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Our Journey Begins

Our Journey Begins

Background
Erik and Christine have just experienced a traumatic encounter with Raoul. They are now back in Erik’s home and, hopefully, will be able to continue their journey.

Chapter Eight

Our Journey Begins
____________________
 
She lowered her face back against my chest, and I squeezed her tightly before I began giving her instructions.
   “Then we have to leave now. I’m sure Raoul is on his way to the police as we speak, and I’m equally sure he’ll bring them back here and blame Claude’s death on me. Every bad occurrence around here gets blamed on me, and, knowing how Raoul feels about me, he’s not going to pass up this opportunity to have me out of his way. He knows where I live, and with his testimony and the power of the Chagny name, they won’t leave a stone unturned before they find my home.”
   “I don’t think Raoul would deliberately lie like that, Erik. Can’t we wait here and rest for a while before we leave. I’m so tired.”
   “Christine, try to think with your mind and not your innocent heart. Two hours ago, would you have believed Raoul would try to shoot me in the back or that there would be an innocent man dead by the lake from his bullet?”
   There was silence again, and then she pushed away from me. I thought: oh, no, here we go again. But once she got to her feet and looked down at me, her voice was soft, yet determined.
   “What can I do to help you? What do you want me to do?”
   I smiled and got to my feet, then, with her shoulders in my hands, I started making plans. “I’m concerned about Madame Valerius. After what you just told me, I fear what Raoul might do to her when he doesn’t find you there, and I fear what she might do if you just disappear. I think, before we leave the city, we should go see her and explain what we’re doing.”
   “I agree. She deserves at least that much.”
   “Also, what would you think about her leaving Paris and living with us?”
   “What? You would do that?”
   “Certainly, if it would make her and you happy. I don’t like what she said to you about going home if I took you away. That’s no reason for someone to stop living. I think she would like the place I have in mind.”
   “I can’t believe you would actually suggest this. Raoul, a man who’s held in high esteem, thinks she should be put in an institution, and you, a man who’s condemned and hunted, want to take care of her. Everyone is so wrong about you. And me—how could I have been so blind for so long? How could I not see the difference sooner?” She once again placed her palm on the center of my chest and sighed, “Your heart is bigger than the universe.”
   While kissing her fingers, I replied, “Not really. I just don’t want to see her hurt by anything I do. Someone always seems to get hurt because of me, and if the lady who’s taken care of my angel all these years was hurt because of my actions…”
   She pressed her fingers over my lips. “Stop! Stop beating yourself up. Your life—our lives are changing as of this minute. From now on, no more depressing thoughts. Now, what can I do to help us leave quickly?”
   After one more kiss to her fingers, I headed for my armoire with her right behind me. “Take this bag and pack what necessities you might need; a change of clothes, soap, whatever, but keep them simple and light. We can always buy more once we get to a city. Find the most comfortable shoes you have and put them on. Lose the corset and the petticoats; you won’t be needing them for a while.”
   Her eyes widened. “Where are we going?”
   With a smirk, I answered, “Let me just say it’s a bit off the beaten path, and you won’t need a tiny waist, but you will need the ability to move and breathe freely. And change out of that dress. Put on something dark, and grab your black cloak and black gloves. Are you understanding me?”
   She nodded, took the bag from my hand and started to leave the room. But then she turned back toward me with a sheepish grin on her face. “Erik, I’m afraid none of my dresses will fit without my corset. What should I do?”
   We both stood there, looking at each other, as if we were expecting someone else to come up with a solution. Finally, I had an idea.
   “Here,” I said as I took a black shirt and pair of black trousers out of my armoire and handed them to her. “These will be much too big, but they’re the right color and will have to do for now. Put them on.”
   She held them out in front of her with a squint at me. “Where are we going? Why do I need these?”
   “I don’t have time to explain. Trust me for now, and I’ll explain on the way. Oh, is that little boy costume here or in your dressing room?”
   “It’s here,” she responded hesitantly.
   “Good. Pack it along with a simple dress that doesn’t take up too much room. It won’t matter if it doesn’t fit properly. Yes,” I mumbled while scrambling through my armoire in search of anything we might need. “That will be perfect. And the shoes to the costume, are they comfortable?”
   She nodded, and I told her to wear them and take another pair that would go with whatever dress she packed. She started for her room, but I had another thought, so I stopped her.
   “Those little boy’s shoes, they’re tan, right?”
   “Yes.”
   “Bring them to me,” I said while charging toward the kitchen.
   She entered the kitchen with the shoes in her hands but still with confusion written on her face. I took them from her and turned them over in my hands, again mumbling.
   “Heels a good height, but wrong color. I’ll take care of this. You go change your clothes.”
   She did as I asked without question, and I began rubbing bootblack over the shoes until they were completely black. After tossing them in her room, I went back to my armoire where I took another bag and emptied all my masks, gloves, lassos, and oils from the top shelf of my armoire, along with a few changes of clothes. I held back a mask and a pair of gloves that I put in my cloak’s pocket.
   In another bag, I stuffed all the blankets it could hold. I removed the tapestry from the wall and propped the door to the passage open. Then I headed for Christine to see how she was coming along with her packing.
   As I entered her room, I stopped short when I saw her sitting on her bed with one hand on the saddlebags I’d left for her and the other hand holding the letter I wrote her. She looked up at me; her eyes filled with tears once more. She dropped the letter on the bed and ran for me, wrapping her arms around me.
   “Erik, you were really going to do it. You were really going to kill yourself—for me.”
   Pushing her shoulders away from me so I could look into her eyes, I asked with a slight frown, “Did you think I was lying to you?”
   She shook her head. “No, but that letter just made it so final and so real and so scary. Oh, Erik, I love you so. Please, don’t ever leave me.”
   I kissed her on her forehead. “I’ll do my best, my dear. Now, please, if you want to help me stay alive and free then let go of the past and change your clothes quickly.”
   She opened her armoire and started going through her things, while I grabbed the saddlebags and my violin case off the bed and put them in my music room along with my other bags. After that, I went to the kitchen where I filled up water canteens and emptied what there was in the pantry into another bag.
   From there, I went back to the music room where I stood for a few moments, trying to think of anything else that was important enough to take. I felt my pocket to make sure I had my watch and once I confirmed it was there, along with my mother’s locket, I knew I had all the important items I needed.
   When I was satisfied, I stripped off my white shirt, knowing it wouldn’t do for what was ahead of us. I was at my armoire, taking out a black shirt, when Christine walked in dressed in my oversized clothing. Her hands couldn’t be seen as they bunched the waist of the trousers up under her breast, and she was stumbling, trying to walk on the inside of the pant legs. I just had to chuckle at her. She looked so cute.
   She tilted her head and responded to my enjoyment. “Hey! Don’t laugh! It was your idea, remember?”
   Still chuckling, I rolled up the sleeves and pant legs, while telling her to put her hair on top of her head so it would stay out of the way and out of sight. Then I slipped one of my belts through the belt loops, but the belt, quite naturally, was also too big.
   “Hold this a minute,” I told her as I handed her the end of the belt. “I’ll be right back.” I went to the drawer in the kitchen where I had my leather tools and got an awl. After making a new hole in the belt, I buckled it. I believe I was still smiling broadly, but she wasn’t; she was watching my face intently. There was silence for a moment before she wrapped her arms around me and placed her cheek on my bare chest.
   I was ready to push her away again, but she kissed my chest before I could. I closed my eyes and took a breath. When I opened them, she was looking up at me and her lips were on a path toward mine. I took another breath and gently pushed her away.
   “Oh, Christine, you have no idea how badly I want to let you continue on your journey, but there just isn’t any time to waste. If I lose myself in your love right now, I may not be around to love you in the days ahead.” I cocked my head at her. “Help me out here, my dear—Please!”
   “Very well,” she replied with a frown. Then she ran her fingertips over the bruising on my right shoulder and arm. “What happened?”
   I shook my head and answered with anxiety accompanying my voice. “We can talk about this later. For now, let this serve as an incentive for you in the hours to come. Things can change quickly, and, if we don’t get out of here and out of Paris quicker, there could be more of this,” I said as I gestured to my mutilated right shoulder.
   Hurriedly, she kissed my chest, and darted toward her room, giving me a chance to gather my fluctuating emotions and finish dressing. Once done, I gathered a few tools from the kitchen and put them on my piano. After that, I went to Christine and told her I was going to the lake to disconnect the latch on the column that opened the large invisible door to the docking room.
   When finished, I felt better. With that latch disconnected, Raoul couldn’t get into my home by that method. I was in the process of disconnecting the latch that opened the parlor door when Christine approached me.
   “I’m finished,” she began. “What else can I do? Do you need help with what you’re doing?”
   “No,” I replied as I stepped down from the stool. “I’m also finished.” I grabbed the stool, went inside, and leaned back against the door, listening to it click closed for the last time. “Now I feel better. No one can get in here.”
   While I went into the music room, she stood looking at that door. “But, Erik, what if we should need to get back in here for some reason?”
   “That’s simple—well, maybe not so simple. All I’ve done is disconnect the latches that open the doors automatically. They can still be opened manually, but, without the latches, it’s extremely difficult. In fact, it’s so difficult that to anyone trying it will appear impossible.”
     “Hmm,” was her only response as she looked back at that door.
   As I was taking the bottle of chloroform and a rag from my armoire and slipping them into my cloak’s pocket, she came around the corner. She stopped, looked at the bottle, and then at me with a frown.
   “What are you going to use that for?”
   I stopped, looked down at the bottle in my hand, and sighed. “I either use this or a hold on their necks that will stop the flow of blood to their brains. Which would you prefer I use?”
   “Why do you have to use anything? Where are you taking me?”
   Again I looked down at the bottle and almost told her I didn’t have time to explain, but she looked truly frightened, so I had to give her an explanation.
   “We need transportation, Christine. We can’t use the train or shipping lanes. I’m certain the authorities will be watching them. We can’t go to the livery and buy horses and a carriage and then travel the roads for the same reason. Our only safe way out of Paris will be on foot or the back of a horse. So, unless you want to carry all of this for hundreds of kilometers,” I said while gesturing to all our belongings piled up on the piano, “I need this bottle to encourage the grooms in the stable to let us leave with two of the performance horses. I don’t believe they’ll let us walk out of here without this.”
   Her frown increased and her voice moved up the scale. “You’re going to steal the performance horses?”
   “Well, not all of them. We only need two.”
   “Which two?”
   “I think the matched pair of bay mares will serve us nicely. They’re well trained, gentle, and the darkest pair in the stable.”
   “You mean Clio and Urania?” I nodded. “Oh, Erik. We can’t steal them.”
   I took a deep breath and a heavy sigh followed. I looked at all our things on the piano, at Christine, who was distraught, at the door to the passage, and rubbed my chin.
   “After everything we’ve gone through, do you think it’s wise to stay around here long enough to negotiate a deal with the managers? They owe me, Christine.”
   Her only response was a whimper. “Uh.”
   Trying to help her come to a decision that wouldn’t put us in danger, I tried another approach.
   “I guess we could take a carriage to the coach house and see if they have any horses to sell us. But, with what’s ahead of us, I’d rather put my trust in hoses I know”
   Again, she stared at me and only muttered another, “Uh,” so I tried a different idea.
   “Would it make you feel better if I paid for the mares?”
   “Oh, Erik, I’m sorry. Don’t listen to me. You do what you think is best. Poor Claud died because you listened to me the last time. You make the decision.”
   “Good,” I replied while charging toward the piano and the saddlebags. Scrambling through them, I took out an envelope that held my last wages and asked her, “Do you think 20,000 francs will do the job?”
  She shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know what performance horses cost.”
   “This will do,” I said as I patted my pockets, making sure I had my personal key. Then I took her by the shoulders and sat her down in the chair she liked so much. “Christine, promise me—please, please, promise me you won’t leave this chair until I return. It will take me perhaps 15 minutes to leave this money in the managers’ office, and I know your curiosity. Please don’t leave here.”
   “But why don’t you just leave it in the stable? Wouldn’t that take less time?”
   I huffed. “Leave this much money with two men who together don’t make this much in several years? I don’t think so. If you want me to pay for these horses, then I have to leave this with the managers. I’d take you with me, but I can get there faster without you. Do you understand and promise to stay here?”
   “I promise, Erik. I won’t leave this chair.”
   I started for the stairs, but then I stopped and looked back at her. “And, if anyone should come calling, please don’t answer the door.”
   She smiled and shook her head, and I charged up the stairs. Fortunately, we’d made this decision to leave in the middle of the night, so I didn’t have people to deal with. I went straight to the managers’ office, put the envelope in the pocket of a coat that was hanging on the coat stand, and was back in the music room in record time. Christine was right where I left her, asleep, but I couldn’t let her rest any longer. So I took her hand, and then we stood silently, looking around the room.
   “I think I have everything I need. Do you have everything you want, Christine?”
   She also looked around the room until her sight and palm landed on my piano. “Just one more time, Erik, please. From what you said, it might be a long time before I hear you play again.”
   I couldn’t refuse her, and, when I thought about what she said, I couldn’t refuse myself either. I didn’t have to ask her what she wanted me to play; I could read it in her crystal blue eyes. So, within moments, the introduction and then our voices joined in harmony as we sang the wedding night song from Romeo et Juliette.
   Since that piece now held a much stronger meaning, our eyes were moist by the time we listened to the last notes fade. I got to my feet and, once more, took her hand from the top of the piano; just as I had on many other occasions. Only that time, we were locked in an embrace and a long and gentle kiss that finished the scene off to perfection. Well—almost perfection. To take the scene any further than that would be inviting disaster.
   “Is that it? Is there anything else you need, Christine?”
   “Oh, Erik. So much of you is in this room; your piano and organ, your cello and French horn, your paintings and tapestries, your opera.” Then she gasped, “And Molly! You can’t leave Molly behind.”
   I also looked at Molly. So many memories were tied up in that bust; not only about the man who made it and his family but also about the horse that inspired it and the many years we’d spent together. When nostalgia started slipping into my thoughts, I took a deep breath, held Christine’s face in my hands, and kissed her gently.
   “I have all I need and could ever want right here in my hands.” I kissed her again. “I can make new instruments, buy new paintings, and with you by my side as an inspiration, I can write a new and improved opera. And as far as Molly is concerned, perhaps we can come back for her someday, but what I need the most is right here.” I gave her another soft kiss and finished my thought. “I have to ensure your safety by getting us out of Paris as soon as possible.”
   She snuggled against my chest, and I kissed the top of her head while telling her we had to leave right then. She backed away, and I lifted a bag off the piano, preparing to swing it over my shoulder.
   “My, this is heavy. Is this your bag? It’s heavier than mine. What do you have in here?” I asked as I began feeling it.
   Her fingers covered her lips, her eyes lowered, and she apologized. “I’m sorry. I’ll leave my shoes if you want. I’ll go barefoot if I have to, but I couldn’t leave my jewelry and jewelry box behind. They mean too much to me. Each of them holds special meaning.”
   I swung the bag over my shoulder and smiled. “I don’t mind, but the mares might.”
   “Oh, Erik, I’m sorry. I’ll leave my shoes,” she explained as she reached for the bag.
   “Don’t be silly. I’m only teasing you, my dear. Now, put on your cloak and grab what you can and follow me.”
   I started up the stairs with her following me. When we reached the door to the third cellar, I put everything down and told her to do the same. Then we went back down to the music room and gathered up what was left. With everything in our arms, I stopped at the door and looked back into the room, and then I looked down at Christine.
   “Last chance. Do you have everything you need?”
   She looked around, put her head against my arm, and nodded. “We made many fond memories in this room.”
   “Some frightening ones also, wouldn’t you say?” I added.
   “Perhaps,” she replied while looking up at me. “But they’re also fond to me. They helped me come to know you—to understand you.”
   At the same time we both said, “I love you.” Then we both chuckled.
   I nodded toward the stairs, and she started up. I took one last look at my memories, turned out the last light, and felt a strange twinge in my gut as I let the door close for the last time. After dismantling the latch, I shoved my weight against the door, just to make certain it wasn’t going to open. I then looked up the stairs where Christine stood at the next door with all our belongings at her feet.
   Here we go, I said to myself as I swung the saddlebags over one shoulder and the last bag over the other shoulder, and then I picked up the lantern and headed up the stairs toward Christine. Once there, she turned toward the door we normally went through, but I turned in another direction and released a latch to another door. She frowned at me and I smiled at her.
   “You never told me about that door. I’m surprised.”
   While tossing the bags into the next passageway, I responded to her shock. “Well, if that’s the only surprise that comes your way because of me, count yourself fortunate.”
   It wasn’t too long before we reached our destination, the corridor close to the stable, so I turned the lantern off and gave Christine some whispered instructions.
   “From here we have to move in the dark. Keep your hood over your head and your hair hidden. Don’t talk to me unless it’s extremely important, and, if you do, whisper. I’m going to open this door, and then we can take our bags closer to the stable. I want you to stay there with the bags while I secure our passage out of Paris. There shouldn’t be anyone in this corridor, but if you hear anyone, press your body against the wall and stay still. If you do, chances are you won’t be seen. Do you understand?”
   “Yes, Erik,” she whispered. “I’ll do as you say.”
   I opened the door and listened and looked before stepping into the corridor. I had Christine hold the door open while I took the bags to the entrance of the stable. Once they were there, and Christine was there with them, I went back to the door and dismantled the last of the latches. Then I entered the stable as I always had, cautiously. I peeked toward the grooms’ quarters and thought, they’re making this easy for me.
   They were both asleep, with playing cards and wine bottles spread out between them. They were both on the floor, but one was leaning against a cot with his mouth dropped open and the other one was sprawled out on the floor. Even though they were sound asleep and snoring, I wanted to make certain they stayed that way, so I prepared the cloth with chloroform.
   I held it over the mouth and nose of the one sitting first. He struggled for only a moment before he went limp and I let him go. Within another minute, the second groom was also under the influence of the chloroform. César was causing a ruckus, as he usually did when he sensed I was near, so I went to him next to calm him before he aroused attention.
   “I’m sorry, my friend. I can’t take you this time. You were born the wrong color for what I need right now. Too bad we can’t choose what form we’re born in—right?” I held his head in my arms and he nuzzled my chest, perhaps waiting for me to take him on another ride. I shook my head. “No more rides, my poor friend.”
   I looked around and felt so bad for him to be left in that stable. I only momentarily thought about taking him with us, but that action could spoil everything. It might give him a chance at freedom but it could mean Christine and I could lose ours.
   I pressed my face in his mane and apologized one more time. I looked in his dark eyes and apologized again. When I turned and headed for one of the mares, he tossed his head and let out a loud whinny.
   “No,” I whispered loudly and ran back to him. “Sh,” I told him, as I wrapped my hand over his muzzle. “Please, don’t give me away.”
   I stood quietly for a few moments, listening for any human steps. When I didn’t hear any, I tried to leave again. That time, I kissed him on the nose and put my forehead on his, talking to him softly. Then I slowly backed away from him, talking to him while doing so. That worked and he only nickered softly when I began leading the two mares toward the storage room.
   While I was beginning the most exciting journey of my life, I felt sad in my heart for César. But, once I thought about Christine waiting for me, I knew I had to concentrate on us and our escape and not that magnificent creature I was leaving behind.
   Once I had the mares tied, I returned to Christine and had her join me in the storage room. Since it was nearly pitch black, I took her by the arm and led her to the corner where the bags of grain were kept, and then I put a scoop in her hand.
   “I know it’s dark, but do the best you can. In front of you are grain bags, and these,” I said, as I placed two smaller empty bags in her other hand, “need to be filled with grain. But leave enough room at the top so they can be tied. I’m going to put the leather stage-boots on the mares, and then I’ll be back.”
   When I returned, she was standing in the same spot with both bags full of grain. I tied them together at the neck with twine and put them by the door. Once I realized she hadn’t moved or said anything, I asked if she was all right. It was almost too dark for me to see her nod, but she still didn’t say anything. Feeling there must be something wrong, I stepped in front of her and took her shoulders in my hands.
   “Christine,” I whispered, “what’s wrong?”
   Without moving, she whispered back, “You said not to talk unless it was important. I’m trying to be an obedient wife.”
   I could tell by her tone that she was teasing me, and I had to chuckle softly before I grabbed her and kissed her.
   “I can tell it’s going to be fun living with you, my sweet.”
   “Likewise,” she replied.
   Once I discovered she preferred to ride straddle and not sidesaddle, I prepared the mares in black stage-tack, and, a few minutes later, I had all our belongings tied to the saddles. After one more trip into the tack room for the necessary tools to take care of the mares, we were almost ready.
   I put my cloak back on along with a pair of black gloves, then, after I replaced my hat, I turned my attention to Christine. I helped her up onto the saddle and adjusted the stirrups. She looked at me strangely when I handed her one of my black masks.
   “You need to wear this for me. It’s so your face won’t show in the darkness. I’m afraid your creamy skin will shine like a beckon in the dark night. It must be concealed. And your hair, you must keep your hood up. Don’t remove it for anything.”
   She slipped my mask on, and I smiled at her. She resembled a small child playing dress-up with accessories that were too large for her. Once her hood was up, I began leading the mares toward the ramp that led to the large doors of the stock entrance. We were about halfway to that entrance when I turned my attention to her again.
   “I have to take care of the guard at the door. Stay here with the mares. I’ll be back quickly.”
   Thankfully, there was only one guard at his post, but he was awake, so I had to use more of my stealth to get around behind him without being seen or heard. Once done, and he was sleeping peacefully, I went back to Christine and led us back toward the entrance. After making sure no one was on the street, I mounted and began moving us away from the opera house for the last time. It would be several more hours before I had a chance to reflect on what I was doing—what I was leaving behind.
   I looked at Christine beside me often, and I had to smile every time. What a sight we must have made. Both clad in black, with our black cloaks spreading out over the hind quarters of our dark horses, and riding in the shadows. All we needed were scythes and we could have played the reapers of death in any mid-evil play.
   I led us through the shadows of the back streets and alleys, heading for one last conversation with my friend. Considering what time it was, I felt he’d decided to wait until the morning before going to the opera house to perform his last act for me. Once in the alley behind his flat, I tied the mares and helped Christine down, placing another kiss on those lips that I couldn’t resist.
   Next, I whispered in her ear. “I need to let Oded know my change in plans and tell him goodbye.”
   I moved back and looked in her eyes for a reply, and she nodded. Then, with her hand in mine, I led her through the alley toward the front of his flat. When we were there, we stayed close to the wall and moved toward the stairs. But then I heard movement in the distance, so I stopped, and, with Christine pressed back against the wall and behind my outstretched arm and cloak, I waited.