Maskerade (Discworld #18)

Chapter 5

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'Dunno,' said Granny Weatherwax. ' What did you do with the three dollars?'

'Got it in a tin up the chimney,' said Nanny Ogg. Granny nodded approvingly. This was the kind of good fiscal practice she liked to see. 'Beats me why peopled fall over themselves to read a cookery book, though,' she added. 'I mean, it's not the sort of thing that-' The room fell silent. Nanny Ogg shuffled her boots. Granny said, in a voice laden with a suspicion that was all the worse because it wasn't yet quite sure what it was suspicious of 'It is a cookery book, isn't it?'

'Oh, yes,' said Nanny hurriedly, avoiding Granny's gaze. 'Yes. Recipes and that. Yes.' Granny glared at her. 'Just recipes?'

'Yes. Oh, yes. Yes. And some. . . cookery anecdotes, yes.' Granny went on glaring. Nanny gave in. 'Er. . . look under Famous Carrot and Oyster Pie,' she said. 'Page 25.' Granny turned the pages. Her lips moved silently. Then: 'I see. Anything else?'

'Er. . . Cinnamon and Marshmallow Fingers. . .page 17. . .' Granny looked it up. 'And?'

'Er. . .Celery Astonishment. . . page 10.' Granny looked that up, too. 'Can't say it astonished me,' she said. 'And. . . ?'

'Er. . . well, more or less all of Humorous Puddings and Cake Decoration. That's all of Chapter Six. I done illustrations for that.' Granny turned to Chapter Six. She had to turn the book around a couple of times. 'What one you looking at?' said Nanny Ogg, because an author is always keen to get feedback. 'Strawberry Wobbler,' said Granny. 'Ah. That one always gets a laugh.' It did not appear to be obtaining one from Granny. She carefully closed the book. 'Gytha,' she said, 'this is me askin' you this. Is there any page in this book, is there any single recipe, which does not in some way relate to. . . goingson?' Nanny Ogg, her face red as her apples, seemed to give this some lengthy consideration. 'Porridge,' she said, eventually. 'Really?'

'Yes. Er. No, I tell a lie, it's got my special honey mixture in it.' Granny turned a page. 'What about this one? Maids of Honour?'

'Weeelll, they starts out as Maids of Honour,' said Nanny, fidgeting with her feet, 'but they ends up Tarts.' Granny looked at the front cover again. The Joye of Snacks. 'An' you actually set out to-'

'It just sort of turned out that way, really.' Granny Weatherwax was not a jouster in the lists of love but, as an intelligent onlooker, she knew how the game was played. No wonder the book had sold like hot cakes. Half the recipes told you how to make them. It was surprising the pages hadn't singed. And it was by 'A Lancre Witch'. The world was, Granny Weatherwax modestly admitted, well aware of who the witch of Lancre was; viz, it was her. 'Gytha Ogg,' she said. 'Yes, Esme?'

'Gytha Ogg, you look me in the eye.'

'Sorry, Esme.'

' “A Lancre Witch”, it says here.'

'I never thought, Esme.'

'So you'll go and see Mr Goatberger and have this stopped, right? I don't want people lookin' at me and thinkin' about the Banana Soup Surprise. I don't even believe the Banana Soup Surprise. And I ain't relishin' going down the street and hearin' people makin' cracks about bananas.'

'Yes, Esme.'

'And I'll come with you to make sure you do.'

'Yes, Esme.'

'And we'll talk to the man about your money.'

'Yes, Esme.'

'And we might just drop in on young Agnes to make sure she's all right.'

'Yes, Esme.'

'But we'll do it diplomatic like. We don't want people thinkin' we're pokin' our noses in.'

'Yes, Esme.'

'No one could say I interfere where I'm not wanted. You won't find anyone callin' me a busybody.'

'Yes, Esme.'

'That was, “Yes, Esme, you won't find anyone callin' you a busybody”, was it?'

'Oh, yes, Esme.'

'You sure about that?'

'Yes, Esme.'

'Good.' Granny looked out at the dull grey sky and the dying leaves and felt, amazingly enough, her sap rising. A day ago the future had looked aching and desolate, and now it looked full of surprises and terror and bad things happening to people. . . If she had anything to do with it, anyway. In the scullery, Nanny Ogg grinned to herself. Agnes had known a little bit about the theatre. A travelling company came to Lancre sometimes. Their stage was about twice the size of a door, and 'backstage' consisted of a bit of sacking behind which was usually a man trying to change trousers and wigs at the same time and another man, dressed as a king, having a surreptitious smoke. The Opera House was almost as big as the Patrician's palace, and far more palatial. It covered three acres. There was stabling for twenty horses and two elephants in the cellar; Agnes spent some time there, because the elephants were reassuringly larger than her. There were rooms behind the stage so big that entire sets were stored there. There was a whole ballet school somewhere in the building. Some of

the girls were on stage now, ugly in woolly jumpers, going through a routine. The inside of the Opera House-at least, the backstage inside-put Agnes strongly in mind of the clock her brother had taken apart to find the tick. It was hardly a building. It was more like a machine. Sets and curtains and ropes hung in the darkness like dreadful things in a forgotten cellar. The stage was only a small part of the place, a little rectangle of light in a huge, complicated darkness full of significant machinery. . . A piece of dust floated down from the blackness high above. She brushed it off. 'I thought I heard someone up there,' she said. 'It's probably the Ghost!!' said Christine. 'We've got one, you know! Oh, I said we!! Isn't this exciting?!'

'A man with his face covered by a white mask,' said Agnes. 'Oh?! You've heard about him, then?!'

'What? Who?'

'The Ghost!!' Blast, thought Agnes. It was always ready to catch her out. Just when she thought she'd put all that behind her. She'd know things without quite knowing why. It upset people. It certainly upset her. 'Oh, I. . . suppose someone must have told me. . .'she mumbled. 'He moves around the Opera House invisibly, they say!! One moment he'll be in the Gods, next moment he'll be backstage somewhere!! No one knows how he does it!!'

'Really?'

'They say he watches every performance!! That's why they never sell tickets for Box Eight, didn't you know?!'

'Box Eight?' said Agnes. 'What's a Box?'

'Boxes! You know? That's where you get the best people?! Look, I shall show you!' Christine marched to the front of the stage and waved a hand grandly at the empty auditorium. 'The Boxes!' she said. 'Over there! And right up there, the Gods!' Her voice bounced back from the distant wall. 'Aren't the best people in the Gods? It sounds-'

'Oh, no! The best people will be in Boxes! Or possibly in the Stalls!' Agnes pointed. 'Who's down there? They must get a good view-'

'Don't be silly!! That's the Pit!! That's for the musicians!!'

'Well, that makes sense, anyway. Er. Which one's Box Eight?'

'I don't know! But they say if ever they sell seats in Box Eight there'll be a dreadful tragedy!! Isn't that romantic?!' For some reason Agnes's practical eye was drawn to the huge chandelier that hung over the auditorium like a fantastic sea monster. Its thick rope disappeared into the darkness near the ceiling. The glass chimes tinkled. Another flare of that certain power which Agnes did her best to suppress at every turn flashed a treacherous image across her mind. 'That looks like an accident waiting to happen if ever I saw one,' she mumbled. 'I'm sure it's perfectly safe!!' trilled Christine. 'I'm sure they wouldn't allow-' A chord rolled out, shaking the stage. The chandelier tinkled, and more dust came down. 'What was that?' said Agnes. 'It was the organ!! It's so big it's behind the stage!! Come on, let's go and see!!'

Other members of the staff were hurrying towards the organ. There was an overturned bucket nearby, and a spreading pool of green paint. A carpenter reached past Agnes and picked up an envelope that was lying on the organ seat. 'It's for the boss,' he said. 'When it's my mail, the postman usually just knocks,' said a ballerina, and giggled. Agnes looked up. Ropes swung lazily in the musty darkness. For a moment she thought she saw a flash of white, and then it was gone. There was a shape, just visible, tangled in the ropes. Something wet and sticky dripped down and splashed on the keyboard. People were already screaming when Agnes reached past, dipped her finger in the growing puddle, and sniffed. 'It's blood!' said the carpenter. 'It's blood, isn't it?' said a musician. 'Blood!!' screamed Christine. 'Blood!!' It was Agnes's terrible fate to keep her head in a crisis. She sniffed her finger again. 'It's turpentine,' said Agnes. 'Er. Sorry. Is that wrong? Up in the tangle of ropes, the figure moaned. 'Shouldn't we get him down? she added. Cando Cutoff was a humble woodcutter. He wasn't humble because he was a woodcutter. He would still have been quite humble if he'd owned five logging mills. He was just naturally humble. And he was unpretentiously stacking some logs at the point .where the Lancre road met the main mountain road when he saw a farm cart rumble to a halt and unload two elderly ladies in black. Both carried a broomstick in one hand and a sack in the other. They were arguing. It was not a raised-voice argument, but a chronic wrangle that had clearly been going on for some time and was set in for the rest of the decade. 'It's all very well for you, but it's my three dollars so I don't see why I can't say how we go.'

'I likes flying.'

'And I'm telling you it's too draughty on broomsticks this time of year, Esme. The breeze gets into places I wouldn't dream of talking about.'

'Really? Can't imagine where those'd be, then.'

'Oh, Esme!'

'Don't “Oh, Esme” me. It weren't me that come up with the Amusing Wedding Trifle with the Special Sponge Fingers.'

'Anyway, Greebo don't like it on the broomstick. He's got a delicate stomach.' Cutoff noticed that one of the sacks was moving in a lazy way. 'Gytha, I've seen him eat half a skunk, so don't tell me about his delicate stomach,' said Granny, who disliked cats on principle. 'Anyway. . . he's been doing It again.' Nanny Ogg waved her hands airily. 'Oh, he only does It sometimes, when he's really in a corner,' she said. 'He did It in ole Mrs Grope's henhouse last week. She went into see what all the ruckus was, and he did It right in front of her. She had to have a lie down.'

'He was probably more frightened than she was,' said Nanny defensively. 'That's what comes of getting strange ideas in foreign parts,' said Granny. 'Now you've got a cat who- Yes, what is it?' Cutoff had meekly approached them and was hovering in the kind of half- crouch of someone trying to be noticed while also not wanting to intrude. 'Are you ladies waiting for the stagecoach?'

'Yes,' said the taller of the ladies. 'Um, I'm afraid the next coach doesn't stop here. It doesn't stop until Creel Springs.' They gave him a couple of polite stares. 'Thank you,' said the tall one. She turned to her companion. 'It gave her a nasty shock, anyway. I dread to think what he'll learn this time.'

'He pines when I'm gone. He won't take food from anyone else.'

'Only 'cos they try to poison him, and no wonder.' Cutoff shook his head sadly and wandered back to his log pile. The coach turned up five minutes later, coming around the corner at speed. It drew level with the women- -and stopped. That is, the horses tried to stand still and the wheels locked. It wasn't so much a skid as a spin, and the whole thing gradually came to rest about fifty yards down the road, with the driver in a tree. The women strolled towards it, still arguing. One of them poked the driver with her broomstick. 'Two tickets to Ankh- Morpork, please.' He landed in the road. 'What do you mean, two tickets to Ankh-Morpork? The coach doesn't stop here!'

'Looks stopped to me.'

'Did you do something?'

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