The well dressed people gathered at the large lobby of the Peitho Institute, Marie and Sir John amongst them. Fine wine was being passed out by waiters and there was a pleasant hubbub of genteel conversation. A makeshift stage was built at the back of the room, and occasionally Earnest Pook would peer over it and smile.
“May I take your hat and coat, sir?” said an usher to Sir John.
“Er, no, I’m fine, we’re fine,” said Sir John. “We’re from London.”
“It’s starting,” said Marie as Earnest Pook walked onto the stage. He was dressed in an expensive looking suit with a silk cravat and jewelled pin.
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” said Pook. “You are most terribly, terribly welcome to this event, the inauguration of our most audacious project yet. And to this end, in an act of generosity that behoves one as magnificent as himself, our benefactor has agreed to come and speak. He is, as many of you know, not one for the spotlight, not one to thrust himself into public discourse. Not that he lacks the requisite skill or talent for communication, oh no, but merely because he prefers his works to speak for themselves without the unnecessary personal adulation that such can so often accompany philanthropy such as his. I present, Arthur Clackprattle.”
The hubbub increased as people craned to look at who was coming onto the stage. An obese man dressed in a gaudy costume and with an arrogant look on his face walked onto the stage. Around his neck was a large necklace, with a transparent sphere in a metal coil.
“Look!” said Sir John, “The sphere!”
“Good evening to everyone,” said Clackprattle, “and welcome to this event. It is so wonderful to see so many of Manchester’s finest here. I am so pleased to be able to show you tonight just how incredible a machine we will be unveiling. Many of you may be wondering what it does. Well, rest assured, I shall tell you.”
There was general chatter as the crowd tried to gauge Clackprattle and some suppressed laughter at his unusual dress.
“Silence!” roared Clackprattle. The crowd fell instantly silent.
“That is so much better,” continued Clackprattle. “Silence is truly golden, especially when it’s silence from such a fatuous, smug, and profoundly self-indulgent collection as yourselves.”
No one spoke or moved.
“So, you should all be very pleased, as tonight we shall put Manchester on the map. In the very center of the map in fact,” said Clackprattle, getting more manic with each sentence he spoke. “You may have heard that this contraption will be sending music to owners of telephonic devices. Nothing could be further from the truth. You see, this Telharmonium will be sending my power instead. Anyone who picks up that receiver when we call shall be under my control, and I shall rule England and the Empire!”
Still, no one spoke or moved.
“I imagine,” said Clackprattle,” that you find all of this a little alarming. I imagine you’d like to stop me. But as I’m sure you’ve discovered, you can’t move, and you can’t talk, thanks to this little beauty.”
Clackprattle stroked the metal coil that housed the sphere and said, “And thanks to another beauty. What you might call a ‘sleeping partner’.”
Clackprattle turned to go, chuckling a little.
“Come on Pook, you start the generator and I shall man the microphone,” he said, before looking back at the static audience. “You lot can get ready to bow to me later.”
The tall fat man and the small thin man left the room, the former going right and the latter going left.
Sir John and Marie both let out a breath.
“Good job these hats worked,” said Sir John, looking around at the motionless crowd. “Right, you wait here and I’ll tackle Clackprattle.”
“Be careful, mon cher,” said Marie.
Sir John nodded and then headed off down the right-hand corridor. Marie waited until he was gone then headed down the left.