The Empress excused the young people, suggesting they walk in the park.
"It was I who asked Her Imperial Majesty to send for Captain Duncan...and for you," Beth told Bart when they were alone. "I knew that he would be of great comfort to her, and I dared to think that...you...might be...of equal comfort to me."
He looked at her, his eyes betraying whatever hope he might have had of concealing his devotion. He realized now that Bridget had been right in her estimation of his love for this woman. Only Beth's happiness mattered, not his.
"I shall do what I can," was all he offered in reply.
The shade of ancient elms gave them respite from the heat of the summer afternoon. They strolled in silence until they approached a raised bed of vibrantly colorful wood violets wafting their scent in the breeze.
Beth came to a sudden halt.
In that instant, Bart sensed a wave of intense emotion sweeping over her.
"Has something...disturbed you?" he asked uncertainly.
She took a deep breath.
With obvious effort, she answered: "I sent to Pennsylvania for these seeds last autumn. My mother's Johnstown garden boasts wood violets in abundance. They were to have been a birthday present for the Prince in mid-March, but he left for Africa at the end of February. When his birthday came, I had the flower bed prepared anyway. I planted the seeds myself. I had dared to hope...that...he would be here to see them bloom. Despite his imperial background, he loved simple things."
She knelt to touch the violets. Their movement gave them the appearance of responding to her caress. She looked up at Bart, the blue of her tearful eyes as bright and lovely as any of the blossoms' hues.
"Do you believe in signs and symbols?" she asked.
He frowned. "If you mean like numerology, I must say I don't."
"No," she said softly, turning her head toward the flowers again, "not as a science, but in the sense of portents of the future, or meaningful coincidences."
"Ah," he said, "I see. Yes, I do."
He told her how the whistle attracted Philo on the battlefield and changed his life. He spoke of the search for Philo's home in Baltimore and how the whistle worked to bring Ardie to the curb.
"Then I took it out in the train on the way here, and the sound made Disraeli stop and look in. He was searching for us!"
Distracted now from her sorrow, Beth rose. They continued walking arm in arm.
"But even more interesting," Bart went on, "was the fact that Ardie and I were born the same month, the same year, making us almost exactly the same age, as if our brotherhood, from the beginning, was meant to be."
"Oh, yes," she exclaimed, "that's the sort of thing I had in mind! The Prince and I shared the same date of birth, March sixteenth, although not the same year. I'm eighteen, and he is...was...twenty-three."
She sagged a trifle at recollection of young Napoleon's death. She leaned more heavily on Bart's arm.
"Forgive me," she said, "but I'm not yet used to the idea of his being gone. Oh, he was a dear man! He was so good to me, so thoughtful, so kind. I loved him, Bart. I loved him as once....."
She drew away a little.
".....as once...I thought...I loved you."
The idea of her having loved him made him understand, for the first time in his life, what it meant to faint. He had considered it unmanly, strictly a weakness of women. His throat went dry. A giddiness rose in his head. A dull throb at his temples threatened his balance. His collapse was imminent.
"Shall we sit for awhile?" he suggested lamely, pointing to a handy bench.
"Of course," she agreed with an understanding smile. "Dear Bart, I didn't mean to upset you. I thought somehow you knew. How silly of me! Little boys can't read the minds of little girls. I even spoke of it to Miss Rainbow when we met at the Centennial Exposition in '76."
He blanched, but decided not to resist the impulse to speak. "I should not keep it from you. When you fell off the bicycle that day, you landed in my heart. I've been in love with you since then. I've been told....."
Here he turned his head away.
".....that I speak your name aloud when I'm asleep. Perhaps it's terrible of me to tell you at such a time, but I think you ought to know."
She sighed. "My instincts are good. I knew it was right to call you to my side. Please understand that I gave my heart to a man who is now dead. I gave it to him wholly. Perhaps if we'd been able to...to say goodbye...he could have given some piece of it back for me to share again."
She was weeping softly. "I shall need time, Bart, to find my heart again. Right now, the Empress needs me. Our need for each other is a great consolation to us both."
She brightened abruptly.
"Speaking of consolation," she smiled, "there is someone you haven't met."
She clapped her hands, directing her gaze toward tall bushes at the rear of the park. Bart took note of a sway in the greenery. She clapped her hands again. The swaying became more pronounced, and shortly there burst forth a sturdy little dog.
In a flurry of bushy hair in peppered shades of fawn overlaid with black, the small creature moved warily toward them, its large, intelligent eyes seeming deeply suspicious of Bart. It stopped for a brief appraisal, then shook its silky topknot as if still unsure, but moved slowly toward them on its short, sturdy legs.
"Pepper! Come!" called Beth.
The dog trotted to her and gently nuzzled her hands while keeping a sharp eye on her companion.
"What a fine pup!" Bart exclaimed in admiration. "I've never seen this breed."
Beth smiled. "Dandie Dinmont's terriers are very rare in the States. They come from the Cheviot Hills between England and Scotland and were bred to hunt otters and brocks, or badgers, as were dachshunds in Germany, but they make sweet, gentle pets."
Bart slapped his thigh. "Of course! The terriers in Sir Walter Scott's novel, Guy Mannering, belonged to a gentleman farmer named Dandie Dinmont! I read it as a freshman at Harvard. He called some of them Pepper, too!"
"Pepper was a gift from Arthur Bigge to the Prince and me," Beth explained. "Arthur was in South Africa with the Prince, but he was ill in bed with a fever on that last day. Arthur hails from near the Scottish border where they have lots of Dandie Dinmonts. He brought Pepper to us last winter. Yes, Pepper of Bonaparte has been another great consolation to me!"
The dog dutifully took up a position at her feet.
"I would like to believe," she reflected, rubbing a little white patch on the Dandie Dinmont's chest, "that if I get to Heaven, I'll clap my hands as I do for Pepper, and, lo, the Prince will come running to my arms."
Her tears flowed again.
Bart placed his arm around her and gently pressed her head to his shoulder. "I know that feeling," he said quietly. "I sometimes think of my mother, who was killed by a cannon shell, and of my father, who died of wounds received in battle, as being together there, waiting for me to come."
He told her of the night on the battlefield at Fredericksburg when the Northern Lights blazed above, and Philo lifted him skyward.
"The Cap'n lifted me up and said to me: 'God has thrown open Heaven's gates! Your poppa has gone to Him!' That's stayed with me all my life."
They sat in silence until suddenly Beth whispered, "Look! A butterfly!"
The winged insect lit first on her knee, then flew to Bart's, and next to Pepper's upturned nose. The dog's eyes crossed. He sneezed. In panic, the butterfly fluttered away. Beth's wistful gaze followed it in flight. "Was that a dog dreaming it is a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming it is a dog?" she murmured. "Am I really here with you, Bart, or am I dead, like my prince, and simply part of your dream?"
Bart shifted uncomfortably at this melancholic change in her mood. He perceived it as a sign meant to break the spell cast over them by the summer afternoon.
"Come, let's go back to the house," he offered.
Beth sighed deeply and stood, but she walked the other way. "There are some lovely scarlet roses I want you to see. They were brought from Malmaison near Paris, the home of Napoleon and his beloved Josephine. She grew these bushes herself. She had them brought from her home island of Martinique. Her actual birth name was Rose, Rose Tascher."
"I also want to tell you how I met the Prince," she added. "After I crashed into you on my cycle, Mother took me on a Grand Tour of Europe later in the summer. Although my mother, my late father, even my stepfather, are Scottish-Americans, in every case they've all been Anglophiles at heart, which is why they wanted an English education for me. From Switzerland, Mother wrote to Captain Duncan in Boston asking his advice in choosing a school. He responded with a letter of introduction to a friend in London, Lady Waldegrave. We came to England, and she arranged everything. We got along splendidly. Mother left me in her care."
Bart grinned. "Looks like the Cap'n's friend did a good job!"
"I should say," Beth agreed, "for it happened that she was also London's leading hostess. It was at Lady Waldegrave's first ball of the 1877 season that I danced with the Prince of Wales who, in turn, introduced me to the Prince Imperial who, in his turn, waltzed me around for the rest of the evening!
"Life took on an unreal quality for me after we fell in love - Disraeli, Queen Victoria, the Empress of the French! Oh, my! It was almost too much for a plain little girl from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and points south, and a commoner, at that, despite my descent from the family of the Scottish queen. The Prince and I used to laugh about it.
"'There is precedent for this in the Bonaparte family,' he would say, 'for my illustrious great-uncle, Napoleon the First, fell in love, as a young Revolutionary general, with a silk merchant's daughter in Marseilles, Mademoiselle Desirée Clary! Did she not, after all, eventually marry Marshal Bernadotte and become Queen of Sweden?' When the Prince wasn't calling me Queen of Scots, he'd jokingly call me Queen of Swedes!"
"Mostly, 'though," she added wistfully, "we thought of ourselves as Eugene - his middle baptismal name - and Beth, two wandering souls with no home to call our own. He was a crown prince with no crown and I, well, I didn't feel I belonged in Johnstown anymore. We had a silly fantasy of escaping from the world to a homey cottage on a Scottish heath. His maternal grandmother was an American of Scottish descent, you see, who married a Spanish nobleman. I realize now what a deep sense of sharing that gave us. Despite all our differences we were somehow, if distantly, akin."
Coming to the rose garden, the flowers captured their attention. Then, they started back toward the house. "It amazes me," Bart declared, "that the Cap'n can be engaged in so much activity without giving anyone near him a clue! Look at his involvement with your romance with the Prince, not to mention his association with Disraeli!"
Beth smiled. "Captain Duncan is a very private man. Lady Waldegrave once hinted of something mysterious involving a woman, an actress, I think, a decade ago in Paris. She hoped I could tell her about it. I couldn't, but she said all of Continental society would give their eyeteeth to know. Whatever it was, it turned his hair white practically overnight, she told me. Do you remember when we were children his wavy hair was as golden as the sun?"
Bart grunted. "Yes. Come to think of it, he's only forty-five. He would have been thirty-five or so back then. Say, he mentioned a lady he met when he first went to Paris, but that's all...no name or anything important."
A servant met them on the path, announcing the departure of Philo and Disraeli. They had sent him to get Bart.
On the way, Beth said, "Before you leave, I must show you a drawing made by the Prince. I have wondered if he had a presentiment of his fate. It is a sketch of ghostly figures representing the soul of a young warrior proceeding toward the Angel of Death. It is a sad picture, but one upon which the Empress and I have reflected by the hour."
When they reached the house, Philo announced that arrangements had already been made to take a place across Chislehurst Common for the remainder of the summer. They were returning to Southampton only to collect their belongings from the ship.
"Then I can see the picture later!" Bart beamed.
"Tomorrow?" said Beth hopefully.
They waved fondly to one another as the carriage rolled away.
Bart was decidedly in love.
Beth had found a dear friend to whom she could speak her heart at the most difficult time of her life.