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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Phantom Of The Opera - Chapter XXIV - BARRELS! BARRELS!
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The Phantom Of The Opera - Chapter XXIV - BARRELS! BARRELS! Post by :bembaman Category :Long Stories Author :Gaston Leroux Date :April 2011 Read :2844

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The Phantom Of The Opera - Chapter XXIV - BARRELS! BARRELS!

THE PERSIAN'S NARRATIVE CONTINUED

I have said that the room in which M. le Vicomte de Chagny and I
were imprisoned was a regular hexagon, lined entirely with mirrors.
Plenty of these rooms have been seen since, mainly at exhibitions:
they are called "palaces of illusion," or some such name.
But the invention belongs entirely to Erik, who built the first
room of this kind under my eyes, at the time of the rosy hours
of Mazenderan. A decorative object, such as a column, for instance,
was placed in one of the corners and immediately produced a hall
of a thousand columns; for, thanks to the mirrors, the real room
was multiplied by six hexagonal rooms, each of which, in its turn,
was multiplied indefinitely. But the little sultana soon tired
of this infantile illusion, whereupon Erik altered his invention
into a "torture-chamber." For the architectural motive placed
in one corner, he substituted an iron tree. This tree, with its
painted leaves, was absolutely true to life and was made of iron
so as to resist all the attacks of the "patient" who was locked into
the torture-chamber. We shall see how the scene thus obtained was twice
altered instantaneously into two successive other scenes, by means
of the automatic rotation of the drums or rollers in the corners.
These were divided into three sections, fitting into the angles
of the mirrors and each supporting a decorative scheme that came into
sight as the roller revolved upon its axis.

The walls of this strange room gave the patient nothing to lay
hold of, because, apart from the solid decorative object, they were
simply furnished with mirrors, thick enough to withstand any onslaught
of the victim, who was flung into the chamber empty-handed and barefoot.

There was no furniture. The ceiling was capable of being lit up.
An ingenious system of electric heating, which has since been imitated,
allowed the temperature of the walls and room to be increased
at will.

I am giving all these details of a perfectly natural invention,
producing, with a few painted branches, the supernatural illusion
of an equatorial forest blazing under the tropical sun, so that no
one may doubt the present balance of my brain or feel entitled
to say that I am mad or lying or that I take him for a fool.(11)

----
(11) It is very natural that, at the time when the Persian was writing,
he should take so many precautions against any spirit of incredulity
on the part of those who were likely to read his narrative.
Nowadays, when we have all seen this sort of room, his precautions
would be superfluous.

I now return to the facts where I left them. When the ceiling lit up
and the forest became visible around us, the viscount's stupefaction
was immense. That impenetrable forest, with its innumerable
trunks and branches, threw him into a terrible state of consternation.
He passed his hands over his forehead, as though to drive away a dream;
his eyes blinked; and, for a moment, he forgot to listen.

I have already said that the sight of the forest did not surprise
me at all; and therefore I listened for the two of us to what was
happening next door. Lastly, my attention was especially attracted,
not so much to the scene, as to the mirrors that produced it.
These mirrors were broken in parts. Yes, they were marked and scratched;
they had been "starred," in spite of their solidity; and this proved
to me that the torture-chamber in which we now were HAD ALREADY
SERVED A PURPOSE.

Yes, some wretch, whose feet were not bare like those of the victims
of the rosy hours of Mazenderan, had certainly fallen into this
"mortal illusion" and, mad with rage, had kicked against those
mirrors which, nevertheless, continued to reflect his agony.
And the branch of the tree on which he had put an end to his own
sufferings was arranged in such a way that, before dying, he had seen,
for his last consolation, a thousand men writhing in his company.

Yes, Joseph Buquet had undoubtedly been through all this!
Were we to die as he had done? I did not think so, for I knew
that we had a few hours before us and that I could employ them
to better purpose than Joseph Buquet was able to do. After all,
I was thoroughly acquainted with most of Erik's "tricks;" and now
or never was the time to turn my knowledge to account.

To begin with, I gave up every idea of returning to the passage that
had brought us to that accursed chamber. I did not trouble about
the possibility of working the inside stone that closed the passage;
and this for the simple reason that to do so was out of the question.
We had dropped from too great a height into the torture-chamber;
there was no furniture to help us reach that passage; not even
the branch of the iron tree, not even each other's shoulders were
of any avail.

There was only one possible outlet, that opening into the Louis-Philippe
room in which Erik and Christine Daae were. But, though this outlet looked
like an ordinary door on Christine's side, it was absolutely invisible
to us. We must therefore try to open it without even knowing where it was.

When I was quite sure that there was no hope for us from Christine
Daae's side, when I had heard the monster dragging the poor girl from
the Louis-Philippe room LEST SHE SHOULD INTERFERE WITH OUR TORTURES,
I resolved to set to work without delay.

But I had first to calm M. de Chagny, who was already walking
about like a madman, uttering incoherent cries. The snatches of
conversation which he had caught between Christine and the monster
had contributed not a little to drive him beside himself:
add to that the shock of the magic forest and the scorching heat
which was beginning to make the prespiration{sic} stream down his
temples and you will have no difficulty in understanding his state
of mind. He shouted Christine's name, brandished his pistol,
knocked his forehead against the glass in his endeavors to run
down the glades of the illusive forest. In short, the torture
was beginning to work its spell upon a brain unprepared for it.

I did my best to induce the poor viscount to listen to reason.
I made him touch the mirrors and the iron tree and the branches
and explained to him, by optical laws, all the luminous imagery
by which we were surrounded and of which we need not allow ourselves
to be the victims, like ordinary, ignorant people.

"We are in a room, a little room; that is what you must keep saying
to yourself. And we shall leave the room as soon as we have found
the door."

And I promised him that, if he let me act, without disturbing me
by shouting and walking up and down, I would discover the trick
of the door in less than an hour's time.

Then he lay flat on the floor, as one does in a wood, and declared
that he would wait until I found the door of the forest, as there
was nothing better to do! And he added that, from where he was,
"the view was splendid!" The torture was working, in spite of all
that I had said.

Myself, forgetting the forest, I tackled a glass panel and began
to finger it in every direction, hunting for the weak point on which
to press in order to turn the door in accordance with Erik's system
of pivots. This weak point might be a mere speck on the glass,
no larger than a pea, under which the spring lay hidden.
I hunted and hunted. I felt as high as my hands could reach.
Erik was about the same height as myself and I thought that he would
not have placed the spring higher than suited his stature.

While groping over the successive panels with the greatest care,
I endeavored not to lose a minute, for I was feeling more and more
overcome with the heat and we were literally roasting in that
blazing forest.

I had been working like this for half an hour and had finished
three panels, when, as ill-luck would have it, I turned round
on hearing a muttered exclamation from the viscount.

"I am stifling," he said. "All those mirrors are sending out
an infernal heat! Do you think you will find that spring soon?
If you are much longer about it, we shall be roasted alive!"

I was not sorry to hear him talk like this. He had not said a word
of the forest and I hoped that my companion's reason would hold
out some time longer against the torture. But he added:

"What consoles me is that the monster has given Christine until
eleven to-morrow evening. If we can't get out of here and go
to her assistance, at least we shall be dead before her!
Then Erik's mass can serve for all of us!"

And he gulped down a breath of hot air that nearly made him faint.

As I had not the same desperate reasons as M. le Vicomte for
accepting death, I returned, after giving him a word of encouragement,
to my panel, but I had made the mistake of taking a few steps while
speaking and, in the tangle of the illusive forest, I was no longer
able to find my panel for certain! I had to begin all over again,
at random, feeling, fumbling, groping.

Now the fever laid hold of me in my turn...for I found nothing,
absolutely nothing. In the next room, all was silence. We were
quite lost in the forest, without an outlet, a compass, a guide
or anything. Oh, I knew what awaited us if nobody came to our aid...
or if I did not find the spring! But, look as I might, I found
nothing but branches, beautiful branches that stood straight up
before me, or spread gracefully over my head. But they gave no shade.
And this was natural enough, as we were in an equatorial forest,
with the sun right above our heads, an African forest.

M. de Chagny and I had repeatedly taken off our coats and put them
on again, finding at one time that they made us feel still hotter
and at another that they protected us against the heat. I was still
making a moral resistance, but M. de Chagny seemed to me quite "gone."
He pretended that he had been walking in that forest for three
days and nights, without stopping, looking for Christine Daae!
From time to time, he thought he saw her behind the trunk of a tree,
or gliding between the branches; and he called to her with words
of supplication that brought the tears to my eyes. And then,
at last:

"Oh, how thirsty I am!" he cried, in delirious accents.

I too was thirsty. My throat was on fire. And, yet, squatting on
the floor, I went on hunting, hunting, hunting for the spring of
the invisible door...especially as it was dangerous to remain
in the forest as evening drew nigh. Already the shades of night
were beginning to surround us. It had happened very quickly:
night falls quickly in tropical countries...suddenly, with hardly
any twilight.

Now night, in the forests of the equator, is always dangerous,
particularly when, like ourselves, one has not the materials for a
fire to keep off the beasts of prey. I did indeed try for a moment
to break off the branches, which I would have lit with my dark lantern,
but I knocked myself also against the mirrors and remembered,
in time, that we had only images of branches to do with.

The heat did not go with the daylight; on the contrary, it was now
still hotter under the blue rays of the moon. I urged the viscount
to hold our weapons ready to fire and not to stray from camp,
while I went on looking for my spring.

Suddenly, we heard a lion roaring a few yards away.

"Oh," whispered the viscount, "he is quite close!...Don't you
see him?...There...through the trees...in that thicket!
If he roars again, I will fire!..."

And the roaring began again, louder than before. And the viscount fired,
but I do not think that he hit the lion; only, he smashed a mirror,
as I perceived the next morning, at daybreak. We must have covered
a good distance during the night, for we suddenly found ourselves on
the edge of the desert, an immense desert of sand, stones and rocks.
It was really not worth while leaving the forest to come upon
the desert. Tired out, I flung myself down beside the viscount,
for I had had enough of looking for springs which I could not find.

I was quite surprised--and I said so to the viscount--that we
had encountered no other dangerous animals during the night.
Usually, after the lion came the leopard and sometimes the buzz
of the tsetse fly. These were easily obtained effects; and I
explained to M. de Chagny that Erik imitated the roar of a lion
on a long tabour or timbrel, with an ass's skin at one end.
Over this skin he tied a string of catgut, which was fastened
at the middle to another similar string passing through the whole
length of the tabour. Erik had only to rub this string with a glove
smeared with resin and, according to the manner in which he rubbed it,
he imitated to perfection the voice of the lion or the leopard,
or even the buzzing of the tsetse fly.

The idea that Erik was probably in the room beside us, working his trick,
made me suddenly resolve to enter into a parley with him, for we
must obviously give up all thought of taking him by surprise.
And by this time he must be quite aware who were the occupants
of his torture-chamber. I called him: "Erik! Erik!"

I shouted as loudly as I could across the desert, but there was no answer
to my voice. All around us lay the silence and the bare immensity of that
stony desert. What was to become of us in the midst of that awful solitude?

We were beginning literally to die of heat, hunger and thirst...
of thirst especially. At last, I saw M. de Chagny raise himself
on his elbow and point to a spot on the horizon. He had discovered
an oasis!

Yes, far in the distance was an oasis...an oasis with limpid water,
which reflected the iron trees!...Tush, it was the scene of
the mirage....I recognized it at once...the worst of the
three!...No one had been able to fight against it...no one.
...I did my utmost to keep my head AND NOT TO HOPE FOR WATER,
because I knew that, if a man hoped for water, the water that
reflected the iron tree, and if, after hoping for water, he struck
against the mirror, then there was only one thing for him to do:
to hang himself on the iron tree!

So I cried to M. de Chagny:

"It's the mirage!...It's the mirage!...Don't believe
in the water!...It's another trick of the mirrors!..."

Then he flatly told me to shut up, with my tricks of the mirrors,
my springs, my revolving doors and my palaces of illusions!
He angrily declared that I must be either blind or mad to imagine
that all that water flowing over there, among those splendid,
numberless trees, was not real water!...And the desert was real!
...And so was the forest!...And it was no use trying to take
him in...he was an old, experienced traveler...he had been
all over the place!

And he dragged himself along, saying: "Water! Water!"

And his mouth was open, as though he were drinking.

And my mouth was open too, as though I were drinking.

For we not only saw the water, but WE HEARD IT!...We heard
it flow, we heard it ripple!...Do you understand that word
"ripple?"...IT IS A SOUND WHICH YOU HEAR WITH YOUR TONGUE!
...You put your tongue out of your mouth to listen to it better!

Lastly--and this was the most pitiless torture of all--we heard
the rain and it was not raining! This was an infernal invention.
...Oh, I knew well enough how Erik obtained it! He filled
with little stones a very long and narrow box, broken up inside
with wooden and metal projections. The stones, in falling,
struck against these projections and rebounded from one to another;
and the result was a series of pattering sounds that exactly imitated
a rainstorm.

Ah, you should have seen us putting out our tongues and dragging ourselves
toward the rippling river-bank! Our eyes and ears were full of water,
but our tongues were hard and dry as horn!

When we reached the mirror, M. de Chagny licked it...and I
also licked the glass.

It was burning hot!

Then we rolled on the floor with a hoarse cry of despair.
M. de Chagny put the one pistol that was still loaded to his temple;
and I stared at the Punjab lasso at the foot of the iron tree.
I knew why the iron tree had returned, in this third change of scene!...
The iron tree was waiting for me!...

But, as I stared at the Punjab lasso, I saw a thing that made me
start so violently that M. de Chagny delayed his attempt at suicide.
I took his arm. And then I caught the pistol from him...and then
I dragged myself on my knees toward what I had seen.

I had discovered, near the Punjab lasso, in a groove in the floor,
a black-headed nail of which I knew the use. At last I had discovered
the spring! I felt the nail....I lifted a radiant face to
M. de Chagny....The black-headed nail yielded to my pressure....

And then....

And then we saw not a door opened in the wall, but a cellar-flap
released in the floor. Cool air came up to us from the black
hole below. We stooped over that square of darkness as though over
a limpid well. With our chins in the cool shade, we drank it in.
And we bent lower and lower over the trap-door. What could there
be in that cellar which opened before us? Water? Water to drink?

I thrust my arm into the darkness and came upon a stone and another
stone...a staircase...a dark staircase leading into the cellar.
The viscount wanted to fling himself down the hole; but I,
fearing a new trick of the monster's, stopped him, turned on
my dark lantern and went down first.

The staircase was a winding one and led down into pitchy darkness.
But oh, how deliciously cool were the darkness and the stairs?
The lake could not be far away.

We soon reached the bottom. Our eyes were beginning to accustom
themselves to the dark, to distinguish shapes around us...
circular shapes...on which I turned the light of my lantern.

Barrels!

We were in Erik's cellar: it was here that he must keep his wine
and perhaps his drinking-water. I knew that Erik was a great lover
of good wine. Ah, there was plenty to drink here!

M. de Chagny patted the round shapes and kept on saying:

"Barrels! Barrels! What a lot of barrels!..."

Indeed, there was quite a number of them, symmetrically arranged
in two rows, one on either side of us. They were small barrels
and I thought that Erik must have selected them of that size
to facilitate their carriage to the house on the lake.

We examined them successively, to see if one of them had not
a funnel, showing that it had been tapped at some time or another.
But all the barrels were hermetically closed.

Then, after half lifting one to make sure it was full, we went
on our knees and, with the blade of a small knife which I carried,
I prepared to stave in the bung-hole.

At that moment, I seemed to hear, coming from very far, a sort
of monotonous chant which I knew well, from often hearing it
in the streets of Paris:

"Barrels!...Barrels!...Any barrels to sell?"

My hand desisted from its work. M. de Chagny had also heard.
He said:

"That's funny! It sounds as if the barrel were singing!"

The song was renewed, farther away:

"Barrels!...Barrels!...Any barrels to sell?..."

"Oh, I swear," said the viscount, "that the tune dies away
in the barrel!..."

We stood up and went to look behind the barrel.

"It's inside," said M. de Chagny, "it's inside!"

But we heard nothing there and were driven to accuse the bad condition
of our senses. And we returned to the bung-hole. M. de Chagny
put his two hands together underneath it and, with a last effort,
I burst the bung.

"What's this?" cried the viscount. "This isn't water!"

The viscount put his two full hands close to my lantern....I
stooped to look...and at once threw away the lantern with such
violence that it broke and went out, leaving us in utter darkness.

What I had seen in M. de Chagny's hands...was gun-powder!

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THE PERSIAN'S NARRATIVE CONCLUDEDThe discovery flung us into a state of alarm that made us forget allour past and present sufferings. We now knew all that the monstermeant 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?
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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-Philipperoom, 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 weare to live together...what difference can it make to
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