The mist rolled in from the river and the hissing of one of the new steamships arriving at the jetty was coming through the open window, although it was not hot outside, spring had barely begun, when in my workshop in the large attic I was always hot and the sweat trickled down my forehead and onto my waistcoat. My special glasses for close work sat on the edge of my nose as I cleaned the clockwork mechanism of a child’s toy mouse, brought in earlier by one of my local customers. It looked like it had gotten wet and the spindles had a light rust on them which was flaking off and jamming the mechanism, not a hard job but time consuming and laborious. If it were not for the fact it was for a child I would charge dearly, but my heart would not let me and while I worked I had thoughts of what may have been.
My thoughts quickly came back to the present as a loud banging on a gong signalled someone pressing the doorbell. Another of my clockwork follies, but one that sold very well, as with such simple workings it could be made to attach to any number of things, even, a small cannon in the case of my old friend Major Ruddle.
Brewer soon answered it and called me to say I needed to come to see the visitors. I limped slightly down the two flights of stairs and into the sitting room, seeing two men already seated, quite rudely I thought, on the sofa and one smoking a large pipe noisily.
‘Gentlemen, what can I do for you’ I said thinking it was a prospective customer for my services. ‘I am afraid I am quite busy just lately and you may have to wait for a while as I work alone, I sat in my armchair now feeling slightly queasy with the heat from the fire Brewer had in there preparing for me to complete my days’ work
The smaller of the two, without the pipe but with a few scars on his face and a nose that did not fit as well on his face as it once did shifted in his chair. ‘Mr Holden?’ I nodded. ‘We would like to ask you a few questions if that is alright? About what you do and your movements.’ The slightly larger of the two rose and stood with his legs apart and said.
‘Forgive my friend here, he forgets his manners.’ And he looked at him pointedly as did I.’ I am Inspector Adnam and this is Mr. James Moorhouse a sort of policeman for hire from Sendleton five miles down the river or so. He has come to me for help in one of his cases which he says and I may agree is quite delicate.’
‘Inspector I have nothing to hide, can you be more specific about what you wish from me, I can assure you I do nothing illegal and all of my accounts are in order.’
‘Quite so, sir, but, this is a delicate matter and may require some discussion.’
I pulled one of the many small levers at the side of the armchair and Brewer, who was waiting outside to see what transgressed, came smartly into the room, mystifying the two men as no sound was heard. ‘Brewer, would you bring us tea and refreshments please.’
‘Already on their way, Sir, Mrs Taylor has it under control.’ His rough West country accent still does not fit to his very smart and well pressed attire, although after all these years I am used to it, it catches strangers off their guard and both men looked at him sharply not knowing what to make of him.
‘I hope we have not disturbed you’ said the inspector sitting again
‘Not at all, I was almost finished in my workshop, although I do have some calls to make this evening.’
‘It is the evening calls we wish to talk about Mr Holden.’ Said Mr Moorhouse. ‘We would like to know what form these calls take and what goes……..’ The inspector kicked him gently in the shin.
‘My apologies Mr. Holden, Mr. Moorhouse appears to have left his manners in his office and I shall ask him to leave if this keeps up as this is meant to be a polite visit to ask questions.’ At which point Brewer came back in leaving the inspector and Moorhouse glaring at each other which I found quite amusing at the time.
Brewer poured the tea and left us to add our own milk and sugar, although when Moorhouse added three spoons I was a little annoyed. ‘Gentlemen, please no apology is necessary, but I would like to get on if it is alright with you, so please ask your questions.’
Before Moorhouse could open his mouth Adnam jumped in. ‘Mr. Holden sir, I am only here in the light of something, Mr. Moorhouse told me this morning and as I say it is a……’ he paused at this point and looked down, ‘delicate matter. But, I think Mr. Moorhouse here, is the better one to tell you than me as he knows how it started as it is his case, as long as he remembers his manners.’ He glared at him at this point and left him in no doubt to obey.
‘Before you start, Mr Moorhouse please put out your pipe as I find the smell abhorrent and you are in my house.’
‘Sorry sir force of habit, been doing it since I was fourteen.’ He looked down a mite embarrassed I thought and carried on. ‘An older gentleman visited me a few weeks ago to ask me to look into his wife’s fidelity as he thought she may be having an affair. He is rather wealthy and his wife is somewhat younger than he, and as he spends quite some time away on business I agreed to look into it and I am sorry to say that you sir were quite a frequent visitor visiting in the evenings four or five times in the space of two weeks.’
‘This was where exactly Mr. Moorhouse?’
‘I’m afraid I cannot say as my client wishes to remain anonymous.’
‘Don’t’ be a fool Moorhouse, how can he help if you don’t tell him the bare facts?’
‘It is of little consequence gentlemen’ I announced, ‘I think I know of whom you speak, please settle down and I will start at the beginning, please be patient this may take some time.’
‘My Father was a watch and clock maker and he and my mother both died when I were just about a young man, I carried on his business and as you can imagine with the new uses for clockwork assemblies and now with the advent of steam power, my services are at a premium. Steam power no matter how big or small takes some type of mechanism to make it work. My father taught me well and I now have a thriving business.’
‘But I get ahead of myself. I married my childhood sweetheart, Florence, when I was 22 and we loved each other very much. Alas, she is no longer with us. She died of pneumonia when she was only 36.’ I paused and I caught my breath, the lump in my throat never far away when I thought if her, I blinked away the tears forming in my eyes. ‘Forgive me, Sirs, time is not such a good healer for me.’ I composed myself and carried on. ‘We were very happy I as I said had a good business that my father left to me and it improved as more and more new ideas came to reality and most were helped by my clockwork mechanisms.’
‘When I was 29 and Florence was 28 and married but six short years, I was injured when the steam powered device of a client, cheaply made, blew apart as I worked on it, the steam burnt me in various places and parts embedded themselves into my stomach and legs. The burns healed and the parts were removed from me by a surgeon friend of mine. It was only later when I was fully recovered that I realised the lasting damage that was caused. Maybe it happened in the surgical procedure or maybe it just happened as part of the accident, but, to put it as delicately as possible, I could no longer fulfil my wife’s needs, if you catch my meaning.’ Both men nodded solemnly, they understood. ‘We tried different things and saw many Doctors but nothing worked.’ I was blinking again, but, soldiered on. ‘I worried so much that my wife would leave me and I spent many a night in the marital bed unsleeping thinking on my problem. One night it came to me as I tried fruitlessly to please her as well as I could. I would create something so that she could fulfil herself as it were.’
Both men coloured slightly ‘Forgive me, sirs, this is something I have learned to talk of without embarrassment.'
‘I told Florence of my idea. She had doubts as you can understand but humoured me and I devised a small mechanism that I thought Florence could use. Looking back was just a basic clockwork flywheel at the time, although it did have to be made of one of the newer lighter alloys from Mr Marston’s foundry out in Tolley, an exceptionally fine man always helpful. I asked my wife about the design, we had often had to talk about our problems in front of others and therefore, to talk of such things in private was not awkward. We also spoke of materials and size and design for the important part, as it were, and she left the workings to me, she said that a hard rubber would probably be best. Looking back I am still amazed that my wife agreed to try such a thing. But we did so enjoy the time working and helping each other and many was the time we laughed until tears streaked our faces. So I made a mould and experimented with different rubber compounds and……….’
‘I’m sorry sir’ Interrupted Adnam ‘but as fascinating as this is, I thought you had calls to make and I myself have other things to do.’
‘It is I whom should apologise gentlemen for I have never wanted to tell my tale, my customers know only of what my wife has told them and I have met only a few of them.’
‘Anyway, my Florence although apprehensive, experimented with me and eventually we found something that she thought would work. Again sirs I am afraid I must talk very candidly although this may be uncomfortable for you and if my Florence was alive I would certainly not be talking to you at all this way, please believe me on this matter and I must say that only the presence of a police officer can make me do so now.’
I heaved a huge sigh.’ Although I am unburdening myself, it is still uncomfortable for me now talking about my wife in this candid way to you, as it must make her seem abnormal. But let me assure you nothing could be further from the truth, every normal man only wishes to give his spouse as much pleasure as possible. But back to the tale I incorporated the rubber appendage so that it was smooth upon the outside only being attached by retractable teeth on the small metal shaft it fitted on to, my wife covered it with a sheath and tried it. I could not watch and to this day I have never seen one of my devices being used it would just be too…..too….just too much. As it was only my shortcomings that led to this invention in the first instance. Again Florence worked with me and we made improvements. You see gentlemen I thought, as I think most men would, that you need lots of movement for the actual action of love.’ Both men reddened and looked at the floor unable to look me in the face. ‘But Florence told me only a small amount of movement was required and I reduced this which made our device much quieter and smoother in running and took less winding. My first attempt needed winding after but a few minutes. ’
Both men were looking up again now but still had a red complexion to their cheeks. ‘Working together we made a frame for it to be incorporated into, covered with velvet and silk and cushioned, hiding any frame or workings, all made by Florence, it had places for her legs to rest and a long winding key that came out of one side with a handle on top to wind and another handle the other side just to hold, this way the device would stay as it was needed and could be wound without any undue shifting of position. It was quite heavy, so, I went back to Mr. Marston and he made me an even lighter alloy, then I added hinges in certain places so that it could fold, as it was slightly unwieldy and this way would fit under the bed or in a wardrobe, away from prying eyes or for when visitors came and light enough for Florence to move by herself. My Wife was very happy and she thought herself very fortunate to have a husband that would do so much for her and get nothing in return as it were, but his wife’s happiness. But I was overjoyed that she was happy and willing to stay with a man who is not whole in a very important way.’
‘I hope this is leading somewhere’ said Moorhouse, still looking a mite embarrassed and glad to say something.
‘Well Mr Moorhouse while my Florence was still alive, she had a lot of friends who had noticed she was much happier of late and one very quietly asked if I had got over my problem as she had a certain spring in her step again, she would just say that life and her husband’s business were good.’
‘One day, that same very good friend of hers- Mrs Taylor who made your tea- lost her husband when he fell off a boat in the river and drowned, she had two children and she agreed to keep house for us as she had no other income. We looked after her well and it was good for my wife to have a friend so close, as my work took me to all the local towns as far as Holton, some twenty miles away.’
‘One day my wife found her weeping quietly and asked her what was wrong, thinking we had done something to upset her. My wife fetched her a small brandy to help her regain herself and when they spoke more and perhaps with the alcohol helping, Agnes- Mrs Taylor- told my wife how she missed her husband as he always paid her a lot of attention and she had even considered sleeping with another man just to feel the old pleasure again, Florence told her not to be too hasty and spoke to me of it and convinced me to make another of Florence’s devices for her. Of course I could not speak to Agnes of this and for a long time could not look her in the eye. I made another one in my spare time and my wife gave it to her as a birthday present, not long afterwards she came to me in my Workshop with afternoon tea to thank me personally for, as she put it, making her life complete again.’
‘Although Agnes kept house, as she still does, for us she was still our friend and she and Florence were inseparable going out together all the while to different places and functions. One day about 6 months later they came to see me together in my workshop to ask me to make another device, as a mutual friend of theirs has a husband, whom she loved very much,who was in the navy and she needed what was now referred to as “Florence’s Device” for even with the new steam galleons, he was away for months at a time and she could not bear it. I told them that this one must be paid for and so started a chain of events. It was never supposed to be a proper business back then, just someone they knew, then someone else, until now there are probably about one hundred of 'Florence’s Devices' in the surrounding towns and villages. It was only people known to Florence and Agnes at the time and still is now, as Agnes carries on dealing with enquiries for me. I could not, and I do not think ladies would like to deal with a man, do you?’
Both men shook their heads still not really wishing to look at me. ‘Now I come to the point of my story. If watches never became broken, my Father would never have had a business, and so, all clockwork mechanisms break down occasionally no matter how well they are made, parts wear, springs break, people over wind them and so forth and as I have always done for all of my customers, industrial or residential I visit them in situ and try to fix the problem, if not I bring the affected part to my workshop and manufacture another to the same specifications. I think you will find the lady in question has one of 'Florence’s Devices' which has, of late been problematic and has taken a few visits to put right. Taking parts I had no spares for and then returning with new. I have to be careful as I have no wish to really meet the ladies involved and servants generally tell tales so most have a few of my other devices that help in the house that way, it is not out of the ordinary for me to visit, but I usually do it when most of the servants have gone home for the evening and I can work uninterrupted.’
I looked up at the two men in my sitting room and said with a stronger voice. ‘If you have the nerve, sirs then confront the lady and ask her face to face, but as you have spent most of the time looking at the floor, I think you may struggle to pluck up the courage, I certainly could not. What you tell your client is entirely up to you, as the gentleman is elderly he may not be as able as he once was, but his younger bride no doubt loves him very much or she would have taken lover. But if it who I suspect, tread very carefully. Now I have a question. It breaks no law to take a lover, so, what business brings you here Inspector Adnam, did Mr. Moorhouse think that I would turn violent?’
The Inspector went almost purple in colour and looked at Moorhouse, who looked back at him then said, ‘I have been following you Mr Holden for over a month sir, you called at various houses and businesses sometimes for hours others for but a few minutes. Although the Inspector and I do not see eye to eye on a lot of things we know each other well and when you visited his house twice this week and I knew him to be away I had to tell him, as a friend.’
He looked at Adnam and both men rose without another word and turned towards the door. ‘Are you away regularly Inspector?’ I said, with a smile.
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