The Clockmaker (Part 2 of 3)
“Aye, madam. Are you looking for anything in particular? Perhaps a watch? An hourglass? A candle clock? All are handmade on premises; many are resurrected from the choicest materials.”
The woman cocked her head. “Resurrected?”
“Aye, madam,” said Horace. “I believe that even rubbish can be turned into something useful in the hands of the right individual.” He hefted a clock off the wall behind the counter. “Take, for example, this clock. The face is crafted from a pewter plate found in a gutter. Note the crack running from the numeral one to the numeral five.” He carefully opened the crystal and ran his knobby finger across the surface. “It maintains its integrity, but the very flaw which caused it to end up in my hands gives it a certain character.”
“May I?” Horace passed the clock to her. She peered at it closely. After a long minute she handed it back to him. “Beautiful,” she said, “but it does not suit me.”
“Very well,” said Horace, closing the crystal and remounting the clock to the wall. He steadied the weights and turned back to her. “These watches,” he said, sweeping his hand across a case. “They are throwaways, every one of them. All have been restored to fully-working order, but I have taken care to leave them a bit tarnished, somewhat worse for the wear. Time has not been kind to them, but they continue to keep it to perfection. I believe those who respect time will eventually master it.”
As the woman studied the watches, Horace spied the small wooden bird again, the crown of one of the many thick pins holding her mass of hair away from her head. In the dim lamplight the bird appeared to be gray with a mottled chest. Its body was long, as were its wings and tail, and it perched in her hair on short legs. Horace’s eyes grew wide. It was a cuckoo. He had carved dozens of them for his hidden clocks, all patterned after the one his mother had owned, but none of those he had made had turned out as lovely as the original. The one standing on the end of the mysterious woman’s pin was a true masterpiece, its execution equal only to the one he had hidden away.
The woman sighed. “These do not suit me, either, I am afraid.”
Horace stepped from behind the counter and began to lead the young lady around his shop, somewhat embarrassed by the quantity of dust that had settled upon the surfaces of the clocks. It was if he was seeing the shop for the first time through a new set of spectacles. She did not seem to mind, however, and as he spoke, he noticed her gaze turn toward him more and more often.
After an hour, which seemed like an eternity in an instant, Horace led the woman back to the counter. He stepped behind it and crossed his arms. “What is your desire, madam? Have you found what you are looking for?”
“Aye, I believe I have, but tell me, kind sir, do you have anything else that may rouse my interest?”
“I do not believe so,” said Horace. The woman stood patiently before him, a look of anticipation dancing on her face. His eyes again fell upon the small bird perching in her hair. “Upon second thought, perhaps there is something,” he said. “Wait here, my lady.” He bowed and took his leave.
Horace, his heart keeping time with the choirs of angels, departed the shop for his bed chamber. He snatched up a lamp, trimmed the wick, and swung open the door to the vault. Ducking inside, he spied the dozens of cuckoo clocks hanging from the walls. None ticked. He chose a delicate one and returned to the shop. With trembling hands he held up the timepiece and tugged one of the weights, shaped like a pine cone, to set the works in motion. The woman stood fascinated, her brilliant blue eyes round with amazement.
He carefully rotated the minute hand around the face toward the twelve. “My lady,” he said, and nudged the hand the rest of the way. The cuckoo flew out of its hatch in response and called three times: cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo! After the bird returned to its perch and the tiny door closed, the woman shifted her gaze from the clock to Horace. A tear ran down her cheek, which blushed as pink as foxgloves blooming in a spring meadow. “Well, madam,” Horace said. “Does it please you?”
The woman clasped her hands to her face and giggled. “Oh, yes, it pleases me. And it shall please the king and queen as well when I show them what I have found.”
Horace started. “The king and queen?”
“Why yes, my parents. My name is Sarah,” she said. “I do not like to be called ‘Princess,’ but that is, alas, what I am. Sarah. The princess.” She offered him a hand. He grasped it and put it to his lips. His knobby fingers trembled, but at the touch of her glove he felt for a moment no pain, only joy.
“And I am Horace. The clockmaker.” He smiled. Then he laughed. And for the first time in his life he did not mind that word rolling off his tongue. For indeed he was a clockmaker. He always had been, and he always would be. And she was a princess. The princess. He looked at the pin in her hair and knew his life had changed in the ticking of a clock. Carefully wrapping the timepiece in a strip of black fleece, he placed it in a burlap bag and presented it to the princess. She curtsied and tucked the package under her arm.
“We shall meet again soon,” she said.
“I pray,” said he, making his way to the door and opening it. As the princess departed his shop and headed into the night he could not help but admire her. Suddenly time had revealed to him another facet of itself, and this time its countenance had looked upon him favorably, even if it was wrapped in a fleeting hour now contained in a memory. He sighed, snuffed out the lamps and retired to his chamber where he prepared for bed, but not before stealing one last look at his collection of cuckoo clocks stowed in the vault.
Copyright ©2015 by David C. Hughes