The Phantom of the Opera (Chapter 1, page 1 of 6)


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Chapter 1

It was the evening on which MM. Debienne and Poligny, the managers of
the Opera, were giving a last gala performance to mark their
retirement. Suddenly the dressing-room of La Sorelli, one of the
principal dancers, was invaded by half-a-dozen young ladies of the
ballet, who had come up from the stage after "dancing" Polyeucte. They
rushed in amid great confusion, some giving vent to forced and
unnatural laughter, others to cries of terror. Sorelli, who wished to
be alone for a moment to "run through" the speech which she was to make
to the resigning managers, looked around angrily at the mad and
tumultuous crowd. It was little Jammes--the girl with the tip-tilted
nose, the forget-me-not eyes, the rose-red cheeks and the lily-white
neck and shoulders--who gave the explanation in a trembling voice: "It's the ghost!" And she locked the door.

Sorelli's dressing-room was fitted up with official, commonplace
elegance. A pier-glass, a sofa, a dressing-table and a cupboard or two
provided the necessary furniture. On the walls hung a few engravings,
relics of the mother, who had known the glories of the old Opera in the
Rue le Peletier; portraits of Vestris, Gardel, Dupont, Bigottini. But
the room seemed a palace to the brats of the corps de ballet, who were
lodged in common dressing-rooms where they spent their time singing,
quarreling, smacking the dressers and hair-dressers and buying one
another glasses of cassis, beer, or even rhum, until the call-boy's
bell rang.

Sorelli was very superstitious. She shuddered when she heard little
Jammes speak of the ghost, called her a "silly little fool" and then,
as she was the first to believe in ghosts in general, and the Opera
ghost in particular, at once asked for details: "Have you seen him?"

"As plainly as I see you now!" said little Jammes, whose legs were
giving way beneath her, and she dropped with a moan into a chair.

Thereupon little Giry--the girl with eyes black as sloes, hair black as
ink, a swarthy complexion and a poor little skin stretched over poor
little bones--little Giry added: "If that's the ghost, he's very ugly!"

"Oh, yes!" cried the chorus of ballet-girls.

And they all began to talk together. The ghost had appeared to them in
the shape of a gentleman in dress-clothes, who had suddenly stood
before them in the passage, without their knowing where he came from.
He seemed to have come straight through the wall.

"Pooh!" said one of them, who had more or less kept her head. "You see
the ghost everywhere!"

And it was true. For several months, there had been nothing discussed
at the Opera but this ghost in dress-clothes who stalked about the
building, from top to bottom, like a shadow, who spoke to nobody, to
whom nobody dared speak and who vanished as soon as he was seen, no one
knowing how or where. As became a real ghost, he made no noise in
walking. People began by laughing and making fun of this specter
dressed like a man of fashion or an undertaker; but the ghost legend
soon swelled to enormous proportions among the corps de ballet. All
the girls pretended to have met this supernatural being more or less
often. And those who laughed the loudest were not the most at ease.
When he did not show himself, he betrayed his presence or his passing
by accident, comic or serious, for which the general superstition held
him responsible. Had any one met with a fall, or suffered a practical
joke at the hands of one of the other girls, or lost a powderpuff, it
was at once the fault of the ghost, of the Opera ghost.

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