Home > Raising Steam (Discworld #40)(6)

Raising Steam (Discworld #40)(6)
Terry Pratchett

Far away and turnwise of Uberwald, Sir Harry King was pondering on the business of the day. He was widely known as the King of the Golden River because of the fortune he had made minding other people’s business.

Harry was normally a cheerful man with a good digestion, but not today. He was also a loving husband, doting on Euphemia, his wife of many years, but alas, not today. And Harry was a good employer, but also not today, because today his stomach was giving him gyp by means of the halibut to which the phrase long time no see could not happily be applied. He hadn’t liked the look of it when it was on his plate, halibut being a fish which tends to look back at you reproachfully, and for the last few hours he had envisaged the damn thing looking at the insides of his stomach.

The problem was, he thought, that Euphemia still remembered the good old days when they were poor as church mice and therefore necessarily frugal with their money, and such habits bite to the bone, very much like the inadvisably digested fish which had been swimming somewhere in the vicinity of Harry’s bowels and threatening to swim a lot further.

Regrettably, Harry was a man brought up to eat everything that was put in front of him and that meant everything eaten up. When he had finally exited from the privy, where he fancied the damn fish had been watching him from the bowl, he had pulled the chain with such vehemence that it broke, causing the woman whom he sometimes called the Duchess to have words with him. And since words tend to lead to more words, nasty, spiteful little words flew on both sides, words that if Harry could help it would be flung back to the wretched fish which had started it all. But instead he and his wife had had what they had known all of their lives as an up-and-downer. And, of course, Effie, born in the next-door gutter to Harry, could give at least as good as she got in such situations, especially when armed with a quite valuable and decorative jug. Effie had a voice on her that at times could make a barrow boy blush, and she had called Harry the ‘King of Shit’, causing him to do what he never, ever wanted to do, which was to raise his hand in anger, especially since the jug with which his wife was now armed was also quite a heavy one.fn6

Of course it would blow over, it always did, and genuine marital harmony would drift into its accustomed place in the household. But nevertheless, all afternoon Sir Harry prowled around his compound like an old lion. King of Shit, well, yes, and because of him the streets were clean, or at least considerably cleaner than they had been before what might be called the Harry King dynasty. He mused, as he wandered, that his work was all about those unimaginable things that people wanted to leave behind them. And therefore there wasn’t much for him on the top table of society. Oh, yes, he was Sir Harry, but he knew that Effie really wished they could leave behind the whole stinking business.

‘After all,’ she said, ‘you’re as rich as Creosote as it is. Can’t you find something else to do – something that people actually want rather than need?’

Generally speaking, Harry was not very good at philosophy. He was proud of what he had achieved, but a tiny part of him was agreeing with Effie that surely there was something better for him than chasing the purefn7 and making certain the unreliable septic tanks of the city didn’t overflow. Somebody had to do it, of course – and it wasn’t as if it was actually Harry himself, not for many years, since he paid the gongfermors, dunnykin divers and now a whole army of goblins as well to do the dirty work. Still, what he needed now, he thought, was an occupation that was manly without being despicable.

Absent-mindedly, he sacked his latest lawyer, a dwarf who had been caught with his nasty little fingers in the till, and managed to do it without actually throwing the little bugger all the way down the stairs.

Unusually despondent, Harry prowled on, seeking to calm his nerves. At the edge of his compound he sniffed the air, so far as he dared. There was a wind blowing from the hub and he turned to face it and caught a tantalizing smell: a manly smell, a smell with a purpose, a smell that wanted to take him places, and it said promise.

The relationship between Moist von Lipwig and Adora Belle Dearheart was firm and happy, quite possibly because they didn’t see each other for substantial periods of time, since she was immersed in the running of the Grand Trunk and he was dealing with the Bank, the Post Office and the Mint. Despite what Lord Vetinari thought, Moist did have proper work to do at these institutions and that was, in his own mind, called holding it all together. Things worked, in fact they worked very well, but they worked, Moist thought, because he was always seen in the Bank or the Mint or the Post Office being Mister Bank, Mister Post Office and Mister Mint.

He chatted to people, talked to them about their work, asked how their wives and husbands were, having memorized the names of all the family members of the person he was talking to. It was a knack, a wonderful knack, and it worked a treat. You took an interest in everybody and they took an interest in their work and it was vitally important that he was always around to keep the magic flowing.

As for Adora Belle, the clacks were in her bones, it was her legacy and woe betide anyone who got between it and her,fn8 even if that anyone was her husband.

Somehow the system worked as hard as they did and so they could afford Crossly, the butler, and Mrs Crossly too.fn9 Their house in Scoone Avenue had a gardener too, who appeared to come with the territory. Crispfn10 was also a decent handyman and quite talkative, although Moist never understood a word he said. He came from somewhere in the Shires and spoke using a vocabulary that was theoretically Morporkian, but in reality had lots of straw in it with the syllable ‘ahh’ working hard in every conversation. He made cider in his shed at the bottom of the garden, utilizing the apple trees that the previous owner had carefully cherished. He also, as a matter of course, cleaned the windows, and with the help of an enormous box full of every type of hammer, saw, drill, screwdriver and chisel, bags of nails and a number of other items that Moist could not recognize, and moreover did not wish to, made Moist’s life easy whilst making Crisp possibly the richest handyman in the neighbourhood.

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