(1) The Genesis of Maxwell

Nov
23

The flickering glow of a gaslight illuminated the inside of an old watchmaker’s workshop.

First, just one single eye opened. It gave a quick glance across an unfamiliar world. The eye stared up towards an unknown elderly face deep in concentration and, behind this face, there was a mass of random black strokes scribbled upon a far wall. Then the tip of a screwdriver came stealthily down, to the left of the eye, and it began to twist and turn carefully to one side.

Next the single eye closed. It opened again, with another. The second eye glanced around this new world. The mass of black strokes no longer seemed so mysterious and random but, instead, they spelt out the words, “Mr McKenzie – Precision Clock Making and Quality Engineering” on an enamelled shop sign hanging on the far wall. The two eyes saw that the walls of the interior of the room were lined with countless shelves crammed full with a variety of clocks and time pieces, humming and ticking rhythmically in a reassuring chorus of mechanical song.

Mr. McKenzie, the elderly man, smiled contently. He put down the screwdriver and picked up the owner of the two eyes. In his aged hands, he held a small clockwork toy that blinked two dissimilar sparkling eyes: the left one being a small button-shaped eye and the right one being a larger mechanical text-reading machine. He turned the toy over in his hands and wound the key that protruded from its back. Then, he stood up from the bench and placed the toy upon the floor of the workshop.

“Testing,” said Mr. McKenzie in a clear unassuming voice.

“Good evening and welcome to Mr. McKenzie’s Clock Store – Quality Clockwork and Steam-Powered Timepieces for Discerning Ladies and Gentlemen,” replied the toy, as it performed a small jig upon the wooden boards of the floor.

Maxwell

The walls of the workshop echoed and reverberated with the sounds of hundreds of clicking timepieces, accompanied by the gentle tapping of the toy’s dancing shoes upon the bare wooden boards.

The old man smiled with satisfaction and turned to point to a random clock upon the nearest shelf.

“And how much is this?” he enquired.

The larger right-hand eye of the toy clicked and whirred, as it focused upon a small label handing from the base of the clock.

“One hundred and fifty dollars,” the small device replied. “Steam-powered and precision engineered. Correct to three seconds each year. Available upon either a mahogany or rosewood base. One of our finest pieces.”

The toy danced another jig upon the boards of the floor and then raised the back of one fabric covered hand to the side of its mouth, as it turned its head sideways and whispered to the old man.

“You ought to buy it,” the toy added in hushed tone. “It will look simply delightful in your home.”

Mr. McKenzie chuckled aloud with a broad satisfied grin.

“Perfect! Absolutely perfect!” he exclaimed aloud. “This little marvel is going to do wonders for the sale of clocks in my store.”

He pushed his spectacles further into place upon the bridge of his nose and reached up to a top shelf above his workbench. There stood a row of dusty manuals and encyclopaedias of different clockwork technologies. At the end of this row of books stood a thick leather-bound manual, propped up at an angle to hold the other books in place. He carefully pulled the manual down and blew a faint cloud of dust from the edge of the pages. He opened it randomly, exposing  yellowed pages of technical vocabulary.

“And now a name for you, my little fellow,” he muttered, as he drew the tip of his forefinger down the page.

He stopped randomly midway down the page and then lowered his face close to the text so that he could read the tiny print more clearly.

“Maximum power,” he read aloud, “is achieved by the insertion of coherent and reliable modules.”

He stopped, paused and then read the words again. Then he turned and faced the small toy that was dancing on the floor below him

“Maximum power?” he said. “Maximum? Max? Maxwell?”

“Yes Mr. McKenzie,” came the reply. “What can I do for you?”

Mr. McKenzie smiled and bent forward to pick the toy from the floor. He carefully lowered the device to the clutter of his workbench and rested it carefully from where it had previously been laying.

“I want you to go sleep,” replied the old man. “It’s time for your bed and tomorrow we’re got a long day of work ahead in the shop.”

With that he smiled in satisfaction, stepped away from the bench and reached up to the gaslight that hung from the ceiling of the workshop, reducing its flickering flame so that it became extinguished. The workshop was flung into darkness. The old man stepped out of the doorway and closed it soundly behind him.

A beam of moonlight poked through the shutters of the window and pierced the darkness of the workshop with a slender golden finger. Maxwell lay upon the bench and closed both of his eyes. Around him a multitude of clocks were humming and ticking with the soft melody of reassuring sound. Within seconds he was fast asleep.

Early the next morning, Mr. McKenzie carried his new invention down into the shop and placed him upon a wooden crate by the front door. He then stood back and watched his creation with pride. It wasn’t long before the first customer of the day walked in.

“Good morning and welcome to Mr. McKenzie’s Clock Store – Quality Clockwork and Steam-Powered Timepieces for Discerning Ladies and Gentlemen,” chanted the small toy aloud, as a lady stepped inside the store.

The stranger looked down at the toy and smiled.

“You’re a cute little fellow,” she smiled. “What are you doing here?”

The mechanical bear did a short jig upon the wooden crate, causing the soft sound of his boots to mingle with the background chimes and ticking of the clocks.

“My name is Maxwell and I am here to assist you in your quest for a perfect time piece,” came his friendly reply.

The lady smiled and took a few short steps into the store. She stopped by a wall clock and studied the label hanging from its fame.

“You have impeccable taste,” continued the small toy, as his reading eye scanned the details of the clock. “That is the most accurate clock in the store, gaining just two seconds each year. It’s powered by two cylindrical gas burners, meaning that it is fully portable. It comes with a range of four different chimes, one for each season of the year. It is a bargain at only two hundred and fifty dollars.”

The lady nodded in acknowledgement and allowed the label to drop back to its original position.

“It sure does look attractive,” she replied.

“It would look equally attractive in your home,” added the mechanical assistant without hesitation. “You would be the envy of all your friends.”

The lady turned her head towards Mr. McKenzie and smiled broadly.

“I’ll take two please of these please,” she stated, pointing her finger at the wall clock. “Your lovely little assistant has talked me into a purchase.”

Mr. McKenzie returned her smile with one that was even broader and he gently patted the mechanical toy with the palm of his hand. He gave a slight wink to his clockwork assistant and returned to serving his first customer of the day. It wasn’t long before the transaction was complete and the lady happily left the store. Mr. McKenzie closed the till and smiled broadly again.

Throughout the day, customer after customer came and went. Mr. McKenzie had never known a day as busy as this. Each time, his clockwork invention proved his worth and greeted each visitor into the store with a friendly welcome. The clockwork invention answered question upon question about the features of each clock. Finally, each customer was showered with so much praise and complements that hardly a person left the store without making at least one purchase.

As the store closed at the end of the day, Mr. McKenzie locked the shop door, mopped his brow with a large handkerchief and collapsed into a chair at the back of the shop. The small clockwork toy watched him loyally.

“It’s been a very busy day,” Mr. McKenzie exclaimed aloud to his creation. “I can’t imagine that every day will be as busy as this!”

In a strange way, the following days proved Mr. McKenzie to be correct. The subsequent times were not as busy as his first: in fact they were busier! Word had spread around town about the delightful new mechanical assistant that Mr. McKenzie had produced and people would often just visit the shop to simply witness his marvellous creation. The mechanical toy would cordially greet each new customer to the store, he would use his reading eye to study each of the clock details and then he would use his charm to enchant each customer and clinch a sale.

The days became weeks and the weeks became months. The clock shop retained its constant flow of customers and it seemed as if nothing would change.  However, one day, something unexpected was to happen that was to change the lives of everyone: especially that of Maxwell, the mechanical clock-maker’s assistant.

That Monday morning had begun like any other. Mr. McKenzie had wound up the clockwork sales assistant, as he did every week, and then he placed him upon the crate by the door of the shop. Even though the store had not yet opened, there were already three people standing in a short queue, waiting outside in the street. Mr. McKenzie walked to the entrance, unlocked the catch and opened the door wide.

“Good morning and welcome to Mr. McKenzie’s Clock Store – Quality Clockwork and Steam-Powered Timepieces for Discerning Ladies and Gentlemen,” chanted the mechanical toy, as the three customers stepped inside the store.

Within seconds, the three arrivals had walked inside and were examining the clocks, asking Mr. McKenzie and the mechanical assistant a variety of questions about each product in turn. It was then that the small toy noted a fourth person, waiting alone outside. The mechanical assistant beamed a friendly smile and studied the grim-looking face that glared back.

Instinctively, the stranger’s face offered a brief smile but it was not a warm or engaging smile: it seemed forced and lifeless. When a person offers a genuine smile, there is an associated sparkle in their eyes. Their eyes may even flash and glisten too; you will know in your heart that you can trust them. However, there was no sparkle in the eyes that caught the friendly gaze of the mechanical assistant. The face of the stranger looked cold and distant and his pupils darted about suspiciously, surveying the far back of the store.

The mechanical toy turned to the rear of the shop, looking for reassurance from Mr. McKenzie, but none was found. Worryingly, the old man was standing with his back to the shop door and was deep in conversation with the first customer who had entered the store.

Before the clockwork assistant had time to call the alarm and warn Mr. McKenzie, a pair of strong hands whipped through the shop door and wrapped around his tiny waist, plunging the toy into an opened hessian sack and then closing the bag firmly. The whole episode occurred so quickly and violently that there was not even time for a shout, to raise an alarm.

Next the stranger turned and darted back out onto the street, taking great powerful strides that propelled him quickly away from the store. The bag wiggled and jiggled in a frenzied panic but there was to be no escape. The stranger held the top of the sack fast and continued rapidly with his getaway.

Stop Thief!

By the time the stranger had reached the end of the street, Mr. McKenzie realised that something was wrong and he darted to the open swinging door of his shop. He noticed the vacant crate and he scanned up and down the street in desperate alarm. It was then that he spied the tail end of a dark figure running off with a bulging sack and instantly Mr. McKenzie understood what had happened.

“Stop thief!” he yelled down the road and he made his way as fast as he could in hot pursuit. “Stop thief!”

Sadly, the thief had the advantage of both time and youth. Within a few seconds the stranger had dashed into a side alley, continued by a few strides, sprinted across a passage, darted up a side road and raced out beyond the canal. Soon the whole sordid event was over. There was no sign of the villain. Mr. McKenzie had lost his opportunity to recover his property.