Once on a dark winter’s day, when the yellow fog hung so thick andheavy in the streets of London that the lamps were lighted and the shopwindows blazed with gas as they do at night, an odd-looking little girlsat in a cab with her father and was driven rather slowly through thebig 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 passingpeople 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 lookon her small face. It would have been an old look for a child oftwelve, and Sara Crewe was only seven. The fact was, however, that shewas always dreaming and thinking odd things and could not herselfremember any time when she had not been thinking things about grown-uppeople and the world they belonged to. She felt as if she had lived along, long time.
At this moment she was remembering the voyage she had just made fromBombay with her father, Captain Crewe. She was thinking of the bigship, of the Lascars passing silently to and fro on it, of the childrenplaying about on the hot deck, and of some young officers’ wives whoused 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 onetime one was in India in the blazing sun, and then in the middle of theocean, and then driving in a strange vehicle through strange streetswhere the day was as dark as the night. She found this so puzzlingthat she moved closer to her father.
“Papa,” she said in a low, mysterious little voice which was almost awhisper, “papa.”
“What is it, darling?” Captain Crewe answered, holding her closer andlooking down into her face. “What is Sara thinking of?”
“Is this the place?” Sara whispered, cuddling still closer to him. “Isit, papa?”
“Yes, little Sara, it is. We have reached it at last.” And though shewas 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 wasborn, 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 onlyknew he was rich because she had heard people say so when they thoughtshe was not listening, and she had also heard them say that when shegrew up she would be rich, too. She did not know all that being richmeant. She had always lived in a beautiful bungalow, and had been usedto seeing many servants who made salaams to her and called her “MisseeSahib,” and gave her her own way in everything. She had had toys andpets and an ayah who worshipped her, and she had gradually learned thatpeople who were rich had these things. That, however, was all she knewabout it.
During her short life only one thing had troubled her, and that thingwas “the place” she was to be taken to some day. The climate of Indiawas very bad for children, and as soon as possible they were sent awayfrom it — generally to England and to school. She had seen otherchildren go away, and had heard their fathers and mothers talk aboutthe letters they received from them. She had known that she would beobliged to go also, and though sometimes her father’s stories of thevoyage and the new country had attracted her, she had been troubled bythe thought that he could not stay with her.
“Couldn’t you go to that place with me, papa?” she had asked when shewas five years old. “Couldn’t you go to school, too? I would help youwith your lessons.”
“But you will not have to stay for a very long time, little Sara,” hehad always said. “You will go to a nice house where there will be alot of little girls, and you will play together, and I will send youplenty of books, and you will grow so fast that it will seem scarcely ayear before you are big enough and clever enough to come back and takecare of papa.”
She had liked to think of that. To keep the house for her father; toride with him, and sit at the head of his table when he had dinnerparties; to talk to him and read his books — that would be what shewould like most in the world, and if one must go away to “the place” inEngland to attain it, she must make up her mind to go. She did not carevery much for other little girls, but if she had plenty of books shecould console herself. She liked books more than anything else, andwas, in fact, always inventing stories of beautiful things and tellingthem to herself. Sometimes she had told them to her father, and he hadliked them as much as she did.
“Well, papa,” she said softly, “if we are here I suppose we must beresigned.”