'Of course. I am sure she will welcome the suggestion. You may well have halved costs at a stroke.' Bucket beamed. 'Which is perhaps just as well,' said Salzella. 'There is, in fact, another matter that I've come to see you about. . .'
'It is to do with the organ we had.'
'Had? What do you mean, had?' said Bucket, adding, 'You're going to tell me something expensive, are you? What have we got now?'
'A lot of pipes and some keyboards,' said Salzella. 'Everything else has been smashed.'
'Smashed? Who by?' Salzella leaned back. He was not a man to whom amusement came easily, but he realized that he was rather enjoying this. 'Tell me,' he said, 'when Mr Pnigeus and Mr Cavaille sold you this Opera House, did they mention anything. . . supernatural?' Bucket scratched his head. 'Well. . . yes. After I'd signed and paid. It was a bit of a joke. They said: “Oh, and by the way, people say there's some man in evening dress who haunts the place, haha, ridiculous, isn't it, these theatrical people, like children really, haha, but you may find it keeps them happy if you always keep Box Eight free on first nights, haha.” I remember that quite well. Handing over thirty thousand dollars concentrates the memory a bit. And then they rode off: Quite a fast carriage, now I come to think about it.'
'Ah,' said Salzella, and he almost smiled. 'Well, now that the ink is dry, I wonder if I might fill you in on the fine detail. . .'
'You make yourself useful, Esme Weatherwax,' said the voice from the bushes, 'by obligin' me and findin' any dock or burdock plants that might happen to be around out there, thank you very much.'
'Herbs? What're you plannin' with them?'
'I'm plannin' to say, “Thank goodness, big leaves, just what I need.” ' Birds sang. The wind rattled the dried seed-heads of moor land flowers. Granny Weatherwax poked in the ditches to see if there were any interesting herbs hereabouts. High over the hills, a buzzard screamed and wheeled. The coach stood by the side of the road, despite the fact that it should have been speeding along at least twenty miles away. At last Granny grew bored, and sidled towards a clump of gorse bushes. 'How're you doing, Gytha?'
'Fine, fine,' said a muffled voice. 'Only I reckon the coach driver is getting a bit impatient.'
'You can't hurry Nature,' said Nanny Ogg. 'Well, don't blame me. You was the one who said it was too draughty on the broomsticks.' Some distance from the bushes where Nanny Ogg was communing with Nature there was, placid under the autumn sky, a lake. In the reeds, a swan was dying. Or was due to die. There was, however, an unforeseen snag. Death sat down on the bank. NOW LOOK, he said, I KNOW HOW IT IS SUPPOSED TO GO. SWANS SING JUST ONCE, BEAUTIFULLY, BEFORE THEY DIE. THAT'S WHERE THE WORD 'SWANSONG' ORIGINATES. IT IS VERY MOVING. NOW, LET US TRY THIS AGAIN. . . He produced a tuning fork from the shadowy recesses of his robe and twanged it on the side of his scythe. THERE'S YOUR NOTE. . . 'Uh-uh,' said the swan, shaking its head. WHY MAKE IT DIFFICULT? 'I like it here,' said the swan. THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH IT. 'Did you know I can break a man's arm with a blow of my wing?' HOW ABOUT IF I GET YOU STARTED? DO YOU KNOW 'MOONLIGHT BAY'? 'That's no more than a barbershop ditty! I happen to be a swan!'
'LITTLE BROWN JUG'? Death cleared his throat. HA HA HA, HEE HEE HEE, LITTLE- 'That's a song?' The swan hissed angrily and swayed from one crabbed foot to the other. 'I don't know who you are, sirrah, but where I come from we've got better taste in music.' REALLY? WOULD YOU CARE TO SHOW ME AN EXAMPLE? 'Uh-uh!' DAMN. 'Thought you'd got me there, didn't you,' said the swan. 'Thought you'd tricked me, eh? Thought I might unthinkingly give you a couple of bars of the Pedlar's Song from Lohenshaak, eh?' I DON'T KNOW THAT ONE. The swan took a deep, laboured breath. 'That's the one that goes “Schneide meinen eigenen Hals-”' THANK YOU, said Death. The scythe moved. 'Bugger!' A moment later the swan stepped out of its body and ruffled fresh but slightly transparent wings. 'Now what?' it said. THAT'S UP TO YOU. IT'S ALWAYS UP TO YOU.
Mr Bucket leaned back in his creaky leather chair with his eyes shut until his director of music had finished. 'So,' Bucket said. 'Let me see if I've got this right. There's this Ghost. Every time anyone loses a hammer in this place, it's been stolen by the Ghost. Every time someone cracks a note, it's because of the Ghost. But also, every time someone finds a lost object, it's because of the Ghost. Every time someone has a very good scene, it must be because of the Ghost. He sort of comes with the building, like the rats. Every so often someone sees him, but not for long because he comes and goes like a. . . well, a Ghost. Apparently we let him use Box Eight for free on every first-night performance. And you say people like him?'
' “Like” isn't quite the right word,' said Salzella. 'It would be more correct to say that. . . well, it's pure superstition, of course, but they think he's lucky. Thought he was, anyway.' And you wouldn't understand a thing about that, would you, you coarse little cheesemonger, he added to himself. Cheese is cheese. Milk goes rotten naturally. You don't have to make it happen by having several hundred people wound up until their nerves go twang. . . 'Lucky,' said Bucket flatly. 'Luck is very important,' said Salzella, in a voice in which pained patience floated like ice cubes. 'I imagine that temperament is not an important factor in the cheese business?'
'We rely on rennet,' said Bucket. , Salzella sighed. 'Anyway, the company feel that the Ghost is. . . lucky. He used to send people little notes of encouragement. After a really good performance, sopranos would find a box of chocolates in their dressing- room, that sort of thing. And dead flowers, for some reason.'
'Well, not flowers at all, as such. Just a bouquet of dead rose-stems with no roses on them. It's something of a trademark of his. It's considered lucky.'
'Dead flowers are lucky?'
'Possibly. Live flowers, certainly, are terribly bad luck on stage. Some singers won't even have them in their dressing-room. So. . . dead flowers are safe, you might say. Odd, but safe. And it didn't worry people because everyone thought the Ghost was on their side. At least, they did. Until about six months ago.' Mr Bucket shut his eyes again. 'Tell me,' he said. 'There have been. . . accidents.'
'What kind of accidents?'