"What type of clock did such makers turn out?" was Christopher's interrogation.
"For use in the homes the long-case clock was the style favored," McPhearson responded. "Some of these had brass works and seconds pendulums and ran eight days, and others were thirty-hour clocks with works of wood. Nevertheless, although they were to be had, they were still something of a luxury and every one did not possess the money to purchase them; nor, indeed, were they held to be indispensable, many of the more conservative families preferring still to use the hourglass even as late as 1812."
"That was the year of the war, wasn't it?" the lad hazarded.
"Yes. The colonists had already had the Revolution on their hands and national affairs were in such a turmoil it was difficult for any one to put his mind on building up a trade. But after a while life calmed down into more tranquil grooves and then clockmaking, like other occupations, leaped into prosperity. New England, where many of the first clockmakers had originally settled, led the country in this industry as was natural she should, more improvements and inventions being perfected there than anywhere else. And Connecticut was the banner State. She boasted a large group of successful makers, any one of whom was a master at his craft. The names of some of them are Daniel Burnap, Thomas Harland, Eli Terry, Eli Terry, Junior, Silas Hoadley, Seth Thomas, and Chauncey Jerome. Harland was an expert from London and had a hand in training a goodly number of American apprentices, among whom the elder Terry was one. The career of the latter man reads like a fairy tale. In common with other early workers he labored at the disadvantage of having few tools. He may, perhaps, have owned a hand engine of the sort used in England at the period, but until he bethought him of using water power he had little else to aid him."
"Did he make the long-case clock, too?" asked Christopher.
"Yes. That style of clock, you see, provided space for a lengthy, slow-swinging pendulum. Nevertheless although it was a popular variety, it was anything but a convenient one to handle, being both bulky and awkward to transport. For this reason many such clocks were sold without cases—a custom borrowed from England—it being understood that buyers should furnish cases of their own. Only too often, alas, this part of the contract was never carried out and the unfortunate wag-on-the-wall (as this sort of timepiece was eventually dubbed) was hung up all unprotected from dust and dampness."
"Do you mean to say they really christened clocks by that unearthly name?" asked Christopher incredulously.
"Wag-on-the-wall? Yes, indeed. That was the term they went by. Pedlars carried them round on horseback, riding from house to house and jolting them over the bad roads until it is a seven-days' wonder they went at all," was McPhearson's retort.
"I never saw a clock of the sort," the lad mused.
"They are rare now. I suppose most of them were discarded years ago. You see, since they had no cases they probably became clogged with dirt and wore out much sooner than did the protected long-case clocks; moreover, as they were both cheap and commonplace, nobody thought of keeping them after something better was procurable. Who would dream of laying them aside and cherishing them because they might in years to come be curiosities of historic value? Americans never keep anything, you know. It is a seven-days' wonder how they ever chanced to possess any heirlooms at all."
Christopher smiled at the Scotchman's savage grumble.
"Thomas Harland made quite a few of these wags-on-the-wall as well as some fine long-case clocks with works of brass," added the old man.
"I suppose none of the makers could turn out very many clocks when every part of them had to be made by hand," was Christopher's thoughtful comment.
"No, they couldn't. Moreover the demand for clocks was not great. Usually clockmakers either started only three or four or else began none until they received advance orders. If eight or ten good clocks that would sell for thirty-five or forty dollars apiece were turned out inside a year, the output was held to be a pretty fair one."
"Nobody could get very rich on that income," came from the lad.
"Not if that rate of production had continued. But it didn't, you see. After Eli Terry got to making clocks somewhere about 1795 he was clever enough to carry water from a near-by brook into his shop and supplement his tools and hand engine with water power. That was a stride ahead of the old way and opened before him all manner of undreamed-of possibilities, as a result of which he decided to make clocks on a tremendous scale. The type of thing he aimed to produce was a thirty-hour clock with wooden works and a pendulum vibrating seconds; and he figured that by purchasing more water power and larger buildings he would be able to make such clocks at the rate of a thousand or more a year and therefore turn them out for as little as four dollars apiece—a mad enterprise in that era of limited economic conditions."
"Did the scheme make good?"
"Not to the extent he had hoped," answered McPhearson. "He could, it is true, make clocks with wooden works much cheaper than with works of brass; but he did not feel satisfied with them and after the year was up he abandoned the venture. Hence this variety of clock of the elder Terry workmanship is rarely to be found. A somewhat crude timepiece it was, having no dial and only figures painted on the glass at the front of the case to indicate the hours. Peering through it one could see the works. But although Eli Terry himself gave up making this style of clock, others who had caught his idea did not and consequently a good many of them came into the market. In fact most of Terry's inspirations were thanklessly snatched up by his contemporaries, for in all his years of work he took out only one patent."
A protest escaped Christopher's lips.
"Patents were held in no very high esteem in those days," continued McPhearson. "People did not regard them in the light we do now. You remember how the old clockmakers of London blocked the path whenever a member of their craft attempted to secure one. They wished to share the benefits of everybody's ideas and therefore maintained that all inventions should be common property. As a rule those who clamored most loudly that this altruistic arrangement be promoted were those who never had any brilliant ideas of their own. As for the inventors themselves—they were as a rule too intent on the thing they were producing to pay any great heed to the money end of the project. Eli Terry was a man of this character. Therefore it came about that when others copied the circular saw he installed and made off with the other fruits of his brain he raised no protest."
"Did he never make any more clocks with wooden works?" inquired Christopher.
"Oh, yes, indeed! By 1814 he had worked out a fresh model of a wooden clock that he liked much better than his first. This one vibrated half-seconds and accordingly could be made with a pendulum short enough for the timepiece to be placed on a shelf as the former one had been. It was, however, of an entirely new design, having a dial in the upper half, painted glass in the door and an ornamental pillar at each side of the case. On top was a decorative scroll of wood and altogether it was a product so novel and well suited to the home that immediately the public greeted it with delight."
"And I suppose all the other clockmakers promptly began to copy it," interposed Christopher.
"Precisely!" smiled the Scotchman. "The old wag-on-the-wall, and in many instances even the grandfather clock was consigned to the ash heap, and the pillar clock became the only clock worth having. It was, fortunately, within range of the most modest purse, costing only fifteen dollars. Mr. Terry now had more business than he could handle and he took in his two sons, Henry and Eli, Junior, to learn the trade and help him. Of course this wonderful commodity could not be imported because if taken to sea the dampness would swell its wooden wheels and ruin it. Nevertheless Terry did not care. He had all the trade he could manage right here at home. For twenty-five years his wooden clocks remained in vogue, a long period to hold the favor of the fickle public. Great credit is due Mr. Terry, too, for bringing such a clock into being, for a timepiece with wooden works meant the making of an entirely different set of tools, since it was impossible to use the same implements that were required in the making of clocks with works of brass."
"I suppose it was a change in fashion that finally caused the downfall of the wooden-wheeled clock," was Christopher's comment.
He ventured the remark with some pride.
"No, in this particular case it wasn't. Capricious as fashion is, people liked the shelf clock much better than they did a tall clock that stood on the floor, and they would no doubt have continued to buy these clocks with wooden works had not sheet metal began to be manufactured about the year 1840. Instantly clockmakers saw the advantage of having sheet brass to work with. It was far better than the cast brass formerly used. An improvement, too, were the wire pinions—accessories much cheaper and simpler to produce than were those of wood. Therefore just as wood forced the old cast brass out of favor, so sheet brass now took the place of wood. Fortunately for Eli Terry, the drastic changes he had instituted in the fashioning of his clocks were equally possible of manufacture either from cast or sheet material."
"No doubt by that time the whole country had gobbled up his inventions," sniffed Christopher.
"Yes. The best of his ideas had been seized and generally put into practice not only on this side of the ocean but also on the other. Two of his ideas were everywhere popular—the placing of the dial works between plates; and the mounting of the verge on a small steel pin inserted in one end of the short arm. But in spite of all the improvements he had made, Mr. Terry did not sit down with folded hands and feel there was nothing further to be done. Constantly he was alert for practical suggestions that should better his handiwork. For example, he heard that some one was making machinery according to a definite scale so that parts of it could be exchanged from one article to another. Why, thought he, should not the parts of a clock be made so they would be interchangeable? The plan proved a most excellent one and eventually it was universally adopted by other clockmakers. So you see, in one way and another, old Eli Terry contributed very materially to up-building the American clockmaking industry."
"Did his sons go on making clocks?" was Christopher's inquiry.
"Yes," nodded McPhearson. "In fact, ever so many clockmaking Terrys came after old Eli, and each added his bit to his ancestor's trade. One branched out and made tempered steel clock springs to take the place of the expensive springs of brass which were too costly to put into the cheaper grade of American-made clocks. Oh, yes, the Terrys kept up the traditions of the family—never fear about that! All that group of early Connecticut manufacturers did great service to the country in founding an industry that has brought to the United States a goodly portion of its business prosperity. Seth Thomas, Silas Hoadley, Chauncey Jerome are names that will not soon be forgotten; Terryville and Thomaston, two clockmaking centers, testify to that. As for Jerome—it was he who experimented with the painting of decorative glass and evolved that variety having a bronzed effect."
"Oh, I know what you mean," interrupted Christopher with quick intelligence. "Our kitchen clock has glass like that in the door. And meantime, while Connecticut was doing so much, what were the other states up to?"
"Let me think a moment," replied the Scotchman, half closing his eyes. "Well, Rhode Island never furnished much aid along the line of clockmaking; her talents seemed to lie in the direction of spinning yarn, making thread, and weaving textiles. What clocks she needed were imported or made by hand by local silversmiths. Pennsylvania, however, contributed her part. David Rittenhouse of Philadelphia was an exceedingly skillful clockmaker who not only had to his credit many fine timepieces but also some very complicated and remarkable ones. Christopher Sower, too, was a Pennsylvania man not to be overlooked."
"Christopher, eh?" the boy repeated.
"Yes. There are some exceedingly distinguished Christophers in history, remember. You and Columbus are not the only ones," asserted McPhearson, with dancing eyes. "This Christopher Sower, now, could turn not alone his hand but his well-trained brain in a variety of worthy directions. To begin with, before he settled in Germantown he had taken a doctor's degree in an Old World medical university. Therefore after becoming established on his American farm he not only tilled the land but he doctored his neighbors. In addition he took up clockmaking, paper-making, and the printing of books. And as if these vocations, or avocations, did not keep him busy enough, he supplemented them by trying to improve the manufacture of cast-iron stoves. Even he himself, perhaps, felt it necessary to offer apology for dabbling in so many trades, for when he came to put his name on his clocks he spelled it Souers."
The lad smiled.
"Then there was also in Pennsylvania a friend of Benjamin Franklin's, Edward Duffield, who made good clocks. Meantime in New Hampshire both Timothy Chandler of Concord and Luther Smith of Keene were successfully plying the clockmaking trade and creating beautiful old clocks. But it was Massachusetts that was Connecticut's strong second."
"And what was being done there?"
McPhearson put down his drill.
"Were I to begin that story," protested he, "I should have no lunch to-day and you would have none either. Maybe some other time—"
"To-morrow?" suggested Christopher, who had no intention of allowing this prince of story-tellers to escape.
"Why, yes—to-morrow—if you are still of the same mind, you shall hear the Massachusetts story."
WHAT MASSACHUSETTS CONTRIBUTED
Mr. McPhearson had no chance to forget his promise even had he been so minded, for promptly the next morning, almost before his tools were laid out on his bench, Christopher presented himself, announcing with a mischievous smile:
"To-day, you know, you are going to tell me the clock history of Massachusetts."
"Indeed I'm not," growled the Scotchman, who although flattered by the demand, was unwilling to admit it. "History of Massachusetts! The very idea!"
"I said the clock history," corrected Christopher, not a whit abashed.
"Did you? Well, even that is bad enough. What do you think I'm here for? To play school-master?"
"Oh, no, indeed. Merely to serve as my private tutor," was the teasing reply.
"That's your belief, is it! Egad, I begin to think it is," laughed the clockmaker, amused at the lad's audacity. "Certainly your demand would seem to bear out the theory."
"But you made the promise yourself—you can't have forgotten that."
"Forget it! Would I be likely to forget—would I so much as get the chance, with you pestering me almost before my hat is off? Well, if I was rash enough to make a promise like that, I see no way but to keep it; so the Massachusetts clock story it shall be. It happens, too, that you have asked for it at just the right moment, for to-day I am going to work on as fine an old Willard clock as ever you saw. She is the real thing!"
"Was Willard the first of the Massachusetts clockmakers?"
"Among the first; and undeniably one of the best and most important of them. Oh, of course there were other men—some of them excellent. But we know less about them because they left no such long trail of clocks behind as the Willards did. Gawen Brown was a splendid workman; and so was Avery, who in 1726 made the clock for the Old North church. Then there was Benjamin Bagnall, who located in Charlestown about 1712 and remained there almost thirty years. His two sons, Benjamin and Samuel, also went into the clockmaking business and did very commendable work. In addition there were the Munroes of Concord—Daniel and Nathaniel; and Samuel Whiting, Nate's partner; not to mention the Popes, Robert and Joseph; and Daniel Balch of Newburyport. All these men were well established in or near Boston either before 1800 or shortly after that date."
"Evidently the Massachusetts people must have known what time it was," grinned Christopher.
"If they didn't it was their own fault," returned his companion, "for this list probably represents only a part of those engaged in the business. A good many more, like our friend, John Bailey, moved to small inland villages where they modestly plied their trade, selling their wares to only a limited circle of purchasers. Of these scattered craftsmen we have, as I told you, scant information. It is merely when we chance upon their names in early town records or a clock turns up to testify to their knowledge of their craft that we have tidings of them. But with the Willards it was different. They have left behind them a collection of clocks that speaks in no mistakable terms for their skill and industry."
"How many of these Willards were there?" Christopher demanded.
"Well, old Benjamin, the father, who was located in Framingham somewhere about the year 1716, had twelve children and three of these—Benjamin, Junior, Simon, and Aaron all became crackajack clockmakers, especially Simon. The family, I take it, went to Grafton, a small town near Worcester, later on. At any rate Benjamin, Junior, was born there. We afterward hear of him in Lexington and are told that in 1771 he moved from there to Roxbury. In this latter spot he himself set up a shop; but he must still have maintained another one at Grafton, his birthplace, where apprentices in the meantime carried on a part of his business, for his clocks bear three different markings—Grafton, Lexington, and Roxbury. He turned out excellent long-case clocks as well as some musical ones, and many of these survive him. He died in Baltimore in 1803. Aaron, and his son Aaron, Junior (who entered his father's shop in 1823), also made fine long-case clocks with brass works that found ready sale."
"Ah, the story of Simon and his deeds would fill a book. He was the flower of the family, so far, anyway, as clockmaking went. His handiwork cannot be surpassed," exclaimed McPhearson with enthusiasm. "People are liable to associate him only with the banjo clock that bears his name; but in reality he made clocks of every imaginable description—long-case clocks, tower clocks, gallery clocks, shelf clocks. He was a born clock lover if ever there was one! He was, moreover, a marvelous man who up to the end of his long life was active and useful. Even after he became very old he fought to conceal the limitations age brought and remain cheerful and independent. A wonderful example of lusty manhood, truly! In the first place you must remember he started out on his career with the same meager equipment that hampered all the early clockmakers. A file, drill and hammer were practically the only tools he possessed. Neither you nor I would think it possible to construct so delicate a mechanism as a clock with so few articles to work with. We should insist that we needed and must have this thing, that thing, and the other thing to use, and then we probably should not be able to produce a clock that would go—let alone one that would keep accurate time. But you did not hear Simon Willard doing any fussing. There was nothing of the whiner about him. The fact that he was obliged to import brass from England, hammer it down to the thickness necessary, file it until it was smooth, and then polish it by hand did not daunt him. A more persistent, painstaking, conscientious clockmaker never lived. What marvel that he scorned to advertise? While others cried their products, he simply pasted in the back of each of his clocks the few modest facts he wished to announce and let his work go out to speak for itself."
"Ask the man who owns one!" put in Christopher, quoting a well-known and modern advertisement.
"Exactly!" agreed McPhearson. "Anybody that produces an A1 commodity hardly needs to bark about it. People find out what goods are worth. This, evidently, was Simon Willard's theory. You see he knew his trade from A to Z, having been apprenticed to his older brother Benjamin when only a small boy. The tale is that when barely thirteen years old he made a grandfather clock that was in every respect better than that of his master."
"Gee! Why, I am—"
"You are older than that already and could not make a clock, eh?" interrupted the Scotchman with quick understanding. "Neither could I, and I am many times your age. But life was different in the olden days. Boys learned trades very early and went to work at them. Many a lad, for example, was sent to sea by the time he was ten or twelve. Hence the fact that Simon Willard was apprenticed when so young was in no way remarkable. But that he should thus early have outranked his teacher is significant. We are not surprised, in consequence, to hear that it was not long before he branched out for himself and opened a shop at Grafton where he began to construct clocks."
"He must still have been pretty youthful," ventured Christopher.
"I imagine he was. Nevertheless he married and settled down to his career, starting in to make both shelf and long-case varieties. These he completed during the snowy season when the roads were bad and then, as soon as summer came and it was possible to get about on horseback, he and his brother, Aaron, used to travel about and sell the winter's output. Aaron peddled the goods along the south edge of the Massachusetts coast and Simon went north, sometimes even as far as Maine."
"But I should think clocks would have been ruined if jolted about on horseback!" objected Christopher.
"I don't think it could have been ideal for their health," laughed McPhearson. "But it was the best method of distribution the age afforded and Simon Willard did not scorn so humble a beginning. He remained in Grafton until some time between 1777 and 1780 and then as his wife died he moved to Roxbury and at what is now Number 2196 Washington Street opened a shop. In the meantime he had done quite a lot of experimenting and had arrived at the conclusion he would in future center his energy on making only church clocks, hall clocks and turret clocks. Therefore from that date on these were the styles he chiefly manufactured. Probably it would have been no small surprise to him had he known that the banjo clock he patented about 1802 and dubbed an improved timepiece would be the one to come down through history bearing his name."
"I wouldn't mind having it bear mine," smiled the boy, as he glanced toward the beautiful old Willard lying so ignominiously on its back on McPhearson's workbench. "I like all these brass trimmings. Besides, the picture of the sea fight painted on the glass door is jolly."
"Evidently Willard thought sea fights jolly, too, for he generally selected them as decoration for his clocks. I have heard there were two men in Roxbury who painted all his glass for him; one of them did lacy patterns of conventional design, and the other did naval battles. This fact helps us some in identifying genuine Willards. Of course the decoration could be copied by others; but add to it other hallmarks typical and now well-known and a true Willard can usually be detected. For instance, it is said on good authority that no real Willard clock is ever surmounted by a brass eagle. We often see the design on old clocks that purport to be Willards; but Simon Willard, his descendants attest, never used a decoration so elaborate. Instead he preferred simple things such as a brass acorn or one carved from wood; a gilt ball, or combination of ball and spear-head. But the eagle he never patronized."
"Maybe he didn't know how to make a brass eagle and couldn't find anybody who did," suggested Christopher.
"Possibly. To make an eagle would be quite an undertaking if you didn't know just how to set about it," acquiesced McPhearson. "At any rate Simon let eagles alone. Another device characteristic of his clocks, along with these two patterns of glass and the decoration on top, was the catch that kept the doors tightly closed. It was a pet scheme of his to make use of a sort of clasp that could only be opened with the clock key. This he resorted to in order to prevent the doors from jarring open and admitting the dirt; and also that children might not be able to meddle with the works or hands. He had a great many small children himself and had perhaps learned from experience the pranks little people were likely to perpetrate. Besides these several trademarks there are in addition various ingenious tricks that belonged to Willard and to nobody else. These a trained clockmaker instantly recognizes—the use of brass pins to hold the dial in place, for one thing. So, you see, when a banjo clock comes your way there are various methods by which its genuineness can be tested. They cannot, perhaps, be rated as infallible but they do help in identification."
"It is a pity Simon Willard did not sign his clocks as artists sign their pictures. Then there would have been no discussion about them," said Christopher.
"Willard did mark his later clocks," answered McPhearson. "Possibly in his early days it did not occur to him that it was worth while."
"Well, anyhow, I can hunt for the Willard tags—the queer catch on the door; the acorns, balls, or spearheads; and the painted lace or the naval battles."
At the final phrase the Scotchman smiled whimsically.
"It is funny Willard should have been so keen on sea fights," remarked he, "for as a matter of fact he was anything but a fighter. Undoubtedly it was the Revolution and the War of 1812 that stimulated the picturing of such scenes and made them popular. Had war been left to dear peace-loving old Simon Willard there would not have been much shooting, for he hated the very sight of a gun. One of his relatives declares that although like other loyal citizens he turned out at Lexington on the famous nineteenth of April and marched to Roxbury with Captain Kimball's company he often humorously asserted afterward that the musket he carried had no lock on it. The omission, however, did not appear to trouble him; on the contrary, it rather pleased him. Once, in later life, he one day picked up a gun that unexpectedly went off with such a bang that it knocked him down and as a result he could never be tempted into touching firearms of any description. The argument that they were not loaded had no effect whatsoever.
"No matter," he would say. "The durn thing may go off just the same."
Christopher laughed merrily.
"It was sometime between 1777 and 1780, as I told you, that Simon Willard came to Roxbury. But before he focused his entire attention on clocks he invented a clock-jack, and in 1784 with the approval of John Hancock, the General Court of Massachusetts granted him the exclusive right to make and sell the device."
"And what, pray, is a clock-jack?" interrogated Christopher.
"Ah, it is easily seen you did not live in early colonial days," smiled McPhearson. "A clock-jack, sonny, is a contrivance for roasting meat."
"Roasting meat!" repeated the lad incredulously. "But what had a man of Willard's genius to do with roasting meat?"
"Perhaps a good deal," the Scotchman answered. "He was the father of a big family, remember, and no doubt, like all good husbands, bore his share of the domestic burden. A man with eleven children must have been forced to turn his shoulder to the wheel in many a domestic crisis, for nobody kept servants at that time. Evidently either Willard himself had encountered the dilemmas of cooking or he had seen others struggle with them, and this, no doubt, was what led him to invent the ingenious article of which I have told you."
"But you haven't told me," was Christopher's quick protest.
"Why, so I haven't! Well, in the far-away days of our forefathers food was cooked neither in ranges nor in gas stoves. Instead it was cooked before the big open fire. A piece of meat, for example, was suspended by a chain from the mantelpiece and some member of the family was detailed to whirl it round and round until it was roasted evenly and cooked through. Now such an operation was a great nuisance, for no matter what you wished to do you must keep your mind on that roast lest it burn on one side and be ruined. If the mother of the house was washing dishes, cooking, or taking care of the baby, she had to stop every few moments and turn the meat around. And if she was too much occupied to do it, like as not the father was routed out of his shop, and told to have an eye on the beef.
"Willard himself may frequently have been forced to drop his tools and, since his children were young and motherless, attend to this bothersome duty. For fathers played a more intimate part in the homes of that generation than they do now. At any rate he was certainly familiar with the problems that entered into the cooking of the family dinner—just how heavy and clumsy were the big, awkward clock-jacks imported from England, how costly they were, and all. So he took the matter in hand and invented a clock-jack that was much better than the imported one. Not only did it spin the meat around when wound up, but it was enclosed in a brass cover that kept in the heat and juices. It is probable that the invention furnished inspiration for somebody else for presently the covered tin baker made its appearance and Willard abandoned making clock-jacks and turned his energy toward timekeepers instead."
"Do you mean to say he made his clocks at home?"
"At first he did. His house was a tiny dwelling, too. Just how he and his many children contrived to find places to sleep is a mystery. Some of the youngsters were tucked away in trundle beds, you may be sure. Out behind the kitchen was a sort of woodshed, and it was in this primitive location that Mr. Willard made his clocks."
"Not big clocks!"
"But I should think he would have been compelled to have more room."
"I fancy his quarters were not ideal and were pretty cramped. He could have got on well enough had he been making shelf clocks that vibrated only half-seconds, like those of Eli Terry; but he had given up making those when he left Grafton. Therefore when it came to testing out his big turret clocks, he had to cut a hole in the floor in order to give their long pendulums room to swing."
"That was a stunt!"
"It simply proves that a determined man will find a way," McPhearson declared. "Simon Willard was not a person who allowed circumstances to master him. Lack of tools, limitations of space, the utter absence of all those aids we should now deem indispensable—none of these obstacles deterred him from making clocks that have seldom been outranked."
"A bully good sport, wasn't he!" exclaimed Christopher.
"A sport in the best sense," agreed McPhearson. "As a humble member of his craft I take off my hat to him. It was in 1801 that he made his first banjo clock—a clock that, as he asserted, could be hung on the wall and stood no risk of being knocked off or moved about as a shelf clock did. The patent for this article bore the autographs of President Jefferson and James Madison, who was at the time Secretary of State. The same year Willard made a clock for the United States Senate Chamber and went to Washington to assure himself that it was properly put up and also explain how it should be cared for. This clock, unfortunately, was ruined when the British burned the Capitol; nevertheless, Willard's journey hither was not in vain, for while in the city he made the personal acquaintance of President Jefferson and the two men, both of them interested in mechanics, formed a lifelong friendship. In fact, it was through Jefferson that Willard received the order to make a large clock for the University of Virginia."
"And did he have to go down there, too?"
"He did go down. During Jefferson's lifetime he was more than once a guest at Monticello. The clock, however, was not completed until after the President died, and when Willard finally went to put it in place he stayed with Madison who had a home no great distance away."
"He seemed to make friends wherever his business took him," remarked Christopher thoughtfully.
"Not only that, but his work made friends for him," was McPhearson's answer. "It was so well done that people appreciated its worth and gave him more orders. For fifty years he had charge of the clocks at Harvard University and in 1829 the Corporation awarded him a vote of thanks for his faithful services. It is something of a record to have performed work so satisfactorily for half a century."
"I'll say it is!"
"In 1837 the United States Government engaged Mr. Willard to make two clocks for the new Capitol at Washington, one of them to take the place of the Senate clock that was burned and the other to be put in Statuary Hall. In the latter room there was already a very beautiful allegorical clock but it needed new works. Willard was now getting to be an old man and such a commission would have dismayed most elderly persons. But although eighty-five the old clockmaker did not hesitate to fill the order or travel to Washington to make sure his handiwork was properly installed. It sometimes seemed as if he must have discovered the fountain of eternal youth. Remember he was seventy-eight when he made the turret clock for the Old State House in Boston. I have heard that for some of this later work he used a hand engine to cut parts afterward finished by hand; and of course as his fame traveled and his business increased, he had apprentices to help him and he was obliged to move into a larger shop. But even at that the miracle of what he did does not lose its luster.
"At length, in 1839, he retired, a hale, respected veteran with a long path of usefulness behind him. Until he was eighty he read without glasses; and so accurate was his eye that never in all his life did he measure the notchings on a wheel, and yet these free-hand calculations proved to be unfailingly correct. But, alas, human machinery is less long-lived than is artificial, and at the age of ninety-five Simon Willard died.
"'The old clock is worn out!' was what he said, and indeed the words were true. For close on to a century eyes, hands, and brain had continuously labored for the well-being of others. Yet the works of a good man follow him and in numberless homes, in public buildings, on church spires, honored monuments to the memory of Simon Willard still survive—monuments far more useful than are inert blocks of marble—monuments that pulse with life and keep hourly before those who look upon them the thought of one who performed for his fellow men a practical and enduring service."
THE ROMANCE OF THE WATCH
"I asked Dad last night why he didn't have a Willard clock here in the store instead of the one we've got," confided Christopher to McPhearson the next morning, "and he was quite sore about it. He said that in the first place a balcony clock of Willard make would cost a fortune and probably could not be bought, anyway; and then he added that we already had a Jim-dandy clock made by one of the Willard apprentices. I didn't get the chance to ask him what he meant by that."
"Our clock is a Howard, one of the best makes there is," McPhearson explained. "Years ago Edward Howard, the founder of the Howard Clock Company, began clockmaking as a pupil of Aaron Willard, Junior. Howard was a boy of only sixteen at the time, and for five years he studied clocks under this excellent tutelage. Do not imagine, however, that this balcony clock of ours was made by Mr. Howard himself. What your father meant was that built into the background of the Howard Company were the Willard traditions and ideas."
"Then really Aaron Willard hadn't much to do with our clock," remarked Christopher, disappointment in his voice.
"Not directly, no. Still you have no cause for complaint on that score. The Howard clock is a more modern product, that is all. Mr. Howard, like Mr. Willard, left his imprint on both the American clock and watch industries, holding for years a very unique place in their development. Moreover he founded a great business that now gives to us clocks of almost every design. Many are for the interiors of public buildings such as halls, stores, churches, offices, and railway stations. Others are for towers or steeples. Some have illuminated dials and some are electric watch clocks. Therefore do not waste your tears lamenting that your father does not possess an old Willard balcony clock. It would be an interesting thing to own, I don't deny that; but what you already have is as good a timepiece as can be procured anywhere. No one blushes for a Howard clock or needs to blush. Mr. Howard, along with Willard, deserves great credit for building up this successful business of his, for when he began it he started out all by himself in a little shop not over thirty feet square."
"It's a wonderful thing to found a big business, isn't it?" reflected Christopher.
"Yes, to set going a flourishing industry that not only provides bread and butter for hundreds of workmen but also furnishes the public with a well-made commodity that it needs is a great service to civilization," said McPhearson. "Edward Howard, as I told you, had a generous part in doing this, not only in the clock world but also in the realm of watches."
"How did he connect up with the watches?"
"Well, you see, early America had very few watchmakers," was the reply. "There were, it is true, numerous persons who dubbed themselves watchmakers and who, like myself, could repair a watch; but they could not make one. Therefore watchmaking as an industry did not exist in this country. So about 1850 Mr. Aaron Dennison, a Boston watch repairer, conceived the idea of starting such a business. Already he had discussed plans with Edward Howard, and now the two men entered into partnership and after raising considerable capital they constructed a small factory in Roxbury. To fully appreciate the difficulties of their venture, you must keep in mind the fact that previous to this time watchmaking had never been conducted along modern lines. There was no such thing in the world as a factory system where every part of a watch was made beneath one roof. Instead, as I believe I told you, watches were made in different places—the wheels at the home of one man, the springs at that of another, and so on, after which the various parts were assembled, put together, and adjusted. This was the plan followed in France, England, and Switzerland, and the one which with certain modifications is to a great extent still followed in those countries. And in our own land there was not even as much of a system as that, watches being made on a very small scale by individual workmen. It was this scheme of affairs that Aaron Dennison and Edward Howard determined to change."
"They took some contract on their hands, I should say."
"A bigger contract than you realize, son," the Scotchman answered. "A bigger one than they fully realized, I guess. It is fortunate we do not see all our obstacles when we set forth on an undertaking, for if we did many an enterprise would be abandoned before it was even begun. These two men, now—in the first place they had no machinery; nor was there any to be bought. Moreover, there was nothing to pattern watch machinery after. It had never been made. So, you see, it was one thing to give a man tools and leave him to achieve with them a specified end, working toward the desired result as he went along; and quite another to invent a brainless device that would mechanically reach the same end. Numberless difficulties must be overcome. To manufacture watches in quantity it was imperative that the parts be interchangeable. They must not vary even an infinitesimal degree or the whole delicate organism would be thrown out of adjustment. It was not an industry where hit-or-miss methods could be glossed over; on the contrary, every part of the process must be absolutely accurate. Do you wonder people were skeptical as to the possibility of making such a mad undertaking a success and hesitated about putting money into it?"
"I suppose the public rated it a wildcat scheme," responded Christopher.
"Yes, it seemed very impractical to business men. When you have to build up a factory system from the machinery itself, you have something gigantic on your hands. And that is the task on which Mr. Dennison and Mr. Howard embarked. I suppose nobody will ever appreciate the trials those dauntless pioneers went through. Four years they worked in their Roxbury factory and only had a few hundred watches to show for all their toil. Nevertheless the experience taught them many things and chief among these was the fact that they must have more room. Accordingly in 1854 they put up a new factory at Waltham, Massachusetts, and it is this structure, standing to this day, that was the first building of the Waltham Watch factory."
"So the Waltham Watch factory is the grandfather of all the others, is it?" commented Christopher.
"It is both the oldest and the largest," declared McPhearson. "It also is the place where the factory system of watch manufacture had its beginning. The general disbelief of the public was, however, a great obstacle to the prosperity of the infant enterprise. Often both Mr. Dennison and Mr. Howard were bitterly disheartened. The outlay for constructing machinery, buying materials, and experimenting licked up capital with terrifying rapidity. Had not two Boston men, Mr. Samuel Curtis and Mr. Charles Rice, had faith enough to back the project financially, it certainly would have gone to pieces. Even as it was quantities of money were sunk before any results were forthcoming. The parts of a watch are so small and so delicate that to produce machinery that would make them and make them so that one did not vary from another by so much as a hair-breadth—well, there were moments when it seemed almost futile to try to do it. For, you know, if any part of a watch is even so much as one five-thousandth of an inch out of the way, it is good-by to the watch. It won't go—that is all!"
"I had no idea such a variation as that would count for anything," gasped his listener. "Why, it must have been terrible to figure machinery down to that point! I shouldn't think Mr. Dennison or Mr. Howard would ever have wanted to look at another watch."
"I imagine there were times when they didn't," was McPhearson's grave response. "But for all that they persisted. Fortunately they made a pretty good team, so far as training went, for Mr. Dennison was perfectly familiar with repairing, and Mr. Howard with the construction of watches. Notwithstanding this, however, neither of them had any knowledge whatsoever as to certain details of the business—how to make a dial, temper hairsprings, polish steel, or do watch-gilding properly—and none of their men had either. As a result every one of these separate arts and many like them had to be studied and mastered from the foundation up, and after the chiefs themselves had experimented and found out how to turn the trick they had to teach their men what they personally had learned."
"Great Scott! I'd have given the business away to anybody who wanted it," burst out Christopher.
"So would almost anybody else, I fancy," agreed the Scotchman. "But they kept right on sticking at it. It wasn't their courage that gave out in the end; it was their money. They simply could not continue to pull along under so colossal a burden. Therefore after three years they sold the business (operated at that time under the name of the Boston Watch Company) to Mr. Royal Robbins, and he reorganized it and christened it the Waltham Watch Company."
"It seems kind of a pity they had to sell it," mused Christopher with regret. "The worst of the battle was over by that time."
"Yes. At least the foundation of the enterprise was well laid."
"What became of Mr. Dennison and Mr. Howard?" asked the boy.
"Mr. Howard went back to Roxbury to his first factory and there the Howard Watch and Clock Company was formed. The saying goes that it is a long lane that has no turning. Certainly every one familiar with Mr. Howard's early struggles must have rejoiced in the success that ultimately came to him. Mr. Dennison had in the meantime left the Waltham company; but when it was reorganized he returned to it and remained there several years to lend his invaluable aid to the new firm."
"And did the concern go ahead after that?"
"Yes, it had reached calm waters by this time. Besides, when the Civil War arose and the rate of gold went up, watches brought very high prices and the company coined money. With it they were enabled to branch out and not only improve their home plant but put up factories elsewhere. Some of these were not, to be sure, successful; but as a whole the business thrived wonderfully. Offices were established in London, and America began to take her place among the big watchmaking countries of the world."
"Hurrah for Uncle Sam!" laughed the boy.
"Rather I say hurrah for the fellows who fought his watch battle for him," was McPhearson's somewhat curt retort. "For the watch business has never been one easy of development. You can blunder along and turn out poor, carelessly made stuff in certain lines of trade and get by with it. The public does not always know a good product from a bad one, and all except the expert can be easily fooled. But a watch proclaims its own worth. It has to go and has to keep accurate time or all the world will know it. If it fails to do the work it was bought to do, people won't buy it. Therefore that these results may be reached and a satisfactory article put on the market there must be money enough to house a large plant, pay skilled and high-priced workmen, supply the best of material, and tempt into the industry men of brains. Many a watch venture has gone on the rocks for the lack of these assets.
"Once on its feet, however, a well-manned American watch concern has all it can do. It need have no qualms about foreign rivalry, for no European country has ever yet been able to build up a factory system that could touch that of the United States, either in quality or quantity of output. As a result most nations have given over trying to. Our watches can be made cheaper and hence in greater numbers than those of other lands, and we now practically control the watch market. The era when a few watches were made by hand and afterward sent to a local astronomer or distant observatory to be tested out has passed. Even before the United States Naval Observatory was established the Waltham Watch Company had an observatory of its own. Now we have graduated even beyond that point and each noon the official time is telegraphed or broadcast from Arlington to all parts of the country."
"We do whizz ahead, don't we?" meditated Christopher, absently twirling between his fingers a screw he had picked up from McPhearson's bench.
"I should say we did," was the enthusiastic reply. "That screw, for instance! In the infancy of watchmaking it took a good factory worker a whole day to make from eight to twelve hundred screws. This seems a vast number until you recall that each watch requires from thirty to fifty of these small articles. At that rate, you see, it would not take long to use up all the screws a mechanic could turn out. Now, so marvelous has machinery become, that a single operator can tend half a dozen or more machines, every one of which can produce from four thousand to ten thousand screws a day. This gives you some idea of the proportionate increase in watch parts. For in a big country like this we have to make lots of watches to supply those constantly clamoring for them. Long ago a watch was either a toy or a luxury; but now every person you meet carries one. The price is such that he can afford to. But more than this, a watch is absolutely indispensable in our present manner of living. From morning to night we rush to crowd into our twenty-four hours everything we can possibly crowd in; and in order to do this we must keep careful track of the minutes and hours. Hence the demand for watches has multiplied almost beyond belief and there are now a great many watch factories."
"What are some of them?"
"I'll mention a few as nearly in the order of their founding as I can," McPhearson answered:
"The E. Howard Company of Boston, organized 1850.
"American Waltham Watch Company, Waltham, Massachusetts, 1859.
"Elgin National Watch Company, Elgin, Illinois, 1870.
"Rockford Watch Company, Rockford, Illinois, 1874.
"U. S. Watch Company, Waltham, Massachusetts, 1883.
"Hamilton Watch Company, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 1892.
"These are some of the oldest and best known firms."
Christopher thought a moment.
"Of course I've heard of some of them," remarked he. "The Hamilton everybody knows. It is advertised in almost every magazine."
"The Hamilton watch came into being under interesting and, I may say, tragic circumstances. One day a bad railroad accident happened out near Cleveland, Ohio, and when the calamity was investigated evidence proved that neither of the engineers on the unlucky trains that collided was really to blame. The trouble was that their watches did not agree. There was a difference of four minutes between them. Both timepieces were good ones that never before had led their owners astray; but on this fatal day they were responsible not only for the deaths of two blameless engineers but also a number of mail clerks. It is strange, isn't it, that the public must always experience a terrible lesson before it wakes up to safeguarding human life? Let us have a fire in which many persons perish, and we begin to move heaven and earth to inspect buildings and install fire escapes; or let a lot of people die from shipwreck and we cannot buy life belts fast enough. But we always wait until after the disaster has occurred before we do it. Thus it was with this fatal railroad accident. Once the catastrophe had happened and the poor chaps were dead, a set of rules was established whereby men employed on trains must carry watches of a specified quality. No cheap article was to be allowed in future. And not only must the railroad worker purchase such a watch, but he must keep it cleaned and properly regulated."
"That was all very well to decree," replied Christopher, "but how could the authorities make sure such a rule would be obeyed?"
"Ah, the railroad took no chances of being fooled," was McPhearson's instant reply. "A watch inspector was appointed whose duty it was to examine every important official's watch once in a stated period and see that it conformed to the requirements. If a watch failed to keep up to the standard set—by that I mean if it lost or gained more than a very trifling amount a week—it was condemned and ordered to be discarded and a new one had to be bought."
"But how about the men?" put in Christopher, a hint of disapproval in his tone. "What if some of them couldn't afford to purchase these fine-running, expensive watches? Being told to toss your watch out the window and get another isn't always possible."
"It was to meet the objection that you have just raised that a week after the wreck the Hamilton Watch Company of Lancaster was organized. It aimed to manufacture a good, close-running watch at a moderate price, and it fulfilled its promise. The proposition was a sound business one, too, for all over the country men were employed to whom correctness of time was of vital importance—switch-tenders, motormen, engineers, conductors, not to enumerate the thousands of other working people to whom being prompt at ferries, trains, cars, and their job was imperative. So, you see, the age provided a distinct market for a high-class article of this sort and the Hamilton Company was intelligent enough to realize and seize it. Good business is seeing your chance, grabbing it, and then holding onto it."
The lad smiled.
"Of course there are times," continued McPhearson, "when it is possible to create a market out of whole cloth. If, for instance, you can think of something that would be useful to the public, something they themselves have never happened to think of before, you can bring it to their attention by clever advertising and make them want it. That is the method the Waterbury Watch Company followed in launching their goods back in 1880. For a long time two Massachusetts men had been wondering whether an exceedingly cheap watch that would be within the reach of even quite poor people could not be made. Such a commodity, they argued, could not fail to have an extensive sale. The problem was who could they find to construct this sort of timepiece? Then on a fine day Mr. Locke, one of the men, saw in the window of a Worcester jeweler a miniature steam engine that had previously been exhibited at the Philadelphia Centennial. Immediately the thought came into his mind that a workman who could construct such a perfect toy must be both ingenious and inventive, and he went into the shop and offered Mr. Buck, the maker of the wee engine, a hundred dollars to produce for him a cheap watch of the type he had in mind."
"Was Mr. Buck ready to try the stunt?"
"Yes, he agreed to see what he could do," was the reply. "So he got to work and after a little while had a model ready. But, alas, it did not prove to be much of a watch, and the poor man, having toiled and worried about it day and night, finally went to bed sick. But of course that wouldn't do. He had had the money and therefore was bound either to pay it back—a thing he was in too straitened circumstances to do—or he must stick at the problem until he solved it. Both he and his wife were honest people who understood this. Accordingly Mrs. Buck begged that her husband be given a little more time. He had, declared she, a better plan in his head which he would try out as soon as he was able."
"What did Mr. Locke say to that?"
"Both he and Mr. Merritt, his associate, consented to wait a little while and at the end of a few months Mr. Buck was as good as his word and brought them the model of a watch that was exactly what they wanted. Thus far the enterprise went all right." The clockmaker paused.
"You sound as if things began to happen afterward," suggested Christopher.
"Well, to tell the truth, they did. In the first place money had to be raised to put the venture on its feet. As a good deal of this capital, together with factory facilities, was offered by a brass manufacturing firm at Waterbury, Connecticut, there the plant was installed. But like every other watchmaking project this one swallowed up a great many dollars before any watches were to be seen. Then at last the first thousand were triumphantly turned out and, to the chagrin of the firm, proved to be anything but a success. Some difficulty with the brass used prevented their running properly."
One would have thought, to hear Christopher's sympathetic exclamation, that all his earnings had been invested in the unlucky enterprise.
"The second thousand were better," went on the Scotchman, "but still they did not go well; this meant more money to improve the machinery and still more delay in putting the goods on the market. Then at length after the watches had been doctored until only a small percentage of them stopped they were offered for sale."
"Did people buy them?"
"If they didn't it was not the fault of the Company," chuckled McPhearson. "Certainly every inducement was held out to purchasers. Not only was the price of four dollars within reach of the most meager purse, but the watches were dangled as bait before the eyes of all sorts of covetous bargain hunters. Sometimes you were coaxed into buying a suit of clothes to get one; sometimes one came with a big order of groceries or maybe as a premium for selling soap. Not infrequently they were awarded as prizes for subscriptions to magazines. They were so hawked about that the whole country heard of them and quantities of them were sold."
"The firm must have got rich," put in Christopher, much interested.
"It didn't," was the prompt contradiction. "On the contrary, after several years of struggle, it failed. The public is fickle, you know, and the novelty of owning a cheap watch wore off. Moreover, the product got a bad name and failed to be taken seriously. It required a great deal of time and energy to wind a watch with such a long spring as this one had, and I must agree that those who made jokes at the expense of the poor Waterbury were well within their rights. Furthermore, the watches had been linked up with inferior commodities and when purchasers found, for example, that they had been gulled on the suit of clothes they acquired with the watch, instead of cursing the clothier they took out their wrath on the watch company. Then, too, the firm, in order to get their wares distributed, had parted with them at so small a margin of profit that nothing was made on them. The entire scheme from beginning to end showed poor generalship. What wonder such an enterprise went down?"
"And is that the end of the story?"
"By no means," retorted the Scotchman. "Far from it. The management took their experience as wise people do and years later began over again, afterward reaping greater success than they had ever known, all of which proves that it never pays to give up."
"Haven't lots of other kinds of cheap watches been made since?"
"Yes. The Ingersoll is one. It is the result of several years' experiment with a dollar watch. At first a thick, clumsy contrivance that wound from the back like a clock was introduced, and from this stepping stone Ingersoll developed a second and third type, each an improvement on the original. Having thereby convinced himself that the dollar watch was not only possible but would sell, he got the Waterbury Company to put out his idea for him; now the Ingersolls have in addition two factories of their own, and the three together average an output of about twenty thousand watches a day. In a country as big as ours, however, the great problem is to get goods known from east to west, and from the north to the south, and this obstacle of distribution was the one the company encountered. How was the country generally to know there was a good dollar watch? Owing to the scant margin of profit on which the watches were sold, it did not pay large retailers to carry them. Neither could they find even standing-room in a shop like your fathers'." With dancing eyes the Scotchman regarded Christopher.
"Moreover," he went on, "although Ingersoll guaranteed his watch, tricky competition arose. Other firms borrowed the name as a label for their own poor goods; some merchants took the Ingersoll watch and ran up the price on it, privately pocketing the profit. To outwit such practices the company not only printed their name on the dials of their watches but they carefully printed the exact price on the boxes in which they were packed. You would have thought this would have forever put at an end any foul play, wouldn't you? But even these precautions were circumvented by sharpers who advertised their wretched wares as marked-down Ingersolls. Thus the company was compelled to fight inch by inch for its rights."
"I'd no idea business was such a mess," ejaculated Christopher. "And what happened to the Ingersoll people finally?"
"Providentially a turn came in their affairs," was the answer. "It is an ill wind that blows nobody good, the saying goes. In every calamity lurks some good and for the Ingersoll Company, at least, there was good in the Great War. Again we see a clever manufacturer grasping his opportunity. No one knew better than Ingersoll how costly striking watches were; he also sensed that soldiers who were fighting could not be supplied with endless numbers of watches nor even if they were would they always be where they could show a light. Nevertheless there would be hundreds of men in the trenches and on the battle fields who through long stretches of darkness would wish to know what time it was. Many would be on guard and compelled to remain awake; and many more would be unable to sleep from terror, homesickness, or because they suffered from the various discomforts war brings. What, therefore, could be a greater boon than a cheap watch with an illuminated face? It was to answer this emergency that the Ingersoll Company turned out their Radiolite Watch."
"I suppose the dial had phosphorus on it," rejoined Christopher.
"No. Phosphorus was found to be entirely impractical for the purpose, because, you see, phosphorus must at intervals be placed where it can absorb the light in order to retain its brilliancy. Now as a man's watch stays most of the time in his pocket, a watch dial treated with phosphorus would have no opportunity to regain its phosphorescence. Hence the Ingersoll Company developed a sort of radium coating for their dials. It probably was not actually made from radium because there is not enough of it to be found in all the world even if a watch company could afford to buy it up. Just what this magic watch dial was made from was Ingersoll's secret; but anyway it did what it was guaranteed to do and instantly leaped into popularity. Many and many a soldier off on the battle front blessed the makers of these watches, I guess. As for the company—no longer were they obliged to wrestle with the problem of getting their goods known, because from one end of our country to the other, as well as far overseas, their watches became a byword." The old Scotchman stopped as if tired with telling his long story.
"Now," added he, "I have roughly sketched for you the tale of watchmaking in America. There is much more that might be related but you yourself, by using your eyes and ears, can fill in the gaps. Just remember this one fact—that it was your own land that developed and brought to its present high grade of efficiency the factory system of making watches. You have no cause to apologize, either, for your country's handiwork. We do not by any means always hold first place in the products we put out. Many nations can give us points along certain lines of industry. But in this field we are supreme and have given the world something for which we need not blush. So, say I, three cheers for Uncle Sam! Sometime if you can manage it, make a trip through one of our up-to-date American watch factories. Examine the numberless machines that represent so much patient and intelligent study. Then come home grateful to our watch pioneers for what they have handed on to us."
CHRISTOPHER HAS A BIRTHDAY
While clocks and watches ticked on and rings and gemmed necklaces were sold to covetous buyers, the year was sweeping by and May was coming. Christopher always looked forward to this month, gay with flowers, for with it came his birthday—a date always celebrated with rejoicing in the Burton family.
It was the one time of year when he became of supreme importance and when everybody in the house united to turn the world upside down for his delight. Christmas was a general holiday. But May twentieth was his own particular anniversary. Always there was some really worthwhile present about which endless whispering and the greatest secrecy was maintained. Once it had been a fine camera; once a tool chest; last year it was the long-coveted wireless for which he had so long sighed. What, speculated the boy, would it be this season?
Thus far he had not gleaned an inkling. There had been times when in spite of his father's and mother's precautions to surprise him he had had suspicions; and occasionally such suspicions had proved to be right. His radio set, for example—he had been pretty sure it was coming, and on May twentieth there it was! And then there had been instances when measurements had to be taken or the size of his shoes considered, and these inevitable hints had given away beforehand the plots his parents were hatching.
But this year dense mystery hung like a curtain over the great day. There was not even a mention made of it. No casual remarks were dropped to trap him into telling what he wanted. Indeed, so dumb was every one concerning the festival that he actually began to fear the date had been forgotten. Of course a great deal of money had already been spent on his eyes; he realized that. He had been to the oculist almost every week for treatment. He knew he should be grateful for all this and he was. But despite what it had cost, one could hardly consider it a present. Still, as the days went by and there appeared to be no prospect of anything else in the wind, he began to believe his parents regarded it as one. Grown-ups looked at things from such a different angle! No doubt they felt they had spent upon him all they felt justified in spending.
This realization at first brought to the lad a sense of disappointment. There were so many things he wanted! Why, although he would have blushed to admit it, there was lying in his pocket this very minute a list of gifts carefully written out in case his father or mother asked for suggestions as they often had done in the past. But they did not inquire for it. May eighteenth and May nineteenth slipped by without an allusion to the fact that on May twentieth he had been born, and so oblivious was everybody to his existence that had he not looked in the glass and verified it, he would almost have begun to doubt he was alive himself.
When at length the great day dawned, he descended to breakfast with that mingled anticipation and self-consciousness that always overwhelmed him on such occasions. He was wont to feel very foolish and vividly aware of his hands and feet when he made his annual advent into the dining room.
As it happened, however, he need have experienced no embarrassment to-day for the fact that fourteen years ago he had entered into this vale of tears was not mentioned. True, his mother did kiss him a trifle more warmly than usual, and an additional salutation, which she instantly repressed, seemed trembling on her tongue. But there was nothing else out of the ordinary.
Therefore he sat down and ate his breakfast with the chagrined conviction that for the first time in history the anniversary to which he had habitually looked forward with such keen pleasure had slipped his parents' memory. It was strange that each of them should have forgotten. Even if his father had been too busy about the shipment of the gems expected from Holland to bear it in mind, one would have thought his mother would have remembered. She was, to be sure, much taken up with doing over the library and fussing about curtains which she declared she never would be able to match. But for all that you would have thought she would recall that May twentieth was coming. It wasn't at all like her to let her own interests crowd out those of her family.
Perhaps they thought he was getting too old for birthdays. That would be a tragedy indeed, since it would mean that he never would have any more presents. Oh, it wasn't likely they thought that! No, the whole thing was just a mistake, and as long as it was Christopher shrank from correcting the error. You couldn't very well shout, "This is my birthday, good people. Any contributions you would like to give me will be gratefully received." Once he would not have hesitated to do this. But now he was older and had more pride.
Therefore he ate his orange and his cereal as serenely as he could, hoping the disappointment he experienced would not be evident in his face. Apparently it was not. With customary impatience Mr. Burton swallowed his coffee and, rising from the table, cautioned his son to hurry up and not keep him waiting; and on hearing this familiar admonition, Christopher's last weak hope that the day was to be different from other days vanished, and he dashed for his hat and coat.
"Good-by, Mother," he called up the stairway.
"Your mother is going into town with us to-day," Mr. Burton explained. "She has some errands to do."
"She didn't say so at breakfast."
"She forgot to, most likely. She was in a good deal of a hurry. Here she comes now. Don't stop to put on your gloves, my dear. You can do it in the car."
Off they went to the station and then into New York they whizzed by train. There was not much opportunity to talk. Christopher's father read the paper, and his mother consumed the time by holding various scraps of gauzy blue stuff up to the light and asking which of them he liked best. Then they bundled into a taxi and riding to the store entered it, where the counterpart of every other day in the year began. And yet, after all, did the day start as other days were wont to do? To begin with, there was his mother who, instead of rolling off downtown to her shopping, as would have been her customary program, alighted from the taxicab with his father and himself. Moreover the interior of the shop did not seem quite the same. Nonsensical as it was to suppose it, there seemed to be in the atmosphere a subtle air of suspense quite new and unusual. Besides that, there were flowers on his father's desk; and what was more surprising, apparently he was the only one to notice these innovations.
Nevertheless he did not speak of them but pulled off his coat and stood for a moment hesitating before going to hunt up McPhearson. It was in his mind to accompany his mother down in the elevator and see her to the door after she should have finished her business. Perhaps she had come to get money for her shopping; or possibly, as she sometimes did, she was going to select a wedding present downstairs. But if any such missions stimulated her she was, to judge by appearances, in no haste to fulfill them; instead she loosened her scarf and sat down as if she had no other aim in the world than to remain all day.
He couldn't quite make it out.
Then presently the door opened and in came Mr. Rhinehart, Hollings, McPhearson, and even the old colored elevator man, who every day had carried him up and down. Mr. Norcross also stole in from his office and so did the prim Miss Elkins.
Then, to the boy's astonishment, Mr. Rhinehart stepped forward and began a little speech. At first Christopher did not grasp the fact that it was directed to himself; but soon, when in the name of all the employees of his father's firm, the kindly clerk wished him a happy birthday and handed him a small red leather case, it gradually dawned on him that he was actually the hero of a surprise party.
The flowers, the tensity that pervaded the shop, his mother's coming to the city were all because on May twentieth, fourteen years ago, he had been born. The day had not been forgotten as he had thought. On the contrary, more people had this time thought of him and taken pains to let him know it than he had ever supposed cared whether he was alive or not. And to prove it, they were now giving him a present. Mr. Rhinehart, Hollings, McPhearson, old Saunders—all of them had had a part in it—and they said it was because they had become fond of him and admired him for being so cheerful and patient about his eyes. Their kindness overwhelmed him and brought a queer, tight, choky feeling into his throat. He didn't deserve any of the things Mr. Rhinehart said. It didn't seem to him that he had been very patient. On the contrary, he had often rebelled inside at being so helpless. How ashamed he was when he thought of his secret grumblings!
With pounding heart and cheeks that burned he looked down at the red leather case in his hand.
Think of the men doing this for him! He wanted to tell them how wonderful he thought it was, to tell them he didn't merit such a gift; but no words would come.
Then he heard his father speaking:
"I am sure, Christopher, you wish to thank Mr. Rhinehart and through him the others who have so generously given you this beautiful present."
"I do want to, Dad," cried he, looking up, "but you see I don't know how. I never was so surprised in all my life. It's knocked the breath out of me."
Laughter greeted this naive confession. Then everything became easier.
"Suppose," suggested his mother, "you open the box and see what's in it."
The idea was a happy one. With action his shyness vanished and centering his attention on the square case in his hand a cry of pleasure escaped him. Lying there on the dark crimson velvet was a watch—a gold repeater—bearing the stamp of America's first and oldest watchmaking factory. He knew all about that particular watch, for he had often seen it in the show case and coveted it. And now, miracle of miracles, there it was in his hand with his own monogram adorning its back cover. He had never expected to possess anything so precious.
"You see, Christopher, we've all enjoyed having you round the store this winter," murmured McPhearson. "You've brought cheer to everybody. We shall miss you when you go back to school next season. Nevertheless we rejoice your eyes are on the mend and we wanted you to know how glad we are."
"It was bully of you all—simply bully!" burst out the lad. "I don't deserve anything of the sort, for I know I must have been more bother to everybody than I was worth. You are the ones who have been patient. But the watch is a dandy. It is exactly the one I would have picked out could I have had my choice. You see, I've never owned a line watch. I guess it was just as well, too, for I never appreciated watchmaking until Mr. McPhearson told me what a really good watch meant. Now I'd as soon starve a kitten as not take care of it."
A clapping of hands greeted the assertion.
"But you were wrong about one thing, Dad," the boy continued. "I am not going to thank the men through Mr. Rhinehart or anybody else. I am going round the store to thank every person myself."
"Bravo, son!" replied Mr. Burton. "But before you start on this pilgrimage I have just a word to add. The gift you hold in your hand has been presented to you by the men of Burton and Norcross. Your mother and I have had no part in it, and the present we have planned for you has not yet been delivered. It is a different sort from the one you usually receive from us. Nevertheless, although it is neither a wireless, a typewriter, a dog, or a bicycle I hope you are going to like it."
He paused for a moment and glanced round the office.
"There is one man in our employ who has been here longer than any of the others," he went on. "He is a man whom we all respect and whose loyalty and friendship we value highly. Years ago he left his native land to become a citizen of this country and give to America his skill and knowledge. His faithful, intelligent labor has had much to do with the building up of our business and the establishment of a standard for thorough, reliable work. You all know the man I have in mind—Angus McPhearson."
Cheers broke in on the speech. The old Scotchman was a general favorite. It was easy to see that.
"This winter," added Mr. Burton, "this craftsman has annexed to his other duties that of tutor. He has taken you, Christopher, and taught you more in a few short months than I ever knew you to learn before in all your history. Because your mother and I are grateful to him for his kindness, interest, and instruction; because, as the head of this firm I value his services and wish to recognize them, I have selected for you a birthday present that shall include him. I know you like him very much—"
"You bet I do!" interrupted Christopher enthusiastically.
"And so," continued Mr. Burton, bestowing on the comment only a smile, "we have planned to send you two to Europe this summer on a clock-seeing expedition."
"Oh!" cried Christopher.
"Oh, sir!" came in a bewildered whisper from the Scotchman.
"You will first go to Scotland," explained Mr. Burton, "and there McPhearson is to visit his old home and the friends he wishes to hunt up. He is not to hurry about it, either. Then, while you are there, he is to take you for a trip through the Scotch Lakes that you may see the beauty of the land that turns out such splendid men as he. After that you will travel down through England, seeing all you can as you go and searching out the old clocks and the famous collections of them that he has told you about. Then across the Channel in an airship (you will like that, Christopher) and on to France, Switzerland, Germany, and Italy. How does the proposition strike you, son?"
"We'll see the bears of Berne, Mr. McPhearson," cried Christopher excitedly. "And the Straasburg clock, too! And that wonderful clock in Venice. Think of it!"
"I am scarcely able to think of it," gasped the little Scotchman.
"You would like to go?" inquired Mr. Burton gently.
"Oh, sir, it has been my dream for years. I have thought and thought of sometime making such a journey. But it never has been possible. The expense—"
"It is going to be possible now," cut in Mr. Burton, smiling. "That is, if you are willing to take Christopher along."
"Nothing would please me better," ejaculated the watchmaker. "He is a fine lad. This year I have come to—"
"We know you have, Mr. McPhearson," asserted Mrs. Burton softly. "Your kindness to our boy has proved that. That is why we are going to trust him to you. He is the most precious thing we have in the world. We should not let everybody borrow him."
With that the group broke up. Mr. Norcross hurried into his office; Mrs. Burton opened her bag and once more began to fumble with her foolish gauzy samples; and Mr. Burton took up from his desk a handful of letters and glanced curiously over them. Even Mr. Rhinehart, Hollings, and the others scattered to their awaiting tasks, and Christopher and McPhearson were left alone.
"That's a present worth having, isn't it?" the boy cried with delight.
"It is like a dream come true," the Scotchman answered, with misty eyes.
By Sara Ware Bassett
The Invention Series
PAUL AND THE PRINTING PRESS STEVE AND THE STEAM ENGINE TED AND THE TELEPHONE WALTER AND THE WIRELESS CARL AND THE COTTON GIN CHRISTOPHER AND THE CLOCKMAKERS
- Transcriber's Note: P. 124 Fromantell changed to Fromanteel P. 126 Closing double quotation mark added after New York City. P. 196 Eli, junior changed to Eli, Junior Alternative spelling for focused/focussed, shan't/sha'n't, jeweler/jeweller, honor/honour, and the spelling of Nurenburg and Straasburg have been retained as they appear in the original book. -