She absolutely must find some method of occupying herself - that much was certain. The thought of seeing him every day, of risking either hurting him with her coldness or giving away the ugly secret that lay curled up in the darkest corner of her heart, was unbearable. Neither could she imagine leaving him completely. For one thing, it would hurt him terribly, and she refused to consider doing that to him again, after her unexplained disappearance four years earlier. She couldn't punish him for not… that is, it wasn't his fault that he didn't… well. Best not to think about that. Anyway, the least she owed him was recognition of the friendship that he had so unselfishly given her, when she was nothing more than a spoiled little girl in want of adventure. This is how she would repay him: by not throwing away the friendship that she had forced him to work so hard to earn. She would ignore this silly, irritating tremor in her normally unshakeable poise. When they met, she would smile broadly and greet him sincerely. When they were alone, she wouldn't hide behind her pride. After everything he had been to her and everything he continued to be, the least she could do was be his friend.

But what would she do with herself in the meantime? She could never manage – yes, she would admit that much, this was something that she couldn't manage – if she saw him every day, as she did now. At the same time, now more than ever she needed the security of his friendship, of knowing that he was nearby, ready to walk or talk or just sit with her, fiddling with his harmonica or making Bert-ish comments about the trees and the flowers and the passers-by. But she couldn't see him every day, not like she had been for the last few months. She didn't – she couldn't –

Yes, she would admit it: she wasn't strong enough. She needed time between seeing him to collect her thoughts and talk away these stubbornly fanciful ideas and become reacquainted with reality. She needed an excuse, something to keep her busy and away from the devastation of his company. Besides which, she would have to find a way to earn a living. She was determined not to rely on Uncle Albert for the rest of her life – as kind and generous as he had been over the last several months, Mary knew that he was far from rich. Besides, she had the suspicion sometimes that there was something not quite normal about him, even beyond the squeaky laugh and the olive knickerbockers (she could swear sometimes that she heard him laughing like a maniac alone in his room).

As Bert had anticipated, his suggestion of nanny-hood, given so many days ago, had not been forgotten. Mary found herself lying awake the night after their chalk drawing adventure, pondering the reality of being a nanny. To be perfectly honest, she had to admit that she had never truly seen governesses and nannies and nursemaids as people. Their social status didn't do much for them – they weren't quite upper class, but they occupied a different niche than servants, carriage drivers, and chimneysweeps did, and therefore had never caught Mary's attention as an undervalued part of the social hierarchy to become acquainted with and appreciated. If anything, they were an upper-middle-class subgroup. Miss Delayney, for instance - surely she belonged in the same category as Mary's parents. She was familiar enough with affluence to be poisoned by it, and dull enough to suppose that the only way to prosper was through the acquisition of it, which in her mind was made possible only by a dutiful obedience of society's laws. To become a nanny – to become like her – no, Mary was nothing like Miss Delayney, surely. For if she bore any resemblance to Miss Delayney, then by extension she resembled her parents. Her parents, who would sooner abandon their children than risk jeopardizing their place in society.

However, despite her distinct hatred for her father and her contempt for her mother, Mary couldn't ignore the fact that with some part of her cranial or cardiac anatomy she missed her brothers and sister, the grinning, pestering little creatures that had grown by her side. She hadn't thought of them much at school, while it seemed a certainty that she would see them again, but with the prospect of eternal estrangement before her she found herself wanting to see her younger siblings with something akin to yearning. Doubtless they had mostly forgotten her by now anyway, but even so, it would be nice to at least say goodbye, an act that she hadn't thought important upon leaving for school. Of course, she had rather expected that her parents would think vacations and holidays reason to send for her, and that she would see them all again in a few months. Silly presumption, she told herself, but didn't really believe it, being young enough to remember with unpleasant clarity the cold Christmas mornings on which she had awoken alone in the dormitory, with only a few paper-wrapped packages waiting coldly on her bedside table to serve as gifts. Her birthday was only slightly more bearable, for although she woke to the company and polite well-wishes of her roommates she never received anything more than a curt card from her parents and one of those paper-encased packages of stockings or hair ribbons or, once, a shawl. Pretty enough to prove that they cared, but never so extravagant as to give away any hint that they loved. Her mother, ever practical. Her father, ever distant.

Mary thought of her little brothers James and William, her little sister Christine. She had no doubt that they would grow up just like their parents. They had never shown signs of the individuality that Mary was born with – Mary herself being an anomaly, it would be irrational to suppose that another child in the same family would exhibit the same unusual and valuable characteristics. But that didn't make them any more deserving of their parents' displays of indifference. How was it, Mary thought angrily to herself, that those innocent, hopeful children should be forced to grow up in such impersonal, mind-numbing conditions? What gave her parents the right to barricade up their affection behind reason and greed? She hated her parents, not because she thought that they had never loved her, but because they refused to show it.

Someone should make them show it, Mary thought, and, with a considerable amount of surprise, found the problem of her parents and the problem of Bert colliding in such a way that the pieces fell neatly into one comprehensible picture. She needed employment, did she not? And Bert himself had said that she would make an uncommonly effective nanny, had he not? Naturally she couldn't interview at her own home (though she was bitter enough to believe that her parents no longer wanted her, she was not so jaded as to suppose that living with them in close quarters wouldn't result in the discovery of her identity), but that was immaterial - her family was by no means an anomaly, not in upper-middle-class London. There were plenty of other unhappy, insufficiently loved children behind the ornate, imposing facades of the mansions near Hyde Park. Someone had to make their parents see reason, and it might as well be Mary.

And thus, an idea was born.


The End... of my part of the story :)