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"A Little Princess" is one of Frances Hodgson Burnett's most loved stories. It is the story of young Sara Crewe who while growing up in a well to do household suddenly finds herself impoverished when her father, Captain Crewe, dies penniless in India. Sara is forced to abandon her life of privilege for a life of bare existence at Miss Minchin's boarding school. To survive those hard times she imagines herself to be A Little Princess as she awaits her rescue from a mysterious benefactor.
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First digital edition 2017 by Anna Ruggieri
2. A French Lesson
6. The Diamond Mines
7. The Diamond Mines Again
8. In the Attic
10. The Indian Gentleman
11. Ram Dass
12. The Other Side of the Wall
13. One of the Populace
14. What Melchisedec Heard and Saw
15. The Magic
16. The Visitor
17. "It Is the Child"
18. "I Tried Not to Be"
Once on a dark winter's day, when the yellow fog hung so thick and heavy in the streets of London that the lamps were lighted and the shop windows blazed with gas as they do at night, an odd-looking little girl sat in a cab with her father and was driven rather slowly through the big thoroughfares.
She sat with her feet tucked under her, and leaned against her father, who held her in his arm, as she stared out of the window at the passing people with a queer old-fashioned thoughtfulness in her big eyes.
She was such a little girl that one did not expect to see such a look on her small face. It would have been an old look for achild of twelve, and Sara Crewe was only seven. The fact was, however, that she was always dreaming and thinking odd things and could not herself remember any time when she had not been thinking things about grown-up people and the world they belonged to.She felt as if she had lived a long, long time.
At this moment she was remembering the voyage she had just made from Bombay with her father, Captain Crewe. She was thinking of the big ship, of the Lascars passing silently to and fro on it, of the childrenplaying about on the hot deck, and of some young officers' wives who used to try to make her talk to them and laugh at the things she said.
Principally, she was thinking of what a queer thing it was that at one time one was in India in the blazing sun, and then in the middle of the ocean, and then driving in a strange vehicle through strange streets where the day was as dark as the night. She found this so puzzling that she moved closer to her father.
"Papa," she said in a low, mysterious little voice which was almost a whisper, "papa."
"What is it, darling?" Captain Crewe answered, holding her closer and looking down into her face. "What is Sara thinking of?"
"Is this the place?" Sara whispered, cuddling still closer to him. "Is it, papa?"
"Yes, little Sara, it is. We have reached it at last." And though she was only seven years old, she knew that he felt sad when he said it.
It seemed to her many years since he had begun to prepare her mind for "the place," as she always called it. Her mother had died whenshe was born, so she had never known or missed her. Her young, handsome, rich, petting father seemed to be the only relation she had in the world. They had always played together and been fond of each other. She only knew he was rich because she had heardpeople say so when they thought she was not listening, and she had also heard them say that when she grew up she would be rich, too. She did not know all that being rich meant. She had always lived in a beautiful bungalow, and had been used to seeing manyservants who made salaams to her and called her "Missee Sahib," and gave her her own way in everything. She had had toys and pets and an ayah who worshipped her, and she had gradually learned that people who were rich had these things. That, however, wasall she knew about it.
During her short life only one thing had troubled her, and that thing was "the place" she was to be taken to some day. The climate of India was very bad for children, and as soon as possible they were sent away from it—generally to England and to school. She had seen other children go away, and had heard their fathers and mothers talk about the letters they received from them. She had known that she would be obliged to go also, and though sometimes her father's stories of the voyage and the new country had attracted her, she had been troubled by the thought that he could not stay with her.
"Couldn't you go to that place with me, papa?" she had asked when she was five years old. "Couldn't you go to school, too? I would help you with your lessons."
"But you will not have to stay for a very long time, little Sara," he had always said. "You will go to a nice house where there will be a lot of little girls, and you will play together, and I will send you plenty of books, and you will grow sofast that it will seem scarcely a year before you are big enough and clever enough to come back and take care of papa."
She had liked to think of that. To keep the house for her father; to ride with him, and sit at the head of his table when he had dinnerparties; to talk to him and read his books—that would be what she would like most in the world, and if one must go away to "the place" in England to attain it, she must make up her mind to go. She did not care very much for other little girls, but if shehad plenty of books she could console herself. She liked books more than anything else, and was, in fact, always inventing stories of beautiful things and telling them to herself. Sometimes she had told them to her father, and he had liked them as much asshe did.
"Well, papa," she said softly, "if we are here I suppose we must be resigned."
He laughed at her old-fashioned speech and kissed her. He was really not at all resigned himself, though he knew he must keep that a secret. His quaint little Sara hadbeen a great companion to him, and he felt he should be a lonely fellow when, on his return to India, he went into his bungalow knowing he need not expect to see the small figure in its white frock come forward to meet him. So he held her very closely in his arms as the cab rolled into the big, dull square in which stood the house which was their destination.
It was a big, dull, brick house, exactly like all the others in its row, but that on the front door there shone a brass plate on which was engraved inblack letters:
"Here we are, Sara," said Captain Crewe, making his voice sound as cheerful as possible. Then he lifted her out of the cab and they mounted the steps and rang the bell. Sara often thoughtafterward that the house was somehow exactly like Miss Minchin. It was respectable and well furnished, but everything in it was ugly; and the very armchairs seemed to have hard bones in them. In the hall everything was hard and polished—even the red cheeksof the moon face on the tall clock in the corner had a severe varnished look. The drawing room into which they were ushered was covered by a carpet with a square pattern upon it, the chairs were square, and a heavy marble timepiece stood upon the heavy marble mantel.
As she sat down in one of the stiff mahogany chairs, Sara cast one of her quick looks about her.
"I don't like it, papa," she said. "But then I dare say soldiers—even brave ones—don't really LIKE going into battle."
Captain Crewe laughedoutright at this. He was young and full of fun, and he never tired of hearing Sara's queer speeches.
"Oh, little Sara," he said. "What shall I do when I have no one to say solemn things to me? No one else is as solemn as you are."
"But why do solemn thingsmake you laugh so?" inquired Sara.
"Because you are such fun when you say them," he answered, laughing still more. And then suddenly he swept her into his arms and kissed her very hard, stopping laughing all at once and looking almost as if tears had comeinto his eyes.
It was just then that Miss Minchin entered the room. She was very like her house, Sara felt: tall and dull, and respectable and ugly. She had large, cold, fishy eyes, and a large, cold, fishy smile. It spread itself into a very large smilewhen she saw Sara and Captain Crewe. She had heard a great many desirable things of the young soldier from the lady who had recommended her school to him. Among other things, she had heard that he was a rich father who was willing to spend a great deal ofmoney on his little daughter.
"It will be a great privilege to have charge of such a beautiful and promising child, Captain Crewe," she said, taking Sara's hand and stroking it. "Lady Meredith has told me of her unusual cleverness. A clever child is a great treasure in an establishment like mine."
Sara stood quietly, with her eyes fixed upon Miss Minchin's face. She was thinking something odd, as usual.
"Why does she say I am a beautiful child?" she was thinking. "I am not beautiful at all. Colonel Grange'slittle girl, Isobel, is beautiful. She has dimples and rose-colored cheeks, and long hair the color of gold. I have short black hair and green eyes; besides which, I am a thin child and not fair in the least. I am one of the ugliest children I ever saw. She is beginning by telling a story."
She was mistaken, however, in thinking she was an ugly child. She was not in the least like Isobel Grange, who had been the beauty of the regiment, but she had an odd charm of her own. She was a slim, supple creature, rather tall for her age, and had an intense, attractive little face. Her hair was heavy and quite black and only curled at the tips; her eyes were greenish gray, it is true, but they were big, wonderful eyes with long, black lashes, and though she herself did not like the color of them, many other people did. Still she was very firm in her belief that she was an ugly little girl, and she was not at all elated by Miss Minchin's flattery.
"I should be telling a story if I said she was beautiful," she thought;"and I should know I was telling a story. I believe I am as ugly as she is—in my way. What did she say that for?"
After she had known Miss Minchin longer she learned why she had said it. She discovered that she said the same thing to each papa and mamma who brought a child to her school.
Sara stood near her father and listened while he and Miss Minchin talked. She had been brought to the seminary because Lady Meredith's two little girls had been educated there, and Captain Crewe had a great respect for LadyMeredith's experience. Sara was to be what was known as "a parlor boarder," and she was to enjoy even greater privileges than parlor boarders usually did. She was to have a pretty bedroom and sitting room of her own; she was to have a pony and a carriage,and a maid to take the place of the ayah who had been her nurse in India.
"I am not in the least anxious about her education," Captain Crewe said, with his gay laugh, as he held Sara's hand and patted it. "The difficulty will be to keep her from learningtoo fast and too much. She is always sitting with her little nose burrowing into books. She doesn't read them, Miss Minchin; she gobbles them up as if she were a little wolf instead of a little girl. She is always starving for new books to gobble, and shewants grown-up books—great, big, fat ones—French and German as well as English—history and biography and poets, and all sorts of things. Drag her away from her books when she reads too much. Make her ride her pony in the Row or go out and buy a new doll. She ought to play more with dolls."
"Papa," said Sara, "you see, if I went out and bought a new doll every few days I should have more than I could be fond of. Dolls ought to be intimate friends. Emily is going to be my intimate friend."
Captain Crewe looked at Miss Minchin and Miss Minchin looked at Captain Crewe.
"Who is Emily?" she inquired.
"Tell her, Sara," Captain Crewe said, smiling.
Sara's green-gray eyes looked very solemn and quite soft as she answered.
"She is a doll I haven't got yet," she said."She is a doll papa is going to buy for me. We are going out together to find her. I have called her Emily. She is going to be my friend when papa is gone. I want her to talk to about him."
Miss Minchin's large, fishy smile became very flattering indeed.
"What an original child!" she said. "What a darling little creature!"
"Yes," said Captain Crewe, drawing Sara close. "She is a darling little creature. Take great care of her for me, Miss Minchin."
Sara stayed with her father at his hotel for several days;in fact, she remained with him until he sailed away again to India. They went out and visited many big shops together, and bought a great many things. They bought, indeed, a great many more things than Sara needed; but Captain Crewe was a rash, innocent young man and wanted his little girl to have everything she admired and everything he admired himself, so between them they collected a wardrobe much too grand for a child of seven. There were velvet dresses trimmed with costly furs, and lace dresses, and embroidered ones, and hats with great, soft ostrich feathers, and ermine coats and muffs, and boxes of tiny gloves and handkerchiefs and silk stockings in such abundant supplies that the polite young women behind the counters whispered to each other that theodd little girl with the big, solemn eyes must be at least some foreign princess—perhaps the little daughter of an Indian rajah.
And at last they found Emily, but they went to a number of toy shops and looked at a great many dolls before they discovered her.
"I want her to look as if she wasn't a doll really," Sara said. "I want her to look as if she LISTENS when I talk to her. The trouble with dolls, papa"—and she put her head on one side and reflected as she said it—"the trouble with dolls is that theynever seem to HEAR." So they looked at big ones and little ones—at dolls with black eyes and dolls with blue—at dolls with brown curls and dolls with golden braids, dolls dressed and dolls undressed.
"You see," Sara said when they were examining one who had no clothes. "If, when I find her, she has no frocks, we can take her to a dressmaker and have her things made to fit. They will fit better if they are tried on."
After a number of disappointments they decided to walk and look in at the shop windows and let the cab follow them. They had passed two or three places without even going in, when, as they were approaching a shop which was really not a very large one, Sara suddenly started and clutched her father's arm.
"Oh, papa!" she cried. "There is Emily!"
Aflush had risen to her face and there was an expression in her green-gray eyes as if she had just recognized someone she was intimate with and fond of.
"She is actually waiting there for us!" she said. "Let us go in to her."
"Dear me," said Captain Crewe,"I feel as if we ought to have someone to introduce us."
"You must introduce me and I will introduce you," said Sara. "But I knew her the minute I saw her—so perhaps she knew me, too."
Perhaps she had known her. She had certainly a very intelligent expression in her eyes when Sara took her in her arms. She was a large doll, but not too large to carry about easily; she had naturally curling golden-brown hair, which hung like a mantle about her, and her eyes were a deep, clear, gray-blue, with soft, thick eyelashes which were real eyelashes and not mere painted lines.
"Of course," said Sara, looking into her face as she held her on her knee, "of course papa, this is Emily."
So Emily was bought and actually taken to a children's outfitter's shop and measured for a wardrobe as grand as Sara's own. She had lace frocks, too, and velvet and muslin ones, and hats and coats and beautiful lace-trimmed underclothes, and gloves and handkerchiefs and furs.
"I should like her always to look as if she was a child with a good mother," said Sara. "I'm her mother, though I am going to make a companion of her."
Captain Crewe would really have enjoyed the shopping tremendously, but that a sad thought kept tugging at his heart. This all meant that he was going to be separated fromhis beloved, quaint little comrade.
He got out of his bed in the middle of that night and went and stood looking down at Sara, who lay asleep with Emily in her arms. Her black hair was spread out on the pillow and Emily's golden-brown hair mingled with it, both of them had lace-ruffled nightgowns, and both had long eyelashes which lay and curled up on their cheeks. Emily looked so like a real child that Captain Crewe felt glad she was there. He drew a big sigh and pulled his mustache with a boyish expression.
"Heigh-ho, little Sara!" he said to himself "I don't believe you know how much your daddy will miss you."
The next day he took her to Miss Minchin's and left her there. He was to sail away the next morning. He explained to Miss Minchin that his solicitors, Messrs. Barrow & Skipworth, had charge of his affairs in England and would give her any advice she wanted, and that theywould pay the bills she sent in for Sara's expenses. He would write to Sara twice a week, and she was to be given every pleasure she asked for.
"She is a sensible little thing, and she never wants anything it isn't safe to give her," he said.
Then he went with Sara into her little sitting room and they bade each other good-by. Sara sat on his knee and held the lapels of his coat in her small hands, and looked long and hard at his face.
"Are you learning me by heart, little Sara?" he said, stroking her hair.
"No," she answered. "I know you by heart. You are inside my heart." And they put their arms round each other and kissed as if they would never let each other go.
When the cab drove away from the door, Sara was sitting on the floor of her sitting room, with her hands under her chin and her eyes following it until it had turned the corner of the square. Emily was sitting by her, and she looked after it, too. When Miss Minchin sent her sister, Miss Amelia, to see what the child was doing, she found she could not open the door.
"I have locked it," said a queer, polite little voice from inside. "I want to be quite by myself, if you please."
Miss Amelia was fat and dumpy, and stood very much in awe of her sister. She was really the better-natured person of the two, but she never disobeyed Miss Minchin. She went downstairs again, looking almost alarmed.
"I never saw such a funny, old-fashioned child, sister," she said. "She has locked herself in, and she is not making the least particle of noise."
"It is much better than if she kicked and screamed, as some of them do," Miss Minchin answered. "I expected that a child as much spoiled as she iswould set the whole house in an uproar. If ever a child was given her own way in everything, she is."
"I've been opening her trunks and putting her things away," said Miss Amelia. "I never saw anything like them—sable and ermine on her coats, and realValenciennes lace on her underclothing. You have seen some of her clothes. What DO you think of them?"
"I think they are perfectly ridiculous," replied Miss Minchin, sharply; "but they will look very well at the head of the line when we take the schoolchildren to church on Sunday. She has been provided for as if she were a little princess."
And upstairs in the locked room Sara and Emily sat on the floor and stared at the corner round which the cab had disappeared, while Captain Crewe looked backward, wavingand kissing his hand as if he could not bear to stop.
When Sara entered the schoolroom the next morning everybodylooked at her with wide, interested eyes. By that time everypupil—from Lavinia Herbert, who was nearly thirteen andfeltquite grown up, to Lottie Legh, who was only just four and the babyof the school—had heard a great deal about her. They knewvery certainly that she was Miss Minchin's show pupil and wasconsidered a credit to the establishment. One or two of them hadeven caught a glimpse of her French maid, Mariette, who had arrivedthe evening before. Lavinia had managed to pass Sara's room whenthe door was open, and had seen Mariette opening a box which hadarrived late from some shop.
"It was full of petticoatswith lace frills on them—frillsand frills," she whispered to her friend Jessie as she bent overher geography. "I saw her shaking them out. I heard Miss Minchinsay to Miss Amelia that her clothes were so grand that they wereridiculous for a child. My mamma says that children should bedressed simply. She has got one of those petticoats on now. I sawit when she sat down."
"She has silk stockings on!" whispered Jessie, bending over hergeography also. "And what little feet! I never saw such littlefeet."
"Oh," sniffed Lavinia, spitefully, "that is the way her slippersare made. My mamma says that even big feet can be made to looksmall if you have a clever shoemaker. I don't think she is prettyat all. Her eyes are such a queer color."
"She isn't pretty as other pretty people are," said Jessie,stealing a glance across the room; "but she makes you want to lookat her again. She has tremendously long eyelashes, but her eyes arealmost green."
Sara was sitting quietly in her seat, waiting to be told whattodo. She had been placed near Miss Minchin's desk. She was notabashed at all by the many pairs of eyes watching her. She wasinterested and looked back quietly at the children who looked ather. She wondered what they were thinking of, and if they likedMiss Minchin, and if they cared for their lessons, and if any ofthem had a papa at all like her own. She had had a long talk withEmily about her papa that morning.
"He is on the sea now, Emily," she had said. "We must be verygreat friends to each other and tell each other things. Emily, lookat me. You have the nicest eyes I ever saw—but I wish youcould speak."
She was a child full of imaginings and whimsical thoughts, andone of her fancies was that there would be a great deal of comfortin even pretending that Emily was alive and really heard andunderstood. After Mariette had dressed her in her dark-blueschoolroom frock and tied her hair with a dark-blue ribbon, shewent to Emily, who sat in a chair of her own, and gave her abook.
"You can read that while I am downstairs," she said; and, seeingMariette looking at her curiously, she spoke to her with a seriouslittle face.
"What I believe about dolls," she said, "is that they can dothings they will not let us know about. Perhaps, really, Emily canread and talk and walk, but she will only do it when people are outof the room. That is her secret. You see, if people knew that dollscould do things, they would make them work. So, perhaps, they havepromised each other to keep it a secret. If you stay inthe room,Emily will just sit there and stare; but if you go out, she willbegin to read, perhaps, or go and look out of the window. Then ifshe heard either of us coming, she would just run back and jumpinto her chair and pretend she had been there all the time."
"Comme elle est drole!" Mariette said to herself, and when shewent downstairs she told the head housemaid about it. But she hadalready begun to like this odd little girl who had such anintelligent small face and such perfect manners. She had taken careof children before who were not so polite. Sara was a very finelittle person, and had a gentle, appreciative way of saying, "Ifyou please, Mariette," "Thank you, Mariette," which was verycharming. Mariette told the head housemaid that she thanked her asif she was thanking a lady.
"Elle a l'air d'une princesse, cette petite," she said. Indeed,she was very much pleased with her new little mistress and likedher place greatly.
After Sara had sat in her seat in the schoolroom for a fewminutes, being looked at by the pupils, Miss Minchin rapped in adignified manner upon her desk.
"Young ladies," she said, "I wish to introduce you to your newcompanion." All the little girls rose in their places, and Sararose also. "I shall expect you all to be very agreeable to MissCrewe; she has just come to us from a great distance—in fact,from India. As soon as lessons are over you must make each other'sacquaintance."
The pupils bowed ceremoniously, and Sara made a little curtsy,and then they sat down andlooked at each other again.
"Sara," said Miss Minchin in her schoolroom manner, "come hereto me."
She had taken a book from the desk and was turning over itsleaves. Sara went to her politely.
"As your papa has engaged a French maid for you," she began, "Iconclude that he wishes you to make a special study of the Frenchlanguage."
Sara felt a little awkward.
"I think he engaged her," she said, "because he—he thoughtI would like her, Miss Minchin."
"I am afraid," said Miss Minchin, with a slightly sour smile,"that you have been a very spoiled little girl and always imaginethat things are done because you like them. My impression is thatyour papa wished you to learn French."
If Sara had been older or less punctilious about being quitepolite to people, she could have explained herself in a very fewwords. But, as it was, she felt a flush rising on her cheeks. MissMinchin was a very severe and imposing person, and she seemed soabsolutely sure that Sara knew nothing whatever of French that shefelt as ifit would be almost rude to correct her. The truth wasthat Sara could not remember the time when she had not seemed toknow French. Her father had often spoken it to her when she hadbeen a baby. Her mother had been a French woman, and Captain Crewehad loved her language, so it happened that Sara had always heardand been familiar with it.
"I—I have never really learned French,but—but—" she began, trying shyly to make herselfclear.
One of Miss Minchin's chief secret annoyances was that she didnot speakFrench herself, and was desirous of concealing theirritating fact. She, therefore, had no intention of discussing thematter and laying herself open to innocent questioning by a newlittle pupil.
"That is enough," she said with polite tartness. "If you havenot learned, you must begin at once. The French master, MonsieurDufarge, will be here in a few minutes. Take this book and look atit until he arrives."
Sara's cheeks felt warm. She went back to her seat and openedthe book. She looked at the first page with a grave face. She knewit would be rude to smile, and she was very determined not to berude. But it was very odd to find herself expected to study a pagewhich told her that "le pere" meant "the father," and "la mere"meant "the mother."
Miss Minchin glanced toward her scrutinizingly.
"You look rather cross, Sara," she said. "I am sorry you do notlike the idea of learning French."
"I am very fond of it," answered Sara, thinking she would tryagain; "but—"
"You must not say 'but' when you are toldto do things," saidMiss Minchin. "Look at your book again."
And Sara did so, and did not smile, even when she found that "lefils" meant "the son," and "le frere" meant "the brother."
"When Monsieur Dufarge comes," she thought, "I can make himunderstand."
Monsieur Dufarge arrived very shortly afterward. He was a verynice, intelligent, middle-aged Frenchman, and he looked interestedwhen his eyes fell upon Sara trying politely to seem absorbed inher little book of phrases.
"Is this a new pupil for me, madame?" he said to Miss Minchin."I hope that is my good fortune."
"Her papa—Captain Crewe—is very anxious that sheshould begin the language. But I am afraid she has a childishprejudice against it. She does not seem to wish to learn," saidMiss Minchin.
"I am sorry of that, mademoiselle," he said kindly to Sara."Perhaps, when we begin to study together, I may show you that itis a charming tongue."
Little Sara rose in her seat. She was beginning to feel ratherdesperate, as if she were almost in disgrace.She looked up intoMonsieur Dufarge's face with her big, green-gray eyes, and theywere quite innocently appealing. She knew that he would understandas soon as she spoke. She began to explain quite simply in prettyand fluent French. Madame had not understood. She had not learnedFrench exactly—not out of books—but her papa and otherpeople had always spoken it to her, and she had read it and writtenit as she had read and written English. Her papa loved it, and sheloved it because he did. Her dear mamma, who had died when she wasborn, had been French. She would be glad to learn anything monsieurwould teach her, but what she had tried to explain to madame wasthat she already knew the words in this book—and she held outthe little book of phrases.
Whenshe began to speak Miss Minchin started quite violently andsat staring at her over her eyeglasses, almost indignantly, untilshe had finished. Monsieur Dufarge began to smile, and his smilewas one of great pleasure. To hear this pretty childish voicespeaking his own language so simply and charmingly made him feelalmost as if he were in his native land—which in dark, foggydays in London sometimes seemed worlds away. When she had finished,he took the phrase book from her, with a look almost affectionate.But he spoke to Miss Minchin.
"Ah, madame," he said, "there is not much I can teach her. Shehas not LEARNED French; she is French. Her accent isexquisite."
"You ought to have told me," exclaimed Miss Minchin, muchmortified, turning to Sara.
"I—I tried," said Sara. "I—I suppose I did not beginright."
Miss Minchin knew she had tried, and that it had not been herfault that she was not allowed to explain. And when she saw thatthe pupils had been listening and that Lavinia and Jessie weregiggling behindtheir French grammars, she felt infuriated.
"Silence, young ladies!" she said severely, rapping upon thedesk. "Silence at once!"
And she began from that minute to feel rather a grudge againsther show pupil.
On that first morning, when Sara sat at Miss Minchin's side,aware that the whole schoolroom was devoting itself to observingher, she had noticed very soon one little girl, about her own age,who looked at her very hard with a pair of light, rather dull, blueeyes. She was a fat child who did not look as if she were in theleast clever, but she had a good-naturedly pouting mouth. Herflaxen hair was braided in a tight pigtail, tied with a ribbon, andshe had pulled this pigtail around her neck, and was biting the endof the ribbon,resting her elbows on the desk, as she staredwonderingly at the new pupil. When Monsieur Dufarge began to speakto Sara, she looked a little frightened; and when Sara steppedforward and, looking at him with the innocent, appealing eyes,answered him, without any warning, in French, the fat little girlgave a startled jump, and grew quite red in her awed amazement.Having wept hopeless tears for weeks in her efforts to rememberthat "la mere" meant "the mother," and "le pere," "thefather,"—when one spokesensible English—it was almosttoo much for her suddenly to find herself listening to a child herown age who seemed not only quite familiar with these words, butapparently knew any number of others, and could mix them up withverbs as if they were meretrifles.
She stared so hard and bit the ribbon on her pigtail so fastthat she attracted the attention of Miss Minchin, who, feelingextremely cross at the moment, immediately pounced upon her.
"Miss St. John!" she exclaimed severely. "What do you meanbysuch conduct? Remove your elbows! Take your ribbon out of yourmouth! Sit up at once!"
Upon which Miss St. John gave another jump, and when Lavinia andJessie tittered she became redder than ever—so red, indeed,that she almost looked as if tears were coming into her poor, dull,childish eyes; and Sara saw her and was so sorry for her that shebegan rather to like her and want to be her friend. It was a way ofhers always to want to spring into any fray in which someone wasmade uncomfortable or unhappy.
"If Sara had been a boy and lived a few centuries ago," herfather used to say, "she would have gone about the country with hersword drawn, rescuing and defending everyone in distress. Shealways wants to fight when she sees people in trouble."
So she tookrather a fancy to fat, slow, little Miss St. John,and kept glancing toward her through the morning. She saw thatlessons were no easy matter to her, and that there was no danger ofher ever being spoiled by being treated as a show pupil. Her Frenchlessonwas a pathetic thing. Her pronunciation made even MonsieurDufarge smile in spite of himself, and Lavinia and Jessie and themore fortunate girls either giggled or looked at her in wonderingdisdain. But Sara did not laugh. She tried to look as if she didnothear when Miss St. John called "le bon pain," "lee bong pang." Shehad a fine, hot little temper of her own, and it made her feelrather savage when she heard the titters and saw the poor, stupid,distressed child's face.
"It isn't funny, really," shesaid between her teeth, as she bentover her book. "They ought not to laugh."
When lessons were over and the pupils gathered together ingroups to talk, Sara looked for Miss St. John, and finding herbundled rather disconsolately in a window-seat, she walked over toher and spoke. She only said the kind of thing little girls alwayssay to each other by way of beginning an acquaintance, but therewas something friendly about Sara, and people always felt it.
"What is your name?" she said.
To explain Miss St.John's amazement one must recall that a newpupil is, for a short time, a somewhat uncertain thing; and of thisnew pupil the entire school had talked the night before until itfell asleep quite exhausted by excitement and contradictorystories. A new pupil with a carriage and a pony and a maid, and avoyage from India to discuss, was not an ordinary acquaintance.
"My name's Ermengarde St. John," she answered.
"Mine is Sara Crewe," said Sara. "Yours is very pretty. Itsounds like a story book."
"Do you like it?" fluttered Ermengarde. "I—I likeyours."
Miss St. John's chief trouble in life was that she had a cleverfather. Sometimes this seemed to her a dreadful calamity. If youhave a father who knows everything, who speaks seven or eightlanguages, and hasthousands of volumes which he has apparentlylearned by heart, he frequently expects you to be familiar with thecontents of your lesson books at least; and it is not improbablethat he will feel you ought to be able to remember a few incidentsof historyand to write a French exercise. Ermengarde was a severetrial to Mr. St. John. He could not understand how a child of hiscould be a notably and unmistakably dull creature who never shonein anything.
"Good heavens!" he had said more than once, as he stared at her,"there are times when I think she is as stupid as her AuntEliza!"
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