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The Phantom of the Opera (Chapter14)

2006-08-28 23:36

  XIV. The Singular Attitude of a Safety-Pin

  Behind the curtain, there was an indescribable crowd. Artists, scene-shifters, dancers, supers, choristers, subscribers were all asking questions, shouting and hustling one another.

  "What became of her?"

  "She's run away."

  "With the Vicomte de Chagny, of course!"

  "No, with the count!"

  "Ah, here's Carlotta! Carlotta did the trick!"

  "No, it was the ghost!" And a few laughed, especially as a careful examination of the trap-doors and boards had put the idea of an accident out of the question.

  Amid this noisy throng, three men stood talking in a low voice and with despairing gestures. They were Gabriel, the chorus-master; Mercier, the acting-manager; and Remy, the secretary. They retired to a corner of the lobby by which the stage communicates with the wide passage leading to the foyer of the ballet. Here they stood and argued behind some enormous "properties."

  "I knocked at the door," said Remy. "They did not answer. Perhaps they are not in the office. In any case, it's impossible to find out, for they took the keys with them,"

  "They" were obviously the managers, who had given orders, during the last entr'acte, that they were not to be disturbed on any pretext whatever. They were not in to anybody.

  "All the same," exclaimed Gabriel, "a singer isn't run away with, from the middle of the stage, every day!"

  "Did you shout that to them?" asked Mercier, impatiently.

  "I'll go back again," said Remy, and disappeared at a run.

  Thereupon the stage-manager arrived.

  "Well, M. Mercier, are you coming? What are you two doing here? You're wanted, Mr. Acting-Manager."

  "I refuse to know or to do anything before the commissary arrives," declared Mercier. "I have sent for Mifroid. We shall see when he comes!"

  "And I tell you that you ought to go down to the organ at once."

  "Not before the commissary comes."

  "I've been down to the organ myself already."

  "Ah! And what did you see?"

  "Well, I saw nobody! Do you hear——nobody!"

  "What do you want me to do down there for{sic}?"

  "You're right!" said the stage-manager, frantically pushing his hands through his rebellious hair. "You're right! But there might be some one at the organ who could tell us how the stage came to be suddenly darkened. Now Mauclair is nowhere to be found. Do you understand that?"

  Mauclair was the gas-man, who dispensed day and night at will on the stage of the Opera.

  "Mauclair is not to be found!" repeated Mercier, taken aback. "Well, what about his assistants?"

  "There's no Mauclair and no assistants! No one at the lights, I tell you! You can imagine," roared the stage-manager, "that that little girl must have, been carried off by somebody else: she didn't run away by herself! It was a calculated stroke and we have to find out about it……And what are the managers doing all this time? …… I gave orders that no one was to go down to the lights and I posted a fireman in front of the gas-man's box beside the organ. Wasn't that right?"

  "Yes, yes, quite right, quite right. And now let's wait for the commissary."

  The stage-manager walked away, shrugging his shoulders, fuming, muttering insults at those milksops who remained quietly squatting in a corner while the whole theater was topsyturvy{sic}.

  Gabriel and Mercier were not so quiet as all that. Only they had received an order that paralyzed them. The managers were not to be disturbed on any account. Remy had violated that order and met with no success.

  At that moment he returned from his new expedition, wearing a curiously startled air.

  "Well, have you seen them?" asked Mercier.

  "Moncharmin opened the door at last. His eyes were starting out of his head. I thought he meant to strike me. I could not get a word in; and what do you think he shouted at me? `Have you a safety-pin?' `No!' `Well, then, clearout!' I tried to tell him that an unheard-of thing had happened on the stage, but he roared, `A safety-pin! Give me a safety-pin at once!' A boy heard him—— he was bellowing like a bull——ran up with a safety-pin and gave it to him; whereupon Moncharmin slammed the door in my face, and there you are!"

  "And couldn't you have said, `Christine Daae.'"

  "I should like to have seen you in my place. He was foaming at the mouth. He thought of nothing but his safety-pin. I believe, if they hadn't brought him one on the spot, he would have fallen down in a fit!……Oh, all this isn't natural; and our managers are going mad!……Besides, it can't go on like this! I'm not used to being treated in that fashion!"

  Suddenly Gabriel whispered:

  "It's another trick of O. G.'s."

  Rimy gave a grin, Mercier a sigh and seemed about to speak……but, meeting Gabriel's eye, said nothing.

  However, Mercier felt his responsibility increased as the minutes passed without the managers' appearing; and, at last, he could stand it no longer.

  "Look here, I'll go and hunt them out myself!"

  Gabriel, turning very gloomy and serious, stopped him.

  "Be careful what you're doing, Mercier! If they're staying in their office, it's probably because they have to! O. G. has more than one trick in his bag!"

  But Mercier shook his head.

  "That's their lookout! I'm going! If people had listened to me, the police would have known everything long ago!"

  And he went.

  "What's everything?" asked Remy. "What was there to tell the police? Why don't you answer, Gabriel?……Ah, so you know something! Well, you would do better to tell me, too, if you don't want me to shout out that you are all going mad!……Yes, that's what you are: mad!"

  Gabriel put on a stupid look and pretended not to understand the private secretary's unseemly outburst.

  "What `something' am I supposed to know?" he said. "I don't know what you mean."

  Remy began to lose his temper.

  "This evening, Richard and Moncharmin were behaving like lunatics, here, between the acts."

  "I never noticed it," growled Gabriel, very much annoyed.

  "Then you're the only one!……Do you think that I didn't see them?……And that M. Parabise, the manager of the Credit Central, noticed nothing?……And that M. de La Borderie, the ambassador, has no eyes to see with?……Why, all the subscribers were pointing at our managers!"

  "But what were our managers doing?" asked Gabriel, putting on his most innocent air.

  "What were they doing? You know better than any one what they were doing!……You were there!……And you were watching them, you and Mercier!……And you were the only two who didn't laugh.

  "I don't understand!"

  Gabriel raised his arms and dropped them to his sides again, which gesture was meant to convey that the question did not interest him in the least. Remy continued:

  "What is the sense of this new mania of theirs? Why won't they have any one come near, them now?"

  "What? Won't they, have any one come near them?"

  "And they won't let any one touch them!"

  "Really? Have you noticed that they won't let any one touch them? That is certainly odd!"

  "Oh, so you admit it! And high time, too! And then, they walk backward!"

  "Backward! You have seen our managers walk backward? Why, I thought that only crabs walked backward!"

  "Don't laugh, Gabriel; don't laugh!"

  "I'm not laughing," protested Gabriel, looking as solemn as a judge.

  "Perhaps you can tell me this, Gabriel, as you're an intimate friend of the management: When I went up to M. Richard, outside the foyer, during the Garden interval, with my hand out before me, why did M. Moncharmin hurriedly whisper to me, `Go away! Go away! Whatever you do, don't touch M. le Directeur!' Am I supposed to have an infectious disease?"

  "It's incredible!"

  "And, a little later, when M. de La Borderie went up to M. Richard, didn't you see M. Moncharmin fling himself between them and hear him exclaim, `M. l'Ambassadeur I entreat you not to touch M. le Directeur'?"

  "It's terrible!……And what was Richard doing meanwhile?"

  "What was he doing? Why, you saw him! He turned about, Bowed in front of him, though there was nobody in front of him, and withdrew backward."

  "Backward?"

  "And Moncharmin, behind Richard, also turned about; that is, he described a semicircle behind Richard and also walked backward!……And they went like that to the staircase leading to the managers' office: Backward, backward, backward! …… Well, if they are not mad, will you explain what it means?"

  "Perhaps they were practising a figure in the ballet," suggested Gabriel, without much conviction in his voice.

  The secretary was furious at this wretched joke, made at so dramatic a moment. He knit his brows and contracted his lips. Then he put his mouth to Gabriel's ear:

  "Don't be so sly, Gabriel. There are things going on for which you and Mercier are partly responsible."

  "What do you mean?" asked Gabriel.

  "Christine Daae is not the only one who suddenly disappeared to-night."

  "Oh, nonsense!"

  "There's no nonsense about it. Perhaps you can tell me why, when Mother Giry came down to the foyer just now, Mercier took her by the hand and hurried her away with him?"

  "Really?" said Gabriel, "I never saw it."

  "You did see it, Gabriel, for you went with Mercier and Mother Giry to Mercier's office. Since then, you and Mercier have been seen, but no one has seen Mother Giry."

  "Do you think we've eaten her?"

  "No, but you've locked her up in the office; and any one passing the office can hear her yelling, `Oh, the scoundrels! Oh, the scoundrels!'"

  At this point of this singular conversation, Mercier arrived, all out of breath.

  "There!" he said, in a gloomy voice. "It's worse than ever!…… I shouted, `It's a serious matter! Open the door! It's I, Mercier.' I heard footsteps. The door opened and Moncharmin appeared. He was very pale. He said, `What do you want?' I answered, `Some one has run away with Christine Daae.' What do you think he said? `And a good job, too!' And he shut the door, after putting this in my hand."

  Mercier opened his hand; Remy and Gabriel looked.

  "The safety-pin!" cried Remy.

  "Strange! Strange!" muttered Gabriel, who could not help shivering.

  Suddenly a voice made them all three turn round.

  "I beg your pardon, gentlemen. Could you tell me where Christine Daae is?"

  In spite of the seriousness of the circumstances, the absurdity of the question would have made them roar with laughter, if they had not caught sight of a face so sorrow-stricken that they were at once seized with pity. It was the Vicomte Raoul de Chagny.

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