My entire life changed the day I crept away from my chaperone to attend an evening at the Garnier Opera. I was fifteen years old and convinced that I knew better than any adult born, and was smarter than the vast majority of them to boot. I could take care of myself, and I would be back in my hotel bed before dawn without a soul the wiser.
After much begging and pleading and arguing on my part, I was finally given permission from my parents to go on a school trip to Paris. We lived in Bretagne, and to go on the trip would have meant cutting the school holidays short a week, but I was willing to put up with any discomfort to see Paris. I was fifteen years old that winter, and I felt my life was barren because I had never seen the City of Light.
"I don't know why you're so set on going to Paris, Phillippe," my mother had said that Christmas. "After all, you're still just a boy. There will be plenty of time later."
I forbore to mention that both parents of mine had lived in Paris when they were younger and so did not count it to be the unexplored wonder that I did.
"I've lived a lifetime and I've never even been near the place!" I persisted. "You and Father tell me about it all the time, and I've never seen the places you describe to me! I want to go, Mother. Please. There will be chaperones for us, and two of my friends are going. I'd love to go with them. Professor Amitard has already given out the itinerary and on it are all the places I've dreamed of going! We'll be visiting the Louvre more than once! Think of it! The Louvre! And we'll be touring Saint-Chappelles and Notre Dame, and we'll be going to the Bois de Boulogne, the Bois de Vincennes, and the Tuileries! Then, the night before we leave for school, we'll go to the Opera! We'll be seeing Faust, and I've never seen it!"
"Absolutely not!" my father suddenly rapped out. "If the trip entails you going to the Opera, then I won't have it! I won't have you going near the place!"
Mother and I both stared. I had been to theaters before to see plays, ballets, and operas, so why did my father suddenly not want me to go to the Opera?
"Raoul," my mother said, breaking the silence that followed, "What you're thinking is not possible."
"I'd rather not take the chance," he answered, mystifying me further. "Surely you can understand."
It was another instance where my parents both discussed something without saying a word aloud. They simply looked at one another for a few moments before an agreement was reached between them. Such times had been happening my whole life. Conversation would suddenly stop and topics would be changed. I had no idea what it was that they so carefully avoided saying, but this time I was not going to allow it to get in my way. I was going to Paris, and that was that.
"Look, I understand your being worried," I began, ready to try compromise. "Paris is a big city, after all. If I promise to stay close to the chaperones at all times, even at the Opera, may I still go?"
"You may go if you promise not to set foot in the Opera," my father said, immediately and cruelly crushing my hopes of Faust. "I will ask Professor Amitard to devise something else for you that evening, but I don't want you to go to the Opera. Do you understand, Phillippe?"
"But, Father!" I protested, ready to beg my way to the Opera if need be.
"It is either you go to Paris without seeing the Opera, or you do not go to Paris at all," Father said in his most implacable way. I knew that pleading would do no good, so I agreed that I would not go to the Opera with the rest of the boys.
Don't be mistaken. Father's trust was important to me. I did intend to keep my promise, and I would have kept it had I not complained about this (to me) unfair condition to my going to Paris. As soon as I had told my friends about this, Charles and Pierre devised a plan that would get me to the Opera without the chaperones noticing I was there. I would come to hate myself for following their advice.
The night before I left, Mother came to my room to talk to me.
"I want you to be careful in Paris, Phillippe," she said, helping me pack my suitcase. My trunk with all of my school things would be forwarded to school, so I would be taking a suitcase to Paris with me. In it were several suits that were (pardon the pun) suitable for every location and event we would be attending, and of course, the many accessories that young men feel it necessary to have. Not the least of them were books that I was having trouble finding room for. Unlike my parents, I was a voracious reader. They enjoyed the occasional novel or book of poetry, but I read anything that came to my hands.
"Of course I'll be careful, Mother," I said, trying to fit Ossian next to Rasselas. "I don't intend on going just to get into trouble. I want to enjoy myself, and not worry about the consequences of any stupid actions."
She nodded. "I know you'll be sensible, dear. It's just that…" She paused, as if debating whether she should continue. "I suppose what I'm trying to say is to be careful of strangers. People in large cities can be dangerous, even the ones who don't seem to be. A wolf can often seem like a harmless dog. Don't go anywhere on your own, and don't go anywhere with someone you don't know. Also, if someone approaches you and tries to get you to go with him, don't! Keep with your classmates and teachers, and don't talk to anyone else if you can help it. Do you understand?"
"You make it sound as if someone in Paris is plotting to kidnap me!" I joked, but in the next moment I realized that that could have been what she feared, for she snatched me up in an embrace that almost choked me.
"Don't think such a thing!" she cried, not loosening her hold. "Just stay with your classmates, Phillippe, and you will be fine." That last sounded as if she were really trying to console herself rather than console me.
"I'll be fine," I assured her. "I didn't intend to run off into Paris' many alleyways and side streets. I promise you, I won't talk to strangers or go off by myself."
At last, she let me go, but I could tell by the way she frowned that she was still worried.
"It's criminal!" Pierre snapped, looking furious. "Why is he so set against you going to the Opera?"
"I don't know," I confessed. "As soon as I mentioned it, he and Mother became secretive. It was either promise not to go there, or I would have had to stay at home."
Charles shook his head, unable to understand it. "I thought my parents were strange, but yours, Phillippe, take the whole buffet instead of just the cake."
"Ha ha," I answered him, glaring. "That joke is too priceless for words."
"Hey, now, let's not fight," Pierre said, trying to make peace. "The important thing is to get you to the Opera!"
I stared at him, the only sound breaking our sudden silence was the clickety-clack of the train. We were on the train and headed for Paris, and the only response to Pierre's bold statement I could think of was to stare at him like a grounded fish. Oh, brilliant.
"You'd have me break my word to my father?" I said at last, not wanting to admit how much it bothered me to miss the Opera.
"Well, I don't see why not," Charles said, coming to Pierre's defense. "It isn't fair, really, that all of us get to go but you don't! Besides, it sounds as if they're keeping secrets from you, and that isn't right at all. Plus, your father gave you no choice in the matter. You should go!"
Pierre agreed with him, and he began to outline a plot that would get me to the Opera. Since he had been several times to the Garnier, he would help me by taking my place. As everyone would be getting ready to go to the Opera, I would pretend to be very tired and go to bed. Then, Pierre would take my place in bed and I would go to the Opera by cab. There was always one box, he said, that was never taken, and he would reserve that one for me so I could be sure to have a seat.
"Why is it never taken?" I asked, intrigued.
"It's rumored to be haunted," he said in his offhand way. "Theater-folk are very superstitious, and they don't like renting it out if they can help it, but if someone insists, then they have to. I know you're not frightened of ghosts, Phillippe, so that shall be your box!"
I laughed, because he was referring to an incident that had happened my first year at school. Some of the older boys had been trying to convince us that a certain room on the top floor of the dormitories was haunted, and I proved that I wasn't scared by staying there all night on my own. I heard the older boys in the next room, walking up and down and moaning in an attempt to scare me, but I didn't allow their tricks to frighten me. The next morning I was a hero, and everyone said that I was the only student ever to not be afraid of ghosts or believe in them. Naturally, I was very proud of this, so I averred every time someone asked me that I did not believe in ghosts.
I would start to believe before I left the Opera on the final night of our stay in Paris.
Pierre's plan went off without a problem. On that final day of touring Paris, I debated with myself whether I should go through with it or not. I had given my word, but on the other hand, Father had rather unfairly given me no choice. While we wandered the Louvre for the last time, I wondered if I should just pretend to get ill in order to get out of going. But then, I remembered how I felt when Father had practically forced me to promise not to go into the Opera, and my resolve would harden once more. Shortly after that, I would start to worry, and that was how I was thinking that whole day.
I would have enjoyed the Lovre more that day had I not had to worry about that night. We saw da Vinci's work, and the Nike, and the Egyptian and Mesopotamian artifacts, and most wonderful of all, the crown jewels of France. Shortly after that we headed back to the hotel to get ready for the evening. Once we were at the hotel I was to go into action.
Pierre's final admonition to "break a leg" resolved me to go. I had always wished to see the Garnier, and I really saw no reason why I should not go, so I began to feign being very tired. Professor Amitard, seeing me suddenly curled up in a chair, asked me what was the matter, and I told him that I was suddenly very tired and I felt a little odd. Immediately, one of the other chaperones looked me over and said that I was sickening for something and should be in bed. Madame Campbell, our English teacher, volunteered to stay behind to keep an eye on me since she did not enjoy opera. While she sat out in the salon of our suite knitting a purse, Pierre and I traded places, Pierre having got away from the group with the excuse of feeling ill as well. He would stand in for both of us.
It did not take me long to get a cab and get to the Opera. Sometime during the week, Pierre had been able to reserve the box for me, and I arrived in full evening dress at the front door of the Opera twenty minutes before the show started. I made my way inside, through the foyer, and up the grand staircase after presenting my ticket to the doorman. An usher led me to Box Five, shooting furtive little glances at me out of the corner of his eye. He looked as if he doubted my sanity for taking the "haunted" box.
"Will you need anything, Monsieur…" He let his voice trail off, waiting to be supplied with my name.
"De Chagny," I said, giving him a smile. "No, I won't need anything except a program."
He nodded, gave me a program, and turned to leave. Just as he reached the door, he turned back to me.
"Monsieur, if you are asked to leave during the performance, do not take it amiss," he said. "This is the Ghost's box, and he has asked people to go before. If he asks you to go, please do so, for he likes to be obeyed."
I nodded. "I understand," I said, trying to reassure him. "If the ghost comes, I shall beg his pardon."
My levity did not please him, and he left, muttering something about fools tempting fate. I smiled at that. What fate was there to tempt? There was no such thing as ghosts, I knew that, and so there would be no ghost asking me to leave the box.
I sat back in my seat and turned my attention to the orchestra pit, where the musicians were warming up. I sat back and listened as various instruments began to sound. There were the strings, the woodwinds, and the brass, and with a rumble that I could feel in my blood, the percussion began to sound themselves out.
Music is in my blood, you might say. Both Father and Mother are musicians. More than once I found them in the music room at home, he playing the piano or the violin, and she singing. They had known each other as children in Bretagne, and Mother's father had taught Father the violin while he and Mother had still been children. Despite Father's being a viscount and Mother a simple musician's daughter, they married after meeting up in Paris after several years' separation and they settled in Bretagne. After that, I came along, and I had inherited their love for music. By the age of four I had mastered the piano and by six (with Mother's help) I could sing. Father began to coach me on the violin, and now, by fifteen, I had mastered that, the flute, and had composed for years. Mother and Father were both pleased at my talent, but I usually received the feeling that there was something about it significant to them. It was as if they were mentally comparing me to someone they both knew.
While I was sitting there, thinking about this, I heard the first whisper. Thinking that my mind was playing tricks on me, I turned my attention to the rest of the theater, taking in the red velvet, crystal chandeliers, marble, and general beauty surrounding me. Charles Garnier must have been inspired from heaven to create such a building. The seats were just about filled, with men and ladies, and down below on the floor I could see my classmates and the chaperones.
What is he doing here?
I whipped around in my chair, certain that it had not been my mind playing tricks that time. When I saw no one, I decided that it must have been someone speaking in some nearby box. I had mistaken their voice for a whisper behind me.
I returned my attention to the crowds and architecture, determined to enjoy myself. I was so involved in watching the rest of the theater while waiting for the curtain to rise that I received quite a shock by my usher coming in. He still looked nervous, and his eyes shot around the box as if he were afraid someone might be lurking in the shadows.
"Did you call me, Monsieur de Chagny?" he asked, one hand still resting on the doorknob. "I heard your voice."
"No, I did not call you," I told him, my heartbeat returning to normal. "Are you sure you heard me?"
"I did, sir," he assured me, nodding his head. "It was your voice exactly."
Both of us stared at the other, and he left after a murmured apology. A little surprised (and nervous) at this evidence of something "ghostly," I turned my attention back to the stage. The orchestra went through a final run, tuned, and then the prelude began as the lights dimmed.
As the curtain went up, I thought I heard someone behind me. I turned, saw no one, and then decided to never listen to talk of ghosts again. I could have sworn that someone had been behind me, and indeed, that I had gotten a glimpse of someone in evening dress with a mask! I turned my whole attention to Faust, determined not to let ghosts bother the performance.
What music! Now I knew why my mother spoke of Gounod so highly. The music itself made me feel as if I were experiencing every emotion that the characters were portraying onstage. Faust's despair at being an old man, his life wasted, his initial misgivings, and then his eagerness for youth again! Margeurite's joy in life, her love for the gallant young lord Faust who courted her, and then her terrible sadness at being condemned to die. When they laughed, I laughed, when they wept, I wept as well. As events turned and the scenes grew bleaker, I could not help allowing the tears to come. By the scene in the dungeon cell, I was weeping freely, and by Faust's and Mephistopheles' entrance to save her, I could barely see the action onstage. I could still hear, however, and that was enough. The words that both sang went to my heart, where, I was certain, I would remember them for always.
Oui, c'est moi, je t'aime,
Oui, c'est moi, je t'aime…
Malgre l'effort meme
Du demon moquer.
Je t'ai retrouvee!
Te voila sauvee! C'est moi,
Viens, viens sur mon coeur!
I could understand those words completely. "Yes, it's me, I love you. Despite all the efforts of that mocking devil, I have found you again, you are saved! It is I, come, come to my heart!" The young lover trying to reassure his love that he was there and that all was well. I knew the story by heart from Mother and Father's telling it to me so often, but to see it and hear it!
Then, Margeurite realized that something was not right…the evil one was near and would drag her down to hell! Her supplication to Heaven for aid!
Mon Dieu, protegez-moi!
Mon Dieu, je vous implore!
Anges purs, anges radieux!
Portez mon ame au sien des cieux!
Dieu juste, a toi je m'abandonne!
Dieu bon, je suis a toi! Pardonne!
My God, protect me!
My God, I implore you!
Pure and radiant angels!
Carry my soul up to Heaven!
Just God, I surrender myself to Thee!
Kind God, I am Thine! Forgive me!
With a great suspension of sound, the action stopped as Margeurite demanded to know why Faust had blood on his hands. Then, as she cried out, "Vas! Tu me fais horreur!" Go! You fill me with horror! Mephistopheles triumphed, and rang out "Jugee!"
Damned! Faust was bound for Hell itself, and as Mephistopheles stretched out his hands to take Faust, he also reached for Margeurite, but descending from the clouds were a host of angels, the very aid Margeurite had begged for! As one, they sang out one word that sent Mephistopheles fleeing with his prize: Sauvee! Saved! They surrounded Margeurite, and once they pulled away, she could be seen again dressed in a white gown, a radiant glow surrounding her. As one, they rose toward Heaven, singing and calling out the glories of God the Father, Forever Kind and Merciful.
People leapt to their feet, applauding, and only I remained in my seat, much as I would have liked to deliver the standing ovation the performers deserved. No, I only remained in my seat because I was certain my legs would not hold me. I was trembling all over, and the only thing I was able to do was take out my handkerchief and bury my face in it. After all of that emotion, I was exhausted beyond description. Slowly, I was able to stand and give my own accolades, and once the curtain calls were over, I dropped back into my chair, glad that there was no great hurry for me to leave. If I left too soon, the other teachers and students would see me on my way out, and I didn't want that to happen. Besides, there was still the ballet to see, and I wished to see it. The teachers would be eager to get the students back to the hotel so they would not be up too late, so I was safe if I left after the ballet.
"Beautiful, wasn't it?" I heard someone say.
I assumed it was my usher, and nodded. "Beautiful doesn't even begin to describe it," I said, wiping my eyes again. "I have never had music affect me so strongly. I've wept before, I'll admit, but I've never actually felt weak after a performance!" I laughed. "I'll be fine, though. What was…?" I had turned to address him directly, but there was no usher there! The door to the box was closed, and there was no sign that he had been there!
I sat there, wondering if I was losing my mind, but then I remembered that there were boxes on either side of me, and I could easily have heard a comment from one of them. Kicking myself for being such a fool, I sat back to wait for the Opera to empty.
Knocking on my door brought me out of my enjoyment of the ballet for a moment. As I answered the knock, my usher came in, carrying a bottle of something and a glass.
"What's this?" I asked as quietly as I could.
"Forgive me, sir, but another gentleman said that you seemed overwrought, and he asked me to bring this to you and make sure you had some," he said, opening the bottle of what appeared to be wine.
"Was he in here?" I asked, suprised.
"Only for a moment," he assured me. "He mistook this box for his own and became concerned enough to stay when he saw you. I think he was right to do so, because you're awfully white."
I had an explanation for my mysterious conversation at last. As he poured me a glass of drink, I asked him to thank that gentleman for me. He nodded and handed me a full glass, with an admonition to get it down me.
I sipped at it carefully after my first taste. It was crisp and fruity, extremely light, and positively delicious. It was not wine, but it was alcoholic, so I drank it carefully while allowing myself to enjoy the flavor. Once I finished my first glass, I gladly accepted a little more while settling back into my chair to enjoy the watching the dancers onstage.
The ballet ended, and I got ready to go. I left a generous tip for my usher (since he had taken good care of me) and I left the box to head for the stairs. I was halfway to the main staircase when I realized that I was feeling decidedly odd. It was not due to alcohol, I could tell. I had been drunk once before (too much champagne at a Christmas party), and this did not feel remotely like it. All of my limbs were very heavy, but I wasn't dizzy, and I felt as if I were going to sleep.
Hands fastened themselves onto my shoulders, guiding me down stairs and hallways, and a voice kept talking to me all the time, saying that I'd had a bit too much of that drink. It sounded like my usher, and I let him lead me along. At one point, I managed to open my eyes long enough to see what looked like a long, dark hallway. Or was it an alley? I couldn't tell, but I really didn't care. It seemed as if he was leading me back to my hotel. Oh, good. At least I didn't have to find my own way back. I didn't feel up to calling a cab and staggering my way inside.
Was I becoming ill? If I were, then I had the perfect cover. I could claim to have been out of my head and had made my way to the Opera in a fever-dream. Great. Now, if I could just manage to remember that plan, everything would be fine.
By this time, I was barely able to keep to my feet. Before I knew what was happening, my usher (I was certain that was who it was) scooped me up and was carrying me. I didn't care. All I cared about was not having to move or even think. My eyes were open, and I caught glimpses of where we were. There were orange glows in the distance: they reminded me of furnaces. There was the sound of dripping water, and the air was very cool and damp, and it smelled a trifle musty. Had it rained while I'd been in the Opera? It could have. It was also dark. Very dark. What was strange about that was that the darkness wasn't ever broken. There wasn't a street lamp or lantern to be seen. There weren't even lights from cafes or restaurants, and in the middle of Paris, that wasn't normal. In the City of Light, there was always light.
By this point, my head began to clear a little. The air was much cooler and I was waking up. Slowly, I realized that I was now lying down in a boat, there was blue light all around, and the person rowing the boat across the water (where on earth was I?) was not my usher. No, it was a man in evening clothes, and he was wearing a mask. He was the man I'd seen before.
What was going on here?
He stopped rowing for a moment, looked at me, and set the oars across the stern of the boat. Then, taking what looked like a handkerchief out of his pocket, came to me and pressed it over my mouth and nose. It was only when he did that that I began to fight. I tried to pull away, tried holding my breath so I wouldn't breathe whatever it was in, but it was impossible to avoid. My mind clouded and I felt my limbs go limp. I could still see and hear, but I wasn't able to do much more than lie there and breathe.
He laid me back down and went back to rowing. I lay there, unable to move, and strangely, feeling sleep creeping up on me. Lying in that boat, hearing water drip and the regular slosh of the oars, and the motion of the boat were combining to put me to sleep. It was a very strange but effective lullaby. My eyes closed, but I didn't fall asleep right away. I could still hear and feel things. I heard the boat bump against something, felt the boat shift as he moved, and felt him pick me up and carry me somewhere. I felt warmth, and I heard a door close behind us. I was carried into another room, and he laid me down on what could have been a bed or sofa (I was pretty certain it was a bed). As he began to undress me I fought to protest, to yell for help, anything, but I couldn't make a sound. (I'd heard awful stories about young men being trapped by older men, and I couldn't help thinking of these.) It turned out that I had nothing to fear, though. He left my underclothes on me and covered me up with blankets that were soft and very warm. Then, he spoke.
"I know that you must be very confused and frightened, Phillippe, but you have nothing to fear from me. I promise. I couldn't venture to your hotel or approach you while you were with your schoolmates, so I waited until you came to the Opera. That drink you had tonight was from me, and it had something in it to make you sleep. You only had enough to make you drowsy, though, so I had to give you a little chloroform while we were on the lake. You'll fall asleep in a bit, and when you wake up, you and I will talk, and I shall try to explain. Good night, Phillippe. Pleasant dreams."
He left, and I heard a door close. I tried to sit up, to open my eyes, to move, but it was impossible. Whatever drug had been in that drink, it was doing its work well. I couldn't move, and I was falling asleep. From somewhere I heard the sound of a pipe organ, playing very softly and sweetly, and I recognized the song. It was Brahms' Guten Abend, Guten Nacht, Op. 49, No. 4. It was more commonly known as Brahms' Lullaby.
When I woke up, that masked menace and I would be having some words. He was not only a kidnapper, he was an underhanded kidnapper!