The Masterful Timepiece
by Bryon L. Havranek
Table of Contents|
chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Chapter II: An Unexpected Delivery
It so happens that, nearly one month ago to this very day, I was having lunch with Josiah Coswald here at the Windsor-Price hotel. As you all know, we met fairly regularly over luncheon to discuss the status of commodities, since both he and I were heavily involved in fixing the prices on certain key goods. Being the chairman of the Bank of England, he had access to near-unlimited funds, capital which in turn went into the market through me.
And so there we were, enjoying a wonderful meal of lemon bass, when a lad was led over to our table by none other than the maître-d himself. Mr. Alfonse looked more oily than usual, and more than a little nervous at intruding upon our private dinner.
“I deeply regret bothering you, good sirs,” mumbled the man, wringing his hands, “but here is a courier just arrived with a special package for Mr. Coswald.” He gestured at the young man standing behind him, who wore the uniform of Delphine’s Carrier Service, LTD.
Coswald was apparently used to receiving such parcels at unusual times, for he merely wiped his mouth on his napkin and held out his hand in a bored manner. The lad handed over the package, a rather smallish thing wrapped in silver foil. There was no note to be found anywhere on the exterior, and this strange anonymity made even Josiah frown.
“A mystery presents itself at my table,” he quipped, placing the parcel down before him. He turned his gaze on the delivery boy and narrowed his eyes. “Let me see the invoice. I would know who has been so kind as to send me this little offering.”
The lad, who could not have been much older than 18, suddenly looked very nervous. “I’m sorry, sir, but I do not have the invoice with me. It is down at the office with Mr. Edwards, the manager. It was he who dispatched me here at a run, going so far as to give me a shilling to catch a cab across town.”
I could tell by the set of Coswald’s face that his explosive temper was rising fast. He glared up at the poor boy with such a withering scowl that the courier melted like wax before a blast furnace. “I didn’t ask you about the state of your arrival, nor who it was who sent you upon this little errand. I asked you for the invoice, and I demand to see it at once.”
Despite myself, I opened my mouth and promptly waded into the thick of things. “But, Josiah, old chap, the lad already said that he doesn’t have it with him. How is he supposed to produce what he doesn’t have?”
Coswald slammed a fist down onto the tabletop, startling the other patrons dining at nearby tables. “I do not care,” he all but yelled, his temper in full fury. “I am used to getting what I want when I want it. And you, my little errand boy, have just earned my enmity. I should have your name, sir, so that I may see to it that your firm no longer employs such a slap-dash chucklehead on its staff.
“Furthermore, I shall see to it that no one else in this fine city makes the same mistake of hiring such a deleterious individual as yourself. Now begone from my sight before I send for my stick!” The poor lad looked on the verge of tears, but he fled from the room before he could make an unmanly scene.
I sat there in my chair, stunned beyond words. I daresay that my shocked expression resembled those worn by the other patrons, but Coswald seemed not to care in the slightest. If anything, the bounder looked pleased as Punch with his vindictive deed.
He now wore a little smile and, knowing that he had a rapt audience, he slowly picked up the little parcel and began to tear away the paper. All eyes were now on the little box that he held in his hand and, with a grand flourish, he opened the lid.
I leaned forward to see what that Pandora’s box held within, but Coswald snapped the lid shut before I could catch even a glimpse. However, whatever was inside must have pleased the man, for he promptly tucked it away in his coat pocket and patted it like a favored pet.
The climax having been reached, the rest of the meal passed in a rather sedate manner. Coswald seemed distracted, not only refusing to answer my questions about his gift but going so far as to avoid discussing business matters of any sort, which was quite unlike him.
Luncheon was finished in relative silence, and he departed the table without uttering a word, just as I was beginning with my plum pudding. I was left speechless, and more than a little angry with him for such rudeness. But you gentlemen know of his reputation for social indecency, and I simply took his behavior in stride. After all, one doesn’t have to like a fellow in order to do business with him.
Days passed before I saw Coswald again. In the meantime, the speculative market was heating up, and I was putting in some rather late hours down at the office. It was on one such evening that the next chapter of this terrible episode took place.
My clock had just tolled eight o’clock, and I was putting away my books for the night when there came a loud knock at the front door. I was not in the least afraid, since I make sure to keep no valuables on the premises. I moved over to unbolt the door to address my caller.
The door pushed in forcefully the moment the lock was disengaged and, before I could protest at such a brash intrusion, in stormed Coswald with his coat all aflurry. The main room was dark, the only light coming from the gaslight in my office. The sudden arrival did much to unsettle me, and I led the way back to my desk, where I quickly poured a couple of glasses of port.
“Best make mine a double,” rasped Coswald, his face cast into shadow by his top-hat. I simply handed him both glasses and poured myself a third before settling back in my chair. Josiah downed both glasses in a trice, and it was while he was setting the crystal tumblers down that I finally got a look at his face.
My God, I couldn’t help but let out a great cry of horror, throwing myself back into my chair with such force that the front legs lifted clear of the carpet. For there, before my very eyes, sat Josiah Coswald, aged thirty-nine, now an old, old man of eighty! His once-seamless face was marred by a wrath of creases and wrinkles, and the hair pushing out from the brim of his hat was like the whitest snow. I sat there in a state of absolute shock, my mouth hanging open!
Coswald smiled a toothless grin at me, his rheumy eyes grimly set. “I take it by the look on your face that my current appearance comes as a surprise to you, but I assure you that it is indeed I, Josiah Coswald and no other who sits before you this evening.”
“But... how, why...?” I finally found my voice, my thoughts in a state of absolute disarray. “Have you seen a doctor? Maybe it is some exotic affliction imported from abroad?”
The old man waved a liver-spotted hand in the air in dismissal. “I’ve seen half a dozen doctors since I first noticed my malaise. But, one and all, they have pronounced me fit and hale, at least for an octogenarian.”
Coswald reached into his waistcoat and promptly produced the most beautiful timepiece I had ever seen. The watch was of the purest platinum, showing the most exquisite scrollwork and set with what could only have been the most costliest of rubies. It was a pocket watch designed for a king, yet now it was held in the miserly clutches of a dismal businessman.
“I do say, Josiah, that has to be the most handsome instrument that I have ever laid eyes upon. Is that what was in the box the courier delivered a couple of weeks ago?”
“Yes,” mused Coswald, pursing his wrinkled lips, “it came into my possession then. With no note or name, a truly anonymous present for one such as myself.” He consulted the time and then whisked the watch away into the folds of his baggy coat. “But enough of that. I have come to see you this evening, hoping to perhaps get an insight into what is ailing me before I perish.”
I leaned forward and clasped my hands together upon the desk. “You came to consult with me? But I am no doctor, nor even knowledgeable of the human body. What could I possibly do to help you?”
“A fresh perspective,” Coswald muttered. “The so-called learned men of science have been unable to come up with a cause or a solution to my predicament; therefore, I am forced to look elsewhere for assistance. You are a social man by necessity, your business bringing you into contact with a wide assortment of people. Perhaps you can think of someone who might be more ‘qualified’ to diagnose this unusual problem of mine and bring about a cure.”
He sat back in the chair and crossed his bony arms over his breast. “In the meantime, while you are thinking, I would like a glass of something a little more stiff than port if you happen to have any such in this dusty mausoleum.” He wiped a finger on my desk. “You should crucify your cleaning people, by-the-by.”
I merely shrugged and rose, my mind thinking of all the various people that I had done business with in the near past. Some indeed were doctors, and more had backgrounds in the various sciences. But Coswald had already dismissed that line of inquiry. To whom else should I turn?
As I poured a pair of glasses of whiskey I was so struck by the very unnaturalness of his dilemma that I hit upon a possible solution. Excitedly I sat down and handed over one of the tumblers. “Josiah, old chap, I do think I have an idea!”
Coswald scowled at my usage of the word “old,” but his eyes narrowed like a bird of prey’s. “Do tell.”
“Before you scoff, let me just say that I am dead serious about this.” I paused for a heartbeat for effect, then continued. “You have seen men of science and found no satisfaction. Have you considered, maybe, in seeing someone else, someone knowledgeable in the realm of the supernatural?”
I held up a staying hand as Coswald opened his mouth to object. “No, hear me out first before you call me mad. Your doctors have all ruled out a natural cause for your current predicament, which means that it is most certainly unnatural in its origin. Such an assumption would demand that we seek out someone practiced in such strange matters for our answers.”
“I... see your rationale here,” the old man said thoughtfully. “And you must know of such a man or you would not have brought it up. He is not one of those spiritualist quacks is he?”
I shook my head emphatically. “Anything but. He is a most respected figure and a close friend of mine.”
“All right, who is the man?”
“Dr. William Wynn Westcott.”
Coswald’s eyes bulged out. “What?! The Queen’s Coroner?! Have you already written me off then?”
I couldn’t help but laugh at his sudden panic. “Easy there. He is indeed a coroner for the Crown, but he is also deeply involved with esoteric matters, having made a study of such things; he has even written some books on the subject. Since you have come to me for advice, I say that we see this chap for a private consultation.”
“Oh, very well. I am running out of options at this moment. When can you arrange for an interview with Westcott?”
“His lodge is holding a meeting tonight, in some rooms near Covent Garden. If we hurry, we can catch a cab over there and talk with him once the meeting adjourns.”
“Good.” Coswald stood and tossed back the last of his drink and placed the glass atop one of my ledgers. “Grab your hat and your coat, and let us be off.” He pulled out his masterful timepiece and twirled it on its exquisite chain. “Time, as they say, is of the essence!”
Copyright © 2017 by Bryon L. Havranek