WHAT HAPPENED AT MISS MINCHIN'S
In the first place, Miss Minchin lived in London. Her home was a large,
dull, tall one, in a large, dull square, where all the houses were
alike, and all the sparrows were alike, and where all the door-knockers
made the same heavy sound, and on still days--and nearly all the days
were still--seemed to resound through the entire row in which the knock
was knocked. On Miss Minchin's door there was a brass plate. On the
brass plate there was inscribed in black letters,
SELECT SEMINARY FOR YOUNG LADIES
Little Sara Crewe never went in or out of the house without reading that
door-plate and reflecting upon it. By the time she was twelve, she had
decided that all her trouble arose because, in the first place, she was
not "Select," and in the second she was not a "Young Lady." When she was
eight years old, she had been brought to Miss Minchin as a pupil, and
left with her. Her papa had brought her all the way from India. Her
mamma had died when she was a baby, and her papa had kept her with him
as long as he could. And then, finding the hot climate was making her
very delicate, he had brought her to England and left her with Miss
Minchin, to be part of the Select Seminary for Young Ladies. Sara, who
had always been a sharp little child, who remembered things, recollected
hearing him say that he had not a relative in the world whom he knew
of, and so he was obliged to place her at a boarding-school, and he had
heard Miss Minchin's establishment spoken of very highly. The same day,
he took Sara out and bought her a great many beautiful clothes--clothes
so grand and rich that only a very young and inexperienced man would
have bought them for a mite of a child who was to be brought up in a
boarding-school. But the fact was that he was a rash, innocent young
man, and very sad at the thought of parting with his little girl, who
was all he had left to remind him of her beautiful mother, whom he had
dearly loved. And he wished her to have everything the most fortunate
little girl could have; and so, when the polite saleswomen in the shops
said, "Here is our very latest thing in hats, the plumes are exactly the
same as those we sold to Lady Diana Sinclair yesterday," he immediately
bought what was offered to him, and paid whatever was asked. The
consequence was that Sara had a most extraordinary wardrobe. Her dresses
were silk and velvet and India cashmere, her hats and bonnets were
covered with bows and plumes, her small undergarments were adorned with
real lace, and she returned in the cab to Miss Minchin's with a doll
almost as large as herself, dressed quite as grandly as herself, too.
Then her papa gave Miss Minchin some money and went away, and for
several days Sara would neither touch the doll, nor her breakfast, nor
her dinner, nor her tea, and would do nothing but crouch in a small
corner by the window and cry. She cried so much, indeed, that she made
herself ill. She was a queer little child, with old-fashioned ways and
strong feelings, and she had adored her papa, and could not be made to
think that India and an interesting bungalow were not better for her
than London and Miss Minchin's Select Seminary. The instant she had
entered the house, she had begun promptly to hate Miss Minchin, and
to think little of Miss Amelia Minchin, who was smooth and dumpy, and
lisped, and was evidently afraid of her older sister. Miss Minchin was
tall, and had large, cold, fishy eyes, and large, cold hands, which
seemed fishy, too, because they were damp and made chills run down
Sara's back when they touched her, as Miss Minchin pushed her hair off
her forehead and said:
"A most beautiful and promising little girl, Captain Crewe. She will be
a favorite pupil; quite a favorite pupil, I see."
For the first year she was a favorite pupil; at least she was indulged a
great deal more than was good for her. And when the Select Seminary went
walking, two by two, she was always decked out in her grandest clothes,
and led by the hand at the head of the genteel procession, by Miss
Minchin herself. And when the parents of any of the pupils came, she was
always dressed and called into the parlor with her doll; and she used
to hear Miss Minchin say that her father was a distinguished Indian
officer, and she would be heiress to a great fortune. That her father
had inherited a great deal of money, Sara had heard before; and also
that some day it would be hers, and that he would not remain long in the
army, but would come to live in London. And every time a letter came,
she hoped it would say he was coming, and they were to live together
But about the middle of the third year a letter came bringing very
different news. Because he was not a business man himself, her papa had
given his affairs into the hands of a friend he trusted. The friend had
deceived and robbed him. All the money was gone, no one knew exactly
where, and the shock was so great to the poor, rash young officer, that,
being attacked by jungle fever shortly afterward, he had no strength to
rally, and so died, leaving Sara, with no one to take care of her.
Miss Minchin's cold and fishy eyes had never looked so cold and fishy as
they did when Sara went into the parlor, on being sent for, a few days
after the letter was received.
No one had said anything to the child about mourning, so, in her
old-fashioned way, she had decided to find a black dress for herself,
and had picked out a black velvet she had outgrown, and came into the
room in it, looking the queerest little figure in the world, and a sad
little figure too. The dress was too short and too tight, her face was
white, her eyes had dark rings around them, and her doll, wrapped in a
piece of old black crape, was held under her arm. She was not a pretty
child. She was thin, and had a weird, interesting little face, short
black hair, and very large, green-gray eyes fringed all around with
heavy black lashes.
"I am the ugliest child in the school," she had said once, after staring
at herself in the glass for some minutes.
But there had been a clever, good-natured little French teacher who had
said to the music-master:
"Zat leetle Crewe. Vat a child! A so ogly beauty! Ze so large eyes! ze
so little spirituelle face. Waid till she grow up. You shall see!"
This morning, however, in the tight, small black frock, she looked
thinner and odder than ever, and her eyes were fixed on Miss Minchin
with a queer steadiness as she slowly advanced into the parlor,
clutching her doll.
"Put your doll down!" said Miss Minchin.
"No," said the child, "I won't put her down; I want her with me. She is
all I have. She has stayed with me all the time since my papa died."
She had never been an obedient child. She had had her own way ever since
she was born, and there was about her an air of silent determination
under which Miss Minchin had always felt secretly uncomfortable. And
that lady felt even now that perhaps it would be as well not to insist
on her point. So she looked at her as severely as possible.
"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 the big odd eyes fixed on her teacher and said nothing.
"Everything will be very different now," Miss Minchin went on. "I sent
for you to talk to you and make you understand. Your father is dead. You
have no friends. You have no money. You have no home and no one to take
care of you."
The little pale olive face twitched nervously, but the green-gray eyes
did not move from Miss Minchin's, and still Sara said nothing.
"What are you staring at?" demanded Miss Minchin sharply. "Are you so
stupid you don't understand what I mean? 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."
The truth was, Miss Minchin was in her worst mood. To be suddenly
deprived of a large sum of money yearly and a show pupil, and to find
herself with a little beggar on her hands, was more than she could bear
with any degree of calmness.
"Now listen to me," she went on, "and remember what I say. If you work
hard and prepare to make yourself useful in a few years, I shall let you
stay here. You are only a child, but you are a sharp child, and you pick
up things almost without being taught. You speak French very well, and
in a year or so you can begin to help with the younger pupils. By the
time you are fifteen you ought to be able to do that much at least."
"I can speak French better than you, now," said Sara; "I always spoke it
with my papa in India." Which was not at all polite, but was painfully
true; because Miss Minchin could not speak French at all, and, indeed,
was not in the least a clever person. But she was a hard, grasping
business woman; and, after the first shock of disappointment, had seen
that at very little expense to herself she might prepare this clever,
determined child to be very useful to her and save her the necessity of
paying large salaries to teachers of languages.
"Don't be impudent, or you will be punished," she said. "You will have
to improve your manners if you expect to earn your bread. You are not a
parlor boarder now. Remember that if you don't please me, and I send you
away, you have no home but the street. You can go now."
Sara turned away.
"Stay," commanded Miss Minchin, "don't you intend to thank me?"
Sara turned toward her. The nervous twitch was to be seen again in her
face, and she seemed to be trying to control it.
"What for?" she said.
"For my kindness to you," replied Miss Minchin. "For my kindness in
giving you a home."
Sara went two or three steps nearer to her. Her thin little chest was
heaving up and down, and she spoke in a strange, unchildish voice.
"You are not kind," she said. "You are not kind." And she turned
again and went out of the room, leaving Miss Minchin staring after her
strange, small figure in stony anger.
The child walked up the staircase, holding tightly to her doll; she
meant to go to her bedroom, but at the door she was met by Miss Amelia.
"You are not to go in there," she said. "That is not your room now."
"Where is my room?" asked Sara.
"You are to sleep in the attic next to the cook."
Sara walked on. She mounted two flights more, and reached the door of
the attic room, opened it and went in, shutting it behind her. She
stood against it and looked about her. The room was slanting-roofed and
whitewashed; there was a rusty grate, an iron bedstead, and some odd
articles of furniture, sent up from better rooms below, where they had
been used until they were considered to be worn out. Under the skylight
in the roof, which showed nothing but an oblong piece of dull gray sky,
there was a battered old red footstool.
Sara went to it and sat down. She was a queer child, as I have said
before, and quite unlike other children. She seldom cried. She did not
cry now. She laid her doll, 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 crape, not saying one word, not making one
From that day her life changed entirely. Sometimes she used to feel as
if it must be another life altogether, the life of some other child. She
was a little drudge and outcast; she was given her lessons at odd times
and expected to learn without being taught; she was sent on errands by
Miss Minchin, Miss Amelia and the cook. Nobody took any notice of her
except when they ordered her about. She was often kept busy all day and
then sent into the deserted school-room with a pile of books to learn
her lessons or practise at night. She had never been intimate with
the other pupils, and soon she became so shabby that, taking her queer
clothes together with her queer little ways, they began to look upon
her as a being of another world than their own. The fact was that, as
a rule, Miss Minchin's pupils were rather dull, matter-of-fact young
people, accustomed to being rich and comfortable; and Sara, with her
elfish cleverness, her desolate life, and her odd habit of fixing her
eyes upon them and staring them out of countenance, was too much for
"She always looks as if she was finding you out," said one girl, who was
sly and given to making mischief. "I am," said Sara promptly, when
she heard of it. "That's what I look at them for. I like to know about
people. I think them over afterward."
She never made any mischief herself or interfered with any one. She
talked very little, did as she was told, and thought a great deal.
Nobody knew, and in fact nobody cared, whether she was unhappy or happy,
unless, perhaps, it was Emily, who lived in the attic and slept on the
iron bedstead at night. Sara thought Emily understood her feelings,
though she was only wax and had a habit of staring herself. Sara used to
talk to her at night.
"You are the only friend I have in the world," she would say to her.
"Why don't you say something? Why don't you speak? Sometimes I am sure
you could, if you would try. It ought to make you try, to know you are
the only thing I have. If I were you, I should try. Why don't you try?"
It really was a very strange feeling she had about Emily. It arose from
her being so desolate. She did not like to own to herself that her only
friend, her only companion, could feel and hear nothing. She wanted to
believe, or to pretend to believe, that Emily understood and sympathized
with her, that she heard her even though she did not speak in answer.
She used to put her in a chair sometimes and sit opposite to her on
the old red footstool, and stare at her and think and pretend about her
until her own eyes would grow large with something which was almost like
fear, particularly at night, when the garret was so still, when the only
sound that was to be heard was the occasional squeak and scurry of rats
in the wainscot. There were rat-holes in the garret, and Sara detested
rats, and was always glad Emily was with her when she heard their
hateful squeak and rush and scratching. One of her "pretends" was that
Emily was a kind of good witch and could protect her. Poor little Sara!
everything was "pretend" with her. She had a strong imagination; there
was almost more imagination than there was Sara, and her whole forlorn,
uncared-for child-life was made up of imaginings. She imagined and
pretended things until she almost believed them, and she would scarcely
have been surprised at any remarkable thing that could have happened. So
she insisted to herself that Emily understood all about her troubles and
was really her friend.
"As to answering," she used to say, "I don't answer very often. I never
answer when I can help it. When people are insulting you, there is
nothing so good for them as not to say a word--just to look at them and
think. Miss Minchin turns pale with rage when I do it. Miss Amelia looks
frightened, so do the girls. They know you are stronger than they are,
because you are strong enough to hold in your rage and they are not,
and they say stupid things they wish they hadn't said afterward. There's
nothing so strong as rage, except what makes you hold it in--that's
stronger. It's a good thing not to answer your enemies. I scarcely ever
do. Perhaps Emily is more like me than I am like myself. Perhaps she
would rather not answer her friends, even. She keeps it all in her
But though she tried to satisfy herself with these arguments, Sara did
not find it easy. When, after a long, hard day, in which she had been
sent here and there, sometimes on long errands, through wind and cold
and rain; and, when she came in wet and hungry, had been sent out again
because nobody chose to remember that she was only a child, and that
her thin little legs might be tired, and her small body, clad in
its forlorn, too small finery, all too short and too tight, might be
chilled; when she had been given only harsh words and cold, slighting
looks for thanks, when the cook had been vulgar and insolent; when Miss
Minchin had been in her worst moods, and when she had seen the girls
sneering at her among themselves and making fun of her poor, outgrown
clothes--then Sara did not find Emily quite all that her sore, proud,
desolate little heart needed as the doll sat in her little old chair and
One of these nights, when she came up to the garret cold, hungry, tired,
and with a tempest raging in her small breast, Emily's stare seemed so
vacant, her sawdust legs and arms so limp and inexpressive, that Sara
lost all control over herself.
"I shall die presently!" she said at first.
"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 to-day, and they have done nothing but scold me from morning until
night. And because I could not find that last thing they sent me for,
they would not give me any supper. Some men laughed at me because my old
shoes made me slip down in the mud. I'm covered with mud now. And they
laughed! Do you hear!"
She looked at the staring glass eyes and complacent wax face, and
suddenly a sort of heartbroken rage seized her. She lifted her little
savage hand and knocked Emily off the chair, bursting into a passion of
"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 upon the floor, with her legs ignominiously doubled up over
her head, and a new flat place on the end of her nose; but she was still
calm, even dignified.
Sara hid her face on her arms and sobbed. Some rats in the wall began
to fight and bite each other, and squeak and scramble. But, as I have
already intimated, Sara was not in the habit of crying. After a while
she stopped, and when she stopped she looked at Emily, who seemed to be
gazing at her around the side of one ankle, and actually with a kind of
glassy-eyed sympathy. Sara bent and picked her up. Remorse overtook her.
"You can't help being a doll," she said, with a resigned sigh, "any more
than those girls downstairs can help not having any sense. We are not
all alike. Perhaps you do your sawdust best."
None of Miss Minchin's young ladies were very remarkable for being
brilliant; they were select, but some of them were very dull, and some
of them were fond of applying themselves to their lessons. Sara, who
snatched her lessons at all sorts of untimely hours from tattered and
discarded books, and who had a hungry craving for everything readable,
was often severe upon them in her small mind. They had books they never
read; she had no books at all. If she had always had something to read,
she would not have been so lonely. She liked romances and history and
poetry; she would read anything. There was a sentimental housemaid in
the establishment who bought the weekly penny papers, and subscribed
to a circulating library, from which she got greasy volumes containing
stories of marquises and dukes who invariably fell in love with
orange-girls and gypsies and servant-maids, and made them the proud
brides of coronets; and Sara often did parts of this maid's work so that
she might earn the privilege of reading these romantic histories. There
was also a fat, dull pupil, whose name was Ermengarde St. John, who was
one of her resources. Ermengarde had an intellectual father, who, in
his despairing desire to encourage his daughter, constantly sent her
valuable and interesting books, which were a continual source of grief
to her. Sara had once actually found her crying over a big package of
"What is the matter with you?" she asked her, perhaps rather
And it is just possible she would not have spoken to her, if she had not
seen the books. The sight of books always gave Sara a hungry feeling,
and she could not help drawing near to them if only to read their
"What is the matter with you?" she asked.
"My papa has sent me some more books," answered Ermengarde woefully,
"and he expects me to read them."
"Don't you like reading?" said Sara.
"I hate it!" replied Miss Ermengarde St. John. "And he will ask me
questions when he sees me: he will want to know how much I remember; how
would you like to have to read all those?"
"I'd like it better than anything else in the world," said Sara.
Ermengarde wiped her eyes to look at such a prodigy.
"Oh, gracious!" she exclaimed.
Sara returned the look with interest. A sudden plan formed itself in her
"Look here!" she said. "If you'll lend me those books, I'll read them
and tell you everything that's in them afterward, and I'll tell it
to you so that you will remember it. I know I can. The A B C children
always remember what I tell them."
"Oh, goodness!" said Ermengarde. "Do you think you could?"
"I know I could," answered Sara. "I like to read, and I always remember.
I'll take care of the books, too; they will look just as new as they do
now, when I give them back to you."
Ermengarde put her handkerchief in her pocket.
"If you'll do that," she said, "and if you'll make me remember, I'll
give you--I'll give you some money."
"I don't want your money," said Sara. "I want your books--I want them."
And her eyes grew big and queer, and her chest heaved once.
"Take them, then," said Ermengarde; "I wish I wanted them, but I am not
clever, and my father is, and he thinks I ought to be."
Sara picked up the books and marched off with them. But when she was at
the door, she stopped and turned around.
"What are you going to tell your father?" she asked.
"Oh," said Ermengarde, "he needn't know; he'll think I've read them."
Sara looked down at the books; her heart really began to beat fast.
"I won't do it," she said rather slowly, "if you are going to tell him
lies about it--I don't like lies. Why can't you tell him I read them and
then told you about them?"
"But he wants me to read them," said Ermengarde.
"He wants you to know what is in them," said Sara; "and if I can tell
it to you in an easy way and make you remember, I should think he would
"He would like it better if I read them myself," replied Ermengarde.
"He will like it, I dare say, if you learn anything in any way," said
Sara. "I should, if I were your father."
And though this was not a flattering way of stating the case, Ermengarde
was obliged to admit it was true, and, after a little more argument,
gave in. And so she used afterward always to hand over her books to
Sara, and Sara would carry them to her garret and devour them; and after
she had read each volume, she would return it and tell Ermengarde about
it in a way of her own. She had a gift for making things interesting.
Her imagination helped her to make everything rather like a story,
and she managed this matter so well that Miss St. John gained more
information from her books than she would have gained if she had read
them three times over by her poor stupid little self. When Sara sat down
by her and began to tell some story of travel or history, she made the
travellers and historical people seem real; and Ermengarde used to sit
and regard her dramatic gesticulations, her thin little flushed cheeks,
and her shining, odd eyes with amazement.
"It sounds nicer than it seems in the book," she would say. "I never
cared about Mary, Queen of Scots, before, and I always hated the French
Revolution, but you make it seem like a story."
"It is a story," Sara would answer. "They are all stories. Everything is
a story--everything in this world. You are a story--I am a story--Miss
Minchin is a story. You can make a story out of anything."
"I can't," said Ermengarde.
Sara stared at her a minute reflectively.
"No," she said at last. "I suppose you couldn't. You are a little like
"Who is Emily?"
Sara recollected herself. She knew she was sometimes rather impolite in
the candor of her remarks, and she did not want to be impolite to a girl
who was not unkind--only stupid. Notwithstanding all her sharp little
ways she had the sense to wish to be just to everybody. In the hours she
spent alone, she used to argue out a great many curious questions with
herself. One thing she had decided upon was, that a person who was
clever ought to be clever enough not to be unjust or deliberately unkind
to any one. Miss Minchin was unjust and cruel, Miss Amelia was unkind
and spiteful, the cook was malicious and hasty-tempered--they all were
stupid, and made her despise them, and she desired to be as unlike them
as possible. So she would be as polite as she could to people who in the
least deserved politeness.
"Emily is--a person--I know," she replied.
"Do you like her?" asked Ermengarde.
"Yes, I do," said Sara.
Ermengarde examined her queer little face and figure again. She did
look odd. She had on, that day, a faded blue plush skirt, which barely
covered her knees, a brown Cloth sacque, and a pair of olive-green
stockings which Miss Minchin had made her piece out with black ones,
so that they would be long enough to be kept on. And yet Ermengarde was
beginning slowly to admire her. Such a forlorn, thin, neglected little
thing as that, who could read and read and remember and tell you things
so that they did not tire you all out! A child who could speak French,
and who had learned German, no one knew how! One could not help staring
at her and feeling interested, particularly one to whom the simplest
lesson was a trouble and a woe.
"Do you like me?" said Ermengarde, finally, at the end of her scrutiny.
Sara hesitated one second, then she answered:
"I like you because you are not ill-natured--I like you for letting me
read your books--I like you because you don't make spiteful fun of me
for what I can't help. It's not your fault that--"
She pulled herself up quickly. She had been going to say, "that you are
"That what?" asked Ermengarde.
"That you can't learn things quickly. If you can't, you can't. If I can,
why, I can--that's all." She paused a minute, looking at the plump face
before her, and then, rather slowly, one of her wise, old-fashioned
thoughts came to her.
"Perhaps," she said, "to be able to learn things quickly isn't
everything. To be kind is worth a good deal to other people. If Miss
Minchin knew everything on earth, which she doesn't, and if she was like
what she is now, she'd still be a detestable thing, and everybody would
hate her. Lots of clever people have done harm and been wicked. Look at
She stopped again and examined her companion's countenance.
"Do you remember about him?" she demanded. "I believe you've forgotten."
"Well, I don't remember all of it," admitted Ermengarde.
"Well," said Sara, with courage and determination, "I'll tell it to you
And she plunged once more into the gory records of the French
Revolution, and told such stories of it, and made such vivid pictures of
its horrors, that Miss St. John was afraid to go to bed afterward, and
hid her head under the blankets when she did go, and shivered until she
fell asleep. But afterward she preserved lively recollections of the
character of Robespierre, and did not even forget Marie Antoinette and
the Princess de Lamballe.
"You know they put her head on a pike and danced around it," Sara had
said; "and she had beautiful blonde hair; and when I think of her, I
never see her head on her body, but always on a pike, with those furious
people dancing and howling."
Yes, it was true; to this imaginative child everything was a story; and
the more books she read, the more imaginative she became. One of her
chief entertainments was to sit in her garret, or walk about it, and
"suppose" things. On a cold night, when she had not had enough to eat,
she would draw the red footstool up before the empty grate, and say in
the most intense voice:
"Suppose there was a grate, wide steel grate here, and a great glowing
fire--a glowing fire--with beds of red-hot coal and lots of little
dancing, flickering flames. Suppose there was a soft, deep rug, and this
was a comfortable chair, all cushions and crimson velvet; and suppose I
had a crimson velvet frock on, and a deep lace collar, like a child in
a picture; and suppose all the rest of the room was furnished in lovely
colors, and there were book-shelves full of books, which changed by
magic as soon as you had read them; and suppose there was a little table
here, with a snow-white cover on it, and little silver dishes, and in
one there was hot, hot soup, and in another a roast chicken, and in
another some raspberry-jam tarts with crisscross on them, and in another
some grapes; and suppose Emily could speak, and we could sit and eat our
supper, and then talk and read; and then suppose there was a soft, warm
bed in the corner, and when we were tired we could go to sleep, and
sleep as long as we liked."
Sometimes, after she had supposed things like these for half an hour,
she would feel almost warm, and would creep into bed with Emily and fall
asleep with a smile on her face.
"What large, downy pillows!" she would whisper. "What white sheets
and fleecy blankets!" And she almost forgot that her real pillows had
scarcely any feathers in them at all, and smelled musty, and that her
blankets and coverlid were thin and full of holes.
At another time she would "suppose" she was a princess, and then she
would go about the house with an expression on her face which was a
source of great secret annoyance to Miss Minchin, because it seemed as
if the child scarcely heard the spiteful, insulting things said to her,
or, if she heard them, did not care for them at all. Sometimes, while
she was in the midst of some harsh and cruel speech, Miss Minchin would
find the odd, unchildish eyes fixed upon her with something like a proud
smile in them. At such times she did not know that Sara was saying to
"You don't know that you are saying these things to a princess, and that
if I chose I could wave my hand and order you to execution. I only spare
you because I am a princess, and you are a poor, stupid, old, vulgar
thing, and don't know any better."
This used to please and amuse her more than anything else; and queer and
fanciful as it was, she found comfort in it, and it was not a bad thing
for her. It really kept her from being made rude and malicious by the
rudeness and malice of those about her.
"A princess must be polite," she said to herself. And so when the
servants, who took their tone from their mistress, were insolent and
ordered her about, she would hold her head erect, and reply to them
sometimes in a way which made them stare at her, it was so quaintly
"I am a princess in rags and tatters," she would think, "but I am a
princess, inside. It would be easy to be a princess if I were dressed
in cloth-of-gold; it is a great deal more of a triumph to be one all the
time when no one knows it. There was Marie Antoinette; when she was in
prison, and her throne was gone, and she had only a black gown on,
and her hair was white, and they insulted her and called her the Widow
Capet,--she was a great deal more like a queen then than when she was so
gay and had everything grand. I like her best then. Those howling mobs
of people did not frighten her. She was stronger than they were even
when they cut her head off."
Once when such thoughts were passing through her mind the look in her
eyes so enraged Miss Minchin that she flew at Sara and boxed her ears.
Sara awakened from her dream, started a little, and then broke into a
"What are you laughing at, you bold, impudent child!" exclaimed Miss
It took Sara a few seconds to remember she was a princess. Her cheeks
were red and smarting from the blows she had received.
"I was thinking," she said.
"Beg my pardon immediately," said Miss Minchin.
"I will beg your pardon for laughing, if it was rude," said Sara; "but I
won't beg your pardon for thinking."
"What were you thinking?" demanded Miss Minchin. "How dare you think?
What were you thinking?"
This occurred in the school-room, and all the girls looked up from their
books to listen. It always interested them when Miss Minchin flew at
Sara, because Sara always said something queer, and never seemed in the
least 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 gravely and quite politely, "that you did
not know what you were doing."
"That I did not know what I was doing!" Miss Minchin fairly gasped.
"Yes," said Sara, "and I was thinking what would happen, if I were
a princess and you boxed my ears--what I should do to you. And I was
thinking that if I were one, you would never dare to do it, whatever I
said or did. And I was thinking how surprised and frightened you would
be if you suddenly found out--"
She had the imagined picture so clearly before her eyes, that she spoke
in a manner which had an effect even on Miss Minchin. It almost seemed
for the moment to her narrow, unimaginative mind that there must be some
real power behind this candid daring.
"What!" she exclaimed, "found out what?"
"That I really was a princess," said Sara, "and could do
anything--anything I liked."
"Go to your room," cried Miss Minchin breathlessly, "this instant. Leave
the school-room. Attend to your lessons, young ladies."
Sara made a little bow.
"Excuse me for laughing, if it was impolite," she said, and walked out
of the room, leaving Miss Minchin in a rage and the girls whispering
over their books.
"I shouldn't be at all surprised if she did turn out to be something,"
said one of them. "Suppose she should!"
That very afternoon Sara had an opportunity of proving to herself
whether she was really a princess or not. It was a dreadful afternoon.
For several days it had rained continuously, the streets were chilly and
sloppy; there was mud everywhere--sticky London mud--and over everything
a pall of fog and drizzle. Of course there were several long and
tiresome errands to be done,--there always were on days like this,--and
Sara was sent out again and again, until her shabby clothes were damp
through. The absurd old feathers on her forlorn hat were more draggled
and absurd than ever, and her down-trodden shoes were so wet they could
not hold any more water. Added to this, she had been deprived of her
dinner, because Miss Minchin wished to punish her. She was very hungry.
She was so cold and hungry and tired that her little face had a pinched
look, and now and then some kind-hearted person passing her in the
crowded street glanced at her with sympathy. But she did not know that.
She hurried on, trying to comfort herself in that queer way of hers by
pretending and "supposing,"--but really this time it was harder than she
had ever found it, and once or twice she thought it almost made her
more cold and hungry instead of less so. But she persevered obstinately.
"Suppose I had dry clothes on," she thought. "Suppose I had good shoes
and a long, thick coat and merino stockings and a whole umbrella. And
suppose--suppose, just when I was near a baker's where they sold hot
buns, I should find sixpence--which belonged to nobody. Suppose, if
I did, I should go into the shop and buy six of the hottest buns, and
should eat them all without stopping."
Some very odd things happen in this world sometimes. It certainly was
an odd thing which happened to Sara. She had to cross the street just as
she was saying this to herself--the mud was dreadful--she almost had to
wade. She picked her way as carefully as she could, but she could not
save herself much, only, in picking her way she had to look down at
her feet and the mud, and in looking down--just as she reached the
pavement--she saw something shining in the gutter. A piece of silver--a
tiny piece trodden upon by many feet, but still with spirit enough
to shine a little. Not quite a sixpence, but the next thing to it--a
four-penny piece! In one second it was in her cold, little red and blue
hand. "Oh!" she gasped. "It is true!"
And then, if you will believe me, she looked straight before her at the
shop directly facing her. And it was a baker's, and a cheerful, stout,
motherly woman, with rosy cheeks, was just putting into the window a
tray of delicious hot buns,--large, plump, shiny buns, with currants in
It almost made Sara feel faint for a few seconds--the shock and the
sight of the buns and the delightful odors of warm bread floating up
through the baker's cellar-window.
She knew that she need not hesitate to use the little piece of money.
It had evidently been lying in the mud for some time, and its owner was
completely lost in the streams of passing people who crowded and jostled
each other all through the day.
"But I'll go and ask the baker's woman if she has lost a piece of
money," she said to herself, rather faintly.
So she crossed the pavement and put her wet foot on the step of the
shop; and as she did so she saw something which made her stop.
It was a little figure more forlorn than her own--a little figure which
was not much more than a bundle of rags, from which small, bare, red and
muddy feet peeped out--only because the rags with which the wearer was
trying to cover them were not long enough. Above the rags appeared a
shock head of tangled hair and a dirty face, with big, hollow, hungry
Sara knew they were hungry eyes the moment she saw them, and she felt a
"This," she said to herself, with a little sigh, "is one of the
Populace--and she is hungrier than I am."
The child--this "one of the Populace"--stared up at Sara, and shuffled
herself aside a little, so as to give her more room. She was used to
being made to give room to everybody. She knew that if a policeman
chanced to see her, he would tell her to "move on."
Sara clutched her little four-penny piece, and hesitated a few seconds.
Then she spoke to her.
"Are you hungry?" she asked.
The child shuffled herself and her rags a little more.
"Ain't I jist!" she said, in a hoarse voice. "Jist ain't I!"
"Haven't you had any dinner?" said Sara.
"No dinner," more hoarsely still and with more shuffling, "nor yet no
bre'fast--nor yet no supper--nor nothin'."
"Since when?" asked Sara.
"Dun'no. Never got nothin' to-day--nowhere. I've axed and axed."
Just to look at her made Sara more hungry and faint. But those queer
little thoughts were at work in her brain, and she was talking to
herself though she was sick at heart.
"If I'm a princess," she was saying--"if I'm a princess--! When they
were poor and driven from their thrones--they always shared--with the
Populace--if they met one poorer and hungrier. They always shared. Buns
are a penny each. If it had been sixpence! I could have eaten six. It
won't be enough for either of us--but it will be better than nothing."
"Wait a minute," she said to the beggar-child. She went into the shop.
It was warm and smelled delightfully. The woman was just going to put
more hot buns in the window.
"If you please," said Sara, "have you lost fourpence--a silver
fourpence?" And she held the forlorn little piece of money out to her.
The woman looked at it and at her--at her intense little face and
draggled, once-fine clothes.
"Bless us--no," she answered. "Did you find it?"
"In the gutter," said Sara.
"Keep it, then," said the woman. "It may have been there a week, and
goodness knows who lost it. You could never find out."
"I know that," said Sara, "but I thought I'd ask you."
"Not many would," said the woman, looking puzzled and interested and
good-natured all at once. "Do you want to buy something?" she added, as
she saw Sara glance toward the buns.
"Four buns, if you please," said Sara; "those at a penny each."
The woman went to the window and put some in a paper bag. Sara noticed
that she put in six.
"I said four, if you please," she explained. "I have only the
"I'll throw in two for make-weight," said the woman, with her
good-natured look. "I dare say you can eat them some time. Aren't you
A mist rose before Sara's eyes.
"Yes," she answered. "I am very hungry, and I am much obliged to you for
your kindness, and," she was going to add, "there is a child outside who
is hungrier than I am." But just at that moment two or three customers
came in at once and each one seemed in a hurry, so she could only thank
the woman again and go out.
The child was still huddled up on the corner of the steps. She looked
frightful in her wet and dirty rags. She was staring with a stupid look
of suffering straight before her, and Sara saw her suddenly draw the
back of her roughened, black hand across her eyes to rub away the tears
which seemed to have surprised her by forcing their way from under her
lids. She was muttering to herself.
Sara opened the paper bag and took out one of the hot buns, which had
already warmed her cold hands a little.
"See," she said, putting the bun on the ragged lap, "that is nice and
hot. Eat it, and you will not be so hungry."
The child started and stared up at her; then she snatched up the bun and
began to cram it into her mouth with great wolfish bites.
"Oh, my! Oh, my!" Sara heard her say hoarsely, in wild delight.
Sara took out three more buns and put them down.
"She is hungrier than I am," she said to herself. "She's starving." But
her hand trembled when she put down the fourth bun. "I'm not starving,"
she said--and she put down the fifth.
The little starving London savage was still snatching and devouring when
she turned away. She was too ravenous to give any thanks, even if she
had been taught politeness--which she had not. She was only a poor
little wild animal.
"Good-bye," said Sara.
When she reached the other side of the street she looked back. The child
had a bun in both hands, and had stopped in the middle of a bite to
watch her. Sara gave her a little nod, and the child, after another
stare,--a curious, longing stare,--jerked her shaggy head in response,
and until Sara was out of sight she did not take another bite or even
finish the one she had begun.
At that moment the baker-woman glanced out of her shop-window.
"Well, I never!" she exclaimed. "If that young'un hasn't given her buns
to a beggar-child! It wasn't because she didn't want them, either--well,
well, she looked hungry enough. I'd give something to know what she did
it for." She stood behind her window for a few moments and pondered.
Then her curiosity got the better of her. She went to the door and spoke
to the beggar-child.
"Who gave you those buns?" she asked her.
The child nodded her head toward Sara's vanishing figure.
"What did she say?" inquired the woman.
"Axed me if I was 'ungry," replied the hoarse voice.
"What did you say?"
"Said I was jist!"
"And then she came in and got buns and came out and gave them to you,
The child nodded.
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
She looked after the little, draggled, far-away figure, and felt more
disturbed in her usually comfortable mind than she had felt for many a
"I wish she hadn't gone so quick," she said. "I'm blest if she shouldn't
have had a dozen."
Then she turned to the child.
"Are you hungry, yet?" she asked.
"I'm allus 'ungry," was the answer; "but 'tain't so 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 a tiny back
room. "And, look here,--when you're hard up for a bite of bread, you can
come here and ask for it. I'm blest if I won't give it to you for that
young un's sake."
Sara found some comfort in her remaining bun. It was hot; and it was a
great deal better than nothing. She broke off small pieces and ate them
slowly to make it last longer.
"Suppose it was a magic bun," she said, "and a bite was as much as a
whole dinner. I should be over-eating myself if I went on like this."
It was dark when she reached the square in which Miss Minchin's Select
Seminary was situated; the lamps were lighted, and in most of the
windows gleams of light were to be seen. It always interested Sara to
catch glimpses of the rooms before the shutters were closed. She liked
to imagine things about people who sat before the fires in the houses,
or who bent over books at the tables. There was, for instance, the Large
Family opposite. She called these people the Large Family--not because
they were large, 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
grand-mamma, 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 kiss their papa and
dance around him and drag off his overcoat and look for packages in
the pockets of it; or they were crowding about the nursery windows
and looking out and pushing each other and laughing,--in fact they were
always doing something which seemed enjoyable and suited to the tastes
of a large family. Sara was quite attached to them, and had given them
all names out of books. 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 Cholmondely
Montmorency; the little boy who could just stagger, and who had such
round legs, was Sydney Cecil Vivian Montmorency; and then came Lilian
Evangeline, Guy Clarence, Maud Marian, Rosalind Gladys, Veronica
Eustacia, and Claude Harold Hector.
Next door to the Large Family lived the Maiden Lady, who had a
companion, and two parrots, and a King Charles spaniel; but Sara was not
so very fond of her, because she did nothing in particular but talk to
the parrots and drive out with the spaniel. The most interesting person
of all lived next door to Miss Minchin herself. Sara called him the
Indian Gentleman. He was an elderly gentleman who was said to have lived
in the East Indies, and to be immensely rich and to have something the
matter with his liver,--in fact, it had been rumored that he had no
liver at all, and was much inconvenienced by the fact. At any rate, he
was very yellow and he did not look happy; and when he went out to his
carriage, he was almost always wrapped up in shawls and overcoats, as
if he were cold. He had a native servant who looked even colder than
himself, and he had a monkey who looked colder than the native servant.
Sara had seen the monkey sitting on a table, in the sun, in the
parlor window, and he always wore such a mournful expression that she
sympathized with him deeply.
"I dare say," she used sometimes to remark to herself, "he is thinking
all the time of cocoanut trees and of swinging by his tail under a
tropical sun. He might have had a family dependent on him too, poor
The native servant, whom she called the Lascar, looked mournful too, but
he was evidently very faithful to his master.
"Perhaps he saved his master's life in the Sepoy rebellion," she
thought. "They look as if they might have had all sorts of adventures. I
wish I could speak to the Lascar. I remember a little Hindustani."
And one day she actually did speak to him, and his start at the sound of
his own language expressed a great deal of surprise and delight. He was
waiting for his master to come out to the carriage, and Sara, who was
going on an errand as usual, stopped and spoke a few words. She had a
special gift for languages and had remembered enough Hindustani to make
herself understood by him. When his master came out, the Lascar spoke
to him quickly, and the Indian Gentleman turned and looked at her
curiously. And afterward the Lascar always greeted her with salaams of
the most profound description. And occasionally they exchanged a few
words. She learned that it was true that the Sahib was very rich--that
he was ill--and also that he had no wife nor children, and that England
did not agree with the monkey.
"He must be as lonely as I am," thought Sara. "Being rich does not seem
to make him happy."
That evening, as she passed the windows, the Lascar was closing the
shutters, and she caught a glimpse of the room inside. There was a
bright fire glowing in the grate, and the Indian Gentleman was sitting
before it, in a luxurious chair. The room was richly furnished, and
looked delightfully comfortable, but the Indian Gentleman sat with his
head resting on his hand, and looked as lonely and unhappy as ever.
"Poor man!" said Sara; "I wonder what you are `supposing'?"
When she went into the house she met Miss Minchin in the hall.
"Where have you wasted your time?" said Miss Minchin. "You have been out
"It was so wet and muddy," Sara answered. "It was hard to walk, because
my shoes were so bad and slipped about so."
"Make no excuses," said Miss Minchin, "and tell no falsehoods."
Sara went downstairs to the kitchen.
"Why didn't you stay all night?" said the cook.
"Here are the things," said Sara, and laid her purchases on the table.
The cook looked over them, grumbling. She was in a very bad temper
"May I have something to eat?" Sara asked rather faintly.
"Tea's over and done with," was the answer. "Did you expect me to keep
it hot for you?"
Sara was silent a second.
"I had no dinner," she said, and her voice was quite low. She made it
low, because she was afraid it would tremble.
"There's some bread in the pantry," said the cook. "That's all you'll
get at this time of day."
Sara went and found the bread. It was old and hard and dry. The cook
was in too bad a humor to give her anything to eat with it. She had just
been scolded by Miss Minchin, and it was always safe and easy to vent
her own spite on Sara.
Really it was hard for the child to climb the three long flights of
stairs leading to her garret. She often found them long and steep when
she was tired, but to-night it seemed as if she would never reach the
top. Several times a lump rose in her throat and she was obliged to stop
"I can't pretend anything more to-night," she said wearily to herself.
"I'm sure I can't. I'll eat my bread and drink some water and then go to
sleep, and perhaps a dream will come and pretend for me. I wonder what
Yes, when she reached the top landing there were tears in her eyes, and
she did not feel like a princess--only like a tired, hungry, lonely,
"If my papa had lived," she said, "they would not have treated me like
this. If my papa had lived, he would have taken care of me."
Then she turned the handle and opened the garret-door.
Can you imagine it--can you believe it? I find it hard to believe it
myself. And Sara found it impossible; for the first few moments she
thought something strange had happened to her eyes--to her mind--that
the dream had come before she had had time to fall asleep.
"Oh!" she exclaimed breathlessly. "Oh! it isn't true! I know, I know
it isn't true!" And she slipped into the room and closed the door and
locked it, and stood with her back against it, staring straight before
Do you wonder? In the grate, which had been empty and rusty and cold
when she left it, but which now was blackened and polished up quite
respectably, there was a glowing, blazing fire. On the hob was a little
brass kettle, hissing and boiling; spread upon the floor was a warm,
thick rug; before the fire was a folding-chair, unfolded and with
cushions on it; by the chair was a small folding-table, unfolded,
covered with a white cloth, and upon it were spread small covered
dishes, a cup and saucer, and a tea-pot; on the bed were new, warm
coverings, a curious wadded silk robe, and some books. The little, cold,
miserable room seemed changed into Fairyland. It was actually warm and
"It is bewitched!" said Sara. "Or I am bewitched. I only think I see
it all; but if I can only keep on thinking it, I don't care--I don't
care--if I can only keep it up!"
She was afraid to move, for fear it would melt away. She stood with her
back against the door and looked and looked. But soon she began to feel
warm, and then she moved forward.
"A fire that I only thought I saw surely wouldn't feel warm," she said.
"It feels real--real."
She went to it and knelt before it. She touched the chair, the table;
she lifted the cover of one of the dishes. There was something hot and
savory in it--something delicious. The tea-pot had tea in it, ready for
the boiling water from the little kettle; one plate had toast on it,
"It is real," said Sara. "The fire is real enough to warm me; I can sit
in the chair; the things are real enough to eat."
It was like a fairy story come true--it was heavenly. She went to the
bed and touched the blankets and the wrap. They were real too. She
opened one book, and on the title-page was written in a strange hand,
"The little girl in the attic."
Suddenly--was it a strange thing for her to do?--Sara put her face down
on the queer, foreign looking quilted robe and burst into tears.
"I don't know who it is," she said, "but somebody cares about me a
little--somebody is my friend."
Somehow that thought warmed her more than the fire. She had never had
a friend since those happy, luxurious days when she had had everything;
and those days had seemed such a long way off--so far away as to be only
like dreams--during these last years at Miss Minchin's.
She really cried more at this strange thought of having a friend--even
though an unknown one--than she had cried over many of her worst
But these tears seemed different from the others, for when she had wiped
them away they did not seem to leave her eyes and her heart hot and
And then imagine, if you can, what the rest of the evening was like.
The delicious comfort of taking off the damp clothes and putting on the
soft, warm, quilted robe before the glowing fire--of slipping her cold
feet into the luscious little wool-lined slippers she found near her
chair. And then the hot tea and savory dishes, the cushioned chair and
It was just like Sara, that, once having found the things real, she
should give herself up to the enjoyment of them to the very utmost. She
had lived such a life of imagining, and had found her pleasure so long
in improbabilities, that she was quite equal to accepting any wonderful
thing that happened. After she was quite warm and had eaten her supper
and enjoyed herself for an hour or so, it had almost ceased to be
surprising to her that such magical surroundings should be hers. As
to finding out who had done all this, she knew that it was out of the
question. She did not know a human soul by whom it could seem in the
least degree probable that it could have been done.
"There is nobody," she said to herself, "nobody." She discussed the
matter with Emily, it is true, but more because it was delightful to
talk about it than with a view to making any discoveries.
"But we have a friend, Emily," she said; "we have a friend."
Sara could not even imagine a being charming enough to fill her grand
ideal of her mysterious benefactor. If she tried to make in her mind
a picture of him or her, it ended by being something glittering and
strange--not at all like a real person, but bearing resemblance to a
sort of Eastern magician, with long robes and a wand. And when she fell
asleep, beneath the soft white blanket, she dreamed all night of this
magnificent personage, and talked to him in Hindustani, and made salaams
Upon one thing she was determined. She would not speak to any one of
her good fortune--it should be her own secret; in fact, she was
rather inclined to think that if Miss Minchin knew, she would take her
treasures from her or in some way spoil her pleasure. So, when she went
down the next morning, she shut her door very tight and did her best to
look as if nothing unusual had occurred. And yet this was rather hard,
because she could not help remembering, every now and then, with a sort
of start, and her heart would beat quickly every time she repeated to
herself, "I have a friend!"
It was a friend who evidently meant to continue to be kind, for when she
went to her garret the next night--and she opened the door, it must be
confessed, with rather an excited feeling--she found that the same hands
had been again at work, and had done even more than before. The fire and
the supper were again there, and beside them a number of other things
which so altered the look of the garret that Sara quite lost her breath.
A piece of bright, strange, heavy cloth covered the battered mantel, and
on it some ornaments had been placed. All the bare, ugly things which
could be covered with draperies had been concealed and made to look
quite pretty. Some odd materials in rich colors had been fastened
against the walls with sharp, fine tacks--so sharp that they could be
pressed into the wood without hammering. Some brilliant fans were pinned
up, and there were several large cushions. A long, old wooden box was
covered with a rug, and some cushions lay on it, so that it wore quite
the air of a sofa.
Sara simply sat down, and looked, and looked again.
"It is exactly like something fairy come true," she said; "there isn't
the least difference. I feel as if I might wish for anything--diamonds
and bags of gold--and they would appear! That couldn't be any stranger
than this. Is this my garret? Am I the same cold, ragged, damp Sara?
And to think how I used to pretend, and pretend, and wish there were
fairies! The one thing I always wanted was to see a fairy story come
true. I am living in a fairy story! I feel as if I might be a fairy
myself, and be able to turn things into anything else!"
It was like a fairy story, and, what was best of all, it continued.
Almost every day something new was done to the garret. Some new comfort
or ornament appeared in it when Sara opened her door at night, until
actually, in a short time it was a bright little room, full of all sorts
of odd and luxurious things. And the magician had taken care that the
child should not be hungry, and that she should have as many books as
she could read. When she left the room in the morning, the remains of
her supper were on the table, and when she returned in the evening, the
magician had removed them, and left another nice little meal. Downstairs
Miss Minchin was as cruel and insulting as ever, Miss Amelia was as
peevish, and the servants were as vulgar. Sara was sent on errands, and
scolded, and driven hither and thither, but somehow it seemed as if she
could bear it all. The delightful sense of romance and mystery lifted
her above the cook's temper and malice. The comfort she enjoyed and
could always look forward to was making her stronger. If she came home
from her errands wet and tired, she knew she would soon be warm, after
she had climbed the stairs. In a few weeks she began to look less thin.
A little color came into her cheeks, and her eyes did not seem much too
big for her face.
It was just when this was beginning to be so apparent that Miss Minchin
sometimes stared at her questioningly, that another wonderful thing
happened. A man came to the door and left several parcels. All were
addressed (in large letters) to "the little girl in the attic." Sara
herself was sent to open the door, and she took them in. She laid
the two largest parcels down on the hall-table and was looking at the
address, when Miss Minchin came down the stairs.
"Take the things upstairs to the young lady to whom they belong," she
said. "Don't stand there staring at them."
"They belong to me," answered Sara, quietly.
"To you!" exclaimed Miss Minchin. "What do you mean?"
"I don't know where they came from," said Sara, "but they're addressed
Miss Minchin came to her side and looked at them with an excited
"What is in them?" she demanded.
"I don't know," said Sara.
"Open them!" she demanded, still more excitedly.
Sara did as she was told. They contained pretty and comfortable
clothing,--clothing of different kinds; shoes and stockings and gloves,
a warm coat, and even an umbrella. On the pocket of the coat was pinned
a paper on which was written, "To be worn every day--will be replaced by
others when necessary."
Miss Minchin was quite agitated. This was an incident which suggested
strange things to her sordid mind. Could it be that she had made a
mistake after all, and that the child so neglected and so unkindly
treated by her had some powerful friend in the background? It would not
be very pleasant if there should be such a friend, and he or she should
learn all the truth about the thin, shabby clothes, the scant food,
the hard work. She felt queer indeed and uncertain, and she gave a
side-glance at Sara.
"Well," she said, in a voice such as she had never used since the day
the child lost her father--"well, some one is very kind to you. As you
have the things and are to have new ones when they are worn out, you
may as well go and put them on and look respectable; and after you
are dressed, you may come downstairs and learn your lessons in the
So it happened that, about half an hour afterward, Sara struck the
entire school-room of pupils dumb with amazement, by making her
appearance in a costume such as she had never worn since the change of
fortune whereby she ceased to be a show-pupil and a parlor-boarder. She
scarcely seemed to be the same Sara. She was neatly dressed in a pretty
gown of warm browns and reds, and even her stockings and slippers were
nice and dainty.
"Perhaps some one has left her a fortune," one of the girls whispered.
"I always thought something would happen to her, she is so queer."
That night when Sara went to her room she carried out a plan she had
been devising for some time. She wrote a note to her unknown friend. It
ran as follows:
"I hope you will not think it is not polite that I should write this
note to you when you wish to keep yourself a secret, but I do not mean
to be impolite, or to try to find out at all, only I want to thank you
for being so kind to me--so beautiful kind, and making everything like a
fairy story. I am so grateful to you and I am so happy! I used to be so
lonely and cold and, hungry, and now, oh, just think what you have done
for me! Please let me say just these words. It seems as if I ought to
say them. Thank you--thank you--thank you!
"THE LITTLE GIRL IN THE ATTIC."
The next morning she left this on the little table, and it was taken
away with the other things; so she felt sure the magician had received
it, and she was happier for the thought.
A few nights later a very odd thing happened. She found something in the
room which she certainly would never have expected. When she came in
as usual she saw something small and dark in her chair,--an odd, tiny
figure, which turned toward her a little, weird-looking, wistful face.
"Why, it's the monkey!" she cried. "It is the Indian Gentleman's monkey!
Where can he have come from?"
It was the monkey, sitting up and looking so like a mite of a child
that it really was quite pathetic; and very soon Sara found out how he
happened to be in her room. The skylight was open, and it was easy to
guess that he had crept out of his master's garret-window, which was
only a few feet away and perfectly easy to get in and out of, even for a
climber less agile than a monkey. He had probably climbed to the garret
on a tour of investigation, and getting out upon the roof, and being
attracted by the light in Sara's attic, had crept in. At all events this
seemed quite reasonable, and there he was; and when Sara went to him, he
actually put out his queer, elfish little hands, caught her dress, and
jumped into her arms.
"Oh, you queer, poor, ugly, foreign little thing!" said Sara, caressing
him. "I can't help liking you. You look like a sort of baby, but I am
so glad you are not, because your mother could not be proud of you, and
nobody would dare to say you were like any of your relations. But I do
like you; you have such a forlorn little look in your face. Perhaps you
are sorry you are so ugly, and it's always on your mind. I wonder if you
have a mind?"
The monkey sat and looked at her while she talked, and seemed much
interested in her remarks, if one could judge by his eyes and his
forehead, and the way he moved his head up and down, and held it
sideways and scratched it with his little hand. He examined Sara quite
seriously, and anxiously, too. He felt the stuff of her dress, touched
her hands, climbed up and examined her ears, and then sat on her
shoulder holding a lock of her hair, looking mournful but not at all
agitated. Upon the whole, he seemed pleased with Sara.
"But I must take you back," she said to him, "though I'm sorry to have
to do it. Oh, the company you would be to a person!"
She lifted him from her shoulder, set him on her knee, and gave him a
bit of cake. He sat and nibbled it, and then put his head on one side,
looked at her, wrinkled his forehead, and then nibbled again, in the
most companionable manner.
"But you must go home," said Sara at last; and she took him in her arms
to carry him downstairs. Evidently he did not want to leave the room,
for as they reached the door he clung to her neck and gave a little
scream of anger.
"You mustn't be an ungrateful monkey," said Sara. "You ought to be
fondest of your own family. I am sure the Lascar is good to you."
Nobody saw her on her way out, and very soon she was standing on the
Indian Gentleman's front steps, and the Lascar had opened the door for
"I found your monkey in my room," she said in Hindustani. "I think he
got in through the window."
The man began a rapid outpouring of thanks; but, just as he was in the
midst of them, a fretful, hollow voice was heard through the open door
of the nearest room. The instant he heard it the Lascar disappeared, and
left Sara still holding the monkey.
It was not many moments, however, before he came back bringing a
message. His master had told him to bring Missy into the library. The
Sahib was very ill, but he wished to see Missy.
Sara thought this odd, but she remembered reading stories of Indian
gentlemen who, having no constitutions, were extremely cross and full of
whims, and who must have their own way. So she followed the Lascar.
When she entered the room the Indian Gentleman was lying on an easy
chair, propped up with pillows. He looked frightfully ill. His yellow
face was thin, and his eyes were hollow. He gave Sara a rather curious
look--it was as if she wakened in him some anxious interest.
"You live next door?" he said.
"Yes," answered Sara. "I live at Miss Minchin's."
"She keeps a boarding-school?"
"Yes," said Sara.
"And you are one of her pupils?"
Sara hesitated a moment.
"I don't know exactly what I am," she replied.
"Why not?" asked the Indian Gentleman.
The monkey gave a tiny squeak, and Sara stroked him.
"At first," she said, "I was a pupil and a parlor boarder; but now--"
"What do you mean by `at first'?" asked the Indian Gentleman.
"When I was first taken there by my papa."
"Well, what has happened since then?" said the invalid, staring at her
and knitting his brows with a puzzled expression.
"My papa died," said Sara. "He lost all his money, and there was
none left for me--and there was no one to take care of me or pay Miss
"So you were sent up into the garret and neglected, and made into a
half-starved little drudge!" put in the Indian Gentleman. "That is about
it, isn't it?"
The color deepened on Sara's cheeks.
"There was no one to take care of me, and no money," she said. "I belong
"What did your father mean by losing his money?" said the gentleman,
The red in Sara's cheeks grew deeper, and she fixed her odd eyes on the
"He did not lose it himself," she said. "He had a friend he was fond
of, and it was his friend, who took his money. I don't know how. I don't
understand. He trusted his friend too much."
She saw the invalid start--the strangest start--as if he had been
suddenly frightened. Then he spoke nervously and excitedly:
"That's an old story," he said. "It happens every day; but sometimes
those who are blamed--those who do the wrong--don't intend it, and are
not so bad. It may happen through a mistake--a miscalculation; they may
not be so bad."
"No," said Sara, "but the suffering is just as bad for the others. It
killed my papa."
The Indian Gentleman pushed aside some of the gorgeous wraps that
"Come a little nearer, and let me look at you," he said.
His voice sounded very strange; it had a more nervous and excited tone
than before. Sara had an odd fancy that he was half afraid to look at
her. She came and stood nearer, the monkey clinging to her and watching
his master anxiously over his shoulder.
The Indian Gentleman's hollow, restless eyes fixed themselves on her.
"Yes," he said at last. "Yes; I can see it. Tell me your father's name."
"His name was Ralph Crewe," said Sara. "Captain Crewe. Perhaps,"--a
sudden thought flashing upon her,--"perhaps you may have heard of him?
He died in India."
The Indian Gentleman sank back upon his pillows. He looked very weak,
and seemed out of breath.
"Yes," he said, "I knew him. I was his friend. I meant no harm. If he
had only lived he would have known. It turned out well after all. He was
a fine young fellow. I was fond of him. I will make it right. Call--call
Sara thought he was going to die. But there was no need to call the
Lascar. He must have been waiting at the door. He was in the room and by
his master's side in an instant. He seemed to know what to do. He lifted
the drooping head, and gave the invalid something in a small glass. The
Indian Gentleman lay panting for a few minutes, and then he spoke in an
exhausted but eager voice, addressing the Lascar in Hindustani:
"Go for Carmichael," he said. "Tell him to come here at once. Tell him I
have found the child!"
When Mr. Carmichael arrived (which occurred in a very few minutes, for
it turned out that he was no other than the father of the Large Family
across the street), Sara went home, and was allowed to take the monkey
with her. She certainly did not sleep very much that night, though the
monkey behaved beautifully, and did not disturb her in the least. It was
not the monkey that kept her awake--it was her thoughts, and her wonders
as to what the Indian Gentleman had meant when he said, "Tell him I have
found the child." "What child?" Sara kept asking herself.
"I was the only child there; but how had he found me, and why did he
want to find me? And what is he going to do, now I am found? Is it
something about my papa? Do I belong to somebody? Is he one of my
relations? Is something going to happen?"
But she found out the very next day, in the morning; and it seemed that
she had been living in a story even more than she had imagined. First,
Mr. Carmichael came and had an interview with Miss Minchin. And it
appeared that Mr. Carmichael, besides occupying the important situation
of father to the Large Family was a lawyer, and had charge of the
affairs of Mr. Carrisford--which was the real name of the Indian
Gentleman--and, as Mr. Carrisford's lawyer, Mr. Carmichael had come to
explain something curious to Miss Minchin regarding Sara. But, being the
father of the Large Family, he had a very kind and fatherly feeling for
children; and so, after seeing Miss Minchin alone, what did he do but
go and bring across the square his rosy, motherly, warm-hearted wife,
so that she herself might talk to the little lonely girl, and tell her
everything in the best and most motherly way.
And then Sara learned that she was to be a poor little drudge and
outcast no more, and that a great change had come in her fortunes; for
all the lost fortune had come back to her, and a great deal had even
been added to it. It was Mr. Carrisford who had been her father's
friend, and who had made the investments which had caused him the
apparent loss of his money; but it had so happened that after poor young
Captain Crewe's death one of the investments which had seemed at the
time the very worst had taken a sudden turn, and proved to be such a
success that it had been a mine of wealth, and had more than doubled the
Captain's lost fortune, as well as making a fortune for Mr. Carrisford
himself. But Mr. Carrisford had been very unhappy. He had truly loved
his poor, handsome, generous young friend, and the knowledge that he had
caused his death had weighed upon him always, and broken both his health
and spirit. The worst of it had been that, when first he thought himself
and Captain Crewe ruined, he had lost courage and gone away because he
was not brave enough to face the consequences of what he had done, and
so he had not even known where the young soldier's little girl had
been placed. When he wanted to find her, and make restitution, he
could discover no trace of her; and the certainty that she was poor and
friendless somewhere had made him more miserable than ever. When he had
taken the house next to Miss Minchin's he had been so ill and wretched
that he had for the time given up the search. His troubles and the
Indian climate had brought him almost to death's door--indeed, he had
not expected to live more than a few months. And then one day the Lascar
had told him about Sara's speaking Hindustani, and gradually he had
begun to take a sort of interest in the forlorn child, though he had
only caught a glimpse of her once or twice and he had not connected
her with the child of his friend, perhaps because he was too languid
to think much about anything. But the Lascar had found out something
of Sara's unhappy little life, and about the garret. One evening he had
actually crept out of his own garret-window and looked into hers, which
was a very easy matter, because, as I have said, it was only a few feet
away--and he had told his master what he had seen, and in a moment of
compassion the Indian Gentleman had told him to take into the wretched
little room such comforts as he could carry from the one window to the
other. And the Lascar, who had developed an interest in, and an odd
fondness for, the child who had spoken to him in his own tongue, had
been pleased with the work; and, having the silent swiftness and agile
movements of many of his race, he had made his evening journeys across
the few feet of roof from garret-window to garret-window, without any
trouble at all. He had watched Sara's movements until he knew exactly
when she was absent from her room and when she returned to it, and so he
had been able to calculate the best times for his work. Generally he
had made them in the dusk of the evening; but once or twice, when he
had seen her go out on errands, he had dared to go over in the daytime,
being quite sure that the garret was never entered by any one but
herself. His pleasure in the work and his reports of the results had
added to the invalid's interest in it, and sometimes the master had
found the planning gave him something to think of, which made him almost
forget his weariness and pain. And at last, when Sara brought home the
truant monkey, he had felt a wish to see her, and then her likeness to
her father had done the rest.
"And now, my dear," said good Mrs. Carmichael, patting Sara's hand, "all
your troubles are over, I am sure, and you are to come home with me and
be taken care of as if you were one of my own little girls; and we are
so pleased to think of having you with us until everything is settled,
and Mr. Carrisford is better. The excitement of last night has made him
very weak, but we really think he will get well, now that such a load
is taken from his mind. And when he is stronger, I am sure he will be as
kind to you as your own papa would have been. He has a very good heart,
and he is fond of children--and he has no family at all. But we must
make you happy and rosy, and you must learn to play and run about, as my
little girls do--"
"As your little girls do?" said Sara. "I wonder if I could. I used to
watch them and wonder what it was like. Shall I feel as if I belonged to
"Ah, my love, yes!--yes!" said Mrs. Carmichael; "dear me, yes!" And her
motherly blue eyes grew quite moist, and she suddenly took Sara in her
arms and kissed her. That very night, before she went to sleep, Sara had
made the acquaintance of the entire Large Family, and such excitement
as she and the monkey had caused in that joyous circle could hardly be
described. There was not a child in the nursery, from the Eton boy who
was the eldest, to the baby who was the youngest, who had not laid
some offering on her shrine. All the older ones knew something of her
wonderful story. She had been born in India; she had been poor and
lonely and unhappy, and had lived in a garret and been treated unkindly;
and now she was to be rich and happy, and be taken care of. They were so
sorry for her, and so delighted and curious about her, all at once. The
girls wished to be with her constantly, and the little boys wished to be
told about India; the second baby, with the short round legs, simply
sat and stared at her and the monkey, possibly wondering why she had not
brought a hand-organ with her.
"I shall certainly wake up presently," Sara kept saying to herself.
"This one must be a dream. The other one turned out to be real; but this
couldn't be. But, oh! how happy it is!"
And even when she went to bed, in the bright, pretty room not far from
Mrs. Carmichael's own, and Mrs. Carmichael came and kissed her and
patted her and tucked her in cozily, she was not sure that she would not
wake up in the garret in the morning.
"And oh, Charles, dear," Mrs. Carmichael said to her husband, when she
went downstairs to him, "We must get that lonely look out of her eyes!
It isn't a child's look at all. I couldn't bear to see it in one of my
own children. What the poor little love must have had to bear in that
dreadful woman's house! But, surely, she will forget it in time."
But though the lonely look passed away from Sara's face, she never quite
forgot the garret at Miss Minchin's; and, indeed, she always liked to
remember the wonderful night when the tired princess crept upstairs,
cold and wet, and opening the door found fairy-land waiting for her. And
there was no one of the many stories she was always being called upon to
tell in the nursery of the Large Family which was more popular than that
particular one; and there was no one of whom the Large Family were so
fond as of Sara. Mr. Carrisford did not die, but recovered, and Sara
went to live with him; and no real princess could have been better taken
care of than she was. It seemed that the Indian Gentleman could not do
enough to make her happy, and to repay her for the past; and the Lascar
was her devoted slave. As her odd little face grew brighter, it grew so
pretty and interesting that Mr. Carrisford used to sit and watch it many
an evening, as they sat by the fire together.
They became great friends, and they used to spend hours reading and
talking together; and, in a very short time, there was no pleasanter
sight to the Indian Gentleman than Sara sitting in her big chair on the
opposite side of the hearth, with a book on her knee and her soft, dark
hair tumbling over her warm cheeks. She had a pretty habit of looking
up at him suddenly, with a bright smile, and then he would often say to
"Are you happy, Sara?"
And then she would answer:
"I feel like a real princess, Uncle Tom."
He had told her to call him Uncle Tom.
"There doesn't seem to be anything left to `suppose,'" she added.
There was a little joke between them that he was a magician, and so
could do anything he liked; and it was one of his pleasures to invent
plans to surprise her with enjoyments she had not thought of. Scarcely
a day passed in which he did not do something new for her. Sometimes she
found new flowers in her room; sometimes a fanciful little gift tucked
into some odd corner, sometimes a new book on her pillow;--once as they
sat together in the evening they heard the scratch of a heavy paw on
the door of the room, and when Sara went to find out what it was, there
stood a great dog--a splendid Russian boar-hound with a grand silver and
gold collar. Stooping to read the inscription upon the collar, Sara was
delighted to read the words: "I am Boris; I serve the Princess Sara."
Then there was a sort of fairy nursery arranged for the entertainment of
the juvenile members of the Large Family, who were always coming to see
Sara and the Lascar and the monkey. Sara was as fond of the Large Family
as they were of her. She soon felt as if she were a member of it, and
the companionship of the healthy, happy children was very good for
her. All the children rather looked up to her and regarded her as the
cleverest and most brilliant of creatures--particularly after it was
discovered that she not only knew stories of every kind, and could
invent new ones at a moment's notice, but that she could help with
lessons, and speak French and German, and discourse with the Lascar in
It was rather a painful experience for Miss Minchin to watch her
ex-pupil's fortunes, as she had the daily opportunity to do, and to feel
that she had made a serious mistake, from a business point of view. She
had even tried to retrieve it by suggesting that Sara's education should
be continued under her care, and had gone to the length of making an
appeal to the child herself.
"I have always been very fond of you," she said.
Then Sara fixed her eyes upon her and gave her one of her odd looks.
"Have you?" she answered.
"Yes," said Miss Minchin. "Amelia and I have always said you were
the cleverest child we had with us, and I am sure we could make you
happy--as a parlor boarder."
Sara thought of the garret and the day her ears were boxed,--and of that
other day, that dreadful, desolate day when she had been told that she
belonged to nobody; that she had no home and no friends,--and she kept
her eyes fixed on Miss Minchin's face.
"You know why I would not stay with you," she said.
And it seems probable that Miss Minchin did, for after that simple
answer she had not the boldness to pursue the subject. She merely sent
in a bill for the expense of Sara's education and support, and she made
it quite large enough. And because Mr. Carrisford thought Sara would
wish it paid, it was paid. When Mr. Carmichael paid it he had a brief
interview with Miss Minchin in which he expressed his opinion with much
clearness and force; and it is quite certain that Miss Minchin did not
enjoy the conversation.
Sara had been about a month with Mr. Carrisford, and had begun to
realize that her happiness was not a dream, when one night the Indian
Gentleman saw that she sat a long time with her cheek on her hand
looking at the fire.
"What are you `supposing,' Sara?" he asked. Sara looked up with a bright
color on her cheeks.
"I was `supposing,'" she said; "I was remembering that hungry day, and a
child I saw."
"But there were a great many hungry days," said the Indian Gentleman,
with a rather sad tone in his voice. "Which hungry day was it?"
"I forgot you didn't know," said Sara. "It was the day I found the
things in my garret."
And then she told him the story of the bun-shop, and the fourpence, and
the child who was hungrier than herself; and somehow as she told it,
though she told it very simply indeed, the Indian Gentleman found it
necessary to shade his eyes with his hand and look down at the floor.
"And I was `supposing' a kind of plan," said Sara, when she had
finished; "I was thinking I would like to do something."
"What is it?" said her guardian in a low tone. "You may do anything you
like to do, Princess."
"I was wondering," said Sara,--"you know you say I have a great deal of
money--and I was wondering if I could go and see the bun-woman and
tell her that if, when hungry children--particularly on those dreadful
days--come and sit on the steps or look in at the window, she would just
call them in and give them something to eat, she might send the bills to
me and I would pay them--could I do that?"
"You shall do it to-morrow morning," said the Indian Gentleman.
"Thank you," said Sara; "you see I know what it is to be hungry, and it
is very hard when one can't even pretend it away."
"Yes, yes, my dear," said the Indian Gentleman. "Yes, it must be. Try
to forget it. Come and sit on this footstool near my knee, and only
remember you are a princess."
"Yes," said Sara, "and I can give buns and bread to the Populace." And
she went and sat on the stool, and the Indian Gentleman (he used to
like her to call him that, too, sometimes,--in fact very often) drew her
small, dark head down upon his knee and stroked her hair.
The next morning a carriage drew up before the door of the baker's shop,
and a gentleman and a little girl got out,--oddly enough, just as the
bun-woman was putting a tray of smoking hotbuns into the window. When
Sara entered the shop the woman turned and looked at her and, leaving
the buns, came and stood behind the counter. For a moment she looked at
Sara very hard indeed, and then her good-natured face lighted up.
"I'm that sure I remember you, miss," she said. "And yet--"
"Yes," said Sara, "once you gave me six buns for fourpence, and--"
"And you gave five of 'em to a beggar-child," said the woman. "I've
always remembered it. I couldn't make it out at first. I beg pardon,
sir, but there's not many young people that notices a hungry face in
that way, and I've thought of it many a time. Excuse the liberty, miss,
but you look rosier and better than you did that day."
"I am better, thank you," said Sara, "and--and I am happier, and I have
come to ask you to do something for me."
"Me, miss!" exclaimed the woman, "why, bless you, yes, miss! What can I
And then Sara made her little proposal, and the woman listened to it
with an astonished face.
"Why, bless me!" she said, when she had heard it all. "Yes, miss, it'll
be a pleasure to me to do it. I am a working woman, myself, and can't
afford to do much on my own account, and there's sights of trouble on
every side; but if you'll excuse me, I'm bound to say I've given many
a bit of bread away since that wet afternoon, just along o' thinkin' of
you. An' how wet an' cold you was, an' how you looked,--an' yet you give
away your hot buns as if you was a princess."
The Indian Gentleman smiled involuntarily, and Sara smiled a little too.
"She looked so hungry," she said. "She was hungrier than I was."
"She was starving," said the woman. "Many's the time she's told me of it
since--how she sat there in the wet, and felt as if a wolf was a-tearing
at her poor young insides."
"Oh, have you seen her since then?" exclaimed Sara. "Do you know where
"I know!" said the woman. "Why, she's in that there back room now, miss,
an' has been for a month, an' a decent, well-meaning girl she's going to
turn out, an' such a help to me in the day shop, an' in the kitchen, as
you'd scarce believe, knowing how she's lived."
She stepped to the door of the little back parlor and spoke; and the
next minute a girl came out and followed her behind the counter. And
actually it was the beggar-child, clean and neatly clothed, and looking
as if she had not been hungry for a long time. She looked shy, but she
had a nice face, now that she was no longer a savage; and the wild look
had gone from her eyes. And she knew Sara in an instant, and stood and
looked at her as if she could never look enough.
"You see," said the woman, "I told her to come here when she was hungry,
and when she'd come I'd give her odd jobs to do, an' I found she was
willing, an' somehow I got to like her; an' the end of it was I've given
her a place an' a home, an' she helps me, an' behaves as well, an' is as
thankful as a girl can be. Her name's Anne--she has no other."
The two children stood and looked at each other a few moments. In Sara's
eyes a new thought was growing.
"I'm glad you have such a good home," she said. "Perhaps Mrs. Brown will
let you give the buns and bread to the children--perhaps you would like
to do it--because you know what it is to be hungry, too."
"Yes, miss," said the girl.
And somehow Sara felt as if she understood her, though the girl said
nothing more, and only stood still and looked, and looked after her as
she went out of the shop and got into the carriage and drove away.