Chapter 11 of A Little Princess
by Frances Hodgeson Burnett
There were fine sunsets even in the square, sometimes. One
could only see parts of them, however, between the chimneys and
over the roofs. From the kitchen windows one could not see them
at all, and could only guess that they were going on because the
bricks looked warm and the air rosy or yellow for a while, or
perhaps one saw a blazing glow strike a particular pane of glass
somewhere. There was, however, one place from which one could
see all the splendor of them: the piles of red or gold clouds in
the west; or the purple ones edged with dazzling brightness; or
the little fleecy, floating ones, tinged with rose-color and
looking like flights of pink doves scurrying across the blue in a
great hurry if there was a wind. The place where one could see
all this, and seem at the same time to breathe a purer air, was,
of course, the attic window. When the square suddenly seemed to
begin to glow in an enchanted way and look wonderful in spite of
its sooty trees and railings, Sara knew something was going on in
the sky; and when it was at all possible to leave the kitchen
without being missed or called back, she invariably stole away
and crept up the flights of stairs, and, climbing on the old
table, got her head and body as far out of the window as
possible. When she had accomplished this, she always drew a long
breath and looked all round her. It used to seem as if she had
all the sky and the world to herself. No one else ever looked
out of the other attics. Generally the skylights were closed;
but even if they were propped open to admit air, no one seemed to
come near them. And there Sara would stand, sometimes turning
her face upward to the blue which seemed so friendly and near--
just like a lovely vaulted ceiling--sometimes watching the west
and all the wonderful things that happened there: the clouds
melting or drifting or waiting softly to be changed pink or
crimson or snow-white or purple or pale dove-gray. Sometimes they
made islands or great mountains enclosing lakes of deep turquoise-
blue, or liquid amber, or chrysoprase-green; sometimes dark
headlands jutted into strange, lost seas; sometimes slender
strips of wonderful lands joined other wonderful lands together.
There were places where it seemed that one could run or climb or
stand and wait to see what next was coming--until, perhaps, as it
all melted, one could float away. At least it seemed so to Sara,
and nothing had ever been quite so beautiful to her as the things
she saw as she stood on the table--her body half out of the
skylight--the sparrows twittering with sunset softness on the
slates. The sparrows always seemed to her to twitter with a sort
of subdued softness just when these marvels were going on.
There was such a sunset as this a few days after the Indian
gentleman was brought to his new home; and, as it fortunately
happened that the afternoon's work was done in the kitchen and
nobody had ordered her to go anywhere or perform any task, Sara
found it easier than usual to slip away and go upstairs.
She mounted her table and stood looking out. It was a
wonderful moment. There were floods of molten gold covering the
west, as if a glorious tide was sweeping over the world. A deep,
rich yellow light filled the air; the birds flying across the
tops of the houses showed quite black against it.
"It's a Splendid one," said Sara, softly, to herself. "It makes
me feel almost afraid--as if something strange was just going to
happen. The Splendid ones always make me feel like that."
She suddenly turned her head because she heard a sound a few
yards away from her. It was an odd sound like a queer little
squeaky chattering. It came from the window of the next attic.
Someone had come to look at the sunset as she had. There was a
head and a part of a body emerging from the skylight, but it was
not the head or body of a little girl or a housemaid; it was the
picturesque white-swathed form and dark-faced, gleaming-eyed,
white-turbaned head of a native Indian man-servant--"a Lascar,"
Sara said to herself quickly--and the sound she had heard came
from a small monkey he held in his arms as if he were fond of
it, and which was snuggling and chattering against his breast.
As Sara looked toward him he looked toward her. The first thing
she thought was that his dark face looked sorrowful and
homesick. She felt absolutely sure he had come up to look at the
sun, because he had seen it so seldom in England that he longed
for a sight of it. She looked at him interestedly for a second,
and then smiled across the slates. She had learned to know how
comforting a smile, even from a stranger, may be.
Hers was evidently a pleasure to him. His whole expression
altered, and he showed such gleaming white teeth as he smiled
back that it was as if a light had been illuminated in his dusky
face. The friendly look in Sara's eyes was always very effective
when people felt tired or dull.
It was perhaps in making his salute to her that he loosened his
hold on the monkey. He was an impish monkey and always ready for
adventure, and it is probable that the sight of a little girl
excited him. He suddenly broke loose, jumped on to the slates,
ran across them chattering, and actually leaped on to Sara's
shoulder, and from there down into her attic room. It made her
laugh and delighted her; but she knew he must be restored to his
master--if the Lascar was his master--and she wondered how this
was to be done. Would he let her catch him, or would he be
naughty and refuse to be caught, and perhaps get away and run off
over the roofs and be lost? That would not do at all. Perhaps
he belonged to the Indian gentleman, and the poor man was fond of
She turned to the Lascar, feeling glad that she remembered still
some of the Hindustani she had learned when she lived with her
father. She could make the man understand. She spoke to him in
the language he knew.
"Will he let me catch him?" she asked.
She thought she had never seen more surprise and delight than the
dark face expressed when she spoke in the familiar tongue. The
truth was that the poor fellow felt as if his gods had
intervened, and the kind little voice came from heaven itself.
At once Sara saw that he had been accustomed to European
children. He poured forth a flood of respectful thanks. He was
the servant of Missee Sahib. The monkey was a good monkey and
would not bite; but, unfortunately, he was difficult to catch.
He would flee from one spot to another, like the lightning. He
was disobedient, though not evil. Ram Dass knew him as if he
were his child, and Ram Dass he would sometimes obey, but not
always. If Missee Sahib would permit Ram Dass, he himself could
cross the roof to her room, enter the windows, and regain the
unworthy little animal. But he was evidently afraid Sara might
think he was taking a great liberty and perhaps would not let him
But Sara gave him leave at once.
"Can you get across?" she inquired.
"In a moment," he answered her.
"Then come," she said; "he is flying from side to side of the
room as if he was frightened."
Ram Dass slipped through his attic window and crossed to hers as
steadily and lightly as if he had walked on roofs all his life.
He slipped through the skylight and dropped upon his feet
without a sound. Then he turned to Sara and salaamed again. The
monkey saw him and uttered a little scream. Ram Dass hastily
took the precaution of shutting the skylight, and then went in
chase of him. It was not a very long chase. The monkey
prolonged it a few minutes evidently for the mere fun of it, but
presently he sprang chattering on to Ram Dass's shoulder and sat
there chattering and clinging to his neck with a weird little
Ram Dass thanked Sara profoundly. She had seen that his quick
native eyes had taken in at a glance all the bare shabbiness of
the room, but he spoke to her as if he were speaking to the
little daughter of a rajah, and pretended that he observed
nothing. He did not presume to remain more than a few moments
after he had caught the monkey, and those moments were given to
further deep and grateful obeisance to her in return for her
indulgence. This little evil one, he said, stroking the monkey,
was, in truth, not so evil as he seemed, and his master, who was
ill, was sometimes amused by him. He would have been made sad if
his favorite had run away and been lost. Then he salaamed once
more and got through the skylight and across the slates again
with as much agility as the monkey himself had displayed.
When he had gone Sara stood in the middle of her attic and
thought of many things his face and his manner had brought back
to her. The sight of his native costume and the profound
reverence of his manner stirred all her past memories. It seemed
a strange thing to remember that she--the drudge whom the cook
had said insulting things to an hour ago--had only a few years
ago been surrounded by people who all treated her as Ram Dass had
treated her; who salaamed when she went by, whose foreheads
almost touched the ground when she spoke to them, who were her
servants and her slaves. It was like a sort of dream. It was
all over, and it could never come back. It certainly seemed that
there was no way in which any change could take place. She knew
what Miss Minchin intended that her future should be. So long as
she was too young to be used as a regular teacher, she would be
used as an errand girl and servant and yet expected to remember
what she had learned and in some mysterious way to learn more.
The greater number of her evenings she was supposed to spend at
study, and at various indefinite intervals she was examined and
knew she would have been severely admonished if she had not
advanced as was expected of her. The truth, indeed, was that
Miss Minchin knew that she was too anxious to learn to require
teachers. Give her books, and she would devour them and end by
knowing them by heart. She might be trusted to be equal to
teaching a good deal in the course of a few years. This was what
would happen: when she was older she would be expected to drudge
in the schoolroom as she drudged now in various parts of the
house; they would be obliged to give her more respectable
clothes, but they would be sure to be plain and ugly and to make
her look somehow like a servant. That was all there seemed to be
to look forward to, and Sara stood quite still for several
minutes and thought it over.
Then a thought came back to her which made the color rise in her
cheek and a spark light itself in her eyes. She straightened her
thin little body and lifted her head.
"Whatever comes," she said, "cannot alter one thing. If I am a
princess in rags and tatters, I can be a princess inside. It
would be easy to be a princess if I were dressed in cloth of
gold, but it is a great deal more of a triumph to be one all the
time when no one knows it. There was Marie Antoinette when she
was in prison and her throne was gone and she had only a black
gown on, and her hair was white, and they insulted her and called
her Widow Capet. She was a great deal more like a queen then
than when she was so gay and everything was so grand. I like her
best then. Those howling mobs of people did not frighten her.
She was stronger than they were, even when they cut her head
This was not a new thought, but quite an old one, by this time.
It had consoled her through many a bitter day, and she had gone
about the house with an expression in her face which Miss Minchin
could not understand and which was a source of great annoyance to
her, as it seemed as if the child were mentally living a life
which held her above he rest of the world. It was as if she
scarcely heard the rude and acid things said to her; or, if she
heard them, did not care for them at all. Sometimes, when she
was in the midst of some harsh, domineering speech, Miss Minchin
would find the still, unchildish eyes fixed upon her with
something like a proud smile in them. At such times she did not
know that Sara was saying to herself:
"You don't know that you are saying these things to a princess,
and that if I chose I could wave my hand and order you to
execution. I only spare you because I am a princess, and you are
a poor, stupid, unkind, vulgar old thing, and don't know any
This used to interest and amuse her more than anything else; and
queer and fanciful as it was, she found comfort in it and it was
a good thing for her. While the thought held possession of her,
she could not be made rude and malicious by the rudeness and
malice of those about her.
"A princess must be polite," she said to herself.
And so when the servants, taking their tone from their mistress,
were insolent and ordered her about, she would hold her head
erect and reply to them with a quaint civility which often made
them stare at her.
"She's got more airs and graces than if she come from Buckingham
Palace, that young one," said the cook, chuckling a little
sometimes. "I lose my temper with her often enough, but I will
say she never forgets her manners. `If you please, cook'; `Will
you be so kind, cook?' `I beg your pardon, cook'; `May I trouble
you, cook?' She drops 'em about the kitchen as if they was
The morning after the interview with Ram Dass and his monkey,
Sara was in the schoolroom with her small pupils. Having
finished giving them their lessons, she was putting the French
exercise-books together and thinking, as she did it, of the
various things royal personages in disguise were called upon to
do: Alfred the Great, for instance, burning the cakes and
getting his ears boxed by the wife of the neat-herd. How
frightened she must have been when she found out what she had
done. If Miss Minchin should find out that she--Sara, whose toes
were almost sticking out of her boots--was a princess--a real
one! The look in her eyes was exactly the look which Miss
Minchin most disliked. She would not have it; she was quite near
her and was so enraged that she actually flew at her and boxed
her ears--exactly as the neat-herd's wife had boxed King
Alfred's. It made Sara start. She wakened from her dream at the
shock, and, catching her breath, stood still a second. Then, not
knowing she was going to do it, she broke into a little laugh.
"What are you laughing at, you bold, impudent child?" Miss
It took Sara a few seconds to control herself sufficiently to
remember that she was a princess. Her cheeks were red and
smarting from the blows she had received.
"I was thinking," she answered.
"Beg my pardon immediately," said Miss Minchin.
Sara hesitated a second before she replied.
"I will beg your pardon for laughing, if it was rude," she said
then; "but I won't beg your pardon for thinking."
"What were you thinking?" demanded Miss Minchin.
"How dare you think? What were you thinking?"
Jessie tittered, and she and Lavinia nudged each other in
unison. All the girls looked up from their books to listen.
Really, it always interested them a little when Miss Minchin
attacked Sara. Sara always said something queer, and never
seemed the least bit frightened. She was not in the least
frightened now, though her boxed ears were scarlet and her eyes
were as bright as stars.
"I was thinking," she answered grandly and politely, "that you
did not know what you were doing."
"That I did not know what I was doing?" Miss Minchin fairly
"Yes," said Sara, "and I was thinking what would happen if I were
a princess and you boxed my ears--what I should do to you. And I
was thinking that if I were one, you would never dare to do it,
whatever I said or did. And I was thinking how surprised and
frightened you would be if you suddenly found out--"
She had the imagined future so clearly before her eyes that she
spoke in a manner which had an effect even upon Miss Minchin. It
almost seemed for the moment to her narrow, unimaginative mind
that there must be some real power hidden behind this candid
"What?" she exclaimed. "Found out what?"
"That I really was a princess," said Sara, "and could do
anything--anything I liked."
Every pair of eyes in the room widened to its full limit.
Lavinia leaned forward on her seat to look.
"Go to your room," cried Miss Minchin, breathlessly, "this
instant! Leave the schoolroom! Attend to your lessons, young
Sara made a little bow.
"Excuse me for laughing if it was impolite," she said, and
walked out of the room, leaving Miss Minchin struggling with her
rage, and the girls whispering over their books.
"Did you see her? Did you see how queer she looked?" Jessie
broke out. "I shouldn't be at all surprised if she did turn out
to be something. Suppose she should!"
Next: The Other Side of the Wall