As we strolled through the lively streets of Paris, I could not help the sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach. For some reason, I could not shake off the horrible emptiness I felt because of what I had seen at the traveling fair. Of course I knew this was no such thing as an exception – I mean; almost every fair had its own 'freak show' – but I felt bad because of it anyway. Seeing Philippe, who was only a boy, being neglected and probably abused, simply because he had a deformed body.
I looked up, confused, and only now realized Meg had been talking to me. Again, I made a mental note to keep my mind more in the present.
'You weren't listening, were you?'
Shamefully I shook my head. 'I'm sorry.'
'Are you alright? You haven't spoken ever since we left the fair.'
I turned to look at her and saw her blue eyes look at me in worry. 'I'm alright, I'm just not feeling very well. Perhaps it's a better idea for me to go back to the Opera House. I don't want to ruin your day off, besides; all I want right now is just to lie in my bed and get some sleep.'
'Are you sure?'
I nodded. 'Absolutely.'
'Guys, hold on.' She waited until the other had come to a stop and turned to us curiously. 'Angèlique and I are going back to the Opera House, she's not feeling alright and I'm taking her to bed.'
'Alright, get well soon!' Anne said and gave me a hug.
'Yes, it's a pity you'll not be able to see the market, it's really great..' Adrienne pouted.
'Thank you, but I can walk myself back to the Garnier. You go with the others and enjoy your day off. I'm sure the Garnier is not far from here and there are plenty of people to help me if I would get lost.'
She looked at me in contemplation and I could clearly see how she was weighing both of the options. Obviously she wanted to go to the market and enjoy the rest of the day, but she didn't want me to get lost in Paris or have something happen to me. 'Well.. I'm not sure, Angèlique. Perhaps it's better for me to just bring you back.'
I shook my head. 'Don't be silly, I can easily find my way back, Meg, believe me. I really don't want you to give up your day, I'll see you guys tonight at dinner.' And with that, I started walking away from them. I heard their loud protests, but kept walking anyway. Where the road I took was heading to didn't matter, first I just needed to get away from them so they would not bring me to the Opera their selves.
After a minute or two, I dared to stop and look around. Most importantly, they had not followed me. But apart from that, I couldn't be relieved. I still felt sickened and the large building of the Opera – my new home – was nowhere to be seen. I muttered a swear, just like I saw the stagehands do every so often. It was not like me at all, but I guess the habits of the Palais Garnier began to grow on me. Shyly, I walked up to an older man who was talking with a pretty looking woman. 'Excuse me, monsieur. Could you perhaps tell me which way the Opera Populaire is?'He looked at me and smiled. 'Well, of course that depends on what I will get for it in return, mademoiselle.'
My stomach turned, I could not deal with another vulgar man today. But as I started to turn, the woman got hold of my arm.
'I'm sorry, dear. My husband finds himself to be very amusing today. Don't mind him. It is right down that street and then, when you pass the park, you should be able to see it.'
I nodded. 'Thank you, madame.' After one last glance on the odd couple I turned on my heal and began walking in the pointed direction.
When I finally reached the double doors of the Opera Populaire, I was barely able to keep myself together. While walking, I could not help but look at all the people around me and feel sick. No matter how delicate, how refined, I was sure they would laugh at the face of a boy like Philippe. I was sure that any of them, no matter what class, would gape at him if they would attend one of the shows at the traveling fair.
Quickly I slipped through the doors, leaving the busy, lively Paris behind. Normally, I wasn't much of a silence person, but right now I felt like a complete stranger in the world outside. In all honesty, I did not even want to be part of a world that was so cruel and unkind to some.
Inside the main lobby I once again took in the magnificence and beauty of the building. Even after a week, I still wasn't quite used to the Opera and its grandeur. I wondered if I ever would be, given the fact how I had always dreamed about being here. After a minute of admiration I headed towards the grand, marble stairs that would lead to the public entrance of the auditorium. Perhaps I could hide in one of the boxes, since there would be no one there now anyway. I didn't feel like being around anyone at the moment, especially not one – or even worse; a group – of the shallow, silly girls of the ballet corps.At the top of the stairs I held my step for a moment and glanced around. There again was the presence I had felt on my first day. Since then it had become an acquainted feeling and not a day had gone by without me sensing the presence of some sort of being. I shook off the feeling – as I always did – and started to continue my way to the boxes when the sound of agitated voices caught my attention. Unknowingly, I had already taken a few steps in the direction of the sound, but I stopped dead in my tracks. I wasn't one for eavesdropping. In fact; I thought it to be very rude and uncivil. And yet I couldn't help myself from rushing to one of the darker corners and pressing myself against the wall. I pricked up my ears and listened eagerly. Oh how much I would be in trouble if anyone would find me standing like this, I thought, half amused, half anxious.
'…assured me all of this would be over,' a woman said, accusingly. It was madame Giry, I realized, as I recognized the dignified tone in her voice.
'Madame, we thought it was. There were no more accidents, no more strange happenings ever since. We had all reason to believe it to be.' A man said in defence, but I could clearly hear how desperate he was.
'Indeed, we hadn't heard from him ever since the big fire, which has been now – what is it – four years ago? How could we have known that he hadn't just died in the fire too?'
'Because he is he, monsieur, and thinking of him dying so easily would be rather foolish.'
'But there was never any sign of life throughout the years. The letter that I found this morning is the first thing we have experienced first-handed with regard to him.'
'Very well,' the second, clearly the more cool-headed, of the two men said soothingly. 'What do you suggest us to do madame, seeing you seem to know so much about this.. this subject.'
'I suggest you brace yourself, dear sirs, because the time you could run this Opera freely has come to an end. Furthermore,' it didn't take a lot of imagination for me to imagine her raising her chin prominently 'I advise you to carry out his every wish and certainly not to provoke him.'
'Alright, thank you madame.'
I heard the three of them part ways and, when I noticed one pair of footsteps coming my way, pressed myself even tighter against the wall. Luckily, when the ballet head mistress passed my hiding spot, she seemed to be too taken by her thoughts to even notice me if I would have been the Phantom himself, ready to take her hostage and drag her down to my secret base. I let out a sigh of relief when she was finally out of sight and leaned my head back against the cool wall. What had they been talking about that made them so upset? Who was the man they were talking about? Was it perhaps – could it be – about the Opera Ghost? I pondered on that thought for a moment, before deciding not to pass a judgement on the matter until I'd know more about it. That, though, did not make my earlier reference to him any less ironical. The only thing I knew for sure was that they, and I assumed that that would be the two managers, seemed to be clearly unstrung.
I felt myself grow rather excited by this new turn of events and my body filled with a childish sort of enthusiasm as I thought of ways to 'invest' the matter. Perhaps I should ask around about the Phantom, nose out what his past mischief included and find out if this, indeed, has anything to do with the notorious tease. I would have to do it very carefully, though, because I did not want to risk the chance of getting discharged from the Opera House.
I quickly stepped out of the shadows and headed down the hallway. Instead of going right towards the boxes, though, I made my way down ground floor and went to the kitchen. I had no doubt I would be able to find someone there who could tell me all about the rumours.
When I came in, I scanned the kitchen for candidates for my cross examination, but all I found was the chef, who was stirring in a giant stockpot. The chef was an older man, probably somewhere in his fifties, who had grey hair, a small grey moustache and a belly to confirm the idea of cooks tasting their meals. I hadn't talked to him much yet, but he was a nice man who always seemed eager to help anyone if they'd ask.
'Oh hello, mademoiselle,' he said when he noticed me.
'Good day, monsieur, is it alright for me to sit down here for a moment?' I asked politely.
'Of course it is! And please, do call me Pierre, everyone here does.' He smiled at me en gestured with the spoon as he said; 'On the table over there are some pies and muffins, take some if you like.'
I smiled back gratefully, as I noticed that – now my nausea had subsided – I was indeed rather hungry. 'Is it really alright for me to just take one?' I asked, as I stood at the table he had pointed to.
'Of course dear, take a few if you want. It wouldn't hurt to get some extra meat on that petite body of yours.'
I snickered, people had been telling me that my whole life, but it was simply the way I was build. A good thing, because being a ballerina required my body to be in good shape and I liked nice food far too much to mind what I eat. 'Monsieur, I was wondering, may I ask you something?' I picked up one of the delicious looking muffins and settled myself on a chair not too far away from the cook.
'Ask away, dear child.'
I cleared my throat and watched the cake in my hand as I said: 'What can you tell me about the Phantom of the Opera?'