Friday, January 23, 2015

A partnership

A bit of back story that doesn't have a place in The Stowaway, but has found one here in Hook's Waltz.

She wasn't afraid of him, though perhaps she should have been. Of course it was her own establishment, and not as if the Scarlet Slipper relied upon the custom of him or his men—although certainly young Dorothy would have protested the loss of Mr. Mullins.

He had certain predilections which were not to her taste, to be sure, and she understood why the girls found him forbidding. But he was cleverer than most of her clientele, and more stylish, and his manner of speaking brought a bit of class to her drawing room. The drawing room where she met him now, where he refused to take a seat beside her, instead standing by the window out of the circle of light cast by the tasseled lamp overhead.

“I suppose this is when you tell me I am no longer welcome in your establishment.” He drew the curtain aside to peer out the window into the rain-swept Dover street and did not turn to meet 'Becca's eyes.

Dover, Inner Harbour, after John Henderson I.
 J.M.W. Turner, c. 1794-7, Tate UK

"You sound as though you are familiar with the request. But no, Captain, that is not why I asked to speak to you. Although I expect you know—”

“That my demeanor unsettles the ladies,” he said, throwing himself down upon the settee with such force that the teacup and saucer on the adjoining table did a merry dance. “They have not made it much of a secret.”

Good, thought 'Becca. She didn't want her girls to feel they couldn't speak up, couldn't defend themselves if they found it necessary. She had made her living and her reputation from a coterie of women who were genuinely willing to ply their trade, not to mention the pride her customers could take in being worthy of their attentions. If the Slipper lost a client from time to time, the loss was scarcely noted. And the loyalty her girls felt towards her, and the camaraderie among them, were qualities she had been told not to expect and which she was now most proud to have cultivated.

“Captain,” she said, interrupting the rapid tapping he made upon the arm of the settee with the point of his hook. “Please, do think of the furniture.”

“James,” he said. “If we are familiar enough to have such a conversation, you can speak to me by name.”

“James it is, then. And I am 'Becca.”

“'Becca,” he said, with the first inclination toward a smile she had seen upon his face. How strange that at times he seemed to have both the manners of a gentleman and the humbleness of a chastened boy.

“So, James, I have another proposition for you, should you care to hear it.”

“If courtesy alone did not do so, curiosity would persuade me to ask.”

Withdrawing a leather-bound notebook from beneath the cushion at her elbow, she handed it to the Captain, and dove into the waters of hope.

“'Tis the trade I had hoped to embark upon originally,” she said as he thumbed through the book, speaking quickly so she would not be distracted by the looks he cast upon the pages. “But making a living as a dressmaker was not as easy as I had hoped, not if I wanted to do more than patch the elbows of shirts and darn the heels of socks.”

He rose and carried the book with him to the window, pulling aside the draperies again to allow light to fall upon the drawings. “These are your designs?”

“Every one.”

“Have you sewn any of them yourself, or are these the drawings from which someone else will work?”

“I have sewn every scrap upon my person, and upon my girls as well.”

His eyes scanned the mauve silk of her gown, from the finely-stitched collar to the pintucked bodice to the rows of lace which adorned the skirt. “Most impressive. I had no idea.”

Later 'Becca would examine the fine gold of his compliment, but now was no time for such indulgence. “Look to the end of the book, if you would.”

The Captain complied, and a true smile grew upon his face as he did so.

“Coats worthy of a pirate captain,” said 'Becca, her confidence swelling. “And swatches of fabric on the back cover, if you would care to examine them as well.”

“This scarlet, it is quite magnificent. And the blue...”

“I thought 'twould bring out your eyes.” Perhaps she should not have said such a thing, that she had noticed that this fierce and notorious man, with his outrageous hair and remarkable height, the terrible steel hook in place of his right hand, had eyes the exact shade of forget-me-nots.

“Do you think so?” said James, pursing his narrow lips. “Perhaps it would do me no harm to dress to my natural inclinations, and Mr. Smee would be happy enough to forgo the responsibility of outfitting the crew.” He returned his attention to the notebook. “Gentleman Starkey, surely, would have need of this trade as well as your other. And Mr. Cecco would welcome the chance to strut his finery upon my deck. Although I should warn you, he is inclined towards removing the sleeves from his shirts. Perhaps waistcoats would better suit our Mr. Cecco.”

'Becca could not keep the grin from her face. “Have we a bargain, then, James Hook?”

“We do indeed, 'Becca Bloom, and I shall make your efforts worthwhile,” said the Captain, holding out his left hand. She took it in her own, a handshake to conclude a business transaction the likes of which she had never dreamed about in her tiny Yorkshire bedroom years before.

“Tea, Captain?”

“Yes, indeed. Let us drink to a partnership that I hope will transcend the years.”

'Becca poured a cup for the Captain and another for herself. “And James? You are content to leave our business as such?”

“'Tis rare enough that I may count someone a friend, 'Becca Bloom. If this means I may reckon you one, I will be well content to follow the rules as you make them.”

“Then a friend you shall have, James Hook. And a friend you shall be."

His face grew gentle, then, and his eyes warmed. She would not have guessed at such a tenderness the day he first appeared at her door, leading a half dozen of his men, all wet to the skin from rain and demanding entry. For not the first time, she was pleased that she had allowed them in.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Peter at the hospital

There is no more fitting place for a Peter Pan purist to visit than London's Great Ormond Street Hospital.

The hospital has had a long association with The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up. In 1929, J.M. Barrie declined to sit on a fundraising committee to help it expand into the vacated Foundling Hospital adjacent--and instead donated the royalties from stage performances of Peter Pan to GOSH, funds which they receive to this day. (For more information about the copyright extension in the UK and Europe that allows the hospital the continuing right to royalty, see the GOSH website. There you'll also find additional history--and better pictures than I have here, but that can't be helped.)

"At one time Peter Pan was an invalid at the Hospital for Sick Children," Barrie said in a GOSH fundraising speech in 1930, "and it was he who put me up to the little thing I did for the hospital."

At one time, the hospital maintained a museum of Peter Pan books and memorabilia. While that museum has fallen victim to the hospital and charity's need for additional space, the collection is still available for public viewing by appointment. Of course, I could hardly visit London and not at least attempt to see the collection. 

The hospital was officially named
Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in the 1990s,
 as it had become so closely associated with the street.

When I made my appointment, I wasn't certain if I should admit to my involvement with The Stowaway and especially this blog. But I knew I wouldn't be able to keep that to myself and didn't want to spring it upon the staff, so I gathered my courage and confessed via email. And because I did, I was able to have a splendid visit with people who understand my devotion to Mr. Barrie's tale.

The collection being kept in this room was pure
coincidence, I'm sure, but a most fortuitous one.

Christine De Poortere, Peter Pan Director, and Emily Beahan kindly allowed me to babble about my own collection and thoughts about Peter and the Captain, and let me photograph the figurines, plates, magic lantern slides, and other memorabilia that have been given to the hospital over the years. These include the bell that was Tinker Bell's voice in the original 1904 stage production of Peter Pan. And yes, I got to ring it.

The bell in the back right corner was
 used to voice the original Tinker Bell.

GOSH has more Peter Pan books than I do--
two cupboards worth.

Casts of London productions of the play still put on performances at the hospital for patients, as they have done for decades. And Peter's influence is felt throughout the halls.

Art students of the University of Wolverhampton
 created and donated this tiled mural in the late 1980s.

Peter appears where he is not expected, as is his wont.

Since it opened its doors on Valentine's Day of 1852 as the Hospital for Sick Children, GOSH has grown tremendously, expanding into many surrounding buildings in its neighborhood of Bloomsbury, where Barrie lived for a time just around the corner from the original hospital. It's part of the National Health Service, but funds raised from donations help them with redevelopment, research, medical equipment, and support services for families.

The charity staff at GOSH couldn't have been more gracious, and I'm certainly glad I was able to meet them and take the tour. Of course I'm also pleased to know they are still receiving the benefit of Barrie's donation, and putting it to the best of uses.