Box Five

Armand Moncharmin wrote such voluminous Memoirs during the fairly long period of his co-management that we may well ask if he ever found time to attend to the affairs of the Opera otherwise than by telling what went on there. M. Moncharmin did not know a note of music, but he called the minister of education and fine arts by his Christian name, had dabbled a little in society journalism and enjoyed a considerable private income. Lastly, he was a charming fellow and showed that he was not lacking in intelligence, for, as soon as he made up his mind to be a sleeping partner in the Opera, he selected the best possible active manager and went straight to Firmin Richard.

Firmin Richard was a very distinguished composer, who had published a number of successful pieces of all kinds and who liked nearly every form of music and every sort of musician. Clearly, therefore, it was the duty of every sort of musician to like M. Firmin Richard. The only things to be said against him were that he was rather masterful in his ways and endowed with a very hasty temper.

The first few days which the partners spent at the Opera were given over to the delight of finding themselves the head of so magnificent an enterprise; and they had forgotten all about that curious, fantastic story of the ghost, when an incident occurred that proved to them that the joke⁠—if joke it were⁠—was not over. M. Firmin Richard reached his office that morning at eleven o’clock. His secretary, M. Rémy, showed him half a dozen letters which he had not opened because they were marked “private.” One of the letters had at once attracted Richard’s attention not only because the envelope was addressed in red ink, but because he seemed to have seen the writing before. He soon remembered that it was the red handwriting in which the memorandum-book had been so curiously completed. He recognized the clumsy childish hand. He opened the letter and read:

Dear Mr. Manager:

I am sorry to have to trouble you at a time when you must be so very busy, renewing important engagements, signing fresh ones and generally displaying your excellent taste. I know what you have done for Carlotta, Sorelli and little Jammes and for a few others whose admirable qualities of talent or genius you have suspected.

Of course, when I use these words, I do not mean to apply them to La Carlotta, who sings like a squirt and who ought never to have been allowed to leave the Ambassadeurs and the Café Jacquin; nor to La Sorelli, who owes her success mainly to the coach-builders; nor to little Jammes, who dances like a calf in a field. And I am not speaking of Christine Daaé either, though her genius is certain, whereas your jealousy prevents her from creating any important part. When all is said, you are free to conduct your little business as you think best, are you not?

All the same, I should like to take advantage of the fact that you have not yet turned Christine Daaé out of doors by hearing her this evening in the part of Siebel, as that of Margarita has been forbidden her since her triumph of the other evening; and I will ask you not to dispose of my box today nor on the following days, for I can not end this letter without telling you how disagreeably surprised I have been once or twice, to hear, on arriving at the Opera, that my box had been sold, at the box-office, by your orders.

I did not protest, first, because I dislike scandal, and, second, because I thought that your predecessors, MM. Debienne and Poligny, who were always charming to me, had neglected, before leaving, to mention my little fads to you. I have now received a reply from those gentlemen to my letter asking for an explanation, and this reply proves that you know all about my memorandum-book and, consequently, that you are treating me with outrageous contempt. If you wish to live in peace, you must not begin by taking away my private box.

Believe me to be, dear Mr. Manager, without prejudice to these little observations,

Your Most Humble and Obedient Servant,

Opera Ghost.

The letter was accompanied by a cutting from the agony-column of the Revue Théâtrale, which ran:

O. G.⁠—There is no excuse for R. and M. We told them and left your memorandum-book in their hands. Kind regards.

M. Firmin Richard had hardly finished reading this letter when M. Armand Moncharmin entered, carrying one exactly similar. They looked at each other and burst out laughing.

“They are keeping up the joke,” said M. Richard, “but I don’t call it funny.”

“What does it all mean?” asked M. Moncharmin. “Do they imagine that, because they have been managers of the Opera, we are going to let them have a box for an indefinite period?”

“I am not in the mood to let myself be laughed at long,” said Firmin Richard.

“It’s harmless enough,” observed Armand Moncharmin. “What is it they really want? A box for tonight?”

M. Firmin Richard told his secretary to send Box Five on the grand tier to MM. Debienne and Poligny, if it was not sold. It was not. It was sent off to them. Debienne lived at the corner of the Rue Scribe and the Boulevard des Capucines; Poligny, in the Rue Auber. O. Ghost’s two letters had been posted at the Boulevard des Capucines post-office, as Moncharmin remarked after examining the envelopes.

“You see!” said Richard.

They shrugged their shoulders and regretted that two men of that age should amuse themselves with such childish tricks.

“They might have been civil, for all that!” said Moncharmin. “Did you notice how they treat us with regard to Carlotta, Sorelli and Little Jammes?”

“Why, my dear fellow, these two are mad with jealousy! To think that they went to the expense of an advertisement in the Revue Théâtrale! Have they nothing better to do?”

“By the way,” said Moncharmin, “they seem to be greatly interested in that little Christine Daaé!”

“You know as well as I do that she has the reputation of being quite good,” said Richard.

“Reputations are easily obtained,” replied Moncharmin. “Haven’t I a reputation for knowing all about music? And I don’t know one key from another.”

“Don’t be afraid: you never had that reputation,” Richard declared.

Thereupon he ordered the artists to be shown in, who, for the last two hours, had been walking up and down outside the door behind which fame and fortune⁠—or dismissal⁠—awaited them.

The whole day was spent in discussing, negotiating, signing or cancelling contracts; and the two overworked managers went to bed early, without so much as casting a glance at Box Five to see whether M. Debienne and M. Poligny were enjoying the performance.

Next morning, the managers received a card of thanks from the ghost:

Dear Mr. Manager:

Thanks. Charming evening. Daaé exquisite. Choruses want waking up. Carlotta a splendid commonplace instrument. Will write you soon for the 240,000 francs, or 233,424 fr. 70 c., to be correct. MM. Debienne and Poligny have sent me the 6,575 fr. 30 c. representing the first ten days of my allowance for the current year; their privileges finished on the evening of the tenth inst.

Kind regards.

O. G.

On the other hand, there was a letter from MM. Debienne and Poligny:


We are much obliged for your kind thought of us, but you will easily understand that the prospect of again hearing Faust, pleasant though it is to ex-managers of the Opera, can not make us forget that we have no right to occupy Box Five on the grand tier, which is the exclusive property of him of whom we spoke to you when we went through the memorandum-book with you for the last time. See Clause 98, final paragraph.

Accept, gentlemen, etc.

“Oh, those fellows are beginning to annoy me!” shouted Firmin Richard, snatching up the letter.

And that evening Box Five was sold.

The next morning, MM. Richard and Moncharmin, on reaching their office, found an inspector’s report relating to an incident that had happened, the night before, in Box Five. I give the essential part of the report:

I was obliged to call in a municipal guard twice, this evening, to clear Box Five on the grand tier, once at the beginning and once in the middle of the second act. The occupants, who arrived as the curtain rose on the second act, created a regular scandal by their laughter and their ridiculous observations. There were cries of “Hush!” all around them and the whole house was beginning to protest, when the box-keeper came to fetch me. I entered the box and said what I thought necessary. The people did not seem to me to be in their right mind; and they made stupid remarks. I said that, if the noise was repeated, I should be compelled to clear the box. The moment I left, I heard the laughing again, with fresh protests from the house. I returned with a municipal guard, who turned them out. They protested, still laughing, saying they would not go unless they had their money back. At last, they became quiet and I allowed them to enter the box again. The laughter at once recommenced; and, this time, I had them turned out definitely.

“Send for the inspector,” said Richard to his secretary, who had already read the report and marked it with blue pencil.

M. Rémy, the secretary, had foreseen the order and called the inspector at once.

“Tell us what happened,” said Richard bluntly.

The inspector began to splutter and referred to the report.

“Well, but what were those people laughing at?” asked Moncharmin.

“They must have been dining, sir, and seemed more inclined to lark about than to listen to good music. The moment they entered the box, they came out again and called the box-keeper, who asked them what they wanted. They said, ‘Look in the box: there’s no one there, is there?’ ‘No,’ said the woman. ‘Well,’ said they, ‘when we went in, we heard a voice saying that the box was taken!’ ”

M. Moncharmin could not help smiling as he looked at M. Richard; but M. Richard did not smile. He himself had done too much in that way in his time not to recognize, in the inspector’s story, all the marks of one of those practical jokes which begin by amusing and end by enraging the victims. The inspector, to curry favor with M. Moncharmin, who was smiling, thought it best to give a smile too. A most unfortunate smile! M. Richard glared at his subordinate, who thenceforth made it his business to display a face of utter consternation.

“However, when the people arrived,” roared Richard, “there was no one in the box, was there?”

“Not a soul, sir, not a soul! Nor in the box on the right, nor in the box on the left: not a soul, sir, I swear! The box-keeper told it me often enough, which proves that it was all a joke.”

“Oh, you agree, do you?” said Richard. “You agree! It’s a joke! And you think it funny, no doubt?”

“I think it in very bad taste, sir.”

“And what did the box-keeper say?”

“Oh, she just said that it was the Opera ghost. That’s all she said!”

And the inspector grinned. But he soon found that he had made a mistake in grinning, for the words had no sooner left his mouth than M. Richard, from gloomy, became furious.

“Send for the box-keeper!” he shouted. “Send for her! This minute! This minute! And bring her in to me here! And turn all those people out!”

The inspector tried to protest, but Richard closed his mouth with an angry order to hold his tongue. Then, when the wretched man’s lips seemed shut forever, the manager commanded him to open them once more.

“Who is this ‘Opera ghost?’ ” he snarled.

But the inspector was by this time incapable of speaking a word. He managed to convey, by a despairing gesture, that he knew nothing about it, or rather that he did not wish to know.

“Have you ever seen him, have you seen the Opera ghost?”

The inspector, by means of a vigorous shake of the head, denied ever having seen the ghost in question.

“Very well!” said M. Richard coldly.

The inspector’s eyes started out of his head, as though to ask why the manager had uttered that ominous “Very well!”

“Because I’m going to settle the account of anyone who has not seen him!” explained the manager. “As he seems to be everywhere, I can’t have people telling me that they see him nowhere. I like people to work for me when I employ them!”

Having said this, M. Richard paid no attention to the inspector and discussed various matters of business with his acting-manager, who had entered the room meanwhile. The inspector thought he could go and was gently⁠—oh, so gently!⁠—sidling toward the door, when M. Richard nailed the man to the floor with a thundering:

“Stay where you are!”

M. Rémy had sent for the box-keeper to the Rue de Provence, close to the Opera, where she was engaged as a porteress. She soon made her appearance.

“What’s your name?”

Mame Giry. You know me well enough, sir; I’m the mother of little Giry, little Meg, what!”

This was said in so rough and solemn a tone that, for a moment, M. Richard was impressed. He looked at Mame Giry, in her faded shawl, her worn shoes, her old taffeta dress and dingy bonnet. It was quite evident from the manager’s attitude, that he either did not know or could not remember having met Mame Giry, nor even little Giry, nor even “little Meg!” But Mame Giry’s pride was so great that the celebrated box-keeper imagined that everybody knew her.

“Never heard of her!” the manager declared. “But that’s no reason, Mame Giry, why I shouldn’t ask you what happened last night to make you and the inspector call in a municipal guard⁠ ⁠…”

“I was just wanting to see you, sir, and talk to you about it, so that you mightn’t have the same unpleasantness as M. Debienne and M. Poligny. They wouldn’t listen to me either, at first.”

“I’m not asking you about all that. I’m asking what happened last night.”

Mame Giry turned purple with indignation. Never had she been spoken to like that. She rose as though to go, gathering up the folds of her skirt and waving the feathers of her dingy bonnet with dignity, but, changing her mind, she sat down again and said, in a haughty voice:

“I’ll tell you what happened. The ghost was annoyed again!”

Thereupon, as M. Richard was on the point of bursting out, M. Moncharmin interfered and conducted the interrogatory, whence it appeared that Mame Giry thought it quite natural that a voice should be heard to say that a box was taken, when there was nobody in the box. She was unable to explain this phenomenon, which was not new to her, except by the intervention of the ghost. Nobody could see the ghost in his box, but everybody could hear him. She had often heard him; and they could believe her, for she always spoke the truth. They could ask M. Debienne and M. Poligny, and anybody who knew her; and also M. Isidore Saack, who had had a leg broken by the ghost!

“Indeed!” said Moncharmin, interrupting her. “Did the ghost break poor Isidore Saack’s leg?”

Mame Giry opened her eyes with astonishment at such ignorance. However, she consented to enlighten those two poor innocents. The thing had happened in M. Debienne and M. Poligny’s time, also in Box Five and also during a performance of Faust. Mame Giry coughed, cleared her throat⁠—it sounded as though she were preparing to sing the whole of Gounod’s score⁠—and began:

“It was like this, sir. That night, M. Maniera and his lady, the jewelers in the Rue Mogador, were sitting in the front of the box, with their great friend, M. Isidore Saack, sitting behind Mme. Maniera. Mephistopheles was singing”⁠—Mame Giry here burst into song herself⁠—“ ‘Catarina, while you play at sleeping,’ and then M. Maniera heard a voice in his right ear (his wife was on his left) saying, ‘Ha, ha! Julie’s not playing at sleeping!’ His wife happened to be called Julie. So M. Maniera turns to the right to see who was talking to him like that. Nobody there! He rubs his ear and asks himself if he’s dreaming. Then Mephistopheles went on with his serenade.⁠ ⁠… But, perhaps I’m boring you gentlemen?”

“No, no, go on.”

“You are too good, gentlemen,” with a smirk. “Well, then, Mephistopheles went on with his serenade”⁠—Mame Giry burst into song again⁠—“ ‘Saint, unclose thy portals holy and accord the bliss, to a mortal bending lowly, of a pardon-kiss.’ And then M. Maniera again hears the voice in his right ear, saying, this time, ‘Ha, ha! Julie wouldn’t mind according a kiss to Isidore!’ Then he turns round again, but, this time, to the left; and what do you think he sees? Isidore, who had taken his lady’s hand and was covering it with kisses through the little round place in the glove⁠—like this, gentlemen”⁠—rapturously kissing the bit of palm left bare in the middle of her thread gloves. “Then they had a lively time between them! Bang! Bang! M. Maniera, who was big and strong, like you, M. Richard, gave two blows to M. Isidore Saack, who was small and weak like M. Moncharmin, saving his presence. There was a great uproar. People in the house shouted, ‘That will do! Stop them! He’ll kill him!’ Then, at last, M. Isidore Saack managed to run away.”

“Then the ghost had not broken his leg?” asked M. Moncharmin, a little vexed that his figure had made so little impression on Mame Giry.

“He did break it for him, sir,” replied Mame Giry haughtily. “He broke it for him on the grand staircase, which he ran down too fast, sir, and it will be long before the poor gentleman will be able to go up it again!”

“Did the ghost tell you what he said in M. Maniera’s right ear?” asked M. Moncharmin, with a gravity which he thought exceedingly humorous.

“No, sir, it was M. Maniera himself. So⁠—”

“But you have spoken to the ghost, my good lady?”

“As I’m speaking to you now, my good sir!” Mame Giry replied.

“And, when the ghost speaks to you, what does he say?”

“Well, he tells me to bring him a footstool!”

This time, Richard burst out laughing, as did Moncharmin and Rémy, the secretary. Only the inspector, warned by experience, was careful not to laugh, while Mame Giry ventured to adopt an attitude that was positively threatening.

“Instead of laughing,” she cried indignantly, “you’d do better to do as M. Poligny did, who found out for himself.”

“Found out about what?” asked Moncharmin, who had never been so much amused in his life.

“About the ghost, of course!⁠ ⁠… Look here⁠ ⁠…”

She suddenly calmed herself, feeling that this was a solemn moment in her life:

Look here,” she repeated. “They were playing La Juive. M. Poligny thought he would watch the performance from the ghost’s box.⁠ ⁠… Well, when Léopold cries, ‘Let us fly!’⁠—you know⁠—and Eléazer stops them and says, ‘Whither go ye?’⁠ ⁠… well, M. Poligny⁠—I was watching him from the back of the next box, which was empty⁠—M. Poligny got up and walked out quite stiffly, like a statue, and before I had time to ask him, ‘Whither go ye?’ like Eléazer, he was down the staircase, but without breaking his leg.⁠ ⁠…”

“Still, that doesn’t let us know how the Opera ghost came to ask you for a footstool,” insisted M. Moncharmin.

“Well, from that evening, no one tried to take the ghost’s private box from him. The manager gave orders that he was to have it at each performance. And, whenever he came, he asked me for a footstool.”

“Tut, tut! A ghost asking for a footstool! Then this ghost of yours is a woman?”

“No, the ghost is a man.”

“How do you know?”

“He has a man’s voice, oh, such a lovely man’s voice! This is what happens: When he comes to the opera, it’s usually in the middle of the first act. He gives three little taps on the door of Box Five. The first time I heard those three taps, when I knew there was no one in the box, you can think how puzzled I was! I opened the door, listened, looked; nobody! And then I heard a voice say, ‘Mame Jules’⁠—my poor husband’s name was Jules⁠—‘a footstool, please.’ Saving your presence, gentlemen, it made me feel all-overish like. But the voice went on, ‘Don’t be frightened, Mame Jules, I’m the Opera ghost!’ And the voice was so soft and kind that I hardly felt frightened. The voice was sitting in the corner chair, on the right, in the front row.

“Was there anyone in the box on the right of Box Five?” asked Moncharmin.

“No; Box Seven, and Box Three, the one on the left, were both empty. The curtain had only just gone up.”

“And what did you do?”

“Well, I brought the footstool. Of course, it wasn’t for himself he wanted it, but for his lady! But I never heard her nor saw her.”

“Eh? What? So now the ghost is married!” The eyes of the two managers traveled from Mame Giry to the inspector, who, standing behind the box-keeper, was waving his arms to attract their attention. He tapped his forehead with a distressful forefinger, to convey his opinion that the widow Jules Giry was most certainly mad, a piece of pantomime which confirmed M. Richard in his determination to get rid of an inspector who kept a lunatic in his service. Meanwhile, the worthy lady went on about her ghost, now painting his generosity:

“At the end of the performance, he always gives me two francs, sometimes five, sometimes even ten, when he has been many days without coming. Only, since people have begun to annoy him again, he gives me nothing at all.⁠ ⁠…”

“Excuse me, my good woman,” said Moncharmin, while Mame Giry tossed the feathers in her dingy hat at this persistent familiarity, “excuse me, how does the ghost manage to give you your two francs?”

“Why, he leaves them on the little shelf in the box, of course. I find them with the program, which I always give him. Some evenings, I find flowers in the box, a rose that must have dropped from his lady’s bodice⁠ ⁠… for he brings a lady with him sometimes; one day, they left a fan behind them.”

“Oh, the ghost left a fan, did he? And what did you do with it?”

“Well, I brought it back to the box next night.”

Here the inspector’s voice was raised.

“You’ve broken the rules; I shall have to fine you, Mame Giry.”

“Hold your tongue, you fool!” muttered M. Firmin Richard.

“You brought back the fan. And then?”

“Well, then, they took it away with them, sir; it was not there at the end of the performance; and in its place they left me a box of English sweets, which I’m very fond of. That’s one of the ghost’s pretty thoughts.”

“That will do, Mame Giry. You can go.”

When Mame Giry had bowed herself out, with the dignity that never deserted her, the manager told the inspector that they had decided to dispense with that old madwoman’s services; and, when he had gone in his turn, they instructed the acting-manager to make up the inspector’s accounts. Left alone, the managers told each other of the idea which they both had in mind, which was that they should look into that little matter of Box Five themselves.