For the first few months it was very hard to take my meals with him. I kept my gaze schooled to my own plate while he hummed phrases of music and dribbled crumbs down his waistcoat. His mouth, permanently twisted and swollen on one side, held food poorly; unused to dining in company, he barely noticed.
But to write of such things I must first set the stage. No more need be known, I think, than anyone might learn from Gaston Leroux's novel, The Phantom of the Opéra, which that gentleman wrote using certain details he had from me in the winter of 1907 (he was a convivial, persuasive man, and I spoke far too freely to him); or even from this "moving picture" they have made now from his book.
M. Leroux tells (as best he can in mere words) of a homicidal musical genius who wears a mask to hide the congenital deformity of his face. This monstrous prodigy lives secretly under the Paris Opéra, tyrannizing the staff as the mysterious "Phantom" of the title. He falls in love with a foolish young soprano whose voice he trains and whose career he advances by fair means and foul.
She, thinking him the ghost of her dead father or else an angel of celestial inspiration, is dominated by him until she falls in love--with a rich young aristocrat, the Vicomte Raoul de Chagny (the name I shall use here also). The jealous Phantom courts her for himself, with small hope of success however, since, according to M. Leroux, he sleeps in a coffin and has cold, bony hands which "smell of death."
Our soprano, although pliant and credulous, is not a complete dolt: she chooses the Vicomte. Enraged, the Phantom kidnaps her--
It was the night of my debut as Marguerite in Faust. I replaced the Opéra's Prima Donna who was indisposed, due perhaps to the terrible accident that had interrupted the previous evening's performance: one of the counterweights of the great chandelier had unaccountably fallen, killing a member of the audience.
Superstitious people (which in a theatre means everyone) whispered that this catastrophe was the doing of the legendary Phantom of the Opéra, whom someone must have displeased. If so that someone, I knew, was me. Raoul de Chagny and I had just become secretly engaged. My eccentric and mysterious teacher, whom I was certain was the person known as the Phantom, surely had other plans for me than marriage to a young man of Society.
Nervously, I anticipated confronting my tutor over the matter of the fatal counterweight when next he appeared in my dressing room to give me a singing lesson. I was sure that he would come when the evening's performance was over, as was his habit.
But just as I finished my first number in Act Three, darkness flooded the theatre. Gripped in mid-breath by powerful arms, I dropped, a prisoner, through a trap in the stage.
I was mortified at being snatched away with my performance barely begun, but knowing that I had not sung well, I also felt rather relieved. It is possible, too, that some drug was used to calm me. At any rate I did not scream, struggle, or swoon as my abductor carried me down the gloomy cellar passages at an odd, crabwise run which was nonetheless very quick. I knew it was the Phantom, for I had felt the cool smoothness of his mask against my cheek.
No word passed between us until I found myself sitting in a little boat lit by a lantern at the bow. Opposite me sat my mentor, rowing us with practiced ease across the lake that lies in the fifth cellar down, beneath the opera house.
"I am sorry if I frightened you, Christine," he said, his voice echoing hollowly in that watery vault, "but 'Il etait un Roi de Thule' was a disgrace, wobbling all over the place, and you ended a full quarter tone flat! You see the result of your distracting flirtation with a shallow boy of dubious quality, titled though he may be. I could not bear to hear what you would have made of 'The Jewel Song,' let alone the duet!"
"My voice was not sufficiently warmed up," I murmured, for indeed Marguerite does not truly begin to sing until the third act. "I might have improved, had I been given time."
"No excuses!" he snapped. "You were not concentrating."
I ought to have challenged him about the lethal counterweight, to which my concentration had in fact fallen victim; but alone with him on that black, subterranean water, I did not dare.
"It was nerves," I said, cravenly. "I never meant to disappoint you, Maestro."
We completed the crossing in silence. In some way that I could not quite see he made the far wall open and admit us to his secret home, which I later learned was hidden between the thick barriers retaining the waters of the lake.
In an ordinary draped and carpeted drawing room, amid a profusion of fresh-cut flowers and myriad gleaming brass candlesticks and lamps, my teacher swore that he loved me and would love me always (despite the inadequate performance I had just attempted in Faust). He knelt before me and asked me to live with him in the city above as his wife.