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In the North of England, a vav'mt of the OU English game of Stool Ball is played indoors in wet weather. \ number of stools arc stood in a ring to serve as wickets, with a batsman at each—the bat being a fives-bat or such as is used in Trap-Ball. The bowler stands in the centre and bowls one ball to each batsman in turn, going round the ring the same way as the hands of a watch go. If a ball is hit well away, the striker runs towards the next stool to his, and the other batsmen all run as if the game were rounders. The bowler endeavours to hit one of the stools with the ball before a player has finished his run. If the man is got out he becomes bowler. One, two, or three runs can be made at a time and scored to the striker. Sometimes there are scouts, but as a rule, the players all take stools except the bowler, who is allowed to bowl out, catch out, and throw out just as at cricket. Stool Ball on this circular system is a busy game, but it is busier with a wicketkeeper as well as a bowler. It is sometimes called Sun and Planet.
In the south of England Stool Ball is an outdoor game. It is played in Sussex with a bat like a wooden battledore, and a wicket like a small notice board, the wicket being about six inches square, and the stick on which it is fixed being about a foot from the ground. The wicket is still called the stool so as to show its origin. The same game is played indoors, when the wicket is merely a copy-book cover, a sheet of paper fixed to the wall in target fashion.
GAMES WITH TOPS.
Tops have always been favourites with boys, and rightly so, because they require some skill in their management. There are no games of mere chance with tops, because it is absolutely necessary to make a top spin, and to do that requires some little skill.
Tops may be divided roughly into three kinds, namely, those which are spun by being thrown from the hand, those which are spun by means of a handle and a string, and those which are spun by means of a whip. Of these games, the first require the most practice, the second are the easiest, and the third afford the most exercise. The common pegtop, the humming-top, and the whip-top are examples of these three divisions.
We will take peg-top first, and begin with
PEG IN The Ring.—This is the queen of all games with tops, just as is ring-taw with marbles; but before we describe it, let us tell the reader how to spin his top.
He should have a piece of stoutish whipcord, with a knot at about an inch from one end, and a large metal button attached to the other. Hold the top in the left hand, unravel the end of the whipeord beyond the knot, and slightly wet it. Then lay the wetted end along tne top just above the peg, and hold it down with the thumb. Now take the string in the
right hand and wind it round the top, beginning at the upper half of the peg, and winding gradually upwards. When you have wound up all the string, put the button between the middle and third fingers, place the thumb under the peg and the fore and middle fingers on the top, and take care to keep the string tight, as otherwise it will become unwound, and all your labour will be lost.
Now, if you merely throw it down, one of two results will happen: either the top will roll away on its side, or it will spring back, by the elasticity of the string, and hit you on the head. But it certainly will not spin. If you want to make it spin, you must hold your hand high—we always used to hold it above the head and at its full stretch —and then bring the arm down with a bold swing from the shoulder. You will then find that the top flies off the string with a kind of " swishing" sound, and comes down on its peg with very great force. A little practice will make you perfect in spinning the top, and if you know the length of your string, you can make it strike the ground exactly where you please merely by measuring with your eye the distance from the point where you stand to the spot on which you want the top to strike.
Peg in the Ring is played as follows:
A circle about five or six feet in diameter is first drawn. This is very simply managed by tying a loop at the end of the top-string, putting it round the peg of a top, and getting some one to hold the top firmly on the ground. You then roll the other end of the string round a sharp piece of stick, and go round the top with it, keeping the point of the stick on the ground and the string always at full stretch. In this way a perfect circle is drawn without any trouble. If you are playing on boards, use a soft pencil instead of the stick. Then draw a little ring, only a foot in diameter, in the middle of the large ring, and all is ready.
The game begins by the first player throwing his top at the ring and allowing it to spin. If, when it falls, it remains within the large ring, it is called "dead," and the owner is obliged to lay it in the little ring, where any one may aim at it with his own top. The same penalty is incurred if the top fails to spin, and the owner may not have his top again until it has been knocked out of the ring.
The great object in this game is to split the top belonging to somebody else. Any top may be "pegged" at as long as it remains within the large ring, no matter whether it spins or has fallen down. The object of a good player is, therefore, to try to break his neighbours' tops and to get his own out of danger as soon as possible.
In order to perform the first feat, it is best to have a top made of very hard and heavy wood, such as box, ebony, or lignum vita;, and to have the peg made tolerably sharp. If it be too sharp the top will not spin properly. Then, the peg should be a long one, because a long-pegged top runs about when spinning and generally gets out of the ring rapidly, besides offering so shifting a mark that it is not easy to hit. Moreover, when it falls, it rolls so far and so fast that, even if it should fall in the ring, it is sure to roll out, unless it should happen to be arrested by other tops.
Some very skilful players have a way of throwing the top in such a manner that if it should miss the top at which it is aimed, it leaps out of the ring at ?. single bound, and no one has a chance of hitting it. This feat is performed by drawing the arm smartly towards the body just before the top reaches the ground. It is not very easy to do, but it is so useful that every one ought to learn it who wishes to excel at this capital game.
Generally each player has four or five tops, and pegs them into the ring as fast as he can wind them up, so that as many as six or seven tops may be seen spinning at once, besides the dead tops that are lying in the small circle.
In order to guard our top from being split, we hit upon a device, which was afterwards taken up rather extensively. Generally the upper part is flat, and is often ornamented with a seal, a wafer, or some such brilliantly coloured object. Now, if an enemy's top happens to come on the centre of this flat spot, the top generally flies off in two pieces, and the owner of the conquering top takes the peg and keeps it as a trophy.
Having this in mind, we went to a turner's shop and got him to make a top according to our ideas. It was a trifle larger than the usual sine, was made of lignum vita;, and the upper part, instead of being cut off flat, was formed into a conical shape; so that whenever it was struck by another top, the peg of the enemy glanced off without doing any damage. At first our companions were inclined to denounce the top as being unfair; but they soon took a wiser course, and had tops made for themselves on the same principle.
The rules of this game are very like those of " Conqueror" at marbles, the winner being entitled to count as many pegs as the vanquished top had already conquered in addition to its own, and one more for the split top. The pegs are always kept as trophies, and some lads used to be very proud of their bags full of pegs.
Although, when a top is dead, it must be placed in the inner ring, it can always be ransomed by another. A top of some kind must be placed in the ring, and it must be a bond fide top; but there is no necessity for placing in the ring the particular top that was dead. The usual plan is to have several cheap tops at hand, and then, when a peg-top is dead, to place one of the cheap tops in the ring. The criterion of a fair top is that it can be spun, and the player who puts a cheap top into the ring may be called upon to spin it before it is accepted.
The peculiar mode of spinning which has been already mentioned, and which causes the top to leap out of the ring, is exceedingly useful for another purpose. If you have been obliged to put a dead top in the ring, you are, of course, anxious to get it out again before it has been split by one of the enemy. The best way of doing this is to aim your own top about half an inch beyond the dead top, using at the same time the "leaping" throw. If this is done properly, both tops fly out of the ring like magic, and almost in the same line.
In some places marbles are combined with tops, and whenever a top falls dead, a marble is placed within the small ring, and becomes the property of any one who can strike it with his top and drive it out of the large circle. We do not recommend this mixture, preferring that tops and marbles should be krpt distinct.
Chip StonE.—This is oneof the names for a game with tops, of which some players seem to be very fond, though we ourselves could never take mucliaterest in it. A wooden spoon is needed in this game.
A large circle is made, or two lines are drawn on the ground some five or six feet apart. Some smooth stones, about as large as horse-beans and much of the same shape, arc then placed in the middle. The first player then spins ins top in the usual manner, slips the bowl of the spoon under It, and lifts it off the ground. He then drops it on one of the stones, and tries to drive it towards the boundary-line.
He may pick the top up in the spoon and drop it on the stone as often as he likes while it continues to spin; so that if a top be properly spun, it may be dropped six or seven times on the stone, and drive it fairly across the boundary. When this is done, he keeps the stone as a trophy of success, or, in some places, he wins a marble from his antagonist. If four or five are playing, each has to pay a marble to the fortunate player who succeeds in "chipping" the pebble over the line.
Some players are wonderfully dexterous in the management of the top, and can fling it up in the air when they spin it, and catch it on the palm of the hand instead of letting it come to the ground. In this case they always hold the top with the peg upwards, and spin it in the "underhand" position, i.e., by throwing the top nearly horizontally and jerking the string backwards at the same time. The Japanese jugglers can do almost anything with a top, and can make it run along their arms, over the back, and traverse the body almost as if it were a living creature. Whip-top.—We now come to the whip-top. Every boy knows the shape
of this familiar toy; but it is not every boy who knows how to use it properly. In choosing a top, take care that it is not too high in proportion to its width,as such a top is apt to overbalance itself; and, if it be too short, the whip-lash will not cling to it properly. There used, once upon a time, to be a whip-top which had the upper half twice as wide as the lower, but we have not seen one of these for many years. The wood of which they are made should always be tolerably hard, and, in order to secure a good, rounded, and smooth point, we always used to arm the point with one of those hollow-headed brass nails which arc so largely used in furniture.
The whip is the next point. You can make a whip out of many substances. Soft buff leather makes a capital whip; and we often used to employ a very simple whip made of three or four leather boot-laces lashed to a handie. But by far the best whip is that which is made of an eel's skin.
It is easily made, and is unapproachable for efficacy. Get an eel-skin just stripped off the fish; have a wooden handle about fourteen inches in length, and slip the smaller end of the handle into the eel-skin, introducing it at the opening made by cutting off the fish's head. Then lash it very tightly with string, and your whip is complete. A good eel-skin whip is wonderfully lasting, and it will survive even leather whips, if it is properly used. It should not be allowed to get so dry as to be stiff, and, when in condition, the player may do wonders with his top.
The player must remember, by the way, that the illustrations which represent boys playing at whip-top arc nearly always wrong. They invariably make out that the boys arc holding their whips at arm's length above their heads; whereas nothing can be more absurd than such an attitude. The real stroke uf the whip comes more from the wrist than the arm; and, indeed, when a good player is watched, it will be seen that the upper part of the aim, from the shoulder to the elbow, scarcely moves at all.
In playing the game, tuck the whip under the left arm, and take the top between the hands, the fingers pointing downwards; then place the point 011 the ground and give it a smart twirl from right to left, which will make it spin for a second or two. As soon as you have m1dc it spin, snatch the whip from under the arm, and give it a smart lash at the top, drawing the hand towards you as you strike. If you hit the top fairly, this stroke will make it spin strongly, and you can then do what you like.
Sometimes boys are fond of fighting their tops. They stand about twenty yards apart, and lash their tops towards each other, so as to make them come in contact. Of course, each player tries to knock over the top of his adversary with his own. If, however, he touch the adversary's top with his own whip, he is adjudged to have lost.
Another plan is to race the tops against each other, trying to drive the top as far as possible with each stroke. Some good players at this game will lite the top fairly off the ground at each stroke and send it living through the air for several yards.
During our boyrood we had an enormous whip-top, hooped with iron to prevent it from splitting. It required at least two players to keep it up, and four were often employed on it at once. Setting it up was a difficult business; but when it was once fairly at its speed, it would go on spinning for a wonderful time. The principal difficulty lay in timing the strokes so as to allow the second, third, and fourth players to take their places.
Humming-tops.—These arc spun on the same principle as the peg-top, except in the one case the top is thrown, and in the other is held by a handle until the string is drawn away from it. Most of these tops are hollow, and have a hole at the s1de, so that as they spin they produce a deep humming sound, from which they derive their name.
Several kinds are known, some of which are intended to spin for a very long time. The tops with which the Japanese do such wonders are made on this principle, and are mostly loaded with some heavy metal, in order to give them greater weIght. The astounding Japanese top, which runs over bridges, climbs stairs, opens doors for itself, and rings bells, is made entirely of metal.
Many of these tops have the peg passing loosely through the top, so that there is no need of a handle. When the top is to be spun, the peg is held in the left hand while the string is drawn sharply with the right. The body of the top then revolves on the peg until it is placed on the table, when the two revolve together. By this plan the top may be picked up by the peg, carried about the room, put down, or even placed upside down, and will still continue to spin.
We have a whole series of these tops, the use of wnich was taught us by the Japanese professor of the art. One of them can be spun without even a