An Invitation To The Masque Ball
The eve of Village Day was for most, a busy hectic sort of day as final preparations were being made. Outside on the piazza and chess lawn stalls of all kinds were being fast erected. But for Number 6 the day began as leisurely as any other here in the Village. In fact he was just finishing a hearty full English breakfast, when there came a knock at his door, which was strange, because people here just seemed to come in and go just whenever the fancy took them.
Number 6 left the confines of the kitchen and walked through to the lounge, where through the glass panels of the French door he could see a rather stout gentleman wearing a Royal Mail hat standing with one hand on the handle of his Penny Farthing bicycle, and in the other a white card. Number 6 walked to the door and opened it.
“Sign your number here Number Six” said the postman offering the white card and receipt book.
“What am I signing for?” he asked, taking the white card.
Number 6 studied the invitation card and slammed the door shut, and placed the invitation on top of the mantle piece.
The postman pushed his penny farthing bicycle to the next cottage, as Number 6 donned his piped blazer and went out into the morning sunshine of the Village.
“What’s this, entering for the best kept Village competition are we?” said Number 6 to the pair of Village gardeners.
“We’d win hands down if we did” returned Number 184 with confidence, as he busied himself trimming a hedge.
And what do you think you’re doing?” Number 6 demanded, seeing number 36b carrying a window box towards his cottage.
“I’m about to put this window box up” retorted 36b “this and a couple of hanging baskets, make the place look a treat they will.”
“Supposing I don’t want flowers?” barked Number 6.
“Don’t be silly, who doesn’t want flowers!” retorted 36b.
“I don’t!” he replied adamantly.
“Come off it” argued 184 “you’ll have the only cottage in the Village without flowers, it just won’t do, it won’t do at all.”
“That’s right” agreed 36b.
“What’s right?” asked Number 6.
“What he just said” 36b replied fixing the window box in place.
“Tell me, does the Village always have flowers for Village Day?” Number 6 asked casually.
“Of course” said 184 in response
“And there were flowers for last years celebrations?” asked Number 6.
Both 36b and 184 looked at each other quizzically, and tried to remember.
“Come, come” began Number 6 “it can’t be that difficult to remember, cast your minds back, forget all about Balaclava!”
“We did” said 36b suddenly “I remember quite distinctly.”
“You did what?”
“On Village Day.”
“On what day?”
“That’s right” agreed 184 with a smile.
Number 6 frowned at 184 “What do you mean he’s right?”
“On Village Day, that’s when we had the flowers” said 184, who set about sharpening his shears with a grindstone.
“But what day is that?” Number 6 persisted.
“Village Day” replied 36b.
“Village Day, listen to the old fool, what I want to know is what day?” barked Number 6.
“Well there’s no need to go and blow a gasket, you should have said” replied 184 “now what day was it now?”
“A Thursday wasn’t it” 36b thought.
“No wasn’t a Thursday, but I do remember it was the nineteenth” said 184 grinding the stone across a blade of the shears.
“Why couldn’t it have been a Thursday?” Number 6 asked, and when he had he wished he hadn’t.
“No, it couldn’t have been on a Thursday, because Thursdays is when I get my health and welfare card renewed” 184 replied with a smile.
“Health and welfare, blimey” said Number 6 “listen next time you go get some new marbles with it, because you’re off yours!”
“The nineteenth, that’s tomorrow” said 36b.
“Tomorrow is the nineteenth?” asked Number 6.
“That’s right” agreed 36b.
“Now don’t you start, tomorrow’s the nineteenth and it’s March” said number 6.
“Village Day!” said 184, putting down his grindstone and returning his attention to the hedge “a Wednesday, I remember it as though it was yesterday.”
“Yes” said Number 6 “and it will be tomorrow if I waste any more time on you pair of old fools much longer!”
Number 6 went on his way, along the gravelled path leaving the two gardeners to their work. As he passed through a small turquoise gate, he glanced up at the pair of golden eagles perched atop of the huge white portico of the Green Dome. Only they were not eagles, nor were they painted gold, the pair of plain grey stone figures made his blood run cold, despite the warmness of the morning. The pair of grey gargoyles gripped the edge of the portico with strong talons, their wings outstretched, as though ready to take to the air. A woman in a pink hat and striped cape who had climbed the steps, wanted to go through the gate, he staggered back, knocking into her.
“Excuse me young man, I say are you alright?” asked Number 38.
“How long have there been gargoyles perched up there?” asked Number 6, pointing up at the pair of statues.
“Gargoyles!” said 38, looking up to where Number 6 was pointing “this is Number Two’s residence young man, not Croyland Abbey!” and the woman walked off through the gate and along the gravelled path. Number 6 watched the woman go, and then shading his eyes against the glare of the sun, he saw a pair of golden eagles! But he was sure, he was certain, but then how could he have been. Perhaps because of the glare of the sun, together with the remembrance of a nightmare, nothing more that that, but the effect was at the time quite unnerving.
The Village looked like any village
preparing for a village fete. Colourful stalls were being erected almost
anywhere, but chiefly on both the chess lawn and piazza, even the stone boat
had been decked out with bunting specially for the occasion, and there was an
almost fun-fair atmosphere about the Village, and citizens seemed genuinely
excited, but you wouldn’t think it to look upon the bland expressions on their
faces. For Number 6 there was no such feeling of excitement, in fact he was determined
not to get involved. As far as he was concerned this was their village and
their celebrations, indeed he could see nothing worth celebrating. As he walked
through the Village he watched gardeners putting the finishing touches to the
flower beds, sweepers sweeping the streets and paths, electricians connecting
power cables and switching switches. He strolled amongst some of the stalls,
‘Lucky Dip’, ‘Test your Strength’ ‘Punch & Judy’ and a small tent with the
sign ‘What The Butler saw’ and so it was that the butler, Number 2’s personal
gentleman, emerged and tipped his black bowler hat at Number 6, as he went on
his way. However there is a saying “no man is an
The Admiral was an ancient mariner. He wore a black and red striped sweater, blue flannel trousers and a white Navy cap, complete with gold braid and penny farthing badge denoting the red numeral 66.
“Come along young man, it’s your move!” the Admiral prompted.
“Sorry Admiral” said Number 6, the Admiral’s words jarring him from some deep thought, and he made his move, pawn to King’s Rook 5.
The Admiral saw his chance and struck a devastating blow, Queen takes Bishop “checkmate!” announced the Admiral in gleeful victory.
“Well played Admiral, you’re in good form today” Number 6 told him.
“Either that or your mind’s not on the game, I’ll give you another chance lad” the Admiral offered setting up the chess pieces ready for a second game.
“Fine, why not, I mean I don’t have any other appointments today, and my game can only improve” he replied sarcastically.
“That all depends on the game you’re playing at the time” said the Admiral enigmatically, and made the first move pawn to king 4.
Number 6 looked at the Admiral wondering what he had meant, and mirrored the move, pawn to king 4.
And so the opening gambits;
Bishop to Queen’s Bishop 4
Queen’s knight to Queen’s Bishop 3
Knight to Queen’s Bishop 3
Knight to King’s Bishop 3
Number 6 leaned forward in his chair across the chessboard can I ask you something Admiral?”
“Fire ahead lad” said the Admiral.
“You’ve been here a long time haven’t you?” was Number 6’s opening question.
The Admiral looked at Number 6 for a moment before answering “Aye lad, I suppose I have, hadn’t thought about it before. But it doesn’t pay to dwell on such things, the Village took the best years of my life, and now it’s too late, too old you see.”
“Too old for what?”
“For anything lad, the mind’s going and the body’s too frail.”
“What happened Admiral, what happened all those years ago to see you brought here?”
The Admiral had told it long ago, he couldn’t see what possible interest it could be to them now, they never could leave him in peace, but he told anyway “Aye lad it was a long time ago, but I remember as if it were only yesterday, if only it were tomorrow, eh lad!”
Number 6 smiled gently at the old man, realising what he meant.
“I was in the Navy, a keen young Lieutenant at the time” began the Admiral “the Admiralty had wanted to see my Captain and myself, we were entrusted with the blue-print plans for a guidance system for a new torpedo, all very top secret. We took the night train from Portsmouth to Plymouth, the first of the tests for the new torpedo and its guidance system were to take place early the following day. We shared a compartment, the Captain and I, not daring to let the other out of our sights, for security purposes you understand. Well we had word that the Russians were after the plans. Such a thing seemed to us most improbable to happen on the night train to Plymouth…… anyway the Captain went to the toilet, he was gone, well only a matter of a couple of minutes, but it was long enough, I must have gone to sleep……..”
Then as though to break the Admiral’s story, there came the sound of a two tone siren, as a white Mini Moke taxi turned left at the bottom of the hill, down the slipway and onto the beach. Splashing through a shallow gully of water, and speeding along the beach, its siren blaring out.
“Who do you think they’re after?” asked Number 6.
The Admiral looked out over the white balustrade and across the sand “They’re always after someone lad, just be grateful that its not you!”
Number 6 watched the taxi disappear along the beach “You were saying Admiral, you must have gone to sleep.”
“Well when I woke up” The Admiral continued “there was no sign of the Captain, his bunk bed had not been slept in, and what’s more there wasn’t any sign of the steward, in fact there wasn’t any sign of anyone, the carriage was completely deserted, save for me. I dressed somewhat hurriedly and it was then that I realised two things, first that the briefcase with the blueprint plans was missing, and that the train was no longer moving! I went exploring, trying to find someone, anyone, but it was no good you see.”
“Why not Admiral, what had happened?” he asked eager to know.
“Well lad, the carriage I was in was no longer part of the train, you see I was here…… in the Village!”
Number 6 sat back numb with shock “There’s no railway line here.”
“Not now there isn’t lad, but there was in my day, a loop line I think, long gone now of course” the Admiral informed him, as he watched Number 6 take a photograph from his blazer pocket “what have you there?”
“Have you seen this man?” he asked handing over the photograph.
The Admiral studied the photograph for several moments, he was trying to remember aye lad, I’ve seen him around the village, played chess with him like I have you. In fact come to think of it, you remind me of him, you look alike and have that same look in his eye that he had from time to time. Take care you don’t go the same way as him!” the Admiral warned.
“And what way would that be Admiral?”
“Rebellious he was, sticking his nose in where it wasn’t wanted, always trying to escape, and always brought back!” said the Admiral handing back the photograph.
He placed it back inside his pocket “Tell me, when did you last see him?”
The Admiral thought for a moment “Not for sometime lad, a month maybe more, it’s difficult to say, but he was a good chess player I remember.”
“What do you think has happened to him?” he asked.
“What happens to anyone here?” retorted the Admiral “you either give them what they want, and then are gracefully retired into the Old People’s Home or in time they simply take it and then its worse.”
“Then if he isn’t here” said Number 6 looking about him.
“No lad, he’s not here, he’s not the type to give them what they want, he’ll resist to the bitter end, they’ll have to take it from him and when they do……it will be too late.”
Number 6 looked thoughtful and said nothing.
“You looking for him lad?” asked the Admiral.
“If he didn’t escape then he is still here someplace, and that means there’s still a chance.”
“For him…. or you?” asked the Admiral “it’s a dangerous game you’re contemplating lad.”
“He’s still here, somewhere, and I intend to find him!” he told the Admiral with an air of determination.
“I dare say lad” replied the Admiral and
warned him to be careful “I’d hate to see something happen to you.”
“Tell me Admiral, you were a young and enthusiastic Lieutenant, but here you’re an Admiral.”
“Seeing as I never left the Navy I calculated the rank I would have risen to over the years, now I’m an Admiral retired.”
Number 6 smiled. It was with another game to play and a new opening gambit to consider, that Number 6 took his leave of the Admiral and walked up the hill from the Old People’s Home, back into the village. And it was as walked up the street that he saw three figures dressed head to foot on black, black overcoats and top hats, and each carrying a black leather documents case as they each entered the Town Hall. Having never been into the Town hall and thinking that answers may lie therein, Number 6 strode resolutely up to the portico of the Town hall, then climbing the three steps, was held fast for a few seconds in the grip of an electrical force field!
A vendor of The Tally Ho newspaper approached Number 6 as he stumbled backwards “Are you alight, you tried to go in, it’s fussy who it lets in, this is the Town Hall.”
In his office Number 2 sat in the comfort of his black global chair, watching the antics of Number 6 upon his wall screen, there was an enormous grin on his face, as though he was the cat who got the cream.
“You enjoyed that, didn’t you” Number 86 remarked.
“Yes, didn’t you?” retorted Number 2, watching Number 6 back slowly away from the Town Hall on the screen.
“Actually I found it rather puerile” said Number 86 in an air uppish-ness.
Number 2 swivelled round in his chair to face the young woman who stood beside the Penny Farthing bicycle, her hands gripping the handlebars “You have ambitions eighty-six, of one day riding that?”
“Oh I’m not ready yet Number Two, you may have no fears about that” Number 86 answered “but one day I will be, and then the Village will see my worth.”
“Well” said Number 2 “until that great day arrives, you mind your place and I’ll mind mine.”
Number 2 turned his attention once again to the wall screen where Number 6 was approaching the café, sitting at a vacant outdoor table he beckoned over the waitress. The waitress in a black pencil skirt, white blouse and lace apron walked over to where Number 6 was sitting and with pencil and pad in hand took the customer’s order, and Number 2 switched off the screen and rising up out of his chair, wrapped his old school scarf about his neck and picking up his furled umbrella shooting stick, walked towards the ramp.
“Hold the fort, I’m going out for a while.”
“Leaving me to mind your place for you Number Two?” quipped 86 with a smile “will you be long?”
“I shouldn’t think so, but then you can never tell with Number Six, he’s that kind of fellow, au revoir” Number 2 walked up the ramp and out through the opening steel doors.
As the pair of steel doors slammed shut, Number 86 left the Penny Farthing bicycle and went over to the black spherical chair, she touched it, stroked it, almost caressed it, the chair she most coveted. Then as bold as brass she sat in the chair, gathering her cape about her she swivelled the chair round time and again, a broad brassy grin upon her face as she visualised herself in what she saw to be a position that she would one day be promoted to, in time of course. Had Number 2 himself observed Number 86’s behaviour, she would have been reduced to scrubbing the steps of the Recreation Hall with a toothbrush. However as it is, cameras are everywhere in the Village, and the Green Dome is no exception, so it was that Number 86’s behaviour had not gone un-noticed.
At the café the waitress took Number 6’s order of coffee and buttered scone, and was about to write it down on her pad, when he slipped a photograph in her hand.
“I want some information” he asked.
“Information sir, what kind of information?” asked the waitress in return.
“The man in the photograph, do you recognise him?”
The waitress studied the photograph “He looks familiar, but we get so many customers sir” and handed it back. She was about to tend another table, when Number 6 grabbed her arm.
“Village Day, what can you tell me about it?”
“You must be new here sir, it’s the day we celebrate the founding of The Village, it’s a tradition.”
“It should be abolished!” Number 6 snapped in return.
“What the tradition sir?” queried the waitress.
“No….. the Village!”
“Was that black or white coffee sir?” asked the waitress.
A taxi pulled up outside the café and the figure of Number 2 alighted, and as the taxi pulled away he crossed the street and walked towards Number 6’s table.
“Black, and you had better make it tea for
“Tea for two sir?” asked the waitress.
“I think I have a guest” said Number 6, not taking his eyes off the approaching figure.
The waitress at seeing the important figure of Number 2 she hurried away inside the café.
“Was it something you said?” Number 2 asked casually at seeing the waitress hurrying away.
“No, she’s just willing to serve, that’s all!” quipped Number 6 with a wry smile.
“May I?” Number 2 asked, indicating the vacant chair with the tip of his shooting stick.
“Help yourself, I took the liberty of ordering you tea” Number 6 replied.
“That was kind” said Number 2 sitting down and noticing the photograph upon the table “still not going around showing people that are you, I hoped you would have been passed all that by now.”
Number 6 sat twiddling his thumbs “Is that why you allowed me the photograph, because you thought by doing so, I would get it out of my system? I’m a stubborn kind of fellow you know, it’s in my file.”
“It won’t get you anywhere you know, and no good will come of it” Number 2 informed him “why do you persist with a quest which can have no possible result other than harm?”
The waitress returned carrying a tray, she placed the two cups and saucers upon the table, along with two current buns, butter and two knives “That will be seven units in all if you please sir.”
Number 6 looked at the waitress “I didn’t order…..” but he could see it would be useless to argue and simply taking his credit card from his blazer breast pocket, handed it over!
The waitress duly clipped the credit card and handed it back to her customer, together with a smile and a curtsy at Number 2, then hurried away.
“She’s quite attractive, don’t you think, and terribly efficient” Number 2 commented as he watched the waitress busy at another table “She knows I always have a bun with my tea.”
“Who?” Number 6 asked, adding sugar to his coffee.
“The waitress, she smiled at me” Number 2 replied with a smile of his own.
“She smiles at everyone, but true you’ve certainly had an affect on her” retorted Number 6, busy buttering his bun.
Number 2 fell silent as he tired and sipped his tea, then said “How are you finding your new home from home, any problems?”
“Just you, and the Village as a whole really” Number 6 replied somewhat condescendingly, taking a bite of his scone and a sip of coffee.
2 laughed “Good, I knew that you would fit right in, and so lucky too, just in time for our Village Day festivities.”
Number 6 finished his scone and sneered at his companion “Another charade, I’m bored with it already!”
“Meaning just that.”
“I assure you Number Six, that whatever Village Day is, it is certainly no charade. It is all very real and earnest” said Number 2 leaning across the table “all in celebration of its founding.”
“How quaint” replied Number 6 sarcastically.
“Isn’t it” 2 agreed finishing his coffee.
“There is just one thing I don’t understand” said Number 6.
“Yes” said 2.
“When exactly was The Village founded, and by whom?”
Number 2 looked at Number 6 across the table “That’s two things.”
“But they’re both related” Number 6 replied “aren’t you going to eat that bun?”
Number 2 ignored the bun, but not Number 6 who he felt he had underestimated in his persistence, but what harm could there possibly be in the telling, he’s bound to find out sooner rather than later anyway “Four thirty-one am, March nineteenth nineteen twenty-eight.”
Number 6 made no recognition of the date, but he knew it well “And the founder?”
“Ah” came the reply “there you have me, before my time I’m afraid old chap. But it’s going to be a great day, everyone is allowed twenty four hours in which they can do anything they want to enable themselves to enjoy the day, within reason of course.”
“As long as it’s what you want!” snapped Number 6.
“Not at all my dear fellow, there’s the Village fete with all kinds of attractions and stalls of many kinds, all for the enjoyment of the citizens. Punch & Judy, Bongo Bolero…..”
“…. And his jumping jugglers” Number 6 added.
“Oh, you’ve seen them training!” said Number 2 disappointedly.
“Yes, and the what the butler saw!” said Number 6 “all the fun of the fair, but without the thrill of the rides!”
“Oh my dear old chap, there are limits you know. But I assure you that everyone will have a wonderful time….”
“By order!” quipped Number 6 with a wry smile.
2 smiled and thought for a moment, then offered Number 6 a warning “You should safeguard such flippancy, one day it will get you in to trouble."
“I’ve been in trouble before, it’s not so bad. Tell me, what happened to Number Six?”
2 wasn’t ready for this, but he should have been “Number Six, you are Number Six” he said pointing.
“Your previous Number Six, my predecessor, was he the man in the photograph?” he asked picking up the photograph from the table and toying with it.
“Never give up do you? Yes I know, you’re a stubborn fellow. But why persist so, I’ve told you before it will get you nowhere. Look I’ve given you a warning, now let me give you two pieces of well meant advice, a still tongue makes a happy life and questions are a burden to others, answers a prison for oneself. And for your information there is only one Number Six, and that is you old chap.”
Number 6 listened, but did not heed 2’s words, such was his stubbornness and the quest “he’s here somewhere, I know It, I’ll find him and you wont stop me!”
“Brave words indeed Number Six” this time it was 2’s turn for a wry, yet knowing smile “but don’t waste your time” was his suggestion “and don’t take life here too seriously, relax, try to enter the spirit of the day tomorrow, as well as Punch and Judy, there’s Popsey the clown.”
“Really” said Number 6 contemptuously, uninterested as he was in the whole affair.
But Number 2 ignored this, determined as he was for Number 6 to show some interest “Each year a different member of the community is chosen to portray this lively, frolicsome character. You’ll love it Number 6, it’ll be a laugh.”
“Then you must be Popsey!” quipped Number 6 with a smile.
“Splendid Number Six, still got your sense of humour good, that will stand you in good stead. Tell me is there anything special that you would like to see tomorrow?” 2 asked.
Number 6 thought for a moment, playing the game he said “a firework display, the whole Village lit up in flames!”
2 laughed “You’ll be the death of me” then added coyly “by the way I understand that you haven’t been sleeping too well.”
“Just idle gossip no doubt, but then you should know!” he replied.
“I don’t deal in gossip Number Six” he began “the same nightmare night after night, it must be most disturbing for you.”
“Ah, I see you don’t know. Hardly night after night, and not the same nightmare” Number 6 informed the man sitting opposite. “Another of your little games, it’s not going to work you know, oh I forgot, you don’t know do you!”
Number 2 grinned “You flatter me Number Six, but your nightmares are your own doing…… you are always quick to look for someone else to blame for your own failings.”
“You’ll never win!” said Number 6 defiantly.
“Then it’s going to get very uncomfortable for you, old chap. You know, you’re not really so important to us, as I have told you before. Do you really think that we would go to such extraordinary lengths?”
“Yes, when you want something badly enough.”
“And what is it you think you have, that we want so badly?”
“Nothing I’m sure, but you are doing your damnedest to put me off my…..”
“Quest” added 2 “carry on with it if you must Number Six, but I assure you that there is precious little profit in it, and certainly nothing to be gained.”
“Except perhaps for the truth” said Number 6 twiddling his thumbs again.
“They say that the truth hurts, are you ready for that Six, to face up to the truth?” grinned Number 2, fully knowing what that truth is.
“Are you offering me protection?”
“Do you want it, if you do, then perhaps I could be doing you a big favour and more than you realise” was Number 2’s offer, which seemed on the surface to be quite genuine, but Number 6 had been bitten before.
“Save your favours for someone who really needs them. I think I’ll settle for the truth” he told Number 2, rejecting his offer and saving himself, or so he thought.
“Suit yourself, but I really do think you are being somewhat foolish” Number 2 told him rising to his feet “don’t forget the ceremony tomorrow, and the Masque Ball in the evening, you’ve received your invitation?”
“I don’t see how I can avoid it!” Number 6 sneered.
“Oh jolly good, I know you’ll get a great deal out of it. It’s held in the Town Hall you know” Number 2 informed him.
“The Masque Ball of course.”
“You mean we are allowed in?” Number 6 asked remembering his recent encounter with the Town Hall.
“Shocking, wasn’t it!”
“Electrifying, you don’t miss anything.”
“Not me, the Observers, oh you have your fancy dress costume of course” knowing all the time that Number 6 hadn’t.
Number 6 looked down at himself “Seeing that I’m already in costume, I thought I might go as Just William, he’s always getting himself into things!”
“Oh my dear fellow, that’s not the spirit of the thing at all. No if you will allow me, I shall select an appropriate costume for you” Number 2 offered “something period, something bold and dashing…I’ll have it sent round.”
Number 6 was about to protest.
“Oh my dear fellow there’s no need to thank me, my pleasure” said Number2 taking the fire out of any possible protest “oh well must go, people to see, things to do…. Be seeing you.’
It was with a look of unbelievable derision upon his face as he watched Number 2 walk off along the street.
“Will there be anything else sir?” the waitress asked.
“No thank you” replied Number 6 rising from the table “I’ve had just about enough for one day!” and he walked off down the street, but not in the footsteps of Number 2.
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