One of these, a short, burly, red-faced man, full of fuss and self-importance, came hurrying up to my uncle.
"I have de goot news, Sir Charles," said he, sinking his voice as one who speaks of weighty measures. "Es ist vollendet--dat is, I have it at last thoroughly done."
"Well, serve it hot," said my uncle, coldly, "and see that the sauces are a little better than when last I dined at Carlton House."
"Ah, mine Gott, you tink I talk of de cuisine. It is de affair of de Prince dat I speak of. Dat is one little vol-au-vent dat is worth one hundred tousand pound. Ten per cent., and double to be repaid when de Royal pappa die. Alles ist fertig. Goldshmidt of de Hague have took it up, and de Dutch public has subscribe de money."
"God help the Dutch public!" muttered my uncle, as the fat little man bustled off with his news to some new-comer. "That's the Prince's famous cook, nephew. He has not his equal in England for a filet saute aux champignons. He manages his master's money affairs."
"The cook!" I exclaimed, in bewilderment.
"You look surprised, nephew."
"I should have thought that some respectable banking firm--"
My uncle inclined his lips to my ear.
"No respectable house would touch them," he whispered. "Ah, Mellish, is the Prince within?"
"In the private saloon, Sir Charles," said the gentleman addressed.
"Any one with him?"
"Sheridan and Francis. He said he expected you."
"Then we shall go through."
I followed him through the strangest succession of rooms, full of curious barbaric splendour which impressed me as being very rich and wonderful, though perhaps I should think differently now. Gold and scarlet in arabesque designs gleamed upon the walls, with gilt dragons and monsters writhing along cornices and out of corners. Look where I would, on panel or ceiling, a score of mirrors flashed back the picture of the tall, proud, white-faced man, and the youth who walked so demurely at his elbow. Finally, a footman opened a door, and we found ourselves in the Prince's own private apartment.
Two gentlemen were lounging in a very easy fashion upon luxurious fauteuils at the further end of the room and a third stood between them, his thick, well-formed legs somewhat apart and his hands clasped behind him. The sun was shining in upon them through a side-window, and I can see the three faces now--one in the dusk, one in the light, and one cut across by the shadow. Of those at the sides, I recall the reddish nose and dark, flashing eyes of the one, and the hard, austere face of the other, with the high coat-collars and many-wreathed cravats. These I took in at a glance, but it was upon the man in the centre that my gaze was fixed, for this I knew must be the Prince of Wales.
George was then in his forty-first year, and with the help of his tailor and his hairdresser, he might have passed as somewhat less. The sight of him put me at my ease, for he was a merry-looking man, handsome too in a portly, full-blooded way, with laughing eyes and pouting, sensitive lips. His nose was turned upwards, which increased the good-humoured effect of his countenance at the expense of its dignity. His cheeks were pale and sodden, like those of a man who lived too well and took too little exercise. He was dressed in a single-breasted black coat buttoned up, a pair of leather pantaloons stretched tightly across his broad thighs, polished Hessian boots, and a huge white neckcloth.
"Halloa, Tregellis!" he cried, in the cheeriest fashion, as my uncle crossed the threshold, and then suddenly the smile faded from his face, and his eyes gleamed with resentment. "What the deuce is this?" he shouted, angrily.
A thrill of fear passed through me as I thought that it was my appearance which had produced this outburst. But his eyes were gazing past us, and glancing round we saw that a man in a brown coat and scratch wig had followed so closely at our heels, that the footmen had let him pass under the impression that he was of our party.