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|A Little Princess||Frances Hodgson Burnett|
In the Attic
|Page 5 of 7||
"Oh," she stammered. "How--how are you?"
"I don't know," Sara replied. "How are you?"
"I'm--I'm quite well," said Ermengarde, overwhelmed with shyness. Then spasmodically she thought of something to say which seemed more intimate. "Are you--are you very unhappy?" she said in a rush.
Then Sara was guilty of an injustice. Just at that moment her torn heart swelled within her, and she felt that if anyone was as stupid as that, one had better get away from her.
"What do you think?" she said. "Do you think I am very happy?" And she marched past her without another word.
In course of time she realized that if her wretchedness had not made her forget things, she would have known that poor, dull Ermengarde was not to be blamed for her unready, awkward ways. She was always awkward, and the more she felt, the more stupid she was given to being.
But the sudden thought which had flashed upon her had made her over-sensitive.
"She is like the others," she had thought. "She does not really want to talk to me. She knows no one does."
So for several weeks a barrier stood between them. When they met by chance Sara looked the other way, and Ermengarde felt too stiff and embarrassed to speak. Sometimes they nodded to each other in passing, but there were times when they did not even exchange a greeting.
"If she would rather not talk to me," Sara thought, "I will keep out of her way. Miss Minchin makes that easy enough."
Miss Minchin made it so easy that at last they scarcely saw each other at all. At that time it was noticed that Ermengarde was more stupid than ever, and that she looked listless and unhappy. She used to sit in the window-seat, huddled in a heap, and stare out of the window without speaking. Once Jessie, who was passing, stopped to look at her curiously.
"What are you crying for, Ermengarde?" she asked.
"I'm not crying," answered Ermengarde, in a muffled, unsteady voice.
"You are," said Jessie. "A great big tear just rolled down the bridge of your nose and dropped off at the end of it. And there goes another."
"Well," said Ermengarde, "I'm miserable--and no one need interfere." And she turned her plump back and took out her handkerchief and boldly hid her face in it.
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 schoolroom. When she reached the top of the stairs, she was surprised to see a glimmer of light coming from under the attic door.
"Nobody goes there but myself," she thought quickly, "but someone has lighted a candle."
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. The someone was sitting upon the battered footstool, and was dressed in her nightgown and wrapped up in a red shawl. It was Ermengarde.
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|A Little Princess
Frances Hodgson Burnett
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