To avoid a confrontation with the press on the Saturday morning of departure from Paris, Philo and Romelle were driven out of the Place Dauphine under cover of darkness the night before. They entered the Daimler in the garage and concealed themselves with lap robes, crouching on the floor at the rear.
Adrienne and Rebel sat up front with the driver. A mountain of luggage was piled on the back seat.
The garage door swung open. The Daimler pulled out sedately, driving unavoidably into the gaping maw of a howling crowd of reporters and photographers. Well supplemented by gawkers, the mob blocked the way as best they could, knocking on the windows to demand comments and pictures.
When the newsmen discovered themselves in pursuit of the aloof housekeeper, an enraged chauffeur, and the snarling hound, they stepped aside with hoots of frustration, grudgingly allowing the Daimler to turn into the Rue de Harlay.
Philo, Romelle, Adrienne, and Rebel spent the night in a lavishly furnished railway car tucked away in a siding at the station. The chauffeur returned alone to the Place Dauphine, leading the press contingent to suspect trickery, but it was impossible for them to confirm.
Early Saturday morning, the wedding gown was delivered direct to the station from Poiret's salon and placed in Adrienne's care as Romelle's dresser. By the time the rented coach linked up to the Azure Coast Express, the other members of the wedding party had arrived.
Kathy had left the Place Dauphine the previous afternoon to stay with Lucien and his friend, a young man of twenty named Jean Cocteau. They came to the station with Picasso.
"What a coup!" chortled Picasso when the train got under way. "Imagine the faces of those bastards from the press when no one leaves the house for the next three days! How richly they deserve such a disappointment!"
Philo joined in the laughter. "I instructed the maids and the cook to stay away until we return. The chauffeur is sleeping over, on guard. There's plenty of food, and I gave him free rein to enjoy the pantry I've been using as a wine cellar since the flood."
"Where is Marcel?" asked Romelle, obviously disappointed that Proust had not come. "I thought I had convinced him!"
Kathy shook her head. "We stopped by to see him last evening. He sends his apologies. He says he's not well."
Picasso guffawed. "Not well? An excuse all artistic people use when there is creative work to be done, when we must withdraw from the world! I'll wager he sat up in that cork-lined mausoleum he calls his 'room' and wrote all night after you left. As bleary-eyed as he looks in the mornings, you'd think he drank the night away!"
"He does, you know," young Cocteau chimed in.
"Proust? Drink?" protested Lucien in disbelief.
"I am not speaking of liquor, mon cher ami," soothed Cocteau. "I mean to say that he drinks at the fountain of inspiration! Once, he told me about the book he's writing. The way he carried on, at first I feared he had gone mad. Then I realized he was thinking his characters' thoughts, acting out their movements and words, actually living their lives in his head. He became the women, the men, the children, each in turn. He waltzed, he cried, he swooned, like a man possessed! Ah, how he impressed me! Perhaps when his book is done, I shall try to capture it on film. It may be that such passion, such mystique, such abstraction, cannot be transferred to celluloid, but I should like to try."
Lucien smiled indulgently. "Celluloid? When would you have time for making a film, my boy? You are too busy drawing, painting, writing operatic librettos, composing poetry....."
"That reminds me!" Cocteau interrupted. "I wrote a quatrain at breakfast!"
He sprang to his feet, planting them wide apart for balance on the rocking train. He lifted a finger high, then placed the other hand on his breast, commencing to declaim:
"Not alone to Picasso are we beholden,
Who painted dear Romy in tints lushly golden,
But also to Philo, who's hard put to bear us
When we shout our love for his lady of Paris!"
In the midst of the laughter and applause, Lucien's voice rang out.
"You do better when you write poems at dinner, Jean Cocteau," he snickered. "Perhaps you ought indeed to turn to films!"
The coach was uncoupled at Monte Carlo upon arrival Saturday evening, and switched to a private siding used by wealthy Monegasques, of which there were many.
Eugénie's chamberlain had cleverly suggested that a caterer's lorry be used to transport the wedding party to Cap Martin, instead of limousines. The truck passed unnoticed along the Lower Corniche, entering the grounds of Villa Cyrnos undisturbed as the throng of journalists and sightseers politely stepped aside.
Romelle could not suppress a giggle of triumph. She led the way in stepping down from the lorry. Safely out of reach, she whipped off the white beret she had confiscated from Lucien to slouch over her face when they left the train and waved it ostentatiously to the crowd beyond the gates. Realizing they had been most effectively duped, the mob reacted with French good humor and gave a loud cheer.
The weather was balmy enough for Eugénie to have decided to hold the ceremony on the lawn. She had dispatched the Thistle to the North African city of Algiers for an enormous quantity of flowers to decorate frames of latticework set up in an area overlooking the Mediterranean. Napoleon III, her late husband, had granted Algeria the status of a colony after eighteen years of French occupation.
On Sunday morning, after the celebration of a Roman Catholic mass in her chapel, Eugénie informed Romelle and Philo that she had secured the services of an Anglican chaplain to perform the marriage. "He is a liberal gentleman who is happy to unite you in whatever way you would like. The marriage will have to be registered, of course, at the local mairie, making it legal in France. The American consular representative at Nice has called and volunteered to bring over his register to assure that the union will be recognized in your own country, as well."
Philo bowed from the waist. "Your Imperial Majesty operates Villa Cyrnos as tightly as a ship of the line. I am astounded!"
She laughed gaily. "Have I not been driven long enough before the wind aboard my Thistle to qualify at least as First Mate? My yacht, by the way, will dock tomorrow. I have ordered, almost literally, a ton of red, pink, and white roses and carnations. We ladies shall not need to wear perfume! My head gardener has his crew of workers standing by to mount them on the trellises early on the morning of the wedding. Yes, on Tuesday, Villa Cyrnos will look like an extravagant valentine. Oh, how I appreciate your accepting my offer to be married here! You have given me such joy, mes amis, such joy!"
Romelle curtsied deeply. "Madame, the pleasure we may have given you can never compare to all you have done for us. The expense, the trouble, you have gone to!"
The Empress cleared her throat. "Am I not representing the mother of the bride? Am I not also your marraine? Godmothers must assume responsibilities, too!"
On Monday afternoon, Eugénie explained the details. "Captain, I have arranged for an orchestra and choir to perform the selections you chose from Wagnerian opera. It is your privilege, but I cannot understand how you tolerate that heavy German music! I said the same to the Kaiser when he came aboard the Thistle three years ago. Perhaps I ought not to have been so indiscreet with the Emperor of the Germans. He is, however, quite tactless himself. Of course, the poor man comes by it naturally. His late mother, the Empress Frederick, was my dear friend, but she was inclined to be that way. I could not resist giving him back some of his own! He was utterly at a loss for words!"
She smiled at the recollection.
"Actually, Madame," Philo countered seriously, "I thought Wagnerian music would establish a dignified tone. The press have tried to make a circus of Romelle's fairy tale. We have seen this in Paris. There is already an army of reporters and hecklers out there in the street. The local constabulary will be staving them off at the ramparts. Wagner will drown them out!"
"I see!" the Empress responded. "You are quite right. As ever, Captain, you show yourself to be an eminently sensible man. Now, on to the details. The orchestra will begin by playing the Prelude to Act One of Die Meistersinger. That takes about ten minutes. Then, the Prelude to Act Three of Lohengrin. That will be your signal to step over to the altar with Lucien, your best man. It gives you nearly three minutes. When the second Prelude is finished, the choir will begin singing the Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin. That will be Romelle's cue to march toward the altar. She will have four minutes to reach you, on the arm of Don Pablo. Picasso is giving her away, is he not?"
Philo nodded. "Not only is he giving her away in marriage, but also he informed us on the train Saturday that he is giving her The Golden Parisienne as a wedding gift."
"Splendid!" Eugénie approved. "On with the wedding, then! After you are married, the choir will sing the closing refrains of the March from Tannhäuser for your departing processional," she continued. "As there will be two hundred invited guests here tomorrow, including some royalty and political leaders, no one without inscribed invitations will be admitted, except the choir and the musicians. Even the singers and players will be checked for concealed weapons. There will be security people patrolling the grounds at all times. They are on duty at present. Although I am sure there is no immediate danger to us, no chances are to be taken! As in the case of the murder of our dear Empress Elizabeth at a health resort in Switzerland, today's anarchists can be trusted only to do the unexpected. As for the other matter, it has been, after all, sixteen years!"
They all thought simultaneously of Dragon's Heart and its tragic mystery.
At that moment, Adrienne appeared at the doorway and coughed discreetly.
Romelle turned to her. "Are you looking for me?"
"Yes, Mam'selle, if I may see you about the wedding gown. Something is wrong....."
"Ah!" Romelle exclaimed. "I think I know what you mean. I shall come at once. May I be excused, Your Imperial Majesty?"
Eugénie raised her hands. "Mais oui! Everything must be perfect tomorrow! If you need a seamstress....."
"Pardon, Madame," intruded Adrienne, without hauteur, but with the bold independence typical of a working-class Frenchwoman who knew her own worth, "I have received personal instruction from M'sieur Poiret in the care of Mam'selle's clothing, and from M'sieur Worth in the days of Mam'selle's mother. Perhaps if you, Majesty, should need a good seamstress, I could be of some help."
With an amiable chuckle, Eugénie clapped her hands. "If I still had a throne, I would dub you my Countess Threadneedle! Go, both of you, and see to it that the 'golden parisienne' does not appear in the nude after all!"
Philo seized the opportunity of being alone with the Empress to apprise her of actions he had taken.
"Madame, you should know that my house, as they say, is in order. I have liquidated all elements where conflicts might occur. For example, Duncan Cargo has been represented in Rio de Janeiro for many years by the man who saved my life when I awaited execution in wartime. Tom LeMay has expanded my shipping empire around the Southern Hemisphere from South America to southern Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific isles. A man of seventy, he and his wife, Sarah, have decided to retire to a large ranch they own in Argentina."
"Ah!" the Empress interjected. "One of those vast estancias in the Pampas! Millions of hectares, some of them! They say Buenos Aires is as cosmopolitan as Paris!"
"Tom made himself an independent fortune during the cattle boom of '85," Philo proceeded, "but stayed in Rio with my company because Sarah had carved a notable position there. She endowed and maintained a Foundation which has educated several generations of poor black children, of which there are millions in Brazil.
"I have allowed their son to buy my controlling interest in Duncan Cargo, S.A. Henceforward, a large income will accrue annually to me, or to my estate, without other responsibility.
"I retain control of the parent operation in North America, all of which will pass into my estate. It is, however, under excellent management in the person of Michael Foley, Kathy's father. If Bart should return, the company passes to him, as do the houses in Baltimore and Boston.
"By the terms of the Testament, half of the remaining estate will be held in trust for Bart, but will pass to Romelle if it is discovered that he is already gone. Romelle inherits most real property, including the house in the Place Dauphine and its contents. Remember that the paintings alone are worth a fortune, and will appreciate. Additionally, she acquires a quarter of the estate in her own right. She becomes executrix for the entire estate, with full power-of-attorney for all properties assigned to Bart. She also personally inherits Roxanne's diamonds, which are of incalculable value.
"All of the servants have been provided for, especially Madame André, our Adrienne, your Countess Threadneedle. She is, for all practical purposes, a member of the family. Suitably, she will receive a generous income for life and the option of staying on in the Place Dauphine, at Romelle's discretion, of course."
"Thank you for telling me these important things," said the Empress. "Pray God, I shall never need to know them! As I said of you earlier, you are an eminently sensible man. But I do have a question."
Philo nodded. "I have anticipated it. You are wondering about the remaining quarter of my estate."
"Yes, and may I venture a guess?"
"Of course, Madame."
"That is set aside for your grandson, if he should appear."
"Yes, Your Imperial Majesty, as usual, nothing escapes you. I have empowered Romelle to control that portion. If Bradley were to return, it would be Romelle's decision to release it to him, or not. She will have the privilege, if it remains for any reason in the estate, to take it for herself or distribute it as she sees fit. It may be that he is still under the influence of his mother. Oh! When I think of what that woman did, of what she tried to do.....! No, I could never forgive her. Never!"
"And your grandson?" Eugénie queried.
She could see that she had struck a chord.
He began to speak, but faltered.
He tried again. "My Brad...my grandson...child of my child....."
He could not go on. He covered his tearful eyes with his hand.
The Empress sighed.
"As we grow older," she reflected, "we discover that the sorrows we thought left behind are with us still. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. 'The more things seem to change, the more we realize they have stayed the same.'"
In her dressing room with Adrienne, Romelle examined the odd little pocket Paul Poiret had made for the ruby. The housekeeper had thought it a sewing mistake.
He had added elastic ruching trimmed with a ruffle of lace to form a slitted pouch in the center of the breast. Without the ruby inserted, it appeared to be a superfluous embellishment.
As a stratagem of subterfuge so she could try the ruby unobserved, Romelle sent Adrienne to the kitchen for a pot of tea. "Please bring it with a cozy to keep it warm. I'll keep it by my bed tonight. I shall be nervous, I know."
While the housekeeper was gone, she attempted to insert the stone. The pouch proved to be too small. As Romelle struggled with it, she lost track of time, and Adrienne suddenly returned.
Romelle heard a gasp.
"Mam'selle," the Frenchwoman choked, "what are you doing to your dress? You will tear it! And what...what is that...stone! Surely, it cannot be a real ruby!"
"It is real, Adrienne. Please help me. The stone is supposed to slip into the pocket."
With Adrienne holding the dress against herself, thus freeing Romelle to use both hands, force was applied. The ruby eventually slipped in. The ruching closed around it like a tight-fitting glove.
Deftly, Adrienne nipped at the pouch with scissors, folding the lace outward from the slit. When finished, she stood back to admire it with Romelle.
"C'est magnifique!" Adrienne murmured.
Securely anchored in place, the ruby glowed against the richness of the ivory-hued peau de soie, its intaglios vibrant with reflected light. The lace framed it perfectly.
It was truly, as Adrienne had said, magnificent.
"But, Mam'selle," the housekeeper added, "we shall have to cut it out of the pouch. The pocket will not be usable again. If you wish to wear it tomorrow, you will have to leave it there."
"Oh, my," fretted Romelle, "I suppose I have no choice. Adrienne, nothing must happen to the ruby. Nothing! What can I do?"
The Frenchwoman shrugged. "I shall sit here in the dressing room with the gown. I shall not sleep tonight. I shall not close my eyes."
"I cannot ask you to do that!" Romelle asserted.
"You do not have to, Mam'selle. I have asked myself, and the answer is that this is what I am going to do. Retire now, please. Tomorrow, the 'golden parisienne' must look fresh and beautiful. I ask only that you leave me this pot of tea, and send Rebel to me. Ha! If some thief tries to snatch the ruby, it will be all over for him. Rebel and I shall see to that!"
She sat down with the long scissors in her lap.