The last sound Peter heard before he was quite alone were the mermaids retiring one by one to their bedchambers under the sea. He was too far away to hear their doors shut; but every door in the coral caves where they live rings a tiny bell when it opens or closes (as in all the nicest houses on the mainland), and he heard the bells.
Steadily the waters rose till they were nibbling at his feet; and to pass the time until they made their final gulp, he watched the only thing on the lagoon. He thought it was a piece of floating paper, perhaps part of the kite, and wondered idly how long it would take to drift ashore.
Presently he noticed as an odd thing that it was undoubtedly out upon the lagoon with some definite purpose, for it was fighting the tide, and sometimes winning; and when it won, Peter, always sympathetic to the weaker side, could not help clapping; it was such a gallant piece of paper.
It was not really a piece of paper; it was the Never bird, making desperate efforts to reach Peter on the nest. By working her wings, in a way she had learned since the nest fell into the water, she was able to some extent to guide her strange craft, but by the time Peter recognised her she was very exhausted. She had come to save him, to give him her nest, though there were eggs in it. I rather wonder at the bird, for though he had been nice to her, he had also sometimes tormented her. I can suppose only that, like Mrs. Darling and the rest of them, she was melted because he had all his first teeth.
She called out to him what she had come for, and he called out to her what she was doing there; but of course neither of them understood the other’s language. In fanciful stories people can talk to the birds freely, and I wish for the moment I could pretend that this were such a story, and say that Peter replied intelligently to the Never bird; but truth is best, and I want to tell you only what really happened. Well, not only could they not understand each other, but they forgot their manners.
“I--want--you--to--get--into--the--nest,” the bird called, speaking as slowly and distinctly as possible, “and --then--you--can--drift--ashore, but--I--am--too--tired--to--bring--it--any--nearer--so--you--must--try--to--swim--to--it.”
“What are you quacking about?” Peter answered. “Why don’t you let the nest drift as usual?”
“I--want--you--” the bird said, and repeated it all over.
Then Peter tried slow and distinct.
“What--are--you--quacking--about?” and so on.
The Never bird became irritated; they have very short tempers.
“You dunderheaded little jay,” she screamed, “Why don’t you do as I tell you?”
Peter felt that she was calling him names, and at a venture he retorted hotly:
“So are you!”
Then rather curiously they both snapped out the same remark: