At last, Dear Reader, we reach the end of the tale of Ariella, the tragic figure destined to find love! If you have enjoyed this (or not), please let me know! And for more stories with this Christine and Erik, check out the story of their meeting, in Through A Mirror, Darkly, and their adventure with M. Claudin in All Hallow's Eve.
Hmm. There certainly do seem to be a lot of Ghost impersonators running about my Opera... I wonder if Erik isn't getting a bit fed up?
Chapter Seven: The End
A theatre, even one as large as the Palais Garnier, is like a city: there are always voices. Even in a small theatre, performers find quiet spots to hunch over a script and mumble their lines, stagehands enjoy a break and a smoke in some forgotten corner, trysts are kept.
In a theatre the size of the Garnier, there are so many, many more voices: ballet girls whispering to each other, firemen calling to each other on their rounds, the old door closers mumbling to themselves as they shut out the drafts that can harm a singer's delicate throat.
And like a city, the voices soften to a general hubbub, ignored as one ignores one's own heartbeat, save for the quiet depths of night.
Or when one hears one's own name.
Before I had even really realized that my name had been spoken, I had unconsciously stepped closer.
"But her voice… screechy… loud…" another voice complained, indistinctly.
Screechy? Loud? I glanced around. The corridor I was in was narrow and unadorned, but there was a properties room just ahead. Whoever it was, they surely must be in there. I hesitated a moment, torn between irritation and curiosity on the one hand, and the fear of being caught doing anything so low as eavesdropping on the other, before curiosity, or irritation, won out. As silently as I could, I crept closer.
"—of the purest voices around." Those gravely tones had to be Gerard, I was reasonably certain. I felt slightly mollified at his praise. "Besides, it's opera! That's what it's supposed to sound like."
I suddenly felt less mollified.
"But I don't think I could ever sing like that! I don't even know if I want to sing like that." Was that—Ariella? I could almost hear the pout.
"I don't think you could, either. But your voice…" Gerard's voice was so soft that I could barely hear it. He murmured something else, too low to hear, and I caught myself inching closer to the door way yet.
I stopped, blushing guiltily. If she were here with him, especially in this quiet side corridor, then she must be meeting with her Ghost. I crept away, not wanting to spy any further on the lovers.
I felt slightly queasy at the thought of spying on someone, anyone, even if they were discussing me. But at the same time, I had to admit, I was hurt that she thought so little of my voice. I suppose that it was no surprise, then, that she had been so uninterested in the warm-ups I had had her do for her 'audition' for the Ghost. She must have been afraid that they would make her voice too loud and screechy as well.
I half-regretted my curiosity now. Certainly my irritation had not subsided. Well it was said, indeed, that those who eavesdrop rarely hear anything complimentary about themselves!
I was still a bit miffed when Ariella returned to my dressing room to gather up my costumes after that afternoon's dress rehearsal, but she seemed so subdued that my curiosity once again got the better of me. "Ariella?" I asked. "Is everything all right?"
She chewed her lip a moment before facing me. "I'm afraid…" She paused, lifted her head, a little, and began again. "I'm afraid, Madame, that I must be leaving you."
I eyed her slightly. "If you want the rest of the day off, Ariella, you have only to ask. I'm sure we can make alternate arrangements."
"No—No, Madame. No, I mean—I'm leaving. The Garnier. Forever."
I have to admit, my heart leapt at her words, although I tried to keep a calm mien. "Leaving? When? Why?"
"I—" She blushed. "I will never be an opera singer," she told her feet; "and I'm not sure that I want to be an opera singer. It isn't—It isn't what I thought it would be."
She peeked at me and grinned slightly. "I don't think that I have the patience to work so hard for so little reward," she admitted. "And I don't—I like my voice the way it is." She blushed again, and grinned at her feet. "And—And so does he. We're leaving. Together."
"Oh, Ariella! That's wonderful!" I was genuinely happy for her; I couldn't resist giving her a hug and telling her so.
She clutched me tight for a moment. "Oh, Madame, I am going to miss you, though!"
I smiled and stepped back as she quickly dashed the brief tears away. "I'm going to miss you too, Ariella!" I told her, and found, almost to my surprise, that it was true. "So, tell me all about it," I added, sitting on my sofa and patting the cushion next to me. "Where will you go? What are your plans?"
She almost bounced down next to me, her faced wreathed in bright smiles. "Well! It ends up that his father was a carpenter, so he knows the trade quite well. We're going to move to Normandy—I think he still has some family in the area—and find a quiet little cottage by the ocean." She squeezed my hand. "Oh! And I'll still sing—I love it, you know, even if I'm not opera material—But I can sing in the cáfès there, and bring in a few extra coins that way—At least until… You know. I can't." Her grin was slightly wicked. "And I'll sing in the choir on Sundays, of course, and he can open a small shop and build cabinets and beds and—and bassinets, and things…" She blushed again, and looked at her hands. "And someday I really think he'll be all right with leaving the mask off." She sighed, a little dreamily.
"That sounds wonderful," I told her, and it did. I thought of the pretty little cottage I shared with my own Opera Ghost, and the lovely garden, and couldn't help sighing a little too.
"When are you leaving?" I added after a quiet moment.
"In a few days time—perhaps the end of the week," she said. "I was all for leaving tonight, but he said he had arrangements to make, so…" She shrugged.
"It'll seem like forever, I know," I commiserated.
"Yes, but it'll be worth it, knowing that at the end of it, I'll spend eternity with him!"
She was looking into eternity, and didn't see me roll my eyes. Perhaps I wouldn't miss her quite so much…
I was just locking the door of my dressing room behind me when Gerard wandered up. Well, perhaps sauntered would be the better term. Even for Gerard, he looked unusually pleased with himself. "Hello, Gerard," I smiled at him. "Come to say goodbye?"
"She told you, did she?" His teeth flashed in the dim corridor as he grinned. "Yes; I ought to be able to get everything straightened out with the managers by Friday, I think. You know. Severance papers, all that."
"Of course." I grinned back at him, and allowed myself a small moment of satisfaction. "I'm very happy for you both. You have my best wishes in your new life."
"Well, we couldn't have done it without you. I don't know if I'll have a chance to see you again before we leave, so I just wanted to stop by and say goodbye. And thank you."
"Oh, Gerard, you're very welcome." A sudden thought struck. "You aren't going to return the mask, are you?"
"Well, I can't, not really. I have to keep wearing the bloody thing for at least a little while longer." He grinned again. "You should have seen her face when she snatched it off. I thought she was going to faint!" He chuckled. "I had to start shouting at her—I have no idea what I said—or I was going to hurt myself trying not to laugh! She looked so… so…" He gestured vaguely, still chuckling.
"Well, apparently you made it very believable," I giggled. "She was quite concerned for you, you know! I believe the word tragedy was used…"
He laughed out loud at that. "Well, I'm glad I pulled it off, then. Ah, it'll be nice to go back home. I like it well enough here, but I do miss the ocean sometimes. The Seine's just not the same."
"You'll be marrying soon, then?"
"Yes, as soon as we arrive there, I think. Or perhaps we'll stop at a little church on the way…"
"She'll need a wedding dress, then."
"Um. Yes, I know."
"Do you know if she has anything yet?"
"Um. Well, I do, sort of…"
"Oh?" Curiosity bit me again. "May I see it?"
"See, the wig's all curly," he mumbled, not quite meeting my eyes as he threw back the veil, "But it's the darkest one I could find quickly. You know. That wasn't Egyptian. But I think the fit will be pretty good…"
I forbade to remark on the mannequin he had dressed in the wedding ensemble, and I most especially did not ask him how he had managed to carry it all the way down here to his 'lair' without being seen. "It's… quite lovely," I said instead.
"You don't like it."
"No, I think it's quite lovely," I assured him.
"But it's not quite somehow right, is it?" he asked mournfully. "For her, I mean."
"It is a bit subdued," I admitted.
"Subdued! Yes! Of course it is!" His face brightened at once. "There must be something else…"
I thought for a moment, and then smiled. "Do you remember the production we did of A Midsummer Night's Dream?" I asked.
"What, you mean the one with the boat?" he asked, glancing at the bed.
"No, the ballet. I think it was a few years before that one. Do you remember?"
"Um. Not really…"
"Titania's dress from the celebration at the end would be perfect."
"Well, then!" He offered me his arm with a small bow. "I insist that you guide me to it."
"Erik," I couldn't help twisting my handkerchief nervously as I approached him. I waited until he looked up from his book, and sank to my knees beside his chair. "You do know that I love you, don't you?"
He regarded me fondly. "So you keep insisting," he smiled.
"And you know that I would never… step out on you."
He sighed. "Has this anything to do with that idiot dresser of yours?"
"You'd better tell me all about it, then."
I bit my lip, but told him of the engagement, and the subsequent discussion of an appropriate dress.
"And you were caught liberating it, I suppose?" he asked, somewhat wryly.
"No! No—Well, yes, the costume mistress did sort of—trap us in there. But Gerard managed to slip away behind her while I distracted her. I think he got away."
"Then I fail to see the problem."
"Well… I think… she thinks that I have a—a lover." I blushed, and gazed at my knotted hankie.
It was the Voice; I didn't need the slight pressure of his finger beneath my chin to feel compelled to raise my eyes to his. "Yes, Mast—Erik?" I winced at my slip. It was hard not to think of him as my tutor when he used the Voice.
"Open your eyes and look at me," he commanded softly.
I did so, and stared into his golden eyes, barely a foot from mine, for almost a full minute before he dropped my chin and his gaze.
"Do you see?" he asked me softly.
"See what?" I asked, confused.
"What did you see, when you looked at me?"
He sighed. "Even now, you don't flinch away from me," he said quietly. "You see me in all my hideous glory, and you are puzzled when I ask what you see. I know you haven't cuckolded me," he added, in something closer to his normal tone; "If nothing else, I know you have far higher standards."
I smiled at his own slightly wry grin, and dropped my gaze again.
"None of that," he commanded; "Come here!" He opened his arms wide, and I enthusiastically flung myself into his embrace. "Besides," he murmured against my hair, "I was there, at least for the mask. Did you really think I would let you wander about the Opera with that grinning booby unaccompanied?"
My only reply was to hug him tighter, relieved.
Much later that evening, when the conversation resumed, he asked me, "So, was it worth it?"
"Oh,definitely," I assured him, snuggling closer.
"No, notthat." He kissed the top of my head. "The dress. Your reputation. Was it worth it?"
I sighed. "I'm not sure yet. I don't know how soiled my reputation is, yet. But it really is a lovely dress… all layers of pastel gauze, and the beaded bodice… Really, I'm sure she'll like it much better than the dress he had picked out for her."
"Plain, was it?"
"No, just ordinary."
"Ah." He paused a moment, then said, half to himself, "I think I shall have a word with the managers."
"But, Erik!" I sat up in horror. "No one's worn that dress in years; she'll never miss it—!"
He laughed, and pulled me back down. "No, silly goose," he said, kissing me again, "I mean about his severance. With a wife in the wings, I think I can persuade them to be a bit more generous than usual."
"You're sure? You'd do that for them? I though you didn't particularly like them?"
"I don't," he retorted. "But think of it as a wedding gift. From us."
"That's very sweet of you, love."
He snorted. "Anything to ensure that they never return!"
So there you go! I hope you have enjoyed this little romp of nonsense. I'm reasonably sure we haven't seen the last of Erik and Christine. Ariella and Gerard, though, I think I will leave to their new life together. You all know how it ends, anyways: They get married in a lovely little church high on a wind-swept cliff, he goes back to work for his father, and they move into a lovely little cottage. When his father dies (peacefully, in his sleep), Gerard will take over the shop. The extra income will come in handy; Ariella is quite the hit at the cafes with her folksongs, and has many good friends (one of whom is probably named Meg) in the church choir, but will eventually have to stay home to attend to their numerous children, all of whom will inherit their parents' good looks and, luckily, not their singing talents.
Gerard will eventually have to add several bedrooms to house them all, and they will live together, simply and happily, well into old age.
He won't ever tell her about the deception, though.
Thank you for all the kind reviews! Every one brightens my day.