Beelingo.com

Sara Crewe: or, What Happened at Miss Minchin’s Boarding School

That very afternoon Sara had an opportunity of proving to herself whether she was really a princess or not. It was a dreadful afternoon. For several days it had rained continuously, the streets were chilly and sloppy; there was mud everywhere—sticky London mud—and over everything a pall of fog and drizzle. Of course there were several long and tiresome errands to be done,—there always were on days like this,—and Sara was sent out again and again, until her shabby clothes were damp through. The absurd old feathers on her forlorn hat were more draggled and absurd than ever, and her down-trodden shoes were so wet they could not hold any more water. Added to this, she had been deprived of her dinner, because Miss Minchin wished to punish her. She was very hungry. She was so cold and hungry and tired that her little face had a pinched look, and now and then some kind-hearted person passing her in the crowded street glanced at her with sympathy. But she did not know that. She hurried on, trying to comfort herself in that queer way of hers by pretending and "supposing,"—but really this time it was harder than she had ever found it, and once or twice she thought it almost made her more cold and hungry instead of less so. But she persevered obstinately. "Suppose I had dry clothes on," she thought. "Suppose I had good shoes and a long, thick coat and merino stockings and a whole umbrella. And suppose—suppose, just when I was near a baker's where they sold hot buns, I should find sixpence—which belonged to nobody. Suppose, if I did, I should go into the shop and buy six of the hottest buns, and should eat them all without stopping."

Some very odd things happen in this world sometimes. It certainly was an odd thing which happened to Sara. She had to cross the street just as she was saying this to herself—the mud was dreadful—she almost had to wade. She picked her way as carefully as she could, but she could not save herself much, only, in picking her way she had to look down at her feet and the mud, and in looking down—just as she reached the pavement—she saw something shining in the gutter. A piece of silver—a tiny piece trodden upon by many feet, but still with spirit enough to shine a little. Not quite a sixpence, but the next thing to it—a four-penny piece! In one second it was in her cold, little red and blue hand. "Oh!" she gasped. "It is true!"

And then, if you will believe me, she looked straight before her at the shop directly facing her. And it was a baker's, and a cheerful, stout, motherly woman, with rosy cheeks, was just putting into the window a tray of delicious hot buns,—large, plump, shiny buns, with currants in them.

It almost made Sara feel faint for a few seconds—the shock and the sight of the buns and the delightful odors of warm bread floating up through the baker's cellar-window.

She knew that she need not hesitate to use the little piece of money. It had evidently been lying in the mud for some time, and its owner was completely lost in the streams of passing people who crowded and jostled each other all through the day.

"But I'll go and ask the baker's woman if she has lost a piece of money," she said to herself, rather faintly.

So she crossed the pavement and put her wet foot on the step of the shop; and as she did so she saw something which made her stop.

It was a little figure more forlorn than her own—a little figure which was not much more than a bundle of rags, from which small, bare, red and muddy feet peeped out—only because the rags with which the wearer was trying to cover them were not long enough. Above the rags appeared a shock head of tangled hair and a dirty face, with big, hollow, hungry eyes.

Sara knew they were hungry eyes the moment she saw them, and she felt a sudden sympathy.

"This," she said to herself, with a little sigh, "is one of the Populace—and she is hungrier than I am."

The child—this "one of the Populace"—stared up at Sara, and shuffled herself aside a little, so as to give her more room. She was used to being made to give room to everybody. She knew that if a policeman chanced to see her, he would tell her to "move on."

Sara clutched her little four-penny piece, and hesitated a few seconds. Then she spoke to her.

"Are you hungry?" she asked.

The child shuffled herself and her rags a little more.

"Ain't I jist!" she said, in a hoarse voice. "Jist ain't I!"

"Haven't you had any dinner?" said Sara.

"No dinner," more hoarsely still and with more shuffling, "nor yet no bre'fast—nor yet no supper—nor nothin'."

"Since when?" asked Sara.

"Dun'no. Never got nothin' to-day—nowhere. I've axed and axed."

Just to look at her made Sara more hungry and faint. But those queer little thoughts were at work in her brain, and she was talking to herself though she was sick at heart.

"If I'm a princess," she was saying—"if I'm a princess—! When they were poor and driven from their thrones—they always shared—with the Populace—if they met one poorer and hungrier. They always shared. Buns are a penny each. If it had been sixpence! I could have eaten six. It won't be enough for either of us—but it will be better than nothing."

"Wait a minute," she said to the beggar-child. She went into the shop. It was warm and smelled delightfully. The woman was just going to put more hot buns in the window.

"If you please," said Sara, "have you lost fourpence—a silver fourpence?" And she held the forlorn little piece of money out to her.

The woman looked at it and at her—at her intense little face and draggled, once-fine clothes.

"Bless us—no," she answered. "Did you find it?"

"In the gutter," said Sara.

"Keep it, then," said the woman. "It may have been there a week, and goodness knows who lost it. You could never find out."

"I know that," said Sara, "but I thought I'd ask you."

"Not many would," said the woman, looking puzzled and interested and good-natured all at once. "Do you want to buy something?" she added, as she saw Sara glance toward the buns.

"Four buns, if you please," said Sara; "those at a penny each."

The woman went to the window and put some in a paper bag. Sara noticed that she put in six.

"I said four, if you please," she explained. "I have only the fourpence."

"I'll throw in two for make-weight," said the woman, with her good-natured look. "I dare say you can eat them some time. Aren't you hungry?"

A mist rose before Sara's eyes.

"Yes," she answered. "I am very hungry, and I am much obliged to you for your kindness, and," she was going to add, "there is a child outside who is hungrier than I am." But just at that moment two or three customers came in at once and each one seemed in a hurry, so she could only thank the woman again and go out.

The child was still huddled up on the corner of the steps. She looked frightful in her wet and dirty rags. She was staring with a stupid look of suffering straight before her, and Sara saw her suddenly draw the back of her roughened, black hand across her eyes to rub away the tears which seemed to have surprised her by forcing their way from under her lids. She was muttering to herself.

Sara opened the paper bag and took out one of the hot buns, which had already warmed her cold hands a little.

"See," she said, putting the bun on the ragged lap, "that is nice and hot. Eat it, and you will not be so hungry."

The child started and stared up at her; then she snatched up the bun and began to cram it into her mouth with great wolfish bites.

"Oh, my! Oh, my!" Sara heard her say hoarsely, in wild delight.

"Oh, my!"

Sara took out three more buns and put them down.

"She is hungrier than I am," she said to herself. "She's starving." But her hand trembled when she put down the fourth bun. "I'm not starving," she said—and she put down the fifth.

The little starving London savage was still snatching and devouring when she turned away. She was too ravenous to give any thanks, even if she had been taught politeness—which she had not. She was only a poor little wild animal.

"Good-bye," said Sara.

When she reached the other side of the street she looked back. The child had a bun in both hands, and had stopped in the middle of a bite to watch her. Sara gave her a little nod, and the child, after another stare,—a curious, longing stare,—jerked her shaggy head in response, and until Sara was out of sight she did not take another bite or even finish the one she had begun.

At that moment the baker-woman glanced out of her shop-window.

"Well, I never!" she exclaimed. "If that young'un hasn't given her buns to a beggar-child! It wasn't because she didn't want them, either—well, well, she looked hungry enough. I'd give something to know what she did it for." She stood behind her window for a few moments and pondered. Then her curiosity got the better of her. She went to the door and spoke to the beggar-child.

"Who gave you those buns?" she asked her.

The child nodded her head toward Sara's vanishing figure.

"What did she say?" inquired the woman.

"Axed me if I was 'ungry," replied the hoarse voice.

"What did you say?"

"Said I was jist!"

"And then she came in and got buns and came out and gave them to you, did she?"

The child nodded.

"How many?"

"Five."

The woman thought it over. "Left just one for herself," she said, in a low voice. "And she could have eaten the whole six—I saw it in her eyes."

She looked after the little, draggled, far-away figure, and felt more disturbed in her usually comfortable mind than she had felt for many a day.

"I wish she hadn't gone so quick," she said. "I'm blest if she shouldn't have had a dozen."

Then she turned to the child.

"Are you hungry, yet?" she asked.

"I'm allus 'ungry," was the answer; "but 'tain't so bad as it was."

"Come in here," said the woman, and she held open the shop-door.

The child got up and shuffled in. To be invited into a warm place full of bread seemed an incredible thing. She did not know what was going to happen; she did not care, even.

"Get yourself warm," said the woman, pointing to a fire in a tiny back room. "And, look here,—when you're hard up for a bite of bread, you can come here and ask for it. I'm blest if I won't give it to you for that young un's sake."

Sara found some comfort in her remaining bun. It was hot; and it was a great deal better than nothing. She broke off small pieces and ate them slowly to make it last longer.

"Suppose it was a magic bun," she said, "and a bite was as much as a whole dinner. I should be over-eating myself if I went on like this."


1 of 2
2 of 2