Home > I Shall Wear Midnight (Discworld #38)(9)

I Shall Wear Midnight (Discworld #38)(9)
Terry Pratchett

“What are you all going to do about the Pettys?” she asked.

“Your mum and me could take Mrs. Petty and her daughter in and…” Mr. Aching paused and gave her a strange look, as if she frightened him. “It’s never simple, my girl. Seth Petty was a decent enough lad when we were young. Not the brightest piggy in the litter, I’ll grant you that, but decent enough in his way. It was his dad who was a madman; I mean, things were a bit rough and ready in those days and you could expect a clip around the head if you disobeyed, but Seth’s dad had a thick leather belt with two buckles on it, and he would lay into Seth just for looking at him in a funny way. No word of a lie. Always used to say that he would teach him a lesson.”

“It seems that he succeeded,” Tiffany said, but her father held up a hand.

“And then there was Molly,” he went on. “You couldn’t say that Molly and Seth were made for one another, because in truth neither of them was rightly made for anybody, but I suppose they were sort of happy together. In those days, Seth was a drover, driving the flocks all the way to the big city sometimes. It wasn’t the kind of job you needed much learning for, and it might be that some of the sheep were a bit brighter than he was, but it was a job that needed doing, and he picked up a wage and no one thought the worse of him for that. The trouble was, that meant he left Molly alone for weeks at a time, and…” Tiffany’s father paused here, looking embarrassed.

“I know what you’re going to tell me,” said Tiffany, to help him out, but he took care to ignore this.

“It’s not that she was a bad girl,” he said. “It’s just that she never really understood what it was all about, and there wasn’t anyone to tell her, and you got all kinds of strangers and travelers passing through all the time. Quite handsome chaps, some of them.”

Tiffany took pity on him, sitting there looking miserable, embarrassed about telling his little girl things his little girl shouldn’t know.

So she leaned over and kissed him on the cheek again. “I know, Dad, I really do know. Amber isn’t actually his daughter, right?”

“Well, I never said that, did I? She might be,” said her father awkwardly.

And that would be the trick, wouldn’t it? Tiffany thought. Maybe if Seth Petty had known one way or the other, he might have come to terms with the perhaps. Maybe. You never know.

But he didn’t know, either, and there would be some days when he thought he did know and some days when he thought the worst. And for a man like Petty, who was a stranger to thinking, the dark thoughts would roll around in his head until they tangled up his brain. And when the brain stops thinking, the fist steps in.

Her father was watching her very closely. “You know about this sort of thing?” he asked.

“We call it going round the houses. Every witch does it. Please try and understand me, Dad. I have seen horrible things, and some of them all the more horrible because they were, well, normal. All the little secrets behind closed doors, Dad. Good things and nasty things I am not going to tell you about. It’s just part of being a witch! You learn to sense things.”

“Well, you know, life is not exactly a bed of roses for any of us…” her father began. “There was the time when—”

“There was this old woman up near Slice,” Tiffany interrupted him. “And she died in her bed. Nothing particularly bad about that, really: She had just run out of life. But she lay there for two months before anyone wondered what had happened. They are a bit strange over in Slice. The worst part of it was that her cats couldn’t get out and started eating her; I mean, she was cat mad and probably would not have minded, but one of them had kittens in her bed. In her actual bed. It was really very difficult to find the kittens homes in places where people hadn’t already heard the story. They were beautiful kittens too, lovely blue eyes.”

“Er,” her father began. “When you say ‘in her bed,’ you mean…”

“With her still in it, yes,” said Tiffany. “I’ve had to deal with dead people, yes. You throw up a bit the first time, and then you just realize that death is, well, part of life. It is not so bad if you think of it as a list of things to do, and do them one at a time. You might have a bit of a cry as well, but that’s all part of it.”

“Didn’t anyone help you?”

“Oh, a couple of ladies helped me when I knocked on their doors, but really she was nobody’s business. It can happen like that. People disappear in the cracks.” She paused. “Dad, we’re still not using the old stone barn, are we? Can you get some of the lads to clean it out for me?”

“Of course,” said her father. “Do you mind if I ask why?”

Tiffany heard his politeness; he was talking to a witch. “I think I’m having a kind of idea,” she said. “And I think I can make good use of that barn. It’s only a thought, and it won’t do any harm to have it tidied up in any case.”

“Well, I still feel mightily proud when I see you rushing all over the place on that broomstick of yours,” said her father. “That’s magic, isn’t it?”

Everyone wants magic to exist, Tiffany thought to herself, and what can I say? No, it doesn’t? Or: Yes, it does, but it’s not what you think? Everyone wants to believe that we can change the world by snapping our fingers. “The dwarfs make them,” she said. “I don’t have a clue how they work. Staying on them, that’s the trick.”

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