Authors: Barbara Cartland
He sighed before he continued,
“I am hoping that he will be willing to stay here, as you will, until Their Royal Highnesses return. Â But just as you were yesterday taken by surprise and performed your duty beautifully in Princess Louise's absence, we may have to call on Mr. Ward to do the same thing.”
Narina drew in her breath.
Then she looked at Michael to see if he was about to protest.
Even in the dim light of the room she could see that his eyes were twinkling.
“There is one lesson I have learnt in this world,” he volunteered, “and that is no one gets anything for nothing. Very well, my Lord Chamberlain, I am at your service, and if I have to play the part of a ruling Prince or a reluctant mule, I am perfectly prepared to do either!”
The Lord Chamberlain chuckled.
“I thought that you would, Mr. Ward, but I can only hope for your sake it will not be necessary. Â Just remember that for everyone here, you are His Royal Highness Prince Rudolf, who is suffering from an accident while out riding that has threatened his eyesight.”
“I will not forget, my Lord Chamberlain, and I am only grateful that I can play the part to help you.”
“I will come and see you later this evening and tell you what orders I have given.”
The Lord Chamberlain walked towards the door.
As he reached it he turned back to raise his hand.
Then he went out and Narina heard him speaking to Paks, who was keeping watch outside.
As she looked at Michael, she realised that he was extremely tired as he lay back against the pillows.
“I think,” she suggested, “you would go to sleep if I left you alone. Â After all you have been through, you must be completely exhausted.”
“I have not been able to sleep at all for the last three nights. Â I have been moving around in the darkness as that was much safer and I only managed to snatch an hour or two's rest each day in a hayrick or a dry ditch.”
“Then you must go to sleep now, Mr. Ward. Â Shall we wake you up when it is time for dinner to be brought to you here â or would you rather sleep on?”
“I think as I have had very little to eat, I would like to join you for dinner not only because I would very much enjoy something to eat but because I can then talk to you.”
“Well, close your eyes and know that you are quite safe, and Paks is always available if you need anything.”
Michael smiled at her.
Narina realised that his eyes were slowly closing.
She did not say any more as she walked towards the door and when she reached it and looked back, she had the feeling, although it was difficult to see clearly, that he was already fast asleep.
Outside she found Paks.
She told him that His Royal Highness, as Mr. Ward was now to be called, was to sleep until dinner time.
“He's had a real hard time, that gentleman,” Paks muttered. Â “He's got some nasty gashes on his back and I'll treat them as soon as I can get at him.”
“There will be plenty of time for that if he has to stay in bed. Â If he walks about, someone is bound to see him and think he is well enough to come downstairs and then they will recognise him as not being Prince Rudolf.”
“You're so very right, Your Royal Highness, and I thinks that already. Â If you asks me, it's a gift from Heaven having him turn up when I were beginning to think it were dangerous having no one in that bed.”
“I thought it was all arranged so that no one would ever know?”
“That's what we planned, but there's always those who be so very curious about a Royal personage and them housemaids who think he's wonderful are always sneaking up hoping to take a peep at him.”
“Now they will at least see someone in his bed, so perhaps Mr. Ward is a blessing in disguise.”
“If you asks me that's what he be.”
Narina went into the sitting room.
As she did so, she realised she had left behind in the garden the book her father had given her to read.
âI will go and fetch it,' she decided.
Then suddenly she was afraid.
Those Russians, who had been just behind Michael, would have guessed that he had disappeared into the Palace and they might even have seen her taking him in.
If they took her prisoner, thinking that she was Louise, they could make life incredibly difficult and Prince Rudolf would not be there to negotiate for her or to lead the Army of Alexanderburg against them.
âI will send Maria out for it later,' she told herself.
As she sat down at the desk in front of the window of the sitting room, she could not help feeling that it was rather exciting to have Michael Ward to talk to.
Maybe he would be clever enough to come up with new ideas that were badly needed in Alexanderburg.
She had not yet met the Prime Minister, but she had a feeling, from what she had heard, that he was rather like the Mayor.
He wished to keep things as they always had been rather than to introduce new ideas into the country.
âI am quite sure,' she thought, âthat Michael Ward, as he has been so very successful in
The Great Game
, will think of new ways for Alexanderburg to save itself.'
It was an exciting idea and she glanced at the clock.
She was hoping that the hours would pass quickly so that she could talk to Michael at dinner.
Time did pass slowly before Maria came to tell her that her bath was ready and as before, arranged by the fireplace.
Tonight she went to the wardrobe herself to choose the gown she would wear.
And though it was obviously wrong to wear one of the more elaborate ones that hung there, she found a gown that was, she thought, very attractive. Â It was more suitable for a dinner
than if she had been dining in the Royal banqueting room.
Again Maria arranged her hair in the same way that Louise wore it, although it did pass through her mind that it would be more flattering to look like herself.
Yet it was likely that the Lord Chamberlain would drop in after dinner, and she felt that she must play her part in pretending to be Louise exactly as she had promised to do before the Royal couple had disappeared in the dark of the night to Constantinople.
Paks had orders to wake Mr. Ward, but before he went to do so he said to Narina,
“I ain't allowing that Ward gentleman to get up for dinner, Your Royal Highness. Â He has to stay where he be until them wounds on his back have been properly treated.
There be no point in him a-getting up and finding them starts to bleed again.”
“No, Paks, you are quite right, and if he wants to go on sleeping I will understand. Â Otherwise I suggest you put a table by the bed and I can sit on one side of it.”
It was the way she had eaten meals with her mother when she was ill, and thought it was a cosy and delightful way to share dinner with someone in bed.
She waited until Paks came to the sitting room to announce rather pompously,
“Dinner be served, Your Royal Highness.”
Narina jumped up and went into the bedroom.
The curtains were drawn although it was still fairly light outside and candles were lit.
Narina knew that everything that happened upstairs was promptly reported and commented on downstairs.
If there were too many candles being lit, they would never believe that Prince Rudolf was in the darkness the doctors had ordered for him.
There was, however, just one small candelabrum on the table and Narina was not surprised to find that it was composed of the same cupids with stars at their feet that she had noticed before on the bed and mirror.
The tablecloth was of very fine lace and Paks had arranged bright flowers from the garden on the table.
Michael was sitting up in bed with his hair neatly brushed and wearing a silk scarf round his neck.
He looked, she thought, very much better than he had before he had gone to sleep.
He smiled as she walked across the room.
“I must tell you,” he said as she sat down, “that you look exceedingly beautiful and very smart. Â As this is the first decent meal I have had for many months, I am going to enjoy every mouthful. Â But most of all I will appreciate the beauty I will share it with.”
“That makes it exciting for me too,” Narina replied, “and if you are looking forward to dinner then so am I. Â I have found it very gloomy eating alone and having no one to talk to except for Paks.”
“He is exactly the sort of servant who should be in charge of a Royal Prince. Â He made me laugh even when he was hurting me when treating my wounds.”
“Are they still very uncomfortable?”
“I am not going to think about that while you are here. Â I want you to tell all me about yourself and how you could turn up so unexpectedly when I would expect you to be at home helping your father to teach the children their Catechism.”
“I don't have to do that, but I am alone with Papa most of the time. Â He is a wonderful companion when he is not too busy to attend to me.”
“So then you were unexpectedly caught up in this wildly dramatic adventure, because, I would guess, you are a friend of Princess Louise and also resemble her.”
“That is very astute of you. Â We were always taken for twins at school, although actually we are not related. Â When Louise asked me to come out here at a moment's notice, I came with pleasure although I had no idea what was expected of me.”
“I think it is very brave of you â ”
“It is the most exciting and thrilling thing that has ever happened to me except when someone like you comes out of the blue and scares me half to death!”
“I am sorry if I scared you, but you were just like an angel delivering me from the devil and carrying me on winged feet to safety.”
“You will really have to write a book about it one day including all your own adventures in India.”
“I have thought of that, but actually it will not be very long before I am forced to retire.”
“Forced!” exclaimed Narina.
“For family reasons for one thing, and for another, as you have learnt today, I am now recognised by too many people. Â However well I disguise myself, the Russians soon will no longer be deceived.”
“What disguise were you in when you came here?”
“When I left India from the North-West Frontier, I was a Holy Man. Â When I came further West, I was a native selling horses, having picked up the two I had with me on a battlefield.”
“I think it is all so very very brave of you,” Narina remarked admiringly.
“It is very thrilling, exciting and usually terrifying, especially when I wonder how many minutes I have left to live.”
Narina drew in her breath.
“How can you be so brave as to go on fighting what might easily be a losing battle?”
“I am well aware of that possibility, but at the same time I am pitting my brains against the Russian brains and I like to think mine are sharper than theirs.”
They both laughed at his unexpected explanation.
“You must be very glad that at least tonight you can sleep without being afraid.”
“It is even better to have met you,” replied Michael. Â “I am still thinking of you as an angel sent from Heaven to save me, and I am quite certain that for the moment at any rate, looking as you do now, you are not acting a part.”
Because he spoke so seriously, Narina blushed.
She had no idea how exquisitely and delightfully lovely she was looking as she did so.
The next morning Paks knocked on Narina's door to say that he wished to speak to her.
She told him to come in and he then announced,
“Mr. Ward be not very well today. Â The exhaustion after what he's been through has caught up with him.”
“Oh, is he ill?” Narina asked apprehensively.
Paks shook his head.
“Not really ill. Â He just needs to sleep and that's a better medicine than any doctor can give him.”
“Absolutely, Paks. Â I remember my father saying, when he had been climbing a mountain or something like that, he would sleep and sleep until he felt himself again.”
“That, Your Royal Highness, is precisely what our patient be doing. Â You see he'll come bouncing back and be himself again in a very short time.”
“His wounds are now healing?”
“They be better, but they be painful when he thinks about them.”
He picked up Narina's breakfast tray and took it out of the room.
As she could not ride in the mornings as she did at home Narina found it easier to stay in bed for breakfast and dress afterwards.
She still felt nervous about going into the garden.
Although she laughed at herself for being scared, she could still see the blood on Michael's face as he came out from the trees.
The Lord Chamberlain assured her the guard round the Palace had been doubled with more sentries posted at night, as well as Officers keeping watch for any Russians who might be lurking about.
Even so Narina could not help feeling worried.
She thought it so sensible of Michael to sleep away his fears and stress.
It had, however, left her with little to do, so once again she turned to her father's book for consolation.
She was reading by the open window in her sitting room when the Lord Chamberlain entered.
She jumped up eagerly to welcome him.
“I was hoping you would come to see me today, as our patient is asleep and I have no one to talk to.”
“Well, now you are going to hear some rather bad news,” the Lord Chamberlain responded.
Narina looked at him anxiously.
“What is it?” she asked.
It flashed through her mind that perhaps it was bad news from Constantinople.
Had Prince Rudolf's operation not been a success?
It was almost a relief when he replied,
“We have an unwelcome visitor.”
“Unwelcome?” queried Narina.