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Authors: Barbara Cartland

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BOOK: The Gates of Paradise
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“That is just what I wanted you to say,” the Lord Chamberlain enthused.  “Now let's go and talk to the man who I know is an experienced and brilliant actor.”

Remembering how Michael had related that he had been disguised as an Indian Holy Man and a native horse dealer, she was sure that the Lord Chamberlain was right.

She then followed him into Michael's room where he was sitting up in bed enjoying his breakfast.

“Good morning,” he called out to them cheerfully.  “I was not expecting such early visitors.”

“I have a job for you to do,” the Lord Chamberlain answered, “and I feel that only
you
can carry it off.”

“Since you are obviously flattering me, I am quite sure it is going to be a difficult one!”

The Lord Chamberlain told him all he had just told Narina and he listened intently.

Then the Lord Chamberlain continued,

“Prince Hans has said that he will leave us after the Parade and since the sooner we are rid of him the better, I have ordered it to take place at half-past one.

“Luncheon will be early, but as you will understand I want to see the back of Prince von Vechtel as speedily as possible.”

“So do I,” agreed Michael, “but you are certainly making me pay for my supper!”

“I am sure you will do it brilliantly,” added Narina supportively.

“I only hope that Prince Rudolf's uniform will fit me.  If there is one thing I dislike it is looking unsmart and down-at-heel when I am on official business.”

Narina knew he was only teasing and she riposted,

“I am certain Paks will turn you out looking spick and span!”

The Lord Chamberlain walked towards the door.

“I am extremely grateful to you both,” he said, “and I can only hope that Prince Hans will not be too scornful about our Army.  We all know only too well what would be the consequence of that.”

He left the room before either of them could reply.

Then Narina turned to Michael,

“I feel sure you can do it and only you can make that mischief-maker believe that the Alexanderburg Army is bigger than it really looks and is going to grow bigger in the future.”

“Is that true?” asked Michael.

There was a pause before Narina replied,

“It is what the Lord Chamberlain desires, but the Prime Minister and a great number of other people here in the City prefer things exactly as they have always been and have no wish to move with the times.”

“That is what I want to know.  Now play your part by looking exceedingly beautiful and smart so that Prince Hans will have something much more interesting to attract his attention.  We don't want him to observe that the Army is too short of men to secure the gates when the Russians are pressing to enter.”

Narina gave a cry.

“Oh no!  Somehow you must stop them.”

“Just me?” asked Michael, mockingly.

“Why not?  If you can outwit the Russians in one way, as you have done in India, then you can in another, especially for this small country which desperately needs your help.”

She looked at him as she finished speaking, but he did not answer her.

As Narina walked towards her room, she knew that the Lord Chamberlain was extremely worried.

Prince Rudolf and Princess Louise had gone away confident that nothing untoward would happen while they were in Constantinople.

Yet now everything was in turmoil.

She would have liked to talk for longer to Michael and then as she had reached her sitting room, she saw Paks hurrying into the State bedroom.

She had nothing to do but go back to her room and change the dress she was wearing for something more spectacular.

Carefully, she chose a matching hat to go with it, which was decorated with ostrich feathers.

Maria came into the room and exclaimed,

“Why didn't you ring for me, Lady?  I've only just heard that the Army's to be inspected.”

“I was looking to see what I should wear, Maria, because I am sure there will be a large crowd.”

“You can be sure of that, Lady, there'll be no one in the City today.  They'll all be on the ground outside where our Army be on parade.”

She spoke proudly and Narina could only hope the people watching would feel proud of their Army too.

Maria brought her some of Louise's jewellery.

When she opened the jewel box, Narina saw to her surprise that inside it was a small revolver.

“Where did this come from?” she asked Maria.

“It's what Her Royal Highness always carries when she goes outside the City.  His Royal Highness insists on it, and although she's never had to use it as yet, I always puts it ready for her as he instructed me.”

“Then I will take it too,” declared Narina firmly.

Her dear father had taught her to shoot when she was young and she had often carried a pistol or a revolver when they travelled abroad.

This one was very small and exquisitely enamelled, besides having Louise's initials in diamonds on it.

“His Royal Highness gives it to her as soon as they were married,” Maria said, as if she had asked the question. “I always says if it can kill someone, it'd be a pretty way of dying!”

“That's one way of looking at it,” smiled Narina.

She put the revolver in the pocket of her gown and although it was rather heavy at her side, she felt that it was somehow comforting.

Luncheon was punctual at twelve-thirty, but when they sat down there was no sign of Michael.

As if someone had asked him the question, the Lord Chamberlain explained,

“His Royal Highness is intending to go straight to the Parade, which I think is wise.  It would be a mistake on his first day out of his bed for him to do too much and it is important he should use his eyes as little as possible.”

Prince Hans did not seem particularly interested.

Once again he was paying Narina compliments, but she did not feel that they were as intense or sincere as they had been last evening.

Even now she found it hard to believe that he had actually dared to steal the key and come to her room.

When she had told Maria that it was missing, she had given a little cry of horror.

“How could that have happened?” she asked.  “Are you suggesting that someone has taken it?”

“I really don't know, Maria, I am only aware that it was not in the lock as it has been on previous nights.”

After breakfast when she went to change her gown, Maria announced triumphantly that she had found the key.

“It had fallen on the mat just outside the door,” she said.  “The mat's made of thick wool and the key's very small so I can only imagine it fell there and no one noticed it.”

Narina felt certain that Prince Hans had deliberately dropped it there, but it would be a mistake to say so.

*

Luncheon was over two minutes after one o'clock.

A large carriage was waiting with a Cavalry escort to convey Narina, Prince Hans and the Lord Chamberlain to the Royal Parade ground.

As they drove through the City, Narina thought that the streets looked remarkably empty.  Then she realised that practically everyone had gone to see the Parade.

When they arrived, a Regimental Band was playing beside a platform decorated with flowers.

A large number of soldiers were already in position in what seemed to Narina the most enormous field she had ever seen.

Growing round it on all sides were wild flowers, no less beautiful than those planted in the garden and equally beautiful flowering bushes and trees.

Because the scene was so attractive, it almost hurt her to see that the Cavalry had trampled down some of the wild flowers.

When their carriage came to a standstill, there was a horse waiting for Prince Hans.

As he was about to mount it, Michael appeared.

He looked so entirely different that for a moment Narina felt that it could not be him.

He was wearing the feathered hat of a General and his dazzling red uniform was covered with decorations and around his neck hung the golden star of Alexanderburg.

He was mounted on a magnificent white horse and looked really splendid and exactly as the leader of a Royal Army should look.

As he rode into the Parade ground, the crowds of people who had come from the City waved and cheered.

The women curtsied low and the men bowed their heads.

Michael acknowledged them all gracefully with a wave from a white-gloved hand.

Then he rode over to where Prince Hans was just mounting the horse provided for him and the two of them started to ride up and down the ranks.

Narina was not surprised that the people watching were excited.

The Band was playing and the Prime Minister and the whole Cabinet were already on the platform as Narina and the Lord Chamberlain sat down in the front row.

The two empty chairs beside them were for Prince Rudolf and his guest Prince Hans when the inspection was finished.

It did not take long as there were not a vast number of soldiers on Parade.

They rode back and climbed onto the platform and everyone rose to their feet.

As the two Princes walked across to their chairs, the women curtsied again and it was then for the first time the band stopped playing.

Michael, as Prince Rudolf, walked to the front of the platform.

The trumpets sounded to ensure silence.

Then much to Narina's surprise, Michael called out in a voice that rang out over the Parade ground,

“I want everyone to come as near as possible to the platform so that they can hear what I have to say.”

He must already have given orders to the soldiers, who marched forward so that they were much closer.

The crowd were then directed to move as near as possible on each side of them.

As this was all happening, Michael stood watching and waiting.

He had his back to the Prime Minister and members of the Cabinet who would know Prince Rudolf by sight.

When it seemed that everyone was still and ready to listen, he raised his voice.

Speaking slowly but very loudly he began,

“You have all come here today to welcome Prince Hans von Vechtel, who has asked specially if he can meet our Army.  He has, I am certain, been impressed by your smartness and the excellent turnout that he and I have just witnessed.”

There were cheers at this from the crowd.

“Now I want to take this opportunity of talking to you about the future.  First of all I want to explain to you how sorry I am that I have not been able for the past week or so to make any contact with you because of my injury.”

Narina saw that the people were listening intently.

“You have been told that I had a fall out riding, but actually that was untrue.  I was assaulted by some strange men who I am certain did not come from Alexanderburg.  They would have kidnapped or killed me, if I had not been able to fight them off.”

There was a murmur of horror from the audience.

Narina wondered why he was saying all this.

“What happened then has now convinced me that we have to enlarge our Army immediately.  I am hoping that every able-bodied man and boy in the country will enlist and serve for long enough as a soldier to be trained to fight for our freedom in the future should it ever be necessary.”

There was a loud murmur when he paused.

“I intend to have the most up-to-date weapons for my Army, especially modern guns which have a far longer range and are more accurate than those we have used in the past. It will require much intelligence and determination to handle them, but I am certain that is something we have plenty of amongst my people.”

There were cheers and Narina could see the faces of the young men listening light up.

“I expect some of you are wondering how we can afford a much larger Army than we have already, equipped with much more up-to-date and expensive weapons.

“I am sure all the women are calculating that they may have to give up the pretty gowns they want or, more important, the food their family needs.  There will, however, be no need for any sacrifices on the part of the people of Alexanderburg, and I will tell you why.”

There was absolute silence and expectation.

“It is in fact my clever wife's idea and I know it is something that you will all enjoy.  Where you are standing at this moment and stretching out as far as you can see, we will create a playground or if you prefer it a vast ‘Pleasure Garden', which will attract visitors from all over the world because it will be so beautiful.”

There was an audible gasp from his audience.

“There will be near to it – and this is where some of you who are too old to join the Army will be working – a large Rifle Range where everyone from the smallest child can learn to shoot.

“In the Alexanderburg Pleasure Garden there will be bowling alleys, swings for the children and many other amusements.  Now listen for the most significant of all.”

The crowd seemed to hold their breath.

“Every village and town in the country will have its own Public Garden.  They will compete with each other to win medals and prizes for the best or most original display.  We will bring in plants from the Himalayas, China, Nepal and many other countries.”

Now the people were wide-eyed and he finished triumphantly,

“I assure you we will be a show place for the whole of Europe and we will need to enlarge our Port to take in the ships that will bring visitors up from the Mediterranean to see all that is unique in Alexanderburg.”

There was silence.

Then the people who had been listening as if they were afraid to miss one word opened their mouths to shout.

Michael threw out his arms saying,


Will you do it
?  
Can you do it
?  Are all of us clever enough to challenge Europe and the rest of the world with our exotic gardens of many amusements?”

There was a shriek, a cry, and the cheers seemed to rise up into the sky and become almost deafening.

BOOK: The Gates of Paradise
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