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PETER PAN IN KENSINGTON GARDENS
By J. M. BARRIE
The Thrush's Nest
The Little House
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
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
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
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.
"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 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.
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
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 pin 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 bootlace. 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 sharp stick.
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 of water.
"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
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
At this the thrushes began to fidget, which made Peter tremble for his
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 housetops 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 work-people 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
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 this 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 west.
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
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 there-from, 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 quite wrongly.
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 buds 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
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
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
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
"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
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,
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
"Oh, la!" replied the oak bitingly, "how deliciously cosy it is to
stand here buttoned to the neck and watch you poor naked creatures
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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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.
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
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 them.
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 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 ruined.
As for their houses, it is no use looking for them, because they are
the exact opposite of our houses. You can see our houses by day but
you can't see them by dark. Well, you can see their houses by dark,
but you can't see them by day, for they are the colour of night, and I
never heard of anyone yet who could see night in the daytime. This
does not mean that they are black, for night has its colours just as
day has, but ever so much brighter. Their blues and reds and greens
are like ours with a light behind them. The palace is entirely built
of many-coloured glasses, and is quite the loveliest of all royal
residences, but the queen sometimes complains because the common
people will peep in to see what she is doing. They are very
inquisitive folk, and press quite hard against the glass, and that is
why their noses are mostly snubby. The streets are miles long and
very twisty, and have paths on each side made of bright worsted. The
birds used to steal the worsted for their nests, but a policeman has
been appointed to hold on at the other end.
One of the great differences between the fairies and us is that they
never do anything useful. When the first baby laughed for the first
time, his laugh broke into a million pieces, and they all went
skipping about. That was the beginning of fairies. They look
tremendously busy, you know, as if they had not a moment to spare, but
if you were to ask them what they are doing, they could not tell you
in the least. They are frightfully ignorant, and everything they do
is make-believe. They have a postman, but he never calls except at
Christmas with his little box, and though they have beautiful schools,
nothing is taught in them; the youngest child being chief person is
always elected mistress, and when she has called the roll, they all go
out for a walk and never come back. It is a very noticeable thing
that, in fairy families, the youngest is always chief person, and
usually becomes a prince or princess, and children remember this, and
think it must be so among humans also, and that is why they are often
made uneasy when they come upon their mother furtively putting new
frills on the basinette.
You have probably observed that your baby-sister wants to do all sorts
of things that your mother and her nurse want her not to do: to stand
up at sitting-down time, and to sit down at standing-up time, for
instance, or to wake up when she should fall asleep, or to crawl on
the floor when she is wearing her best frock, and so on, and perhaps
you put this down to naughtiness. But it is not; it simply means that
she is doing as she has seen the fairies do; she begins by following
their ways, and it takes about two years to get her into the human
ways. Her fits of passion, which are awful to behold, and are usually
called teething, are no such thing; they are her natural exasperation,
because we don't understand her, though she is talking an intelligible
language. She is talking fairy. The reason mothers and nurses know
what her remarks mean, before other people know, as that "Guch" means
"Give it to me at once," while "Wa" is "Why do you wear such a funny
hat?" is because, mixing so much with babies, they have picked up a
little of the fairy language.
Of late David has been thinking back hard about the fairy tongue, with
his hands clutching his temples, and he has remembered a number of
their phrases which I shall tell you some day if I don't forget. He
had heard them in the days when he was a thrush, and though I
suggested to him that perhaps it is really bird language he is
remembering, he says not, for these phrases are about fun and
adventures, and the birds talked of nothing but nest-building. He
distinctly remembers that the birds used to go from spot to spot like
ladies at shop-windows, looking at the different nests and saying,
"Not my colour, my dear," and "How would that do with a soft lining?"
and "But will it wear?" and "What hideous trimming!" and so on.
The fairies are exquisite dancers, and that is why one of the first
things the baby does is to sign to you to dance to him and then to cry
when you do it. They hold their great balls in the open air, in what
is called a fairy-ring. For weeks afterward you can see the ring on
the grass. It is not there when they begin, but they make it by
waltzing round and round. Sometimes you will find mushrooms inside
the ring, and these are fairy chairs that the servants have forgotten
to clear away. The chairs and the rings are the only tell-tale marks
these little people leave behind them, and they would remove even
these were they not so fond of dancing that they toe it till the very
moment of the opening of the gates. David and I once found a
fairy-ring quite warm.
But there is also a way of finding out about the ball before it takes
place. You know the boards which tell at what time the Gardens are to
close to-day. Well, these tricky fairies sometimes slyly change the
board on a ball night, so that it says the Gardens are to close at
six-thirty for instance, instead of at seven. This enables them to
get begun half an hour earlier.
If on such a night we could remain behind in the Gardens, as the
famous Maimie Mannering did, we might see delicious sights, hundreds
of lovely fairies hastening to the ball, the married ones wearing
their wedding-rings round their waists, the gentlemen, all in uniform,
holding up the ladies' trains, and linkmen running in front carrying
winter cherries, which are the fairy-lanterns, the cloakroom where
they put on their silver slippers and get a ticket for their wraps,
the flowers streaming up from the Baby Walk to look on, and always
welcome because they can lend a pin, the supper-table, with Queen Mab
at the head of it, and behind her chair the Lord Chamberlain, who
carries a dandelion on which he blows when Her Majesty wants to know
The table-cloth varies according to the seasons, and in May it is made
of chestnut-blossom. The way the fairy-servants do is this: The men,
scores of them, climb up the trees and shake the branches, and the
blossom falls like snow. Then the lady servants sweep it together by
whisking their skirts until it is exactly like a table-cloth, and that
is how they get their table-cloth.
They have real glasses and real wine of three kinds, namely,
blackthorn wine, berberris wine, and cowslip wine, and the Queen pours
out, but the bottles are so heavy that she just pretends to pour out.
There is bread and butter to begin with, of the size of a threepenny
bit; and cakes to end with, and they are so small that they have no
crumbs. The fairies sit round on mushrooms, and at first they are
very well-behaved and always cough off the table, and so on, but after
a bit they are not so well-behaved and stick their fingers into the
butter, which is got from the roots of old trees, and the really
horrid ones crawl over the table-cloth chasing sugar or other
delicacies with their tongues. When the Queen sees them doing this
she signs to the servants to wash up and put away, and then everybody
adjourns to the dance, the Queen walking in front while the Lord
Chamberlain walks behind her, carrying two little pots, one of which
contains the juice of wall-flower and the other the juice of Solomon's
Seals. Wall-flower juice is good for reviving dancers who fall to the
ground in a fit, and Solomon's Seals juice is for bruises. They
bruise very easily and when Peter plays faster and faster they foot it
till they fall down in fits. For, as you know without my telling you,
Peter Pan is the fairies' orchestra. He sits in the middle of the
ring, and they would never dream of having a smart dance nowadays
without him. "P. P." is written on the corner of the invitation-cards
sent out by all really good families. They are grateful little
people, too, and at the princess's coming-of-age ball (they come of
age on their second birthday and have a birthday every month) they
gave him the wish of his heart.
The way it was done was this. The Queen ordered him to kneel, and
then said that for playing so beautifully she would give him the wish
of his heart. Then they all gathered round Peter to hear what was the
wish of his heart, but for a long time he hesitated, not being certain
what it was himself.
"If I chose to go back to mother," he asked at last, "could you give
me that wish?"
Now this question vexed them, for were he to return to his mother they
should lose his music, so the Queen tilted her nose contemptuously and
said, "Pooh, ask for a much bigger wish than that."
"Is that quite a little wish?" he inquired.
"As little as this," the Queen answered, putting her hands near each
"What size is a big wish?" he asked.
She measured it off on her skirt and it was a very handsome length.
Then Peter reflected and said, "Well, then, I think I shall have two
little wishes instead of one big one."
Of course, the fairies had to agree, though his cleverness rather
shocked them, and he said that his first wish was to go to his mother,
but with the right to return to the Gardens if he found her
disappointing. His second wish he would hold in reserve.
They tried to dissuade him, and even put obstacles in the way.
"I can give you the power to fly to her house," the Queen said, "but I
can't open the door for you."
"The window I flew out at will be open," Peter said confidently.
"Mother always keeps it open in the hope that I may fly back.
"How do you know?" they asked, quite surprised, and, really, Peter
could not explain how he knew.
"I just do know," he said.
So as he persisted in his wish, they had to grant it. The way they
gave him power to fly was this: They all tickled him on the shoulder,
and soon he felt a funny itching in that part and then up he rose
higher and higher and flew away out of the Gardens and over the
It was so delicious that instead of flying straight to his old home he
skimmed away over St. Paul's to the Crystal Palace and back by the
river and Regent's Park, and by the time he reached his mother's
window he had quite made up his mind that his second wish should be to
become a bird.
The window was wide open, just as he knew it would be, and in he
fluttered, and there was his mother lying asleep.
Peter alighted softly on the wooden rail at the foot of the bed and
had a good look at her. She lay with her head on her hand, and the
hollow in the pillow was like a nest lined with her brown wavy hair.
He remembered, though he had long forgotten it, that she always gave
her hair a holiday at night.
How sweet the frills of her night-gown were. He was very glad she was
such a pretty mother.
But she looked sad, and he knew why she looked sad. One of her arms
moved as if it wanted to go round something, and he knew what it
wanted to go round.
"Oh, mother," said Peter to himself, "if you just knew who is sitting
on the rail at the foot of the bed."
Very gently he patted the little mound that her feet made, and he
could see by her face that she liked it. He knew he had but to say
"Mother" ever so softly, and she would wake up. They always wake up
at once if it is you that says their name. Then she would give such a
joyous cry and squeeze him tight. How nice that would be to him, but
oh, how exquisitely delicious it would be to her. That I am afraid is
how Peter regarded it. In returning to his mother he never doubted
that he was giving her the greatest treat a woman can have. Nothing
can be more splendid, he thought, than to have a little boy of your
own. How proud of him they are; and very right and proper, too.
But why does Peter sit so long on the rail, why does he not tell his
mother that he has come back?
I quite shrink from the truth, which is that he sat there in two
minds. Sometimes he looked longingly at his mother, and sometimes he
looked longingly at the window. Certainly it would be pleasant to be
her boy again, but, on the other hand, what times those had been in
the Gardens! Was he so sure that he would enjoy wearing clothes
again? He popped off the bed and opened some drawers to have a look
at his old garments. They were still there, but he could not remember
how you put them on. The socks, for instance, were they worn on the
hands or on the feet? He was about to try one of them on his hand,
when he had a great adventure. Perhaps the drawer had creaked; at any
rate, his mother woke up, for he heard her say "Peter," as if it was
the most lovely word in the language. He remained sitting on the
floor and held his breath, wondering how she knew that he had come
back. If she said "Peter" again, he meant to cry "Mother" and run to
her. But she spoke no more, she made little moans only, and when next
he peeped at her she was once more asleep, with tears on her face.
It made Peter very miserable, and what do you think was the first
thing he did? Sitting on the rail at the foot of the bed, he played a
beautiful lullaby to his mother on his pipe. He had made it up
himself out of the way she said "Peter," and he never stopped playing
until she looked happy.
He thought this so clever of him that he could scarcely resist
wakening her to hear her say, "Oh, Peter, how exquisitely you play."
However, as she now seemed comfortable, he again cast looks at the
window. You must not think that he meditated flying away and never
coming back. He had quite decided to be his mother's boy, but
hesitated about beginning to-night. It was the second wish which
troubled him. He no longer meant to make it a wish to be a bird, but
not to ask for a second wish seemed wasteful, and, of course, he could
not ask for it without returning to the fairies. Also, if he put off
asking for his wish too long it might go bad. He asked himself if he
had not been hard-hearted to fly away without saying good-bye to
Solomon. "I should like awfully to sail in my boat just once more,"
he said wistfully to his sleeping mother. He quite argued with her as
if she could hear him. "It would be so splendid to tell the birds of
this adventure," he said coaxingly. "I promise to come back," he said
solemnly and meant it, too.
And in the end, you know, he flew away. Twice he came back from the
window, wanting to kiss his mother, but he feared the delight of it
might waken her, so at last he played her a lovely kiss on his pipe,
and then he flew back to the Gardens.
Many nights and even months passed before he asked the fairies for his
second wish; and I am not sure that I quite know why he delayed so
long. One reason was that he had so many good-byes to say, not only
to his particular friends, but to a hundred favourite spots. Then he
had his last sail, and his very last sail, and his last sail of all,
and so on. Again, a number of farewell feasts were given in his
honour; and another comfortable reason was that, after all, there was
no hurry, for his mother would never weary of waiting for him. This
last reason displeased old Solomon, for it was an encouragement to the
birds to procrastinate. Solomon had several excellent mottoes for
keeping them at their work, such as "Never put off laying to-day,
because you can lay to-morrow," and "In this world there are no second
chances," and yet here was Peter gaily putting off and none the worse
for it. The birds pointed this out to each other, and fell into lazy
But, mind you, though Peter was so slow in going back to his mother,
he was quite decided to go back. The best proof of this was his
caution with the fairies. They were most anxious that he should
remain in the Gardens to play to them, and to bring this to pass they
tried to trick him into making such a remark as "I wish the grass was
not so wet," and some of them danced out of time in the hope that he
might cry, "I do wish you would keep time!" Then they would have said
that this was his second wish. But he smoked their design, and though
on occasions he began, "I wish--" he always stopped in time. So when
at last he said to them bravely, "I wish now to go back to mother for
ever and always," they had to tickle his shoulder and let him go.
He went in a hurry in the end because he had dreamt that his mother
was crying, and he knew what was the great thing she cried for, and
that a hug from her splendid Peter would quickly make her to smile.
Oh, he felt sure of it, and so eager was he to be nestling in her arms
that this time he flew straight to the window, which was always to be
open for him.
But the window was closed, and there were iron bars on it, and peering
inside he saw his mother sleeping peacefully with her arm round
another little boy.
Peter called, "Mother! mother!" but she heard him not; in vain he beat
his little limbs against the iron bars. He had to fly back, sobbing,
to the Gardens, and he never saw his dear again. What a glorious boy
he had meant to be to her. Ah, Peter, we who have made the great
mistake, how differently we should all act at the second chance. But
Solomon was right; there is no second chance, not for most of us.
When we reach the window it is Lock-out Time. The iron bars are up