Mr. Lipwig. It might be spent three hundred times and yet—and this is the good part—it is still one penny, ready and willing to be spent again. It is not an apple, which will go bad. Its worth is fixed and stable. It is not consumed.” Mr. Bent’s eyes gleamed dangerously, and one of them twitched. “And this is because it is ultimately worth a tiny fraction of the everlasting gold!”
“But it’s just a lump of metal. If we used apples instead of coins, you could at least eat the apple,” said Moist.
“Yes, but you can only eat it once. A penny is, as it were, an everlasting apple.”
“Which you can’t eat. And you can plant an apple tree.”
“You can use money to make more money,” said Bent.
“Yes, but how do you make more gold? The alchemists can’t, the dwarfs hang on to what they’ve got, the Agateans won’t let us have any. Why not go on the silver standard? They do that in BhangBhangduc.”
“I imagine they would, being foreign,” said Bent. “But silver blackens. Gold is the one untarnishable metal.” And once again there was that tic: gold clearly had a tight hold on the man. “Incidentally, sir, I of course know that the depraved would clip slivers of metal from a coin, but what is ‘sweating’?”
“For the really depraved, I’m sorry to say,” said Moist. “You have a leather lining in your pocket, you put your gold coins in there, and you, well, you jingle them as often as you can. The gold dust builds up. Small profits but fairly safe, and some people just can’t help wanting to jingle.”
“I will treasure the image,” said Bent gravely. “Have you seen enough, Mr. Lipwig?”
“Slightly too much for comfort, I think.”
“Then let us go and meet the chairman.”
M OIST FOLLOWED Bent’s jerky walk up two flights of marble stairs and along a corridor. They halted in front of a pair of dark wooden doors and Mr. Bent knocked, not once, but with a sequence of taps that suggested a code. Then he pushed the door open, very carefully.
The chairman’s office was large, and simply furnished with very expensive things. Bronze and brass were much in evidence. Probably the last remaining tree of some rare, exotic species had been hewn to make the chairman’s desk, which was an object of desire and big enough to bury people in. It gleamed a deep, deep green, and spoke of power and probity. Moist assumed, as a matter of course, that it was lying.
There was a very small dog sitting in a brass in tray, but it was not until Bent said “Mr. Lipwig, madam chairman” that Moist realized that the desk also had a human occupant. The head of a very small, very elderly, gray-haired woman was peering over the top of it at him. Resting on the desk on either side of her, gleaming silver steel in this world of gold-colored things, were two loaded crossbows, fixed on little swivels. The lady’s thin little hands were just drawing back from the stocks.
“Oh yes, how nice,” she trilled. “I am Mrs. Lavish. Do take a seat, Mr. Lipwig.”
He did so, as much out of the current field of the bows as possible, and the dog leaped down from the desk and onto his lap with happy, scrotum-crushing enthusiasm.
It was the smallest and ugliest dog Moist had ever seen. It resembled those goldfish with the huge bulging eyes that looked as though they were about to explode. Its nose, on the other hand, looked stoved in. It wheezed, and its legs were so bandy that it must sometimes trip over its own feet.
“That’s Mr. Fusspot,” said the old woman. “He doesn’t normally take to people, Mr. Lipwig. I am impressed.”
“Hello, Mr. Fusspot,” said Moist. The dog gave a little yappy bark and then covered Moist’s face in all that was best in dog slobber.
“He likes you, Mr. Lipwig,” said Mrs. Lavish approvingly. “Can you guess at the breed?”
Moist had grown up with dogs and was pretty good at breeds, but with Mr. Fusspot there was no place to start. He plumped for
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