It by James Matthew Barrie

From A Holiday in Bed and Other Sketches by J. M. Barrie

Sir James Barrie


As they were my friends, I don’t care to say how it came about that I had this strange and, I believe unique, experience. They considered it a practical joke, though it nearly unhinged my reason. Suffice it that last Wednesday, when I called on them at their new house, I was taken up stairs and shown into a large room with a pictorial wall paper. There was a pop-gun on the table and a horse with three legs on the floor. In a moment it flashed through my mind that I must be in a nursery. I started back, and then, with a sinking at the heart, I heard the key turn in the lock. From the corner came a strange uncanny moan. Slowly I forced my head round and looked, and a lump rose in my throat, and I realized that I was alone with It.

I cannot say how long I stood there motionless. As soon as I came to myself I realized that my only chance was to keep quiet. I tried to think. The probability was that they were not far away, and if they heard nothing for a quarter of an hour or so they might open the door and let me out. So I stood still, with my eyes riveted on the thing where It lay. It did not cry out again, and I hoped against hope that It had not seen me. As I became accustomed to the room I heard It breathing quite like a human being. This reassured me to some extent, for I saw that It must be asleep. The question was—Might not the sleep be disturbed at any moment, and in that case, what should I do? I remembered the story of the man who met a wild beast in the jungle and subjugated it by the power of the human eye. I thought I would try that. All the time I kept glaring at It’s lair (for I could not distinguish itself), and the two things mixed themselves up in my mind till I thought I was trying the experiment at that moment. Next it struck me that the whole thing was perhaps a mistake. The servant had merely shown me into the wrong room. Yes; but why had the door been locked? After all, was I sure that it was locked? I crept closer to the door, and with my eyes still fixed on the corner, put my hand gently—oh, so gently!—on the handle. Softly I turned it round. I felt like a burglar. The door would not open. Losing all self-control, I shook it; and then again came that unnatural cry. I stood as if turned to stone, still clutching the door handle, lest It should squeak if I let It go. Then I listened for the breathing. In a few moments I heard It. Before It had horrified me; now It was like sweet music, and I resumed breathing myself. I kept close to the wall, ready for anything; and then I had a strange notion. As It was asleep, why should I not creep forward and have a look at It? I yielded to this impulse.

Of course I had often seen Them before, but always with some responsible person present, and never such a young one. I thought It would be done up in clothes, but no, It lay loose, and without much on. I saw Its hands and arms, and It had hair. It was sound asleep to all appearances, but there was a queer smile upon Its face that I did not like. It crossed my mind that It might be only shamming, so I looked away and then turned sharply around to catch It. The smile was still there, but It moved one of Its hands in a suspicious way. The more I looked the more uncomfortable did that smile make me. There was something saturnine about It, and It kept it up too long. I felt in my pocket hurriedly for my watch, in case It should wake; but, with my usual ill-luck, I had left it at the watchmaker’s. If It had been older I should not have minded so much, for I would have kept on asking what Its name was. But this was such a very young one that It could not even have a name yet. Presently I began to feel that It was lying too quietly. It is not Their nature to be quiet for any length of time, and, for aught I knew, this one might be ill. I believe I should have felt relieved if It had cried out again. After thinking it over for some time I touched It to see if It would move. It drew up one leg and pushed out a hand. Then I bit my lips at my folly, for there was no saying what It might do next. I got behind the curtain, and watched It anxiously through a chink. Except that the smile became wickeder than ever, nothing happened. I was wondering whether I should not risk pinching It, so as to make It scream and bring somebody, when I heard an awful sound. Though I am only twenty, I have had considerable experience of life, and I can safely say that I never heard such a chuckle. It had wakened up and was laughing.

I gazed at It from behind the curtain; Its eyes were wide open, and you could see quite well that It was reflecting what It ought to do next. As long as It did not come out I felt safe, for It could not see me. Something funny seemed to strike It, and It laughed heartily. After a time It tried to sit up. Fortunately Its head was so heavy that It always lost its balance just as It seemed on the point of succeeding. When It saw that It could not rise, It reflected again, and then all of a sudden It put Its fist into Its mouth. I gazed in horror; soon only the wrist was to be seen, and I saw that It would choke in another minute. Just for a second I thought that I would let It do as It liked. Then I cried out, “Don’t do that!” and came out from behind the curtain. Slowly It moved Its fist and there we were, looking at each other.

I retreated to the door, but It followed me with Its eyes. It had not had time to scream yet, and I glared at It to imply that I would stand no nonsense. But, difficult though this may be to believe, It didn’t scream when It had the chance. It chuckled instead and made signs for me to come nearer. This was even more alarming than my worst fears. I shook my head and then my fist at It, but It only laughed the more. In the end I got so fearful that I went down on my hands and knees, to get out of Its sight. Then It began to scream. However, I did not get up. When they opened the door they say I was beneath the table, and no wonder. But I certainly was astonished to discover that I had only been alone with It for seven minutes.

A Holiday in Bed and Other Sketches