When Sara had passed the house next door she had seen Ram Dass closing the shutters, and caught her glimpse of this room also.
"It is a long time since I saw a nice place from the inside," was the thought which crossed her mind.
There was the usual bright fire glowing in the grate, and the Indian gentleman was sitting before it. His head was resting in his hand, and he looked as lonely and unhappy as ever.
"Poor man!" said Sara. "I wonder what you are supposing."
And this was what he was "supposing" at that very moment.
"Suppose," he was thinking, "suppose—even if Carmichael traces the people to Moscow—the little girl they took from Madame Pascal's school in Paris is NOT the one we are in search of. Suppose she proves to be quite a different child. What steps shall I take next?"
When Sara went into the house she met Miss Minchin, who had come downstairs to scold the cook.
"Where have you wasted your time?" she demanded. "You have been out for hours."
"It was so wet and muddy," Sara answered, "it was hard to walk, because my shoes were so bad and slipped about."
"Make no excuses," said Miss Minchin, "and tell no falsehoods."
Sara went in to the cook. The cook had received a severe lecture and was in a fearful temper as a result. She was only too rejoiced to have someone to vent her rage on, and Sara was a convenience, as usual.
"Why didn't you stay all night?" she snapped.
Sara laid her purchases on the table.
"Here are the things," she said.
The cook looked them over, grumbling. She was in a very savage humor indeed.
"May I have something to eat?" Sara asked rather faintly.
"Tea's over and done with," was the answer. "Did you expect me to keep it hot for you?"
Sara stood silent for a second.
"I had no dinner," she said next, and her voice was quite low. She made it low because she was afraid it would tremble.
"There's some bread in the pantry," said the cook. "That's all you'll get at this time of day."
Sara went and found the bread. It was old and hard and dry. The cook was in too vicious a humor to give her anything to eat with it. It was always safe and easy to vent her spite on Sara. Really, it was hard for the child to climb the three long flights of stairs leading to her attic. She often found them long and steep when she was tired; but tonight it seemed as if she would never reach the top. Several times she was obliged to stop to rest. When she reached the top landing she was glad to see the glimmer of a light coming from under her door. That meant that Ermengarde had managed to creep up to pay her a visit. There was some comfort in that. It was better than to go into the room alone and find it empty and desolate. The mere presence of plump, comfortable Ermengarde, wrapped in her red shawl, would warm it a little.
Yes; there Ermengarde was when she opened the door. She was sitting in the middle of the bed, with her feet tucked safely under her. She had never become intimate with Melchisedec and his family, though they rather fascinated her. When she found herself alone in the attic she always preferred to sit on the bed until Sara arrived. She had, in fact, on this occasion had time to become rather nervous, because Melchisedec had appeared and sniffed about a good deal, and once had made her utter a repressed squeal by sitting up on his hind legs and, while he looked at her, sniffing pointedly in her direction.
"Oh, Sara," she cried out, "I am glad you have come. Melchy WOULD sniff about so. I tried to coax him to go back, but he wouldn't for such a long time. I like him, you know; but it does frighten me when he sniffs right at me. Do you think he ever WOULD jump?"
"No," answered Sara.
Ermengarde crawled forward on the bed to look at her.
"You DO look tired, Sara," she said; "you are quite pale."
"I AM tired," said Sara, dropping on to the lopsided footstool. "Oh, there's Melchisedec, poor thing. He's come to ask for his supper."
Melchisedec had come out of his hole as if he had been listening for her footstep. Sara was quite sure he knew it. He came forward with an affectionate, expectant expression as Sara put her hand in her pocket and turned it inside out, shaking her head.
"I'm very sorry," she said. "I haven't one crumb left. Go home, Melchisedec, and tell your wife there was nothing in my pocket. I'm afraid I forgot because the cook and Miss Minchin were so cross."
Melchisedec seemed to understand. He shuffled resignedly, if not contentedly, back to his home.
"I did not expect to see you tonight, Ermie," Sara said. Ermengarde hugged herself in the red shawl.
"Miss Amelia has gone out to spend the night with her old aunt," she explained. "No one else ever comes and looks into the bedrooms after we are in bed. I could stay here until morning if I wanted to."
She pointed toward the table under the skylight. Sara had not looked toward it as she came in. A number of books were piled upon it. Ermengarde's gesture was a dejected one.
"Papa has sent me some more books, Sara," she said. "There they are."
Sara looked round and got up at once. She ran to the table, and picking up the top volume, turned over its leaves quickly. For the moment she forgot her discomforts.
"Ah," she cried out, "how beautiful! Carlyle's French Revolution. I have SO wanted to read that!"
"I haven't," said Ermengarde. "And papa will be so cross if I don't. He'll expect me to know all about it when I go home for the holidays. What SHALL I do?"
Sara stopped turning over the leaves and looked at her with an excited flush on her cheeks.
"Look here," she cried, "if you'll lend me these books, _I'll_ read them—and tell you everything that's in them afterward—and I'll tell it so that you will remember it, too."
"Oh, goodness!" exclaimed Ermengarde. "Do you think you can?"
"I know I can," Sara answered. "The little ones always remember what I tell them."
"Sara," said Ermengarde, hope gleaming in her round face, "if you'll do that, and make me remember, I'll—I'll give you anything."
"I don't want you to give me anything," said Sara. "I want your books—I want them!" And her eyes grew big, and her chest heaved.
"Take them, then," said Ermengarde. "I wish I wanted them—but I don't. I'm not clever, and my father is, and he thinks I ought to be."
Sara was opening one book after the other. "What are you going to tell your father?" she asked, a slight doubt dawning in her mind.
"Oh, he needn't know," answered Ermengarde. "He'll think I've read them."
Sara put down her book and shook her head slowly. "That's almost like telling lies," she said. "And lies—well, you see, they are not only wicked—they're VULGAR. Sometimes"—reflectively—"I've thought perhaps I might do something wicked—I might suddenly fly into a rage and kill Miss Minchin, you know, when she was ill-treating me—but I COULDN'T be vulgar. Why can't you tell your father _I_ read them?"
"He wants me to read them," said Ermengarde, a little discouraged by this unexpected turn of affairs.
"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 it, I should think he would like that."
"He'll like it if I learn anything in ANY way," said rueful Ermengarde. "You would if you were my father."
"It's not your fault that—" began Sara. She pulled herself up and stopped rather suddenly. She had been going to say, "It's not your fault that you are stupid."
"That what?" Ermengarde asked.
"That you can't learn things quickly," amended Sara. "If you can't, you can't. If I can—why, I can; that's all."
She always felt very tender of Ermengarde, and tried not to let her feel too strongly the difference between being able to learn anything at once, and not being able to learn anything at all. As she looked at her plump face, one of her wise, old-fashioned thoughts came to her.
"Perhaps," she said, "to be able to learn things quickly isn't everything. To be kind is worth a great deal to other people. If Miss Minchin knew everything on earth and was like what she is now, she'd still be a detestable thing, and everybody would hate her. Lots of clever people have done harm and have been wicked. Look at Robespierre—"
She stopped and examined Ermengarde's countenance, which was beginning to look bewildered. "Don't you remember?" she demanded. "I told you about him not long ago. I believe you've forgotten."
"Well, I don't rememb...