The wedding morning dawned coolly with a soupçon of pale sunlight as a chilling mistral blew south from the Maritime Alps. It whipped the sea to a froth.
Still in her dressing gown, the Empress was displeased.
"I shall pray," she announced to her maid.
She closed her eyes for a moment, then opened them.
"Well?" she questioned.
The maid, who stood looking out of the window at the Mediterranean, shook her head.
Eugénie closed her eyes again, longer this time.
The maid could hear the unspoken question.
"No, Madame, not yet," she replied.
The Empress harrumphed and opened her eyes. "I cannot wait all day. I must get dressed! Fetch that extraordinary costume Romelle ordered up for me from Paul Poiret. One of Captain Duncan's agents in India found the most marvelous fabric created for a fabulous sari to be worn by the mother of the groom at the wedding of a maharajah. It is woven of metallic threads. Romelle declares it will turn the heads of queens. She is my godchild and Philo one of my dearest friends. How could I attend the wedding in mourning for my husband and son? Yes, today there must be color!"
No sooner was she dressed than the maid looked out the window with a smile.
"Regardez quelle belle journée, Madame!" she exclaimed, with a curtsy. "Look at the beautiful day! God listens to you, Highness, truly!"
Eugénie threw open the window and took a deep breath of fresh air. "Would that God did listen to my prayers! No, I prayed to Saint Valentine. He paid me heed. Look how the pale sunshine has gone bold! Feel the warm breeze? A sirocco has wafted up from the Sahara and driven the cold mistral away! Oh, thank you, Saint Valentine! You have given us a perfect day!"
The ceremony was scheduled for two o'clock.
While gardeners wove white, pink, and red roses and carnations into shaped latticework racks, housemen aligned rows of white chairs on the gentle slope of a hillock. They set up an altar, risers, and a dais between two huge trees at its base. The gardeners then added the floral lattices for contour and beauty.
The result was an exquisite wedding chapel open to the sky. The chairs were turned to face an awesome panorama of green lawn and azure sea framed by the trees. Graceful fan trellises formed three sides, interrupted only by a wide, arched arbor centered at the rear for an entry. A deep pergola, stretching from tree to tree, was supported by flowered colonnades. It shaded the rose-strewn altar, the dais for musicians fanning back from either side of the altar, and the risers set up along the back of the dais for the choir.
A red runner formed a center aisle, continuing through the arbor and along a pathway, lined with trellises, to the summit of the mound. There, the bridal procession would begin its descent to the altar at the foot of the slope.
At noon, two security guards appeared in the foyer of Villa Cyrnos with the mayor of Cap Martin and asked to see the Empress. The mayor was accompanied by an overdressed woman whom he did not introduce. She carried an official-looking, oversize book.
After having been arrogant with the guards, he became obsequious in Eugénie's August presence, addressing her in a whine.
"Your Imperial Majesty," he said, bending forward awkwardly in his version of a courtly bow, "I realize I have come without an invitation, but as we have not met since my tenure began in the autumn, I thought this an ideal opportunity to make your acquaintance. I have brought City Hall to you. As you know, it is usual for the bride and groom to report the marriage themselves at the mairie, but that would be most unseemly in a case like this! Here, Madame, is the register."
He gestured to the woman fawning wordlessly at his side. She opened the book she carried and presented it for Eugénie's inspection.
Amused, the Empress waved it away. "M'sieur, it is most kind of you, but they are not yet married!"
The mayor's eyes darted about, taking in all the bustle of activity, clearly thrilled to be involved.
"Oh, Madame, that is a technicality! Obviously, they will be married soon. I am sure we can have your word on that!" He chuckled nervously at his attempted joke.
An astute politician equally adept with peasants as with kings, the Empress offered an appreciative smile. "Ah, Your Honor, you may rest assured that you have my word. And this lovely lady, I take it, is your wife? What luck that you have brought her! You must stay to the wedding! I shall have the bride and groom sign the register at once. Here, my chamberlain will look after you."
"Oh, Your Imperial Highness!" chortled the mayor. "We shall be eternally grateful!"
Overwhelmed, he boorishly snatched Eugénie's hands and kissed them, then eyed his wife sidewise and elbowed the simpering woman into a clumsy curtsy. Red-faced with excitement, she placed the register on a table. The chamberlain led the couple away.
Philo stood nearby. "Majesty, you keep insisting that I am sensible. May I say that applies equally to you? Also, you are kind."
She laughed. "Whenever I need reminding that our Second Empire has become the Third Republic, I arrange an encounter with a local clerk. Any one of them is more autocratic than I ever dared to be when I ruled in France!"
She looked down at the register. "Actually, the man has done a great favor. Can you imagine fighting your way through to the mairie after this wedding? People marry in the church, you see, and stop off at City Hall to register en route to the reception. That will not be necessary, now. If you will sign, Captain, I shall have it taken to Romelle. Then it is done. We shall follow the same procedure with the American consul."
The consul came an hour before the wedding as the guests were arriving in numbers. The Empress had left instructions at the door to dispatch him to her immediately. He found her chatting with the Princess of Monaco.
After formal greetings were exchanged, Eugénie thanked him for offering to bring the consular marriage register.
"A courtesy of my government, Ma'am. It is in my car."
"May I ask that you have it sent for? If possible, Captain Duncan would like to take care of this business before the ceremony. Afterward, he and his bride will be eminently preoccupied with their guests. There are several royal personages among them, and we are expecting the President of France."
"Of course, Madame," he replied, "it will be my pleasure."
Eugénie signaled her chamberlain to step forward.
"The car has an American flag mounted on the fender," the consul directed him. "My driver is a Marine in full-dress uniform. He should be waiting nearby. Ask him, please, to bring in the register. He will serve as the witness. The law requires that it be an American citizen."
While Eugénie greeted other guests, the consul introduced himself to Philo in the foyer.
As the Marine approached them with the register, Philo was hailed by the chamberlain.
"M'sieur le capitaine," he called, "Fallieres arrive!"
"The French president is arriving," Philo said quickly. "I must welcome him. Perhaps we can attend to this later."
The consul took the log from the Marine and laid it on the table. "That will not be necessary, Captain. If you will just sign here, that is all you have to do."
Philo snatched the pen from the consul's out stretched hand, scribbled his signature, and hurried away.
A waiting maid carried off the register to Romelle's quarters. She came back with it, signed, a few minutes later. The consul presented it to the Marine.
"If you would be kind enough to take this to the car," he said, "and then return. I presume that you will sit with me to view the wedding?"
The Marine nodded, and went out.
Twenty minutes before the ceremony was to begin, Philo knocked at Romelle's door.
Adrienne answered. Her hand went to her mouth when she saw who it was.
"No, no, mon capitaine!" she cried. "Pas possible! It is not possible for the groom to see the bride before the wedding! Mauvaise fortune, bad luck!"
Philo harrumphed with incredulity and pushed past her. "Really, Adrienne, these are not the Dark Ages! I want to see my bride!"
With a gasp, Romelle had backed away, instinctively clutching her hand to her breast to cover the ruby. Her eyes were wide, her mouth agape.
"You don't believe it, too?" he exclaimed. "I just had to see you one more time before this comes to pass. Adrienne, please leave us alone."
Reluctantly, at a sign from Romelle, Adrienne did as she was told.
"You look lovely, dearest," Philo murmured, reaching to take her hand. "Why are you afraid, Romelle? Why won't you give me your...Romelle! The ruby! What does this mean?"
Consternation struck him as he pulled her hand away from the gem.
Her face crumpled. She began to cry.
"I'm so sorry," she wept. "I wanted it to be a surprise. I am giving you my heart today. Truly, I am. I meant this as a symbol. It's Valentine's Day. It is my wedding day! It is our wedding day!"
He rushed to take her in his arms.
"My dearest child, my only love," he whispered in her ear, "it's alright if it means so much to you."
He drew away and held her at arm's length. "My darling, I have never seen anyone more beautiful in my life. Oh, how I wish this were more than just a fairy tale! How I wish that it were true. It's not, you know. We are living a dream, and we shall have to wake from it. I don't want to. I want to go on this way. I want to know you and love you when you are thirty, forty, a hundred, and more. I want to give you children. Oh, Romelle, if only I were young!"
She looked at him through tears. "I wished this morning I had known you when you were the young man in the Civil War portrait," she murmured. "I thought of the years we could have had! But as I see you now, so happy, and, yes, so much in love, I realize that you are he, you are that youth. I see you, Philo! I see you as you were! Really! I do! Have we gone back in time?"
She pulled away and clutched her head. Am I going mad?"
He clasped her close to him again. "Mad? No, Romelle, I believe it is the ruby. It is a magic stone. It is leading us to another world where I shall be as you see me now, and you will be as you are today. That stone is going to unite us beyond place and time."
Adrienne called impatiently through the door. "It is about to begin!"
He walked to the door and opened it. "Adrienne is right, my dear. Now, we walk a path from which there is no turning back. Come, Romelle. It is about to begin."
They left the room, hand in hand.