The Little Princess is the story of a girl named Sara, who was raised by her loving father. She is sent to live at a school, and the other girls, amazed at her fine clothes and other possessions, look upon her as a princess. After her father dies and all his riches are lost, she is sent to live in the attic of the school, and, instead of being a princess, must act as a servant.
1. That night, when Sara went to her attic, she was later than usual. She had been kept at work until after the hour at which the pupils went to bed, and after that, she had gone to her lessons in the lonely school-room. When she reached the top of the stairs, she was surprised to see a glimmer of light coming from under the attic door.
2. “Nobody goes there but myself,” she thought quickly, “but someone has lighted a candle.”
3. Someone had, indeed, lighted a candle, and it was not burning in the kitchen candlestick she was expected to use, but in one of those belonging to the pupils’ bedrooms. Someone was sitting upon the battered footstool and was dressed in her night-gown and wrapped up in a red shawl. It was Ermengarde.
4. “Ermengarde!” cried Sara, so startled that she was almost frightened, “You will get into trouble.”
5. “I know I shall—if I’m discovered.” she said. “But I don’t care—I don’t care a bit. Oh, Sara, please tell me. What is the matter? Why don’t you like me anymore?”
6. Something in her voice made the familiar lump rise in Sara’s throat; it was so affectionate and simple—so like the old Ermengarde who had asked her to be “best friends.” It sounded as if she had not meant what she had seemed to mean during these past weeks.
7. “I do like you,” Sara answered. “I thought—you see, everything is different now. I thought you—were different.”
8. Ermengarde opened her wet eyes wide.
9. “Why, it was you who were different!” she cried. “You didn’t want to talk to me, and I didn’t know what to do; it was you who were different after I came back.”
10. After considering it for a moment, Sara realized that she had made a mistake.
11. “I am different,” she explained, “Though not in the way you think. Miss Minchin does not want me to talk to the girls, and most of them don’t want to talk to me. I thought—perhaps—you didn’t either, so I tried to keep out of your way.”
12. “Oh, Sara,” Ermengarde almost wailed in her reproachful dismay. And then, after one more look, they rushed into each other’s arms. It must be confessed that Sara’s small blackhead lay for some minutes on the shoulder covered by the red shawl. When Ermengarde had seemed to desert her, she had felt horribly lonely.
13. Afterward, they sat down upon the floor together, Sara clasping her knees with her arms, and Ermengarde rolled up in her shawl. Ermengarde looked at the odd, big-eyed little face adoringly.
14. “I couldn’t bear it anymore,” she said. “I dare say you could live without me, Sara, but I couldn’t live without you. I was nearly dead, so tonight, when I was crying under the bedclothes, I thought all at once of creeping up here and just begging you to let us be friends again.”
15. Ermengarde looked round the attic with a rather fearsome curiosity.
16. “Sara,” she said, “do you think you can bear living here?”
17. Sara looked round also.
18. “If I pretend it’s quite different, I can,” she answered, “or if I pretend it is a place in a story.”
19. She spoke slowly, as her imagination was beginning to work for her. It had not worked for her at all since her troubles had come upon her, and she had felt as if it had been stunned.
20. “Other people have lived in worse places. Think of the Count of Monte Cristo in the dungeons of the Château d ‘If, and of the people in the Bastille!”
21. “The Bastille,” half-whispered Ermengarde, watching Sara and beginning to be fascinated. She remembered stories of the French Revolution, which Sara had been able to fix in her mind by her dramatic relation of them, and which no one but Sara could have done.
22. A well-known glow came into Sara’s eyes.
23. “Yes,” she said, hugging her knees, “that will be a good place to pretend about. I am a prisoner in the Bastille; I have been here for years and years&mdash, and years; and everybody has forgotten about me. Miss Minchin is the jailer—and Becky”—a sudden light adding itself to the glow in her eyes—”Becky is the prisoner in the next cell.”
24. “And will you tell me all about it?” she said. “May I creep up here at night, whenever it is safe, and hear the things you have made up in the day? It will seem as if we were more ‘best friends’ than ever.”
25. “Yes,” answered Sara nodding. “Adversity tries people, and mine has tried you and proved how nice you are.”
The Real Princess
1. There was once a prince, and he wanted a princess, but she must be a real princess. He traveled around the world to find one, but there was always something wrong. There were plenty of princesses, but whether they were real princesses he could not find out; there was always something which was not quite right about them. So, at last, he had to come home again, and he was very sad because he wanted a real princess so badly.
2. One evening, there was a terrible storm; it thundered, and lightened and the rain poured down; indeed, it was a fearful night. In the middle of the storm, somebody knocked at the town gate, and the old King himself went to open it.
3. A woman stood outside, and she was in a terrible state from the rain and the storm. The water streamed out of her hair and her clothes; it ran in at the top of her shoes and out at the heel, but she said that she was a princess.
4. ‘Well, we shall soon see if that is true,’ thought the old Queen, but she said nothing. She went into the bedroom, took everything off the bed, and laid a pea on the bedstead: then she took twenty mattresses and piled them on the top of the pea, and then twenty feather beds on the top of the mattresses. This was where the princess was to sleep that night. In the morning, they asked her how she had slept.
5. ‘Oh, terribly badly!’ said the princess. ‘I have hardly closed my eyes the whole night! Heaven knows what was in bed. I seemed to be lying upon some hard thing, and my whole body is black and blue this morning. It is terrible!’
6. They saw at once that she must be a real princess when she had felt the pea through twenty mattresses and twenty feather beds. Nobody but a real princess could have such delicate skin.
7. So the prince took her to be his wife, for now, he was sure that he had found a real princess, and the pea was put into the museum, where it may still be seen.