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Melody and Strength
By Ken Hidaka

 

Melody and Strength
by Team Bonet
1997

Scene 1. Salle

He lowered his book and fixed her with what he hoped was a cold, disdainful look. She did not
seem in the least perturbed, and proceeded with her embroidery as if nothing were amiss, her tight,
strawberry colored curls bouncing with her slight, delicate movements. A tiny smile played across
her lips as she pretended to be supremely interested in one rabled threath. She cut it with her teeth
and held up the embroidery frame so as to admire how her handywork was coming along. From the
corner of her eye, she watched him supress a sigh and lower his gaze back to his book.

Her smile widened. "Come now, Treize darling, you know it's true. Everybody knows it. Madame
DuBlois is, how do I put it delicately ?" She cocked her head slightly to the side, one small, gloved
finger on her lips. "Ah yes," she said at length, "quite washed up. Finished. A has been." And she
laughed at her own joke, her laughter mingling momentarily with the quickening andagio Music
Director Marnoff was exhorting from the grand piano downstairs.

Treize Kuhshrenada turned the page of his history book and read the first line in the new page about
two times, never quite understanding it. He could feel the mocking gaze of his companion on him,
smothering him, breaking his concentration. He had come to the descision, long ago, that if any one
member of the Romafeller Estates had to walk off a pier and drown, it definetly had to be his second
cousin removed Claudette.

He looked at her from the corners of his book, as she bent over her embroidery, a smug smile on
her small lips, her strawberry curls perfectly pressed, all decked out in pale green ribbons that
matched her gown and eyes. She looked like a delicate, porcelain doll, and she really wasn't that
ugly, if one did not conscider her nose, but. Treize thinned his lips and flipped a few pages in his
book. He was only in the sitting room with her because his mother had begged him to be kinder to
her, for the sake of Claudette's sentimental, widowed mother, who loved Treize dearly. In any other
circumstance, he would have been running far away from her odious, mocking personality.

Closing his eyes, he turned his attention to the voice drifting towards them from downstairs, rising
and falling with Monsieur Marnoff's enthusiastic strikes at the piano keys.Madame DuBlois Treize
frowned slightly. Once, Madame DuBlois had been the pride of the Romafeller Estates' banquets
and concerts. Her voice had been at once strong and melodious. During his youth, while he had still
been considered much too young to stay the night with his parents and older relatives, her sweet
voice had been his lullabies. Many nights, he would just lie in bed, content to listen to her voice and
watching the huge, silver moon cast shadows across his bedroom. But now.

Treize sighed inwardly, his gaze turning to the sitting room carpet, as if his gaze could penetrate
wood and concrete and fix upon the Madame bellow him, her hands folded tightly before her,
straining every note. She had long since lost her ability to sing as beautifuly as before. Old age and
many fevers had worn away at her voice, and now it shook and gave way at the higher notes. Treize
pitied her, and hated himself for pitying her. He hated to admit it to himself, but Claudette was right.
Madame DuBlois was no longer what she had been.

"Still", he said delicately, keeping a tight reign on his temper and putting down his book, "that is no
reason to slander her, dear cousin Claudette."

Claudette continued working on her embroidery as if Treize had not spoken. At length, she turned
her gaze towards him and smiled. "Oh, dear Treize. You are such a loyal, caring soul, really. You,
16, and quite handsome, I might add, can remember this dear woman's lovely past. But I", she
paused for a while, sighing in delicate annoyance at Treize, "I am only 14. I cannot remember
anything about her. Save for the fact that she is quite dreadful."

As if to prove her point, the Madame slipped, painfuly, at a high C. Treize winced, his eyes pained,
embarassed. Claudette smiled softly, smugly, cutting the final thread of her embroidery.

"There. You see ? She's finished. History, dear Treize."

Scene 2. Pratique

The wooden cane beat sharply on the carpeted floor, its hollow sound contrasting sharply with the
light laugh coming from its owner.

"No, no, Treize honey. You must keep a sharp eye out for this little digit."

Treize smiled as Madame DuBlois tapped gently on his little finger with her cane. He knew, although
he never told anyone, that she considered him her best student, but she was still a demanding
teacher.

He bowed slightly in his bench, his smile widening. "Please forgive me, Madame. I must be blinded
by the closeness of your beauty."

Madame laughed and shook a finger under his nose. "Now, none of that, Treize. You won't charm
me. You might have every girl in this household sighing over you, but not old Madame DuBlois. I'm
smarter than that, young man."

Treize laughed and flipped a page in the practice sheets set before him. "Madame DuBlois, I believe
that was an insult. Be very, very careful, eh ?" Smiling, he placed his fingers once again over the
white, ivory keys, playing out the new selection slowly. Madame smiled and patted his shoulder
kindly. She was quite fond of the boy. None of her other students seemed to care as much for the
perfection he strived for. He was a tireless pupil, never busy enough so as to skip his daily lessons,
and even searching her out sometimes to try out new compositions or to engage in friendly,
impromptu duets.

"You are like me.", she said now, placing one hand gently against his cheek. He closed his eyes,
enthralled in the melody he was playing. He turned his head slightly and kissed her fingertips softly.
"No one will ever be like you.", he murmured. Madame blushed with girlish pleasure, but pinched his
cheek. "There goes that charm again. But it's true. You are a dedicated student, as I was. I
remember when i was a little girl, I would practice everyday with my father, may the Good Lord
keep his soul, and people would gather at the door to listen to me. I began performing in public at
12, and was already quite popular by the time I was your age. People came to listen to me from
miles, and they all wondered why I never left the Romafeller Estates to join the opera. I wouldn't. I
couldn't. The Estates were my home, I belonged nowhere else."

Her voice was becoming deeper, sadder. Treize stopped playing and turned to take Madame's
gnarled hand gently in his own. He smiled softly, trying to reassure her. She smiled, touched, and
patted his hands. "Thank you, my child, but, please, go on playing. I like to hear you play."

He nodded, and turned back to the ivory keys. Madame closed her eyes as he began to play,
loosing herself in the melody. Her hands rose slowly to keep time, her lips forming the words to the
song. "I sang this song many, many times. People would always ask me to sing it. They'd say
Madame. Madame, oh, please sing Lovely Eyes, you do it so well... And I would always comply
to their wishes, because I loved that song. It was your mother's favorite song, you know, Treize.

But...But the charm couldn't last forever. I became sick much more often when I became forty. You
must have been eight by then, my child. The doctor's adviced me not to strain my voice, but I never
listened. I was too stubborn, I suppose, but I just couldn't stop singing. I remember the first time I
slipped on a note...They were all so shocked..."

Treize frowned slightly. It hurt him to hear her speak like that. She sounded so old, so defeated. But
he forced himself to go on playing, for her sake. He heard her sigh.

"I'm no fool, Treize. I know what they say about me now. They mock me for practicing. They don't
believe I will ever regain my voice. They all say I'm a washed up old lady..."

Treize turned to her then, taking up both her hands and pressing them against his cheek. "Stop,
Madame.", he begged quietly, "You are not finished, not a washed up old lady. You are wonderful,
and talented. And I will always adore you."

Madame closed her eyes, smiling gently. "Oh, Treize. Treize, my boy. You are the only one here
who still believes in me." Treize closed his eyes to the melancholic sound of her voice and kissed her
hands, hoping to soothe her. "For you...", Madame murmured, running her hand gently over his
cheek, "I'd sing again for you. Just for you, my darling child."

"Madame", he murmured, and looked down, too ashamed to look into her eyes. Afraid that perhaps
his eyes betrayed his feelings. That he only really believed in her memory. Like everybody else.

Scene 3. Desespoir

The afternoon sunlight streamed into the room, glittering warm and golden on the silver tea pots and
porcelain cups. Monsieur Gibbon's son was making a joke, and all the dreamy eyed tea drinkers
were laughing, some going as far as slapping their knees in sheer glee. Their laughter echoed across
the halls, and the servants passing by would shake their heads at such frivolities.

"But wasn't that right of him ?", the young joker asked now, still smiling. "It was his right. I say that
Rogers boy got his just deserves."

"True", said a pretty young girl in a blue gown. "He's such an odious young man. Don't you think so,
Treize ?"

Treize set his cup down slowly and pretended to think deeply about it. The pretty young girl in the
blue gown laughed, kicking lightly at his feet. He smiled at her, winking. "I agree, sweet lady. Rogers
is a blemish on this society. I would have done worse than Monsieur Marnoff did to him."

The young joker leaned forward in interested jest. "Like what ?", he asked, grinning. Treize smiled
and leaned back comfortably into his chair, sipping slowly at his tea. "Maybe we could just leave
something unpleasant in those powders of his, or maybe in his precious bath oils." The girls squealed
in delighted disgust, while the boys roared with laughter. One of the boys spilled his tea over his
pant, and a pale girl in pink quickly rushed to his side, dabbing at the stain and cooing softly to him
like a mother. This made the boys and girls laugh even harder, including the poor unfortunate who's
tea had spilled. In a frenzy of laughter, he tried to kiss the pale girl in pink, who giggled and allowed
him to kiss her. The others clapped and sprinkled sugar over them.

Once they had settled back down, dusting the sugar from their fingers, the pretty young girl in the
blue gown raised her tea cup in salute to Treize, who nodded in graceful acknowledgement of her
honor. She smiled, looking around the room mischiviously. "Maybe we should do it, sweet lords and
ladies."

"But will they catch us ?", a tall boy with glasses asked, pouring out some more tea for himself.
Treize held out the cream to him, and the boy nodded in acceptance. The young joker took up a
meat cake and winked at him. "Not if we're very, very careful, my friends."

Everyone laughed again, but their laughter was cut short by the appearance of Cynthia, Monsieur
Marnoff's young niece. She stood in the door for a while, agitated and slightly out of breath. She
looked around the room for a while, one slim hand resting on her pale throat, her expression slightly
white. Her eyes came to rest upon Treize, and she rushed to him in a flutter of pale turquoise silk.

"Oh, Treize", she said, falling to her knees before him. The others murmured to themselves as Treize
sat up in his chair and, setting aside his cup, took her hands. The others began to draw closer, asking
Cynthia what was the matter. She simply shook her head, her lips slightly parted and trembling. She
looked into Treize's eyes. "It's...it's Madame DuBlois. She's going to sing. Tomorrow. Oh, Treize.
She can't. She's..."

Cursing under his breath, Treize stood up, lifting Cynthia up with him. He gave her hand to the young
joker, who pressed it and tried to calm her down. The boys and girls gathered around them, the girls
stroking Cynthia's hair and murmuring soothing words, the boys demanding what was going on. The
pale girl in pink saw Treize walking rapidly out of the room and went quickly to his side, putting a
restraining hand on his arm.

"Treize, where are you going ? Why are you so worried ? It is nothing. The Madame will only
embarass herself--"

"That's true", came a sweet, mocking voice. Treize looked towards the door and saw Claudette
leaning nonchalantly against the frame. She smiled at him, all sweetness, her green eyes sparkling.
"Still, I'm sure Treize's beloved Madame won't embarass her students. she'll do fine."

Treize thinned his lips, and Claudette's smile widened. She began curling one strawberry lock around
her finger slowly, holding his gaze. "Don't you think she'll do fine, Treize ?", she asked sweetly.

Removing the pale girl's hand, Treize moved towards Claudette. He saw her pale for an instance,
and the girl in pink gasped. But he merely brushed Claudette aside and rushed to the stairs. Her
laughter ringed in his ears, and the young joker was calling out to him, telling him not to overeact so
much. He turned a deaf ear to both of them, rushing quickly down the steps, throwing out hasty
excuse mes to the servants going up. He reached the stairwell and turned sharply to the right. His
shoes clicked hollowly on the polished floor as he made his way to the music room, certain that the
Madame would be there. In one swift movement, he threw open the guilded doors.

"Madame", he panted. Without waiting for an answer, he rushed to her side. She was sitting at the
piano, and he dropped to one knee beside her, breathless. "Madame", he said again, looking into her
eyes, "you can't. You musn't. You can't do it. You can't seriously consider doing that."

Madame DuBlois stammered and tried to take up Treize's hands, but he had stood up and begun
pacing the room, going on and on about how she couldn't do it. She looked at him helplessly as he
paced. She reached out a hand to steady him, but he would just brush her away in his frenzy.

"Treize ? Treize, my child, what is it ?"

He stopped pacing and took her shoulders. "You can't sing, Madame." At his words, she drew
back, her eyes darkening. He released her shoulders then, his frenzy broken by the look in her eyes.
He reached out for her hand, apologizing, but she backed away from him. She stagered a little, her
eyes fixed on him, no light reflected in them, and dropped on the piano bench, her shoulder setting
off a few dissonant notes. She looked at Treize in disbelief, whispering his name brokenly. It hurt him
to see her like that. He wanted to shake her, to bring some light, some understanding, back to her
eyes. Dropping to his knees before her, he forcefuly took up her hands and begged forgiveness.
Madame shook her head as if in a trance and only whispered his name, her dissapointment in him
cutting like a knife.

"Madame", he pleaded, the urgency in his voice making it crack, "Madame, please forgive me. I
shouldn't have said that. But you cannot sing anymore. That is the truth." She turned her face away
from him, and he pressed her hands against his own harder. "Please, Madame. Think of yourself.
They will laugh at you." He looked at her as she shook her head and closed her eyes.

"Oh, Treize", she murmured, "I thought that you, you at least would support me. But you are like all
the rest. I am a shame to you..."

"No !", he said, cursing at the disbelief in her eyes. "I will never be ashamed of you. But I do not
want them to laugh. Can't you see ? It's all some plan of Claudette's. She wants to embarass you..."

"And you do not think I can do it ?" Treize cursed and let his head fall into her lap. He could feel her
body underneath, old and sagging. His heart throbbed in his temples. Shame washed over every part
of his body. She was right, so right. He believed no more in her than did the others, although he truly
loved her. Closing his eyes, he just let his head rest on her lap, feeling the stiffness of her posture,
reading her dissapointment. "Please", he murmured.

"Treize..." He felt her hand rise slowly and begin to stroke his hair. "Not even you believe", she
whispered, her hand tired against his hair. He closed his eyes tighter, his arms rising to encircle her
delicate waist, willing the moment to end, praying that it would all be just a bad dream. And knowing
it was not so.

Scene 4. Noir

The voice rose and fell rythmicaly. Once, a tap was heard from one of the upper bedrooms, and light
from an open door spilled out into the passage, illuminating his room briefly. A voice, sore and
grodgy from interrupted sleep, clammored for silence, but it soon desisted on its futile endeavor and,
a moment later, the door was slammed shut.

Only the voice remained then, accompanied by a lone piano. Its notes spilled gently over the night,
mingling seamlessly with the wind moving through the trees, seeming to dictate the movements of the
heavens, the pale light of the stars.

Treize lay alone in his bed, his eyes fixed upon the ceiling. The light of the full harvest moon cast long
shadows across his room, and he looked upon the shapes they painted across the ceiling in mute
wonder.

All he could hear was the music. Her voice. It ran through his veins, along the very escense of his
being. He closed his eyes to it, willing it to stop. But it would not. His eyes fluttered open and he
gazed at the ceiling once again. Sighing, he tried turning on his side, trying to derive some sort of
pleasure from the feel of the cold covers against his skin. But the music would not leave him. Her
voice was echoing in his subsconcious. Calling to him. Melancholic and alone. Turning on his back,
one hand over his brow, he stared at the ceiling fan high above him. The words. The words of the
song. They would not let him sleep. Come to me, they said, Forgive me and Love me.

Love me. Love me again. He groaned softly and closed his eyes. But the music would not leave his
head. Even when the piano was closed gently and the last notes died away. He could still hear them.
Could still hear her voice. Wrapping gently around him, as it had when he had been a child. I am the
unfortunate. Look upon me. I am the unfortunate.

Scene 5. Finale

The murmurs died down as he entered the Salon. He could feel all the eyes in the room fixed upon
him as he made his way, composed and stately, to the chair reserved for him in the front row. He did
not look at any of them, merely took his seat, bowing graciously to his elders. The murmurs would
start up again soon enough, as the Salon began to fill.

Every member of the household was there, and even the servants were standing outside, envying the
lucky few among them who were called upon to dispense refreshments and carry the ladies' fans.
They talked amongst themselves in hasty whispers, drawn up against the bolted doors, some striving
to sneak a peek inside through the keyhole. The younger ones, a bit too loud in their anxious
commentaries, received several not too kindly taps on their shoulders by their superiors. They'd
blush, make hasty apologies, and go right on talking and whispering, their voices no lower than
before.

Inside the Salon, the murmurs were defeaning. They would stop every now and then, whenever
some noted member of the Romafeller walked in, preceded by his or her own stately procession of
servants and fawning friends, and moved to fill out the coveted first row. A young man bowed
gravely to Treize, his pretty young companion sniffing when Treize only blinked slowly in response.
The murmurs were begining to rise around him once again. He watched the perplexed young man
and his slighted companion walk away, her brocaded, red skirt swishing at his boots. He was
begining to feel suffocated.

A slight whisper of breath at his neck snapped him back to startled attention. He turned his head and
frowned slightly as Claudette smiled sweetly and settled back in her seat beside him. He had ignored
her since she had made her entry, a beautiful porcelain doll fitted out in crude emerald satin, her tiny
lips sculptured carefuly into an exquisite smile of perfect sweetness. She sat beside him now, slowly
arranging the folds of her gown around her little feet, which did not reach the ground yet. But this did
not bother her today. She smiled graciously at her polished slippers and slipped her arm delicately
around Treize's, rising slightly in her seat so as to whisper in his ear, her breath brushing against his
cheek.

"Why are you nerveous, sweet Treize ? She will do fine. Don't you believe she will do fine ?" He put
one hand over her own gently and, smiling softly, dug his fingers into her flesh sharply. She winced
softly, but gave him a dazzling smile, digging her own into his arm. Still smiling, she released his arm
and settled back into her seat. Monsieur Wellitz, sitting at Treize's side, frowned darkly at
Claudette's behavior, but she merely gazed forward, seemingly oblivious to everyone around her.
Treize shook his head silently at Monsieur Wellitz, saying anything would only serve her purpose. He
watched the elderly gentleman battle down his anger and then turn his own gaze forward. Treize
smiled and folded his arms over his chest, making sure that none would notice his hand slowly
massaging his arm.

It took some time for all of the musicians to take their places, the sound of their tuning instruments
filling the Salon with an almost palpable aprehension. "Why does she put us through this torture ?",
an old woman behind him whispered hotly to her young companion. Treize turned his head slightly at
the sound of her voice, and he saw her stiffen and fall silent. Her voice rose at once in a miffed
whisper as he turned his gaze to the French windows which served as the focus of the Salon's
strange, vagely central design. He did not really care for what the old lady had to say, he supposed
his reaction was only a matter of habit. Honor, perhaps.

He closed his eyes briefly, trying to shut out the voices around him. It was a beautiful, clear morning.
He could take comfort in that at least.

The room fell silent then, and all heads turned in expectant curiousity towards the door. Treize kept
his face turned towards the swaying laurel trees outside, allowing only his eyes to glance briefly at
Madame DuBlois' grave entrance. As always, her hands were folded before her. Her face, although
quietly defiant, was serene as she made her way slowly across the room, taking her place silently.
Monsieur Marnoff, tugging absentmindedly at the lace resting over his hands, positioned his long,
knobby fingers over the piano keys, waiting for Monsieur Director's cue.The room was now
completely hushed, entranced with Madame's serene precense. None of them were really paying
much attention to Monsieur Dumas' stately, flowery addressing of the occation. All eyes were fixed
upon the Madame. She looked upon them all in composed silence, her eyes resting briefly upon
Treize. Her looked at her, his face betraying no emotion, before lifting his head slightly and closing
his eyes. She smiled sadly, unperceptively.

And then she began to sing.

Her voice did not falter during her opening, vibrating, strong and clear, around the room. Several
murmurs of hushed delight rippled across the crowd. Listening to them mingle with Madame's voice,
Treize thinned his lips, his brow creasing slightly. He could feel Claudette's uncertainty growing as
she sat beside him, her breath caught in her pale throat, but he could not bring himself to express
relief yet. The final curtain was still to rise.

She carried herself effortlessly through the second and third stanzas, making easy work of the
complicated bridge. She was performing Lovely Eyes. The delighted murmurs were increasing
around him, and he became more and more uncomfortable, aprehensive. First act. Second act.
Intermission. And then, the inevitable. The crescendo. The final act. The expectation, the tension in
the room, was unsuportable. It rose around him, engulfing him, suffocating him. And then

She slipped.

The shock settled across the room with a physical presence. No one dared to be the first to speak,
and they all sat in their chairs, petrified.He could feel them, could sense Claudette's regained
composure and satisfaction. Treize opened his eyes. And smiled softly.

Madame DuBlois stood perfectly still in her stage, a soft smile on her lips. He could see the tears
glittering, unshed, in her eyes. She looked around the room, at the mute gentlemen and shocked
ladies, and did not say a word. Monsieur Marnoff, his fingers still poised over the piano, was lost as
to whether the Madame would conrinue or not. He looked at her in nerveous expectation, and only
blinked as she closed her eyes briefly and began to descend the stage. Her footing almost gave way
at the first step.

That was when Claudette laughed. Once. Before the laughter died, shrill and hollow, in her lips.
Without glanzing down at her, Treize stood up, tall and regal. He smiled at Madame as if there were
no one else but the two of them in the room. Claudette stammered, her voice coming out as a
comfused whisper. "Treize ? What are you doing ?"

Treize's eyes sparkled with a keen light, his smile cold, strangely beautiful. "Claudette", he said, his
voice soft, but strong enough so that all gathered in the room would hear, "All of you. Listen. This
woman, whom you have chosen as victim for your petty frivolities, thinking that she would be easy
prey in her delicate weaknesses, this woman is far stronger, and far worthier of respect than any of
you. For she has stood before you today, fully aware of the consequences, without fear or shame."

Never looking back at them, he walked slowly to Madame DuBlois' side. No one dared speak a
word as he bowed low before her and offered her his hand. She looked at him in silence, uncertain.
He held her gaze and, lifting her hand, brought it to his lips. Looking up at her, he smiled softly.
"Madame", he whispered, his voice hushed, meant only for her, "thank you. You have taught me
something very precious today. And I am not ashamed to say that I was wrong, completely
wrong.Would you find it in your heart to forgive this unworthy admirer ?" Madame smiled gently, her
hand rising to caress his cheek. "There goes that charm again, my boy", she whispered, tears
glistening on her cheeks. With gentle motions, he wiped them away. Then, standing straight, held out
his arm to her. He took her hand as she linked her arm through his, smiling up at him in complete
trust and thankfulness.

Turning, he let his gaze run across all the people in the Salon. He smiled briefly at Monsieur Wellitz,
who closed his eyes, crossed his arms over his chest, and tried not to be so obvious in his
conspirational glee. Treize let his gaze brush across Claudette, who stared at the ground in
embarassed fury.

"Romafeller", he said, his gaze deceptively kind, his hand resting protectively over Madame's own,
"Never have I been ashamed of belonging to your renowned society. But today. Today I was
ashamed. For you have proven yourselves to be nothing more than shallow people, ready to laugh at
others and shelter yourselves. Cowards", he whispered kindly to them, smiling. Madame blushed
slightly, drawing nearer to him. He smiled down at her. "Shall we go ?", he murmured. She assented
slowly with her head.

With his head held high, and Madame walking stately and proud beside him, he walked away from
the stage. The people gathered around the door made way for them quietly, almost respectfuly.
Flinging down her fan, Claudette stood up, her eyes blazing. But she was unable to say anything. She
had seen the look in Madame's eyes as she had slipped. It had been no shame for her. She had sung
again, and she had sung for the ones she loved. Claudette looked around, trying not to loose her
composure, searching for some support. She was alone in the room. No one dared look at her.

And Treize, excorting Madame DuBlois out, never looked back.
 
 

 

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