From the very beginning nurses were chosen who would take care of Nancy Boss’s appearance. There was plenty of money to spend, and Nancy was a child who, with her flaxen hair and blue eyes, would repay trouble. She did repay it, because she had no desires towards grubbiness or rebellion, or any wildnesses whatever. She just sat there with her doll balanced neatly in her arms, and allowed herself to be pulled and twisted and squeezed and stretched. “There’s a pretty little lady,” said nurse, and a pretty little lady Nancy was sure that she was. The order for her day was that in the morning she went out for a walk in the gardens in the Square, and in the afternoon she went out for another. During these walks she moved slowly, her doll delicately carried, her beautiful clothes shining with approval of the way that they were worn, her head high, “like a little queen,” said her nurse. She was conscious of the other children in the gardens, who often stopped in the middle of their play and watched her. She thought them hot and dirty and very noisy. She was sorry for their mothers.
It happened sometimes that she came downstairs, towards the end of a luncheon party, and was introduced to the guests. “You pretty little thing,” women in very large hats said to her. “Lovely hair,” or “She’s the very image of you, Clarice,” to her mother. She liked to hear that because she greatly admired her mother. She knew that she, Nancy Ross, was beautiful; she knew that clothes were of an immense importance; she knew that other children were unpleasant. For the rest, she was neither extravagantly glad nor extravagantly sorry. She preserved a fine indifference.... And yet, although, here my story may seem to matter-of-fact persons to take a turn towards the fantastic, this was not quite all. Nancy herself, dimly and yet uneasily, was aware that there was something else.
She was not a little girl who believed in fairies or witches or the “bogey man,” or anything indeed that she could not see. She inherited from her mother a splendid confidence in the reality, the solid, unquestioned reality of all concrete and tangible things. She had been presented once with a fine edition of “Grimm’s Fairy Tales,” an edition with coloured pictures and every allure. She had turned its pages with a look of incredulous amazement. “What,” she seemed to say—she was then aged three and a half—“are these absurd things that you are telling me? People aren’t like that. Mother isn’t in the least like that. I don’t understand this, and it’s tedious!”
“I’m afraid the child has no imagination,” said her nurse.
“What a lucky thing!” said her mother.
Nor could Mrs. Ross’s house be said to be a place that encouraged fairies. They would have found the gilt chairs hard to sit upon, and there were no mysterious corners. There was nothing mysterious at all. And yet Nancy Ross, sitting in her magnificent clothes, was conscious as she advanced towards her sixth year that she was not perfectly comfortable. To say that she felt lonely would be, perhaps, to emphasise too strongly her discomfort. It was perhaps rather that she felt inquisitive—only a little, a very little—but she did begin to wish that she could ask a few questions.