The third person in the trio was Lottie.
She was a small thing and did not know what adversity
meant, and was much bewildered by the alteration she
saw in her young adopted mother. She had heard
it rumored that strange things had happened to Sara,
but she could not understand why she looked different why
she wore an old black frock and came into the schoolroom
only to teach instead of to sit in her place of honor
and learn lessons herself. There had been much
whispering among the little ones when it had been discovered
that Sara no longer lived in the rooms in which Emily
had so long sat in state. Lottie’s chief
difficulty was that Sara said so little when one asked
her questions. At seven mysteries must be made
very clear if one is to understand them.
“Are you very poor now, Sara?”
she had asked confidentially the first morning her
friend took charge of the small French class.
“Are you as poor as a beggar?” She thrust
a fat hand into the slim one and opened round, tearful
eyes. “I don’t want you to be as
poor as a beggar.”
She looked as if she was going to
cry. And Sara hurriedly consoled her.
“Beggars have nowhere to live,”
she said courageously. “I have a place
to live in.”
“Where do you live?” persisted
Lottie. “The new girl sleeps in your room,
and it isn’t pretty any more.”
“I live in another room,” said Sara.
“Is it a nice one?” inquired Lottie.
“I want to go and see it.”
“You must not talk,” said
Sara. “Miss Minchin is looking at us.
She will be angry with me for letting you whisper.”
She had found out already that she
was to be held accountable for everything which was
objected to. If the children were not attentive,
if they talked, if they were restless, it was she who
would be reproved.
But Lottie was a determined little
person. If Sara would not tell her where she
lived, she would find out in some other way.
She talked to her small companions and hung about
the elder girls and listened when they were gossiping;
and acting upon certain information they had unconsciously
let drop, she started late one afternoon on a voyage
of discovery, climbing stairs she had never known
the existence of, until she reached the attic floor.
There she found two doors near each other, and opening
one, she saw her beloved Sara standing upon an old
table and looking out of a window.
“Sara!” she cried, aghast.
“Mamma Sara!” She was aghast because
the attic was so bare and ugly and seemed so far away
from all the world. Her short legs had seemed
to have been mounting hundreds of stairs.
Sara turned round at the sound of
her voice. It was her turn to be aghast.
What would happen now? If Lottie began to cry
and any one chanced to hear, they were both lost.
She jumped down from her table and ran to the child.
“Don’t cry and make a
noise,” she implored. “I shall be
scolded if you do, and I have been scolded all day.
It’s it’s not such a bad room,
“Isn’t it?” gasped
Lottie, and as she looked round it she bit her lip.
She was a spoiled child yet, but she was fond enough
of her adopted parent to make an effort to control
herself for her sake. Then, somehow, it was quite
possible that any place in which Sara lived might
turn out to be nice. “Why isn’t it,
Sara?” she almost whispered.
Sara hugged her close and tried to
laugh. There was a sort of comfort in the warmth
of the plump, childish body. She had had a hard
day and had been staring out of the windows with hot
“You can see all sorts of things
you can’t see downstairs,” she said.
“What sort of things?”
demanded Lottie, with that curiosity Sara could always
awaken even in bigger girls.
“Chimneys quite close
to us with smoke curling up in wreaths and
clouds and going up into the sky and sparrows
hopping about and talking to each other just as if
they were people and other attic windows
where heads may pop out any minute and you can wonder
who they belong to. And it all feels as high
up as if it was another world.”
“Oh, let me see it!” cried Lottie.
“Lift me up!”
Sara lifted her up, and they stood
on the old table together and leaned on the edge of
the flat window in the roof, and looked out.
Anyone who has not done this does
not know what a different world they saw. The
slates spread out on either side of them and slanted
down into the rain gutter-pipes. The sparrows,
being at home there, twittered and hopped about quite
without fear. Two of them perched on the chimney
top nearest and quarrelled with each other fiercely
until one pecked the other and drove him away.
The garret window next to theirs was shut because
the house next door was empty.
“I wish someone lived there,”
Sara said. “It is so close that if there
was a little girl in the attic, we could talk to each
other through the windows and climb over to see each
other, if we were not afraid of falling.”
The sky seemed so much nearer than
when one saw it from the street, that Lottie was enchanted.
From the attic window, among the chimney pots, the
things which were happening in the world below seemed
almost unreal. One scarcely believed in the
existence of Miss Minchin and Miss Amelia and the
schoolroom, and the roll of wheels in the square seemed
a sound belonging to another existence.
“Oh, Sara!” cried Lottie,
cuddling in her guarding arm. “I like this
attic I like it! It is nicer than
“Look at that sparrow,”
whispered Sara. “I wish I had some crumbs
to throw to him.”
“I have some!” came in
a little shriek from Lottie. “I have part
of a bun in my pocket; I bought it with my penny yesterday,
and I saved a bit.”
When they threw out a few crumbs the
sparrow jumped and flew away to an adjacent chimney
top. He was evidently not accustomed to intimates
in attics, and unexpected crumbs startled him.
But when Lottie remained quite still and Sara chirped
very softly almost as if she were a sparrow
herself he saw that the thing which had
alarmed him represented hospitality, after all.
He put his head on one side, and from his perch on
the chimney looked down at the crumbs with twinkling
eyes. Lottie could scarcely keep still.
“Will he come? Will he come?” she
“His eyes look as if he would,”
Sara whispered back. “He is thinking and
thinking whether he dare. Yes, he will!
Yes, he is coming!”
He flew down and hopped toward the
crumbs, but stopped a few inches away from them, putting
his head on one side again, as if reflecting on the
chances that Sara and Lottie might turn out to be big
cats and jump on him. At last his heart told
him they were really nicer than they looked, and he
hopped nearer and nearer, darted at the biggest crumb
with a lightning peck, seized it, and carried it away
to the other side of his chimney.
“Now he knows”, said
Sara. “And he will come back for the others.”
He did come back, and even brought
a friend, and the friend went away and brought a relative,
and among them they made a hearty meal over which
they twittered and chattered and exclaimed, stopping
every now and then to put their heads on one side
and examine Lottie and Sara. Lottie was so delighted
that she quite forgot her first shocked impression
of the attic. In fact, when she was lifted down
from the table and returned to earthly things, as
it were, Sara was able to point out to her many beauties
in the room which she herself would not have suspected
the existence of.
“It is so little and so high
above everything,” she said, “that it is
almost like a nest in a tree. The slanting ceiling
is so funny. See, you can scarcely stand up
at this end of the room; and when the morning begins
to come I can lie in bed and look right up into the
sky through that flat window in the roof. It
is like a square patch of light. If the sun
is going to shine, little pink clouds float about,
and I feel as if I could touch them. And if it
rains, the drops patter and patter as if they were
saying something nice. Then if there are stars,
you can lie and try to count how many go into the
patch. It takes such a lot. And just look
at that tiny, rusty grate in the corner. If it
was polished and there was a fire in it, just think
how nice it would be. You see, it’s really
a beautiful little room.”
She was walking round the small place,
holding Lottie’s hand and making gestures which
described all the beauties she was making herself see.
She quite made Lottie see them, too. Lottie could
always believe in the things Sara made pictures of.
“You see,” she said, “there
could be a thick, soft blue Indian rug on the floor;
and in that corner there could be a soft little sofa,
with cushions to curl up on; and just over it could
be a shelf full of books so that one could reach them
easily; and there could be a fur rug before the fire,
and hangings on the wall to cover up the whitewash,
and pictures. They would have to be little ones,
but they could be beautiful; and there could be a
lamp with a deep rose-colored shade; and a table in
the middle, with things to have tea with; and a little
fat copper kettle singing on the hob; and the bed could
be quite different. It could be made soft and
covered with a lovely silk coverlet. It could
be beautiful. And perhaps we could coax the sparrows
until we made such friends with them that they would
come and peck at the window and ask to be let in.”
“Oh, Sara!” cried Lottie. “I
should like to live here!”
When Sara had persuaded her to go
downstairs again, and, after setting her on her way,
had come back to her attic, she stood in the middle
of it and looked about her. The enchantment
of her imaginings for Lottie had died away.
The bed was hard and covered with its dingy quilt.
The whitewashed wall showed its broken patches, the
floor was cold and bare, the grate was broken and
rusty, and the battered footstool, tilted sideways
on its injured leg, the only seat in the room.
She sat down on it for a few minutes and let her
head drop in her hands. The mere fact that Lottie
had come and gone away again made things seem a little
worse just as perhaps prisoners feel a little
more desolate after visitors come and go, leaving
“It’s a lonely place,”
she said. “Sometimes it’s the loneliest
place in the world.”
She was sitting in this way when her
attention was attracted by a slight sound near her.
She lifted her head to see where it came from, and
if she had been a nervous child she would have left
her seat on the battered footstool in a great hurry.
A large rat was sitting up on his hind quarters and
sniffing the air in an interested manner. Some
of Lottie’s crumbs had dropped upon the floor
and their scent had drawn him out of his hole.
He looked so queer and so like a gray-whiskered
dwarf or gnome that Sara was rather fascinated.
He looked at her with his bright eyes, as if he were
asking a question. He was evidently so doubtful
that one of the child’s queer thoughts came
into her mind.
“I dare say it is rather hard
to be a rat,” she mused. “Nobody likes
you. People jump and run away and scream out,
‘Oh, a horrid rat!’ I shouldn’t
like people to scream and jump and say, ‘Oh,
a horrid Sara!’ the moment they saw me.
And set traps for me, and pretend they were dinner.
It’s so different to be a sparrow. But
nobody asked this rat if he wanted to be a rat when
he was made. Nobody said, ’Wouldn’t
you rather be a sparrow?’”
She had sat so quietly that the rat
had begun to take courage. He was very much
afraid of her, but perhaps he had a heart like the
sparrow and it told him that she was not a thing which
pounced. He was very hungry. He had a wife
and a large family in the wall, and they had had frightfully
bad luck for several days. He had left the children
crying bitterly, and felt he would risk a good deal
for a few crumbs, so he cautiously dropped upon his
“Come on,” said Sara;
“I’m not a trap. You can have them,
poor thing! Prisoners in the Bastille used to
make friends with rats. Suppose I make friends
How it is that animals understand
things I do not know, but it is certain that they
do understand. Perhaps there is a language which
is not made of words and everything in the world understands
it. Perhaps there is a soul hidden in everything
and it can always speak, without even making a sound,
to another soul. But whatsoever was the reason,
the rat knew from that moment that he was safe even
though he was a rat. He knew that this young
human being sitting on the red footstool would not
jump up and terrify him with wild, sharp noises or
throw heavy objects at him which, if they did not
fall and crush him, would send him limping in his
scurry back to his hole. He was really a very
nice rat, and did not mean the least harm. When
he had stood on his hind legs and sniffed the air,
with his bright eyes fixed on Sara, he had hoped that
she would understand this, and would not begin by hating
him as an enemy. When the mysterious thing which
speaks without saying any words told him that she
would not, he went softly toward the crumbs and began
to eat them. As he did it he glanced every now
and then at Sara, just as the sparrows had done, and
his expression was so very apologetic that it touched
She sat and watched him without making
any movement. One crumb was very much larger
than the others in fact, it could scarcely
be called a crumb. It was evident that he wanted
that piece very much, but it lay quite near the footstool
and he was still rather timid.
“I believe he wants it to carry
to his family in the wall,” Sara thought.
“If I do not stir at all, perhaps he will come
and get it.”
She scarcely allowed herself to breathe,
she was so deeply interested. The rat shuffled
a little nearer and ate a few more crumbs, then he
stopped and sniffed delicately, giving a side glance
at the occupant of the footstool; then he darted at
the piece of bun with something very like the sudden
boldness of the sparrow, and the instant he had possession
of it fled back to the wall, slipped down a crack in
the skirting board, and was gone.
“I knew he wanted it for his
children,” said Sara. “I do believe
I could make friends with him.”
A week or so afterward, on one of
the rare nights when Ermengarde found it safe to steal
up to the attic, when she tapped on the door with the
tips of her fingers Sara did not come to her for two
or three minutes. There was, indeed, such a silence
in the room at first that Ermengarde wondered if she
could have fallen asleep. Then, to her surprise,
she heard her utter a little, low laugh and speak
coaxingly to someone.
“There!” Ermengarde heard
her say. “Take it and go home, Melchisedec!
Go home to your wife!”
Almost immediately Sara opened the
door, and when she did so she found Ermengarde standing
with alarmed eyes upon the threshold.
“Who who are you talking to,
Sara?” she gasped out.
Sara drew her in cautiously, but she
looked as if something pleased and amused her.
“You must promise not to be
frightened not to scream the least bit,
or I can’t tell you,” she answered.
Ermengarde felt almost inclined to
scream on the spot, but managed to control herself.
She looked all round the attic and saw no one.
And yet Sara had certainly been speaking to someone.
She thought of ghosts.
“Is it something
that will frighten me?” she asked timorously.
“Some people are afraid of them,”
said Sara. “I was at first but
I am not now.”
“Was it a ghost?” quaked Ermengarde.
“No,” said Sara, laughing. “It
was my rat.”
Ermengarde made one bound, and landed
in the middle of the little dingy bed. She tucked
her feet under her nightgown and the red shawl.
She did not scream, but she gasped with fright.
“Oh! Oh!” she cried under her breath.
“A rat! A rat!”
“I was afraid you would be frightened,”
said Sara. “But you needn’t be.
I am making him tame. He actually knows me and
comes out when I call him. Are you too frightened
to want to see him?”
The truth was that, as the days had
gone on and, with the aid of scraps brought up from
the kitchen, her curious friendship had developed,
she had gradually forgotten that the timid creature
she was becoming familiar with was a mere rat.
At first Ermengarde was too much alarmed
to do anything but huddle in a heap upon the bed and
tuck up her feet, but the sight of Sara’s composed
little countenance and the story of Melchisedec’s
first appearance began at last to rouse her curiosity,
and she leaned forward over the edge of the bed and
watched Sara go and kneel down by the hole in the
“He he won’t
run out quickly and jump on the bed, will he?”
“No,” answered Sara.
“He’s as polite as we are. He is
just like a person. Now watch!”
She began to make a low, whistling
sound so low and coaxing that it could
only have been heard in entire stillness. She
did it several times, looking entirely absorbed in
it. Ermengarde thought she looked as if she were
working a spell. And at last, evidently in response
to it, a gray-whiskered, bright-eyed head peeped out
of the hole. Sara had some crumbs in her hand.
She dropped them, and Melchisedec came quietly forth
and ate them. A piece of larger size than the
rest he took and carried in the most businesslike
manner back to his home.
“You see,” said Sara,
“that is for his wife and children. He is
very nice. He only eats the little bits.
After he goes back I can always hear his family squeaking
for joy. There are three kinds of squeaks.
One kind is the children’s, and one is Mrs. Melchisedec’s,
and one is Melchisedec’s own.”
Ermengarde began to laugh.
“Oh, Sara!” she said. “You
are queer but you are nice.”
“I know I am queer,” admitted
Sara, cheerfully; “and I try to be nice.”
She rubbed her forehead with her little brown paw,
and a puzzled, tender look came into her face.
“Papa always laughed at me,” she said;
“but I liked it. He thought I was queer,
but he liked me to make up things. I I
can’t help making up things. If I didn’t,
I don’t believe I could live.” She
paused and glanced around the attic. “I’m
sure I couldn’t live here,” she added in
a low voice.
Ermengarde was interested, as she
always was. “When you talk about things,”
she said, “they seem as if they grew real.
You talk about Melchisedec as if he was a person.”
“He is a person,”
said Sara. “He gets hungry and frightened,
just as we do; and he is married and has children.
How do we know he doesn’t think things, just
as we do? His eyes look as if he was a person.
That was why I gave him a name.”
She sat down on the floor in her favorite
attitude, holding her knees.
“Besides,” she said, “he
is a Bastille rat sent to be my friend. I can
always get a bit of bread the cook has thrown away,
and it is quite enough to support him.”
“Is it the Bastille yet?”
asked Ermengarde, eagerly. “Do you always
pretend it is the Bastille?”
“Nearly always,” answered
Sara. “Sometimes I try to pretend it is
another kind of place; but the Bastille is generally
easiest particularly when it is cold.”
Just at that moment Ermengarde almost
jumped off the bed, she was so startled by a sound
she heard. It was like two distinct knocks on
“What is that?” she exclaimed.
Sara got up from the floor and answered quite dramatically:
“It is the prisoner in the next cell.”
“Becky!” cried Ermengarde, enraptured.
“Yes,” said Sara.
“Listen; the two knocks meant, ’Prisoner,
are you there?’”
She knocked three times on the wall herself, as if
“That means, ‘Yes, I am here, and all
Four knocks came from Becky’s side of the wall.
“That means,” explained
Sara, “’Then, fellow-sufferer, we will
sleep in peace. Good night.’”
Ermengarde quite beamed with delight.
“Oh, Sara!” she whispered joyfully.
“It is like a story!”
“It is a story,”
said Sara. “EVERYTHING’S a story.
You are a story I am a story. Miss
Minchin is a story.”
And she sat down again and talked
until Ermengarde forgot that she was a sort of escaped
prisoner herself, and had to be reminded by Sara that
she could not remain in the Bastille all night, but
must steal noiselessly downstairs again and creep
back into her deserted bed.