Eugénie came to Paris to celebrate the New Year. She had left Cap Martin with them on the train two days after Christmas, but stopped off with Lucien to pay a courtesy call to Nobel laureate Frédéric Mistral in Arles. The gifted Provençal poet had once celebrated her in verse.
As a surprise for New Year's Eve, Philo had arranged to refurbish the public rooms of the Petit Trianon at Versailles in exchange for the government's permission to host a small party there in her honor.
His agents had spent weeks searching for original possessions of Marie Antoinette and her family, who had made the charming house their private residence during the reign of her husband, Louis the Sixteenth. Many mementos of the tragic queen were uncovered, among them a large and beautiful rug which she and her sister-in-law, Madame lisabeth, had personally loomed while in prison awaiting death by guillotine.
Also found were a long mahogany dining table and twelve chairs, each chair upholstered with exquisite embroidery attributed to the queen herself. Philo was pleased with the discovery of the harpsichord she had brought with her from Vienna when she married Louis, but was overwhelmed, when it was opened for tuning, to come across the original manuscript of a popular tune she had composed. He saved the sheets of music as a gift for Romelle.
Philo brought in a small orchestra to play for dining and dancing, and had dinner catered by Pré-Catalan, a superb restaurant in the Bois du Boulogne. Several guests came dressed as the ancienne noblesse, the old nobility before the Revolution. Footmen in period costume carried the Empress into the house in the sedan chair thought to have been used to transport Marie Antoinette herself through the great halls of Versailles.
Lucien was there, as were Kathy, Romelle, and other intimate friends. Kathy, bearing a basket of roses, led the cotillion with Lucien's father, the writerAlphonse Daudet, gaily waving a beribbomed tambourine.
Rebel and Lion-heart were there, too, dining richly on Sweetbreads Eugénie, a recipe created for her during the Second Empire. Their generous servings were personally passed down on small silver platters by the Empress's own hand.
"It is so lovely to dine this way, en famille, in the bosom of family, as it were," Eugénie announced over a rich dessert of île flotante. "Despite the tragedies which came after, this jewel-box of a house once gave great comfort to the Queen and those close to her heart. May our happiness tonight portend a year of good fortune for us all!"
She lifted her glass in toast to a portrait of the tragic Queen Marie Antoinette, whose style of towering headdress several of the ladies emulated that evening.
The Empress allowed Philo to reel her through the paces of one stately waltz before retiring to a throne-like chair he had placed at her exclusive disposal. Beside it was a seat of suitably lower elevation. From this vantage point, she held court for the rest of the evening.
Well before midnight, after Lucien had waltzed Sempre Libera twice with Romelle, she went to Eugénie and asked permission to join her.
"Of course, my dear," was the Empress's reply, "and it's high time, too! What has happened? You look so troubled!"
Romelle's cheeks reddened. "How transparent I must be! I thought I was hiding it very well."
"Not from me, child," murmured the Empress, "perhaps from the others, but not from me."
"I do not think I should tell you, Imperial Majesty. It is...so private...the captain...my grand-père...Oh, chere marraine, dear Godmother, does the name Roxanne mean anything to you?"
Eugénie fell back as though struck. "Mon Dieu! How do you come to know about her? C'est impossible! The capitaine has never told anyone but me!"
Romelle stared, transfixed by her reaction.
"I ought not to have mentioned Roxanne," she finally said.
At the second mention of the name, the Empress lifted her fan with a flutter and lay a hand on her breast while exhaling a heavy sigh. "Child! Child! What has come to pass that you should speak of Roxanne? Only once in recent years have I dared to speak of her to the capitaine, and it was as if I had given him a devastating blow! Tell me!"
Her command was not imperious, just concerned. Romelle responded by speaking in detail of her enforced visit to Roxanne's suite just the night before.
When the story was told, Eugénie shook her head vigorously. "I am almost five years past eighty, but, tout de même, I can be surprised. Still! Well, young lady, God has led you to the right source. I alone know the truth of the tale. Not even your pretend grand-père knows what I know of that sad affair, or at least will not admit to knowing."
"Really, Madame, I love him as my real grandfather. I do not pretend. My love for him is very real."
"No doubt, my child, but my age has made me less romantic than you. You are not of his blood, Romelle. It may be cruel to remind you, yet it is something you should never forget. Romance is the province of the young, reality that of the old. Remember what I have said, for false romantic notions are the cause of the misery which has plagued your pretend grand-père, lo, these forty years!"
Eugénie's tone was firm now, and brooked no argument. She smiled at the others, waving her fan at them as a signal to continue dancing. Philo watched the two women surreptitiously as he whirled a lady past.
"Captain Duncan came to me when this happened in 1870," she reported. "Those were troubled times. France was at war with Prussia. My husband was commanding in the field. I had remained in Paris trying to hold on to the throne. I needed the few friends I had. The capitaine was one of them, but on that occasion, he needed me.
"He showed me Roxanne's letter. I could see that suicide was on his mind, as well. I begged him not to harm himself, 'for my sake,' I said, 'because you are a mainstay I cannot do without.' Romelle, it was your capitaine who introduced me to the American dentist who eventually helped me escape from France! Do you see how our needs are met? We never know from whence our good may come. Be kind to all."
Lucien moved toward them with a smile, gaily jigging a little step with the obvious intent of asking Romelle for a turn around the floor. A quick gesture and slight frown from the Empress sidetracked him to Kathy.
"I convinced Captain Duncan to think of my country, not himself. Meanwhile, I used my imperial authority to order a secret autopsy of Roxanne. I had developed a suspicion from certain phrasing in her letter. She wrote of difficulty in breathing due to 'an oppression' in her breast. She attributed it to the 'pain' of love. I should have known to expect no better from such a voluptueuse! As a grande sensueliste, her vanity would not allow her to think anything could be physically wrong with a body that had enslaved so many men. The oppression of love? What folly! The woman had cancer galloping through her breasts. She would have been dead in a month! So she left that poor man to suffer these agonies for forty years!"
Romelle boldly gripped Eugénie's arm. "Did you not tell him, Madame?"
The Empress gave her a cynical smile. "I tried. But, my dear, wonderful as he is, Captain Duncan is still a man. We use the term machismo in my native Spain. It is an exaggerated concept of masculinity which prevents the change of a man's fantastic opinion by mere feminine rationale. I do not think he even heard my revelation. He had already accepted the romance of dying for love. He paid for it. The next time I saw him, his hair had gone white."
Her words were spoken with weary resignation.
The clock struck twelve.
Cheers rang out.
They had entered 1911.
Hair for me.' In that instant, she died. The doctors told me her heart simply failed."