The hum of the crowd flows past the open-air café. It's a busy day in London, and the three ladies had had to struggle for their table.
'All children must seem a little disturbed,' says Miss Darling, sipping her tea.
Alice agrees, but hasn't the chance to speak before Miss Lennox protests. She's the youngest of the three and perhaps therefore less likely to consider her more recent past insane.
'But my dear,' says Miss Darling, 'I meant only that they seem mad – it is just as likely that it is we who are mad, for having forgotten magic exists.'
That silences Miss Lennox, and she even begins to smile. Alice can't agree: she cannot look back on her own childhood without feeling as if her mind is falling apart. She has cultivated adulthood with care, and fears the world beyond the mirror.
Hungry for grown-up things, Alice leaves her friends as soon as it is polite and sits the carriage ride back to the townhouse deep in thought. Reaching the sitting room, she is relieved to see Mary already there coaxing the fire.
Mary's as reliable as the ground she walks on. The world can go mad, but Mary will make the wildest thing seem sensible. She greets Alice with a stern look that melts into the tiniest smile; and that is an intimacy Alice feels most privileged to have earned.
Alice sinks gratefully into a chair. 'Oh Mary, how I loathe the city,' she says, as Mary takes her hat. Alice looks into the mirror hanging over the fireplace and sees many things, half memory, half madness; in a mirror chair sits a mirror girl, never quite the same as herself, but in the opposite world as well as in this one, Mary Poppins is just the same.