a little princess by frances hodgson burnettchapter 8. in the attic the first night she spent in her attic wasa thing sara never forgot. during its passing she lived through awild, 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 wasforcibly distracted, now and then, by the strangeness of her surroundings. it was, perhaps, well for her that she wasreminded by her small body of material
things. if this had not been so, the anguish of heryoung mind might have been too great for a child to bear. but, really, while the night was passingshe 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 sherealized that her bed had been so hard that she turned over and over in it to find aplace to rest, that the darkness seemed
more intense than any she had ever known, and that the wind howled over the roofamong the chimneys like something which wailed aloud.then there was something worse. this was certain scufflings and scratchingsand 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 eitherfighting with each other or playing together. once or twice she even heard sharp-toedfeet scurrying across the floor, and she
remembered in those after days, when sherecalled things, that when first she heard them she started up in bed and sat trembling, and when she lay down againcovered her head with the bedclothes. the change in her life did not come aboutgradually, but was made all at once. "she must begin as she is to go on," missminchin said to miss amelia. "she must be taught at once what she is toexpect." mariette had left the house the nextmorning. the glimpse sara caught of her sittingroom, as she passed its open door, showed her that everything had been changed.
her ornaments and luxuries had beenremoved, and a bed had been placed in a corner to transform it into a new pupil'sbedroom. when she went down to breakfast she sawthat her seat at miss minchin's side was occupied by lavinia, and miss minchin spoketo her coldly. "you will begin your new duties, sara," shesaid, "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 daythe duties given to her were added to.
she taught the younger children french andheard their other lessons, and these were the least of her labors.it was found that she could be made use of in numberless directions. she could be sent on errands at any timeand in all weathers. she could be told to do things other peopleneglected. the cook and the housemaids took their tonefrom miss minchin, and rather enjoyed ordering about the "young one" who had beenmade 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 convenientto have at hand someone on whom blame could
be laid. during the first month or two, sara thoughtthat her willingness to do things as well as she could, and her silence underreproof, might soften those who drove her so hard. in her proud little heart she wanted themto see that she was trying to earn her living and not accepting charity. but the time came when she saw that no onewas softened at all; and the more willing she was to do as she was told, the moredomineering and exacting careless housemaids became, and the more ready ascolding cook was to blame her.
if she had been older, miss minchin wouldhave given her the bigger girls to teach and saved money by dismissing aninstructress; but while she remained and looked like a child, she could be made more useful as a sort of little superior errandgirl and maid of all work. an ordinary errand boy would not have beenso clever and reliable. sara could be trusted with difficultcommissions and complicated messages. she could even go and pay bills, and shecombined 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 longand busy days spent in running here and there at everybody's orders was shegrudgingly allowed to go into the deserted schoolroom, with a pile of old books, andstudy alone at night. "if i do not remind myself of the things ihave learned, perhaps i may forget them," she said to herself. "i am almost a scullery maid, and if i am ascullery maid who knows nothing, i shall be like poor becky. i wonder if i could quite forget and beginto drop my h's and not remember that henry the eighth had six wives."
one of the most curious things in her newexistence was her changed position among the pupils. instead of being a sort of small royalpersonage among them, she no longer seemed to be one of their number at all. she was kept so constantly at work that shescarcely ever had an opportunity of speaking to any of them, and she could notavoid seeing that miss minchin preferred that she should live a life apart from thatof the occupants of the schoolroom. "i will not have her forming intimacies andtalking to the other children," that lady said.
"girls like a grievance, and if she beginsto tell romantic stories about herself, she will become an ill-used heroine, andparents will be given a wrong impression. it is better that she should live aseparate 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 tooproud to try to continue to be intimate with girls who evidently felt ratherawkward and uncertain about her. the fact was that miss minchin's pupilswere a set of dull, matter-of-fact young people.
they were accustomed to being rich andcomfortable, 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 throughthe streets in a basket on her arm when the cook wanted them in a hurry, they feltrather as if, when they spoke to her, they were addressing an under servant. "to think that she was the girl with thediamond mines," lavinia commented. "she does look an object.and she's queerer than ever. i never liked her much, but i can't bearthat way she has now of looking at people
without speaking--just as if she wasfinding them out." "i am," said sara, promptly, when she heardof 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 herselfannoyance several times by keeping her eye on lavinia, who was quite ready to makemischief, and would have been rather pleased to have made it for the ex-showpupil. sara never made any mischief herself, orinterfered with anyone. she worked like a drudge; she trampedthrough the wet streets, carrying parcels
and baskets; she labored with the childishinattention of the little ones' french lessons; as she became shabbier and more forlorn-looking, she was told that she hadbetter take her meals downstairs; she was treated as if she was nobody's concern, andher heart grew proud and sore, but she never told anyone what she felt. "soldiers don't complain," she would saybetween her small, shut teeth, "i am not going to do it; i will pretend this is partof a war." but there were hours when her child heartmight 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 inthe garret, she had felt a vague comfort in knowing that on the other side of the wallin which the rats scuffled and squeaked there was another young human creature. and during the nights that followed thesense of comfort grew. they had little chance to speak to eachother during the day. each had her own tasks to perform, and anyattempt at conversation would have been regarded as a tendency to loiter and losetime. "don't mind me, miss," becky whisperedduring 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' 'begpardon,' but i dassn't to take time to say it." but before daybreak she used to slip intosara's attic and button her dress and give her such help as she required before shewent downstairs to light the kitchen fire. and when night came sara always heard thehumble knock at her door which meant that her handmaid was ready to help her again ifshe was needed. during the first weeks of her grief sarafelt as if she were too stupefied to talk, so it happened that some time passed beforethey saw each other much or exchanged
visits. becky's heart told her that it was bestthat people in trouble should be left alone. the second of the trio of comforters wasermengarde, but odd things happened before ermengarde found her place. when sara's mind seemed to awaken again tothe life about her, she realized that she had forgotten that an ermengarde lived inthe world. the two had always been friends, but sarahad felt as if she were years the older. it could not be contested that ermengardewas as dull as she was affectionate.
she clung to sara in a simple, helplessway; she brought her lessons to her that she might be helped; she listened to herevery word and besieged her with requests for stories. but she had nothing interesting to sayherself, and she loathed books of every description. she was, in fact, not a person one wouldremember when one was caught in the storm of a great trouble, and sara forgot her. it had been all the easier to forget herbecause she had been suddenly called home for a few weeks.
when she came back she did not see sara fora day or two, and when she met her for the first time she encountered her coming downa corridor with her arms full of garments which were to be taken downstairs to bemended. sara herself had already been taught tomend them. she looked pale and unlike herself, and shewas attired in the queer, outgrown frock whose shortness showed so much thin blackleg. ermengarde was too slow a girl to be equalto 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 aservant. it made her quite miserable, and she coulddo nothing but break into a short hysterical laugh and exclaim--aimlessly andas if without any meaning, "oh, sara, is that you?" "yes," answered sara, and suddenly astrange 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 newkind of girl, and she had never known her before. perhaps it was because she had suddenlygrown 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 somethingto say which seemed more intimate.
"are you--are you very unhappy?" she saidin a rush. then sara was guilty of an injustice. just at that moment her torn heart swelledwithin her, and she felt that if anyone was as stupid as that, one had better get awayfrom 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 realized that if herwretchedness 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 shefelt, 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 theother way, and ermengarde felt too stiff and embarrassed to speak.
sometimes they nodded to each other inpassing, 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 ermengardewas more stupid than ever, and that she looked listless and unhappy. she used to sit in the window-seat, huddledin 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?" sheasked. "i'm not crying," answered ermengarde, in amuffled, unsteady voice. "you are," said jessie. "a great big tear just rolled down thebridge 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 outher 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 thehour at which the pupils went to bed, and after that she had gone to her lessons inthe lonely schoolroom. when she reached the top of the stairs, shewas surprised to see a glimmer of light coming from under the attic door. "nobody goes there but myself," she thoughtquickly, "but someone has lighted a candle." someone had, indeed, lighted a candle, andit was not burning in the kitchen candlestick she was expected to use, but inone of those belonging to the pupils'
bedrooms. the someone was sitting upon the batteredfootstool, 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 almostfrightened. "you will get into trouble."ermengarde stumbled up from her footstool. she shuffled across the attic in herbedroom slippers, which were too large for her.her eyes and nose were pink with crying. "i know i shall--if i'm found out." shesaid.
"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 likethe 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!" shecried. "you didn't want to talk to me.i didn't know what to do. it was you who were different after i cameback." sara thought a moment.she saw she had made a mistake. "i am different," she explained, "thoughnot in the way you think. miss minchin does not want me to talk tothe 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 herreproachful dismay. and then after one more look they rushedinto each other's arms. it must be confessed that sara's smallblack 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 floortogether, sara clasping her knees with her arms, and ermengarde rolled up in hershawl. ermengarde looked at the odd, big-eyedlittle 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 ofcreeping 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, theyhave 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," saidermengarde stoutly.
"neither do i--to speak the truth,"admitted sara, frankly. "but i suppose there might be good inthings, even if we don't see it. there might"--doubtfully--"be good in missminchin." ermengarde looked round the attic with arather fearsome curiosity. "sara," she said, "do you think you canbear 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 forher.
it had not worked for her at all since hertroubles 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 frenchrevolution which sara had been able to fix in her mind by her dramatic relation ofthem. 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--andyears; and everybody has forgotten about me. miss minchin is the jailer--and becky"--asudden light adding itself to the glow in her eyes--"becky is the prisoner in thenext cell." she turned to ermengarde, looking quitelike the old sara. "i shall pretend that," she said; "and itwill be a great comfort." ermengarde was at once enraptured and awed.
"and will you tell me all about it?" shesaid. "may i creep up here at night, whenever itis safe, and hear the things you have made up in the day? it will seem as if we were more 'bestfriends' than ever." "yes," answered sara, nodding."adversity tries people, and mine has tried you and proved how nice you are." > a little princess by frances hodgson burnettchapter 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 bythe alteration she saw in her young adopted mother. she had heard it rumored that strangethings 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 honor and learnlessons herself. there had been much whispering among thelittle ones when it had been discovered that sara no longer lived in the rooms inwhich emily had so long sat in state.
lottie's chief difficulty was that sarasaid 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 hadasked confidentially the first morning her friend took charge of the small frenchclass. "are you as poor as a beggar?" she thrust a fat hand into the slim one andopened round, tearful eyes. "i don't want you to be as poor as abeggar." 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 itisn'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 youwhisper." she had found out already that she was tobe held accountable for everything which
was objected to. if the children were not attentive, if theytalked, 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 hungabout the elder girls and listened when they were gossiping; and acting uponcertain information they had unconsciously let drop, she started late one afternoon on a voyage of discovery, climbing stairs shehad 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 outof a window. "sara!" she cried, aghast. "mamma sara!"she was aghast because the attic was so bare and ugly and seemed so far away fromall the world. her short legs had seemed to have beenmounting hundreds of stairs. sara turned round at the sound of hervoice. 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 shelooked round it she bit her lip. she was a spoiled child yet, but she wasfond enough of her adopted parent to make an effort to control herself for her sake. then, somehow, it was quite possible thatany 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 warmthof the plump, childish body. she had had a hard day and had been staringout of the windows with hot eyes. "you can see all sorts of things you can'tsee 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 smokecurling up in wreaths and clouds and going up into the sky--and sparrows hopping aboutand talking to each other just as if they were people--and other attic windows where
heads may pop out any minute and you canwonder who they belong to. and it all feels as high up--as if it wasanother 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 edgeof the flat window in the roof, and looked out. anyone who has not done this does not knowwhat a different world they saw. the slates spread out on either side ofthem 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 topnearest and quarrelled with each other fiercely until one pecked the other anddrove him away. the garret window next to theirs was shutbecause the house next door was empty. "i wish someone lived there," sara said. "it is so close that if there was a littlegirl in the attic, we could talk to each other through the windows and climb over tosee each other, if we were not afraid of falling."
the sky seemed so much nearer than when onesaw it from the street, that lottie was enchanted. from the attic window, among the chimneypots, the things which were happening in the world below seemed almost unreal. one scarcely believed in the existence ofmiss minchin and miss amelia and the schoolroom, and the roll of wheels in thesquare seemed a sound belonging to another existence. "oh, sara!" cried lottie, cuddling in herguarding 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; ibought it with my penny yesterday, and i saved a bit." when they threw out a few crumbs thesparrow jumped and flew away to an adjacent chimney top. he was evidently not accustomed tointimates in attics, and unexpected crumbs startled him.
but when lottie remained quite still andsara chirped very softly--almost as if she were a sparrow herself--he saw that thething which had alarmed him represented hospitality, after all. he put his head on one side, and from hisperch 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 ifreflecting on the chances that sara and lottie might turn out to be big cats andjump on him. at last his heart told him they were reallynicer than they looked, and he hopped nearer and nearer, darted at the biggestcrumb with a lightning peck, seized it, and carried it away to the other side of hischimney. "now he knows", said sara."and he will come back for the others." he did come back, and even brought afriend, and the friend went away and
brought a relative, and among them theymade a hearty meal over which they twittered and chattered and exclaimed, stopping every now and then to put theirheads on one side and examine lottie and sara. lottie was so delighted that she quiteforgot her first shocked impression of the attic. in fact, when she was lifted down from thetable and returned to earthly things, as it were, sara was able to point out to hermany beauties in the room which she herself would not have suspected the existence of.
"it is so little and so high aboveeverything," 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 endof the room; and when the morning begins to come i can lie in bed and look right upinto 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 icould touch them. and if it rains, the drops patter andpatter 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 littleroom." she was walking round the small place,holding lottie's hand and making gestures which described all the beauties she wasmaking herself see. she quite made lottie see them, too. lottie could always believe in the thingssara made pictures of.
"you see," she said, "there could be athick, soft blue indian rug on the floor; and in that corner there could be a softlittle 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 upthe whitewash, and pictures. they would have to be little ones, but theycould be beautiful; and there could be a lamp with a deep rose-colored shade; and atable in the middle, with things to have tea with; and a little fat copper kettle singing on the hob; and the bed could bequite different.
it could be made soft and covered with alovely silk coverlet. it could be beautiful. and perhaps we could coax the sparrowsuntil we made such friends with them that they would come and peck at the window andask to be let in." "oh, sara!" cried lottie. "i should like to live here!" when sara had persuaded her to godownstairs again, and, after setting her on her way, had come back to her attic, shestood in the middle of it and looked about her.
the enchantment of her imaginings forlottie had died away. the bed was hard and covered with its dingyquilt. the whitewashed wall showed its brokenpatches, the floor was cold and bare, the grate was broken and rusty, and thebattered footstool, tilted sideways on its injured leg, the only seat in the room. she sat down on it for a few minutes andlet her head drop in her hands. the mere fact that lottie had come and goneaway again made things seem a little worse- -just as perhaps prisoners feel a littlemore 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 herattention was attracted by a slight sound near her. she lifted her head to see where it camefrom, and if she had been a nervous child she would have left her seat on thebattered footstool in a great hurry. a large rat was sitting up on his hindquarters and sniffing the air in an interested manner. some of lottie's crumbs had dropped uponthe floor and their scent had drawn him out
of his hole. he looked so queer and so like a gray-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 ofthe 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 jumpand 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 hadbegun to take courage. he was very much afraid of her, but perhapshe 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 luckfor 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 uponhis 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 ido not know, but it is certain that they do understand.
perhaps there is a language which is notmade of words and everything in the world understands it. perhaps there is a soul hidden ineverything and it can always speak, without even making a sound, to another soul. but whatsoever was the reason, the rat knewfrom that moment that he was safe--even though he was a rat. he knew that this young human being sittingon the red footstool would not jump up and terrify him with wild, sharp noises orthrow heavy objects at him which, if they did not fall and crush him, would send himlimping in his scurry back to his hole.
he was really a very nice rat, and did notmean the least harm. when he had stood on his hind legs andsniffed the air, with his bright eyes fixed on sara, he had hoped that she wouldunderstand this, and would not begin by hating him as an enemy. when the mysterious thing which speakswithout saying any words told him that she would not, he went softly toward the crumbsand began to eat them. as he did it he glanced every now and thenat sara, just as the sparrows had done, and his expression was so very apologetic thatit touched her heart. she sat and watched him without making anymovement.
one crumb was very much larger than theothers--in fact, it could scarcely be called a crumb. it was evident that he wanted that piecevery 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 willcome and get it." she scarcely allowed herself to breathe,she was so deeply interested. the rat shuffled a little nearer and ate afew more crumbs, then he stopped and sniffed delicately, giving a side glance atthe occupant of the footstool; then he
darted at the piece of bun with something very like the sudden boldness of thesparrow, and the instant he had possession of it fled back to the wall, slipped down acrack in the skirting board, and was gone. "i knew he wanted it for his children,"said sara. "i do believe i could make friends withhim." a week or so afterward, on one of the rarenights when ermengarde found it safe to steal up to the attic, when she tapped onthe door with the tips of her fingers sara did not come to her for two or threeminutes. there was, indeed, such a silence in theroom at first that ermengarde wondered if
she could have fallen asleep. then, to her surprise, she heard her uttera 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 thethreshold. "who--who are you talking to, sara?" shegasped out. sara drew her in cautiously, but she lookedas if something pleased and amused her.
"you must promise not to be frightened--notto scream the least bit, or i can't tell you," she answered. ermengarde felt almost inclined to screamon the spot, but managed to control herself.she looked all round the attic and saw no one. and yet sara had certainly been speaking tosomeone. she thought of ghosts."is it--something that will frighten me?" she asked timorously. "some people are afraid of them," saidsara.
"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 withfright. "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 icall him. are you too frightened to want to see him?" the truth was that, as the days had gone onand, with the aid of scraps brought up from the kitchen, her curious friendship haddeveloped, she had gradually forgotten that the timid creature she was becomingfamiliar with was a mere rat. at first ermengarde was too much alarmed todo anything but huddle in a heap upon the bed and tuck up her feet, but the sight ofsara's composed little countenance and the story of melchisedec's first appearance
began at last to rouse her curiosity, andshe leaned forward over the edge of the bed and watched sara go and kneel down by thehole in the skirting board. "he--he won't run out quickly and jump onthe 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 havebeen heard in entire stillness. she did it several times, looking entirelyabsorbed in it. ermengarde thought she looked as if shewere working a spell.
and at last, evidently in response to it, agray-whiskered, bright-eyed head peeped out of the hole.sara had some crumbs in her hand. she dropped them, and melchisedec camequietly forth and ate them. a piece of larger size than the rest hetook and carried in the most businesslike manner back to his home. "you see," said sara, "that is for his wifeand children. he is very nice.he only eats the little bits. after he goes back i can always hear hisfamily 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 littlebrown 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 tomake 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 addedin a low voice. ermengarde was interested, as she alwayswas. "when you talk about things," she said,"they seem as if they grew real. you talk about melchisedec as if he was aperson." "he is a person," said sara. "he gets hungry and frightened, just as wedo; 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 favorite 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 cookhas 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 anotherkind of place; but the bastille is
generally easiest--particularly when it iscold." just at that moment ermengarde almostjumped 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 iswell.'" four knocks came from becky's side of thewall. "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 untilermengarde forgot that she was a sort of escaped prisoner herself, and had to bereminded by sara that she could not remain in the bastille all night, but must steal noiselessly downstairs again and creep backinto her deserted bed. a little princess by frances hodgson burnettchapter 10. the indian gentleman but it was a perilous thing for ermengardeand lottie to make pilgrimages to the they could never be quite sure when sarawould be there, and they could scarcely ever be certain that miss amelia would notmake a tour of inspection through the
bedrooms after the pupils were supposed tobe asleep. so their visits were rare ones, and saralived a strange and lonely life. it was a lonelier life when she wasdownstairs than when she was in her attic. she had no one to talk to; and when she wassent out on errands and walked through the streets, a forlorn little figure carrying abasket or a parcel, trying to hold her hat on when the wind was blowing, and feeling the water soak through her shoes when itwas raining, she felt as if the crowds hurrying past her made her lonelinessgreater. 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 oftencaused people to look after her. a happy, beautifully cared for little girlnaturally attracts attention. shabby, poorly dressed children are notrare enough and pretty enough to make people turn around to look at them andsmile. no one looked at sara in these days, and noone seemed to see her as she hurried along the crowded pavements. she had begun to grow very fast, and, asshe was dressed only in such clothes as the plainer remnants of her wardrobe wouldsupply, she knew she looked very queer,
indeed. all her valuable garments had been disposedof, and such as had been left for her use she was expected to wear so long as shecould put them on at all. sometimes, when she passed a shop windowwith 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 houseswhose windows were lighted up, she used to look into the warm rooms and amuse herselfby imagining things about the people she saw sitting before the fires or about thetables.
it always interested her to catch glimpsesof rooms before the shutters were closed. there were several families in the squarein which miss minchin lived, with which she had become quite familiar in a way of herown. the one she liked best she called the largefamily. she called it the large family not becausethe members of it were big--for, indeed, most of them were little--but because therewere so many of them. there were eight children in the largefamily, and a stout, rosy mother, and a stout, rosy father, and a stout, rosygrandmother, and any number of servants. the eight children were always either beingtaken out to walk or to ride in
perambulators by comfortable nurses, orthey were going to drive with their mamma, or they were flying to the door in the evening to meet their papa and kiss him anddance around him and drag off his overcoat and look in the pockets for packages, orthey were crowding about the nursery windows and looking out and pushing each other and laughing--in fact, they werealways doing something enjoyable and suited to the tastes of a large family. sara was quite fond of them, and had giventhem 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 wasethelberta 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 lilianevangeline maud marion, rosalind gladys, guy clarence, veronica eustacia, and claudeharold 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 evidentlygoing to a children's party, and just as
sara was about to pass the door they werecrossing the pavement to get into the carriage which was waiting for them. veronica eustacia and rosalind gladys, inwhite-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 suchrosy cheeks and blue eyes, and such a darling little round head covered withcurls, that sara forgot her basket and shabby cloak altogether--in fact, forgot everything but that she wanted to look athim for a moment. so she paused and looked.
it was christmas time, and the large familyhad been hearing many stories about children who were poor and had no mammasand 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--sometimeslittle boys and girls with tender hearts-- invariably saw the poor children and gavethem money or rich gifts, or took them home to beautiful dinners. guy clarence had been affected to tearsthat very afternoon by the reading of such a story, and he had burned with a desire tofind such a poor child and give her a certain sixpence he possessed, and thusprovide for her for life.
an entire sixpence, he was sure, would meanaffluence for evermore. as he crossed the strip of red carpet laidacross the pavement from the door to the carriage, he had this very sixpence in thepocket of his very short man-o-war trousers; and just as rosalind gladys got into the vehicle and jumped on the seat inorder to feel the cushions spring under her, he saw sara standing on the wetpavement in her shabby frock and hat, with her old basket on her arm, looking at himhungrily. he thought that her eyes looked hungrybecause she had perhaps had nothing to eat for a long time.
he did not know that they looked so becauseshe was hungry for the warm, merry life his home held and his rosy face spoke of, andthat she had a hungry wish to snatch him in her arms and kiss him. he only knew that she had big eyes and athin 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 realized thatshe looked exactly like poor children she
had seen, in her better days, waiting onthe 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 couldnot 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 streetchild's voice and her manner was so like the manner of a well-bred little personthat veronica eustacia (whose real name was janet) and rosalind gladys (who was reallycalled nora) leaned forward to listen.
but guy clarence was not to be thwarted inhis 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 inhis face, and he looked so likely to be heartbrokenly disappointed if she did nottake it, that sara knew she must not refuse him. to be as proud as that would be a cruelthing. so she actually put her pride in herpocket, 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 thecarriage she went away, trying to smile, though she caught her breath quickly andher eyes were shining through a mist. she had known that she looked odd andshabby, 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'sname), 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!" criednora. "and her face didn't really look like abeggar's face!" "besides, she didn't beg," said janet. "i was so afraid she might be angry withyou. you know, it makes people angry to be takenfor beggars when they are not beggars." "she wasn't angry," said donald, a trifledismayed, but still firm. "she laughed a little, and she said i was akind, 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 fromthat time the large family was as profoundly interested in her as she was init. faces used to appear at the nursery windowswhen 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 shelooks." and afterward she was called by all ofthem, "the-little-girl-who-is-not-a- beggar," which was, of course, rather along name, and sounded very funny sometimes when the youngest ones said it in a hurry. sara managed to bore a hole in the sixpenceand hung it on an old bit of narrow ribbon round her neck. her affection for the large familyincreased--as, indeed, her affection for
everything she could love increased. she grew fonder and fonder of becky, andshe used to look forward to the two mornings a week when she went into theschoolroom to give the little ones their french lesson. her small pupils loved her, and strove witheach other for the privilege of standing close to her and insinuating their smallhands into hers. it fed her hungry heart to feel themnestling up to her. she made such friends with the sparrowsthat 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 birdsappeared and alighted on the slates to talk to her and make much of the crumbs shescattered. with melchisedec she had become so intimatethat he actually brought mrs. melchisedec with him sometimes, and now and then one ortwo of his children. she used to talk to him, and, somehow, helooked quite as if he understood. there had grown in her mind rather astrange feeling about emily, who always sat and looked on at everything. it arose in one of her moments of greatdesolateness.
she would have liked to believe or pretendto believe that emily understood and sympathized with her. she did not like to own to herself that heronly companion could feel and hear nothing. she used to put her in a chair sometimesand sit opposite to her on the old red footstool, and stare and pretend about heruntil her own eyes would grow large with something which was almost like fear-- particularly at night when everything wasso still, when the only sound in the attic was the occasional sudden scurry and squeakof melchisedec's family in the wall. one of her "pretends" was that emily was akind of good witch who could protect her.
sometimes, after she had stared at heruntil she was wrought up to the highest pitch of fancifulness, she would ask herquestions 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 answervery often. i never answer when i can help it. when people are insulting you, there isnothing 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 doit, miss amelia looks frightened, and so do
the girls. when you will not fly into a passion peopleknow you are stronger than they are, because you are strong enough to hold inyour rage, and they are not, and they say stupid things they wish they hadn't saidafterward. there's nothing so strong as rage, exceptwhat makes you hold it in--that's stronger. it's a good thing not to answer yourenemies. i scarcely ever do.perhaps emily is more like me than i am like myself. perhaps she would rather not answer herfriends, even.
she keeps it all in her heart." but though she tried to satisfy herselfwith these arguments, she did not find it easy. when, after a long, hard day, in which shehad been sent here and there, sometimes on long errands through wind and cold andrain, she came in wet and hungry, and was sent out again because nobody chose to remember that she was only a child, andthat her slim legs might be tired and her small body might be chilled; when she hadbeen given only harsh words and cold, slighting looks for thanks; when the cook
had been vulgar and insolent; when missminchin had been in her worst mood, and when she had seen the girls sneering amongthemselves at her shabbiness--then she was not always able to comfort her sore, proud, desolate heart with fancies when emilymerely sat upright in her old chair and stared. one of these nights, when she came up tothe attic cold and hungry, with a tempest raging in her young breast, emily's stareseemed so vacant, her sawdust legs and arms so inexpressive, that sara lost all controlover herself. there was nobody but emily--no one in theworld.
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 frommorning until night. and because i could not find that lastthing 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 andcomplacent face, and suddenly a sort of heartbroken rage seized her. she lifted her little savage hand andknocked 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 legsignominiously 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 andbite each other and squeak and scramble. melchisedec was chastising some of hisfamily. sara's sobs gradually quieted themselves. it was so unlike her to break down that shewas surprised at herself. after a while she raised her face andlooked 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 littlesmile. "you can't help being a doll," she saidwith a resigned sigh, "any more than lavinia and jessie can help not having anysense. 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 windowwhich was so near hers. it seemed as if it would be so nice to seeit propped open someday and a head and shoulders rising out of the squareaperture. "if it looked a nice head," she thought, "imight begin by saying, 'good morning,' and all sorts of things might happen. but, of course, it's not really likely thatanyone but under servants would sleep there." one morning, on turning the corner of thesquare after a visit to the grocer's, the
butcher's, and the baker's, she saw, to hergreat delight, that during her rather prolonged absence, a van full of furniture had stopped before the next house, thefront doors were thrown open, and men in shirt sleeves were going in and outcarrying 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 ofthe attic window!" she would almost have liked to join thegroup of loiterers who had stopped on the pavement to watch the things carried in.
she had an idea that if she could see someof the furniture she could guess something about the people it belonged to. "miss minchin's tables and chairs are justlike 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 andsaid it was true. i am sure the large family have fat,comfortable armchairs and sofas, and i can see that their red-flowery wallpaper isexactly like them. it's warm and cheerful and kind-looking andhappy." she was sent out for parsley to thegreengrocer's later in the day, and when
she came up the area steps her heart gavequite a quick beat of recognition. several pieces of furniture had been setout of the van upon the pavement. there was a beautiful table of elaboratelywrought teakwood, and some chairs, and a screen covered with rich orientalembroidery. 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 takenfrom 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 wereunloaded 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 inguessing 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 ornamentswere 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 inindia," sara thought. "they have got used to indian things andlike them. i am glad. i shall feel as if they were friends, evenif a head never looks out of the attic window." when she was taking in the evening's milkfor the cook (there was really no odd job she was not called upon to do), she sawsomething occur which made the situation
more interesting than ever. the handsome, rosy man who was the fatherof 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 homeand expected to run up and down them many a time in the future. he stayed inside quite a long time, andseveral times came out and gave directions to the workmen, as if he had a right to doso. it was quite certain that he was in someintimate way connected with the newcomers
and was acting for them. "if the new people have children," saraspeculated, "the large family children will be sure to come and play with them, andthey might come up into the attic just for fun." at night, after her work was done, beckycame 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 blackgentleman or not, but he's a nindian one. he's very rich, an' he's ill, an' thegentleman of the large family is his
lawyer. he's had a lot of trouble, an' it's madehim 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 toworship. 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 tobelieve that the new neighbor was "an 'eathen." it sounded so much more romantic than thathe should merely be the ordinary kind of gentleman who went to church with a prayerbook. she sat and talked long that night of whathe would be like, of what his wife would be like if he had one, and of what hischildren would be like if they had children. sara saw that privately she could not helphoping very much that they would all be
black, and would wear turbans, and, aboveall, 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 curiositywas satisfied, and then it was revealed that the new occupant had neither wife norchildren. he was a solitary man with no family atall, 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 boxand opened the door the gentleman who was the father of the large family got outfirst. after him there descended a nurse inuniform, then came down the steps two men- servants. they came to assist their master, who, whenhe was helped out of the carriage, proved to be a man with a haggard, distressedface, and a skeleton body wrapped in furs. he was carried up the steps, and the headof the large family went with him, looking very anxious. shortly afterward a doctor's carriagearrived, and the doctor went in--plainly to
take care of him. "there is such a yellow gentleman nextdoor, sara," lottie whispered at the french class afterward."do you think he is a chinee? the geography says the chinee men areyellow." "no, he is not chinese," sara whisperedback; "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 theindian gentleman. a little princess by frances hodgson burnettchapter 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 seethem at all, and could only guess that they were going on because the bricks lookedwarm and the air rosy or yellow for a while, or perhaps one saw a blazing glow strike a particular pane of glasssomewhere. there was, however, one place from whichone could see all the splendor of them: the piles of red or gold clouds in the west; orthe purple ones edged with dazzling
brightness; or the little fleecy, floating ones, tinged with rose-color and lookinglike flights of pink doves scurrying across the blue in a great hurry if there was awind. the place where one could see all this, andseem at the same time to breathe a purer air, was, of course, the attic window. when the square suddenly seemed to begin toglow 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 orcalled 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 alwaysdrew 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 otherattics. generally the skylights were closed; buteven if they were propped open to admit air, no one seemed to come near them. and there sara would stand, sometimesturning her face upward to the blue which
seemed so friendly and near--just like alovely vaulted ceiling--sometimes watching the west and all the wonderful things that happened there: the clouds melting ordrifting or waiting softly to be changed pink or crimson or snow-white or purple orpale dove-gray. sometimes they made islands or greatmountains enclosing lakes of deep turquoise-blue, or liquid amber, orchrysoprase-green; sometimes dark headlands jutted into strange, lost seas; sometimes slender strips of wonderful lands joinedother wonderful lands together. there were places where it seemed that onecould run or climb or stand and wait to see
what next was coming--until, perhaps, as itall melted, one could float away. at least it seemed so to sara, and nothinghad ever been quite so beautiful to her as the things she saw as she stood on thetable--her body half out of the skylight-- the sparrows twittering with sunsetsoftness on the slates. the sparrows always seemed to her totwitter with a sort of subdued softness just when these marvels were going on. there was such a sunset as this a few daysafter the indian gentleman was brought to his new home; and, as it fortunatelyhappened that the afternoon's work was done in the kitchen and nobody had ordered her
to go anywhere or perform any task, sarafound it easier than usual to slip away and go upstairs.she mounted her table and stood looking it was a wonderful moment.there were floods of molten gold covering the west, as if a glorious tide wassweeping 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 ifsomething strange was just going to happen. the splendid ones always make me feel likethat."
she suddenly turned her head because sheheard a sound a few yards away from her. it was an odd sound like a queer littlesqueaky chattering. it came from the window of the next attic. someone had come to look at the sunset asshe had. there was a head and a part of a bodyemerging from the skylight, but it was not the head or body of a little girl or ahousemaid; 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 camefrom a small monkey he held in his arms as
if he were fond of it, and which was snuggling and chattering against hisbreast. as sara looked toward him he looked towardher. the first thing she thought was that hisdark face looked sorrowful and homesick. she felt absolutely sure he had come up tolook at the sun, because he had seen it so seldom in england that he longed for asight of it. she looked at him interestedly for asecond, and then smiled across the slates. she had learned to know how comforting asmile, even from a stranger, may be. hers was evidently a pleasure to him.
his whole expression altered, and he showedsuch gleaming white teeth as he smiled back that it was as if a light had beenilluminated in his dusky face. the friendly look in sara's eyes was alwaysvery 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 readyfor adventure, and it is probable that the sight of a little girl excited him. he suddenly broke loose, jumped on to theslates, ran across them chattering, and actually leaped on to sara's shoulder, andfrom there down into her attic room.
it made her laugh and delighted her; butshe knew he must be restored to his master- -if the lascar was his master--and shewondered how this was to be done. would he let her catch him, or would he benaughty and refuse to be caught, and perhaps get away and run off over the roofsand be lost? that would not do at all. perhaps he belonged to the indiangentleman, and the poor man was fond of she turned to the lascar, feeling glad thatshe remembered still some of the hindustani she had learned when she lived with herfather. 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 moresurprise and delight than the dark face expressed when she spoke in the familiartongue. the truth was that the poor fellow felt asif 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 respectfulthanks. he was the servant of missee sahib. the monkey was a good monkey and would notbite; 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, butnot always. if missee sahib would permit ram dass, hehimself could cross the roof to her room, enter the windows, and regain the unworthylittle animal. but he was evidently afraid sara mightthink 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 wasfrightened." ram dass slipped through his attic windowand 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 ofshutting the skylight, and then went in chase of him.it was not a very long chase.
the monkey prolonged it a few minutesevidently for the mere fun of it, but presently he sprang chattering on to ramdass's shoulder and sat there chattering and clinging to his neck with a weirdlittle skinny arm. ram dass thanked sara profoundly. she had seen that his quick native eyes hadtaken in at a glance all the bare shabbiness of the room, but he spoke to heras if he were speaking to the little daughter of a rajah, and pretended that heobserved nothing. he did not presume to remain more than afew moments after he had caught the monkey, and those moments were given to furtherdeep and grateful obeisance to her in
return for her indulgence. this little evil one, he said, stroking themonkey, was, in truth, not so evil as he seemed, and his master, who was ill, wassometimes amused by him. he would have been made sad if his favoritehad run away and been lost. then he salaamed once more and got throughthe skylight and across the slates again with as much agility as the monkey himselfhad displayed. when he had gone sara stood in the middleof her attic and thought of many things his face and his manner had brought back toher. the sight of his native costume and theprofound reverence of his manner stirred
all her past memories. it seemed a strange thing to remember thatshe--the drudge whom the cook had said insulting things to an hour ago--had only afew years ago been surrounded by people who all treated her as ram dass had treated her; who salaamed when she went by, whoseforeheads almost touched the ground when she spoke to them, who were her servantsand her slaves. it was like a sort of dream. it was all over, and it could never comeback. it certainly seemed that there was no wayin which any change could take place.
she knew what miss minchin intended thather future should be. so long as she was too young to be used asa regular teacher, she would be used as an errand girl and servant and yet expected toremember what she had learned and in some mysterious way to learn more. the greater number of her evenings she wassupposed to spend at study, and at various indefinite intervals she was examined andknew she would have been severely admonished if she had not advanced as wasexpected of her. the truth, indeed, was that miss minchinknew that she was too anxious to learn to require teachers.
give her books, and she would devour themand end by knowing them by heart. she might be trusted to be equal toteaching a good deal in the course of a few years. this was what would happen: when she wasolder she would be expected to drudge in the schoolroom as she drudged now invarious parts of the house; they would be obliged to give her more respectable clothes, but they would be sure to be plainand ugly and to make her look somehow like a servant. that was all there seemed to be to lookforward to, and sara stood quite still for
several minutes and thought it over. then a thought came back to her which madethe color 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 alterone thing. if i am a princess in rags and tatters, ican be a princess inside. it would be easy to be a princess if i weredressed in cloth of gold, but it is a great deal more of a triumph to be one all thetime when no one knows it. there was marie antoinette when she was inprison and her throne was gone and she had
only a black gown on, and her hair waswhite, and they insulted her and called her widow capet. she was a great deal more like a queen thenthan when she was so gay and everything was so grand.i like her best then. those howling mobs of people did notfrighten her. she was stronger than they were, even whenthey cut her head off." this was not a new thought, but quite anold one, by this time. it had consoled her through many a bitterday, and she had gone about the house with an expression in her face which missminchin could not understand and which was
a source of great annoyance to her, as it seemed as if the child were mentally livinga life which held her above he rest of the world. it was as if she scarcely heard the rudeand acid things said to her; or, if she heard them, did not care for them at all. sometimes, when she was in the midst ofsome harsh, domineering speech, miss minchin would find the still, unchildisheyes fixed upon her with something like a proud smile in them. at such times she did not know that sarawas saying to herself:
"you don't know that you are saying thesethings to a princess, and that if i chose i could wave my hand and order you toexecution. 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 morethan anything else; and queer and fanciful as it was, she found comfort in it and itwas 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 and so when the servants, taking their tonefrom their mistress, were insolent and
ordered her about, she would hold her headerect and reply to them with a quaint civility which often made them stare ather. "she's got more airs and graces than if shecome from buckingham palace, that young one," said the cook, chuckling a littlesometimes. "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 troubleyou, cook?' she drops 'em about the kitchen as if theywas nothing."
the morning after the interview with ramdass 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, ofthe various things royal personages in disguise were called upon to do: alfred the great, for instance, burning the cakesand 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 nearher and was so enraged that she actually flew at her and boxed her ears--exactly asthe 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 asecond. 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 controlherself 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 itwas 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 nudgedeach other in unison. all the girls looked up from their books tolisten. really, it always interested them a littlewhen miss minchin attacked sara. sara always said something queer, and neverseemed 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 andpolitely, "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 whatwould 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, youwould never dare to do it, whatever i said or did. and i was thinking how surprised andfrightened you would be if you suddenly found out--" she had the imagined future so clearlybefore her eyes that she spoke in a manner which had an effect even upon miss minchin.
it almost seemed for the moment to hernarrow, unimaginative mind that there must be some real power hidden behind thiscandid 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 wasimpolite," she said, and walked out of the room, leaving miss minchin struggling withher 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!" a little princess by frances hodgson burnettchapter 12.
the other side of the wall when one lives in a row of houses, it isinteresting to think of the things which are being done and said on the other sideof the wall of the very rooms one is living in. sara was fond of amusing herself by tryingto imagine the things hidden by the wall which divided the select seminary from theindian gentleman's house. she knew that the schoolroom was next tothe indian gentleman's study, and she hoped that the wall was thick so that the noisemade sometimes after lesson hours would not disturb him.
"i am growing quite fond of him," she saidto ermengarde; "i should not like him to be disturbed.i have adopted him for a friend. you can do that with people you never speakto at all. you can just watch them, and think aboutthem and be sorry for them, until they seem almost like relations. i'm quite anxious sometimes when i see thedoctor call twice a day." "i have very few relations," saidermengarde, 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 isalways 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 youquestions like that," she said; "and i'm sure the indian gentleman wouldn't even ifhe was quite intimate with you. i am fond of him." she had become fond of the large familybecause they looked happy; but she had become fond of the indian gentleman becausehe looked unhappy.
he had evidently not fully recovered fromsome very severe illness. in the kitchen--where, of course, theservants, through some mysterious means, knew everything--there was much discussionof his case. he was not an indian gentleman really, butan englishman who had lived in india. he had met with great misfortunes which hadfor a time so imperilled his whole fortune that he had thought himself ruined anddisgraced forever. the shock had been so great that he hadalmost died of brain fever; and ever since he had been shattered in health, though hisfortunes had changed and all his possessions had been restored to him.
his trouble and peril had been connectedwith mines. "and mines with diamonds in 'em!" said thecook. "no savin's of mine never goes into nomines--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 notdie." so her heart was more drawn to him thanbefore. when she was sent out at night she usedsometimes to feel quite glad, because there was always a chance that the curtains ofthe house next door might not yet be closed
and she could look into the warm room andsee her adopted friend. when no one was about she used sometimes tostop, and, holding to the iron railings, wish him good night as if he could hearher. "perhaps you can feel if you can't hear,"was her fancy. "perhaps kind thoughts reach peoplesomehow, even through windows and doors and walls. perhaps you feel a little warm andcomforted, and don't know why, when i am standing here in the cold and hoping youwill get well and happy again. i am so sorry for you," she would whisperin an intense little voice.
"i wish you had a 'little missus' who couldpet 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 comfortedand a little warmer herself. her sympathy was so strong that it seemedas if it must reach him somehow as he sat alone in his armchair by the fire, nearlyalways in a great dressing gown, and nearly always with his forehead resting in hishand as he gazed hopelessly into the fire. he looked to sara like a man who had atrouble on his mind still, not merely like
one whose troubles lay all in the past. "he always seems as if he were thinking ofsomething that hurts him now", she said to herself, "but he has got his money back andhe 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 evenservants did not hear of--she could not help believing that the father of the largefamily knew it--the gentleman she called mr. montmorency. mr. montmorency went to see him often, andmrs. montmorency and all the little
montmorencys went, too, though less often. he seemed particularly fond of the twoelder little girls--the janet and nora who had been so alarmed when their smallbrother donald had given sara his sixpence. he had, in fact, a very tender place in hisheart for all children, and particularly for little girls. janet and nora were as fond of him as hewas of them, and looked forward with the greatest pleasure to the afternoons whenthey were allowed to cross the square and make their well-behaved little visits tohim. they were extremely decorous little visitsbecause he was an invalid.
"he is a poor thing," said janet, "and hesays 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 discreetto ask the indian gentleman to tell stories about india, and it was she who saw when hewas tired and it was the time to steal quietly away and tell ram dass to go tohim. they were very fond of ram dass. he could have told any number of stories ifhe 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 themore so when he heard from ram dass of the adventure of the monkey on the roof. ram dass made for him a very clear pictureof 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 thelarge family, after he had heard this description, "i wonder how many of theattics in this square are like that one, and how many wretched little servant girls
sleep on such beds, while i toss on my downpillows, loaded and harassed by wealth that is, most of it--not mine." "my dear fellow," mr. carmichael answeredcheerily, "the sooner you cease tormenting yourself the better it will be for you. if you possessed all the wealth of all theindies, you could not set right all the discomforts in the world, and if you beganto refurnish all the attics in this square, there would still remain all the attics in all the other squares and streets to put inorder. and there you are!"
mr. carrisford sat and bit his nails as helooked into the glowing bed of coals in the grate. "do you suppose," he said slowly, after apause--"do you think it is possible that the other child--the child i never ceasethinking of, i believe--could be--could possibly be reduced to any such conditionas the poor little soul next door?" mr. carmichael looked at him uneasily. he knew that the worst thing the man coulddo for himself, for his reason and his health, was to begin to think in theparticular way of this particular subject. "if the child at madame pascal's school inparis was the one you are in search of," he
answered soothingly, "she would seem to bein the hands of people who can afford to take care of her. they adopted her because she had been thefavorite companion of their little daughter who died. they had no other children, and madamepascal said that they were extremely well- to-do russians." "and the wretched woman actually did notknow where they had taken her!" exclaimed mr. carrisford.mr. carmichael shrugged his shoulders. "she was a shrewd, worldly frenchwoman, andwas evidently only too glad to get the
child so comfortably off her hands when thefather's death left her totally unprovided for. women of her type do not trouble themselvesabout 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 amin search of. you say 'if.'we are not sure. there was a difference in the name." "madame pascal pronounced it as if it werecarew instead of crewe--but that might be
merely a matter of pronunciation.the circumstances were curiously similar. an english officer in india had placed hismotherless little girl at the school. he had died suddenly after losing hisfortune." mr. carmichael paused a moment, as if a newthought had occurred to him. "are you sure the child was left at aschool 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 toschool somewhere. i do not even remember, now, how i knewit." he was beginning to be excited. he always became excited when his stillweakened brain was stirred by memories of
the catastrophes of the past.mr. carmichael watched him anxiously. it was necessary to ask some questions, butthey must be put quietly and with caution. "but you had reason to think the school wasin paris?" "yes," was the answer, "because her motherwas a frenchwoman, and i had heard that she wished her child to be educated in paris.it seemed only likely that she would be "yes," mr. carmichael said, "it seems morethan probable." the indian gentleman leaned forward andstruck 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 hasmade realities of all our most fantastic dreams, and poor crewe's child may bebegging 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 handover to her." "why was i not man enough to stand myground when things looked black?" carrisford groaned in petulant misery.
"i believe i should have stood my ground ifi 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 etonwith 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 reproachmyself 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 givenway under the strain of mental torture," he said."you were half delirious already. if you had not been you would have stayedand fought it out. you were in a hospital, strapped down inbed, 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 thingsmocking and mouthing at me." "that is explanation enough in itself,"said mr. carmichael. "how could a man on the verge of brainfever judge sanely!" carrisford shook his drooping head. "and when i returned to consciousness poorcrewe 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 existenceeverything seemed in a sort of haze." he stopped a moment and rubbed hisforehead. "it sometimes seems so now when i try toremember. surely i must sometime have heard crewespeak 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--iforgot. and now i shall never remember.""come, come," said carmichael. "we shall find her yet. we will continue to search for madamepascal's good-natured russians. she seemed to have a vague idea that theylived 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 sithere wrapped in furs and stare at the fire.
and when i look into it i seem to seecrewe's gay young face gazing back at me. he looks as if he were asking me aquestion. sometimes i dream of him at night, and healways stands before me and asks the same question in words.can you guess what he says, carmichael?" mr. carmichael answered him in a rather lowvoice. "not exactly," he said."he always says, 'tom, old man--tom--where is the little missus?'" he caught at carmichael's hand and clung toit. "i must be able to answer him--i must!" hesaid.
"help me to find her. help me."on the other side of the wall sara was sitting in her garret talking tomelchisedec, 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 ipassed her in the hall, i thought of something to say all in a flash--and i onlyjust 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 holdyourself in. i bit mine. it was a cold afternoon, melchisedec.and it's a cold night." quite suddenly she put her black head downin her arms, as she often did when she was "oh, papa," she whispered, "what a longtime it seems since i was your 'little missus'!"this was what happened that day on both sides of the wall. a little princess by frances hodgson burnettchapter 13.
one of the populace the winter was a wretched one. there were days on which sara trampedthrough snow when she went on her errands; there were worse days when the snow meltedand combined itself with mud to form slush; there were others when the fog was so thick that the lamps in the street were lightedall day and london looked as it had looked the afternoon, several years ago, when thecab had driven through the thoroughfares with sara tucked up on its seat, leaningagainst her father's shoulder. on such days the windows of the house ofthe large family always looked delightfully
cozy and alluring, and the study in whichthe indian gentleman sat glowed with warmth and rich color. but the attic was dismal beyond words.there were no longer sunsets or sunrises to look at, and scarcely ever any stars, itseemed to sara. the clouds hung low over the skylight andwere either gray or mud-color, or dropping heavy rain. at four o'clock in the afternoon, even whenthere was no special fog, the daylight was at an end. if it was necessary to go to her attic foranything, 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 hoarselyto sara one night when she had crept into the attic--"'twarn't for you, an' thebastille, 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 meabout the subt'ranean passage we've dug under the walls." "i'll tell you something warmer," shiveredsara. "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 youabout the tropical forest where the indian gentleman's monkey used to live. when i see him sitting on the table nearthe window and looking out into the street with that mournful expression, i alwaysfeel sure he is thinking about the tropical
forest where he used to swing by his tailfrom coconut trees. i wonder who caught him, and if he left afamily 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 getsto tellin' about it." "that is because it makes you think ofsomething else," said sara, wrapping the coverlet round her until only her smalldark face was to be seen looking out of it. "i've noticed this. what you have to do with your mind, whenyour 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--ithink as hard as ever i can of being a princess.
i say to myself, 'i am a princess, and i ama fairy one, and because i am a fairy nothing can hurt me or make meuncomfortable.' you don't know how it makes you forget"--with a laugh. she had many opportunities of making hermind think of something else, and many opportunities of proving to herself whetheror not she was a princess. but one of the strongest tests she was everput to came on a certain dreadful day which, she often thought afterward, wouldnever quite fade out of her memory even in the years to come. for several days it had rainedcontinuously; the streets were chilly and
sloppy and full of dreary, cold mist; therewas mud everywhere--sticky london mud--and over everything the pall of drizzle andfog. of course there were several long andtiresome errands to be done--there always were on days like this--and sara was sentout again and again, until her shabby clothes were damp through. the absurd old feathers on her forlorn hatwere more draggled and absurd than ever, and her downtrodden shoes were so wet thatthey could not hold any more water. added to this, she had been deprived of herdinner, because miss minchin had chosen to punish her.
she was so cold and hungry and tired thather face began to have a pinched look, and now and then some kind-hearted personpassing 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 shehad ever found it, and once or twice she thought it almost made her more cold andhungry instead of less so.
but she persevered obstinately, and as themuddy water squelched through her broken shoes and the wind seemed trying to dragher thin jacket from her, she talked to herself as she walked, though she did notspeak aloud or even move her lips. "suppose i had dry clothes on," shethought. "suppose i had good shoes and a long, thickcoat and merino stockings and a whole umbrella. and suppose--suppose--just when i was neara baker's where they sold hot buns, i should find sixpence--which belonged tonobody. suppose if i did, i should go into the shopand 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 happenedto sara. she had to cross the street just when shewas saying this to herself. the mud was dreadful--she almost had towade. she picked her way as carefully as shecould, but she could not save herself much; only, in picking her way, she had to lookdown at her feet and the mud, and in looking down--just as she reached the pavement--she saw something shining in thegutter.
it was actually a piece of silver--a tinypiece trodden upon by many feet, but still with spirit enough left to shine a little. not quite a sixpence, but the next thing toit--a fourpenny piece. in one second it was in her cold littlered-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 facingher. and it was a baker's shop, and a cheerful,stout, motherly woman with rosy cheeks was putting into the window a tray of deliciousnewly baked hot buns, fresh from the oven--
large, plump, shiny buns, with currants inthem. it almost made sara feel faint for a fewseconds--the shock, and the sight of the buns, and the delightful odors of warmbread floating up through the baker's cellar window. she knew she need not hesitate to use thelittle piece of money. it had evidently been lying in the mud forsome time, and its owner was completely lost in the stream of passing people whocrowded and jostled each other all day long. "but i'll go and ask the baker woman if shehas 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 madeher stop. it was a little figure more forlorn eventhan herself--a little figure which was not much more than a bundle of rags, from whichsmall, bare, red muddy feet peeped out, only because the rags with which their owner was trying to cover them were notlong enough. above the rags appeared a shock head oftangled hair, and a dirty face with big, hollow, hungry eyes.
sara knew they were hungry eyes the momentshe saw them, and she felt a sudden sympathy. "this," she said to herself, with a littlesigh, "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 topass. she was used to being made to give room toeverybody. she knew that if a policeman chanced to seeher he would tell her to "move on." sara clutched her little fourpenny pieceand hesitated for a few seconds.
then she spoke to her."are you hungry?" she asked. the child shuffled herself and her rags alittle 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 withmore 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 atwork in her brain, and she was talking to herself, though she was sick at heart. "if i'm a princess," she was saying, "ifi'm a princess--when they were poor and driven from their thrones--they alwaysshared--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 eatensix. 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 morehot buns into the window. "if you please," said sara, "have you lostfourpence--a silver fourpence?" and she held the forlorn little piece ofmoney out to her. the woman looked at it and then at her--ather 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, andgoodness 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, lookingpuzzled 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 somein a paper bag. sara noticed that she put in six. "i said four, if you please," sheexplained. "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 toyou for your kindness; and"--she was going to add--"there is a child outside who ishungrier than i am."
but just at that moment two or threecustomers came in at once, and each one seemed in a hurry, so she could only thankthe woman again and go out. the beggar girl was still huddled up in thecorner of the step. she looked frightful in her wet and dirtyrags. she was staring straight before her with astupid look of suffering, and sara saw her suddenly draw the back of her roughenedblack hand across her eyes to rub away the tears which seemed to have surprised her byforcing their way from under her lids. she was muttering to herself. sara opened the paper bag and took out oneof 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, asif such sudden, amazing good luck almost frightened her; then she snatched up thebun and began to cram it into her mouth with great wolfish bites. "oh, my!oh, my!" sara heard her say hoarsely, in wilddelight. "oh my!"
sara took out three more buns and put themdown. the sound in the hoarse, ravenous voice wasawful. "she is hungrier than i am," she said toherself. "she's starving."but her hand trembled when she put down the fourth bun. "i'm not starving," she said--and she putdown the fifth. the little ravening london savage was stillsnatching 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 thestreet she looked back. the child had a bun in each hand and hadstopped in the middle of a bite to watch 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 oneshe had begun. at that moment the baker-woman looked outof her shop window. "well, i never!" she exclaimed.
"if that young un hasn't given her buns toa 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 itfor." she stood behind her window for a fewmoments and pondered. then her curiosity got the better of her. she went to the door and spoke to thebeggar 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, andgave 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 feltfor many a day. "i wish she hadn't gone so quick," shesaid. "i'm blest if she shouldn't have had adozen." 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 abit of bread, you can come in here and ask for it. i'm blest if i won't give it to you forthat young one's sake." sara found some comfort in her remainingbun. at all events, it was very hot, and it wasbetter than nothing. as she walked along she broke off smallpieces 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 onlike this." it was dark when she reached the squarewhere the select seminary was situated. the lights in the houses were all lighted. the blinds were not yet drawn in thewindows of the room where she nearly always caught glimpses of members of the largefamily. frequently at this hour she could see thegentleman she called mr. montmorency sitting in a big chair, with a small swarmround him, talking, laughing, perching on
the arms of his seat or on his knees orleaning against them. this evening the swarm was about him, buthe was not seated. on the contrary, there was a good deal ofexcitement going on. it was evident that a journey was to betaken, and it was mr. montmorency who was to take it. a brougham stood before the door, and a bigportmanteau had been strapped upon it. the children were dancing about, chatteringand hanging on to their father. the pretty rosy mother was standing nearhim, talking as if she was asking final questions.
sara paused a moment to see the little oneslifted 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 hedoesn'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 thebackground of the warmly-lighted hall, the older children still hovering about him. "will moscow be covered with snow?" saidthe 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 tomoscow. good night! good night, duckies!god bless you!"
and he ran down the steps and jumped intothe brougham. "if you find the little girl, give her ourlove," 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 theywent back to the room--"the little-girl- who-is-not-a-beggar was passing? she looked all cold and wet, and i saw herturn her head over her shoulder and look at us. mamma says her clothes always look as ifthey had been given her by someone who was quite rich--someone who only let her havethem because they were too shabby to wear.
the people at the school always send herout 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," shethought--"the little girl he is going to look for." and she went down the area steps, luggingher basket and finding it very heavy indeed, as the father of the large familydrove quickly on his way to the station to take the train which was to carry him to moscow, where he was to make his bestefforts to search for the lost little
daughter of captain crewe. a little princess by frances hodgson burnettchapter 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 hewas 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 towatch what was going on. the attic had been very still all the dayafter sara had left it in the early morning.
the stillness had only been broken by thepattering of the rain upon the slates and the skylight. melchisedec had, in fact, found it ratherdull; and when the rain ceased to patter and perfect silence reigned, he decided tocome out and reconnoiter, though experience taught him that sara would not return forsome 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 palpitatingheart.
the sound suggested that something wasmoving on the roof. it was approaching the skylight; it reachedthe skylight. the skylight was being mysteriously opened. a dark face peered into the attic; thenanother face appeared behind it, and both looked in with signs of caution andinterest. two men were outside on the roof, and weremaking silent preparations to enter through the skylight itself. one was ram dass and the other was a youngman who was the indian gentleman's secretary; but of course melchisedec didnot know this.
he only knew that the men were invading thesilence and privacy of the attic; and as the one with the dark face let himself downthrough the aperture with such lightness and dexterity that he did not make the slightest sound, melchisedec turned tailand fled precipitately back to his hole. he was frightened to death. he had ceased to be timid with sara, andknew she would never throw anything but crumbs, and would never make any soundother than the soft, low, coaxing whistling; but strange men were dangerousthings to remain near. he lay close and flat near the entrance ofhis home, just managing to peep through the
crack with a bright, alarmed eye. how much he understood of the talk he heardi am not in the least able to say; but, even if he had understood it all, he wouldprobably 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 lastglimpse of melchisedec's vanishing tail. "was that a rat?" he asked ram dass in awhisper. "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 intimateexponent 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 hermany nights to see that she is safe. i watch her from my window when she doesnot know i am near. she stands on the table there and looks outat the sky as if it spoke to her.
the sparrows come at her call. the rat she has fed and tamed in herloneliness. the poor slave of the house comes to herfor comfort. there is a little child who comes to her insecret; there is one older who worships her and would listen to her forever if shemight. this i have seen when i have crept acrossthe roof. by the mistress of the house--who is anevil woman--she is treated like a pariah; but she has the bearing of a child who isof the blood of kings!" "you seem to know a great deal about her,"the secretary said.
"all her life each day i know," answeredram 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 ishappier--as children can be, even in the midst of poverty--because they come and shemay laugh and talk with them in whispers. if she were ill i should know, and i wouldcome and serve her if it might be done." "you are sure no one comes near this placebut herself, and that she will not return and surprise us.
she would be frightened if she found ushere, 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," hesaid. "she has gone out with her basket and maybe gone for hours. if i stand here i can hear any step beforeit reaches the last flight of the stairs." the secretary took a pencil and a tabletfrom his breast pocket. "keep your ears open," he said; and hebegan to walk slowly and softly round the miserable little room, making rapid noteson his tablet as he looked at things.
first he went to the narrow bed. he pressed his hand upon the mattress anduttered 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 itacross. 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 ina house which calls itself respectable!
there has not been a fire in that grate formany a day," glancing at the rusty fireplace."never since i have seen it," said ram dass. "the mistress of the house is not one whoremembers 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 leafand 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 apologeticobeisance. "it is true that the first thought wasmine, sahib," he said; "though it was naught but a fancy. i am fond of this child; we are bothlonely. it is her way to relate her visions to hersecret friends. being sad one night, i lay close to theopen skylight and listened. the vision she related told what thismiserable room might be if it had comforts in it. she seemed to see it as she talked, and shegrew cheered and warmed as she spoke.
then she came to this fancy; and the nextday, the sahib being ill and wretched, i told him of the thing to amuse him. it seemed then but a dream, but it pleasedthe sahib. to hear of the child's doings gave himentertainment. he became interested in her and askedquestions. at last he began to please himself with thethought of making her visions real things." "you think that it can be done while shesleeps? suppose she awakened," suggested thesecretary; and it was evident that whatsoever the plan referred to was, it hadcaught 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 nightmany times, and without causing her to turn upon her pillow. if the other bearer passes to me the thingsthrough 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 hiswhite 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 greatrelief of melchisedec, who, as he probably did not comprehend their conversation, felttheir movements and whispers ominous. the young secretary seemed interested ineverything. he wrote down things about the floor, thefireplace, the broken footstool, the old table, the walls--which last he touchedwith his hand again and again, seeming much pleased when he found that a number of oldnails 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, "ientered, bringing with me small, sharp nails which can be pressed into the wallwithout blows from a hammer. i placed many in the plaster where i mayneed them. they are ready." the indian gentleman's secretary stoodstill 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 toemerge from his hole again and scuffle about in the hope that even such alarming human beings as these might have chanced tocarry crumbs in their pockets and drop one or two of them.