Le Cimetière du Père-Lachaise
October in Paris had always been a dull, dreary month filled with charcoal skies and the distant bite of winter, and this day was no different. Leaves rustled under the wheels of the chair as the Vicomte de Chagny was steered through the forest of stone monuments and sculpted angels that stood as final testaments to the mortal realm.
The hazy vapors of his breath in the bitter air danced painful spirals in front of his weary eyes, and the sting of tears closed his throat. He should never have had to make this journey…it should be she who still remained amongst the living and not buried amidst the silent sepulchers
Far too long since last we spoke, he thought bitterly, and never often enough.
He clutched at the music box in his hands, the beautiful carvings in the wood contrasting harshly with the eerie monkey atop. Oh, what those little glass eyes must have seen!
His chauffer stopped a few feet from the cold granite that loomed mockingly from the dust. The man bent to help his master with the strange offering, but Raoul waived him away. This one final act he must see to himself. On unsteady legs, he abandoned the imprisonment of his chair and took slow measured steps toward the memorial before him.
Comtesse de Chagny
Beloved Wife and Mother
The gravestone was a bitter reminder of all that Raoul had once dreamed for himself, yet he knew that the inscription had been carved as a testament to all that Christine had been in her life. Beloved wife of his brother, and beloved mother of their children.
She had borne Erik three healthy heirs, two daughters and a son, all of whom had been as beautiful as their mother, and as brilliant as their father, though Raoul still hesitated to issue the man such a compliment. Angelique, the eldest of their children, had enjoyed a long, successful career upon the stage of La Scala, and had only recently retired to a quiet life in Venice. Raoul rarely ever saw her, or her younger sister, Régine. Erik had always kept as watchful an eye upon his daughters as he had upon Christine. Their son, however, had settled in Paris some years ago, taking a French bride and assuming his position as the next Comte de Chagny. Gustave was a fine young man, and Raoul was grateful that he had been granted the opportunity to groom his nephew for his position as head of the De Chagny family. Such a feat had been accomplished entirely due to the influence that Christine had maintained over them all.
Erik and Raoul had never moved very far past their violent beginning, and it was only Christine's continued presence in their lives that had kept them civil. The Baroness d'Amboise, God rest her soul, had been true to her word, and with a single well placed announcement in the Époque, she had ensured that Erik was named as the rightful Comte de Chagny despite his reluctance to accept the title. He had been happy to return to Venice with Christine and move on with the life that they had made there together.
Christine had even returned to the stage for a time after the birth of their first child, and had not retired completely until she had been expecting their third. Erik's career as an architect had flourished in Italy, as had his music, and the De Chagny name and title had been merely a minor detail that he had only acknowledged in deference to his aunt.
Only in their later years, after the children had grown and established lives of their own, did Erik and Christine permanently return to Paris as the Comte and Comtesse de Chagny. By then, barely anyone had recalled the story of Christine Daaé or the Phantom of the Opera. Certainly, no one had associated the distinguished Comte and his regal wife with the dubious pair.
Raoul had remained the Vicomte de Chagny, as he would until his death, when the title would pass to Gustave. Unless, of course, Erik were to precede his brother to the grave. The winner of that little contest would be difficult to predict. Raoul's health had been failing for near to a decade now, but he had not seen Erik since Christine's death, and he knew from his nephew's somber reports that the Comte de Chagny was not at all well.
Erik's soul had died along with his beloved wife, and only his stubborn body had kept him tied to this realm. Angelique had taken her adored father back to Venice after the funeral, to the place where her parents had shared such wonderful memories, but by all accounts, Erik had nearly become the ghost that he had once pretended to be. He had not even managed to return to Paris on this most inauspicious of dates; the two year anniversary of Christine's death, which by a strange twist of Fate, one that Raoul had come to expect in all matters concerning his brother, coincided with the auction at the recently sold, unfortunately neglected, Opera Populáire.
Carefully placing the music box upon the edge of the tomb, Raoul straightened to gaze again at Christine's image set into the stone, forever capturing her beauty upon its cold, unfeeling surface. She had spoken of the music box to him long ago…when he had still clung to his delusional dreams of a future with her. Brokenly, she had described the way in which Erik's voice had been in sad harmony with the familiar tune as she had prepared to walk away from him. The man's first whispered words of love to her had been said in the presence of that little monkey, and Christine had later confessed to Raoul that the bittersweet moment would be forever burned into her memory. It seemed fitting, somehow, that he could offer the box to her now…a final acknowledgment of where her heart had always belonged.
She had led a happy life with Erik, and for that Raoul was grateful. He had not been nearly so lucky. Once, long ago, Christine had broken his heart with her inability to let go of her angel, insisting that Raoul deserved a woman who would love him above all else. She had never truly understood that he could never love any other woman above her. He had tried, of course, and had even briefly tasted happiness in the arms of another, but the affair had been ill fated from the beginning. His chosen mistress had never cared to stand in the shadow of his unrequited love for Christine, and had eventually left him for an adoring Baron nearly twice her age.
Raoul had eventually accepted his lot and married a proper young woman from amidst his peers, one who had looked lovely upon his arm and acted as a wife of the aristocracy ought, but the marriage had been cold and passionless…and to his everlasting heartbreak, childless, as well. His poor wife had not deserved her fate. She had done her best in a marriage to a man whose heart had forever belonged to one woman, and whose passion had been inspired by another.
His life had been filled with countless regrets and disappointments, and it had been no more than he had deserved for foolishly squandering every chance that he had been given. None of his wealth nor privilege had truly mattered in the end. His gaze journeyed again over the familiar features of Christine's portrait.
Goodbye, my dearest lost love. It shan't be long before I will see you once again.
He sighed raggedly, and just before he turned to leave, his eyes caught on a flicker of light and were drawn to an object that he had previously failed to take note of. There, upon the corner of the stone, rested one perfect, red rose…the stem tied with a familiar black ribbon from which a ring winked up at him. He could not fail to recognize the diamond. He, himself, had gifted it to Christine a lifetime ago. A parade of memories marched past his weary eyes, as vivid and painful as if they were happening in that moment.
Raoul held the diamond reverently, beaming at Christine as he took her left hand with the intention of slipping the ring upon her third finger, only to have her close her hand into a fist. "No, Raoul," she pleaded, "I mustn't wear it yet. Someone will see."
"Is that not the point? I want the world to know that we are betrothed."
"We must keep it secret for a time," she insisted.
"Promise me, Raoul," she begged with wide innocent eyes.
"Very well," he sighed, "I promise."
The Red Death stalked toward Christine at the Bal Masque. A moment of suspended silence wrought with tension stretched between them before the Phantom viciously tore the ring from her throat. "Your chains are still mine. You belong to me!"
The night of the fire…
Raoul struggled for breath as he helplessly watched Christine sacrifice herself to save his life. Wading toward the unmasked Phantom, she softly sang to him, "God give me courage to show you, you are not alone." The ring was slipped decidedly onto her finger in the heartbeat before she kissed him…the promise made.
The De Chagny Chateau…
"I shall have to buy you another engagement ring, my sweet little Lotte, to replace the one that was stolen."
"No, Raoul," she insisted adamantly. "I need no other ring but the one that will make me a wife."
"Whatever did become of the ring that I gave to you, Christine? I thought I saw it upon your finger on that Godforsaken night."
She sighed, "I returned it to Erik."
"But why? It was never his!"
"You would not understand…"
"But I want to."
"It was a promise, Raoul. One that I have since fulfilled."
Raoul could almost hear Christine's sweet soprano echoing on the breeze.
A promise, Raoul…
All of their lives had been shaped by that promise, and he glanced around the cemetery in search of his elusive brother. He thought that he saw a shadow flicker behind a distant mausoleum, and Raoul gave an imperceptible nod of respect as he returned his eyes to the rose. Erik's final goodbye to his beloved wife.
The two men had only ever admitted to sharing one thing in common…their love for Christine. She had touched them both indelibly, and now they shared their grief in the only way available to them. His eyes lingered on her marker as the chilled currents of air swirled around him, bringing with them the scent of roses.
The winter would come early this year.
Soon, Christine…we will both join you soon.
Author's Note: So concludes my humble attempt at explaining the mystery never fully explained. The ending is a bit bittersweet, but I wanted to tie it back to the movie.
A final thank you to everyone who has read this, and to all of my wonderful reviewers. I have truly enjoyed all of your correspondence. I hope to soon repeat the experience.