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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