JIMMY AND THE SPEED TEST

EDGAR WALLACE April 1 1922

JIMMY AND THE SPEED TEST

EDGAR WALLACE April 1 1922

JIMMY AND THE SPEED TEST

EDGAR WALLACE

IF THERE, was one person in the world whom Jane Ida Meagh hated and loathed with all her soul, that person was Henry Obbings. Henry was a limp youth who gave you the impression that he had shaved in a bad light. He was famous in the social circle in which he moved, for his ready wit and a gift of repartee. He invariably recounted with a wealth of detail his encounters with Jimmy, and repeated, with great effect, the things he had said to Jimmy on these occasions.

It is true that the majority of his pert replies were those he remembered long after he had left Jimmy and it is also a fact that he never quite gave a faithful account of what Jimmy had said to him. There were some things which Henry could never bring himself to repeat.

Henry B. Obbings (Jimmy called him “Henry Bonehead Obbings”) was the pet speedster of the Rat-a-plan Typewriter Syndicate, and from time to time there were issued by him or on his behalf, challenges to the whole of the civilized mankind, man or woman, to meet him in a speed contest, the only conditions beingthat Mr. Obbings should operate on a Number 6. Silent Rat-a-plan, “the writer that writes.”

For the purpose of this challenge Jimmy regarded herself as inhuman, and steadfastly and resolutely declined to beat Mr. Obbings privately or publicly and sneered openly at Mr. Obbings’ picture in the newspapers. These appeared from time to time for the Rat-a-plan had an excellent press agent, and they revealed Mr. Obbings working at his machine, a sycophantic attendant standing by with an oil-can.

It was a legend that he worked so fast tfiat after half-an-hour’s use the bearings of the machine became so hot that it was necessary to open the doors and windows of the room in which he worked, to let the temperature cool down. And there were pictures of Mr. Obbings in his moments of leisure and recreation sitting at a table, with his head upon his clenched fists, looking at a book with a studious, even sad expression.

ONE morning there came to Jimmy a further challenge by Mr. Henry B. Obbings. There was an annual exhibition at which business appliances of all kinds were shown, and it was a feature of this event that a diploma and a gold medal were competed for by stenographers. So far it had resulted in a walkover for Henry.

Jimmy had turned down every such artful move and invitation and she now dropped the letter into her waste-paper basket with an exaggerated gesture of disgust. Nor did the information that the Rat-a-plan Typewriter Company offered an additional money prize of substantial value to any human stenographer who could exceed the speed of Mr. Obbings, produce a second of irresolution to her decision.

She got up from her breakfast-table briskly and looked at her engagement book. Jimmy was booked ahead, as has been remarked before, like a fashionable physician. Her amazing quickness, her accuracy, her unquestionable integrity justified the big fees she received, and incidentally confirmed her wisdom when she set out to be a specialist

stenographer. Jimmy certainly knew what she was about.

Her first call that day was on Dr. John Phillips, who was also a specialist in his way and Dr. John, who looked a little tired under the eyes, as well he might be, for he had been up all night with a dying patient, received her at his morning meal.

“Thanks, no, doctor,” said Jimmy. “I’ve just breakfasted.”

“This is my supper,” growled the doctor. “Jimmy, I’ve the details of fourteen cases to dictate to you and I hope you feel fitter for the job than I. By-the-way,” hesald curiously, “where did you get your extraordinary knowledge of the nomenclature from? You’ve never yet spelt a medical term wrongly.”

“I got them out of a book, the same as you,” said Jimmy.

The doctor looked at her admiringly.

“You a clever devil!” he said. “I bet you read up the whole book!”

“You’d win,” said Jimmy with a smile.

For the next hour and a quarter she was absorbed in the gruesome and sorrowful business of recording the histories of cases, every other one of which ended: “The pat-

ient died at 11.45,” or whatever the hour might have been.

“Don’t any of your patients get well?” asked Jimmy as she snapped the band round her note-book.

“Just a few, Jimmy,” said Phillips. “Don’t forget, I am only called in at the very end in lots of cases. I think some of them expect me to bring my trumpet, under the impression that I am the Archangel Gabriel.”

“A rotten life,” said Jimmy thoughtfully, “I’d sooner stenog.’

The doctor looked at his watch.

“I must hurry. I’ve got to go to Greenwich,” he said.

"^■EVERTHELESS, and in spite of his hurry, he sat ^ down again at his desk and lit a cigarette, offering one to Jimmy who shared a common match.

“Jimmy, do you think that a young man with brilliant prospects, but no money, should marry a very nice girl and start lifting a family on that!” He snapped his fingers to indicate a microscopic income.

“It all depends upon the prospects,” said Jimmy cautiously. “If it’s only a prospect of raising a large family, I should say no.”

“And I said no, too,” said the specialist with a sigh. He was a youngish man, remembering the position he occupied in the medical world, and that he could still sigh over the follies of his fellow-men was a wholesome tribute to his youth.

“He is a pal of mine. We were at university together,” he said.

Jimmy guessed that the unknown he was the patient of Greenwich. Dr. John was looking at the ceiling thoughtfully.

“I was talk ing to him about you yesterday.” “About me?” said Jimmy in surprise.

“About you. I don’t think he has a great deal of money—in fact I know he hasn’t,” said Phillips frankly, “and it’s hard luck that at a time when he’s really a sick man—he’s had a bad nervous breakdown— he should have had a real good offer from one of the technical journals for a series of articles.”

He paused and blew a ring of smoke to the rafters.

“Jimmy,Iknow your fees, and they are beautifully exorbitant. God bless you for keeping the specialist beyond the reach of common people. But if he asks you to go down, and I think he could dictate these articles— he certainly could not write them—I wish you would charge him a sum which is not ridiculously low, but which is not your ordinary rate. One minute,” he said, as she was going to speak, “I want you to put the rest of your fee on my bill.” “I’ll do nothing of the kind, doctor,” said Jimmy quietly. “I’d do this job for nothing, but I suppose he wouldn’t like that. Anyway I’ll do it at a normal typist’s fee, and as to putting the rest of the charge on your account, that’s ridiculous, unless you send me a bill for doctoring my throat last spring and for giving me several helpful pieces of advice about my heart, lungs and important blood vessels.”

He laughed as lie rose. “I must go, Jimmy. I'll let you know about l eun-

That morning Jane Ida Meagh was the victim of a

trick. She had been engaged by a firm of manufacturer’s agents to copy a long document dealing with t he cork harvest of Spain. She had to do the work at the agent's office and it was urged upon her that it was vital, was indeed a matter of life and death that she should get to the last word of that report in the briefest possible space of time.

It was a brand new typewriter, of a brand new make to which she sat. The keyboard was, of course, universal and most of the gadgets were of a type with which she was unfamiliar, though their manipulation was very ear'y

She had fixed the tension to her liking and then —the machine grew eloquent under her lightning fingers.

‘‘There’s your report,” she said, and observed that the agent had a stop w’atch in his hand.

“Five thousand words in forty-two minute--,

15.2 seconds,” he said breathlessly but exact'y.

“I daresay,” said Jimmy. “Shall I send you a bill or are you one of those never-ow'e-nobody people?”

The agent, for this occasion, was of the latter variety. Jimmy collected her cheque and left and there the incident appeared to have closed.

She did not even ask herself why a report on the U.S. Consul at Cadiz dated 1916 should have been so urgently required.

DUT the next day she ~ passed a long store and in the window was a typewriter. And beneath the typewriter was a large sign:—

THE PLATEN TYPEWRITER On Which MISS JANE IDA MEAGH

fthe world’s champion stenographer! wrote 5,347 words in 42. mins. 15.2 secs.

A Record For The Earth Come Inside and Look at this New Marvel of

Engineering Science.

“THE MACHINE WITH A MIND.”

“God bless my soul!” said Jimmy and, despite this pious invocation, went red with wrath.

She swept into the store and went straight to the manager’s private office—she knew the way blindfolded to most of the private offices in town.

“Take my name out of your window, Mr. Salter,” she said peremptorily.

“But, my dear girl—”

“Take it out or I’ll sue you for libel,” she said. “Anyway it is a lie. I took an hour and a quarter to do the work, on the worst brand of machine that I’ve ever handled. And what’s more, I shall make an affidavit to that effect.”

“It’s a good machine,” he protested, “there are only three in existence—they’re show samples and—”

Three too many!” snapped Jimmy. “They’re shown and found wanting.”

“Mr. Brown said—”

“If Brown is the nom-de-guerre of the Armenian who engaged me to copy the cork serial,” said Jimmy, “you can spare my young ears the repetition of his invention. Now, do you take out that placard or do I call up the press boys and tell them all my troubles?”

111 take it out,” growled Mr. Salter. “I must say you’re not very considerate. I gave you a lot of work last sum-

“lou can give it to somebody else next summer,” said Jimmy promptly. “Maybe she’ll do it on ‘The Platen.’ Its a darned good machine for two finger typists. Try em with ‘Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party!’ ”

She fired this invitation as she left him and there was a sting in it which only a real typist will understand. Mr. Salter was not a real typist and it sounded sheer unadulterated cheek to him.

The placard was removed and there the matter would have ended, for Jimmy was discretion itself and she was in no mood to advertise the trick that had been played upon her. What annoyed her most was that the machine was really good and a distinct improvement on any she had ever used.

Unfortunately, Mr. Salter was not so discreet. And the news came to a wandering reporter, and the reporter, who was a clever young reporter, wrote a most amusing story that covered the Platen Typewriter Company, without mentioning its title, with shame and ignominy, so that in every business office where girls groped for keys and dreamt dreams of making Jane Ida Meagh look like a pickled walnut, the Platen Typewriter became synonymous with foolishness. The publicity had the effect of spurring Mr. Henry Obbings to a further challenge, to which Jimmy, as stung to a reply:—

"Dear Sir:—You ask me whether I will make an exhibition of myself and t rge as a reason, the fact that you intend making an exhibition of yourielf. The only inducement I can see for me so far forgetting myself, is the paragraph in which you tell me that I should work at one end of the building and you at the other. The knowledge that we were as far apart as possible would be an inducement, were it not for the fact that the certainty that I was

under the same roof as yourself would make me sick.

“Yours sincerely,

“J. I. MEAGH.”

TT WAS a very rude letter, such a letter as, Mr. Obbings , explained to his friends, no lady would write. Possibly he was justified.

“The truth is,” said Mr. Obbings, “......no, Percy

I won’t show you the letter, it’s too disgraceful for words— the fact is she knows jolly well I could lick the stuffing out of her in spite of her vaunted speed.”

Yes, Mr. Obbings used the words “vaunted speed.”

“Perhaps she’ll enter at the last minute?” suggested the friend.

I m afraid not, Mr. Obbings shook his head, with the sad smile of a tiger deprived of a meal.

A few days later Jimmy was rung up on the ’phone It was Dr. Phillips.

“Can you go down there to-day, Jimmy?” he asked “Fennell thinks he could dictate the article and he has got together most of the data.”

“I’m free this afternoon,” said Jimmy. “In fact, I am free all day after I have seen the Banking Trust people.”

“I’ll wire you’re coming then. Be there at half past two,” said the doctor and gave her the address.

That morning Jimmy had a great idea. It came to her between the office of the banking octopus and her own flat. Here was an invalid. She did not know much about inva.ids except that they lay in bed and refused delicate food. Sometimes they nibbled at a grape or swallowed a mouthful of chocolate, but now and again by a miracle they could be tempted to negotiate some particularly appetising dish, whereafter they put on weight and recovered with the greatest rapidity.

That morning, Jimmy stood in her private kitchen, her sleeves rolled up, a cookery book propped against a milk bottle and the light of battle in her eye.

No man or woman knew her ghastly secret. Even Mr. Obbings in his wildest moments never dreamt that her vice was the mangling and cremation of flour and fruit. Her lips moved as she followed the directions in the book!

“Take of flour, two spoonfuls......and of fresh butter

..... Put in a dry warm place......bake in a slow oven

She drew a long sigh and switched on her electric oven. She ate a hurried lunch, dashing backward and forward

to the kitchen to examine the little thermostat which regulated the heat of the oven, and to compare the watch which lay open on the dresser, with a note of the minute and the second that her work had gone to a warmer climate, written in pencil on the edge of the cookery book.

She opened the oven and with a cloth drew out the steel plate on which four beautiful confections lay and the fragrance of them was as incense to her nostrils.

She looked at her work, then opened the cookery book and examined the colored plates, on which was a life-like representation of the biscuits she was baking. They were exact! If anything her creations were an improvement upon the book. She bore them to her room and on her face was a look of holy exaltation. Each one she wrapped in white tissue and packed them into a small box and put the box into her attaché case.

SHE arrived in Greenwich in the afternoon. The Fennell’s house was a small one and poorly furnished, she saw at a glance.

A girl met her at the door, a smiling bright-eyed girl who had laughed at poverty so long that it had become a hab-

‘You’re Miss Meagh, aren’t you?” she said shaking hands. “It is very good of you to come so far.” Jimmy, who was somewhat at sea on occasions like this, smiled and was glad to get an awkward situation over. She found her client lying on a sofa in a somewhat bare parlor. He was a man of thirty and he looked terribly ill, Jimmy thought. A low table near by was piled high with books, newspaper cuttings and

blue-covered reports.

“My husband has been ill,” explained Mrs. Fennell. “But he’s much better now, aren’t you, Frank?”

“Oh quite, I’m just loafing now,” said the man with a grin. “I think I can dictate the best part of the article this afternoon, Miss Meagh.”

“Fire away,” said Jimmy and produced her book. Fennell’s estimate of his strength had erred on the optimistic side. After three-quarters of an hour-of dictation he was exhausted.

“I’m sorry,” he said ruefully. “I thought I was strpng-

“Don’t worry,” said Jimmy. “You’ve dictated quite a lot. Anyway, I can come down to-morrow afternoon.” “It’s a long way out of town,” he said doubtfully. “Rubbish!” said Jimmy and that settled the matter. They pressed her to stay to tea, and she needed very little pressing. She had not had the opportunity she had sought, and as tea was to be served in the drawing-room she thought that this was a chance not to be missed. In the interval of waiting she was introduced to the Fennell baby and, as usual, when babies swam into her ken, she became incoherent and foolish.

“I always get maudlin over babies,” she said apologetically. “Of course, it is every girl’s pose that she loves ’em, but I’m honest. I admit it.”

The maid brought in the tea, a plate of bread and butter, some jam sandwiches and a dish of pastries. Jimmy waited breathlessly.

“No thanks, dear, I won’t eat anything,” said Mr. Fennell with a little shiver. He ran his eyes over the plate of pâtisserie. “No thank you,” he said again, as though he had asked himself and refused.

“Really you ought to eat something, Frank,” said his pretty wife, looking concerned and Jimmy coughed.

“A friend of mine makes rather good pastries,” she said carelessly. “She’s rather a good cook and curiously

enough she sent me....”

She opened her attaché case and took out the box with fingers which shook a little.

WOULD they have retained their beautiful shape and * ' appearance? Before now Jimmy had known the most remarkable changes to occur between oven and eating. She removed the wrappings from one with a reverent touch. It was as it had been! Fennell’s eves fastened upon it.

"That looks good to me,” he reached out his hand.

Continued on page 53

Jimmy and the Speed Test

Continued from page 14

“Have you one to spare?” He took the ; pastry between his finger and thumb and i bit into it.

Jimmy held her breath and half-closed her eyes.

“Splendid,” he said. “This is the most wonderful pastry I’ve eaten for years.”

“Would you like one, Mrs. Fennell?” asked Jimmy in a hollow voice. Her heart was thumping. She could have wept at that moment.

“Really it is so extraordinary to see Frank eat that I can hardly take my eyes from him,” laughed Mrs. Fennell.

She nibbled at the biscuit.

“It is really delicious. Your friend must be very clever.”

“Oh very,” said Jimmy huskily. “Perhaps she will send me some more to-mor-

“Aren’t you eating any yourself?” asked Fennell.

“No,” said Jimmy eagerly and fumbled for the other two. “Would you like them?”

Mr. Fennell not only liked them but he ate them. He, an invalid, who had refused the choicest productions of the O.K. Cake Company (or the label about the sponge cake lied) was eating with every evidence of relish the creature of her brain and hand.

“You can come to-morrow, can you?” asked Mrs. Fennell.

“I can come,” said Jimmy, speaking under stress of great emotion, “if—if you want me.” ^ ,

It was a lame conclusion. The conversation drifted away from cakes and Mrs. Fennell took the girl into her confidence.

“We’ve had a lot of bad luck, haven’t we, Frank?”

“Just a little,” he said.

“Do you know that a week ago I thought we were going to be quite wealthy,” the girl went on. “Frank is an inventor and he has invented one of the best typewriters that has ever been put on the market and just fancy, because some stupid girl refused to work it, the manufacturers turned it down!”

“I think she was right,” said Fennell. “Apparently they got her to do a speed test by means of a trick and they rather over-reached themselves.”

“They were going to give Frank a big sum of money on account of royalties, but now the agent tells me that a lot of orders which had been booked, have been cancelled.”

Jane Ida Meagh did not swoon. She sat up straight and stared at the girl-wife.

“What was the name of that machine?” she asked faintly.

“I called it ‘The Platen,’ because the.. ” he explained why it was called The Platen, but Jimmy did not hear.

She had ruined them—these lovely people of taste and refinement! This poor man stretched upon a bed of sickness! Jimmy’s eyes filled with tears and she gulped at the extravagant picture of misery she drew. She had done it! She, Jane Ida Meagh. From sheer caprice and femininity. Jimmy hated femininity anyway and now it seemed the most loathsome of weaknesses.

“You’ll come to-morrow, and don’t forget those cakes,” said Mrs. Fennell.

Jimmy went on the next day and the biscuits she took were even more delicious than the last, for she had mercifully refrained from improving upon the recipe —which was Jimmy’s super-weakness.

THAT evening on her return to town she went into Mr. Salter’s store and Mr. Salter, standing with his hands behind him in the middle of the floor space, greeted her with a grave but reserved nod. “Good afternoon, Miss Meagh,” he said. “Good afternoon, Mr. Salter,” said Jimmy briskly. “How is the trade in ‘Platens’?”

“Well, you smashed that for us, anyway,” said Mr. Salter bitterly. “I don’t mind that so much because I am thinking of taking over the Rat-a-plan agency for their improved portable mach-

“Don’t do it,” said Jimmy. “What are you charging for the ‘Platen’?”

He named the price and she produced her cheque book.

“You’re not going to buy a machine?” he said in amazement.

Continued on page 59

Jimmy and the Speed Test

Continued from page 53

“There are two other ways I can get me,” said Jimmy. “One is by stealing t and the other by accepting it as a gift r-both of which methods are objectionble to me.” i “But you’re—”

“Get that flat-footed boy of yours to arry this to my cab, will you? I’m not p strong as I was twenty years ago.”

Jimmy’s age was twenty-four. The lat-footed boy who was now a scowling lat-footed boy, carried the instrument to he waiting taxi and Jimmy placed it on er table that night with determination a the set of her jaw.

Mr. Henry B. Obbings sat in a gaily ecorated booth surrounded by a large rowd of admiring stenographers and deíonstrated, what time a smooth and lky-voiced lecturer dilated upon the taggering qualities of the Rat-a-plan.

“Un-for-tun-ate-ly,” he said, “we~ ave-not-the-op-por-tun-ity-of-test-ing the ;la-tive speed of the Rat-a-plan with ny of its com-pet-i-tors.”

He spoke as though each syllable was sparated from its fellow.

“Our challenge extended to the whole f the civilised world, has not been accepti by any of our rivals, for reasons which I link need no explanation. To-night, we ad hoped there would be a competition >r the Inter-Traders Diploma and Medal,

together with the money prize offered by my company, but you are deprived of that interesting demonstration. As you will see we are the only entrants in the competition.”

He pointed to a large bulletin board where the name of “Henry B. Obbings, Rat-a-plan Typewriter” was visible.

“And—” he paused.

It was at that moment that the secretary of the exhibition pinned beneath the notice.

“J. I. Meagh, the Platen.”

THE contest will remain in the minds of all interested in the delicate art of stenography. The two competitors sat, not at either end of the building, but at the same bench, each with the matter to be copied neatly stacked on their left and a pile of virgin white paper as neatly stacked on their right and at the word “Go!” both struck simultaneously at the keys.

The test was for half-an-hour’s continuous work and in that thirty minutes Jimmy wrote 4630 words without a mistake, beating the baffled Henry Obbings by exactly twelve hundred words.

Incidentally, she established the name of the Platen typewriter, so that to-day there is scarcely an office in the city where the peculiar “tick-tick” of its keys cannot be heard.