"There's none can save you now, missy," Mullins hissed jeeringly.
"There's one," replied the figure.
"Peter Pan the avenger!" came the terrible answer; and as he spoke Peter flung off his cloak. Then they all knew who 'twas that had been undoing them in the cabin, and twice Hook essayed to speak and twice he failed. In that frightful moment I think his fierce heart broke.
At last he cried, "Cleave him to the brisket!" but without conviction.
"Down, boys, and at them!" Peter's voice rang out; and in another moment the clash of arms was resounding through the ship. Had the pirates kept together it is certain that they would have won; but the onset came when they were still unstrung, and they ran hither and thither, striking wildly, each thinking himself the last survivor of the crew. Man to man they were the stronger; but they fought on the defensive only, which enabled the boys to hunt in pairs and choose their quarry. Some of the miscreants leapt into the sea; others hid in dark recesses, where they were found by Slightly, who did not fight, but ran about with a lantern which he flashed in their faces, so that they were half blinded and fell as an easy prey to the reeking swords of the other boys. There was little sound to be heard but the clang of weapons, an occasional screech or splash, and Slightly monotonously counting -- five -- six -- seven -- eight -- nine -- ten -- eleven.
I think all were gone when a group of savage boys surrounded Hook, who seemed to have a charmed life, as he kept them at bay in that circle of fire. They had done for his dogs, but this man alone seemed to be a match for them all. Again and again they closed upon him, and again and again he hewed a clear space. He had lifted up one boy with his hook, and was using him as a buckler [shield], when another, who had just passed his sword through Mullins, sprang into the fray.
"Put up your swords, boys," cried the newcomer, "this man is mine."
Thus suddenly Hook found himself face to face with Peter. The others drew back and formed a ring around them.
For long the two enemies looked at one another, Hook shuddering slightly, and Peter with the strange smile upon his face.
"So, Pan," said Hook at last, "this is all your doing."
"Ay, James Hook," came the stern answer, "it is all my doing."
"Proud and insolent youth," said Hook, "prepare to meet thy doom."
"Dark and sinister man," Peter answered, "have at thee."
Without more words they fell to, and for a space there was no advantage to either blade. Peter was a superb swordsman, and parried with dazzling rapidity; ever and anon he followed up a feint with a lunge that got past his foe's defence, but his shorter reach stood him in ill stead, and he could not drive the steel home. Hook, scarcely his inferior in brilliancy, but not quite so nimble in wrist play, forced him back by the weight of his onset, hoping suddenly to end all with a favourite thrust, taught him long ago by Barbecue at Rio; but to his astonishment he found this thrust turned aside again and again. Then he sought to close and give the quietus with his iron hook, which all this time had been pawing the air; but Peter doubled under it and, lunging fiercely, pierced him in the ribs. At the sight of his own blood, whose peculiar colour, you remember, was offensive to him, the sword fell from Hook's hand, and he was at Peter's mercy.
"Now!" cried all the boys, but with a magnificent gesture Peter invited his opponent to pick up his sword. Hook did so instantly, but with a tragic feeling that Peter was showing good form.
Hitherto he had thought it was some fiend fighting him, but darker suspicions assailed him now.
"Pan, who and what art thou?" he cried huskily.
"I'm youth, I'm joy," Peter answered at a venture, "I'm a little bird that has broken out of the egg."
This, of course, was nonsense; but it was proof to the unhappy Hook that Peter did not know in the least who or what he was, which is the very pinnacle of good form.