The roses bloom at Malmaison. And not only roses. Tulips, myrtles,
geraniums, camelias, rhododendrons, dahlias, double hyacinths.
All the year through, under glass, under the sky, flowers bud, expand, die,
and give way to others, always others. From distant countries they have
been brought, and taught to live in the cool temperateness of France.
There is the `Bonapartea' from Peru; the `Napoleone Imperiale';
the `Josephinia Imperatrix', a pearl-white flower, purple-shadowed,
the calix pricked out with crimson points. Malmaison wears its flowers
as a lady wears her gems, flauntingly, assertively. Malmaison decks herself
to hide the hollow within.
The glass-houses grow and grow, and every year fling up hotter reflections
to the sailing sun.
The cost runs into millions, but a woman must have something
to console herself for a broken heart. One can play backgammon and patience,
and then patience and backgammon, and stake gold napoleons on each game won.
Sport truly! It is an unruly spirit which could ask better. With her jewels,
her laces, her shawls; her two hundred and twenty dresses, her fichus,
her veils; her pictures, her busts, her birds. It is absurd that she
cannot be happy. The Emperor smarts under the thought of her ingratitude.
What could he do more? And yet she spends, spends as never before.
It is ridiculous. Can she not enjoy life at a smaller figure?
Was ever monarch plagued with so extravagant an ex-wife. She owes
her chocolate-merchant, her candle-merchant, her sweetmeat purveyor;
her grocer, her butcher, her poulterer; her architect, and the shopkeeper
who sells her rouge; her perfumer, her dressmaker, her merchant of shoes.
She owes for fans, plants, engravings, and chairs. She owes
masons and carpenters, vintners, lingeres. The lady's affairs
are in sad confusion.
And why? Why?
Can a river flow when the spring is dry?
Night. The Empress sits alone, and the clock ticks, one after one.
The clock nicks off the edges of her life. She is chipped like
an old bit of china; she is frayed like a garment of last year's wearing.
She is soft, crinkled, like a fading rose. And each minute flows by
brushing against her, shearing off another and another petal.
The Empress crushes her breasts with her hands and weeps. And the tall clouds
sail over Malmaison like a procession of stately ships bound for the moon.
Scarlet, clear-blue, purple epauletted with gold. It is a parade of soldiers
sweeping up the avenue. Eight horses, eight Imperial harnesses,
four caparisoned postilions, a carriage with the Emperor's arms on the panels.
Ho, Porter, pop out your eyes, and no wonder. Where else under the Heavens
could you see such splendour!
They sit on a stone seat. The little man in the green coat of a Colonel
of Chasseurs, and the lady, beautiful as a satin seed-pod, and as pale.
The house has memories. The satin seed-pod holds his germs of Empire.
We will stay here, under the blue sky and the turreted white clouds.
She draws him; he feels her faded loveliness urge him to replenish it.
Her soft transparent texture woos his nervous fingering. He speaks to her
of debts, of resignation; of her children, and his; he promises that she
shall see the King of Rome; he says some harsh things and some pleasant.
But she is there, close to him, rose toned to amber, white shot with violet,
pungent to his nostrils as embalmed rose-leaves in a twilit room.
Suddenly the Emperor calls his carriage and rolls away
across the looping Seine.