Erik continued to build his small financial empire in the mornings, while devoting his afternoons to music. He and Meg regularly attended performances at the French Opera House. By late summer, two of his instrumental compositions were a part of the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra’s repertoire. As summer turned into fall, he set up a scholarship fund with the Conservatory, which would pay tuition as well as room, board, and a small stipend for expenses for five talented but poor aspiring singers and musicians each year, who would otherwise be unable to continue their musical education.
In early October, following a consultation with a doctor, Meg hurried home with a big smile on her face to plan a particularly festive dinner. Erik returned from an afternoon at the Conservatory, where he could work on new compositions without disturbing his wife if she had callers, came in with a bouquet of roses as he often did. She smiled. “How was your day, mon coeur?” she asked, greeting him with a kiss.
“Productive,” Erik answered with a smile and kiss. “After taking care of business, I finished a new piece for the Symphony, and I started work on a new opera. Although I admit, I am a little nervous about it,” he chuckled.
“Why would you be nervous?” she asked as she put the roses into a vase.
“Well… the story of it, I am basing it on what happened in Paris. Changing some parts, of course. The man haunting the opera house will be an actual wizard, or perhaps a demon. And the signature weapon will be something like a throwing knife with a distinctive pommel. The young singer will have joined the company at the age of sixteen, instead of in her childhood. And perhaps the suitor will be a marquis or even a duc, rather than a vicomte.”
She nodded. “Those are all good ideas. I think I prefer a demon over a wizard. And perhaps he should communicate with the owners through someone other than the ballet mistress? One of the cleaning women, perhaps? He either frightened her into submission, or else promised a rewarding future for her only child… I think that should be it. She has a son, who wishes to become a musician, but as a cleaning woman, she cannot afford an instrument or lessons. The demon supplies the boy with a violin, and coerces one of the violinists in the orchestra to teach him.”
He gave her a big hug. “That is perfect, Meg, just perfect!”
She laughed. “I am glad to hear I can still give you ideas. But come now, supper is ready.”
They moved into the dining room, where he noticed that unusual care had been taken with both the appearance of the room, and the meal brought in by the butler. “Is this some special occasion that I have forgotten?” Erik asked.
Meg smiled. “It is a special occasion, but not one that you forgot. This is the day you learn that you are to become a father.”
He nearly choked on his water. “A… a father? You are having a baby? My baby?” His eyes were wide with shock and wonder.
She nodded. “Yes. Come spring, the beginning of March according to the doctor, we will become parents.”
He jumped up from his seat to lift her into his arms and spin her around in delight. “Oh, cherie, this is wonderful, absolutely wonderful!” Suddenly he stopped and put her back down gently. “Oh, I am so sorry, I should be more careful now. I do not want to take any chances with your health and that of the child.”
Meg laughed softly. “Erik, mon coeur, you do not have to treat me as if I was made of glass. I am having a baby, the most natural of female talents. I promise, I am healthy and so is the child. I do not yet need to restrict any of my activities. In fact, the doctor suggests that I keep to my usual activities for the time being, as it is better for me and the baby. The only thing I must do differently is that I should begin wearing my corsets more loosely, and eventually I will need to give them up until after the baby arrives.” She chuckled. “As if that is such a hardship. Corsets are the one thing I hate about being in society, instead of in the ballet.” He laughed with her at that statement, and they spent the rest of the meal and the entire evening discussing their plans for the baby.
A couple days later, Meg wrote to Josie Tanner, Sylvia Sedgwick, and her mother to tell them the news. Since the day was pleasant, she decided to walk into town to mail her letters instead of hiring a cab. As it turned out, there was a letter from her mother awaiting her there, but when she emerged to head for home, she ran into a couple of her neighbors also out for strolls, and the three women decided to stop off at a tea shop before returning home. While Meg was eager to read her letter, she enjoyed spending time with her new friends, and they made their way back home slowly, chatting and pausing to browse if something in a shop window caught their eyes.
When she finally got home, she settled down comfortably on the veranda, a glass of lemonade at hand, and opened her letter.
My dearest Meg,
It still amazes me that you and Erik are married. I am glad for you both that you are happy, and even more glad to know that he is taking such good care of my little girl. I admit, I was scared for a time, when you first insisted on helping him leave Paris unnoticed and then when you chose to stay with him. But then I remembered the boy he was, and I knew you were correct in your belief that he was not so much evil as slightly mad from the isolation. You’ve done a wonderful thing, Meg, in drawing him into the world despite his face.
Christine Daae was here a week ago. Her vicomte had taken her to his mother following the events of that night. His parents insisted they wait several months before wedding, to allow her to recover from the fright she suffered, and to reassure themselves that she was not marrying their son out of gratitude for his heroics or some other foolish notion. She came seeking you, Meg, wanting to bid you a proper farewell as she intends never to return to the stage. I told her that you had eloped and gone to New Orleans to live. She told me then, Raoul plans on bringing her to America for their honeymoon, and that she would try to find you as New Orleans was on their itinerary.
I don’t know if you will choose to avoid her or not. But either way, I advise you to make sure she does not see Erik. She has changed, Meg, she is still very nervous, and convinced he will take her away if ever he finds her again. Raoul hadn’t wanted her to visit L’Opera Populaire, for fear she would have a relapse, and for fear that Erik might still be lurking about in the depths hiding even from me, and come after her once more. I trust in your judgment that he is over his obsession with her, but I know she would not believe it. Her vicomte is very protective of her, and if he learns Erik is about, it would not surprise me in the least if he was to make arrangements for Erik to disappear in one way or another.
I’m sorry that this letter is so full of gloom, but I felt that you
needed to be warned, in case they suddenly appear on your doorstep.
All my love to you both,
Meg checked the date on the letter, then on the postmark. As usual, it had taken a little over three weeks for delivery, which meant that it was more than likely that Christine and Raoul were already somewhere in America. She got to her feet, knowing that Erik needed to be told as soon as possible. Of all the days to have dawdled with Gabrielle and Lucinda, she thought.If I’d read the letter immediately, I could have caught him before he went to the Conservatory for the afternoon. I don’t like interrupting his time there, but he has to know about this right away. “Lizzie,” she called to the housemaid dusting the parlor, “I’m going back out. I’m not sure exactly when I’ll return, but it will be before the usual supper hour. If Cookie has any questions about the meal, she’ll just have to use her own judgment today.” Not waiting for a reply, she hurried down the front steps and turned toward the Conservatory, ignoring the newsboys hollering about a large fire in Chicago in their efforts to boost sales.
Unfortunately, she arrived too late.
Raoul and Christine de Chagny had already been to visit the French Opera House of New Orleans, as it was one of the city’s most famous structures. And that was where Christine had gotten the bright idea to start her search for her old friend Meg. “I’m sure she would still have an interest in the theatre,” she pointed out to Raoul, “even if she isn’t performing anymore. If her husband is wealthy enough, surely she will have persuaded him to give his patronage in some way. And if he is not, perhaps she volunteers somehow. Perhaps someone here will know.” And so she asked around, if anyone knew of a blonde Frenchwoman of about her own age; an old friend with whom she had lost touch for a time, only to learn that the girl had recently married and come to New Orleans, but she unfortunately didn’t know the name of her old friend’s husband.
The board member showing them about didn’t consider Meg Benoit as a possibility, as his idea of ‘recently’ meant within the last month or so. But, the newest of the dance instructors at the Conservatory was a married blonde Frenchwoman, and so he suggested they go there and inquire after Mme. LeBlanc. Thanking him for his suggestion, the de Chagnys did just that.
Christine left Raoul waiting in the Conservatory’s reception room while a student escorted her to the dancers’ practice studio. Her face was bright and eager in the hope of seeing one of her oldest friends once more. To her disappointment, though, Mme. LeBlanc proved to be some years older as well as taller than Meg. Still, she thought, I don’t regret coming to the Conservatory. In France, children with talent were brought into an establishment at a young age and trained there, with only the very best ever leaving the company to perform in other theatres. In America, it seemed that those with talent came to schools such as the Conservatory for their training, with many of them moving from theatre to theatre to establish their professional reputations. I like the American way of doing things, she thought. It encourages everyone to always be at their best. In France, it was far too easy to just do the minimum, because ‘everybody knew’ the star of any given theatre would be the star until she either retired or suffered an injury bad enough to force her offstage for more than a day or two. She paused to allow a group of students pass by on their way to their next class, smiling at their enthusiasm.
As she started to move on again, she heard a startled, “Mon Dieu!” in an eerily familiar voice. She looked up, into his face. She screamed in sheer terror, and then fainted.
Erik had just finished the opening scene for his new opera and decided to spend a few moments walking around the Conservatory to stretch his legs before getting back to work. To his complete astonishment, as he stepped into the hallway, he unexpectedly came face to face with Christine Daae. “Mon Dieu!” he gasped in surprise. She screamed, and then crumpled to the floor. He leaped forward and caught her before she hit her head, and lifted her to the nearest settee… in the reception room… as the hall filled with curious students and teachers drawn by the noise. He straightened and turned with the intention of fetching one of the female instructors to minister to her when something slammed into his shoulder and knocked him backwards. It took him a moment to register the blood and the searing pain, and a moment even beyond that to realize that he was momentarily deafened by the sound of the gunshot that hit him.
Raoul de Chagny bit off a curse when he realized he’d only wounded the monster that had terrorized his Christine during her last few months at the Opera Populaire. People were flooding the room; there was no way he could get off another shot. Damn the man for moving, and for his own haste in aiming. He cursed again as several young men tackled him, one wrenching the pistol from his grasp while others forced his arms behind him and tied his wrists with his own cravat. He was forced to watch as several women of middling years, presumably employees of the Conservatory, swooped in to flock around the beast and tend to his wound as best as they were able, while only giving his Christine a cursory glance. It makes no sense, he thought. Why would they be so worried about that monster? What sort of magic does he possess, to have so many people in his thrall? He had no more time to wonder, as the men holding him began dragging him to the door. He fought, but to no avail. Pushing and shoving, they moved him out of the Conservatory and down the road to the police station and lockup.