The Masque Ball
Number 6 returned to his cottage, stormed in and slammed the door shut behind him, only to find Peter Pan sat in a chair, waiting for him.
“What do you want?”
“To offer you a shoulder to cry on, to help, I saw what happened” the housemaid said rising to her feet.
“Couldn’t very well avoid it, could you!”
“I thought as a friend….”
“Let me assure you of a few things, first I don’t need anyone’s help, nor do I need a shoulder to cry on and we are certainly not friends!” he snapped.
“I understand that you think me to be one of them, and I don’t blame you.”
“Like half the Village, you had no idea!”
“We didn’t, I didn’t have any idea that you were the founder of the Village, how could we?” Peter Pan carried out in her own defence.
This took the wind out of Number 6’s sails “Me, I’m not the founder of the Village.”
“Not you?” said Peter Pan.
“That unfortunate distinction goes to another!” he replied “and I no longer know the man I thought he was.”
“Oh, but he was. He’s the one you have been asking about” she told him “let me tell you more, He fought them, resisted any form of coercion, and would not conform in anyway to life here. He once said that he was not subject to the rules!”
“Doesn’t sound much like the founder of your Village, he sounds more like a rebel!”
“Precisely, rebelling against that which he had created!”
“You think he is still alive, this brother of yours?” she asked “that they have him put away some place. Why don’t you ask Number Two?” she suggested.
“Me, ask her, as if she would tell me anything. She’s the kind to have me put against a wall and shot any time soon!” retorted Number 6, looking sideways at the woman in the green costume “perhaps Number 2 sent you here, is that how the land lies?”
Peter Pan looked startled by this preposterous suggestion “I came here of my own free will.”
“That’s something of a novelty here, wouldn’t you say!”
“Novelty?” Peter Pan queried.
“That anyone here should have a free will!”
“If you do not wish my offer of help.”
“You know where the door is!”
“I only wanted to help” said Peter Pan making for the door, then pausing turned “I understand your anger.”
“Do you, do you really. Well I only wished I did, because I don’t know what’s real anymore. I certainly don’t know my brother, whether he’s dead, still alive somewhere, or some other place far away from here.”
Peter Pan really felt something for Number 6, only she dare not show it, for fear of those who would be watching, but dared to say “You can trust me you know.”
Number 6 looked at her “Can I, can I trust anyone but myself? Perhaps you are part of all this, this utter farce put together by Number Two in order to see me broken. Is that what you want” he bellowed at the ceiling “to break me, is that it, to reduce me to a man of fragments. Well do you see any cracks developing, well do you?”
In the control room the supervisor and his Observers watched and listened, certainly to them the first cracks had indeed started to appear, and this would reported to Number 2.
“If you don’t trust me Number Six, who do you trust?” Peter Pan asked standing at the open door.
“Me, I trust me!” he said without thinking.
“Yes, that’s what he would have said!” she said with a knowing smile “you know you’re both very much alike you and your brother.”
“The door’s open.”
“I know what he would have done.”
“What would he have done?”
“If he were here now, he would put on that fancy dress costume of yours and go to the Masque Ball.”
The door closed behind the housemaid leaving Number 6 pacing the floor pondering what to do next, if there was anything still left for him to do. And then looking at the cream telephone he picked up the receiver.
“Number please” asked the operator.
“Number One” Number 6 ordered and waited to be connected.
“I’m sorry caller, but I have been unable
to connect you” said the operator.
He slammed the receiver down. In the bedroom he opened the wardrobe door and looked at the flamboyant costume hanging there. In truth he had a taste for the outlandish costumes and from time to time had thought himself to be quite the Dandy, white frilly shirts and frock coats, that sort of thing, and Scaramouche being one of his favourite films he divested himself of one costume, his Village attire for that of another. The costume consisted of a white blouse with wide sleeves, a white doublet with inlays of silver, grey and black striped tights in the Italian style, with matching boots, cape and feathered hat. He picked up the white mask with a long pointed nose, which went over his eyes and nose and the top of his cheeks and put it on and his sword completed the ensemble, so that it was Scaramouche who stood reflected in the full length mirror “My, my, who’s going to be the Jack-a-Dandy of the Masque Ball then?”
Number 6 indeed cut a dashing figure as he went out into the Village, but he was not alone with that thought, for the supervisor-Number 25 had that very exact same thought. He was in his quarters changing into his costume, and now stood admiring his reflection. Dressed in a white powdered wig with a large blue bow tie, Navy blue satin waistcoat, with the most delicate gold embroidery, long fitted satin coat and navy blue breeches, also with gold embroidery, white silk stockings and silver buckled shoes and frilly white shirt with lace cuffs completed the 18th century costume. The final touch, a sword which the now Paul Le Marquis de Martan, France’s finest swordsman, whipped it from its scabbard and brandished menacingly at his reflection in the mirror, the sharp tip of the blade unprotected!
Early evening saw a handsome fellow down on the beach, it was quiet and peaceful, the only footprints in the sand being his own. He stood there looking out to sea, why, he had no idea, but he was lost in his own thoughts.
“And what are you doing here Scaramouche, you should be on your way to the Masque Ball” said a voice behind him.
Scaramouche spun round to see a woman standing a few paces away wearing a long black cloak which was drawn about her. Her black hair was up in a rather attractive way and decorated with two large blue plumed feathers, the woman was no lesser person than Number 2!
“You seem to know who I am, but who are you supposed to be?”
“Can’t you guess?” she asked playing the coy innocent that she wasn’t.
“I like the way you have your hair, it suits you” he said, paying her a compliment.
“A compliment, from you of all people, who would have thought, so in return may I say what a dashing figure you cut, and so handsome.”
“Handsome, yes handsome” Scaramouche replied and bowing with a flourish “but how can you tell, I am wearing….. a mask!”
“Ah, but I know my Scaramouche and what it is he has to hide, for his face is hidden away from others, so hideous that it is!” she said teasing the man before her.
“Ah, but is this night not the night of the Masque Ball, and you do not wear such a mask!” Scaramouche said pointing with a finger.
“Perhaps because unlike you, I have nothing to hide” she teased, her flirtatious manner so alien to her, but she played her part well “but tell me, can you not guess who I am?”
He moved closer to the woman, close enough to smell her perfume “can I not see your costume first?” sure now that the cloak so wrapped about her was to ensure her modesty.
“Who do you think I am Scaramouche, the right guess may reveal all about me!” she teased.
He feigned thought, standing on one leg, bring up the other knee and putting his fist under his chin feigning thought, then snapping his fingers said “I have it, you are a dancer!”
“I, a mere dancer, am I not more than that?” she asked coyly.
“A woman of the night perhaps!” Scaramouche suggested, then seeing her annoyance changed his mind “a dancer, singer, actress of the stage and lover of men!”
She smiled warmly seeing Scaramouche’s tease for that and nothing more “For a moment I thought you to have a low opinion of me, but I am all you have said and more, for I am your Columbine” she said opening her cloak wide.
Scaramouche was taken aback for a moment, for beneath that black cape Number 2-Columbine was seen to be a most shapely and attractive woman. Especially wearing the rather alluring costume she wore. A blue and black tutu dress, encrusted with diamante. Black silk stockings covered her long shapely legs and black high heeled shoes she wore upon her feet completed the ensemble.
“I shall permit you can escort me to the Masque Ball.”
Scaramouche took Columbine’s arm and led her across the open sand back towards the Village and the Town Hall in which this
evening he would be allowed to enter.
“I am surprised.”
“Surprised, how so?” Number 2 asked.
“By your choice of costume for this evening.”
“Why so, am I not a woman of some femininity?”
“Mightily so, the perfect woman of woman kind” he replied and who as Scaramouche, had to admit to himself, completely captivated by this woman.
The circular chamber had been specially decorated for the occasion of the Masque Ball, with balloons and decorations of all kinds with a large chandelier hanging from the centre of the ceiling. On a raised dais a Baroque quintet all in 18th century costume played, and dancing around the circular chamber, all rather sedately were the citizens all in fancy dress costumes. Dick Turpin pranced about on his hobby horse., Anthony danced with Cleopatra, as Josephine with Napoleon, Pierrot and Pierrete, while Sir Walter Raleigh pushed Queen Elizabeth the first round in her wheelchair. Popsey the clown was there amusing those who had not taken to the dance floor, and calmly mingling with the people like some will o’ the wisp was the white robed monk, cowled head bowed in holy reverence, while Admiral Lord Nelson was talking with a French artillery officer and little Bo-Peep was looking after her sheep! As Scaramouche and Columbine entered the chamber all heads turned and gasped in awe at the couple, even Le Marquis de Martan’s head turned from the Lady in Waiting he had been so eagerly paying his attentions to, a young woman in a
rather fetching white dress with a tight bodice and very low cut! A servant slipped Columbine’s cloak from her shoulders and a second servant carrying a tray of drinks offered her a glass of Champagne. Columbine took two glasses, handing the second to her escort who took it with some suspicion.
“Don’t worry, its un-doctored!” Columbine assured him.
Scaramouche looked at her through his mask
and smiled sipping his wine as they casually mingled with the people, who turned
to congratulate Columbine upon her costume. Scaramouche’s eyes were everywhere,
looking out for anyone out of the ordinary, but then here tonight, who was ordinary? A young man
immaculately dressed approached Columbine.
“Ah Paul, you came, how do I look?”
“Beautiful, dazzling, exciting, indeed I have never seen you looking
better” he told her
“But I think you have eyes for another” Columbine accused, glancing over to the Lady in waiting.
“Only eyes for you, will you dance for us tonight?” Paul asked.
“Oh I don’t know.”
“But you must, your fans demand it of you” he persisted.
Scaramouche stepped boldly forward and placed his arm round Columbine’s waist “Who is this fool, does he bother you my love?” hardly believing the words he was uttering!
“Let me introduce you to Paul, Le Marquis de Martan” Columbine told him.
Scaramouche gave a flamboyant bow.
“Paul, you have no wine!” said Columbine “waiter.”
“I need no wine, for I am already intoxicated by your beauty” de Martan said with a smile.
“Always the flatterer Paul, but then you know how very fond of flattery I am” Columbine replied with a flourish.
The Marquis bowed “I was unwholly ignorant of that very fact until this moment” he replied “but I shall remember it always. Now who is this strange fellow who hides behind a mask?” his left hand upon the hilt of his sword.
Columbine feigned shock and surprise “Paul, do you mean that you do not know who Scaramouche is?”
“No Madame, who is he?”
“I shall tell you” said Columbine waving the quintet to stop playing “do you know who this is?” Columbine asked the gathered people theatrically.
“Scaramouche” the people shouted.
“Scaramouche yes, but who is Scaramouche?” Columbine asked, now playing the audience.
Scaramouche stood nervously as all eyes turned upon him, his
hand upon the hilt of his sword, wondering what would happen next.
“And why does he hide his face behind a mask, well I will tell you” said Columbine “Scaramouche is a fool! A genius” in a pose of the thinker, a-ne’er-do-well” gestured Columbine with her fists “a saint” hands together as if in prayer “fickle, alluring, false and true together.”
Le Marquis De Martan stepped forward “Come fellow, reveal yourself, take off your mask and show your face.”
Scaramouche leapt dramatically up onto the raised dais and leaned against one of the music stands “Oh you wouldn’t want me to do that, think of the effect it would have, to remove my mask would be like baring my soul, and think what a dark and terrible thing that would be to behold!”
“Take off your mask I say” the Marquis demanded, boldly stepping forward, hand still on the hilt of his sword.
Scaramouche still standing upon the dais shook his head in dramatic fashion.
“You openly defy me, very well” said the Marquis drawing his sword “I shall have to remove it myself!”
Scaramouche pulled off his feathered hat and drawing his sword prepared to defend himself as he dramatically leaped from the dais onto the floor much to the shock and surprise of the audience.
For a moment nothing happened, and then came the laughter and pointing from the onlookers.
Then an Artillery officer strode forward “He is almost certainly a
fool to be taking on France’s finest swordsman!”
It was then that Scaramouche saw the reason for the laughter, he looked at the thin pointed plastic blade, which he brandished so menacingly. The Marquis stepped forward, the point of his blade now
at the throat of Scaramouche, who was now powerless to defend himself, was this then to be his execution? As de Martan advanced he backed away, and seeing a suit of armour standing by the wall, was quick to topple it over, narrowly missing de Martan, but allowing him to make good his escape, through the throng of people and down the elaborately decorated corridor. Scaramouche turned to see that he was not being pursued!
Number 6 stood at the end of a green carpeted corridor, a corridor with intermittent plaster busts set on plinths on either side, Darwin, Stevenson and Voltaire. At one point there was an ornate wall mirror, just passed the first door on the left. Number 6 removed his white mask and tried the first door, it was locked, as was the second, third and fourth doors, but a pair of French doors, with their blacked out panes of glass, opened automatically for him. He was taken aback for a moment, but it was with a bold heart that he finally passed through the pair of doors which closed automatically behind him, as lighting was at the same time automatically activated. He found himself standing in a room filled with grey filing cabinets and two long wooden tables with chairs and reading lamps. His eyes became fixed on another pair of French doors at the far end of the room, they
opened for him, he paused before stepping into the darkness beyond. The pair of doors closed behind him. Fearlessly he strode out into the darkness finally emerging into a dim light. There the figure still lay upon the operating table, the medical equipment and instruments, the wall screen, great electrical power cabinets and switch gear helping to generate the power. As he approached the figure lying covered by a white sheet upon the operating table, on the wall screen a tall man dressed in a grey charcoal suit advanced along a dimly lit corridor. He pulled a pair of doors open and stormed into the office beyond, where a balding, bespectacled man sat behind his desk doing the Telegraph crossword, but who looked up at the intruder now in his office. The man paced up and down ranting and shouting in a fit of anger. From the inside pocket of his jacket he produced a white envelope marked ‘private and personal’ ‘by hand’ and slammed it down on the desk, followed by his fist, this upsetting a cup set upon it’s saucer breaking a tea plate in the process. Number 6 stared open mouthed at the screen as the scene was repeated over and over on the screen.
“I’ve found him, he’s here!” he said and was about to pull back the white sheet to reveal the patient upon the operating table, when a voice said behind him “I wouldn’t do that if I were you Scaramuche!”
He turned to see Le Marquis de Martan standing just on the edge of the light “Never give up do you, the game’s about to be over. I’ve found him, I told Number Two that I would, pity she is not here to witness the occasion of her downfall!”
But Number 2 was there, stepping out of the darkness she stood at the shoulder of the supervisor “I once warned you that you may have to face a disappointment, that time it would seem is not that far off.”
Number 6 dropped the corner of the sheet “I thought I had already faced that disappointment with that founder’s bust you produced, what on earth did you hope to achieve by a stunt like that?”
“Oh it was no stunt I assure you” Number 2 replied with an air of confidence “but you have to admit that it did shake you up, hit you for six you might say!”
“And he really is the founder of your Village, Number One?” said Number 6, still not being able to believe it.
“And yours now, you are just as much a citizen here as anyone” Number 2 assured him “and yes he is still here, we are keeping him alive, as you can see for yourself. He was in an accident, but can yet be of service to us.”
“The sheet, it indicates that someone has died” said Number 6.
“By no means, we have to protect his anonymity” retorted Number 2.
“Have just become expendable!” Number 2 informed him, and added “you, Number 6, are far more trouble than you are worth!”
“Then I have nothing to lose!” and made to pull the sheet from the
patient lying on the table.
The supervisor drew his sword pointing it menacingly at Number 6, then he lunged forward swishing his blade in the air and slashed open the right sleeve of Scaramouche’s doublet, this time drawing blood.
“So this is how it is to end, with you as my assassin!” said Number 6, dodging behind the operating table..
“You wouldn’t give up would you, you’re
just like that predecessor of yours, he was the same always poking his nose in
where it wasn’t wanted” the supervisor accused, swishing his blade after the
evading Scaramouche “settle down they told you, like they told him, but your family are all alike, do
the exact opposite of what you are told, don’t try to settle down, not conform
but still expect the Village to take care of you, well that’s all to your cost now!”
Number 6 looked at Number 2, his hand grasping a corner of the sheet covering the patient, then whipped away the white sheet covering the patient upon the operating table revealing the unconscious, yet fully dressed body. There was a penny on one eye, and a farthing on the other as on the eyes of the dead. But then the body stirred and sat upright, the coins falling from his now open eyes. Shocked by this horror Number 6 stumbled back, he was staring into a face he new very well indeed…his own! Two other figures emerged from the darkness; one stepping forward brought a white truncheon down onto his head rendering 6 unconscious!
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