The Fall of Peter Pan – Chapter 3

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.

Fall of PeterPan

Chapter 3 COME AWAY, COME AWAY!

For a moment after Mr. and Mrs. Darling left the house the night-lights by the beds of the three children continued to burn clearly. They were awfully nice little night-lights, and one cannot help wishing that they could have kept awake to see Peter; but Wendy’s light blinked and gave such a yawn that the other two yawned also, and before they could close their mouths all the three went out, dreaming that they were Suns, in their own land of Nod.

There was another light in the room now, much brighter than the night-lights, and in the time we have taken to say this, it had been in all the drawers in the nursery, looking for Peter’s shadow, rummaged the wardrobe and turned every pocket inside out, pausing to knot the belts and shoelaces together in an horrible mess, despite how neatly they had been set down. It was not really a light; it made this light by flashing about so quickly, but when it came to rest for a second you saw it was a fairy, no longer than your hand. It was a girl fairy called Tinker Bell exquisitely gowned in a shirt made of white flowers, cut low and square, and golden spider-silk leggings. She revelled in her silhouette, feeling that the garments showed off her embonpoint figure to the best of advantages.

A moment after the fairy’s entrance the window was blown open by the breathing of the little stars, and Peter dropped in. He had carried Tinker Bell part of the way, and his hand was still messy with the fairy dust, which made it glow like a candle in the darkness.

“Tinker Bell,” he called softly, after making sure that the children were asleep, “Tink, where are you?” She was in a jug for the moment, and liking it extremely well; she had never been in a jug before. It reminded her a little of being inside a huge conch shell, but instead of a fleshy pink, the walls were as white as bone, and perfect for reflecting her light.

“Oh, do come out of that jug; tell me, do you know where they put my shadow?”

The loveliest tinkle as of golden bells answered him. It is the fairy language. You ordinary children rarely hear it these days, but if you were to hear it you would know that you had heard it once before.

Tink said that the shadow was in the big box, and led him over to the chest of drawers. Peter jumped at the drawers, scattering their contents to the floor with both hands, as kings toss pennies to the crowd. In a moment he had recovered his shadow, and in his delight he forgot that he had shut Tinker Bell up in the drawer.

If he thought at all (but I don’t believe he ever thought), it was that he and his shadow, when brought near each other, would join like drops of water, and when they did not he was frightfully appalled. He tried to stick it on with soap from the bathroom, but that also failed. A shudder of horror passed through Peter, and he sat on the floor and cried. He was not used to things being uncooperative, unless they were pirates or Haida.

His sobs woke Wendy, and she sat up in bed. She was not alarmed to see a stranger crying on the nursery floor; she was only interested, for her dreams were often much stranger than this.

“Boy,” she said, “why are you crying?”

Peter could be exceeding polite, having learned the grand manner at fairy ceremonies in Kensington Gardens, and he rose and bowed to her beautifully. She was much pleased, and standing, bowed regally to him from the bed. Wendy did not curtsey to anyone.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Wendy Moira Angela Darling, or Madcap Wendy,” she replied with some satisfaction. “What is your name?”

“Peter Pan.”

She was already certain that he must be Peter, but it did seem a comparatively short name.

“Is that all?”

“Yes,” he said rather sharply. He felt for the first time that it was a shortish name, and that there might be something wrong with it.

“I’m so sorry,” said ‘Madcap’ Wendy Moira Angela, looking down her nose at him a little. The fire poker was still a comforting lump bumping against her feet.

“It doesn’t matter,” Peter gulped, crossing his arms. This criticism compounded with the misery of his independent shadow to make him feel approximately a foot shorter.

She asked where he lived.

“Second star to the right,” said Peter, “and then straight on till morning.”

“What a funny address!”

Peter had a sinking. For the first time he felt that perhaps it was a funny address, and the sensation of embarrassment made him angry.

“No it isn’t,” he disagreed.

“I mean,” Wendy said, trying to be nice, “is that what they put on the letters?” She wondered for a moment whether there was a special type of postman required to deliver to such strange addresses.

He wished she had not mentioned letters.

“Don’t get any letters,” he said, taking refuge in a momentarily genuine sense of contempt.

“But your mother gets letters?” Mrs. Darling received basketfuls, every other week. Even though securely married to Mr. Darling, she was still the life and soul of every event, and a goodly number of men, who ought to know better, still fancied themselves in love with her.

“Don’t have a mother,” he retorted. Not only had he no mother, but he had not the slightest desire to have one. He thought them very over-rated persons, always trying to control a child. Wendy, however, felt at once that she was in the presence of some great and legendary figure.

“O Peter, no wonder you were crying,” she said, and got out of bed and joined him barefoot on the floor.

“I wasn’t crying about mothers,” he said rather indignantly. “I was crying because I can’t get my shadow to stick on. Besides, I wasn’t crying.”

“It has come off?”

“Yes.” Then Wendy saw the shadow on the floor, looking so draggled, that she was instantly a little sorry for Peter.

“How awful!” she said, looking at her own obedient shadow, but she could not help smiling when she saw that he had been trying to stick it on with soap.

Fortunately she knew at once what to do. “It must be sewn on,” she said, just a little patronisingly. “Soap won’t work. That’s only good for cleaning things.”

“What’s sewn?” he asked.

“You’re dreadfully ignorant, aren’t you?”

“No, I’m not.”

“Well, it will need needles and thread to make everything join properly.”

Peter bit at his lip with his tiny teeth. “I don’t know what that means!” he burst out. “Tink!” He shouted, “Come and sewn my shadow and I together!”

“Sew, silly,” said Wendy. “Sewn is the past tense. Who’s Tink?”

“I don’t care if it’s past the tents or before them,” Peter retorted. “Tinker Bell is my fairy, and she will help me fix my shadow.”

Wendy’s heart went flutter with a sudden thrill.

“Peter,” she cried, catching at his arm, “you don’t mean to say that there is a real, actual fairy in this room!”

“She was here just now,” he said a little impatiently. “You don’t hear her, do you?” and they both listened.

“The only sound I hear,” said Wendy, “is like a tinkle of bells.”

“Well, that’s Tink talking, that’s the fairy language. I think I hear her too.”

The sound came from the chest of drawers, and Peter made a merry face. No one could ever look quite so merry as Peter, and the loveliest of gurgles was his laugh. He still had his first laugh, which could be quite infectious.

“Wendy,” he whispered gleefully, “I do believe I shut her up in the drawer!” They giggled together.

He let poor Tink out of the drawer, and she flew about the nursery screaming with fury. “You shouldn’t say such things,” Peter retorted. “Of course I’m very sorry, but how could I know you were in the drawer?”

Wendy was not listening to him. “Peter,” she cried, “make her stand still and let me see her!”

“They hardly ever stand still,” he said, but for one moment Wendy saw the tiny figure come to rest on the cuckoo clock.

“O the lovely!” she cried, though Tink’s face was still distorted with rage.

“Tink,” said Peter amiably, “this lady says she wishes you were her fairy.”

Tinker Bell answered insolently.

“What does she say, Peter?”

He had to translate, and was foolish enough to do so with complete accuracy. “She is not very polite. She says you are a great ugly girl, and that she is my fairy.”

He tried to argue with Tink. “You know you can’t be my fairy, Tink, because I am Peter Pan and you are a just a pixie.”

To this Tink replied in these words, “You silly ass,” and disappeared into the bathroom to tug the towels to the ground and clog the drains with them.

“She is quite a common fairy,” Peter explained apologetically, “she is called Tinker Bell because she mends pots and kettles, when she is employed. But she followed me from Neverland and found my shadow, so I shan’t pull her wings tonight.”

“Where is Neverland?”

Peter wrinkled his nose. “I told you, Wendy, second star from the right and straight on until morning.”

Wendy’s hazel eyes narrowed in thought for a moment. “I can put you and your shadow back together, Peter,” she said, “but you have to take me to Neverland in exchange.”

“I could just find someone else to join us together, and I wouldn’t have to lug them along with me.”

“They wouldn’t be able to do it properly, and it would fall off and get lost forever. It would look painfully strange.”

“What’s the proper way?” Peter demanded. He didn’t want to look painfully strange.

“Say you’ll take me with you, and I’ll do it.” She spoke the words with a carefully calculated air of boredom, but watched closely from the corners of her eyes.

“All right then, I will.”

Wendy immediately spat on her palm and presented it. “Shake on it.”

The deal was duly made in a sacred, unbreakable clasp.

Wendy was exulting in his ignorance. “I shall perform surgery on you, Peter Pan!” she said, and she promptly went and found her first aid bag, for she wished to be a roving battlefield medic if a position as first girl on a merchantman ship could not be got. Pulling loose her long, curly hair, she began sawing at it with her scissors, until the locks scattered about their feet on the floor.

“How will this help my shadow?” Peter demanded, dancing with impatience.

Wendy turned her head to and fro delightedly, enjoying the short swishing sensation of her new, albeit crooked, bob.

“I needed thread for my needle,” she informed him wisely, “and human hair is the best for this sort of thing.” Collecting up a few of the longest strands, she pressed Peter’s shadow close to his foot.

“I daresay it will hurt a little,” she warned him.

“O, I shan’t cry,” said Peter, who was already of the opinion that he had never cried in his life. So he clenched his teeth and did not cry, and soon his shadow was behaving properly, though still a little creased, and his cheeks were mostly dry.

“Perhaps I should have flattened it under a book,” Wendy mused, but Peter, indifferent to appearances was now jumping about in the wildest glee. Alas, he had already forgotten that he owed thanks for his re-joined body to Wendy. He thought he had attached the shadow himself. “How clever I am!” he crowed rapturously, “O, the cleverness of me!”

It is humiliating to have to confess that this conceit of Peter was one of his most fascinating qualities. To put it with brutal honesty, there never was a cockier boy; and a good thing it is, too. Many more of them, and the world might have given up on children altogether.

But for the moment Wendy was furious. “You little braggart,” she exclaimed, with frightful sarcasm; “of course I did nothing!”

“You did a little,” Peter said carelessly, and continued to dance, admiring himself.

“A little!” she replied with hauteur; “I see there’s no further use talking to you then, you ungrateful little monkey,” and she turned away, packing up her scissors and needle with the homemade bandages. Her stiff shoulders rebuked him most poignantly, and she refused to glance even once in his direction. She sprang in the most dignified way into bed and presented her back to him, crossing her arms furiously under the blankets.

To induce her to look up he pretended to be going away, and when this failed he sat on the end of the bed and tapped her gently with his foot. “Wendy,” he said, “don’t ignore me. I can’t help crowing, Wendy, when I’m pleased with myself.” Still she would not look up, though she was listening keenly, for her thoughts were still fixed upon Neverland.

“Wendy,” he continued, in a voice that no woman has ever yet been able to resist, “Wendy, one girl is more use than twenty boys.”

Now Wendy was every inch a woman, though there were not very many inches, and she turned her head slightly, to favour him with her profile.

“Do you really think so, Peter?”

“Yes, I do.”

“I think it’s perfectly sweet of you,” she declared, “I’ll speak to you again now,” and she sat with him on the side of the bed.

When children are introduced, it is customary for them to ask each other’s age, often before they swap such unimportant and temporal things as names, and so Wendy, who always liked to know as much as possible about everything in particular, asked Peter how old he was. It was not really a happy question to ask him; it was like an examination paper that asks grammar, when what you want to be asked is about the pharaohs.

“I don’t know,” he replied uneasily, “but I am quite young.” He really knew nothing about it, he merely had some vague suspicions, but he said at a venture, “Wendy, I ran away the day I was born.”

Wendy was quite surprised, but interested; and she indicated with a jerk of her chin, that he could sit nearer her. Their feet dangled and kicked over the edge of the bed, as small fishes might do when at rest in a bed of weeds.

“It was because I heard Father and Mother,” he explained in a low voice, “talking about what I was to be when I grew up and became a man.” He was extraordinarily agitated now. “I don’t want ever to be a man,” he said with passion. “I will always be a boy and have fun. So I ran away to Kensington Gardens and lived a long, long time among the wild birds and fairies.”

She gave him a look of the most intense admiration. “I knew when Mother said that I must grow up that I wouldn’t, and I was planning to run away with a gypsy caravan to avoid it, but I could never find one idling by at the right moment.”

“Huh,” said Peter, “travellers are fun all right, but even their children are expected to grow up. No, fairies are the crowd you want to run with, if you want to remain not-a-grownup.”

To know fairies struck Wendy as quite delightful, for Nana had been sure to tell the children of all the mischief they were prone to (as a means of ensuring they avoided bad sorts), although it had had rather the opposite effect.

She poured out questions about them, to his surprise, for they were rather a nuisance to him, getting in his way and so on. Indeed he sometimes had to flick them out of his way, which sent them cartwheeling all over the place. Still, he liked them on the whole, and he told her about the beginning of fairies.

“You see, Wendy, when the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went fluttering about, and that was the beginning of fairies.”

“And so,” he went on good-naturedly, “There ought to be at least a hundred fairies for every boy and girl’s first laugh.”

“Ought to be? Isn’t there?”

“No. You see children know such a lot now, they soon don’t believe in fairies, and every time a child says, ‘I don’t believe in fairies,’ there is a fairy somewhere that falls down dead.”

Wendy pondered this grand process for a moment, and a questioning thought occurred to her. “But what about bad fairies?” she asked.

Really, he thought they had now talked enough about fairies, and Peter said shortly, “Well, of course they are all the same.”

They were together in the armchair by this time, and Wendy plied him with more questions.

“If you don’t live in Kensington Gardens now—”

“Sometimes I do still. Especially at Easter, when all the silly fat children lose chocolate eggs amongst the flowers, and we steal them away from under their noses.”

“But where do you live mostly?”

“With the lost boys.”

“Who are they?”

“They are the children who fall out of their prams when the nurse is looking the other way. If they are not claimed in seven days they are sent far away to the Neverland, for the Kensington fairies won’t keep them. I’m captain.”

“What fun it must be! I’m glad I’m coming with you.”

“Why, whatever gave you that idea?” Peter said.

Wendy widened her jaguar eyes at him. “We shook on it,” she said innocently, “and I sewed you back together using my own hair, so now you’re rather stuck with me.”

“For how long?” demanded Peter, “I already have Tinker Bell following me around, I don’t need another silly girl!”

There was an angry chiming from the fairy, who had returned from her explorations of the gazunder, and been listening with enthusiasm to all this talk of fairies. She had, I am afraid to say, been preening under the attention, even if it was only second-hand. Tink was like that. It is just possible that she was entirely as vain as Peter was cocky.

“Forever,” Wendy said flatly, “just like Tink, only not so sparkly. And you needn’t say girls in that tone of voice, either. I’m as handy as any silly lost boy.”

“But you’d be lonely,” said cunning Peter, “for you see, we have no girls in the lost troupe.”

“Then I shall be the first,” she said with some spirit, and then; “why are there no girls?”

“ Girls, you know, are much too clever to fall out of their prams.”

This flattered Wendy immensely, but she was by no means distracted from her aim. “I think,” she said, “it is perfectly contradictory the way you talk about girls; for you see we’re so much cleverer than mere lost boys; if a girl wants to be lost, she will go out of her way to make it happen, not find herself lost by mistake. You ought to be grateful a girl would want to join you, with all your adventures with pirates,” her voice dropped a little in yearning, “and Indians, and wild animals.”

For reply Peter rose and kicked John out of bed, blankets and all: one kick. This seemed to Wendy rather forward for a first meeting, and she told him loudly that he was not captain in her house. However, John continued to sleep so placidly on the floor that she allowed him to remain there.

“Kicking him won’t dissuade me one jot,” she said stoutly – “indeed, it’s quite the thing I do to them regularly.” She indicated her unfortunate brothers with a princely disregard.

“Why, I’ll kick him all the way into next week if it means you leave me alone.”

“Well, it won’t. I’m quite set, you realise. I won’t stay here a moment longer, to be turned into a silly, bleating adult. I won’t stay, even for the stories!”

“Do you know very many stories?” Peter asked, hesitating with a kind of longing.

“Buckets full. None of them any good, but I know all sorts of military triumphs, and they’re far better to tell.”

Peter admitted that he came to the nursery window not to see her but to listen to stories. “You see, I don’t know any stories. None of the lost boys knows any stories of any sort.”

“How perfectly awful,” Wendy said.

“Do you know,” Peter asked “Why birds nest in the eaves of houses? It is to listen to the stories. O Wendy, your mother was telling you such a lovely story. It’s why I snuck away here from Neverland, to come and listen to her while you snuggled in close by the fire. But then the tide changed again, and I was drawn back.”

“Let me come with you,” she entreated, “for you promised it, and we’re joined now – if you want to leave me behind, you’ll have to cut your shadow off and be foresworn a liar.”

Peter hesitated.

“Also, I will try and tell some stories, in the quiet times between fighting pirates and burying the dead.”

Those were her precise words, and he came back with a greedy look in his eyes which ought to have alarmed her, but did not.

“O, the thousands of stories I could tell to the boys!” she cried, and then Peter gripped her by the hand and began to draw her toward the window, the medicine bag bumping against her leg.

“Let me go!” she ordered him, as contrary a cat as ever scorned fresh cream. Also, the window was open, and she knew from past experience how it yawned down into the cobbled street, some thirty yards below.

“Wendy, you must come with me and join the other boys.”

“Slow down, Peter! I can’t fly yet!”

“I’ll teach you. I’ll teach you how to jump on the wind’s back, and say funny things to the stars and make them giggle – they flicker so!”

“O, how jolly!”

“And, Wendy, in Neverland there are mermaids.”

“Mermaids! With tails?”

“Such long, shiny tails!”

“O,” cried Wendy, “to see a mermaid!”

He had become cruel, and was now teasing her with all the things she wanted and lacked. “Wendy,” he said, “How we should all respect you, in Neverland. You’d be the only storyteller. If only you can fly there…”

She was wriggling her body in distress. It was quite as if she were trying to float off the nursery floor. “Peter, teach me how to fly, come along, do!”

In all this ruckus, John and Michael were roused from slumber.

“Wendy, who is this?” demanded John, and: “did I fall out of bed?”

Peter and Tinker Bell both gurgled a little laugh. Wendy put her hands on her hips.

“Go back to sleep John, and you too, Michael. I’m talking with Peter Pan, and he is going to take me away to Neverland.”

“How awfully fascinating!” John cried. “Peter, would you take us too?”

“If you like,” he said indifferently, and Wendy stamped her foot, sulking a little for having to share her adventure.

Michael was up by this time also, looking as sharp as a knife with six blades and a saw, but Peter suddenly raised a hand for silence. Their faces assumed the craftiness of children listening for sounds from the grown-up world. All was as still as salt, which meant all was right. No, stop! Everything was wrong. Nana, who had been barking in distress all the evening, was quiet now. It was her silence they had heard.

“Out with the light! Hide! Quick!” cried John, taking command for the only time in his short life so far. And thus when Liza entered, holding Nana, the nursery seemed quite its normal self, very dark, and you would have sworn you heard its three wicked inmates breathing angelically as they slept. They were really doing it artfully from behind the window curtains. Tinker Bell had slipped inside Wendy’s sleeve to hid her glow from the grown-ups, and Wendy could feel the dragonfly quiver of her wings against the inside of her wrist.

Liza was in a bad temper, for she was mixing a batch of Christmas puddings in the kitchen, and had been drawn from them, with a raisin still on her cheek, by Nana’s absurd suspicions. She thought the best way of getting a little quiet was to take Nana to the nursery for a moment, but in custody of course.

“There, you suspicious brute,” she said, not sorry that Nana was in disgrace. “They are perfectly safe, aren’t they? Every one of the little wretches sound asleep in bed. Listen to their breathing.”

Here Michael, encouraged by his success, breathed so loudly that they were nearly detected. Nana knew that kind of breathing, and she tried to drag herself out of Liza’s clutches.

But Liza was preoccupied and unobservant. “No more of it, Nana,” she said sternly, pulling her out of the room. “I warn you if you bark again I shall go straight for master and missus and bring them home from the party, and then, oh, won’t master beat you, just. He might even let you go, and find another nurse for the children. A proper nurse,” as she hauled her down the stairs. “A human nurse,” as she tied the rope firm, imprisoning the unhappy dog in the yard.

Do you think Nana ceased to bark? Bring Mr. and Mrs. Darling home from the party? Why, that was exactly what she wanted! Do you think she cared whether she was whipped or cast out so long as her charges were safe?

Unfortunately Liza returned to her puddings, turning up the wireless so as to drown out Nana’s howls, and Nana, seeing that no help would come from her, strained and strained at the leash until at last she broke her collar. In another moment she had burst into the dining room of 27 and flung up her paws to heaven, whining in distress. Mr. and Mrs. Darling knew at once that something terrible was happening in the nursery, and without any more than a shouted good-bye to their hostess they rushed into the street.

But it is ten minutes since three scoundrels and their ringleader had been breathing deceitfully behind the curtains, and Peter Pan can do a great deal in ten minutes.

We now return to the nursery.

“It’s all right,” John announced, emerging from his hiding-place. “I say, Peter, can you really fly?”

Instead of troubling to answer him Peter flew around the room, taking in the mantelpiece on the way.

“How topping!” said Wendy, clapping her hands.

“How amazing!” cried John (he did not like to use slang).

“Yes, I’m amazing, O, I am wondrous!” said Peter, forgetting his manners again and executing a barrel roll of triumph in the air.

It looked delightfully easy, and they tried it first from the floor and then from the beds, but they always went down instead of up. After some discussion, they agreed that bouncing did not count. Only the real thing would do.

“I say, how do you do it?” asked John, rubbing his knee. He was quite a practical boy, already showing some of his father’s unimaginative lumpishness. Wendy often felt rather sorry for him, when she wasn’t busy being annoyed.

“You just think lovely wonderful thoughts,” Peter explained, with a deadpan face, “and they lift you up in the air.”

Once again, he showed them. Then he did it slowly, and quickly, until the children each cried that they had it; of course they did not. Not one of them could fly an inch, though even Michael was in words of two syllables or more, and Peter did not know A from Z.

Of course Peter had been taking his amusement at their expense, for no one can fly unless fairy dust has been blown on them. Fortunately, as we have mentioned, one of his hands was messy with it, and he blew some on each of them, with the most superb results.

“Now just wiggle your shoulders this way,” he said, “then let go of the floor.”

They were all on their beds, and gallant Michael let go first. He did not quite mean to let go, but he did it, and immediately he was borne across the room.

“I flewed!” he screamed while still in mid-air.

John let go and met Wendy above the kennel.

“O, how fantastic!”

“O, ripping!”

“Look at me!”

“Look at me!”

“Look at me!”

They were not nearly so elegant as Peter. They could not help kicking a little, but their heads were bobbing against the ceiling, and there is almost nothing so delicious as that. Peter gave Wendy a hand at first, but had to desist, Tink was so indignant.

Up and down they went, and round and round. “Smashing,” was Wendy’s word for it.

“I say,” cried Wendy, “why are we waiting around here? Let’s all go out!”

Of course it was to this that Peter had been luring them.

Michael was ready: he wanted to see how long it took him to do a billion miles. But John hesitated.

“There are pirates,” said Peter encouragingly.

“Pirates,” cried John, seizing his Sunday hat, “then let us go at once!”

It was just at this moment that Mr. and Mrs. Darling hurried with Nana out of 27. They ran into the middle of the street to look up at the nursery window; it was open, the room was ablaze with light, and most heart-stopping of all, they could see in the shadows on the curtain three little figures in night attire circling round and round, not on the floor but up in the air.

No, not three figures, four!

In a tremble they opened the front door. Mr. Darling would have rushed upstairs, but Mrs. Darling signed him to go softly. She even tried to make her heart go softly, that they might sneak upon the children and the intruder.

They would have reached the nursery in time had it not been that the little stars were maintaining a lookout for Peter. Once again the stars blew the window open, and that smallest star of all called out:

“Run, Peter!”

Then Peter knew that there was not a moment to lose. “Come,” he cried imperiously, and soared out at once into the night, followed by Wendy, Michael and John.

Mr. and Mrs. Darling and Nana rushed into the nursery seconds too late. The birds had flown from the nest, joyously free.

 

 

The Fall of Peter Pan is now available as an eBook!

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.

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The Fall of Peter Pan – Chapter 2

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 2 THE SHADOW

Fall of PeterPan

Mrs. Darling gave another squeak of fear, and as if in answer to a bell, the nursery door opened and Nana entered, returned from her evening out. She had been indulging herself by watching the greyhound races. Nana snarled and sprang at the boy, who hurled himself away through the window, the little light following at his heels. Again Mrs. Darling screamed, this time in distress, for she thought he was killed, and she ran down into the street with a lit taper to look for his crumpled little corpse. It was not there. She searched around, and in the black sky she could see nothing but what she thought was a shooting star, though it would have to have been very bright to shine through the smoky air of London that night.

She returned to the nursery, and found Nana holding something in her teeth, which proved to be the boy’s shadow. As he leapt out the window Nana had closed it quickly, and his shadow had not had time to get out; slam went the window and snapped it cleanly off. Together they examined the shadow, but it was quite ordinary, and Nana suggested they hang it out at the high nursery window, so that the strange boy could come back to claim it without troubling the children.

But Mrs. Darling could not leave it hanging out at the window; it looked so like washing and lowered the whole tone of the house. She thought of showing it to Mr. Darling, but he was not yet due home, and it seemed a shame to trouble him; besides, she knew exactly what he would say: “It all comes of having a dog for a nurse.” And then they would chase that conversation back and forth, battling Mr. Darling’s social insecurities on the one hand, and their monetary ones on the other, until the ideas were quite tired again and desired to be put aside till later.

She decided to roll the shadow up and put it away carefully in a drawer, until a fitting opportunity came for telling her husband, though as with many things we place in a safe place, it was almost instantly lost and forgotten.

The opportunity came a week later, on that never-to-be-forgotten Friday.

“I ought to have been specially careful on a Friday,” Mrs. Darling used to say afterwards to her husband, while perhaps Nana was on the other side of her, holding her hand with one work-roughened paw. “It was the thirteenth, after all. I should have taken precautions.”

“No, no,” Mr. Darling always said, “I am responsible for it all. I, George Darling, did it. Mea culpa, mea culpa.” He had had a classical education, and a love of reading histories of the martyrs.

“If only I had not accepted that invitation to dinner at 27,” Mrs. Darling said, “but I had been wanting to see them socially for some time.”

“If only I had not poured my medicine into Nana’s bowl,” said Mr. Darling, “though it is so very loathsome.”

“If only I had pretended to like the medicine,” was what Nana’s wet eyes said.

“My abominable liking for parties, George.”

“My fatal lack of humour, dearest.”

“My touchiness about trifles, dearest master and mistress.”

Then one or more of them would break down altogether into broken sobbing; Nana at the thought, “It’s true, they should not have employed a dog for a nurse.” Many a time it was Mr. Darling who put the handkerchief to Nana’s weeping old eyes.

“That fiend!” Mr. Darling would cry, and Nana’s bark was the very echo of it, but Mrs. Darling never upbraided Peter; there was something in the right-hand corner of her mouth that wanted her not to call Peter names. There is even the possibility that she had rediscovered the secret place in her mind, and was again using it as she should.

They would sit there in the empty nursery, their faces haggard, recalling every smallest detail of that dreadful evening. It had begun so uneventfully, so precisely like a hundred other evenings, with Nana putting on the water for Michael’s bath and carrying him to it on her back.

“I won’t go to bed,” he had shouted, still believing sincerely at three years old that his opinion was the deciding factor on a subject, “I won’t, I won’t. Nana, it isn’t six o’clock yet. I shan’t love you ever, Nana. I tell you I won’t be bathed! No! No, no, no!”

Then Mrs. Darling had come in, wearing her white evening gown. She had dressed early because John so loved to see her in her gowns, with the necklace George had given her. She was wearing Wendy’s bracelet on her arm; she had asked for the loan of it. Wendy loved to lend her bracelet to her mother, for it was no use to her unless they were playing at pirates and treasure. When Mrs. Darling had it, it was sure not to be lost, and then Wendy would be saved sitting through a scolding.

She had found her two older children playing at being herself and Father on the occasion of Wendy’s birth, and John was saying:

“I am happy to inform you, Mrs. Darling, that you are now a mother,” in just such a pompous tone as Mr. Darling himself may have used on the real occasion. Wendy pulled a face at him, but had obligingly danced with joy, just as the real Mrs. Darling must have done, if she were at all capable of dancing.

Then John was born, with the extra pomp that he received due to the birth of a boy, and Michael came from his bath to ask to be born also, but John said quite brutally that they did not want any more. Wendy boxed his ears, mainly for the pomp and a little for making Michael sad.

Michael had begun to cry. “Nobody wants me,” he despaired, snub nose running, and of course the lady in the evening dress could not stand that.

“I do,” Mrs. Darling said, “I so want a third child.”

“Boy or girl?” Asked Michael, looking up hopefully.

“Boy.”

Then he had leapt into her arms. Such a little thing for Mr. and Mrs. Darling and Nana to recall now, but not so little when it was etched in their memories as Michael’s last night in the nursery.

They labour on with their recollections, against the contrary winds of emotion.

“It was then that I rushed in like a storm, wasn’t it?” Mr. Darling would say, scorning himself; and indeed he had been like a tornado.

He, too, had been dressing for the party, and all had gone well with him until he came to his tie. It is an astounding thing to confess, but this man, though he knew about long-term interest rates and shares, had no actual mastery of his tie. Sometimes the thing yielded to him without a contest, but there were occasions when it would have been better for the house if he had swallowed his pride and used a clip-on tie, for it would have spared them all a real fit of temper.

This was such an occasion. He came rushing into the nursery with the crumpled little brute of a tie in his hand.

“Why, whatever is the matter, Father dear?” Mrs. Darling asked.

“Matter!” He yelled; he really yelled. “This tie, it will not tie.” He became dangerously sarcastic. “Not round my neck! Round the bedpost! Oh yes, twenty times have I made it up round the bedpost, but round my neck, no! Oh dear no!”

He thought Mrs. Darling was not sufficiently impressed, and he went on threateningly, “I warn you of this, Mother, that unless this tie is round my neck we don’t go out to dinner to-night, and if I don’t go out to dinner to-night, I never go to the office again, and if I don’t go to the office again, you and I shall starve, and our children will be flung out into the streets to beg for crusts.”

Even in the face of this dangerous man-child, Mrs. Darling was placid. “Let me try, my dear,” she simply said, and indeed that was what he had come to ask her to do. With her nice cool hands she tied his tie for him, while the children stood around all owl-eyed to see their fate decided. Some men would have resented her being able to achieve what they could not so easily, but Mr. Darling was far too distractible for that; he thanked her carelessly, at once forgot his rage, and in another moment was dancing round the room with Michael on his back.

“Our last romp!” Mr. Darling groaned.

“O George, do you remember when Michael asked me, ‘How did you get to know me, Mother?’”

“I remember!”

“They were rather sweet, don’t you think, George?”

“And they were ours, all ours! And now…they are gone.”

The romp had ended with the appearance of Nana, and most unluckily Mr. Darling collided against her, covering his trousers with hairs. They were not only new trousers, but they were also the first he had ever had with braid on them, and he had had to bite his lip to prevent from shouting at the unfortunate Nana. Of course Mrs. Darling brushed him clean, but he began to talk again about its being a mistake to have a dog for a nurse.

“George, Nana is a treasure.”

“No doubt, but I have an uneasy feeling at times that she looks upon the children as puppies.”

“Oh no, dear one, I feel sure she knows they have souls.” Wendy from her corner glanced up with interest at this. She rather felt that children had no souls, just like puppies. Anything else seemed unfair to the puppies. Having a soul appeared to burden one with all kinds of responsibilities, which were best avoided.

“I wonder,” Mr. Darling said thoughtfully, “I wonder.” It was an opportunity, his wife suddenly recalled, for telling him about the boy. At first he pooh-poohed the story, but he became thoughtful when she showed him the shadow.

“It is nobody I know,” he said, examining it carefully, “but it does look as though it belongs to some shade of scoundrel or dirty urchin.”

“Nana and I may well have scared him off for good; but I am glad she is here to guard the children in case he comes back,” Mrs. Darling said.

“We were still discussing it, you remember,” says Mr. Darling, “when Nana came in with Michael’s medicine. You will never need to carry that bottle in your mouth again, Nana, and it is all my fault.”

Strong man though he was, there is no doubt that he had behaved rather foolishly over the medicine. If he had a weakness (he had many, but did not recognise them, so we shall avoid the subject), it was for thinking that all his life he had taken medicine boldly, and so now, when Michael dodged the spoon in Nana’s mouth, he had said reprovingly, “Be a man, Michael.”

“Won’t! No! Won’t!” Michael cried naughtily. Mrs. Darling left the room to get a chocolate for him. Mr. Darling thought this showed want of firmness towards the children.

“Mother, don’t pamper him,” he called after her. “Michael Darling, when I was your age I took my medicine without a murmur. I drank it down and said, ‘Thank you, kind parents, for giving me bottles to make me well.’”

He really thought this was true, and Wendy, who was now in her night-gown, rolled her eyes, though she said, to encourage Michael, “That medicine you sometimes take, Father, is much nastier, isn’t it?”

“Ever so much nastier,” Mr. Darling said bravely, “And I would take it now as an example to you, Michael, if I hadn’t lost the bottle. I can’t find it anywhere.“

He had not exactly lost it; he had climbed in the dead of night to the top of the wardrobe and hidden it there. What he did not know was that the efficient Liza had found it, and put it back on his washstand.

“I know where it is, Father,” Wendy cried, always glad to be of service. “I’ll bring it,” and she was off before he could stop her. Immediately his spirits sank.

“John,” he said, shuddering, “it’s the most disgusting, nasty, sticky stuff.”

“It will soon be over, Father,” John said cheerily, and then in rushed Wendy with the medicine in a glass.

“I have been as quick as I could,” she panted.

“You have been wonderfully quick,” her father retorted, with a vindictive politeness that was quite lost on her. “Michael first,” he said doggedly.

“Father first,” said Michael, who was of a suspicious nature.

“I shall be sick, you know,” Mr. Darling threatened, “then you’ll feel bad, won’t you?”

“No,” said Michael truthfully.

“Come on, Father,” said John.

“Hold your tongue, John,” his father rapped out.

Wendy hid a smile that was entirely mischievous. “I thought you took it quite easily, Father.”

“That is not the point,” he retorted. “The point is, there is more in my glass than in Michael’s little spoon. And it isn’t fair: I would say it though it were with my last breath; it isn’t fair.”

“You are bigger than Michael, father. I think it’s rather fair you should have more of it,” Wendy said, crossing her arms. Even John, his faithful shadow and compatriot, sensing the direction this was going in, stood closer to Michael than Mr. Darling.

“Father, I am waiting,” said Michael coldly.

“It’s all very well to say you are waiting; so am I waiting.”

“Father’s a cowardly custard.”

“I’m not frightened.”

“Well, then, take it.”

“You take it first.”

Wendy sighed. “Why not both take it at the same time?”

“Certainly,” said Mr. Darling. “Are you ready, Michael?”

Wendy gave the words, one, two, three, and Michael took his medicine, but Mr. Darling slipped his behind his back.

There was a sputtering yell of rage from Michael, and “O Father!” Wendy exclaimed in disappointment.

“What do you mean by ‘O Father’?” Mr. Darling demanded. “Stop that row, Michael. I meant to take mine, but I—I missed it.”

It was dreadful the way all the three were looking at him, just as if they did not admire him. “Look here, all of you,” he said entreatingly, as soon as Nana had gone into the bathroom. “I have just thought of a splendid joke. I shall pour my medicine into Nana’s bowl, and she will drink it, thinking it is milk!”

It was the colour of milk; but the children did not have their father’s sense of humour, and they looked at him reproachfully as he poured the medicine into Nana’s bowl. “What fun!” he said doubtfully, and they did not dare expose him when Mrs. Darling and Nana returned.

“Nana, good dog,” he said, patting her, “I have put a little milk into your bowl, Nana.”

Nana wagged her tail, for milk was a rare treat, ran to the medicine, and began lapping it. Then she shuddered, gagged, and gave Mr. Darling such a look, not an angry look: she showed him the great reproachful eyes that make us so sorry for bothering noble dogs, and crept into her kennel quite crushed. It was all very well for Mr. Darling to doubt her abilities as a nursemaid because she was a dog, but to mock her so…! She whimpered quietly.

Mr. Darling was frightfully ashamed of himself, but he would not give in. In a horrid silence Mrs. Darling smelt the bowl. “O George,” she said, “It’s your medicine! Why on earth would you do such a thing?”

“It was only a joke,” he roared, while she comforted her boys, and Wendy hugged as much of Nana as she could reach from outside the kennel. “Much good,” he said bitterly, “my wearing myself to the bone trying to be funny in this house.”

And still Wendy hugged Nana. “That’s right,” he shouted. “Coddle her! Nobody coddles me. Oh dear no! I am only the breadwinner, why should I be coddled—why, why, why!”

“George,” Mrs. Darling entreated him, “not so loud; the servants will hear you, you know how they talk.” Somehow they had got into the way of calling Liza the servants, particularly in front of company. Company were always careful not to comment on it when with the Darlings, but would occasionally snigger about it with their friends later on.

“Let them!” he answered recklessly. “Bring in the whole world to see how I am rewarded for my labour! But I refuse to allow that dog to lord it in my nursery for an hour longer.”

The children wept, and Nana fawned at his feet beseechingly, but he waved her back. He felt he was a strong man again. “In vain, in vain,” he cried; “the proper place for you is the yard, dog, and there you go to be tied up this instant.”

Wendy stared at him in hurt and dismay as the facade of greatness he had so carefully cultivated fell in ruins around him. Nana fled into her kennel.

“George, George,” Mrs. Darling whispered, “remember what I told you about that boy. Nana must stay in the nursery to guard the children!”

He was determined to show who was master in that house, and when commands would not draw Nana from the kennel, he lured her out of it with honeyed words, and seizing her roughly, dragged her by force from the nursery, bumping her down the stairs as she scrabbled for a footing. He was ashamed of himself, and yet he could not stop himself; his pride and need for admiration so bruised that he required a firm show of mastery to restore self-respect. When he had tied Nana up in the backyard, the wretched father went and sat in the passage, with his knuckles to his eyes, his head chiming with a sudden migraine.

In the meantime Mrs. Darling had put the children to bed in unwonted silence and lit their night-lights. They could hear Nana barking, and John whimpered, “It is because he is chaining her up in the yard,” but Wendy was cleverer, and she touched the fire poker, which had been hidden in her bedclothes (in case of robbers, you see) before the events of that horrible evening.

“That is not Nana’s unhappy bark,” she said, little guessing what was about to occur; “that is her bark when she senses danger.”

Danger! The word thrilled through Mrs. Darling with a cold shiver of dread.

“Are you sure, Wendy?”

“Yes.”

Mrs. Darling put a trembling hand to her mouth and went to the window. It was securely fastened. She looked out, and the unusually clear night sky was peppered with stars. They were crowding round the house, as if curious to see what was to take place there, but she did not notice this, nor that one or two of the smaller ones winked at her. Yet a nameless despair clutched at her heart and made her cry, “Oh, how I wish that I wasn’t going to a party tonight! I no longer have the heart for it.”

Even Michael, already half asleep, knew that she was perturbed, and he asked, “Can anything harm us, Mother, after the night-lights are lit?”

“Nothing, precious,” she said; “they are the eyes a mother leaves behind her to guard her children.”

She went from bed to bed singing over them, and little Michael flung his arms round her. “Mother,” he cried, “I’m glad of you.” They were the last words she was to hear from him for a long time.

Wendy would not lift her face for a kiss, but gave her the dangerous eyes of a wild cat. “You didn’t stand up for Nana,” she said, turning over to show one reproachful shoulder heaped in the comforter. Mrs. Darling bit her lip, and laid a hand on the cold shoulder for a moment.

The children heard her light step in the hall, and then she was gone from them, for much longer than any of them suspected.

No. 27 was only a few yards distant, but there had been a slight fall of snow, and Mr. and Mrs. Darling picked their way over it deftly so as not to soil their shoes. At that hour, they were the only persons in the street, and all the stars were watching them. Stars are beautiful, but they may not take an active part in anything, they are only able to observe. It is a punishment put on them for something they did so long ago that no one now knows what it was. As a result, many of the older ones have become glassy-eyed and seldom speak (winking is the star language), but the little ones still wonder and twinkle. They are not really friendly to Peter, who had a mischievous way of stealing up behind them and trying to blow them out; but they are so fond of witnessing mischief that they were on his side tonight, and anxious to see the grown-ups gotten out of the way. So as soon as the door of 27 closed on Mr. and Mrs. Darling, there was a commotion in the firmament, and the smallest of all the stars in the Milky Way screamed out with a brilliant flicker:

“Now, Peter!”

 

 

The Fall of Peter Pan is now available as an eBook!

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.