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The Untidy Boy Post by :alleymize Category :Short Stories Author :Talbot Baines Reed Date :May 2011 Read :2280

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The Untidy Boy

Look at him! You could tell he was an untidy fellow at a single glance. One of his bootlaces is hanging loose, and the band of his scarf has slipped up above his collar. Though it is a fine day, his trouser legs are splashed up to the knee; and as for a parting to his hair, you might as well expect an Indian jungle to be combed. His hands are all over ink, and the sticky marks about his mouth tell their own tale. In short, Jack Sloven is a dirty boy, and is anything but a credit to the school he belongs to.

I wish you could see his school books. The pages look like well-used drum parchments, and I am certain Jack must often find it hard to decipher the words upon them. His exercises look as if they had been left out in an ink shower, and the very pen he uses is generally wet with ink up to the very tip of the handle, which, by the way, he usually nibbles when he's nothing better to do. Who shall describe his desk? It is generally understood that a schoolboy's desk is the receptacle for a moderately miscellaneous assortment of articles, but Jack's seemed like a great pie, into which everything under the sun was crammed and stored up. The lid never shut; but if you were to open it, its contents would astonish you as much as the contents of that wonderful pie in the nursery rhyme astonished the king when he lifted the crust.

There were books, papers, hooks, balls, worms, stale sandwiches, photographs, toffee, birds' eggs, keys, money, knives, cherry stones, silkworms, marbles, pencils, handkerchiefs, tarts, gum, sleeve links, and walnut shells. Any one venturesome enough to take a header through these might succeed in reaching the layer of last year's apple peel below, or in penetrating to the crumb heaps in the bottom corners; but few there were who possessed that amount of boldness. Of course, Jack had no notion of what his worldly goods consisted. He had a way of shying things into his desk and forgetting them; and only when it became so full that the lid stood nearly wide open did he apprehend the necessity of a "clear-out."

But if there was ever anything more awful to behold than Jack's desk, it was one of these "clear-outs." The event generally got wind when it was about to happen, and never failed to create a sensation in the school. All who had a right took care to be present at the ceremony, and I do believe if Jack had had the sense to issue reserved seat tickets, he might have made a nice thing out of it. At any rate, he made a nice thing out of that desk.

Quite indifferent to our presence and laughter, he began leisurely to take out its contents and spread them in glorious array upon the floor, with a view (as he was kind enough to explain to some one who asked him) "to sort them up." The books and papers went in a pile by themselves; all loose papers were thrust inside the covers of the books; and all books without covers were jammed into all the covers without books that seemed likely to fit. Then all the pens and pencils were put into a pencil case, and if any happened to be too long, they were broken to the required shortness. This being satisfactorily done, Jack used next to turn his attention to the miscellaneous articles of food of which he found himself possessed. The sandwiches, if not more than a week old, he either ate or generously offered to some of us; the toffee he put into his pocket, and the tarts (if the jam were not already dried up) he put aside for private consumption hereafter. The shells, stones, peel, etcetera, he heaped up in one place on the floor, and trusted to Providence to dispose of them. The fish-hooks and baits, the birds' eggs that were not broken, the silkworms, the photographs, pencils, knives, and other articles of use or ornament, he sorted carefully, and then put back into the desk. By this time it would occur to him he had been long enough over this business, so he shovelled the books and papers in anyhow, and anything else which happened still to be left out, and then finding that the lid would shut within an inch, he sighed with the relief of a man who has well discharged a painful duty.

How was it to be expected Jack could ever find anything he wanted? Sometimes he would sit grubbing in his desk, or among his books, to find a certain exercise or paper for half an hour, and finally, when everything was upside down, he would remember he had it in his waistcoat pocket, from the recesses of which he produced it crumpled, greasy, and almost illegible. On Sundays he always had a hunt for his gloves; and at the end of the term, when he undertook his own packing, he generally first of all contrived to pack up his keys in the very bottom of the trunk, and so had to take everything out before he could get them, and then when (with the aid of some dozen of us sitting on the top of the unfortunate receptacle, to cram down the jumble of things inside to a shutting point) he had succeeded in triumphantly turning the lock, it was a wonder if he had not to open and unpack it all again to find his straps.

As to his dress, I can safely say that, though Jack always had good clothes, he always looked much less respectable than other boys whose parents could not afford them anything but common material. Not only did he lose buttons, and drop grease over his coat and trousers, but he never folded or brushed them, or had them mended in time, as a tidy boy would have done. We were quite ashamed to be seen walking with him sometimes, he looked so disreputable, but no reproofs or persuasions could induce him to take more pains about his appearance.

"A place for everything, and everything in its place," was a lesson Jack could not learn; the result was constant and incalculable trouble. If people could only realise the amount of time lost by untidiness, I think they would regard the fault with positive horror. Why, Jack Sloven, at the very mildest computation, must have lost half an hour a day. Half an hour a day, at the end of the year, makes a clear working fortnight to the bad, so that in twenty-five years, if he goes on as he has begun, he will have one year of which it will take him all his time to give an account.

But not only does untidiness waste time, and render the person who falls into it a disreputable member of society, but it seriously endangers his success in life. Jack Sloven was naturally a clever fellow. When he could find his books, he made good use of them; none of us could come up to him in translations, and he had the knack of always understanding what he read. If it had not been for this wretched habit, he might have got prizes at school, and still higher honours in after life; but as it was, he always came to grief. The notes he had made on his work were never to be found; he spent more time in collecting his materials than he had to spare for using them; most of his work had to be scrambled through at the last moment, and was accordingly imperfect. If Jack goes to business, he has a very poor chance of getting on, for untidiness and business will no more go together than oil and water. Few things are more against a man in business than untidiness; people fight shy of him. If his dress is untidy, his letters slovenly, his habits unpunctual, and his accounts confused, he will be regarded as a man not reliable, and not to be trusted, and people will refuse to transact with him. If he has a house of his own, he will never succeed in keeping his servants long, for they--so they say--have quite enough to do without unnecessary work. In fact, I don't see how Jack is to get on at all unless he mends his ways.

Is it possible for an untidy boy to become tidy? Try. And if at first you don't succeed--try again. You are sure to succeed if you stick to it. Don't aim at apple-pie order--everything in lavender--never to be touched, and all that sort of thing. That's as bad as the boy who once possessed a desk, which he would never use, for fear of marking the blotting-paper, and breaking the paper bands round the envelopes.

No; if you can get into the way of always putting the book you read back into its place on the shelf, and the paper you want where you will be certain to find it again--if you encourage a jealousy of rubbish, and a horror of dirt--if you take to heart the proverb I quoted just now, "A place for everything, and everything in its place"--you will be as tidy as you ever need be; and Jack Sloven's troubles and misfortunes will never be yours.


(The end)
Talbot Baines Reed's short story: The Untidy Boy

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