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   Chapter 2 BULL HEAD AND BUTTER FINGERS

Tom Slade with the Colors By Percy K. Fitzhugh Characters: 8952

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The lateness of the hour did not incline Tom to hurry on his journey homeward. He was thoroughly discouraged and dissatisfied with himself, and it pleased his mood to amble along kicking a stone in front of him until he lost it in the darkness. Without this vent to his distemper he became still more sullen. It would have been better if he had hunted up the stone and gone on kicking it. But now he was angry at the stone too. He was angry at everybody and everything.

Ever since war had been declared Tom had worked with the troop, doing his bit under Mr. Ellsworth's supervision, and everything he had done he had done wrong-in his own estimation.

The Red Cross bandages which he had rolled had had to be rolled over again. The seeds which he had planted had not come up, because he had buried them instead of planting them. Roy's onion plants were peeping coyly forth in the troop's patriotic garden; Doc Carson's lettuce was showing the proper spirit; a little regiment of humble radishes was mobilizing under the loving care of Connie Bennett, and Pee-wee's tomatoes were bold with flaunting blossoms. A bashful cucumber which basked unobtrusively in the wetness of the ice-box outlet under the shed at Artie Van Arlen's home was growing apace. But not a sign was there of Tom's beans or peas or beets-nothing in his little allotted patch but a lonely plantain which he had carefully nursed until Pee-wee had told him the bitter truth-that this child of his heart was nothing but a vulgar weed.

It is true that Roy Blakeley had tried to comfort Tom by telling him that if his seeds did not come up in Bridgeboro they might come up in China, for they were as near to one place as the other! Tom had not been comforted.

His most notable failure, however, had come this very week when three hundred formidable hickory sticks had been received by the Home Defense League and turned over to the Scouts to have holes bored through them for the leather thongs.

There had been a special scout meeting for this work; every scout had come equipped with a gimlet, and there was such a boring seance as had never been known before. Roy had said it was a great bore. As fast as the holes were bored, Pee-wee had tied the strips of leather through them, and the whole job had been finished in the one evening.

Tom had broken his gimlet and three extra ones which fortunately some one had brought. The hickory had proven as stubborn as he was himself-which is saying a great deal.

He had tried boring from each side so that the holes would meet in the middle; but the holes never met. When he had bored all the way through from one side, he had either broken the gimlet or the hole had come slantingways and the gimlet had come out, like a woodchuck in his burrow, where it had least been expected to appear.

And now, to cap the climax, he was to stand outside one of the registration places the next day and pin little flags on the young men as they came out after registering. The other members of the troop were to be distributed all through the county for this purpose (wherever there was no local scout troop), and each scout, or group of scouts, would sally heroically forth in the morning armed with a shoebox full of these honorable mementoes, made by the girls of Bridgeboro.

And meanwhile, thought Tom, the Germans were sinking our ships and dropping bombs on hospitals and hitting below the belt, generally. He was not at all satisfied with himself, or with his trifling, ineffective part in the great war. He felt that he had made a bungle of everything so far, and his mind turned contemptuously from these inglorious duties in which he had been engaged to the more heroic r?le of the real soldier.

Perhaps his long trousers had had something to do with his dissatisfaction; in any event, they made his bungling seem the more ridiculous. His fellow scouts had called him "bull head" and "butter fingers," but only in good humor and because they loved to jolly him; for in plain fact they all knew and admitted that Tom Slade, former hoodlum, was the best all-round scout that ever raised his hand and promised to do his duty to God and Country and to obey the Scout Law.

The fact was that Tom was clumsy and rough-perhaps a little uncouth-and he could do big things but not little things.

As he ambled along the dark street, nursing his disgruntled mood, he came to Rockwood Place and turned into it, though it did not afford him the sh

ortest way home. But in his sullen mood one street was as good as another, and Rockwood Place had that fascination for him which wealth and luxury always had for poor Tom.

Three years before, when Tom Slade, hoodlum, had been deserted by his wretched, drunken father and left a waif in Bridgeboro, Mr. Ellsworth had taken him in hand, Roy had become his friend, and John Temple, president of the Bridgeboro Bank, noticing his amazing reformation, had become interested in him and in the Boy Scouts as well.

It had proven a fine thing for Tom and for the Scouts. Mr. Temple had endowed a large scout camp in the Catskills, which had become a vacation spot for troops from far and near, and which, during the two past summers, had been the scene of many lively adventures for the Bridgeboro boys.

But Tom had to thank Temple Camp and its benevolent founder for something more than health and recreation and good times. When the troop had returned from that delightful woodland community in the preceding autumn and Tom had reached the dignity of long trousers, the question of what he should do weighed somewhat heavily on Mr. Ellsworth's mind, for Tom was through school and it was necessary that he be established in some sort of home and in some form of work which would enable him to pay his way.

Perhaps Tom's own realization of this had its part in inclining him to go off to war. In any event, Mr. Ellsworth's perplexities, and to some extent his anxieties, had come to an end when Mr. Temple had announced that Temple Camp was to have a city office and a paid manager for the conduct of its affairs, which had theretofore been looked after by himself and the several trustees and, to some extent, by Jeb Rushmore, former scout and plainsman, who made his home at the camp and was called its manager.

Whether Jeb had fulfilled all the routine requirements may be a question, but he was the spirit of the camp, the idol of every boy who visited it, and it was altogether fitting that he should be relieved of the prosy duties of record-keeping which were now to be relegated to the little office in Mr. Temple's big bank building in Bridgeboro.

So it was arranged that Tom should work as a sort of assistant to Mr. Burton in the Temple Camp office and, like Jeb Rushmore, if he fell short in some ways (he couldn't touch a piece of carbon paper without getting his fingers smeared) he more than made up in others, for he knew the camp thoroughly, he could describe the accommodations of every cabin, and tell you every by-path for miles around, and his knowledge of the place showed in every letter that went out over Mr. Burton's name.

From the window, high up on the ninth floor, Tom could look down behind the big granite bank building upon a narrow, muddy place with barrel staves for a sidewalk and tenements with conspicuous fire escapes, and washes hanging on the disorderly roofs. This was Barrel Alley, where Tom had lived and where his poor, weary mother had died. He could pick out the very tenement. Strangely enough, this spot of squalor and unhappy memories held a certain place in his affection even now.

Tom and Mr. Burton and Miss Ellison, the stenographer, were the only occupants of the little office, but Mr. Temple usually came upstairs from the bank each day to confer with Mr. Burton for half an hour or so.

There was also another visitor who was in the habit of coming upstairs from the bank and spending many half hours lolling about and chatting. This was Roscoe Bent, a young fellow who was assistant something-or-other in the bank and whose fashionable attire and worldly wisdom caused Tom to stand in great awe of him.

Roscoe made no secret of the fact that he came up in order to smoke cigarettes, which practice was forbidden down in the bank. He would come up, smoke a cigarette, chat a while, and then go down again. He seemed to know by inspiration when Mr. Burton and Mr. Temple were going to be there. Up to the morning of this very day he had never shown very much interest in either Tom or Temple Camp, though he appeared to entertain a lively interest in Miss Ellison, and Tom envied him his easy manner and his faculty for entertaining her and making her laugh.

On the morning of this day, however, when he had come up for his clandestine smoke, he had manifested much curiosity about the camp, looking over the maps and pictures and asking many questions.

Tom had felt highly flattered.

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