The Viscount and the Persian
Raoul now remembered that his brother had once shown him that mysterious person, of whom nothing was known except that he was a Persian and that he lived in a little old-fashioned flat in the Rue de Rivoli.
The man with the ebony skin, the eyes of jade and the astrakhan cap bent over Raoul.
"I hope, M. de Chagny," he said, "that you have not betrayed Erik's secret?"
"And why should I hesitate to betray that monster, sir?" Raoul rejoined haughtily, trying to shake off the intruder. "Is he your friend, by any chance?"
"I hope that you said, nothing about Erik, sir, because Erik's secret is also Christine Daae's and to talk about one is to talk about the other!"
"Oh, sir," said Raoul, becoming more and more impatient, "you seem to know about many things that interest me; and yet I have no time to listen to you!"
"Once more, M. de Chagny, where are you going so fast?"
"Can not you guess? To Christine Daae's assistance. ..."
"Then, sir, stay here, for Christine Daae is here!"
"How do you know?"
"I was at the performance and no one in the world but Erik could contrive an abduction like that!...Oh," he said, with a deep sigh, "I recognized the monster's touch!..."
"You know him then?"
The Persian did not reply, but heaved a fresh sigh.
"Sir," said Raoul, "I do not know what your intentions are, but can you do anything to help me? I mean, to help Christine Daae?"
"I think so, M. de Chagny, and that is why I spoke to you."
"What can you do?"
"Try to take you to her...and to him."
"If you can do me that service, sir, my life is yours!...One word more: the commissary of police tells me that Christine Daae has been carried off by my brother, Count Philippe."
"Oh, M. de Chagny, I don't believe a word of it."
"It's not possible, is it?"
"I don't know if it is possible or not; but there are ways and ways of carrying people off; and M. le Comte Philippe has never, as far as I know, had anything to do with witchcraft."
"Your arguments are convincing, sir, and I am a fool!...Oh, let us make haste! I place myself entirely in your hands!... How should I not believe you, when you are the only one to believe me...when you are the only one not to smile when Erik's name is mentioned?"
And the young man impetuously seized the Persian's hands. They were ice-cold.
"Silence!" said the Persian, stopping and listening to the distant sounds of the theater. "We must not mention that name here. Let us say `he' and `him;' then there will be less danger of attracting his attention."
"Do you think he is near us?"
"It is quite possible, Sir, if he is not, at this moment, with his victim, IN THE HOUSE ON THE LAKE."
"Ah, so you know that house too?"
"If he is not there, he may be here, in this wall, in this floor, in this ceiling!...Come!"
And the Persian, asking Raoul to deaden the sound of his footsteps, led him down passages which Raoul had never seen before, even at the time when Christine used to take him for walks through that labyrinth.
"If only Darius has come!" said the Persian.
"Who is Darius?"
"Darius? My servant."
They were now in the center of a real deserted square, an immense apartment ill-lit by a small lamp. The Persian stopped Raoul and, in the softest of whispers, asked:
"What did you say to the commissary?"
"I said that Christine Daae's abductor was the Angel of Music, ALIAS the Opera ghost, and that the real name was..."
"Hush!...And did he believe you?"
"He attached no importance to what you said?"
"He took you for a bit of a madman?"
"So much the better!" sighed the Persian.
And they continued their road. After going up and down several staircases which Raoul had never seen before, the two men found themselves in front of a door which the Persian opened with a master-key. The Persian and Raoul were both, of course, in dress-clothes; but, whereas Raoul had a tall hat, the Persian wore the astrakhan cap which I have already mentioned. It was an infringement of the rule which insists upon the tall hat behind the scenes; but in France foreigners are allowed every license: the Englishman his traveling-cap, the Persian his cap of astrakhan.
"Sir," said the Persian, "your tall hat will be in your way: you would do well to leave it in the dressing-room."
"What dressing-room?" asked Raoul.
And the Persian, letting Raoul through the door which he had just opened, showed him the actress' room opposite. They were at the end of the passage the whole length of which Raoul had been accustomed to traverse before knocking at Christine's door.
"How well you know the Opera, sir!"
"Not so well as `he' does!" said the Persian modestly.
And he pushed the young man into Christine's dressing-room, which was as Raoul had left it a few minutes earlier.
Closing the door, the Persian went to a very thin partition that separated the dressing-room from a big lumber-room next to it. He listened and then coughed loudly.
There was a sound of some one stirring in the lumber-room; and, a few seconds later, a finger tapped at the door.
"Come in," said the Persian.
A man entered, also wearing an astrakhan cap and dressed in a long overcoat. He bowed and took a richly carved case from under his coat, put it on the dressing-table, bowed once again and went to the door.
"Did no one see you come in, Darius?"
"Let no one see you go out."
The servant glanced down the passage and swiftly disappeared.
The Persian opened the case. It contained a pair of long pistols.
"When Christine Daae was carried off, sir, I sent word to my servant to bring me these pistols. I have had them a long time and they can be relied upon."
"Do you mean to fight a duel?" asked the young man.
"It will certainly be a duel which we shall have to fight," said the other, examining the priming of his pistols. "And what a duel!" Handing one of the pistols to Raoul, he added, "In this duel, we shall be two to one; but you must be prepared for everything, for we shall be fighting the most terrible adversary that you can imagine. But you love Christine Daae, do you not?"
"I worship the ground she stands on! But you, sir, who do not love her, tell me why I find you ready to risk your life for her! You must certainly hate Erik!"
"No, sir," said the Persian sadly, "I do not hate him. If I hated him, he would long ago have ceased doing harm."
"Has he done you harm?"
"I have forgiven him the harm which he has done me."
"I do not understand you. You treat him as a monster, you speak of his crime, he has done you harm and I find in you the same inexplicable pity that drove me to despair when I saw it in Christine!"
The Persian did not reply. He fetched a stool and set it against the wall facing the great mirror that filled the whole of the wall-space opposite. Then he climbed on the stool and, with his nose to the wallpaper, seemed to be looking for something.
"Ah," he said, after a long search, "I have it!" And, raising his finger above his head, he pressed against a corner in the pattern of the paper. Then he turned round and jumped off the stool:
"In half a minute," he said, "he shall be ON HIS ROAD!" and crossing the whole of the dressing-room he felt the great mirror.
"No, it is not yielding yet," he muttered.
"Oh, are we going out by the mirror?" asked Raoul. "Like Christine Daae."
"So you knew that Christine Daae went out by that mirror?"
"She did so before my eyes, sir! I was hidden behind the curtain of the inner room and I saw her vanish not by the glass, but in the glass!"
"And what did you do?"
"I thought it was an aberration of my senses, a mad dream.
"Or some new fancy of the ghost's!" chuckled the Persian. "Ah, M. de Chagny," he continued, still with his hand on the mirror, "would that we had to do with a ghost! We could then leave our pistols in their case....Put down your hat, please...there... and now cover your shirt-front as much as you can with your coat... as I am doing....Bring the lapels forward...turn up the collar....We must make ourselves as invisible as possible."
Bearing against the mirror, after a short silence, he said:
"It takes some time to release the counterbalance, when you press on the spring from the inside of the room. It is different when you are behind the wall and can act directly on the counterbalance. Then the mirror turns at once and is moved with incredible rapidity."
"What counterbalance?" asked Raoul.
"Why, the counterbalance that lifts the whole of this wall on to its pivot. You surely don't expect it to move of itself, by enchantment! If you watch, you will see the mirror first rise an inch or two and then shift an inch or two from left to right. It will then be on a pivot and will swing round."
"It's not turning!" said Raoul impatiently.
"Oh, wait! You have time enough to be impatient, sir! The mechanism has obviously become rusty, or else the spring isn't working. ...Unless it is something else," added the Persian, anxiously.
"He may simply have cut the cord of the counterbalance and blocked the whole apparatus."
"Why should he? He does not know that we are coming this way!"
"I dare say he suspects it, for he knows that I understand the system."
"It's not turning!...And Christine, sir, Christine?"
The Persian said coldly:
"We shall do all that it is humanly possible to do!...But he may stop us at the first step!...He commands the walls, the doors and the trapdoors. In my country, he was known by a name which means the `trap-door lover.'"
"But why do these walls obey him alone? He did not build them!"
"Yes, sir, that is just what he did!"
Raoul looked at him in amazement; but the Persian made a sign to him to be silent and pointed to the glass....There was a sort of shivering reflection. Their image was troubled as in a rippling sheet of water and then all became stationary again.
"You see, sir, that it is not turning! Let us take another road!"
"To-night, there is no other!" declared the Persian, in a singularly mournful voice. "And now, look out! And be ready to fire."
He himself raised his pistol opposite the glass. Raoul imitated his movement. With his free arm, the Persian drew the young man to his chest and, suddenly, the mirror turned, in a blinding daze of cross-lights: it turned like one of those revolving doors which have lately been fixed to the entrances of most restaurants, it turned, carrying Raoul and the Persian with it and suddenly hurling them from the full light into the deepest darkness.
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