Late in the evening of the following day, after Kathy and Adrienne had gone to bed, Romelle quietly descended the circular staircase from her garret to Philo's study. He was not there, but she noticed a slim line of luminescence under his bedroom door.
Moving silently through the shadows, she went to the reading stand which stood beneath a tall window. The glow of nighttime Paris illumined a large book which rested there. She opened it carefully and scanned several pages. In the dull light reflected from the city beyond, she traced with her finger several of its lines. Satisfied that she had found the right place, she turned to Philo's nearby desk and took a bookmark, inserted it, and closed the book.
She lifted the tome with both hands and pressed it to her bosom. For a moment she looked out the window, then closed her eyes.
"'Lo, I come,'" she whispered, using words of Paul to the Hebrews, "'in the volume of the book it is written of me, to do Thy will, O God!'"
Clutching the book, she went to Philo's room. Light still shone at the sill.
There was no answer to her knock.
She unlatched the door discreetly and peered in.
He was not in bed. The concealed inner door stood ajar. The romantic aria, Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix, from Samson et Dalila, an opera by Philo's friend and contemporary, Camille Saint-SaŽns, drifted out of Roxanne's suite.
She crossed to the second door and tapped again, louder this time.
"Come in, Romelle," he acknowledged. "I've been expecting you."
She found him seated in the swan chair, his wavy white hair framing a handsome face that appeared refreshingly young in the soft candlelight. He was dressed in a red velvet smoking jacket over the white shirt and gray trousers he had worn at dinner. He had not removed his gray tie. A snifter of fine cognac sat within reach.
The room felt cozy. Saint-SaŽns' "My Heart Is Opening at Thy Sweet Voice" continued softly on the gramophone he usually kept in his study.
"You say you were expecting me?" queried Romelle.
He motioned her to sit on the divan.
"You seemed bemused at dinnertime," he answered. "and yesterday I noticed the intensity of your conversation with the Empress at the Trianon. Do I conjecture correctly that you were discussing the matter of Roxanne?"
She nodded, holding the book closer.
"Forgive me if I frightened you the other night," he continued, "but I could not let you go on thinking that I am the perfect grand-pŤre of your girlhood days. You are a woman now. You have a right to know the real man."
She lay the book in her lap.
"I know who you are," she said. "You are no killer. And I know who I am not. I am not your granddaughter. No, I can no longer be your petite-fille."
He looked crestfallen. "Has the truth cost me my child? Too high a price to pay!"
In a rush, she set the book aside, and hurried to kneel at his feet. She clasped his hands. Her eyes, like his, had misted with tears.
"Roxanne did not write you the truth!" she declared. "She was dying of cancer, not of love! She had very little time to live. She need not have done that to herself, or to you. One does not hurt the person one loves!"
Her head came to rest on his knees. "She did not understand love. Love is gentle and kind, like you. A woman who loves truly, gives herself to one man alone, as I will give myself...when the time comes."
Philo listened to her, but made no response.
She pulled her hands away and got to her feet. Sitting on the divan again, she took up the book and opened it.
"Why did you bring the Bible?" he asked.
The music came to an end. The room settled into silence, but for the crackling of the fire.
Romelle turned to the First Book of the Kings.
With a hand placed upon verses in Chapter One, she began to speak slowly, as if she were taking an oath, riveting her gaze to his face: "When King David grew old, his servants came to him. They told him they wished to seek out a young virgin and bring her to him so that she could cherish him, could lie in his bosom, and give him love.
"So they went out through all the land to find a fair damsel, throughout all the coasts of Israel, and they found Abishag the Shunammite, and brought her to the king. And she was very fair, and cherished him and ministered to his needs."
She paused and gave him a certain look. He returned it with incredulity, stunned by its implications.
"Romelle, such a thing...you and me...it cannot....." he started, but she interrupted.
"When I told you and Her Majesty at Cap Martin that I may never have been a child, I meant that whatever hope there was for a happy childhood - after my babyhood ended with the death of my mother and the disappearance of my father - was destroyed by Irene. Although I had the love of Uncle Ardie, Michael, Bridget, Kathy, and Brad, overlying all was the miasma of Irene's hatred.
"You say that I seemed bemused at dinnertime. You were right. You see, my final experience with Irene was so dreadful that my mind reacted in self-defense by closing down all memory of it. You have heard me speak often of Doctor Freud?"
Philo nodded. "Sigmund Freud in Vienna. I have never met him, but I once suggested to your Uncle Ardie that we might take Irene to Vienna for help. The Empress Elizabeth was still alive then. She had promised me an introduction to Freud and Carl Jung."
Romelle cringed. "Oh! What hatred can do! The way that assassin struck down the Empress Elizabeth with a homemade dagger! What agonies she suffered before she died! This is what Irene must have had in mind for me. When she stabbed Dora, she did so with a Japanese dagger."
Philo nodded again. "Yes, my old letter opener. Little did I know! But what about Doctor Freud?"
"When he lectured at the Sorbonne two years ago, I met with him privately," she went on. "We had several analytical sessions while he was here. I told him I could remember nothing of the incident with Irene. He told me the memory was stored in a vault deep in my mind, as if the mind were a bank. He said the day would come when another shock would unlock the vault, and the past would come flooding out."
"Ah!" Philo exclaimed with sudden understanding. "The experience in here two nights ago supplied the shock, and since then, you have been remembering that horrible day! You have been preoccupied indeed! Romelle, can you forgive me for what I have done?"
She smiled lovingly. "It has served a good purpose. It has made Sempre Libera more than ever 'my' song. I shall henceforward truly be 'Always Free' of the darkness of an unremembered past. Besides, it has pointed the way to the future. The most relevant of Irene's words that have come back to me are these: 'Bradley is the captain's only true grandchild. He is the only rightful heir!' She was a madwoman, but her judgment in that matter was sane. Brad Duncan, if he is alive somewhere, really is your only rightful heir."
Before Philo could object, she spoke on. "Therefore, I renounce any claim, in perpetuity, to your estate. I will sign a contract to that effect. I want you to understand the purity of my motive in what I am about to propose."
She began to tremble, and seemed to grope for words in the beginning, as she said: "King David, I...wish...to be...your Abishag. As you would have given your youth to Roxanne, so do I volunteer mine to you. I believe that God has chosen me as the...instrument...of the happiness you have always deserved, but have for so long been denied. If there is a purpose for which I have been spared, let it begin with you.
"I wish to be your wife. Remember that I have been singled out by Tara, goddess of mercy, wisdom, and love. Thus, I come to you by divine decree. Let us take our place on Heaven's roll together. Let me be your Abishag!"
She was weeping. Her tears fell on the pages of First Kings. The Bible shook on her knees.
Philo stood and laid the book aside from her lap. He pulled her up from the divan and kissed her on the cheek.
"I chose the right aria to play on the gramophone, didn't I?" he whispered. "My heart has indeed opened at the sound of your sweet voice."
He drew back.
"I know those verses in First Kings," he said. "I love the story of King David and Abishag, but have never dreamed that it would one day be told to me in just this way. Let me read you something you left out, Romelle."
He let her go and leaned to take up the Bible. "Here in Chapter One, Verse Four, it reads: 'And the damsel was very fair, and cherished the king, and ministered to him, but...the king knew her not.'"
He put the Bible down and took her in his arms. He looked deeply into her eyes.
"I have never told you how much you look like the Empress Eugenie when she was young. Her beauty was legend. Her hair was much like yours. She was an exquisite creature in face, heart and soul. So are you. I shall marry you, my dear, and, God willing, you will indeed cherish me, as I have always cherished you," he said. "But, like your motive, our marriage will remain pure. I am an old man, Romelle. Time has taken its toll. Yet even if I were not beyond the realm of physical love, I would not touch you. What was it you said? Ah, yes, 'A woman who loves truly, gives herself to one man alone...' I shall help you save yourself for him. Time decrees that it will never be I.
"As for my fortune, when I die, you will certainly receive your proper share. I would not allow you to renounce a penny of it. I shall name you executrix. You will supervise all of its distribution. The clarification of your status in the family by being my wife is the best possible protection you could have, for, it is true, you are not my granddaughter.
"As my widow, and executrix, neither Brad nor Irene would be able to wrest it from your hands if they should suddenly appear and lay a claim. You would be in control. You would be free to do for them, or not to do, what you wish. I have confidence in your fairness. I know that under any circumstance, you will do what is right.
"The whereabouts of your father, of Doctor Dash, of Prince Dayan, remains a great mystery, the mystery of Dragon's Heart. It will be solved someday, and great good will come of it, I am sure."
She leaned against him and sighed.
He picked her up and carried her to the staircase, where he set her on her feet again.
"My little girl is tired," he said softly, "but I won't go up to tuck you into bed. We will discuss everything tomorrow, in the cold light of day."
She kissed him gently on the lips, caressing his cheeks with her fingertips.
Languidly, she started up the stairs. Before circling out of sight, she gave him an endearing smile.
"Good night, King David," she murmured.
"Good night, my Abishag."