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

But she found out the very next day, in the morning; and it seemed that she had been living in a story even more than she had imagined. First, Mr. Carmichael came and had an interview with Miss Minchin. And it appeared that Mr. Carmichael, besides occupying the important situation of father to the Large Family was a lawyer, and had charge of the affairs of Mr. Carrisford—which was the real name of the Indian Gentleman—and, as Mr. Carrisford's lawyer, Mr. Carmichael had come to explain something curious to Miss Minchin regarding Sara. But, being the father of the Large Family, he had a very kind and fatherly feeling for children; and so, after seeing Miss Minchin alone, what did he do but go and bring across the square his rosy, motherly, warm-hearted wife, so that she herself might talk to the little lonely girl, and tell her everything in the best and most motherly way.

And then Sara learned that she was to be a poor little drudge and outcast no more, and that a great change had come in her fortunes; for all the lost fortune had come back to her, and a great deal had even been added to it. It was Mr. Carrisford who had been her father's friend, and who had made the investments which had caused him the apparent loss of his money; but it had so happened that after poor young Captain Crewe's death one of the investments which had seemed at the time the very worst had taken a sudden turn, and proved to be such a success that it had been a mine of wealth, and had more than doubled the Captain's lost fortune, as well as making a fortune for Mr. Carrisford himself. But Mr. Carrisford had been very unhappy. He had truly loved his poor, handsome, generous young friend, and the knowledge that he had caused his death had weighed upon him always, and broken both his health and spirit. The worst of it had been that, when first he thought himself and Captain Crewe ruined, he had lost courage and gone away because he was not brave enough to face the consequences of what he had done, and so he had not even known where the young soldier's little girl had been placed. When he wanted to find her, and make restitution, he could discover no trace of her; and the certainty that she was poor and friendless somewhere had made him more miserable than ever. When he had taken the house next to Miss Minchin's he had been so ill and wretched that he had for the time given up the search. His troubles and the Indian climate had brought him almost to death's door—indeed, he had not expected to live more than a few months. And then one day the Lascar had told him about Sara's speaking Hindustani, and gradually he had begun to take a sort of interest in the forlorn child, though he had only caught a glimpse of her once or twice and he had not connected her with the child of his friend, perhaps because he was too languid to think much about anything. But the Lascar had found out something of Sara's unhappy little life, and about the garret. One evening he had actually crept out of his own garret-window and looked into hers, which was a very easy matter, because, as I have said, it was only a few feet away—and he had told his master what he had seen, and in a moment of compassion the Indian Gentleman had told him to take into the wretched little room such comforts as he could carry from the one window to the other. And the Lascar, who had developed an interest in, and an odd fondness for, the child who had spoken to him in his own tongue, had been pleased with the work; and, having the silent swiftness and agile movements of many of his race, he had made his evening journeys across the few feet of roof from garret-window to garret-window, without any trouble at all. He had watched Sara's movements until he knew exactly when she was absent from her room and when she returned to it, and so he had been able to calculate the best times for his work. Generally he had made them in the dusk of the evening; but once or twice, when he had seen her go out on errands, he had dared to go over in the daytime, being quite sure that the garret was never entered by any one but herself. His pleasure in the work and his reports of the results had added to the invalid's interest in it, and sometimes the master had found the planning gave him something to think of, which made him almost forget his weariness and pain. And at last, when Sara brought home the truant monkey, he had felt a wish to see her, and then her likeness to her father had done the rest.

"And now, my dear," said good Mrs. Carmichael, patting Sara's hand, "all your troubles are over, I am sure, and you are to come home with me and be taken care of as if you were one of my own little girls; and we are so pleased to think of having you with us until everything is settled, and Mr. Carrisford is better. The excitement of last night has made him very weak, but we really think he will get well, now that such a load is taken from his mind. And when he is stronger, I am sure he will be as kind to you as your own papa would have been. He has a very good heart, and he is fond of children—and he has no family at all. But we must make you happy and rosy, and you must learn to play and run about, as my little girls do—"

"As your little girls do?" said Sara. "I wonder if I could. I used to watch them and wonder what it was like. Shall I feel as if I belonged to somebody?"

"Ah, my love, yes!—yes!" said Mrs. Carmichael; "dear me, yes!" And her motherly blue eyes grew quite moist, and she suddenly took Sara in her arms and kissed her. That very night, before she went to sleep, Sara had made the acquaintance of the entire Large Family, and such excitement as she and the monkey had caused in that joyous circle could hardly be described. There was not a child in the nursery, from the Eton boy who was the eldest, to the baby who was the youngest, who had not laid some offering on her shrine. All the older ones knew something of her wonderful story. She had been born in India; she had been poor and lonely and unhappy, and had lived in a garret and been treated unkindly; and now she was to be rich and happy, and be taken care of. They were so sorry for her, and so delighted and curious about her, all at once. The girls wished to be with her constantly, and the little boys wished to be told about India; the second baby, with the short round legs, simply sat and stared at her and the monkey, possibly wondering why she had not brought a hand-organ with her.

"I shall certainly wake up presently," Sara kept saying to herself. "This one must be a dream. The other one turned out to be real; but this couldn't be. But, oh! how happy it is!"

And even when she went to bed, in the bright, pretty room not far from Mrs. Carmichael's own, and Mrs. Carmichael came and kissed her and patted her and tucked her in cozily, she was not sure that she would not wake up in the garret in the morning.

"And oh, Charles, dear," Mrs. Carmichael said to her husband, when she went downstairs to him, "We must get that lonely look out of her eyes! It isn't a child's look at all. I couldn't bear to see it in one of my own children. What the poor little love must have had to bear in that dreadful woman's house! But, surely, she will forget it in time."

But though the lonely look passed away from Sara's face, she never quite forgot the garret at Miss Minchin's; and, indeed, she always liked to remember the wonderful night when the tired princess crept upstairs, cold and wet, and opening the door found fairy-land waiting for her. And there was no one of the many stories she was always being called upon to tell in the nursery of the Large Family which was more popular than that particular one; and there was no one of whom the Large Family were so fond as of Sara. Mr. Carrisford did not die, but recovered, and Sara went to live with him; and no real princess could have been better taken care of than she was. It seemed that the Indian Gentleman could not do enough to make her happy, and to repay her for the past; and the Lascar was her devoted slave. As her odd little face grew brighter, it grew so pretty and interesting that Mr. Carrisford used to sit and watch it many an evening, as they sat by the fire together.

They became great friends, and they used to spend hours reading and talking together; and, in a very short time, there was no pleasanter sight to the Indian Gentleman than Sara sitting in her big chair on the opposite side of the hearth, with a book on her knee and her soft, dark hair tumbling over her warm cheeks. She had a pretty habit of looking up at him suddenly, with a bright smile, and then he would often say to her:

"Are you happy, Sara?"

And then she would answer:

"I feel like a real princess, Uncle Tom."

He had told her to call him Uncle Tom.

"There doesn't seem to be anything left to `suppose,'" she added.

There was a little joke between them that he was a magician, and so could do anything he liked; and it was one of his pleasures to invent plans to surprise her with enjoyments she had not thought of. Scarcely a day passed in which he did not do something new for her. Sometimes she found new flowers in her room; sometimes a fanciful little gift tucked into some odd corner, sometimes a new book on her pillow;—once as they sat together in the evening they heard the scratch of a heavy paw on the door of the room, and when Sara went to find out what it was, there stood a great dog—a splendid Russian boar-hound with a grand silver and gold collar. Stooping to read the inscription upon the collar, Sara was delighted to read the words: "I am Boris; I serve the Princess Sara."

Then there was a sort of fairy nursery arranged for the entertainment of the juvenile members of the Large Family, who were always coming to see Sara and the Lascar and the monkey. Sara was as fond of the Large Family as they were of her. She soon felt as if she were a member of it, and the companionship of the healthy, happy children was very good for her. All the children rather looked up to her and regarded her as the cleverest and most brilliant of creatures—particularly after it was discovered that she not only knew stories of every kind, and could invent new ones at a moment's notice, but that she could help with lessons, and speak French and German, and discourse with the Lascar in Hindustani.

It was rather a painful experience for Miss Minchin to watch her ex-pupil's fortunes, as she had the daily opportunity to do, and to feel that she had made a serious mistake, from a business point of view. She had even tried to retrieve it by suggesting that Sara's education should be continued under her care, and had gone to the length of making an appeal to the child herself.

"I have always been very fond of you," she said.

Then Sara fixed her eyes upon her and gave her one of her odd looks.

"Have you?" she answered.

"Yes," said Miss Minchin. "Amelia and I have always said you were the cleverest child we had with us, and I am sure we could make you happy—as a parlor boarder."

Sara thought of the garret and the day her ears were boxed,—and of that other day, that dreadful, desolate day when she had been told that she belonged to nobody; that she had no home and no friends,—and she kept her eyes fixed on Miss Minchin's face.

"You know why I would not stay with you," she said.

And it seems probable that Miss Minchin did, for after that simple answer she had not the boldness to pursue the subject. She merely sent in a bill for the expense of Sara's education and support, and she made it quite large enough. And because Mr. Carrisford thought Sara would wish it paid, it was paid. When Mr. Carmichael paid it he had a brief interview with Miss Minchin in which he expressed his opinion with much clearness and force; and it is quite certain that Miss Minchin did not enjoy the conversation.


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