On the Saturday morning, on reaching their office, the joint managers found a letter from O. G. worded in these terms:
MY DEAR MANAGERS:
So it is to be war between us?
If you still care for peace, here is my ultimatum. It consists of the four following conditions:
1. You must give me back my private box; and I wish it to be at my free disposal from henceforward.
2. The part of Margarita shall be sung this evening by Christine Daae. Never mind about Carlotta; she will be ill.
3. I absolutely insist upon the good and loyal services of Mme. Giry, my box-keeper, whom you will reinstate in her functions forthwith.
4. Let me know by a letter handed to Mme. Giry, who will see that it reaches me, that you accept, as your predecessors did, the conditions in my memorandum-book relating to my monthly allowance. I will inform you later how you are to pay it to me.
If you refuse, you will give FAUST to-night in a house with a curse upon it.
Take my advice and be warned in time. O. G.
"Look here, I'm getting sick of him, sick of him!" shouted Richard, bringing his fists down on his office-table.
Just then, Mercier, the acting-manager, entered.
"Lachenel would like to see one of you gentlemen," he said. "He says that his business is urgent and he seems quite upset."
"Who's Lachenel?" asked Richard.
"He's your stud-groom."
"What do you mean? My stud-groom?"
"Yes, sir," explained Mercier, "there are several grooms at the Opera and M. Lachenel is at the head of them."
"And what does this groom do?"
"He has the chief management of the stable."
"Why, yours, sir, the stable of the Opera."
"Is there a stable at the Opera? Upon my word, I didn't know. Where is it?"
"In the cellars, on the Rotunda side. It's a very important department; we have twelve horses."
"Twelve horses! And what for, in Heaven's name?"
"Why, we want trained horses for the processions in the Juive, The Profeta and so on; horses 'used to the boards.' It is the grooms' business to teach them. M. Lachenel is very clever at it. He used to manage Franconi's stables."
"Very well ... but what does he want?"
"I don't know; I never saw him in such a state."
"He can come in."
M. Lachenel came in, carrying a riding-whip, with which he struck his right boot in an irritable manner.
"Good morning, M. Lachenel," said Richard, somewhat impressed. "To what do we owe the honor of your visit?"
"Mr. Manager, I have come to ask you to get rid of the whole stable."
"What, you want to get rid of our horses?"
"I'm not talking of the horses, but of the stablemen."
"How many stablemen have you, M. Lachenel?"
"Six stablemen! That's at least two too many."
"These are 'places,'" Mercier interposed, "created and forced upon us by the under-secretary for fine arts. They are filled by protegees of the government and, if I may venture to ..."
"I don't care a hang for the government!" roared Richard. "We don't need more than four stablemen for twelve horses."
"Eleven," said the head riding-master, correcting him.
"Twelve," repeated Richard.
"Eleven," repeated Lachenel.
"Oh, the acting-manager told me that you had twelve horses!"
"I did have twelve, but I have only eleven since Cesar was stolen."
And M. Lachenel gave himself a great smack on the boot with his whip.
"Has Cesar been stolen?" cried the acting-manager. "Cesar, the white horse in the Profeta?"
"There are not two Cesars," said the stud-groom dryly. "I was ten years at Franconi's and I have seen plenty of horses in my time. Well, there are not two Cesars. And he's been stolen."
"I don't know. Nobody knows. That's why I have come to ask you to sack the whole stable."
"What do your stablemen say?"
"All sorts of nonsense. Some of them accuse the supers. Others pretend that it's the acting-manager's doorkeeper ..."
"My doorkeeper? I'll answer for him as I would for myself!" protested Mercier.
"But, after all, M. Lachenel," cried Richard, "you must have some idea."
"Yes, I have," M. Lachenel declared. "I have an idea and I'll tell you what it is. There's no doubt about it in my mind." He walked up to the two managers and whispered. "It's the ghost who did the trick!"
Richard gave a jump.
"What, you too! You too!"
"How do you mean, I too? Isn't it natural, after what I saw?"
"What did you see?"
"I saw, as clearly as I now see you, a black shadow riding a white horse that was as like Cesar as two peas!"
"And did you run after them?"
"I did and I shouted, but they were too fast for me and disappeared in the darkness of the underground gallery."
M. Richard rose. "That will do, M. Lachenel. You can go ... We will lodge a complaint against THE GHOST."
"And sack my stable?"
"Oh, of course! Good morning."
M. Lachenel bowed and withdrew. Richard foamed at the mouth.
"Settle that idiot's account at once, please."
"He is a friend of the government representative's!" Mercier ventured to say.
"And he takes his vermouth at Tortoni's with Lagrene, Scholl and Pertuiset, the lion-hunter," added Moncharmin. "We shall have the whole press against us! He'll tell the story of the ghost; and everybody will be laughing at our expense! We may as well be dead as ridiculous!"
"All right, say no more about it."
At that moment the door opened. It must have been deserted by its usual Cerberus, for Mme. Giry entered without ceremony, holding a letter in her hand, and said hurriedly:
"I beg your pardon, excuse me, gentlemen, but I had a letter this morning from the Opera ghost. He told me to come to you, that you had something to ..."
She did not complete the sentence. She saw Firmin Richard's face; and it was a terrible sight. He seemed ready to burst. He said nothing, he could not speak. But suddenly he acted. First, his left arm seized upon the quaint person of Mme. Giry and made her describe so unexpected a semicircle that she uttered a despairing cry. Next, his right foot imprinted its sole on the black taffeta of a skirt which certainly had never before undergone a similar outrage in a similar place. The thing happened so quickly that Mme. Giry, when in the passage, was still quite bewildered and seemed not to understand. But, suddenly, she understood; and the Opera rang with her indignant yells, her violent protests and threats.
About the same time, Carlotta, who had a small house of her own in the Rue du Faubourg St. Honore, rang for her maid, who brought her letters to her bed. Among them was an anonymous missive, written in red ink, in a hesitating, clumsy hand, which ran:
If you appear to-night, you must be prepared for a great misfortune at the moment when you open your mouth to sing ... a misfortune worse than death.
The letter took away Carlotta's appetite for breakfast. She pushed back her chocolate, sat up in bed and thought hard. It was not the first letter of the kind which she had received, but she never had one couched in such threatening terms.
She thought herself, at that time, the victim of a thousand jealous attempts and went about saying that she had a secret enemy who had sworn to ruin her. She pretended that a wicked plot was being hatched against her, a cabal which would come to a head one of those days; but she added that she was not the woman to be intimidated.
The truth is that, if there was a cabal, it was led by Carlotta herself against poor Christine, who had no suspicion of it. Carlotta had never forgiven Christine for the triumph which she had achieved when taking her place at a moment's notice. When Carlotta heard of the astounding reception bestowed upon her understudy, she was at once cured of an incipient attack of bronchitis and a bad fit of sulking against the management and lost the slightest inclination to shirk her duties. From that time, she worked with all her might to "smother" her rival, enlisting the services of influential friends to persuade the managers not to give Christine an opportunity for a fresh triumph. Certain newspapers which had begun to extol the talent of Christine now interested themselves only in the fame of Carlotta. Lastly, in the theater itself, the celebrated, but heartless and soulless diva made the most scandalous remarks about Christine and tried to cause her endless minor unpleasantnesses.
When Carlotta had finished thinking over the threat contained in the strange letter, she got up.
"We shall see," she said, adding a few oaths in her native Spanish with a very determined air.
The first thing she saw, when looking out of her window, was a hearse. She was very superstitious; and the hearse and the letter convinced her that she was running the most serious dangers that evening. She collected all her supporters, told them that she was threatened at that evening's performance with a plot organized by Christine Daae and declared that they must play a trick upon that chit by filling the house with her, Carlotta's, admirers. She had no lack of them, had she? She relied upon them to hold themselves prepared for any eventuality and to silence the adversaries, if, as she feared, they created a disturbance.
M. Richard's private secretary called to ask after the diva's health and returned with the assurance that she was perfectly well and that, "were she dying," she would sing the part of Margarita that evening. The secretary urged her, in his chief's name, to commit no imprudence, to stay at home all day and to be careful of drafts; and Carlotta could not help, after he had gone, comparing this unusual and unexpected advice with the threats contained in the letter.
It was five o'clock when the post brought a second anonymous letter in the same hand as the first. It was short and said simply:
You have a bad cold. If you are wise, you will see that it is madness to try to sing to-night.
Carlotta sneered, shrugged her handsome shoulders and sang two or three notes to reassure herself.
Her friends were faithful to their promise. They were all at the Opera that night, but looked round in vain for the fierce conspirators whom they were instructed to suppress. The only unusual thing was the presence of M. Richard and M. Moncharmin in Box Five. Carlotta's friends thought that, perhaps, the managers had wind, on their side, of the proposed disturbance and that they had determined to be in the house, so as to stop it then and there; but this was unjustifiable supposition, as the reader knows. M. Richard and M. Moncharmin were thinking of nothing but their ghost.
"Vain! In vain do I call, through my vigil weary, On creation and its Lord! Never reply will break the silence dreary! No sign! No single word!"
The famous baritone, Carolus Fonta, had hardly finished Doctor Faust's first appeal to the powers of darkness, when M. Firmin Richard, who was sitting in the ghost's own chair, the front chair on the right, leaned over to his partner and asked him chaffingly:
"Well, has the ghost whispered a word in your ear yet?"
"Wait, don't be in such a hurry," replied M. Armand Moncharmin, in the same gay tone. "The performance has only begun and you know that the ghost does not usually come until the middle of the first act."
The first act passed without incident, which did not surprise Carlotta's friends, because Margarita does not sing in this act. As for the managers, they looked at each other, when the curtain fell.
"That's one!" said Moncharmin.
"Yes, the ghost is late," said Firmin Richard.
"It's not a bad house," said Moncharmin, "for 'a house with a curse on it.'"
M. Richard smiled and pointed to a fat, rather vulgar woman, dressed in black, sitting in a stall in the middle of the auditorium with a man in a broadcloth frock-coat on either side of her.
"Who on earth are 'those?'" asked Moncharmin.
"'Those,' my dear fellow, are my concierge, her husband and her brother."
"Did you give them their tickets?"
"I did ... My concierge had never been to the Opera—this is, the first time—and, as she is now going to come every night, I wanted her to have a good seat, before spending her time showing other people to theirs."
Moncharmin asked what he meant and Richard answered that he had persuaded his concierge, in whom he had the greatest confidence, to come and take Mme. Giry's place. Yes, he would like to see if, with that woman instead of the old lunatic, Box Five would continue to astonish the natives?
"By the way," said Moncharmin, "you know that Mother Giry is going to lodge a complaint against you."
"With whom? The ghost?"
The ghost! Moncharmin had almost forgotten him. However, that mysterious person did nothing to bring himself to the memory of the managers; and they were just saying so to each other for the second time, when the door of the box suddenly opened to admit the startled stage-manager.
"What's the matter?" they both asked, amazed at seeing him there at such a time.
"It seems there's a plot got up by Christine Daae's friends against Carlotta. Carlotta's furious."
"What on earth ... ?" said Richard, knitting his brows.
But the curtain rose on the kermess scene and Richard made a sign to the stage-manager to go away. When the two were alone again, Moncharmin leaned over to Richard:
"Then Daae has friends?" he asked.
"Yes, she has."
Richard glanced across at a box on the grand tier containing no one but two men.
"The Comte de Chagny?"
"Yes, he spoke to me in her favor with such warmth that, if I had not known him to be Sorelli's friend ..."
"Really? Really?" said Moncharmin. "And who is that pale young man beside him?"
"That's his brother, the viscount."
"He ought to be in his bed. He looks ill."
The stage rang with gay song:
"Red or white liquor,
Coarse or fine!
What can it matter,
So we have wine?"
Students, citizens, soldiers, girls and matrons whirled light-heartedly before the inn with the figure of Bacchus for a sign. Siebel made her entrance. Christine Daae looked charming in her boy's clothes; and Carlotta's partisans expected to hear her greeted with an ovation which would have enlightened them as to the intentions of her friends. But nothing happened.
On the other hand, when Margarita crossed the stage and sang the only two lines allotted her in this second act:
"No, my lord, not a lady am I, nor yet a beauty,
And do not need an arm to help me on my way,"
Carlotta was received with enthusiastic applause. It was so unexpected and so uncalled for that those who knew nothing about the rumors looked at one another and asked what was happening. And this act also was finished without incident.
Then everybody said: "Of course, it will be during the next act."
Some, who seemed to be better informed than the rest, declared that the "row" would begin with the ballad of the KING OF THULE and rushed to the subscribers' entrance to warn Carlotta. The managers left the box during the entr'acte to find out more about the cabal of which the stage-manager had spoken; but they soon returned to their seats, shrugging their shoulders and treating the whole affair as silly.
The first thing they saw, on entering the box, was a box of English sweets on the little shelf of the ledge. Who had put it there? They asked the box-keepers, but none of them knew. Then they went back to the shelf and, next to the box of sweets, found an opera glass. They looked at each other. They had no inclination to laugh. All that Mme. Giry had told them returned to their memory ... and then ... and then ... they seemed to feel a curious sort of draft around them ... They sat down in silence.
The scene represented Margarita's garden:
"Gentle flow'rs in the dew,
Be message from me ..."
As she sang these first two lines, with her bunch of roses and lilacs in her hand, Christine, raising her head, saw the Vicomte de Chagny in his box; and, from that moment, her voice seemed less sure, less crystal-clear than usual. Something seemed to deaden and dull her singing...
"What a queer girl she is!" said one of Carlotta's friends in the stalls, almost aloud. "The other day she was divine; and to-night she's simply bleating. She has no experience, no training."
"Gentle flow'rs, lie ye there
And tell her from me ..."
The viscount put his head under his hands and wept. The count, behind him, viciously gnawed his mustache, shrugged his shoulders and frowned. For him, usually so cold and correct, to betray his inner feelings like that, by outward signs, the count must be very angry. He was. He had seen his brother return from a rapid and mysterious journey in an alarming state of health. The explanation that followed was unsatisfactory and the count asked Christine Daae for an appointment. She had the audacity to reply that she could not see either him or his brother...
"Would she but deign to hear me
And with one smile to cheer me ..."
"The little baggage!" growled the count.
And he wondered what she wanted. What she was hoping for... She was a virtuous girl, she was said to have no friend, no protector of any sort ... That angel from the North must be very artful!
Raoul, behind the curtain of his hands that veiled his boyish tears, thought only of the letter which he received on his return to Paris, where Christine, fleeing from Perros like a thief in the night, had arrived before him:
MY DEAR LITTLE PLAYFELLOW:
You must have the courage not to see me again, not to speak of me again. If you love me just a little, do this for me, for me who will never forget you, my dear Raoul. My life depends upon it. Your life depends upon it. YOUR LITTLE CHRISTINE.
Thunders of applause. Carlotta made her entrance.
"I wish I could but know who was he
That addressed me,
If he was noble, or, at least, what his name is ..."
When Margarita had finished singing the ballad of the KING OF THULE, she was loudly cheered and again when she came to the end of the jewel song:
"Ah, the joy of past compare
These jewels bright to wear! ..."
Thenceforth, certain of herself, certain of her friends in the house, certain of her voice and her success, fearing nothing, Carlotta flung herself into her part without restraint of modesty ... She was no longer Margarita, she was Carmen. She was applauded all the more; and her debut with Faust seemed about to bring her a new success, when suddenly ... a terrible thing happened.
Faust had knelt on one knee:
"Let me gaze on the form below me,
While from yonder ether blue
Look how the star of eve, bright and tender,
lingers o'er me,
To love thy beauty too!"
And Margarita replied:
"Oh, how strange!
Like a spell does the evening bind me!
And a deep languid charm
I feel without alarm
With its melody enwind me
And all my heart subdue."
At that moment, at that identical moment, the terrible thing happened... Carlotta croaked like a toad:
There was consternation on Carlotta's face and consternation on the faces of all the audience. The two managers in their box could not suppress an exclamation of horror. Every one felt that the thing was not natural, that there was witchcraft behind it. That toad smelt of brimstone. Poor, wretched, despairing, crushed Carlotta!
The uproar in the house was indescribable. If the thing had happened to any one but Carlotta, she would have been hooted. But everybody knew how perfect an instrument her voice was; and there was no display of anger, but only of horror and dismay, the sort of dismay which men would have felt if they had witnessed the catastrophe that broke the arms of the Venus de Milo... And even then they would have seen ... and understood ...
But here that toad was incomprehensible! So much so that, after some seconds spent in asking herself if she had really heard that note, that sound, that infernal noise issue from her throat, she tried to persuade herself that it was not so, that she was the victim of an illusion, an illusion of the ear, and not of an act of treachery on the part of her voice....
Meanwhile, in Box Five, Moncharmin and Richard had turned very pale. This extraordinary and inexplicable incident filled them with a dread which was the more mysterious inasmuch as for some little while, they had fallen within the direct influence of the ghost. They had felt his breath. Moncharmin's hair stood on end. Richard wiped the perspiration from his forehead. Yes, the ghost was there, around them, behind them, beside them; they felt his presence without seeing him, they heard his breath, close, close, close to them! ... They were sure that there were three people in the box ... They trembled ... They thought of running away ... They dared not ... They dared not make a movement or exchange a word that would have told the ghost that they knew that he was there! ... What was going to happen?
"Co-ack!" Their joint exclamation of horror was heard all over the house. THEY FELT THAT THEY WERE SMARTING UNDER THE GHOST'S ATTACKS. Leaning over the ledge of their box, they stared at Carlotta as though they did not recognize her. That infernal girl must have given the signal for some catastrophe. Ah, they were waiting for the catastrophe! The ghost had told them it would come! The house had a curse upon it! The two managers gasped and panted under the weight of the catastrophe. Richard's stifled voice was heard calling to Carlotta:
"Well, go on!"
No, Carlotta did not go on ... Bravely, heroically, she started afresh on the fatal line at the end of which the toad had appeared.
An awful silence succeeded the uproar. Carlotta's voice alone once more filled the resounding house:
"I feel without alarm ..."
The audience also felt, but not without alarm. ..
"I feel without alarm ...
I feel without alarm—co-ack!
With its melody enwind me—co-ack!
And all my heart sub—co-ack!"
The toad also had started afresh!
The house broke into a wild tumult. The two managers collapsed in their chairs and dared not even turn round; they had not the strength; the ghost was chuckling behind their backs! And, at last, they distinctly heard his voice in their right ears, the impossible voice, the mouthless voice, saying:
"SHE IS SINGING TO-NIGHT TO BRING THE CHANDELIER DOWN!"
With one accord, they raised their eyes to the ceiling and uttered a terrible cry. The chandelier, the immense mass of the chandelier was slipping down, coming toward them, at the call of that fiendish voice. Released from its hook, it plunged from the ceiling and came smashing into the middle of the stalls, amid a thousand shouts of terror. A wild rush for the doors followed.
The papers of the day state that there were numbers wounded and one killed. The chandelier had crashed down upon the head of the wretched woman who had come to the Opera for the first time in her life, the one whom M. Richard had appointed to succeed Mme. Giry, the ghost's box-keeper, in her functions! She died on the spot and, the next morning, a newspaper appeared with this heading:
TWO HUNDRED KILOS ON THE HEAD OF A CONCIERGE
That was her sole epitaph!