A hat full of sky, p.8
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       A Hat Full of Sky, p.8

         Part #32 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 8

 

  But one of you - that is, one half of you - came all the way to Twoshirts for me, said Tiffany. Oh yes, I can split up like that, said Miss Level. Im quite good at it. But if theres a gap of more than

  twenty miles or so, I get rather clumsy. And now a cup of tea would do us both good, I think. Before Tiffany could move both the Miss Levels stood up and crossed the kitchen. Tiffany watched one person make a cup of tea using four arms. There are quite a few things that need to be done to make a cup of tea and Miss Level did them all at once. The bodies stood side by side, passing things from hand to hand to hand, moving kettle and cups and spoon in a sort of ballet. When I was child they thought I was twins, she said over one of her shoulders. And then . . . they thought I was evil, she said over another shoulder. Are you? said Tiffany. Both of Miss Level turned round, looking shocked. What kind of question is that to ask anyone? she said. Um . . . the obvious one? said Tiffany. I mean, if they said “Yes I am! Mwahahaha!”, that would save a lot of trouble, wouldnt it? Four eyes narrowed. Mistress Weatherwax was right, said Miss Level. She said you were a witch to your boots. Inside, Tiffany beamed with pride. Well, the thing about the obvious, said Miss Level, is that it so often isnt . . . Did Mistress Weatherwax really take off her hat to you?

  Yes.

  One day perhaps youll know how much honour she did you, said Miss Level. Anyway . . . no, Im not evil. But I nearly became evil, I think. Mother died not long after I was born, my father was at sea and never came back-

  Worse things happen at sea, said Tiffany. It was something Granny Aching had told her. Yes, right, and probably they did, or possibly he never wanted to come back in any case, said Miss Level dryly. And I was put in a charity home, bad food, horrible teachers, blah, blah, and I fell into the worst company possible, which was my own. Its amazing the tricks you can get up to when youve got two bodies. Of course, everyone thought I was twins. In the end I ran away to join the circus. Me! Can you imagine that? Topsy and Tipsy, The Astounding Mind-Reading Act? said Tiffany. Miss Level stood stock still, her mouth open. It was on the posters over the stairs, Tiffany added. Now Miss Level relaxed. Oh, yes. Of course. Very . . . quick of you, Tiffany. Yes. You do notice things, dont you . . .

  I know I wouldnt pay money to see the egress, said Tiffany. It just means “the way out”. [Knowing the dictionary all the way through does have some uses. ] Clever! said Miss Level. Monty put that on a sign to keep people moving though the Believe-It-or-Not tent. “This way to the Egress!” Of course, people thought it was a female eagle or something, so Monty had a big man with a dictionary outside to show them they got exactly what they paid for! Have you ever been to a circus? Once, Tiffany admitted. It hadnt been much fun. Things that try too hard to be

  funny often arent. There had been a moth-eaten lion with practically no teeth, a tight- rope walker who was never more than a few feet above the ground, and a knife- thrower who threw a lot of knives at an elderly woman in pink tights on a big spinning wooden disc and completely failed to hit her every time. The only real amusement was afterwards, when a cart ran over the clown. My circus was a lot bigger, said Miss Level when Tiffany mentioned this. Although as I recall our knife-thrower was also very bad at aiming. We had elephants and camels and a lion so fierce it bit a mans arm nearly off. Tiffany had to admit that this sounded a lot more entertaining. And what did you do? she said. Well, I just bandaged him up while I shood the lion off him-

  Yes, Miss Level, but I meant in the circus. Just reading your own mind? Miss Level beamed at Tiffany. That, yes, and nearly everything else, too, she said. With different wigs on I was the Stupendous Bohunkus Sisters. I juggled plates, you know, and wore costumes covered in sequins. And I helped with the high wire act. Not walking the wire, of course, but generally smiling and glittering at the audience. Everyone assumed I was twins, and circus people dont ask too many personal questions in any case. And then what with one thing and another, this and that. . . I came up here and became a witch. Both of Miss Level watched Tiffany carefully. That was quite a long sentence, that last sentence, said Tiffany. Yes, it was, wasnt it, said Miss Level. I cant tell you everything. Do you still want to stay? The last three girls didnt. Some people find me slightly . . . odd.

  Urn . . . Ill stay, said Tiffany, slowly. The thing that moves things about is a bit strange, though. Miss Level looked surprised, and then said, Oh, do you mean Oswald? Theres an invisible man called Oswald who can get into my bedroom? said Tiffany, horrified. Oh, no. Thats just a name. Oswald isnt a man, hes an ondageist. Have you heard of poltergeists?

  Er . . . invisible spirits that throw things around?

  Good, said Miss Level. Well, an ondageist is the opposite. Theyre obsessive about tidiness. Hes quite handy around the house but hes absolutely dreadful if hes in the kitchen when Im cooking. He keeps putting things away. I think it makes him happy. Sorry, I should have warned you, but he normally hides if anyone comes to the cottage. Hes shy.

  And hes a man? I mean, a male spirit?

  How would you tell? Hes got no body and he doesnt speak. I just called him Oswald because I always picture him as a worried little man with a dustpan and brush. The left Miss Level giggled when the right Miss Level said this. The effect was odd and, if you thought that way, also creepy. Well, we are getting on well, said the right Miss Level nervously. Is there anything more you want to know, Tiffany?

  Yes, please, said Tiffany. What do you want me to do? What do you do?

  And mostly, it turned out, what Miss Level did was chores. Endless chores. You could look in vain for much broomstick tuition, spelling lessons or pointy-hat management. They were, mostly, the kind of chores that are just. . . chores. There was a small flock of goats, technically led by Stinky Sam who had a shed of his own and was kept on a chain, but really led by Black Meg, the senior nanny, who patiently allowed Tiffany to milk her and then, carefully and deliberately, put a hoof in the milk bucket. Thats a goats idea of getting to know you. A goat is a worrying thing if youre used to sheep, because a goat is a sheep with brains. But Tiffany had met goats before, because a few people in the village kept them for their milk, which was very nourishing. And she knew that with goats you had to use persykology. [Tiffany knew what psychology was, but it hadnt been a pronunciation dictionary. ] If you got excited, and shouted, and hit them (hurting your hand, because its like slapping a sack full of coat hangers) then they had Won and sniggered at you in goat language, which is almost all sniggering anyway. By day two, Tiffany learned that the thing to do was reach out and grab Black Megs hind leg just as she lifted it up to kick the bucket, and lift it up further. That made her unbalanced and nervous and the other goats sniggered at her and Tiffany had Won. Next there were the bees. Miss Level kept a dozen hives, for the wax as much as the honey, in a little clearing that was loud with buzzing. She made Tiffany wear a veil and gloves before she opened a hive. She wore some, too. Of course, she observed, if you are careful and sober and well centred in your life the bees wont sting. Unfortunately, not all the bees have heard about this theory. Good morning, Hive Three, this is Tiffany, she will be staying with us for a while Tiffany half expected the whole hive to pipe up, in some horrible high-pitched buzz, Good morning, Tiffany! It didnt. Why did you tell them that? she asked. Oh, you have to talk to your bees, said Miss Level. Its very bad luck not to. I generally have a little chat with them most evenings. News and gossip, that sort of thing. Every beekeeper knows about “Telling the Bees”.

  And who do the bees tell? asked Tiffany. Both of Miss Level smiled at her. Other bees, I suppose, she said. So . . . if you knew how to listen to the bees, youd know everything that was going on, yes? Tiffany persisted. You know, its funny you should say that, said Miss Level. There have been a few rumours . . . But youd have to learn to think like a swarm of bees. One mind with thousands of little bodies. Much too hard to do, even for me. She exchanged a thought- ful glance with herself. Maybe not impossible, though. Then there were the herbs. The cottage ha
d a big herb garden, although it contained very little that youd stuff a turkey with, and at this time of year there was still a lot of work to be done collecting and drying, especially the ones with important roots. Tiffany quite enjoyed that. Miss Level was big on herbs. There is something called the Doctrine of Signatures. It works like this: when the Creator of the Universe made helpful plants for the use of people, he (or in some

  versions, she) put little clues on them to give people hints. A plant useful for toothache would look like teeth, one to cure earache would look like an ear, one good for nose problems would drip green goo and so on. Many people believed this. You had to use a certain amount of imagination to be good at it (but not much in the case of Nose Dropwort) and in Tiffanys world the Creator had got a little more . . . creative. Some plants had writing on them, if you knew where to look. It was often hard to find and usually difficult to read, because plants cant spell. Most people didnt even know about it and just used the traditional method of finding out whether plants were poisonous or useful by testing them on some elderly aunt they didnt need, but Miss Level was pioneering new techniques that she hoped would mean life would be better for everyone (and, in the case of the aunts, often longer, too). This one is False Gentian, she told Tiffany when they were in the long, cool workroom behind the cottage. She was holding up a weed triumphantly. Everyone thinks its another toothache cure, but just look at the cut root by stored moonlight, using my blue magnifying glass Tiffany tried it, and read: GoOD FoR Colds May cors drowsniss Do nOt oprate heavE mashinry

  Terrible spelling, but not bad for a daisy, said Miss Level. You mean plants really tell you how to use them? said Tiffany. Well, not all of them, and you have to know where to look, said Miss Level. Look at this, for example, on the common walnut. You have to use the green magnifying glass by the light of a taper made from red cotton, thus . . . Tiffany squinted. The letters were small and hard to read. “May contain Nut”? she ventured. But its a nutshell. Of course itll contain a nut. Er . . . wont it?

  Not necessarily, said Miss Level. It may, for example, contain an exquisite miniature scene wrought from gold and many coloured precious stones depicting a strange and interesting temple set in a far-off land. Well, it might, she added, catching Tiffanys expression. Theres no actual law against it. As such. The world is full of surprises. That night Tiffany had a lot more to put in her diary. She kept it on top of her chest of drawers with a large stone on it. Oswald seemed to get the message about this, but he had started to polish the stone. And pull back, and rise above the cottage, and fly the eye across the night-time . . . Miles away, pass invisibly across something that is itself invisible, but which buzzes like a swarm of flies as it drags itself over the ground . . . Continue, the roads and towns and trees rushing behind you with zip-zip noises, until you come to the big city and, near the centre of the city, the high old tower, and beneath the tower the ancient magical university, and in the university the library, and in the library the bookshelves, and . . . the journey has hardly begun. Bookshelves stream past. The books are on chains. Some snap at you as you pass. And here is the section of the more dangerous books, the ones that are kept locked in cages or in vats of iced water or simply clamped between lead plates.

 
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