Soo... you are anxiously waiting for certain people to meet again? Soon, I promise. In the meantime many thanks for reading, reviewing, favoriting, alerting. This story is already rather successful and C & E have not even met again!
For your information: I am back to work tomorrow, so no update of either story then, but I am still hoping to update "Love That You'll Regret" on Saturday, as usual.
And I still don't own anything or anybody!
Chapter 6 – Berlin
When Christine first heard about Raoul's new posting to the Embassy in Berlin, she was not quite sure, how to react. She was scared at the thought of moving her whole household, of going to a town, where she knew nobody and would be unable to speak the language, of having her children grow up away from their home country.
"Is this.. I mean, do you really have to go?" she asked Raoul cautiously.
Raoul was prepared for her lack of enthusiasm, for the doctor had warned him that his wife might not be too excited about a change of scenery at first. "The Vicomtesse is still very lethargic, she has not fully recovered her strength yet," the doctor had said. "She will be wary of the disruption that this move to another city will cause to her life, yet it is important for her to make that move, to get away from this place where she almost died, to meet new people and see new things. If she is reluctant to go, find a good reason for her that she will be able to accept," had been the doctor's final advice.
Raoul had therefore come up with an argument that he knew Christine would not be able to dispute. "Well," he said slowly, "as you know, I am an active Navy Officer, and have been granted prolonged leave of absence due to my marriage. But I was told now that I had to resume my duties, and I could choose between a posting aboard a ship bound for the Antarctic, in which case I would not have been able to see you or the children for over a year, or this position in Berlin, where I can take you all with me." He smiled at Christine. "I assumed you would prefer the second option, so I accepted the position in Berlin. Or would you have rather seen me leave for the Antarctic, the country of perennial winter?"
Christine forced a weak smile on her face. "I guess we have to go then," she said resignedly. "But I fear it will be very confusing for the children. Amélie has barely learned to speak her own language, now she will be surrounded by people speaking German, and Isabelle has not even started to speak yet. How will they react to the fact that the words we use are not understood everywhere?"
Raoul laughed. "Oh Christine, if I remember correctly, you had no problems keeping French and Swedish apart, when you were a child. You always found the right words when talking to me, even though your father often spoke to you in Swedish. Why should our daughters be any different? They will deal just fine, just like you did when you were little."
Christine knew she had lost the argument and that there was nothing else she could do to avoid this huge change in her life. She therefore tried to get used to the fact that their little family would be moving to this foreign city within a few weeks. Christine began reading books about Berlin, learning as much as possible about the city, she even got herself a German dictionary, she decided together with Raoul what to pack, which servants to take with them, and began to organize many more details for their imminent journey to Prussia.
Raoul noticed to his immense relief, that the doctor had been right. Far from being overly taxing for his still somewhat convalescent wife, the preparations for their move to Berlin seemed to have an invigorating effect on her.
Another month passed till everything was taken care of and the de Chagny-family finally left France for Berlin in early November. Christine was almost as excited as Amélie about traveling by train. Raoul had made sure that they had a whole sleeper compartment to themselves, so that his wife and daughters would have all the comfort they needed. They therefore enjoyed the journey, and Christine and Amélie seemed almost disappointed when it was over and they arrived at their destination.
In Berlin, the family was met at the station by a small delegation from the embassy who welcomed their new Defense Attaché to Berlin and organized several carriages for the family, their accompanying servants and their luggage. To Christine's joy, they did not have to live within the large, rather intimidating-looking embassy building, but Raoul had rented a small villa for them at the outskirts of Berlin, in the Wannsee-district, which was about to become the most popular living area for the elegant society of the Prussian capital.
Amélie squeaked with delight, when she saw the large garden of their new home, and Christine was equally happy with the villa Raoul had chosen for them. They would be able to feel at home here. They might even be able to recapture their dream...
The first few weeks in Berlin passed quickly. Christine was busy getting her new home organized, unpacking everything, making lists of what else was needed, hiring additional servants, and exploring the garden and the immediate surroundings together with her daughters and the nurse.
In early December, the embassy was hosting a huge ball. Raoul, who had already earned the ambassador's respect with his hard work, was told that he and his wife were expected to attend. "It will be an excellent occasion for you and Mme. de Chagny to make some acquaintances here," the ambassador told him. "This ball is always well attended by the crème de la crème of Berlin's society. Anybody with any influence of any kind will be there, and of course you will also meet members of the other diplomatic missions."
Christine was not too happy with the idea of attending the ball. She had not been to any huge festivity since her wedding more than three and a half years ago, and even before then, she only ever had been to the Opéra Populaire's annual New Year's Eve Masquerade, which was very different from the elegant events that were popular among the French nobility. She had a feeling as if she might be incredibly out of place at such a ball. Not only did she not speak the language and would therefore not be able to talk to anyone, she was not even sure if she knew enough of the proper etiquette to fit in.
Raoul laughed at her concerns. "I do not speak German either," he told her. "But everybody here speaks French anyway. French is the language of diplomacy and the preferred language of the European nobility. You will be perfectly able to talk with the other ladies – assuming that you will have time to talk," he added, "for I have a feeling that my beautiful wife will be dragged to the dance floor by every man in attendance."
Christine looked scared again. She did not want to dance with strangers. She wanted to dance with her husband.
"I would like nothing better than to dance with you all night," Raoul tried to make her more comfortable. "But unfortunately, that would be considered rude. I will have to dance with a large number of ladies, and of course, other men will ask you for a dance."
Christine sighed. She knew already that she did not like society-life, but she also understood that she would have to play along and follow the rules.
Raoul bought Christine a wonderful new ball-gown for that event, of deep midnight-blue silk, which made her chocolate brown eyes stand out like two burning stars. For the ball, she was wearing a sparkling sapphire necklace with matching tiara, both items part of the de Chagny family jewelry.
Christine knew that she looked beautiful, when she entered the ballroom on Raoul's arm, but she was also very nervous. This was her first big event in the foreign country, her first big event period, and she did not want to have people laugh about her behind her back. "I do not want to ruin this for Raoul," she thought. "I need to be careful not to make any mistakes, to be accepted here. His career might be at stake." She remembered what Raoul had told her about the alternative to accepting the diplomatic post. "If Raoul has to serve aboard a boat again and be gone from us for months, even years..." she thought with a shudder. "I need to make sure that he can remain in the diplomatic service..."
At first everything went smoothly. Raoul introduced her to the ambassador and some of his colleagues, and after Raoul had danced the first waltz with her, the ambassador asked her for the next one, then she danced with another member of his staff.
"Darf ich um den nächsten Tanz bitten?" (May I ask for the next dance?) Christine stared at the young German nobleman, who had politely asked her that question. She nervously played with her fan, then took a deep breath, summoned all her courage and said, "Je suis désolée, mais je ne parle pas allemand. Pas encore." (I am sorry, but I do not speak German, not yet.)
To her relief the young man continued in perfect French. "I am sorry, Madame, I did not want to make you feel uncomfortable by speaking a language you are not familiar with, I was only asking you for the next dance. Please say that you will accept to show me that my faux-pas is forgiven?"
Christine smiled and danced with the young German, then with another and another. She was beginning to enjoy herself. She learned a lot about Berlin, for as soon as she mentioned to her dance partners that she and her husband had arrived in Berlin only a few weeks ago, they were all eager to recommend places she should go to, things she should do in their city.
"Albrecht, you bear," a pretty young blonde, not much older than Christine, suddenly addressed the man Christine had just finished a dance with and who was about to lead her to the side of the dance floor where some of his friends were waiting, hoping for him to introduce them to the beauty on his arm. "You are not planning to lead Madame back to other potential dancers, she needs some rest and refreshments. You should lead us to the buffet and get us something to eat and some champagne." She turned towards Christine. "Forgive my manners, my dear," she said, "you have of course no idea who we are. I am Gertraud von Reifenstein and this is my husband Albrecht."
Christine smiled. She liked Gertraud von Reifenstein's direct way of speaking. "Christine de Chagny," she introduced herself. "My husband is the new French Defense Attaché here in Berlin."
Gertraud returned the smile. "I knew I had not seen you here before, so you must be new to Berlin," she commented. "This must be overwhelming for you, so many people here and you probably know just a handful of them."
Christine nodded. "Yes, I have only been introduced to the ambassador and some of his staff members so far, and their ladies, of course, but other than that, I do not know anybody here."
"Then you are in desperate need of making new friends," Gertraud remarked. She ordered her husband to bring them each a plate with assorted delicacies and a glass of champagne, then she lead Christine to one of the small tables. "Let's sit down and rest our legs for a while," she suggested, "and let's also get to know each other a bit, while we are waiting for Albrecht to get our food."
The two ladies chatted about this and that, and it turned out that they found each other quite likeable. Gertraud was surprised to learn that Christine already had two daughters. "You are about my age," she said. "I am twenty-two, and even though I got married three years ago, I do not have any children yet. Imagine, having a daughter at such a young age, one might have to act as ball mother when one is barely above thirty! How come you already have two?"
Christine laughed. She was happily married, but she could not quite imagine what she would be doing with her time without the children. "I love my daughters," she said, "and I am happy to have them. I never thought about the problem you just mentioned, but I guess I will have to cross that bridge when I reach it, although, back home, my girls won't have that many opportunities to attend balls, since we live in the countryside, in Brittany, by the sea. It is lovely there..." And Christine talked about the beauty of their little village back home, where she and Raoul had spent the first three and a half years of their marriage.
Gertraud shook her head. "That sounds like the perfect place for a vacation," she smirked. "Where you can go in the summer when it is too hot in town and pretty much everybody is away, but in winter, when the "season" is in full swing, and there are balls and dinners and receptions and afternoon teas almost every day, and the theaters are putting up new productions and special performances, and there are concerts.."
Gertraud stopped in mid-sentence, as if overcome by a sudden idea. "Do you like music?" she asked Christine.
Christine's eyes brightened. Music! When had been the last time she had listened to any music? Other than the dance melodies tonight? Oh, how she loved music! She was suddenly very much aware of how much she had missed it and she began to wonder if maybe music had been the element that had been missing from her life? She pondered that question for a few moments, unable to come up with an answer. Then she smiled at Gertraud and nodded eagerly. "Yes," she said, "I do like music very much, my dear papa..." Christine looked away to fight back tears that were about to form in the back of her eyes at the memory of her long-dead father. "My father used to play the violin," she explained, once she had regained her composure.
Gertraud was impressed. "So you come from a musical family," she exclaimed. "I bet you have some musical talent as well. Do you play an instrument yourself?"
Christine shook her head. "I used to sing," she said hesitantly.
"You sing!" Gertraud exclaimed in delight. "How wonderful! I hope I will get a chance to hear you sing soon!"
Christine declined politely. "I am afraid it's been a long time, and I am probably horribly out of practice. You see, when I got married and had my children..."
Gertraud laughed. "Didn't I tell you you should have waited with children?" she joked. "Of course pregnancy will have certain effects on you, and I bet it takes a while to get your muscles and everything back in shape. But you could start singing again now. I bet a few lessons with a good teacher would be all that's needed to get you up to speed again."
For a brief moment Christine thought of – him - , the only voice coach she had ever worked with. Then she shook her head. She could not imagine taking lessons with anybody else. He had known and understood her voice, nurtured it over the years. And she was also not sure how Raoul would react if she told him she would like to take up singing again. "I am not sure I am ready for singing just yet," she said lightly.
"Anyway," Gertraud continued, "it is something you should think about. I do host regular afternoon teas and sometimes soirées with musical entertainment where myself and some of my friends perform, and I would love to have you sing at one of these sooner or later. I am sure you would be an asset to these events. But there is something else I wanted to ask you," Gertraud continued. "Can you keep a secret?"
Christine stared at her. "A secret?" she asked curiously, "what kind of a secret, and why do you ask?"
"I am dead serious," Gertraud replied. "I want to discuss something else with you, but you must promise first, that you won't tell anybody, and I mean anybody. You should not even tell your husband."
"I cannot promise that without knowing the nature of your secret," Christine said honestly. "What if you are telling me about a political secret that is vital for Raoul to know about, or something else that would require somebody's intervention of some sort..."
Gertraud laughed. "Of course it is nothing like that, but if it were widely known, my next afternoon tea would be overrun, and I promised I would have ten, twelve people there at a maximum. And our men are all making fun of us ladies already, because we are so taken with ..." She looked at Christine. "I swear to you that it is nothing dishonorable to keep this particular secret, but I would really, really love to have you there. You would be the twelfth lady, and you being French and all that, it would be perfect. So, do you promise?"
Christine hesitated again. "Why do I have the feeling as if you were trying to persuade me to do something that is a bit risqué?" she asked.
Gertraud laughed. "Unless you are totally different from all the other women I know, the only thing at risk will be your heart," she whispered, "so, please, say that you will keep the secret!"
Christine was getting curious, and she knew that her heart was not at risk, for she was happily married. She knew that she would be faithful to Raoul, no matter what. "I promise," she said with shaking voice.
"I am so glad!" Gertraud exclaimed. "I herewith officially invite you to my afternoon tea the day after tomorrow." She gave Christine the address. "We start at four o'clock, be there on time, for I expect a very special guest. He does not make many social calls, this may only be his second one after the phenomenal success he had with his piano concerto last spring. He also performed two of Mozart's piano concerts at the concert hall in September, and he is the most romantic man you have ever met. I swear to you, you will be totally impressed with him. All our men think we are crazy for swooning over him like that, which is why we do not tell them we are going to meet him. He has only agreed to play the piano for my small group, because my mother went to the same finishing school as Mrs. Lüders, the wife of his publisher. In a word, you are getting a chance to meet Erik Dumesnil."