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| Home | Reading Room PETER PAN

[James Matthew Barrie]

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Chapter 14


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?"

"Bad form!"

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?"

"Ay, ay."

"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.

"Blackbeard Joe."

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 he 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


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.



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