This is the story of the boy who never grew up.
Chapter 7 – The Home Under the Ground
The next day, one of the first things Peter did was measure Wendy, John, and Michael.
Hook, you remember, had laughed at the boys for making seven different tree doors, but this was Hook’s ignorance. Because actually, unless the tree fits you exactly, it was difficult to go up and down. And no two boys were exactly the same size. When you go in the hole, you fit exactly. To go down, you have to suck in your breath, and you’ll slip down at exactly the right speed. To go up, you have to breath in and out rapidly and wiggle your body up. It might sound difficult, but once you’ve mastered it, you can go up and down very gracefully.
But you have to fit exactly. So Peter measured them for their trees as carefully as a tailor would measure a gentleman for a suit.
Of course, the trees can’t be adjusted to fit the children, so the children must be adjusted to fit the trees. Peter made sure the children weren’t bumpy or anything.
Wendy and Michael fitted their trees perfectly as is. But John had to be adjusted a little.
After practicing for a few days, they could go up and down as easily as a bucket in a well. And they grew to love their home under the ground; especially Wendy. It consisted of one large room. The floor was dirt, and you could dig down if you wanted to go fishing. This floor grew thick mushrooms of a charming color, which were used as stools.
A tree was trying hard to grow in the center of the room, but every morning they sawed the trunk down so that it was level with the floor. By tea time, it was always about two feet high, which made it perfect for a table. After they finished tea, they cleared the table and sawed the trunk down again so that there was more room to play.
There was an enormous fireplace. In front of it, Wendy stretched strings so that she could hang the laundry.
The bed was leaned against the wall by day. It was let down at 6:30 and it filled nearly half of the room. Except for Michael, all the boys slept in it, lying like sardines in a tin can. They were so packed into the bed that there had to be strict rules: no one was allowed to roll over until someone gave a signal. After the signal, they all rolled over at once.
Michael should have slept in the bed too, but Wendy wanted to have a baby to take care of. Since Michael was the littlest, she hung him up in a basket. The basket was rough and simple, like something a baby bear would sleep in.
And there was one hole in the wall, no larger than a bird cage, which was the private apartment of Tinker Bell. It could be shut off from the rest of the house by a tiny curtain. Tinker Bell was very careful to close the curtains when dressing or undressing. No woman, however large or small, has had a more exquisite bedroom. The couch was stylish. And she frequently changed the bedspreads depending on what fruit was in season. She had a long mirror which wasn’t chipped. The washstand was elegant and reversible. Her drawers were antiques. The rugs were rare and expensive. There was even a chandelier hanging from the ceiling. She never used it, though, because her own body could light the room well enough. Tinker Bell was very proud of her room, so as always, she had her nose high in the air.
Wendy was a very busy mother. Because of those wild boys, she would sometimes spend whole weeks underground. The cooking kept her nose to the pot. Whether there was food or not, she had to keep watching it. You never knew if there would be a real meal or just a make-believe meal. It all depended on Peter’s whim. He could eat, really eat, if it was part of a game. But he could not feel hunger just to feel hunger.
Make-believe was so real to him that during a pretend meal, you could see him getting rounder and rounder. Of course, it was annoying, but you just had to follow his lead.
Wendy’s favorite time for sewing was after they had all gone to bed. Then she finally had breathing time for herself, and she used that time to make new things for them and stitching up the holes in their clothes.
Do you remember that she dreamed of a pet wolf? Well, the wolf very soon discovered that she had come to the island. It found her and they just ran into each other’s arms. After that, it followed her around everywhere.
As time went on, did she think much about her beloved parents she had left behind? This is a difficult question because it is quite impossible to say how time passes in Neverland, where it is calculated by moons and suns. There seem to be many more moons and suns in Neverland. But Wendy didn’t really worry about her father and mother because she was absolutely confident that they would always keep the window for her to fly back in. This gave her complete ease of mind.
But there was something that disturbed her at times. John only remembered his parents vaguely as the people he had once lived with. And Michael seemed to believe that Wendy was his mother. These things scared her a little, and made her work harder. She tried to tell them stories of their old life and she even gave them exams.
The other boys thought it was really interesting and insisted on taking the exams, too. They all sat around the table, writing and thinking hard about the questions she had written down. They were the most ordinary questions:
“What was the color of Mother’s eyes?”
“Who was taller, Father or Mother?”
“Was Mother blonde or brunette?”
“Write an essay of at least 40 words about your last family vacation.”
“Describe Mother’s laugh.”
“Describe Father’s laugh.”
“Describe Mother’s Party Dress.”
“Describe the doghouse and the dog.”
They were just everyday questions like these. Wendy told them to write an “X” if they couldn’t remember the answer. The number of X’s John wrote was dreadful. The only boy who replied to every question was Slightly. Of course, his answers were perfectly ridiculous and he ended up having the lowest score.
Peter did not participate. For one thing, he despised all mothers except Wendy. And for another thing, he was the only boy on the island who couldn’t write. Not even the smallest word.
Adventures were a daily occurrence. I’ll tell you more about that soon.
Unfortunately, at this time, Peter invented (with Wendy’s help) a new game which delighted him. The game was to pretend not to have adventures. Instead, they did the sort of things that John and Michael had been doing all their lives: sitting on stools, throwing balls in the air, pushing each other, and going out for walks without killing anything.
It was extraordinary to see Peter sitting on a stool and doing nothing. He couldn’t help but look serious. For several days, this was the most exciting game for him. And John and Michael had to pretend to enjoy it also, otherwise they would have been punished.
When he got bored of this game, he returned to his usual adventures. He often went out alone, and when he came back, you were never really certain whether he had been on an adventure or not. Sometimes you could go outside and find a dead body. If you asked Peter about it, sometimes he could describe what happened in great detail, but sometimes he couldn’t remember anything.
Sometimes Peter came home with his head bandaged. When this happened, Wendy took care of him and gave him a bath, and she listened to his dazzling story. But she was never quite sure, you know, whether it was true or make-believe.
There were, however, many adventures which she knew to be true because she was in them herself.
I want to tell you about all these adventures. The difficulty is which one to choose. Should we take the brush with the natives at the Gulch? It was a bloody battle, and especially interesting because it showed one of Peter’s strange habits—he sometimes changed sides in the middle of the fight.
At the Gulch battle, when victory was still unclear, he sometimes leaned one way and sometimes leaned the other way. He called out, “I’m a native today. What are you, Tootles?”
And Tootles answered, “Native. What are you Nibs?”
And Nibs said, “Native. What are you Twins?” And so on.
And they were all natives. And of course, this should have ended the fight because everyone was on the same team. However, the real natives were fascinated by Peter’s methods, so they decided to become lost boys. And then, they went on fighting.
I’d like to tell you what happened in the end, but actually, this isn’t the adventure that I wanted to narrate.
A better tale to tell would be the night attack by the natives on the house under the ground. Of course, they didn’t fit perfectly in the hollow trees and they got stuck. They had to be pulled out like corks from a wine bottle.
Or I could tell you about the adventure where Peter saved Tiger Lily’s life in the Mermaids’ Lagoon and made her his ally.
Or I could continue that story of when the pirates baked a cake so that the boys might eat it and die. They placed the cake in one cunning spot after another, but Wendy always snatched it from the hands of her children. She snatched it away so many times that the cake had eventually become old and hard. The pirates decided to use it as a missile, but Hook fell over it in the dark.
Oh! Or how about the story of the birds that were Peter’s friends? There was a Never bird that built a nest in a tree overhanging the lagoon. The nest fell into the water, but the bird still sat on her eggs. Peter gave orders that no one could disturb her. That’s a pretty story, and the ending shows how grateful a bird can be. But if I told you that adventure, I would have to explain the whole lagoon, which would become two stories rather than just one.
A shorter adventure, and just as exciting, was when Tinker Bell attempted (with the help of some street fairies) to send the sleeping Wendy back home on a great floating leaf. Fortunately, the leaf broke apart and Wendy woke up and swam back.
Or, we could talk about when Peter defied the lions. He drew a circle around himself on the ground and dared the lions to cross the line. He waited for hours as Wendy and the boys watched breathlessly from the trees. Not a single lion dared to accept his challenge.
Which of these adventures should we talk about? I can’t decide, so I’ll flip a coin.
I’ve flipped a coin, and the story of the lagoon has won.