Going Postal

Page 28

'Oh, I know all about you, Mr Lipwig,' said the mayor, winking conspiratorially. 'There were some copies of the Times in the mailbag! A man who wants to be up and doing, you are. A man full of vim, you are! A man after my own heart, you are! You aim for the moon, you do! You see your target and you go for it hell for leather, you do! That's how I does business, too! You're a go-getter, just like me! I'd like you to put it here, sir!'

'What where?' said Moist, stirring uneasily in his rapidly-becoming-lukewarm tub. 'Oh.' He shook the proffered hand. “What is your business, Mr Camels?'

'I make parasols,' said the mayor. 'And it's about time that clacks company was told what's what! It was all fine up until a few months ago - I mean, they made you pay through the nose but at least stuff got where it was going fast as an arrow, but now it's all these breakdowns and repairs and they charge even more, mark you! And they never tell you how long you're going to be waiting, it's always “very shortly”. They're always “sorry for the inconvenience” - they even got that written on a sign they hang up on the office! As warm and human as a thrown knife, just like you said. So you know what we just done? We went round to the clacks tower in the city and had a serious word with young Davey, who's a decent lad, and he gave us back all the overnight clacks for the big city that never got sent. How about that, eh?'

'Won't he get into trouble?'

'He says he's quitting anyway. None of the boys like the way the company's run now. They've all been stamped for you, just like you said. Well, I'll let you get dressed, Mr Lipwig. Your horse is ready.' He stopped at the door. 'Oh, just one thing, sir, about them stamps . . .'

'Yes? Is there a problem, Mr Camels?' said Moist. 'Not as such, sir. I wouldn't say anything against Lord Vetinari, sir, or Ankh-Morpork' - said a man living within twenty miles of a proud and touchy citizenry - 'but, er, it doesn't seem right, licking . . . well, licking Ankh-Morpork stamps. Couldn't you print up a few for us? We've got a Queen, nice girl. She'd look good on a stamp. We're an important city, you know!'

'I'll see what I can do, Mr Camels. Got a picture of her, by any chance?' They'll all want one, he thought, as he got dressed. Having your own stamps could be like having your own flag, your own crest. It could be big! And I bet I could do a deal with my friend Mr Spools, oh yes. Doesn't matter if you haven't got your own post office, you've got to have your own stamp . . . An enthusiastic crowd saw him off on a horse which, while no Boris, did his best and seemed to know what reins were for. Moist gratefully accepted the cushion on the saddle, too. That added more glitter to the glass: he'd ridden so hard he needed a cushion! He set off with a full mailbag. Amazingly, once again, people had bought stamps just to own them. The Times had got around. Here was something new, so people wanted to be part of it. Once he was cantering over the fields, though, he felt the fizz die away. He was employing Stanley, a bunch of game but creaky old men, and some golems. He couldn't keep this up. But the thing was, you added sparkle. You told people what you intended to do and they believed

you could do it. Anyone could have done this ride. No one had. They kept waiting for the clacks to be repaired. He took things gently along the road, speeding up as he passed the clacks tower that had been under repair. It was still under repair, in fact, but he could see more men around it and high up on the tower. There was a definite suggestion that repair work was suddenly going a lot faster. As he watched, he was sure he saw someone fall off. It probably wouldn't be a good idea to go over there and see if he could help, though, not if he wanted to continue to go through life with his own teeth. Besides, it was a long, long drop all the way down to the cabbage fields, handily combining death and burial at the same time. He speeded up again when he reached the city. Somehow trotting up to the Post Office steps was not an option. The queue - still a queue - cheered when he cantered up. Mr Groat came running out, insofar as a crab can run. 'Can you make another delivery to Sto Lat, sir?' he shouted. 'Got a full bag already! And everyone's asking when you'll be taking 'em to Pseudopolis and Quirm! Got one here for Lancre, too!' “What? That's five hundred damn miles, man!' Moist dismounted, although the state of his legs turned the action into more of a drop. 'It's all got a bit busy since you were away,' said Groat, steadying him. 'Oh, yes indeed! Ain't got enough people! But there's people wanting jobs, too, sir, since the paper came out! People from the old postal families, just like me! Even some more workers out of retirement! I took the liberty of taking them on pro tern for the time being, seeing as I'm Acting Postmaster. I hope that's all right with you, sir? And Mr Spools is running off more stamps! I've twice had to send Stanley up for more. I hear we'll have the early fivepennies and the dollars out tonight! Great times, eh, sir?'

'Er . . . yes,' said Moist. Suddenly the whole world had turned into a kind of Boris - moving fast, inclined to bite and impossible to steer. The only way not to be ground down was to stay on top. Inside the hall extra makeshift tables had been set up. They were crowded with people. 'We're selling them the envelopes and paper,' said Groat. 'The ink is free gratis.'

'Did you think that up yourself?' said Moist. 'No, it's what we used to do,' said Groat. 'Miss Maccalariat got a load of cheap paper from Spools.'

'Miss Maccalariat?' said Moist. 'Who is Miss Maccalariat?'

'Very old Post Office family, sir,' said Groat. 'She's decided to work for you.' He looked a little nervous. 'Sorry?' said Moist. 'She has decided to work for me?'

'Well, you know what it's like with Post Office people, sir,' said Groat. 'We don't like to—'

'Are you the postmaster?' said a withering voice behind Moist. The voice went into his head, bored down through his memories, riffled through his fears, found the right levers, battened on to them and pulled. In Moist's case, it found Frau Shambers. In the second year at school you were precipitated out of the warm, easy-going kindergarten of Frau Tissel, smelling of finger paint, salt dough and inadequate toilet training, and on to the cold benches governed by Frau Shambers, smelling of Education. It was as bad as being born, with the added disadvantage that your mother wasn't there. Moist automatically turned and looked down. Yes, there they were, the sensible shoes, the thick black stockings that were slightly hairy, the baggy cardigan - oh, yes, arrgh, the cardigan; Frau Shambers used to stuff the sleeves with handkerchiefs, arrgh, arrgh -and the glasses and the expression like an early frost. And her hair was plaited and coiled up on either side of her head in those discs that back home in Uberwald had been called 'snails' but in Ankh-Morpork put people in mind of a woman with a curly iced bun clamped to each ear.

'Now look here, Miss Maccalariat,' he said firmly. 'I am the postmaster here, and I am in charge, and I do not intend to be browbeaten by a member of the counter staff just because their ancestors worked here. I do not fear your clumpy shoes, Miss Maccalariat, I smile happily in the teeth of your icy stare. Fie on you! Now I am a grown man, Frau Shambers, I will quake not at your sharp voice and will control my bladder perfectly however hard you look at me, oh yes indeed! For I am the Postmaster and my word here is law!' That was the sentence his brain said. Unfortunately it got routed through his trembling backbone on the way to his mouth and issued from his lips as: 'Er, yes!' which came out as a squeak. 'Mr Lipwig, I ask you: I have nothing against them, but are these golems you are employing in my Post Office gentlemen or ladies?' the terrible woman demanded. This was sufficiently unexpected to jolt Moist back into something like reality. 'What?' he said. 'I don't know! What's the difference? A bit more clay . . . less clay? Why?' Miss Maccalariat folded her arms, causing both Moist and Mr Groat to shy backwards. 'I hope you're not funning with me, Mr Lipwig?' she demanded. 'What? Funning? I never fun!' Moist tried to pull himself together. Whatever happened next, he could not be made to stand in the corner. 'I do not fun, Miss Maccalariat, and have no history of funning, and even if I were inclined to funning, Miss Maccalariat, I would not dream of funning with you. What is the problem?'

'One of them was in the ladies' . . . rest room, Mr Lipwig,' said Miss Maccalariat. 'Doing what? I mean, they don't eat, so—'

'Cleaning it, apparently,' said Miss Maccalariat, contriving to suggest that she had dark suspicions on this point. 'But I have heard them referred to as “Mister”.'

'Well, they do odd jobs all the time, because they don't like to stop working,' said Moist. 'And we prefer to give them Mister as an honorific because, er, “it” seems wrong and there are some people, yes, some people for whom the word “Miss” is not appropriate, Miss Maccalariat.'

'It is the principle of the thing, Mr Lipwig,' said the woman firmly. 'Anyone called Mister is not allowed in the Ladies. That sort of thing can only lead to hanky-panky. I will not stand for it, Mr Lipwig.' Moist stared at her. Then he looked up at Mr Pump, who was never far away. 'Mr Pump, is there any reason why one of the golems can't have a new name?' he asked. 'In the interest of hanky-panky avoidance?'

'No, Mr Lipvig,' the golem rumbled. Moist turned back to Miss Maccalariat. 'Would “Gladys” do, Miss Maccalariat?'

'Gladys will be sufficient, Mr Lipwig,' said Miss Maccalariat, more than a hint of triumph in her voice. 'She must be properly clothed, of course.'

'Clothed?' said Moist weakly. 'But a golem isn't— it doesn't— they don't have . . .' He quailed under the glare, and gave up. 'Yes, Miss Maccalariat. Something gingham, I think, Mr Pump?'

'I Shall Arrange It, Postmaster,' said the golem. 'Will that be all right, Miss Maccalariat?' said Moist meekly. 'For the present,' said Miss Maccalariat, as if she regretted that there were currently no further things to complain of. 'Mr Groat knows my particulars, Postmaster. I will now return to the proper execution of my duties, otherwise people will try to steal the pens again. You have to watch them like hawks, you know.'

'A good woman, that,' said Groat, as she strode away. 'Fifth generation of Miss Maccalariats. Maiden name kept for professional purposes, o' course.'

'They get married?' From the mob around the makeshift counter came the ringing command: 'Put that pen back this minute! Do you think I'm made of pens?'

'Yessir,' said Groat. 'Do they bite their husbands' heads off on their wedding night?' said Moist. 'I wouldn't know about that sort of thing, sir,' said Groat, blushing. 'But she's even got a bit of a moustache!'

'Yessir. There's someone for everyone in this wonderful world, sir.'

'And we've got other people looking for work, you say?' Groat beamed. 'That's right, sir. 'cos of the bit in the paper, sir.'

'You mean this morning?'

'I expect that helped, sir,' said Groat. 'But I reckon it was the lunchtime edition that did it.'

'What lunchtime edition?'

'We're all over the front page!' said Groat proudly. 'I put a copy on your desk upstairs—' Moist pushed the Sto Lat mailbag into the man's arms. 'Get this . . . sorted,' he said. 'If there's enough mail for another delivery to go, find some kid who's mad for a job and put him on a horse and get him to take it. Doesn't have to be fast; we'll call it the overnight delivery. Tell him to see the mayor and come back in the morning with any fresh mail.'

'Right you are, sir,' said Groat. 'We could do an overnight to Quirm and Pseudopolis too, sir, if we could change horses like the mail coaches do—'

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