That Philippe/Sorelli Fic, or, White Rose


Phillipe de Chagny always went to the dressing-room of La Sorelli after a performance at the Paris Opera House. He always brought with him flowers--sometimes a single rose, sometimes a bouquet of lillies, sometimes an armful of a great many varied flowers which he, in his unshakable self-deprecation as to his knowledge of anything that pleased a woman, had allowed some shop-keeper to assure him was sublime--and he always stood outside her door for several moments, contemplating the opposite wall before he gathered the courage to knock upon her door.

La Sorelli always knew it was him. She always opened her door at once, after a hurried moment of trying to smooth down the stomach of her dress or twist her hair into place; and she smiled at him.

And the Opera Ghost, looking down on them from above, frowned beneath his mask and pondered love.

Sorelli would turn her face away, or look at the floor. She blushed delicately at compliments, which Philippe offered with a slight reserve due to shyness.

He was a pearly-grey sort of man. The Opera Ghost often considered people to embody colours, and the Comte de Chagny was a smooth pearly-grey colour--well-bred, dignified, even-tempered, and courageous in a quiet sort of way. He spoke with an aristocratic accent and knew all the best things to say, but hesitated before he employed them.

Sorelli was a green girl. She was a shimmering, pale green, like glazed celadon or tinted mist, a sort of sea-green colour (although the Opera Ghost had seen the sea, and knew that it was not truly that colour). When she danced, she had all the peculiar grace of a reed in the wind. She was not, he had observed, an exceptionally strong girl, not like the girl before her, who had big hands and feet and, though she was light and quick, gave the impression of a child born on a farm. Sorelli was not a dark, vivid, exotic flower; she was a tea rose. She was a watercolour rather than an oil painting.

But for all that, she was sensible.

Philippe was not exceptionally handsome, but he had a fairness that came from goodness. At forty, he was only middle-aged; he had a high forehead, a small mouth, cold eyes that could sometimes be suddenly gentle, an aristocratic face, and a well-shaped nose--

Here the Opera Ghost would always put a gloved hand to his mask and feel the sunken hole beneath it. He envied the Comte de Chagny for his well-shaped nose. He envied him greatly.

Sorelli was not particularly beautiful, but she had a fairness that every woman is born with, and lovely eyes. She was younger than Philippe, but not too much so, and yet she still waited his coming as eagerly as any of the girls in the corps de ballet might wait for their young beaus. She sat in her dressing-room when she thought she was alone and combed her hair or hummed under her breath; hovered by the mirror, having changed from her tutu into her street clothes, and fussed with her sleeves. When she heard Philippe's knock, she leapt up and went to the door as she always did, as the Opera Ghost had observed her to do so many times before, and disappeared for a moment from his view. Then he would change position and see her speaking with the Comte; and always, when it was over, she received a genteel kiss on the hand and backed into the dressing-room with flowers in her arms or her hair.

Philippe would retreat as well, sometimes closing the door for her, sometimes allowing her to do it, before turning and leaving. Since the Opera Ghost hardly ever left the theatre, he had no idea of what Philippe did next--but Sorelli would sometimes burst into tears and sometimes sing, sometimes scatter her flowers around the room and sometimes laugh helplessly, sometimes close her eyes and smile. Once, only once, she had gone to dinner with the Comte.

And still the Opera Ghost pondered love.

For it was a curious thing. He questioned whether the Comte de Chagny and La Sorelli were in love. He found it odd.

He knew his own love to be violent and full, but he was never certain that this was not due to his constant knowledge that it might never be returned. He must be violent in order to keep the love with him.

He had taught Christine Daaé for many, many days, and noted that she was not like Sorelli. She was a white colour, not cream or ivory, but white, stark white, and at the same time a dark, deep brown. She did not wait in her dressing-room for him as Sorelli did for Philippe; she did not arrange her clothing carefully before he appeared.

Nevertheless, she sang for him. She sang only for him, and he knew it. Though her voice was far from excellent, he was teaching her, and he had given her the secret to being the greatest singer France had ever known. In return, she had promised her soul to him, to his grave, beautiful voice, which was handsome when everything else about him was horrible; and even when she was tired, she sang, her dark eyes rimmed with dark circles, her cheeks pale--she sang, and if that was not love, then nothing could be.

Nothing could be.

One night, the Opera Ghost watched as Philippe and Sorelli met, and listened to them, as he always did.

"We shall put on Roi de Lahore next," Sorelli told the Comte, smiling a little and hardly looking at him. "They're already painting the scenery, and La Carlotta will be Sita. If I could sing, perhaps I should hope to be Kaled, but at any rate I will be dancing." She seemed a little busily agitated, as though something were about to happen that she didn't want to mention.

"You will dance beautifully." A pause. "I don't care for La Carlotta and her singing, my dear, but I shall be watching for you."

(And though the Opera Ghost knew Christine Daaé would never be ready for Sita, he thought she might play Kaled, and he remembered that he must mention it to the managers)

"Oh! That is very kind of you, Philippe." She coloured faintly.

They were on such familiar terms, the Opera Ghost noticed, for opera-goer and opera-dancer, for a nobleman and the principle ballet-dancer of the Paris Opera House. Surely it was indecent? But he hardly left the theatre, and he didn't truly know the customs. He dismissed that part of the matter and watched them more intently.

"Have you heard from your brother recently?"

"He's still at sea. He tells me all about the wonderful things he's seeing and wonders why I never wanted to go sailing. Of course, he doesn't seem to understand, no matter how many times I tell him, that I get acutely seasick. But he's a dear boy. Have you heard from your brother?"

Sorelli smiled again. "He and his wife are well, but they say the rains are coming. I've been invited to come up in May, but I told them they would do better to come to Paris to see me, for it's not likely that I can leave, especially as we'll begin rehearsals for Roi de Lahore soon."

"I am sure they would enjoy Paris." Philippe said nothing about meeting them, and there the Opera Ghost saw that it was still a discreet love they carried on. It was moments like these that caused him to question whether there really was a love. Of course, the Comte de Chagny might enjoy the company of a dancer as much as he liked, but she was still beneath his station and he was conscious of it. He would not just go about meeting her family like some common suitor hoping to make a good impression. They were close only inside the Opera-house, like a secret.

Like the Opera Ghost and Christine Daaé. Outside the Opera, he did not exist, and neither did Sorelli.

"I am certain they would. Well, perhaps they shall," said Sorelli, sighing lightly. "Oh, but I am afraid--I am so sorry--Monsieur Mercier wants me to come away early this evening, for he wants to talk to us all about our expressions during the dancing. Oh, you will excuse me, Philippe?"

That explained the agitation, the Opera Ghost observed.

"Of course, my dear." The Comte de Chagny took one of her hands, uncurling it from around the bouquet of gardenias she had been clutching tightly. "I shall anticipate the next performance a great deal, and perhaps we will be able to speak for a longer time then to make up for this."

"Perhaps." She let the smile take up her entire face, so that she seemed alight, and the Opera Ghost sighed, troubled. "Thank you."

"Of course," he repeated, gently reproving. "Bonsoir." And he bent slightly and lifted the hand he was holding to his lips, suddenly--in an uncharacteristic and surprising gesture--clasped it and kissed the palm, and then pressed it fondly. It was, as the Opera Ghost knew from his constant watching, the first time Philippe had ever done anything of this nature. It was the boldest sign of affection he had ever given.

Sorelli blushed deeply and turned away, and the Comte bowed and left coldly, evidently much embarrassed himself.

When he had gone, she crept back inside, shut her door, and threaded a gardenia into her hair with shaking hands. She pressed her palms against her closed eyes to wipe away the tears, and then sat for a moment. She sat, and she smiled. The Opera Ghost wondered at her, for she had been smiling all evening, although he could not see why. But she smiled and smiled and smiled.

And the Opera Ghost, despite his love for Christine Daaé, despite his loyal watch of the Comte and the dancer, despite the many years he had lived in the Opera and observed its strange breed of person--the singers and the ballet-dancers, the chorus-girls and the orchestra members, the people who seemed to be entirely different from the rest of society, hidden in a world of painted scenery and dancing feet--despite all this, still pondered love. He did not understand it. He could not understand it at all.