|Beyond the Green Baize Door
Author: charleygirl PM
Tales from the Opera Populaire. Events may not have transpired as you remember; vignettes, missing scenes and retellings. #44: Epilogue. Where do we go from here?Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama - Erik & Christine - Chapters: 44 - Words: 82,960 - Reviews: 162 - Favs: 67 - Follows: 34 - Updated: 06-14-12 - Published: 08-16-11 - Status: Complete - id: 7292954
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
THE PEASANTS ARE REVOLTING
As it was Sunday and the Opera House was closed, Meg had thought it the ideal time to make a quick trip home for a change of clothes and a few essentials.
A check of the little kitchen in the house by the lake confirmed her suspicions that Monsieur le Phantom had next to no interest in food; the cupboards were bare but for half a loaf on the turn and some dried fruit, barely enough to keep a cat alive. Madame Giry clucked her tongue in disapproval as she regarded the pitiful state of the stores, and immediately furnished Meg with a list of items to either fetch from their apartment or buy fresh at the market, a key to the Rue Scribe gate and instructions to make sure she was not seen entering or leaving the building. Rolling her eyes as only a daughter can at her mother's fussing, Meg promised that she would be careful and made her way up the winding staircase to the world above.
It felt good to be back in the sunlight and fresh air. The morning was mild for the time of year, and sight of the blue sky with its scattered drifting clouds immediately lifted her spirits; she was touched by a momentary pang of sorrow for Erik, trapped in his existence of perpetual night, and found herself wondering when he had last felt the sun on his face. Christine had all but committed herself to that dark world, and Meg was worried for her friend. Did Christine truly realise what she would be giving up to be with her Angel? At heart, despite her new-found confidence, Christine was still a child, needing someone to guide and protect her; now she was in the unusual position of having a man who needed her just as much as she did him, if not more; a man who, according to Madame Giry, had gone through more than forty years of life without so much as a loving glance. It would be a daunting prospect for any woman, let alone one of such a delicate nature.
Meg mused on the subject as she went about her errands, filling her basket from stalls which already had plenty of custom despite the early hour. By the time she made her way back across the Place de l'Opera she had a little chicken, vegetables and some fish with which to tempt the appetite of the invalid, as well as a bag of brioche still warm from the oven, whose divine smell was tempting her to sample them immediately. She had not realised how hungry she was until she began browsing the produce on offer; her stomach rumbled embarrassingly and she recalled that she had not eaten since well before the performance the previous evening.
Humming to herself as she crossed the square, heading for the side door to the theatre, she did not register the crowd that had gathered outside the main entrance, spilling over the steps, until she was almost on top of them. Instantly on the alert she pulled back, observing from behind a conveniently-situated lamppost. Scanning faces she was surprised to find that the people sitting or standing around were not irate patrons but her colleagues, the cast and crew of the Populaire. All had their eyes fixed upon a little drama that was being enacted on the top step, and they looked angry, some muttering amongst themselves as three of the burliest stagehands put their shoulders to the heavy doors. There was a notice pasted across the panels, and Meg could just read the words from her vantage point. In big black letters they screamed:
OUT OF BUSINESS.
"Once more, Pierre, that should do it!" one of the chorus, Alphonse, the baritone, shouted.
Pierre and the others tried again, grimacing with the effort, but the doors held. Two of the dancers ran to help them, but even with their combined strength it was no good; the entrance seemed to have been built to withstand a siege. Wiping his forehead with a big red handkerchief, one of the stagehands looked around, apparently searching for something that could be used as a battering ram, as he pointed to the post behind which Meg was hiding. Fortunately, Pierre shook his head, instead stepping back so that he could see up the face of the building; he reached down and scooped up a handful of gravel, throwing it against one of the windows on the second floor.
There was a pause, and then the window was flung open. Meg started as she recognised the dishevelled head which appeared in the gap. It was Monsieur Andre, and she had never seen him so untidy. His hair stood on end thanks to frustrated fingers and dried pomade, there was the shadow of a beard on his chin and his collar was askew, his tie dangling loose around his throat. He glared down at the gathering on the theatre steps.
"You may as well give up," he declared, the words slurring slightly. "I've had the doors barred."
"You can't do this!" Pierre shouted. "You can't turn everyone out!"
"I have and I will. Now be gone, the lot of you. I've no time to bandy words with the likes of you."
Even from a distance, Meg could see that the kindly scenery-shifter look appalled. "The lads and I have come to collect our cards," he called up to Andre. "That means we expect to be paid up until the end of the week, and if everyone else is on the street, so should they. We have families to feed!"
"That is no concern of mine. If you want your pay you will have to whistle for it," the manager snapped. "There is no money left."
A dangerous rumbling began in the crowd. One or two of the more truculent members of the crew punched fists into palms in a menacing attitude. Meg cautiously abandoned her cover and approached the fringes. Her mother would not approve, but she had to know what was going on; they had clearly missed much while engaged in their own dramas underground. Giselle of the corps de ballet was standing on the sidelines with the secretary, young Monsieur Remy, who was watching the confrontation with anxious eyes, his fingers twisting the chain on his pince-nez almost to breaking point.
"What in the world is happening?" Meg asked, making Giselle jump.
"Mon Dieu – Meg!" the willowy ballerina exclaimed, her hand flying to her heart in one of the over-dramatic gestures to which she was prone. "Where have you been? We looked everywhere for you last night!"
"I was at home with Maman; Christine was unwell and needed our help," Meg said, crossing her fingers behind her back and hoping that God would forgive her for the lie.
"Christine? I thought the Phantom got her?" Giselle frowned. "And when I last saw you, you were talking to the vicomte."
"Was that the Phantom?" enquired Alphonse before Meg could respond, evidently overhearing. "He didn't look much like those ridiculous stories the Buquet used to tell."
"Buquet drank too much," one of the other chorus members, a tenor called Marius, put in. "His stories changed from one day to the next. But if that wasn't the Phantom on stage last night, who was it?"
"It wasn't Signor Piangi, that's for sure. No one's seen hide nor hair of him or Carlotta since yesterday."
At the mention of the diva's name, Marius pulled a face. "That's no bad thing. The less we have to see of the Signora, the better! She called my acting wooden, can you believe that? Said she'd seen better from a Punch and Judy man in Covent Garden!"
"What's Punch and Judy?" asked Giselle, looking interested, all thought of Meg's whereabouts the previous night evidently forgotten.
Alphonse shrugged. "Something English. Probably heathen, too. They're all savages over there. Did you know that they - "
Meg was relieved when the window opened again as someone hammered on the doors and Andre's head appeared once more.
"Clear off!" he yelled. "Do you want me to call the police and have you removed by force?"
"We want our money!" shouted one of the carpenters. "Give us what we're owed!"
"Try asking your precious Phantom! With a salary of twenty thousand francs a month he should have a tidy sum!" replied the manager, and he slammed the window so hard the glass rattled in the frame.
"He's drunk," said someone, and there were several murmurs of agreement.
Meg turned to Remy. "Where is Monsieur Firmin?"
The secretary was practically shaking, his face pale and dark circles beneath his eyes. "Gone, I don't know where. The safe was open and empty when I entered the office last night, and I am willing to swear to you, mademoiselle, that it was not so two hours before. I myself saw Monsieur Firmin counting the contents at his desk. After the performance Monsieur Andre had what appeared to me to be a very uncomfortable telephone conversation with the Minister of Arts, and afterwards he sent me away and barricaded himself into the room with a bottle of brandy. He ordered that all the entrances be barred and bolted. I think he's gone mad."
Not mad, thought Meg, just left to face the music by his so-called partner.
"I don't understand any of this," said Remy, taking out a handkerchief and frantically polishing the lenses of his glasses. "Should I call the police? Tell them what is happening?"
She rested a reassuring hand on his arm. "Wait for now," she told him. "It may not need to come to that."
He gave a sigh of relief, obviously not wanting the responsibility of being the one to report his superior to the authorities, and nodded, and Meg left him, making her way carefully and quietly around the crowd to reach Pierre, who had stepped away to let some of the other men make a renewed assault upon the doors. She wondered briefly why no one had thought to try the smaller and weaker entrance on the Rue Scribe, but was grateful for it. If they managed to break in and took it into their heads to start combing the theatre for the Phantom, who knew what they might find?
Pierre looked just as surprised to see her as anyone else. "You shouldn't be here, Meg. Half of this lot think your mother is in league with the Phantom, and that you are too by association."
"And the other half?"
"They can't decide what happened last night. Some say OG isn't real, so it couldn't possibly have been him on the stage, and the others..." He shrugged. "No one seems to be able to agree."
"What do you think?" Meg asked. The head scenery-shifter was an astute, sensible man, not prone to flights of fancy.
"I know that I saw a man in a mask, singing with Christine. It wasn't Signor Piangi, certainly, but as to who it was... I have no idea. He seemed to know the stage, disappearing completely like that, but Buquet never mentioned the Phantom wearing a mask, did he? He always talked about a death's head, horrible to behold." Pierre scratched his head. "All I can be certain about is this: before Andre and Firmin arrived the Phantom was good for business. Whether it was a man or a ghost sending those notes, he knew what he was talking about. Those two - " He glanced up towards the office window " – have ruined us completely because they thought they knew better."
Meg's mind was working a mile a minute. "The man last night," she said quickly, "It was Christine's singing teacher. He stepped in at the last minute when Piangi left. The vicomte and his men mistook him for the Phantom."
Pierre frowned. "What was he doing backstage? I didn't see him before the curtain went up."
"Christine asked him to come, but he was running late and the ushers wouldn't let him into the auditorium. Maman took him into the wings so he could watch Christine, and he saw Carlotta walk out. It was a split-second decision to replace the Signor, taken to try and save the performance. He knew the libretto, of course; he's been rehearsing it with Christine for weeks." Meg crossed her fingers again. It was, after all, partly the truth.
"If that's so, how did he know where that trap door in the stage was? I've worked here for fifteen years and I'd never seen it before."
She'd forgotten about that. Think, Meg! "It was an accident. He stamped on the floor when he was trying to protect Christine from the gunman in the pit, and it gave way beneath them. The bullet that was fired lodged in his shoulder. That's where I've been, taking him to the hospital with Maman and Christine. She's been frantic with worry."
Pierre did not look as that he entirely believed her, but he nodded. "And the Phantom?"
"The Phantom didn't come," Meg said. "He's no fool; why would he have offered himself up for capture so easily?"
His eyes narrowed suspiciously, but he made no comment, instead turning to gaze up at the window once more. "We could do with his help," he said after a pause. "He sacked us, you know. Andre. Last night. Me, Jacques and René - we're all out of a job, and he won't let you or your mother into the building under any circumstances. Christine too. I thought he was going to have an apoplexy. Now he's decided to punish us all."
"Battering down the door won't help matters. Why don't you take them all somewhere to calm down and think about what to do next?"
"Are you giving me advice, Little Meg?" Pierre asked, evidently amused.
"Do you want to be arrested?" she countered. "Andre's got access to a telephone up there, and he knows the police commissioner. Don't think he's making idle threats."
The big man blanched. Meg recalled that he had a wife and five children, all under working age but one. If he were to be thrown into the cells it would be a disaster. Turning back to his colleagues, who were readying themselves to try once again to break the doors, he waved his arms, calling for them to stop. Shouts and protests began, both from the stagehands and the rest of the company, words tumbling over one another as everyone strove to make themselves heard.
Meg took that as her cue to disappear.
She flew back down to the cellars as fast as her legs would carry her.
"Maman! Maman, it's me! Let me in!" she cried, hammering on the concealed door with both fists. After a pause, which seemed interminable, it opened to reveal Madame Giry's startled face. Meg practically threw her basket at her mother and tumbled into the hallway, catching herself on the table when she threatened to end up in a heap on the floor.
"Mon Dieu! Meg, whatever is the matter?" the ballet mistress exclaimed.
"The theatre... closed... we've all been turned off!" Meg struggled to bring her pounding heart under control and breathe regularly.
Madame Giry stared at her in horror. "What? Why? Who has made such a decision?"
"Is Erik awake?" asked Meg, ignoring the question. Her mother nodded, and she hurried off down the hall to the Phantom's bedroom. A light tap on the door gained her permission to enter, and she found the wounded man sitting up against a bank of pillows, being assisted in drinking a cup of tea by Christine. Any doubts that her friend had made the wrong choice began to evaporate as she watched them; Christine was regarding Erik tenderly as she leaned over him, supporting the cup with one hand so that he did not spill it. His face was unmasked, and as Meg came in he turned it away slightly so that the deformed side fell into shadow.
"Mademoiselle Giry," he said, his voice lower and richer than she expected. Even in this situation he had such a regal presence that she had to stop herself instinctively dropping into a respectful curtsy. "I don't believe we have ever actually been introduced."
"No, Monsieur, not officially, but you have been a part of my life for so long that it makes no difference," Meg replied, and he smiled.
"What's the matter, Meg?" asked Christine, taking the teacup and setting it on the nightstand. Madame Giry had followed her daughter into the room and Meg felt a hand on her shoulder; after the tumult of the last couple of days she had to stop herself curling into her mother's comforting embrace.
Taking a deep breath, she related everything she had seen and heard in the world above. Through her recitation she glanced repeatedly at Erik from the corner of her eye and could see his expression darkening, becoming grimmer as the moments passed. Christine's eyes widened in astonishment, her hand almost unconsciously finding her maestro's, seeking reassurance.
"Why would Monsieur Andre do such a thing?" she said, shaking her head incredulously. "And Monsieur Firmin! To take so much money...!"
"Is Andre still in the office?" Erik asked sharply.
"He was when I left," Meg replied. "Remy said he had locked himself in."
There was a brief moment of silence, and then the Phantom nodded, determination in the lines of his gaunt face. "Help me up. We have work to do."