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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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!...
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!"
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?"
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