Chapter 2 The shadow
"Won't; won't!" Michael cried naughtily. Mrs. Darling left the room to get a chocolate for him, and Mr. Darling thought this showed want of firmness.
"Mother, don't pamper him," he called after her. "Michael, when I was your age I took medicine without a murmur. I said, `Thank you, kind parents, for giving me bottles to make we well.'"
He really thought this was true, and Wendy, who was now in her night-gown, believed it also, and she said, to encourage Michael, "That medicine you sometimes take, father, is much nastier, isn't it?"
"Ever so much nastier," Mr. Darling said bravely, "and I would take it now as an example to you, Michael, if I hadn't lost the bottle."
He had not exactly lost it; he had climbed in the dead of night to the top of the wardrobe and hidden it there. What he did not know was that the faithful Liza had found it, and put it back on his wash-stand.
"I know where it is, father," Wendy cried, always glad to be of service. "I'll bring it," and she was off before he could stop her. Immediately his spirits sank in the strangest way.
"John," he said, shuddering, "it's most beastly stuff. It's that nasty, sticky, sweet kind."
"It will soon be over, father," John said cheerily, and then in rushed Wendy with the medicine in a glass.
"I have been as quick as I could," she panted.
"You have been wonderfully quick," her father retorted, with a vindictive politeness that was quite thrown away upon her. "Michael first," he said doggedly.
"Father first," said Michael, who was of a suspicious nature.
"I shall be sick, you know," Mr. Darling said threateningly.
"Come on, father," said John.
"Hold your tongue, John," his father rapped out.
Wendy was quite puzzled. "I thought you took it quite easily, father."
"That is not the point," he retorted. "The point is, that there is more in my glass that in Michael's spoon." His proud heart was nearly bursting. "And it isn't fair: I would say it though it were with my last breath; it isn't fair."
"Father, I am waiting," said Michael coldly.
"It's all very well to say you are waiting; so am I waiting."
"Father's a cowardly custard."
"So are you a cowardly custard."
"I'm not frightened."
"Neither am I frightened."
"Well, then, take it."
"Well, then, you take it."
Wendy had a splendid idea. "Why not both take it at the same time?"
"Certainly," said Mr. Darling. "Are you ready, Michael?"
Wendy gave the words, one, two, three, and Michael took his medicine, but Mr. Darling slipped his behind his back.
There was a yell of rage from Michael, and "O father!" Wendy exclaimed.
"What do you mean by `O father'?" Mr. Darling demanded. "Stop that row, Michael. I meant to take mine, but I -- I missed it."
It was dreadful the way all the three were looking at him, just as if they did not admire him. "Look here, all of you," he said entreatingly, as soon as Nana had gone into the bathroom. "I have just thought of a splendid joke. I shall pour my medicine into Nana's bowl, and she will drink it, thinking it is milk!"
It was the colour of milk; but the children did not have their father's sense of humour, and they looked at him reproachfully as he poured the medicine into Nana's bowl. "What fun!" he said doubtfully, and they did not dare expose him when Mrs. Darling and Nana returned.
"Nana, good dog," he said, patting her, "I have put a little milk into your bowl, Nana."
Nana wagged her tail, ran to the medicine, and began lapping it. Then she gave Mr. Darling such a look, not an angry look: she showed him the great red tear that makes us so sorry for noble dogs, and crept into her kennel.
Mr. Darling was frightfully ashamed of himself, but he would not give in. In a horrid silence Mrs. Darling smelt the bowl. "O George," she said, "it's your medicine!"
"It was only a joke," he roared, while she comforted her boys, and Wendy hugged Nana. "Much good," he said bitterly, "my wearing myself to the bone trying to be funny in this house."
And still Wendy hugged Nana. "That's right," he shouted. "Coddle her! Nobody coddles me. Oh dear no! I am only the breadwinner, why should I be coddled--why, why, why!"
"George," Mrs. Darling entreated him, "not so loud; the servants will hear you." Somehow they had got into the way of calling Liza the servants.
"Let them!" he answered recklessly. "Bring in the whole world. But I refuse to allow that dog to lord it in my nursery for an hour longer."
The children wept, and Nana ran to him beseechingly, but he waved her back. He felt he was a strong man again. "In vain, in vain," he cried; "the proper place for you is the yard, and there you go to be tied up this instant."
"George, George," Mrs. Darling whispered, "remember what I told you about that boy."
Alas, he would not listen. He was determined to show who was master in that house, and when commands would not draw Nana from the kennel, he lured her out of it with honeyed words, and seizing her roughly, dragged her from the nursery. He was ashamed of himself, and yet he did it. It was all owing to his too affectionate nature, which craved for admiration. When he had tied her up in the back-yard, the wretched father went and sat in the passage, with his knuckles to his eyes.
In the meantime Mrs. Darling had put the children to bed in unwonted silence and lit their night-lights. They could hear Nana barking, and John whimpered, "It is because he is chaining her up in the yard," but Wendy was wiser.
"That is not Nana's unhappy bark," she said, little guessing what was about to happen; "that is her bark when she smells danger."
"Are you sure, Wendy?"
Mrs. Darling quivered and went to the window. It was securely fastened. She looked out, and the night was peppered with stars. They were crowding round the house, as if curious to see what was to take place there, but she did not notice this, nor that one or two of the smaller ones winked at her. Yet a nameless fear clutched at her heart and made her cry, "Oh, how I wish that I wasn't going to a party to-night!"
Even Michael, already half asleep, knew that she was perturbed, and he asked, "Can anything harm us, mother, after the night- lights are lit?"
"Nothing, precious," she said; "they are the eyes a mother leaves behind her to guard her children."
She went from bed to bed singing enchantments over them, and little Michael flung his arms round her. "Mother," he cried, "I'm glad of you." They were the last words she was to hear from him for a long time.
No. 27 was only a few yards distant, but there had been a slight fall of snow, and Father and Mother Darling picked their way over it deftly not to soil their shoes. They were already the only persons in the street, and all the stars were watching them. Stars are beautiful, but they may not take an active part in anything, they must just look on for ever. It is a punishment put on them for something they did so long ago that no star now knows what it was. So the older ones have become glassy-eyed and seldom speak (winking is the star language), but the little ones still wonder. They are not really friendly to Peter, who had a mischievous way of stealing up behind them and trying to blow them out; but they are so fond of fun that they were on his side to-night, and anxious to get the grown-ups out of the way. So as soon as the door of 27 closed on Mr. and Mrs. Darling there was a commotion in the firmament, and the smallest of all the stars in the Milky Way screamed out: