CHRISTOPHER AND THE CLOCKMAKERS
CHRISTOPHER AND THE CLOCKMAKERS
SARA WARE BASSETT
With Illustrations by William F. Stecher
Boston Little, Brown, and Company 1925
Copyright, 1925, by Sara Ware Bassett. All rights reserved
Published September, 1925
Printed in the United States of America
TO THE MEMORY OF
RICHARD PARSONS, SIMON WILLARD AND JOHN BAILEY,
A TRIO OF CONSCIENTIOUS CRAFTSMEN, WHOSE HANDIWORK STILL SURVIVES THEM TO CHEER MY HOME AND TESTIFY DAILY TO THEIR FIDELITY AND SKILL.
S. W. B.
I A CLOUD WITH A SILVER LINING 1
II CHRISTOPHER MAKES AN ACQUAINTANCE 12
III CHRISTOPHER ESCAPES BEING A HERO 31
IV AN ENCOUNTER WITH THE POLICE 39
V CHRISTOPHER ASTONISHES HIMSELF 49
VI CLOCKS THAT WERE GOOD AS PLAYS 64
VII AN EXCURSION 81
VIII AN ADVENTURE 101
IX CHRISTOPHER RECOGNIZES AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE 112
X AN AMAZING ADVENTURE 125
XI THE SEQUEL TO THE LETTER 137
XII CLOCK GIANTS 147
XIII CLOCKS ON LAND AND CLOCKS AT SEA 162
XIV HOW RUBIES, SAPPHIRES, AND GARNETS HELPED TO TELL TIME 176
XV CLOCKS IN AMERICA 187
XVI WHAT MASSACHUSETTS CONTRIBUTED 202
XVII THE ROMANCE OF THE WATCH 217
XVIII CHRISTOPHER HAS A BIRTHDAY 236
"THOSE MEN—ONE OF THEM TOOK A RING—I SAW HIM" Frontispiece
"SO YOU NEVER SAW AN OLD FELLOW LIKE THIS, EH?" Page 24
WHAT WAS IT THAT RENDERED THE FIGURE SO FAMILIAR? " 103
AH, WHAT AN EVENING THE TWO CRONIES HAD TOGETHER THAT NIGHT " 164
CHRISTOPHER AND THE CLOCKMAKERS
A CLOUD WITH A SILVER LINING
Christopher Mark Antony Burton was a tremendously imposing name to give a baby. When he lay in his crib, wee and helpless, he looked as if he might never survive the weight of it. Even later, when he began to toddle about on his small, unsteady feet, the sonorous pseudonym trailed in his wake, threatening to drag him down to an early grave.
Nevertheless his father protested against the burden being lightened one iota. Christopher Mark Antony Burton he had been christened and Christopher Mark Antony Burton he must remain. Had it not been his father's, his grandfather's, and his great-grandfather's name before him; and all his life had not Mr. Burton longed for some one to whom to pass on the treasure of which he was so proud? And then on a happy day a son came upon the scene and presto, before the boy was an hour old, the ponderous appellation was clapped on his unlucky head.
Mr. Burton, however, did not consider the child unlucky—not he! To bestow this signal honor afforded him infinite satisfaction. No gift he could have granted his heir could, in his opinion, equal—much less surpass—this one.
He had, to be sure, on the day of the baby's birth, deposited in the savings bank five hundred dollars to its credit; but what was money when weighed against being Christopher Mark Antony Burton, the fourth?
And Christopher had thrived despite the fact that life, no respecter of persons, did not spare him the misfortunes common to the race. He had whooping cough, measles, and mumps like other children, and when at length he reached the ripened age of six he was led to school and it was here, with one swift, leveling blow, that his splendor vanished even as the grass which in the morning groweth up and at night is cut down, and withereth.
He issued forth from his home as Christopher Mark Antony Burton and returned to it shorn of his glories and as plain Chris Burton. Was ever transformation more complete? Certainly not in the estimation of his father and mother. But Chris himself was overjoyed at the emancipation. It seemed as if a ball had been lifted from his foot and left him free as air. And the wonderful part of it was that the operation had been so quickly and painlessly accomplished. It had taken a round-faced, red-haired urchin just about fifteen seconds to sever his bonds.
"Christopher Mark Antony Burton!" jibed he with sardonic glee. "Haw, haw! Can you beat it? Cut it out, Chris."
Whereupon a group of derisive youngsters had proceeded without further ado to cut it out.
"Chris Burton! Chris Burton!" they piped, capering gleefully about their victim.
Christopher's consent to this re-christening was not asked. The name would have been cut in the same ruthless fashion whether he willed it or not. Fortunately, however, he welcomed his release, and this cheerful conformity to public sentiment earned for him at the outset of his career vast popularity.
"Chris is all right," conceded his judges. "Poor kid! Is it his fault if they pasted a mile-long label on him?"
Indeed common opinion generally agreed that the unhappy victim of the Burton honors was far more sinned against than sinning, and his cause was forthwith taken up with zealous sympathy.
"They didn't do a thing to you, you poor trout, when they wished that tag on you, did they?" Billie Earnshaw, the leader of the gang, declared not unkindly. "No matter, old chap! Cheer up! Forget it! We're going to."
And they did. As completely as if the awful appellation had never existed it was wiped from the tablets of their memory and Christopher Mark Antony Burton fourth became Chris Burton—nothing more.
Oh, there were days when the original horror bobbed up. It appeared on report cards and in school registers traced in the teacher's clear, painstaking hand: Christopher Mark Antony Burton; nevertheless she never troubled to address him in that fashion. Perhaps she hadn't the time. Life was a busy enterprise and the days were short. One could not stop to roll out a name like that unless blessed with leisure. Accordingly in the schoolroom our hero passed as Burton and on the ball-field as Chris, and since his existence alternated 'twixt these two worlds, he was Christopher Mark Antony Burton only at breakfast and at bed-time—intervals so brief that they were endured with cheerfulness and complacency.
Therefore having rid himself thus early in his career of a stigma that threatened to blast his chance for success, the future stretched before him smooth as a macadam road. Uneventfully he finished the grammar school and went on into the high school as did other boys of his acquaintance. He was not, however, a scholar who leaped avidly toward books. Painfully, reluctantly he trudged his way. Learning came hard—especially Latin, French, and history. To hold fast a French verb was for him a thousand times harder than to grip in his clutch a writhing eel; and as for algebra—well, the unknown quantity was the only one he was sure of.
Yet notwithstanding his scholastic limitations, he contrived to wriggle along until at the beginning of his junior year he was whisked away to the hospital with scarlet fever, after which, amid sage waggings of their heads, a group of doctors congregated about his bed. He was not to be alarmed, they said. His eyes were not permanently injured. Yet there was no denying his illness had seriously weakened them and they must be given a long vacation. Perhaps six months might do what was necessary—perhaps, on the other hand, it might take a year. Rest was the thing needed—absolute rest and protection from the light. Whereupon, having delivered themselves of this decree, they placed upon his nose a pair of blue goggles, told him to cheer up, and went their way.
At first the tragedy on which they commiserated him did not appear to Christopher very great. He detested books. Now, without effort of his own, he was to be released from them. It was almost too good to be true. Had he begged the boon on bended knees, his parents would have denied it. And now, as if by magic, the favor he sought had been granted without so much as a word from them. The law had been laid down so forcefully that neither they nor he dared disobey it.
In fact it was soon apparent they felt vastly sorry on Christopher's account that the mandate had been pronounced. Everybody did. Ill news travels as if on wings, and before the boy had been home a day the entire community was offering him sympathy for a calamity which did not seem to him any calamity at all.
True, he detested his blue glasses and would gladly have consigned them to the ash barrel. Still no sky is without shadows; one must take the cake as well as the frosting. Certainly he found it no cross to rise in leisurely fashion while the other kids were hiking along to school and sit down to a hot breakfast cooked especially for him; nor, when the bells were just about ringing for recitations, could it be considered a hardship to saunter off for a tramp in the sunshine, with Joffre, his tireless collie, bounding on before him.
No, his lot was far from an unhappy one. For a week or two he was entirely content. Of course there was no denying there were moments that dragged. He couldn't read, and he had always derived keen delight from a good pirate story. However, people read to him, and that was the next best thing. Often his father or his mother would toss aside their books or papers and read aloud to him an entire evening. But the books they selected were never pirate stories. Instead they were almost always things that aimed to improve him, and if there was anything Christopher resented, it was being improved. Therefore while he appreciated the good intentions of his parents in reading and explaining to him Emerson's essays, he would as lief have exchanged all of them for a single chapter of "Treasure Island." But, alas, his father was not of the "Treasure Island" sort, and neither was his mother. Indeed it is doubtful whether they would have recognized Silver had they met him in broad daylight, on the main street. As for himself he missed Silver sadly—Silver, Deerslayer, and all the rest of his cronies, and before long time began to hang heavily on his hands.
Elversham was, it is true, a beautiful suburb in which to live. Still, there wasn't much doing in it. If your day was not filled with school, baseball, football, or building a radio, how was a chap to fill up his time? He could, of course, go down to the athletic field and watch the games, but as he was accustomed to being in the thick of them, he derived no great pleasure from sitting about on the edges and looking on, while others fumbled the ball or failed to make a touchdown. What a pity it was that when he had dropped out of school he had been obliged to sacrifice his position on the team! Still how could any one be mixed up in a football tackle if he had to wear blue glasses every minute?
No, for the present he must certainly keep out of athletics. He was, in fact, pretty well out of everything. When he joined the fellows, it was only to hear them joshing about some event wholly unintelligible to him. All their jokes and horse play led back to the classroom until at length he felt as if he might as well have listened to a lot of jibbering Chinese as to try to understand their nonsense.
Yes, he was out of it—completely out of it! Gradually the realization dawned on him. He was out of everything, the only idle person in a rushing world. When he took a walk, except for the companionship of Joffre, he went alone. Everybody was too busy to pay any attention to him. He was bored with his own society—horribly bored.
"Isn't there anything I can do, Dad?" he desperately inquired one evening, after his mother had all but read him to sleep with the life of Benjamin Franklin.
"What do you mean, son?" asked Mr. Burton, dropping his paper and emerging abruptly from Wall Street, his attention arrested more by the lad's tone than by his words.
"I mean isn't there anything at all I can do? I'm sick to death of loafing round this house."
"But I thought you were rather pleased to be out of school," Mr. Burton asserted with surprise.
"I was at first—pleased as Punch; but I'm not now. I'm bored within an inch of my life. I can't keep tramping round with Joffre from morning to night, nor is there anywhere to go if I could. Besides, I haven't a soul to speak to—everybody is studying or else playing football."
"It is hard, Christopher," agreed his mother with instant sympathy. "You have been very patient."
"So you have, my boy! So you have!" Mr. Burton echoed. "I had no idea, however, that you were unhappy. Well, well! We must see what can be done."
He rose and began to pace the floor thoughtfully.
"Now if I could afford it," he went on, "I should pack you off on a trip round the world. That would not only amuse you royally but afford you a liberal education into the bargain; but I haven't the money to do that just now, I'm afraid. Some more modest entertainment must be found. H-m! I don't suppose as a makeshift you would care to go into the store with me for a week or two until a better plan can be devised."
The lad's face instantly brightened.
"Yes, I would," he cried. "I'd like it very much." Although the scheme was not a brilliant one, it was far better than hanging about Elversham day after day. To go to the city would mean new sights, new sounds, and doubtless luncheon with his father—a treat to which he had always looked forward since a small boy.
"Really now!" commented Mr. Burton, beaming down at him. "Well, I am surprised. I feared you would not even listen to the proposal. So you like it, eh? Oh, not for long, of course—I understand that; but simply as a filler."
Christopher was all cordiality.
"It wouldn't be half bad."
"Don't imagine I shall set you to work," continued Mr. Burton hastily.
"I'd rather work if there was anything I could do."
"I am afraid there wouldn't be," was the reply. "Ours is a trade that has, for the most part, to be learned."
"I suppose so."
"No, I shall not set you to work—or entertain you, either. You will have to look out for yourself. However, as you say, it may amuse you to go to the store, and perhaps when you get there you can make some sort of a niche for yourself. We'll see."
"Certainly there must be errands to run," Christopher suggested.
Mr. Burton eyed the boy pleasantly, but shook his head.
"Even our errands have to be detailed to skilled men—at least, most of them. Now and then, it is true, there are ordinary messages to be delivered; but in most cases any packages we send out are too valuable to be entrusted to boys your age. They might be held up."
"Held up!" repeated Christopher incredulously.
"Surely. Such things have happened," Mr. Burton nodded. "We never feel safe about sending out valuable goods unless they are well guarded."
"It would be mighty exciting to be held up!" Christopher gasped, his eyes wide with interest.
"Exciting!" mimicked his father sarcastically. "Exciting! Humph! I guess you would find it something more than exciting if a group of yeggs thrust a pistol under your nose. You seem to forget that persons who hold up a messenger do it to get the goods."
"But they don't always succeed?" came breathlessly from Christopher.
"Not in moving pictures," was the grim retort. "In the movies, somebody always happens along at the crucial moment, rescues the hero, captures the villain, and everything is all right. That is the sort of hold-up you are accustomed to, son. But in real life the villain is a desperate character armed with a gun that goes off. You forget that."
Christopher looked crestfallen and flushed uncomfortably.
"Perhaps I am shaking your courage a little and you won't be so eager to go to town with me," jested Mr. Burton.
"On the contrary, the scheme appeals to me more than ever."
"You actually hanker to meet a bandit or two?"
"It would certainly add a thrill to life to encounter a bandit," grinned Christopher.
"Add a thrill!" Mr. Button sniffed. "Add a thrill! Well, I will tell you right now that when you feel a desire for a thrill like that coming on, you can go straight to the movies and indulge it. You shall have no such thrills at my expense," and without more ado Christopher Mark Antony Burton, senior, lighted a fresh cigar, took up his paper, and dismissed the matter.
CHRISTOPHER MAKES AN ACQUAINTANCE
The jewelry house of Burton and Norcross occupied four stories of a corner fronting two busy city streets and before its gem-filled windows a group of passers-by were continually standing.
On cushions of velvet lay an alluring display of rings, broaches, necklaces, and costly frivolities of every description while on other cushions ticked watches varying from toy affairs on ribbons to more serious-intentioned and dignified repeaters.
All day and indeed all night, for that matter, a white light beat down upon this flashing outlay, and before it envious spectators flattened their noses against the massive plate glass and dreamed idle dreams of possession.
"Say, Jim, ain't that red stone with the diamonds round it a peach? Gee, but I'd like a thing like that on my finger! How much do you s'pose you'd have to pay for it?"
"A cool hundred, likely."
"Sure you would. Them red stones are rubies and they cost like the dickens. I ain't sure you wouldn't have to pay mor'n a hundred for that ring."
"Humph! I see myself doin' it!"
"So do I!"
"Well, you needn't rub it in. Anyhow, even if I had the price, I'd rather spend it on a Ford."
"What's the matter with havin' 'em both? You're full as likely to have one as the other; come on. What's the good of standin' here lettin' your mouth water over things there's no hope of your gettin'? Let's call it off an' go to a picture show."
A moment later another pair would saunter up and stop.
"Oh, Mame, look at that diamond necklace! Isn't it wonderful! Do you s'pose it's real?"
"Real! You bet your life it's real! You won't catch Burton and Norcross putting fake diamonds in their window. Come along, for heaven's sake; I'm starving and want my lunch. It's no use to hang round here staring in."
"I can look, can't I?"
"If you want to, yes. Lookin's a cheap entertainment. You're silly to do it though. It'll only get you out of sorts."
So babbled the crowd.
A listener might have amused himself the whole day long enjoying the comments of the throng had he nothing better to do than loiter near by. Unfortunately, however, the corner did not foster extended loitering. It was far too busy a spot. About it swirled and surged an eddy of shoppers, all hurrying this way and that and jostling one another so mercilessly that he who did not make one of the current and move with the stream was all but exterminated. Like a tidal wave, the ruthless concourse swept past, bearing with it everything that obstructed its path. You went whether you would or no, and afterward you stepped into a doorway, caught your breath, straightened your hat, and tried to remember what it was you had intended to do.
By contrast the interior of Burton and Norcross was painfully still. The moment a visitor crossed its threshold he realized that. As if he had left behind him a stormy sea and now come into quiet waters, he stood amid its hush, conscious of his every footfall and the very intonations of his voice. Instinctively he immediately pitched his tones lower and drew himself to his full height when he traversed the marble floor that separated the bordering show cases.
Individuals counted for more here than they did outside—far more. A person who came into Burton and Norcross sensed whether his tie was awry or his shoes unshined, and so did everybody else. For if you entered the shop at all, you entered it deliberately. No one ever strolled or sauntered into Burton and Norcross. It wasn't that sort of place. You would no more have ambled aimlessly along its center aisle, frankly proclaiming to all the world your opinion of what it had to sell, than you would casually have invaded the Court of St. James or Windsor Castle. Ambling was not done there. Nobody ambled. Even Mr. Burton himself didn't. Although he was the senior partner and could have claimed the privilege of ambling had he chosen, the shop transformed him just as it did everybody else. Once within its portals he became more erect, more commanding—in fact, a different human being altogether—and proceeded to announce right and left in accents never employed by him anywhere else that it was a beautiful day.
On this particular morning Christopher, who tagged meekly at his heels, fervently subscribed to the sentiment he advanced. It was a beautiful day. Almost any day, so new in the adventure of setting forth for a peep into the business world, would have seemed beautiful. And yet there was really nothing very novel in going to the store, for since a small boy he had been accustomed to being taken there to meet his father.
Sometimes such excursions culminated in new shoes or a new overcoat; sometimes in a pair of skates or in luncheon; and on a very red-letter day, such as a birthday or anniversary of some sort, in a matinee or moving-picture show.
Therefore Christopher was no stranger either to the plush-lined cases and their sparkling contents or to the men who presided over them. Everybody knew him by sight—doormen, salesmen, elevator boys, watchmakers, bookkeepers, and messengers. He was the son of the boss, Christopher Mark Antony Burton, fourth.
There were, alas, times when Christopher wished from the bottom of his heart he had been less well known. To be regarded as the future heir to all this splendor kept those he met in the establishment painfully deferential and created an estranging gulf 'twixt him and all that was human and interesting.
If, for example, when he bobbed unexpectedly into the elevator, old Joseph, its colored operator, had only kept right on munching an apple instead of whisking it out of sight into his pocket, how much pleasanter it would have been! Then, too, the men all insisted on calling him sir, which embarrassed him and made him feel very young and foolish. He had never desired to be a person of privilege for in spite of his sonorous name, Christopher was very democratic.
Probably if left to himself he would within twenty-four hours have been on the friendliest of terms with everybody in the shop. But in the background loomed his father of whom every employee stood in awe, and whose imposing presence they never forgot for one instant. You did not forget Mr. Christopher Mark Antony Burton, third, senior partner of the firm; he did not let you.
It was for this reason that Christopher the fourth made his advent into the great shop with less joy and abandon than he would have done had conditions been otherwise. He was politely welcomed but not cordially. That would not have been fitting.
"Now what will you do to amuse yourself, son?" inquired Mr. Burton, after Tim had bowed them in the front door and called the elevator. "You are to please yourself. I shall be too busy to give a thought to you."
"Oh, I don't expect to be entertained," returned Christopher brightly. "Don't have me on your mind at all. I'll look after myself."
"That's right! That's right!" exclaimed his father, as if relieved by the intelligence. "You are welcome to go anywhere you like. Everybody knows you by sight and understands you are to be around here for a while. Just don't get into mischief. And see you are ready promptly at one to go to luncheon with me."
"You can count on me for that!"
"I'll wager I can."
With these words Mr. Burton opened the door of his office and disappeared.
Christopher hung up his hat and coat and hesitated uncertainly for a moment. He did not really know what he wanted to do. A general atmosphere of business of which he became instantly aware made him feel like an intruder. The men greeted him, it is true, but with minds focused far less on the salutation than on the various missions that drove them hither and thither.
There was something almost ludicrous about the seriousness with which they took this matter of rings and necklaces. One would have thought the affairs of a nation occupied them, so anxious and hurried were they.
He sauntered along the balcony in the wake of a red-cheeked young clerk who had bowed to him pleasantly and looked less as if he were speeding to save a burning ship or warn the king he was about to be blown up than did some of the others; and when this guide turned into a long, brilliantly lighted room, Christopher, having nothing better to do, entered too.
"You haven't finished that bracket clock yet, have you, McPhearson?" called the salesman, approaching a little old man who with a microscope to one eye was bending over a bench littered with small steel tools.
"Not yet, Bailey," the clockmaker replied without, however, looking up. "She's a queer piece, that clock—not one for ordinary treatment."
"But you can put her in shape, can't you?" came a bit anxiously from Bailey.
At the words a slow smile puckered the Scotchman's lips and for the first time he stole a glance at the speaker.
"Don't fret, Bailey," he drawled.
"I'm not fretting, Mr. McPhearson. But the woman who owns that clock won't sleep nights until she gets it home again."
"I don't blame her," was all McPhearson said.
"It's a good one, eh?"
"It's a dandy. I'd give my head for one like it. Genuine from start to finish and listed in the book. It was made by Richard Parsons of Number 15 Goswell Street, London, somewhere about 1720—at least he is down as a member of the Clockmakers' Company right along then. Pity he can't know his handiwork is still doing duty. He'd be proud of it. Two hundred years or more isn't a bad record for a clock."
"Two hundred years!" gasped Christopher involuntarily.
McPhearson peeped up over his microscope.
"This is Mr. Burton's son, McPhearson," put in Bailey.
"I know, I know. I've seen him round here ever since he could toddle. Good morning, youngster. So you've come to explore the repairing department, have you?"
The informality of the greeting was delightful to Christopher, and immediately his heart went out to the old Scotchman.
"I guess so, yes," smiled he. "I didn't know I was going to though. It just happened."
"It's not a bad happen, perhaps. Make yourself at home, laddie. Here's a stool."
"I'd rather stand and watch you."
"But I sha'n't let you. It makes me nervous to have somebody hanging over my shoulder and maybe jogging my elbow. If you're to stay you must sit," was the brusque but not unkindly answer.
Somewhat crestfallen the boy slipped to the stool and for a few moments remained immovable, watching the workman's busy fingers. How carefully they moved—with what fascinating deftness and rapidity!
"I see you are not one to keep hitching and twiddling around," the clockmaker presently remarked, with a twinkle. "We shall get on famously together. I detest nervous people."
"Are you fixing the clock Mr. Bailey was asking about?" Christopher ventured.
"Not just now, sonny. I am finishing up a simpler job. I shall go back to her in a minute, however. You can't just tinker her at will as you do common clocks. She has to be dreamed over."
"Dreamed over!" repeated Christopher, not a little puzzled.
"Aye, dreamed over! Well-nigh prayed over—if it comes to that," continued the old man gravely. "She isn't the sort that was turned out in a factory, you see, along with hundreds of others of her kind. She's an aristocrat and must be treated accordingly."
"Do you mean it—she—was made by hand?"
"Every wheel and rivet of her!"
"But I thought the works of all clocks were alike," asserted Christopher.
"Bless your heart, no. Nowadays most of them are; and there are advantages in it too, for when a part gives out, you can easily get another to replace it. But years ago in the days of the clockmakers' guilds, clocks were made by hand and were frequently entirely the work of one man—except perhaps the case, which was sometimes made by a joiner."
"This old bracket clock, for instance, that I was speaking of—a fellow named Richard Parsons, who belonged to the London Clockmakers' Company between 1690 and 1730, made her from start to finish. You will see his name painted on the dial, and engraved on the works is his address. The jealous old clockmakers kept their eye on those who were manufacturing clocks, I can tell you. They weren't going to have a lot of cheap, poorly made articles shunted off on the public to ruin their trade. No, indeed. A man must serve a long apprenticeship before he could be admitted to the Clockmakers' Company and once enrolled must put his address in all his clocks so everybody would know he had a right to make and sell them."
"It wasn't a bad idea."
"Not at all bad. Nevertheless, the clockmakers were a stern, tyrannical lot. Nobody within twenty miles of London was allowed to make a clock unless enrolled in their organization. Moreover, they got from the king a right of search which enabled them to go in and seize any goods which they suspected fell below the standard. Not only did they want to be sure no poor clocks were made but they also wished to keep the monopoly of all the timepieces turned out.
"For example, when war in France drove many of the French artisans to England, up rose the London clockmakers to protest against any of the French makers practicing their craft within their domains. Fortunately the petition was denied and at length these skilled workmen were enrolled in the company and together with their descendants gave to England some of her most beautiful clocks. But the old guild members did not suffer it without a wrench, I can tell you."
McPhearson took up a small screwdriver and proceeded to fasten the back on to the clock he held in his hand.
"It wasn't all smooth sailing, being a clockmaker in those days," he declared. "What wonder the horologers were jealous of their art? Just remember there were no factories to produce for you the screws, rivets, wheels, and parts you needed. You yourself had to make everything with the scant supply of tools at your command, usually a file, drill, and hammer. With these you hammered out your brass wheels to the required thickness, notched the teeth in their edges with the file, and fitted them into place. And when you consider that with this crude equipment you were expected to turn out a mechanism delicate enough to tell time, I am sure you will agree the stern old clockmakers had something on their side."
"They sure had!" Christopher exclaimed with enthusiasm.
"It is a glory to this Richard Parsons' skill that two hundred years after he made his clock it is still accurately performing its task. If anything I made was in existence at the end of a like stretch of time and was continuing to be useful, I should feel I had a right to be proud, shouldn't you?"
"You bet I would. Nothing I make ever stays together more than a week."
The Scotchman laughed at the boyish confession.
"Now you can understand, I guess, why I sent Bailey away, telling him I should have to dream over this bracket clock. Two hundred years is a long time and methods have changed greatly since then. Therefore in order to repair such a product, I shall have to think myself back into the year 1700 and work in the fashion Richard Parsons did; otherwise I cannot successfully take up his handiwork. A clockmaker has to have imagination, you see."
"I never thought of that."
"It is such puzzles as these that make my trade interesting," McPhearson observed. "If every clock that came to me was of precisely the same pattern as every other, the work I do would be monotonous enough. But it is because clocks are as different as people that they pique my curiosity. Even those turned out in factories, for example, are never twice alike."
"I should think those would have to be alike," Christopher responded.
"You'd think so, and so would I if I had not handled so many and learned otherwise. No, every clock has its personality, its little tricks. One doesn't like a cold room, perhaps, and as a protest will stop or lose time; another shows its disapproval of the heat by being ten minutes fast. Still another balks at an incline in the mantelpiece, so slight that nobody can see it, and will not tick even. So it goes. And it is not always the most expensive clocks and watches, either, that keep the best time, for sometimes a cheap affair will, for reasons not to be fathomed, put to shame your costly one. Not infrequently I take to pieces a fine clock or watch and fail to find anything the matter with it, and yet it will not go as it should. The creatures actually seem to be stubborn and take notions just as people do."
"I'd no idea clocks were like that," mused Christopher.
"That's because you haven't lived with them more than half a century as I have," the old man returned in friendly fashion. "I've summered and wintered them, you see, for fifty years and know their tricks and their manners. But this clock of Richard Parsons has no such caprices. It is a fine, sensible clock that goes faithfully about its business unless hindered by the lack of a rivet or a drop of oil. Just now its chimes are bothering; but we'll have them right after a little."
"Has it chimes?"
"Aye, surely. It has eight bells, though it is a small clock for the table or mantelpiece. The people of 1700 loved music and so did the clockmakers. Therefore clocks like this, that would play a different tune every day of the week, were in great demand. Maybe you never happened to see an old bracket clock of the long ago."
"No, I never did." Christopher shook his head.
"I'll go and fetch it. To tell you the truth, I put it away so it shouldn't be a temptation to me. Otherwise I'd be fussing with it and letting commonplace things such as this go."
McPhearson rose and shuffled away, only to return a few moments later carrying the bracket clock by its brass handle.
"So you never saw an old fellow like this, eh?" inquired he with evident satisfaction.
"No. I certainly never saw a clock with a brass handle on top to carry it by," confessed Christopher.
"And what do you say to its glass back and its beautifully chased works?" McPhearson turned his treasure round. "It was made to set on a table you see, or before the mirror that hung above the fireplace, in either of which spots the back of it would show almost as much as the front. Therefore its works were engraved, that one side should be quite as pleasing as the other."
"It's a beauty, isn't it?"
"Well, you won't see many like it," the Scotchman asserted proudly. "Not but what a good number of them were turned out in England between 1670 and 1750. But that was a long while ago, and things get scattered and are crowded out by newer fashions; besides, antique clocks are not always cared for and kept running. Then, too, it isn't always possible to find people who understand repairing such old fellows," McPhearson explained modestly. "As I said, they have to be taken as special cases and no end of thought put into them. More clocks are ruined by ignorant doctoring than by anything else. This one, thank goodness, has evidently always had intelligent care; if it hadn't it would not be ticking now."
Gently the man put his burden on the workbench.
It was a square clock with arched top and brass feet; and its face, suggesting that of a grandfather clock, was quaintly decorated with garlands of red roses. It had beautifully pierced hands, small brass cherub's heads at the corners, and at the top a single small hand pointed to its musical repertoire which consisted of: cotillion, jig, minuet, song, air, dance, and hymn.
"You can take your choice of tunes, you see," explained McPhearson. "There is one for every day of the week. All you have to do is to shift the indicator round to what your want to hear. It chimes every three hours—at six, nine, twelve, and three o'clock, and just before the music begins, it strikes one to indicate the hour."
"I wish I could hear it play."
"You shall by and by. And you may select the tune if you like. It has a pretty tone, something like that of a music box; and the selections are pretty, too—old-fashioned airs that were familiar to the people of that day and are now curious and interesting. I want you to notice the brass spandrels while you are about it, for it is those that do much in helping us determine the dates when old clocks were made."
"I'm afraid I don't know what a spandrel is," Christopher announced with appealing frankness.
"And what marvel? How should you?" his companion replied pleasantly. "You have been such a good listener that I was forgetting you had not been brought up among clocks as I have been. Well, a spandrel is the small brass ornament at the corner that fills in the triangular gap left between the circular face and the square outline of the case. Some clocks have four of these, others such as this one only two. These ornaments were roughly cast in brass and afterward more carefully lacquered and finished by the clockmaker himself. Sometimes, however, we find them crudely executed as if they had been taken direct from the mold. Clockmakers of that time were not so inventive as we; neither had they had training in design, and as a result we see little variety in these brass ornamentations. At one period all these spandrels took the form of cherub's heads, an idea that may possibly have been copied from the Italians. Later a pattern with two cherubs supporting a crown was popular; and at a still later date the head of the cherub set in a scroll is found. That is the pattern on this one. The brass basketwork across the top is a relic of the old bird-cage clock which just preceded this one, and was cast by the metalsmith and then purchased by the clockmaker as were the spandrels.
"Since we know the approximate date that such metal work was done and have in addition Richard Parsons' name listed among the London Clockmakers' Company together with his address, there is pretty positive evidence that this antique is genuine."
"Was a list of all the London clockmakers kept?" questioned Christopher incredulously.
"Of those who belonged to the Clockmakers' Company, yes; but there were many excellent makers who lived in the country and therefore did not belong to this guild. Those who were members were, you may be moderately certain, fine workmen. For that matter you may rest assured that any old clock of early make which is still doing duty is a good clock; it would not be going now if it weren't."
"Of course. But Richard Parsons was really in the list, was he?"
"He was; his name, address, date of apprenticeship and the name of the maker to whom he was apprenticed; also the dates when he was admitted to the most worshipful Clockmakers' Company. So you see, although he lived long ago, Richard Parsons is no stranger to us."
"It makes you feel different when you know who he was, doesn't it?" commented Christopher slowly.
"Yes, and his work helps us to know a good deal about him too, for no lazy, careless person turned out such a clock as this. We must nevertheless take into consideration that in 1700 men had the leisure for careful handiwork. Nobody was in a hurry in those days. Richard Parsons, in his shop at Number 15 Goswell Street, had all the time in the world to make his clock, and could fuss about and experiment to his heart's content. Probably no one ever thought of jogging him on or pestering him to know if his work wasn't done."
Ruefully McPhearson shrugged his shoulders.
"Now I couldn't make a clock even were I so minded," he continued with a whimsical smile. "Mr. Bailey and a score of others as anxious as he would be prancing in here every half-hour to find out when it would be finished. They would expect it to be made, wound up, and ticking, inside a week. It was not so in the days of Queen Anne." The Scotchman sighed, then added, "Sometimes I envy them their leisure."
Once more he turned the clock round so Christopher could see its old-fashioned face gay with dainty vines and flowers.
"I declare if it isn't almost twelve o'clock," ejaculated he. "It's only three minutes behind schedule to-day. Still we must get it down finer than that. Besides, I'd rather it gained than lost time; losing is a grievous fault. Now what selection shall we play? Choose quickly for there isn't much leeway—"
"I'll have the dance."
"On with the dance!" McPhearson exclaimed gayly.
Opening the door at the front he moved the single hand until it pointed to the air desired. And he was none too soon, for an instant later the clock struck the hour and then, after a short pause, Christopher heard the tinkle of bells, thin, clear, and sweet, beginning to play a quaint snatch of melody. It was not at all the sort of dance music the boy had expected. Instead it was a merry little tune so gay one could not but be glad that noontide had come and that the sun rode high in the heavens.
"Jove, but that's jolly!" cried Christopher with delight. "I wish it would play right over again. If I had a clock like that I should run to listen to it every time it struck."
"That is what our men here did at first," laughed McPhearson. "They all threw down their tools and rushed here like a pack of children."
"Couldn't anybody buy one of these clocks?"
"I'm afraid were you to try to, you would find it would cost a small fortune," answered the Scotchman. "Once you could have secured such an article at a very modest price; but values increase with time, and to-day the work of Richard Parsons and those like him is at a premium. Moreover, old bracket clocks are not often for sale. Those who own them are aware of their value and will not part with them."
"Then I guess all I can do is to listen to this one," sighed Christopher.
"That is all I can do myself," McPhearson declared, with a wan smile. "I should consider I had a fortune could I own a treasure like this. But at least if I cannot own it, I can have the fun of keeping it running and there is some satisfaction in that."
"I should think there'd be a lot!" cried Christopher.
CHRISTOPHER ESCAPES BEING A HERO
Leaving the repairing department, Christopher strolled to the edge of the balcony and idly looked down. Below all was bustle and brilliancy. Brass, copper, silver, and jewels flashed in the light of the galleries beneath him, which despite the fact that Thanksgiving was barely over, were already astir with the vanguard of Christmas shoppers. Far down on the main door he could see men and women in eager consultation over Colonial silver, Sheffield trays, gay-colored feather fans and multi-hued parasols.
For quite an interval he watched, deriving no small degree of amusement from the uncertainty, anxiety, animated gestures and helpless bewilderment of some of the less inspired of the visitors; then, wearying of this entertainment, he descended by the stairway to the third and afterward to the second gallery, where he again paused to lean over the carved rail and obtain a closer view of the panorama.
It chanced that just beneath him was a long showcase filled with gems before which two gentlemen in fur coats were standing, earnestly conversing with the salesman. On the counter lay a tray of rings and these one of the men was trying on and examining. It was plain from the clerk's eager manner that his prospective purchaser was wavering between two costly articles, neither one of which quite suited him. With desperate earnestness the salesman pleaded, cajoled, and argued, and unconsciously Christopher, looking down, became almost as interested as he to see what would come of the matter.
The taller man slipped a band of diamonds on his finger, turned it round, held the hand it graced at arm's length, then frowned, took off the ring, and tried the other.
Meantime his friend was called on for his opinion and advised sympathetically. Christopher pursed his lips scornfully. The two were like a pair of vain old peacocks and silly as women, thought he. How foolish for men to be wearing jewels, anyway. You wouldn't catch him arrayed in a big diamond ring. And the strangest part of it was that the man who was thus frittering away his money did not look at all like a fop but was tall, muscular, and had a scar, not unlike a sword cut, across his right cheek. It was a strange mark that ran from his ear almost to the corner of his mouth, and it gave his face a disagreeable, sinister expression.
His comrade was less robust—a small, wiry fellow, who seemed lost in the heavy coat he wore. In spite of the heat of the room, he had not turned down his collar, which all but concealed his face, and once Christopher noticed that he leaned surreptitiously forward and drew that of his companion higher about his ears. Thus they dallied, laughing, joking, objecting, until the distracted clerk, fearful lest he lose such promising customers, was well-nigh out of his wits. It seemed as if they never would be suited, and at last, suddenly inspired, the salesman dashed off to the farther end of the show case in evident search for something he had forgotten to show them.
It was during the instant he was thus occupied that Christopher saw, or thought he saw, the taller of the men wrench the ring he was wearing from his finger, drop it inside his glove, and substitute for it one his companion handed him. The exchange—if exchange it was—took place in a flash and was over so quickly the boy could scarcely believe his eyes. A second later the clerk returned triumphantly, displayed another ring, and renewed his attentions without noticing anything amiss. But his purchasers shook their heads, pushed the rings aside, and moved away.
Then, and not until then, was Christopher urged to action. He awakened as out of a dream, wondering whether what he had witnessed was real, and if it was, what he ought to do. The two fur-coated gentlemen were almost at the door. If he was to do anything at all, it must be now. Fortunately a stairway was at no great distance; and he raced down it as fast as his feet would carry him. When he reached the street floor, the door had, alas, closed on the suspected thieves. It came to him now how much wiser it would have been had he shouted from the balcony, instead of waiting to descend. If he had done that the men might have been stopped before they got away. But it was all so unbelievable that he hadn't the nerve to cry out. Had he been mistaken, a pretty sort of fool he would have appeared; besides, he had not thought of it. His bright ideas always seemed to come afterward.
Well, at any rate he was alert enough now. It took him no time to rush up to the perspiring clerk, who, discouraged, stood mopping his brow, and gasp:
"Those men—one of them took a ring—I saw him."
"He did. He put it in his glove."
"But the rings are all here."
"It was another one," panted Christopher. "His friend slipped it to him and he—"
The salesman paled. Breathlessly he dragged out the tray of rings and pounced upon one of them.
"My soul!" he faltered weakly. "You're right. It's a fake. There's no mark on it. Ring, Grant! Ring that bell for the detective. The 'phone—quick—and call headquarters! We'll put somebody on their track as fast as ever we can." Then, turning to Christopher, he shouted accusingly, "Why in the deuce didn't you sing out before they got away? And where were you, anyhow, that you saw the affair?"
While the other clerks at the counter gathered round Christopher, he related exactly what he had witnessed.
"You'd know the chaps again?"
"I'd know the big one—I'm sure I should, because of the scar on his cheek."
"Scar? I didn't notice it," murmured the unhappy salesman. "I was too busy listening to their blarney, I guess. They meant I should be, too—idiot that I was. I can't see why you didn't sing out, kid." The clerk, thoroughly demoralized, had apparently entirely forgotten that Christopher was the son of the senior partner.
"I was too surprised! It was all so quick, you see. It almost seemed as if it hadn't happened," repeated the boy wretchedly.
"Why blame the boy, Hollings, when you yourself hadn't the wit to be on your guard?" put in the man called Grant.
"That's so! That's so!" moaned the unfortunate fellow.
"At least he has lost little time. He has given us pretty prompt warning and enabled us to get our nets out much sooner than we should have otherwise. But for him, you might not have discovered anything was wrong before night."
"I know. Yes, he's done a big service, certainly. But it would have been a bigger had he stopped the thieves before they made their get-away."
"There is no use to go back to that. Neither you nor I would, perhaps, have done better. Had he shouted from the balcony and accused two innocent customers of stealing, we should have been a sight worse off. The lad was just being prudent."
"Yes! Yes, he did the wise thing, I guess, since he wasn't sure."
"We cannot insult patrons without proof."
"Besides, if Master Christopher took good heed of the rascals and can help to identify them, he will do still further service."
"To be sure—yes—yes—of course," the distraught clerk answered. "But it is all very unfortunate. To think of their putting it over on me—me, who have been here twenty years and never lost an article. It's terrible!"
"Cheer up, Hollings."
"I shall lose my place," wailed Hollings. "Lose it as sure as the world. Wait until the boss hears of it."
"My father is never unjust," Christopher put in stoutly.
"Your father? I beg your pardon, Mr. Christopher. I'd forgotten you were here, sir. No, your father always does the square thing," Hollings hastened to declare. "But he'll not understand. He'll think I should have been more careful! And so I had—I won't deny it. But my wife and children—my God!"
"Come, come, Hollings," interrupted a newcomer, whom the group greeted as Mr. Rhinehart. "There's no good crying over spilled milk. We may get the ring back again, you know."
"Oh, do you think so?"
"There is a good chance of it. I have telephoned and headquarters has its nets set already. The pawnshops are watched and so are the roads out of the city. The police, too, have their orders. Any minute we expect the inspector to talk with you and this young gentleman here."
"With me?" Christopher exclaimed with a start.
"Surely! You're the hero of this adventure, son."
"Not much of a hero, I'm afraid."
"Well, you're the one who escaped being the hero, then," laughed Mr. Rhinehart. "At least, you know more of the affair than does anybody else."
"But I'd be scared to death of the inspector," faltered the boy.
"Pooh! He's only a man, sonny, like any other. You've nothing to fear from him, since you are on the right side of the fence. If you were on the wrong side, then indeed you might tremble."
"The inspector has arrived," a messenger from upstairs announced. "He is in Mr. Burton's office with the members of the firm. He wishes to see the house detective, the salesman, and young Burton."
"I guess I'm in for it," Hollings whispered to Mr. Rhinehart.
"Nonsense! Tell the truth—that's all you've got to do."
"But I was such a duffer!"
"I fumbled the ball, too, Mr. Hollings," interrupted Christopher consolingly. "Remember I didn't play a very brilliant game."
"The game wasn't up to you, sonny," Hollings returned. "It was I. I did the foozling."
Up they shot in the elevator.
The messenger in his uniform and buttons went ahead and opened the door.
"Mr. Hollings is here, sir," announced he. "And Mr. Christopher and the detective, Mr. Waldron."
As the three crossed the threshold and entered the office, Christopher saw Mr. Norcross and the inspector. A deep hush was upon the room. Not only did its occupants look grave—they looked severe—awesome. One glance and the lad did not wonder poor Hollings' knees knocked together. Mr. Norcross was imposing enough, but the inspector was even worse; and as for the senior partner of the firm—well, he was Mr. Christopher Mark Antony Burton, third, arrayed in his most awful dignity. Even his son trembled before him.
AN ENCOUNTER WITH THE POLICE
"And so, Hollings," the great Mr. Burton began, "while your back was turned, you have lost some of our valuable diamonds."
"My back was not turned, sir," objected Hollings. "I merely looked away a minute."
"Long enough to give a pair of thieves the opportunity to work."
"It hardly seemed so."
"But it was."
"I'm afraid so, Mr. Burton. I am deeply sorry, sir; and yet had I it to do over again I hardly see—"
"It wasn't his fault, Dad—indeed it wasn't. I saw the whole thing, you know. It was done so fast you almost thought your eyes deceived you."
"Oh, the men were experts. There can be no questions about that!" cut in the deep voice of the inspector. "Now, Mr. Burton, instead of wasting time in reprimands, we've got to get down to facts. May I question these people?"
"Certainly, certainly!" Mr. Burton, however, seemed to be taken aback at being treated with such scant ceremony. "This is Mr. Hollings, the clerk; and this lad is my son, Christopher."
"Very good! Now, Mr. Hollings, suppose you tell your tale first. Relate exactly what happened—not what you thought or supposed. Stick to facts."
"I will, sir."
In a trembling voice Hollings began his story, and as he recounted it, Mr. Inspector jotted it down, merely pausing now and then to ask a curt question.
"Can you describe the men?" inquired he, when the narrative was finished.
"I'm afraid I can't, sir, beyond the fact that both of them wore raccoon motoring coats, and kept their collars pretty well turned up. You see I was far too much occupied with what they were saying to consider how they looked."
"You could not identify them then?"
"Not positively—no, I regret to say I couldn't. I might possibly recognize the hand or the voice of the big man."
"The one who tried on the rings?"
"But you could not pick him out from a group of others or identify him by photograph."
"No, I couldn't."
"That's a pity. In your work you should be more observing."
"I know I should. I will be in the future."
The inspector smiled grimly.
"We all lock the gate after the cows are out of the pasture," commented he. "Well, if this is all you can offer, I'll try the boy. Your name, sonny."
"Christopher Mark Antony Burton, fourth," interrupted his father in an aggrieved tone.
"Does all that belong to you?" asked the inspector, his eyes fixed on the lad's face with hawk-like scrutiny.
"I'm afraid it does."
"Afraid, Christopher!" Mr. Burton ejaculated. "Afraid! Why, it is a fine, honorable name. Your grandfather and your great-grandfather—"
"Suppose we omit his grandfathers for the present," said the inspector, unceremoniously putting an end to Mr. Burton's dissertation. "So that's your name, is it?"
"Why didn't you give the whole of it at the beginning?"
"Oh, because there are such yards of it."
The inspector grinned.
"Now be good enough to tell us your version of this affair. Relate exactly what you saw, heard, and did."
"I'm afraid I didn't do much," protested Christopher sheepishly.
"You might have done more and I won't deny I wish to goodness you had. However, you acted with considerable sense. You might have done worse—much worse."
"I'm glad if you think so," the boy asserted modestly. "It seemed to me afterward that I had been very stupid. It all was so quick! Almost like sleight-of-hand."
"You were up against experts, sonny," Mr. Inspector remarked more gently than he had yet spoken. "You did well to detect them at all. Now fire ahead with your yarn."
In simple, straightforward fashion Christopher told his story and it was evident several parts afforded his critical listener satisfaction, for twice he muttered beneath his breath:
"Very good! Very good!"
The tale finished, Christopher paused, breathless.
"Could you give me any description of these fellows?" his cross questioner inquired.
"The big chap—the one who tried on the rings—was tall, heavy, had light hair and a bald spot on the top of his head. I looked right down on it."
"His eyes I could not see. His face was smooth-shaven, and on his right cheek, going from his ear almost to the corner of his mouth, was a white, queer sort of scar that—"
The inspector started from his seat, then sank back again.
"Ah!" was all he said. "And the other fellow?"
"Small, dark, black-haired, with a coat much too big for him. His nose was sharp, and he kept looking over his shoulder."
"I'm afraid that's all, except that his hands were dirty as if they had been in ink or grease or something. Maybe they hadn't, though."
The inspector beamed upon him.
"You have a very observing son, Mr. Burton, very! He's a fine lad. You should be proud of him."
"Has he helped you at all?"
"At all? He has given me precisely the information I was after."
"And you think you could identify the men?"
"I know them already."
"Know who they are?" gasped Christopher.
It was obvious the expert was enjoying the lad's mystification.
"You don't mean you know their names," persisted Christopher.
"Indeed I do—all their many names, for they have almost as long a list of them as you have yourself."
The inspector evidently considered this a good joke, for he laughed heartily at it without noticing how the great Mr. Burton glared at him.
"And not only do I know their names, but I have their pictures as well," he continued, when he had done laughing. "What do you think of that?"
"Met them before, have you?" interrogated Mr. Burton, his disapproval mollified to some degree by his pride in his son.
"Oh, I know all about that pair," replied the inspector; "if they prove to be the couple I think them. No wonder your clerk failed to suspect them. They are very polished gentleman."
"They were indeed, sir," Hollings put in. "They had a million-dollar air about them."
"I know they had. They are crackajacks at this sort of thing. They are wanted this minute in Chicago for a job not unlike this one."
Christopher's face glowed with excitement. To think he had actually beheld two such desperate characters and given evidence against them! If he had only spoken sooner and helped to capture them!
Something of this regret probably shadowed his brow, for the inspector added:
"They would have managed their get-away even had you given the alarm, son. Both were doubtless well armed and prepared to make their escape. Taken by surprise, as you clerks all were, no one could have stopped them. They would have shot any person who obstructed their dash for liberty."
"Do you think so?" Poor Hollings drew a breath of relief.
"I know it. They've done it before. They had their pistols and a waiting motor car, and had no mind to be caught."
"Then if I'd yelled from the balcony—"
"It would have done no good and would, perhaps, have done much harm instead. You would merely have furnished an alarm on which they would instantly have acted. As it is, we know them, and our nets are out. I would, however, like to take your son down to headquarters, Mr. Burton, and let him look over our photographs just to see if he can pick these winners from the bunch."
"Certainly, sir. Certainly! Get your hat and coat, Christopher. I believe I'll go along too, Mr. Inspector, if you are willing. My son and I were just starting out to lunch."
"By all means; I have a car here."
"I don't suppose I could persuade you to—"
"No, thank you, Mr. Burton. I'm up to my ears in business, sir. However, you are very kind. I must get right back to headquarters as fast as I can."
"This is a detailed description of the ring, is it?" continued he, tapping an envelope he held in his hand. "Size of the diamonds, their weight, the complete record?"
"Good. I guess that's all we need."
"Do you think you will be able to—"
"To land the jewels, you mean? I can't tell you that, sir. It's too early in the game."
"I suppose so. It was a foolish question."
Evidently the inspector was of the same opinion, for he made no answer.
"Well, that's all, Hollings," announced the great man, turning to his clerk. "You may go now."
"I hope and pray the ring may be recovered, sir. I shall not have a happy moment until it is."
"All that must rest with the police. The case is in their keeping now," was his employer's terse reply.
In the meantime, Mr. Norcross had not said anything at all. He seldom did say anything. But as the group rose to depart, he dragged himself up out of his chair and, as if giving his blessing to the enterprise, remarked:
"Good luck to you, Inspector!"
"Thank you, sir."
Then Christopher, his father and the Chief entered the elevator and afterward the car that took them to headquarters.
Here the boy had displayed before him an array of photographs from which he had not the slightest trouble in picking that of the man with the scar; but his sharp-nosed companion he was unable to identify.
"I thought I'd recognize him anywhere," lamented Christopher. "His hair was so black and thick that—"
At the words, the inspector jumped a little.
"Ha!" exclaimed he. "Tony wore a wig, did he?" He opened a drawer. "Any of these look like him?"
He passed to Christopher a handful of pictures.
"There he is," cried the lad presently, choosing one out of the lot. "There he is! Only he didn't have his glasses on."
"I fancy he isn't dependent on them all the time," chuckled the inspector. "Well done, my boy. Yes, that's Tony when he's dressed up. The reason you didn't recognize him was because in the other picture he wasn't. Clothes do not make the man, but wigs, glasses, and things change him a good deal. That's all, gentlemen. I now have all the information I wish, and need not detain you."
"I suppose I shall be notified when any news is obtained," said Mr. Burton, rising. He wasn't used to being dismissed in this curt fashion. When any dismissing was to be done, it was usually he who did it.
"Yes, sir. As soon as anything definite is known. Good morning!" But to Christopher he reached out a detaining hand. "You've done uncommonly well, sonny," he whispered. "Don't worry because you didn't land the chaps. I'm only thankful you didn't give them the chance to shoot you. We'll have the birdies yet."
"Shall I have to go to court?"
"Court? Perhaps. But, Lord! A boy that can tell as straight a story as you needn't fear that. It's not half as bad as being stood up to face me."
"I didn't mind you at all."
"I'm glad of that. I don't want my job to turn me into an ogre. There are people who don't feel that way about me." He laughed slyly. "Don't you fret about being haled into court. Several persons besides ourselves wish to meet those two distinguished gentlemen we are after. When we get them they will have to be shipped to Chicago and various other cities. You stand a slim chance of having any very extensive acquaintance with them."
The voice of Mr. Burton, who was loitering impatiently outside, was now heard calling:
"That's your dad. He's getting tired of cooling his heels in the corridor. He isn't used to it. Better trot along, sonny. Somebody might mistake him for a questionable character and run him in."
The inspector's hearty "Haw, haw!" lent to his laughter the suspicion that he found something intensely humorous about Mr. Christopher Mark Antony Burton, third, senior partner of the firm of Burton and Norcross.
CHRISTOPHER ASTONISHES HIMSELF
It does not take long for news to travel, and when Christopher entered the shop the next morning it was to find himself quite a hero. On every hand clerks saluted him with such greetings as:
"Well, how is Sherlock Holmes to-day?"
"Have you been landing any more bandits, Mr. Christopher?"
"Joined the secret service yet, Master Christopher?"
Poor Christopher, who was none too proud of the part he had played, was a good deal abashed; nevertheless he tried to accept the banter cheerfully, perceiving that it was kindly intentioned. But the glory of it paled at last, and, weary of such jests, he fled to seek out McPhearson, who, he felt sure, would offer him no flattery.
The Scotchman was so busy toiling over the bracket clock with the chimes that he did no more than glance up when the boy dropped down on the stool opposite.
"I hear you did a pretty bit of work yesterday," he at last remarked.
"No, I didn't. On the contrary I was darn stupid. I had the chance to be a hero, but I muffed it."
"They didn't seem to think so downstairs," was the clockmaker's laconic retort.
"Oh, I didn't do much of anything, honest I didn't, Mr. McPhearson. I just happened along at the right time—or, perhaps—at the wrong," explained the boy with an embarrassed laugh.
"Apparently it was decidedly at the wrong," observed the old man, continuing to file with extreme care a bit of brass he held between his fingers.
Christopher watched, admiring the speed and skill of his gnarled fingers.
"How's she getting along?" ventured he after a long silence.
"She's about O. K. now. Running fine—I'm just tinkering the catch on the door, for even Richard Parsons cannot coax things into wearing forever. She'll go home to-day."
There was a sigh from the Scotchman.
"I do believe you're sorry to be done with her," asserted the boy mischievously. A second later, however, he regretted his impulsive jest, for his companion answered gravely:
"I am. I've enjoyed working on her. I'd be far sorrier, though, did I not know she is going where she will be appreciated. The woman that owns her watches over her as if she were a live creature—and indeed she is—almost."
"It's nice to feel she isn't being wasted on some dumbbell, isn't it?" declared Christopher, catching the old man's enthusiasm.
"She's not being wasted. I can answer for that. I know the house where she lives well, for I've been there times without number to regulate clocks. There are some beauties and they have the history of every one of them—the name of the maker, the date when they were made, the place, and all. I like to handle clocks for people like that. It shows they are intelligent and care. Some folks do not know one thing about their clocks. They won't even take the trouble to wind them regularly. Nevertheless they are the first ones to fuss if the poor things fail to keep good time. I wonder how they would like, for example, to have their meals served to them just whenever somebody happened to think of it."
Christopher nodded agreement with the sentiment.
"To be sure," McPhearson continued, "people sometimes own clocks that aren't worth much pains. Still, it's only right to keep them cleaned and help them to do the best they can, even at that. All clocks can't be Tompions, or Grahams, or Quares, any more than we can all be Washingtons and Lincolns. It isn't their fault nor ours."
"You care a lot about clocks, don't you?" meditated Christopher aloud.
"I suppose I do," the old man confessed. "Clocks have come to be almost people to me; in fact, some of them are a good sight better than people. By that, I mean they have finer traits. They go quietly ahead and do their work without bluster or complaint. When they don't it is usually because something's the matter with them. They are patient, faithful, useful, and were they to be taken out of the world they would be terribly missed and would leave it a pretty higgledy-piggledy place."
"I guess there is no danger of the world being without clocks," returned Christopher comfortably. "There seem to be plenty to go round."
"But there weren't always plenty," broke in McPhearson quickly. "You chance to live in a fortunate age, young man, and do not half appreciate your blessings. Had you lived a few hundred years ago you would have had no clocks."
"Mercy on us! Why, how on earth did people manage to get on without them?"
"Primitive persons studied the sun and calculated by that," McPhearson responded. "Then some ingenious creature thought out the sundial whereby the hour could be gauged by a shadow; also marks were made where the sun would strike at a given time—perhaps at noon. Such a notch was called the noon mark."
"Oh, gee! But suppose there was no sun?"
"Exactly! Now you have put your finger on the pulse of the dilemma! What was to be done when there was no sun? The sundial at best was none too correct. In different latitudes, too, different markings were needed. Moreover, a sundial, to be of practical value, had to be kept steady. What was to happen on shipboard? On cloudy days? At night?"
"The sundial was about as much good as a fan would be in Greenland," grinned Christopher.
"Yes, just about. It was these sunless hours that were the problem."
"Humph! I never thought of that in my life."
"Most of us don't."
"I suppose that was why people began making clocks."
"You don't for a moment imagine men leaped from sundials to clocks, do you?" interrogated the Scotchman quizzically.
"Oh, perhaps not such nice ones as ours," conceded the boy with easy unconcern. "Still they had to tell time somehow."
"Clocks were a long way off from suns and shadows."
"But what did come next?"
"To sundials, you mean? Well, for a long, long time people could think of nothing better. They introduced trifling remedies now and then, however. For example, in the seventeenth century they evolved a portable dial that could be carried from place to place. Sometimes this was combined with a compass; sometimes it was made in the form of a ring. It was an awkward substitute for the watch, but it was, nevertheless, great-great-great-grandfather to it. Yet advantageous as it was to be able to carry the time about with you, it did nothing to lessen the long, unmarked stretch of darkness that descended upon the earth every night. How was man to solve that difficulty?"
"That was his puzzle—his nut to crack. Throughout the ages it has been conundrums like these that have taxed human ingenuity and made of life such an alluring adventure. On the conquering of difficulties civilization has been built up. Well, man now attacked this problem of telling time. He did not aspire to narrow it down to any very fine point, for at that period of history one day was very like another, and he was a leisurely being with little to do but eat, sleep, fight or hunt. Notwithstanding this, however, he did want to know when it was noon; when it would be day. King Alfred, one of the English monarchs, hit upon a plan for telling the hours of the night by means of tall candles, made to burn a definite interval. When, for example, one of his candles burned out, he knew that four or six hours had passed. Other persons went further and had candles marked off into hours with black and white wax—"
"That was a clever scheme!"
"Clever, yes; and all very well for kings who could afford to burn wax tapers night after night. But there were, alas, many unfortunates who couldn't. Accordingly the obstacle persisted, and urged the world on to the next step up the time-telling ladder."
"And what was that?" demanded Christopher with interest.
"Telling time by water."
"By water! But how?"
"It was not so difficult as it sounds. In reality it was quite a simple plan. The ancients would take a jar, make a tiny hole in the bottom of it, fill it with water, and let the water drip slowly out. Having measured how long it would take to empty the jar, they had a sort of water clock."
"Bravo! That was certainly easy."
"Easy and far better than the sundial, too, for water would drip either in light or darkness, on cloudy days as well as bright ones. By means of marks on the jar, shorter intervals of time could also be determined. The receptacle, however, had to be kept filled and the hole free so there should be no variation in the regularity of the dripping. This water clock was called a clepsydra, the name being taken from two Greek words meaning 'thief of water.' Well, as you may imagine, the populace were delighted with this contrivance. It seemed as if now they certainly had the prize for which they had been searching. Moreover, with the water clock a new factor in time came into being. Instead of telling when, as the sundial did, the clepsydra, by measuring a given interval, told how long, which was a very different thing indeed. In other words it began to draw people's attention to the duration of time."
"That is different, isn't it?" mused the boy.
"Quite another matter altogether," McPhearson said. "Immediately the Athenians, who had invented the device, put it to work and proceeded to limit the length of time speakers should talk in their courts of justice. Evidently then, as now, men were fond of making speeches and arguing and became so fascinated by hearing themselves talk that they forgot to stop. Now here was something that would put a check on them. When a case came up for a hearing, the accuser was allowed the first jar of water, the accused the second, and the judge the third. Stationed beside the clepsydra was a special officer whose duty it was not only to fill it but to stop the flow whenever a speaker was interrupted, thereby making certain he was not cheated of any of the time due him."
"A bully scheme!" Christopher remarked.
"It worked," McPhearson answered. "With such strict rules you may be sure there was none of the thing the Athenians termed 'babbling.' Men guarded their words like jewels when each word meant the dripping away of his allotted time."
"And did people continue to use this water clock?"
"Yes, for quite a time, but after a while they began to find fault with it. In the first place they noticed that when the vessel was full the greater pressure of water caused it to drip much faster than when there was not much in it. This they had not considered before, and the discovery forced them to attempt to improve it. This they did by concocting a sort of double jar. In the lower one there was a float that rose as the container filled; and since the top one was constantly replenished, it kept the pressure in the bottom one uniform."
"The best yet!"
"Much the best. In fact it was a stride ahead from several standpoints, for although it could not really be termed a machine it nevertheless was a device that did for man something he would otherwise have had to do for himself, which is the aim of all machinery. In just that proportion he moved toward a civilization where artificial methods relieved him of his labor. Thus he advanced quite a distance from that primitive condition when he did everything with his hands toward his next state of fashioning tools that would do what he wished to do better and quicker; here was something which worked independently of him."
"Why, so it was! I never thought before that man passed through those three stages," ejaculated Christopher with pleasure; "it makes our old forefathers twice as interesting, doesn't it?"
"Three times as interesting," the Scotchman laughingly responded. "Facts make very delightful stories, if you fasten them together. Scattered, unrelated information is both dry and worthless. It is only when linked up in the chain of history that it becomes interesting and valuable."
"The trouble with me is I never know where the things I learn belong," observed the lad soberly. "It's like fitting pieces into a puzzle when you've no notion what picture you are making."
"I know, sonny," returned the old man with sympathy. "But do not imagine you are the only one who is not always able to put in the proper place the scraps of knowledge in his possession. Many an older person has wondered what part his learning had in the gigantic total of the ages. World history is conceived on a pretty big scale, you see. But that all we glean is somehow linked up with the rest, you may be very sure. Certainly this clepsydra was."
"It's easy enough to see that afterward," asserted Christopher. "And so the Greeks managed to fix up their water clock to their satisfaction, after all."
"Alas, not wholly to their satisfaction," was the answer, "for presently other difficulties concerning it arose. For example, unless the water poured into it was absolutely clean, the hole would fill up and the drip become slower; moreover, you must consider what happened in cold weather, for not only were these water clocks in unheated buildings, but you will recall they were set up in the market place or public square so the villagers might consult them. Here assembled the watch, whose duty it was to patrol the town and blow a horn for the changing of the guard; here, too, was stationed the officer whose duty it was at stated hours to refill the clepsydra."
"Oh, I suppose the darn thing froze—that probably was the next obstacle," grinned Christopher.
"It was," nodded McPhearson.
"Then it couldn't have been much better than the old sundial," the lad sniffed, with contempt.
"It had its outs. Nevertheless it held the front of the stage about two thousand years, and then I am sure you will agree it was high time a better device was substituted."
"And what was that?"
"The sand glass."
"Our hourglass, you mean?"
"Yes—or half-hour, quarter-hour—any fraction of an hour you choose. The idea of the sand glass was not entirely new, because some form of running sand had long before been used in the Far East. But the sand glass as we know it was new to the European world, and you cannot but agree it was a far more practical article than was the clepsydra for it neither froze nor had to be replenished. Moreover, it was lighter, less bulky, and could be carried about, and the old water clocks could not—that is, not without great inconvenience and danger of breaking. Oh, the sand glass was vastly better! Even now, after all these years, it is not entirely out of date, for it is still used to mark definite intervals of time."
"I have one at home to practice by."
"Many persons use them," the clockmaker averred. "It is not unusual to have speakers limit their addresses by them. In fact, a two-minute glass is still employed in the House of Commons and until 1839 the British Navy measured the watch on shipboard by a glass that ran an hour and a half. The marking off of time in such definite lengths as this, however, did not take place in ancient times. At that period people seldom attempted fine measurements of the day. The problem of hours, minutes, seconds, and fractions of them was something they scarcely dreamed of. Nor did they need to cut their time up into such small parts. Life, as I before remarked, was not very rushing. Nobody expected to meet anybody else at a particular instant in those far-away, lazy, easy-going times, or to go anywhere on the minute. If you arrived at where you were going before the darkness fell that was all even the most ambitious asked. The splitting up of time with our present-day nicety is of comparatively modern working out."
"That seems funny, doesn't it?" Christopher suggested.
"Yes, until you see how naturally it grew out of an advancing civilization. After this slow-moving, sleepy interval of idleness and ignorance, when there were no books, no schools, no learning of any kind, there came a great waking up, or Renaissance, which stirred the populace in every direction. Printing was invented, books written, and people, hearing of other lands, began to travel. In consequence life became busier and time more valuable. Moreover, with the spread of Christianity, monasteries and convents were everywhere erected, and attached to these religious orders were specified intervals for work, prayer and various masses and services. Such periods were marked off by the ringing of bells. Thus it happened quite consistently that the first clocks introduced were in religious buildings and on the spires of churches and were without faces or hands, merely indicating by the stroke of one or more bells the termination of the hour."
"But I should not call that a clock at all," Christopher objected.
"Oh, it was a clock. Such a contrivance could not perform its function without works. The bell or bells rung as a result of turning wheels. Moreover, the very word 'clock' is derived from a root which in almost every language means 'bell.' The French was cloche, the Saxon clugga. Thus it came about that later on the works of more modern clocks frequently had two distinct mechanisms: the bell portion that chimed or struck the hour, and the section that included the moving of the hands. Years afterward we find this distinction still maintained, and discover old clockmakers speaking of a clock that did not strike merely as a timekeeper."
"How curious!" murmured Christopher. "And who was it that evolved this machine that would strike the hours?"
"That, I suppose, we shall never positively know; but in all probability it was a monk, who, having considerable leisure at his command and perhaps being held responsible for the ringing of the monastery bell once in so often, bethought himself of a scheme whereby the bell could be made to ring without him. History tells us that William, Abbott of Hirschau, who died toward the end of the eleventh century, invented a horologium modeled after the celestial hemisphere; therefore he may have been the inventor of the clock, for soon after his death these striking bells begin to make their appearance on church towers and in other religious buildings.
"A couple of centuries later we read of clocks being sent as presents. Sultan Saladin sent to Emperor Frederick II a very ambitious article which by means of weights and wheels not only indicated the hours but the course of the sun, moon, and planets. Now who invented such an affair as that we do not know. It must, however, have been some ingenious Saracen who certainly could have heard nothing about the Abbott of Hirschau and his striking bells. Indeed, when one considers the superstition of the age, we cannot but grant it was almost fortunate a clock such as ours was not then invented, for people were great believers in witchcraft and were liable to attribute to evil spirits anything they did not understand, and forthwith destroy it."
"How ridiculous!" scoffed Christopher.
"They were children, remember—intellectual children—ignorant as babies because, poor souls, they had had neither books nor teaching. Savages are, you know, terrified at a thing they cannot fathom and these persons were as yet little more. Well, at any rate, clocks began to make their appearance. By 1286 one of these faceless mechanisms was put up on St. Paul's Cathedral in London; and before 1300, others were, by order of the clergy, installed at Canterbury and Westminster."
"And these just chimed or struck?"
"That is all. On some was a single bell; on others crudely carved wooden figures beat out the hour on a series of bells. All these were known as 'clocks,' the term 'horologe' not yet being in common use."
"Horologe!" repeated Christopher slowly. "You don't suppose that word has anything to do with the Latin hora, meaning hour, do you?"
"I suppose it has a good deal," McPhearson returned with a dry smile.
"Really!" Plainly Christopher was delighted by this discovery. "Well, well! Old Caesar, Esquire, isn't so bad, after all. Hora! I never expected to see the day that stuff would be of any earthly use."
"I told you all you needed to do with what you learn is to link it to something else."
"But I never seemed to be able to hook it on before," confided the lad frankly. "Gee, but it makes me chesty! I'm pleased to death with myself!"
To save himself the old Scotchman could not but chuckle at his companion's naive satisfaction.
"Somehow it's a bit tough to get this linking-up idea just when I can't do any more studying," added the boy a trifle wistfully.
"Oh, you will be back at school before long, son; and if you go back more eager to learn will that not be a gain?"
"Sure it will! Hora! Jove! I made a neat guess, didn't I? And that's where that horologium you were talking about came from, too. I'm not so worse. Miss Alden, my Latin teacher, would fall in a faint if she heard me rolling out these Latin derivatives, I'll bet. I'm not often taken this way. Say, Mr. McPhearson, I seem to be learning quite a lot if I'm not in school. This is a darn pleasanter way to do it, too."
CLOCKS THAT WERE GOOD AS PLAYS
By the end of two weeks, school with its games and its bells for recitation had become a thing of the past and Christopher felt as much at home in his father's shop as if his name was inscribed upon its payroll.
Nevertheless, despite the lapse of time, no trace either of the missing gems or of the two diamond robbers had been secured. Both Mr. Burton and Mr. Norcross were beginning to be discouraged, and feared the culprits would never be captured; even Christopher's hope of seeing his adventure brought to a favorable climax was fading. As for poor Hollings, he was another man altogether and it seemed as if he would never be able to hold his head up again. A part of the value of the gems was, to be sure, covered by burglar insurance, and therefore the loss to the firm would not be great; rather it was the disgrace of the episode that bowed the salesman to the ground. He was an old and trusted employee who took the matter so hard that within the fortnight he aged visibly and his hair actually seemed to whiten. Christopher pitied him and so did everybody else, and by and by public sentiment was almost more concerned with his unhappiness than with the tragedy that caused it.