Personal Relations with the Opera Ghost
Before following the commissary into the manager's office I must describe certain extraordinary occurrences that took place in that office which Remy and Mercier had vainly tried to enter and into which MM. Richard and Moncharmin had locked themselves with an object which the reader does not yet know, but which it is my duty, as an historian, to reveal without further postponement.
I have had occasion to say that the managers' mood had undergone a disagreeable change for some time past and to convey the fact that this change was due not only to the fall of the chandelier on the famous night of the gala performance.
The reader must know that the ghost had calmly been paid his first twenty thousand francs. Oh, there had been wailing and gnashing of teeth, indeed! And yet the thing had happened as simply as could be.
One morning, the managers found on their table an envelope addressed to "Monsieur O. G. (private)" and accompanied by a note from O. G. himself:
The time has come to carry out the clause in the memorandum-book. Please put twenty notes of a thousand francs each into this envelope, seal it with your own seal and hand it to Mme. Giry, who will do what is necessary.
The managers did not hesitate; without wasting time in asking how these confounded communications came to be delivered in an office which they were careful to keep locked, they seized this opportunity of laying hands, on the mysterious blackmailer. And, after telling the whole story, under the promise of secrecy, to Gabriel and Mercier, they put the twenty thousand francs into the envelope and without asking for explanations, handed it to Mme. Giry, who had been reinstated in her functions. The box-keeper displayed no astonishment. I need hardly say that she was well watched. She went straight to the ghost's box and placed the precious envelope on the little shelf attached to the ledge. The two managers, as well as Gabriel and Mercier, were hidden in such a way that they did not lose sight of the envelope for a second during the performance and even afterward, for, as the envelope had not moved, those who watched it did not move either; and Mme. Giry went away while the managers, Gabriel and Mercier were still there. At last, they became tired of waiting and opened the envelope, after ascertaining that the seals had not been broken.
At first sight, Richard and Moncharmin thought that the notes were still there; but soon they perceived that they were not the same. The twenty real notes were gone and had been replaced by twenty notes, of the "Bank of St. Farce"!
---- 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.
The managers' rage and fright were unmistakable. Moncharmin wanted to send for the commissary of police, but Richard objected. He no doubt had a plan, for he said:
"Don't let us make ourselves ridiculous! All Paris would laugh at us. O. G. has won the first game: we will win the second."
He was thinking of the next month's allowance.
Nevertheless, they had been so absolutely tricked that they were bound to suffer a certain dejection. And, upon my word, it was not difficult to understand. We must not forget that the managers had an idea at the back of their minds, all the time, that this strange incident might be an unpleasant practical joke on the part of their predecessors and that it would not do to divulge it prematurely. On the other hand, Moncharmin was sometimes troubled with a suspicion of Richard himself, who occasionally took fanciful whims into his head. And so they were content to await events, while keeping an eye on Mother Giry. Richard would not have her spoken to.
"If she is a confederate," he said, "the notes are gone long ago. But, in my opinion, she is merely an idiot."
"She's not the only idiot in this business," said Moncharmin pensively.
"Well, who could have thought it?" moaned Richard. "But don't be afraid...next time, I shall have taken my precautions."
The next time fell on the same day that beheld the disappearance of Christine Daae. In the morning, a note from the ghost reminded them that the money was due. It read:
Do just as you did last time. It went very well. Put the twenty thousand in the envelope and hand it to our excellent Mme. Giry.
And the note was accompanied by the usual envelope. They had only to insert the notes.
This was done about half an hour before the curtain rose on the first act of Faust. Richard showed the envelope to Moncharmin. Then he counted the twenty thousand-franc notes in front of him and put the notes into the envelope, but without closing it.
"And now," he said, "let's have Mother Giry in."
The old woman was sent for. She entered with a sweeping courtesy. She still wore her black taffeta dress, the color of which was rapidly turning to rust and lilac, to say nothing of the dingy bonnet. She seemed in a good temper. She at once said:
"Good evening, gentlemen! It's for the envelope, I suppose?"
"Yes, Mme. Giry," said Richard, most amiably. "For the envelope ... and something else besides."
"At your service, M. Richard, at your service. And what is the something else, please?"
"First of all, Mme. Giry, I have a little question to put to you."
"By all means, M. Richard: Mme. Giry is here to answer you."
"Are you still on good terms with the ghost?"
"Couldn't be better, sir; couldn't be better."
"Ah, we are delighted....Look here, Mme. Giry," said Richard, in the tone of making an important confidence. "We may just as well tell you, among ourselves...you're no fool!"
"Why, sir," exclaimed the box-keeper, stopping the pleasant nodding of the black feathers in her dingy bonnet, "I assure you no one has ever doubted that!"
"We are quite agreed and we shall soon understand one another. The story of the ghost is all humbug, isn't it?...Well, still between ourselves,...it has lasted long enough."
Mme. Giry looked at the managers as though they were talking Chinese. She walked up to Richard's table and asked, rather anxiously:
"What do you mean? I don't understand."
"Oh, you, understand quite well. In any case, you've got to understand. ... And, first of all, tell us his name."
"The name of the man whose accomplice you are, Mme. Giry!"
"I am the ghost's accomplice? I?...His accomplice in what, pray?"
"You do all he wants."
"Oh! He's not very troublesome, you know."
"And does he still tip you?"
"I mustn't complain."
"How much does he give you for bringing him that envelope?"
"You poor thing! That's not much, is it?
"I'll tell you that presently, Mme. Giry. Just now we should like to know for what extraordinary reason you have given yourself body and soul, to this ghost...Mme. Giry's friendship and devotion are not to be bought for five francs or ten francs."
"That's true enough....And I can tell you the reason, sir. There's no disgrace about it. .. on the contrary."
"We're quite sure of that, Mme. Giry!"
"Well, it's like this...only the ghost doesn't like me to talk about his business."
"Indeed?" sneered Richard.
"But this is a matter that concerns myself alone....Well, it was in Box Five one evening, I found a letter addressed to myself, a sort of note written in red ink. I needn't read the letter to you sir; I know it by heart, and I shall never forget it if I live to be a hundred!"
And Mme. Giry, drawing herself up, recited the letter with touching eloquence:
1825. Mlle. Menetrier, leader of the ballet, became Marquise de Cussy.
1832. Mlle. Marie Taglioni, a dancer, became Comtesse Gilbert des Voisins.
1846. La Sota, a dancer, married a brother of the King of Spain.
1847. Lola Montes, a dancer, became the morganatic wife of King Louis of Bavaria and was created Countess of Landsfeld.
1848. Mlle. Maria, a dancer, became Baronne d'Herneville.
1870. Theresa Hessier, a dancer, married Dom Fernando, brother to the King of Portugal.
Richard and Moncharmin listened to the old woman, who, as she proceeded with the enumeration of these glorious nuptials, swelled out, took courage and, at last, in a voice bursting with pride, flung out the last sentence of the prophetic letter:
1885. Meg Giry, Empress!
Exhausted by this supreme effort, the box-keeper fell into a chair, saying:
"Gentlemen, the letter was signed, `Opera Ghost.' I had heard much of the ghost, but only half believed in him. From the day when he declared that my little Meg, the flesh of my flesh, the fruit of my womb, would be empress, I believed in him altogether."
And really it was not necessary to make a long study of Mme. Giry's excited features to understand what could be got out of that fine intellect with the two words "ghost" and "empress."
But who pulled the strings of that extraordinary puppet? That was the question.
"You have never seen him; he speaks to you and you believe all he says?" asked Moncharmin.
"Yes. To begin with, I owe it to him that my little Meg was promoted to be the leader of a row. I said to the ghost, `If she is to be empress in 1885, there is no time to lose; she must become a leader at once.' He said, `Look upon it as done.' And he had only a word to say to M. Poligny and the thing was done."
"So you see that M. Poligny saw him!"
"No, not any more than I did; but he heard him. The ghost said a word in his ear, you know, on the evening when he left Box Five, looking so dreadfully pale."
Moncharmin heaved a sigh. "What a business!" he groaned.
"Ah!" said Mme. Giry. "I always thought there were secrets between the ghost and M. Poligny. Anything that the ghost asked M. Poligny to do M. Poligny did. M. Poligny could refuse the ghost nothing."
"You hear, Richard: Poligny could refuse the ghost nothing."
"Yes, yes, I hear!" said Richard. "M. Poligny is a friend of the ghost; and, as Mme. Giry is a friend of M. Poligny, there we are! ... But I don't care a hang about M. Poligny," he added roughly. "The only person whose fate really interests me is Mme. Giry. ... Mme. Giry, do you know what is in this envelope?"
"Why, of course not," she said.
Mine. Giry looked into the envelope with a lackluster eye, which soon recovered its brilliancy.
"Thousand-franc notes!" she cried.
"Yes, Mme. Giry, thousand-franc notes! And you knew it!"
"I, sir? I?...I swear..."
"Don't swear, Mme. Giry!...And now I will tell you the second reason why I sent for you. Mme. Giry, I am going to have you arrested."
The two black feathers on the dingy bonnet, which usually affected the attitude of two notes of interrogation, changed into two notes of exclamation; as for the bonnet itself, it swayed in menace on the old lady's tempestuous chignon. Surprise, indignation, protest and dismay were furthermore displayed by little Meg's mother in a sort of extravagant movement of offended virtue, half bound, half slide, that brought her right under the nose of M. Richard, who could not help pushing back his chair.
"HAVE ME ARRESTED!"
The mouth that spoke those words seemed to spit the three teeth that were left to it into Richard's face.
M. Richard behaved like a hero. He retreated no farther. His threatening forefinger seemed already to be pointing out the keeper of Box Five to the absent magistrates.
"I am going to have you arrested, Mme. Giry, as a thief!"
"Say that again!"
And Mme. Giry caught Mr. Manager Richard a mighty box on the ear, before Mr. Manager Mencharmin had time to intervene. But it was not the withered hand of the angry old beldame that fell on the managerial ear, but the envelope itself, the cause of all the trouble, the magic envelope that opened with the blow, scattering the bank-notes, which escaped in a fantastic whirl of giant butterflies.
The two managers gave a shout, and the same thought made them both go on their knees, feverishly, picking up and hurriedly examining the precious scraps of paper.
"Are they still genuine, Moncharmin?"
"Are they still genuine, Richard?"
"Yes, they are still genuine!"
Above their heads, Mme. Giry's three teeth were clashing in a noisy contest, full of hideous interjections. But all that could be dearly distinguished was this LEIT-MOTIF:
"I, a thief!...I, a thief, I?"
She choked with rage. She shouted:
"I never heard of such a thing!"
And, suddenly, she darted up to Richard again.
"In any case," she yelped, "you, M. Richard, ought to know better than I where the twenty thousand francs went to!"
"I?" asked Richard, astounded. "And how should I know?"
Moncharmin, looking severe and dissatisfied, at once insisted that the good lady should explain herself.
"What does this mean, Mme. Giry?" he asked. "And why do you say that M. Richard ought to know better than you where the twenty-thousand francs went to?"
As for Richard, who felt himself turning red under Moncharmin's eyes, he took Mme. Giry by the wrist and shook it violently. In a voice growling and rolling like thunder, he roared:
"Why should I know better than you where the twenty-thousand francs went to? Why? Answer me!"
"Because they went into your pocket!" gasped the old woman, looking at him as if he were the devil incarnate.
Richard would have rushed upon Mme. Giry, if Moncharmin had not stayed his avenging hand and hastened to ask her, more gently:
"How can you suspect my partner, M. Richard, of putting twenty-thousand francs in his pocket?"
"I never said that," declared Mme. Giry, "seeing that it was myself who put the twenty-thousand francs into M. Richard's pocket." And she added, under her voice, "There! It's out!...And may the ghost forgive me!"
Richard began bellowing anew, but Moncharmin authoritatively ordered him to be silent.
"Allow me! Allow me! Let the woman explain herself. Let me question her." And he added: "It is really astonishing that you should take up such a tone!...We are on the verge of clearing up the whole mystery. And you're in a rage!...You're wrong to behave like that. .. I'm enjoying myself immensely."
Mme. Giry, like the martyr that she was, raised her head, her face beaming with faith in her own innocence.
"You tell me there were twenty-thousand francs in the envelope which I put into M. Richard's pocket; but I tell you again that I knew nothing about it... Nor M. Richard either, for that matter!"
"Aha!" said Richard, suddenly assuming a swaggering air which Moncharmin did not like. "I knew nothing either! You put twenty-thousand francs in my pocket and I knew nothing either! I am very glad to hear it, Mme. Giry!"
"Yes," the terrible dame agreed, "yes, it's true. We neither of us knew anything. But you, you must have ended by finding out!"
Richard would certainly have swallowed Mme. Giry alive, if Moncharmin had not been there! But Moncharmin protected her. He resumed his questions:
"What sort of envelope did you put in M. Richard's pocket? It was not the one which we gave you, the one which you took to Box Five before our eyes; and yet that was the one which contained the twenty-thousand francs."
"I beg your pardon. The envelope which M. le Directeur gave me was the one which I slipped into M. le Directeur's pocket," explained Mme. Giry. "The one which I took to the ghost's box was another envelope, just like it, which the ghost gave me beforehand and which I hid up my sleeve."
So saying, Mme. Giry took from her sleeve an envelope ready prepared and similarly addressed to that containing the twenty-thousand francs. The managers took it from her. They examined it and saw that it was fastened with seals stamped with their own managerial seal. They opened it. It contained twenty Bank of St. Farce notes like those which had so much astounded them the month before.
"How simple!" said Richard.
"How simple!" repeated Moncharmin. And he continued with his eyes fixed upon Mme. Giry, as though trying to hypnotize her.
"So it was the ghost who gave you this envelope and told you to substitute it for the one which we gave you? And it was the ghost who told you to put the other into M. Richard's pocket?"
"Yes, it was the ghost."
"Then would you mind giving us a specimen of your little talents? Here is the envelope. Act as though we knew nothing."
"As you please, gentlemen."
Mme. Giry took the envelope with the twenty notes inside it and made for the door. She was on the point of going out when the two managers rushed at her:
"Oh, no! Oh, no! We're not going to be `done' a second time! Once bitten, twice shy!"
"I beg your pardon, gentlemen," said the old woman, in self-excuse, "you told me to act as though you knew nothing....Well, if you knew nothing, I should go away with your envelope!"
"And then how would you slip it into my pocket?" argued Richard, whom Moncharmin fixed with his left eye, while keeping his right on Mme. Giry: a proceeding likely to strain his sight, but Mon-MME. GIRY' charmin was prepared to go to any length to discover the truth.
"I am to slip it into your pocket when you least expect it, sir. You know that I always take a little turn behind the scenes, in the course of the evening, and I often go with my daughter to the ballet-foyer, which I am entitled to do, as her mother; I bring her her shoes, when the ballet is about to begin...in fact, I come and go as I please....The subscribers come and go too. ... So do you, sir....There are lots of people about... I go behind you and slip the envelope into the tail-pocket of your dress-coat....There's no witchcraft about that!"
"No witchcraft!" growled Richard, rolling his eyes like Jupiter Tonans. "No witchcraft! Why, I've just caught you in a lie, you old witch!"
Mme. Giry bristled, with her three teeth sticking out of her mouth.
"And why, may I ask?"
"Because I spent that evening watching Box Five and the sham envelope which you put there. I did not go to the ballet-foyer for a second."
"No, sir, and I did not give you the envelope that evening, but at the next performance...on the evening when the under-secretary of state for fine arts..."
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!"