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The Untidy Boy
by [?]

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.