"You look beautiful tonight, Christine." Lisette's lips curved into a pleased smile as she looked over Christine's costume appraisingly. "I must say, that dress is very daring."
The old-fashioned dress of claret-colored velvet emphasized the narrowness of her waist and the enticing curve of her hips. There were deep-red velvet roses at the center of the provocative, lace-edged décolletage. Another rose was fixed in her hair. Her dark curls were falling like a sooty veil down her back all the way to her waist.
"Too daring?" Christine questioned as she looked up and caught Lisette's eyes in the mirror.
"What is too daring?" Lisette asked with a slight, dismissive wave of her hand. "You're portraying a seductress, Christine. Of course you must look the part."
Christine looked down. "But- "
"But nothing. The dress is exquisite," Lisette interrupted her. "Our seamstress is very talented, non?" She didn't wait for an answer, but began to fuss with Christine's curls again. "I dare say, the Viscount will not be able to take his eyes off of you when he sees you in it. And that is what you want, isn't it? Besides, this is the stage. All eyes should be on you. An entire audience of women will have their bosoms bared. Why should you be any different?"
But a slight frown continued to mar Christine's face as she stared at her reflection in the huge, gilt-edged mirror in her dressing room. Somehow Raoul could find a difference. The truth was that Raoul de Chagny had recently remarked on the provocative nature of her costumes, that she must remember that she was displaying herself before an audience that was at least half men. He had also hinted that perhaps their interest might not be only because of her singing ability and that as his future wife, he had an interest in the way she presented herself.
So if her dress was daring or provocative in any way, there was every chance that she would hear about it later.
Brush in one hand, Lisette asked, "Did I tell you that in spite of the rain that has been falling off and on all day, it's a packed house out there?"
"You did mention that, yes."
"Then what is that frown for? You should be enjoying your success."
"I would if I was not anticipating that Raoul will not approve of my attire. He will probably feel that I am openly defying him again. We had very strong words about it after my last performance."
"Christine, The Viscount Raoul de Chagny has asked you to marry him. A little jealousy will do him good. The only thing you should be thinking about right now is your wedding."
When her words were met with silence, Lisette paused with the brush in mid-air and frowned. "You're not having second thoughts, are you?" she asked.
"It would be foolish of me, wouldn't it?"
"Are you having second thoughts?"
Second thoughts? Yes, Christine thought to herself. And third and fourth ones. But she didn't say that out loud. She kept her uncertainties to herself. Still, Lisette was astute enough to notice the lingering shadows in her eyes and the fact that she had not bothered to deny that she might be having second thoughts about the wedding.
"There's really nothing to think about, is there, Christine? I mean, it's already done. You have accepted his proposal. You surely would not deny yourself this chance to have such a comfortable future, would you? Do you think you will ever get such an offer again?"
"Probably not," Christine said half to herself as Lisette stepped back and finally declared that her hair was perfect.
"The Viscount is very handsome," Lisette said, although she did not have to remind Christine of that. "And he is one of the wealthiest, most influential men in Paris. What has you so uncertain?"
After a long, drawn-out sigh, Christine said, "I'm not sure, but I admit that something about this marriage looms over me like a shadow at times. I can't explain it. I almost fear becoming his wife."
"But he loves you, Christine. Not many women have the good fortune to marry for love. What could be more important than marrying a man that you can give your heart to? You do love him, don't you?"
Again, Christine did not answer.
"How can I even know what love is supposed to feel like? I have never been in love before. How do I even know that he is the kind of man I can give my heart freely to?"
So far, Raoul de Chagny had proven himself to be a gentleman in every way. But he had also proven himself to be a man who had strong opinions on every subject, opinions that he did not expect her to contradict. That trait certainly would not change once the marriage vows were taken. How was it going to be spending a lifetime with a man like that? How much adjusting would she have to do?
"And the thought of leaving all of this behind- " Christine's words trailed off as if they were insufficient in expressing all that she was feeling.
"All this?" Lisette echoed. "What would keep you here? What could possibly be more important than becoming the wife of Raoul de Chagny?"
Christine closed her eyes. "What would you have me say, Lisette? That I will not miss the opera house? The truth is that the thought of leaving all this behind has been in my thoughts a great deal lately."
"Of course you're sad at leaving all of this. But once you're married you can't expect to go on singing on the stage. That would hardly be proper. You may have to make that tiny sacrifice, but look what you will get to fill in the void. As the wife of Raoul de Chagny, you will have everything any woman could ask for, not to mention that you will be living in one of the grandest mansions in Paris. If the opportunity presented itself to me, I assure you that I would not think twice about leaving all this behind. I would be sad to leave you, of course, but I would be happy to never have to work another day in my life and to finally live a life of leisure and luxury.
"You can still come back to the opera house," Lisette went on. "Only instead of being on the stage, you will be watching the performance from the comfort of the de Chagny box. Don't you think that will be a novel experience?"
"Yes, of course. But- "
"But what, Christine?"
"I don't mean to sound ungrateful, but- But all the hours that I have put into my singing lessons, they will all have been in vain."
How could she even begin to explain to Lisette what those lessons had come to mean to her?
"And what about your mysterious teacher?" Lisette asked. "Have you already spoken to him to tell him you will no longer be needing the lessons?"
"Yes," Christine murmured. For the space of several heartbeats there was a genuinely distressed look on her face.
"And?" Lisette prompted.
"What could he say? He had to accept my decision to end the lessons. But I think that he- "
"He seemed as if he was quite- affected by my decision. I mean, I could sense that even in his silence."
"Well, he did devote months of his time to the lessons. One would expect him to feel some disappointment. The lessons must have meant a great deal to him or he would not have offered them in the first place."
"Yes," Christine said very softly. "He was very generous with his time. And his talent. I have never heard such a- such a passionate musician."
She could not put into words how the regret in his voice, a regret she was sure he had tried to hide, had affected her. So deeply that she had burst into tears after he had said his final good-bye and left her alone. Had the lessons come to mean so much to her as well?
"Saying good-bye was very difficult for me, too," she admitted. "Because I felt like I was giving up so much."
"That makes sense. Not everyone is offered free voice lessons," Lisette commented logically.
But it was more than that, Christine thought. It was so much more than that.
She knew her teacher by his voice only. The deep masculine tones had become very familiar to her and she looked forward to those lessons. Although he remained anonymous, he seemed refined, intelligent, and well-educated, even compelling somehow. Now she would never have the opportunity to know who he was and that seemed like a very great loss to her. Now she would never satisfy her growing, burning curiosity to fit the voice to a face that had remained beyond the curtain that had always separated them. She would never be able to thank him properly even though he had always told her that he was the one privileged by the lessons, not her.
Lisette frowned down at her friend's reflection in the mirror. "You have seemed very distracted lately. Is there something that you're not telling me?"
"No. No secrets," Christine answered, forcing a smile.
"This must all seem like such a big adjustment for you," Lisette said sympathetically.
"You're right. I am probably just having a hard time adjusting to the idea of- everything."
But she was still thinking about her unseen teacher. He had said that he would be watching her performance tonight. She would not be able to see him in the darkened theater, of course, but it was enough for her to know that he would be there.
"I think that it's entirely possible that you are distracted by tonight's performance as well," Lisette said. "Singing can be very emotionally and physically draining. After you sleep on it tonight, you will probably feel very different tomorrow. At least you are not as nervous as Henri Millard must be," Lisette went on. "He said the ghost made him forget his lines the last time he was on stage."
"Henri is always forgetting his lines."
"Yes, but he said he saw the ghost right before his performance," Lisette said significantly. "He appeared in a backstage hallway and then vanished right before his eyes. As if he had never existed at all. Monique said she saw him as well a few nights ago. Although Monique says she is not afraid of the ghost. She says she is rather intrigued by the idea of the opera house being haunted. But then Monique is intrigued by any man, dead or alive. She said he was wearing a black cape and that he was masked. Since most people who have seen him describe him as wearing a mask, I think it is possible that he performed on the stage at one time, maybe many years ago. How else would you explain the mask? Perhaps he was an actor. Or a composer or a musician. Something keeps him here, and he seems to be involving himself in earthly affairs quite regularly of late. The note to Carlotta was very explicit and it was signed: O.G. I call that a very bold ghost.
"Whoever he is - was - he is obviously some tormented soul who cannot leave this place for some reason. There must be some tragic story behind such a haunting. A suicide or a murder, perhaps. Or some tragic story of unrequited passion or forbidden love." Lisette shrugged. "Qui sait? Usually there is no end to the gossip that goes on around here, so you would think that someone would know of such a story if it existed. But no one can recall even a rumor of anything like that happening. Perhaps there was a secret love affair that no one knew about. And a suicide or murder might have been hushed up, especially if someone important was involved. Monique thinks that a séance should be held here at the opera house to try and contact the ghost. But who knows what that might stir up. I wonder if the ghost watches the performances." Lisette thought that over for a moment. "He does have his own private Box. There is certainly a reason for that. Perhaps he comes for the music. Maybe it's the music that keeps him here."
Lisette's eyes widened as something suddenly occurred to her. "Maybe he will be right there in Box Five listening to you sing tonight. I can tell you that there are times when I can almost feel someone watching me from the shadows. What do you think? Do you think the Phantom of the Opera will be listening to you sing tonight, Christine?"
"I think, Lisette, that you have a very active imagination. Has anyone even seen a ghost tonight?"
"Not that I have heard. But the night is not over yet."
After a pause, Lisette asked, "The Viscount will be there tonight in his box?"
"I imagine you will be singing to him," Lisette sighed. "How romantic." She looked over Christine's dress again. "I'll warrant that even ghostly eyes will find you ravishing tonight."
"Yes. The Phantom of the Opera. If he really is there in Box Five watching you, perhaps you will win his heart tonight as well," Lisette teased before she said, "I will leave you alone for a few minutes to gather yourself before you go on stage."
When the door closed behind Lisette, Christine stood up from her chair and paced across her dressing room. Only the whisper of her skirts disturbed the silence. There was one thing dominating her thoughts. And that was that she would be leaving him, her unseen teacher when she left the opera house for the last time.
"I don't know how I will do it," she whispered to herself, yielding for a moment to the turmoil inside her now that she was alone.
Ten minutes later, as she was climbing the steps to the stage, one of the stage hands handed her a single, perfect blood-red rose. It was not the first time. Who had been leaving the roses she did not know, but she would find them anywhere, even in her dressing room.
"Who left this?" she asked the stage hand.
The man shrugged. "I don't know. I just found it like the other ones, with a note addressed to you. You have about two minutes, Miss Daae. Make sure to be careful of that last step."
He left her alone and she stood waiting for her cue. The music of the orchestra continued to fill the theater. She could also hear the low voices of busy workers behind the stage getting ready for the next scene. In spite of that, as she stood there, she felt very much alone. Suddenly that changed. A strange sensation came over her, a kind of eerie feeling that she was being watched.
She looked around and saw no one watching her. There seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary. Then she tilted her head far back, arching her throat as she looked straight up. There in the rigging far above her was a man. He was leaning slightly forward and looking over the edge of the railing. He was looking straight back at her.
Not a ghost. A man.
He was dressed entirely in black and a mask covered half his face. He was wearing a long black cape that was thrown back over one wide shoulder.
Just the way the Phantom of the Opera had been described.
She drew a deep breath and looked around to see if anyone else had noticed. No one had. When she looked back, the man had vanished.
As if he had never existed at all.
He watched her from the deeply-shadowed recesses of Box Five.With only his solitude for company, he stayed hidden in the darkness. The black cape was thrown back over one shoulder. It hung negligently down his broad back as his gaze stayed fixed on the stage. As always, he could see her even though she could not see him.
There was, as there had always been, a beauty to Christine that had touched him from the beginning. The image of her had begun to haunt him the first time he had laid eyes upon her. And now, the way she looked tonight with the exquisite dress emphasizing her womanly curves as she swept gracefully onto the stage, she further bewitched and enchanted him. She was his ideal of beauty, the embodiment of female perfection. She was all that he knew he could never have.
From the moment she sang the first word, he closed his eyes. She did not know her power over him. Hers was a siren's call, a voice that could draw a man to his very death. As her haunting voice reached deep inside him, he wondered how such a young woman could know such depths of passion and emotion. What could she know of love that she often brought an audience to tears?
He stood there rapt, held in a spell he did not want to end. But of course, it did. The last note was soft, tender and lingering, yet strong. He remained motionless as the curtain came down, still held in thrall by the magic of her voice.
It was over. There was a breathless, momentary hush. And then the wild tumult of an enthusiastic, appreciative audience filled the theater. Unnoticed by the crowd, he who had lived his entire life in the shadows, turned to go back to the darkness.
"There is no ghost. There is only a man masquerading as a ghost. He is no more a ghost than I am." The Viscount Raoul de Chagny's lips straightened into a thin line as he fought for patience. His audience seemed to him like a group of frightened children. Since he had taken it upon himself to gain control of the situation, he faced them now with all the air of authority that he could muster, and that was considerable.
"He has dared to threaten even Carlotta with his childish notes," the Viscount went on. "And he has repeatedly threatened the owners with vague, dire consequences if they do not do as he says. I tell you, he has interfered with the running of this opera house for far too long. And now there has been an outright assault. He is a madman who must be stopped."
There was quite a crowd of theater workers gathered around the Viscount. The incident had occurred only half an hour before and so the particulars of the attack could only be guessed at.
"What has changed?" someone asked. "The ghost has not been violent before now."
"Well, he is violent now," the Viscount replied grimly. "Someone hit Monsieur Renault in the back of the head and left him lying unconscious on the floor in one of the backstage hallways. The man was nearly bludgeoned to death. There is something dangerous and sinister at work. Is there anyone here who will deny it?"
There was a general shaking of heads and people looking around to see who agreed with whom. Only one man had the courage to speak up, although he did so in a very low voice. "Is it possible that Monsieur Renault did something to provoke the assault?"
Poor Monsieur Renault was sitting in a chair at a little distance looking pale and visibly shaken. There was a bandage wrapped around his entire head while one of the dancers held another bandage to the back of his head. And although he was a pitiful figure, the same question had occurred to more than one person in that theater.
"The man says no," the Viscount answered him. And then his gaze slowly swept the listeners. "It could be even more disastrous the next time the maniac strikes. Someone could be killed. It could be anyone of you."
"But how do you stop a ghost?" someone asked.
The Viscount looked up at the elaborately-painted ceiling above him like he was seeking help for his almost divine patience. He began speaking slowly and deliberately, as he might speak to a small child. "I told you before, we are not dealing with a ghost. Only an ignorant mind would believe that to be the case." The not-so-subtle insult was hardly lost on the listeners. "He is most likely some homeless villain that has been hiding in the cellars of the opera house," the Viscount went on. "He might be deranged. He might be a criminal. Therefore, he must be found and, even more than that, he must be brought to justice."
"What of the ghostly music we hear?" one of the dancers asked. "Could a criminal play such beautiful music?"
Apparently there were some among the crowd who did not want to let go of the idea of a mysterious phantom residing in the opera house. The rather romantic legend of a phantom had been around so long that it was an integral part of the opera house's history.
"Yes, what of that?" someone else asked.
The Viscount waved that aside. "Someone is playing a trick on you. One of the musicians, I'll wager. Besides, there is nothing particularly magical about that. Anyone can pick up an instrument and play music. Or sing."
There were some in the group of listeners, perhaps most, who might not have agreed with that opinion, but the Viscount did not see, or he pretended not to see, the scarcely-veiled, hostile stares from a few of them.
"But how does he manage to do the other things he does? Like vanish into walls? Or disappear right before someone's eyes?"
"Those are merely tricks. Illusions," the Viscount assured them. "The power of a suggestive mind can make anything seem very real. It is really fear that has helped him keep up his illusions this long. And I will tell you one more thing," Raoul went on. "This ridiculous notion of a ghost having his own private box must stop. No wonder he thinks he can do anything he wants here. His ludicrous whims have all been catered to up to now. But I am going to change all that."
"For one thing," the Viscount said with a small, imperious smile showing beneath his blond mustache. He really did enjoy, deep inside, having everyone's undivided attention like this. It gave him a sense of power that he found immensely satisfying. Some might have said it was like having his own personal stage. "This building must be searched from top to bottom."
"The entire opera house?" someone asked incredulously. "But there are over a thousand rooms. And no one ever goes down to the lowermost cellars."
"Yes," the Viscount replied. "I know that. But it must be searched. Including the cellars. I will see to it myself."
"Just what will you be looking for?" Madame Giry asked as she stepped forward.
"If someone has been hiding here - and I'm sure that has been the case - we will find evidence of it," the Viscount answered her confidently. "We will rid the opera house of this scoundrel once and for all. But first we must stop thinking of him as a ghost."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, Christine, that it's time that you told Madame Giry that you have given your last performance."
"But I haven't given it. I will be singing here tomorrow night. And the night after that."
The Viscount, trying to be more authoritative, more husbandly, spoke in a much lower voice. "I cannot allow that, Christine. In light of everything that has happened, it's much too dangerous for you to even consider performing here again."
"Do I look like a child that I must be told what to do? Do I look like I cannot make my own decisions?"
"Of course not. You know that I am only thinking about what is best for you."
"I have only two performances left to give and then I will say good bye to this place - and my career – for good. Will you take that away from me?"
He could see that she was getting angry, but she needed to know that he was not going to get in the habit of backing down before her. That would be a disastrous way to begin a marriage.
"I'm not trying to take anything away from you. I'm only asking you to be reasonable. It's not safe here."
"Have you told that to the other performers?" she asked.
"I don't have to. They already know what they are up against and they can make their own decisions. But as for you- "
She cut him off with a deep, impatient sigh and tried to suppress her growing anger, but she wasn't having much success at it. She hated when he tried to make decisions for her. It was something that seemed to be happening more and more frequently of late. "But I will be on stage in front of an entire audience of people. What do you think could happen?"
Faced with her anger, he changed tactics, feeling his way through what he saw as her mercurial moods, which seemed to grow more unpredictable the closer they got to the wedding. At her resentful tone, he summoned up a hurt expression on his face. "How can you be angry with me when you know that I am only worried about your safety? As your future husband, do I not have that right?"
She wasn't sure yet how to respond when he was like this. It only made her more frustrated.
"We're not married yet. And since you seem to be finding more and more fault with my behavior lately, perhaps we should re-consider- "
"How can you talk to me like that?" he interrupted her, worried that he had pushed her too far.
"I am only speaking the truth, Raoul."
"You are speaking nonsense. The wedding will go on as planned. Which is another matter we need to discuss." He thought it wise, perhaps, to change the subject when she was like this. "My sister needs to go over wedding details with you."
"Tell her to make them herself. That is what she will do anyway, regardless of what I may want."
"Christine, don't be like this."
"Like what? A woman who speaks her mind only to have you get annoyed or change the subject when I do so? Is this how things will be once we are married? Will you continue to try and make my decisions for me and disregard my opinions and my wishes? To have yours be the only ones that matter?"
He puffed up with offended pride and so much more. "I will continue to make the decisions that I feel I must make. And you, as my wife, will trust that they are the right decisions. Now, I understand that since you are a theater performer, you can tend to be somewhat melodramatic during our little disagreements. But we are supposed to be having dinner with some very important people in a little less than an hour. Don't you think we should be getting ready for that?"
Christine quickly drew her full skirts close and leaned her back against the wall, hoping she had not been seen. Raoul was waiting in the hallway for her outside her dressing room. His back was to her and his hands were on his hips as he paced, a clear sign of his impatience. She knew the posture very well. He looked like he intended to have words with her. Again. And she knew what it would be about. The provocativeness of her costume was a subject that had come up earlier. He would not have realized that she had openly defied him and worn the costume anyway until he had seen her on stage wearing it. The last thing she wanted was another confrontation. She wasn't up to it right now because her performance had taken everything out of her.
Of course, she knew that if she did not show up, he would come looking for her. She knew that he would not stop looking until he had found her. In spite of that, she hurried in the opposite direction, desperately wondering where she could go to avoid him. At least for a little while.
She stopped suddenly, pivoting around, the glow of the gaslight on her frowning face as she bit her lower lip. She realized she was standing before the door of the only place that Raoul might not look for her.
The Phantom of the Opera's private box.
Her decision made, she opened the door and stared for a moment into the pitch blackness. Driven by the fear that Raoul might already be looking for her, she swept across the threshold into the secluded space where she waited for her eyes to adjust.
It was too dark to see anything inside the small room, but she could almost sense something in the darkness with her. Was her mind playing tricks on her? It took her a few moments to realize with a certainty that she wasn't alone. Almost at the same moment of awareness, she heard, "Don't be afraid, Christine."