A Little Princess and all its characters were created by Frances Hodgeson Burnett, who accomplished possibly the most miraculous feat in the history of literature: she created, in her Sara Crewe and Ceddie Errol, the respective poster children for Mary-Sue and Gary-Stu, and still managed to make them engaging to the reader.
I am passionately fond of Burnett's works, and have never seen a film version of any that does it justice. However, the 1995 production of A Little Princess remains a guilty favorite. It stretches the limits of suspension-of-disbelief, alters Sara beyond recognition, and completely misses the point of the original story with its silly modern self-esteem-stroking "all-girls-are-princesses" interpretation. It is contrived, saccharine, and banks too much on the cuteness of its young stars.
But it's just so darn aesthetic. I forgive much for the sake of an artistically beautiful film, and besides Liesel Matthews herself was such a gorgeous kid. Even though I know I'm being manipulated, I still get emotional at the reunion scene.
So here's my little internal interpretation of that. It's less a true fic than a novelized form of this scene of the film, I guess. I wrote it not to add anything to the story but just to have fun playing with language. Hope you enjoy.
"Strange to have your heart remember something your mind cannot."
He is tired, tired of convalescence, his soldier's mind chafing under the weight of inactivity. His body is weak yet, but his senses are sharp – or perhaps it is only that four of them seem heightened for the loss of one. Beneath linen bandages his eyes ache wearily.
They tell him his vision will return to normal in time. Time. The concept rankles at him these days…he can measure each motion of the second hand, crawling by in endless monotony as he wracks his brain for some small distraction that does not come. The clock, he has learned by asking, stands in the corner of his room. He has never before been aware of how loudly a clock ticks. If Sahib wishes, it shall be removed, if it disturbs him. No. Somehow he prefers it, an anchoring rhythm, to the still void of silence.
Sahib. That word. It rolls through the mouth like a sip of spiced wine, strangely familiar. It intrigues him; it frustrates him; it is a key with no lock, always spoken by a voice rich and dark, and accompanied by a musky aura of incense. It attends him tirelessly, with a quiet patience that somehow he recognized as foreign, even before it spoke the two exotic syllables of its name. I am called Ram Dass. The velvet baritone of the voice soothes him often, speaking to him of things that are small and familiar, smoothing out the ragged minutes into satin hours.
But he thinks not in terms of passing minutes but of passing questions, each of which is so heavy that he cannot hold it long. They drop through his mind like stones into the ocean, ringing the surface briefly before drifting into vast and fathomless depths. Questions without answers, or none that he can remember. No faces, no names swim to the surface. Not even his own.
He knows he is in America; New York, to be exact. He is sure he has never been here before, yet somehow the name holds a heavy significance, one that slips away, like a shining fish, just when he seems about to pin it down.
He knows he was found half-dead on a battlefield in France, without identification. Some cruel joke of the gods had brought a hopeful old gentleman to his bedside, and now he convalesces in the old man's home, though he is not the son that Randolph had hoped to find. So much he has been told, and guilt and pride gnaw at him like a canker. To be both the dashing of a father's hopes and the object of his charity is a burden at war with his gratitude.
He sleeps fitfully, wrestling with dreams in which he seems always to be searching for something. Through war-torn trenches thick with noxious fumes and dying men; through sun-dappled stone corridors with trellised walls hung with jasmine, through dusty streets where dark-faced men shout in a strange language, he stumbles, half-blinded, always sure that the thing he seeks is just before him, ever just beyond his sight. Once, he hears an echo of childish laughter, glimpses a white-lace flash at the hem of a girl's frock, and cries out in his sleep. But when he wakes, he remembers only the same frustrated emptiness that characterizes every waking moment.
Enough. It has been three days, and his fretful nerves will let him rest no longer. His window has been left open and the room is cold; the air heavy and pregnant with impending rain. Thunder growls, menacing, in the distance; closer, a child wails, a shrill, despairing sound. He must have light. He suddenly craves it desperately.
Alone in the room, he sits up in bed, plucking nervously at the sheets before flinging them away. Cold air pricks at his legs, and he swings them over the edge of the bed, quickly, before he can lose his nerve. His head spins; he sits for a moment, waiting for the dizziness to clear; he is soldier enough to recognize it as the result of being too long supine, rather than a symptom of continuing illness.
The bed has posts; he grasps one, pulls himself unsteadily to his feet and sways a little, breathing hard. The child's voice has not ceased to shriek; the sound fills him with such distress that he interrupts his intent toward his bandages and instead gropes his way across the room, where the sound emanates from his open window. His hands find the wide casements, swing in an arc against the pressure of the cool outside air, and the child's anxious cries cease with the click of a window latch. Feeling vaguely guilty, he turns his back on it, and reaches for the bandages.