Peter pan, p.7
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       Peter Pan, p.7

           J. M. Barrie
 
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  Chapter 7 THE HOME UNDER THE GROUND

  One of the first things Peter did next day was to measure Wendy and Johnand Michael for hollow trees. Hook, you remember, had sneered at theboys for thinking they needed a tree apiece, but this was ignorance, forunless your tree fitted you it was difficult to go up and down, and notwo of the boys were quite the same size. Once you fitted, you drew in[let out] your breath at the top, and down you went at exactly theright speed, while to ascend you drew in and let out alternately, and sowriggled up. Of course, when you have mastered the action you are ableto do these things without thinking of them, and nothing can be moregraceful.

  But you simply must fit, and Peter measures you for your tree ascarefully as for a suit of clothes: the only difference being that theclothes are made to fit you, while you have to be made to fit the tree.Usually it is done quite easily, as by your wearing too many garmentsor too few, but if you are bumpy in awkward places or the only availabletree is an odd shape, Peter does some things to you, and after that youfit. Once you fit, great care must be taken to go on fitting, and this,as Wendy was to discover to her delight, keeps a whole family in perfectcondition.

  Wendy and Michael fitted their trees at the first try, but John had tobe altered a little.

  After a few days' practice they could go up and down as gaily as bucketsin a well. And how ardently they grew to love their home under theground; especially Wendy. It consisted of one large room, as all housesshould do, with a floor in which you could dig [for worms] if you wantedto go fishing, and in this floor grew stout mushrooms of a charmingcolour, which were used as stools. A Never tree tried hard to grow inthe centre of the room, but every morning they sawed the trunk through,level with the floor. By tea-time it was always about two feet high, andthen they put a door on top of it, the whole thus becoming a table;as soon as they cleared away, they sawed off the trunk again, and thusthere was more room to play. There was an enormous fireplace which wasin almost any part of the room where you cared to light it, and acrossthis Wendy stretched strings, made of fibre, from which she suspendedher washing. The bed was tilted against the wall by day, and let down at6:30, when it filled nearly half the room; and all the boys slept in it,except Michael, lying like sardines in a tin. There was a strict ruleagainst turning round until one gave the signal, when all turned atonce. Michael should have used it also, but Wendy would have [desired]a baby, and he was the littlest, and you know what women are, and theshort and long of it is that he was hung up in a basket.

  It was rough and simple, and not unlike what baby bears would have madeof an underground house in the same circumstances. But there was onerecess in the wall, no larger than a bird-cage, which was the privateapartment of Tinker Bell. It could be shut off from the rest ofthe house by a tiny curtain, which Tink, who was most fastidious[particular], always kept drawn when dressing or undressing. No woman,however large, could have had a more exquisite boudoir [dressing room]and bed-chamber combined. The couch, as she always called it, wasa genuine Queen Mab, with club legs; and she varied the bedspreadsaccording to what fruit-blossom was in season. Her mirror was aPuss-in-Boots, of which there are now only three, unchipped, known tofairy dealers; the washstand was Pie-crust and reversible, the chestof drawers an authentic Charming the Sixth, and the carpet and rugs thebest (the early) period of Margery and Robin. There was a chandelierfrom Tiddlywinks for the look of the thing, but of course she lit theresidence herself. Tink was very contemptuous of the rest of the house,as indeed was perhaps inevitable, and her chamber, though beautiful,looked rather conceited, having the appearance of a nose permanentlyturned up.

  I suppose it was all especially entrancing to Wendy, because thoserampagious boys of hers gave her so much to do. Really there were wholeweeks when, except perhaps with a stocking in the evening, she was neverabove ground. The cooking, I can tell you, kept her nose to the pot, andeven if there was nothing in it, even if there was no pot, she had tokeep watching that it came aboil just the same. You never exactlyknew whether there would be a real meal or just a make-believe, it alldepended upon Peter's whim: he could eat, really eat, if it was part ofa game, but he could not stodge [cram down the food] just to feelstodgy [stuffed with food], which is what most children like better thananything else; the next best thing being to talk about it. Make-believewas so real to him that during a meal of it you could see him gettingrounder. Of course it was trying, but you simply had to follow his lead,and if you could prove to him that you were getting loose for your treehe let you stodge.

  Wendy's favourite time for sewing and darning was after they had allgone to bed. Then, as she expressed it, she had a breathing time forherself; and she occupied it in making new things for them, and puttingdouble pieces on the knees, for they were all most frightfully hard ontheir knees.

  When she sat down to a basketful of their stockings, every heel with ahole in it, she would fling up her arms and exclaim, "Oh dear, I am sureI sometimes think spinsters are to be envied!"

  Her face beamed when she exclaimed this.

  You remember about her pet wolf. Well, it very soon discovered that shehad come to the island and it found her out, and they just ran into eachother's arms. After that it followed her about everywhere.

  As time wore on did she think much about the beloved parents she hadleft behind her? This is a difficult question, because it is quiteimpossible to say how time does wear on in the Neverland, where it iscalculated by moons and suns, and there are ever so many more of themthan on the mainland. But I am afraid that Wendy did not really worryabout her father and mother; she was absolutely confident that theywould always keep the window open for her to fly back by, and this gaveher complete ease of mind. What did disturb her at times was that Johnremembered his parents vaguely only, as people he had once known, whileMichael was quite willing to believe that she was really his mother.These things scared her a little, and nobly anxious to do her duty, shetried to fix the old life in their minds by setting them examinationpapers on it, as like as possible to the ones she used to do at school.The other boys thought this awfully interesting, and insisted onjoining, and they made slates for themselves, and sat round the table,writing and thinking hard about the questions she had written on anotherslate and passed round. They were the most ordinary questions--"Whatwas the colour of Mother's eyes? Which was taller, Father or Mother? WasMother blonde or brunette? Answer all three questions if possible.""(A) Write an essay of not less than 40 words on How I spent my lastHolidays, or The Characters of Father and Mother compared. Only one ofthese to be attempted." Or "(1) Describe Mother's laugh; (2) DescribeFather's laugh; (3) Describe Mother's Party Dress; (4) Describe theKennel and its Inmate."

  They were just everyday questions like these, and when you could notanswer them you were told to make a cross; and it was really dreadfulwhat a number of crosses even John made. Of course the only boy whoreplied to every question was Slightly, and no one could have been morehopeful of coming out first, but his answers were perfectly ridiculous,and he really came out last: a melancholy thing.

  Peter did not compete. For one thing he despised all mothers exceptWendy, and for another he was the only boy on the island who couldneither write nor spell; not the smallest word. He was above all thatsort of thing.

  By the way, the questions were all written in the past tense. Whatwas the colour of Mother's eyes, and so on. Wendy, you see, had beenforgetting, too.

  Adventures, of course, as we shall see, were of daily occurrence; butabout this time Peter invented, with Wendy's help, a new game thatfascinated him enormously, until he suddenly had no more interest in it,which, as you have been told, was what always happened with his games.It consisted in pretending not to have adventures, in doing the sort ofthing John and Michael had been doing all their lives, sitting on stoolsflinging balls in the air, pushing each other, going out for walks andcoming back without having killed so much as a grizzly. To see Peterdoing nothing on a stool was a great sight; he could not help lookingsolemn at such times, to sit
still seemed to him such a comic thing todo. He boasted that he had gone walking for the good of his health. Forseveral suns these were the most novel of all adventures to him; andJohn and Michael had to pretend to be delighted also; otherwise he wouldhave treated them severely.

  He often went out alone, and when he came back you were never absolutelycertain whether he had had an adventure or not. He might have forgottenit so completely that he said nothing about it; and then when you wentout you found the body; and, on the other hand, he might say a greatdeal about it, and yet you could not find the body. Sometimes he camehome with his head bandaged, and then Wendy cooed over him and bathedit in lukewarm water, while he told a dazzling tale. But she was neverquite sure, you know. There were, however, many adventures which sheknew to be true because she was in them herself, and there were stillmore that were at least partly true, for the other boys were in them andsaid they were wholly true. To describe them all would require a book aslarge as an English-Latin, Latin-English Dictionary, and the most we cando is to give one as a specimen of an average hour on the island. Thedifficulty is which one to choose. Should we take the brush with theredskins at Slightly Gulch? It was a sanguinary affair, andespecially interesting as showing one of Peter's peculiarities, whichwas that in the middle of a fight he would suddenly change sides. At theGulch, when victory was still in the balance, sometimes leaning this wayand sometimes that, he called out, "I'm redskin to-day; what are you,Tootles?" And Tootles answered, "Redskin; what are you, Nibs?" andNibs said, "Redskin; what are you Twin?" and so on; and they were allredskins; and of course this would have ended the fight had not the realredskins fascinated by Peter's methods, agreed to be lost boys for thatonce, and so at it they all went again, more fiercely than ever.

  The extraordinary upshot of this adventure was--but we have not decidedyet that this is the adventure we are to narrate. Perhaps a better onewould be the night attack by the redskins on the house under the ground,when several of them stuck in the hollow trees and had to be pulled outlike corks. Or we might tell how Peter saved Tiger Lily's life in theMermaids' Lagoon, and so made her his ally.

  Or we could tell of that cake the pirates cooked so that the boys mighteat it and perish; and how they placed it in one cunning spot afteranother; but always Wendy snatched it from the hands of her children, sothat in time it lost its succulence, and became as hard as a stone, andwas used as a missile, and Hook fell over it in the dark.

  Or suppose we tell of the birds that were Peter's friends, particularlyof the Never bird that built in a tree overhanging the lagoon, and howthe nest fell into the water, and still the bird sat on her eggs, andPeter gave orders that she was not to be disturbed. That is a prettystory, and the end shows how grateful a bird can be; but if we tellit we must also tell the whole adventure of the lagoon, which wouldof course be telling two adventures rather than just one. A shorteradventure, and quite as exciting, was Tinker Bell's attempt, with thehelp of some street fairies, to have the sleeping Wendy conveyed on agreat floating leaf to the mainland. Fortunately the leaf gave way andWendy woke, thinking it was bath-time, and swam back. Or again, we mightchoose Peter's defiance of the lions, when he drew a circle round himon the ground with an arrow and dared them to cross it; and though hewaited for hours, with the other boys and Wendy looking on breathlesslyfrom trees, not one of them dared to accept his challenge.

  Which of these adventures shall we choose? The best way will be to tossfor it.

  I have tossed, and the lagoon has won. This almost makes one wish thatthe gulch or the cake or Tink's leaf had won. Of course I could do itagain, and make it best out of three; however, perhaps fairest to stickto the lagoon.

 
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