Frances Hodgson Burnett's plot thickens

Frances Hodgson Burnett began writing stories for Godey's Lady's Book at age 16 and never lost her knack for girlish fantasy. She is best known for ``Little Lord Fauntleroy.'' ``A Little Princess'' (1905), the story of the little rich girl who loses her fortune and is relegated to her boarding school's attic, was recently produced on PBS, and was a 1939 Shirley Temple movie. Here we catch the stalwart Sara Crewe just as the tables turn for the second time.

Then it came about that another wonderful thing happened. A man came to the door and left several parcels. All were addressed in large letters, ``To the Little Girl in the right-hand attic.''

Sara herself was sent to open the door and took them in. She laid the two largest parcels on the hall table, and was looking at the address, when Miss Minchin came down the stairs and saw her.

``Take the things to the young lady to whom they belong,'' she said severely. ``Don't stand there staring at them.''

``They belong to me,'' answered Sara, quietly.

``To you?'' exclaimed Miss Minchin. ``What do you mean?''

``I don't know where they come from,'' said Sara, ``but they are addressed to me. I sleep in the right-hand attic. Becky has the other one.''

Miss Minchin came to her side and looked at the parcels with an excited expression.

``What is in them?'' she demanded.

``I don't know,'' replied Sara.

``Open them,'' she ordered.

Sara did as she was told. When the packages were unfolded Miss Minchin's countenance wore suddenly a singular expression. What she saw was pretty and comfortable clothing - clothing of different kinds: shoes, stockings, and gloves, and a warm and beautiful coat. There were even a nice hat and an umbrella. They were all good and expensive things, and on the pocket of the coat was pinned a paper, on which were written these words: ``To be worn every day. - Will be replaced by others when necessary.''

Miss Minchin was quite agitated. This was an incident which suggested strange things to her sordid mind. Could it be that she had made a mistake, after all, and that the neglected child had some powerful though eccentric friend in the background - perhaps some previously unknown relation, who had suddenly traced her whereabouts, and chose to provide for her in this mysterious and fantastic way? Relations were sometimes very odd - particularly rich old bachelor uncles, who did not care for having children near them. A man of that sort might prefer to overlook his young relation's welfare at a distance. Such a person, however, would be sure to be crotchety and hot-tempered enough to be easily offended. It would not be very pleasant if there were such a one, and he should learn all the truth about the thin, shabby clothes, the scant food, and the hard work. She felt very queer indeed, and very uncertain, and she gave a side glance at Sara.

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