A Little Princess
In the Attic
The first night she spent in her attic was a thing Sara never forgot. During its passing she
lived through a wild, unchildlike woe of which she never spoke to anyone about her.
There was no one who would have understood. It was, indeed, well for her that as she lay
awake in the darkness her mind was forcibly distracted, now and then, by the strangeness
of her surroundings. It was, perhaps, well for her that she was reminded by her small
body of material things. If this had not been so, the anguish of her young mind might
have been too great for a child to bear. But, really, while the night was passing she
scarcely knew that she had a body at all or remembered any other thing than one.
"My papa is dead!" she kept whispering to herself. "My papa is dead!"
It was not until long afterward that she realized that her bed had been so hard that she
turned over and over in it to find a place to rest, that the darkness seemed more intense
than any she had ever known, and that the wind howled over the roof among the
chimneys like something which wailed aloud. Then there was something worse. This was
certain scufflings and scratchings and squeakings in the walls and behind the skirting
boards. She knew what they meant, because Becky had described them. They meant rats
and mice who were either fighting with each other or playing together. Once or twice she
even heard sharp-toed feet scurrying across the floor, and she remembered in those after
days, when she recalled things, that when first she heard them she started up in bed and
sat trembling, and when she lay down again covered her head with the bedclothes.
The change in her life did not come about gradually, but was made all at once.
"She must begin as she is to go on," Miss Minchin said to Miss Amelia. "She must be
taught at once what she is to expect."
Mariette had left the house the next morning. The glimpse Sara caught of her sitting
room, as she passed its open door, showed her that everything had been changed. Her
ornaments and luxuries had been removed, and a bed had been placed in a corner to
transform it into a new pupil's bedroom.
When she went down to breakfast she saw that her seat at Miss Minchin's side was
occupied by Lavinia, and Miss Minchin spoke to her coldly.
"You will begin your new duties, Sara," she said, "by taking your seat with the younger
children at a smaller table. You must keep them quiet, and see that they behave well and
do not waste their food. You ought to have been down earlier. Lottie has already upset
That was the beginning, and from day to day the duties given to her were added to. She
taught the younger children French and heard their other lessons, and these were the least
of her labors. It was found that she could be made use of in numberless directions. She
could be sent on errands at any time and in all weathers. She could be told to do things
other people neglected. The cook and the housemaids took their tone from Miss Minchin,