Mr Barrie walked along the pavement with the usual spring in his step. Dressed in his evening best, he charged up the stone steps of Number 14 and rang the bell. As the door opened he could hear the laughter and felt the warmth of it, the Darling household.
Barrie was greeted by the beaming but shy face of Liza, the almost questionably young-looking housemaid. “Good evening Mr Barrie, sir.”
“Ah, Liza. You are looking as delightful as ever” Liza dropped a curtsy to hide her blushing cheeks, and took Mr Barrie’s hat and coat.
From out of the Drawing Room came Mrs Darling, the loveliest lady in Bloomsbury. “James! I am so glad you came. Are you well?” she asked, kissing Mr Barrie on the cheek.
“Oh yes... quite well, thank you Mary.” was his reply.
Mrs Darling gestured to him to follow her into the Drawing Room. He entered into what appeared to be either a jolly party or an out of control rabble; everywhere children were running about, dancing, laughing and shouting. In amongst all this, Mr Darling was attempting to regain some parental control. On hearing the door close he turned and, seeing Mr Barrie, smiled and grasped the other gentleman’s hand in a firm and friendly shake. “James! How are you? Please... sit down. Children! Children! Uncle James has arrived!”
A sudden throng of children were surrounding Mr Barrie. Nine children, to be precise, and all clamouring for James’ attention. “Uncle James!”
“Have you brought me a present?”
“Have you written any new stories?” All were bombarding him with questions as they always did, and Mr Darling was trying to quiet them as he always did. But as they settled, Barrie noticed a tenth child leaning against the piano and looking uninterestedly towards the other children. There was a touch of melancholy about the boy’s face, and there was a nervousness in the way he stood, as if ready to bolt at the slightest sign of danger.
“Well, hello... and who are you?” James kept his voice casual and friendly, but the boy only replied with a steely glare.
“James...” announced Mrs Darling as she walked over to the strange youth, “This is Peter.” The boy appeared agitated when she put her hands on his shoulders, but he said nothing and didn’t shrug her off.
“I’m very pleased to meet you Peter. My name is James Barrie. I hope we’ll be friends.” Peter looked up at him with a curious expression on his face, but still said nothing.
Wendy Darling, unable to control her own excitement, rushed forward and stood in front of Mr Barrie “Peter is to stay with us!” she almost giggled “He is our new brother!” At her words, Peter’s face flashed with anger and he barged past Mrs Darling and Wendy, slamming the Drawing Room door and stamping up the staircase.
Alone in the Nursery, Peter Pan did something he couldn’t remember doing before; he cried. But his sobs quickly became screams; screams of rage and desperation, of loss and pain. Furniture, books, and toys took the brunt of Peter’s anger, finding themselves flying across the room and crashing against the walls and floor.
Feeling a little more in control, Peter paused to survey the damage. There wasn’t much, but he was bound to be told off again for making such a mess. Catching his own reflection in the Nursery window, Peter hurried towards it and pushed it open. He climbed onto the ledge and peered over into the small, stone-paved garden below. There was a large tree growing in front of the window, but the nearest branch would take quite a leap to reach, and it seemed an awfully long way to fall. Nevertheless, Peter considered it. Or maybe he was hoping that if he jumped, he’d remember how to fly and be able to go home.
The sound of the Nursery door opening alerted Peter to the presence of Wendy. She stood still, her hand on the doorknob. Taking a quick glance around the room, her gaze returned to the boy on the window ledge, looking as though he were about to jump.
“Peter?” Her voice was nervous and pleading. She was sure he wouldn’t, but Wendy was shocked that he’d even consider it. Surely living here wasn’t so bad?
Peter slowly moved back, away from the open window, and with a harsh scowl, pushed past Wendy once again and returned downstairs. Wendy stayed for a few moments as she listened to Peter descending the stairs, then she too left the Nursery for the Drawing Room.
With all the children tucked up in bed, George Darling and James Barrie were enjoying a brandy each. Mary reappeared after her final patrol of the children’s bedrooms, and settled herself on the sofa.
“May I ask...” ventured Mr Barrie “How did you manage to come by another one to adopt?! Are you collecting the little darlings now?” Mary let out a charming laugh and George snickered at the humour.
“Any more and we shall burst at the seams!” He replied.
“Well actually, it was the strangest thing...” began Mrs Darling. “It was just like before, when the other boys just turned up, and Wendy insisted we keep them because they were her boys! Only, with Peter, Wendy awoke in the middle of the night to find him unconscious on the Nursery floor! Naturally we put him to bed and he woke up, apparently quite well, not long after. Of course, we couldn’t turn him away then, and he seemed terribly disorientated, poor child... but even so, he certainly didn’t want to stay. George had to hold onto him until he stopped panicking and trying to jump out of the window! It was all very unsettling.”
Mr Barrie sat back and pondered. “And... does he want to stay here now?” Mary glanced at her husband and gave a regretful smile.
“I’m afraid not. But he doesn’t leave because he has nowhere to go. We are sure he’ll be happy, once he’s settled in.”
“Oh, of course. Of course.” James assured them. “Tell me... where does he come from?” Mrs Darling’s gaze dropped to the floor as Mr Darling cleared his throat uncomfortably.
“He says... He says he comes from Neverland.”
Mr Barrie was indeed curious as to this new boy’s history. Of course, he was sure he was not Peter Pan, his own creation. How could he be? But the child was adamant when asked, and Wendy assured the adults that it was true.
But Mr Barrie was almost certain that it was he, himself who had dreamed up the flying, eternal boy of his stories, so how could this boy, clearly a solid child of flesh-and-blood, be a fictional character? It was not possible.
In all fairness, Barrie could not remember who had originally come up with Peter Pan. He was aware that the first stories had come about when playing with Wendy and John in Kensington Gardens, and it was perfectly possible that it was Wendy who had first planted the seed in Mr Barrie’s head. Could it be that she was describing a real child, and that her adventures with Peter Pan were true? Surely not.
In an effort to discover the truth and abate his own curiosity, Barrie began spending as much of his time as possible with Peter and the Darlings, and he was struck by the boy’s wilful, wild character, and the similarities this presented with Peter Pan of Neverland.
“Peter! You will play nicely or not at all.” George Darling’s stern tone broke through the shouts and laughter and brought silence. Peter looked up at Mr Darling’s angry gaze, and scowled back, pouting. Recently, he and John had not been getting along. They were not compatible to begin with, but in Neverland he had always been able to fly away and ignore him. But here, in the confinement of Number 14, there was no escaping one another.
Peter felt his own anger grow, upset that John was getting away with his own behaviour scot-free, again! “He started it!” Peter shouted, enraged.
“Do not raise your voice to me, young man!” Mr Darling had always held the role of disciplinarian, and took it very seriously. He was not usually successful, but he saw in Peter a serious need for strict punishment, and this toughened him towards the boy.
Peter’s scowl sharpened at the insult of being addressed as a ‘young man’; He was nothing of the sort. He was The Eternal Youth, and he would not grow up! He fought the urge to retaliate, and bit back the insult that was on the tip of his tongue.
It had not taken Peter long to decide he hated Wendy’s father; George fulfilled everything that Peter always knew he would loathe in a parent. But he was now in a constant battle to keep this hatred under control, fearing the damage it would do to his friendship with his Lost Boys and Wendy. He was right to fear this; the other children had fallen silent as they always did when Peter and their father clashed. They all felt ripped apart by their loyalty to both, and so would remain neutral until the storm had passed.
Mr Barrie watched the confrontation with interest. He preferred to avoid punishing the children, and was grateful there were adults there to do it for him. But he was questioning George’s treatment of Peter, singling him out as the trouble-maker in almost every incident. He saw now that Peter was not about to back down, so he decided to defuse the situation.
“John, perhaps you should apologise to Peter first, for teasing him.”
John gave him an incredulous look. “But I didn’t...” Mr Barrie’s stare stopped the boy in his tracks, and he grudgingly turned to Peter. “Sorry, Peter.” He mumbled, glaring at his own feet. Peter stared at him for a moment, then grinned triumphantly.
“That’s alright.” He answered, and turned back to the other boys to continue planning the rules of their next game.
“You’re supposed to say ‘sorry’ back!” squealed John, incredulous again. Peter glanced at him and smirked. He was not going to apologise for pushing John when John deserved it.
“Peter!” George’s voice was still loud and authoritative. “Apologise to your brother.”
“HE IS NOT MY BROTHER!” Peter screamed. This was what the onlookers had feared would happen. What usually followed now was a shouting match, ending with Peter being dragged to the Nursery to calm down, or smacked for insolence. Either way, the situation was bound to escalate.
Luckily for all involved, the doorbell rang at that very moment, and George Darling’s desire to not lose face in front of the neighbours won out. He straightened up, and glanced back at Peter, as if for that split second he’d forgotten the boy existed. All thoughts of discipline gone, he hurried the children into the front hall.
“Upstairs, all of you. It’s time for bed.” At these words, mayhem ensued; each of the children darted in opposite directions, all adamant that it certainly was not time for bed. This being a daily occurrence, the adults were ready for them.
Mr Darling managed to snag Michael and a twin, while Mrs Darling stopped Tootles with a hug. Liza gave chase and corralled Curly, John, and Slightly up the stairs towards their bedrooms, while Mr Barrie retrieved the remaining twin from his hiding place under the table.
By far, the most difficult of the boys at bedtime was Peter, followed closely by Nibs, and it was no surprise that the two often combined forces to resist the grownups’ greatest and most hated law (excluding bath time).
Mrs Darling knew full well that it would take a long time to get all the children tucked in; and not one to be easily shamed or embarrassed, she proceeded to the front door.
As Mary opened the door, Peter and Nibs launched the attack; they charged towards George and Mr Barrie wielding bows and arrows. The arrows were of course blunt, but both men ran to avoid being hit.
The angry shouts and wicked laughter flew past Mrs Darling as her eyes took in the visitor and her face beamed with delight. “Oliver! How lovely! I did not know you were even in the country!” She pulled the man into a firm embrace. “How are you?”
“Mary! Oh, fine, fine... quite well.” The man was young and rather handsome, with slick hair and a thin, trimmed moustache.
“George!” on hearing his wife’s call, Mr Darling relinquished his struggle to disarm Nibs and turned to her. “Look who’s here. It’s Oliver!”
Mr Darling smiled broadly at his guest, trying to ignore the twinge of embarrassment that shot through him. On walking towards Mary and Mr Hunt, George gave the man a hearty handshake and beckoned him on into the house. “Oliver, how are you? I haven’t seen you in years! Do come in.”
“George. It’s been too long!” On seeing Nibs he stopped, looking the boy up and down. “Hello... who’s this?”, he said in a heightened tone. Just as Mrs Darling answered, Peter shot out from within the kitchen and sped towards his friend. On seeing the new adult he skidded to an abrupt stop, and eyed the man suspiciously.
“And this is Peter.” Mary added.
James had come to stand in the doorway of the living room, and was shocked to see who the visitor was. It seemed it was only he who saw the sudden spark in Oliver Hunt’s eyes when Peter stopped in front of him. Mr Barrie watched as Hunt considered the boy, smirking, almost, to himself. Peter now scowled, feeling a touch of fear run up his spine; but it was fleeting. This man was just another grownup to ignore.
Oliver Hunt was known to Mr Barrie. He had heard rumours about the man’s darker indulgences; within the cricket club, of which Mr Barrie was a keen batsman, gossip ran rife, and it was said that Mr Hunt preferred the company of children for less than admirable intentions.
James understood the folly of such rumours, himself being the victim of such accusations after befriending the Darlings, but he himself had met with Oliver Hunt on occasion, and could not ignore the sense of menace that surrounded the man, and the strange, sinister tone apparent in his voice.
James did not like the man, and it troubled him to find that Oliver was first cousin to Mary Darling, and intent on visiting her for a prolonged holiday.
Mr Barrie became determined to keep a close eye on all the children, and proceeded to make certain none of them were ever left alone with their dear Uncle Oliver. Of course, he could not protect them at all times, especially with his current popularity as a writer...
In a feeble attempt to keep Hunt away from the children, James decided to voice his anxiety to Mrs Darling;
“Mary...” He stopped her as she turned away from the nursery door, once again having won the battle for bedtime. She smiled at him, clearly exhausted. She looked so lovely, Mr Barrie almost thought better of troubling her with such a sinister burden, but he pressed on.
“Mary, I... I have, in the past, been introduced to your cousin, and I even spent some time with him some years ago...” Here he paused, and Mary mistook this as a cue to respond.
“Oh really, James? And you both let me introduce you again the other day? How silly you’ve made me feel!” She giggled, and began making her way down the hall.
“No... Mary...” James rushed to stop her. “I’m sorry, but please, let me finish.” He sighed deeply as Mrs Darling gave him her full attention. “I have had dealings with Oliver Hunt in the past, and I have heard certain... stories... accusations, you might say. I do not think he is safe to have around the children.”
Mary stared for some moments, processing what she had just heard. She uttered a noise of bewilderment and laughed in disbelief.
“James... I do not think I understand what you are implying. You presume my dear cousin is a dishonourable man, simply based on some sordid rumours you have heard?! You? Of all people, you would take such slander at face-value?” Her anger built, as did the volume of her voice, until she checked herself, for fear of rousing the children.
Her manner suddenly became cold and efficient. “Well, I thank you, Mr Barrie, for your concern, but quite frankly, it is no business of yours. I am sure you have enjoyed enough of our hospitality this evening, and I would be grateful if you could show yourself to the door.”
“Goodnight, Mr Barrie.” James gave a slight nod and a smile of defeat, and made his way downstairs to fetch his coat and hat.
Unbeknown to either the Inky Man or Mary Darling, a child had been roused by their heated conversation, and was just now inching the door open to watch his mother disappear along the corridor, on her way to bed.
The door creaked slightly as Curly pulled it shut, the latch clicking loudly into place. He stood for a moment, considering what he had heard, then spun about and raced to the nearest bed, leaping onto it and its sleeping occupant.
“Wake up, chaps!” was his cry, as the other boys groaned angrily in their waking. “Nibs! I’ve just heard mother and Inky Man fighting! Wake up!” Without warning, a fist shot out from under the covers, and connected with Curly’s chin, knocking him onto the floor.
“Curly! Bloody go to sleep!” Nibs’ angry order came out in a mumble as he fought to return to his dreams.
“But this is important!” insisted Curly, already up off the floor, used to Nibs’ moments of violence. “Inky Man said Uncle Oliver was ‘dishonourable’! Doesn’t that mean ‘bad’?” Curly had moved on to the next bed, and was vigorously shaking Slightly’s shoulder, forcing him to take notice.
“Get off me, Curly!” Slightly smacked his brother’s hands away with a half-hearted effort, and Curly found himself under attack from the twins and Tootles, who all threw their pillows at him simultaneously, knocking him off balance and onto the floor, once again.
Somewhat disheartened, but still very much determined, Curly decided to turn to Peter; being their leader, this was an intelligent if obvious choice. But on looking towards Pan’s bed, Curly found it empty.
“Where’s Peter?” Curly felt a pang of worry for his friend, knowing he had not been happy with his current situation, and fearing he had run away.
“Where do you think?” replied Slightly, in a condescending tone. “He’s sneaked off to the nursery, as usual. He’ll get a right royal beating if he’s caught sharing Wendy’s bed.”
“Why?” piped up a twin. “We all slept in the same bed in Neverland.”
“Yes, but we’re not in Neverland any more, are we! We didn’t have rules there.”
The twin stared hard at the floor, thinking. But after some time, he clearly gave up, and slumped back onto his remaining pillow.
Curly also did not understand the reasoning behind this rule, but in truth, neither did any of the other children. And because most of the grownup’s rules made little sense, he did not ponder it for long. Instead, he crept back to the door, and out into the hallway.
Having made sure that the coast was clear, he padded silently down to the nursery, and slipped inside.
The nightlights were still all ablaze, and Curly took in the still forms of Michael and John in their beds, and Wendy and Peter snuggled in together. He then looked to his left, hearing the slow, heavy breath of Nana, and saw her sleeping soundly in her doghouse. It would be a terrible thing to wake her, sure to get him into trouble for being out of bed, but he had to tell Peter what he had heard. Besides, if Peter could get in without waking Nana, so could he.
Curly carefully began to tiptoe towards Wendy’s bed, negotiating the odd book or toy that had been left in his path. He breathed a small sigh of relief as he reached his goal, and, after glancing warily back towards the sleeping dog, placed a hand on Peter’s shoulder to rouse him.
It was harder than he thought; In Neverland, Peter had hardly ever slept, and when he had, he could be woken by the smallest noise, always expecting an attack.
Now, it seemed, Peter had become as difficult to wake as the other boys, groaning in annoyance and slapping Curly’s hand away. In frustration, Curly increased his efforts, calling Peter by name. This escalated, Curly forgetting the need for quiet until it was too late.
Nana’s big, brown eyes snapped open at the noise. Seeing Curly out of bed and causing mischief, she immediately belted out a deafening bark that woke the whole house. She continued her fray, ignoring Curly’s pleas for silence, until her master burst in through the door.
All the children were now sat up in their beds, still plagued with groggy sleep. The result was that Peter had failed to think to get out of Wendy’s bed before the adults arrived, and Wendy had failed to think to shove Peter onto the floor before her father had entered the room.
In fairness, neither child thought they were doing wrong anyway, so when they were met with the shocked and appalled face of Mr Darling, they presumed, at first, that it was directed at Curly.
“You...” Words seemed to fail George Darling as he beheld his daughter... sharing a bed with that boy. He did not hate Peter - as he suspected Peter hated him - but he had always been wary of the affection he and Wendy had for each other, and now it seemed, his fears were justified.
Peter was horribly surprised when Mr Darling stormed over to the bed and seized him roughly by the arm. Peter’s first instinct was to get away, and he tried violently to escape George’s grasp. George held firm, and dragged the screaming boy to his feet. Peter continued to struggle and cry out as he was pulled towards the door.
Wendy finally distinguished what was happening, and leapt out of bed. “Father! Please! What are you doing?” She was immediately joined by Curly, John, and Michael, all pleading to their father to stop.
Mary entered the nursery to the shouts of her children, and the sight of an enraged George wrestling a frantic Peter towards the door.
“George? What’s going on?” Mr Darling stopped his advance, and looked at his wife.
“Mary... this boy was... in bed with our daughter!” Mrs Darling stared at her husband, dumbstruck. She looked to Peter, then to Wendy, and her face remained blank. She was silent for several moments, before blinking and refocusing on her husband. A smile suddenly flickered across her face.
“George, dear... I’m sure it was perfectly innocent.”
“That is not the point! I will not allow this boy to think it is acceptable to sleep in the same bed as Wendy! What about when they are older? What then?!”
“Well, what are you going to do?” Mary shot an anxious glance towards Peter.
“I am going to discipline him, so he’ll not do it again! That’s what!” with that, George returned to the task of dragging Peter from the nursery.
Breakfast the next morning was a solemn affair; George Darling scowled darkly into his newspaper, occasionally picking at his toast, while his children sat around the table in silence, obediently eating their porridge, and Mary surveyed them all, with an apprehensive eye.
All were brutally aware of Peter’s absence.
The night before, after being woken by the din of Nana’s barks, they were all kept awake further by Peter’s cries of pain, emanating from the spare bedroom where he had been taken. His screams were sharply punctuated, every few moments, by the loud slap of a leather belt against skin.
After what seemed like an age, the house was filled with silence, until the Lost Boys, feigning sleep, heard their former leader quietly open the door to their bedroom, close it behind him, and slip into bed.
All the while, and for a long while after, they listened to his relentless sobs, until sleep finally claimed them all.
In the morning, the boys had not looked at Peter as he slept, nor did they attempt to rouse him, but instead hurried silently downstairs to breakfast.
Oliver Hunt had also been disturbed by the noise that night, and had even helped Mary corral the other children back to their beds, after the scene in the Nursery. He had stood outside the door of that spare bedroom, listening, and waiting for its occupants to emerge.
At last, George did; still grasping the belt he had just used to beat Peter, and with a dark expression on his exhausted face, he glanced briefly at his wife’s cousin, before continuing down the hall, to his own room.
When he was out of sight, Hunt reached out with one hand, pushing open the door. It was dim in the room, and he heard Peter before he saw him.
Try as he might, Peter could not silence the uncontrollable sobs, racking his body. The pain was almost unbearable, aggravated tenfold with the unfairness of George Darling’s actions; Peter didn’t even know what he had done wrong!
The movement of the door drew his attention to Hunt’s presence, and suddenly a profound sense of shame overwhelmed him, and he wanted nothing more than to fold in on himself and become invisible.
Oliver lingered at the door, watching the involuntary shuddering of Peter’s shoulders as he faced away from him, leaning against a bed.
Deciding at last on a course of action, Hunt approached the boy and knelt down beside him. Both were silent for a long while, the man full of patience, until the boy finally looked up at him, still quivering from shock.
Oliver smiled at Peter; a sincere, friendly smile, filled with warmth. Pan’s bottom lip began to tremble again, so the man enveloped him in a comforting hug.
“Now...” began Hunt, unwrapping the boy’s arms from around his chest, and looking into those bright, blue eyes “I think you better be getting to bed, don’t you?”
Peter looked at him, and sniffed, his brow furrowed into an expression of disappointment and fear. Hunt saw him glance warily at the door.
“Don’t worry!” he said, reassuringly “George went to bed as well. I watched him go. Come on...” Oliver stood, then helped Peter to his feet, before steering him towards the door. “Oh!” he exclaimed, pulling Peter back, and leaning close to his ear “But I wouldn’t let him get away with this, if I were you.”
Peter was momentarily puzzled, but then smiled at the man. He was right. No one, let alone George Darling, could treat Peter Pan like that and get away with it!
Oliver’s cheerful manner as he entered the dining room for breakfast was at odds with the sombre atmosphere created by the rest of the family. There was the usual dandy strut to his walk, and he even whistled as he piled food onto his plate. He seemed not at all phased by the lack of conversation or greetings, and tucked in heartily to his own bowl of porridge.
George noisily turned the page of his broadsheet, glancing over it to acknowledge Hunt’s presence, before feigning interest in some dreary column concerning income-tax.
“I thought I’d take the children to the park today, Mary.” Oliver piped up. Mary looked at him in surprise.
“All of them?”
“Yes. Why not? It seems jolly fine weather for a spot of cricket, and they do seem in need of cheering up.” The children, at this suggestion, had indeed already cheered up; some of them seemed almost giddy with excitement, and an eager murmur broke through their silence.
“Oh, may we go?!”
“Yes! Oh, please say yes!”
At that moment, Peter entered the dining room. He wore the deepest scowl the children had ever seen, and concern soon replaced their excitement.
Without a word, Peter walked over to an empty chair, and sat down. They all knew he must have been sore, but he didn’t even wince. All the while, he kept his eyes fixed on Mr Darling, who was simply pretending he hadn’t noticed Peter come in.
“Good morning, Peter.” Mrs Darling decided the best thing to do was act normally.
“Hello.” Peter mumbled, bluntly, but finally turned his gaze to her, instead of her husband. She smiled at him but he turned away, catching Wendy’s eye instead. She too, sent him an awkward smile, which he saw was rife with pity. He gave a quick smile back, but she saw that it didn’t touch his eyes.
Peter turned his attention to the porridge in front of him. He picked up the spoon, and started stirring, slowly. He was aware that many eyes were still upon him, but he focused on the patterns he was making.
“Peter... Uncle Oliver has offered to take you all to the park. Would you like that?” Peter paused his stirring, and looked back to Mary, his face blank. Then he looked at Oliver, and grinned. Hunt shot him a wink, grinning back.
“Good. That’s settled, then.” She interpreted. “Children... if you have finished eating, you may go and get ready.”
Most of the boys scrambled from their chairs, and towards the door.
“Is he coming?” Peter, still in his seat, gestured towards George, malice in his tone. The boys heading to the door were stopped in their tracks, and turned to watch with worried eyes. Mr Darling roughly dropped his paper to his lap, attempting to keep his temper.
“Peter! Don’t be rude!” Mrs Darling admonished. Peter ignored her, his scowl directed at George, who was still trying to ignore the boy.
“Don’t be silly, lad.” Oliver chimed in “George has got important things to do at work, haven’t you, George?” Mr Darling gave a grunt of conformation, and continued reading.
“Mummy?” Michael had collected up enough courage to interrupt. “Is Inky Man coming to play, too? Inky Man’s good at cricket! Can he come, mummy? Please?”
“He might be a little busy, darling.”
“No he won’t be! He likes cricket! And he hasn’t seen me for ages! Please?!”
Mary considered her son’s proposal, and decided that perhaps it would be good for James to spend some time with Oliver, and see just how good he was with the children.
“Alright, sweetheart. We can stop at his house on the way.”
“Hurray!” Michael rushed from the room, followed by his brothers. Only Peter remained at the table, still glaring at Mr Darling, something shockingly close to hatred burning in his eyes.
“Peter.” He turned to see Wendy standing beside his chair, her face full of apprehension. “Please?” They stared at each other for a moment, then Peter released a sigh of surrender, and finally slipped off his chair, without eating a bite of his breakfast, leaving the room with Wendy, to join the rest of the children.
Barrie sat on the park bench, overlooking the cricket match with an uncharacteristic lack of interest. Porthos (another St. Bernard) and Nana, who were lying at his feet, appeared even less interested in the game, and were both passing the time by dozing.
It was Mary’s turn to bat, and James was rather impressed with the wallop she gave, that sent the ball flying.
“Bravo!” He applauded. He had to smile when she dropped him an exaggerated curtsy; obviously, he had been somewhat forgiven.
Michael, who was having an awful time, abruptly gave up altogether, and wondered over to sit with James. Sport had never been the child’s strong point, and he enjoyed, far more, watching the Inky Man write. Michael was convinced he was Mr Barrie’s favourite, and his assumption was correct.
It was Peter’s turn to bat. Since arriving at the park, Mary was pleased to see he was back to his normal self, playing and laughing with the others. It was a great weight off of her shoulders.
John was wicketkeeper, Nibs was bowler, and everyone else was spread out in a most un-tactical manner.
At first bowl, the ball shot past Peter, who swung well, but missed. John cheered triumphantly, and was momentarily joined by his ‘teammates’. Peter looked down, and was horrified to see the bails of the wicket, strewn on the grass.
“What are you playing at?” Peter shouted angrily, fixing John with a venomous stare.
“What do you mean?” Countered John. He couldn’t help the cocky grin that continued to play across his face. Peter walked up to him, standing threateningly close, their noses almost touching.
“I did not hit that wicket!” By this time, everyone had quietened, surprised at Peter’s sudden shift in mood.
“You must have just touched it. Don’t worry...” John continued in a condescending tone, placing a hand on Peter’s shoulder. “It happens to the best of us.”
Peter knocked away John’s hand, and in a flash, punched him in the face and wrestled him to the ground. John defended himself by pulling hard on Peter’s hair, before rolling on top of him, and returning the blow. The boys viciously hit, kicked, and bit each other, while both Mary and Wendy screamed at them to stop, and the other boys cheered them on.
Barrie had watched the entire thing, and decided it would be best to step in, before one of them got seriously hurt. Hunt, also, came to this conclusion. It was odd how both men shared a calmness in the face of such a situation, even if they did so for different reasons.
“Boys! Boys! That’s enough!” Each man grabbed a boy, and together, with considerable effort, they managed to drag the two of them apart. Hunt had a harder time of keeping hold of Peter; he continued to thrash violently, and hurl abuse at his so-called brother.
“I’ll get you, John! I swear! You’ll be sorry!”
“Stop it!” Mrs Darling’s unrestrained cry, silenced even Peter. “You wicked boys! How dare you?!” Tears of fury were springing into her eyes, and all the children were stunned to see their mother, driven to such a state. She took a deep breath to calm herself, then looked past Peter, to the man holding him.
“Oliver... Would you mind taking Peter and John home, please? Their inconsiderate behaviour should not have to ruin the other children’s day.”
“Of course, Mary. I’d be happy to.”
“Uh... I’ll take them.” I sudden pang reminded Mr Barrie of the possible danger; He could not knowingly allow Hunt to be completely alone with any of the children... It was too much of a risk.
Mary stared at him for a moment. Obviously, she had guessed his train of thought, but at least she was considering the options.
“Oh no, James. It is too far out of your way, surely... You’ll want to return to your writing soon.”
“I can write anywhere.” He responded, too quickly.
“Well...” Mary bit her lip, but then smiled. “Then you can both take them home together.”
The two men glanced at each other. Then, just as quickly, they both looked away, with polite smiles.
John and Peter marched forward with their heads down, hands stuffed into pockets. Neither looked up nor spoke for the entire walk home. This was mirrored, almost exactly, by their adult companions.
The four arrived home to the frenzied questions of Liza, who demanded to hear the whole story. She rushed to and fro, muttering all the while about the shocking behaviour of “the youth of today”, and commenced cleaning the blood from the boys’ faces.
When she was finally satisfied, she bustled back to the kitchen to continue with her usual chores, and the four were, once again, left in each other’s company.
About an hour later, when Mary and the other children arrived home, they found Peter, James, and Oliver in the middle of a game of Snap, and John sulkily reading a book on the sofa.
The broad smile Mary was wearing as she entered the Drawing Room promptly slipped as she remembered the boys’ earlier behaviour.
“Upstairs to your rooms please, boys. Your father will deal with you when he gets home.” Mrs Darling’s stern words left no room for argument, but never-the-less, Peter could not resist;
“He’s not my father.” It was a sly remark, said under his breath as he passed. But it did not escape Mary’s attention, and he was utterly taken aback when she suddenly lost control completely, and slapped him, hard, across the face. Immediately, her hand went to her mouth, shocked at her own actions.
Peter’s own hand covered the bruise, already blooming on his left cheek, as he fought back the tears that were threatening to fall. He pushed passed Mary, and raced up the stairs, ignoring the anxious eyes of the other children.
When George Darling arrived home that evening, he found his wife in a state of distress, although comforted by both her cousin, and her friend. Mr Barrie explained all to George, who listened with a stern expression on his face.
George was sorely tempted to go upstairs and hold the boys to account then and there, but his wife’s pleas for peace, and James’ advice to the contrary, caused him to reconsider.
“I have just been up to check on them any way.” Hunt informed them. “All of the children are fast asleep.”
This was a great relief for all concerned, and it was not long before Mr Barrie bid them Goodnight, and all, thankfully, retired to their beds.
Peter had not been asleep, nor was he now. He waited patiently in his bed as he listened to the grownups retiring. When complete silence fell through the house, he soundlessly slipped from under his covers, and tentatively crept to the door.
The hallway was deserted, the lights turned down low. When he was sure the coast was clear, he continued his silent approach to the Nursery.
Nana snored loudly tonight, a sure sign she was in a deep sleep. Peter felt reassured by this, gently closing the door behind him and tiptoeing towards Wendy’s bed.
“Peter?!” The boy wriggled beneath her sheets, causing Wendy to wake. “Peter, what are you doing here? You know you’re not allowed to sleep with me any more! Father will beat you again!”
“I don’t care. Let him! I’ll beat him right back!”
“You will not! Peter... please go back to your own bed. Please?” She had swivelled her body around to face him, and looked imploringly into his face. To her surprise, his eyes began to well with tears, and his lips began to quiver.
“Please don’t make me go. I want to stay here with you. Please don’t make me...” Peter began sobbing again. He hated feeling like this. Wendy hurriedly enveloped him and let him bury his face in her neck. This was as much to stifle the noise as it was to comfort him.
“Oh, please hush... please don’t cry... it’ll all be alright...” She continued to coo comforting words and calming sounds until she heard his breath become even. Then she too drifted back to sleep.
John had been dozing when he heard his sister’s voice. He soon realised Peter was there too. He lay patiently until he was sure both were asleep, then sat up in bed to consider his options.
He had almost felt sorry for Pan when he heard him sobbing, but then he remembered how manipulative Peter could be. He had seen it time and time again in Neverland; Peter always had to get his own way.
These bitter memories made up his mind for him, and John resolved to fetch his father.
“What are you doing?” Hunt spun around in surprise, only to behold young John looking up at him questioningly.
“Oh, John... It’s you.” Oliver casually moved away from the boys’ bedroom door. “I just thought I’d check on you children. Make sure you’re all tucked up and not causing mischief.” He laughed awkwardly, but John didn’t move.
“Were you looking for Peter?” This question caught Hunt completely off-guard and he fumbled.
“Not particularly, no.”
“Because he’s not there. He’s in the nursery, in my sister’s bed.”
“Oh. Oh dear. And I suppose you’re off to raise the alarm...” John looked slightly hurt at what he had taken for a slur on is honour.
“No! It’s not that I’m telling, but... well... Why should Peter get to do whatever he wants?” John glared jealously at the thought of it.
“Well, John... from what I’ve seen... he doesn’t.” John looked up at him incredulously, but then began to consider what then man was saying. “He wants to go home, but he can’t. He wants to be close to Wendy, but now he’s been told not to do that, either. And I’m sure he didn’t want the thrashing your old man gave him... or your jealousy.”
“Jealous?! I’m not jealous! Besides, I knew Peter before you, and he’s only getting what he deserves!”
“Really?” Hunt looked at the boy dubiously.
“Yes, really!” John became even more resolute in his decision then, and marched past his uncle, towards his parent’s bedroom.
“John!” John was shocked as he felt Hunt’s hand grip his arm and pull him back. “I think you should reconsider.” Panicked by Hunt’s sudden change in tact, John let out a scream and began struggling.
“Let me go! Father! Father, come quickly!” A bleary Mr Darling appeared from his bedroom, Mary at his shoulder.
“What’s going on?!” Hunt let go of the boy, who proceeded to run to his father, still shouting.
“Father! It’s Peter... He’s in Wendy’s bed again!”
The sound of this fray had woken the other children and Nana, who had pushed open the Nursery door and bounded out to investigate. A sleepy-eyed Peter then wondered into the doorway with the same intention, only to become petrified with shock at the look on Mr Darling’s face.
For a few awful moments nobody moved.
George Darling took a step, and the scene turned to pandemonium. Everyone began shouting as Peter slammed the Nursery door and Mr Darling broke through it.
“Father, don’t!” Wendy put herself in her father’s path, but he easily pushed her aside, the red mist rising. Peter hadn’t the time to hide under the bed, and Mr Darling grabbed hold of his exposed legs. Peter screamed with true fear as he was hauled from his hiding place and thrown onto the bed.
George forced Peter onto his stomach so he had a clear aim before realising, having just been in bed he hadn’t brought a belt with him. He quickly scoured around for something else to use, finally grabbing up a walking cane.
“George, don’t! Not here!” But it was too late. Mr Darling began to beat Peter with a ferocity that betrayed his own frustration and fatigue. The other children watched with terror in their eyes, frozen and silenced by the terrible scene before them.
Screaming in pain, Peter tried in vain to escape Mr Darling’s anger, but he was powerless.
“George! That’s enough!” Oliver pulled the cane from the man’s grasp and put his hands on Mr Darling’s shoulders to steady him. Now the only sound was Peter’s uncontrollable weeping. The child coiled himself tightly into a ball as Oliver slowly walked George from the room.
Mr Barrie had taken note of the gradual change of atmosphere at the Darling household. Where once the house had been filled with laughter and warmth, an eerie chill had descended, bringing the stifling sense of melancholy with it.
Although James would have liked to think it was due to the presence of Oliver Hunt, he knew the problem truly lay with Peter.
It was not the child’s fault - he knew that also - but the rocky relationship between Peter and George had caused the family to rupture. Communication had broken down, and it had gotten to the point where all involved, especially the grownups, would only exchange the briefest of small-talk.
Peter barley spoke at all. There were, however, those scarce times when he was able to play with the other children, when they could fleetingly forget their troubles.
Barrie was most concerned to see Peter and Hunt’s friendship strengthening. Hunt was the only adult Peter would talk to on a regular basis; he was the only one Peter would willingly go near! Even James had found himself being treated coldly by the boy. It was worrying.
“Hello, James.” Mary looked tired, her pretty eyes marred with dark circles. Mr Barrie greeted her kindly, entering the house at her invitation. It was quiet, but James was pleased to see all the children sitting calmly together on the floor of the living room.
“Good evening, children.” He gave them his broadest smile, hoping to cheer them into their usual, happy selves.
“Good evening.” most of them replied in chorus, contentedly enough. Peter did not respond, but he looked up as Oliver re-entered with a fresh glass of whiskey.
Hunt nodded to James before taking a seat on the sofa. He was quickly joined by Peter, who had abandoned the other children and his colouring in favour of snuggling into Oliver’s side. This seemed a little too affectionate to James, and he could not help but notice Wendy and John’s jealous stares.
Peter came out of the bathroom and started to make his way down the corridor towards sleep. It was quiet; most of the other children were already in bed, and the grownups never bothered trying to hurry him up any more. In many ways he liked this, but it also made him feel that little more unwanted.
He felt a hand on his shoulder and suddenly Uncle Oliver was there, grinning down at him. Peter returned the smile.
“Hello, my boy. Off to bed so soon?”
“There’s nothing better to do...” Peter shrugged. Hunt moved in closer. Peter frowned.
“You could always visit me later... if you get bored or can’t sleep. We could have a little sleep-over... just the two of us.” Peter felt wary, but a smile cracked over his face and he nodded. Hunt was the only one who was truly on his side.
Curly awoke at the sound of the bedroom door opening. Silhouetted by the lamps still burning in the corridor, he could make out the shape of Peter slipping from the room.
Peter crept silently through the house, but for once he wasn’t heading for the Nursery. He came to a halt outside the grand walnut door of the guest-bedroom... but moved no more. He thought of knocking, but something in him was fearful. So instead he just stood.
Breakfast had been once again a sullen affair. The mood of the household was still stifling, the tensions almost tangible.
Peter was late as always, and only now, when the other children were finishing, did he wonder through the dining room door. George Darling glanced up with a look of irritation, but just as quickly returned to The Times.
Mary also appeared exasperated as she watched Peter take his seat, but she held her tongue, too weary for another argument so early in the day. It just seemed so much easier to let Peter do what he wanted.
As Peter began picking at his breakfast, he felt other eyes on him. He looked up to see John and Curly staring at him intently, the latter with curious eyes, the former with a threatening glare.
“What?” Curly looked down hurriedly, but John continued to scowl.
“Stop staring at me!”
“John!” Mary chided. John slowly turned away.
“Why don’t we play a game after breakfast?” Wendy offered (mainly to break the uncomfortable silence that had fallen).
“That’s a lovely idea, sweetheart. What would you all like to play?”
“Hide and seek!” screamed Michael, overcome with excitement. The other children responded with a chorus of cheers, and they all scattered before Mr and Mrs Darling could admonish them for such poor table-manners.
“I’ll seek first!” called Tootles “One... Two... Three... Four...”
At first there was a lot of bumping and giggling, but in no time all sounds faded, leaving nothing but the steady count of Tootles; “...Twenty-seven... Twenty-eight... Twenty-nine... Thirty! Ready or not, here I come!”
Tootles was not the most renowned seeker of Hide and seek, but he enjoyed the role none-the-less, always optimistic that one day he would succeed in finding everyone. His primary downfall was his lack of thoroughness, always aiming for speed over success. This meant the game could last for hours, the other children changing hiding-places easily and often.
Today’s game was no different. An hour later, only one Twin had been caught and joined Tootles on the hunt.
Peter had almost just been caught! He found this quite alarming, never having lost at this game before. Perhaps he had relied on flying more than he should have. It now seemed best to move to a new hiding place, so he carefully crawled out from under the writing desk of the study and slipped out into the hall.
He flung himself flat against the wall as he heard the running foot-falls of Tootles, who sped up the next flight of stairs without even pausing to look around. Breathing a sigh of relief, Peter turned to go downstairs and came face to face with a sullen John.
The boy was obviously not playing any more, standing at the top of the stairs and leaning, nonchalantly, against the wall.
“What do you want?” huffed Peter with an acid tone.
“I know what you are”, stated John, the glimmer of a sneer alighting his face. Peter was slightly taken aback, unsure how to respond. For the first time, John seemed genuinely menacing.
“Oh, yes? And what’s that?” Peter delivered this with bravado, but was feeling surprisingly anxious at the way John was looking at him; with pure hatred.
“You’re disgusting.” Peter flinched as if he had been slapped. After a moment of trying to comprehend John’s insult, he just laughed.
“Disgusting? Is that it? You’re pathetic.” He moved to push past John, but John pushed first. Peter tried again to get by, and the two boys started scuffling.
“You were seen! Curly saw you!”
“Saw me what?” John heaved Peter away again.
“Going into Uncle Oliver’s room... just like you used to go to Wendy’s!”
“I did not!”
“He saw you! And I’m going to tell everyone.”
“So what? Go ahead! What does it matter?” John considered this. Perhaps it didn’t matter, but something told him it was wrong, and it would get Peter into a lot of trouble.
“Fine! I will! Then father will have a good excuse to give you another thrashing!” Peter screamed in outrage, hurling himself at John. Both boys grabbed each other’s hair, ripping it from their scalps, and kicked at each other’s shins. John scratched Peter’s neck, and Peter retaliated by biting John’s arm.
The noise brought the children from their hiding places, and the grownups from their peace, but the two boys continued their battle.
Just as their audience rushed into view, John slammed Peter against the wall with all his might, but Peter pushed back with the greater force.
For a terrible moment, everyone watched John as he teetered on the edge of the stairs. The sudden look of panic on John’s face was mirrored just as suddenly in Peter’s, and he reached out to try and pull the other boy from danger. But it was too late.
With a horrified scream, John fell, tumbling down until his limp body came to a halt; a heap at the foot of the stairs.
For an awful minute, silence filled the house as all eyes were on John.
“John!” Mary’s scream broke the stillness as she rushed forward and threw herself to the floor, next to her unconscious child. She was quickly joined by Wendy, while George ran straight for the telephone.
At first, Peter could only stare like the others. But he soon realised many of the eyes were, in fact, now on him. Even Mary caught his eye as she glanced up. Her expression was so accusatory, Peter felt tears spring into his eyes.
He didn’t know what to do, and found he had lost his voice. He merely watched, from where he stood on the landing, as the other children rushed past to gather around their injured brother.
Within no time, Mr Darling had returned.
“The doctor is on his way. They’re also sending an ambulance.” Mrs Darling only nodded, busy whispering soothing words under her breath, stroking her hand through John’s hair.
Peter still just stood, dumbstruck, watching as George and Oliver bustled the other children into the Drawing Room. Michael was now in floods of tears and in the arms of Wendy. His sobs were still audible when the door was closed.
George returned to the foot of the stairs, then glanced up. Seeing Peter still standing there, his attention locked onto the boy. Peter felt a jolt of fear as he registered the anger in Mr Darling’s eyes, but he couldn’t find the sense to move.
“What did you do?” George asked incredulously. Peter’s breathing quickened as the panic rose, but he still could not flee.
Careful to avoid John, Mr Darling mounted the stairs. He slowly began to climb without ever taking his eyes off Peter.
“What did you do?” The anger and pain in his voice became more severe, his teeth grinding, his eyes blinking back tears.
“What did you do?!” His emotions spilled out, only three steps below where Pan stood.
All at once, Peter found the will to run, the panic erupting as Mr Darling bellowed at him. He ran as fast as he could, spurred on by the thunderous sound of his pursuer. He flew down the corridor and into the nearest bedroom, slamming the door just in time. He only had time to brace himself against the door before George crashed against it. Peter managed to hold strong long enough to turn the key, despite the tears and sobs that were now racking his body.
George hammered on the door, but soon sobs overtook him too, and his strong, determined blows became feeble.
All was silent when Peter awoke. He was still sat slumped against the bedroom door where he had cried himself to sleep, half terrified Mr Darling would come bursting through the locked door at any moment, such had been the mad rage in his eyes.
But all was quiet now. And still. Peter strained to hear the slightest betrayal that someone was still in the house, waiting for him. When he was finally quite certain that this was not the case, he took a deep breath to steady himself, and slowly stood up. His legs protested as he uncurled, the muscles aching from being in one position for too long, but he ignored this; he was too focused on the possibility of an ambush.
Nevertheless, Peter gripped the doorknob with what he was ashamed to see was a trembling hand. Taking another deep breath, he cautiously turned it and inched the door open.
Mr Barrie hurried through the crowded street, making his way as best he could towards the children’s hospital, all the while chastising himself for being so carless. He had been busy supervising his new stage play, and had neglected his pledge to keep an eye on the Darling children and their unfavourable Uncle. Now it was too late: He had only just heard young John had been hospitalised, and immediately set off to see him. By good fortune Great Ormond St. was only a short walk away, but the bustle of the public frustrated him, and he felt this desperate journey would never end.
Soon enough, though, Barrie was in sight of the hospital and through the door before he knew what was what. He had to pause there a moment, in the middle of the foyer, to collect his thoughts and composure before approaching the efficient-looking nurse manning the reception desk.
“Good afternoon,” he greeted her, removing his hat as she fixed him with a steely glare.
Peter stayed close to the wall, creeping his way along the corridor and peering round the corner cautiously. He looked down to the foot of the stairs to see John was no longer there, just a slight spattering of blood where he had cut his head in the fall. Peter didn’t know whether to be relieved or worried. Had John died? Making his way to the bottom of the stairs, he was careful to avoid the stain, and approached the front door. After a few hefty tugs, Peter conceded that it was locked, so he quickly turned and ran towards the kitchen and the rear entrance of the house. This was locked as well. Panic began to fill Peter as he realised he was trapped. The only other chance was the Drawing Room window. Rushing to it, he began struggling with the latch, trying desperately to heave up the sash.
Peter spun at the sound of his name to behold Oliver Hunt seated at the far side of the room, glass of brandy in hand, a newspaper open on his lap. “What on earth is the matter?”
“George. Mary.” Mr Barrie almost ran to where his two dear friends were stood, looking over the bed of their injured child. “How is he?”
“The doctors say...” Mary’s voice faltered into a sob.
“The doctors say he’ll be right as rain in a day or two.” interjected her husband. “But he needs to rest.”
“Thank God! Tell me... How did it happen?” A shadow seemed to fill both the Darling’s faces as the silence held.
“It was that... boy.” George explained finally, through gritted teeth.
“Now, George... I’m sure he didn’t mean to.” But Mary did not seem as sure as she said.
The dark silence once again fell, and all three grown-ups stood watching the sleeping John for a while, until something occurred to Mr Barrie; “Where are the other children now?”
“Oh, Lisa is looking after them in one of the waiting rooms. We’ve told them about John. They’re all fine.”
“That’s good. If you don’t mind, I’ll just go and see them. And I’d like to talk to Peter... get the story from the horse’s mouth, so to speak...”
“Huh!” exclaimed George. “You don’t think I’d let that brat anywhere near my children now, do you?! He’s dangerous! The first chance I get, he’ll be out of the house!”
“You mean... He isn’t here?”
“No, James.” answered Mary. “He’s at home. Oliver is watching him.”
“I want to get out. Let me out! Why are the doors locked?” Peter could not help feeling worried; he hated being confined.
“Now, where are you planning on going?” Hunt did not move from his place on the sofa, nor his gaze on the boy before him.
“I want to go home!”
“Oh? And where’s that? Oh, yes... a magical island in the sky. I’ve seen that play too, Peter.”
“What play? What are you talking about? Just, please... unlock the door!”
“I can’t, Peter. I’ve been left strict instructions by your parents.”
“But they’re not my parents! Please! Let me out!” Peter was growing more and more frantic, pacing the floor like a caged animal.
“Peter, I think you need to calm down. Come on...” Hunt patted the empty space on the seat beside him. “Come sit with me and I’ll try to take your mind off it.” Peter stopped pacing and looked at the man. Oliver held the boy’s gaze intently, not breaking eye contact for a second. That same slight shiver of apprehension went up Peter’s spine, but again it was fleeting. Peter did not fear Oliver Hunt. In fact he almost liked him. But still... he did not quite trust him.
“Let me out.”
“Peter... I can’t. Now, come here.”
“No! Let me out!”
“No! Come here!” Hunt finally rose from his chair and moved towards Peter.
At last the cab pulled up outside number 14. Mr Barrie almost threw the fare at the driver and rushed to the door. Using the key Mr Darling had given him, he unlocked it and burst into the house. Coming to a standstill in the doorway to the drawing room, he saw Peter and Hunt embraced in a warm hug, the boy sobbing quietly. Hunt shot him a glare but did not release the child. Peter, sensing a presence, turned his head and saw Mr Barrie standing there, looking dumbstruck. Peter broke the hug then, and considered a moment.
“The door’s unlocked.” It was a statement to himself rather than a question. Indeed, in his haste, Mr Barrie had left the front door open wide. Suddenly understanding his meaning, Hunt reached out to grab the boy’s arm, but it was too late. In a flash he had pushed past Mr Barrie, run from the room, shot through the front door and was out in the street.
“You fool!” Hunt shouted at Barrie as he gave chase.
Peter sprinted down the street; being a residential road, there were not many people about, but the boy still had to push past the odd dog-walker or errand-running maid.
Peter ignored Hunt’s plea, determined to get away once and for all. If he could just get as far as Kensington Gardens, then perhaps he could find a fairy to help him get home!
Full of hope, Peter continued to run into the street without a thought, straight into the path of an oncoming motorcar. The driver slammed his foot onto the brake-pedal as he fathomed the boy now darting across the road in front of him, but his efforts were to no avail.
Peter’s eyes widened as he realised the imminent danger.
Hunt shouted and came to a halt as he saw the car collide with Peter, the force propelling the child into the air only to land some eight feet away with a painful thud.
“Peter!” James dashed past the figure of Hunt, who remained standing stock-still. As he reached the boy’s crumpled form, Mr Barrie knelt down and gently spoke his name again. “Peter? Peter, can you hear me?”
He glanced up, noticing a small crowd was forming. “Call for help!” he screamed, at no one in particular. A few individuals darted off in search of assistance, but others remained... including Oliver Hunt, who remained motionless where he stood, gazing down at the injured boy, shock still playing upon his face.
“You’ll be alright, Peter.” Barrie cooed gentle reassurances as he held the child’s lifeless hand and stroked his hair. “You’ll be fine.”
Throbbing pain reached out an enveloped Peter. Bright light began stabbing at his eyes, and he fought to keep them closed and return to oblivion.
But then he heard the sound of someone clattering about beside him, and fear forced him to open his eyes and defend himself.
James Barrie was half absorbed in a daydream, barely noticing the nurse who was now bustling about the small room, preparing more pain medication for the unconscious child in the bed. Suddenly, Barrie perceived the flickering of the boy’s eyelids as he struggled to wake, and was brought back to the present in a flash.
“Nurse! Nurse, he’s waking! Peter?”
Peter starred at the ceiling for several moments before registering that Barrie had called his name. Ever so slowly, he turned his head to look at the man, who was nervously grinning back at him.
“Don’t try to talk, Peter. You’re in the hospital. You’re safe here.”
Peter did not respond; he just continued to stare.
“He is probably a little groggy from the medication we’ve given him” chimed in the nurse. “And I was just about to give him some more.” James looked up at her with concern, and she relented; “But I suppose the doctor will want to take a look at him first.” And she trotted from the room.
An awkward silence filled the space in the nurse’s absence. Peter’s stare was unyielding, and Mr Barrie grew more uncomfortable with each passing moment. Finally, he could bare it no longer, and let his own gaze fall to the floor.
“I’m so sorry, Peter.”
The child furrowed his brow in confusion, but did not speak.
Less than a minute later, the nurse returned, dogging the heels of a tall, gentleman physician.
“Good afternoon.” The Doctor confidently approached James, his hand outstretched. Mr Barrie stood politely, and shook it. The man introduced himself, but Barrie didn’t hear his name, his attention drifting back to the groggy child in the bed.
“Sir, are you the boy’s father?” James looked back as he realised he was being questioned. Then he realised it was the second time the doctor had asked.
“I do beg your pardon.” He rubbed the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. “No. He is the child of some friends of mine.”
“Have they not been contacted?” The doctor glanced at the nurse, but she only gave a hint of a shrug.
“They have...” replied Barrie “But another of their boys is also in hospital...” He trailed off, realising this was not much of an explanation for their absence.
Looking down at his patient for a moment, the doctor decided to move on.
“Well, young man. How are you feeling?”
Peter said nothing.
“Is he in pain?” asked James.
“I should expect so... although I must say,” continued the doctor, “he is remarkably unscathed considering the form of his accident.”
“Yes. In my earlier examination of Peter, I found no sign of broken bones or internal damage. He is a very lucky boy!”
Barrie felt the great weight of concern lighten, slightly; Peter would be fine. Somehow, he had escaped serious injury.
“Oh, thank God!”
“Yes. In fact… once I’ve finished examining him now, you should be able to take him home...”
Peter said nothing on the journey back to Number 14, and Barrie did not press him. Instead, he just gazed at the melancholic boy, pondering what had motivated him to run from the house, and into the path of a moving vehicle. It seemed likely that Hunt was to blame.
Barrie hadn’t been where he needed to be, and Peter had been hurt because of his negligence. He had to keep Hunt away from the boy, before the man caused greater harm.
But perhaps Barrie was already too late; perhaps that was why Peter had fled.
Barrie was jolted from his thoughts as the hansom came to a halt. Having alighted from the cab, Barrie turned back to help the child. But Peter rejected the offer, scowling and pushing James away.
“I can do it.”
Having rung the bell, an awkward moment descended between man and boy; Peter, scowling at his feet; Barrie, twiddling his thumbs.
After ringing again, the front door was at last opened by Liza, who seemed somewhat surprised to see them.
“Mr Barrie, Sir,” she greeted, dropping a small curtsey as James ushered Peter through.
“Begging your pardon, Sir… but I wasn’t expecting you or master Peter. I wasn’t expecting anyone ‘til later this evening.”
“Oh?” James hadn’t really given a second thought to whether there would be anyone at home to greet Peter. Apparently, there was not.
“Where is everyone?”
Liza gave Peter a hesitant glance, but it did not seem as though the boy was paying much attention.
“They are at the hospital with master John, Sir.”
Barrie then, also, glanced awkwardly at the child beside him. It surprised him to think that George and Mary had been so close, yet did not come to Peter as he lay unconscious in a hospital bed. It seemed almost cruel.
Did the Darlings blame Peter for John’s accident to such an extent that they had washed their hands of him? Surely not. He was still in their charge; still their responsibility; still one of their boys.
Perhaps John had taken a turn for the worse, and they felt unable to leave his side. Barrie would telephone the hospital immediately.
Peter wondered into the drawing room and slumped down on one of the sofas, ignoring the Inky Man and Liza. What did he care that the Darlings were not there to greet him?! He wished that they would all leave him alone, permanently.
The absence of the other children, however, did distress him… though not as much as the memory of John’s face as he lost his balance, and the thumping of his body as it tumbled down the stairs. And the horrendous moment of silence that followed.
Peter stood to distract himself, and walked over to piano. As he tapped, aimlessly, at the keys he heard Mr Barrie finish his telephone call, replace the receiver, and enter the drawing room.
“Wonderful news, Peter!” The boy barely reacted, inclining his head towards James only fractionally… but Barrie noted it, and continued;
“John is coming home.”
As John was carried over the threshold in a wheelchair, he was surrounded by the happy chatter of a family relieved to have their loved-one home. As his journey continued to ascend the stairs, however, John caught the eye of the only individual who was holding back; keeping his distance.
Peter felt a surge of shame as John looked at him, and he quickly dropped his gaze to the floor, cheeks burning with self-consciousness. He kept his head down as Barrie approached and drew him forward with, what was intended to be, an encouraging arm.
“It’s simply marvellous having both boys home again. You must be so relieved, Mary.”
Peter looked up to see Mary halt her own ascent, accompanying John, as she processed Mr Barrie’s words to her. After a moment of wide-eyed consideration, Mary glanced at the boy by his side before answering, coldly,
“I must see to John.”
James was lost for words as Mrs Darling climbed the stairs and vanished from sight, following her husband and children to the private room that was to be John’s. Mary’s display of apathy towards Peter was shocking, and now Barrie felt awkward in the silence that followed. Mr and Mrs Darling were, apparently, holding a grudge.
True, Peter had been involved in John’s fall… but Barrie couldn’t believe Peter would have intentionally pushed the other boy down the stairs; it had surely been an accident! Perhaps George and Mary believed otherwise.
But, in another moment, Hunt entered, and Barrie’s thoughts were brought back to more pressing concerns.
“Peter, my boy!”
The child visibly cheered a little at the enthusiastic greeting, looking up at Uncle Oliver as he approached. Barrie frowned deeply, and drew himself up a little taller.
“Peter, it’s time you were back in bed; you need to rest...”
James began to usher the boy past, but Hunt stepped in the way; “Oh, I’ll take him. We need a good catchup, don’t we lad!”
“Don’t trouble yourself, Hunt...”
Oliver pressed himself closer and stared at James, unabashed. “No trouble...”
He took hold of Peter’s arm, but Barrie grabbed hold of his other.
Both man and boy stared at Barrie in shocked silence… but James was unnerved to see a slight, smug smile playing about Oliver Hunt’s lips.
In a much quieter tone, Barrie spoke again, “Come along, Peter,” as he led the boy past Hunt and to the stairs.
John was sat up in bed, gazing, longingly, out of the window. He was all alone, relegated to a bedroom of his own, away from the exhausting commotion of his many siblings. His body ached, but he longed to be outside, playing in the weak afternoon sun. He thought even school would have been preferable to being stuck in that room all day.
He could now walk a little, having had several days’ healing… but he still tired easily, and his mother and father insisted that he continued to rest. But it was just so boring!
Having grown tired of his books and toys, the only thing left to do was to watch the world from his window, and wait for the other children to return home.
Hearing his bedroom door softly open, John turned his head. Expecting to see his mother or Liza, he let a smile appear on his lips. But the small grin quickly vanished when he beheld Peter standing in the doorway, shifting his weight awkwardly, one hand still resting on the doorknob. His eyes darted all about the room, and from John to the floor.
“What do you want?”
John didn’t even attempt to hide the malice in his tone, and Peter squirmed; John found that both surprising and satisfying.
Peter risked another flashing glance at John before looking back down at his feet.
“Are you alright?”
At this question, John felt the fight leave him. He didn’t know what he had expected, but the worried concern of the boy before him reduced any wish for revenge to a mild wariness.
Another quick, submissive glance from Peter left John feeling quite sorry for him. And, after another moment of awkward silence, he attempted to relieve the tension,
“Did you really get hit by a car?”
Peter held John’s gaze properly this time, and even smiled, “Yes. It kinda hurt.”
“So did falling down stairs.”
Peter’s face fell, and John immediately regretted his words.
“I was only joking...”
“I’m sorry, John.”
John was silenced.
“You… You’re sorry?”
“Of course I am!”
“But, Peter… it wasn’t your fault… I fell...”
Peter stepped closer to the bed where John lay, his face crumpling as if holding back tears.
“But we were fighting. I shouldn’t have started fighting you.”
“I shouldn’t have said those horrible things to you! And I shouldn’t have told on you, when you were sleeping in the nursery. I’m the one who’s sorry, Peter.”
Melancholic frowns were replaced with grins as the two boys made peace with each other, and Peter jumped onto the bed to join his friend.
But their chatter and revelry was short-lived; both boys fell silent and turned at the appearance of Uncle Oliver, in the doorway.
“Hello, boys,” he purred.
James charged up the stone steps of Number 14 and rang the bell. He was anxious. He’d been obliged to spend the most part of the day with his Producer, discussing the staging of Barrie’s next work. There was talk of taking it to America first, and James couldn’t help but feel excited at that prospect… But it had kept him away from the Darling household, and he feared Oliver Hunt could have taken advantage of his absence.
The front door of the Georgian terraced was opened, as usual, by Liza, who curtseyed as James crossed the threshold.
“Good afternoon, Sir. Are the master and mistress expecting you, Sir?”
“Why, I should expect so,” replied James as he removed his hat and coat… a little surprised at Liza’s questioning of him.
“Very good, Sir.” She gave another small curtsey, and turned to leave.
“Is Peter here?”
Liza turned back at his words, “I believe master Peter is upstairs with master John and Mr Hunt. All the other children have not yet returned from school, and my mistress has gone to post some letters. She should return shortly.”
The blood seemed to drain from Mr Barrie’s face as he stared back at Liza. When she had finished, James turned and dashed up the stairs without a word, ignoring the indignant huff that the young maid vocalised at his rudeness.
Reaching the landing and turning the corner, James came to a halt and released a great sigh of relief as he saw Peter walking towards him, down the hallway.
“Peter! Are you alright?”
“Of course I’m alright.” The boy looked at the man dubiously, a little unnerved by Barrie’s manner.
“You haven’t been… alone with Hunt?”
“No. He’s sent me downstairs to let him know when Mary gets back.”
“Well,” said Barrie, putting an arm around the boy’s shoulders and walking him towards the stairs, “Let’s wait for her together.”
In the room that was now John’s, another boy was in the embrace of a man. John shook as tears rolled down his cheeks, wanting at once to cling to yet reject the comforting arms of Uncle Oliver; the man who had just hurt him.
Mary Darling noticed nothing unusual when she returned home that afternoon; she found her cousin and James Barrie in a state of begrudging truce, playing cards with Peter in the drawing room, and Liza bustling about the kitchen, as was her habit.
“Was everything alright while I was gone, Liza?”
This was the wrong greeting, and the young maid looked at her mistress with offence. ‘I’m sure I don’t know what you mean, ma’am. I am quite capable of minding the children!”
“Oh, of course you are Liza. And I’m very grateful to you… I merely asked to assure myself that you were happy to do it.”
Liza paused for a moment, the realisation that she had spoken to her mistress so hotly turning her pink, “Very happy, ma’am.”
And she began to scuttle from the kitchen.
“Liza… have you checked on John?”
The maid paused and turned. “Not since before you went out, ma’am… though I believe he is still sleeping. Master Peter was upstairs with him for a spell.”
Mary’s eyebrows lifted with surprise. But she soon remembered herself and dismissed Liza to her duties.
Perhaps the boys had made amends. Or perhaps they had quarrelled. Peter had looked so happy when she had returned home; energetically playing ‘snap’ as any other child would… But why, if he had made peace, was he not playing the game with John?
Mary slipped past the drawing room and ascended the stairs.
Arriving at John’s door, she paused to listen. Hearing a little sound, she knocked softly and gently called to her child as she entered.
John was curled up in bed on his side, facing away from the door. Mary had only been gone a short time, but it was obvious that John had bathed, his hair still damp and scented with soap; she could smell the clean, freshness as she leant down to kiss his cheek.
But his face felt warm, and she realised then that the soft sound she had heard from the doorway was John quietly crying.
“Oh, my darling! What is wrong, my sweet boy?” Mary stroked her hand through John’s hair until the boy calmed and looked up at her.
“Nothing”, he sniffed.
“Tell me why you are upset, my angel,” Mrs Darling cooed.
“Poor chap had a bit of an argument.” Mary gasped and turned at the sudden, strong voice of her cousin, who was now standing in the doorway behind her.
“Oliver! You startled me.”
“Oh, do forgive me, dearest Mary. I grew weary of cards, and thought I would check on poor, old John. A game of cards seemed like a good means of keeping Peter away from him for a while...”
Mary blinked, then looked back down at her child.
“What happened, darling.”
“Nothing.” John’s voice croaked with the sobs the were still escaping him.
“Poor lad just needs to rest on his own for a while.”
Oliver stepped to the side, indicating the door with one hand, and offering his cousin the other. Mary glanced again at her little boy, the took Hunt’s outstretched arm and let him walk her from the room.
“What happened, Oliver? What was it about?” They were standing on the landing, Mary’s agitation growing at the thought of her injured child being upset further.
“Oh, who can say? I think I got the gist of it… but you know what boys are like! And it certainly doesn’t take much to set those two against one another...”
It was true. Mary could easily believe Peter and John, stuck at home together, would not be the most peaceful of companions… but she was still hurt by the reality that Peter would upset John while he was convalescing… from an accident that Peter was partly to blame for, no less!
She suddenly realised how much she had enjoyed her little trip to the post office; how calm and normal it had all seemed… away from warring children.
“I cannot bear it! That boy has been the ruin of this family!”
“Mary!” Oliver looked at her, aghast; surprised by her outburst. “You are always so calm and tolerant of the children...”
“Yes! Because they are good. Even when they are naughty, I know that they are good children. I am beginning to wonder whether Peter is good. I am staring to believe he is wicked.”
She looked at her cousin then, and held his gaze.
On the stairway below, out of sight of the two adults, Peter grew angry as the tears escaped down his cheeks, and the stabbing pain of betrayal and rejection hurt like no other hurt he had felt. Not since Wendy had decided to return home, and leave him alone in Neverland.
John was curled up as tightly as possible, willing the shame and horror to leave his thoughts. He had shed so many silent tears, that they had now dried up; His eyes and cheeks were sore.
Just as he felt himself finally begin to drift off into sleep, Peter burst into the room, and the noise of it caused John to sit up hurriedly.
“Did you tell them that I had upset you?!”
Peter’s eyes flashed daggers as John took a moment to process the question.
“No… Peter… What are you talking about?”
Peter furrowed his brows in contemplation, and seemed to calm slightly.
“I heard Uncle Oliver telling your mother that I had fought with you. Why would he tell her that?”
John’s gaze dropped to his lap, staring at his hands as they fidgeted awkwardly.
“I don’t know...” he whispered.
It was a lie, of course. And Peter could tell that the other boy was holding something back.
“Well, either you are lying, or Uncle Oliver is.”
John continued to fidget under Peter’s questioning gaze.
“I’m not lying, Peter.”
Peter’s anger depleted a little more, and he sat down on the edge of John’s bed.
“Why would Oliver tell Mary that?” he pondered aloud. “Why would he say that we had argued? I thought he was on my side.”
“No, Peter! He’s not.”
John’s words were so assured that Peter looked up at him, and their eyes remained locked for a long moment.
“John… Do you think Oliver is bad?”
“Yes, Peter. I do.”
After he had spoken with John, Peter was careful to keep vigilant of the grown-ups. Thus far, he had avoided a lecture from Mary – who was trying to punish him by being cold towards him – and Oliver. Mr Darling was yet to return home from the office… but Peter was sure he would give him a punishment far worse than silence.
Perhaps he should tell Mary that Oliver had lied; that John and he hadn’t fought. But why would she believe him? Why would she take his word over that of a grown-up? And something told Peter that he couldn’t rely on John to back him up. Something had upset him terribly, and Peter realised it must have been Uncle Oliver.
Why Oliver would suddenly start being horrible to John, Peter couldn’t fathom. And John would not explain it in in any more detail; he refused to even reveal what or who had upset him so.
No… Peter would have to stay silent about it as well, and bear the injustice of being unfairly punished as best he could.
Worse than any punishment was the feeling of betrayal he now harboured; for a man he had allowed himself to like; for a grown-up who he actually enjoyed the company of.
Now he would never trust Oliver Hunt, or any adult, ever again. He swore it to himself.
Concern suddenly filled Mr Barrie as he bolted awake. He had allowed himself to nod off in the comfort of the armchair and the warmth of the drawing room, but now realised that Peter was no longer with him; he had been shuffling the cards for a new game… a skill the boy was eager to practice, having apparently had no experience of it before his time living with the Darlings… but then James had been swallowed by sleep, and now there cards were lying abandoned on the table.
Barrie wasted no time, rising from his seat and marching quickly into the hall and up the stairs. His ascent was abruptly halted when Mary appeared in front of him, making her way down, and followed by Hunt.
Mrs Darling looked downhearted, as she often had in recent weeks, and it took her a moment to lift her gaze and look at the slightly dishevelled Mr Barrie a few steps below her.
James let a small sigh of relief escape him as he realised that Hunt had been with Mary, and hadn’t been alone with Peter… but he also realised he couldn’t stand idly by any longer; he had to speak.
It was clear from the look on Mary’s face that she was in no condition to hear Barrie’s fears and concerns, however. No… Instead of troubling her, James would have to confront the root of the problem, and hope to appeal to Oliver Hunt’s sense of decency (if he had any).
James trotted back down the stairs, and stood aside to let Mary return to the drawing room; there she could rest a little, and the bustle and noise of Liza bringing tea might distract her.
Before Hunt could follow her, James calmly but strongly took him by the arm. The gesture halted him, and he stared at Barrie with a slight indignation.
“Hunt… Perhaps I might have a word with you… in private.”
A small, sneering smile appeared on Oliver’s lips as he released himself from Barrie’s grip with his free hand, and took a moment to contemplate the man’s request.
“What’s wrong now, James? Want to accuse me of something else?”
Hunt smiled again as he saw the colour rise in Mr Barrie’s cheeks.
“What do you mean?”
“Come now, Sir! Mary would always confide in me when we were children… and she still does. I hear how you have been trying to blacken my character.”
James did indeed flush with embarrassment as he realised Mary had informed Hunt of his concerns… But he wouldn’t be put off so easily;
“I meant no offence to you, Sir… But I am obliged to think of the children. People do talk, Oliver.”
“Indeed they do, Mr Barrie. They also talk about you.”
James was frozen where he stood, but Hunt began circling him; like a shark circling its prey.
“There’s been quite a bit of talk… since you befriended my cousin’s family. From what I understand, you actually befriended the children first!”
A mocking laugh escaped Hunt, and James’ dismay grew as he realised where Hunt was heading.
“Very odd, that… A grown man befriending little boys and girls, in the park...”
James knew he needed to regain control.
“Hunt… You must stay away from Peter.”
Oliver’s eyebrows rose in mock surprise, and he halted his circling. The intense stare he fixed on Barrie caused James’ resolve to waver, and a slight weakness entered his voice.
“You must stay away from all of the children.”
Hunt gave him another arrogant sneer.
“I beg your pardon? Who are you to tell me to keep away from my own family?!”
Oliver took a threatening stop towards Barrie, so that the two men’s noses were almost touching.
“I have a good mind to have you thrown out of this house. Yes… perhaps it is you who should be kept away from the children.”
James blinked as if he had been slapped across the face, and he stared at Hunt, dumbstruck.
“As I’ve said, there are many rumours going around about you, James. And you spend such a lot of time with Peter… People might start to talk...”
The shock in Barrie’s face intensified.
“Are you threatening me, Sir?!”
“Good heavens, no!” Hunt tried to put on a hurt expression, but it was clear he was trying not to smile as he gained the upper-hand. He put an arm around James’ shoulders, and Barrie had to ignore the desire to shrug it off.
“But, you see… Tongues do wag… And if I were barred from seeing the children, then you surely would be, too. Of course… that depends on who Mary is more likely to believe...”
Mr Barrie felt trapped. How could he hope to protect Peter now? Now Oliver Hunt’s threat kept going through his mind; if people started to talk… if his friendship with the Darling children was portrayed as ‘unseemly’… He could be ruined. Perhaps worse still, he would never see the children again, and they would be left defenceless against their ‘Uncle Oliver’.
Remembering how she had reacted to James’ initial warnings, it was clear he couldn’t g to Mary with his concerns. He contemplated, instead, turning to George… But he would surely side with his wife. No; the only thing to be done was to watch Peter and Hunt like a hawk. Work be damned! He would visit the Darling’s every day if he had to.
But what of the nights…
Barrie paced up and down the floor of his bed chamber, for he could not rest. A dark foreboding was upon him; He couldn’t protect the children all the time.
And indeed, along the darkened third-floor corridor of Number 14, Oliver Hunt silently stalked.
Peter’s eyes opened as he heard the creak of a floorboard and the quiet shuffling of someone moving through the house. He sat up in bed and looked towards his bedroom door, but silence fell.
Thinking little of it, he slumped back down and pulled his covers back over him.
He hated being alone in that room all night long… but Mr Darling was adamant that Peter wouldn’t be allowed to sleep with the other boys any longer. It was another cruel and unfair punishment… but Peter didn’t want to push his luck; he couldn’t help but fear the wrath of George Darling… Ever since John’s accident, and the hatred he had seen in the man’s eyes… Peter didn’t want to antagonise him if he could help it.
So now he had to sleep in that little room… alone, and away from the nursery. How he missed snuggling into Wendy’s bed. How he missed the comforting sound of her calm breath, and the sweet smell of her hair.
His eyes flashed open once again as he heard another sound. This time he was sure there was someone in the corridor.
For some inexplicable reason, as he heard the small squeak of the doorknob turning, Peter felt fear; a strange, petrifying fear that stilled him and kept him frozen in place as the bedroom door opened and the figure of a man appeared.
Peter gasped desperately for air. Tears rolled freely down his face, and he felt like he couldn’t breath. Never had he felt anxiety like this; the horror and confusion was almost worse than the physical pain.
He sat there, on the bed, dumbfounded.
And worst of all, he was still there; Uncle Oliver had rolled over, and was sleeping peacefully… as though nothing had happened.
But something had happened… and Peter knew it was wrong.
He felt wrong.
He felt… empty.
He felt... lost.
Peter’s breathing finally calmed a little as his mind settled on one thing; Neverland.
He had to get home!
Slipping out from under the sheets, Peter crept towards the door. The low snoring of Hunt reassured him that the man was, indeed, asleep… but Peter’s body still shook was fear.
Suddenly remembering he was only wearing a nightshirt, Peter forced himself to turn back and grab up some trousers and boots. Thankfully, the figure in the bed didn’t stir… and even when the squeak of the doorknob filled Peter with terror… the man slept on.
Free from that awful room, Peter quickly pulled on the trousers and boots, then ran, not caring that his quick, booted footfalls made the wooden floorboards creak and shudder; he just had to get away as quickly as possible.
John had not been able to sleep. His mind kept racing with thoughts of what had happened, and he had been unable to shift the nagging fear in the pit of his stomach.
He wasn’t safe; none of them were safe. But he couldn’t do a thing about it.
He was finally distracted by the sound of fast-paced footfalls in the hallway outside his room. Leaving his bed, he went to the door to investigate… but as he peered out into the gloom, he froze in fear as he observed Uncle Oliver exiting the room to which Peter had been banished.
John’s eyes widened in horror as he accidentally let a gasp escape him, and saw Hunt turn towards the sound. The man paused for a moment, then smiled. John could do nothing but fight against the sheer terror building within him as he watched Uncle Oliver bring a finger up to his own lips, meaningfully. The gesture was unnecessary, for John knew his voice had already escaped him.
He stood in terrified silence as the man turned away and swiftly headed down the stairwell to the floors below.
Finally feeling sure enough that Uncle Oliver was not coming for him, John quietly closed his bedroom door before allowing himself to collapse onto the floor and weep.
The panic and anxiety of that brief encounter was almost too much to bear… he had no way to vent his pain except through quiet sobbing.
He couldn’t tell anyone. The fear of retribution was far too great… and no one would believe him anyway.
Then John realised… he was utterly alone.
Rising to his feet, he approached the window and unlatched it.
Peter knew he had made too much noise. He had heard the bedroom door open and the footfalls of Oliver Hunt begin to pursue him through the house, so now he ran with blind abandon.
Finally reaching the ground floor, Peter lunged at the front door wildly, and desperately tugged at the doorknob as the sound of his pursuer grew louder. He could also detect the rest of the household stirring from their slumbers… but this gave him no comfort; none of them would help him. They all wanted to keep him trapped there, in that house. But he couldn’t bear it any longer… not with that man. He wouldn’t let himself be hurt like that again.
Quick as a flash, Peter dragged over the small chair that belonged by the telephone, and leapt upon it to reach the bolt at the top of the door. Even with the chair beneath him, Peter had to clamber up further, using the doorknob as a foothold, before he could finally reach the bolt and drag it back.
He knew he had no time, so immediately jumped from the chair and heaved the front door open, ignoring the sound of Hunt rushing down the stairs towards him, and the voice of George Darling demanding to know what all the noise was.
Adrenaline raced through Peter as he hit the cold night air of the street, and turned towards the only hope he had left. If he could only get to Kensington Gardens, he might be able to find a fairy.
His lungs burned and his heart felt close to bursting as he dashed through the London streets in the direction of the park… but the shouts of Oliver Hunt spurred him on, and he soon had the gates of Hyde Park in his sights.
Being the middle of the night, the park gates were shut and locked… but the boundary fence wasn’t so very high, and Peter had enough momentum to scale it quickly. All the while he could hear Hunt calling for him to stop… but Peter would never stop; he would never give up and let that man catch him.
Ignoring the well-maintained pathways that wound their way, leisurely, across the park grounds, Peter ran on over the manicured grass and through the darkness of the trees, towards Kensington Gardens.
Almost exhausted, Peter felt hope rise in him as the Serpentine lake grew closer, and Kensington Gardens became visible beyond it. Without hesitation, Peter ran full-pelt into the waters of the Serpentine… then gasped desperately as the freezing cold hit him.
He felt panic grow inside as the icy water caused his muscles to spasm and his skin to sting painfully… but he forced himself to swim forwards, towards the opposite bank.
Hunt was there… right behind him, on the shore.
Peter struggled onward, swimming as though the lake was filled with treacle; he breathing was truly laboured, and he felt heavy as a stone. Suddenly, it was as though his limbs seized up, and he felt himself sink below the surface, barely having a moment to hold his breath.
Blind panic caused him to flail desperately, and it was an agonising few moments before he was able to break the surface and gasp in the night air again.
“Oliver! What’s going on?!” George Darling was gasping for air himself, finally having caught up with Hunt as he stood on the riverbank.
A moment later, however, Mr Darling looked beyond where Hunt stood, and saw the violent splashing of Peter in the water.
The colour drained from George’s face.
“Peter! My God…”
George ran to the water’s edge as Hunt began pulling off his boots. Mr Darling stared, dumbstruck, as he watched Oliver wade into the freezing Serpentine towards the floundering child.
Peter’s arms flailed as he tried to keep his head above water, but he kept sinking back down, coughing and spluttering as he breathed in water instead of air. The sheer terror of it was overwhelming, but Peter forced himself to keep kicking.
By now he was several yards from the shallows, but Kensington Gardens was still painfully far from him.
Almost in an instant, his muscles seemed to collectively seize, and he realised his whole body had become numb from the cold. He let out a cry as he went under again… and when he resurfaced, he desperately called out for help.
He could hear the splashing of someone swimming towards him, and he realised it must be Oliver Hunt. For a moment, he wrestled with the options, and whether he wanted to be saved by that man; just the thought of being touched by him, even in rescue, filled him with dread. But Peter knew he couldn’t keep going. He spluttered and coughed again as the lake water burned his lungs, then went under again.
This time, just as he submerged, he thought he could hear the tinkling of bells.
Mr Darling watched on in dismay as Hunt finally reached the spot where the child had vanished beneath the surface of the lake. Gasping in as much air as his lungs would hold, Oliver dived down into the dark water.
Seconds crept by at what seemed a painstakingly slow rate as George Darling looked on. Suddenly realising himself, George threw off his coat and began pulling off his shoes, resolved to enter the icy Serpentine as well.
Just as he had started wading into the lake, gasping in shock at the temperature of it, the water’s surface broke before him as Hunt reappeared, clutching the boy’s limp body. George dashed forward to help, grabbing hold of the child and lending support to the man who carried him.
Once on dry land, Hunt knelt down and laid Peter down before him. George quickly knelt as well, and took the child’s face in his hands, gently trying to get a response.
But the boy did not stir.
Having been awoken by the same fray that woke her husband, Mary grabbed up her dressing gown and quickly fetched her slippers before following George from the room. She could hear his footfalls on the stairs, and his voice demanding to know what all the noise was. There was no answer… but her cousin was shouting for Peter; telling him to stop.
Mary quickened her pace, but paused as she saw the other children emerging from their bedrooms.
“Mother? What’s going on?”
Wendy still had the look of sleep about her, but her brow was furrowed with concern as she looked down the corridor in the direction of the noise.
“Nothing for you all to worry about, my darlings...” she said, addressing the boys as well, “I will find out what is happening once you are all back in your beds.”
The children let out a collective groan at being denied any knowledge or inclusion of the latest family drama… but all begrudgingly turned back to their rooms.
Wendy, however, watched as her mother hurried on down the stairs, before following.
The house had become quiet again, but a cold draught blew through it as the Darling women descended and saw that the front door stood open.
Mary rushed to it and peered discretely out into the street, conscious that she was still in her nightgown and slippers. She closed the door, then turned to the coat rack and hastily slipped on a warm coat and some lace-up boots that sat idly by the umbrella stand. She hadn’t noticed her daughter had followed her until she saw the movement of Wendy donning her own coat and scarf.
“Wendy! I told you to go back to bed.”
The girl held her mother’s stern gaze, resolute in her determination to help; Peter must have run off again, and she would help to bring him home.
“Mother, I feel I am quite old enough to be of some assistance. If Peter is upset again, I can help to calm him.”
Mary was a little taken aback by the confident determination of her child… but she also felt pride. After a moment of consideration, she relented.
“Very well. But be sure to keep close to me.”
A smile lit up the little girl’s face as her mother opened the front door and ushered her through.
Stepping out onto the pavement, Mary suddenly halted.
“Oh dear… I don’t know where they have gone. Or which direction they went in.”
Wendy paused as well, then looked thoughtful.
“Peter doesn’t know how to get to that many places… I’d wager he is heading for the park!”
This did make perfect sense; it was one of the few places they all walked to often, and Peter always showed delight at their regular outings there.
“Very well. We shall check the park first, and hope that we catch them up.”
Mother and daughter began their pursuit once more… but froze in horror as a blood-curdling scream echoed through the street, and a sickening thud came from behind them.
Wendy screamed in shock and alarm, and both she and Mrs Darling turned back to the house to see a truly terrible sight.
Mary’s heart filled with horror as she beheld her eldest son, lying crumpled and broken on the ground.
Mr Barrie closed his notebook and looked up to gaze across the Serpentine. The bench on which he sat, and the place itself, would be forever tinged with sadness and regret for him now. Somewhere along this stretch of water, Oliver Hunt had pulled the lifeless body of a boy to the shore; a boy Barrie had sworn to himself he would protect.
But he had failed.
Not only had he failed Peter, but he had failed John as well. So preoccupied with keeping an eye on Peter, he had neglected to recognise the danger all the children had been in.
Barrie was convinced Hunt had had a part to play in both boy’s deaths… but he could not prove it. Instead, he would have to live with the heartbreaking guilt of not being there.
Of course, he was no stranger to such sorrow… but now, feeling himself responsible for the deaths of three boys, rather than one, was hard to bear. His thoughts went to his brother then; David had been so brave… so full of life… so like Peter.
James’ memories of David had faded through the years… but the pain had not. And now the loss of two more boys would weigh on his heart and prey on his mind forever.
He wanted more than anything to visit the Darling household; to give them comfort and support, and receive the same in return… but he knew he would not go back there.
Most sickening of all was the praise and admiration shown to Hunt for his ‘selfless’ and ‘heroic” act: trying to save a drowning child. Yes… the man who had caused their deaths was being celebrated as a hero. It was more than Barrie could bear.
The horror and guilt of it wasn’t lost on Hunt, at least, and Barrie had learnt the despicable man was leaving… returning to the rock he had crawled from. At least the other Darling children would be safe with him gone.
But the realisation that Oliver Hunt would not be punished for the evil he had done… that was hard for James to stomach.
Even so, he was powerless. Instead of obsessing over the injustice of it, Barrie resolved to focus on his grief, and on the boys he had lost.
Barrie had loved John dearly… but Peter had fascinated him. The boy really had reminded James so much of his lost brother.
And perhaps the boy wasn’t the Peter Pan… perhaps it had all been a pretend… but even so, Barrie looked out across the sparkling waters of the Serpentine and thought of Peter... safe at home… in Neverland.