CHAPTER 11: WENDY’S STORY
“Listen, then,” said Wendy, settling down to her story, with Michael at her feet and seven boys in the bed. “There was once a gentleman—”
“I had rather he had been a lady,” Curly said.
“I wish he had been a white rat,” said Nibs.
“Quiet,” their mother admonished [cautioned] them. “There was a lady also, and—”
“Oh, mummy,” cried the first twin, “you mean that there is a lady also, don’t you? She is not dead, is she?”
“I am awfully glad she isn’t dead,” said Tootles. “Are you glad, John?”
“Of course I am.”
“Are you glad, Nibs?”
“Are you glad, Twins?”
“We are glad.”
“Oh dear,” sighed Wendy.
“Little less noise there,” Peter called out, determined that she should have fair play, however beastly a story it might be in his opinion.
“The gentleman’s name,” Wendy continued, “was Mr. Darling, and her name was Mrs. Darling.”
“I knew them,” John said, to annoy the others.
“I think I knew them,” said Michael rather doubtfully.
“They were married, you know,” explained Wendy, “and what do you think they had?”
“White rats,” cried Nibs, inspired.
“It’s awfully puzzling,” said Tootles, who knew the story by heart.
“Quiet, Tootles. They had three descendants.”
“What is descendants?”
“Well, you are one, Twin.”
“Did you hear that, John? I am a descendant.”
“Descendants are only children,” said John.
“Oh dear, oh dear,” sighed Wendy. “Now these three children had a faithful nurse called Nana; but Mr. Darling was angry with her and chained her up in the yard, and so all the children flew away.”
“It’s an awfully good story,” said Nibs.
“They flew away,” Wendy continued, “to the Neverland, where the lost children are.”
“I just thought they did,” Curly broke in excitedly. “I don’t know how it is, but I just thought they did!”
“O Wendy,” cried Tootles, “was one of the lost children called Tootles?”
“Yes, he was.”
“I am in a story. Hurrah, I am in a story, Nibs.”
“Hush. Now I want you to consider the feelings of the unhappy parents with all their children flown away.”
“Oo!” they all moaned, though they were not really considering the feelings of the unhappy parents one jot.
“Think of the empty beds!”
“It’s awfully sad,” the first twin said cheerfully.
“I don’t see how it can have a happy ending,” said the second twin. “Do you, Nibs?”
“I’m frightfully anxious.”
“If you knew how great is a mother’s love,” Wendy told them triumphantly, “you would have no fear.” She had now come to the part that Peter hated.
“I do like a mother’s love,” said Tootles, hitting Nibs with a pillow. “Do you like a mother’s love, Nibs?”
“I do just,” said Nibs, hitting back.
“You see,” Wendy said complacently, “our heroine knew that the mother would always leave the window open for her children to fly back by; so they stayed away for years and had a lovely time.”
“Did they ever go back?”
“Let us now,” said Wendy, bracing herself up for her finest effort, “take a peep into the future;” and they all gave themselves the twist that makes peeps into the future easier. “Years have rolled by, and who is this elegant lady of uncertain age alighting at London Station?”
“O Wendy, who is she?” cried Nibs, every bit as excited as if he didn’t know.
“Can it be—yes—no—it is—the fair Wendy!”
“And who are the two noble portly figures accompanying her, now grown to man’s estate? Can they be John and Michael? They are!”
“‘See, dear brothers,’ says Wendy pointing upwards, ‘there is the window still standing open. Ah, now we are rewarded for our sublime faith in a mother’s love.’ So up they flew to their mummy and daddy, and pen cannot describe the happy scene, over which we draw a veil.”
That was the story, and they were as pleased with it as the fair narrator herself. Everything just as it should be, you see. Off we skip like the most heartless things in the world, which is what children are, but so attractive; and we have an entirely selfish time, and then when we have need of special attention we nobly return for it, confident that we shall be rewarded instead of smacked.
So great indeed was their faith in a mother’s love that they felt they could afford to be callous for a bit longer.
But there was one there who knew better, and when Wendy finished he uttered a hollow groan.
“What is it, Peter?” she cried, running to him, thinking he was ill. She felt him solicitously, lower down than his chest. “Where is it, Peter?”
“It isn’t that kind of pain,” Peter replied darkly.
“Then what kind is it?”
“Wendy, you are wrong about mothers.”
They all gathered round him in affright, so alarming was his agitation; and with a fine candour he told them what he had hitherto concealed.
“Long ago,” he said, “I thought like you that my mother would always keep the window open for me, so I stayed away for moons and moons and moons, and then flew back; but the window was barred, for mother had forgotten all about me, and there was another little boy sleeping in my bed.”
I am not sure that this was true, but Peter thought it was true; and it scared them.
“Are you sure mothers are like that?”
So this was the truth about mothers. The toads!
Still it is best to be careful; and no one knows so quickly as a child when he should give in. “Wendy, let us [let’s] go home,” cried John and Michael together.
“Yes,” she said, clutching them.
“Not to-night?” asked the lost boys bewildered. They knew in what they called their hearts that one can get on quite well without a mother, and that it is only the mothers who think you can’t.
“At once,” Wendy replied resolutely, for the horrible thought had come to her: “Perhaps mother is in half mourning by this time.”
This dread made her forgetful of what must be Peter’s feelings, and she said to him rather sharply, “Peter, will you make the necessary arrangements?”
“If you wish it,” he replied, as coolly as if she had asked him to pass the nuts.
Not so much as a sorry-to-lose-you between them! If she did not mind the parting, he was going to show her, was Peter, that neither did he.
But of course he cared very much; and he was so full of wrath against grown-ups, who, as usual, were spoiling everything, that as soon as he got inside his tree he breathed intentionally quick short breaths at the rate of about five to a second. He did this because there is a saying in the Neverland that, every time you breathe, a grown-up dies; and Peter was killing them off vindictively as fast as possible.
Then having given the necessary instructions to the redskins he returned to the home, where an unworthy scene had been enacted in his absence. Panic-stricken at the thought of losing Wendy the lost boys had advanced upon her threateningly.
“It will be worse than before she came,” they cried.
“We shan’t let her go.”
“Let’s keep her prisoner.”
“Ay, chain her up.”
In her extremity an instinct told her to which of them to turn.
“Tootles,” she cried, “I appeal to you.”
Was it not strange? She appealed to Tootles, quite the silliest one.
Grandly, however, did Tootles respond. For that one moment he dropped his silliness and spoke with dignity.
“I am just Tootles,” he said, “and nobody minds me. But the first who does not behave to Wendy like an English gentleman I will blood him severely.”
He drew back his hanger; and for that instant his sun was at noon. The others held back uneasily. Then Peter returned, and they saw at once that they would get no support from him. He would keep no girl in the Neverland against her will.
“Wendy,” he said, striding up and down, “I have asked the redskins to guide you through the wood, as flying tires you so.”
“Thank you, Peter.”
“Then,” he continued, in the short sharp voice of one accustomed to be obeyed, “Tinker Bell will take you across the sea. Wake her, Nibs.”
Nibs had to knock twice before he got an answer, though Tink had really been sitting up in bed listening for some time.
“Who are you? How dare you? Go away,” she cried.
“You are to get up, Tink,” Nibs called, “and take Wendy on a journey.”
Of course Tink had been delighted to hear that Wendy was going; but she was jolly well determined not to be her courier, and she said so in still more offensive language. Then she pretended to be asleep again.
“She says she won’t!” Nibs exclaimed, aghast at such insubordination, whereupon Peter went sternly toward the young lady’s chamber.
“Tink,” he rapped out, “if you don’t get up and dress at once I will open the curtains, and then we shall all see you in your negligee [nightgown].”
This made her leap to the floor. “Who said I wasn’t getting up?” she cried.
In the meantime the boys were gazing very forlornly at Wendy, now equipped with John and Michael for the journey. By this time they were dejected, not merely because they were about to lose her, but also because they felt that she was going off to something nice to which they had not been invited. Novelty was beckoning to them as usual.
Crediting them with a nobler feeling Wendy melted.
“Dear ones,” she said, “if you will all come with me I feel almost sure I can get my father and mother to adopt you.”
The invitation was meant specially for Peter, but each of the boys was thinking exclusively of himself, and at once they jumped with joy.
“But won’t they think us rather a handful?” Nibs asked in the middle of his jump.
“Oh no,” said Wendy, rapidly thinking it out, “it will only mean having a few beds in the drawing-room; they can be hidden behind the screens on first Thursdays.”
“Peter, can we go?” they all cried imploringly. They took it for granted that if they went he would go also, but really they scarcely cared. Thus children are ever ready, when novelty knocks, to desert their dearest ones.
“All right,” Peter replied with a bitter smile, and immediately they rushed to get their things.
“And now, Peter,” Wendy said, thinking she had put everything right, “I am going to give you your medicine before you go.” She loved to give them medicine, and undoubtedly gave them too much. Of course it was only water, but it was out of a bottle, and she always shook the bottle and counted the drops, which gave it a certain medicinal quality. On this occasion, however, she did not give Peter his draught [portion], for just as she had prepared it, she saw a look on his face that made her heart sink.
“Get your things, Peter,” she cried, shaking.
“No,” he answered, pretending indifference, “I am not going with you, Wendy.”
To show that her departure would leave him unmoved, he skipped up and down the room, playing gaily on his heartless pipes. She had to run about after him, though it was rather undignified.
“To find your mother,” she coaxed.
Now, if Peter had ever quite had a mother, he no longer missed her. He could do very well without one. He had thought them out, and remembered only their bad points.
“No, no,” he told Wendy decisively; “perhaps she would say I was old, and I just want always to be a little boy and to have fun.”
And so the others had to be told.
“Peter isn’t coming.”
Peter not coming! They gazed blankly at him, their sticks over their backs, and on each stick a bundle. Their first thought was that if Peter was not going he had probably changed his mind about letting them go.
But he was far too proud for that. “If you find your mothers,” he said darkly, “I hope you will like them.”
The awful cynicism of this made an uncomfortable impression, and most of them began to look rather doubtful. After all, their faces said, were they not noodles to want to go?
“Now then,” cried Peter, “no fuss, no blubbering; good-bye, Wendy;” and he held out his hand cheerily, quite as if they must really go now, for he had something important to do.
She had to take his hand, and there was no indication that he would prefer a thimble.
“You will remember about changing your flannels, Peter?” she said, lingering over him. She was always so particular about their flannels.
“And you will take your medicine?”
That seemed to be everything, and an awkward pause followed. Peter, however, was not the kind that breaks down before other people. “Are you ready, Tinker Bell?” he called out.
“Then lead the way.”
Tink darted up the nearest tree; but no one followed her, for it was at this moment that the pirates made their dreadful attack upon the redskins. Above, where all had been so still, the air was rent with shrieks and the clash of steel. Below, there was dead silence. Mouths opened and remained open. Wendy fell on her knees, but her arms were extended toward Peter. All arms were extended to him, as if suddenly blown in his direction; they were beseeching him mutely not to desert them. As for Peter, he seized his sword, the same he thought he had slain Barbecue with, and the lust of battle was in his eye.
CHAPTER 12: THE CHILDREN ARE CARRIED OFF
The pirate attack had been a complete surprise: a sure proof that the unscrupulous Hook had conducted it improperly, for to surprise redskins fairly is beyond the wit of the white man.
By all the unwritten laws of savage warfare it is always the redskin who attacks, and with the wiliness of his race he does it just before the dawn, at which time he knows the courage of the whites to be at its lowest ebb. The white men have in the meantime made a rude stockade on the summit of yonder undulating ground, at the foot of which a stream runs, for it is destruction to be too far from water. There they await the onslaught, the inexperienced ones clutching their revolvers and treading on twigs, but the old hands sleeping tranquilly until just before the dawn. Through the long black night the savage scouts wriggle, snake-like, among the grass without stirring a blade. The brushwood closes behind them, as silently as sand into which a mole has dived. Not a sound is to be heard, save when they give vent to a wonderful imitation of the lonely call of the coyote. The cry is answered by other braves; and some of them do it even better than the coyotes, who are not very good at it. So the chill hours wear on, and the long suspense is horribly trying to the paleface who has to live through it for the first time; but to the trained hand those ghastly calls and still ghastlier silences are but an intimation of how the night is marching.
That this was the usual procedure was so well known to Hook that in disregarding it he cannot be excused on the plea of ignorance.
The Piccaninnies, on their part, trusted implicitly to his honour, and their whole action of the night stands out in marked contrast to his. They left nothing undone that was consistent with the reputation of their tribe. With that alertness of the senses which is at once the marvel and despair of civilised peoples, they knew that the pirates were on the island from the moment one of them trod on a dry stick; and in an incredibly short space of time the coyote cries began. Every foot of ground between the spot where Hook had landed his forces and the home under the trees was stealthily examined by braves wearing their mocassins with the heels in front. They found only one hillock with a stream at its base, so that Hook had no choice; here he must establish himself and wait for just before the dawn. Everything being thus mapped out with almost diabolical cunning, the main body of the redskins folded their blankets around them, and in the phlegmatic manner that is to them, the pearl of manhood squatted above the children’s home, awaiting the cold moment when they should deal pale death.
Here dreaming, though wide-awake, of the exquisite tortures to which they were to put him at break of day, those confiding savages were found by the treacherous Hook. From the accounts afterwards supplied by such of the scouts as escaped the carnage, he does not seem even to have paused at the rising ground, though it is certain that in that grey light he must have seen it: no thought of waiting to be attacked appears from first to last to have visited his subtle mind; he would not even hold off till the night was nearly spent; on he pounded with no policy but to fall to [get into combat]. What could the bewildered scouts do, masters as they were of every war-like artifice save this one, but trot helplessly after him, exposing themselves fatally to view, while they gave pathetic utterance to the coyote cry.
Around the brave Tiger Lily were a dozen of her stoutest warriors, and they suddenly saw the perfidious pirates bearing down upon them. Fell from their eyes then the film through which they had looked at victory. No more would they torture at the stake. For them the happy hunting-grounds was now. They knew it; but as their father’s sons they acquitted themselves. Even then they had time to gather in a phalanx [dense formation] that would have been hard to break had they risen quickly, but this they were forbidden to do by the traditions of their race. It is written that the noble savage must never express surprise in the presence of the white. Thus terrible as the sudden appearance of the pirates must have been to them, they remained stationary for a moment, not a muscle moving; as if the foe had come by invitation. Then, indeed, the tradition gallantly upheld, they seized their weapons, and the air was torn with the war-cry; but it was now too late.
It is no part of ours to describe what was a massacre rather than a fight. Thus perished many of the flower of the Piccaninny tribe. Not all unavenged did they die, for with Lean Wolf fell Alf Mason, to disturb the Spanish Main no more, and among others who bit the dust were Geo. Scourie, Chas. Turley, and the Alsatian Foggerty. Turley fell to the tomahawk of the terrible Panther, who ultimately cut a way through the pirates with Tiger Lily and a small remnant of the tribe.
To what extent Hook is to blame for his tactics on this occasion is for the historian to decide. Had he waited on the rising ground till the proper hour he and his men would probably have been butchered; and in judging him it is only fair to take this into account. What he should perhaps have done was to acquaint his opponents that he proposed to follow a new method. On the other hand, this, as destroying the element of surprise, would have made his strategy of no avail, so that the whole question is beset with difficulties. One cannot at least withhold a reluctant admiration for the wit that had conceived so bold a scheme, and the fell [deadly] genius with which it was carried out.
What were his own feelings about himself at that triumphant moment? Fain [gladly] would his dogs have known, as breathing heavily and wiping their cutlasses, they gathered at a discreet distance from his hook, and squinted through their ferret eyes at this extraordinary man. Elation must have been in his heart, but his face did not reflect it: ever a dark and solitary enigma, he stood aloof from his followers in spirit as in substance.
The night’s work was not yet over, for it was not the redskins he had come out to destroy; they were but the bees to be smoked, so that he should get at the honey. It was Pan he wanted, Pan and Wendy and their band, but chiefly Pan.
Peter was such a small boy that one tends to wonder at the man’s hatred of him. True he had flung Hook’s arm to the crocodile, but even this and the increased insecurity of life to which it led, owing to the crocodile’s pertinacity [persistance], hardly account for a vindictiveness so relentless and malignant. The truth is that there was a something about Peter which goaded the pirate captain to frenzy. It was not his courage, it was not his engaging appearance, it was not—. There is no beating about the bush, for we know quite well what it was, and have got to tell. It was Peter’s cockiness.
This had got on Hook’s nerves; it made his iron claw twitch, and at night it disturbed him like an insect. While Peter lived, the tortured man felt that he was a lion in a cage into which a sparrow had come.
The question now was how to get down the trees, or how to get his dogs down? He ran his greedy eyes over them, searching for the thinnest ones. They wriggled uncomfortably, for they knew he would not scruple [hesitate] to ram them down with poles.
In the meantime, what of the boys? We have seen them at the first clang of the weapons, turned as it were into stone figures, open-mouthed, all appealing with outstretched arms to Peter; and we return to them as their mouths close, and their arms fall to their sides. The pandemonium above has ceased almost as suddenly as it arose, passed like a fierce gust of wind; but they know that in the passing it has determined their fate.
Which side had won?
The pirates, listening avidly at the mouths of the trees, heard the question put by every boy, and alas, they also heard Peter’s answer.
“If the redskins have won,” he said, “they will beat the tom-tom; it is always their sign of victory.”
Now Smee had found the tom-tom, and was at that moment sitting on it. “You will never hear the tom-tom again,” he muttered, but inaudibly of course, for strict silence had been enjoined [urged]. To his amazement Hook signed him to beat the tom-tom, and slowly there came to Smee an understanding of the dreadful wickedness of the order. Never, probably, had this simple man admired Hook so much.
Twice Smee beat upon the instrument, and then stopped to listen gleefully.
“The tom-tom,” the miscreants heard Peter cry; “an Indian victory!”
The doomed children answered with a cheer that was music to the black hearts above, and almost immediately they repeated their good-byes to Peter. This puzzled the pirates, but all their other feelings were swallowed by a base delight that the enemy were about to come up the trees. They smirked at each other and rubbed their hands. Rapidly and silently Hook gave his orders: one man to each tree, and the others to arrange themselves in a line two yards apart.
CHAPTER 13: DO YOU BELIEVE IN FAIRIES?
The more quickly this horror is disposed of the better. The first to emerge from his tree was Curly. He rose out of it into the arms of Cecco, who flung him to Smee, who flung him to Starkey, who flung him to Bill Jukes, who flung him to Noodler, and so he was tossed from one to another till he fell at the feet of the black pirate. All the boys were plucked from their trees in this ruthless manner; and several of them were in the air at a time, like bales of goods flung from hand to hand.
A different treatment was accorded to Wendy, who came last. With ironical politeness Hook raised his hat to her, and, offering her his arm, escorted her to the spot where the others were being gagged. He did it with such an air, he was so frightfully DISTINGUE [imposingly distinguished], that she was too fascinated to cry out. She was only a little girl.
Perhaps it is tell-tale to divulge that for a moment Hook entranced her, and we tell on her only because her slip led to strange results. Had she haughtily unhanded him (and we should have loved to write it of her), she would have been hurled through the air like the others, and then Hook would probably not have been present at the tying of the children; and had he not been at the tying he would not have discovered Slightly’s secret, and without the secret he could not presently have made his foul attempt on Peter’s life.
They were tied to prevent their flying away, doubled up with their knees close to their ears; and for the trussing of them the black pirate had cut a rope into nine equal pieces. All went well until Slightly’s turn came, when he was found to be like those irritating parcels that use up all the string in going round and leave no tags [ends] with which to tie a knot. The pirates kicked him in their rage, just as you kick the parcel (though in fairness you should kick the string); and strange to say it was Hook who told them to belay their violence. His lip was curled with malicious triumph. While his dogs were merely sweating because every time they tried to pack the unhappy lad tight in one part he bulged out in another, Hook’s master mind had gone far beneath Slightly’s surface, probing not for effects but for causes; and his exultation showed that he had found them. Slightly, white to the gills, knew that Hook had surprised [discovered] his secret, which was this, that no boy so blown out could use a tree wherein an average man need stick. Poor Slightly, most wretched of all the children now, for he was in a panic about Peter, bitterly regretted what he had done. Madly addicted to the drinking of water when he was hot, he had swelled in consequence to his present girth, and instead of reducing himself to fit his tree he had, unknown to the others, whittled his tree to make it fit him.
Sufficient of this Hook guessed to persuade him that Peter at last lay at his mercy, but no word of the dark design that now formed in the subterranean caverns of his mind crossed his lips; he merely signed that the captives were to be conveyed to the ship, and that he would be alone.
How to convey them? Hunched up in their ropes they might indeed be rolled down hill like barrels, but most of the way lay through a morass. Again Hook’s genius surmounted difficulties. He indicated that the little house must be used as a conveyance. The children were flung into it, four stout pirates raised it on their shoulders, the others fell in behind, and singing the hateful pirate chorus the strange procession set off through the wood. I don’t know whether any of the children were crying; if so, the singing drowned the sound; but as the little house disappeared in the forest, a brave though tiny jet of smoke issued from its chimney as if defying Hook.
Hook saw it, and it did Peter a bad service. It dried up any trickle of pity for him that may have remained in the pirate’s infuriated breast.
The first thing he did on finding himself alone in the fast falling night was to tiptoe to Slightly’s tree, and make sure that it provided him with a passage. Then for long he remained brooding; his hat of ill omen on the sward, so that any gentle breeze which had arisen might play refreshingly through his hair. Dark as were his thoughts his blue eyes were as soft as the periwinkle. Intently he listened for any sound from the nether world, but all was as silent below as above; the house under the ground seemed to be but one more empty tenement in the void. Was that boy asleep, or did he stand waiting at the foot of Slightly’s tree, with his dagger in his hand?
There was no way of knowing, save by going down. Hook let his cloak slip softly to the ground, and then biting his lips till a lewd blood stood on them, he stepped into the tree. He was a brave man, but for a moment he had to stop there and wipe his brow, which was dripping like a candle. Then, silently, he let himself go into the unknown.
He arrived unmolested at the foot of the shaft, and stood still again, biting at his breath, which had almost left him. As his eyes became accustomed to the dim light various objects in the home under the trees took shape; but the only one on which his greedy gaze rested, long sought for and found at last, was the great bed. On the bed lay Peter fast asleep.
Unaware of the tragedy being enacted above, Peter had continued, for a little time after the children left, to play gaily on his pipes: no doubt rather a forlorn attempt to prove to himself that he did not care. Then he decided not to take his medicine, so as to grieve Wendy. Then he lay down on the bed outside the coverlet, to vex her still more; for she had always tucked them inside it, because you never know that you may not grow chilly at the turn of the night. Then he nearly cried; but it struck him how indignant she would be if he laughed instead; so he laughed a haughty laugh and fell asleep in the middle of it.
Sometimes, though not often, he had dreams, and they were more painful than the dreams of other boys. For hours he could not be separated from these dreams, though he wailed piteously in them. They had to do, I think, with the riddle of his existence. At such times it had been Wendy’s custom to take him out of bed and sit with him on her lap, soothing him in dear ways of her own invention, and when he grew calmer to put him back to bed before he quite woke up, so that he should not know of the indignity to which she had subjected him. But on this occasion he had fallen at once into a dreamless sleep. One arm dropped over the edge of the bed, one leg was arched, and the unfinished part of his laugh was stranded on his mouth, which was open, showing the little pearls.
Thus defenceless Hook found him. He stood silent at the foot of the tree looking across the chamber at his enemy. Did no feeling of compassion disturb his sombre breast? The man was not wholly evil; he loved flowers (I have been told) and sweet music (he was himself no mean performer on the harpsichord); and, let it be frankly admitted, the idyllic nature of the scene stirred him profoundly. Mastered by his better self he would have returned reluctantly up the tree, but for one thing.
What stayed him was Peter’s impertinent appearance as he slept. The open mouth, the drooping arm, the arched knee: they were such a personification of cockiness as, taken together, will never again, one may hope, be presented to eyes so sensitive to their offensiveness. They steeled Hook’s heart. If his rage had broken him into a hundred pieces every one of them would have disregarded the incident, and leapt at the sleeper.
Though a light from the one lamp shone dimly on the bed, Hook stood in darkness himself, and at the first stealthy step forward he discovered an obstacle, the door of Slightly’s tree. It did not entirely fill the aperture, and he had been looking over it. Feeling for the catch, he found to his fury that it was low down, beyond his reach. To his disordered brain it seemed then that the irritating quality in Peter’s face and figure visibly increased, and he rattled the door and flung himself against it. Was his enemy to escape him after all?
But what was that? The red in his eye had caught sight of Peter’s medicine standing on a ledge within easy reach. He fathomed what it was straightaway, and immediately knew that the sleeper was in his power.
Lest he should be taken alive, Hook always carried about his person a dreadful drug, blended by himself of all the death-dealing rings that had come into his possession. These he had boiled down into a yellow liquid quite unknown to science, which was probably the most virulent poison in existence.
Five drops of this he now added to Peter’s cup. His hand shook, but it was in exultation rather than in shame. As he did it he avoided glancing at the sleeper, but not lest pity should unnerve him; merely to avoid spilling. Then one long gloating look he cast upon his victim, and turning, wormed his way with difficulty up the tree. As he emerged at the top he looked the very spirit of evil breaking from its hole. Donning his hat at its most rakish angle, he wound his cloak around him, holding one end in front as if to conceal his person from the night, of which it was the blackest part, and muttering strangely to himself, stole away through the trees.
Peter slept on. The light guttered [burned to edges] and went out, leaving the tenement in darkness; but still he slept. It must have been not less than ten o’clock by the crocodile, when he suddenly sat up in his bed, wakened by he knew not what. It was a soft cautious tapping on the door of his tree.
Soft and cautious, but in that stillness it was sinister. Peter felt for his dagger till his hand gripped it. Then he spoke.
“Who is that?”
For long there was no answer: then again the knock.
“Who are you?”
He was thrilled, and he loved being thrilled. In two strides he reached the door. Unlike Slightly’s door, it filled the aperture [opening], so that he could not see beyond it, nor could the one knocking see him.
“I won’t open unless you speak,” Peter cried.
Then at last the visitor spoke, in a lovely bell-like voice.
“Let me in, Peter.”
It was Tink, and quickly he unbarred to her. She flew in excitedly, her face flushed and her dress stained with mud.
“What is it?”
“Oh, you could never guess!” she cried, and offered him three guesses. “Out with it!” he shouted, and in one ungrammatical sentence, as long as the ribbons that conjurers [magicians] pull from their mouths, she told of the capture of Wendy and the boys.
Peter’s heart bobbed up and down as he listened. Wendy bound, and on the pirate ship; she who loved everything to be just so!
“I’ll rescue her!” he cried, leaping at his weapons. As he leapt he thought of something he could do to please her. He could take his medicine.
His hand closed on the fatal draught.
“No!” shrieked Tinker Bell, who had heard Hook mutter about his deed as he sped through the forest.
“It is poisoned.”
“Poisoned? Who could have poisoned it?”
“Don’t be silly. How could Hook have got down here?”
Alas, Tinker Bell could not explain this, for even she did not know the dark secret of Slightly’s tree. Nevertheless Hook’s words had left no room for doubt. The cup was poisoned.
“Besides,” said Peter, quite believing himself “I never fell asleep.”
He raised the cup. No time for words now; time for deeds; and with one of her lightning movements Tink got between his lips and the draught, and drained it to the dregs.
“Why, Tink, how dare you drink my medicine?”
But she did not answer. Already she was reeling in the air.
“What is the matter with you?” cried Peter, suddenly afraid.
“It was poisoned, Peter,” she told him softly; “and now I am going to be dead.”
“O Tink, did you drink it to save me?”
“But why, Tink?”
Her wings would scarcely carry her now, but in reply she alighted on his shoulder and gave his nose a loving bite. She whispered in his ear “You silly ass,” and then, tottering to her chamber, lay down on the bed.
His head almost filled the fourth wall of her little room as he knelt near her in distress. Every moment her light was growing fainter; and he knew that if it went out she would be no more. She liked his tears so much that she put out her beautiful finger and let them run over it.
Her voice was so low that at first he could not make out what she said. Then he made it out. She was saying that she thought she could get well again if children believed in fairies.
Peter flung out his arms. There were no children there, and it was night time; but he addressed all who might be dreaming of the Neverland, and who were therefore nearer to him than you think: boys and girls in their nighties, and naked papooses in their baskets hung from trees.
“Do you believe?” he cried.
Tink sat up in bed almost briskly to listen to her fate.
She fancied she heard answers in the affirmative, and then again she wasn’t sure.
“What do you think?” she asked Peter.
“If you believe,” he shouted to them, “clap your hands; don’t let Tink die.”
A few beasts hissed.
The clapping stopped suddenly; as if countless mothers had rushed to their nurseries to see what on earth was happening; but already Tink was saved. First her voice grew strong, then she popped out of bed, then she was flashing through the room more merry and impudent than ever. She never thought of thanking those who believed, but she would have like to get at the ones who had hissed.
“And now to rescue Wendy!”
The moon was riding in a cloudy heaven when Peter rose from his tree, begirt [belted] with weapons and wearing little else, to set out upon his perilous quest. It was not such a night as he would have chosen. He had hoped to fly, keeping not far from the ground so that nothing unwonted should escape his eyes; but in that fitful light to have flown low would have meant trailing his shadow through the trees, thus disturbing birds and acquainting a watchful foe that he was astir.
He regretted now that he had given the birds of the island such strange names that they are very wild and difficult of approach.
There was no other course but to press forward in redskin fashion, at which happily he was an adept [expert]. But in what direction, for he could not be sure that the children had been taken to the ship? A light fall of snow had obliterated all footmarks; and a deathly silence pervaded the island, as if for a space Nature stood still in horror of the recent carnage. He had taught the children something of the forest lore that he had himself learned from Tiger Lily and Tinker Bell, and knew that in their dire hour they were not likely to forget it. Slightly, if he had an opportunity, would blaze [cut a mark in] the trees, for instance, Curly would drop seeds, and Wendy would leave her handkerchief at some important place. The morning was needed to search for such guidance, and he could not wait. The upper world had called him, but would give no help.
The crocodile passed him, but not another living thing, not a sound, not a movement; and yet he knew well that sudden death might be at the next tree, or stalking him from behind.
He swore this terrible oath: “Hook or me this time.”
Now he crawled forward like a snake, and again erect, he darted across a space on which the moonlight played, one finger on his lip and his dagger at the ready. He was frightfully happy.
CHAPTER 14: THE PIRATE SHIP
One green light squinting over Kidd’s Creek, which is near the mouth of the pirate river, marked where the brig, the JOLLY ROGER, lay, low in the water; a rakish-looking [speedy-looking] craft foul to the hull, every beam in her detestable, like ground strewn with mangled feathers. She was the cannibal of the seas, and scarce needed that watchful eye, for she floated immune in the horror of her name.
She was wrapped in the blanket of night, through which no sound from her could have reached the shore. There was little sound, and none agreeable save the whir of the ship’s sewing machine at which Smee sat, ever industrious and obliging, the essence of the commonplace, pathetic Smee. I know not why he was so infinitely pathetic, unless it were because he was so pathetically unaware of it; but even strong men had to turn hastily from looking at him, and more than once on summer evenings he had touched the fount of Hook’s tears and made it flow. Of this, as of almost everything else, Smee was quite unconscious.
A few of the pirates leant over the bulwarks, drinking in the miasma [putrid mist] of the night; others sprawled by barrels over games of dice and cards; and the exhausted four who had carried the little house lay prone on the deck, where even in their sleep they rolled skillfully to this side or that out of Hook’s reach, lest he should claw them mechanically in passing.
Hook trod the deck in thought. O man unfathomable. It was his hour of triumph. Peter had been removed for ever from his path, and all the other boys were in the brig, about to walk the plank. It was his grimmest deed since the days when he had brought Barbecue to heel; and knowing as we do how vain a tabernacle is man, could we be surprised had he now paced the deck unsteadily, bellied out by the winds of his success?
But there was no elation in his gait, which kept pace with the action of his sombre mind. Hook was profoundly dejected.
He was often thus when communing with himself on board ship in the quietude of the night. It was because he was so terribly alone. This inscrutable man never felt more alone than when surrounded by his dogs. They were socially inferior to him.
Hook was not his true name. To reveal who he really was would even at this date set the country in a blaze; but as those who read between the lines must already have guessed, he had been at a famous public school; and its traditions still clung to him like garments, with which indeed they are largely concerned. Thus it was offensive to him even now to board a ship in the same dress in which he grappled [attacked] her, and he still adhered in his walk to the school’s distinguished slouch. But above all he retained the passion for good form.
Good form! However much he may have degenerated, he still knew that this is all that really matters.
From far within him he heard a creaking as of rusty portals, and through them came a stern tap-tap-tap, like hammering in the night when one cannot sleep. “Have you been good form to-day?” was their eternal question.
“Fame, fame, that glittering bauble, it is mine,” he cried.
“Is it quite good form to be distinguished at anything?” the tap-tap from his school replied.
“I am the only man whom Barbecue feared,” he urged, “and Flint feared Barbecue.”
“Barbecue, Flint—what house?” came the cutting retort.
Most disquieting reflection of all, was it not bad form to think about good form?
His vitals were tortured by this problem. It was a claw within him sharper than the iron one; and as it tore him, the perspiration dripped down his tallow [waxy] countenance and streaked his doublet. Ofttimes he drew his sleeve across his face, but there was no damming that trickle.
Ah, envy not Hook.
There came to him a presentiment of his early dissolution [death]. It was as if Peter’s terrible oath had boarded the ship. Hook felt a gloomy desire to make his dying speech, lest presently there should be no time for it.
“Better for Hook,” he cried, “if he had had less ambition!” It was in his darkest hours only that he referred to himself in the third person.
“No little children to love me!”
Strange that he should think of this, which had never troubled him before; perhaps the sewing machine brought it to his mind. For long he muttered to himself, staring at Smee, who was hemming placidly, under the conviction that all children feared him.
Feared him! Feared Smee! There was not a child on board the brig that night who did not already love him. He had said horrid things to them and hit them with the palm of his hand, because he could not hit with his fist, but they had only clung to him the more. Michael had tried on his spectacles.
To tell poor Smee that they thought him lovable! Hook itched to do it, but it seemed too brutal. Instead, he revolved this mystery in his mind: why do they find Smee lovable? He pursued the problem like the sleuth-hound that he was. If Smee was lovable, what was it that made him so? A terrible answer suddenly presented itself—”Good form?”
Had the bo’sun good form without knowing it, which is the best form of all?
He remembered that you have to prove you don’t know you have it before you are eligible for Pop [an elite social club at Eton].
With a cry of rage he raised his iron hand over Smee’s head; but he did not tear. What arrested him was this reflection:
“To claw a man because he is good form, what would that be?”
The unhappy Hook was as impotent [powerless] as he was damp, and he fell forward like a cut flower.
His dogs thinking him out of the way for a time, discipline instantly relaxed; and they broke into a bacchanalian [drunken] dance, which brought him to his feet at once, all traces of human weakness gone, as if a bucket of water had passed over him.
“Quiet, you scugs,” he cried, “or I’ll cast anchor in you;” and at once the din was hushed. “Are all the children chained, so that they cannot fly away?”
“Then hoist them up.”
The wretched prisoners were dragged from the hold, all except Wendy, and ranged in line in front of him. For a time he seemed unconscious of their presence. He lolled at his ease, humming, not unmelodiously, snatches of a rude song, and fingering a pack of cards. Ever and anon the light from his cigar gave a touch of colour to his face.
“Now then, bullies,” he said briskly, “six of you walk the plank to-night, but I have room for two cabin boys. Which of you is it to be?”
“Don’t irritate him unnecessarily,” had been Wendy’s instructions in the hold; so Tootles stepped forward politely. Tootles hated the idea of signing under such a man, but an instinct told him that it would be prudent to lay the responsibility on an absent person; and though a somewhat silly boy, he knew that mothers alone are always willing to be the buffer. All children know this about mothers, and despise them for it, but make constant use of it.
So Tootles explained prudently, “You see, sir, I don’t think my mother would like me to be a pirate. Would your mother like you to be a pirate, Slightly?”
He winked at Slightly, who said mournfully, “I don’t think so,” as if he wished things had been otherwise. “Would your mother like you to be a pirate, Twin?”
“I don’t think so,” said the first twin, as clever as the others. “Nibs, would—”
“Stow this gab,” roared Hook, and the spokesmen were dragged back. “You, boy,” he said, addressing John, “you look as if you had a little pluck in you. Didst never want to be a pirate, my hearty?”
Now John had sometimes experienced this hankering at maths. prep.; and he was struck by Hook’s picking him out.
“I once thought of calling myself Red-handed Jack,” he said diffidently.
“And a good name too. We’ll call you that here, bully, if you join.”
“What do you think, Michael?” asked John.
“What would you call me if I join?” Michael demanded.
Michael was naturally impressed. “What do you think, John?” He wanted John to decide, and John wanted him to decide.
“Shall we still be respectful subjects of the King?” John inquired.
Through Hook’s teeth came the answer: “You would have to swear, ‘Down with the King.'”
Perhaps John had not behaved very well so far, but he shone out now.
“Then I refuse,” he cried, banging the barrel in front of Hook.
“And I refuse,” cried Michael.
“Rule Britannia!” squeaked Curly.
The infuriated pirates buffeted them in the mouth; and Hook roared out, “That seals your doom. Bring up their mother. Get the plank ready.”
They were only boys, and they went white as they saw Jukes and Cecco preparing the fatal plank. But they tried to look brave when Wendy was brought up.
No words of mine can tell you how Wendy despised those pirates. To the boys there was at least some glamour in the pirate calling; but all that she saw was that the ship had not been tidied for years. There was not a porthole on the grimy glass of which you might not have written with your finger “Dirty pig”; and she had already written it on several. But as the boys gathered round her she had no thought, of course, save for them.
“So, my beauty,” said Hook, as if he spoke in syrup, “you are to see your children walk the plank.”
Fine gentlemen though he was, the intensity of his communings had soiled his ruff, and suddenly he knew that she was gazing at it. With a hasty gesture he tried to hide it, but he was too late.
“Are they to die?” asked Wendy, with a look of such frightful contempt that he nearly fainted.
“They are,” he snarled. “Silence all,” he called gloatingly, “for a mother’s last words to her children.”
At this moment Wendy was grand. “These are my last words, dear boys,” she said firmly. “I feel that I have a message to you from your real mothers, and it is this: ‘We hope our sons will die like English gentlemen.'”
Even the pirates were awed, and Tootles cried out hysterically, “I am going to do what my mother hopes. What are you to do, Nibs?”
“What my mother hopes. What are you to do, Twin?”
“What my mother hopes. John, what are—”
But Hook had found his voice again.
“Tie her up!” he shouted.
It was Smee who tied her to the mast. “See here, honey,” he whispered, “I’ll save you if you promise to be my mother.”
But not even for Smee would she make such a promise. “I would almost rather have no children at all,” she said disdainfully [scornfully].
It is sad to know that not a boy was looking at her as Smee tied her to the mast; the eyes of all were on the plank: that last little walk they were about to take. They were no longer able to hope that they would walk it manfully, for the capacity to think had gone from them; they could stare and shiver only.
Hook smiled on them with his teeth closed, and took a step toward Wendy. His intention was to turn her face so that she should see they boys walking the plank one by one. But he never reached her, he never heard the cry of anguish he hoped to wring from her. He heard something else instead.
It was the terrible tick-tick of the crocodile.
They all heard it—pirates, boys, Wendy; and immediately every head was blown in one direction; not to the water whence the sound proceeded, but toward Hook. All knew that what was about to happen concerned him alone, and that from being actors they were suddenly become spectators.
Very frightful was it to see the change that came over him. It was as if he had been clipped at every joint. He fell in a little heap.
The sound came steadily nearer; and in advance of it came this ghastly thought, “The crocodile is about to board the ship!”
Even the iron claw hung inactive; as if knowing that it was no intrinsic part of what the attacking force wanted. Left so fearfully alone, any other man would have lain with his eyes shut where he fell: but the gigantic brain of Hook was still working, and under its guidance he crawled on the knees along the deck as far from the sound as he could go. The pirates respectfully cleared a passage for him, and it was only when he brought up against the bulwarks that he spoke.
“Hide me!” he cried hoarsely.
They gathered round him, all eyes averted from the thing that was coming aboard. They had no thought of fighting it. It was Fate.
Only when Hook was hidden from them did curiosity loosen the limbs of the boys so that they could rush to the ship’s side to see the crocodile climbing it. Then they got the strangest surprise of the Night of Nights; for it was no crocodile that was coming to their aid. It was Peter.
He signed to them not to give vent to any cry of admiration that might rouse suspicion. Then he went on ticking.
Chapter 15 tomorrow…
About the author
Matthew James Barrie
9 May 1860 – 19 June 1937
Sir James Matthew Barrie, 1st Baronet, was a Scottish author and dramatist, best remembered today as the creator of Peter Pan.
The child of a family of small-town weavers, he was educated in Scotland. He moved to London, where he developed a career as a novelist and playwright. There he met the Llewelyn Davies boys who inspired him in writing about a baby boy who has magical adventures in Kensington Gardens (included in The Little White Bird), then to write Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, a “fairy play” about this ageless boy and an ordinary girl named Wendy who have adventures in the fantasy setting of Neverland.
This play quickly overshadowed his previous work and although he continued to write successfully, it became his best-known work, credited with popularising the name Wendy, which was very uncommon previously. Barrie unofficially adopted the Davies boys following the deaths of their parents. Before his death, he gave the rights to the Peter Pan works to Great Orm