“Or Peter’s set it to remain that way.”
“He may have got into the machinery and fixed something.”
“Peter doesn’t know machinery.”
“He’s a wise one for ten. That I.Q. of his—“
“Hello, Mom. Hello, Dad.”
The Hadleys turned. Wendy and Peter were coming in the front door, cheeks like peppermint candy, eyes like bright blue agate marbles, a smell of ozone on their jumpers from their trip in the helicopter.
“You’re just in time for supper,” said both parents.
“We’re full of strawberry ice cream and hot dogs,” said the children, holding hands. “But we’ll sit and watch.”
“Yes, come tell us about the nursery,” said George Hadley.
The brother and sister blinked at him and then at each other. “Nursery?”
“All about Africa and everything,” said the father with false joviality.
“I don’t understand,” said Peter.
“Your mother and I were just traveling through Africa with rod and reel; Tom Swift and his Electric Lion,” said George Hadley.
“There’s no Africa in the nursery,” said Peter simply.
“Oh, come now, Peter. We know better.”
“I don’t remember any Africa,” said Peter to Wendy. “Do you?”
“Run see and come tell.”
“Wendy, come back here!” said George Hadley, but she was gone. The house lights followed her like a flock of fireflies. Too late, he realized he had forgotten to lock the nursery door after his last inspection.
“Wendy’ll look and come tell us,” said Peter.
“She doesn’t have to tellme. I’ve seen it.”
“I’m sure you’re mistaken, Father.”
“I’m not, Peter. Come along now.”
But Wendy was back. “It’s not Africa,” she said breathlessly.
“We’ll see about this,” said George Hadley, and they all walked down the hall together and opened the nursery door.
There was a green, lovely forest, a lovely river, a purple mountain, high voices singing, and Rima, lovely and mysterious, lurking in the trees with colorful flights of butterflies, like animated bouquets, lingering in her long hair. The African veldtland was gone. The lions were gone. Only Rima was here now, singing a song so beautiful that it brought tears to your eyes.
George Hadley looked in at the changed scene. “Go to bed,” he said to the children.
They opened their mouths.
“You heard me,” he said.
They went off to the air closet, where a wind sucked them like brown leaves up the flue to their slumber rooms.
George Hadley walked through the singing glade and picked up something that lay in the corner near where the lions had been. He walked slowly back to his wife.
“What is that?” she asked.
“An old wallet of mine,” he said.
He showed it to her. The smell of hot grass was on it and the smell of a lion. There were drops of saliva on it, it had been chewed, and there were blood smears on both sides.
He closed the nursery door and locked it, tight.
In the middle of the night he was still awake and he knew his wife was awake. “Do you think Wendy changed it?” she said at last, in the dark room.
“Made it from a veldt into a forest and put Rima there instead of lions?”
“I don’t know. But it’s staying locked until I find out.”
“How did your wallet get there?”
“I don’t know anything,” he said, “except that I’m beginning to be sorry we bought that room for the children. If children are neurotic at all, a room like that—“
“It’s supposed to help them work off their neuroses in a healthful way.”
“I’m starting to wonder.” He stared at the ceiling.
“We’ve given the children everything they ever wanted. Is this our reward—secrecy, disobedience?”
“Who was it said, ‘Children are carpets, they should be stepped on occasionally’? We’ve never lifted a hand. They’re insufferable—let’s admit it. They come and go when they like; they treat us as if we were offspring. They’re spoiled and we’re spoiled.”
“They’ve been acting funny ever since you forbade them to take the rocket to New York a few months ago.”
“They’re not old enough to do that alone, I explained.”
“Nevertheless, I’ve noticed they’ve been decidedly cool toward us since.”