The young man unlocked the creaky door to his shop just as he had done many years before. He started here as an apprentice to the old man when he was just a boy. The old Watchmaker took the boy in, taught him the secrets of his trade and, when his time was over, died.
The Watchmaker’s death was not unexpected, in fact, one might say that it came right on schedule, happening just as it was planned to in the days where time doesn’t exist. The Watchmaker’s death occurred without fanfare and without undue sadness. Death is Life.
As the young man stood in the doorway of his shop (handed down to him by his dead Master), his thoughts meandered to memories of his Master’s funeral. Thinking back, the young man remembered as he stood amongst a few others in a small semi-circle around his Master’s grave, the fresh soil and odd counterpoint to the well-tended grass elsewhere. As the priest recited his words of comfort, the young man wondered to himself, “Is this all there is? We are born, we live and then we die? We celebrate birth and mourn death. What if Truth would dictate our emotions to be the other way ‘round?”
Slowly, the young man’s eyes refocused on the interior of his shop as he stood there in the open doorway. His answer was immediate: “No, there is more. However subtle and invisible it may be, the old man left his imprint upon this shop, upon me and on his few friends and neighbors.” The young man looked around the dusty watch shop, took quick stock of the contents of shelves, drawers and just general crowded disarray of the shop and chuckled to himself, “the Master yet lives in all this crowded chaos…”
The young man made his way from the door leaving it open for the mild morning breeze to make its way in; a simple subtle pleasure he could enjoy as he tended to his other tasks of the day.
Later that evening, as the young man was stirring a tiny spoon in a tea he had just prepared and again sitting at his cluttered bench, he heard footsteps approach and suddenly stop. He looked up from his tinkering to spy that a young woman had entered his shop, but just barely. She was standing just inside the door looking around the shop at all the clocks, watches, tools and dust. As she surveyed her surroundings she had not yet noticed the young man, lost among the bric-a-brac and long shadows of the evening’s gas lights. Had he become such a fixture here that even his presence was as muted as these unwound clocks?
The young man looked up and quickly appraised that she had a friendly, innocent, and yet ‘capable’ look about her. She was like a sunflower; tall and beauteous, yet sturdy of spine. He glanced to the wall clock to his left and noted she had arrived just as the minute hand showed four minutes before 9pm.
“A little late for a young woman to be out shopping, don’t you think?” the young man asked.
Startled, the young woman quickly found the source of the impertinence and focused her eyes there.
“Hello. Are you the proprietor of this shop?” she asked.
“I am, is there something I can help you with? It’s late and I was soon to close up for the evening, but I would be happy to postpone my evening and help you find something. You came here and braved the dark after all.”
The young woman smiled and almost seemed visibly relieved. She strode over to where the young man was sitting saying, “Actually, I am not here to buy anything. I am here to inquire about selling a small pocket watch, if you might be interested?” The young woman reached into the small pocket of her coat as she said this, pulling out a small brass-colored pocket-watch.
Offers such as these were not unheard-of in the young man’s time under the Watchmaker’s tutelage. Many times had people come in to both buy, sell or repair many types of timepieces.
“Of course. Let’s have a look” With this, the young man extended his hand wherein the young woman dropped the watch, letting it dangle for the shortest moment by its chain, only to finally let it fall to rest in the young man’s hand.
The young man took the watch into his hand and looked at it, cursorily at first but then closer. The smooth, round brass case was still warm in his hands from the young woman’s pocket, despite the slight chill of the evening. The thin chain hung from his hand as he inspected the etching on the case’s surface. The watch was undoubtedly many years old. The etching on the case appeared to have the remnants of something similar to gold filigree, but orange in color.
Now curious, the young man opened the case to display the watch’s face. The clear cover had a small crack that ran diagonally across the face from the eight and running down to the five.
“The face is cracked,” said the young woman. “Does that effect the value much?”
Ignoring the young woman’s question for a moment, he asked “Does it operate?”
“I don’t know. I never tried winding it. It was my father’s hidden away in a chest. I only discovered it some time ago and am unsure what to do with it. I’ve never seen either of the hands move.”
“Why don’t you keep it as a memento of your father?”
“Can you fix it?” she asked.
Responding, the young man said, “I definitely have the skills to determine if I can fix this. I don’t yet know its inner workings or the extent of the damage, so I would be averse to promising you anything. Shall we crack it open and see what there is to see?”
“Yes, please. I would very much appreciate anything you can do for it. It is, however, getting somewhat late. Might I return later?”
“Of course,” the young man answered. “Give me a few days with it and I’ll see what I can find.”
The woman smiled, obviously grateful that she had found someone capable to look after her father’s broken pocket watch. “That’s wonderful. Thank you very much. I will be leaving the country next week, but I will return on May 6th. Would that be enough time?”
“Of course. It will be here waiting for you.”
“Thank you again, Mr….?” the young woman said as she extended her hand.
The young man shook the young woman’s hand as he walked her to the door. “You are most welcome. Be safe on your walk home and I’ll see you on May 6th.”
The young woman smiled quickly and faintly, turned and returned to the dark outside. Her footsteps on the cobblestone street swallowed quickly by the dark of the street.
Glancing at his new puzzle, he instinctively looked at its face in search of the current time only to quickly realize and chuckle to himself that it was broken; it would not tell him how late the hour had become. The he chuckled again remembering the refrain that ‘even a broken clock is right twice a day.’ Glancing up at the clock hanging on the back wall of his shop to check, he realized that it didn’t hold just now.
End of Part One
It was not rare that a request for repair would come into the shop every now and then. He enjoyed the skill a repair usually required. Sometimes metalworking, sometimes woodworking and sometimes repairs to the inner clockworks themselves was often required. The broad cross-section of skills that he brought to his craft satisfied his need for a varied experience.
And it was because of this new challenge that the young woman had brought him that the watch maker was almost subtly eager to finish his breakfast of egg, beans and bread; the sooner he finished, the sooner he might dig into his latest task.
It was as he sat at the modest rough-hewn wood dinner table in his tiny cottage that he glanced down at the pocket watch the young woman had given him. It was sitting there with the clamshell cover closed, its dull brass shining mildly in the morning rays eking their way through the aged, dirty window.
Taking a bite of his fried egg, he stared absently at the bauble, his mind wandering; focused on nothing in particular. His eyes lolled over its surface and in that moment the spark of a notion glowed to life in the back of his mind. A notion of familiarity. As this notion slowly grew in the barely-acknowledged recesses of his mind, he batted it away. Of course the pocket watch was familiar; pocket watches, almost by definition, take the same form. Hand-sized, curved, smooth, circular…The thought that the watch was ‘familiar’ was to be expected;he is a watchmaker! This was merely evidence of his training and experience speaking to him.
The young man put down his pewter fork and picked up the watch to hold it in his left hand. He turned it over and felt the smooth metal in his hand. Yes, familiarity borne of expertise in an rather esoteric and unique skill.
The young man turned the watch over in his hand again so that the top cover faced him. The etching and golden/orange filigree were still present from the previous evening. He followed the lines as they looped and curved. Inspecting the watch, he noticed that some of the etched lines also went to the edge of the watch’s top cover. Turning it over again he spied that those lines going to the edge did not continue to the back cover. Curious. A mark of poor planning perhaps? Was this cover original to the watch or perhaps from other work?
Turning the watch over again to look at the top cover, the notion returned. Had he seen these loops and curves before? Why did they seem so…expected, so familiar?
Entering his shop after the short walk from his home, he made his way directly to his work bench. The notion that this pocket watch was familiar somehow refused to leave his mind and he intended to determine once and for all why. He didn’t make this decision consciously, of course. Rather, it was an unacknowledged splinter in his mind that he could not remove.
So with this, he dove into his work to discover for the young woman the cause for the watch’s stubborn inaction.
Sitting at his bench, the young man arrayed the finely wrought tools he would need for the work to one side, lined up precisely; there was a certain ritual to preparing for his work and he reveled, relied, upon that ritual to set his mind and focus his thoughts. Quiet…Calm…Focus…
During his apprenticeship his Master emphasized the need for precision, exactness, neatnessin his work. His tools were laid out on his bench with the exacting presence of mind as a surgeon laying out his own tools of the trade. Paradoxically, this exactness and precision unfortunately did not extend to the remainder of his dusty, cluttered workshop.
After he slowly and precisely removed the pin from the top cover’s hinge and placing the top cover to the side, he gingerly set the pocket watch in a specially-constructed jig that was attached to the bench.
Setting his eyes upon the watch itself as it sat in the jig helpless yet resolute in its secrets, he set work upon the tight ring holding the crystal face to the base. It did not open easily; a sign of the same precision and craftmanship that the young watchmaker had cultivated in himself. But after some work, the ring finally yielded to his efforts and he carefully removed it and the crystal face to expose the watch’s innards. Placing the etched cover and cracked crystal watch face on the work bench, the young watch maker looked over the exposed gears and springs.
And it was now that the true beauty of the small machine revealed itself. The workmanship was exquisite and as delicate but as strong as a red spider’s thread. The gears and springs interlocked and influenced each other in dizzying, undecipherable ways. Where was the motive piece that drove all the other gears? He couldn’t find it!
Picking up a small, handheld magnifying glass the young watchmaker peered into the mechanism. He audibly let out a gasp as he began to grasp the intricacies of the machine on his bench. This was no ordinary pocket watch. The compact complexity was breathtaking, and he hadn’t yet removed one gear.
“How will I discover why this watch does not function when I cannot even find its motive force beyond the crown?” He attempted to trace the motion from the crown to the wheels and the mainspring but was able to hunt the trail of the motion through only a few gears before it was lost to the watch’s complex beauty. It almost appeared overly complex.
“This will take a might more effort than a mere spot of graphite to unstick old gears,” the young watch maker said to no one in particular. “Do I have the skill to disassemble such a work to find its fault?” He was doubtful.
The light from the aging day matured and slowly illuminated the shop as time passed. Throughout the day customers wandered into his shop; Some to buy, some to browse. Some to chat, some to complain. Through all of their visits, the young watch maker rarely left his bench. He dared not leave such a work (even in pieces) alone. This watch was special.
As the day progressed the shadows became imperceptibly longer on his floor. But soon, he could ignore the darkness and late hour no more. His eyes and his mind ached from the exertion of the scrutiny forced upon the mute mechanism. It was time to call it a night and return home.
The young man leaned back on his stool and arched his sore back in a stretch. It had been the longest day that he had ever spent that went by so quickly, so focused was he on his investigation.
Recovering from his stretch the young man placed his hands on the bench steeling himself to leave the puzzle for tomorrow when he glanced to his right where he had lain the crystal watch face, retaining ring and brass top cover next to each other. Staring blankly at the parts for a moment he noticed that theinside of the retaining ring had the same or similar orange filigree. So small was the etching so as to fit on the side of the retaining ring, it was almost imperceptible, but it was there, nonetheless.
Squinting now at the retaining ring, he picked it up and brought it closer to his face. “That’s interesting and unexpected,” remarked the young man.
Thinking to himself, he wondered why in the world anyone would spend the time to engrave a piece that would never been seen or appreciated? Why go through the monumental effort? This etching could only reveal itself upon the disassembly of the watch itself. The workmanship was fine and well-executed to be sure. But why engrave the interior of a retaining ring?
“The only person who would ever see this etching would be another watch maker,” the young man said to no one in particular.
Was the intended audience for a very select audience only? Other watch makers? What other hidden art did the watch contain?
End of Part Two
Several days passed. Interspersed with the occasional customer who would wander through his shop’s door, the young man would investigate further the enigmatic time piece for its defect. Unfortunately, he hadn’t made much progress. Subconsciously, the young watch maker placed the brass cover and crystal face arranged beside each other. Out of curiosity, the young watch maker took up the clear crystal face and held it by its edge to peer at it more closely. Focusing on the crack he moved the small magnifying glass hanging from his spectacles into place where he the crack was not a crack, per se, but was rather superficial.
Looking up from the object, he stared into the distance as his mind questioned what his eyes were indisputably showing. Blinking, he looked again. No, the crack most definitely did not penetrate the full thickness of the crystal. This was no crack, it was a scratch.
The young watchmaker changed to a stronger magnification. Looking impossibly close, the young watchmaker saw the small tell-tale grooves within the “scratch” to discover machining. This could no longer even be called a scratch; it was an etchingon the surface of the crystal face.
“Who in their right mind would mar such a perfect piece of crystal and then mount it within such a fine time piece?” The imperfection was purposeful? Why?
The young man set the piece back on the bench. With all his desire to learn more about the tiny machine, he had more pressing matters to attend to. He needed to travel to the next town over to deliver a grandfather clock back to its owner. He did not relish the trip. Yes, it was an opportunity for a change of scenery but this change of pace would come at a cost; he would be away from hearth and home for two and a half days.
The grandfather clock was back in its position in the owner’s drawing room with the young watch maker and the owner standing before it. Somehow the dark wood of the clock’s case accentuated the wood paneling of the room; it stood apart. Standing with the owner back some distance from the clock to admire its placement, the young watch maker suddenly realized where the faint smell of pipe tobacco that had been coming from back in his shop: the grandfather clock was emanating the smell after so many years sitting in this very room. He could smell the sweet fragrance emanating from everywhere; the plush red couch, the area rug, the very wood paneling itself was soaked in the smell.
“You’ve done an excellent job, sir. My congratulations to you for such a perfect and imperceptible repair,” said the gentleman.
“Thank you, sir. It was indeed a pleasure to work on such a fine piece of art,” responded the watch maker.
“As to your fee, I am happy to pay it.” And with this, the gentleman left the watch maker’s side and sat behind his large desk where he pulled out a large, leather-bound ledger of accounts. He turned to the first blank page and wrote a quick note,
“Please remit to the bearer of this note the sum of 1,000 marks for services finely rendered.”
The gentleman then reached into the drawer to pull out a small stick of red wax and lit a small silver lighter under it to cause to drip a few drops of the red material at the bottom of the page. The gentleman then pressed the face of his cygnet ring into the wet wax and handed the folded heavy page to the young watch maker.
“Take this document to the First National Bank on Front Street here in town. Ask for the manager and give this to him. He will provide payment of your fee.”
“Thank you, sir,” the young watchmaker said as he took the paper in his hand.
“By the by,” the gentleman interjected, “I wonder if you might pay a visit to an acquaintance of mine here in town?”
“Of course, sir, why?”
“Oh, I’m sure it’s nothing. But he and I were speaking the other day downtown and he happened to mention that a family heirloom of his had ceased to function,” the old man said dismissively. “I would just like to do my own part in supportingsuch a fine young man such as yourself in his work, especially when you do such excellent work! Would you be interested in another commission?”
“Of course I would, sir. Thank you for the recommendation.”
“Wonderful!” said the gentleman. Still sitting at his desk, he quickly scribbled down an address, ripped the page and handed it to the young man.
Taking the scrap of paper, the young man looked down and read, ‘111 Emerson St. #287’
Looking up, the young man smiled, saying, “thank you again for the referral, sir. The hour is growing late and I should return to my room downtown before they lock the door. I will go here first thing tomorrow.”
“Wonderful. Godspeed and thank you again for the fine work.”
With that, the young man began his trip back into town.
End of Part Three
The young man stepped out of the bank and onto the sidewalk in the short shadows of late morning. He instinctively squinted and held his hand up to shade his face, slightly taken aback at the harshness after being inside the marble cathedral of commerce. The bankers there were respectful, though this was more likely owing to whose debt he was executing rather than any innate respect for his own trade or station.
The air carried a slight damp crispness to it, though he was sure that the cool breeze would give way to summer’s heat soon enough. He loved this part of the day…
The young man reached into his dark wool coat to pull out the scrap he had received yesterday. Squinting down at the sheet he read the address again: 111 Emerson St. He was familiar with the town and knew that his new commission waited for him just in the center of town in a residential building.
Approaching 111 Emerson he found the building to be of typical architecture, dark brick with a stoop hanging of the front and spilling onto the walk way and a porte-cochere in front. He entered the building through its old wooden door with glass panes in the center and made his way to the second floor.
The young man rapped on the door. After some huffling and shuffling noises from within, the door presently opened to reveal a thin, average looking man. His dark hair parted to one side and slicked down. The young watchmaker introduced himself and the light of understanding came across the thin man’s face realizing the purpose for the unexpected visit by this stranger.
The thin man invited the watch maker in and offered him a seat in his front room. The red cloth upholstery of the couch was comfortable. Its springs seemed brand new and the watch maker was surprised at their responsiveness to his moderate weight.
The thin man having disappeared for a moment, he returned holding a small mantel clock, the type of clock that usually rested on its base over a hearth’s mantel. He stopped in front of the young watchmaker handing the object to him.
“Darn thing hasn’t worked since I’ve owned it and I’ll be damned if I would know why. I can’t even figure how to wind it.”
Taking the clock from the man, the young watch maker looked down at it. It had a wooden body and its circular face occupied much of the circumference of the clock itself. He turned it over in his hands to look at the back and spied the tiny screws which held the wooden backing plate in place.
“You say it has never worked? How long have you had it?” Asked the watch maker, puzzled.
“I’d say I’ve own it for nearly 25 years, my grandfather gave it to me when I was a student. It just sat in a chest for many years until recently when I rediscovered it and, now that I am in a bit better position financially, I am taking the trouble to repair it.”
As the thin man spoke, the young watchmaker reached into his waistcoat and retrieved a small black leather pouch. The young man set the pouch on the coffee table in front of him where he gingerly and slowly unrolled it to reveal a small set of pliers, small screwdrivers and other basic tools in miniature. He reached for the small screwdriver in the middle of the assortment and began removing the screws to remove the backing plate. The backing screws reversed from the wooden case easily enough with only a minor bit of effort to unstick them from their long slumber.
“I see” And then the watch maker didsee. As he removed the backing plate, he looked at the clock’s interior edges, he spied that even the edges and interiorof the backing plate were finely carved and held the remnants of the same orange filigree that he noticed on the young woman’s pocket watch. Thinking to himself, the young watchmaker thought: Hidden decoration? Who would bother with such a detail?
Returning his thoughts to the thin man, the young watchmaker asked, “and it has never worked?”
“Not a day.” The thin man continued, “say, would you happen to know about how old it was? As I mentioned, my grandfather gave it to me many years ago but I believe it was old even when he obtained it.”
“I’d be happy to take this to my shop and discover the secret of the malfunction if you’d trust me with it. And as for age, difficult to say just from the case, but judging from other marks and telltale signs, I’d say it very well could be more than 55 or 56 years old.”
“Fifty years!? My. Well, yes, of course, please take it and let me know what you find. Please, take your time with it.” said the thin man, chuckling to himself at his accidental pun.
Some days later, as the young watchmaker was sitting again at his workbench, the young watch maker set to re-open the case of the mantel clock he had been entrusted with just a few days earlier. The small pocket watch with the similar orange filigree resting peacefully at his right hand.
Carefully prying the wood backing from its position, he again revealed the clockworks within, but this time, was only mildly distracted by the internal carvings. This time he was able to concentrate on the clock’s innards.
This was no ordinary clock. The innards of the clock were fairly straightforward and nothing he had never really seen before, but he immediately remembered the off-hand comment from his new patron stating that the clock had neverworked: Searching, the young watchmaker could not determine where the motive force originated; there seemed to be no manner to drive the clockworks at all. How could that be? No weights, no winding key, nothing. Surely there must be some manner to make the clock work, but for the life of him, the young watch maker could not discern it.
Perhaps the motive force was disguised as something else within the clock? So the young watch maker took a closer look at the gears and springs themselves. He grabbed a small magnifying glass and began to inspect the individual teeth of the mechanism.
It was then that he noticed something else as well: the teeth were in pristine condition; no wear, no scratches, no marks at all. Nothing that would indicate that it should be as old as he originally estimated for the thin man.
The young man looked up from his work staring into space as his mind tried to make the connection. “A 50 year old clock with no indications of wear or use and no means to provide a motive force?” he said to the silent front door that sat closed and mute in front of him across the shop.
Then he remembered the young woman’s pocket watch. Picking it up with his right hand and the magnifying glass in his left, he peered at it. Then he noticed it: almost imperceptible but it was definitely there: The finest of cuts on the main winding axle from the crown. The winder was not connected to the rest of the mechanism!? This watch would never operate; the slice was obviously purposeful but imperceptible. No unintended break or cut would be so invisible; no this watch was designed to be inoperative.
“Who builds a watch with so much fine detail and skill with the intention that it not operate?”
The watchmaker’s mind cast about in no particular direction trying to find a way this could make sense. It was then he made the connection that he had in his possession two time pieces that would not, could not, operate and that these two timepieces were also tied together by their hidden beauty of the hidden orange filigree, a piece of workmanship meant for no one’s eyes but another watch maker.
“These two pieces must have been built by the same artist.”
But who? The young watchmaker was certain that the similarities in the two pieces was no coincidence, but why build a time piece that can never tell time? Yes, it was a given that these two pieces were immensely beautiful. Their complexity alone was the work of a Master, but what Master would build a clock that did not tell time?
Beyond the complexity and masterful workmanship of the clockworks was the art represented by the pieces’ designs; the orange filigree alone had to have been accomplished by an artisan of renown. Could the artistry in the carvings have been accomplished by the same Master who designed and built their clockworks?
The young watchmaker had a veritable mystery on his hands; he didn’t go looking for this mystery, but it presented itself to him nonetheless. Spurred on by the Question represented by these two seemingly separate but undeniably connected time pieces, the young man’s curiosity required satisfaction.
END OF PART FOUR
Days and weeks passed. The young man tended to his normal duties and demands of everyday life. Managing his shop, managing his home, managing his finances (as meager as they were) all took their place in the tasks of everyday life. All the while his two enigmas sat on the kitchen table within his residence above the shop. The young watch maker, impotent at discerning the origin or age of his two commissions decided that the best way to think through their mysteries were to not think about them at all. Leave them to the side and let his unconscious mind simply noodle on the problem in the background. Perhaps inspiration would come to him when he least expected it? It had happened before. Does lightening strike twice?
One quiet autumn morning as the young watchmaker waited for a customer to come into his shop, he was idly stirring his tea with a small, worn pewter spoon in his left hand, in his right hand he held a folded-up newspaper reading what passed for ‘happenings’ in his small village.
As the young man perused the news stories of the day and the spoon made muffled chimes against the cup’s porcelain, the young watchmaker noticed a short advertisement detailing that a carnival (of sorts) had arrived in recent days and set up camp on the edge of the village. Thinking this was a good opportunity to change the rhythm of his simple life, if even for a short while, the young watchmaker decided to close shop early and make his way to take part in the entertainments on offer.
As the young man made his way to the fairgrounds, he noticed that the inhabitants of his village formed a tide, of sorts, also making their way to the festival. Dispersed at first, but slowly gathering together into a funnel formed by equal intent and expectation, they all made their way to the fair.
Dark wool suits walked with long dresses, some leisurely, others at a more hurried pace. Interspersed were people from the trades in their work boots, dungarees, work shirts and suspenders. As the young man entered the flowing tide of villagers of nearly every stripe, he noticed that the townspeople from the more professional ranks were absent; Carnivals were not an appropriate evening out for some, it would seem.
Having purchased his entry, the young man made his way through the make-shift gate and immediately was hit with the sights and smells of the traveling carnival. The smell of breads, meats and manure all mixed to fill his nostrils. He relished it. There was life here! This was not his quiet shop, dusty and musty. This was activity. This was foreign chaos restrained only by decorum and the unstated expectations of a common people. The young man tightened up at first, but as he moved further into the crowd his cares moved farther from the front of his mind, displaced by the sights, smells and noise of cheap carnival games (and cheaper prizes) put on by the gypsies.
The young man made his way towards a large wagon advertising a magician within. A small crowd had already gathered in front of the temporary stage but, as he neared, the young man was realizing that the show was ending and people were beginning to drift away.
As the young man approached, he was able to make his way near the stage as the Magician was finishing his final trick. The audience clapped as the Magician revealed a small pigeon from beneath a handkerchief, he took his well-deserved bow and the remainder of the villagers dispersed, onto their next entertainment.
Observing the stage, the young watchmaker noticed to either side were two bookshelves stuffed with old books. Being by himself, the Magician was picking up the discarded props from his show and generally minding his own business as he tidied up for the next show.
Gently raising his voice over the din of the carnival behind him, the young watchmaker said,
“That’s a fine collection of books you have there, Magician. Do they contain the secrets of your trade?”
Turning around to face the impertinent young man, the Magician responded,
“Trade?! Illusion is no trade, friend; it is an art! The books are my personal collection, but they are also for sale. You have the looks of a scholar, you may come up and inspect them if you like. I’ll make you a good deal if you’re so inclined to purchase one”
Moving to the end of the stage, the young watchmaker made his way up a small set of wooden stairs to look over the small collection. “Thank you, Magician.”
The bookshelves were made of old, knocked-together, rough-hewn boards and held together with old iron nails. The young man’s eyes drifted across the books, never really settling on any one book in particular. The Magician kept to himself on the opposite side of the stage as he put his props away into a chest that was hidden by a short cloth screen set up for just this purpose.
The young man’s finger traced over the spines of the old books. Every so often, his index finger would find a book of interest to it and would gently pull it from its tight perch. He would flip through the old and sometimes brittle pages but nothing really catching the young man’s interest.
As the young watchmaker began to rise up from his bend, his eye caught one book in particular on a bottom shelf. He stopped, leaned back over and pulled the offending book to him. Why had he noticed this book? He inspected the spine and only noticed a decorative gold curly-que below the title. He then opened the hardcover book, flipped through the pages only to discover exactly nothingof interest. The young man’s eyes wafted over the pages and words, but nothing caught his eye. It was, in every sense, nothing of interest.
Just as the young man had riffled through the pages, he came to the end of the book and it was then that he noticed it. The cloth covering that connected the back cover to the last page contained a very similar curled design as the two timepieces in his shop.
Looking closer at the decorative design on the inner cover, he noticed that the curling lines definitely were not random, they did indeed follow a pattern. But the pattern seemed, inexplicably, complete-yet-unfinished all at the same time. The young man’s mind was traveling, absent, not present, as he observed without judgment the inner cover’s design.
“Do you find that book interesting?” said the Magician.
Roused from his reverie, the young man’s eyes suddenly focused from infinity and returned to the present.
“Excuse me?” he said absentmindedly.
“The book. Do you find it interesting?” The Magician responded.
“I can’t quite put my finger on it, but yes, I do.”
Shuffling over and closing up the velvet robe that had come open during his tasks, the Magician took the book from the young man’s hands and looked it over. He went directly to the spine and noted the title. “You won’t get much from this, it’s over your head. Maybe you’d like something a bit more your speed? I have Grimm here somewhere…”
“No thank you, sir. I will pay for this one,” insisted the young man.
“Why this book? It is wholly unremarkable,” the Magician responded.
“The book may be unremarkable, but it speaks to me nonetheless. I just have a feeling that this book wants to be with me, that it merits my attention. I don’t know why. Surely you understand and respect such a sentiment?”
Looking up from the book and into the young man’s eyes, “yes, I can respect that. But as I said, I doubt very much you will derive any useful knowledge from it.”
“Nevertheless,” the young man protested, “I will purchase it. For whatever reason the designs within the cover resemble the designs on two time pieces I am currently commissioned to repair. I cannot explain this. How it is that a book and a pocket watch may share similar design elements is beyond me.”
“Time piece? What sort of ‘time piece?’” responded the Magician.
Some days later the young watchmaker found himself in his usual pose: sitting at his bench, head in his hands facing the lonely door to the outside world while a wall clock ticked off the seconds of the day. While the young man was quietly sitting at his bench and outwardly calm, he was not bored or melancholy; he was lost in thought.
The focus of his consternation? The three objects sitting atop his old wooden bench: a small pocket watch, a mantel clock and an old leather-bound book. There was something about these three objects that tied them together, that damnable orange filigree and the young man was resolved to determine why.
The young man’s mind was tethered to this question. As he sat at his bench, he absently allowed his mind to wander: he watched the townsfolk pass by the smudged window. He watched a random crow wing past. He heard the breeze disturb the door in its jamb. But the tether always brought his mind to the Question: How were these objects related? Or, better yet: Why are these objects related?
The commonality among all three was the orange filigree, that much was certain. Also, the workmanship: you couldn’t ignore it. It was exquisite, sublime.
But the ages of the individual pieces were incongruous. The pocket watch was, simply by observing its style, of relatively recent manufacture; within the last 50 years or so. The wall clock, however, was easily twice that. And the book? The young man was no bibliophile, but were he to guess, it had to be several hundred years old at least. The book was missing a few pages and, maddeningly, the front page where the copyright would normally be found was also missing.
Owing to the differing ages of the three objects, he ruled out as unlikely the possibility that they were all three made by the same master. Namely because the idea of a bookbinder also being a master watchmaker was unheard-of, but also because the two timepieces did not represent a general increase in skill or artistry; the young man assumed that an earlier work would be of lesser skill than a later one. And because both pieces presented an equal level of a skill (a master’s skill at that), he decided that the two pieces must have been made by separate masters. Perhaps the masters were members of the same guild? But what guild’s members produces time pieces of unequalled style and quality that do not function?
And how to explain the filigree within the book? Perhaps a brother-guild to the watchmaker’s guild? Does such a thing even exist?
The next morning, after having finished his meager breakfast, the young watchmaker picked up the book and absent mindedly opened it to a random page and began skimming the page as he walked from the back to the shop. He wasn’t really reading for comprehension, but simply was looking at the words. As he approached the door that separated his home in the back of the building from his shop in the front, the young man looked up for one final check of his hair in the mirror.
As he glanced into the mirror, he could see his face and the top edge of the book, opened to the random page, held in both his hands. It was in this moment that he remembered a small, interesting fact about Leonardo. He could write his notes backwards which were only legible when observed in a mirror. The young man seemed to remember that Leonardo did this to protect his ideas and keep them secret until he himself was ready to make them known.
An interesting fact, but a quick glance through the book confirmed that there was no backward writing in it. It was printed in typeface by a machine. But this thought did give the young watchmaker this thought:
“Whatever the tie is that binds the watch, clock and book together, that connection will not be obvious. The manner in which they are bound together will, itself, be a secret.”
Some years passed. With the young man’s skill at repairing time pieces increased, his curiosity about his three objects deepened. One day, as the watchmaker was going about his normal routine inside his shop, the bell hanging from the door jamb rung, signifying a customer’s entrance.
The young watchmaker came from the back of the store to greet his visitor. Looking at the old man he recognized him as the old Magician from the carnival from just a few years ago.
“Good afternoon, sir,” began the young watchmaker. “Welcome to my shop. What brings you in today?” The young watchmaker kept his thoughts and questions to himself. He didn’t know why, but the young man instinctively played coy, pretending not to recognize the old gypsy.
“Good afternoon, yourself, young man.” As the old gypsy greeted the young watchmaker, he scratched his scalp. But as he did so, the young watchmaker noticed that his entire scalp moved together in unison with the absent-minded scratching.
Was the old man wearing a wig? Wondered the young man.
“Do you remember me?” asked the Magician.
Again on instinct, the young man answered, “no, have we met?”
The Magician sighed audibly at the young man’s response. The young man could feelthe impatience in the gesture.
“Some years ago, I sold you a book when last I was in this village. I am the Magician you bought an old book from that night. Do you remember now?”
“Book?” responded the young man. “Oh! Yes! I remember now.” The young man was unsure if he was being suitably convincing in his lie. Why was he lying?
The old magician narrowed his eyes imperceptibly. “Do you still have it? I’d like to buy it back from you?”
“Yes, I still have it.” And with this, the young man walked over to his bench, reached into a shelf behind and pulled it out and placed it on the bench. The old man was visibly relieved. The young man saw the old man’s reaction when he pulled the book from its shelf and thought to himself, “this is the first gypsy I’ve met who can’t hold a straight face. What could have him so bothered?”
Upon seeing the book, the Magician quickly moved to the bench and opened the book. But he only opened the cover. He did not inspect any of the pages, he was only interested in the internal cover, the orange filigree.
“The pages are all there, at least the ones that were present when I bought the book from you. It hasn’t been molested and I’ve taken good care of it.”
“So I see,” answered the Magician. “How much do you want for it?”
The young watchmaker was feeling more comfortable now. “Price? I don’t know. I hadn’t thought to sell it, that is until you darkened my door today. The book is special, and I believe you know why, isn’t that so, sir?”
The Magician’s demeanor changed dramatically. It went from a flighty nervous to a chilling calm. Without looking up from the book, the Magician closed the cover, placed his hands on the closed book and slowly raised his head to look the young watchmaker in the eye.
“Special?” The old man’s words were even, measured and flat.
Not flinching or turning away, but looking the old gypsy straight in the eye, the young watchmaker replied, “Special.”
End of Part Five
The watchmaker’s words hung in the air like an early morning fog. Not moving, not drifting, just existing. An unending moment passed, neither breaking each other’s gaze when suddenly the old man’s blank face changed to a smile, eyebrows rising.
“Sir, you are as astute in your observation as you are skilled in your watchmaking. This book is indeed quite special to me. It was given to me by my father. In my foolishness, I sold it to you without realizing the treasure I was parting with. I only ask that you forgive an old man his mistake and let me buy it back from you.”
A ruse, thought the young watchmaker. The old gypsy is attempting to hide his true interest in this work! But what was it?
The watchmaker played for time, more information. “Your father gave you this book?”
“He did,” responded the old man.
“Then I can understand the sentimental value it must have to you. Have you considered it might be special in other ways? Its provenance, perhaps?”
The old man’s eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly. “To what other ways are you referring? It is but a simple book with only sentimental value to an old and foolish man.”
“I wonder,” began the young watchmaker, “have you noticed the fine orange designs on the inside covers of the book?”
“I have, what of it?” answered the old man.
The young watchmaker continued, “sir, I have noted the curious existence of this fine design work elsewhere, in other works.”
“Other books, then. That seems not unusual…”
The young man cut the gypsy off with a wave of his hand. He pointed to the clock and pocket watch laying on the bench beside him.
“I don’t follow. And?” asked the old man plaintively.
“I have discovered this same design in other works wholly separate from a bookbinder’s purview. It should not exist in these other works, but it does. The clock, the pocket watch and this book all share the same, not similar,the same, orange filigree designs. How, pray you, could this be possible?”
With this, the watchmaker strode over to the where the mantle clock rested, picked it up, turned it ‘round and removed its back cover. He held up and showed the gypsy the back cover with the hidden orange design inside, the young man’s eyes staring at the old man, burning the question into the space between them. The watchmaker then went to the pocket watch, opened it to reveal the orange filigree, also inside the cover, and showed it to the old gypsy as well.
“How is it possible, old man, that the same design appears on three different objects, from three very different time periods by, assumedly, three different artisans?”
The old man hesitated. His pause was brief and barely perceptible, but it told the young watchmaker everything: he knows something.
In a low voice, the old man asked, “what are you suggesting?”
He’s hiding something, the young man thought to himself. “I am suggesting that there is a tie between that clock, that pocket watch and this book. It is undeniable! And I have a feeling you know what it is.”
The old man sighed and now seemed resigned to the young man’s conclusions. “Where is your Master, young man? He is well known and your reputation as a fine apprentice has grown beyond the confines of your hamlet. Perhaps he should be the one you should be asking.”
The gypsy knew of my Master, of me? Thought the watchmaker.
Looking away for a moment, the young man responded, “my Master died some time ago. I am alone now and the Master of this shop.”
As the words landed within the Magician’s mind, the full weight of the young man’s words showed across his face.
Did this gypsy knowmy Master?
“I see,” began the old man. “It falls to me then.”
This conversation has taken a decidedly unexpected turn, thought the young man, the confusion etched across his forehead.
“Perhaps there’s someplace we can speak privately where we won’t be disturbed?” asked the old man.
The old man’s words didn’t penetrate the watchmaker’s confused mind at first. Presently, the watchmaker came out of his reverie, blinked his eyes and watched as the old man walked towards the front door where he closed the lock and flipped the OPEN/CLOSED sign so that any passerby would not be tempted to stumble in.
“There,” began the old man. “We are alone. Shall we go to the back? You can make us some tea and I will crack open the Door to a wider world for you.”
Sitting at the dark wooden table in his modest kitchen, the old man looked into the tea cup the young man had brought him. He stirred the light-colored liquid apparently meditating on how to bring the young man into a new understanding.
“What do you remember about your Master?” began the old man without raising his gaze.
“My Master? The one who taught me the skills of my trade? I don’t under…” Realizing it would likely be better to simply let the old gypsy lead the conversation as he will, the watchmaker began again, “He was a quiet man, old. He was not ostentatious about his obvious skill.” His curiosity and impatience betrayed the watchmaker. “Why? What does my old Master have anyth…”
The old gypsy interrupted, “now is not the time for questions, young man. Now is the time for listening.”
The young man went silent. He couldn’t help but wonder why he was deferring to this obviously penniless vagabond in his own home.
“Old and quiet? Is that allyou can say about the man who took you in as an orphan and gave you a livelihood?” The gypsy’s tone played between scorn and sarcasm. As the old man’s words landed on the watchmaker’s mind and took root, he immediately felt a small shame. The old man was right, but, how could he have possibly known how I came to be with his Master?
“No, of course not,” began the watchmaker slightly indignant with his shame showing through. “I remember a great deal about my old Master. But my memories are my own and feel no compunction in sharing the intimiate details of our time together with you. I hardly know you, you’re but a gypsy who sold me a book once.”
“Indeed,” began the Old Man. “That much is true. Fine, I’ll stop dancing around the subject. I suppose if your Master trusted you, I shall too. He would have turned you out into the street had he not trusted your good judgment. Your presence here now is proof of his affection for you.”
The old man leaned back in the old, rough wooden chair and breathed out.
He began, “In spite of his affection, it is obvious he ran out of time before he could tell you of the Network. It is the great irony of the task before us that our last breath is unknown to us.”
“Task? Network? What are you talking about?” the young man interjected.
“I asked you what you remembered of your Master and you revealed to me that you, in essence, could remember nothing notable about him. This is understandable, you only knew one side of him.” The old man leaned in, “Young Watchmaker, your Master, and men like him such as myself, live two lives.”
“Shhh. Do not interrupt,” scolded the old man. He began again, “two lives. One life is open and obvious. In your Master’s case, he was an expert watchmaker in this very town. In my case, I am a traveling magician.” The old man paused and assessed the young man’s comprehension.
“That life, in the scheme of things, has no impact and very little importance…in the grand scheme of things, of course… But it is our otheraspect that I wish to teach you about.”
The watchmaker’s brow furrowed, “ok,” the young man said, captivated now.
“Your previous Master and myself, along with several others, are part of a Brotherhood of sorts; a Network.”
“Brotherhood? Do you mean like a guild? What sort of guild?” the young man asked.
“Yes, I suppose ‘guild’ would also be an apt description. But this guild is unlike anything you have any experience with.”
“What is the guild’s purpose? It’s specialty? Does it have anything to do with the stylized designs I have noted in the works such as the clock, pocket watch and book?”
“Yes,” began the old man. “The orange filigree is one connection. There are many others, but we need not go into all that now. Our task, the task of The Network” continued the old man, “is to assist and support those who chart thefuturehistory of human events.” The old man’s words floated towards the watchmaker’s mind but found no purchase. Of all the things the Old Man could have used to describe his guild’s specialty, ‘guiding future history’ was definitely not one of them.
The young man’s mouth and mind closed as they both shut to the possibility of what the Old Man was offering. “You must be referring to politicians and kings. Is that it? You offer guidance to leaders?”
“Leaders?!” exclaimed the Old Man. “They are no such thing. At least not on the stage that the Network operates…”
The Gypsy continued, “I see you don’t quite understand; let me explain.” The Old Man leaned forward crossing his arms on the table in front of him. He was comfortable and seemed resigned to a long night.
“Imagine, if you might, the full skein of human history. All of it, from the Romans to the Merovingians. From the primal Garden to Bach. From Lao Tzu to Washington. All of it, every moment, every event, every person, in all of humanity, ever.”
“I, I…” the young watchmaker stammered. “OK. Everything.”
“Imagine that that history of everything, all of it, is as the water of a great river. Each event but a drop in an endless flow of human action. Every choice, every possibility, every consequence are the drops of water that make up the river. Infinitely divisible and incomprehensibly connected.” The Old Man paused. Was the Watchmaker able to follow? From his face, it appeared so. At the very least, he was keeping quiet and simply listening.
“A river as humanity…” the young man murmured.
“Understand, young Watchmaker, it is not just the people I describe. I am describing all of it.The lives, the actions, the choices, the repercussions of those choices. Great wars, great sorrows, great loves. Everything and every thing make up the water of this Great River.”
“OK, but I still don’t…”
“But the river requires a channel, a direction, a purpose.Imagine now that the Network is that riverbed, the channel by which the river of human events twists, turns and flows towards its ultimate destination.”
It was at this point that the young man was fully dumbfounded now. A mixed expression of confusion, disbelief and exasperation betrayed his attempted-calm demeanor and was expressed with a quick breath outward, almost scoffing. He leaned forward then leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms on his chest.
“Relax, young man. Let the idea permeate your mind. You rush to judge too quickly.”
“How can a network of men be a riverbed? You’ve wholly lost me,” the young man said.
“Well, think, boy. What role does a river bed play in a river’s path?”
“Sir, I am in no mood for your Socratic method. Speak plainly!” The young man’s exasperation hid his intense interest in what the Old Man was saying. But interest did not bestow comprehension. The young watchmaker’s impatience shone through. And then the Old Man laughed.
“I see it now,” the Old Man interjected. “I see why you were dear to him. You are a gem, aren’t you? Though I am afraid your impatience will devour you, just as time does to all things.”
The Old Man continued, “A river without a riverbed has no current. A river without a current is not a river, it isaimless.” The Old Man continued, “a river without a riverbank does not flow towards its ultimate reward. It merely spreads out, aimlessly…a river that does not flow is not a river, it is a pond, a puddle. And knowing humanity as we do, a pond that is quite wontto stagnate and putrefy!” The Old Man laughed at his own small joke. “No, a river needs a channel; Something that gives it a course, a current, a purpose. The Network, of which I am but a small part, provides that direction.”
“Yes,” the Old Man answered simply.
“But how? How is it possible that a few people could direct all of humanity through the ages?”
“Well, a lot of mathematics, for one,” the Old Man’s lips curled up to a wry, subtle smile. The young watchmaker’s mouth dropped unsure what to make of the gypsy’s smirk; was this Old Man making sport of me?
“Listen,” began the Old Man, his tone and demeanor changing from the wizened old man the young watchmaker had grown accustomed to hearing. “The Network merely facilitatesthe decisions made elsewhere by our bettors for how humanity should, might, ought to progress. All we can do is provide nudges in the direction desired by those Directors. The river will always flow towards the sea. It is irrefutable and useless to fight it, and who would want to? The sea is the river’s destiny. But will the river flow to the sea in the most advantageous and auspicious manner? Or will it rend its way by the most difficult and least instructive manner? Must the river cut new channels needlessly? Must it double back on itself?”
The watchmaker responded, “I understand that all rivers flow to the sea, and I understand that you use this euphemism to describe (such hubris!) Humanity’s destiny to join with the Sea. But if what you say is true and if I entertain the possibility for a moment that you are not an escaped lunatic, how, in all of God’s graces, could this ‘Network’ possibly do what you describe? Do you live forever? Do you claim to be,” he paused for a second almost afraid to utter the blasphemy, “immortal?”
The Old Man smiled a slight, understanding smile. The smile was not condescension. Rather the smile was that of a teacher who saw that his student was endeavoring to learn the lesson, but struggled.
“No, we are not immortal in the normal sense of the word. We are as much flesh, bone and spirit as anyone else. This, as you might imagine is a great hinderance to our work. Which,” he continued, “seems unending. It is a happy burden though.”
“You see, while it is the river’s destiny to reach the sea, that river has the blessing of Free Will. This blessing is inviolate and cannot be usurped. And it is this constraint that makes the Network’s job that much more difficult. Imagine attempting to corral a river that wishes to flow contrary to the channel’s wishes!” The gypsy laughed again, obviously remembering some specific experience.
Beginning again, the old man asked, “do you have any questions?”
Questions!? What the old man had presented was so far beyond what the young watchmaker anticipated that he simply could not organize his understanding enough to formulate a question regarding all this new information. If what this gypsy was saying was true, he had an incredible opportunity in front of him. Incredibly, his mind was blank. All his life he had mused on the deeper questions and even had formulated some opinions. But now, when faced with the possibility of actually receiving an answer…he was struck dumb.
Then he remembered where this conversation began. Stuttering a little, he began, “Yes. I have a question: What does the Network’s existence and its purpose have anything to do with the orange filigree I have discovered in such a wide variety of disparate works?”
“Ahh,” began the old man. “We now move from the big picture and settle down to the nuts and bolts of the Work, our own “MagnaInstauratio.”
The Young Man’s confused look was interrupted by the Gypsy’s quick talking. “The filigree you noticed that was common to the pocket watch, the clock and the book was not a coincidence. It comprises part of a method by which The Network communicates with each other and with the Directors, and they with us. I should also add that it is not the only method by which this communication takes place, it is but one example. You will learn others.”
Continuing, the gypsy said, “Try to understand the constraints that limit our work: we are human with human a life span, but the Great Work transcends such limitations. Because of this, a method must exist for information to be stored and retrieved when appropriate and necessary; a method that transcends one simple human lifetime.”
“Stored?” began the Watchmaker. “I don’t understand. What information? Why would you need to store information? How…?”
“All good questions,” replied the Gypsy. “First you must understand that the Directors, those who direct, are indeed, timeless. They exist outside of our direct perception. And, unlike the Directors, we, the Brethren, are most assuredly human with human frailties, human life spans, human limits. How then might we be able to communicate to futuremembers of The Network if not through a means that is also unaffected by time? How might the Directors, who are timeless, communicate with the Brethren who are shackled to time?”
The Young Man interjected, “but a watch is not unaffected by time? It changes every minute!”
“No, you miss my point. It is not the time on the watch face that is timeless, it is the piece itself. That particular watch was crafted,” the Old Man quickly glancing at the watch setting on the bench, “about 150 years ago by a member of The Network.”
The Young Man’s eyebrows went up in surprise, “how do you know this?”
“Because,” retorted the Old Gypsy, “I speak the secret language of The Network that is embedded in the fine filigree work that you noticed. I can see the message where you cannot, presently. Of course, I do not yet know the contents themselves of the information placed within the curves of the filigree, but that is only because I do not yet have its mate.”
“Apologies, Master, but I have lost your meaning,” said the Young Man, acknowledging the Old Man’s obvious position. “A watch has a mate?”
“Not the watch, boy. The filigree.”
The Gypsy continued, “The filigree of one piece, such as this watch or that book, is but one half of the method utilized. This is for security’s sake. Rather, both pieces must be read together in order to understand this ‘message in a bottle,’ as it were.” The Old Man chuckled to himself.
“I see,” said the Young Man. “But what sort of information is contained in such a code?”
The Gypsy chuckled again and responded, “Not as Earth-shattering as you might imagine. Merely some facts that the encoder observed at the time that might be of interest to a future Brother or the Directors themselves. Whatever might be of interest or importance to the recipient of a future epoch. That recipient may live tens if not hundreds of years in the future. We never know who might read our dispatches. But we do know they ARE read.” Looking again over at the book the Gypsy continued, “What you have there in my book is also but one-half of a message I received some time ago. I am in search of its mate now. I do not know when or where it will turn up, but as you might imagine, I require the return of my half of the code in anticipation of its mate’s arrival.”
“Wait,” interjected the Young Man. “ Do you mean to tell me that you don’t have the other half of the code and you don’t know where it is? I find this most unlikely! How reliable can a mode of communication be if one never knows when a message will arrive or in what form?”
“More good questions,” responded the Old Man. “If I were you, I might consider the thought that some of those messages don’t necessarily come from The Network’s members but the Directors themselves. As such, they know where I will find myself at any given moment or any given day of any given year. For beings such as these who reside outside of our reality, how difficult might you think it to be for them to placea message at a time and place of their choosing and for a recipient of their choosing? And in the interim until I find its mate, I merely live my life, but with eyes open looking for the subtle indicators that a message is to had nearby. All in all, I would say the system works quite well.”
“So you live your life waiting to subtlyreceive an indication that a message is available?” The Young Man asked incredulously. Continuing he said, “which then must be decoded according to some secret method?”
“No,” the Gypsy began patiently. “I live my life as I wish where I have interests, work, chores. But among those interests is an observant nature whose mind is open to other things. And it is in in that observant nature and those observations that I obtain the messages intended for me.”
The young watchmaker blinked, shook his head slightly and attempted to regain his composure. “May I ask another question?”
“You may ask as many questions as there are hours left in our lives,” responded to gypsy.
Quickly, the young man continued, “So that I understand you correctly, you receive messages from the past?”
Laughing a little, the Old Man responded, “don’t you? Don’t you receive messages from the past every time you open a book? Any book represents a message passed along by its author, no? I might add also that not all the messages I receive are from some dark, distant past. Some arrive from a bright and distant tomorrow”
The blank (but with a slow acceptance showing) expression on the Young Man’s face urged the Gypsy onward: The Old Man continued, “Yes, we receive all manner of messages. Some are from the past, some are from the future. Some are from our Brethren, some are from the Directors themselves.”
This was the first time he had heard this, “Wait,” the young man interjected, “you receive messages from the future? How is that possible? The future has not yet occurred, the future doesn’t exist; it is but a notion.”
Laughing again, the Old Man said, “you lecture me on the existence of a future time?”
Arguing now, finally realizing the weakness in the Old Man’s crazy story, the Young Man was certain, “if you receive messages from the future then you surely know the future. Predict for me something that you might prove your claim!”
“Prove?” questioned the Old Man. “Who are you to require me to dance to a tune that you call? I am no trained monkey, boy.”
Pausing for a moment, the Old Man continued, “That being said, and in the interest of teaching you of the Great Question, I will tell you that the things I know of the future would not impress you. I am as much a prisoner of current events as you are. The only difference between your experience and my experience is that I am secure in the knowledge that everything will work out just fine. I am not caught up in the daily tempest of current events; my mind remains, if not my body, …apart.”
Mildly stunned for a moment, the Young Man said, “I apologize. I did not intend offense. If you cannot answer questions about our future then what else can you tell me?”
“I did not say I could not answer questions about our future, I merely said that what I know would not be of interest to you. True and specific knowledge of the future is jealously guarded. The future is not for us to know.”
“But why?” questioned the Young Man. “Why must the future be obscured? Surely your position requires it!”
“Nonsense,” the Old Man said. “While knowledge of the future might be beneficial, it would, in the end, be harmful, but not for the reason you might think.”
“I don’t understand,” the Young Man said softly.
“Of course you don’t understand. You are a neophyte to my experience; an experience about which I am attempting to instruct you.” The Old Man paused and then restarted.
“You believe we are not allowed to know the future because we might misuse this information. You believe we might misuse this knowledge to improve our financial situation, to avoid harm or even avoid death.” The Old Man paused and began again slowly.
“Your assumption is likely correct. Even with the best of intentions, human nature will always impose itself on our decisions. So, in a sense, you would be correct in assuming this. But this is not the true reason the future is hidden from us.”
The Young Man’s eyebrows raised at this. If some altruistic reason was not why the Brethren were forbidden from knowledge of the future, then what possible reason could there be?
“The reason, young man,” began the Gypsy, “is the issue of Free Will.”
“Free Will?” Now the Young Watchmaker was truly confused. How could choicebe a reason to prohibit knowledge of the future? This was an unexpected turn in a series of unexpected turns.
“Yes, Free Will. This is a great insight, young man and not easily grasped by those on the outside. Listen closely: Consider for a moment if I were to tell you that there was a high likelihood that you would die in the street from a runaway carriage. How might you react? How might you respond?”
Thinking for a moment, the Young Watchmaker responded, “well, for starters, I would avoid carriages! I wouldn’t climb into a carriage, I wouldn’t walk near a carriage. I wouldn’t step foot onto the street!”
“Precisely,” responded the Old Man. “You would modify your life so as to avoid the possibility of dying in a carriage accident. Because I didn’t tell you when this fictional carriage accident was to occur, your whole life would be spent in deathly fear of allcarriages. I might even go so far as to say that you would spend countless sleepless nights dissecting my ill-given prophecy, wondering what I “really meant”by it.”
“Of course I would, but I don’t…” the Old Man cut him off.
“Now consider that a highly lucrative job offer was proffered, but this offer was 100 miles away. You want to take it, you would have taken the commission, but because of the information I provided to you, in all good intention, you do not take the position, paralyzed by fear of dying in the carriage accident I predicted for you.”
“I don’t understand,” the Young Man stated. He was trying to see the point the Old Gypsy was making, but he was missing it.
“Don’t you see?” Started the Old Man. “Your fear and my good-intentioned prophecy have paralyzed you into inaction forcing you to spend the rest of your days closeted in your small shop, never stepping foot onto the street again. By my stupidity and carelessness, I have provided you information that took away your Free Will! You are now a slave to my prediction. Do you see how one might control another this way? As I said at the beginning: Free Will is inviolate; it cannot…must not, be stolen. No man may have dominion over another.”
“But I will die otherwise! You do me a great service in telling me!” The Young Watchmaker was certain of his position; how could this Old Man be so mistaken?
“Are you sure of that? Have you ever lived in slavery? In constant and persistent fear? I can think of no worse fate than to live my life in such unending desperation. And, as you might surmise, the Directors agree. No,” the Gypsy continued, “the greatest service I could provide is to allow a person to live a life according to his owndecisions.”
“But you sentence me to die otherwise through your silence!” Exclaimed the Watchmaker.
“Yes, this is true, but we all die, boy. Who am I to dictate the time and manner of your death? Who am I to impose my own willupon you? As I said, Free Will is paramount; it is the only thing that matters. And for that reason, predictions of the future are avoided at all costs. And, as an extra safeguard, we Brethren are only given information necessary to our task. You must understand this key tenet, Young Man. Free Will is all, it is the only thing that matters, ever.”
“If that’s the case,” the Young Man started, “then what use is it to be a Brother in the first place?”
This question surprised The Old Man. “You find no value in participating in charting the future course of Humanity itself? You see no value in living a life with impact, purpose, relevance?”
It was with these words that the larger point was made in the mind of the Young Man. The idea was slowly taking root in his mind that a larger context existed beyond his day-to-day life and that it was possible to interact with this larger context on some level. The Young Watchmaker also realized that there was real danger, real relevance to this larger context with real consequences. What the Gypsy was saying was finally beginning to take root.
Quietly and looking down at his hands, the Young Man said, “I see.”
A quiet moment hung between the Gypsy and the Watchmaker. The true impact of what he had been told was slowly and subtly reverberating in his mind. The ripples extended into the dark recesses of his mind slowly filling it up with a superficial realization, understanding. What he was hearing was…truth.
The Young Man could feel his thoughts lose focus, grow fuzzy. He was absorbing the seriousness of his evening discussion with this stranger when, suddenly, his thoughts grew sharp; an aspect of their discussion had gone unexplored. It was this gap, this hole in the Old Man’s story that drew into its own relief in his mind. It took a moment to verbalize this hole, but the Young Watchmaker finally wrested the words into being, “Who are the Directors?”
And the Old Gypsy smiled