( Originally Published 1920 )
How a Boy Became a Knight.—Five hundred years ago, in England and France and the other principal countries of Europe, the leaders of the people were a special class of men called knights. A knight had to be a soldier, absolutely free from fear. He must always be true to his king and his country and his friends. He must be generous and ready to give away anything he had to those in need. He must always be modest and courteous in his manner and thoughtful of the feelings of others. So people came to feel that there was nothing nobler in the world than to be "a good knight."
It was not easy to become a knight. The boy who desired this great honor went through a long period of training. It began when he was seven or eight years old. He waited on, and helped, the older people in the household, and was trained there in courtesy and gentleness. As years went on, he learned how to carry him-self like a soldier and how to use the spear and the sword, with which men fought in those days. He learned to ride and swim and climb and jump, and he trained himself to bear the heavy weight of the suits of armor which the knights wore in battle. As he grew older, he learned to endure heat and cold and to go for a time without food or sleep, so that he might be strong to bear the hardships of the life of a soldier. At last, after perhaps fifteen years of this training, he was brought before the king of the country, and as he kneeled down the king touched him on the shoulder with his sword and made him a knight.
We do not have knights of this kind in America today; but we want boys and girls who will serve our country as faithfully as the knights of old-time served their king. We honor men and women who are brave and loyal, generous and gentle—just as they did five hundred years ago. It is just as true as it was then that girls and boys cannot grow up to be good citizens and faithful servants of their country, unless they train themselves to be strong, as well as to be brave and true and kind.
Perhaps you have thought that people just happen to be well or ill, strong or weak, and that there is nothing can be done about it. That is not true, for health and strength come largely from habits of healthy living. In order to form such habits, you must know some-thing about your body and how it works and what you can do to make it stronger. In later chapters I shall tell you more about the body and the reasons why some habits are good and others bad. There are some things, however, that we all know about, though we may not always remember to do them. Let us see what a few of these things are, and how a boy or a girl can spend a day—say to-morrow, the day after studying this chapter—so as to build up strength and health for the knightly service of our country.
Getting Ready for the Day.—First of all, the boy who wants to be a good knight and the girl who is eager to grow up into a strong, helpful woman will not, of course, linger in bed when the time for getting up has come. In winter it is not easy to step out of the warm bed-.clothes into the cold world, but if you set your teeth you can do it just the same.
The arms and the legs that are so active in the daytime have been limp and quiet during the night's rest. It is an excellent plan to get them into good working order by a few simple exercises, which will be described in a later chapter. If you do these exercises every morning, and breathe slowly and deeply while you are doing them, not only your arms and legs but a great many other parts of that complicated and wonderful body of yours will be helped and strengthened. You will find, if you do this, that you will grow stronger all the time, and better able jump and climb; and you will find yourself happier and more full of life and energy in everything you do.
Then the body should be made ready for the work of the day by a cold bath and a brisk rubdown with a rough towel. Just why this is healthful, and how a cold bath helps you to feel fit and strong, we shall learn in later chapters. Often one has to do what one is told quickly and without asking the reason; but it is much nicer to know the reasons for things and really understand why they are good. The teeth must be thoroughly brushed, and the face and hands washed, so as to be clean and fresh for the new day. There are some interesting reasons for this, too, which you will learn later, for we do not try to keep clean simply because dirt does not look well.
After you have put on your clothes and are ready to go to breakfast, stop for a minute and think whether you are holding your body proudly and well, or whether you are slouching. See that your head is up, your shoulders flat, your knees straight, your feet set squarely on the ground, before you set out for your day's work.
Mealtimes.—Which meal in the day do you like best? I think breakfast is perhaps the pleasantest. It is early morning and everything is fresh and bright and one is almost always hungry then, particularly if one has had a bath and vigprous exercises.
Sometimes a child, who is not trying to grow to be a strong man or woman, lies in bed so long and is so slow in dressing that there is no time for breakfast, and he just snatches a mouthful or two before running off to school. This is a very bad plan indeed, for soon that child will begin to have an empty feeling inside; he will become cross and fretful and will be stupid in school work and dull at play. Remember that the body needs plenty of food, and no child can be of very much use to himself or anyone else unless he has started off in the morning with a good breakfast.
Most children need a little lunch in the middle of the morning, for it is a long time between breakfast and luncheon or dinner time. Sp it is a good plan to take with you some bread and butter or crackers or cookies to eat about eleven o'clock.
You will read later in this book about the foods that make up a good diet for a boy or girl of your age. For breakfast you should have fruit, cereal, bread and but-ter, and milk, or other foods equally good. A little meat or fish or eggs should be eaten sometime during the day, if possible; but plenty of milk will do instead, if these things are too expensive. Green vegetables or fruit should form a part of each of the three meals. You will learn later what each of these kinds of food does for the body and why you need them all.
The boys who were training themselves to be knights in olden days sometimes used to go without any food for a time, to make themselves hardy. It is good to be brave about being hungry, but it is not worth while to injure one's health by going without food just for this purpose. There is another kind of training, how-ever, which some children I know need very much. These children go without food of certain kinds, not to make themselves hardy but just because they don't like chicken or carrots or spinach or whatever the food may be. Often the foods they will not eat are just the ones they need to strengthen their bodies and make them grow. Such children should make it a part of their knightly training to conquer their dislikes and to learn to eat all the good kinds of food that are set before them.
Dressing to Go Out.—After breakfast is finished, there is often a hurry and a scurry to get off to school.
The house is full of cries of, "Mother, where are my gloves?" and "Mother, I can't find my coat."
It pays to take time to find the clothes you need before you go out into the chilly air, if it is winter time or there is a storm. It may be a bother to hunt for your things. But remember that you cannot expect your body to keep fit and it. Dressing too warmly is bad; but wearing coats, warm caps, overshoes, mittens, and leggings, when the weather is such that you need them, is not a sign of being babyish but a sign of being sensible and grown up.
Don't forget, however, to take off coats, leggings, and mufflers when you go indoors where it is warm.
Rubbers are very bad for the feet, if you forget and keep them on all day, as some children do that I know about.
Schooltime.—The different parts of the body are like faithful servants who do our work for us most of the well, if you do not take care of time, even without our having to think about it at all. Some of these parts, as we shall see, are busy all day and all night. Others are set to work only now and then when we happen to need them.
At school and in home-study time we call upon our very highest servants to help us. They are the parts making up the brain, with which we do our learning and understanding. You can make these servants either good or bad by training them.
If you idle your time away and look out of the window and whisper and giggle, your brain servants will get the habit of idleness and inattention. If you are trying to make yourself a good knightly citizen, you will make your brain servants nimble and industrious by working—when you do work—with all your might.
Outdoor Play.—In the afternoon the young knight, whether boy or girl, will get outdoors if possible, for there is nothing so good for us as fresh air and sunlight. Games and sports in the afternoon are just as important a part of your training as studies in school-time. Al-most all kinds of exercise are helpful, but particularly those that bring all the parts of the body into play, such as running and skating and tennis. Games that are played by teams against each other are best of all, for they not only help. you to be physically quick and strong, but also show you how to play and work with others. Most of the things that are worth while* are done by men and women working together. If you keep playing with all your might, all the time, to help the rest of the team win, with-out looking for any special glory for yourself—you will surely make a good citizen in after life.
Indoors Again.—In the late afternoon and after sup-per, or when it is too stormy to be out, there are other interesting things to do. Sewing for girls and carpentering for boys, and story books for with many other ways of passing the time as well. Even in these hours, how-ever, that little body of yours should not be entirely forgotten.
In the first place, remember that it needs fresh air even when you are indoors. If the room gets too hot, open the window and freshen up the air for a few minutes, and you will get more enjoyment from whatever you are doing and you will do it better.
When you are sitting quietly reading, your habits of holding your body are being formed, as much as when you are walking or running about. Don't loll and sit on the middle of your back with your feet on the chair or sofa. Old people and sick people and tired people may need to rest in this way, but a child should be able to sit up, straight and strong.
Don't forget to give your eyes a chance, too. Those two eyes are among your very best and most useful servants. Keep them strong and clear by always having a good light when you read or sew.
Bedtime.—At last bedtime comes. The body that has worked hard all day must rest and grow, so as to do still more to-morrow. Don't shorten the sleep time that it needs.
The teeth must be brushed again. And then—to bed, in a room with the window open to let in the cool fresh air, and off to the land of dreams with the memory of a well-spent day!