"I've come so far," the stranger was saying, "since I was shipwrecked. But if don't reach a town called Pugwash by tomorrow afternoon my ship will come and go without me... and I'll be stranded here for the rest of my life."
Osgood struggled to make sense of this. "I must tell you that I live in Pugwash and I know the town is nowhere near the ocean. Ships do not come there! I'm afraid that someone has misled you, friend."
The traveler looked at the ceiling. "Nonetheless, my ship will call for me on the outskirts of Pugwash tomorrow."
Osgood stared. He tried to imagine a great sailing ship grinding up the road to Pugwash and tying up in the town square.
The traveler eyed him. "You've said you are a maker of mechanical things?" He seemed to be struggling with an idea that he did not like. "If you can help me reach Pugwash tomorrow, I will give you my most valued artifact. It is a machine, of a kind, that will be completely new to you. You will find nothing else like it, anywhere." His gaze drifted to the fireplace, though Osgood thought that he was seeing something else entirely.
"It is of great value to me. But if I can't reach Pugwash before my ship comes for me, I suppose that nothing else will matter."
Osgood was a friendly man by nature and ordinarily he'd have been happy to help the stranger without any reward at all. But the man's madness made the idea distasteful. As soon as he could do so gracefully he moved to a different table. Through the evening the stranger kept trying to attract Osgood's attention, but he pretended not to notice, and eventually made his way to his be