Home > Raising Steam (Discworld #40)(8)

Raising Steam (Discworld #40)(8)
Terry Pratchett

Over the noise he shouted, ‘What did you say this thing is called, my lad?’

‘Iron Girder, sir. An engine that uses the expansion or rapid condensation of steam to generate power. Power for locomotion – that is to say, movement, sir. And if you’d allow us to lay down her rails, sir, we can really show you what she can do.’

‘Rails?’

‘Aye, sir. She runs on an iron road, you’ll see.’

Suddenly there was the sound of a banshee on heat as Wally moved a lever.

‘Sorry, sir, you ’ave to let t’steam out. It’s all about ’arnessing t’steam. You heard her singing, sir, she wants motion, power is going to waste while she’s just sitting here. Give me time and allow me to put a test track around your compound. We’ll have ’er running very soon, I promise you.’

Harry was uncharacteristically silent. The thrumming of the machine was like a kind of spell. Again, the metal voice of steam rang out over the compound like a lost soul and he found himself unable to leave. Harry wasn’t a man for introspection and all that rubbish, but he thought that this, well, this was something worth a closer look. And then he noticed the faces of the crowd around the compound, the goblins climbing up to gawp at this new raging devil which was nevertheless under the control of two lads in flat caps and very little to speak of in regard to teeth.

Getting his thoughts lined up properly, Harry turned to Dick Simnel and said, ‘Mister Simnel, I’ll give you two days, no more. You have your chance, mister, don’t waste it. I am, as I say, a busy man. Two days to show me something that astounds me. Go on.’

Dwarfs and men sat and listened intently to the old boy sitting in the corner of the Treacle Minerfn15, human, possibly, but with a beard any respectable dwarf would have coveted, who had decided to share with them his knowledge of the treacle-mining world.

‘Gather round, lads, fill my pot and I’ll tell you a tale that’s dark and sticky.’ He looked meaningfully at his empty tankard and there was laughter as it was replaced by some well-wisher and, as he sipped his ale, he began his tale.

Years back, unexpected deep treacle reserves had been discovered under Ankh-Morpork, fathoms down, and as every treacle miner knew, the lower the treacle, the better the texture and therefore the better the taste. In truth, and in Ankh-Morpork at least, there was very little friction between dwarf clans on this matter, and the question of who would be allowed to mine the discovery was amiably dealt with by the old boys, dwarf and human.

Everyone conceded that when it came to working underground there was nothing like the dwarfs, but, to the dismay of the older miners, very few of the dwarf youngsters of Ankh-Morpork were at all interested in mining under any circumstances. And so the grizzled old boys welcomed any local miners of any species to work under the venerable streets of Ankh-Morpork, for the sheer pleasure of seeing treacle being properly produced again, and the miners, whoever they were, went about their sticky business in the search for the deep shimmering treacle.

And something happened, somewhere up near the Shires, where the dwarf miners had been working a reasonable seam, part of which was under land which at that time belonged to the Low King of the Dwarfs. In those not too distant days political relationships between human and dwarf were somewhat nervy.

On the day when things came to a head there had been a sudden fall of dark toffee, extremely precious and very unusual, but feared by every treacle miner because of its tendency to spontaneously collapse into the tunnels. According to the eyewitnesses, both humans and dwarfs were mining underground while politicians argued on both sides of the political divide. And this fall was mostly on the human side of the seam, with many men trapped in a deluge of unrelenting stickiness.

He hesitated for a moment and said, ‘Or it might have been the dwarf side, now I come to think about it …’ He looked embarrassed, but continued. ‘Well, it doesn’t really matter now who they were, it was a long time ago anyway. The miners working the seam from the other side of the fall heard that there were many miners down there, trapped and drowning in refined sugar derivatives, and said, “Come on, lads, get the gear together and let’s get them out of there.”’

The old boy hesitated a further moment, possibly for effect, and said, ‘But of course that meant that they had to enter territory that required going through two bloody security barriers manned by armed guards. Guards, moreover, who were not that bothered about miners and were certainly not going to let any of the enemy down into their sovereign soil.’

Another significant pause, then the tale raced on. All the miners had piled up against the barriers. Someone said, ‘We can’t tackle them, they’ve got weapons!’ and they looked at one another in what is known as wild surmise, and then another voice yelled, ‘But so have we, when you look at it the right way, and ours are bigger!’ And the speaker waved his enormous fist and said, ‘And we’re mining every day, not standing around and looking smart.’

And so as one dwarf, or possibly human, they rushed the barricade and the guards, realizing they were failing to frighten people, ran for cover as the miners with the picks and shovels came down on them at speed and sixty miners were saved from a very sticky situation on both sides of the seam.

Nothing official happened afterwards because officialdom didn’t want any part of the shame of it.

The old boy looked around and glowed as if he himself had been one of those miners and, quite possibly, he might have been, and his tankard was topped up once again and he said wistfully, ‘Of course, that was the old days. I wish it still was.’

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