The Colonel turned to the waiting orderly. “Very well. Tell the messenger to come in!” He made a sign to Noel, who had just ceased to dance, that brought the young man to his side.
“Look here, Wyndham! You organized this show, so you may as well take on this job. The Rajah has sent a prize for the lady wearing the best costume.”
Noel frowned also at the news. “Confound him! What for, sir?”
“Oh, I suppose he wants to make himself popular,” said the Colonel, still mightily contemptuous. “We can’t refuse it anyway. Arrange for the ladies to vote by ballot, will you? They will probably all vote for themselves,” he added to Sir Reginald. “But that’s a detail. And I say, Noel, get a table from somewhere, will you? It’s your show, not mine.”
Noel smiled upon his commanding-officer, an impudent, affectionate smile. He and Badgers were close allies. “Very good, sir, I’ll see to it,” he said, and departed.
Under his directions a table was brought in and placed at the end of the room. The dancing was stopped temporarily, and the dancers lined up against the walls. Noel, armed with a sheaf of note-paper went the round, tearing off slips and distributing them as he went.
While this was in progress, the Rajah’s messenger was admitted and conducted to the table behind which stood Sir Reginald with Olga and Colonel Bradlaw. He was a very magnificent person, turbaned and glittering; he bore himself like the servant of an emperor. In his hands he carried with extreme care an ivory casket, exquisitely carved, with a lock of wrought Indian gold. The key, also of gold, lay on the top of the casket.
The gift was plainly a costly one, and every eye in the room followed it.
The messenger reached the table and bowed low. “With the compliments of His Highness the Rajah of Sharapura!” he said, and deposited the casket upon the table.
The Colonel glanced at Sir Reginald who at once responded. “Convey our thanks to the Rajah,” he said, “and say that the gracious gift will be much appreciated! I shall give myself the pleasure of calling upon him to assure him of this in person to-morrow.”
The messenger salaamed again deeply, and withdrew.
“I wish he’d keep his precious moonstones!” grumbled the Colonel. “They are more bother than they’re worth. Hurry up, there, Noel! It’s getting late.”
“Just finished, sir,” came Noel’s cheery answer. “I must just get a hat to hold the ballot-papers.”
He did not offer a paper to Olga, who still kept her place by Sir Reginald, her young face white and tired under the pile of fair, powdered hair.
“I think I shall go when this is over,” she whispered to Sir Reginald.
“So you shall,” he said kindly. “I will escort you myself. I expect we shall find Nick waiting for us,” he added, with a smile. “Some business has delayed him, I have no doubt.”