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´╗┐Title: Clocks
Author: Jerome, Jerome K. (Jerome Klapka), 1859-1927
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Clocks" ***

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By Jerome K. Jerome

Transcriber's Note:

1. Italicized phrases are delimited by the underline character.

2. Hyphens have been left in the text only where it was the clear
intention of the author. For example, throughout the text, "tonight" and
"tomorrow" appear as "to-night" and "to-morrow". This is intentional,
and is not simply a legacy of words having been broken across lines in
the printed text.

3. The pound (currency) symbol has been replaced by the word "pounds".


There are two kinds of clocks. There is the clock that is always wrong,
and that knows it is wrong, and glories in it; and there is the clock
that is always right--except when you rely upon it, and then it is more
wrong than you would think a clock _could_ be in a civilized country.

I remember a clock of this latter type, that we had in the house when I
was a boy, routing us all up at three o'clock one winter's morning. We
had finished breakfast at ten minutes to four, and I got to school a
little after five, and sat down on the step outside and cried, because I
thought the world had come to an end; everything was so death-like!

The man who can live in the same house with one of these clocks, and
not endanger his chance of heaven about once a month by standing up and
telling it what he thinks of it, is either a dangerous rival to that old
established firm, Job, or else he does not know enough bad language to
make it worth his while to start saying anything at all.

The great dream of its life is to lure you on into trying to catch a
train by it. For weeks and weeks it will keep the most perfect time. If
there were any difference in time between that clock and the sun, you
would be convinced it was the sun, not the clock, that wanted seeing to.
You feel that if that clock happened to get a quarter of a second fast,
or the eighth of an instant slow, it would break its heart and die.

It is in this spirit of child-like faith in its integrity that, one
morning, you gather your family around you in the passage, kiss your
children, and afterward wipe your jammy mouth, poke your finger in the
baby's eye, promise not to forget to order the coals, wave at last fond
adieu with the umbrella, and depart for the railway-station.

I never have been quite able to decide, myself, which is the more
irritating to run two miles at the top of your speed, and then to find,
when you reach the station, that you are three-quarters of an hour too
early; or to stroll along leisurely the whole way, and dawdle about
outside the booking-office, talking to some local idiot, and then to
swagger carelessly on to the platform, just in time to see the train go

As for the other class of clocks--the common or always-wrong
clocks--they are harmless enough. You wind them up at the proper
intervals, and once or twice a week you put them right and "regulate"
them, as you call it (and you might just as well try to "regulate" a
London tom-cat). But you do all this, not from any selfish motives,
but from a sense of duty to the clock itself. You want to feel that,
whatever may happen, you have done the right thing by it, and that no
blame can attach to you.

So far as looking to it for any return is concerned, that you never
dream of doing, and consequently you are not disappointed. You ask what
the time is, and the girl replies:

"Well, the clock in the dining-room says a quarter past two."

But you are not deceived by this. You know that, as a matter of fact, it
must be somewhere between nine and ten in the evening; and, remembering
that you noticed, as a curious circumstance, that the clock was only
forty minutes past four, hours ago, you mildly admire its energies and
resources, and wonder how it does it.

I myself possess a clock that for complicated unconventionality and
light-hearted independence, could, I should think, give points
to anything yet discovered in the chronometrical line. As a mere
time-piece, it leaves much to be desired; but, considered as a
self-acting conundrum, it is full of interest and variety.

I heard of a man once who had a clock that he used to say was of no good
to any one except himself, because he was the only man who understood
it. He said it was an excellent clock, and one that you could thoroughly
depend upon; but you wanted to know it--to have studied its system. An
outsider might be easily misled by it.

"For instance," he would say, "when it strikes fifteen, and the hands
point to twenty minutes past eleven, I know it is a quarter to eight."

His acquaintanceship with that clock must certainly have given him an
advantage over the cursory observer!

But the great charm about my clock is its reliable uncertainty. It works
on no method whatever; it is a pure emotionalist. One day it will be
quite frolicsome, and gain three hours in the course of the morning, and
think nothing of it; and the next day it will wish it were dead, and be
hardly able to drag itself along, and lose two hours out of every four,
and stop altogether in the afternoon, too miserable to do anything; and
then, getting cheerful once more toward evening, will start off again of
its own accord.

I do not care to talk much about this clock; because when I tell the
simple truth concerning it, people think I am exaggerating.

It is very discouraging to find, when you are straining every nerve to
tell the truth, that people do not believe you, and fancy that you
are exaggerating. It makes you feel inclined to go and exaggerate on
purpose, just to show them the difference. I know I often feel tempted
to do so myself--it is my early training that saves me.

We should always be very careful never to give way to exaggeration; it
is a habit that grows upon one.

And it is such a vulgar habit, too. In the old times, when poets and
dry-goods salesmen were the only people who exaggerated, there was
something clever and _distingue_ about a reputation for "a tendency to
over, rather than to under-estimate the mere bald facts." But everybody
exaggerates nowadays. The art of exaggeration is no longer regarded
as an "extra" in the modern bill of education; it is an essential
requirement, held to be most needful for the battle of life.

The whole world exaggerates. It exaggerates everything, from the yearly
number of bicycles sold to the yearly number of heathens converted--into
the hope of salvation and more whiskey. Exaggeration is the basis of our
trade, the fallow-field of our art and literature, the groundwork of our
social life, the foundation of our political existence. As schoolboys,
we exaggerate our fights and our marks and our fathers' debts. As men,
we exaggerate our wares, we exaggerate our feelings, we exaggerate
our incomes--except to the tax-collector, and to him we exaggerate our
"outgoings"; we exaggerate our virtues; we even exaggerate our vices,
and, being in reality the mildest of men, pretend we are dare-devil

We have sunk so low now that we try to _act_ our exaggerations, and to
live up to our lies. We call it "keeping up appearances;" and no
more bitter phrase could, perhaps, have been invented to describe our
childish folly.

If we possess a hundred pounds a year, do we not call it two? Our larder
may be low and our grates be chill, but we are happy if the "world" (six
acquaintances and a prying neighbor) gives us credit for one hundred and
fifty. And, when we have five hundred, we talk of a thousand, and the
all-important and beloved "world" (sixteen friends now, and two of them
carriage-folks!) agree that we really must be spending seven hundred, or
at all events, running into debt up to that figure; but the butcher and
baker, who have gone into the matter with the housemaid, know better.

After awhile, having learned the trick, we launch out boldly and spend
like Indian Princes--or rather _seem_ to spend; for we know, by this
time, how to purchase the seeming with the seeming, how to buy the
appearance of wealth with the appearance of cash. And the dear old
world--Beelzebub bless it! for it is his own child, sure enough; there
is no mistaking the likeness, it has all his funny little ways--gathers
round, applauding and laughing at the lie, and sharing in the cheat, and
gloating over the thought of the blow that it knows must sooner or later
fall on us from the Thor-like hammer of Truth.

And all goes merry as a witches' frolic--until the gray morning dawns.

Truth and fact are old-fashioned and out-of-date, my friends, fit only
for the dull and vulgar to live by. Appearance, not reality, is what the
clever dog grasps at in these clever days. We spurn the dull-brown solid
earth; we build our lives and homes in the fair-seeming rainbow-land of
shadow and chimera.

To ourselves, sleeping and waking there, _behind_ the rainbow, there is
no beauty in the house; only a chill damp mist in every room, and, over
all, a haunting fear of the hour when the gilded clouds will melt
away, and let us fall--somewhat heavily, no doubt--upon the hard world

But, there! of what matter is _our_ misery, _our_ terror? To the
stranger, our home appears fair and bright. The workers in the fields
below look up and envy us our abode of glory and delight! If _they_
think it pleasant, surely _we_ should be content. Have we not been
taught to live for others and not for ourselves, and are we not acting
up bravely to the teaching--in this most curious method?

Ah! yes, we are self-sacrificing enough, and loyal enough in our
devotion to this new-crowned king, the child of Prince Imposture and
Princess Pretense. Never before was despot so blindly worshiped! Never
had earthly sovereign yet such world-wide sway!

Man, if he would live, _must_ worship. He looks around, and what to him,
within the vision of his life, is the greatest and the best, that he
falls down and does reverence to. To him whose eyes have opened on the
nineteenth century, what nobler image can the universe produce than
the figure of Falsehood in stolen robes? It is cunning and brazen and
hollow-hearted, and it realizes his souls ideal, and he falls and kisses
its feet, and clings to its skinny knees, swearing fealty to it for

Ah! he is a mighty monarch, bladder-bodied King Humbug! Come, let us
build up temples of hewn shadows wherein we may adore him, safe from the
light. Let us raise him aloft upon our Brummagem shields. Long live our
coward, falsehearted chief!--fit leader for such soldiers as we! Long
live the Lord-of-Lies, anointed! Long live poor King Appearances, to
whom all mankind bows the knee!

But we must hold him aloft very carefully, oh, my brother warriors! He
needs much "keeping up." He has no bones and sinews of his own, the poor
old flimsy fellow! If we take our hands from him, he will fall a heap
of worn-out rags, and the angry wind will whirl him away, and leave us
forlorn. Oh, let us spend our lives keeping him up, and serving him,
and making him great--that is, evermore puffed out with air and
nothingness--until he burst, and we along with him!

Burst one day he must, as it is in the nature of bubbles to burst,
especially when they grow big. Meanwhile, he still reigns over us, and
the world grows more and more a world of pretense and exaggeration
and lies; and he who pretends and exaggerates and lies the most
successfully, is the greatest of us all.

The world is a gingerbread fair, and we all stand outside our booths and
point to the gorgeous-colored pictures, and beat the big drum and brag.
Brag! brag! Life is one great game of brag!

"Buy my soap, oh ye people, and ye will never look old, and the hair
will grow again on your bald places, and ye will never be poor or
unhappy again; and mine is the only true soap. Oh, beware of spurious

"Buy my lotion, all ye that suffer from pains in the head, or the
stomach, or the feet, or that have broken arms, or broken hearts, or
objectionable mothers-in-law; and drink one bottle a day, and all your
troubles will be ended."

"Come to my church, all ye that want to go to Heaven, and buy my penny
weekly guide, and pay my pew-rates; and, pray ye, have nothing to do
with my misguided brother over the road. _This_ is the only safe way!"

"Oh, vote for me, my noble and intelligent electors, and send our party
into power, and the world shall be a new place, and there shall be no
sin or sorrow any more! And each free and independent voter shall have
a bran new Utopia made on purpose for him, according to his own ideas,
with a good-sized, extra-unpleasant purgatory attached, to which he can
send everybody he does not like. Oh! do not miss this chance!"

Oh! listen to my philosophy, it is the best and deepest. Oh! hear my
songs, they are the sweetest. Oh! buy my pictures, they alone are true
art. Oh! read my books, they are the finest.

Oh! _I_ am the greatest cheesemonger, _I_ am the greatest soldier, _I_
am the greatest statesman, _I_ am the greatest poet, _I_ am the greatest
showman, _I_ am the greatest mountebank, _I_ am the greatest editor, and
_I_ am the greatest patriot. _We_ are the greatest nation. _We_ are
the only good people. _Ours_ is the only true religion. Bah! how we all

How we all brag and bounce, and beat the drum and shout; and nobody
believes a word we utter; and the people ask one another, saying:

"How can we tell who is the greatest and the cleverest among all these
shrieking braggarts?"

And they answer:

"There is none great or clever. The great and clever men are not here;
there is no place for them in this pandemonium of charlatans and quacks.
The men you see here are crowing cocks. We suppose the greatest and the
best of _them_ are they who crow the loudest and the longest; that is
the only test of _their_ merits."

Therefore, what is left for us to do, but to crow? And the best and
greatest of us all, is he who crows the loudest and the longest on this
little dunghill that we call our world!

Well, I was going to tell you about our clock.

It was my wife's idea, getting it, in the first instance. We had been to
dinner at the Buggles', and Buggles had just bought a clock--"picked
it up in Essex," was the way he described the transaction. Buggles is
always going about "picking up" things. He will stand before an old
carved bedstead, weighing about three tons, and say:

"Yes--pretty little thing! I picked it up in Holland;" as though he had
found it by the roadside, and slipped it into his umbrella when nobody
was looking!

Buggles was rather full of this clock. It was of the good old-fashioned
"grandfather" type. It stood eight feet high, in a carved-oak case, and
had a deep, sonorous, solemn tick, that made a pleasant accompaniment to
the after-dinner chat, and seemed to fill the room with an air of homely

We discussed the clock, and Buggles said how he loved the sound of its
slow, grave tick; and how, when all the house was still, and he and
it were sitting up alone together, it seemed like some wise old friend
talking to him, and telling him about the old days and the old ways of
thought, and the old life and the old people.

The clock impressed my wife very much. She was very thoughtful all the
way home, and, as we went upstairs to our flat, she said, "Why could not
we have a clock like that?" She said it would seem like having some one
in the house to take care of us all--she should fancy it was looking
after baby!

I have a man in Northamptonshire from whom I buy old furniture now and
then, and to him I applied. He answered by return to say that he had got
exactly the very thing I wanted. (He always has. I am very lucky in this
respect.) It was the quaintest and most old-fashioned clock he had
come across for a long while, and he enclosed photograph and full
particulars; should he send it up?

From the photograph and the particulars, it seemed, as he said, the very
thing, and I told him, "Yes; send it up at once."

Three days afterward, there came a knock at the door--there had been
other knocks at the door before this, of course; but I am dealing
merely with the history of the clock. The girl said a couple of men were
outside, and wanted to see me, and I went to them.

I found they were Pickford's carriers, and glancing at the way-bill, I
saw that it was my clock that they had brought, and I said, airily, "Oh,
yes, it's quite right; bring it up!"

They said they were very sorry, but that was just the difficulty. They
could not get it up.

I went down with them, and wedged securely across the second landing
of the staircase, I found a box which I should have judged to be the
original case in which Cleopatra's Needle came over.

They said that was my clock.

I brought down a chopper and a crowbar, and we sent out and collected in
two extra hired ruffians and the five of us worked away for half an hour
and got the clock out; after which the traffic up and down the staircase
was resumed, much to the satisfaction of the other tenants.

We then got the clock upstairs and put it together, and I fixed it in
the corner of the dining-room.

At first it exhibited a strong desire to topple over and fall on people,
but by the liberal use of nails and screws and bits of firewood, I made
life in the same room with it possible, and then, being exhausted, I had
my wounds dressed, and went to bed.

In the middle of the night my wife woke me up in a great state of alarm,
to say that the clock had just struck thirteen, and who did I think was
going to die?

I said I did not know, but hoped it might be the next-door dog.

My wife said she had a presentiment it meant baby. There was no
comforting her; she cried herself to sleep again.

During the course of the morning, I succeeded in persuading her that she
must have made a mistake, and she consented to smile once more. In the
afternoon the clock struck thirteen again.

This renewed all her fears. She was convinced now that both baby and I
were doomed, and that she would be left a childless widow. I tried to
treat the matter as a joke, and this only made her more wretched.
She said that she could see I really felt as she did, and was only
pretending to be light-hearted for her sake, and she said she would try
and bear it bravely.

The person she chiefly blamed was Buggles.

In the night the clock gave us another warning, and my wife accepted it
for her Aunt Maria, and seemed resigned. She wished, however, that I had
never had the clock, and wondered when, if ever, I should get cured of
my absurd craze for filling the house with tomfoolery.

The next day the clock struck thirteen four times and this cheered
her up. She said that if we were all going to die, it did not so much
matter. Most likely there was a fever or a plague coming, and we should
all be taken together.

She was quite light-hearted over it!

After that the clock went on and killed every friend and relation we
had, and then it started on the neighbors.

It struck thirteen all day long for months, until we were sick of
slaughter, and there could not have been a human being left alive for
miles around.

Then it turned over a new leaf, and gave up murdering folks, and took to
striking mere harmless thirty-nines and forty-ones. Its favorite number
now is thirty-two, but once a day it strikes forty-nine. It never
strikes more than forty-nine. I don't know why--I have never been able
to understand why--but it doesn't.

It does not strike at regular intervals, but when it feels it wants to
and would be better for it. Sometimes it strikes three or four times
within the same hour, and at other times it will go for half-a-day
without striking at all.

He is an odd old fellow!

I have thought now and then of having him "seen to," and made to keep
regular hours and be respectable; but, somehow, I seem to have grown to
love him as he is with his daring mockery of Time.

He certainly has not much respect for it. He seems to go out of his way
almost to openly insult it. He calls half-past two thirty-eight o'clock,
and in twenty minutes from then he says it is one!

Is it that he really has grown to feel contempt for his master, and
wishes to show it? They say no man is a hero to his valet; may it be
that even stony-face Time himself is but a short-lived, puny mortal--a
little greater than some others, that is all--to the dim eyes of this
old servant of his? Has he, ticking, ticking, all these years, come at
last to see into the littleness of that Time that looms so great to our
awed human eyes?

Is he saying, as he grimly laughs, and strikes his thirty-fives and
forties: "Bah! I know you, Time, godlike and dread though you seem. What
are you but a phantom--a dream--like the rest of us here? Ay, less, for
you will pass away and be no more. Fear him not, immortal men. Time is
but the shadow of the world upon the background of Eternity!"

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Clocks" ***

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