Read Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens Page 1

  Produced by Ron Burkey


  By J. M. Barrie


  Peter Pan The Thrush's Nest The Little House Lock-Out Time

  Peter Pan

  If you ask your mother whether she knew about Peter Pan when she was alittle girl she will say, "Why, of course, I did, child," and if youask her whether he rode on a goat in those days she will say, "Whata foolish question to ask, certainly he did." Then if you ask yourgrandmother whether she knew about Peter Pan when she was a girl, shealso says, "Why, of course, I did, child," but if you ask her whether herode on a goat in those days, she says she never heard of his having agoat. Perhaps she has forgotten, just as she sometimes forgets your nameand calls you Mildred, which is your mother's name. Still, she couldhardly forget such an important thing as the goat. Therefore there wasno goat when your grandmother was a little girl. This shows that, intelling the story of Peter Pan, to begin with the goat (as most peopledo) is as silly as to put on your jacket before your vest.

  Of course, it also shows that Peter is ever so old, but he is reallyalways the same age, so that does not matter in the least. His ageis one week, and though he was born so long ago he has never had abirthday, nor is there the slightest chance of his ever having one. Thereason is that he escaped from being a human when he was seven days'old; he escaped by the window and flew back to the Kensington Gardens.

  If you think he was the only baby who ever wanted to escape, it showshow completely you have forgotten your own young days. When David heardthis 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 distinctlyremembered a youthful desire to return to the tree-tops, and with thatmemory came others, as that he had lain in bed planning to escape assoon as his mother was asleep, and how she had once caught him half-wayup the chimney. All children could have such recollections if they wouldpress their hands hard to their temples, for, having been birds beforethey were human, they are naturally a little wild during the first fewweeks, and very itchy at the shoulders, where their wings used to be. SoDavid 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 understandingbeing that it is quite a different story; and then I retell it with hisadditions, and so we go on until no one could say whether it is morehis story or mine. In this story of Peter Pan, for instance, the baldnarrative and most of the moral reflections are mine, though not all,for this boy can be a stern moralist, but the interesting bits about theways and customs of babies in the bird-stage are mostly reminiscencesof David's, recalled by pressing his hands to his temples and thinkinghard.

  Well, Peter Pan got out by the window, which had no bars. Standingon the ledge he could see trees far away, which were doubtless theKensington Gardens, and the moment he saw them he entirely forgot thathe was now a little boy in a nightgown, and away he flew, right over thehouses to the Gardens. It is wonderful that he could fly without wings,but the place itched tremendously, and, perhaps we could all fly if wewere as dead-confident-sure of our capacity to do it as was bold PeterPan that evening.

  He alighted gaily on the open sward, between the Baby's Palace and theSerpentine, 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 hewas a bird, even in appearance, just the same as in his early days, andwhen he tried to catch a fly he did not understand that the reason hemissed 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 pastLock-out Time, for there were a good many fairies about, all too busyto notice him; they were getting breakfast ready, milking their cows,drawing water, and so on, and the sight of the water-pails made himthirsty, 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, ofcourse, 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 hefell flop into it. When a real bird falls in flop, he spreads out hisfeathers and pecks them dry, but Peter could not remember what wasthe thing to do, and he decided, rather sulkily, to go to sleep on theweeping beech in the Baby Walk.

  At first he found some difficulty in balancing himself on a branch, butpresently he remembered the way, and fell asleep. He awoke long beforemorning, shivering, and saying to himself, "I never was out in such acold 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 birdis a cold night to a boy in a nightgown. Peter also felt strangelyuncomfortable, as if his head was stuffy, he heard loud noises that madehim look round sharply, though they were really himself sneezing. Therewas something he wanted very much, but, though he knew he wanted it, hecould not think what it was. What he wanted so much was his mother toblow his nose, but that never struck him, so he decided to appeal to thefairies for enlightenment. They are reputed to know a good deal.

  There were two of them strolling along the Baby Walk, with their armsround each other's waists, and he hopped down to address them. Thefairies have their tiffs with the birds, but they usually give a civilanswer to a civil question, and he was quite angry when these two ranaway 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 heardPeter's voice he popped in alarm behind a tulip.

  To Peter's bewilderment he discovered that every fairy he met fled fromhim. A band of workmen, who were sawing down a toadstool, rushed away,leaving their tools behind them. A milkmaid turned her pail upside downand hid in it. Soon the Gardens were in an uproar. Crowds of fairieswere running this way and that, asking each other stoutly, who wasafraid, lights were extinguished, doors barricaded, and from the groundsof Queen Mab's palace came the rubadub of drums, showing that the royalguard had been called out.

  A regiment of Lancers came charging down the Broad Walk, armed withholly-leaves, with which they jog the enemy horribly in passing. Peterheard the little people crying everywhere that there was a human in theGardens after Lock-out Time, but he never thought for a moment that hewas the human. He was feeling stuffier and stuffier, and more and morewistful to learn what he wanted done to his nose, but he pursued themwith the vital question in vain; the timid creatures ran from him, andeven the Lancers, when he approached them up the Hump, turned swiftlyinto a side-walk, on the pretence that they saw him there.

  Despairing of the fairies, he resolved to consult the birds, but now heremembered, as an odd thing, that all the birds on the weeping beech hadflown away when he alighted on it, and though that had not troubled himat the time, he saw its meaning now. Every living thing was shunninghim. Poor little Peter Pan, he sat down and cried, and even then he didnot know that, for a bird, he was sitting on his wrong part. It is ablessing that he did not know, for otherwise he would have lost faithin his power to fly, and the moment you doubt whether you can fly, youcease forever to be able to do it. The reason birds can fly and we can'tis simply that they have perfect faith, for to have faith is to havewings.

  Now, except by flying, no one can reach the island in the Serpentine,for the boats of humans are forbidden to land there, and thereare stakes round it, standing up in the water, on each of which abird-sentinel sits by day and night. It was to the island that Peter nowflew to put his strange case before old Solomon Caw, and he alighted onit with relief, much heartened to find himself at last at home, as thebirds call the island. All of them were asleep, including the sentinels,except Solomon, who was wide awake on one side, an
d he listened quietlyto 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 thesleeping birds. Not one of them wore anything.

  "How many of your toes are thumbs?" said Solomon a little cruelly, andPeter saw to his consternation, that all his toes were fingers. Theshock was so great that it drove away his cold.

  "Ruffle your feathers," said that grim old Solomon, and Peter tried mostdesperately hard to ruffle his feathers, but he had none. Then he roseup, 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 reallyhard-hearted, "you will never be able to fly again, not even on windydays. 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 byone 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 wasa wise old fellow, for that is exactly how it turned out.

  The birds on the island never got used to him. His oddities tickled themevery day, as if they were quite new, though it was really the birdsthat were new. They came out of the eggs daily, and laughed at him atonce, then off they soon flew to be humans, and other birds came outof other eggs, and so it went on forever. The crafty mother-birds, whenthey tired of sitting on their eggs, used to get the young one to breaktheir shells a day before the right time by whispering to them that nowwas their chance to see Peter washing or drinking or eating. Thousandsgathered round him daily to watch him do these things, just as you watchthe peacocks, and they screamed with delight when he lifted the cruststhey flung him with his hands instead of in the usual way with themouth. All his food was brought to him from the Gardens at Solomon'sorders by the birds. He would not eat worms or insects (which theythought very silly of him), so they brought him bread in their beaks.Thus, when you cry out, "Greedy! Greedy!" to the bird that flies awaywith the big crust, you know now that you ought not to do this, for heis very likely taking it to Peter Pan.

  Peter wore no night-gown now. You see, the birds were always begging himfor 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 leftof it. But, though he was now quite naked, you must not think that hewas cold or unhappy. He was usually very happy and gay, and the reasonwas that Solomon had kept his promise and taught him many of the birdways. To be easily pleased, for instance, and always to be really doingsomething, and to think that whatever he was doing was a thing of vastimportance. Peter became very clever at helping the birds to build theirnests; soon he could build better than a wood-pigeon, and nearly as wellas a blackbird, though never did he satisfy the finches, and he madenice little water-troughs near the nests and dug up worms for the youngones with his fingers. He also became very learned in bird-lore, andknew an east-wind from a west-wind by its smell, and he could see thegrass 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 gladheart. All birds have glad hearts unless you rob their nests, and so asthey were the only kind of heart Solomon knew about, it was easy to himto 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 ininstrument, so he made a pipe of reeds, and he used to sit by the shoreof the island of an evening, practising the sough of the wind and theripple of the water, and catching handfuls of the shine of the moon, andhe put them all in his pipe and played them so beautifully that even thebirds were deceived, and they would say to each other, "Was that a fishleaping 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 wouldturn round in their nests to see whether they had laid an egg. If youare a child of the Gardens you must know the chestnut-tree near thebridge, which comes out in flower first of all the chestnuts, butperhaps you have not heard why this tree leads the way. It is becausePeter wearies for summer and plays that it has come, and the chestnutbeing so near, hears him and is cheated.

  But as Peter sat by the shore tootling divinely on his pipe he sometimesfell into sad thoughts and then the music became sad also, and thereason 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 hecould never be a real human again, and scarcely wanted to be one, butoh, how he longed to play as other children play, and of course thereis no such lovely place to play in as the Gardens. The birds brought himnews of how boys and girls play, and wistful tears started in Peter'seyes.

  Perhaps you wonder why he did not swim across. The reason was that hecould not swim. He wanted to know how to swim, but no one on the islandknew the way except the ducks, and they are so stupid. They were quitewilling to teach him, but all they could say about it was, "You sit downon 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. Whathe 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 asthat. Occasionally swans touched on the island, and he would give themall his day's food and then ask them how they sat on the water, but assoon as he had no more to give them the hateful things hissed at him andsailed away.

  Once he really thought he had discovered a way of reaching the Gardens.A wonderful white thing, like a runaway newspaper, floated high overthe island and then tumbled, rolling over and over after the manner of abird that has broken its wing. Peter was so frightened that he hid, butthe birds told him it was only a kite, and what a kite is, and that itmust have tugged its string out of a boy's hand, and soared away. Afterthat they laughed at Peter for being so fond of the kite, he loved itso much that he even slept with one hand on it, and I think this waspathetic and pretty, for the reason he loved it was because it hadbelonged to a real boy.

  To the birds this was a very poor reason, but the older ones feltgrateful to him at this time because he had nursed a number offledglings through the German measles, and they offered to show him howbirds fly a kite. So six of them took the end of the string in theirbeaks and flew away with it; and to his amazement it flew after them andwent even higher than they.

  Peter screamed out, "Do it again!" and with great good nature they didit several times, and always instead of thanking them he cried, "Do itagain!" which shows that even now he had not quite forgotten what it wasto be a boy.

  At last, with a grand design burning within his brave heart, he beggedthem to do it once more with him clinging to the tail, and now a hundredflew off with the string, and Peter clung to the tail, meaning to dropoff when he was over the Gardens. But the kite broke to pieces in theair, and he would have drowned in the Serpentine had he not caught holdof two indignant swans and made them carry him to the island. After thisthe birds said that they would help him no more in his mad enterprise.

  Nevertheless, Peter did reach the Gardens at last by the help ofShelley's boat, as I am now to tell you.