When we reached the auditorium, the first thing I noticed was the group of people on the stage. Had one of them screamed? Was nothing wrong, then? I skidded to a stop – Adrienne noted only just in time to stop herself from running in on me – and looked at the crowd in confusion. It was only then I saw the small figure they seemed to be gathered around.
'Why are we..-' Adrienne started but I held my hand up in a way of silencing her. I tried to pick up the words that came from the crowd, but they spoke too softly to make out words.
I grabbed hold of the little girl's arm en made my way through the endless rows of red seats.
None of the people on stage seemed to notice us – or they simply chose not to pay any attention to us. They kept speaking to each other in soft, agitated voices, occasionally casting meaningful glances at the figure on the floor.
'…supposed to do?'
'…cannot just leave this be, someone should inform the managers.'
'…they do? Close the opera?'
I looked to the right and saw that Adrienne was just as confused as I was. Clearly, she had no idea about what they were talking, either. I beckoned her to follow me and swiftly made my way to the stage.
As we approached, some of the people actually turned towards us for a second or two, but again, none of them really seemed to care. At that moment, I saw what they had all been gathered around in the first place. A woman, small and with a head of golden hair, sitting on the ground with as pale a face as dead itself and a look of terror engraved upon it. Clémence Dampierre. A sigh of relief escaped my lips before I knew it and, though quite inappropriate, I did not even feel bad about it, as I was greatly relieved that it had not been Anne.
'Could someone please explain to me what, for God's sake, could be urgent enough to wake us up in the middle of the night?'
I turned around, just like the rest of the crowd, to see two men in dressing gowns enter the stage. I had not seen them in the short time I'd spent in the Opera so far, but the voice had sound familiar. Now drenched with irritation – probably due to the interruption of his peaceful sleep – it took me hardly any effort to recognize it as the desperate, less rational one of the two managers I'd heard while eavesdropping. As I studied the man, I came to the conclusion that his voice was a perfect match with his appearance.
His fubsy, plump shape and the round, puffy red head that balanced on the fleshy shoulders stood in sharp contrast to the taller, more slender man beside him. His dark hair fell flatly over his pale face and two dark orbs observed the world in a rational, almost sceptical sort of way.
'Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, could someone please be so kind as to explain what is going on here. And of all times, at this late hour?' It was only then he spotted his prima donna on the floor and he prodded his partner.
Whom, on his turn, shrieked and rushed towards the young woman. 'Mademoiselle, what happened?'
Mademoiselle Dampierre did not answer him and I actually doubted she was even capable of making any sort of noise at this moment at all. I hadnhad never seen her like this before and I almost felt sorry for her. Almost.
'Someone, help the lady up and get her to monsieur Houbert.' The taller man said tiredly and sighed as he held a hand to his face. Monsieur Houbert was the residential doctor of the Opera and was a man is his late fifties. He had white-grey, thinning hair and always seemed to have a friendly, yet at the same time professional expression on his wrinkly face. I had only been at his office once, when Marie-Claire had caught a nasty cough and I'd offered to walk with her, but I had taken an immediate liking to the man.
Almost immediately, two younger women parted from the group and supported mademoiselle Dampierre while slowly disappearing from the stage. I very much doubted that monsieur Houbert would be able to find any symptoms of a disease though. She seemed to be merely scared, frightened to death by something. Or someone..
After the fleshier one of the managers told everyone to retreat to their rooms, the stage started draining and people scattered into different directions. It was at that moment I noted something lying on the smooth wooden surface of the stage, on the exact spot where mademoiselle Dampierre had been sitting not a minute ago.
Apparently, Adrienne had seen the piece of paper as well, as she feverishly started plucking at my left arm.
I took a few steps forward to look at the letter more closely, but before I could see anything besides a gigantic red, broken seal the letter was snatched from the floor by no one else than madame Giry.
'I suggest you two girls go to bed, as it is late and I don't want tired ballerinas at my practice tomorrow morning.' She tugged the letter in one of the pockets of her black dress and, after a short nod towards us, gracefully turned on her heel.
When I was sure the ballet instructress was out of hearing distance I shared my confusion with Adrienne. What had happened to the Prima Donna? What was in the letter? And was it possible that all this had to do with the Opera Ghost?
pagebreak~The next days went by very similar to all the other ones I'd spent in the Opera house. Little suggested that something strange had happened, such as an 'attack' on the leading lady soprano. It were little details though, that gave away the truth. Mademoiselle Dampierre was noticeably less vile and seemed distracted, at times even nervous when being on the stage. But, like I said, if one didn't know about the incident, he would probably not note any difference.
Meg kept up her strange behaviour, something that rather worried me. Though she tried to keep it hidden for everyone, it was perfectly clear to me that something troubled her mind greatly. For example, when we told her about the occurring on the stage, her face turned awfully pale and she wasn't able to mutter a word for at least ten minutes. I didn't know quite what to make of it, but it bothered me nevertheless.
On Wednesday though, something happened. An hour or so after practice, Adrienne practically ran up to me, a smile from ear to ear plastered on her face. 'Angèlique! I just ran into madame Giry and she wished to speak to you. It is about the next production. Isn't that exciting? Dear God, I am so happy for you.'
I looked at her in confusion. 'Happy for me? How so, if I may ask?'
'Oh you silly. Why else would she want to talk to you personally, than to tell you that you are getting the lead?'
I thought about that for a second. Was it possible? Sure, the instructress had commented me several times about my dancing, but was I really good enough to get the lead so soon? 'Are you sure, Adrienne?'
'See for yourself,' the young girl said and started towards the ballet instructress's room.
For a few minutes we walked in complete silence, but then a loud clamour made us stop dead in our tracks. A door to our left burst open and a servant hurried out and passed us with a look of terror on his face.
'And don't ever let me find you snooping around in my room again,' a woman's voice yelled threatening after him, then continued muttering to herself 'good thing I'd forgotten my soap, otherwise he'd.. Never mind, all is good now, time for a much needed bath.'
Clémence Dampierre, I suddenly realized. Marie-Claire had told me about some diary she's supposed to keep and in which she would have written about the attack. I did not know if it was true, but her behaviour the last few days left loads of room for speculations like that.
I already started to walk on, when Adrienne stopped me. 'This is our chance. If we ever want to find out what has happened, what was in that letter, we have to do it now.'
'Adrienne, I don't know if..-'
'Angèlique, I know it's in there. I've seen the diary, I'm quite sure it's in there. When will we ever have a chance like this again?'
'But we can't simply intrude her privacy,' I objected.
'Yes we can. And as a matter of fact, we will. Or rather, you will. I will keep watch while you go in and search for it. It's a small, dark blue book. Won't be hard to recognize, as it has her name in golden letters on the cover.'
'Go!' And with that, she pushed me towards the door.
I sighed and, after a last look over my shoulder, slipped through the crack.
As soon as I stepped foot in the room of the lead singer, I knew I'd made a mistake by coming there. If we – or rather; I – would be caught, there was no way of justifying my actions. I had no business there and even if I would be able to come up with a tolerable lie, there was no way I would manage to make it sound credible.
I shook off the heavy thoughts, while I was here I'd better use my time in looking for the diary, so the risk we took would not have been for nothing. Alright, if I was mademoiselle Dampierre, where would I hide my diary? Beneath my mattress perhaps? In one of the desk drawers? I quickly checked them, but both were empty of the sought-after, letter-bound book.
I sighed, where else could it be? In the dressing table? That was, after all, one of the places she probably spent the longest. I swiftly moved to the other side of the room and, after listening at the bathroom door for any indication that the singer would be back in the room soon, started searching the drawers. Besides some brushes, hair pins and handkerchiefs it was empty. In the second I found nothing, either, but hair accessories and a few trinkets she'd most likely gotten from admirers.
I was just about to open the third and last drawer, when a sound made me cease my doings and turn around. At first I saw nothing peculiar and I was about to turn back to the last drawer again when I saw a small movement in a dark corner of the room. Dark boots, black evening attire, a black coat and above that a ghost white facial. No, not a facial. Half a mask*.
I stopped breathing as I waited for him to make a move. He didn't however. He simply laid his finger on his lips and dropped the letter, which I now noticed he'd held in his hand, on top of the nightstand. Before I could come back to senses, he had disappeared into nothing. The Phantom of the Opera.. we'd met at last.
* Author's note: I have been debating for a while whether to follow Gaston Leroux's description of the Phantom's appearance or the one used in the movies and plays, where only half of the Phantom's face is disfigured and his body is normal. At first I wanted to follow Leroux's portrayal of the Ghost, as I don't want to raise the idea that my main character could possibly fall for or befriend the Phantom because he is not fully deformed. However, I have decided against that, because to me Gerard Butler really is the Phantom and he is how I depicture him to look, sound and be like in my head. His voice is absolutely mesmerizing, especially when he's yelling or singing the brutal parts in, for example, 'Point of no return'.