Home > Raising Steam (Discworld #40)(7)

Raising Steam (Discworld #40)(7)
Terry Pratchett

Moist von Lipwig had done some heavy work once and couldn’t see any future in it, but he could look at it for hours, provided other people were doing it, of course, and clearly some of them liked what they were doing, and so he shrugged and felt happy that Crisp was happy being a handyman whilst Moist was happy not picking up anything that was heavier than a glass. After all, his work was unseen and depended on words, which were fortunately not very heavy and didn’t need grease. In his career as a crook they had served him well and now he felt somewhat smug at using them to the benefit of the citizenry.

There was a difference between a banker and a crook, there really was, and although it was very, very teeny Moist felt that he should point out that it did exist and, besides, Lord Vetinari always had his eye on him.

So everybody was happy and Moist went to work in very clean clothes and with a very clean conscience.

Having washed and dressed in said clothes in his private bathroom,fn11 Moist went to see his wife, practising his smile on the way and endeavouring to look cheerful. You never knew with Adora Belle.fn12 She could be quite acerbic. After all, she ran the whole clacks system these days.

She also liked goblins, which was why there were some living behind the wainscoting of the house and others in the roof. They smelled, but the smell wasn’t, once you got over the shock, all that bad. The compensation was that the goblins had taken the clacks into their scrawny hearts, one and all. The wheels and levers fascinated them. Moist knew that generally goblins hid out in caves and insalubrious places that humans didn’t bother about, but now, when suddenly they were being treated as people, they had found their element which was generally the sky. They could scramble up a clacks tower faster than any man could run, and the rattling, back-and-forth clanking and relentlessly busy machinery of the clacks had them in its grip.

Already, after only a few months in the city, the goblins had improved the efficiency of the clacks across the Sto Plains threefold. They were creatures of darkness, but their perception of light was remarkable. There was a whole malignityfn13 of goblins up on the roof, but if you wanted your clacks to fly fast, you didn’t use the term out loud. The villains of the storybooks had found their place in society, at last. All it needed was technology.

When Dick Simnel walked into Sir Harry King’s compound he wasn’t at all certain how you spoke to grand folk. Nevertheless, he managed to talk his way through the people in the front office, who had a rather jaundiced look and appeared to consider it their duty to ensure that no one should ever get to see Sir Harry King, especially greasy-looking young men with wild eyes trying hard to look respectable despite their extremely old clothing which, these gatekeepers thought, needed something, possibly a bonfire. However, Dick had the persistence of a wasp and the sharpness of a razor blade, and so eventually he ended up deposited in front of the big man’s desk like a supplicant.

Harry, red-faced and impatient, looked over his desk and said to him, ‘Lad, time is money and I’m a busy man. You told Nancy down on Reception that you’ve got something I might like. Now stop fidgeting and look me in the face square like. If you’re another chancer wanting to bamboozle me I’ll have you down the Effing stairsfn14 before you know it.’

Dick stared soundlessly at Harry for a moment, then said, ‘Mister Sir King, I’ve made a machine that can carry people and goods just about everywhere and it don’t need ’orses and it’s run on water ’n’ coal. It’s my machine, I built it and I can make it even better if you can see your way clear to advance me some investment.’

Harry King reached into his pocket and pulled out a heavy gold watch. Dick couldn’t help but notice the famous gold rings that he had been told Sir Harry always wore, possibly as an ensemble of socially acceptable and extremely valuable knuckledusters.

‘Did I hear you right? It’s Mister Simnel, isn’t it? I’ll give you five minutes to catch my fancy and if I think you’re just another thimblerigger on the slant you’ll go out of here rather more quickly than you came in.’

‘My old mother always said seeing is believing, Mister King, and so I’ve come prepared. If you can give me some time to get t’lads and t’ ’orses …’ Dick coughed and continued, ‘I have to tell you, Mister Sir Harry, I took the liberty of parking them right outside your compound, ’cos I talked to people and they said that if Harry King wants something to start happening it ’as to ’appen fast.’ He hesitated. Was that a glint in Harry’s eye?

‘Well,’ the magnate grumbled rather theatrically. ‘Young man, even though time is money, talk is cheap. I’ll come out in five minutes and you’d better have something solid to show me.’

‘Thank you, Sir King, that’s very kind of you, sir, but we’ll have to get t’boiler warmed up first, sir, and so we’ll have ’er throbbing in no more than two hours, sir.’

Harry King took his cigar out of his mouth and said, ‘What?! Throbbing?’

Dick smiled nervously. ‘You’ll see, sir, you’ll see.’

Very shortly afterwards, and just in time, smoke and steam enveloped the compound and Harry King saw and, indeed, was amazed.

And Harry King really was amazed. There was something insect-like about the metallic contraption, bits of which were spinning incessantly while the whole thing was shrouded in a cloud of smoke and steam of its own making. Harry King saw purpose personified. Purpose, moreover, that would be unlikely ever to ask for a day off for its granny’s funeral.

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