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| Home | Reading Room PETER PAN

[James Matthew Barrie]

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Chapter 2


Mrs. Darling screamed, and, as if in answer to a bell, the door

opened, and Nana entered, returned from her evening out. She

growled and sprang at the boy, who leapt lightly through the

window. Again Mrs. Darling screamed, this time in distress for

him, for she thought he was killed, and she ran down into the

street to look for his little body, but it was not there; and she

looked up, and in the black night she could see nothing but what

she thought was a shooting star.

She returned to the nursery, and found Nana with something in

her mouth, which proved to be the boy's shadow. As he leapt at

the window Nana had closed it quickly, too late to catch him, but

his shadow had not had time to get out; slam went the window and

snapped it off.

You may be sure Mrs. Darling examined the shadow carefully, but

it was quite the ordinary kind.

Nana had no doubt of what was the best thing to do with this

shadow. She hung it out at the window, meaning "He is sure to

come back for it; let us put it where he can get it easily

without disturbing the children."

But unfortunately Mrs. Darling could not leave it hanging out

at the window, it looked so like the washing and lowered the

whole tone of the house. She thought of showing it to Mr.

Darling, but he was totting up winter great-coats for John and

Michael, with a wet towel around his head to keep his brain

clear, 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."

She decided to roll the shadow up and put it away carefully in

a drawer, until a fitting opportunity came for telling her husband.

Ah me!

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

forgotten Friday. Of course it was a Friday.

"I ought to have been specially careful on a Friday," she used

to say afterwards to her husband, while perhaps Nana was on the

other side of her, holding her hand.

"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.

They sat thus night after night recalling that fatal Friday,

till every detail of it was stamped on their brains and came

through on the other side like the faces on a bad coinage.

"If only I had not accepted that invitation to dine at 27,"

Mrs. Darling said.

"If only I had not poured my medicine into Nana's bowl," said

Mr. Darling.

"If only I had pretended to like the medicine," was what Nana's

wet eyes said.

"My liking for parties, George."

"My fatal gift of humour, dearest."

"My touchiness about trifles, dear master and mistress."

Then one or more of them would break down altogether; Nana at

the thought, "It's true, it's true, they ought not to have had a

dog for a nurse." Many a time it was Mr. Darling who put the

handkerchief to Nana's eyes.

"That fiend!" Mr. Darling would cry, and Nana's bark was the

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.

They would sit there in the empty nursery, recalling fondly

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, like one who still

believed that he had the last word on the subject, "I won't, I

won't. Nana, it isn't six o'clock yet. Oh dear, oh dear, I

shan't love you any more, Nana. I tell you I won't be bathed, I

won't, I won't!"

Then Mrs. Darling had come in, wearing her white evening-gown.

She had dressed early because Wendy so loved to see her in her

evening-gown, 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.

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 tone as Mr. Darling himself may have used

on the real occasion.

Wendy had danced with joy, just as the real Mrs. Darling must

have done.

Then John was born, with the extra pomp that he conceived due

to the birth of a male, and Michael came from his bath to ask to

be born also, but John said brutally that they did not want any more.

Michael had nearly cried. "Nobody wants me," he said, and of

course the lady in the evening-dress could not stand that.

"I do," she said, "I so want a third child."

"Boy or girl?" asked Michael, not too hopefully.


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 if

that was to be Michael's last night in the nursery.

They go on with their recollections.

"It was then that I rushed in like a tornado, wasn't it?" Mr.

Darling would say, scorning himself; and indeed he had been like

a tornado.

Perhaps there was some excuse for him. 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 have to tell, but

this man, though he knew about stocks and shares, had no real

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 made-up tie.

This was such an occasion. He came rushing into the nursery

with the crumpled little brute of a tie in his hand.

"Why, what is the matter, father dear?"

"Matter!" he yelled; he really yelled. "This tie, it will not tie."

He became dangerously sarcastic. "Not round my neck!

Round the bed-post! Oh yes, twenty times have I made it up round

the bed-post, but round my neck, no! Oh dear no! begs to be excused!"

He thought Mrs. Darling was not sufficiently impressed, and he

went on sternly, "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 starve, and our

children will be flung into the streets."

Even then Mrs. Darling was placid. "Let me try, dear," she

said, and indeed that was what he had come to ask her to do, and

with her nice cool hands she tied his tie for him, while the

children stood around to see their fate decided. Some men would

have resented her being able to do it so easily, but Mr. Darling

had far too fine a nature 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.

"How wildly we romped!" says Mrs. Darling now, recalling it.

"Our last romp!" Mr. Darling groaned.

"O George, do you remember Michael suddenly said to me, `How

did you get to know me, mother?'"

"I remember!"

"They were rather sweet, don't you think, George?"

"And they were ours, 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 the

first he had ever had with braid on them, and he had had to bite

his lip to prevent the tears coming. Of course Mrs. Darling

brushed him, 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."

"I wonder," Mr. Darling said thoughtfully, "I wonder." It was

an opportunity, his wife felt, 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 a scoundrel."

"We were still discussing it, you remember," says Mr. Darling,

"when Nana came in with Michael's medicine. You will never carry

the 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, 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; won't!" Michael cried naughtily. Mrs. Darling left the

room to get a chocolate for him, and Mr. Darling thought this

showed want of firmness.

"Mother, don't pamper him," he called after her. "Michael,

when I was your age I took medicine without a murmur. I said,

`Thank you, kind parents, for giving me bottles to make we well.'"

He really thought this was true, and Wendy, who was now in her

night-gown, believed it also, and 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."

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 faithful Liza had found it, and put it back on

his wash-stand.

"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 in the strangest way.

"John," he said, shuddering, "it's most beastly stuff. It's

that nasty, sticky, sweet kind."

"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 thrown away upon her.

"MIchael first," he said doggedly.

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

"I shall be sick, you know," Mr. Darling said threateningly.

"Come on, father," said John.

"Hold your tongue, John," his father rapped out.

Wendy was quite puzzled. "I thought you took it quite easily, father."

"That is not the point," he retorted. "The point is, that

there is more in my glass that in Michael's spoon." His proud

heart was nearly bursting. "And it isn't fair: I would say it

though it were with my last breath; it isn't fair."

"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."

"So are you a cowardly custard."

"I'm not frightened."

"Neither am I frightened."

"Well, then, take it."

"Well, then, you take it."

Wendy had a splendid idea. "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 yell of rage from Michael, and "O father!" Wendy


"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, ran to the medicine, and began lapping

it. Then she gave Mr. Darling such a look, not an angry look:

she showed him the great red tear that makes us so sorry for

noble dogs, and crept into her kennel.

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!"

"It was only a joke," he roared, while she comforted her boys,

and Wendy hugged Nana. "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." Somehow they had got into the way of

calling Liza the servants.

"Let them!" he answered recklessly. "Bring in the whole world.

But I refuse to allow that dog to lord it in my nursery for an

hour longer."

The children wept, and Nana ran to him 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, and there

you go to be tied up this instant."

"George, George," Mrs. Darling whispered, "remember what I told

you about that boy."

Alas, he would not listen. 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 from the nursery. He was

ashamed of himself, and yet he did it. It was all owing to his

too affectionate nature, which craved for admiration. When he

had tied her up in the back-yard, the wretched father went and

sat in the passage, with his knuckles to his eyes.

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 wiser.

"That is not Nana's unhappy bark," she said, little guessing

what was about to happen; "that is her bark when she smells danger."


"Are you sure, Wendy?"

"Oh, yes."

Mrs. Darling quivered and went to the window. It was securely

fastened. She looked out, and the night 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 fear

clutched at her heart and made her cry, "Oh, how I wish that I

wasn't going to a party to-night!"

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 enchantments 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.

No. 27 was only a few yards distant, but there had been a

slight fall of snow, and Father and Mother Darling picked their

way over it deftly not to soil their shoes. They were already

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 must just look on for ever. It is a punishment

put on them for something they did so long ago that no star now

knows what it was. So the older ones have become glassy-eyed and

seldom speak (winking is the star language), but the little ones

still wonder. 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 fun that they were on his side

to-night, and anxious to get the grown-ups 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:

"Now, Peter!"



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