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A little girl named Sara drives through London in a cab with her father, Captain Crewe. They have come to London from India.
Sara's mother died when she was born, and she has been living with her rich father in India. But now it's time for her to get educated at boarding school in London.
They arrive at Miss Minchin's Seminary for Young Ladies, a respectable big house. Sara doesn't like it at all, but she resolves to be brave.
They meet Miss Minchin, who is pretty dull and mean-looking and kisses up to Sara and her rich papa like crazy.
Sara's an astute kid, and she doesn't buy any of it. What she really cares about right now is going out and buying Emily—the doll her father has promised to get her in order for her to have a "friend" after he leaves her.
You'll notice that Sara has already named Emily, even though Emily doesn't yet actually exist.
Sara stays with her dad at his hotel room for a few days, and he buys her lots of fancy and expensive things—including the beloved Emily doll.
After buying her love with lots of material things (kidding, we're kidding), Sara's dad drops her off at Miss Minchin's and tells her that his lawyers will pay for all her bills and upkeep. Sweet!
Sara sits by the window and watches the cab drive off very sadly. But she doesn't cry, because she wants to be brave like a soldier.
This is one of our early clues that Sara is a weird little girl.
Miss Minchin's sister Amelia thinks that Sara is a very strange, old-fashioned child and Miss Minchin thinks that her fancy clothes are absolutely ridiculous.
As Captain Crewe drives off, Sara stares at the corner where he disappeared.