CHAPTER 15: “HOOK OR ME THIS TIME”
Odd things happen to all of us on our way through life without our noticing for a time that they have happened. Thus, to take an instance, we suddenly discover that we have been deaf in one ear for we don’t know how long, but, say, half an hour.
Now such an experience had come that night to Peter. When last we saw him he was stealing across the island with one finger to his lips and his dagger at the ready. He had seen the crocodile pass by without noticing anything peculiar about it, but by and by he remembered that it had not been ticking. At first he thought this eerie, but soon concluded rightly that the clock had run down.
Without giving a thought to what might be the feelings of a fellow-creature thus abruptly deprived of its closest companion, Peter began to consider how he could turn the catastrophe to his own use; and he decided to tick, so that wild beasts should believe he was the crocodile and let him pass unmolested. He ticked superbly, but with one unforeseen result. The crocodile was among those who heard the sound, and it followed him, though whether with the purpose of regaining what it had lost, or merely as a friend under the belief that it was again ticking itself, will never be certainly known, for, like slaves to a fixed idea, it was a stupid beast.
Peter reached the shore without mishap, and went straight on, his legs encountering the water as if quite unaware that they had entered a new element. Thus many animals pass from land to water, but no other human of whom I know. As he swam he had but one thought: “Hook or me this time.” He had ticked so long that he now went on ticking without knowing that he was doing it. Had he known he would have stopped, for to board the brig by help of the tick, though an ingenious idea, had not occurred to him.
On the contrary, he thought he had scaled her side as noiseless as a mouse; and he was amazed to see the pirates cowering from him, with Hook in their midst as abject as if he had heard the crocodile.
The crocodile! No sooner did Peter remember it than he heard the ticking. At first he thought the sound did come from the crocodile, and he looked behind him swiftly. They he realised that he was doing it himself, and in a flash he understood the situation. “How clever of me!” he thought at once, and signed to the boys not to burst into applause.
It was at this moment that Ed Teynte the quartermaster emerged from the forecastle and came along the deck. Now, reader, time what happened by your watch. Peter struck true and deep. John clapped his hands on the ill-fated pirate’s mouth to stifle the dying groan. He fell forward. Four boys caught him to prevent the thud. Peter gave the signal, and the carrion was cast overboard. There was a splash, and then silence. How long has it taken?
“One!” (Slightly had begun to count.)
None too soon, Peter, every inch of him on tiptoe, vanished into the cabin; for more than one pirate was screwing up his courage to look round. They could hear each other’s distressed breathing now, which showed them that the more terrible sound had passed.
“It’s gone, captain,” Smee said, wiping off his spectacles. “All’s still again.”
Slowly Hook let his head emerge from his ruff, and listened so intently that he could have caught the echo of the tick. There was not a sound, and he drew himself up firmly to his full height.
“Then here’s to Johnny Plank!” he cried brazenly, hating the boys more than ever because they had seen him unbend. He broke into the villainous ditty:
“Yo ho, yo ho, the frisky plank,
You walks along it so,
Till it goes down and you goes down
To Davy Jones below!”
To terrorize the prisoners the more, though with a certain loss of dignity, he danced along an imaginary plank, grimacing at them as he sang; and when he finished he cried, “Do you want a touch of the cat [o’ nine tails] before you walk the plank?”
At that they fell on their knees. “No, no!” they cried so piteously that every pirate smiled.
“Fetch the cat, Jukes,” said Hook; “it’s in the cabin.”
The cabin! Peter was in the cabin! The children gazed at each other.
“Ay, ay,” said Jukes blithely, and he strode into the cabin. They followed him with their eyes; they scarce knew that Hook had resumed his song, his dogs joining in with him:
“Yo ho, yo ho, the scratching cat, Its tails are nine, you know, And when they’re writ upon your back—”
What was the last line will never be known, for of a sudden the song was stayed by a dreadful screech from the cabin. It wailed through the ship, and died away. Then was heard a crowing sound which was well understood by the boys, but to the pirates was almost more eerie than the screech.
“What was that?” cried Hook.
“Two,” said Slightly solemnly.
The Italian Cecco hesitated for a moment and then swung into the cabin. He tottered out, haggard.
“What’s the matter with Bill Jukes, you dog?” hissed Hook, towering over him.
“The matter wi’ him is he’s dead, stabbed,” replied Cecco in a hollow voice.
“Bill Jukes dead!” cried the startled pirates.
“The cabin’s as black as a pit,” Cecco said, almost gibbering, “but there is something terrible in there: the thing you heard crowing.”
The exultation of the boys, the lowering looks of the pirates, both were seen by Hook.
“Cecco,” he said in his most steely voice, “go back and fetch me out that doodle-doo.”
Cecco, bravest of the brave, cowered before his captain, crying “No, no”; but Hook was purring to his claw.
“Did you say you would go, Cecco?” he said musingly.
Cecco went, first flinging his arms despairingly. There was no more singing, all listened now; and again came a death-screech and again a crow.
No one spoke except Slightly. “Three,” he said.
Hook rallied his dogs with a gesture. “‘S’death and odds fish,” he thundered, “who is to bring me that doodle-doo?”
“Wait till Cecco comes out,” growled Starkey, and the others took up the cry.
“I think I heard you volunteer, Starkey,” said Hook, purring again.
“No, by thunder!” Starkey cried.
“My hook thinks you did,” said Hook, crossing to him. “I wonder if it would not be advisable, Starkey, to humour the hook?”
“I’ll swing before I go in there,” replied Starkey doggedly, and again he had the support of the crew.
“Is this mutiny?” asked Hook more pleasantly than ever. “Starkey’s ringleader!”
“Captain, mercy!” Starkey whimpered, all of a tremble now.
“Shake hands, Starkey,” said Hook, proffering his claw.
Starkey looked round for help, but all deserted him. As he backed up Hook advanced, and now the red spark was in his eye. With a despairing scream the pirate leapt upon Long Tom and precipitated himself into the sea.
“Four,” said Slightly.
“And now,” Hook said courteously, “did any other gentlemen say mutiny?” Seizing a lantern and raising his claw with a menacing gesture, “I’ll bring out that doodle-doo myself,” he said, and sped into the cabin.
“Five.” How Slightly longed to say it. He wetted his lips to be ready, but Hook came staggering out, without his lantern.
“Something blew out the light,” he said a little unsteadily.
“Something!” echoed Mullins.
“What of Cecco?” demanded Noodler.
“He’s as dead as Jukes,” said Hook shortly.
His reluctance to return to the cabin impressed them all unfavourably, and the mutinous sounds again broke forth. All pirates are superstitious, and Cookson cried, “They do say the surest sign a ship’s accurst is when there’s one on board more than can be accounted for.”
“I’ve heard,” muttered Mullins, “he always boards the pirate craft last. Had he a tail, captain?”
“They say,” said another, looking viciously at Hook, “that when he comes it’s in the likeness of the wickedest man aboard.”
“Had he a hook, captain?” asked Cookson insolently; and one after another took up the cry, “The ship’s doomed!” At this the children could not resist raising a cheer. Hook had well-nigh forgotten his prisoners, but as he swung round on them now his face lit up again.
“Lads,” he cried to his crew, “now here’s a notion. Open the cabin door and drive them in. Let them fight the doodle-doo for their lives. If they kill him, we’re so much the better; if he kills them, we’re none the worse.”
For the last time his dogs admired Hook, and devotedly they did his bidding. The boys, pretending to struggle, were pushed into the cabin and the door was closed on them.
“Now, listen!” cried Hook, and all listened. But not one dared to face the door. Yes, one, Wendy, who all this time had been bound to the mast. It was for neither a scream nor a crow that she was watching, it was for the reappearance of Peter.
She had not long to wait. In the cabin he had found the thing for which he had gone in search: the key that would free the children of their manacles, and now they all stole forth, armed with such weapons as they could find. First signing them to hide, Peter cut Wendy’s bonds, and then nothing could have been easier than for them all to fly off together; but one thing barred the way, an oath, “Hook or me this time.” So when he had freed Wendy, he whispered for her to conceal herself with the others, and himself took her place by the mast, her cloak around him so that he should pass for her. Then he took a great breath and crowed.
To the pirates it was a voice crying that all the boys lay slain in the cabin; and they were panic-stricken. Hook tried to hearten them; but like the dogs he had made them they showed him their fangs, and he knew that if he took his eyes off them now they would leap at him.
“Lads,” he said, ready to cajole or strike as need be, but never quailing for an instant, “I’ve thought it out. There’s a Jonah aboard.”
“Ay,” they snarled, “a man wi’ a hook.”
“No, lads, no, it’s the girl. Never was luck on a pirate ship wi’ a woman on board. We’ll right the ship when she’s gone.”
Some of them remembered that this had been a saying of Flint’s. “It’s worth trying,” they said doubtfully.
“Fling the girl overboard,” cried Hook; and they made a rush at the figure in the cloak.
“There’s none can save you now, missy,” Mullins hissed jeeringly.
“There’s one,” replied the figure.
“Peter Pan the avenger!” came the terrible answer; and as he spoke Peter flung off his cloak. Then they all knew who ’twas that had been undoing them in the cabin, and twice Hook essayed to speak and twice he failed. In that frightful moment I think his fierce heart broke.
At last he cried, “Cleave him to the brisket!” but without conviction.
“Down, boys, and at them!” Peter’s voice rang out; and in another moment the clash of arms was resounding through the ship. Had the pirates kept together it is certain that they would have won; but the onset came when they were still unstrung, and they ran hither and thither, striking wildly, each thinking himself the last survivor of the crew. Man to man they were the stronger; but they fought on the defensive only, which enabled the boys to hunt in pairs and choose their quarry. Some of the miscreants leapt into the sea; others hid in dark recesses, where they were found by Slightly, who did not fight, but ran about with a lantern which he flashed in their faces, so that they were half blinded and fell as an easy prey to the reeking swords of the other boys. There was little sound to be heard but the clang of weapons, an occasional screech or splash, and Slightly monotonously counting—five—six—seven eight—nine—ten—eleven.
I think all were gone when a group of savage boys surrounded Hook, who seemed to have a charmed life, as he kept them at bay in that circle of fire. They had done for his dogs, but this man alone seemed to be a match for them all. Again and again they closed upon him, and again and again he hewed a clear space. He had lifted up one boy with his hook, and was using him as a buckler [shield], when another, who had just passed his sword through Mullins, sprang into the fray.
“Put up your swords, boys,” cried the newcomer, “this man is mine.”
Thus suddenly Hook found himself face to face with Peter. The others drew back and formed a ring around them.
For long the two enemies looked at one another, Hook shuddering slightly, and Peter with the strange smile upon his face.
“So, Pan,” said Hook at last, “this is all your doing.”
“Ay, James Hook,” came the stern answer, “it is all my doing.”
“Proud and insolent youth,” said Hook, “prepare to meet thy doom.”
“Dark and sinister man,” Peter answered, “have at thee.”
Without more words they fell to, and for a space there was no advantage to either blade. Peter was a superb swordsman, and parried with dazzling rapidity; ever and anon he followed up a feint with a lunge that got past his foe’s defence, but his shorter reach stood him in ill stead, and he could not drive the steel home. Hook, scarcely his inferior in brilliancy, but not quite so nimble in wrist play, forced him back by the weight of his onset, hoping suddenly to end all with a favourite thrust, taught him long ago by Barbecue at Rio; but to his astonishment he found this thrust turned aside again and again. Then he sought to close and give the quietus with his iron hook, which all this time had been pawing the air; but Peter doubled under it and, lunging fiercely, pierced him in the ribs. At the sight of his own blood, whose peculiar colour, you remember, was offensive to him, the sword fell from Hook’s hand, and he was at Peter’s mercy.
“Now!” cried all the boys, but with a magnificent gesture Peter invited his opponent to pick up his sword. Hook did so instantly, but with a tragic feeling that Peter was showing good form.
Hitherto he had thought it was some fiend fighting him, but darker suspicions assailed him now.
“Pan, who and what art thou?” he cried huskily.
“I’m youth, I’m joy,” Peter answered at a venture, “I’m a little bird that has broken out of the egg.”
This, of course, was nonsense; but it was proof to the unhappy Hook that Peter did not know in the least who or what he was, which is the very pinnacle of good form.
“To’t again,” he cried despairingly.
He fought now like a human flail, and every sweep of that terrible sword would have severed in twain any man or boy who obstructed it; but Peter fluttered round him as if the very wind it made blew him out of the danger zone. And again and again he darted in and pricked.
Hook was fighting now without hope. That passionate breast no longer asked for life; but for one boon it craved: to see Peter show bad form before it was cold forever.
Abandoning the fight he rushed into the powder magazine and fired it.
“In two minutes,” he cried, “the ship will be blown to pieces.”
Now, now, he thought, true form will show.
But Peter issued from the powder magazine with the shell in his hands, and calmly flung it overboard.
What sort of form was Hook himself showing? Misguided man though he was, we may be glad, without sympathising with him, that in the end he was true to the traditions of his race. The other boys were flying around him now, flouting, scornful; and he staggered about the deck striking up at them impotently, his mind was no longer with them; it was slouching in the playing fields of long ago, or being sent up [to the headmaster] for good, or watching the wall-game from a famous wall. And his shoes were right, and his waistcoat was right, and his tie was right, and his socks were right.
James Hook, thou not wholly unheroic figure, farewell.
For we have come to his last moment.
Seeing Peter slowly advancing upon him through the air with dagger poised, he sprang upon the bulwarks to cast himself into the sea. He did not know that the crocodile was waiting for him; for we purposely stopped the clock that this knowledge might be spared him: a little mark of respect from us at the end.
He had one last triumph, which I think we need not grudge him. As he stood on the bulwark looking over his shoulder at Peter gliding through the air, he invited him with a gesture to use his foot. It made Peter kick instead of stab.
At last Hook had got the boon for which he craved.
“Bad form,” he cried jeeringly, and went content to the crocodile.
Thus perished James Hook.
“Seventeen,” Slightly sang out; but he was not quite correct in his figures. Fifteen paid the penalty for their crimes that night; but two reached the shore: Starkey to be captured by the redskins, who made him nurse for all their papooses, a melancholy come-down for a pirate; and Smee, who henceforth wandered about the world in his spectacles, making a precarious living by saying he was the only man that Jas. Hook had feared.
Wendy, of course, had stood by taking no part in the fight, though watching Peter with glistening eyes; but now that all was over she became prominent again. She praised them equally, and shuddered delightfully when Michael showed her the place where he had killed one; and then she took them into Hook’s cabin and pointed to his watch which was hanging on a nail. It said “half-past one!”
The lateness of the hour was almost the biggest thing of all. She got them to bed in the pirates’ bunks pretty quickly, you may be sure; all but Peter, who strutted up and down on the deck, until at last he fell asleep by the side of Long Tom. He had one of his dreams that night, and cried in his sleep for a long time, and Wendy held him tightly.
CHAPTER 16: THE RETURN HOME
By three bells that morning they were all stirring their stumps [legs]; for there was a big sea running; and Tootles, the bo’sun, was among them, with a rope’s end in his hand and chewing tobacco. They all donned pirate clothes cut off at the knee, shaved smartly, and tumbled up, with the true nautical roll and hitching their trousers.
It need not be said who was the captain. Nibs and John were first and second mate. There was a woman aboard. The rest were tars [sailors] before the mast, and lived in the fo’c’sle. Peter had already lashed himself to the wheel; but he piped all hands and delivered a short address to them; said he hoped they would do their duty like gallant hearties, but that he knew they were the scum of Rio and the Gold Coast, and if they snapped at him he would tear them. The bluff strident words struck the note sailors understood, and they cheered him lustily. Then a few sharp orders were given, and they turned the ship round, and nosed her for the mainland.
Captain Pan calculated, after consulting the ship’s chart, that if this weather lasted they should strike the Azores about the 21st of June, after which it would save time to fly.
Some of them wanted it to be an honest ship and others were in favour of keeping it a pirate; but the captain treated them as dogs, and they dared not express their wishes to him even in a round robin [one person after another, as they had to Cpt. Hook]. Instant obedience was the only safe thing. Slightly got a dozen for looking perplexed when told to take soundings. The general feeling was that Peter was honest just now to lull Wendy’s suspicions, but that there might be a change when the new suit was ready, which, against her will, she was making for him out of some of Hook’s wickedest garments. It was afterwards whispered among them that on the first night he wore this suit he sat long in the cabin with Hook’s cigar-holder in his mouth and one hand clenched, all but for the forefinger, which he bent and held threateningly aloft like a hook.
Instead of watching the ship, however, we must now return to that desolate home from which three of our characters had taken heartless flight so long ago. It seems a shame to have neglected No. 14 all this time; and yet we may be sure that Mrs. Darling does not blame us. If we had returned sooner to look with sorrowful sympathy at her, she would probably have cried,
“Don’t be silly; what do I matter? Do go back and keep an eye on the children.”
So long as mothers are like this their children will take advantage of them; and they may lay to [bet on] that.
Even now we venture into that familiar nursery only because its lawful occupants are on their way home; we are merely hurrying on in advance of them to see that their beds are properly aired and that Mr. and Mrs. Darling do not go out for the evening. We are no more than servants. Why on earth should their beds be properly aired, seeing that they left them in such a thankless hurry?
Would it not serve them jolly well right if they came back and found that their parents were spending the week-end in the country? It would be the moral lesson they have been in need of ever since we met them; but if we contrived things in this way Mrs. Darling would never forgive us.
One thing I should like to do immensely, and that is to tell her, in the way authors have, that the children are coming back, that indeed they will be here on Thursday week. This would spoil so completely the surprise to which Wendy and John and Michael are looking forward. They have been planning it out on the ship: mother’s rapture, father’s shout of joy, Nana’s leap through the air to embrace them first, when what they ought to be prepared for is a good hiding. How delicious to spoil it all by breaking the news in advance; so that when they enter grandly Mrs. Darling may not even offer Wendy her mouth, and Mr. Darling may exclaim pettishly, “Dash it all, here are those boys again.” However, we should get no thanks even for this. We are beginning to know Mrs. Darling by this time, and may be sure that she would upbraid us for depriving the children of their little pleasure.
“But, my dear madam, it is ten days till Thursday week; so that by telling you what’s what, we can save you ten days of unhappiness.”
“Yes, but at what a cost! By depriving the children of ten minutes of delight.”
“Oh, if you look at it in that way!”
“What other way is there in which to look at it?”
You see, the woman had no proper spirit. I had meant to say extraordinarily nice things about her; but I despise her, and not one of them will I say now. She does not really need to be told to have things ready, for they are ready. All the beds are aired, and she never leaves the house, and observe, the window is open. For all the use we are to her, we might well go back to the ship. However, as we are here we may as well stay and look on. That is all we are, lookers-on. Nobody really wants us. So let us watch and say jaggy things, in the hope that some of them will hurt.
The only change to be seen in the night-nursery is that between nine and six the kennel is no longer there. When the children flew away, Mr. Darling felt in his bones that all the blame was his for having chained Nana up, and that from first to last she had been wiser than he. Of course, as we have seen, he was quite a simple man; indeed he might have passed for a boy again if he had been able to take his baldness off; but he had also a noble sense of justice and a lion’s courage to do what seemed right to him; and having thought the matter out with anxious care after the flight of the children, he went down on all fours and crawled into the kennel. To all Mrs. Darling’s dear invitations to him to come out he replied sadly but firmly:
“No, my own one, this is the place for me.”
In the bitterness of his remorse he swore that he would never leave the kennel until his children came back. Of course this was a pity; but whatever Mr. Darling did he had to do in excess, otherwise he soon gave up doing it. And there never was a more humble man than the once proud George Darling, as he sat in the kennel of an evening talking with his wife of their children and all their pretty ways.
Very touching was his deference to Nana. He would not let her come into the kennel, but on all other matters he followed her wishes implicitly.
Every morning the kennel was carried with Mr. Darling in it to a cab, which conveyed him to his office, and he returned home in the same way at six. Something of the strength of character of the man will be seen if we remember how sensitive he was to the opinion of neighbours: this man whose every movement now attracted surprised attention. Inwardly he must have suffered torture; but he preserved a calm exterior even when the young criticised his little home, and he always lifted his hat courteously to any lady who looked inside.
It may have been Quixotic, but it was magnificent. Soon the inward meaning of it leaked out, and the great heart of the public was touched. Crowds followed the cab, cheering it lustily; charming girls scaled it to get his autograph; interviews appeared in the better class of papers, and society invited him to dinner and added, “Do come in the kennel.”
On that eventful Thursday week, Mrs. Darling was in the night-nursery awaiting George’s return home; a very sad-eyed woman. Now that we look at her closely and remember the gaiety of her in the old days, all gone now just because she has lost her babes, I find I won’t be able to say nasty things about her after all. If she was too fond of her rubbishy children, she couldn’t help it. Look at her in her chair, where she has fallen asleep. The corner of her mouth, where one looks first, is almost withered up. Her hand moves restlessly on her breast as if she had a pain there. Some like Peter best, and some like Wendy best, but I like her best. Suppose, to make her happy, we whisper to her in her sleep that the brats are coming back. They are really within two miles of the window now, and flying strong, but all we need whisper is that they are on the way. Let’s.
It is a pity we did it, for she has started up, calling their names; and there is no one in the room but Nana.
“O Nana, I dreamt my dear ones had come back.”
Nana had filmy eyes, but all she could do was put her paw gently on her mistress’s lap; and they were sitting together thus when the kennel was brought back. As Mr. Darling puts his head out to kiss his wife, we see that his face is more worn than of yore, but has a softer expression.
He gave his hat to Liza, who took it scornfully; for she had no imagination, and was quite incapable of understanding the motives of such a man. Outside, the crowd who had accompanied the cab home were still cheering, and he was naturally not unmoved.
“Listen to them,” he said; “it is very gratifying.”
“Lots of little boys,” sneered Liza.
“There were several adults to-day,” he assured her with a faint flush; but when she tossed her head he had not a word of reproof for her. Social success had not spoilt him; it had made him sweeter. For some time he sat with his head out of the kennel, talking with Mrs. Darling of this success, and pressing her hand reassuringly when she said she hoped his head would not be turned by it.
“But if I had been a weak man,” he said. “Good heavens, if I had been a weak man!”
“And, George,” she said timidly, “you are as full of remorse as ever, aren’t you?”
“Full of remorse as ever, dearest! See my punishment: living in a kennel.”
“But it is punishment, isn’t it, George? You are sure you are not enjoying it?”
You may be sure she begged his pardon; and then, feeling drowsy, he curled round in the kennel.
“Won’t you play me to sleep,” he asked, “on the nursery piano?” and as she was crossing to the day-nursery he added thoughtlessly, “And shut that window. I feel a draught.”
“O George, never ask me to do that. The window must always be left open for them, always, always.”
Now it was his turn to beg her pardon; and she went into the day-nursery and played, and soon he was asleep; and while he slept, Wendy and John and Michael flew into the room.
Oh no. We have written it so, because that was the charming arrangement planned by them before we left the ship; but something must have happened since then, for it is not they who have flown in, it is Peter and Tinker Bell.
Peter’s first words tell all.
“Quick Tink,” he whispered, “close the window; bar it! That’s right. Now you and I must get away by the door; and when Wendy comes she will think her mother has barred her out; and she will have to go back with me.”
Now I understand what had hitherto puzzled me, why when Peter had exterminated the pirates he did not return to the island and leave Tink to escort the children to the mainland. This trick had been in his head all the time.
Instead of feeling that he was behaving badly he danced with glee; then he peeped into the day-nursery to see who was playing. He whispered to Tink, “It’s Wendy’s mother! She is a pretty lady, but not so pretty as my mother. Her mouth is full of thimbles, but not so full as my mother’s was.”
Of course he knew nothing whatever about his mother; but he sometimes bragged about her.
He did not know the tune, which was “Home, Sweet Home,” but he knew it was saying, “Come back, Wendy, Wendy, Wendy”; and he cried exultantly, “You will never see Wendy again, lady, for the window is barred!”
He peeped in again to see why the music had stopped, and now he saw that Mrs. Darling had laid her head on the box, and that two tears were sitting on her eyes.
“She wants me to unbar the window,” thought Peter, “but I won’t, not I!”
He peeped again, and the tears were still there, or another two had taken their place.
“She’s awfully fond of Wendy,” he said to himself. He was angry with her now for not seeing why she could not have Wendy.
The reason was so simple: “I’m fond of her too. We can’t both have her, lady.”
But the lady would not make the best of it, and he was unhappy. He ceased to look at her, but even then she would not let go of him. He skipped about and made funny faces, but when he stopped it was just as if she were inside him, knocking.
“Oh, all right,” he said at last, and gulped. Then he unbarred the window. “Come on, Tink,” he cried, with a frightful sneer at the laws of nature; “we don’t want any silly mothers;” and he flew away.
Thus Wendy and John and Michael found the window open for them after all, which of course was more than they deserved. They alighted on the floor, quite unashamed of themselves, and the youngest one had already forgotten his home.
“John,” he said, looking around him doubtfully, “I think I have been here before.”
“Of course you have, you silly. There is your old bed.”
“So it is,” Michael said, but not with much conviction.
“I say,” cried John, “the kennel!” and he dashed across to look into it.
“Perhaps Nana is inside it,” Wendy said.
But John whistled. “Hullo,” he said, “there’s a man inside it.”
“It’s father!” exclaimed Wendy.
“Let me see father,” Michael begged eagerly, and he took a good look. “He is not so big as the pirate I killed,” he said with such frank disappointment that I am glad Mr. Darling was asleep; it would have been sad if those had been the first words he heard his little Michael say.
Wendy and John had been taken aback somewhat at finding their father in the kennel.
“Surely,” said John, like one who had lost faith in his memory, “he used not to sleep in the kennel?”
“John,” Wendy said falteringly, “perhaps we don’t remember the old life as well as we thought we did.”
A chill fell upon them; and serve them right.
“It is very careless of mother,” said that young scoundrel John, “not to be here when we come back.”
It was then that Mrs. Darling began playing again.
“It’s mother!” cried Wendy, peeping.
“So it is!” said John.
“Then are you not really our mother, Wendy?” asked Michael, who was surely sleepy.
“Oh dear!” exclaimed Wendy, with her first real twinge of remorse [for having gone], “it was quite time we came back.”
“Let us creep in,” John suggested, “and put our hands over her eyes.”
But Wendy, who saw that they must break the joyous news more gently, had a better plan.
“Let us all slip into our beds, and be there when she comes in, just as if we had never been away.”
And so when Mrs. Darling went back to the night-nursery to see if her husband was asleep, all the beds were occupied. The children waited for her cry of joy, but it did not come. She saw them, but she did not believe they were there. You see, she saw them in their beds so often in her dreams that she thought this was just the dream hanging around her still.
She sat down in the chair by the fire, where in the old days she had nursed them.
They could not understand this, and a cold fear fell upon all the three of them.
“Mother!” Wendy cried.
“That’s Wendy,” she said, but still she was sure it was the dream.
“That’s John,” she said.
“Mother!” cried Michael. He knew her now.
“That’s Michael,” she said, and she stretched out her arms for the three little selfish children they would never envelop again. Yes, they did, they went round Wendy and John and Michael, who had slipped out of bed and run to her.
“George, George!” she cried when she could speak; and Mr. Darling woke to share her bliss, and Nana came rushing in. There could not have been a lovelier sight; but there was none to see it except a little boy who was staring in at the window. He had had ecstasies innumerable that other children can never know; but he was looking through the window at the one joy from which he must be for ever barred.
CHAPTER 17: WHEN WENDY GREW UP
I hope you want to know what became of the other boys. They were waiting below to give Wendy time to explain about them; and when they had counted five hundred they went up. They went up by the stair, because they thought this would make a better impression. They stood in a row in front of Mrs. Darling, with their hats off, and wishing they were not wearing their pirate clothes. They said nothing, but their eyes asked her to have them. They ought to have looked at Mr. Darling also, but they forgot about him.
Of course Mrs. Darling said at once that she would have them; but Mr. Darling was curiously depressed, and they saw that he considered six a rather large number.
“I must say,” he said to Wendy, “that you don’t do things by halves,” a grudging remark which the twins thought was pointed at them.
The first twin was the proud one, and he asked, flushing, “Do you think we should be too much of a handful, sir? Because, if so, we can go away.”
“Father!” Wendy cried, shocked; but still the cloud was on him. He knew he was behaving unworthily, but he could not help it.
“We could lie doubled up,” said Nibs.
“I always cut their hair myself,” said Wendy.
“George!” Mrs. Darling exclaimed, pained to see her dear one showing himself in such an unfavourable light.
Then he burst into tears, and the truth came out. He was as glad to have them as she was, he said, but he thought they should have asked his consent as well as hers, instead of treating him as a cypher [zero] in his own house.
“I don’t think he is a cypher,” Tootles cried instantly. “Do you think he is a cypher, Curly?”
“No, I don’t. Do you think he is a cypher, Slightly?”
“Rather not. Twin, what do you think?”
It turned out that not one of them thought him a cypher; and he was absurdly gratified, and said he would find space for them all in the drawing-room if they fitted in.
“We’ll fit in, sir,” they assured him.
“Then follow the leader,” he cried gaily. “Mind you, I am not sure that we have a drawing-room, but we pretend we have, and it’s all the same. Hoop la!”
He went off dancing through the house, and they all cried “Hoop la!” and danced after him, searching for the drawing-room; and I forget whether they found it, but at any rate they found corners, and they all fitted in.
As for Peter, he saw Wendy once again before he flew away. He did not exactly come to the window, but he brushed against it in passing so that she could open it if she liked and call to him. That is what she did.
“Hullo, Wendy, good-bye,” he said.
“Oh dear, are you going away?”
“You don’t feel, Peter,” she said falteringly, “that you would like to say anything to my parents about a very sweet subject?”
“About me, Peter?”
Mrs. Darling came to the window, for at present she was keeping a sharp eye on Wendy. She told Peter that she had adopted all the other boys, and would like to adopt him also.
“Would you send me to school?” he inquired craftily.
“And then to an office?”
“I suppose so.”
“Soon I would be a man?”
“I don’t want to go to school and learn solemn things,” he told her passionately. “I don’t want to be a man. O Wendy’s mother, if I was to wake up and feel there was a beard!”
“Peter,” said Wendy the comforter, “I should love you in a beard;” and Mrs. Darling stretched out her arms to him, but he repulsed her.
“Keep back, lady, no one is going to catch me and make me a man.”
“But where are you going to live?”
“With Tink in the house we built for Wendy. The fairies are to put it high up among the tree tops where they sleep at nights.”
“How lovely,” cried Wendy so longingly that Mrs. Darling tightened her grip.
“I thought all the fairies were dead,” Mrs. Darling said.
“There are always a lot of young ones,” explained Wendy, who was now quite an authority, “because you see when a new baby laughs for the first time a new fairy is born, and as there are always new babies there are always new fairies. They live in nests on the tops of trees; and the mauve ones are boys and the white ones are girls, and the blue ones are just little sillies who are not sure what they are.”
“I shall have such fun,” said Peter, with eye on Wendy.
“It will be rather lonely in the evening,” she said, “sitting by the fire.”
“I shall have Tink.”
“Tink can’t go a twentieth part of the way round,” she reminded him a little tartly.
“Sneaky tell-tale!” Tink called out from somewhere round the corner.
“It doesn’t matter,” Peter said.
“O Peter, you know it matters.”
“Well, then, come with me to the little house.”
“May I, mummy?”
“Certainly not. I have got you home again, and I mean to keep you.”
“But he does so need a mother.”
“So do you, my love.”
“Oh, all right,” Peter said, as if he had asked her from politeness merely; but Mrs. Darling saw his mouth twitch, and she made this handsome offer: to let Wendy go to him for a week every year to do his spring cleaning. Wendy would have preferred a more permanent arrangement; and it seemed to her that spring would be long in coming; but this promise sent Peter away quite gay again. He had no sense of time, and was so full of adventures that all I have told you about him is only a halfpenny-worth of them. I suppose it was because Wendy knew this that her last words to him were these rather plaintive ones:
“You won’t forget me, Peter, will you, before spring cleaning time comes?”
Of course Peter promised; and then he flew away. He took Mrs. Darling’s kiss with him. The kiss that had been for no one else, Peter took quite easily. Funny. But she seemed satisfied.
Of course all the boys went to school; and most of them got into Class III, but Slightly was put first into Class IV and then into Class V. Class I is the top class. Before they had attended school a week they saw what goats they had been not to remain on the island; but it was too late now, and soon they settled down to being as ordinary as you or me or Jenkins minor [the younger Jenkins]. It is sad to have to say that the power to fly gradually left them. At first Nana tied their feet to the bed-posts so that they should not fly away in the night; and one of their diversions by day was to pretend to fall off buses [the English double-deckers]; but by and by they ceased to tug at their bonds in bed, and found that they hurt themselves when they let go of the bus. In time they could not even fly after their hats. Want of practice, they called it; but what it really meant was that they no longer believed.
Michael believed longer than the other boys, though they jeered at him; so he was with Wendy when Peter came for her at the end of the first year. She flew away with Peter in the frock she had woven from leaves and berries in the Neverland, and her one fear was that he might notice how short it had become; but he never noticed, he had so much to say about himself.
She had looked forward to thrilling talks with him about old times, but new adventures had crowded the old ones from his mind.
“Who is Captain Hook?” he asked with interest when she spoke of the arch enemy.
“Don’t you remember,” she asked, amazed, “how you killed him and saved all our lives?”
“I forget them after I kill them,” he replied carelessly.
When she expressed a doubtful hope that Tinker Bell would be glad to see her he said, “Who is Tinker Bell?”
“O Peter,” she said, shocked; but even when she explained he could not remember.
“There are such a lot of them,” he said. “I expect she is no more.”
I expect he was right, for fairies don’t live long, but they are so little that a short time seems a good while to them.
Wendy was pained too to find that the past year was but as yesterday to Peter; it had seemed such a long year of waiting to her. But he was exactly as fascinating as ever, and they had a lovely spring cleaning in the little house on the tree tops.
Next year he did not come for her. She waited in a new frock because the old one simply would not meet; but he never came.
“Perhaps he is ill,” Michael said.
“You know he is never ill.”
Michael came close to her and whispered, with a shiver, “Perhaps there is no such person, Wendy!” and then Wendy would have cried if Michael had not been crying.
Peter came next spring cleaning; and the strange thing was that he never knew he had missed a year.
That was the last time the girl Wendy ever saw him. For a little longer she tried for his sake not to have growing pains; and she felt she was untrue to him when she got a prize for general knowledge. But the years came and went without bringing the careless boy; and when they met again Wendy was a married woman, and Peter was no more to her than a little dust in the box in which she had kept her toys. Wendy was grown up. You need not be sorry for her. She was one of the kind that likes to grow up. In the end she grew up of her own free will a day quicker than other girls.
All the boys were grown up and done for by this time; so it is scarcely worth while saying anything more about them. You may see the twins and Nibs and Curly any day going to an office, each carrying a little bag and an umbrella. Michael is an engine-driver [train engineer]. Slightly married a lady of title, and so he became a lord. You see that judge in a wig coming out at the iron door? That used to be Tootles. The bearded man who doesn’t know any story to tell his children was once John.
Wendy was married in white with a pink sash. It is strange to think that Peter did not alight in the church and forbid the banns [formal announcement of a marriage].
Years rolled on again, and Wendy had a daughter. This ought not to be written in ink but in a golden splash.
She was called Jane, and always had an odd inquiring look, as if from the moment she arrived on the mainland she wanted to ask questions. When she was old enough to ask them they were mostly about Peter Pan. She loved to hear of Peter, and Wendy told her all she could remember in the very nursery from which the famous flight had taken place. It was Jane’s nursery now, for her father had bought it at the three per cents [mortgage rate] from Wendy’s father, who was no longer fond of stairs. Mrs. Darling was now dead and forgotten.
There were only two beds in the nursery now, Jane’s and her nurse’s; and there was no kennel, for Nana also had passed away. She died of old age, and at the end she had been rather difficult to get on with; being very firmly convinced that no one knew how to look after children except herself.
Once a week Jane’s nurse had her evening off; and then it was Wendy’s part to put Jane to bed. That was the time for stories. It was Jane’s invention to raise the sheet over her mother’s head and her own, this making a tent, and in the awful darkness to whisper:
“What do we see now?”
“I don’t think I see anything to-night,” says Wendy, with a feeling that if Nana were here she would object to further conversation.
“Yes, you do,” says Jane, “you see when you were a little girl.”
“That is a long time ago, sweetheart,” says Wendy. “Ah me, how time flies!”
“Does it fly,” asks the artful child, “the way you flew when you were a little girl?”
“The way I flew? Do you know, Jane, I sometimes wonder whether I ever did really fly.”
“Yes, you did.”
“The dear old days when I could fly!”
“Why can’t you fly now, mother?”
“Because I am grown up, dearest. When people grow up they forget the way.”
“Why do they forget the way?”
“Because they are no longer gay and innocent and heartless. It is only the gay and innocent and heartless who can fly.”
“What is gay and innocent and heartless? I do wish I were gay and innocent and heartless.”
Or perhaps Wendy admits she does see something.
“I do believe,” she says, “that it is this nursery.”
“I do believe it is,” says Jane. “Go on.”
They are now embarked on the great adventure of the night when Peter flew in looking for his shadow.
“The foolish fellow,” says Wendy, “tried to stick it on with soap, and when he could not he cried, and that woke me, and I sewed it on for him.”
“You have missed a bit,” interrupts Jane, who now knows the story better than her mother. “When you saw him sitting on the floor crying, what did you say?”
“I sat up in bed and I said, ‘Boy, why are you crying?'”
“Yes, that was it,” says Jane, with a big breath.
“And then he flew us all away to the Neverland and the fairies and the pirates and the redskins and the mermaid’s lagoon, and the home under the ground, and the little house.”
“Yes! which did you like best of all?”
“I think I liked the home under the ground best of all.”
“Yes, so do I. What was the last thing Peter ever said to you?”
“The last thing he ever said to me was, ‘Just always be waiting for me, and then some night you will hear me crowing.'”
“But, alas, he forgot all about me,” Wendy said it with a smile. She was as grown up as that.
“What did his crow sound like?” Jane asked one evening.
“It was like this,” Wendy said, trying to imitate Peter’s crow.
“No, it wasn’t,” Jane said gravely, “it was like this;” and she did it ever so much better than her mother.
Wendy was a little startled. “My darling, how can you know?”
“I often hear it when I am sleeping,” Jane said.
“Ah yes, many girls hear it when they are sleeping, but I was the only one who heard it awake.”
“Lucky you,” said Jane.
And then one night came the tragedy. It was the spring of the year, and the story had been told for the night, and Jane was now asleep in her bed. Wendy was sitting on the floor, very close to the fire, so as to see to darn, for there was no other light in the nursery; and while she sat darning she heard a crow. Then the window blew open as of old, and Peter dropped in on the floor.
He was exactly the same as ever, and Wendy saw at once that he still had all his first teeth.
He was a little boy, and she was grown up. She huddled by the fire not daring to move, helpless and guilty, a big woman.
“Hullo, Wendy,” he said, not noticing any difference, for he was thinking chiefly of himself; and in the dim light her white dress might have been the nightgown in which he had seen her first.
“Hullo, Peter,” she replied faintly, squeezing herself as small as possible. Something inside her was crying “Woman, Woman, let go of me.”
“Hullo, where is John?” he asked, suddenly missing the third bed.
“John is not here now,” she gasped.
“Is Michael asleep?” he asked, with a careless glance at Jane.
“Yes,” she answered; and now she felt that she was untrue to Jane as well as to Peter.
“That is not Michael,” she said quickly, lest a judgment should fall on her.
Peter looked. “Hullo, is it a new one?”
“Boy or girl?”
Now surely he would understand; but not a bit of it.
“Peter,” she said, faltering, “are you expecting me to fly away with you?”
“Of course; that is why I have come.” He added a little sternly, “Have you forgotten that this is spring cleaning time?”
She knew it was useless to say that he had let many spring cleaning times pass.
“I can’t come,” she said apologetically, “I have forgotten how to fly.”
“I’ll soon teach you again.”
“O Peter, don’t waste the fairy dust on me.”
She had risen; and now at last a fear assailed him. “What is it?” he cried, shrinking.
“I will turn up the light,” she said, “and then you can see for yourself.”
For almost the only time in his life that I know of, Peter was afraid. “Don’t turn up the light,” he cried.
She let her hands play in the hair of the tragic boy. She was not a little girl heart-broken about him; she was a grown woman smiling at it all, but they were wet eyed smiles.
Then she turned up the light, and Peter saw. He gave a cry of pain; and when the tall beautiful creature stooped to lift him in her arms he drew back sharply.
“What is it?” he cried again.
She had to tell him.
“I am old, Peter. I am ever so much more than twenty. I grew up long ago.”
“You promised not to!”
“I couldn’t help it. I am a married woman, Peter.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Yes, and the little girl in the bed is my baby.”
“No, she’s not.”
But he supposed she was; and he took a step towards the sleeping child with his dagger upraised. Of course he did not strike. He sat down on the floor instead and sobbed; and Wendy did not know how to comfort him, though she could have done it so easily once. She was only a woman now, and she ran out of the room to try to think.
Peter continued to cry, and soon his sobs woke Jane. She sat up in bed, and was interested at once.
“Boy,” she said, “why are you crying?”
Peter rose and bowed to her, and she bowed to him from the bed.
“Hullo,” he said.
“Hullo,” said Jane.
“My name is Peter Pan,” he told her.
“Yes, I know.”
“I came back for my mother,” he explained, “to take her to the Neverland.”
“Yes, I know,” Jane said, “I have been waiting for you.”
When Wendy returned diffidently she found Peter sitting on the bed-post crowing gloriously, while Jane in her nighty was flying round the room in solemn ecstasy.
“She is my mother,” Peter explained; and Jane descended and stood by his side, with the look in her face that he liked to see on ladies when they gazed at him.
“He does so need a mother,” Jane said.
“Yes, I know.” Wendy admitted rather forlornly; “no one knows it so well as I.”
“Good-bye,” said Peter to Wendy; and he rose in the air, and the shameless Jane rose with him; it was already her easiest way of moving about.
Wendy rushed to the window.
“No, no,” she cried.
“It is just for spring cleaning time,” Jane said, “he wants me always to do his spring cleaning.”
“If only I could go with you,” Wendy sighed.
“You see you can’t fly,” said Jane.
Of course in the end Wendy let them fly away together. Our last glimpse of her shows her at the window, watching them receding into the sky until they were as small as stars.
As you look at Wendy, you may see her hair becoming white, and her figure little again, for all this happened long ago. Jane is now a common grown-up, with a daughter called Margaret; and every spring cleaning time, except when he forgets, Peter comes for Margaret and takes her to the Neverland, where she tells him stories about himself, to which he listens eagerly. When Margaret grows up she will have a daughter, who is to be Peter’s mother in turn; and thus it will go on, so long as children are gay and innocent and heartless.
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