Category: Book, Phantom of the Opera
Summary: A touch of Leroux, a hint of Kay. Post Leroux, Nadir convinces Erik to use the services of a matchmaker, meeting a widow who enjoys Opera.
Disclaimer: It was a momentary madness spurred on by Nadir...I swear! Thanks to Leroux and Kay for their inspiration and people who find mature love as poignant and painful as it is for teenagers.
Part One: Matchmaker
The outer office was tiny, dim, and smelled of cigars. At the desk sat a bored looking young man who read the names off the list for the next person to go in. Across from where she sat was a row of chairs with two gentlemen and another woman who were also waiting their turn. Occasionally the inner door would open, disgorging another hopeful prospect that had come to secure the services of the matchmaker.
It had been over three years since her husband had died after a series of strokes. It had been easy to seclude herself in her despair; Germans overrunning Paris, a new Communard government, and their subsequent removal from power by a hail of bullets and a new regime in again. The later part of the century was not looking to be a pleasant time to live as a widow.
She'd left the little town she knew and moved to Paris to get a job at one of the factories. It was back breaking and demeaning work, but paid enough for her to share a small miserable walk-up with four other women of her circumstance.
As one of the woman always chatted up a store clerk, she managed to bring home the latest Paris paper. One evening, sitting before the fender of their tiny coal fire, she burned a lamp and read over the advertisements from that paper, and made note of an unusual matchmaker's claim to match up any one no matter the circumstance.
Taking fate into her own hands, she now sat in the office waiting her turn. She was finally ushered in after sitting for nearly an hour, watching several men and a nearly hysterical woman take their turns. As she brushed past the woman, she blathered something about "hideous…oaf….arrogant…." All the things Mirielle Montalais was not hoping to find in a suitor.
The man in the careworn suit behind the desk waved her to a chair with a cigar. Sitting on the edge, she folded her hands over her bag and waited for him to begin. He flipped open a folder "Widow, forty-one years old, adult children, one grandchild, now residing in Paris, job at the mill." He flipped to another sheet "hmm. Um hummm…mmm…, music…oh! You like Opera?" He suddenly lit up.
"Yes, Monsieur," she replied, was that so unusual? "My husband played violin you see."
He jumped to his feet and went to a blackboard on which a calendar had been sketched. "Can you be available next Tuesday," he asked.
Surprised, she replied, "I think so."
"You think so," he fairly tsked. "Is Madame willing to meet a man or not?"
She hated people pressuring her; really she was just off guard. She raised her chin a notch, "Of course, Monsieur."
"Very good! I will let your prospective gentleman know," he grasped her hand, helping her to her feet. "He's a bit eccentric, but he really is quite a gentleman, and commands quite a lot of resources," he winked, "if you understand my meaning." He hustled her to the door. "We have your address; we will let you know at what hour he will call."
He gave her a little push towards the outer door and spun quickly to his assistant, "Claude, she likes Opera!" The younger man's eyes grew big as dinner plates. He started searching through papers on the desk and handed one to his boss, as the man opened the outer door and shoved her through it.
"Goodness" she protested as she lurched to a stop on the sidewalk, straightening her hat. Things had certainly changed since the last time she had been to a matchmaker.
Erik grumbled as the Persian once again tried to adjust his cravat. "Can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear."
Exasperated, the swarthy man before him stopped and lifted his hands in an imitation of a prayer to his Islamic God. "You doom your evening before you even begin. She might be a very nice woman. Here you start with this attitude of yours, and she'll be miserable inside of ten minutes!" He pursed his lips. "At least give her a chance, Erik."
Erik flung a hand up in an impatient gesture. "Faugh! I could be working on the cantata." He stalked off muttering to himself.
The Persian followed, brushing the shoulders of the dark coat the man had put on, removed any specks, and handed him his cape and hat. Now he knew how parents must feel, dressing up one of the children to go courting.
"She's probably another one of those ninnies that cowers in the corner begging to return to the coach and leave." He did take a fraction of a second longer in front of the one mirror that he had allowed into the house by the lake. It was in the room where he had put Christine. Under his mask the thin lines of flesh that served as his lips worked silently. 'Please, God, at least let this be painless.'
Mirielle waited outside her building, dressed in the one good dress she had brought with her. The other women had pitched in, offering a beaded bag, and a hat with a small dark veil, and a nice broach. She watched the coaches travel by, waiting for the one that was to pick her up. She had glanced at the note several times for the two previous days:
You will be picked up at seven o'clock by my carriage.
Be prepared for dinner.
There was no signature, so she didn't even have a hint of a name to put to this gentleman. The man at the Matchmaker did say he was 'eccentric'. What exactly did that mean? In manner, in dress, in the way he conversed, or was he just one of those odd men that defied description? She sighed; at least it was a start.
An impressive pair of white horses slowed in front of her, the large highly polished side of a carriage appeared, the driver getting down, doffing his cap and offering her a hand into the carriage. She took it a little shyly, where she was from there were no fine carriages of this sort. She felt like Cinderella and wondered if at midnight this would disappear leaving behind a pumpkin.
The inside was dimly lit, but she realized that there was someone else inside with her. She sat back and waited, because a gentleman should do the introductions first. "Good evening, Madame," came her answer in a smooth masculine voice. He was dressed all in black, a long cape folded carefully around him, white gloves and gold cufflinks winking at the base of his sleeves. A lighter colored cravat hugged his throat filling in the area above the vest, and a very large brimmed hat dipped over his face.
"Good evening, Monsieur," she relied. She placed her hands on her lap and laced the fingers together. Goodness! He was dressed so finely, she hoped he would not be embarrassed at her plain attire.
Erik had only managed to get a quick look at her as the coach had pulled up. She was not an uncomely woman; she stood expectantly in the dimming light of the autumn evening. Not too tall, or too short. She seemed to have all the right womanly curves, although corsets were renowned for making temporary improvements. Her hair was a dark color, carefully arranged under a charming little hat-he approved of the veil. "I had planned to take you to dinner at the Chartier by the river, do you know of it?"
"I am very new to Paris, Monsieur. I haven't had a chance to go much of anywhere yet." In fact on her salary, the local coffee shop was as exotic as she could afford. He didn't seem to want to say anything else; she hoped she had not sounded rude or ignorant. "I am sure that if you recommend this establishment, that it will be fine."
She glanced out of the window and saw the buildings fall away to reveal a park along the bank of the Seine. The carriage pulled to a stop, and the door swung open. Once again the driver handed her down from the carriage. She heard her companion exiting the coach, and turned to wait.
He stepped up next to her, not too close; the hat still tipped down obscuring his face, and offered her his arm. She glanced down shyly and slid her hand around to grasp the arm, her other hand lifting her skirt enough to pass over the sidewalk unhindered as they made their way to the door of the restaurant.
Inside, one of the waiters nervously checked his watch and saw the coach pull up. "They're here," he shouted, scurrying back to the kitchen. The staff had already dimmed most of the house lights and hurried the previous diners out. This man always reserved the house for the evening, expecting the utmost of service and a discreet staff. The table was towards the back, the window drapes were closed. The staff formed a line in the kitchen as their maitre d' walked forward at a stately pace like a man ready to greet a king.
The doorman held the door upon, and she caught her breath as she was ushered into the most sumptuous room she had seen in her life. Beautiful brass and gold plated fixtures, elegant gas light sconces, a dark burgundy patterned wall paper, drapes hung with large golden tassels and a thick dark carpet. She was steered to a large table whose ivory expanse was set with gold tableware and crystal goblets at the two place settings.
The maitre d' pulled out her chair, seating her after she was released by her gentleman. She sat down carefully, putting her bag down on her lap. She glanced quickly at the crystal and gorgeous porcelain.
Inside the kitchen the staff held their breaths watching the clock; smelling salts in hand, expecting the first screams.
Out in the dinning room, her gentleman crossed to the opposite side of the table, waiting for the maitre d' to leave the room. In an amazing display of coordination and showmanship, her gentleman stepped back, swirling his cape, dropping it onto a nearby chair.
He paused, and then reached for his hat. Almost painfully slowly, the hat came off, descending to reveal a head the seemed to be covered with a sparse array of brown hair, and then revealing an expanse of white material, two openings for the eyes, and finally stopping in a line that revealed his mouth.