Madeleine de Chagny and her mother move to New York to advance her mother's career. She gets to fulfill her dream of working at an opera house herself. There, she encounters a past long-forgotten...including a person. E/C.
Disclaimer: I do not own. This will have influences from ALW, Kay, and possibly Leroux.
They are all watching me.
My fingers dance over the keys. The Moonlight Sonata was easy enough to perform, but this was my first real concert on a stage. My heart beats like a frantic bird flitting about in her cage. Sweat is on my brow. My skin is clammy under the light, and there is a dull ache in my back.
Don't do wrong. You can do this, Madeleine! Show them who you are! You are a musician! You are a de Chagny! Make Papa proud.
Saint Cecelia, my patron saint, give me hope!
Until finally, the notes end, and my audience cheers with glee—
The carriage hits a bump that snaps me out of my reverie. New York streets are cold, gray, and dim. Electric lighting illumines the dull red, brown and gray buildings. Apartments and businesses are smashed together. Outside, people bustle about, greeting each other and oblivious to my stares. What are their stories? Do any musicians play in the music shops at night? Do mothers worry about their unmarried daughters?
The carriage moves along, rendering us only spectators of this foreign land and culture. Had it really been a few short hours since we got to Ellis Island, went through "customs"—as I heard it was called—and boarded this carriage to our new home? A few hours since we became citizens of a new land?
I glance over at Mama, who watches the city out her window. She has a contemplative expression on her pretty face as she watches our new home.
Home? Would this strange, strange place ever be home?
"Mama? How long before we arrive?"
She looks over at me with kind, sympathetic eyes. "It should not be too much longer, mon petite ange."
"Merci," I reply. Our things should have already arrived at the chateau, and aside from the few trunks we carried with us, it all would be there. The beginning of a new life in Manhattan. My heart aches for Paris, the bright streets and the cafes and the opera houses and the gardens. For my piano in the sun-lit parlor. For all my memories.
I bring my fingers up to trace the locket with a picture inside it around my neck. For Papa, especially Papa.
The carriage trots on until we are on the outside of the city, and the plains of open field are upon us. I've been told our home sits on open land, like the old manors in England. Like the moors in romance novels such as Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. How many old families have lived on these lands? Did any knights fight for ladies on these grounds?
There is a surprising lack of fog, but there is a slight breeze. Trees rustle, making no sound, but letting their leaves dance like little ballerina feet. It would be an interesting setting for an opera, as the chorus replicates the haunting, erethreal sounds. The sopranos begin with their high pitches and the contraltos giving a good underscore. Tenors sing of the romance that once happened on these fields: a lord and lady pledged to be wed, only for a wicked usurper to take the lady away!
Yes! The two families would be rich and powerful and of old stock, such as Charles's and mine, and the young lovers would pledge their love under the moonlight in these vast lands. The ballerinas would play as the nature surrounding us. Then the usurper, a true Don Juan, would come to woo the lady away. She would be swayed and run away. The land itself, and the two families, would cry out and wonder why the blushing bride went away. The music would become haunting, discordant, and filled with misery as everyone mourns the absence of the maiden. Eventually, her lover dashes off to find her, his leitmotif filled with triumph! He fights for her, is wounded, and the woman realizes that while she does feel love for the man who took her, she belongs to him! The music itself swells in celebration, with all the dancers onstage as the nature rejoicing. The families unite and the couple marries, the finale being a combination of their motifs and the wedding march—
Abruptly, we halt. The carriage rocks and I bump my knee against the door.
"Madam de Chagny?" calls the driver. I bite my lip at the mispronunciation of our last name. You will have to get used to it, Madeleine, I tell myself.
"Sir?" Mama responds.
"We are here!"
Mama smiles and light shines in her pretty green eyes. "Thank you, sir!"
Our driver, Mr. Lyman, helps Mama down from the carriage. I wait and he offers a cool hand to me. After helping me disembark, he helps us retrieve our small trunks we carried with us.
"Do you ladies need more help today?"
Mama and I exchange a puzzled glance. What was key in his sentence? Help, yes!
"No, sir," Mama says after a long pause.
He gives us our belongings and tips his hat to us. "Glad I could be of help, ma'am and miss."
Mama pays him and soon, he climbs up into the driver's seat. He whips the horses and they trot off. He leaves and the sound becomes quieter until there is utter silence. It is eerie how quiet the street is and how isolated we are in contrast to the noise of the city. In Paris, our chateau was still outside the city, so it was still quiet enough. Birds chirped in the trees and servants were frequently walking around and chatting in hushed tones. Here, it is hauntingly silent. The gentle but cold wind makes the only sound.
"Madeleine, come inside, Cherie." I turn to stare past the iron gate, to see that Mama was already walking the long dirt path towards the door.
It is real. I am now an American citizen, living outside Manhattan. I will have to adjust to a new life. A new world. A new country. I now realize how dull and brown the front door is. Our ornate house now looks like a sad replica.
My feet are cold and heavy like lead under me. I float along the path to the door, the scuffling of my shoes the only sound keeping me aware.
Our butler, Pierre, opens the front door and we enter the foyer. The edifice of the house was plain and bare, though decorated in a Parisian elegance. But the interior reminds me of home. The foyer is beautiful, round, with stained glass windows that would bathe the place in sunlight. It would dance on the walls like in cathedrals, moving to its own symphony. If we hung chimes, it would be perfect! A small smile dances on my lips.
"Madame, I trust you had a good passage here?" Pierre asks, and he takes Mama's gray bonnet and cloak. My heart sings with joy upon hearing French again.
"We did, Pierre, thank you!" Kind, gentle Pierre had been with us since before I could remember. He and his wife, Lillian, are our main servants. Adele and Louise were likely in the kitchen. Gregoire was our groundskeeper, but I did not know if he had arrived yet. I am sure the other servants were either bustling about or helping in the kitchen.
"Are the others here, Pierre?" I wonder as he takes my cloak.
"Yes, Mademoiselle. All of us arrived safely."
Relief floods me. "I prayed for your safe voyage."
He smiles and light enters his gray eyes. His nearly bald head shines under the candlelight, lighting the few strands of blond hair he had. "I am glad for that. Welcome home, Mlle. Madeleine."
I give him a quick embrace and leave the foyer to explore the rest of the house. It is just as I hoped. The main room with the fireplace is plush and decorated with our old furniture. One Persian rug that Mama loves is still there. Other rooms are lavish and decorated with flowers and intricate woodwork, our grandfather clock still ticks and shines as bright as it did in Paris—though its chimes will not be the same without Notre Dame's bells echoing off the hour to its ring. I enter the small dining room with its blue walls, crystal vase filled with flowers, and the chatter of our two kitchen maids.
Their voices almost make this grand new place feel like home.
I try to find the music room. It was always on the first floor in our old home. I would entertain guests there whenever the occasion struck to have a party. Often, though, another musician was hired to play the piano and I was expected to socialize. I remember flashes of those parties. Stand tall, and do not speak unless spoken to. Speak with your cousins, and do not isolate away from the others. I remember my parents would always let me have an extra sweet before bed if I did as I was told.
"Mama?" I call. Perhaps she would know where the music room is!
I find her in the main room, looking at the flowers in the vase with a note sent for her. Her eyes glow with thankfulness and a smile reaches her lips. "Did Mr.…. Carter send those to you?" I kick myself for not pronouncing the man's last name correctly.
"Yes. Mr. Carter did send them," she replies without looking up. He is grateful for you to come and perform.
Mama sang opera. She did not for many years but resumed it because she needed to. Mr. Carter at the Metropolitan Opera House was grateful for her coming, to make a proper American debut.
I remember Uncle Phillipe and Aunt Eloise scoffing at the idea of Mama singing again. "Christine has no need to return to the stage!" Uncle Phillipe had said. "Raoul left them enough for her and Madeleine to thrive! Why sully the de Chagny name? It was enough for Raoul to have—"
I remember Aunt Eloise tugging on his sleeve and gesturing to me. As if he was going to say something I was not meant to hear. He looked a little embarrassed before gathering his wits and attending to me. "Madeleine, child! Is there anything you need, my favorite niece?"
I shake my head. Uncle Phillipe had hard ideas about Papa and Mama marrying, and about Papa "taking care of the child." Mama's desire to return to the stage caused a stir in upper-class society. I am sure the high-born women scoffed at her. She was not like them, coming from poor origins before Papa married her.
"What opera will he have you work on, Mama?"
She sighs. "I don't know yet, dearest. I believe he mentioned Pygmalion, but I will have to re-read his letter."
"Are you excited to work in an Opera House again? Is there any part of it you miss?"
She thinks for a moment. "Some of it. I miss the camaraderie; I miss being with other people…I miss the music most of all."
Music! I worry my lip and scuffle my shoe. Would it be appropriate of me to unpack now? Or did our maids do that while we were still traveling?
But I knew I had to play. It would make the move-in more official, more comfortable. "Mama, is there a music room for my piano?" I ask, voice rushed.
She looks almost concerned at my enthusiasm. "Yes, Madeleine. Your piano is upstairs."
I open my mouth to ask if I could go play, and she interrupts. "You may go play, but supper will be ready by six."
I breathe out a "merci" and dash off to play. I traverse the marble staircase and weave through it. I pass Mama's bedroom and my own and go down the long hallway, letting the cream-colored curtains rustle as I pass. Finally, I see it out of the corner of my eye.
My trunk that contained my music was brought up. I race to my room, retrieve it, and head back in. Thankfully, my latest sonata was at the top. A piece that reflected sunlight and hope and brightness, filled with light leaps and written in major key. It was intricate—but, according to both our staff and Mama, all my pieces were intricate.
I take it out, line up the music, and play. Oh, sweet release! The joy I remember feeling upon happy events in my life: Charles and I courting, the happy sounds of Paris, playing with my cousins, trips to the park, playing my music and everyone admiring it. Simply the happiness of myself and the piano. A marriage between instrument and player, in which we made beauty. I heard the music everywhere. It flowed through me to the keys. We became one.
My heart leaps with every note, my smile widens until my face hurts. Joy—pure bliss—flows through me. I am stiff with excitement. My heart is racing, and my breaths are short like a runner's. "Relax!" I hear my old governess say in my head. "Don't be so stiff, child! Don't slouch either!" For years I learned under her, until I could learn under another teacher.
That is the beauty of music. It is a companion that never leaves me. In Paris I loved hearing that majestic organ in our church play the saintly hymns. I love the way song can express all depths of human emotion, from suffering to joy to sadness to passion. I remember how happy I felt to be able to write my own scores. Music has been part of my life since I could remember.
My piece ends, and I pick out another piece that was slower and melodic. The song of lovers. I wish I could have played it at Mama's and Papa's wedding. It was about promises of love, protection from darkness, and a simple declaration of love. Wholesome and sweet.
I play more songs. Others reflecting loss, about my own loss of Paris, and others reflecting joy, the joy of newness. I allow myself to at last be free. To live in a world where music encompasses all things. Time passes, and a simple knock on the wall snaps me out of playing. I notice only because I play a sharp where the note should have been natural. Fool!
"Supper is ready, sweet."
Mama is standing by the door, nearly glowing in the light of the hallway. "Come, dear."
I nod, stand, and give a quick bow to an imaginary audience, and rush to meet her. "What did Marguerite cook?"
"She is good at that," I say. Her food was always delicious.
There is a silence as we both go down the stairs. "You were imagining playing to an audience again, Madeleine?"
"Yes," I say, almost breathless. "I hope I can be like you, Mama, and play on a stage one day. I want to just let others enjoy the music, and I want to perform at my best!"
She smiles at me gushingly, the way all proud mothers do. "You always do, my angel."
"There's always more to learn. I want to perfect play the violin so I can be like Grandfather. Perhaps, the workers at the Metropolitan could teach me?"
I imagine the workers at the Metropolitan smiling at me, amazed at the hard work of such a clever student. "Magnifique!" they would say. Then the maestro would allow me access to any instrument, any time I wanted. From the piano—my expertise—to the violin and cello and the winds and—
The piano's famed cousin—the pipe organ! Ah, nothing compared to the beauty of Mass played on that majestic instrument! The music came alive and enveloped the worshippers. The choir singing Latin and the soft notes combined to create the most glorious symphony. Yes, perhaps I could learn from a professional musician!
"You shouldn't presume that, dear. But I will try to see what I can do and ask Mr. Carter. It will be harder since I do not believe everyone there speaks French."
I nod. "Thank you, Mama."
Supper is a quiet affair. I am trying not to be distracted by the music playing in my head—as it always does. Our cook's meal was delicious as always—Papa had ensured that we had the best of service to be provided. I thank her for it, as Mama instructed.
But the music is always there. Even amongst the quiet chatter at the table when I thank Emilie, it is playing still. Melodies that swoop and bellow and dash and run, that slow and whisper and race and scream. Sweet lullabies or lamenting arias. One of my favorite pieces, the final song from Faust, plays now. I hear poor, sweet Marguerite reassuring herself that her lover is there and that she loves him in turn. I hear the old Doctor's worry at trying to rouse her, his regret over what he had done to her—
"Madeleine?" Mama's voice snaps me back to reality.
I glance up at her, scraping my fork against the china plate. Shivers run through me at the scrraap sounds. A hard lump forms in my throat. You were daydreaming again!
"Oui?" I hope she is not disappointed at my daydreaming.
"I was wondering if you wanted to come with me in two days to meet Mr. Carter. Tomorrow I must read over the paperwork and score he sent, but then I will get to go and meet the company."
I gasp and my eyes widen like a child's on Christmas. "Truly?"
She nods and smiles at me, knowing she has just granted my wish. "Yes, my love. Now," she gestures to my plate of hardly-touched food, "eat."
I obey. Time passes before she speaks again. "What were you daydreaming about this time?"
I swallow a roast potato. "Faust. The final scene with Marguerite."
"A beautiful scene!"
"How old were you when you played Marguerite?"
She smiles, her eyes almost misty at the memory. "I was about eighteen. It was after I made my debut."
"Were you nervous when you first performed?"
She smiles again, this time with the modest blush of a performer. It is as though I am seeing that shy eighteen year old ballerina asked to prove herself singing before an audience. That inexperienced singer, not the Prima Donna I know. "Of course. It is completely natural, dear. I stuttered, I remember. My voice shook a little, but as the music went on, I gained my confidence. There were people there who believed in me."
"Like Grandmaman?" Grandmaman was the woman who became a mother-figure to Mama after Grandfather died when Mama was fifteen. She had a daughter of her own, my Aunt Meg, but came to see Mama as another one of her own. She'd also been friends with Grandfather before his death.
"Oui. She rapped her cane to force me to stay put when I tried to run off!"
I laugh at that before touching a roasted potato to my lips. Cold. Mildly annoyed that I have yet again allowed my food to get cold, I eat. The meal finishes with comfortable silence.
Later, we both retire to bed. For some reason, I cannot sleep. I decide to try and read a novel to force me to fall asleep. When Wuthering Heights does not work, I try to think of something else I can do. I pace around the room, stepping ever-so-lightly to avoid making the wooden floor creak beneath me. The plush white rug cushions my foot, but it strangely does nothing to soothe my mind. It is racing.
And perhaps I know what can soothe it.
I light a candle and float out of the room. I resemble a ghost in my white nightdress. My golden locket glistens like a precious jewel in the faint candlelight. I tiptoe down the hall to the music room. I push the door open as quietly as possible.
Once I enter and close the door, I make my way to the piano and place the candle on top. The orange light makes the black and white keys stand out. I find middle C and position my hands.
The lullaby begins, hypnotizing me with soft pushes of the keys. The music is gentle, the croon of a mother to her child. This was my lullaby. Perhaps I am too old for a lullaby but if it is the only thing that will work, so be it.
Mama said this was written for me not long after I was born, and she always sang it for me whenever I requested it. I have faint memories of it being played or sung when I was younger. The song takes me back…back to Paris and laughing with my parents, to doing impromptu recitals for guests, to playing with my cousins, to dancing with Charles around the parlor, him spinning me in the sunlight…to sitting on a piano bench, leaning against someone's vest—perhaps Papa's—and nuzzling a long black cloak against my cheek, to the warmth and the music of my first memory.
I do not notice my hands going slack and the notes getting fainter, fainter, dying. My eyelids are heavy and I somehow manage to walk back to my bedroom and collapse onto my bed. Sleep soon overtakes me.