Chapter 20 - Sorrow
Nadir nodded slowly. "I think you are right," he stated, "and I am also convinced that Erik will prove himself worthy of your love. These horrors I told you about happened approximately fifteen years ago. When I helped Erik escape the Shah's wrath I made him promise that he would never kill another human being again. He kept this promise for over ten years, until Buquet." He sighed. "I am ashamed of my behavior now, but when Erik killed that man, I am afraid, I reacted very much like you. I immediately judged him. I thought that he had reverted to his old ways and that a human life did not mean a thing to him."
Christine looked at Nadir, puzzled. "You doubted him as well?" she asked. "Did you confront him then?"
Nadir looked down. "I went to his lair a few days later and told him my opinion of people who break their promises, letting him know in no uncertain terms how disappointed I was." Christine gasped. She now knew how heart-broken Erik had been at that time after having seen her with Raoul on the rooftop of the Opera Populaire. How would he have reacted to Nadir's reproaches?
Nadir noticed her reaction and smiled. "He was in a foul mood," he confirmed. "Of course I had no clue about what had happened between the two of you, but when I mentioned Buquet, Erik started to rage. He screamed at me that the man had been a danger to him, that he had stalked him, that he already knew too much and talked too much, that Erik had asked his friend Antoinette to tell the man off, that she had warned Buquet to stop his stalking, more than once, but that Buquet had not listened to her. He had continued to spy on Erik and as Erik had been up in the cupola of the auditorium to interrupt the performance, complaining about Carlotta and the fact that his box was occupied, Buquet had seen him and followed him. The two had run into each other high up there in the rafters and it was obvious that only one could get away alive. Erik had decided that he wanted to be that one."
Christine beamed at Nadir. "So it really was self-defense," she stated, though it sounded almost like a question. "He told you so?"
Nadir nodded. "It was self-defense. He asked me who I would have rather seen dead that night, him or the drunk lecher, and I had to admit that in this one case I had to forgive him for having taken his aggressor's life. But then," Nadir shuddered. "Then Erik stared at me and said that maybe he had been wrong, that maybe it would have been better if it had been him falling to his death that night. That maybe then his sufferings would have been over, that a monster like him, an outcast, had no business walking the Earth and being treated like dirt by normal people…"
Christine paled. "Because of me," she whispered. "He wanted to die because he had seen me with Raoul…"
Nadir sighed. "I guess so," he admitted, "although, of course, Erik did not mention that to me. So I went on lecturing him about how great a wrong it was to wish for one's own death and trying to make him understand that he was no monster, at least not anymore, that, unlike a beast, a human could learn from past mistakes and better himself, that he had already become a much better person since he had left Persia…"
Nadir shook his head. "I do not understand how I could have been so dumb that day," he chastised himself. "Erik was in such a strange mood, angry and depressed at the same time, and his eyes looked so haunted. I should have realized that Buquet's death, his first killing in over ten years, was not the only thing that troubled him that day. I should have understood that something else had happened which had brought upon this unusually strong attack of self-loathing."
Tears started to well in Christine's eyes. "We failed him," she sobbed. "Erik would have needed our support and understanding then, and we were not there for him."
Nadir nodded. "Erik finally told me to leave and to never come back," he explained. "I did leave." He hung his head in shame. "But I was not planning on not coming back ever again. I thought I would wait a few weeks, give him time to cool off and then come back and discuss things with him in a reasonable way. I guess I waited too long," Nadir added, "for I never saw Erik again until I went to look for him after the fire."
Christine put a comforting hand on Nadir's shoulder. "I know that you blame yourself for what happened," she said calmly. "And you are probably right if you think that Erik would have needed a friend in those weeks and months when he was trying to come to terms with my betrayal, but the fact remains that it was me, who caused him all that pain. I do not know if anything would have been able to comfort him that winter, anything, that is," she added, "other than my return to him."
Nadir put his hand on top of hers. "None of us is free of guilt in that regard," he said quietly, "we all somehow contributed to the final disaster. It was not entirely Erik's doing, we are to blame as well, which is, why now we have to help him live with the consequences."
Christine smiled. "We will at least try to do so," she said and it sounded like a promise.
Nadir looked at her. "Maybe you should come over for tea again soon," he said. "Maybe Erik does need some time to himself as we thought, but if he is not able to come to terms with the events of the night of Buquet's death on his own, then maybe he needs all his friends with him, showing him that they do not blame him for what he did, and maybe he needs to see you in order to learn to believe in your love again."
Christine thought about it for a few moments and decided that Nadir was right. "Let's give him a few more days," she finally said. "If by the end of the week he has not told me that he is over the shock my narration of the events of that night caused him, then Mme. Giry and I will come for tea on Monday."
Nadir smiled. "Let's do it that way," he agreed.
The rest of the week was rather eventful for the little household of the Girys. First, Mme. Giry finally received the documents that made her adoption of Christine legal. She hugged her new daughter, relieved. Whatever happened now, Christine had a new name and could start a new life, unfettered by memories of her disastrous marriage to Raoul de Chagny and without fear of being met with contempt because of the rumors and the scandal surrounding the performance of "Don Juan Triumphant" and the fire at the Opéra Populaire that were connected to the name of Daaé.
"It will probably not be necessary," Mme. Giry sobbed happily, "since I am confident that you will soon become Mme. Lavoisier, but it is good to know that even if things with Erik take longer than anticipated, you will have a chance at a fresh start."
Christine clung to the ballet mistress, crying tears of joy. "You are my mother now," she beamed. "I never had a mother before, since mine died when she gave birth to me."
When she finally released her new mother, Meg pulled her into her arms. "We are real sisters now," the young ballerina proclaimed. "I always wished I had siblings, now I do, and the best thing about it is, that I got exactly the sister I wanted!"
The two young women giggled excitedly and for the moment Christine's problems and her worry about Erik were forgotten.
The next day brought yet another surprise, though not quite as happy as the previous one. The three ladies were having breakfast together. As usual, Meg had a quick look at the newspaper, before she was about to run off to the opera house for rehearsals. She had blown away the managers of the London Opera with her auditions a few weeks ago, and as a result she had been given the role of the Queen of the Willis in the upcoming new production of "Gisèle".
Meg had just reached the social news page when she gasped. "That ungrateful brat!" she exclaimed. "How dare he! And why on Earth does he advertise this here in England? Does he know that we are here?"
Her mother and Christine looked at her blandly. "What are you talking about?" Mme. Giry finally asked.
"This!" Meg blurted out and shoved the newspaper in her mother's face. "It is offensive! He only divorced Christine a few months ago!"
Mme. Giry and Christine stared at the large announcement informing the readers of the impending nuptials between Raoul Philippe Armand, Vicomte de Chagny and Mademoiselle Juliette Euphrasie Gervaise, fille du Baron de Montcarroux.
"Juliette…" Christine whispered, then laughed. "Serves him well," she commented. "I had a suspicion that she was after him, though I did not think she would be having any luck."
Mme. Giry gave her a curious look. "It does not hurt you that he found somebody else so quickly?" she asked hesitantly.
Christine shook her head. "No," she said calmly. "I am over him completely, and it is not as if I had not…" She blushed deeply. She was getting into a new relationship as well – or maybe it was more like resuming an old one. But she most definitely could not blame Raoul for pursuing another woman when she had started seeing another man.
"The only feeling this announcement causes me is that of pity," she finally admitted. "The young lady in question is a year or two older than Raoul and until recently had been in danger of becoming an old maid."
Christine giggled. "She is plain. Tall and bony, huge teeth, thin, rather colorless, blonde hair, watery blue eyes. But her family is rich and of old nobility. I wonder…" she frowned. "I thought he was attracted to the youngest daughter of the Comte de la Ferrière."
Mme. Giry smiled broadly. "My dear, it seems the Vicomte is carrying a bit of a stigma with him as well. After all, he is a divorced man. If I were the Comte de la Ferrière, I would not give him my daughter either. The girl with next to no chances of ever finding a husband on the other hand… well, I can see why her family would have given their blessings."
Christine felt uncomfortable. Raoul had hurt her, that much was true. And in a way it was only fair that he would have to suffer in return as well, but she had cared for him once. He had been her childhood sweetheart so many years ago and therefore the thought that he might have had no other option than to accept the dreaded spinster as his new wife, almost made her feel sorry for him.
"It serves him right." Mme. Giry's resolute comment broke the mood and Christine was able to smile again. In a way she was grateful now that Raoul had released her, since the divorce had reunited her with the Girys, who now were her family, and had ultimately led her to London and to her Angel. And with a little bit of luck she and Erik would be able to resolve their problems and their love would finally find fulfillment.
"I am glad that I am free again," she confessed. "I had known for quite a while that I only ever had loved Raoul like a brother and that what little feelings I had had for him was about to die in the cold environment he had me live in. I should never have left Erik."
Mme. Giry hugged her. "Maybe you had to go through this experience first, so that you could mature, before you were able to fully appreciate Erik's love and to fully realize how much he means to you. And maybe Erik needed to get this chance at a different life, to learn that even for him it is possible to have a normal occupation, to live in a house like any other man, before he was ready to live a normal life with you. I am sure it all happened for a reason. If you had stayed with Erik three years ago, you both would probably now be living in that underground home of his, in perpetual darkness, without any sunshine."
Christine stared ahead pensively. "But we would have each other, we would be in love," she whispered.
Mme. Giry grinned. "And now you are not?" she teased her new daughter. Christine did not reply, but she blushed deeply.
Erik was still fighting to deal with what had happened during the performance of "Il Muto" so long ago. He found it highly disconcerting that he had so easily killed a man – again. Even though Antoinette had assured him that he had killed the gypsy in self-defense and Nadir kept repeating to him that Erik himself had told him the same about this Buquet-person, he could not help but feel guilty for having taken these two lives. It was no small wonder that Christine had turned away from him that night. How could he ever expect her to love a murderer?
Erik sighed. The more he thought about it, the more convinced he became that he was undeserving of Christine. His ugliness was bad enough. Christine was beauty personified. She should have a handsome man at her side, somebody she could walk with in daylight, not a deformed monster she would have to hide from her friends and colleagues. Not a killer. Even though Erik had somehow accepted the fact that in both instances when he had killed, it had been his life or the other man's life, he was not so sure anymore that this fact justified what he had done. Who was he to decide that his life was worth more than that of his attacker? Who was he to end another man's life so that his own miserable existence could be prolonged?
Erik sighed. He was not entirely sure why he considered himself miserable, he certainly was not miserable now. He lived in a nice house, had a profession that he enjoyed and was good at, he made enough money to live very comfortably and he would easily be able to support a wife as well. He had a group of people that cared for him despite his horrible face and the misdeeds of his past – Nadir, Darius, Antoinette and especially Christine, who had as much as promised him a future with her. He had his loyal horse César and he had found his music again. If Erik was honest with himself, he had to admit that he was rather happy at the moment. Then why could he not shake this nagging feeling, this dread that he was overlooking something important, that despite all the evidence to the contrary his life was a miserable one.
Erik felt annoyed. Of course the memory of Christine in the Vicomte's arms exchanging declarations of love with the handsome boy was still very fresh on his mind, since he had remembered that scene only recently, but deep down he also knew that Christine had spoken the truth when she told him that she loved him. He had learned to read her pretty well in the short time since their reunion – or maybe he had instinctively remembered how to read her – so he was convinced that she truly cared for him more deeply than he had ever dared to hope. So that "betrayal", as she had called it, could not possibly be the reason why he considered himself to be miserable.
Then what? Erik frustratedly punched the table in front of him. He was only too familiar with this feeling. Many times over the past three years had he felt that way, as if an important memory were close to surface, as if he were to find another piece that would help him understand the puzzle of his existence, help him remember the person he had been before the accident.
"When will you have the drawings done for Lord Castleborough?" Nadir's voice interrupted Erik's brooding.
Erik punched the table again. "How can I concentrate on my work," he roared, "with this uneasiness, these doubts in my mind?"
Nadir sighed. Erik definitely was in a dark mood again. He obviously missed Christine's presence, her soothing influence, even though he was anything but ready to learn more about his past. "Erik, please," he tried to calm his young friend.
Erik relented. "I do not understand how you can stand being around me, Nadir," he sighed. "I know I am terrible company right now, but I just learned that I killed two men, that the woman I love left me because of that, even though she has come back to me and forgiven me in the meantime, and I somehow cannot shake the feeling that there is more horror still lurking in the depths of my mind that I have not remembered yet or not been told yet, for deep down I am convinced that my life is a miserable one. True, I may have been traumatized at a very young age by that gypsy master and killing two people might weigh on my conscience as well, and having to relive the heart-break that Christine caused me so long ago has certainly put me in a somber mood, but despite all these things I am rather blessed."
Erik paused, looking at Nadir, pleading for an explanation. "My life has been miserable," he finally stated. "Has it not? I may not remember the reason why, but I do remember the anguish, the pain, the deep sorrow."