Part 2 out of 4
head in the air and her neighbour was gazing at her awestruck.
These little creatures are really not without merit.
About a week afterward I was in a hired landau, holding a
newspaper before my face lest anyone should see me in company of
a waiter and his wife. William was taking her into Surrey to
stay with an old nurse of mine, and Irene was with us, wearing
the most outrageous bonnet.
I formed a mean opinion of Mrs. Hicking's intelligence from her
pride in the baby, which was a very ordinary one. She created a
regrettable scene when it was brought to her, because "she had
been feared it would not know her again." I could have told her
that they know no one for years had I not been in terror of
Irene, who dandled the child on her knees and talked to it all
the way. I have never known a bolder little hussy than this
Irene. She asked the infant improper questions, such as "Oo know
who gave me this bonnet?" and answered them herself. "It was the
pretty gentleman there," and several times I had to affect sleep,
because she announced, "Kiddy wants to kiss the pretty
Irksome as all this necessarily was to a man of taste, I suffered
still more acutely when we reached our destination, where
disagreeable circumstances compelled me to drink tea with a
waiter's family. William knew that I regarded thanks from
persons of his class as an outrage, yet he looked them though he
dared not speak them. Hardly had he sat down at the table by my
orders than he remembered that I was a member of the club and
jumped up. Nothing is in worse form than whispering, yet again
and again he whispered to his poor, foolish wife, "How are you
now? You don't feel faint?" and when she said she felt like
another woman already, his face charged me with the change. I
could not but conclude from the way she let the baby pound her
that she was stronger than she pretended.
I remained longer than was necessary because I had something to
say to William which I feared he would misunderstand, but when he
announced that it was time for him to catch a train back to
London, at which his wife paled, I delivered the message.
"William," I said, backing away from him, "the head-waiter asked
me to say that you could take a fortnight's holiday. Your wages
will be paid as usual."
"William," I cried furiously, "go away."
Then I saw his wife signing to him, and I knew she wanted to be
left alone with me.
"William," I cried in a panic, "stay where you are."
But he was gone, and I was alone with a woman whose eyes were
filmy. Her class are fond of scenes. "If you please, ma'am!" I
But she kissed my hand; she was like a little dog.
"It can be only the memory of some woman," said she, "that makes
you so kind to me and mine."
Memory was the word she used, as if all my youth were fled. I
suppose I really am quite elderly.
"I should like to know her name, sir," she said, "that I may
mention her with loving respect in my prayers."
I raised the woman and told her the name. It was not Mary. "But
she has a home," I said, "as you have, and I have none. Perhaps,
ma'am, it would be better worth your while to mention me."
It was this woman, now in health, whom I intrusted with the
purchase of the outfits, "one for a boy of six months," I
explained to her, "and one for a boy of a year," for the painter
had boasted to me of David's rapid growth. I think she was a
little surprised to find that both outfits were for the same
house; and she certainly betrayed an ignoble curiosity about the
mother's Christian name, but she was much easier to brow-beat
than a fine lady would have been, and I am sure she and her
daughter enjoyed themselves hugely in the shops, from one of
which I shall never forget Irene emerging proudly with a
commissionaire, who conducted her under an umbrella to the cab
where I was lying in wait. I think that was the most celestial
walk of Irene's life.
I told Mrs. Hicking to give the articles a little active ill-
treatment that they might not look quite new, at which she
exclaimed, not being in my secret, and then to forward them to
me. I then sent them to Mary and rejoiced in my devilish cunning
all the evening, but chagrin came in the morning with a letter
from her which showed she knew all, that I was her Mr. Anon, and
that there never had been a Timothy. I think I was never so
gravelled. Even now I don't know how she had contrived it.
Her cleverness raised such a demon in me that I locked away her
letter at once and have seldom read it since. No married lady
should have indited such an epistle to a single man. It said,
with other things which I decline to repeat, that I was her good
fairy. As a sample of the deliberate falsehoods in it, I may
mention that she said David loved me already. She hoped that I
would come in often to see her husband, who was very proud of my
friendship, and suggested that I should pay him my first visit
to- day at three o'clock, an hour at which, as I happened to
know, he is always away giving a painting-lesson. In short, she
wanted first to meet me alone, so that she might draw the
delicious, respectful romance out of me, and afterward repeat it
to him, with sighs and little peeps at him over her
She had dropped what were meant to look like two tears for me
upon the paper, but I should not wonder though they were only
artful drops of water.
I sent her a stiff and tart reply, declining to hold any
communication with her.
A Confirmed Spinster
I am in danger, I see, of being included among the whimsical
fellows, which I so little desire that I have got me into my
writing-chair to combat the charge, but, having sat for an
unconscionable time with pen poised, I am come agitatedly to the
fear that there may be something in it.
So long a time has elapsed, you must know, since I abated of the
ardours of self-inquiry that I revert in vain (through many rusty
doors) for the beginning of this change in me, if changed I am; I
seem ever to see this same man until I am back in those wonderful
months which were half of my life, when, indeed, I know that I
was otherwise than I am now; no whimsical fellow then, for that
was one of the possibilities I put to myself while seeking for
the explanation of things, and found to be inadmissible. Having
failed in those days to discover why I was driven from the
garden, I suppose I ceased to be enamoured of myself, as of some
dull puzzle, and then perhaps the whimsicalities began to collect
It is a painful thought to me to-night, that he could wake up
glorious once, this man in the elbow-chair by the fire, who is
humorously known at the club as a "confirmed spinster." I
remember him well when his years told four and twenty; on my soul
the proudest subaltern of my acquaintance, and with the most
reason to be proud. There was nothing he might not do in the
future, having already done the biggest thing, this toddler up
Not, indeed, that I am a knave; I am tolerably kind, I believe,
and most inoffensive, a gentleman, I trust, even in the eyes of
the ladies who smile at me as we converse; they are an ever-
increasing number, or so it seems to me to-night. Ah, ladies, I
forget when I first began to notice that smile and to be made
uneasy by it. I think I understand it now, and in some vague way
it hurts me. I find that I watch for it nowadays, but I hope I
am still your loyal, obedient servant.
You will scarcely credit it, but I have just remembered that I
once had a fascinating smile of my own. What has become of my
smile? I swear I have not noticed that it was gone till now; I
am like one who revisiting his school feels suddenly for his old
knife. I first heard of my smile from another boy, whose sisters
had considered all the smiles they knew and placed mine on top.
My friend was scornful, and I bribed him to mention the
plebiscite to no one, but secretly I was elated and amazed. I
feel lost to- night without my smiles. I rose a moment ago to
look for it in my mirror.
I like to believe that she has it now. I think she may have some
other forgotten trifles of mine with it that make the difference
between that man and this. I remember her speaking of my smile,
telling me it was my one adornment, and taking it from me, so to
speak, for a moment to let me see how she looked in it; she
delighted to make sport of me when she was in a wayward mood, and
to show me all my ungainly tricks of voice and gesture,
exaggerated and glorified in her entrancing self, like a star
calling to the earth: "See, I will show you how you hobble
round," and always there was a challenge to me in her eyes to
stop her if I dared, and upon them, when she was most audacious,
lay a sweet mist.
They all came to her court, as is the business of young fellows,
to tell her what love is, and she listened with a noble
frankness, having, indeed, the friendliest face for all engaged
in this pursuit that can ever have sat on woman. I have heard
ladies call her coquette, not understanding that she shone softly
upon all who entered the lists because, with the rarest
intuition, she foresaw that they must go away broken men and
already sympathised with their dear wounds. All wounds incurred
for love were dear to her; at every true utterance about love she
exulted with grave approval, or it might be a with a little "ah!"
or "oh!" like one drinking deliciously. Nothing could have been
more fair, for she was for the first comer who could hit the
target, which was her heart.
She adored all beautiful things in their every curve and
fragrance, so that they became part of her. Day by day, she
gathered beauty; had she had no heart (she who was the bosom of
womanhood) her thoughts would still have been as lilies, because
the good is the beautiful.
And they all forgave her; I never knew of one who did not forgive
her; I think had there been one it would have proved that there
was a flaw in her. Perhaps, when good-bye came she was weeping
because all the pretty things were said and done with, or she was
making doleful confessions about herself, so impulsive and
generous and confidential, and so devoid of humour, that they
compelled even a tragic swain to laugh. She made a looking-glass
of his face to seek wofully in it whether she was at all to
blame, and when his arms went out for her, and she stepped back
so that they fell empty, she mourned, with dear sympathy, his
lack of skill to seize her. For what her soft eyes said was that
she was always waiting tremulously to be won. They all forgave
her, because there was nothing to forgive, or very little, just
the little that makes a dear girl dearer, and often afterward, I
believe, they have laughed fondly when thinking of her, like boys
brought back. You ladies who are everything to your husbands
save a girl from the dream of youth, have you never known that
double- chinned industrious man laugh suddenly in a reverie and
start up, as if he fancied he were being hailed from far-away?
I hear her hailing me now. She was so light-hearted that her
laugh is what comes first across the years; so high-spirited that
she would have wept like Mary of Scots because she could not lie
on the bare plains like the men. I hear her, but it is only as
an echo; I see her, but it is as a light among distant trees, and
the middle-aged man can draw no nearer; she was only for the
boys. There was a month when I could have shown her to you in all
her bravery, but then the veil fell, and from that moment I
understood her not. For long I watched her, but she was never
clear to me again, and for long she hovered round me, like a dear
heart willing to give me a thousand chances to regain her love.
She was so picturesque that she was the last word of art, but she
was as young as if she were the first woman. The world must have
rung with gallant deeds and grown lovely thoughts for numberless
centuries before she could be; she was the child of all the brave
and wistful imaginings of men. She was as mysterious as night
when it fell for the first time upon the earth. She was the
thing we call romance, which lives in the little hut beyond the
blue haze of the pine-woods.
No one could have looked less elfish. She was all on a noble
scale, her attributes were so generous, her manner unconquerably
gracious, her movements indolently active, her face so candid
that you must swear her every thought lived always in the open.
Yet, with it all, she was a wild thing, alert, suspicious of the
lasso, nosing it in every man's hand, more curious about it than
about aught else in the world; her quivering delight was to see
it cast for her, her game to elude it; so mettlesome was she that
she loved it to be cast fair that she might escape as it was
closing round her; she scorned, however her heart might be
beating, to run from her pursuers; she took only the one step
backward, which still left her near them but always out of reach;
her head on high now, but her face as friendly, her manner as
gracious as before, she is yours for the catching. That was ever
the unspoken compact between her and the huntsmen.
It may be but an old trick come back to me with these memories,
but again I clasp my hands to my brows in amaze at the thought
that all this was for me could I retain her love. For I won it,
wonder of the gods, but I won it. I found myself with one foot
across the magic circle wherein she moved, and which none but I
had entered; and so, I think, I saw her in revelation, not as the
wild thing they had all conceived her, but as she really was. I
saw no tameless creature, nothing wild or strange. I saw my
sweet love placid as a young cow browsing. As I brushed aside
the haze and she was truly seen for the first time, she raised
her head, like one caught, and gazed at me with meek affrighted
eyes. I told her what had been revealed to me as I looked upon
her, and she trembled, knowing she was at last found, and fain
would she have fled away, but that her fear was less than her
gladness. She came to me slowly; no incomprehensible thing to me
now, but transparent as a pool, and so restful to look upon that
she was a bath to the eyes, like banks of moss.
Because I knew the maid, she was mine. Every maid, I say, is for
him who can know her. The others had but followed the glamour in
which she walked, but I had pierced it and found the woman. I
could anticipate her every thought and gesture, I could have
flashed and rippled and mocked for her, and melted for her and
been dear disdain for her. She would forget this and be suddenly
conscious of it as she began to speak, when she gave me a look
with a shy smile in it which meant that she knew I was already
waiting at the end of what she had to say. I call this the blush
of the eye. She had a look and a voice that were for me alone;
her very finger-tips were charged with caresses for me. And I
loved even her naughtinesses, as when she stamped her foot at me,
which she could not do without also gnashing her teeth, like a
child trying to look fearsome. How pretty was that gnashing of
her teeth! All her tormentings of me turned suddenly into
sweetnesses, and who could torment like this exquisite fury,
wondering in sudden flame why she could give herself to anyone,
while I wondered only why she could give herself to me. It may
be that I wondered over-much. Perhaps that was why I lost her.
It was in the full of the moon that she was most restive, but I
brought her back, and at first she could have bit my hand, but
then she came willingly. Never, I thought, shall she be wholly
tamed, but he who knows her will always be able to bring her
I am not that man, for mystery of mysteries, I lost her. I know
not how it was, though in the twilight of my life that then began
I groped for reasons until I wearied of myself; all I know is
that she had ceased to love me; I had won her love, but I could
not keep it. The discovery came to me slowly, as if I were a
most dull-witted man; at first I knew only that I no longer
understood her as of old. I found myself wondering what she had
meant by this and that; I did not see that when she began to
puzzle me she was already lost to me. It was as if, unknowing, I
had strayed outside the magic circle.
When I did understand I tried to cheat myself into the belief
that there was no change, and the dear heart bleeding for me
assisted in that poor pretence. She sought to glide to me with
swimming eyes as before, but it showed only that this caressing
movement was still within her compass, but never again for me.
With the hands she had pressed to her breast she touched mine,
but no longer could they convey the message. The current was
broken, and soon we had to desist miserably from our pretences.
She could tell no more than I why she had ceased to love me; she
was scarcely less anxious than I that I should make her love me
again, and, as I have said, she waited with a wonderful tolerance
while I strove futilely to discover in what I was lacking and to
remedy it. And when, at last, she had to leave me, it was with
compassionate cries and little backward flights.
The failure was mine alone, but I think I should not have been so
altered by it had I known what was the defect in me through which
I let her love escape. This puzzle has done me more harm than
the loss of her. Nevertheless, you must know (if I am to speak
honestly to you) that I do not repent me those dallyings in
enchanted fields. It may not have been so always, for I remember
a black night when a poor lieutenant lay down in an oarless boat
and let it drift toward the weir. But his distant moans do not
greatly pain me now; rather am I elated to find (as the waters
bring him nearer) that this boy is I, for it is something to know
that, once upon a time, a woman could draw blood from me as from
I saw her again, years afterward, when she was a married woman
playing with her children. She stamped her foot at a naughty
one, and I saw the gleam of her teeth as she gnashed them in the
dear pretty way I can't forget; and then a boy and girl, fighting
for her shoulders, brought the whole group joyously to the
ground. She picked herself up in the old leisurely manner, lazily
active, and looked around her benignantly, like a cow: our dear
wild one safely tethered at last with a rope of children. I
meant to make her my devoirs, but, as I stepped forward, the old
wound broke out afresh, and I had to turn away. They were but a
few poor drops, which fell because I found that she was even a
little sweeter than I had thought.
I have now told you (I presume) how I became whimsical, and I
fear it would please Mary not at all. But speaking of her, and,
as the cat's light keeps me in a ruminating mood, suppose,
instead of returning Mary to her lover by means of the letter, I
had presented a certain clubman to her consideration? Certainly
no such whimsical idea crossed my mind when I dropped the letter,
but between you and me and my night-socks, which have all this
time been airing by the fire because I am subject to cold feet, I
have sometimes toyed with it since.
Why did I not think of this in time? Was it because I must ever
remain true to the unattainable she?
I am reminded of a passage in the life of a sweet lady, a friend
of mine, whose daughter was on the eve of marriage, when suddenly
her lover died. It then became pitiful to watch that trembling
old face trying to point the way of courage to the young one. In
time, however, there came another youth, as true, I dare say, as
the first, but not so well known to me, and I shrugged my
shoulders cynically to see my old friend once more a matchmaker.
She took him to her heart and boasted of him; like one made young
herself by the great event, she joyously dressed her pale
daughter in her bridal gown, and, with smiles upon her face, she
cast rice after the departing carriage. But soon after it had
gone, I chanced upon her in her room, and she was on her knees in
tears before the spirit of the dead lover. "Forgive me," she
besought him, "for I am old, and life is gray to friendless
girls." The pardon she wanted was for pretending to her daughter
that women should act thus.
I am sure she felt herself soiled.
But men are of a coarser clay. At least I am, and nearly twenty
years had elapsed, and here was I burdened under a load of
affection, like a sack of returned love-letters, with no lap into
which to dump them.
"They were all written to another woman, ma'am, and yet I am in
hopes that you will find something in them about yourself." It
would have sounded oddly to Mary, but life is gray to friendless
girls, and something might have come of it.
On the other hand, it would have brought her for ever out of the
wood of the little hut, and I had but to drop the letter to send
them both back there. The easiness of it tempted me.
Besides, she would tire of me when I was really known to her.
They all do, you see.
And, after all, why should he lose his laugh because I had lost
And then, again, the whole thing was merely a whimsical idea.
I dropped the letter, and shouldered my burden.
The Runaway Perambulator
I sometimes met David in public places such as the Kensington
Gardens, where he lorded it surrounded by his suite and wearing
the blank face and glass eyes of all carriage-people. On these
occasions I always stalked by, meditating on higher things,
though Mary seemed to think me very hardhearted, and Irene, who
had become his nurse (I forget how, but fear I had something to
do with it), ran after me with messages, as, would I not call and
see him in his home at twelve o'clock, at which moment, it
seemed, he was at his best.
No, I would not.
"He says tick-tack to the clock," Irene said, trying to snare me.
"Pooh!" said I.
"Other little 'uns jest says 'tick-tick,'" she told me, with a
flush of pride.
"I prefer 'tick-tick,'" I said, whereat she departed in dudgeon.
Had they had the sense to wheel him behind a tree and leave him,
I would have looked, but as they lacked it, I decided to wait
until he could walk, when it would be more easy to waylay him.
However, he was a cautious little gorbal who, after many threats
to rise, always seemed to come to the conclusion that he might do
worse than remain where he was, and when he had completed his
first year I lost patience with him.
"When I was his age," I said to Irene, "I was running about." I
consulted them casually about this matter at the club, and they
had all been running about at a year old.
I made this nurse the following offer: If she would bring the
dilatory boy to my rooms and leave him there for half an hour I
would look at him. At first Mary, to whom the offer was passed
on, rejected it with hauteur, but presently she wavered, and the
upshot was that Irene, looking scornful and anxious, arrived one
day with the perambulator. Without casting eyes on its occupant,
I pointed Irene to the door: "In half-an-hour," I said.
She begged permission to remain, and promised to turn her back,
and so on, but I was obdurate, and she then delivered herself of
a passionately affectionate farewell to her charge, which was
really all directed against me, and ended with these powerful
words: "And if he takes off your socks, my pretty, may he be
blasted for evermore."
"I shall probably take off her socks," I said carelessly to this.
Her socks. Do you see what made Irene scream?
"It is a girl, is it not?" I asked, thus neatly depriving her of
coherent speech as I pushed her to the door. I then turned round
to--to begin, and, after reflecting, I began by sitting down
behind the hood of his carriage. My plan was to accustom him to
his new surroundings before bursting on the scene myself.
I had various thoughts. Was he awake? If not, better let him
wake naturally. Half-an-hour was a long time. Why had I not
said quarter-of-an-hour? Anon, I saw that if I was to sit there
much longer I should have said an hour, so I whistled softly; but
he took no notice. I remember trying to persuade myself that if
I never budged till Irene's return, it would be an amusing
triumph over Mary. I coughed, but still there was no response.
Abruptly, the fear smote me. Perhaps he is not there.
I rose hastily, and was striding forward, when I distinctly
noticed a covert movement somewhere near the middle of the
carriage, and heard a low gurgle, which was instantly suppressed.
I stopped dead at this sharp reminder that I was probably not the
only curious person in the room, and for a long moment we both
lay low, after which, I am glad to remember, I made the first
advance. Earlier in the day I had arranged some likely articles
on a side- table: my watch and chain, my bunch of keys, and two
war-medals for plodding merit, and with a glance at these (as
something to fall back upon), I stepped forward doggedly, looking
(I fear now) a little like a professor of legerdemain. David was
sitting up, and he immediately fixed his eyes on me.
It would ill become me to attempt to describe this dear boy to
you, for of course I know really nothing about children, so I
shall say only this, that I thought him very like what Timothy
would have been had he ever had a chance.
I to whom David had been brought for judgment, now found myself
being judged by him, and this rearrangement of the pieces seemed
so natural that I felt no surprise; I felt only a humble craving
to hear him signify that I would do. I have stood up before
other keen judges and deceived them all, but I made no effort to
deceive David; I wanted to, but dared not. Those unblinking eyes
were too new to the world to be hooded by any of its tricks. In
them I saw my true self. They opened for me that pedler's pack
of which I have made so much ado, and I found that it was
weighted less with pretty little sad love-tokens than with
ignoble thoughts and deeds and an unguided life. I looked
dejectedly at David, not so much, I think, because I had such a
sorry display for him, as because I feared he would not have me
in his service. I seemed to know that he was making up his mind
once and for all.
And in the end he smiled, perhaps only because I looked so
frightened, but the reason scarcely mattered to me, I felt myself
a fine fellow at once. It was a long smile, too, opening slowly
to its fullest extent (as if to let me in), and then as slowly
Then, to divert me from sad thoughts, or to rivet our friendship,
or because the time had come for each of us to show the other
what he could do, he immediately held one foot high in the air.
This made him slide down the perambulator, and I saw at once that
it was very necessary to replace him. But never before had I
come into such close contact with a child; the most I had ever
done was, when they were held up to me, to shut my eyes and kiss
a vacuum. David, of course, though no doubt he was eternally
being replaced, could tell as little as myself how it was
contrived, and yet we managed it between us quite easily. His
body instinctively assumed a certain position as I touched him,
which compelled my arms to fall into place, and the thing was
done. I felt absurdly pleased, but he was already considering
what he should do next.
He again held up his foot, which had a gouty appearance owing to
its being contained in a dumpy little worsted sock, and I thought
he proposed to repeat his first performance, but in this I did
him an injustice, for, unlike Porthos, he was one who scorned to
do the same feat twice; perhaps, like the conjurors, he knew that
the audience were more on the alert the second time.
I discovered that he wanted me to take off his sock!
Remembering Irene's dread warnings on this subject I must say
that I felt uneasy. Had he heard her, and was he daring me? And
what dire thing could happen if the sock was removed? I sought
to reason with him, but he signed to me to look sharp, and I
removed the sock. The part of him thus revealed gave David
considerable pleasure, but I noticed, as a curious thing, that he
seemed to have no interest in the other foot.
However, it was not there merely to be looked at, for after
giving me a glance which said "Now observe!" he raised his bare
foot and ran his mouth along the toes, like one playing on a
barbaric instrument. He then tossed his foot aside, smiled his
long triumphant smile and intimated that it was now my turn to do
something. I thought the best thing I could do would be to put
his sock on him again, but as soon as I tried to do so I
discovered why Irene had warned me so portentously against taking
it off. I should say that she had trouble in socking him every
Nevertheless I managed to slip it on while he was debating what
to do with my watch. I bitterly regretted that I could do
nothing with it myself, put it under a wine-glass, for instance,
and make it turn into a rabbit, which so many people can do. In
the meantime David, occupied with similar thoughts, very nearly
made it disappear altogether, and I was thankful to be able to
pull it back by the chain.
Thus he commented on his new feat, but it was also a reminder to
me, a trifle cruel, that he was not my boy. After all, you see,
Mary had not given him the whole of his laugh. The watch said
that five and twenty minutes had passed, and looking out I saw
Irene at one end of the street staring up at my window, and at
the other end Mary's husband staring up at my window, and beneath
me Mary staring up at my window. They had all broken their
I returned to David, and asked him in a low voice whether he
would give me a kiss. He shook his head about six times, and I
was in despair. Then the smile came, and I knew that he was
teasing me only. He now nodded his head about six times.
This was the prettiest of all his exploits. It was so pretty
that, contrary to his rule, he repeated it. I had held out my
arms to him, and first he shook his head, and then after a long
pause (to frighten me), he nodded it.
But no sooner was he in my arms than I seemed to see Mary and her
husband and Irene bearing down upon my chambers to take him from
me, and acting under an impulse I whipped him into the
perambulator and was off with it without a license down the back
staircase. To the Kensington Gardens we went; it may have been
Manitoba we started for, but we arrived at the Kensington
Gardens, and it had all been so unpremeditated and smartly
carried out that I remember clapping my hand to my head in the
street, to make sure that I was wearing a hat.
I watched David to see what he thought of it, and he had not yet
made up his mind. Strange to say, I no longer felt shy. I was
grown suddenly indifferent to public comment, and my elation
increased when I discovered that I was being pursued. They drew
a cordon round me near Margot Meredith's tree, but I broke
through it by a strategic movement to the south, and was next
heard of in the Baby's Walk. They held both ends of this
passage, and then thought to close on me, but I slipped through
their fingers by doubling up Bunting's Thumb into Picnic Street.
Cowering at St. Govor's Well, we saw them rush distractedly up
the Hump, and when they had crossed to the Round Pond we paraded
gaily in the Broad Walk, not feeling the tiniest bit sorry for
Here, however, it gradually came into David's eyes that, after
all, I was a strange man, and they opened wider and wider, until
they were the size of my medals, and then, with the deliberation
that distinguishes his smile, he slowly prepared to howl. I saw
all his forces gathering in his face, and I had nothing to oppose
to them; it was an unarmed man against a regiment.
Even then I did not chide him. He could not know that it was I
who had dropped the letter.
I think I must have stepped over a grateful fairy at that moment,
for who else could have reminded me so opportunely of my famous
manipulation of the eyebrows, forgotten since I was in the fifth
form? I alone of boys had been able to elevate and lower my
eyebrows separately; when the one was climbing my forehead the
other descended it, like the two buckets in the well.
Most diffidently did I call this accomplishment to my aid now,
and immediately David checked his forces and considered my
unexpected movement without prejudice. His face remained as it
was, his mouth open to emit the howl if I did not surpass
expectation. I saw that, like the fair-minded boy he has always
been, he was giving me my chance, and I worked feverishly, my
chief fear being that, owing to his youth, he might not know how
marvellous was this thing I was doing. It is an appeal to the
intellect, as well as to the senses, and no one on earth can do
it except myself.
When I paused for a moment exhausted he signed gravely, with
unchanged face, that though it was undeniably funny, he had not
yet decided whether it was funny enough, and, taking this for
encouragement, at it I went once more, till I saw his forces
wavering, when I sent my left eyebrow up almost farther than I
could bring it back, and with that I had him, the smile broke
through the clouds.
In the midst of my hard-won triumph I heard cheering.
I had been vaguely conscious that we were not quite alone, but
had not dared to look away from David; I looked now, and found to
my annoyance that I was the centre of a deeply interested
gathering of children. There was, in particular, one vulgar
little street- boy--
However, if that damped me in the moment of victory, I was soon
to triumph gloriously in what began like defeat. I had sat me
down on one of the garden-seats in the Figs, with one hand
resting carelessly on the perambulator, in imitation of the
nurses, it was so pleasant to assume the air of one who walked
with David daily, when to my chagrin I saw Mary approaching with
quick stealthy steps, and already so near me that flight would
have been ignominy. Porthos, of whom she had hold, bounded
toward me, waving his traitorous tail, but she slowed on seeing
that I had observed her. She had run me down with my own dog.
I have not mentioned that Porthos had for some time now been a
visitor at her house, though never can I forget the shock I got
the first time I saw him strolling out of it like an afternoon
caller. Of late he has avoided it, crossing to the other side
when I go that way, and rejoining me farther on, so I conclude
that Mary's husband is painting him.
I waited her coming stiffly, in great depression of spirits, and
noted that her first attentions were for David, who, somewhat
shabbily, gave her the end of a smile which had been begun for
me. It seemed to relieve her, for what one may call the wild
maternal look left her face, and trying to check little gasps of
breath, the result of unseemly running, she signed to her
confederates to remain in the background, and turned curious eyes
on me. Had she spoken as she approached, I am sure her words
would have been as flushed as her face, but now her mouth
puckered as David's does before he sets forth upon his smile, and
I saw that she thought she had me in a parley at last.
"I could not help being a little anxious," she said craftily, but
I must own, with some sweetness.
I merely raised my hat, and at that she turned quickly to David--I
cannot understand why the movement was so hasty--and lowered her
face to his. Oh, little trump of a boy! Instead of kissing her,
he seized her face with one hand and tried to work her eyebrows
up and down with the other. He failed, and his obvious
disappointment in his mother was as nectar to me.
"I don't understand what you want, darling," said she in
distress, and looked at me inquiringly, and I understood what he
wanted, and let her see that I understood. Had I been prepared
to converse with her, I should have said elatedly that, had she
known what he wanted, still she could not have done it, though
she had practised for twenty years.
I tried to express all this by another movement of my hat.
It caught David's eye and at once he appealed to me with the most
perfect confidence. She failed to see what I did, for I shyly
gave her my back, but the effect on David was miraculous; he
signed to her to go, for he was engaged for the afternoon.
What would you have done then, reader? I didn't. In my great
moment I had strength of character to raise my hat for the third
time and walk away, leaving the child to judge between us. I
walked slowly, for I knew I must give him time to get it out, and
I listened eagerly, but that was unnecessary, for when it did
come it was a very roar of anguish. I turned my head, and saw
David fiercely pushing the woman aside, that he might have one
last long look at me. He held out his wistful arms and nodded
repeatedly, and I faltered, but my glorious scheme saved me, and
I walked on. It was a scheme conceived in a flash, and ever since
relentlessly pursued, to burrow under Mary's influence with the
boy, expose her to him in all her vagaries, take him utterly from
her and make him mine.
The Pleasantest Club in London
All perambulators lead to the Kensington Gardens.
Not, however, that you will see David in his perambulator much
longer, for soon after I first shook his faith in his mother, it
came to him to be up and doing, and he up and did in the Broad
Walk itself, where he would stand alone most elaborately poised,
signing imperiously to the British public to time him, and
looking his most heavenly just before he fell. He fell with a
dump, and as they always laughed then, he pretended that this was
his funny way of finishing.
That was on a Monday. On Tuesday he climbed the stone stair of
the Gold King, looking over his shoulder gloriously at each step,
and on Wednesday he struck three and went into knickerbockers.
For the Kensington Gardens, you must know, are full of short
cuts, familiar to all who play there; and the shortest leads from
the baby in long clothes to the little boy of three riding on the
fence. It is called the Mother's Tragedy.
If you are a burgess of the gardens (which have a vocabulary of
their own), the faces of these quaint mothers are a clock to you,
in which you may read the ages of their young. When he is three
they are said to wear the knickerbocker face, and you may take it
from me that Mary assumed that face with a sigh; fain would she
have kept her boy a baby longer, but he insisted on his rights,
and I encouraged him that I might notch another point against
her. I was now seeing David once at least every week, his mother,
who remained culpably obtuse to my sinister design, having
instructed Irene that I was to be allowed to share him with her,
and we had become close friends, though the little nurse was ever
a threatening shadow in the background. Irene, in short, did not
improve with acquaintance. I found her to be high and mighty,
chiefly, I think, because she now wore a nurse's cap with
streamers, of which the little creature was ludicrously proud.
She assumed the airs of an official person, and always talked as
if generations of babies had passed through her hands. She was
also extremely jealous, and had a way of signifying disapproval
of my methods that led to many coldnesses and even bickerings
between us, which I now see to have been undignified. I brought
the following accusations against her:
That she prated too much about right and wrong.
That she was a martinet.
That she pretended it was a real cap, with real streamers, when
she knew Mary had made the whole thing out of a muslin blind. I
regret having used this argument, but it was the only one that
really damped her.
On the other hand, she accused me of spoiling him.
Of not thinking of his future.
Of never asking him where he expected to go to if he did such
Of telling him tales that had no moral application.
Of saying that the handkerchief disappeared into nothingness,
when it really disappeared into a small tin cup, attached to my
person by a piece of elastic.
To this last charge I plead guilty, for in those days I had a
pathetic faith in legerdemain, and the eyebrow feat (which,
however, is entirely an affair of skill) having yielded such good
results, I naturally cast about for similar diversions when it
ceased to attract. It lost its hold on David suddenly, as I was
to discover was the fate of all of them; twenty times would he
call for my latest, and exult in it, and the twenty-first time
(and ever afterward) he would stare blankly, as if wondering what
the man meant. He was like the child queen who, when the great
joke was explained to her, said coldly, "We are not amused," and,
I assure you, it is a humiliating thing to perform before an
infant who intimates, after giving you ample time to make your
points, that he is not amused. I hoped that when David was able
to talk--and not merely to stare at me for five minutes and then
say "hat"--his spoken verdict, however damning, would be less
expressive than his verdict without words, but I was
disillusioned. I remember once in those later years, when he
could keep up such spirited conversations with himself that he
had little need for any of us, promising him to do something
exceedingly funny with a box and two marbles, and after he had
watched for a long time he said gravely, "Tell me when it begins
to be funny."
I confess to having received a few simple lessons in conjuring,
in a dimly lighted chamber beneath a shop, from a gifted young
man with a long neck and a pimply face, who as I entered took a
barber's pole from my pocket, saying at the same time, "Come,
come, sir, this will never do." Whether because he knew too
much, or because he wore a trick shirt, he was the most
depressing person I ever encountered; he felt none of the
artist's joy, and it was sad to see one so well calculated to
give pleasure to thousands not caring a dump about it.
The barber's pole I successfully extracted from David's mouth,
but the difficulty (not foreseen) of knowing how to dispose of a
barber's pole in the Kensington Gardens is considerable, there
always being polite children hovering near who run after you and
restore it to you. The young man, again, had said that anyone
would lend me a bottle or a lemon, but though these were articles
on which he seemed ever able to lay his hand, I found (what I had
never noticed before) that there is a curious dearth of them in
the Gardens. The magic egg-cup I usually carried about with me,
and with its connivance I did some astonishing things with
pennies, but even the penny that costs sixpence is uncertain, and
just when you are saying triumphantly that it will be found in
the egg-cup, it may clatter to the ground, whereon some
ungenerous spectator, such as Irene, accuses you of fibbing and
corrupting youthful minds. It was useless to tell her, through
clenched teeth, that the whole thing was a joke, for she
understood no jokes except her own, of which she had the most
immoderately high opinion, and that would have mattered little to
me had not David liked them also. There were times when I could
not but think less of the boy, seeing him rock convulsed over
antics of Irene that have been known to every nursemaid since the
year One. While I stood by, sneering, he would give me the
ecstatic look that meant, "Irene is really very entertaining,
We were rivals, but I desire to treat her with scrupulous
fairness, and I admit that she had one good thing, to wit, her
gutta-percha tooth. In earlier days one of her front teeth, as
she told me, had fallen out, but instead of then parting with it,
the resourceful child had hammered it in again with a hair-brush,
which she offered to show me, with the dents on it. This tooth,
having in time passed away, its place was supplied by one of
gutta-percha, made by herself, which seldom came out except when
she sneezed, and if it merely fell at her feet this was a sign
that the cold was to be a slight one, but if it shot across the
room she knew she was in for something notable. Irene's tooth
was very favourably known in the Gardens, where the perambulators
used to gather round her to hear whether it had been doing
anything to-day, and I would not have grudged David his
proprietary pride in it, had he seemed to understand that Irene's
one poor little accomplishment, though undeniably showy, was
without intellectual merit. I have sometimes stalked away from
him, intimating that if his regard was to be got so cheaply I
begged to retire from the competition, but the Gardens are the
pleasantest club in London, and I soon returned. How I scoured
the Gardens looking for him, and how skilful I became at picking
him out far away among the trees, though other mothers imitated
the picturesque attire of him, to Mary's indignation. I also cut
Irene's wings (so to speak) by taking her to a dentist.
And David did some adorable things. For instance, he used my
pockets as receptacles into which he put any article he might not
happen to want at the moment. He shoved it in, quite as if they
were his own pockets, without saying, By your leave, and perhaps
I discovered it on reaching home--a tin-soldier, or a pistol--when
I put it on my mantleshelf and sighed. And here is another
pleasant memory. One day I had been over-friendly to another
boy, and, after enduring it for some time David up and struck
him. It was exactly as Porthos does, when I favour other dogs
(he knocks them down with his foot and stands over them, looking
very noble and stern), so I knew its meaning at once; it was
David's first public intimation that he knew I belonged to him.
Irene scolded him for striking that boy, and made him stand in
disgrace at the corner of a seat in the Broad Walk. The seat at
the corner of which David stood suffering for love of me, is the
one nearest to the Round Pond to persons coming from the north.
You may be sure that she and I had words over this fiendish
cruelty. When next we met I treated her as one who no longer
existed, and at first she bridled and then was depressed, and as
I was going away she burst into tears. She cried because neither
at meeting nor parting had I lifted my hat to her, a foolish
custom of mine, of which, as I now learned to my surprise, she
was very proud. She and I still have our tiffs, but I have never
since then forgotten to lift my hat to Irene. I also made her
promise to bow to me, at which she affected to scoff, saying I
was taking my fun of her, but she was really pleased, and I tell
you, Irene has one of the prettiest and most touching little bows
imaginable; it is half to the side (if I may so express myself),
which has always been my favourite bow, and, I doubt not, she
acquired it by watching Mary.
I should be sorry to have it thought, as you may now be thinking,
that I look on children as on puppy-dogs, who care only for play.
Perhaps that was my idea when first I tried to lure David to my
unaccustomed arms, and even for some time after, for if I am to
be candid, I must own that until he was three years old I sought
merely to amuse him. God forgive me, but I had only one day a
week in which to capture him, and I was very raw at the business.
I was about to say that David opened my eyes to the folly of it,
but really I think this was Irene's doing. Watching her with
children I learned that partial as they are to fun they are moved
almost more profoundly by moral excellence. So fond of babes was
this little mother that she had always room near her for one
more, and often have I seen her in the Gardens, the centre of a
dozen mites who gazed awestruck at her while she told them
severely how little ladies and gentlemen behave. They were
children of the well-to-pass, and she was from Drury Lane, but
they believed in her as the greatest of all authorities on little
ladies and gentlemen, and the more they heard of how these
romantic creatures keep themselves tidy and avoid pools and wait
till they come to a gate, the more they admired them, though
their faces showed how profoundly they felt that to be little
ladies and gentlemen was not for them. You can't think what
hopeless little faces they were.
Children are not at all like puppies, I have said. But do
puppies care only for play? That wistful look, which the
merriest of them sometimes wear, I wonder whether it means that
they would like to hear about the good puppies?
As you shall see, I invented many stories for David, practising
the telling of them by my fireside as if they were conjuring
feats, while Irene knew only one, but she told it as never has
any other fairy-tale been told in my hearing. It was the
prettiest of them all, and was recited by the heroine.
"Why were the king and queen not at home?" David would ask her
"I suppose," said Irene, thinking it out, "they was away buying
She always told the story gazing into vacancy, so that David
thought it was really happening somewhere up the Broad Walk, and
when she came to its great moments her little bosom heaved.
Never shall I forget the concentrated scorn with which the prince
said to the sisters, "Neither of you ain't the one what wore the
"And then--and then--and then--," said Irene, not artistically to
increase the suspense, but because it was all so glorious to her.
"Tell me--tell me quick," cried David, though he knew the tale by
"She sits down like," said Irene, trembling in second-sight, "and
she tries on the glass slipper, and it fits her to a T, and then
the prince, he cries in a ringing voice, 'This here is my true
love, Cinderella, what now I makes my lawful wedded wife.'"
Then she would come out of her dream, and look round at the
grandees of the Gardens with an extraordinary elation. "Her, as
was only a kitchen drudge," she would say in a strange soft voice
and with shining eyes, "but was true and faithful in word and
deed, such was her reward."
I am sure that had the fairy godmother appeared just then and
touched Irene with her wand, David would have been interested
rather than astonished. As for myself, I believe I have
surprised this little girl's secret. She knows there are no
fairy godmothers nowadays, but she hopes that if she is always
true and faithful she may some day turn into a lady in word and
deed, like the mistress whom she adores.
It is a dead secret, a Drury Lane child's romance; but what an
amount of heavy artillery will be brought to bear against it in
this sad London of ours. Not much chance for her, I suppose.
Good luck to you, Irene.
The Grand Tour of the Gardens
You must see for yourselves that it will be difficult to follow
our adventures unless you are familiar with the Kensington
Gardens, as they now became known to David. They are in London,
where the King lives, and you go to them every day unless you are
looking decidedly flushed, but no one has ever been in the whole
of the Gardens, because it is so soon time to turn back. The
reason it is soon time to turn back is that you sleep from twelve
to one. If your mother was not so sure that you sleep from
twelve to one, you could most likely see the whole of them.
The Gardens are bounded on one side by a never-ending line of
omnibuses, over which Irene has such authority that if she holds
up her finger to any one of them it stops immediately. She then
crosses with you in safety to the other side. There are more
gates to the Gardens than one gate, but that is the one you go in
at, and before you go in you speak to the lady with the balloons,
who sits just outside. This is as near to being inside as she
may venture, because, if she were to let go her hold of the
railings for one moment, the balloons would lift her up, and she
would be flown away. She sits very squat, for the balloons are
always tugging at her, and the strain has given her quite a red
face. Once she was a new one, because the old one had let go, and
David was very sorry for the old one, but as she did let go, he
wished he had been there to see.
The Gardens are a tremendous big place, with millions and
hundreds of trees, and first you come to the Figs, but you scorn
to loiter there, for the Figs is the resort of superior little
persons, who are forbidden to mix with the commonalty, and is so
named, according to legend, because they dress in full fig.
These dainty ones are themselves contemptuously called Figs by
David and other heroes, and you have a key to the manners and
customs of this dandiacal section of the Gardens when I tell you
that cricket is called crickets here. Occasionally a rebel Fig
climbs over the fence into the world, and such a one was Miss
Mabel Grey, of whom I shall tell you when we come to Miss Mabel
Grey's gate. She was the only really celebrated Fig.
We are now in the Broad Walk, and it is as much bigger than the
other walks as your father is bigger than you. David wondered if
it began little, and grew and grew, till it was quite grown up,
and whether the other walks are its babies, and he drew a
picture, which diverted him very much, of the Broad Walk giving a
tiny walk an airing in a perambulator. In the Broad Walk you
meet all the people who are worth knowing, and there is usually a
grown-up with them to prevent their going on the damp grass, and
to make them stand disgraced at the corner of a seat if they have
been mad-dog or Mary-Annish. To be Mary-Annish is to behave like
a girl, whimpering because nurse won't carry you, or simpering
with your thumb in your mouth, and it is a hateful quality, but
to be mad- dog is to kick out at everything, and there is some
satisfaction in that.
If I were to point out all the notable places as we pass up the
Broad Walk, it would be time to turn back before we reach them,
and I simply wave my stick at Cecco's Tree, that memorable spot
where a boy called Cecco lost his penny, and, looking for it,
found twopence. There has been a good deal of excavation going
on there ever since. Farther up the walk is the little wooden
house in which Marmaduke Perry hid. There is no more awful story
of the Gardens by day than this of Marmaduke Perry, who had been
Mary- Annish three days in succession, and was sentenced to
appear in the Broad Walk dressed in his sister's clothes. He hid
in the little wooden house, and refused to emerge until they
brought him knickerbockers with pockets.
You now try to go to the Round Pond, but nurses hate it, because
they are not really manly, and they make you look the other way,
at the Big Penny and the Baby's Palace. She was the most
celebrated baby of the Gardens, and lived in the palace all
alone, with ever so many dolls, so people rang the bell, and up
she got out of her bed, though it was past six o'clock, and she
lighted a candle and opened the door in her nighty, and then they
all cried with great rejoicings, "Hail, Queen of England!" What
puzzled David most was how she knew where the matches were kept.
The Big Penny is a statue about her.
Next we come to the Hump, which is the part of the Broad Walk
where all the big races are run, and even though you had no
intention of running you do run when you come to the Hump, it is
such a fascinating, slide-down kind of place. Often you stop
when you have run about half-way down it, and then you are lost,
but there is another little wooden house near here, called the
Lost House, and so you tell the man that you are lost and then he
finds you. It is glorious fun racing down the Hump, but you
can't do it on windy days because then you are not there, but the
fallen leaves do it instead of you. There is almost nothing that
has such a keen sense of fun as a fallen leaf.
From the Hump we can see the gate that is called after Miss Mabel
Grey, the Fig I promised to tell you about. There were always
two nurses with her, or else one mother and one nurse, and for a
long time she was a pattern-child who always coughed off the
table and said, "How do you do?" to the other Figs, and the only
game she played at was flinging a ball gracefully and letting the
nurse bring it back to her. Then one day she tired of it all and
went mad-dog, and, first, to show that she as really was mad-dog,
she unloosened both her boot-laces and put out her tongue east,
west, north, and south. She then flung her sash into a puddle
and danced on it till dirty water was squirted over her frock,
after which she climbed the fence and had a series of incredible
adventures, one of the least of which was that she kicked off
both her boots. At last she came to the gate that is now called
after her, out of which she ran into streets David and I have
never been in though we have heard them roaring, and still she
ran on and would never again have been heard of had not her
mother jumped into a bus and thus overtaken her. It all
happened, I should say, long ago, and this is not the Mabel Grey
whom David knows.
Returning up the Broad Walk we have on our right the Baby Walk,
which is so full of perambulators that you could cross from side
to side stepping on babies, but the nurses won't let you do it.
From this walk a passage called Bunting's Thumb, because it is
that length, leads into Picnic Street, where there are real
kettles, and chestnut-blossom falls into your mug as you are
drinking. Quite common children picnic here also, and the
blossom falls into their mugs just the same.
Next comes St. Govor's Well, which was full of water when Malcolm
the Bold fell into it. He was his mother's favourite, and he let
her put her arm round his neck in public because she was a widow,
but he was also partial to adventures and liked to play with a
chimney-sweep who had killed a good many bears. The sweep's name
was Sooty, and one day when they were playing near the well,
Malcolm fell in and would have been drowned had not Sooty dived
in and rescued him, and the water had washed Sooty clean and he
now stood revealed as Malcolm's long-lost father. So Malcolm
would not let his mother put her arm round his neck any more.
Between the well and the Round Pond are the cricket-pitches, and
frequently the choosing of sides exhausts so much time that there
is scarcely any cricket. Everybody wants to bat first, and as
soon as he is out he bowls unless you are the better wrestler,
and while you are wrestling with him the fielders have scattered
to play at something else. The Gardens are noted for two kinds
of cricket: boy cricket, which is real cricket with a bat, and
girl cricket, which is with a racquet and the governess. Girls
can't really play cricket, and when you are watching their futile
efforts you make funny sounds at them. Nevertheless, there was a
very disagreeable incident one day when some forward girls
challenged David's team, and a disturbing creature called Angela
Clare sent down so many yorkers that--However, instead of telling
you the result of that regrettable match I shall pass on
hurriedly to the Round Pond, which is the wheel that keeps all
the Gardens going.
It is round because it is in the very middle of the Gardens, and
when you are come to it you never want to go any farther. You
can't be good all the time at the Round Pond, however much you
try. You can be good in the Broad Walk all the time, but not at
the Round Pond, and the reason is that you forget, and, when you
remember, you are so wet that you may as well be wetter. There
are men who sail boats on the Round Pond, such big boats that
they bring them in barrows and sometimes in perambulators, and
then the baby has to walk. The bow-legged children in the
Gardens are these who had to walk too soon because their father
needed the perambulator.
You always want to have a yacht to sail on the Round Pond, and in
the end your uncle gives you one; and to carry it to the Pond the
first day is splendid, also to talk about it to boys who have no
uncle is splendid, but soon you like to leave it at home. For
the sweetest craft that slips her moorings in the Round Pond is
what is called a stick-boat, because she is rather like a stick
until she is in the water and you are holding the string. Then
as you walk round, pulling her, you see little men running about
her deck, and sails rise magically and catch the breeze, and you
put in on dirty nights at snug harbours which are unknown to the
lordly yachts. Night passes in a twink, and again your rakish
craft noses for the wind, whales spout, you glide over buried
cities, and have brushes with pirates and cast anchor on coral
isles. You are a solitary boy while all this is taking place,
for two boys together cannot adventure far upon the Round Pond,
and though you may talk to yourself throughout the voyage, giving
orders and executing them with dispatch, you know not, when it is
time to go home, where you have been or what swelled your sails;
your treasure-trove is all locked away in your hold, so to speak,
which will be opened, perhaps, by another little boy many years
But those yachts have nothing in their hold. Does anyone return
to this haunt of his youth because of the yachts that used to
sail it? Oh, no. It is the stick-boat that is freighted with
memories. The yachts are toys, their owner a fresh-water
mariner, they can cross and recross a pond only while the stick-
boat goes to sea. You yachtsmen with your wands, who think we
are all there to gaze on you, your ships are only accidents of
this place, and were they all to be boarded and sunk by the ducks
the real business of the Round Pond would be carried on as usual.
Paths from everywhere crowd like children to the pond. Some of
them are ordinary paths, which have a rail on each side, and are
made by men with their coats off, but others are vagrants, wide
at one spot and at another so narrow that you can stand astride
them. They are called Paths that have Made Themselves, and David
did wish he could see them doing it. But, like all the most
wonderful things that happen in the Gardens, it is done, we
concluded, at night after the gates are closed. We have also
decided that the paths make themselves because it is their only
chance of getting to the Round Pond.
One of these gypsy paths comes from the place where the sheep get
their hair cut. When David shed his curls at the hair-dresser's,
I am told, he said good-bye to them without a tremor, though Mary
has never been quite the same bright creature since, so he
despises the sheep as they run from their shearer and calls out
tauntingly, "Cowardy, cowardy custard!" But when the man grips
them between his legs David shakes a fist at him for using such
big scissors. Another startling moment is when the man turns
back the grimy wool from the sheeps' shoulders and they look
suddenly like ladies in the stalls of a theatre. The sheep are
so frightened by the shearing that it makes them quite white and
thin, and as soon as they are set free they begin to nibble the
grass at once, quite anxiously, as if they feared that they would
never be worth eating. David wonders whether they know each
other, now that they are so different, and if it makes them fight
with the wrong ones. They are great fighters, and thus so unlike
country sheep that every year they give Porthos a shock. He can
make a field of country sheep fly by merely announcing his
approach, but these town sheep come toward him with no promise of
gentle entertainment, and then a light from last year breaks upon
Porthos. He cannot with dignity retreat, but he stops and looks
about him as if lost in admiration of the scenery, and presently
he strolls away with a fine indifference and a glint at me from
the corner of his eye.
The Serpentine begins near here. It is a lovely lake, and there
is a drowned forest at the bottom of it. If you peer over the
edge you can see the trees all growing upside down, and they say
that at night there are also drowned stars in it. If so, Peter
Pan sees them when he is sailing across the lake in the Thrush's
Nest. A small part only of the Serpentine is in the Gardens, for
soon it passes beneath a bridge to far away where the island is
on which all the birds are born that become baby boys and girls.
No one who is human, except Peter Pan (and he is only half
human), can land on the island, but you may write what you want
(boy or girl, dark or fair) on a piece of paper, and then twist
it into the shape of a boat and slip it into the water, and it
reaches Peter Pan's island after dark.
We are on the way home now, though, of course, it is all pretence
that we can go to so many of the places in one day. I should
have had to be carrying David long ago and resting on every seat
like old Mr. Salford. That was what we called him, because he
always talked to us of a lovely place called Salford where he had
been born. He was a crab-apple of an old gentleman who wandered
all day in the Gardens from seat to seat trying to fall in with
somebody who was acquainted with the town of Salford, and when we
had known him for a year or more we actually did meet another
aged solitary who had once spent Saturday to Monday in Salford.
He was meek and timid and carried his address inside his hat, and
whatever part of London he was in search of he always went to the
General Post-office first as a starting-point. Him we carried in
triumph to our other friend, with the story of that Saturday to
Monday, and never shall I forget the gloating joy with which Mr.
Salford leapt at him. They have been cronies ever since, and I
notice that Mr. Salford, who naturally does most of the talking,
keeps tight grip of the other old man's coat.
The two last places before you come to our gate are the Dog's
Cemetery and the chaffinch's nest, but we pretend not to know
what the Dog's Cemetery is, as Porthos is always with us. The
nest is very sad. It is quite white, and the way we found it was
wonderful. We were having another look among the bushes for
David's lost worsted ball, and instead of the ball we found a
lovely nest made of the worsted, and containing four eggs, with
scratches on them very like David's handwriting, so we think they
must have been the mother's love-letters to the little ones
inside. Every day we were in the Gardens we paid a call at the
nest, taking care that no cruel boy should see us, and we dropped
crumbs, and soon the bird knew us as friends, and sat in the nest
looking at us kindly with her shoulders hunched up. But one day
when we went, there were only two eggs in the nest, and the next
time there were none. The saddest part of it was that the poor
little chaffinch fluttered about the bushes, looking so
reproachfully at us that we knew she thought we had done it, and
though David tried to explain to her, it was so long since he had
spoken the bird language that I fear she did not understand. He
and I left the Gardens that day with our knuckles in our eyes.
If you ask your mother whether she knew about Peter Pan when she
was a little girl she will say, "Why, of course, I did, child,"
and if you ask her whether he rode on a goat in those days she
will say, "What a foolish question to ask; certainly he did."
Then if you ask your grandmother whether she knew about Peter Pan
when she was a girl, she also says, "Why, of course, I did,
child," but if you ask her whether he rode on a goat in those
days, she says she never heard of his having a goat. Perhaps she
has forgotten, just as she sometimes forgets your name and calls
you Mildred, which is your mother's name. Still, she could
hardly forget such an important thing as the goat. Therefore
there was no goat when your grandmother was a little girl. This
shows that, in telling the story of Peter Pan, to begin with the
goat (as most people do) is as silly as to put on your jacket
before your vest.
Of course, it also shows that Peter is ever so old, but he is
really always the same age, so that does not matter in the least.
His age is one week, and though he was born so long ago he has
never had a birthday, nor is there the slightest chance of his
ever having one. The reason is that he escaped from being a
human when he was seven days' old; he escaped by the window and
flew back to the Kensington Gardens.
If you think he was the only baby who ever wanted to escape, it
shows how completely you have forgotten your own young days.
When David heard this story first he was quite certain that he
had never tried to escape, but I told him to think back hard,
pressing his hands to his temples, and when he had done this
hard, and even harder, he distinctly remembered a youthful desire
to return to the tree-tops, and with that memory came others, as
that he had lain in bed planning to escape as soon as his mother
was asleep, and how she had once caught him half-way up the
chimney. All children could have such recollections if they
would press their hands hard to their temples, for, having been
birds before they were human, they are naturally a little wild
during the first few weeks, and very itchy at the shoulders,
where their wings used to be. So David tells me.
I ought to mention here that the following is our way with a
story: First, I tell it to him, and then he tells it to me, the
understanding being that it is quite a different story; and then
I retell it with his additions, and so we go on until no one
could say whether it is more his story or mine. In this story of
Peter Pan, for instance, the bald narrative and most of the moral
reflections are mine, though not all, for this boy can be a stern
moralist, but the interesting bits about the ways and customs of
babies in the bird-stage are mostly reminiscences of David's,
recalled by pressing his hands to his temples and thinking hard.
Well, Peter Pan got out by the window, which had no bars.
Standing on the ledge he could see trees far away, which were
doubtless the Kensington Gardens, and the moment he saw them he
entirely forgot that he was now a little boy in a nightgown, and
away he flew, right over the houses to the Gardens. It is
wonderful that he could fly without wings, but the place itched
tremendously, and, perhaps we could all fly if we were as dead-
confident-sure of our capacity to do it as was bold Peter Pan
He alighted gaily on the open sward, between the Baby's Palace
and the Serpentine, and the first thing he did was to lie on his
back and kick. He was quite unaware already that he had ever
been human, and thought he was a bird, even in appearance, just
the same as in his early days, and when he tried to catch a fly
he did not understand that the reason he missed it was because he
had attempted to seize it with his hand, which, of course, a bird
never does. He saw, however, that it must be past Lock-out Time,
for there were a good many fairies about, all too busy to notice
him; they were getting breakfast ready, milking their cows,
drawing water, and so on, and the sight of the water-pails made
him thirsty, so he flew over to the Round Pond to have a drink.
He stooped, and dipped his beak in the pond; he thought it was
his beak, but, of course, it was only his nose, and, therefore,
very little water came up, and that not so refreshing as usual,
so next he tried a puddle, and he fell flop into it. When a real
bird falls in flop, he spreads out his feathers and pecks them
dry, but Peter could not remember what was the thing to do, and
he decided, rather sulkily, to go to sleep on the weeping beech
in the Baby Walk.
At first he found some difficulty in balancing himself on a
branch, but presently he remembered the way, and fell asleep. He
awoke long before morning, shivering, and saying to himself, "I
never was out in such a cold night;" he had really been out in
colder nights when he was a bird, but, of course, as everybody
knows, what seems a warm night to a bird is a cold night to a boy
in a nightgown. Peter also felt strangely uncomfortable, as if
his head was stuffy, he heard loud noises that made him look
round sharply, though they were really himself sneezing. There
was something he wanted very much, but, though he knew he wanted
it, he could not think what it was. What he wanted so much was
his mother to blow his nose, but that never struck him, so he
decided to appeal to the fairies for enlightenment. They are
reputed to know a good deal.
There were two of them strolling along the Baby Walk, with their
arms round each other's waists, and he hopped down to address
them. The fairies have their tiffs with the birds, but they
usually give a civil answer to a civil question, and he was quite
angry when these two ran away the moment they saw him. Another
was lolling on a garden-chair, reading a postage-stamp which some
human had let fall, and when he heard Peter's voice he popped in
alarm behind a tulip.
To Peter's bewilderment he discovered that every fairy he met
fled from him. A band of workmen, who were sawing down a
toadstool, rushed away, leaving their tools behind them. A
milkmaid turned her pail upside down and hid in it. Soon the
Gardens were in an uproar. Crowds of fairies were running this
away and that, asking each other stoutly, who was afraid, lights
were extinguished, doors barricaded, and from the grounds of
Queen Mab's palace came the rubadub of drums, showing that the
royal guard had been called out. A regiment of Lancers came
charging down the Broad Walk, armed with holly-leaves, with which
they jog the enemy horribly in passing. Peter heard the little
people crying everywhere that there was a human in the Gardens
after Lock-out Time, but he never thought for a moment that he
was the human. He was feeling stuffier and stuffier, and more
and more wistful to learn what he wanted done to his nose, but he
pursued them with the vital question in vain; the timid creatures
ran from him, and even the Lancers, when he approached them up
the Hump, turned swiftly into a side-walk, on the pretence that
they saw him there.
Despairing of the fairies, he resolved to consult the birds, but
now he remembered, as an odd thing, that all the birds on the
weeping beech had flown away when he alighted on it, and though
that had not troubled him at the time, he saw its meaning now.
Every living thing was shunning him. Poor little Peter Pan, he
sat down and cried, and even then he did not know that, for a
bird, he was sitting on his wrong part. It is a blessing that he
did not know, for otherwise he would have lost faith in his power
to fly, and the moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease
forever to be able to do it. The reason birds can fly and we
can't is simply that they have perfect faith, for to have faith
is to have wings.
Now, except by flying, no one can reach the island in the
Serpentine, for the boats of humans are forbidden to land there,
and there are stakes round it, standing up in the water, on each
of which a bird-sentinel sits by day and night. It was to the
island that Peter now flew to put his strange case before old
Solomon Caw, and he alighted on it with relief, much heartened to
find himself at last at home, as the birds call the island. All
of them were asleep, including the sentinels, except Solomon, who
was wide awake on one side, and he listened quietly to Peter's
adventures, and then told him their true meaning.
"Look at your night-gown, if you don't believe me," Solomon said,
and with staring eyes Peter looked at his night-gown, and then at
the sleeping birds. Not one of them wore anything.
"How many of your toes are thumbs?" said Solomon a little
cruelly, and Peter saw to his consternation, that all his toes
were fingers. The shock was so great that it drove away his
"Ruffle your feathers," said that grim old Solomon, and Peter
tried most desperately hard to ruffle his feathers, but he had
none. Then he rose up, quaking, and for the first time since he
stood on the window-ledge, he remembered a lady who had been very
fond of him.
"I think I shall go back to mother," he said timidly.
"Good-bye," replied Solomon Caw with a queer look.
But Peter hesitated. "Why don't you go?" the old one asked
"I suppose," said Peter huskily, "I suppose I can still fly?"
You see, he had lost faith.
"Poor little half-and-half," said Solomon, who was not really
hard-hearted, "you will never be able to fly again, not even on
windy days. You must live here on the island always."
"And never even go to the Kensington Gardens?" Peter asked
"How could you get across?" said Solomon. He promised very
kindly, however, to teach Peter as many of the bird ways as could
be learned by one of such an awkward shape.
"Then I sha'n't be exactly a human?" Peter asked.
"Nor exactly a bird?"
"What shall I be?"
"You will be a Betwixt-and-Between," Solomon said, and certainly
he was a wise old fellow, for that is exactly how it turned out.
The birds on the island never got used to him. His oddities
tickled them every day, as if they were quite new, though it was
really the birds that were new. They came out of the eggs daily,
and laughed at him at once, then off they soon flew to be humans,
and other birds came out of other eggs, and so it went on
forever. The crafty mother-birds, when they tired of sitting on
their eggs, used to get the young one to break their shells a day
before the right time by whispering to them that now was their
chance to see Peter washing or drinking or eating. Thousands
gathered round him daily to watch him do these things, just as
you watch the peacocks, and they screamed with delight when he
lifted the crusts they flung him with his hands instead of in the
usual way with the mouth. All his food was brought to him from
the Gardens at Solomon's orders by the birds. He would not eat
worms or insects (which they thought very silly of him), so they
brought him bread in their beaks. Thus, when you cry out,
"Greedy! Greedy!" to the bird that flies away with the big crust,
you know now that you ought not to do this, for he is very likely
taking it to Peter Pan.
Peter wore no night-gown now. You see, the birds were always
begging him for bits of it to line their nests with, and, being
very good-natured, he could not refuse, so by Solomon's advice he
had hidden what was left of it. But, though he was now quite
naked, you must not think that he was cold or unhappy. He was
usually very happy and gay, and the reason was that Solomon had
kept his promise and taught him many of the bird ways. To be
easily pleased, for instance, and always to be really doing
something, and to think that whatever he was doing was a thing of
vast importance. Peter became very clever at helping the birds
to build their nests; soon he could build better than a
wood-pigeon, and nearly as well as a blackbird, though never did
he satisfy the finches, and he made nice little water-troughs
near the nests and dug up worms for the young ones with his
fingers. He also became very learned in bird-lore, and knew an
east-wind from a west-wind by its smell, and he could see the
grass growing and hear the insects walking about inside the
tree-trunks. But the best thing Solomon had done was to teach
him to have a glad heart. All birds have glad hearts unless you
rob their nests, and so as they were the only kind of heart
Solomon knew about, it was easy to him to teach Peter how to have
Peter's heart was so glad that he felt he must sing all day long,
just as the birds sing for joy, but, being partly human, he
needed an instrument, so he made a pipe of reeds, and he used to
sit by the shore of the island of an evening, practising the
sough of the wind and the ripple of the water, and catching
handfuls of the shine of the moon, and he put them all in his
pipe and played them so beautifully that even the birds were
deceived, and they would say to each other, "Was that a fish
leaping in the water or was it Peter playing leaping fish on his
pipe?" and sometimes he played the birth of birds, and then the
mothers would turn round in their nests to see whether they had
laid an egg. If you are a child of the Gardens you must know the
chestnut-tree near the bridge, which comes out in flower first of
all the chestnuts, but perhaps you have not heard why this tree
leads the way. It is because Peter wearies for summer and plays
that it has come, and the chestnut being so near, hears him and
But as Peter sat by the shore tootling divinely on his pipe he
sometimes fell into sad thoughts and then the music became sad
also, and the reason of all this sadness was that he could not
reach the Gardens, though he could see them through the arch of
the bridge. He knew he could never be a real human again, and
scarcely wanted to be one, but oh, how he longed to play as other
children play, and of course there is no such lovely place to
play in as the Gardens. The birds brought him news of how boys
and girls play, and wistful tears started in Peter's eyes.
Perhaps you wonder why he did not swim across. The reason was
that he could not swim. He wanted to know how to swim, but no
one on the island knew the way except the ducks, and they are so
stupid. They were quite willing to teach him, but all they could
say about it was, "You sit down on the top of the water in this
way, and then you kick out like that." Peter tried it often, but
always before he could kick out he sank. What he really needed
to know was how you sit on the water without sinking, and they
said it was quite impossible to explain such an easy thing as
that. Occasionally swans touched on the island, and he would give
them all his day's food and then ask them how they sat on the
water, but as soon as he had no more to give them the hateful
things hissed at him and sailed away.
Once he really thought he had discovered a way of reaching the
Gardens. A wonderful white thing, like a runaway newspaper,
floated high over the island and then tumbled, rolling over and
over after the manner of a bird that has broken its wing. Peter
was so frightened that he hid, but the birds told him it was only
a kite, and what a kite is, and that it must have tugged its
string out of a boy's hand, and soared away. After that they
laughed at Peter for being so fond of the kite, he loved it so
much that he even slept with one hand on it, and I think this was
pathetic and pretty, for the reason he loved it was because it
had belonged to a real boy.
To the birds this was a very poor reason, but the older ones felt
grateful to him at this time because he had nursed a number of
fledglings through the German measles, and they offered to show
him how birds fly a kite. So six of them took the end of the
string in their beaks and flew away with it; and to his amazement
it flew after them and went even higher than they.
Peter screamed out, "Do it again!" and with great good-nature
they did it several times, and always instead of thanking them he
cried, "Do it again!" which shows that even now he had not quite
forgotten what it was to be a boy.
At last, with a grand design burning within his brave heart, he
begged them to do it once more with him clinging to the tail, and
now a hundred flew off with the string, and Peter clung to the
tail, meaning to drop off when he was over the Gardens. But the
kite broke to pieces in the air, and he would have drowned in the
Serpentine had he not caught hold of two indignant swans and made
them carry him to the island. After this the birds said that
they would help him no more in his mad enterprise.
Nevertheless, Peter did reach the Gardens at last by the help of
Shelley's boat, as I am now to tell you.
The Thrush's Nest
Shelley was a young gentleman and as grown-up as he need ever
expect to be. He was a poet; and they are never exactly
grown-up. They are people who despise money except what you need
for to-day, and he had all that and five pounds over. So, when
he was walking in the Kensington Gardens, he made a paper boat of
his bank-note, and sent it sailing on the Serpentine.
It reached the island at night: and the look-out brought it to
Solomon Caw, who thought at first that it was the usual thing, a
message from a lady, saying she would be obliged if he could let
her have a good one. They always ask for the best one he has,
and if he likes the letter he sends one from Class A; but if it
ruffles him he sends very funny ones indeed. Sometimes he sends
none at all, and at another time he sends a nestful; it all
depends on the mood you catch him in. He likes you to leave it
all to him, and if you mention particularly that you hope he will
see his way to making it a boy this time, he is almost sure to
send another girl. And whether you are a lady or only a little
boy who wants a baby-sister, always take pains to write your
address clearly. You can't think what a lot of babies Solomon
has sent to the wrong house.
Shelley's boat, when opened, completely puzzled Solomon, and he
took counsel of his assistants, who having walked over it twice,
first with their toes pointed out, and then with their toes
pointed in, decided that it came from some greedy person who
wanted five. They thought this because there was a large five
printed on it. "Preposterous!" cried Solomon in a rage, and he
presented it to Peter; anything useless which drifted upon the
island was usually given to Peter as a play-thing.
But he did not play with his precious bank-note, for he knew what
it was at once, having been very observant during the week when
he was an ordinary boy. With so much money, he reflected, he
could surely at last contrive to reach the Gardens, and he
considered all the possible ways, and decided (wisely, I think)
to choose the best way. But, first, he had to tell the birds of
the value of Shelley's boat; and though they were too honest to
demand it back, he saw that they were galled, and they cast such
black looks at Solomon, who was rather vain of his cleverness,
that he flew away to the end of the island, and sat there very
depressed with his head buried in his wings. Now Peter knew that
unless Solomon was on your side, you never got anything done for
you in the island, so he followed him and tried to hearten him.
Nor was this all that Peter did to gain the powerful old fellow's
good will. You must know that Solomon had no intention of
remaining in office all his life. He looked forward to retiring
by-and-by, and devoting his green old age to a life of pleasure
on a certain yew-stump in the Figs which had taken his fancy, and
for years he had been quietly filling his stocking. It was a
stocking belonging to some bathing person which had been cast
upon the island, and at the time I speak of it contained a
hundred and eighty crumbs, thirty-four nuts, sixteen crusts, a
pen-wiper and a boot-lace. When his stocking was full, Solomon
calculated that he would be able to retire on a competency.
Peter now gave him a pound. He cut it off his bank-note with a
This made Solomon his friend for ever, and after the two had
consulted together they called a meeting of the thrushes. You
will see presently why thrushes only were invited.
The scheme to be put before them was really Peter's, but Solomon
did most of the talking, because he soon became irritable if
other people talked. He began by saying that he had been much
impressed by the superior ingenuity shown by the thrushes in
nest-building, and this put them into good-humour at once, as it
was meant to do; for all the quarrels between birds are about the
best way of building nests. Other birds, said Solomon, omitted
to line their nests with mud, and as a result they did not hold
water. Here he cocked his head as if he had used an unanswerable
argument; but, unfortunately, a Mrs. Finch had come to the
meeting uninvited, and she squeaked out, "We don't build nests to
hold water, but to hold eggs," and then the thrushes stopped
cheering, and Solomon was so perplexed that he took several sips
"Consider," he said at last, "how warm the mud makes the nest."
"Consider," cried Mrs. Finch, "that when water gets into the nest
it remains there and your little ones are drowned."
The thrushes begged Solomon with a look to say something crushing
in reply to this, but again he was perplexed.
"Try another drink," suggested Mrs. Finch pertly. Kate was her
name, and all Kates are saucy.
Solomon did try another drink, and it inspired him. "If," said
he, "a finch's nest is placed on the Serpentine it fills and
breaks to pieces, but a thrush's nest is still as dry as the cup
of a swan's back."
How the thrushes applauded! Now they knew why they lined their
nests with mud, and when Mrs. Finch called out, "We don't place
our nests on the Serpentine," they did what they should have done
at first: chased her from the meeting. After this it was most
orderly. What they had been brought together to hear, said
Solomon, was this: their young friend, Peter Pan, as they well
knew, wanted very much to be able to cross to the Gardens, and he
now proposed, with their help, to build a boat.
At this the thrushes began to fidget, which made Peter tremble
for his scheme.
Solomon explained hastily that what he meant was not one of the
cumbrous boats that humans use; the proposed boat was to be
simply a thrush's nest large enough to hold Peter.
But still, to Peter's agony, the thrushes were sulky. "We are
very busy people," they grumbled, "and this would be a big job."
"Quite so," said Solomon, "and, of course, Peter would not allow
you to work for nothing. You must remember that he is now in
comfortable circumstances, and he will pay you such wages as you
have never been paid before. Peter Pan authorises me to say that
you shall all be paid sixpence a day."
Then all the thrushes hopped for joy, and that very day was begun
the celebrated Building of the Boat. All their ordinary business
fell into arrears. It was the time of year when they should have
been pairing, but not a thrush's nest was built except this big
one, and so Solomon soon ran short of thrushes with which to
supply the demand from the mainland. The stout, rather greedy
children, who look so well in perambulators but get puffed easily
when they walk, were all young thrushes once, and ladies often
ask specially for them. What do you think Solomon did? He sent
over to the house-tops for a lot of sparrows and ordered them to
lay their eggs in old thrushes' nests and sent their young to the
ladies and swore they were all thrushes! It was known afterward
on the island as the Sparrows' Year, and so, when you meet, as
you doubtless sometimes do, grown-up people who puff and blow as
if they thought themselves bigger than they are, very likely they
belong to that year. You ask them.
Peter was a just master, and paid his workpeople every evening.
They stood in rows on the branches, waiting politely while he cut
the paper sixpences out of his bank-note, and presently he called
the roll, and then each bird, as the names were mentioned, flew
down and got sixpence. It must have been a fine sight.
And at last, after months of labor, the boat was finished. Oh,
the deportment of Peter as he saw it growing more and more like a
great thrush's nest! From the very beginning of the building of
it he slept by its side, and often woke up to say sweet things to
it, and after it was lined with mud and the mud had dried he
always slept in it. He sleeps in his nest still, and has a
fascinating way of curling round in it, for it is just large
enough to hold him comfortably when he curls round like a kitten.
It is brown inside, of course, but outside it is mostly green,
being woven of grass and twigs, and when these wither or snap the
walls are thatched afresh. There are also a few feathers here
and there, which came off the thrushes while they were building.
The other birds were extremely jealous and said that the boat
would not balance on the water, but it lay most beautifully
steady; they said the water would come into it, but no water came
into it. Next they said that Peter had no oars, and this caused
the thrushes to look at each other in dismay, but Peter replied
that he had no need of oars, for he had a sail, and with such a
proud, happy face he produced a sail which he had fashioned out
of his night-gown, and though it was still rather like a
night-gown it made a lovely sail. And that night, the moon being
full, and all the birds asleep, he did enter his coracle (as
Master Francis Pretty would have said) and depart out of the
island. And first, he knew not why, he looked upward, with his
hands clasped, and from that moment his eyes were pinned to the
He had promised the thrushes to begin by making short voyages,
with them to his guides, but far away he saw the Kensington
Gardens beckoning to him beneath the bridge, and he could not
wait. His face was flushed, but he never looked back; there was
an exultation in his little breast that drove out fear. Was
Peter the least gallant of the English mariners who have sailed
westward to meet the Unknown?
At first, his boat turned round and round, and he was driven back
to the place of his starting, whereupon he shortened sail, by
removing one of the sleeves, and was forthwith carried backward
by a contrary breeze, to his no small peril. He now let go the
sail, with the result that he was drifted toward the far shore,
where are black shadows he knew not the dangers of, but suspected
them, and so once more hoisted his night-gown and went roomer of
the shadows until he caught a favouring wind, which bore him
westward, but at so great a speed that he was like to be broke
against the bridge. Which, having avoided, he passed under the
bridge and came, to his great rejoicing, within full sight of the
delectable Gardens. But having tried to cast anchor, which was a
stone at the end of a piece of the kite-string, he found no
bottom, and was fain to hold off, seeking for moorage, and,
feeling his way, he buffeted against a sunken reef that cast him
overboard by the greatness of the shock, and he was near to being
drowned, but clambered back into the vessel. There now arose a
mighty storm, accompanied by roaring of waters, such as he had
never heard the like, and he was tossed this way and that, and
his hands so numbed with the cold that he could not close them.
Having escaped the danger of which, he was mercifully carried
into a small bay, where his boat rode at peace.
Nevertheless, he was not yet in safety; for, on pretending to
disembark, he found a multitude of small people drawn up on the
shore to contest his landing, and shouting shrilly to him to be
off, for it was long past Lock-out Time. This, with much
brandishing of their holly-leaves, and also a company of them
carried an arrow which some boy had left in the Gardens, and this
they were prepared to use as a battering-ram.
Then Peter, who knew them for the fairies, called out that he was
not an ordinary human and had no desire to do them displeasure,
but to be their friend; nevertheless, having found a jolly
harbour, he was in no temper to draw off therefrom, and he warned
them if they sought to mischief him to stand to their harms.
So saying, he boldly leapt ashore, and they gathered around him
with intent to slay him, but there then arose a great cry among
the women, and it was because they had now observed that his sail
was a baby's night-gown. Whereupon, they straightway loved him,
and grieved that their laps were too small, the which I cannot
explain, except by saying that such is the way of women. The
men- fairies now sheathed their weapons on observing the
behaviour of their women, on whose intelligence they set great
store, and they led him civilly to their queen, who conferred
upon him the courtesy of the Gardens after Lock-out Time, and
henceforth Peter could go whither he chose, and the fairies had
orders to put him in comfort.
Such was his first voyage to the Gardens, and you may gather from
the antiquity of the language that it took place a long time ago.
But Peter never grows any older, and if we could be watching for
him under the bridge to-night (but, of course, we can't), I
daresay we should see him hoisting his night-gown and sailing or
paddling toward us in the Thrush's Nest. When he sails, he sits
down, but he stands up to paddle. I shall tell you presently how
he got his paddle.
Long before the time for the opening of the gates comes he steals
back to the island, for people must not see him (he is not so
human as all that), but this gives him hours for play, and he
plays exactly as real children play. At least he thinks so, and
it is one of the pathetic things about him that he often plays
You see, he had no one to tell him how children really play, for
the fairies were all more or less in hiding until dusk, and so
know nothing, and though the birds pretended that they could tell
him a great deal, when the time for telling came, it was
wonderful how little they really knew. They told him the truth
about hide- and-seek, and he often plays it by himself, but even
the ducks on the Round Pond could not explain to him what it is
that makes the pond so fascinating to boys. Every night the
ducks have forgotten all the events of the day, except the number
of pieces of cake thrown to them. They are gloomy creatures, and
say that cake is not what it was in their young days.
So Peter had to find out many things for himself. He often
played ships at the Round Pond, but his ship was only a hoop
which he had found on the grass. Of course, he had never seen a
hoop, and he wondered what you play at with them, and decided
that you play at pretending they are boats. This hoop always
sank at once, but he waded in for it, and sometimes he dragged it
gleefully round the rim of the pond, and he was quite proud to
think that he had discovered what boys do with hoops.
Another time, when he found a child's pail, he thought it was for
sitting in, and he sat so hard in it that he could scarcely get
out of it. Also he found a balloon. It was bobbing about on the
Hump, quite as if it was having a game by itself, and he caught
it after an exciting chase. But he thought it was a ball, and
Jenny Wren had told him that boys kick balls, so he kicked it;
and after that he could not find it anywhere.
Perhaps the most surprising thing he found was a perambulator.
It was under a lime-tree, near the entrance to the Fairy Queen's
Winter Palace (which is within the circle of the seven Spanish
chestnuts), and Peter approached it warily, for the birds had
never mentioned such things to him. Lest it was alive, he
addressed it politely, and then, as it gave no answer, he went
nearer and felt it cautiously. He gave it a little push, and it
ran from him, which made him think it must be alive after all;
but, as it had run from him, he was not afraid. So he stretched
out his hand to pull it to him, but this time it ran at him, and
he was so alarmed that he leapt the railing and scudded away to
his boat. You must not think, however, that he was a coward, for
he came back next night with a crust in one hand and a stick in
the other, but the perambulator had gone, and he never saw
another one. I have promised to tell you also about his paddle.
It was a child's spade which he had found near St. Govor's Well,
and he thought it was a paddle.
Do you pity Peter Pan for making these mistakes? If so, I think
it rather silly of you. What I mean is that, of course, one must
pity him now and then, but to pity him all the time would be
impertinence. He thought he had the most splendid time in the
Gardens, and to think you have it is almost quite as good as
really to have it. He played without ceasing, while you often
waste time by being mad-dog or Mary-Annish. He could be neither
of these things, for he had never heard of them, but do you think
he is to be pitied for that?
Oh, he was merry. He was as much merrier than you, for instance,
as you are merrier than your father. Sometimes he fell, like a
spinning-top, from sheer merriment. Have you seen a greyhound
leaping the fences of the Gardens? That is how Peter leaps them.
And think of the music of his pipe. Gentlemen who walk home at
night write to the papers to say they heard a nightingale in the
Gardens, but it is really Peter's pipe they hear. Of course, he
had no mother--at least, what use was she to him? You can be
sorry for him for that, but don't be too sorry, for the next
thing I mean to tell you is how he revisited her. It was the
fairies who gave him the chance
It is frightfully difficult to know much about the fairies, and
almost the only thing known for certain is that there are fairies
wherever there are children. Long ago children were forbidden
the Gardens, and at that time there was not a fairy in the place;
then the children were admitted, and the fairies came trooping in
that very evening. They can't resist following the children, but
you seldom see them, partly because they live in the daytime
behind the railings, where you are not allowed to go, and also
partly because they are so cunning. They are not a bit cunning
after Lock-out, but until Lock-out, my word!
When you were a bird you knew the fairies pretty well, and you
remember a good deal about them in your babyhood, which it is a
great pity you can't write down, for gradually you forget, and I
have heard of children who declared that they had never once seen
a fairy. Very likely if they said this in the Kensington
Gardens, they were standing looking at a fairy all the time. The
reason they were cheated was that she pretended to be something
else. This is one of their best tricks. They usually pretend to
be flowers, because the court sits in the Fairies' Basin, and
there are so many flowers there, and all along the Baby Walk,
that a flower is the thing least likely to attract attention.
They dress exactly like flowers, and change with the seasons,
putting on white when lilies are in and blue for blue-bells, and
so on. They like crocus and hyacinth time best of all, as they
are partial to a bit of colour, but tulips (except white ones,
which are the fairy-cradles) they consider garish, and they
sometimes put off dressing like tulips for days, so that the
beginning of the tulip weeks is almost the best time to catch
When they think you are not looking they skip along pretty
lively, but if you look and they fear there is no time to hide,
they stand quite still, pretending to be flowers. Then, after
you have passed without knowing that they were fairies, they rush
home and tell their mothers they have had such an adventure. The
Fairy Basin, you remember, is all covered with ground-ivy (from
which they make their castor-oil), with flowers growing in it
here and there. Most of them really are flowers, but some of
them are fairies. You never can be sure of them, but a good plan
is to walk by looking the other way, and then turn round sharply.
Another good plan, which David and I sometimes follow, is to
stare them down. After a long time they can't help winking, and
then you know for certain that they are fairies.
There are also numbers of them along the Baby Walk, which is a
famous gentle place, as spots frequented by fairies are called.
Once twenty-four of them had an extraordinary adventure. They
were a girls' school out for a walk with the governess, and all
wearing hyacinth gowns, when she suddenly put her finger to her
mouth, and then they all stood still on an empty bed and
pretended to be hyacinths. Unfortunately, what the governess had
heard was two gardeners coming to plant new flowers in that very
bed. They were wheeling a handcart with the flowers in it, and
were quite surprised to find the bed occupied. "Pity to lift
them hyacinths," said the one man. "Duke's orders," replied the
other, and, having emptied the cart, they dug up the boarding-
school and put the poor, terrified things in it in five rows. Of
course, neither the governess nor the girls dare let on that they
were fairies, so they were carted far away to a potting-shed, out
of which they escaped in the night without their shoes, but there
was a great row about it among the parents, and the school was