Home > Snuff (Discworld #39)(9)

Snuff (Discworld #39)(9)
Terry Pratchett

She answered while keeping her face turned away. “Hodges, your grace, I’m very sorry, your grace.” The crockery was still rattling.

“Look,” said Vimes, “I can’t think with all that rattling going on! Just put it down carefully, will you? Nothing bad is going to happen to you, but I’d like to see who I’m talking to, thank you very much.” The face turned reluctantly toward him.

“There,” he said. “Miss, er, Hodges, what is the matter? You don’t have to run away from me, surely?”

“Please, sir,” and with that the girl headed for the nearest grezen baize door and vanished through it. It was at this point that Vimes realized there was another maid only a little way behind him, practically camouflaged by her dark uniform and facing the wall and, indeed, trembling. She was surely a witness to all that had happened, so he walked carefully toward her and said, “I don’t want you to say anything. Just nod or shake your head when I ask you a question. Do you understand?” There was a barely perceptible nod. “Good, we make progress! Will you get into trouble if you say anything to me?”

Another microscopic nod.

“And is it likely that you’ll get into trouble because I’ve talked to you?” The maid, rather inventively, gave a shrug.

“And the other girl?” Still with her back to him, the unseen girl stuck out her left hand with the thumb emphatically turned down.

“Thank you,” said Vimes, to the invisible informant. “You’ve been very helpful.”

He walked thoughtfully back upstairs, through an avenue of turned backs, and was thankful to encounter Willikins in the laundry on the way. The batman did not turn his back on Vimes, which was a relief.**

He was folding shirts with the care and attention he might otherwise have marshaled for the neat cutting off of a defeated opponent’s ear. When the cuffs of his own spotlessly clean jacket slid up a little you could just see part of the tattoos on his arm but not, fortunately, spell out anything they said. Vimes said, “Willikins, what are the whirling housemaids all about?”

Willikins smiled. “Old custom, sir. A reason to it, of course—there often is if it sounds bloody stupid. No offense, commander, but knowing you I’d suggest that you let twirling housemaids spin until you have got the lie of the land, as it were. Besides, her ladyship and Young Sam are in the nursery.”

A few minutes later Vimes, after a certain amount of trial and error, walked into what was, in a musty kind of way, a paradise.

Vimes had never had much in the way of relatives. Not many people are anxious to let it be known that their distant ancestor was a regicide. All that, of course, was history and it amazed the new Duke of Ankh that the history books now lauded the memory of Old Stoneface, the watchman who executed the evil bastard on the throne and had suddenly struck a blow for freedom and law. History is what you make it, he had learned, and Lord Vetinari was a man with the access to and the keys of a whole range of persuasive mechanisms left over, as luck would have it, from the regicide days and currently still well oiled in the cellar. History is, indeed, what you make it and Lord Vetinari could make it … anything he wanted. And thus the dreadful killer of kings was miraculously gone—never been there, you must be mistaken, never heard of him, no such person—and replaced with the heroic, if tragically misunderstood, Slayer of Tyrants Stoneface Vimes, the famous ancestor of the highly respected His Grace the Duke of Ankh, Commander Sir Samuel Vimes. History was a wonderful thing, it moved like the sea and Vimes was taken at the flood.

Vimes’s family had lived a generation at a time. There had never been heirlooms, family jewels, embroidered samplers stitched by a long-dead aunt, no interesting old urns found in granny’s attic which you hoped that the bright young man who knew all about antiques would tell you was worth a thousand dollars so that you could burst with smugness. And there was absolutely no money, only a certain amount of unpaid debt. But here in the playroom, neatly stacked, were generations of toys and games, some of them a little worn from long usage, particularly the rocking horse, which was practically life-size and had a real leather saddle with trappings made from (Vimes discovered to his incredulity by rubbing them with a finger) genuine silver. There was also a fort, big enough for a kid to stand in and defend, and a variety of child-sized siege weapons to assault it, possibly with the help of boxes and boxes of lead soldiers, all painted in the correct regimental colors and in fine detail. For two pins Vimes would have got down on hands and knees and played with them there and then. There were model yachts, and a teddy bear so big that for one horrible moment Vimes wondered whether it was a real one, stuffed; there were catapults and boomerangs and gliders … and in the middle of all this, Young Sam stood paralysed, almost in tears with the knowledge that no matter how hard he tried he just couldn’t play with everything all at once. It was a far cry from the Vimes childhood, and playing poo sticks with real poo.

While the apple of their eyes tentatively straddled the rocking horse, which had frighteningly big teeth, Vimes told his wife about the objectionable spinning housemaids. She simply shrugged, and said, “It’s what they do, dear. It’s what they’re used to.”

“How can you say that? It’s so demeaning!”

Lady Sybil had developed a totally calm and understanding tone of voice when dealing with her husband. “That’s because, technically speaking, they are demeaned. They spend a lot of time serving people who are a lot more important than they are. And you are right at the top of the list, dear.”

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