Christine could not go outdoors any longer.
Several years ago, and she never left Raoul's side. She went out in the spring and the summer and autumn, and even in the winter, when she put out a pair of Raoul's boots and tramped through the snow with him in a most undignified fashion, letting pine twigs and snowflakes fall in her carefully curled hair, getting ice inside her coat and dress and laughing at the cold. They lived alone, far out in the country, so there was no one to see her lack of propriety, and anyway Raoul thought it beautiful.
Now she could not leave the house.
The children did, often. Because Raoul had left France and renounced his title, he no longer had the responsibility of producing an heir; so Christine gave birth to one little girl whom they called Angelette and another two years later called Emmeline, and those two were the only children they had.
The children loved the snow. At first it was Christine and Maman Valerius who bundled them up to go outside and play, and then, when Maman Valerius died, Christine and Raoul together, and now it was just Raoul, buttoning overcoats, putting on gloves, lacing up boots. Christine would watch them through the windows of the house, pressing her face close, unhappy and easily frightened until they were back inside. The girls looked at their mother curiously, with dark, confused eyes, as though they understood that something was terribly wrong but couldn't see what or why.
Angelette was only just ten years old.
Raoul would take their hands and lead them into the parlour when Christine was weeping by herself in the upstairs bedroom. They loved the parlour, since they knew it was reserved for special guests, and being allowed to visit it made them feel grown-up and careful. They sat by turns at the harp and on the settee, stroking the cushions, sliding their little fingers along the strings.
They both spoke Norwegian much better than their parents did, because all their friends spoke it and they had learnt. Raoul and Christine only talked with one another in French, which the girls knew also. They chattered to one another in Norwegian, then, about the weather and their dolls and their snow-people, and pretended not to know that their maman was just above their heads, sitting on the edge of her bed, weeping noiselessly into her hands.
They had observed that the wealthier of their friends had pianos or harpsichords in their parlours, but when they asked Raoul why their family was without one, he shook his head and said the harp was more beautiful. Since one must have music in one's life, he said, it ought to be the best kind. The girls accepted this readily enough, but they still liked to play their friends' pianos, tripping and tapping and trilling their hands along the smooth ivory keys.
A long time ago, they had vague memories of their mother playing outside with them, and singing lullabies to them, and laughing often as their father kissed her. Emmeline said they must have dreamed those things, or got them wrong, because it was always Father who did them. It was their father who helped them build their snow-people, and knew the words to Frere Jacques, and tickled and kissed them until they laughed and squirmed and shrieked.
Christine just stayed by the window with the curtains almost completely closed.
The first sign of something wrong had happened when Angelette was six years old. There had been little signs before that which Raoul had observed, but nothing as severe as that. It happened in the summer, when Christine and Maman Valerius and the single maidservant-and-cook were out putting up the washed laundry to dry in the sun. A black riding-cape of Raoul's was hanging from the line already, and as Christine bent to take one of her dresses out of the laundry-basket, a great gust of wind suddenly blew it out in a huge black billow.
She screamed and fainted.
When she awoke, Raoul was holding her shaking hands and whispering her name, and when he saw her eyes flickering open, he caught her close and begged her to tell him what had happened. She whispered,--
"What do you mean?"
"I saw Erik. I saw his black cloak, and he was just right there, and so close to me! Mon dieu, my God, help me." Her eyes were wide and staring now, and she clutched Raoul's shirt in her hands. "Raoul, he has come back. He has forgotten his promise. He wants me again, he will not let me go...!"
"No, no," Raoul murmured, stroking her hair. "It was my cloak, blowing in the wind. Erik is dead. Remember the Persian's notice. Erik is dead. You are safe, cherie--" (for Christine never let anyone call her 'ange') "--you are safe."
"I am afraid," she said, in a voice so low he could hardly hear it.
"You needn't be," said Raoul, but it was clear she didn't believe.
After that, she began to see shadows. The pine branches against the white snow were signs of Erik; the footprints left by the neighbourhood children who came to play with her daughters were his footprints. The fluttering curtains made her jump. The cat's miao-ing made her tremble. When Raoul sang the girls to sleep at night, she hid in the bedroom and shut the door tightly. When Maman Valerius died, it was Erik who had killed her for revenge, because Christine would not come to him.
And then she could not go outside. She put thick drapes over all the windows. She made the most absurd precautions against being attacked and stolen away, but at the same time had no faith in any of them to protect her. She still loved Raoul, at least; he could come upon her suddenly in a room, and she would only gasp and then run to him and hold on as if for dear life; but they had to dismiss the man who came about to fix things and help them feed their few animals, because Christine would believe him one day to be a spy, one day a demon, one day a man in Erik's employ, one day Erik himself.
Finally, the cook had to go also, for Christine suspected her of treachery, too. It was just Raoul, then, and the two girls, and Christine, trembling by a window.
That was when she began to start crying.
The crying was worse than anything else she had done, Raoul believed. One moment, Christine would be reading or sewing or playing idly with the harp. Suddenly, her face with become drawn, her eyes would become downcast, her hands would fall to her lap. She looked like a shell of a woman with nothing inside, hollow and empty. Then the tears would begin. They would start slowly, silently, rolling down her cheeks, and then they would come faster, larger, and she would begin to shake. She would lean forward, put her face in her arms.
There she would be, his beautiful wife, his beloved wife, crouched and bent and clinging close to herself, trembling horribly, making soft little choked noises into her hands, and weeping, weeping inconsolably. There was never anything he could do to stop her. She would stand up after a few moments, and slowly make her way upstairs, go into the bedroom, and stay there, sitting on the side of the bed, for an hour at the least, and three at most.
Then he would take the girls into the parlour, and watch them playing their grown-up games, and try to make himself smile until he heard Christine's footsteps overhead and she crept back down the stairs.
Once, just once, Emmeline had asked what made Maman cry.
Raoul took both her little hands in his and told her that Maman had had a terrible accident when she was younger, and when she remembered it, it made her sad.
Did someone die? Emmeline wanted to know.
Yes, love, said Raoul. Someone died.
And that made sense to Emmeline, whose kitten had died when she was five. She had been inconsolable for several weeks. If it was a person who died, it must be much worse.
Still Christine stayed alone.
But now Angelette was gone. It was only Raoul and Christine and Emmeline, who loved her father dearly and wouldn't leave him. Angelette had married a village boy and moved to Oslo to raise her family, and Raoul was glad to see her go. He kissed her on both cheeks and knew she would be happier.
Their mother had stopped loving them when Angelette was fourteen. Before, even at the worst time, when she was watching them through the windows or locking herself into any room she happened to be in, she had been ready to kiss the girls and hold them if one of them found her. When they were older, they found that they could go into the bedroom when she was crying and hold her in their arms. She almost seemed to like it. For a little while, Raoul believed she was regaining her mind.
He was wrong. When Angelette was fourteen, Christine stopped recognising her. She stared blankly and asked whether she were not one of the girls in the corps de ballet.
"No, Maman," said Angelette, taking her hand gently. "It's me, Angelette."
"Your name means little angel," said Christine darkly.
"That's right. Come here, and I'll give you a kiss, Maman. Papa wants you to know that dinner is almost ready."
"Yes, that's right. Do let me kiss you."
"Impertinent little brat," Christine cried sharply. It was so sudden and unexpected that Angelette could only stare. "You're one of his! But do you think I'm afraid of you? Does he think he will frighten me with all his evil little demons? No, no, no, I'll not bear it! I want to be free! Oh, Erik, Erik, I want to be free! I kissed you--just a little--on the forehead--oh, my own, where is Raoul, oh, where?--I kissed you and you told me I was free! Oh, how I want to be free, please, Erik, please, for the love of--love of God--" She began to weep wildly, shaking, shuddering sobs, and Angelette ran away downstairs and hid in the pantry, crying too. When she finally came out again, Raoul had already run upstairs to Christine, and supper was burning on the stove.
Not long after that, Christine became unable to tell Emmeline from Angelette, and hated them both. The sight of them made her fall into the most hysterical rambling and tears, and no one but Raoul could quiet her.
As soon as she was able, then, Angelette escaped with her husband to Oslo, and Emmeline stayed behind to help her father with the house.
Christine stopped leaving her room. Emmeline carried up trays with breakfast and lunch and dinner, and sometimes she brought tea, although Christine didn't eat it often. Emmeline would sit in a chair by her bed and help her to eat, looking away from the angry eyes and the half-coherent murmurings.
"He'll never have me. He'll never have me, no matter how often you come here, no matter how much you try to win me for him. Have you poisoned my food? He wanted a living wife, but now he's changed his mind. He wants me dead. But he'll not have me, no, hardly. I shall be free. He promised me I should be free."
Emmeline broke off part of a biscuit for her and tucked it into her hands. "Here, Maman, eat a bite."
Christine raised it to her lips and ate it, in tiny bites, all the while talking.
"He's a horrible, horrible man. But does he think he can catch me and bring me back? Ha! I'm safe here--no, I'm not, he's always watching--I'm hidden here. He can't see me--yes, he can. He always could. And he's got little spies, like this girl here, this horrible thing. Oh! He wants me, but I don't want him. I want to die. Oh, I have no one, no one! Where is Raoul?"
"Papa's downstairs. Do you want me to fetch him for you?" Emmeline asked calmly.
"No! You're not to leave my sight, you horrible little demon, no. You'll tell him where I am! No, I'll not let you do that! You stay here! Oh, my God, I shall never be free--"
On it went.
One day, in January, when Emmeline was twenty-six and Raoul was nearing fifty, Christine called down the stairs for someone to come quickly, quickly, for there was Erik! Raoul sighed, the great, unhappy sigh of someone whose burden has become almost unbearable, and began to stand; but Emmeline touched his shoulder.
"Stay here, Papa. I'll go."
"No, I'm going. It's better that way." He gave her a little smile, and she nodded and sat back down. Raoul climbed the stars wearily. He still loved Christine, in an aching way, in a way like the spidery, thread-fine lines that crease a very old map. He still thought her beautiful, even. She was broken, a hundred-thousand times, but he still thought her beautiful.
He reached the top of the stairs, the end of the hall, and opened the bedroom door.
Christine lay sprawled upon the bed, her hair in disarray, her clothes rumpled because she slept in them. She was dead.
Raoul sat down on the side of the bed and drew her close, touched her hair. It was shot through with grey now. Her eyes were, thankfully, closed, and her mouth a little bit open; he closed her lips with one finger. They were still perhaps a touch warm. He could see now, however, that she was certainly dead. He could not doubt it. She was quickly growing cold, and her body was limp, and there was no heartbeat inside her breast.
For a very long time, he sat on the side of the bed and held her. Now that she was dead, he could imagine her again when she was young, when he dove into the sea after her scarf, when she sang Marguerite at the Paris Opera House. He could not weep.
Finally he stood and went down the stairs again, feeling rather stiff, feeling rather old. Emmeline looked up from the napkin she was embroidering.
"Is she all right now?"
"She's dead, my child."
"Mon dieu. She--mon dieu." Emmeline just sat. Suddenly, voicing a hope Raoul had never realised she possessed, she whispered, "Did she regain her senses before she died? Even a little?"
"What?" he said, unable to understand at first.
"Did she remember things, perhaps? Just a little. Did she? Did she remember me--and Angelette, Papa?"
Raoul stared. "Why--yes. Just a little."
"She remembered me?" Emmeline's face was full of something, full of disbelief and longing and relief and sorrow and a painful, burning happiness.
"Yes, just before she died," said Raoul, his voice growing firmer. "She remembered you when you were a little girl. She said she loved you."
Emmeline could not weep, either. "Oh, Papa, I'm so glad. I'm so glad she remembered," was all she managed, as she fumbled helplessly with the embroidery in her lap, unsure of whether to put it down or bury her face in it. "I'm so glad."
"So am I," said Raoul.