An ill-gotten rose becomes the bar to her cage of a magical chateau, empty of all save for a ghost…
Her song is the key to unlock the chains to his troubled soul…
But so long a ghost, can she find the man hidden inside?
A/N: As per tradition, I'm posting the first chapter of a new story on my bday, a gift to you. :) This is a 19th century blended story involving PotO as the main foundation (characters also) with a blend of Beauty and the Beast – both the Disney idea and the two-part period drama miniseries that's become a favorite BatB version of mine, with Alessandro Preziosi. (For those who've never seen that version, I highly recommend it – it is a strong mix of PotO, BatB, with some Jane Eyre) - you can find it on Amazon Prime. For those who watch my Youtube videos, it is the BatB I vid. :)) With that said, there will be similarities but not exact duplicates and this story will also contain my own twists and turns and ideas to flesh out my own bizarre little tale. Those who follow my other blended PotO stories (Come to Me, A Path Darkly Taken, etc. will know what I mean. ;-)
None of the characters belong to me, only borrowed, except for those unique to the story. Will eventually be rated M for all the usual reasons, most of which will come later and progress as story does. Until that time, I'm rating this as a T.
And now, without further ado, I give to you the Ghost of a Rose…
"Oh, Christine, it's so lovely," Meg breathed. "I don't think I've ever seen a rose this beautiful."
"Isn't it though?" Christine agreed, but a hint of apprehension threaded the wonder that framed her words.
Each petal of the blossom was exquisitely sculpted, a perfectly curled oval of thin velvet, the color such a vibrant red that it made everything within its vicinity dim in comparison to its splendor. But what was truly astounding was that though the rose had traveled for miles on a cold winter's night, tucked away inside her father's cloak, not one tinge of black yet marred its edges. The stem was long and sturdy, the leaves a lush green, reminding her of the land after a spring shower, and the fragrance of the blossom was a heady sweetness that scented the musty corner by the window where she sat with her dearest friend, Meg.
"And that is truly all you asked for?" Meg pondered in incredulity. "If it were me, I would have asked for new ballet shoes of pink satin."
Christine ducked a quick look to where her father and Madame Giry sat by the hearth fire and quietly talked.
"I didn't want Papa to feel he should have to pay coin for a gift," she explained quietly.
They could scarcely afford food for their table, and Christine had not failed to notice the furrows of concern that lined her father's brow or the sparse hairs in his dark hair and beard that had turned snow white this past season. If only his difficult trek on foot into the neighboring city to find work had been successful! But the theatre to which he'd traveled had already hired their sought-after second violinist. Still, despite his fruitless journey and natural disappointment on his return to their small village, he had greeted her with a wide smile and this exquisite rose to honor her seventeenth birthday. And yet…she had sensed something amiss, as if a matter troubled him far more than the position he had been unable to secure.
"If only you could come to the Opera House to work and live there," Meg said beneath her breath with the wistfulness Christine felt.
"I don't think I could ever leave Papa." Christine shook her head. "Besides, he needs me to keep house and cook for him."
"Oh, but I meant that he should come too. And you would never need to cook meals or clean house, since there is staff to do that. Everyone who works and lives there knows their place and does their part, like a family. You would never again need to bear the burden alone, and we could see one another every day! Oh, if only a position would open up in the orchestra to make that possible..."
"Even if we could afford to travel to Paris and give up all we have here, I could only ever be a seamstress, not a dancer like you, mon ami."
"Hm, well you might.…if you've been practicing all I taught you. Have you?" Meg asked, leaning back in her chair with arms suspiciously crossed, like a teacher scolding a lazy student.
Christine giggled at her mock stern demeanor. Twice a year, ever since Christine was a small child, Madame Giry and Meg came to visit the Daaés in the spirit of goodwill and cheer. In the spring, when the theatre was between productions, and during some point of the Yuletide they met. In the more productive years, when providing a decent meal was never a concern, Meg would stay over a few days. Each time she patiently showed Christine the steps of all dances learned so far that year. If the weather was warm, they would go to where the land grew flat, behind the cottage, and in cold weather, they pushed the humble cottage furnishings to one wall and used the empty wooden floor. In stocking feet, Christine would follow along to the best of her ability, though she did it mostly to pacify her graceful friend and fill the hours with an entertainment Meg enjoyed. Some of the stretches and steps taught had intrigued Christine to persist, and she made it a weekly practice if not a daily one. Throughout it all, often Papa stood near the hearth and played his violin.
But what she really wanted most in life, a wisp of a dream unobtainable, was to sing. Not just anywhere, but in a theatre and for an audience, like her mother had done at Christine's age.
A harsh knock suddenly came at the door, causing all present to hurriedly swing their heads that way. Christine couldn't help but notice how her father's face had paled. He clutched the arms of his chair and made no motion to rise and see who had come to call. Perhaps he was unwell from too much rich food eaten too quickly.
"I'll go," Christine offered, rising from her chair.
"Christine - no!" he bellowed before she could take a step. "Stay where you are."
She looked at her normally mild-mannered father in curious shock.
"I will see to it," Madame Giry said in her usual quiet but firm manner.
He seemed about to protest, but she gave a small, almost imperceptible shake of her head, seeming just as determined, and he looked askance toward the low fire. Christine wondered if she was the only one to notice the sudden tension between them; a glance at Meg showed her gaze fastened to the closed door.
Once Madame opened it, Christine craned her neck to look around Madame's svelte form but noticed no visitor waiting outdoors. Madame bent to collect something from the ground and turned. In the glimpse she was given, Christine could see a letter sealed with a thick lump of red wax.
Madame closed the door, her lips tightening as she looked down at the mysterious missive then at Christine's father and gave a short nod.
Papa seemed to have aged a decade since the knock first came, sharpening Christine's worry as he held out his hand for the missive. He broke open the seal to read. His face deepened into haggard lines.
"Papa, what is it?"
"Nothing to concern yourself about, ma petit," he said with a tight pull of his lips that tried to pass off as a smile but failed. He folded up the missive and slipped it into his worn frock coat.
"Meg," Madame said to her daughter, "Our carriage will be here shortly. Gather your things. Gustave…" She turned to Christine's father. "It has been a pleasure as always to see you. I will look into that matter for you with all haste."
"Thank you, Annette," he said quietly, as if she had bestowed to him a wealth of gold instead of the promise of aid, and Christine wondered at the current mystery between them. They had been close acquaintances in the days Papa worked at the Opera House, before he'd met and married Christine's mother, who died of a fever shortly after giving birth to her. They were old and dear friends who often, it seemed, shared secrets – and always from Christine.
It frustrated her to no end. Was she not yet old enough to share the burden? Why must Papa feel a need to protect her in silence, as he had done when she was a child and couldn't reason or decide what was best for her welfare? She had cooked and cleaned and mended and, at times, warded off the creditors, assuming that role of caretaker since she was a young girl in braids. But she was a woman now and wished to be trusted as one.
Once farewells were made and hugs exchanged, with promises to meet again in the spring, the Girys left in the carriage that came to collect them. Her father slipped the heavy wood bar over the door and once more took his usual chair by the hearth, pensively staring into what was left of the fire. Christine approached him.
"Papa, may I speak with you?"
"Of course, ma petit. What is on your mind?"
She took the chair beside him and reached across to lay her hand over his. "I am concerned about you, Papa. Ever since you returned from Paris two days ago, you've been different. Did something happen there?"
"There is nothing you need trouble yourself over."
"After what Madame Giry said about looking into a matter for you, I have cause to wonder."
He snorted softly and ruffled the curls at her crown, as if she were still a child. "Curious as a little magpie, you always have been. Rest assured, Christine, all is well. Now, shall I play for you before we retire? What song would you like to hear? The Angel of Music, perhaps?"
His offer came with haste, clearly a ploy to turn her mind away from the mystery that tormented, but she did not persist and only gave a reluctant nod.
"Yes, Papa. That sounds lovely."
As the New Year drew close, each day that passed her father seemed more troubled, more withdrawn, often opening one of the wooden shutters and staring outside the window with a pensive frown as if watching or waiting for something unwelcome to arrive.
One night as she heard his snores from below and knew he lay sleeping, Christine could endure the uncertainty no longer. With the moon casting soft light from the crack between shutters as a guide, she crept from her cot and climbed down from the loft, padding across the bare floorboards in her long nightgown and black wool stockings, as silently as she could manage.
At his weary voice, she spun about and faced the patchwork blanket that hung suspended to give him privacy.
"I'm only getting a drink, Papa."
She moved quickly to the wooden pail and withdrew the dipper there, so it wouldn't be a lie, taking a sip of the freezing water that had formed a thin crust of ice.
"Hurry then, and get back to bed, daughter. It's too cold to be about."
Any frustration at his incessant coddling was tempered with the knowledge that he cared for her and only wanted her best…
As she wanted his.
With another glance toward the suspended blanket, she made her stealthy way to the chair and retrieved from the inside pocket of his frock coat the missive that arrived three days ago. Not wishing to get caught, she swiftly took it back with her and climbed the ladder to her straw-filled mattress. By the light of one candle, she observed her findings.
A note, rimmed in black, had been sealed with a skull of red wax.
In horrified fascination, she opened the letter.
My dear Monsieur,
Greetings. I trust that you will recall our arrangement. You owe me a debt and I mean to collect. A carriage will be waiting at the appointed hour of midnight on the start of the New Year. Consider wisely. If you think to betray me in this, you will rue the day you crossed my path.
I remain your loyal servant and the Master of Rosemont Chateau
The close of the letter reeked with sarcasm, to suggest himself a domestic and eager to lend aid, and she wondered what 'arrangement' the mysterious Master of Rosemont could have with her father. With more questions than answers, she carefully folded the letter and lay it aside. Sleep evaded her, and long into the night Christine lay staring up at the rafters, concerned about the mysterious threat that had entered their lives.
She waited until the following morning, after they feasted on half a loaf of a baguette, two slices from the wheel of Camembert cheese, and an orange each from the basket the Girys had brought them. Christine took her time with her orange, savoring each juicy section, fruit a rare delicacy in winter. Once she cleared the table and put the remainder of food away, again she took the chair opposite her father and laid before him the skull-sealed missive.
His shoulders stiffened. It was a moment before he looked up.
"You should not have gone through my pockets, Christine."
"I'm sorry, Papa, truly, but ...explain to me what this means? Who is this Master of Rosemont and what arrangement have you made with him? Please, tell me," she added when it seemed he would not honor her impatient request.
For a long moment he remained silent, clenching his hands together on the table in front of him.
"Pour me a drink," he said gruffly, "I thirst. And not for water."
Christine obediently opened the bottle of spirits, also a gift from the Girys, and poured some into a wooden mug. He took a long swallow, then set the mug down with a bang and stared grimly at its surface.
"Papa?" she softly urged.
"Yes child, yes. I will tell you what you wish to know…" He sighed with weary reluctance. "On my journey home, the snow came down heavily and I could no longer see. To remain still meant freezing to death and so I continued walking until I found myself on the grounds of a grand chateau. The door swung open to my knock, but to my surprise no one was there to admit me. A fire was laid in the room I could see ahead, and I went there to get warm. A banquet was laid out on the table, but when no one appeared after long minutes, I helped myself, thinking to offer explanation for the liberty I'd taken once a servant or the owner should appear. But no one came to investigate. And so, warmed and with my belly full, I slept before the fire."
Eager to hear more, Christine struggled with impatience as she waited for him to take another drink.
"When I woke," he continued somberly, "I was alone as before, but the storm had ebbed. Deciding to leave and not wait on my absent host, I walked outside to the path that brought me there, but then I looked back…" He hesitated as if he might not continue. "There, on a vine high above the trellis of a window of stained glass was the most loveliest rose. Reminded of your wish, I knew it must be yours." He smiled at her sadly. "I was certain Providence had placed it there for that purpose. To see such a rose - and at this time of year! But it was not within my reach, and so I re-entered the empty chateau to find something to help me obtain it. Would that I had turned around and walked away then…"
He shook his head tiredly. Heart thudding faster at what he had yet to say, Christine waited.
"I could find no stool or ladder, but oddly enough a hoe was propped against the wall, near the kitchen area. I thought to grab hold of the vine with its curved end and bring the flower close so as to pluck it. I was successful, but awkward, and in trying to release the vine, the end of the hoe struck the glass, breaking the window. Perhaps if I had tried to locate someone and confess my trespass, if I had not run, all would have worked to my favor." He shook his head in shame. "I shall never know. In a moment of blind panic, I fled but never made it to the gate. A fierce beast came out of nowhere and attacked, knocking me to the ground. Its paws were planted on my chest, trapping me, and its ferocious bark brought my accidental host to where I lay. When I opened my eyes and dared to look up, there stood the owner of the chateau." He shivered with the memory and took another drink.
"Oh, Papa – were you hurt?" Christine murmured in concern, her gaze running over his head, arms and torso and finding no evidence of injury there, though it had been over a week since the horrid incident occurred.
"No, child. Only winded. The man accused me of my crime and of running from it, and rightly so. I got to my feet and apologized for the broken window. He said it was of great expense and I must pay to have it replaced. I told him I had no coin." He looked long and hard at her, then away. "So, now you know the truth of what transpired."
Wishing she had never asked for the rose that had days ago lost its beauty and been tossed into the fire, Christine impatiently shook her head, certain there was more.
"What of the arrangement he wrote of?"
"It is nothing that need concern you."
"But it does. He wanted payment and you couldn't give it. What did he ask for instead?"
Her father's eyes fell closed. "He threatened to call the gendarmes to take me away. I begged him for mercy. I told him all I had left in this world was one daughter, with a heart as kind as it was gentle, and the rose was for her, that I couldn't go to prison and leave her destitute and alone."
"What was his answer?" she asked with a sense of dread when it seemed he would say no more.
"Christine, let us speak of this no further – "
"What was his answer, Papa," she asked more firmly. "Why will you not say?"
He let out a heavy sigh. "He said that at the start of the New Year, my daughter must come to his chateau to live and work for him there, as his maidservant. For one full year the payment was to be made. That in doing so, my debt would be cleared."
"Papa," she breathed in horror at the realization. "His note said … tonight?!"
"Never you mind." He grabbed her small hand and held it fiercely in both of his large ones. "It is of no account, ma petit. You are going nowhere. Do you hear? I will find a way to pay what is owed him."
"But you made an arrangement," she whispered.
"Only to escape his presence and return to you did I agree to such harsh terms. I will think of some other way to pay him his due. Perhaps I will sell my violin and receive enough coin from that. I am the one at fault, Christine. It was my cowardly action and loose tongue that created this strife. The matter does not concern you."
But it did. Had she never asked for that wretched, beautiful rose, none of this would have happened. Guilt twisted a tight knot in her soul for putting her dear papa in such a terrible predicament.
"How is Madame Giry involved?" Christine asked quietly. "I assume this is what she meant when she said she would look into the matter?"
He curtly nodded. "She knows the man."
He would say nothing more, no matter how Christine prodded, feeling the topic left unfinished. Instead, he brusquely shrugged into his overcoat and left the cottage.
Later that evening, as she washed bowls from the soup they'd eaten, he played his violin. She couldn't help but notice how his hands shook, and the occasional squeak of strings as the bow slid across their surface, absent of the usual pure sound. Nor had she offered to sing, her heart not in it.
At the close of his tune, he offered an apology. "I am rather weary."
She hugged him tightly. "I love you, Papa. Perhaps we should both retire for the night."
He kissed her brow and bid that her dreams be gentle ones, then watched as she climbed the loft, as if to assure that she was safely put away before he took himself to bed.
For hours, Christine lay on her cot, unable to sleep. She burrowed deep into the straw mattress that rustled with every motion and pulled the blanket up over her ears, wishing to hide herself until dawn. Yet another part of her lay alert, waiting for the clopping of horse hooves and the rattle of carriage wheels... waiting and knowing what must be done.
Even should she evade the terrible summons this night, as her father had decided, he would not be out of danger and she could never let him go to prison. Especially when his crime was that he had wanted to please his only child by obtaining for her a rose. To sell his violin would mean to put an end to his livelihood. She couldn't allow that either.
The church bell in the village distantly tolled the midnight hour as Christine silently climbed down from the loft and donned her cloak. Soft snores from beyond the patchwork blanket assured that her father slept soundly, the few harmless herbs she had mixed into his soup an assurance he wouldn't wake until dawn. She laid the note previously penned on the table for him to find before wrapping her red scarf about her head and throat and quietly unbarring and opening the door.
She prayed that this would come to naught, that the unknown master had experienced a merciful change of heart and she would find the path in front of their cottage empty. And yet, she felt no surprise to see by the moon's scant glow that a closed black carriage waited a short distance away, a crest barely visible on its door. Its driver sat on the high seat, cloaked and hooded and staring straight ahead at the narrow road dusted with snow.
She approached with some hesitation and looked up at the shadowed man, what little she could see of him.
"Are you the one sent to take me to Rosemont Chateau?" she queried bravely, wishing her voice did not tremble so.
The driver said nothing, only inclined his head once in a slow nod.
There would be no mercy.
With a heavy sigh, she gave one last melancholy look over her shoulder at the sleeping cottage, her home for the past twelve years. The only home she remembered, the only home she'd known...
"Papa, please forgive me," she whispered, "but I felt I had no choice."
Wiping a tear from her cheek with bare fingertips, she opened the carriage door and stepped up into its dark interior. Taking a seat, she closed the door quietly behind her. In the next instant, the carriage set off with a lurch, spiriting Christine away into the dark night.
A/N: So, what do you think – interested? :) Don't worry - I'll work to finish my other ongoing stories, especially those that are far along before getting deeply into this one…This is just a taste of what's to come, and next week I'm going to go ahead and post the prologue to my other story (PotO/Man in the Iron Mask) also since some of you voted for that. It will be called Prison of the Masque - Also, stay tuned to my site for the next chapter of The Prelude, coming soon (probably this weekend). :) The rough is finished, just in need of edits...