"No I will not!"
"Certainly you will educate your eldest son in music, Count de Chagny!" - the Comtesse snapped. - "Don't make a mistake in that!"
"I will not! - the Count snarled, his fine countenance distorted in rage, while opposite to the deadly calmness of his wife. - It's enough for me to be married to a former opera singer! Enough to be thrown out of the capital society! Enough to live this provincial life, enough whispers and rumors which follow me even here! If I agree to find Charles a music teacher people will say that he is possibly not my son, but some of your former fellow actors..."
The small white hand of the Comtesse raised like lightning, but the former sailor still had his reflexes. He caught his wife's wrist in his iron grip and looked straight into her eyes.
He saw there something that made him begin considering his actions.
"Christine, I didn't mean..."
The tone of these words would make the Count's hand relax even if he himself didn't want it.
The Comtesse went to the door in a quick measured step, and soon the Count heard the door of her own room slumming.
Raoul sighed deeply. He would never mean to hurt Christine in such a way. He would never mean to hurt Christine at all. She was a superb wife, a perfect mother to their two children, a good housekeeper and a decent mistress. She was also beautiful and gentle. He had nothing to reprimand her for.
But still he had had to leave Paris because, if he stayed, many Parisian aristocrats would point at him and laugh at his morganatic marriage. It was all right for an aristocrat to have a singer mistress, but to marry one for a de Chagny was almost as unthinkable as it would be in 17th century. So after they... had become able to manage their own lives he quickly bought two tickets for a train to Stokholm and soon after they settled down in a small Swedish town, on its way to becoming a city, where no one knew them...
But rumours pursued them. Maybe something in Christine betrayed her origins. Maybe it's just someone who had seen her on the Paris Opera stage could mention the fact passing by. In addition to the fact that a dashing young French aristocrat somewhy perferred the forsaken Sweden province to his native city it was enough for the bored people to think God knew what...
Raoul was happy with his beloved Christine whom he had got as his wife by some miracle never fully understood by him. He cherished her in any way he could, he never refused her anything, he had told her that he didn't miss his Parisian life at all and didn't want to speak about the possibilities it could give him. He strongly preferred marriage to Christine to any other conditions and was even more happy to see how his features blended with her features in the faces of Charles and Andre. He asked her only one thing, and she acceded joyfully.
He asked her not to sing.
Christine's singing reminded them too keenly about their terrible past...
A storey below, enraged Christine paced in her room. She was trying to catch her breath, clasping her hands pressed to her chest, but the nervous pacing didn't do much in calming her down. The furniture was strangely shaking before her dry eyes, and additional images were being projected on the interier. The images of the past...
She saw herself singing Margarita, on that disastrous evening of her disappearance from the stage. She saw herself whispering to Meg in her dressing-room. She saw herself walking the streets leading from the Opera to Mamma Valerius' house...
Suddenly a thought occured to her.
She came up to her wardrobe and began picking up the things and putting them in a small luggage sack.
And now she decided to find Charles a music teacher!
They boy was undoubtely musical, he hummed the Swedish folk songs with extreme correctness and pitch, and tried to play the big concert piano standing in the drawing-room. The piano was there just because it was fashionable and considered necessary for a foreign aristocrat to have by any local nobles. But before Charles began tinkering with it no one had ever played it.
There was nothing undecent for an aristocrat to know music. He himself had took his violin lessons from Christine's father in his childhood. But now... here...
Raoul definitely didn't want his son learning to play.
He listened, trying to discern Christine's steps. But all seemed to be quiet. Maybe it was all right. After all, it was their first quarrel in all ten years of their marriage.
She was a woman, after all; and women easily forget and forgive. She would calm down and return to him to breach the gap in the otherways perfect house of their love, and everything will be all right. She would understand, and if not, she would finally have just to accept his will not to teach Charles music.
Raoul heard a door open and close, and then Christine's steps and the steps of Francois, their lackey. Christine went to the outway door.
'Perhaps she decided to walk, to have some fresh air,' - decided Raoul. It was all right, and he began working with his recent accounts.
He had forbidden her to sing, and now he wants to forbid Charles to learn music!
Christine didn't wish to force any skill to her children. She had asked the nine-year Charles if he wanted to learn music, and when the child understood what that would mean he agreed happily. He craved to master the piano, all its gross white and black keyboard, to know the mysteries of the magical sound and be able to produce any music he wanted from the instrument. Charles was bright, as his parents had been as children. He was studying well and easily, and music studies wouldn't be too heavy for him. And of course they could afford the music teacher.
But Raoul forbade her to teach him music!
Christine was breathing hard, going along the alley of their estate, followed by their lackey carrying her sack. She felt as if she was terribly short of air. But she was outdoors in the country - what was it?
Suddenly she understood. Of course she had known it all the time and it was just that now it was impossible to deceive herself anymore.
She had got used to put her emotions in singing...
And now most of all she wanted to sing out her tumulted feelings, but she couldn't. Ten years out of practice would undo even the most genius voice. The one who had once Christine Daae, the wonder of the Parisian stage, just couldn't produce any singing sound anymore...
Raoul heard the door opening and closing and decided that it was ok, Christine returned and would come to dinner as always.
But she didn't arrive at the table.
Raoul came to her door and knocked.
No one answered.
"Christine? Christine, it's me. I've come to apologise. It's just that I'm terribly afraid of music, that I don't want Charles to study it. I was wrong in wronging you. Christine, please admit me, I would like to apologise..."
Raoul undecisively tried the door, and it opened easily. Raoul entered Christine's room.
It was empty.
"Francois, did you accompany madame on her walk?"
"Didn't she return with you?"
"Where did you leave her?" - frowned Raoul.
"On the road, Monsieur. Don't worry, I've helped her to the carriage to Stokholm."
"She left for Stokholm, monsieur."
"And you didn't tell me?"
"You didn't ask, Monsieur."
Raoul rubbed his forehead. What for on the earth Christine went for Stokholm? She had never had any business or aquaintances there. Maybe something was wrong with her head? Then he was far too guiltier than he thought. Damn, how could he have insulted her so? Damned aristocratic pride...
For the very first time in their life Raoul had showed his wife that he was aware of the social difference between them. And did it in such a manner he himself wouldn't consider decent, while being calm. Aristocratic temper... Be she more versed in it, she would understand. But she never had dealt with aristocrats, excluding him, before marrying him, and all the ten years of his marriage he had been very restrained about such things. Only one lapse - and such consequences!
He ordered to prepare his horse.
He would follow her to Stokholm.
Christine was sitting at the railway station. It was raining - a grey, whining day was slowly retreating into the shadows of twilight, preparing to transform itself to the wet and cold evening. It was the land of her childhood where she had travelled with her father, and often they didn't have shelter from rains like this...
Now she felt almost like then, sitting alone in the vast, almost empty hall, without Raoul, without anyone. She thought of her children, but Charles was already a big boy and could well look after five-years-old Andre. They would have a wonderful evening together...
Strange, but the thought of deserted children didn't fill her with guilt. She supposed it should. She, a mother, left her children only with the briefest good-bye! Of course, there were servants, governors, teachers and there was their father, so children wouldn't be without their usual care... but still wasn't she supposed to miss them now? She couldn't say as she had never left them yet.
It wasn't difficult for Raoul to locate the omnibus which had brought Christine to Stokholm. It was a municipal omnibus, so Comte de Chagny was given the most precise information about the lady matching his description who had left at the railway station.
Puzzled beyond any understanding, Raoul went to the station. Christine wasn't there, of course. Raoul really didn't know what she was up to and just in case asked the man at the box-office if the lady who looked so-and-so has bought any tickets.
"Yes, of course, there aren't many ladies here, - the clerk said seeing an obviously rich and noble man. - She had bought a ticket for the evening Paris train. Had left for a hour ago."
Raoul thanked the man courteously but did it out of habit. His mind began to reel. What for, damn, Christine decided to return to Paris?
His first impulse was to buy a ticket for the next Paris train, and he even produced money... but then, standing at the box-office with the money in his hand and with the expectantly looking clerk before him, he suddenly pushed his money back in his pocket. Then he left the hall and went to the nearby hotel, settling there for himself and his horse.
His sleep was troubled with the unclear images of the past.
In the morning he mounted his horse and launched home.
Christine was sitting at the window in her compartment. The service was the best possible in the train, which meant that she was given reassurances that she could ask about anything she would like. She nodded in silence to these reassurances and retired to her compartment, closed the door and sat at the window.
For the ten years of her marriage to Raoul she had got accustomed to the most comfortable life of the rich noble lady. There couldn't be an idea that she would shake in a casual municipal omnibus to get to the city - there would be a personal carriage, soft seats, servants and, of course, Raoul's never-ceasing protection. She presumed that was it - she could grow tired of his endless protection, of his endless presence. Everywhere - day and night, in her house or outdoors, in her room, in her bed, in her life, in her breath...
But this was the very idea of love she had always had. How could it seem wrong?
Why wasn't she missing his comforting hands now, in the loneliness of the night train?
Of course she didn't blame him for his words, really. He would never think of her having had affairs with other men. He knew about her only affair, and knew very well.
Christine supposed - in fact, she knew - that Raoul had sacrificed much for marrying her. His position in the Parisian society, his ties to his relatives, his respect, his reputation. And she knew that he felt that loss, thought never really mourned it or reprimanded her for it. She felt uncomfortable about it, but he asked her never to return to that matter because he loved her most of all and in any case was glad to have her as his wife.
And she loved him enough to agree to these terms, really very light terms, because most of all she wanted to become his wife and forget about her terrible past...
Raoul returned home tired and morbid. He ordered Francois to bring him dinner to his study, and when it was done, he suddenly told him to fetch wine.
"And brandy, - he added. - Enough brandy."
Christine was returning to Paris. What could wait for her there? Nothing but the recollection of the horrible story she had been the unvoluntary participant of.
And he, Raoul, really loved her very much to be able almost to forget everything she was related to in his mind...
The terrible way throught the cellars... the torture chamber... the powder barrels... the nightmarish seconds of choice... the dungeon... the feeling of complete unability to do anything, of being completely at the mercy of another, and he really couldn't say many kind words about this another...
Christine understood very well that it was hard for Raoul to hear her sing. It reminded him of the cellars... and of the torture chamber... and of the feeling of the complete unability to do anything...
So she had agreed not to sing, and thus they became a perfect young loving pair. Of course the scars had stung, but only for some time, and then they found the new friends, the new land, the new activities, and the past began to melt in the mist of forgetfulness... and then Charles was born, and she dedicated herself fully to him and then to Andre, and there was no place in her life for regrets about her lost art.
Raoul gulped the brandy. The dence drink burned his unaccustomed throat, but somehow his feelings of locked despair began to shift.
She was such a good mother! Such a wonderful wife! Any aristocrat could say she was noble-born, Raoul himself never could find any vulgarity or ignorance in her. She was the pride of his life, his perfect jewel, and she was his only passion, the only woman he ever craved in life.
Why had she decided to return to Paris?
She was admired by everyone. The perfect mother, the unblemished beauty, the ideal wife, the brilliant housekeeper, the ideal lady of society...
She bit her lip. That was it!
She felt her throat tighten.
What did it mean to be the perfect mother? That meant always to be by her children's side.
What did it mean to be the unblemished beauty? It meant to have perfect looks.
What did it mean to be the ideal wife? Well... to fulfill the vows of fidelity and her wife's duty.
The brilliant housekeeper...
The ideal lady of society...
Everything she had been being for all these ten years was just to be present in the appointed time at the appointed place and do the appointed actions. No more... Just like an animated doll. The perfect mannequin with her looks, voice and physical abilities. No more.
And she didn't like to be a mannequin...
The key clicked in the rusted lock and turned. There still was a way to the fountain, to the place where she had once awakened up to her horror and her fate.
Christine passed the lond dark underground passage. She wasn't afraid, though anyone would say she should. But she knew that the only real danger of these cellars was now in the past, and as she had seen that danger very close, any imaginable terrors would only make her laugh.
The passade sloped down, the air became heavier, more damp. The ground was slightly slippery under her feet. Christine had walked this way so many times that she knew precisely where every slightest turn was, where it was necessary to be careful not to fall and how many steps there were from the iron gates to the small fountain. She could walk this way even in profound darkness, but the flickering candle in her hand made her the visiting queen.
There was that fountain at the stone wall. Christine put the candle on the bricks and slowly made three steps aside from it. Nothing marked that place, nothing could tell that it was somehow different from any other place on the cellar ground. Of all the living only Christine knew what the place was. It was a grave, and there slept the man to whom Christine came now.
She looked down, and suddenly all her calm restrain gave in. She couldn't say why, she didn't try to explain it to herself. She came here by impulse, knowing that coming here she would get all the answers - and she got them.
Christine, overwhelmed with tears, fell on the grave, clawing dirt with her fingers and completely forgetting about soiling her dress.
"Forgive me... forgive me for killing you!" - she sobbed.
There was such profound silence that Christine unvoluntary listened. But no answer came, either mundane or preternatural, as she was lying there on the grave of the man whom she had doomed to death ten years earlier, the man who had loved her so much that threatened to kill her knowing that he couldn't bear to lose her. She still could feel his tears on her hands.
There had been tears for both of them, tears and music. He was giving her his soul with open hands, be that his music or his love, and she drank greedily from the endless source of his spirit and talent. She could give him nothing in return, of course - nothing but fear and death.
"Erik..." - the faintest whisper, barely audible even for herself.
He had been a magician, he had ruled all the shadows of the enormous Opera House, his power seemed unlimited. She wouldn't be too surprised if he would answer her now. But she knew she wouldn't hear the answer. As powerful as he had been, death was still more powerful.
"Erik, forgive me, I didn't understand you, - she whispered to the cool ground. - I didn't understand your love. I thought Raoul was my walls of safety, my source of warmness, the very soul destined to make me whole. But he loves only the outside of me. You loved my soul and spirit, you wanted to cherish and nurture them. It was the love I had never known of... and I was afraid of you. Raoul is afraid of music, Erik! He's afraid of the fact that I have a soul and spirit! He'd like to threw them away from me, he doesn't know what to do with it!"
She was lying on the unmarked grave, listening to the past and absorbing the emptiness of present. Strangely, but this was what she needed now.
"You didn't give me just my voice, Erik. You gave me myself. You taught me to think and understand. And I... I was so scared that I tried to forget everything you've taught me - and I succeeded! Erik, I succeded! I have no voice any more!"
The darkness embraced Christine like some gentle, velvet blanket, trying to comfort her with its soft, unfeelable touches.
"I'm not myself any more. Killing you I've killed myself. I never existed outside my art, we both knew it, only I didn't want to admit! Oh Erik, without you I'm nothing... The so-called 'happy' life sucked even the small bits of art you have taught me out of my soul. What I wouldn't give now to be able to continue our lessons!"
For a long time she was lying there, sobbing in the lonely silence of darkness. Then she raised, cleaned off as much soil from her dress as she could, and left the cellars.
The Opera House loomed in the evening darkness. Nobody paid any attention to her. She supposed no one was remembering the name of Christine Daae yet, and that was for the best. Was there in the Opera anyone who still remembered the Phantom?..
The door of de Chagny's house opened. Raoul hurried there and was confronted by a very calm and reserved Christine.
He had decided that if she returned soon he wouldn't say any bitter words to her. Everything would be as if she visited her relatives.
"Hello, - he said, kissing her impassionate hand. - I trust you had a good time?"
"Yes, very good, - Christine said, immediately catching the game. - A little tired, though. Is there hot water in the bath?"
"I suppose it will be, soon. Francois! Pierre! Hot water for the mistress, quickly!.."
That night Christine was lying in her bed alone. The moonlight whispered the unhearable words into her face and hair, until she closed the curtains and lay in complete darkness. Later she half-opened her eyes, aware that the candle on the table was burning, giving the room its soft, half-winning radiance.
He was sitting on the table, with his back to her, dressed as always in his dress-suit, cloak and hat.
"It's never too late, - he said, and it was unmistakably his voice. - I forgive you for killing me, I'm very glad you've appreciated me at last."
She looked, fascinated, at the man who had died for love for her.
"All right, I can't teach you any more, now that I'm dead, - he continued calmly. - But as you cried so movingly about having lost yourself, I'd like to ask you: where have you put everything I taught you? Do you really think it doesn't exist simply because you had tried to forget it purposefully?"
"I don't know, - she whispered understanding that he was waiting for the answer. - If you say it does exist I'll try to find it."
"Remember your lessons, step by step, from the very first ones, - Erik continued. - From the simplest exercises, elementary vocalises. Hire an accompanist or just use your memory of my playing. You will see that your voice returns to you. And when you remember... then from the height of your own art you will be able to find the way that your soul really wants to follow."
Christine understood that was all he wanted to tell her. But he was sitting with his back to her still. She supposed it was because he was unmasked and didn't want to frighten her once again with his appearance.
"Erik, please, turn to me, - she asked. - I'd like to see you."
He shook his head.
"I've seen you, - she reminded him. - I've even kissed you. Why are you afraid to show me your face?"
"If I turn to you now, you won't recognize me," - he said.
Christine awoke with a start, the dawn weakly creeping through the curtains.
She slowly raised, slightly shivering in her nightgown, and whispered a prayer to the Holy Virgin. Oh how Christine needed her guidance now...
In the morning Christine, while waiting for breakfast, heard the delicate tapping at the door.
"Yes? Come in, Raoul."
The named person came in.
"Christine, I want to tell you... I'm awfully sorry for what I told you that day you left. I was thouroughly wrong. You see it was the music... I'm terribly afraid of music. But if you want it... I'll find the musical teacher for Charles."
Christine smiled weakly at him.
"Thank you, Raoul. I know you're really a good man. Otherwise I wouldn't marry you."
Raoul, feeling forgiven, stepped up to Christine and tried to embrace her. She reached up to him, but suddenly turned her palms and the gesture of acceptance became the gesture of rejection.
"Raoul, Raoul... please, not now. There's breakfast soon, and then I suppose I need to attend to the children. I've missed them. There will be the night..."
Raoul accepted it all with a slight puzzled frown, but Christine's words were reasonable.
Raoul de Chagny was not at all glad to discover that Christine was re-studying voice.
He told her about it, but she answered with measured calmness that she was not his slave and was free to pass her free time as she wanted. Since she remained the ideal mother, the perfect wife and so on, Raoul couldn't say anything against her ideas of passing her free time and had to reconcile with her scales and vocalises.
Scales and vocalises, the breath exercises... Range, intonation, force... Step by step Christine reconstructed all the lessons Erik had given to her. Step by step, thouroughly, with all the precise details. She was surprised how she could remember these lessons so precisely, but then again, Erik had been such a personality who made those around him to use their abilities on the full scale, even unconsciously.
Step by step, she felt her voice slowly returning to her, first just in some notes, then in simplest scales, and soon she could already sing the easy soprano arias.
But that was not enough for her. Another month of remembering, and she knew she could sind Margarita as wonderfully as she had done it ten years before. Her late professor still was with her, he continued to live in her memory, she could hear his words in her mind. Everything the greatest singer and musician who ever lived had given to his extremely talented pupil was returning to life, all knowledge, feelings and prowess, all abilities to understand the souls of people through music and channel them through music also.
All was as Erik had said in her dream.
She remembered all the parts he had studied with her. She knew Elvira, Juliet... Nobody had ever been able to sing the Queen of the Night as she did. She reveled in singing in the solitude of her room, in re-acquiring the power of her voice.
But once she reached the point where Erik's lessons had been stopped. There were many lyrical-coloratura soprano parts she hadn't studied with him, so if she wanted them she had nothing to remember. But she didn't want to stop.
Christine took a piece of paper, a pencil and for several evenings was sitting at the table trying to understand how Erik would teach her to sing other desired parts. Occasionally she made notes on the paper. Occasionally she sand an uncomprehendable phrase. And then, when she decided she had a distinct idea of would Erik would say, she ordered the score of 'La Traviata'.
Four months passed. The hired musical tutor was very glad with Charles' progress and offered also to teach Andre, who was very jealous of the elder brother playing the majestic instrument. Andre really didn't have the musical gift, but it is possible for anyone to study music to some extent, the limits here are only the abilities, will and desire. But he had the real shock when instead of considering this the Comtesse suddenly asked him to play the aria of Violetta. The shock was not in the request, of course, but in the fact that the Comtesse really sang it... and, God, how she sang it!
"Madame, I've never heard anyone singing so..." - the musician began, lowering his hands, numbed with delight, on the keyboard. But here he saw the terrified expression of the Count and decided it was more reasonable just to shut his mouth and never to mention Comtesse de Chagny's musical prowess to anyone.
When the musician got his payment and left, Christine turned to Raoul with her quiet gentle smile:
"I know you've never heard me singing Violetta. In fact, I never did. I've just learned it... what's the matter, Raoul? Why do you looking at me with such horror?"
"Did you... did you hear yourself?"
"Why, I suppose yes. Otherwise how would I be able to sing it? And what of it? I don't think I missed the notes so terribly so as to make you terrified..."
"You... you don't understand? - Raoul looked at her with the genuine horror on his face, never diminishing.
"What must I understand for you not to be terrified, Raoul?"
Raoul opened his mouth. But no sound issued from it, as if from a mouth of a landed fish. His throat tightened, he tried to say one word, then another... and, at last, the hoarse whisper:
"Christine, you... No! I don't want to tell you!"
And he ran away, hiding his face in his hands.
Christine remained alone in the drawing-room. The boys did their studies in their rooms, so no one would bother the lady. She knew Raoul wasn't too happy with her singing, but she hoped that hearing her singing something she had learned herself, without Erik's tutelage, Raoul would be able to accept her singing. Instead of it he was terrified beyond words.
Christine went to Raoul's room and entered it without knocking. Her husband was lying on his bed, on his back, looking at the ceiling with unseeing eyes.
She sat by his side, took his face in her hands, but he only tensed more. There was the pure terror in his eyes.
"Raoul, my dear, please forgive me. I didn't mean to scare you. But if you love me then we need to come to an understanding. I'm sorry, my dear. You see, I really can't help singing. Once a singer, always a singer. Without singing I can't live. I am my singing, outside of it I do not exist."
Raoul's lips moved. In a second he mastered his voice and quietly said:
"Then, Christine, you don't exist at all."
She was suprised beyond all her imagination.
But he just turned from her, covered his face with his hands and quietly wept. Christine stroked his hair, trying to console him, but he whispered:
"Christine, please, leave me now. I beg you. Tomorrow... tomorrow..." - his voice trailed off.
She shrugged her shoulders and acceded to his request.
The night fell on Sweden. Raoul de Chagny was lying on his bed, fully dressed, looking in the darkness and once again feeling as if he was in the torture chamber.
Christine's voice was superb, her Violetta undoubtely would be a tremendous success. And not only because of her flawless technics. She possessed the ability to pass the feelings through her song, to make listeners feel together with her character, the ability, though rare, being the very epitome of singing.
Only one singer heard by Raoul had ever been able to do it better than she. Raoul had heard Erik singing twice: first after the Masquerade, when the Phantom of the Opera lured Christine through the mirror to the subterranian bowels of the theatre, and the second time when Erik was singing the Requiem Mass for Raoul's brother, Philippe, whom Erik had just killed. Raoul didn't know for whom that Mass was, but he was sitting in the torture chamber then, in the mirror nightmare of the illusionary tropical forest, and was rapidly loosing his sanity, so he had enough more than suitable backgrount for absorbing Erik's singing. How he sang!..
And now Raoul heard in Christine's crystal soprano the unmistakable singing intonations of the Phantom of the Opera.
That man continued to live, he only had been hiding in Christine's soul, bidding his time. And now Raoul was thrown for ten years back, and he once again was in the place where the nightmare reigned and where weren't any way out.
Christine fell asleep late that night. And again there was a candle flickering on the table, and the man in the black cloak and hat was again sitting on the table.
"Are you glad with your prowess now, Christine?"
"To tell you honestly I'm not. I can not see why my singing scares people."
"Haven't you said that your Raoul was afraid of music?"
"He was afraid of the reminiscences of you. I wanted him to hear that I was able to sing by myself. He was afraid of it. I don't know what the matter is."
"But you have your ideas, haven't you?"
"Yes. - Amazingly how Erik had always been able to make Christine speak very frankly to him. - It did occur to me that Raoul... was afraid of me having my own spirit. And maybe hearing me singing the new part he... was afraid of this? But why, then, he told me that I didn't exist?"
"You do exist, - and she heard the shadow of the old familiar pain in his calm voice, - it's me who doesn't."
"Erik... - she tried to touch him, but the fear of shattering the dream made her snatch her hand off before actually touching. - I... - Tears were welling in her throat. - Now I do want you to..."
"I know." - He suddenly turned around. The face under his hat was the blinding glory of light, visible just for a moment. Then everything disappeared in the harsh reality of awakeness.
After that nocturnal conversation Christine didn't desire to clarify the problem with Raoul immediately. She felt there was something very fragile, something that could be destroyed with careless investigation. Let it find a little more strength, a little more sureness, she decided, and then it would be possible to study the cause without fear of inflict irrevocable damage with the studying.
It was hard, of course. She felt Raoul was becoming further. But strangely it didn't scare her. She felt as if it was all right. After all, they had been married for ten years. It was impossible to keep love as hot, young and unsatiable as in their early days, of course it was impossible for anyone.
"For anyone but Erik," - Christine suddenly thought.
It could seem strange, but becoming older Christine was beginning to understand the man who had inspired only terror in her while he lived. Terror and pity. Maybe she was the only one who had understood him enough to pity him, and for getting these several moments of pity he practically gave his life, but now, having acquired some experience and wisdom, Christine was realizing that there was really much in that man's soul. She had drunk it like the blind child, not quite understanding what she had and why it was so gorgeous to relish in it. But now she felt she was beginning to know him, as if she re-acquainted him now, when neither his deformity nor his outcast position really mattered. And she was beginning to like her strange, unsubstantial acquaintance...
"How strange, - she thought suddenly, - I could fall in love with him now as if he were near."
This thought scared her somehow. She changed her dress and, taking the decision to distract herself from these maddening thoughts, went for a walk with her children.
It was not easy, of course, to see Raoul's lightless eyes. He was always correct, faultlessly polite and kind, but he never smiled, never laughed for a whole week, didn't try to come to her bed. She tried to distract herself from his unexplicable pain with singing and was succeeding greatly. The whole household fascinatedly listened to the greatest soprano ever walking this earth in mortal shape.
Christine discovered she knew Erik so well now that she could easily hear the words he would tell her. She could imagine the whole dialogues and was surprised to discover the whole world of knowledge in her inseen companion. They even could laugh together, though Christine had never heard Erik laughing of joy while he was alive.
Meanwhile Raoul lost all his joy. Christine pitied him and wanted to help him but he always eluded her questions and suggestions.
"All right, - she said finally, coming to his room once in the evening and finding him on his bed in his depressed state again, - I won't ever sing! I see I am just killing you somehow with my singing!"
"Aren't you glad of it?" - Raoul asked.
"Me? Raoul, what are you speaking about? How can I be glad to see that being myself means killing my love?"
Raould suddenly straightened. His eyes were flaming of rage.
"You don't love me, Christine! You don't love anyone anymore. You've deserted even your children. They've already ceased to ask me why their mother doesn't love them. You love only yourself and your singing. Yes you pity me but that's the only feeling I can inspire in you now! If I didn't know better I would say you love him!"
"Whom?" - she asked, shrinking back from his shouting.
"Him, your teacher, your priceless Angel of Music, your deformed admirer, your Phantom of the Opera! But you are not able to love me living, so I don't think you're able to love him dead!"
Christine realised she was deeply insulted. Were she younger she would cry or speak something like 'you will come to me to ask my forgiveness, and I'll give it to you.' But now she knew that he wouldn't come, and, actually, he didn't have the point.
Everything was crystal clear to her now. She knew where she belonged, and Raoul's blaming her in being unable to love only snapped the last of her bonds.
She looked calmly at her husband.
"Him? The man I killed ten years ago for your sake? Of course I love him."
That night Christine didn't hope to see the flickering candle. And still it was there.
"Do you really? - Erik asked, and there were constrained tears in the depths of his fathomless voice. - Do you?"
"Yes, - Christine answered, smiling. - To be myself means to love you, it's as simple as this. But I have been a very silly girl, I've understood it only now. But, as you've said, it's never too late."
"It's never too late, - Erik answered. - Death really changed nothing in me, it only relieved me of human hate. I love you as I loved you in life. There's nothing to be afraid here if you only have been true to yourself. Now when you know me, do you care to come to me, to sing for me?"
"First you sing for me."
"To prove it's really you."
Erik smiled. As he was sitting with his back to her she couldn't, of course, see his smile, but she was sure he smiled.
He sang as he had never sung before, the deep human passion mingled with the unearthly glory. But she recognised him. There could be no mistake. No demon, no deceiving spirit could ever sing so. It was Erik's soul who sang, the trusting, beautiful soul, unmutilated by all the tortures of his earthly existing.
And Christine joined the melody. She knew he wanted it, and was delighted to discover that her voice really was good enough to deserve singing this duet. Death was really nothing for love, now Christine knew it absolutely exactly.
It is never too late...
In the morning Christine didn't come for breakfast. Her husband, who spent all the night brooding over their plight, went to her room and knocked.
There was no answer.
Full of terror that she had once again left for Paris or something like that, Raoul burst into the room.
Christine was there, lying in her bed, and Raoul felt great relief for a second. But he quickly understood that there was something greatly, greatly wrong...
The Count Raoul de Chagny lived to an old age. There was much legendary around him, the eighty-years-old patriarch of the multiple family. People told that he had been a sailor, a hero who fought wild monsters in the untamed jungle, that his wife had been an uncomparable beauty, the pure paragon of woman, and some people added in whispers that she could sing like an angel. Of course, since his wife had died suddenly in her sleep from an unknown cause when she was only about 30, no one could really remember her. But the most exciting was the legend about how, when the Count found out that his wife was dead, his golden hair became grey in one minute.