Author's Notes: To those who read my other Peter Pan story: This story is not a sequel to "First Kiss," and is in fact very different, based on an entirely different perspective on Peter and Neverland. It'll have some things in common with my other fic, though, such as my storytelling style (based somewhat on the narration in the film) and Peter/Wendy romance.
In writing this story, I placed Wendy and Peter's youthful Neverland adventure (i.e., the events of the film) as having taken place in 1904, the year when J.M. Barrie's play Peter Pan was first performed on the London stage. Therefore, this story is set in Edwardian England, late in the year 1907.
It might be said that the evening on which Wendy Darling's second great adventure began was that of her sixteenth birthday, as she traveled in a carriage down Oxford Street toward a party being held in her honor at the home of her parents.
Wendy was wearing her finest pale blue gown and white gloves, and her lady's maid, Lottie, had fixed her hair in the latest "Gibson Girl" style, piled atop her head and then softened so that it surrounded her face rather like a cloud. Lottie had also laced her corset even more tightly than usual, as would befit a special occasion. Wendy looked very fine indeed. She smiled politely when Aunt Millicent spoke to her.
She was utterly miserable.
Staring out the window of the carriage, Wendy thought how ironic it should be that she would be visiting her parents and brothers for her birthday, when the only gift she would wish would be to living with them all once more.
Aunt Millicent's house in St. John's Wood, just near Regent's Park, was very fine, but to Wendy it seemed rather empty. Empty of life, that is, for it was certainly not empty otherwise. Slightly had been sent to boarding school, as Aunt Millicent had rapidly discovered that young boys were far more disruptive than she might have originally thought them to be, and so Aunt Millicent and Wendy lived quite alone, surrounded by an oppression of thick burgundy curtains, cream lace inner curtains (for one set of curtains, it seemed, was not quite sufficient to protect oneself from the dangers that might come through windows), ornate wallpaper designed with chrysanthemums and pomegranates and other various fruits and flowers, hideously uncomfortable settees and ottomans and divans covered in richly-textured antimacassars, displays of wax fruit, wax candles, shells, a rather frighteningly intimidating number of framed photographs, useless decorative screens that hid nothing, large potted palms and aspidistra, and cases filled with arrays of pinned butterflies.
Wendy often felt as if she too belonged in one of those glass cases. As if she, too, were a butterfly who had been most untimely pinned.
She would be leaving school this year, as Aunt Millicent insisted it was no longer necessary for a young lady of sixteen. Instead, Wendy would continue her instruction with Aunt Millicent to a greater extent, with the intention of preparing her, of course, for marriage. The thought of leaving school saddened Wendy greatly, for she knew how Aunt Millicent disapproved of books for young ladies. Though Aunt Millicent herself might read novels as much as she liked, she insisted that such fare would only encourage Wendy's disturbingly fanciful imagination.
In truth, Wendy's imagination had become considerably less of a concern under Aunt Millicent's constant guidance. Wendy rarely thought of Neverland anymore, and when she did it caused a pain in her heart that no doctor's purgative could relieve.
On a rare occasion as she lay alone in her bed late at night, however, it must be acknowledged that she did sometimes wish in some small hidden part of her soul that she had stayed with Peter Pan in Neverland, for growing up had not been quite what she expected it to be.
On this particular evening, however, Wendy had no thought of Neverland in her mind. Rather, she was gazing from the carriage window, morosely anticipating her own birthday celebration, knowing full well that her aunt would insist on Wendy giving a dutiful demonstration of the effects of her singing and dancing lessons. She felt rather like a trained monkey, required to perform upon demand.
And so her thoughts were thus unhappily occupied when their carriage came to a stop in the evening crush. The horses pulling many of the carriages surrounding them had been frightened by a passing motor car, and now all movement had ceased until the animals could be calmed.
Out the window, on the twilit street, Wendy happened by chance to see the face of a young man, walking close to their carriage, though his attention was elsewhere. He slouched unhappily, hands shoved into the pockets of his thinly patched trousers. His face was very dirty, but it still touched something within Wendy. Something that caused her heart to beat more quickly.
Before she had given any thought to what she was doing, Wendy had opened the door of the carriage and leapt out. "Peter?" she cried, grabbing hold of the young man's arm so that he turned to look at her. "Peter?" His eyes were the same sea blue she remembered, clear and beautiful in his confused, soot-smeared face.
"Let go!" he insisted, attempting to pull his arm from her grasp. "I don't know you, lady!"
By now, unfortunately, Aunt Millicent had begun screaming, clinging to the side of the carriage and peering out in distress. "Oh! Police! Help!" she shrilled. "Help! My niece is being accosted by a ruffian! Help! Oh, help! Will no one help us?"
A man from another carriage leapt out to tackle the young fellow who appeared to be roughly handling and perhaps robbing a very well-dressed young lady, and threw the unwashed young man into a nearby wall before turning around to sweep a protesting Wendy into his arms as if to keep her more safe through his physical protection.
A policeman arrived at a run and grabbed Wendy's supposed attacker, pressing him quite securely against the brick wall and asking, "Are you all right, miss?"
Wendy nodded numbly, struggling feebly in her large rescuer's arms, but the gallant stranger would not release her.
Aunt Millicent was now leaning further from the carriage, now that the danger appeared to be gone. "Sir, how can we possibly thank you enough for all you have done for us?"
The tall gentleman smiled quite charmingly and said, "I'm afraid in the confusion my cab has departed. Might I ride with you ladies a short distance to the home of a patient?"
"Patient?" asked Aunt Millicent, apparently uncaring of Wendy's undignified position in the man's arms.
The man deposited Wendy comfortably in the carriage and then stood such that he was entirely blocking her view of the dirty young man still occupying her thoughts. Was it Peter? Could it be? Why did he not know her? What was he doing here? It was all terribly strange.
Apparently Aunt Millicent and the man had reached some agreement, for he climbed into the carriage and rode with them as they continued on their way to the party.
"My name is Dr. Carew," he explained with another charming smile, simultaneously handing his card to Aunt Millicent. "I am more than glad to have been able to be of service."
Wendy craned her neck in a desperate effort to catch another glimpse of the strange boy as they pulled away, but other carriages now blocked her view.
And as the well-appointed carriage drove away to carry its passengers toward their very elegant evening plans, an unnamed policeman gave a mysterious and dirty young man a very sound beating before walking away, leaving the confused and mistreated fellow lying bleeding in the street.
* * *
The party itself was quite lovely of course, for Wendy rarely saw her brothers anymore, though St. John's Wood was not so very far from Bloomsbury. Aunt Millicent seemed to feel that noisy young boys were not appropriate company for a proper young lady. Talking with them at the party was therefore a rare and wonderful treat.
Aunt Millicent had also, of course, invited several very appropriate young men and women of the best society. Wendy did not know many of them, but was expected to be pleasant and grateful that they had come.
There was tea and punch and cakes, and Mother played the piano while everyone danced. Though Aunt Millicent had urged Wendy in advance that she should dance only with the eligible young men in attendance, Wendy chose in some small measure of rebellion to dance the first dance with Nibs, which caused that young man to become quite puffed up with his own importance. In truth, he had nursed something of an attachment to Wendy for some time, though he knew that Aunt Millicent would never consider him a suitable match.
After dancing with Nibs, and then John, and then Tootles, Wendy was abruptly pulled aside by Aunt Millicent, who informed her that she would spend the rest of the party dancing only with the young gentlemen whom Aunt Millicent had invited, and do no more of this insolent dancing with her brothers. Wendy nodded unhappily, and re-entered the drawing room.
Mother happened to turn at that moment and ask Wendy, "Would you like to sing a song, dear? You do have such a lovely voice since you began training with your aunt." Mother smiled, so that it seemed a genuine compliment, but to Wendy it felt still like a prison. Knowing her place, however, she smiled and nodded, stepping forward to stand beside the piano.
As Mother began to play a familiar and popular tune, Wendy sang in a bright soprano:
Pale hands I loved beside the Shalimar,
Where are you now? Who lies beneath your spell?
Whom do you lead on Rapture's roadway, far,
Before you agonize them in farewell,
Before you agonize them in farewell?
Pale hands I loved beside the Shalimar,
Where are you now?
Where are you now?
Pale hands, pink-tipped, like Lotus buds that float
On those cool waters where we used to dwell,
I would have rather felt you round my throat
Crushing out life, than waving me farewell!
Crushing out life, than waving me farewell.
Pale hands I loved beside the Shalimar,
Where are you now?
Where are you now?
As she sang, Wendy thought once more of the young man she had seen on the street. He had looked so very much like Peter Pan! She found herself thinking of Peter more than she had done in a very long time, wondering what had become of him and if he might truly be in London for some unknown reason.
But when her song was done, Wendy was called once more to behave as a proper lady would do, and to dance and make conversation with her guests. She had little more time for thought.
Though she warmly directed others to the refreshments her parents had provided, Wendy herself took neither food nor drink. She had eaten some small amount before leaving Aunt Millicent's house, and her aunt had insisted, as ever, that a true lady does not have a good appetite, just as she does not leap about with great energy. A true lady is quiet and still, eating little and taking no exercise aside from the occasional walk through the park, where one might be seen to advantage.
On this diet of little food or exercise, Wendy had grown from a robust young girl to a rather delicate young woman. Her skin was so pale as to be translucent, which Aunt Millicent said was one of her best features. She sometimes found herself out of breath, though whether that was lack of exercise or the tightness of her corset was not entirely clear.
Growing up was proving to be rather a trial, if the truth be known. But she no longer had a choice.
Wendy was once again jolted from her private reveries by some of her brothers clamoring for a story. "Please do tell a story, Wendy!" "Just one!" "Just a little one!" "Just a very little one!" "A story about Peter!" "A story about pirates!" They really were making quite a din, and the more elegant party guests were looking rather repulsed by the coarseness of it all, and so Mother and Father shushed the boys gently.
Glancing Aunt Millicent's way, Wendy saw her disapproving glare, accompanied by her tight headshake of refusal. Turning once more toward her brothers, Wendy said gently, and not entirely untruthfully, "I have no stories to tell tonight, boys. I'm sorry." The boys moaned and sighed and made other disappointed noises, but even they were soon silenced by Aunt Millicent's sour face.
Even still, it must be admitted that even upon their best behavior and even in the face of Aunt Millicent's disapproval, the boys were not entirely well-behaved, and in fact one of the twins nearly set fire to the tablecloth, though that unfortunate young fellow was snatched up before any real damage had been done and then banished upstairs to the nursery for the remainder of the evening, which was not so very long afterward. The Darling household was not the best of locations for a gathering of young society people.
All of the elegant young ladies and gentleman said their very elegant good-byes, and then Wendy exchanged many hugs and kisses with the members of her family, and before she knew it Wendy was once more in her very elegant bedroom back in St. John's Wood, having her very elegant clothing and hairstyle undone by Lottie.
"Did you like the party, Miss?" asked Lottie as she unlaced Wendy's corset.
"It was fine," Wendy replied with no enthusiasm and no inflection. She had no more to say. What more was there to say?
For Wendy had gone so very long without telling stories that she had quite lost her skill. In Aunt Millicent's diligence to ensure that Wendy did not become an unmarriagable novelist, she had stifled Wendy's every storytelling outlet. Even Wendy's dreams had become boring affairs, full of embroidery and tapestry work, piano lessons and visits to Aunt Millicent's very elegant acquaintances. She had lost her ability to imagine.
But on this evening, Wendy found some tiny, lonely spark lighting in her long unused imagination. For she was certain that the young man on the street had been Peter Pan. She was utterly convinced. And what might have brought Peter Pan to such a sorry state was quite unimaginable. Whatever it was, it must have been quite horrible.
Whatever the reason, she was going to find him again. Tomorrow she would start looking for Peter Pan.
Author's Notes: The song Wendy sings was written in 1902, with lyrics by Lawrence Hope and music by Amy Woodforde-Finden.