La danse masquée de renaissance JCayan
Entertwined des alcools| Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 >| Part 4
Acto III La nascita di un spettro
The carriage came to a halt and the footman climbed down quickly and opened the door. He extended his hand towards Kathryn and assisted her as she began to step down, but she paused before reaching the ground, seized by the guileless charm of the Opera de Paris.
Still blackened from the fire ten years earlier, the foreboding dark stone structure seemed even more imposing than she recalled. Kathryn shuddered, as she sensed a strange and unusual presence, and a sudden chill crept into her bones causing the hairs on the back of her neck to rise.
As she stared at the long stone steps leading to the front entrance, her heart nearly came to a halt in mid beat. For a moment, she thought she heard Brigitte's laughter. She smiled a warm and knowing smile, and gathered the long skirt in one hand, she continued her decent from the carriage.
It appeared rather ironic to her that she should be entering the Opera house through the front entrance and not the side. Her former employer had insisted that all members enter through the side entrance only. So many years had elapsed since then and for a second she mourned their loss.
The simple emerald green travel gown that Kathryn wore was made of velvet, the front of the skirt ruffled, a soft beige silk scalped in the front, allowed her movements to flow smoothly and naturally. The velvet vest was tailored short and tapered at her small waist. The front of the vest, which was clasped and had embroidered buttons, served to accentuate her youthful appearance.
She wore a beige blouse of silk underneath, with a small round collar and ballooned short sleeves. Her boots made of the finest kidskin leather and dyed a perfect emerald green matched her skirt. Her wide brimmed velvet hat produced the impression of elegance and grace, a mature, highborn, cultured woman.
She raised her parasol and opened it. Then, lifting her skirt with her free hand, she ascended the long stone steps to the entrance of the Opera House. She counted them as she climbed and smiled inwardly, how many times in the past had she dreamed of entering through the front door?
She counted twenty-seven steps and found the door opened by a tall older man of ebon skin, dressed in a door attendant's suit of red and gold. He bowed to her gracefully, and motioned with a long sweep of his hand for her to enter. She nodded her head and continued onward, the rustling sound of her skirt the only sound audible.
Marveling at the spectacular interior of the house, Kathryn noticed it was far more elegant and dignified than the house she remembered. The long wide marble stairwell opened widely before continuing to the second level. It sat amid large long pillars of stone, some doubled and producing magnificent archways, the great high Italian marble arches smooth and proud. Each stone structure was adorned with the figures of childish angels and leaves of gold.
A thick Saxon carpet with large burgundy roses covered the floor in the main hall, and long velvet drapes in a wine red adorned each window. The balcony seats sat nestled high and above in the second level were covered in the same velvet fabrics. As she craned her head upward, it appeared to her as if the ceiling extended into the heavens.
She gazed upon the masterful paintings of chubby cherubs playing various instruments and they seemed to be watching her from above. The soft yellow glow from the gaslights lit the great hall giving it a polished and regal look.
The main hall was warm and delightful, the finest crystal chandelier, by far the largest she had ever seen in her life, hung majestically at its center. Each piece of crystal polished to a high gleam, the soft light catching the glass prisms, rainbows of colors emanating and dancing on the walls.
Kathryn was struck silent and reveled in the display of the sheer beauty and magnificence of the Opera House. She felt a slight sting to the back of her eyes as her vision continued to consume the contents of every crevice and nook. She breathed deeply, determined to hold the images in her mind forever.
She allowed herself the luxury of letting her memories wander, back to the days of girlish voices raised loudly and filled with mirth, the sounds of happiness echoing through the great hall, and the sound of her own laughter mixed with that of Brigitte's. She was awaken from her reverie by the soft lyrical voice of Maestro John Paul Duvall,
"Kathryn, you have arrived."
He quickly joined her and clasped her hands in his own, placing a chaste kiss on each cheek. His face was flushed, as if he recently exerted himself in one form or another. It felt warm to the touch, and she gazed at him warmly and returned the kiss. He begrudgingly released her, and taking a step backward and with a keen eye, he admired her form.
"Maestro, it is so good to see you."
"Ah, but my dear Katrina, I must insist that you call me John Paul, we are far to well acquainted to have such formality between us."
For some reason that Kathryn could never fathom, John Paul never called her by her given name of Kathryn, choosing instead the Italian version of her name.
"Very well, if that is your wish."
"I insist my dear Katrina. I expect your journey was pleasant and unencumbered?"
"As well as can be expected under the circumstances. I'm afraid the early spring rains delayed our progress along the way."
He watched her with great intent as she swept her vision once more along the great hall. Entranced by her regal features and saddened by the melancholy appearance hidden in her dark blue eyes.
"You must be weary of your journey, I have secured a suite for you at the Hotel de Paris, you do recall it, do you not?
"Yes, how can I forget, so many times we sat in the café across the square and admired the countless aristocrats entering its doors."
"It was a marvelous time, was it not Katrina?"
A sudden darkness flickered quickly through her eyes a slight downward curl touched her lips. John Paul cursed himself for his forwardness, feeling awkward and intrusive, he cleared his throat and lowered his vision from hers before speaking.
"I apologize Katrina, that was most dispassionate of me. I did not intend to bring you such sad memories, please forgive my abruptness and stupidity."
She stretched out her gloved hand and patted his soothingly, a warm and compassionate look emanated from her eyes.
"It is quite alright, John Paul, there is little to apologize for, or regret. In fact, I thank you my dear friend, for it has been a long time since I allowed myself the luxury of remembering the past. I almost forgot how sweet it truly was, thank you, for reminding me of its beauty. So much of the old house has changed and yet it is the same."
"It's magnificent, isn't it? " He asked in a warm soft voice.
"Magnificent", she rolled the word in her tongue and swallowed deeply before continuing.
"Yes, magnificent, that is the word that is most befitting. Tell me of the fire. Richard and I received word in London, but I'm afraid it explained little of how it started."
A dark shadow crossed John Paul's classic features. He was a rakishly handsome man, with a strong face and dark brooding eyes. His mane of ebon hair was long and wild his eyebrows knitted together and gave him a devilish appearance. His lashes, long and feminine, were the envy of every woman ever born.
"It was a great tragedy indeed, a few lives were lost and I can still recall the putrid odor of burning flesh. It is believed, though never proven, the fire was started by a jealous Seconda soprano, Susanna Tomassino. Do you recall her, Katrina?"
"Not personally, no, only by reputation. I hear she is a most difficult woman and truly not worth the effort. Why would she have committed such an unspeakable act?"
"I was still quite a young man then, but I recall the entire incident as if it occurred yesterday. Do you recall the Maestro's young daughter, Simone Armande?"
"Yes, I believe I do recall her. She was rather odd and aloof for such a young, beautiful child. She had the most magnificent golden hair I had ever laid eyes on, and eyes the color of azure, I believe."
"Yes, well, she was an even a more imposing beauty by the age of eighteen and her voice, Ah what a voice, well it was pure perfection. Never in all of my years have I heard such a voice again, had she survived, there would be no diva on earth that could rival her."
"How tragic, I wasn't aware she perished in the fire, we received no word of that from the Maestro."
"She didn't perish in the fire Katrina, in fact she survived the fire having been saved by the tenor, Antonio. No, tragically enough, she sustained damaged to her face and hand, a tender beauty scared for the rest of her life, it was very terrible indeed."
"Tell me, what became of her?'
"It isn't common knowledge, but as the Maestro's protégé I was present during many conversations between him and Madam Santerre pertaining to Simone. It was my impression, the poor girl became mad after the tragedy and they were forced to place her in an asylum."
Kathryn, paused in mid stride and turned her vision to John Paul, trying to capture the tragedy that had befallen the beautiful, sad and aloof girl she recalled.
"How positively horrible. I had no idea such misfortune had befallen upon the Maestro and Madam Santerre. In all of his correspondence to me, never once did he indicate there was something wrong with Simone. In fact, he never mentioned she fell victim to the fire."
"Yes, I suspected as much, he was a very arrogant and self centered man and treated his daughter quite brutishly if you ask me. I recall the night of the disaster; he barely gave her a second look and instead shed tears for the Opera House. We were completely stunned by his behavior towards her. Where it not for Antonio and myself rescuing her, and then taking her to the hospital to be treated, she would have remained there lying in pain and agony.
"How odd, I never would have suspected the Maestro to be so cold and indifferent to his own daughter. It was he that notified my parents.... When I.... When I became ill that time."
John Paul realized his slight error in judgment and quickly set to change his grievous mistake. Hoping his slight indiscretion would not cause Kathryn any further discomfort.
"If I recall correctly, it wasn't until several days later that he finally visited her in the hospital. Then after the tragedy, he never spoke of Simone Armande again, and behaved as if she never existed in the first place."
"My word, that is most unlike the Maestro indeed. Perhaps you misunderstood his grief and he was fraught with despair. I find it difficult to believe he could be so dispassionate towards his own flesh and blood."
"I assure you, such was the case, Katrina. The Maestro viewed his daughter as an instrument. He was interested only in her voice and nothing else. Not wishing to speak ill of the dead, but the Maestro showed very little compassion to his only child. In fact, it appeared as if he went out of his way to mistreat her badly in front of the entire company. Many of us felt deep compassion towards her and attempted to befriend her, as much as she would allow. I will admit, she was defiant of his tyrannical treatment of her, and gained the admiration and respect of us all, with the exception of Susanne of course."
"I find this all so very hard to believe, John Paul. My experience with the Maestro was far different than what you are describing. What occurred between Simone and Susanne to create such discord? I find it appalling that Susanne would act accordingly and set fire to the house. How is it that the authorities never prosecuted her, if such was the case?"
"It appears Susanne took offense to Antonio's display of affection towards Simone, though Simone never returned his amorous attentions, and told him as much on more than one occasion. It is rumored Susanne was consumed with hatred and jealously of Simone. It was never proven, but even the authorities suspected the fire was set intentionally."
"How terribly horrid and odd, tell me what has become of Simone? You mentioned she was disfigured in the fire, where is she now?"
"I cannot say for certain, but we believe Simone is no longer among the living."
"What is it that you say?"
"Yes, after her release from the hospital she refused to go out in public or allow anyone to visit her. It is presumed she was disfigured badly and was unable to come to terms with it. As I mentioned earlier, I once over heard the Maestro discussing placing her in an asylum. According to him, she lost her mental faculties and became uncontrollable. I can't say for sure, however, I believe she eventually ended her life."
Kathryn covered her mouth with the back of her hand, stifling a startled cry that escaped from her throat.
"My heavens, what would move her to commit such an irreprehensible act?"
"One can argue it would be pride, but I do not believe that was the case in this instance. If anything, I would blame it on the indifference of her parents and their lack of compassion in regard to their daughter's accident."
"Oh, John Paul, it saddens me deeply to hear that such a tragedy befell the Santerres'. What of Madam, what has become of her?"
"The dear Madam has been a recluse for a number of years. One can say it is an irony that she should suffer the same illness that destroyed her only child."
"She has gone mad as well?"
"More like irresponsive as opposed to mad. Nonetheless, she barely ventures from her home and has dismissed all but one of her servants. But enough of this horrid tale, it was not my intention to fill your mind with such tragic talk. You must forgive me for my imprudence. Surely you are weary, and would like to retire to your suite and refresh yourself from your arduous journey?"
"Yes, I believe I would. Tell me, is Madam Dumas still a member of employ?"
He laughed a boisterous and hearty laugh, welcoming the change in subject from the dark tale he related to Kathryn.
"We have discovered it is an impossible task to replace our beloved Madam Dumas. She is a bit frailer then when you remembered her last, but she still has a sharp wit and keen eye. She will be pleased to see you I suspect, for she has been fretting over your arrival for the past month."
"I say, that is wonderful news and I look forward to reacquainting myself with her again. She was a kind and generous soul, and very forgiving of mine and Brigitte's misdeeds."
It was the first time she spoke her name and, much to her surprise, it was not followed with a sharp pain. She laughed a short and whimsical laugh, John Paul's eyes widened with approval and he joined in her mirth. He extended his hand out to her and escorted her towards the door.
Out the corner of her eye, she happened upon a silhouette that quickly disappeared into the shadows when she stopped abruptly to examine it further. Her body tensed slightly, John Paul stopped along side her and eyed her questionably.
"Is there something wrong Katrina?'
"I must be tired from my journey, for I could have sworn I saw someone standing over there beneath the large archway and hidden in the shadows."
John Paul paled slightly, his flushed cheeks drained of all color. He began to tug at his collar as if it were suddenly too tight. Kathryn scrutinized his face closely, her keen eyes detecting his obvious discomfort.
"Is something wrong, John Paul?"
"No, nothing is wrong, I'm sure it was nothing. You must promise me to ignore any nonsense you hear regarding the specter."
"The specter John Paul? Whatever are you speaking of? Have you lost control of your senses?"
"It's only idle gossip and sheer foolishness if you ask me. You are a most sensible woman Katrina and I suspect you would find it as ridiculous as I. Nonetheless, in recent years, the house has been fraught with strange occurrences and some have even sworn to encounters with a spectral entity. Childish over active imaginations if you ask me, and in some cases too much sampling of the spirits."
Kathryn laughed aloud her eyes brimming with tears.
"Are you saying the Opera de Paris is haunted, John Paul?"
"It is not I who is saying this. I am simply repeating what others have said."
"I see. You of course do not believe in ghosts?"
She eyed him teasingly and was surprise to notice the quick flash of doubt that crossed his eyes. She arched her eyebrow and tilted her head, her dark blue gray eyes shining with mirth.
"O.o.of course not Katrina, I'm not a child you know."
"And what of you John Paul, have you had an encounter with this eerie specter?"
"Really Katrina, you were always such a horrible tease. Come, it is getting late, and I must get you to your suite."
He held her arm in his and quickly ushered her out of the house and into the waiting carriage outside, directing the driver to the Hotel de Paris. They entered the hotel where John Paul ensured that she was received properly, before bidding her a hasty good night and returning home to his family.
Kathryn followed the young man carrying her luggage to her room. After unpacking a few items, she drew a hot bath. Stripping to her natural form, she slowly entered the bath and proceeded to remove the grime of traveling from her person. She remained a while longer until the water began to cool. Finally, she rose and dressed for bed, slipped between the coverlet and moved herself into a comfortable position, closing her eyes tightly, the soft sounds of the evening lulled her to a deep and undisturbed slumber.
Acto IV Incontro con un perduto risuoli
It was near eleven o'clock the next morning when Kathryn arrived at the Opera de Paris. Feeling clean and refreshed her complexion was clear and her mind alert. She shared a cup of dark strong Turkish coffee with John Paul before they entered the atrium of the theater and the Maestro introduced her to the company and orchestra.
She admired the large atrium and noted the subtle changes in its architecture. The domed atrium, higher than the previous one, was adorned in the same gold leaves and chubby cherubs as the great hall. There was a familiarity and difference all in one. She happened upon the backdrop of the stage and noted the same stoic design of yore.
"Ah, there is still a bit of the old girl, and yet she has a new face."
John Paul smiled at her critical eye and attention to detail.
"Many changes where enacted after the fire ten years ago. We had a brilliant architect and he worked a miracle, the new atrium boasts the greatest acoustics ever created. Once you hear them you too will agree, Katrina?"
She breathed in deeply, a part of her longing for the past, the house of former times, whilst the other found a great relief from the memories that imprisoned her waking thoughts.
"Yes, John Paul, I'm sure it is a miracle as you stated. Tell me, has the orchestra familiarized themselves with the musical score yet?"
"Yes, they have and I assure you, you will not be disappointed. Once you hear your masterpiece played in this great house you will never want to hear it again elsewhere."
Kathryn laughed aloud and taking the baton from John Paul's grasp walked the final steps and stood before the orchestra pit. She tapped the baton loudly on the stand before her and quickly thumbed to the opening scene of La Danse. The musicians seized their various stages of practice and took note of the imposing, famed Lady composer before them.
With her erect and commanding figure she took control and immediately gained their undivided attention. She smiled and instructed them to the correct page; it was her intention to determine the level of accomplishment their practice produced.
The movement of various instruments instantly followed the rustle of turning pages, as the musicians settled into their proper position. Nodding and raising her hands slightly above her head, she indicated the start of the first rehearsal.
The melancholic and familiar tune filled the room and, much to Kathryn's surprise, the orchestra demonstrated a controlled command and knowledge of the piece. She was pleased with the resonating sounds that floated effortlessly into the air and reverberated throughout the atrium. John Paul had been accurate in his assessment of the architecture's genius, for truly the natural acoustics of the domed atrium was perfection in its purest form.
She continued conducting the orchestra well into the second act, and quite pleased with the results, she halted the practice and returned the baton to John Paul. Bowing her head gracefully towards him she commended him on the level of expertise he had managed to instill in his orchestra.
The quiet stillness of the room was disrupted by the soft warm familiar voice of Madam Dumas. She walked proudly to the center stage, a long flowing gown of white with silver ornaments in one hand. She shaded both her eyes with her free one, the glow of light shining on her face and blinding her momentarily.
"Kathryn Janaway, how dare you arrive and not have the good manners to come and see me."
Kathryn turned to the warm voice, and facing the elderly lady, was stunned beyond words on how much Madam Dumas had aged, and thought to herself, "Has it truly been that long?" Kathryn smiled a wide enigmatic smile and quickly climbed the stage her arms stretched widely as she welcomed the warm round figure of Brigitte's kind former mentor.
The two women clung to each other warmly, allowing the old familiarity to emerge between them. Kathryn noted the frailty of the once vibrant and powerful dresser, former confidant and comrade at arms. They released each other after a long while, Kathryn holding Madam Dumas at arm's length, her face warm and glowing with a profound respect and love.
"Madam Dumas, I would have recognized you anywhere you have hardly changed after all of these years."
Madam Dumas felt suddenly conscious of her appearance and smiled warmly at Kathryn's blatant lie. The elderly dresser was only too painfully aware of the damage caused by the passage of time. Still, she was touched to the deep recesses of her soul to the compliment bestowed upon her by the mature and elegant English woman that stood before her.
The wholesome youth once present had diminished, and was replaced by a beautiful and regal Lady with a superior demeanor instead. Kathryn smoothed her hand across Madam Dumas's white mane and she responded warmly, a level of love and affection present in her soft voice.
"Kathryn Janaway, you always had a method with words that made it impossible for me to be angry with you for very long. You have become an accomplished diplomat and show no scruples in teasing an old woman."
Kathryn laughed aloud and hugged the woman once more to her, taking a long moment and breathing in her motherly scent of lavender that she recalled from all those years ago.
"Surely, Madam, you malign my character with no just cause. I assure you I speak only the truth you barely look a day over forty."
"Ah, stop your foolish tales, Kathryn, it is a wonder why Brigitte was unable to resist your charm."
Madam Dumas watched the sadness in Kathryn's eyes and immediately regretted her choice of words. Moving closer to Kathryn, she patted her warmly in the back and sought to correct her error of judgment.
"Ah, but it is only a foolish old woman like myself that dwells in the past. You must forgive my mindless bungling, for I am no longer the young woman you recall, but an old fool, that doesn't have enough sense to be quiet."
"It's quiet alright, Madam Dumas, no need to trouble yourself with apologies, I assure you I was not offended by your words. It is wonderful to see an old familiar face, so much has changed in the new house and I welcome the memories of the past."
"You were always so compassionate and understanding, Kathryn, wise beyond your years. You have grown to become a magnificent and cultured Lady, and I am very pleased with your success. I followed your career and that of Lord Janaway's throughout the years. I was saddened by his death, and I often wonder were it is that you derive your strength, Kathryn."
"I often wonder myself, Madam, and then I remember the last words Richard spoke to me before he died. He held my hand in his and whispered that I should remain strong and find the will to love again, that in time the hurt would heal. For God only gives you what he knows you can bear. They were the last words he spoke to me and I hold them dear to my heart."
Madam Dumas nodded her head in ascent and together they walked towards the side of the stage and into the small room that had been Madam Dumas's quarters for the better part of forty years.
They entered the quarters where a young woman of twenty with long brown hair was occupied altering a costume that resembled the colors of a tiger. Kathryn immediately recognized it as one belonging to the minor players assuming the role of a villager.
The young girl ceased her tedious chore, and stood smiling warmly at Kathryn, curtsied while bowing her head. Kathryn gazed upon Madam Dumas a quizzical expression present on her face.
"This is my assistant Mademoiselle Giselle Aponte, she has been under my tutelage for five years now and will be replacing me upon my retirement at the end of this season."
"Surely, Madam Dumas, you are not considering retiring, you are far too young and have a formidable amount of years before you."
"Truly, Kathryn, you are far to generous in your flattery. I am afraid it is true, I find that my vision is failing me and it would do the house no good if I am unable to perform my duties effectively."
"I understand Madam Dumas and I am honored that I have this opportunity to work with you once more."
"It is so wonderful to see you again, Kathryn. You have made an old woman truly happy and to think that you have turned into such a fine Lady."
Kathryn hugged Madam Dumas warmly to her bosom, the scent of lavender hung heavily in her hair, and she closed her eyes and recalled the long summer days of Paris.
It was late in the evening during the second week of rehearsals and the event had proved to be exhausting. I found myself weary and ill at ease.
I was returning to my office when I realized I had failed to mention a change I required to Constantina's costume. It was a minor issue really, yet for some reason, the small detail seemed to gnaw at me all afternoon.
One can say it was due to my frustration with the Prima soprano, Deirdre Forte, for I found her voice inconsistent for the demanding role of Constantina. I wondered if it had more to do with self-assurance, as she was young, very young, a mere child of nineteen and though she had a remarkable range, it seemed to falter at the most inopportune times.
I walked past the dressing rooms and quickly stepped aside, the singers were hastily taking their leave and anxious to return to their homes. It was a long and strenuous rehearsal and tempers quickly ran short.
Resigned, I finally took pity on the rest of the staff who had managed to perform their roles effortlessly and flawlessly. Together, we withstood the clumsy assault of Deirdre's misguided interpretation of Constantina in La Danse.
As much as I gently tried to redirect her to the proper form, she managed to fumble one aria after another, testing the limits of all of our patience and endurance as well.
I stepped to the side and acknowledged the courteous goodnights as they swept past me. Each turning their vision from me in what I am convinced was an action of contempt or resentment.
I continued my journey until I reached the door of Madam Dumas. She welcomed me graciously and asked me to sit while directing me to a comfortable claw footed chair.
The air was filled with the strong aroma of a most delightful and enticing elixir, a magical potion I fondly recalled from my youth. I raised my head upward and closed my eyes, inhaling the scent deeply, a warm conspiratorial smile touching my lips.
"Ah, so you recall my coffee?"
"How could I not, Madam Dumas, it is the most intoxicating scent I have ever encountered."
"Then I gather you will accept a cup if I offer, or would you prefer tea?"
She smiled warmly, her eyes vibrant and teasing for she knew I would be unable to resist her magnificent brew. Though I was born an English woman, I had developed an affinity for the taste of coffee while living in Paris and soon abandoned the English custom of tea drinking.
"Madam, not to accept your coffee would cause a great offense to your person and out of a deep respect for you, I will graciously accept your kind offer."
Madam Dumas laughed openly. Her sincerity and familiarity touched me. As young girls, Brigitte and I spent many hours enjoying her delectable brew, exchanging comical excerpts of our daily duties and activities. It was these warm moments I recalled most, and I felt a happiness consume me as I allowed the feelings to touch my heart.
She poured me a cup in a quaint, delicate blue and white china cup, making sure to fill it nearly to the brim. Then, in a matronly manner, she handed it to me.
I could not help but notice she offered me neither milk or a sweetener to accompany my coffee. I smiled, in awe that she should remember my preference after all of these years. She looked at me and I was able to detect she read my thoughts, and all doubt was removed by her next response.
"I recall you always preferred your coffee in its natural form."
I smiled warmly in return and felt comfortable and at home, as if this was where my wandering spirit belonged. There was a certain medicinal healing quality at being in her company and here in the house. I welcomed the soothing powers it held over me.
"You were always one to pay attention to detail to the most simplest of things Madam Dumas. I am truly happy that I had the opportunity to reacquaint myself with you before your retirement."
The sudden sound of a yelp was heard, and for the first time I noticed her quiet assistant sitting to the far right of the large suite, partially hidden behind a rack of clothing. She managed to prick herself with a needle, while altering the hem on the gown I had come to speak about to Madam Dumas.
I placed my cup down and retrieving a handkerchief from my sleeve, I walked to her and held it to the tip of her finger. She thanked me, never once removing her vision from the bloodstained cloth. It was obvious the poor child was profoundly embarrassed. I smiled at her reassuringly and patted her on the shoulder, before returning to my chair.
With a stammering voice, she whispered out.
"Thank you, Madam, I shall wash your handkerchief this evening and return it to you on the morrow."
"Nonsense, I have so many, I would not miss this one at all. Please hold on to it as a keepsake if you like, and do not trouble yourself any longer."
Giselle curtsied formally and smiled a broad smile, her otherwise dull eyes taking on a new light.
"Thank you, Madam, you are far too kind."
I was touched by the poor child's appreciation of such an insignificant gesture and returned to her a kindly and endearing smile.
"You are quite welcome Mademoiselle Aponte."
I turned my attention to Madam Dumas and watched out the corner of my eye as the child resumed her previous position, I chuckled inwardly when I noticed that she inhaled the scent of my perfumed handkerchief deeply and smiled.
Madam Dumas appeared bemused by the entire scene that unfolded before her and graciously inclined her head towards me as I settled back into my chair.
"I actually wished to see you on a different matter, though I cannot begin to tell you what a pleasure it is to once again sample your magical elixir."
"Very well, what is it about the gown that displeases you?"
I appeared stunned for a moment that she could easily perceive what was plaguing my mind. It truly was a silly trivial thing, really, and yet for some reason, it seemed to annoy me to no avail. I shook my head in amazement and looked affectionately at Madam Dumas.
"I was wondering if it would be too much trouble to ask you to alter something on the gown for Constantina?"
"I knew there was something about it that was troubling you. I could tell by your restlessness throughout the rehearsal, though I suspect it had more to do with Mademoiselles Forte's performance."
She completed her sentence with a knowing stare and I realized I had failed to disguise my true feelings. I felt rather cross with myself for being so easily read. However, this was the wise Madam Dumas, the one with the critical eye I was talking to.
I recall Brigitte and I were quite unsuccessful in disguising our relationship from the astute Madam Dumas. I nodded my head in acknowledgement and watched a smile touch her matronly lips.
"I was never very good at disguising anything from you."
She laughed boldly and held the back of her hand to her mouth, a most ladylike attribute that always struck me as odd, coming from one as wise as she. I joined her in her mirth and shook my head in defeat, her companionship filling part of the void present in my soul.
"Tell me, Lady Kathryn, what alterations do you wish to make to the gown."
"Well, I don't know how to quite say this, it really isn't the young girl's fault. She is a bit plain and when dressed in the white gown, she appears to vanish in the garment. I was thinking if it would not be a wise thing to perhaps sew some stones into the bodice of the gown and around the hem."
"I was thinking the same thing, my Lady, and I have Giselle working on that now. It occurred to me that she is so pale in complexion and rather full of figure and does not exhibit the air of dignity and grace required of the role. I thought that perhaps some sapphire stones added to the dress, might distract from the rest of her performance?'
We both laughed wildly and even her young assistant, Giselle Aponte, found it difficult not to join in. It was evident to all present that nothing short of a miracle would ever make the diva feel comfortable in the role of Constantina.
"The young girl does have a haughty appearance and her walk likens that of an ape, the way it uses its knuckles to balance itself whilst walking." Madam Dumas quipped.
We broke out into more boisterous laughter and the room was filled with our loud voices raised in mirth. After several minutes, Madam Dumas retrieved a delicate lace handkerchief and dabbed at the corner of each eye, removing away a tear that had formed from her laughter. She attempted to regain her composure, as did we, her assistant and I, who was holding on to her stomach as if in pain.
"Kathryn, you always had a way of making me laugh until I cried. Come and see what miracles we have managed perform on this gown."
I rose slowly from my seat and gazed upon the garment she held before me. It was a magnificent gown indeed and the beautiful blue sapphires delicately sewn into the fabric gave the costume a regal and dignified appearance.
If only Mademoiselle Forte could appear just as elegant and graceful as the role called for. I nodded in approval, for truly this might actually assist the clumsy diva and give her the illusion of being a noble Lady.
I bid the two women a goodnight and turned to leave when I suddenly froze in my steps, my astute hearing detecting a most haunting and wonderful melody emanating from a perfect voice. I stood still and sought the direction from whence it came; it was barely audible and was as soft and gentle as a summer breeze.
"Shhh...be quiet", I commanded to my companions, who turned to look at me as if I had gone completely mad. I waved my hand in front of them to silence them and then I caught sound of it once more.
"There did you hear that? "I asked anxiously.
"Hear what?", asked Madam Dumas in a hushed voice.
"That sound, of someone singing. Did you not hear it?" I asked in amazement, the haunting melody had suddenly gone from the air.
"Shhhh...listen...listen...there it is again." My ears strained to catch the haunting melody that faded as quickly as it arrived.
"I did not hear anything."
A startled Madam Dumas replied. I looked upon her face and saw it pale to a ghostly hue and directly behind her a stricken Giselle made the sign of the cross and placed a kiss onto her crucifix.
"Surely you jest, Madam Dumas, a deaf mute could not deny hearing that. Giselle did you not hear the voice singing either?"
The young girl swallowed deeply, her eyes large saucers and her nostrils flaring. She reminded me of a wild animal fraught with fear at being trapped. I watched as she fidgeted nervously before responding.
"It is the specter, Madam, he seeks vengeance against the house and will not be satisfied until he sees its demise."
Her voice was low and frightened and I looked at her in complete astonishment. It was Madam Dumas, who responded to her childish reply.
"Hush child, you speak like a fool. There is no specter and it is nonsense what you speak."
Although she tried to sound convincing, there was a timber to her voice that leveled a small amount of fear. I looked at her expectantly and she turned her vision from me, and I knew that Madam Dumas did not believe her own words.
"Tell me more of this specter, Giselle. What is it that causes him to haunt the Opera de Paris?"
"Kathryn, you are far too intelligent a woman to give in to the childish ramblings of ignorant fools. There is no specter, it is complete foolishness, I assure you."
"The Maestro Duvall spoke of this specter and I am curious what makes it haunt this place."
"No one knows for sure Madam. " Whispered a timid and fearful Giselle. "It...it is said he is a hideous ghoul and malevolent spirit and that perhaps it is Maestro Santerre himself."
"Quiet you fool, you speak nonsense. The Maestro is not a restless spirit as you speak, he is buried on consecrated ground and is not a roaming specter as you say."
"Maestro Santerre? What makes you believe it is Maestro Santerre Giselle?"
Giselle eyed Madam Dumas wearily, who gave her a most reproachful glare. The young girl anxious to please me ignored the warning and proceeded to speak of her tale.
"Because the specter first appeared nine days after the Maestro's death. They found him in his office you know."
"I wasn't aware Maestro Santerre expired in his office. How did this come about?"
"It is said he took his own life?"
"Be quiet you fool, the Maestro did not take his own life. The authorities themselves exonerated him of that heinous act. You must not speak of things you do not know. I have warned you before of this, Giselle. If you value your position here then you must mind your tongue and end this foolish gossip."
"It is true what I speak. I saw him with the pistol in his hand. He ended his own life and Maestro Duvall removed the evidence before the police arrived."
"Quiet you fool, for you shall lose your position if Maestro Duvall hears you speak of this. For the love of God, Giselle, please cease discussing this idiotic idea,"
"But it is not a idiotic idea, Madam Dumas, what I speak is the truth I tell you. I passed the Maestro Santerre's office and witnessed it with my own eyes; he held a pistol in his left hand. I know I saw it there. Then, when the authorities arrived, it was changed and the pistol was found in the front of the desk on the floor and made to appear as if it was a burglary."
"You said the pistol was in his left hand?"
'Yes, that is correct. It was a black and silver pistol and was clasped in his left hand."
"You must be mistaken, Giselle, I was Maestro Santerre's assistant and the Maestro was right handed not left-handed. He would not have shot himself using his left hand."
"I swear to you on my mother's life that is what I saw. There was a pistol in his left hand."
"And the wound to his skull, where was that?'
"Also in the left side of his head. I will never forget that for as long as I live."
"Giselle, you were terribly upset and frightened by what you saw. You imagined seeing what you claim. I assure you, the Maestro did not commit suicide. He was a vain and arrogant man and would never end his own life."
"I'm afraid I must agree with Madam Dumas, Giselle. I do not believe the Maestro would ever take his own life."
"He did I tell you, and that is why he haunts the house. His spirit is damned to wander the earth forever. He will not be satisfied until he destroys everyone associated with the house. What of the other two deaths?"
I was momentarily stunned by the hysterical girl's accusations and wondered why John Paul would choose to keep the true nature of Maestro Santerre's death from me. Perhaps he was concerned unduly that I would become upset about the circumstances and was worried that I would relapse into a nervous state.
'What other deaths?"
"Kathryn, do not waste your time in this girl's silly talk. The other two deaths were accidents, Giselle, and nothing more. There is no specter and he is not seeking revenge against every employee of the Opera house. You are upsetting Lady Kathryn with your ridiculous tale, why don't you go home."
"No, wait a minute, Madam Dumas, please I assure you I am not the least bit upset. Giselle, please continue.'
The young girl swallowed deeply, her eyes fevered and darting in the direction of Madam Dumas. I noticed the slight hesitation in her demeanor and quickly set upon securing the answers to my questions.
"Mademoiselle Aponte, I asked you a question, please respond."
I used my most commanding voice and it managed to break the spell of her hesitation, for she looked upon my face before answering.
"There was Pierre and Michel. Pierre was the stage manager for thirteen years, and last year he was killed by a falling counterweight that was loosened from the upper rafters. Many witnessed a caped specter watching from above. Then poor dear Michel, he was found underneath a fallen scenery prop, every bone in his body was crushed. It was the specter I tell you, he wants to take us all to our deaths."
The young assistant was wringing her hands and her eyes were filled with tears. However, as Madam Dumas stated, they were merely dreadful accidents. It was plain to see that Giselle was convinced that a specter existed and was responsible for the evil deeds. I felt sorry for the young girl who was now crying openly. I placed my arms around her slender shoulder and comforted her. Madam Dumas, nodding her head with equal parts of concern and annoyance.
"Honestly, Giselle, you have succeeded in only frightening yourself. I will see if Jean Marco is here to take you home. I have warned you about this before."
"Yes, Madam Dumas." Whispered a frightened Giselle between hiccups.
I left the company of the two women and returned to my office. My conversation with Giselle and Madam Dumas weighed heavily on my mind. I felt a slight chill in the room and looked upon the desk with a new eye. It was the desk where Maestro Santerre may or may not have ended his own life.
I recall at first being surprised that John Paul chose a smaller office further down the hall as his place of business, forgoing the elaborate space that once belonged to Maestro Santerre. I felt my flesh crawl and chastised myself for being so foolish as to fall victim to Giselle's ramblings.
I wandered slowly to the desk in question and ran my hand across the surface, my mind lost in thought as to what could have occurred in this room and what horrible dark secrets it held.
Shaking the dark shadow that crept across my soul I took my position behind the desk and erased the memories from my mind, finding solace in the work that lay before me. If the Opera was to be a success, it was obvious I would need to make slight changes to the vocals and perhaps find a range that Mademoiselle Forte could manage to sing in without faltering.
The hours seemed to pass quickly when I was summoned back to reality by the chiming of the clock sitting on the fireplace mantel. I rose from my desk and crossed the room to towards the fireplace, when I heard the haunting melody, yet again.
I bent lower and recognised that the sound appeared to be coming from behind the fireplace, as if a room existed beneath it. Taking care not to soil my gown, I stuck my head into the hearth and heard the melody more clearly. It appeared to be coming from within the walls. I opened the door to an empty closet and was able to hear the song more clearly, the sound of an organ and a haunting voice emanating from within the walls.
My curiosity took control of my fears and taking a lit lantern in my hand, I left my office and set about locating the source of the melody. From the location of the closet door, it occurred to me that the sound traveled downward and deeper into the regions of the house.
It was near two o'clock in the morning and only the janitor and doorman remained. I began my descent into the recesses of the house, taking the backstairs I recalled from my youth. If memory served me, the house was built upon a natural underground lake and the cellars lying below were built around it.
I was assaulted by the smell of musty odors as I descended the last steps and entered the second cellar. In the distance, I could hear the sound of lapping water and the glow from my lantern shimmered against the still water.
I heard the echo of my heels against the stone pavement and continued onward, the sound of music growing louder with each step I took. After turning through several winding corridors, I happened upon a large open room lit brightly with hundreds of candles and twenty or more lanterns.
The room was adorned in soft velvets and satins and various objects of beautiful art. A large bed was centered in the room with dozens of fabric pillows and silk sheets of white and blue. There was a strange beauty to the room and I was quick to note that not a single mirror existed.
There against the furthest wall stood a large organ with massive brass pipes reaching forty to fifty feet in height. At the stool with his back facing me sat a man dressed in black, a long black and purple cape hung loosely from his shoulders and draped to the floor. His hair was long, like that of a woman, a rich golden color that seemed to be spun of silk.
I stopped in astonishment and wonder and listened to the aria he sang. His voice was high like that of a mezzo-soprano and it dawned on me that he was a castrato. I felt a burning in the pit of my stomach and pitied the stolen manhood taken from him to preserve the perfect haunting voice he projected. In amazement, I listened as if hypnotized by the haunting melody that sprung from his lips. It was the aria, Non so piu cosa son, cosa faccio from Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro.
His voice was perfection in pitch and timber and would be the envy of many mezzo-sopranos. I was enchanted with his movement, as he seemed to envelop the spirit of the opera into his being. I stood in stunned silence until he completed the aria and before I became fully aware of my actions, I found myself applauding his performance.
He stood abruptly and faced me; he was a tall man of fine stature and build and measured nearly six feet in height. He wore a mask of white that covered the left side of his face. His breathing fast, his chest rising and falling rapidly, I could almost detect the beating of his heart from where I stood.
He stared at me with the darkest azure eyes I had ever seen. His face crowned by a beautiful golden mane, his shoulders held high and proud. There was something familiar about him, yet different, and I found myself enchanted by his haunting spectral appearance.
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