Home > Snuff (Discworld #39)(10)

Snuff (Discworld #39)(10)
Terry Pratchett

“But I don’t think I’m more important than them!” Vimes snapped.

“I think I know what you’re saying, and it does you credit, it really does,” said Sybil, “but what you actually said was nonsense. You are a Duke, a Commander of the City Watch and,” she paused.

“A Blackboard Monitor,” said Vimes automatically.

“Yes, Sam, the highest honor that the King of the Dwarfs can bestow.” Sybil’s eyes glittered. “Blackboard Monitor Vimes; one who can erase the writings, somebody who can rub out what is there. That’s you, Sam and if you were killed the chanceries of the world would be in uproar and, Sam, regrettably they would not be perturbed at the death of a housemaid. She held up a hand because he’d opened his mouth and added, “I know you would be, Sam, but wonderful girls though I’m sure they are, I fear that if they were to die a family and, perhaps, a young man would be inconsolable, and the rest of the world would never know. And you, Sam, know that this is true. However, if you were ever murdered, dread the thought and indeed I do every time you go out on duty, not only Ankh-Morpork but the world would hear about it instantly. Wars might start and I suspect that Vetinari’s position might become a little dangerous. You are more important than girls in service. You are more important than anybody else in the Watch. You are mistaking value for worth, I think.” She gave his worried face a brief kiss. “Whatever you think you once were, Sam Vimes, you’ve risen, and you deserved to rise. You know the cream rises to the top!”

“So does the scum,” said Vimes automatically, although he immediately regretted it.

“How dare you say that, Sam Vimes! You may have been a diamond in the rough, but you’ve polished yourself up! And however you cut it, husband of mine, although you are no longer a man of the people, it certainly seems to me that you are a man for the people, and I think the people are far better off for that, d’you hear?”

Young Sam looked up adoringly at his father, while the rocking horse rocked into a gallop. Between son and spouse, Vimes never had a chance. He looked so crestfallen that Lady Sybil, as wives do, tried a little consolation.

“After all, Sam, you expect your men to get on with their duties, don’t you? Likewise the housekeeper expects the girls to get on with theirs.”

“That’s quite different, really it is. Coppers watch people, and I’ve never told them that they can’t pass the time of day with somebody. After all, that somebody might provide useful information.” Vimes knew that this was technically true, but anybody who was seen giving anything more useful than the time of day to a policeman in most streets of the city would soon find a straw would be necessary to help him eat his meals. But the analogy was right, anyway, he thought, or would have thought, had he been a man to whom the word analogy came easily. Just because you were a member of somebody’s staff didn’t mean you had to act like some kind of clockwork toy … .

“Shall I tell you the reason for the spinning housemaids, Sam?” said Sybil, as Young Sam cuddled the huge teddy bear, who frightened him by growling. “It was instituted in my grandfather’s time at the behest of my grandmother. In those days we entertained all the time with scores of guests on some weekends. Of course, a number of these guests would be young men from very good families in the city, quite well educated and full of, shall I say, vim and vigor.”

Sybil glanced down at Young Sam and was relieved to see he was now lining up some small soldiers. “The maids, on the other hand, in the very nature of things are not well educated and I’m ashamed to say might have been slightly too compliant in the face of people whom they had come to think of as their betters.” She was starting to blush, and she pointed down at Young Sam, who she was glad to see was still paying no attention. “I’m sure you get the picture, Sam? Absolutely sure, and my grandmother, whom you would almost certainly have hated, had decent instincts, and therefore decreed that all the housemaids should not only refrain from talking to the male guests, but should not make eye contact with them either, on pain of dismissal. You might say she was being cruel to be kind, but not all that cruel, come to think of it. In the fullness of time, the housemaids would leave the Hall with good references and not be embarrassed about wearing a white dress on their wedding day.”

“But I’m happily married,” Vimes protested. “And I can’t imagine Willikins risking the wrath of Purity, either.”

“Yes, dear, and I’ll have a word with Mrs. Silver. But this is the country, Sam. We do things a little more slowly here. Now, why don’t you take Young Sam out to see the river? Take Willikins with you—he knows his way around.”

Young Sam did not need very much in the way of entertainment. In fact he made his own entertainment, manufacturing it in large quantities out of observations of the landscape, the stories that had lulled him to sleep at bedtime last night, some butterfly thought that had just sped across his mind and, increasingly, he’d talk about Mr. Whistle, who lived in a house in a tree but was sometimes a dragon. He also had a big boot and didn’t like Wednesdays because they smell funny and he had a rainbrella.

Young Sam was thus totally unfazed by the countryside, and ran ahead of Vimes and Willikins, pointing out trees, sheep, flowers, birds, dragonflies, funny-shaped clouds and a human skull. He seemed quite impressed by the find and rushed to show it to his daddy, who stared at it as if he had seen, well, a human skull. It had clearly been a human skull for quite a long time, however, and appeared to have been looked after, to the point of being polished.

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