the Pug of the Opera
Christine Daae did not like the way this Erik Cordier had approached her. She had some admirers, she knew that, but she didn't like what they wanted from her. She was young and innocent, but not blind, so she saw the way men watched the ballet girls do their warm-ups in the Foyer de la Danse. She knew many singers and dancers eventually became mistresses of rich men who became their admirers and patrons. A rich powerful man as an admirer could help the career of any dancer or singer greatly and not just by the better lessons and trainings the rich lover would pay for his favorite muse. These men tended to have some influence and a generous donation to the arts often won better roles than an honest audition could. Many dancers and singers gave in to temptation and committed the sin of becoming a patron's mistress.
Most of the men were already married, but having a dancer or a singer as mistress was somehow accepted in society. Some families even encouraged their sons to have affairs so they could be introduced to the art of love by women of questionable reputation. And ballet dancers and even singers had the questionable reputation of being quite willing to do certain favors to men who helped their careers.
Christine was well aware of that and she was determined never to commit that sin. She was a religious young woman and regarded what many girls did a severe sin she herself would never commit. She was a singer and wanted to win her roles in honest auditions, knowing fully well that she had to be much better than the other sopranos who had patrons who would secretly influence the management. She accepted that disadvantage as the price she had to pay for staying true to her faith.
Being approached by an admirer was nothing she hadn't been through before. She had to admit that this Erik Cordier had the most original ideas. Most men just send flowers, complimented her voice or her beauty, tried to get her into conversation and to a rendezvous. Christine never agreed to any date, never. If someone was too persistent, she invited him to her home, feeling much more save with her Mama Valerius and their servants around. Usually she could trust that Mama Valerius asking the admirers about their knowledge of the bible was enough to drive every man away.
Christine sometimes wondered how easy it was for her to resist the attempts to flirt with her. She wasn't interested in men. Most men were just boring, uninteresting and unattractive. This Erik Cordier was even more unattractive than anyone she had ever seen. He was definitely hidious. Monsieur Cordier was a man of average height, he was scrawny like a man who had just survived typhus. His skin had the sickly color suffering icterus. He had some strands of somewhat oily brown hair and a scrubby beard. The singer could not know that the beard was a false one, as was the slightly hooked nose. She could not know the glasses Erik wore were not real glasses - he didn't need real glasses his eyesight was perfect despite his age - they were just to help keeping the nose and the beard in place to hide his lack of a nose and the deformed lips.
Unlike the usual admirer Monsieur Cordier had used an unique way to approach her with his little pug Beau. Christine liked the pug and found the way Monsieur Cordier treated the spoiled lapdog somehow touched her. She was not afraid of Monsieur Cordier. He was terribly ugly, but Christine told herself that she must not judge him by appearance. She had seen him move about, he certainly was not sick so the risk of catching some contragious disease wasn't high. He might suffer syphilis, but that disease was something she couldn't catch unless she accepted to become his mistress - and she was absolutely sure she would never accept that. Being polite to the unfortunate man was one thing, but she would never let him touch her. Never. If other girls talked about actually feeling desire for a certain admirer Christine didn't understand them. But whatever that desire might be, she knew this man who called himself Erik Cordier would never be able to make her feel that.
He was an odd man and she might have been scared had it not been for the pug. The cheerful beige little dog took away the frightening aura of that man and made him look more like a sad clown with his too large closes hanging from his scrawny body. Like a sad clown masquerading as a scarecrow. She scolded herself for these thoughts, one must not make fun of the misfortune of a man, not even in private thoughts.
Christine was quite sure Monsieur Cordier would in no way be able to teach her anything. He might be a musician - she could not know that - but if he was such a good musician he would really be able to teach her, she would have heared of him as voice instructor. Most singers had a voice instructor and the names of the good tutors were well known among the singers at the opera. They would either be teachers at the conservatoire or private teachers, all of them well known. But Erik Cordier was not a name she had ever heared, not among the singers and not among the other musicians. But she had been taught never to be impolite so she would not turn him down immediately. She decided to invite him to her place, feeling much more safe with her Mama Valerius as chaperone. She would ask him to demonstrate his skills as voice instructor and was quite sure he would soon leave of his own accord rather than suffer the humiliation of making a fool of himself.
Erik was quite nervous when he went to see Christine. He was dressed in his best tailcoat with a formally tied white tie. He did his best putting on the false nose and false beard, nervously checking several times if everything was in place and wouldn't get out of place if he moved or spoke - or sang. He understood that she wanted a demonstration of his skill as a singer and knew he had already won. He might be the ugliest man on earth but his voice was the most beautiful voice on earth. He knew that and his skill as musician gave him great confidence. He knew very well what he could do.
Erik dressed Beau in the pug's tailcoat and put a white collar on. Beau was already used to get dressed, he knew getting dressed meant going for a walk and meeting many people. Beau loved everyone and he loved the attention he got from so many people he met. In that he was the opposite of his master, but the pug didn't care. To him the world was just a place full of fun, nice people, playing and cuddling and of course lots of treats. Beau could not remember any unpleasant experiences, he didn't know that bad people or any danger even existed. He only knew the good things in life. The only thing Beau was scared of was being alone. He could not take that. Fortunately for him Erik never left him alone. Erik had made a habit to leave the doors in his flat open so Beau could follow him everywhere.
Erik arrived at Christine's door early. He did not want to ring and disturb them, he wanted to wait until 10 o'clock so he could ring perfectly punktual. Unfortunately Beau had other plans. Beau could smell that in the flat coffee and cookies were ready and scratched the door and barked, wanting the get in. Soon Erik heared footsteps and a maid opened the door. As the young maid saw him, she let out a yelp and stepped back, shocked by his appearance. Erik felt a pang of pain in his chest. It was humiliating and painful that he was again greeted with disgust. He tried not to show his embarrassement and concentrated on holding the leash of Beau tight so the pug could not just run into the flat.
"Don't you want to bring our guest to the parlor?" Mama Valerius scolded the maid.
The maid stepped away an made a courtsey. Erik took off his hat and hesitantly stepped into the typical upper class flat. Beau didn't even think of any etiquette, he pulled towards the parlor where he could smell the cookies. Cookies! No pug could ever resist cookies.
"Good morning, Madame, Mademoiselle," Erik greeted with a polite bow.
"Good morning, Monsieur Cordier," Christine greeted with a forced smile, "May I introduce you to Madame Valerius? She is like a mother to me." The two women sat on a couch, they had a lounge chair ready for their guest. The parlor was nicely furnished and an upright piano stood in a corner.
"A pleasure to meet..." Erik could not finish the sentence as Beau somehow managed to free himself from his collar and he rushed to jump onto Christine's lap and lick her face with great enthusiasm. "Beau! Stop!"
Christine laughed. Beau looked too cute in his tailcoat and she didn't mind the pug's loving kisses. She took the dog into her arms to hold him. "O Beau, you little scoundrel!" she scolded him lovingly.
Mama Valerius' face lit up. "O my, such a cute dog! I always wanted such pet!" She reached out to pet Beau go graciously accepted her touch.
Erik stood there, feeling absolutely ridiculous and at the same time glad that Beau eased the tension. He slowly went to the two women and waited for their permission to take a seat.
Mama Valerius gestured towards the lounge chair and asked him to sit, offering coffee, tea and cookies. Erik could not eat with the fake beard on so he just thanked them. Beau on the other hand thought cookies were a wonderful idea. Beau jumped from Christines lap onto the table and had already eaten three cookies before Erik could catch him.
"I am so sorry..." Erik apologized. This was bad, really bad. Fortunately for him Christine and Madame Valerius weren't angry with him but laughed. Christine had more than ever the impression that Erik Cordier was just a sad clown. She wasn't scared of him.
"It seems your dog is not well trained," Madame Valerius scolded.
"He is very young," Erik apologized, "And he has never done anything like this before." Of course Erik never had anything edible lying around in his flat, he knew that Beau would eat everything he could get. Erik shifted uncomfortably and put Beau down on the floor, again putting on the collar and the leash, hoping Beau would not be able to escape again. The pug's thick neck made it difficult to really tie him with a collar.
"Mademoiselle... may I give you an example of my skill as a musician?" Erik had absolutely no idea how to keep a conversation going. He wasn't used to that, if he talked to people it was either him acting as entertainer or talking about business. No one ever spend his or her free time with Erik just for fun. Erik wasn't used to conversation for conversation's sake.
Christine nodded, thinking this would be over soon. She did not think he would be better than any other hobbymusician and he would not be able to teach her anything.
Erik handed Christine the leash and asked her to hold Beau so he would not again be able to steal cookies. Christine happily allowed Beau to jump onto her lap again and held im. Beau leaned his head against Christine's breast.
Erik immediately envied the dog who could enjoy himself like this. Erik himself knew he would never know how it felt to be held by any woman. He went to the piano and tried if it was properly tuned. He knew that every singer at the conservatoire had to be able to play the piano to a certain level so he expected Christine to play and keep the piano tuned. He was not disappointed.
Christine and her foster mother more or less waited to be disappointed. Until Erik played a short improvised introduction and began to sing. He didn't use the full power of his voice, it was obvious that he held back because he didn't want to disturb the neighbours. Christine listened, staring at the back of the weird man at the piano. How could such a man possess such a voice? He sang with such ease, his voice made the aria even more beautiful. Christine felt as if his voice reached out to her and touched the core of her soul. She had never heared any voice as beautiful as his. She felt like she heard music for the first time in her life and was absolutely enchanted by the unearthly power of his voice.
Madame Valerius too appreciated good music. She immediately knew talent when she heard it and what she heared now was the greatest musician she had ever had the pleasure to listen to.
Christine immediately agreed to accept Erik as her tutor. Hearing him sing was enough for her to know she wanted to learn from him. Madame Valerius offered payment, but Erik rejected that. He didn't need money, he wanted to teach for the pleasure of beeing allowed to teach a worthy pupil. No one had paid attention to Beau while Erik sang - the pug again climbed on the table and ate all the cookies. Now he sat on the table before the empty plate with his curly tail waggling happily.