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Flabby Playing

( Originally Published 1906 )

ONE of life's most annoying and dis-heartening experiences is to try to amuse a listless, lackadaisical person, who says, when you ask him whether he would like to play some game, " O, I don't care"; and who says, when you ask him what he would like to play, " O, I don't ca-are "; and who says, when you ask him whether he would like another game, " O, I don't ca-a-a-are " ; who has to be told always when it is his turn ; who never has any idea how the score stands ; who is all the time whining about the game's being so hard, or the weather's being so hot ; who, at the crisis of the game, begins to talk about the last novel ; who stifles a yawn in the midst of your explanations of the sport, and goes through the whole performance with the air of a martyr. One might ask why such persons ever play at all, but the reason is easy : if they had grit enough to say they didn't want to play, they would have grit enough to play well and to enjoy playing.

No profit comes from the sluggish entering into any amusement. If it will not stir your blood and your brain, if it will not kindle your eye and give your voice a new ring, you might as well be lying on your back snoring as playing tennis or crokinole or golf. Games are to take us out of ourselves, to bury our worries in their excitement, to turn our interest into new channels. Sport is like a car. riage rolling us swiftly into fresh scenes ; but there are some people that will not give themselves up to the carriage. They sit with every muscle tense, grimly upright, and doing two hours' work in riding ten miles.

The secret of successful work lies quite as much in the letting go as in the taking hold. Men whose work is ever with them do not amount to much at the work. If you are unable to throw yourself heartily into your recreation, I do not believe you can throw yourself heartily into your occupation. You are not your own master to do what you will with yourself, but your work has become your master. It is a poor preacher who insists on preaching to you his next sermon while out for a bicycle ride. It is a second-rate merchant that must always talk shop. The men whose noses are forever on the grindstone soon wear down not only -their noses, but their brains.

The essence of walking is fast walking. The essence of bowling is " spares " and " strikes " and a big yell every time one is achieved. The essence of quoits is "leaners" and " ringers " and exultation thereupon. The essence of dominoes is " to domino," and to paint things red when you have done it. In fine, the essence of any sport is to go into it all over and not merely touch it with your finger-tips, to rejoice in it, crow over it, frisk and gambol through it, and be a boy or a girl again.

Let no one understand me as teaching that the chief end of a game is to beat. I have learned much about playing by attending the university presided over by my small daughter, Caroline. She was a long time in grasping the idea of a game. With her, as doubtless with most children, the first game was hide-and-seek, but it was a very primitive hide-and-seek. I would solemnly put my hands over my eyes, and away would dart the midget to the other side of the room, where she would possibly bury her head in the sofa pillows. " Hoo-o-oo ! " she would cry, and I, turning my back upon her, would hunt behind doors, under chairs, beneath the table-spread. Her bright eye would be on my operations, I was sure, for every failure was met with a delighted giggle. A very little of this sufficed, however, for my impatient girlie.

" Hee' yi ! " (" Here am I ! ") the wee voice would pipe out, and she would fling herself upon me in a torrent of bubbling laughter. Ah, it was a fascinating game.

There was not half the fun when I hid, be-cause, in my stupid, grown-up way of doing things, I would a find real hiding-place. I would often go so far as to get behind the door or under the piano, and very soon I would hear a little girl breathing hard, and a pleading cry on the edge of a sob would warn me to rush from my ambush and begin to play again.

Caroline was right, as usual, and the tire-some folks that play "to beat" are wrong. The heart of a game is not the score, but the merriment ; not to be victorious, but to be vivacious ; not to beat, but to romp. These solemn-eyed, long-faced ninnies that make an evening's hard, strenuous labor of a game of chess, and worry over their golf record as if it were to go on the books of the recording angel, ought to take a few lessons from Professor Caroline.

I like to watch the children of the slums at their play. They may be hungry half the time, poor little things ! but their laugh is as merry as any I ever hear on Commonwealth Avenue or Beacon Street, and their play is heartier. Their manners, too, will not suffer much in the comparison.

One day I sat in Copps Hill Burying-ground, Boston, rejoicing in the cool shadows, lazily reading the inscriptions On the antique grave-stones that were wagging their weary heads around me, and wondering, as I looked over the beautiful waters at Charlestown and Bunker Hill across the way, whether General Gage ever came back from the spirit land to visit again the spot from which he bombarded and fired Charlestown so many decades ago.

I was considering thoughtfully a very sad tombstone which set forth the death of four children, each of whom passed away before the first twelvemonth had gone by, when my attention was attracted to six children of modern Boston. In that crowded portion of the slums the graveyard must be utilized as a park, and the little Jewish and Italian children are given free range over the ancient sepulchres. There was a drinking-fountain near me, and three boys and three girls were having much sport there. I watched them.

The smallest boy—so small that he could scarcely reach the basin—had part of an old toy cornet, and he was filling its battered brass tube with water. Then he put one end in his mouth, and blew with all his might. The water rushed out through the curved tube and struck him full in the face. At this the urchin and all his comrades capered around, their bare feet twinkling, their voices high in a cackle of delight. The oldest girl was especially tickled. " Let me ! Let me ! " she cried, snatching the .magic instrument. " P—ff ! " and her own face was splashed all over with the cool water. " Ha, ha, ha, ha-a ! " and she doubled up, her hands on her sides, in a very paroxysm of glee. And then they must all have a turn. And then they must all do it over again. And then they must try—though not very successfully—to turn the twisted tube on one another. Fun ? If they have such fun on Commonwealth Avenue or Beacon Street, the urchins keep it decidedly to themselves.

This pretty little scene will stick in my mind as a type of the right kind of sport. It is so much better to throw water in one's own face than beer or whiskey or tobacco, smoke or salacious novels. It is so much better to dabble in God's fountains than in the " pool" of the gambler. It was so much better even to wet their clothes that hot July day than to water stocks. And those six children of the slums, in their madcap silliness around that graveyard fountain, were in so much better business than most that would look down upon them from out of their coach and fours !

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