King's X




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By Dan Beard

ohb257.gif (4329 bytes)
Fig. 257.
King's X.

Away back in those times that are so dry to study about in our school histories and so intensely interesting to read of in "Ivanhoe," "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," and "The Black Arrow," King's X had its origin.

Everything was strange in those days. Men like Robin Flood really lived outside of the pages of a storybook. Football, golf, and other popular games were forbidden because they might take time that otherwise would be devoted to archery, and the law in England compelled small boys to practice a certain number of hours each year with the long bow.

Men on the streets dressed like the clowns in Barnum's circus, and blacksmiths did a tailoring business; for gentlemen wore iron clothes and heavy iron pots for hats, even under a broiling hot summer's sun, because it was the style. The horses these iron-clothed men rode were, resplendent in gorgeous crazy-quilt coverings which reached to their heels.

It is strange how dull a historian can make these interesting old times, when farmers who worked in the fields wore only a shirt to cover their nakedness, and barefooted priests with shaved heads trod the highways; when there were no railroads, no steam engines, and no telegraphs, kerosene lamps, gas, or electric lights.

It was then that everybody, from the beggar to the king, ate with his fingers; but nobody smoked, because they had no tobacco. Without tobacco they got along very well, but how did they manage to make a meal without sugar, tea, coffee, potatoes, corn, or turkeys ? The streets were never cleaned, watered, or lighted, and every house of any pretensions was a fort and the people all knew how to fight. 

There was among them a dim idea of fair play, and conscious of the fact that the courts were seldom just, they provided sanctuaries or places of refuge where the poor persecuted people might fly and be safe from the law and their neighbors. These sanctuaries were sometimes in the monasteries or churches, and sometimes in the King's house.

All that remains of this quaint old custom of our funny old ancestors is preserved by the boys in their games, and they call it "King's Cross," "King's X," or "King's Excuse," and cross their first and second fingers to proclaim a truce. Here we have a combination of the king and the church that insures the safety of the player.

Notwithstanding the fact that outdoor games are largely provided with retreats in the form of goals, homes, taws, or dens, it is often convenient to have some other safeguard to protect the player from "It;" this is supplied by the crossed fingers and the cry of "King's Ex!" As long as the boy giving this cry keeps his fingers crossed he is safe, for to " It," the sign of the cross is sacred.

King's X is used only in times of accident or emergency, for instance when a player's shoelace becomes untied. or when he is disputing some point in the game. Then he cries "King's Ex until I fasten my shoestring!" or "King's Ex until we settle this," and the truce lasts until the shoestring is tied or the disputed point decided. Often boys of weak character will give the cry and cross their fingers to save themselves from being caught. This is called "the baby act," to show the contempt with which all real manly boys hold a comrade who will seek safety under the cross because his legs are lazy.







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Last modified: October 15, 2016.