I have been writing my own novel over the last three years, and it is going to be published in eBook format on Amazon.com this week! For your delectation and delight, I will be posting up the initial chapters of The Fall of Peter Pan here first.
This novel is an adaptation of the original Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie.
Chapter 1 PETER BREAKS THROUGH
“Nana, I’m going out for coffee. Make sure the children get to school on time after breakfast.”
Wendy stared dolefully at her mother’s retreating back, as Mrs. Darling sashayed out of the dining room. It was her birthday, but aside from a perfunctory word of congratulation from her parents at breakfast, before Mr. Darling left for the office, nothing special had occurred.
No presents had been given… except for the dress. She could feel its presence needling her, despite its absence from the room. All those stiff ruffles and delicate bits of lacework. Hideous.
“What kind of a stupid person gets me a present they know I’ll hate?” She demanded, poking at her toast, “I didn’t ask for a dress, I wanted a compass!”
Nana, her head barely reaching above the table, gave her a stern look that said little girls ought to be grateful for such nice presents as dresses, and her brother John only shrugged a little. “You are a girl. It’s what you do.”
“Why?” Wendy shouted, “Why do I have to? You got a pocket knife for your birthday, and even Michael got a train set—”
“I wanted a microscope,” John said dryly.
Wendy pushed back her chair and stormed out of the dining room, up the stairs to the nursery with what she considered an appropriate amount of stamping.
There the children were sequestered away to play and sleep, so as to keep the hallways clean and uncluttered. And there, in pride of place, was the loathsome gift. She stared at it, her eyes fairly sparking with anger.
“This is the most miserable birthday ever,” she muttered, pacing the room restlessly. She had objected to birthdays on principle, ever since Mrs. Darling told her she was going to grow up, as all children must.
Of course, Mrs. Darling had not meant to let this secret of the adult world slip out, but when two-year-old Wendy had innocently run to her with a freshly-picked flower as an offering, she had touched one hand to her heart and cried, “Oh, why can’t you remain like this for ever!”
Henceforth Wendy knew, with a horrible sinking sensation, that she was expected to grow up. You always know after you are two. Two, for most people, is the beginning of the end. But in Wendy’s heart, she began to mutiny against the idea, and it seemed to Wendy that Mrs. Darling, since that day, had had little time for her only daughter. Instead, she brushed off Wendy’s earnest, “But why must I grow up, Mother?” with an uneasy laugh, and turned her attentions and affection elsewhere, to younger children who did not ask such difficult questions.
Wendy always claimed that this is her earliest memory; and if memories direct a person’s footsteps in the great game of life, then it was. For it gave her the steely determination to avoid becoming boring and preoccupied and loving like her mother, and all the other adults she had met. Until she comes to Neverland, however, we are not to see her true strengths emerge. Instead, she will be introduced much as any other young girl, who has two littler brothers to contend with, and a pair of silly, distractible parents.
Wendy stamped the nursery, restless with disappointment.
It didn’t help that their mother, Mrs. Darling, had spared not more than a moment out of her day to give her daughter a pat on the head and say, “Happy birthday, my dear little darling,” (a kiss would have smudged her lipstick), before going out to a café with one of her friends, leaving the children to eat their breakfasts alone in the house, but for the dog. She had received even less from Mr. Darling, who had already calculated the cost of her wedding, and was deducting it from all her birthday and Christmas presents. He had muttered something congratulatory, checked his pocket watch, and marched out the door.
Mrs. Darling was a lovely woman, with a romantic mind and a sweet, mocking mouth. A hundred close acquaintances fancied themselves half in love with her, and she throve under the attention. Her romantic mind was perpetually a-flutter with the latest ideas and fashions. These fluttering trivialities were all most people ever saw of her, and any disagreeable personal opinions were boxed away from view, obscured even from Mrs. Darling herself amongst a jumble of silk prices and chinaware patterns in that colourful kaleidoscope of the senses. She was always pleasant to be with, a witty and agreeable conversationalist; and most tempting of all, her clever mouth had one kiss on it that no one ever got, though there it was, perfectly conspicuous in the right-hand corner. In short, she was as kind-hearted and butterfly-witted a product of good breeding as ever failed to amount to anything much. She loved her children dearly from a distance (when they were well-behaved), but had an unshakeable fondness for parties, and it was mere chance that she had been at home long enough for Mr. Darling to catch at her hand and propose.
We suppose it was sheer surprise that led her to say yes, and after that her fate was sealed. If Mrs. Darling didn’t love him to begin with, she found it rather more easy to learn to do so, than to make any changes later on.
The way Mr. Darling won her was this: the many men who had been boys when she was a girl discovered simultaneously that they loved her now that she was a woman, and they all ran to her house to propose. It was a grand dash, all the way from an unnameable club in the High Street to her Father’s home in Kensington. It is regrettable to say that in the ruckus, a great many enthusiastic men were rather poor sports, and took the opportunity to trip one another up as they sailed over shrubberies in their finest of fine suits. Still more were barged, rugby-style, into unassuming gardens (to the rage of the gardeners the next morning). It was a delightful mess, and a rather close race. They all stood to arrive sweaty and dishevelled, their clothes torn and dirty, and it is rather evenly balanced as to whether the future Mrs. Darling’s father would have approved a match to any of them, regardless of their yearly income.
All of them that is, except Mr. Darling. He did not join the stampede, but paid his tab, strolled out of the club, and cleverly hailed a cab. Thus he nipped in first, managing to arrive looking composed into the bargain, and so got her. She was on her way out at the time he caught her, so she looked rather good for being proposed to on the spot. When the other men panted their way up to the front door, it was all over but for the ceremony and champagne.
Mr. Darling got all of her, except the secret box of thoughts and the kiss. He never knew about the box, and in time he gave up trying for the kiss, and contented himself with normal, everyday kisses. Wendy thought Napoleon could have got it, if he were to stand on a chair, but I can picture him trying, failing, and then going off in a passion, slamming the door on his way to Elba. The unsurpassable lure of Mrs. Darling’s kiss could have sent Helen of Troy home in a snit, but she never used it on anyone. Possibly she was not fully aware that it was there, smiling in the corner of her mouth.
Mr. Darling used to boast to Wendy that her mother not only loved him but respected him. He was one of those deep ones who know all about the share market. Of course no one really knows, but he quite seemed to know, and he often said stocks were up and shares were down in such an impressive way that it would have made any woman respect him, if only to make him shut up for a little while.
Mr. Darling was frightfully clever (in his own mind), but rather a bore. He used Mrs. Darling in his life as much as a cook uses spice in the porridge to liven its flavour, and they got along very well in this manner.
Mrs. Darling was married all in white in a wedding that was a little beyond their means to afford, and at first she kept the domestic books perfectly, almost gleefully, as if it were a game she were determined to win. Not so much as a Brussels sprout was discovered missing (she could be rather insufferable); but by and by whole cauliflowers dropped out, and instead of them there were pictures of babies without faces, crawling about the page or holding their toes. She drew them when she should have been adding up. They were Mrs. Darling’s guesses, all tangled up with the prices of eggs, milk and sapphire Bombay gin.
Wendy came first, then John, then Michael. It is important to remember this, for like all children, they are aware of their order in the family to an almost painful degree, and they would be appalled if one were to forget.
In the beginning, before Wendy came it was doubtful whether they would be able to keep her, as she was another mouth to feed. Mr. Darling was frightfully proud that he might be a father, but he sat on the edge of Mrs. Darling’s bed, holding her hand and calculating expenses, while she looked at him and implored him to let her keep the little bundle. She wanted to risk it, come what may, hell or high water, but that was not his way; his way was with a pencil and a piece of paper, and if she confused him with suggestions he had to turn back and begin at the beginning again. This meant that it was an excruciatingly slow process, for Mrs. Darling could not hold back her urge to comment or make suggestions.
“Now don’t interrupt, Mrs. Darling,” he would beg of her when she interrupted his calculations.
There was the same excitement over John, and Michael had even a narrower squeak; but both were kept, and soon, if you lived at numbers 2 through to 12, you might have seen the three of them going in a row to Miss Fulsom’s Primary School, accompanied by their nurse. Of course, they were let out at lunchtime to go home and eat a sandwich with the crusts cut off, and drink a glass of milk.
While the children were young enough not to question their mother’s infrequent appearances, she lavished them at times with Turkish delight affection; but when they were old enough to say things like, “No,” and “Why?” she turned them over to the care of Nana, the Newfoundland dog, and quietly washed her hands of them. This allowed her more time for the theatre, and intriguing with her friends over coffee.
The Darlings lived at number 14, and until Wendy arrived, her mother was the centre of attention there; the arrival of children changed this but a little, and allowed them to talk to all sorts of people who, beforehand, had only orbited in the distant periphery of their social circles. “Oh, you have children? So do we, isn’t it jolly?” And so on.
Of course, their children’s actual friendships were never considered, except for their social merit, and they were variously encouraged and forbidden as a consequence. And so it was that John was friends with the son of the local chief banker, with whom he played rugby at lunchtimes, though he confided to Wendy, “He’s such a pig. I think he has a pork pie for a brain,” whilst Wendy was encouraged, pointedly, to socialise only with the horrible, spoilt daughters of society matrons.
Her sworn comradeship with poor Samantha Hawkins, who had insisted on being allowed to wear trousers at school, was very nearly banned outright for its oddness. Only her father’s position as Senior Lecturer in Mathematics at a notable university had stayed Mr. and Mrs. Darling’s hands.
This begrudging tolerance was not extended by the other children, and both Samantha and Wendy were the constant butt of teasing and unpleasant practical jokes, until one day Sam’s father whisked her back to America, forever. Ever since then, school had been an unhappy place. This was, in reality, Wendy’s first birthday without her companion. Wendy retrieved the letter, and unfolded it from around the plate photograph carefully, her throat aching with missing her friend.
Very happy here, but I miss you. Helping out on the ranch with Father and the men, everything perfect – no silly girly things! Wish you and Uncle Basil were here, you must come and live with me in America!
Your Sam Hawkins
The picture, slightly blurry and unfocussed, showed Sam and her father standing against a slip rail fence. The huge smile on Sam’s face helped to buoy Wendy’s spirits, and she smiled a little in spite of herself.
When Sam’s letter had arrived in the post a week before Wendy’s birthday, she had wanted to reply immediately, but Mrs. Darling, aware of the wider scandal surrounding Professor Hawkins’ separation from his wife, and his subsequent disappearance from both the university staff and polite society, forbade her doing so in no uncertain terms.
Which, of course, Wendy had ignored, stealing the envelope, paper and stamps from Mr. Darling’s study. She had poured out her heart in the letter, finishing the missive with a stern warning not to reply. And then, she had posted it. The illicit message sent, Wendy had to be satisfied.
Now that Sam was gone, however, school had lost what last little particle of appeal it had once possessed. Wendy would have been happy to never go to school again. She leant against the window and sighed.
“Nana says we have to go now,” said John, poking his nose around the door warily. Wendy huffed another sigh. A dog for a nurse! How many other ridiculous torments must their parents put them through?
Mrs. Darling loved to have everything just so, and Mr. Darling had a passion for being exactly like his neighbours; so, of course, they had a nurse, to take care of the raising of the children. After their excesses they were poorer than they had been, though they explained this as being due to the amount of milk the children drank and the clothes they were always outgrowing. As a consequence however, the nurse they retained was a prim Newfoundland dog, called Nana (she was paid in biscuits and bones). She was quite a treasure, and of course her kennel was in the nursery (to attend to the children at all hours), cunningly disguised as a children’s play-fort so that visitors would not know she was allowed to sleep in the house. She had a genius for knowing when a complaint is a thing to have no patience with and when it needs hot tea with honey and lemon in it. She believed to her last day in folk remedies, and made sounds of contempt over all this new-fangled talk of germs. It was a lesson in good conduct to see her escorting the children to school, walking sedately by their side when they behaved, and butting them back into line rather sternly if they strayed. On John’s football days she never once forgot his sweater, and she usually carried an umbrella in her mouth in case of rain; the hooked handle was also useful for retrieving children who might be inclined to wander.
Being only a dog, Nana had to endure all sorts of social injustices from the other nurses, who affected to ignore her as inferior to themselves. In turn, she despised their light talk of pictures and beaus, and sneaking out after the children were abed. Nana can be reasonably assumed to dislike any sort of frivolity at all, unless it came from the children. She especially resented visits to the nursery from Mrs. Darling and her friends, between cafe lunches and evenings out at the pictures, but if they did come she first whipped off Michael’s messy play clothes for some a little smarter, smoothed out Wendy (she was perpetually rumpled) and made a dash at John’s hair.
No nursery could possibly have been conducted more correctly, and Mr. Darling knew it, yet he sometimes wondered uneasily whether the neighbours talked, behind their imposing closed doors.
He had his position in the city to consider, and that in his firm. One day, he planned to be a card-carrying, respectable senior partner, with his own car and chauffeur. This would never happen if rumours leaked out about his unconventional living arrangements. A dog as nanny! He could only imagine what might be said, and it very often gave him a headache.
Nana also troubled him in another way. He had sometimes a feeling that she did not admire him (this was true). “I know in my heart that she admires you tremendously, George,” Mrs. Darling would assure him, and then she would signal subtly to the children to be especially nice to their father. Nana would retire at these times, stiff and dignified, to her little castle kennel.
Lovely dances followed, in which the only other servant, Liza, was sometimes allowed to join, if she had completed her myriad of duties. Such a midget she looked in her long skirt and maid’s cap, though she had sworn, when engaged, that she would never see fifteen again (in fact she was twelve, little older than Wendy herself, of an impoverished family. Mr. Darling had hired her because he was certain she would be too timid to ever ask for an increase in her wage). The gaiety of those romps! And most dashing of all was Mrs. Darling, who would pirouette so wildly to the music of the wireless that all you could see of her was the kiss, and then if you dashed at her you might have got it. Wendy attempted to despise these falsely jolly occasions, for she could smell out her father’s insecurity as a rat smells ripe cheese, but the laughter would eventually bubble out of her, and she would join in as wildly as her mother in the dancing.
She always dreaded the moment that the play would end, for then the adults would forget them again, and go away about their own affairs, leaving them with the dog. On the whole though, they all muddled along well enough, until the coming of Peter Pan, a little after Wendy’s birthday, and well before Michael’s.
Mrs. Darling first heard of Peter when she was tidying up her children’s minds. It was her custom, when she was not out dancing with Mr. Darling, or being seen, gaily decorated, promenading with friends, to rummage in the childrens’ minds and belongings and put things straight for next morning, repacking into their proper places the many articles that had wandered during the day. If you could keep awake (but of course you can’t) you might see your own mother doing this, and you would find it very interesting to watch her. It is less like tidying up drawers, and even more like breaking into someone’s diary. You would see her on her knees, I expect, lingering humorously over some of the contents of your open mind, making discoveries sweet and less so. When you wake in the morning, the naughtinesses with which you went to bed have been folded up small and placed at the bottom of your brain and on the top, beautifully aired, are spread out your prettier thoughts, ready to be put on until you begin to choose them yourself, out of habit.
Now Wendy knew about this practice, though how she came by the knowledge we cannot say. Perhaps her toy monkey whispered it to her, for monkeys are devious, and those with button eyes more so than most. So she schooled herself in making and creating a secret mind, where she could hide all her deep thoughts in a puzzle-box that only she could open, and view the world with wide hazel eyes of liquid innocence.
She would have been surprised to learn that Mrs. Darling also had a secret box in her mind; accurately, she would point out to us that it had been so little utilized since girlhood that even Mrs. Darling had forgotten about it. For Mrs. Darling had stopped having secret thoughts, and had instead become only what she appeared to be, the poor, pretty thing.
So, when she was not out doing adult things, Mrs. Darling rummaged and poked through her children’s minds, which each resembled maps of little islands, overlaid with coral reefs and sturdy canoes, and elves who can be friendly or very cruel, and caves through which a river runs, and one tiny old lady with a hooked nose, who is just like the grandmother you never had. Sometimes secrets would be buried under the coral reefs, and guarded by mermaids, or disguised as trees in the landscape, just to show that children are not entirely defenceless. Even a poking, prying adult would not uncover all their child’s secrets, though they might guess at some of them.
It would be an easy map if that were all, but there is also your first day at school, fathers, the round pond where you tossed a rock, pinkie-swears, murders, rhymes, times tables, chocolates, say ninety-nine, three-pence for pulling out your tooth yourself, and so on, and either these are part of the island or they are another map showing through, and it is all rather confusing, especially as nothing ever stands still. Mountains one day are volcanic calderas the next.
Of course the children’s Neverlands varied a good deal. John’s, for instance, had a lagoon with flamingos flying over it at which John was shooting with a gun that fired marshmallows, while Michael, who was very small, had a flamingo with lagoons flying over it. John lived in a boat turned upside down on the sands, Michael in a hide yurt, Wendy in a house of leaves alone in the high mountains. John had no friends at all, Michael had friends at night, Wendy had a pet wolf forsaken by its parents, but on the whole the Darlings’ Neverlands possessed a family resemblance, and if they were made to line up in a row one might see this. On these magic shores children at play are forever beaching their coracles. We too have been there; we can still hear the sound of the surf, though we shall land no more. This is not to say that there are no Neverlands for grownups; but they are separate places, with their own adventures and accompanying maps.
Of all delectable islands Neverland is the snuggest and most compact, not large and sprawly with tedious distances between one adventure and another like Middle Earth, but nicely crammed. When you play at it by day with the chairs and tablecloth, it is not in the least alarming, but in the two minutes before you go to sleep it becomes very real. That is why there are night-lights, for the Fear which slumbers during the day in deep, still pools on the island awakes in the darkness, and it can span the universe in a thought.
Occasionally in her travels through her children’s minds Mrs. Darling found things she could not understand, and of these quite the most perplexing was the word Peter. She knew of no friend of theirs called Peter, and yet he was here and there in John and Michael’s minds, while Wendy’s began to be scrawled all over with him. The name stood out in bolder letters than any of the other words, and as Mrs. Darling gazed she felt that it had an oddly cocky appearance.
“Yes, he is rather cocky,” Wendy admitted, thinking with regret of her secret mind. She was not yet so good at hiding all her thoughts away in it, and Mrs. Darling had been questioning her.
“But who is he, my pet? Please, have a mind for your stitches, you are making them all crooked.”
“He is Peter Pan, you know, Mother,” and, presently, “please, let me do it. I can do it!”
At first Mrs. Darling did not know, but after thinking back into her childhood she just remembered talk of a Peter Pan who was said to live with the fairies. There were odd stories about him, such as that when children died he went part of the way with them, so that they should not be frightened; or perhaps he was a dead boy himself? No one ever knew for certain. She had believed in him at the time, but now that she was married and full of common sense she quite doubted whether there was any such person. Presumably some unhappy child had invented him to salve a loss; or even a bereaved parent could have made him up.
“Besides,” she said to Wendy, “he would be grown up by this time.”
“Oh no, he isn’t grown up,” Wendy assured her confidently, “he is just my size.” She meant that he was her size in both mind and body; she just knew it, the same as she knew that her stomach was about half-empty, and that Liza would not allow her a biscuit if she went down to the kitchen.
Mrs. Darling consulted Mr. Darling, but he smiled pooh-pooh. “Mark my words,” he said, “It is just some nonsense Nana has been putting into their heads; just the sort of silly idea a dog would have. Leave it alone, and it will blow over soon enough. Don’t encourage them by talking more about it.”
But it would not blow over and soon the troublesome boy gave Mrs. Darling quite a shock.
Children have the strangest adventures without being troubled by them; it is a chief strength of theirs that they are not so limited by causality and a varying grasp of physics as adults are. It was due to this that Mrs. Darling one morning made a disquieting revelation. Some leaves of a tree had been found on the nursery floor, which certainly were not there when the children went to bed. Mrs. Darling was puzzling over who had put them there when Wendy said casually, smiling:
“I do believe it has been Peter again!”
“Whatever do you mean, Wendy?”
“It is so naughty of him not to wipe his feet,” Wendy said, sighing, “He should know that we will be blamed for his mess, but he is so capricious. I can’t tell him anything.”
She explained in quite a matter-of-fact way, as she pulled on her shoes, that she thought Peter sometimes came to the nursery in the night and sat on the foot of her bed and played on his pipes to her. The sound led her into strange, wonderful dreams, but she always knew that he was sitting there, looking over her shoulder into the dream and piping the song. Unfortunately she never woke, so she didn’t know how she knew, she just knew. Sometimes, if she awoke early enough, she would find the warm patch from where he had sat, or dirt where there had been none before.
“What nonsense you talk, precious. No one can get into the house without knocking.” Absently, she untied and retied Wendy’s sash, for it was untidily done.
“I think he comes in by the window,” Wendy said, wriggling away from the hand of maternal control.
“My love, it is three floors up. Let me fix your hair. You’re big enough now to do it properly yourself.”
“Ouch! Be careful Mother, you’re pulling! Were not the leaves at the foot of the window?”
It was quite true; the leaves had been found very near to the open casement.
Mrs. Darling did not know what to think, for Wendy spoke of it all so naturally that it could not be dismissed by saying she had been dreaming.
“My child,” the mother cried, “why did you not tell me of this before?”
“I forgot,” said Wendy lightly, waving the question away. She was in a hurry to get her breakfast, for it was fresh bread day.
Oh, surely she must have been dreaming. She was such an odd child.
But, on the other hand, there were the leaves. Mrs. Darling examined them very carefully; they were skeleton leaves, all decayed except for the fine tracery of veins holding them together, but she was sure they did not come from any tree that grew in England. She delayed a stroll in the park with a bosom friend, and instead crawled about the nursery floor once the children had gone to school, peering at it with a candle for marks of a strange foot. She rattled the poker up the chimney and tapped the walls. She let down a tape from the window to the pavement, and it was a sheer drop of thirty feet, without so much as a spout to climb up by.
Wendy must have been dreaming.
But Wendy had not, as the very next night showed.
On the night we speak of all the children were once more in bed. It happened to be Nana’s evening off, Mr. Darling was at his club, and Mrs. Darling had tucked the children into bed and sung to them till one by one they had let go her hand and slid away into the realms of Morpheus. She sang beautifully; some evenings it was quite a long time before the children could be convinced to sleep, for they enjoyed listening to her far too much to miss it by slumbering.
All were looking so safe and cosy that she smiled at her fears now and sat down tranquilly by the fire to read through a magazine, for even ladies as socially active as she desired a quiet night at home on occasion.
The fire was warm, however, and the nursery dimly lit by night-lights, and presently the paper lay on Mrs. Darling’s lap. Then her head nodded, and she was also asleep, one of four peacefully slumbering in the warm nursery.
While she slept she had a dream. She dreamt that the Neverland had come too near to the adult, everyday world, and that a strange boy had broken through from it, coming down from a sort of highroad near the stars. In her dream he had rent the film that obscures the Neverland, and she saw Wendy and John and Michael peeping through the gap. Wendy, she noticed, was leaning most of the way through it, in the most unbecoming fashion.
I must tell her not to do that, she thought to herself, it is a quite unladylike thing to do.
This would have been nothing more than an odd dream, but that whilst it occurred, the window of the nursery opened, and a little boy dropped lightly to the floor, accompanied by a tiny, glowing, yellow light. The orb darted about the living room like a living creature, and it was the chaos of shadows it cast which woke Mrs. Darling from her nap.
She started up with an arrested cry of surprise, and saw the boy, Somehow she knew at once that he was Peter Pan, whom she had told stories about as a little girl herself. If anyone else had been there, they would have observed that he was very like Mrs. Darling’s unattainable kiss. He was a lovely boy, clad in skeleton leaves all glued together with tree sap, and was so little that he still had all his first teeth. When he saw a grown-up, he gnashed the little pearls at her and snarled.
Like reading? Like poetry? K.L. has recently published a collection of poems, along with a preview of her upcoming novel, The Fall of Peter Pan. Find it here.