Peter Pan > Chapter 17
Bookmark Peter Pan, chapter 17 for future reference.
- by J.M. Barrie
Chapter 17 — WHEN WENDY GREW UP
I hope you want to know what became of the other boys. They
were waiting below to give Wendy time to explain about them; and
when they had counted five hundred they went up. They went up by
the stair, because they thought this would make a better
impression. They stood in a row in front of Mrs. Darling, with
their hats off, and wishing they were not wearing their pirate
clothes. They said nothing, but their eyes asked her to have
them. They ought to have looked at Mr. Darling also, but they
forgot about him.
Of course Mrs. Darling said at once that she would have them;
but Mr. Darling was curiously depressed, and they saw that he
considered six a rather large number.
"I must say," he said to Wendy, "that you don't do things by
halves," a grudging remark which the twins thought was pointed at
The first twin was the proud one, and he asked, flushing, "Do
you think we should be too much of a handful, sir? Because, if
so, we can go away."
"Father!" Wendy cried, shocked; but still the cloud was on him.
He knew he was behaving unworthily, but he could not help it.
"We could lie doubled up," said Nibs.
"I always cut their hair myself," said Wendy.
"George!" Mrs. Darling exclaimed, pained to see her dear one
showing himself in such an unfavourable light.
Then he burst into tears, and the truth came out. He was as
glad to have them as she was, he said, but he thought they should
have asked his consent as well as hers, instead of treating him
as a cypher [zero] in his own house.
"I don't think he is a cypher," Tootles cried instantly. "Do
you think he is a cypher, Curly?"
"No, I don't. Do you think he is a cypher, Slightly?"
"Rather not. Twin, what do you think?"
It turned out that not one of them thought him a cypher; and he
was absurdly gratified, and said he would find space for them all
in the drawing-room if they fitted in.
"We'll fit in, sir," they assured him.
"Then follow the leader," he cried gaily. "Mind you, I am not
sure that we have a drawing-room, but we pretend we have, and
it's all the same. Hoop la!"
He went off dancing through the house, and they all cried "Hoop
la!" and danced after him, searching for the drawing-room; and I
forget whether they found it, but at any rate they found corners,
and they all fitted in.
As for Peter, he saw Wendy once again before he flew away. He
did not exactly come to the window, but he brushed against it in
passing so that she could open it if she liked and call to him.
That is what she did.
"Hullo, Wendy, good-bye," he said.
"Oh dear, are you going away?"
"You don't feel, Peter," she said falteringly, "that you would
like to say anything to my parents about a very sweet subject?"
"About me, Peter?"
Mrs. Darling came to the window, for at present she was keeping
a sharp eye on Wendy. She told Peter that she had adopted all
the other boys, and would like to adopt him also.
"Would you send me to school?" he inquired craftily.
"And then to an office?"
"I suppose so."
"Soon I would be a man?"
"I don't want to go to school and learn solemn things," he told
her passionately. "I don't want to be a man. O Wendy's mother,
if I was to wake up and feel there was a beard!"
"Peter," said Wendy the comforter, "I should love you in a
beard"; and Mrs. Darling stretched out her arms to him, but he
"Keep back, lady, no one is going to catch me and make me a
"But where are you going to live?"
"With Tink in the house we built for Wendy. The fairies are to
put it high up among the tree tops where they sleep at nights."
"How lovely," cried Wendy so longingly that Mrs. Darling
tightened her grip.
"I thought all the fairies were dead," Mrs. Darling said.
"There are always a lot of young ones," explained Wendy, who
was now quite an authority, "because you see when a new baby
laughs for the first time a new fairy is born, and as there are
always new babies there are always new fairies. They live in
nests on the tops of trees; and the mauve ones are boys and the
white ones are girls, and the blue ones are just little sillies
who are not sure what they are."
"I shall have such fun," said Peter, with eye on Wendy.
"It will be rather lonely in the evening," she said, "sitting
by the fire."
"I shall have Tink."
"Tink can't go a twentieth part of the way round," she reminded
him a little tartly.
"Sneaky tell-tale!" Tink called out from somewhere round the
"It doesn't matter," Peter said.
"O Peter, you know it matters."
"Well, then, come with me to the little house."
"May I, mummy?"
"Certainly not. I have got you home again, and I mean to keep
"But he does so need a mother."
"So do you, my love."
"Oh, all right," Peter said, as if he had asked her from
politeness merely; but Mrs. Darling saw his mouth twitch, and she
made this handsome offer: to let Wendy go to him for a week
every year to do his spring cleaning. Wendy would have preferred
a more permanent arrangement; and it seemed to her that spring
would be long in coming; but this promise sent Peter away quite
gay again. He had no sense of time, and was so full of
adventures that all I have told you about him is only a
halfpenny-worth of them. I suppose it was because Wendy knew
this that her last words to him were these rather plaintive ones:
"You won't forget me, Peter, will you, before spring cleaning
Of course Peter promised; and then he flew away. He took Mrs.
Darling's kiss with him. The kiss that had been for no one else,
Peter took quite easily. Funny. But she seemed satisfied.
Of course all the boys went to school; and most of them got
into Class III, but Slightly was put first into Class IV and then
into Class V. Class I is the top class. Before they had
attended school a week they saw what goats they had been not to
remain on the island; but it was too late now, and soon they
settled down to being as ordinary as you or me or Jenkins minor
[the younger Jenkins]. It is sad to have to say that the power
to fly gradually left them. At first Nana tied their feet to the
bed-posts so that they should not fly away in the night; and one
of their diversions by day was to pretend to fall off buses [the
English double-deckers]; but by and by they ceased to tug at
their bonds in bed, and found that they hurt themselves when they
let go of the bus. In time they could not even fly after their
hats. Want of practice, they called it; but what it really meant was
that they no longer believed.
Michael believed longer than the other boys, though they jeered
at him; so he was with Wendy when Peter came for her at the end
of the first year. She flew away with Peter in the frock she had
woven from leaves and berries in the Neverland, and her one fear
was that he might notice how short it had become; but he never
noticed, he had so much to say about himself.
She had looked forward to thrilling talks with him about old
times, but new adventures had crowded the old ones from his mind.
"Who is Captain Hook?" he asked with interest when she spoke of
the arch enemy.
"Don't you remember," she asked, amazed, "how you killed him
and saved all our lives?"
"I forget them after I kill them," he replied carelessly.
When she expressed a doubtful hope that Tinker Bell would be
glad to see her he said, "Who is Tinker Bell?"
"O Peter," she said, shocked; but even when she explained he
could not remember.
"There are such a lot of them," he said. "I expect she is no
I expect he was right, for fairies don't live long, but they
are so little that a short time seems a good while to them.
Wendy was pained too to find that the past year was but as
yesterday to Peter; it had seemed such a long year of waiting to
her. But he was exactly as fascinating as ever, and they had a
lovely spring cleaning in the little house on the tree tops.
Next year he did not come for her. She waited in a new frock
because the old one simply would not meet; but he never came.
"Perhaps he is ill," Michael said.
"You know he is never ill."
Michael came close to her and whispered, with a shiver,
"Perhaps there is no such person, Wendy!" and then Wendy would
have cried if Michael had not been crying.
Peter came next spring cleaning; and the strange thing was that
he never knew he had missed a year.
That was the last time the girl Wendy ever saw him. For a
little longer she tried for his sake not to have growing pains;
and she felt she was untrue to him when she got a prize for
general knowledge. But the years came and went without bringing
the careless boy; and when they met again Wendy was a married
woman, and Peter was no more to her than a little dust in the box
in which she had kept her toys. Wendy was grown up. You need
not be sorry for her. She was one of the kind that likes to grow
up. In the end she grew up of her own free will a day quicker
than other girls.
All the boys were grown up and done for by this time; so it is
scarcely worth while saying anything more about them. You may
see the twins and Nibs and Curly any day going to an office, each
carrying a little bag and an umbrella. Michael is an engine-
driver [train engineer]. Slightly married a lady of title, and
so he became a lord. You see that judge in a wig coming out at
the iron door? That used to be Tootles. The bearded man who
doesn't know any story to tell his children was once John.
Wendy was married in white with a pink sash. It is strange to
think that Peter did not alight in the church and forbid the
banns [formal announcement of a marriage].
Years rolled on again, and Wendy had a daughter. This ought
not to be written in ink but in a golden splash.
She was called Jane, and always had an odd inquiring look, as
if from the moment she arrived on the mainland she wanted to ask
questions. When she was old enough to ask them they were mostly
about Peter Pan. She loved to hear of Peter, and Wendy told her
all she could remember in the very nursery from which the famous
flight had taken place. It was Jane's nursery now, for her
father had bought it at the three per cents [mortgage rate] from
Wendy's father, who was no longer fond of stairs. Mrs. Darling
was now dead and forgotten.
There were only two beds in the nursery now, Jane's and her
nurse's; and there was no kennel, for Nana also had passed away.
She died of old age, and at the end she had been rather difficult
to get on with; being very firmly convinced that no one knew how
to look after children except herself.
Once a week Jane's nurse had her evening off; and then it was
Wendy's part to put Jane to bed. That was the time for stories.
It was Jane's invention to raise the sheet over her mother's head
and her own, this making a tent, and in the awful darkness to
"What do we see now?"
"I don't think I see anything to-night," says Wendy, with a
feeling that if Nana were here she would object to further
"Yes, you do," says Jane, "you see when you were a little girl."
"That is a long time ago, sweetheart," says Wendy. "Ah me, how
"Does it fly," asks the artful child, "the way you flew when
you were a little girl?"
"The way I flew? Do you know, Jane, I sometimes wonder whether
I ever did really fly."
"Yes, you did."
"The dear old days when I could fly!"
"Why can't you fly now, mother?"
"Because I am grown up, dearest. When people grow up they
forget the way."
"Why do they forget the way?"
"Because they are no longer gay and innocent and heartless. It is
only the gay and innocent and heartless who can fly."
"What is gay and innocent and heartless? I do wish I were gay
and innocent and heartless."
Or perhaps Wendy admits she does see something.
"I do believe," she says, "that it is this nursery."
"I do believe it is," says Jane. "Go on."
They are now embarked on the great adventure of the night when
Peter flew in looking for his shadow.
"The foolish fellow," says Wendy, "tried to stick it on with
soap, and when he could not he cried, and that woke me, and I
sewed it on for him."
"You have missed a bit," interrupts Jane, who now knows the
story better than her mother. "When you saw him sitting on the
floor crying, what did you say?"
"I sat up in bed and I said, `Boy, why are you crying?'"
"Yes, that was it," says Jane, with a big breath.
"And then he flew us all away to the Neverland and the fairies
and the pirates and the redskins and the mermaid's lagoon, and
the home under the ground, and the little house."
"Yes! which did you like best of all?"
"I think I liked the home under the ground best of all."
"Yes, so do I. What was the last thing Peter ever said to
"The last thing he ever said to me was, `Just always be
waiting for me, and then some night you will hear me crowing.'"
"But, alas, he forgot all about me," Wendy said it with a
smile. She was as grown up as that.
"What did his crow sound like?" Jane asked one evening.
"It was like this," Wendy said, trying to imitate Peter's crow.
"No, it wasn't," Jane said gravely, "it was like this"; and she
did it ever so much better than her mother.
Wendy was a little startled. "My darling, how can you know?"
"I often hear it when I am sleeping," Jane said.
"Ah yes, many girls hear it when they are sleeping, but I was
the only one who heard it awake."
"Lucky you," said Jane.
And then one night came the tragedy. It was the spring of the
year, and the story had been told for the night, and Jane was now
asleep in her bed. Wendy was sitting on the floor, very close to
the fire, so as to see to darn, for there was no other light in
the nursery; and while she sat darning she heard a crow. Then
the window blew open as of old, and Peter dropped in on the
He was exactly the same as ever, and Wendy saw at once that he
still had all his first teeth.
He was a little boy, and she was grown up. She huddled by the
fire not daring to move, helpless and guilty, a big woman.
"Hullo, Wendy," he said, not noticing any difference, for he
was thinking chiefly of himself; and in the dim light her white
dress might have been the nightgown in which he had seen her
"Hullo, Peter," she replied faintly, squeezing herself as small
as possible. Something inside her was crying "Woman, Woman, let
go of me."
"Hullo, where is John?" he asked, suddenly missing the third
"John is not here now," she gasped.
"Is Michael asleep?" he asked, with a careless glance at Jane.
"Yes," she answered; and now she felt that she was untrue to
Jane as well as to Peter.
"That is not Michael," she said quickly, lest a judgment should
fall on her.
Peter looked. "Hullo, is it a new one?"
"Boy or girl?"
Now surely he would understand; but not a bit of it.
"Peter," she said, faltering, "are you expecting me to fly away
"Of course; that is why I have come." He added a little
sternly, "Have you forgotten that this is spring cleaning time?"
She knew it was useless to say that he had let many spring
cleaning times pass.
"I can't come," she said apologetically, "I have forgotten how
"I'll soon teach you again."
"O Peter, don't waste the fairy dust on me."
She had risen; and now at last a fear assailed him. "What is
it?" he cried, shrinking.
"I will turn up the light," she said, "and then you can see for
For almost the only time in his life that I know of, Peter was
afraid. "Don't turn up the light," he cried.
She let her hands play in the hair of the tragic boy. She was
not a little girl heart-broken about him; she was a grown woman
smiling at it all, but they were wet eyed smiles.
Then she turned up the light, and Peter saw. He gave a cry of
pain; and when the tall beautiful creature stooped to lift him in
her arms he drew back sharply.
"What is it?" he cried again.
She had to tell him.
"I am old, Peter. I am ever so much more than twenty. I grew
up long ago."
"You promised not to!"
"I couldn't help it. I am a married woman, Peter."
"No, you're not."
"Yes, and the little girl in the bed is my baby."
"No, she's not."
But he supposed she was; and he took a step towards the
sleeping child with his dagger upraised. Of course he did not
strike. He sat down on the floor instead and sobbed; and Wendy
did not know how to comfort him, though she could have done it so
easily once. She was only a woman now, and she ran out of the
room to try to think.
Peter continued to cry, and soon his sobs woke Jane. She sat
up in bed, and was interested at once.
"Boy," she said, "why are you crying?"
Peter rose and bowed to her, and she bowed to him from the bed.
"Hullo," he said.
"Hullo," said Jane.
"My name is Peter Pan," he told her.
"Yes, I know."
"I came back for my mother," he explained, "to take her to the
"Yes, I know," Jane said, "I have been waiting for you."
When Wendy returned diffidently she found Peter sitting on the
bed-post crowing gloriously, while Jane in her nighty was flying
round the room in solemn ecstasy.
"She is my mother," Peter explained; and Jane descended and
stood by his side, with the look in her face that he liked to see
on ladies when they gazed at him.
"He does so need a mother," Jane said.
"Yes, I know." Wendy admitted rather forlornly; "no one knows
it so well as I."
"Good-bye," said Peter to Wendy; and he rose in the air, and
the shameless Jane rose with him; it was already her easiest way
of moving about.
Wendy rushed to the window.
"No, no," she cried.
"It is just for spring cleaning time," Jane said, "he wants me
always to do his spring cleaning."
"If only I could go with you," Wendy sighed.
"You see you can't fly," said Jane.
Of course in the end Wendy let them fly away together. Our
last glimpse of her shows her at the window, watching them
receding into the sky until they were as small as stars.
As you look at Wendy, you may see her hair becoming white, and
her figure little again, for all this happened long ago. Jane is
now a common grown-up, with a daughter called Margaret; and every
spring cleaning time, except when he forgets, Peter comes for
Margaret and takes her to the Neverland, where she tells him
stories about himself, to which he listens eagerly. When
Margaret grows up she will have a daughter, who is to be Peter's
mother in turn; and thus it will go on, so long as children are
gay and innocent and heartless.