October 31. The ballet corp. was a twitter with anticipation. The new managers had decided to continue the tradition of hosting an All Hallows Eve ball. The girls had been anxious that the two men would be too cost conscious to indulge the local populace with a second ball given that the New Years Masque was far too much a mainstay to be cancelled. Messieurs Andre and Firmin, though, seemed to be more than keen on showing off their newly acquired wealth by displaying their newly acquired opera. This year's ball was to be spectacular!
"Girls!" Madame Giry's terse voice rang through the practice hall. "I will not have you shirking your rehearsals due to a silly ball!"
"But please Madame! It is not a silly ball! It's going to be the event of the season! We haven't had anything this exciting to look forward to in ages!" squeaked Little Jammes.
"I hear that Messieurs Andre and Firmin have brought in gypsy tumblers! Can you imagine real gypsies!
"And have you seen the entrance hall! The decorations are incredible!"
"Everyone's going to be there and we haven't even begun to get ready!"
"It is by my grace that you are allowed to attend at all. If you don't stop this incessant prattle and finish your repetitions than I may change my mind altogether."
"Oui, Madame," the girls solemnly answered in unison.
"Meg. Your mother wouldn't really forbid us from going to the ball would she?" whispered Jammes to the tall blond dancer ahead of her at the bar.
"I don't think so. She's excited too. What are you wearing?"
"I haven't decided yet. Some of the other girls and I are going to raid the costume department after practice. Want to join us?"
"Oh yes! I think that slave costume from Hannibal would be smashing, as long as mother doesn't see me!" Meg stifled the giggle and lowered her head as Madame Giry swept down the line of dancers.
"What about you Maggee? Are you coming to the ball?" Meg asked the dancer before her. Magdalene had been listening to the girls' whispered conversation and throwing furtive glances over her shoulder.
"Of course she's coming. She never seems to leave this place! Don't you have any other friends!" Jammes snickered.
Magdalene opened her mouth to respond but snapped it shut quickly as Madame Giry approached once again.
"That will be all for today ladies. Meg, Jammes, you two will give me another thirty minutes of practice for your wagging tongues."
"Please Madame!" "But Maman!"
"The sooner you begin the sooner you will be finished! Now, one two three and one two three and…."
"Sorry Meg," mouthed Magdalene as she unlaced her toe slippers and slid on a pair of house shoes.
Meg shrugged and rolled her eyes at her luck for having been caught on today of all days. "I will see you at the ball though won't I Maggee?"
"Of course! I just have to take care of something first." Magdalene hefted her practice bag over her shoulder and whisked out of the hall before any of the other girls. As she made her way through the extensive opera corridors she picked up her pace. She was nearly running by the time she reached her dressing room. Throwing her bag into the corner she dropped on all fours and frantically started searching beneath what furniture she had.
"George! George where are you!"
Since her arrival at the Opera Populaire not long ago, Magdalene had made few friends. She kept mainly to herself, not because she was unfriendly, but for fear of discovery.
Raised by her mother, Magdalene had grown to love the arts through her mother's teachings. They had lived in a small village near Brest along the shores of the Bay of Biscay. Her mother had been a painter and an avid lover of music. Magdalene spent her early days dancing around and around her mother as she painted on the beach, singing songs she'd heard from traveling troupes of gypsies and entertainers that passed through the area. Her mother had fondly called her 'my little muse' and told her tales of when she would grow up to be a spectacular singer and light up the Parisian stage. Her early education had been thorough. She learned to read and write, sketch and read music, play fundamental piano and the conjugations of most European languages. She would learn the harsher lessons of life in her teen years.
Magdalene's mother had begun to grow ill in her sixteenth year. Her father had died in the war and left the two with a small nest egg. They sold what they could and carried with them the rest of their belongings as she bade farewell to her beloved shores and traveled to Paris to seek treatment for her ailing mother. Magdalene had been torn when they had to leave. She begged her mother to stay near the bay breezes, believing them to be far more healing than the dirty city air and the antiseptic hospitals, but the draw of modernization and the potential for a cure had tipped the scales and she found herself living in small lodgings near the hospital where her mother was admitted. Time would show that her mother had developed cancer. She spent two years watching her mother die slowly, spending the remainder of their funds on comfort care and a small plot of earth in a nearby cemetery. She hadn't the money for a proper headstone and in its stead she planted a rose bush.
She had then found herself with nothing. No money, no family and no place to go. It was by chance that she had passed by the Opera Populaire that fateful day. 'Open Auditions' the placard had read. The stage, her mother's dream of her becoming a singer. Was it a sign? What did she have to lose? She had never been formally trained in dance but would her inherent grace be enough? It had been. She was awarded a small role as part of the ballet corp. "No leading roles yet, mother, but at least I have a toe shoe in the door."
"George! Come out, George!" Magdalene crawled over to the small divan along the wall and yanked the afghan and pillow out from underneath. No George. Since her appointment to the ballet corp. Magdalene had been secretly staying at the opera house night and day. The dormitories that the Opera once used to house its chorus and ballet corp. had been seized during the war and used as public housing. They had been damaged during the siege and had yet to be repaired. It was no longer common practice to live and learn at the opera, but Magdalene had little choice. She had no other place to go after the day was through and found it remarkably easy to simply sleep in her dressing quarters, slipping in and out of that wing of the opera house in the morning and evening without being noticed. It was in this way that she was able to save the small stipend she received for performances for food and clothing.
She should have counted herself lucky, not being caught trespassing after hours, but she never seemed to know when enough was enough. That's when she had met George. Magdalene had been out buying supplies one evening and found herself hurrying down the Rue Scribe back to the opera before the doors were locked for the evening. It was raining, the kind of rain that you couldn't avoid, the kind that drenched you to the skin as soon as you stepped out into it. Squinting through the deluge, Magdalene made out the shape of an oncoming brougham, its dim lamp struggling to light the way. Magdalene turned her head and kept close to the wall of the Opera house to avoid being splashed by the muddy water that overfilled the gutters. She was startled by the sight of two yellow, gleaming lights peering back at her through the iron gates along the alley. Eyes, she was being watched!
Magdalene stopped in her tracks and wiped the rain from her brow in order to see better. She bent low and came closer to the gate but could see nothing but the yellow glowing eyes in the darkness. With her forehead nearly pressed against the iron bars, she was unprepared for the eyes to suddenly lurch forward toward her. Gasping she fell backward onto the sidewalk spilling the contents of her satchel. She lost sight of the glowing eyes when an animal of some sort leapt from between the bars of the iron gate, over her prone form and into the street. The heart breaking sound of injury met her ears and she knew the brougham had not stopped. Turning around, Magdalene found the injured kitten lying only feet from where her outstretched hands had caught her fall. It was breathing hard and mewling plaintively, its rear leg twisted at an unnatural angle. "Oh no! Oh no no no!" Magdalene scooped the sodden kitten up and quickly checked it for other injuries. She gently deposited the little animal in her satchel to keep it out of the rain and abandoning the items that had rolled across the sidewalk ran with her new cargo the rest of the way back.
She had named the little kitten George. His splinted hind leg had healed well under Magdalene's care and sooner rather than later he was causing mischief. Pets were definitely not allowed in the opera house, especially pets that belonged to individuals living permanently in their dressing rooms. George had had more than one close encounter with the Head of the stage-hands, Joseph Bouquet. Bouquet hated cats and had chased the striped tabby out of the flies on numerous occasions cursing his species. George often went out into the opera house at night to hunt mice in the cellars but was always curled up on Magdalene's chest by morning, purring contentedly. This morning he had not been.
"Oh George, if you've gotten yourself into trouble again, I don't know what I'll do!" It was the truth, George had been one of her only friends and she simply couldn't do without him. Meg Giry had been her other friend. They had met during Magdalene's first rehearsal with the corp. Being the daughter of the ballet mistress, Magdalene had been hesitant to converse much with her at first, but Meg had proven even more mischievous than little George. Meg regaled her with tales of the Opera Ghost and the mysterious happenings around the opera. Some tales had been frightening and others hilarious. It seemed that the resident ghost held a measure of control over the management and even had a private box. During performances, Magdalene often found herself glancing up toward Box Five. She had never been superstitious and often laughed at the other ballet rats as they compared and traded their good luck tokens, but was always wary of the unknown. The box in question was not far from the corridor that housed her dressing room and she routinely passed it. It was not out of the ordinary at all, yet she never entered it. It seemed she was incapable of that one act of trespass.
"Well, perhaps I'll find you on the way to the ball. You can't resist a buffet," Magdalene sighed. Her missing kitten was putting a damper on one of her favorite nights of the year. Magdalene loved All Hallows Eve. The idea that for one night out of the year she could become something, someone else without question, made her smile. A night that she could forget her past and everything she lacked and make believe she was a princess or a fairy or an angel.
Or a monkey.
Magdalene gaped at the disaster that was the costume department. The ballet corp. must have swept through after rehearsal seizing any acceptable costume from previous productions. The only complete costume Magdalene could find that would fit her was that of a Persian Monkey. Well, it was something different.
Magdalene donned the little red velvet fez and vest combo. She laughed at the furry tail attached to the pants and clanged the tiny brass symbols together as she inspected herself in the mirror. She pulled her shoulder length auburn hair back into a pony tail and slid on the headband and ears that completed the look. "Jammes is going to have a field day with this one" she thought wryly to herself as she made her way to the entrance hall. She was excited to the see the gypsy tumblers, she hadn't watched a performance like that since her days on the Bay.