Title: Inside Her Mind
Written: November 2017
Fandoms: Phantom of the Opera / Pride and Prejudice / Death Comes to Pemberley
Pairings: Phantom/Georgiana, (possible) Raoul/Georgiana, Colonel Fitzwilliam/Georgiana, (past) Elizabeth/Darcy
Notes: Takes place in 1910, the time of LeRoux’s novel. Colonel Fitzwilliam was stationed in India.
Summary: When Wickham was taken into custody, Georgiana ran to Paris where she captivates the Phantom of the Opera…
Warning(s): arranged marriage, emotional infidelity, a bit of a time warp
The music was haunting. Georgiana had always adored Erik Satie. Of course, his music was not played at the Opera Populaire, but that did not mean she could not stay after rehearsals and just play on the piano. If she didn’t, she was haunted by her memories.
Wickham forever plagued her. Ever since he had nearly eloped with her all those years ago, he kept on coming back. Although Georgiana would not deny her brother happiness, part of her hated him for marrying Elizabeth Bennet, who had brought Wickham back into her life. Her vapid sister Lydia Wickham would come and stay at Pemberley and speak of her ‘dear Wickham’ and once or twice Georgiana had seen him on the grounds.
Darcy hadn’t believed her. It was an overactive imagination.
When Wickham was tried for murder, he plagued her still, bringing Pemberley into disrepute. She could not forget her cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam’s words. “I’ll take her whether or not he hangs.”
She had been aware of Cousin Richard’s—preferences. He wanted a rich wife with strong family values and impeccable blood. She was the granddaughter of an earl, sister to one of the wealthiest men in Derbyshire, and an heiress. Richard was fond of her, she knew that. He may have even come to desire her. However, he did not love her, not even familially. He viewed her as a child still. She would always be a child. A child was something to pat on the head and send back to nanny.
Georgiana had been unable to bear it.
Despite her upbringing, Georgiana was frugal, more so than Elizabeth. She had saved up over four hundred pounds from her pin money and she took the money and left for Paris. It had been easy to erase all knowledge of herself. She became Georgine D’Arcy. Her brother didn’t have enough imagination to look for her name in French. Instead he’d go to her favorite novels and search for her there.
She could not give up the piano, and she played better than the masters who had taught her. Thus, despite her upbringing, her travels had led her to the Opera Populaire where she played in the orchestra. Her money was saved away for later, she did not want for much, and she always had a piano on which to play.
The Opera Ghost had become quiet over the past month. It was peculiar.
Suddenly she felt as if she was being watched. It was a peculiar feeling. Georgiana was quite used to it with Cousin Richard near the end.
Looking up, she glanced about. “Bonjour?” she called in her impeccable French.
Her fingers rested against the ivory keys.
Her eyes glanced toward the boxes across from her. Standing up, she shut the lid to the piano and took a few steps toward them. They were encased in black shadows, but she tilted her head to the side, trying to see.
There was a brief shock of white, and she pulled back slightly, her hand on her stomach. “Bonjour?” she called again. “I can see you.”
At first she thought that the presence wouldn’t answer, but finally a voice spoke softly, just loud enough for her to hear, “Who taught you?”
Georgiana had turned away, but glanced back. “The piano?” she inquired. “Signioro Giovanni Massini.” Shrugging, she turned away again. “That was another lifetime.” Georgiana went back to the piano and sat down. Running her hands over the keys and she played a bit of Mozart, light, trivial, but what the mood called for.
When the hour was late enough that she could be easily harmed in the street, she closed the piano in finality and determined to go to her little lodgings down the street.
“Your name, mademoiselle?” the voice asked her from the boxes up above.
Putting on her gloves and her hat, she looked up again. “Will I receive yours?”
When there was no answer, she left without replying.
A rose awaited her the next morning when she came into practice. A trumpet player looked at her and smiled. “You must have an admirer,” he stated kindly.
“I doubt that,” she responded, but her mind went to the voice in the box.
Little gifts began to appear after the rose. Hand written sheet music with complicated piano pieces that were haunting and lilting, which she mastered and played while the voice listened. They weren’t by any composer other than O.G. Georgine knew what that stood for. Opera Ghost.
When she found a pair of ruby earrings, and the rubies were certainly real, she picked them up and looked up at the boxes. “Un moment, s’il vous plait,” she whispered. She exited the theatre and went up the stairs to Box Five. If this really was the Opera Ghost, that was where he was sitting.
Knocking on the door, she waited for someone to answer, but there was no one. She entered and looked around, touching the curtains. “Ghost,” she whispered in English. “Where are you?”
The voice did not answer.
Sighing, she sat down in one of the seats and looked out onto the orchestra. Still, in English, she wondered, “Why rubies?”
She waited for a time and then left, the small jewelry box in her hand.
No one noticed when she began to wear the expensive earrings.
One night she went straight to Box Five and didn’t bother to knock. There was a flash of a cape and then it was empty. “Ghost?” she asked in perfect French. “Phantom? Why rubies?”
“Leave,” a voice whispered back and she looked to her right and saw nothing but a curtain and a wall. “Please, Mademoiselle.”
Georgiana looked for a second longer before she turned and left. Going to the piano, she found another small package and, looking up at Box Five, she opened it to find a cameo of Apollo playing the harp. Genuinely surprised, she picked it up and looked at it for several long moments before putting it down again.
She wondered what her brother would say. He would probably question her sanity given her earlier agreement to run off with Wickham. Now she was entertaining an Opera Ghost.
Closing the lid, she set it on the piano and began to play Debussy.
Somehow the words came into her head and they hounded her: I’ll take her whether or not Wickham hangs. Cousin Richard’s elder brother had died and he was the Viscount of Ashton. She could be a Viscountess, a future Countess. Here she was instead receiving gifts from a man with no face, playing the piano for mere coins a week.
What had she done with her life?
Georgiana was not paying attention to the proceedings when the new managers were introduced. Her life would go on. She would still play at night, receive gifts of devotion from a man who could not or would not speak to her, and the Opera Ghost would still play tricks on Carlotta.
“Let her sing for you,” Madam Giry was imploring. “She has a beautiful voice.”
Looking up, Georgine saw a chorus girl she did not recognize in the center of the stage. She’d have to play the Aria again. Waiting for the Maestro she began to play and at first could not hear the girl. She almost stopped except Maestro kept on conducting her. Then the girl took a misstep and the note was so beautiful and yet so painfully out of tune, that Georgiana’s fingers halted on the keys as she stared up at the girl in shock.
“No, no, she will never do,” one of the managers was saying. He looked into the orchestra pit and his eyes caught hers. “I did not know we employed young ladies in our orchestra.”
“Mademoiselle D’Arcy,” Maestro explained, “was taught by the best masters from Italy. She had outstanding recommendations and is an excellent pianist. I believe she sings a little, too.”
Her natural shyness coming to her, Georgiana quickly demurred, “No, monsieur. Please don’t make me.”
“Have you ever heard her sing?” the new manager asked.
The Maestro leaned forward. “To herself.”
She was immediately led out of the pit and found herself onstage with no one to accompany her. “Please, messieurs, this is highly irregular. My brother will be quite angry if he hears I performed on the stage.”
“Your brother will be happy to have a songbird in the family,” he objected, and a violin began to play.
Georgiana closed her eyes and began to sing. Of course, her voice was a bit dry at first and she had to wet her lips, but then she felt eyes on her. Glancing up toward Box Five, she hollowed out her mouth and let her natural vibrato show. Her eyes never left the first tier of boxes, trying not to think of the managers or the performers around her, and then the last note was sung.
She was surprised to hear applause and she blushed. Placing her hands together, she made to go down into the pit when her hand was clasped.
“Who are you, mademoiselle?” the manager asked.
“Georgine D’arcy,” she whispered. “Please. I do not know the part. Let me play my piano.”
“You have three days, correct, Maestro?” The man seemed to get the assurance he needed and Georgiana was taken back to costuming.
That night she sat at her piano and sadly played Thomas Tallis. Her right hand skirted the top notes and a large hand came up to the bass. She paused for a moment and stared at the perfect cuff and ivory cufflink before she continued to play. Transitioning into Mendelssohn, she slid to the right and began to play the top part of a duet. Georgiana didn’t really expect for the voice—the Opera Ghost—to join her in her duet, but a second hand joined the first and she felt a warmth at her side.
When they finished, their fingers paused on the keys and she didn’t dare to look.
“Monsieur,” she greeted. “I hadn’t expected you tonight.”
“Pourquoi pas? You sang to me, Mademoiselle D’Arcy. Do not believe I was in ignorance.”
She blinked and turned away slightly. “I dislike performing,” she admitted. “Not even my brother could convince me to sing in front of family parties, and now I am to sing before an entire opera house.”
“We must get you ready,” the voice told her decidedly. “I came to offer my assistance.”
Georgiana turned and saw that she was speaking to a man dressed impeccably for a night at the opera, his dark hair slicked back, a scarf about his neck, but the right side of his face covered in a mask. It was so peculiar that Georgine opened her mouth slightly, ready to ask a question that had not been formulated. Finally, she stated, “I was thinking of leaving. I cannot be recognized. There might be patrons from England.”
“You are known in England.” It was certainly not a question. They both knew she spoke English flawlessly.
“Mais oui,” she answered. “My cousin is a viscount and he wished to marry me. My ‘coming out’ was greatly anticipated.”
He took her hand between his two strangely cold ones, the handsome side of his face smiling with large purple lips. “Trust in me. Tomorrow night we will change your appearance enough so you will not be recognized.”
The Opera Ghost took her to the stage and walked her through the movements of various scenes, played the piano at transitional pieces of music, which were less lyrical, and helped her personalize her arias. It was nearing morning when they were finished.
“Come,” he told her. “Sleep in my box. I will rouse you when you need to get ready for the day.” He took her up to Box Five where there were pillows laid out on the ground and she tiredly took out her hair and fell asleep with her heels still on her feet, a lullaby in an enchanting voice being sung to her.
“Black Henna from the East,” he told her. This evening he was dressed in a stained white shirt and had brought an old shift for her. “I will dye your hair and wash it out again. You will no longer have golden hair,” he promised.
Georgiana looked at the Opera Ghost for a long moment and then took down her golden hair. She ran her fingers through it in melancholy. “Elizabeth has dark hair.”
“Elizabeth?” he asked.
“My brother’s wife.” Her blue eyes held his and the Opera Ghost nodded.
“This will be darker, more mysterious, vicomtesse.”
“I did not marry Richard—” she objected.
“No,” he agreed. “Still, you are regal. Let me help you.”
Taking the shift, she looked at his masked face for a long moment before going and changing. She cried while he ran the henna through her hair, he placed her in an old bath and poured buckets of water over her head, working out the dye. They were covered in rivulets of black in the end, but he had towels.
It took until the morning for her hair to dry and when she looked at herself, she realized it was difficult to recognize herself. She was no longer little Georgie Darcy. She was Georgine D’Arcy, soprano. When she took to the stage, she sang to Box Five, and hoped that the Opera Ghost was listening.
Georgiana was in her dressing room, admiring the pearl drop earrings that had been waiting for her, when there was a knock on her door. “I am not to be disturbed!” she called, looking into the mirror and taking down her hair. She still didn’t recognize her reflection. It was strange.
There was another knock on the door. Exasperated, Georgiana pulled her robe closer to her, and went to the door and unlocked it. “Paronnez-moi,” she began, and then looked up to see a handsome young man holding roses. Georgiana was startled and held her robe closer. “I am not fit to see anyone,” she told him, suddenly realizing her hair was partially down. “Aren’t you a gentleman? Why are you staring at me?” She felt humiliated in her state of undress, not even thinking that she had been in only a shift two nights before in front of the Opera Ghost.
Before he could even answer, Georgiana closed the door in his face.
In English she whispered, “You have not been compromised, Georgiana Darcy. You have not been compromised.”
Turning back to her chair, there was a beautiful dress in red lain across it. Squealing, she went up to it and fingered the material. It was as fine as the silks Aunt Catharine wore and was the finest she possessed here in France. Not wondering how the Opera Ghost had gotten into her dressing room, she rushed up to it and quickly put it on. She neatly folded her respectable black dress and placed it in her large carpetbag that she used when coming to and from the theatre.
When she was setting the pearl teardrops in her ears, she felt large hands on her shoulders. Looking up, she saw the Opera Ghost.
“You’re as much a man as I am a woman,” she commented.
“Such is true,” he agreed. “Le Vicomte de Chagny has been waiting this past hour outside of your door.” The Opera Ghost’s voice sounded tight, not quite displeased, but his right hand fell over her right shoulder as if to calm her.
“Who is that?” she wondered, looking up at his white mask.
He laughed darkly. “The young man you refused entry to.”
She picked up her black hat and put it onto her head at an angle, sticking it into her hair with a hatpin. “I don’t care for titles. The last words I heard from someone with a title were infuriating and not at all gentlemanly, Ghost.” An image of Cousin Richard came to mind and she blinked it away. It did not do to think of him. She did not want to think of that young man either.
“I am sure you are correct. I can sneak you down to the basement and then back up to the stage, but that will take a great deal of time. You haven’t slept properly in days,” the Opera Ghost murmured.
It was true. She had been living in the Opera House since she had been given Carlotta’s role. Every night she had slept in Box Five, being sung to sleep, only to be awakened with pastries and warm café an hour before everyone was due to arrive. Now she would be returning to her little room, a different girl, a prima donna with hair as black as any nymph’s… changed so drastically from the scared little English lady who had originally arrived in France.
A cold finger pricked a tear off her cheek and she laughed.
“Why do you cry?” the Opera Ghost whispered.
“I do not recognize myself,” she admitted to him. “Before I was so different, and now, my hair.”
“You are beautiful, Mademoiselle D’Arcy,” the Ghost insisted. “Your features are starker, more refined. Go now, sleep. I will watch you tomorrow.”
She felt him drift away from her and Georgine turned. “Wait!” she called out in English. “Who are you?”
The Opera Ghost paused with a swirl of his cape. “Mademoiselle,” he replied in perfect French. “Je m’appelle le fantome de l’opera.” Then he was gone.
Georgiana took a deep breath and blew out the candles. Picking up her bag once again, she went to the door where she found the young man with his bouquet of roses.
When she was a child Georgiana had loved roses. Then Wickham had brought her the flower as a testament to his devotion to her. She hated them now.
“Monsieur le vicomte,” she greeted. “You really must excuse me.” Sweeping past him, Georgiana walked down the hall, which still had dancers who were barely dressed tiptoeing down it, with a purpose that she knew even her brother would be proud of.
She turned at the sound of rustling, and saw him hurrying after her. “Mademoiselle D’Arcy, you were simply enchanting this evening.”
“Merci,” she replied, a little shy of her talents, “however, I am not a vocalist.”
“Not a vocalist? You are a sublime soprano!” he insisted as he came around her and looked down at her with dull brown eyes. Georgiana would have hoped they would have been more attractive given how handsome he was, but they were rather a disappointment.
She gave him a soft smile. “I play in the orchestra, Vicomte,” she told him, walking around him. “If you’ll excuse me, I haven’t slept since I was cast in the lead role and I’m rather tired. It has been endless practicing.”
He held out the flowers to her. “Then take this humble tribute from an admirer.”
“Do not admire me,” she told him quietly. “Admire art.” Still, she took the flowers and she continued to walk out of the Opera Populaire. She could feel his gaze on her and it wasn’t as welcome as the Opera Ghost’s had become over the past month.
When she got back to her room, she set down the roses and then slowly got undressed. For the first time in days she was free from her corset and her hair was taken down fully so that it fell down almost to her waist. She ran her hands through it with a sigh, and then lay down on her bed. Curling in on herself, she thought about what might be behind a bone white mask and the touch of a hand on her shoulder and the press of a body against hers as hands stained with henna ran through her hair. A shiver ran through her, but a smile drifted onto her face.
The next afternoon, Georgiana sat at her little table and read the newspaper, scouring for any news of England. Richard’s regiment was coming home from India. She wondered absently if he had married yet, if he was still an enlisted officer or if he had retired from military life.
What type of wife would Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, Viscount of Ashton, take? It was a peculiar question.
There was a knock on her door and, thinking it was the lady who ran the shop below, she called for her to enter.
“You look beautiful today, Mademoiselle D’Arcy,” the Vicomte de Chagny complimented as he entered with yet another offering of roses.
She looked up in horror. “Do you wish to compromise me?” Georgiana asked him in earnestness. “Leave!” Standing up, she set aside her paper and moved toward him. She came up to the door and grasped it within her hands. “Really, Vicomte, I would expect more from a nobleman. I am a respectable woman.”
“Of course, Madamoiselle,” he apologized, clearly confused. “It is merely that you are on the stage.”
Georgiana looked at him for a long moment. “That was a favor for Messieurs Firmin and Andre,” she informed him in a cold voice. “It is only temporary.—Now, please. You are insulting me.”
She began to push the door closed, but he inserted his cane underneath the door, much to her annoyance. “Allow me to make it up to you and drive you to the Opera Populaire. My horses are outside.”
“Non merci,” she responded. “Monsieur, your cane.”
He held out the roses and she took them grudgingly and he finally left. Throwing them on the floor, she rested her back against the door and sank down. She paced around the room for over ten minutes and then, feeling melancholic, she dashed off a line to her brother asking if Cousin Richard had come home with his regiment as she had read about it in the paper. She didn’t put a return address on it.
Slipping the note into her bag, she left her room for the Opera. The Vicomte was clearly waiting for her, but she ignored him. Georgiana was terribly sensitive about being compromised given her personal history. It did not occur to her that her time with the Opera Ghost would be seen as beyond the bounds of propriety—but she didn’t view their time together as time between Georgiana Darcy, daughter of Pemberley, and a man. Instead she was a musician and he was her musical confidante. He made her beautiful, hid her, played duets with her. He taught her when there was no time to learn. He was her maestro and her admirer, the keeper of her secrets. Although he was flesh and blood he was, well, the Opera Ghost.
Carlotta still had not returned so she was to sing again. She stood on stage and let costuming hustle her off to the dressing room she had been using and placing her in her main outfit, her hair taken down and braided to look like a heathen queen, and then she was led back to the stage.
It was time for the director to nitpick her movements from the night before so that she could better embody his vision.
The theatre was empty when everyone had left for dinner. Georgiana looked about and went up to Box Five. Once again pillows covered the floor and there was bread, cheese, and wine. The Opera Ghost was waiting for her.
She passed him the letter and he looked at it.
“My brother cannot know I’m in Paris,” she explained. “I was hoping you might have a way of seeing that he thinks it’s from somewhere else? Anywhere else.”
“Georgine,” he whispered. “Is this wise? I remember when you came here eight months ago, so shy, barely speaking to anyone, and always playing the piano. No matter what I do, he will probably know you are in France, and he may guess you are in Paris.” His eye, shaded from the mask, looked down at the letter, then glanced up at her again. “You share the same name. He will find you.”
She did not speak at first and took a sip of her wine. “Le vicomte thinks that because I am on the stage he can come into my private room and see me with my hair unbound. He believes he can compromise me, Ghost. He seems to think it does not matter.”
His eyes flicked down again. “Your brother is master of this Pemberley Estate?” he asked, clearly reading the direction. “You are a lady of worth and consequence.”
“Oui,” she agreed. “I will not be compromised.” Georgiana looked away, batting away tears, when a large hand rested on her shoulder. She looked over and his arms were open to her so she fell into the embrace of the Opera Ghost.
Georgiana did not cry. However, she was comforted just by being held.
That night when she looked up to Box Five, she was angry to see the Vicomte de Chagny looking back at her. Trying not to let her emotions show on her face, Georgiana turned away from him. Still, their eyes had connected for the briefest of moments and the self-satisfied smile on his face disturbed her.
He came to her dressing room, but she had locked the door. Still, she heard him. It was difficult not to. Le Vicomte was an ever present annoyance.
Sitting there in her red dress she had been given the night before, she sat and waited for something—she wasn’t sure what.
A wind fluttered through the room and the candles gutted out. She looked about in confusion and heard a familiar voice. “Georgine.”
Turning, she saw the Opera Ghost standing in the corner of the room, his hand held out to her.
“I can take you through another door.”
Standing, she picked up her bag and then carefully put her hand in his. “Merci, Monsieur,” she whispered and he led her through the mirror.
The passages were full of cobwebs and Georgiana held up her skirts with her right hand. The Ghost held her bag and his other hand held hers in his own. It was strangely cold but she held onto it firmly.
“Do you move around these passages?” she whispered. “Is this how you get everywhere?”
“Certainment, Mademoiselle,” he answered, turning back to her.
They climbed up stairs and came to a door. He turned toward her and he released her hand. His fingers reached up and hovered above her cheek.
“You were meant for dark hair,” he murmured.
“Was I?” she breathed out. “I certainly look more like the Darcy family.”
The Ghost leaned down, the white mask a sheen in the darkness. “That was not my intent.”
“Of course not,” she answered quietly. “You were helping me. I cannot disgrace the Darcy name. I will go back—I must go back. I will forgive Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth eventually.”
“What did they do?” he asked quietly.
“There was this man—” she began, turning away so that his fingers touched her dark hair. “Nevermind. It is too shameful.”
“You can share anything with me,” he told her desperately. “Georgine, you know that I wish only the best for you. Before this was my opera house and I would have viewed you as my prima donna to sing for my pleasure—”
She turned to him with fire in her eyes, but he continued:
“Now I wish to glorify the Opera Populaire for you. It must be worthy of Georgine D’Arcy.” When she didn’t answer and wouldn’t look at him, he pressed, “Will you join me for dinner on Monday? You will not sing and I have a Bordeaux you might enjoy.”
Her eyes turned to him. “Where will we go?”
“Beneath the Opera House,” he answered her calmly.
“How will you eat with your mask?” she inquired, genuinely curious.
He regarded her for a moment. “It is possible, Georgine. Come. I will bring you.”
She pressed past him toward the door and she attempted to open it. It would not move. The ghost maneuvered himself around her and shoved it with his shoulder and it opened to the flies above the stage. They were abandoned.
Georgiana turned to him. “I will come if you will tell me your name.”
“Georgine,” he begged.
“You must have a name,” she demanded. “Everyone has a name. You have seen me in nothing but a shift, I have seen you with water soaking your chest, henna staining your hands. Who are you, Ghost?”
He leaned forward, his purple lips near her ear. “Erik Destler.”
As he pulled away, she placed a warm hand on his uncovered cheek. “I will come, Erik. I will be in Box Five. I have a dress from my life before though it might not compliment my hair.”
“Darling,” he whispered, surprising her. “You are beautiful even when clothed all in black as if you are trying to hide yourself away. Taking her hand, he kissed it before he led her onto the flies and down the ladders to the stage.
Georgiana had taken out a blue day dress from when she had lived in England and secured the high collar with the cameo Erik had gifted her. She took a few coins and exited her small room, down into the shop, and out toward the market where she meant to buy bread, paté, a bit of cheese, and cheap wine.
Two streets away she paused as she felt she was being watched. Looking about, she saw le Vicomte de Chagny approaching her. He tipped his hat toward her and she sighed.
“At least you don’t have flowers,” she commented. Georgiana turned toward her destination and he fell into step beside her.
“I have realized, Mademoiselle D’Arcy, that you do not like small tokens of appreciation. I thought you might appreciate oysters.”
She paused. He had guessed her weakness. Georgiana adored seafood. However, she then began to walk again.
A smile spread across his face. “I see I have caught your attention. Perhaps I can crave your attention for supper after you sing tonight—”
They came up to the baker and Georgiana glanced at him before going in. He followed her in happily.
After she made her transaction—that he paid for before she had the chance to get her own money—he asked, “Is it that you have another admirer? You are wearing fine clothes and jewelry and yet you do not have the salary for such items.”
“Do not presume,” she stated angrily. “My brother is a very powerful man.”
“And yet you live in squalor,” he argued. “Where is he? Why do you not live in his home? Where is he? Does he watch you sing?”
Georgiana raised an eyebrow at him and made her way to her next stop, but he followed her.
“He has cast you out,” the Vicomte guessed. “You need a patron to keep you in the style to which you were accustomed.”
She didn’t even bother turning to him. “How dare you presume—I am a lady, Vicomte. I know of your brother, le Comte, and the prima ballerina. Do you think I would find myself in a similar situation?” Her blue eyes flashed toward him. “Leave me be.”
“You are not a woman to be conquered in the usual fashion,” he responded. “I respect that.”
“Then respect my wishes.”
“Oysters,” he tried again. “The best wine. Champagne perhaps. I will walk you to your door and not venture inside. You have my word of honor, Mademoiselle.”
She turned away from him.
He did not follow.
A boy came that night after she returned from the Opera Populaire. He was carrying a basket of oysters and a bottle of champagne. She looked at it and laughed and dined on seafood for the first time in eight months.
The gown was a pale pink with dark blue accents. The rustle in back was a shimmer of pink silk and the gloves were still a pristine white. Georgiana placed some hair on her head and curled the rest of her hair so that it came down to halfway down her back. She breathed out as she looked at herself, a blue ribbon around her neck and the pearl earrings dangling from her ears. She placed a cloak over her dress and slipped from her apartment unseen.
The Opera was deserted. She moved up to Box Five and found Erik waiting for her.
“Darling,” he greeted, taking her gloved hand and kissing it.
“Bonsoir,” she returned.
He pressed a panel in the wall and it opened for them. A lantern was on the floor. He picked it up and held his hand out to her. Carefully, she took it and he led her into the bowels of the Opera House.
They came to an underground lake, and she sighed as she walked into a gondola. Chandeliers rose from the water and a table was set upon a rise up to the right. The light cast eerie shadows over it, and she walked over to it, allowing Erik to pull her chair out for her.
He presented her with steak and she smiled at the sight of meat. “You spoil me,” she murmured into the quiet.
“It’s not oysters,” he commented.
Georgiana paused. “I will not be spied on, even by you.”
“You do not wish him in your rooms,” Erik argued. “I was ensuring that he did not harm you.” He looked at imploringly. “I would not see you hurt if I can help it. You have been hurt before.”
She took a sip of her Bordeaux. “Not like that,” Georgiana promised him. “I left England because a man who tried to marry me for my money entered my life through my brother’s wife and I could not be rid of him. He injured me, but he never laid a hand on me.”
Erik looked at her. “What happened to him?”
“He married Elizabeth’s sister. I could not be rid of him. He was always being mentioned. He wandered the grounds even though no one believed me. Then he murdered someone at Pemberley—home,” she explained. “I became engaged to my cousin, Richard, for the good of the family. During the trial, I heard him tell my brother that he would take me whether or not this man hanged for murder. I couldn’t take it after that. The way he said it made me feel degraded. I realized I would never be free.”
There was a long silence between them and Georgiana felt the oppressive weight of it. Finally, Erik spoke.
“I know what it is like to never be free. My face keeps me from society. I am considered a monster. I remain hidden. You are the first person to see me in over a decade.”
“I am honored,” she whispered.
He looked like he was considering something. “Do not feel honored,” he finally admitted. “I fell in love with you when you played the piano. I cannot help but want to be near you, darling, even if you shun me after tonight.”
Georgiana looked up, surprised. She knew he cared for her, but she hadn’t thought it had gotten so far. “You know I will eventually go,” she finally decided upon. “I will return to England. Pemberley is my home.”
“This is your home,” he argued. “Music is in your soul. You will not leave it.”
Perhaps he was right. She didn’t know, and it frightened her.
Darcy found the note the second morning Georgiana missed breakfast. The first day he thought she was just melancholic, but the second day was cause for worry. Elizabeth said she didn’t believe Georgiana was sick, but he asked the Housekeeper.
Georgiana hadn’t called for her maid or food for days. Instead, she had asked for a carriage when he had been away at Wickham’s trial.
She had not returned.
Running to her room, Darcy searched until he found her jewelry box. Nothing was missing except for a few gowns, but there was a note. “Wickham will never leave me or the Darcy family be. His shadow will be forever upon us. I can’t breathe. Please forgive me.—G.”
Anger coursed through him. In a fit of uncharacteristic pique, he expelled Lydia from the house.
“Darcy?” Elizabeth asked him. “I know Georgiana is gone, but Lydia—”
“She is the reason my sister has left,” he answered coldly, “her and Wickham. Why did I ever consent to being related to a man who has tormented my sister since she was sixteen years of age?”
Wickham didn’t hang. He and Lydia sailed for America, hang the both of them.
Of course, Darcy was gone. He was searching every lead for his beloved sister. He didn’t see Elizabeth for nearly nine months—not that he wanted to see her. Darcy missed his boy and wrote to him often.
Eventually the trail ran cold. He could not find her abroad. She was on no ship manifest nor any character from one of her favorite novels. He could not find her. Georgiana Darcy had vanished into thin air and so he returned to Pemberley without hope of ever seeing her again.
The very sight of Elizabeth sent a chill through his soul. When before he felt unquenchable love, now he was consumed by despair and he blamed her. He blamed himself. He could not touch her. He could not look at her.
“It would be better if you went to live with Jane,” he finally stated a year after Georgiana left. They had been eating breakfast together although this had been a silent morning like the other silent mornings that had stretched before into the distance of time.
“And Fitzwilliam?” she inquired, referring to their son.
“He will remain at Pemberley,” Darcy answered. “It is his birthright.”
She blotted her mouth. “Of course. I will still see him, of course.”
“Of course,” he agreed. “I would not deny Fitzwilliam his mother entirely.”
Elizabeth turned her face away. “I will write the necessary letters.” She then got up from the table and left.
It was not until another three years that Darcy heard of the enchanting Georgine D’Arcy of the Paris Opera and somehow knew, in his soul, that his little sister had found her confidence and had fled to the city of art and music.
A handsome man was waiting outside the door Darcy was shown. Darcy had paid a Monsieur Andre handsomely for the privilege of speaking to the prima donna. This man who was outside her door, though, was impeccably dressed and he seemed to be content to wait. He had a book of poetry in his hand and was reading it through the doorway. How peculiar. Darcy, in his impatience, shoved the man aside and banged on the door.
“Georgiana Darcy,” he demanded. “You will open this door immediately. I don’t care if you’re in a state of undress!”
“Monsieur,” the well dressed man stated angrily, but the door opened to reveal Georgiana in a fetching green dress. Her hair was as black as night, but it was definitely his little sister—and she was indeed the ravishing beauty who had sung to the entire city of Paris as if she had been a woman of common heritage.
That, however, didn’t matter in that moment.
He had found her. Darcy had found his little sister.
Cupping her cheek, Darcy saw tears in her eyes. “Georgie,” he whispered and she lunged at him.
“Fitzwilliam, I knew you would find me. Elizabeth would figure it out—”
“Elizabeth is gone,” he told her. “When I got your note, I could not have her at Pemberley.—not for long anyway.” He pulled back and traced the track of a tear. “You did not need to run away. What did you do to your hair?”
Georgiana gasped and clutched it, looking at the well dressed man. “Excuse-moi, Vicomte,” she apologized in French before she ushered Darcy into her dressing room. Her hair was falling in waves down to her waist in black perfection. “Do you like it?” she asked. “When I first went on the stage as a favor to the managers, a—friend—washed it with a dye from the east so that I wouldn’t be recognized by the English patrons. I’ve kept it up.”
“You had Mother’s hair,” he murmured. “You were beautiful, Georgie.”
Her eyes flashed with a resolve that was unexpected. “Am I not beautiful now?” She indicated the bouquets of flowers that filled her room. “I have men of quality sending me tokens of regard. Le Vicomte de Chagny proposes marriage multiple times a month, the man who gave me the courage to sing before all these people gives me dresses and jewelry and expects nothing in return. I am better dressed than Aunt Alice, the Countess of Matlock. I have done all this without compromising myself, Fitzwilliam.”
Darcy carefully looked at her. “Aunt Alice died,” he informed her carefully. “She took her life two months after Uncle Robert passed. Cousin Richard is the Earl of Matlock now.”
Georgiana blinked. “Who is his Countess?” she inquired.
“He does not have one.—I am certain he will be pleased to hear that I have recovered you. I was wrong when I thought that his affections did not run true, though I should never have pressured you into accepting him for the sake of the family because of—” He didn’t say it.
She said it for him. “Wickham.” Turning to the mirror, she looked into her own reflection and shook her head minutely, which Darcy found peculiar. She looked back at him. “Fitzwilliam, I wish to be alone.”
“I am not leaving without you. I came all the way to Paris.”
“I will be here tomorrow,” she told him decidedly. When he made to protest, she told him decidedly, “I am a woman of five-and-twenty. I no longer require a guardian. I expect I will be married within the year by my own choice. My care will move from you to my husband, whoever he may be.”
“Georgiana—Pemberley is your home.”
“Paris is my home,” she argued back viciously, surprising him again. “I have a life here. I have a life without you—I am free.”
Darcy looked at her and moved and kissed her temple. “I will call tomorrow,” he promised and then he left, shutting the door carefully behind him. He was disheartened, but he would not give up. She was his little sister and he would never abandon her.
He appeared from the mirror and placed a gloved hand on her shoulder. “Have you decided?”
“I have not seen your face,” she murmured. “I cannot decide if I have not seen your face.” Her hair swished down her back. “Did you understand? I do not know if you speak English.”
“Je parle Anglais,” he answered casually. “I just enjoy the sound of your voice in French.”
Georgiana laughed. “Will you show me your face?—We can go back to Pemberley. I will convince Fitzwilliam. You have a fortune down at that lake. I know you do.”
“Georgine,” he murmured. “Music is my life.”
“And I will sing for you,” she answered passionately. “We can go to London and see the productions. We can live a private life where no one will see you. I know it can be done. People will take it as an eccentricity.”
“Georgine,” he began to argue, but she would not be quiet.
“Erik, enough. You wish to marry me yet you would cast me down into the Hell you live in? You would extinguish the light from my soul?” Georgiana looked up at him with haunting green eyes. “Let me see your face.” She reached out and touched the bone of the mask and he did not stop her. Carefully, she let her fingers grasp the edges of it and she lifted up.
There was an intake of breath as they both waited for her reaction.
However, he then removed the wig from the side of his face to show his sparse hair.
“Erik,” she breathed, kissing his forehead. “I cannot marry you.”
He turned away from her and placed his wig back in place and gathered the mask back into his hands. She gently put a hand on his back, but he did not move. “I knew it would be the way.”
“I am sorry for your pain and that I cannot be the woman you hoped I might be,” she whispered.
Of course, it wasn’t the end of it. She was at rehearsal the next day, Darcy in the audience, when Jean Bouquet was hanged from the flies. Georgiana screamed and Meg Giry started yelling about the Phantom of the Opera.
“You lie!” she demanded as Darcy ran up to the stage and held her to him. “It’s not the Opera Ghost!”
“Who else would it be?” she asked. “Just because he’s been quiet since you become prima donna doesn’t mean he would always be quiet—”
Darcy shuffled her off the stage. “Come, we’re leaving.”
He brought her back to her dressing room and waited while she changed into a day dress that Erik had bought for her a month ago. She felt dirty just wearing it, but Georgiana had no choice.
Packing her bags, Darcy took charge when they went back to her rooms. He looked at her expensive jewelry and hats, but said nothing. It was all taken back to the luxury suite he had taken for them at a hotel, and she let her hands run along the fine furniture.
“We leave on the next boat. Fitzwilliam may not remember you, but I’ve spoken of you often to him,” Darcy told her.
“I’ve missed being an aunt,” she admitted. “I should take my leave of the Vicomte. He’s been attentive and kind since he understood I would not be treated like a common opera girl.”
“Did he buy you this dress and those earrings?” Darcy asked with a look.
“No,” she answered. “I took leave of him last night.” Georgiana glanced down at her hands and then went to the window, looking out at the park.
Darcy took her to a beautiful house in a fashionable part of town. Darcy sat on the sofa with his cane while Georgiana paced the room. The Vicomte came in hurriedly and looked between the brother and the sister.
“Vicomte,” Georgiana greeted. “May I introduce my brother, Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley?”
He bowed at the waist and Darcy nodded his head.
“I’m afraid we’re leaving for England. I wanted to say goodbye.”
“You cannot leave,” the Vicomte demanded. “I had always hoped it was only a matter of time before you became my Vicomtesse.”
“I’m afraid that’s impossible,” Darcy answered in French, surprising Georgiana. “The Earl of Matlock is awaiting his bride.—Georgiana.”
The Vicomte blinked at the change of name. “Mademoiselle—Monsieur. Si vous plait.”
Darcy looked at Georgiana. In English he told her: “I married for love and I have been living alone with my son for three years, miserable and unable to look at Elizabeth since you left.”
“Those are extraordinary circumstances. Wickham is to blame.”
He closed his eyes. “My own foolishness is to blame. For love I saved Lydia Bennet by forcing Wickham to marry her so that Elizabeth’s reputation would not be ruined and I could marry her. Do you love him and wish to risk it?”
The Vicomte looked at them. In heavily accented English, he admitted. “I did not know that Mademoiselle D’Arcy was English. I can understand the language.”
Darcy looked at him. “Do you love him and wish to marry this viscount?” He glanced between the two.
“The workings of my heart,” Georgiana admitted, “do not concern this room.” She thought of Mr. Alverston and Erik Destler. They were the only two men whom she had ever cared for. “What happened to that young lawyer?” she inquired. “The one defending—that man?”
Darcy frowned. “I have not seen him since the trial.”
“England or France? A Countess or Vicomtesse?” Darcy asked.
“Georgine,” the Vicomte begged, coming up to her and carefully placing his hand on her gloved one. “I have stood by you for three years. My brother has laughed at me, taunted me, has insisted that you are the mistress of another man given your dresses, your jewelry, but I have not listened for a moment. I wish to marry you. I love you.”
His dull brown eyes looked into hers.
She closed her eyes. “I must consider family and honor. I must return to Pemberley and see my nephew and my cousins before I can make a decision. I will write.” Moving away from him, her eyes connected with Darcy. He stood and walked with her to the door.
They would go to England.
She would leave behind the Vicomte, and, more importantly, she would leave behind the Phantom of the Opera.
The open carriage rolled into the grounds of Pemberley and Georgiana looked about her with a smile on her face. Her hair was beginning to grow out blonde but it was hidden by the hat on her head. Darcy was gazing at her from across the carriage, a contemplative look on his face, but she didn’t return it.
As soon as the carriage stopped, she skipped out of the carriage and took in a boy of about eight years old. Cousin Richard was standing next to him with a grim expression on his face.
“Fitzwilliam?” she asked, coming up to the boy. “I’m your Aunt Georgiana.”
The boy looked between her and his father, who was now coming up behind Georgiana.
“You remember Aunt Georgiana,” he told the boy. “She used to sing to you.” He offered his hand and the boy shook it with a smile. After a moment, he took Georgiana’s hand and kissed it.
Georgiana smiled at him before turning to Cousin Richard. She curtsied. “My lord.”
“Please, my dear,” he answered. “Before you left there was an understanding between us. I understand from Darcy that you have not pledged yourself to another. On my part, there is nothing standing between us.”
“Perhaps,” she stated, unused to English, “we might discuss this after I am rested. It has been many years.”
“Of course, my dear.” He still didn’t smile, which saddened her. Somehow she wished that time had changed him, as Erik had changed her. But she realized that perhaps it had. He had lost his brother before they were engaged, and had become sterner for it. Now his father had died, leaving him the earldom, and his mother had taken her own life. The stress of it was lined on his own brow ….
And she … and she …
Could it be possible that the words “I will take her whether or not he hangs” were words of some kind of affection on his part? Could it be true? Could it be?
“I am not the girl who went away,” she told him three days later when Darcy left them alone. Georgiana was wearing a dress of deep purple that the Phantom had given her the day before Darcy had shown up. The bustle was a little heavy, but she liked it almost. It helped keep her weighed down, reminded her that this was all real.
Cousin Richard poured himself a brandy. “I would not expect it. You are a woman of the world now. You have sung on the stage, been courted by many men. Was that dress a gift from one of them?”
She looked down and ran her hand along the bodice. “Yes,” she replied truthfully. “He was instrumental in helping me prepare for my first appearance at the Opera Populaire. I was not given enough time before I was to sing. I barely slept those three days we worked so hard.”
“A teacher then,” Cousin Richard decided, “as well as an admirer. You were always deserving of admirers. Your shyness prevented that.” He handed her a glass of wine. “Georgiana, you stand with a grace and a confidence worthy of any Countess. I just wish that it did not take Wickham for you to find these attributes.”
Taking a sip of her wine, she thought a moment. “Did you mean it?”
He cocked his head. “Did I mean what?”
“That you would take me whether or not he hanged?”
Cousin Richard looked like he was considering something. “I loved you that much.” His blue eyes looked at her, those deep blue eyes. “I only wonder how much of that girl is left.” His gaze held hers and she didn’t look away.
“I never loved you,” she finally admitted. “Not as a husband.—I thought of marriage recently. Fitzwilliam didn’t know him, but I wasn’t strong enough. However much I’ve changed, I will not follow love no matter the consequences.”
“I know you didn’t love me,” he murmured. “But having you was enough.” Cousin Richard took a sip of his brandy. “And perhaps that is an improvement upon your character. Once you would follow love to unfortunate ends. Now you will not.”
Georgiana considered this but she found little in comparison between the penniless and gentlemanly Wickham and the musical genius but deformed Erik Destler.
“Where’s Elizabeth?” she asked after a long silence.
“With her sister Mrs. Bingley and her six children.” There was a definite disapproval in his voice.
“I wish only happiness for my brother. I cannot believe that I am the cause of his rift with Elizabeth.” She sighed.
“Wickham is the cause,” he stated harshly. “The marriage was not an equal one, Georgiana.”
“We would not be equal—”
“That is patently false,” he stated. “You are my cousin. I am the Earl of Matlock and your grandfather was the Earl of Matlock. You have an incomparable dowry. If we forget your time on the stage and your episode with Wickham, you have acted without reproach.”
“Perhaps that is why we should not marry. I would not have you forgive me for my faults.” She turned away from him. This was too much. “Cousin Richard—”
“Richard,” he corrected. “I am determined to have you as my bride, Georgiana.”
“It’s so odd to be called that,” she admitted. “I’ve been ‘Georgine’ for so long.”
“No longer,” he told her, coming up behind her and turning her around. “Georgiana Darcy, be my wife. I will learn to love you again, and I hope that you respect and admire me enough to agree to this.” Cousin Richard touched her hair. “We can come visit Darcy and Master Fitzwilliam often and visit the theatre for your pleasure. Your hair will grow out or we can find a way to keep it dark.”
“It’s henna,” she whispered, “from the East.”
His fingers remained in her hair. “I can get that. I was posted in India for years, after all.” He leaned down and, carefully, his lips met hers.
They weren’t cold like the touch of Erik’s hand. His dark blue eyes that were now closed like hers, were not dull like the Vicomte’s. When his arm went around her waist, she let her arm run up against his chest and neck. When he pulled away, she kept her eyes closed. “Ah,” she whispered. “My first kiss.”
Cousin Richard looked genuinely surprised. “Will you marry me?”
“Only if you promise to never blame me for what made me the woman I am today,” she warned.
“Agreed,” he murmured before he kissed her again.
The Countess of Matlock was approximately five months pregnant when she read the Times and learnt that the Opera Populaire had burnt down. She stared at the paper in absolute shock.
“My dear?” Richard asked her when her butter knife fell from her hand.
“I—Erik burnt down the Opera House. He murdered a man when I refused to marry him, but I didn’t think he’d burn down the Opera Populaire.” She looked at her husband in shock. “I wonder if he survived.”
“Who is Erik?” Richard inquired in concern.
“He was the man who gave me the confidence to sing,” she confided. “He was called le fantome de l’Opera. He hid in the basement and caused accidents and wore a mask—Erik wrote me music and gave me my fine dresses and jewels. He dyed my hair. He was little more than a ghost to an opera girl. He was my dearest friend.” Tears formed in her eyes. “I did not know I had made him so unhappy by leaving.”
Richard looked out of his depth before he came up to her and clasped her shoulders. “You cannot know that, Georgiana.”
“Of course I can. He always reacted when I did something. Usually it was small, but he became quiet when he first heard me play the piano—then he killed a man when I refused to marry him—he felled the chandelier when I left the country—and now this. Oh, Richard, what have I done?”
He kissed the top of her head. “You do not want to be married to such an unstable creature, my dear. Come, this is not good for the baby. You must calm yourself.”
Hearing the ever present patience in his voice, she choked back her sobs and endeavored to breathe. “Of course, Richard. I’m sorry.”
A finger traced the line of her jaw. “Think nothing of it.”
However, she could not help but think but think about it.
He’s there, the Phantom of the Opera, inside her mind. And he wouldn’t leave.