At these words, M. Richard suddenly interrupted Mme. Giry:
"Yes, that's true, I remember now! The under-secretary went behind the scenes. He asked for me. I went down to the ballet-foyer for a moment. I was on the foyer steps ... The under-secretary and his chief clerk were in the foyer itself. I suddenly turned around ... you had passed behind me, Mme. Giry ... You seemed to push against me ... Oh, I can see you still, I can see you still!"
"Yes, that's it, sir, that's it. I had just finished my little business. That pocket of yours, sir, is very handy!"
And Mme. Giry once more suited the action to the word, She passed behind M. Richard and, so nimbly that Moncharmin himself was impressed by it, slipped the envelope into the pocket of one of the tails of M. Richard's dress-coat.
"Of course!" exclaimed Richard, looking a little pale. "It's very clever of O. G. The problem which he had to solve was this: how to do away with any dangerous intermediary between the man who gives the twenty-thousand francs and the man who receives it. And by far the best thing he could hit upon was to come and take the money from my pocket without my noticing it, as I myself did not know that it was there. It's wonderful!"
"Oh, wonderful, no doubt!" Moncharmin agreed. "Only, you forget, Richard, that I provided ten-thousand francs of the twenty and that nobody put anything in my pocket!"
 Flash notes drawn on the "Bank of St. Farce" in France correspond with those drawn on the "Bank of Engraving" in England.—Translator's Note.
Chapter XVII The Safety-Pin Again
Moncharmin's last phrase so dearly expressed the suspicion in which he now held his partner that it was bound to cause a stormy explanation, at the end of which it was agreed that Richard should yield to all Moncharmin's wishes, with the object of helping him to discover the miscreant who was victimizing them.
This brings us to the interval after the Garden Act, with the strange conduct observed by M. Remy and those curious lapses from the dignity that might be expected of the managers. It was arranged between Richard and Moncharmin, first, that Richard should repeat the exact movements which he had made on the night of the disappearance of the first twenty-thousand francs; and, second, that Moncharmin should not for an instant lose sight of Richard's coat-tail pocket, into which Mme. Giry was to slip the twenty-thousand francs.
M. Richard went and placed himself at the identical spot where he had stood when he bowed to the under-secretary for fine arts. M. Moncharmin took up his position a few steps behind him.
Mme. Giry passed, rubbed up against M. Richard, got rid of her twenty-thousand francs in the manager's coat-tail pocket and disappeared ... Or rather she was conjured away. In accordance with the instructions received from Moncharmin a few minutes earlier, Mercier took the good lady to the acting-manager's office and turned the key on her, thus making it impossible for her to communicate with her ghost.
Meanwhile, M. Richard was bending and bowing and scraping and walking backward, just as if he had that high and mighty minister, the under-secretary for fine arts, before him. Only, though these marks of politeness would have created no astonishment if the under-secretary of state had really been in front of M. Richard, they caused an easily comprehensible amazement to the spectators of this very natural but quite inexplicable scene when M. Richard had no body in front of him.
M. Richard bowed ... to nobody; bent his back ... before nobody; and walked backward ... before nobody ... And, a few steps behind him, M. Moncharmin did the same thing that he was doing in addition to pushing away M. Remy and begging M. de La Borderie, the ambassador, and the manager of the Credit Central "not to touch M. le Directeur."
Moncharmin, who had his own ideas, did not want Richard to come to him presently, when the twenty-thousand francs were gone, and say:
"Perhaps it was the ambassador ... or the manager of the Credit Central ... or Remy."
The more so as, at the time of the first scene, as Richard himself admitted, Richard had met nobody in that part of the theater after Mme. Giry had brushed up against him...
Having begun by walking backward in order to bow, Richard continued to do so from prudence, until he reached the passage leading to the offices of the management. In this way, he was constantly watched by Moncharmin from behind and himself kept an eye on any one approaching from the front. Once more, this novel method of walking behind the scenes, adopted by the managers of our National Academy of Music, attracted attention; but the managers themselves thought of nothing but their twenty-thousand francs.
On reaching the half-dark passage, Richard said to Moncharmin, in a low voice:
"I am sure that nobody has touched me ... You had now better keep at some distance from me and watch me till I come to door of the office: it is better not to arouse suspicion and we can see anything that happens."
But Moncharmin replied. "No, Richard, no! You walk ahead and I'll walk immediately behind you! I won't leave you by a step!"
"But, in that case," exclaimed Richard, "they will never steal our twenty-thousand francs!"
"I should hope not, indeed!" declared Moncharmin.
"Then what we are doing is absurd!"
"We are doing exactly what we did last time ... Last time, I joined you as you were leaving the stage and followed close behind you down this passage."
"That's true!" sighed Richard, shaking his head and passively obeying Moncharmin.
Two minutes later, the joint managers locked themselves into their office. Moncharmin himself put the key in his pocket:
"We remained locked up like this, last time," he said, "until you left the Opera to go home."
"That's so. No one came and disturbed us, I suppose?"
"Then," said Richard, who was trying to collect his memory, "then I must certainly have been robbed on my way home from the Opera."
"No," said Moncharmin in a drier tone than ever, "no, that's impossible. For I dropped you in my cab. The twenty-thousand francs disappeared at your place: there's not a shadow of a doubt about that."
"It's incredible!" protested Richard. "I am sure of my servants ... and if one of them had done it, he would have disappeared since."
Moncharmin shrugged his shoulders, as though to say that he did not wish to enter into details, and Richard began to think that Moncharmin was treating him in a very insupportable fashion.
"Moncharmin, I've had enough of this!"
"Richard, I've had too much of it!"
"Do you dare to suspect me?"
"Yes, of a silly joke."
"One doesn't joke with twenty-thousand francs."
"That's what I think," declared Moncharmin, unfolding a newspaper and ostentatiously studying its contents.
"What are you doing?" asked Richard. "Are you going to read the paper next?"
"Yes, Richard, until I take you home."
"Like last time?"
"Yes, like last time."
Richard snatched the paper from Moncharmin's hands. Moncharmin stood up, more irritated than ever, and found himself faced by an exasperated Richard, who, crossing his arms on his chest, said:
"Look here, I'm thinking of this, I'M THINKING OF WHAT I MIGHT THINK if, like last time, after my spending the evening alone with you, you brought me home and if, at the moment of parting, I perceived that twenty-thousand francs had disappeared from my coat-pocket ... like last time."
"And what might you think?" asked Moncharmin, crimson with rage.
"I might think that, as you hadn't left me by a foot's breadth and as, by your own wish, you were the only one to approach me, like last time, I might think that, if that twenty-thousand francs was no longer in my pocket, it stood a very good chance of being in yours!"
Moncharmin leaped up at the suggestion.
"Oh!" he shouted. "A safety-pin!"
"What do you want a safety-pin for?"
"To fasten you up with! ... A safety-pin! ... A safety-pin!"
"You want to fasten me with a safety-pin?"
"Yes, to fasten you to the twenty-thousand francs! Then, whether it's here, or on the drive from here to your place, or at your place, you will feel the hand that pulls at your pocket and you will see if it's mine! Oh, so you're suspecting me now, are you? A safety-pin!"
And that was the moment when Moncharmin opened the door on the passage and shouted:
"A safety-pin! ... somebody give me a safety-pin!"
And we also know how, at the same moment, Remy, who had no safety-pin, was received by Moncharmin, while a boy procured the pin so eagerly longed for. And what happened was this: Moncharmin first locked the door again. Then he knelt down behind Richard's back.
"I hope," he said, "that the notes are still there?"
"So do I," said Richard.
"The real ones?" asked Moncharmin, resolved not to be "had" this time.
"Look for yourself," said Richard. "I refuse to touch them."
Moncharmin took the envelope from Richard's pocket and drew out the bank-notes with a trembling hand, for, this time, in order frequently to make sure of the presence of the notes, he had not sealed the envelope nor even fastened it. He felt reassured on finding that they were all there and quite genuine. He put them back in the tail-pocket and pinned them with great care. Then he sat down behind Richard's coat-tails and kept his eyes fixed on them, while Richard, sitting at his writing-table, did not stir.
"A little patience, Richard," said Moncharmin. "We have only a few minutes to wait ... The clock will soon strike twelve. Last time, we left at the last stroke of twelve."
"Oh, I shall have all the patience necessary!"
The time passed, slow, heavy, mysterious, stifling. Richard tried to laugh.
"I shall end by believing in the omnipotence of the ghost," he said. "Just now, don't you find something uncomfortable, disquieting, alarming in the atmosphere of this room?"
"You're quite right," said Moncharmin, who was really impressed.
"The ghost!" continued Richard, in a low voice, as though fearing lest he should be overheard by invisible ears. "The ghost! Suppose, all the same, it were a ghost who puts the magic envelopes on the table ... who talks in Box Five ... who killed Joseph Buquet ... who unhooked the chandelier ... and who robs us! For, after all, after all, after all, there is no one here except you and me, and, if the notes disappear and neither you nor I have anything to do with it, well, we shall have to believe in the ghost ... in the ghost."
At that moment, the clock on the mantlepiece gave its warning click and the first stroke of twelve struck.
The two managers shuddered. The perspiration streamed from their foreheads. The twelfth stroke sounded strangely in their ears.
When the clock stopped, they gave a sigh and rose from their chairs.
"I think we can go now," said Moncharmin.
"I think so," Richard a agreed.
"Before we go, do you mind if I look in your pocket?"
"But, of course, Moncharmin, YOU MUST! ... Well?" he asked, as Moncharmin was feeling at the pocket.
"Well, I can feel the pin."
"Of course, as you said, we can't be robbed without noticing it."
But Moncharmin, whose hands were still fumbling, bellowed:
"I can feel the pin, but I can't feel the notes!"
"Come, no joking, Moncharmin! ... This isn't the time for it."
"Well, feel for yourself."
Richard tore off his coat. The two managers turned the pocket inside out. THE POCKET WAS EMPTY. And the curious thing was that the pin remained, stuck in the same place.
Richard and Moncharmin turned pale. There was no longer any doubt about the witchcraft.
"The ghost!" muttered Moncharmin.
But Richard suddenly sprang upon his partner.
"No one but you has touched my pocket! Give me back my twenty-thousand francs! ... Give me back my twenty-thousand francs! ..."
"On my soul," sighed Moncharmin, who was ready to swoon, "on my soul, I swear that I haven't got it!"
Then somebody knocked at the door. Moncharmin opened it automatically, seemed hardly to recognize Mercier, his business-manager, exchanged a few words with him, without knowing what he was saying and, with an unconscious movement, put the safety-pin, for which he had no further use, into the hands of his bewildered subordinate ...
Chapter XVIII The Commissary, The Viscount and the Persian
The first words of the commissary of police, on entering the managers' office, were to ask after the missing prima donna.
"Is Christine Daae here?"
"Christine Daae here?" echoed Richard. "No. Why?"
As for Moncharmin, he had not the strength left to utter a word.
Richard repeated, for the commissary and the compact crowd which had followed him into the office observed an impressive silence.
"Why do you ask if Christine Daae is here, M. LE COMMISSAIRE?"
"Because she has to be found," declared the commissary of police solemnly.
"What do you mean, she has to be found? Has she disappeared?"
"In the middle of the performance!"
"In the middle of the performance? This is extraordinary!"
"Isn't it? And what is quite as extraordinary is that you should first learn it from me!"
"Yes," said Richard, taking his head in his hands and muttering. "What is this new business? Oh, it's enough to make a man send in his resignation!"
And he pulled a few hairs out of his mustache without even knowing what he was doing.
"So she ... so she disappeared in the middle of the performance?" he repeated.
"Yes, she was carried off in the Prison Act, at the moment when she was invoking the aid of the angels; but I doubt if she was carried off by an angel."
"And I am sure that she was!"
Everybody looked round. A young man, pale and trembling with excitement, repeated:
"I am sure of it!"
"Sure of what?" asked Mifroid.
"That Christine Daae was carried off by an angel, M. LE COMMISSAIRE and I can tell you his name."
"Aha, M. le Vicomte de Chagny! So you maintain that Christine Daae was carried off by an angel: an angel of the Opera, no doubt?"
"Yes, monsieur, by an angel of the Opera; and I will tell you where he lives ... when we are alone."
"You are right, monsieur."
And the commissary of police, inviting Raoul to take a chair, cleared the room of all the rest, excepting the managers.
Then Raoul spoke:
"M. le Commissaire, the angel is called Erik, he lives in the Opera and he is the Angel of Music!"
"The Angel of Music! Really! That is very curious! ... The Angel of Music!" And, turning to the managers, M. Mifroid asked, "Have you an Angel of Music on the premises, gentlemen?"
Richard and Moncharmin shook their heads, without even speaking.
"Oh," said the viscount, "those gentlemen have heard of the Opera ghost. Well, I am in a position to state that the Opera ghost and the Angel of Music are one and the same person; and his real name is Erik."
M. Mifroid rose and looked at Raoul attentively.
"I beg your pardon, monsieur but is it your intention to make fun of the law? And, if not, what is all this about the Opera ghost?"
"I say that these gentlemen have heard of him."
"Gentlemen, it appears that you know the Opera ghost?"
Richard rose, with the remaining hairs of his mustache in his hand.
"No, M. Commissary, no, we do not know him, but we wish that we did, for this very evening he has robbed us of twenty-thousand francs!"
And Richard turned a terrible look on Moncharmin, which seemed to say:
"Give me back the twenty-thousand francs, or I'll tell the whole story."
Moncharmin understood what he meant, for, with a distracted gesture, he said:
"Oh, tell everything and have done with it!"
As for Mifroid, he looked at the managers and at Raoul by turns and wondered whether he had strayed into a lunatic asylum. He passed his hand through his hair.
"A ghost," he said, "who, on the same evening, carries off an opera-singer and steals twenty-thousand francs is a ghost who must have his hands very full! If you don't mind, we will take the questions in order. The singer first, the twenty-thousand francs after. Come, M. de Chagny, let us try to talk seriously. You believe that Mlle. Christine Daae has been carried off by an individual called Erik. Do you know this person? Have you seen him?"
"In a church yard."
M. Mifroid gave a start, began to scrutinize Raoul again and said:
"Of course! ... That's where ghosts usually hang out! ... And what were you doing in that churchyard?"
"Monsieur," said Raoul, "I can quite understand how absurd my replies must seem to you. But I beg you to believe that I am in full possession of my faculties. The safety of the person dearest to me in the world is at stake. I should like to convince you in a few words, for time is pressing and every minute is valuable. Unfortunately, if I do not tell you the strangest story that ever was from the beginning, you will not believe me. I will tell you all I know about the Opera ghost, M. Commissary. Alas, I do not know much! ..."
"Never mind, go on, go on!" exclaimed Richard and Moncharmin, suddenly greatly interested.
Unfortunately for their hopes of learning some detail that could put them on the track of their hoaxer, they were soon compelled to accept the fact that M. Raoul de Chagny had completely lost his head. All that story about Perros-Guirec, death's heads and enchanted violins, could only have taken birth in the disordered brain of a youth mad with love. It was evident, also, that Mr. Commissary Mifroid shared their view; and the magistrate would certainly have cut short the incoherent narrative if circumstances had not taken it upon themselves to interrupt it.
The door opened and a man entered, curiously dressed in an enormous frock-coat and a tall hat, at once shabby and shiny, that came down to his ears. He went up to the commissary and spoke to him in a whisper. It was doubtless a detective come to deliver an important communication.
During this conversation, M. Mifroid did not take his eyes off Raoul. At last, addressing him, he said:
"Monsieur, we have talked enough about the ghost. We will now talk about yourself a little, if you have no objection: you were to carry off Mlle. Christine Daae to-night?"
"Yes, M. le Commissaire."
"After the performance?"
"Yes, M. le Commissaire."
"All your arrangements were made?"
"Yes, M. le Commissaire."
"The carriage that brought you was to take you both away... There were fresh horses in readiness at every stage ..."
"That is true, M. le Commissaire."
"And nevertheless your carriage is still outside the Rotunda awaiting your orders, is it not?"
"Yes, M. le Commissaire."
"Did you know that there were three other carriages there, in addition to yours?"
"I did not pay the least attention."
"They were the carriages of Mlle. Sorelli, which could not find room in the Cour de l'Administration; of Carlotta; and of your brother, M. le Comte de Chagny..."
"What is certain is that, though your carriage and Sorelli's and Carlotta's are still there, by the Rotunda pavement, M. le Comte de Chagny's carriage is gone."
"This has nothing to say to ..."
"I beg your pardon. Was not M. le Comte opposed to your marriage with Mlle. Daae?"
"That is a matter that only concerns the family."
"You have answered my question: he was opposed to it ... and that was why you were carrying Christine Daae out of your brother's reach... Well, M. de Chagny, allow me to inform you that your brother has been smarter than you! It is he who has carried off Christine Daae!"
"Oh, impossible!" moaned Raoul, pressing his hand to his heart. "Are you sure?"
"Immediately after the artist's disappearance, which was procured by means which we have still to ascertain, he flung into his carriage, which drove right across Paris at a furious pace."
"Across Paris?" asked poor Raoul, in a hoarse voice. "What do you mean by across Paris?"
"Across Paris and out of Paris ... by the Brussels road."
"Oh," cried the young man, "I shall catch them!" And he rushed out of the office.
"And bring her back to us!" cried the commisary gaily ... "Ah, that's a trick worth two of the Angel of Music's!"
And, turning to his audience, M. Mifroid delivered a little lecture on police methods.
"I don't know for a moment whether M. le Comte de Chagny has really carried Christine Daae off or not ... but I want to know and I believe that, at this moment, no one is more anxious to inform us than his brother ... And now he is flying in pursuit of him! He is my chief auxiliary! This, gentlemen, is the art of the police, which is believed to be so complicated and which, nevertheless appears so simple as soon its you see that it consists in getting your work done by people who have nothing to do with the police."
But M. le Commissaire de Police Mifroid would not have been quite so satisfied with himself if he had known that the rush of his rapid emissary was stopped at the entrance to the very first corridor. A tall figure blocked Raoul's way.
"Where are you going so fast, M. de Chagny?" asked a voice.
Raoul impatiently raised his eyes and recognized the astrakhan cap of an hour ago. He stopped:
"It's you!" he cried, in a feverish voice. "You, who know Erik's secrets and don't want me to speak of them. Who are you?"
"You know who I am! ... I am the Persian!"
Chapter XIX The Viscount and the Persian
Raoul now remembered that his brother had once shown him that mysterious person, of whom nothing was known except that he was a Persian and that he lived in a little old-fashioned flat in the Rue de Rivoli.
The man with the ebony skin, the eyes of jade and the astrakhan cap bent over Raoul.
"I hope, M. de Chagny," he said, "that you have not betrayed Erik's secret?"
"And why should I hesitate to betray that monster, sir?" Raoul rejoined haughtily, trying to shake off the intruder. "Is he your friend, by any chance?"
"I hope that you said nothing about Erik, sir, because Erik's secret is also Christine Daae's and to talk about one is to talk about the other!"
"Oh, sir," said Raoul, becoming more and more impatient, "you seem to know about many things that interest me; and yet I have no time to listen to you!"
"Once more, M. de Chagny, where are you going so fast?"
"Can not you guess? To Christine Daae's assistance..."
"Then, sir, stay here, for Christine Daae is here!"
"How do you know?"
"I was at the performance and no one in the world but Erik could contrive an abduction like that! ... Oh," he said, with a deep sigh, "I recognized the monster's touch! ..."
"You know him then?"
The Persian did not reply, but heaved a fresh sigh.
"Sir," said Raoul, "I do not know what your intentions are, but can you do anything to help me? I mean, to help Christine Daae?"
"I think so, M. de Chagny, and that is why I spoke to you."
"What can you do?"
"Try to take you to her ... and to him."
"If you can do me that service, sir, my life is yours! ... One word more: the commissary of police tells me that Christine Daae has been carried off by my brother, Count Philippe."
"Oh, M. de Chagny, I don't believe a word of it."
"It's not possible, is it?"
"I don't know if it is possible or not; but there are ways and ways of carrying people off; and M. le Comte Philippe has never, as far as I know, had anything to do with witchcraft."
"Your arguments are convincing, sir, and I am a fool! ... Oh, let us make haste! I place myself entirely in your hands! ... How should I not believe you, when you are the only one to believe me ... when you are the only one not to smile when Erik's name is mentioned?"
And the young man impetuously seized the Persian's hands. They were ice-cold.
"Silence!" said the Persian, stopping and listening to the distant sounds of the theater. "We must not mention that name here. Let us say 'he' and 'him;' then there will be less danger of attracting his attention."
"Do you think he is near us?"
"It is quite possible, Sir, if he is not, at this moment, with his victim, IN THE HOUSE ON THE LAKE."
"Ah, so you know that house too?"
"If he is not there, he may be here, in this wall, in this floor, in this ceiling! ... Come!"
And the Persian, asking Raoul to deaden the sound of his footsteps, led him down passages which Raoul had never seen before, even at the time when Christine used to take him for walks through that labyrinth.
"If only Darius has come!" said the Persian.
"Who is Darius?"
"Darius? My servant."
They were now in the center of a real deserted square, an immense apartment ill-lit by a small lamp. The Persian stopped Raoul and, in the softest of whispers, asked:
"What did you say to the commissary?"
"I said that Christine Daae's abductor was the Angel of Music, ALIAS the Opera ghost, and that the real name was ..."
"Hush! ... And did he believe you?"
"He attached no importance to what you said?"
"He took you for a bit of a madman?"
"So much the better!" sighed the Persian.
And they continued their road. After going up and down several staircases which Raoul had never seen before, the two men found themselves in front of a door which the Persian opened with a master-key. The Persian and Raoul were both, of course, in dress-clothes; but, whereas Raoul had a tall hat, the Persian wore the astrakhan cap which I have already mentioned. It was an infringement of the rule which insists upon the tall hat behind the scenes; but in France foreigners are allowed every license: the Englishman his traveling-cap, the Persian his cap of astrakhan.
"Sir," said the Persian, "your tall hat will be in your way: you would do well to leave it in the dressing-room."
"What dressing-room?" asked Raoul.
And the Persian, letting Raoul through the door which he had just opened, showed him the actress' room opposite. They were at the end of the passage the whole length of which Raoul had been accustomed to traverse before knocking at Christine's door.
"How well you know the Opera, sir!"
"Not so well as 'he' does!" said the Persian modestly.
And he pushed the young man into Christine's dressing-room, which was as Raoul had left it a few minutes earlier.
Closing the door, the Persian went to a very thin partition that separated the dressing-room from a big lumber-room next to it. He listened and then coughed loudly.
There was a sound of some one stirring in the lumber-room; and, a few seconds later, a finger tapped at the door.
"Come in," said the Persian.
A man entered, also wearing an astrakhan cap and dressed in a long overcoat. He bowed and took a richly carved case from under his coat, put it on the dressing-table, bowed once again and went to the door.
"Did no one see you come in, Darius?"
"Let no one see you go out."
The servant glanced down the passage and swiftly disappeared.
The Persian opened the case. It contained a pair of long pistols.
"When Christine Daae was carried off, sir, I sent word to my servant to bring me these pistols. I have had them a long time and they can be relied upon."
"Do you mean to fight a duel?" asked the young man.
"It will certainly be a duel which we shall have to fight," said the other, examining the priming of his pistols. "And what a duel!" Handing one of the pistols to Raoul, he added, "In this duel, we shall be two to one; but you must be prepared for everything, for we shall be fighting the most terrible adversary that you can imagine. But you love Christine Daae, do you not?"
"I worship the ground she stands on! But you, sir, who do not love her, tell me why I find you ready to risk your life for her! You must certainly hate Erik!"
"No, sir," said the Persian sadly, "I do not hate him. If I hated him, he would long ago have ceased doing harm."
"Has he done you harm?"
"I have forgiven him the harm which he has done me."
"I do not understand you. You treat him as a monster, you speak of his crime, he has done you harm and I find in you the same inexplicable pity that drove me to despair when I saw it in Christine!"
The Persian did not reply. He fetched a stool and set it against the wall facing the great mirror that filled the whole of the wall-space opposite. Then he climbed on the stool and, with his nose to the wallpaper, seemed to be looking for something.
"Ah," he said, after a long search, "I have it!" And, raising his finger above his head, he pressed against a corner in the pattern of the paper. Then he turned round and jumped off the stool:
"In half a minute," he said, "he shall be ON HIS ROAD!" and crossing the whole of the dressing-room he felt the great mirror.
"No, it is not yielding yet," he muttered.
"Oh, are we going out by the mirror?" asked Raoul. "Like Christine Daae."
"So you knew that Christine Daae went out by that mirror?"
"She did so before my eyes, sir! I was hidden behind the curtain of the inner room and I saw her vanish not by the glass, but in the glass!"
"And what did you do?"
"I thought it was an aberration of my senses, a mad dream.
"Or some new fancy of the ghost's!" chuckled the Persian. "Ah, M. de Chagny," he continued, still with his hand on the mirror, "would that we had to do with a ghost! We could then leave our pistols in their case ... Put down your hat, please ... there ... and now cover your shirt-front as much as you can with your coat ... as I am doing ... Bring the lapels forward ... turn up the collar ... We must make ourselves as invisible as possible."
Bearing against the mirror, after a short silence, he said:
"It takes some time to release the counterbalance, when you press on the spring from the inside of the room. It is different when you are behind the wall and can act directly on the counterbalance. Then the mirror turns at once and is moved with incredible rapidity."
"What counterbalance?" asked Raoul.
"Why, the counterbalance that lifts the whole of this wall on to its pivot. You surely don't expect it to move of itself, by enchantment! If you watch, you will see the mirror first rise an inch or two and then shift an inch or two from left to right. It will then be on a pivot and will swing round."
"It's not turning!" said Raoul impatiently.
"Oh, wait! You have time enough to be impatient, sir! The mechanism has obviously become rusty, or else the spring isn't working... Unless it is something else," added the Persian, anxiously.
"He may simply have cut the cord of the counterbalance and blocked the whole apparatus."
"Why should he? He does not know that we are coming this way!"
"I dare say he suspects it, for he knows that I understand the system."
"It's not turning! ... And Christine, sir, Christine?"
The Persian said coldly:
"We shall do all that it is humanly possible to do! ... But he may stop us at the first step! ... He commands the walls, the doors and the trapdoors. In my country, he was known by a name which means the 'trap-door lover.'"
"But why do these walls obey him alone? He did not build them!"
"Yes, sir, that is just what he did!"
Raoul looked at him in amazement; but the Persian made a sign to him to be silent and pointed to the glass ... There was a sort of shivering reflection. Their image was troubled as in a rippling sheet of water and then all became stationary again.
"You see, sir, that it is not turning! Let us take another road!"
"To-night, there is no other!" declared the Persian, in a singularly mournful voice. "And now, look out! And be ready to fire."
He himself raised his pistol opposite the glass. Raoul imitated his movement. With his free arm, the Persian drew the young man to his chest and, suddenly, the mirror turned, in a blinding daze of cross-lights: it turned like one of those revolving doors which have lately been fixed to the entrances of most restaurants, it turned, carrying Raoul and the Persian with it and suddenly hurling them from the full light into the deepest darkness.
Chapter XX In the Cellars of the Opera
"Your hand high, ready to fire!" repeated Raoul's companion quickly.
The wall, behind them, having completed the circle which it described upon itself, closed again; and the two men stood motionless for a moment, holding their breath.
At last, the Persian decided to make a movement; and Raoul heard him slip on his knees and feel for something in the dark with his groping hands. Suddenly, the darkness was made visible by a small dark lantern and Raoul instinctively stepped backward as though to escape the scrutiny of a secret enemy. But he soon perceived that the light belonged to the Persian, whose movements he was closely observing. The little red disk was turned in every direction and Raoul saw that the floor, the walls and the ceiling were all formed of planking. It must have been the ordinary road taken by Erik to reach Christine's dressing-room and impose upon her innocence. And Raoul, remembering the Persian's remark, thought that it had been mysteriously constructed by the ghost himself. Later, he learned that Erik had found, all prepared for him, a secret passage, long known to himself alone and contrived at the time of the Paris Commune to allow the jailers to convey their prisoners straight to the dungeons that had been constructed for them in the cellars; for the Federates had occupied the opera-house immediately after the eighteenth of March and had made a starting-place right at the top for their Mongolfier balloons, which carried their incendiary proclamations to the departments, and a state prison right at the bottom.
The Persian went on his knees and put his lantern on the ground. He seemed to be working at the floor; and suddenly he turned off his light. Then Raoul heard a faint click and saw a very pale luminous square in the floor of the passage. It was as though a window had opened on the Opera cellars, which were still lit. Raoul no longer saw the Persian, but he suddenly felt him by his side and heard him whisper:
"Follow me and do all that I do."
Raoul turned to the luminous aperture. Then he saw the Persian, who was still on his knees, hang by his hands from the rim of the opening, with his pistol between his teeth, and slide into the cellar below.
Curiously enough, the viscount had absolute confidence in the Persian, though he knew nothing about him. His emotion when speaking of the "monster" struck him as sincere; and, if the Persian had cherished any sinister designs against him, he would not have armed him with his own hands. Besides, Raoul must reach Christine at all costs. He therefore went on his knees also and hung from the trap with both hands.
"Let go!" said a voice.
And he dropped into the arms of the Persian, who told him to lie down flat, closed the trap-door above him and crouched down beside him. Raoul tried to ask a question, but the Persian's hand was on his mouth and he heard a voice which he recognized as that of the commissary of police.
Raoul and the Persian were completely hidden behind a wooden partition. Near them, a small staircase led to a little room in which the commissary appeared to be walking up and down, asking questions. The faint light was just enough to enable Raoul to distinguish the shape of things around him. And he could not restrain a dull cry: there were three corpses there.
The first lay on the narrow landing of the little staircase; the two others had rolled to the bottom of the staircase. Raoul could have touched one of the two poor wretches by passing his fingers through the partition.
"Silence!" whispered the Persian.
He too had seen the bodies and he gave one word in explanation:
The commissary's voice was now heard more distinctly. He was asking for information about the system of lighting, which the stage-manager supplied. The commissary therefore must be in the "organ" or its immediate neighborhood.
Contrary to what one might think, especially in connection with an opera-house, the "organ" is not a musical instrument. At that time, electricity was employed only for a very few scenic effects and for the bells. The immense building and the stage itself were still lit by gas; hydrogen was used to regulate and modify the lighting of a scene; and this was done by means of a special apparatus which, because of the multiplicity of its pipes, was known as the "organ." A box beside the prompter's box was reserved for the chief gas-man, who from there gave his orders to his assistants and saw that they were executed. Mauclair stayed in this box during all the performances.
But now Mauclair was not in his box and his assistants not in their places.
The stage-manager's voice echoed through the cellars. But Mauclair did not reply.
I have said that a door opened on a little staircase that led to the second cellar. The commissary pushed it, but it resisted.
"I say," he said to the stage-manager, "I can't open this door: is it always so difficult?"
The stage-manager forced it open with his shoulder. He saw that, at the same time, he was pushing a human body and he could not keep back an exclamation, for he recognized the body at once:
"Mauclair! Poor devil! He is dead!"
But Mr. Commissary Mifroid, whom nothing surprised, was stooping over that big body.
"No," he said, "he is dead-drunk, which is not quite the same thing."
"It's the first time, if so," said the stage-manager
"Then some one has given him a narcotic. That is quite possible."
Mifroid went down a few steps and said:
By the light of a little red lantern, at the foot of the stairs, they saw two other bodies. The stage-manager recognized Mauclair's assistants. Mifroid went down and listened to their breathing.
"They are sound asleep," he said. "Very curious business! Some person unknown must have interfered with the gas-man and his staff ... and that person unknown was obviously working on behalf of the kidnapper ... But what a funny idea to kidnap a performer on the stage! ... Send for the doctor of the theater, please." And Mifroid repeated, "Curious, decidedly curious business!"
Then he turned to the little room, addressing the people whom Raoul and the Persian were unable to see from where they lay.
"What do you say to all this, gentlemen? You are the only ones who have not given your views. And yet you must have an opinion of some sort."
Thereupon, Raoul and the Persian saw the startled faces of the joint managers appear above the landing—and they heard Moncharmin's excited voice:
"There are things happening here, Mr. Commissary, which we are unable to explain."
And the two faces disappeared.
"Thank you for the information, gentlemen," said Mifroid, with a jeer.
But the stage-manager, holding his chin in the hollow of his right hand, which is the attitude of profound thought, said:
"It is not the first time that Mauclair has fallen asleep in the theater. I remember finding him, one evening, snoring in his little recess, with his snuff-box beside him."
"Is that long ago?" asked M. Mifroid, carefully wiping his eye-glasses.
"No, not so very long ago ... Wait a bit! ... It was the night ... of course, yes ... It was the night when Carlotta—you know, Mr. Commissary—gave her famous 'co-ack'!"
"Really? The night when Carlotta gave her famous 'co-ack'?"
And M. Mifroid, replacing his gleaming glasses on his nose, fixed the stage-manager with a contemplative stare.
"So Mauclair takes snuff, does he?" he asked carelessly.
"'Yes, Mr. Commissary ... Look, there is his snuff-box on that little shelf ... Oh! he's a great snuff-taker!"
"So am I," said Mifroid and put the snuff-box in his pocket.
Raoul and the Persian, themselves unobserved, watched the removal of the three bodies by a number of scene-shifters, who were followed by the commissary and all the people with him. Their steps were heard for a few minutes on the stage above. When they were alone the Persian made a sign to Raoul to stand up. Raoul did so; but, as he did not lift his hand in front of his eyes, ready to fire, the Persian told him to resume that attitude and to continue it, whatever happened.
"But it tires the hand unnecessarily," whispered Raoul. "If I do fire, I shan't be sure of my aim."
"Then shift your pistol to the other hand," said the Persian.
"I can't shoot with my left hand."
Thereupon, the Persian made this queer reply, which was certainly not calculated to throw light into the young man's flurried brain:
"It's not a question of shooting with the right hand or the left; it's a question of holding one of your hands as though you were going to pull the trigger of a pistol with your arm bent. As for the pistol itself, when all is said, you can put that in your pocket!" And he added, "Let this be clearly understood, or I will answer for nothing. It is a matter of life and death. And now, silence and follow me!"
The cellars of the Opera are enormous and they are five in number. Raoul followed the Persian and wondered what he would have done without his companion in that extraordinary labyrinth. They went down to the third cellar; and their progress was still lit by some distant lamp.
The lower they went, the more precautions the Persian seemed to take. He kept on turning to Raoul to see if he was holding his arm properly, showing him how he himself carried his hand as if always ready to fire, though the pistol was in his pocket.
Suddenly, a loud voice made them stop. Some one above them shouted:
"All the door-shutters on the stage! The commissary of police wants them!"
Steps were heard and shadows glided through the darkness. The Persian drew Raoul behind a set piece. They saw passing before and above them old men bent by age and the past burden of opera-scenery. Some could hardly drag themselves along; others, from habit, with stooping bodies and outstretched hands, looked for doors to shut.
They were the door-shutters, the old, worn-out scene-shifters, on whom a charitable management had taken pity, giving them the job of shutting doors above and below the stage. They went about incessantly, from top to bottom of the building, shutting the doors; and they were also called "The draft-expellers," at least at that time, for I have little doubt that by now they are all dead. Drafts are very bad for the voice, wherever they may come from.
The two men might have stumbled over them, waking them up and provoking a request for explanations. For the moment, M. Mifroid's inquiry saved them from any such unpleasant encounters.
The Persian and Raoul welcomed this incident, which relieved them of inconvenient witnesses, for some of those door-shutters, having nothing else to do or nowhere to lay their heads, stayed at the Opera, from idleness or necessity, and spent the night there.
But they were not left to enjoy their solitude for long. Other shades now came down by the same way by which the door-shutters had gone up. Each of these shades carried a little lantern and moved it about, above, below and all around, as though looking for something or somebody.
"Hang it!" muttered the Persian. "I don't know what they are looking for, but they might easily find us ... Let us get away, quick! ... Your hand up, sir, ready to fire! ... Bend your arm ... more ... that's it! ... Hand at the level of your eye, as though you were fighting a duel and waiting for the word to fire! Oh, leave your pistol in your pocket. Quick, come along, down-stairs. Level of your eye! Question of life or death! ... Here, this way, these stairs!" They reached the fifth cellar. "Oh, what a duel, sir, what a duel!"
Once in the fifth cellar, the Persian drew breath. He seemed to enjoy a rather greater sense of security than he had displayed when they both stopped in the third; but he never altered the attitude of his hand. And Raoul, remembering the Persian's observation—"I know these pistols can be relied upon"—was more and more astonished, wondering why any one should be so gratified at being able to rely upon a pistol which he did not intend to use!
But the Persian left him no time for reflection. Telling Raoul to stay where he was, he ran up a few steps of the staircase which they had just left and then returned.
"How stupid of us!" he whispered. "We shall soon have seen the end of those men with their lanterns. It is the firemen going their rounds."
The two men waited five minutes longer. Then the Persian took Raoul up the stairs again; but suddenly he stopped him with a gesture. Something moved in the darkness before them.
"Flat on your stomach!" whispered the Persian.
The two men lay flat on the floor.
They were only just in time. A shade, this time carrying no light, just a shade in the shade, passed. It passed close to them, near enough to touch them.
They felt the warmth of its cloak upon them. For they could distinguish the shade sufficiently to see that it wore a cloak which shrouded it from head to foot. On its head it had a soft felt hat ...
It moved away, drawing its feet against the walls and sometimes giving a kick into a corner.
"Whew!" said the Persian. "We've had a narrow escape; that shade knows me and has twice taken me to the managers' office."
"Is it some one belonging to the theater police?" asked Raoul.
"It's some one much worse than that!" replied the Persian, without giving any further explanation.
"It's not ... he?"
"He? ... If he does not come behind us, we shall always see his yellow eyes! That is more or less our safeguard to-night. But he may come from behind, stealing up; and we are dead men if we do not keep our hands as though about to fire, at the level of our eyes, in front!"
The Persian had hardly finished speaking, when a fantastic face came in sight ... a whole fiery face, not only two yellow eyes!
Yes, a head of fire came toward them, at a man's height, but with no body attached to it. The face shed fire, looked in the darkness like a flame shaped as a man's face.
"Oh," said the Persian, between his teeth. "I have never seen this before! ... Pampin was not mad, after all: he had seen it! ... What can that flame be? It is not HE, but he may have sent it! ... Take care! ... Take care! Your hand at the level of your eyes, in Heaven's name, at the level of your eyes! ... know most of his tricks ... but not this one ... Come, let us run ... it is safer. Hand at the level of your eyes!"
And they fled down the long passage that opened before them.
After a few seconds, that seemed to them like long minutes, they stopped.
"He doesn't often come this way," said the Persian. "This side has nothing to do with him. This side does not lead to the lake nor to the house on the lake ... But perhaps he knows that we are at his heels ... although I promised him to leave him alone and never to meddle in his business again!"
So saying, he turned his head and Raoul also turned his head; and they again saw the head of fire behind their two heads. It had followed them. And it must have run also, and perhaps faster than they, for it seemed to be nearer to them.
At the same time, they began to perceive a certain noise of which they could not guess the nature. They simply noticed that the sound seemed to move and to approach with the fiery face. It was a noise as though thousands of nails had been scraped against a blackboard, the perfectly unendurable noise that is sometimes made by a little stone inside the chalk that grates on the blackboard.
They continued to retreat, but the fiery face came on, came on, gaining on them. They could see its features clearly now. The eyes were round and staring, the nose a little crooked and the mouth large, with a hanging lower lip, very like the eyes, nose and lip of the moon, when the moon is quite red, bright red.
How did that red moon manage to glide through the darkness, at a man's height, with nothing to support it, at least apparently? And how did it go so fast, so straight ahead, with such staring, staring eyes? And what was that scratching, scraping, grating sound which it brought with it?
The Persian and Raoul could retreat no farther and flattened themselves against the wall, not knowing what was going to happen because of that incomprehensible head of fire, and especially now, because of the more intense, swarming, living, "numerous" sound, for the sound was certainly made up of hundreds of little sounds that moved in the darkness, under the fiery face.
And the fiery face came on ... with its noise ... came level with them! ...
And the two companions, flat against their wall, felt their hair stand on end with horror, for they now knew what the thousand noises meant. They came in a troop, hustled along in the shadow by innumerable little hurried waves, swifter than the waves that rush over the sands at high tide, little night-waves foaming under the moon, under the fiery head that was like a moon. And the little waves passed between their legs, climbing up their legs, irresistibly, and Raoul and the Persian could no longer restrain their cries of horror, dismay and pain. Nor could they continue to hold their hands at the level of their eyes: their hands went down to their legs to push back the waves, which were full of little legs and nails and claws and teeth.
Yes, Raoul and the Persian were ready to faint, like Pampin the fireman. But the head of fire turned round in answer to their cries, and spoke to them:
"Don't move! Don't move! ... Whatever you do, don't come after me! ... I am the rat-catcher! ... Let me pass, with my rats! ..."
And the head of fire disappeared, vanished in the darkness, while the passage in front of it lit up, as the result of the change which the rat-catcher had made in his dark lantern. Before, so as not to scare the rats in front of him, he had turned his dark lantern on himself, lighting up his own head; now, to hasten their flight, he lit the dark space in front of him. And he jumped along, dragging with him the waves of scratching rats, all the thousand sounds.
Raoul and the Persian breathed again, though still trembling.
"I ought to have remembered that Erik talked to me about the rat-catcher," said the Persian. "But he never told me that he looked like that ... and it's funny that I should never have met him before ... Of course, Erik never comes to this part!"
"Are we very far from the lake, sir?" asked Raoul. "When shall we get there? ... Take me to the lake, oh, take me to the lake! ... When we are at the lake, we will call out! ... Christine will hear us! ... And HE will hear us, too! ... And, as you know him, we shall talk to him!" "Baby!" said the Persian. "We shall never enter the house on the lake by the lake! ... I myself have never landed on the other bank ... the bank on which the house stands. ... You have to cross the lake first ... and it is well guarded! ... I fear that more than one of those men—old scene-shifters, old door-shutters—who have never been seen again were simply tempted to cross the lake ... It is terrible ... I myself would have been nearly killed there ... if the monster had not recognized me in time! ... One piece of advice, sir; never go near the lake... And, above all, shut your ears if you hear the voice singing under the water, the siren's voice!"
"But then, what are we here for?" asked Raoul, in a transport of fever, impatience and rage. "If you can do nothing for Christine, at least let me die for her!" The Persian tried to calm the young man.
"We have only one means of saving Christine Daae, believe me, which is to enter the house unperceived by the monster."
"And is there any hope of that, sir?"
"Ah, if I had not that hope, I would not have come to fetch you!"
"And how can one enter the house on the lake without crossing the lake?"
"From the third cellar, from which we were so unluckily driven away. We will go back there now ... I will tell you," said the Persian, with a sudden change in his voice, "I will tell you the exact place, sir: it is between a set piece and a discarded scene from ROI DE LAHORE, exactly at the spot where Joseph Buquet died... Come, sir, take courage and follow me! And hold your hand at the level of your eyes! ... But where are we?"
The Persian lit his lamp again and flung its rays down two enormous corridors that crossed each other at right angles.
"We must be," he said, "in the part used more particularly for the waterworks. I see no fire coming from the furnaces."
He went in front of Raoul, seeking his road, stopping abruptly when he was afraid of meeting some waterman. Then they had to protect themselves against the glow of a sort of underground forge, which the men were extinguishing, and at which Raoul recognized the demons whom Christine had seen at the time of her first captivity.
In this way, they gradually arrived beneath the huge cellars below the stage. They must at this time have been at the very bottom of the "tub" and at an extremely great depth, when we remember that the earth was dug out at fifty feet below the water that lay under the whole of that part of Paris.
The Persian touched a partition-wall and said:
"If I am not mistaken, this is a wall that might easily belong to the house on the lake."
He was striking a partition-wall of the "tub," and perhaps it would be as well for the reader to know how the bottom and the partition-walls of the tub were built. In order to prevent the water surrounding the building-operations from remaining in immediate contact with the walls supporting the whole of the theatrical machinery, the architect was obliged to build a double case in every direction. The work of constructing this double case took a whole year. It was the wall of the first inner case that the Persian struck when speaking to Raoul of the house on the lake. To any one understanding the architecture of the edifice, the Persian's action would seem to indicate that Erik's mysterious house had been built in the double case, formed of a thick wall constructed as an embankment or dam, then of a brick wall, a tremendous layer of cement and another wall several yards in thickness.
At the Persian's words, Raoul flung himself against the wall and listened eagerly. But he heard nothing ... nothing ... except distant steps sounding on the floor of the upper portions of the theater.
The Persian darkened his lantern again.
"Look out!" he said. "Keep your hand up! And silence! For we shall try another way of getting in."
And he led him to the little staircase by which they had come down lately.
They went up, stopping at each step, peering into the darkness and the silence, till they came to the third cellar. Here the Persian motioned to Raoul to go on his knees; and, in this way, crawling on both knees and one hand—for the other hand was held in the position indicated—they reached the end wall.
Against this wall stood a large discarded scene from the ROI DE LAHORE. Close to this scene was a set piece. Between the scene and the set piece there was just room for a body ... for a body which one day was found hanging there. The body of Joseph Buquet.
The Persian, still kneeling, stopped and listened. For a moment, he seemed to hesitate and looked at Raoul; then he turned his eyes upward, toward the second cellar, which sent down the faint glimmer of a lantern, through a cranny between two boards. This glimmer seemed to trouble the Persian.
At last, he tossed his head and made up his mind to act. He slipped between the set piece and the scene from the ROI DE LAHORE, with Raoul close upon his heels. With his free hand, the Persian felt the wall. Raoul saw him bear heavily upon the wall, just as he had pressed against the wall in Christine's dressing-room. Then a stone gave way, leaving a hole in the wall.
This time, the Persian took his pistol from his pocket and made a sign to Raoul to do as he did. He cocked the pistol.
And, resolutely, still on his knees, he wiggled through the hole in the wall. Raoul, who had wished to pass first, had to be content to follow him.
The hole was very narrow. The Persian stopped almost at once. Raoul heard him feeling the stones around him. Then the Persian took out his dark lantern again, stooped forward, examined something beneath him and immediately extinguished his lantern. Raoul heard him say, in a whisper:
"We shall have to drop a few yards, without making a noise; take off your boots."
The Persian handed his own shoes to Raoul.
"Put them outside the wall," he said. "We shall find them there when we leave."
He crawled a little farther on his knees, then turned right round and said:
"I am going to hang by my hands from the edge of the stone and let myself drop INTO HIS HOUSE. You must do exactly the same. Do not be afraid. I will catch you in my arms."
Raoul soon heard a dull sound, evidently produced by the fall of the Persian, and then dropped down.
He felt himself clasped in the Persian's arms.
"Hush!" said the Persian.
And they stood motionless, listening.
The darkness was thick around them, the silence heavy and terrible.
Then the Persian began to make play with the dark lantern again, turning the rays over their heads, looking for the hole through which they had come, and failing to find it:
"Oh!" he said. "The stone has closed of itself!"
And the light of the lantern swept down the wall and over the floor.
The Persian stooped and picked up something, a sort of cord, which he examined for a second and flung away with horror.
"The Punjab lasso!" he muttered.
"What is it?" asked Raoul.
The Persian shivered. "It might very well be the rope by which the man was hanged, and which was looked for so long."
And, suddenly seized with fresh anxiety, he moved the little red disk of his lantern over the walls. In this way, he lit up a curious thing: the trunk of a tree, which seemed still quite alive, with its leaves; and the branches of that tree ran right up the walls and disappeared in the ceiling.
Because of the smallness of the luminous disk, it was difficult at first to make out the appearance of things: they saw a corner of a branch ... and a leaf ... and another leaf ... and, next to it, nothing at all, nothing but the ray of light that seemed to reflect itself ... Raoul passed his hand over that nothing, over that reflection.
"Hullo!" he said. "The wall is a looking-glass!"
"Yes, a looking-glass!" said the Persian, in a tone of deep emotion. And, passing the hand that held the pistol over his moist forehead, he added, "We have dropped into the torture-chamber!"
What the Persian knew of this torture-chamber and what there befell him and his companion shall be told in his own words, as set down in a manuscript which he left behind him, and which I copy VERBATIM.
 M. Pedro Gailhard has himself told me that he created a few additional posts as door-shutters for old stage-carpenters whom he was unwilling to dismiss from the service of the Opera.
 In those days, it was still part of the firemen's duty to watch over the safety of the Opera house outside the performances; but this service has since been suppressed. I asked M. Pedro Gailhard the reason, and he replied:
"It was because the management was afraid that, in their utter inexperience of the cellars of the Opera, the firemen might set fire to the building!"
 Like the Persian, I can give no further explanation touching the apparition of this shade. Whereas, in this historic narrative, everything else will be normally explained, however abnormal the course of events may seem, I can not give the reader expressly to understand what the Persian meant by the words, "It is some one much worse than that!" The reader must try to guess for himself, for I promised M. Pedro Gailhard, the former manager of the Opera, to keep his secret regarding the extremely interesting and useful personality of the wandering, cloaked shade which, while condemning itself to live in the cellars of the Opera, rendered such immense services to those who, on gala evenings, for instance, venture to stray away from the stage. I am speaking of state services; and, upon my word of honor, I can say no more.
 All the water had to be exhausted, in the building of the Opera. To give an idea of the amount of water that was pumped up, I can tell the reader that it represented the area of the courtyard of the Louvre and a height half as deep again as the towers of Notre Dame. And nevertheless the engineers had to leave a lake.
 These two pairs of boots, which were placed, according to the Persian's papers, just between the set piece and the scene from the ROI DE LAHORE, on the spot where Joseph Buquet was found hanging, were never discovered. They must have been taken by some stage-carpenter or "door-shutter."
Chapter XXI Interesting and Instructive Vicissitudes of a Persian in the Cellars of the Opera
THE PERSIAN'S NARRATIVE
It was the first time that I entered the house on the lake. I had often begged the "trap-door lover," as we used to call Erik in my country, to open its mysterious doors to me. He always refused. I made very many attempts, but in vain, to obtain admittance. Watch him as I might, after I first learned that he had taken up his permanent abode at the Opera, the darkness was always too thick to enable me to see how he worked the door in the wall on the lake. One day, when I thought myself alone, I stepped into the boat and rowed toward that part of the wall through which I had seen Erik disappear. It was then that I came into contact with the siren who guarded the approach and whose charm was very nearly fatal to me.
I had no sooner put off from the bank than the silence amid which I floated on the water was disturbed by a sort of whispered singing that hovered all around me. It was half breath, half music; it rose softly from the waters of the lake; and I was surrounded by it through I knew not what artifice. It followed me, moved with me and was so soft that it did not alarm me. On the contrary, in my longing to approach the source of that sweet and enticing harmony, I leaned out of my little boat over the water, for there was no doubt in my mind that the singing came from the water itself. By this time, I was alone in the boat in the middle of the lake; the voice—for it was now distinctly a voice—was beside me, on the water. I leaned over, leaned still farther. The lake was perfectly calm, and a moonbeam that passed through the air hole in the Rue Scribe showed me absolutely nothing on its surface, which was smooth and black as ink. I shook my ears to get rid of a possible humming; but I soon had to accept the fact that there was no humming in the ears so harmonious as the singing whisper that followed and now attracted me.
Had I been inclined to superstition, I should have certainly thought that I had to do with some siren whose business it was to confound the traveler who should venture on the waters of the house on the lake. Fortunately, I come from a country where we are too fond of fantastic things not to know them through and through; and I had no doubt but that I was face to face with some new invention of Erik's. But this invention was so perfect that, as I leaned out of the boat, I was impelled less by a desire to discover its trick than to enjoy its charm; and I leaned out, leaned out until I almost overturned the boat.
Suddenly, two monstrous arms issued from the bosom of the waters and seized me by the neck, dragging me down to the depths with irresistible force. I should certainly have been lost, if I had not had time to give a cry by which Erik knew me. For it was he; and, instead of drowning me, as was certainly his first intention, he swam with me and laid me gently on the bank:
"How imprudent you are!" he said, as he stood before me, dripping with water. "Why try to enter my house? I never invited you! I don't want you there, nor anybody! Did you save my life only to make it unbearable to me? However great the service you rendered him, Erik may end by forgetting it; and you know that nothing can restrain Erik, not even Erik himself."
He spoke, but I had now no other wish than to know what I already called the trick of the siren. He satisfied my curiosity, for Erik, who is a real monster—I have seen him at work in Persia, alas—is also, in certain respects, a regular child, vain and self-conceited, and there is nothing he loves so much, after astonishing people, as to prove all the really miraculous ingenuity of his mind.
He laughed and showed me a long reed.
"It's the silliest trick you ever saw," he said, "but it's very useful for breathing and singing in the water. I learned it from the Tonkin pirates, who are able to remain hidden for hours in the beds of the rivers."
I spoke to him severely.
"It's a trick that nearly killed me!" I said. "And it may have been fatal to others! You know what you promised me, Erik? No more murders!"
"Have I really committed murders?" he asked, putting on his most amiable air.
"Wretched man!" I cried. "Have you forgotten the rosy hours of Mazenderan?"
"Yes," he replied, in a sadder tone, "I prefer to forget them. I used to make the little sultana laugh, though!"
"All that belongs to the past," I declared; "but there is the present ... and you are responsible to me for the present, because, if I had wished, there would have been none at all for you. Remember that, Erik: I saved your life!"
And I took advantage of the turn of conversation to speak to him of something that had long been on my mind:
"Erik," I asked, "Erik, swear that ..."
"What?" he retorted. "You know I never keep my oaths. Oaths are made to catch gulls with."
"Tell me ... you can tell me, at any rate..."
"Well, the chandelier ... the chandelier, Erik? ..."
"What about the chandelier?"
"You know what I mean."
"Oh," he sniggered, "I don't mind telling you about the chandelier! ... IT WASN'T I! ... The chandelier was very old and worn."
When Erik laughed, he was more terrible than ever. He jumped into the boat, chuckling so horribly that I could not help trembling.
"Very old and worn, my dear daroga! Very old and worn, the chandelier! ... It fell of itself! ... It came down with a smash! ... And now, daroga, take my advice and go and dry yourself, or you'll catch a cold in the head! ... And never get into my boat again ... And, whatever you do, don't try to enter my house: I'm not always there ... daroga! And I should be sorry to have to dedicate my Requiem Mass to you!"
So saying, swinging to and fro, like a monkey, and still chuckling, he pushed off and soon disappeared in the darkness of the lake.
From that day, I gave up all thought of penetrating into his house by the lake. That entrance was obviously too well guarded, especially since he had learned that I knew about it. But I felt that there must be another entrance, for I had often seen Erik disappear in the third cellar, when I was watching him, though I could not imagine how.
Ever since I had discovered Erik installed in the Opera, I lived in a perpetual terror of his horrible fancies, not in so far as I was concerned, but I dreaded everything for others.
And whenever some accident, some fatal event happened, I always thought to myself, "I should not be surprised if that were Erik," even as others used to say, "It's the ghost!" How often have I not heard people utter that phrase with a smile! Poor devils! If they had known that the ghost existed in the flesh, I swear they would not have laughed!
Although Erik announced to me very solemnly that he had changed and that he had become the most virtuous of men SINCE HE WAS LOVED FOR HIMSELF—a sentence that, at first, perplexed me most terribly—I could not help shuddering when I thought of the monster. His horrible, unparalleled and repulsive ugliness put him without the pale of humanity; and it often seemed to me that, for this reason, he no longer believed that he had any duty toward the human race. The way in which he spoke of his love affairs only increased my alarm, for I foresaw the cause of fresh and more hideous tragedies in this event to which he alluded so boastfully.
On the other hand, I soon discovered the curious moral traffic established between the monster and Christine Daae. Hiding in the lumber-room next to the young prima donna's dressing-room, I listened to wonderful musical displays that evidently flung Christine into marvelous ecstasy; but, all the same, I would never have thought that Erik's voice—which was loud as thunder or soft as angels' voices, at will—could have made her forget his ugliness. I understood all when I learned that Christine had not yet seen him! I had occasion to go to the dressing-room and, remembering the lessons he had once given me, I had no difficulty in discovering the trick that made the wall with the mirror swing round and I ascertained the means of hollow bricks and so on—by which he made his voice carry to Christine as though she heard it close beside her. In this way also I discovered the road that led to the well and the dungeon—the Communists' dungeon—and also the trap-door that enabled Erik to go straight to the cellars below the stage.
A few days later, what was not my amazement to learn by my own eyes and ears that Erik and Christine Daae saw each other and to catch the monster stooping over the little well, in the Communists' road and sprinkling the forehead of Christine Daae, who had fainted. A white horse, the horse out of the PROFETA, which had disappeared from the stables under the Opera, was standing quietly beside them. I showed myself. It was terrible. I saw sparks fly from those yellow eyes and, before I had time to say a word, I received a blow on the head that stunned me.
When I came to myself, Erik, Christine and the white horse had disappeared. I felt sure that the poor girl was a prisoner in the house on the lake. Without hesitation, I resolved to return to the bank, notwithstanding the attendant danger. For twenty-four hours, I lay in wait for the monster to appear; for I felt that he must go out, driven by the need of obtaining provisions. And, in this connection, I may say, that, when he went out in the streets or ventured to show himself in public, he wore a pasteboard nose, with a mustache attached to it, instead of his own horrible hole of a nose. This did not quite take away his corpse-like air, but it made him almost, I say almost, endurable to look at.
I therefore watched on the bank of the lake and, weary of long waiting, was beginning to think that he had gone through the other door, the door in the third cellar, when I heard a slight splashing in the dark, I saw the two yellow eyes shining like candles and soon the boat touched shore. Erik jumped out and walked up to me:
"You've been here for twenty-four hours," he said, "and you're annoying me. I tell you, all this will end very badly. And you will have brought it upon yourself; for I have been extraordinarily patient with you. You think you are following me, you great booby, whereas it's I who am following you; and I know all that you know about me, here. I spared you yesterday, in MY COMMUNISTS' ROAD; but I warn you, seriously, don't let me catch you there again! Upon my word, you don't seem able to take a hint!"
He was so furious that I did not think, for the moment, of interrupting him. After puffing and blowing like a walrus, he put his horrible thought into words:
"Yes, you must learn, once and for all—once and for all, I say—to take a hint! I tell you that, with your recklessness—for you have already been twice arrested by the shade in the felt hat, who did not know what you were doing in the cellars and took you to the managers, who looked upon you as an eccentric Persian interested in stage mechanism and life behind the scenes: I know all about it, I was there, in the office; you know I am everywhere—well, I tell you that, with your recklessness, they will end by wondering what you are after here ... and they will end by knowing that you are after Erik ... and then they will be after Erik themselves and they will discover the house on the lake ... If they do, it will be a bad lookout for you, old chap, a bad lookout! ... I won't answer for anything."
Again he puffed and blew like a walrus.
"I won't answer for anything! ... If Erik's secrets cease to be Erik's secrets, IT WILL BE A BAD LOOKOUT FOR A GOODLY NUMBER OF THE HUMAN RACE! That's all I have to tell you, and unless you are a great booby, it ought to be enough for you ... except that you don't know how to take a hint."
He had sat down on the stern of his boat and was kicking his heels against the planks, waiting to hear what I had to answer. I simply said:
"It's not Erik that I'm after here!"
"You know as well as I do: it's Christine Daae," I answered.
He retorted: "I have every right to see her in my own house. I am loved for my own sake."
"That's not true," I said. "You have carried her off and are keeping her locked up."
"Listen," he said. "Will you promise never to meddle with my affairs again, if I prove to you that I am loved for my own sake?"
"Yes, I promise you," I replied, without hesitation, for I felt convinced that for such a monster the proof was impossible.
"Well, then, it's quite simple ... Christine Daae shall leave this as she pleases and come back again! ... Yes, come back again, because she wishes ... come back of herself, because she loves me for myself! ..."
"Oh, I doubt if she will come back! ... But it is your duty to let her go." "My duty, you great booby! ... It is my wish ... my wish to let her go; and she will come back again ... for she loves me! ... All this will end in a marriage ... a marriage at the Madeleine, you great booby! Do you believe me now? When I tell you that my nuptial mass is written ... wait till you hear the KYRIE..."
He beat time with his heels on the planks of the boat and sang:
"KYRIE! ... KYRIE! ... KYRIE ELEISON! ... Wait till you hear, wait till you hear that mass."
"Look here," I said. "I shall believe you if I see Christine Daae come out of the house on the lake and go back to it of her own accord."
"And you won't meddle any more in my affairs?"
"Very well, you shall see that to-night. Come to the masked ball. Christine and I will go and have a look round. Then you can hide in the lumber-room and you shall see Christine, who will have gone to her dressing-room, delighted to come back by the Communists' road... And, now, be off, for I must go and do some shopping!"
To my intense astonishment, things happened as he had announced. Christine Daae left the house on the lake and returned to it several times, without, apparently, being forced to do so. It was very difficult for me to clear my mind of Erik. However, I resolved to be extremely prudent, and did not make the mistake of returning to the shore of the lake, or of going by the Communists' road. But the idea of the secret entrance in the third cellar haunted me, and I repeatedly went and waited for hours behind a scene from the Roi de Lahore, which had been left there for some reason or other. At last my patience was rewarded. One day, I saw the monster come toward me, on his knees. I was certain that he could not see me. He passed between the scene behind which I stood and a set piece, went to the wall and pressed on a spring that moved a stone and afforded him an ingress. He passed through this, and the stone closed behind him.
I waited for at least thirty minutes and then pressed the spring in my turn. Everything happened as with Erik. But I was careful not to go through the hole myself, for I knew that Erik was inside. On the other hand, the idea that I might be caught by Erik suddenly made me think of the death of Joseph Buquet. I did not wish to jeopardize the advantages of so great a discovery which might be useful to many people, "to a goodly number of the human race," in Erik's words; and I left the cellars of the Opera after carefully replacing the stone.
I continued to be greatly interested in the relations between Erik and Christine Daae, not from any morbid curiosity, but because of the terrible thought which obsessed my mind that Erik was capable of anything, if he once discovered that he was not loved for his own sake, as he imagined. I continued to wander, very cautiously, about the Opera and soon learned the truth about the monster's dreary love-affair.
He filled Christine's mind, through the terror with which he inspired her, but the dear child's heart belonged wholly to the Vicomte Raoul de Chagny. While they played about, like an innocent engaged couple, on the upper floors of the Opera, to avoid the monster, they little suspected that some one was watching over them. I was prepared to do anything: to kill the monster, if necessary, and explain to the police afterward. But Erik did not show himself; and I felt none the more comfortable for that.
I must explain my whole plan. I thought that the monster, being driven from his house by jealousy, would thus enable me to enter it, without danger, through the passage in the third cellar. It was important, for everybody's sake, that I should know exactly what was inside. One day, tired of waiting for an opportunity, I moved the stone and at once heard an astounding music: the monster was working at his Don Juan Triumphant, with every door in his house wide open. I knew that this was the work of his life. I was careful not to stir and remained prudently in my dark hole.
He stopped playing, for a moment, and began walking about his place, like a madman. And he said aloud, at the top of his voice:
"It must be finished FIRST! Quite finished!"
This speech was not calculated to reassure me and, when the music recommenced, I closed the stone very softly.
On the day of the abduction of Christine Daae, I did not come to the theater until rather late in the evening, trembling lest I should hear bad news. I had spent a horrible day, for, after reading in a morning paper the announcement of a forthcoming marriage between Christine and the Vicomte de Chagny, I wondered whether, after all, I should not do better to denounce the monster. But reason returned to me, and I was persuaded that this action could only precipitate a possible catastrophe.
When, my cab set me down before the Opera, I was really almost astonished to see it still standing! But I am something of a fatalist, like all good Orientals, and I entered ready, for anything.
Christine Daae's abduction in the Prison Act, which naturally surprised everybody, found me prepared. I was quite certain that she had been juggled away by Erik, that prince of conjurers. And I thought positively that this was the end of Christine and perhaps of everybody, so much so that I thought of advising all these people who were staying on at the theater to make good their escape. I felt, however, that they would be sure to look upon me as mad and I refrained.
On the other hand, I resolved to act without further delay, as far as I was concerned. The chances were in my favor that Erik, at that moment, was thinking only of his captive. This was the moment to enter his house through the third cellar; and I resolved to take with me that poor little desperate viscount, who, at the first suggestion, accepted, with an amount of confidence in myself that touched me profoundly. I had sent my servant for my pistols. I gave one to the viscount and advised him to hold himself ready to fire, for, after all, Erik might be waiting for us behind the wall. We were to go by the Communists' road and through the trap-door.
Seeing my pistols, the little viscount asked me if we were going to fight a duel. I said:
"Yes; and what a duel!" But, of course, I had no time to explain anything to him. The little viscount is a brave fellow, but he knew hardly anything about his adversary; and it was so much the better. My great fear was that he was already somewhere near us, preparing the Punjab lasso. No one knows better than he how to throw the Punjab lasso, for he is the king of stranglers even as he is the prince of conjurors. When he had finished making the little sultana laugh, at the time of the "rosy hours of Mazenderan," she herself used to ask him to amuse her by giving her a thrill. It was then that he introduced the sport of the Punjab lasso.
He had lived in India and acquired an incredible skill in the art of strangulation. He would make them lock him into a courtyard to which they brought a warrior—usually, a man condemned to death—armed with a long pike and broadsword. Erik had only his lasso; and it was always just when the warrior thought that he was going to fell Erik with a tremendous blow that we heard the lasso whistle through the air. With a turn of the wrist, Erik tightened the noose round his adversary's neck and, in this fashion, dragged him before the little sultana and her women, who sat looking from a window and applauding. The little sultana herself learned to wield the Punjab lasso and killed several of her women and even of the friends who visited her. But I prefer to drop this terrible subject of the rosy hours of Mazenderan. I have mentioned it only to explain why, on arriving with the Vicomte de Chagny in the cellars of the Opera, I was bound to protect my companion against the ever-threatening danger of death by strangling. My pistols could serve no purpose, for Erik was not likely to show himself; but Erik could always strangle us. I had no time to explain all this to the viscount; besides, there was nothing to be gained by complicating the position. I simply told M. de Chagny to keep his hand at the level of his eyes, with the arm bent, as though waiting for the command to fire. With his victim in this attitude, it is impossible even for the most expert strangler to throw the lasso with advantage. It catches you not only round the neck, but also round the arm or hand. This enables you easily to unloose the lasso, which then becomes harmless.
After avoiding the commissary of police, a number of door-shutters and the firemen, after meeting the rat-catcher and passing the man in the felt hat unperceived, the viscount and I arrived without obstacle in the third cellar, between the set piece and the scene from the Roi de Lahore. I worked the stone, and we jumped into the house which Erik had built himself in the double case of the foundation-walls of the Opera. And this was the easiest thing in the world for him to do, because Erik was one of the chief contractors under Philippe Garnier, the architect of the Opera, and continued to work by himself when the works were officially suspended, during the war, the siege of Paris and the Commune.
I knew my Erik too well to feel at all comfortable on jumping into his house. I knew what he had made of a certain palace at Mazenderan. From being the most honest building conceivable, he soon turned it into a house of the very devil, where you could not utter a word but it was overheard or repeated by an echo. With his trap-doors the monster was responsible for endless tragedies of all kinds. He hit upon astonishing inventions. Of these, the most curious, horrible and dangerous was the so-called torture-chamber. Except in special cases, when the little sultana amused herself by inflicting suffering upon some unoffending citizen, no one was let into it but wretches condemned to death. And, even then, when these had "had enough," they were always at liberty to put an end to themselves with a Punjab lasso or bowstring, left for their use at the foot of an iron tree.
My alarm, therefore, was great when I saw that the room into which M. le Vicomte de Chagny and I had dropped was an exact copy of the torture-chamber of the rosy hours of Mazenderan. At our feet, I found the Punjab lasso which I had been dreading all the evening. I was convinced that this rope had already done duty for Joseph Buquet, who, like myself, must have caught Erik one evening working the stone in the third cellar. He probably tried it in his turn, fell into the torture-chamber and only left it hanged. I can well imagine Erik dragging the body, in order to get rid of it, to the scene from the Roi de Lahore, and hanging it there as an example, or to increase the superstitious terror that was to help him in guarding the approaches to his lair! Then, upon reflection, Erik went back to fetch the Punjab lasso, which is very curiously made out of catgut, and which might have set an examining magistrate thinking. This explains the disappearance of the rope.
And now I discovered the lasso, at our feet, in the torture-chamber! ... I am no coward, but a cold sweat covered my forehead as I moved the little red disk of my lantern over the walls.
M. de Chagny noticed it and asked:
"What is the matter, sir?"
I made him a violent sign to be silent.
 An official report from Tonkin, received in Paris at the end of July, 1909, relates how the famous pirate chief De Tham was tracked, together with his men, by our soldiers; and how all of them succeeded in escaping, thanks to this trick of the reeds.
 DAROGA is Persian for chief of police.
 The Persian might easily have admitted that Erik's fate also interested himself, for he was well aware that, if the government of Teheran had learned that Erik was still alive, it would have been all up with the modest pension of the erstwhile daroga. It is only fair, however, to add that the Persian had a noble and generous heart; and I do not doubt for a moment that the catastrophes which he feared for others greatly occupied his mind. His conduct, throughout this business, proves it and is above all praise.
Chapter XXII In the Torture Chamber
THE PERSIAN'S NARRATIVE CONTINUED
We were in the middle of a little six-cornered room, the sides of which were covered with mirrors from top to bottom. In the corners, we could clearly see the "joins" in the glasses, the segments intended to turn on their gear; yes, I recognized them and I recognized the iron tree in the corner, at the bottom of one of those segments ... the iron tree, with its iron branch, for the hanged men.
I seized my companion's arm: the Vicomte de Chagny was all a-quiver, eager to shout to his betrothed that he was bringing her help. I feared that he would not be able to contain himself.
Suddenly, we heard a noise on our left. It sounded at first like a door opening and shutting in the next room; and then there was a dull moan. I clutched M. de Chagny's arm more firmly still; and then we distinctly heard these words:
"You must make your choice! The wedding mass or the requiem mass!" I recognized the voice of the monster.
There was another moan, followed by a long silence.
I was persuaded by now that the monster was unaware of our presence in his house, for otherwise he would certainly have managed not to let us hear him. He would only have had to close the little invisible window through which the torture-lovers look down into the torture-chamber. Besides, I was certain that, if he had known of our presence, the tortures would have begun at once.
The important thing was not to let him know; and I dreaded nothing so much as the impulsiveness of the Vicomte de Chagny, who wanted to rush through the walls to Christine Daae, whose moans we continued to hear at intervals.
"The requiem mass is not at all gay," Erik's voice resumed, "whereas the wedding mass—you can take my word for it—is magnificent! You must take a resolution and know your own mind! I can't go on living like this, like a mole in a burrow! Don Juan Triumphant is finished; and now I want to live like everybody else. I want to have a wife like everybody else and to take her out on Sundays. I have invented a mask that makes me look like anybody. People will not even turn round in the streets. You will be the happiest of women. And we will sing, all by ourselves, till we swoon away with delight. You are crying! You are afraid of me! And yet I am not really wicked. Love me and you shall see! All I wanted was to be loved for myself. If you loved me I should be as gentle as a lamb; and you could do anything with me that you pleased."
Soon the moans that accompanied this sort of love's litany increased and increased. I have never heard anything more despairing; and M. de Chagny and I recognized that this terrible lamentation came from Erik himself. Christine seemed to be standing dumb with horror, without the strength to cry out, while the monster was on his knees before her.
Three times over, Erik fiercely bewailed his fate:
"You don't love me! You don't love me! You don't love me!"
And then, more gently:
"Why do you cry? You know it gives me pain to see you cry!"
Each silence gave us fresh hope. We said to ourselves:
"Perhaps he has left Christine behind the wall."
And we thought only of the possibility of warning Christine Daae of our presence, unknown to the monster. We were unable to leave the torture-chamber now, unless Christine opened the door to us; and it was only on this condition that we could hope to help her, for we did not even know where the door might be.
Suddenly, the silence in the next room was disturbed by the ringing of an electric bell. There was a bound on the other side of the wall and Erik's voice of thunder:
"Somebody ringing! Walk in, please!"
A sinister chuckle.
"Who has come bothering now? Wait for me here ... I AM GOING TO TELL THE SIREN TO OPEN THE DOOR."
Steps moved away, a door closed. I had no time to think of the fresh horror that was preparing; I forgot that the monster was only going out perhaps to perpetrate a fresh crime; I understood but one thing: Christine was alone behind the wall!
The Vicomte de Chagny was already calling to her:
As we could hear what was said in the next room, there was no reason why my companion should not be heard in his turn. Nevertheless, the viscount had to repeat his cry time after time.