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
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 him hungrily.
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
“Yes, you must take it, poor
little girl!” he insisted stoutly. “You
can buy things to eat with it. It is a whole
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
“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 sixpence.”
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
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
“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
“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
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
“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 square aperture.
“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
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
“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
“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 penny.”
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
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
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
“No, he is not Chinese,”
Sara whispered back; “he is very ill. Go
on with your exercise, Lottie. ’Non, monsieur.
Je n’ai pas lé canif de
That was the beginning of the story
of the Indian gentleman.