Sarah, the 10-year old
daughter of an English military officer in India, is called “Princess”
by her school friends because she seems so rich and spoiled. But then
the news of her father’s death and loss of all his wealth reaches
London. From then on, everything changes for Sarah, and she is reduced
to working as a domestic servant, scrubbing floors, and living in a
draughty attic. A touching and heartwarming tale of a little girl’s
fortitude, this children’s classic was originally published in 1905, and
the story has been filmed many times.
Once on a dark winter's day, when the yellow
fog hung so thick and heavy in the streets of London that the lamps were
lighted and the shop windows blazed with gas as they do at night, an odd-looking
little girl sat in a cab with her father, and was driven rather slowly
through the big thoroughfares.
She sat with her feet tucked under her, and leaned against her father,
who held her in his arm, as she stared out of the window at the passing
people with a queer old-fashioned thoughtfulness in her big eyes.
She was such a little girl that one did not expect to see such a look
on her small face. It would have been an old look for a child of twelve,
and Sara Crewe was only seven. The fact was, however, that she was always
dreaming and thinking odd things, and could not herself remember any time
when she had not been thinking things about grown-up people and the world
they belonged to. She felt as if she had lived a long, long time.
At this moment she was remembering the voyage she had just made from Bombay
with her father, Captain Crewe. She was thinking of the big ship, of the
lascars passing silently to and fro on it, of the children playing about
on the hot deck, and of some young officers' wives who used to try to
make her talk to them and laugh at the things she said.
Principally, she was thinking of what a queer thing it was that at one
time one was in India in the blazing sun, and then in the middle of the
ocean, and then driving in a strange vehicle through strange streets where
the day was as dark as the night. She found this so puzzling that she
moved closer to her father.
"Papa," she said in a low, mysterious little voice which was
almost a whisper, "papa."
"What is it, darling?" Captain Crewe answered, holding her closer
and looking down into her face. "What is Sara thinking of?"
"Is this the place?" Sara whispered, cuddling still closer to
him. "Is it, papa?"
"Yes, little Sara, it is. We have reached it at last." And though
she was only seven years old, she knew that he felt sad when he said it.
It seemed to her many years since he had begun to prepare her mind for
"the place," as she always called it. Her mother had died when
she was born, so she had never known or missed her. Her young, handsome,
rich, petting father seemed to be the only relation she had in the world.
They had always played together and been fond of each other. She only
knew he was rich because she had heard people say so when they thought
she was not listening, and she had also heard them say that when she grew
up she would be rich, too. She did not know all that being rich meant.
She had always lived in a beautiful bungalow, and had been used to seeing
many servants who made salaams to her and called her "Missee Sahib",
and gave her her own way in everything. She had had toys and pets and
an ayah who worshipped her, and she had gradually learned that people
who were rich had these things. That, however, was all she knew about
During her short life only one thing had troubled her, and that thing
was "the place" she was to be taken to some day. The climate
of India was very bad for children, and as soon as possible they were
sent away from it-generally to England and to school. She had seen other
children go away, and had heard their fathers and mothers talk about the
letters they received from them. She had known that she would be obliged
to go also, and though sometimes her father's stories of the voyage and
the new country had attracted her, she had been troubled by the thought
that he could not stay with her.
"Couldn't you go to that place with me, papa?" she had asked
when she was five years old. "Couldn't you go to school, too? I would
help you with your lessons."
"But you will not have to stay for a very long time, little Sara,"
he had always said. "You will go to a nice house where there will
be a lot of little girls, and you will play together, and I will send
you plenty of books, and you will grow so fast that it will seem scarcely
a year before you are big enough and clever enough to come back and take
care of papa."
She had liked to think of that. To keep the house for her father; to ride
with him, and sit at the head of his table when he had dinner parties;
to talk to him and read his books-that would be what she would like most
in the world, and if one must go away to "the place" in England
to attain it, she must make up her mind to go. She did not care very much
for other little girls, but if she had plenty of books she could console
herself. She liked books more than anything else, and was, in fact, always
inventing stories of beautiful things and telling them to herself. Sometimes
she had told them to her father, and he had liked them as much as she
"Well, papa," she said softly, "if we are here I suppose
we must be resigned."
He laughed at her old-fashioned speech and kissed her. He was really not
at all resigned himself, though he knew he must keep that a secret. His
quaint little Sara had been a great companion to him, and he felt he should
be a lonely fellow when, on his return to India, he went into his bungalow
knowing he need not expect to see the small figure in its white frock
come forward to meet him. So he held her very closely in his arms as the
cab rolled into the big, dull square in which stood the house which was
It was a big, dull, brick house, exactly like all the others in its row,
but that on the front door there shone a brass plate on which was engraved
in black letters: MISS MINCHIN,
Select Seminary for Young Ladies. "Here
we are, Sara," said Captain Crewe, making his voice sound as cheerful
as possible. Then he lifted her out of the cab and they mounted the steps
and rang the bell. Sara often thought afterward that the house was somehow
exactly like Miss Minchin. It was respectable and well furnished, but
everything in it was ugly; and the very armchairs seemed to have hard
bones in them. In the hall everything was hard and polished-even the red
cheeks of the moon face on the tall clock in the corner had a severe varnished
look. The drawing room into which they were ushered was covered by a carpet
with a square pattern upon it, the chairs were square, and a heavy marble
timepiece stood upon the heavy marble mantel.
As she sat down in one of the stiff mahogany chairs, Sara cast one of
her quick looks about her.
"I don't like it, papa," she said. "But then I dare say
soldiers-even brave ones-don't really like going into battle."
Captain Crewe laughed outright at this. He was young and full of fun,
and he never tired of hearing Sara's queer speeches.
"Oh, little Sara," he said. "What shall I do when I have
no one to say solemn things to me? No one else is as solemn as you are."
"But why do solemn things make you laugh so?" inquired Sara.
"Because you are such fun when you say them," he answered, laughing
still more. And then suddenly he swept her into his arms and kissed her
very hard, stopping laughing all at once and looking almost as if tears
had come into his eyes.
It was just then that Miss Minchin entered the room. She was very like
her house, Sara felt: tall and dull, and respectable and ugly. She had
large, cold, fishy eyes, and a large, cold, fishy smile. It spread itself
into a very large smile when she saw Sara and Captain Crewe. She had heard
a great many desirable things of the young soldier from the lady who had
recommended her school to him. Among other things, she had heard that
he was a rich father who was willing to spend a great deal of money on
his little daughter.
"It will be a great privilege to have charge of such a beautiful
and promising child, Captain Crewe," she said, taking Sara's hand
and stroking it. "Lady Meredith has told me of her unusual cleverness.
A clever child is a great treasure in an establishment like mine."
Sara stood quietly, with her eyes fixed upon Miss Minchin's face. She
was thinking something odd, as usual.
"Why does she say I am a beautiful child?" she was thinking.
"I am not beautiful at all. Colonel Grange's little girl, Isobel,
is beautiful. She has dimples and rose-colored cheeks, and long hair the
color of gold. I have short black hair and green eyes; besides which,
I am a thin child and not fair in the least. I am one of the ugliest children
I ever saw. She is beginning by telling a story."
She was mistaken, however, in thinking she was an ugly child. She was
not in the least like Isobel Grange, who had been the beauty of the regiment,
but she had an odd charm of her own. She was a slim, supple creature,
rather tall for her age, and had an intense, attractive little face. Her
hair was heavy and quite black and only curled at the tips; her eyes were
greenish gray, it is true, but they were big, wonderful eyes with long,
black lashes, and though she herself did not like the color of them, many
other people did. Still she was very firm in her belief that she was an
ugly little girl, and she was not at all elated by Miss Minchin's flattery.
"I should be telling a story if I said she was beautiful," she
thought; "and I should know I was telling a story. I believe I am
as ugly as she is-in my way. What did she say that for?"
After she had known Miss Minchin longer she learned why she had said it.
She discovered that she said the same thing to each papa and mamma who
brought a child to her school.
Sara stood near her father and listened while he and Miss Minchin talked.
She had been brought to the seminary because Lady Meredith's two little
girls had been educated there, and Captain Crewe had a great respect for
Lady Meredith's experience. Sara was to be what was known as "a parlor
boarder", and she was to enjoy even greater privileges than parlor
boarders usually did. She was to have a pretty bedroom and sitting-room
of her own; she was to have a pony and a carriage, and a maid to take
the place of the ayah who had been her nurse in India.
"I am not in the least anxious about her education," Captain
Crewe said, with his gay laugh, as he held Sara's hand and patted it.
"The difficulty will be to keep her from learning too fast and too
much. She is always sitting with her little nose burrowing into books.
She doesn't read them, Miss Minchin; she gobbles them up as if she were
a little wolf instead of a little girl. She is always starving for new
books to gobble, and she wants grown-up books-great, big, fat ones-French
and German as well as English-history and biography and poets, and all
sorts of things. Drag her away from her books when she reads too much.
Make her ride her pony in the Row or go out and buy a new doll. She ought
to play more with dolls."
"Papa," said Sara, "You see, if I bought a new doll every
few days I should have more than I could be fond of. Dolls ought to be
intimate friends. Emily is going to be my intimate friend."
Captain Crewe looked at Miss Minchin and Miss Minchin looked at Captain
"Who is Emily?" she inquired.
"Tell her, Sara," Captain Crewe said, smiling.
Sara's green-gray eyes looked very solemn and quite soft as she answered.
"She is a doll I haven't got yet," she said. "She is a
doll papa is going to buy for me. We are going out together to find her.
I have called her Emily. She is going to be my friend when papa is gone.
I want her to talk to about him."
Miss Minchin's large, fishy smile became very flattering indeed.
"What an original child!" she said. "What a darling little
"Yes," said Captain Crewe, drawing Sara close. "She is
a darling little creature. Take great care of her for me, Miss Minchin."
Sara stayed with her father at his hotel for several days; in fact, she
remained with him until he sailed away again to India. They went out and
visited many big shops together, and bought a great many things. They
bought, indeed, a great many more things than Sara needed; but Captain
Crewe was a rash, innocent young man and wanted his little girl to have
everything she admired and everything he admired himself, so between them
they collected a wardrobe much too grand for a child of seven. There were
velvet dresses trimmed with costly furs, and lace dresses, and embroidered
ones, and hats with great, soft ostrich feathers, and ermine coats and
muffs, and boxes of tiny gloves and handkerchiefs and silk stockings in
such abundant supplies that the polite young women behind the counters
whispered to each other that the odd little girl with the big, solemn
eyes must be at least some foreign princess-perhaps the little daughter
of an Indian rajah.
And at last they found Emily, but they went to a number of toy shops and
looked at a great many dolls before they discovered her.
"I want her to look as if she wasn't a doll really," Sara said.
"I want her to look as if she listens when I talk to her. The trouble
with dolls, papa"-and she put her head on one side and reflected
as she said it-"the trouble with dolls is that they never seem to
hear." So they looked at big ones and little ones-at dolls with black
eyes and dolls with blue-at dolls with brown curls and dolls with golden
braids, dolls dressed and dolls undressed.
"You see," Sara said when they were examining one who had no
clothes. "If, when I find her, she has no frocks, we can take her
to a dressmaker and have her things made to fit. They will fit better
if they are tried on."
After a number of disappointments they decided to walk and look in at
the shop windows and let the cab follow them. They had passed two or three
places without even going in, when, as they were approaching a shop which
was really not a very large one, Sara suddenly started and clutched her
"Oh, papa!" she cried. "There is Emily!"
A flush had risen to her face and there was an expression in her green-grey
eyes as if she had just recognized someone she was intimate with and fond
"She is actually waiting there for us!" she said. "Let
us go in to her."
"Dear me!," said Captain Crewe, "I feel as if we ought
to have someone to introduce us."
"You must introduce me and I will introduce you," said Sara.
"But I knew her the minute I saw her-so perhaps she knew me, too."
Perhaps she had known her. She had certainly a very intelligent expression
in her eyes when Sara took her in her arms. She was a large doll, but
not too large to carry about easily; she had naturally curling golden-brown
hair, which hung like a mantle about her, and her eyes were a deep, clear,
grey-blue, with soft, thick eyelashes which were real eyelashes and not
mere painted lines.
"Of course," said Sara, looking into her face as she held her
on her knee-"of course papa, this is Emily."
So Emily was bought and actually taken to a children's outfitter's shop
and measured for a wardrobe as grand as Sara's own. She had lace frocks,
too, and velvet and muslin ones, and hats and coats and beautiful lace-trimmed
underclothes, and gloves and handkerchiefs and furs.
"I should like her always to look as if she was a child with a good
mother," said Sara. "I'm her mother, though I am going to make
a companion of her."
Captain Crewe would really have enjoyed the shopping tremendously, but
that a sad thought kept tugging at his heart. This all meant that he was
going to be separated from his beloved, quaint little comrade.
He got out of his bed in the middle of that night and went and stood looking
down at Sara, who lay asleep with Emily in her arms. Her black hair was
spread out on the pillow and Emily's golden-brown hair mingled with it,
both of them had lace-ruffled nightgowns, and both had long eyelashes
which lay and curled up on their cheeks. Emily looked so like a real child
that Captain Crewe felt glad she was there. He drew a big sigh and pulled
his moustache with a boyish expression.
"Heigh-ho, little Sara!" he said to himself "I don't believe
you know how much your daddy will miss you."
The next day he took her to Miss Minchin's and left her there. He was
to sail the next morning. He explained to Miss Minchin that his solicitors,
Messrs. Barrow & Skipworth, had charge of his affairs in England and
would give her any advice she wanted, and that they would pay the bills
she sent in for Sara's expenses. He would write to Sara twice a week,
and she was to be given every pleasure she asked for.
"She is a sensible little thing, and she never wants anything it
isn't safe to give her," he said.
Then he went with Sara into her little sitting room and they bade each
other good-bye. Sara sat on his knee and held the lapels of his coat in
her small hands, and looked long and hard at his face.
"Are you learning me by heart, little Sara?" he said, stroking
"No," she answered. "I know you by heart. You are inside
my heart." And they put their arms round each other, and kissed as
if they would never let each other go.
When the cab drove away from the door, Sara was sitting on the floor of
her sitting room, with her hands under her chin and her eyes following
it until it had turned the corner of the square. Emily was sitting by
her, and she looked after it, too. When Miss Minchin sent her sister,
Miss Amelia, to see what the child was doing, she found she could not
open the door.
"I have locked it," said a queer, polite little voice from inside.
"I want to be quite by myself, if you please."
Miss Amelia was fat and dumpy, and stood very much in awe of her sister.
She was really the better-natured person of the two, but she never disobeyed
Miss Minchin. She went downstairs again, looking almost alarmed.
"I never saw such a funny, old-fashioned child, sister," she
said. "She has locked herself in, and she is not making the least
particle of noise."
"It is much better than if she kicked and screamed, as some of them
do," Miss Minchin answered. "I expected that a child as much
spoiled as she is would set the whole house in an uproar. If ever a child
was given her own way in everything, she is."
"I've been opening her trunks and putting her things away,"
said Miss Amelia. "I never saw anything like them-sable and ermine
on her coats, and real Valenciennes lace on her underclothing. You have
seen some of her clothes. What do you think of them?"
"I think they are perfectly ridiculous," replied Miss Minchin,
sharply; "but they will look very well at the head of the line when
we take the schoolchildren to church on Sunday. She has been provided
for as if she were a little princess."
And upstairs in the locked room Sara and Emily sat on the floor and stared
at the corner round which the cab had disappeared, while Captain Crewe
looked backward, waving and kissing his hand as if he could not bear to