Of Lilac Trees and Scarlet Scarves
A/N and Disclaimer: This little R/C one-shot popped into my head ages ago when one of my voice students was working on the song "The Lilac Tree" by George H. Gartlan. One day I thought that the song was so like Raoul and Christine, and this fic started writing itself in my mind. The idea came and simply wouldn't go away, so even though I normally write E/C, I decided to jot it down. I dedicate this story to my husband, who is an R/C shipper, and to all of the other R/C fans out there. Enjoy this little bit of fluff. Raoul and Christine belong to Leroux and the song lyrics to Gartlan. The characters of their grandchildren and this story are mine. "The Lilac Tree or Perspicacity" was published in 1920, making Raoul and Christine in their late 50's at the time of this story.
Summary: Years after the events at the Opera, Raoul and Christine are babysitting their grandchildren. She sings them the song "The Lilac Tree" and Raoul tells them the tale of a similar scenario, years ago on the beach, when a young Raoul rescued Christine's red scarf from the sea in order to win a kiss from her. But will they get the children to bed before their parents get home? Leroux based R/C fluff.
"A little boy and a little girl, in an ecstasy of bliss;
Said the little boy to the little girl, 'Pray, give me just one kiss.'
The girl drew back in great surprise; 'You're a stranger, sir,' said she,
'And I will give you just one kiss when apples grow on a lilac tree.'
The boy felt very sad at heart; she was the only one.
And the girl felt quite remorseful at the terrible wrong she'd done.
So bright and early on the very next morn, he was quite surprised to see
His little sweetheart standing in the garden, tying apples on a lilac tree."
As the last notes of the song drifted away into silence, two pairs of little blue eyes stared up at me in wonder.
"Sing another one, Grandma. Oh, please!" exclaimed the oldest of the two girls, Greta, who was sitting beside me on the piano bench. Her younger sister Anja was resting in her grandfather's lap as he absently skimmed the evening paper. The child had been nearly asleep, but now her eyes were wide and pleading.
"Tell us a story!" she begged. "We can't go to bed without a story."
I opened my mouth in an attempt to protest. After all, our son Philippe and his wife Sonja would be home at any moment, and the children had already stayed up past their bedtime. But Raoul joined in as well, setting aside his paper.
"That song does put me in mind of a story," he said, the eyes of the little boy I had met so many years ago sparkling in his age-worn face. So, I would have to be the adult here. I attempted to glare at him, but ended by giving in with a smile and a sigh, spinning on the bench to face him as Greta had already done. Still, I shifted my eyes between the children and the nursery, hoping that he would pick up on the hint.
"Now, this is a real-life story, not a 'once-upon-a-time' story," he told the children. We had always made certain to differentiate between the two, first to our own children and now to their children. Experience had taught us too well the dangers in store for a child whose head is filled with legends of fairies, goblins, and angels without knowing that these stories are not real.
"One day, many years ago in France, there was a little boy named Raoul."
"That's you, Grandpa," Greta interrupted, clapping her hands with glee.
"Yes," I hushed her. "Listen."
"He was staying with his aunt at Lannon," he went on, smiling at Greta, "but his governess had taken him to the little town of Perros-Guirec for some fresh air. He hoped to play by the sea and perhaps bring back some pretty shells for his collection, but he quite forgot about the shells and the sea when he heard some lovely music in town. There was a fiddler and his daughter playing and singing some old Scandinavian tunes. The girl was about his own age. She was very pretty and she had a voice like an angel.
"After they had finished their little concert they moved on and repeated it for a new crowd down the road. Raoul followed them, dragging along his governess despite the poor woman's grumbling.
"At last they arrived on the beach. The fiddler was talking with some grown-ups, so Raoul took the chance to talk to the little girl.
"He told her his name, and she told him that she was called Christine." Greta looked up at me and grinned, but did not interject her realization this time.
"'You have a very pretty voice,' Raoul told her.
"'Thank you,' said little Christine. 'Papa taught me to sing.'
"'Where are you from?' asked Raoul. 'I've never heard the language you were singing in before?'
"'Sweden,' said Christine. 'I was born there. My mama went to heaven when I was only six, but then we met the Valeriuses who took us to France with them. Now it's rather like I have a new mama and two papas.'
"'My mama died when I was born,' little Raoul told her.
"'Oh, how dreadful!' Christine cried.
"'But it's alright,' Raoul assured her. 'I still have Papa and my brother Philippe—who is much older than I am—and my two sisters Eleonore and Jocelyn and Aunt Sibylle who I'm staying with this summer.'
"Christine smiled. 'My mamma made this scarf for me,' she said, showing him a pretty red scarf she had tied around her neck. 'It was very big on me at first, but now I'm growing into it.'
"'It is a pretty scarf,' Raoul said, admiring it. 'I like red a lot, but blue is my favorite color.'
"'Mine too! We have a lot in common,' little Christine said.
"'We do,' agreed Raoul. And then he couldn't help but say what he was thinking, 'May I kiss you?'
"Christine was shocked and her eyes grew wide as saucers. And then she laughed. When she saw that she had hurt her new friend, she said, 'I don't think you should!' And she looked nervously at her papa, who was still talking with some grow-ups. 'We hardly know each other. But…' she added, her eyes sparkling with a new idea, 'you may kiss me if you do something very brave.' She was thinking of the many fairy tales her papa had told her, and of course the prince always kissed the princess after he did something brave for her.
"Raoul was still a bit sad, but he stayed for their next concert, always keeping his eyes open for the chance to earn that kiss. When they had finished their last song, Christine joined Raoul in gathering some shells. Their hands were getting full though. She decided that they could wrap the shells in her scarf, and had just taken it off to try to tie it into a make-shift bag. Suddenly a high wind came along and snatched her scarf from her."
At these words, Raoul winked at me. Then he took Anja by the waist and flew her around the room like the scarf on the wind. She giggled, and Greta and I joined in the game as I scooped her into my arms as well. They landed close to the nursery door, and Raoul gave me a knowing smile before continuing his tale.
"Christine gave a cry and reached out her arms, but the scarf was already gone, far out on the waves. She ran to her papa with tears in her eyes. Then she heard a voice say:
"'It's all right! Don't cry. I'll go and fetch your scarf out of the sea.' And Raoul ran as fast as he could into the cold water after that pretty red scarf. He grabbed it tightly."
Again Raoul took little Anja in his arms, and I picked up Greta, pleased by his clever plan. Together we carried them to their beds and tucked them in as he concluded the story.
"When Raoul got back to the shore, he was a soaked, and so was the scarf. His governess made a great fuss, but Christine just laughed and skipped up to him. She kissed him on the cheek and took the sopping wet scarf and rung it out. The two became great friends, and then one day when they were much older they married and lived happily ever after."
"Goodnight girls," I whispered, as we kissed them in turn. "Sleep well."
And with that, we tiptoed into the drawing room. Anja was nearly asleep again, and Greta looked as though she would not be far behind. As Raoul and I sat side by side on the loveseat, the sound of humming drifted from the nursery. Greta repeated the tune I had sung once, began it again, and then the sweet sound tapered off.
We sat in comfortable silence, my head resting on his shoulder as he read the paper, until the door creaked open with the return of our son and daughter-in-law. We spoke in hushed tones, telling them that the children were sleeping and said our goodnights.
Then we made our way to the door, where Raoul helped me into my coat, finishing with a peck on the cheek as he tied a familiar, worn scarlet scarf around my neck.