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|Sara Crewe||Frances Hodgson Burnett|
|Page 7 of 28||
"What is the matter with you?" she asked her, perhaps rather disdainfully.
And it is just possible she would not have spoken to her, if she had not seen the books. The sight of books always gave Sara a hungry feeling, and she could not help drawing near to them if only to read their titles.
"What is the matter with you?" she asked.
"My papa has sent me some more books," answered Ermengarde woefully, "and he expects me to read them."
"Don't you like reading?" said Sara.
"I hate it!" replied Miss Ermengarde St. John. "And he will ask me questions when he sees me: he will want to know how much I remember; how would you like to have to read all those?"
"I'd like it better than anything else in the world," said Sara.
Ermengarde wiped her eyes to look at such a prodigy.
"Oh, gracious!" she exclaimed.
Sara returned the look with interest. A sudden plan formed itself in her sharp mind.
"Look here!" she said. "If you'll lend me those books, I'll read them and tell you everything that's in them afterward, and I'll tell it to you so that you will remember it. I know I can. The A B C children always remember what I tell them."
"Oh, goodness!" said Ermengarde. "Do you think you could?"
"I know I could," answered Sara. "I like to read, and I always remember. I'll take care of the books, too; they will look just as new as they do now, when I give them back to you."
Ermengarde put her handkerchief in her pocket.
"If you'll do that," she said, "and if you'll make me remember, I'll give you--I'll give you some money."
"I don't want your money," said Sara. "I want your books--I want them." And her eyes grew big and queer, and her chest heaved once.
"Take them, then," said Ermengarde; "I wish I wanted them, but I am not clever, and my father is, and he thinks I ought to be."
Sara picked up the books and marched off with them. But when she was at the door, she stopped and turned around.
"What are you going to tell your father?" she asked.
"Oh," said Ermengarde, "he needn't know; he'll think I've read them."
Sara looked down at the books; her heart really began to beat fast.
"I won't do it," she said rather slowly, "if you are going to tell him lies about it--I don't like lies. Why can't you tell him I read them and then told you about them?"
"But he wants me to read them," said Ermengarde.
"He wants you to know what is in them," said Sara; and if I can tell it to you in an easy way and make you remember, I should think he would like that."
"He would like it better if I read them myself," replied Ermengarde.
"He will like it, I dare say, if you learn anything in any way," said Sara. "I should, if I were your father."
And though this was not a flattering way of stating the case, Ermengarde was obliged to admit it was true, and, after a little more argument, gave in. And so she used afterward always to hand over her books to Sara, and Sara would carry them to her garret and devour them; and after she had read each volume, she would return it and tell Ermengarde about it in a way of her own. She had a gift for making things interesting. Her imagination helped her to make everything rather like a story, and she managed this matter so well that Miss St. John gained more information from her books than she would have gained if she had read them three times over by her poor stupid little self. When Sara sat down by her and began to tell some story of travel or history, she made the travellers and historical people seem real; and Ermengarde used to sit and regard her dramatic gesticulations, her thin little flushed cheeks, and her shining, odd eyes with amazement.
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