On the eighth of May, Mont Pelée did, indeed, erupt, spewing black smoke into the brilliantly blue tropical sky. A glowing avalanche of hot gases and lava raced down a steep valley to Saint-Pierre, killing 50,000 people within minutes. Ships in the harbor burned to the waterline, incinerating everyone aboard. There was only one survivor in the city, a prisoner confined at the bottom of a well for want of space in the city jail.
In a fierce state of agitation at the thought Annie and her family may have been injured or killed, Philo was ready to commandeer a Duncan Cargo vessel to make the voyage at once.
Eugénie's cooler head prevailed. "If they are gone, there is nothing you can do. It would be best to wait until you hear something concrete. They could not reach you if you were on the high seas."
When he returned with Romelle to Paris, word did come that all had survived. "We had just moved into a very grand house down at Trois Îlets, where the Empress Josephine was born," Annie apprised him by the first mail available from the island after the disaster. "That's some distance from Saint-Pierre, on a lovely harbor to the south. The eruption was on a Thursday. Pierre and I were to sing at the old church in Saint-Pierre on the following Sunday. The church was destroyed, along with a large congregation attending a morning mass. Little did we know at the time we accepted the invitation that we would be singing instead at a memorial service for all our departed friends! The tragedy has, however, reminded me that I shall not be forever in this world, Captain. My fondest wish is to once again set eyes on you and Romelle. My eightieth birthday falls on the third of August, my Pierre will be sixty-two on the sixth, and Romelle will be sixteen on the twenty-fifth. Please come. Let us celebrate together."
Thrilled by the prospect, Eugénie decided she would join them in hopes of finding personal possessions of the Empress Josephine for display at Malmaison. She invited Philo to bring Romelle to the Villa Cyrnos at Cap Martin during the celebrations of Bastille Day. They were to make plans together for the trip to Martinique.
Romelle had gone sailing with friends, and Philo sat with the Empress in the breakfast room. Inescapable were the small red flowers painted on the wallpaper.
"Will we ever hear again," Eugénie thought aloud, her finger extended to trace the outline of one of the blooms, "anything of our fateful Dragon's Heart? Has no word come from Doctor Bart at all?"
"Not since that awful day we saw him last," Philo answered sadly.
"Nor from Doctor Dash, nor my dear Prince Dayan," she added. "Even Chavadzy seems to have disappeared. I have made inquiries through friends in Petersburg. Nothing. I have thought of contacting the Tsar, but I am sure if there were something we should know, he would advise us. They have four daughters now, but still no sign of a son! I am sure that disturbs the Tsaritsa."
Two weeks later, when the Ora Nelle II steamed into the bay at Trois Îlets, a lively reception awaited them at the pier.
Enthroned on a shaded dais strewn with cabbage roses of prodigious size, Annie shone in a silken gown whose colors left no doubt that there sat "Miss Rainbow" herself. Only Philo noticed her appearance to be less hearty than before, inclining to the frail.
All island officialdom and society were present to pay homage to the little group stepping out of the blossom-festooned lighter that brought them ashore.
The arrival of Eugénie occasioned a mighty cheer, and, of course, an emotional rendering of La Marseillaise. For the Creole people of the island, she stood as an icon of French history. She made haste to announce her visit as unofficial, Martinique being an overseas territory under the rule of Republican France. Even so, the band played no less loudly, nor did the beautiful girls fluidly sweeping through the cadence of a béguine swoon with any less rapture at the end of the dance.
During the month of joyous festivities planned by Pierre, only a few moments of sadness were shared by Annie and Philo, on the last evening before leaving.
She had taken him alone at sunset to a graceful gazebo set upon a hill beyond her palatial home. Magenta bougainvillea spilled from the rooftop to colorfully frame the broad vista of blue bay. There she often went to reflect upon the passing scene of her life. Philo sipped a glass of the unique Martinican rum.
"Watch the horizon carefully, Cap'n," she said. "We have no twilight here in the tropics. The sun simply drops out of sight, and we have darkness. Voilá! Look! The Emerald Glow!"
A flash of brilliant green light far out to sea heralded the sudden disappearance of day.
Philo harrumphed in wonderment. "Never till now have I considered the literal meaning of 'nightfall'! Annie, we have just seen the night fall. What an amazing sight!"
"Yes," she murmured thoughtfully, leaning forward to light a small smudge pot to keep mosquitoes away, "often when I witness this marvelous event, I remember another night, long ago, when the sky lit up...and there you were...Master Angel Hair."
No more words came for awhile. They listened to the insects' song rising in symphony from the flowering bushes, thick grasses, and rustling trees.
"You have told me that nothing is known of my Bart," she ventured at last. "But what of Brad? Is there any word of the boy? My, he would be twenty this year. He's a man!"
She could sense Philo's pain electrifying the darkness between them.
"No," he answered, "there is no word. I periodically send out detectives all over the States, and in Europe, as well, but they have turned up nothing, either on Brad or Irene. Annie, as you say, he's a man, now. It is time for him to come to me. Bridget and Michael are still at the Baltimore house. Duncan Cargo is worldwide. He could find me, if he wished. Perhaps he is, after all, his mother's child at heart."
As she had felt his sorrow, Philo now sensed Annie bristling in her chair.
"I'll never believe that!" she declared. "He's not like her at all. Nor is he like Jane. He had some of Ardie, but I'm sure Bradley turned out to be like you. It happens that way. The generations sometimes skip a beat. He looked like you as a little boy. The same blond hair. The same blue eyes. The same stubborn set of jaw. I would know him anywhere, I think, because I'll wager he has grown into the image of the Civil War portrait of you."
Another silence descended until Annie spoke.
"Master Angel Hair, sorrowful though it may be, we both know this is the last time we shall meet. Would you mind if I gave Romelle the pearls you sent me from Japan? I would like her to have something not only from me, but also of me. I've worn them so much they're almost an extension of me. It is said that fine pearls take on the spiritual character of a person wearing them over a long period of time. My body's chemistry has lent them a sheen I've never seen on other pearls."
She heard Philo sigh.
"Romelle already has your sheen on her character," he said. "She is pragmatic. She has courage. A quality of mercy animates her judgment. Like you, she is a creature of love. Yes, dear Annie, you may give her the pearls."
The moon rose, its silvery ribbon of reflection rippling toward them across the bay.
They caught sight of a file of figures swaying along the beach below the gazebo. Another group stood nearby, one of whom suddenly lit a torch. The lambent flame glistened on a head of coppery hair.
"Romelle!" Philo breathed with a start.
"Yes, it is she," Annie confirmed. "And the Empress will be with them, as well. We shall join them now. They have waited for the rising of the moon. My granddaughters have gathered island women to entertain you in a uniquely Martinican way. We are going to watch the diablesses."
The oldest of Annie's great-grandchildren, a teen-age boy, dashed up the path to the gazebo. He helped her from her chair and to the beach. A row of chairs waited for them there. Romelle and the Empress were already seated, on either side of Pierre and his wife. Annie sat next to Romelle, and Philo beside Eugénie. Pierre's family stood behind.
The single file of figures circled and swayed, chanting to the primitive rhythms of panpipes, maracas, and tom-toms. Dark shadows obscured their faces until each passed through the flickering light of the burning flambeau.
Their movements progressed to a frenzy.
The chanting lost its articulation and became a high-pitched, passionate hum.
Abruptly, a primeval force surging through the file bent each dancer double, in turn. One was knocked off her balance and catapulted out of line. Whirling twice in succession, she stopped sidewise in front of Romelle.
The music, all movement, the chanting, ceased.
After a moment of heavy silence, the woman lifted her head to stare with glassy eyes at Romelle, and then a cry erupted from her lips in perfect English: "Blessing of God!"
This stunning proclamation was followed by a series of sounds so hoarsely whispered that none understood.
Then, the dancer fainted dead away.
When revived with a dose of the island's strong, syrupy rum, she had no recollection whatsoever of her words, of her frenzy, or even of the event.
Romelle looked at Philo in bewilderment. He stood and wrapped his comforting arms around her, but he could offer no explanation.
The following evening at sea, bound for Europe and home, Eugénie pushed a small gray velvet box across the table to Romelle, who was wearing Annie's pearls.
"I meant to give these to you on your birthday," the Empress explained, "but something held me back. I understand now why I was so reluctant. Somewhere in my soul, I knew that last night had to happen first. You have heard a voice of prophecy, Romy. We are dealing now with symbols and signs.
"Your mother heard a prophecy once, from a Gypsy queen, and it came true. It was a mystery then, and remained a mystery to the end. I am sure she realized it when the moment came, as did I when I learned about the flood and fire which took place at Johnstown. The Gypsy told her to beware the water, beware the fire.
"We have heard now from two sources the words 'blessing of God.' Captain, do you remember Prince Dayan's vision of the future at Farnborough Hill when Romelle was three?"
Startled by the memory, Philo nodded. "Perfectly, Madame. He saw a general, and a lady bathed in light, and a small dog, at the head of a great army. And he heard voices that cried....."
Eugénie broke in, repeating, "Blessing of God!"
Puzzled, Romelle touched her pearls nervously.
Eugénie went on. "At that time, the words had no focus. We had no idea to whom they might apply. The dancer who fell into a trance last night clearly indicated that it is you, Romelle, who are this 'blessing of God.' What does it portend? I do not know. It might have been helpful if we could have understood the last sounds she made. We may never know."
Eugénie continued: "I am glad I waited to give you the birthday gift. Last night's adventure may make it easier for you to understand the importance to me of such symbols and signs. I have a story to tell, a story you have not heard before. I believe you are ready to hear it now without thinking me mad."
She told them of the bed of wood violets Beth had planted for the return of the Prince Imperial from South Africa, flowers that he was not destined to see.
She told them of Bart's visit to Farnborough Hill to return Beth's Queen of Scots coin, and of their conversation about the Pope's baptismal gift, the Golden Rose, numbering the years of her son's life.
Pausing to take a deep breath as if still hesitant to reveal the most intimate part of the tale, she spoke then of waking in the middle of that night and retiring to her library alone. She told how Beth and the Prince Imperial came back from the dead, with Pepper, to bid her goodbye.
She collapsed in tears when relating how Pepper dropped the nosegay of wood violets at her feet before disappearing with Beth and her son into the night.
When the Empress recovered, she looked at Romelle. "My dear, open the box."
Romelle did so. Nestled inside were earrings, each with luminous canary-yellow diamonds forming the shape of a wood violet, set on a heart-shaped frame of gold wire. At the center of each blossom was a sapphire as blue as Romelle's eyes.
Impulsively, she rose from her chair and rushed around the table to embrace Eugénie, crying, "Merci mille fois, ma chere marraine! A thousand thanks, my darling godmother! I shall treasure these all my life!"
Standing back, she took the earrings from the box and put them on.
Turning her head this way and that, she smiled at the little utterances of sincere admiration offered by Philo and her benefactress.
Suddenly, her fingertips reached up to touch her ears as a startled expression crossed her face.
"The earrings...the wood violets," she murmured, "they seem to make an echo in my ears. There are sounds - the sounds the dancer whispered."
Her concentration intensified.
"Tare...ah...tare...ah," she enunciated slowly.
"Tare-ah?" Philo questioned. "I do not understand."
Eugénie suddenly sat erect in her chair.
"The sounds...are going away," said Romelle, sighing with relief. "What did they mean, Godmother?"
"Doctor Dash once spoke of...an important deity...in the pantheon of East Asian gods," Eugénie replied. "The Chinese speak of her as 'Kwan Yin.' The Mongols know her as 'Tara,' goddess of mercy, wisdom, and love."
"But what would an Oriental goddess have to do with me?" Romelle asked, sitting to the table again.
Philo leaned back with a smile. "Perhaps she is your private patron saint and wishes to make it known. Certainly, she has chosen the right girl. Those are the three attributes that come to mind when people think of you. In Martinique, Annie and I talked about those very things. You are merciful and kind. You are wise beyond your years, and you inspire love in everyone you know."
"Indeed," Eugénie agreed, "you have blossomed into young womanhood with your mother's beauty and grace, your father's integrity and charm. You were a 'blessing of God' to them, as you have been to us. It is a wise goddess, be she Tara or Kwan Yin, who would point to you as the embodiment of a loving spirit."
Romelle extended her hands to touch those of the others. When she spoke, her voice wavered with emotion.
"Whatever good...you may see in me...is nothing but a pale reflection...of the qualities...that emanate from you, Godmother and Grandpapa."
Eugénie reached for Philo's hand.
"Again, we combine as a circle of souls," she intoned, "as we did long ago at Farnborough Hill. On that day, Doctor Dash announced we were gathered to recognize our spiritual influence on Romelle. Henceforward, Captain, it is you and I who may be spiritually influenced by her."
"That, I am sure, is true," Philo acknowledged. "I recollect something else from that day. You would not remember, Romelle, but when Prince Dayan invited you into the garden, he called you....."
"'Golden poppy'!" Romelle exclaimed with a start. "I do remember! How very odd that you speak of this! Only last night, before we left Martinique, I had a dream in which an Oriental boy about my age offered me his hand. He smiled, and began to speak, but as he did so, he drifted far, far away. He must have been Prince Dayan, and he was saying, 'Hello, golden poppy'!"
"Yes!" Eugénie said. "Prince Dayan was exactly the age you are now when he said that. It was his sixteenth birthday, as it was your third."
"What he saw in you when you were just a little child is what we see today," Philo added, "a flower of love, turned toward the sun. Our golden poppy...our Romelle."
Eugénie stared at the earrings she had given Romelle. The canary yellow diamonds sparkled with scintillas of light as though they were themselves tiny suns. Still clinging gently to the circle of hands, she felt a sudden sense of apprehension.
My son and his Beth...the birth dates they shared...their union decreed by the stars...the tragic ends to their precious lives! Pray, let there be no portent in this for Prince Dayan and Romelle. But, then, how could there ever be? She lives in our world, and he, God willing, is alive somewhere far, far away in his.
Philo interrupted Eugénie's thoughts.
"I firmly believe a great purpose lies ahead for you, Romelle," he said. "Who knows where it will lead you? What an adventure your life will be!"
His words brought a flutter to Eugénie's heart.
When they docked at Southampton to take the Empress to Farnborough Hill, word was waiting that Annie had passed away without warning on the day after they left Martinique.
"After dinner that evening, my mother and I were sitting alone in the gazebo, not talking, merely watching the moon," Pierre's message read. "Suddenly, she leaned forward in her chair. She pointed to the sky. 'Look, look!' she cried. 'The gates stand open! Do you see who's there? Doctor Will! Roma! Ardie! Miz Nelle! Wait! Wait for me!'
"I had seen nothing. She fell back, turning her head to me. 'Thank you, son,' she said clearly, then added in a whisper, 'Say goodbye to Master Angel Hair for me.' In that instant, she died. The doctors told me her heart simply failed."