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  • A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett CHAPTER 1.

  • Sara

  • 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 a child

  • 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 children playing 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 when she 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 heard people 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 many

  • servants 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, was all 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 so fast 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 dinner parties; 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 she had 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 as she 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 had been 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 in black letters:

  • MISS MINCHIN, Select Seminary for Young Ladies.

  • "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 thought afterward 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 cheeks of 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 laughed outright 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 things make 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 come into 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 smile when 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 of money 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's little 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 Lady Meredith'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 learning too 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 she wants 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 the odd 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 they never 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!"

  • A flush 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.