A/N: I have a smattering of French scattered throughout this: 'ma chere' means 'my dear', 'par example' means 'for example', 'bon anniversaire' means 'happy birthday', 'oui, merci' means 'yes, thank you', 'non, merci' means 'no, thank you', and 'grosses bises' means 'lots of kisses'.
Disclaimer: I own all the characters Leroux did not invent.
Ma chere Gabrielle,
How are things back at home? I heard Armand fell out of a tree and tore his good coat in two. Tell him he deserved it and that he was very stupid in trying to climb the tree in the first place. Marc tried to last year and broke his leg, if you remember.
Life here is fine. The conservatory is always an interesting place. The most interesting and eccentric people live here... and I usually end up mocking them when in the safety of my room, or laughing at them from behind my hand. Horrible of me, I know, dear sister, but if you met some of these people, you'd have to laugh too.
Take one Christine Daäé, par example. She always wanders about in a daze, always doing the absolute minimum to get by. She's very shy and compassionate (she always feeds the birds outside her window with her dinner role and she always remembers people's birthdays, though she never really says anything past 'bon anniversaire'- she's terribly shy) and such an innocent. She would cause a great deal of jealousy over her looks (very blonde hair, blue eyes, pale complexion) had she not been quite so hopelessly stupid. Yes, you're probably clucking right now at me for calling anyone 'hopelessly stupid' (don't think I don't know you that well!), but she is. I shall even go so far as to explain it.
She's a soprano, and a decent one: she can sing prettily enough, and her voice is pleasant to listen to, but she never has any emotion behind the song, and she always sings incredibly softly. How would this make her stupid? I shall tell you.
She can sing better than that. I heard her! What sort of ninny would purposely sing horribly in front of her professors and sing beautifully when there's no one around to listen. I shall even tell you what she said.
She was playing the piano-forte in one of the rooms set aside for practice, with some sheet music in front of her. I have no idea what the song was: it sounded like a Scandinavian lullaby or something. In any case I didn't recognize the music. It was really enchanting to hear. She had a very pure clear voice, devoid of vibrato, and she sang with such passion it stunned me. Her voice soared effortlessly up to the high notes, and she didn't sound shrill at all, like any of the other girls. (I escape that particular problem: I am a contralto, not a mezzo- soprano, as Meg insisted I was. In your next letter to her (I don't see how you can stand her: she and Aunt Giry live in Paris, and I've scarce written to them since I came, save for the letters you kept urging me to write) tell her that even if she can spin a double pirouette, she knows nothing about music! Mezzos and altos are completely different, and she's a great ninny for ever getting them confused. She should just stick to ballet.) In any case, Christine was brilliant, and when she stopped, I asked her where she learned to sing like that.
She turned around and looked so frightened she looked like a deer: her eyes wide and all. I guess that she was unaware of my presence. Upon remembering that she was such a shy thing in class, I managed to keep myself from laughing and to ask again.
"My papa taught me," she whispered. As I said, she was terribly shy. Cecile and I would try and talk to her at lunch (we've sat with every girl training here! We're very pleased) or during break, and she'd blush and whisper very softly so that you'd have to strain your ears to hear her. I don't see why she'd want to be an Opera singer if she can't get up the nerve to say anything past, "yes, it is very pleasant outside," or "please pass the salt", or "oui, merci," and "non, merci." She's polite, even if she is a great ninny, and shyer than you are.
In any case, I asked her why she didn't sing like that in front of the teachers, and she said, "Oh... I don't think I could sing like this for anyone other than my papa."
She's a great ninny, I tell you. Her father's been dead for years! I think it was the anniversary of her father's death or something, so that's why she was singing so beautifully. I still don't think it's worth anything to be able to sing prettily without anyone important hearing you.
Well, she's an even greater ninny because she did indeed sing for someone else. That's a story that's actually terribly amusing (even more than the time Armand got his lips stuck to that icy pond last December, though scarcely). My hand is getting cramped, but I'll write it out for you anyways, just because it's so dreadfully amusing. It makes me laugh to think about it.
Well, it was Sunday afternoon, and we didn't have classes. Everyone else was off visiting their families, but me. And Christine, Monique (Monique had a head cold and her voice is still terribly raspy. She's quite miserable), and a few others.
Christine's guardian was in bed with rheumatism and couldn't visit, and all the other girls had families who lived far from Paris, like me. You know how I always suffer terribly from ennui if I don't have anything to do that I want to do, and all I had to do was a cross- stitch and a letter to write to Aunt Giry and Meg, and I never get along with Meg. She's a horrid little brat. They live in Paris, true, but please tell Papa that I refuse to make any contact with them on the grounds that I've been busy with singing. I really just don't want to talk to Meg, who shrills like a peacock when she sings, but insists on doing so anyways.
In any case, I decided I would like to walk along the Seine, and I didn't want to go alone. I took Christine with me (I'd decided to make a project out of her: it's not healthy for any future actress not to want to mingle with her adoring public, or to be unable to converse with anyone). We walked for a while, and I even managed to get her to tell me a bit about her childhood. She grew up in Brittany apparently. She was telling me about this one summer where she befriended one Raoul, vicomte de Chagny. I wasn't sure if I should have believed her, but I positively had to pull the story out of her, like a tooth. She said it all innocently and sweetly, as if it were a fairy tale, or something. (She thought him, Raoul, that is, very handsome. I think she must've fallen in love with him or something: that'd be just like her, as shy and innocent as she is. Falling in love with a childhood friend. Probably just stared at him adoringly whilst hiding in the shadows, or something. I asked her if she loved him, and she looked positively shocked, and blushed furiously. I was hard put not to believe her in love with him after that: whenever I mentioned his name again she turned pink.)
Well, we were walking and came across a group of very handsome sailors (more like naval officers, Gabrielle: they weren't uncouth or anything). They were obviously on leave, and I chatted with them a while. There was one, Alain de Jongleur, whom was all courtesy and graciousness. I liked him very much and he continually paid kind attentions towards me. In any case, you'll never believe it, my dear Gabrielle, but whilst I asked them about their travels abroad, Christine caught sight of her vicomte, and turned as pink as a salmon! (It was dreadfully amusing.) She pointed him out to me as he walked over a nearby bridge I must say, he was really quite striking: tan, well built with very light- colored blue eyes and a very handsome smile. He was very pleasing to behold, especially since he had taken his hat off and the wind was ruffling his golden-colored hair. Christine made a motion, as if she was walking over to go say 'bonjour', but he walked off before she could get very far.
M. de Jongleur asked us if we knew him, as they had both been sailors on the same ship. I laughed uproariously. What were the chances of that?
But Christine was an utter ninny, and wouldn't let me stay with the naval officers by myself (and M. de Jongleur was ever so kind and gracious: don't tell Papa, though. When he found out that Thérèsé had been out riding with old what's- his- name, Julian, with only me as a chaperone, he got so furious that he restricted both of our pocket money for two months. I can't imagine how badly he'll punish me now), nor did she wish to go in search of her vicomte. We went back, and I teased her about it during dinner, but she just blushed furiously and said nothing. It was ever so droll and amusing.
In any case, I was reading in the main hall when I heard her sing again, as beautifully, if not more so, than before. I walked into one of the rooms with a piano- forte in it, and there she was, playing and singing away as if at a performance. I even recognized the tune that time. It was one of the songs from 'Aida', though I can't remember which one. And then she sang a most wonderful song: it must have been foreign, or something, but I couldn't recognize it. It was very lovely and sweet, and hopeful, and quite pretty. It's very strange, but during the two times I saw her actually sing, she poured her heart and soul into the music, and just withdrew into her shell when she was done playing.
But she was a great ninny, because no one was listening to her but me. She could have at least left the door open so that people could hear her better and come and see how good she was. That's what I'd do.
In any case, I told her that her performance was very good, and I asked her if she was singing for her father.
She shook her head and said no. She had sung for her father last time because it was his birthday. I thought it might have been her mother's birthday or perhaps her parent's anniversary and that was why she was singing again, and I asked about that, and she gave me the strangest answer.
Gabrielle, you'll never believe it, but she was singing because it was Raoul's birthday. I had a good laugh about it up in my room. Turns out, he'd taken violin lessons from her father. They learned the foreign piece together: it was his favorite one.
And she still blushes and refuses to say anything whenever I ask her if she is in love. She's a laugh, and a total ninny. Don't cluck at me, like I know you're going to.
There is hope for her yet, even if she is a total ninny. If she'd only get loved back by that Raoul chap (they'd look very handsome together, actually: he tan, and she pale, her very light blonde hair, and his lovely gold hair. I must admit, if I hadn't known Christine was madly in love with the chap I'd try and take him for myself), she'd be so much less of a ninny than she is now. He's already brought out the best in her: she actually started a conversation with me about him the other day, and she sings very well for him. It's still terribly amusing though, as are most love affairs. I had a good laugh over them before writing this letter.
Well, I must go to bed: it's getting late and my candle is spluttering in the most distracting manner. Give maman and papa my love, tell Armand he's a ninny, tell Thérèsé not to wear so much perfume or all her swains will choke and die, and pat little Pierre on the head for me. I hope to see you all soon, on the summer holiday! (It is scarcely three weeks! I cannot wait!)