Chapter 28 – Accusation
"You what?" Erik stared at Christine as if she had suddenly grown a second head. She could not possibly have told him what he had thought he had heard her say. He must have imagined it. Maybe this was just a bad dream, a nightmare, from which he would be waking soon. Or maybe he was going mad. For to think that Christine, his Christine, who had just told him she loved him, had always loved him, who had allowed him to kiss her and had kissed him back, to think that she was a married woman...
"I married Raoul shortly after the fire at the Opéra Populaire," Christine repeated, her voice barely above a whisper. Oh, she had known this would go badly, she had known Erik would be deeply hurt, but she had not been prepared for this look of jealous fury, of – madness – in his eyes.
"Married!" Erik's laughter had an insane undertone. "You are married! Oh what a fool I was to fall for your innocent ways, Madame la Vicomtesse! Are you tired of your husband's embraces, do you seek adventure now? Do you fancy to find out what it is like to be held by a monster, a murderer? How perverted have you become to want to get me into your bed, you shameless adulteress?"
Christine flinched at his words, as if he had hit her. "I am no adulteress," she whimpered, "you have it all wrong!"
"So what else do you call it, when a married woman comes on to a man other than her husband?" Erik roared. "Are there any euphemisms for that hideous fact, that members of the French nobility now use to make the situation appear less offensive? What is it you would call me other than your adulterous lover if I had given in to your shameless advances? Your official escort? Your music teacher? What do ladies call their lovers now?"
"I am not..." Christine tried once again to interrupt Erik and to clear up his misunderstanding, but he did not seem to hear her.
"Or was this just an elaborate joke at my expenses?" Erik laughed. "Is the Vicomte waiting in the wings, for your cue, to poke fun at my love-sickness once again?" Erik seemed almost insane now. "How stupid I was!" he screamed, "to believe that you actually... How could I have forgotten such a minor detail as the monstrosity which passes for my face! Of course you would not have gone through with it!"
"Stop that!" Christine had had enough. Her little hand impacted with Erik's left cheek. That slap together with her scream finally silenced him. "You can be mad at me as much as you want," Christine continued, somewhat calmer, "once you know the whole truth, I know you have every right to be angry, but I do not deserve your accusations. I am not an adulteress. It is true that I was married to Raoul, but I am not anymore. I am a free woman."
Erik was still fuming. "He is dead? You are a widow in need of a new husband?" he seethed.
Christine shook her head. It was harder than she had thought to confess to Erik how deeply Raoul had humiliated her. "I am not widowed," she explained, "I am divorced."
Erik frowned. "You left the Vicomte?" he asked incredulously. "Why? He is handsome, young, rich, a nobleman. Don't expect me to believe that you gave up all that for the love of me!"
Christine sighed. Erik was making this really difficult. Why could he not simply let her tell her story and form his opinion of her afterwards, based on the facts she had provided?
"No, he divorced me," Christine stated matter-of-factly. "And if you let me tell you everything from the beginning, without constantly interrupting me with your," she winced, "your accusations and speculations, then maybe you would be able to judge my guilt or lack thereof fairly."
Erik nodded absentmindedly. He fought against images of Christine, naked, in the arms of an equally naked Vicomte, who was touching her – everywhere -, encouraging her to equally touch every bit of his anatomy, until he finally marked her perfect body as his by penetrating... Erik groaned. This thought caused him almost physical pain. Christine seemed still so naive, so innocent, so maidenly. How was it possible that she was a woman in every sense of the word, that she already had experienced physical love, the joys of the flesh, that he would be forever denied?
"That night, I left you with Raoul, and he brought me to his home," Christine began uneasily. "It was all very proper, we had separate bedrooms and he did not try anything untoward." She was not certain why it seemed so important to mention this detail. Surely it would not make a difference for Erik to know that she had lost her innocence only on her wedding night?
"I was so worried," Christine continued. "I had no idea what had happened to all my friends. It was not just you, it was maman and Meg and the other girls from the ballet, Firmin, André, everybody. So Raoul promised to go back to the Opéra and investigate." She shook her head. "I thought this was a very thoughtful, considerate gesture of his, but of course he had to go anyway, since he was one of the Opéra's patrons." The last words sounded almost bitter. She knew her former husband better now than she had known him three and a half years ago.
"As it turned out, he ran into Meg and she had just the information he needed. The information he wanted to hear so desperately," Christine added sadly. "Meg had been with the mob, apparently looking for me and hoping that she would be able to keep me safe should the angry crowd run into you and me. They must have reached your home shortly after Raoul and I left. I remember hearing the smashing noises on our way out, which must have been you breaking all the mirrors, for Meg told Raoul that they found three of them all broken, and behind one of them a secret passage. They entered that passage and saw you not too far ahead, they followed you, hoping to be able to catch you, when suddenly the ceiling caved in and buried you. They were convinced that you could not have made it out safely, that the murderous Phantom, as they called you, was dead."
Erik sighed. "I would have died, if Nadir had not been looking for me," he admitted. "He knew where this corridor was leading and once he had heard the story came for me from the other side."
Christine looked down. "We thought you were dead," she said. "It was not just Raoul. Meg had seen the cave in, she did not think there was a chance you could have survived. I had to believe it, too. You must understand, Erik, I had nobody left, I was so alone. I was also out of a job, because the Opéra would not be able to reopen anytime soon, if ever, and maman and Meg didn't have a job either, so I could not expect them to take me in. There really was not much else I could have done other than marrying Raoul. He had asked me to marry him for such a long time, he had been unhappy with my decision to keep the engagement secret, he had played along with my every whim, I therefore felt I owed him. And he still wanted me, despite..." she looked at Erik. "Even though he had watched us kiss. I was grateful to have him, so I agreed to marry him as soon as possible, which I did."
Erik's head spun. This must have happened when he had been recovering from his injuries at Nadir's home. To think that while he had been in pain, slowly learning that he had lost his memory, that he was a disfigured freak with no friends, Christine had been lying in the Vicomte's arms, giving him her everything... "I bet this was really hard for you," he spat at Christine. "A loving husband, worshiping your body with lascivious caresses, introducing you to the pleasures of passion, a huge mansion with dozens of servants at your command, pretty dresses, jewelry, delicacies every day, …."
Christine shook her head. "It was nowhere near as fun as you seem to think," she said. "It was boring. I had nothing to do. The household did not need any guidance from my side, nor would I have known how to handle any emergencies, I did not know anybody in these social circles, I was not used to needlework, and one cannot spend every day reading."
Erik looked up sharply. "I guess that means that you had no interest in music anymore," he accused Christine, "for as far as I know, music is a perfectly acceptable pastime for a Vicomtesse."
Christine had tears in her eyes. "I thought so, too," she admitted. "But apparently it is only acceptable for someone born into nobility. It was not fine for me." She sighed. "Raoul said if I continued singing I would remind people of my past, of the scandal I had caused during the performance of your opera, of the fact that I was a common theater girl and that he had married below himself."
Erik was getting angry. "How could he deny you music?" he ranted, "did he not know that music is an integral part of who you are? And how did he dare mention that you were somehow not his equal, when you with your art are so far above him? But even if it had been true, he had married you and therefore should never have brought this up again. He knew before marrying you that you were a commoner. If this bothered him, he should have stayed away from you."
"My past did somewhat affect Raoul's social standing," Christine lamely defended her former husband. "He had a certain right to try and make people forget who I had been before becoming the Vicomtesse de Chagny."
Erik growled. "He treated you abysmally," he stated, before asking, "did Antoinette not try to help you? She does know, after all, how important music is to you."
Christine shook her head. "I... maman..." she stammered. "We barely saw each other. Raoul did not want me to socialize with the theater pack, as he called it."
Erik was seething now. "He treated Antoinette like dirt as well?" he screamed, "and she accepted all that crap from him the same way you did? How could she desert you so badly?"
"She did not want to interfere," Christine's voice was clear and determined when defending her adoptive mother. "She thought that it was not her place to get between Raoul and me. And then..." Christine looked down, embarrassed. "I did not tell her everything. I did not want her to feel sorry for me..."
Erik turned his back to her. "Nothing of what you have told me so far would explain, though, why the Vicomte would have wanted to divorce you," he said. "Unless, of course, a more suitable woman suddenly caught his eye, somebody with the right background, who had not been somewhat compromised by a disfigured murderer, somebody more worthy of his name..."
"It was not that," Christine blushed deeply. It embarrassed her to reveal such private information to Erik. "I... I could not give him his heir," she whispered. "I did not get pregnant."
Erik gulped. "He did not... I mean... you and him... he did not exert his rights too often?" he asked hopefully.
Christine looked down. "On the contrary," she whispered. "He was so desperate to have a son and heir, that we..." she did not dare face Erik. "Every night," she finally whispered. "Repeatedly. I was beginning to feel like... like a broken vending machine." She sobbed. "Like when someone is putting in the right coins, but the merchandise is not released? I failed him so terribly."
"Every night!" Erik roared. The thought of Christine being used like a commodity by that – fop, angered and hurt him at the same time. How long had Christine and de Chagny been married anyway? How many nights had her body been used by the Vicomte, or rather abused by his attempts of turning her into a breeding machine?
"After two years," Christine revealed even her worst humiliation, "he had me examined by three doctors." She looked away from Erik. "I had to allow them... to look... and to touch... between my legs..."
"That pig!" Erik knew he would have strangled the Vicomte right away if the latter had been anywhere near. "He made you submit to this indignity? He did not have the decency of asking a midwife to check on you? Certainly this particular situation called for another woman."
Christine was sobbing at the memory. "Three old lecherous men, looking at my... and I was not allowed to keep a skirt on, I was completely... exposed... down there..." She shuddered. "It was in the middle of the day, too," she sobbed. "They saw... everything... and they... their fingers..." She shuddered at the memory of these men's fingers entering her, probing.
Erik was torn between compassion for what she had gone through, anger at the Vicomte for having subjected her to such a humiliating procedure and a smug feeling of her having gotten what she deserved for marrying his rival.
"So, what did they find?" he finally asked. "Are you barren?"
Christine shivered. She was not sure what she had expected, but after she had revealed her most humiliating memory to Erik, and in doing so embarrassed herself greatly in front of him, she had hoped for him to take her into his arms and tell her that this was all in the past and she should forget about it.
"I don't know," she said hesitantly. "These three... doctors... did not think so. They just laughed and said I was too tense, I needed to relax more."
Erik briefly thought that no decent woman would have been relaxed if stared at, poked and prodded in her most private parts by three strangers simultaneously.
"But I did not get pregnant within the next year either," Christine confessed, "even though... " She paused again, embarrassed. "Well, Raoul kept trying every night, and every month, when I started bleeding, he got angry..."
"And then he divorced you," Erik stated simply.
Christine nodded. "He said there was no point in further delaying the inevitable," she confirmed. "And that therefore I should sign the papers he had already prepared. He promised to provide for me, but I did not want his money. I said I would find a job, and he said I was not to use the de Chagny-name anymore."
She looked at Erik. "I signed and left his house within the hour. I went to Mme. Giry, who took me in even though we had become a bit estranged over time, she immediately filed for my adoption to give me a totally new name to start anew, and agreed to leave Paris for my sake. So we came here last spring, and..."
Erik laughed mirthlessly. "How convenient that you discovered then that I am alive." His voice was dripping with contempt. "I was the answer to all your problems, was I not?" His right hand formed a fist and he hit the wall, hard. "What a fool I was!" he raged. "I really thought you cared for me. But you needed my help to get your voice back into shape, did you not? And let's not forget the fact that you have gotten used to...how shall I put it … certain activities that happen between husband and wife in their bed chambers. The Vicomte had pleasured you every night, repeatedly?"
Erik closed his eyes in disgust. "And now you have had to go without for how long? A few months? And considering that you are not a virgin anymore and are not wearing a widow's clothes... it would be hard to find another husband, would it not, with your reputation tarnished by a divorce. Oh, poor Christine," he mocked her. "How desperate you must be for a man's … embrace that even I start to look appealing?" He laughed scornfully. "It must have seemed like the ideal arrangement to you, I would finally get my chance to experience lust and you would have a man only too willing to worship your body. But I have news for you, Madame," he sneered at her. "I have no intentions of letting myself being used by you like that. So, the Vicomte disappointed you. I thought he would do that, but of course you knew better, you chose him over me. And now you have to live with the consequences. I am not the second-best that you can settle for now. I refuse to pick up the Vicomte's leftovers!"
Christine was sobbing heavily now. Erik was taking her marriage to Raoul so much harder than she had expected. "You are mistaken," she cried. "I do care for you, deeply, that was not a lie. If I wanted to marry you, it was because you mean the world to me and I want us to be together, not because I miss … do you really think it was fun having Raoul just … I mean... creating a baby was more important to him than... me... his supposed love for me..."
Erik did not seem to pay attention to her words. He was too agitated to care. Somehow he felt as if he had found the explanation for the impossible-seeming attention that Christine had paid him since their reunion. He ran towards the window and looked out for Nadir and Antoinette. Once he spotted them he called for them. "Antoinette, come quickly!" he roared, and when she hurried to the music room, where a sobbing Christine was huddled on the floor, Erik pointed to the young woman. "There, Antoinette," he said. "Take that viper, that seductress that tried to enchant me with her fake innocence. Take her away and make sure I will never have to see her again. I am not her toy to play with as she pleases."
With that he stormed out of the room, leaving Nadir and Mme. Giry alone with the crying young woman on the floor.