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Another Difficult Farewell

Another Difficult Farewell

Background

Christine and Erik have just visited Oded and explained why they are leaving Paris. They do so successfully and then tell him goodbye.
 
Chapter Ten

Another Difficult Farewell
____________________
 
As we left Oded’s, I had that ache in my heart from not knowing if, or when, I’d see him again, but the sight of Christine beside me helped soothe the pain. With my arm and cloak around her, I concealed her as we headed for the alleyway. By the time we’d reached the horses, I’d again cautioned her to be as quiet as possible until we were out of the city.
   While on our way to see Madame Valerius, we rode through a secluded park, and I suggested, “I don’t think it’s wise for her to see me; I might frighten her. So I’ll stay in the shadows, but I’d like to be with you when you tell her what’s happening. Also, if she asks you questions that you’re not prepared to answer, lower your head, and I’ll know you need my help. If so, I’ll answer for you.”
   “She may be old, but she’s not stupid, Erik. She’ll surely know I’m not answering her.”
   “Not necessarily. Remember, I’m an illusionist. I can mimic many voices—possibly even yours.”
   “Really? You think you can mimic a woman’s voice?”
   “Probably,” I replied.
   I cleared my throat and hummed to get the right pitch, and then I started repeating, “My name is Christine.” By the fourth try I had it mastered, and Christine’s mouth dropped open. I smiled at her. “Just remember to lower you head so she can’t see your lips.”
   She stared at me. “What else can you do that I’m not aware of?”
   “Oh, I’m certain there are many things,” I answered with an even larger smile.
   We rode on in silence with occasional glances at each other until we were behind the elderly woman’s dark home.
   When we reached the back door, Christine stopped with a slight gasp, and whispered, “My key is in my bag on Clio.”
   She started to go for the horses, but I grabbed her arm. “Wait! I have one.”
   After taking my personally made key from my pocket, I unlocked the door, stepped aside, and motioned for her to enter first. Once more, she stared at me and shook her head.
   “Something else I didn’t know about my prospective husband. Can you enter any door this way—like a thief?”
    I shrugged my shoulders without a verbal response, since that was a skill I wasn’t necessarily proud of. I then put my hand on her shoulder and encouraged her to enter. She did and then led me to Madame Valerius’ bedroom. I waited against the wall in the hallway and motioned for her to enter on her own. She knelt beside the bed, lowered her hood, removed the mask, and took the lady’s hand in hers.
   “Mummy,” she said softly. “Mummy, it’s Christine.” Madame Valerius stirred and moaned. “Mummy, I need to talk with you.” Christine stoked her cheek. “Mummy, can you wake up for me?”
   “Oh! Christine, you’re home,” she said sleepily with a shaky voice. “Did you have a good day?”
   “It didn’t start good, but it ended good, and that’s what I need to tell you. Are you awake enough to listen to me? What I’m going to tell you is important.”
   “Certainly, my dear. Can you turn up my lamp and hand me my water glass, please?”
  Christine did as she’d asked and helped her sit up. She glanced at me in the hall, but I didn’t move or say anything. After placing the glass back on the night table, she started her explanation.
   “As you suspected, Mummy, Raoul asked me to marry him, but it made me sad to think about such a life. I know he could take care of my physical needs good enough, but I was so sad.”
   “Why, my child. I thought you loved him?”
   “I do love him, but I now know that it’s not the right kind of love.”
   Sitting up further, the lady smiled and responded compassionately, “It’s because of your angel, isn’t it? You love him in the right way, don’t you?”
   Christine nodded. “Yes, Mummy, I love him very much. He has also asked me to marry him and move away from Paris, and that thought makes me very happy.”
   Madame Valerius put her palm on Christine’s cheek. “I can tell, my dear. I haven’t seen you look this happy in a long time. Your angel is good for you. I knew this day would come.”
   Christine cocked her head and frowned. “How could you know that? People don’t marry angels.”
   “Many think that just because I’m old I don’t understand what’s going on around me. Quite to the contrary. My age has given me a clearer insight into the words that aren’t spoken and the expressions that are. I’ve known for some time now that the love you’ve felt for your angel was a humanly love and not a heavenly one. That’s when I started to believe what you told me about him being a real man.”
   “He is a real man, and that’s why what I’m going to tell you has to be kept a secret between you and me. Raoul can never find out or he could cause all of us much grief. Can you keep this a secret, Mummy?”
   “Yes, I can,” she replied happily. But then she looked around the room. “Did your angel come with you? If he’s near, have him come in so I can meet him.”
   Christine lowered her head as planned, but, instead of answering for her, I dropped my hat and cloak on the floor and stepped into the room. When Madame Valerius looked up at me, she gasped, her hand pressed against her chest, and her body pressed back against her pillows. Christine looked up at her and then turned and looked at me.
   “Don’t be frightened, Madame. My name is Erik, and I’m Christine’s Angel of Music.”
   She pulled her blankets up to her neck and nodded nervously.
   “I apologize for my apparent indiscretion by entering a lady’s boudoir unannounced, but I wanted to meet you, and I wanted you to meet the man whom Christine will marry.”
   “Oh,” she uttered through her fingers that were pressing against her lips.
   Realizing I might have made a huge error, I bowed slightly and spoke softly. “Again, I apologize, and I’ll take my leave now.”
   I started to back out of the room, but she stopped me with one word.
   “Wait!”
   I stopped, and Christine quickly got to her feet and came to me, wrapping her arm around mine.
   “This is my angel, Mummy. He’s the most wonderful man in the world. He wants us to marry this night and move to another city away from Raoul and any harm he might cause. But we both wanted to make certain you were safe first. You know how Raoul can be, and I fear what he might do when he can’t find me here. I’ve told him I love Erik, and that I want to be with him. I’ve tried to do the right thing by explaining everything to him, but he didn’t take it like the gentleman he should be. He even attacked Erik. That’s why you must keep this visit a secret.”
   Christine looked up at me and stroked my arm. “Erik has a great idea. He wants to…You tell her, Erik. She needs to hear it from you; she may not believe me.”
   While looking down at Christine, I whispered, “I think I might frighten her too much. You should tell her.”
   “No, that’s all right,” the gracious lady interjected. “I was just startled by your dark appearance and your black mask.”
   “I apologize, Mummy. I should have warned you. Erik has a facial deformity, and he wears the mask so it won’t bother those who meet him. Don’t be frightened.”
   She nodded, smiled faintly, and bravely asked, “Please, tell me your idea, Erik.”
   “Very well, if you’re certain.”
   “I am. Please, continue.”
   “I’d like to move you to a temporary safe location for a while, and, when we get settled in our new home, I’d like you to come live with us. That is, if you’d like to.”
   “Oh, my. You want an old lady around when you’re still newlyweds?”
   “You’re not an old lady to either of us, Madame Valerius. You’re the gracious lady who’s taken care of the woman I love for many years. It’s only fitting that we take care of you now, and it would be an honor to do so. Neither of us can bear the thought of Raoul putting you in an institution or you giving up on life just because Christine isn’t in your home any longer.”
   Again, she nearly gasped, “Oh, my. Come near to me—both of you.”
   Christine approached the bed and knelt down again, and I went down on one knee beside her. Madame Valerius studied my eyes and shortly held out her small hand to me. I took it gently and then placed a gentlemanly kiss on its back. After a silent moment, she pulled her hand from mine and studied my eyes again. Then she took a deep breath and started asking us questions.
   “What is this talk about Raoul putting me in an institution?”
   “It’s true, Mummy. He blames you for what’s happened between Erik and me, so he wanted to put you away. The Chagny family is a powerful one, and they can do almost anything they want. It’s not safe for you to stay here. Do you understand?”
   “Yes, I can understand that part, but what about me giving up my life when you leave? What makes you think I would do that?”
   Christine hesitated for a few moments and then took a deep breath before she started to explain. “Remember those times when you talked about your sister? You told me she’d traveled home, and that when I was safe you wanted to travel home to be with her. I took that to mean your sister had died and traveled home to be with her Lord, and that you would travel there also once I was safe.”
   One more time, she covered her lips with her delicate fingers and exclaimed with a slight chuckle, “Oh! My! No, my child. We were raised in the south of France, and that’s where she lives now with her children and grandchildren. That’s our home. I used to live there in the winter and then travel to the northern shores of France in the summer. I only moved to Paris to help you in your career, but now I can move back home where it’s warmer. I really don’t care for the cold winters here in Paris. You don’t have to worry about me, but it’s good to know that the man you’ll marry has a compassionate heart, as well as an angelic voice.”
   “Oh, Mummy. That makes me so happy. I was terribly worried about you. Now I feel silly for thinking such a thing.”
   The gracious lady smiled softly and gently stroked the back of Christine’s hand, while I looked out of the window at the eastern sky, calculating how much more time we had before we had to be out of the area.
   “We need to be leaving soon,” I said softly. “So, if it’s all right with you, I’ll send someone by here later on today to discuss moving you to your warmer home. His name is Dominick, and he’s a trusted friend. I know he’ll take good care of you and do whatever you need to move you quickly. Is this agreeable to you?”
   “Without a doubt,” she responded. “This will make my sister and all my nieces and nephews very happy.”
   I took her hand and again placed a gentle kiss on its back. She smiled kindly and then covered her smile with her other hand.
   “If you won’t be coming to live with us, perhaps you can visit us. Or,” I added while looking at Christine, “we could come visit you.”
   She nodded. “That would be nice. I’ll miss you, my dear,” she said while stroking Christine’s cheek.
   “Oh, Mummy, I’ll miss you too. Thank you so much for everything you’ve done for me. I hate to think of where I might be right now if you hadn’t come to my rescue.”
   “It was my pleasure, my dear. You’ve been a joy to have in my life.”
   The emotions were getting strong, so I got to my feet and placed my hand on Christine’s shoulder. “We need to leave.”
   She looked up at me and nodded. “I know.” Then she got to her feet and leaned over to give Madame Valerius a kiss on her cheek. “We’ll be in touch. Please, be careful, and don’t talk to Raoul under any circumstances.”
   “I won’t, my dear.”
   After a few more farewell words, we left and headed south. I kept us in the shadows when feasible, and we didn’t talk. Repeatedly, I glanced over at Christine with much anxiety beginning to flow through my gut. What I was doing wasn’t a strange scenario for me by any means, but I was sure Christine had never left any city in such a fashion.
   Occasionally, she looked back in the direction of Madame Valerius’ home, and I wondered what she was thinking. In my paranoid psyche, I feared she was changing her mind. She looked sad when we left the lady’s bedroom, so I was prepared for her to ask me to take her back. My heart was restless, even when we were completely out of the city, but, at least, then I could talk to her and face my fears.
   “Christine, what’s on your mind? You look troubled.”
   “Can we talk now, Erik?”
   “Yes. There shouldn’t be anyone out here to hear us. Are you bothered by something?”
   She nodded. “I’m so worried about Mummy. What if Raoul forces his way into her home and badgers her, or, worse yet, drags her out? I’m so worried.”
   “I understand your concern. We’ll be able to talk to Dominick soon, and I’ll impress the importance of going to see her at first light. Now, is that all you’re concerned about?”
   “Isn’t that enough?”
   “Yes, but are you sure you’re not having second thoughts about leaving with me?”
   She set her jaw and huffed. “I told you never to ask me that again, Erik, so I’m not going to answer that question. Believe me, I’m just worried about Mummy. I’ve been on the receiving end of Raoul’s domineering attitudes, and I don’t want her to go through that.”
   I pulled us to a stop, reached over and took her hand, and then sat there thinking of an amicable solution.
   “Let me think for a moment,” I finally said, and then I looked at the stars and thought again. I lowered my head, closed my eyes, and began telling her my thoughts. “I have to leave here—quickly. I can feel it right here,” I said, while shoving my fist under my ribs. Then I looked her straight in the eyes. “I’ve been through this enough times and know this is a must.
   “There was a time when I didn’t follow my instincts about leaving. I knew it was too dangerous to stay, but I delayed. The result was a catastrophe that I can’t even talk about. If I don’t leave now, someone will be dead before the day is out, either me or someone I have to kill to protect our lives or our freedom. I know that as sure as I’m sitting here.
   “Only a few hours ago, you saw how close I came to ending Raoul’s life. If you hadn’t stopped me, I honestly don’t know how far I might have gone. I’d like to think I would have stopped myself, but I can’t be certain. I can’t be put in that position again. Death caused by me changes me, Christine. It changes me into something…”
   I couldn’t even say it. I lowered my head and she squeezed my hand, so I looked back at her.
   “I completely understand your concern for Madame Valerius, Christine. I’m also concerned. I can’t believe I’m going to say this, because it also goes against my gut feelings, but if you want to stay here to make certain she’s safe, I can come back in a few days and get you. Or, maybe I could stay here; close enough to watch what’s going on but staying out of sight.
   “I can’t express to you how much I don’t want us to do that, but I also don’t want you to fret about her welfare either. If you can trust me about this, I promise, just as soon as we get to a telegraph office, we can contact Dominick and find out if she’s all right. If she’s not, we’ll come back immediately.” I squeezed her hand that time, and finished my horrible thought. “Will that work for you? If not, I understand, and I’ll take you back to her right now.”
   Without hesitation, she began shaking her head. “No, I can’t let you leave without me or take a chance on being caught. I’ll trust what you say, Erik, and I’ll trust Dominick to care for her.”
   I sighed audibly. “Thank you for believing in me. It would break my heart to leave without you, and it would frighten me terribly to stay here; even if I am an expert in the art of camouflage.”
   “I know,” she said softly. “I’ve learned enough about you to know you wouldn’t be asking this unless it was truly the safest thing to do.”
   We continued our journey, but I was more fearful after that conversation than I was before it. I asked Christine not to talk to me so I could listen to our surroundings, and every movement in the bushes made my heart race. I kept watching the horizon and racing against the time when that last morning star would disappear.
   We were almost to the township when a breeze brought the smell of something that made my stomach quake—the smell of something burning. As soon as we were in sight of the first few houses, I told Christine to wait with the mares behind a cluster of trees while I walked in closer to make certain everything was safe.
   As I cautiously moved toward the first home, my breaths came quickly, and my mind raced as visions of Oded’s burnt home flashed before me. I crept around trees and then a few houses before I came to Joubert’s home, and, when I did, I could see what I smelled. The front of his home was burnt, with only charred timbers showing—much too reminiscent.
   I saw furniture out in the front yard, and when I approached I heard a man snoring. I moved in close enough to tell it was Joubert sleeping in his own bed out in the yard. I was looking around and listening intently when a cat sprung off the bed and streaked across the front yard, startling me. After gathering my thoughts, I bent over Joubert, shook his shoulder, and spoke his name softly. He woke with a jolt and gagged when he spoke my name.
   “Erik! What are you doing here?”
   “I might ask you that same question. What happened? Are you all right?”
   While wiping his face and eyes, he got to his feet, and then he looked at his home. “Yes, I’m fine. My house has just suffered the consequences of my crazy cat.”
   “Cat? Oh! I believe we just met,” I responded, while looking around for the feline sprinter. “I didn’t know you had a cat.”
   “Neither did I until a week or so ago when she waltzed in and adopted me. She was so cute and playful that I couldn’t turn her away. But then two nights ago, as I was walking toward the front door, she chased me and unexpectedly ran up my leg and back. It shocked me so much that I dropped the lantern, and, well, you can guess the rest.”
   I automatically chuckled at that vision, and then I corrected my posture and replied as a friend should have.
   “I’m so sorry to hear that. How much damage did it cause?”
   “It only took out part of the parlor and the front porch. It didn’t reach the back rooms, but the smoke did, and it gives me a headache; that’s why I’m out here.”
   “And what about the cat? Was she hurt?”
   “No. She’s fine,” he replied as he looked down at his bed. “She’s usually right here next to me when I sleep.”
   “I think I might have frightened her away. I seem to have that effect.”
   “This is a strange time to visit, Erik. Why are you here at this hour?”
   I put my hand on his shoulder. “How good are you at keeping secrets?”
   “Being who I am, I listen to many people tell me some really personal stories. I’ve learned how to be discrete. I never have told anyone who gave me that money for the road paving, but I believe they knew without me telling them.”
   I smiled. “I figured as much. Well, this has to be kept a secret also. I need your expertise, and I don’t mean I want to tell you a personal story. I’d like you to perform a wedding ceremony for Christine and me.”
   His eyes widened, and he looked around. “Really?”
   “Yes.”
   “Oh, Erik, I couldn’t be happier. Where is she?”
   “When I saw your home, I feared something was wrong, so I left her in a safe place. I’ll go back and get her.”
   “And I’ll go get the papers I need and my Bible.”
   As I ran back to my waiting bride, my heart was again racing, only, that time, it was out of excitement, not fear. It was really going to happen. Soon we would be married. By the time I reached her, my cheeks were hurting from smiling so broadly. I scooped her up in my arms, removed her mask, twirled her around, kissed her, and she giggled.
   “It’s all set, my sweet. The pastor awaits us, and soon we’ll be husband and wife. Are you ready?”
   She nodded adamantly, and I prepared to lift her up on Clio, but then I heard a horse approaching.
   “Wait! Sh,” I whispered as I handed her the mask again. “I hear someone. Take Clio’s head and hold your hand over her muzzle.”
   She did as I instructed, and I did the same to Urania, and then we waited, with a coil already in my hand. My jaws were clenching, and I kept repeating, no, to myself. It can’t be Raoul or an officer, it just can’t be. All was going so well. This can’t be happening. Please, please, please, don’t be someone I have to fight.
   I felt my head wagging back and forth. Was this all just too good to be true? I was beginning to go to that dark place in my heart when the rider was almost on us, and, by then, I was calm—dangerously calm.