FictionForest

Chapter 12 – The Children Are Carried Off

James Matthew BarrieJul 01, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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The pirate attack had been a complete surprise: a sure proof
that the unscrupulous Hook had conducted it improperly, for to
surprise redskins fairly is beyond the wit of the white man.

By all the unwritten laws of savage warfare it is always the
redskin who attacks, and with the wiliness of his race he does it
just before the dawn, at which time he knows the courage of the
whites to be at its lowest ebb. The white men have in the
meantime made a rude stockade on the summit of yonder undulating
ground, at the foot of which a stream runs, for it is destruction
to be too far from water. There they await the onslaught, the
inexperienced ones clutching their revolvers and treading on
twigs, but the old hands sleeping tranquilly until just before
the dawn. Through the long black night the savage scouts
wriggle, snake-like, among the grass without stirring a blade.
The brushwood closes behind them, as silently as sand into which
a mole has dived. Not a sound is to be heard, save when they
give vent to a wonderful imitation of the lonely call of the
coyote. The cry is answered by other braves; and some of them do
it even better than the coyotes, who are not very good at it.
So the chill hours wear on, and the long suspense is horribly
trying to the paleface who has to live through it for the first
time; but to the trained hand those ghastly calls and still
ghastlier silences are but an intimation of how the night is
marching.

That this was the usual procedure was so well known to Hook
that in disregarding it he cannot be excused on the plea of
ignorance.

The Piccaninnies, on their part, trusted implicitly to his
honour, and their whole action of the night stands out in marked
contrast to his. They left nothing undone that was consistent
with the reputation of their tribe. With that alertness of the
senses which is at once the marvel and despair of civilised
peoples, they knew that the pirates were on the island from the
moment one of them trod on a dry stick; and in an incredibly
short space of time the coyote cries began. Every foot of ground
between the spot where Hook had landed his forces and the home
under the trees was stealthily examined by braves wearing their
mocassins with the heels in front. They found only one hillock
with a stream at its base, so that Hook had no choice; here he
must establish himself and wait for just before the dawn.
Everything being thus mapped out with almost diabolical cunning,
the main body of the redskins folded their blankets around them,
and in the phlegmatic manner that is to them, the pearl of manhood
squatted above the children’s home, awaiting the cold moment when
they should deal pale death.

Here dreaming, though wide-awake, of the exquisite tortures to
which they were to put him at break of day, those confiding
savages were found by the treacherous Hook. From the accounts
afterwards supplied by such of the scouts as escaped the
carnage, he does not seem even to have paused at the rising
ground, though it is certain that in that grey light he must have
seen it: no thought of waiting to be attacked appears from first
to last to have visited his subtle mind; he would not even hold
off till the night was nearly spent; on he pounded with no policy
but to fall to [get into combat]. What could the bewildered
scouts do, masters as they were of every war-like artifice save
this one, but trot helplessly after him, exposing themselves
fatally to view, while they gave pathetic utterance to the
coyote cry.

Around the brave Tiger Lily were a dozen of her stoutest
warriors, and they suddenly saw the perfidious pirates bearing
down upon them. Fell from their eyes then the film through which
they had looked at victory. No more would they torture at the
stake. For them the happy hunting-grounds was now. They knew it;
but as their father’s sons they acquitted themselves. Even then
they had time to gather in a phalanx [dense formation] that would
have been hard to break had they risen quickly, but this they
were forbidden to do by the traditions of their race. It is
written that the noble savage must never express surprise in the
presence of the white. Thus terrible as the sudden appearance of
the pirates must have been to them, they remained stationary for
a moment, not a muscle moving; as if the foe had come by
invitation. Then, indeed, the tradition gallantly upheld, they
seized their weapons, and the air was torn with the war-cry; but
it was now too late.

It is no part of ours to describe what was a massacre rather
than a fight. Thus perished many of the flower of the
Piccaninny tribe. Not all unavenged did they die, for with Lean
Wolf fell Alf Mason, to disturb the Spanish Main no more, and
among others who bit the dust were Geo. Scourie, Chas. Turley,
and the Alsatian Foggerty. Turley fell to the tomahawk of the
terrible Panther, who ultimately cut a way through the pirates
with Tiger Lily and a small remnant of the tribe.

To what extent Hook is to blame for his tactics on this
occasion is for the historian to decide. Had he waited on the
rising ground till the proper hour he and his men would probably
have been butchered; and in judging him it is only fair to take
this into account. What he should perhaps have done was to
acquaint his opponents that he proposed to follow a new method.
On the other hand, this, as destroying the element of surprise,
would have made his strategy of no avail, so that the whole
question is beset with difficulties. One cannot at least
withhold a reluctant admiration for the wit that had conceived
so bold a scheme, and the fell [deadly] genius with which it was
carried out.

What were his own feelings about himself at that triumphant
moment? Fain [gladly] would his dogs have known, as breathing
heavily and wiping their cutlasses, they gathered at a discreet
distance from his hook, and squinted through their ferret eyes at
this extraordinary man. Elation must have been in his heart, but
his face did not reflect it: ever a dark and solitary enigma, he
stood aloof from his followers in spirit as in substance.

The night’s work was not yet over, for it was not the redskins
he had come out to destroy; they were but the bees to be smoked,
so that he should get at the honey. It was Pan he wanted, Pan
and Wendy and their band, but chiefly Pan.

Peter was such a small boy that one tends to wonder at the
man’s hatred of him. True he had flung Hook’s arm to the
crocodile, but even this and the increased insecurity of life to
which it led, owing to the crocodile’s pertinacity [persistance],
hardly account for a vindictiveness so relentless and malignant.
The truth is that there was a something about Peter which goaded
the pirate captain to frenzy. It was not his courage, it was not
his engaging appearance, it was not –. There is no beating about
the bush, for we know quite well what it was, and have got to
tell. It was Peter’s cockiness.

This had got on Hook’s nerves; it made his iron claw twitch,
and at night it disturbed him like an insect. While Peter lived,
the tortured man felt that he was a lion in a cage into which a
sparrow had come.

The question now was how to get down the trees, or how to get
his dogs down? He ran his greedy eyes over them, searching for
the thinnest ones. They wriggled uncomfortably, for they knew he
would not scruple [hesitate] to ram them down with poles.

In the meantime, what of the boys? We have seen them at the
first clang of the weapons, turned as it were into stone figures,
open-mouthed, all appealing with outstretched arms to Peter; and
we return to them as their mouths close, and their arms fall to
their sides. The pandemonium above has ceased almost as suddenly
as it arose, passed like a fierce gust of wind; but they know
that in the passing it has determined their fate.

Which side had won?

The pirates, listening avidly at the mouths of the trees,
heard the question put by every boy, and alas, they also heard
Peter’s answer.

“If the redskins have won,” he said, “they will beat the tom-
tom; it is always their sign of victory.”

Now Smee had found the tom-tom, and was at that moment sitting
on it. “You will never hear the tom-tom again,” he muttered, but
inaudibly of course, for strict silence had been enjoined
[urged]. To his amazement Hook signed him to beat the tom-tom,
and slowly there came to Smee an understanding of the dreadful
wickedness of the order. Never, probably, had this simple man
admired Hook so much.

Twice Smee beat upon the instrument, and then stopped to listen
gleefully.

“The tom-tom,” the miscreants heard Peter cry; “an Indian
victory!”

The doomed children answered with a cheer that was music to the
black hearts above, and almost immediately they repeated their
good-byes to Peter. This puzzled the pirates, but all their
other feelings were swallowed by a base delight that the enemy
were about to come up the trees. They smirked at each other and
rubbed their hands. Rapidly and silently Hook gave his orders:
one man to each tree, and the others to arrange themselves in a
line two yards apart.

 

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