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|A Little Princess||Frances Hodgson Burnett|
|Page 6 of 8||
She scarcely allowed herself to breathe, she was so deeply interested. The rat shuffled a little nearer and ate a few more crumbs, then he stopped and sniffed delicately, giving a side glance at the occupant of the footstool; then he darted at the piece of bun with something very like the sudden boldness of the sparrow, and the instant he had possession of it fled back to the wall, slipped down a crack in the skirting board, and was gone.
"I knew he wanted it for his children," said Sara. "I do believe I could make friends with him."
A week or so afterward, on one of the rare nights when Ermengarde found it safe to steal up to the attic, when she tapped on the door with the tips of her fingers Sara did not come to her for two or three minutes. There was, indeed, such a silence in the room at first that Ermengarde wondered if she could have fallen asleep. Then, to her surprise, she heard her utter a little, low laugh and speak coaxingly to someone.
"There!" Ermengarde heard her say. "Take it and go home, Melchisedec! Go home to your wife!"
Almost immediately Sara opened the door, and when she did so she found Ermengarde standing with alarmed eyes upon the threshold.
"Who--who ARE you talking to, Sara?" she gasped out.
Sara drew her in cautiously, but she looked as if something pleased and amused her.
"You must promise not to be frightened--not to scream the least bit, or I can't tell you," she answered.
Ermengarde felt almost inclined to scream on the spot, but managed to control herself. She looked all round the attic and saw no one. And yet Sara had certainly been speaking TO someone. She thought of ghosts.
"Is it--something that will frighten me?" she asked timorously.
"Some people are afraid of them," said Sara. "I was at first-- but I am not now."
"Was it--a ghost?" quaked Ermengarde.
"No," said Sara, laughing. "It was my rat."
Ermengarde made one bound, and landed in the middle of the little dingy bed. She tucked her feet under her nightgown and the red shawl. She did not scream, but she gasped with fright.
"Oh! Oh!" she cried under her breath. "A rat! A rat!"
"I was afraid you would be frightened," said Sara. "But you needn't be. I am making him tame. He actually knows me and comes out when I call him. Are you too frightened to want to see him?"
The truth was that, as the days had gone on and, with the aid of scraps brought up from the kitchen, her curious friendship had developed, she had gradually forgotten that the timid creature she was becoming familiar with was a mere rat.
At first Ermengarde was too much alarmed to do anything but huddle in a heap upon the bed and tuck up her feet, but the sight of Sara's composed little countenance and the story of Melchisedec's first appearance began at last to rouse her curiosity, and she leaned forward over the edge of the bed and watched Sara go and kneel down by the hole in the skirting board.
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|A Little Princess
Frances Hodgson Burnett
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