Genius, of course, cannot be hid in a back room. No sooner do we stop taking new commissions than rumors start to spread through town, fueled by the outrageousness of the clockmaker's requisitions. Six barrels of Tahitian black sand. A gross of Kashmiri saffron crocuses. A dozen custom-smelt Patagonian steel files. I file the requests, accept the deliveries over the front counter, rebuff the prying strangers, allow no loitering. A glance around the shop at my sober, classical constructions and the tourists abandon their curiosity. They go tell their friends of the rich man’s eccentricities, they go drink, they and their friends go to bed satisfied.
Tougher to shake are the competitors. Silas likes to think he has become invisible since I took over the shop, but the rumors reignite long-standing malice, and the old guard comes to the shop in hopes of sabotaging him. Most often they masquerade as amateurs, betraying constantly with their touch and with the movements of their eyes that clocks are their lifeblood, their native tongue. I frustrate their false questions with florid ambiguity, chaperone them round the shop. They want to glimpse his plans, intercept his shipments; they must contend with me, and I can be so obsequious, so unflaggingly self-inserting. Wait and wait, there is no outwaiting me; by my watch he will stay secreted. At length their frustration overcomes their envy, and they leave us be.
Soon enough, the gawkers forget their interest, and I am closing the shop for all but an hour a day, and that for deliveries. The year that follows ticks by slow. Silas builds and forges and migrates to and from the site. I wind and polish my mantelpieces. I cook long healthful meals.
I put Silas to bed early as he will tolerate. Different nights the masterpiece treats him differently; sometimes sleep relieves him easy, comes to him unbidden, a nodding off that starts at dinner. Most nights he clings to the evening, invents conversation, starts arguments he thinks will keep me at bedside. Mocks my tastes, calls my immaterials into question. Oh, I can feel myself unmooring: the old self-preserving instinct, the orphan’s tricks of becoming at once irreproachable and impervious, of devoting oneself at a remove. I discharge his upsets point for point, acknowledge everything, accommodate, accommodate. If there is something further he wants, he is unable to articulate it, and he falls at last to sleep.
And beneath this cover, secret to him, I copy his plans. I transcribe the awful device gear by gear; I unearth its prodigious physics. I am apprentice to Devomara, and capable of all he can teach me. What I can understand, I must be able to reinvent. My pen to paper, night after night, looking for the amendable step, chasing the invention that will unroot the apparatus. I sleep head to his desk when I must sleep; I work his equations in my dreams. If he wakes before me, if he sees, he says nothing. Likely he feels it is too tragic a pity.
You understand—I was no one, and my arrival in the clockmaker’s life was not the hand of Providence, as his was to me. Invention I needed to thwart his plan, and invention he could not teach. For my pains I produce a perfect copy. Mine to keep.
The Lord says Behold, I come as a thief; this much from the church I still believe.
What time I had with him was always borrowed.
The morning of, he wakes me early with his stumbling about for supplies, for shoes. He slides the blueprints from under the desolate angle of my chin. I stir for him. He palms the knob at the base of my neck. It is exactly where I ache.
“You’ve been hard at work,” he says.
Genius doesn't unravel for discipline, I grumble into the crook of my arm.
“Sleep, valiant,” he says. “You can join me later.”
Outside it is dark, so early my stomach hurts from it. The grass is wet and the air. The summer pregnant with dew. Birds asleep. The smell of earth is total and the quiet thick.
He presses the pocketwatch into my palm. His face peaceful and empty as a saint’s. It is as if he is already gone away from me.