Philo and Bart had planned several great surprises for Beth and Annie upon their return.
The old box-style hydraulic lift had been replaced by an electrically operated brass cage which climbed rapidly, stopping at all floors from the entry door on the ground floor to Philo's study on the seventh. The wine cellar in the basement and the garret under the roof were still reached by stairways.
The light fixtures in every room had been converted from gas to electricity. It had then become possible to hang a magnificent electric chandelier of crystal teardrops - a wedding gift to Beth and Bart from Eugénie - above the Chinese rosewood dining suite.
A wall telephone, the standard of the day, was installed on each floor, but, in addition, Bart had contrived to obtain, as a special gift for Philo, the most recent innovation in communications - a desktop telephone.
The old family carriage had been rolled away, and its horses, much beloved by Romelle, had both had been retired to a farm, all to be replaced by the wonder of the age, a Daimler-Benz motorcar.
Everyone sprang forward when the telephone rang. Philo reached it first.
In keeping with the nautical style suggested by its inventor, Alexander Graham Bell, Philo answered: "Ahoy! Ahoy! Captain Duncan here!"
"I call from the cabling office, M'sieur le Capitaine ," advised the voice of an English-speaking clerk. "We are in receipt of a cablegram. It comes from 'Ardie' in Boston, the United States of America. May I read it to you, sir?"
Surprised, Philo replied, "A cable from my son? Mais oui! By all means!"
"'Leaving for Pennsylvania at once,'" Philo repeated for the benefit of the others as the clerk read to him: "'Johnstown destroyed by flood and fire. Thousands killed or missing. Remain in Paris until I advise.'"
Adrienne fell into a chair, tears welling from her eyes. Bart steadied himself against the desk. Philo sat stonily, the phone lifted away from his ear.
The clerk persisted in shouting on the other end of the line to recapture Philo's attention.
After a long silence, Philo thanked him and cradled the phone.
The Daimler-Benz did arrive that afternoon, but it gave them no joy. They were too distracted. Everything hinged on the contents of the next cablegram.
During the next few days, they waited, filled with dread. They knew that Ardie was doing all that could be done. The Parisian newspaper accounts of l'inondation de Johnstown, "the Johnstown flood," were discouraging. More than two thousand people were known to be dead, and hundreds more were unaccounted for.
Adrienne packed for Philo and Bart while they arranged for a possible departure.
Renoir offered to oversee the art section of the Duncan Cargo exhibit in Philo's absence. It was a grand gesture. He would have to set aside several current commissions of his own work.
Dash made himself available to serve in whatever capacity Bart wished him to fill. He went to the Place Dauphine in response to Bart's call.
They sat together in Philo's study, close to the desktop telephone. Despite the new electric lights in the room, they sat in the dusk when twilight fell.
"This has become a time of self-examination for me," mused Bart. "Since the cable came, I have asked myself time and again what I could have done to prevent whatever may have happened to Beth, Romelle, and Annie. Would it have been better if I had never married and had a child?"
Sighing deeply, Bart got to his feet and went to the window. The reflection of Paris, "City of Light," illumined his face. Dash could see that tears streamed down his friend's cheeks. He rose as well, and walked to his side, placing an arm across his shoulders.
"Am I to blame?" Bart wondered.
"Nay, nay," chided Dash, "you ask too much of yourself. Asian philosophy is less demanding. Do you recall your telling me years ago of the horse the Prince Imperial chose for his fatal day?"
Bart thought for a moment, then, "Yes," he replied. "Its name was Fate. How odd that you remember!"
"Not at all," Dash disagreed grimly. "It is the detail I recollect as the most significant because of its irony. The prince believed himself destined to take in hand the French reins of state, but it was the reins of Fate that were presented to him. He could have chosen another horse. He did not. It was a fine, strong horse that had served him well. Once mounted, he could have directed it to go another way. He did not. He went the way his conscience told him to go, in the service of the Queen. You see, old friend, we live in small increments of time, in any one of which we may make a different choice or go another way. Some say that it does not matter what we do, that these split seconds add up to only one thing, the hour of our death."
Bart stared over the rooftops and up to the sky. "What do you believe?"
"I believe that we touch Heaven here on Earth by walking in the way of our highest sense of right every moment we live. If we can ask ourselves, 'Did I live that moment well?', and can answer in the affirmative, then we have done all that we can do. To Beth, you gave happiness. To Romelle, you gave life. To Annie, you gave a sense of motherhood. To all, you gave love."
The telephone rang. Bart rushed to pick up the receiver. Philo had already answered the call on another floor. Bart listened.
The same clerk was reading another cable from Ardie, again sent from Boston: "'Romelle and Annie alive and well. Must report sadly our dear Beth is gone. Pepper, too. Beth's parents missing, presumed dead. I am bringing Romelle and Annie to Paris aboard the Ora Nelle II.'"
Bart hung up, his hand shaking. He looked at Dash.
"My daughter lives, and Annie, but my wife.....!" He choked. "Were it not for your presence here and what you have just said, I would surely have flung myself from the window at this very moment. I would have met my end eight storeys below in the Place Dauphine! I owe you my life! You have made me see that in loving Beth with all my heart, I did the best that I could do. My friend, I am in your debt forever!"