AIf you tell anyone what happened, I=ll beat you again. I should >ve sent you to an orphanage when your father died, but I promised I=d take care of you.@
Christine refused to cry, no matter how the cane bruised her flesh. If she could just hold out till Philippe=s return, the cruel treatment from his mama would be at an end.
AAre you in much pain?@ asked Philippe, pouring water into the washstand.
ANot till you started using cold water,@ Christine winced as her wounds were cleaned.
AThat is the best I can do. My mother means you harm if not with the beatings, then by starvation. Pack your bags. We=re leaving at nightfall.@
AWhere are you taking me? I have no one else.@
AI know of someone who will feed and care for you till your wounds heal. Then you will join the Paris Opera as a chorus girl. Would you like that?@
AYes, very much. I can=t wait to leave this place.@ Christine lowered her eyes, AI didn=t mean to be ungrateful.@
AYour words do not offend me. I know who took my money. When Richard returns, I=ll deal with him. The little sneak will get himself killed one day.@
AThat=s a horrible thing to say about your brother.@
ARichard thinks he owns the world because he=s firstborn. The only reason I get better treatment then you are because I look like my father. And I can keep the books.@
@Surely your brother has some talent.@
AHe spends large amounts of money on women of questionable character. I have been running this farm since my father died. I=d better leave before mama gets suspicious. Eat this. Get some rest. We leave at dark.@ Philippe was gone before Christine uttered a word of thanks. She took three generous bites of bread and cheese before lying on the cot to rest, but not before wrapping her meal in cloth.
Christine woke before sunset and packed her meager belongings in the carpetbag her father left her. Most of what she had was cast offs from other farm girls who outgrew their homespun dresses and didn=t have sisters. Christine knew the roads weren’t=t safe, especially at night, so she sewed her money in the hem of her gown.
Philippe entered the garret after sunset as promised, AWhere did you get that money?@
AI sold papa=s clothing after he died. The rest people gave me. I sang at the local fair last year, remember?@
They left using the back staircase. AI bought you this. You=ll need it now that we are out of the house,@ he said, clicking his tongue to move the horses. Christine knew better than to question Philippe. AThank you.@ She winced, gritting her teeth as the pain of those wounds on her back throbbed
AWe will have to get those tended to when we get where we are going. Don=t worry. I know this person is a lot kinder than my mother was.@ Christine doubted the old woman would even know she left. After what seemed to be a long time, they stopped in front of a small house.
AWalk behind me and be silent.@ Philippe knocked on the door using his cane. A girl, about nine years old, with chestnut hair, bobbed a curtsy, and stepped aside to let them in.
ASo, this is the young lady you=ve been telling me about, eh Philippe?@ asked a tall lady with a booming voice as they were shown into a parlor.
AMadame Giry, May I present Miss Christine Daee.@ Christine bobbed a curtsy.
AAfter she recovers from her malady, perhaps she could audition for the chorus.@
@Auditions won=t be for two months, but I=m sure we can arrange to keep her occupied till then. How much schooling have you had, Christine?@
AVery little, Madame. My father taught me my letters and numbers, but it was Philippe=s papa that taught me to read with his boys.@
AAnd, what is it that you read?@
AThe Bible, Madame.@
AVery good. Enough questions for now. It=s time to rest. Meg will show you to your room.@ Meg came from where she sat, motioning Christine to follow.
AThank you for your kindness, Madame, Philippe,@ she said, bobbing another curtsy before leaving the room.
AThat young lady will make a wonderful wife someday,@ Madame Giry said, cleaning her spectacles.
AWhere is the little brat?! I swear I=ll cane her within an inch of her life when I find her!@
AYou can stop yelling, mother, Christine is gone.@
AGone. Went where?@
AI took her away last night to someone who will look after her properly.@
ATell me where she is! I must know!@
AI think not! All you=d do is beat her when she speaks the truth! I know who took that money, by the way.@ For the first time in his life, he saw the color in his mother=s face drain chalky white. Richard grimaced and turned red.
AYou have no right to raise your voice to me! I am your mother!@
AI have every right where Christine is concerned! All she wanted was love and understanding. You and Richard treated her like a servant. You broke your promise to look after her mama, for that you will burn in Hell!@
AI can have you tossed out of here, Philippe. I=m the heir, remember?@
AAn heir with no trust fund or farm. That=s right, Richard. On my way back home, I spoke to Mr. Barnes, our lawyer. Instead of paying your debts this time, you will work as a servant here.@
AI know nothing of servant life.@
AYou will learn. I=m giving you the rest of the day to prepare. You will need your rest. Servants rise at five.@
AWhat if I refuse?@
AThen I=ll hand you over to your creditors and let them deal with you.@ This time, Richard=s face paled.
AWhat about me? Surely, I=m too old to work.@
AI haven=t forgotten about you, my dear. It=s the nunnery for you. Perhaps you can find forgiveness among those that are trained to forgive.@ For the moment, no one said a word. Richard rose first and went to his room, mother followed ten minutes later.
AYou are your father=s son. Punishment was always swift and severe. Can=t you reconsider and let me stay at the farm?@
AWith Richard in Debtor=s Prison, there=s no one to look after you. I=d never forgive myself if you were all alone and there was trouble.@
AAt least see me to the door. You owe me that much.@
AA nunnery is far better than you deserve, mother. A
@Good-bye then.@ Philippe watched as his mother climbed the steps to the old stone building. She did not look back as the iron gate creaked shut behind her. Once her skirt cleared the doorway, it closed with a thud. He heard the bolt as it slid into place. He crossed himself and climbed into the carriage.
Unseen by anyone in the Giry household, a shadowy figure entered the upper chamber where Christine Daee lay sleeping. Horrified by the wounds that marked her back, Erik resisted the urge to swear an oath. Instead, he cleaned her wounds and sang to her when she whimpered. Christine=s cries ceased when Erik held her. Once her body went limp, he placed her back in the bed, covered her up, and left as quietly as he came.
AWhat do you think?@
AI won=t know until I hear her sing. Bring her to me at sunset.@
APeople will be suspicious if I leave the house. I=m being watched.@
AThen let me take her with me. She can=t stay here and remain unnoticed by the patrons of the Opera.@
AI don=t trust your motives either. Christine is too young for what you have planned. Besides, she needs time to heal inside and out. Removing her now would upset her emotionally.@
AI want her. I will have her.@
ANow isn=t the time to be spoiled and selfish, my friend. Christine stays with me.@
Maestro considered her words. The cape and half-mask would frighten the child, which was the last thing he wanted.
AThree weeks then. The Paris Opera has open auditions.@ Madame Giry nodded her approval, but was uneasy.
AShe looks wonderful.@
ASee what love and kindness would do?@
AThe cuts and bruises on her back are gone too,@said Meg. This bought stares from both Philippe and Madame Giry. Meg left. Having some excuse to make tea.
AI have an empty house now. I=m going to close it up while I=m away.@
ASo your mother is at a nunnery, huh?@
AAnd Richard is in Debtor=s Prison. Apparently, he refused to work off his debts.@ Meg=s hand trembled as she poured the tea.
AI=ll do that. Go back to your lessons.” Meg curtsied and turned to leave.
AMeg is upset with me because I want to send her away to boarding school. I want my daughter to have an education. She has outgrown the textbooks in my library.@
AChristine should go too. Just for a few weeks until Meg settles in. I can arrange it.@
AThank you, Philippe, said Mdme Giry, smiling a weary smile. At least with both girls gone, the old lady didn=t have to worry about protecting them from Erik.
AYou anger me, Giry,@ Maestro said, slamming his fist on the table.
@Well, I am not sorry for sending the girls away to school. Your attraction to Christine is unhealthy. The girl is only fourteen. And Meg didn=t need to be exposed to the trappings of the Opera House or its Ghost.@ Erik remained silent. He knew what Madame Giry did was for the best, but being separated from Christine was more than he could bear, even if it was for a few weeks.
AI can find Christine. I know Paris.@
AIf the girls disappear from the Convent School, I will call the authorities. Yes, I am threatening you. Keep you distance, Erik.@ Instead of arguing with the old woman, Erik rose from the table and left. Madame Giry felt uneasy at the self-imposed silence. She must alert Mother Superior to keep an eye on her two new charges at the Convent. Grabbing her shawl and a lantern, she slipped out the back door to the stables, unaware that she was being watched by a pair of gray glowing eyes.
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