Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Boyproof Watch: Conclusion

(hey friends: and here's where it all wraps up. It's been a fun experiment writing a serial, and while I'd do some things differently next time, I've been enjoying seeing where the story has gone--including a few places that I hadn't expected! Thanks to those of you who've written with comments and suggestions. Keep them coming!)


When Maskelyne woke the next day it was late morning so he sent an order to his kitchen for brunch, an order he had to eventually give to his clock in diagram form. Nevertheless the kitchen staff succeeded in the unorthodox task admirably, and as he polished off the last bit of smoked salmon frittata and crisp bacon he momentarily considered making brunch a regular feature.

On leaving his house he considered not activating his garden sentinels, but decided that it was best to do so. His enemy must not suspect the trap, so as near as he could he would stick to his routine.

It was Monday and his absence had created piles of work but he could scarcely concentrate on any of it. Invoices, playbill design, construction and repair orders were all scanned then pushed aside. He left his office and sought out Mirch, demanding his assistant give him a complete tour of the backstage and a progress report from all the mechanics. His staff was flustered and unprepared but though he scowled he really had little interest in their mistakes, so while his questions were pointed he gave no reprimands. At 4:40 when he held the daily meeting with his staff his distraction was obvious, and it was the gossip of the company after his departure.

As he approached his front door he could hear the sound of his hallway alarm bell insistently ringing, but he entered at a steady pace. He didn’t even bother to open up the cabinet and see where the security had been breached. He merely doffed his coat and hat, took his gin and tonic from the coat rack, and walked upstairs, his excitement growing with each step.

The first thing he noticed was that again the Aetheric Navigator had been moved on the workbench, and now the lights on its console were blinking erratically. His visitor had begun here, further meddling with the mechanism. He moved it aside impatiently.

The box with the Boyproof Watch was gone. He brought his hands together in a satisfactory clasp. He hadn’t dared hope that his unseen nemesis would act so quickly, but now that he had, he felt like a celebration. He practically danced down the stairs to his study, drained off his drink, and instructed the coat rack to fetch him another. He went on to enjoy a particularly fine Bordeaux that night from his cellars.

That night Maskelyne lay in bed smiling and imagining his enemy’s fascination and frustration with his “gift.” Given the skill that the boy had already demonstrated in eluding his sentinels and breaking into his home multiple times, he was certain that he’d be doing more than dropping the watch down some stairs or prying at it with a jackknife. He thought back on his own childhood exercises in destruction, how he’d studied levers, pry bars, screws and joints in his attempt to crack open any number of items. He had to hand it to the boy: he suspected him of an even greater talent for mischief than he had had as a child.

But talent enough to open the watch? He doubted it. Even Maskelyne himself with his workshop, with forge, presses, weights and drills, would find opening the casing a daunting task. And he had enough faith in his own skill as a watchmaker to know that nothing short of this, not fire, water nor lightning, could otherwise disturb its mechanism.

He fell to sleep to the reassuring tick of his bedside clock.

The weeks passed without event. The silver bell in the hall was silent and his work went undisturbed, with no further disturbances at his house nor any items in the newspaper regarding children and explosions. Soon Maskelyne had returned to his work and his routine.

By December the events of the autumn were a vague memory. The Egyptian Fortuneteller was back at his post, gears and workings replaced, and more popular than ever, thanks to certain adjustments that his creator had made which allowed it to stroke its crepe beard meditatively. In fact Maskelyne’s creative mind had been rejuvenated by the contest, and he had constructed a new act for the Theatre, a trapeze troupe of mechanicals who executed aerial somersaults and pirouettes of such exquisite flawlessness that he had been threatened with legal action from two local circuses claiming unfair competition.

His sole mechanical frustration was the Aetheric Navigator, which ever since its last visit from his adversary had taken to flashing its lights in a steady yet meaningless sequence not corresponding at all to the code he had developed for calculating astral longitude and latitude. Until he could determine how to fix it he banished the mechanism to the basement.

Then one late afternoon the week before Christmas he came up the snowy path to his front door and saw by the porch light a small box covered in silver paper. Leading to, and away, from the box were small shoe prints in the snow.

He left the package where it was, and switching on his electric torch followed the trail. It weaved through the grounds until it intersected with the sculpture of a winsome badger. Beneath the badger was a small pool of blood, and its razor-sharp teeth were red and still wet. From here the footsteps were shadowed by a separate trail of drops of red. He followed these to a section of the perimeter gate. Bending close, he saw that that there was a curve in the metal ornamental juncture just large enough for a small body to wiggle in and out of.

Despite his expectations, Maskelyne felt no exhilaration. Instead an anxious nausea roiled his stomach. For the first time he considered his small enemy as a human being, and it was a deeply uncomfortable feeling.

He returned to the porch and took the box inside. He placed it on a small table in his study and opened it with his fingertips gingerly, fearing a trap. Inside was a small blue pot containing a single flower. It was of a form and color he had never seen before, the folds of a rose re-imagined as flame, with bright red petals at its fringe turning orange and yellow towards its center, and in the deepest part of the blossom was just the thinnest tinge of blue.

Alongside the flower was a folded letter. “Dear Professor Maskelyne,” it began, in a child’s careful cursive. Maskelyne read through the note, of apology and explanation. Then he read it again. And then he turned and walked at a brisk pace out of his house.

When the maid at the Del La Roches opened the door she was clearly agitated and distracted. She explained that Grace, the older of the two daughters, had been injured in a sledding accident while playing and her father had rushed her to the hospital. Maskelyne received the name of the hospital and left immediately.

That evening the De La Roches, father and daughter, received a visit from Maskelyne at their hospital room. Young Grace was asleep and her skin was even paler than her straw-blonde hair.  The wound to her arm had nicked an artery and bled much, but the surgery was successful and her doctor predicted a full recovery.

Mr. De La Roche blamed himself. Ever since his wife’s death several months ago he had failed to give his daughters proper supervision, he said. Maskelyne had no words of comfort, but when the father expressed anxiety about his other daughter back at home, he suggested the man go fetch her while he himself remained watching over Grace.

Two hours later when De La Roche returned with his other daughter, Grace was awake and chatting with Maskelyne. “Your daughter is quick-witted and charming,” he told De La Roche. “And I believe that we have an affinity. I would like to offer her a position as an apprentice in my workshop.” Grace, though still pale, gave her father such a heartbreakingly hopeful smile that he agreed at once.

Within a week Grace had begun her after-school apprenticeship with her neighbor, working until dinner each evening. As a first order of business Maskelyne gave her a copy of the key to his front gate.

In years to come their relationship was not always easy, for they were both strong-willed, devious and imaginative. But on one thing they both agreed: Maskelyne was the greatest inventor of his age. And among his many successes he could count the invention of the world’s first Boyproof Watch.

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