At Chislehurst Station, the three men descended from the railroad coach and boarded a waiting carriage.
It was a short ride through a pleasant town. They circled Chislehurst Common and came to the gates of the Empress's residence, Camden Place. A smallish house for a personage of imperial stature, it was, however, surrounded by a well-kept park.
The vehicle proceeded up the drive to the main door. They alighted and were ushered inside by two British officers in full regalia and were taken to a large, heavily curtained room.
A thickly veiled figure sat in semi-darkness.
"My dear friends!" the figure declared, standing to greet them and throwing back the dark veil.
A woman of outstanding loveliness and grace accepted the nosegay from Disraeli. Each gentleman bowed and brushed the demi-gloved fingers with his lips.
"Your Imperial Majesty!" they both said at once.
"My deepest sympathy, Ma'am," Philo added. "I....."
"No, no, Captain," she interrupted, "you need say no more. It is enough that you have come from America at my behest. I have been such trouble to you, I fear, but you've no idea how comforting it is to see a warm and friendly face from better days. How my son loved the summer you joined us at Queen Hortense's villa above Lake Constance! Oh, mercy, why did I think of that at this moment? Now I shall envy you the hours you spent with him sailing on the lake, hours he could have been with me! Do you see how selfish I have become? Was I ever like this before? Is this what I shall be?"
She fell back into her chair, sobbing.
The men stood in silence until her weeping passed. Eventually, she looked at them again, her comely face even more moving in the depths of her grief. She turned her eyes to Bart. "And you are the captain's boy! So young! So handsome! Such marvelous auburn hair! And green eyes! My son, too, had magnificent eyes...long, black lashes....oh!....."
They all thought of the assegai wound in the Prince Imperial's right eye. They feared for a moment that she would swoon, but she went on courageously.
"My son had eyes of brilliant blue. His hair was dark as night. And his noble features, everyone said, were those of an emperor of Rome! But most of all, like you, young man, he had youth! Perhaps that is God's greatest gift, and the most fragile, for it is so soon...taken away!"
Disraeli went to her and knelt by her chair. "Your dear, dear Majesty, I bring with me a memento of the bravest prince who ever lived."
He extracted from his pocket the golden chain with medallions.
The Empress stared down at it for a moment, then took it tenderly into her hands.
"'Goodnight, goodnight!'" she murmured. "'Parting is such sweet sorrow that I shall say goodnight till it be morrow.'"
The words from Shakespeare gave the men pause. They recalled self-consciously their bantering references to Romeo and Juliet's balcony scene in the railway car. The Empress spoke her line in earnest.
The Empress fingered the medallions one by one. "This medal was a gift from my son's godfather, the Pope," she explained, "and this medal was given him by the Emperor on the occasion of his twelfth birthday."
She smiled in remembrance. "My husband told him that henceforth, like the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple at Jerusalem, he must now be about his heavenly Father's business, preparing himself spiritually to be ready someday to assume his earthly father's business of governing France."
Her fingers moved to another medallion. "Ah! This is a special one as well. Look!"
She raised the chain so that it caught a ray of sunlight that had found its way through a part in the heavy drapes at the windows. The men leaned forward to see it more clearly.
"It is a sixteenth-century coin struck in the name of Mary Queen of Scots," the Empress explained. "Do you see? It depicts her exquisite face. This coin was given him by the young lady whom we thought, God willing, might one day reign at his side, she whom he called his 'own dear Queen of Scots.'"
Deftly, she removed it from the chain. Twisting in her chair to look into the deeper shadows on the far side of the room, Empress Eugénie placed the medallion on the open palm of her extended hand.
"Come, darling," she smiled, "let me return it to you now. May you treasure it for the rest of a long and happy life."
A movement in the shadows attracted the attention of the men.
A second figure, until then unseen, rose from a cavernous chair and moved toward them slowly with stately grace.
The woman, like the Empress, was dressed in a high-necked gown of black silk, bustled in the highest fashion of the day, her shapely hips draped with a swag, her arms covered to the wrists. She was unadorned by jewelry.
As she passed through a second ray of captive sunshine, her strawberry-blonde hair shimmered with its fire. Her lovely face was framed by a fringe of bangs and shining ringlets. They set off the startling periwinkle blue of large eyes that glistered with tears.
She stretched forth her hand and took the medallion from the Empress. Lifting it to her lips, she kissed it and inserted it into a pocket of her dress.
A ghost of a smile crossed her lips.
Looking directly at Bart, she said, "Remember me?"
Quavering with emotion, his voice pronounced the words, "How could I ever forget?"
Beth Heskitt was the Prince Imperial's Queen of Scots.