The Phantom of the Opera (Chapter 1, page 2 of 6)


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Chapter 1

After all, who had seen him? You meet so many men in dress-clothes at
the Opera who are not ghosts. But this dress-suit had a peculiarity of
its own. It covered a skeleton. At least, so the ballet-girls said.
And, of course, it had a death's head.

Was all this serious? The truth is that the idea of the skeleton came
from the description of the ghost given by Joseph Buquet, the chief
scene-shifter, who had really seen the ghost. He had run up against
the ghost on the little staircase, by the footlights, which leads to
"the cellars." He had seen him for a second--for the ghost had
fled--and to any one who cared to listen to him he said: "He is extraordinarily thin and his dress-coat hangs on a skeleton
frame. His eyes are so deep that you can hardly see the fixed pupils.
You just see two big black holes, as in a dead man's skull. His skin,
which is stretched across his bones like a drumhead, is not white, but
a nasty yellow. His nose is so little worth talking about that you
can't see it side-face; and THE ABSENCE of that nose is a horrible
thing TO LOOK AT. All the hair he has is three or four long dark locks
on his forehead and behind his ears."

This chief scene-shifter was a serious, sober, steady man, very slow at
imagining things. His words were received with interest and amazement;
and soon there were other people to say that they too had met a man in
dress-clothes with a death's head on his shoulders. Sensible men who
had wind of the story began by saying that Joseph Buquet had been the
victim of a joke played by one of his assistants. And then, one after
the other, there came a series of incidents so curious and so
inexplicable that the very shrewdest people began to feel uneasy.

For instance, a fireman is a brave fellow! He fears nothing, least of
all fire! Well, the fireman in question, who had gone to make a round
of inspection in the cellars and who, it seems, had ventured a little
farther than usual, suddenly reappeared on the stage, pale, scared,
trembling, with his eyes starting out of his head, and practically
fainted in the arms of the proud mother of little Jammes.[1] And why?
Because he had seen coming toward him, AT THE LEVEL OF HIS HEAD, BUT
WITHOUT A BODY ATTACHED TO IT, A HEAD OF FIRE! And, as I said, a
fireman is not afraid of fire.

The fireman's name was Pampin.

The corps de ballet was flung into consternation. At first sight, this
fiery head in no way corresponded with Joseph Buquet's description of
the ghost. But the young ladies soon persuaded themselves that the
ghost had several heads, which he changed about as he pleased. And, of
course, they at once imagined that they were in the greatest danger.
Once a fireman did not hesitate to faint, leaders and front-row and
back-row girls alike had plenty of excuses for the fright that made
them quicken their pace when passing some dark corner or ill-lighted
corridor. Sorelli herself, on the day after the adventure of the
fireman, placed a horseshoe on the table in front of the
stage-door-keeper's box, which every one who entered the Opera
otherwise than as a spectator must touch before setting foot on the
first tread of the staircase. This horse-shoe was not invented by
me--any more than any other part of this story, alas!--and may still be
seen on the table in the passage outside the stage-door-keeper's box,
when you enter the Opera through the court known as the Cour de
l'Administration.

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