"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?"
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?"
"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.