A Tall Ship Tale #50: Clock Kent

Yes, more from Paul de Anguera.

A tolerant smile crossed Professor Cornelius Peabody’s snoutlike face upon hearing the First Mate’s “whorologist” story. “A real horologist measures time, and has nothing to do with whores — at least, not professionally,” he remonstrated. And now the sailors understood the reason for the many whole and partial clocks which cluttered the back room of Sigmund Fraude’s china shop.

“Here is my life’s work,” he told them, indicating a very large and peculiar clock. Polished gears, jewelled levers and flywheels churned busily within its glassed-in belly; above it, a trio of dials delivered the hour, minute and second. “That is no mere clock,” he told them solemnly. “It is a chronometer! That is, a machine capable of measuring the passage of time to within three seconds per day. Not just in the benign environment of a china shop, but on board a ship!”

“But what would be the use of it, when we already have hour- glasses?” the First Mate objected.

“For navigation — although the spectacles you mentioned might be necessary too,” Professor Peabody answered. “Let me read you something,” he offered and, without waiting for a response, unfolded a stiff and yellowed parchment.

===”One method is by a Watch to keep time exactly. But, by reason of the motion of the Ship, the Variation of Heat and Cold, Wet and Dry, and the Difference of Gravity in different Lattitudes, such a watch hath not yet been made.”*===

“Parliament has offered a prize of 20,000 pounds to the maker of such a device. But to win it the machine must be tested at sea by the Royal Navy. And so I would like to ask if I might accompany you on your next voyage.”

That sounded like a ton of money — ten tons, in short. So Captain Quid agreed, and when the H.M.S. Legume departed from Thera it carried Professor Peabody and his chronometer. The ship’s officers gathered in his improvised workshop in a corner of the hold to view the marvelous clock.

“What keeps it going?” the First Mate asked.

“A steel spring,” Peabody said, pointing it out. “Now and then I need to wind it with this.” He pulled an ornate brass key out of his waistcoat, fitted it into a socket in the chronometer’s case, and cranked the clock noisily. The clock’s works halted and its hands stopped moving. When he had finished he said, “Now I must set the clock. Does anyone know what time it is?”

“Isn’t your machine working any more?” the First Mate burst out.

“Why, no,” Peabody answered. “Because the spring can only power the clock or be wound up — not both at once.” Grommet the cabin-boy was sent up to the quarter-deck to look at the ship’s hour-glasses; but it was plain that Peabody had disappointed the officers, and one by one they made excuses and drifted away. Soon only Emma Talligeist, the ship’s doctor, remained. She was sympathetic toward the floppy-eared scientist, and suggested “Have you thought of adding a sun-dial to it?”

“A sun-dial?” sputtered the professor, taken aback. “Why, I suppose that might have some small use as a backup method for telling time, but…”

“I wasn’t thinking of that,” she corrected him. “But a sun- dial would avoid the problem of losing time while you wind the clock. Everyone knows that…

“…Time and tide wait for gnomon!”

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