Home > I Shall Wear Midnight (Discworld #38)(7)

I Shall Wear Midnight (Discworld #38)(7)
Terry Pratchett

“William is thirteen too,” said Tiffany, trying to keep her voice level. It was difficult; the rage was bursting to get out. “Are you trying to tell me that she was too young for a bit of romance, but old enough to be beaten so hard that she bled from places where no one should bleed?”

She couldn’t tell if he had really come to his senses, because the man had so few of them at the best of times, it was hard to know if he had any at all.

“It wasn’t right, what they were doing,” he said. “A man’s got to have discipline in his own house, after all, ain’t that right?”

Tiffany could imagine the fiery language in the pub as the overture to the music got wound up. There were not very many weapons in the villages of the Chalk, but there were such things as reaping hooks and scythes and thatching knives and big, big hammers. They weren’t weapons—until you hit somebody with them. And everyone knew about old Petty’s temper, and the number of times his wife told the neighbors that she had gotten her black eye by walking into a door.

Oh, yes—she could imagine the conversation in the pub, with the beer joining in and people remembering where all those things that weren’t weapons were hanging in their sheds. Every man was king in his little castle. Everyone knew about that—well, at least every man—and so you minded your own business when it came to another man’s castle until the castle began to stink, and then you had to do something about it lest all castles should fall. Mr. Petty was one of the neighborhood’s sullen little secrets, but he was not a secret anymore.

“I am your only chance, Mr. Petty,” she said. “Run away. Grab what you can and run away right now. Run away to where they’ve never heard of you, and then run a bit farther, just to be on the safe side, because I will not be able to stop them, do you understand? Personally, I could not care less what happens to your miserable frame, but I do not wish to see good people get turned into bad people by doing a murder, so you just leg it across the fields and I won’t remember which way you went.”

“You can’t turn me out of my own house,” he mumbled, finding some drunken defiance.

“You’ve lost your house, your wife, your daughter…and your grandson, Mr. Petty. You will find no friends here this night. I am just offering you your life.”

“It was the drink what done it!” Petty burst out. “It was done in drink, miss!”

“But you drank the drink, and then you drank another drink, and another drink,” she said. “You drank the drink all day at the fair, and you only came back because the drink wanted to go to bed.” Tiffany could feel only coldness in her heart.

“I’m sorry.”

“Not good enough, Mr. Petty, not good enough at all. Go away and become a better person and then, maybe, when you come back as a changed man, people here might find it in their hearts to say hello to you, or at least to nod.”

She had been watching his eyes, and she knew the man. Something inside him was boiling up. He was ashamed, bewildered, and resentful, and in those circumstances the Pettys of the world struck out.

“Please don’t, Mr. Petty,” she said. “Do you have any idea what would happen to you if you hit a witch?”

She thought to herself, With those fists, you could probably kill me with a punch and that is why I intend to keep you scared.

“You set the rough music on me, didn’t ya?”

She sighed. “No one controls the music, Mr. Petty—you know that. It just turns up when people have had enough. No one knows where it starts. People look around, and catch one another’s eye, and give each other a little nod, and other people see that. Other people catch their eye and so, very slowly, the music starts and somebody picks up a spoon and bangs it on a plate, and then somebody else bangs a jug on the table and boots start to stamp on the floor, louder and louder. It is the sound of anger; it is the sound of people who have had enough. Do you want to face the music?”

“You think you’re so clever, don’t ya?” Petty snarled. “With your broomstick and your black magic, ordering ordin-ery folks about.”

She almost admired him. There he was, with no friends in the world, covered in his own vomit and—she sniffed: yes, there was urine dripping from the bottom of his nightshirt—yet he was stupid enough to talk back like that. “Not clever, Mr. Petty, just cleverer than you. And that’s not hard.”

“Yeah? But clever gets you into trouble. Slip of a girl like you, pokin’ about in other people’s business…What are you going to do when the music comes for you, eh?”

“Run, Mr. Petty. Get out of here. It’s your last chance,” she said. And it probably was; she could hear individual voices now.

“Well, would your majesty let a man put his boots on?” he said sarcastically. He reached down for them beside the door, but you could read Mr. Petty like a very small book, one with finger marks on all the pages and a piece of bacon as a bookmark.

He came up with fists swinging.

She took one step backward, caught his wrist, and let the pain out. She felt it flow down her arm, leaving it tingling, into her cupped hand and into Petty: all his daughter’s pain in one second. It flung him clear across the kitchen, and it must have burned away everything inside him except animal fear. He rushed at the rickety back door like a bull, broke through it, and headed off into the darkness.

She staggered back into the barn, where a lamp was burning. According to Granny Weatherwax, you did not feel the pain that you carried, but that was a lie. A necessary lie. You did feel the pain that you carried, and because it wasn’t actually your pain you could somehow bear it, but its departure left you feeling weak and shocked.

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