BEHIND THE THRONE, BY WILLIAM LE QUEUX.



  "Of course the transaction is a purely private one. There is, Isuppose, no chance of the truth leaking out? If so, it might be veryawkward, you know."

  "None whatever. Your Excellency may rely upon me to deal with thesepeople cautiously. Besides, they have their own reputation toconsider--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 notunderstand.

  "If you accept their conditions as they stand, they pay one hundredthousand francs--four thousand pounds sterling--into your account at thePall Mall branch of the Credit Lyonnais on Monday next," replied theother 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 inshoddy?"

  "Possibly, but what does it really matter? A soldier's clothes are oflittle 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 oncebeen sent into the field in boots made of brown paper. And they were ofEnglish make! Ours are German--and we must expect the foreigner to takeadvantage of us."

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

  "Of course. But from the English firm we get nothing--the English aretoo honest;" and the thin, sallow-faced Sicilian laughed scornfullytowards his superior, Signor Camillo Morini, senator of the kingdom ofItaly and Minister of War.

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

  He remained silent, his back to Angelo Borselli, the man in black whohad travelled from Rome to Leicestershire to urge him to accept thebribe 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 termeda knight of industry, a self-made man who, by his own ingenious craftand cunning, had risen to become one of Italy's chief Ministers, and asenator of the kingdom. He entertained some scruples as regardshonesty, both political and financial, yet General Angelo Borselli, thebureaucrat, who was Under-Secretary, for the past ten years had beenbusily engaged in squeezing all the profit possible out of the office heheld.

  Morini and Borselli had for years assisted each other, or, to be moretruthful, Morini, who seemed to exercise a kind of animal magnetism overmen, had used Borselli for his own ends, and the Under-Secretary hadbeen the Minister's cat's-paw ever since the days of Victor Emmanuelwhen they were deputies together at Montecitorio. Upon the stormy seaof Italian politics they had sailed together, and although many timesthey had run before the wind towards the shoals of exposure, they hadsomehow always managed to escape disaster.

  Borselli had, by His Excellency's clever manoeuvring, been given therank of general although a comparatively young man, and had beenappointed Under-Secretary of War, while the pair had, in secret, reapeda golden harvest, even against Morini's will. When deputy, and littlebetter than a political adventurer, he had been compelled to make hispolitics pay; but as Minister, with the responsibility of office uponhim, he had at first worked for the benefit of Italy. Yet, alas! socontaminating had been the corruption about him that he found itwell-nigh impossible to act disinterestedly, and very soon all hishighest resolves had been cast aside, and with Borselli ever schemingand ever prompting at his elbow, he was constrained, like hisfellow-members of the Cabinet, to seek profit where he could.

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

  A born leader of men, gifted with a marvellous tact, a keen, clearforesight, a wide knowledge of men, and a deep, wily cunning, he heldthe confidence of his sovereign, the late lamented king, and took carethat nothing occurred to shake or to imperil it. He was a _poseur_, andowed his position to his ingenious methods and his plausible tongue.His highly respectable exterior was inspiring, and the veneer of elegantrefinement of manner had opened to him the best social circles in Romeand Paris. He was a good linguist, and had been an advocate in Florencein the days when he made the law a stepping-stone into politics and fatemoluments.

  General Angelo Borselli, the soldierly, middle-aged man of the sallowface 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 tocall "His Excellency." It was, however, Borselli's active brain whichevolved those neat schemes by which a portion of the public funds ofpoor strangled Italy went into their joint pockets, he who inspired thePress and kept at bay the horde of political opponents. It was GeneralBorselli who made suggestions, who juggled so cleverly with figures, andwho ruled the Ministry of War with a rod of iron.

  The two men detested each other, yet, held together by the bond ofmutual peculation, they played constantly into each other's hands, andboth had become wealthy in consequence.

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

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

  Camillo Morini snapped his bony fingers, but still remained silent. Atheart he longed to free himself of all this dishonesty at the expense ofthe comfort and safety of the army. Indeed he knew that by suchtransactions his country was being imperilled. Recent disasters inAbyssinia had been due directly to the defective arms and ammunitionsupplied to the troops. The contractors had all paid him heavy bribes,and the brave sons of Italy had gone forth armed with rubbish, and weredefeated 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 hillsideoutside Florence, his great tracts of wine-lands and olive-gardens inthe Apennines, and that house he rented as a summer residence inEngland, how could he refuse these alluring presents? They werenecessary for his position--for his existence. His eyes were fixed uponhis daughter Mary, a neat, trim figure in a cream flannel dress; hisdaughter who believed so implicitly in him, and who regarded him as herideal 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 anothertwenty thousand, but he said his firm could not possibly afford it. Heis remaining in London until to-morrow for your decision. He intendedto come down here and see you, but I forbade it."

  "Quite right! Quite right! Keep all such persons as far from me aspossible, Angelo," was the Minister's quick reply. "I've had more thanenough of them."

  The other smiled, still standing erect on the hearthrug, his back to thefireplace, his hands in his trousers pockets, smoking a cigarette.
  "Of course," he said, "I tried to get all I could out of him, but ahundred thousand was his absolute limit. Indeed I wanted to make itGerman marks, not francs, but it was useless. I have brought with methe acceptance of the contract," he added. "The decree only requiresyour endorsement," and he drew from his pocket a paper which he openedand spread upon the big old-fashioned writing-table of the library.

  The Minister, however, still hesitated, while his companion smiledwithin himself at what he regarded as a sudden and utterly unnecessarypang of conscience.

  "This cheap contracting is simply sacrificing the lives of our poormen," declared Morini suddenly, turning at last from the window andfacing the man who was so constantly his tempter.

  "Bah! There are cheap contracts and secret commissions in all thedepartments--marine, public-works--even at the Ministry of Justice."

  "I know, I know," groaned the Minister. "The whole system is rotten atthe 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 oursoldiers armed with faulty ammunition, but surely we must live as wellas those in the other ministries!"

  "At the sacrifice of Italy?" remarked the Minister in a hard tone. "Ireally do not believe, Angelo, that you possess any conscience," headded bitterly.

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

  "Then you must be very happy indeed," remarked His Excellency, with adry laugh. "But," he added, sighing, "I suppose I must fall in withyour suggestion for this, the very last time. You say that the moneywill be placed to my account at the Credit Lyonnais next Monday--eh?"

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



  Her Excellency Signora Morini was an Englishwoman, and for that reasonthe Minister rented Orton Court, that picturesque old Queen Anne housein Leicestershire, where, with their daughter Mary, they each year spentAugust and September, the two blazing months of the Italian summer.

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

  The Morinis kept but little company when in England. They came therefor rest after the mad whirl of the Roman season, and so careful was HisExcellency to keep his true position a secret, and thus avoid beingcompelled to make complimentary calls upon the English Ministers andofficials in London, that very few persons, if indeed anyone in theneighbourhood, were really aware that the tall, courteous foreigner whocame 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 Morinimade calls which were returned, and they usually played tennis andcroquet 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 ofdrinking tea on the pretty lawn of Orton Court, and on this afternoonamong the guests were several rectors and their curates, together withtheir women-folk. The wife of the Minister of War had been the daughterof a poor Yorkshire clergyman. She had, while acting as Englishgoverness in the family of a Roman prince, met her husband, then only astruggling advocate in the Florence courts, and, notwithstanding thatshe was a Protestant, they had married, and she had never for one momentrepented her choice. Husband and wife, after those years of strange upsand downs, were still entirely devoted to each other; while Mary, theironly child, they mutually idolised.

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

  Madame Morini, a dark-haired, well-preserved woman in pale mauve, wasseated at a bamboo table in the shade serving tea and gossiping with herfriends--for the game had been suspended, and cake and biscuits werebeing handed round by the men in flannels.

  An elderly woman, wife of a retired colonel, inquired for "Mr Morini,"whereupon madame answered--

  "He is in the house, detained on business, I think. A gentleman hascome down from London to see him." And thus was her husband's presenceexcused.

  Ten minutes later, however, when Mary, watching her opportunity, saw hermother alone, she ran up to her, whispering in her ear--

  "That man Borselli has come from Rome, mother! I saw his face at thestudy window. Why can't he leave father alone when we are here onholiday?"

  "I suppose it is some affair of state, my dear," was her mother's calmreply. "Your father told me he was to arrive this afternoon. He is toremain the night."

  "I hate the man!" declared the pretty, dark-haired girl with emphasis."I watched him through the window just now, and saw him look so black atfather behind his back. I believe they have quarrelled."

  "I think not, my dear. Your father and General Borselli are very oldfriends, remember."

  "Of course. But he's a Sicilian, and you know what you've always toldme about the Livornese and the Sicilians."

  "Don't be silly, Mary," exclaimed the Minister's wife, laughing."Matters of state do not concern us women. Go and continue your game."

  The girl shrugged her shoulders with the queer little foreign gesturedue to her cosmopolitan upbringing, and turned away to rejoin the youngman in grey flannels who stood awaiting her on the other side of thecourt.

  She was twenty-one, with perfect, regular features, a pointed chin, darkchestnut hair, and a pair of large, lustrous eyes in which gleamed allthe fire and passion of the sunny South. Her figure, neat-waisted andwell-proportioned, was always admired in the salons of Rome andFlorence, and she had for the past couple of years been the reigningbeauty in the official and diplomatic world of the Eternal City.

  Possessed of an easy grace, a natural modesty, with a sweet, pleasantexpression, she had, soon after returning from school at Broadstairs,been chaperoned into Roman society by her mother, and had now, attwenty-one, become essentially a woman of the world, well-dressed,_chic_, and full of vivacity. A remarkable linguist--for she spokeEnglish, Italian, French, and Spanish with equal fluency--she hadquickly made her mark in that very difficult circle, Italian society, afact which pleased her parents, and induced her father to increase herallowance until she was enabled to have her ball dresses from Paris andher tailor-made gowns from London.

  Morini, compelled, for the sake of his prominent position, to make ashow of affluence, saw that by dressing his daughter better than othergirls he was exhibiting a prosperity that would be noticed and talkedabout.

  As she crossed the lawn that warm August afternoon, plainly attired inher cream flannel skirt and pale blue blouse, there could be no twoopinions regarding her marvellous beauty. It was of an unusual kind, acombination of the handsome classic model of the ancients with the sweetwomanliness of modern life. Her carriage, too, was superb. The casualobserver, watching her retreating form, would not require to look twiceto recognise that she was of foreign birth; for no Englishwoman carriesherself with that easy, elastic swing which is inherent in the Italiang
irl of the upper class. Yet, perhaps owing to her mother's Englishbirth and teaching, she admired to the full everything that was British.She was a keen, outspoken critic of all things Italian, and was neverso happy as when they were living unostentatiously in semi-privacy forthose two welcome months each year in rural Leicestershire.

  At heart, she hated that brilliant circle in which they were compelledto move when at home--the continual functions, the official balls, thecourt receptions, the gay, irresponsible world of intrigue and scandal,of dazzling uniforms and glittering decorations, in which she was socontinually courted and flattered. Already she had become nauseated byits vices and its shams, and longed always for the rural peace of thecountry, early hours, and the ease of old frocks. Yet it wasimpossible, she knew. She was compelled to live in that feveredatmosphere of wealth and officialdom that revolved around the throne ofHis Majesty King Humbert, to receive the admiration and homage paid toher because of her striking beauty, and to act her part, as her fatherinstructed her--a prominent part in one of the most brilliant courts ofEurope.

  Was it any wonder that, scarce out of her teens, she was already a_femme du monde_, with a wide knowledge of the hypocrisies of society,the tortuous ways of political intrigue, and the foetid moral atmosphereof those gilded salons and perfumed boudoirs?

  "I wonder if you'll forgive me if I don't play any more, Mr Macbean?"she asked of the dark-haired young man in grey who stood, racquet inhand, awaiting her return. "I am very tired. I played in thetournament at your uncle's yesterday, you know, and we from the Southare exotic plants, after all."

  "Forgive you! Of course!" cried the young man