Why would you ever ride an angry horse bareback?? I don’t even ride horses, but even I know that the only question here is why.
Moist makes it to Sto Lat on Boris in record time, names the first clerk he stumbles on in their town hall an acting postmaster, and explains how to collect money for stamps on mail going back to Ankh-Morpork. The mayor tells him that they’ve taken back their clacks messages, since the system isn’t working properly at all these days, and they’ll be going as letters to Ankh-Morpork. Moist gets a cold bath and a new horse and gets back to the city by afternoon with another full bag of mail. Groat has pulled on a lot of old staff to keep things running, including Miss Maccalariat, who insists that the golem who cleans the ladies’ facilities must be a lady despite that not being possible. Moist gets news from Stanley (whom he names head of the Stamp Department) about when and where Miss Dearheart expects their date to take place and gets a letter from “The Smoking Gnu.” Mr. Gryle meets with Reacher Gilt to discuss what he’s found on Moist, which is not much. Gilt thinks that he needs to be dealt with, so Gryle plans to set the Post Office on fire that night. Moist heads out to talk to the coachmen and force them to resume their work for the Post Office. They tell him that the Grand Trunk had just offered to buy them out for too much money, and decide to help him because they hate the Grand Trunk.
Moist learns about the Hour of the Dead, when they used to do maintenance on the clacks, being the time when men most often died while freeing shutters by hand, and hears all the stories the coachmen hear from the clacksmen. He heads to the start of his date with Miss Dearheart at the Mended Drum, who knows that Moist didn’t manage to get a reservation at the fancy restaurant she requested by honest means (he forged a note from Reacher Gilt, in fact), and warns him about crossing Gilt; her father was the one who created the Grand Trunk, and her brother meant to start a new and better one once Gilt and his crew wrested it away from her family, but her brother was clearly murdered by them and her father has slipped into depression, and she worries that Moist might also get himself killed. Stanley is sorting through stamps when he hears an ancient scream; Mr. Gryle is in the Post Office. Moist and Adora Belle go to the fancy restaurant when Reacher Gilt comes in. He goes to their table and shakes hands with Moist, who recognizes him instantly as a truly great conman. Then Moist feels that the Post Office is on fire and rushes back. He heads into the building and finds Stanley and Groat, helping them both outside.
Moist goes back in for Tiddles. He means to get his conman box, but winds up taking the golden suit and following Tiddles into the cellar. There, he runs across Mr. Gryle, who turns out to be a banshee. When Gryle attacks, Moist throws him into the Sorting Engine, grabs Tiddles and the suit, and walks out to find Mr. Pump searching for him. Anghammarad dies in an explosion during the fire. Moist knows that this was Gilt and that he was meant to die in the fire, but that he’ll never prove it. He gets a band to start up and asks Miss Deartheart if she’ll dance with him and if he can give her the nickname Spike. She agrees, and he insists that he’ll get the Post Office rebuilt with “help from the gods” and bankrupt Gilt by the end of the week… somehow. The next morning he goes to several churches with letters for gods and requests for money to rebuild the Post Office. He gets things up and running again and plans to run a mail coach to Pseudopolis per the Smoking Gnu’s tip about the clacks being down there. Then he goes outside… and is later brought to Vetinari’s office for instigating a riot at the Grand Trunk (because they wouldn’t give people their messages back), and because he apparently dropped to his knees and got a message from several gods that led him to a ton of money buried in the woods.
The churches who were asked for aid want a tithe, so Vetinari advises Moist to split one tithe between the churches, and use the rest of the money to rebuild the Post Office. Moist heads to the hospital where Groat is staying and is told by the nurse that he can’t leave… but Dr. Lawn is only too happy to get rid of him. Reacher Gilt has a meeting with his group to discuss the future of Grand Trunk with their engineer Mr. Pony, who tells them that in order to get the place working, he needs two hundred thousand dollars and nine months of shutdown. Gilt convinces the group to get more money any way they can, Pony to work with practically nothing and keep the place running for another year, and goes to make a statement to the Times about the company’s renewed commitment to fixing the clacks. Moist sees the paper the next day and how well Gilt has twisted words into meaning without meaning that he goes into a cursing rage. He tells Adora Belle that Gilt is going to get away with it, and she tells him about how she was fired from her last job at a bank in Sto Lat because she’d accepted four fraudulent cash drafts… ones that Moist realizes he made. She doesn’t want the house to win this game, and neither does he. So he has an idea to wipe the smile off Gilt’s face.
By this point in the book, we have deep parallels building between Moist and Gilt because the narrative is very clear on the point that your average wildly wealthy businessman is the exact same thing as a conman. In fact, they are worse because they perform the same con on a much larger scale. And, more to the point, Moist is completely undone by the revelation that he has hurt even one decent person through his actions. Conversely, Reacher Gilt has no empathy or care for any other living being.
It’s a horse pill’s worth of irony to swallow of late, but this is the line that makes me wanna access some sort of berserker mode within: “He told them what he was, and they laughed and loved him for it.” Folks love to use that adage—believe people when they tell you who they are—as though no one gets it. When the horrifying fact of the matter is that plenty of them do. They just hope they won’t be a person who gets caught in the blast radius if things don’t work out as planned. Ask Rudy Giuliani, standing in the parking lot of Four Seasons Total Landscaping.
Of course, at present there’s another person who Reacher Gilt smacks of, particularly once you get to Adora Belle’s explanation of what happened to her family. You know. That guy who bought Twitter and changed its name and is currently spending heaps of time and money making it unusable. “They’ll run it into the ground and make more money by selling it,” Miss Dearheart tells Moist because that is, in fact, another part of the game.
And it sounds so obviously and egregiously amoral that it makes more sense to believe that it’s impossible. The system couldn’t work that way. And that helps the Reacher Gilts of the world get away with it, too.
But maybe not this time. Because this is the Discworld, and these are stories meant to encourage us, rather than bludgeon us. Give us a little hope. The thing that Moist and Gilt turn down their nose at, but Adora Belle Dearheart insists is needed.
Back to the start of the section and Moist’s race to Sto Lat: The thing that’s wild about the post traveling so fast is remembering that it does genuinely work that way, and did so even better in the past when it was our primary means of communication over distances (and before many public postal systems went through decades of defunding). There was a time when mail was so quick, you could get a letter to a relative who lived a hundred miles away in no time. After horses there were trains, and they were even faster. Of course, so much communication is instantaneous these days, but part of me wants the experience of awaiting letters. Granted, I’m one of those folks who largely hates talking on the phone…
I do have some questions over the choice to make the banshee a man, insofar as it seems to me that the only reasons to do it are that a) it’s unexpected and b) banshees within mythology are commonly tied to women and family. It’s one of those places where I’m not sure it’s as interesting as Pratchett’s usual refits. After all, Vetinari is currently playing long-distance boardgames with his teetotaling be-sweatered vampiric not-girlfriend and Angua is maybe the most feared cop in the city (aside from Vimes when he’s on a tear). That’s more fun by a half.
Asides and little thoughts:
- I believe this is the first time we’ve been given a clear indication of exactly how many miles there are between Ankh-Morpork and Sto Lat.
- The whole thing about the teeny/hidden pictures in the stamps is real, of course. It’s used as a measure against counterfeiting, but also as a fun thing for collectors. Sometimes you can only see them with special lenses and so forth.
- Sorry, “Trumpet-and-skittles” is a descriptor for anatomy that really sticks in the mind. It did make me realize that I wasn’t sure where the name of the Skittles candy came from—turns out that it took its name from an old pub game that was the predecessor to bowling. Which I imagine is what Groat is thinking of, but the idea of him thinking of the candy makes the joke much funnier (to me, at least).
He wanted to bite the horizon.
Gryle looked around him with eyes that seemed not at home with the limited vistas of a room.
Ten minutes can change a lot. It was enough to brew two cups of tea thick enough to spread on bread.
After a moment of ancient terror had subsided, Stanley crept over and opened the door.
And that’s when it all went wrong for Mr. Gryle, because Stanley had one of his Little Moments.
“Tiddles!” bellowed Moist. He wished he hadn’t. It was such a stupid name to shout in a burning building.
And after a thought like that is when you realize that however hard you try to look behind you, there’s a behind you, behind you, where you aren’t looking.
But, for now, by the light of the burning yesterdays, he waltzed with Miss Dearheart while the scratch band scratched away.
You had to admire the way perfectly innocent words were mugged, ravished, stripped of all true meaning and decency, and then sent to walk the gutter for Reacher Gilt, although “synergistically” had probably been a whore from the start.
Next week we’ll finish the book!