Home > I Shall Wear Midnight (Discworld #38)(6)

I Shall Wear Midnight (Discworld #38)(6)
Terry Pratchett

The young man hurried toward the crowd and there was a general smartening-up because, after all, here came the son of the Baron, who owned most of the Chalk and nearly all their houses, and although he was a decent old boy, as old boys go, a little politeness to his family was definitely a wise move…

“What happened here? Is everybody all right?” he said.

Life on the Chalk was generally pleasant and the relationship between master and man was one of mutual respect; but nevertheless, the farmworkers had inherited the idea that it could be unwise to have too many words with powerful people, in case any of those words turned out to be a word out of place. After all, there was still a torture chamber in the castle, and even though it hadn’t been used for hundreds of years…well, best to be on the safe side, best to stand back and let the witch do the talking. If she got into trouble, she could fly away.

“One of those accidents that was bound to happen, I’m afraid,” said Tiffany, well aware that she was the only woman present who had not curtsied. “Some broken bones that will mend and a few red faces. All sorted out, thank you.”

“So I see, so I see! Very well done, young lady!”

For a moment Tiffany thought she could taste her teeth. Young lady, from…him? It was almost, but not entirely, insulting. But no one else seemed to have noticed. It was, after all, the kind of language that nobs use when they are trying to be friendly and jolly. He’s trying to talk to them like his father does, she thought, but his father did it by instinct and was good at it. You can’t talk to people as though they are a public meeting. She said, “Thank you kindly, sir.”

Well, not too bad so far, except that now the coach door opened again and one dainty white foot touched the flint. It was her: Angelica or Letitia or something else out of the garden; in fact Tiffany knew full well it was Letitia, but surely she could be excused just a tiny touch of nasty in the privacy of her own head? Letitia! What a name. Halfway between a salad and a sneeze. Besides, who was Letitia to keep Roland away from the scouring fair? He should have been there! His father would have been there if the old man possibly could! And look! Tiny white shoes! How long would they last on somebody who had to do a jot of work? She stopped herself there: A bit of nasty was enough.

Letitia looked at Tiffany and the crowd with something like fear and said, “Do let’s get going, can we please? Mother is getting vexed.”

And so the coach left and the hurdy-gurdy man thankfully left and the sun left, and in the warm shadows of the twilight some people stayed. But Tiffany flew home alone, up high where only bats and owls could see her face.

CHAPTER TWO

Rough Music

She got one hour’s sleep before the nightmare began.

What she remembered most of all about that evening was the thumping of Mr. Petty’s head against the wall and the banisters as she hauled him bodily out of his bed and dragged him by his filthy nightshirt down the stairs. He was a heavy man and half asleep, the other half of him being dead drunk.

The important thing was to not give him any time to think, even for one moment, as she towed him behind her like a sack. He was three times her weight, but she knew about leverage. You couldn’t be a witch if you couldn’t maneuver someone who was heavier than you. You would never be able to change an invalid’s sheets otherwise. And now he slithered down the last few steps into the cottage’s tiny kitchen and threw up on the floor.

She was quite glad about that; lying in stinking vomit was the very least the man deserved, but she had to be quick to take charge, before he had time to compose himself.

The terrified Mrs. Petty, a mouse of a woman, had run screaming along the lanes to the village pub as soon as the beating had begun, and Tiffany’s father had sent a lad to wake Tiffany up. Mr. Aching was a man with considerable foresight and must have known that the beery cheerfulness after a day at the fair could be the undoing of everybody, and as Tiffany had sped toward the cottage on her broomstick, she had heard the rough music begin.

She slapped Petty’s face. “Can you hear that?” she demanded, waving her hand towards the darkened window. “Can you hear it? That’s the sound of the rough music, and they are playing it for you, Mr. Petty, for you. And they have sticks! And they have stones! They have everything they can pick up, and they have their fists and your daughter’s baby died, Mr. Petty. You beat your daughter so hard, Mr. Petty, that the baby died, and your wife is being comforted by some of the women and everybody knows that you have done it, everybody knows.”

She stared into his bloodshot eyes. His hands had closed automatically into fists because he had always been a man who thought with them. Soon he would try to use them; she knew it, because it was easier to punch than think. Mr. Petty had punched his way through life.

The rough music was getting nearer slowly, because it’s hard to walk across fields on a dark night when you’ve had a skinful of beer, no matter how righteous you are currently feeling. She had to hope that they did not go into the barn first, because they would hang him there and then. If he was lucky, they would just hang him. When she had looked into the barn and seen that murder had been done, she knew that, without her, it would be done again. She had put a charm on the girl to take the pain away, holding it just above her own shoulder. It was invisible, of course, but in her mind’s eye it burned a fiery orange.

“It was that boy,” mumbled the man, with vomit trickling down his chest. “Coming round here, turning her head so as she wouldn’t listen to her mum or me. And her being only thirteen. It’s a scandal.”

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