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Ch. 3: The Little House


Everybody has heard of the Little House in the Kensington Gardens,
which is the only house in the whole world that the fairies have built
for humans. But no one has really seen it, except just three or four,
and they have not only seen it but slept in it, and unless you sleep
in it you never see it. This is because it is not there when you lie
down, but it is there when you wake up and step outside.

In a kind of way everyone may see it, but what you see is not really
it, but only the light in the windows. You see the light after
Lock-out Time. David, for instance, saw it quite distinctly far away
among the trees as we were going home from the pantomime, and Oliver
Bailey saw it the night he stayed so late at the Temple, which is the
name of his father's office. Angela Clare, who loves to have a tooth
extracted because then she is treated to tea in a shop, saw more than
one light, she saw hundreds of them all together, and this must have
been the fairies building the house, for they build it every night and
always in a different part of the Gardens. She thought one of the
lights was bigger than the others, though she was not quite sure, for
they jumped about so, and it might have been another one that was
bigger. But if it was the same one, it was Peter Pan's light. Heaps
of children have seen the fight, so that is nothing. But Maimie
Mannering was the famous one for whom the house was first built.

Maimie was always rather a strange girl, and it was at night that she
was strange. She was four years of age, and in the daytime she was
the ordinary kind. She was pleased when her brother Tony, who was a
magnificent fellow of six, took notice of her, and she looked up to
him in the right way, and tried in vain to imitate him and was
flattered rather than annoyed when he shoved her about. Also, when
she was batting she would pause though the ball was in the air to
point out to you that she was wearing new shoes. She was quite the
ordinary kind in the daytime.

But as the shades of night fell, Tony, the swaggerer, lost his
contempt for Maimie and eyed her fearfully, and no wonder, for with
dark there came into her face a look that I can describe only as a
leary look. It was also a serene look that contrasted grandly with
Tony's uneasy glances. Then he would make her presents of his
favourite toys (which he always took away from her next morning) and
she accepted them with a disturbing smile. The reason he was now
become so wheedling and she so mysterious was (in brief) that they
knew they were about to be sent to bed. It was then that Maimie was
terrible. Tony entreated her not to do it to-night, and the mother
and their coloured nurse threatened her, but Maimie merely smiled her
agitating smile. And by-and-by when they were alone with their
night-light she would start up in bed crying "Hsh! what was that?"
Tony beseeches her! "It was nothing--don't, Maimie, don't!" and pulls
the sheet over his head. "It is coming nearer!" she cries; "Oh, look
at it, Tony! It is feeling your bed with its horns--it is boring for
you, oh, Tony, oh!" and she desists not until he rushes downstairs in
his combinations, screeching. When they came up to whip Maimie they
usually found her sleeping tranquilly, not shamming, you know, but
really sleeping, and looking like the sweetest little angel, which
seems to me to make it almost worse.

But of course it was daytime when they were in the Gardens, and then
Tony did most of the talking. You could gather from his talk that he
was a very brave boy, and no one was so proud of it as Maimie. She
would have loved to have a ticket on her saying that she was his
sister. And at no time did she admire him more than when he told her,
as he often did with splendid firmness, that one day he meant to
remain behind in the Gardens after the gates were closed.

"Oh, Tony," she would say, with awful respect, "but the fairies will
be so angry!"

"I daresay," replied Tony, carelessly.

"Perhaps," she said, thrilling, "Peter Pan will give you a sail in his
boat!"

"I shall make him," replied Tony; no wonder she was proud of him.

But they should not have talked so loudly, for one day they were
overheard by a fairy who had been gathering skeleton leaves, from
which the little people weave their summer curtains, and after that
Tony was a marked boy. They loosened the rails before he sat on them,
so that down he came on the back of his head; they tripped him up by
catching his bootlace and bribed the ducks to sink his boat. Nearly
all the nasty accidents you meet with in the Gardens occur because the
fairies have taken an ill-will to you, and so it behoves you to be
careful what you say about them.

Maimie was one of the kind who like to fix a day for doing things, but
Tony was not that kind, and when she asked him which day he was to
remain behind in the Gardens after Lock-out he merely replied, "Just
some day;" he was quite vague about which day except when she asked
"Will it be today?" and then he could always say for certain that it
would not be to-day. So she saw that he was waiting for a real good
chance.

This brings us to an afternoon when the Gardens were white with snow,
and there was ice on the Round Pond, not thick enough to skate on but
at least you could spoil it for tomorrow by flinging stones, and many
bright little boys and girls were doing that.

When Tony and his sister arrived they wanted to go straight to the
pond, but their ayah said they must take a sharp walk first, and as
she said this she glanced at the time-board to see when the Gardens
closed that night. It read half-past five. Poor ayah! she is the one
who laughs continuously because there are so many white children in
the world, but she was not to laugh much more that day.

Well, they went up the Baby Walk and back, and when they returned to
the time-board she was surprised to see that it now read five o'clock
for closing time. But she was unacquainted with the tricky ways of
the fairies, and so did not see (as Maimie and Tony saw at once) that
they had changed the hour because there was to be a ball to-night.
She said there was only time now to walk to the top of the Hump and
back, and as they trotted along with her she little guessed what was
thrilling their little breasts. You see the chance had come of seeing
a fairy ball. Never, Tony felt, could he hope for a better chance.

He had to feel this, for Maimie so plainly felt it for him. Her eager
eyes asked the question, "Is it to-day?" and he gasped and then
nodded. Maimie slipped her hand into Tony's, and hers was hot, but
his was cold. She did a very kind thing; she took off her scarf and
gave it to him! "In case you should feel cold," she whispered. Her
face was aglow, but Tony's was very gloomy.

As they turned on the top of the Hump he whispered to her, "I'm afraid
Nurse would see me, so I sha'n't be able to do it."

Maimie admired him more than ever for being afraid of nothing but
their ayah, when there were so many unknown terrors to fear, and she
said aloud, "Tony, I shall race you to the gate," and in a whisper,
"Then you can hide," and off they ran.

Tony could always outdistance her easily, but never had she known him
speed away so quickly as now, and she was sure he hurried that he
might have more time to hide. "Brave, brave!" her doting eyes were
crying when she got a dreadful shock; instead of hiding, her hero had
run out at the gate! At this bitter sight Maimie stopped blankly, as
if all her lapful of darling treasures were suddenly spilled, and then
for very disdain she could not sob; in a swell of protest against all
puling cowards she ran to St. Govor's Well and hid in Tony's stead.

When the ayah reached the gate and saw Tony far in front she thought
her other charge was with him and passed out. Twilight came on, and
scores and hundreds of people passed out, including the last one, who
always has to run for it, but Maimie saw them not. She had shut her
eyes tight and glued them with passionate tears. When she opened them
something very cold ran up her legs and up her arms and dropped into
her heart. It was the stillness of the Gardens. Then she heard
clang, then from another part _clang_, then _clang_, _clang_ far away.
It was the Closing of the Gates.

Immediately the last clang had died away Maimie distinctly heard a
voice say, "So that's all right." It had a wooden sound and seemed to
come from above, and she looked up in time to see an elm tree
stretching out its arms and yawning.

She was about to say, "I never knew you could speak!" when a metallic
voice that seemed to come from the ladle at the well remarked to the
elm, "I suppose it is a bit coldish up there?" and the elm replied,
"Not particularly, but you do get numb standing so long on one leg,"
and he flapped his arms vigorously just as the cabmen do before they
drive off. Maimie was quite surprised to see that a number of other
tall trees were doing the same sort of thing and she stole away to the
Baby Walk and crouched observantly under a Minorca Holly which
shrugged its shoulders but did not seem to mind her.

She was not in the least cold. She was wearing a russet-coloured
pelisse and had the hood over her head, so that nothing of her showed
except her dear little face and her curls. The rest of her real self
was hidden far away inside so many warm garments that in shape she
seemed rather like a ball. She was about forty round the waist.

There was a good deal going on in the Baby Walk, when Maimie arrived
in time to see a magnolia and a Persian lilac step over the railing
and set off for a smart walk. They moved in a jerky sort of way
certainly, but that was because they used crutches. An elderberry
hobbled across the walk, and stood chatting with some young quinces,
and they all had crutches. The crutches were the sticks that are tied
to young trees and shrubs. They were quite familiar objects to
Maimie, but she had never known what they were for until to-night.

She peeped up the walk and saw her first fairy. He was a street boy
fairy who was running up the walk closing the weeping trees. The way
he did it was this, he pressed a spring in the trunk and they shut
like umbrellas, deluging the little plants beneath with snow. "Oh,
you naughty, naughty child!" Maimie cried indignantly, for she knew
what it was to have a dripping umbrella about your ears.

Fortunately the mischievous fellow was out of earshot, but the
chrysanthemums heard her, and they all said so pointedly "Hoity-toity,
what is this?" that she had to come out and show herself. Then the
whole vegetable kingdom was rather puzzled what to do.

"Of course it is no affair of ours," a spindle tree said after they
had whispered together, "but you know quite well you ought not to be
here, and perhaps our duty is to report you to the fairies; what do
you think yourself?"

"I think you should not," Maimie replied, which so perplexed them that
they said petulantly there was no arguing with her. "I wouldn't ask
it of you," she assured them, "if I thought it was wrong," and of
course after this they could not well carry tales. They then said,
"Well-a-day," and "Such is life!" for they can be frightfully
sarcastic, but she felt sorry for those of them who had no crutches,
and she said good-naturedly, "Before I go to the fairies' ball, I
should like to take you for a walk one at a time; you can lean on me,
you know."

At this they clapped their hands, and she escorted them up to the Baby
Walk and back again, one at a time, putting an arm or a finger round
the very frail, setting their leg right when it got too ridiculous,
and treating the foreign ones quite as courteously as the English,
though she could not understand a word they said.

They behaved well on the whole, though some whimpered that she had not
taken them as far as she took Nancy or Grace or Dorothy, and others
jagged her, but it was quite unintentional, and she was too much of a
lady to cry out. So much walking tired her and she was anxious to be
off to the ball, but she no longer felt afraid. The reason she felt
no more fear was that it was now night-time, and in the dark, you
remember, Maimie was always rather strange.

They were now loath to let her go, for, "If the fairies see you," they
warned her, "they will mischief you, stab you to death or compel you
to nurse their children or turn you into something tedious, like an
evergreen oak." As they said this they looked with affected pity at
an evergreen oak, for in winter they are very envious of the
evergreens.

"Oh, la!" replied the oak bitingly, "how deliciously cosy it is to
stand here buttoned to the neck and watch you poor naked creatures
shivering!"

This made them sulky though they had really brought it on themselves,
and they drew for Maimie a very gloomy picture of the perils that
faced her if she insisted on going to the ball.

She learned from a purple filbert that the court was not in its usual
good temper at present, the cause being the tantalising heart of the
Duke of Christmas Daisies. He was an Oriental fairy, very poorly of a
dreadful complaint, namely, inability to love, and though he had tried
many ladies in many lands he could not fall in love with one of them.
Queen Mab, who rules in the Gardens, had been confident that her girls
would bewitch him, but alas, his heart, the doctor said, remained
cold. This rather irritating doctor, who was his private physician,
felt the Duke's heart immediately after any lady was presented, and
then always shook his bald head and murmured, "Cold, quite cold!"
Naturally Queen Mab felt disgraced, and first she tried the effect of
ordering the court into tears for nine minutes, and then she blamed
the Cupids and decreed that they should wear fools' caps until they
thawed the Duke's frozen heart.

"How I should love to see the Cupids in their dear little fools'
caps!" Maimie cried, and away she ran to look for them very
recklessly, for the Cupids hate to be laughed at.

It is always easy to discover where a fairies' ball is being held, as
ribbons are stretched between it and all the populous parts of the
Gardens, on which those invited may walk to the dance without wetting
their pumps. This night the ribbons were red and looked very pretty
on the snow.

Maimie walked alongside one of them for some distance without meeting
anybody, but at last she saw a fairy cavalcade approaching. To her
surprise they seemed to be returning from the ball, and she had just
time to hide from them by bending her knees and holding out her arms
and pretending to be a garden chair. There were six horsemen in front
and six behind, in the middle walked a prim lady wearing a long train
held up by two pages, and on the train, as if it were a couch,
reclined a lovely girl, for in this way do aristocratic fairies travel
about. She was dressed in golden rain, but the most enviable part of
her was her neck, which was blue in colour and of a velvet texture,
and of course showed off her diamond necklace as no white throat could
have glorified it. The high-born fairies obtain this admired effect
by pricking their skin, which lets the blue blood come through and dye
them, and you cannot imagine anything so dazzling unless you have seen
the ladies' busts in the jewellers' windows.

Maimie also noticed that the whole cavalcade seemed to be in a
passion, tilting their noses higher than it can be safe for even
fairies to tilt them, and she concluded that this must be another case
in which the doctor had said "Cold, quite cold!"

Well, she followed the ribbon to a place where it became a bridge over
a dry puddle into which another fairy had fallen and been unable to
climb out. At first this little damsel was afraid of Maimie, who most
kindly went to her aid, but soon she sat in her hand chatting gaily
and explaining that her name was Brownie, and that though only a poor
street singer she was on her way to the ball to see if the Duke would
have her.

"Of course," she said, "I am rather plain," and this made Maimie
uncomfortable, for indeed the simple little creature was almost quite
plain for a fairy.

It was difficult to know what to reply.

"I see you think I have no chance," Brownie said falteringly.

"I don't say that," Maimie answered politely, "of course your face is
just a tiny bit homely, but--" Really it was quite awkward for her.

Fortunately she remembered about her father and the bazaar. He had
gone to a fashionable bazaar where all the most beautiful ladies in
London were on view for half-a-crown the second day, but on his return
home instead of being dissatisfied with Maimie's mother he had said,
"You can't think, my dear, what a relief it is to see a homely face
again."

Maimie repeated this story, and it fortified Brownie tremendously,
indeed she had no longer the slightest doubt that the Duke would
choose her. So she scudded away up the ribbon, calling out to Maimie
not to follow lest the Queen should mischief her.

But Maimie's curiosity tugged her forward, and presently at the seven
Spanish chestnuts, she saw a wonderful light. She crept forward until
she was quite near it, and then she peeped from behind a tree.

The light, which was as high as your head above the ground, was
composed of myriads of glow-worms all holding on to each other, and so
forming a dazzling canopy over the fairy ring. There were thousands
of little people looking on, but they were in shadow and drab in
colour compared to the glorious creatures within that luminous circle
who were so bewilderingly bright that Maimie had to wink hard all the
time she looked at them.

It was amazing and even irritating to her that the Duke of Christmas
Daisies should be able to keep out of love for a moment: yet out of
love his dusky grace still was: you could see it by the shamed looks
of the Queen and court (though they pretended not to care), by the way
darling ladies brought forward for his approval burst into tears as
they were told to pass on, and by his own most dreary face.

Maimie could also see the pompous doctor feeling the Duke's heart and
hear him give utterance to his parrot cry, and she was particularly
sorry for the Cupids, who stood in their fools' caps in obscure places
and, every time they heard that "Cold, quite cold," bowed their
disgraced little heads.

She was disappointed not to see Peter Pan, and I may as well tell you
now why he was so late that night. It was because his boat had got
wedged on the Serpentine between fields of floating ice, through which
he had to break a perilous passage with his trusty paddle.

The fairies had as yet scarcely missed him, for they could not dance,
so heavy were their hearts. They forget all the steps when they are
sad and remember them again when they are merry. David tells me that
fairies never say "We feel happy": what they say is, "We feel
_dancey_."

Well, they were looking very undancy indeed, when sudden laughter
broke out among the onlookers, caused by Brownie, who had just arrived
and was insisting on her right to be presented to the Duke.

Maimie craned forward eagerly to see how her friend fared, though she
had really no hope; no one seemed to have the least hope except
Brownie herself who, however, was absolutely confident. She was led
before his grace, and the doctor putting a finger carelessly on the
ducal heart, which for convenience sake was reached by a little
trap-door in his diamond shirt, had begun to say mechanically, "Cold,
qui--," when he stopped abruptly.

"What's this?" he cried, and first he shook the heart like a watch,
and then put his ear to it.

"Bless my soul!" cried the doctor, and by this time of course the
excitement among the spectators was tremendous, fairies fainting right
and left.

Everybody stared breathlessly at the Duke, who was very much startled
and looked as if he would like to run away. "Good gracious me!" the
doctor was heard muttering, and now the heart was evidently on fire,
for he had to jerk his fingers away from it and put them in his mouth.

The suspense was awful!

Then in a loud voice, and bowing low, "My Lord Duke," said the
physician elatedly, "I have the honour to inform your excellency that
your grace is in love."

You can't conceive the effect of it. Brownie held out her arms to the
Duke and he flung himself into them, the Queen leapt into the arms of
the Lord Chamberlain, and the ladies of the court leapt into the arms
of her gentlemen, for it is etiquette to follow her example in
everything. Thus in a single moment about fifty marriages took place,
for if you leap into each other's arms it is a fairy wedding. Of
course a clergyman has to be present.

How the crowd cheered and leapt! Trumpets brayed, the moon came out,
and immediately a thousand couples seized hold of its rays as if they
were ribbons in a May dance and waltzed in wild abandon round the
fairy ring. Most gladsome sight of all, the Cupids plucked the hated
fools' caps from their heads and cast them high in the air. And then
Maimie went and spoiled everything. She couldn't help it. She was
crazy with delight over her little friend's good fortune, so she took
several steps forward and cried in an ecstasy, "Oh, Brownie, how
splendid!"

Everybody stood still, the music ceased, the lights went out, and all
in the time you may take to say "Oh dear!" An awful sense of her
peril came upon Maimie, too late she remembered that she was a lost
child in a place where no human must be between the locking and the
opening of the gates, she heard the murmur of an angry multitude, she
saw a thousand swords flashing for her blood, and she uttered a cry of
terror and fled.

How she ran! and all the time her eyes were starting out of her head.
Many times she lay down, and then quickly jumped up and ran on again.
Her little mind was so entangled in terrors that she no longer knew
she was in the Gardens. The one thing she was sure of was that she
must never cease to run, and she thought she was still running long
after she had dropped in the Figs and gone to sleep. She thought the
snowflakes falling on her face were her mother kissing her good-night.
She thought her coverlet of snow was a warm blanket, and tried to pull
it over her head. And when she heard talking through her dreams she
thought it was mother bringing father to the nursery door to look at
her as she slept. But it was the fairies.

I am very glad to be able to say that they no longer desired to
mischief her. When she rushed away they had rent the air with such
cries as "Slay her!" "Turn her into something extremely unpleasant!"
and so on, but the pursuit was delayed while they discussed who should
march in front, and this gave Duchess Brownie time to cast herself
before the Queen and demand a boon.

Every bride has a right to a boon, and what she asked for was Maimie's
life. "Anything except that," replied Queen Mab sternly, and all the
fairies chanted "Anything except that." But when they learned how
Maimie had befriended Brownie and so enabled her to attend the ball to
their great glory and renown, they gave three huzzas for the little
human, and set off, like an army, to thank her, the court advancing in
front and the canopy keeping step with it. They traced Maimie easily
by her footprints in the snow.

But though they found her deep in snow in the Figs, it seemed
impossible to thank Maimie, for they could not waken her. They went
through the form of thanking her, that is to say, the new King stood
on her body and read her a long address of welcome, but she heard not
a word of it. They also cleared the snow off her, but soon she was
covered again, and they saw she was in danger of perishing of cold.

"Turn her into something that does not mind the cold," seemed a good
suggestion of the doctor's, but the only thing they could think of
that does not mind cold was a snowflake. "And it might melt," the
Queen pointed out, so that idea had to be given up.

A magnificent attempt was made to carry her to a sheltered spot, but
though there were so many of them she was too heavy. By this time all
the ladies were crying in their handkerchiefs, but presently the
Cupids had a lovely idea. "Build a house round her," they cried, and
at once everybody perceived that this was the thing to do; in a moment
a hundred fairy sawyers were among the branches, architects were
running round Maimie, measuring her; a bricklayer's yard sprang up at
her feet, seventy-five masons rushed up with the foundation stone and
the Queen laid it, overseers were appointed to keep the boys off,
scaffoldings were run up, the whole place rang with hammers and
chisels and turning lathes, and by this time the roof was on and the
glaziers were putting in the windows.

The house was exactly the size of Maimie and perfectly lovely. One of
her arms was extended and this had bothered them for a second, but
they built a verandah round it, leading to the front door. The
windows were the size of a coloured picture-book and the door rather
smaller, but it would be easy for her to get out by taking off the
roof. The fairies, as is their custom, clapped their hands with
delight over their cleverness, and they were all so madly in love with
the little house that they could not bear to think they had finished
it. So they gave it ever so many little extra touches, and even then
they added more extra touches.

For instance, two of them ran up a ladder and put on a chimney.

"Now we fear it is quite finished," they sighed.

But no, for another two ran up the ladder, and tied some smoke to the
chimney.

"That certainly finishes it," they cried reluctantly.

"Not at all," cried a glow-worm, "if she were to wake without seeing a
night-light she might be frightened, so I shall be her night-light."

"Wait one moment," said a china merchant, "and I shall make you a
saucer."

Now alas, it was absolutely finished.

Oh, dear no!

"Gracious me," cried a brass manufacturer, "there's no handle on the
door," and he put one on.

An ironmonger added a scraper and an old lady ran up with a door-mat.
Carpenters arrived with a water-butt, and the painters insisted on
painting it.

Finished at last!

"Finished! how can it be finished," the plumber demanded scornfully,
"before hot and cold are put in?" and he put in hot and cold. Then an
army of gardeners arrived with fairy carts and spades and seeds and
bulbs and forcing-houses, and soon they had a flower garden to the
right of the verandah and a vegetable garden to the left, and roses
and clematis on the walls of the house, and in less time than five
minutes all these dear things were in full bloom.

Oh, how beautiful the little house was now! But it was at last
finished true as true, and they had to leave it and return to the
dance. They all kissed their hands to it as they went away, and the
last to go was Brownie. She stayed a moment behind the others to drop
a pleasant dream down the chimney.

All through the night the exquisite little house stood there in the
Figs taking care of Maimie, and she never knew. She slept until the
dream was quite finished and woke feeling deliciously cosy just as
morning was breaking from its egg, and then she almost fell asleep
again, and then she called out,

"Tony," for she thought she was at home in the nursery. As Tony made
no answer, she sat up, whereupon her head hit the roof, and it opened
like the lid of a box, and to her bewilderment she saw all around her
the Kensington Gardens lying deep in snow. As she was not in the
nursery she wondered whether this was really herself, so she pinched
her cheeks, and then she knew it was herself, and this reminded her
that she was in the middle of a great adventure. She remembered now
everything that had happened to her from the closing of the gates up
to her running away from the fairies, but however, she asked herself,
had she got into this funny place? She stepped out by the roof, right
over the garden, and then she saw the dear house in which she had
passed the night. It so entranced her that she could think of
nothing else.

"Oh, you darling, oh, you sweet, oh, you love!" she cried.

Perhaps a human voice frightened the little house, or maybe it now
knew that its work was done, for no sooner had Maimie spoken than it
began to grow smaller; it shrank so slowly that she could scarce
believe it was shrinking, yet she soon knew that it could not contain
her now. It always remained as complete as ever, but it became
smaller and smaller, and the garden dwindled at the same time, and the
snow crept closer, lapping house and garden up. Now the house was the
size of a little dog's kennel, and now of a Noah's Ark, but still you
could see the smoke and the door-handle and the roses on the wall,
every one complete. The glow-worm fight was waning too, but it was
still there. "Darling, loveliest, don't go!" Maimie cried, falling on
her knees, for the little house was now the size of a reel of thread,
but still quite complete. But as she stretched out her arms
imploringly the snow crept up on all sides until it met itself, and
where the little house had been was now one unbroken expanse of snow.

Maimie stamped her foot naughtily, and was putting her fingers to her
eyes, when she heard a kind voice say, "Don't cry, pretty human, don't
cry," and then she turned round and saw a beautiful little naked boy
regarding her wistfully. She knew at once that he must be Peter Pan.

James M. Barrie

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