The thief continued his escape. After leaving the canal behind, he darted down another alleyway, hurried under a gap in a fence and galloped down a distant street. He jumped across a wooden fence, scampered through a park and scrambled into a disused factory. The thief pushed a loosen board, clambered into a lonely dismal room and emptied the contents of the bag upon the floor.
The small mechanical bear looked up at the rough face that glared down at him and, despite feeling full of fear and trepidation, he summoned enough courage to issue a defiant terse reply.
“I’m not a toy and I am not a pet,” he stuttered aloud. “I’m Maxwell, the mechanical clockwork assistant!”
But the thief was not listening and nor did he care. He had extracted a length of rope from the assorted items that lay about and proceeded to tie it firmly around one foot of the bear.
“You’re mine now,” continued the stranger, “and you’ll do as I say.”
“I’m Maxwell, the mechanical assistant,” repeated the small bear but the thief had already knotted the chord and tugged on it to test the bondage.
“Just remember,” growled the thief menacingly, “you’ll do as I say and when I say it!”
With that he maintained a strong grip on the rope and pulled his captive back out towards the loose boards: the exit of the room.
Maxwell looked out into a strange world. He did not know where he was, the identity of the man he was with or what was to happen to him next. But he did know one thing and that was his name and so he murmured it once more.
“This will be your home for the next few days, until the circus leaves town,” the stranger growled. “I ain’t going to risk someone seeing you around New Babbage, in case they recognise you.”
Maxwell glanced around the room nervously. There was a row of dirty cupboards along the wall and a single stout table stood in the centre of the room, surrounded by three odd-matching chairs. The rope that was attached to Maxwell was tied around one of the legs of the table.
“The circus is in town until the weekend,” the thief continued, “and then it will move out across the country. You’ll be ideal as a novelty to entice the crowds.”
The stranger went to a cupboard to find a plate and then to another cupboard to find some scraps of food. He sat at the table and began to eat messily.
“By the weekend,” he muttered, spitting mouthfuls of food out across the floor, “I’ll be rich and it will be the last I’ll see of New Babbage.”
He brushed his coat and further scraps of food fell to the ground.
“You may be well-known around here but as soon as the circus leaves town there ain’t no way you’ll be recognised!” mumbled the thief, stuffing the remains of the scant meal into his mouth.
Further specks of food flew out from his mouth and cascaded downwards onto the table and beyond. Maxwell looked down at his bondage and felt the hard knots of the ropes with the tips of his stuffed stubby limbs.
“Don’t you even think about escape,” growled the stranger. “There’s no way that you’ll ever untie that!”
The thief was correct. Maxwell had been built from the remains of a stuffed toy. His upper limbs were short and they all ended with an abrupt stitched stump. He might have been able to run and dance, he might have been able to read and talk but he had not been built to carry out any delicate dexterous task. He knew that escape was futile. He couldn’t untie the knot with his limbs, the table was too stout to pull. He decided to sit still, think carefully. The stranger finished his last mouthful, stood up from the table and brushed a mass of scraps from the front of his coat onto the floor.
With that, the door slammed and the room fell quiet. Maxwell heard the turn of a key in the front door and he knew that he was alone. As the house fell silent, Maxwell watched as a small pink nose delicately sniffed the air from the safety of a gap between two boards in the wall. Within seconds, the nose was followed by a brown mass of untidy hair and a rat appeared into view. It scampered up to the first morsel of food that lay upon the floor and began to devour it rapidly. Soon a second rat followed the first one into the room and it too began to feed upon the scraps of food that were scattered about the room.
Clockwork gears churned within Maxwell’s head: he had an idea.
As carefully as possible, Maxwell rolled the rope across the floor with the sole of the boot from his mechanical feet. Each time he reached an item of food, he stopped and rolled the rope backwards and forwards under the sole, to crush the scraps of food into the fibres of the rope. Elsewhere, the rats continued to eat and these were soon joined by others that also emerged from the boards. Maxwell continued his plan, rolling the rope about the floor and crushing the scraps of food into the fibres as he did this. At the same time, the rats scavenged the remaining morsels of food until they had all been devoured. Within minutes, the floor was clear of its temporary feast.
The rats raised their noses to the air and continued to sniff; they could still smell the remains of food, despite the floor now being empty of its treasure. Hunger drove them to edge towards the small clockwork assistant that was now static and waiting. The rats sniffed the rope suspiciously and detected the fragrance of food trapped within its fibres. They started to gnaw. Within seconds one rat and then another joined the first rodents. Very soon there was a mass of rats fighting for a position on the rope, struggling to gnaw and gain the last scrap of nourishment that was available. Maxwell stayed absolutely still and waited.
A minute passed by. The rats continued to struggle.
Another minute passed by. The rats sustained their fighting and they gnawed madly at the rope.
Yet another minute passed by. The mass of brown heaving bodies fought and chewed the final mouthfuls of scraps from the fibres of the rope.
The last minute passed and the rope fell loose with a soft thud. The rats continued to gnaw at the remains of the rope as Maxwell rose stealthily. He had his eyes fixed upon the boards that the rats had used to enter the room. Within seconds he had clambered across the room and squeezed his tiny body out between the boards. Above, he could see the faint twinkling of the midnight stars: the new moon had already dipped below the horizon and there was now very little light remaining to assist with his escape. Maxwell stepped out into the inky blackness with trepidation.
His clockwork motor whirred and groaned. One more step into the unknown and then another. Maxwell looked around carefully for the most direct route away from his prison. He stepped away again. He had to simply try getting as far away as possible. He took several more strides and leapt into an adjoining park. He ran and bounded now into the darkness, not knowing where he was heading. Bushes stroked their branches into his face as he raced past, leaves crunched below his feet as he scampered. Maxwell kept running until he was sure that he was as far away from his temporary prison as he could get.