Home > Snuff (Discworld #39)(4)

Snuff (Discworld #39)(4)
Terry Pratchett

Drumknott’s understanding of his master’s thought processes would appear to an outsider to be magical, but it was amazing what could be gleaned by watching what Lord Vetinari was reading, listening to apparently pointless observations and integrating those, as only Drumknott could integrate, into current problems and concerns. He said, “Is this now about the smuggling, sir?”

“Quite so, quite so. I have no problem with smuggling. It involves the qualities of enterprise, stealth and original thinking. Attributes to be encouraged in the common man. In truth, it doesn’t do that much harm and allows the man in the street a little frisson of enjoyment. Everyone should occasionally break the law in some small and delightful way, Drumknott. It’s good for the hygiene of the brain.”

Drumknott, whose cranial cleanness could never be in dispute, said, “Nevertheless, sir, taxes must be levied and paid. The city is growing. All of this must be paid for.”

“Indeed,” said Vetinari. “I could have taxed all kinds of things, but I have decided to tax something that you could eminently do without. It’s hardly addictive, is it?”

“Some people tend to think so. There is a certain amount of grumbling, sir.”

Vetinari did not look up from his paperwork. “Drumknott,” he said. “Life is addictive. If people complain overmuch, I think I will have to draw that fact to their attention.”

The Patrician smiled again and steepled his fingers. “In short, Drumknott, a certain amount of harmless banditry amongst the lower classes is to be smiled upon if not actively encouraged, for the health of the city, but what should we do when the highborn and wealthy take to crime? Indeed, if a poor man will spend a year in prison for stealing out of hunger, how high would the gallows need to be to hang the rich man who breaks the law out of greed?”

“I would like to reiterate, sir, that I buy all my own paper clips,” said Drumknott urgently.

“Of course, but in your case I am pleased to say that you have a brain so pristine that it sparkles.”

“I keep the receipts, sir,” Drumknott inisted, “just in case you wish to see them.” There was silence for a moment, then he continued. “Commander Vimes should be well on his way to the Hall by now, my lord. That might prove a fortunate circumstance.”

Vetinari’s face was blank. “Yes indeed, Drumknott, yes indeed.”

The Hall had been a full day’s journey, which in coaching terms really meant two, with a stay at an inn. Vimes spent the time listening for the sound of overtaking horsemen from the city bringing much-to-be-desired news of dire catastrophe. Usually Ankh-Morpork could supply this on an almost hourly basis but now it was singularly failing to deliver its desperate son in his hour of vegetation.

The other sun was setting on this particular son when the coach pulled up outside a pair of gates. After a second or two, an elderly man, an extremely elderly man, appeared from nowhere and made a great show of opening said gates, then stood to attention as the coach went through, beaming in the knowledge of a job well done. Once inside, the coach stopped.

Sybil, who had been reading, nudged her husband without looking up from her book and said, “It’s customary to give Mr. Coffin a penny. In the old days my grandfather kept a little charcoal brazier in the coach, you know, in theory to keep warm but mostly to heat up pennies to red heat before picking them up in some tongs and tossing them out for the gatekeeper to catch. Apparently everybody enjoyed it, or so my grandfather said, but we don’t do that anymore.”

Vimes fumbled in his purse for some small change, opened the carriage door and stepped down, much to the shock of the aforesaid Mr. Coffin, who backed away into the thick undergrowth, watching Vimes like a cornered animal.

“Nice job, Mr. Coffin, very good lifting of the latch there, excellent work.” Vimes proffered the coin and Mr. Coffin backed further away, his stance suggesting that he was going to bolt at any moment. Vimes flicked the coin in the air and the fearful man caught it, deftly spat on it and melted back into the scenery. Vimes got the impression that he resented the lack of hiss.

“How long ago did your family stop throwing hot money at the servants?” Vimes said, settling back into his seat as the coach progressed.

Sybil laid aside her book. “My father put a stop to it. My mother complained. So did the gatekeepers.”

“I should think so!”

“No, Sam, they complained when the custom was stopped.”

“But it’s demeaning!”

Sybil sighed. “Yes, I know, Sam, but it was also free money, you see. In my great-grandfather’s day, if things were busy, a man might make sixpence in a day. And since the old boy was almost permanently sozzled on rum and brandy he quite often threw out a dollar. One of the real old-fashioned solid-gold dollars, I mean. A man could live quite well for a year on one of those, especially out here.”

“Yes, but—” Vimes began, but his wife silenced him with a smile. She had a special smile for these occasions; it was warm and friendly and carved out of rock. You had to stop discussing politics or you would run right into it, causing no damage to anything but yourself. Wisely, with a wisdom that had been well learned, Sam Vimes restricted himself to staring out of the window.

With the gate far behind he kept looking, in the fading light, to see the big house that was apparently at the center of all this, and couldn’t find it until they had rattled along an avenue of trees, past what some wretched poet would have had to call “verdant pastures,” dotted with almost certainly, Vimes considered, sheep, through manicured woodland, and then reached a bridge that would not have been out of place back in the city.** The bridge spanned what Vimes first thought was an ornamental lake but turned out to be a very wide river; even as they trundled over it, in dignified splendor, Vimes saw a large boat travelling along it by some means unknown, but which, to judge from the smell as it went past, must have something to do with cattle. At this point Young Sam said, “Those ladies haven’t got any clothes on! Are they going to have a swim?”

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