She pushed at it, and then blinked in the unaccustomed light. Wind caught at her hair. A pigeon stared at her, and flew away as she poked her head into the fresh air. The door had opened out on to the Opera House's roof, just one more item in a forest of skylights and airshafts. She went back inside and headed downwards. And became aware, as she did so, of the voices. . . The old stairs hadn't been totally forgotten. Someone had at least seen their usefulness as an airshaft. Voices filtered up. There were scales, distant music, snatches of conversation. As she went down she passed through layers of noise, like a very carefully made sundae of sound. Greebo sat on top of the kitchen cupboard and watched the performance with interest. 'Use the ladle, why don't you?' said a scene-shifter. 'It won't reach! Walter!'
'Yes Mrs Clamp?'
'Give me that broom!'
'Yes Mrs Clamp!' Greebo looked up at the high ceiling, to which was affixed a sort of thin, ten-pointed star. In the middle of it was a pair of very frightened eyes. ' “Plunge it into boiling water”,' said Mrs Clamp, 'that's what it said in the cook-book. It never said “Watch out, it'll grip the sides of the pot and spring straight up in the air”-' She flailed around with the broom-handle. The squid shrank back. 'And that pasta's all gone wrong,' she muttered. 'I've had it grilling for hours and it's still hard as nails, the wretched stuff.'
'Coo-ee, it's only me,' said Nanny Ogg, poking her head around the door, and such was the all embracing nature of her personality that even those who didn't know who she was took this on trust. 'Having a bit of trouble, are you?' She surveyed the scene, including the ceiling. There was a smell of burning pasta in the air. 'Ah,' she said. 'This'd be the special lunch for Senior Basilica, would it?'
'It was meant to be,' said the cook, still making ineffectual swipes. 'Blasted thing won't come down, though.' Other pots were simmering on the long iron range. Nanny nodded towards them. 'What's everyone else having?' she said. 'Mutton and clootie dumplings, with slumpie,' said the cook. 'Ah. Good honest food,' said Nanny, speaking of wall-towall suet oiled with lard. 'And there's supposed to be Jammy Devils for pudding and I've been so tied up with this wretched thing I haven't even made a start!' Nanny carefully took the broom out of the cook's hands. 'Tell you what,' she said, 'you make enough dumplings and slumpie for five people, and I'll help by knocking up a quick pudding, how about that?'
'Well, that's a very. handsome offer, Mrs-'
'The jam's in the jar by-'
'Oh, I won't bother about jam,' said Nanny. She looked at the spice-rack, grinned, and then stepped behind a table for modesty -twingtwangtwongtwang -'Got any chocolate?' she said, producing a slim volume. 'I've got a recipe right here that might be fun. . .' She licked her thumb and opened the book at page 53. Chocolate Delight with Special Secret Sauce.
Yes, thought Nanny, that would be fun. If people wanted to go around teaching people lessons, other people should remember that those people knew a thing or two about people. Scraps of conversation floated out of the walls as Agnes wound her secret way down the forgotten stairs. It was. . . thrilling. No one was saying anything important. There were no convenient guilty secrets. There were just the sounds of people getting through the day. But they were secret sounds. It was wrong to listen, of course. Agnes had been brought up in the knowledge that a lot of things were wrong. It was wrong to listen at doors, to look people directly in the eye, to talk out of turn, to answer back, to put yourself forward. . . But behind the walls she could be the Perdita she'd always wanted to be. Perdita didn't care about anything. Perdita got things done. Perdita could wear anything she wanted. Perdita X Nitt, mistress of the darkness, magdalen of cool, could listen in to other people's lives. And never, ever have to have a wonderful personality. Agnes knew she should go back up to her room. Whatever lay in the increasingly shadowy depths was probably something she ought not to find. Perdita continued downwards. Agnes went along for the ride. The pre-luncheon drinks were going quite well, Mr Bucket thought. Everyone was making polite conversation and absolutely no one had been killed up to the present moment. And it had been very gratifying to see the tears of gratitude in Senor Basilica's eyes when he was told that the cook was preparing a special Brindisian meal, just for him. He'd seemed quite overcome. It was reassuring that he knew Lady Esmerelda. There was something about the woman that left Mr Bucket terribly perplexed. He was finding it a little difficult to converse with her. As a conversational gambit, 'Hello, I understand you have a lot of money, can I have some please?' lacked, he felt, a certain subtlety. 'So, er, madam,' he ventured, 'what brings you to our, er, city?'
'I thought perhaps I could come and spend some money,' said Granny. 'Got rather a lot of it, you know. Keep havin' to change banks 'cos they get filled up.' Somewhere in Bucket's tortured brain, part of his mind went 'whoopee' and clicked its heels. 'I'm sure if there's anything I can do-' he murmured. 'As a matter of fact, there is,' said Granny. 'I was thinking of-' A gong banged. 'Ah,' said Mr Bucket. 'Luncheon is served.' He extended his arm to Granny, who gave it an odd look before remembering who she was and taking it. There was a small exclusive dining-room off his office. It contained a table set for five and, looking rather fetching in a waitress's lacy bonnet, Nanny Ogg. She bobbed a curtsey. Enrico Basilica made a tiny strangling noise at the back of his throat. '
'Scuse me, there's been a bit of a problem,' said Nanny. 'Who's dead?' said Bucket. 'Oh, no one's dead,' said Nanny. 'It's the dinner, it's still alive and hangin' on to the ceiling. And the pasta's all gone black, see. I said to Mrs Clamp, I said, it may be foreign but I don't reckon it should be crunchy
'This is terrible! What a way to treat an honoured guest!' said Bucket. He turned to the interpreter. 'Please assure Senor Basilica that we will send out for fresh pasta straight away. What were we having, Mrs Ogg?'
'Roast mutton with clootie dumplings,' said Nanny. Behind the face of Senor Basilica the throat of Henry Slugg made another little growling sound. 'And there's some nice slumpie with a knob of butter,' Nanny went on. Bucket looked around, puzzled. 'Is there a dog somewhere in here?' he said. 'Well, I for one don't believe in pandering to singers,' said Granny Weatherwax. 'Fancy food, indeed! I never heard the like! Why not give him mutton with the rest of us?'
'Oh, Lady Esmerelda, that's hardly a way to treat-' Bucket began. Enrico's elbow nudged his interpreter, with the special nudge of a man who could see clootie dumplings vanishing into the long grass if he weren't careful. He rumbled out a very pointed sentence. 'Senor Basilica says he would be more than happy to taste the indigenous food of Ankh-Morpork,' said the interpreter. 'No, we really can't-' Bucket tried again. 'In fact Senor Basilica insists that he tries the indigenous food of Ankh-Morpork,' said the interpreter. 'S' right. Si,' said Basilica. 'Good,' said Granny. 'And give him some beer while you're about it.' She gave the tenor's stomach a playful poke, losing her finger down to the second joint. 'Why, in a day or two I expect you could practically turn him into a native!' * * * The wooden stairs gave way to stone. Perdita said: He'll have a vast cave somewhere under the Opera House. There will be hundreds of candles, casting an exciting yet romantic light over the, yes, the lake, and there will be a dinner-table shining with crystal glass and silverware, and of course he will have, yes, a huge organ- Agnes blushed hotly in the darkness. -on which, that is to say, he will play in a virtuoso style many operatic classics. Agnes said: It'll be damp. There will be rats. 'Another clootie dumpling, Senior?' said Nanny Ogg. 'Mmfmmfmmf!'