"Tony Abry, Pan's brother-in-law, and Reed Armstrong, her husband's nephew, had their grandfather's car and chauffeur," Peter disclosed, "and the chauffeur drove us over to the Abry estate near Katonah where there was a regular shooting range. One of the boys showed off an antique pistol that cocked when you broke it, just like a shotgun. The trigger laid up against the stem like a derringer. I put in the shell, and when I closed it, the whole fucking mechanism went around and discharged itself right into me.
"It went right into my belly, hit my rib cage, blew off a piece of my liver, tumbled through my stomach, just missed my abdominal aorta, slammed right through the center of my kidney, and made just a lump on the skin of my back right next to my spine.
"That chauffeur saved my life. I stumbled to the car, yelling that I'd been shot. And he didn't waste a word on me. He just shoveled me up and put me into the car, and drove like hell for the hospital in Ossining.
"Dr. Charles dark Sweet, bless his name, was the prison physician at Sing Sing. He had puncture-wound and bullet-wound expertise, and he walked into the hospital from a hunting trip just as they brought me in. That's where the luck comes in. While they were propping me, he scrubbed, and by the time
he was ready, I was waiting on the table in the operating room, and he did some kind of job sewing and patching and stitching."
Despite the skill of the surgeon's knife, Death beckoned Peter Fonda. The surgeon emerged from the operating room to tell the waiting Sophie and Jane that the boy's heart had stopped beating. They'd managed to start it again, but he was dying, and unfortunately, there was not much else they could do for him.
"I remember when he was dying, I remember hearing the doctor say, 'I don't know if he's going to pull through,' and I remember praying," Jane Fonda admitted. "That was the first time in my life I remember praying. 'Dear God,' I whispered, 'if you let him live, I'll never be mean to him again.' "
Henry Fonda arrived in his son's hospital room, well beyond midnight. All he saw was the narrow figure under the white sheet and the small, drained face with tubes coming out of his mouth and nostrils. There was nothing for the father to do but sit in a chair and watch his immobile child.
At three in the morning a compassionate nurse called him outside the boy's room and promised to telephone if any change occurred. It seemed better, she believed, for Fonda to have strength to face tomorrow and whatever it might bring.
Back in New York Henry Fonda caught a restless hour of sleep, and then made the return trip to Ossining. This routine continued for five days. On the sixth the doctors pronounced Peter had passed the crisis. Within a week he was considered in stable condition. Within another week he was out of danger and on the road back to chicanery.
"My sister," Peter recounted, "was a mean little girl. She was always so mean to me. Years later she told me, 'You know, when you were dying, I prayed to God that if He let you live, I would never be mean to you again. And you know? I was mean to you again right away.' "
"I couldn't help it," Jane explained. "He was a rotten kid in those days. He was back to being a brat before we knew he was well. I loved him anyhow."
Jane returned to the Greenwich Academy for her last semester. Peter spent a month in the hospital and a month recuperating at home.