Read The Little White Bird; Or, Adventures in Kensington Gardens Page 1

  Produced by An Anonymous Volunteer



  By J.M. Barrie


  I. David and I Set Forth Upon a Journey II. The Little Nursery Governess III. Her Marriage, Her Clothes, Her Appetite, and an Inventory of Her Furniture. IV. A Night-Piece V. The Fight For Timothy VI. A Shock VII. The Last of Timothy VIII. The Inconsiderate Waiter IX. A Confirmed Spinster X. Sporting Reflections XI. The Runaway Perambulator XII. The Pleasantest Club in London XIII. The Grand Tour of the Gardens XIV. Peter Pan XV. The Thrush's Nest XVI. Lock-Out Time XVII. The Little House XVIII. Peter's Goat XIX. An Interloper XX. David and Porthos Compared XXI. William Paterson XXII. Joey XXIII. Pilkington's XXIV. Barbara XXV. The Cricket Match XXVI. The Dedication


  I. David and I Set Forth Upon a Journey

  Sometimes the little boy who calls me father brings me an invitationfrom his mother: "I shall be so pleased if you will come and see me,"and I always reply in some such words as these: "Dear madam, I decline."And if David asks why I decline, I explain that it is because I have nodesire to meet the woman.

  "Come this time, father," he urged lately, "for it is her birthday, andshe is twenty-six," which is so great an age to David, that I think hefears she cannot last much longer.

  "Twenty-six, is she, David?" I replied. "Tell her I said she looksmore."

  I had my delicious dream that night. I dreamt that I too was twenty-six,which was a long time ago, and that I took train to a place calledmy home, whose whereabouts I see not in my waking hours, and when Ialighted at the station a dear lost love was waiting for me, and we wentaway together. She met me in no ecstasy of emotion, nor was I surprisedto find her there; it was as if we had been married for years and partedfor a day. I like to think that I gave her some of the things to carry.

  Were I to tell my delightful dream to David's mother, to whom I havenever in my life addressed one word, she would droop her head and raiseit bravely, to imply that I make her very sad but very proud, and shewould be wishful to lend me her absurd little pocket handkerchief. Andthen, had I the heart, I might make a disclosure that would startle her,for it is not the face of David's mother that I see in my dreams.

  Has it ever been your lot, reader, to be persecuted by a pretty womanwho thinks, without a tittle of reason, that you are bowed down undera hopeless partiality for her? It is thus that I have been pursued forseveral years now by the unwelcome sympathy of the tender-hearted andvirtuous Mary A----. When we pass in the street the poor deluded soulsubdues her buoyancy, as if it were shame to walk happy before one shehas lamed, and at such times the rustle of her gown is whispered wordsof comfort to me, and her arms are kindly wings that wish I was a littleboy like David. I also detect in her a fearful elation, which I amunaware of until she has passed, when it comes back to me like a faintnote of challenge. Eyes that say you never must, nose that says whydon't you? and a mouth that says I rather wish you could: such is theportrait of Mary A---- as she and I pass by.

  Once she dared to address me, so that she could boast to David that Ihad spoken to her. I was in the Kensington Gardens, and she asked wouldI tell her the time please, just as children ask, and forget as theyrun back with it to their nurse. But I was prepared even for this, andraising my hat I pointed with my staff to a clock in the distance. Sheshould have been overwhelmed, but as I walked on listening intently, Ithought with displeasure that I heard her laughing.

  Her laugh is very like David's, whom I could punch all day in order tohear him laugh. I dare say she put this laugh into him. She has beenputting qualities into David, altering him, turning him forever on alathe since the day she first knew him, and indeed long before, and allso deftly that he is still called a child of nature. When you releaseDavid's hand he is immediately lost like an arrow from the bow. Nosooner do you cast eyes on him than you are thinking of birds. It isdifficult to believe that he walks to the Kensington Gardens; he alwaysseems to have alighted there: and were I to scatter crumbs I opine hewould come and peck. This is not what he set out to be; it is all thedoing of that timid-looking lady who affects to be greatly surprised byit. He strikes a hundred gallant poses in a day; when he tumbles, whichis often, he comes to the ground like a Greek god; so Mary A---- haswilled it. But how she suffers that he may achieve! I have seen himclimbing a tree while she stood beneath in unutterable anguish; she hadto let him climb, for boys must be brave, but I am sure that, as shewatched him, she fell from every branch.

  David admires her prodigiously; he thinks her so good that she will beable to get him into heaven, however naughty he is. Otherwise he wouldtrespass less light-heartedly. Perhaps she has discovered this; for, asI learn from him, she warned him lately that she is not such a dear ashe thinks her.

  "I am very sure of it," I replied.

  "Is she such a dear as you think her?" he asked me.

  "Heaven help her," I said, "if she be not dearer than that."

  Heaven help all mothers if they be not really dears, for their boywill certainly know it in that strange short hour of the day when everymother stands revealed before her little son. That dread hour ticksbetween six and seven; when children go to bed later the revelation hasceased to come. He is lapt in for the night now and lies quietly there,madam, with great, mysterious eyes fixed upon his mother. He is summingup your day. Nothing in the revelations that kept you together andyet apart in play time can save you now; you two are of no age, noexperience of life separates you; it is the boy's hour, and you havecome up for judgment. "Have I done well to-day, my son?" You have got tosay it, and nothing may you hide from him; he knows all. How like yourvoice has grown to his, but more tremulous, and both so solemn, sounlike the voice of either of you by day.

  "You were a little unjust to me to-day about the apple; were you not,mother?"

  Stand there, woman, by the foot of the bed and cross your hands andanswer him.

  "Yes, my son, I was. I thought--"

  But what you thought will not affect the verdict.

  "Was it fair, mother, to say that I could stay out till six, and thenpretend it was six before it was quite six?"

  "No, it was very unfair. I thought--"

  "Would it have been a lie if I had said it was quite six?"

  "Oh, my son, my son! I shall never tell you a lie again."

  "No, mother, please don't."

  "My boy, have I done well to-day on the whole?"

  Suppose he were unable to say yes.

  These are the merest peccadilloes, you may say. Is it then a littlething to be false to the agreement you signed when you got the boy?There are mothers who avoid their children in that hour, but this willnot save them. Why is it that so many women are afraid to be left alonewith their thoughts between six and seven? I am not asking this ofyou, Mary. I believe that when you close David's door softly there is agladness in your eyes, and the awe of one who knows that the God to whomlittle boys say their prayers has a face very like their mother's.

  I may mention here that David is a stout believer in prayer, and has hadhis first fight with another young Christian who challenged him to thejump and prayed for victory, which David thought was taking an unfairadvantage.

  "So Mary is twenty-six! I say, David, she is getting on. Tell her that Iam coming in to kiss her when she is fifty-two."

  He told her, and I understand that she pretended to be indignant. When Ipass
her in the street now she pouts. Clearly preparing for our meeting.She has also said, I learn, that I shall not think so much of her whenshe is fifty-two, meaning that she will not be so pretty then. So littledoes the sex know of beauty. Surely a spirited old lady may be theprettiest sight in the world. For my part, I confess that it is they,and not the young ones, who have ever been my undoing. Just as I wasabout to fall in love I suddenly found that I preferred the mother.Indeed, I cannot see a likely young creature without impatientlyconsidering her chances for, say, fifty-two. Oh, you mysterious girls,when you are fifty-two we shall find you out; you must come into theopen then. If the mouth has fallen sourly yours the blame: all themeannesses your youth concealed have been gathering in your face. Butthe pretty thoughts and sweet ways and dear, forgotten kindnesses lingerthere also, to bloom in your twilight like evening primroses.

  Is it not strange that, though I talk thus plainly to David about hismother, he still seems to think me fond of her? How now, I reflect, whatsort of bumpkin is this, and perhaps I say to him cruelly: "Boy, you areuncommonly like your mother."

  To which David: "Is that why you are so kind to me?"

  I suppose I am kind to him, but if so it is not for love of his mother,but because he sometimes calls me father. On my honour as a soldier,there is nothing more in it than that. I must not let him know this, forit would make him conscious, and so break the spell that binds him andme together. Oftenest I am but Captain W---- to him, and for the best ofreasons. He addresses me as father when he is in a hurry only, and neverhave I dared ask him to use the name. He says, "Come, father," with anaccursed beautiful carelessness. So let it be, David, for a little whilelonger.

  I like to hear him say it before others, as in shops. When in shops heasks the salesman how much money he makes in a day, and which drawer hekeeps it in, and why his hair is red, and does he like Achilles, of whomDavid has lately heard, and is so enamoured that he wants to die to meethim. At such times the shopkeepers accept me as his father, and I cannotexplain the peculiar pleasure this gives me. I am always in two mindsthen, to linger that we may have more of it, and to snatch him awaybefore he volunteers the information, "He is not really my father."

  When David meets Achilles I know what will happen. The little boy willtake the hero by the hand, call him father, and drag him away to someRound Pond.

  One day, when David was about five, I sent him the following letter:"Dear David: If you really want to know how it began, will you come andhave a chop with me to-day at the club?"

  Mary, who, I have found out, opens all his letters, gave her consent,and, I doubt not, instructed him to pay heed to what happened so that hemight repeat it to her, for despite her curiosity she knows not howit began herself. I chuckled, guessing that she expected somethingromantic.

  He came to me arrayed as for a mighty journey, and looking unusuallysolemn, as little boys always do look when they are wearing a greatcoat. There was a shawl round his neck. "You can take some of them off,"I said, "when we come to summer."

  "Shall we come to summer?" he asked, properly awed.

  "To many summers," I replied, "for we are going away back, David, to seeyour mother as she was in the days before there was you."

  We hailed a hansom. "Drive back six years," I said to the cabby, "andstop at the Junior Old Fogies' Club."

  He was a stupid fellow, and I had to guide him with my umbrella.

  The streets were not quite as they had been in the morning. Forinstance, the bookshop at the corner was now selling fish. I droppedDavid a hint of what was going on.

  "It doesn't make me littler, does it?" he asked anxiously; and then,with a terrible misgiving: "It won't make me too little, will it,father?" by which he meant that he hoped it would not do for himaltogether. He slipped his hand nervously into mine, and I put it in mypocket.

  You can't think how little David looked as we entered the portals of theclub.