The last sound Peter heard before he was quite alone were the mermaids retiring one by one to their bedchambers under the sea. He was too far away to hear their doors shut; but every door in the coral caves where they live rings a tiny bell when it opens or closes (as in all the nicest houses on the mainland), and he heard the bells.
Steadily the waters rose till they were nibbling at his feet; and to pass the time until they made their final gulp, he watched the only thing on the lagoon. He thought it was a piece of floating paper, perhaps part of the kite, and wondered idly how long it would take to drift ashore.
Presently he noticed as an odd thing that it was undoubtedly out upon the lagoon with some definite purpose, for it was fighting the tide, and sometimes winning; and when it won, Peter, always sympathetic to the weaker side, could not help clapping; it was such a gallant piece of paper.
It was not really a piece of paper; it was the Never bird, making desperate efforts to reach Peter on the nest. By working her wings, in a way she had learned since the nest fell into the water, she was able to some extent to guide her strange craft, but by the time Peter recognised her she was very exhausted. She had come to save him, to give him her nest, though there were eggs in it. I rather wonder at the bird, for though he had been nice to her, he had also sometimes tormented her. I can suppose only that, like Mrs. Darling and the rest of them, she was melted because he had all his first teeth.
She called out to him what she had come for, and he called out to her what she was doing there; but of course neither of them understood the other's language. In fanciful stories people can talk to the birds freely, and I wish for the moment I could pretend that this were such a story, and say that Peter replied intelligently to the Never bird; but truth is best, and I want to tell you only what really happened. Well, not only could they not understand each other, but they forgot their manners.
"I -- want -- you -- to -- get -- into -- the -- nest," the bird called, speaking as slowly and distinctly as possible, "and -- then -- you -- can -- drift -- ashore, but -- I -- am -- too - - tired -- to -- bring -- it -- any -- nearer -- so -- you -- must -- try -- to -- swim -- to -- it.""What are you quacking about?" Peter answered. "Why don't you let the nest drift as usual?" "I -- want -- you -- " the bird said, and repeated it all over. Then Peter tried slow and distinct. "What -- are -- you -- quacking -- about?" and so on. The Never bird became irritated; they have very short tempers. "You dunderheaded little jay," she screamed, "Why don't you do as I tell you?" Peter felt that she was calling him names, and at a venture he retorted hotly: "So are you!" Then rather curiously they both snapped out the same remark: "Shut up!" "Shut up!"
Nevertheless the bird was determined to save him if she could, and by one last mighty effort she propelled the nest against the rock. Then up she flew; deserting her eggs, so as to make her meaning clear.
Then at last he understood, and clutched the nest and waved his thanks to the bird as she fluttered overhead. It was not to receive his thanks, however, that she hung there in the sky; it was not even to watch him get into the nest; it was to see what he did with her eggs.
There were two large white eggs, and Peter lifted them up and reflected. The bird covered her face with her wings, so as not to see the last of them; but she could not help peeping between the feathers.
I forget whether I have told you that there was a stave on the rock, driven into it by some buccaneers of long ago to mark the site of buried treasure. The children had discovered the glittering hoard, and when in a mischievous mood used to fling showers of moidores, diamonds, pearls and pieces of eight to the gulls, who pounced upon them for food, and then flew away, raging at the scurvy trick that had been played upon them. The stave was still there, and on it Starkey had hung his hat, a deep tarpaulin, watertight, with a broad brim. Peter put the eggs into this hat and set it on the lagoon. It floated beautifully.
The Never bird saw at once what he was up to, and screamed her admiration of him; and, alas, Peter crowed his agreement with her. Then he got into the nest, reared the stave in it as a mast, and hung up his shirt for a sail. At the same moment the bird fluttered down upon the hat and once more sat snugly on her eggs. She drifted in one direction, and he was borne off in another, both cheering.
Of course when Peter landed he beached his barque [small ship, actually the Never Bird's nest in this particular case in point] in a place where the bird would easily find it; but the hat was such a great success that she abandoned the nest. It drifted about till it went to pieces, and often Starkey came to the shore of the lagoon, and with many bitter feelings watched the bird sitting on his hat. As we shall not see her again, it may be worth mentioning here that all Never birds now build in that shape of nest, with a broad brim on which the youngsters take an airing.
Great were the rejoicings when Peter reached the home under the ground almost as soon as Wendy, who had been carried hither and thither by the kite. Every boy had adventures to tell; but perhaps the biggest adventure of all was that they were several hours late for bed. This so inflated them that they did various dodgy things to get staying up still longer, such as demanding bandages; but Wendy, though glorying in having them all home again safe and sound, was scandalised by the lateness of the hour, and cried, "To bed, to bed," in a voice that had to be obeyed. Next day, however, she was awfully tender, and gave out bandages to every one, and they played till bed-time at limping about and carrying their arms in slings.
One important result of the brush [with the pirates] on the lagoon was that it made the redskins their friends. Peter had saved Tiger Lily from a dreadful fate, and now there was nothing she and her braves would not do for him. All night they sat above, keeping watch over the home under the ground and awaiting the big attack by the pirates which obviously could not be much longer delayed. Even by day they hung about, smoking the pipe of peace, and looking almost as if they wanted tit-bits to eat.They called Peter the Great White Father, prostrating themselves [lying down] before him; and he liked this tremendously, so that it was not really good for him.
"The great white father," he would say to them in a very lordly manner, as they grovelled at his feet, "is glad to see the Piccaninny warriors protecting his wigwam from the pirates.""Me Tiger Lily," that lovely creature would reply. "Peter Pan save me, me his velly nice friend. Me no let pirates hurt him." She was far too pretty to cringe in this way, but Peter thought it his due, and he would answer condescendingly, "It is good. Peter Pan has spoken."
Always when he said, "Peter Pan has spoken," it meant that they must now shut up, and they accepted it humbly in that spirit; but they were by no means so respectful to the other boys, whom they looked upon as just ordinary braves. They said "How-do?" to them, and things like that; and what annoyed the boys was that Peter seemed to think this all right.
Secretly Wendy sympathised with them a little, but she was far too loyal a housewife to listen to any complaints against father. "Father knows best," she always said, whatever her private opinion must be. Her private opinion was that the redskins should not call her a squaw.
We have now reached the evening that was to be known among them as the Night of Nights, because of its adventures and their upshot. The day, as if quietly gathering its forces, had been almost uneventful, and now the redskins in their blankets were at their posts above, while, below, the children were having their evening meal; all except Peter, who had gone out to get the time. The way you got the time on the island was to find the crocodile, and then stay near him till the clock struck.
The meal happened to be a make-believe tea, and they sat around the board, guzzling in their greed; and really, what with their chatter and recriminations, the noise, as Wendy said, was positively deafening. To be sure, she did not mind noise, but she simply would not have them grabbing things, and then excusing themselves by saying that Tootles had pushed their elbow. There was a fixed rule that they must never hit back at meals, but should refer the matter of dispute to Wendy by raising the right arm politely and saying, "I complain of so-and-so;" but what usually happened was that they forgot to do this or did it too much."Silence," cried Wendy when for the twentieth time she had told them that they were not all to speak at once. "Is your mug empty, Slightly darling?" "Not quite empty, mummy," Slightly said, after looking into an imaginary mug. "He hasn't even begun to drink his milk," Nibs interposed. This was telling, and Slightly seized his chance. "I complain of Nibs," he cried promptly. John, however, had held up his hand first. "Well, John?" "May I sit in Peter's chair, as he is not here?" "Sit in father's chair, John!" Wendy was scandalised. "Certainly not." "He is not really our father," John answered. "He didn't even know how a father does till I showed him." This was grumbling. "We complain of John," cried the twins. Tootles held up his hand. He was so much the humblest of them, indeed he was the only humble one, that Wendy was specially gentle with him. "I don't suppose," Tootles said diffidently [bashfully or timidly], "that I could be father. "No, Tootles." Once Tootles began, which was not very often, he had a silly way of going on. "As I can't be father," he said heavily, "I don't suppose, Michael, you would let me be baby?" "No, I won't," Michael rapped out. He was already in his basket. "As I can't be baby," Tootles said, getting heavier and heavier and heavier, "do you think I could be a twin?" "No, indeed," replied the twins; "it's awfully difficult to be a twin." "As I can't be anything important," said Tootles, "would any of you like to see me do a trick?" "No," they all replied. Then at last he stopped. "I hadn't really any hope," he said. The hateful telling broke out again. "Slightly is coughing on the table." "The twins began with cheese-cakes." "Curly is taking both butter and honey." "Nibs is speaking with his mouth full." "I complain of the twins." "I complain of Curly." "I complain of Nibs." "Oh dear, oh dear," cried Wendy, "I'm sure I sometimes think that spinsters are to be envied." She told them to clear away, and sat down to her work-basket, a heavy load of stockings and every knee with a hole in it as usual. "Wendy," remonstrated [scolded] Michael, "I'm too big for a cradle." "I must have somebody in a cradle," she said almost tartly, "and you are the littlest. A cradle is such a nice homely thing to have about a house."
While she sewed they played around her; such a group of happy faces and dancing limbs lit up by that romantic fire. It had become a very familiar scene, this, in the home under the ground, but we are looking on it for the last time.There was a step above, and Wendy, you may be sure, was the first to recognize it. "Children, I hear your father's step. He likes you to meet him at the door." Above, the redskins crouched before Peter. "Watch well, braves. I have spoken." And then, as so often before, the gay children dragged him from his tree. As so often before, but never again. He had brought nuts for the boys as well as the correct time for Wendy. "Peter, you just spoil them, you know," Wendy simpered [exaggerated a smile]. "Ah, old lady," said Peter, hanging up his gun. "It was me told him mothers are called old lady," Michael whispered to Curly. "I complain of Michael," said Curly instantly. The first twin came to Peter. "Father, we want to dance." "Dance away, my little man," said Peter, who was in high good humour. "But we want you to dance." Peter was really the best dancer among them, but he pretended to be scandalised. "Me! My old bones would rattle!" "And mummy too." "What," cried Wendy, "the mother of such an armful, dance!" "But on a Saturday night," Slightly insinuated.
It was not really Saturday night, at least it may have been, for they had long lost count of the days; but always if they wanted to do anything special they said this was Saturday night, and then they did it."Of course it is Saturday night, Peter," Wendy said, relenting. "People of our figure, Wendy!" "But it is only among our own progeny [children]." "True, true."
So they were told they could dance, but they must put on their nighties first. "Ah, old lady," Peter said aside to Wendy, warming himself by the fire and looking down at her as she sat turning a heel, "there is nothing more pleasant of an evening for you and me when the day's toil is over than to rest by the fire with the little ones near by.""It is sweet, Peter, isn't it?" Wendy said, frightfully gratified. "Peter, I think Curly has your nose." "Michael takes after you." She went to him and put her hand on his shoulder. "Dear Peter," she said, "with such a large family, of course, I have now passed my best, but you don't want to [ex]change me, do you?" "No, Wendy." Certainly he did not want a change, but he looked at her uncomfortably, blinking, you know, like one not sure whether he was awake or asleep. "Peter, what is it?" "I was just thinking," he said, a little scared. "It is only make-believe, isn't it, that I am their father?" "Oh yes," Wendy said primly [formally and properly]. "You see," he continued apologetically, "it would make me seem so old to be their real father." "But they are ours, Peter, yours and mine." "But not really, Wendy?" he asked anxiously. "Not if you don't wish it," she replied; and she distinctly heard his sigh of relief. "Peter," she asked, trying to speak firmly, "what are your exact feelings to [about] me?" "Those of a devoted son, Wendy." "I thought so," she said, and went and sat by herself at the extreme end of the room. "You are so queer," he said, frankly puzzled, "and Tiger Lily is just the same. There is something she wants to be to me, but she says it is not my mother." "No, indeed, it is not," Wendy replied with frightful emphasis. Now we know why she was prejudiced against the redskins. "Then what is it?" "It isn't for a lady to tell." "Oh, very well," Peter said, a little nettled. "Perhaps Tinker Bell will tell me." "Oh yes, Tinker Bell will tell you," Wendy retorted scornfully. "She is an abandoned little creature." Here Tink, who was in her bedroom, eavesdropping, squeaked out something impudent. "She says she glories in being abandoned," Peter interpreted. He had a sudden idea. "Perhaps Tink wants to be my mother?" "You silly ass!" cried Tinker Bell in a passion. She had said it so often that Wendy needed no translation.
"I almost agree with her," Wendy snapped. Fancy Wendy snapping! But she had been much tried, and she little knew what was to happen before the night was out. If she had known she would not have snapped.
None of them knew. Perhaps it was best not to know. Their ignorance gave them one more glad hour; and as it was to be their last hour on the island, let us rejoice that there were sixty glad minutes in it. They sang and danced in their night- gowns. Such a deliciously creepy song it was, in which they pretended to be frightened at their own shadows, little witting that so soon shadows would close in upon them, from whom they would shrink in real fear. So uproariously gay was the dance, and how they buffeted each other on the bed and out of it! It was a pillow fight rather than a dance, and when it was finished, the pillows insisted on one bout more, like partners who know that they may never meet again. The stories they told, before it was time for Wendy's good-night story! Even Slightly tried to tell a story that night, but the beginning was so fearfully dull that it appalled not only the others but himself, and he said happily:"Yes, it is a dull beginning. I say, let us pretend that it is the end."
And then at last they all got into bed for Wendy's story, the story they loved best, the story Peter hated. Usually when she began to tell this story he left the room or put his hands over his ears; and possibly if he had done either of those things this time they might all still be on the island. But to-night he remained on his stool; and we shall see what happened.
"Oh dear, oh dear," sighed Wendy. "Now these three children had a faithful nurse called Nana; but Mr. Darling was angry with her and chained her up in the yard, and so all the children flew away.""It's an awfully good story," said Nibs. "They flew away," Wendy continued, "to the Neverland, where the lost children are." "I just thought they did," Curly broke in excitedly. "I don't know how it is, but I just thought they did!" "O Wendy," cried Tootles, "was one of the lost children called Tootles?" "Yes, he was." "I am in a story. Hurrah, I am in a story, Nibs." "Hush. Now I want you to consider the feelings of the unhappy parents with all their children flown away." "Oo!" they all moaned, though they were not really considering the feelings of the unhappy parents one jot. "Think of the empty beds!" "Oo!" "It's awfully sad," the first twin said cheerfully. "I don't see how it can have a happy ending," said the second twin. "Do you, Nibs?" "I'm frightfully anxious." "If you knew how great is a mother's love," Wendy told them triumphantly, "you would have no fear." She had now come to the part that Peter hated. "I do like a mother's love," said Tootles, hitting Nibs with a pillow. "Do you like a mother's love, Nibs?" "I do just," said Nibs, hitting back.
"You see," Wendy said complacently, "our heroine knew that the mother would always leave the window open for her children to fly back by; so they stayed away for years and had a lovely time.""Did they ever go back?"
"Let us now," said Wendy, bracing herself up for her finest effort, "take a peep into the future"; and they all gave themselves the twist that makes peeps into the future easier. "Years have rolled by, and who is this elegant lady of uncertain age alighting at London Station?""O Wendy, who is she?" cried Nibs, every bit as excited as if he didn't know. "Can it be -- yes -- no -- it is -- the fair Wendy!" "Oh!" "And who are the two noble portly figures accompanying her, now grown to man's estate? Can they be John and Michael? They are!" "Oh!"
"`See, dear brothers,' says Wendy pointing upwards, `there is the window still standing open. Ah, now we are rewarded for our sublime faith in a mother's love.' So up they flew to their mummy and daddy, and pen cannot describe the happy scene, over which we draw a veil."
That was the story, and they were as pleased with it as the fair narrator herself. Everything just as it should be, you see. Off we skip like the most heartless things in the world, which is what children are, but so attractive; and we have an entirely selfish time, and then when we have need of special attention we nobly return for it, confident that we shall be rewarded instead of smacked.So great indeed was their faith in a mother's love that they felt they could afford to be callous for a bit longer. But there was one there who knew better, and when Wendy finished he uttered a hollow groan. "What is it, Peter?" she cried, running to him, thinking he was ill. She felt him solicitously, lower down than his chest. "Where is it, Peter?" "It isn't that kind of pain," Peter replied darkly. "Then what kind is it?" "Wendy, you are wrong about mothers." They all gathered round him in affright, so alarming was his agitation; and with a fine candour he told them what he had hitherto concealed.
"Long ago," he said, "I thought like you that my mother would always keep the window open for me, so I stayed away for moons and moons and moons, and then flew back; but the window was barred, for mother had forgotten all about me, and there was another little boy sleeping in my bed."I am not sure that this was true, but Peter thought it was true; and it scared them. "Are you sure mothers are like that?" "Yes." So this was the truth about mothers. The toads! Still it is best to be careful; and no one knows so quickly as a child when he should give in. "Wendy, let us [let's] go home," cried John and Michael together. "Yes," she said, clutching them.
"Not to-night?" asked the lost boys bewildered. They knew in what they called their hearts that one can get on quite well without a mother, and that it is only th