“Yes—four dolls I have. My mother will give me another if I ask her. Would your mother?”
“Yes,” said Barbara, untruthfully.
“That’s my governess, Miss Marsh, there, with the green hat, that is. I’ve had her two months.”
“Yes,” said Barbara, gazing with adoring eyes.
“She’s going away next week. There’s another coming. I can do sums, can you?”
“Yes,” again from Barbara.
“I can do up to twice-sixty-three. I’m nine. Miss Marsh says I’m clever.”
“I’m seven,” said Barbara.
“I could read when I was seven—long, long words. Can you read?”
At this moment there arrived the green-hatted Miss Marsh, a plump, optimistic person, to whom Miss Letts was gloomily patronising. Miss Letts always distrusted stoutness in another; it looked like deliberate insult. Mary Adams was conveyed away; Barbara was bereft of her glory.
But, rather, on that instant that Mary Adams vanished did she become glorified. Barbara had been too absurdly agitated to transform on to the mirror of her brain Mary’s appearance. In all the dim-coloured splendour of flame and mist was Mary now enwrapped, with every step that Barbara took towards her home did the splendour grow.
Then followed an invitation to tea from Mary’s mother. Barbara, preparing for the event, suffered her hair to be brushed, choked with strange half-sweet, half-terrible suffocation that comes from anticipated glories: half-sweet because things will, at their worst, be wonderful; half-terrible because we know that they will not be so good as we hope.
Barbara, washed paler than ever, in a white frock with pink bows, was conducted by Miss Letts. She choked with terror in the strange hall, where she was received with great splendour by Mary. The schoolroom was large and fine and bright, finer far than Barbara’s room, swamped by the waters of religion and politics. Barbara could only gulp and gulp, and feel still at her throat that half-sweet, half-terrible suffocation. Within her little body her heart, so huge and violent, was pounding.
“A very nice room indeed,” said Miss Letts, more friendly now to the optimist because she was leaving in a day or two, and could not, therefore, at the moment be considered a success. Her failure balanced her plumpness.
Here, at any rate, was the beginning of a great friendship between Barbara Flint and Mary Adams. The character of Mary Adams was admittedly a difficult one to explore; her mother, a cloud of nurses and a company of governesses had been baffled completely by its dark caverns and recesses. One clue, beyond question, was selfishness; but this quality, by the very obviousness of it, may tempt us to believe that that is all. It may account, when we are displeased, for so much. It accounted for a great deal with Mary—but not all. She had, I believe, a quite genuine