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A short story by A. A. Milne

Lords Temporal

Title:     Lords Temporal
Author: A. A. Milne [More Titles by Milne]

We have eight clocks, called after the kind people who gave them to us. Let me introduce you: William, Edward, Muriel, Enid, Alphonse, Percy, Henrietta, and John--a large family.

"But how convenient," said Celia. "Exactly one for each room."

"Or two in each corner of the drawing-room. I don't suggest it; I just throw out the idea."

"Which is rejected. How shall we arrange which goes into which room? Let's pick up. I take William for the drawing-room; you take John for your workroom; I take----"

"Not John," I said gently. John is---- John overdoes it a trifle. There is too much of John; and he exposes his inside--which is not quite nice.

"Well, whichever you like. Come on, let's begin. William."

As it happened, I particularly wanted William. He has an absolutely noiseless tick, such as is suitable to a room in which work is to be done. I explained this to Celia.

"What you want for the drawing-room," I went on, "is a clock which ticks ostentatiously, so that your visitors may be reminded of the flight of time. Edward is a very loud breather. No guest could fail to notice Edward."

"William," said Celia firmly.

"William has a very delicate interior," I pleaded. "You could never attend to him properly. I have been thinking of William ever since we had him, and I feel that I understand his case."

"Very well," said Celia, with sudden generosity; "Edward. You have William; I have Alphonse for the dining-room; you have John for your bedroom; I have Enid for mine; you----"

"Not John," I said gently. To be frank, John is improper.

"Well, Percy, then."

"Yes, Percy. He is young and fair. He shall sit on the chest of drawers and sing to my sock-suspenders."

"Then Henrietta had better go in the spare room, and Muriel in Jane's."

"Muriel is much too good for Jane," I protested. "Besides, a servant wants an alarm clock to get her up in the morning."

"You forget that Muriel cuckoos. At six o'clock she will cuckoo exactly six times, and at the sixth 'oo' Jane brisks out of bed."

I still felt a little doubtful, because the early morning is a bad time for counting cuckoos, and I didn't see why Jane shouldn't brisk out at the seventh "oo" by mistake one day. However, Jane is in Celia's department, and if Celia was satisfied I was. Besides, the only other place for Muriel was the bathroom; and there is something about a cuckoo-clock in a bathroom which--well, one wants to be educated up to it.

"And that," said Celia gladly, "leaves the kitchen for John." John, as I think I have said, displays his inside in a lamentable way. There is too much of John.

"If Jane doesn't mind," I added. "She may have been strictly brought up."

"She'll love him. John lacks reserve, but he is a good time-keeper."

And so our eight friends were settled. But, alas, not for long. Our discussion had taken place on the eve of Jane's arrival; and when she turned up next day she brought with her, to our horror, a clock of her own--called, I think, Mother. At any rate, she was fond of it and refused to throw it away.

"And it's got an alarm, so it goes in her bedroom," said Celia, "and Muriel goes into the kitchen. Jane loves it, because she comes from the country, and the cuckoo reminds her of home. That still leaves John eating his head off."

"And, moreover, showing people what happens to it," I added severely. (I think I have already mentioned John's foible.)

"Well, there's only one thing for it; he must go under the spare-room bed."

I tried to imagine John under the spare-room bed.

"Suppose," I said, "we had a nervous visitor ... and she looked under the bed before getting into it ... and saw John.... It is a terrible thought, Celia."

However, that is where he is. It is a lonely life for him, but we shall wind him up every week, and he will think that he is being of service to us. Indeed, he probably imagines that our guests prefer to sleep under the bed.

Now, with John at last arranged for, our family should have been happy; but three days ago I discovered that it was William who was going to be the real trouble. To think of William, the pride of the flock, betraying us!

As you may remember, William lives with me. He presides over the room we call "the library" to visitors and "the master's room" to Jane. He smiles at me when I work. Ordinarily, when I want to know the time, I look at my watch; but the other morning I happened to glance at William. He said "twenty minutes past seven." As I am never at work as early as that, and as my watch said eleven-thirty, I guessed at once that William had stopped. In the evening--having by that time found the key--I went to wind him up. To my surprise he said "six-twenty-five." I put my ear to his chest and heard his gentle breathing. He was alive and going well. With a murmured apology I set him to the right time ... and by the morning he was three-quarters of an hour fast.

Unlike John, William is reticent to a degree. With great difficulty I found my way to his insides, and then found that he had practically none to speak of at all. Certainly he had no regulator.

"What shall we do?" I asked Celia.

"Leave him. And then, when you bring your guests in for a smoke, you can say, 'Oh, don't go yet; this clock is five hours and twenty-three minutes fast.'"

"Or six hours and thirty-seven minutes slow. I wonder which would sound better. Anyhow, he is much too beautiful to go under a bed."

So we are leaving him. And when I am in the mood for beauty I look at William's mahogany sides and am soothed into slumber again ... and when I want to adjust my watch (which always loses a little), I creep under the spare-room bed and consult John. John alone of all our family keeps the correct time, and it is a pity that he alone must live in retirement.

[The end]
A. A. Milne's short story: Lords Temporal