Chapter 2 THE SHADOW
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 sprangat the boy, who leapt lightly through the window. Again Mrs. Darlingscreamed, 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 itwas not there; and she looked up, and in the black night she could seenothing 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 hadclosed it quickly, too late to catch him, but his shadow had not hadtime to get out; slam went the window and snapped it off.
You may be sure Mrs. Darling examined the shadow carefully, but it wasquite the ordinary kind.
Nana had no doubt of what was the best thing to do with this shadow. Shehung it out at the window, meaning He is sure to come back for it; letus put it where he can get it easily without disturbing the children.
But unfortunately Mrs. Darling could not leave it hanging out at thewindow, it looked so like the washing and lowered the whole tone of thehouse. She thought of showing it to Mr. Darling, but he was totting upwinter great-coats for John and Michael, with a wet towel around hishead 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 adog 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 sayafterwards to her husband, while perhaps Nana was on the other side ofher, 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 classicaleducation.
They sat thus night after night recalling that fatal Friday, till everydetail of it was stamped on their brains and came through on the otherside like the faces on a bad coinage.
If only I had not accepted that invitation to dine at 27, Mrs. Darlingsaid.
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 eyessaid.
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 thethought, It's true, it's true, they ought not to have had a dog fora nurse. Many a time it was Mr. Darling who put the handkerchief toNana's eyes.
That fiend! Mr. Darling would cry, and Nana's bark was the echo ofit, but Mrs. Darling never upbraided Peter; there was something in theright-hand corner of her mouth that wanted her not to call Peter names.
They would sit there in the empty nursery, recalling fondly everysmallest detail of that dreadful evening. It had begun so uneventfully,so precisely like a hundred other evenings, with Nana putting on thewater 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 hehad the last word on the subject, I won't, I won't. Nana, it isn't sixo'clock yet. Oh dear, oh dear, I shan't love you any more, Nana. I tellyou I won't be bathed, I won't, I won't!
Then Mrs. Darling had come in, wearing her white evening-gown. She haddressed early because Wendy so loved to see her in her evening-gown,with the necklace George had given her. She was wearing Wendy's braceleton her arm; she had asked for the loan of it. Wendy loved to lend herbracelet to her mother.
She had found her two older children playing at being herself and fatheron 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 realoccasion.
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 thebirth 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 thelady 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 beMichael'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. Darlingwould say, scorning himself; and indeed he had been like a tornado.
Perhaps there was some excuse for him. He, too, had been dressing forthe party, and all had gone well with him until he came to his tie. Itis an astounding thing to have to tell, but this man, though he knewabout stocks and shares, had no real mastery of his tie. Sometimes thething yielded to him without a contest, but there were occasions when itwould have been better for the house if he had swallowed his pride andused a made-up tie.
This was such an occasion. He came rushing into the nursery with thecrumpled 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. Hebecame 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 myneck, no! Oh dear no! begs to be excused!
He thought Mrs. Darling was not sufficiently impressed, and he went onsternly, I warn you of this, mother, that unless this tie is round myneck we don't go out to dinner to-night, and if I don't go out to dinnerto-night, I never go to the office again, and if I don't go to theoffice again, you and I starve, and our children will be flung into thestreets.
Even then Mrs. Darling was placid. Let me try, dear, she said, andindeed that was what he had come to ask her to do, and with her nicecool hands she tied his tie for him, while the children stood around tosee their fate decided. Some men would have resented her being able todo it so easily, but Mr. Darling had far too fine a nature for that; hethanked her carelessly, at once forgot his rage, and in another momentwas 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 getto know me, mother?'
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. Theywere not only new trousers, but they were the first he had ever hadwith braid on them, and he had had to bite his lip to prevent the tearscoming. Of course Mrs. Darling brushed him, but he began to talk againabout 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 thechildren as puppies.
Oh no, dear one, I feel sure she knows they have souls.
I wonder, Mr. Darling said thoughtfully, I wonder. It was anopportunity, his wife felt, for telling him about the boy. At first hepooh-poohed the story, but he became thoughtful when she showed him theshadow.
It is nobody I know, he said, examining it carefully, but it doeslook a scoundrel.
We were still discussing it, you remember, says Mr. Darling, whenNana came in with Michael's medicine. You will never carry the bottle inyour mouth again, Nana, and it is all my fault.
Strong man though he was, there is no doubt that he had behaved ratherfoolishly over the medicine. If he had a weakness, it was for thinkingthat all his life he had taken medicine boldly, and so now, when Michaeldodged 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 toget a chocolate for him, and Mr. Darling thought this showed want offirmness.
Mother, don't pamper him, he called after her. Michael, when I wasyour age I took medicine without a murmur. I said, 'Thank you, kindparents, for giving me bottles to make me well.'
He really thought this was true, and Wendy, who was now in hernight-gown, believed it also, and she said, to encourage Michael, Thatmedicine you sometimes take, father, is much nastier, isn't it?
Ever so much nastier, Mr. Darling said bravely, and I would take itnow 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 thetop of the wardrobe and hidden it there. What he did not know was thatthe 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. Immediatelyhis 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 rushedWendy 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 avindictive politeness that was quite thrown away upon her. Michaelfirst, 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 ismore in my glass than in Michael's spoon. His proud heart was nearlybursting. And it isn't fair: I would say it though it were with my lastbreath; 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 exclaimed.
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 ifthey 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 asplendid joke. I shall pour my medicine into Nana's bowl, and she willdrink it, thinking it is milk!
It was the colour of milk; but the children did not have their father'ssense of humour, and they looked at him reproachfully as he poured themedicine into Nana's bowl. What fun! he said doubtfully, and they didnot dare expose him when Mrs. Darling and Nana returned.
Nana, good dog, he said, patting her, I have put a little milk intoyour bowl, Nana.
Nana wagged her tail, ran to the medicine, and began lapping it. Thenshe gave Mr. Darling such a look, not an angry look: she showed him thegreat red tear that makes us so sorry for noble dogs, and crept into herkennel.
Mr. Darling was frightfully ashamed of himself, but he would not givein. In a horrid silence Mrs. Darling smelt the bowl. O George, shesaid, it's your medicine!
It was only a joke, he roared, while she comforted her boys, and Wendyhugged Nana. Much good, he said bitterly, my wearing myself to thebone 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 Ibe coddled--why, why, why!
George, Mrs. Darling entreated him, not so loud; the servantswill hear you. Somehow they had got into the way of calling Liza theservants.
Let them! he answered recklessly. Bring in the whole world. But Irefuse 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 herback. 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 upthis instant.
George, George, Mrs. Darling whispered, remember what I told youabout that boy.
Alas, he would not listen. He was determined to show who was master inthat house, and when commands would not draw Nana from the kennel, helured her out of it with honeyed words, and seizing her roughly, draggedher from the nursery. He was ashamed of himself, and yet he did it.It was all owing to his too affectionate nature, which craved foradmiration. When he had tied her up in the back-yard, the wretchedfather went and sat in the passage, with his knuckles to his eyes.
In the meantime Mrs. Darling had put the children to bed in unwontedsilence and lit their night-lights. They could hear Nana barking, andJohn whimpered, It is because he is chaining her up in the yard, butWendy was wiser.
That is not Nana's unhappy bark, she said, little guessing what wasabout to happen; that is her bark when she smells danger.
Are you sure, Wendy?
Mrs. Darling quivered and went to the window. It was securely fastened.She looked out, and the night was peppered with stars. They werecrowding round the house, as if curious to see what was to take placethere, but she did not notice this, nor that one or two of the smallerones winked at her. Yet a nameless fear clutched at her heart and madeher 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 heasked, Can anything harm us, mother, after the night-lights are lit?
Nothing, precious, she said; they are the eyes a mother leaves behindher to guard her children.
She went from bed to bed singing enchantments over them, and littleMichael 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 ofsnow, and Father and Mother Darling picked their way over it deftly notto soil their shoes. They were already the only persons in the street,and all the stars were watching them. Stars are beautiful, but they maynot take an active part in anything, they must just look on for ever. Itis a punishment put on them for something they did so long ago that nostar now knows what it was. So the older ones have become glassy-eyedand seldom speak (winking is the star language), but the littleones still wonder. They are not really friendly to Peter, who had amischievous 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, andanxious to get the grown-ups out of the way. So as soon as the doorof 27 closed on Mr. and Mrs. Darling there was a commotion in thefirmament, and the smallest of all the stars in the Milky Way screamedout: