THE UNDERGROUND HOME
The days passed merrily in the underground home, where Wendy was the sweetest little mother, and Peter the bravest father you could ever have found anywhere. The cave was large and roomy, and the rocks out of which it was hollowed were of a deep brown colour. There was a fine large fireplace, and overhead, near the ceiling, were hung baskets and fishing-tackle and all sorts of things likely to be useful to cave-dwellers.
Wendy had not been long there before she had improved the home and made it as comfortable as her own nursery. It is wonderful what clever girls can do, even with the poorest materials. There was now a huge bed for all the Boys, and a basket for Michael, because he was the littlest and because a cradle is such a homely thing to have about the house. And in a corner of the room, hidden behind a tiny crimson curtain, there was a wee little room for Tinker Bell, daintily furnished to suit the tastes of girl fairy. There were stools made of mushrooms for the Boys, and two comfortable chairs made of pumpkins, where Peter and Wendy could sit in state, as was fitting the father and mother of the little family.
One Saturday night, Wendy and the Boys were all downstairs together, waiting for Peter to come back from a hunting expedition. Outside, the faithful Tiger Lily and her Red Indian band were keeping guard against the Pirates.
Presently the crackling of branches indicated Peter's approach through the underwood. Tiger Lily sprang up to meet him, and the Lost Boys ran to the tree-trunk stairways to welcome him on his return. He was the best of fathers; and never forgot to be a little boy, for he had filled his pockets with fruit for the boys who had been good, and he let them rummage through and through his coat like rats in a corn sack.
Then he turned towards Wendy, who was very busy mending the children's socks by the fireside. She looked very charming in her pretty brown frock the colour of autumn leaves, with scarlet berries in her hair, and she made Peter very happy as they exchanged thimbles and talked over the boys and their doings as if they had really been their father and mother. When the children clamoured for a dance, Peter even said that he was too old for such a game, and that his old bones would simply rattle, and Wendy also thought that the mother of such an armful could not go skipping about with her children. So Peter sang "Sally in our Alley," which song Wendy thought no one else in all the world could sing so sweetly as the darling of her heart, while the others danced pillow dances, and bolster dances, and turned somersaults on the beds, and did all the other jolly and lively things that everyone wants to do just about bedtime, when one ought to be thinking of going to sleep.
At last they quietened down for Wendy to tell them just one more story before they were tucked in for the night. They clustered eagerly round, interrupting every sentence, as children always do, even the best of them, while Wendy told her story. And the story somehow seemed familiar to John, and Michael, and Peter, for it was the tale of Mr. and Mrs. Darling, poor dears, who had lost their children one winter night; and how sad they were about it, how lonely they felt, and how the nursery window would always be kept open, ready for the children, if ever they should come flying home again.
When she had finished, Peter stood up sadly. "No, Wendy," he said, "I thought so once, but you cannot be sure that the window will be kept open. When I went back to my mother, the window was barred, and there was another little boy sleeping in my cradle." At that thought, Wendy started up with a look of horror in her face: "Perhaps by this time, Mother may be in half-mourning," she exclaimed, and John and Michael felt they dared not stay another moment in the Never-Never-Never Land.
What would they do if they were too late in coming back, and found other children in their beds, other children being bathed and dressed by Nana? They must go home at once.
The Boys crowded round Wendy, imploring her not to leave them, but she was firm. Not only would she return with John and Michael, but she would take all the Boys with her, for her mother to adopt. The Boys, as soon as they heard themselves invited to come too, were as happy as larks. For now each of them would have a true mother in Mrs. Darling, and would live in a house like other boys. In a moment they were packing their baby clothes, and were ready to start on their journey.
Peter alone refused. He was miserable at the thought of losing Wendy, but he couldn't consent to grow old and have a beard, as he knew he must do if he left the Never-Never-Never Land. Never, never, could he do that! There was nothing for him, then, but to stay behind. Wendy was as careful as a little mother in pouring out Peter's medicine, and made him promise faithfully to take it every night.
But suddenly there was a stamping overhead, and banging and a clashing, and a shouting, and a sound of heavy people wrestling and struggling to and fro. The Pirates had taken the Red Indians by surprise. The children heard the fighting, and listened like mice to the squalling of cats, as frightened as could be, while Peter waited with his sword. The battle was very soon over. The Redskins were beaten and ran like hares, or crawled dangerously wounded into the thickets. The triumphant Pirates were left victorious, though a little out of breath, close above the children's heads.
Hook, their captain, more wicked-looking than ever, listened at the mushroom chimney. "If the Indians have won," Peter was saying, "they'll beat the tom-tom."
"Aha!" thought Hook, and he picked up a tom-tom that one of the flying Indians had left behind, and sounded it loudly; "rub-a-dub, rub-a-dub, dub, dub, dub."
"Hurrah!" shouted the children down below. "An Indian victory!"
"All will be safe," said Peter. "You may go now! Tink will show you the way," and bidding a hurried good-bye to Peter, away they all went up the stairways in the tree-trunks, out into the forest.
The Pirates were ready for them. As each child came above the ground, he was seized by one of the swarthy ruffians who stood waiting. One by one, and silently, they were captured and flung into boats and transported to the pirate ship, which had anchored in the lake close by.
Everything had been done so quietly that Peter was quite unaware of his friends' sad fate. He only knew that he was all alone, that Wendy had left him, and that she, and Michael, and John, and all the Lost Boys who had been his companions were on their way from the Never-Never-Never Land to the country of the ordinary people who wear tall hats and tail-coats as soon as they are old enough, and grow up one after the other. Poor Peter threw himself on his bed and sobbed himself to sleep.
Hook was still lurking about, for the one thing that annoyed him most was that Peter had not left the cave with the rest, and was as yet safe.
But in his wicked heart a wicked scheme had already risen by which he hoped to kill his enemy. He had carefully listened to Wendy's last words: "Be sure and take your medicine, Peter." Here was the Captain's last chance. Creeping down to the door of the cave, he stretched his long arm round the ledge just inside, and poured a few drops of deadly poison into the glass, and, with a grin of triumph on his ugly face, he threw his cloak over his shoulder and stole away.
"Tap, tap, tap." Somebody was knocking at the door. "Who's there?" asked Peter sleepily.
"Tap, tap, tap."
He got up and opened the door. Tinker Bell, tinkling excitedly, flew into the room. "The Pirates have captured them!" she tinkled, "the Pirates have captured them!" As Peter excitedly snatched up his sword and sharpened it very sharply on the grindstone, he perceived Tinker Bell in his glass of medicine. He soon learnt the reason, when his little fairy told him, in a weak voice, that it was poisoned, and that she had drunk the poison as the only way to save his life. It was indeed an act of self-sacrifice; for too well did Tink know how much Peter loved Wendy, and that no warning of hers would prevent him from keeping his promise.
Poor Tinker Bell was dying, and die she would have done were it not that Peter, in a frenzy of grief and with tears in his eyes, made this passionate appeal to all children: "Do you believe in fairies? If you do, clap your hands, and that will save poor Tinker Bell." As his cry rang round the world, there came an echo of sound as of millions of little hands clapping, as if all the children throughout the world knew suddenly that of course they believed in fairies.
The result was magical. Tinker Bell was saved; her light, which had been getting fainter and fainter, grew brighter and brighter again; the merry sound of tinkling (her way of speaking to Peter) which had almost become inaudible, now grew stronger and stronger. She was once more the bright little fairy that escorted Peter to the Darling nursery, and again, under her guidance, Peter set forth to rescue the Boys and Wendy.