This is the story of the boy who never grew up.
Chapter 8 – The Mermaid’s Lagoon
The children often spent long summer days on this lagoon, swimming or floating most of the time, playing the mermaid games in the water, and so forth.
But don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not saying that the mermaids were on friendly terms with them. On the contrary, talking kindly to the mermaids was one of Wendy’s biggest regrets.
The mermaids loved to bask in the sun, combing their hair in a lazy way. This really irritated Wendy. And when she tried to swim up to them, they always dived into the water, splashing their tails.
They treated all the boys coldly, too, except, of course, for Peter. He chatted with them on the rocks for hours. And they even let him sit on their tails. One of the mermaids gave him her comb, which he gave to Wendy.
On sunny days after rain, the mermaids all came to the surface to play with bubbles. The rainbow in the sky made the bubbles change colors. The mermaids played with the colorful bubbles as if they were balls, hitting them with their tails until they burst. It was a beautiful sight to see the mermaids playing under the rainbow.
But the moment the children tried to join the game, the mermaids immediately disappeared. The mermaids must have been watching them from under the water, because after John started hitting the bubbles with his head, the mermaids adopted the technique. This was one of the lasting impressions that John made on Neverland.
Seeing the mermaids at night was a very haunting experience. They wailed strange cries. But the lagoon is dangerous for humans at night.
I want to tell you a tale about the first time Wendy saw the lagoon at night.
It started as a normal day. The children were resting on a large rock after lunch. Wendy insisted they rested after meals, even if it was a make-believe meal.
Wendy sat beside them, looking important. While the boys were dozing, she was busy with her sewing.
As she focused on her stitch, a change came to the lagoon. Little shivers ran over it, the sun went away, and shadows poured across the water, turning it cold. Wendy could no longer see her needle, and when she looked up, the lagoon was no longer a friendly place.
She knew it wasn’t actually nighttime, but something as dark as night had come. No, worse than that. What was it?
She decided to wake up the children, not just because of some unknown darkness that was coming toward them, but also because it wasn’t good for them to sleep on a cold rock. But then she remembered her rule: After lunch, children must take a thirty-minute nap.
So, even though fear was upon her and she wanted to hear the boys’ voices, she would not wake them. Even when she heard the sound of oars in the water, even when her heart was in her mouth, she did not wake them. She stood over them to let them finish their sleep.
Don’t you think Wendy was very brave?
But there was one boy who could smell danger coming, even in his sleep. Peter jumped up, as wide awake as a guard dog, and with one warning call, he woke the other boys.
He stood motionless, one hand to his ear.
“Pirates!” he cried. The others came closer to him. A strange smile was playing on his face, and Wendy saw it and shuddered. While that smile was on his face no one dared to talk to him; all they could do was to stand ready to obey. The order came sharply.
There was a gleam of legs, and instantly the lagoon seemed deserted.
The boat drew nearer. It was a small pirate boat, with three figures in it, Smee and Starkey, and a captive. The captive was no other than Tiger Lily. Her hands and ankles were tied, and she knew what her fate was. She was going to be left on the rock to perish. It was more terrible than death by fire or torture. Yet, her face was impassive. She was the daughter of the chief, so she must die with honor.
How had she been caught? The pirates found her boarding the pirate ship with a knife in her mouth.
Hook had always boasted that they didn’t need to guard their ship because the wind guarded it. Now, Tiger Lily’s fate would be to perish on the large rock, crying into the wind.
But in the darkness, the two pirates did not see the rock until they crashed into it.
“Starkey, you fool!” cried Smee. “Here’s the rock. Now, then, let’s put this native on the rock and leave her here to die.”
It only took the men a short moment to put the beautiful girl on the rock because she was too proud to try to fight back in vain.
Near the rock, but out of sight, two heads were bobbing up and down: Peter’s and Wendy’s. Wendy was crying because it was the first tragedy she had seen. Peter had seen many tragedies, but he had forgotten them all. He didn’t feel sorry for Tiger Lily, but it angered him that it was two against one, so he wanted to save her.
An easy way would have been to wait until the pirates were gone. But Peter never liked the easy way. Besides fighting, Peter had many other talents, including imitating voices.
Peter called out in a voice that sounded just Hook’s. “Ahoy there, you fools!” he called. It was a marvelous imitation.
“The captain!” said the pirates, staring at each other in surprise.
They looked around in the darkness but couldn’t see a boat.
“He must be swimming out to us,” Starkey said.
“We are putting the native on the rock,” Smee called out.
“Set her free,” came the astonishing answer.
“Yes, cut her ropes and let her go.”
“At once, you hear,” cried Peter, “or I’ll plunge my hook in you.”
“This is strange!” Smee gasped.
“You’d better do what the captain orders,” said Starkey nervously.
“Ay, ay,” Smee said, and he cut Tiger Lily’s ropes.
Like an eel, she slid between Starkey’s legs and down into the water.
Of course, Wendy was very happy about Peter’s cleverness. But she knew that Peter would be happy too, and he might get carried away with it and start crowing. She put her hand over his mouth to prevent it.
“Boat ahoy!” Hook’s voice rang over the lagoon. This time, it was not Peter who had spoken.
“Boat ahoy!” again came the voice.
Now Wendy understood. The real Hook was also in the water.
He was swimming to the boat. The men used a light to guide him.
In the light of the lantern, Wendy saw his hook grip the boat’s side. She saw his evil face as he came out of the water. She wanted to swim away, but Peter didn’t move. He was tingling with excitement.
“I am a genius. Aren’t I amazing?” Peter whispered to Wendy. He gestured to listen to the pirates.
“Captain, is everything alright?” they asked timidly, but he answered with a hollow moan.
“He sighs,” said Smee.
“He sighs again,” said Starkey.
“And yet a third time he sighs,” said Smee.
Then at last, he spoke passionately.
“The game’s up,” he cried, “those boys have found a mother.”
Even though she was frightened, Wendy swelled with pride.
“Oh, evil day!” cried Starkey.
“What’s a mother?” asked the ignorant Smee.
Wendy was so shocked that she exclaimed. “He doesn’t know!” and always after this she felt sorry for Smee.
Peter pulled her beneath the water, for Hook had stood up, crying, “What was that sound?”
“I heard nothing,” said Starkey, raising the lantern over the waters, and as the pirates looked they saw a strange sight.
Do you remember the story I told you about the Never bird whose nest fell into the lagoon? Well, that is what they saw: the Never bird sitting on her nest on the lagoon.
“Look,” said Hook. “That is a mother. What a lesson! The nest must have fallen into the water, but did the mother abandon her eggs? No.”
His voice broke, as if for a moment he remembered innocent childhood days. But he quickly brushed away the memory.
Smee, very impressed, looked at the bird on her nest as it floated past.
But Starkey, who was more suspicious, said, “If she is a mother, perhaps she is hanging around here to help Peter.”
Hook winced. “Ay,” he said, “that is the fear that haunts me.”
“Captain,” said Smee, “could we kidnap these boys’ mother and make her our mother?”
“That’s a great scheme,” cried Hook, and at once it took shape in his great brain. “We will seize the children and carry them to the boat. The boys will walk the plank into the sea, and Wendy will be our mother.”
Again Wendy forgot herself.
“Never!” she cried.
“What was that?”
But they could see nothing. They thought it must have been a leaf in the wind. “Do you agree, men?” asked Hook.
“There is my hand on it,” they both said.
“And there is my hook. Swear.”
They all swore. Suddenly Hook remembered Tiger Lily.
“Where is the native?” he demanded abruptly.
Hook sometimes liked to make jokes, and so the men thought this was one of those moments.
“Don’t worry, captain,” Smee answered cheerfully. “We let her go.”
“Let her go!” cried Hook.
“Just like you said,” he answered.
“You called over the water to us to let her go,” said Starkey.
“What in the odd bobs,” thundered Hook. “What is going on here!” His face had gone black with rage, but he could see that his men were telling the truth–or at least, what they thought was the truth.
“Men,” he said, shaking a little, “I gave no such order.”
“That’s very strange,” Smee said. They all fidgeted uncomfortably.
Hook raised his voice, but there was a quiver in it. “Spirit that haunts this dark lagoon, can you hear me?”
Of course, Peter should have kept quiet. But he did not. He immediately answered in Hook’s voice:
“Odd bobs! I hear you.”
In that moment, Hook did not flinch, but Smee and Starkey clung to each other in terror.
“Who are you, stranger? Speak!” Hook demanded.
“I am James Hook,” replied the voice, “captain of the JOLLY ROGER.”
“You are not. You are not,” Hook cried hoarsely.
“Odd bobs!” the voice retorted. “Say that again, and I’ll throw an anchor at you.”
Hook tried a more friendly manner. “If you are Hook,” he said almost humbly, “then tell me, who am I?”
“A codfish,” replied the voice, “only a codfish.”
“A codfish!” Hook echoed blankly. That broke his proud spirit. He saw his men step back from him.
“Have we been fooled all this time by a codfish!” they muttered. “How shameful!”
His dogs were about to turn against him. But he didn’t care. He didn’t need their belief. He only needed himself.
He felt his own ego slipping from him. “Don’t abandon me,” he whispered to his own spirit.
Hook had a dark nature, but there was a touch of femininity in him. It’s true for all great pirates, and it gives them good intuitions.
Suddenly, he decided to try the guessing game.
“Hook,” the real Hook called, “do you have another voice?”
Peter could never resist a game, and so he answered happily in his own voice, “I do.”
“And another name?”
“Are you a vegetable?” asked Hook.
“An animal. Alright. What type of animal? A man?”
“No!” This answer rang out angrily.
To Wendy’s pain the answer that rang out this time was “Yes.”
“Are you in England?”
“Are you here?”
Hook was completely puzzled. He couldn’t think of any more questions to ask.
“You ask him some questions,” he said to the others, wiping the sweat from his forehead.
Smee reflected. “I can’t think of anything,” he said regretfully.
“Can’t guess! Can’t guess!” crowed Peter. “Do you give up?”
Peter’s pride went too far, and the pirates saw their chance.
“Yes, yes,” they answered eagerly.
“Well, then,” he cried, “I am Peter Pan.”
Pan! In a moment Hook was himself again, and Smee and Starkey were his faithful dogs.
“Now we have him,” Hook shouted. “Into the water, Smee. Starkey, mind the boat. Take him dead or alive!”
He leaped as he spoke, and simultaneously, Peter’s happy voice rang out:
“Are you ready, boys?”
“Ay, ay,” from various parts of the lagoon.
“Then ram into the pirates!”
The fight was short and sharp. The first to draw blood was John, who had bravely climbed up into the boat and attacked Starkey. There was a fierce struggle, and the sword was pulled from the pirate’s grasp. He fell overboard and John leapt in after him. The boat drifted away.
Here and there, a head bobbed up from the water, and there was a flash of steel, followed by a cry or a cheer. In the confusion, some of them struck their own side.
Smee’s Johnny Corkscrew got Tootles below the fourth rib. Then, Tootles was hit by Curly. Farther away, Starkey was advancing on Slightly and the Twins.
And all this time, where was Peter? He was looking for a bigger game.
The other boys were all brave, so please don’t blame them for avoiding a fight with Hook. Hook is very fearsome, you know. The boys fled from him like scared fish.
But there was one who did not fear him: Peter Pan.
Hook rose to the rock to breathe, and at the same moment, Peter scaled it on the opposite side. The rock was slippery, so they had to crawl rather than climb. Neither of them knew that the other was coming. They both reached out their arms to find a grip and met one another’s arm. In surprise, they lifted their heads and were nose to nose.
Some of the greatest heroes have confessed that just before they fell, they had a sinking feeling. But at that moment, Peter didn’t have any sinking feeling. Only gladness.
As quick as the eye can see, Peter snatched a knife from Hook’s belt and was about to stab his enemy. But he stopped when he realized that he was higher up on the rock than Hook. This would not have been a fair fight, so he paused to help Hook up.
It was then that Hook bit him.
Peter was dazed—not from the pain, but from the unfairness of it. It made him quite helpless. He could only stare, horrified.
Every child is affected like this the first time they are treated unfairly. They might forgive you for it, but they will never forget. It changes the child.
Well, no child ever forgets, except Peter. He often met unfairness, but he always forgot it. That was the main difference between Peter and other children.
So, when he met unfairness now, it was like the first time. He could only stare, helpless. Twice, the iron hook clawed him.
But only a few moments later, Hook was in the water, swimming wildly for the ship. He had no darkness or evil in his face, only fear. White fear.
What caused his fear? Well, just listen: Tick, tock, tick, tock.
The crocodile was in pursuit of Hook.
In this situation, normally the boys would have been cheering and swimming alongside the crocodile. But now, they were uneasy because they had lost sight of both Peter and Wendy. They scoured the lagoon for them and called out their names. They found the little boat and went home in it, shouting “Peter, Wendy” as they went. No answer came back except for the mocking laughter of the mermaids.
“They must be swimming back or flying,” the boys concluded. They were not very anxious because they had such faith in Peter. They chuckled because they would be late for bed, and it was mother Wendy’s fault.
When they left the lagoon and their voices faded away, there was a cold silence over the lagoon. And then, there was a feeble cry.
Two small figures were beating against the rock. The girl had fainted and lay on the boy’s arm. With a last effort, Peter pulled her up the rock and then lay down beside her. He saw that the water was rising quickly, and that they would soon drown, but he couldn’t move. He fainted next to Wendy.
As they lay side by said, a mermaid grabbed Wendy’s food and began pulling her softly into the water. Peter, feeling her slip away, woke up with a start. He grabbed her just in time to pull her back.
“Wendy,” he said, “we are on the rock. But it is getting smaller. Soon the water will be over it.”
But she didn’t understand his words.
“We must go,” she whispered, almost brightly.
“Yes,” he answered faintly.
“Should we swim or fly, Peter?”
He had to tell her the truth. “Do you think you could swim or fly as far as the island, Wendy, without my help?”
She had to admit that she was too tired.
“What is it?” she asked, anxious about him at once.
“I can’t help you, Wendy. Hook wounded me. I can neither fly nor swim.”
“Do you mean we’ll both drown?”
“Look how the water is rising.”
They put their hands over their eyes to shut out the sight. They thought they would soon perish. As they sat, something brushed against Peter, as light as a kiss, and stayed there.
It was the tail of a kite, which Michael had made a few days before. It had gotten lost in the wind.
“Michael’s kite,” Peter said without interest. But the next moment, he seized the tail and pulled the kite toward him.
“It was strong enough to lift Michael off the ground,” he cried. “It could carry you!”
“Both of us!”
“It can’t lift two. Michael and Curly tried.”
“You should take the kite,” Wendy said bravely.
“And leave you behind? Never.” Already he had tied the kite tail around her. She clung to him. She refused to go without him. But with a “Good-bye, Wendy,” he pushed her from the rock, and in a few minutes, she flew out of sight.
Peter was alone on the lagoon.
The rock was very small now. Soon it would be submerged. Pale rays of light danced across the water, and from all around the lagoon, the mermaids began singing to the moon.
Peter was not like other boys, but in this moment, he was afraid. A tremor ran through his body, like a wave over the sea. But when there is one wave over the sea, there are a hundred other waves that follow. For Peter, there was only one wave. The next moment, he was standing up on the rock again with a big smile on his face.
“To die is a big adventure.”