Sunday, April 6, 2014

Because Of Mistakes! (novel about autism in London in 1900) pt 6

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

At about 1:26 PM the same day, Latham climbed out of a hansom cab on Victoria Street and knocked on Fontaine's door. Charlie had looked at the four 1883's which had been brought over from the Latham plant and picked the one which looked the most like the one which had been coming out of the running man's pocket. Latham asked many detailed questions about the exact appearance of the watch, and had gotten many detailed and helpful answers, and made copious notes, before he fell silent and looked one more time at the remarkably accurate drawing of the new clock on platform 3 at Waterloo, a drawing he had noticed right away upon coming to Charlie's table, an amazing drawing, because, as Latham knew, Charlie had made it in the middle of the crowd and bustle of platform 3, without an easel, without even a pad -- and it was then that Latham asked Charlie if he could draw a picture of the running man's watch, with the face about 8 inches wide. He sent the constable back to Raymond with the 1883 Charlie had picked and his notes and Charlie's drawing and caught a cab.

He found Fontaine and Spilman in the dining room having dessert. "So, you two really have never met before?" Fontaine said. "It's high time, then. Terry, Albert Latham. One of us. Al, Terrence Spilman. One of us."

"Spilman," Latham said, and shook Spilman's hand. "A pleasure." He turned to Fontaine and asked, "What can I do for us today?" Fontaine first insisted that Latham sit and have lunch, and after he'd gotten his soup from Charles, the cook -- and also one of us, and served as waiter as well, which meant that, when the guests were all us, conversation could be to the point at meals at Fontaine's house -- Fontaine explained Spilman's problem with watches. "You called at the perfect time," he said, and pulled a packet from a pocket, in which were three smaller packets, in which were the three 1883's remaining after Charlie had picked one. "They're known as railroad watches. This category of watch came into being in the US some years ago, after there'd been a terrible head-on collision between two trains, because, apparently, one or both conductors had had poorly-working watches, and one or both of the trains was on the spot at an unscheduled time. Laws were passed regulating what sort of watches conductors would wear and how often they'd be repaired. They're accurate for the safety of the railroads, and inexpensive, because the conductors buy their own. Look like what you're after?"

"That one there, the case is -- what, pewter?"

"Waltham -- the company that makes these -- calls that 'silveroid.' It's mostly copper and nickel."

"And how accurate is it?"

"All three of these are accurate to within two or three seconds a day."

"Crikey! You pulling my leg, mate?"

"You'll find that Al never jokes about watches," Fontaine said. "Or oversells their performance."

"Well, I can tell that that one is silver and that one is gold, so, silveroid it is. How much?"

"Please," Latham said. "I'm rich, and I'm always glad to contribute to us."

"Huh!"

"Something wrong?"

"On the contrary. I just don't know if I've ever heard someone call himself rich before," Spilman said, at looked at Fontaine.

"I know," Latham said, and looked at Fontaine too. "Everyone seems to think he deserves even more than he has."

Fontaine looked quite unimpressed. He simply said, "I've never heard either of you complain about the food at my table."

"Okay, then," Spilman said to Latham, "just out of curiosity, how much would a Waltham like this one cost in a jeweler's shop?"

"Three pounds. Maybe two and ten."

"For within two or three seconds a day?!"

"No. No. You see, I adjusted this watch. Took it apart when it was new, measured and adjusted and balanced everything very carefully. Your average 1883 -- all three of these are Waltham model 1883 watches. They started making them in 1883 -- your average 1883 will run within ten or fifteen seconds a day."

"That's still quite impressive, to me," Spilman said. "So, 'railroad watch' was the key phrase. They run like the 1883's, for the same price?"

"About the same. Most real railroad watches will be slightly more expensive. Unfortunately, though, not everything sold as a railroad watch is the real thing. Some wouldn't be accepted by any railroad in the US, the UK, or even Ireland!" Latham saw Spilman wince at that last word, and added, "I'm joking about Ireland. I'm Irish. And they make some very fine watches in Ireland, and as far as I know their record of railroad safety is just fine. Did my little joke upset you? I'm sorry."

"It would've upset me if you'd meant it."

"I was making fun of anyone who would say such a thing and mean it. My jokes don't always come off. Now: 'railroad watch,' that's one key phrase here. Another one is 'lever set.' Do you know what that means?"

"No."

"Alright then, watch this." Latham took the silver watch and unscrewed its front cover. "There are key-wind watches. There are fewer of those made today. You wind them and set them with a key. Then there's stem-wind, stem-set: turn the stem to wind it, pull the stem out and turn it to set the time. These are lever-set watches. Don't try to pull the stem out on a lever-set watch. The only way you'll make it come out at all is if you break something. Don't pull on the stem." With a fingernail Latham pulled a lever out from behind the uncovered watch face, near the the numeral 2. "This is the lever. On Walthams, they're next to the 2 on the watch face. Some other brands have the lever in some other position. When the lever is pulled out, and you turn the stem -- see -- you reset the time. The lever can't be pulled out unless the cover is taken off. And when the lever is not pulled out, turning the stem winds the watch. Oh, and don't bother going to jewelers for watches from now on. Just come to us. Winston Latham & Sons. Just north of the east end of the Westminster Bridge. On your way to Waterloo Station. Bring that in once a year for a cleaning and adjustment. Or, of course, if anything goes wrong. If it runs fast or slow. If you drop it. Anything."

"Do it," Fontaine chimed in. "They're the best."

"My father, Winston, is one of us. My two bothers, unfortunately, aren't. Dad and I are trying, of course. Dropping hints and saying sensible things."

Stilman took his old watch off of its chain and put the Waltham in its place. Latham looked at Spilman's old watch and winced as one might do at the sight of a three-legged dog. "I'll trade you," Spilman joked.

"Well, if you don't have any plans for it..."

"I did, actually. I was planning to hurl it smartly at the very next brick wall I saw."

"In that case, I definitely want it," Latham said, quickly sheltering it in his hands as if it really were a suffering stray animal and Spilman had just kicked it.

Terry looked quizzically at Freddy, who just shrugged and said, "Mad about watches. Never met one he didn't deeply care for and respect. That's why he's the best. Your old watch there will soon be more accurate than it was new, I assure you."

"Setting the bar rather low," Terry muttered.

"Latham," Fontaine asked, "how did it happen that you had four -- railroad watches? -- on your person when you came to call?"

"Well. Inspector Raymond -- " Latham turned to Spilman and asked, "Do you know Inspector Raymond?"

"Indeed I do. One of us. A good man."

"That he is. Raymond is looking for someone. A witness noticed the man they're after was carrying an 1883. I talked to the witness and narrowed down what kind of 1883 it was."

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