Author: Frances Hodgson Burnett
Illustrator: Ethel Franklin Betts
Retold by Molly Hoang
Chapter one: A very good little girl
Once on a very dark winter’s day, a little girl sat with her father in a London cab (1). Although very young, she looked quite mature with her green eyes and thick black hair. Her name was Sara Crewe. She was on her way to Ms. Minchin’s boarding school.
Sara Crewe grew up under the blazing(2) Indian sun. Her father was a rich English captain who loved her and granted her every wish. Sara’s mother died when she was a baby, so she could not remember anything about her. She was very close with her father, though. They read books together, played together, and laughed together. Sarah loved him a lot, and she was always happy when he was around.
Sara also loved India, with its Asian mystique(3), and was very sad to leave the country to go to school in England. But most of all, Sarah did not want to leave her father.
“You will only stay here for a short while, and time passes very quickly. Besides, school is a nice place. I will send you your favorite books, and you will also have other little girls to play with,” said Captain Crewe to comfort his daughter.
“Yes papa”, replied Sara, “I don’t know about little girls, but if I have my books, I think I shall be all right.”
Indeed, Sara was very fond(4) of her books. And she could read big, grown-ups’ books about history, geography and other serious subjects.
To make her happy, Captain Crewe also gave Sara a doll called Emily as a parting gift.
“Tell all your troubles to Emily like you did to me. Be brave, my girl. Proud soldiers don’t complain,” said he.
So when Captain Crewe left her at the school, Sara was very sad. But she did not cry. For she was determined to be a brave little girl.
Miss Minchin, the schoolmistress, was a stiff(5) and cold woman. However, she tried her best to make Sarah comfortable at the school. Sara was to have anything she asked for, and Captain Crewe would pay for it.
At school Sara quickly became quite popular with both teachers and students. She was rich and had lots of pretty toys and clothes. Though not very pretty, she was very clever, and could speak French fluently. Miss Minchin chose Sara as her show pupil, although she secretly felt uneasy(6) because Sara was too smart. Most students were friendly to her, for she was lively and imaginative. She could tell wonderful stories about princesses, mermaids, and dolls that could walk and play. Also, she was not bossy or spiteful(7), but modest and kind.
Though she was good to everyone, Sara had two close friends, called Ermengarde and Lottie.
Ermengarde was the same age as Sara, though she was a very different sort of child. She was the black sheep(8) of the school, being fat and rather stupid. She also lacked confidence in herself, because everyone always made fun of her. Yet Sara looked pass all this and grew fond of Ermengarde – in fact, Ermengarde was the first schoolmate Sara talked to. All the following evenings they would play with each other in Sara’s sitting room. In no time at all, Sara and Ermengarde became best friends.
Lottie was only four years old when Sara first met her. She was the baby of the school, and a spoiled(9) little child. She would cry and scream when anything made her unhappy. Everyone was tired of her, and would give her all she wanted. But not Sara. One day, she found that Lottie was crying very hard, and Miss Minchin did not know what to do. So she offered to help, thinking she could calm Lottie down.
Sara did not beg Lottie to stop crying, or try to frighten her as most people would do. She just sat there and looked straight into Lottie’s eyes until the child was so confused, she stopped. Then, Sara gently said:
“Why are you crying?”
“Because I don’t have a mama,” said Lottie.
This was the truth. Lottie’s mama died when she was very young.
“Neither do I,” replied Sara.
“Where is your mama?” asked the surprised Lottie.
“She is in heaven, just like yours”
And Sara described heaven to the little girl. She talked about beautiful flower gardens, golden waterfalls and angels in white. Lottie was soon very interested and listened carefully. She felt comforted by Sara’s stories. At the end of the day, she begged Sara to be her adopted sister.
In time, although she still missed her father, Sara became quite happy at school with her two best friends.
That didn’t mean school was always easy for her, though. Some students were jealous of Sara, and the most envious of them was Lavinia. Lavinia was some years older than Sara. Long ago, she was the most popular child in the school. But when Sara came everyone loved Sara, so Lavinia was not happy. She would make fun of Sara and whisper behind her back. “Sara is so vain(10), she fancies herself a princess,” she would say. But nobody listened to her.
In fact, Sara did pretend to be a princess, but not because she was vain. She just thought being a princess meant she would try to always be gentle and kind to others.
Sara wrote often to her dear papa. One day when she was about ten, her fathers’ letter brought fascinating news: Captain Crewe and his partner were working on a diamond mine. If everything turned out all right, Sarah would become even richer than she already was.
But she did not care much for riches. Sara was mostly interested because diamond mines seemed very romantic. She would make up stories about them, and tell it to her friend.
One day, when Sara was telling such a story, Lavinia suddenly interrupted and said,
“Oh, diamond mines, Your Royal Highness! How wonderful!”
Sara was angry, because she was shy about her princess fantasy. She felt like slapping Lavinia. But then princesses did not slap other people. So she forced herself to speak calmly.
“It’s true”, she said. “Sometimes I pretend I am a princess. I try to behave like one, and be kind to others. You should try that sometimes.”
“Hmmpf!”said Lavinia, and stomped out of the room, “I wonder if you could still pretend to be a mighty princess if you were a beggar,”
Time certainly flew by very quickly. Sara was growing fast, and before she knew it, she was nearly eleven.
Sara’s papa promised her that he would throw her such a big birthday party that all the girls in Miss Michin’s school would never forget it. He asked Sara what present she would like for her eleventh birthday.
“I think I shall have one last doll,”she wrote back.
At last the big day came. The school rooms were all decorated with flowers and ribbons. The students of Miss Minchin’s school put their best dresses on. The young girls asked leave to touch Sara’s beautiful new doll, while the older ones marvelled at it from a distance. When they tired of the doll, they ran about playing with balloons. Everyone was happy.
Of course Sara was the happiest of them all. She looked very pretty in her pink new dress, with her black hair parted and arranged in the latest fashion. She also received lots of presents from friends and teachers. But those things did not make her happy. Sara was delighted because all the other girls were enjoying themselves. Even the servants joined in the festivity.
Laughter rang out from every corner. Everyone danced and sang merrily.
But suddenly, amidst all the merriment, a voice rang, loud and clear,
“Stop this silly party at once! Girls, you are to return to your lessons right now. And Miss Crew, put on a black dress and go to my office at once. Captain Crewe is dead,”
It was the voice of the headmistress, Miss Minchin.
1/cab : taxi
2 blazing : burning
3/mystique : mysterious things that are not well understood
4/(to be) fond (of) : like
5/stiff : hard, cold, unfeeling
6/uneasy : nervous, uncomfortable
7/spiteful : easily angered, mean
8/black sheep : someone who does not fit in and is considered an embarrassment
9/spoiled : a spoiled child is spiteful because he/she has always been given everything he/she wants
10/vain : over-confident and usually looks down on others