Still could she not hold herself from fancying, at times, that her doll Jane was a queen, and that Miss Letts could make “spells” by the mere crook of her bony fingers. Worst of all, still she must think of her Friend, tell herself with an ache that he would never come back again, feel, sometimes, that she would give up Mary and all the rest of the world if he would only be beside her bed, as he used to be, talking to her, holding her hand. During these days, had there been any one to observe her, she was a pathetic little figure, with her thin legs like black sticks, her saucer eyes that so readily filled with tears, her eager, half-apprehensive expression, the passionate clutch of the doll to her heart, and it is, after all, a painful business, this adoration—no human soul can live up to the heights of it, and, what is more, no human soul ought to.
As Mary grew tired of Barbara she allowed to slip from her many of the virtuous graces that had hitherto, for Barbara’s benefit, adorned her. She lost her temper, was cruel simply for the pleasure that Barbara’s ill-restrained agitation yielded her, but, even beyond this, squandered recklessly her reputation for virtue. Twice, before Barbara’s very eyes, she told lies, and told them, too, with a real mastery of the craft—long practice and a natural disposition had brought her very near perfection. Barbara, her heart beating wildly, refused to understand; Mary could not be so. She held Jane to her breast more tightly than before. And the denials continued; twice a day now they were extorted from her—with every denial the ghost of her Friend stole more deeply into the mist. He was gone; he was gone; and what was left?
Very soon, and with unexpected suddenness, the crisis came.
Upon a day Barbara accompanied her mother to tea with Mrs. Adams. The ladies remained downstairs in the dull splendour of the drawing-room; Mary and Barbara were delivered to Miss Fortescue, the most recent guardian of Mary’s life and prospects.
“She’s simply awful. You needn’t mind a word she says,” Mary instructed her friend, and prepared then to behave accordingly. They had tea, and Mary did as she pleased. Miss Fortescue protested, scolded, was weak when she should have been strong, and said often, “Now, Mary, there’s a dear.”
Barbara, the faint colour coming and going in her cheeks, watched. She watched Mary now with quite a fresh intention. She had begun her voyage of discovery: what was in Mary’s head, what would she do next? What Mary did next was to propose, after tea, that they should travel through other parts of the house.