For instance, a fireman is a brave fellow! He fears nothing, least of all fire! Well, the fireman in question, who had gone to make a round of inspection in the cellars and who, it seems, had ventured a little farther than usual, suddenly reappeared on the stage, pale, scared, trembling, with his eyes starting out of his head, and practically fainted in the arms of the proud mother of little Jammes.* And why? Because he had seen coming toward him, at the level of his head, but without a body attached to it, a head of fire! And, as I said, a fireman is not afraid of fire.
The fireman’s name was Pampin.
The corps de ballet was flung into consternation. At first sight, this fiery head in no way corresponded with Joseph Buquet’s description of the ghost. But the young ladies soon persuaded themselves that the ghost had several heads, which he changed about as he pleased. And, of course, they at once imagined that they were in the greatest danger. Once a fireman did not hesitate to faint, leaders and front-row and back-row girls alike had plenty of excuses for the fright that made them quicken their pace when passing some dark corner or ill-lighted corridor. Sorelli herself, on the day after the adventure of the fireman, placed a horseshoe on the table in front of the stage-door-keeper’s box, which every one who entered the Opera otherwise than as a spectator must touch before setting foot on the first tread of the staircase. This horse-shoe was not invented by me—any more than any other part of this story, alas!—and may still be seen on the table in the passage outside the stage-door-keeper’s box, when you enter the Opera through the court known as the Cour de l’Administration.
To return to the evening in question.
“It’s the ghost!” little Jammes had cried.
An agonizing silence now reigned in the dressing-room. Nothing was heard but the hard breathing of the girls. At last, Jammes, flinging herself upon the farthest corner of the wall, with every mark of real terror on her face, whispered:
Everybody seemed to hear a rustling outside the door. There was no sound of footsteps. It was like light silk sliding over the panel. Then it stopped.
Sorelli tried to show more pluck than the others. She went up to the door and, in a quavering voice, asked:
But nobody answered. Then feeling all eyes upon her, watching her last movement, she made an effort to show courage, and said very loudly:
“Is there any one behind the door?”
“Oh, yes, yes! Of course there is!” cried that little dried plum of a Meg Giry, heroically holding Sorelli back by her gauze skirt. “Whatever you do, don’t open the door! Oh, Lord, don’t open the door!”
But Sorelli, armed with a dagger that never left her, turned the key and drew back the door, while the ballet-girls retreated to the inner dressing-room and Meg Giry sighed:
Sorelli looked into the passage bravely. It was empty; a gas-flame, in its glass prison, cast a red and suspicious light into the surrounding darkness, without succeeding in dispelling it. And the dancer slammed the door again, with a deep sigh.
“No,” she said, “there is no one there.”
“Still, we saw him!” Jammes declared, returning with timid little steps to her place beside Sorelli. “He must be somewhere prowling about. I shan’t go back to dress. We had better all go down to the foyer together, at once, for the ‘speech,’ and we will come up again together.”
And the child reverently touched the little coral finger-ring which she wore as a charm against bad luck, while Sorelli, stealthily, with the tip of her pink right thumb-nail, made a St. Andrew’s cross on the wooden ring which adorned the fourth finger of her left hand. She said to the little ballet-girls:
“Come, children, pull yourselves together! I dare say no one has ever seen the ghost.”
“Yes, yes, we saw him—we saw him just now!” cried the girls. “He had his death’s head and his dress-coat, just as when he appeared to Joseph Buquet!”
“And Gabriel saw him too!” said Jammes. “Only yesterday! Yesterday afternoon—in broad day-light—”
“Gabriel, the chorus-master?”
“Why, yes, didn’t you know?”
“And he was wearing his dress-clothes, in broad daylight?”
“Why, no, the ghost!”
“Certainly! Gabriel told me so himself. That’s what he knew him by. Gabriel was in the stage-manager’s office. Suddenly the door opened and the Persian entered. You know the Persian has the evil eye—”
“Oh, yes!” answered the little ballet-girls in chorus, warding off ill-luck by pointing their forefinger and little finger at the absent Persian, while their second and third fingers were bent on the palm and held down by the thumb.
“And you know how superstitious Gabriel is,” continued Jammes. “However, he is always polite. When he meets the Persian, he just puts his hand in his pocket and touches his keys. Well, the moment the Persian appeared in the doorway, Gabriel gave one jump from his chair to the lock of the cupboard, so as to touch iron! In doing so, he tore a whole skirt of his overcoat on a nail. Hurrying to get out of the room, he banged his forehead against a hat-peg and gave himself a huge bump; then, suddenly stepping back, he skinned his arm on the screen, near the piano; he tried to lean on the piano, but the lid fell on his hands and crushed his fingers; he rushed out of the office like a madman, slipped on the staircase and came down the whole of the first flight on his back. I was just passing with mother. We picked him up. He was covered with bruises and his face was all over blood. We were frightened out of our lives, but, all at once, he began to thank Providence that he had got off so cheaply. Then he told us what had frightened him. He had seen the ghost behind the Persian, the ghost with the death’s head just like Joseph Buquet’s description!”
Jammes had told her story ever so quickly, as though the ghost were at her heels, and was quite out of breath at the finish. A silence followed, while Sorelli polished her nails in great excitement. It was broken by little Giry, who said:
“Joseph Buquet would do better to hold his tongue.”
“Why should he hold his tongue?” asked somebody.
“That’s mother’s opinion,” replied Meg, lowering her voice and looking all about her as though fearing lest other ears than those present might overhear.
“And why is it your mother’s opinion?”
“Hush! Mother says the ghost doesn’t like being talked about.”
“And why does your mother say so?”
This reticence exasperated the curiosity of the young ladies, who crowded round little Giry, begging her to explain herself. They were there, side by side, leaning forward simultaneously in one movement of entreaty and fear, communicating their terror to one another, taking a keen pleasure in feeling their blood freeze in their veins.
“I swore not to tell!” gasped Meg.
But they left her no peace and promised to keep the secret, until Meg, burning to say all she knew, began, with her eyes fixed on the door:
“Well, it’s because of the private box.”
“What private box?”
“The ghost’s box!”
“Has the ghost a box? Oh, do tell us, do tell us!”
“Not so loud!” said Meg. “It’s Box Five, you know, the box on the grand tier, next to the stage-box, on the left.”
“I tell you it is. Mother has charge of it. But you swear you won’t say a word?”
“Of course, of course.”
“Well, that’s the ghost’s box. No one has had it for over a month, except the ghost, and orders have been given at the box-office that it must never be sold.”
“And does the ghost really come there?”
“Then somebody does come?”
“Why, no! The ghost comes, but there is nobody there.�
The little ballet-girls exchanged glances. If the ghost came to the box, he must be seen, because he wore a dress-coat and a death’s head. This was what they tried to make Meg understand, but she replied:
“That’s just it! The ghost is not seen. And he has no dress-coat and no head! All that talk about his death’s head and his head of fire is nonsense! There’s nothing in it. You only hear him when he is in the box. Mother has never seen him, but she has heard him. Mother knows, because she gives him his program.”
“Giry, child, you’re getting at us!”
Thereupon little Giry began to cry.
“I ought to have held my tongue—if mother ever came to know! But I was quite right, Joseph Buquet had no business to talk of things that don’t concern him—it will bring him bad luck—mother was saying so last night—”
There was a sound of hurried and heavy footsteps in the passage and a breathless voice cried:
“Cecile! Cecile! Are you there?”
“It’s mother’s voice,” said Jammes. “What’s the matter?”
She opened the door. A respectable lady, built on the lines of a Pomeranian grenadier, burst into the dressing-room and dropped groaning into a vacant arm-chair. Her eyes rolled madly in her brick-dust colored face.
“How awful!” she said. “How awful!”
“What about him?”
“Joseph Buquet is dead!”
The room became filled with exclamations, with astonished outcries, with scared requests for explanations.
“Yes, he was found hanging in the third-floor cellar!”
“It’s the ghost!” little Giry blurted, as though in spite of herself; but she at once corrected herself, with her hands pressed to her mouth: “No, no!—I, didn’t say it!—I didn’t say it!—”
All around her, her panic-stricken companions repeated under their breaths:
“Yes—it must be the ghost!”
Sorelli was very pale.
“I shall never be able to recite my speech,” she said.
The truth is that no one ever knew how Joseph Buquet met his death. The verdict at the inquest was “natural suicide.” In his Memoirs of Manager, M. Moncharmin, one of the joint managers who succeeded MM. Debienne and Poligny, describes the incident as follows:
“A grievous accident spoiled the little party which MM. Debienne and Poligny gave to celebrate their retirement. I was in the manager’s office, when Mercier, the acting-manager, suddenly came darting in. He seemed half mad and told me that the body of a scene-shifter had been found hanging in the third cellar under the stage, between a farm-house and a scene from the Roi de Lahore. I shouted:
“‘Come and cut him down!’
“By the time I had rushed down the staircase and the Jacob’s ladder, the man was no longer hanging from his rope!”
So this is an event which M. Moncharmin thinks natural. A man hangs at the end of a rope; they go to cut him down; the rope has disappeared. Oh, M. Moncharmin found a very simple explanation! Listen to him:
“It was just after the ballet; and leaders and dancing-girls lost no time in taking their precautions against the evil eye.”
There you are! Picture the corps de ballet scuttling down the Jacob’s ladder and dividing the suicide’s rope among themselves in less time than it takes to write! When, on the other hand, I think of the exact spot where the body was discovered—the third cellar underneath the stage!—imagine that somebody must have been interested in seeing that the rope disappeared after it had effected its purpose; and time will show if I am wrong.
The horrid news soon spread all over the Opera, where Joseph Buquet was very popular. The dressing-rooms emptied and the ballet-girls, crowding around Sorelli like timid sheep around their shepherdess, made for the foyer through the ill-lit passages and staircases, trotting as fast as their little pink legs could carry them.
* I have the anecdote, which is quite authentic, from M. Pedro Gailhard himself, the late manager of the Opera.
The New Margarita
ON THE FIRST LANDING, Sorelli ran against the Comte de Chagny, who was coming up-stairs. The count, who was generally so calm, seemed greatly excited.
“I was just going to you,” he said, taking off his hat. “Oh, Sorelli, what an evening! And Christine Daae: what a triumph!”
“Impossible!” said Meg Giry. “Six months ago, she used to sing like a crock! But do let us get by, my dear count,” continues the brat, with a saucy curtsey. “We are going to inquire after a poor man who was found hanging by the neck.”
Just then the acting-manager came fussing past and stopped when he heard this remark.
“What!” he exclaimed roughly. “Have you girls heard already? Well, please forget about it for tonight—and above all don’t let M. Debienne and M. Poligny hear; it would upset them too much on their last day.”
They all went on to the foyer of the ballet, which was already full of people. The Comte de Chagny was right; no gala performance ever equalled this one. All the great composers of the day had conducted their own works in turns. Faure and Krauss had sung; and, on that evening, Christine Daae had revealed her true self, for the first time, to the astonished and enthusiastic audience. Gounod had conducted the Funeral March of a Marionnette; Reyer, his beautiful overture to Siguar; Saint Saens, the Danse Macabre and a Reverie Orientale; Massenet, an unpublished Hungarian march; Guiraud, his Carnaval; Delibes, the Valse Lente from Sylvia and the Pizzicati from Coppelia. Mlle. Krauss had sung the bolero in the Vespri Siciliani; and Mlle. Denise Bloch the drinking song in Lucrezia Borgia.
But the real triumph was reserved for Christine Daae, who had begun by singing a few passages from Romeo and Juliet. It was the first time that the young artist sang in this work of Gounod, which had not been transferred to the Opera and which was revived at the Opera Comique after it had been produced at the old Theatre Lyrique by Mme. Carvalho. Those who heard her say that her voice, in these passages, was seraphic; but this was nothing to the superhuman notes that she gave forth in the prison scene and the final trio in Faust, which she sang in the place of La Carlotta, who was ill. No one had ever heard or seen anything like it.
Daae revealed a new Margarita that night, a Margarita of a splendor, a radiance hitherto unsuspected. The whole house went mad, rising to its feet, shouting, cheering, clapping, while Christine sobbed and fainted in the arms of her fellow-singers and had to be carried to her dressing-room. A few subscribers, however, protested. Why had so great a treasure been kept from them all that time? Till then, Christine Daae had played a good Siebel to Carlotta’s rather too splendidly material Margarita. And it had needed Carlotta’s incomprehensible and inexcusable absence from this gala night for the little Daae, at a moment’s warning, to show all that she could do in a part of the program reserved for the Spanish diva! Well, what the subscribers wanted to know was, why had Debienne and Poligny applied to Daae, when Carlotta was taken ill? Did they know of her hidden genius? And, if they knew of it, why had they kept it hidden? And why had she kept it hidden? Oddly enough, she was not known to have a professor of singing at that moment. She had often said she meant to practise alone for the future. The whole thing was a mystery.
The Comte de Chagny, standing up in his box, listened to all this frenzy and took part in it by loudly applauding. Philippe Georges Marie Comte de Chagny was just forty-one years of age. He was a great aristocrat and a good-looking man, above middle height and with attractive features, in spite of his hard forehead and his rather cold eyes. He was exquisitely polite to the women and a little haughty to the men, who did not always forgive him for his successes in society. He had an excellent heart and an irreproachable con
science. On the death of old Count Philibert, he became the head of one of the oldest and most distinguished families in France, whose arms dated back to the fourteenth century. The Chagnys owned a great deal of property; and, when the old count, who was a widower, died, it was no easy task for Philippe to accept the management of so large an estate. His two sisters and his brother, Raoul, would not hear of a division and waived their claim to their shares, leaving themselves entirely in Philippe’s hands, as though the right of primogeniture had never ceased to exist. When the two sisters married, on the same day, they received their portion from their brother, not as a thing rightfully belonging to them, but as a dowry for which they thanked him.
The Comtesse de Chagny, nee de Moerogis de La Martyniere, had died in giving birth to Raoul, who was born twenty years after his elder brother. At the time of the old count’s death, Raoul was twelve years of age. Philippe busied himself actively with the youngster’s education. He was admirably assisted in this work first by his sisters and afterward by an old aunt, the widow of a naval officer, who lived at Brest and gave young Raoul a taste for the sea. The lad entered the Borda training-ship, finished his course with honors and quietly made his trip round the world. Thanks to powerful influence, he had just been appointed a member of the official expedition on board the Requin, which was to be sent to the Arctic Circle in search of the survivors of the D’Artoi’s expedition, of whom nothing had been heard for three years. Meanwhile, he was enjoying a long furlough which would not be over for six months; and already the dowagers of the Faubourg Saint-Germain were pitying the handsome and apparently delicate stripling for the hard work in store for him.
The shyness of the sailor-lad—I was almost saying his innocence—was remarkable. He seemed to have but just left the women’s apron-strings. As a matter of fact, petted as he was by his two sisters and his old aunt, he had retained from this purely feminine education manners that were almost candid and stamped with a charm that nothing had yet been able to sully. He was a little over twenty-one years of age and looked eighteen. He had a small, fair mustache, beautiful blue eyes and a complexion like a girl’s.