Chapter 10 of A Little Princess
by Frances Hodgeson Burnett
But it was a perilous thing for Ermengarde and Lottie to make
pilgrimages to the attic. They could never be quite sure when
Sara would be there, and they could scarcely ever be certain that
Miss Amelia would not make a tour of inspection through the
bedrooms after the pupils were supposed to be asleep. So their
visits were rare ones, and Sara lived a strange and lonely life.
It was a lonelier life when she was downstairs than when she was
in her attic. She had no one to talk to; and when she was sent
out on errands and walked through the streets, a forlorn little
figure carrying a basket or a parcel, trying to hold her hat on
when the wind was blowing, and feeling the water soak through her
shoes when it was raining, she felt as if the crowds hurrying
past her made her loneliness greater. When she had been the
Princess Sara, driving through the streets in her brougham, or
walking, attended by Mariette, the sight of her bright, eager
little face and picturesque coats and hats had often caused
people to look after her. A happy, beautifully cared for little
girl naturally attracts attention. Shabby, poorly dressed
children are not rare enough and pretty enough to make people
turn around to look at them and smile. No one looked at Sara in
these days, and no one seemed to see her as she hurried along the
crowded pavements. She had begun to grow very fast, and, as she
was dressed only in such clothes as the plainer remnants of her
wardrobe would supply, she knew she looked very queer, indeed.
All her valuable garments had been disposed of, and such as had
been left for her use she was expected to wear so long as she
could put them on at all. Sometimes, when she passed a shop
window with a mirror in it, she almost laughed outright on
catching a glimpse of herself, and sometimes her face went red
and she bit her lip and turned away.
In the evening, when she passed houses whose windows were
lighted up, she used to look into the warm rooms and amuse
herself by imagining things about the people she saw sitting
before the fires or about the tables. It always interested her
to catch glimpses of rooms before the shutters were closed.
There were several families in the square in which Miss Minchin
lived, with which she had become quite familiar in a way of her
own. The one she liked best she called the Large Family. She
called it the Large Family not because the members of it were big-
-for, indeed, most of them were little--but because there were
so many of them. There were eight children in the Large Family,
and a stout, rosy mother, and a stout, rosy father, and a stout,
rosy grandmother, and any number of servants. The eight children
were always either being taken out to walk or to ride in
perambulators by comfortable nurses, or they were going to drive
with their mamma, or they were flying to the door in the evening
to meet their papa and kiss him and dance around him and drag off
his overcoat and look in the pockets for packages, or they were
crowding about the nursery windows and looking out and pushing
each other and laughing--in fact, they were always doing
something enjoyable and suited to the tastes of a large family.
Sara was quite fond of them, and had given them names out of
books--quite romantic names. She called them the Montmorencys
when she did not call them the Large Family. The fat, fair baby
with the lace cap was Ethelberta Beauchamp Montmorency; the next
baby was Violet Cholmondeley Montmorency; the little boy who
could just stagger and who had such round legs was Sydney Cecil
Vivian Montmorency; and then came Lilian Evangeline Maud Marion,
Rosalind Gladys, Guy Clarence, Veronica Eustacia, and Claude
One evening a very funny thing happened--though, perhaps, in one
sense it was not a funny thing at all.
Several of the Montmorencys were evidently going to a children's
party, and just as Sara was about to pass the door they were
crossing the pavement to get into the carriage which was waiting
for them. Veronica Eustacia and Rosalind Gladys, in white-lace
frocks and lovely sashes, had just got in, and Guy Clarence, aged
five, was following them. He was such a pretty fellow and had
such rosy cheeks and blue eyes, and such a darling little round
head covered with curls, that Sara forgot her basket and shabby
cloak altogether--in fact, forgot everything but that she wanted
to look at him for a moment. So she paused and looked.
It was Christmas time, and the Large Family had been hearing
many stories about children who were poor and had no mammas and
papas to fill their stockings and take them to the pantomime--
children who were, in fact, cold and thinly clad and hungry. In
the stories, kind people--sometimes little boys and girls with
tender hearts--invariably saw the poor children and gave them
money or rich gifts, or took them home to beautiful dinners. Guy
Clarence had been affected to tears that very afternoon by the
reading of such a story, and he had burned with a desire to find
such a poor child and give her a certain sixpence he possessed,
and thus provide for her for life. An entire sixpence, he was
sure, would mean affluence for evermore. As he crossed the strip
of red carpet laid across the pavement from the door to the
carriage, he had this very sixpence in the pocket of his very
short man-o-war trousers; And just as Rosalind Gladys got into
the vehicle and jumped on the seat in order to feel the cushions
spring under her, he saw Sara standing on the wet pavement in her
shabby frock and hat, with her old basket on her arm, looking at
He thought that her eyes looked hungry because she had perhaps
had nothing to eat for a long time. He did not know that they
looked so because she was hungry for the warm, merry life his
home held and his rosy face spoke of, and that she had a hungry
wish to snatch him in her arms and kiss him. He only knew that
she had big eyes and a thin face and thin legs and a common
basket and poor clothes. So he put his hand in his pocket and
found his sixpence and walked up to her benignly.
"Here, poor little girl," he said. "Here is a sixpence. I will
give it to you."
Sara started, and all at once realized that she looked exactly
like poor children she had seen, in her better days, waiting on
the pavement to watch her as she got out of her brougham. And
she had given them pennies many a time. Her face went red and
then it went pale, and for a second she felt as if she could not
take the dear little sixpence.
"Oh, no!" she said. "Oh, no, thank you; I mustn't take it,
Her voice was so unlike an ordinary street child's voice and her
manner was so like the manner of a well-bred little person that
Veronica Eustacia (whose real name was Janet) and Rosalind Gladys
(who was really called Nora) leaned forward to listen.
But Guy Clarence was not to be thwarted in his benevolence. He
thrust the sixpence into her hand.
"Yes, you must take it, poor little girl!" he insisted stoutly.
"You can buy things to eat with it. It is a whole sixpence!"
There was something so honest and kind in his face, and he
looked so likely to be heartbrokenly disappointed if she did not
take it, that Sara knew she must not refuse him. To be as proud
as that would be a cruel thing. So she actually put her pride in
her pocket, though it must be admitted her cheeks burned.
"Thank you," she said. "You are a kind, kind little darling
thing." And as he scrambled joyfully into the carriage she went
away, trying to smile, though she caught her breath quickly and
her eyes were shining through a mist. She had known that she
looked odd and shabby, but until now she had not known that she
might be taken for a beggar.
As the Large Family's carriage drove away, the children inside
it were talking with interested excitement.
"Oh, Donald," (this was Guy Clarence's name), Janet exclaimed
alarmedly, "why did you offer that little girl your sixpence?
I'm sure she is not a beggar!"
"She didn't speak like a beggar!" cried Nora. "And her face
didn't really look like a beggar's face!"
"Besides, she didn't beg," said Janet. "I was so afraid she
might be angry with you. You know, it makes people angry to be
taken for beggars when they are not beggars."
"She wasn't angry," said Donald, a trifle dismayed, but still
firm. "She laughed a little, and she said I was a kind, kind
little darling thing. And I was!"--stoutly. "It was my whole
Janet and Nora exchanged glances.
"A beggar girl would never have said that," decided Janet. "She
would have said, `Thank yer kindly, little gentleman-- thank yer,
sir;' and perhaps she would have bobbed a curtsy."
Sara knew nothing about the fact, but from that time the Large
Family was as profoundly interested in her as she was in it.
Faces used to appear at the nursery windows when she passed, and
many discussions concerning her were held round the fire.
"She is a kind of servant at the seminary," Janet said. "I
don't believe she belongs to anybody. I believe she is an
orphan. But she is not a beggar, however shabby she looks."
And afterward she was called by all of them, "The-little-girl-
who-is-not-a-beggar," which was, of course, rather a long name,
and sounded very funny sometimes when the youngest ones said it
in a hurry.
Sara managed to bore a hole in the sixpence and hung it on an
old bit of narrow ribbon round her neck. Her affection for the
Large Family increased--as, indeed, her affection for everything
she could love increased. She grew fonder and fonder of Becky,
and she used to look forward to the two mornings a week when she
went into the schoolroom to give the little ones their French
lesson. Her small pupils loved her, and strove with each other
for the privilege of standing close to her and insinuating their
small hands into hers. It fed her hungry heart to feel them
nestling up to her. She made such friends with the sparrows that
when she stood upon the table, put her head and shoulders out of
the attic window, and chirped, she heard almost immediately a
flutter of wings and answering twitters, and a little flock of
dingy town birds appeared and alighted on the slates to talk to
her and make much of the crumbs she scattered. With Melchisedec
she had become so intimate that he actually brought Mrs.
Melchisedec with him sometimes, and now and then one or two of
his children. She used to talk to him, and, somehow, he looked
quite as if he understood.
There had grown in her mind rather a strange feeling about
Emily, who always sat and looked on at everything. It arose in
one of her moments of great desolateness. She would have liked
to believe or pretend to believe that Emily understood and
sympathized with her. She did not like to own to herself that
her only companion could feel and hear nothing. She used to put
her in a chair sometimes and sit opposite to her on the old red
footstool, and stare and pretend about her until her own eyes
would grow large with something which was almost like fear--
particularly at night when everything was so still, when the only
sound in the attic was the occasional sudden scurry and squeak of
Melchisedec's family in the wall. One of her "pretends" was that
Emily was a kind of good witch who could protect her. Sometimes,
after she had stared at her until she was wrought up to the
highest pitch of fancifulness, she would ask her questions and
find herself ALMOST feeling as if she would presently answer.
But she never did.
"As to answering, though," said Sara, trying to console herself,
"I don't 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, and so do the girls. When you will not fly into a
passion people 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 heart."
But though she tried to satisfy herself with these arguments, she
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, she came in wet and hungry, and
was sent out again because nobody chose to remember that she was
only a child, and that her slim legs might be tired and her small
body 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
mood, and when she had seen the girls sneering among themselves
at her shabbiness--then she was not always able to comfort her
sore, proud, desolate heart with fancies when Emily merely sat
upright in her old chair and stared.
One of these nights, when she came up to the attic cold and
hungry, with a tempest raging in her young breast, Emily's stare
seemed so vacant, her sawdust legs and arms so inexpressive, that
Sara lost all control over herself. There was nobody but Emily--
no one in the world. And there she sat.
"I shall die presently," she said at first.
Emily simply stared.
"I can't bear this," said the poor child, trembling. "I know I
shall die. I'm cold; I'm wet; I'm starving to death. I've
walked a thousand miles today, and they have done nothing but
scold me from morning until night. And because I could not find
that last thing the cook sent me for, they would not give me any
supper. Some men laughed at me because my old shoes made me slip
down in the mud. I'm covered with mud now. And they laughed.
Do you hear?"
She looked at the staring glass eyes and complacent 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 sobbing--Sara who never cried.
"You are nothing but a DOLL!" she cried. "Nothing but a doll--
doll--doll! You care for nothing. You are stuffed with
sawdust. You never had a heart. Nothing could ever make you
feel. You are a DOLL!" Emily lay on the floor, with her legs
ignominiously doubled up over her head, and a new flat place on
the end of her nose; but she was calm, even dignified. Sara hid
her face in her arms. The rats in the wall began to fight and
bite each other and squeak and scramble. Melchisedec was
chastising some of his family.
Sara's sobs gradually quieted themselves. It was so unlike her
to break down that she was surprised at herself. After a while
she raised her face and looked at Emily, who seemed to be gazing
at her round the side of one angle, and, somehow, by this time
actually with a kind of glassy-eyed sympathy. Sara bent and
picked her up. Remorse overtook her. She even smiled at herself
a very little smile.
"You can't help being a doll," she said with a resigned sigh,
"any more than Lavinia and Jessie can help not having any sense.
We are not all made alike. Perhaps you do your sawdust best."
And she kissed her and shook her clothes straight, and put her
back upon her chair.
She had wished very much that some one would take the empty
house next door. She wished it because of the attic window which
was so near hers. It seemed as if it would be so nice to see it
propped open someday and a head and shoulders rising out of the
"If it looked a nice head," she thought, "I might begin by
saying, `Good morning,' and all sorts of things might happen.
But, of course, it's not really likely that anyone but under
servants would sleep there."
One morning, on turning the corner of the square after a visit to
the grocer's, the butcher's, and the baker's, she saw, to her
great delight, that during her rather prolonged absence, a van
full of furniture had stopped before the next house, the front
doors were thrown open, and men in shirt sleeves were going in
and out carrying heavy packages and pieces of furniture.
"It's taken!" she said. "It really IS taken! Oh, I do hope a
nice head will look out of the attic window!"
She would almost have liked to join the group of loiterers who
had stopped on the pavement to watch the things carried in. She
had an idea that if she could see some of the furniture she could
guess something about the people it belonged to.
"Miss Minchin's tables and chairs are just like her," she
thought; "I remember thinking that the first minute I saw her,
even though I was so little. I told papa afterward, and he
laughed and said it was true. I am sure the Large Family have
fat, comfortable armchairs and sofas, and I can see that their
red-flowery wallpaper is exactly like them. It's warm and
cheerful and kind-looking and happy."
She was sent out for parsley to the greengrocer's later in the
day, and when she came up the area steps her heart gave quite a
quick beat of recognition. Several pieces of furniture had been
set out of the van upon the pavement. There was a beautiful
table of elaborately wrought teakwood, and some chairs, and a
screen covered with rich Oriental embroidery. The sight of them
gave her a weird, homesick feeling. She had seen things so like
them in India. One of the things Miss Minchin had taken from her
was a carved teakwood desk her father had sent her.
"They are beautiful things," she said; "they look as if they
ought to belong to a nice person. All the things look rather
grand. I suppose it is a rich family."
The vans of furniture came and were unloaded and gave place to
others all the day. Several times it so happened that Sara had
an opportunity of seeing things carried in. It became plain that
she had been right in guessing that the newcomers were people of
large means. All the furniture was rich and beautiful, and a
great deal of it was Oriental. Wonderful rugs and draperies and
ornaments were taken from the vans, many pictures, and books
enough for a library. Among other things there was a superb god
Buddha in a splendid shrine.
"Someone in the family MUST have been in India," Sara thought.
"They have got used to Indian things and like them. I AM glad.
I shall feel as if they were friends, even if a head never looks
out of the attic window."
When she was taking in the evening's milk for the cook (there
was really no odd job she was not called upon to do), she saw
something occur which made the situation more interesting than
ever. The handsome, rosy man who was the father of the Large
Family walked across the square in the most matter-of-fact
manner, and ran up the steps of the next-door house. He ran up
them as if he felt quite at home and expected to run up and down
them many a time in the future. He stayed inside quite a long
time, and several times came out and gave directions to the
workmen, as if he had a right to do so. It was quite certain
that he was in some intimate way connected with the newcomers and
was acting for them.
"If the new people have children," Sara speculated, "the Large
Family children will be sure to come and play with them, and
they MIGHT come up into the attic just for fun."
At night, after her work was done, Becky came in to see her
fellow prisoner and bring her news.
"It's a' Nindian gentleman that's comin' to live next door,
miss," she said. "I don't know whether he's a black gentleman or
not, but he's a Nindian one. He's very rich, an' he's ill, an'
the gentleman of the Large Family is his lawyer. He's had a lot
of trouble, an' it's made him ill an' low in his mind. He
worships idols, miss. He's an 'eathen an' bows down to wood an'
stone. I seen a' idol bein' carried in for him to worship.
Somebody had oughter send him a trac'. You can get a trac' for a
Sara laughed a little.
"I don't believe he worships that idol," she said; "some people
like to keep them to look at because they are interesting. My
papa had a beautiful one, and he did not worship it."
But Becky was rather inclined to prefer to believe that the new
neighbor was "an 'eathen." It sounded so much more romantic than
that he should merely be the ordinary kind of gentleman who went
to church with a prayer book. She sat and talked long that night
of what he would be like, of what his wife would be like if he
had one, and of what his children would be like if they had
children. Sara saw that privately she could not help hoping very
much that they would all be black, and would wear turbans, and,
above all, that--like their parent--they would all be "'eathens."
"I never lived next door to no 'eathens, miss," she said; "I
should like to see what sort o' ways they'd have."
It was several weeks before her curiosity was satisfied, and
then it was revealed that the new occupant had neither wife nor
children. He was a solitary man with no family at all, and it
was evident that he was shattered in health and unhappy in mind.
A carriage drove up one day and stopped before the house. When
the footman dismounted from the box and opened the door the
gentleman who was the father of the Large Family got out first.
After him there descended a nurse in uniform, then came down the
steps two men-servants. They came to assist their master, who,
when he was helped out of the carriage, proved to be a man with a
haggard, distressed face, and a skeleton body wrapped in furs.
He was carried up the steps, and the head of the Large Family
went with him, looking very anxious. Shortly afterward a
doctor's carriage arrived, and the doctor went in--plainly to
take care of him.
"There is such a yellow gentleman next door, Sara," Lottie
whispered at the French class afterward. "Do you think he is a
Chinee? The geography says the Chinee men are yellow."
"No, he is not Chinese," Sara whispered back; "he is very ill.
Go on with your exercise, Lottie. `Non, monsieur. Je n'ai pas
le canif de mon oncle.'"
That was the beginning of the story of the Indian gentleman.
Next: Ram Dass