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Authors: James Lincoln Collier

The Clock

BOOK: The Clock
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James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier





Text copyright © 1992 by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier. All Rights Reserved.

Ebook copyright 2012 by AudioGO. All Rights Reserved.

Trade ISBN: 978-1-62064-384-6

Library ISBN: 978-0-7927-9379-3

Cover photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law.


Things are of the snake.

horseman serves the horse,

The neatherd serves the neat,

The merchant serves the purse,

The eater serves his meat;

‘Tis the day of the chattel,

Web to weave, and corn to grind;

Things are in the saddle, And ride mankind.

Ralph Waldo Emerson



from school, down the farm lane, my older brother, George, was coming across the field where the merino ram was grazing. It was late September, and the sun was going down into the woodlot out of a pink and blue sky. George was carrying the ax, and I knew he'd been out in the woodlot chopping firewood. It was hard work, for after he chopped a tree down he had to cut it into fireplace lengths with a bucksaw. George had to cut an awful lot of wood, for Pa owed money and if George cut more wood than we needed for ourselves, Pa could sell it to help pay off his debt.

I waited for George to come across the field to the farm road. The merino ram baaed as he went past. The merino ram was part of the trouble, for it had cost a lot of money, and Pa hadn't paid for it yet. We started for the house. “Where's Pa?” I said. “Didn't he go with you to cut wood?”

George walked alongside me, looking mighty grim. “Pa's gone into Humphreysville,” he said. “He heard that they had a newfangled clock at the store, and he wants to see it.”

I stopped walking. “He wouldn't buy it, would he, George?”

“I just hope not,” he said.

“Do you think he might?”

George shook his head. “He might. He doesn't have any sense that way.”

“But he owes so much already.”

“You don't have to tell me,” George said. “I'm up in that woodlot ten hours a day paying it off.”

George was nineteen. He was going to own our farm someday. But until Pa gave it to him, or died, George would have to live there and work for Pa. It took both Pa and George a lot of hard work plowing and planting and haying and reaping to keep the farm going, and on top of it, George had to cut wood to sell for Pa's debts when he found the time for it. It would be worth it, in the end; but it was mighty hard on George in the meantime. Of course, George being the son, it was natural he would get the farm. Daughters never got anything, unless there were nothing but daughters, and even then it would go to their husbands. That's why I was going to school, even though I was fifteen and the oldest scholar there. Ma wanted me to be a schoolteacher, and I was bound and determined I'd be one.

“How much would the clock cost?”

“Eight dollars.”

“That's a lot of money.”

according to Pa. He says it's dirt cheap for a clock like that. He says it's due to the new way of making them. Oh, he's all fired up about it.”

“But what do we need a clock for, George? We never needed one before.”

“I know, Annie. But that's Pa. What did we need a new gridiron for? What did we need that blamed merino ram for? Pa says we'll save a lot of time and get more done if we go by clock time, instead of the sun and the moon, but that's just an excuse. You know what Pa's like. Whenever he hears about a new thing he can't rest until he has it.”

We got to the house and went on in. I could smell pork roasting over the fire, and johnnycake warming up in the oven. It smelled mighty cheerful. Ma was bending over the fire. She looked around when we came in. “Oh. I thought it might be Pa.”

“George says Pa went to look at a clock.”

“It better be that looking is all it comes to,” Ma said. She flopped the chunk of pork over on the gridiron, and straightened up. “He's up to his eyebrows in debt as it is. If he isn't careful, he'll end up losing the farm.”

That scared me. “That wouldn't happen, would it, Ma?”

She saw I was scared. “No, Annie. I don't think it'd go that far. But you know your pa.”

George went over to stand in front of the fire and warm his hands. “Ma, can't you stop him?”

“George, don't bring all that up again. I've done my best.” She stood with her hands on her hips, the long fork sticking out to one side. “He's head of this household and it's his right to do as he likes.”

“I'm the one who's in the woodlot paying for his fancy notions.”

“George, that's enough.”

“I'll say something to him. If he comes home with that clock I'll say something to him.”

“No, you won't, George. You're his son, you'll respect him.”

“Ma,” I said. “How much does he owe?”

“That's his business,” Ma said.

“I have a right to know,” George said. “I'm the one who's paying the debt off.”

“No, you don't. You don't have a right—not until Pa wants you to know.” Ma looked at George, and then at me, mighty grim. Then she sighed, and shook her head. “The Lord knows I've talked to him about it. The Lord knows I've talked, and begged, and done what I could. But it isn't any use. He can't help himself. That's Pa's way and we have to accept him for what he is.” She shook her head again. “That's all there is to be said on the subject.”

Then, from somewhere outside, we could hear a distant voice—no words, just a voice. We stood, listening. In a moment there came the sound of singing: “Do ye ken John Peele, with his coat so red . . .”

and I looked at Ma, and we all knew that he'd bought the clock. Ma turned her face away from us, and stared straight ahead. “That's your pa,” she said. “George, put the ax away. Annie, go set the table.”

George went out through the back door to the barn, and I went to the cupboard and started taking down the platter. The singing came closer: “Do ye ken John Peele at the break of day . . .”

Ma said nothing, but went to the fireplace and tested the chunk of pork with the fork. Then the door burst open and there stood Pa. He was carrying something wrapped up in a piece of cloth under one arm. He flung the other arm out. “Do ye ken John Peele in the moooorniiiing,” he finished up. He came in and banged the door closed. “Look,” he cried. “You'll never believe what I've got.”

Ma frowned. “Pa—”

“Don't say anything, Ma,” he shouted in his cheerful way. “Not until you've seen it. It's a wonder.” He set the package on the trestle table, where we ate. The piece of cloth was tied around it with string. Pa began to unknot the string. “It's a marvel of the age. The minute I saw it I knew I'd never rest until I had it.”


“Ma, just wait until you see it before you say anything.”

“I'll wait,” she said. She clamped her lips together and went on frowning. Pa got the string unknotted, and unwound it from the package. As he did, the cloth fell off. There stood a clock—or at least the inside of a clock, for it was just the works and face without a case.

Pa held his hand out toward it. “Look at that,” he cried. “A marvel. The newest thing.”

“Pa, it's just the works,” I said.

“That's the whole idea,” Pa said. “Selling it this way keeps the price down. Why, it was dirt cheap, this marvel. You see, it's the new manufacturing system that does it. No more business of a clockmaker toiling over each clock. No, sir, that's old hat. In the new manufacturing system, the job is divided up. This man winds the springs, this one paints the face, the other one cuts the gears. They can turn them out ten times as fast. Then you sell them without a case, and the price drops down to a mere pittance.”

Ma looked at me, mighty unhappy. Then she turned to Pa. “You haven't paid for the merino ram yet, Pa. Don't you think you ought to pay for it first?”

He waved his hand. “I'll pay for the ram when I sell it. I promised eight hundred when I got it and I could sell it for over a thousand already. Everybody with a flock of ewes wanted to get hold of a merino ram, the wool's so good. There's no telling how high the price will go.”

“Prices go down as well as up, Pa.”

“Not very likely for a merino ram. Not with the demand for them that there is now. They come all the way from Spain, and there's only a few of them in New England.”

didn't say anything. Then she said, “How much was that marvel of a clock?”

“Eight dollars,” he said. “A pittance.”

Ma looked mighty grim. Eight dollars was no pittance. It was a lot of money. It'd take a man a month to earn that much. But it wasn't my business to say so.

Ma gave Pa a look. “How do you mean to pay for it, Pa?”

He looked out the window, then down at the floor. Then he looked at me, and out the window again. “I've decided,” he said. “I've decided that Annie will go to work in the mill.”

Ma took a gasp of air. “No,” she said, mighty sharp.

Finally Pa looked at her. “Now, I don't want any argument about it. I've decided, and that's final.”

“I won't have it,” Ma said. “She's going to be a schoolteacher.”

My heart was sinking, but I should have known it. The woolen mill was the biggest thing that had happened in Humphreysville for years. When you got down to it, it was the only thing that had ever happened in Humphreysville, for it made the village what it was. Up to now Colonel Humphreys had gotten orphan boys up from New York as mill hands. It seemed like there were plenty of orphan boys in New York—more than they had any use for down there anyway. So they shipped them up to our part of Connecticut to work in the mills. Colonel Humphreys didn't have to pay them anything, just their keep, and see to it that they got some schooling and went to church and were whipped frequently enough to turn them into good citizens. But the New York boys were a rough bunch, always fighting and cursing and stealing anything that wasn't nailed down, and even things that
nailed down if they could pry them loose. And finally Colonel Humphreys decided it would be cheaper to pay people from the village, or the farms in the countryside around the village, who had been raised right and weren't so likely to steal. Besides, the local people could live at home and didn't have to be provided for.

So they started hiring a few girls to work in the mills, because they'd been trained to work spinning wheels at home and the spinning machines in the mill weren't much different to work. My friend, Hetty Brown, was already working there. She liked it well enough—a lot of people did. It was pretty tedious standing at a machine for twelve hours a day, but a lot of the work around the farm was pretty tedious, too, once you'd done it a hundred times. Farm work could be cold and wet, where the mill was warm and dry; and besides, there was company at the mill, where on the farm your company was your family, who you saw day in and day out. Hetty Brown said it was mighty interesting listening to the New York boys curse and boast about stealing things.

So maybe I wouldn't have minded going into the mill; but I'd had my heart set on being a schoolteacher ever since I was eight years old. “Pa—”

BOOK: The Clock
11.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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