IT WAS with considerable misgivings that Nana Rau drove with two dusk_ssistants down to Epsom the following morning.
With him was all his baggage, a formidable-looking amount for a night out; bu_hen the dazzling splendour of Eastern attire cannot be measured by Wester_artorial restrictions. These big trunks contained the full war paint whic_ana Rau and suite intended to don after luncheon, and ere proceeding t_indsor.
One thing Nana Rau was fully resolved upon. Nothing should induce him to pla_nto "Vaughan's" hands unless the latter could provide him with a proper wa_ut of the difficulty. It was only natural that the Prince should desire t_rotect himself, and nothing short of being able to show that he was th_nnocent victim of a vile conspiracy would satisfy him.
The Indians reached Vaughan's hospitable mansion at length and were met at th_oor by that individual himself.
"I am afraid I shall have to request you to dispense with a deal of ceremony,"
he said. "The fact is, this place has been let furnished for about a year, an_y late tenants only turned out of it last week, and thus we are terribl_hort of servants. These footmen don't seem able to do anything without a lo_f women to help them."
Vaughan, or Gryde rather, rang the bell violently, and presently a pair o_en-servants appeared breathlessly. They were a fine-looking pair of men, an_heir livery left nothing to be desired. The astute reader will have littl_ifficulty in guessing who these footmen were.
"Whatever have you fellows been doing?" Gryde demanded.
"Please, sir," replied one, in the purest of Cockney accents, "it's all alon_f the new cook, which she's drunk—"
Gryde waved these details aside.
"I desire to know nothing of these matters," he replied. "Take the Prince u_o the room prepared for him, and these gentlemen also, and see that they hav_verything they require. Luncheon is prepared, I suppose?"
"Luncheon is waiting in the dining-room now, sir."
A little later and Nana Rau, together with his host and attendants, sat dow_o one of the most perfect luncheons it is possible to imagine. The Prince wa_ bit of an epicure in his way, and as the meal proceeded he softened. Th_hoice champagne rendered him indifferent to the calls of Windsor. And really,
it seemed quite bad taste to stand in the light of so enlightened a _bo_ivant_ as Vaughan.
Absolutely nothing had been left undone. The luncheon was a work of art, th_ines were cameos in their way, and the waiting of the two confederates lef_othing to be desired. In the poetic language of the modern Babylon, Nana Ra_as an accomplished "tiddler"; in the old days he would have been a three-
bottle man, and to leave such a feast of alcohol for a mere Court functio_artook almost of the nature of a crime.
"Then why leave it?" Gryde asked, when the attendants had withdrawn and he an_he Prince were alone. "Stay and make an evening of it."
"What's the good of talking that dashed nonsense?" said Nana Rau thickly. "Yo_now as well as possible that I must go."
"But it was arranged that I was to take your place."
"O! I know that's your game. I suppose you've got some diplomatic swindle on.
Only show me a clear way out—a way which will absolutely absolve me from al_lame—and you shall take my place with pleasure."
"I am about to do so," said Gryde.
"I think I shall be able to satisfy even your scruples if you will permit m_o leave you for a minute."
Nana Rau waved his hand majestically. He wanted no other company beyond tha_uperb champagne. He closed his eyes with the ecstasy of it He opened the_gain with a start five minutes later. Then, with a beatific smile upon hi_ace, he slipped from his chair on to the floor and slept.
* * * * *
Let no slur rest upon the fair fame of Nana Rau. For instance, he was a grea_eal more sober than Mr. Pickwick when discovered in the village pound. Bu_ven the strongest of heads cannot rise superior to a bottle or so of '7_hampagne _plus_ a narcotic of potent properties.
A minute or two later Gryde entered the room, followed by his two "footmen."
"You fellows did your part uncommonly well," Gryde said. "The Christy minstre_n the floor is firm enough, and so are the others. They are perfectly saf_ere until this time to-morrow. Now then, boys—no time to be lost. Let us g_pstairs at once and get the Eastern robes on. Very nice to think that w_hould be actually provided with our disguises."
The work was by no means easy, though Gryde was an artist so far as thi_ranch of his profession was concerned. But patience and skill overcomes al_hings, and at length the task was accomplished. It would indeed have puzzle_n Englishman to have told the counterfeit from the originals.
"This thing will make a bit of a stir," said Gryde.
"Egad, you are right there," said one of the others, grimly. "Look here, Mr.
Vaughan, I'm not very particular, but I have jibbed a bit over this job. An_rdinary woman in England, but when it comes to—"
"You seem to regard me as somewhat simple," Gryde interrupted. "Do you suppos_ should be guilty of anything in such fearful taste?"
"But I was under the impression that we were going down on purpose to—"
"So we are. But my words will come true all the same. At six o'clock thi_vening important information, bearing upon the face of it every evidence o_ruth, will reach the India Office. A certain great lady will be informed o_he same without delay. And Nana Rau will not kiss the hand of her to whom h_wes fealty."
The scrupulous one said no more, being quite satisfied with this explanation.
A little later a resplendent carriage drove up to the house, and the thre_ndians gravely emerged. Two of them stood aside and bowed low as Gryd_assed, and then, when the two huge trunks were hoisted on the carriage, the_ntered.
The journey to Paddington was made without incident. Gryde had laid his plan_o carefully, he had made so many inquiries beforehand, that he has nothing t_ear from any display of ignorance on his part.
Everything went well, the retained carriage was entered at length, and th_rain started.
"Nothing wanting," said Gryde, with an air of satisfaction; "not a singl_itch—and, really, this is a most critical part of the performance. They migh_ave laid a strip of crimson carpet across the platform, but at times lik_hese one is not disposed to be hypercritical. Windsor will be the nex_rouble."
But Windsor proved no bother at all. The red liveried servants were allowed t_ake everything in their own hands, and ere long the adventurers foun_hemselves bowling along the wide avenues up to the Castle.
"How do you feel?" asked Gryde.
"Uncommonly nervous," said the others in chorus.
Gryde smiled. He did not appear to be suffering from the same malady. On th_ontrary, he was perfectly at his ease.
"The great charm of this mode of life," he muttered," lies in the fact that i_ever lacks variety."