Mr Polton Explains, by R. Austin Freeman

Introductory Observations by Mr. Polton

FRIENDS of Dr. Thorndyke who happen to have heard of me as his servant and technical assistant may be rather surprised to see me making my appearance in the character of an author. I am rather surprised, myself; and I don’t mind admitting that of all the tools that I have ever used, the one that is in my hand at the present moment is the least familiar and the most unmanageable. But mere lack of skill shall not discourage me. The infallible method, as I have found by experience, of learning how to do any thing is to do it, and keep on doing it until it becomes easy. Use is second nature, as a copy-book once informed me.

But I feel that some explanation is necessary. The writing of this record is not my own idea. I am acting on instructions; and the way in which the matter arose was this. My master, the Doctor, was commissioned to investigate the case of Cecil Moxdale deceased, and a very queer case it was. So queer that, as the Doctor assures me, he would never have been able to come to a definite conclusion but for one little fact that I was able to supply. I think he exaggerates my importance and that he would have found it out for himself. Still, that one little fact did certainly throw a new light on the case, so, when the time came for the record of it to be written, both the Doctor himself and Dr. Jervis decided that I was the proper person to set forth the circumstances that made the final discovery possible.

That was all very well, but the question was, What were the circumstances and when did they begin? And I could find no answer; for as soon as I thought that I had found the beginning of the train of circumstances, I saw that it would never have happened if something had not happened before it. And so it went on. Every event in my life was the result of some other event, and, tracing them back one after the other, I came to the conclusion that the beginning of the train of circumstances was also the beginning of me. For, obviously, if I had never been born, the experiences that I have to record could never have happened. I pointed this out to the Doctor, and he agreed that my being born was undoubtedly a contributory circumstance, and suggested that perhaps I had better begin with that. But, on reflection, I saw that this was impossible; for, although being born is undeniably a personal experience, it is, oddly enough, one which we have to take on hearsay and which it would therefore be improper to include in one’s personal recollections.

Besides, although this history seems to be all about me, it is really an introduction to the case of Cecil Moxdale deceased; and my little contribution to the solving of that mystery was principally a matter of technical knowledge. There were some other matters; but my connection with the case arose out of my being a clock-maker. Accordingly, in these recollections, I shall sort out the incidents of my life, and keep, as far as possible, to those which present me in that character.

There is a surprising amount of wisdom to be gathered from copy-books. From one I learned that the boy is father to the man, and from another, to much the same effect, that the poet is born, not made. As there were twenty lines to the page, I had to repeat this twenty times, which was more than it merited. For the thing is obvious enough, and, after all, there is nothing in it. Poets are not peculiar in this respect. The truth applies to all other kinds of persons, including fools and even clock-makers; that is, if they are real clock — makers and not just common men with no natural aptitude who have drifted into the trade by chance.

Now, I was born a clock-maker. It may sound odd, but such, I am convinced, is the fact. As far back as I can remember, clocks have always had an attraction for me quite different from that of any other kind of things. In later years my interests have widened, but I have still remained faithful to my old love. A clock (by which I mean a mechanical time-keeper of any kind) still seems to me the most wonderful and admirable of the works of man. Indeed, it seems something more: as if it were a living creature with a personality and a soul of its own, rather than a mere machine.

Thus I may say that by these beautiful creations my life has been shaped from the very beginning. Looking down the vista of years, I seem to see at the end of it the old Dutch clock that used to hang on the wall of our kitchen. That clock, and certain dealings with it on a particular and well-remembered day, which I shall mention presently, seem to mark the real starting — point of my journey through life. This may be a mere sentimental delusion, but it doesn’t appear so to me. In memory, I can still see the pleasant painted face, changing in expression from hour to hour, and hear the measured tick that never changed at all; and to me, they are the face and the voice of an old and beloved friend.

Of my first meeting with that clock I have no recollection, for it was there when my Aunt Gollidge brought me to her home, a little orphan of three. But in that curious hazy beginning of memory when the events of our childhood come back to us in detached scenes like the pictures of a magic lantern, the old clock is the one distinct object; and as memories become more connected, I can see myself sitting in the little chair that Uncle Gollidge had made for me, looking up at the clock with an interest and pleasure that were never exhausted. I suppose that to a child any inanimate thing which moves of its own accord is an object of wonder, especially if its movements appear to have a definite purpose.

But of explanations I have given enough and of apologies I shall give none; for if the story of my doings should appear to the reader as little worth as it does to me, he has but to pass over it and turn to the case to which it forms the introduction.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 19:06