Maskerade Page 21


'Why don't we get some great big diamonds while we're about it?' said Nanny Ogg sharply. 'Good idea.' Madame Dawning could hear them bickering as they ambled away up the aisle. She looked down at the money in her hand. She knew about old money, which was somehow hallowed by the fact that people had hung on to it for years, and she knew about new money, which seemed to be being made by all these upstarts that were flooding into the city these days. But under her powdered bosom she was an Ankh-Morpork shopkeeper, and knew that the best kind of money was the sort that was in her hand rather than someone else's. The best kind of money was mine, not yours. Besides, she was also enough of a snob to confuse rudeness with .good breeding. In the same way that the really rich can never be mad (they're eccentric), so they can also never be rude (they're outspoken and forthright). She hurried after Lady Esmerelda and her rather strange friend. Salt of the earth, she told herself. She was in time to overhear a mysterious conversation. 'I'm being punished, ain't I, Esme?'

'Can't imagine what you're talking about, Gytha.'

'Just 'cos I had my little moment.'

'I really don't follow you. Anyway, you said you were at your wits' end with thinking what you'd do with the money.'

'Yes, but I'd have quite liked to have been at my wits' end on a big comfy chase longyou somewhere with lots of big strong men buyin' me chocolates and pressin' their favours .on me.'

'Money don't buy happiness, Gytha.'

'I only wanted to rent it for a few weeks.' Agnes rose late, the music still ringing in her ears, and dressed in a dream. But she hung a bed sheet over the mirror first, just in case. There were half a dozen of the chorus dancers in the canteen, sharing a stick of celery and giggling. And there was André. He was eating something absentmindedly while staring at a sheet of music. Occasionally he'd wave his spoon in the air with a faraway look on his face, and then put it down and make a few notes. In mid-beat he caught sight of Agnes, and grinned. 'Hello. You look tired.'

'Er. . . yes.'

'You've missed all the excitement.'

'Have I?'

'The Watch have been here, talking to everyone and asking lots of questions and writing things down very slowly.'

'What sort of questions?'

'Well, knowing the Watch, probably “Was it you what did it, then?” They're rather slow thinkers.'

'Oh dear. Does that mean tonight's performance is cancelled?'

André laughed. He had a rather pleasant laugh. 'I don't think Mr Bucket could possibly cancel it!' he said. 'Even if people are dropping like flies out of the flies.'

'Why not?'

'People have been queuing for tickets!'

'Why?' He told her. 'That's disgusting!' said Agnes. 'You mean they're coming because it might be dangerous?'

'Human nature, I'm afraid. Of course, some of them want to hear Enrico Basilica. And. . . well. . . Christine seems popular. . .' He gave her a sorrowful look. 'I don't mind, honestly,' lied Agnes. 'Um. . . how long have you worked here, André?'

'Er. . . only a few months. I. . . used to teach music to the Seriph's children in Klatch.'

'Um. . . what do you think about the Ghost?' He shrugged. 'Just some kind of madman, I suppose. 'Um. . . do you know if he sings? I mean, is good at singing?'

'I heard that he sends little critiques to the manager. Some of the girls say they've heard someone singing in the night, but they're always saying silly things.'

'Um. . . are there any secret passages here?' He looked at her with his head on one side. 'Who've you been talking to?'

'Sorry?'

'The girls say there are. Of course, they say they see the Ghost all the time. And sometimes in two places at once.'

'Why should they see him more?'

'Perhaps he just likes looking at young ladies. They're always practising in odd corners. Besides, they're all halfcrazed with hunger anyway.'

'Aren't you interested in the Ghost? People have been killed!'

'Well, people are saying it might have been Dr Undershaft.'

'But he was killed!'

'He might have hanged himself. He'd been very depressed lately. And he'd always been a bit strange. Nervy. It's going to be a bit difficult without him, though. Here, I've brought you a stack of old programmes. Some of the notes may help, since you haven't been in the opera long.' Agnes stared at them, unseeing. People were disappearing and the first thought that everyone had was that it was going to be inconvenient without them. The show must go on. Everyone said that. People said it all the time. Often they smiled when they said it, but they were serious all the same, under the smile. No one ever said why. But yesterday, when the chorus had been arguing about the money, everyone knew that they weren't actually going to refuse to sing. It was all a game. The show went on. She'd heard all the stories. She'd heard about shows continuing while fire raged around the city, while a dragon was roosting on the roof, while there was rioting in the streets outside. Scenery collapsed? The show went on. Leading tenor died? Then appeal to the audience for any student of music who knew the part, and give him his big chance while his predecessor's body cooled gently in the wings. Why? It was only a performance, for heaven's sake. It wasn't like something important. But. . . the show goes on. Everyone took this so much for granted that they didn't even think about it any more, as though there were fog in their heads. On the other hand. . . someone was teaching her to sing at night. A mysterious person sang songs on the stage when everyone had gone home. She tried to think of that voice belonging to someone who killed people.

It didn't work. Maybe she'd caught some of the fog and didn't want it to work. What sort of person could have that feel for music and kill people? She'd been idly turning the pages of an old programme and a name caught her eye. She quickly shuffled through the others beneath. There it was again. Not in every performance, and never in a major role, but it was there. Generally it played an innkeeper or a servant. 'Walter Plinge?' she said. 'Walter? But. . . he doesn't sing, does he?' She held up a programme and pointed. 'What? Oh, no!' André laughed. 'Good heavens. . . it's a. . . a kind of convenient name, I suppose. Sometimes someone has to sing a very minor part. . . perhaps a singer is in a role that they'd rather not be remembered in. . . well, here, they just go down on the programme as Walter Plinge. Lots of theatres have a useful name like that. Like A. N. Other. It's convenient for everyone.'

'But. . . Walter Plinge?'

'Well, I suppose it started as a joke. I mean, can you imagine Walter Plinge on stage?' André grinned. 'In that little beret he wears?'

'What does he think about it?'

'I don't think he minds. It's hard to tell, isn't it?' There was a crash from the direction of the kitchen, although it was really more of a crashendo the longdrawn-out clatter that begins when a pile of plates begins to slip, continues when someone tries to grab at them, develops a desperate counter-theme when the person realizes they don't have three hands, and ends with the roinroinroin of the one miraculously intact plate spinning round and round on the floor. They heard an irate female voice. 'Walter Plinge!'

'Sorry Mrs Clamp!'

'Damn' thing keeps holding on to the edge of the pan! Let go, you wretched insect-' There was the sound of crockery being swept up, and then a rubbery noise that could approximately be described as a spoing. 'Now where's it gone?'

'Don't know Mrs Clamp!'

'And what's that cat doing in here?' André turned back to Agnes and flashed her a sad smile. 'It is a little cruel, I suppose,' he said. 'The poor chap is a bit daft.'

'I'm not at all sure,' said Agnes, 'that I've met anyone here who isn't.' He grinned again. 'I know,' he said. 'I mean, everyone acts as if it's only the music that matters! The plots don't make sense! Half the stories rely on people not recognizing their servants or wives because they've got a tiny mask on! Large ladies play the part of consumptive girls! No one can act properly! No wonder everyone accepts me singing for Christine-that's practically normal compared to opera! It's an operatic kind of idea! There should be a sign on the door saying “Leave your common sense here”! If it wasn't for the music the whole thing would be ridiculous!' She realized he was looking at her with an opera face. 'Of course, that's it, isn't it? It is the show that matters, isn't it?' she said. 'It's all show.'

'It's not meant to be real,' said André. 'It's not like theatre. No one's saying, “You've got to pretend this is a big battlefield and that guy in the cardboard crown is really a king.” The plot's only there to fill in time before the next song.' He leaned forward and took her hand. 'This must be wretched for you,' he said.

No male had ever touched Agnes before, except perhaps to push her over and steal her sweets. She pulled her hand away. 'I, er, better go and practise,' she said, feeling the blush start. 'You really picked up the role of Iodine very well,' said André. 'I, er, have a private tutor,' said Agnes. 'Then he's really studied opera; that's all I can say.'

'I. . . think he has.'

'Esme?'

'Yes, Gytha?'

'It's not that I' m complaining or anything. . .'

'Yes?'

'. . .but why isn't it me who's being the posh opera patronizes?'

'Because you're as common as muck, Gytha.'

'Oh. Right.' Nanny subjected this statement to some thought and couldn't see any point of inaccuracy that would sway a jury. 'Fair enough.'

'It's not as though I like this.'

'Shall I do madam's feet?' said the manicurist. She stared at Granny's boots and wondered if it might be necessary to use a hammer. 'I got to admit, it's a nice hairstyle,' said Nanny. 'Madam has marvellous hair,' said the hairdresser. 'What is the secret?'

'You've got to make sure there's no newts in the water,' said Granny. She looked at her reflection in the mirror over the washbasin, and went to look away. . . and then sneaked another glance. Her lips pursed. 'Hmm,' she said. At the other end, the manicurist had succeeded in getting Granny's boots and socks off. Much to her amazement there was revealed, instead of the corned and bunioned monstrosities she'd been expecting, a pair of perfect feet. She didn't know where to start because there was nowhere to begin, but this manicure was costing twenty dollars and in those circumstances you damn well find something to do. Nanny sat beside their pile of packages and tried to work everything out on a scrap of paper. She didn't have Granny's gift for numbers. They tended to writhe under her gaze and add themselves up wrong. 'Esme? I reckon we've spent. . . probably more'n a thousand dollars so far, and that's not including hirin' the coach, and we haven't paid Mrs Palm for the room.'

'You said nothing was too much trouble to help a Lancre girl,' said Granny. But I didn't say nothing was too much money, thought Nanny, and then scolded herself for thinking like that. But she was definitely feeling a little lighter in the underwear regions. There seemed to be a general consensus among the artisans of beauty that they'd done what they could. Granny swivelled the chair around. 'What do you think?' she said. Nanny Ogg stared. She'd seen many strange things in her life, some of them twice. She'd seen elves and walking stones and the shoeing of a unicorn. She'd had a farmhouse dropped on her head. But she'd never seen Granny Weatherwax in rouge. All her normal expletives of shock and surprise fused instantly, and she found herself resorting to an ancient curse belonging to her grandmother. 'Well, I'll be mogadored!' she said. 'Madam has extremely good skin,' said the cosmetics lady. 'I know,' said Granny. 'Can't seem to do anything about it.'

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