Home > I Shall Wear Midnight (Discworld #38)(8)

I Shall Wear Midnight (Discworld #38)(8)
Terry Pratchett

When the charging, clanging mob arrived, Tiffany was sitting quietly in the barn with the sleeping girl. The noise went all around the house but did not go inside; that was one of the unwritten rules. It was hard to believe that the anarchy of the rough music had rules, but it did; it might go on for three nights, or stop at one, and no one came out of the house when the music was in the air and no one came sneaking home and went back into the house either, unless it was to beg for forgiveness, understanding, or ten minutes to pack their bags and run away. The rough music was never organized. It seemed to occur to everybody at once. It played when a village thought that a man had beaten his wife too hard or his dog too savagely, or if a married man and a married woman forgot that they were married to somebody else. There were other, darker crimes against the music, too, but they weren’t talked about openly. Sometimes people could stop the music by mending their ways; quite often they packed up and moved away before the third night.

Petty would not have taken the hint; Petty would have come out swinging. And there would have been a fight, and someone would have done something stupid, that is to say even more stupid than what Petty would have done. And then the Baron would find out and people might lose their livelihood, which would mean they would have to leave the Chalk and go for perhaps as much as ten miles to find work and a new life among strangers.

Tiffany’s father was a man of keen instinct, and he gently opened the barn door a few minutes later when the music was dying down. She knew it was a bit embarrassing for him; he was a well-respected man, but somehow, now, his daughter was more important than he was. A witch did not take orders from anybody, and she knew that he got teased about it by the other men.

She smiled, and he sat down on the hay next to her while the wild music found nothing to beat, stone, or hang. Mr. Aching didn’t waste words at the best of times. He looked around, and his gaze fell on the little bundle, hastily wrapped in straw and sacking, that Tiffany had put where the girl would not see it. “So it’s true—she was with child, then?”

“Yes, Dad.”

Tiffany’s father appeared to look at nothing at all. “Best if they don’t find him,” he said after a decent interval.

“Yes,” said Tiffany.

“Some of the lads were talking about stringing him up. We would have stopped them, of course, but it would have been a bad business with people taking sides. It’s like poison in a village.”

“Yes.”

They sat in silence for a while. Then her father looked down at the sleeping girl. “What have you done for her?” he asked.

“Everything I can,” said Tiffany.

“And you did that taking-away-pain thingy you do?”

She sighed. “Yes, but that’s not all I shall have to take away. I need to borrow a shovel, Dad. I’ll bury the poor little thing down in the woods, where no one will know.”

He looked away. “I wish it wasn’t you doing this, Tiff. You’re not sixteen yet, and I see you running around nursing people and bandaging people and who knows what chores. You shouldn’t have to be doing all of that.”

“Yes, I know,” said Tiffany.

“Why?” he asked again.

“Because other people don’t, or won’t, or can’t, that’s why.”

“It’s not your business, is it?”

“I make it my business. I’m a witch. It’s what we do. When it’s nobody else’s business, it’s my business,” Tiffany said quickly.

“Yes, but we all thought it was going to be about whizzing around on brooms and suchlike, not cutting old ladies’ toenails for them.”

“But people don’t understand what’s needed,” said Tiffany. “It’s not that they are bad; it’s just that they don’t think. Take old Mrs. Stocking, who’s got nothing in the world except her cat and a whole lot of arthritis. People were getting her a bite to eat often enough, that is true, but no one was noticing that her toenails were so long they were tangling up inside her boots and so she’d not been able to take them off for a year! People around here are okay when it comes to food and the occasional bunch of flowers, but they are not around when things get a little on the messy side. Witches notice these things. Oh, there’s a certain amount of whizzing about, that’s true enough, but mostly it’s only to get quickly to somewhere there is a mess.”

Her father shook his head. “And you like doing this?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

Tiffany had to think about this, her father’s eyes never leaving her face. “Well, Dad, you know how Granny Aching always used to say, ‘Feed them as is hungry, clothe them as is naked, and speak up for them as has no voices’? Well, I reckon there is room in there for ‘Grasp for them as can’t bend, reach for them as can’t stretch, wipe for them as can’t twist,’ don’t you? And because sometimes you get a good day, that makes up for all the bad days and, just for a moment, you hear the world turning,” said Tiffany. “I can’t put it any other way.”

Her father looked at her with a kind of proud puzzlement. “And you think that’s worth it, do you?”

“Yes, Dad!”

“Then I am proud of you, jiggit; you are doing a man’s job!”

He’d used the pet name only the family knew, and so she kissed him politely and did not tell him that he was unlikely to see a man doing the job that she did.

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