IV

A vile day, Porter. But keep your wits about you. The Empress will soon be here. Queer, without the Emperor! It is indeed, but best not consider that. Scratch your head and prick up your ears. Divorce is not for you to debate about. She is late? Ah, well, the roads are muddy. The rain spears are as sharp as whetted knives. They dart down and down, edged and shining. Clop-trop! Clop-trop! A carriage grows out of the mist. Hist, Porter. You can keep on your hat. It is only Her Majesty's dogs and her parrot. Clop-trop! The Ladies in Waiting, Porter. Clop-trop! It is Her Majesty. At least, I suppose it is, but the blinds are drawn.

"In all the years I have served Her Majesty she never before passed the gate without giving me a smile!"

You're a droll fellow, to expect the Empress to put out her head in the pouring rain and salute you. She has affairs of her own to think about.

Clang the gate, no need for further waiting, nobody else will be coming to Malmaison to-night.

White under her veil, drained and shaking, the woman crosses the antechamber. Empress! Empress! Foolish splendour, perished to dust. Ashes of roses, ashes of youth. Empress forsooth!

Over the glass domes of the hot-houses drenches the rain. Behind her a clock ticks — ticks again. The sound knocks upon her thought with the echoing shudder of hollow vases. She places her hands on her ears, but the minutes pass, knocking. Tears in Malmaison. And years to come each knocking by, minute after minute. Years, many years, and tears, and cold pouring rain.

"I feel as though I had died, and the only sensation I have is that I am no more."

Rain! Heavy, thudding rain!