Say what you liked about Captain Vimes, he'd had style. It was a cynical, black-nailed style, but he'd had it and they didn't. He could read long words and add up. Even that was style, of a sort. -- Guards! Guards!
The Fanger School for Young Men and Ladies was an impressive stone building, and an old one; it had been constructed during a more prosperous time in Ankh-Morpork's past, and had served as a shop, a block of apartments, and a glass factory before being converted into schoolrooms and teachers' commons by Dame Fanger.
It was three stories tall, and sat on a corner, with the Shades on on side and the streets it mostly served on the other. Dame Fanger had her office on the third floor, overlooking both, and could therefore see when any child leaving the school might 'accidentally' stray into the Shades, always a temptation for an adventurous schoolboy and occasionally a curious schoolgirl, as well*.
* Usually a schoolgirl curious about becoming a Seamstress.
Dame Fanger was short, and whip-thin, and hard as nails. She had gotten where she was in life -- not a very glorious life, but one with a measure of success -- by teaching solid, basic subjects to children who were going to go on to be butchers and longshoremen, housewives with rather more manners than money, carters and tailors and all manner of tradesmen. The Fanger school was a school for children who were poor but honest, as if honesty was a sort of secondary currency you could trade in. In the little streets and alleys below the school, perhaps it was.
The school taught reading and writing and maths to children who would probably never need much of any of the three, beyond signing their name and checking their wages. But it also taught the more refined subjects to the older pupils, if they showed promise, which was why the childrens' parents paid an extra few pence a week, and were proud if their child graduated from the Fanger School. And why shouldn't they be? One of the school's graduates was a clerk at the Patrician's Palace, and another was rising steadily through the ranks of the Bakers' Guild. She liked to think that, along with Latatian and Dancing and Advanced Civics, she instilled in their minds a little seed of ambition.
She turned from the window of her office, and answered the hesitant knock on her door with a sharp "Come in!"
The boy who entered was taller than her, mildly underfed, and certainly more scruffy than she liked to see her students, but she'd been trying to fix that for years and had finally accepted that she couldn't. The boy seemed to simply scruff anything that came near him.
"You wanted to see me, 'm," he said quietly. The look in his eye told her that he knew what this was about. Or at any rate, thought he knew. She sighed and crossed to her desk, locating her notes and seating herself.
"Do have a seat, Mr. Vimes," she said.
"Thank you, 'm," he said, and remained standing.
"How old are you now, Samuel?" she asked, looking up at him.
"Sixteen, 'm. Just last week," he added.
"Hmmm, yes. And you'll be passing out of school soon."
"Yes'm. My mum's that proud, 'm."
"I'm sure she is. It looks as though she has reason to be. Pretty good grades all round, Samuel, better than most, in fact. High marks in Latatian, hm, not so high in Dancing but it's not everyone's cup of tea, and lord knows it's not as though there are any society balls you'll be attending in the near future. You seem to have a relatively firm grasp of city politics and mathematics...hm. Samuel, why have you been sent out of History three times this year?"
Sam looked down at his feet, and shrugged silently.
"Samuel, I am sure you know. You do not just get sent out of History for sitting quietly in the back of the classroom, as I see is usually the case for you."
"Studyin' the Revolution," he said finally. "I said I thought the king deserved it. Dame Morris didn't like that, much."
"No, she didn't. And you also turned up in defence of...hm, I recall this now." She gave him a mirthless smile. "You wrote a paper defending the summary execution-without-trial of Lorenzo the Kind, didn't you? Dame Morris said your reasoning was that, and I quote, Some monsters shouldn't walk under the living sky, and nobody else was going to do it."
"It's true," he said.
"It's not good history."
"But it's true history."
"Which is the argument you gave shortly before being sent out of history the third time," she sighed. "All right, don't worry, you're still going to pass, I've had words with Dame Morris. Hm...you finished your science classes a year ago, no need to worry there...ah. Literature and Composition." She looked at him over her glasses. "And once again, there is a certain pattern of...stubborn honesty that comes to the fore."
"You like to read, Sam?"
"Yes'm, when I can lay my hands on a book, 'm."
"But not to write."
"Don't have much to say, 'm. My grammar's fine," he added desperately.
"So it is. Don't worry so much, Sam, you're going to pass out with the rest of your class. You're going to be near the top, in fact." She sighed. "Samuel, I'm told you've arranged for a job when you graduate, already."
"Yes'm. My mate Iffy -- "
"Mr. Scurrick, yes, I recall. He left last year, hm?"
"Well, he's not much on reading, ma'am."
"He got a job with the Watch, and he said I ought to, so I sort of...looked into it. You get armour and all, and the pay's not too bad. Haven't got a trade, 'm."
Dame Fanger examined her notes again. "Ah yes. Your father's dead, Samuel?"
"Yes'm. When I were small, 'm. So I wasn't...I'm not trained for much."
"Well, you've had a good solid education here, that's training for quite a bit in life," she said quickly. "But your point is well taken, Samuel. Have you ever considered, hm, higher education?"
Sam's brow furrowed. "What, like...Guild classes?"
"No, Samuel. I'm talking about University. You're a bright young lad, and you could probably get into Unseen with very little trouble. They're looking for smart youngsters with a bit of initiative."
"Hah, yes, and a pile of cash," Samuel said. "Wizards, huh."
She waited for a moment, and he seemed to remember where he was, and his voice changed a bit.
"I can't afford University, 'm," he said. "Mum takes in washing to get by, and I do odd-jobs already."
"But you're smart enough to get a good grip on a career. Don't you want more for yourself than a job in the Watch for the rest of your life?"
He shrugged. "Got to work at something. You get a sword and a truncheon, too. And you can get promoted."
"But I'm talking about a University education!"
"Dunno about that, ma'am," he sniffed. "I've got to work. We need the money, and some of my mates already been out working for two years. What is it the wizards do with the University education?"
She closed her mouth, thoughtfully. That was a point. They...went about wizarding, she assumed. "They ply their trade like any other," she said primly. "Some of them, hm, become teachers."
"Seems to me, ma'am, like I could go to Unseen University and still get out without a trade."
"Well, you wouldn't have a trade, but you'd be a wizard, Samuel. That commands a certain amount of respect."
"Dunno about that, ma'am, but you can't eat respect."
Dame Fanger thought, and quite accurately, that if his mum heard him say that he'd get a hiding, sixteen or not.
"You're determined to join the Watch, then, Samuel?"
He looked down at his feet again. "Haven't got a trade," he repeated. Dame Fanger sighed.
"Then I wish you luck, Samuel. Try not to get thrown out of any more classes before you graduate?"
He nodded, respectfully, and vanished out of the office in the way only shy schoolchildren could.
Dame Fanger went back to her paperwork, with a twinge of regret. Sam was a bright boy, but he had a stubborn streak and a lack of discretion that was downright stunning. He'd never amount to much, she thought. Then again, not everyone had to. Someone had to patrol the streets at night and make sure they were safe in their beds.
Somehow, the idea of Samuel being one of the men to do that was comforting.