This is one of those few movies that will never, ever fail to make me cry. They reaired it on the CBC recently and I couldn't resist. Therefore: this.
Title from Brandi Carlile's song Josephine. The song doesn't belong to me; the novel and movie of A Little Princess don't, either. I'm just playing.
They're in Paris now, and Sara's sitting by the one window of their hotel suite that overlooks the wide boulevard, watching the play of streetlight and rain over the slick cobblestones. She can hear the music drifting up from below in the dining room, so distinct she can pick out the sleazy sharp melody of the saxophone.
Papa comes in, silhouetted against the muted lamplight, and she smiles at him, untucking her legs from beneath her. There's just a touch of silver at his temples now and his keen eyes are bright from behind a new pair of wire-rimmed reading glasses, but he hugs her as tight as ever and that's all that really matters.
"Where would you like to go tomorrow, Sara?"
"Wherever you'd like to take me, Papa."
The clack of her high heels echoes as she follows Papa hand-in-hand up the dim Daru staircase of the Louvre. It's a hazy hot day, the air heavy and damp and still from last night's rain, and she pushes back a curl escaping from her tight cloche hat as her father tugs her gently to a stop at the top of the stairs. She looks up- up- and her breath catches in her throat at the sight of the Nike and the way the yellow light catches the upward curve of her massive feathered wings, body straining against the pull of the earth.
"It never fails to awe," Papa says softly after a very long moment, breaking the stillness. Sara squeezes his fingers, feeling his wedding ring bite into her palm, and thinks of another time in another place when she had longed to break the bonds that chained her so firmly to the ground.
She knows France isn't the same for Papa as it was when he was young, before the War- not when the offhand mention of a village or a person draws shutters so quickly over his eyes.
At supper that evening Sara catches the eye of the young trumpet player. He gives her a dazzling wide grin as he flips through his sheets of music, and she feels a blush rise hot in her cheeks, her gaze fixing resolutely on the cluster of roses at the centre of the table. Her mother had married Papa when she was as old as Sara is now, but Sara's worlds away from being ready for that particular adventure. She busies herself with her dinner, tossing her bobbed hair with a nervous jangle of the beads around her neck. Papa excuses himself from a conversation with an interesting fellow named Fitzgerald and pushes his chair back.
"Willing to be seen dancing with an old chap like me?" he asks, and Sara seizes his hands eagerly, stepping into the warm circle of his arms.
It's past midnight in Brussels, and Sara's writing a long letter to Becky in the parlour while her father sleeps in the next room. She's detailing their visit to Waterloo (she and Becky had read Vanity Fair together, the year before) when she hears the sick rasping of her father's cough, quickly smothered.
Her pen stills, and she shuts her eyes tightly.
They spend the hottest months of the summer in Italy, and as they make their way through the declining majesties of Rome and Venice and Florence the colour returns a bit to Papa's face and his breathing is easier and Sara is silently thankful.
None of us are left untouched, she thinks, as the gondola lazily winds its way through the Venetian canals, and swats absently at a fly.
"This is where your family's from," Papa says as they climb through the ruins of the castle together. Since they've been in Ireland, the lilt to his voice has been more pronounced than ever, and he seems like a boy as he takes her through the Dublin streets he only just remembers from his childhood. "Well, my side, at any rate," he amends, as he stands on the crumbling ramparts that overlook the sloping lawns that run to the sea. "From very long ago."
Below, Sara scrutinizes the cut of his profile against the purple late-summer twilight. It's hard to reconcile this cool green country with her father- to think that any place but India had a hand in shaping their lives- but then, she knows what a lie it is to think that way.
"Happy, Sara?" Papa asks.
She doesn't answer for a moment, and swings her feet, head cocked to hear the noise and bustle of the traffic outside the relative tranquility of the Kensington Gardens.
"Yes," she says finally.
Her Papa watches the pensive set of her lips, and nudges her, whispering, "Ready to go home?"
"India?" she says, and he nods. She tugs on her gloves, burrowing her chin into the fur collar of her coat against the chill. "No, not yet," she says, and Papa folds his paper under his arm as he stands.
The seminary in New York isn't what it was, before. Sara and Papa stand just outside the courtyard; the girls are happy, and laughing, shuffling through the leaves on the way to service (Sara remembers a grey day just like this one, raking those leaves, and her shiver isn't from the cold). Mr. Randolph has passed on, has been gone for a full year- they had attended the funeral in Maine when the letter came from a grim Ram Dass- but his generous touch remains.
"Pah," Sara says, "winter," and she kicks at the snow that drifts on the sidewalk.
"Where to now?" Papa asks, and Sara tucks her arm in his and leans against his shoulder.
"I've a fancy to see the far East," she says, and she can hear the smile in his voice as he murmurs in agreement. "And the Caribbean. We haven't been there yet."
As long as they're together, she thinks, and they pull together against the bitter wind.