My pa made the bird. He’s Mister William Forsey and when I grow up, I’m going to be just like him – a tinker as well as a showman. My name is Rufus, by the way. I’m ten years old and I have a very important job. I run the Magical Mechanical Bird Show in the little fairground booth my pa built.
The ticket office is too small for Ma or Pa to get inside, but I fit just fine. When I grow too big, one of my brothers or sisters will have to take over and I’ll get on with learning my pa’s craft. Pa’s proud of me. He wrote ‘Wm. Forsey & Son’ on the poster, so I’d be part of the company. Some day we’ll have a whole load of automatons and people will come from all over the world to watch and wonder at them.
First thing I have to do is wind up the machine and check that it’s all working smoothly. Pa says I’m a natural when it comes to knowing where a lick of oil should go or what bolts to tighten. You see? I’ve got tinker’s blood in me veins. I’ll make wonderful contraptions when I’m older.
Next I pull the curtain across, so the bird’s hidden and go out the front to tout for business. All the ladies love me and they beg their beaus to buy a ticket. Ma says it’s on account of my fair hair and big eyes. I think it’s more likely my witty patter that draws ’em in.
Once a lady said, “Is the poor bird trapped in a cage?”
She thought it was a real bird, even though the sign clearly says ‘Mechanical’.
“Oh no, Ma’am,” I told her. “That bird is as free as I am.”
She was so pleased, she asked her gentleman to give me a farthing, and to show off to her, he gave me three ha’pence!
When I told Pa later what had happened, he said it was a good reply I’d given. I told him it was true, because both me and the bird are as free as each other – stuck in that booth all day. That got me a clip round the ear, though, so I need to learn when to keep me mouth shut, I reckon.
Anyhow, once I’ve got a good crowd, I go into the ticket office and sell them all tickets to watch the show. I have to keep the office locked all day, so no one will steal our takings. Ma took the chain from Grandpa’s old watch and fixed the office key to it, so I can wear it on me waistcoat, just like a toff! Real silk, that waistcoat is, and me trousers are pa’s old moleskins cut down. They’re a bit on the roomy side, but I’ll grow into them.
Next is my favourite part. I come out of the office, draw back the curtain and you should hear the ‘Ooohs’ and ‘Aaahs’ when they see the machine. The gilded bird sits on a gold tablecloth and Pa has left all the mechanical parts showing, so people can see how amazing an automaton is. There’s gleaming brass and steel cogs and cams and levers, a little set of bellows that work a Swanee whistle, so the bird can sing, and the cam is fixed up so that as the bird twists and turns, the notes of its warbling change.
I call out, very loud, “And now, Ladies and Gentlemen, for your delight and delectation, the Magical Mechanical Bird will come to life before your very eyes and ears.”
That’s Pa’s cue to pull the knob at the back of the booth to release the crank wheel, and the bird begins to sing and twirl.
All the punters gasp and cheer and clap and I feel so proud of Pa and Ma and meself, for entertaining folks so royally.
The Case of the Magical Mechanical Bird will be on display at All Things Miniature in Haddenham, Bucks on Saturday September 23rd.
A video of the mechanical bird in action can be seen here, on the Steampunk – Shrunk Facebook page.