MERVYN, THE STOPWATCH, or Record Time.
It was spring. Not the sort of spring that was inside all the clock friends we’ve been meeting, but the sort of spring when the dark, shivery mornings are over, and the plants and the trees are beginning to show their little green shoots again, and you can really feel the sun when it shines on your back.
In a drawer in the dressing table in the bedroom where Angelina and Samuel lived, Mervyn the Stopwatch began to get excited. For in the winter Mervyn didn’t get a lot of calls on his time, because he was mainly used at games and athletic meetings in the open air, and the open air is most comfortable when it’s warm open air in the summer.
So here was a clock that really did live in a case in a drawer, if you can call a small cardboard box a case. Perhaps not much of a case, but Mervyn made up for it by having as well a cosy little cloth overcoat which he was usually carried around in.
When Mervyn first arrived, Angelina and Samuel were very curious about him, because he didn’t seem like other clocks.
“I hope you don’t mind my saying,” Angelina began tactfully, “but we both find your face a little – strange. You don’t seem to be marked up in hours like we are, and even your hands seem somehow different.”
“That’s because I’m a stopwatch,” Mervyn replied. “I don’t tell the time as such; I’m used for telling how long things take. And my big hand on my main dial counts the seconds, because that’s how long most of the things I time last, and my small hand on the little dial in the middle counts the minutes if they go on that long.”
“So you’re not a proper clock,” Samuel said, not quite so tactfully; “you don’t actually tell the right time like we do.”
Angelina butted in rather quickly.
“But you don’t seem to be going much of the time. How do you manage?”
“Well, “Mervyn explained, “I have a little button which they press, and then I start, and another little button to make me stop. And that’s how long the timing lasts.”
“So you’re a start and stop watch really,” Samuel said.
“I didn’t invent me,” Mervyn replied, rather huffily, “and I didn’t invent my name. After all, they call you an alarm clock, but you don’t seem very alarming to me. In fact, as you wake people up in the morning when they’d probably rather stay asleep, I’d say you should be called a Depressing Clock.”
“Oh, no, that’s what you are; – they have to depress one button to make you start, and depress another button to make you stop. Almost a sort of Pinger.” Word had got round about the Pinger in the kitchen that Danny had been worried about.
Things were getting a little edgy between the two of them, and Angelina stepped in again.
“So what sort of things are you used for?” she asked.
“I go to sports and athletic meetings and races,” Mervyn replied, calming down slightly, “and tell them how long the runners took.”
“So that’s why they take you out with them, and we don’t very often see you working,” Angelina said. “We never get out of the house, so it must be very interesting for you. Tell us about these races.”
“Well, they’re a funny lot, these humans,” answered Mervyn; and Angelina was pleased to see he was not ruffled any more; “They dress up in their vests and little shorts, and a man with a little pistol stands beside them and quite suddenly he fires it, and they all run off like mad. At first I used to think he was shooting at them, and they were running to get away from him, but he just shoots up in the air so they know when to start running.”
“Do they run very far?” asked Samuel, forgetting to have a little dig at Mervyn now he had got interested.
“It varies. Sometimes they run quite a short distance, – for less than ten seconds,” Mervyn put in, to let them know that the timing part was his job; “and sometimes they run right round the field, perhaps four times, till they get back to where they started, so they never really get anywhere at all.”
And they all agreed that these humans were a funny lot, and they all got on very well after that. And especially after Angelina had a quiet word with Samuel, and warned him to be more careful and tactful when he was talking to other clocks.
“You’re a very cheerful alarm clock, and quite friendly really, Samuel,” she said; “but you mustn’t let cheeky remarks run away with you and upset clocks. – Or stopwatches,” she added, because she knew he was just about to deny that Mervyn was a proper clock.
“No, you’re quite right, Angelina, I’m sorry,” said Samuel ruefully. Which was rather clever really, because he’d only recently heard the word ‘ruefully’, and he thought it meant sorry, but he wasn’t too sure.
So now let’s get back to this spring morning when Mervyn was getting excited because he knew in his springs that athletic meetings would now begin again, and he would be going out into the open air to time the races.
And Angelina and Samuel felt pleased for him as well, for he’d hardly been used all winter, and there’s nothing a clock dislikes more than not being used, even if he’s not being used to tell the time, thought Samuel, but he didn’t dare say so out loud in case Angelina told him off again.
Sure enough, half way through the morning, Householder came in and picked up Mervyn. He pressed his buttons to make sure he was starting and stopping all right, and off they went to the sports field.
It really seemed a beautiful, sunny day to Mervyn as Householder put Mervyn on a little table, and he could smell the new-mown grass, and hear the buzz of people as they chatted to each other, and did little exercises and shook their legs to get ready for running.
A small cloud seemed to cross the sun for a moment when Mervyn noticed that he wasn’t the only stopwatch on the table. Lying on the table near him, on top of a very smart velvet overcoat <or slip-case, as it’s called>, was a highly polished, silver stopwatch, who appeared to be looking at Mervyn in a very superior sort of way.
“Who are you?” demanded the superior watch.
“I’m Mervyn,” replied our friendly watch. “What’s your name?”
“Sydney,” was the short answer. “And what are you doing here?”
“Well, I’m here to time the races,” explained Mervyn, patiently, “as presumably you are as well.”
“You presume correctly,” said Sydney, starchily. “And talking of presumption, I don’t know what makes you think that you’re here to time the races. That’s why I’ve been brought along, and I can manage quite well, thank you.”
“Oh, come on,” said Mervyn, “I know you’re a superior sort of watch, and I’ve been admiring your overcoat, and I – Oh, I say! – You’ve got two second hands!”
“But of course!” replied Sydney. “That’s so that if somebody wins a race, you can stop the first second hand, and when the next runner comes in you stop the second second hand, and you know his time as well. – You can’t do that, I suppose,” he went on with a sneer.
“I don’t know that it’s ever been necessary,” said Mervyn, who was rapidly going off this new watch, whom he’d already christened ‘Superior Sydney.’
Sydney didn’t deign to answer that, and the two watches lay on the table side by side, waiting for something to happen.
Very soon something did. Sydney’s owner, who looked and sounded as superior as Sydney, if not more so, came over and picked up Sydney, and called over to Householder, who was just about to pick up Mervyn.
“I’ve brought my watch this afternoon, George, so we shan’t need your little chap.”
“Are you sure, Mr.Greenstreet?” said Householder, meekly.
Mervyn’s world seemed suddenly to have shattered. He was a stopwatch, and quite a capable one, not “a little chap”, and he did think Householder could have said:”My watch keeps as good time as yours” and not just “are you sure, Mr.Greenstreet?” And he couldn’t believe the sun was still shining, his afternoon had become so gloomy. When he saw it was still sunny, he couldn’t help wishing it might pour with rain over everybody, especially over Mr. Greenstreet and Superior Sydney.
For some reason Householder wanted to stay on after that, but Mervyn could take no interest in any of the races, and it seemed a very long afternoon before he was eventually taken back to the friendly company of Angelina and Samuel.
They were both agog to hear what Mervyn had been up to, and aghast to hear it was absolutely nothing.
“You mean they didn’t use you to time any races at all?” asked Samuel, who was so sympathetic that it didn’t occur to him to make any cheeky remarks about being a Pinger not a watch.
“And you’ve been so looking forward to starting the season again,” put in Angelina.
“I know,” said Mervyn sadly. “But I’ve never met Superior Sydney before, and I hope I never do again. The only interesting thing that happened,” he added, brightening up a little, “was that I heard that Mr. Greenstreet call Householder ‘George’. Did you know his name was George?”
“Go on,” said Samuel;”We’ve heard him call himself The Householder. You’ll be saying Mywife isn’t called Mywife next.”
“I only know what I’ve heard,” replied Mervyn, not very pleased to be argued with by Samuel.
“And I’ve only heard what I know,” said Samuel.
“Well, I’ve never actually heard him called George here,” remarked Angelina, peace-making again. “But I must admit I’ve always thought that Householder was a strange name. After all, he can hold his head, and I’ve heard Mywife tell him to hold his tongue, and I heard him once talking about holding a party, but he could never hold a house.”
And she gave a few extra loud ticks in Samuel’s direction, to remind him of his promise to be careful how he teased Mervyn, especially when he was down in the dumps.
“Anyway,” she went on, “When’s your next meeting, Mervyn.”
“In two weeks’ time,” he replied.
“Oh, well,” she said, “Perhaps things will be better next time.”
So Mervyn waited, not too hopefully, for the next meeting. And Angelina went on ticking away, and Samuel went ding-a-ling every morning, and downstairs Edooard chimed the quarters and the hours, and in the kitchen Danny moved his third hand round his face to count the seconds until at last the day of the next meeting came round. Well, they went on after that, actually, but that’s enough to get us to the day Mervyn was waiting for.
Sure enough, in the middle of the morning, Householder came in and slipped Mervyn into his pocket, and left for the sports meeting.
Mervyn didn’t feel very optimistic or sunny, and that matched the day. It was one of those days when you’re glad you’ve got a calendar to tell you it’s summer, because the weather is trying to tell you it’s winter. It was cloudy and cold, and the wind went through you, and every now and then it tried to drizzle. Most of the runners in the races looked as cheerful as Mervyn felt, and they didn’t strip down to their vests and shorts until the last minute.
Householder put Mervyn down on the little table, and he noticed straight away that Superior Sydney was there already. Mervyn couldn’t help hoping it might pour with rain just over Sydney, or perhaps the man with the starting pistol would have a fit, and shoot Sydney instead of firing into the air, but he realised neither of those were likely to happen, and that he’d do better to make the best of things and try and be friendly.
So “Hallo,Sydney,” he said.
“Ah,so you’ve turned up again, have you?” answered Sydney, not having changed much since a fortnight before. “As it happens, I think there might be something for you today. They hope to run off the preliminary heats this afternoon to sort out the runners for the main national competition, and I believe I heard them say that they would want to time the first three in every race. Well, of course, I can easily manage the first two with my two hands, but I’d be hard put to it to do the third. And as you’re here, perhaps they’ll ask you to do that.”
Well, that just about completed Mervyn’s day. To be asked to tag along behind Sydney, who would be taking the times that mattered, was about the last straw. However, he remembered Angelina’s attitude of always looking on the bright side if possible, and he supposed it was better than being left out of things altogether.
Then he heard Mr.Greenstreet calling to Householder. It wasn’t difficult, because Mr.Greenstreet’s normal way of talking was to shout as though you were in the next road, and he was much too self-important to notice that people backed away from him when he spoke to them, to preserve their eardrums a little.
“Ah, there you are, George,” he bellowed,<and “There you are, Samuel,” thought Mervyn, “he is George,”>”I’m glad you’ve come. We’ve decided to time all three first places in each race, so we’ll be able to use your little chap after all.”
Mervyn rather hoped Householder would tell Mr. Greenstreet that his ‘little chap’ had got better things to do, but Householder probably thought, like Mervyn, that it was better than doing nothing at all.
“Right you are,” he said.
And that was how Mervyn spent the afternoon.
He returned home to Angelina and Samuel cold,wet and miserable, and Angelina could see at once that things hadn’t gone very well for him.
“Not a good day,Mervyn?” she enquired.
“Not at all,” he said, and he told them how he’d spent the afternoon just being allowed to time the runners who came third. Then he brightened a little as a thought struck him. “But I did hear Householder called George again. It must be his name.”
Angelina could see Samuel about to pick up the argument again, so she quickly interrupted.
“Well, you did do something,” she said; “and they wouldn’t have used you for that if they didn’t want it done.”
“What did you say these races were called?” asked Samuel. He wasn’t going to be stopped from saying something to Mervyn.
“They’re called heats,”Mervyn told him.
“Heats?” echoed Samuel. “That’s a funny name. What do they call them that for?”
“I don’t know,” answered Mervyn, who could soon get irritated with Samuel’s questions, even when he was dry and warm; “I’ve told you before, I don’t invent the names for these things. Perhaps it’s because they get hot when they’re running. Though they certainly didn’t get very warm today. But it’s to sort out the runners in the main national competitions in two weeks’ time.”
“Well, that’ll certainly be a big event,” put in Angelina quickly. “And it’s another chance for you to do some more timing.”
“We’ll see,” muttered Mervyn gloomily.
And they all thought it best to leave it at that.
* * * *
So Angelina went on ticking, and Samuel ding-a-ling-ing and Edooard chiming and Danny counting seconds, all to get round to the day two weeks later when the big national competitions were to be held.
And that summer’s day was a day when you couldn’t help knowing it was summer. The sky was completely blue wherever you looked, and the sun felt warm even at breakfast time, and everything seemed so bright that even Mervyn couldn’t help looking on the bright side.
“It will be such a busy day” he said to himself, “that even Superior Sydney probably won’t be able to manage to take care of everything. Perhaps I shall be more lucky today, as Angelina says.”
So he didn’t feel too bad when, in the middle of the morning, Householder came in and picked him up, put him in his pocket and took him off to the sports field.
Well, he hardly recognised the sports field that day; there were people everywhere, lots more flags and bunting than Mervyn had ever seen there before, and even a band playing away in the distance to make it a festive occasion. The sun was as bright as the smile on the face of the man selling ice-creams to a whole queue of people, all the runners seemed only too happy to strip off to their vests and little shorts, and a lot of the crowd looked as though they would like to be wearing the same, it was so warm.
It all made Mervyn feel so cheerful he wasn’t put off by seeing Superior Sydney waiting on the table in his beautiful velvet slip-case.
“Hallo, Su – hallo, Sydney, how are you?” Mervyn greeted him.
“Ready to complete my job,” replied Sydney complacently. “And I hope you find something to do to amuse yourself.”
Just then Mervyn could hear Mr.Greenstreet coming. Actually, you could see him coming, for Mr. Greenstreet, apart from having a very strong voice, had very strong elbows, and he always walked as though he felt people ought to look where he was going. He was so used to walking where he wanted without looking that he didn’t notice that Mervyn and Sydney’s table was right in his way.
Now the table couldn’t move out of his way as people did, and Mr.Greenstreet gave it a tremendous jolt. Whoever had put it up that day hadn’t been as careful as they should have been to make sure it stood on level ground, and it began to tilt dangerously. Mervyn tried to hang on as well as he could, which is not an easy thing for a stopwatch to do, but as he watched he saw Sydney gradually slip out of his velvet case, slide down the tilted table, and tumble down to the ground.
“So that’s why they call it a slip-case,” said Mervyn to himself, and he hoped someone would see Sydney lying on the ground.
As it happened, there was only one person in a position to see Sydney down there on the grass, and that was Mr.Greenstreet as he now walked past the table. But Mr.Greenstreet wasn’t very good at seeing things right in front of his nose, and certainly couldn’t see things below it. His foot went crunch, right on top of Sydney.
He felt he had trodden on something, and he looked down to see his superior stopwatch lying damaged on the ground.
“Who’s done this?” he bellowed, for he always thought that any disaster was bound to be somebody else’s fault. “Look at my watch!”
Poor Sydney was in a bad way. His glass face was all cracked and chipped, one of his second hands had broken right off, and his bright silver case was nastily dented. He certainly didn’t look a Superior Stopwatch now.
“Ish-nt bable t-t’me th-ces,” he said to Mervyn, when Mr.Greenstreet put him back on the table;”Y’ll ‘v’t do’t y’sef.”
“Oh, yes, “said Mervyn, in that vague way people make a noise like answering when they haven’t understood the question, for he couldn’t understand Sydney at all through all his dents.
Then he heard a sort of translation as Mr.Greenstreet moaned to Householder.
“I shan’t be able to time the races now,” he said.
It suddenly dawned on Mervyn what Sydney had been trying to say.
“I shan’t be able to time the races.” And the next bit Mervyn hardly dared to believe. “You’ll have to do it yourself.”
“You mean you’re going to leave it all to me?” he asked Sydmey.
What Sydney wanted to say was: “Just look at me! I haven’t any choice,” in his superior way. But it’s difficult to be superior when you’re all dented. What he did say sounded like:”Jst loo’tm. I’ven’tny choss.”
Mervyn could still hardly believe his luck.
“You’d really like me to time all these important races?” he exclaimed. And then, feeling a bit concerned about Sydney in his far from superior state: “Are you sure you’ll be all right?”
“I’ven’tny choss,” repeated Sydney crossly. You d’it y’sef!”
Mervyn couldn’t stop himself. “I hope you’ll find some way to amuse yourself,” he said.
And he went on to do it himself, just as Sydney had said.
For the whole of the rest of that afternoon Mervyn timed like he’d never timed before. He was so excited that he had a job ticking correctly and keeping himself accurate. And he could sense that Householder was just as tense as he was, and was sometimes having to make a big effort to make sure he was depressing the start and stop buttons exactly when he should.
Depressing didn’t come into it. It was the best day Mervyn had ever known. And there was a very special highlight.
One of the races was quite a short little race, only 200 metres long. The runners all lined up in their little shorts and vests; Mervyn recognised one of them as the man who had won one of the races a fortnight before; but of course the rest had come from all over the place, because these were now national competitions; the starter raised his pistol in the air and fired; they started off, but suddenly they all had to be called back, for Householder had got so excited this time that he had pressed Mervyn’s starter button too soon, so the time would be all wrong.
Mervyn thought this was quite understandable, but then he was on Householder’s side. The runners and the starter didn’t look too pleased, because they were excited as well, and they had to start all over again. But they did, and everyone got it right the second time round, especially the man Mervyn knew from a fortnight before, because he came in first and won the race. And Mervyn had ticked just 22 seconds.
“Jolly good!” thought Mervyn.Then he noticed there was quite a buzz in the crowd, and people started cheering, and the runners all shook hands with the man who had won, and by listening carefully amongst all the hubbub Mervyn learnt that the time was a national record. And Mervyn <and Householder> had timed it!
Mervyn noticed that everybody was so busy congratulating the winner that nobody thought to comment on what an expert bit of timing it was, but all the same he felt very proud to have taken part. And he was pretty sure Householder was, too, for at the end of the day he breathed hard on Mervyn’s back and polished him on his sleeve, before popping him back in his slip-case.
Well, when he got back home with Angelina and Samuel he had a lot to tell them, and they were very pleased for him.
“There you are, Mervyn,” said Angelina;” didn’t I say it could be better today? That was a day worth waiting for, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, congratulations, Mervyn,” added Samuel. “That is quite an achievement. I must say, I’ve never woken up a record number of people, or broken any records for ding-a-ling-ing earlier than any other alarm clock. – I don’t somehow think they’d thank me very much for it if I did. I really quite envy you.”
“Thank you, Samuel,” said Mervyn, still glowing.
Glowing so much he quite forgot to rub it in to Samuel that he knew Householder’s name was really George.
I’m afraid he was glowing so much he forgot to wonder if Superior Sydney could be repaired – but that’s another story, another time.