Mary is not loved, for she is an unwanted child whose ugliness is a source of great embarrassment to her mother. Mary is thus positioned as the first of the many secrets which animate the novel: she is herself secreted away from view, and her parents' friends have no idea that they have a child at all. The soldiers who discover her at chapter's end are shocked to find her, and refer to her as "the child no one ever saw." Furthermore, no one takes care of her except the native servants, who do so only because they are commanded to, not because they have affection for her: they forget her entirely when they flee the bungalow.

The relationship between the servants and the Lennox family is left largely unexplored by the novel, but implies a great deal about British colonialism in India. The servants must obey Mary's every wish, and even must withstand her beatings, because they depend upon her parents for their survival - their disobedience may carry with it the threat of death. This is made painfully clear by the fact that the servants remain with the family, even though they recognize the threat the cholera presents; many of them die because they did not flee earlier.

What befalls Mary after the onset of the epidemic has a certain fairy-tale character. The empty dining room with its abandoned meal conjures the tale of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears"; Mary's drinking of the glass of sweet wine recalls Alice in Wonderland, while the oblivious sleep it causes is reminiscent of "Sleeping Beauty." As in a fairy story, Mary awakens from her sleep to find that her world has entirely changed. The motif of sleep recurs as a state in which one "knows nothing more for a long time"—that is, as a state of oblivion to be contrasted with the desirable state of wakefulness, which is associated with liveliness and curiosity. The empty house, the tiny snake "with eyes like jewels" who serves as her only companion, and Mary's orphaned state itself also seem borrowed from fairy-tales. Fairy-tales and their promises will also recur later in the novel, though they are left implicit here.