A Little Princess
When lessons were over and the pupils gathered together in groups to talk, Sara looked
for Miss St. John, and finding her bundled rather disconsolately in a window-seat, she
walked over to her and spoke. She only said the kind of thing little girls always say to
each other by way of beginning an acquaintance, but there was something friendly about
Sara, and people always felt it.
"What is your name?" she said.
To explain Miss St. John's amazement one must recall that a new pupil is, for a short
time, a somewhat uncertain thing; and of this new pupil the entire school had talked the
night before until it fell asleep quite exhausted by excitement and contradictory stories. A
new pupil with a carriage and a pony and a maid, and a voyage from India to discuss, was
not an ordinary acquaintance.
"My name's Ermengarde St. John," she answered.
"Mine is Sara Crewe," said Sara. "Yours is very pretty. It sounds like a story book."
"Do you like it?" fluttered Ermengarde. "I--I like yours."
Miss St. John's chief trouble in life was that she had a clever father. Sometimes this
seemed to her a dreadful calamity. If you have a father who knows everything, who
speaks seven or eight languages, and has thousands of volumes which he has apparently
learned by heart, he frequently expects you to be familiar with the contents of your lesson
books at least; and it is not improbable that he will feel you ought to be able to remember
a few incidents of history and to write a French exercise. Ermengarde was a severe trial
to Mr. St. John. He could not understand how a child of his could be a notably and
unmistakably dull creature who never shone in anything.
"Good heavens!" he had said more than once, as he stared at her, "there are times when I
think she is as stupid as her Aunt Eliza!"
If her Aunt Eliza had been slow to learn and quick to forget a thing entirely when she had
learned it, Ermengarde was strikingly like her. She was the monumental dunce of the
school, and it could not be denied.
"She must be MADE to learn," her father said to Miss Minchin.
Consequently Ermengarde spent the greater part of her life in disgrace or in tears. She
learned things and forgot them; or, if she remembered them, she did not understand them.
So it was natural that, having made Sara's acquaintance, she should sit and stare at her
with profound admiration.
"You can speak French, can't you?" she said respectfully.
Sara got on to the window-seat, which was a big, deep one, and, tucking up her feet, sat
with her hands clasped round her knees.