'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. . . 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?'
'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?'