FictionForest

Chapter 14 – Chapter 14 The Pirate Ship

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

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One green light squinting over Kidd’s Creek, which is near the
mouth of the pirate river, marked where the brig, the JOLLY
ROGER, lay, low in the water; a rakish-looking [speedy-looking]
craft foul to the hull, every beam in her detestable, like ground
strewn with mangled feathers. She was the cannibal of the seas,
and scarce needed that watchful eye, for she floated immune in
the horror of her name.

She was wrapped in the blanket of night, through which no sound
from her could have reached the shore. There was little sound,
and none agreeable save the whir of the ship’s sewing machine at
which Smee sat, ever industrious and obliging, the essence of the
commonplace, pathetic Smee. I know not why he was so infinitely
pathetic, unless it were because he was so pathetically unaware
of it; but even strong men had to turn hastily from looking at
him, and more than once on summer evenings he had touched the
fount of Hook’s tears and made it flow. Of this, as of almost
everything else, Smee was quite unconscious.

A few of the pirates leant over the bulwarks, drinking in the
miasma [putrid mist] of the night; others sprawled by barrels over
games of dice and cards; and the exhausted four who had carried
the little house lay prone on the deck, where even in their sleep
they rolled skillfully to this side or that out of Hook’s reach,
lest he should claw them mechanically in passing.

Hook trod the deck in thought. O man unfathomable. It was his
hour of triumph. Peter had been removed for ever from his path,
and all the other boys were in the brig, about to walk the plank.
It was his grimmest deed since the days when he had brought
Barbecue to heel; and knowing as we do how vain a tabernacle is
man, could we be surprised had he now paced the deck unsteadily,
bellied out by the winds of his success?

But there was no elation in his gait, which kept pace with the
action of his sombre mind. Hook was profoundly dejected.

He was often thus when communing with himself on board ship in
the quietude of the night. It was because he was so terribly
alone. This inscrutable man never felt more alone than when
surrounded by his dogs. They were socially inferior to him.

Hook was not his true name. To reveal who he really was would
even at this date set the country in a blaze; but as those who
read between the lines must already have guessed, he had been at
a famous public school; and its traditions still clung to him
like garments, with which indeed they are largely concerned.
Thus it was offensive to him even now to board a ship in the
same dress in which he grappled [attacked] her, and he still
adhered in his walk to the school’s distinguished slouch. But
above all he retained the passion for good form.

Good form! However much he may have degenerated, he still knew
that this is all that really matters.

From far within him he heard a creaking as of rusty portals,
and through them came a stern tap-tap-tap, like hammering in the
night when one cannot sleep. “Have you been good form to-day?”
was their eternal question.

“Fame, fame, that glittering bauble, it is mine,” he cried.

“Is it quite good form to be distinguished at anything?” the
tap-tap from his school replied.

“I am the only man whom Barbecue feared,” he urged, “and Flint
feared Barbecue.”

“Barbecue, Flint — what house?” came the cutting retort.

Most disquieting reflection of all, was it not bad form to
think about good form?

His vitals were tortured by this problem. It was a claw within
him sharper than the iron one; and as it tore him, the
perspiration dripped down his tallow [waxy] countenance and
streaked his doublet. Ofttimes he drew his sleeve across his
face, but there was no damming that trickle.

Ah, envy not Hook.

There came to him a presentiment of his early dissolution
[death]. It was as if Peter’s terrible oath had boarded the
ship. Hook felt a gloomy desire to make his dying speech, lest
presently there should be no time for it.

“Better for Hook,” he cried, “if he had had less ambition!”
It was in his darkest hours only that he referred to himself
in the third person.

“No little children to love me!”

Strange that he should think of this, which had never troubled
him before; perhaps the sewing machine brought it to his mind.
For long he muttered to himself, staring at Smee, who was
hemming placidly, under the conviction that all children feared
him.

Feared him! Feared Smee! There was not a child on board the
brig that night who did not already love him. He had said horrid
things to them and hit them with the palm of his hand, because he
could not hit with his fist, but they had only clung to him the
more. Michael had tried on his spectacles.

To tell poor Smee that they thought him lovable! Hook itched
to do it, but it seemed too brutal. Instead, he revolved this
mystery in his mind: why do they find Smee lovable? He pursued
the problem like the sleuth-hound that he was. If Smee was
lovable, what was it that made him so? A terrible answer
suddenly presented itself–“Good form?”

Had the bo’sun good form without knowing it, which is the best
form of all?

He remembered that you have to prove you don’t know you have it
before you are eligible for Pop [an elite social club at Eton].

With a cry of rage he raised his iron hand over Smee’s head;
but he did not tear. What arrested him was this reflection:

“To claw a man because he is good form, what would that be?”

“Bad form!”

The unhappy Hook was as impotent [powerless] as he was damp,
and he fell forward like a cut flower.

His dogs thinking him out of the way for a time, discipline
instantly relaxed; and they broke into a bacchanalian [drunken]
dance, which brought him to his feet at once, all traces of human
weakness gone, as if a bucket of water had passed over him.

“Quiet, you scugs,” he cried, “or I’ll cast anchor in you”; and
at once the din was hushed. “Are all the children chained, so
that they cannot fly away?”

“Ay, ay.”

“Then hoist them up.”

The wretched prisoners were dragged from the hold, all except
Wendy, and ranged in line in front of him. For a time he seemed
unconscious of their presence. He lolled at his ease, humming,
not unmelodiously, snatches of a rude song, and fingering a pack
of cards. Ever and anon the light from his cigar gave a touch of
colour to his face.

“Now then, bullies,” he said briskly, “six of you walk the
plank to-night, but I have room for two cabin boys. Which of you
is it to be?”

“Don’t irritate him unnecessarily,” had been Wendy’s
instructions in the hold; so Tootles stepped forward politely.
Tootles hated the idea of signing under such a man, but an
instinct told him that it would be prudent to lay the
responsibility on an absent person; and though a somewhat silly
boy, he knew that mothers alone are always willing to be the
buffer. All children know this about mothers, and despise them
for it, but make constant use of it.

So Tootles explained prudently, “You see, sir, I don’t think my
mother would like me to be a pirate. Would your mother like you
to be a pirate, Slightly?”

He winked at Slightly, who said mournfully, “I don’t think so,”
as if he wished things had been otherwise. “Would your mother
like you to be a pirate, Twin?”

“I don’t think so,” said the first twin, as clever as the
others. “Nibs, would — ”

“Stow this gab,” roared Hook, and the spokesmen were dragged
back. “You, boy,” he said, addressing John, “you look as if you
had a little pluck in you. Didst never want to be a pirate, my
hearty?”

Now John had sometimes experienced this hankering at maths.
prep.; and he was struck by Hook’s picking him out.

“I once thought of calling myself Red-handed Jack,” he said
diffidently.

“And a good name too. We’ll call you that here, bully, if you
join.”

“What do you think, Michael?” asked John.

“What would you call me if I join?” Michael demanded.

“Blackbeard Joe.”

Michael was naturally impressed. “What do you think, John?”
He wanted John to decide, and John wanted him to decide.

“Shall we still be respectful subjects of the King?” John
inquired.

Through Hook’s teeth came the answer: “You would have to
swear, `Down with the King.'”

Perhaps John had not behaved very well so far, but he shone out
now.

“Then I refuse,” he cried, banging the barrel in front of Hook.

“And I refuse,” cried Michael.

“Rule Britannia!” squeaked Curly.

The infuriated pirates buffeted them in the mouth; and Hook
roared out, “That seals your doom. Bring up their mother. Get
the plank ready.”

They were only boys, and they went white as they saw Jukes and
Cecco preparing the fatal plank. But they tried to look brave
when Wendy was brought up.

No words of mine can tell you how Wendy despised those pirates.
To the boys there was at least some glamour in the pirate
calling; but all that she saw was that the ship had not been
tidied for years. There was not a porthole on the grimy glass
of which you might not have written with your finger “Dirty pig”;
and she had already written it on several. But as the boys
gathered round her she had no thought, of course, save for them.

“So, my beauty,” said Hook, as if he spoke in syrup, “you are
to see your children walk the plank.”

Fine gentlemen though he was, the intensity of his communings
had soiled his ruff, and suddenly he knew that she was gazing at
it. With a hasty gesture he tried to hide it, but he was too late.

“Are they to die?” asked Wendy, with a look of such frightful
contempt that he nearly fainted.

“They are,” he snarled. “Silence all,” he called gloatingly,
“for a mother’s last words to her children.”

At this moment Wendy was grand. “These are my last words, dear
boys,” she said firmly. “I feel that I have a message to you
from your real mothers, and it is this: `We hope our sons will
die like English gentlemen.'”

Even the pirates were awed, and Tootles cried out hysterically,
“I am going to do what my mother hopes. What are you to do, Nibs?”

“What my mother hopes. What are you to do, Twin?”

“What my mother hopes. John, what are — ”

But Hook had found his voice again.

“Tie her up!” he shouted.

It was Smee who tied her to the mast. “See here, honey,” he
whispered, “I’ll save you if you promise to be my mother.”

But not even for Smee would she make such a promise. “I would
almost rather have no children at all,” she said disdainfully
[scornfully].

It is sad to know that not a boy was looking at her as Smee
tied her to the mast; the eyes of all were on the plank: that
last little walk they were about to take. They were no longer
able to hope that they would walk it manfully, for the capacity
to think had gone from them; they could stare and shiver only.

Hook smiled on them with his teeth closed, and took a step
toward Wendy. His intention was to turn her face so that she
should see they boys walking the plank one by one. But he never
reached her, he never heard the cry of anguish he hoped to wring
from her. He heard something else instead.

It was the terrible tick-tick of the crocodile.

They all heard it — pirates, boys, Wendy; and immediately
every head was blown in one direction; not to the water whence
the sound proceeded, but toward Hook. All knew that what was
about to happen concerned him alone, and that from being actors
they were suddenly become spectators.

Very frightful was it to see the change that came over him. It
was as if he had been clipped at every joint. He fell in a
little heap.

The sound came steadily nearer; and in advance of it came this
ghastly thought, “The crocodile is about to board the ship!”

Even the iron claw hung inactive; as if knowing that it was no
intrinsic part of what the attacking force wanted. Left so
fearfully alone, any other man would have lain with his eyes shut
where he fell: but the gigantic brain of Hook was still working,
and under its guidance he crawled on the knees along the deck as
far from the sound as he could go. The pirates respectfully
cleared a passage for him, and it was only when he brought up
against the bulwarks that he spoke.

“Hide me!” he cried hoarsely.

They gathered round him, all eyes averted from the thing that
was coming aboard. They had no thought of fighting it. It was
Fate.

Only when Hook was hidden from them did curiosity loosen the
limbs of the boys so that they could rush to the ship’s side to
see the crocodile climbing it. Then they got the strangest
surprise of the Night of Nights; for it was no crocodile that was
coming to their aid. It was Peter.

He signed to them not to give vent to any cry of admiration
that might rouse suspicion. Then he went on ticking.

 

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