Stage 3 (Journeyman): The Phantom of the Opera, chapter 1

Written by Gaston Leroux

Retold by Thai Binh Nguyen

 

CHAPTER ONE

It was the evening on which Monsieur Debienne and Monsieur Poligny, the managers of the Opera, were giving a last performance to mark their retirement that the incident occurred. Noises pierced the air as half a dozen ballerinas laughed and screamed uncontrollably in the dressing room of La Sorelli.

‘It’s the ghost’ – explained Jammes.

Sorelli was superstitious(1). When she heard this, she called the fifteen-year-old Jammes a “silly little fool” but then asked for details.

Jammes, and all the other girls asserted(2) that the spectre(3) was real, in the shape of a gentlemen in fine clothes, who seemed to have come straight through the wall.

‘Oh you see ghost everywhere’ – commented a girl.

And true as it is. All the discussions at the Opera house have revolved around this ghost who, in fact, disappears as soon as he is seen. At first, everybody laughed, but the story soon swelled enormously among the corps de ballet(4). All the girls pretended that they met this Phantom often. And those who laughed the loudest were the least comfortable.

Was all this serious? In fact, the idea of a skeleton came from the description of the ghost given by Joseph Buquet, who was in charge of moving scenery. He had really seen the ghost for a second before it vanished(5). What’s more, Joseph was not a person to twist a story. His words were received with interest and amazement and soon, other people confirmed that they all have seen the ghost.

Back in the dressing room, the girls heard someone outside the door.

‘Who’s there?’ – asked Sorelli shakingly

No one answered.

Eventually, Sorelli turned the key and opened the door. She bravely caught a glimpse of(6) the passage. It was empty.

‘No,’ she said to the girls, ‘ there is no one there. Stop all of this nonsense, will you?’

‘Yes, yes, we all saw him-we all saw him just now.’ – cried the girls.

‘And Gabriel, the singing master, saw him too!’ – added Jammes. ‘Gabriel was in the stage manager’s office and the Persian came in. Gabriel saw the ghost behind the Persian! He saw the ghost with the face of Death, just like Joseph Buquet description!”

‘Joseph Buquet should keep his mouth shut’ – murmured Little Giry

‘That’s mother’s opinion.’ – added Meg.

‘And why does the mother say so?’ – questioned another girl.

‘Because…because…I swore not to tell!’ – cried Meg.

The girls promised to keep her secret and Meg was desperate to tell the story to the best of her knowledge. With her eyes on the door, she began, ‘Well, it’s because of the private box(7).’

‘Does the ghost have a box in the Opera?’

‘Not so loud’ – said Meg. ‘It’s Box Five.’

‘Nonsense!’

‘I can absolutely guarantee that there is, and Mother’s in charge of it. No one has had it for over a month, except the ghost, and orders have been given at the box office that it must never be sold.’

‘And the ghost frequently comes there?’

‘Yes. The ghost comes, but nobody can see him.’

‘All that talk about his fine clothes and his face is nonsense. Even Mother has never seen him, she has only heard him.’ – Little Giry cried and Sorelli grew impatient.

‘If Mother ever learns that I have told you…But I was right – Joseph Buquet was wrong to talk about things that don’t concern him. That means bad luck – mother was saying that the previous night…’

All of a sudden, the sound of hurried footsteps in the passage paced towards the room, along with a breathless voice.

‘Jammes! Jammes! Are you there?’

‘It’s mother’s voice,’ said James. ‘What seems to be the matter?’

The door opened. A respectable lady, large and robust, burst into the dressing room and dropped into an empty chair.

‘Joseph Buquet was assassinated(8)! He was found hanging in the third cellar.’

‘It’s the ghost!’ – cried little Giry and her friends.

Sorelli went pale. ‘I will never be able to give my speech,’

 

In fact, no one ever knew how Joseph Buquet met his death. In his book, ‘A Manager’s Memories’, Monsieur Moncharmin, one of the two managers who ran the Opera after Monsieur Debienne and Monsieur Poligny left, gave a description of the occurrence as follows:

 

“A serious accident spoiled the little party which Monsieur Debienne and Monsieur Poligny gave to celebrate their retirement. I was in the manager’s office when Mercier, the scenery manager burst in. He seemed half mad and informed me that the body of a man had been found hanging under the stage. By the time I rushed down the stairs, the man was no longer hanging from his rope!’

 

So, a man was hung at the end of a rope; they went to cut him down; the corpse and the rope were nowhere to be found. Monsieur Moncharmin reached to a simple explanation:

 

‘It was just after the ballet, and the dancing girls knew they had to hurry and destroy the rope if they wanted to avoid any bad luck because they were very credulous(9).

 

Sorelli was on her way to give a speech when she bumped into Count Chagn as he walked upstairs.

‘Sorelli, what an evening!’ he said, taking off his hat. ‘And Christine Daaé: What a triumph(10)!’

‘Six months ago, her singing voice was no better than that of a chicken.’ – said Meg Giry. ‘But let us pass, my dear count. We are going to inquire about a poor man who was found hanging by the neck.’

Just then Mercier came hurrying past when he heard this remark. ‘Have you heard already? Please don’t let Monsieur Debienne and Monsieur Poligny hear about it. It may dismay(11) them on their last day.’

Count Chagny was right. Christine Daae’s divine sounds in the prison scene of ‘Faust’, her first performance, when she sang in place of La Carlotta was unparalleled. No one had ever witnessed such a talent.

People insisted on understanding the reason why was Daae only allowed to perform this piece when La Carlotta was sick? Were Debienne and Poligny trying to keep this great talent hidden?

Phillipe Georges Marie, Count of Chagny, was forty-one, good-looking, and wealthy. Standing up in his box, he had listened to the enthusiastic audience and participated in by clapping loudly. Beside him was his brother, Raoul. Their parents had passed away when Raoul was still a toddler, so Phillippe brought up the young viscount, who later joined the navy. Raoul had just returned from a trip around the world and was now home for six months prior to his next expedition to the North Pole.

Back in the Opera, Christine Daae had just been carried off after fainting at the end of her performance. Raoul, himself, seemed quite pale as well.

‘Are you okay?’ – asked Phillips.

‘Let’s go and see her, she have never sung like that before.’ replied Raoul invigoratingly.

‘Don’t you think, Doctor, that those gentlemen had better clean the room? -asked Raoul as they arrived at her dressing room.

‘Indeed’ – replied the doctor.

Christine Daae turned, looked at the doctor for a moment, and smiled. Then, Raoul came into her sight, she asked: ‘Monsieur, would it be possible for me to acknowledge your identity?’

‘Mademoiselle,’, replied the young man, kneeling on one knee and pressing a kiss on her hand, ‘I am the little boy who jumped into the ocean to rescue your scarf.’

The doctor and the servant woman began laughing, as well as Christine Daae.

Raoul blushed and stood up. ‘Mademoiselle, since you choose not to recognise me, I would like to say something to you in private, something crucial to you.’

‘When I am better, would you mind?’ – replied Christine.

All of a sudden, Christine, rejuvenated, stood up and asked all the men in the room to leave. Outside her door, the doctor said to Raoul, ‘She is not herself tonight. She is usually so benevolent.’

‘Of course’ – thought Raoul. ‘She wanted to be left alone for him! He had told her that he wanted to speak to her privately.’

Just as he prepared to knock on her door, a man’s voice from her room came to his ears.

‘Christine, you must love me!’

‘How can you talk like that? When I sing only for you!’

Raoul’s heart beat so loudly that he was sure they would hear it inside.

The man’s voice raised up again. ‘Are you tired?’

‘Tonight I sacrificed my soul for you, and I am currently a deceased(12)!’ – yelled Christine.

‘Your soul is an alluring(13) one, child,’ replied the man, ‘and I shall express my deepest gratitude. No king ever received such a wonderful gift. The angels in Heaven cried tonight.’    

Raoul did not go away after that. He decided to wait until the man left. To his surprise, the door opened and Christine Daae was all alone.

Raoul let himself in and closed the door. The dressing room was obscured(14). ‘What are you hiding for? You will not leave this room until I let you? If you do not answer, you are a coward. And everyone will know about this!’ – shouted Raoul.

But, he was solitude(15).

He exited, not knowing what he was doing or where he was heading to. He found himself at the bottom of some stairs and some workmen were coming down behind him, carrying a long board, covered with a white sheet.

Curious, he questioned, pointing to the sheet: ‘What’s that?’

‘Joseph Buquet, who was found in the third cellar, hanging’ – a workmen answered.

Raul took off his hat and let the workmen pass.

 

 

  • GLOSSARY

 

  1. superstitious (adj.): having or showing a belief in superstitions
  2. spectre (n.): a ghost
  3. corps de ballet (n.): the members of a ballet company who dance together as a group
  4. vanish (v.): disappear suddenly and completely
  5. catch a glimpse of (phr. v.): to see something for a very short time
  6. (opera) box (n.): an enclosed part of the opera house, usually close to the stage, that provides privacy for a small group of people
  7. robust (adj.): strong and healthy
  8. assassinate (v.): to deliberately kill an important person
  9. triumph (n.): a great victory or achievement
  10. dismay (v.): concern and distress caused by something unexpected
  11. deceased (n.): the recently dead person
  12. alluring (adj.): powerful and mysteriously attractive or fascinating; seductive
  13. obscured (adj.): dark or dim
  14. solitude (adj.): the state or situation of being alone
  15. credulous (adj.): having or showing too great a readiness to believe things

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