Maggie stood back and examined the mechanism for a long moment and then removed the chock and set the escapement in motion. She watched it swing first into one leg and then into the other with a sure sounding “tick-click.” The cogs moved smoothly, the grinding that had been slowing the entire mechanism no longer evident. She tugged a rag from where she had had it tucked in her belt and wiped some of the grease from her hands. She’d given-up trying to keep them clean a week ago when they had started to go raw from her effort and thus made her work sloppy. Now she just kept a rag to wipe off the excess. She gathered her tools and laced them back onto their hooks. She had left her favorite music box in Tenk’s apartment in trade for his second-best tools. She wasn’t sure it was a fair trade, her favorite for his second-best, but it was the best she could do to ensure that things were kept even between them.
She lowered herself out of the mechanism’s housing and into the open breezeway below. It was not yet midnight but snow swirled out through the darkness, driving everyone into their homes and veiling the already feeble gas lamps in white. Maggie sat down beneath one of the archways, leaning against a pillar and pulling out her lunch. A small flock of house sparrows gathered on the snow in front of her, chirping hopefully.
“City birds.” She chided kindly, breaking off the crust of her pasty and crumbing it for them. They were puffed into dense balls against the cold, but even so were showing signs of winter hunger. Maggie looked up at the pitch-black sky and wondered if the weather would break soon. She imagined that the animals outside the city who didn’t have the advantage of pirating crumbs from the careless citizens of New Babbage were having a great deal of trouble keeping themselves fed.
When Maggie had first realized that Tenk was gone she had been angry and more than a little frightened. But time was passing, as it often does, and the longing to see him had consigned itself to the same, aching place that held Molly and Pip. She was filling her time with new work, though it wasn’t easy. Keeping the city’s clocks working had, at first, seemed an impossible task, though a necissary one. She’d no sooner get one into perfect order before another would wind down, or throw a cog or lose tension or freeze-up. But still, she was managing it. She was keeping them all wound and all on time, except for one.
The clock on City Hall she had deliberately left stopped. She kept it clean and oiled, but made no effort to repair the break that had silenced it nearly a week ago.
That clock was the bellwether. When it began to tick again, it would mean that Tenk had returned to the city.
And when Tenk returned, he would discover that Maggie had kept it waiting for him, in the same way that she kept a place waiting for Pocket.