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XVI

Lock-Out Time



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 word!

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 the 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 suppertable, 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
time.

The table-cloth varies according to the seasons, and in May it is
made of chestnut-blossom. The ways 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 other.

"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 house-tops.

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 hardhearted 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 habits.

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 shoulders 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 for life.