Home > Raising Steam (Discworld #40)(10)

Raising Steam (Discworld #40)(10)
Terry Pratchett

Adora Belle had insisted to the trustees that there should be a foundation set up, against the day when goblins and their children might want to move further into society. So a scant while after the remarkable musical talents of Tears of the Mushroom had been so spectacularly unveiled to Ankh-Morpork high society, the goblins had become people, strange people, yes, but people nevertheless. Of course, there was the smell, but you couldn’t have everything.

Novelty went around Ankh-Morpork just like an embarrassing disease, thought Sir Harry King the following afternoon as he looked down on to the compound where people were peering through the gates and fencing in a great susurration of speculation. Harry knew his fellow citizens from the bottom up, as it were, willing slaves to novelty and the exotic, rubberneckers all of them. The whole crowd were turning their heads as one to keep track of Iron Girder, like a flock of starlings, and all the time Iron Girder was chuffing away with Dick waving from the footplate, the air still full of the smuts and smells. And yet, he thought, it’s all approval. No one’s disagreeing, no one’s frightened. A beast from nowhere. A fiery dragon, all smoke and cinders, has appeared among them and they hold up their children to look at it, waving as it goes past.

What strange magic—? He corrected himself; what strange mechanics could have achieved this? There was the beast and they were loving it.

I’ll have to get familiar with these words, Harry thought as he left his office: ‘footplate’, ‘boiler’, ‘reciprocal’, ‘molybdenum disulphide’,fn17 and all the tiresome but fascinating language of steam.

Having noticed that Harry was watching them, Dick Simnel allowed Iron Girder to slow down gently until, with an almost imperceptible bump, she came to a halt. Dick jumped off the footplate and strolled towards him, and Harry saw a triumphant look in his eye.

Harry said, ‘Well done, lad, but be careful, be very, very careful. Be careful of everything right now. I’ve been watching the faces of them people with their noses pressed up against my fence, their little faces all corrugated, as it were. They’re fascinated, and fascinated people spend money.

‘The most important thing in business is to work out who gets that cash and it’s like this, my boy, it’s a jungle out there and I’m more than a multi-millionaire, much more. I know that while happy handshakes are very pleasing and friendly, when it comes to business you can’t do without bloody lawyers because in this jungle I’m a gorilla! It’s best you tell me the name of yours and I’ll get my lawyer to get in touch so they can talk all lawyer-to-lawyer while totting up their dollars. I don’t want no one to say that Harry King fleeced the lad who tamed the steam.

‘For what it’s worth I’ll fund you up to a certain point, no doubt about that, because I think this engine of yours has real possibilities, huge possibilities. So now you’ve got my interest and by the time the papers find out about this you’ll have everyone’s interest.’

Dick shrugged and said, ‘Well, Sir Harry, it’s great that you’re giving me a chance, so anything you suggest’ll be okay by me.’

Harry King almost screamed, ‘No, no, no! I like you, I like you a lot, but business is, well, business is business!’ Harry’s face was now puce with anger. ‘You don’t go and tell anyone that you’ll take whatever they want to give you! You bargain, lad. Don’t get starry-eyed! You bargain. You bargain hard.’

There was silence and then the lad said, ‘Mister King, before I decided to come to Ankh-Morpork I talked about things with me mother, a very shrewd lady – she ’ad to be, what with me dad being somewhere out there in the ether, if you catch my drift. And she said if someone wants to do business in the big city, Dick, make out that you’re simple and see ’ow they treat you. If they treats you properly, simple as you are, then it’s likely you can trust them. And then you can show them how smart you really are. And well, sir, it seems to me you’re as straight as lunchtime. I’ll go and find a lawyer right now.’ He hesitated. ‘Er, where can I find a lawyer I can trust? I might not be as clever as I think I am.’

Sir Harry laughed heartily. ‘It’s a tough call, lad, and a question I’ve lately needed to ask myself, as it happens. My friend Mustrum Ridcully over at the University told me about one only yesterday: a lawyer so straight he could be used as a crowbar. Why not let your lads go on showing Iron Girder to the crowd, and come with me in my carriage, although it’s not a patch on the one you brought here, eh? Eh! Come on, lad, let’s go, shall we?’

At his office in the Lawyers’ Guild building, Harry King and Dick Simnel met Mr Thunderbolt, surprisingly large and, surprisingly, a troll. A troll with a voice like gently flowing lava.

‘You will wish to know my credentials, gentlemen. I am a member of the Ankh-Morpork Guild of Lawyers and served my articles here under Mister Slant,’ said Mr Thunderbolt. ‘As well as my Ankh-Morpork practice I am the only troll to have, moreover, accreditation as a lawyer in the realm of the Low King. Apropos of nothing, Sir Harry, I am also the nephew of Diamond King of Trolls, although, of course, I must add that the nature of troll families is such that the mere word “nephew” does not do the situation justice.’

The voice was the voice of a professor, but one who had chosen to speak in an echoing cave. The features were more or less like those of all trolls, unless you looked for the giveaway signs and recognized the careful masonry work, the richness of the plant life in the visible cavities and, not least, that elusive shine, and possibly shimmer, which caught the light so delicately; not boldly in your face, but irresistibly there.

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