A Little Princess
by Frances Hodgeson Burnett
When Sara entered the holly-hung schoolroom in the afternoon, she
did so as the head of a sort of procession. Miss Minchin, in
her grandest silk dress, led her by the hand. A manservant
followed, carrying the box containing the Last Doll, a housemaid
carried a second box, and Becky brought up the rear, carrying a
third and wearing a clean apron and a new cap. Sara would have
much preferred to enter in the usual way, but Miss Minchin had
sent for her, and, after an interview in her private sitting
room, had expressed her wishes.
"This is not an ordinary occasion," she said. "I do not desire
that it should be treated as one."
So Sara was led grandly in and felt shy when, on her entry, the
big girls stared at her and touched each other's elbows, and the
little ones began to squirm joyously in their seats.
"Silence, young ladies!" said Miss Minchin, at the murmur which
arose. "James, place the box on the table and remove the lid.
Emma, put yours upon a chair. Becky!" suddenly and severely.
Becky had quite forgotten herself in her excitement, and was
grinning at Lottie, who was wriggling with rapturous
expectation. She almost dropped her box, the disapproving voice
so startled her, and her frightened, bobbing curtsy of apology
was so funny that Lavinia and Jessie tittered.
"It is not your place to look at the young ladies," said Miss
Minchin. "You forget yourself. Put your box down."
Becky obeyed with alarmed haste and hastily backed toward the
"You may leave us," Miss Minchin announced to the servants with a
wave of her hand.
Becky stepped aside respectfully to allow the superior servants
to pass out first. She could not help casting a longing glance
at the box on the table. Something made of blue satin was
peeping from between the folds of tissue paper.
"If you please, Miss Minchin," said Sara, suddenly, "mayn't
It was a bold thing to do. Miss Minchin was betrayed into
something like a slight jump. Then she put her eyeglass up, and
gazed at her show pupil disturbedly.
"Becky!" she exclaimed. "My dearest Sara!"
Sara advanced a step toward her.
"I want her because I know she will like to see the presents,"
she explained. "She is a little girl, too, you know."
Miss Minchin was scandalized. She glanced from one figure to
"My dear Sara," she said, "Becky is the scullery maid. Scullery
maids--er--are not little girls."
It really had not occurred to her to think of them in that
light. Scullery maids were machines who carried coal scuttles
and made fires.
"But Becky is," said Sara. "And I know she would enjoy herself.
Please let her stay--because it is my birthday."
Miss Minchin replied with much dignity:
"As you ask it as a birthday favor--she may stay. Rebecca,
thank Miss Sara for her great kindness."
Becky had been backing into the corner, twisting the hem of her
apron in delighted suspense. She came forward, bobbing
curtsies, but between Sara's eyes and her own there passed a
gleam of friendly understanding, while her words tumbled over
"Oh, if you please, miss! I'm that grateful, miss! I did want
to see the doll, miss, that I did. Thank you, miss. And thank
you, ma'am,"--turning and making an alarmed bob to Miss Minchin--
"for letting me take the liberty."
Miss Minchin waved her hand again--this time it was in the
direction of the corner near the door.
"Go and stand there," she commanded. "Not too near the young
Becky went to her place, grinning. She did not care where she
was sent, so that she might have the luck of being inside the
room, instead of being downstairs in the scullery, while these
delights were going on. She did not even mind when Miss Minchin
cleared her throat ominously and spoke again.
"Now, young ladies, I have a few words to say to you," she
"She's going to make a speech," whispered one of the girls. "I
wish it was over."
Sara felt rather uncomfortable. As this was her party, it was
probable that the speech was about her. It is not agreeable to
stand in a schoolroom and have a speech made about you.
"You are aware, young ladies," the speech began--for it was a
speech--"that dear Sara is eleven years old today."
"DEAR Sara!" murmured Lavinia.
"Several of you here have also been eleven years old, but Sara's
birthdays are rather different from other little girls'
birthdays. When she is older she will be heiress to a large
fortune, which it will be her duty to spend in a meritorious
"The diamond mines," giggled Jessie, in a whisper.
Sara did not hear her; but as she stood with her green-gray eyes
fixed steadily on Miss Minchin, she felt herself growing rather
hot. When Miss Minchin talked about money, she felt somehow that
she always hated her--and, of course, it was disrespectful to
hate grown-up people.
"When her dear papa, Captain Crewe, brought her from India and
gave her into my care," the speech proceeded, "he said to me, in
a jesting way, `I am afraid she will be very rich, Miss Minchin.'
My reply was, `Her education at my seminary, Captain Crewe, shall
be such as will adorn the largest fortune.' Sara has become my
most accomplished pupil. Her French and her dancing are a credit
to the seminary. Her manners--which have caused you to call her
Princess Sara--are perfect. Her amiability she exhibits by
giving you this afternoon's party. I hope you appreciate her
generosity. I wish you to express your appreciation of it by
saying aloud all together, `Thank you, Sara!'"
The entire schoolroom rose to its feet as it had done the
morning Sara remembered so well.
"Thank you, Sara!" it said, and it must be confessed that Lottie
jumped up and down. Sara looked rather shy for a moment. She
made a curtsy--and it was a very nice one.
"Thank you," she said, "for coming to my party."
"Very pretty, indeed, Sara," approved Miss Minchin. "That is
what a real princess does when the populace applauds her.
Lavinia"--scathingly--"the sound you just made was extremely
like a snort. If you are jealous of your fellow-pupil, I beg you
will express your feelings in some more lady-like manner. Now
I will leave you to enjoy yourselves."
The instant she had swept out of the room the spell her presence
always had upon them was broken. The door had scarcely closed
before every seat was empty. The little girls jumped or tumbled
out of theirs; the older ones wasted no time in deserting
theirs. There was a rush toward the boxes. Sara had bent over
one of them with a delighted face.
"These are books, I know," she said.
The little children broke into a rueful murmur, and Ermengarde
"Does your papa send you books for a birthday present?" she
exclaimed. "Why, he's as bad as mine. Don't open them, Sara."
"I like them," Sara laughed, but she turned to the biggest box.
When she took out the Last Doll it was so magnificent that the
children uttered delighted groans of joy, and actually drew back
to gaze at it in breathless rapture.
"She is almost as big as Lottie," someone gasped.
Lottie clapped her hands and danced about, giggling.
"She's dressed for the theater," said Lavinia. "Her cloak is
lined with ermine."
"Oh," cried Ermengarde, darting forward, "she has an opera-glass
in her hand--a blue-and-gold one!"
"Here is her trunk," said Sara. "Let us open it and look at her
She sat down upon the floor and turned the key. The children
crowded clamoring around her, as she lifted tray after tray and
revealed their contents. Never had the schoolroom been in such
an uproar. There were lace collars and silk stockings and
handkerchiefs; there was a jewel case containing a necklace and a
tiara which looked quite as if they were made of real diamonds;
there was a long sealskin and muff, there were ball dresses and
walking dresses and visiting dresses; there were hats and tea
gowns and fans. Even Lavinia and Jessie forgot that they were
too elderly to care for dolls, and uttered exclamations of
delight and caught up things to look at them.
"Suppose," Sara said, as she stood by the table, putting a
large, black-velvet hat on the impassively smiling owner of all
these splendors--"suppose she understands human talk and feels
proud of being admired."
"You are always supposing things," said Lavinia, and her air was
"I know I am," answered Sara, undisturbedly. "I like it. There
is nothing so nice as supposing. It's almost like being a fairy.
If you suppose anything hard enough it seems as if it were
"It's all very well to suppose things if you have everything,"
said Lavinia. "Could you suppose and pretend if you were a
beggar and lived in a garret?"
Sara stopped arranging the Last Doll's ostrich plumes, and looked
"I BELIEVE I could," she said. "If one was a beggar, one would
have to suppose and pretend all the time. But it mightn't be
She often thought afterward how strange it was that just as she
had finished saying this--just at that very moment--Miss Amelia
came into the room.
"Sara," she said, "your papa's solicitor, Mr. Barrow, has called
to see Miss Minchin, and, as she must talk to him alone and the
refreshments are laid in her parlor, you had all better come and
have your feast now, so that my sister can have her interview
here in the schoolroom."
Refreshments were not likely to be disdained at any hour, and
many pairs of eyes gleamed. Miss Amelia arranged the procession
into decorum, and then, with Sara at her side heading it, she led
it away, leaving the Last Doll sitting upon a chair with the
glories of her wardrobe scattered about her; dresses and coats
hung upon chair backs, piles of lace-frilled petticoats lying
upon their seats.
Becky, who was not expected to partake of refreshments, had the
indiscretion to linger a moment to look at these beauties--it
really was an indiscretion.
"Go back to your work, Becky," Miss Amelia had said; but she had
stopped to pick up reverently first a muff and then a coat, and
while she stood looking at them adoringly, she heard Miss Minchin
upon the threshold, and, being smitten with terror at the thought
of being accused of taking liberties, she rashly darted under the
table, which hid her by its tablecloth.
Miss Minchin came into the room, accompanied by a sharp-
featured, dry little gentleman, who looked rather disturbed.
Miss Minchin herself also looked rather disturbed, it must be
admitted, and she gazed at the dry little gentleman with an
irritated and puzzled expression.
She sat down with stiff dignity, and waved him to a chair.
"Pray, be seated, Mr. Barrow," she said.
Mr. Barrow did not sit down at once. His attention seemed
attracted by the Last Doll and the things which surrounded her.
He settled his eyeglasses and looked at them in nervous
disapproval. The Last Doll herself did not seem to mind this in
the least. She merely sat upright and returned his gaze
"A hundred pounds," Mr. Barrow remarked succinctly. "All
expensive material, and made at a Parisian modiste's. He spent
money lavishly enough, that young man."
Miss Minchin felt offended. This seemed to be a disparagement of
her best patron and was a liberty.
Even solicitors had no right to take liberties.
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Barrow," she said stiffly. "I do not
"Birthday presents," said Mr. Barrow in the same critical
manner, "to a child eleven years old! Mad extravagance, I call
Miss Minchin drew herself up still more rigidly.
"Captain Crewe is a man of fortune," she said. "The diamond
Mr. Barrow wheeled round upon her. "Diamond mines!" he broke
out. "There are none! Never were!"
Miss Minchin actually got up from her chair.
"What!" she cried. "What do you mean?"
"At any rate," answered Mr. Barrow, quite snappishly, "it would
have been much better if there never had been any."
"Any diamond mines?" ejaculated Miss Minchin, catching at the
back of a chair and feeling as if a splendid dream was fading
away from her.
"Diamond mines spell ruin oftener than they spell wealth," said
Mr. Barrow. "When a man is in the hands of a very dear friend
and is not a businessman himself, he had better steer clear of
the dear friend's diamond mines, or gold mines, or any other kind
of mines dear friends want his money to put into. The late
Here Miss Minchin stopped him with a gasp.
"The LATE Captain Crewe!" she cried out. "The LATE! You don't
come to tell me that Captain Crewe is--"
"He's dead, ma'am," Mr. Barrow answered with jerky brusqueness.
"Died of jungle fever and business troubles combined. The
jungle fever might not have killed him if he had not been driven
mad by the business troubles, and the business troubles might not
have put an end to him if the jungle fever had not assisted.
Captain Crewe is dead!"
Miss Minchin dropped into her chair again. The words he had
spoken filled her with alarm.
"What WERE his business troubles?" she said. "What WERE they?"
"Diamond mines," answered Mr. Barrow, "and dear friends--and
Miss Minchin lost her breath.
"Ruin!" she gasped out.
"Lost every penny. That young man had too much money. The dear
friend was mad on the subject of the diamond mine. He put all
his own money into it, and all Captain Crewe's. Then the dear
friend ran away--Captain Crewe was already stricken with fever
when the news came. The shock was too much for him. He died
delirious, raving about his little girl--and didn't leave a
Now Miss Minchin understood, and never had she received such a
blow in her life. Her show pupil, her show patron, swept away
from the Select Seminary at one blow. She felt as if she had
been outraged and robbed, and that Captain Crewe and Sara and Mr.
Barrow were equally to blame.
"Do you mean to tell me," she cried out, "that he left NOTHING!
That Sara will have no fortune! That the child is a beggar!
That she is left on my hands a little pauper instead of an
Mr. Barrow was a shrewd businessman, and felt it as well to make
his own freedom from responsibility quite clear without any
"She is certainly left a beggar," he replied. "And she is
certainly left on your hands, ma'am--as she hasn't a relation in
the world that we know of."
Miss Minchin started forward. She looked as if she was going to
open the door and rush out of the room to stop the festivities
going on joyfully and rather noisily that moment over the
"It is monstrous!" she said. "She's in my sitting room at this
moment, dressed in silk gauze and lace petticoats, giving a party
at my expense."
"She's giving it at your expense, madam, if she's giving it,"
said Mr. Barrow, calmly. "Barrow & Skipworth are not
responsible for anything. There never was a cleaner sweep made
of a man's fortune. Captain Crewe died without paying OUR last
bill--and it was a big one."
Miss Minchin turned back from the door in increased indignation.
This was worse than anyone could have dreamed of its being.
"That is what has happened to me!" she cried. "I was always so
sure of his payments that I went to all sorts of ridiculous
expenses for the child. I paid the bills for that ridiculous
doll and her ridiculous fantastic wardrobe. The child was to
have anything she wanted. She has a carriage and a pony and a
maid, and I've paid for all of them since the last cheque came."
Mr. Barrow evidently did not intend to remain to listen to the
story of Miss Minchin's grievances after he had made the
position of his firm clear and related the mere dry facts. He
did not feel any particular sympathy for irate keepers of
"You had better not pay for anything more, ma'am," he remarked,
"unless you want to make presents to the young lady. No one
will remember you. She hasn't a brass farthing to call her own."
"But what am I to do?" demanded Miss Minchin, as if she felt it
entirely his duty to make the matter right. "What am I to do?"
"There isn't anything to do," said Mr. Barrow, folding up his
eyeglasses and slipping them into his pocket. "Captain Crewe is
dead. The child is left a pauper. Nobody is responsible for her
"I am not responsible for her, and I refuse to be made
Miss Minchin became quite white with rage.
Mr. Barrow turned to go.
"I have nothing to do with that, madam," he said un-
interestedly. "Barrow & Skipworth are not responsible. Very
sorry the thing has happened, of course."
"If you think she is to be foisted off on me, you are greatly
mistaken," Miss Minchin gasped. "I have been robbed and cheated;
I will turn her into the street!"
If she had not been so furious, she would have been too discreet
to say quite so much. She saw herself burdened with an
extravagantly brought-up child whom she had always resented, and
she lost all self-control.
Mr. Barrow undisturbedly moved toward the door.
"I wouldn't do that, madam," he commented; "it wouldn't look
well. Unpleasant story to get about in connection with the
establishment. Pupil bundled out penniless and without friends."
He was a clever business man, and he knew what he was saying. He
also knew that Miss Minchin was a business woman, and would be
shrewd enough to see the truth. She could not afford to do a
thing which would make people speak of her as cruel and hard-
"Better keep her and make use of her," he added. "She's a
clever child, I believe. You can get a good deal out of her as
she grows older."
"I will get a good deal out of her before she grows older!"
exclaimed Miss Minchin.
"I am sure you will, ma'am," said Mr. Barrow, with a little
sinister smile. "I am sure you will. Good morning!"
He bowed himself out and closed the door, and it must be
confessed that Miss Minchin stood for a few moments and glared at
it. What he had said was quite true. She knew it. She had
absolutely no redress. Her show pupil had melted into
nothingness, leaving only a friendless, beggared little girl.
Such money as she herself had advanced was lost and could not be
And as she stood there breathless under her sense of injury,
there fell upon her ears a burst of gay voices from her own
sacred room, which had actually been given up to the feast. She
could at least stop this.
But as she started toward the door it was opened by Miss Amelia,
who, when she caught sight of the changed, angry face, fell back
a step in alarm.
"What IS the matter, sister?" she ejaculated.
Miss Minchin's voice was almost fierce when she answered:
"Where is Sara Crewe?"
Miss Amelia was bewildered.
"Sara!" she stammered. "Why, she's with the children in your
room, of course."
"Has she a black frock in her sumptuous wardrobe?"--in bitter
"A black frock?" Miss Amelia stammered again. "A BLACK one?"
"She has frocks of every other color. Has she a black one?"
Miss Amelia began to turn pale.
"No--ye-es!" she said. "But it is too short for her. She has
only the old black velvet, and she has outgrown it."
"Go and tell her to take off that preposterous pink silk gauze,
and put the black one on, whether it is too short or not. She
has done with finery!"
Then Miss Amelia began to wring her fat hands and cry.
"Oh, sister!" she sniffed. "Oh, sister! What CAN have
Miss Minchin wasted no words.
"Captain Crewe is dead," she said. "He has died without a
penny. That spoiled, pampered, fanciful child is left a pauper
on my hands."
Miss Amelia sat down quite heavily in the nearest chair.
"Hundreds of pounds have I spent on nonsense for her. And I
shall never see a penny of it. Put a stop to this ridiculous
party of hers. Go and make her change her frock at once."
"I?" panted Miss Amelia. "M-must I go and tell her now?"
"This moment!" was the fierce answer. "Don't sit staring like a
Poor Miss Amelia was accustomed to being called a goose. She
knew, in fact, that she was rather a goose, and that it was left
to geese to do a great many disagreeable things. It was a
somewhat embarrassing thing to go into the midst of a room full
of delighted children, and tell the giver of the feast that she
had suddenly been transformed into a little beggar, and must go
upstairs and put on an old black frock which was too small for
her. But the thing must be done. This was evidently not the
time when questions might be asked.
She rubbed her eyes with her handkerchief until they looked
quite red. After which she got up and went out of the room,
without venturing to say another word. When her older sister
looked and spoke as she had done just now, the wisest course to
pursue was to obey orders without any comment. Miss Minchin
walked across the room. She spoke to herself aloud without
knowing that she was doing it. During the last year the story of
the diamond mines had suggested all sorts of possibilities to
her. Even proprietors of seminaries might make fortunes in
stocks, with the aid of owners of mines. And now, instead of
looking forward to gains, she was left to look back upon losses.
"The Princess Sara, indeed!" she said. "The child has been
pampered as if she were a QUEEN." She was sweeping angrily past
the corner table as she said it, and the next moment she started
at the sound of a loud, sobbing sniff which issued from under the
"What is that!" she exclaimed angrily. The loud, sobbing sniff
was heard again, and she stooped and raised the hanging folds of
the table cover.
"How DARE you!" she cried out. "How dare you! Come out
It was poor Becky who crawled out, and her cap was knocked on
one side, and her face was red with repressed crying.
"If you please, 'm--it's me, mum," she explained. "I know I
hadn't ought to. But I was lookin' at the doll, mum--an' I was
frightened when you come in--an' slipped under the table."
"You have been there all the time, listening," said Miss
"No, mum," Becky protested, bobbing curtsies. "Not listenin'--I
thought I could slip out without your noticin', but I couldn't
an' I had to stay. But I didn't listen, mum--I wouldn't for
nothin'. But I couldn't help hearin'."
Suddenly it seemed almost as if she lost all fear of the awful
lady before her. She burst into fresh tears.
"Oh, please, 'm," she said; "I dare say you'll give me warnin,
mum--but I'm so sorry for poor Miss Sara--I'm so sorry!"
"Leave the room!" ordered Miss Minchin.
Becky curtsied again, the tears openly streaming down her
"Yes, 'm; I will, 'm," she said, trembling; "but oh, I just
wanted to arst you: Miss Sara--she's been such a rich young
lady, an' she's been waited on, 'and and foot; an' what will she
do now, mum, without no maid? If--if, oh please, would you let
me wait on her after I've done my pots an' kettles? I'd do 'em
that quick--if you'd let me wait on her now she's poor. Oh,"
breaking out afresh, "poor little Miss Sara, mum--that was called
Somehow, she made Miss Minchin feel more angry than ever. That
the very scullery maid should range herself on the side of this
child--whom she realized more fully than ever that she had never
liked--was too much. She actually stamped her foot.
"No--certainly not," she said. "She will wait on herself, and on
other people, too. Leave the room this instant, or you'll leave
Becky threw her apron over her head and fled. She ran out of
the room and down the steps into the scullery, and there she sat
down among her pots and kettles, and wept as if her heart would
"It's exactly like the ones in the stories," she wailed. "Them
pore princess ones that was drove into the world."
Miss Minchin had never looked quite so still and hard as she did
when Sara came to her, a few hours later, in response to a
message she had sent her.
Even by that time it seemed to Sara as if the birthday party had
either been a dream or a thing which had happened years ago, and
had happened in the life of quite another little girl.
Every sign of the festivities had been swept away; the holly had
been removed from the schoolroom walls, and the forms and desks
put back into their places. Miss Minchin's sitting room looked
as it always did--all traces of the feast were gone, and Miss
Minchin had resumed her usual dress. The pupils had been
ordered to lay aside their party frocks; and this having been
done, they had returned to the schoolroom and huddled together in
groups, whispering and talking excitedly.
"Tell Sara to come to my room," Miss Minchin had said to her
sister. "And explain to her clearly that I will have no crying
or unpleasant scenes."
"Sister," replied Miss Amelia, "she is the strangest child I ever
saw. She has actually made no fuss at all. You remember she
made none when Captain Crewe went back to India. When I told her
what had happened, she just stood quite still and looked at me
without making a sound. Her eyes seemed to get bigger and
bigger, and she went quite pale. When I had finished, she still
stood staring for a few seconds, and then her chin began to
shake, and she turned round and ran out of the room and upstairs.
Several of the other children began to cry, but she did not seem
to hear them or to be alive to anything but just what I was
saying. It made me feel quite queer not to be answered; and when
you tell anything sudden and strange, you expect people will say
SOMETHING--whatever it is."
Nobody but Sara herself ever knew what had happened in her room
after she had run upstairs and locked her door. In fact, she
herself scarcely remembered anything but that she walked up and
down, saying over and over again to herself in a voice which did
not seem her own, "My papa is dead! My papa is dead!"
Once she stopped before Emily, who sat watching her from her
chair, and cried out wildly, "Emily! Do you hear? Do you hear--
papa is dead? He is dead in India--thousands of miles away."
When she came into Miss Minchin's sitting room in answer to her
summons, her face was white and her eyes had dark rings around
them. Her mouth was set as if she did not wish it to reveal what
she had suffered and was suffering. She did not look in the
least like the rose-colored butterfly child who had flown about
from one of her treasures to the other in the decorated
schoolroom. She looked instead a strange, desolate, almost
grotesque little figure.