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By Dan Beard

In the early spring time, while the white frost still jeweled the grass in the mornings and the ground was alternately frozen at night and thawed by the morning sun, marble time used to begin, and on Long Island the custom of playing marbles as soon as old winter has taken off his coat of snow is still in vogue.

How my knuckles used to smart where the cold wind had chapped them and "knuckling down" had ground the mud into the raw places. But, pshaw! What did I care for raw knuckles, as with a pocketful of assorted varieties of marbles I watched eagerly for a playmate, and as soon one appeared, shouted, "First for keeps!"

In those days I thought that gambling consisted only in playing games for money. Four hundred years before the first incidents occurred that are written of in the New Testament, an old sage was dead and buried, but, like John Brown, his spirit keeps marching on.

The sage was a great man, but I doubt if any of my young readers would like him. He founded a great religion, but he was narrow-minded. Boys in those days were just like boys of this day-they were fond of fun, fond of games, and they made little windmills, and they enjoyed seeing the wheels buzz in the breeze. 

The old man thought this sinful and silly. He forgot that he was ever a boy himself, so he forbade windmills as "detrimental to progress in virtue. "He was an ancient Puritan; he was down on chess or checkers, hop-scotch he abhorred, jack-straws to him were the invention of the evil one, ball was a game of perdition, drawing pictures, blowing horns, racing, archery, and marbles were equally bad and forbidden sins.

There are many estimable, narrow-minded, half-developed people of today who think just as rulers did so long ago, but fortunately for the young people no one now takes them seriously.

This man had no intention or desire to be of assistance to the author of this book. No doubt if the old pagan were alive he would forbid its publication, but nevertheless he is introduced to the reader because his denunciations of these games prove that the youngsters of his day found entertainment in the same games that occupy the leisure of the -school-boys at the close of any century.

Many years ago there was a boy named Humphrey Potter, who would rather play marbles than work; but he was a poor boy, and he would rather work than see his parents deprived of the comforts that his little earnings could procure. Humphrey was only a boy; he did not know anything. Not one of the great men who had invented the awkward, puffing old steam-engines that were used in those days would have condescended to consult Humphrey in regard to his invention. 

The poor little chap had to sit all day on a stick of wood for a stool, and, with one hand no the steam-cock and the other on the water-cock, alternately turn on steam and water. When he turned on the steam this vapor rushed into the cylinder and forced a heavy piston tip; when he turned on the water, that fluid rushed in, cooled off or condensed the steam and down came the piston. So that without a boy at the steam and water cocks this great invention of full-grown men would not work.

But Hump bad a better head than these men, and the lad wanted to play marbles. So down went his hand into that junk shop which every boy has, but which he calls his pocket, and out came a piece of string-most likely it was a top-string-and Hump harnessed up the piston to the valves.

It was as simple as falling off a log. The piston opened and shut the valves itself, and Humphrey played marbles and drew his pay at the same time.

Simple as falling off a log, but like many things it was too simple for a man to think of, and yet simple as it was Humphrey Potter's invention lifted the steam-engine from the plane of a clumsy machine chiefly used for pumping purposes to the higher field where its uses are so manifold as scarcely to be numbered, and Humphrey was only a boy and an inveterate marble-player at that.

Boys, when you bear the thunder of the railroad train, The hum of the factory wheels, or the whistle of the big steamboats, rattle the marbles in your pockets, and say,

"Well, if it were not for one of us, where would all your wonderful inventions be, you great, big, bald-headed, bearded boys that build your cities without leaving us room for a Bull Ring?"







Additional Information:

How To Shoot Marbles ] Marble Game Terms ] Names of Marbles ] Making Marbles ] Knuckle Dabsters ] The Right Spirit ] Gambling with Marbles ]

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Last modified: October 15, 2016.