Right; I've been over and over this chapter (which suffered from not having a pre-written plot outline: making it up as you go along is not the same), and I think this is the best I can do with it.
Happy endings all round, then!
Raoul gets to take the lead for once, at least partly because Christine is a little too emotionally involved to see the wider view... and partly because the author felt he'd earned a turn by this point :-) Raoul likes looking after Christine -- it makes him feel needed -- but he also gets to display a bit of insight. (Plus, he had more education as a child, which gives him a slight advantage when it comes to skimming foreign text..!)
And if they both seem slow on the uptake... remember that, in canon, they neither of them even guessed about Phantasma until the truth was thrust in their faces. They've had a lot of other concerns over the last ten years, and speculating about mysterious rich producers isn't top of the agenda any more.
Epilogue: A World with No More Night
“Gustave, slow down. You can’t possibly expect your mother to keep up that pace in this heat—”
It was the third time in the last quarter-hour that Raoul had had to call their son back since they left the water-front here in Paramaribo, and a certain note of frustration was beginning to make itself felt. Christine, who had paused to lean against the trunk of one of the trees that brought welcome shade to the Gravesandestraat, thrust damp wisps of hair back from her eyes, admiring the apparently inexhaustible energy with which the small figure came galloping back down the hill, darting from porch to porch in some undisclosed game of his own.
Her husband was looking rather anxiously at her, and she smiled up at him, grateful for the supporting arm he had slipped around her shoulders. In the creamy linen of the tropical kit they’d bought in distant grey Paris — and in which both he and Gustave had been living almost constantly for the past month and a half — he was far more comfortable with this draining heat than she was; the flimsy fabric of her gown dragged and clung and her head was beginning to ache fiercely beneath its high-pinned weight of hair. It was not the hot sun itself: they’d had that on board, and for all the shady hats and canvas screens that Raoul had sought to rig up, her throat and arms were ripe and brown now as those of any farm-girl from the Midi, while her husband and son were as frankly tanned as the rest of the deck-hands.
No, the sun was an old friend, and she’d thought she’d known how to accommodate herself to its vagaries. It was the damp, sucking heat that seemed to breathe out of the vast greenness all around, from the vivid pale growth in the fields surrounding the city to the vast walls of forest that lined the rivers upstream, as far — and further — than the eye could see. It was as if every step up the gently curving street was wilting her strength like a starched collar beginning to droop. Even Raoul was beginning to flag a little: she could see the sheen of sweat at his wrists, where a faint ticking of hairs glinted pale against his tan, and he’d taken advantage of the forced halt to catch his own breath.
Only Gustave seemed impervious to fatigue, joyfully letting off steam with all the enthusiasm of one who had been a week and a half on board since their last port. She returned his beaming grin as he came crashing down the last few metres of the dusty street.
“Aren’t these houses wonderful, Mother? Like the gingerbread houses we had when I was little, when the icing curled round and round and all the patterns matched up to make bigger patterns...”
Startled, Christine looked a little more closely at the intricate woodwork that surrounded them, impressed. Gustave noticed things — but not always the things that one would expect from a lively ten-year-old.
“Hendrick was right,” Raoul was saying in an undertone beside her. “We should never have tried to find the place in this midday heat... I don’t suppose his friend is expecting us for hours yet: do you want to go back?”
Christine wavered for a moment, tempted by the prospect of a cool drink down on the Waterkant, or even the privacy of their cabin with the screens up, where she could lie down in nothing but her chemise and sponge away the prickling perspiration. But no — the Arauca would be busy unloading by now.
Instinctively she glanced back towards the waterfront where they had docked this morning, but the streets through which they had climbed hid the near edge of the river from view. Sturdy modern houses with slatted shutters and little outbuildings behind them lined the lower town, with fanciful balconies and fretted porches blossoming forth in curlicues of wood from the older quarter nearby. Here on the Gravesandestraat the houses straggled higher in all their sunbleached glory.
“Let’s go on up to the end of the street at least,” she said finally, straightening with a sigh. “It can’t be that much further now... and we might get a view.”
She let Gustave take her hand and tug her eagerly upwards — it was really not a steep slope by Paris standards, scarcely even a hill: if only the air were not so stifling here — aware of Raoul’s silent concern at her heels. He was blaming himself for having set out on this expedition against the cautions of the agent, Hendrick, she guessed; but with hours to pass before they could return aboard the Arauca with any degree of comfort, and the whole of the city of Paramaribo to explore, none of them had seen any reason to wait before seeking out Hendrick’s French-speaking friend who lived up on Heerenstraat, and would be delighted to show them around on the little man’s recommendation...
Hendrick had been a real find. Raoul claimed to have picked him at random off the list of recommendations he’d got at their last port of call — at least, he’d flushed and declined to take any credit for the discovery — but when they’d cabled ahead before the Arauca left, Hendrick had undertaken to arrange everything for them. And he had been as good as his word.
Short and unprepossessing in appearance, with receding dark hair and a single gold tooth that had fascinated Gustave, he had introduced himself on the dockside and proved kind and rapidly indispensable. He’d arranged everything for the concert she was to give tomorrow night, even though none of them had been able to pin down a definite date until the ship should actually arrive off the river-mouth: venue, accompaniment, publicity. The latter, they’d discovered early on, was essential — so much for Raoul’s ideas of anonymity — but here in a world where a mere glimpse of their son’s fair hair was enough to draw a chattering crowd of children of all hues, all wild with curiosity, notoriety had a more innocent feel.
“Father, quick, there’s a ship coming in!”
Gustave had dashed ahead again, to a little dusty square where the streets met — a hand-bill for her own performance had been freshly pinned up on the end wall of one of the houses, she noted, with amused appreciation of the little agent’s efficiency — and was gazing out over the wide expanse of the river. As if to emphasize his urgency, the long call of a steamship’s whistle echoed at that moment from below.
With an apologetic glance at her, Raoul lengthened his stride swiftly to join his son, unslinging the strap of the field-glasses he was carrying around his neck. By the time she caught up with them a few moments later, he was steadying Gustave up on a low stone wall for a better view, and they were trading the glasses off between them in a joint attempt to make out every detail of the distant activity on the decks of the newcomer.
The Arauca could be seen now, a familiar battered white hull with the bustle of coaling and unloading all about her, and beyond her on the open moorings the big steel-hulled barque Valdez and a cluster of smaller two-masters; there was the city spread out like squares of wedding-cake threaded by canals and the ribbons of tree-tops; and out beyond the purple-lobed flower of an old fort on the river, she glimpsed the long black-funnelled shape of the other ship coming cautiously in, a dark smudge against the bright haze of the water.
Another deep whistle. (And so that was the chord Gustave had been trying for, over and over again on the strings of the old violin; a distant, preoccupied part of her mind noted that she must remember to ask if he could have a few hours to practise at the keyboard before her rehearsal with the accompanist tonight.) A little welcome breeze stirred, scattering dust and scraps of paper.
“KWIM... Prinz...Willem.” Raoul had the glasses and was reading off the ship’s name at extreme range. “Why, that will be the New York mail steamer, the Dutch West Indies mail service. Now I wonder—” He broke off. “Hold on a minute, Gustave. The strap’s caught... Here. Take the case.”
He passed field-glasses, case and all over to the eager child, and held out his other hand with a smile to his wife, who slipped her own arm through his.
“There won’t be any mail for us, surely.” Christine glanced back at the big steamer still creeping into dock.
“No, but I thought we might get hold of a newspaper... Hendrick will know who takes them hereabouts.”
“Why, do you think someone might have assassinated the American President? Since we last made port?”
She was laughing at him — for someone whose last contact with New York had been dedicated to ensuring they barely set foot in the place, this show of interest was unexpected to say the least — and he raised the most innocent of brows in response. “How about the end-of-season review on the New York Met?”
Now that was a genuine temptation. She wavered, ruefully — hadn’t they set out with some idea of forgetting the rest of the world? — and tacitly conceded the point with a squeeze of his arm, returning the smile of affection in his eyes.
“This one’s an American paper, Mother—” Before she could stop him, Gustave — whose attention had slipped from the ships in the distance to the closer attraction of the focus mechanism between his hands — had jumped down with an audible thump and dashed off to retrieve a tattered sheet from the corner of the square. “Here, look—”
She tried not to recoil as the ancient newsprint was presented eagerly in front of her; Raoul, who had no such compunction where their son’s various unsolicited gifts (extending, on one occasion, to a weakly flapping flying-fish) were concerned, extracted the remnants deftly from Gustave’s grasp for disposal. “Gustave, I really don’t think—”
Abrupt silence. She felt the shock run through him.
“Raoul!” She caught at his arm, seriously worried now — he’d paled beneath his tan — and he shook his head and came back to her as if returning out of deep water. But he was still staring down at the page in his hand.
“My God — ten years — it can’t be—”
She went white in her turn, memory breaking over them both. Ten years: ten long years. Oh, why could the past never let them be? And if it came to claim her now—
She was ice-cold despite the heat. To claim Gustave—
“Mother? Mother, don’t squeeze so tight—”
Raoul’s hands were over her own, gently but insistently loosening fingers that had clamped on her son’s arm without even knowing it, and were clinging with bruising force.
“Christine...” She could see nothing in his face now but concern for her: a glance was spared to reassure Gustave. “Christine, please — are you all right?”
“Show me. I need to know.” She wrenched her hands free from the warm clasp that had them imprisoned, twisting them unconsciously together. “Don’t try to shield me again — I can’t bear it — I need to know—”
“Ten years ago...?” But his eyes were quick with comprehension. “Darling, forgive me — I never meant to scare you. See—”
He stooped quickly for the sheets that Gustave had recaptured, underscoring one column lightly with a gesture. “Memories, yes... but happier ones, I think, for you...”
The print blurred before her gaze, months old, mud-stained and weathered: but one name leaped out to prominence from among the dense mass of English, catching her eye even as it must have caught his. “Miss Meg GIRY—”
Meg! It couldn’t possibly — it couldn’t be — was it? after all this time—
Christine scanned the close-set paragraphs, aware of the faint stir that was Raoul’s breath on her ear as he leaned over her shoulder. Vaudeville star in Broadway breakthrough... former Ooh-La-La girl... Paris, France... box office to rival Geo.M.Cohan... petite, vivacious Mlle Giry, managed by her formidable mother...
“She took me to you.” Raoul’s voice held a ghost of the hoarseness of that night. “Madame... she tried to warn me...”
“Hush—” Christine reached up to touch his cheek and draw the sting of that ancient pain; for her own part, she remembered Meg’s laughter by gaslight, in the dressing-rooms with their scent of stale paint and rouge, and in the wings. Meg’s vivid mischief had stood out from among a dozen girls on stage all drilled into perfect unison, all turning in the same fluid line — she would never have won approval in the corps de ballet, Christine understood that now, Meg had been too much the individualist, but she had been a merry, earthy friend who had done her best to keep the other girl’s feet on the ground and her head from out of the clouds, and they had lost touch far too easily.
And now she was a queen on New York’s Broadway, plucked from cheap entertainment as the reigning star of a show that three months ago had promised to run and run: the daring rhythms of ‘Floradora’ couple with melody to rival the sweep of a ‘Merry Widow’... Meg Giry is glorious in the great solo number... all New York is guessing which of our best tunesmiths can own the pseudonym behind this utterly original musical development...
“Little Meg...” Christine couldn’t have kept her own eyes from sparkling with entirely vicarious pleasure if she had tried. She turned to her husband, face alight. “She deserves this so much: she must have worked so hard, for so long — and now this. I wonder who—”
The words trailed off as she caught sight of his expression. Gustave, looking in distress from one to the other of his parents, put out a tentative hand: Raoul wrapped an arm around his shoulders almost fiercely in response, drawing him close.
“I wonder who.” His tone was utterly flat, guarded tight. “You haven’t read to the end, then... Neither had I.”
“Not... not quite.” Christine bit her lip, glancing down again to the foreign type whose words abruptly seemed to swim out of reach, and then back to his face. “Raoul, what—”
“Doesn’t this sound just a little familiar? Utterly original music — nameless composer — star plucked from obscurity... and then here... the last words... a joke, a mere joke...”
She followed his gaze.
“The genius behind it,” Raoul translated slowly, deliberately, “is said to wear a mask—”
He broke off, leaving the echo of that hanging between them. “You were right — from the first, you were right. He’s back. It’s him.”
And the past yawned open again before her, dark and sweet and terrible. Every fantasy set free... a lilting, sinister dance to sweep her away, back into that mesmerised world of beauty and death. If they had gone to New York—
“Did you know?” She flung that at Raoul. “Is that why — when you begged, pleaded with me to break that contract— Did you know?”
Webs within webs, and the foundations of her world threatening to fall apart—
But the white shock on his face gave her the truth before even his answer. “Know?— how could I know? We thought him dead—”
“Mother...” A thin plea against the raised voices, that brought them both abruptly back to the present.
If she was scaring herself, then she was scaring Gustave far worse. She was no longer that gullible girl: she was a full-grown woman, with a family of her own.
“Darling... darling, it’s all right...” She went to put her arms around him as he burrowed his face into her side like a small, frightened animal, and let her own head rest in the hollow of Raoul’s throat as her husband moved to hold them both.
“Raoul — what are we to do?” And this time the words came out on what was barely a breath.
He was silent for so long that she looked up, her own mind racing with wild schemes, fierce determination— But his eyes were stunned and a little wide above her, scarcely seeing her face.
“Nothing,” Raoul said slowly, as if realising something at last. “Christine, we do nothing — it’s over.”
Her heart contracted painfully. “No! Raoul, you can’t—”
“Don’t you see?” The words broke over hers, faster now, gathering force. “It’s over: it’s ended at last. You’re free... he is free.”
“Free...?” One little word: dawning hope.
Raoul took a breath, eyes beginning now to blaze.
“Don’t you see what this means — this stage success? Yes, it’s Don Juan all over again... but he has everything now that he wanted: fame, acclaim, and beauty and talent at his fingertips. A voice to mould, a muse to inspire, a dancer to set all heads swirling... and all the while Christine Daaé is here, safe, forgotten — free.” He bent to kiss her swiftly, laughing with the sheer heady relief of it. “Think — even if you would, even if you could, do you imagine Meg Giry would allow any other woman now to make a claim on what she enjoys by right?”
“You think he — Meg?” She was half-flushed, half-appalled, and Raoul’s look of ironic query sent the traitorous blush mounting even higher.
But if that reminder was revenge, it was a gentle one; she reached up in her turn to take another kiss, and was released as Gustave too raised his head, eyes bright with curiosity. “Later, Gustave,” his father put in rather hastily, while Christine went pinker than ever.
Free... It was a tentative, unaccustomed idea. No more thoughts of darkness...
Years had come, and gone, and she had heard nothing, seen nothing. In the end she had begun to believe — as she had let Raoul believe from the start, when perhaps she should not; but what else could she have done? — that he was at last gone indeed, at some time and place forever hidden to the world.
Yet when, even so, she’d thought of the past, it had always been as a trap; dark siren waters whose drowning grasp would reclaim her forever if they could, poppy-drugged memories that could be shut away but never drained with impunity. And now — to be free... It was like an aching tooth pulled at last; the old habitual pain replaced by a strange absence, itself a loss.
Free... because he was free. Of her.
And it had taken Raoul, who had known no sympathy with that other, to glimpse the truth in that: to know oneself desired, obsessively, eternally... was oneself to become a trap. She knew, none better, the hours that Meg must have worked under her taskmaster for this success, the sweat and tears behind the perfection of every breath and every step. That little, unworthy sense of loss was the knowledge that something she’d feared to crave had been... replaced.
“I’m glad.” She tried out the words and found, gratefully, that they were true. “For Meg, for — for them both. I’m glad this happened.” Not Raoul’s uncomplicated shining joy, not the merry nostalgia Meg deserved, but a cautious relaxing into relief like a knot of tension eased out beneath strong hands: a release that would flower, in time, to pleasure that was genuine happiness.
Only... she would take care to keep Gustave and Raoul from New York. And she would not, now, follow that first generous impulse and go herself to congratulate her old friend. It would not be wise, perhaps, for Christine Daaé to invade Meg Giry’s life: not wise, and maybe not kind. At least, not yet.
Down on the waterfront the mail steamer was lying alongside, with a bustle of activity all around her. The faint breeze was rising more strongly now, carrying scents of all the vast growing life that surrounded the city: moist breathing green with a rank hint of the river, backyard odours, hot bleached dust, and the heady sweetness of some tropical bloom — Paramaribo in all its vitality, laid out waiting for them. At her feet the crumpled paper stirred a little where she had dropped it, lifted, and began to drift away. The hand-bill for the concert flapped once, sharply, where it was tacked to the wall beyond, her own name rippling into momentary life.
It was not the New York Met. It was not even the Great White Way; there would be no furs and no bright lights, no autographs or loafers at the stage door... and if there were flowers or champagne afterwards, they would be of Raoul’s finding, conjured with a flourish out of chipped glasses to transform some cramped little backstage office, and all the dearer to her for that.
She could have all those things for the asking again, if she wanted them — and in time perhaps she would. But there were other things, first, that she wanted to take a chance on: more of life, and arms that had been empty too long.
And for now... there was the music itself. Always the music.
“No regrets?” Raoul was smiling at her, but the query was a little anxious.
“None.” She smiled back, straight into his eyes, remembering. “And you?”
“Not while I have you.” And it was the unthinking sincerity of that which caught at her heart and took her breath away. For a moment, she was almost dizzy in the knowledge of what they shared.
Gustave was fidgeting at her side, impatient with self-absorbed adults and their mysteries and eager to be up and away. The field-glasses on their long strap bumped at his waist, and in his well-worn tropical whites he had the air of an intrepid explorer. Raoul followed her gaze, and dropped a hand on his son’s shoulder with a grin. “Come on then, Mungo Park... and didn’t I promise to rule you out some more manuscript paper before tonight?”
“Yes, but with pencil if you please... the ink runs when I write...” The youthful composer looked up at his copyist a little shyly. “But don’t you think we might buy some on the way?”
“Out here? I hope so, but I wouldn’t count on it.” Raoul squeezed the boy’s shoulder with easy affection and let go, and with a backward glance Gustave led off once more, small and fair and ardent in the noonday sun.
Watching them together, Christine felt the last chill of the past slip away, heart-healed and whole. They had a son to be proud of, Raoul and she — a bright child of the summertime — and what they had made between them the moonless dark could not take. Not now. Not with ten years gone.
And in that sudden serenity she knew that she would write to New York after all; not to reopen the past that had brought nothing but woe, but to make peace, from that haven it seemed they had all found at last. To give... to give a little of what she had in such abundance, and to take upon herself a little of that cost that was hers also. And to tell... a little of what should long since have been told.
Christine de Chagny slipped her hand into her husband’s arm and leaned her head upon his shoulder; and together, strolling slowly because of the heat, they went to join their son where he waited for them, on Heerenstraat in the sunlit noon.
(I feel that it would be interesting to be a fly on the wall when Raoul does have that little conversation 'later' with Gustave to explain just what the adults were talking about..!)