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CHAPTER XXIII The Tortures Begin
THE PERSIAN'S NARRATIVE CONTINUED.
The voice repeated angrily: "What have you done with my bag? So it was to take my bag that you asked me to release you!"
We heard hurried steps, Christine running back to the Louis-Philippe room, as though to seek shelter on the other side of our wall.
"What are you running away for?" asked the furious voice, which had followed her. "Give me back my bag, will you? Don't you know that it is the bag of life and death?"
"Listen to me, Erik," sighed the girl. "As it is settled that we are to live together...what difference can it make to you?"
"You know there are only two keys in it," said the monster. "What do you want to do?"
"I want to look at this room which I have never seen and which you have always kept from me....It's woman's curiosity!" she said, in a tone which she tried to render playful.
But the trick was too childish for Erik to be taken in by it.
"I don't like curious women," he retorted, "and you had better remember the story of BLUE-BEARD and be careful....Come, give me back my bag!...Give me back my bag!...Leave the key alone, will you, you inquisitive little thing?"
And he chuckled, while Christine gave a cry of pain. Erik had evidently recovered the bag from her.
At that moment, the viscount could not help uttering an exclamation of impotent rage.
"Why, what's that?" said the monster. "Did you hear, Christine?"
"No, no," replied the poor girl. "I heard nothing."
"I thought I heard a cry."
"A cry! Are you going mad, Erik? Whom do you expect to give a cry, in this house?...I cried out, because you hurt me! I heard nothing."
"I don't like the way you said that!...You're trembling. ... You're quite excited....You're lying!...That was a cry, there was a cry!...There is some one in the torture-chamber!... Ah, I understand now!"
"There is no one there, Erik!"
"The man you want to marry, perhaps!"
"I don't want to marry anybody, you know I don't."
Another nasty chuckle. "Well, it won't take long to find out. Christine, my love, we need not open the door to see what is happening in the torture-chamber. Would you like to see? Would you like to see? Look here! If there is some one, if there is really some one there, you will see the invisible window light up at the top, near the ceiling. We need only draw the black curtain and put out the light in here. There, that's it....Let's put out the light! You're not afraid of the dark, when you're with your little husband!"
Then we heard Christine's voice of anguish:
"No!...I'm frightened!...I tell you, I'm afraid of the dark!... I don't care about that room now....You're always frightening me, like a child, with your torture-chamber!...And so I became inquisitive. ...But I don't care about it now...not a bit...not a bit!"
And that which I feared above all things began, AUTOMATICALLY. We were suddenly flooded with light! Yes, on our side of the wall, everything seemed aglow. The Vicomte de Chagny was so much taken aback that he staggered. And the angry voice roared:
"I told you there was some one! Do you see the window now? The lighted window, right up there? The man behind the wall can't see it! But you shall go up the folding steps: that is what they are there for!...You have often asked me to tell you; and now you know!...They are there to give a peep into the torture-chamber ...you inquisitive little thing!"
"What tortures?...Who is being tortured?...Erik, Erik, say you are only trying to frighten me!...Say it, if you love me, Erik!...There are no tortures, are there?"
"Go and look at the little window, dear!"
I do not know if the viscount heard the girl's swooning voice, for he was too much occupied by the astounding spectacle that now appeared before his distracted gaze. As for me, I had seen that sight too often, through the little window, at the time of the rosy hours of Mazenderan; and I cared only for what was being said next door, seeking for a hint how to act, what resolution to take.
"Go and peep through the little window! Tell me what he looks like!"
We heard the steps being dragged against the wall.
"Up with you!...No!...No, I will go up myself, dear!"
"Oh, very well, I will go up. Let me go!"
"Oh, my darling, my darling!...How sweet of you!...How nice of you to save me the exertion at my age!...Tell me what he looks like!"
At that moment, we distinctly heard these words above our heads:
"There is no one there, dear!"
"No one?...Are you sure there is no one?"
"Why, of course not...no one!"
"Well, that's all right!...What's the matter, Christine? You're not going to faint, are you...as there is no one there?... Here...come down...there!...Pull yourself together...as there is no one there!...BUT HOW DO YOU LIKE THE LANDSCAPE?"
"Oh, very much!"
"There, that's better!...You're better now, are you not?... That's all right, you're better!...No excitement!...And what a funny house, isn't it, with landscapes like that in it?"
"Yes, it's like the Musee Grevin....But, say, Erik...there are no tortures in there!...What a fright you gave me!"
"Why...as there is no one there?"
"Did you design that room? It's very handsome. You're a great artist, Erik."
"Yes, a great artist, in my own line."
"But tell me, Erik, why did you call that room the torture-chamber?"
"Oh, it's very simple. First of all, what did you see?"
"I saw a forest."
"And what is in a forest?"
"And what is in a tree?"
"Did you see any birds?"
"No, I did not see any birds."
"Well, what did you see? Think! You saw branches And what are the branches?" asked the terrible voice. "THERE'S A GIBBET! That is why I call my wood the torture-chamber!...You see, it's all a joke. I never express myself like other people. But I am very tired of it!...I'm sick and tired of having a forest and a torture-chamber in my house and of living like a mountebank, in a house with a false bottom!...I'm tired of it! I want to have a nice, quiet flat, with ordinary doors and windows and a wife inside it, like anybody else! A wife whom I could love and take out on Sundays and keep amused on week-days...Here, shall I show you some card-tricks? That will help us to pass a few minutes, while waiting for eleven o'clock to-morrow evening....My dear little Christine!...Are you listening to me?...Tell me you love me!... No, you don't love me...but no matter, you will!...Once, you could not look at my mask because you knew what was behind. ...And now you don't mind looking at it and you forget what is behind!...One can get used to everything...if one wishes. ...Plenty of young people who did not care for each other before marriage have adored each other since! Oh, I don't know what I am talking about! But you would have lots of fun with me. For instance, I am the greatest ventriloquist that ever lived, I am the first ventriloquist in the world!...You're laughing.... Perhaps you don't believe me? Listen."
The wretch, who really was the first ventriloquist in the world, was only trying to divert the child's attention from the torture-chamber; but it was a stupid scheme, for Christine thought of nothing but us! She repeatedly besought him, in the gentlest tones which she could assume:
"Put out the light in the little window!...Erik, do put out the light in the little window!"
For she saw that this light, which appeared so suddenly and of which the monster had spoken in so threatening a voice, must mean something terrible. One thing must have pacified her for a moment; and that was seeing the two of us, behind the wall, in the midst of that resplendent light, alive and well. But she would certainly have felt much easier if the light had been put out.
Meantime, the other had already begun to play the ventriloquist. He said:
"Here, I raise my mask a little....Oh, only a little!... You see my lips, such lips as I have? They're not moving!...My mouth is closed - such mouth as I have - and yet you hear my voice. ...Where will you have it? In your left ear? In your right ear? In the table? In those little ebony boxes on the mantelpiece?... Listen, dear, it's in the little box on the right of the mantelpiece: what does it say? `SHALL I TURN THE SCORPION?'...And now, crack! What does it say in the little box on the left? `SHALL I TURN THE GRASSHOPPER?'...And now, crack! Here it is in the little leather bag....What does it say? `I AM THE LITTLE BAG OF LIFE AND DEATH!'...And now, crack! It is in Carlotta's throat, in Carlotta's golden throat, in Carlotta's crystal throat, as I live! What does it say? It says, `It's I, Mr. Toad, it's I singing! I FEEL WITHOUT ALARM - CO-ACK - WITH ITS MELODY ENWIND ME - CO-ACK!'... And now, crack! It is on a chair in the ghost's box and it says, `MADAME CARLOTTA IS SINGING TO-NIGHT TO BRING THE CHANDELIER DOWN!' ...And now, crack! Aha! Where is Erik's voice now? Listen, Christine, darling! Listen! It is behind the door of the torture-chamber! Listen! It's myself in the torture-chamber! And what do I say? I say, `Woe to them that have a nose, a real nose, and come to look round the torture-chamber! Aha, aha, aha!'"
Oh, the ventriloquist's terrible voice! It was everywhere, everywhere. It passed through the little invisible window, through the walls. It ran around us, between us. Erik was there, speaking to us! We made a movement as though to fling ourselves upon him. But, already, swifter, more fleeting than the voice of the echo, Erik's voice had leaped back behind the wall!
Soon we heard nothing more at all, for this is what happened:
"Erik! Erik!" said Christine's voice. "You tire me with your voice. Don't go on, Erik! Isn't it very hot here?"
"Oh, yes," replied Erik's voice, "the heat is unendurable!"
"But what does this mean?...The wall is really getting quite hot!...The wall is burning!"
"I'll tell you, Christine, dear: it is because of the forest next door."
"Well, what has that to do with it? The forest?"
"WHY, DIDN'T YOU SEE THAT IT WAS AN AFRICAN FOREST?"
And the monster laughed so loudly and hideously that we could no longer distinguish Christine's supplicating cries! The Vicomte de Chagny shouted and banged against the walls like a madman. I could not restrain him. But we heard nothing except the monster's laughter, and the monster himself can have heard nothing else. And then there was the sound of a body falling on the floor and being dragged along and a door slammed and then nothing, nothing more around us save the scorching silence of the south in the heart of a tropical forest!
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XXIV Barrels!...Barrels!...Any Barrels to Sell?