At the Sign o’ the Dial
It was Sunday and a clear, frosty morning of midwinter. Trove had risen early and was walking out on a long pike that divided the village of Hillsborough and cut the waste of snow, winding over hills and dipping into valleys, from Lake Champlain to Lake Ontario. The air was cold but full of magic sun-fire. All things were aglow—the frosty roadway, the white fields, the hoary forest, and the mind of the beholder. Trove halted, looking off at the far hills. Then he heard a step behind him and, as he turned, saw a tall man approaching at a quick pace. The latter had no overcoat. A knit muffler covered his throat, and a satchel hung from a strap on his shoulder.
“What ho, boy!” said he, shivering. “’I’ll follow thee a month, devise with thee where thou shalt rest, that thou may’st hear of us, an’ we o’ thee.’ What o’ thy people an’ the filly?”
“All well,” said Trove, who was delighted to see the clock tinker, of whom he had thought often. “And what of you?”
“Like an old clock, sor—a weak spring an’ a bit slow. But, praise God! I’ve yet a merry gong in me. An’ what think you, sor, I’ve travelled sixty miles an’ tinkered forty clocks in the week gone.”
“I think you yourself will need tinkering.”
“Ah, but I thank the good God, here is me home,” the old man remarked wearily.
“I’m going to school here,” said Trove, “and hope I may see you often.”
“Indeed, boy, we’ll have many a blessed hour,” said the tinker. “Come to me shop; we’ll talk, meditate, explore, an’ I’ll see what o’clock it is in thy country.”
They were now in the village, and, halfway down its main thoroughfare, went up a street of gloom and narrowness between dingy workshops. At one of them, shaky, and gray with the stain of years, they halted. The two lower windows in front were dim with dirt and cobwebs. A board above them was the rude sign of Sam Bassett, carpenter. On the side of the old shop was a flight of sagging, rickety stairs. At the height of a man’s head an old brass dial was nailed to the gray boards. Roughly lettered in lampblack beneath it were the words, “Clocks Mended.” They climbed the shaky stairs to a landing, supported by long braces, and whereon was a broad door, with latch and keyhole in its weathered timber.
“All bow at this door,” said the old tinker, as he put his long iron key in the lock. “It’s respect for their own heads, not for mine,” he continued, his hand on the eaves that overhung below the level of the door-top.
They entered a loft, open to the peak and shingles, with a window in each end. Clocks, dials, pendulums, and tiny cog-wheels of wood and brass were on a long bench by the street window. Thereon, also, were a vice and tools. The room was cleanly, with a crude homelikeness about it. Chromos and illustrated papers had been pasted on the rough, board walls.