Before I begin, understand that I was no one. No man claimed me and none guided my prospects. I became apprenticed to the clockmaker by divine intervention.
My parish apprenticed its fatherless the moment they reached ten. Delicate of body and ill-tempered when given orders, I could not fulfill the orphan’s proper jobs of tilling the farmer’s fields, stomping the brickmaker’s clay. Time after time I was sent back, my place apologetically filled. I recited my same psalms and watched as a parade of brothers and sisters made their escapes into iron or grapes or wicker.
By rights, clockmaking should have been a gentleman’s occupation. The clockmaker, young but already famous, had come to the parish only to deliver a commissioned work. To help him, the prioress had stirred from sleep a sour-faced eleven-year-old boy, directed him to see the clockmaker where he needed to go. It was midday, the walk through the cloister long, sun-shadowed and quiet, the nuns going about their good deeds; despite myself, despite my bitterness, I felt something of a mission about it: to act as guide to the man with the church’s treasure, to bear like a bridesmaid his clock’s trailing canvas cover. Success; we reached the vestibule, and off came the cover—pearlized face, elegant hands, a pendulum swinging heaviliy, the steady pulse of clockwork just beneath my hearing. Gaudy, too; shining, costly, and conventional, flanked by a triumvirate of lions, golden guardians of God, King, and country. And yet.
How do you make something like that, said the boy.
And in his eyes the clockmaker caught the second of spark.
The clockmaker went to the prioress, learned the boy had no other occupation, and without regard to custom, volunteered himself as employer, gave his name—or the name publicly known. A name carrying influence and reputation: Devomara.
The prioress spoke of the man’s generosity as we packed my small belongings, chided me for not acting more grateful. She spoke of his fortune and his fine clothes. She seemed to promise the same to me—odd, since these were desires the parish had spent my life to that point in quashing. Who I went with, where he stood in society, how I would live—all were irrelevant to me then. To the clockmaker I went, willingly and unfeelingly, as I would have went to stablework or to butchery.
And spent seven worshipful years drinking in the world’s most beautiful craft.
The clockmaker’s walls were my lessons, lined with artistic and technical marvels. Eminence, dignity in wood, brass, and wire, each machine unique from its neighbors but united by a quiet even heartbeat, weighing and parceling the days. Years I spent watching him work in the low light of his study, instruments both delicate and powerful laid before him—memorizing as he hammered the brass backings supple and reed-thin, as he polished a glass face till it read clear as air. I had been literal-minded, bookish, hesitant to try and more to fail; his methods ranged so far beyond the stern, unimaginative processes laid out by any library that I came to see reading as time spent not learning. To be in the presence of the clockmaker was to be modeled, tested, rebuilt. It was as if, after years of defeatism and self-pity, I was being finally set alight.
And once kindled, I did very well.
On the evening I turned eighteen, the clockmaker, his desk aglow with candles and piled with parchment—he indulged sometimes in the showy solemnity of a priest—pressed a pen into my hand, pointed to where I’d put my signature, then inscribed his own beneath, the one adopted only to romance the public, to suggest to them intricacy and grandeur—Devomara— giving over to me half his business.
On what terms, I did not need to ask; he had hinted at his ambitions many times, though I had not known that he envisioned me as a means to fulfill them. I asked no details of him—only signed, transfixed by the prospect of what our agreement would bring into being.
You see, the clockmaker longed to build clocks no man especially wanted and that no man could afford to buy. He couldn’t help this. With the clockmaker, grand ideas struck like foxfire. Clocks the size of his study, clocks a man could live in, clocks that put nature to work, marking time by the charting of constellations, by the melting of ice, by the blooming of sun- and moon-flowers. Burdened with his lesser minstrelsy—cobbling junk for gentlemen’s mantels and officers’ pockets, replacing rusty gears, carving dear little cuckoos—the clockmaker had never been able to bring one of his ideas to completion.
Give the clockmaker back his time, take over his mundane moneymaking, and he could finally turn out a wonder. The world could know him by his true name.
We celebrated with wine and cream pastry. I hardly tasted it going down, thinking how he must trust me, how hard I would work to repay it.