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| Home | Reading Room PETER PAN

[James Matthew Barrie]

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Chapter 13


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 to

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?"

No answer.

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 an 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.

"Why not?"

"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."

Many clapped.

Some didn't.

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.



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