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Ch. 1: Peter Pan


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 that evening.

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 way 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 nightgown, 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 cold.

"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 politely.

"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 tragically.

"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.

"No."

"Nor exactly a bird?"

"No."

"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 one.

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 in
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 is cheated.

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.

 

James M. Barrie

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