This short story comes from the 1880 publication "Play with your own Marbles, and other stories" by John James Wright. It's a great little lesson for life.
He was hanging on to a rail, in the back garden, with his legs up and his head down. He had been sitting on the rail at first watching his grandfather plant cabbages. But Syl was a smart boy. He had a curious mind that would pick up ideas in very queer ways. And so he had slung himself over the top-rail, holding on by the calves of his legs. His cap had dropped off because bis head was wrong side up, and Syl was just taking a look to see what the world would be like if it were turned upside down. "Gran'da."
This word came out of Syl's mouth as best it could under the circumstances. Grandfather turned round and smiled to himself. He was very fond of Syl. Syl had lived at grandfather's ever since his mother died. And Syl's cousin, who was a pupil teacher, ten years older than Syl, lived at grandfather's too. And the dear old man would do anything for his grandchildren—Syl especially, because he was young.
"Well, Syl," said he, " what do you want?"
"What's a bankrupt?" puffed out Syl, for he was short of breath.
"A bankrupt! Why, Sylvester, where did you see it—what makes you ask V
"Saw it on this bit o' paper," said Syl,
just as well as he could spurt the words out. And all the while, hanging on the rail, he was fumbling in his trousers pocket for a scrap of newspaper, which he tugged out at last.
"Oh, aye!" said grandfather, leaning on the handle of his spade. "I don't know, lad, how I could in-sense ye into it. Le' me see.
"Hilloh, Syl!" "Syl Martin!" Somebody shouted that, and then began to whistle like a steam-whistle. Syl sprang off the rail in a second. He knew whose whistle that was. It was the whistle of the boys. It took him a bit to find his feet, and another bit to find his legs> and a bit longer to shake his brain into order again. So that, by the time he was straight and steady, a boy called Barnie, just such another lad as Syl, had got close to him, and the two of them coolly walked off, leaving Syl's grandfather standing among his cabbages.
When Syl and Barnie had gone a little way, Barnie said:—
"Plenty!" replied Syl.
"Thought you were spang'd out o' Friday," said Barnie.
"So I was," Syl said; "Dick cleaned me out, taw an' all. Know that French * allie' o' mine? Dick won it. Eh, I teas mad! But I paid him out for it."
"Did you? How?"
"1 got Herbert Tomlinson's big blood-' allie' an' I said to Dick, when he'd won all my marbles, will you play 'knuckle-hole V Said he would. And I did give it him. I got my hole every time, and he just had to put his knuckles down for me to shoot at. And I banged at his knuckles with Herbert's blood-' allie' six times, till Dick was near crying; and I'll bet his knuckles '11 be cracked and sore yet."
While Syl told this to Barnie they had been walking towards a place where the boys played marbles. It was a very quiet place, outside the top-end of the garden, a hard, flat footpath, on the edge of a field. And the boys played ofl the corner, just behind the tall palings.
Syl had won many a score of marbles there. But lately he had lost a great many. In fact, Syl had lost all the marbles he had, besides a big lot that he had borrowed from his mates. And the worst of it was, Syl couldn't pay them back. He couldn't make it out how it was he kept losing, for he always carried what he called a 'lucky bone' in his pocket. Already he had swopped his penknife, that grandfather bought him, for marbles. And he had promised to give his rabbit to Herbert Tomlinson, if Herbert would give him another lot of marbles. This was where Syl had got the 'plenty' that he now said he had.
"But, Syl, who set you up V inquired Barnie. "Did your grandfather give you something to buy 'em?"
"No," replied Syl, " he didn't."
"Who, then?" asked Barnie.
"Nobody did," said Syl. "So never you mind. I've got plenty."
Syl was getting a little hot. He didn't want to tell a lie, and he didn't want to tell Barnie that he had borrowed so many marbles, when Barnie knew that Syl owed so many to him. So Syl shuffled and bragged, and then challenged Barnie;
"Do you want to play V said he. Barnie said he did.
They played at knocking marbles out of a hole, six a game. Barnie bobbed his big dobber into the hole and knocked out three, but they everyone rolled in again. So he didn't get them.
Syl next dropped his heavy taw among the heap of marbles, and he chipped out eight. His eyes brightened. He grabbed them all up. Then he won again. Then he lost again. Some other boys came up, and so they made the hole deeper with a piece of slate, and then all the boys played. They played, and shouted, and whistled, and disagreed, and lost and won as hard as they could until it got too dark to see the marbles. Then the boys went home, some good-humoured who had got their bags full. Others in a bad humour, because they found their marble-bags lighter. I am sorry to say that both Barnie and Syl were nearly 'banked' out. Syl, especially, I feel sorry for, because I know he thought of winning to save his rabbit, and maybe get back his knife before his gran'da might ask him for it. Anyway he was almost raging at those boys coming up just when he was being lucky with his borrowed marbles, and they had just scraped them out of him.
Syl went home in a black mood. He had no talk with his gran'da that night. Syl's busy brain was puzzling in the dark in bed as to how he might persuade Herbert Tomlinson not to take his rabbit, and what he must say to gran'da should he ask him about his knife.
It was many weeks after all this that Syl became suddenly rich in marbles in a very strange way. It was in the middle of the night. He was not dreaming. I should not have known of it, perhaps, if he had only dreamed it. At any rate I am sure that if Syl had only dreamed about marbles he would not have found them in the morning. The marbles would have gone with the dream.
But these didn't. Syl woke one morning and found in his bed, warm and close beside him, two bags full of marbles. There they were: hard, round, bright marbles. They were in two bags made of cloth: marbles in one, the bigger one; and white 'allies,' blood 'allies,' and glass 'allies' in the other little one.
Had anybody brought these bags to Syl 1 No one had. I can answer for that.
Syl stared. He thought he was dreaming awake. Still he could see everything else in the room. There was the case of stuffed birds on the chest. Here was his mother's likeness on the wall. And here, too, were two bags of marbles.
Well, Syl dressed him. You will remember he carried a 'lucky bone.' He began to think this 'hone' had something to do in bringing these mysterious marbles. And so, before he went down-stairs, Syl decided to say nothing to anybody about his 'luck.' It was Saturday, so he stowed away the bags into his jacket and trousers pocket. Then he went down-stairs.
His grandfather had been up many hours. Old men are mostly early risers. But grandfather Martin did not blame a young boy for sleeping long and sound. He just said very tenderly: "Good morning, Syl. You slept late, my lad. Haply ye knew it was Saturday's holiday."
So Syl got his breakfast, and away in good spirits. He met the mates at the marble place. Barnie was there before him. Besides, there was Dick, and Herbert, and another boy, but I just forget his name.
Syl had his bag in his hand :—the bagful of marbles that came mysteriously. He lent Barnie some to start with, and Syl, and Barnie, and Dick played at 'ring.' Herbert Tomlinson had only a few, but he wouldn't play to lose them all at once. He believed in always having a few; of course Syl owed him more marbles than I like to tell you. In fact, he really owed Herbert his rabbit. So Herbert stood by and watched the game of' ring.'
The three boys played with all their heart and soul. They put four each in the ring to begin with—that was twelve in all. Each boy used his taw well. One shot with his left hand. One just flirted with his two fingers. But all were in earnest to win.
"While Dick knelt down with his bag on the ground, and fixed his taw ready to fire, Syl could not help but clutch his wonderfully-got bag of marbles all the tighter. And thus the game went on.
Would you believe it! It was night when the boys got home again. Dinner-time had come and gone, but still the boys were playing. Teatime went by, and still the boys were busy, now winning, now losing.
When Syl got home there was a surprise for him. His cousin, who had been to college half a year, had come home for his holidays. Syl had forgotten that his cousin was coming back that day. But he was glad to see him, although his cousin used to be very hard upon him, making him do his home-lessons many a time twice over.
But his cousin did not seem glad to see Syl, and said sharply :—
"Did you steal my marbles V He looked as if he would thrash him. And Syl's blood bubbled up. He knew that he had two bags of marbles in his pockets, but he also knew that he had not stolen them.
"Did you steal my marbles?" asked his cousin again in a louder voice. And Syl answered straight:—
Just then their grandmother came down-stairs. She had been mother as well as grand-mother to both of them. "My lads," said she, "you'll surely 'gree, wont you, and have not seen one another for six months?"
Both the cousins were ashamed.
"And wher've you been, Syl, my lad? I've not seen you since forenoon, and I reckon you've had no dinner again. Get into the kitchen and wash those nasty hands, will you? and don't be long, now, and you shall have some tea and new muffin, and a piece o' pie."
Syl did as he was told. He was hungry as a hunter. He stripped off his jacket, flung it on
the sofa end, and a bag of marbles dropped
out of the pocket and clattered on to the floor.
Right up off his chair jumped Syl's cousin, picked up the bag, and gripped Syl by the shoulder. He looked at the cloth bag, and then at Syl. Grandmother was away in the pantry. And then he said—
"Syl! you've told me a lie. You said you didn't take 'em."
"Well t didn't," broke out Syl, beginning to cry.
"You didn't! Why, do you think I don't know the cloth bag I stitched myself? And this is it. And there's another bigger one somewhere. I'll be bound you have it."
And saying this, Syl's cousin seized Syl's jacket, and found in the other pocket of it the other bag.
"But I didn't steal 'em," cried Syl.
"Don't tell me," replied his cousin. "How did you get them, then V
"I found 'em in my bed," said Syl.
As Syl said this somebody went past the window. It was their grandfather, who had been to look at the horses He came in, saw Syl crying, and said—
"Now, then, lads, what's up?"
Syl's cousin spoke. Said he—" Syl has been telling lies. He told me he didn't take some marbles, and here I found them on him, bags and all."
And grandfather looked at the two cloth bags.
"Gran'da, I didn't steal them, and I havn't told a lie about them."
Grandfather looked at the boy as he stood there in his shirt sleeves, with his dirty hands, and streaks of tear-wet on that same face that had hung,upside down on the rail one day asking questions, and gran'da then said—
"No, my lad, you didn't steal 'em, and, I warrant, you've told no lies about them."
And while they were getting their suppers of milk and bread that night, grandmother and both the cousins were filled with wonder at the way in which grandfather Martin explained the mystery of the two bags of marbles. It was this: Syl did not know it himself that he often walked in his sleep. Somnambulists—that is, sleep-walkers—never do remember anything of what they do while in that way. Syl many a time did more than walk about the room. He would go from room to room, up-stairs and down. Sometimes he would climb up the bed-room wall as if he were bird-nesting; and sometimes he seemed to be picking blackberries. His dear old grandfather knew all about this, and no matter when Syl might get up in the night, grandfather would be sure to wake, and would watch the boy against harm. He didn't wake Syl up if he could get him back to bed without. So Syl knew nothing about it.
And this was how one night grandfather had seen Syl first of all playing marbles on the bedroom floor, then look in a cupboard at some of his cousin's old books, and he saw him look into a drawer under the cupboard, and find two bags. Gran'da saw Syl carry these off to bed, and as he thought they were Syl's own, which he had hidden there, he did not say anything since.
I assure you this story seemed as new as a romance to Syl himself. It opened his eyes, and his mind, and his heart. There and then, for he could hold it no longer, Syl began and told the three of them how he had swopped his knife and pledged his rabbit, and he told them that he owed Barnie ever so many marbles, and the lot he owed to Herbert Tomlinson, besides a twopenny dobber.
"Why, Syl," broke out his grandfather, "you're a bankrupt!" And they all laughed.
Gran'da rubbed his hands, and grandma stroked her apron.
"Is that a bankrupt?" said Syl, suddenly remembering that that was one of the things he one day asked his grandfather to explain.
"Ay, lad, you be a bankrupt. You owe more than you can pay. You've gone and taken what you can't pay for, and you've been playing with other folks' marbles."
Syl looked serious. He saw that gran'da was almost smiling.
"Then, what shall I do V asked Syl. "I have no marbles now."
"Oh, yes, you have," said his cousin, laughing. "Those two bags of marbles are yours. I had put them away in that drawer for you. I won them for you when I went to school, and saved them
up. And I should have given them to you before I went to college, only I thought I'd keep them till I came home on my first holiday. And then when I went to get them to give them to you, I felt so vexed not to find them.''
Syl couldn't tell what to say. He seemed to be dreaming again. Only here were the bags!
"And, my lad," said his gran'da, "let me give you this."
"What?" said Syl, for he could see nothing.
"This piece of wisdom," said his grandfather. "You'll not see it now, maybe, but you will some day. It's this :—As far as ever you can, all through life, if you want to be on the safe side, spend none but your own money. Feed yourself and clothe yourself out of your own income. Whatever you do and be, in business or pleasure, 'Play with your own marbles.'"