Page 19

'And the flowers!!' said Christine, ignoring the mug Agnes had placed beside her. 'They started arriving right after the performance, Mr Bucket said!! He said-'

There was a soft knock at the door. Christine adjusted her dress. 'Come!!' The door opened and Walter Plinge shuffled in, hidden under the bouquets of flowers. After a few steps he stumbled on his own feet, plunged forward, and dropped them. Then he stared at the two girls in mute embarrassment, turned suddenly, and walked into the door. Christine giggled. 'Sorry mu-miss,' said Walter. 'Thank you, Walter,' said Agnes. The door closed. 'Isn't he strange?! Have you seen the way he stares at me?! Do you think you could find some water for these, Perdita?!'

'Certainly, Christine. It's only seven flights of stairs.'

'And as a reward I shall drink this lovely drink you have made for me!! Has it got spices in it?'

'Oh, yes. Spices,' said Agnes. 'It's not like one of those potions your witches cook up, is it?!'

'Er, no,' said Agnes. After all, everyone in Lancre used fresh herbs. 'Er. . . there's not going to be anything like enough vases for them all, even if I use the guzunder. . .'

'The what?!'

'The. . . you know. It's goes-under. . . the bed. Guzunder.'

'You're so funny!!'

'There won't be, anyway,' said Agnes, blushing hotly. Behind her eyes, Perdita committed murder. 'Then put in all the ones from the earls and knights and I shall see to the others tomorrow!' said Christine, picking up the drink. Agnes picked up the kettle and started towards the door. 'Perdita, dear?' said Christine, the mug halfway to her lips. Agnes turned. 'It did seem to me you were singing the teensiest bit loud, dear! I'm sure it must have been a little difficult for everyone to hear me.'

'Sorry, Christine,' said Agnes. She walked down in darkness. Tonight there was a candle burning in a niche on every second landing. Without them the stairs would have been merely dark; with them, shadows crept arid leapt at every corner. She reached the pump in the little alcove by the stage manager's office, and filled the kettle. Out on the stage, someone began to sing. It was Peccadillo's part of a duet of three hours earlier, but sung without music and in a tenor voice of such tone and purity that the kettle dropped out of Agnes's hand and spilled cold water over her feet. She listened for a while, and then realized that she was singing the soprano part under her breath. The song came to an end. She could hear, far off, the hollow sound of footsteps retreating in the distance. She ran to the door to the stage, .paused a moment, and then opened it and went forward and out on to the huge dim emptiness. The candles left burning were as much illumination as stars on a clear night. There was no one there. She walked into the centre of the stage, and stopped, and caught her breath at the shock. She could feel the auditorium in front of her, the huge empty space making the sound that velvet would make if it could snore. It wasn't silence. A stage is never silent. It was the noise produced by a million other sounds that have never quite died away-the thunder of



applause, the overtures, the arias. They poured down. . . fragments of tunes, lost chords, snatches of song. She stepped back, and trod on someone's foot. Agnes spun around. 'André, there's no-' Someone crouched back. 'Sorry miss!' Agnes breathed out. 'Walter?'

'Sorry miss!'

'It's all right! You just startled me.'

'Didn't see you miss!' Walter was holding something. To Agnes's amazement, the darker shape in the darkness was a cat, flopped over Walter's arms like an old rug and purring happily. It was like seeing someone poking their arm into a mincing machine to see what was jamming it. 'That's Greebo, isn't it?'

'He's a happy cat! He's full of milk!'

'Walter, why're you in the middle of the stage in the dark when everyone's gone home?'

'What were you doing miss?' It was the first time she'd heard Walter ask a question. And he's sort of a janitor, after all, she told herself. He can go anywhere. 'I. . . got lost,' she said, ashamed at the lie. 'I. . . I'll be going up to my room now. Er. Did you hear someone singing?'

'All the time miss!'

'I meant just now.'

'Just now I'm talking to you miss!'

'Oh. . .'

'G'night miss!' She walked through the soft warm gloom to the backstage door, resisting at every step the urge to look round. She collected the kettle and hurried up the stairs. . Behind her, on the stage, Walter carefully lowered Greebo to the floor, took off his beret, and removed something white and papery from inside it. 'What shall we listen to, Mister Cat? I know, we shall listen to the overture to Die Flederleiv by J. Q. Bubbla, cond. Vochua Doinov.' Greebo gave him the fat-cheeked look of a cat prepared to put up with practically anything for food. And Walter sat down beside him and listened to the music coming out of the walls. When Agnes got back to the room Christine was already fast asleep, snoring the snore of those in herbal heaven. The mug lay by the bed. It wasn't a bad thing to do, Agnes reassured herself. Christine probably needed a good night's sleep. It was practically a kindly act. She turned her attention to the flowers. There were quite a lot of roses and orchids. Most of them had cards attached. Many aristocratic men apparently appreciated good singing or, at least, good singing that appeared to come from a face like Christine's. Agnes arranged the flowers Lancre fashion, which was to hold the pot with one hand and the bouquet in the other and forcibly bring the two into conjunction. The last bunch was the smallest, and wrapped in red paper. There was no card. In fact, there were no flowers. Someone had merely wrapped up half a dozen blackened and spindly rose- stems and then, for some reason, sprayed them with scent. It was musky and rather pleasant, but a bad joke all the same. She threw them in the bin with the rubbish, blew out the candle, and sat down to wait. She wasn't certain for whom. Or what.

After a minute or two she was aware that there was a glow coming from the waste bin. It was the barest fluorescence, like a sick glow-worm, but it was there. She crawled across the floor and peered in. There were rosebuds on the dead sticks, transparent as glass, visible only by the glimmer on the edge of each petal. They flickered like marsh lights. Agnes lifted them out carefully and fumbled in the darkness for the empty mug. It wasn't the best of vases, but it would have to do. Then she sat and watched the ghostly flowers until. . . . . .someone coughed. She jerked her head up, aware that she'd fallen asleep. 'Madam?'

'Sir?!' The voice was melodious. It suggested that, at any minute, it might break into song. 'Attend. Tomorrow you must sing the part of Laura in Il Truccatore. We have much to do. One night is barely enough. The aria in Act One will occupy much of our time.' There was a brief passage of violin music. 'Your performance tonight was. . . good. But there are areas that we must build upon. Attend.'

'Did you send the roses?!'

'You like the roses? They bloom only in darkness.'

'Who are you?! Was it you I heard singing just now!?' There was silence for a moment. 'Yes.' Then: 'Let us examine the role of Laura in Il Truccatore “The Master of Disguise”, also sometimes vulgarly known as “The Man with a Thousand Faces”. . .' When the witches arrived at Goatberger's offices next morning they found a very large troll sitting on the stairs. It had a club across its knees and held up a shovel-sized hand to prevent them going any further. 'No one's allowed in,' it said. 'Mr Goatberger is in a meetin'.'

'How long is this meetin' going to be?' said Granny. 'Mr Goatberger is a very elongated meeter.' Granny gave the troll an appraising stare. 'You been in publishin' long?' she said. 'Since dis mornin',' said the troll proudly. 'Mr Goatberger gave you the job?'

'Yup. Come up Quarry Lane and picked me special for. . .'-the troll's brow creased as it tried to remember the unfamiliar words-'. . .the fast track inns fast-movin'_ worlds publishin'.'

'And what exactly is your job?'

' 'Ead 'fitter.'

' 'Souse me,' said Nanny, pushing forward. 'I'd know that stratum anywhere. You're from Copperhead in Lancre, ain't you?'

'So what?'

'We're from Lancre, too.'


'This is Granny Weatherwax, you know.' The troll gave her a disbelieving grin, and then its brow corrugated again, and then it looked at Granny. She nodded. 'The one you boys call Aaoograha hoa, you know?' said Nanny. ' “She Who Must Be Avoided”?'

The troll looked at its club as if seriously considering the possibility of beating itself to death. Granny patted it on the lichen-encrusted shoulder. 'What's your name, lad?'

'Carborundum, miss,' it mumbled. One of its legs began to tremble. 'Well, I'm sure you're going to make a good life for yourself here in the big city,' said Granny. 'Yes, why don't you go and start now?' said Nanny. The troll gave her a grateful look and fled, without even bothering to open the door. 'Do they really call me that?' said Granny. 'Er. Yes,' said Nanny, kicking herself. 'It's a mark of respect, of course.'


'Er. . .'

'I've always done my best to get along with trolls, you know that.'

'Oh, yes.'

'How about the dwarfs?' said Granny, as someone might who had found a hitherto unsuspected boil and couldn't resist poking it. 'Have they got a name for me, too?'

'Let's go and see Mr Goatberger, shall we?' said Nanny brightly. 'Gytha!'

'Er. . . well. . . I think it's K'ez'rek d'b'duz,' said Nanny. 'What does that mean?'

'Er. . . “Go Around the Other Side of the Mountain”,' said Nanny. 'Oh.' Granny was uncharacteristically silent as they made their way up the stairs. Nanny didn't bother to knock. She opened the door and said, 'Coo-ee, Mr Goatberger! It's us again, just like you said. Oh, I shouldn't try to get out of the window like that-you're three flights up and that bag of money is a bit dangerous if you're climbing around.' The man edged around the room so that his desk was between him and the witches. 'Wasn't there a troll downstairs?' he said. 'It's decided to break out of publishing,' said Nanny. She sat down and gave him a big smile. 'I 'spect you've got some money for us.' Mr Goatberger realized that he was trapped. His face contorted into a series of twisted expressions as he experimented with some replies. Then he smiled as widely as Nanny and sat down opposite her. 'Of course, things are very difficult at the moment,' he said. 'In fact I can't recall a worse time,' he added, with considerable honesty. He looked at Granny's face. His grin stayed where it was but the rest of his face began to edge away. 'People just don't seem to be buying books,' he said. 'And the cost of the etchings, well, it's wicked.'

'Everyone I knows buys the Almanack,' said Granny. 'I reckon everyone in Lancre buys your Almanack. Everyone in the whole Ramtops buys the Almanack, even the dwarfs. That's a lot of half dollars. And Gytha's book seems to be doing very well.'

'Well, of course, I'm glad it's so popular, but what with distribution, paying the peddlers, the wear and tear on-'

'Your Almanack will last a household all winter, with care,' said Granny. 'Providing no one's ill and the paper's nice and thin.'

'My son Jason buys two copies,' said Nanny. 'Of course, he's got a big family. The privy door never stops swinging'

'Yes but, you see, the point is. . . I don't actually have to pay you anything,' said Mr Goatberger, trying to ignore this. His smile had the

face all to itself now. 'You paid me to print it, and I gave you your money back. In fact I think our accounts department made a slight error in your favour, but I won't-' His voice trailed away. Granny Weatherwax was unfolding a sheet of paper. 'These predictions for next year. . .' she said. 'Where'd you get that?'

Tip: You can use left and right keyboard keys to browse between pages.