PETER BREAKS THROUGH
All children, except one, grow up. They soon know that they will
grow up, and the way Wendy knew was this. One day when she was two
years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another flower
and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather
delightful, for Mrs. Darling put her hand to her heart and cried,
"Oh, why can't you remain like this for ever!" This was all that
passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that
she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the
beginning of the end.
Of course they lived at 14 [their house number on their street],
and until Wendy came her mother was the chief one. She was a lovely lady,
with a romantic mind and such a sweet mocking mouth. Her romantic mind
was like the tiny boxes, one within the other, that come from the
puzzling East, however many you discover there is always one more; and
her sweet mocking mouth had one kiss on it that Wendy could never get,
though there is was, perfectly conspicuous in the right-hand corner.
The way Mr. Darling won her was this: the many gentlemen who
had been boys when she was a girl discovered simultaneously that
they loved her, and they all ran to her house to propose to her
except Mr. Darling, who took a cab and nipped in first, and so he
got her. He got all of her, except the innermost box and the
kiss. He never knew about the box, and in time he gave up trying
for the kiss. Wendy thought Napoleon could have got it, but I
can picture him trying, and then going off in a passion, slamming
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 about stocks and shares. Of course no one really knows,
but he quite seemed to know, and he often said stocks were up and
shares were down in a way that would have made any woman respect
Mrs. Darling was married in white, and at first she kept the
books perfectly, almost gleefully, as if it were a game, not so
much as a Brussels sprout was missing; but by and by whole
cauliflowers dropped out, and instead of them there were pictures
of babies without faces. She drew them when she should have been
totting up. They were Mrs. Darling's guesses.
Wendy came first, then John, then Michael.
For a week or two after 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 of her, but he was very honourable,
and he sat on the edge of Mrs. Darling's bed, holding her hand
and calculating expenses, while she looked at him imploringly.
She wanted to risk it, come what might, 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 begin at the beginning again.
"Now don't interrupt," he would beg of her.
"I have one pound seventeen here, and two and six at the office;
I can cut off my coffee at the office, say ten shillings, making
two nine and six, with your eighteen and three makes three nine seven,
with five naught naught in my cheque-book makes eight nine seven --
who is that moving? -- eight nine seven, dot and carry seven --
don't speak, my own -- and the pound you lent to that man who came to
the door -- quiet, child -- dot and carry child -- there, you've
done it! -- did I say nine nine seven? yes, I said nine nine
seven; the question is, can we try it for a year on nine nine seven?"
"Of course we can, George," she cried. But she was prejudiced
in Wendy's favour, and he was really the grander character of the two.
"Remember mumps," he warned her almost threateningly, and off
he went again. "Mumps one pound, that is what I have put down,
but I daresay it will be more like thirty shillings -- don't
speak -- measles one five, German measles half a guinea, makes
two fifteen six -- don't waggle your finger -- whooping-cough,
say fifteen shillings" -- and so on it went, and it added up
differently each time; but at last Wendy just got through,
with mumps reduced to twelve six, and the two kinds of measles
treated as one.
There was the same excitement over John, and Michael had even a
narrower squeak; but both were kept, and soon, you might have seen
the three of them going in a row to Miss Fulsom's Kindergarten
school, accompanied by their nurse.
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. As they were poor, owing to the amount
of milk the children drank, this nurse was a prim Newfoundland
dog, called Nana, who had belonged to no one in particular until
the Darlings engaged her. She had always thought children
important, however, and the Darlings had become acquainted with
her in Kensington Gardens, where she spent most of her spare time
peeping into perambulators, and was much hated by careless
nursemaids, whom she followed to their homes and complained of to
their mistresses. She proved to be quite a treasure of a nurse.
How thorough she was at bath-time, and up at any moment of the
night if one of her charges made the slightest cry. Of course
her kennel was in the nursery. She had a genius for knowing when
a cough is a thing to have no patience with and when it needs
stocking around your throat. She believed to her last day in
old-fashioned remedies like rhubarb leaf, and made sounds of
contempt over all this new-fangled talk about germs, and so on.
It was a lesson in propriety to see her escorting the children to
school, walking sedately by their side when they were well
behaved, and butting them back into line if they strayed. On
John's footer [in England soccer was called football, "footer
for short] days she never once forgot his sweater, and she
usually carried an umbrella in her mouth in case of rain. There
is a room in the basement of Miss Fulsom's school where the
nurses wait. They sat on forms, while Nana lay on the floor,
but that was the only difference. They affected to ignore her as
of an inferior social status to themselves, and she despised
their light talk. She resented visits to the nursery from Mrs.
Darling's friends, but if they did come she first whipped off
Michael's pinafore and put him into the one with blue braiding,
and smoothed out Wendy 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.
He had his position in the city to consider.
Nana also troubled him in another way. He had sometimes a
feeling that she did not admire him. "I know she admires you
tremendously, George," Mrs. Darling would assure him, and then
she would sign to the children to be specially nice to father.
Lovely dances followed, in which the only other servant, Liza,
was sometimes allowed to join. Such a midget she looked in her
long skirt and maid's cap, though she had sworn, when engaged,
that she would never see ten again. The gaiety of those romps!
And gayest of all was Mrs. Darling, who would pirouette so wildly
that all you could see of her was the kiss, and then if you had
dashed at her you might have got it. There never was a simpler
happier family until the coming of Peter Pan.
Mrs. Darling first heard of Peter when she was tidying up her
children's minds. It is the nightly custom of every good mother
after her children are asleep to rummage in their minds and put
things straight for next morning, repacking into their proper
places the many articles that have wandered during the day. If
you could keep awake (but of course you can't) you would see your
own mother doing this, and you would find it very interesting to
watch her. It is quite like tidying up drawers. You would see
her on her knees, I expect, lingering humorously over some of
your contents, wondering where on earth you had picked this thing
up, making discoveries sweet and not so sweet, pressing this to
her cheek as if it were as nice as a kitten, and hurriedly
stowing that out of sight. When you wake in the morning, the
naughtiness and evil passions with which you went to bed have
been folded up small and placed at the bottom of your mind and
on the top, beautifully aired, are spread out your prettier
thoughts, ready for you to put on.
I don't know whether you have ever seen a map of a person's
mind. Doctors sometimes draw maps of other parts of you, and
your own map can become intensely interesting, but catch them
trying to draw a map of a child's mind, which is not only
confused, but keeps going round all the time. There are zigzag
lines on it, just like your temperature on a card, and these are
probably roads in the island, for the Neverland is always more or
less an island, with astonishing splashes of colour here and
there, and coral reefs and rakish-looking craft in the offing,
and savages and lonely lairs, and gnomes who are mostly tailors,
and caves through which a river runs, and princes with six elder
brothers, and a hut fast going to decay, and one very small old
lady with a hooked nose. It would be an easy map if that were
all, but there is also first day at school, religion, fathers,
the round pond, needle-work, murders, hangings, verbs that take
the dative, chocolate pudding day, getting into braces, 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 will stand still.
Of course the Neverlands vary a good deal. John's, for
instance, had a lagoon with flamingoes flying over it at which
John was shooting, 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 wigwam, Wendy in a
house of leaves deftly sewn together. John had no friends,
Michael had friends at night, Wendy had a pet wolf forsaken by
its parents, but on the whole the Neverlands have a family
resemblance, and if they stood still in a row you could say of them
that they have each other's nose, and so forth. On these magic
shores children at play are for ever beaching their coracles
[simple boat]. We too have been there; we can still hear the
sound of the surf, though we shall land no more.
Of all delectable islands the Neverland is the snuggest and
most compact, not large and sprawly, you know, with tedious
distances between one adventure and another, but nicely crammed.
When you play at it by day with the chairs and table-cloth, 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.
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 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 with regret. Her
mother had been questioning her.
"But who is he, my pet?"
"He is Peter Pan, you know, mother."
At first Mrs. Darling did not know, but after thinking back
into her childhood she just remembered a Peter Pan who was said
to live with the fairies. There were odd stories about him, as
that when children died he went part of the way with them, so
that they should not be frightened. She had believed in him at
the time, but now that she was married and full of sense she
quite doubted whether there was any such person.
"Besides," she said to Wendy, "he would be grown up by this
"Oh no, he isn't grown up," Wendy assured her confidently, "and
he is just my size." She meant that he was her size in both mind
and body; she didn't know how she knew, she just knew it.
Mrs. Darling consulted Mr. Darling, but he smiled pooh-pooh.
"Mark my words," he said, "it is some nonsense Nana has been
putting into their heads; just the sort of idea a dog would have.
Leave it alone, and it will blow over."
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. For instance, they may remember to mention, a week
after the event happened, that when they were in the wood they
had met their dead father and had a game with him. It was in
this casual way that Wendy 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, and Mrs. Darling was puzzling over them when Wendy said with
a tolerant smile:
"I do believe it is that Peter again!"
"Whatever do you mean, Wendy?"
"It is so naughty of him not to wipe his feet," Wendy said,
sighing. She was a tidy child.
She explained in quite a matter-of-fact way 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. Unfortunately
she never woke, so she didn't know how she knew, she just knew.
"What nonsense you talk, precious. No one can get into the
house without knocking."
"I think he comes in by the window," she said.
"My love, it is three floors up."
"Were not the leaves at the foot of the window, mother?"
It was quite true; the leaves had been found very near the window.
Mrs. Darling did not know what to think, for it all seemed so
natural to Wendy that you could not dismiss it by saying she had
"My child," the mother cried, "why did you not tell me of
"I forgot," said Wendy lightly. She was in a hurry to get her
Oh, surely she must have been dreaming.
But, on the other hand, there were the leaves. Mrs. Darling
examined them very carefully; they were skeleton leaves, but she
was sure they did not come from any tree that grew in England.
She crawled about the floor, 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.
Certainly Wendy had been dreaming.
But Wendy had not been dreaming, as the very next night showed,
the night on which the extraordinary adventures of these children
may be said to have begun.
On the night we speak of all the children were once more in
bed. It happened to be Nana's evening off, and Mrs. Darling had
bathed them and sung to them till one by one they had let go her
hand and slid away into the land of sleep.
All were looking so safe and cosy that she smiled at her fears
now and sat down tranquilly by the fire to sew.
It was something for Michael, who on his birthday was getting
into shirts. The fire was warm, however, and the nursery dimly
lit by three night-lights, and presently the sewing lay on Mrs.
Darling's lap. Then her head nodded, oh, so gracefully. She was
asleep. Look at the four of them, Wendy and Michael over there,
John here, and Mrs. Darling by the fire. There should have been
a fourth night-light.
While she slept she had a dream. She dreamt that the Neverland
had come too near and that a strange boy had broken through from
it. He did not alarm her, for she thought she had seen him
before in the faces of many women who have no children. Perhaps
he is to be found in the faces of some mothers also. But in her
dream he had rent the film that obscures the Neverland, and she
saw Wendy and John and Michael peeping through the gap.
The dream by itself would have been a trifle, but while she was
dreaming the window of the nursery blew open, and a boy did drop
on the floor. He was accompanied by a strange light, no bigger
than your fist, which darted about the room like a living thing
and I think it must have been this light that wakened Mrs. Darling.
She started up with a cry, and saw the boy, and somehow she
knew at once that he was Peter Pan. If you or I or Wendy had
been there we should have seen that he was very like Mrs.
Darling's kiss. He was a lovely boy, clad in skeleton leaves and
the juices that ooze out of trees but the most entrancing thing
about him was that he had all his first teeth. When he saw she
was a grown-up, he gnashed the little pearls at her.
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