The day after Christine had vanished before his eyes in a sort of dazzlement that still made him doubt the evidence of his senses, M. le Vicomte de Chagny called to inquire at Mamma Valerius'. He came upon a charming picture. Christine herself was seated by the bedside of the old lady, who was sitting up against the pillows, knitting. The pink and white had returned to the young girl's cheeks. The dark rings round her eyes had disappeared. Raoul no longer recognized the tragic face of the day before. If the veil of melancholy over those adorable features had not still appeared to the young man as the last trace of the weird drama in whose toils that mysterious child was struggling, he could have believed that Christine was not its heroine at all.
She rose, without showing any emotion, and offered him her hand. But Raoul's stupefaction was so great that he stood there dumfounded, without a gesture, without a word.
"Well, M. de Chagny," exclaimed Mamma Valerius, "don't you know our Christine? Her good genius has sent her back to us!"
"Mamma!" the girl broke in promptly, while a deep blush mantled to her eyes. "I thought, mamma, that there was to be no more question of that!...You know there is no such thing as the Angel of Music!"
"But, child, he gave you lessons for three months!"
"Mamma, I have promised to explain everything to you one of these days; and I hope to do so but you have promised me, until that day, to be silent and to ask me no more questions whatever!"
"Provided that you promised never to leave me again! But have you promised that, Christine?"
"Mamma, all this can not interest M. de Chagny."
"On the contrary, mademoiselle," said the young man, in a voice which he tried to make firm and brave, but which still trembled, "anything that concerns you interests me to an extent which perhaps you will one day understand. I do not deny that my surprise equals my pleasure at finding you with your adopted mother and that, after what happened between us yesterday, after what you said and what I was able to guess, I hardly expected to see you here so soon. I should be the first to delight at your return, if you were not so bent on preserving a secrecy that may be fatal to you...and I have been your friend too long not to be alarmed, with Mme. Valerius, at a disastrous adventure which will remain dangerous so long as we have not unraveled its threads and of which you will certainly end by being the victim, Christine."
At these words, Mamma Valerius tossed about in her bed.
"What does this mean?" she cried. "Is Christine in danger?"
"Yes, madame," said Raoul courageously, notwithstanding the signs which Christine made to him.
"My God!" exclaimed the good, simple old woman, gasping for breath. "You must tell me everything, Christine! Why did you try to reassure me? And what danger is it, M. de Chagny?"
"An impostor is abusing her good faith."
"Is the Angel of Music an impostor?"
"She told you herself that there is no Angel of Music."
"But then what is it, in Heaven's name? You will be the death of me!"
"There is a terrible mystery around us, madame, around you, around Christine, a mystery much more to be feared than any number of ghosts or genii!"
Mamma Valerius turned a terrified face to Christine, who had already run to her adopted mother and was holding her in her arms.
"Don't believe him, mummy, don't believe him," she repeated.
"Then tell me that you will never leave me again," implored the widow.
Christine was silent and Raoul resumed.
"That is what you must promise, Christine. It is the only thing that can reassure your mother and me. We will undertake not to ask you a single question about the past, if you promise us to remain under our protection in future."
"That is an undertaking which I have not asked of you and a promise which I refuse to make you!" said the young girl haughtily. "I am mistress of my own actions, M. de Chagny: you have no right to control them, and I will beg you to desist henceforth. As to what I have done during the last fortnight, there is only one man in the world who has the right to demand an account of me: my husband! Well, I have no husband and I never mean to marry!"
She threw out her hands to emphasize her words and Raoul turned pale, not only because of the words which he had heard, but because he had caught sight of a plain gold ring on Christine's finger.
"You have no husband and yet you wear a wedding-ring."
He tried to seize her hand, but she swiftly drew it back.
"That's a present!" she said, blushing once more and vainly striving to hide her embarrassment.
"Christine! As you have no husband, that ring can only have been given by one who hopes to make you his wife! Why deceive us further? Why torture me still more? That ring is a promise; and that promise has been accepted!"
"That's what I said!" exclaimed the old lady.
"And what did she answer, madame?"
"What I chose," said Christine, driven to exasperation. "Don't you think, monsieur, that this cross-examination has lasted long enough? As far as I am concerned..."
Raoul was afraid to let her finish her speech. He interrupted her:
"I beg your pardon for speaking as I did, mademoiselle. You know the good intentions that make me meddle, just now, in matters which, you no doubt think, have nothing to do with me. But allow me to tell you what I have seen--and I have seen more than you suspect, Christine--or what I thought I saw, for, to tell you the truth, I have sometimes been inclined to doubt the evidence of my eyes."
"Well, what did you see, sir, or think you saw?"
"I saw your ecstasy at the sound of the voice, Christine: the voice that came from the wall or the next room to yours...yes, your ecstasy! And that is what makes me alarmed on your behalf. You are under a very dangerous spell. And yet it seems that you are aware of the imposture, because you say to-day that there is no angel of music! In that case, Christine, why did you follow him that time? Why did you stand up, with radiant features, as though you were really hearing angels?...Ah, it is a very dangerous voice, Christine, for I myself, when I heard it, was so much fascinated by it that you vanished before my eyes without my seeing which way you passed! Christine, Christine, in the name of Heaven, in the name of your father who is in Heaven now and who loved you so dearly and who loved me too, Christine, tell us, tell your benefactress and me, to whom does that voice belong? If you do, we will save you in spite of yourself. Come, Christine, the name of the man! The name of the man who had the audacity to put a ring on your finger!"
"M. de Chagny," the girl declared coldly, "you shall never know!"
Thereupon, seeing the hostility with which her ward had addressed the viscount, Mamma Valerius suddenly took Christine's part.
"And, if she does love that man, Monsieur le Vicomte, even then it is no business of yours!"
"Alas, madame," Raoul humbly replied, unable to restrain his tears, "alas, I believe that Christine really does love him!...But it is not only that which drives me to despair; for what I am not certain of, madame, is that the man whom Christine loves is worthy of her love!"
"It is for me to be the judge of that, monsieur!" said Christine, looking Raoul angrily in the face.
"When a man," continued Raoul, "adopts such romantic methods to entice a young girl's affections. .."
"The man must be either a villain, or the girl a fool: is that it?"
"Raoul, why do you condemn a man whom you have never seen, whom no one knows and about whom you yourself know nothing?"
"Yes, Christine....Yes....I at least know the name that you thought to keep from me for ever....The name of your Angel of Music, mademoiselle, is Erik!"
Christine at once betrayed herself. She turned as white as a sheet and stammered: "Who told you?"
"How do you mean?"
"By pitying him the other night, the night of the masked ball. When you went to your dressing-room, did you not say, `Poor Erik?' Well, Christine, there was a poor Raoul who overheard you."
"This is the second time that you have listened behind the door, M. de Chagny!"
"I was not behind the door...I was in the dressing-room, in the inner room, mademoiselle."
"Oh, unhappy man!" moaned the girl, showing every sign of unspeakable terror. "Unhappy man! Do you want to be killed?"
Raoul uttered this "perhaps" with so much love and despair in his voice that Christine could not keep back a sob. She took his hands and looked at him with all the pure affection of which she was capable:
"Raoul," she said, "forget the man's voice and do not even remember its name. .. You must never try to fathom the mystery of the man's voice."
"Is the mystery so very terrible?"
"There is no more awful mystery on this earth. Swear to me that you will make no attempt to find out," she insisted. "Swear to me that you will never come to my dressing-room, unless I send for you."
"Then you promise to send for me sometimes, Christine?"
"Then I swear to do as you ask."
He kissed her hands and went away, cursing Erik and resolving to be patient.
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