Monday, February 23, 2015


Some time ago, four automatons kept house together in London. The mechanical girl played the harpsichord; the mechanical boy wrote in perfect copperplate; the mechanical bird hopped up and down and whistled. The mechanical wizard held a wand and a book and, if you put a coin in his hand, he would close his eyes and nod back his head and point his wand at a list of answers. He felt fortune telling was beneath him, but there was rent to pay.
A discontented magician, even one who runs by clockwork, is a chancy thing. There was little magic in
London in those days, but somehow he had a share of the little there was. He had a queer relation with the automaton maker Henri Maillardet and always insisted that he had assisted in his own creation. For several years after Maillardet’s death, the magician moped and the fortunes he gave became more and more gloomy. Lovers were told they would forget one another; expectant heirs that their rich and ailing uncles would find unsuspected reservoirs of strength.
Having heard the same songs everyday for many years he one day idly pointed his wand at the girl and grated “Can you not play something else?” She could; no one had ever asked her.  The mechanical boy apprenticed himself to the magician and the two of them – after many failed attempts, one of whom almost became Prime Minister and two of whom had to be hunted down by the men from Bow Street, finally conjured up the ghost of old Maillardet. At night, very late, the boy the magician and the ghost would slip outside and, standing well away from the lamplight, smoke narrow cigars. No matter how windy the night, the smoke would gather around their heads and then slowly drift towards the ground.

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