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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


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


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


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


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


"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


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.