A Little Princess FULL Audiobook
Articles,  Blog

A Little Princess FULL Audiobook


Chapter 1 Sara Once on a dark winter’s day, when the yellow
fog hung so thick and heavy in the streets of London that the lamps
were lighted and the shop windows blazed with gas as they do at night,
an odd-looking little girl sat in a cab with her father and was driven
rather slowly through the big thoroughfares. She sat with her feet tucked under her, and
leaned against her father, who held her in his arm, as she stared out
of the window at the passing people with a queer old-fashioned thoughtfulness
in her big eyes. She was such a little girl that one did not
expect to see such a look on her small face. It would have been an old look for a child
of twelve, and Sara Crewe was only seven. The fact was, however, that she
was always dreaming and thinking odd things and could not herself
remember any time when she had not been thinking things about grown-up
people and the world they belonged to. She felt as if she had lived a
long, long time. At this moment she was remembering the voyage
she had just made from Bombay with her father, Captain Crewe. She was thinking of the big
ship, of the Lascars passing silently to and fro on it, of the children
playing about on the hot deck, and of some young officers’ wives who
used to try to make her talk to them and laugh at the things she said. Principally, she was thinking of what a queer
thing it was that at one time one was in India in the blazing sun,
and then in the middle of the ocean, and then driving in a strange vehicle
through strange streets where the day was as dark as the night. She found this so puzzling
that she moved closer to her father. “Papa,” she said in a low, mysterious little
voice which was almost a whisper, “papa.” “What is it, darling?” Captain Crewe answered, holding her closer
and looking down into her face. “What is Sara thinking of?” “Is this the place?” Sara whispered, cuddling still closer to him. “Is
it, papa?” “Yes, little Sara, it is. We have reached it at last.” And though she
was only seven years old, she knew that he felt sad when he said it. It seemed to her many years since he had begun
to prepare her mind for “the place,” as she always called it. Her mother had died when she was
born, so she had never known or missed her. Her young, handsome, rich,
petting father seemed to be the only relation she had in the world. They had always played together and been fond
of each other. She only
knew he was rich because she had heard people say so when they thought
she was not listening, and she had also heard them say that when she
grew up she would be rich, too. She did not know all that being rich
meant. She had always lived in a beautiful bungalow,
and had been used to seeing many servants who made salaams to
her and called her “Missee Sahib,” and gave her her own way in everything. She had had toys and
pets and an ayah who worshipped her, and she had gradually learned that
people who were rich had these things. That, however, was all she knew
about it. During her short life only one thing had troubled
her, and that thing was “the place” she was to be taken to some
day. The climate of India
was very bad for children, and as soon as possible they were sent away
from it, generally to England and to school. She had seen other
children go away, and had heard their fathers and mothers talk about
the letters they received from them. She had known that she would be
obliged to go also, and though sometimes her father’s stories of the
voyage and the new country had attracted her, she had been troubled by
the thought that he could not stay with her. “Couldn’t you go to that place with me, papa?”
she had asked when she was five years old. “Couldn’t you go to school, too? I would help you
with your lessons.” “But you will not have to stay for a very
long time, little Sara,” he had always said. “You will go to a nice house where there will
be a lot of little girls, and you will play together,
and I will send you plenty of books, and you will grow so fast
that it will seem scarcely a year before you are big enough and clever
enough to come back and take care of papa.” She had liked to think of that. To keep the house for her father; to
ride with him, and sit at the head of his table when he had dinner
parties; to talk to him and read his books, that would be what she
would like most in the world, and if one must go away to “the place” in
England to attain it, she must make up her mind to go. She did not care
very much for other little girls, but if she had plenty of books she
could console herself. She liked books more than anything else, and
was, in fact, always inventing stories of beautiful things and telling
them to herself. Sometimes she had told them to her father,
and he had liked them as much as she did. “Well, papa,” she said softly, “if we are
here I suppose we must be resigned.” He laughed at her old-fashioned speech and
kissed her. He was really
not at all resigned himself, though he knew he must keep that a secret. His quaint little Sara had been a great companion
to him, and he felt he should be a lonely fellow when, on his
return to India, he went into his bungalow knowing he need not expect to
see the small figure in its white frock come forward to meet him. So he held her very closely in
his arms as the cab rolled into the big, dull square in which stood the
house which was their destination. It was a big, dull, brick house, exactly like
all the others in its row, but that on the front door there shone
a brass plate on which was engraved in black letters: MISS MINCHIN, Select Seminary for Young Ladies. “Here we are, Sara,” said Captain Crewe, making
his voice sound as cheerful as possible. Then he lifted her out of the cab and they
mounted the steps and rang the bell. Sara often thought afterward that
the house was somehow exactly like Miss Minchin. It was respectable
and well furnished, but everything in it was ugly; and the very
armchairs seemed to have hard bones in them. In the hall everything
was hard and polished, even the red cheeks of the moon face on the tall
clock in the corner had a severe varnished look. The drawing room into
which they were ushered was covered by a carpet with a square pattern
upon it, the chairs were square, and a heavy marble timepiece stood
upon the heavy marble mantel. As she sat down in one of the stiff mahogany
chairs, Sara cast one of her quick looks about her. “I don’t like it, papa,” she said. “But then I dare say soldiers, even
brave ones, don’t really LIKE going into battle.” Captain Crewe laughed outright at this. He was young and full of fun,
and he never tired of hearing Sara’s queer speeches. “Oh, little Sara,” he said. “What shall I do when I have no one to say
solemn things to me? No one else is as solemn as you are.” “But why do solemn things make you laugh so?” inquired Sara. “Because you are such fun when you say them,”
he answered, laughing still more. And then suddenly he swept her into his arms
and kissed her very hard, stopping laughing all at once
and looking almost as if tears had come into his eyes. It was just then that Miss Minchin entered
the room. She was very like
her house, Sara felt: tall and dull, and respectable and ugly. She had
large, cold, fishy eyes, and a large, cold, fishy smile. It spread
itself into a very large smile when she saw Sara and Captain Crewe. She had heard a great many desirable things
of the young soldier from the lady who had recommended her school to
him. Among other things, she
had heard that he was a rich father who was willing to spend a great
deal of money on his little daughter. “It will be a great privilege to have charge
of such a beautiful and promising child, Captain Crewe,” she said,
taking Sara’s hand and stroking it. “Lady Meredith has told me of her unusual
cleverness. A
clever child is a great treasure in an establishment like mine.” Sara stood quietly, with her eyes fixed upon
Miss Minchin’s face. She
was thinking something odd, as usual. “Why does she say I am a beautiful child?”
she was thinking. “I am not
beautiful at all. Colonel Grange’s little girl, Isobel, is beautiful. She has dimples and rose-coloured cheeks,
and long hair the colour of gold. I have short black hair and green eyes; besides
which, I am a thin child and not fair in the least. I am one of the ugliest children
I ever saw. She is beginning by telling a story.” She was mistaken, however, in thinking she
was an ugly child. She was
not in the least like Isobel Grange, who had been the beauty of the
regiment, but she had an odd charm of her own. She was a slim, supple
creature, rather tall for her age, and had an intense, attractive
little face. Her hair was heavy and quite black and only
curled at the tips; her eyes were greenish grey, it is true,
but they were big, wonderful eyes with long, black lashes, and
though she herself did not like the colour of them, many other people
did. Still she was very firm
in her belief that she was an ugly little girl, and she was not at all
elated by Miss Minchin’s flattery. “I should be telling a story if I said she
was beautiful,” she thought; “and I should know I was telling a story. I believe I am as ugly as
she is, in my way. What did she say that for?” After she had known Miss Minchin longer she
learned why she had said it. She discovered that she said the same thing
to each papa and mamma who brought a child to her school. Sara stood near her father and listened while
he and Miss Minchin talked. She had been brought to the seminary because
Lady Meredith’s two little girls had been educated there,
and Captain Crewe had a great respect for Lady Meredith’s experience. Sara was to be what was known
as “a parlour boarder,” and she was to enjoy even greater privileges
than parlour boarders usually did. She was to have a pretty bedroom and
sitting room of her own; she was to have a pony and a carriage, and a
maid to take the place of the ayah who had been her nurse in India. “I am not in the least anxious about her education,”
Captain Crewe said, with his gay laugh, as he held Sara’s
hand and patted it. “The
difficulty will be to keep her from learning too fast and too much. She is always sitting with her little nose
burrowing into books. She
doesn’t read them, Miss Minchin; she gobbles them up as if she were a
little wolf instead of a little girl. She is always starving for new
books to gobble, and she wants grown-up books, great, big, fat
ones, French and German as well as English, history and biography and
poets, and all sorts of things. Drag her away from her books when she
reads too much. Make her ride her pony in the Row or go out
and buy a new doll. She ought to play more with dolls.” “Papa,” said Sara, “you see, if I went out
and bought a new doll every few days I should have more than I could be
fond of. Dolls ought to be
intimate friends. Emily is going to be my intimate friend.” Captain Crewe looked at Miss Minchin and Miss
Minchin looked at Captain Crewe. “Who is Emily?” she inquired. “Tell her, Sara,” Captain Crewe said, smiling. Sara’s green-grey eyes looked very solemn
and quite soft as she answered. “She is a doll I haven’t got yet,” she said. “She is a doll papa is
going to buy for me. We are going out together to find her. I have
called her Emily. She is going to be my friend when papa is
gone. I
want her to talk to about him.” Miss Minchin’s large, fishy smile became very
flattering indeed. “What an original child!” she said. “What a darling little creature!” “Yes,” said Captain Crewe, drawing Sara close. “She is a darling
little creature. Take great care of her for me, Miss Minchin.” Sara stayed with her father at his hotel for
several days; in fact, she remained with him until he sailed away again
to India. They went out
and visited many big shops together, and bought a great many things. They bought, indeed, a great many more things
than Sara needed; but Captain Crewe was a rash, innocent young man
and wanted his little girl to have everything she admired and everything
he admired himself, so between them they collected a wardrobe much
too grand for a child of seven. There were velvet dresses trimmed with costly
furs, and lace dresses, and embroidered ones, and hats with
great, soft ostrich feathers, and ermine coats and muffs, and
boxes of tiny gloves and handkerchiefs and silk stockings in such abundant
supplies that the polite young women behind the counters whispered
to each other that the odd little girl with the big, solemn eyes
must be at least some foreign princess, perhaps the little daughter of an
Indian rajah. And at last they found Emily, but they went
to a number of toy shops and looked at a great many dolls before they
discovered her. “I want her to look as if she wasn’t a doll
really,” Sara said. “I
want her to look as if she LISTENS when I talk to her. The trouble with
dolls, papa”, and she put her head on one side and reflected as she
said it, “the trouble with dolls is that they never seem to HEAR.” So
they looked at big ones and little ones, at dolls with black eyes and
dolls with blue, at dolls with brown curls and dolls with golden
braids, dolls dressed and dolls undressed. “You see,” Sara said when they were examining
one who had no clothes. “If, when I find her, she has no frocks, we
can take her to a dressmaker and have her things made to fit. They will fit better if
they are tried on.” After a number of disappointments they decided
to walk and look in at the shop windows and let the cab follow them. They had passed two or
three places without even going in, when, as they were approaching a
shop which was really not a very large one, Sara suddenly started and
clutched her father’s arm. “Oh, papa!” she cried. “There is Emily!” A flush had risen to her face and there was
an expression in her green-grey eyes as if she had just recognised
someone she was intimate with and fond of. “She is actually waiting there for us!” she
said. “Let us go in to
her.” “Dear me,” said Captain Crewe, “I feel as
if we ought to have someone to introduce us.” “You must introduce me and I will introduce
you,” said Sara. “But I
knew her the minute I saw her, so perhaps she knew me, too.” Perhaps she had known her. She had certainly a very intelligent
expression in her eyes when Sara took her in her arms. She was a large
doll, but not too large to carry about easily; she had naturally
curling golden-brown hair, which hung like a mantle about her, and her
eyes were a deep, clear, grey-blue, with soft, thick eyelashes which
were real eyelashes and not mere painted lines. “Of course,” said Sara, looking into her face
as she held her on her knee, “of course papa, this is Emily.” So Emily was bought and actually taken to
a children’s outfitter’s shop and measured for a wardrobe as grand as Sara’s
own. She had lace
frocks, too, and velvet and muslin ones, and hats and coats and
beautiful lace-trimmed underclothes, and gloves and handkerchiefs and
furs. “I should like her always to look as if she
was a child with a good mother,” said Sara. “I’m her mother, though I am going to make
a companion of her.” Captain Crewe would really have enjoyed the
shopping tremendously, but that a sad thought kept tugging at his heart. This all meant that he
was going to be separated from his beloved, quaint little comrade. He got out of his bed in the middle of that
night and went and stood looking down at Sara, who lay asleep with
Emily in her arms. Her black
hair was spread out on the pillow and Emily’s golden-brown hair mingled
with it, both of them had lace-ruffled nightgowns, and both had long
eyelashes which lay and curled up on their cheeks. Emily looked so like
a real child that Captain Crewe felt glad she was there. He drew a big
sigh and pulled his moustache with a boyish expression. “Heigh-ho, little Sara!” he said to himself
“I don’t believe you know how much your daddy will miss you.” The next day he took her to Miss Minchin’s
and left her there. He was
to sail away the next morning. He explained to Miss Minchin that his
solicitors, Messrs. Barrow & Skipworth, had charge of his affairs in
England and would give her any advice she wanted, and that they would
pay the bills she sent in for Sara’s expenses. He would write to Sara
twice a week, and she was to be given every pleasure she asked for. “She is a sensible little thing, and she never
wants anything it isn’t safe to give her,” he said. Then he went with Sara into her little sitting
room and they bade each other good-by. Sara sat on his knee and held the lapels of
his coat in her small hands, and looked long and hard
at his face. “Are you learning me by heart, little Sara?”
he said, stroking her hair. “No,” she answered. “I know you by heart. You are inside my heart.” And they put their arms round each other and
kissed as if they would never let each other go. When the cab drove away from the door, Sara
was sitting on the floor of her sitting room, with her hands under her
chin and her eyes following it until it had turned the corner of the square. Emily was sitting by
her, and she looked after it, too. When Miss Minchin sent her sister,
Miss Amelia, to see what the child was doing, she found she could not
open the door. “I have locked it,” said a queer, polite little
voice from inside. “I
want to be quite by myself, if you please.” Miss Amelia was fat and dumpy, and stood very
much in awe of her sister. She was really the better-natured person of
the two, but she never disobeyed Miss Minchin. She went downstairs again, looking
almost alarmed. “I never saw such a funny, old-fashioned child,
sister,” she said. “She
has locked herself in, and she is not making the least particle of
noise.” “It is much better than if she kicked and
screamed, as some of them do,” Miss Minchin answered. “I expected that a child as much spoiled
as she is would set the whole house in an uproar. If ever a child was
given her own way in everything, she is.” “I’ve been opening her trunks and putting
her things away,” said Miss Amelia. “I never saw anything like them, sable and
ermine on her coats, and real Valenciennes lace on her underclothing. You have seen
some of her clothes. What DO you think of them?” “I think they are perfectly ridiculous,” replied
Miss Minchin, sharply; “but they will look very well at the head
of the line when we take the schoolchildren to church on Sunday. She has been provided for as if she
were a little princess.” And upstairs in the locked room Sara and Emily
sat on the floor and stared at the corner round which the cab had
disappeared, while Captain Crewe looked backward, waving and kissing
his hand as if he could not bear to stop. End of Chapter 1 Chapter 2 A French Lesson When Sara entered the schoolroom the next
morning everybody looked at her with wide, interested eyes. By that time every pupil, from Lavinia
Herbert, who was nearly thirteen and felt quite grown up, to Lottie
Legh, who was only just four and the baby of the school, had heard a
great deal about her. They knew very certainly that she was Miss
Minchin’s show pupil and was considered a credit to the establishment. One or two of them had even caught a glimpse
of her French maid, Mariette, who had arrived the evening before. Lavinia had managed to
pass Sara’s room when the door was open, and had seen Mariette opening
a box which had arrived late from some shop. “It was full of petticoats with lace frills
on them, frills and frills,” she whispered to her friend Jessie
as she bent over her geography. “I saw her shaking them out. I heard Miss Minchin say to
Miss Amelia that her clothes were so grand that they were ridiculous
for a child. My mamma says that children should be dressed
simply. She
has got one of those petticoats on now. I saw it when she sat down.” “She has silk stockings on!” whispered Jessie,
bending over her geography also. “And what little feet! I never saw such little feet.” “Oh,” sniffed Lavinia, spitefully, “that is
the way her slippers are made. My mamma says that even big feet can be made
to look small if you have a clever shoemaker. I don’t think she is pretty at all. Her
eyes are such a queer colour.” “She isn’t pretty as other pretty people are,”
said Jessie, stealing a glance across the room; “but she makes you
want to look at her again. She has tremendously long eyelashes, but her
eyes are almost green.” Sara was sitting quietly in her seat, waiting
to be told what to do. She had been placed near Miss Minchin’s desk. She was not abashed at
all by the many pairs of eyes watching her. She was interested and
looked back quietly at the children who looked at her. She wondered
what they were thinking of, and if they liked Miss Minchin, and if they
cared for their lessons, and if any of them had a papa at all like her
own. She had had a long talk with Emily about her
papa that morning. “He is on the sea now, Emily,” she had said. “We must be very great
friends to each other and tell each other things. Emily, look at me. You have the nicest eyes I ever saw, but I
wish you could speak.” She was a child full of imaginings and whimsical
thoughts, and one of her fancies was that there would be a great
deal of comfort in even pretending that Emily was alive and really
heard and understood. After
Mariette had dressed her in her dark-blue schoolroom frock and tied her
hair with a dark-blue ribbon, she went to Emily, who sat in a chair of
her own, and gave her a book. “You can read that while I am downstairs,”
she said; and, seeing Mariette looking at her curiously, she spoke
to her with a serious little face. “What I believe about dolls,” she said, “is
that they can do things they will not let us know about. Perhaps, really, Emily can read and
talk and walk, but she will only do it when people are out of the room. That is her secret. You see, if people knew that dolls could do
things, they would make them work. So, perhaps, they have promised
each other to keep it a secret. If you stay in the room, Emily will
just sit there and stare; but if you go out, she will begin to read,
perhaps, or go and look out of the window. Then if she heard either of
us coming, she would just run back and jump into her chair and pretend
she had been there all the time.” “Comme elle est drole!” Mariette said to herself, and when she went
downstairs she told the head housemaid about it. But she had already
begun to like this odd little girl who had such an intelligent small
face and such perfect manners. She had taken care of children before
who were not so polite. Sara was a very fine little person, and had
a gentle, appreciative way of saying, “If you
please, Mariette,” “Thank you, Mariette,” which was very charming. Mariette told the head
housemaid that she thanked her as if she was thanking a lady. “Elle a l’air d’une princesse, cette petite,”
she said. Indeed, she was
very much pleased with her new little mistress and liked her place
greatly. After Sara had sat in her seat in the schoolroom
for a few minutes, being looked at by the pupils, Miss Minchin
rapped in a dignified manner upon her desk. “Young ladies,” she said, “I wish to introduce
you to your new companion.” All the little girls rose in their places,
and Sara rose also. “I shall expect you all to be very agreeable
to Miss Crewe; she has just come to us from a great distance,
in fact, from India. As soon
as lessons are over you must make each other’s acquaintance.” The pupils bowed ceremoniously, and Sara made
a little curtsy, and then they sat down and looked at each other again. “Sara,” said Miss Minchin in her schoolroom
manner, “come here to me.” She had taken a book from the desk and was
turning over its leaves. Sara went to her politely. “As your papa has engaged a French maid for
you,” she began, “I conclude that he wishes you to make a special
study of the French language.” Sara felt a little awkward. “I think he engaged her,” she said, “because
he, he thought I would like her, Miss Minchin.” “I am afraid,” said Miss Minchin, with a slightly
sour smile, “that you have been a very spoiled little girl and always
imagine that things are done because you like them. My impression is that your papa wished you
to learn French.” If Sara had been older or less punctilious
about being quite polite to people, she could have explained herself in
a very few words. But, as
it was, she felt a flush rising on her cheeks. Miss Minchin was a very
severe and imposing person, and she seemed so absolutely sure that Sara
knew nothing whatever of French that she felt as if it would be almost
rude to correct her. The truth was that Sara could not remember
the time when she had not seemed to know French. Her father had often
spoken it to her when she had been a baby. Her mother had been a French
woman, and Captain Crewe had loved her language, so it happened that
Sara had always heard and been familiar with it. “I, I have never really learned French, but,
but, ” she began, trying shyly to make herself clear. One of Miss Minchin’s chief secret annoyances
was that she did not speak French herself, and was desirous of
concealing the irritating fact. She, therefore, had no intention of discussing
the matter and laying herself open to innocent questioning
by a new little pupil. “That is enough,” she said with polite tartness. “If you have not
learned, you must begin at once. The French master, Monsieur Dufarge,
will be here in a few minutes. Take this book and look at it until he
arrives.” Sara’s cheeks felt warm. She went back to her seat and opened the
book. She looked at the first page with a grave
face. She knew it
would be rude to smile, and she was very determined not to be rude. But
it was very odd to find herself expected to study a page which told her
that “le pere” meant “the father,” and “la mere” meant “the mother.” Miss Minchin glanced toward her scrutinisingly. “You look rather cross, Sara,” she said. “I am sorry you do not like
the idea of learning French.” “I am very fond of it,” answered Sara, thinking
she would try again; “but, ” “You must not say ‘but’ when you are told
to do things,” said Miss Minchin. “Look at your book again.” And Sara did so, and did not smile, even when
she found that “le fils” meant “the son,” and “le frere” meant “the
brother.” “When Monsieur Dufarge comes,” she thought,
“I can make him understand.” Monsieur Dufarge arrived very shortly afterward. He was a very nice,
intelligent, middle-aged Frenchman, and he looked interested when his
eyes fell upon Sara trying politely to seem absorbed in her little book
of phrases. “Is this a new pupil for me, madame?” he said
to Miss Minchin. “I hope
that is my good fortune.” “Her papa, Captain Crewe, is very anxious
that she should begin the language. But I am afraid she has a childish prejudice
against it. She
does not seem to wish to learn,” said Miss Minchin. “I am sorry of that, mademoiselle,” he said
kindly to Sara. “Perhaps,
when we begin to study together, I may show you that it is a charming
tongue.” Little Sara rose in her seat. She was beginning to feel rather
desperate, as if she were almost in disgrace. She looked up into
Monsieur Dufarge’s face with her big, green-grey eyes, and they were
quite innocently appealing. She knew that he would understand as soon
as she spoke. She began to explain quite simply in pretty
and fluent French. Madame had not understood. She had not learned French
exactly, not out of books, but her papa and other people had always
spoken it to her, and she had read it and written it as she had read
and written English. Her papa loved it, and she loved it because
he did. Her dear mamma, who had died when she was
born, had been French. She would be glad to learn anything monsieur
would teach her, but what she had tried to explain to madame was that
she already knew the words in this book, and she held out the little
book of phrases. When she began to speak Miss Minchin started
quite violently and sat staring at her over her eyeglasses, almost
indignantly, until she had finished. Monsieur Dufarge began to smile, and his smile
was one of great pleasure. To hear this pretty childish voice speaking
his own language so simply and charmingly made him
feel almost as if he were in his native land, which in dark, foggy days
in London sometimes seemed worlds away. When she had finished, he took the phrase
book from her, with a look almost affectionate. But he spoke to Miss Minchin. “Ah, madame,” he said, “there is not much
I can teach her. She has not
LEARNED French; she is French. Her accent is exquisite.” “You ought to have told me,” exclaimed Miss
Minchin, much mortified, turning to Sara. “I, I tried,” said Sara. “I, I suppose I did not begin right.” Miss Minchin knew she had tried, and that
it had not been her fault that she was not allowed to explain. And when she saw that the pupils
had been listening and that Lavinia and Jessie were giggling behind
their French grammars, she felt infuriated. “Silence, young ladies!” she said severely,
rapping upon the desk. “Silence at once!” And she began from that minute to feel rather
a grudge against her show pupil. End of Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Ermengarde On that first morning, when Sara sat at Miss
Minchin’s side, aware that the whole schoolroom was devoting itself to
observing her, she had noticed very soon one little girl, about her
own age, who looked at her very hard with a pair of light, rather dull,
blue eyes. She was a fat
child who did not look as if she were in the least clever, but she had
a good-naturedly pouting mouth. Her flaxen hair was braided in a tight
pigtail, tied with a ribbon, and she had pulled this pigtail around her
neck, and was biting the end of the ribbon, resting her elbows on the
desk, as she stared wonderingly at the new pupil. When Monsieur
Dufarge began to speak to Sara, she looked a little frightened; and
when Sara stepped forward and, looking at him with the innocent,
appealing eyes, answered him, without any warning, in French, the fat
little girl gave a startled jump, and grew quite red in her awed
amazement. Having wept hopeless tears for weeks in her
efforts to remember that “la mere” meant “the mother,”
and “le pere,” “the father,”, when one spoke sensible English,
it was almost too much for her suddenly to find herself listening to
a child her own age who seemed not only quite familiar with these
words, but apparently knew any number of others, and could mix them up
with verbs as if they were mere trifles. She stared so hard and bit the ribbon on her
pigtail so fast that she attracted the attention of Miss Minchin, who,
feeling extremely cross at the moment, immediately pounced upon her. “Miss St. John!” she exclaimed severely. “What do you mean by such
conduct? Remove your elbows! Take your ribbon out of your mouth! Sit
up at once!” Upon which Miss St. John gave another jump,
and when Lavinia and Jessie tittered she became redder than ever, so red,
indeed, that she almost looked as if tears were coming into her poor,
dull, childish eyes; and Sara saw her and was so sorry for her that
she began rather to like her and want to be her friend. It was a way of hers always to want to
spring into any fray in which someone was made uncomfortable or unhappy. “If Sara had been a boy and lived a few centuries
ago,” her father used to say, “she would have gone about the country
with her sword drawn, rescuing and defending everyone in distress. She always wants to fight
when she sees people in trouble.” So she took rather a fancy to fat, slow, little
Miss St. John, and kept glancing toward her through the morning. She saw that lessons were no
easy matter to her, and that there was no danger of her ever being
spoiled by being treated as a show pupil. Her French lesson was a
pathetic thing. Her pronunciation made even Monsieur Dufarge
smile in spite of himself, and Lavinia and Jessie and
the more fortunate girls either giggled or looked at her in wondering
disdain. But Sara did not
laugh. She tried to look as if she did not hear when
Miss St. John called “le bon pain,” “lee bong pang.” She had a fine, hot little
temper of her own, and it made her feel rather savage when she heard
the titters and saw the poor, stupid, distressed child’s face. “It isn’t funny, really,” she said between
her teeth, as she bent over her book. “They ought not to laugh.” When lessons were over and the pupils gathered
together in groups to talk, Sara looked for Miss St. John, and finding
her bundled rather disconsolately in a window-seat, she walked
over to her and spoke. She
only said the kind of thing little girls always say to each other by
way of beginning an acquaintance, but there was something friendly
about Sara, and people always felt it. “What is your name?” she said. To explain Miss St. John’s amazement one must
recall that a new pupil is, for a short time, a somewhat uncertain
thing; and of this new pupil the entire school had talked the night before
until it fell asleep quite exhausted by excitement and contradictory
stories. A new pupil
with a carriage and a pony and a maid, and a voyage from India to
discuss, was not an ordinary acquaintance. “My name’s Ermengarde St. John,” she answered. “Mine is Sara Crewe,” said Sara. “Yours is very pretty. It sounds
like a story book.” “Do you like it?” fluttered Ermengarde. “I, I like yours.” Miss St. John’s chief trouble in life was
that she had a clever father. Sometimes this seemed to her a dreadful calamity. If you have a father
who knows everything, who speaks seven or eight languages, and has
thousands of volumes which he has apparently learned by heart, he
frequently expects you to be familiar with the contents of your lesson
books at least; and it is not improbable that he will feel you ought to
be able to remember a few incidents of history and to write a French
exercise. Ermengarde was a severe trial to Mr. St. John. He could not
understand how a child of his could be a notably and unmistakably dull
creature who never shone in anything. “Good heavens!” he had said more than once,
as he stared at her, “there are times when I think she is as stupid as
her Aunt Eliza!” If her Aunt Eliza had been slow to learn and
quick to forget a thing entirely when she had learned it, Ermengarde
was strikingly like her. She was the monumental dunce of the school,
and it could not be denied. “She must be MADE to learn,” her father said
to Miss Minchin. Consequently Ermengarde spent the greater
part of her life in disgrace or in tears. She learned things and forgot them; or, if
she remembered them, she did not understand them. So it was natural that, having made
Sara’s acquaintance, she should sit and stare at her with profound
admiration. “You can speak French, can’t you?” she said
respectfully. Sara got on to the window-seat, which was
a big, deep one, and, tucking up her feet, sat with her hands clasped round
her knees. “I can speak it because I have heard it all
my life,” she answered. “You could speak it if you had always heard
it.” “Oh, no, I couldn’t,” said Ermengarde. “I NEVER could speak it!” “Why?” inquired Sara, curiously. Ermengarde shook her head so that the pigtail
wobbled. “You heard me just now,” she said. “I’m always like that. I can’t SAY
the words. They’re so queer.” She paused a moment, and then added with a
touch of awe in her voice, “You are CLEVER, aren’t you?” Sara looked out of the window into the dingy
square, where the sparrows were hopping and twittering on the wet, iron
railings and the sooty branches of the trees. She reflected a few moments. She had heard it
said very often that she was “clever,” and she wondered if she was, and
IF she was, how it had happened. “I don’t know,” she said. “I can’t tell.” Then, seeing a mournful
look on the round, chubby face, she gave a little laugh and changed the
subject. “Would you like to see Emily?” she inquired. “Who is Emily?” Ermengarde asked, just as Miss Minchin had
done. “Come up to my room and see,” said Sara, holding
out her hand. They jumped down from the window-seat together,
and went upstairs. “Is it true,” Ermengarde whispered, as they
went through the hall, “is it true that you have a playroom all to yourself?” “Yes,” Sara answered. “Papa asked Miss Minchin to let me have one,
because, well, it was because when I play I make up stories and tell
them to myself, and I don’t like people to hear me. It spoils it if I
think people listen.” They had reached the passage leading to Sara’s
room by this time, and Ermengarde stopped short, staring, and quite
losing her breath. “You MAKE up stories!” she gasped. “Can you do that, as well as speak
French? CAN you?” Sara looked at her in simple surprise. “Why, anyone can make up things,” she said. “Have you never tried?” She put her hand warningly on Ermengarde’s. “Let us go very quietly to the door,” she
whispered, “and then I will open it quite suddenly; perhaps we may catch
her.” She was half laughing, but there was a touch
of mysterious hope in her eyes which fascinated Ermengarde, though she
had not the remotest idea what it meant, or whom it was she wanted to
“catch,” or why she wanted to catch her. Whatsoever she meant, Ermengarde was sure
it was something delightfully exciting. So, quite thrilled with expectation,
she followed her on tiptoe along the passage. They made not the least
noise until they reached the door. Then Sara suddenly turned the
handle, and threw it wide open. Its opening revealed the room quite
neat and quiet, a fire gently burning in the grate, and a wonderful
doll sitting in a chair by it, apparently reading a book. “Oh, she got back to her seat before we could
see her!” Sara
explained. “Of course they always do. They are as quick as lightning.” Ermengarde looked from her to the doll and
back again. “Can she, walk?” she asked breathlessly. “Yes,” answered Sara. “At least I believe she can. At least I PRETEND
I believe she can. And that makes it seem as if it were true. Have you
never pretended things?” “No,” said Ermengarde. “Never. I, tell me about it.” She was so bewitched by this odd, new companion
that she actually stared at Sara instead of at Emily, notwithstanding
that Emily was the most attractive doll person she had ever seen. “Let us sit down,” said Sara, “and I will
tell you. It’s so easy that
when you begin you can’t stop. You just go on and on doing it always. And it’s beautiful. Emily, you must listen. This is Ermengarde St.
John, Emily. Ermengarde, this is Emily. Would you like to hold her?” “Oh, may I?” said Ermengarde. “May I, really? She is beautiful!” And
Emily was put into her arms. Never in her dull, short life had Miss St.
John dreamed of such an hour as the one she spent with the queer new pupil
before they heard the lunch-bell ring and were obliged to go downstairs. Sara sat upon the hearth-rug and told her
strange things. She sat
rather huddled up, and her green eyes shone and her cheeks flushed. She
told stories of the voyage, and stories of India; but what fascinated
Ermengarde the most was her fancy about the dolls who walked and
talked, and who could do anything they chose when the human beings were
out of the room, but who must keep their powers a secret and so flew
back to their places “like lightning” when people returned to the room. “WE couldn’t do it,” said Sara, seriously. “You see, it’s a kind of
magic.” Once, when she was relating the story of the
search for Emily, Ermengarde saw her face suddenly change. A cloud seemed to pass over
it and put out the light in her shining eyes. She drew her breath in
so sharply that it made a funny, sad little sound, and then she shut
her lips and held them tightly closed, as if she was determined either
to do or NOT to do something. Ermengarde had an idea that if she had
been like any other little girl, she might have suddenly burst out
sobbing and crying. But she did not. “Have you a, a pain?” Ermengarde ventured. “Yes,” Sara answered, after a moment’s silence. “But it is not in my
body.” Then she added something in a low voice which
she tried to keep quite steady, and it was this: “Do you love
your father more than anything else in all the whole world?” Ermengarde’s mouth fell open a little. She knew that it would be far
from behaving like a respectable child at a select seminary to say that
it had never occurred to you that you COULD love your father, that you
would do anything desperate to avoid being left alone in his society
for ten minutes. She was, indeed, greatly embarrassed. “I, I scarcely ever see him,” she stammered. “He is always in the
library, reading things.” “I love mine more than all the world ten times
over,” Sara said. “That
is what my pain is. He has gone away.” She put her head quietly down on her little,
huddled-up knees, and sat very still for a few minutes. “She’s going to cry out loud,” thought Ermengarde,
fearfully. But she did not. Her short, black locks tumbled about her ears,
and she sat still. Then she spoke without lifting her head. “I promised him I would bear it,” she said. “And I will. You have to
bear things. Think what soldiers bear! Papa is a soldier. If there
was a war he would have to bear marching and thirstiness and, perhaps,
deep wounds. And he would never say a word, not one word.” Ermengarde could only gaze at her, but she
felt that she was beginning to adore her. She was so wonderful and different from anyone
else. Presently, she lifted her face and shook back
her black locks, with a queer little smile. “If I go on talking and talking,” she said,
“and telling you things about pretending, I shall bear it better. You don’t forget, but you
bear it better.” Ermengarde did not know why a lump came into
her throat and her eyes felt as if tears were in them. “Lavinia and Jessie are ‘best friends,'” she
said rather huskily. “I
wish we could be ‘best friends.’ Would you have me for yours? You’re
clever, and I’m the stupidest child in the school, but I, oh, I do so
like you!” “I’m glad of that,” said Sara. “It makes you thankful when you are
liked. Yes. We will be friends. And I’ll tell you what”, a sudden
gleam lighting her face, “I can help you with your French lessons.” End of Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Lottie If Sara had been a different kind of child,
the life she led at Miss Minchin’s Select Seminary for the next few
years would not have been at all good for her. She was treated more as if she were a distinguished
guest at the establishment than as if she were a mere little girl. If
she had been a self-opinionated, domineering child, she might have
become disagreeable enough to be unbearable through being so much
indulged and flattered. If she had been an indolent child, she would
have learned nothing. Privately Miss Minchin disliked her, but she
was far too worldly a woman to do or say anything
which might make such a desirable pupil wish to leave her school. She knew quite well that if
Sara wrote to her papa to tell him she was uncomfortable or unhappy,
Captain Crewe would remove her at once. Miss Minchin’s opinion was that
if a child were continually praised and never forbidden to do what she
liked, she would be sure to be fond of the place where she was so
treated. Accordingly, Sara was praised for her quickness
at her lessons, for her good manners, for her amiability
to her fellow pupils, for her generosity if she gave sixpence to
a beggar out of her full little purse; the simplest thing she did was
treated as if it were a virtue, and if she had not had a disposition
and a clever little brain, she might have been a very self-satisfied
young person. But the clever
little brain told her a great many sensible and true things about
herself and her circumstances, and now and then she talked these things
over to Ermengarde as time went on. “Things happen to people by accident,” she
used to say. “A lot of nice
accidents have happened to me. It just HAPPENED that I always liked
lessons and books, and could remember things when I learned them. It
just happened that I was born with a father who was beautiful and nice
and clever, and could give me everything I liked. Perhaps I have not
really a good temper at all, but if you have everything you want and
everyone is kind to you, how can you help but be good-tempered? I
don’t know”, looking quite serious, “how I shall ever find out whether
I am really a nice child or a horrid one. Perhaps I’m a HIDEOUS child,
and no one will ever know, just because I never have any trials.” “Lavinia has no trials,” said Ermengarde,
stolidly, “and she is horrid enough.” Sara rubbed the end of her little nose reflectively,
as she thought the matter over. “Well,” she said at last, “perhaps, perhaps
that is because Lavinia is GROWING.” This was the result of a charitable recollection
of having heard Miss Amelia say that Lavinia was growing
so fast that she believed it affected her health and temper. Lavinia, in fact, was spiteful. She was inordinately jealous of Sara. Until the new pupil’s arrival, she had felt
herself the leader in the school. She had led because she was capable of making
herself extremely disagreeable if the others did not
follow her. She domineered
over the little children, and assumed grand airs with those big enough
to be her companions. She was rather pretty, and had been the
best-dressed pupil in the procession when the Select Seminary walked
out two by two, until Sara’s velvet coats and sable muffs appeared,
combined with drooping ostrich feathers, and were led by Miss Minchin
at the head of the line. This, at the beginning, had been bitter
enough; but as time went on it became apparent that Sara was a leader,
too, and not because she could make herself disagreeable, but because
she never did. “There’s one thing about Sara Crewe,” Jessie
had enraged her “best friend” by saying honestly, “she’s never ‘grand’
about herself the least bit, and you know she might be, Lavvie. I believe I couldn’t
help being, just a little, if I had so many fine things and was made
such a fuss over. It’s disgusting, the way Miss Minchin shows
her off when parents come.” “‘Dear Sara must come into the drawing room
and talk to Mrs. Musgrave about India,'” mimicked Lavinia, in her most
highly flavoured imitation of Miss Minchin. “‘Dear Sara must speak French to Lady Pitkin. Her
accent is so perfect.’ She didn’t learn her French at the Seminary,
at any rate. And there’s nothing so clever in her knowing
it. She says
herself she didn’t learn it at all. She just picked it up, because she
always heard her papa speak it. And, as to her papa, there is nothing
so grand in being an Indian officer.” “Well,” said Jessie, slowly, “he’s killed
tigers. He killed the one in
the skin Sara has in her room. That’s why she likes it so. She lies on
it and strokes its head, and talks to it as if it was a cat.” “She’s always doing something silly,” snapped
Lavinia. “My mamma says
that way of hers of pretending things is silly. She says she will grow
up eccentric.” It was quite true that Sara was never “grand.” She was a friendly
little soul, and shared her privileges and belongings with a free hand. The little ones, who were accustomed to being
disdained and ordered out of the way by mature ladies aged ten and twelve,
were never made to cry by this most envied of them all. She was a motherly young person, and
when people fell down and scraped their knees, she ran and helped them
up and patted them, or found in her pocket a bonbon or some other
article of a soothing nature. She never pushed them out of her way or
alluded to their years as a humiliation and a blot upon their small
characters. “If you are four you are four,” she said severely
to Lavinia on an occasion of her having, it must be confessed,
slapped Lottie and called her “a brat;” “but you will be five next year,
and six the year after that. And,” opening large, convicting eyes, “it
takes sixteen years to make you twenty.” “Dear me,” said Lavinia, “how we can calculate!” In fact, it was not
to be denied that sixteen and four made twenty, and twenty was an age
the most daring were scarcely bold enough to dream of. So the younger children adored Sara. More than once she had been known
to have a tea party, made up of these despised ones, in her own room. And Emily had been played with, and Emily’s
own tea service used, the one with cups which held quite a lot of much-sweetened
weak tea and had blue flowers on them. No one had seen such a very real doll’s tea
set before. From that afternoon Sara was regarded as a
goddess and a queen by the entire alphabet class. Lottie Legh worshipped her to such an extent
that if Sara had not been a motherly person, she would have found her
tiresome. Lottie had been
sent to school by a rather flighty young papa who could not imagine
what else to do with her. Her young mother had died, and as the child
had been treated like a favourite doll or a very spoiled pet monkey or
lap dog ever since the first hour of her life, she was a very appalling
little creature. When she wanted anything or did not want anything
she wept and howled; and, as she always wanted
the things she could not have, and did not want the things that were
best for her, her shrill little voice was usually to be heard uplifted
in wails in one part of the house or another. Her strongest weapon was that in some mysterious
way she had found out that a very small girl who had lost her mother
was a person who ought to be pitied and made much of. She had probably heard some grown-up
people talking her over in the early days, after her mother’s death. So
it became her habit to make great use of this knowledge. The first time Sara took her in charge was
one morning when, on passing a sitting room, she heard both Miss Minchin
and Miss Amelia trying to suppress the angry wails of some child who,
evidently, refused to be silenced. She refused so strenuously indeed that Miss
Minchin was obliged to almost shout, in a stately and
severe manner, to make herself heard. “What IS she crying for?” she almost yelled. “Oh, oh, oh!” Sara heard; “I haven’t got any mam, ma-a!” “Oh, Lottie!” screamed Miss Amelia. “Do stop, darling! Don’t cry! Please don’t!” “Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!” Lottie howled tempestuously. “Haven’t, got, any, mam, ma-a!” “She ought to be whipped,” Miss Minchin proclaimed. “You SHALL be
whipped, you naughty child!” Lottie wailed more loudly than ever. Miss Amelia began to cry. Miss
Minchin’s voice rose until it almost thundered, then suddenly she
sprang up from her chair in impotent indignation and flounced out of
the room, leaving Miss Amelia to arrange the matter. Sara had paused in the hall, wondering if
she ought to go into the room, because she had recently begun a friendly
acquaintance with Lottie and might be able to quiet her. When Miss Minchin came out and
saw her, she looked rather annoyed. She realised that her voice, as
heard from inside the room, could not have sounded either dignified or
amiable. “Oh, Sara!” she exclaimed, endeavouring to
produce a suitable smile. “I stopped,” explained Sara, “because I knew
it was Lottie, and I thought, perhaps, just perhaps, I could make
her be quiet. May I try,
Miss Minchin?” “If you can, you are a clever child,” answered
Miss Minchin, drawing in her mouth sharply. Then, seeing that Sara looked slightly chilled
by her asperity, she changed her manner. “But you are clever in
everything,” she said in her approving way. “I dare say you can manage
her. Go in.” And she left her. When Sara entered the room, Lottie was lying
upon the floor, screaming and kicking her small fat legs violently,
and Miss Amelia was bending over her in consternation and despair, looking
quite red and damp with heat. Lottie had always found, when in her own nursery
at home, that kicking and screaming would always be quieted
by any means she insisted on. Poor plump Miss Amelia was trying first one
method, and then another. “Poor darling,” she said one moment, “I know
you haven’t any mamma, poor, ” Then in quite another tone, “If you
don’t stop, Lottie, I will shake you. Poor little angel! There, ! You wicked, bad, detestable
child, I will smack you! I will!” Sara went to them quietly. She did not know at all what she was going
to do, but she had a vague inward conviction that it would be better
not to say such different kinds of things quite so helplessly and
excitedly. “Miss Amelia,” she said in a low voice, “Miss
Minchin says I may try to make her stop, may I?” Miss Amelia turned and looked at her hopelessly. “Oh, DO you think you
can?” she gasped. “I don’t know whether I CAN”, answered Sara,
still in her half-whisper; “but I will try.” Miss Amelia stumbled up from her knees with
a heavy sigh, and Lottie’s fat little legs kicked as hard as ever. “If you will steal out of the room,” said
Sara, “I will stay with her.” “Oh, Sara!” almost whimpered Miss Amelia. “We never had such a
dreadful child before. I don’t believe we can keep her.” But she crept out of the room, and was very
much relieved to find an excuse for doing it. Sara stood by the howling furious child for
a few moments, and looked down at her without saying anything. Then she sat down flat on the
floor beside her and waited. Except for Lottie’s angry screams, the
room was quite quiet. This was a new state of affairs for little
Miss Legh, who was accustomed, when she screamed,
to hear other people protest and implore and command and coax by
turns. To lie and kick and
shriek, and find the only person near you not seeming to mind in the
least, attracted her attention. She opened her tight-shut streaming
eyes to see who this person was. And it was only another little girl. But it was the one who owned Emily and all
the nice things. And she
was looking at her steadily and as if she was merely thinking. Having
paused for a few seconds to find this out, Lottie thought she must
begin again, but the quiet of the room and of Sara’s odd, interested
face made her first howl rather half-hearted. “I, haven’t, any, ma, ma, ma-a!” she announced;
but her voice was not so strong. Sara looked at her still more steadily, but
with a sort of understanding in her eyes. “Neither have I,” she said. This was so unexpected that it was astounding. Lottie actually dropped
her legs, gave a wriggle, and lay and stared. A new idea will stop a
crying child when nothing else will. Also it was true that while
Lottie disliked Miss Minchin, who was cross, and Miss Amelia, who was
foolishly indulgent, she rather liked Sara, little as she knew her. She did not want to give up her grievance,
but her thoughts were distracted from it, so she wriggled again,
and, after a sulky sob, said, “Where is she?” Sara paused a moment. Because she had been told that her mamma was
in heaven, she had thought a great deal about
the matter, and her thoughts had not been quite like those of other people. “She went to heaven,” she said. “But I am sure she comes out sometimes
to see me, though I don’t see her. So does yours. Perhaps they can
both see us now. Perhaps they are both in this room.” Lottie sat bolt upright, and looked about
her. She was a pretty,
little, curly-headed creature, and her round eyes were like wet
forget-me-nots. If her mamma had seen her during the last
half-hour, she might not have thought her the kind of
child who ought to be related to an angel. Sara went on talking. Perhaps some people might think that what
she said was rather like a fairy story, but it
was all so real to her own imagination that Lottie began to listen in
spite of herself. She had
been told that her mamma had wings and a crown, and she had been shown
pictures of ladies in beautiful white nightgowns, who were said to be
angels. But Sara seemed to be telling a real story
about a lovely country where real people were. “There are fields and fields of flowers,”
she said, forgetting herself, as usual, when she began, and talking rather
as if she were in a dream, “fields and fields of lilies, and when the
soft wind blows over them it wafts the scent of them into the air, and
everybody always breathes it, because the soft wind is always blowing. And little children run about
in the lily fields and gather armfuls of them, and laugh and make
little wreaths. And the streets are shining. And people are never
tired, however far they walk. They can float anywhere they like. And
there are walls made of pearl and gold all round the city, but they are
low enough for the people to go and lean on them, and look down onto
the earth and smile, and send beautiful messages.” Whatsoever story she had begun to tell, Lottie
would, no doubt, have stopped crying, and been fascinated into listening;
but there was no denying that this story was prettier than
most others. She dragged
herself close to Sara, and drank in every word until the end came, far
too soon. When it did come, she was so sorry that she
put up her lip ominously. “I want to go there,” she cried. “I, haven’t any mamma in this school.” Sara saw the danger signal, and came out of
her dream. She took hold
of the chubby hand and pulled her close to her side with a coaxing
little laugh. “I will be your mamma,” she said. “We will play that you are my little
girl. And Emily shall be your sister.” Lottie’s dimples all began to show themselves. “Shall she?” she said. “Yes,” answered Sara, jumping to her feet. “Let us go and tell her. And then I will wash your face and brush your
hair.” To which Lottie agreed quite cheerfully, and
trotted out of the room and upstairs with her, without seeming even
to remember that the whole of the last hour’s tragedy had been caused
by the fact that she had refused to be washed and brushed for lunch
and Miss Minchin had been called in to use her majestic authority. And from that time Sara was an adopted mother. End of Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Becky Of course the greatest power Sara possessed
and the one which gained her even more followers than her luxuries
and the fact that she was “the show pupil,” the power that Lavinia and
certain other girls were most envious of, and at the same time most
fascinated by in spite of themselves, was her power of telling stories
and of making everything she talked about seem like a story, whether
it was one or not. Anyone who has been at school with a teller
of stories knows what the wonder means, how he or she is followed about
and besought in a whisper to relate romances; how groups gather round
and hang on the outskirts of the favoured party in the hope of being
allowed to join in and listen. Sara not only could tell stories, but she
adored telling them. When she sat or stood in the midst of a circle
and began to invent wonderful things, her green eyes grew big
and shining, her cheeks flushed, and, without knowing that she was
doing it, she began to act and made what she told lovely or alarming
by the raising or dropping of her voice, the bend and sway of her slim body,
and the dramatic movement of her hands. She forgot that she was talking to listening
children; she saw and lived with the fairy folk, or the kings and
queens and beautiful ladies, whose adventures she was narrating. Sometimes when she had finished her story,
she was quite out of breath with excitement, and would lay her hand on
her thin, little, quick-rising chest, and half laugh as if at
herself. “When I am telling it,” she would say, “it
doesn’t seem as if it was only made up. It seems more real than you are, more real
than the schoolroom. I feel as if I were all the people in the
story, one after the other. It is queer.” She had been at Miss Minchin’s school about
two years when, one foggy winter’s afternoon, as she was getting out
of her carriage, comfortably wrapped up in her warmest velvets and furs
and looking very much grander than she knew, she caught sight, as
she crossed the pavement, of a dingy little figure standing on the area
steps, and stretching its neck so that its wide-open eyes might peer
at her through the railings. Something in the eagerness and timidity of
the smudgy face made her look at it, and when she looked she smiled
because it was her way to smile at people. But the owner of the smudgy face and the wide-open
eyes evidently was afraid that she ought not to have been caught
looking at pupils of importance. She dodged out of sight like a jack-in-the-box
and scurried back into the kitchen, disappearing
so suddenly that if she had not been such a poor little forlorn thing,
Sara would have laughed in spite of herself. That very evening, as Sara was sitting in
the midst of a group of listeners in a corner
of the schoolroom telling one of her stories, the very same figure timidly
entered the room, carrying a coal box much too heavy for her, and knelt
down upon the hearth rug to replenish the fire and sweep up the ashes. She was cleaner than she had been when she
peeped through the area railings, but she looked just as frightened. She was evidently afraid
to look at the children or seem to be listening. She put on pieces of
coal cautiously with her fingers so that she might make no disturbing
noise, and she swept about the fire irons very softly. But Sara saw in
two minutes that she was deeply interested in what was going on, and
that she was doing her work slowly in the hope of catching a word here
and there. And realising this, she raised her voice and
spoke more clearly. “The Mermaids swam softly about in the crystal-green
water, and dragged after them a fishing-net woven of deep-sea
pearls,” she said. “The
Princess sat on the white rock and watched them.” It was a wonderful story about a princess
who was loved by a Prince Merman, and went to live with him in shining
caves under the sea. The small drudge before the grate swept the
hearth once and then swept it again. Having done it twice, she did it three times;
and, as she was doing it the third time, the sound of
the story so lured her to listen that she fell under the spell and actually
forgot that she had no right to listen at all, and also forgot
everything else. She sat
down upon her heels as she knelt on the hearth rug, and the brush hung
idly in her fingers. The voice of the storyteller went on and drew
her with it into winding grottos under the sea,
glowing with soft, clear blue light, and paved with pure golden sands. Strange sea flowers and
grasses waved about her, and far away faint singing and music echoed. The hearth brush fell from the work-roughened
hand, and Lavinia Herbert looked round. “That girl has been listening,” she said. The culprit snatched up her brush, and scrambled
to her feet. She
caught at the coal box and simply scuttled out of the room like a
frightened rabbit. Sara felt rather hot-tempered. “I knew she was listening,” she said. “Why shouldn’t she?” Lavinia tossed her head with great elegance. “Well,” she remarked, “I do not know whether
your mamma would like you to tell stories to servant girls, but I know
MY mamma wouldn’t like ME to do it.” “My mamma!” said Sara, looking odd. “I don’t believe she would mind in
the least. She knows that stories belong to everybody.” “I thought,” retorted Lavinia, in severe recollection,
“that your mamma was dead. How can she know things?” “Do you think she DOESN’T know things?” said
Sara, in her stern little voice. Sometimes she had a rather stern little voice. “Sara’s mamma knows everything,” piped in
Lottie. “So does my
mamma, ‘cept Sara is my mamma at Miss Minchin’s, my other one knows
everything. The streets are shining, and there are fields
and fields of lilies, and everybody gathers them. Sara tells me when she puts me
to bed.” “You wicked thing,” said Lavinia, turning
on Sara; “making fairy stories about heaven.” “There are much more splendid stories in Revelation,”
returned Sara. “Just look and see! How do you know mine are fairy stories? But I can
tell you”, with a fine bit of unheavenly temper, “you will never find
out whether they are or not if you’re not kinder to people than you are
now. Come along, Lottie.” And she marched out of the room, rather
hoping that she might see the little servant again somewhere, but she
found no trace of her when she got into the hall. “Who is that little girl who makes the fires?”
she asked Mariette that night. Mariette broke forth into a flow of description. Ah, indeed, Mademoiselle Sara might well ask. She was a forlorn little
thing who had just taken the place of scullery maid, though, as to
being scullery maid, she was everything else besides. She blacked boots
and grates, and carried heavy coal-scuttles up and down stairs, and
scrubbed floors and cleaned windows, and was ordered about by
everybody. She was fourteen years old, but was so stunted
in growth that she looked about twelve. In truth, Mariette was sorry for her. She was so timid that if one chanced to speak
to her it appeared as if her poor, frightened eyes would jump out of
her head. “What is her name?” asked Sara, who had sat
by the table, with her chin on her hands, as she listened absorbedly to
the recital. Her name was Becky. Mariette heard everyone below-stairs calling,
“Becky, do this,” and “Becky, do that,” every five minutes in the day. Sara sat and looked into the fire, reflecting
on Becky for some time after Mariette left her. She made up a story of which Becky was the
ill-used heroine. She thought she looked as if she had never
had quite enough to eat. Her very eyes were hungry. She hoped she should see
her again, but though she caught sight of her carrying things up or
down stairs on several occasions, she always seemed in such a hurry and
so afraid of being seen that it was impossible to speak to her. But a few weeks later, on another foggy afternoon,
when she entered her sitting room she found herself confronting
a rather pathetic picture. In her own special and pet easy-chair before
the bright fire, Becky, with a coal smudge on her nose and
several on her apron, with her poor little cap hanging half off her head,
and an empty coal box on the floor near her, sat fast asleep, tired
out beyond even the endurance of her hard-working young body. She had been sent up to put
the bedrooms in order for the evening. There were a great many of them,
and she had been running about all day. Sara’s rooms she had saved
until the last. They were not like the other rooms, which
were plain and bare. Ordinary pupils were expected to be satisfied
with mere necessaries. Sara’s comfortable sitting room seemed a bower
of luxury to the scullery maid, though it was, in fact,
merely a nice, bright little room. But there were pictures and books in it, and
curious things from India; there was a sofa and the
low, soft chair; Emily sat in a chair of her own, with the air of a presiding
goddess, and there was always a glowing fire and a polished grate. Becky saved it until
the end of her afternoon’s work, because it rested her to go into it,
and she always hoped to snatch a few minutes to sit down in the soft
chair and look about her, and think about the wonderful good fortune of
the child who owned such surroundings and who went out on the cold days
in beautiful hats and coats one tried to catch a glimpse of through the
area railing. On this afternoon, when she had sat down,
the sensation of relief to her short, aching legs had been so wonderful
and delightful that it had seemed to soothe her whole body, and the glow
of warmth and comfort from the fire had crept over her like a spell,
until, as she looked at the red coals, a tired, slow smile stole over
her smudged face, her head nodded forward without her being aware
of it, her eyes drooped, and she fell fast asleep. She had really been only about ten minutes
in the room when Sara entered, but she was in as deep a sleep as if she
had been, like the Sleeping Beauty, slumbering for a hundred years. But she did not look, poor Becky, like a Sleeping
Beauty at all. She
looked only like an ugly, stunted, worn-out little scullery drudge. Sara seemed as much unlike her as if she were
a creature from another world. On this particular afternoon she had been
taking her dancing lesson, and the afternoon on which the dancing master
appeared was rather a grand occasion at the seminary, though it
occurred every week. The
pupils were attired in their prettiest frocks, and as Sara danced
particularly well, she was very much brought forward, and Mariette was
requested to make her as diaphanous and fine as possible. Today a frock the colour of a rose had been
put on her, and Mariette had bought some real buds and made her a wreath
to wear on her black locks. She had been learning a new, delightful dance
in which she had been skimming and flying about the room, like a
large rose-coloured butterfly, and the enjoyment and exercise
had brought a brilliant, happy glow into her face. When she entered the room, she floated in
with a few of the butterfly steps, and there sat Becky, nodding her cap
sideways off her head. “Oh!” cried Sara, softly, when she saw her. “That poor thing!” It did not occur to her to feel cross at finding
her pet chair occupied by the small, dingy figure. To tell the truth, she was quite glad to
find it there. When the ill-used heroine of her story wakened,
she could talk to her. She crept toward her quietly, and stood looking
at her. Becky gave a little snore. “I wish she’d waken herself,” Sara said. “I don’t like to waken her. But Miss Minchin would be cross if she found
out. I’ll just wait a few
minutes.” She took a seat on the edge of the table,
and sat swinging her slim, rose-coloured legs, and wondering what it
would be best to do. Miss
Amelia might come in at any moment, and if she did, Becky would be sure
to be scolded. “But she is so tired,” she thought. “She is so tired!” A piece of flaming coal ended her perplexity
for her that very moment. It broke off from a large lump and fell on
to the fender. Becky
started, and opened her eyes with a frightened gasp. She did not know
she had fallen asleep. She had only sat down for one moment and felt
the beautiful glow, and here she found herself staring in wild alarm at
the wonderful pupil, who sat perched quite near her, like a
rose-coloured fairy, with interested eyes. She sprang up and clutched at her cap. She felt it dangling over her
ear, and tried wildly to put it straight. Oh, she had got herself into
trouble now with a vengeance! To have impudently fallen asleep on such
a young lady’s chair! She would be turned out of doors without wages. She made a sound like a big breathless sob. “Oh, miss! Oh, miss!” she stuttered. “I arst yer pardon, miss! Oh, I
do, miss!” Sara jumped down, and came quite close to
her. “Don’t be frightened,” she said, quite as
if she had been speaking to a little girl like herself. “It doesn’t matter the least bit.” “I didn’t go to do it, miss,” protested Becky. “It was the warm
fire, an’ me bein’ so tired. It, it WASN’T impertinence!” Sara broke into a friendly little laugh, and
put her hand on her shoulder. “You were tired,” she said; “you could not
help it. You are not really
awake yet.” How poor Becky stared at her! In fact, she had never heard such a
nice, friendly sound in anyone’s voice before. She was used to being
ordered about and scolded, and having her ears boxed. And this one, in
her rose-coloured dancing afternoon splendour, was looking at her as if
she were not a culprit at all, as if she had a right to be tired, even
to fall asleep! The touch of the soft, slim little paw on
her shoulder was the most amazing thing she had ever known. “Ain’t, ain’t yer angry, miss?” she gasped. “Ain’t yer goin’ to tell
the missus?” “No,” cried out Sara. “Of course I’m not.” The woeful fright in the coal-smutted face
made her suddenly so sorry that she could scarcely bear it. One of her queer thoughts rushed into
her mind. She put her hand against Becky’s cheek. “Why,” she said, “we are just the same, I
am only a little girl like you. It’s just an accident that I am not you, and
you are not me!” Becky did not understand in the least. Her mind could not grasp such
amazing thoughts, and “an accident” meant to her a calamity in which
some one was run over or fell off a ladder and was carried to “the
‘orspital.” “A’ accident, miss,” she fluttered respectfully. “Is it?” “Yes,” Sara answered, and she looked at her
dreamily for a moment. But
the next she spoke in a different tone. She realised that Becky did
not know what she meant. “Have you done your work?” she asked. “Dare you stay here a few
minutes?” Becky lost her breath again. “Here, miss? Me?” Sara ran to the door, opened it, and looked
out and listened. “No one is anywhere about,” she explained. “If your bedrooms are
finished, perhaps you might stay a tiny while. I thought, perhaps, you
might like a piece of cake.” The next ten minutes seemed to Becky like
a sort of delirium. Sara
opened a cupboard, and gave her a thick slice of cake. She seemed to
rejoice when it was devoured in hungry bites. She talked and asked
questions, and laughed until Becky’s fears actually began to calm
themselves, and she once or twice gathered boldness enough to ask a
question or so herself, daring as she felt it to be. “Is that, ” she ventured, looking longingly
at the rose-coloured frock. And she asked it almost in a whisper. “Is that there your best?” “It is one of my dancing-frocks,” answered
Sara. “I like it, don’t
you?” For a few seconds Becky was almost speechless
with admiration. Then
she said in an awed voice, “Onct I see a princess. I was standin’ in
the street with the crowd outside Covin’ Garden, watchin’ the swells go
inter the operer. An’ there was one everyone stared at most. They ses
to each other, ‘That’s the princess.’ She was a growed-up young lady,
but she was pink all over, gownd an’ cloak, an’ flowers an’ all. I
called her to mind the minnit I see you, sittin’ there on the table,
miss. You looked like her.” “I’ve often thought,” said Sara, in her reflecting
voice, “that I should like to be a princess; I wonder what
it feels like. I believe I
will begin pretending I am one.” Becky stared at her admiringly, and, as before,
did not understand her in the least. She watched her with a sort of adoration. Very soon Sara
left her reflections and turned to her with a new question. “Becky,” she said, “weren’t you listening
to that story?” “Yes, miss,” confessed Becky, a little alarmed
again. “I knowed I
hadn’t orter, but it was that beautiful I, I couldn’t help it.” “I liked you to listen to it,” said Sara. “If you tell stories, you
like nothing so much as to tell them to people who want to listen. I
don’t know why it is. Would you like to hear the rest?” Becky lost her breath again. “Me hear it?” she cried. “Like as if I was a pupil, miss! All about
the Prince, and the little white Mer-babies swimming about
laughing, with stars in their hair?” Sara nodded. “You haven’t time to hear it now, I’m afraid,”
she said; “but if you will tell me just what time you come to do
my rooms, I will try to be here and tell you a bit of it every day until
it is finished. It’s a
lovely long one, and I’m always putting new bits to it.” “Then,” breathed Becky, devoutly, “I wouldn’t
mind HOW heavy the coal boxes was, or WHAT the cook done to me, if,
if I might have that to think of.” “You may,” said Sara. “I’ll tell it ALL to you.” When Becky went downstairs, she was not the
same Becky who had staggered up, loaded down by the weight of
the coal scuttle. She had an
extra piece of cake in her pocket, and she had been fed and warmed, but
not only by cake and fire. Something else had warmed and fed her, and
the something else was Sara. When she was gone Sara sat on her favourite
perch on the end of her table. Her feet were on a chair, her elbows on her
knees, and her chin in her hands. “If I WAS a princess, a REAL princess,” she
murmured, “I could scatter largess to the populace. But even if I am only a pretend princess,
I can invent little things to do for people. Things like this. She was
just as happy as if it was largess. I’ll pretend that to do things
people like is scattering largess. I’ve scattered largess.” End of Chapter 5 Chapter 6 The Diamond Mines Not very long after this a very exciting thing
happened. Not only Sara,
but the entire school, found it exciting, and made it the chief subject
of conversation for weeks after it occurred. In one of his letters
Captain Crewe told a most interesting story. A friend who had been at
school with him when he was a boy had unexpectedly come to see him in
India. He was the owner of a large tract of land
upon which diamonds had been found, and he was engaged in developing
the mines. If all
went as was confidently expected, he would become possessed of such
wealth as it made one dizzy to think of; and because he was fond of the
friend of his school days, he had given him an opportunity to share in
this enormous fortune by becoming a partner in his scheme. This, at
least, was what Sara gathered from his letters. It is true that any
other business scheme, however magnificent, would have had but small
attraction for her or for the schoolroom; but “diamond mines” sounded
so like the Arabian Nights that no one could be indifferent. Sara
thought them enchanting, and painted pictures, for Ermengarde and
Lottie, of labyrinthine passages in the bowels of the earth, where
sparkling stones studded the walls and roofs and ceilings, and strange,
dark men dug them out with heavy picks. Ermengarde delighted in the
story, and Lottie insisted on its being retold to her every evening. Lavinia was very spiteful about it, and told
Jessie that she didn’t believe such things as diamond mines existed. “My mamma has a diamond ring which cost forty
pounds,” she said. “And
it is not a big one, either. If there were mines full of diamonds,
people would be so rich it would be ridiculous.” “Perhaps Sara will be so rich that she will
be ridiculous,” giggled Jessie. “She’s ridiculous without being rich,” Lavinia
sniffed. “I believe you hate her,” said Jessie. “No, I don’t,” snapped Lavinia. “But I don’t believe in mines full of
diamonds.” “Well, people have to get them from somewhere,”
said Jessie. “Lavinia,” with a new giggle, “what do you
think Gertrude says?” “I don’t know, I’m sure; and I don’t care
if it’s something more about that everlasting Sara.” “Well, it is. One of her ‘pretends’ is that she is a princess. She
plays it all the time, even in school. She says it makes her learn her
lessons better. She wants Ermengarde to be one, too, but Ermengarde
says she is too fat.” “She IS too fat,” said Lavinia. “And Sara is too thin.” Naturally, Jessie giggled again. “She says it has nothing to do with what you
look like, or what you have. It has only to do with what you THINK of,
and what you DO.” “I suppose she thinks she could be a princess
if she was a beggar,” said Lavinia. “Let us begin to call her Your Royal Highness.” Lessons for the day were over, and they were
sitting before the schoolroom fire, enjoying the time they liked
best. It was the time
when Miss Minchin and Miss Amelia were taking their tea in the sitting
room sacred to themselves. At this hour a great deal of talking was
done, and a great many secrets changed hands, particularly if the
younger pupils behaved themselves well, and did not squabble or run
about noisily, which it must be confessed they usually did. When they
made an uproar the older girls usually interfered with scolding and
shakes. They were expected to keep order, and there
was danger that if they did not, Miss Minchin or Miss Amelia
would appear and put an end to festivities. Even as Lavinia spoke the door opened and
Sara entered with Lottie, whose habit was to trot everywhere
after her like a little dog. “There she is, with that horrid child!” exclaimed
Lavinia in a whisper. “If she’s so fond of her, why doesn’t she
keep her in her own room? She
will begin howling about something in five minutes.” It happened that Lottie had been seized with
a sudden desire to play in the schoolroom, and had begged her adopted
parent to come with her. She
joined a group of little ones who were playing in a corner. Sara curled
herself up in the window-seat, opened a book, and began to read. It
was a book about the French Revolution, and she was soon lost in a
harrowing picture of the prisoners in the Bastille, men who had spent
so many years in dungeons that when they were dragged out by those who
rescued them, their long, grey hair and beards almost hid their faces,
and they had forgotten that an outside world existed at all, and were
like beings in a dream. She was so far away from the schoolroom that
it was not agreeable to be dragged back suddenly by a howl from Lottie. Never did she find
anything so difficult as to keep herself from losing her temper when
she was suddenly disturbed while absorbed in a book. People who are
fond of books know the feeling of irritation which sweeps over them at
such a moment. The temptation to be unreasonable and snappish
is one not easy to manage. “It makes me feel as if someone had hit me,”
Sara had told Ermengarde once in confidence. “And as if I want to hit back. I have to remember
things quickly to keep from saying something ill-tempered.” She had to remember things quickly when she
laid her book on the window-seat and jumped down from her comfortable
corner. Lottie had been sliding across the schoolroom
floor, and, having first irritated Lavinia and Jessie by making a noise,
had ended by falling down and hurting her fat knee. She was screaming and dancing up and
down in the midst of a group of friends and enemies, who were
alternately coaxing and scolding her. “Stop this minute, you cry-baby! Stop this minute!” Lavinia commanded. “I’m not a cry-baby … I’m not!” wailed Lottie. “Sara, Sa, ra!” “If she doesn’t stop, Miss Minchin will hear
her,” cried Jessie. “Lottie darling, I’ll give you a penny!” “I don’t want your penny,” sobbed Lottie;
and she looked down at the fat knee, and, seeing a drop of blood on it,
burst forth again. Sara flew across the room and, kneeling down,
put her arms round her. “Now, Lottie,” she said. “Now, Lottie, you PROMISED Sara.” “She said I was a cry-baby,” wept Lottie. Sara patted her, but spoke in the steady voice
Lottie knew. “But if you cry, you will be one, Lottie pet. You PROMISED.” Lottie
remembered that she had promised, but she preferred to lift up her
voice. “I haven’t any mamma,” she proclaimed. “I haven’t, a bit, of mamma.” “Yes, you have,” said Sara, cheerfully. “Have you forgotten? Don’t
you know that Sara is your mamma? Don’t you want Sara for your mamma?” Lottie cuddled up to her with a consoled sniff. “Come and sit in the window-seat with me,”
Sara went on, “and I’ll whisper a story to you.” “Will you?” whimpered Lottie. “Will you, tell me, about the diamond
mines?” “The diamond mines?” broke out Lavinia. “Nasty, little spoiled thing,
I should like to SLAP her!” Sara got up quickly on her feet. It must be remembered that she had
been very deeply absorbed in the book about the Bastille, and she had
had to recall several things rapidly when she realised that she must go
and take care of her adopted child. She was not an angel, and she was
not fond of Lavinia. “Well,” she said, with some fire, “I should
like to slap YOU, but I don’t want to slap you!” restraining herself. “At least I both want to
slap you, and I should LIKE to slap you, but I WON’T slap you. We are
not little gutter children. We are both old enough to know better.” Here was Lavinia’s opportunity. “Ah, yes, your royal highness,” she said. “We are princesses, I
believe. At least one of us is. The school ought to be very
fashionable now Miss Minchin has a princess for a pupil.” Sara started toward her. She looked as if she were going to box her
ears. Perhaps she was. Her trick of pretending things was the joy
of her life. She never spoke of it to girls she was not
fond of. Her new
“pretend” about being a princess was very near to her heart, and she
was shy and sensitive about it. She had meant it to be rather a
secret, and here was Lavinia deriding it before nearly all the school. She felt the blood rush up into her face and
tingle in her ears. She
only just saved herself. If you were a princess, you did not fly into
rages. Her hand dropped, and she stood quite still
a moment. When she
spoke it was in a quiet, steady voice; she held her head up, and
everybody listened to her. “It’s true,” she said. “Sometimes I do pretend I am a princess. I
pretend I am a princess, so that I can try and behave like one.” Lavinia could not think of exactly the right
thing to say. Several
times she had found that she could not think of a satisfactory reply
when she was dealing with Sara. The reason for this was that, somehow,
the rest always seemed to be vaguely in sympathy with her opponent. She
saw now that they were pricking up their ears interestedly. The truth
was, they liked princesses, and they all hoped they might hear
something more definite about this one, and drew nearer Sara
accordingly. Lavinia could only invent one remark, and
it fell rather flat. “Dear me,” she said, “I hope, when you ascend
the throne, you won’t forget us!” “I won’t,” said Sara, and she did not utter
another word, but stood quite still, and stared at her steadily as
she saw her take Jessie’s arm and turn away. After this, the girls who were jealous of
her used to speak of her as “Princess Sara” whenever they wished to be
particularly disdainful, and those who were fond of her gave her the name
among themselves as a term of affection. No one called her “princess” instead of “Sara,”
but her adorers were much pleased with the picturesqueness
and grandeur of the title, and Miss Minchin, hearing of it, mentioned
it more than once to visiting parents, feeling that it rather suggested
a sort of royal boarding school. To Becky it seemed the most appropriate thing
in the world. The
acquaintance begun on the foggy afternoon when she had jumped up
terrified from her sleep in the comfortable chair, had ripened and
grown, though it must be confessed that Miss Minchin and Miss Amelia
knew very little about it. They were aware that Sara was “kind” to the
scullery maid, but they knew nothing of certain delightful moments
snatched perilously when, the upstairs rooms being set in order with
lightning rapidity, Sara’s sitting room was reached, and the heavy coal
box set down with a sigh of joy. At such times stories were told by
instalments, things of a satisfying nature were either produced and
eaten or hastily tucked into pockets to be disposed of at night, when
Becky went upstairs to her attic to bed. “But I has to eat ’em careful, miss,” she
said once; “‘cos if I leaves crumbs the rats come out to get ’em.” “Rats!” exclaimed Sara, in horror. “Are there RATS there?” “Lots of ’em, miss,” Becky answered in quite
a matter-of-fact manner. “There mostly is rats an’ mice in attics. You gets used to the noise
they makes scuttling about. I’ve got so I don’t mind ’em s’ long as
they don’t run over my piller.” “Ugh!” said Sara. “You gets used to anythin’ after a bit,” said
Becky. “You have to,
miss, if you’re born a scullery maid. I’d rather have rats than
cockroaches.” “So would I,” said Sara; “I suppose you might
make friends with a rat in time, but I don’t believe I should like
to make friends with a cockroach.” Sometimes Becky did not dare to spend more
than a few minutes in the bright, warm room, and when this was the case
perhaps only a few words could be exchanged, and a small purchase slipped
into the old-fashioned pocket Becky carried under her dress skirt,
tied round her waist with a band of tape. The search for and discovery of satisfying
things to eat which could be packed into small compass,
added a new interest to Sara’s existence. When she drove or walked out, she used to
look into shop windows eagerly. The first time it occurred to her to bring
home two or three little meat pies, she felt that
she had hit upon a discovery. When she exhibited them, Becky’s eyes quite
sparkled. “Oh, miss!” she murmured. “Them will be nice an’ fillin.’ It’s
fillin’ness that’s best. Sponge cake’s a ‘evenly thing, but it melts
away like, if you understand, miss. These’ll just STAY in yer
stummick.” “Well,” hesitated Sara, “I don’t think it
would be good if they stayed always, but I do believe they will be satisfying.” They were satisfying, and so were beef sandwiches,
bought at a cook-shop, and so were rolls and Bologna sausage. In time, Becky began
to lose her hungry, tired feeling, and the coal box did not seem so
unbearably heavy. However heavy it was, and whatsoever the temper
of the cook, and the hardness of the work heaped upon her shoulders,
she had always the chance of the afternoon to look forward to,
the chance that Miss Sara would be able to be in her sitting room. In fact, the mere seeing of
Miss Sara would have been enough without meat pies. If there was time
only for a few words, they were always friendly, merry words that put
heart into one; and if there was time for more, then there was an
instalment of a story to be told, or some other thing one remembered
afterward and sometimes lay awake in one’s bed in the attic to think
over. Sara, who was only doing what she unconsciously
liked better than anything else, Nature having made her
for a giver, had not the least idea what she meant to poor Becky, and
how wonderful a benefactor she seemed. If Nature has made you for a giver, your hands
are born open, and so is your heart; and though there
may be times when your hands are empty, your heart is always full,
and you can give things out of that, warm things, kind things, sweet things,
help and comfort and laughter, and sometimes gay, kind laughter
is the best help of all. Becky had scarcely known what laughter was
through all her poor, little hard-driven life. Sara made her laugh, and laughed with her;
and, though neither of them quite knew it, the
laughter was as “fillin'” as the meat pies. A few weeks before Sara’s eleventh birthday
a letter came to her from her father, which did not seem to be written
in such boyish high spirits as usual. He was not very well, and was evidently overweighted
by the business connected with the diamond mines. “You see, little Sara,” he wrote, “your daddy
is not a businessman at all, and figures and documents bother him. He does not really
understand them, and all this seems so enormous. Perhaps, if I was not
feverish I should not be awake, tossing about, one half of the night
and spend the other half in troublesome dreams. If my little missus
were here, I dare say she would give me some solemn, good advice. You
would, wouldn’t you, Little Missus?” One of his many jokes had been to call her
his “little missus” because she had such an old-fashioned air. He had made wonderful preparations for her
birthday. Among other
things, a new doll had been ordered in Paris, and her wardrobe was to
be, indeed, a marvel of splendid perfection. When she had replied to
the letter asking her if the doll would be an acceptable present, Sara
had been very quaint. “I am getting very old,” she wrote; “you see,
I shall never live to have another doll given me. This will be my last doll. There is
something solemn about it. If I could write poetry, I am sure a poem
about ‘A Last Doll’ would be very nice. But I cannot write poetry. I
have tried, and it made me laugh. It did not sound like Watts or
Coleridge or Shakespeare at all. No one could ever take Emily’s place,
but I should respect the Last Doll very much; and I am sure the school
would love it. They all like dolls, though some of the big
ones, the almost fifteen ones, pretend they are too
grown up.” Captain Crewe had a splitting headache when
he read this letter in his bungalow in India. The table before him was heaped with papers
and letters which were alarming him and filling
him with anxious dread, but he laughed as he had not laughed for weeks. “Oh,” he said, “she’s better fun every year
she lives. God grant this
business may right itself and leave me free to run home and see her. What wouldn’t I give to have her little arms
round my neck this minute! What WOULDN’T I give!” The birthday was to be celebrated by great
festivities. The schoolroom
was to be decorated, and there was to be a party. The boxes containing
the presents were to be opened with great ceremony, and there was to be
a glittering feast spread in Miss Minchin’s sacred room. When the day
arrived the whole house was in a whirl of excitement. How the morning
passed nobody quite knew, because there seemed such preparations to be
made. The schoolroom was being decked with garlands
of holly; the desks had been moved away, and red covers
had been put on the forms which were arrayed round the room against
the wall. When Sara went into her sitting room in the
morning, she found on the table a small, dumpy package, tied up in a
piece of brown paper. She
knew it was a present, and she thought she could guess whom it came
from. She opened it quite tenderly. It was a square pincushion, made
of not quite clean red flannel, and black pins had been stuck carefully
into it to form the words, “Menny hapy returns.” “Oh!” cried Sara, with a warm feeling in her heart. “What pains she
has taken! I like it so, it, it makes me feel sorrowful.” But the next moment she was mystified. On the under side of the
pincushion was secured a card, bearing in neat letters the name “Miss
Amelia Minchin.” Sara turned it over and over. “Miss Amelia!” she said to herself “How CAN
it be!” And just at that very moment she heard the
door being cautiously pushed open and saw Becky peeping round it. There was an affectionate, happy grin on her
face, and she shuffled forward and stood nervously pulling at her
fingers. “Do yer like it, Miss Sara?” she said. “Do yer?” “Like it?” cried Sara. “You darling Becky, you made it all yourself.” Becky gave a hysteric but joyful sniff, and
her eyes looked quite moist with delight. “It ain’t nothin’ but flannin, an’ the flannin
ain’t new; but I wanted to give yer somethin’ an’ I made it of nights. I knew yer could PRETEND
it was satin with diamond pins in. _I_ tried to when I was makin’ it. The card, miss,” rather doubtfully; “‘t warn’t
wrong of me to pick it up out o’ the dust-bin, was it? Miss ‘Meliar had throwed it away. I
hadn’t no card o’ my own, an’ I knowed it wouldn’t be a proper presink
if I didn’t pin a card on, so I pinned Miss ‘Meliar’s.” Sara flew at her and hugged her. She could not have told herself or
anyone else why there was a lump in her throat. “Oh, Becky!” she cried out, with a queer little
laugh, “I love you, Becky, I do, I do!” “Oh, miss!” breathed Becky. “Thank yer, miss, kindly; it ain’t good
enough for that. The, the flannin wasn’t new.” End of Chapter 6 Chapter 7 The Diamond Mines Again When Sara entered the holly-hung schoolroom
in the afternoon, she did so as the head of a sort of procession. Miss Minchin, in her grandest
silk dress, led her by the hand. A manservant followed, carrying the
box containing the Last Doll, a housemaid carried a second box, and
Becky brought up the rear, carrying a third and wearing a clean apron
and a new cap. Sara would have much preferred to enter in
the usual way, but Miss Minchin had sent for her, and,
after an interview in her private sitting room, had expressed her wishes. “This is not an ordinary occasion,” she said. “I do not desire that it
should be treated as one.” So Sara was led grandly in and felt shy when,
on her entry, the big girls stared at her and touched each other’s
elbows, and the little ones began to squirm joyously in their seats. “Silence, young ladies!” said Miss Minchin,
at the murmur which arose. “James, place the box on the table and remove
the lid. Emma, put yours
upon a chair. Becky!” suddenly and severely. Becky had quite forgotten herself in her excitement,
and was grinning at Lottie, who was wriggling with rapturous
expectation. She almost
dropped her box, the disapproving voice so startled her, and her
frightened, bobbing curtsy of apology was so funny that Lavinia and
Jessie tittered. “It is not your place to look at the young
ladies,” said Miss Minchin. “You forget yourself. Put your box down.” Becky obeyed with alarmed haste and hastily
backed toward the door. “You may leave us,” Miss Minchin announced
to the servants with a wave of her hand. Becky stepped aside respectfully to allow
the superior servants to pass out first. She could not help casting a longing glance
at the box on the table. Something made of blue satin was peeping from
between the folds of tissue paper. “If you please, Miss Minchin,” said Sara,
suddenly, “mayn’t Becky stay?” It was a bold thing to do. Miss Minchin was betrayed into something
like a slight jump. Then she put her eyeglass up, and gazed at
her show pupil disturbedly. “Becky!” she exclaimed. “My dearest Sara!” Sara advanced a step toward her. “I want her because I know she will like to
see the presents,” she explained. “She is a little girl, too, you know.” Miss Minchin was scandalised. She glanced from one figure to the other. “My dear Sara,” she said, “Becky is the scullery
maid. Scullery
maids, er, are not little girls.” It really had not occurred to her to think
of them in that light. Scullery maids were machines who carried coal
scuttles and made fires. “But Becky is,” said Sara. “And I know she would enjoy herself. Please let her stay, because it is my birthday.” Miss Minchin replied with much dignity: “As you ask it as a birthday favour, she may
stay. Rebecca, thank Miss
Sara for her great kindness.” Becky had been backing into the corner, twisting
the hem of her apron in delighted suspense. She came forward, bobbing curtsies, but between
Sara’s eyes and her own there passed a gleam of friendly understanding,
while her words tumbled over each other. “Oh, if you please, miss! I’m that grateful, miss! I did want to see
the doll, miss, that I did. Thank you, miss. And thank you,
ma’am,”, turning and making an alarmed bob to Miss Minchin, “for
letting me take the liberty.” Miss Minchin waved her hand again, this time
it was in the direction of the corner near the door. “Go and stand there,” she commanded. “Not too near the young ladies.” Becky went to her place, grinning. She did not care where she was
sent, so that she might have the luck of being inside the room, instead
of being downstairs in the scullery, while these delights were going
on. She did not even mind when Miss Minchin cleared
her throat ominously and spoke again. “Now, young ladies, I have a few words to
say to you,” she announced. “She’s going to make a speech,” whispered
one of the girls. “I wish it
was over.” Sara felt rather uncomfortable. As this was her party, it was probable
that the speech was about her. It is not agreeable to stand in a
schoolroom and have a speech made about you. “You are aware, young ladies,” the speech
began, for it was a speech, “that dear Sara is eleven years old
today.” “DEAR Sara!” murmured Lavinia. “Several of you here have also been eleven
years old, but Sara’s birthdays are rather different from other
little girls’ birthdays. When
she is older she will be heiress to a large fortune, which it will be
her duty to spend in a meritorious manner.” “The diamond mines,” giggled Jessie, in a
whisper. Sara did not hear her; but as she stood with
her green-grey eyes fixed steadily on Miss Minchin, she felt herself
growing rather hot. When
Miss Minchin talked about money, she felt somehow that she always hated
her, and, of course, it was disrespectful to hate grown-up people. “When her dear papa, Captain Crewe, brought
her from India and gave her into my care,” the speech proceeded, “he said
to me, in a jesting way, ‘I am afraid she will be very rich, Miss Minchin.’ My reply was, ‘Her
education at my seminary, Captain Crewe, shall be such as will adorn
the largest fortune.’ Sara has become my most accomplished pupil. Her
French and her dancing are a credit to the seminary. Her
manners, which have caused you to call her Princess Sara, are perfect. Her amiability she exhibits by giving you
this afternoon’s party. I
hope you appreciate her generosity. I wish you to express your
appreciation of it by saying aloud all together, ‘Thank you, Sara!'” The entire schoolroom rose to its feet as
it had done the morning Sara remembered so well. “Thank you, Sara!” it said, and it must be
confessed that Lottie jumped up and down. Sara looked rather shy for a moment. She made a
curtsy, and it was a very nice one. “Thank you,” she said, “for coming to my party.” “Very pretty, indeed, Sara,” approved Miss
Minchin. “That is what a
real princess does when the populace applauds her. Lavinia”, scathingly, “the sound you just
made was extremely like a snort. If you are jealous of your fellow-pupil, I
beg you will express your feelings in some more lady-like manner. Now I will leave you to
enjoy yourselves.” The instant she had swept out of the room
the spell her presence always had upon them was broken. The door had scarcely closed before every
seat was empty. The little girls jumped or tumbled out of
theirs; the older ones wasted no time in deserting theirs. There was a rush toward
the boxes. Sara had bent over one of them with a delighted
face. “These are books, I know,” she said. The little children broke into a rueful murmur,
and Ermengarde looked aghast. “Does your papa send you books for a birthday
present?” she exclaimed. “Why, he’s as bad as mine. Don’t open them, Sara.” “I like them,” Sara laughed, but she turned
to the biggest box. When
she took out the Last Doll it was so magnificent that the children
uttered delighted groans of joy, and actually drew back to gaze at it
in breathless rapture. “She is almost as big as Lottie,” someone
gasped. Lottie clapped her hands and danced about,
giggling. “She’s dressed for the theatre,” said Lavinia. “Her cloak is lined
with ermine.” “Oh,” cried Ermengarde, darting forward, “she
has an opera-glass in her hand, a blue-and-gold one!” “Here is her trunk,” said Sara. “Let us open it and look at her
things.” She sat down upon the floor and turned the
key. The children crowded
clamouring around her, as she lifted tray after tray and revealed their
contents. Never had the schoolroom been in such an uproar. There were
lace collars and silk stockings and handkerchiefs; there was a jewel
case containing a necklace and a tiara which looked quite as if they
were made of real diamonds; there was a long sealskin and muff, there
were ball dresses and walking dresses and visiting dresses; there were
hats and tea gowns and fans. Even Lavinia and Jessie forgot that they
were too elderly to care for dolls, and uttered exclamations of delight
and caught up things to look at them. “Suppose,” Sara said, as she stood by the
table, putting a large, black-velvet hat on the impassively smiling
owner of all these splendours, “suppose she understands human
talk and feels proud of being admired.” “You are always supposing things,” said Lavinia,
and her air was very superior. “I know I am,” answered Sara, undisturbedly. “I like it. There is
nothing so nice as supposing. It’s almost like being a fairy. If you
suppose anything hard enough it seems as if it were real.” “It’s all very well to suppose things if you
have everything,” said Lavinia. “Could you suppose and pretend if you were
a beggar and lived in a garret?” Sara stopped arranging the Last Doll’s ostrich
plumes, and looked thoughtful. “I BELIEVE I could,” she said. “If one was a beggar, one would have to
suppose and pretend all the time. But it mightn’t be easy.” She often thought afterward how strange it
was that just as she had finished saying this, just at that very moment,
Miss Amelia came into the room. “Sara,” she said, “your papa’s solicitor,
Mr. Barrow, has called to see Miss Minchin, and, as she must talk to him
alone and the refreshments are laid in her parlour, you had all better
come and have your feast now, so that my sister can have her interview
here in the schoolroom.” Refreshments were not likely to be disdained
at any hour, and many pairs of eyes gleamed. Miss Amelia arranged the procession into
decorum, and then, with Sara at her side heading it, she led it away,
leaving the Last Doll sitting upon a chair with the glories of her
wardrobe scattered about her; dresses and coats hung upon chair backs,
piles of lace-frilled petticoats lying upon their seats. Becky, who was not expected to partake of
refreshments, had the indiscretion to linger a moment to look at
these beauties, it really was an indiscretion. “Go back to your work, Becky,” Miss Amelia
had said; but she had stopped to pick up reverently first a muff
and then a coat, and while she stood looking at them adoringly, she heard
Miss Minchin upon the threshold, and, being smitten with terror
at the thought of being accused of taking liberties, she rashly darted
under the table, which hid her by its tablecloth. Miss Minchin came into the room, accompanied
by a sharp-featured, dry little gentleman, who looked rather disturbed. Miss Minchin herself
also looked rather disturbed, it must be admitted, and she gazed at the
dry little gentleman with an irritated and puzzled expression. She sat down with stiff dignity, and waved
him to a chair. “Pray, be seated, Mr. Barrow,” she said. Mr. Barrow did not sit down at once. His attention seemed attracted by
the Last Doll and the things which surrounded her. He settled his
eyeglasses and looked at them in nervous disapproval. The Last Doll
herself did not seem to mind this in the least. She merely sat upright
and returned his gaze indifferently. “A hundred pounds,” Mr. Barrow remarked succinctly. “All expensive
material, and made at a Parisian modiste’s. He spent money lavishly
enough, that young man.” Miss Minchin felt offended. This seemed to be a disparagement of her
best patron and was a liberty. Even solicitors had no right to take liberties. “I beg your pardon, Mr. Barrow,” she said
stiffly. “I do not
understand.” “Birthday presents,” said Mr. Barrow in the
same critical manner, “to a child eleven years old! Mad extravagance, I call it.” Miss Minchin drew herself up still more rigidly. “Captain Crewe is a man of fortune,” she said. “The diamond mines
alone, ” Mr. Barrow wheeled round upon her. “Diamond mines!” he broke out. “There are none! Never were!” Miss Minchin actually got up from her chair. “What!” she cried. “What do you mean?” “At any rate,” answered Mr. Barrow, quite
snappishly, “it would have been much better if there never had been any.” “Any diamond mines?” ejaculated Miss Minchin, catching at the back
of a chair and feeling as if a splendid dream was
fading away from her. “Diamond mines spell ruin oftener than they
spell wealth,” said Mr. Barrow. “When a man is in the hands of a very dear
friend and is not a businessman himself, he had better steer clear
of the dear friend’s diamond mines, or gold mines, or any other
kind of mines dear friends want his money to put into. The late Captain Crewe, ” Here Miss Minchin stopped him with a gasp. “The LATE Captain Crewe!” she cried out. “The LATE! You don’t come to
tell me that Captain Crewe is, ” “He’s dead, ma’am,” Mr. Barrow answered with
jerky brusqueness. “Died
of jungle fever and business troubles combined. The jungle fever might
not have killed him if he had not been driven mad by the business
troubles, and the business troubles might not have put an end to him if
the jungle fever had not assisted. Captain Crewe is dead!” Miss Minchin dropped into her chair again. The words he had spoken
filled her with alarm. “What WERE his business troubles?” she said. “What WERE they?” “Diamond mines,” answered Mr. Barrow, “and
dear friends, and ruin.” Miss Minchin lost her breath. “Ruin!” she gasped out. “Lost every penny. That young man had too much money. The dear friend
was mad on the subject of the diamond mine. He put all his own money
into it, and all Captain Crewe’s. Then the dear friend ran
away, Captain Crewe was already stricken with fever when the news came. The shock was too much for him. He died delirious, raving about his
little girl, and didn’t leave a penny.” Now Miss Minchin understood, and never had
she received such a blow in her life. Her show pupil, her show patron, swept away
from the Select Seminary at one blow. She felt as if she had been outraged and robbed,
and that Captain Crewe and Sara and Mr. Barrow were equally to blame. “Do you mean to tell me,” she cried out, “that
he left NOTHING! That
Sara will have no fortune! That the child is a beggar! That she is
left on my hands a little pauper instead of an heiress?” Mr. Barrow was a shrewd businessman, and felt
it as well to make his own freedom from responsibility quite clear
without any delay. “She is certainly left a beggar,” he replied. “And she is certainly
left on your hands, ma’am, as she hasn’t a relation in the world that
we know of.” Miss Minchin started forward. She looked as if she was going to open
the door and rush out of the room to stop the festivities going on
joyfully and rather noisily that moment over the refreshments. “It is monstrous!” she said. “She’s in my sitting room at this moment,
dressed in silk gauze and lace petticoats, giving a party at my
expense.” “She’s giving it at your expense, madam, if
she’s giving it,” said Mr. Barrow, calmly. “Barrow & Skipworth are not responsible for
anything. There never was a cleaner sweep made of a
man’s fortune. Captain Crewe
died without paying OUR last bill, and it was a big one.” Miss Minchin turned back from the door in
increased indignation. This
was worse than anyone could have dreamed of its being. “That is what has happened to me!” she cried. “I was always so sure of
his payments that I went to all sorts of ridiculous expenses for the
child. I paid the bills for that ridiculous doll
and her ridiculous fantastic wardrobe. The child was to have anything she wanted. She
has a carriage and a pony and a maid, and I’ve paid for all of them
since the last cheque came.” Mr. Barrow evidently did not intend to remain
to listen to the story of Miss Minchin’s grievances after he had made
the position of his firm clear and related the mere dry facts. He did not feel any particular
sympathy for irate keepers of boarding schools. “You had better not pay for anything more,
ma’am,” he remarked, “unless you want to make presents to the young lady. No one will remember you. She hasn’t a brass farthing to call her own.” “But what am I to do?” demanded Miss Minchin, as if she felt it
entirely his duty to make the matter right. “What am I to do?” “There isn’t anything to do,” said Mr. Barrow,
folding up his eyeglasses and slipping them into his pocket. “Captain Crewe is dead. The child is left a pauper. Nobody is responsible for her but you.” “I am not responsible for her, and I refuse
to be made responsible!” Miss Minchin became quite white with rage. Mr. Barrow turned to go. “I have nothing to do with that, madam,” he
said uninterestedly. “Barrow & Skipworth are not responsible. Very sorry the thing has
happened, of course.” “If you think she is to be foisted off on
me, you are greatly mistaken,” Miss Minchin gasped. “I have been robbed and cheated; I
will turn her into the street!” If she had not been so furious, she would
have been too discreet to say quite so much. She saw herself burdened with an extravagantly
brought-up child whom she had always resented, and she lost all
self-control. Mr. Barrow undisturbedly moved toward the
door. “I wouldn’t do that, madam,” he commented;
“it wouldn’t look well. Unpleasant story to get about in connection
with the establishment. Pupil bundled out penniless and without friends.” He was a clever business man, and he knew
what he was saying. He also
knew that Miss Minchin was a business woman, and would be shrewd enough
to see the truth. She could not afford to do a thing which would
make people speak of her as cruel and hard-hearted. “Better keep her and make use of her,” he
added. “She’s a clever
child, I believe. You can get a good deal out of her as she
grows older.” “I will get a good deal out of her before
she grows older!” exclaimed Miss Minchin. “I am sure you will, ma’am,” said Mr. Barrow,
with a little sinister smile. “I am sure you will. Good morning!” He bowed himself out and closed the door,
and it must be confessed that Miss Minchin stood for a few moments and glared
at it. What he had
said was quite true. She knew it. She had absolutely no redress. Her
show pupil had melted into nothingness, leaving only a friendless,
beggared little girl. Such money as she herself had advanced was
lost and could not be regained. And as she stood there breathless under her
sense of injury, there fell upon her ears a burst of gay voices from her
own sacred room, which had actually been given up to the feast. She could at least stop this. But as she started toward the door it was
opened by Miss Amelia, who, when she caught sight of the changed, angry
face, fell back a step in alarm. “What IS the matter, sister?” she ejaculated. Miss Minchin’s voice was almost fierce when
she answered: “Where is Sara Crewe?” Miss Amelia was bewildered. “Sara!” she stammered. “Why, she’s with the children in your room,
of course.” “Has she a black frock in her sumptuous wardrobe?”,
in bitter irony. “A black frock?” Miss Amelia stammered again. “A BLACK one?” “She has frocks of every other colour. Has she a black one?” Miss Amelia began to turn pale. “No, ye-es!” she said. “But it is too short for her. She has only the
old black velvet, and she has outgrown it.” “Go and tell her to take off that preposterous
pink silk gauze, and put the black one on, whether it is too short
or not. She has done with
finery!” Then Miss Amelia began to wring her fat hands
and cry. “Oh, sister!” she sniffed. “Oh, sister! What CAN have happened?” Miss Minchin wasted no words. “Captain Crewe is dead,” she said. “He has died without a penny. That
spoiled, pampered, fanciful child is left a pauper on my hands.” Miss Amelia sat down quite heavily in the
nearest chair. “Hundreds of pounds have I spent on nonsense
for her. And I shall
never see a penny of it. Put a stop to this ridiculous party of hers. Go and make her change her frock at once.” “I?” panted Miss Amelia. “M-must I go and tell her now?” “This moment!” was the fierce answer. “Don’t sit staring like a goose. Go!” Poor Miss Amelia was accustomed to being called
a goose. She knew, in
fact, that she was rather a goose, and that it was left to geese to do
a great many disagreeable things. It was a somewhat embarrassing thing
to go into the midst of a room full of delighted children, and tell the
giver of the feast that she had suddenly been transformed into a little
beggar, and must go upstairs and put on an old black frock which was
too small for her. But the thing must be done. This was evidently not
the time when questions might be asked. She rubbed her eyes with her handkerchief
until they looked quite red. After which she got up and went out of the
room, without venturing to say another word. When her older sister looked and spoke as
she had done just now, the wisest course to pursue
was to obey orders without any comment. Miss Minchin walked across the room. She spoke to herself
aloud without knowing that she was doing it. During the last year the
story of the diamond mines had suggested all sorts of possibilities to
her. Even proprietors of seminaries might make
fortunes in stocks, with the aid of owners of mines. And now, instead of looking forward to
gains, she was left to look back upon losses. “The Princess Sara, indeed!” she said. “The child has been pampered as
if she were a QUEEN.” She was sweeping angrily past the corner table
as she said it, and the next moment she started
at the sound of a loud, sobbing sniff which issued from under the
cover. “What is that!” she exclaimed angrily. The loud, sobbing sniff was
heard again, and she stooped and raised the hanging folds of the table
cover. “How DARE you!” she cried out. “How dare you! Come out immediately!” It was poor Becky who crawled out, and her
cap was knocked on one side, and her face was red with repressed crying. “If you please, ‘m, it’s me, mum,” she explained. “I know I hadn’t
ought to. But I was lookin’ at the doll, mum, an’ I
was frightened when you come in, an’ slipped under the table.” “You have been there all the time, listening,”
said Miss Minchin. “No, mum,” Becky protested, bobbing curtsies. “Not listenin’, I
thought I could slip out without your noticin’, but I couldn’t an’ I
had to stay. But I didn’t listen, mum, I wouldn’t for nothin’. But I
couldn’t help hearin’.” Suddenly it seemed almost as if she lost all
fear of the awful lady before her. She burst into fresh tears. “Oh, please, ‘m,” she said; “I dare say you’ll
give me warnin’, mum, but I’m so sorry for poor Miss Sara, I’m so sorry!” “Leave the room!” ordered Miss Minchin. Becky curtsied again, the tears openly streaming
down her cheeks. “Yes, ‘m; I will, ‘m,” she said, trembling;
“but oh, I just wanted to arst you: Miss Sara, she’s been such a rich
young lady, an’ she’s been waited on, ‘and and foot; an’ what will she
do now, mum, without no maid? If, if, oh please, would you let me wait on
her after I’ve done my pots an’ kettles? I’d do ’em that quick, if you’d let me wait
on her now she’s poor. Oh,” breaking out afresh, “poor little Miss
Sara, mum, that was called a princess.” Somehow, she made Miss Minchin feel more angry
than ever. That the
very scullery maid should range herself on the side of this child, whom
she realized more fully than ever that she had never liked, was too
much. She actually stamped her foot. “No, certainly not,” she said. “She will wait on herself, and on other
people, too. Leave the room this instant, or you’ll leave
your place.” Becky threw her apron over her head and fled. She ran out of the room
and down the steps into the scullery, and there she sat down among her
pots and kettles, and wept as if her heart would break. “It’s exactly like the ones in the stories,”
she wailed. “Them pore
princess ones that was drove into the world.” Miss Minchin had never looked quite so still
and hard as she did when Sara came to her, a few hours later, in response
to a message she had sent her. Even by that time it seemed to Sara as if
the birthday party had either been a dream or a thing which had happened
years ago, and had happened in the life of quite another little girl. Every sign of the festivities had been swept
away; the holly had been removed from the schoolroom walls, and the
forms and desks put back into their places. Miss Minchin’s sitting room looked as it always
did, all traces of the feast were gone, and Miss Minchin had resumed
her usual dress. The pupils had been ordered to lay aside their
party frocks; and this having been done, they had
returned to the schoolroom and huddled together in groups, whispering
and talking excitedly. “Tell Sara to come to my room,” Miss Minchin
had said to her sister. “And explain to her clearly that I will have
no crying or unpleasant scenes.” “Sister,” replied Miss Amelia, “she is the
strangest child I ever saw. She has actually made no fuss at all. You remember she made none when
Captain Crewe went back to India. When I told her what had happened,
she just stood quite still and looked at me without making a sound. Her eyes seemed to get bigger and bigger,
and she went quite pale. When I had finished, she still stood staring
for a few seconds, and then her chin began to shake, and she turned
round and ran out of the room and upstairs. Several of the other children began to cry,
but she did not seem to hear them or to be alive to
anything but just what I was saying. It made me feel quite queer not to be answered;
and when you tell anything sudden and strange, you
expect people will say SOMETHING, whatever it is.” Nobody but Sara herself ever knew what had
happened in her room after she had run upstairs and locked her door. In fact, she herself
scarcely remembered anything but that she walked up and down, saying
over and over again to herself in a voice which did not seem her own,
“My papa is dead! My papa is dead!” Once she stopped before Emily, who sat watching
her from her chair, and cried out wildly, “Emily! Do you hear? Do you hear, papa is dead? He
is dead in India, thousands of miles away.” When she came into Miss Minchin’s sitting
room in answer to her summons, her face was white and her eyes had
dark rings around them. Her mouth was set as if she did not wish it
to reveal what she had suffered and was suffering. She did not look in the least like the
rose-coloured butterfly child who had flown about from one of her
treasures to the other in the decorated schoolroom. She looked instead
a strange, desolate, almost grotesque little figure. She had put on, without Mariette’s help, the
cast-aside black-velvet frock. It was too short and tight, and her slender
legs looked long and thin, showing themselves from beneath
the brief skirt. As she had
not found a piece of black ribbon, her short, thick, black hair tumbled
loosely about her face and contrasted strongly with its pallor. She
held Emily tightly in one arm, and Emily was swathed in a piece of
black material. “Put down your doll,” said Miss Minchin. “What do you mean by bringing
her here?” “No,” Sara answered. “I will not put her down. She is all I have. My
papa gave her to me.” She had always made Miss Minchin feel secretly
uncomfortable, and she did so now. She did not speak with rudeness so much as
with a cold steadiness with which Miss Minchin felt it
difficult to cope, perhaps because she knew she was doing a heartless
and inhuman thing. “You will have no time for dolls in future,”
she said. “You will have
to work and improve yourself and make yourself useful.” Sara kept her big, strange eyes fixed on her,
and said not a word. “Everything will be very different now,” Miss
Minchin went on. “I
suppose Miss Amelia has explained matters to you.” “Yes,” answered Sara. “My papa is dead. He left me no money. I am
quite poor.” “You are a beggar,” said Miss Minchin, her
temper rising at the recollection of what all this meant. “It appears that you have no
relations and no home, and no one to take care of you.” For a moment the thin, pale little face twitched,
but Sara again said nothing. “What are you staring at?” demanded Miss Minchin, sharply. “Are you so
stupid that you cannot understand? I tell you that you are quite alone
in the world, and have no one to do anything for you, unless I choose
to keep you here out of charity.” “I understand,” answered Sara, in a low tone;
and there was a sound as if she had gulped down something which rose
in her throat. “I
understand.” “That doll,” cried Miss Minchin, pointing
to the splendid birthday gift seated near, “that ridiculous doll, with all
her nonsensical, extravagant things, I actually paid the bill
for her!” Sara turned her head toward the chair. “The Last Doll,” she said. “The Last Doll.” And her little mournful
voice had an odd sound. “The Last Doll, indeed!” said Miss Minchin. “And she is mine, not
yours. Everything you own is mine.” “Please take it away from me, then,” said
Sara. “I do not want it.” If she had cried and sobbed and seemed frightened,
Miss Minchin might almost have had more patience with her. She was a woman who liked to
domineer and feel her power, and as she looked at Sara’s pale little
steadfast face and heard her proud little voice, she quite felt as if
her might was being set at naught. “Don’t put on grand airs,” she said. “The time for that sort of thing
is past. You are not a princess any longer. Your carriage and your
pony will be sent away, your maid will be dismissed. You will wear your
oldest and plainest clothes, your extravagant ones are no longer suited
to your station. You are like Becky, you must work for your
living.” To her surprise, a faint gleam of light came
into the child’s eyes, a shade of relief. “Can I work?” she said. “If I can work it will not matter so much. What can I do?” “You can do anything you are told,” was the
answer. “You are a sharp
child, and pick up things readily. If you make yourself useful I may
let you stay here. You speak French well, and you can help with
the younger children.” “May I?” exclaimed Sara. “Oh, please let me! I know I can teach them. I like them, and they like me.” “Don’t talk nonsense about people liking you,”
said Miss Minchin. “You
will have to do more than teach the little ones. You will run errands
and help in the kitchen as well as in the schoolroom. If you don’t
please me, you will be sent away. Remember that. Now go.” Sara stood still just a moment, looking at
her. In her young soul, she
was thinking deep and strange things. Then she turned to leave the
room. “Stop!” said Miss Minchin. “Don’t you intend to thank me?” Sara paused, and all the deep, strange thoughts
surged up in her breast. “What for?” she said. “For my kindness to you,” replied Miss Minchin. “For my kindness in
giving you a home.” Sara made two or three steps toward her. Her thin little chest heaved
up and down, and she spoke in a strange un-childishly fierce way. “You are not kind,” she said. “You are NOT kind, and it is NOT a
home.” And she had turned and run out of the room
before Miss Minchin could stop her or do anything but stare after
her with stony anger. She went up the stairs slowly, but panting
for breath and she held Emily tightly against her side. “I wish she could talk,” she said to herself. “If she could speak, if
she could speak!” She meant to go to her room and lie down on
the tiger-skin, with her cheek upon the great cat’s head, and look
into the fire and think and think and think. But just before she reached the landing Miss
Amelia came out of the door and closed it behind
her, and stood before it, looking nervous and awkward. The truth was that she felt secretly
ashamed of the thing she had been ordered to do. “You, you are not to go in there,” she said. “Not go in?” exclaimed Sara, and she fell back a pace. “That is not your room now,” Miss Amelia answered,
reddening a little. Somehow, all at once, Sara understood. She realised that this was the
beginning of the change Miss Minchin had spoken of. “Where is my room?” she asked, hoping very
much that her voice did not shake. “You are to sleep in the attic next to Becky.” Sara knew where it was. Becky had told her about it. She turned, and
mounted up two flights of stairs. The last one was narrow, and covered
with shabby strips of old carpet. She felt as if she were walking away
and leaving far behind her the world in which that other child, who no
longer seemed herself, had lived. This child, in her short, tight old
frock, climbing the stairs to the attic, was quite a different creature. When she reached the attic door and opened
it, her heart gave a dreary little thump. Then she shut the door and stood against it
and looked about her. Yes, this was another world. The room had a slanting roof and was
whitewashed. The whitewash was dingy and had fallen off
in places. There was a rusty grate, an old iron bedstead,
and a hard bed covered with a faded coverlet. Some pieces of furniture too much worn to
be used downstairs had been sent up. Under the skylight in the roof,
which showed nothing but an oblong piece of dull grey sky, there stood
an old battered red footstool. Sara went to it and sat down. She
seldom cried. She did not cry now. She laid Emily across her knees
and put her face down upon her and her arms around her, and sat there,
her little black head resting on the black draperies, not saying one
word, not making one sound. And as she sat in this silence there came
a low tap at the door, such a low, humble one that she did not at first
hear it, and, indeed, was not roused until the door was timidly pushed open
and a poor tear-smeared face appeared peeping round it. It was Becky’s face, and Becky had
been crying furtively for hours and rubbing her eyes with her kitchen
apron until she looked strange indeed. “Oh, miss,” she said under her breath. “Might I, would you allow
me, jest to come in?” Sara lifted her head and looked at her. She tried to begin a smile,
and somehow she could not. Suddenly, and it was all through the loving
mournfulness of Becky’s streaming eyes, her face looked more like a
child’s not so much too old for her years. She held out her hand and
gave a little sob. “Oh, Becky,” she said. “I told you we were just the same, only two
little girls, just two little girls. You see how true it is. There’s
no difference now. I’m not a princess anymore.” Becky ran to her and caught her hand, and
hugged it to her breast, kneeling beside her and sobbing with love
and pain. “Yes, miss, you are,” she cried, and her words
were all broken. “Whats’ever ‘appens to you, whats’ever, you’d
be a princess all the same, an’ nothin’ couldn’t make you nothin’
different.” End of Chapter 7 Chapter 8 In the Attic The first night she spent in her attic was
a thing Sara never forgot. During its passing she lived through a wild,
unchildlike woe of which she never spoke to anyone about her. There was no one who would have
understood. It was, indeed, well for her that as she lay
awake in the darkness her mind was forcibly distracted,
now and then, by the strangeness of her surroundings. It was, perhaps, well for her that
she was reminded by her small body of material things. If this had not
been so, the anguish of her young mind might have been too great for a
child to bear. But, really, while the night was passing she
scarcely knew that she had a body at all or remembered
any other thing than one. “My papa is dead!” she kept whispering to
herself. “My papa is dead!” It was not until long afterward that she realised
that her bed had been so hard that she turned over and over in it
to find a place to rest, that the darkness seemed more intense than
any she had ever known, and that the wind howled over the roof among the
chimneys like something which wailed aloud. Then there was something worse. This was certain
scufflings and scratchings and squeakings in the walls and behind the
skirting boards. She knew what they meant, because Becky had
described them. They meant rats and mice who were either fighting
with each other or playing together. Once or twice she even heard sharp-toed feet
scurrying across the floor, and she remembered in those after days,
when she recalled things, that when first she heard them she started up
in bed and sat trembling, and when she lay down again covered her head
with the bedclothes. The change in her life did not come about
gradually, but was made all at once. “She must begin as she is to go on,” Miss
Minchin said to Miss Amelia. “She must be taught at once what she is to
expect.” Mariette had left the house the next morning. The glimpse Sara caught
of her sitting room, as she passed its open door, showed her that
everything had been changed. Her ornaments and luxuries had been
removed, and a bed had been placed in a corner to transform it into a
new pupil’s bedroom. When she went down to breakfast she saw that
her seat at Miss Minchin’s side was occupied by Lavinia, and Miss Minchin
spoke to her coldly. “You will begin your new duties, Sara,” she
said, “by taking your seat with the younger children at a smaller table. You must keep them
quiet, and see that they behave well and do not waste their food. You
ought to have been down earlier. Lottie has already upset her tea.” That was the beginning, and from day to day
the duties given to her were added to. She taught the younger children French and
heard their other lessons, and these were the least of
her labours. It was found
that she could be made use of in numberless directions. She could be
sent on errands at any time and in all weathers. She could be told to
do things other people neglected. The cook and the housemaids took
their tone from Miss Minchin, and rather enjoyed ordering about the
“young one” who had been made so much fuss over for so long. They were
not servants of the best class, and had neither good manners nor good
tempers, and it was frequently convenient to have at hand someone on
whom blame could be laid. During the first month or two, Sara thought
that her willingness to do things as well as she could, and her silence
under reproof, might soften those who drove her so hard. In her proud little heart she
wanted them to see that she was trying to earn her living and not
accepting charity. But the time came when she saw that no one
was softened at all; and the more willing she
was to do as she was told, the more domineering and exacting careless
housemaids became, and the more ready a scolding cook was to blame her. If she had been older, Miss Minchin would
have given her the bigger girls to teach and saved money by dismissing
an instructress; but while she remained and looked like a child, she
could be made more useful as a sort of little superior errand girl and
maid of all work. An ordinary
errand boy would not have been so clever and reliable. Sara could be
trusted with difficult commissions and complicated messages. She could
even go and pay bills, and she combined with this the ability to dust a
room well and to set things in order. Her own lessons became things of the past. She was taught nothing, and
only after long and busy days spent in running here and there at
everybody’s orders was she grudgingly allowed to go into the deserted
schoolroom, with a pile of old books, and study alone at night. “If I do not remind myself of the things I
have learned, perhaps I may forget them,” she said to herself. “I am almost a scullery maid, and
if I am a scullery maid who knows nothing, I shall be like poor Becky. I wonder if I could QUITE forget and begin
to drop my H’S and not remember that Henry the Eighth had six wives.” One of the most curious things in her new
existence was her changed position among the pupils. Instead of being a sort of small royal
personage among them, she no longer seemed to be one of their number at
all. She was kept so constantly at work that she
scarcely ever had an opportunity of speaking to any of them, and
she could not avoid seeing that Miss Minchin preferred that she should
live a life apart from that of the occupants of the schoolroom. “I will not have her forming intimacies and
talking to the other children,” that lady said. “Girls like a grievance, and if she begins
to tell romantic stories about herself, she will become an ill-used
heroine, and parents will be given a wrong impression. It is better
that she should live a separate life, one suited to her circumstances. I am giving her a home, and that is more than
she has any right to expect from me.” Sara did not expect much, and was far too
proud to try to continue to be intimate with girls who evidently felt
rather awkward and uncertain about her. The fact was that Miss Minchin’s pupils were
a set of dull, matter-of-fact young people. They were accustomed to being rich and
comfortable, and as Sara’s frocks grew shorter and shabbier and
queerer-looking, and it became an established fact that she wore shoes
with holes in them and was sent out to buy groceries and carry them
through the streets in a basket on her arm when the cook wanted them in
a hurry, they felt rather as if, when they spoke to her, they were
addressing an under servant. “To think that she was the girl with the diamond
mines,” Lavinia commented. “She does look an object. And she’s queerer than ever. I
never liked her much, but I can’t bear that way she has now of looking
at people without speaking, just as if she was finding them out.” “I am,” said Sara, promptly, when she heard
of this. “That’s what I
look at some people for. I like to know about them. I think them over
afterward.” The truth was that she had saved herself annoyance
several times by keeping her eye on Lavinia, who was quite
ready to make mischief, and would have been rather pleased to have made
it for the ex-show pupil. Sara never made any mischief herself, or interfered
with anyone. She
worked like a drudge; she tramped through the wet streets, carrying
parcels and baskets; she laboured with the childish inattention of the
little ones’ French lessons; as she became shabbier and more
forlorn-looking, she was told that she had better take her meals
downstairs; she was treated as if she was nobody’s concern, and her
heart grew proud and sore, but she never told anyone what she felt. “Soldiers don’t complain,” she would say between
her small, shut teeth, “I am not going to do it; I will pretend this
is part of a war.” But there were hours when her child heart
might almost have broken with loneliness but for three people. The first, it must be owned, was Becky, just
Becky. Throughout all
that first night spent in the garret, she had felt a vague comfort in
knowing that on the other side of the wall in which the rats scuffled
and squeaked there was another young human creature. And during the
nights that followed the sense of comfort grew. They had little chance
to speak to each other during the day. Each had her own tasks to
perform, and any attempt at conversation would have been regarded as a
tendency to loiter and lose time. “Don’t mind me, miss,” Becky
whispered during the first morning, “if I don’t say nothin’ polite. Some un’d be down on us if I did. I MEANS ‘please’ an’ ‘thank you’ an’
‘beg pardon,’ but I dassn’t to take time to say it.” But before daybreak she used to slip into
Sara’s attic and button her dress and give her such help as she required
before she went downstairs to light the kitchen fire. And when night came Sara always heard the
humble knock at her door which meant that her handmaid was ready to
help her again if she was needed. During the first weeks of her grief
Sara felt as if she were too stupefied to talk, so it happened that
some time passed before they saw each other much or exchanged visits. Becky’s heart told her that it was best that
people in trouble should be left alone. The second of the trio of comforters was Ermengarde,
but odd things happened before Ermengarde found her place. When Sara’s mind seemed to awaken again to
the life about her, she realised that she had forgotten that an Ermengarde
lived in the world. The two had always been friends, but Sara
had felt as if she were years the older. It could not be contested that Ermengarde
was as dull as she was affectionate. She clung to Sara in a simple, helpless way;
she brought her lessons to her that she might
be helped; she listened to her every word and besieged her with requests
for stories. But she had
nothing interesting to say herself, and she loathed books of every
description. She was, in fact, not a person one would remember
when one was caught in the storm of a great trouble,
and Sara forgot her. It had been all the easier to forget her because
she had been suddenly called home for a few weeks. When she came back she did not see Sara
for a day or two, and when she met her for the first time she
encountered her coming down a corridor with her arms full of garments
which were to be taken downstairs to be mended. Sara herself had
already been taught to mend them. She looked pale and unlike herself,
and she was attired in the queer, outgrown frock whose shortness showed
so much thin black leg. Ermengarde was too slow a girl to be equal
to such a situation. She
could not think of anything to say. She knew what had happened, but,
somehow, she had never imagined Sara could look like this, so odd and
poor and almost like a servant. It made her quite miserable, and she
could do nothing but break into a short hysterical laugh and
exclaim, aimlessly and as if without any meaning, “Oh, Sara, is that
you?” “Yes,” answered Sara, and suddenly a strange
thought passed through her mind and made her face flush. She held the pile of garments in her
arms, and her chin rested upon the top of it to keep it steady. Something in the look of her straight-gazing
eyes made Ermengarde lose her wits still more. She felt as if Sara had changed into a new
kind of girl, and she had never known her before. Perhaps it was because she
had suddenly grown poor and had to mend things and work like Becky. “Oh,” she stammered. “How, how are you?” “I don’t know,” Sara replied. “How are you?” “I’m, I’m quite well,” said Ermengarde, overwhelmed
with shyness. Then
spasmodically she thought of something to say which seemed more
intimate. “Are you, are you very unhappy?” she said
in a rush. Then Sara was guilty of an injustice. Just at that moment her torn
heart swelled within her, and she felt that if anyone was as stupid as
that, one had better get away from her. “What do you think?” she said. “Do you think I am very happy?” And she
marched past her without another word. In course of time she realised that if her
wretchedness had not made her forget things, she would have known that
poor, dull Ermengarde was not to be blamed for her unready, awkward
ways. She was always
awkward, and the more she felt, the more stupid she was given to being. But the sudden thought which had flashed upon
her had made her over-sensitive. “She is like the others,” she had thought. “She does not really want
to talk to me. She knows no one does.” So for several weeks a barrier stood between
them. When they met by
chance Sara looked the other way, and Ermengarde felt too stiff and
embarrassed to speak. Sometimes they nodded to each other in passing,
but there were times when they did not even exchange a greeting. “If she would rather not talk to me,” Sara
thought, “I will keep out of her way. Miss Minchin makes that easy enough.” Miss Minchin made it so easy that at last
they scarcely saw each other at all. At that time it was noticed that Ermengarde
was more stupid than ever, and that she looked listless and
unhappy. She used to sit
in the window-seat, huddled in a heap, and stare out of the window
without speaking. Once Jessie, who was passing, stopped to look
at her curiously. “What are you crying for, Ermengarde?” she
asked. “I’m not crying,” answered Ermengarde, in
a muffled, unsteady voice. “You are,” said Jessie. “A great big tear just rolled down the bridge
of your nose and dropped off at the end of it. And there goes another.” “Well,” said Ermengarde, “I’m miserable, and
no one need interfere.” And she turned her plump back and took out
her handkerchief and boldly hid her face in it. That night, when Sara went to her attic, she
was later than usual. She
had been kept at work until after the hour at which the pupils went to
bed, and after that she had gone to her lessons in the lonely
schoolroom. When she reached the top of the stairs, she
was surprised to see a glimmer of light coming from under
the attic door. “Nobody goes there but myself,” she thought
quickly, “but someone has lighted a candle.” Someone had, indeed, lighted a candle, and
it was not burning in the kitchen candlestick she was expected to use,
but in one of those belonging to the pupils’ bedrooms. The someone was sitting upon the
battered footstool, and was dressed in her nightgown and wrapped up in
a red shawl. It was Ermengarde. “Ermengarde!” cried Sara. She was so startled that she was almost
frightened. “You will get into trouble.” Ermengarde stumbled up from her footstool. She shuffled across the
attic in her bedroom slippers, which were too large for her. Her eyes
and nose were pink with crying. “I know I shall, if I’m found out.” she said. “But I don’t care, I
don’t care a bit. Oh, Sara, please tell me. What is the matter? Why
don’t you like me any more?” Something in her voice made the familiar lump
rise in Sara’s throat. It
was so affectionate and simple, so like the old Ermengarde who had
asked her to be “best friends.” It sounded as if she had not meant
what she had seemed to mean during these past weeks. “I do like you,” Sara answered. “I thought, you see, everything is
different now. I thought you, were different.” Ermengarde opened her wet eyes wide. “Why, it was you who were different!” she
cried. “You didn’t want to
talk to me. I didn’t know what to do. It was you who were different
after I came back.” Sara thought a moment. She saw she had made a mistake. “I AM different,” she explained, “though not
in the way you think. Miss
Minchin does not want me to talk to the girls. Most of them don’t want
to talk to me. I thought, perhaps, you didn’t. So I tried to keep out
of your way.” “Oh, Sara,” Ermengarde almost wailed in her
reproachful dismay. And
then after one more look they rushed into each other’s arms. It must
be confessed that Sara’s small black head lay for some minutes on the
shoulder covered by the red shawl. When Ermengarde had seemed to
desert her, she had felt horribly lonely. Afterward they sat down upon the floor together,
Sara clasping her knees with her arms, and Ermengarde rolled
up in her shawl. Ermengarde
looked at the odd, big-eyed little face adoringly. “I couldn’t bear it any more,” she said. “I dare say you could live
without me, Sara; but I couldn’t live without you. I was nearly DEAD. So tonight, when I was crying under the bedclothes,
I thought all at once of creeping up here and just begging
you to let us be friends again.” “You are nicer than I am,” said Sara. “I was too proud to try and make
friends. You see, now that trials have come, they have
shown that I am NOT a nice child. I was afraid they would. Perhaps”, wrinkling her
forehead wisely, “that is what they were sent for.” “I don’t see any good in them,” said Ermengarde
stoutly. “Neither do I, to speak the truth,” admitted
Sara, frankly. “But I
suppose there MIGHT be good in things, even if we don’t see it. There
MIGHT”, doubtfully, “be good in Miss Minchin.” Ermengarde looked round the attic with a rather
fearsome curiosity. “Sara,” she said, “do you think you can bear
living here?” Sara looked round also. “If I pretend it’s quite different, I can,”
she answered; “or if I pretend it is a place in a story.” She spoke slowly. Her imagination was beginning to work for
her. It
had not worked for her at all since her troubles had come upon her. She
had felt as if it had been stunned. “Other people have lived in worse places. Think of the Count of Monte
Cristo in the dungeons of the Chateau d’If. And think of the people in
the Bastille!” “The Bastille,” half whispered Ermengarde,
watching her and beginning to be fascinated. She remembered stories of the French Revolution
which Sara had been able to fix in her mind by her dramatic relation of
them. No one but Sara could have done it. A well-known glow came into Sara’s eyes. “Yes,” she said, hugging her knees, “that
will be a good place to pretend about. I am a prisoner in the Bastille. I have been here for
years and years, and years; and everybody has forgotten about me. Miss
Minchin is the jailer, and Becky”, a sudden light adding itself to the
glow in her eyes, “Becky is the prisoner in the next cell.” She turned to Ermengarde, looking quite like
the old Sara. “I shall pretend that,” she said; “and it
will be a great comfort.” Ermengarde was at once enraptured and awed. “And will you tell me all about it?” she said. “May I creep up here at
night, whenever it is safe, and hear the things you have made up in the
day? It will seem as if we were more ‘best friends’
than ever.” “Yes,” answered Sara, nodding. “Adversity tries people, and mine has
tried you and proved how nice you are.” End of Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Melchisedec The third person in the trio was Lottie. She was a small thing and did
not know what adversity meant, and was much bewildered by the
alteration she saw in her young adopted mother. She had heard it
rumoured that strange things had happened to Sara, but she could not
understand why she looked different, why she wore an old black frock
and came into the schoolroom only to teach instead of to sit in her
place of honour and learn lessons herself. There had been much
whispering among the little ones when it had been discovered that Sara
no longer lived in the rooms in which Emily had so long sat in state. Lottie’s chief difficulty was that Sara said
so little when one asked her questions. At seven mysteries must be made very clear
if one is to understand them. “Are you very poor now, Sara?” she had asked
confidentially the first morning her friend took charge of the small
French class. “Are you as
poor as a beggar?” She thrust a fat hand into the slim one and
opened round, tearful eyes. “I don’t want you to be as poor as a beggar.” She looked as if she was going to cry. And Sara hurriedly consoled her. “Beggars have nowhere to live,” she said courageously. “I have a place
to live in.” “Where do you live?” persisted Lottie. “The new girl sleeps in your
room, and it isn’t pretty any more.” “I live in another room,” said Sara. “Is it a nice one?” inquired Lottie. “I want to go and see it.” “You must not talk,” said Sara. “Miss Minchin is looking at us. She
will be angry with me for letting you whisper.” She had found out already that she was to
be held accountable for everything which was objected to. If the children were not attentive,
if they talked, if they were restless, it was she who would be reproved. But Lottie was a determined little person. If Sara would not tell her
where she lived, she would find out in some other way. She talked to
her small companions and hung about the elder girls and listened when
they were gossiping; and acting upon certain information they had
unconsciously let drop, she started late one afternoon on a voyage of
discovery, climbing stairs she had never known the existence of, until
she reached the attic floor. There she found two doors near each other,
and opening one, she saw her beloved Sara standing upon an old table
and looking out of a window. “Sara!” she cried, aghast. “Mamma Sara!” She was aghast because the
attic was so bare and ugly and seemed so far away from all the world. Her short legs had seemed to have been mounting
hundreds of stairs. Sara turned round at the sound of her voice. It was her turn to be
aghast. What would happen now? If Lottie began to cry and any one
chanced to hear, they were both lost. She jumped down from her table
and ran to the child. “Don’t cry and make a noise,” she implored. “I shall be scolded if you
do, and I have been scolded all day. It’s, it’s not such a bad room,
Lottie.” “Isn’t it?” gasped Lottie, and as she looked
round it she bit her lip. She was a spoiled child yet, but she was fond
enough of her adopted parent to make an effort to control herself
for her sake. Then,
somehow, it was quite possible that any place in which Sara lived might
turn out to be nice. “Why isn’t it, Sara?” she almost whispered. Sara hugged her close and tried to laugh. There was a sort of comfort
in the warmth of the plump, childish body. She had had a hard day and
had been staring out of the windows with hot eyes. “You can see all sorts of things you can’t
see downstairs,” she said. “What sort of things?” demanded Lottie, with that curiosity Sara
could always awaken even in bigger girls. “Chimneys, quite close to us, with smoke curling
up in wreaths and clouds and going up into the sky, and sparrows
hopping about and talking to each other just as if they were
people, and other attic windows where heads may pop out any minute
and you can wonder who they belong to. And it all feels as high up, as if it was
another world.” “Oh, let me see it!” cried Lottie. “Lift me up!” Sara lifted her up, and they stood on the
old table together and leaned on the edge of the flat window in the roof,
and looked out. Anyone who has not done this does not know
what a different world they saw. The slates spread out on either side of them
and slanted down into the rain gutter-pipes. The sparrows, being at home there,
twittered and hopped about quite without fear. Two of them perched on
the chimney top nearest and quarrelled with each other fiercely until
one pecked the other and drove him away. The garret window next to
theirs was shut because the house next door was empty. “I wish someone lived there,” Sara said. “It is so close that if there
was a little girl in the attic, we could talk to each other through the
windows and climb over to see each other, if we were not afraid of
falling.” The sky seemed so much nearer than when one
saw it from the street, that Lottie was enchanted. From the attic window, among the chimney
pots, the things which were happening in the world below seemed almost
unreal. One scarcely believed in the existence of
Miss Minchin and Miss Amelia and the schoolroom, and the roll
of wheels in the square seemed a sound belonging to another existence. “Oh, Sara!” cried Lottie, cuddling in her
guarding arm. “I like this
attic, I like it! It is nicer than downstairs!” “Look at that sparrow,” whispered Sara. “I wish I had some crumbs to
throw to him.” “I have some!” came in a little shriek from
Lottie. “I have part of a
bun in my pocket; I bought it with my penny yesterday, and I saved a
bit.” When they threw out a few crumbs the sparrow
jumped and flew away to an adjacent chimney top. He was evidently not accustomed to intimates
in attics, and unexpected crumbs startled him. But when Lottie remained
quite still and Sara chirped very softly, almost as if she were a
sparrow herself, he saw that the thing which had alarmed him
represented hospitality, after all. He put his head on one side, and
from his perch on the chimney looked down at the crumbs with twinkling
eyes. Lottie could scarcely keep still. “Will he come? Will he come?” she whispered. “His eyes look as if he would,” Sara whispered
back. “He is thinking
and thinking whether he dare. Yes, he will! Yes, he is coming!” He flew down and hopped toward the crumbs,
but stopped a few inches away from them, putting his head on one side
again, as if reflecting on the chances that Sara and Lottie might turn
out to be big cats and jump on him. At last his heart told him they were really
nicer than they looked, and he hopped nearer and nearer, darted
at the biggest crumb with a lightning peck, seized it, and carried
it away to the other side of his chimney. “Now he KNOWS”, said Sara. “And he will come back for the others.” He did come back, and even brought a friend,
and the friend went away and brought a relative, and among them they
made a hearty meal over which they twittered and chattered and exclaimed,
stopping every now and then to put their heads on one side and
examine Lottie and Sara. Lottie was so delighted that she quite forgot
her first shocked impression of the attic. In fact, when she was lifted down from the
table and returned to earthly things, as it were, Sara was able to
point out to her many beauties in the room which she herself would not
have suspected the existence of. “It is so little and so high above everything,”
she said, “that it is almost like a nest in a tree. The slanting ceiling is so funny. See,
you can scarcely stand up at this end of the room; and when the morning
begins to come I can lie in bed and look right up into the sky through
that flat window in the roof. It is like a square patch of light. If
the sun is going to shine, little pink clouds float about, and I feel
as if I could touch them. And if it rains, the drops patter and patter
as if they were saying something nice. Then if there are stars, you
can lie and try to count how many go into the patch. It takes such a
lot. And just look at that tiny, rusty grate in
the corner. If it was
polished and there was a fire in it, just think how nice it would be. You see, it’s really a beautiful little room.” She was walking round the small place, holding
Lottie’s hand and making gestures which described all the beauties
she was making herself see. She quite made Lottie see them, too. Lottie could always believe in
the things Sara made pictures of. “You see,” she said, “there could be a thick,
soft blue Indian rug on the floor; and in that corner there could
be a soft little sofa, with cushions to curl up on; and just over it could
be a shelf full of books so that one could reach them easily; and there
could be a fur rug before the fire, and hangings on the wall
to cover up the whitewash, and pictures. They would have to be little ones, but they
could be beautiful; and there could be a lamp with
a deep rose-coloured shade; and a table in the middle, with things to
have tea with; and a little fat copper kettle singing on the hob; and
the bed could be quite different. It could be made soft and covered with a lovely
silk coverlet. It could be beautiful. And perhaps we could coax the
sparrows until we made such friends with them that they would come and
peck at the window and ask to be let in.” “Oh, Sara!” cried Lottie. “I should like to live here!” When Sara had persuaded her to go downstairs
again, and, after setting her on her way, had come back to her attic,
she stood in the middle of it and looked about her. The enchantment of her imaginings for Lottie
had died away. The bed was hard and covered with its dingy
quilt. The
whitewashed wall showed its broken patches, the floor was cold and
bare, the grate was broken and rusty, and the battered footstool,
tilted sideways on its injured leg, the only seat in the room. She sat
down on it for a few minutes and let her head drop in her hands. The
mere fact that Lottie had come and gone away again made things seem a
little worse, just as perhaps prisoners feel a little more desolate
after visitors come and go, leaving them behind. “It’s a lonely place,” she said. “Sometimes it’s the loneliest place
in the world.” She was sitting in this way when her attention
was attracted by a slight sound near her. She lifted her head to see where it came from,
and if she had been a nervous child she would have left her seat on the
battered footstool in a great hurry. A large rat was sitting up on his
hind quarters and sniffing the air in an interested manner. Some of
Lottie’s crumbs had dropped upon the floor and their scent had drawn
him out of his hole. He looked so queer and so like a grey-whiskered
dwarf or gnome that Sara was rather fascinated. He looked at her with his bright eyes, as
if he were asking a question. He was evidently so doubtful that one of
the child’s queer thoughts came into her mind. “I dare say it is rather hard to be a rat,”
she mused. “Nobody likes
you. People jump and run away and scream out, ‘Oh,
a horrid rat!’ I
shouldn’t like people to scream and jump and say, ‘Oh, a horrid Sara!’
the moment they saw me. And set traps for me, and pretend they were
dinner. It’s so different to be a sparrow. But nobody asked this rat
if he wanted to be a rat when he was made. Nobody said, ‘Wouldn’t you
rather be a sparrow?'” She had sat so quietly that the rat had begun
to take courage. He was
very much afraid of her, but perhaps he had a heart like the sparrow
and it told him that she was not a thing which pounced. He was very
hungry. He had a wife and a large family in the wall,
and they had had frightfully bad luck for several days. He had left the children crying
bitterly, and felt he would risk a good deal for a few crumbs, so he
cautiously dropped upon his feet. “Come on,” said Sara; “I’m not a trap. You can have them, poor thing! Prisoners in the Bastille used to make friends
with rats. Suppose I
make friends with you.” How it is that animals understand things I
do not know, but it is certain that they do understand. Perhaps there is a language which is
not made of words and everything in the world understands it. Perhaps
there is a soul hidden in everything and it can always speak, without
even making a sound, to another soul. But whatsoever was the reason,
the rat knew from that moment that he was safe, even though he was a
rat. He knew that this young human being sitting
on the red footstool would not jump up and terrify him with wild,
sharp noises or throw heavy objects at him which, if they did not
fall and crush him, would send him limping in his scurry back to his
hole. He was really a very
nice rat, and did not mean the least harm. When he had stood on his
hind legs and sniffed the air, with his bright eyes fixed on Sara, he
had hoped that she would understand this, and would not begin by hating
him as an enemy. When the mysterious thing which speaks without
saying any words told him that she would not, he
went softly toward the crumbs and began to eat them. As he did it he glanced every now and then
at Sara, just as the sparrows had done, and his
expression was so very apologetic that it touched her heart. She sat and watched him without making any
movement. One crumb was
very much larger than the others, in fact, it could scarcely be called
a crumb. It was evident that he wanted that piece very
much, but it lay quite near the footstool and he was still
rather timid. “I believe he wants it to carry to his family
in the wall,” Sara thought. “If I do not stir at all, perhaps he will
come and get it.” She scarcely allowed herself to breathe, she
was so deeply interested. The rat shuffled a little nearer and ate a
few more crumbs, then he stopped and sniffed delicately, giving a side
glance at the occupant of the footstool; then he darted at the piece
of bun with something very like the sudden boldness of the sparrow, and
the instant he had possession of it fled back to the wall, slipped
down a crack in the skirting board, and was gone. “I knew he wanted it for his children,” said
Sara. “I do believe I
could make friends with him.” A week or so afterward, on one of the rare
nights when Ermengarde found it safe to steal up to the attic, when she
tapped on the door with the tips of her fingers Sara did not come to her
for two or three minutes. There was, indeed, such a silence in the room
at first that Ermengarde wondered if she could have fallen asleep. Then, to her surprise, she
heard her utter a little, low laugh and speak coaxingly to someone. “There!” Ermengarde heard her say. “Take it and go home, Melchisedec! Go home to your wife!” Almost immediately Sara opened the door, and
when she did so she found Ermengarde standing with alarmed eyes upon
the threshold. “Who, who ARE you talking to, Sara?” she gasped
out. Sara drew her in cautiously, but she looked
as if something pleased and amused her. “You must promise not to be frightened, not
to scream the least bit, or I can’t tell you,” she answered. Ermengarde felt almost inclined to scream
on the spot, but managed to control herself. She looked all round the attic and saw no
one. And
yet Sara had certainly been speaking TO someone. She thought of ghosts. “Is it, something that will frighten me?”
she asked timorously. “Some people are afraid of them,” said Sara. “I was at first, but I am
not now.” “Was it, a ghost?” quaked Ermengarde. “No,” said Sara, laughing. “It was my rat.” Ermengarde made one bound, and landed in the
middle of the little dingy bed. She tucked her feet under her nightgown and
the red shawl. She
did not scream, but she gasped with fright. “Oh! Oh!” she cried under her breath. “A rat! A rat!” “I was afraid you would be frightened,” said
Sara. “But you needn’t
be. I am making him tame. He actually knows me and comes out when I
call him. Are you too frightened to want to see him?” The truth was that, as the days had gone on
and, with the aid of scraps brought up from the kitchen, her curious friendship
had developed, she had gradually forgotten that the timid creature
she was becoming familiar with was a mere rat. At first Ermengarde was too much alarmed to
do anything but huddle in a heap upon the bed and tuck up her feet, but
the sight of Sara’s composed little countenance and the story
of Melchisedec’s first appearance began at last to rouse her curiosity,
and she leaned forward over the edge of the bed and watched Sara
go and kneel down by the hole in the skirting board. “He, he won’t run out quickly and jump on
the bed, will he?” she said. “No,” answered Sara. “He’s as polite as we are. He is just like a
person. Now watch!” She began to make a low, whistling sound,
so low and coaxing that it could only have been heard in entire stillness. She did it several
times, looking entirely absorbed in it. Ermengarde thought she looked
as if she were working a spell. And at last, evidently in response to
it, a grey-whiskered, bright-eyed head peeped out of the hole. Sara
had some crumbs in her hand. She dropped them, and Melchisedec came
quietly forth and ate them. A piece of larger size than the rest he
took and carried in the most businesslike manner back to his home. “You see,” said Sara, “that is for his wife
and children. He is very
nice. He only eats the little bits. After he goes back I can always
hear his family squeaking for joy. There are three kinds of squeaks. One kind is the children’s, and one is Mrs.
Melchisedec’s, and one is Melchisedec’s own.” Ermengarde began to laugh. “Oh, Sara!” she said. “You ARE queer, but you are nice.” “I know I am queer,” admitted Sara, cheerfully;
“and I TRY to be nice.” She rubbed her forehead with her little brown
paw, and a puzzled, tender look came into her face. “Papa always laughed at me,” she said;
“but I liked it. He thought I was queer, but he liked me to
make up things. I, I can’t help making up things. If I didn’t, I don’t
believe I could live.” She paused and glanced around the attic. “I’m
sure I couldn’t live here,” she added in a low voice. Ermengarde was interested, as she always was. “When you talk about
things,” she said, “they seem as if they grew real. You talk about
Melchisedec as if he was a person.” “He IS a person,” said Sara. “He gets hungry and frightened, just as
we do; and he is married and has children. How do we know he doesn’t
think things, just as we do? His eyes look as if he was a person. That was why I gave him a name.” She sat down on the floor in her favourite
attitude, holding her knees. “Besides,” she said, “he is a Bastille rat
sent to be my friend. I can
always get a bit of bread the cook has thrown away, and it is quite
enough to support him.” “Is it the Bastille yet?” asked Ermengarde,
eagerly. “Do you always
pretend it is the Bastille?” “Nearly always,” answered Sara. “Sometimes I try to pretend it is
another kind of place; but the Bastille is generally
easiest, particularly when it is cold.” Just at that moment Ermengarde almost jumped
off the bed, she was so startled by a sound she heard. It was like two distinct knocks on the
wall. “What is that?” she exclaimed. Sara got up from the floor and answered quite
dramatically: “It is the prisoner in the next cell.” “Becky!” cried Ermengarde, enraptured. “Yes,” said Sara. “Listen; the two knocks meant, ‘Prisoner,
are you there?'” She knocked three times on the wall herself,
as if in answer. “That means, ‘Yes, I am here, and all is well.'” Four knocks came from Becky’s side of the
wall. “That means,” explained Sara, “‘Then, fellow-sufferer,
we will sleep in peace. Good night.'” Ermengarde quite beamed with delight. “Oh, Sara!” she whispered joyfully. “It is like a story!” “It IS a story,” said Sara. “EVERYTHING’S a story. You are a story, I
am a story. Miss Minchin is a story.” And she sat down again and talked until Ermengarde
forgot that she was a sort of escaped prisoner herself, and had
to be reminded by Sara that she could not remain in the Bastille all night,
but must steal noiselessly downstairs again and creep back
into her deserted bed. End of Chapter 9 Chapter 10 The Indian Gentleman But it was a perilous thing for Ermengarde
and Lottie to make pilgrimages to the attic. They could never be quite sure when Sara
would be there, and they could scarcely ever be certain that Miss
Amelia would not make a tour of inspection through the bedrooms after
the pupils were supposed to be asleep. So their visits were rare ones,
and Sara lived a strange and lonely life. It was a lonelier life when
she was downstairs than when she was in her attic. She had no one to
talk to; and when she was sent out on errands and walked through the
streets, a forlorn little figure carrying a basket or a parcel, trying
to hold her hat on when the wind was blowing, and feeling the water
soak through her shoes when it was raining, she felt as if the crowds
hurrying past her made her loneliness greater. When she had been the
Princess Sara, driving through the streets in her brougham, or walking,
attended by Mariette, the sight of her bright, eager little face and
picturesque coats and hats had often caused people to look after her. A happy, beautifully cared for little girl
naturally attracts attention. Shabby, poorly dressed children are not rare
enough and pretty enough to make people turn around to
look at them and smile. No
one looked at Sara in these days, and no one seemed to see her as she
hurried along the crowded pavements. She had begun to grow very fast,
and, as she was dressed only in such clothes as the plainer remnants of
her wardrobe would supply, she knew she looked very queer, indeed. All
her valuable garments had been disposed of, and such as had been left
for her use she was expected to wear so long as she could put them on
at all. Sometimes, when she passed a shop window with
a mirror in it, she almost laughed outright on catching a
glimpse of herself, and sometimes her face went red and she bit her
lip and turned away. In the evening, when she passed houses whose
windows were lighted up, she used to look into the warm rooms and amuse
herself by imagining things about the people she saw sitting before
the fires or about the tables. It always interested her to catch glimpses
of rooms before the shutters were closed. There were several families in the square
in which Miss Minchin lived, with which she had
become quite familiar in a way of her own. The one she liked best she called the Large
Family. She called it the Large Family not because
the members of it were big, for, indeed, most of them were little,
but because there were so many of them. There were eight children in the Large Family,
and a stout, rosy mother, and a stout, rosy father,
and a stout, rosy grandmother, and any number of servants. The eight children were always
either being taken out to walk or to ride in perambulators by
comfortable nurses, or they were going to drive with their mamma, or
they were flying to the door in the evening to meet their papa and kiss
him and dance around him and drag off his overcoat and look in the
pockets for packages, or they were crowding about the nursery windows
and looking out and pushing each other and laughing, in fact, they were
always doing something enjoyable and suited to the tastes of a large
family. Sara was quite fond of them, and had given
them names out of books, quite romantic names. She called them the Montmorencys when she
did not call them the Large Family. The fat, fair baby with the lace
cap was Ethelberta Beauchamp Montmorency; the next baby was Violet
Cholmondeley Montmorency; the little boy who could just stagger and who
had such round legs was Sydney Cecil Vivian Montmorency; and then came
Lilian Evangeline Maud Marion, Rosalind Gladys, Guy Clarence, Veronica
Eustacia, and Claude Harold Hector. One evening a very funny thing happened, though,
perhaps, in one sense it was not a funny thing at all. Several of the Montmorencys were evidently
going to a children’s party, and just as Sara was about to pass the door
they were crossing the pavement to get into the carriage which was
waiting for them. Veronica
Eustacia and Rosalind Gladys, in white-lace frocks and lovely sashes,
had just got in, and Guy Clarence, aged five, was following them. He
was such a pretty fellow and had such rosy cheeks and blue eyes, and
such a darling little round head covered with curls, that Sara forgot
her basket and shabby cloak altogether, in fact, forgot everything but
that she wanted to look at him for a moment. So she paused and looked. It was Christmas time, and the Large Family
had been hearing many stories about children who were poor and had
no mammas and papas to fill their stockings and take them to the
pantomime, children who were, in fact, cold and thinly clad and hungry. In the stories, kind
people, sometimes little boys and girls with tender hearts, invariably
saw the poor children and gave them money or rich gifts, or took them
home to beautiful dinners. Guy Clarence had been affected to tears
that very afternoon by the reading of such a story, and he had burned
with a desire to find such a poor child and give her a certain sixpence
he possessed, and thus provide for her for life. An entire sixpence, he
was sure, would mean affluence for evermore. As he crossed the strip of
red carpet laid across the pavement from the door to the carriage, he
had this very sixpence in the pocket of his very short man-o-war
trousers; And just as Rosalind Gladys got into the vehicle and jumped
on the seat in order to feel the cushions spring under her, he saw Sara
standing on the wet pavement in her shabby frock and hat, with her old
basket on her arm, looking at him hungrily. He thought that her eyes looked hungry because
she had perhaps had nothing to eat for a long time. He did not know that they looked so
because she was hungry for the warm, merry life his home held and his
rosy face spoke of, and that she had a hungry wish to snatch him in her
arms and kiss him. He only knew that she had big eyes and a thin
face and thin legs and a common basket and poor
clothes. So he put his hand
in his pocket and found his sixpence and walked up to her benignly. “Here, poor little girl,” he said. “Here is a sixpence. I will give it
to you.” Sara started, and all at once realised that
she looked exactly like poor children she had seen, in her better
days, waiting on the pavement to watch her as she got out of her brougham. And she had given them
pennies many a time. Her face went red and then it went pale, and
for a second she felt as if she could not take
the dear little sixpence. “Oh, no!” she said. “Oh, no, thank you; I mustn’t take it, indeed!” Her voice was so unlike an ordinary street
child’s voice and her manner was so like the manner of a well-bred little
person that Veronica Eustacia (whose real name was Janet) and Rosalind
Gladys (who was really called Nora) leaned forward to listen. But Guy Clarence was not to be thwarted in
his benevolence. He thrust
the sixpence into her hand. “Yes, you must take it, poor little girl!”
he insisted stoutly. “You
can buy things to eat with it. It is a whole sixpence!” There was something so honest and kind in
his face, and he looked so likely to be heartbrokenly disappointed if
she did not take it, that Sara knew she must not refuse him. To be as proud as that would be a
cruel thing. So she actually put her pride in her pocket,
though it must be admitted her cheeks burned. “Thank you,” she said. “You are a kind, kind little darling thing.” And as he scrambled joyfully into the carriage
she went away, trying to smile, though she caught her breath quickly
and her eyes were shining through a mist. She had known that she looked odd and shabby,
but until now she had not known that she might
be taken for a beggar. As the Large Family’s carriage drove away,
the children inside it were talking with interested excitement. “Oh, Donald,” (this was Guy Clarence’s name),
Janet exclaimed alarmedly, “why did you offer that little
girl your sixpence? I’m sure
she is not a beggar!” “She didn’t speak like a beggar!” cried Nora. “And her face didn’t
really look like a beggar’s face!” “Besides, she didn’t beg,” said Janet. “I was so afraid she might be
angry with you. You know, it makes people angry to be taken
for beggars when they are not beggars.” “She wasn’t angry,” said Donald, a trifle
dismayed, but still firm. “She laughed a little, and she said I was
a kind, kind little darling thing. And I was!”, stoutly. “It was my whole sixpence.” Janet and Nora exchanged glances. “A beggar girl would never have said that,”
decided Janet. “She would
have said, ‘Thank yer kindly, little gentleman, thank yer, sir;’ and
perhaps she would have bobbed a curtsy.” Sara knew nothing about the fact, but from
that time the Large Family was as profoundly interested in her as she
was in it. Faces used to
appear at the nursery windows when she passed, and many discussions
concerning her were held round the fire. “She is a kind of servant at the seminary,”
Janet said. “I don’t
believe she belongs to anybody. I believe she is an orphan. But she is
not a beggar, however shabby she looks.” And afterward she was called by all of them,
“The-little-girl-who-is-not-a-beggar,” which was, of course, rather a
long name, and sounded very funny sometimes when the youngest ones said
it in a hurry. Sara managed to bore a hole in the sixpence
and hung it on an old bit of narrow ribbon round her neck. Her affection for the Large Family
increased, as, indeed, her affection for everything she could love
increased. She grew fonder and fonder of Becky, and she
used to look forward to the two mornings a week when she
went into the schoolroom to give the little ones their French lesson. Her small pupils loved her,
and strove with each other for the privilege of standing close to her
and insinuating their small hands into hers. It fed her hungry heart to
feel them nestling up to her. She made such friends with the sparrows
that when she stood upon the table, put her head and shoulders out of
the attic window, and chirped, she heard almost immediately a flutter
of wings and answering twitters, and a little flock of dingy town birds
appeared and alighted on the slates to talk to her and make much of the
crumbs she scattered. With Melchisedec she had become so intimate
that he actually brought Mrs. Melchisedec with
him sometimes, and now and then one or two of his children. She used to talk to him, and,
somehow, he looked quite as if he understood. There had grown in her mind rather a strange
feeling about Emily, who always sat and looked on at everything. It arose in one of her moments
of great desolateness. She would have liked to believe or pretend
to believe that Emily understood and sympathised
with her. She did not
like to own to herself that her only companion could feel and hear
nothing. She used to put her in a chair sometimes and
sit opposite to her on the old red footstool, and stare and
pretend about her until her own eyes would grow large with something which
was almost like fear, particularly at night when everything
was so still, when the only sound in the attic was the occasional sudden
scurry and squeak of Melchisedec’s family in the wall. One of her “pretends” was that Emily
was a kind of good witch who could protect her. Sometimes, after she
had stared at her until she was wrought up to the highest pitch of
fancifulness, she would ask her questions and find herself ALMOST
feeling as if she would presently answer. But she never did. “As to answering, though,” said Sara, trying
to console herself, “I don’t answer very often. I never answer when I can help it. When
people are insulting you, there is nothing so good for them as not to
say a word, just to look at them and THINK. Miss Minchin turns pale
with rage when I do it, Miss Amelia looks frightened, and so do the
girls. When you will not fly into a passion people
know you are stronger than they are, because you are strong
enough to hold in your rage, and they are not, and they say stupid
things they wish they hadn’t said afterward. There’s nothing so strong as rage, except
what makes you hold it in, that’s stronger. It’s a good thing not to answer
your enemies. I scarcely ever do. Perhaps Emily is more like me than I
am like myself. Perhaps she would rather not answer her friends,
even. She keeps it all in her heart.” But though she tried to satisfy herself with
these arguments, she did not find it easy. When, after a long, hard day, in which she
had been sent here and there, sometimes on long errands
through wind and cold and rain, she came in wet and hungry, and
was sent out again because nobody chose to remember that she was only
a child, and that her slim legs might be tired and her small body might
be chilled; when she had been given only harsh words and cold, slighting
looks for thanks; when the cook had been vulgar and insolent; when
Miss Minchin had been in her worst mood, and when she had seen the
girls sneering among themselves at her shabbiness, then she was
not always able to comfort her sore, proud, desolate heart with fancies
when Emily merely sat upright in her old chair and stared. One of these nights, when she came up to the
attic cold and hungry, with a tempest raging in her young breast,
Emily’s stare seemed so vacant, her sawdust legs and arms so inexpressive,
that Sara lost all control over herself. There was nobody but Emily, no one in the
world. And there she sat. “I shall die presently,” she said at first. Emily simply stared. “I can’t bear this,” said the poor child,
trembling. “I know I shall
die. I’m cold; I’m wet; I’m starving to death. I’ve walked a thousand
miles today, and they have done nothing but scold me from morning until
night. And because I could not find that last thing
the cook sent me for, they would not give me any supper. Some men laughed at me because
my old shoes made me slip down in the mud. I’m covered with mud now. And they laughed. Do you hear?” She looked at the staring glass eyes and complacent
face, and suddenly a sort of heartbroken rage seized her. She lifted her little savage
hand and knocked Emily off the chair, bursting into a passion of
sobbing, Sara who never cried. “You are nothing but a DOLL!” she cried. “Nothing but a
doll, doll, doll! You care for nothing. You are stuffed with sawdust. You never had a heart. Nothing could ever make you feel. You are a
DOLL!” Emily lay on the floor, with her legs ignominiously
doubled up over her head, and a new flat place on the
end of her nose; but she was calm, even dignified. Sara hid her face in her arms. The rats in the
wall began to fight and bite each other and squeak and scramble. Melchisedec was chastising some of his family. Sara’s sobs gradually quieted themselves. It was so unlike her to
break down that she was surprised at herself. After a while she raised
her face and looked at Emily, who seemed to be gazing at her round the
side of one angle, and, somehow, by this time actually with a kind of
glassy-eyed sympathy. Sara bent and picked her up. Remorse overtook
her. She even smiled at herself a very little smile. “You can’t help being a doll,” she said with
a resigned sigh, “any more than Lavinia and Jessie can help not having
any sense. We are not all
made alike. Perhaps you do your sawdust best.” And she kissed her and
shook her clothes straight, and put her back upon her chair. She had wished very much that some one would
take the empty house next door. She wished it because of the attic window
which was so near hers. It seemed as if it would be so nice to see
it propped open someday and a head and shoulders rising out
of the square aperture. “If it looked a nice head,” she thought, “I
might begin by saying, ‘Good morning,’ and all sorts of things might
happen. But, of course,
it’s not really likely that anyone but under servants would sleep
there.” One morning, on turning the corner of the
square after a visit to the grocer’s, the butcher’s, and the baker’s,
she saw, to her great delight, that during her rather prolonged
absence, a van full of furniture had stopped before the next house,
the front doors were thrown open, and men in shirt sleeves were
going in and out carrying heavy packages and pieces of furniture. “It’s taken!” she said. “It really IS taken! Oh, I do hope a nice
head will look out of the attic window!” She would almost have liked to join the group
of loiterers who had stopped on the pavement to watch the things
carried in. She had an idea
that if she could see some of the furniture she could guess something
about the people it belonged to. “Miss Minchin’s tables and chairs are just
like her,” she thought; “I remember thinking that the first minute I
saw her, even though I was so little. I told papa afterward, and he laughed and
said it was true. I
am sure the Large Family have fat, comfortable armchairs and sofas, and
I can see that their red-flowery wallpaper is exactly like them. It’s
warm and cheerful and kind-looking and happy.” She was sent out for parsley to the greengrocer’s
later in the day, and when she came up the area steps her heart
gave quite a quick beat of recognition. Several pieces of furniture had been set out
of the van upon the pavement. There was a beautiful table of elaborately
wrought teakwood, and some chairs, and a screen covered
with rich Oriental embroidery. The sight of them gave her a weird, homesick
feeling. She
had seen things so like them in India. One of the things Miss Minchin
had taken from her was a carved teakwood desk her father had sent her. “They are beautiful things,” she said; “they
look as if they ought to belong to a nice person. All the things look rather grand. I suppose
it is a rich family.” The vans of furniture came and were unloaded
and gave place to others all the day. Several times it so happened that Sara had
an opportunity of seeing things carried in. It became plain that she had been right
in guessing that the newcomers were people of large means. All the
furniture was rich and beautiful, and a great deal of it was Oriental. Wonderful rugs and draperies and ornaments
were taken from the vans, many pictures, and books enough for a library. Among other things there
was a superb god Buddha in a splendid shrine. “Someone in the family MUST have been in India,”
Sara thought. “They
have got used to Indian things and like them. I AM glad. I shall feel
as if they were friends, even if a head never looks out of the attic
window.” When she was taking in the evening’s milk
for the cook (there was really no odd job she was not called upon
to do), she saw something occur which made the situation more interesting
than ever. The
handsome, rosy man who was the father of the Large Family walked across
the square in the most matter-of-fact manner, and ran up the steps of
the next-door house. He ran up them as if he felt quite at home
and expected to run up and down them many a time
in the future. He stayed
inside quite a long time, and several times came out and gave
directions to the workmen, as if he had a right to do so. It was quite
certain that he was in some intimate way connected with the newcomers
and was acting for them. “If the new people have children,” Sara speculated,
“the Large Family children will be sure to come and play with
them, and they MIGHT come up into the attic just for fun.” At night, after her work was done, Becky came
in to see her fellow prisoner and bring her news. “It’s a’ Nindian gentleman that’s comin’ to
live next door, miss,” she said. “I don’t know whether he’s a black gentleman
or not, but he’s a Nindian one. He’s very rich, an’ he’s ill, an’ the gentleman
of the Large Family is his lawyer. He’s had a lot of trouble, an’ it’s made
him ill an’ low in his mind. He worships idols, miss. He’s an ‘eathen
an’ bows down to wood an’ stone. I seen a’ idol bein’ carried in for
him to worship. Somebody had oughter send him a trac’. You can get a
trac’ for a penny.” Sara laughed a little. “I don’t believe he worships that idol,” she
said; “some people like to keep them to look at because they are interesting. My papa had a
beautiful one, and he did not worship it.” But Becky was rather inclined to prefer to
believe that the new neighbour was “an ‘eathen.” It sounded so much more romantic than that
he should merely be the ordinary kind of gentleman who went to church
with a prayer book. She sat and talked long that night of what
he would be like, of what his wife would be like
if he had one, and of what his children would be like if they had
children. Sara saw that
privately she could not help hoping very much that they would all be
black, and would wear turbans, and, above all, that, like their
parent, they would all be “‘eathens.” “I never lived next door to no ‘eathens, miss,”
she said; “I should like to see what sort o’ ways they’d have.” It was several weeks before her curiosity
was satisfied, and then it was revealed that the new occupant had neither
wife nor children. He
was a solitary man with no family at all, and it was evident that he
was shattered in health and unhappy in mind. A carriage drove up one day and stopped before
the house. When the
footman dismounted from the box and opened the door the gentleman who
was the father of the Large Family got out first. After him there
descended a nurse in uniform, then came down the steps two
men-servants. They came to assist their master, who, when
he was helped out of the carriage, proved to be a man with
a haggard, distressed face, and a skeleton body wrapped in furs. He was carried up the
steps, and the head of the Large Family went with him, looking very
anxious. Shortly afterward a doctor’s carriage arrived,
and the doctor went in, plainly to take care of him. “There is such a yellow gentleman next door,
Sara,” Lottie whispered at the French class afterward. “Do you think he is a Chinee? The
geography says the Chinee men are yellow.” “No, he is not Chinese,” Sara whispered back;
“he is very ill. Go on
with your exercise, Lottie. ‘Non, monsieur. Je n’ai pas le canif de
mon oncle.'” That was the beginning of the story of the
Indian gentleman. End of Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Ram Dass There were fine sunsets even in the square,
sometimes. One could only
see parts of them, however, between the chimneys and over the roofs. From the kitchen windows one could not see
them at all, and could only guess that they were going on because the
bricks looked warm and the air rosy or yellow for a while, or perhaps
one saw a blazing glow strike a particular pane of glass somewhere. There was, however, one
place from which one could see all the splendour of them: the piles of
red or gold clouds in the west; or the purple ones edged with dazzling
brightness; or the little fleecy, floating ones, tinged with rose-colour
and looking like flights of pink doves scurrying across the blue in a
great hurry if there was a wind. The place where one could see all
this, and seem at the same time to breathe a purer air, was, of course,
the attic window. When the square suddenly seemed to begin to
glow in an enchanted way and look wonderful in spite
of its sooty trees and railings, Sara knew something was going on
in the sky; and when it was at all possible to leave the kitchen without
being missed or called back, she invariably stole away and crept
up the flights of stairs, and, climbing on the old table, got her head
and body as far out of the window as possible. When she had accomplished this, she always
drew a long breath and looked all round her. It used to seem as if she had
all the sky and the world to herself. No one else ever looked out of
the other attics. Generally the skylights were closed; but even
if they were propped open to admit air, no one
seemed to come near them. And there Sara would stand, sometimes turning
her face upward to the blue which seemed so friendly and near, just
like a lovely vaulted ceiling, sometimes watching the west and all
the wonderful things that happened there: the clouds melting or drifting
or waiting softly to be changed pink or crimson or snow-white or purple
or pale dove-grey. Sometimes they made islands or great mountains
enclosing lakes of deep turquoise-blue, or liquid amber, or chrysoprase-green;
sometimes dark headlands jutted into strange, lost seas;
sometimes slender strips of wonderful lands joined other wonderful lands
together. There were
places where it seemed that one could run or climb or stand and wait to
see what next was coming, until, perhaps, as it all melted, one could
float away. At least it seemed so to Sara, and nothing
had ever been quite so beautiful to her as the things she
saw as she stood on the table, her body half out of the skylight,
the sparrows twittering with sunset softness on the slates. The sparrows always seemed to her to
twitter with a sort of subdued softness just when these marvels were
going on. There was such a sunset as this a few days
after the Indian gentleman was brought to his new home; and, as it fortunately
happened that the afternoon’s work was done in the kitchen and
nobody had ordered her to go anywhere or perform any task, Sara found
it easier than usual to slip away and go upstairs. She mounted her table and stood looking out. It was a wonderful
moment. There were floods of molten gold covering
the west, as if a glorious tide was sweeping over the world. A deep, rich yellow light
filled the air; the birds flying across the tops of the houses showed
quite black against it. “It’s a Splendid one,” said Sara, softly,
to herself. “It makes me
feel almost afraid, as if something strange was just going to happen. The Splendid ones always make me feel like
that.” She suddenly turned her head because she heard
a sound a few yards away from her. It was an odd sound like a queer little squeaky
chattering. It came from the window of the next attic. Someone had come to look at
the sunset as she had. There was a head and a part of a body emerging
from the skylight, but it was not the head or body of a little girl or
a housemaid; it was the picturesque white-swathed form and dark-faced,
gleaming-eyed, white-turbaned head of a native Indian man-servant, “a
Lascar,” Sara said to herself quickly, and the sound she had heard came
from a small monkey he held in his arms as if he were fond of it, and
which was snuggling and chattering against his breast. As Sara looked toward him he looked toward
her. The first thing she
thought was that his dark face looked sorrowful and homesick. She felt
absolutely sure he had come up to look at the sun, because he had seen
it so seldom in England that he longed for a sight of it. She looked at
him interestedly for a second, and then smiled across the slates. She
had learned to know how comforting a smile, even from a stranger, may
be. Hers was evidently a pleasure to him. His whole expression altered,
and he showed such gleaming white teeth as he smiled back that it was
as if a light had been illuminated in his dusky face. The friendly look
in Sara’s eyes was always very effective when people felt tired or dull. It was perhaps in making his salute to her
that he loosened his hold on the monkey. He was an impish monkey and always ready for
adventure, and it is probable that the sight of a little
girl excited him. He
suddenly broke loose, jumped on to the slates, ran across them
chattering, and actually leaped on to Sara’s shoulder, and from there
down into her attic room. It made her laugh and delighted her; but she
knew he must be restored to his master, if the Lascar was his
master, and she wondered how this was to be done. Would he let her
catch him, or would he be naughty and refuse to be caught, and perhaps
get away and run off over the roofs and be lost? That would not do at
all. Perhaps he belonged to the Indian gentleman,
and the poor man was fond of him. She turned to the Lascar, feeling glad that
she remembered still some of the Hindustani she had learned when she
lived with her father. She
could make the man understand. She spoke to him in the language he
knew. “Will he let me catch him?” she asked. She thought she had never seen more surprise
and delight than the dark face expressed when she spoke in the familiar
tongue. The truth was
that the poor fellow felt as if his gods had intervened, and the kind
little voice came from heaven itself. At once Sara saw that he had
been accustomed to European children. He poured forth a flood of
respectful thanks. He was the servant of Missee Sahib. The monkey was
a good monkey and would not bite; but, unfortunately, he was difficult
to catch. He would flee from one spot to another, like
the lightning. He was disobedient, though not evil. Ram Dass knew him as if he were
his child, and Ram Dass he would sometimes obey, but not always. If
Missee Sahib would permit Ram Dass, he himself could cross the roof to
her room, enter the windows, and regain the unworthy little animal. But he was evidently afraid Sara might think
he was taking a great liberty and perhaps would not let him come. But Sara gave him leave at once. “Can you get across?” she inquired. “In a moment,” he answered her. “Then come,” she said; “he is flying from
side to side of the room as if he was frightened.” Ram Dass slipped through his attic window
and crossed to hers as steadily and lightly as if he had walked on
roofs all his life. He
slipped through the skylight and dropped upon his feet without a sound. Then he turned to Sara and salaamed again. The monkey saw him and
uttered a little scream. Ram Dass hastily took the precaution of
shutting the skylight, and then went in chase of him. It was not a very
long chase. The monkey prolonged it a few minutes evidently
for the mere fun of it, but presently he sprang chattering
on to Ram Dass’s shoulder and sat there chattering and clinging
to his neck with a weird little skinny arm. Ram Dass thanked Sara profoundly. She had seen that his quick native
eyes had taken in at a glance all the bare shabbiness of the room, but
he spoke to her as if he were speaking to the little daughter of a
rajah, and pretended that he observed nothing. He did not presume to
remain more than a few moments after he had caught the monkey, and
those moments were given to further deep and grateful obeisance to her
in return for her indulgence. This little evil one, he said, stroking
the monkey, was, in truth, not so evil as he seemed, and his master,
who was ill, was sometimes amused by him. He would have been made sad
if his favourite had run away and been lost. Then he salaamed once more
and got through the skylight and across the slates again with as much
agility as the monkey himself had displayed. When he had gone Sara stood in the middle
of her attic and thought of many things his face and his manner had brought
back to her. The sight
of his native costume and the profound reverence of his manner stirred
all her past memories. It seemed a strange thing to remember that
she, the drudge whom the cook had said insulting things to an hour
ago, had only a few years ago been surrounded by people who all treated
her as Ram Dass had treated her; who salaamed when she went by, whose
foreheads almost touched the ground when she spoke to them, who were
her servants and her slaves. It was like a sort of dream. It was all
over, and it could never come back. It certainly seemed that there was
no way in which any change could take place. She knew what Miss Minchin
intended that her future should be. So long as she was too young to be
used as a regular teacher, she would be used as an errand girl and
servant and yet expected to remember what she had learned and in some
mysterious way to learn more. The greater number of her evenings she
was supposed to spend at study, and at various indefinite intervals she
was examined and knew she would have been severely admonished if she
had not advanced as was expected of her. The truth, indeed, was that
Miss Minchin knew that she was too anxious to learn to require
teachers. Give her books, and she would devour them
and end by knowing them by heart. She might be trusted to be equal to teaching
a good deal in the course of a few years. This was what would happen: when
she was older she would be expected to drudge in the schoolroom as she
drudged now in various parts of the house; they would be obliged to
give her more respectable clothes, but they would be sure to be plain
and ugly and to make her look somehow like a servant. That was all
there seemed to be to look forward to, and Sara stood quite still for
several minutes and thought it over. Then a thought came back to her which made
the colour rise in her cheek and a spark light itself in her eyes. She straightened her thin little
body and lifted her head. “Whatever comes,” she said, “cannot alter
one thing. If I am a
princess in rags and tatters, I can be a princess inside. It would be
easy to be a princess if I were dressed in cloth of gold, but it is a
great deal more of a triumph to be one all the time when no one knows
it. There was Marie Antoinette when she was in
prison and her throne was gone and she had only a black gown on,
and her hair was white, and they insulted her and called her Widow Capet. She was a great deal more
like a queen then than when she was so gay and everything was so grand. I like her best then. Those howling mobs of people did not frighten
her. She was stronger than they were, even when
they cut her head off.” This was not a new thought, but quite an old
one, by this time. It had
consoled her through many a bitter day, and she had gone about the
house with an expression in her face which Miss Minchin could not
understand and which was a source of great annoyance to her, as it
seemed as if the child were mentally living a life which held her above
the rest of the world. It was as if she scarcely heard the rude and
acid things said to her; or, if she heard them, did not care for them
at all. Sometimes, when she was in the midst of some
harsh, domineering speech, Miss Minchin would find
the still, unchildish eyes fixed upon her with something like a proud
smile in them. At such
times she did not know that Sara was saying to herself: “You don’t know that you are saying these
things to a princess, and that if I chose I could wave my hand and order
you to execution. I only
spare you because I am a princess, and you are a poor, stupid, unkind,
vulgar old thing, and don’t know any better.” This used to interest and amuse her more than
anything else; and queer and fanciful as it was, she found comfort
in it and it was a good thing for her. While the thought held possession of her,
she could not be made rude and malicious by the rudeness and
malice of those about her. “A princess must be polite,” she said to herself. And so when the servants, taking their tone
from their mistress, were insolent and ordered her about, she would
hold her head erect and reply to them with a quaint civility which often
made them stare at her. “She’s got more airs and graces than if she
come from Buckingham Palace, that young one,” said the cook, chuckling
a little sometimes. “I lose my temper with her often enough, but
I will say she never forgets her manners. ‘If you please, cook’; ‘Will you be so kind,
cook?’ ‘I beg your pardon, cook’; ‘May I trouble
you, cook?’ She
drops ’em about the kitchen as if they was nothing.” The morning after the interview with Ram Dass
and his monkey, Sara was in the schoolroom with her small pupils. Having finished giving them
their lessons, she was putting the French exercise-books together and
thinking, as she did it, of the various things royal personages in
disguise were called upon to do: Alfred the Great, for instance,
burning the cakes and getting his ears boxed by the wife of the
neat-herd. How frightened she must have been when she
found out what she had done. If Miss Minchin should find out that she,
Sara, whose toes were almost sticking out of her boots,
was a princess, a real one! The look in her eyes was exactly the look
which Miss Minchin most disliked. She would not have it; she was quite near
her and was so enraged that she actually flew at her and
boxed her ears, exactly as the neat-herd’s wife had boxed King Alfred’s. It made Sara start. She
wakened from her dream at the shock, and, catching her breath, stood
still a second. Then, not knowing she was going to do it,
she broke into a little laugh. “What are you laughing at, you bold, impudent
child?” Miss Minchin
exclaimed. It took Sara a few seconds to control herself
sufficiently to remember that she was a princess. Her cheeks were red and smarting from the
blows she had received. “I was thinking,” she answered. “Beg my pardon immediately,” said Miss Minchin. Sara hesitated a second before she replied. “I will beg your pardon for laughing, if it
was rude,” she said then; “but I won’t beg your pardon for thinking.” “What were you thinking?” demanded Miss Minchin. “How dare you think? What were you thinking?” Jessie tittered, and she and Lavinia nudged
each other in unison. All
the girls looked up from their books to listen. Really, it always
interested them a little when Miss Minchin attacked Sara. Sara always
said something queer, and never seemed the least bit frightened. She
was not in the least frightened now, though her boxed ears were scarlet
and her eyes were as bright as stars. “I was thinking,” she answered grandly and
politely, “that you did not know what you were doing.” “That I did not know what I was doing?” Miss Minchin fairly gasped. “Yes,” said Sara, “and I was thinking what
would happen if I were a princess and you boxed my ears, what I should
do to you. And I was
thinking that if I were one, you would never dare to do it, whatever I
said or did. And I was thinking how surprised and frightened
you would be if you suddenly found out, ” She had the imagined future so clearly before
her eyes that she spoke in a manner which had an effect even upon
Miss Minchin. It almost
seemed for the moment to her narrow, unimaginative mind that there must
be some real power hidden behind this candid daring. “What?” she exclaimed. “Found out what?” “That I really was a princess,” said Sara,
“and could do anything, anything I liked.” Every pair of eyes in the room widened to
its full limit. Lavinia
leaned forward on her seat to look. “Go to your room,” cried Miss Minchin, breathlessly,
“this instant! Leave the schoolroom! Attend to your lessons, young ladies!” Sara made a little bow. “Excuse me for laughing if it was impolite,”
she said, and walked out of the room, leaving Miss Minchin struggling
with her rage, and the girls whispering over their books. “Did you see her? Did you see how queer she looked?” Jessie broke
out. “I shouldn’t be at all surprised if she did
turn out to be something. Suppose she should!” End of Chapter 11 Chapter 12 The Other Side of the Wall When one lives in a row of houses, it is interesting
to think of the things which are being done and said on the
other side of the wall of the very rooms one is living in. Sara was fond of amusing herself by
trying to imagine the things hidden by the wall which divided the
Select Seminary from the Indian gentleman’s house. She knew that the
schoolroom was next to the Indian gentleman’s study, and she hoped that
the wall was thick so that the noise made sometimes after lesson hours
would not disturb him. “I am growing quite fond of him,” she said
to Ermengarde; “I should not like him to be disturbed. I have adopted him for a friend. You can do
that with people you never speak to at all. You can just watch them,
and think about them and be sorry for them, until they seem almost like
relations. I’m quite anxious sometimes when I see the
doctor call twice a day.” “I have very few relations,” said Ermengarde,
reflectively, “and I’m very glad of it. I don’t like those I have. My two aunts are always
saying, ‘Dear me, Ermengarde! You are very fat. You shouldn’t eat
sweets,’ and my uncle is always asking me things like, ‘When did Edward
the Third ascend the throne?’ and, ‘Who died of a surfeit of lampreys?'” Sara laughed. “People you never speak to can’t ask you questions
like that,” she said; “and I’m sure the Indian gentleman wouldn’t
even if he was quite intimate with you. I am fond of him.” She had become fond of the Large Family because
they looked happy; but she had become fond of the Indian gentleman
because he looked unhappy. He had evidently not fully recovered from
some very severe illness. In
the kitchen, where, of course, the servants, through some mysterious
means, knew everything, there was much discussion of his case. He was
not an Indian gentleman really, but an Englishman who had lived in
India. He had met with great misfortunes which had
for a time so imperilled his whole fortune that he had thought
himself ruined and disgraced forever. The shock had been so great that he had almost
died of brain fever; and ever since he had been
shattered in health, though his fortunes had changed and all his possessions
had been restored to him. His trouble and peril had been connected with
mines. “And mines with diamonds in ’em!” said the
cook. “No savin’s of mine
never goes into no mines, particular diamond ones”, with a side glance
at Sara. “We all know somethin’ of THEM.” “He felt as my papa felt,” Sara thought. “He was ill as my papa was;
but he did not die.” So her heart was more drawn to him than before. When she was sent out
at night she used sometimes to feel quite glad, because there was
always a chance that the curtains of the house next door might not yet
be closed and she could look into the warm room and see her adopted
friend. When no one was about she used sometimes to
stop, and, holding to the iron railings, wish him good night
as if he could hear her. “Perhaps you can FEEL if you can’t hear,”
was her fancy. “Perhaps kind
thoughts reach people somehow, even through windows and doors and
walls. Perhaps you feel a little warm and comforted,
and don’t know why, when I am standing here in the cold and
hoping you will get well and happy again. I am so sorry for you,” she would whisper
in an intense little voice. “I wish you had a ‘Little Missus’ who could
pet you as I used to pet papa when he had a headache. I should like to be
your ‘Little Missus’ myself, poor dear! Good night, good night. God
bless you!” She would go away, feeling quite comforted
and a little warmer herself. Her sympathy was so strong that it seemed
as if it MUST reach him somehow as he sat alone in his armchair by
the fire, nearly always in a great dressing gown, and nearly always with
his forehead resting in his hand as he gazed hopelessly into the fire. He looked to Sara like a man
who had a trouble on his mind still, not merely like one whose troubles
lay all in the past. “He always seems as if he were thinking of
something that hurts him NOW,” she said to herself, “but he has got
his money back and he will get over his brain fever in time, so he ought
not to look like that. I
wonder if there is something else.” If there was something else, something even
servants did not hear of, she could not help believing that the
father of the Large Family knew it, the gentleman she called Mr. Montmorency. Mr. Montmorency
went to see him often, and Mrs. Montmorency and all the little
Montmorencys went, too, though less often. He seemed particularly fond
of the two elder little girls, the Janet and Nora who had been so
alarmed when their small brother Donald had given Sara his sixpence. He
had, in fact, a very tender place in his heart for all children, and
particularly for little girls. Janet and Nora were as fond of him as
he was of them, and looked forward with the greatest pleasure to the
afternoons when they were allowed to cross the square and make their
well-behaved little visits to him. They were extremely decorous little
visits because he was an invalid. “He is a poor thing,” said Janet, “and he
says we cheer him up. We try
to cheer him up very quietly.” Janet was the head of the family, and kept
the rest of it in order. It
was she who decided when it was discreet to ask the Indian gentleman to
tell stories about India, and it was she who saw when he was tired and
it was the time to steal quietly away and tell Ram Dass to go to him. They were very fond of Ram Dass. He could have told any number of
stories if he had been able to speak anything but Hindustani. The
Indian gentleman’s real name was Mr. Carrisford, and Janet told Mr.
Carrisford about the encounter with the little-girl-who-was-not-a-beggar. He was very much interested, and all
the more so when he heard from Ram Dass of the adventure of the monkey
on the roof. Ram Dass made for him a very clear picture
of the attic and its desolateness, of the bare floor and
broken plaster, the rusty, empty grate, and the hard, narrow bed. “Carmichael,” he said to the father of the
Large Family, after he had heard this description, “I wonder how many
of the attics in this square are like that one, and how many wretched little
servant girls sleep on such beds, while I toss on my down pillows,
loaded and harassed by wealth that is, most of it, not mine.” “My dear fellow,” Mr. Carmichael answered
cheerily, “the sooner you cease tormenting yourself the better it will
be for you. If you
possessed all the wealth of all the Indies, you could not set right all
the discomforts in the world, and if you began to refurnish all the
attics in this square, there would still remain all the attics in all
the other squares and streets to put in order. And there you are!” Mr. Carrisford sat and bit his nails as he
looked into the glowing bed of coals in the grate. “Do you suppose,” he said slowly, after a
pause, “do you think it is possible that the other child, the child I
never cease thinking of, I believe, could be, could POSSIBLY be reduced
to any such condition as the poor little soul next door?” Mr. Carmichael looked at him uneasily. He knew that the worst thing
the man could do for himself, for his reason and his health, was to
begin to think in the particular way of this particular subject. “If the child at Madame Pascal’s school in
Paris was the one you are in search of,” he answered soothingly, “she would
seem to be in the hands of people who can afford to take care of her. They adopted her because
she had been the favourite companion of their little daughter who died. They had no other children, and Madame Pascal
said that they were extremely well-to-do Russians.” “And the wretched woman actually did not know
where they had taken her!” exclaimed Mr. Carrisford. Mr. Carmichael shrugged his shoulders. “She was a shrewd, worldly Frenchwoman, and
was evidently only too glad to get the child so comfortably off her hands
when the father’s death left her totally unprovided for. Women of her type do not trouble
themselves about the futures of children who might prove burdens. The
adopted parents apparently disappeared and left no trace.” “But you say ‘IF the child was the one I am
in search of. You say ‘if.’ We are not sure. There was a difference in the name.” “Madame Pascal pronounced it as if it were
Carew instead of Crewe, but that might be merely a matter of pronunciation. The circumstances were
curiously similar. An English officer in India had placed his
motherless little girl at the school. He had died suddenly after
losing his fortune.” Mr. Carmichael paused a moment, as if a new
thought had occurred to him. “Are you SURE the child was left at a
school in Paris? Are you sure it was Paris?” “My dear fellow,” broke forth Carrisford,
with restless bitterness, “I am SURE of nothing. I never saw either the child or her mother. Ralph
Crewe and I loved each other as boys, but we had not met since our
school days, until we met in India. I was absorbed in the magnificent
promise of the mines. He became absorbed, too. The whole thing was so
huge and glittering that we half lost our heads. When we met we
scarcely spoke of anything else. I only knew that the child had been
sent to school somewhere. I do not even remember, now, HOW I knew it.” He was beginning to be excited. He always became excited when his
still weakened brain was stirred by memories of the catastrophes of the
past. Mr. Carmichael watched him anxiously. It was necessary to ask some
questions, but they must be put quietly and with caution. “But you had reason to think the school WAS
in Paris?” “Yes,” was the answer, “because her mother
was a Frenchwoman, and I had heard that she wished her child to be educated
in Paris. It seemed
only likely that she would be there.” “Yes,” Mr. Carmichael said, “it seems more
than probable.” The Indian gentleman leaned forward and struck
the table with a long, wasted hand. “Carmichael,” he said, “I MUST find her. If she is alive, she is
somewhere. If she is friendless and penniless, it is
through my fault. How is a man to get back his nerve with a
thing like that on his mind? This sudden change of luck at the mines has
made realities of all our most fantastic dreams, and poor Crewe’s child
may be begging in the street!” “No, no,” said Carmichael. “Try to be calm. Console yourself with the
fact that when she is found you have a fortune to hand over to her.” “Why was I not man enough to stand my ground
when things looked black?” Carrisford groaned in petulant misery. “I believe I should have stood
my ground if I had not been responsible for other people’s money as
well as my own. Poor Crewe had put into the scheme every penny
that he owned. He trusted me, he LOVED me. And he died thinking I had ruined
him, I, Tom Carrisford, who played cricket at Eton with him. What a
villain he must have thought me!” “Don’t reproach yourself so bitterly.” “I don’t reproach myself because the speculation
threatened to fail, I reproach myself for losing my courage. I ran away like a swindler and
a thief, because I could not face my best friend and tell him I had
ruined him and his child.” The good-hearted father of the Large Family
put his hand on his shoulder comfortingly. “You ran away because your brain had given
way under the strain of mental torture,” he said. “You were half delirious already. If you
had not been you would have stayed and fought it out. You were in a
hospital, strapped down in bed, raving with brain fever, two days after
you left the place. Remember that.” Carrisford dropped his forehead in his hands. “Good God! Yes,” he said. “I was driven mad with dread and horror. I
had not slept for weeks. The night I staggered out of my house all
the air seemed full of hideous things mocking
and mouthing at me.” “That is explanation enough in itself,” said
Mr. Carmichael. “How
could a man on the verge of brain fever judge sanely!” Carrisford shook his drooping head. “And when I returned to consciousness poor
Crewe was dead, and buried. And I seemed to remember nothing. I did not remember the child for
months and months. Even when I began to recall her existence
everything seemed in a sort of haze.” He stopped a moment and rubbed his forehead. “It sometimes seems so
now when I try to remember. Surely I must sometime have heard Crewe
speak of the school she was sent to. Don’t you think so?” “He might not have spoken of it definitely. You never seem even to
have heard her real name.” “He used to call her by an odd pet name he
had invented. He called her
his ‘Little Missus.’ But the wretched mines drove everything else
out of our heads. We talked of nothing else. If he spoke of the school, I
forgot, I forgot. And now I shall never remember.” “Come, come,” said Carmichael. “We shall find her yet. We will
continue to search for Madame Pascal’s good-natured Russians. She
seemed to have a vague idea that they lived in Moscow. We will take
that as a clue. I will go to Moscow.” “If I were able to travel, I would go with
you,” said Carrisford; “but I can only sit here wrapped in furs and stare
at the fire. And when I
look into it I seem to see Crewe’s gay young face gazing back at me. He looks as if he were asking me a question. Sometimes I dream of him
at night, and he always stands before me and asks the same question in
words. Can you guess what he says, Carmichael?” Mr. Carmichael answered him in a rather low
voice. “Not exactly,” he said. “He always says, ‘Tom, old man, Tom, where
is the Little Missus?'” He
caught at Carmichael’s hand and clung to it. “I must be able to answer
him, I must!” he said. “Help me to find her. Help me.” On the other side of the wall Sara was sitting
in her garret talking to Melchisedec, who had come out for his evening
meal. “It has been hard to be a princess today,
Melchisedec,” she said. “It
has been harder than usual. It gets harder as the weather grows colder
and the streets get more sloppy. When Lavinia laughed at my muddy
skirt as I passed her in the hall, I thought of something to say all in
a flash, and I only just stopped myself in time. You can’t sneer back
at people like that, if you are a princess. But you have to bite your
tongue to hold yourself in. I bit mine. It was a cold afternoon,
Melchisedec. And it’s a cold night.” Quite suddenly she put her black head down
in her arms, as she often did when she was alone. “Oh, papa,” she whispered, “what a long time
it seems since I was your ‘Little Missus’!” This was what happened that day on both sides
of the wall. End of Chapter 12 Chapter 13 One of the Populace The winter was a wretched one. There were days on which Sara tramped
through snow when she went on her errands; there were worse days when
the snow melted and combined itself with mud to form slush; there were
others when the fog was so thick that the lamps in the street were
lighted all day and London looked as it had looked the afternoon,
several years ago, when the cab had driven through the thoroughfares
with Sara tucked up on its seat, leaning against her father’s shoulder. On such days the windows of the house of the
Large Family always looked delightfully cozy and alluring, and the study
in which the Indian gentleman sat glowed with warmth and rich
colour. But the attic was
dismal beyond words. There were no longer sunsets or sunrises to
look at, and scarcely ever any stars, it seemed
to Sara. The clouds hung
low over the skylight and were either grey or mud-colour, or dropping
heavy rain. At four o’clock in the afternoon, even when
there was no special fog, the daylight was at an end. If it was necessary to go to
her attic for anything, Sara was obliged to light a candle. The women
in the kitchen were depressed, and that made them more ill-tempered
than ever. Becky was driven like a little slave. “‘Twarn’t for you, miss,” she said hoarsely
to Sara one night when she had crept into the attic, “‘twarn’t for you,
an’ the Bastille, an’ bein’ the prisoner in the next cell, I should
die. That there does
seem real now, doesn’t it? The missus is more like the head jailer
every day she lives. I can jest see them big keys you say she carries. The cook she’s like one of the under-jailers. Tell me some more,
please, miss, tell me about the subt’ranean passage we’ve dug under the
walls.” “I’ll tell you something warmer,” shivered
Sara. “Get your coverlet
and wrap it round you, and I’ll get mine, and we will huddle close
together on the bed, and I’ll tell you about the tropical forest where
the Indian gentleman’s monkey used to live. When I see him sitting on
the table near the window and looking out into the street with that
mournful expression, I always feel sure he is thinking about the
tropical forest where he used to swing by his tail from coconut trees. I wonder who caught him, and if he left a
family behind who had depended on him for coconuts.” “That is warmer, miss,” said Becky, gratefully;
“but, someways, even the Bastille is sort of heatin’ when you gets
to tellin’ about it.” “That is because it makes you think of something
else,” said Sara, wrapping the coverlet round her until only
her small dark face was to be seen looking out of it. “I’ve noticed this. What you have to do
with your mind, when your body is miserable, is to make it think of
something else.” “Can you do it, miss?” faltered Becky, regarding her with admiring
eyes. Sara knitted her brows a moment. “Sometimes I can and sometimes I can’t,” she
said stoutly. “But when I
CAN I’m all right. And what I believe is that we always could,
if we practiced enough. I’ve been practicing a good deal lately, and
it’s beginning to be easier than it used to be. When things are
horrible, just horrible, I think as hard as ever I can of being a
princess. I say to myself, ‘I am a princess, and I am
a fairy one, and because I am a fairy nothing can hurt me or
make me uncomfortable.’ You don’t know how it makes you forget”, with
a laugh. She had many opportunities of making her mind
think of something else, and many opportunities of proving to herself
whether or not she was a princess. But one of the strongest tests she was ever
put to came on a certain dreadful day which, she often thought
afterward, would never quite fade out of her memory even in the years
to come. For several days it had rained continuously;
the streets were chilly and sloppy and full of dreary, cold mist;
there was mud everywhere, sticky London mud, and over everything
the pall of drizzle and fog. Of course there were several long and tiresome
errands to be done, there always were on days like this,
and Sara was sent out again and again, until her shabby clothes were damp
through. The absurd old
feathers on her forlorn hat were more draggled and absurd than ever,
and her downtrodden shoes were so wet that they could not hold any more
water. Added to this, she had been deprived of her
dinner, because Miss Minchin had chosen to punish her. She was so cold and hungry and
tired that her face began to have a pinched look, and now and then some
kind-hearted person passing her in the street glanced at her with
sudden sympathy. But she did not know that. She hurried on, trying to
make her mind think of something else. It was really very necessary. Her way of doing it was to “pretend” and “suppose”
with all the strength that was left in her. But really this time it was harder than
she had ever found it, and once or twice she thought it almost made her
more cold and hungry instead of less so. But she persevered
obstinately, and as the muddy water squelched through her broken shoes
and the wind seemed trying to drag her thin jacket from her, she talked
to herself as she walked, though she did not speak aloud or even move
her lips. “Suppose I had dry clothes on,” she thought. “Suppose I had good shoes
and a long, thick coat and merino stockings and a whole umbrella. And
suppose, suppose, just when I was near a baker’s where they sold hot
buns, I should find sixpence, which belonged to nobody. SUPPOSE if I
did, I should go into the shop and buy six of the hottest buns and eat
them all without stopping.” Some very odd things happen in this world
sometimes. It certainly was an odd thing that happened
to Sara. She had to cross
the street just when she was saying this to herself. The mud was
dreadful, she almost had to wade. She picked her way as carefully as
she could, but she could not save herself much; only, in picking her
way, she had to look down at her feet and the mud, and in looking
down, just as she reached the pavement, she saw something shining in
the gutter. It was actually a piece of silver, a tiny
piece trodden upon by many feet, but still with spirit enough
left to shine a little. Not quite a sixpence, but the next thing to
it, a fourpenny piece. In one second it was in her cold little red-and-blue
hand. “Oh,” she gasped, “it is true! It is true!” And then, if you will believe me, she looked
straight at the shop directly facing her. And it was a baker’s shop, and a cheerful,
stout, motherly woman with rosy cheeks was putting
into the window a tray of delicious newly baked hot buns, fresh from
the oven, large, plump, shiny buns, with currants in them. It almost made Sara feel faint for a few seconds,
the shock, and the sight of the buns, and the delightful odours
of warm bread floating up through the baker’s cellar window. She knew she need not hesitate to use the
little piece of money. It
had evidently been lying in the mud for some time, and its owner was
completely lost in the stream of passing people who crowded and jostled
each other all day long. “But I’ll go and ask the baker woman if she
has lost anything,” she said to herself, rather faintly. So she crossed the pavement and put
her wet foot on the step. As she did so she saw something that made
her stop. It was a little figure more forlorn even than
herself, a little figure which was not much more than a bundle of rags,
from which small, bare, red muddy feet peeped out, only because the
rags with which their owner was trying to cover them were not long enough. Above the rags appeared
a shock head of tangled hair, and a dirty face with big, hollow, hungry
eyes. Sara knew they were hungry eyes the moment
she saw them, and she felt a sudden sympathy. “This,” she said to herself, with a little
sigh, “is one of the populace, and she is hungrier than I am.” The child, this “one of the populace”, stared
up at Sara, and shuffled herself aside a little, so as to give her
room to pass. She was used
to being made to give room to everybody. She knew that if a policeman
chanced to see her he would tell her to “move on.” Sara clutched her little fourpenny piece and
hesitated for a few seconds. Then she spoke to her. “Are you hungry?” she asked. The child shuffled herself and her rags a
little more. “Ain’t I jist?” she said in a hoarse voice. “Jist ain’t I?” “Haven’t you had any dinner?” said Sara. “No dinner,” more hoarsely still and with
more shuffling. “Nor yet no
bre’fast, nor yet no supper. No nothin’. “Since when?” asked Sara. “Dunno. Never got nothin’ today, nowhere. I’ve axed an’ axed.” Just to look at her made Sara more hungry
and faint. But those queer
little thoughts were at work in her brain, and she was talking to
herself, though she was sick at heart. “If I’m a princess,” she was saying, “if I’m
a princess, when they were poor and driven from their thrones, they always
shared, with the populace, if they met one poorer and hungrier
than themselves. They
always shared. Buns are a penny each. If it had been sixpence I could
have eaten six. It won’t be enough for either of us. But it will be
better than nothing.” “Wait a minute,” she said to the beggar child. She went into the shop. It was warm and smelled deliciously. The
woman was just going to put some more hot buns into the window. “If you please,” said Sara, “have you lost
fourpence, a silver fourpence?” And she held the forlorn little piece of money
out to her. The woman looked at it and then at her, at
her intense little face and draggled, once fine clothes. “Bless us, no,” she answered. “Did you find it?” “Yes,” said Sara. “In the gutter.” “Keep it, then,” said the woman. “It may have been there for a week,
and goodness knows who lost it. YOU could never find out.” “I know that,” said Sara, “but I thought I
would ask you.” “Not many would,” said the woman, looking
puzzled and interested and good-natured all at once. “Do you want to buy something?” she added,
as she saw Sara glance at the buns. “Four buns, if you please,” said Sara. “Those at a penny each.” The woman went to the window and put some
in a paper bag. Sara noticed that she put in six. “I said four, if you please,” she explained. “I have only fourpence.” “I’ll throw in two for makeweight,” said the
woman with her good-natured look. “I dare say you can eat them sometime. Aren’t you
hungry?” A mist rose before Sara’s eyes. “Yes,” she answered. “I am very hungry, and I am much obliged to
you for your kindness; and”, she was going to
add, “there is a child outside who is hungrier than I am.” But just at that moment two or
three customers came in at once, and each one seemed in a hurry, so she
could only thank the woman again and go out. The beggar girl was still huddled up in the
corner of the step. She
looked frightful in her wet and dirty rags. She was staring straight
before her with a stupid look of suffering, and Sara saw her suddenly
draw the back of her roughened black hand across her eyes to rub away
the tears which seemed to have surprised her by forcing their way from
under her lids. She was muttering to herself. Sara opened the paper bag and took out one
of the hot buns, which had already warmed her own cold hands a little. “See,” she said, putting the bun in the ragged
lap, “this is nice and hot. Eat it, and you will not feel so hungry.” The child started and stared up at her, as
if such sudden, amazing good luck almost frightened her; then she snatched
up the bun and began to cram it into her mouth with great wolfish
bites. “Oh, my! Oh, my!” Sara heard her say hoarsely, in wild
delight. “OH
my!” Sara took out three more buns and put them
down. The sound in the hoarse, ravenous voice was
awful. “She is hungrier than I am,” she said to herself. “She’s starving.” But her hand trembled when she put down the
fourth bun. “I’m not
starving,” she said, and she put down the fifth. The little ravening London savage was still
snatching and devouring when she turned away. She was too ravenous to give any thanks, even
if she had ever been taught politeness, which
she had not. She was only a
poor little wild animal. “Good-bye,” said Sara. When she reached the other side of the street
she looked back. The
child had a bun in each hand and had stopped in the middle of a bite to
watch her. Sara gave her a little nod, and the child,
after another stare, a curious lingering stare, jerked her
shaggy head in response, and until Sara was out of sight she did not
take another bite or even finish the one she had begun. At that moment the baker-woman looked out
of her shop window. “Well, I never!” she exclaimed. “If that young un hasn’t given her
buns to a beggar child! It wasn’t because she didn’t want them,
either. Well, well, she looked hungry enough. I’d give something to
know what she did it for.” She stood behind her window for a few moments
and pondered. Then her
curiosity got the better of her. She went to the door and spoke to the
beggar child. “Who gave you those buns?” she asked her. The child nodded her head
toward Sara’s vanishing figure. “What did she say?” inquired the woman. “Axed me if I was ‘ungry,” replied the hoarse
voice. “What did you say?” “Said I was jist.” “And then she came in and got the buns, and
gave them to you, did she?” The child nodded. “How many?” “Five.” The woman thought it over. “Left just one for herself,” she said in a
low voice. “And she could
have eaten the whole six, I saw it in her eyes.” She looked after the little draggled far-away
figure and felt more disturbed in her usually comfortable mind
than she had felt for many a day. “I wish she hadn’t gone so quick,” she said. “I’m blest if she
shouldn’t have had a dozen.” Then she turned to the child. “Are you hungry yet?” she said. “I’m allus hungry,” was the answer, “but ‘t
ain’t as bad as it was.” “Come in here,” said the woman, and she held
open the shop door. The child got up and shuffled in. To be invited into a warm place full
of bread seemed an incredible thing. She did not know what was going
to happen. She did not care, even. “Get yourself warm,” said the woman, pointing
to a fire in the tiny back room. “And look here; when you are hard up for a
bit of bread, you can come in here and ask for it. I’m blest if I won’t give it to
you for that young one’s sake.” Sara found some comfort in her remaining bun. At all events, it was
very hot, and it was better than nothing. As she walked along she
broke off small pieces and ate them slowly to make them last longer. “Suppose it was a magic bun,” she said, “and
a bite was as much as a whole dinner. I should be overeating myself if I went on
like this.” It was dark when she reached the square where
the Select Seminary was situated. The lights in the houses were all lighted. The blinds were
not yet drawn in the windows of the room where she nearly always caught
glimpses of members of the Large Family. Frequently at this hour she
could see the gentleman she called Mr. Montmorency sitting in a big
chair, with a small swarm round him, talking, laughing, perching on the
arms of his seat or on his knees or leaning against them. This evening
the swarm was about him, but he was not seated. On the contrary, there
was a good deal of excitement going on. It was evident that a journey
was to be taken, and it was Mr. Montmorency who was to take it. A
brougham stood before the door, and a big portmanteau had been strapped
upon it. The children were dancing about, chattering
and hanging on to their father. The pretty rosy mother was standing near him,
talking as if she was asking final questions. Sara paused a moment to see the
little ones lifted up and kissed and the bigger ones bent over and
kissed also. “I wonder if he will stay away long,” she
thought. “The portmanteau is
rather big. Oh, dear, how they will miss him! I shall miss him
myself, even though he doesn’t know I am alive.” When the door opened she moved away, remembering
the sixpence, but she saw the traveler come out and stand against
the background of the warmly-lighted hall, the older children still
hovering about him. “Will Moscow be covered with snow?” said the
little girl Janet. “Will
there be ice everywhere?” “Shall you drive in a drosky?” cried another. “Shall you see the Czar?” “I will write and tell you all about it,”
he answered, laughing. “And
I will send you pictures of muzhiks and things. Run into the house. It
is a hideous damp night. I would rather stay with you than go to
Moscow. Good night! Good night, duckies! God bless you!” And he ran
down the steps and jumped into the brougham. “If you find the little girl, give her our
love,” shouted Guy Clarence, jumping up and down on the door mat. Then they went in and shut the door. “Did you see,” said Janet to Nora, as they
went back to the room, “the little-girl-who-is-not-a-beggar was passing? She looked all cold and
wet, and I saw her turn her head over her shoulder and look at us. Mamma says her clothes always look as if they
had been given her by someone who was quite rich, someone who only
let her have them because they were too shabby to wear. The people at the school always send her
out on errands on the horridest days and nights there are.” Sara crossed the square to Miss Minchin’s
area steps, feeling faint and shaky. “I wonder who the little girl is,” she thought,
“the little girl he is going to look for.” And she went down the area steps, lugging
her basket and finding it very heavy indeed, as the father of the Large
Family drove quickly on his way to the station to take the train which
was to carry him to Moscow, where he was to make his best efforts
to search for the lost little daughter of Captain Crewe. End of Chapter 13 Chapter 14 What Melchisedec Heard and Saw On this very afternoon, while Sara was out,
a strange thing happened in the attic. Only Melchisedec saw and heard it; and he
was so much alarmed and mystified that he scuttled back
to his hole and hid there, and really quaked and trembled as he peeped
out furtively and with great caution to watch what was going on. The attic had been very still all the day
after Sara had left it in the early morning. The stillness had only been broken by the
pattering of the rain upon the slates and the skylight. Melchisedec had, in fact,
found it rather dull; and when the rain ceased to patter and perfect
silence reigned, he decided to come out and reconnoiter, though
experience taught him that Sara would not return for some time. He had
been rambling and sniffing about, and had just found a totally
unexpected and unexplained crumb left from his last meal, when his
attention was attracted by a sound on the roof. He stopped to listen
with a palpitating heart. The sound suggested that something was moving
on the roof. It was approaching the skylight; it reached
the skylight. The skylight was being mysteriously opened. A dark face peered into
the attic; then another face appeared behind it, and both looked in
with signs of caution and interest. Two men were outside on the roof,
and were making silent preparations to enter through the skylight
itself. One was Ram Dass and the other was a young
man who was the Indian gentleman’s secretary; but of course
Melchisedec did not know this. He only knew that the men were invading the
silence and privacy of the attic; and as the one with the dark
face let himself down through the aperture with such lightness and
dexterity that he did not make the slightest sound, Melchisedec turned
tail and fled precipitately back to his hole. He was frightened to death. He had
ceased to be timid with Sara, and knew she would never throw anything
but crumbs, and would never make any sound other than the soft, low,
coaxing whistling; but strange men were dangerous things to remain
near. He lay close and flat near the entrance of
his home, just managing to peep through the crack with a
bright, alarmed eye. How much
he understood of the talk he heard I am not in the least able to say;
but, even if he had understood it all, he would probably have remained
greatly mystified. The secretary, who was light and young, slipped
through the skylight as noiselessly as Ram Dass had done; and he caught
a last glimpse of Melchisedec’s vanishing tail. “Was that a rat?” he asked Ram Dass in a whisper. “Yes; a rat, Sahib,” answered Ram Dass, also
whispering. “There are
many in the walls.” “Ugh!” exclaimed the young man. “It is a wonder the child is not
terrified of them.” Ram Dass made a gesture with his hands. He also smiled respectfully. He was in this place as the intimate exponent
of Sara, though she had only spoken to him once. “The child is the little friend of all things,
Sahib,” he answered. “She is not as other children. I see her when she does not see me. I
slip across the slates and look at her many nights to see that she is
safe. I watch her from my window when she does not
know I am near. She
stands on the table there and looks out at the sky as if it spoke to
her. The sparrows come at her call. The rat she has fed and tamed in
her loneliness. The poor slave of the house comes to her for
comfort. There is a little child who comes to her in
secret; there is one older who worships her and would listen to her forever
if she might. This I
have seen when I have crept across the roof. By the mistress of the
house, who is an evil woman, she is treated like a pariah; but she has
the bearing of a child who is of the blood of kings!” “You seem to know a great deal about her,”
the secretary said. “All her life each day I know,” answered Ram
Dass. “Her going out I
know, and her coming in; her sadness and her poor joys; her coldness
and her hunger. I know when she is alone until midnight, learning
from her books; I know when her secret friends
steal to her and she is happier, as children can be, even in the midst
of poverty, because they come and she may laugh and talk with them
in whispers. If she were ill
I should know, and I would come and serve her if it might be done.” “You are sure no one comes near this place
but herself, and that she will not return and surprise us. She would be frightened if she found
us here, and the Sahib Carrisford’s plan would be spoiled.” Ram Dass crossed noiselessly to the door and
stood close to it. “None mount here but herself, Sahib,” he said. “She has gone out with
her basket and may be gone for hours. If I stand here I can hear any
step before it reaches the last flight of the stairs.” The secretary took a pencil and a tablet from
his breast pocket. “Keep your ears open,” he said; and he began
to walk slowly and softly round the miserable little room, making rapid
notes on his tablet as he looked at things. First he went to the narrow bed. He pressed his hand upon the mattress
and uttered an exclamation. “As hard as a stone,” he said. “That will have to be altered some day
when she is out. A special journey can be made to bring it
across. It
cannot be done tonight.” He lifted the covering and examined the one
thin pillow. “Coverlet dingy and worn, blanket thin, sheets
patched and ragged,” he said. “What a bed for a child to sleep in, and in
a house which calls itself respectable! There has not been a fire in that grate for
many a day,” glancing at the rusty fireplace. “Never since I have seen it,” said Ram Dass. “The mistress of the
house is not one who remembers that another than herself may be cold.” The secretary was writing quickly on his tablet. He looked up from it
as he tore off a leaf and slipped it into his breast pocket. “It is a strange way of doing the thing,”
he said. “Who planned it?” Ram Dass made a modestly apologetic obeisance. “It is true that the first thought was mine,
Sahib,” he said; “though it was naught but a fancy. I am fond of this child; we are both
lonely. It is her way to relate her visions to her
secret friends. Being sad one night, I lay close to the open
skylight and listened. The
vision she related told what this miserable room might be if it had
comforts in it. She seemed to see it as she talked, and she
grew cheered and warmed as she spoke. Then she came to this fancy; and the
next day, the Sahib being ill and wretched, I told him of the thing to
amuse him. It seemed then but a dream, but it pleased
the Sahib. To
hear of the child’s doings gave him entertainment. He became interested
in her and asked questions. At last he began to please himself with
the thought of making her visions real things.” “You think that it can be done while she sleeps? Suppose she
awakened,” suggested the secretary; and it was evident that whatsoever
the plan referred to was, it had caught and pleased his fancy as well
as the Sahib Carrisford’s. “I can move as if my feet were of velvet,”
Ram Dass replied; “and children sleep soundly, even the unhappy ones. I could have entered
this room in the night many times, and without causing her to turn upon
her pillow. If the other bearer passes to me the things
through the window, I can do all and she will not stir. When she awakens she will
think a magician has been here.” He smiled as if his heart warmed under his
white robe, and the secretary smiled back at him. “It will be like a story from the Arabian
Nights,” he said. “Only an
Oriental could have planned it. It does not belong to London fogs.” They did not remain very long, to the great
relief of Melchisedec, who, as he probably did not comprehend their conversation,
felt their movements and whispers ominous. The young secretary seemed interested
in everything. He wrote down things about the floor, the
fireplace, the broken footstool, the old table, the walls,
which last he touched with his hand again and again, seeming much
pleased when he found that a number of old nails had been driven in various
places. “You can hang things on them,” he said. Ram Dass smiled mysteriously. “Yesterday, when she was out,” he said, “I
entered, bringing with me small, sharp nails which can be pressed into
the wall without blows from a hammer. I placed many in the plaster where I may need
them. They are ready.” The Indian gentleman’s secretary stood still
and looked round him as he thrust his tablets back into his pocket. “I think I have made notes enough; we can
go now,” he said. “The Sahib
Carrisford has a warm heart. It is a thousand pities that he has not
found the lost child.” “If he should find her his strength would
be restored to him,” said Ram Dass. “His God may lead her to him yet.” Then they slipped through the skylight as
noiselessly as they had entered it. And, after he was quite sure they had gone,
Melchisedec was greatly relieved, and in the course of
a few minutes felt it safe to emerge from his hole again and scuffle
about in the hope that even such alarming human beings as these might
have chanced to carry crumbs in their pockets and drop one or two of them. End of Chapter 14 Chapter 15 The Magic When Sara had passed the house next door she
had seen Ram Dass closing the shutters, and caught her glimpse of this
room also. “It is a long time since I saw a nice place
from the inside,” was the thought which crossed her mind. There was the usual bright fire glowing in
the grate, and the Indian gentleman was sitting before it. His head was resting in his hand, and
he looked as lonely and unhappy as ever. “Poor man!” said Sara. “I wonder what you are supposing.” And this was what he was “supposing” at that
very moment. “Suppose,” he was thinking, “suppose, even
if Carmichael traces the people to Moscow, the little girl they took
from Madame Pascal’s school in Paris is NOT the one we are in search of. Suppose she proves to be
quite a different child. What steps shall I take next?” When Sara went into the house she met Miss
Minchin, who had come downstairs to scold the cook. “Where have you wasted your time?” she demanded. “You have been out
for hours.” “It was so wet and muddy,” Sara answered,
“it was hard to walk, because my shoes were so bad and slipped about.” “Make no excuses,” said Miss Minchin, “and
tell no falsehoods.” Sara went in to the cook. The cook had received a severe lecture and
was in a fearful temper as a result. She was only too rejoiced to have
someone to vent her rage on, and Sara was a convenience, as usual. “Why didn’t you stay all night?” she snapped. Sara laid her purchases on the table. “Here are the things,” she said. The cook looked them over, grumbling. She was in a very savage humour
indeed. “May I have something to eat?” Sara asked rather faintly. “Tea’s over and done with,” was the answer. “Did you expect me to keep
it hot for you?” Sara stood silent for a second. “I had no dinner,” she said next, and her
voice was quite low. She
made it low because she was afraid it would tremble. “There’s some bread in the pantry,” said the
cook. “That’s all you’ll
get at this time of day.” Sara went and found the bread. It was old and hard and dry. The cook
was in too vicious a humour to give her anything to eat with it. It was
always safe and easy to vent her spite on Sara. Really, it was hard
for the child to climb the three long flights of stairs leading to her
attic. She often found them long and steep when she
was tired; but tonight it seemed as if she would never reach
the top. Several times
she was obliged to stop to rest. When she reached the top landing she
was glad to see the glimmer of a light coming from under her door. That meant that Ermengarde had managed to
creep up to pay her a visit. There was some comfort in that. It was better than to go into the room
alone and find it empty and desolate. The mere presence of plump,
comfortable Ermengarde, wrapped in her red shawl, would warm it a
little. Yes; there Ermengarde was when she opened
the door. She was sitting in
the middle of the bed, with her feet tucked safely under her. She had
never become intimate with Melchisedec and his family, though they
rather fascinated her. When she found herself alone in the attic
she always preferred to sit on the bed until Sara
arrived. She had, in
fact, on this occasion had time to become rather nervous, because
Melchisedec had appeared and sniffed about a good deal, and once had
made her utter a repressed squeal by sitting up on his hind legs and,
while he looked at her, sniffing pointedly in her direction. “Oh, Sara,” she cried out, “I am glad you
have come. Melchy WOULD
sniff about so. I tried to coax him to go back, but he wouldn’t
for such a long time. I like him, you know; but it does frighten
me when he sniffs right at me. Do you think he ever WOULD jump?” “No,” answered Sara. Ermengarde crawled forward on the bed to look
at her. “You DO look tired, Sara,” she said; “you
are quite pale.” “I AM tired,” said Sara, dropping on to the
lopsided footstool. “Oh,
there’s Melchisedec, poor thing. He’s come to ask for his supper.” Melchisedec had come out of his hole as if
he had been listening for her footstep. Sara was quite sure he knew it. He came forward with an
affectionate, expectant expression as Sara put her hand in her pocket
and turned it inside out, shaking her head. “I’m very sorry,” she said. “I haven’t one crumb left. Go home,
Melchisedec, and tell your wife there was nothing in my pocket. I’m
afraid I forgot because the cook and Miss Minchin were so cross.” Melchisedec seemed to understand. He shuffled resignedly, if not
contentedly, back to his home. “I did not expect to see you tonight, Ermie,”
Sara said. Ermengarde
hugged herself in the red shawl. “Miss Amelia has gone out to spend the night
with her old aunt,” she explained. “No one else ever comes and looks into the
bedrooms after we are in bed. I could stay here until morning if I wanted
to.” She pointed toward the table under the skylight. Sara had not looked
toward it as she came in. A number of books were piled upon it. Ermengarde’s gesture was a dejected one. “Papa has sent me some more books, Sara,”
she said. “There they are.” Sara looked round and got up at once. She ran to the table, and
picking up the top volume, turned over its leaves quickly. For the
moment she forgot her discomforts. “Ah,” she cried out, “how beautiful! Carlyle’s French Revolution. I
have SO wanted to read that!” “I haven’t,” said Ermengarde. “And papa will be so cross if I don’t. He’ll expect me to know all about it when
I go home for the holidays. What SHALL I do?” Sara stopped turning over the leaves and looked
at her with an excited flush on her cheeks. “Look here,” she cried, “if you’ll lend me
these books, I’ll read them, and tell you everything that’s in them
afterward, and I’ll tell it so that you will remember it, too.” “Oh, goodness!” exclaimed Ermengarde. “Do you think you can?” “I know I can,” Sara answered. “The little ones always remember what I
tell them.” “Sara,” said Ermengarde, hope gleaming in
her round face, “if you’ll do that, and make me remember, I’ll, I’ll give
you anything.” “I don’t want you to give me anything,” said
Sara. “I want your
books, I want them!” And her eyes grew big, and her chest heaved. “Take them, then,” said Ermengarde. “I wish I wanted them, but I
don’t. I’m not clever, and my father is, and he thinks
I ought to be.” Sara was opening one book after the other. “What are you going to tell
your father?” she asked, a slight doubt dawning in her mind. “Oh, he needn’t know,” answered Ermengarde. “He’ll think I’ve read
them.” Sara put down her book and shook her head
slowly. “That’s almost like
telling lies,” she said. “And lies, well, you see, they are not only
wicked, they’re VULGAR. Sometimes”, reflectively, “I’ve thought perhaps
I might do something wicked, I might suddenly fly into a rage and kill
Miss Minchin, you know, when she was ill-treating me, but I COULDN’T be
vulgar. Why can’t you tell your father I read them?” “He wants me to read them,” said Ermengarde,
a little discouraged by this unexpected turn of affairs. “He wants you to know what is in them,” said
Sara. “And if I can tell
it to you in an easy way and make you remember it, I should think he
would like that.” “He’ll like it if I learn anything in ANY
way,” said rueful Ermengarde. “You would if you were my father.” “It’s not your fault that, ” began Sara. She pulled herself up and
stopped rather suddenly. She had been going to say, “It’s not your
fault that you are stupid.” “That what?” Ermengarde asked. “That you can’t learn things quickly,” amended
Sara. “If you can’t,
you can’t. If I can, why, I can; that’s all.” She always felt very tender of Ermengarde,
and tried not to let her feel too strongly the difference between being
able to learn anything at once, and not being able to learn anything
at all. As she looked at
her plump face, one of her wise, old-fashioned thoughts came to her. “Perhaps,” she said, “to be able to learn
things quickly isn’t everything. To be kind is worth a great deal to other
people. If Miss
Minchin knew everything on earth and was like what she is now, she’d
still be a detestable thing, and everybody would hate her. Lots of
clever people have done harm and have been wicked. Look at
Robespierre, ” She stopped and examined Ermengarde’s countenance,
which was beginning to look bewildered. “Don’t you remember?” she demanded. “I told you
about him not long ago. I believe you’ve forgotten.” “Well, I don’t remember ALL of it,” admitted
Ermengarde. “Well, you wait a minute,” said Sara, “and
I’ll take off my wet things and wrap myself in the coverlet and tell you
over again.” She took off her hat and coat and hung them
on a nail against the wall, and she changed her wet shoes for an old pair
of slippers. Then she
jumped on the bed, and drawing the coverlet about her shoulders, sat
with her arms round her knees. “Now, listen,” she said. She plunged into the gory records of the French
Revolution, and told such stories of it that Ermengarde’s eyes
grew round with alarm and she held her breath. But though she was rather terrified, there
was a delightful thrill in listening, and she was
not likely to forget Robespierre again, or to have any doubts about
the Princesse de Lamballe. “You know they put her head on a pike and
danced round it,” Sara explained. “And she had beautiful floating blonde hair;
and when I think of her, I never see her head on her
body, but always on a pike, with those furious people dancing and howling.” It was agreed that Mr. St. John was to be
told the plan they had made, and for the present the books were to be left
in the attic. “Now let’s tell each other things,” said Sara. “How are you getting on
with your French lessons?” “Ever so much better since the last time I
came up here and you explained the conjugations. Miss Minchin could not understand why I
did my exercises so well that first morning.” Sara laughed a little and hugged her knees. “She doesn’t understand why Lottie is doing
her sums so well,” she said; “but it is because she creeps up here,
too, and I help her.” She
glanced round the room. “The attic would be rather nice, if it wasn’t
so dreadful,” she said, laughing again. “It’s a good place to pretend
in.” The truth was that Ermengarde did not know
anything of the sometimes almost unbearable side of life in the attic
and she had not a sufficiently vivid imagination to depict it
for herself. On the rare
occasions that she could reach Sara’s room she only saw the side of it
which was made exciting by things which were “pretended” and stories
which were told. Her visits partook of the character of adventures;
and though sometimes Sara looked rather pale, and it was not to be
denied that she had grown very thin, her proud little spirit would not
admit of complaints. She had never confessed that at times she
was almost ravenous with hunger, as she was tonight. She was growing
rapidly, and her constant walking and running about would have given
her a keen appetite even if she had had abundant and regular meals of a
much more nourishing nature than the unappetizing, inferior food
snatched at such odd times as suited the kitchen convenience. She was
growing used to a certain gnawing feeling in her young stomach. “I suppose soldiers feel like this when they
are on a long and weary march,” she often said to herself. She liked the sound of the phrase,
“long and weary march.” It made her feel rather like a soldier. She
had also a quaint sense of being a hostess in the attic. “If I lived in a castle,” she argued, “and
Ermengarde was the lady of another castle, and came to see me, with knights
and squires and vassals riding with her, and pennons flying,
when I heard the clarions sounding outside the drawbridge I should go
down to receive her, and I should spread feasts in the banquet hall and
call in minstrels to sing and play and relate romances. When she comes into the attic I can’t
spread feasts, but I can tell stories, and not let her know
disagreeable things. I dare say poor chatelaines had to do that
in time of famine, when their lands had been
pillaged.” She was a proud,
brave little chatelaine, and dispensed generously the one hospitality
she could offer, the dreams she dreamed, the visions she saw, the
imaginings which were her joy and comfort. So, as they sat together, Ermengarde did not
know that she was faint as well as ravenous, and that while she talked
she now and then wondered if her hunger would let her sleep when she
was left alone. She felt as
if she had never been quite so hungry before. “I wish I was as thin as you, Sara,” Ermengarde
said suddenly. “I
believe you are thinner than you used to be. Your eyes look so big,
and look at the sharp little bones sticking out of your elbow!” Sara pulled down her sleeve, which had pushed
itself up. “I always was a thin child,” she said bravely,
“and I always had big green eyes.” “I love your queer eyes,” said Ermengarde,
looking into them with affectionate admiration. “They always look as if they saw such a long
way. I love them, and I love them to be green,
though they look black generally.” “They are cat’s eyes,” laughed Sara; “but
I can’t see in the dark with them, because I have tried, and I couldn’t,
I wish I could.” It was just at this minute that something
happened at the skylight which neither of them saw. If either of them had chanced to turn and
look, she would have been startled by the sight of a dark face which
peered cautiously into the room and disappeared as quickly and almost
as silently as it had appeared. Not QUITE as silently, however. Sara,
who had keen ears, suddenly turned a little and looked up at the roof. “That didn’t sound like Melchisedec,” she
said. “It wasn’t scratchy
enough.” “What?” said Ermengarde, a little startled. “Didn’t you think you heard something?” asked
Sara. “N-no,” Ermengarde faltered. “Did you?” “Perhaps I didn’t,” said Sara; “but I thought
I did. It sounded as if
something was on the slates, something that dragged softly.” “What could it be?” said Ermengarde. “Could it be, robbers?” “No,” Sara began cheerfully. “There is nothing to steal,” She broke off in the middle of her words. They both heard the sound
that checked her. It was not on the slates, but on the stairs
below, and it was Miss Minchin’s angry voice. Sara sprang off the bed, and
put out the candle. “She is scolding Becky,” she whispered, as
she stood in the darkness. “She is making her cry.” “Will she come in here?” Ermengarde whispered back, panic-stricken. “No. She will think I am in bed. Don’t stir.” It was very seldom that Miss Minchin mounted
the last flight of stairs. Sara could only remember that she had done
it once before. But now she
was angry enough to be coming at least part of the way up, and it
sounded as if she was driving Becky before her. “You impudent, dishonest child!” they heard
her say. “Cook tells me
she has missed things repeatedly.” “‘T warn’t me, mum,” said Becky sobbing. “I was ‘ungry enough, but ‘t
warn’t me, never!” “You deserve to be sent to prison,” said Miss
Minchin’s voice. “Picking and stealing! Half a meat pie, indeed!” “‘T warn’t me,” wept Becky. “I could ‘ave eat a whole un, but I never
laid a finger on it.” Miss Minchin was out of breath between temper
and mounting the stairs. The meat pie had been intended for her special
late supper. It became
apparent that she boxed Becky’s ears. “Don’t tell falsehoods,” she said. “Go to your room this instant.” Both Sara and Ermengarde heard the slap, and
then heard Becky run in her slipshod shoes up the stairs and into
her attic. They heard her
door shut, and knew that she threw herself upon her bed. “I could ‘ave e’t two of ’em,” they heard
her cry into her pillow. “An’
I never took a bite. ‘Twas cook give it to her policeman.” Sara stood in the middle of the room in the
darkness. She was
clenching her little teeth and opening and shutting fiercely her
outstretched hands. She could scarcely stand still, but she dared
not move until Miss Minchin had gone down the
stairs and all was still. “The wicked, cruel thing!” she burst forth. “The cook takes things
herself and then says Becky steals them. She DOESN’T! She DOESN’T! She’s so hungry sometimes that she eats crusts
out of the ash barrel!” She pressed her hands hard against her face
and burst into passionate little sobs, and Ermengarde, hearing this
unusual thing, was overawed by it. Sara was crying! The unconquerable Sara! It seemed to denote
something new, some mood she had never known. Suppose, suppose, a new
dread possibility presented itself to her kind, slow, little mind all
at once. She crept off the bed in the dark and found
her way to the table where the candle stood. She struck a match and lit the candle. When she had lighted it, she bent forward
and looked at Sara, with her new thought growing to definite fear in her
eyes. “Sara,” she said in a timid, almost awe-stricken
voice, “are, are, you never told me, I don’t want to be rude, but,
are YOU ever hungry?” It was too much just at that moment. The barrier broke down. Sara
lifted her face from her hands. “Yes,” she said in a new passionate way. “Yes, I am. I’m so hungry
now that I could almost eat you. And it makes it worse to hear poor
Becky. She’s hungrier than I am.” Ermengarde gasped. “Oh, oh!” she cried woefully. “And I never knew!” “I didn’t want you to know,” Sara said. “It would have made me feel
like a street beggar. I know I look like a street beggar.” “No, you don’t, you don’t!” Ermengarde broke in. “Your clothes are a
little queer, but you couldn’t look like a street beggar. You haven’t
a street-beggar face.” “A little boy once gave me a sixpence for
charity,” said Sara, with a short little laugh in spite of herself. “Here it is.” And she pulled
out the thin ribbon from her neck. “He wouldn’t have given me his
Christmas sixpence if I hadn’t looked as if I needed it.” Somehow the sight of the dear little sixpence
was good for both of them. It made them laugh a little, though they both
had tears in their eyes. “Who was he?” asked Ermengarde, looking at
it quite as if it had not been a mere ordinary silver sixpence. “He was a darling little thing going to a
party,” said Sara. “He was
one of the Large Family, the little one with the round legs, the one I
call Guy Clarence. I suppose his nursery was crammed with Christmas
presents and hampers full of cakes and things, and he could see I had
nothing.” Ermengarde gave a little jump backward. The last sentences had
recalled something to her troubled mind and given her a sudden
inspiration. “Oh, Sara!” she cried. “What a silly thing I am not to have thought
of it!” “Of what?” “Something splendid!” said Ermengarde, in
an excited hurry. “This very
afternoon my nicest aunt sent me a box. It is full of good things. I
never touched it, I had so much pudding at dinner, and I was so
bothered about papa’s books.” Her words began to tumble over each
other. “It’s got cake in it, and little meat pies,
and jam tarts and buns, and oranges and red-currant wine, and
figs and chocolate. I’ll
creep back to my room and get it this minute, and we’ll eat it now.” Sara almost reeled. When one is faint with hunger the mention
of food has sometimes a curious effect. She clutched Ermengarde’s arm. “Do you think, you COULD?” she ejaculated. “I know I could,” answered Ermengarde, and
she ran to the door, opened it softly, put her head out into the darkness,
and listened. Then she
went back to Sara. “The lights are out. Everybody’s in bed. I can
creep, and creep, and no one will hear.” It was so delightful that they caught each
other’s hands and a sudden light sprang into Sara’s eyes. “Ermie!” she said. “Let us PRETEND! Let us pretend it’s a party! And
oh, won’t you invite the prisoner in the next cell?” “Yes! Yes! Let us knock on the wall now. The jailer won’t hear.” Sara went to the wall. Through it she could hear poor Becky crying
more softly. She knocked four times. “That means, ‘Come to me through the secret
passage under the wall,’ she explained. ‘I have something to communicate.'” Five quick knocks answered her. “She is coming,” she said. Almost immediately the door of the attic opened
and Becky appeared. Her
eyes were red and her cap was sliding off, and when she caught sight of
Ermengarde she began to rub her face nervously with her apron. “Don’t mind me a bit, Becky!” cried Ermengarde. “Miss Ermengarde has asked you to come in,”
said Sara, “because she is going to bring a box of good things up here
to us.” Becky’s cap almost fell off entirely, she
broke in with such excitement. “To eat, miss?” she said. “Things that’s good to eat?” “Yes,” answered Sara, “and we are going to
pretend a party.” “And you shall have as much as you WANT to
eat,” put in Ermengarde. “I’ll go this minute!” She was in such haste that as she tiptoed
out of the attic she dropped her red shawl and did not know it had fallen. No one saw it for a
minute or so. Becky was too much overpowered by the good
luck which had befallen her. “Oh, miss! oh, miss!” she gasped; “I know
it was you that asked her to let me come. It, it makes me cry to think of it.” And she went to
Sara’s side and stood and looked at her worshipingly. But in Sara’s hungry eyes the old light had
begun to glow and transform her world for her. Here in the attic, with the cold night
outside, with the afternoon in the sloppy streets barely passed, with
the memory of the awful unfed look in the beggar child’s eyes not yet
faded, this simple, cheerful thing had happened like a thing of magic. She caught her breath. “Somehow, something always happens,” she cried,
“just before things get to the very worst. It is as if the Magic did it. If I could only just
remember that always. The worst thing never QUITE comes.” She gave Becky a little cheerful shake. “No, no! You mustn’t cry!” she said. “We must make haste and set the
table.” “Set the table, miss?” said Becky, gazing
round the room. “What’ll we
set it with?” Sara looked round the attic, too. “There doesn’t seem to be much,” she answered,
half laughing. That moment she saw something and pounced
upon it. It was Ermengarde’s
red shawl which lay upon the floor. “Here’s the shawl,” she cried. “I know she won’t mind it. It will make
such a nice red tablecloth.” They pulled the old table forward, and threw
the shawl over it. Red is
a wonderfully kind and comfortable colour. It began to make the room
look furnished directly. “How nice a red rug would look on the floor!”
exclaimed Sara. “We must
pretend there is one!” Her eye swept the bare boards with a swift
glance of admiration. The
rug was laid down already. “How soft and thick it is!” she said, with
the little laugh which Becky knew the meaning of; and she raised and set
her foot down again delicately, as if she felt something under
it. “Yes, miss,” answered Becky, watching her
with serious rapture. She
was always quite serious. “What next, now?” said Sara, and she stood
still and put her hands over her eyes. “Something will come if I think and wait a
little”, in a soft, expectant voice. “The Magic will tell me.” One of her favourite fancies was that on “the
outside,” as she called it, thoughts were waiting for people to call
them. Becky had seen her
stand and wait many a time before, and knew that in a few seconds she
would uncover an enlightened, laughing face. In a moment she did. “There!” she cried. “It has come! I know now! I must look among the
things in the old trunk I had when I was a princess.” She flew to its corner and kneeled down. It had not been put in the
attic for her benefit, but because there was no room for it elsewhere. Nothing had been left in it but rubbish. But she knew she should find
something. The Magic always arranged that kind of thing
in one way or another. In a corner lay a package so insignificant-looking
that it had been overlooked, and when she herself had found
it she had kept it as a relic. It contained a dozen small white handkerchiefs. She seized
them joyfully and ran to the table. She began to arrange them upon the
red table-cover, patting and coaxing them into shape with the narrow
lace edge curling outward, her Magic working its spells for her as she
did it. “These are the plates,” she said. “They are golden plates. These are
the richly embroidered napkins. Nuns worked them in convents in Spain.” “Did they, miss?” breathed Becky, her very soul uplifted by
the information. “You must pretend it,” said Sara. “If you pretend it enough, you will
see them.” “Yes, miss,” said Becky; and as Sara returned
to the trunk she devoted herself to the effort of accomplishing an
end so much to be desired. Sara turned suddenly to find her standing
by the table, looking very queer indeed. She had shut her eyes, and was twisting her
face in strange convulsive contortions, her hands
hanging stiffly clenched at her sides. She looked as if she was trying to lift some
enormous weight. “What is the matter, Becky?” Sara cried. “What are you doing?” Becky opened her eyes with a start. “I was a-‘pretendin’,’ miss,” she answered
a little sheepishly; “I was tryin’ to see it like you do. I almost did,” with a hopeful grin. “But
it takes a lot o’ stren’th.” “Perhaps it does if you are not used to it,”
said Sara, with friendly sympathy; “but you don’t know how easy it
is when you’ve done it often. I wouldn’t try so hard just at first. It will come to you after a
while. I’ll just tell you what things are. Look at these.” She held an old summer hat in her hand which
she had fished out of the bottom of the trunk. There was a wreath of flowers on it. She pulled
the wreath off. “These are garlands for the feast,” she said
grandly. “They fill all
the air with perfume. There’s a mug on the wash-stand, Becky. Oh, and
bring the soap dish for a centrepiece.” Becky handed them to her reverently. “What are they now, miss?” she inquired. “You’d think they was made of
crockery, but I know they ain’t.” “This is a carven flagon,” said Sara, arranging
tendrils of the wreath about the mug. “And this”, bending tenderly over the soap
dish and heaping it with roses, “is purest alabaster
encrusted with gems.” She touched the things gently, a happy smile
hovering about her lips which made her look as if she were a creature
in a dream. “My, ain’t it lovely!” whispered Becky. “If we just had something for bonbon dishes,”
Sara murmured. “There!”, darting to the trunk again. “I remember I saw something this
minute.” It was only a bundle of wool wrapped in red
and white tissue paper, but the tissue paper was soon twisted into the
form of little dishes, and was combined with the remaining flowers to
ornament the candlestick which was to light the feast. Only the Magic could have made it more
than an old table covered with a red shawl and set with rubbish from a
long-unopened trunk. But Sara drew back and gazed at it, seeing
wonders; and Becky, after staring in delight, spoke with bated breath. “This ‘ere,” she suggested, with a glance
round the attic, “is it the Bastille now, or has it turned into somethin’
different?” “Oh, yes, yes!” said Sara. “Quite different. It is a banquet hall!” “My eye, miss!” ejaculated Becky. “A blanket ‘all!” and she turned to
view the splendours about her with awed bewilderment. “A banquet hall,” said Sara. “A vast chamber where feasts are given. It has a vaulted roof, and a minstrels’ gallery,
and a huge chimney filled with blazing oaken logs, and it is
brilliant with waxen tapers twinkling on every side.” “My eye, Miss Sara!” gasped Becky again. Then the door opened, and Ermengarde came
in, rather staggering under the weight of her hamper. She started back with an exclamation of joy. To enter from the chill darkness outside,
and find one’s self confronted by a totally unanticipated festal
board, draped with red, adorned with white napery, and wreathed with
flowers, was to feel that the preparations were brilliant indeed. “Oh, Sara!” she cried out. “You are the cleverest girl I ever saw!” “Isn’t it nice?” said Sara. “They are things out of my old trunk. I
asked my Magic, and it told me to go and look.” “But oh, miss,” cried Becky, “wait till she’s
told you what they are! They ain’t just, oh, miss, please tell her,”
appealing to Sara. So Sara told her, and because her Magic helped
her she made her ALMOST see it all: the golden platters, the vaulted
spaces, the blazing logs, the twinkling waxen tapers. As the things were taken out of the
hamper, the frosted cakes, the fruits, the bonbons and the wine, the
feast became a splendid thing. “It’s like a real party!” cried Ermengarde. “It’s like a queen’s table,” sighed Becky. Then Ermengarde had a sudden brilliant thought. “I’ll tell you what, Sara,” she said. “Pretend you are a princess now
and this is a royal feast.” “But it’s your feast,” said Sara; “you must
be the princess, and we will be your maids of honour.” “Oh, I can’t,” said Ermengarde. “I’m too fat, and I don’t know how. YOU be her.” “Well, if you want me to,” said Sara. But suddenly she thought of something else
and ran to the rusty grate. “There is a lot of paper and rubbish stuffed
in here!” she exclaimed. “If we light it, there will be a bright blaze
for a few minutes, and we shall feel as if it was a real fire.” She struck a match and lighted
it up with a great specious glow which illuminated the room. “By the time it stops blazing,” Sara said,
“we shall forget about its not being real.” She stood in the dancing glow and smiled. “Doesn’t it LOOK real?” she said. “Now we will begin the party.” She led the way to the table. She waved her hand graciously to
Ermengarde and Becky. She was in the midst of her dream. “Advance, fair damsels,” she said in her happy
dream-voice, “and be seated at the banquet table. My noble father, the king, who is absent
on a long journey, has commanded me to feast you.” She turned her head
slightly toward the corner of the room. “What, ho, there, minstrels! Strike up with your viols and bassoons. Princesses,” she explained
rapidly to Ermengarde and Becky, “always had minstrels to play at their
feasts. Pretend there is a minstrel gallery up there
in the corner. Now we will begin.” They had barely had time to take their pieces
of cake into their hands, not one of them had time to do more,
when, they all three sprang to their feet and turned pale faces toward
the door, listening, listening. Someone was coming up the stairs. There was no mistake about it. Each
of them recognised the angry, mounting tread and knew that the end of
all things had come. “It’s, the missus!” choked Becky, and dropped
her piece of cake upon the floor. “Yes,” said Sara, her eyes growing shocked
and large in her small white face. “Miss Minchin has found us out.” Miss Minchin struck the door open with a blow
of her hand. She was pale
herself, but it was with rage. She looked from the frightened faces to
the banquet table, and from the banquet table to the last flicker of
the burnt paper in the grate. “I have been suspecting something of this
sort,” she exclaimed; “but I did not dream of such audacity. Lavinia was telling the truth.” So they knew that it was Lavinia who had somehow
guessed their secret and had betrayed them. Miss Minchin strode over to Becky and boxed
her ears for a second time. “You impudent creature!” she said. “You leave the house in the
morning!” Sara stood quite still, her eyes growing larger,
her face paler. Ermengarde burst into tears. “Oh, don’t send her away,” she sobbed. “My aunt sent me the hamper. We’re, only, having a party.” “So I see,” said Miss Minchin, witheringly. “With the Princess Sara at
the head of the table.” She turned fiercely on Sara. “It is your
doing, I know,” she cried. “Ermengarde would never have thought of
such a thing. You decorated the table, I suppose, with this
rubbish.” She stamped her foot at Becky. “Go to your attic!” she commanded, and
Becky stole away, her face hidden in her apron, her shoulders shaking. Then it was Sara’s turn again. “I will attend to you tomorrow. You shall have neither breakfast,
dinner, nor supper!” “I have not had either dinner or supper today,
Miss Minchin,” said Sara, rather faintly. “Then all the better. You will have something to remember. Don’t
stand there. Put those things into the hamper again.” She began to sweep them off the table into
the hamper herself, and caught sight of Ermengarde’s new books. “And you”, to Ermengarde, “have brought your
beautiful new books into this dirty attic. Take them up and go back to bed. You will stay
there all day tomorrow, and I shall write to your papa. What would HE
say if he knew where you are tonight?” Something she saw in Sara’s grave, fixed gaze
at this moment made her turn on her fiercely. “What are you thinking of?” she demanded. “Why do you look at me like
that?” “I was wondering,” answered Sara, as she had
answered that notable day in the schoolroom. “What were you wondering?” It was very like the scene in the schoolroom. There was no pertness in
Sara’s manner. It was only sad and quiet. “I was wondering,” she said in a low voice,
“what MY papa would say if he knew where I am tonight.” Miss Minchin was infuriated just as she had
been before and her anger expressed itself, as before, in an intemperate
fashion. She flew at
her and shook her. “You insolent, unmanageable child!” she cried. “How dare you! How
dare you!” She picked up the books, swept the rest of
the feast back into the hamper in a jumbled heap, thrust it into Ermengarde’s
arms, and pushed her before her toward the door. “I will leave you to wonder,” she said. “Go to bed this instant.” And
she shut the door behind herself and poor stumbling Ermengarde, and
left Sara standing quite alone. The dream was quite at an end. The last spark had died out of the
paper in the grate and left only black tinder; the table was left bare,
the golden plates and richly embroidered napkins, and the garlands were
transformed again into old handkerchiefs, scraps of red and white
paper, and discarded artificial flowers all scattered on the floor; the
minstrels in the minstrel gallery had stolen away, and the viols and
bassoons were still. Emily was sitting with her back against the
wall, staring very hard. Sara saw her, and went and picked her up with
trembling hands. “There isn’t any banquet left, Emily,” she
said. “And there isn’t any
princess. There is nothing left but the prisoners in
the Bastille.” And she sat down and hid her face. What would have happened if she had not hidden
it just then, and if she had chanced to look up at the skylight at
the wrong moment, I do not know, perhaps the end of this chapter might
have been quite different, because if she had glanced at the
skylight she would certainly have been startled by what she would
have seen. She would
have seen exactly the same face pressed against the glass and peering
in at her as it had peered in earlier in the evening when she had been
talking to Ermengarde. But she did not look up. She sat with her little black head in her
arms for some time. She always sat like that when she was trying
to bear something in silence. Then she got up and went slowly to the bed. “I can’t pretend anything else, while I am
awake,” she said. “There
wouldn’t be any use in trying. If I go to sleep, perhaps a dream will
come and pretend for me.” She suddenly felt so tired, perhaps through
want of food, that she sat down on the edge of the bed quite weakly. “Suppose there was a bright fire in the grate,
with lots of little dancing flames,” she murmured. “Suppose there was a comfortable chair
before it, and suppose there was a small table near, with a little
hot, hot supper on it. And suppose”, as she drew the thin coverings
over her, “suppose this was a beautiful soft bed, with fleecy blankets
and large downy pillows. Suppose, suppose, ” And her very weariness
was good to her, for her eyes closed and she fell fast asleep. She did not know how long she slept. But she had been tired enough to
sleep deeply and profoundly, too deeply and soundly to be disturbed by
anything, even by the squeaks and scamperings of Melchisedec’s entire
family, if all his sons and daughters had chosen to come out of their
hole to fight and tumble and play. When she awakened it was rather suddenly,
and she did not know that any particular thing had called her out of her
sleep. The truth was,
however, that it was a sound which had called her back, a real
sound, the click of the skylight as it fell in closing after a lithe
white figure which slipped through it and crouched down close by upon
the slates of the roof, just near enough to see what happened in the
attic, but not near enough to be seen. At first she did not open her eyes. She felt too sleepy and, curiously
enough, too warm and comfortable. She was so warm and comfortable,
indeed, that she did not believe she was really awake. She never was as
warm and cozy as this except in some lovely vision. “What a nice dream!” she murmured. “I feel quite warm. I, don’t, want, to, wake, up.” Of course it was a dream. She felt as if warm, delightful bedclothes
were heaped upon her. She could actually FEEL blankets, and when
she put out her hand it touched something exactly
like a satin-covered eider-down quilt. She must not awaken from this delight, she
must be quite still and make it last. But she could not, even though she kept her
eyes closed tightly, she could not. Something was forcing her to awaken, something
in the room. It was a sense of light, and a sound, the
sound of a crackling, roaring little fire. “Oh, I am awakening,” she said mournfully. “I can’t help it, I can’t.” Her eyes opened in spite of herself. And then she actually smiled, for
what she saw she had never seen in the attic before, and knew she never
should see. “Oh, I HAVEN’T awakened,” she whispered, daring
to rise on her elbow and look all about her. “I am dreaming yet.” She knew it MUST be a
dream, for if she were awake such things could not, could not be. Do you wonder that she felt sure she had not
come back to earth? This
is what she saw. In the grate there was a glowing, blazing
fire; on the hob was a little brass kettle hissing
and boiling; spread upon the floor was a thick, warm crimson rug; before
the fire a folding-chair, unfolded, and with cushions on it; by the
chair a small folding-table, unfolded, covered with a white cloth, and
upon it spread small covered dishes, a cup, a saucer, a teapot; on the
bed were new warm coverings and a satin-covered down quilt; at the foot
a curious wadded silk robe, a pair of quilted slippers, and some books. The room of her dream
seemed changed into fairyland, and it was flooded with warm light, for
a bright lamp stood on the table covered with a rosy shade. She sat up, resting on her elbow, and her
breathing came short and fast. “It does not, melt away,” she panted. “Oh, I never had such a dream
before.” She scarcely dared to stir; but at last she
pushed the bedclothes aside, and put her feet on the
floor with a rapturous smile. “I am dreaming, I am getting out of bed,”
she heard her own voice say; and then, as she stood up in the midst of
it all, turning slowly from side to side, “I am dreaming it stays, real! I’m dreaming it FEELS
real. It’s bewitched, or I’m bewitched. I only THINK I see it all.” Her words began to hurry themselves. “If I can only keep on thinking
it,” she cried, “I don’t care! I don’t care!” She stood panting a moment longer, and then
cried out again. “Oh, it isn’t true!” she said. “It CAN’T be true! But oh, how true it
seems!” The blazing fire drew her to it, and she knelt
down and held out her hands close to it, so close that the heat
made her start back. “A fire I only dreamed wouldn’t be HOT,” she
cried. She sprang up, touched the table, the dishes,
the rug; she went to the bed and touched the blankets. She took up the soft wadded
dressing-gown, and suddenly clutched it to her breast and held it to
her cheek. “It’s warm. It’s soft!” she almost sobbed. “It’s real. It must be!” She threw it over her shoulders, and put her
feet into the slippers. “They are real, too. It’s all real!” she cried. “I am NOT, I am NOT
dreaming!” She almost staggered to the books and opened
the one which lay upon the top. Something was written on the flyleaf, just
a few words, and they were these: “To the little girl in the attic. From a friend.” When she saw that, wasn’t it a strange thing
for her to do, she put her face down upon the page and burst into tears. “I don’t know who it is,” she said; “but somebody
cares for me a little. I have a friend.” She took her candle and stole out of her own
room and into Becky’s, and stood by her bedside. “Becky, Becky!” she whispered as loudly as
she dared. “Wake up!” When Becky wakened, and she sat upright staring
aghast, her face still smudged with traces of tears, beside her stood
a little figure in a luxurious wadded robe of crimson silk. The face she saw was a shining,
wonderful thing. The Princess Sara, as she remembered her,
stood at her very bedside, holding a candle in her
hand. “Come,” she said. “Oh, Becky, come!” Becky was too frightened to speak. She simply got up and followed her,
with her mouth and eyes open, and without a word. And when they crossed the threshold, Sara
shut the door gently and drew her into the warm, glowing midst of things
which made her brain reel and her hungry senses faint. “It’s true! It’s true!” she cried. “I’ve touched them all. They are as real as we are. The Magic has come
and done it, Becky, while we were asleep, the Magic that won’t let
those worst things EVER quite happen.” End of Chapter 15 Chapter 16 The Visitor Imagine, if you can, what the rest of the
evening was like. How they
crouched by the fire which blazed and leaped and made so much of itself
in the little grate. How they removed the covers of the dishes,
and found rich, hot, savoury soup, which was a
meal in itself, and sandwiches and toast and muffins enough for
both of them. The mug from
the washstand was used as Becky’s tea cup, and the tea was so delicious
that it was not necessary to pretend that it was anything but tea. They were warm and full-fed and happy, and
it was just like Sara that, having found her strange good fortune real,
she should give herself up to the enjoyment of it to the utmost. She had lived such a life of
imaginings that she was quite equal to accepting any wonderful thing
that happened, and almost to cease, in a short time, to find it
bewildering. “I don’t know anyone in the world who could
have done it,” she said; “but there has been someone. And here we are sitting by their
fire, and, and, it’s true! And whoever it is, wherever they are, I
have a friend, Becky, someone is my friend.” It cannot be denied that as they sat before
the blazing fire, and ate the nourishing, comfortable food, they felt
a kind of rapturous awe, and looked into each other’s eyes with something
like doubt. “Do you think,” Becky faltered once, in a
whisper, “do you think it could melt away, miss? Hadn’t we better be quick?” And she hastily
crammed her sandwich into her mouth. If it was only a dream, kitchen
manners would be overlooked. “No, it won’t melt away,” said Sara. “I am EATING this muffin, and I
can taste it. You never really eat things in dreams. You only think
you are going to eat them. Besides, I keep giving myself pinches; and
I touched a hot piece of coal just now, on purpose.” The sleepy comfort which at length almost
overpowered them was a heavenly thing. It was the drowsiness of happy, well-fed childhood,
and they sat in the fire glow and luxuriated in it until Sara found
herself turning to look at her transformed bed. There were even blankets enough to share with
Becky. The narrow couch
in the next attic was more comfortable that night than its occupant had
ever dreamed that it could be. As she went out of the room, Becky turned
upon the threshold and looked about her with devouring eyes. “If it ain’t here in the mornin’, miss,” she
said, “it’s been here tonight, anyways, an’ I shan’t never forget
it.” She looked at each
particular thing, as if to commit it to memory. “The fire was THERE”,
pointing with her finger, “an’ the table was before it; an’ the lamp
was there, an’ the light looked rosy red; an’ there was a satin cover
on your bed, an’ a warm rug on the floor, an’ everythin’ looked
beautiful; an'”, she paused a second, and laid her hand on her stomach
tenderly, “there WAS soup an’ sandwiches an’ muffins, there WAS.” And,
with this conviction a reality at least, she went away. Through the mysterious agency which works
in schools and among servants, it was quite well known in the morning
that Sara Crewe was in horrible disgrace, that Ermengarde was under
punishment, and that Becky would have been packed out of the house before
breakfast, but that a scullery maid could not be dispensed with
at once. The servants knew
that she was allowed to stay because Miss Minchin could not easily find
another creature helpless and humble enough to work like a bounden
slave for so few shillings a week. The elder girls in the schoolroom
knew that if Miss Minchin did not send Sara away it was for practical
reasons of her own. “She’s growing so fast and learning such a
lot, somehow,” said Jessie to Lavinia, “that she will be given classes
soon, and Miss Minchin knows she will have to work for nothing. It was rather nasty of you,
Lavvy, to tell about her having fun in the garret. How did you find it
out?” “I got it out of Lottie. She’s such a baby she didn’t know she was
telling me. There was nothing nasty at all in speaking
to Miss Minchin. I felt it my duty”, priggishly. “She was being deceitful. And it’s ridiculous that she should look so
grand, and be made so much of, in her rags and tatters!” “What were they doing when Miss Minchin caught
them?” “Pretending some silly thing. Ermengarde had taken up her hamper to
share with Sara and Becky. She never invites us to share things. Not
that I care, but it’s rather vulgar of her to share with servant girls
in attics. I wonder Miss Minchin didn’t turn Sara out,
even if she does want her for a teacher.” “If she was turned out where would she go?”
inquired Jessie, a trifle anxiously. “How do I know?” snapped Lavinia. “She’ll look rather queer when she
comes into the schoolroom this morning, I should think, after what’s
happened. She had no dinner yesterday, and she’s not
to have any today.” Jessie was not as ill-natured as she was silly. She picked up her book
with a little jerk. “Well, I think it’s horrid,” she said. “They’ve no right to starve her
to death.” When Sara went into the kitchen that morning
the cook looked askance at her, and so did the housemaids; but she passed
them hurriedly. She had,
in fact, overslept herself a little, and as Becky had done the same,
neither had had time to see the other, and each had come downstairs in
haste. Sara went into the scullery. Becky was violently scrubbing a kettle,
and was actually gurgling a little song in her throat. She looked up
with a wildly elated face. “It was there when I wakened, miss, the blanket,”
she whispered excitedly. “It was as real as it was last night.” “So was mine,” said Sara. “It is all there now, all of it. While I
was dressing I ate some of the cold things we left.” “Oh, laws! Oh, laws!” Becky uttered the exclamation in a sort of
rapturous groan, and ducked her head over her kettle just in time, as
the cook came in from the kitchen. Miss Minchin had expected to see in Sara,
when she appeared in the schoolroom, very much what Lavinia had expected
to see. Sara had always
been an annoying puzzle to her, because severity never made her cry or
look frightened. When she was scolded she stood still and listened
politely with a grave face; when she was punished she performed her
extra tasks or went without her meals, making no complaint or outward
sign of rebellion. The very fact that she never made an impudent
answer seemed to Miss Minchin a kind of impudence in itself. But after
yesterday’s deprivation of meals, the violent scene of last night, the
prospect of hunger today, she must surely have broken down. It would
be strange indeed if she did not come downstairs with pale cheeks and
red eyes and an unhappy, humbled face. Miss Minchin saw her for the first time when
she entered the schoolroom to hear the little French class recite its
lessons and superintend its exercises. And she came in with a springing step, colour
in her cheeks, and a smile hovering about the corners of
her mouth. It was the most
astonishing thing Miss Minchin had ever known. It gave her quite a
shock. What was the child made of? What could such a thing mean? She
called her at once to her desk. “You do not look as if you realise that you
are in disgrace,” she said. “Are you absolutely hardened?” The truth is that when one is still a child,
or even if one is grown up, and has been well fed, and has slept long
and softly and warm; when one has gone to sleep in the midst of a fairy
story, and has wakened to find it real, one cannot be unhappy or even
look as if one were; and one could not, if one tried, keep a glow of
joy out of one’s eyes. Miss
Minchin was almost struck dumb by the look of Sara’s eyes when she made
her perfectly respectful answer. “I beg your pardon, Miss Minchin,” she said;
“I know that I am in disgrace.” “Be good enough not to forget it and look
as if you had come into a fortune. It is an impertinence. And remember you are to have no food
today.” “Yes, Miss Minchin,” Sara answered; but as
she turned away her heart leaped with the memory of what yesterday had
been. “If the Magic had
not saved me just in time,” she thought, “how horrible it would have
been!” “She can’t be very hungry,” whispered Lavinia. “Just look at her. Perhaps she is pretending she has had a good
breakfast”, with a spiteful laugh. “She’s different from other people,” said
Jessie, watching Sara with her class. “Sometimes I’m a bit frightened of her.” “Ridiculous thing!” ejaculated Lavinia. All through the day the light was in Sara’s
face, and the colour in her cheek. The servants cast puzzled glances at her,
and whispered to each other, and Miss Amelia’s small blue eyes wore
an expression of bewilderment. What such an audacious look of well-being,
under august displeasure could mean she could not understand. It was, however, just
like Sara’s singular obstinate way. She was probably determined to
brave the matter out. One thing Sara had resolved upon, as she thought
things over. The
wonders which had happened must be kept a secret, if such a thing were
possible. If Miss Minchin should choose to mount to
the attic again, of course all would be discovered. But it did not seem likely that she
would do so for some time at least, unless she was led by suspicion. Ermengarde and Lottie would be watched with
such strictness that they would not dare to steal out of their beds
again. Ermengarde could be
told the story and trusted to keep it secret. If Lottie made any
discoveries, she could be bound to secrecy also. Perhaps the Magic
itself would help to hide its own marvels. “But whatever happens,” Sara kept saying to
herself all day, “WHATEVER happens, somewhere in the world there is a
heavenly kind person who is my friend, my friend. If I never know who it is, if I never can
even thank him, I shall never feel quite so lonely. Oh, the Magic was GOOD
to me!” If it was possible for weather to be worse
than it had been the day before, it was worse this day, wetter, muddier,
colder. There were
more errands to be done, the cook was more irritable, and, knowing that
Sara was in disgrace, she was more savage. But what does anything
matter when one’s Magic has just proved itself one’s friend. Sara’s
supper of the night before had given her strength, she knew that she
should sleep well and warmly, and, even though she had naturally begun
to be hungry again before evening, she felt that she could bear it
until breakfast-time on the following day, when her meals would surely
be given to her again. It was quite late when she was at last allowed
to go upstairs. She had been told to go into the schoolroom
and study until ten o’clock, and she had become interested
in her work, and remained over her books later. When she reached the top flight of stairs
and stood before the attic door, it must be confessed that her heart
beat rather fast. “Of course it MIGHT all have been taken away,”
she whispered, trying to be brave. “It might only have been lent to me for just
that one awful night. But it WAS lent to me, I had it. It was real.” She pushed the door open and went in. Once inside, she gasped
slightly, shut the door, and stood with her back against it looking
from side to side. The Magic had been there again. It actually had, and it had done even
more than before. The fire was blazing, in lovely leaping flames,
more merrily than ever. A number of new things had been brought into
the attic which so altered the look of it that
if she had not been past doubting she would have rubbed her eyes. Upon the low table another
supper stood, this time with cups and plates for Becky as well as
herself; a piece of bright, heavy, strange embroidery covered the
battered mantel, and on it some ornaments had been placed. All the
bare, ugly things which could be covered with draperies had been
concealed and made to look quite pretty. Some odd materials of rich
colours had been fastened against the wall with fine, sharp tacks, so
sharp that they could be pressed into the wood and plaster without
hammering. Some brilliant fans were pinned up, and there
were several large cushions, big and substantial enough
to use as seats. A wooden
box was covered with a rug, and some cushions lay on it, so that it
wore quite the air of a sofa. Sara slowly moved away from the door and simply
sat down and looked and looked again. “It is exactly like something fairy come true,”
she said. “There isn’t
the least difference. I feel as if I might wish for anything, diamonds
or bags of gold, and they would appear! THAT wouldn’t be any stranger
than this. Is this my garret? Am I the same cold, ragged, damp Sara? And to think I used to pretend and pretend
and wish there were fairies! The one thing I always wanted was to see a
fairy story come true. I am
LIVING in a fairy story. I feel as if I might be a fairy myself, and
able to turn things into anything else.” She rose and knocked upon the wall for the
prisoner in the next cell, and the prisoner came. When she entered she almost dropped in a heap
upon the floor. For a
few seconds she quite lost her breath. “Oh, laws!” she gasped. “Oh, laws, miss!” “You see,” said Sara. On this night Becky sat on a cushion upon
the hearth rug and had a cup and saucer of her own. When Sara went to bed she found that she had
a new thick mattress and big downy pillows. Her old mattress and pillow had been removed
to Becky’s bedstead, and, consequently, with
these additions Becky had been supplied with unheard-of comfort. “Where does it all come from?” Becky broke forth once. “Laws, who does
it, miss?” “Don’t let us even ASK,” said Sara. “If it were not that I want to
say, ‘Oh, thank you,’ I would rather not know. It makes it more
beautiful.” From that time life became more wonderful
day by day. The fairy story
continued. Almost every day something new was done. Some new comfort
or ornament appeared each time Sara opened the door at night, until in
a short time the attic was a beautiful little room full of all sorts of
odd and luxurious things. The ugly walls were gradually entirely
covered with pictures and draperies, ingenious pieces of folding
furniture appeared, a bookshelf was hung up and filled with books, new
comforts and conveniences appeared one by one, until there seemed
nothing left to be desired. When Sara went downstairs in the morning,
the remains of the supper were on the table; and when she returned to
the attic in the evening, the magician had removed them and left
another nice little meal. Miss Minchin was as harsh and insulting as
ever, Miss Amelia as peevish, and the servants were as vulgar and rude. Sara was sent on errands in all weathers,
and scolded and driven hither and thither; she was scarcely allowed to speak
to Ermengarde and Lottie; Lavinia sneered at the increasing
shabbiness of her clothes; and the other girls stared curiously at her
when she appeared in the schoolroom. But what did it all matter while she was living
in this wonderful mysterious story? It was more romantic and delightful than
anything she had ever invented to comfort her starved young soul and
save herself from despair. Sometimes, when she was scolded, she could
scarcely keep from smiling. “If you only knew!” she was saying to herself. “If you only knew!” The comfort and happiness she enjoyed were
making her stronger, and she had them always to look forward to. If she came home from her errands
wet and tired and hungry, she knew she would soon be warm and well fed
after she had climbed the stairs. During the hardest day she could
occupy herself blissfully by thinking of what she should see when she
opened the attic door, and wondering what new delight had been prepared
for her. In a very short time she began to look less
thin. colour came
into her cheeks, and her eyes did not seem so much too big for her face. “Sara Crewe looks wonderfully well,” Miss
Minchin remarked disapprovingly to her sister. “Yes,” answered poor, silly Miss Amelia. “She is absolutely fattening. She was beginning to look like a little starved
crow.” “Starved!” exclaimed Miss Minchin, angrily. “There was no reason why
she should look starved. She always had plenty to eat!” “Of, of course,” agreed Miss Amelia, humbly,
alarmed to find that she had, as usual, said the wrong thing. “There is something very disagreeable in seeing
that sort of thing in a child of her age,” said Miss Minchin, with
haughty vagueness. “What, sort of thing?” Miss Amelia ventured. “It might almost be called defiance,” answered
Miss Minchin, feeling annoyed because she knew the thing she resented
was nothing like defiance, and she did not know what other
unpleasant term to use. “The
spirit and will of any other child would have been entirely humbled and
broken by, by the changes she has had to submit to. But, upon my word,
she seems as little subdued as if, as if she were a princess.” “Do you remember,” put in the unwise Miss
Amelia, “what she said to you that day in the schoolroom about what you
would do if you found out that she was, ” “No, I don’t,” said Miss Minchin. “Don’t talk nonsense.” But she
remembered very clearly indeed. Very naturally, even Becky was beginning to
look plumper and less frightened. She could not help it. She had her share in the secret
fairy story, too. She had two mattresses, two pillows, plenty
of bed-covering, and every night a hot supper
and a seat on the cushions by the fire. The Bastille had melted away, the prisoners
no longer existed. Two comforted children sat in the midst of
delights. Sometimes Sara read aloud from her books,
sometimes she learned her own lessons, sometimes she sat and looked into
the fire and tried to imagine who her friend could be, and wished
she could say to him some of the things in her heart. Then it came about that another wonderful
thing happened. A man came to
the door and left several parcels. All were addressed in large
letters, “To the Little Girl in the right-hand attic.” Sara herself was sent to open the door and
take them in. She laid the
two largest parcels on the hall table, and was looking at the address,
when Miss Minchin came down the stairs and saw her. “Take the things to the young lady to whom
they belong,” she said severely. “Don’t stand there staring at them. “They belong to me,” answered Sara, quietly. “To you?” exclaimed Miss Minchin. “What do you mean?” “I don’t know where they come from,” said
Sara, “but they are addressed to me. I sleep in the right-hand attic. Becky has the other one.” Miss Minchin came to her side and looked at
the parcels with an excited expression. “What is in them?” she demanded. “I don’t know,” replied Sara. “Open them,” she ordered. Sara did as she was told. When the packages were unfolded Miss
Minchin’s countenance wore suddenly a singular expression. What she
saw was pretty and comfortable clothing, clothing of different kinds:
shoes, stockings, and gloves, and a warm and beautiful coat. There were
even a nice hat and an umbrella. They were all good and expensive
things, and on the pocket of the coat was pinned a paper, on which were
written these words: “To be worn every day. Will be replaced by others
when necessary.” Miss Minchin was quite agitated. This was an incident which suggested
strange things to her sordid mind. Could it be that she had made a
mistake, after all, and that the neglected child had some powerful
though eccentric friend in the background, perhaps some previously
unknown relation, who had suddenly traced her whereabouts, and chose to
provide for her in this mysterious and fantastic way? Relations were
sometimes very odd, particularly rich old bachelor uncles, who did not
care for having children near them. A man of that sort might prefer to
overlook his young relation’s welfare at a distance. Such a person,
however, would be sure to be crotchety and hot-tempered enough to be
easily offended. It would not be very pleasant if there were
such a one, and he should learn all the truth about
the thin, shabby clothes, the scant food, and the hard work. She felt very queer indeed, and
very uncertain, and she gave a side glance at Sara. “Well,” she said, in a voice such as she had
never used since the little girl lost her father, “someone is very
kind to you. As the
things have been sent, and you are to have new ones when they are worn
out, you may as well go and put them on and look respectable. After you
are dressed you may come downstairs and learn your lessons in the
schoolroom. You need not go out on any more errands today.” About half an hour afterward, when the schoolroom
door opened and Sara walked in, the entire seminary was struck
dumb. “My word!” ejaculated Jessie, jogging Lavinia’s
elbow. “Look at the
Princess Sara!” Everybody was looking, and when Lavinia looked
she turned quite red. It was the Princess Sara indeed. At least, since the days when she had
been a princess, Sara had never looked as she did now. She did not
seem the Sara they had seen come down the back stairs a few hours ago. She was dressed in the kind of frock Lavinia
had been used to envying her the possession of. It was deep and warm in colour, and beautifully
made. Her slender feet looked as they had done when
Jessie had admired them, and the hair, whose heavy locks had
made her look rather like a Shetland pony when it fell loose about her
small, odd face, was tied back with a ribbon. “Perhaps someone has left her a fortune,”
Jessie whispered. “I always
thought something would happen to her. She’s so queer.” “Perhaps the diamond mines have suddenly appeared
again,” said Lavinia, scathingly. “Don’t please her by staring at her in that
way, you silly thing.” “Sara,” broke in Miss Minchin’s deep voice,
“come and sit here.” And while the whole schoolroom stared and
pushed with elbows, and scarcely made any effort to conceal its excited
curiosity, Sara went to her old seat of honour, and bent her head
over her books. That night, when she went to her room, after
she and Becky had eaten their supper she sat and looked at the fire
seriously for a long time. “Are you making something up in your head,
miss?” Becky inquired with
respectful softness. When Sara sat in silence and looked into the
coals with dreaming eyes it generally meant that she was making a new
story. But this time she was not, and she shook her
head. “No,” she answered. “I am wondering what I ought to do.” Becky stared, still respectfully. She was filled with something
approaching reverence for everything Sara did and said. “I can’t help thinking about my friend,” Sara
explained. “If he wants
to keep himself a secret, it would be rude to try and find out who he
is. But I do so want him to know how thankful
I am to him, and how happy he has made me. Anyone who is kind wants to know when people
have been made happy. They care for that more than for being thanked. I wish, I do wish, ” She stopped short because her eyes at that
instant fell upon something standing on a table in a corner. It was something she had found in the
room when she came up to it only two days before. It was a little
writing-case fitted with paper and envelopes and pens and ink. “Oh,” she exclaimed, “why did I not think
of that before?” She rose and went to the corner and brought
the case back to the fire. “I can write to him,” she said joyfully, “and
leave it on the table. Then perhaps the person who takes the things
away will take it, too. I
won’t ask him anything. He won’t mind my thanking him, I feel sure.” So she wrote a note. This is what she said: I hope you will not think it is impolite that
I should write this note to you when you wish to keep yourself a secret. Please believe I do
not mean to be impolite or try to find out anything at all; only I want
to thank you for being so kind to me, so heavenly kind, and making
everything like a fairy story. I am so grateful to you, and I am so
happy, and so is Becky. Becky feels just as thankful as I do, it is
all just as beautiful and wonderful to her as it is to me. We used to
be so lonely and cold and hungry, and now, oh, just think what you have
done for us! Please let me say just these words. It seems as if I
OUGHT to say them. THANK you, THANK you, THANK you! THE LITTLE GIRL IN THE ATTIC. The next morning she left this on the little
table, and in the evening it had been taken away with the other things;
so she knew the Magician had received it, and she was happier for the
thought. She was reading
one of her new books to Becky just before they went to their respective
beds, when her attention was attracted by a sound at the skylight. When she looked up from her page she saw that
Becky had heard the sound also, as she had turned her head to look and
was listening rather nervously. “Something’s there, miss,” she whispered. “Yes,” said Sara, slowly. “It sounds, rather like a cat, trying to get
in.” She left her chair and went to the skylight. It was a queer little
sound she heard, like a soft scratching. She suddenly remembered
something and laughed. She remembered a quaint little intruder who
had made his way into the attic once before. She had seen him that very
afternoon, sitting disconsolately on a table before a window in the
Indian gentleman’s house. “Suppose,” she whispered in pleased excitement,
“just suppose it was the monkey who got away again. Oh, I wish it was!” She climbed on a chair, very cautiously raised
the skylight, and peeped out. It had been snowing all day, and on the snow,
quite near her, crouched a tiny, shivering figure, whose small
black face wrinkled itself piteously at sight of her. “It is the monkey,” she cried out. “He has crept out of the Lascar’s
attic, and he saw the light.” Becky ran to her side. “Are you going to let him in, miss?” she said. “Yes,” Sara answered joyfully. “It’s too cold for monkeys to be out. They’re delicate. I’ll coax him in.” She put a hand out delicately, speaking in
a coaxing voice, as she spoke to the sparrows and to Melchisedec,
as if she were some friendly little animal herself. “Come along, monkey darling,” she said. “I won’t hurt you.” He knew she would not hurt him. He knew it before she laid her soft,
caressing little paw on him and drew him towards her. He had felt human
love in the slim brown hands of Ram Dass, and he felt it in hers. He
let her lift him through the skylight, and when he found himself in her
arms he cuddled up to her breast and looked up into her face. “Nice monkey! Nice monkey!” she crooned, kissing his funny
head. “Oh,
I do love little animal things.” He was evidently glad to get to the fire,
and when she sat down and held him on her knee he looked from her to
Becky with mingled interest and appreciation. “He IS plain-looking, miss, ain’t he?” said
Becky. “He looks like a very ugly baby,” laughed
Sara. “I beg your pardon,
monkey; but I’m glad you are not a baby. Your mother COULDN’T be proud
of you, and no one would dare to say you looked like any of your
relations. Oh, I do like you!” She leaned back in her chair and reflected. “Perhaps he’s sorry he’s so ugly,” she said,
“and it’s always on his mind. I wonder if he HAS a mind. Monkey, my love, have you a mind?” But the monkey only put up a tiny paw and
scratched his head. “What shall you do with him?” Becky asked. “I shall let him sleep with me tonight, and
then take him back to the Indian gentleman tomorrow. I am sorry to take you back, monkey; but
you must go. You ought to be fondest of your own family;
and I’m not a REAL relation.” And when she went to bed she made him a nest
at her feet, and he curled up and slept there as if he were a baby and
much pleased with his quarters. End of Chapter 16 Chapter 17 “It Is the Child!” The next afternoon three members of the Large
Family sat in the Indian gentleman’s library, doing their best to cheer
him up. They had been
allowed to come in to perform this office because he had specially
invited them. He had been living in a state of suspense
for some time, and today he was waiting for a certain event
very anxiously. This
event was the return of Mr. Carmichael from Moscow. His stay there had
been prolonged from week to week. On his first arrival there, he had
not been able satisfactorily to trace the family he had gone in search
of. When he felt at last sure that he had found
them and had gone to their house, he had been told that they were
absent on a journey. His
efforts to reach them had been unavailing, so he had decided to remain
in Moscow until their return. Mr. Carrisford sat in his reclining
chair, and Janet sat on the floor beside him. He was very fond of
Janet. Nora had found a footstool, and Donald was
astride the tiger’s head which ornamented the rug made of the
animal’s skin. It must be
owned that he was riding it rather violently. “Don’t chirrup so loud, Donald,” Janet said. “When you come to cheer
an ill person up you don’t cheer him up at the top of your voice. Perhaps cheering up is too loud, Mr. Carrisford?” turning to the Indian
gentleman. But he only patted her shoulder. “No, it isn’t,” he answered. “And it keeps me from thinking too much.” “I’m going to be quiet,” Donald shouted. “We’ll all be as quiet as
mice.” “Mice don’t make a noise like that,” said
Janet. Donald made a bridle of his handkerchief and
bounced up and down on the tiger’s head. “A whole lot of mice might,” he said cheerfully. “A thousand mice
might.” “I don’t believe fifty thousand mice would,”
said Janet, severely; “and we have to be as quiet as one mouse.” Mr. Carrisford laughed and patted her shoulder
again. “Papa won’t be very long now,” she said. “May we talk about the lost
little girl?” “I don’t think I could talk much about anything
else just now,” the Indian gentleman answered, knitting his forehead
with a tired look. “We like her so much,” said Nora. “We call her the little un-fairy
princess.” “Why?” the Indian gentleman inquired, because
the fancies of the Large Family always made him forget things a little. It was Janet who answered. “It is because, though she is not exactly
a fairy, she will be so rich when she is found that she will be like a
princess in a fairy tale. We
called her the fairy princess at first, but it didn’t quite suit.” “Is it true,” said Nora, “that her papa gave
all his money to a friend to put in a mine that had diamonds in it,
and then the friend thought he had lost it all and ran away because he
felt as if he was a robber?” “But he wasn’t really, you know,” put in Janet,
hastily. The Indian gentleman took hold of her hand
quickly. “No, he wasn’t really,” he said. “I am sorry for the friend,” Janet said; “I
can’t help it. He didn’t
mean to do it, and it would break his heart. I am sure it would break
his heart.” “You are an understanding little woman, Janet,”
the Indian gentleman said, and he held her hand close. “Did you tell Mr. Carrisford,” Donald shouted
again, “about the little-girl-who-isn’t-a-beggar? Did you tell him she has new nice
clothes? P’r’aps she’s been found by somebody when
she was lost.” “There’s a cab!” exclaimed Janet. “It’s stopping before the door. It
is papa!” They all ran to the windows to look out. “Yes, it’s papa,” Donald proclaimed. “But there is no little girl.” All three of them incontinently fled from
the room and tumbled into the hall. It was in this way they always welcomed their
father. They were
to be heard jumping up and down, clapping their hands, and being caught
up and kissed. Mr. Carrisford made an effort to rise and
sank back again. “It is no use,” he said. “What a wreck I am!” Mr. Carmichael’s voice approached the door. “No, children,” he was saying; “you may come
in after I have talked to Mr. Carrisford. Go and play with Ram Dass.” Then the door opened and he came in. He looked rosier than ever, and
brought an atmosphere of freshness and health with him; but his eyes
were disappointed and anxious as they met the invalid’s look of eager
question even as they grasped each other’s hands. “What news?” Mr. Carrisford asked. “The child the Russian people
adopted?” “She is not the child we are looking for,”
was Mr. Carmichael’s answer. “She is much younger than Captain Crewe’s
little girl. Her name is
Emily Carew. I have seen and talked to her. The Russians were able to
give me every detail.” How wearied and miserable the Indian gentleman
looked! His hand
dropped from Mr. Carmichael’s. “Then the search has to be begun over again,”
he said. “That is all. Please sit down.” Mr. Carmichael took a seat. Somehow, he had gradually grown fond of
this unhappy man. He was himself so well and happy, and so surrounded
by cheerfulness and love, that desolation and broken health seemed
pitifully unbearable things. If there had been the sound of just one
gay little high-pitched voice in the house, it would have been so much
less forlorn. And that a man should be compelled to carry
about in his breast the thought that he had seemed to wrong
and desert a child was not a thing one could face. “Come, come,” he said in his cheery voice;
“we’ll find her yet.” “We must begin at once. No time must be lost,” Mr. Carrisford fretted. “Have you any new suggestion to make, any
whatsoever?” Mr. Carmichael felt rather restless, and he
rose and began to pace the room with a thoughtful, though uncertain face. “Well, perhaps,” he said. “I don’t know what it may be worth. The
fact is, an idea occurred to me as I was thinking the thing over in the
train on the journey from Dover.” “What was it? If she is alive, she is somewhere.” “Yes; she is SOMEWHERE. We have searched the schools in Paris. Let us
give up Paris and begin in London. That was my idea, to search London.” “There are schools enough in London,” said
Mr. Carrisford. Then he
slightly started, roused by a recollection. “By the way, there is one
next door.” “Then we will begin there. We cannot begin nearer than next door.” “No,” said Carrisford. “There is a child there who interests me;
but she is not a pupil. And she is a little dark, forlorn creature,
as unlike poor Crewe as a child could be.” Perhaps the Magic was at work again at that
very moment, the beautiful Magic. It really seemed as if it might be so. What was it that brought
Ram Dass into the room, even as his master spoke, salaaming
respectfully, but with a scarcely concealed touch of excitement in his
dark, flashing eyes? “Sahib,” he said, “the child herself has come,
the child the sahib felt pity for. She brings back the monkey who had again run
away to her attic under the roof. I have asked that she remain. It was my thought
that it would please the sahib to see and speak with her.” “Who is she?” inquired Mr. Carmichael. “God knows,” Mr. Carrrisford answered. “She is the child I spoke of. A
little drudge at the school.” He waved his hand to Ram Dass, and
addressed him. “Yes, I should like to see her. Go and bring her in.” Then he turned to Mr. Carmichael. “While you have been away,” he
explained, “I have been desperate. The days were so dark and long. Ram
Dass told me of this child’s miseries, and together we invented a
romantic plan to help her. I suppose it was a childish thing to do;
but it gave me something to plan and think of. Without the help of an
agile, soft-footed Oriental like Ram Dass, however, it could not have
been done.” Then Sara came into the room. She carried the monkey in her arms, and
he evidently did not intend to part from her, if it could be helped. He was clinging to her and chattering, and
the interesting excitement of finding herself in the Indian gentleman’s
room had brought a flush to Sara’s cheeks. “Your monkey ran away again,” she said, in
her pretty voice. “He came
to my garret window last night, and I took him in because it was so
cold. I would have brought him back if it had not
been so late. I knew
you were ill and might not like to be disturbed.” The Indian gentleman’s hollow eyes dwelt on
her with curious interest. “That was very thoughtful of you,” he said. Sara looked toward Ram Dass, who stood near
the door. “Shall I give him to the Lascar?” she asked. “How do you know he is a Lascar?” said the
Indian gentleman, smiling a little. “Oh, I know Lascars,” Sara said, handing over
the reluctant monkey. “I
was born in India.” The Indian gentleman sat upright so suddenly,
and with such a change of expression, that she was for a moment quite
startled. “You were born in India,” he exclaimed, “were
you? Come here.” And he
held out his hand. Sara went to him and laid her hand in his,
as he seemed to want to take it. She stood still, and her green-grey eyes met
his wonderingly. Something seemed to be the matter with him. “You live next door?” he demanded. “Yes; I live at Miss Minchin’s seminary.” “But you are not one of her pupils?” A strange little smile hovered about Sara’s
mouth. She hesitated a
moment. “I don’t think I know exactly WHAT I am,”
she replied. “Why not?” “At first I was a pupil, and a parlour boarder;
but now, ” “You were a pupil! What are you now?” The queer little sad smile was on Sara’s lips
again. “I sleep in the attic, next to the scullery
maid,” she said. “I run
errands for the cook, I do anything she tells me; and I teach the
little ones their lessons.” “Question her, Carmichael,” said Mr. Carrisford,
sinking back as if he had lost his strength. “Question her; I cannot.” The big, kind father of the Large Family knew
how to question little girls. Sara realised how much practice he had had
when he spoke to her in his nice, encouraging voice. “What do you mean by ‘At first,’ my child?”
he inquired. “When I was first taken there by my papa.” “Where is your papa?” “He died,” said Sara, very quietly. “He lost all his money and there
was none left for me. There was no one to take care of me or to
pay Miss Minchin.” “Carmichael!” the Indian gentleman cried out
loudly. “Carmichael!” “We must not frighten her,” Mr. Carmichael
said aside to him in a quick, low voice. And he added aloud to Sara, “So you were sent
up into the attic, and made into a little drudge. That was about it,
wasn’t it?” “There was no one to take care of me,” said
Sara. “There was no money;
I belong to nobody.” “How did your father lose his money?” the Indian gentleman broke in
breathlessly. “He did not lose it himself,” Sara answered,
wondering still more each moment. “He had a friend he was very fond of, he was
very fond of him. It was his friend who took his money. He trusted his friend too much.” The Indian gentleman’s breath came more quickly. “The friend might have MEANT to do no harm,”
he said. “It might have
happened through a mistake.” Sara did not know how unrelenting her quiet
young voice sounded as she answered. If she had known, she would surely have tried
to soften it for the Indian gentleman’s sake. “The suffering was just as bad for my papa,”
she said. “It killed him.” “What was your father’s name?” the Indian
gentleman said. “Tell me.” “His name was Ralph Crewe,” Sara answered,
feeling startled. “Captain
Crewe. He died in India.” The haggard face contracted, and Ram Dass
sprang to his master’s side. “Carmichael,” the invalid gasped, “it is the
child, the child!” For a moment Sara thought he was going to
die. Ram Dass poured out
drops from a bottle, and held them to his lips. Sara stood near,
trembling a little. She looked in a bewildered way at Mr. Carmichael. “What child am I?” she faltered. “He was your father’s friend,” Mr. Carmichael
answered her. “Don’t be
frightened. We have been looking for you for two years.” Sara put her hand up to her forehead, and
her mouth trembled. She
spoke as if she were in a dream. “And I was at Miss Minchin’s all the while,”
she half whispered. “Just
on the other side of the wall.” End of Chapter 17 Chapter 18 “I Tried Not to Be” It was pretty, comfortable Mrs. Carmichael
who explained everything. She was sent for at once, and came across
the square to take Sara into her warm arms and make clear to her all that
had happened. The
excitement of the totally unexpected discovery had been temporarily
almost overpowering to Mr. Carrisford in his weak condition. “Upon my word,” he said faintly to Mr. Carmichael,
when it was suggested that the little girl should go into
another room. “I feel as
if I do not want to lose sight of her.” “I will take care of her,” Janet said, “and
mamma will come in a few minutes.” And it was Janet who led her away. “We’re so glad you are found,” she said. “You don’t know how glad we
are that you are found.” Donald stood with his hands in his pockets,
and gazed at Sara with reflecting and self-reproachful eyes. “If I’d just asked what your name was when
I gave you my sixpence,” he said, “you would have told me it was Sara
Crewe, and then you would have been found in a minute.” Then Mrs. Carmichael came in. She looked
very much moved, and suddenly took Sara in her arms and kissed her. “You look bewildered, poor child,” she said. “And it is not to be
wondered at.” Sara could only think of one thing. “Was he,” she said, with a glance toward the
closed door of the library, “was HE the wicked friend? Oh, do tell me!” Mrs. Carmichael was crying as she kissed her
again. She felt as if she
ought to be kissed very often because she had not been kissed for so
long. “He was not wicked, my dear,” she answered. “He did not really lose
your papa’s money. He only thought he had lost it; and because
he loved him so much his grief made him so ill
that for a time he was not in his right mind. He almost died of brain fever, and long before
he began to recover your poor papa was dead.” “And he did not know where to find me,” murmured
Sara. “And I was so
near.” Somehow, she could not forget that she had
been so near. “He believed you were in school in France,”
Mrs. Carmichael explained. “And he was continually misled by false clues. He has looked for you
everywhere. When he saw you pass by, looking so sad and
neglected, he did not dream that you were his friend’s poor
child; but because you were a little girl, too, he was sorry for
you, and wanted to make you happier. And he told Ram Dass to climb into your attic
window and try to make you comfortable.” Sara gave a start of joy; her whole look changed. “Did Ram Dass bring the things?” she cried
out. “Did he tell Ram Dass
to do it? Did he make the dream that came true?” “Yes, my dear, yes! He is kind and good, and he was sorry for
you, for little lost Sara Crewe’s sake.” The library door opened and Mr. Carmichael
appeared, calling Sara to him with a gesture. “Mr. Carrisford is better already,” he said. “He wants you to come to
him.” Sara did not wait. When the Indian gentleman looked at her as
she entered, he saw that her face was all alight. She went and stood before his chair, with
her hands clasped together against her breast. “You sent the things to me,” she said, in
a joyful emotional little voice, “the beautiful, beautiful things? YOU sent them!” “Yes, poor, dear child, I did,” he answered
her. He was weak and
broken with long illness and trouble, but he looked at her with the
look she remembered in her father’s eyes, that look of loving her and
wanting to take her in his arms. It made her kneel down by him, just
as she used to kneel by her father when they were the dearest friends
and lovers in the world. “Then it is you who are my friend,” she said;
“it is you who are my friend!” And she dropped her face on his thin hand
and kissed it again and again. “The man will be himself again in three weeks,”
Mr. Carmichael said aside to his wife. “Look at his face already.” In fact, he did look changed. Here was the “Little Missus,” and he had
new things to think of and plan for already. In the first place, there
was Miss Minchin. She must be interviewed and told of the change
which had taken place in the fortunes of her pupil. Sara was not to return to the seminary at
all. The Indian gentleman
was very determined upon that point. She must remain where she was,
and Mr. Carmichael should go and see Miss Minchin himself. “I am glad I need not go back,” said Sara. “She will be very angry. She does not like me; though perhaps it is
my fault, because I do not like her.” But, oddly enough, Miss Minchin made it unnecessary
for Mr. Carmichael to go to her, by actually coming in search
of her pupil herself. She
had wanted Sara for something, and on inquiry had heard an astonishing
thing. One of the housemaids had seen her steal out
of the area with something hidden under her cloak, and had
also seen her go up the steps of the next door and enter the house. “What does she mean!” cried Miss Minchin to
Miss Amelia. “I don’t know, I’m sure, sister,” answered
Miss Amelia. “Unless she
has made friends with him because he has lived in India.” “It would be just like her to thrust herself
upon him and try to gain his sympathies in some such impertinent fashion,”
said Miss Minchin. “She must have been in the house for two hours. I will not allow such
presumption. I shall go and inquire into the matter, and
apologise for her intrusion.” Sara was sitting on a footstool close to Mr.
Carrisford’s knee, and listening to some of the many things he felt
it necessary to try to explain to her, when Ram Dass announced the
visitor’s arrival. Sara rose involuntarily, and became rather
pale; but Mr. Carrisford saw that she stood quietly, and showed none of
the ordinary signs of child terror. Miss Minchin entered the room with a sternly
dignified manner. She was
correctly and well dressed, and rigidly polite. “I am sorry to disturb Mr. Carrisford,” she
said; “but I have explanations to make. I am Miss Minchin, the proprietress of the
Young Ladies’ Seminary next door.” The Indian gentleman looked at her for a moment
in silent scrutiny. He
was a man who had naturally a rather hot temper, and he did not wish it
to get too much the better of him. “So you are Miss Minchin?” he said. “I am, sir.” “In that case,” the Indian gentleman replied,
“you have arrived at the right time. My solicitor, Mr. Carmichael, was just on
the point of going to see you.” Mr. Carmichael bowed slightly, and Miss Minchin
looked from him to Mr. Carrisford in amazement. “Your solicitor!” she said. “I do not understand. I have come here as
a matter of duty. I have just discovered that you have been
intruded upon through the forwardness of one of my
pupils, a charity pupil. I
came to explain that she intruded without my knowledge.” She turned
upon Sara. “Go home at once,” she commanded indignantly. “You shall be
severely punished. Go home at once.” The Indian gentleman drew Sara to his side
and patted her hand. “She is not going.” Miss Minchin felt rather as if she must be
losing her senses. “Not going!” she repeated. “No,” said Mr. Carrisford. “She is not going home, if you give your
house that name. Her home for the future will be with me.” Miss Minchin fell back in amazed indignation. “With YOU! With YOU sir! What does this mean?” “Kindly explain the matter, Carmichael,” said
the Indian gentleman; “and get it over as quickly as possible.” And he made Sara sit down
again, and held her hands in his, which was another trick of her papa’s. Then Mr. Carmichael explained, in the quiet,
level-toned, steady manner of a man who knew his subject, and all its
legal significance, which was a thing Miss Minchin understood as a business
woman, and did not enjoy. “Mr. Carrisford, madam,” he said, “was an
intimate friend of the late Captain Crewe. He was his partner in certain large investments. The
fortune which Captain Crewe supposed he had lost has been recovered,
and is now in Mr. Carrisford’s hands.” “The fortune!” cried Miss Minchin; and she
really lost colour as she uttered the exclamation. “Sara’s fortune!” “It WILL be Sara’s fortune,” replied Mr. Carmichael,
rather coldly. “It
is Sara’s fortune now, in fact. Certain events have increased it
enormously. The diamond mines have retrieved themselves.” “The diamond mines!” Miss Minchin gasped out. If this was true,
nothing so horrible, she felt, had ever happened to her since she was
born. “The diamond mines,” Mr. Carmichael repeated,
and he could not help adding, with a rather sly, unlawyer-like smile,
“There are not many princesses, Miss Minchin, who are richer than
your little charity pupil, Sara Crewe, will be. Mr. Carrisford has been searching for her
for nearly two years; he has found her at last, and he will keep her.” After which he asked Miss Minchin to sit down
while he explained matters to her fully, and went into such detail
as was necessary to make it quite clear to her that Sara’s future
was an assured one, and that what had seemed to be lost was to be
restored to her tenfold; also, that she had in Mr. Carrisford a guardian
as well as a friend. Miss Minchin was not a clever woman, and in
her excitement she was silly enough to make one desperate effort
to regain what she could not help seeing she had lost through her worldly
folly. “He found her under my care,” she protested. “I have done everything
for her. But for me she should have starved in the
streets.” Here the Indian gentleman lost his temper. “As to starving in the streets,” he said,
“she might have starved more comfortably there than in your attic.” “Captain Crewe left her in my charge,” Miss
Minchin argued. “She must
return to it until she is of age. She can be a parlour boarder again. She must finish her education. The law will interfere in my behalf.” “Come, come, Miss Minchin,” Mr. Carmichael
interposed, “the law will do nothing of the sort. If Sara herself wishes to return to you, I
dare say Mr. Carrisford might not refuse to allow
it. But that rests with
Sara.” “Then,” said Miss Minchin, “I appeal to Sara. I have not spoiled you,
perhaps,” she said awkwardly to the little girl; “but you know that
your papa was pleased with your progress. And, ahem, I have always been
fond of you.” Sara’s green-grey eyes fixed themselves on
her with the quiet, clear look Miss Minchin particularly disliked. “Have YOU, Miss Minchin?” she said. “I did not know that.” Miss Minchin reddened and drew herself up. “You ought to have known it,” said she; “but
children, unfortunately, never know what is best for them. Amelia and I always said you were
the cleverest child in the school. Will you not do your duty to your
poor papa and come home with me?” Sara took a step toward her and stood still. She was thinking of the
day when she had been told that she belonged to nobody, and was in
danger of being turned into the street; she was thinking of the cold,
hungry hours she had spent alone with Emily and Melchisedec in the
attic. She looked Miss Minchin steadily in the face. “You know why I will not go home with you,
Miss Minchin,” she said; “you know quite well.” A hot flush showed itself on Miss Minchin’s
hard, angry face. “You will never see your companions again,”
she began. “I will see
that Ermengarde and Lottie are kept away, ” Mr. Carmichael stopped her with polite firmness. “Excuse me,” he said; “she will see anyone
she wishes to see. The
parents of Miss Crewe’s fellow-pupils are not likely to refuse her
invitations to visit her at her guardian’s house. Mr. Carrisford will
attend to that.” It must be confessed that even Miss Minchin
flinched. This was worse
than the eccentric bachelor uncle who might have a peppery temper and
be easily offended at the treatment of his niece. A woman of sordid
mind could easily believe that most people would not refuse to allow
their children to remain friends with a little heiress of diamond
mines. And if Mr. Carrisford chose to tell certain
of her patrons how unhappy Sara Crewe had been made, many unpleasant
things might happen. “You have not undertaken an easy charge,”
she said to the Indian gentleman, as she turned to leave the room;
“you will discover that very soon. The child is neither truthful nor grateful. I suppose”, to
Sara, “that you feel now that you are a princess again.” Sara looked down and flushed a little, because
she thought her pet fancy might not be easy for strangers, even
nice ones, to understand at first. “I, TRIED not to be anything else,” she answered
in a low voice, “even when I was coldest and hungriest, I tried
not to be.” “Now it will not be necessary to try,” said
Miss Minchin, acidly, as Ram Dass salaamed her out of the room. She returned home and, going to her sitting
room, sent at once for Miss Amelia. She sat closeted with her all the rest of
the afternoon, and it must be admitted that poor Miss Amelia
passed through more than one bad quarter of an hour. She shed a good many tears, and mopped her
eyes a good deal. One of her unfortunate remarks almost caused
her sister to snap her head entirely off, but
it resulted in an unusual manner. “I’m not as clever as you, sister,” she said,
“and I am always afraid to say things to you for fear of making you
angry. Perhaps if I were
not so timid it would be better for the school and for both of us. I
must say I’ve often thought it would have been better if you had been
less severe on Sara Crewe, and had seen that she was decently dressed
and more comfortable. I KNOW she was worked too hard for a child
of her age, and I know she was only half fed, ” “How dare you say such a thing!” exclaimed
Miss Minchin. “I don’t know how I dare,” Miss Amelia answered,
with a kind of reckless courage; “but now I’ve begun I may
as well finish, whatever happens to me. The child was a clever child and a good child,
and she would have paid you for any kindness you had
shown her. But you didn’t
show her any. The fact was, she was too clever for you,
and you always disliked her for that reason. She used to see through us both, ” “Amelia!” gasped her infuriated elder, looking
as if she would box her ears and knock her cap off, as she had often
done to Becky. But Miss Amelia’s disappointment had made
her hysterical enough not to care what occurred next. “She did! She did!” she cried. “She saw through us both. She saw that
you were a hard-hearted, worldly woman, and that I was a weak fool, and
that we were both of us vulgar and mean enough to grovel on our knees
for her money, and behave ill to her because it was taken from
her, though she behaved herself like a little princess even when she
was a beggar. She did, she did, like a little princess!” And her
hysterics got the better of the poor woman, and she began to laugh and
cry both at once, and rock herself backward and forward. “And now you’ve lost her,” she cried wildly;
“and some other school will get her and her money; and if she were
like any other child she’d tell how she’s been treated, and all our pupils
would be taken away and we should be ruined. And it serves us right; but it serves you
right more than it does me, for you are a hard woman,
Maria Minchin, you’re a hard, selfish, worldly woman!” And she was in danger of making so much noise
with her hysterical chokes and gurgles that her sister was obliged
to go to her and apply salts and sal volatile to quiet her, instead
of pouring forth her indignation at her audacity. And from that time forward, it may be mentioned,
the elder Miss Minchin actually began to stand a little in awe of
a sister who, while she looked so foolish, was evidently not quite
so foolish as she looked, and might, consequently, break out and speak
truths people did not want to hear. That evening, when the pupils were gathered
together before the fire in the schoolroom, as was their custom before
going to bed, Ermengarde came in with a letter in her hand and a queer
expression on her round face. It was queer because, while it was an expression
of delighted excitement, it was combined with such amazement
as seemed to belong to a kind of shock just received. “What IS the matter?” cried two or three voices at once. “Is it anything to do with the row that has
been going on?” said Lavinia, eagerly. “There has been such a row in Miss Minchin’s
room, Miss Amelia has had something like hysterics
and has had to go to bed.” Ermengarde answered them slowly as if she
were half stunned. “I have just had this letter from Sara,” she
said, holding it out to let them see what a long letter it was. “From Sara!” Every voice joined in that exclamation. “Where is she?” almost shrieked Jessie. “Next door,” said Ermengarde, “with the Indian
gentleman.” “Where? Where? Has she been sent away? Does Miss Minchin know? Was
the row about that? Why did she write? Tell us! Tell us!” There was a perfect babel, and Lottie began
to cry plaintively. Ermengarde answered them slowly as if she
were half plunged out into what, at the moment, seemed the most important
and self-explaining thing. “There WERE diamond mines,” she said stoutly;
“there WERE!” Open mouths
and open eyes confronted her. “They were real,” she hurried on. “It was all a mistake about them. Something happened for a time, and Mr. Carrisford
thought they were ruined, ” “Who is Mr. Carrisford?” shouted Jessie. “The Indian gentleman. And Captain Crewe thought so, too, and he
died; and Mr. Carrisford had brain fever and ran
away, and HE almost died. And he did not know where Sara was. And it turned out that there were
millions and millions of diamonds in the mines; and half of them belong
to Sara; and they belonged to her when she was living in the attic with
no one but Melchisedec for a friend, and the cook ordering her about. And Mr. Carrisford found her this afternoon,
and he has got her in his home, and she will never come back, and she
will be more a princess than she ever was, a hundred and fifty thousand
times more. And I am
going to see her tomorrow afternoon. There!” Even Miss Minchin herself could scarcely have
controlled the uproar after this; and though she heard the noise,
she did not try. She was
not in the mood to face anything more than she was facing in her room,
while Miss Amelia was weeping in bed. She knew that the news had
penetrated the walls in some mysterious manner, and that every servant
and every child would go to bed talking about it. So until almost midnight the entire seminary,
realising somehow that all rules were laid aside, crowded round Ermengarde
in the schoolroom and heard read and re-read the letter containing
a story which was quite as wonderful as any Sara herself had
ever invented, and which had the amazing charm of having happened to Sara
herself and the mystic Indian gentleman in the very next house. Becky, who had heard it also, managed to creep
up stairs earlier than usual. She wanted to get away from people and go
and look at the little magic room once more. She did not know what would happen to it. It was not likely that it would be left to
Miss Minchin. It would be
taken away, and the attic would be bare and empty again. Glad as she
was for Sara’s sake, she went up the last flight of stairs with a lump
in her throat and tears blurring her sight. There would be no fire
tonight, and no rosy lamp; no supper, and no princess sitting in the
glow reading or telling stories, no princess! She choked down a sob as she pushed the attic
door open, and then she broke into a low cry. The lamp was flushing the room, the fire was
blazing, the supper was waiting; and Ram Dass was standing smiling
into her startled face. “Missee sahib remembered,” he said. “She told the sahib all. She
wished you to know the good fortune which has befallen her. Behold a
letter on the tray. She has written. She did not wish that you should
go to sleep unhappy. The sahib commands you to come to him tomorrow. You are to be the attendant of missee sahib. Tonight I take these
things back over the roof.” And having said this with a beaming face,
he made a little salaam and slipped through the skylight with an agile
silentness of movement which showed Becky how easily he had done it before. End of Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Anne Never had such joy reigned in the nursery
of the Large Family. Never
had they dreamed of such delights as resulted from an intimate
acquaintance with the little-girl-who-was-not-a-beggar. The mere fact
of her sufferings and adventures made her a priceless possession. Everybody wanted to be told over and over
again the things which had happened to her. When one was sitting by a warm fire in a big,
glowing room, it was quite delightful to hear how
cold it could be in an attic. It must be admitted that the attic was rather
delighted in, and that its coldness and bareness quite sank into
insignificance when Melchisedec was remembered, and one heard
about the sparrows and things one could see if one climbed on the table
and stuck one’s head and shoulders out of the skylight. Of course the thing loved best was the story
of the banquet and the dream which was true. Sara told it for the first time the day after
she had been found. Several members of the Large Family came to
take tea with her, and as they sat or curled up
on the hearth-rug she told the story in her own way, and the Indian gentleman
listened and watched her. When she had finished she looked up at him
and put her hand on his knee. “That is my part,” she said. “Now won’t you tell your part of it,
Uncle Tom?” He had asked her to call him always “Uncle
Tom.” “I don’t
know your part yet, and it must be beautiful.” So he told them how, when he sat alone, ill
and dull and irritable, Ram Dass had tried to distract him by describing
the passers by, and there was one child who passed oftener than any
one else; he had begun to be interested in her, partly perhaps because
he was thinking a great deal of a little girl, and partly because Ram Dass
had been able to relate the incident of his visit to the attic in
chase of the monkey. He had
described its cheerless look, and the bearing of the child, who seemed
as if she was not of the class of those who were treated as drudges and
servants. Bit by bit, Ram Dass had made discoveries
concerning the wretchedness of her life. He had found out how easy a matter it was
to climb across the few yards of roof to the
skylight, and this fact had been the beginning of all that followed. “Sahib,” he had said one day, “I could cross
the slates and make the child a fire when she is out on some errand. When she returned, wet
and cold, to find it blazing, she would think a magician had done it.” The idea had been so fanciful that Mr. Carrisford’s
sad face had lighted with a smile, and Ram Dass had been
so filled with rapture that he had enlarged upon it and explained to his
master how simple it would be to accomplish numbers of other things. He had shown a childlike
pleasure and invention, and the preparations for the carrying out of
the plan had filled many a day with interest which would otherwise have
dragged wearily. On the night of the frustrated banquet Ram
Dass had kept watch, all his packages being in readiness
in the attic which was his own; and the person who was to help him
had waited with him, as interested as himself in the odd adventure. Ram Dass had been lying
flat upon the slates, looking in at the skylight, when the banquet had
come to its disastrous conclusion; he had been sure of the profoundness
of Sara’s wearied sleep; and then, with a dark lantern, he had crept
into the room, while his companion remained outside and handed the
things to him. When Sara had stirred ever so faintly, Ram
Dass had closed the lantern-slide and lain flat upon
the floor. These and many
other exciting things the children found out by asking a thousand
questions. “I am so glad,” Sara said. “I am so GLAD it was you who were my friend!” There never were such friends as these two
became. Somehow, they
seemed to suit each other in a wonderful way. The Indian gentleman had
never had a companion he liked quite as much as he liked Sara. In a
month’s time he was, as Mr. Carmichael had prophesied he would be, a
new man. He was always amused and interested, and he
began to find an actual pleasure in the possession of the wealth
he had imagined that he loathed the burden of. There were so many charming things to plan
for Sara. There was a little joke between them that
he was a magician, and it was one of his pleasures to invent things
to surprise her. She
found beautiful new flowers growing in her room, whimsical little gifts
tucked under pillows, and once, as they sat together in the evening,
they heard the scratch of a heavy paw on the door, and when Sara went
to find out what it was, there stood a great dog, a splendid Russian
boarhound, with a grand silver and gold collar bearing an inscription. “I am Boris,” it read; “I serve the Princess
Sara.” There was nothing the Indian gentleman loved
more than the recollection of the little princess in rags and tatters. The afternoons in which
the Large Family, or Ermengarde and Lottie, gathered to rejoice
together were very delightful. But the hours when Sara and the Indian
gentleman sat alone and read or talked had a special charm of their
own. During their passing many interesting things
occurred. One evening, Mr. Carrisford, looking up from
his book, noticed that his companion had not stirred for some time, but
sat gazing into the fire. “What are you ‘supposing,’ Sara?” he asked. Sara looked up, with a bright colour on her
cheek. “I WAS supposing,” she said; “I was remembering
that hungry day, and a child I saw.” “But there were a great many hungry days,”
said the Indian gentleman, with rather a sad tone in his voice. “Which hungry day was it?” “I forgot you didn’t know,” said Sara. “It was the day the dream came
true.” Then she told him the story of the bun shop,
and the fourpence she picked up out of the sloppy mud, and the child
who was hungrier than herself. She told it quite simply, and in as few words
as possible; but somehow the Indian gentleman found it
necessary to shade his eyes with his hand and look down at the carpet. “And I was supposing a kind of plan,” she
said, when she had finished. “I was thinking I should like to do something.” “What was it?” said Mr. Carrisford, in a low
tone. “You may do
anything you like to do, princess.” “I was wondering,” rather hesitated Sara,
“you know, you say I have so much money, I was wondering if I could go
to see the bun-woman, and tell her that if, when hungry children, particularly
on those dreadful days, come and sit on the steps, or look in
at the window, she would just call them in and give them something
to eat, she might send the bills to me. Could I do that?” “You shall do it tomorrow morning,” said the
Indian gentleman. “Thank you,” said Sara. “You see, I know what it is to be hungry,
and it is very hard when one cannot even PRETEND
it away.” “Yes, yes, my dear,” said the Indian gentleman. “Yes, yes, it must be. Try to forget it. Come and sit on this footstool near my knee,
and only remember you are a princess.” “Yes,” said Sara, smiling; “and I can give
buns and bread to the populace.” And she went and sat on the stool, and the
Indian gentleman (he used to like her to call him that, too,
sometimes) drew her small dark head down on his knee and stroked her
hair. The next morning, Miss Minchin, in looking
out of her window, saw the things she perhaps least enjoyed seeing. The Indian gentleman’s
carriage, with its tall horses, drew up before the door of the next
house, and its owner and a little figure, warm with soft, rich furs,
descended the steps to get into it. The little figure was a familiar
one, and reminded Miss Minchin of days in the past. It was followed by
another as familiar, the sight of which she found very irritating. It
was Becky, who, in the character of delighted attendant, always
accompanied her young mistress to her carriage, carrying wraps and
belongings. Already Becky had a pink, round face. A little later the carriage drew up before
the door of the baker’s shop, and its occupants got out, oddly enough,
just as the bun-woman was putting a tray of smoking-hot buns into
the window. When Sara entered the shop the woman turned
and looked at her, and, leaving the buns, came and stood behind the
counter. For a moment she
looked at Sara very hard indeed, and then her good-natured face lighted
up. “I’m sure that I remember you, miss,” she
said. “And yet, ” “Yes,” said Sara; “once you gave me six buns
for fourpence, and, ” “And you gave five of ’em to a beggar child,”
the woman broke in on her. “I’ve always remembered it. I couldn’t make it out at first.” She
turned round to the Indian gentleman and spoke her next words to him. “I beg your pardon, sir, but there’s not many
young people that notices a hungry face in that way; and I’ve thought
of it many a time. Excuse
the liberty, miss,”, to Sara, “but you look rosier and, well, better
than you did that, that, ” “I am better, thank you,” said Sara. “And, I am much happier, and I
have come to ask you to do something for me.” “Me, miss!” exclaimed the bun-woman, smiling
cheerfully. “Why, bless
you! Yes, miss. What can I do?” And then Sara, leaning on the counter, made
her little proposal concerning the dreadful days and the hungry
waifs and the buns. The woman watched her, and listened with an
astonished face. “Why, bless me!” she said again when she had
heard it all; “it’ll be a pleasure to me to do it. I am a working-woman myself and cannot afford
to do much on my own account, and there’s sights of trouble on every
side; but, if you’ll excuse me, I’m bound to say I’ve given away many a
bit of bread since that wet afternoon, just along o’ thinking of
you, an’ how wet an’ cold you was, an’ how hungry you looked; an’ yet
you gave away your hot buns as if you was a princess.” The Indian gentleman smiled involuntarily
at this, and Sara smiled a little, too, remembering what she had said
to herself when she put the buns down on the ravenous child’s ragged lap. “She looked so hungry,” she said. “She was even hungrier than I was.” “She was starving,” said the woman. “Many’s the time she’s told me of
it since, how she sat there in the wet, and felt as if a wolf was
a-tearing at her poor young insides.” “Oh, have you seen her since then?” exclaimed Sara. “Do you know where
she is?” “Yes, I do,” answered the woman, smiling more
good-naturedly than ever. “Why, she’s in that there back room, miss,
an’ has been for a month; an’ a decent, well-meanin’ girl she’s goin’
to turn out, an’ such a help to me in the shop an’ in the kitchen
as you’d scarce believe, knowin’ how she’s lived.” She stepped to the door of the little back
parlour and spoke; and the next minute a girl came out and followed her
behind the counter. And
actually it was the beggar-child, clean and neatly clothed, and looking
as if she had not been hungry for a long time. She looked shy, but she
had a nice face, now that she was no longer a savage, and the wild look
had gone from her eyes. She knew Sara in an instant, and stood and
looked at her as if she could never look enough. “You see,” said the woman, “I told her to
come when she was hungry, and when she’d come I’d give her odd jobs to do;
an’ I found she was willing, and somehow I got to like her; and
the end of it was, I’ve given her a place an’ a home, and she helps
me, an’ behaves well, an’ is as thankful as a girl can be. Her name’s Anne. She has no other.” The children stood and looked at each other
for a few minutes; and then Sara took her hand out of her muff and held
it out across the counter, and Anne took it, and they looked straight
into each other’s eyes. “I am so glad,” Sara said. “And I have just thought of something. Perhaps Mrs. Brown will let you be the one
to give the buns and bread to the children. Perhaps you would like to do it because you
know what it is to be hungry, too.” “Yes, miss,” said the girl. And, somehow, Sara felt as if she understood
her, though she said so little, and only stood still and looked and
looked after her as she went out of the shop with the Indian gentleman,
and they got into the carriage and drove away. End of Chapter 19 End of A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson
Burnett

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *