Crestfallen, the boy sank into a big leather chair in a dim corner of the room.
"and in reply advise you that shipment billed to us via S.S. George Washington has been received, and is in every way satisfactory. We will remit payment as usual through our Amsterdam brokers.
"Appreciating your courteous and reliable service, I remain, Truly yours, Christopher Mark Antony Burton, third."
Mr. Burton came to a stop and leaned back in his massive mahogany chair.
"There, Miss Elkins, get that off immediately," ordered he. "Also the two cablegrams I dictated. That will be all at present. Now, Christopher, suppose you give me your mighty tidings."
A faint note of sarcasm, not lost on the boy, echoed in the words, and with enthusiasm quenched, the lad silently produced his note and laid it on his father's desk.
"What's this?" Mr. Burton asked.
"You can read it."
"A vilely dirty scrap of paper. What have you been doing with it—cleaning your shoes?"
"It was that way when it came."
"Came? Came from whom?"
"Read it and see."
"But the thing has neither beginning nor end. Was it meant for you?"
"Yes, sir. It came through the mail."
Taking the envelope from his pocket, Christopher placed it beside the letter.
Mr. Burton, however, did not heed either object.
Instead, with deliberation, he took off his glasses, wiped them and put them back on his nose. Then he lighted a fresh cigar. Even an observer less keen than his son could have detected that the major portion of his mind was still occupied by the cablegrams and dictation that had previously engaged him, and that he anticipated no very vital disclosures from the morsel of grimy paper he so gingerly took up.
Slowly he read it. Then the boy, watching, saw his figure become tense, and a flash of amazement light his eyes.
"Great Heavens!" cried he, startled out of his customary dignity. "It's from Stuart. Why didn't you say so at once?"
"I tried to tell you."
"Yes, yes. I know! But I had no idea you had anything as important as this to say. If you had only explained—"
"I was going to, only you—"
"Well, we won't stop to discuss all that now. I'll call Corrigan immediately. I don't suppose there is any chance but the note is genuine. Why, it would be a seven-days' wonder if we should get those stones back. The insurance money was no compensation for them. We could not buy three such perfectly matched diamonds had we ten times their price. Of course there is a possibility this letter may be a fake, but somehow I've a feeling it is real. We'll consult Corrigan and see what he says."
Mr. Burton reached for the telephone.
"Hello! Give me Plaza 77098.—Is Mr. Corrigan there?—Just going out?—Catch him before he leaves, and tell him, please, that Mr. Burton wishes to speak with him." A pause followed, in which Mr. Burton nervously drummed on his desk. Then he leaned forward expectantly. "Mr. Corrigan? This is Mr. Burton speaking. I've some news for you. My son has this morning received from Chicago a letter purporting to come from Stuart and giving the location of that ring.—Of course it may be—What's that?—You are on your way up to this vicinity? That will be very nice then.—Yes, eleven will suit us all right. Good-by."
"He is coming up, is he?"
"Yes. He happened to be coming, anyway. A queer thing—that letter. I hardly know what to think about it."
"I certainly never heard of a thief relenting and returning his spoils."
"I'm afraid he doesn't—usually," smiled Christopher.
"Then why do it this time?" mused Burton, Senior, pondering the mystery.
"You've got me, unless, as Stuart himself explains, he is in for a long prison term and knows the diamonds won't do him any good."
"But he could leave them where they are and run the chance of finding them when he gets out. If they are well concealed it is unlikely anybody would discover them. I don't get it at all."
Scowling, Mr. Burton lapsed into a silence so forbidding that Christopher dared not interrupt it, and accordingly the two sat without speaking until Mr. Corrigan was announced.
It took not a moment to see the inspector was more than wontedly excited.
"Where is this remarkable communication?" demanded he without preliminary. "Humph! Looks as though it had been through the wars, doesn't it! A scrap of paper some convict had concealed, most likely, together with the stump of a pencil. Those fellows are pretty clever; and Stuart probably got some chap whose sentence was up to mail it when he went out. He would hardly risk sending information like this by anybody except one of his own kind. And even then he would have to be pretty certain his messenger could be trusted. It was taking a big chance. Sometimes, however, there is honor among thieves."
"Do you think the letter is genuine?" inquired Mr. Burton.
"How, genuine? That it tells the truth, you mean? Yes, I do. I think Stuart was prompted to return the ring for the very reasons he states—he took a fancy to Christopher, and he saw the diamonds would now be of no use to him."
"But he could have left them where they are."
"For a term of ten or twelve years? But think, Mr. Burton, of the changes liable to take place in that time. The building might be torn down and replaced by another, or it might be converted into a business block; or, again, fire might destroy it. In any of these cases the jewels would be lost to Stuart. Moreover, even if he tried to recover them years hence, it might be very difficult to do so. He weighed all these considerations, you may be sure, before he sent that letter. Still I am not sure they were the factors primarily influencing him. He liked Christopher and evidently wished to do him a good turn. Such men as he often have soft streaks in them—impulses for good."
"You mean to follow up the clew then?"
"Mean to follow it up? Man alive! Certainly I do. And what is more, I mean to lose no time in doing it," answered Corrigan, rising.
"I wish—" began Christopher, and then stopped.
"You wish you could go along?" asked the inspector, turning toward the lad with a friendly smile.
"That is what I was going to say—yes."
"Well, we'll take you. I think you've earned the right to be in at the finish."
"Really!" cried Christopher.
"Do you think he'd better go?" Mr. Burton queried, instantly anxious. "You hardly know what you are going to get into. It may be a trap of some sort. Suppose, as a matter of revenge, there were a bomb under the floor."
"I'm not doing any worrying on that score," responded the inspector. "Had Stuart sent the note to you or to me, I should be on my guard; but as it has come to Christopher, I have no fears. Of course, however, I shall take every precaution."
"I hope so, for the sake of every one concerned."
"Oh, I shall be careful, Mr. Burton. Don't you worry about that. I have my eye teeth cut."
"When do you mean to take up the affair?"
"This minute! As soon as I can get my men together and the necessary formalities disposed of."
"Am I to go right along with you?" Christopher leaped to his feet.
"Yes. Fetch your hat and coat. I'll take care of the boy, Mr. Burton. Have no concern about him. It is only natural he should wish to see this job through, having been mixed up in it from the first. Besides, remember we have him to thank for every clew we have succeeded in getting. It was he who witnessed the robbery; he who trapped and identified Stuart; he who now furnishes us with the whereabouts of the loot. You wouldn't deprive him of seeing the end of the drama, would you?"
"No-o," answered Mr. Burton slowly. "Still, it is no place for him. He's been mixed up with criminals and police stations ever since he came into this store. I didn't bring him here for any such purpose. Why, he has secured more knowledge of thieves and prisons during the last few weeks than he would have gathered together in a lifetime."
"He may be the wiser for it, too. Have you thought of that? Crime isn't very attractive when one sees this side of it."
"That is true," agreed Burton, Senior.
"Let Christopher alone, Mr. Burton. What he has seen won't hurt him. It has been a grim, sad adventure in which it would be hard to find one alluring feature."
"I guess that is true. Certainly evil has not triumphed."
"It never does—in the long run," declared Corrigan emphatically. "I've seen the thing over and over again, and have followed the history of most of the men we have tracked down. Sooner or later they are brought to justice. In the meantime they lead the lives of hunted foxes, never knowing a safe or peaceful moment. Some may call that happiness, but I don't. When you make of yourself an outlaw and cut yourself off from the big universe of decent people, you sentence yourself to a pretty wretched, lonely life. Even the worst of criminals often wish themselves back into that world they have left behind them, and which they know for a certainty they never can enter again."
"Stuart seemed to in his letter."
"That's exactly what I mean. Even Stuart, who has been at this sort of thing since he was a young lad, isn't contented with the lot he has chosen. Could he start over, he would follow the other path. He as good as says so himself. They are all like that when you get them at their best moments. That is why I am so sure this note to Christopher tells the truth. It is the voice of Stuart sighing for what might have been."
"Have you any idea where this street he mentions is?" interrogated Mr. Burton.
"Oh, yes. It is up in Harlem. A very decent locality. We shall have no trouble. Doubtless the people of whom he hired his room thought him a gentleman. He could ape one when he tried. Moreover, he had a good deal of the gentleman in him. Probably were we able to dig out his ancestry, we should find he came of excellent parentage. He's a gentleman gone wrong."
"It's a pity."
"It's worse than that, Mr. Burton. It is a tragedy," declared Corrigan, as he and Christopher went out.
THE SEQUEL TO THE LETTER
One hundred eighty-four Speedwell Street proved to be a trim, well-kept apartment leased by a clerk in one of the large dry-goods houses and occupied by himself, his wife, his sister and two children. The family was of French descent and was thrifty and respectable. In order to make both ends of their slender income meet they had taken as a boarder Mr. Carlton (alias Stuart) whom they had found to be a delightful addition to the household.
"Yes, indeed! We know Monsieur Carlton well," replied the pretty little wife in response to Corrigan's inquiries. "He is charming. Such a gentleman and so kind to the children! But he is away just now. In fact, we have heard nothing from him for several days and were becoming a trifle worried by his silence. I hope no ill has befallen him." Apprehensively her eye traveled with questioning gaze over the inspector's blue uniform.
"I am afraid your boarder will not be back for some time," responded he not unkindly.
"Something has happened to him then. Mon Dieu! I am sorry—sorry! The children will break their hearts crying. Has he been hurt? Or maybe he is ill?"
"No, it is nothing of that sort. Later I will explain it all to you. He sent us to get something he had left here."
"To be sure. Come in, won't you? Ah, I am glad he is not sick! See, this is his room. We gave him our best one because he liked it and could pay."
"May I bring in some men who accompanied me?" asked Corrigan gently.
"Surely! Whatever you wish you may do since you are Mr. Carlton's friend. But I do not at all understand what is the trouble. Can't you—"
"By and by, madam, you shall know."
"It must, of course, be as you wish," agreed the tiny French woman with a smile. "I know nothing about it. Why should I interfere? Will you and your companions please step this way?" Then with surprise, "What, more police?"
"Yes. But you must not be afraid," the inspector declared reassuringly. "We want nothing of you. Only what Mr.—"
"Mr. Carlton sent us to secure," concluded Corrigan.
"Eh, bien! Enter then. This is the way. It is here Mr. Carlton sleeps. A pleasant room, you see. Books, magazines, and even a plant in bloom. He is fond of flowers."
"I am not surprised," murmured Corrigan with a shrug. "A gentleman—as I asserted. The radiator is here, Tim. That must be the board. Take it up carefully so not to splinter it and deface the flooring. No doubt it will come easily."
"The floor—you are not going to tear up the floor!" cried the woman excitedly.
"Only one board," was the soothing answer. "We shall do no injury to your premises."
"But surely Mr. Carlton would not hide things away under the floor; only thieves do that." She laughed a tremulous, half-frightened laugh at the absurdity of the jest.
"How about it, Tim? Is it coming?" questioned Corrigan, ignoring the pleasantry.
"It stirs, sir; but it is not so loose as you might expect. Didn't Blake bring a chisel?"
"Yes, it's here. Why not run a knife down that crack and see if you can't raise the board a little. If you can lift it enough to slip something under it will come up," directed the chief.
"It's coming now, sir. There, we have it!"
"Take out all those wads of tissue paper."
"Here they are, sir."
"I reckon not, sir."
"Still, you'd better make sure. Run your hand in at each end as far as you can reach."
"There's nothing there, sir. A beam goes along where those nails are."
"You are sure there is no other opening?"
"Certain of it."
"Nevertheless, I'll have a look myself."
"To be sure, Mr. Corrigan," the officer replied, stepping aside.
Carefully the chief stooped down and explored the chasm with his hand.
"You're right, Tim; there is nothing more," asserted he. "We have everything we came after, I guess."
"I am glad to hear that," put in the French woman with returning confidence. "Mr. Carlton will, I am sure, be pleased that you found what he sent you for. But what a strange place for him to store his property! Things of value, no doubt, which he treasured and feared might be lost. Have you any idea when he will be back? Perhaps if you would give me his address I might write him a letter—that is, if you think—" She halted timidly.
For the fraction of a second Corrigan was silent as if he winced at performing the duty before him.
"I am afraid, madam," responded he at last, "that Mr. Carlton will not return; nor, I fear, will you wish him back when you know the circumstances under which he has disappeared. Suffice it to say we come vested with authority to take possession of his personal effects. After to-day there will be no need for you to reserve his room."
"You mean he is not to return at all—never?" asked the woman in an awe-stricken voice.
Weakly the woman dropped into a chair, a sudden light of pained understanding breaking over her face.
"You mean Mr. Carlton—"
"That was not his real name," interrupted the officer. "He went under several names. Stuart is the one the police know him by. He was a professional diamond thief."
"No, no! I cannot believe it," protested the loyal little creature stoutly. "Why, he was all kindness to us. When my husband was ill he nursed him for a whole week, day and night. He gave toys to the children, did errands, and often brought us fruit or candy. Are you sure there is no mistake? Certainly we should know if he were a bad man."
"Alas, my good woman, the proofs we hold in our hands are so convincing as to leave not the slightest possibility for error. There were, you see, two Carltons—the kind, friendly gentleman you knew; and the clever, experienced criminal with whom the police were acquainted. Most of us are a combination of various selves. This man had two sharply contrasting individualities and unfortunately it was the baser of them that dominated. He has a long prison record behind him."
"Ciel!" The woman clasped her hands in horror. "But why?" exclaimed she. "He did not need to steal. He always had plenty of money."
"That was how he got it."
For a while she seemed too stunned to say more; then she whispered:
"And where is he now?"
"Serving a prison sentence for a crime in Chicago."
"It is terrible—terrible! Oh, my husband will be sad to hear this; and my sister too. Poor fellow! I can scarcely believe it. Suppose the neighbors were to hear we had been housing a burglar—they would not speak to us."
"No one will know unless you yourself tell them," the inspector answered.
"Ah, you may be sure I shall not do that," was the instant response. "Not even my children will I tell. They were fond of Mr. Carlton."
"Let them remain so. It can do no harm. In fact, no doubt the man they loved merited their affection," answered the inspector. "I wish he had been just that and nothing else."
"And so do I—with all my heart!"
In the meantime, while Corrigan had been occupied with Stuart's landlady two bluecoats had been ransacking the closet and searching the contents of a trunk that stood in the room. Here they had brought to light a bag of tools and a variety of garments, hats, and wigs evidently used as disguises.
As they now displayed these trophies before the eyes of the bewildered French woman, the last vestige of hope she had cherished vanished and she burst into tears.
"Alas, alas!" sobbed she. "He was a bad man. I am convinced of it now. And yet I cannot believe he was entirely bad."
"No one is all bad—thank Heaven," the chief responded, as he gathered together the things that had been found, sent his men below, and having said farewell, closed the door upon the weeping French woman. Then, as he and Christopher went soberly downstairs, he added:
"Poor woman—she was all cut up. Everybody who goes wrong breaks somebody's heart. He's bound to. The destinies of all of us are so entangled with other persons that there is no such thing as living only to ourselves. Consider, for example, how many individuals this Stuart came in contact with—your father, yourself, Hollings, Rhinehart, and these unlucky French people. He might as well have touched those lives for good as for evil. And we are only a small part of the men and women he has run up against during his existence. When I think of that, it turns me pretty sober. The influence each of us exerts reaches a so much wider circle than we realize that it certainly behooves us to make the power we hold as strong for good as we are able, doesn't it?"
Christopher nodded gravely. Little more was said until the Burton and Norcross store was reached, where, parting from their blue-uniformed companions, Christopher and the inspector ascended to the firm's private offices. Here on the desk of the senior partner Corrigan proceeded to unwrap and display the treasure he had recovered. There was a sparkling diamond pendant, two or three broaches, a sapphire-studded bracelet, and the much-lamented and long-sought-for ring.
"You can identify it, can you, Mr. Burton?" questioned the officer, as he passed it over for examination.
"Anywhere on earth, I believe," replied the jeweler. "The setting has not even been disturbed. Nevertheless, to make certainty more sure, let us send for Hollings and for Rhinehart, our expert."
"By all means."
Mr. Burton touched a bell and gave the order and while waiting for it to be obeyed sat regarding the heap of flashing baubles lying before him.
"Somebody beside ourselves will rejoice to see their property coming back," mused he. "I wonder who these other things belong to. That pendant is a very fine one."
"Without looking up the description I am fairly certain the pendant is one lost by a guest at the Biltmore. We have been on the hunt for it some time. The other jewels may also belong to the same party. Quite a list of missing articles was given us. I have it down at headquarters."
"Well, if the owners are as much gratified to see their diamonds returning as we are—"
The opening of the door cut short further comment and Hollings and Mr. Rhinehart came into the room. It was evident from their manner they had no inkling as to why they had been summoned and the former employee, fearful of another disaster, was pallid with apprehension.
"Ever see this ring before, Hollings?" questioned Mr. Burton, whirling round in his swivel chair and extending the jewel.
"My soul, sir! You don't mean—" He stopped, speechless.
"What do you say, Mr. Rhinehart?"
"It certainly looks like our property," declared the more cautious clerk. "If it is, the identification letters BNC will be found scratched inside the band of the ring. Have you a glass there?"
"Mr. Rhinehart isn't going to commit himself without a microscope," chuckled the inspector. "He is dead right too."
"I wish to verify the stones as well as the setting," replied the expert.
"I guess in this case your stones are genuine enough. Stuart hadn't much chance to tamper with them. Nevertheless, it can do no harm to make sure," Corrigan said.
Opening a drawer Mr. Burton produced a powerful glass which he handed to Rhinehart who went to the light and carefully scanned the scintillating gems.
"Flawless and of the first water!" exclaimed he, after a tense pause. "The setting hasn't been touched, so there is practically no danger of substitution."
"You mean we have actually got the ring back—diamonds and all?" put in Hollings, as if unable to make real the miracle.
"We have—thanks to Mr. Corrigan," was Mr. Burton's reply.
"Thanks to young Christopher, you mean, sir," smiled the chief protestingly.
"What can I do to thank you?" cried Hollings. "I said I would give anything I possessed if those diamonds could be reclaimed and I'm ready to live up to my promise."
"Pooh, pooh!" laughed Corrigan. "I've no wish for payment, man. To win out in this game is payment enough for me. Besides, the police are not allowed to accept money, you know. An officer of the law gets his satisfaction in clearing up a crime and locating the loot. Until he can do that his mind is never at peace. This day's stroke has enabled me to wipe two mysteries that have balked me off my slate and go to bed to-night with at least that many less on my mind."
"Well, Chief, all I can say is that we are very grateful to you," declared Mr. Burton.
He would have said more had not the inspector raised his hand with a forbidding gesture.
"It's all right, sir. I'm fully as glad as you to see your property safely returned. If you have any thanks to bestow, pass them on to your son, for without him the missing diamonds might never have been located."
Then turning toward the boy he added:
"Should you want a job on the force, youngster, come down to headquarters. A lad who can win the hearts of criminals and coax them into voluntarily returning their ill-gotten gains would be an immense asset in our business."
Shaking hands all round and clapping Christopher affectionately on the shoulder, the chief went out.
"Better put that ring back in the show case, Hollings," concluded Mr. Burton. "I don't need to caution you to keep an eye on it, I guess."
"You bet you don't!" was the fervent ejaculation. Then Hollings blushed to the roots of his hair at having thus addressed the great Mr. Burton.
But for once that worthy appeared to forget his dignity and, becoming human, he laughed like a boy of ten.
Gradually the excitement concerning the diamond robbery died away as do ripples in a pool and once more Christopher found himself settling down on the little wooden stool at McPhearson's elbow. The two had by this time become great friends, the boy preferring the companionship of the little Scotchman to that of any one else in the store. Perhaps this preference grew in a measure out of the fact that McPhearson appeared to like him and make more effort to entertain him than did the other clerks; perhaps also he had discovered that the clockmaker, when he did speak, was better worth listening to.
Be that as it may, he sallied into the repair department very glad to be there again.
"I feel as if I hadn't had a clock lesson for ages," observed he, as he sat down.
"Clock lesson? What do you mean?" The man with the swift-moving hands shot him a quick, puzzled glance.
"Oh, don't think I am here to steal your trade," retorted Christopher mischievously. "I only mean that so far as I am concerned the clock world stopped with Quare, Tompion, and Graham."
"Indeed it didn't," contradicted the Scotchman, instantly bristling. "Though if it had, you would not need to be pitied for those makers would have bequeathed you some pretty fine products. And when you consider that Tompion, at least, began life as a blacksmith it is the more remarkable. Think what it meant to work out of such a crude, rough trade into one so delicate! Still, it was an age of marvels—a strange, fantastic, interesting era in which to have lived. Many members of the Clockmakers' Company were blacksmiths who had graduated into this higher calling and now boasted their own shops and apprentices. These latter men helped about under supervision, learning the trade and completing from eight to ten years of service before being taken in turn into the guild and permitted to make clocks. In the meantime they prepared simple parts of the work and made themselves useful in any direction they were able, even running errands or standing at the shop door and coaxing the passers-by to come in and purchase."
"Pretty primitive advertising," smiled Christopher.
"Advertising was primitive in those days," agreed McPhearson. "Sometimes when trade was dull the unfortunate apprentices were sent out to tour the streets and bring in customers. Or the present of a watch or clock would be made to the king or some nobleman of wealth and influence in the hope that such a gift would stimulate others to buy. No doubt even the celebrated Graham, in the days of his apprenticeship to Tompion, may have had some of these humble duties to perform. But if so they failed to dash his enthusiasm for his profession, for you see how well he profited by his teaching and what a master at clockmaking he finally became. He had always been an ingenious fellow interested in evolving mathematical instruments of all sorts."
"Were his clocks as good as Tompion's?" queried Christopher.
"As to that, the two were pretty well matched," was the answer. "Graham, however, concentrated most of his skill on watches while Tompion put the major part of his talent into long-case clocks which were unrivaled. For, by this time, with the gradual development and improvement of clock machinery, it was possible to make grandfather, or long-case, clocks that kept excellent time. The defects of the old wheel escapement of the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries were, as I told you, remedied in part by the invention of the fusee, a device for equalizing the movement. Then came the conversion of such clocks into pendulum clocks—no very difficult matter. One of the balls on the verge was removed, thereby making the verge longer and increasing the weight of the other ball. Then such clocks, together with those having a crown wheel escapement, went in turn out of vogue and the anchor escapement ushered in what is commonly known as the grandfather clock. It was in producing this particular type of timepiece that Tompion and Graham excelled. The pendulum was hung from a thin steel spring instead of being placed on an axis carrying pallets and could swing without friction."
"And whose scheme was that?"
"It is generally conceded that a Dutchman by the name of Fromanteel brought the modern pendulum idea into England. You will recall that early in clock history there were some pendulums of a very unsatisfactory nature in use—pendulums that were regulated by weights and dangled at the back or across the front of old brass clocks."
"I remember, yes."
"Well, it was that same pendulum principle carried to greater perfection and now scientifically applied which made the present grandfather, or long-case, clock possible. Certainly Fromanteel did a vast service to English clockmaking when he brought this solution of the pendulum problem to London, for with the anchor, or dead-beat escapement, combined with a long pendulum terminating in a heavy bob, the force of gravity caused such slight variation that the motion was practically harmonic and had only a very minor effect on the clock. For a long case, you see, has an exceedingly confined arc of oscillation because the swing of the pendulum is so limited. It is this length of pendulum together with its almost harmonic motion which results in the excellent time-keeping done by clocks of the "grandfather" class. The time a pendulum takes to vibrate always depends on its length—that is, the distance between the center of suspension and the center of gravity of the bob."
McPhearson paused to hold to the light a small brass pivot he was filing.
"Just here," continued he, "we stumble upon still another of the multiple tribulations of the clockmaker. If a big clock is expected to do any very fine work the latitude of the place in which it is to be put must be taken into consideration. For example, experiment has proved that the length of a pendulum vibrating seconds at London will not serve as accurately in other latitudes, because according to the laws of gravity the length of seconds increases in a specific ratio as we advance from the equator toward the poles. The clockmaker must, therefore, take care to regulate the length of his pendulum to correspond with this law."
"Great Scott! Why, I never dreamed there was so much to clockmaking!" gasped the astonished Christopher.
"Oh, the making of a finely adjusted, close-running clock is far more of a science than a trade, laddie. It isn't just making a lot of wheels that will turn, hands that will point, or a mechanism that will tick—wonderful as all that is," asserted McPhearson.
"I don't believe most persons realize it isn't."
"Those who dip below the surface and are better informed know the truth; as for the others—we must not expect too much of a hurrying world, son. Any branch of knowledge takes us very far if we follow it to the end. Why, look at me! I have spent all my life with clocks and what do I know about them?"
"A great deal," was the prompt retort.
"Very little, my boy; very little indeed!" sighed the old man. "I couldn't make one. Nevertheless I have had great pleasure in hunting down what I have learned. It is an interesting subject and one that never seems to exhaust itself. For all the wonders of my trade are not yet told. When, for instance, they put the clock on the Metropolitan Life Insurance building here in New York an undreamed-of pinnacle in clock construction was reached. There was a time when the clock on the London Houses of Parliament was the last word in the art—a veritable triumph of the horologe. Not only was it the largest timepiece in the world, but it seemed then the most miraculous."
"What date was that?"
"Back in 1860. Even I remember what a sensation this masterpiece created. It was designed by E. B. Dennison, afterward Lord Grimthorpe, and was placed one hundred and eighty feet above the ground—some halfway up the tower of one of the buildings. Now that fact in itself made the undertaking difficult, for the weather always has its effect on a clock, and to put one in such an exposed position created a problem at the outset. Moreover, perched up there in the sight of all London to serve as the chief timekeeper of the city, it could not be allowed to indulge in whims and caprices lest the populace be led astray by its inaccuracies and turn to cursing it. No, if it was to be there at all it must furnish correct information. Londoners could not afford to lose their trains, be late to their appointments, or miss their tea." The Scotchman uttered a soft laugh.
"Yes," continued he, as if the fancy pleased him, "when you are posted up in such a conspicuous spot as that, every one of your backslidings will be common property. And for that reason not only the reputation of the clock itself but that of its maker was at stake. Moreover, since the height at which the dial was to be set was so great, every part of the timepiece had to be of mammoth size."
"Of course it had," agreed Christopher. "I had almost forgotten that."
"A pretty gigantic project it was for a clockmaker, I can tell you," went on McPhearson. "Well, at last the clock was made and the scale of its dimensions sounded like a page from Gulliver's Travels. Each of the dials was of opalescent glass set in a framework of iron and was twenty-two feet or more in diameter. The figures that indicated the hours were two feet long and the minute spaces a foot square. Three sets of works were required to drive the various divisions of the mechanism: one moved the hands; another struck the hours; and still another rang the chimes. As for the pendulum—ah, here was a pendulum indeed! It was thirteen feet long and weighed seven hundred pounds."
"Jove!" murmured Christopher.
"Some pendulum, eh? What wouldn't the old clockmakers—Tompion, Quare, Fromanteel, Graham and the rest have given to see it! They probably never even imagined a clock of such proportions."
"Neither did I!" his companion announced. "How often did this giant have to be wound up?"
"The clock part was wound once a week; the striking part twice. And speaking of the striking part, you may like to know that the hour bell weighed thirteen tons and the four quarter-hour bells eight tons."
"Isn't it the biggest clock ever made?"
"It is probably one of the most powerful and most accurate of the large ones," nodded McPhearson, "although others are to be found with bigger dials. But it is no longer the largest clock in the world because since it was constructed several American rivals for that honor have arisen. One of them is right here in your own little old city of New York and the other is located on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River."
But Christopher's mind was still intent on the London masterpiece.
"How much do you suppose the English clock cost?" speculated he. "A fortune, I'll bet."
"I can tell you, for I happen to recall the figures," replied McPhearson. "Its price was $110,000."
"And cheap at that," grinned Christopher. "At least, I wouldn't undertake to produce it for that money."
"Nor I," echoed the Scotchman, returning the lad's smile. "I suppose when it was made nobody ever expected to see it equaled. And yet such strides are we making in science that here we are with a clock that is in many ways even more miraculous."
"You mean the one on the Metropolitan Life Insurance building?"
"The same," was the quick answer. "Surely you must grant that to be ahead of the one in London. It is interesting also to note how these two mammoth timepieces differ. The dial of our New York clock, instead of being of glass, is, as you know, of concrete faced with blue and white mosaic tiling. The figures indicating the hours are four feet high and the minute marks ten inches in diameter. The minute hands are twelve feet from center to tip and together weigh a thousand pounds; while the hour hands measure eight feet four inches from center to tip and weigh seven hundred pounds apiece."
"Mercy on us! I didn't realize it was such a whale of a thing!"
"A prophet is not without honour save in his own country," laughed the old clockmaker. "Here you sit almost under the shadow of one of the largest timepieces in the universe and fail to appreciate the wonder that towers above your head. Well, well! Perhaps you will treat your native land with more respect after this. Certainly you will regard this Metropolitan Life clock with greater awe and bless your stars that one of its hands hasn't blown down on top of you. Think of those gigantic pointing fingers being built on iron frames sheathed with copper and made to revolve on roller bearings!"
"I give you my word I shall think of it the next time I look up at them," responded Christopher. "How on earth can they make such a tremendous machine go?"
"It is controlled automatically from the director's room, where a master clock also controls a hundred others scattered throughout the building. This same mechanism controls in addition various electrical devices, such as signal bells, etc. It is all very wonderful. And the half is not told yet, for the tricks it performs at night are almost more amazing than are those it performs by day."
"I seldom see it in the evening," Christopher explained. "We are always starting out into the suburbs just when New York is beginning to wake up."
"New York can hardly be called asleep at any time," McPhearson chuckled, "so I must take your lamentation with a grain of salt. But it is rather of a pity you shouldn't have had the chance to see that clock after dark. Not that it isn't beautiful in the daylight. Its chimes certainly ring just as sweetly one time as another. Nevertheless I enjoy them best after the city gets a little bit quiet (which it seldom does until well toward morning). Those chimes, remember, are a replica of the set at Cambridge, England, and play a theme composed by Handel, the old composer."
"Why on earth didn't some one tell me all this before?"
"I'm sure I don't know, unless your dad was too busy or assumed you had read of the clock in the newspapers."
"It is never safe to assume I know anything," retorted Christopher naively. "I know such a queer collection of stuff, you see. It's odd, isn't it, the truck that sticks in your memory? If I could only remember things that are worth while as easily as I often do things that aren't I should know quite a lot."
"That is the way with all of us, laddie," the old man on the work bench confessed. "I myself would gladly part with a vast deal I have acquired and never yet found a use for."
"We ought to have mental rummage sales and bundle out the rubbish we don't need," Christopher remarked.
The Scotchman hailed the suggestion with delight.
"That would be a capital scheme," acclaimed he. "The only trouble would be to find purchasers for our outgrown ideas."
"Oh, somebody would like them," put in Christopher cheerfully. "Mother says there are always people who will buy anything that is cheap no matter what it is."
"But my old ideas are not cheap ones," objected the clockmaker. "On the contrary, some of them cost me a great deal in the day of them; they are simply worn out and old-fashioned."
"They'd sell—never fear. Mother declares people buy the most impossible truck. A thing is seldom so bad that nobody wants it."
"Then that is certainly what we must do with our intellectual junk," was McPhearson's instant answer. "Suppose we advertise a sale of it? I will cheerfully part with 'The Boy Stood on the Burning Deck' which I committed to memory when I was eight years old. I'd sell it outright or would exchange it for one of Shakespeare's sonnets."
Christopher greeted the whimsey with a laugh.
"Now I," began he, "would sell or swap the water routes from most of our inland cities. We had to learn them when I studied geography and as I have never wanted to ship goods from St. Paul to Philadelphia, for example, I have found no use for them."
"You may some day."
"I'll risk it. If I did want them I could, perhaps, buy them back," flashed Christopher.
"What price would you set upon such possessions?"
"You mean the water routes? Well, it cost me a good deal of trouble to memorize them; still, I'd be glad to let them go cheap and be rid of them. I'd trade them for—let me see—an equal number of facts about wireless. With them I'd throw in all my—" he stopped suddenly.
"All your what?"
"I was going to say all my Latin but changed my mind," the boy replied. "I guess, everything considered, I'd better keep that. It might come in handy sometime. It did the other day."
"Oh, I'd keep your Latin, by all means," the Scotchman agreed.
A pause, weighted with humorous imaginings, fell between them until Christopher broke out:
"How would you like to swap some more information about that clock on the Metropolitan Life building for my water routes?"
Gravely the clockmaker reflected.
"I'm afraid I haven't much more use for water routes just at present than you have," answered he. "I will, however, make a bargain with you. I will advance to you some more of what I know about that clock, if you will pledge yourself to let me have the water routes should I require them. Is that a bargain?"
"I'll sign up to that," came without hesitation from the lad. "In fact, after thinking it over, I guess it would be wiser for me not to agree to deliver the goods immediately. I'll have to hunt them up and—and—dust them first," concluded he with an impish grimace.
"I certainly should insist they be handed over in good condition," asserted McPhearson. "That would be only fair since what I give you in return is new and up to date. This clock on the insurance building is one of the most unique timepieces yet made. You cannot expect to receive information about it without offering something pretty valuable in exchange."
"That water route from St. Paul, for instance—I should never accept it if it began well and afterward became vague and uncertain; and should you break it off before you reached Philadelphia and excuse yourself by telling me that you had forgotten it—"
"You broke off about the clock, you know," interrupted Christopher.
"Yes. Nevertheless, I cannot be accused of having forgotten the information, and to prove it I will say that what I intended to add was that at night the numerals on the dial are not only illuminated but a flashlight from the tower sends out the time to those too far away either to see the face of the clock or hear it strike. A series of white flashes mark the hours, and the quarter hours are indicated by red flashes. Out over the land shoot these lights—out over the sea too. It is a mighty beacon—a great, throbbing, live thing that from its place high above the city keeps constant watch and slumbers not nor sleeps."
Christopher looked into the old man's eyes.
"I don't believe," ventured he, with a wistful expression, "it would be fair to swap any of the stuff I know for yours. You see, the things you have stored away in your mind are so much—so much finer."
"They weren't at first, laddie," returned McPhearson kindly. "I gathered a deal of worthless material before it occurred to me I could improve its quality. Then one day I said to myself, 'Why isn't it just as possible to collect beautiful and interesting thoughts as to collect stamps, or china teapots, or anything else?' So I set about weeding out the good from the unprofitable and found the scheme worked perfectly. If you don't believe it, try the plan yourself sometime, sonny."
"I'm going to," affirmed Christopher with earnest emphasis.
The Scotchman bent to file the tooth of a small brass wheel.
"Before we drop the subject of giant clocks," continued he presently, "I must warn you not to forget the monster newly set up by the Colgates on their building that skirts the Jersey shore of the Hudson. It is a veritable Titan with a dial fifty feet in diameter and hands measuring thirty-seven and a quarter feet and twenty-seven and a half feet in length. For miles down New York harbor it is visible, a formidable contestant for world supremacy."
"Clocks seem to grow bigger and bigger, don't they?" mused the boy.
"I hope they grow better and better—a far finer achievement, to my way of thinking," was the craftsman's answer.
CLOCKS ON LAND AND CLOCKS AT SEA
Christmas came and went, January passed, and February was well on its way, and still Christopher did not tire of coming into the city with his father each morning and spending the day at the store. He had found many little ways in which he could be useful and as a result he now had something to do to keep him from becoming bored and discontented. He could, for example, help deliver the sorted mail to the different departments and do various minor errands for McPhearson, toward whom he had come to entertain a genuine affection.
In the meantime he had been every week to see the oculist and each time had been commended for his patience and urged to be resigned to idleness a little longer.
"You'll gain in the end if you hold off until the year is out," said the doctor. "Remember, you have in all probability a long stretch of years ahead of you to the very last moment of which you will need your eyes. Therefore you cannot afford to injure them thus early in the game, for if you do you will never be able to beg, borrow, or steal another pair. What do a few short months amount to when weighed against a lifetime?"
It was a telling argument and immediately the lad sensed the worth of it.
"I figure you're right, Doctor Corbin," responded he bravely. "I'll peg away at being lazy for another spell. But don't keep me loafing any longer than you have to, will you? You see, just lately I have begun to be anxious to get back to my books. There are lots of things I want to hunt up and learn."
"Blessings brighten as they vanish, eh?" smiled the physician. "Well, it is something to have that impulse. Hold on to it; and when at last you have your books don't forget how fortunate you are to have them."
"I sha'n't—believe me!"
Accordingly Christopher gathered together his courage and as he himself expressed it bucked up to endure a prolonged period of inactivity. "I shall depend on you to cheer me up, Mr. McPhearson," announced he after recounting to the sympathetic Scotchman the doctor's decision. "If it weren't for you, I don't know what I'd do."
"Pooh! Nonsense! Non—sense! You'd find ways enough to amuse yourself without the help of an old fossil like me, I guess," blustered the clockmaker. Nevertheless it was plain to be seen the words pleased him, for he was a kind man who enjoyed doing a service for another. Moreover, Christopher had worn a path to his lonely heart and his boyish gladness transformed each day into a novelty to be anticipated.
Once when Mr. Burton had remained in the city to attend a dinner at the Lotus Club, McPhearson had persuaded his employer to allow the boy to go home with him and remain until the function was over. Ah, what an evening the two cronies had together that night! The Scotchman grilled chops in his tiny kitchenette and baked macaroni too; and made ambrosial hot chocolate. Then there were hot rolls, fancy cakes, and ice cream that appeared as it by magic from goodness only knew where. And afterward, when the little flat had been tidied up (a task in which Christopher shared), McPhearson got out his flute and such wonderful old Scotch airs as he played! "Ye Banks and Braes o' Bonnie Doon," "Annie Laurie," "Mary of Argyle," "The Bonnets of Bonnie Dundee"—he knew them all and scores of others.
There was a fire in the microscopic fireplace, there was a box of candy, and there was plenty of fun and good talk. Later they had gone to see the big Metropolitan Life Insurance clock and watch its shooting red and white lights. Seldom had Christopher passed so happy an evening or one that flew by so quickly.
When Mr. Burton came with the taxi to take him home it was almost unbelievable it could really be eleven o'clock.
"I hope my son hasn't tired you all out, McPhearson," said the head of the firm. "It was very kind of you to bother with him."
"It was kind of you to let him come."
That was all the old man vouchsafed. He wasn't one given to talking much about the things he cherished deeply. But more than once after the boy had gone he recalled the picture the lad had made sitting there in the firelight; remembered the brightness of his smile and the gayety of his laughter. Even a flute could not furnish music as light-hearted. It was long since anything so joyous had echoed through the dim, dingy rooms. He wished he could fool himself into believing he was as young as he felt that night.
"Perhaps," observed he the next day, when Christopher referred to the evening, "your father will let you come again sometime. He may have another dinner or a meeting of some sort that will keep him in town."
"I wish he would," exclaimed Christopher heartily.
They were sitting together at the repairing bench, the clockmaker busy with an old chronometer.
"That's a new variety of puzzle, isn't it?" commented the boy, motioning toward it.
"Oh, I tinker a chronometer once in a while," McPhearson answered. "I don't get them often, though."
"What on earth are they for?"
"You don't know?" The Scotchman raised his brows with surprise.
"Not really. I associate them vaguely with the sea and ships."
"So far, so good," granted the elder man.
"But the trouble is that's as far as I can go," Christopher said.
"Bless me!" ejaculated McPhearson.
"I meant once to find out all about chronometers; but before I got started something interrupted me and I forgot it. I wasn't much interested in them anyhow, I'm afraid."
"And now you'd like a few points, eh?"
"Yes. I know I shall get a great deal better idea of them if you tell me," was the reply.
"If you weren't an American and I a Scotchman, I should say you were an Irishman," laughed his companion.
"Why?" demanded Christopher innocently.
"Because you sound as if you had kissed the Blarney Stone. Well, if you wish to learn about chronometers you have chosen a somewhat difficult subject. It leads pretty far, you see. However, I will do my best to give you at least a few facts about them. In the first place the earth actually revolves on its axis in twenty-three hours, fifty-six minutes, and four seconds. We commonly divide our day, however, into twenty-four hours and let it go at that. But astronomers reckon more accurately. They call our day the solar day and instead of having a clock with twelve figures on it as we do, they use one with twenty-four."
Christopher glanced up with a smile.
"Why be so fussy about things like minutes and seconds?"
"Because sometimes such things as minutes and seconds make a great deal of difference. You may remember that when we were talking of sundials I told you they were not exact timekeepers."
"I do remember."
"You see, we reckon our day by two counts: one of them begins at noon and goes on—one, two, three, four o'clock, etc.—up to midnight; the other begins at midnight and ends at noon."
"That's simple enough. I get that all right."
"Now people didn't always do that. There were other countries that planned their day differently. The ancient Babylonians, for instance, began their day at sunrise; the Athenians and Jews at sunset; and the Egyptians and Romans at midnight."
"How funny! I thought that of course it had always been done as we do it," confessed Christopher, with frank astonishment.
"Not at all. Our present system of time-keeping has been evolved out of the past and, like many other such heirlooms, is the result of a vast amount of study. Centuries ago nobody knew how to reckon time or what to reckon it by. Some computed it by the sun and had what is known as the solar day—a span of twenty-four hours; others figured it by the moon and got a lunar day of twenty-four hours and fifty minutes; while still others resorted to the stars or constellations and reached a result known as sidereal time, a day of twenty-three hours, fifty-six minutes. Now you see there is quite a bit of difference in these various reckonings. The difference might not matter so much on land, but when one is at sea and has to compute latitude and longitude, it matters a vast deal."
"Oh!" A light of understanding was slowly dawning on the boy.
"Now," went on McPhearson, "apparent solar time is dependent on the motion of the sun and is shown by the sundial; mean solar time, on the other hand, is shown by a correct clock; and the difference between the two—or the difference between apparent time and mean time is technically known as the equation of time, and is set forth in a nautical almanac published by the government."
McPhearson waited a moment.
"And that's what mariners use?"
"Then," hazarded Christopher after a moment's thought, "there really is exact time and common time."
"Broadly speaking, yes," acquiesced McPhearson. "Or in other words there is time scientifically measured and time that is measured by man-made laws. The difference, as I told you, is of more importance to astronomers and mariners than to anybody else; and yet the puzzle for many centuries balked those who sought to establish a perfect system of time-keeping. As better ships were built and adventurous persons began to sail the ocean both for trade and conquest, captains soon discovered the stars and the compass could not be relied upon to furnish them the reliable information they needed in locating their position. Therefore, about 1713 England offered a prize of L20,000 to any one who should invent a timekeeper sufficiently accurate to enable navigators to ascertain from it longitude at sea."
The Scotchman paused to take from his table a box of tiny brass screws from which he selected one that was to his liking.
"Now there was living at this period John Harrison, a Yorkshire clockmaker, who although quite a young man had made a clock with wooden works into which he had put a gridiron pendulum—a device he had thought out to overcome the difficulties resulting from atmospheric conditions. This clock was so skillfully adjusted that it did not vary a second a month. So you can see that despite the fact Harrison was not a member of the Clockmakers' Company he was certainly qualified to be."
"And did he go after the prize money?"
"Apparently the offer tempted him. Perhaps he not only desired to win the fortune offered but also wished the fun of solving the riddle the government propounded. At any rate, in 1728 he came to London prepared to present drawings of an instrument he felt certain would turn the trick and had not his friends deterred him he would have placed these sketches before the commission. Fortunately, however, he had excellent advisers (among whom was honest John Graham) and they assured him he would stand a far better chance of securing a favorable hearing should he first construct the instrument of which he at present had nothing but pictures. Now such counsel as this was pretty disheartening to a young man who, fired with hope and ambition, had come all the way to London confidently expecting to have his plan hailed with joy when he arrived. Nevertheless Harrison was open-minded enough to accept his friends' guidance and acting upon it he went home again and worked for seven years on the instrument he had drawn out on paper."
"And then did he bring it to London?" was Christopher's breathless demand.
"Yes," affirmed McPhearson. "The contrivance, however, was by no means perfect. Still it showed sufficient promise to interest the commissioners and lead them to give Harrison permission to go to Lisbon on one of the king's ships; that he might correct his reckonings by taking practical observations at sea. Moreover they also paid him L5,000 of the prize money to encourage him. This financial spur, together with the faith it represented, stimulated the patient instrument-maker to fashion a second timekeeper on which he spent four years of hard work. But even this one, although better than the first, failed to meet the demands, and he tried again, taking ten years to perfect a third. This was smaller and as it seemed to foreshadow good results he was awarded the gold medal annually presented by the Royal Society for the most useful nautical discovery thus far made. Yet notwithstanding this triumph the article he had produced did not suit him. Experience had, in the meantime, taught him a great deal, and after more corrections and improvements he came again before the committee and asked that the device he now had might be given practical trial."
Christopher hitched his stool a little nearer.
"Now governments, like elephants and mastodons, move slowly, and by the time the coveted permission was granted poor Harrison was well-nigh seventy years old and instead of setting out on an ocean voyage for Jamaica he was forced to surrender his place to his son, William, whom he had trained up as one of his apprentices."
"Poor old duffer! I'll bet he was disappointed," came sympathetically from Christopher. "Think of his having to stay at home and miss the fun of seeing how his invention was working!"
"It was pretty tough," agreed McPhearson. "William, in the meantime, sailed out of Portsmouth harbor and after eighteen days of voyaging the vessel, supposed by ordinary calculation to be 13 deg. 50' west of that port, was by Harrison's watch 15 deg. 19', whereupon the captain of the ship immediately cried that it was worthless. If William had not been a chip of the old block and had inherited some of his father's courage, wisdom, and persistence, he would have lost his nerve at this crisis and allowed himself to come home beaten. But evidently he believed in the venture he had in hand. Perhaps, too, the thought of how disappointed his poor old dad would be were he to return spurred him to hold on with bulldog tenacity. So instead of being cowed by this apparent failure he insisted that if Madeira were correctly charted on the captain's map, it would be sighted the next day. So convincing was his prediction that the reluctant officer at length consented to continue on his course, and sure enough the following morning there loomed Madeira just as William had prophesied! Having won out on this forecast, William kept on predicting just where the other islands would be and behold, one after another they came into sight!"
"Hurray!" cried Christopher.
"Well, after a trip of sixty-one days the Deptford reached Port Royal, and the chronometer (for that is what this new sort of watch really was) proved to be only about nine seconds slow. Then followed the voyage home. William Harrison had been gone five months in all—five months which to his poor, anxious old father must have seemed five years in length. During that entire time the chronometer had varied only one minute and five seconds."
"Pooh! That wasn't anything to get hot over," exploded Christopher.
"And yet a variation as great as that represented an error of eighteen miles—a big enough distance to admit of a ship being run on no end of rocks and shoals."
"I didn't realize it amounted to so many miles," was the sober reply.
"Probably the error even in miles did not shock people of that time as much as it would us, for they were accustomed to inaccuracies. Moreover such a record was worlds better than anything previously known. Yet notwithstanding this fact, the commissioners haggled over awarding the prize money and after advancing another L5,000 insisted that William make a second trip."
McPhearson paid no heed to the interruption.
"This time," continued he, "the undaunted young clockmaker embarked on an English man-of-war, the Tartar, and sailed for the Barbados, the chronometer gaining only forty-three seconds; and then back he came on the New Elizabeth, making the round trip of one hundred fifty-six days with only a total gain of fifty-four seconds in his father's instrument."
"Bravo! And so old Harrison at last got his money," asserted Christopher with a satisfied sigh.
"Not yet. You move too fast, sonny. Governments do not bestow fortunes at your pace. Not they! This time the commissioners paid over a third L5,000, joining with it the demand that the elder Harrison explain to a company of experts exactly how his invention worked. In our day a man would have protected himself with a patent before he surrendered the requested information but the universe of the eighteenth century was less sophisticated. Patiently Harrison told his inquisitors everything they wanted to know and in 1765 they declared themselves satisfied with the instrument in every detail."
"Well, I should think it was high time!" scoffed the boy.
The Scotchman smiled at his indignation.
"Oh, don't imagine yourself through with the story yet," said he, "for even now more conditions were enjoined. Before the balance of the prize money was paid, one of the experts was appointed to construct a chronometer like Harrison's for the purpose not only of finding out whether every claim he made for it was true, but also to assure the board that other persons beside this one old man could make such an instrument. The fulfillment of this final condition consumed three years."
"Oh, rats! I should have told them they could keep their money—the old grannies!" jeered his listener wrathfully.
"They had to be sure, you know."
"But poor Harrison! What was he doing in the meantime?"
"Growing to be a very old man, alas!" McPhearson answered in a saddened voice. "It was not until 1773 that the last of the L20,000 for which he had so valiantly struggled was given him."
"I'm thankful he got it and hadn't died."
"He died three years later—an old man of eighty-three. Nevertheless he lived long enough to see his dream fulfilled. Sixty years of his life he had devoted to experimenting with and perfecting his chronometer. It was a great service to the world—a deed that influenced not only all subsequent clockmaking but ultimately all marine enterprises. It also, by making navigation easier, saved innumerable lives. Other scientists followed and built on his discoveries until now, thanks to them all, the sea is practically as safe and familiar a spot to dwell upon as is the land. No longer are vessels at a loss to know where they are. With the finely adjusted nautical instruments at their command, scientific books, wireless communication, and the correct time sent out each day by radio they have no excuse for failing to make and maintain accurate observations."
"But poor old Harrison—I cannot help regretting he had to wait so long for his prize money," bewailed Christopher.
"I rather think, laddie, had you asked the inventor of the chronometer which gave him the greater satisfaction—the award the English Government paid him or the joy derived from successfully working out the puzzle it propounded—he would have told you that in his estimation, when weighed the one against the other, the money counted for nothing—nothing!"
HOW RUBIES, SAPPHIRES, AND GARNETS HELPED TO TELL TIME
"Well, Christopher, what do you think of the jewelry business?" his father inquired one day after he had been for several months a regular visitor at the store.
"I like parts of it very much," replied he. "The clocks and watches are all right. There's sense in those. I shouldn't mind a bit becoming a repairer if I could be as good a one as Mr. McPhearson. But the rings, bracelets and all those ruby-emerald-diamond fol-de-rols make me sick."
"And yet you could have no fine watches without jewels—remember that."
Abashed, the lad colored.
"Oh, I know the best watches have their works dolled up with precious stones."
"Scarcely dolled up, son," Mr. Burton answered.
"I thought that was what they were put in for."
"Just for ornament?"
"Sure! To make the watches handsomer than those carried by common folks—dressier and more expensive."
"You actually entertained that notion?" came quizzically from the head of the firm.
Mr. Burton gazed at his offspring dumbfounded and reproachful, his eyes saying as plainly as any words could, "That I should live to hear a son of mine give voice to such gross ignorance!" Then when he had conquered his amazement sufficiently to speak he gasped:
"I'm afraid there are still facts that McPhearson will have to teach you before you can follow his trade."
"No doubt there are a few," returned Christopher audaciously.
"This matter of jeweled watches is one. How did it happen you never asked him why precious stones were set in the works of a watch?"
"I thought I knew why."
"He probably thought you did too; but apparently you don't. However, there is hope for you since you are willing to be honest and confess your ignorance. Indeed, I've no right to blame you. How should you know such a thing unless somebody took the trouble to tell you?" the lad's father amended. "Nevertheless, at first I could not but be surprised at the originality of your theory."
"Then the jewels are not for decoration?"
"Well, hardly!" responded Burton, Senior, with an amused shake of his head. "Way back about the year 1700 a Genevan watchmaker residing in London struggled to find some hard material in which to set watch pivots so they would not wear the works of the watch, and after much experimenting with different substances he hit upon the plan of drilling a hole in various kinds of gems and setting the pivots into those. Gems, as perhaps you are already aware, are among the hardest minerals we have. Therefore Facio, as the Swiss was called, proceeded to make a watch after this idea and in 1703 obtained a patent on it good for fourteen years. Then, two years later, when he found by experience how excellent and practical was his scheme, he petitioned that this grant be extended to cover a longer period.
"Now all workmen, alas, are jealous for their own prestige and the artisans belonging to the London Clockmakers' Company were no exception to this rule. All of them were ready enough to seize greedily upon the bright ideas of any craftsman following their line of trade and they resented it bitterly if not allowed to do so. Moreover, that it was Nicolas Facio, a Swiss, and not one of their own number who had stumbled upon this clever device was galling indeed. Therefore, I regret to say, they opposed his application for the extending of his patent on the ground that the jewel idea was not new. A member of their own guild, they insisted, had already constructed such a watch; and to prove the assertion they produced a timepiece with an amethyst gleaming from its works. Upon the presentation of this evidence the unlucky Facio's claim was immediately refused. Later on, however, it proved that the watch displayed by the zealous London gentlemen was not in the least similar to Facio's conception. The jewel had only been stuck on (in accordance with your own plan) and was not set into the works at all. Whether the fraud resulted from ignorance or was a deliberate attempt to deceive no one could say. Certainly in 1703 the London clockmakers had nothing with which to block Facio's application; if, therefore, in 1705 they had a jeweled watch, it looks much as if they must have deliberately prepared it as an argument against the Genevan's request being granted. What the facts were we shall probably never know; but at least poor Facio lost the glory due him for his invention. Since that time practically all watches have certain of their moving parts set in jewels to prevent wear to the bearings and make them run smoother. The more expensive watches contain many of these stones. It requires less power, you see, to drive a well-jeweled watch because of its velvet-like action. But at the same time all this studding of gems greatly increases the cost of making a good watch."
"What a duffer I was to think the jewels were just to make the thing look pretty!" burst out Christopher, when his father had finished.
"Don't come down on yourself too hard, son," Mr. Burton interposed kindly. "We all have to learn. But you can now understand, can't you, that the diamonds, rubies, and precious stones at which you jeered have their practical uses? A pivot or bearing revolving in a hole drilled in a garnet or other gem creates almost no friction and needs therefore only very little oil."
"I can understand it now—yes, sir," returned Christopher meekly.
"Of course in our day the price of jewels has gone up a great deal. There was a time when a full-jeweled watch did not begin to cost what it does now. However, we are free of certain other expenses the old watchmakers encountered," went on Mr. Burton. "For example, about the year 1800, when England was anxious to raise money for the treasury, William Pitt proposed that a tax be placed on the wearing of watches."
"That's worse than having to pay a tax on theater tickets—a good sight!" jested Christopher.
"It certainly meant the taxation of a very useful commodity; we should term it an indispensable one. At that period of history, though, watches and clocks were far less cheap and common and therefore Mr. Pitt may have classed them as luxuries and rated them as our government does perfumery. However that may be, his suggestion of levying two shillings sixpence on every silver watch and ten shillings on every gold one, with the additional tax of five shillings on every clock, went through."
"I don't see why the English people stood for it," said the boy, his hereditary resentment against unjust taxation aroused.
"They were pretty thoroughly vexed, I assure you," was the reply. "It meant, you see, very disastrous results for the horologists. In fact, even outside the trade feeling ran high. Not only were numberless excellent workmen thrown out of their jobs and the watchmaking industry given a general setback, but the public, just coming to appreciate the value of a good timepiece, was vastly inconvenienced. Many persons revolted and ceased to carry watches rather than pay the tax. Some did this as a protest; others because they could not afford the additional expenditure. In the meantime an article known as the Act of Parliament clock was made and put up in the taverns, inns, and coffee houses to aid customers and serve as an additional declaration against the Pitt tax. So general was public disapproval and so bitter the storm created that a year after the law had passed it had to be repealed."
"That's the stuff! It ought to have been," cried young America fervently.
"Yes, I agree with you. It certainly was a mistaken method for raising an income for the State. Once abolished, the industry slowly began to pick up again. Nevertheless, for all that, England never thrived at watchmaking as did France, Switzerland and our own nation. One reason was because she clung stubbornly to the old-fashioned fusee long after other people had abandoned it for the spring. There she made a great mistake. Still, after this Pitt tax was abolished, the craft began, as I said, to get on its feet again. Little by little machinery replaced hand labor and as more watches were turned out the price of them dropped. Also, as foreign trade increased, it became possible to import from other countries parts or the entire works of both clocks and watches. Perhaps had not this arrangement been so easy and simple, England would have been obliged to buck up and evolve a big watch industry of her own; as it was she followed the less difficult path and never went into the manufacture on a large scale with factories and all that."
"How about the French?" Christopher inquired.
"The French, no one can deny, were very ingenious watchmakers. To begin with, they had artistic ideas and great cleverness in producing beautiful and unique designs. The wrist watch, held by thousands of people to be such a boon, was of French invention. But it was the Swiss who were the master watchmakers of the Old World. A French horologer moved to Switzerland, carrying his trade with him, and as a result there soon grew up in Geneva a guild of workmen not to be outranked. There had been watchmakers there before, but the standards this guild created established a quality of work hitherto unknown. Men learned their trade and excelled in it until every part of a Swiss watch, one might almost say, was turned out by an expert. Some artisans made nothing but small wheels, some large ones; some fashioned pivots, some drilled jewels in which to set them. Afterward the watch was assembled, as we call it—all its parts being gathered together, put in place, and adjusted. A Geneva watch thus constructed bore what was practically the trademark of excellence. There was nothing finer on the market."
"Were all Swiss watches equally good?" inquired Christopher.
"As a general thing a Swiss watch could be depended on. However, different cities differed in output. None of them maintained the high standard Geneva established, although Neuchatel, its closest rival, made a great many fine and beautiful watches. In other centers, too, the trade was carried on successfully. But it remained for our own country to develop a vast factory system where every part of a watch was constructed beneath one roof. This innovation, together with the fact that eventually watches came to be made on regulation scales with interchangeable parts, greatly bettered as well as increased watch production."
"I've quite a curiosity to know how this big factory system and in fact the whole clock and watch industry got started in America," the boy observed.
His father smiled.
"That," replied he, "is, as Kipling says, another story, and a long one too. I don't know that I myself could follow every step of it. But you will find McPhearson can. So seriously has he taken his profession that he is not to be floored by anything in time-keeping history. Ask him to tell you what you wish to know."
"He does seem to be mighty well up in his trade, doesn't he?" acknowledged the boy, pleased to hear this tribute to his friend. "He has collected quite a few interesting things related to it, too. The night I was there he showed me a lot of old watch papers he has been years picking up. He told me that long ago, when watches were thicker than they are now, there was a space left between the covers and inside it people put all sorts of things—pictures, small designs embroidered or painted on satin, mottoes, figures pricked on paper until they made raised patterns, poems, and portraits."
"So McPhearson has some of those, has he? Well, well! Sometime I must ask him about them," Mr. Burton said. "The custom of carrying such souvenirs was quite common in England at the time. If a man owned a fine ship or was interested in one, he had a small picture of her painted to put inside the cover of his watch; or he carried a likeness of his wife or sweetheart there. Sometimes, on the other hand, he was patriotically inclined and chose to devote this cherished space to a picture of the king or some national idol. Or maybe he was of literary bent and gave over the shrine to a religious text, a love poem, a maxim, or a moral admonition that he wished to keep daily before him. Even we ourselves often paste pictures in our watches. We have never, however, gone into the craze as the English of this particular era did. With them it was a fashionable fad that resulted in all manner of curious conceits. They had no kodaks, you see, and small pictures were rarer possessions then than now." Mr. Burton paused a moment to puff little rings of smoke thoughtfully into the air. "So McPhearson has made a collection of those old watch-papers, has he!" mused he. "Maybe he would loan them to us and let us exhibit them here at the store sometime. They are quite rare now and would be interesting."
"I think he would be tremendously pleased to do so, Dad," responded Christopher. "He is far too modest ever to suggest doing it himself."
"Oh, we should never know it if McPhearson had the Kohinoor right in his pocket. He would be the last person in the world to tell of it," laughed Mr. Burton. "I know what he is. I am also well aware that he has been very kind to you during these past few months. When the time comes right, I mean to let him know that I have not been blind to his interest and generosity."
"I'd like above everything else to give him a—well, some sort of present when my eyes—if my eyes ever get well again," faltered Christopher a trifle uncertainly.
"Come, come, son! You mustn't talk in that strain," objected Mr. Burton, noticing the depression in the boy's tone. "Of course your eyes are coming out all right. Aren't they worlds better already?"
The lad sighed.
"The doctor says they are," replied he wearily.
"Then what are you fussing about?" blustered Burton, Senior. "You've no cause to be downhearted, my son. Why, when you get back to school you will bound ahead like a trooper. You will find that in a few months you will make up all you've lost—see if you don't; and I believe you will enjoy studying, too, after being so long deprived of books."
"I know I shall see more sense in doing it than I ever did before," asserted Christopher with earnestness. "Somehow, since I've talked so much with Mr. McPhearson, learning things seems more worthwhile."
"You like the old Scotchman, don't you?"
"He's a brick!"
"Then you wouldn't consider it a hardship to be in his company for a while?"
"How—in his company?" asked the boy, glancing up quickly in puzzled surprise.
"Oh, I don't know," was the vague retort.
Nevertheless, as Mr. Burton turned his eyes away, Christopher noticed his father was smiling the meditative, enigmatic smile that he smiled once in a blue moon. It was usually when some particularly delightful reverie occupied his mind that his face took on that especial expression. The lad wondered what he was thinking about this time.
CLOCKS IN AMERICA
"Say, Mr. McPhearson, I wish you would tell me how clocks got to America," demanded Christopher when he and the old Scotchman were next together. "Of course the Pilgrim Fathers couldn't have brought them all."
The watchmaker chuckled.
"To hear folks boast about their ancestral possessions you would think the Mayflower might also have brought a few hundred clocks in addition to all the bales of china, tables, chairs, and beds she is credited with transporting," replied he. "In point of fact, however, clocks did not reach these shores by any such romantic method. The early clockmakers came over here from England and Holland precisely as did other adventurous craftsmen. Often they were by trade gold or silversmiths who combined with other arts that of making clocks. As a result, while some of them were skilled horologers others merely turned out clocks as a side issue."
"Most likely the people over here were thankful to get any clocks at all," the boy ventured.
"Evidently there were clockmakers who worked on that theory," was McPhearson's dry answer. "Do not imagine, however, that I am condemning wholesale all the early clockmakers. On the contrary there were among them many really good workmen and every now and then a clock crops up that testifies to the skill of its dead-and-gone creator. Number Seventeen, for example, that you saw at Mr. Hawley's, was such a one. It was made, you remember, by John Bailey of Hanover, Massachusetts, and ever since the close of the eighteenth century it has ticked faithfully on, keeping excellent time. What more can you ask of a clock than that? And that is only one of many. Had we a complete list of all those early American makers, how interesting it would be! But, alas, they landed and scattered over the country, settling here and settling there, and with a few exceptions we can trace them only through town records. Two that have been successfully tracked down are William Davis, recorded as being in Boston in 1683; and Everardus Bogardus, who was located in New York in 1698. Also in 1707 there is mention of a James Patterson arriving from London and opening a Boston shop. Probably John Bailey, who was no doubt one of the clockmaking Baileys of Yorkshire, was a pioneer of a little later period. We can only list these men as we stumble upon their handiwork. Unfortunately, there are early clocks whose makers it is impossible to trace. A good many such timepieces were made for the interiors of churches or for their steeples. The church at Ipswich, Massachusetts, built in 1699, which at first had only a bell to mark the hours, arrived five years later at the dignity of a clock having both face and hands."
"That sounds like the old days in England," exclaimed Christopher.
"It was a turn backward," conceded McPhearson. "For a time our American clock history repeats in part the history of the race. We did not, to be sure, revert to water clocks; but our forefathers did not scorn to resort to sundials, sand glasses, and noon marks. And even after clocks made their appearance in this country they were at first very sparsely distributed. Many an amusing incident concerning them is found in the annals of various towns.
"New Haven as early as 1727 put up a modest little church and in 1740 decided to dignify it with a clock and bell. Accordingly Ebenezer Parmilee constructed for the parish a clock with brass works which the committee agreed to try. Fancy his amazement when the trial of his handiwork dragged on for two long years! The people had been keen to get the clock but having once secured it they were not, I fear, equally keen about paying for it. History relates that two of the congregation who had previously pledged themselves to shoulder a portion of the expense backed out when the final settlement was imminent, on the plea that they lived too far away either to see the clock or hear it strike."
"They were squealers all right!" derided his listener.
McPhearson turned on him with twinkling eyes.
"Listen to the sequel," continued he. "In 1825 it was decided to have a second clock put up—one that would do better under the varying weather conditions—and a bargain was struck with Barzillai Davidson to take over the old clock, allowing forty dollars for its brass works; and set up in its place one with wooden works costing about three hundred dollars. This Mr. Davidson agreed to do. He therefore made the new clock, put it up, and then departed, carrying with him all the brass wheels, pivots and things the thrifty Ipswich fathers had discarded. Imagine if you can the chagrin of these worthies when later they heard that the canny clockmaker had reassembled the brass works they had bartered off and converted them into a timepiece which he forthwith sold in New York for six hundred dollars!"
"That certainly was one on the town fathers," replied the lad, greeting the story with ringing laughter.
"The saying goes that one has to get up in the morning to beat a Yankee or a Scotchman at a bargain," was McPhearson's quiet observation. "I could add to this tale many another one of the early clockmakers. They were ingenious old fellows. Indeed, they had to be. Some of them, to be sure, brought tools with them from England; but at best there were only a few such articles to be purchased even on the other side of the water where every type of machinery was scarce and still in its infancy. Therefore the majority of workmen had to fashion their own implements and make their clocks with only a hammer, file, and drill to help them. When you consider that, it is little short of a miracle they were able to produce articles that would keep time with even a reasonable degree of accuracy. But they contrived to—oh, yes, indeed! Of course they did not reach their best results immediately. It took a while. Still as clocks continued to make their appearance the product generally became better and better. An excellent one, put up in a church steeple in Newburyport in 1786, was made by Simon Willard, a great Massachusetts clockmaker of whom I will sometime tell you more. There was also a clock of Boston make on the Old South Meeting House sometime before 1768; and Gawen Brown, who made it, also made a long-case clock for the Massachusetts State House. There were good clockmakers in both New York and Philadelphia by the year 1750. So, you see, it was quite possible to buy either a watch or a clock fairly early in our colonial history."