Home > Snuff (Discworld #39)(8)

Snuff (Discworld #39)(8)
Terry Pratchett

Now Sybil appeared among the pillows and said, “You’re on holiday, dear.” What you could eat on holiday also included two fried eggs, just as he liked them, and a sausage—but not, unfortunately, the fried slice, which even on holiday was apparently still a sin. The coffee, however, was thick, black and sweet.

“You slept very well,” said Sybil, as Vimes stared at the unexpected largesse.

He said, “No, I didn’t, dear, not a wink, I assure you.”

“Sam, you were snoring all night. I heard you!”

Vimes’s grasp of successful husbandry prevented him from making any further comment except, “Really? Was I, dear? Oh, I am sorry.”

Sybil leafed through a small pile of pastel envelopes that had been inserted into her breakfast tray. “Well, the news has got around,” she said. “The Duchess of Keepsake has invited us to a ball, Sir Henry and Lady Withering have invited us to a ball, and Lord and Lady Hangfinger have invited us to, yes, a ball!”

“Well,” said Vimes, “that’s a lot of—”

“Don’t you dare, Sam!” his wife warned and Vimes finished lamely, “ … invitations? You know I don’t dance, dear, I just shuffle about and tread on your feet.”

“Well, it’s mainly for the young people, you see? People come for the therapeutic baths at Ham-on-Rye, just down the road. Really, it’s all about getting the daughters married to suitable gentlemen, and that means balls, almost continuous balls.”

“I can manage a waltz,” said Vimes, “that’s just a matter of counting, but you know I can’t stand all those jumping-about ones like Strip the Widow and the Gay Gordon.”

“Don’t worry, Sam. Most of the older men find a place to sit and smoke or take snuff. The mothers do the work of finding the eligible bachelors for their daughters. I just hope that my friend Ariadne will find suitable husbands for her girls. She had sextuplets, very rare, you know. Of course, young Mavis is very devout, and there is invariably a young clergyman looking for a wife and, above all, a dowry. And Emily is petite, blonde, an excellent cook but rather conscious of her enormous bosom.”

Vimes stared at the ceiling. “I suspect that not only will she find a husband,” he forecast, “a husband will find her. Call it a man’s intuition.”

“And then there’s Fleur,” said Lady Sybil, not rising to the bait. “She makes quite nice little bonnets, so I understand.” She thought for a moment and added, “oh, and then there’s Jane. And, er, Amanda, I think. Apparently quite interested in frogs, although I fear I may have misheard her mother. Rather a strange girl, according to her mother, who doesn’t seem to know what to make of her.”

Vimes’s lack of interest in other people’s children was limitless, but he could count. “And the last one?”

“Oh, Hermione, she may be difficult as she has rather scandalized the family, at least in their opinion.”

“How?”

“She’s a lumberjack.”

Vimes thought for a moment and said, “Well, dear, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a man with a lot of wood must be in want of a wife who can handle a great big—”

Lady Sybil interrupted sharply: “Sam Vimes, I believe that you intend to make an indelicate remark?”

“I think you got there before me,” said Vimes, grinning. “You generally do, dear, admit it.”

“You may be right, dear,” she said, “but that is only to forestall you from saying it aloud. After all, you are the Duke of Ankh and widely regarded as Lord Vetinari’s right-hand man, and that means a certain amount of decorum would be advisable, don’t you think?”

To a bachelor this would have appeared to be gentle advice; to an experienced husband it was a command, all the more powerful because it was made delicately.

So, when Sir Samuel Vimes and Commander Vimes and His Grace the Duke of Ankh** walked out after breakfast, they were all on their best behavior. As it turned out, other people weren’t.

There was a maid sweeping in the corridor outside the bedroom who took one frantic look at Vimes as he strolled toward her and turned her back on him, and remained staring fixedly at the wall. She appeared to be trembling with fear, and Vimes had learned that in these circumstances the last thing any man should do is ask a question or, above all, offer to lend a helping hand. Screaming could result. She was probably just shy, he told himself.

But it seemed that shyness was catching: there were maids carrying trays or dusting or sweeping as he walked down through the building, and every time he came near one she turned her back crisply and stood staring at the wall as if her life depended on it.

By the time he reached a long gallery lined with his wife’s ancestors, Vimes had had enough, and when a young lady carrying a tea tray spun around like the dancer on the top of a musical box he said, “Excuse me, miss, am I as ugly as all that?” Well, that was surely better than asking her why she was so rude, wasn’t it? So why in the name of any three gods did she start to run away, crockery rattling as she headed down the hall? Among the various Vimeses it was the Commander who took over; the Duke would be too forbidding and the Blackboard Monitor just wouldn’t do the trick. “Stop where you are! Put down your tray and turn around slowly!”

She skidded, she actually skidded and, turning with perfect grace while still clutching the tray, slowed gently to a stop, where she stood shaking with anxiety as Vimes caught up with her and said, “What’s your name, miss?”

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