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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.
"Ermengarde!" cried Sara. She was so startled that she was almost frightened. "You will get into trouble."
Ermengarde stumbled up from her footstool. She shuffled across the attic in her bedroom slippers, which were too large for her. Her eyes and nose were pink with crying.
"I know I shall--if I'm found out." she said. "But I don't care--I don't care a bit. Oh, Sara, please tell me. What is the matter? Why don't you like me any more?"
Something in her voice made the familiar lump rise in Sara's throat. It was so affectionate and simple--so like the old Ermengarde who had asked her to be "best friends." It sounded as if she had not meant what she had seemed to mean during these past weeks.
"I do like you," Sara answered. "I thought--you see, everything is different now. I thought you--were different.
Ermengarde opened her wet eyes wide.
"Why, it was you who were different!" she cried. "You didn't want to talk to me. I didn't know what to do. It was you who were different after I came back."
Sara thought a moment. She saw she had made a mistake.
"I AM different," she explained, "though not in the way you think. Miss Minchin does not want me to talk to the girls. Most of them don't want to talk to me. I thought--perhaps--you didn't. So I tried to keep out of your way."
"Oh, Sara," Ermengarde almost wailed in her reproachful dismay. And then after one more look they rushed into each other's arms. It must be confessed that Sara's small black head lay for some minutes on the shoulder covered by the red shawl. When Ermengarde had seemed to desert her, she had felt horribly lonely.
Afterward they sat down upon the floor together, Sara clasping her knees with her arms, and Ermengarde rolled up in her shawl. Ermengarde looked at the odd, big-eyed little face adoringly.
"I couldn't bear it any more," she said. "I dare say you could live without me, Sara; but I couldn't live without you. I was nearly DEAD. So tonight, when I was crying under the bedclothes, I thought all at once of creeping up here and just begging you to let us be friends again."
"You are nicer than I am," said Sara. "I was too proud to try and make friends. You see, now that trials have come, they have shown that I am NOT a nice child. I was afraid they would. Perhaps"--wrinkling her forehead wisely--"that is what they were sent for."
"I don't see any good in them," said Ermengarde stoutly.
"Neither do I--to speak the truth," admitted Sara, frankly. "But I suppose there MIGHT be good in things, even if we don't see it. There MIGHT"--DOUBTFULLY--"Be good in Miss Minchin."
Ermengarde looked round the attic with a rather fearsome curiosity.
"Sara," she said, "do you think you can bear living here?"
Sara looked round also.
"If I pretend it's quite different, I can," she answered; "or if I pretend it is a place in a story."
She spoke slowly. Her imagination was beginning to work for her. It had not worked for her at all since her troubles had come upon her. She had felt as if it had been stunned.
"Other people have lived in worse places. Think of the Count of Monte Cristo in the dungeons of the Chateau d'If. And think of the people in the Bastille!"
"The Bastille," half whispered Ermengarde, watching her and beginning to be fascinated. She remembered stories of the French Revolution which Sara had been able to fix in her mind by her dramatic relation of them. No one but Sara could have done it.
A well-known glow came into Sara's eyes.
"Yes," she said, hugging her knees, "that will be a good place to pretend about. I am a prisoner in the Bastille. I have been here for years and years--and years; and everybody has forgotten about me. Miss Minchin is the jailer--and Becky"--a sudden light adding itself to the glow in her eyes--"Becky is the prisoner in the next cell."
She turned to Ermengarde, looking quite like the old Sara.
"I shall pretend that," she said; "and it will be a great comfort."
Ermengarde was at once enraptured and awed.
"And will you tell me all about it?" she said. "May I creep up here at night, whenever it is safe, and hear the things you have made up in the day? It will seem as if we were more `best friends' than ever."
"Yes," answered Sara, nodding. "Adversity tries people, and mine has tried you and proved how nice you are."
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A Little Princess -by- Frances Hodgson BurnettBottom Content goes here. Wikipedia content requires these links..... Wikipedia content is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.