“Oh, no,” said Mary, in a voice shocked to a strangled whisper. Nevertheless, she began, a little, to despise her confused parents. There came a day when Mary told a very large lie indeed; she said that she had brushed her teeth when she had not, and she told this lie quite unprompted by Sarah. She was more and more miserable as the days passed.
No one knew exactly the things that the two little girls did when they were alone on an afternoon in Sarah’s room. Sarah sent Hortense about her business, and then set herself to the subdual of Mary’s mind and character. There would be moments like this, Sarah would turn off the electric light, and the room would be lit only by the dim shining of the evening sky.
“Now, Mary, you go over to that corner—that dark one—and wait there till I tell you to come out. I’ll go outside the room, and then you’ll see what will happen.”
“Oh, no, Sarah, I don’t want to.”
“Why not, you silly baby?”
“I—I don’t want to.”
“Well, it will be much worse for you if you don’t.”
“I want to go home.”
“You can after you have done that.”
“I want to go home now.”
“Go into the corner first.”
Sarah would leave the room and Mary would stand with her face to the wall, a trembling prey to a thousand terrors. The light would quiver and shake, steps would tread the floor and cease, there would be a breath in her ears, a wind above her head. She would try to pray, but could remember no words. Sarah would lead her forth, shaking from head to foot.
“You little silly. I was only playing.”
Once, and this hurried the climax of the episode, Mary attempted rebellion.
“I want to go home, Sarah.”
“Well, you can’t. You’ve got to hear the end of the story first.”
“I don’t like the story. It’s a horrid story. I’m going home.”
“You’d better not.”
“Yes, I will, and I won’t come again, and I won’t see you again. I hate you. I won’t. I won’t.”
Mary, as she very often did, began to cry. Sarah’s lips curled with scorn.
“All right, you can. You’ll never see Alice again if you do.”
“Yes, she’ll be drowned, and you’ll have the toothache, and I’ll come in the middle of the night and wake you.”
“I—I don’t care. I’m go-going home. I’ll t-t-ell m-other.”
“Tell her. But look out afterwards, that’s all.”
Mary remained, but Sarah regarded the rebellion as ominous. She thought that the time had come to put Mary’s submission really to the test.
The climax of the affair was in this manner. Upon an afternoon when the rain was beating furiously upon the window-panes and the wind struggling up and down the chimney, Sarah and Mary played together in Sarah’s room; the play consisted of Mary shutting her eyes and pretending she was in a dark wood, whilst Sarah was the tiger who might at any moment spring upon her and devour her, who would, in any case, pinch her legs with a sudden thrust which would drive all the blood out of Mary’s face and make her “as white as the moon.”