Sorry, this took so long! I know you have all been waiting for the conclusion to this story, and several of you have asked me recently if this would ever get finished. Well, here it is now the long-awaited update, the end of this adventure. I hope you will enjoy it, and those who have not done so yet, are encouraged to check out my new story, "So Lost, So Helpless", which is about to get interesting.
I thought this chapter would be much shorter, but then I got carried away writing some of the scenes and this is now actually one of the longest chapters of this story and certainly an extremely long epilogue. I still don't own anything or anybody, except for Gertraud and the kids.
Chapter 38 - Epilogue
The following May Christine made her debut at the Berlin concert hall. Accompanied by Erik on the piano, she performed a selection of new songs that he had written specifically for that occasion. Johann Lüders had of course once again bought the rights to those songs, and the songbook was due to be released the following week.
Christine's sweet voice and her soulful rendition of Erik's haunting melodies that spoke of love, tenderness and deep feelings with an underlying passion captivated the audience and turned the concert into a huge success for the couple. Christine had to do a few encores, the last of which was "Love Never Dies". That song had become something like the couple's signature song, and it was clear to everybody in attendance by the way the composer did not even look at the piano keys but had only eyes for his wife while playing the climactic final part, and the singer likewise lost herself in her husband's gaze, that this couple's love truly would survive anything, even death.
When at the end of the concert Erik announced that his wife was preparing another recital, this time with full orchestra, performing favorite arias from popular operas, he was met with roaring applause. Everybody knew that Mme. Dumesnil was a bit reluctant to commit to singing in a production at the Opera, since she had three small children, the youngest one only a few months old, though many theater lovers wished she would change her mind on that and hire a nanny for the children. But such a concert was a good compromise. It would give the music enthusiasts a chance to hear her soar above an orchestra and sing all those arias her voice was so well suited for, while she would still be able to spend time with the little ones.
What Erik had not said, was that he had promised Christine to sing at least one duet with her. So far, Berlin only knew him as a gifted composer and pianist, and Christine was determined to make the audience notice some of his other talents as well, and of course she loved singing with him.
The next day, Gertraud was coming for tea to celebrate the success of the concert with her friends. She brought her son with her as well. The transformation she had gone through was remarkable. Gertraud, who at one point had not been able to imagine herself caring for a baby, had turned into the most loving, caring mother, the moment her son had been born. She doted on little Lothar and could not bear being separated from him for more than a few hours. She therefore usually took the toddler with her whenever she made visits. Most of her friends were not too pleased with the baby's presence at their tea-table, but little Lothar was always welcome in the Dumesnil-household.
"You were exceptional last night," Gertraud told Christine, hugging her friend. "Heavenly, unearthly, sublime! It is a pity that you cannot be persuaded to perform at the Opera, but..." She looked at Amélie and Isabelle, who were sitting on the floor with their little brother and her own boy. "I understand," she reassured Christine. "I would not leave my Lothar for long rehearsals and performances either. And you have not one, but three children..." There almost was an undertone of envy in her voice.
The conversation was interrupted by the entrance of Darius, who now also doubled as butler. "Monsieur," he announced, trying to sound as dignified as possible, "there is a Monsieur Kaldenbück, who wants to speak to you in private. He is waiting in the music room."
Erik looked up surprised. They were not expecting another guest today, and while the name Kaldenbück sounded vaguely familiar to him he was not quite sure where to place the gentleman. Then he noticed that Meg had turned as red as a tomato and he grinned. "Would that be this Heinz fellow you are usually dancing with in most productions?" he asked her, finally remembering where he had heard that name before.
Meg turned an even deeper shade of red and nodded, unable to speak. Erik chuckled. "In that case I'd better go and see what he wants," he stated, winking at her. "He would not want to complain about you stepping on his feet or something like that?"
Once Erik had left the room, Christine hugged Meg. "This is serious then?" she asked her sister. "You and Monsieur Kaldenbück...?"
Meg nodded. "I did not know he would come today," she explained, "nor that he would come at all, but I hoped... Oh Christine, I love him so much! I finally understand what binds you and Erik together the way you are connected, and... oh, I think I would have died if Heinz did not feel the same way about me!"
When Erik entered the music room he found a very nervous young man, that had very little in common with the striking, confident dancer he remembered from Meg's performances.
"Monsieur Kaldenbück," Erik addressed his guest, "you wanted to see me?"
"Ah, yes,..." the young man stammered. "Please forgive me for coming here unannounced and making demands on your time, I am sure you have important things to attend to, more important than me, that is, and of course I am well aware that I am totally out of place, since we barely know each other, but somehow I felt like I had to know. The uncertainty is killing me, and even though my boldness in coming here may not yield the desired effect, at least I would know one way or another and could react accordingly..."
Erik smiled. It was obvious that the successful dancer was madly in love with Meg and that the uncertainty had turned him into a nervous, babbling wrack. Apparently love made men lose their common sense and confidence. He remembered only too clearly how stupidly he himself had acted when he had first fallen in love with Christine and how close he had come to losing her forever. If the Vicomte had not died when he did... Erik did not want to think about what kind of poor, solitary life he would have had then.
"Calm down, Monsieur," he reassured his visitor. "You have nothing to fear. You are not interrupting anything important, and I am pleased about this chance to get to know you a bit better. I understand you work with Meg a lot?"
Heinz Kaldenbück nodded. "Yes, Fräulein Marguerite is an exceptionally gifted dancer and it is a joy to work with her. I know it is presumptuous, considering that my family is only middle-class, while you are the most acclaimed musician in Berlin, your stepdaughters are nobility and your family is received everywhere, but ..." He blushed. "Forgive me, Monsieur Dumesnil, if I am too bold, but your esteemed niece... I can only feel complete with Fräulein Marguerite by my side, and I came here to ask you..." He breathed deeply, and summoning all his courage he continued. "I wonder if you would allow me, since you are her closest male relative, and to judge from your songs, you understand... I mean, I want to ask your permission..."
"To officially court Meg?" Erik tried his best to keep a straight face at the nervous bubbling of Meg's suitor.
Heinz nodded. "And to ask her..."
Erik seemed to give this some thought. "What does Meg say about all this?" he then asked quietly. "Does she know about your intentions, and more importantly, does she return your feelings?"
Heinz fidgeted. "I certainly hope so," he then said uneasily. "I mean, I wanted to ask your permission first before discussing this with her, but we work well together, she has attended the past cast parties with me and I have invited her to a coffee house once or twice and to dinner – all in plain sight, of course, and in reputable restaurants," he blushed. "Though not quite with a chaperone in attendance, but in the theater, this is not customary..."
Erik smiled inwardly, thinking of the night he had revealed himself to Christine and taken her to his lair. Surely he had compromised her worse then, than the innocent dinner or coffee in a crowded restaurant could compromise Meg.
"Then why do I not ask Meg to join us here so that you may find out her opinion on this?" Erik suggested, pulling the bell to summon Darius. When the latter entered, Erik told him to kindly ask Mademoiselle Meg to see him in the music room, and a few minutes later, Meg appeared. She blushed deeply when she spotted Heinz and looked uneasily from him to Erik and back.
"Thank you for coming so quickly," Erik addressed her, his face unreadable. "Monsieur Kaldenbück here needs to discuss something with you, and I think it may be important for you to hear him out."
Meg beamed. Erik could not fool her. If he allowed her to talk to Heinz, he approved. She impulsively hugged him. "Thank you," she whispered.
Erik smiled. "Good luck, little Meg," he whispered back. "You have chosen well." Then he released Meg and pushed her towards Heinz. "When you are finished talking, maybe you would have some tea with us?" he suggested, then left the room. He went to join Nadir, the ladies and the children in the parlor and informed them that chances were high there would be an engagement to celebrate soon.
Half an hour later, Meg and Heinz followed, hand in hand, their faces beaming and their lips swollen from kisses. Heinz smiled at his bride, then turned to Erik and Antoinette. "Monsieur Dumesnil, Madame Giry, Fräulein Marguerite has done me the honor of accepting my proposal of marriage. We kindly ask you to give us your blessings."
Antoinette looked at the young man, whose eyes were shining bright with love for her daughter and hugged him. "My son, I see that my Meg is happy, and your love for her is obvious. See to it that she remains that happy for the rest of her life," she said.
Erik added with a twinkle in his eyes, "and remember that I might have to kill you if you make her unhappy!"
Everybody laughed and congratulated the newly engaged couple. Heinz felt very welcome in the family and was shocked, when Erik took him aside and informed him of the sum he had intended to give to Meg as a dowry. "Monsieur, that will not be necessary," he objected, "We both make a decent living with our work!"
Erik smiled and with a meaningful look at Christine and Gertraud, who had both picked up their young sons, feeding them minuscule bits of sponge cake they had dipped into milk, while Amélie and Isabelle watched in awe, as the two little boys mumbled the cake, he retorted, "I am not sure Meg will be able to dance much longer after the wedding... "
In the meantime, Gertraud, who was bouncing her chubby toddler on her lap, whispered to Meg, "don't wait too long with a baby. I could not imagine me with a child, and now that I have my little Lothar I know that I was a fool to wait so long. You may not believe me, but being a mother is the single most gratifying achievement in my life." She enviously looked at Christine's three children, before adding, "I understand now, why Christine decided to go through all the discomfort of pregnancy more than once and I..." She blushed. "Once I have completely weaned Lothar... Albrecht and I think a little girl might be nice..."
Meg blushed deeply. She loved Christine's children and Gertraud's Lothar and had always thought that one day she might have children of her own as well, but now, that she was engaged, she realized that this wish might come true in the near future. A baby that was both hers and Heinz's! The thought certainly appealed to her.
News of the engagement between Erik Dumesnil's niece and the head dancer of the Opera soon made their way around Berlin and Erik agreed to host a garden party in honor of the newly engaged couple. He knew that he and Christine owed many of the leading families an invitation. So far he had been reluctant to have a major event at their home, since he still feared the spotlight which might make someone realize that there was something wrong with his mask-covered face, but the fact that at this particular event everybody would be focused on Meg and Heinz, gave him the courage to risk it.
This time, Christine, Antoinette and Meg helped out in the kitchen the day before the party, making sure that all the food that could be prepared in advance would be ready, and the day of the event itself they decorated the garden with garlands, bunting and paper lanterns that Erik had designed for that specific occasion. The garden looked like something out of a fairy tale, once everything was in place and the three ladies in their beautiful new dresses seemed like enchanted princesses to Erik and to Heinz, who had arrived half an hour early, so that he could greet the guests together with his fiancée and her family.
Heinz brought with him his parents and two younger siblings. His brother Werner was twenty, and little Lisa at fifteen barely old enough for such an evening event. Heinz's father, a teacher at the elementary school in a little village just outside of Berlin, and his wife were overwhelmed by the apparent wealth of the new relatives, but Erik soon made them comfortable by mentioning that his father had been a simple stone mason.
The Reifensteins were next. Albrecht gave the hosts an apologetic look. "I know this is no event for children, but Gertraud insisted on bringing him..."
Christine smiled at Gertraud, who had little Lothar in her arms. "Come Gertraud," she told her friend. "We'll put him upstairs in Gustave's room. Colette will be keeping an eye on the children, and the two of us can take turns sneaking up and checking on our little ones."
The engagement party went extremely well and everybody agreed that the Dumesnils were not only incredibly talented musicians and very nice people, but also great hosts, who knew how to organize a large event. The food was exquisite and those decorations! They had never before seen anything like that, tasteful, yet strikingly beautiful.
When asked about a wedding date, Meg and Heinz looked to Christine and Erik for approval and then revealed that they had hoped they could get married in the fall. "October would be great," Meg explained, blushing. "Rehearsals for La Sylphide started on October 20 last year, that's when I first met Heinz."
Heinz nodded at her. "I had heard a lot about the fabulous new ballerina, but you had only danced in Faust before, where I did not have a part, so I had not met you yet. I came to rehearsals not knowing what to expect and there you were, doing your warm-up exercises, your hair put up in a bun of gold, and I knew immediately that I wanted to get to know you better."
Meg giggled. "I certainly had no idea you felt that way about me. Those first few weeks you barely dared talk to me, but when we danced together, when you held me or caught me after a jump, I felt a connection between us, and I hoped that you would feel it too."
They looked at each other, forgetting their guests and the world around them, until Erik cleared his throat and announced that October 20 sounded good to him as a wedding date.
"Will you give me away, Erik?" Meg asked.
Erik hesitated. He was not sure he wanted to be that much in the spotlight. "I had thought I would play the organ," he muttered sheepishly, "and maybe Christine could sing.." He looked at Christine for help.
"We'll think about it," Christine smiled at her husband, then turned to Meg. "Maybe we can find a way for Erik to do both..."
Two weeks later Christine had her opera concert with full orchestra. After a glance at the program booklet, the audience frowned. They had expected this to be a solo concert by Madame Dumesnil, but there were several numbers on the program that did require a tenor. Well, maybe not "E´strano" from "La Traviata", for there was a concert version of that scene where the violins could play Alfredo's part, but what about "Ma un'iri di pace" from Verdi's "Masnadieri" and "Tornami a dir che m'ami" from "Don Pasquale"? Those doubtlessly were duets. Who would be singing those with her? No tenor was mentioned in the program. Everybody was wondering what this oversight could possibly mean.
"Maybe they are trying to promote an unknown new singer," one lady suggested, "and did not want to use his name on the program, because it might have turned people away."
"Or maybe it's a huge-name celebrity," an elderly officer in uniform chimed in, "and they want to surprise us. We'll just have to wait and see."
Somebody noticed surprised that while they could see Meg, her fiancé Heinz, Antoinette and Nadir with Madame Dumesnil's young daughters in the audience, Monsieur Dumesnil could not be spotted. "He is probably backstage with her," a young girl said dreamily, "they seem so much in love..."
At that moment, the conductor entered and the concert began with the madness scene from "Lucia di Lammermoor". Once Christine ended on an incredibly pure high note, the audience broke into frenzied applause and could not seem to stop. Never before had they heard that particular song sung that well and that expressively. "Sombre forêt" from Rossini's "Guillaume Tell" followed and was equally well received, and then everybody was holding their breath. The long scene from "La Traviata" was next, and this would most likely be the piece revealing the identity of the tenor who would be singing the other two duets with Christine as well.
To their disappointment the tenor did not appear, but just like in the opera, where Alfredo's voice is being heard from outside, he seemed to sing from backstage, yet his voice beautifully carried into the main auditorium and enchanted the audience just as much as Madame Dumesnil's. His voice was just as unique as hers, warm, rich, melodious, seductive, and it complimented her voice perfectly.
Roaring applause once again broke lose after the pair finished. Christine smiled at the audience, then made a gesture indicating that she wanted to say something. When the applause died down, she addressed her audience, mischievously asking if they were not curious to meet the wonderful singer, who had just been Alfredo to her Violetta, then added, "may I introduce to you, my favorite duet partner, my former voice coach and husband, Erik Dumesnil!"
Erik entered from the right, thus making sure that his left side was facing the audience, and embraced Christine. Then the orchestra set in, and looking at each other, their profiles turned to the audience, they sang the next duet.
The next morning newspapers were full of praise for the exceptional concert by the Dumesnil couple, stating that not only did Monsieur Dumesnil's voice match the level of excellence of his wife's soprano, but the two voices also blended together wonderfully in the duets, thus creating the most harmonious sound, and more than one reviewer wished the couple would grace the stage of the opera house together.
In October, Heinz and Meg got married. Christine had found a lovely church, where the organ was situated next to one of the side altars, so Erik could do both, give Meg away and play the organ, while Christine sang a beautiful solo right after the couple exchanged their vows. There was a small reception for Meg's and Heinz's colleagues from the theater right after the wedding, and in the evening a wedding dinner for the closest friends of their families. Gertraud and her husband were of course there, as was Gertraud's mother and the Lüders couple.
A blushing Gertraud confided to Christine and Meg that she had just had confirmation from the midwife that a little sibling for Lothar was on the way. "A little girl would be nice," she told them, but I won't mind if it's another boy."
Around the new year, Meg and Christine both found out that they were expecting as well, and roughly four months after Gertraud's daughter Rosemarie was born, Meg gave birth to her first-born son, Klaus. Christine followed two weeks later with another girl, Madeleine Gertraud, named after her paternal grandmother and her godmother.
Once little Madeleine was starting school, Christine, who had done a few more concerts over the years, finally returned to the stage, playing Elyssa in a new production of Chalumeau's Hannibal. She never worked full-time at the Opera again, but agreed to appear in one or two productions every year. Erik was asked repeatedly to play the tenor part opposite his wife, but he always declined, saying that his composing and concert performances did not leave him enough time to attend rehearsals. He did do the occasional duet with Christine at one of her concerts, though.
Since Meg had a second baby only 15 months after her first one, she never returned to the stage, but like her mother before, began teaching the ballet rats. Her husband Heinz danced for a few more years and then went into teaching as well. Gertraud and her husband remained the closest friends of both, the Dumesnils and the Kaldenbücks, and several years later, it was one of Gertraud's rather exclusive afternoon tea-parties, where Amélie Dumesnil-de Chagny, accompanied on the piano by her stepfather who also was her adoptive father, gave her unofficial debut as a soprano, and another year later, she sang Pamina to her mother's Queen of Night in the Berlin opera's new production of "The Magic Flute". The moment it became clear that Amélie had inherited not only her mother's talent, but also her interest in singing, Erik had started tutoring her just as he had done for her mother so many years ago. When Erik came backstage after the performance to congratulate his two songbirds on their success, Amélie hugged him. She brought tears to his eyes when she said that even though she had loved her real father very much, she could not have wished for a better one than him, and that if she could choose herself a father among all the men on this world, she would still pick him. When Christine snuggled up to him and their other children surrounded them, the former Opera Ghost knew that he had found his place in life. He did not mind the struggles and sufferings of his early years anymore, for they had ultimately lead him to this great day, to the love he received from his family and the appreciation and respect he encountered everywhere he went.