Chapter 8 – Rose
Nadir returned home from the office in time for dinner. Their business had flourished over the past three years and he and Erik were making an incredible amount of money. He looked for Erik, to tell him about a new order he had received this afternoon and found his friend busy at the drawing board, finishing a sketch that would be due in two days. The window in Erik's study was wide open, and the cool breeze from outside was heavy with the scent of roses.
Erik looked up from his work, when Nadir entered. "I am almost done with the design for Lord Amerville," he announced. "And I have had a great idea how to implement the changes Lady Mazenby wants done to her villa. I will get everything done in time, as always."
Nadir smiled. It was incredible how Erik had changed over the past three years. Yes, there were still days when he lamented the loss of his memory and his deformed face, when he loathed himself and belittled himself because of these handicaps, but most of the time, he was content with his fate now. Erik loved his work, he loved their little cottage with its garden that thanks to high trees was well shielded , so that he did not have to fear curious stares from passers-by whenever he went out to tend to the two rose bushes he had planted there. For some reason unknown to himself, Erik had wanted roses around. It was one of those vague almost-memories, that surfaced from time to time, an instinctive feeling that red roses had somehow played an important role in his previous life. Red roses and black satin ribbons. Erik did not remember why, but somehow, in his mind, these two items belonged together. Therefore, whenever one of his roses needed to be tied to a supportive structure, he never used anything other than a black satin ribbon.
Even though he knew that nobody could see him when he was working in the garden, Erik usually preferred to go out there at twilight. He felt better protected then than in the harsh light, which revealed his hideous features with more clarity than the softer lights of dusk. Erik had not worn a mask since his accident at the burning Opera House. He did not even remember that he used to wear one, and Nadir had not thought it wise to remind him of that fact. Nadir had always feared that the mask might cause chafing and abrasion in an already very sensitive area of Erik's face, but now, with an additional scar on top of the deformity, he thought that wearing a mask would be tantamount to asking for an infection. He had therefore convinced Erik that he could go bare-faced in the house, where only he and Darius would see him, and in the garden as well. Erik had been hesitant at first, but when Nadir and Darius had shown him full acceptance and had not recoiled in horror at the sight of his deformed face every time he showed himself, he had grown a bit more confident and had gotten rid of that incredibly wide-brimmed hat in the house. He now only used it for his regular rides with César.
"I have new orders for you," Nadir announced. "Count Sainsbourgh wants a sketch for a gazebo in his garden. I have all the details here." He showed Erik the notes he had taken in the office with the specifications about what the Count wanted. "By the way," Nadir continued, "I just passed by the cottage number twelve, down the road, you know, the one that has been deserted for quite a while? It's got new tenants. Furniture was being delivered, and a carriage full of bags and suitcases had arrived. I heard that a widow is moving in with her two daughters. Just wanted you to know. I am not sure all the stuff that got delivered to that house will be actually safely stored inside, when you go for your ride later. It might therefore be a good idea to avoid that area for the next day or two, till this lady and her family have settled in."
Erik nodded. "I realized some commotion outside," he said. "Of course I could not well stick my monster's face out of a front window and check, but I thought you would be able to provide me with information on what was going on."
Nadir smiled. "Of course, Erik," he said. "You can count on me for that. Though I doubt anybody would be scared if they saw your face. I am fairly certain none of our neighbors would think of you as a monster if they saw you. They know you are a peaceful citizen like them, and that you are a successful architect. Why would they fear you?"
Erik shook his head. As much as Nadir had tried to encourage him, he was nowhere near ready to take this next step towards a normal life and meet people other than his two companions. He was content with the somewhat isolated life he had.
A few days later, at dusk, after a long day at the drawing board, Erik saddled César for one of his rides. It was a beautiful warm evening in late spring, the air smelled of flowers in full bloom and fresh grass, and both, Erik and his stallion, were looking forward to a long, relaxing excursion through the neighboring wood and meadows.
For the first time since he had heard about the new tenants in cottage number twelve, Erik and César took that route towards the nearby open fields. It was shorter than the detour they had made for the past few days, and Erik was reasonably certain that the ladies would have moved in by now and settled down into their new home. Like everybody else, they would have retired to their house now that it was getting dark and he could therefore risk passing that building again.
Erik had almost reached the cottage, when he stopped César abruptly, hiding in the shadows of a huge tree and stared transfixed at the little front garden of number twelve. A young lady was standing there, looking longingly into the darkness. He could see her face quite well, since she was standing fairly close to a lit window. She was thin and frail, her beautiful features of an almost unhealthy, translucent paleness were framed by an abundance of unruly dark curls and her expressive, large brown eyes shimmered with tears.
Erik gasped. His heart was suddenly filled with emotions he could not quite place. Tenderness, longing, awe at her beauty, compassion for whatever it was that made her weep, and an overwhelming desire to take her into his arms and dry her tears - Erik had never experienced so many different emotions in such a short time.
"Heavenly," he whispered in wonder. "An angel. She is easily the most beautiful woman I have ever seen." He was like glued to the place and could not get himself to continue his ride as planned. He drank in the young woman's features, trying to impress them into his mind, so that he would never forget them again. After a while another young lady, a blond one, called from the window. "You should come in now, it is getting cool outside!"
The object of Erik's adoration turned to her sister, a sad smile on her face, and said quietly, "I am coming." Erik saw her walk towards the house, following her with his eyes, till the door closed behind her. The sound of her voice had shaken him even more than her pale beauty. "She is perfection incarnate," he whispered, and he once again was overwhelmed by the desire to follow her, to introduce himself as a neighbor, and get to know her.
"You fool," he chided himself. "You would scare her. Have you forgotten who and what you are? With a face like yours…" His heart ached at that thought. He felt like smashing something in anger and desperation, cursing the cruel fate that had condemned him to a life of loneliness. Erik was about to force César into a wild gallop across the fields, when suddenly an image presented itself to his mind's eye, a red rose, a black satin ribbon tied around its stem.
Erik did not know what had triggered this idea, why he suddenly could not get the thought of the rose with the ribbon out of his mind. His head hurt and he once again had the impression as if an important memory were trying to break through. "A rose," he whispered, driven by a force he did not understand. "And a ribbon. I need to give her a rose with a ribbon."
Erik hastened home, repeating like obsessed "rose and ribbon," as if by saying these words aloud he might somehow be able to figure out why this suddenly seemed so important. He first went to his room and got the black satin ribbon, then went out into the garden, to where his rose bushes were in full bloom. He chose a particularly beautiful half-open rose, cut it carefully, removed the thorns, then neatly tied the ribbon around the stem. When he was satisfied with the result, he slowly, stealthily crept back to cottage number twelve. He climbed over the fence and furtively approached the house.
Erik had no troubles figuring out which of the windows belonged to the woman, who had impressed him so. Through the open window he heard her talk to the other young lady in subdued tones. Erik cautiously approached that window, and slowly, so as not to draw attention to himself, managed to put the rose on the windowsill, then he quickly retreated into the shadow, climbed the fence once more and observed the window from behind the tree where he had hidden with César earlier.
He did not reach his hiding place one moment too soon, for as careful as he had been, the ladies must have sensed his presence somehow, maybe heard him climb over the fence or something like that, for the dark-haired beauty who made his heart beat faster, approached the window, to look out. She suddenly gasped, her eyes went wide and she put her hand over her heart as if to steady her own heartbeat. She stared at the rose on the windowsill, as if she could not believe what she saw, then her shaking hands hesitantly reached for the flower. She picked it up, then gazed into the dark garden as if looking for something – or somebody. "Angel?" her voice sounded desperate. "Angel? Are you here?" When there was no answer, she turned towards her sister, holding the rose out to her, then fainted into the other girl's arms.
Erik did not understand what had just happened. How could she have fainted? She had not even seen his disgusting face, which might have caused her to do so and yet… Was it something about his gift? Had he inadvertently offended her, hurt her? Could he not even admire her from afar?
Erik hurried home, in a turmoil of emotions. He had no idea how to deal with tonight's events. His heart longed for that girl, yet her unexpected reaction to finding the rose had scared him. He was getting more and more convinced that he had done something really stupid.
Nadir was worried. He thought, he had heard Erik come home a while ago, but when he had gone to his room to ask for the finished designs that he wanted to take to the office the next day, Erik had not been there. Where was his friend? Had he gone out again?
Nadir was about to go out himself and look for his young friend, when he heard the front door and Erik entered. "Thank God," Nadir muttered, then he realized Erik's agitated state.
"What is the matter, Erik?" he asked concerned. "Has something happened to you?" Erik shook his head. "I made a big mistake," he said, sounding helpless and very sad. Nadir patted him comfortingly on the back. "I'll make us some hot tea and then you can tell me everything," he said reassuringly.
Half an hour later, Nadir had heard the whole story. His head swam. He had never met the young diva who had broken Erik's heart, but he knew of course what she looked like and the description Erik had given of the "angelic apparition", as he had referred to the young lady from number twelve, definitely seemed to fit. The fact that the young woman seemed to recognize the rose and call for an angel also seemed to point to her. But it could not be, or could it? That blasted singer, who had hurt Erik so much, was safely on the continent, married to her Vicomte, probably a mother by now. It was of course possible that the de Chagnys might come to London for a vacation or for business reasons, but even then, she would be with her husband, not her mother and sister. Nadir shook his head again. No, that did not fit either. The Daaé-girl had been an orphan, she had no mother or sister.
Then he gasped again. It could still fit. He remembered that Mme. Giry had raised Christine like a second daughter. What if Erik's old friend was here with both, her daughter and her surrogate daughter, and people just assumed that both young ladies were her natural daughters? But even so, what about the Vicomte?
"Why did she do that?" Erik asked, interrupting Nadir's thoughts. "How could she faint, when she did not even see my hideous face? And why did she call for an angel?" Nadir sighed. He needed more information. "I don't know," he finally said. "I have not met that family yet. I therefore do not know them. It is for instance possible that the rose reminded her of something – or somebody," he added cautiously. He was deliberately insinuating to Erik that the woman's heart might be taken, for if it really was her, then Nadir wanted to make sure Erik understood that she was off-limits. And if this was just a coincidence and the girl in number twelve was somebody else, just the same type that apparently appealed to Erik, then it still could not hurt to remind Erik that his chances at winning a woman's heart were somewhat limited. Nadir recognized Erik's symptoms only too well. His friend was deeply impressed with that unknown beauty, whoever she was, and it was only too obvious that this could lead to major emotional problems for the deformed man.
"You think," Erik asked hesitantly, "that there might be somebody,…. a man?"
Nadir shrugged. "I honestly don't know. Maybe she is just superstitious and thought an angel or devil had put the rose on the windowsill. As I told you, I have not met this family yet. Yes, I will try to befriend them and learn more," he relented. "But in the meantime, Erik, don't do that again. Don't climb fences and intrude upon other people's property. Maybe she was just scared because she knew somebody must have been outside and put the rose there, maybe that's why she fainted."
Erik sighed. "I know I can never meet her in person and talk to her," he said, pointing at his disfigured face. "But I wish I could see her at least from afar every now and then. If you had seen her, Nadir," he continued, "such beauty, such sad, big eyes, such wonderful, luscious curls, and such a sweet, melodious voice…"
Nadir sighed. Erik was in love, there was no doubt about that. Though, if this really was the Daaé-girl, then it was also clear, that Erik had not recognized her, that he did not remember any of their past history. Nadir was fairly convinced that whether it was her or not, Erik would be facing difficult times soon. He would need his support and his loyalty. It was therefore important that Nadir find out as much as possible about the tenants of number twelve.
"I will see what I can do about this," he promised Erik. "Tomorrow. Now, we'd better go to bed."
In cottage number twelve, Meg caught Christine just in time. She did not realize at once what had caused her friend to faint, then she saw the rose in Christine's hand. Her eyes widened as well, and she screamed for her mother.
Mme. Giry appeared immediately, alarmed by her daughter's frightened shrieking. "What is the… Oh my God," she quickly helped Meg put Christine down on her bed, then she got a pitcher full of water and sprinkled a bit on Christine's face to revive her. After a while, Christine stirred, then opened her eyes. Mme. Giry sighed with relief, then she asked Christine calmly, "what happened, my dear? Has something scared you?"
Christine showed her the rose and Mme. Giry gasped. "What… where did you get that?" Christine pointed to the window. "There, on the windowsill," she whispered. "I thought at first I was dreaming. I had been thinking of – him. I was out in the garden earlier, when it was getting dark, and I felt so close to him. He always loved the darkness and the night," she fought back tears. "That's why I like to go out when it is dark. It is the next-best thing to actually being with him. Then Meg called me in and we talked a bit, and I thought something was moving out in the garden. Meg laughed at first, but then she thought she heard something, so I went to the window to look if something was going on out there, and there it was…"
Christine looked at Mme. Giry, hope written all over her face. "Do you think, that maybe…?" She did not dare finish her question.
Mme. Giry understood her anyway. "I don't know," she whispered. "It seems impossible. Meg saw the corridor collapse and bury him. But if by some miracle or other he had survived…" She shook her head. "I am fairly certain he would have let me know somehow that he was okay. He would not have wanted me to grieve for him."
Christine nodded. "But how… why?" she asked. Mme. Giry sighed. "I have no idea. I hope it is not your Vicomte playing with your feelings and having somebody put the rose there for you to find. We will find out what this is all about, I promise you, and if somebody is trying to hurt you, this person will pay dearly, I promise you that. But it is getting late. We should go to bed now, and Christine, you'd better close that window."