The Jeep Flies the Serum
A hurricane tackles the jeep in his land-going windjammer and comes off second best
PETER VAN DRESSER
THE JEEP being the kind of fellow he is, I wasn’t plumb sure that afternoon whether he had something on his mind or was just talking. “Ho there, my good man,” he says, leaning across our fence with his oversize ears sticking out on each side of his skinny face, “how’d you like to sign up before the mast on the finest windjammer that ever sailed out of this port?”
So naturally I stopped pushing the lawn mower and looked at him suspiciously, because of course there’s no deep water and no ships within a lot of dry miles of these parts. “What’s up, Stanley?” I finally asks him cautiously. “What’re you fixing to get me into now?”
He squinted up at the sky and scratched his ear absent-mindedly. “Oh nothing—nothing at all,” he says innocently. “Sort of looks like we might have some wind today, and I just thought you’d like to go for a sail with me.”
I reached over the fence and grabbed him by the back of his scrawny neck. “Now listen, Jeep,” I says reasonably while he was wriggling to get loose, “Be a sensible guy and spill what you’ve gone and done this time. What is it and where is it, and if I may add, why is it?”
He stopped squirming and grinned at me. I could see he was about to bust with the news of some new brain storm. “It’s over at the house,” he says, suddenly going dignified, “and if you’ll leggo my neck and give me a lift there on your bike, I’ll show it to you. That’s what I came here for, dope.” With a Jeepish invention in the offing, I left the lawn mower sitting right there, and in a couple of minutes we were pedalling down the street with Stanley balanced on my handlebars. “Why is it you never have your own bike these days?” I complains to him as I pumped up Juniper Street toward the Walker mansion. “Seems to me like I do nothing but give you lifts places this summer.”
In a couple of minutes I found out why. The Jeep led me around to the old carriage house out back that he calls his laboratory, and pushed open
the creaky door, mysteriously. I looked in over his shoulder, expecting anything. Sure enough—there in the darkness and clutter of the place something thoroughly Jeepish loomed up. It was big and complicated—all wheels and spars and ropes—and it looked like a collision between a fleet of bicycles, a sailing yacht and a threshing machine. It wasn’t made any more soothing looking by the fact that, following his usual custom, the Jeep had painted ail the parts of it that could be painted an ungodly red and purple—our school colors.
“Isn’t she a beaut?” says the Jeep, beaming back at me through his freckles. “Come on in an’ look ’er over.”
I backed away from the door. “No, sir, Stanley, you tell me what it is first,” I warns him. “It don’t look safe to me.”
“You mean to tell me you don’t know a sailmobile when you see one?” he snaps at me, insulted.
“A sailmobile. A machine for sailing on land. It’s like an iceboat except it has wheels,” he says impatiently. “For gosh sakes, come on in here.”
SO I WENT in, stumbling over a busted-down printing press, and he begins explaining his brain storm to me. When you got over the first shock of the thing it wasn’t so crazy either, not as the Jeep’s inventions go. It was a good deal like an iceboat, as he said, with a light trussed frame in the shape of a cross, three bicycle wheels to run on, the
rear one to steer by with a sort of tiller, two bucket seats along the backbone, and a tall mast guyed by thin cables. It had two sails—a mainsail and a jib, and it really looked pretty well-made and shipshape, because the Jeep’s right handy with tools when he’s steamed up over one of his big ideas.
“You didn’t figure this all out yourself,” I says, not wanting to let him know I was impressed.
“Oh, I got the design out of a book, but I souped ’er up some,” he says carelessly. “She looks like she’d get up and fly, doesn’t she? The book says machines like this have gone as fast as a mile a minute, and I’m figurin’ on using her to run my paper route out to Edgartown.” His eyes commenced shining and his hair stood on end the way it does when the Jeep gets excited. “Man, oh man,” he goes on, “won’t she look pretty swooping along the road? No more pedal pumping for me! And no gas to buy either, and no machinery to get out of whack.”
“Your paper route?” I says, looking at him dumbly. “You think you can deliver papers in this?” I couldn’t figure out whether the idea was smart or just cuckoo. After all, this route of the Jeep’s wasn’t an ordinary one, because his subscribers were all in a little hamlet about six miles south of town. The place had no newspaper of its own, and Stanley had sold the circulation manager of The Bugle on giving him sole franchise there if he could get three hundred subscribers, which he had. It was a .smart stunt, and would pay him better than an ordinary local route—but it would be real work pedalling out those six miles and back every day after school. If this contraption could do it on wind power, why maybe it wasn’t so batty after all . . .
“How do you know the wind’ll be in the right direction when you need it?” I says, just to raise an objection.
“I suppose you think I’ll have to sail whichever ways the wind blows!” he comes back scornfully. “Why a scientific sailing vessel like this one can sail any direction except practically straight into the wind. I been reading up about that, and the book says—”
Just then the door of the carriage house started swinging shut and a breeze puffed in. “There!” he yells. “There’s the wind I been waiting for. Hurry up and help me wheel her out!”
“Who, me?” I protests. “No, sir! You aren’t gonna get me—”
So of course I turned to and helped him haul and push the Comet, her tall mast waving and wobbling overhead and the wind tugging at her furled sails. It was late in the afternoon, darker than usual because the sky was clouding up for one of those little summer squalls that was making the wind, and there wasn’t any traffic at all on the old road that runs out over the flats back of the Walkers’ house. The Jeep fussed and fumbled with his ropes and halyards and things, and yelled orders at me. Finally he got the sails hauled up and they commenced filling and slatting around and the Comet commenced to quiver and buck. At that he was really excited, and I was too. He scrambled into the bucket seat and hauled in on his sheet lines until the sails filled with wind and rounded out as pretty as a picture on a calendar.
But the Comet just stood still.
“Give me a push!” yelps the Jeep. “She needs to get started!”
I gave him a push, and the contraption glided ahead for a dozen or so feet and then coasted to a stop. I pushed him again, and then some more, and kept on pushing him for an hour, up and down that stretch of road. Only once, when the wind puffed up stronger than usual, the Comet glided along for maybe three hundred feet before it came to a little rise and stopped again. Finally it got practically dark, and the squall died away with a little spatter of rain, and we gave up,
and pushed the wind buggy back into the shed, not saying anything. I could guess how he felt, after all those dreams about skimming over the highway like a swallow or something.
rI^HE JEEP flopped down on a mangy stuffed A alligator left over from the time he started to have a museum, and put his chin in his hands.
“Gosh,” he says mournfully. “This sure washes me up.”
This kind of surprised me, because he usually has fifty reasons why one of his inventions won’t work and why it will work next time the way he was when that bat-wing model plane of his wouldn’t fly well.
“Cheer up, skipper,” 1 says, feeling sorrier for him than I generally do. “We just didn’t have enough wind. Wait till we have a real storm and then try her.”
He only shook his head gloomily. “No good,” he sighs. “If she’ll only run in a storm, I’m sunk. I won’t get my Edgartown route.”
“What are you talking about?” 1 snaps at him. “You can still carry it on your bike, can’t you?”
He shook his head again. “Nope,” he says hopelessly. “I took my bike all to pieces to build this crate.”
“Well, put it together again,” I suggests, getting exasperated.
“I can’t,” he admits sorrowfully. “And even if I could, it wouldn’t do any good. Mr. Kissel says he won’t take on this new route so far away unless I have something quicker’n a bike. I guaranteed him superservice by fall.”
Mr. Kissel’s the circulation manager of The Bugle, and I saw right away why the Jeep was worrying so much. That route meant a lot to him; he depended on it for all his spending money— and without spending money he wouldn’t be able to build any of his contraptions or try any of his goofy experiments, and if he couldn’t do that he’d just about blow up and bust. So I saw that something had to be done.
I sat thinking hard for a minute, and then an idea popped into my head.
“Listen to me, Jeep,” I says, “and I’ll tell you what you got to do. You know the Jay cees—the Junior Chamber of Commerce—are staging a contest this summer for boys’ community service. The idea is you figure out some project—say cleaning up a vacant lot around town that’s an eyesore, or helping a poor family, or something, and then you work on that project all summer, and when school opens in the fall you submit your project for an award.”
“Yeh, I heard about that,” the Jeep mumbles without much interest. “I’m not any good at that kind of stuff. Anyway, I don’t want any old medal or cup.”
“Who said anything about a medal?” I tells him. “If you’d take the trouble to read that paper you hand out, you’d know the first prize is a brand-new streamlined motor scooter. And Stanley, you got to win that scooter. Then when the time comes to pick your route up this fall you can tell Mr. Kissel you’re all set to give your subscribers that superservice you been talking about. And it won’t cost much either, because even if a scooter doesn’t run on wind it’ll do a hundred miles to a gallon, which is pretty close to it.”
I could see Stanley commence to perk up a little, even in the darkness.
“Gosh,” he says, sort of to himself. “That’s not such a bad idea, you know. I bet I could win that prize, if I tried.” He perked up a little more. “Why,” he says, “I bet I could win it with one hand tied behind my back. I bet I could think of something that’d make ’em really sit back and take notice. I bet—”
So I went home just about then, because I saw I didn’t have to keep on feeling sorry for the Jeep, and I didn’t want to keep mom waiting supper any longer than necessary, though she’s generally a pretty good sport about it.
It wasn’t long after that that I left for my uncle’s farm, where I generally go for summer vacation (although some people wouldn’t call working on a farm exactly a vacation), so I couldn’t keep track of the Jeep’s activities for quite a while.
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However, before I went I saw he’d taken the hint I gave him that evening after the wreck of his hopes for the Comet. He told me he’d thought up a project for the Boys’ Community Service contest that he was going to work on all summer long. Being the Jeep, of course, he had to be mysterious about it, and by the same token he was sure his project was more wonderful than anything any other fellow in town could possibly think of. The motor scooter was as good as his already. So I left feeling that at least he’d got started on something and that he had a chance of making good, though I also had an uneasy feeling. That fellow could load even a Community Service project with dynamite.
LITTLE did I suspect, as they say I in the dime novels—but I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Anyway, I got back from the farm a couple of days before school was due to open, considerably more calloused and some pounds heavier than when I left. I hunted up Stanley pretty quickly, of course, to see how things had been going with him. I found him on top of the world againgrinning and pleased with himself.
“My project?” he says when I asked him about that. “Boy, it’s a honey—all finished up and ready to unveil to the public. But I’m not telling anybody—not anybody—till the contest opens officially.”
I got kind of worried at that, but I saw there was no use arguing with him. “When’ll that be?” I asks.
“Saturday,” he tells me. “School opens Friday for enrolment, you know, and the night after that the Jaycees are staging a big meeting in the auditorium. Fellows who’ve gone into the contest have to come there and tell what they’ve done. Then the next week the judges go out and check on their projects, and the next Saturday they announce the awards. So that’s when I’ve figured on getting the scooter,” he finished up as cocky as a banty rooster. “I’ve told Mr. Kissel I’ll be all set to start up the route then.”
“What about the Comet?” I asks him, just to bring him down a notch. At that he looked disgusted.
“Rats,” he says. “I’ve had her out twenty times since you went, and she hasn’t done anything yet. What she needs is wind.”
Well, she got it all right. We’d been having swell fall weather, but the afternoon school opened it began to cloud up, and early Saturday morning the wind nearly blew me out of bed before I got up and closed
the window. It was grey and stormy out, with funny streaks of clouds and spits of rain mixed with wind.
At breakfast the telephone rang; it was the Jeep. “Hey !” he yells into the receiver, “This is it! Come on over and let’s take the Comet out for a test flight!”
I started to say no I couldn’t, but then I decided all of a sudden I wanted to. If we’d had the radio on that morning and listened to the weather report I’d have changed my mind, but we didn’t, so I grabbed my slicker and an old hat, told my folks I’d be back pretty soon, and slid out, with the rain stinging my face.
Stanley was waiting for me in the carriage house. We wheeled the Comet through the big door, and the minute she felt the drive of that gale I knew she was going to move. We could hardly hold her down while Stanley wrestled with the tackle, hauling up the two sails with the sheets loose so they flapped and slatted without filling. Then he got into the rear bucket seat, grabbed the tiller and hollered at me to let ’er go. I started to push like I had before, running alongside, then he hauled in the sheet and the main sail filled out with a kind of a whoom! The Comet gave a terrific lunge, reared up on two of her wheels till I was sure she was going over, then shot ahead. I barely had time to grab hold and haul myself into the front seat before she was spinning down the road.
“Yowie!” the Jeep shrieks in my ear. “Ain’t this somethin’ !”
It sure was. I’d never imagined anything like it, unless maybe in a dream. As soon as we got going like that, more or less with the wind, the noise and buffeting seemed to die down and the road began gliding by, silently, like magic.
We slipped over two miles of flats in no time, skimmed over the railroad crossing ana swung into the curve up the valley. And honest, we just couldn’t stop. We were having too doggone much fun. We were just beginning to get the hang of that wind buggy; how to shift our weight against the lift of the sails, how to trim them in or out as we went around curves and changed our angle with the wind. So when we got onto the Boonville Road, we just kept going. The trees were all leaning the same direction we were moving, their branchas tossing and heaving some, the early fall leaves scudding along beside us, all red and yellow.
It was a fool thing to do, tearing along a road in a contraption like
that, hut we just got sort of batty with the speed and excitement of it. Every now and then we’d meet a car, driving slowly against the wind, its windshield wiper going. It’d always pull way off the road when it saw us coming, and we’d swish on by like the Flying Dutchman, yelling and waving at the startled white faces looking out at us. A couple of times we came to hills steep enough to slow us down a little, but when we got over the top we’d tear down the other side faster than ever, and the Boonville road is mostly level anyway. If I hadn’t been so excited I’d have maybe wondered why there were so few cars and hardly any people in sight anywhere. Once a farmhouse door flew open, and a man, leaning against the wind, ran down to the road and waved his hands and hollered something at us, but we couldn’t hear what he said.
WE LOST track of time completely, but it must have been nearly noon when we realized the wind was getting puffy, and then dying away. The Comet began slowing down, and we began to sober up. Finally we dropped the sails and stopped beside the road. I got out and suddenly discovered I was damp all through and hungry, and a long ways from home.
“It was sure swell while it lasted,” I says to the Jeep. “But now the payoff starts. What do we do next, captain—push her back?”
The Jeep got up and stretched himself. “Golly,” he says, “I could use a hot dog now. I bet we’ve come over forty miles. Will she run, my fran’, or will she merely fly?” he gloats at me.
“A little of each,” I admits. “But Jeep, let’s concentrate on getting home. I told my folks I’d be back at noon, and do you realize that tonight is your big moment? You got to be in the high school auditorium at eight o’clock sharp.”
His face went blank, then he began to look alarmed. “Oh my gosh,” he groans, “that’s right. Man the capstans, men, we got to get out of here!”
We turned the Comet around and made sail again. Stanley fussed with the sheets and tried to get us moving. Gusts of wind would come from different directions, slam the boom around and shove us a little way, then drop us. I peeled off my slicker, tied it in the bucket seat, and commenced to push, to help us along. I could feel myself getting steadily hungrier and more disgusted. Why hadn’t I had enough sense to stop a long time ago? At this rate we’d get home in a couple of days.
The storm wasn’t over though; I could see that. The clouds overhead were moving pretty fast and churning around in a funny-looking way. It seemed to me the gusts of wind were getting stronger too.
We heard the whine of tires on a wet road behind us, and a car pulled up alongside, going our way. I looked up from my pushing—it was the little delivery truck from Brown’s Drug Store at home, with Sam Mullins’ dumb flat face grinning at us out the window.
“Well fer gosh sake,” he hollers at us. “What you two dopes think you’re doin’?”
We both looked up at him, feeling
foolish but glad to see somebody we knew. “Give us a tow, Sam, will you?” begs the Jeep. “We’re mariners in distress, we are, and we sure need some help.”
Sam shook his head, looking important and stupid at the same time. “Can’t do it,” he says. “Got a rush order here for Dr. Bagley, direct from New York. Been all the way over to the Waterbury Airport for it, ’count of the storm. Can’t stop for nothin’.”
“Well then have you got anything to eat in there?” the Jeep says, looking pitiful. Sam shook his head again. “Nothin’ but a couple cartons of chocolate bars for the store, and I can’t go into them. Sorry.” With that he clashed his gears and shot ahead.
“Hey!” yells the Jeep in an agonized voice; then he saw it was no use. “Nothin’ but a couple cartons of chocolate bars,” he whispers. “Oh my gosh.”
I didn’t say anything; just started pushing again. Then I realized the clouds to the west were getting lower and thicker, and I could hear the sound of wind. I could see the trees beginning to bend too, and then I realized a rain and wind squall was coming down on us. I grabbed my slicker and put it on, yelling to Stanley to get everything set.
The wind and rain struck us solid out of the northwest, lifting the Comet so far up on her left wheel that I had to scramble out on the righthand strut to hold her down. She jumped ahead like a rabbit, and the rain whirled and howled around us and drove down the back of my neck like a fire hose.
I thought we’d travelled fast on the way out from town, but that was nothing to what we did now. The Comet acted as if she had a hundred horsepower motor shoving her down that road. The wind settled down to a continuous swoosh from behind us, and we careened along, veering from side to side as the Jeep wrestled with the tiller.
I was just plain scared. This wasn’t fun any more, it was tarnation dangerous. But I said to myself, if the Jeep could stand it I could, so I hung on with all I had and did my ballast-shifting act and prayed we wouldn’t meet any cars—though it wasn’t likely any would be out in that storm, the way it was acting.
After about five hours of this— which must have been really about ten minutes — we came tearing around a wide curve, and there halfhidden by sheets of rain, was a car sitting on the inside track, hardly pulled off the road. I swallowed my heart; the Jeep veered way over to the left to avoid a smashup; the wind caught us abeam and the outward crown of the road, plus centrifugal force, finished the job. I felt the Comet tilt beneath me and keep on tilting, then all of a sudden she was over and we were sliding through the grass in a welter of ropes and spinning wheels and flapping canvas.
I untangled myself and fished the Jeep out from under the billowing mainsail. He wasn’t hurt, only hopping mad.
“The dem idjut,” he hollers against the wind. “First he won’t give us a tow and then he wrecks us !”
I REALIZED then it was Sam Mullins’ delivery wagc^i we’d just missed, and in a minute Sam came lumbering across to see how we were.
“Sure I’m all right!” the Jeep yelps at him. “What’s the idea of stopping in the middle of the road, you dumb galoot?”
Sam only looked dumber than usual and worried, with the water dripping off the end of his thick nose and his soggy coat flapping in the wind. “Gee I’m sorry, Stanley,” he says hoarsely. “I couldn’t help it, honest. My motor’s drowned out and I couldn’t move. How’m I gonna get to town? Gee, I got to get there too. It’s important.”
“You got to get there?” shrieks the Jeep, madder than ever. “What about me? I got to get there a darn sight more than you do !”
We went back and looked at the truck; I saw right away there was no hope of getting that started. Sam had opened the hood and let the rain pour into the motor; it’d take two days in a garage to dry out that ignition. Sam kept mumbling about an important package he had for Dr. Bagley, but I didn’t pay much attention what with the wind and the rain pouring down my neck and filling my shoes.
Suddenly the Jeep splashed off back toward the overturned wind buggy. “Come on,” he yells to me impatiently. “We got to get going.” I ran after him. “Listen, Stanley,” I begs. “Don’t start off in that thing again. We’ll get killed, sure. The wind’s stronger than ever !”
“I’m gonna beat that meeting tonight,” he grits back at me, grabbing hold of the frame of the Comet and heaving on it. “If you don’t want to come you don’t have to.” So of course I helped him wrestle the wind buggy up again and untangle the rigging, which was no easy job in that wind. The left guy wires for the mast had all been torn loose, so we had to get some pliers and pieces of wire out of the truck and make them fast. Then we managed to take a couple of reefs in the sails, and finally got them ready to hoist when Sam came piling up hugging a big carton against his middle.
“Hey!” he hollers desperately. “Lemme go with you. I got to get this package to Dr. Bagley.”
The Jeep looked up from where he was hanging on to the wet mainsail to keep it from ballooning out before we were ready.
“How can I take you?” he says, all wet and scornful. “There’s room for two and no more on this craft.” “But I got to get this package to Dr. Bagley,” begs Sam. “I—I bet I’ll lose my job if I don’t!” He looked like he was ready to bust into tears.
Stanley looked at him fiercely for a minute, like a pint-size edition of an old Yankee sea captain or something; then he growls out. “Okay, then I’ll take the package for you. But you got to give me one of those cartons of chocolate bars.”
Sam shoved the package to me, and while he ran back to the truck I took off my slicker, wrapped the package in it, and lashed it to the backbone of the Comet just ahead of my seat. I was so wet then the slicker wasn’t doing any good anyway.
Well, the less said about the rest of that trip the better. Maybe if I’d
known then that the storm we were piloting The Comet through was the tail end of a Caribbean hurricane which had wandered up through the middle of the continent, I wouldn’t have stuck to the Jeep the way I did. But that’s what it was, as I’d have found out if I’d listened to the radio that morning. The lull and shift of wind that had caught us outside of Boonville was when the centre of the hurricane was passing over us.
I did begin to get worried when I saw big branches of trees breaking off alongside the road, and I guess it wasn’t long after we crossed it that the bridge over Three Mile Creek went out, judging from the way the water was foaming across it. I kept suggesting to the Jeep that we’d better stop and get some shelter somewhere, but he only shook his head and gripped the tiller and yelled that he had to get to that meeting. Somehow he’d wedged the box of chocolate bars between his legs and ripped it open, so he kept munching and handing me squashy pieces all mixed up with tinfoil.
It was only about a half mile north of the town limits that the big sycamore fell across the road in front of us. There was no chance of stopping; we just piled into the mountain of wet, thrashing leaves and branches. We both of us rolled up instinctively to shield our faces, and the Comet went to pieces all around us. The only casualty was the Jeep’s pants; a twig caught the seat of them and nearly ripped it out.
We hiked the rest of the way in. It was nearly dark then, what with the thick clouds and the rain and everything, and we didn’t meet any people on the streets. Stanley’s main idea was to get home and clean up and practice his speech for the meeting, but I reminded him about the box I was carrying that we’d promised Sam to deliver.
SO WE WENT by Doc Bagley^s house. When we busted into his consulting room, all soaked and ripped and smeared with chocolate, I guess we must have looked queer, because even the doc looked sort of alarmed. He was awful busy though; he had his overcoat and that funny i high derby hat of his on, and he was darting around the room packing a couple of great big bags with rolls of bandage and jars of ointment and stuff.
“Eh?” he says, peering at us from under his bushy eyebrows. “What’s that? A box Sam Mullins gave you?” Then he bounced over, grabbed the package from me, ripped it open and spilled out onto the operating table what must have been a couple of hundred little glass things all neatly packed in cotton.
“Thank the good Lord!” he exclaims, frantically stuffing the glass things into his bags too. “How in the name of Tophet did you boys get this stuff here in the teeth of this hurricane?”
“Oh—we were kind of out for a ride,” mumbles the Jeep, edging for the door, “and Sam’s truck got drowned out so we said we’d carry it. I guess if that’s all you need, Doc, I’ll be going home because I’ve got to be at a meeting at the school tonight.” “Kind of ‘out for a ride!’ roars Dr.
! Bagley, jamming his hat tighter on I his head and grabbing his bags.
“There’s not going to be any meeting. Don’t you know what’s happened, young man? Half the faculty and two thirds of the students down with acute toxicodendrol dermatitis—and the town isolated by a hurricane!” “Goshamighty !” Stanley and I says, scared to death, “What’s that?” “Poison ivy !” yells the doc. “Nobody knows how it happened, but the whole front wall and gate of the high school are covered with a crop of poison ivy mixed with woodbine, and some triple-plated jackass started kids picking it yesterday to wear in their coats. What’s the matter with all those high falutin modern young teachers that they couldn’t tell poison ivy with their noses stuck in it ! Thank heaven you fellows got this serum to me. If I had to treat fifty swelled up youngsters with bluestone and alum, it’d be a month before we got the town clear. You two drowned rats go home and get on some dry clothes.” With that he rushes out the door.
Mechanically I picked up one of the little glass things he’d left on the table. The label on it said:
Extractus R,hus Toxidendron (Poison Ivy Extract) for intramuscular injection
So that’s what we’d been carrying. Serum for ivy poisoning. I remembered hearing about the stuff on the farm; they squirt it into your arm and it was almost like magic, the way it cured you.
I looked at the Jeep; he’d collapsed in a chair and was staring at me, his face puckered up as if he’d swallowed a caterpillar.
“Ohmigosh,” I heard him whispering. “Omigosh! / planted it. I got ’em to wear some in their button-
I stared back at him, not understanding. “You planted it?” I says. “What for?”
“That was my project. You know. Beautify Our Town. I fetched the vines in from the woods and planted ’em in the evening when nobody was around—took me all summer. Daytimes I worked at Bailey’s chicken farm and took my pay in manure to fertilize those darned vines—nearly busted my arms carryin’ water at night to water ’em; the hose was locked up—”
“But for gosh sakes, Stanley,” I butts in. “Why pick out poison ivy?
Of all the crazy things you've
“I didn’t,” he yells, suddenly coming out of his trance. “It was woodbine I planted, doggone it. It was all right there in the book, a colored picture of it, awful pretty, and it said, ‘fruits in the fall with red and purple berries’—Don’t that mean anything to you—ya sap!— ‘Red and purple?’ ”
It slowly dawned. “Oh, sure,” I
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says sarcastically. “I get the idea. Red and Purple—school colors, red and purple berries. Nifty. But I suppose the book never told you that woodbine and poison ivy look something alike, and you weren’t bright enough to figure it out yourself, hey?”
‘‘Well I did notice some of it didn’t look just like the rest,” he admits, suddenly looking hopeless again. “But heck, I needed all I could get, so I just dug it up as it came. And you gotta admit that old bare wall does look pretty now all full of red leaves and purple berries and stuff.”
“Doc hit it on the head when he said ‘triple-plated jackass,”’ I couldn’t help saying. “Did you break out and itch?”
“No I didn’t,” he says, helplessly.
“How do you account for that?” I asks, puzzled. “But never mind— you wouldn’t. The main thing is— is this the Community Service project you were gonna report to the meeting tonight?”
The Jeep nodded without saying anything. He sure looked unhappy standing there with that dumb expression on his face, the seat of his pants flapping and water dripping oft' him in a puddle around his feet. This time I really felt sorry for him.
NOT THAT I needed to. Because the Jeep has that motor scooter now, and his route to Edgartown too. And also a fancy piece of parchment which says on it:
Stanley Joralemon Walker
in recognition of outstanding community service in a time of storm and stress, when, through his fortitude and determination, and in spite of grave personal danger, he carried serums and medicines needful to the wellbeing and safety of his fellow citizens—
The First Annual
Youth’s Community Service Award
You see, the way it worked out I was the only one who realized Stanley was the superman who’d planted that fence full of bad. news. And why should I bother to mention it?
But of course there was nothing to stop everybody from hearing about the Comet and our young hero’s mad dash through the storm. It made a good story, especially after the Jeep got over his shock and started fancying it up.