Chapter 27 – Confessions
Mme. Giry and Nadir realized that both, Erik and Christine, were extremely shaken by Sir Toddlingham's story, and needed time to think. They therefore thanked both, their host and his friend, for the invitation and the trust they had shown them by sharing the Sir's past, but mentioned that it was time for them to leave now.
Lord Castleborough understood. It was quite obvious that his friend's story had had an impact on both, Lavoisier and the ballerina's sister, and that both needed time to regain their composure and deal with whatever thoughts the Sir's tragic past had provoked in them. He insisted, though, that they should all meet again soon. Sir Toddlingham interrupted him, suggesting that the next time they should have tea at his place. "My Eliza is currently at our home in Sussex," he explained, "but she will come to London end of next week with our daughter, so that we can start purchasing Gwendolyn's bride's trousseau. I am sure Eliza would love to meet you all." And it was agreed that they would all meet for tea at the Sir's house two weeks later.
Nobody spoke much during the ride home, Erik and Christine were both immersed in thoughts caused by Sir Toddlingham's narration, and the other three did their best to give the couple time to digest the afternoon's events.
Once they reached the Giry's home, the ladies got out of the carriage, but not before Nadir could ask Mme. Giry and Christine to come by for their usual afternoon tea and music lesson the next day. Christine and Erik looked at each other, both embarrassed and unsure how the other would react to the Sir's story, which bore so many similarities to their own past history together.
As soon as they had reached their house, Christine broke down sobbing. "Erik must hate me so," she cried. "I am like this Josephine that betrayed that nice Sir Toddlingham. Erik thought I was his, and then he saw me with Raoul on the roof, kissing."
Mme. Giry took the miserable young woman into her arms. "The situation is not at all comparable," she tried to comfort Christine. "First, whatever Erik may have thought at that time, you were not his. The two of you were not engaged then, and unless there is something I do not know about, he had not even confessed his feelings for you and proposed to you, right?"
Christine's body shook with sobs. "Not with words," she whispered, "but when he showed me his home, there was this mannequin doll, which looked like me, and she was wearing a wedding dress. I should have known how he felt about me."
Mme. Giry nodded in understanding. "But still, you hadn't promised him anything," she soothed Christine. "The two of you were not engaged. You were free to enter a relationship with another man. And even if you had been honor-bound to Erik, his actions that day... he could not blame you, because he himself scared you away by killing Buquet."
Christine's tears were running more freely now. "But he only defended his own life!" she cried. "Erik did not deserve me leaving him for Raoul because of this. I hurt him so much!"
Mme. Giry rocked her adoptive daughter. "It's not as if he had not hurt you himself," she said. "And Erik is not stupid. He knows that he is just as much to blame as you are for the fact that things did not work out between the two of you the first time. But you still love each other, that's the important thing. The two of you will be able to work it all out, I am confident about this."
Christine nodded, not quite convinced. "But he does not know about me and Raoul yet," she wailed. "My marriage. He does not know that I am not... that I have already... if it hurt him so much to just see me and Raoul kiss, knowing that we have... that I am damaged goods..." she could not finish the sentence, overwhelmed by guilt and the thought how much pain this knowledge would cause Erik.
"You were married to the Vicomte," Mme. Giry reminded her. "Nothing the two of you did was therefore inappropriate. Erik will come to understand that. You have not acted shamefully. I am not saying that this will be easy for Erik, since most men want their women to be virgins on their first night together, but considering the situation, how much this Vicomte has hurt and humiliated you, and that you are finally free of him, Erik will eventually be able to get over this. He loves you. And if you were widowed, you would not be a virgin either. It may hurt Erik at first, but once he has given it some thought, he will forgive you this ill-fated marriage."
Christine tried to calm down. "I wish I could finally discuss this all with Erik," she sighed. "But there is so much else he has not remembered yet, like the masquerade, my trip to the cemetery, the performance of "Don Juan Triumphant",... he needs to remember all this, before I can start with my confession about my marriage."
Mme. Giry smiled. "I think you might be wrong there, my dear. I think Erik remembered a lot of all that today, when Sir Toddlingham told us his story. There are several parallels, after all, and I would be surprised if those had not triggered some of Erik's memories. You must ask him tomorrow. The time when you can discuss your marriage with him may be closer than you think."
It still took a while for Christine to stop crying, and she lay awake half the night, worrying about how Erik might have taken the Sir's revelations.
A few houses further a very similar conversation took place. "How can Christine ever forgive me?" Erik ranted. "I remember it all now. Not just the rooftop, where I saw her kissing de Chagny. No, everything. The masquerade where I ripped her engagement ring from her neck, the cemetery, where, instead of discussing things rationally with her, I pretended to be some supernatural being and then had a swordfight with her beau, that stupid plan of theirs to ambush me during a performance of my opera, Piangi, the chandelier, the way I dragged her to my lair, the Vicomte following us, I remember it all, Nadir, and I behaved like a raving madman!"
Nadir chuckled. "Not unlike Sir Toddlingham during his duel," he commented. "I am sure Christine has realized by now, what caused your madness then, and since your emotional condition back then was partly her fault, she will be able to forgive you, just like this remarkable Eliza Toddlingham forgave the Sir and loves him despite his checkered past. Also, you must remember that Christine has known about those events all along. She has never said that anything would keep her from marrying you. To me that seems as if she had forgiven you already. It's you that she wants to be absolutely sure that you really want that relationship. I would not worry too much about this. Of course you need to discuss things with her tomorrow, but I am sure that the Mademoiselle has accepted this part of your past." He smiled at Erik. "Don't be so hopeless, she does love you, and I am fairly certain Lord Castleborough and Sir Toddlingham have figured that out as well. It is obvious. Apparently the last person to believe it will be you."
The next day, when Mme. Giry and Christine arrived at their usual hour, Nadir took Antoinette aside, whispering conspiratorially, "I think our young folk here have some things to discuss and we are in the way. I therefore suggest a nice walk in the garden." Mme. Giry agreed and left with Nadir, after giving both, Christine and Erik, an encouraging smile.
"May God help them that they can finally sort things out and find a way to each other," she sighed, once they were out of earshot. "It is undeniable that they love each other, and they have already lost so much time."
Christine and Erik waited till Nadir and Antoinette had left, then they blurted out their concerns almost simultaneously. "Forgive me, Erik," Christine begged, while Erik wailed that he remembered everything now, and realized how unworthy he was of her.
Once they noticed that the other one was talking, too, and therefore unable to listen, they stared at each other in confusion. "You first," Erik finally said.
Christine nodded. She took a deep breath, then explained. "I realized last night that I am not much better than that Josephine, who betrayed Sir Toddlingham so cruelly," she confessed. "It is true that we were not engaged, that I had not promised you anything and was therefore free to enter a relationship with whoever I pleased, but even though you had not told me yet, I knew how you felt about me." She paused, then added, "the mannequin with the wedding dress... After our history together I would have owed it to you to let you know my decision, before..."
Erik stared at her uncomprehendingly. "What are you talking about? That you were kissing de Chagny after I killed Buquet?" He laughed bitterly. "I can hardly blame you for that. Only a fool would have expected his girl to still trust and love him after he had killed another man almost before her eyes." He looked away from her. "And you were not even my girl then," he added softly.
Christine looked down. "I was," she said calmly. "And I had given you enough reason to hope... to believe... that I ..." she blushed deeply.
Erik frowned. "What are you trying to tell me?" he asked.
Christine could not face him. "If you had come to me the next day and explained about Buquet," she whispered shyly, "if you had told me you had seen me with Raoul, if you had finally told me how you felt about me, asked me if you had come too late... oh Erik, I would have been only too willing to forgive my angel, in fact, I was waiting for you to do that, so many days I was waiting..."
Erik reached for her chin, raising her face, so that he could see her eyes. "You would have broken up with the Vicomte for me?" he asked incredulously.
Christine nodded. "I liked him well enough, after all, we had known each other as children, but I was not sure about him. That's why I did not want our engagement to be made public, but when I had waited for so long and you never came..." Her voice trailed. "I thought I had lost you. That you had run away for fear of the authorities, and I was alone, so I told myself that Raoul was a great choice for a husband and accepted his proposal."
Erik squirmed. "If only I had known," he murmured miserably. "And when I came back, at the masquerade, I treated you as if you were my unfaithful bride, when it was all my fault..."
Christine sighed. "I had accepted Raoul's proposal," she reminded Erik. "I was not exactly blameless."
Erik groaned. "I should have known. The way you were looking at me, coming closer... those were not the eyes of a woman afraid of me or hating me, nor did you look guilty, just … awed... to see me again."
Christine smiled. "I did not dare breath, for fear I would wake up and realize I had only dreamed that you had come back..."
"And I screwed it up again!" Erik's voice sounded beyond frustrated. "I should have talked to you, instead I took you to the cemetery and tried to impress you with magic tricks and win you back that way. Threaten or charm you into obedience with my shenanigans..."
Christine's smile deepened. "You were so unsure of yourself. You did not think that I would... that a few words would have been enough to sweep me off my feet..." She looked at Erik apologetically. "I know we should have talked then," she admitted, "but I at least tried. I mentioned that my mind warned me against you, but that my soul was only too willing to give in to your charms."
Erik winced. "I guess I did not quite understand then what had turned you away from me, namely my killing of Buquet, and even if.. I doubt we could have resolved things then, for your... that boy... he interrupted us."
Christine sighed. "I was so afraid when he showed up. I knew the two of you were jealous and hated each other, and then you started to fight." She looked at Erik, the anguish she had experienced that long ago night clearly written all across her face. "You could have killed each other! You almost did..." She shuddered at the memory. Erik had sliced Raoul's upper arm and Raoul had almost killed Erik, when the latter had slipped on the icy ground and fallen.
"You saved my life that day," Erik whispered. "You did not stop me when I injured your boy, but when my life was at stake... "
Christine nodded. "I thought you were a ruthless killer that had murdered Buquet to make an example, and yet... I did not want you dead," she admitted.
Her eyes took on a tortured look. "I did not want anything to do with Raoul's plan to ambush you, either," she sighed. "He made me agree, he reminded me of your crimes and told me that nobody at the Opéra Populaire would be able to live in peace as long as you were around, he said it was my duty..."
Erik laughed sarcastically. "It seems he is every bit as good at manipulating you as I have been at one time," he commented.
Christine fidgeted. "I was so nervous before the performance of "Don Juan Triumphant", I had this foreboding, it was as if I knew that something terrible was about to happen," she confessed. "I almost did not go out on that stage, and then..." She paused. It was still hard for her to think of that particular night.
"Then you were there and I could not think straight anymore, we sang together, and you held me and caressed me, and I forgot everything else around me, and then..."
Erik winced. He remembered only too clearly now, what had happened then. "Why... why did you do that?" he asked. "My mask... why did you expose me to the audience like that?"
Christine shook her head. She had asked herself the same question repeatedly over the past few years. "I do not know," she sobbed. "I was confused, I did not know anymore where I belonged, I.. I guess I just remembered what Raoul had told me to do... or the sight of one of the gendarmes caused an instinctive reaction..." She threw herself at Erik, burying her face in his shirt. "Forgive me, please," she sobbed. "I know it was wrong to rip off your mask, and you probably felt similar to the way Sir Toddlingham felt when he found his fiancée with his friend, I cannot even begin to imagine what it must have been like for you to suddenly be so exposed – by me."
Erik wrapped his arms around her. "Oh Christine," he sobbed, "That night I did things so much worse than what you did. Piangi, the chandelier, dragging you down to my lair, trying to force you to become my bride, threatening to kill de Chagny..."
Christine did not stop sobbing. "You were as blind with jealousy as Sir Toddlingham was when he killed his former friend in that duel," she whimpered. "You were not thinking straight, and .." she paused, before adding, "even though you were out of your wits with jealousy, and your hatred towards Raoul was more than justified, after all, he had attempted to ambush and kill you first, you still had it in you to release him and not to force me..."
Erik looked away, deeply ashamed. "I forced you to choose, though," he said, "knowing that there really was no alternative, that you could not have lived with the knowledge that de Chagney had died when you could have saved him. I knew you well enough to be certain of your decision. I thought I had been so clever, and then you... you disarmed me. You not only agreed to stay with me, but took steps to prove to me that you meant it. You..." Erik sighed. "I did not deserve it, but you actually put on the engagement ring to show that you considered yourself my bride and then you..."
Erik blushed deeply at the memory of this miracle. Christine looked up at him, blushing just as deeply as Erik, her lips only inches away from his. "You kissed me," Erik whispered reverently, before lowering his lips to Christine's waiting ones.
For an instant, it was as if they had gone back to that magic moment of their first kiss. Just like then, their lips met, hesitatingly at first, then boldly claiming each other, parting, offering access to their tongues and the warm cavities of their mouths.
When they finally broke apart for breath, Christine had tears in her eyes. "That's when I knew," she said. "Once I had kissed you I knew for sure and without any doubt that it was you I loved. And I did not care about Buquet, or the chandelier or anything else anymore, but then..."
Erik nodded. "I had a similar revelation when you kissed me," he said. "I realized that until now I had had no clue what it really meant to love somebody. I understood that I had done it all wrong, that one cannot force love, that I could not hold you to your promise under those circumstances, that I should respect the choice that you had made long ago by accepting the Vicomte's proposal. So I sent you away with him."
Christine nodded. "And I left. I felt rejected and I was afraid of the mob that was approaching, and with my dress.. I knew I could not run. I had to go with Raoul, if I wanted to be safe, but when I saw you there, in front of the music box, .." Her heart broke all over again at the memory of Erik sitting there forlornly, unable to move and to try and escape the mob. "I almost stayed, despite everything..."
Erik shuddered. "If you had stayed, you might have been injured like me, for that's when it happened, the injury that took away my memory for so long. It was probably better that you let the Vicomte lead you out safely."
Christine nodded half-heartedly, when a thought suddenly struck Erik. "What happened then between you and de Chagny?" he asked. "How did he take it that you broke off the engagement?"
Christine stiffened, her face as pale as the wall. She felt as if she was about to faint, but she knew she had to tell Erik. The moment had finally come for her confession. Shaking like a leaf in the wind, she stammered, "I did not. I married him."