Experiment #314

The Cleverest Contraption of Jeremiah Brown Part 1

The famed young inventor, Jeremiah Brown, got up on stage at Stapleton’s theatre to display his newest invention: an automatic conscience. A breathless moment followed where the standing-room-only crowd stared at what seemed to be an empty table. One confused little boy in the crowd called out, “There’s nothing there, Mommy!”

The crowd burst into laughter.

***

As problems came up among the various people in his town, a teenaged Jeremiah Brown began to invent solutions. As he grew toward manhood the problems also grew, but so did his inventions and thereby his fame.

Early in Jeremiah’s career, Mrs. Elspeth Peterson’s dog, Scrappy—whose previous owner had somehow given him a taste for burying mail—buried her inheritance check along with her house keys. Jeremiah invented a machine that dug a hole and sifted the dirt. Nearly two weeks and a ton of sifted dirt later, they found the keys and the check. But they also found a large supply of mail that Mrs. Peterson’s neighbor, a Mr. Samuel Blivins, had never received. The cache included twelve love letters from what had, up until then, been an unrequited love affair a decade prior.

Some time later, Mr. Clive Stapleton, the owner of the old theatre in town, came to Jeremiah. The traveling show, Dowdy & Furlong Sing the Hits, wanted to have a show there on their way through the county. The show, however, required a mid-performance lighting change that the old theatre was ill-equipped to handle. Mr. Stapleton feared they’d skip the town altogether if he couldn’t find a solution. Jeremiah did not disappoint. He built a series of pulleys, counterweights, and control levers that allowed a stagehand to switch configurations at a moment’s notice. Unfortunately, an overzealous technician switched too quickly between configurations during Dowdy’s rousing opening number. The precisely timed gears fell out of sync, interlocked, and ripped each other from their moorings. The ceiling split down the middle, nearly bringing the house down and causing a general evacuation of the theatre.

Mr. Stapleton stood in the aisle and wept as the ceiling and his dreams fell around him. But the crack revealed a long-forgotten attic and a hoard of antique costumes, sealed away from the tyranny of time and moths. The auction of the items provided enough money for a complete restoration of the theatre. And, notably for Jeremiah, it also provided a small monthly stipend for Jeremiah to continue his work.

If these two clever contraptions had not elevated him above the average tinkerer, the contraption he made for Mayor Billy “Bluster” Brewins—and its public spectacle—solidified his position as the best inventor in the state. Mayor Brewins had gotten himself into quite a pickle. He triple-booked the town square during the annual town fair.

Mrs. Petunia Fairchild, as the chair of the Daughters of the Republic, believed her claim to be the most salient. The Daughters had “always”held their pie-eating contest during the town fair, and they “always”held it in the town square, and “everyonein town” would expect them to be there.

But Mr. James Hodges of the Knights of Kildaire had completed his group’s paperwork first. He refused to allow any encroachment on the Knights’ annual chili competition, particularly since he had the location “fair and square.”

Mrs. Virginia Lord, representing the Silver Key Club and its annual Miss Silver Key competition, however, took issue with the “fair” portion of that statement. She accused the Knights of bribing the mayor’s secretary with chocolates and flowers. Mr. Hodges claimed it to be a natural matrimonial gift, as he had been married to the mayor’s secretary for the better part of two decades. “Should the corruption be eradicated,” Mrs. Lord told Mayor Brewins in harsh and holy tones, “my claim and my paperwork are the strongest.”

Experiment #315

The Cleverest Contraption of Jeremiah Brown Part 2

As is typical with politicians, Mayor Brewins agreed with whichever constituent he was speaking to at the moment, and pledged his defense of their claim to the death. No headway could be made, and all three parties threatened to boycott the event.

To solve this problem, Jeremiah Brown built a giant Ferris wheel on top of the town square. He affixed three great platforms to the wheel so that they could be moved on and off the ground, powered by four locomotive engines. Each group could claim a platform and have their event at the same time, in the same place, with the added attraction of the widest Ferris wheel in the world. Though, given the scope of the project, no one knew for certain (including Jeremiah) whether the contraption would work.

On the day of the town fair, the contraption performed beautifully. The only incident that marred the fair came from Jeremiah’s own assistant, Mr. Francis Garmen. Having been spurned by a young lady, he mixed too much whiskey with too much pie. He climbed over the safety rail and fell off the edge of the Daughters of the Republic’s platform. Luckily for him, the platform was close to the ground at that particular time. Unluckily for them, a group of ladies waiting to perform in the Miss Silver Key competition broke his fall. Though no one was hurt in the incident, Mr. Garmen found himself removed from the “eligible bachelor” category for more than half of the town’s most eligible bachelorettes.

A curious situation followed. Several townspeople claimed to see Mr. Brown grabbing Mr. Garmen’s shirt collar with both hands. Any words exchanged were inaudible to all the witnesses. And, even if Mr. Brown’s reaction was unusual, no one could blame him given Mr. Garmen’s behavior.

After he solved the Mayor Brewins fiasco, people from all over the state sought out Jeremiah and his talents. Friends, neighbors, politicians, office workers, farmers, technicians, and more brought their problems to his door. He kept his workshop open until all hours of the night, only closing it for a few grudging hours of sleep. But he always took Sundays off to escort Miss Amelia Tibbits to church. Then they’d go for a stroll among the mighty fine azalea bushes that peppered the Tibbits’ family farm in the spring.

They spoke of many things, but Amelia preferred philosophy. She enjoyed verbal sparring and the repartee that controversial ideas brought. Jeremiah had, until now, found people in general, and the fairer sex in particular, boring and devoid of the topics that interested him. If they weren’t bringing him a problem to solve or machines to invent, he’d rather not be bothered. In Miss Tibbits’s companionship, though, he never felt bored; he also felt well out of his league. Whenever she looked at him with her clear, blue eyes, he felt ready to propose on the spot just to prevent her from getting away. Fear of her answer, either way, always stopped him, though.

A number of months after they began their Sunday ritual, Amelia said, “Mr. Brown, I’ve just been over to Mr. Montclair’s restaurant. Did you build that automatic dish cleaner for him?”

Jeremiah smiled with modest pride. “Yes, ma’am,” he replied. “Took me almost a week to work out the pressure and gears and such. Much more complicated than I’d expected.”

“Did you think about the impact of your work?”

Although he had enjoyed Miss Tibbits’s companionship for some time, he had not yet learned the signs of an oncoming storm. “Cleaner dishes with half the water and half the time,” he replied in a jolly tone.

“And half the people.”

Jeremiah furrowed his brow; clearly she was not aiming for a compliment.