The President's Man

After lunch, the Tsaritsa invited Romelle to join her and the children for their customary afternoon drive in a sleigh.
Romelle declined. "Aunt Alix, I should love to go, but I cannot. I must begin my journey tomorrow. I feel I ought to rest."
The Tsaritsa agreed. "Quite right, Romy, dear, rest is the order of the day. I shall arrange for a tray of canapés to be sent to you. I beg you to snack a bit. You merely picked at both breakfast and lunch. That will not do! You need strength to face the formidable venture ahead. It is three thousand miles to Lake Baikal, and that is only the beginning!"
A look of keen disappointment showed in Alexis' eyes.
"Alexis, perhaps you would be kind enough to take Rebel with you," Romelle offered. "He needs the air, and there's a bright sun today."
The boy was beside himself with delight, but he feigned great dignity when he accepted. "I shall be very careful with him, Miss Romy. He can sit beside me."
Romelle bade them goodbye and retired to her room. The canapés came, but had no appeal. She tried to nap, but sleep would not come. Standing at the window, she gazed out at huge lilac bushes laden with snow.
My father comes here with the Magic Wine in autumn and spring. He sees these bushes in full bloom. Their fragrance must fill the air! I have seen fresh lilacs in vases, and wood violets in bowls. Aunt Alix says she has them sent from the Crimea all winter long. The Crimea! She met Philo there! Could it have been the day Uncle Ardie.....?
Too restless to remain confined, she stepped quietly into the hall. Colorfully garbed footmen stood at attention here and there. Each bowed respectfully as she passed. Outside a mauve room, the footmen wore mauve. Outside a blue room, they wore blue. Cossacks strode by in scarlet tunics and black boots. Some servants wore red, black, and yellow feathered headgear, others lemon lace collars or aprons in white. They were like uprooted flora.
This palace is a garden of humankind! Where can I find peace? People, people, everywhere! Give me a garden of flowers! I can be alone with them!
The maze of corridors led her this way and that until she was attracted by sweet scents that flowed through a wide doorway from a sunshine-flooded room.
She had found her Eden.
The solarium was lavish with flowers. Romelle wandered from filled cloisonné urns to Ming porcelain vases, from gilded compotes to silver bowls, entranced with the fragrance, the color, the variety of blooms. She came to a corner with a view of the pagoda she had seen by moonlight the night before. It soared in gold and vermilion against a clear blue sky. She drank in its beauty and sank into a white bamboo chair.
Her gaze drifted across the room.
"Oh!" she moaned.
In a tall ivory container alone in a nook stood a regal bouquet of calla lilies, each milky spathe lovingly curled around its yellow spadix. The spadices might as well have been golden spikes, for they pierced her heart with memories of the wedding day.
"Philo!" she cried out. "Philo, why did they take you from me?"
She covered her face with her hands and sobbed.
A footman outside the glass-walled room heard her cries, peered in, and left immediately to summon the Tsar.
Nicholas was at her side before she was aware of his presence. He touched her shoulder. She looked up and rose instinctively to offer a curtsy. Before she could, he clasped her in his arms. Her head came to rest on his shoulder.
"Uncle Nicky, he was so good, my Philo," she wept. "He was the strength of our family, and of me. I cannot bear that he is gone. Oh, would that the dagger had struck me down instead! He didn't deserve to die. It was my fault! If I had not worn the ruby, if I had not betrayed his trust, he might be alive today!"
He murmured words of comfort, and let her cry until there were no more tears.
Then, he lifted her head gently and tilted her face by the chin with his fingers. "I want you to tell me the whole story, Romy. I want to hear from the beginning why you married Captain Duncan and what happened at the wedding. You will be part of our family for the rest of your life. Your Aunt Alix and I want to understand it all. Let me take you to my study."
An Ethiopian in rainbow regalia snapped to attention outside the Tsar's study door and opened it for them. It was a small room with only one window. Nicholas stood in front of his desk and indicated that Romelle should sit on a sofa draped with a Persian rug.
Briefly, she told him the details of her life, including the direful attack by Irene, and Philo's taking her to live in Paris. The Tsar nodded his head understandingly from time to time, speaking only when she had finished retailing everything to the moment she was brought to him by Jim Hercules.
The Tsar mentioned Ardie's murder on the Thistle.
"Hearing what happened to you as a result of that," he said, "gives me as great pain as his death. You were just a little girl, the same age as my Anastasia is now. To think of what she did!"
His eyes were moist.
"For me, Uncle Nicky," she responded, "a greater tragedy than Irene's attack was losing Bradley. I truly thought of him as my brother. You cannot imagine how many times through the years I have ached to know his fate. Even Captain Duncan never gave up hope that he would return. Part of my desolation over my husband's death is knowing that they never met face to face. Perhaps if they had, I could find consolation in the joy it would have brought to the captain's heart. But it's too late. What consolation can ever find its way to me now?"
She collapsed in tears again.
The Tsar stood in silence for a moment, then quietly withdrew.
Shortly, he returned. Still, she wept.
"Romy," Nicholas entreated tenderly, "look at me."
She did, her beauty undimmed by grief.
He extended his hand. She took it and rose.
"Come," he said simply, and led her back through the halls to the glass-enclosed room.
In the wide doorway, he stood aside.
Her gaze followed his to an alcove filled with lilacs. A man stood before it, his back to the door. At the sound of their entry, he turned.
He wore the dashing full-dress uniform of an officer in the United States Marines. He stood with arms crossed on his chest. His cap, rakishly pushed back, afforded a glimpse of blond hair spilling from under the bill. His piercing blue eyes stared at Romelle.
She gasped and went rigid, her hands lifted in surprise.
No words were spoken until the Tsar, beaming from ear to ear, made a single pronouncement to Romelle, "Your consolation, my dear."
"Romelle...Romy, my little's me," smiled the Marine.
"It can't be!" she murmured. " it really you?"
"That's just what my grandfather said at Villa Cyrnos, when he died in my arms," Brad replied. "He smiled. Then he spoke his last words. 'I am going now. Take care of Romelle.' And that, Romy, is what I'm here to do."
They rushed into each other's arms.
"Oh, darling," she cried, "when I saw you in that pose, I thought for an instant that...that....."
"That Philo Duncan was in this room," completed Brad. "It may have been cruel of me to pose like his portrait, but I wanted you to see him again, too. I know he would come back to you if he could, but, Romy, let's just say he sent me instead."
"Oh, Uncle Nicky, how wonderful you are!" She turned to discover the Tsar had gone.
"He has some business to take care of," Brad explained. "Sit with me over here, and let me tell you a few things you don't know. First among them is that I was your hallucination at Villa Cyrnos on the wedding night."
He told her everything that had happened at Cap Martin. He ended by explaining what he knew of the journey to Tsarskoe Selo. He said he had heard dogs barking in the train corridor. He jumped up from his chair, knocking it over in the process, to open his compartment door.
"There was Rebel running a circle around me in pursuit of the cutest champagne poodle I ever saw. Then they raced out, leaping over each other. I dashed into the corridor and ran after them to the other end."
"You didn't see me?"
"No," he replied, "as far as I can tell, the woman had already dragged you into her roomette."
"Of course! That's when I heard someone calling Rebel's name, but I was so drugged, I was losing my hold on reality."
"Yes," he agreed, "that's it! When I got to the end of the coach, Rebel and the poodle were wrangling. I threw open the door and the poodle went flying outside and jumped right off the train! Well, it was obvious what would happen next because there wasn't any way Rebel was going to let that little girl get away. I guess I nearly killed myself snatching him by the collar and crashing through the door into the baggage car, which slammed shut behind us. I hit a pile of trunks and did myself a bit of damage on the side of the head. I'm fine, now, and ready to keep my pledge to my grandfather to take care of you."
"Oh, Brad, you're good for me already!" Romelle said. "It's amazing how like Philo you are - your face, hair, physique, even your voice! An incarnation of him!"
"That may be true, Romy," Brad agreed. "I've long had the feeling I'm like neither my father or my mother. Bridget once told me that Old Annie thought I was what you call a throwback to my grandfather's character, making me sort of an atavistic Philo Duncan. I never gave it much credence until the day at Villa Cyrnos when I held him in my arms."
Brad, overwhelmed by the memory, sat down in the nearest chair. Romelle knelt at his side.
"Oh, Brad, tell me about it again. I told the Tsar that my only consolation would be in the knowledge that you and the captain had met face to face. What joy for him!"
"Romy, I lifted his head with these two hands," Brad retold. "He opened his eyes. He tried to talk. I leaned down to hear him. He looked up at me. Do you know what he said?"
Brad's voice caught. Tears rolled down his cheeks. "'I have seen the mirror image of my youth,' he said. Romy, I understood. I was looking at myself many years ahead, just as he was looking back through time at himself in me. We were one in that moment. Can you believe me when I say that I was my grandfather, and he was me? Am I crazy like my mother, and her mother?"
As the Tsar had comforted her, she clasped his hands and looked up into his eyes. "Oh, no, my darling Brad, you could never be like Irene."
She wiped away his tears with her handkerchief.
"Romy," he said, "he smiled when he died. I made him happy. That one moment has made my life worthwhile."
He lifted his head and gazed at her earnestly. "Romy, you're not going anywhere without me. Dragon's Heart, or Timbuktu, you've got yourself attached to the U.S. Marines! You may as well get used to that now."  

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