Location:   http://www.jmbarrie.co.uk/view/3319/



«« Click here to go back to your search.





XV

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 play-thing.

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 gain 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 boot-lace. 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 back."

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 boat.

At this the thrushes began to fidget, which made Peter tremble
for his scheme.

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 house-tops 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 workpeople 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 building.

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 his 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 battering-ram.

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 therefrom, 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 birds 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 days.

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 a paddle.

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 chance