A Visit to Box Five
We left M. Firmin Richard and M. Armand Moncharmin at the moment
when they were deciding "to look into that little matter of Box Five."
Leaving behind them the broad staircase which leads from the lobby
outside the managers' offices to the stage and its dependencies,
they crossed the stage, went out by the subscribers' door and
entered the house through the first little passage on the left.
Then they made their way through the front rows of stalls and
looked at Box Five on the grand tier, They could not see it well,
because it was half in darkness and because great covers were flung
over the red velvet of the ledges of all the boxes.
They were almost alone in the huge, gloomy house; and a great silence
surrounded them. It was the time when most of the stage-hands go
out for a drink. The staff had left the boards for the moment,
leaving a scene half set. A few rays of light, a wan, sinister light,
that seemed to have been stolen from an expiring luminary,
fell through some opening or other upon an old tower that raised
its pasteboard battlements on the stage; everything, in this
deceptive light, adopted a fantastic shape. In the orchestra stalls,
the drugget covering them looked like an angry sea, whose glaucous
waves had been suddenly rendered stationary by a secret order
from the storm phantom, who, as everybody knows, is called Adamastor.
MM. Moncharmin and Richard were the shipwrecked mariners
amid this motionless turmoil of a calico sea. They made
for the left boxes, plowing their way like sailors who leave their
ship and try to struggle to the shore. The eight great polished
columns stood up in the dusk like so many huge piles supporting
the threatening, crumbling, big-bellied cliffs whose layers were
represented by the circular, parallel, waving lines of the balconies
of the grand, first and second tiers of boxes. At the top,
right on top of the cliff, lost in M. Lenepveu's copper ceiling,
figures grinned and grimaced, laughed and jeered at MM. Richard and
Moncharmin's distress. And yet these figures were usually very serious.
Their names were Isis, Amphitrite, Hebe, Pandora, Psyche, Thetis,
Pomona, Daphne, Clytie, Galatea and Arethusa. Yes, Arethusa herself
and Pandora, whom we all know by her box, looked down upon the two
new managers of the Opera, who ended by clutching at some piece
of wreckage and from there stared silently at Box Five on the grand tier.
I have said that they were distressed. At least, I presume so.
M. Moncharmin, in any case, admits that he was impressed. To quote
his own words, in his Memoirs:
"This moonshine about the Opera ghost in which, since we first
took over the duties of MM. Poligny and Debienne, we had been
so nicely steeped"--Moncharmin's style is not always irreproachable--
"had no doubt ended by blinding my imaginative and also my
visual faculties. It may be that the exceptional surroundings
in which we found ourselves, in the midst of an incredible silence,
impressed us to an unusual extent. It may be that we were the sport
of a kind of hallucination brought about by the semi-darkness of
the theater and the partial gloom that filled Box Five. At any rate,
I saw and Richard also saw a shape in the box. Richard said nothing,
nor I either. But we spontaneously seized each other's hand.
We stood like that for some minutes, without moving, with our
eyes fixed on the same point; but the figure had disappeared.
Then we went out and, in the lobby, communicated our impressions
to each other and talked about `the shape.' The misfortune was that
my shape was not in the least like Richard's. I had seen a thing
like a death's head resting on the ledge of the box, whereas Richard
saw the shape of an old woman who looked like Mme. Giry. We soon
discovered that we had really been the victims of an illusion,
whereupon, without further delay and laughing like madmen, we ran
to Box Five on the grand tier, went inside and found no shape of any kind."
Box Five is just like all the other grand tier boxes. There is
nothing to distinguish it from any of the others. M. Moncharmin
and M. Richard, ostensibly highly amused and laughing at each other,
moved the furniture of the box, lifted the cloths and the chairs
and particularly examined the arm-chair in which "the man's voice"
used to sit. But they saw that it was a respectable arm-chair,
with no magic about it. Altogether, the box was the most ordinary box
in the world, with its red hangings, its chairs, its carpet and its ledge
covered in red velvet. After, feeling the carpet in the most serious
manner possible, and discovering nothing more here or anywhere else,
they went down to the corresponding box on the pit tier below.
In Box Five on the pit tier, which is just inside the first exit
from the stalls on the left, they found nothing worth mentioning either.
"Those people are all making fools of us!" Firmin Richard ended
by exclaiming. "It will be FAUST on Saturday: let us both see
the performance from Box Five on the grand tier!"
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