The scorpion or the grasshopper: which?
THE PERSIAN'S NARRATIVE CONCLUDED
The discovery flung us into a state of alarm that made us forget all our past and present sufferings. We now knew all that the monster meant to convey when he said to Christine Daae:
"Yes or no! If your answer is no, everybody will be dead AND BURIED!"
Yes, buried under the ruins of the Paris Grand Opera!
The monster had given her until eleven o'clock in the evening. He had chosen his time well. There would be many people, many "members of the human race," up there, in the resplendent theater. What finer retinue could be expected for his funeral? He would go down to the tomb escorted by the whitest shoulders in the world, decked with the richest jewels.
Eleven o'clock to-morrow evening!
We were all to be blown up in the middle of the performance … if Christine Daae said no!
Eleven o'clock to-morrow evening! …
And what else could Christine say but no? Would she not prefer to espouse death itself rather than that living corpse? She did not know that on her acceptance or refusal depended the awful fate of many members of the human race!
Eleven o'clock to-morrow evening!
And we dragged ourselves through the darkness, feeling our way to the stone steps, for the light in the trap-door overhead that led to the room of mirrors was now extinguished; and we repeated to ourselves:
"Eleven o'clock to-morrow evening!"
At last, I found the staircase. But, suddenly I drew myself up on the first step, for a terrible thought had come to my mind:
"What is the time?"
Ah, what was the time? … For, after all, eleven o'clock to-morrow evening might be now, might be this very moment! Who could tell us the time? We seemed to have been imprisoned in that hell for days and days … for years … since the beginning of the world. Perhaps we should be blown up then and there! Ah, a sound! A crack! "Did you hear that? … There, in the corner … good heavens! … Like a sound of machinery! … Again! … Oh, for a light! … Perhaps it's the machinery that is to blow everything up! … I tell you, a cracking sound: are you deaf?"
M. de Chagny and I began to yell like madmen. Fear spurred us on. We rushed up the treads of the staircase, stumbling as we went, anything to escape the dark, to return to the mortal light of the room of mirrors!
We found the trap-door still open, but it was now as dark in the room of mirrors as in the cellar which we had left. We dragged ourselves along the floor of the torture-chamber, the floor that separated us from the powder-magazine. What was the time? We shouted, we called: M. de Chagny to Christine, I to Erik. I reminded him that I had saved his life. But no answer, save that of our despair, of our madness: what was the time? We argued, we tried to calculate the time which we had spent there, but we were incapable of reasoning. If only we could see the face of a watch! … Mine had stopped, but M. de Chagny's was still going … He told me that he had wound it up before dressing for the Opera … We had not a match upon us … And yet we must know … M. de Chagny broke the glass of his watch and felt the two hands… He questioned the hands of the watch with his finger-tips, going by the position of the ring of the watch … Judging by the space between the hands, he thought it might be just eleven o'clock!
But perhaps it was not the eleven o'clock of which we stood in dread. Perhaps we had still twelve hours before us!
Suddenly, I exclaimed: "Hush!"
I seemed to hear footsteps in the next room. Some one tapped against the wall. Christine Daae's voice said:
"Raoul! Raoul!" We were now all talking at once, on either side of the wall. Christine sobbed; she was not sure that she would find M. de Chagny alive. The monster had been terrible, it seemed, had done nothing but rave, waiting for her to give him the "yes" which she refused. And yet she had promised him that "yes," if he would take her to the torture-chamber. But he had obstinately declined, and had uttered hideous threats against all the members of the human race! At last, after hours and hours of that hell, he had that moment gone out, leaving her alone to reflect for the last time.
"Hours and hours? What is the time now? What is the time, Christine?"
"It is eleven o'clock! Eleven o'clock, all but five minutes!"
"But which eleven o'clock?"
"The eleven o'clock that is to decide life or death! … He told me so just before he went … He is terrible … He is quite mad: he tore off his mask and his yellow eyes shot flames! … He did nothing but laugh! … He said, 'I give you five minutes to spare your blushes! Here,' he said, taking a key from the little bag of life and death, 'here is the little bronze key that opens the two ebony caskets on the mantelpiece in the Louis-Philippe room… In one of the caskets, you will find a scorpion, in the other, a grasshopper, both very cleverly imitated in Japanese bronze: they will say yes or no for you. If you turn the scorpion round, that will mean to me, when I return, that you have said yes. The grasshopper will mean no.' And he laughed like a drunken demon. I did nothing but beg and entreat him to give me the key of the torture-chamber, promising to be his wife if he granted me that request … But he told me that there was no future need for that key and that he was going to throw it into the lake! … And he again laughed like a drunken demon and left me. Oh, his last words were, 'The grasshopper! Be careful of the grasshopper! A grasshopper does not only turn: it hops! It hops! And it hops jolly high!'"
The five minutes had nearly elapsed and the scorpion and the grasshopper were scratching at my brain. Nevertheless, I had sufficient lucidity left to understand that, if the grasshopper were turned, it would hop … and with it many members of the human race! There was no doubt but that the grasshopper controlled an electric current intended to blow up the powder-magazine!
M. de Chagny, who seemed to have recovered all his moral force from hearing Christine's voice, explained to her, in a few hurried words, the situation in which we and all the Opera were. He told her to turn the scorpion at once.
There was a pause.
"Christine," I cried, "where are you?"
"By the scorpion."
"Don't touch it!"
The idea had come to me—for I knew my Erik—that the monster had perhaps deceived the girl once more. Perhaps it was the scorpion that would blow everything up. After all, why wasn't he there? The five minutes were long past … and he was not back… Perhaps he had taken shelter and was waiting for the explosion! … Why had he not returned? … He could not really expect Christine ever to consent to become his voluntary prey! … Why had he not returned?
"Don't touch the scorpion!" I said.
"Here he comes!" cried Christine. "I hear him! Here he is!"
We heard his steps approaching the Louis-Philippe room. He came up to Christine, but did not speak. Then I raised my voice:
"Erik! It is I! Do you know me?"
With extraordinary calmness, he at once replied:
"So you are not dead in there? Well, then, see that you keep quiet."
I tried to speak, but he said coldly:
"Not a word, daroga, or I shall blow everything up." And he added, "The honor rests with mademoiselle … Mademoiselle has not touched the scorpion"—how deliberately he spoke!—"mademoiselle has not touched the grasshopper"—with that composure!—"but it is not too late to do the right thing. There, I open the caskets without a key, for I am a trap-door lover and I open and shut what I please and as I please. I open the little ebony caskets: mademoiselle, look at the little dears inside. Aren't they pretty? If you turn the grasshopper, mademoiselle, we shall all be blown up. There is enough gun-powder under our feet to blow up a whole quarter of Paris. If you turn the scorpion, mademoiselle, all that powder will be soaked and drowned. Mademoiselle, to celebrate our wedding, you shall make a very handsome present to a few hundred Parisians who are at this moment applauding a poor masterpiece of Meyerbeer's … you shall make them a present of their lives … For, with your own fair hands, you shall turn the scorpion … And merrily, merrily, we will be married!"
A pause; and then:
"If, in two minutes, mademoiselle, you have not turned the scorpion, I shall turn the grasshopper … and the grasshopper, I tell you, HOPS JOLLY HIGH!"
The terrible silence began anew. The Vicomte de Chagny, realizing that there was nothing left to do but pray, went down on his knees and prayed. As for me, my blood beat so fiercely that I had to take my heart in both hands, lest it should burst. At last, we heard Erik's voice:
"The two minutes are past … Good-by, mademoiselle… Hop, grasshopper! "Erik," cried Christine, "do you swear to me, monster, do you swear to me that the scorpion is the one to turn?
"Yes, to hop at our wedding."
"Ah, you see! You said, to hop!"
"At our wedding, ingenuous child! … The scorpion opens the ball… But that will do! … You won't have the scorpion? Then I turn the grasshopper!"
I was crying out in concert with Christine. M. de Chagny was still on his knees, praying.
"Erik! I have turned the scorpion!"
Oh, the second through which we passed!
Waiting! Waiting to find ourselves in fragments, amid the roar and the ruins!
Feeling something crack beneath our feet, hearing an appalling hiss through the open trap-door, a hiss like the first sound of a rocket!
It came softly, at first, then louder, then very loud. But it was not the hiss of fire. It was more like the hiss of water. And now it became a gurgling sound: "Guggle! Guggle!"
We rushed to the trap-door. All our thirst, which vanished when the terror came, now returned with the lapping of the water.
The water rose in the cellar, above the barrels, the powder-barrels—"Barrels! … Barrels! Any barrels to sell?"—and we went down to it with parched throats. It rose to our chins, to our mouths. And we drank. We stood on the floor of the cellar and drank. And we went up the stairs again in the dark, step by step, went up with the water.
The water came out of the cellar with us and spread over the floor of the room. If, this went on, the whole house on the lake would be swamped. The floor of the torture-chamber had itself become a regular little lake, in which our feet splashed. Surely there was water enough now! Erik must turn off the tap!
"Erik! Erik! That is water enough for the gunpowder! Turn off the tap! Turn off the scorpion!"
But Erik did not reply. We heard nothing but the water rising: it was half-way to our waists!
"Christine!" cried M. de Chagny. "Christine! The water is up to our knees!"
But Christine did not reply … We heard nothing but the water rising.
No one, no one in the next room, no one to turn the tap, no one to turn the scorpion!
We were all alone, in the dark, with the dark water that seized us and clasped us and froze us!
By this time, we had lost our foothold and were spinning round in the water, carried away by an irresistible whirl, for the water turned with us and dashed us against the dark mirror, which thrust us back again; and our throats, raised above the whirlpool, roared aloud.
Were we to die here, drowned in the torture-chamber? I had never seen that. Erik, at the time of the rosy hours of Mazenderan, had never shown me that, through the little invisible window.
"Erik! Erik!" I cried. "I saved your life! Remember! … You were sentenced to death! But for me, you would be dead now! … Erik!"
We whirled around in the water like so much wreckage. But, suddenly, my straying hands seized the trunk of the iron tree! I called M. de Chagny, and we both hung to the branch of the iron tree.
And the water rose still higher.
"Oh! Oh! Can you remember? How much space is there between the branch of the tree and the dome-shaped ceiling? Do try to remember! … After all, the water may stop, it must find its level! … There, I think it is stopping! … No, no, oh, horrible! … Swim! Swim for your life!"
Our arms became entangled in the effort of swimming; we choked; we fought in the dark water; already we could hardly breathe the dark air above the dark water, the air which escaped, which we could hear escaping through some vent-hole or other.
"Oh, let us turn and turn and turn until we find the air hole and then glue our mouths to it!"
But I lost my strength; I tried to lay hold of the walls! Oh, how those glass walls slipped from under my groping fingers! … We whirled round again! … We began to sink! … One last effort! … A last cry: "Erik! … Christine! … "
"Guggle, guggle, guggle!" in our ears. "Guggle! Guggle!" At the bottom of the dark water, our ears went, "Guggle! Guggle!"
And, before losing consciousness entirely, I seemed to hear, between two guggles:
"Barrels! Barrels! Any barrels to sell?"