Chapter 9

I woke up with a pounding headache. What on earth had happened? I was in my bed at Madame Delphine's, still in my costume for the masquerade, and I had a headache that was threatening to break my skull to pieces.

I lay still trying to remember. Slowly, the previous night came back to me. I had been at the masquerade, and apparently, I had had too much wine. Wait a moment, hadn't there been a wedding? Or had I dreamed that? I would have to find out. Looking at my left hand, I saw there was no ring. Did that mean that it hadn't happened?

A knock at the door sent my head pounding into three-quarter time, and I groaned, calling at the same time for whoever it was to come in.

Jacques. Oh, fabulous. "Good morning, monsieur. How are you feeling?"

I glared at him. "I feel positively horrendous, Jacques, and I think I spent the entire night having the strangest dreams. Can you tell me what happened, because I don't know for the life of me."

"There was a masquerade last night, monsieur," he began.

"I know that," I snapped. "What happened at the blasted masquerade?"

"There was a game that you married the little mademoiselle, but after they announced it a game, the demoiselles left, and you had a good deal of wine, muttering something about 'murdering the hyenas in their beds.' Madame Delphine slipped a little something in your last glass of wine so you wouldn't murder anyone."

I reflected on this. It had been prudent of her to make sure I wouldn't murder anyone. With Jacques' words, I remembered what had happened. Jeanette had been teased a great deal by the other guests once the mock-marriage had been completed, and I had been ready to kill once I had seen how unhappy they had made her. I was still ready to kill, but I doubted that Jeanette would like to hear that I was a murderer. The "real" marriage, our declarations of love, and our plans for escape had been only my nighttime fantasies.

Damn.

Well, that wasn't going to stop me. First thing (once I got my traitorous head to stop pounding) would be to see Jeanette and Claudia. I had a feeling that they would like to hear what I had to say.

Space

I found them both in the schoolroom, despondently reading a book. Neither of them looked as if they had slept very much.

"Are you all right?" I asked, taking an empty chair.

Jeanette looked at me with red-rimmed eyes. "Yes, just a little too much party last night, that's all, and a little too much of Mamma's guests."

Claudia groaned. "I am never going to one of those wretched parties again, never! The butler told me that champagne was good, and now I have a headache."

I fought down a chuckle at her abject misery, but she looked so funny draped over the back of her chair! That could hardly be a comfortable way to sit, yet she seemed not to mind it.

"Well, I came to see you both, because I have an idea."

This caught their attention. I continued before they could look away from me.

"Do you want to remain with Madame Delphine? Or would you prefer to live somewhere else?"

Jeanette dropped her book while Claudia left her chair and came to my side. "What do you mean?" Jeanette breathed, as if hardly daring to hope.

"I mean that I will take all three of us away from here, and I'll find you a place to live wherever you want. If you like, we could stay together, or I'll make other arrangements for you. I have a feeling you aren't happy with Madame Delphine."

Quickly I learned why so many bachelors remain so. Jeanette launched herself at me and locked her arms around my neck, weeping into my shoulder. Claudia was unable to reach my neck to do the same, so she satisfied herself with my elbow and wept into it. I was terrified, and I did not dare move for fear of upsetting them further. I'd had no idea that women could cry so much, and I still had no idea if they were glad or not.

Jeanette's next words settled my worries. "When---could we---l-leave?" she gasped out.

"As soon as you like," I answered. "You won't be able to take much with you, but I can make sure you have plenty of what you need or want."

Claudia shook her head. "That's not important. We'll be going, Jeanette! We'll be going at last!" Unable to stay still, she danced about us, clapping her hands in joy.

I chuckled, unable to help myself. She looked like a tiny fairy, skipping about like that. Jeanette's tears at last ended, and I offered her my handkerchief. She took it, smiling her thanks and mopped at her face. "What time will we be going?" Jeanette asked.

I couldn't resist being melodramatic. "Will midnight suit? Will that give you enough time to prepare?"

She nodded, still mopping at tears that would not stop. "I hope you don't misunderstand these tears, Monsieur Erik," she said, catching yet another. "They're tears of relief and happiness, and nothing more."

"It's all right," I assured her. "I understand completely, and I understand your feelings. After tonight, you'll have someone to help you through any worry you have."

She laughed, still streaming tears. "I think we had you from the moment you discovered us," she said, laying a gentle hand along one side of my masked face. That tiny gesture sent my mind to float somewhere up above the clouds as my heart began to thud in my chest. I stared into her eyes as she gazed into mine, and I was certain that in her eyes I saw a vision of heaven.

Claudia, of course, broke the spell by wrapping her arms around both of us and giving us hugs that would have broken our ribs had she been any stronger. Gasping, Jeanette took her hand away and laughed at her sister when she said, "Jeanette, may I take my doll?"

Jeanette and I assured her that she could.

Space

While the two young ladies made their preparations, I made mine. We would need transportation, and we would need somewhere to stay once we got to Paris. From Paris, we would go to wherever the girls wished to go. Using the secret tunnels, I made my way down to the stables and selected a carriage and two horses to pull it. We would take a circuitous route in order to throw off anyone searching for us, by first heading away from Paris, heading north, doubling back, and then heading into the city from the northern entrance.

Once we arrived there, where could we stay? I doubted that people were still patrolling the cellars looking for me, but would it be safe to go there? More so, would Madame Delphine think of searching for us there?

An inn or hotel? Could we go to someplace like that without trouble? Hmm.

The day passed swiftly, and only an onerous supper that Madame Delphine insisted I attend marred the day. I left it when they pulled out cards and bottles of wine, saying I had no feeling for game or drink, and they let me go without a murmur.

Thank goodness. It was already half-past eleven.

I made my way to my room, grabbed a cloak and hat, and made my way into the tunnels. The intersection of my tunnel and the tunnel that led to the stables was our rendezvous, and I waited breathlessly for the girls. What if they had been delayed? What if someone had gotten wind of our plan and decided to stop our meeting?

Before I could become too worried, I spotted their candle coming towards me and I heard Claudia's whisper of "Monsieur Erik?"

"Here I am," I whispered back. "Are you ready?"

"Yes," Jeanette answered, and they both came close enough for me to see. Between the two of them there was one old carpetbag and their cloaks.

I had timed our departure to coincide with the tolling of the great clock in the hall. I planned to pull away from the house as it was chiming, and hopefully we would not be heard. If we were fortunate enough for them all to be too drunk to hear us, then all the better.

We reached the stables, and it was the work of only a few minutes to hitch my chosen horses to the carriage and to get it out into the stable yard. I could hear the gaming going on inside the house, and there was a great deal of raucous shouting as I stowed the girls inside our conveyance. At the first chime I swung myself up onto the box and tapped the horses lightly with the whip. Nothing loath, they pulled us away from the house, and within a minute we were out of the gates.

Our ride to Paris was almost like our escape in my dream. We rode through the night, and after miles of countryside, the first environs of the city loomed above us out of the darkness. We clattered through the cobbled streets, passed couples or groups of people, and as we passed the Opera, we met with a very welcome surprise. I almost didn't see the figure in a dark dress, but she saw me.

"Erik!" Madame Giry cried. "Erik!"

I was so surprised that I actually stopped the carriage, and in the next moment, I had swung myself to the street and was embracing her.

"Madame Giry! How did you know it was me?"

"I'd recognize you anywhere," she answered. "What are you doing in Paris? The police might see you!"

How could I explain that I had fallen in love again and that I and two young girls were planning on leaving the next day? Somehow, I managed to convey all of this to her, and I was so surprised when I received a sisterly kiss on the cheek.

"I am so glad!" she said, holding both of my hands as Jeanette and Claudia left the carriage to see what had happened. "Are these the mademoiselles?"

I nodded, introducing them. After the usual "pleased to meet yous," I asked her if the Opera was safe for us.

She shook her head. "Not the cellars, but one of the empty dormitories might be. It's the off season now, and all of the performers are either visiting friends or family or they're out all the time. A lot of the dormitories are empty, and it is only Meg and I tonight."

After stashing the carriage and horses in the Opera stable yard, Madame Giry took us inside and led us through the corridors to the dormitories. I fought down an urge to turn towards Christine's room, reminding myself sternly that she was no longer in my life. I had thought that I still loved her, but that night, I realized that I had wanted to go to her room out of force of habit. This realization was so surprising that I smiled in relief.

After showing us into the north dormitory, Madame Giry fetched us sheets, blankets, pillows, and then she brought us a pot of tea and something to eat while I lit the gas lamps and turned them up. Without a word, Jeanette and Claudia made up three beds for us as Madame Giry set a table for tea.

"Why are you leaving that woman now, Erik?" she asked as we sat down.

I considered how to answer this, not wishing to embarrass the girls. I was saved from answering by Jeanette.

"My sister and I felt that it was time to leave, Madame," she said. "And we asked Monsieur Erik to travel with us."

"And where will you be going?"

I smiled. "I don't know if we've decided yet."

"Jeanette and I talked about it," Claudia said, stirring sugar into her tea. "We've thought about Paris (but we're already here), Avignon, London, Florence, Rome, Brussels, Berlin, Prague, Moscow, and just about a million other places; but we still haven't decided."

I blinked. Well, they certainly had an idea of where they wanted to go. The only question was where we would start!

"Well, there are other places," Madame Giry said, smiling playfully. "There's Africa. Or South America, or you could go to India or China or somewhere else."

At mention of those places, Claudia's eyes gleamed.

We kept chatting of possible destinations, and once it became apparent that Claudia was all but asleep, Madame Giry insisted we all go to bed. She fussed at all three of us, drew curtains around the girls' beds and mine to keep off drafts, and she told us that she would wake us in the morning. She left us after whispering to me, "You'd better write to me, you wretch, you! I've been worried sick!"

Marveling at how she could still forgive me murder, I went to sleep, listening to the girls whisper.