First things first: This chapter is about Philippe. But please give it a chance anyway! I'm not trying to make you like him, I just wanted to expand his role a little and see things from his perspective. Please let me know your thoughts!
Everything looked dull and grey behind the curtain of soft drizzle.
True, funerals were never cheerful affairs by their very nature and if the sun had been splitting the stones he would still have felt miserable. But this weather certainly wasn't helping matters as the horses shuffled towards the graveyard, their hooves clip clopping on the well worn cobbles outside the church.
Philippe's sisters were walking alongside their respective husbands so it was left to him, at eighteen years old, to support his pale, grief stricken mother who was clinging to his arm as though she was about to fall through the earth. Around him, mourners doffed their hats and nodded sympathetically at the family of the late Pierre de Chagny. Even though his mind was elsewhere Philippe still recognised many of the faces around him; tenants, servants, villagers, and local farmers in addition to the vast pool of relatives from both sides of the family, not to mention their friends from Paris and the Opera House in particular. Even the manager, Gerard Carriere, was present, his form partly obscured by a black umbrella.
"It was a blessed relief for him, Philippe," his uncle Francois told him after the burial, as they slumped their weary way back to the carriage. "You must remember that, even amid all your sadness. He was so ill for such a long time, and no-one would want him to be in any more pain."
"I know, uncle," he murmured. Yes, of course he knew that. He'd known that for the best part of a year as the tumour spread rapidly, devouring more and more of his father's brain, more and more of his personality and energy and all that made him the person he was.
And now the Comte de Chagny was dead. No, I am the Comte now, Philippe thought to himself. It was overwhelming just thinking about it. Would people expect more of him now than before? He'd been in training ever since his father had become ill, under the watchful eye of their steward, M. Rogeau, learning to run the estate and all that went with it. But now things were different.
Back home, he sat listlessly while plates of sandwiches were passed around by the maids and people he hardly knew commiserated with him and made speeches about his father. They patted him on the shoulder and made comments how he had "big shoes to fill" and how proud his father would be of him, but he simply smiled politely and thanked them before excusing himself. On seeing the sun come out from behind a cloud he made his way to the back door to stand outside in the yard, away from all the sympathetic faces.
It was so unfair. He'd had to leave the military academy early so that he could learn to take his father's place and now here he was, eighteen years old, with a world of responsibility on his shoulders. He'd wanted a few years, at least, where he could go to parties or to Monte Carlo for holidays with his friends whenever he wanted, not all this work. He was too young. Why was he the only boy? He thought sadly of the two baby boys whose brief lives had ended before he was even born and how they older one should have been taking this role instead of him.
And now he didn't even have his father. As a child he had feared him a little but then again it was the same for most of his friends. Then there was that business with Christine's father being dismissed, which still bothered him; he had sulked for a week after they left and the Comte had been anything but sympathetic, insisting through a locked bedroom door that he would make more "suitable" friends in time. That had not been a high point in their relationship, to put it mildly. But despite all that, they had started to get to know each other better in the last few years as he grew towards manhood and they had sometimes toured the estate together, sometimes stopping to talk to M. Daae's replacement, Antoine, about work that needed to be done in the grounds. Now that was all gone too. He didn't even know where Christine was or whether the two of them had managed to find a decent home for themselves after their departure. For a moment he wondered if they knew of his father's death, or if they would even take any interest in the matter.
With determined steps, he strode across the yard to take a walk in the woods behind the kitchen garden, his mind full of confusing thoughts. As he turned a corner he accidentally bumped into Gerard Carriere who was leaning against the wall smoking a cigar.
"Oh, I am sorry, sir!" he gasped.
"No harm done, " the manager replied amiably, "Looks like the day's brightening up, eh?"
"Yes, indeed," Philippe murmured, his heart growing heavy again.
"I'm so sorry, Philippe. I know everyone is telling you this today, but I truly am. You are so young to have lost your father and to have all this responsibility thrust upon you."
The two of them walked around to the front of the house. Philippe had never had a conversation with the elderly manager of the Opera House on his own but today seemed to be a day for growing up. Anyway, he was fond of Carriere and found him to be very amiable as they chatted about the weather and the latest performance at the Opera House.
"I didn't know you smoked cigars, M. Carriere," he remarked after a while.
"Well, only now and again. I needed one after all the noise in the house. Sometimes when the galas and parties get too much I have to sneak off and find a quiet place for a while, and then I find myself reaching for a cigar. I can only take so much small talk, you see. But that's our secret!"
"Of course." He grinned for the first time that day, glad to know something about Gerard Carriere that no-one else knew.
"But I realise how sad a day this must be for you. It's never easy losing a parent when you're young." He hesitated for a moment. "My mother died when I was fifteen, so I do know what you're going through."
"Oh! That's so sad. I'm very sorry, sir."
"It was a long time ago, but thank you. And now that you're the Comte de Chagny, maybe you could stop calling me "sir"?" He grinned at the young man, who looked away, a little shyly.
"I'm still getting used to that title. It just feels so strange."
"Of course it is, but-"
It was his uncle Francois, who had come out to find him.
"Your mother is looking for you. You need to come inside and talk to some of the guests, instead of hiding away out here."
Philippe sighed. "Sorry. I was just talking to M. Carriere."
"Excuse the interruption, but my sister is very insistent about Philippe re-joining us," Francois explained.
"No trouble at all, M de Rochefort," Gerard replied amicably, with a slight bow.
The young man made his excuses to Gerard and made his way inside with his shoulders slumped.
Three months later, Gerard was greeting visitors in the salon before the performance when he noticed a familiar face in the corner.
"Philippe!" he called out, making his way over to him. The young man got up and shook his hand warmly. Even in those few months Gerard thought he had grown up considerably, with his air of youthful confidence.
"Well, this is your first solo visit, is it not?" he asked his young friend.
"Yes, and I'm enjoying it very much. Mother is at a dinner party this evening and sends her apologies."
"It's good to hear she's out socialising again. Your father's death really hit her hard. Not that it was easy for you and your sisters, of course."
"I know. I've been looking forward to a night out at the opera for a long time but to be honest, I haven't had time to make the trip recently. There's so much to learn at home, so much to do…"
Gerard spread his hands out. "Oh, I know! Running any kind of business is hard work, let me tell you. Well, now we have something in common."
"Indeed. It's good to get away from it for a while."
"Philippe, I was thinking… Some of us go to the Bistro on Rue de Chalmont now and again, just to meet up and have something to eat together. Maybe you know it?"
Philippe shook his head.
"Well, there's going to be a party there next Thursday and I was wondering if you would be interested in coming? You enjoy attending the opera here and it would be a great way to meet members of the company. There are usually some impromptu performances and all the new members find it a great way to practise singing before an audience."
"That sounds wonderful. Thank you, sir... I mean M. Carriere. I would love to come along with you."
"That's settled, then. We'll meet here at eight o'clock and walk over together. If you're not busy, of course. . ."
Philippe grinned. "I'll make sure I'm not."
He enjoyed that first visit to the Bistro, which would be the first of many. Not that the mediocre singers interested him or the indifferent food; no, the reason he enjoyed it so much was that he was introduced to a young chorus girl who was new to the company and needed someone to show her around Paris. This was different to his usual visits to the Opera House where the only young ladies he met were always accompanied by their fathers or older brothers and would never have been able to speak with him alone. And then there was that nice looking girl from the costume department, and that blonde soprano who acted cool and aloof towards him, but he knew he might be able break through that façade soon enough.
Things were looking up for him at last.
"Surely you don't believe in ghosts?" Philippe asked, his eyebrow raised in amusement.
The young lady seemed indignant, as they made their way across the busy foyer to where the carriages were starting to pull up.
"Oh, I do! He's not just a rumour either – people have seen him! Well, not for a few years, but apparently some girl from the costume department saw him once, or at least his shadow. A friend of mine told me she went down to the cellars late one night to try and find him but soon came screaming up the stairs, apparently, and fainted in front of Gerard Carriere. Now that I think about it, my friend's not sure if she actually did faint or not. But this girl definitely saw that shadow, and it was surrounded by an army of rats. Isn't it awful?"
The Comte chuckled, steering Cecile gently out of the front door. Neither of them noticed the masked figure in the shadows, watching them with amusement.
"I think this girl was scared by the rats but didn't want to admit it, so she made up the part about the ghost," Philippe told her, a little smugly.
"Well, I don't care. You won't find me hanging around the Opera House late at night."
Philippe wasn't sure what to make of this. He knew Gerard Carriere was often bothered by this "ghost" who liked to make changes to the casting or some other aspect of a performance and the manager was constantly making sure people didn't go down below and antagonise him. Something about the situation didn't quite add up, though. But he wasn't going to annoy his companion by questioning her story any further.
Just then, Gerard came down the steps in his familiar black hat and coat, ready to go home and go straight to bed after his busy day. Philippe helped Cecile into the carriage before turning around to say goodnight to his friend.
"Are you heading for home?" Gerard asked him.
Philippe blushed a little. "No, just the apartment in Avenue du Palais. You know the one my father used to use when he was here on business?"
Gerard nodded, before taking a quick look into the carriage. "Is that Cecile Joubert from the chorus?" he asked, his voice lowered.
"Y-yes, it is….Gerard... I'd be very grateful if you didn't mention this to Mother."
The older man chuckled, patting Philippe's shoulders. "Looks like the young Comte is growing up! Don't worry; your secret is safe with me. And a very attractive secret too, might I add… Well, never keep a lady waiting; you'll learn that soon enough."
Chuckling, Philippe got into the carriage beside Cecile. For a moment he wondered why Gerard wasn't married with a family by now. He would have made a great father, and a far more approachable one than his own had been. But the presence of the young lady beside him soon distracted him and he gave it no more thought.
There would be times when he would have to settle down and work, he knew that. But surely he could have fun too? After all, his father had been well known in the social circles here. And the Opera House was the perfect playground for him, as well as an opportunity to talk business, and other subjects, with some of the most notable men in Paris. Not to mention all those beautiful women, who were all too willing to be introduced to anyone with a title. Yes, being the Comte de Chagny was not half as bad as he thought it would be.