Continuing Tales

Al Fin con Amore

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Heather Sullivan

Part 2 of 3

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The days and weeks melted into each other silently; we two were so lost in our mutual ecstasy and adoration that we never noticed. We were the prince and princess of the old fairy tales, living happily ever after.

Our joy was not, however, to be undisturbed. One morning as we sat at breakfast, the air was pierced by a sound the likes of which I had only heard in nightmares. Across the table, I saw Erik's face turn to steel. As lithe as a cat, he sprang from his chair and was gone from the room almost as if by magic. I rose too, but he seemed to sense my motion and called back in a terrible, authoritarian tone: "Do not follow me, Christine. It is the doorbell."

There was no need for concern that I would follow him; those words toppled my courage like a battering ram, and I sank to my chair again. The doorbell? Someone had finally intruded upon our solitude. I had hoped that Firman and Richard had forgotten us, and it had begun to look as if they had; but no perfection can last forever.

The minutes dragged by like years as I waited for Erik to return. My mind raced frantically, trying to think of something to do, to occupy my frightened hands. I paced the room rapidly, the gentle rustling of my skirts pounding like thunder in my sensitive ears. Finally, I heard his footfalls on the carpet in the next room; I whirled to face him.

His face changed as he saw me. Coming to me, he took me in his arms. "Darling, your face is stricken. Calm yourself. All is well." He stroked my hair, and I let my face fall into the hollow of his shoulder. I had been terrified, but gradually my heartbeat slowed and I felt calm returning. Feeling me relax, Erik pressed a gentle kiss to my temple and tightened his embrace.

After a moment, I pulled back to look him in the face. "What happened, Erik?"

He exhaled sharply; in that moment I saw that he too had been frightened, more so than he would ever admit. "Some malfunction in the alarm," he explained. "It is mostlikely that a rat was chewing on the wires."

"Oh," I breathed, privately relieved that no human intruder had tripped the hidden switch. Although I now knew that Erik was a gentle man at heart, I still feared what he might do if he were to find some stranger snooping near our home.

His eyes, fixed intently on my face, clouded over; he seemed to have read my thoughts. "You are right to be concerned, my love," he murmured, tucking a flyaway wisp of hair back behind my ear. "Perhaps ... " he paused a moment, looking around the room with a pained expression. Then, taking a deep breath, he continued, "Perhaps the time has come for us to leave here."

I was taken aback by the suggestion. "But Erik," I protested. "You built this house from nothing! It has been your home for so long ..."

He interrupted me by placing a finger on my lips. "And I lived here alone, in misery and hatred," he finished. A small smile turned up the corners of his mouth. "You are right, Christine; this house has been my world for many years." Meshing his fingers with mine, he took a few steps back and beheld me at arm's length. "But now, you are my world."

I blushed and looked at the floor. "Erik, please," I protested coyly.

He chuckled under his breath, then tipped my chin upwards and looked me in the eyes. "In truth, my love," he said quite seriously. "For several wrenching moments just now, I thought that some enemy had come to destroy our happiness, to murder me and rip you from my embrace. I could never stand for that, Christine. If staying here means risking our safety - and I believe it does, my love - then I can leave here." He brushed his fingertips across my cheek. "I would do anything and go anywhere in the world for you."

Again I cast my eyes downward; I still blushed at his adoration. But the conviction in his voice gave me to know that he was right. The longer we stayed in that house beyond the lake, the greater the danger became that someone would come for us at last. And so I consented to pack a trunk and go out into the world again, at my husband's side.


Erik and I made our preparations with all the joy of two children playing at make-believe. When the time came to venture out into the streets of Paris, we became Monsieur and Madame Rouen, a bourgeoisie couple who had made our fortune in trade and who now sought to retire from the bustle of the city. Erik donned a mask which covered most of his face, and pulled his hat brim low; I put on my finest gown and most ostentatious jewelry. Together we hailed a cab and set out on our adventure together, nervous and excited with our game.

We began by visiting a lawyer, a Monsieur Leone, whom Erik had chosen for his youth and impressionability. "He has only just opened his practice," Erik explained to me with a chuckle. "He will be most eager to jump through any hoops we set up for him, like an obedient poodle." I suppressed the smile that played at the corners of my mouth as I discovered how right he had been. The poor young man nodded fervently as I explained to him in a hushed voice that we must always meet with him after nightfall and in a darkened room; my darling husband was still convalescing from a brain fever that made him unable to bear the heat or brightness of the day. My pathetic tale, along with the gold that Erik heaped into Leone's hands, transformed the well-dressed, dignified young lawyer into a groveling toady, always striving to please his wealthy patrons. It was immensely entertaining, and Erik would often laugh openly once we were outside his office.

Leone agreed wholeheartedly to the salary Erik promised him - a rather generous one, but a low profile was crucial to our plot, and the money bought Leone's loyalty and silence quite well. His first task was to liquidate most of Erik's furniture and other household effects; the money was to go towards the hiring of carriages, the booking of passage on a ship, and the secure shipment of our remaining property to our new home. Erik had suggested, and I had agreed, that our destination would be England. What we wanted was a modest yet comfortable house where we could live in relative peace. Tossing gold coins onto Leone's desk and amusing himself with the lawyer's wide-eyed amazement, Erik prevailed upon him to leave his practice for several weeks in order to find and arrange the purchase of a property that would suit our needs. Once Leone came across a house that he believed appropriate, he wrote to tell us about it; we approved, signed the documents, and sent Leone more money for the shipping of our trunks and furniture to our new home. We were to follow once our things had gone.

Finally our last night in our home beneath the Opera arrived. It saddened me somewhat, but Erik's delight in the success of our plan and my own bright dreams for our future kept my spirits light. Erik spread a linen cloth on the bare floor before the fireplace and treated me to a picnic. Our laughter echoed through the empty rooms; the house where our love had blossomed was now desolate as the labyrinth that surrounded it.

The next day we were to travel by carriage to the port of Le Havre, from whence we would sail to Dover. Erik had been uneasy about the travel arrangements, still fearful of being seen; therefore the coach, which would be ordinary-looking and equipped with dark curtains, was to come after dusk and we would travel all night, arriving in Le Havre just before dawn. We would board a ship, a cargo steamer with no other passengers but ourselves, before daybreak and all would be well, Leone had assured us. The carriage and driver arrived exactly on time, and Erik locked the door on the Rue Scribe for the last time. He pocketed the key and took my hand with an odd, sad smile. I promised myself that I would make him cast the key into the English Channel as we sailed, to symbolically break all ties with the Opera house. It was not that I wanted him to forget all that had happened there; I simply wanted that portion of his life to be over for good.

We greeted the driver and introduced ourselves, as always, as Monsieur and Madame Rouen. The young man informed us that his horses were watered and rested and that the roads seemed well; we would be able to make good time to the port. All seemed to be running perfectly according to plan. But as he handed me into the carriage, I felt Erik's arm go tense; looking back at him over my shoulder, I saw that same steely look cross his face. "Erik?" I whispered questioningly. He shook his head and, after taking several glances around, jumped into the coach and ordered the driver on. There was a rough edge to his voice that he was trying to conceal.

Once the carriage lurched to life, I leaned over to Erik and hissed, "What is it,Erik?" He shook his head again and sat silent for several minutes. Then he lifted the curtain a bit and peered out the back window. After holding his watch for a few minutes more, he inhaled sharply and dropped the curtain.

I lost my patience. "Erik!" I said desperately, trying very hard to keep my voice low. "What is wrong?"

His eyes flashed dangerously - he was angry, but not with me. "There was someone lurking in the Rue Scribe when we entered the carriage," he told me in a carefully modulated voice. "I had hoped it was just a pickpocket after a stray Opera patron, but now there is a hired cab following us."

I felt my skin go to gooseflesh. "Are you sure?" I asked.

"They have been behind us for several minutes," he replied. "Perhaps they are travelling in a similar direction that we are, but the fact that they have matched our every turn concerns me."

My heart began to race. "What can we do?" I whispered.

Without an answer, Erik slid open the panel in the front of the compartment and addressed the driver. "Young man, a bit faster, please."

"I beg your pardon, Monsieur," he replied. "But we have a long journey ahead of us, and it is a bit early to push the horses ..."

"A bit faster," Erik cut him off, his voice hard. The driver made a sound of confusion, and Erik hissed, "Do not turn around or look behind you. I believe that we are being followed; speed up a bit." He shoved the panel closed, and we heard the driver click to the horses. We began moving faster, and Erik, noticing my stricken expression, gave my hand a squeeze. He then turned to the back window, and peeked around the curtain.

He seemed to hold his breath for a moment, but then I saw his fist clench. He turned to me again. "The other carriage has also picked up speed. I am afraid that they are pursuing us." I felt the blood draining from my cheeks as Erik addressed the driver again. "Take a random route through the rest of the city," he instructed him. "Turn down unlikely streets. Perhaps we can lose them."

This went on for some time: Erik would alternately peer through the back window and address the driver, taking us on a haphazard drive through Paris. Our anonymous companion matched us turn for turn, hoofbeat for hoofbeat. It became clear that whoever it was, was indeed after us. Who could it be, I worried to myself. Someone who had guessed at our plans, watched the Rue Scribe for weeks now, or perhaps paid Leone for information concerning us? And what could they possibly want?

These questions I posed to myself; Erik was too busy ordering the driver. Our speed was rapidly increasing, and we were now moving quite quickly through the dark streets. The faster we drove, the more afraid I became; what would happen to us if we could not shake our pursuer?

Erik was becoming agitated too. The driver was obviously frightened, and our journey had transformed into a chase. Clearly he was trying to come up with a plan.

Suddenly, the driver's nerve snapped under the pressure. He whipped the horses into a full run. Erik and I were thrown against the back wall of the carriage with the force of it.

Glancing through the window, I saw that our shadowerers had picked up the pace too. We were now galloping fill tilt over the cobblestone streets.

Erik looked at me, then pulled a small purse from inside his cloak and tossed it onto the seat. Answering my puzzled expression, he said simply, "I'm leaving payment for the driver. Come, my love. We're leaving."

"Leaving?" I squeaked. "You mustn't be serious, Erik! How..."

He gathered me in his arms and threw open the door. "Like this," he replied.

Then, after teetering for a few moments on the edge, Erik gave a great leap and freed us from the carriage.

Ever the acrobat, Erik twisted so that when we hit the ground, he bore the brunt of our weight. As soon as we touched the ground he rolled, and finally we were lying still and whole on the flagstones. He stood and brushed himself off, then helped me to my feet as well, supporting me with an arm about my waist. "There now," he said with a small smile. "We're all right, aren't we?" I nodded.

He had gauged his jump so that we sailed into a small alleyway between two tall buildings. Night had fallen, and the street we had been travelling down was narrow, so it was unlikely that our pursuers had seen us leave the carriage. However, that was not a chance we were willing to take, so we set off running at once. We went in the opposite direction that the carriages were speeding, hoping to put some extra distance between us. Finally we reached a main road, and Erik hailed the first cab we saw.

"Where to, monsieur?" the driver asked promptly, confused by our urgency.

Erik slammed the cab door, then through the panel spat out what I recognized to be Leone's home address. We rattled across the cobblestones at a good pace, for Erik had instructed the driver to hurry.

The hour was late, and only after Erik had pounded on the door for several minutes did Leone answer. The poor man was in his dressing-gown and nightcap, and the moment he opened the door Erik forced his way in, pulling me behind him. He kicked the door shut and turned on the sleepy and obviously bewildered lawyer.

"Who did you tell of our plans, you idiot?!" Erik raged at him. "How much did they pay you?"

"N-n-n ... no one, Monsieur Rouen," he stammered. "No one at all. You are my only client at the moment. I have no time for ..."

"No one came to you and offered you money in exchange for particulars on our plans," Erik interrupted.

"No, Monsieur. No one."

"Your secretary, then. Where does she live?"

"My secretary knows nothing of your plans, Monsieur. I handled them all myself."

"And your employee had no access at all to any of our account?"

"No, Monsieur, I swear it. You instructed me to maintain the utmost confidentiality. Your records are kept here in my home, and under lock and key."

Erik stared at the man for a moment. His face was white with fear; it was unlikely that he was lying. Erik took a step back, his threatening demeanor and rage diminishing.

"We were followed," he explained. "It was what I had most feared, and most wanted to prevent. This is what I paid you so well for," he chastised, shooting a look of disapproval at Leone out of the corner of his eye.

The poor man fairly trembled. I suppressed a smile.

"So what do you suggest now?" Erik demanded.

Leone spluttered for a moment, then managed to say, "You will never make your boat now, Monsieur. The best I can do is find a place for you to stay until the arrangements can be repeated ..."

"No," Erik cut in. "The arrangements were poorly made this time; they will not do. Are you certain there is no way for us to depart tonight?"

Leone looked over his shoulder at the clock on his mantelpiece. "It is late, Monsieur. Perhaps ... " he continued sheepishly, "perhaps Monsieur and Madame would consent to remain here in my home until new plans can be made?"

Erik made a soft rude sound. "No," he said, "that will certainly not do either." He began to pace across the apartment, trying to think of a plan.

In the meantime, Leone had placed a kettle on the stove and asked me timidly if I would care for some tea. The water boiled, and the pot began to whistle. Erik stopped his pacing and turned sharply.

Leone froze to see Erik staring at him. Lamely he asked, "Some tea, Monsieur?"

"The train," Erik said, ignoring him. "There may be a train to the coast tonight."

"Yes, Monsieur," Leone consented, "there may very well be."

Erik stared at him for a moment, then shouted, "What are you waiting for, you imbecile?" He snatched the kettle from his hand and shoved him towards his bedroom door. "Get dressed! Order a cab! We must go to the station at once!"

"Yes, Monsieur! Right away!" he stammered, hurrying into the darkened bedroom and slamming the door. We could hear him scurrying about like a rat inside; our eyes met and we laughed quietly. Erik poured me some tea.

A few minutes later, Leone emerged somewhat frazzled, but dressed. We hailed a cab and were off immediately.


When I picture the scene when we arrived at the station, I cannot help but grin.

The cab trundled into the yard, and as soon as it halted the door was flung open and Leone was roughly ejected from the compartment. He steadied himself, and then rushed to the office. A few seconds later he was hurrying back to the cab, and speaking frantically to its hidden occupants through the window.

Much to our relief, there was a train to the port that evening, and we had arrived in barely enough time to take it. Erik gave Leone such a sharp glare that he paid for our tickets out of his own pocket, all the while apologizing profusely for the inconvenience we had suffered. Erik scowled at him and said nothing, although I noticed his eyes dancing with concealed amusement.

We boarded the train and departed for Le Havre with little mishap. I settled into my seat and sighed with relief that all our luggage had gone ahead of us . what a hardship it would have been to us if we were accompanying it! As we pulled away from the platform, I noticed Leone standing and waving his handkerchief. I wondered if he was honestly sorry to see us go, or if he would just miss the money. It was probably the latter, for Erik had driven him mercilessly, even for the generous salary we provided. Nevertheless, Leone was a good-hearted sort of man.

The motion of the train rocked me to sleep, but I believe that Erik stayed awake the whole trip. The evening's events had shaken him badly and he would not lower his guard. Nevertheless, we arrived at the port shortly before dawn, ordered a cab and boarded our ship almost as if nothing untoward had taken place.


Erik retired to our cabin as soon as we were aboard the ship. I was not very tired, having slept on the train, so I lingered on the deck, observing the business of the wharf and admiring the port as it began to flood with sunrise. However, after a short while I began to feel as if I were in the way of the crew that scurried about the ship, so I too retired.

No words can describe the shock I received upon opening our cabin door. Erik started and looked at me like a wild animal caught by a poacher. His eyes were full of tension, and I was taken completely aback. We stared at each other for several moments before I even registered that he was crouched on the floor over a crumpled figure. "Mon Dieu," I swore under my breath, shutting the door and pressing my back against it.

Erik lifted the intruder, placed him in a chair and began to try to revive him. "He'll be all right," he murmured to me over his shoulder. "I did not harm him really, just knocked him unconscious." I breathed a sigh of relief; I had been afraid that, out of fear, Erik had resorted to his old methods of self-defense.

As Erik worked to wake the man, I examined him in the half-light. I did not recognize him; he was a complete stranger. Dressed in dark plain clothes, his chin sported a few days' growth of stubble. He was well muscled and his entire body, even his face, was all hard lines. He clearly did not lead a life of leisure.

He began to stir, and Erik bound his arms and legs to the chair. Finally, our guest rolled his head upright and, realizing his predicament, looked at us with malice.

Erik reached for me and pulled me behind him, placing himself between the stranger and me. I peered over his shoulder and observed the scene that ensued.

Drawing himself up to his full height, Erik asserted, "You are the one who followed us through the streets of Paris." The man looked sullenly and silently away, refusing to meet Erik's eyes. Losing his patience, Erik demanded, "Who are you and what is it you want with us?"

With a growl, the man responded. "I have nothing to tell you, monsieur. You may as well kill me."

As if by reflex, my fingers dug into Erik's shoulder. He did not seem to notice, being surprised himself. A silence descended that seemed denser than a fog. Finally he replied, "Kill you, monsieur? I have no such intention."

It was our guest's turn to look surprised. I am sure my own face bore a look of shock. Erik had seemed to abandon his old ways, but until now I had assumed this to be due to the fact that no need for violence ever arose. As I heard him say these words, I had my first jolt of truth. Had our love transformed him so much?

Erik continued, "I do not know you, sir, and I do not believe that you know me. It is my assumption that you were contracted by some third party to shadow us. Am I incorrect?"

The stranger seemed so taken aback by the turn of events that he answered in a much quieter, although still begrudging, tone. "No."

"As I thought. No doubt you were promised some great sum of money."

He grunted. Erik continued.

"Perhaps you are unaware of it, my friend, but I can promise great sums of money too. Tell me how it all occurred and we may be able to make an arrangement of sorts," Erik said.

Although he tried very hard to conceal it, a hungry look appeared in the man's eyes. "How much?" he demanded.

Coolly, Erik replied, "I can double your employer's price. But you must tell me the absolute truth."

Our guest deliberated for a moment, then conceded gruffly. "All right, I will tell you all I know. But I warn you, it is very little."

"Suppose you begin with your name," Erik said softly, lowering himself to the bed and pulling me down to sit beside him.

He held my hand tightly as the stranger introduced himself as Jacques Lameroux. A destitute drifter with an obviously mottled past, he had been hired by the Opera managers shortly after my disappearance to find and silence the "Opera Ghost" for good. (My pride stung a bit at this, but I said nothing; the managers had said not seemed interested in recovering me, but only in revenging themselves on Erik.) They had instructed Lameroux to pay especial attention to the bowels of the theatre, as this was where the ghost was rumored to dwell. He spent several months exploring the labyrinth and finding out its secrets, yet he was never able to penetrate our house. However, he never had a need to; a misstep he made one day tripped Erik's doorbell and began our preparations to leave the Opera. Lameroux discovered our comings and goings, and guessed that we would soon quit the theatre for good. He had lain in wait for us in the Rue Scribe for almost two weeks before that night when he chased our carriage through Paris.

He finally caught up with our coach, but we had long since left the compartment. He pressed our poor driver very sharply, even admitted to threatening his life. It was in this way that he discovered our plans to sail to England, and by pushing his horses all night he managed to arrive in Le Havre in time to stow away on the ship before it sailed. He had come to our cabin expecting us to be asleep. Although he ended his tale there, I shuddered; I knew he had intended to murder us in our beds. Erik understood it too, but he said nothing about it.

"Monsieur Lameroux, I understand that you were hired to do a job. I myself have been desperate and alone in the world. But I offered you twice the price Firmin and Richard promised you, and I will make good on that offer as soon as we arrive in Dover. I have notes waiting to be cashed there, and will pay you for your silence the moment I have money in my hands," he said.

Lameroux stared at Erik in disbelief. "They told me you were a violent and dangerous man," he said. "Surely you do not mean to bargain with me."

Erik shook his head slightly. "Men can change, Lameroux. Firmin and Richard are buffoons who know nothing more than that I made them look like the fools they are before all of Paris. I want nothing from them now, only to be left in peace to begin a new life. I will bargain with you, if you will bargain with me; I will pay you enough for you to change as I have. With what I am prepared to give you, you may break ties with the Opera managers forever, set up residence in England when we land and never return to France again."

Our guest's hard face was creased in an incredulous frown. Erik continued, "Do you not believe me? Here, let me loose you and we will shake hands on it." To my extreme shock, he did cut Lameroux's bonds and extended his hand. Lameroux stared at Erik a moment; I could tell that he was trying to size Erik up, decide if he were really telling the truth. Finally he shook Erik's hand curtly and turned to leave.

"I will meet you on the wharf after we disembark tonight," he muttered gruffly as he left.

"I will keep my word," Erik replied as the door closed.


I was not so foolish as to actually trust Lameroux, nor do I think Erik was either. He more hoped, than believed, the agreement to be sound. I tried to put my faith in Erik's judgement, but as the hour of our disembarkment approached, I found myself too preoccupied to sit still. My hands shook as I tried to do my needlework. My pulse raced each time I felt the ship list or heard a crewman's footfalls in the passage.

Just before sunset, perhaps a few hours before we were to arrive in Dover, there was a knock at our cabin door. My heart lurched, but when Erik opened it only the man who had been introduced to us as the second Mate was revealed. "Good evening," he said with charming formality and a quick bow. "Captain Phillips invites Monsieur Rouen to his quarters for a glass of sherry to celebrate our safe arrival in England." Having delivered his message, the young man stood at attention awaiting a response.

Erik seemed pleasantly surprised by the invitation. He glanced over his shoulder at me. "Would you care to, Christine?"

After a moment's thought, I shook my head. "I still have a few things to arrange here. And besides, the invitation precludes me; the Captain may want to have manly conversation," I replied with a small smile. "Go, Erik. I know how you love a good sherry."

His eyes twinkled. "I do, indeed." He turned again to the Mate. "Tell the Captain that I would be most delighted to join him." The young man bowed again, executed a smart left face, and went to relay the message.

Erik retrieved his hat from the bed and moved towards the door. Before leaving he paused to take me in his arms. "Are you sure you would rather stay behind, Christine?"

Smiling at his loving expression, I nodded consent. "Go, drink until you're merry. We have a new life to enjoy."

He tightened his embrace, replying, "We shall toast our new life together when we are snug in our own new home." He released me and took a step towards the door, allowing his hand to trail upward to my face. He stroked my cheek lovingly with his grey-gloved fingers. "Beautiful Christine," he whispered, and then was gone.

As the door clicked shut, I became instantly sorry I had insisted on remaining behind. The silence of the small cabin was oppressive, weighing down on my chest and stifling me. My hands shook as I tried to embroider.


Perhaps an hour later, I sat sewing in the rocking chair in our cabin. I was snipping off a loose thread when Erik threw open the cabin door. His sudden entrance startled me and I dropped my tiny silver sewing scissors.

"Erik," I greeted him. "I was beginning to think you would never come back."

He rushed to me and pulled me close. "Thank God you're all right," he said, burying his face in my shoulder.

"All right?" I asked. "Why wouldn't I be? What's wrong?"

He drew me back and looked into my face. "Lameroux is dead."

"Dead?" I repeated, sinking back into the rocking chair.

Turning to close and lock the door, he explained, "As the Captain and I began our second game of chess and our second glass of sherry, there was a furious knocking at the door. It was one of the hands, reporting that a body had been found in the hold. The sailor told the Captain that the victim appeared to be a stowaway. I went with them to examine the body. It was Lameroux. Someone had slit his throat."

"My God," I responded.

"I was so terrified for you, Christine. I ran back here as fast as I could." He sat down on the bed, removed his hat and ran his hands over his face. He had been badly shaken, I saw; as his terror subsided he seemed exhausted.

"Oh, Erik," I breathed. "You shouldn't have worried. I'm perfectly safe."

"Thank God," he said with a heavy sigh of relief. A moment of silence passed; then he repeated, "Safe." Catching my eyes with his, he said softly, "This means we are perfectly safe, Christine."

I had picked up my scissors again during that moment of silence and slipped them into my apron pocket. I glanced down at my needlework now and completed a stitch. "Yes," I replied softly. My hands were relaxed and steady.


We disembarked in Dover a short time later. The matter of the mysterious stowaway was dealt with quickly by the police, who determined that he had been murdered on board our vessel before it even left Le Havre, and had lain undiscovered in the hold until our arrival. Captain Phillips had questioned all his crewmembers before we landed in Dover and vouched for their honesty. He also assured the Bobbies that there was no need to question us. Erik and I had been the only passengers, and on top of not having had any access to the hold, we had not left our cabin for most of the journey. Monsieur Rouen was, after all, convalescing from a brain fever. The matter was settled swiftly, and the good Captain shook Erik's hand and wished us a pleasant end to our journey.

Once we stepped ashore in England, I felt as if a huge burden had been lifted from me. I gulped great deep breaths of free air. Erik clasped my hand, smiled gently, and drew me into the carriage that waited to carry us to our new home. As we rattled over the roads through scenery that quickly changed from city to country, I kept glancing at him. Even through the half-light in the curtained carriage, I could see even through the mask an expression of mingled wonder, relief and joy creeping across his face. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. My heart swelled with love for him.

We settled into our new home, a charming airy house on a knoll in rural Buckinghamshire. It pleased us immediately, and Erik even went as far as to write a kindly letter to Leone, thanking him for his service and enclosing a parting bonus. Many of our first months were spent arranging the furniture, purchasing odds and ends and just making the house into a home.

I enjoyed the brief warmth and sun of the summer, but all too soon winter set in and brought dreariness with it. Erik was undisturbed, being accustomed to the indoors; but since I had regained the freedom to be outside, I languished with the constant remaining at home. While he would light a cozy fire in his study and sit writing music all day, I would sit sewing in my chair or stand at the window staring out into the grey weather for hours. Finally Erik reminded me of a convent school in the area and suggested that I apply there for a position of some sort. Chuckling, he remarked, "You could teach the young ladies music."

I liked his advice so much that I actually took it, visiting the Mother Superior and inquiring if such a position might be had. The elderly nun told me that music had not been given at the convent for some time, but that she had been seeking to reinstitute it. She was delighted at my experience, which I did not relate in full but did impress upon her, as well as the fact that I resided in the neighborhood and would not need the convent to put me up. She employed me at once, and introduced me to the other nuns at a pleasant tea in her study. "Sisters, sisters," she announced, "I would like you all to meet Madame le Phantome."

I loved the sisters very much from the very beginning, and found the students dearer still. The job at the convent seemed a heaven-send; it kept me occupied all through the cold months and left me free to enjoy the summer's short stay. Furthermore, it permitted me to continue my career in music. Erik was so amused that I had turned teacher, and would sometimes allow me to take a piece he had written and teach it to the young ladies' choir. He often teased me about following in his footsteps or chided me playfully about leaving him lonesome all day long. I would grin and retort back that my absence would only make him love me more. He would pull me close and tell me I was exactly right.

There was something very comforting in going into Erik's study at night, after I had walked home over the perpetually soggy moors and laid off my dreary galoshes. The room was very large and always slightly dark, except for the firelight and a few candles. There was a low soft divan placed before the hearth, and every evening when I sank down onto its cushions, Erik would always be close by. He would wrap an afghan around my shoulders and give me a mug of chocolate, which would warm my hands and the tip of my nose as I listened to him playing his grand piano. Cocooned in warmth and contentment, I would wonder if there were any more lovely way of life to be found, anywhere on this earth. Erik's voice floated about me in the dimness, inquiring after my day's activities and chuckling richly at the escapades of my young pupils. As I related the quaint misadventures of my charges, his deft fingers smoothed the tension from my shoulders and unplaited my hair so that it cascaded in waves down my back. No, I thought as he brushed a few wisps aside, revealing my temple to his kiss; surely there is no greater happiness than this, to be his lover and beloved.

Al Fin con Amore

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Heather Sullivan

Part 2 of 3

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