04. Happily Ever After with Whiskers

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'Come.'

Mr Ambrose offered his arm to me, and I slipped mine into it almost without thinking. We retreated to the first row of chairs, but when I started to sit down, Mr Ambrose gripped my arm tighter.

'No!'

'But...that man said for us to take our places.'

'Yes. Standing. You don't sit in the presence of royalty.'

'But...that's stupid!'

'Yes, it is. But until and unless someone successfully explains this to the reigning monarch, we stay upright.' His free hand reached up and, gently, with the back of his knuckles, graced my hair. 'Understood, Miss Linton?'

The way he said 'Miss Linton' sent a delicious shiver down my spine. I hadn't heard him say this in months, and it touched some spot deep inside me I hadn't even known existed.

I swallowed, trying to get out of my throat the lump that was suddenly lodged there.

'Yes, Sir.'

'Adequate.'

The Royal Herald pounded the floor with his staff. 'His Highness, Prince Francis Albert Augustus Charles Emmanuel of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Duke of Saxony!'

I leaned over towards Mr Ambrose. 'Is that two people he just announced, or three?'

'One! Be quiet, Mr Linton!'

'Miss Linton to you, Sir.'

'Be quiet!'

A man entered the room. Except for the splendidly impressive scarlet uniform with golden tresses, he didn't look much like a prince. He had a round face, and a rather silly little moustache perched on his upper lip. When he bowed and spoke to some duke or other, one could clearly hear the traces of a German accent, and his smile seemed just as silly as the moustache one floor above.

I leaned over to Mr Ambrose.

'Why would anyone want to marry that?'

'Miss Linton?'

'Yes, Sir?'

'Shut up!'

'Yes, Sir. Right away, Sir.'

Finally, the Prince of Saxe-Soandso had worked himself through all the people present with a series of bows, nods and silly smiles, and had reached the front of the crowd where Mr Ambrose and I stood.

'Follow my lead,' Mr Ambrose hissed into my ear. 'Do exactly what I am going to do!'

'What? Stare at him icily?'

'Just do what I do!'

'Yes, Sir.'

Mr Ambrose pulled me towards the Prince – and smiled.

I am not joking.

A bright, broad, shining smile spread across the face of the man whose facial muscles ordinarily seemed to be made out of granite. In my entire life, I had only seen Mr Ambrose smile like that once before, and I remembered very well what had happened that day.

Poor Prince Albert...

'Your Highness!' Mr Ambrose gave a sweeping bow. 'I am so delighted that you were so kind as to invite me to your special day.'

The silly smile on the Prince's face broadened. 'You are welcome, Herr...'

Mr Ambrose waved his hand. 'We only met once before. I doubt Your Highness would see fit to remember me.'

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