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.
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.