Read CHAPTER XXIV - ANNIE TO THE RESCUE of A World of Girls The Story of a School , free online book, by L. T. Meade, on ReadCentral.com.

The picnic-party arrived home late.  The accident to little Nan had not shortened the day’s pleasure, although Mrs. Willis, the moment she heard of it, had come back; for she entered the hall just as the doctor was stepping into his carriage.  He gave her his opinion, and said that he trusted no further mischief, beyond a little temporary excitement, had been caused.  He again, however, spoke of the great necessity of keeping Nan quiet, and said that her schoolfellows must not come to her, and that she must not be excited in any way.  Mrs. Willis came into the great hall where Hester was standing.  Instantly she went up to the young girl, and put her arm around and drew her to her side.

“Darling,” she said, “this is a grievous anxiety for you; no words can express my sorrow and my sympathy; but the doctor is quite hopeful, Hester, and, please God, we shall soon have the little one as well as ever.”

“You are really sorry for me?” said Hester, raising her eyes to the head-mistress’ face.

“Of course, dear; need you ask?”

“Then you will have that wicked Annie Forest punished ­well punished ­well punished.”

“Sometimes, Hester,” said Mrs. Willis, very gravely, “God takes the punishment of our wrongdoings into His own hands.  Annie came home with me.  Had you seen her face as we drove together you would not have asked me to punish her.”

“Unjust, always unjust,” muttered Hester, but in so low a voice that Mrs. Willis did not hear the words.  “Please may I go to little Nan?” she said.

“Certainly, Hester ­some tea shall be sent up to you presently.”

Miss Danesbury arranged to spend that night in Nan’s room.  A sofa bed was brought in for her to lie on, for Mrs. Willis had yielded to Hester’s almost feverish entreaties that she might not be banished from her little sister.  Not a sound reached the room where Nan was lying ­even the girls took off their shoes as they passed the door ­not a whisper came to disturb the sick child.  Little Nan slept most of the evening, only sometimes opening her eyes and looking up drowsily when Miss Danesbury changed the cold application to her head.  At nine o’clock there came a low tap at the room door.  Hester went to open it; one of her schoolfellows stood without.

“The prayer-gong is not to be sounded to-night.  Will you come to the chapel now?  Mrs. Willis sent me to ask.”

Hester shook her head.

“I cannot,” she whispered; “tell her I cannot come.”

“Oh, I am so sorry!” replied the girl; “is Nan very bad?”

“I don’t know; I hope not.  Good-night.”

Hester closed the room door, took off her dress, and began very softly to prepare to get into bed.  She put on her dressing-gown, and knelt down as usual to her private prayers.  When she got on her knees, however, she found it impossible to pray:  her brain felt in a whirl, her feelings were unprayer-like; and with the temporary relief of believing Nan in no immediate danger came such a flood of hatred toward Annie as almost frightened her.  She tried to ask God to make Nan better ­quite well; but even this petition seemed to go no way ­to reach no one ­to fall flat on the empty air.  She rose from her knees, and got quietly into bed.

Nan lay in that half-drowsy and languid state until midnight.  Hester, with all her very slight experience of illness, thought that as long as Nan was quiet she must be getting better; but Miss Danesbury was by no means so sure, and, notwithstanding the doctor’s verdict, she felt anxious about the child.  Hester had said that she could not sleep; but at Miss Danesbury’s special request she got into bed, and before she knew anything about it was in a sound slumber.  At midnight, when all the house was quiet, and Miss Danesbury kept a lonely watch by the sick child’s pillow, there came a marked change for the worse in the little one.  She opened her feverish eyes wide and began to call out piteously; but her cry now was, not for Hester, but for Annie.

“Me want my Annie,” she said over and over, “me do, me do.  No, no; go ’way, naughty Day-bury, me want my Annie; me do want her.”

Miss Danesbury felt puzzled and distressed.  Hester, however, was awakened by the piteous cry, and sat up in bed.

“What is it, Miss Danesbury?” she asked.

“She is very much excited, Hester; she is calling for Annie Forest.”

“Oh, that is quite impossible,” said Hester, a shudder passing through her.  “Annie can’t come here.  The doctor specially said that none of the girls were to come near Nan.”

“Me want Annie; me want my own Annie,” wailed the sick child.

“Give me my dressing-gown, please, Miss Danesbury, and I will go to her,” said Hester.

She sprang out of bed, and approached the little crib.  The brightness of Nan’s feverish eyes was distinctly seen.  She looked up at Hester, who bent over her; then she uttered a sharp cry and covered her little face.

“Go ’way, go ’way, naughty Hetty ­Nan want Annie; Annie sing, Annie p’ay with Nan ­go ’way, go ’way, Hetty.”

Hester’s heart was too full to allow her to speak; but she knelt by the crib and tried to take one of the little hot hands in hers.  Nan, however, pushed her hands away, and now began to cry loudly.

“Annie! ­Annie! ­Annie! me want ’oo; Nan want ’oo ­poor tibby Nan want ’oo, Annie!”

Miss Danesbury touched Hester on her shoulder.

“My dear,” she said, “the child’s wish must be gratified.  Annie has an extraordinary power over children, and under the circumstances I shall take it upon me to disobey the doctor’s directions.  The child must be quieted at all hazards.  Run for Annie, dear ­you know her room.  I had better stay with little Nan, for, though she loves you best, you don’t sooth her at present ­that is often so with a fever case.”

“One moment,” said Hester.  She turned again to the little crib.

“Hetty is going to fetch Annie for Nan.  Will Nan give her own Hetty one kiss?”

Instantly the little arms were flung round Hester’s neck.

“Me like ’oo now, dood Hetty.  Go for Annie, dood Hetty.”

Instantly Hester ran out of the room.  She flew quickly down the long passage, and did not know what a strange little figure she made as the moon from a large window at one end fell full upon her.  So eerie, so ghost-like was her appearance as she flew noiselessly with her bare feet along the passage that some one ­Hester did not know whom ­gave a stifled cry.  The cry seemed to come from a good way off, and Hester was too preoccupied to notice it.  She darted into the room where Susan Drummond and Annie Forest slept.

“Annie, you are to come to Nan,” she said in a sharp high-pitched voice which she scarcely recognized as her own.

“Coming,” said Annie, and she walked instantly to the door with her dress on and stood in the moonlight.

“You are dressed!” said Hester in astonishment.

“I could not undress ­I lay down as I was.  I fancied I heard Nan’s voice calling me.  I guessed I should be sent for.”

“Well, come now,” said Hester in her hardest tones.  “You were only sent for because Nan must be quieted at any risk.  Come and see if you can quiet her.  I don’t suppose,” with a bitter laugh “that you will succeed.”

“I think so,” replied Annie, in a very soft and gentle tone.

She walked back by Hester’s side and entered the sick-room.  She walked straight up to the little cot and knelt down by Nan, and said, in that strangely melodious voice of hers: 

“Little darling, Annie has come.”

“Me like ’oo,” said Nan with a satisfied coo in her voice, and she turned round on her side with her back to Miss Danesbury and Hester and her eyes fixed on Annie.

“Sing ‘Four-and-twenty,’ Annie; sing ‘Four-and-twenty,’” she said presently.

“Four-and-twenty blackbirds baked in a pie,” sang Annie in a low clear voice, without a moment’s hesitation.  She went through the old nursery rhyme once ­twice.  Then Nan interrupted her fretfully: 

“Me don’t want dat ’dain; sing ‘Boy Blue,’ Annie.”

Annie sang.

“‘Tree Little Kittens,’ Annie,” interrupted the little voice presently.

For more than two hours Annie knelt by the child, singing nursery rhyme after nursery rhyme, while the bright beautiful eyes were fixed on her face, and the little voice said incessantly: 

“Sing, Annie ­sing.”

“Baby Bun, now,” said Nan, when Annie had come almost to the end of her selection.

“Bye baby bunting,
Daddy’s gone a hunting ­
He’s gone to fetch a rabbit-skin,
To place the baby bunting in.”

Over and over and over did Annie sing the words.  Whenever, even for a brief moment she paused, Nan said: 

“Sing, Annie ­sing ‘Baby Bun.’”

And all the time the eyes remained wide open, and the little hands were burning hot; but, gradually, after more than two hours of constant singing, Annie began to fancy that the burning skin was cooler.  Then ­could she believe it? ­she saw the lids droop over the wide-open eyes.  Five minutes later, to the tune of “Baby Bunting,” Nan had fallen into a deep and sound sleep.