Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Part 2 out of 5

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.5 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

"Ugh!" said Sara.

"You gets used to anythin' after a bit," said Becky. "You have
to, miss, if you're born a scullery maid. I'd rather have rats
than cockroaches."

"So would I," said Sara; "I suppose you might make friends with a
rat in time, but I don't believe I should like to make friends
with a cockroach."

Sometimes Becky did not dare to spend more than a few minutes in
the bright, warm room, and when this was the case perhaps only a
few words could be exchanged, and a small purchase slipped into
the old-fashioned pocket Becky carried under her dress skirt,
tied round her waist with a band of tape. The search for and
discovery of satisfying things to eat which could be packed into
small compass, added a new interest to Sara's existence. When
she drove or walked out, she used to look into shop windows
eagerly. The first time it occurred to her to bring home two or
three little meat pies, she felt that she had hit upon a
discovery. When she exhibited them, Becky's eyes quite sparkled.

"Oh, miss!" she murmured. "Them will be nice an' fillin.' It's
fillin'ness that's best. Sponge cake's a 'evenly thing, but it
melts away like--if you understand, miss. These'll just STAY in
yer stummick."

"Well," hesitated Sara, "I don't think it would be good if they
stayed always, but I do believe they will be satisfying."

They were satisfying--and so were beef sandwiches, bought at a
cook-shop--and so were rolls and Bologna sausage. In time, Becky
began to lose her hungry, tired feeling, and the coal box did not
seem so unbearably heavy.

However heavy it was, and whatsoever the temper of the cook, and
the hardness of the work heaped upon her shoulders, she had
always the chance of the afternoon to look forward to--the
chance that Miss Sara would be able to be in her sitting room.
In fact, the mere seeing of Miss Sara would have been enough
without meat pies. If there was time only for a few words, they
were always friendly, merry words that put heart into one; and if
there was time for more, then there was an installment of a story
to be told, or some other thing one remembered afterward and
sometimes lay awake in one's bed in the attic to think over.
Sara--who was only doing what she unconsciously liked better than
anything else, Nature having made her for a giver--had not the
least idea what she meant to poor Becky, and how wonderful a
benefactor she seemed. If Nature has made you for a giver, your
hands are born open, and so is your heart; and though there may
be times when your hands are empty, your heart is always full,
and you can give things out of that--warm things, kind things,
sweet things--help and comfort and laughter--and sometimes gay,
kind laughter is the best help of all.

Becky had scarcely known what laughter was through all her poor,
little hard-driven life. Sara made her laugh, and laughed with
her; and, though neither of them quite knew it, the laughter was
as "fillin'" as the meat pies.

A few weeks before Sara's eleventh birthday a letter came to her
from her father, which did not seem to be written in such boyish
high spirits as usual. He was not very well, and was evidently
overweighted by the business connected with the diamond mines.

"You see, little Sara," he wrote, "your daddy is not a
businessman at all, and figures and documents bother him. He
does not really understand them, and all this seems so enormous.
Perhaps, if I was not feverish I should not be awake, tossing
about, one half of the night and spend the other half in
troublesome dreams. If my little missus were here, I dare say
she would give me some solemn, good advice. You would, wouldn't
you, Little Missus?"

One of his many jokes had been to call her his "little missus"
because she had such an old-fashioned air.

He had made wonderful preparations for her birthday. Among
other things, a new doll had been ordered in Paris, and her
wardrobe was to be, indeed, a marvel of splendid perfection.
When she had replied to the letter asking her if the doll would
be an acceptable present, Sara had been very quaint.

"I am getting very old," she wrote; "you see, I shall never live
to have another doll given me. This will be my last doll. There
is something solemn about it. If I could write poetry, I am sure
a poem about `A Last Doll' would be very nice. But I cannot
write poetry. I have tried, and it made me laugh. It did not
sound like Watts or Coleridge or Shakespeare at all. No one
could ever take Emily's place, but I should respect the Last Doll
very much; and I am sure the school would love it. They all like
dolls, though some of the big ones--the almost fifteen ones--
pretend they are too grown up."

Captain Crewe had a splitting headache when he read this letter
in his bungalow in India. The table before him was heaped with
papers and letters which were alarming him and filling him with
anxious dread, but he laughed as he had not laughed for weeks.

"Oh," he said, "she's better fun every year she lives. God
grant this business may right itself and leave me free to run
home and see her. What wouldn't I give to have her little arms
round my neck this minute! What WOULDN'T I give!"

The birthday was to be celebrated by great festivities. The
schoolroom was to be decorated, and there was to be a party. The
boxes containing the presents were to be opened with great
ceremony, and there was to be a glittering feast spread in Miss
Minchin's sacred room. When the day arrived the whole house was
in a whirl of excitement. How the morning passed nobody quite
knew, because there seemed such preparations to be made. The
schoolroom was being decked with garlands of holly; the desks had
been moved away, and red covers had been put on the forms which
were arrayed round the room against the wall.

When Sara went into her sitting room in the morning, she found
on the table a small, dumpy package, tied up in a piece of brown
paper. She knew it was a present, and she thought she could
guess whom it came from. She opened it quite tenderly. It was a
square pincushion, made of not quite clean red flannel, and black
pins had been stuck carefully into it to form the words, "Menny
hapy returns."

"Oh!" cried Sara, with a warm feeling in her heart. "What pains
she has taken! I like it so, it--it makes me feel sorrowful."

But the next moment she was mystified. On the under side of the
pincushion was secured a card, bearing in neat letters the name
"Miss Amelia Minchin."

Sara turned it over and over.

"Miss Amelia!" she said to herself "How CAN it be!"

And just at that very moment she heard the door being cautiously
pushed open and saw Becky peeping round it.

There was an affectionate, happy grin on her face, and she
shuffled forward and stood nervously pulling at her fingers.

"Do yer like it, Miss Sara?" she said. "Do yer?"

"Like it?" cried Sara. "You darling Becky, you made it all
yourself."

Becky gave a hysteric but joyful sniff, and her eyes looked
quite moist with delight.

"It ain't nothin' but flannin, an' the flannin ain't new; but I
wanted to give yer somethin' an' I made it of nights. I knew yer
could PRETEND it was satin with diamond pins in. _I_ tried to
when I was makin' it. The card, miss," rather doubtfully; "'t
warn't wrong of me to pick it up out o' the dust-bin, was it?
Miss 'Meliar had throwed it away. I hadn't no card o' my own,
an' I knowed it wouldn't be a proper presink if I didn't pin a
card on-- so I pinned Miss 'Meliar's."

Sara flew at her and hugged her. She could not have told
herself or anyone else why there was a lump in her throat.

"Oh, Becky!" she cried out, with a queer little laugh, "I love
you, Becky--I do, I do!"

"Oh, miss!" breathed Becky. "Thank yer, miss, kindly; it ain't
good enough for that. The--the flannin wasn't new."

7

The Diamond Mines Again

When Sara entered the holly-hung schoolroom in the afternoon, she
did so as the head of a sort of procession. Miss Minchin, in
her grandest silk dress, led her by the hand. A manservant
followed, carrying the box containing the Last Doll, a housemaid
carried a second box, and Becky brought up the rear, carrying a
third and wearing a clean apron and a new cap. Sara would have
much preferred to enter in the usual way, but Miss Minchin had
sent for her, and, after an interview in her private sitting
room, had expressed her wishes.

"This is not an ordinary occasion," she said. "I do not desire
that it should be treated as one."

So Sara was led grandly in and felt shy when, on her entry, the
big girls stared at her and touched each other's elbows, and the
little ones began to squirm joyously in their seats.

"Silence, young ladies!" said Miss Minchin, at the murmur which
arose. "James, place the box on the table and remove the lid.
Emma, put yours upon a chair. Becky!" suddenly and severely.

Becky had quite forgotten herself in her excitement, and was
grinning at Lottie, who was wriggling with rapturous
expectation. She almost dropped her box, the disapproving voice
so startled her, and her frightened, bobbing curtsy of apology
was so funny that Lavinia and Jessie tittered.

"It is not your place to look at the young ladies," said Miss
Minchin. "You forget yourself. Put your box down."

Becky obeyed with alarmed haste and hastily backed toward the
door.

"You may leave us," Miss Minchin announced to the servants with a
wave of her hand.

Becky stepped aside respectfully to allow the superior servants
to pass out first. She could not help casting a longing glance
at the box on the table. Something made of blue satin was
peeping from between the folds of tissue paper.

"If you please, Miss Minchin," said Sara, suddenly, "mayn't
Becky stay?"

It was a bold thing to do. Miss Minchin was betrayed into
something like a slight jump. Then she put her eyeglass up, and
gazed at her show pupil disturbedly.

"Becky!" she exclaimed. "My dearest Sara!"

Sara advanced a step toward her.

"I want her because I know she will like to see the presents,"
she explained. "She is a little girl, too, you know."

Miss Minchin was scandalized. She glanced from one figure to
the other.

"My dear Sara," she said, "Becky is the scullery maid. Scullery
maids--er--are not little girls."

It really had not occurred to her to think of them in that
light. Scullery maids were machines who carried coal scuttles
and made fires.

"But Becky is," said Sara. "And I know she would enjoy herself.
Please let her stay--because it is my birthday."

Miss Minchin replied with much dignity:

"As you ask it as a birthday favor--she may stay. Rebecca,
thank Miss Sara for her great kindness."

Becky had been backing into the corner, twisting the hem of her
apron in delighted suspense. She came forward, bobbing
curtsies, but between Sara's eyes and her own there passed a
gleam of friendly understanding, while her words tumbled over
each other.

"Oh, if you please, miss! I'm that grateful, miss! I did want
to see the doll, miss, that I did. Thank you, miss. And thank
you, ma'am,"--turning and making an alarmed bob to Miss Minchin--
"for letting me take the liberty."

Miss Minchin waved her hand again--this time it was in the
direction of the corner near the door.

"Go and stand there," she commanded. "Not too near the young
ladies."

Becky went to her place, grinning. She did not care where she
was sent, so that she might have the luck of being inside the
room, instead of being downstairs in the scullery, while these
delights were going on. She did not even mind when Miss Minchin
cleared her throat ominously and spoke again.

"Now, young ladies, I have a few words to say to you," she
announced.

"She's going to make a speech," whispered one of the girls. "I
wish it was over."

Sara felt rather uncomfortable. As this was her party, it was
probable that the speech was about her. It is not agreeable to
stand in a schoolroom and have a speech made about you.

"You are aware, young ladies," the speech began--for it was a
speech--"that dear Sara is eleven years old today."

"DEAR Sara!" murmured Lavinia.

"Several of you here have also been eleven years old, but Sara's
birthdays are rather different from other little girls'
birthdays. When she is older she will be heiress to a large
fortune, which it will be her duty to spend in a meritorious
manner."

"The diamond mines," giggled Jessie, in a whisper.

Sara did not hear her; but as she stood with her green-gray eyes
fixed steadily on Miss Minchin, she felt herself growing rather
hot. When Miss Minchin talked about money, she felt somehow that
she always hated her--and, of course, it was disrespectful to
hate grown-up people.

"When her dear papa, Captain Crewe, brought her from India and
gave her into my care," the speech proceeded, "he said to me, in
a jesting way, `I am afraid she will be very rich, Miss Minchin.'
My reply was, `Her education at my seminary, Captain Crewe, shall
be such as will adorn the largest fortune.' Sara has become my
most accomplished pupil. Her French and her dancing are a credit
to the seminary. Her manners--which have caused you to call her
Princess Sara--are perfect. Her amiability she exhibits by
giving you this afternoon's party. I hope you appreciate her
generosity. I wish you to express your appreciation of it by
saying aloud all together, `Thank you, Sara!'"

The entire schoolroom rose to its feet as it had done the
morning Sara remembered so well.

"Thank you, Sara!" it said, and it must be confessed that Lottie
jumped up and down. Sara looked rather shy for a moment. She
made a curtsy--and it was a very nice one.

"Thank you," she said, "for coming to my party."

"Very pretty, indeed, Sara," approved Miss Minchin. "That is
what a real princess does when the populace applauds her.
Lavinia"--scathingly--"the sound you just made was extremely
like a snort. If you are jealous of your fellow-pupil, I beg you
will express your feelings in some more lady-like manner. Now
I will leave you to enjoy yourselves."

The instant she had swept out of the room the spell her presence
always had upon them was broken. The door had scarcely closed
before every seat was empty. The little girls jumped or tumbled
out of theirs; the older ones wasted no time in deserting
theirs. There was a rush toward the boxes. Sara had bent over
one of them with a delighted face.

"These are books, I know," she said.

The little children broke into a rueful murmur, and Ermengarde
looked aghast.

"Does your papa send you books for a birthday present?" she
exclaimed. "Why, he's as bad as mine. Don't open them, Sara."

"I like them," Sara laughed, but she turned to the biggest box.
When she took out the Last Doll it was so magnificent that the
children uttered delighted groans of joy, and actually drew back
to gaze at it in breathless rapture.

"She is almost as big as Lottie," someone gasped.

Lottie clapped her hands and danced about, giggling.

"She's dressed for the theater," said Lavinia. "Her cloak is
lined with ermine."

"Oh," cried Ermengarde, darting forward, "she has an opera-glass
in her hand--a blue-and-gold one!"

"Here is her trunk," said Sara. "Let us open it and look at her
things."

She sat down upon the floor and turned the key. The children
crowded clamoring around her, as she lifted tray after tray and
revealed their contents. Never had the schoolroom been in such
an uproar. There were lace collars and silk stockings and
handkerchiefs; there was a jewel case containing a necklace and a
tiara which looked quite as if they were made of real diamonds;
there was a long sealskin and muff, there were ball dresses and
walking dresses and visiting dresses; there were hats and tea
gowns and fans. Even Lavinia and Jessie forgot that they were
too elderly to care for dolls, and uttered exclamations of
delight and caught up things to look at them.

"Suppose," Sara said, as she stood by the table, putting a
large, black-velvet hat on the impassively smiling owner of all
these splendors--"suppose she understands human talk and feels
proud of being admired."

"You are always supposing things," said Lavinia, and her air was
very superior.

"I know I am," answered Sara, undisturbedly. "I like it. There
is nothing so nice as supposing. It's almost like being a fairy.
If you suppose anything hard enough it seems as if it were
real."

"It's all very well to suppose things if you have everything,"
said Lavinia. "Could you suppose and pretend if you were a
beggar and lived in a garret?"

Sara stopped arranging the Last Doll's ostrich plumes, and looked
thoughtful.

"I BELIEVE I could," she said. "If one was a beggar, one would
have to suppose and pretend all the time. But it mightn't be
easy."

She often thought afterward how strange it was that just as she
had finished saying this--just at that very moment--Miss Amelia
came into the room.

"Sara," she said, "your papa's solicitor, Mr. Barrow, has called
to see Miss Minchin, and, as she must talk to him alone and the
refreshments are laid in her parlor, you had all better come and
have your feast now, so that my sister can have her interview
here in the schoolroom."

Refreshments were not likely to be disdained at any hour, and
many pairs of eyes gleamed. Miss Amelia arranged the procession
into decorum, and then, with Sara at her side heading it, she led
it away, leaving the Last Doll sitting upon a chair with the
glories of her wardrobe scattered about her; dresses and coats
hung upon chair backs, piles of lace-frilled petticoats lying
upon their seats.

Becky, who was not expected to partake of refreshments, had the
indiscretion to linger a moment to look at these beauties--it
really was an indiscretion.

"Go back to your work, Becky," Miss Amelia had said; but she had
stopped to pick up reverently first a muff and then a coat, and
while she stood looking at them adoringly, she heard Miss Minchin
upon the threshold, and, being smitten with terror at the thought
of being accused of taking liberties, she rashly darted under the
table, which hid her by its tablecloth.

Miss Minchin came into the room, accompanied by a sharp-
featured, dry little gentleman, who looked rather disturbed.
Miss Minchin herself also looked rather disturbed, it must be
admitted, and she gazed at the dry little gentleman with an
irritated and puzzled expression.

She sat down with stiff dignity, and waved him to a chair.

"Pray, be seated, Mr. Barrow," she said.

Mr. Barrow did not sit down at once. His attention seemed
attracted by the Last Doll and the things which surrounded her.
He settled his eyeglasses and looked at them in nervous
disapproval. The Last Doll herself did not seem to mind this in
the least. She merely sat upright and returned his gaze
indifferently.

"A hundred pounds," Mr. Barrow remarked succinctly. "All
expensive material, and made at a Parisian modiste's. He spent
money lavishly enough, that young man."

Miss Minchin felt offended. This seemed to be a disparagement of
her best patron and was a liberty.

Even solicitors had no right to take liberties.

"I beg your pardon, Mr. Barrow," she said stiffly. "I do not
understand."

"Birthday presents," said Mr. Barrow in the same critical
manner, "to a child eleven years old! Mad extravagance, I call
it."

Miss Minchin drew herself up still more rigidly.

"Captain Crewe is a man of fortune," she said. "The diamond
mines alone--"

Mr. Barrow wheeled round upon her. "Diamond mines!" he broke
out. "There are none! Never were!"

Miss Minchin actually got up from her chair.

"What!" she cried. "What do you mean?"

"At any rate," answered Mr. Barrow, quite snappishly, "it would
have been much better if there never had been any."

"Any diamond mines?" ejaculated Miss Minchin, catching at the
back of a chair and feeling as if a splendid dream was fading
away from her.

"Diamond mines spell ruin oftener than they spell wealth," said
Mr. Barrow. "When a man is in the hands of a very dear friend
and is not a businessman himself, he had better steer clear of
the dear friend's diamond mines, or gold mines, or any other kind
of mines dear friends want his money to put into. The late
Captain Crewe--"

Here Miss Minchin stopped him with a gasp.

"The LATE Captain Crewe!" she cried out. "The LATE! You don't
come to tell me that Captain Crewe is--"

"He's dead, ma'am," Mr. Barrow answered with jerky brusqueness.
"Died of jungle fever and business troubles combined. The
jungle fever might not have killed him if he had not been driven
mad by the business troubles, and the business troubles might not
have put an end to him if the jungle fever had not assisted.
Captain Crewe is dead!"

Miss Minchin dropped into her chair again. The words he had
spoken filled her with alarm.

"What WERE his business troubles?" she said. "What WERE they?"

"Diamond mines," answered Mr. Barrow, "and dear friends--and
ruin."

Miss Minchin lost her breath.

"Ruin!" she gasped out.

"Lost every penny. That young man had too much money. The dear
friend was mad on the subject of the diamond mine. He put all
his own money into it, and all Captain Crewe's. Then the dear
friend ran away--Captain Crewe was already stricken with fever
when the news came. The shock was too much for him. He died
delirious, raving about his little girl--and didn't leave a
penny."

Now Miss Minchin understood, and never had she received such a
blow in her life. Her show pupil, her show patron, swept away
from the Select Seminary at one blow. She felt as if she had
been outraged and robbed, and that Captain Crewe and Sara and Mr.
Barrow were equally to blame.

"Do you mean to tell me," she cried out, "that he left NOTHING!
That Sara will have no fortune! That the child is a beggar!
That she is left on my hands a little pauper instead of an
heiress?"

Mr. Barrow was a shrewd businessman, and felt it as well to make
his own freedom from responsibility quite clear without any
delay.

"She is certainly left a beggar," he replied. "And she is
certainly left on your hands, ma'am--as she hasn't a relation in
the world that we know of."

Miss Minchin started forward. She looked as if she was going to
open the door and rush out of the room to stop the festivities
going on joyfully and rather noisily that moment over the
refreshments.

"It is monstrous!" she said. "She's in my sitting room at this
moment, dressed in silk gauze and lace petticoats, giving a party
at my expense."

"She's giving it at your expense, madam, if she's giving it,"
said Mr. Barrow, calmly. "Barrow & Skipworth are not
responsible for anything. There never was a cleaner sweep made
of a man's fortune. Captain Crewe died without paying OUR last
bill--and it was a big one."

Miss Minchin turned back from the door in increased indignation.
This was worse than anyone could have dreamed of its being.

"That is what has happened to me!" she cried. "I was always so
sure of his payments that I went to all sorts of ridiculous
expenses for the child. I paid the bills for that ridiculous
doll and her ridiculous fantastic wardrobe. The child was to
have anything she wanted. She has a carriage and a pony and a
maid, and I've paid for all of them since the last cheque came."

Mr. Barrow evidently did not intend to remain to listen to the
story of Miss Minchin's grievances after he had made the
position of his firm clear and related the mere dry facts. He
did not feel any particular sympathy for irate keepers of
boarding schools.

"You had better not pay for anything more, ma'am," he remarked,
"unless you want to make presents to the young lady. No one
will remember you. She hasn't a brass farthing to call her own."

"But what am I to do?" demanded Miss Minchin, as if she felt it
entirely his duty to make the matter right. "What am I to do?"

"There isn't anything to do," said Mr. Barrow, folding up his
eyeglasses and slipping them into his pocket. "Captain Crewe is
dead. The child is left a pauper. Nobody is responsible for her
but you."

"I am not responsible for her, and I refuse to be made
responsible!"

Miss Minchin became quite white with rage.

Mr. Barrow turned to go.

"I have nothing to do with that, madam," he said un-
interestedly. "Barrow & Skipworth are not responsible. Very
sorry the thing has happened, of course."

"If you think she is to be foisted off on me, you are greatly
mistaken," Miss Minchin gasped. "I have been robbed and cheated;
I will turn her into the street!"

If she had not been so furious, she would have been too discreet
to say quite so much. She saw herself burdened with an
extravagantly brought-up child whom she had always resented, and
she lost all self-control.

Mr. Barrow undisturbedly moved toward the door.

"I wouldn't do that, madam," he commented; "it wouldn't look
well. Unpleasant story to get about in connection with the
establishment. Pupil bundled out penniless and without friends."

He was a clever business man, and he knew what he was saying. He
also knew that Miss Minchin was a business woman, and would be
shrewd enough to see the truth. She could not afford to do a
thing which would make people speak of her as cruel and hard-
hearted.

"Better keep her and make use of her," he added. "She's a
clever child, I believe. You can get a good deal out of her as
she grows older."

"I will get a good deal out of her before she grows older!"
exclaimed Miss Minchin.

"I am sure you will, ma'am," said Mr. Barrow, with a little
sinister smile. "I am sure you will. Good morning!"

He bowed himself out and closed the door, and it must be
confessed that Miss Minchin stood for a few moments and glared at
it. What he had said was quite true. She knew it. She had
absolutely no redress. Her show pupil had melted into
nothingness, leaving only a friendless, beggared little girl.
Such money as she herself had advanced was lost and could not be
regained.

And as she stood there breathless under her sense of injury,
there fell upon her ears a burst of gay voices from her own
sacred room, which had actually been given up to the feast. She
could at least stop this.

But as she started toward the door it was opened by Miss Amelia,
who, when she caught sight of the changed, angry face, fell back
a step in alarm.

"What IS the matter, sister?" she ejaculated.

Miss Minchin's voice was almost fierce when she answered:

"Where is Sara Crewe?"

Miss Amelia was bewildered.

"Sara!" she stammered. "Why, she's with the children in your
room, of course."

"Has she a black frock in her sumptuous wardrobe?"--in bitter
irony.

"A black frock?" Miss Amelia stammered again. "A BLACK one?"

"She has frocks of every other color. Has she a black one?"

Miss Amelia began to turn pale.

"No--ye-es!" she said. "But it is too short for her. She has
only the old black velvet, and she has outgrown it."

"Go and tell her to take off that preposterous pink silk gauze,
and put the black one on, whether it is too short or not. She
has done with finery!"

Then Miss Amelia began to wring her fat hands and cry.

"Oh, sister!" she sniffed. "Oh, sister! What CAN have
happened?"

Miss Minchin wasted no words.

"Captain Crewe is dead," she said. "He has died without a
penny. That spoiled, pampered, fanciful child is left a pauper
on my hands."

Miss Amelia sat down quite heavily in the nearest chair.

"Hundreds of pounds have I spent on nonsense for her. And I
shall never see a penny of it. Put a stop to this ridiculous
party of hers. Go and make her change her frock at once."

"I?" panted Miss Amelia. "M-must I go and tell her now?"

"This moment!" was the fierce answer. "Don't sit staring like a
goose. Go!"

Poor Miss Amelia was accustomed to being called a goose. She
knew, in fact, that she was rather a goose, and that it was left
to geese to do a great many disagreeable things. It was a
somewhat embarrassing thing to go into the midst of a room full
of delighted children, and tell the giver of the feast that she
had suddenly been transformed into a little beggar, and must go
upstairs and put on an old black frock which was too small for
her. But the thing must be done. This was evidently not the
time when questions might be asked.

She rubbed her eyes with her handkerchief until they looked
quite red. After which she got up and went out of the room,
without venturing to say another word. When her older sister
looked and spoke as she had done just now, the wisest course to
pursue was to obey orders without any comment. Miss Minchin
walked across the room. She spoke to herself aloud without
knowing that she was doing it. During the last year the story of
the diamond mines had suggested all sorts of possibilities to
her. Even proprietors of seminaries might make fortunes in
stocks, with the aid of owners of mines. And now, instead of
looking forward to gains, she was left to look back upon losses.

"The Princess Sara, indeed!" she said. "The child has been
pampered as if she were a QUEEN." She was sweeping angrily past
the corner table as she said it, and the next moment she started
at the sound of a loud, sobbing sniff which issued from under the
cover.

"What is that!" she exclaimed angrily. The loud, sobbing sniff
was heard again, and she stooped and raised the hanging folds of
the table cover.

"How DARE you!" she cried out. "How dare you! Come out
immediately!"

It was poor Becky who crawled out, and her cap was knocked on
one side, and her face was red with repressed crying.

"If you please, 'm--it's me, mum," she explained. "I know I
hadn't ought to. But I was lookin' at the doll, mum--an' I was
frightened when you come in--an' slipped under the table."

"You have been there all the time, listening," said Miss
Minchin.

"No, mum," Becky protested, bobbing curtsies. "Not listenin'--I
thought I could slip out without your noticin', but I couldn't
an' I had to stay. But I didn't listen, mum--I wouldn't for
nothin'. But I couldn't help hearin'."

Suddenly it seemed almost as if she lost all fear of the awful
lady before her. She burst into fresh tears.

"Oh, please, 'm," she said; "I dare say you'll give me warnin,
mum--but I'm so sorry for poor Miss Sara--I'm so sorry!"

"Leave the room!" ordered Miss Minchin.

Becky curtsied again, the tears openly streaming down her
cheeks.

"Yes, 'm; I will, 'm," she said, trembling; "but oh, I just
wanted to arst you: Miss Sara--she's been such a rich young
lady, an' she's been waited on, 'and and foot; an' what will she
do now, mum, without no maid? If--if, oh please, would you let
me wait on her after I've done my pots an' kettles? I'd do 'em
that quick--if you'd let me wait on her now she's poor. Oh,"
breaking out afresh, "poor little Miss Sara, mum--that was called
a princess."

Somehow, she made Miss Minchin feel more angry than ever. That
the very scullery maid should range herself on the side of this
child--whom she realized more fully than ever that she had never
liked--was too much. She actually stamped her foot.

"No--certainly not," she said. "She will wait on herself, and on
other people, too. Leave the room this instant, or you'll leave
your place."

Becky threw her apron over her head and fled. She ran out of
the room and down the steps into the scullery, and there she sat
down among her pots and kettles, and wept as if her heart would
break.

"It's exactly like the ones in the stories," she wailed. "Them
pore princess ones that was drove into the world."

Miss Minchin had never looked quite so still and hard as she did
when Sara came to her, a few hours later, in response to a
message she had sent her.

Even by that time it seemed to Sara as if the birthday party had
either been a dream or a thing which had happened years ago, and
had happened in the life of quite another little girl.

Every sign of the festivities had been swept away; the holly had
been removed from the schoolroom walls, and the forms and desks
put back into their places. Miss Minchin's sitting room looked
as it always did--all traces of the feast were gone, and Miss
Minchin had resumed her usual dress. The pupils had been
ordered to lay aside their party frocks; and this having been
done, they had returned to the schoolroom and huddled together in
groups, whispering and talking excitedly.

"Tell Sara to come to my room," Miss Minchin had said to her
sister. "And explain to her clearly that I will have no crying
or unpleasant scenes."

"Sister," replied Miss Amelia, "she is the strangest child I ever
saw. She has actually made no fuss at all. You remember she
made none when Captain Crewe went back to India. When I told her
what had happened, she just stood quite still and looked at me
without making a sound. Her eyes seemed to get bigger and
bigger, and she went quite pale. When I had finished, she still
stood staring for a few seconds, and then her chin began to
shake, and she turned round and ran out of the room and upstairs.
Several of the other children began to cry, but she did not seem
to hear them or to be alive to anything but just what I was
saying. It made me feel quite queer not to be answered; and when
you tell anything sudden and strange, you expect people will say
SOMETHING--whatever it is."

Nobody but Sara herself ever knew what had happened in her room
after she had run upstairs and locked her door. In fact, she
herself scarcely remembered anything but that she walked up and
down, saying over and over again to herself in a voice which did
not seem her own, "My papa is dead! My papa is dead!"

Once she stopped before Emily, who sat watching her from her
chair, and cried out wildly, "Emily! Do you hear? Do you hear--
papa is dead? He is dead in India--thousands of miles away."

When she came into Miss Minchin's sitting room in answer to her
summons, her face was white and her eyes had dark rings around
them. Her mouth was set as if she did not wish it to reveal what
she had suffered and was suffering. She did not look in the
least like the rose-colored butterfly child who had flown about
from one of her treasures to the other in the decorated
schoolroom. She looked instead a strange, desolate, almost
grotesque little figure.

She had put on, without Mariette's help, the cast-aside black-
velvet frock. It was too short and tight, and her slender legs
looked long and thin, showing themselves from beneath the brief
skirt. As she had not found a piece of black ribbon, her short,
thick, black hair tumbled loosely about her face and contrasted
strongly with its pallor. She held Emily tightly in one arm, and
Emily was swathed in a piece of black material.

"Put down your doll," said Miss Minchin. "What do you mean by
bringing her here?"

"No," Sara answered. "I will not put her down. She is all I
have. My papa gave her to me."

She had always made Miss Minchin feel secretly uncomfortable,
and she did so now. She did not speak with rudeness so much as
with a cold steadiness with which Miss Minchin felt it difficult
to cope--perhaps because she knew she was doing a heartless and
inhuman thing.

"You will have no time for dolls in future," she said. "You
will have to work and improve yourself and make yourself useful."

Sara kept her big, strange eyes fixed on her, and said not a
word.

"Everything will be very different now," Miss Minchin went on.
"I suppose Miss Amelia has explained matters to you."

"Yes," answered Sara. "My papa is dead. He left me no money. I
am quite poor."

"You are a beggar," said Miss Minchin, her temper rising at the
recollection of what all this meant. "It appears that you have
no relations and no home, and no one to take care of you."

For a moment the thin, pale little face twitched, but Sara again
said nothing.

"What are you staring at?" demanded Miss Minchin, sharply. "Are
you so stupid that you cannot understand? I tell you that you
are quite alone in the world, and have no one to do anything for
you, unless I choose to keep you here out of charity."

"I understand," answered Sara, in a low tone; and there was a
sound as if she had gulped down something which rose in her
throat. "I understand."

"That doll," cried Miss Minchin, pointing to the splendid
birthday gift seated near--"that ridiculous doll, with all her
nonsensical, extravagant things--I actually paid the bill for
her!"

Sara turned her head toward the chair.

"The Last Doll," she said. "The Last Doll." And her little
mournful voice had an odd sound.

"The Last Doll, indeed!" said Miss Minchin. "And she is mine,
not yours. Everything you own is mine."

"Please take it away from me, then," said Sara. "I do not want
it."

If she had cried and sobbed and seemed frightened, Miss Minchin
might almost have had more patience with her. She was a woman
who liked to domineer and feel her power, and as she looked at
Sara's pale little steadfast face and heard her proud little
voice, she quite felt as if her might was being set at naught.

"Don't put on grand airs," she said. "The time for that sort of
thing is past. You are not a princess any longer. Your
carriage and your pony will be sent away--your maid will be
dismissed. You will wear your oldest and plainest clothes--your
extravagant ones are no longer suited to your station. You are
like Becky--you must work for your living."

To her surprise, a faint gleam of light came into the child's
eyes--a shade of relief.

"Can I work?" she said. "If I can work it will not matter so
much. What can I do?"

"You can do anything you are told," was the answer. "You are a
sharp child, and pick up things readily. If you make yourself
useful I may let you stay here. You speak French well, and you
can help with the younger children."

"May I?" exclaimed Sara. "Oh, please let me! I know I can
teach them. I like them, and they like me."

"Don't talk nonsense about people liking you," said Miss
Minchin. "You will have to do more than teach the little ones.
You will run errands and help in the kitchen as well as in the
schoolroom. If you don't please me, you will be sent away.
Remember that. Now go."

Sara stood still just a moment, looking at her. In her young
soul, she was thinking deep and strange things. Then she turned
to leave the room.

"Stop!" said Miss Minchin. "Don't you intend to thank me?"

Sara paused, and all the deep, strange thoughts surged up in her
breast.

"What for?" she said.

"For my kindness to you," replied Miss Minchin. "For my
kindness in giving you a home."

Sara made two or three steps toward her. Her thin little chest
heaved up and down, and she spoke in a strange un-childishly
fierce way.

"You are not kind," she said. "You are NOT kind, and it is NOT a
home." And she had turned and run out of the room before Miss
Minchin could stop her or do anything but stare after her with
stony anger.

She went up the stairs slowly, but panting for breath and she
held Emily tightly against her side.

"I wish she could talk," she said to herself. "If she could
speak--if she could speak!"

She meant to go to her room and lie down on the tiger-skin, with
her cheek upon the great cat's head, and look into the fire and
think and think and think. But just before she reached the
landing Miss Amelia came out of the door and closed it behind
her, and stood before it, looking nervous and awkward. The truth
was that she felt secretly ashamed of the thing she had been
ordered to do.

"You--you are not to go in there," she said.

"Not go in?" exclaimed Sara, and she fell back a pace.

"That is not your room now," Miss Amelia answered, reddening a
little.

Somehow, all at once, Sara understood. She realized that this
was the beginning of the change Miss Minchin had spoken of.

"Where is my room?" she asked, hoping very much that her voice
did not shake.

"You are to sleep in the attic next to Becky."

Sara knew where it was. Becky had told her about it. She
turned, and mounted up two flights of stairs. The last one was
narrow, and covered with shabby strips of old carpet. She felt
as if she were walking away and leaving far behind her the world
in which that other child, who no longer seemed herself, had
lived. This child, in her short, tight old frock, climbing the
stairs to the attic, was quite a different creature.

When she reached the attic door and opened it, her heart gave a
dreary little thump. Then she shut the door and stood against it
and looked about her.

Yes, this was another world. The room had a slanting roof and
was whitewashed. The whitewash was dingy and had fallen off in
places. There was a rusty grate, an old iron bedstead, and a
hard bed covered with a faded coverlet. Some pieces of furniture
too much worn to be used downstairs had been sent up. Under the
skylight in the roof, which showed nothing but an oblong piece of
dull gray sky, there stood an old battered red footstool. Sara
went to it and sat down. She seldom cried. She did not cry now.
She laid Emily across her knees and put her face down upon her
and her arms around her, and sat there, her little black head
resting on the black draperies, not saying one word, not making
one sound.

And as she sat in this silence there came a low tap at the door--
such a low, humble one that she did not at first hear it, and,
indeed, was not roused until the door was timidly pushed open and
a poor tear-smeared face appeared peeping round it. It was
Becky's face, and Becky had been crying furtively for hours and
rubbing her eyes with her kitchen apron until she looked strange
indeed.

"Oh, miss," she said under her breath. "Might I--would you
allow me--jest to come in?"

Sara lifted her head and looked at her. She tried to begin a
smile, and somehow she could not. Suddenly--and it was all
through the loving mournfulness of Becky's streaming eyes--her
face looked more like a child's not so much too old for her
years. She held out her hand and gave a little sob.

"Oh, Becky," she said. "I told you we were just the same--only
two little girls--just two little girls. You see how true it is.
There's no difference now. I'm not a princess anymore."

Becky ran to her and caught her hand, and hugged it to her
breast, kneeling beside her and sobbing with love and pain.

"Yes, miss, you are," she cried, and her words were all broken.
"Whats'ever 'appens to you--whats'ever--you'd be a princess all
the same--an' nothin' couldn't make you nothin' different."

8

In the Attic

The first night she spent in her attic was a thing Sara never
forgot. During its passing she lived through a wild, unchildlike
woe of which she never spoke to anyone about her. There was no
one who would have understood. It was, indeed, well for her that
as she lay awake in the darkness her mind was forcibly
distracted, now and then, by the strangeness of her surroundings.
It was, perhaps, well for her that she was reminded by her small
body of material things. If this had not been so, the anguish of
her young mind might have been too great for a child to bear.
But, really, while the night was passing she scarcely knew that
she had a body at all or remembered any other thing than one.

"My papa is dead!" she kept whispering to herself. "My papa is
dead!"

It was not until long afterward that she realized that her bed
had been so hard that she turned over and over in it to find a
place to rest, that the darkness seemed more intense than any she
had ever known, and that the wind howled over the roof among the
chimneys like something which wailed aloud. Then there was
something worse. This was certain scufflings and scratchings and
squeakings in the walls and behind the skirting boards. She knew
what they meant, because Becky had described them. They meant
rats and mice who were either fighting with each other or playing
together. Once or twice she even heard sharp-toed feet scurrying
across the floor, and she remembered in those after days, when
she recalled things, that when first she heard them she started
up in bed and sat trembling, and when she lay down again covered
her head with the bedclothes.

The change in her life did not come about gradually, but was
made all at once.

"She must begin as she is to go on," Miss Minchin said to Miss
Amelia. "She must be taught at once what she is to expect."

Mariette had left the house the next morning. The glimpse Sara
caught of her sitting room, as she passed its open door, showed
her that everything had been changed. Her ornaments and luxuries
had been removed, and a bed had been placed in a corner to
transform it into a new pupil's bedroom.

When she went down to breakfast she saw that her seat at Miss
Minchin's side was occupied by Lavinia, and Miss Minchin spoke to
her coldly.

"You will begin your new duties, Sara," she said, "by taking
your seat with the younger children at a smaller table. You must
keep them quiet, and see that they behave well and do not waste
their food. You ought to have been down earlier. Lottie has
already upset her tea."

That was the beginning, and from day to day the duties given to
her were added to. She taught the younger children French and
heard their other lessons, and these were the least of her
labors. It was found that she could be made use of in numberless
directions. She could be sent on errands at any time and in all
weathers. She could be told to do things other people neglected.
The cook and the housemaids took their tone from Miss Minchin,
and rather enjoyed ordering about the "young one" who had been
made so much fuss over for so long. They were not servants of
the best class, and had neither good manners nor good tempers,
and it was frequently convenient to have at hand someone on whom
blame could be laid.

During the first month or two, Sara thought that her willingness
to do things as well as she could, and her silence under
reproof, might soften those who drove her so hard. In her proud
little heart she wanted them to see that she was trying to earn
her living and not accepting charity. But the time came when she
saw that no one was softened at all; and the more willing she was
to do as she was told, the more domineering and exacting careless
housemaids became, and the more ready a scolding cook was to
blame her.

If she had been older, Miss Minchin would have given her the
bigger girls to teach and saved money by dismissing an
instructress; but while she remained and looked like a child, she
could be made more useful as a sort of little superior errand
girl and maid of all work. An ordinary errand boy would not have
been so clever and reliable. Sara could be trusted with
difficult commissions and complicated messages. She could even
go and pay bills, and she combined with this the ability to dust
a room well and to set things in order.

Her own lessons became things of the past. She was taught
nothing, and only after long and busy days spent in running here
and there at everybody's orders was she grudgingly allowed to go
into the deserted schoolroom, with a pile of old books, and study
alone at night.

"If I do not remind myself of the things I have learned, perhaps
I may forget them," she said to herself. "I am almost a scullery
maid, and if I am a scullery maid who knows nothing, I shall be
like poor Becky. I wonder if I could QUITE forget and begin to
drop my H'S and not remember that Henry the Eighth had six
wives."

One of the most curious things in her new existence was her
changed position among the pupils. Instead of being a sort of
small royal personage among them, she no longer seemed to be one
of their number at all. She was kept so constantly at work that
she scarcely ever had an opportunity of speaking to any of them,
and she could not avoid seeing that Miss Minchin preferred that
she should live a life apart from that of the occupants of the
schoolroom.

"I will not have her forming intimacies and talking to the other
children," that lady said. "Girls like a grievance, and if she
begins to tell romantic stories about herself, she will become an
ill-used heroine, and parents will be given a wrong impression.
It is better that she should live a separate life--one suited to
her circumstances. I am giving her a home, and that is more than
she has any right to expect from me."

Sara did not expect much, and was far too proud to try to
continue to be intimate with girls who evidently felt rather
awkward and uncertain about her. The fact was that Miss
Minchin's pupils were a set of dull, matter-of-fact young people.
They were accustomed to being rich and comfortable, and as Sara's
frocks grew shorter and shabbier and queerer-looking, and it
became an established fact that she wore shoes with holes in them
and was sent out to buy groceries and carry them through the
streets in a basket on her arm when the cook wanted them in a
hurry, they felt rather as if, when they spoke to her, they were
addressing an under servant.

"To think that she was the girl with the diamond mines, Lavinia
commented. "She does look an object. And she's queerer than
ever. I never liked her much, but I can't bear that way she has
now of looking at people without speaking--just as if she was
finding them out."

"I am," said Sara, promptly, when she heard of this. "That's
what I look at some people for. I like to know about them. I
think them over afterward."

The truth was that she had saved herself annoyance several times
by keeping her eye on Lavinia, who was quite ready to make
mischief, and would have been rather pleased to have made it for
the ex-show pupil.

Sara never made any mischief herself, or interfered with anyone.
She worked like a drudge; she tramped through the wet streets,
carrying parcels and baskets; she labored with the childish
inattention of the little ones' French lessons; as she became
shabbier and more forlorn-looking, she was told that she had
better take her meals downstairs; she was treated as if she was
nobody's concern, and her heart grew proud and sore, but she
never told anyone what she felt.

"Soldiers don't complain," she would say between her small, shut
teeth, "I am not going to do it; I will pretend this is part of a
war."

But there were hours when her child heart might almost have
broken with loneliness but for three people.

The first, it must be owned, was Becky--just Becky. Throughout
all that first night spent in the garret, she had felt a vague
comfort in knowing that on the other side of the wall in which
the rats scuffled and squeaked there was another young human
creature. And during the nights that followed the sense of
comfort grew. They had little chance to speak to each other
during the day. Each had her own tasks to perform, and any
attempt at conversation would have been regarded as a tendency to
loiter and lose time. "Don't mind me, miss," Becky whispered
during the first morning, "if I don't say nothin' polite. Some
un'd be down on us if I did. I MEANS `please' an' `thank you'
an' `beg pardon,' but I dassn't to take time to say it."

But before daybreak she used to slip into Sara's attic and
button her dress and give her such help as she required before
she went downstairs to light the kitchen fire. And when night
came Sara always heard the humble knock at her door which meant
that her handmaid was ready to help her again if she was needed.
During the first weeks of her grief Sara felt as if she were too
stupefied to talk, so it happened that some time passed before
they saw each other much or exchanged visits. Becky's heart told
her that it was best that people in trouble should be left alone.

The second of the trio of comforters was Ermengarde, but odd
things happened before Ermengarde found her place.

When Sara's mind seemed to awaken again to the life about her,
she realized that she had forgotten that an Ermengarde lived in
the world. The two had always been friends, but Sara had felt
as if she were years the older. It could not be contested that
Ermengarde was as dull as she was affectionate. She clung to
Sara in a simple, helpless way; she brought her lessons to her
that she might be helped; she listened to her every word and
besieged her with requests for stories. But she had nothing
interesting to say herself, and she loathed books of every
description. She was, in fact, not a person one would remember
when one was caught in the storm of a great trouble, and Sara
forgot her.

It had been all the easier to forget her because she had been
suddenly called home for a few weeks. When she came back she
did not see Sara for a day or two, and when she met her for the
first time she encountered her coming down a corridor with her
arms full of garments which were to be taken downstairs to be
mended. Sara herself had already been taught to mend them. She
looked pale and unlike herself, and she was attired in the queer,
outgrown frock whose shortness showed so much thin black leg.

Ermengarde was too slow a girl to be equal to such a situation.
She could not think of anything to say. She knew what had
happened, but, somehow, she had never imagined Sara could look
like this--so odd and poor and almost like a servant. It made
her quite miserable, and she could do nothing but break into a
short hysterical laugh and exclaim--aimlessly and as if without
any meaning, "Oh, Sara, is that you?"

"Yes," answered Sara, and suddenly a strange thought passed
through her mind and made her face flush. She held the pile of
garments in her arms, and her chin rested upon the top of it to
keep it steady. Something in the look of her straight-gazing
eyes made Ermengarde lose her wits still more. She felt as if
Sara had changed into a new kind of girl, and she had never known
her before. Perhaps it was because she had suddenly grown poor
and had to mend things and work like Becky.

"Oh," she stammered. "How--how are you?"

"I don't know," Sara replied. "How are you?"

"I'm--I'm quite well," said Ermengarde, overwhelmed with
shyness. Then spasmodically she thought of something to say
which seemed more intimate. "Are you--are you very unhappy?" she
said in a rush.

Then Sara was guilty of an injustice. Just at that moment her
torn heart swelled within her, and she felt that if anyone was as
stupid as that, one had better get away from her.

"What do you think?" she said. "Do you think I am very happy?"
And she marched past her without another word.

In course of time she realized that if her wretchedness had not
made her forget things, she would have known that poor, dull
Ermengarde was not to be blamed for her unready, awkward ways.
She was always awkward, and the more she felt, the more stupid
she was given to being.

But the sudden thought which had flashed upon her had made her
over-sensitive.

"She is like the others," she had thought. "She does not really
want to talk to me. She knows no one does."

So for several weeks a barrier stood between them. When they
met by chance Sara looked the other way, and Ermengarde felt too
stiff and embarrassed to speak. Sometimes they nodded to each
other in passing, but there were times when they did not even
exchange a greeting.

"If she would rather not talk to me," Sara thought, "I will keep
out of her way. Miss Minchin makes that easy enough."

Miss Minchin made it so easy that at last they scarcely saw each
other at all. At that time it was noticed that Ermengarde was
more stupid than ever, and that she looked listless and unhappy.
She used to sit in the window-seat, huddled in a heap, and stare
out of the window without speaking. Once Jessie, who was
passing, stopped to look at her curiously.

"What are you crying for, Ermengarde?" she asked.

"I'm not crying," answered Ermengarde, in a muffled, unsteady
voice.

"You are," said Jessie. "A great big tear just rolled down the
bridge of your nose and dropped off at the end of it. And there
goes another."

"Well," said Ermengarde, "I'm miserable--and no one need
interfere." And she turned her plump back and took out her
handkerchief and boldly hid her face in it.

That night, when Sara went to her attic, she was later than
usual. She had been kept at work until after the hour at which
the pupils went to bed, and after that she had gone to her
lessons in the lonely schoolroom. When she reached the top of
the stairs, she was surprised to see a glimmer of light coming
from under the attic door.

"Nobody goes there but myself," she thought quickly, "but
someone has lighted a candle."

Someone had, indeed, lighted a candle, and it was not burning in
the kitchen candlestick she was expected to use, but in one of
those belonging to the pupils' bedrooms. The someone was
sitting upon the battered footstool, and was dressed in her
nightgown and wrapped up in a red shawl. It was Ermengarde.

"Ermengarde!" cried Sara. She was so startled that she was
almost frightened. "You will get into trouble."

Ermengarde stumbled up from her footstool. She shuffled across
the attic in her bedroom slippers, which were too large for her.
Her eyes and nose were pink with crying.

"I know I shall--if I'm found out." she said. "But I don't
care--I don't care a bit. Oh, Sara, please tell me. What is
the matter? Why don't you like me any more?"

Something in her voice made the familiar lump rise in Sara's
throat. It was so affectionate and simple--so like the old
Ermengarde who had asked her to be "best friends." It sounded as
if she had not meant what she had seemed to mean during these
past weeks.

"I do like you," Sara answered. "I thought--you see, everything
is different now. I thought you--were different.

Ermengarde opened her wet eyes wide.

"Why, it was you who were different!" she cried. "You didn't
want to talk to me. I didn't know what to do. It was you who
were different after I came back."

Sara thought a moment. She saw she had made a mistake.

"I AM different," she explained, "though not in the way you
think. Miss Minchin does not want me to talk to the girls. Most
of them don't want to talk to me. I thought--perhaps--you
didn't. So I tried to keep out of your way."

"Oh, Sara," Ermengarde almost wailed in her reproachful dismay.
And then after one more look they rushed into each other's arms.
It must be confessed that Sara's small black head lay for some
minutes on the shoulder covered by the red shawl. When
Ermengarde had seemed to desert her, she had felt horribly
lonely.

Afterward they sat down upon the floor together, Sara clasping
her knees with her arms, and Ermengarde rolled up in her shawl.
Ermengarde looked at the odd, big-eyed little face adoringly.

"I couldn't bear it any more," she said. "I dare say you could
live without me, Sara; but I couldn't live without you. I was
nearly DEAD. So tonight, when I was crying under the
bedclothes, I thought all at once of creeping up here and just
begging you to let us be friends again."

"You are nicer than I am," said Sara. "I was too proud to try
and make friends. You see, now that trials have come, they have
shown that I am NOT a nice child. I was afraid they would.
Perhaps"--wrinkling her forehead wisely--"that is what they were
sent for."

"I don't see any good in them," said Ermengarde stoutly.

"Neither do I--to speak the truth," admitted Sara, frankly.
"But I suppose there MIGHT be good in things, even if we don't
see it. There MIGHT"--DOUBTFULLY--"Be good in Miss Minchin."

Ermengarde looked round the attic with a rather fearsome
curiosity.

"Sara," she said, "do you think you can bear living here?"

Sara looked round also.

"If I pretend it's quite different, I can," she answered; "or if
I pretend it is a place in a story."

She spoke slowly. Her imagination was beginning to work for
her. It had not worked for her at all since her troubles had
come upon her. She had felt as if it had been stunned.

"Other people have lived in worse places. Think of the Count of
Monte Cristo in the dungeons of the Chateau d'If. And think of
the people in the Bastille!"

"The Bastille," half whispered Ermengarde, watching her and
beginning to be fascinated. She remembered stories of the French
Revolution which Sara had been able to fix in her mind by her
dramatic relation of them. No one but Sara could have done it.

A well-known glow came into Sara's eyes.

"Yes," she said, hugging her knees, "that will be a good place
to pretend about. I am a prisoner in the Bastille. I have been
here for years and years--and years; and everybody has forgotten
about me. Miss Minchin is the jailer--and Becky"--a sudden light
adding itself to the glow in her eyes--"Becky is the prisoner in
the next cell."

She turned to Ermengarde, looking quite like the old Sara.

"I shall pretend that," she said; "and it will be a great
comfort."

Ermengarde was at once enraptured and awed.

"And will you tell me all about it?" she said. "May I creep up
here at night, whenever it is safe, and hear the things you have
made up in the day? It will seem as if we were more `best
friends' than ever."

"Yes," answered Sara, nodding. "Adversity tries people, and
mine has tried you and proved how nice you are."

9

Melchisedec

The third person in the trio was Lottie. She was a small thing
and did not know what adversity meant, and was much bewildered by
the alteration she saw in her young adopted mother. She had
heard it rumored that strange things had happened to Sara, but
she could not understand why she looked different--why she wore
an old black frock and came into the schoolroom only to teach
instead of to sit in her place of honor and learn lessons
herself. There had been much whispering among the little ones
when it had been discovered that Sara no longer lived in the
rooms in which Emily had so long sat in state. Lottie's chief
difficulty was that Sara said so little when one asked her
questions. At seven mysteries must be made very clear if one is
to understand them.

"Are you very poor now, Sara?" she had asked confidentially the
first morning her friend took charge of the small French class.
"Are you as poor as a beggar?" She thrust a fat hand into the
slim one and opened round, tearful eyes. "I don't want you to be
as poor as a beggar."

She looked as if she was going to cry. And Sara hurriedly
consoled her.

"Beggars have nowhere to live," she said courageously. "I have a
place to live in."

"Where do you live?" persisted Lottle. "The new girl sleeps in
your room, and it isn't pretty any more."

"I live in another room," said Sara.

"Is it a nice one?" inquired Lottie. "I want to go and see it."

"You must not talk," said Sara. "Miss Minchin is looking at us.
She will be angry with me for letting you whisper."

She had found out already that she was to be held accountable
for everything which was objected to. If the children were not
attentive, if they talked, if they were restless, it was she who
would be reproved.

But Lottie was a determined little person. If Sara would not
tell her where she lived, she would find out in some other way.
She talked to her small companions and hung about the elder
girls and listened when they were gossiping; and acting upon
certain information they had unconsciously let drop, she started
late one afternoon on a voyage of discovery, climbing stairs she
had never known the existence of, until she reached the attic
floor. There she found two doors near each other, and opening
one, she saw her beloved Sara standing upon an old table and
looking out of a window.

"Sara!" she cried, aghast. "Mamma Sara!" She was aghast
because the attic was so bare and ugly and seemed so far away
from all the world. Her short legs had seemed to have been
mounting hundreds of stairs.

Sara turned round at the sound of her voice. It was her turn to
be aghast. What would happen now? If Lottie began to cry and
any one chanced to hear, they were both lost. She jumped down
from her table and ran to the child.

"Don't cry and make a noise," she implored. "I shall be scolded
if you do, and I have been scolded all day. It's--it's not such
a bad room, Lottie."

"Isn't it?" gasped Lottie, and as she looked round it she bit
her lip. She was a spoiled child yet, but she was fond enough of
her adopted parent to make an effort to control herself for her
sake. Then, somehow, it was quite possible that any place in
which Sara lived might turn out to be nice. "Why isn't it,
Sara?" she almost whispered.

Sara hugged her close and tried to laugh. There was a sort of
comfort in the warmth of the plump, childish body. She had had a
hard day and had been staring out of the windows with hot eyes.

"You can see all sorts of things you can't see downstairs," she
said.

"What sort of things?" demanded Lottie, with that curiosity
Sara could always awaken even in bigger girls.

"Chimneys--quite close to us--with smoke curling up in wreaths
and clouds and going up into the sky--and sparrows hopping about
and talking to each other just as if they were people--and other
attic windows where heads may pop out any minute and you can
wonder who they belong to. And it all feels as high up--as if
it was another world."

"Oh, let me see it!" cried Lottie. "Lift me up!"

Sara lifted her up, and they stood on the old table together and
leaned on the edge of the flat window in the roof, and looked
out.

Anyone who has not done this does not know what a different
world they saw. The slates spread out on either side of them and
slanted down into the rain gutter-pipes. The sparrows, being at
home there, twittered and hopped about quite without fear. Two
of them perched on the chimney top nearest and quarrelled with
each other fiercely until one pecked the other and drove him
away. The garret window next to theirs was shut because the
house next door was empty.

"I wish someone lived there," Sara said. "It is so close that if
there was a little girl in the attic, we could talk to each other
through the windows and climb over to see each other, if we were
not afraid of falling."

The sky seemed so much nearer than when one saw it from the
street, that Lottie was enchanted. From the attic window, among
the chimney pots, the things which were happening in the world
below seemed almost unreal. One scarcely believed in the
existence of Miss Minchin and Miss Amelia and the schoolroom, and
the roll of wheels in the square seemed a sound belonging to
another existence.

"Oh, Sara!" cried Lottie, cuddling in her guarding arm. "I like
this attic--I like it! It is nicer than downstairs!"

"Look at that sparrow," whispered Sara. "I wish I had some
crumbs to throw to him."

"I have some!" came in a little shriek from Lottie. "I have
part of a bun in my pocket; I bought it with my penny yesterday,
and I saved a bit."

When they threw out a few crumbs the sparrow jumped and flew
away to an adjacent chimney top. He was evidently not accustomed
to intimates in attics, and unexpected crumbs startled him. But
when Lottie remained quite still and Sara chirped very softly--
almost as if she were a sparrow herself--he saw that the thing
which had alarmed him represented hospitality, after all. He
put his head on one side, and from his perch on the chimney
looked down at the crumbs with twinkling eyes. Lottie could
scarcely keep still.

"Will he come? Will he come?" she whispered.

"His eyes look as if he would," Sara whispered back. "He is
thinking and thinking whether he dare. Yes, he will! Yes, he is
coming!"

He flew down and hopped toward the crumbs, but stopped a few
inches away from them, putting his head on one side again, as if
reflecting on the chances that Sara and Lottie might turn out to
be big cats and jump on him. At last his heart told him they
were really nicer than they looked, and he hopped nearer and
nearer, darted at the biggest crumb with a lightning peck, seized
it, and carried it away to the other side of his chimney.

"Now he KNOWS", said Sara. "And he will come back for the
others."

He did come back, and even brought a friend, and the friend went
away and brought a relative, and among them they made a hearty
meal over which they twittered and chattered and exclaimed,
stopping every now and then to put their heads on one side and
examine Lottie and Sara. Lottie was so delighted that she quite
forgot her first shocked impression of the attic. In fact, when
she was lifted down from the table and returned to earthly
things, as it were, Sara was able to point out to her many
beauties in the room which she herself would not have suspected
the existence of.

"It is so little and so high above everything," she said, "that
it is almost like a nest in a tree. The slanting ceiling is so
funny. See, you can scarcely stand up at this end of the room;
and when the morning begins to come I can lie in bed and look
right up into the sky through that flat window in the roof. It
is like a square patch of light. If the sun is going to shine,
little pink clouds float about, and I feel as if I could touch
them. And if it rains, the drops patter and patter as if they
were saying something nice. Then if there are stars, you can lie
and try to count how many go into the patch. It takes such a
lot. And just look at that tiny, rusty grate in the corner. If
it was polished and there was a fire in it, just think how nice
it would be. You see, it's really a beautiful little room."

She was walking round the small place, holding Lottie's hand and
making gestures which described all the beauties she was making
herself see. She quite made Lottie see them, too. Lottie could
always believe in the things Sara made pictures of.

"You see," she said, "there could be a thick, soft blue Indian
rug on the floor; and in that corner there could be a soft little
sofa, with cushions to curl up on; and just over it could be a
shelf full of books so that one could reach them easily; and
there could be a fur rug before the fire, and hangings on the
wall to cover up the whitewash, and pictures. They would have to
be little ones, but they could be beautiful; and there could be a
lamp with a deep rose-colored shade; and a table in the middle,
with things to have tea with; and a little fat copper kettle
singing on the hob; and the bed could be quite different. It
could be made soft and covered with a lovely silk coverlet. It
could be beautiful. And perhaps we could coax the sparrows until
we made such friends with them that they would come and peck at
the window and ask to be let in."

"Oh, Sara!" cried Lottie. "I should like to live here!"

When Sara had persuaded her to go downstairs again, and, after
setting her on her way, had come back to her attic, she stood in
the middle of it and looked about her. The enchantment of her
imaginings for Lottie had died away. The bed was hard and
covered with its dingy quilt. The whitewashed wall showed its
broken patches, the floor was cold and bare, the grate was broken
and rusty, and the battered footstool, tilted sideways on its
injured leg, the only seat in the room. She sat down on it for a
few minutes and let her head drop in her hands. The mere fact
that Lottie had come and gone away again made things seem a
little worse--just as perhaps prisoners feel a little more
desolate after visitors come and go, leaving them behind.

"It's a lonely place," she said. "Sometimes it's the loneliest
place in the world."

She was sitting in this way when her attention was attracted by
a slight sound near her. She lifted her head to see where it
came from, and if she had been a nervous child she would have
left her seat on the battered footstool in a great hurry. A
large rat was sitting up on his hind quarters and sniffing the
air in an interested manner. Some of Lottie's crumbs had dropped
upon the floor and their scent had drawn him out of his hole.

He looked so queer and so like a 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 of the child's queer thoughts came into her
mind.

"I dare say it is rather hard to be a rat," she mused. "Nobody
likes you. People jump and run away and scream out, `Oh, a
horrid rat!' I shouldn't like people to scream and jump and
say, `Oh, a horrid Sara!' the moment they saw me. And set traps
for me, and pretend they were dinner. It's so different to be a
sparrow. But nobody asked this rat if he wanted to be a rat when
he was made. Nobody said, `Wouldn't you rather be a sparrow?'"

She had sat so quietly that the rat had begun to take courage.
He was very much afraid of her, but perhaps he had a heart like
the sparrow and it told him that she was not a thing which
pounced. He was very hungry. He had a wife and a large family
in the wall, and they had had frightfully bad luck for several
days. He had left the children crying bitterly, and felt he
would risk a good deal for a few crumbs, so he cautiously dropped
upon his feet.

"Come on," said Sara; "I'm not a trap. You can have them, poor
thing! Prisoners in the Bastille used to make friends with rats.
Suppose I make friends with you."

How it is that animals understand things I do not know, but it
is certain that they do understand. Perhaps there is a language
which is not made of words and everything in the world
understands it. Perhaps there is a soul hidden in everything and
it can always speak, without even making a sound, to another
soul. But whatsoever was the reason, the rat knew from that
moment that he was safe--even though he was a rat. He knew that
this young human being sitting on the red footstool would not
jump up and terrify him with wild, sharp noises or throw heavy
objects at him which, if they did not fall and crush him, would
send him limping in his scurry back to his hole. He was really a
very nice rat, and did not mean the least harm. When he had
stood on his hind legs and sniffed the air, with his bright eyes
fixed on Sara, he had hoped that she would understand this, and
would not begin by hating him as an enemy. When the mysterious
thing which speaks without saying any words told him that she
would not, he went softly toward the crumbs and began to eat
them. As he did it he glanced every now and then at Sara, just
as the sparrows had done, and his expression was so very
apologetic that it touched her heart.

She sat and watched him without making any movement. One crumb
was very much larger than the others--in fact, it could scarcely
be called a crumb. It was evident that he wanted that piece very
much, but it lay quite near the footstool and he was still rather
timid.

"I believe he wants it to carry to his family in the wall," Sara
thought. "If I do not stir at all, perhaps he will come and get
it."

She scarcely allowed herself to breathe, she was so deeply
interested. The rat shuffled a little nearer and ate a few more
crumbs, then he stopped and sniffed delicately, giving a side
glance at the occupant of the footstool; then he darted at the
piece of bun with something very like the sudden boldness of the
sparrow, and the instant he had possession of it fled back to the
wall, slipped down a crack in the skirting board, and was gone.

"I knew he wanted it for his children," said Sara. "I do
believe I could make friends with him."

A week or so afterward, on one of the rare nights when
Ermengarde found it safe to steal up to the attic, when she
tapped on the door with the tips of her fingers Sara did not come
to her for two or three minutes. There was, indeed, such a
silence in the room at first that Ermengarde wondered if she
could have fallen asleep. Then, to her surprise, she heard her
utter a little, low laugh and speak coaxingly to someone.

"There!" Ermengarde heard her say. "Take it and go home,
Melchisedec! Go home to your wife!"

Almost immediately Sara opened the door, and when she did so she
found Ermengarde standing with alarmed eyes upon the threshold.

"Who--who ARE you talking to, Sara?" she gasped out.

Sara drew her in cautiously, but she looked as if something
pleased and amused her.

"You must promise not to be frightened--not to scream the least
bit, or I can't tell you," she answered.

Ermengarde felt almost inclined to scream on the spot, but
managed to control herself. She looked all round the attic and
saw no one. And yet Sara had certainly been speaking TO someone.
She thought of ghosts.

"Is it--something that will frighten me?" she asked timorously.

"Some people are afraid of them," said Sara. "I was at first--
but I am not now."

"Was it--a ghost?" quaked Ermengarde.

"No," said Sara, laughing. "It was my rat."

Ermengarde made one bound, and landed in the middle of the
little dingy bed. She tucked her feet under her nightgown and
the red shawl. She did not scream, but she gasped with fright.

"Oh! Oh!" she cried under her breath. "A rat! A rat!"

"I was afraid you would be frightened," said Sara. "But you
needn't be. I am making him tame. He actually knows me and
comes out when I call him. Are you too frightened to want to see
him?"

The truth was that, as the days had gone on and, with the aid of
scraps brought up from the kitchen, her curious friendship had
developed, she had gradually forgotten that the timid creature
she was becoming familiar with was a mere rat.

At first Ermengarde was too much alarmed to do anything but
huddle in a heap upon the bed and tuck up her feet, but the sight
of Sara's composed little countenance and the story of
Melchisedec's first appearance began at last to rouse her
curiosity, and she leaned forward over the edge of the bed and
watched Sara go and kneel down by the hole in the skirting board.

"He--he won't run out quickly and jump on the bed, will he?" she
said.

"No," answered Sara. "He's as polite as we are. He is just like
a person. Now watch!"

She began to make a low, whistling sound--so low and coaxing that
it could only have been heard in entire stillness. She did it
several times, looking entirely absorbed in it. Ermengarde
thought she looked as if she were working a spell. And at last,
evidently in response to it, a gray-whiskered, bright-eyed head
peeped out of the hole. Sara had some crumbs in her hand. She
dropped them, and Melchisedec came quietly forth and ate them. A
piece of larger size than the rest he took and carried in the
most businesslike manner back to his home.

"You see," said Sara, "that is for his wife and children. He is
very nice. He only eats the little bits. After he goes back I
can always hear his family squeaking for joy. There are three
kinds of squeaks. One kind is the children's, and one is Mrs.
Melchisedec's, and one is Melchisedec's own."

Ermengarde began to laugh.

"Oh, Sara!" she said. "You ARE queer--but you are nice."

"I know I am queer," admitted Sara, cheerfully; "and I TRY to be
nice." She rubbed her forehead with her little brown paw, and a
puzzled, tender look came into her face. "Papa always laughed at
me," she said; "but I liked it. He thought I was queer, but he
liked me to make up things. I--I can't help making up things.
If I didn't, I don't believe I could live." She paused and
glanced around the attic. "I'm sure I couldn't live here," she
added in a low voice.

Ermengarde was interested, as she always was. "When you talk
about things," she said, "they seem as if they grew real. You
talk about Melchisedec as if he was a person."

"He IS a person," said Sara. "He gets hungry and frightened,
just as we do; and he is married and has children. How do we
know he doesn't think things, just as we do? His eyes look as if
he was a person. That was why I gave him a name."

She sat down on the floor in her 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 cook has thrown away, and it
is quite enough to support him."

"Is it the Bastille yet?" asked Ermengarde, eagerly. "Do you
always pretend it is the Bastille?"

"Nearly always," answered Sara. "Sometimes I try to pretend it
is another kind of place; but the Bastille is generally easiest--
particularly when it is cold."

Just at that moment Ermengarde almost jumped off the bed, she
was so startled by a sound she heard. It was like two distinct
knocks on the wall.

"What is that?" she exclaimed.

Sara got up from the floor and answered quite dramatically:

"It is the prisoner in the next cell."

"Becky!" cried Ermengarde, enraptured.

"Yes," said Sara. "Listen; the two knocks meant, `Prisoner, are
you there?'"

She knocked three times on the wall herself, as if in answer.

"That means, `Yes, I am here, and all is well.'"

Four knocks came from Becky's side of the wall.

"That means," explained Sara, "`Then, fellow-sufferer, we will
sleep in peace. Good night.'"

Ermengarde quite beamed with delight.

"Oh, Sara!" she whispered joyfully. "It is like a story!"

"It IS a story," said Sara. "EVERYTHING'S a story. You are a
story--I am a story. Miss Minchin is a story."

And she sat down again and talked until Ermengarde forgot that
she was a sort of escaped prisoner herself, and had to be
reminded by Sara that she could not remain in the Bastille all
night, but must steal noiselessly downstairs again and creep back
into her deserted bed.

10

The Indian Gentleman

But it was a perilous thing for Ermengarde and Lottie to make
pilgrimages to the attic. They could never be quite sure when
Sara would be there, and they could scarcely ever be certain that
Miss Amelia would not make a tour of inspection through the
bedrooms after the pupils were supposed to be asleep. So their
visits were rare ones, and Sara lived a strange and lonely life.
It was a lonelier life when she was downstairs than when she was
in her attic. She had no one to talk to; and when she was sent
out on errands and walked through the streets, a forlorn little
figure carrying a basket or a parcel, trying to hold her hat on
when the wind was blowing, and feeling the water soak through her
shoes when it was raining, she felt as if the crowds hurrying
past her made her loneliness greater. When she had been the
Princess Sara, driving through the streets in her brougham, or
walking, attended by Mariette, the sight of her bright, eager
little face and picturesque coats and hats had often caused
people to look after her. A happy, beautifully cared for little
girl naturally attracts attention. Shabby, poorly dressed
children are not rare enough and pretty enough to make people
turn around to look at them and smile. No one looked at Sara in
these days, and no one seemed to see her as she hurried along the
crowded pavements. She had begun to grow very fast, and, as she
was dressed only in such clothes as the plainer remnants of her
wardrobe would supply, she knew she looked very queer, indeed.
All her valuable garments had been disposed of, and such as had
been left for her use she was expected to wear so long as she
could put them on at all. Sometimes, when she passed a shop
window with a mirror in it, she almost laughed outright on
catching a glimpse of herself, and sometimes her face went red
and she bit her lip and turned away.

In the evening, when she passed houses whose windows were
lighted up, she used to look into the warm rooms and amuse
herself by imagining things about the people she saw sitting
before the fires or about the tables. It always interested her
to catch glimpses of rooms before the shutters were closed.
There were several families in the square in which Miss Minchin
lived, with which she had become quite familiar in a way of her
own. The one she liked best she called the Large Family. She
called it the Large Family not because the members of it were big-
-for, indeed, most of them were little--but because there were
so many of them. There were eight children in the Large Family,
and a stout, rosy mother, and a stout, rosy father, and a stout,
rosy grandmother, and any number of servants. The eight children
were always either being taken out to walk or to ride in
perambulators by comfortable nurses, or they were going to drive
with their mamma, or they were flying to the door in the evening
to meet their papa and kiss him and dance around him and drag off
his overcoat and look in the pockets for packages, or they were
crowding about the nursery windows and looking out and pushing
each other and laughing--in fact, they were always doing
something enjoyable and suited to the tastes of a large family.
Sara was quite fond of them, and had given them names out of
books--quite romantic names. She called them the Montmorencys
when she did not call them the Large Family. The fat, fair baby
with the lace cap was Ethelberta Beauchamp Montmorency; the next
baby was Violet Cholmondeley Montmorency; the little boy who
could just stagger and who had such round legs was Sydney Cecil
Vivian Montmorency; and then came Lilian Evangeline Maud Marion,
Rosalind Gladys, Guy Clarence, Veronica Eustacia, and Claude
Harold Hector.

One evening a very funny thing happened--though, perhaps, in one
sense it was not a funny thing at all.

Several of the Montmorencys were evidently going to a children's
party, and just as Sara was about to pass the door they were
crossing the pavement to get into the carriage which was waiting
for them. Veronica Eustacia and Rosalind Gladys, in white-lace
frocks and lovely sashes, had just got in, and Guy Clarence, aged
five, was following them. He was such a pretty fellow and had
such rosy cheeks and blue eyes, and such a darling little round
head covered with curls, that Sara forgot her basket and shabby
cloak altogether--in fact, forgot everything but that she wanted
to look at him for a moment. So she paused and looked.

It was Christmas time, and the Large Family had been hearing
many stories about children who were poor and had no mammas and
papas to fill their stockings and take them to the pantomime--
children who were, in fact, cold and thinly clad and hungry. In
the stories, kind people--sometimes little boys and girls with
tender hearts--invariably saw the poor children and gave them
money or rich gifts, or took them home to beautiful dinners. Guy
Clarence had been affected to tears that very afternoon by the
reading of such a story, and he had burned with a desire to find
such a poor child and give her a certain sixpence he possessed,
and thus provide for her for life. An entire sixpence, he was
sure, would mean affluence for evermore. As he crossed the strip
of red carpet laid across the pavement from the door to the
carriage, he had this very sixpence in the pocket of his very
short man-o-war trousers; And just as Rosalind Gladys got into
the vehicle and jumped on the seat in order to feel the cushions
spring under her, he saw Sara standing on the wet pavement in her
shabby frock and hat, with her old basket on her arm, looking at
him hungrily.

Book of the day: