The RedeemerHarry Hole investigates a mistaken assassination
Frances Hodgson Burnett
Born in England in 1849, children’s fiction writer Frances Hodgson Burnett, most famous for her classic novel The Secret Garden, began life in a prosperous household that declined upon the death of her father. The family moved to America, where, to assist with their diminished finances Frances Hodgson Burnett began writing fiction books for children that she sold for publication. The writer married Dr. Swann Burnett in 1873, and it was not long after that that Frances Hodgson Burnett’s fiction books for children were bringing in a regular income; no small feat considering many women writers of her age, including Louisa May Alcott, used pseudonyms or published anonymously until they gained respect. Few may know that the first of Hodgson Burnett’s bestselling books, Little Lord Fauntleroy, was inspired by her sons who as children she dressed in velvet and kept their hair long. When her eldest died of consumption, she succumbed to depression, divorced her husband eight years later and returned to England where, ensconced at her country home, found the inspiration for still one of the most famous fiction books for children today, The Secret Garden. Her second marriage to a man 10 years her junior also ended in divorce, but Hodgson Burnett’s career writing children’s fiction books, among them A Little Princess, based on a stage play of her novel, SaraCrewe, continued until her death on Long Island, New York, where she lived the last 17 years of her life.
The Secret Garden
Chapter One: There Is No One Left
When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle, everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen. It was true, too. She had a little thin face and a little thin body, thin light hair and a sour expression. Her hair was yellow, and her face was yellow because she had been born in India and had always been ill in one way or another. Her father had held a position under the English Government and had always been busy and ill himself, and her mother had been a great beauty who cared only to go to parties and amuse herself with gay people. She had not wanted a little girl at all, and when Mary was born she handed her over to the care of an Ayah, who was made to understand that if she wished to please the Memsahib she must keep the child out of sight as much as possible. So when she was a sickly, fretful, ugly little baby she was kept out of the way, and when she became a sickly, fretful, toddling thing she was kept out of the way also. She never remembered seeing familiarly anything but the dark faces of her Ayah and the other native servants, and as they always obeyed her and gave her her own way in everything, because the Memsahib would be angry if she was disturbed by her crying, by the time she was six years old she was as tyrannical and selfish a little pig as ever lived. The young English governess who came to teach her to read and write disliked her so much that she gave up her place in three months, and when other governesses came to try to fill it they always went away in a shorter time than the first one. So if Mary had not chosen really to want to know how to read books, she would never have learned her letters at all.
One frightfully hot morning, when she was about nine years old, she awakened feeling very cross, and she became crosser still when she saw that the servant who stood by her bedside was not her Ayah.
“Why did you come?” she said to the strange woman. “I will not let you stay. Send my Ayah to me.”
The woman looked frightened, but she only stammered that the Ayah could not come, and when Mary throw herself into a passion and beat and kicked her, she looked only more frightened and repeated that it was not possible for the Ayah to come to Missie Sahib.
There was something mysterious in the air that morning. Nothing was done in its regular order and several of the native servants seemed missing, while those whom Mary saw slunk or hurried about with ashy and scared faces. But no one would tell her anything, and her Ayah did not come. She was actually left alone as the morning went on, and at last wandered out into the garden and began to play by herself under a tree near the veranda.
First Children’s Book-of-the-Month Club Printing: July 2010
A Little Princess
Once on a dark winter’s day, when the yellow fog hung so think and heavy in the streets of London that the lamps were lighted and the shop windows blazed with gas as they do at night, an odd-looking little girl sat in a cab with her father, and was driven rather slowly through the big thoroughfares.
She sat with her feet tucked under her, and leaned against her father, who held her in his arm, as she stared out of the window at the passing people with a queer old-fashioned thoughtfulness in her big eyes.
She was such a little girl that one did not expect to see such a look on her small face. It would have been an old look for a child of twelve, and Sara Crewe was only seven. The fact was, however, that she was always dreaming and thinking odd things, and could not herself remember any time when she had not been thinking things about grown-up people and the world they belonged to. She felt as if she had lived a long, long time.
At this moment she was remembering the voyage she had just made from Bombay with her father, Captain Crewe. She was thinking of the big ship, of the children playing about on the hot deck, and of some young officers’ wives who used to try to make her talk to them and laugh at the things she said.
Principally, she was thinking of what a queer thing it was that at one time one was in India in the blazing sun, and then in the middle of the ocean, and then driving in a strange vehicle through strange streets where the day was as dark as the night. She found this so puzzling that she moved closer to her father.
“Papa,” she said in a low, mysterious little voice which was almost a whisper, “papa?”
“What is it, darling?” Captain Crewe answered, holding her closer and looking down into her face.
“Is this the place?” Sara whispered, cuddling still closer to him. “Is it, papa?”
“Ye, little Sara, it is. We have reached it at last.” And though she was only seven years old, she knew that he felt sad when he said it.
It seemed to her many years since he had begun to prepare her mind for “the place,” as she always called it. Her mother had died when she was born, so she had never known or missed her. Her young, handsome, rich, petting father seemed to be the only relation she had in the world. They had always played together and been fond of each other. She only knew he was rich because she had heard people say so when they thought she was not listening, and she had also heard them say that when she grew up she would be rich too. She did not know all that being rich meant. She had always lived in a beautiful bungalow, and had been used to seeing many servants who made salaams to her and called her “Missee Sahib,” and gave her her own way in everything. She had had toys and pets and an ayah who worshipped her, and she had gradually learned that people who were rich had these things. That, however, was all she knew about it.
During her short life only one thing had troubled her, and that thing was “the place.”
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