The New Margarita
On the first landing, Sorelli ran against the Comte de Chagny,
who was coming up-stairs. The count, who was generally so calm,
seemed greatly excited.
"I was just going to you," he said, taking off his hat. "Oh, Sorelli,
what an evening! And Christine Daaé: what a triumph!"
"Impossible!" said Meg Giry. "Six months ago, she used to sing like
a crock! But do let us get by, my dear count," continues the brat,
with a saucy curtsey. "We are going to inquire after a poor man
who was found hanging by the neck."
Just then the acting-manager came fussing past and stopped when he
heard this remark.
"What!" he exclaimed roughly. "Have you girls heard already?
Well, please forget about it for tonight--and above all don't let
M. Debienne and M. Poligny hear; it would upset them too much
on their last day."
They all went on to the foyer of the ballet, which was already full
of people. The Comte de Chagny was right; no gala performance ever
equalled this one. All the great composers of the day had conducted their
own works in turns. Faure and Krauss had sung; and, on that evening,
Christine Daaé had revealed her true self, for the first time,
to the astonished and enthusiastic audience. Gounod had conducted
the Funeral March of a Marionnette; Reyer, his beautiful overture
to Siguar; Saint Saëns, the Danse Macabre and a Reverie Orientale;
Massenet, an unpublished Hungarian march; Guiraud, his Carnaval;
Delibes, the Valse Lente from Sylvia and the Pizzicati from Coppelia.
Mlle. Krauss had sung the bolero in the Vespri Siciliani;
and Mlle. Denise Bloch the drinking song in Lucrezia Borgia.
But the real triumph was reserved for Christine Daaé, who had
begun by singing a few passages from Romeo and Juliet. It was
the first time that the young artist sang in this work of Gounod,
which had not been transferred to the Opera and which was revived
at the Opéra Comique after it had been produced at the old Theatre
Lyrique by Mme. Carvalho. Those who heard her say that her voice,
in these passages, was seraphic; but this was nothing to the superhuman
notes that she gave forth in the prison scene and the final trio
in Faust, which she sang in the place of La Carlotta, who was ill.
No one had ever heard or seen anything like it.
Daaé revealed a new Margarita that night, a Margarita of a splendor,
a radiance hitherto unsuspected. The whole house went mad,
rising to its feet, shouting, cheering, clapping, while Christine
sobbed and fainted in the arms of her fellow-singers and had to be
carried to her dressing-room. A few subscribers, however, protested.
Why had so great a treasure been kept from them all that time?
Till then, Christine Daaé had played a good Siebel to Carlotta's
rather too splendidly material Margarita. And it had needed
Carlotta's incomprehensible and inexcusable absence from this gala
night for the little Daaé, at a moment's warning, to show all that she
could do in a part of the program reserved for the Spanish diva!
Well, what the subscribers wanted to know was, why had Debienne
and Poligny applied to Daaé, when Carlotta was taken ill? Did they
know of her hidden genius? And, if they knew of it, why had they
kept it hidden? And why had she kept it hidden? Oddly enough,
she was not known to have a professor of singing at that moment.
She had often said she meant to practise alone for the future.
The whole thing was a mystery.
The Comte de Chagny, standing up in his box, listened to all this
frenzy and took part in it by loudly applauding. Philippe Georges
Marie Comte de Chagny was just forty-one years of age.
He was a great aristocrat and a good-looking man, above middle
height and with attractive features, in spite of his hard forehead
and his rather cold eyes. He was exquisitely polite to the women
and a little haughty to the men, who did not always forgive him
for his successes in society. He had an excellent heart and an
irreproachable conscience. On the death of old Count Philibert,
he became the head of one of the oldest and most distinguished
families in France, whose arms dated back to the fourteenth century.
The Chagnys owned a great deal of property; and, when the old count,
who was a widower, died, it was no easy task for Philippe to accept
the management of so large an estate. His two sisters and his
brother, Raoul, would not hear of a division and waived their claim
to their shares, leaving themselves entirely in Philippe's hands,
as though the right of primogeniture had never ceased to exist.
When the two sisters married, on the same day, they received their
portion from their brother, not as a thing rightfully belonging
to them, but as a dowry for which they thanked him.
The Comtesse de Chagny, née de Moerogis de La Martyniere, had died in
giving birth to Raoul, who was born twenty years after his elder brother.
At the time of the old count's death, Raoul was twelve years of age.
Philippe busied himself actively with the youngster's education.
He was admirably assisted in this work first by his sisters
and afterward by an old aunt, the widow of a naval officer,
who lived at Brest and gave young Raoul a taste for the sea.
The lad entered the Borda training-ship, finished his course
with honors and quietly made his trip round the world. Thanks to
powerful influence, he had just been appointed a member of the official
expedition on board the Requin, which was to be sent to the Arctic
Circle in search of the survivors of the D'Artoi's expedition,
of whom nothing had been heard for three years. Meanwhile, he was
enjoying a long furlough which would not be over for six months;
and already the dowagers of the Faubourg Saint-Germain were pitying
the handsome and apparently delicate stripling for the hard work
in store for him.
The shyness of the sailor-lad--I was almost saying his innocence--was
remarkable. He seemed to have but just left the women's
apron-strings. As a matter of fact, petted as he was by his two
sisters and his old aunt, he had retained from this purely feminine
education mnnners that were almost candid and stamped with a charm
that nothing had yet been able to sully. He was a little over
twenty-one years of age and looked eighteen. He had a small,
fair mustache, beautiful blue eyes and a complexion like a girl's.
Philippe spoiled Raoul. To begin with, he was very proud of him
and pleased to foresee a glorious career for his junior in the navy
in which one of their ancestors, the famous Chagny de La Roche,
had held the rank of admiral. He took advantage of the young
man's leave of absence to show him Paris, with all its luxurious
and artistic delights. The count considered that, at Raoul's age,
it is not good to be too good. Philippe himself had a character
that was very well-balanced in work and pleasure alike;
his demeanor was always faultless; and he was incapable of setting
his brother a bad example. He took him with him wherever he went.
He even introduced him to the foyer of the ballet. I know that
the count was said to be "on terms" with Sorelli. But it could
hardly be reckoned as a crime for this nobleman, a bachelor,
with plenty of leisure, especially since his sisters were settled,
to come and spend an hour or two after dinner in the company
of a dancer, who, though not so very, very witty, had the finest
eyes that ever were seen! And, besides, there are places where
a true Parisian, when he has the rank of the Comte de Chagny,
is bound to show himself; and at that time the foyer of the ballet
at the Opera was one of those places.
Lastly, Philippe would perhaps not have taken his brother behind
the scenes of the Opera if Raoul had not been the first to ask him,
repeatedly renewing his request with a gentle obstinacy which
the count remembered at a later date.
On that evening, Philippe, after applauding the Daaé, turned to
Raoul and saw that he was quite pale.
"Don't you see," said Raoul, "that the woman's fainting?"
"You look like fainting yourself," said the count. "What's the matter?"
But Raoul had recovered himself and was standing up.
"Let's go and see," he said, "she never sang like that before."
The count gave his brother a curious smiling glance and seemed quite pleased.
They were soon at the door leading from the house to the stage.
Numbers of subscribers were slowly making their way through.
Raoul tore his gloves without knowing what he was doing and Philippe
had much too kind a heart to laugh at him for his impatience.
But he now understood why Raoul was absent-minded when spoken to
and why he always tried to turn every conversation to the subject
of the Opera.
They reached the stage and pushed through the crowd of gentlemen,
scene-shifters, supers and chorus-girls, Raoul leading the way,
feeling that his heart no longer belonged to him, his face set
with passion, while Count Philippe followed him with difficulty
and continued to smile. At the back of the stage, Raoul had to stop
before the inrush of the little troop of ballet-girls who blocked
the passage which he was trying to enter. More than one chaffing
phrase darted from little made-up lips, to which he did not reply;
and at last he was able to pass, and dived into the
of a corridor ringing with the name of "Daaé! Daaé!" The count
was surprised to find that Raoul knew the way. He had never taken
him to Christine's himself and came to the conclusion that Raoul must
have gone there alone while the count stayed talking in the foyer
with Sorelli, who often asked him to wait until it was her time to
"go on" and sometimes handed him the little gaiters in which she ran
down from her dressing-room to preserve the spotlessness of her satin
dancing-shoes and her flesh-colored tights. Sorelli had an excuse;
she had lost her mother.
Postponing his usual visit to Sorelli for a few minutes, the count
followed his brother down the passage that led to Daaé's dressing-room
and saw that it had never been so crammed as on that evening,
when the whole house seemed excited by her success and also by her
fainting fit. For the girl had not yet come to; and the doctor
of the theater had just arrived at the moment when Raoul entered
at his heels. Christine, therefore, received the first aid
of the one, while opening her eyes in the arms of the other.
The count and many more remained crowding in the doorway.
"Don't you think, Doctor, that those gentlemen had better clear
the room?" asked Raoul coolly. "There's no breathing here."
"You're quite right," said the doctor.
And he sent every one away, except Raoul and the maid, who looked
at Raoul with eyes of the most undisguised astonishment.
She had never seen him before and yet dared not question him;
and the doctor imagined that the young man was only acting as he did
because he had the right to. The viscount, therefore, remained in
the room watching Christine as she slowly returned to life,
while even the joint managers, Debienne and Poligny, who had come
to offer their sympathy and congratulations, found themselves thrust
into the passage among the crowd of dandies. The Comte de Chagny,
who was one of those standing outside, laughed:
"Oh, the rogue, the rogue!" And he added, under his breath:
"Those youngsters with their school-girl airs! So he's a Chagny
He turned to go to Sorelli's dressing-room, but met her on the way,
with her little troop of trembling ballet-girls, as we have seen.
Meanwhile, Christine Daaé uttered a deep sigh, which was answered
by a groan. She turned her head, saw Raoul and started. She looked
at the doctor, on whom she bestowed a smile, then at her maid,
then at Raoul again.
"Monsieur," she said, in a voice not much above a whisper,
"who are you?"
"Mademoiselle," replied the young man, kneeling on one knee
and pressing a fervent kiss on the diva's hand, "I am the little
boy who went into the sea to rescue your scarf."
Christine again looked at the doctor and the maid; and all three
began to laugh.
Raoul turned very red and stood up.
"Mademoiselle," he said, "since you are pleased not to recognize me,
I should like to say something to you in private, something very important."
"When I am better, do you mind?" And her voice shook. "You have
been very good."
"Yes, you must go," said the doctor, with his pleasantest smile.
"Leave me to attend to mademoiselle."
"I am not ill now," said Christine suddenly, with strange
and unexpected energy.
She rose and passed her hand over her eyelids.
"Thank you, Doctor. I should like to be alone. Please go away,
all of you. Leave me. I feel very restless this evening."
The doctor tried to make a short protest, but, perceiving the girl's
evident agitation, he thought the best remedy was not to thwart her.
And he went away, saying to Raoul, outside:
"She is not herself to-night. She is usually so gentle."
Then he said good night and Raoul was left alone. The whole of this
part of the theater was now deserted. The farewell ceremony was
no doubt taking place in the foyer of the ballet. Raoul thought
that Daaé might go to it and he waited in the silent solitude,
even hiding in the favoring shadow of a doorway. He felt a terrible pain
at his heart and it was of this that he wanted to speak to Daaé without delay.
Suddenly the dressing-room door opened and the maid came out by herself,
carrying bundles. He stopped her and asked how her mistress was.
The woman laughed and said that she was quite well, but that he
must not disturb her, for she wished to be left alone. And she
passed on. One idea alone filled Raoul's burning brain: of course,
Daaé wished to be left alone for him! Had he not told her that he
wanted to speak to her privately?
Hardly breathing, he went up to the dressing-room and, with his
ear to the door to catch her reply, prepared to knock. But his
hand dropped. He had heard a man's voice in the dressing-room, saying,
in a curiously masterful tone:
"Christine, you must love me!"
And Christine's voice, infinitely sad and trembling, as though
accompanied by tears, replied:
"How can you talk like that? When I sing only for you!"
Raoul leaned against the panel to ease his pain. His heart,
which had seemed gone for ever, returned to his breast and
was throbbing loudly. The whole passage echoed with its beating and
Raoul's ears were deafened. Surely, if his heart continued to make
such a noise, they would hear it inside, they would open the door and
the young man would be turned away in disgrace. What a position for a Chagny!
To be caught listening behind a door! He took his heart in his two hands
to make it stop.
The man's voice spoke again: "Are you very tired?"
"Oh, to-night I gave you my soul and I am dead!" Christine replied.
"Your soul is a beautiful thing, child," replied the grave man's voice,
"and I thank you. No emperor ever received so fair a gift.
The angels wept tonight."
Raoul heard nothing after that. Nevertheless, he did not go away,
but, as though he feared lest he should be caught, he returned to
his dark corner, determined to wait for the man to leave the room.
At one and the same time, he had learned what love meant, and hatred.
He knew that he loved. He wanted to know whom he hated. To his
great astonishment, the door opened and Christine Daaé appeared,
wrapped in furs, with her face hidden in a lace veil, alone. She closed
the door behind her, but Raoul observed that she did not lock it.
She passed him. He did not even follow her with his eyes, for his
eyes were fixed on the door, which did not open again.
When the passage was once more deserted, he crossed it,
opened the door of the dressing-room, went in and shut the door.
He found himself in absolute darkness. The gas had been turned out.
"There is some one here!" said Raoul, with his back against
the closed door, in a quivering voice. "What are you hiding for?"
All was darkness and silence. Raoul heard only the sound of his
own breathing. He quite failed to see that the indiscretion
of his conduct was exceeding all bounds.
"You shan't leave this until I let you!" he exclaimed. "If you
don't answer, you are a coward! But I'll expose you!"
And he struck a match. The blaze lit up the room. There was no
one in the room! Raoul, first turning the key in the door, lit the
gas-jets. He went into the dressing-closet, opened the cupboards,
hunted about, felt the walls with his moist hands. Nothing!
"Look here!" he said, aloud. "Am I going mad?"
He stood for ten minutes listening to the gas flaring in the silence
of the empty room; lover though he was, he did not even think of stealing
a ribbon that would have given him the perfume of the woman he loved.
He went out, not knowing what he was doing nor where he was going.
At a given moment in his wayward progress, an icy draft struck
him in the face. He found himself at the bottom of a staircase,
down which, behind him, a procession of workmen were carrying a sort
of stretcher, covered with a white sheet.
"Which is the way out, please?" he asked of one of the men.
"Straight in front of you, the door is open. But let us pass."
Pointing to the stretcher, he asked mechanically: "What's that?"
The workmen answered:
"'That' is Joseph Buquet, who was found in the third cellar,
hanging between a farm-house and a scene from the Roi de Lahore."
He took off his hat, fell back to make room for the procession
and went out.
Next: The Mysterious Reason