Read CHAPTER XXV - A SPOILED BABY of A World of Girls The Story of a School , free online book, by L. T. Meade, on ReadCentral.com.

In the morning Nan was better, and although for days she was in a very precarious state, and had to be kept as quiet as possible, yet Miss Danesbury’s great dread that fever would set in had passed away.  The doctor said, however, that Nan had barely escaped real injury to her brain, and that it would be many a day before she would romp again, and play freely and noisily with the other children.  Nan had chosen her own nurse, and, with the imperiousness of all babies ­to say nothing of sick babies ­she had her way.  From morning till night Annie remained with her, and when the doctor saw how Annie alone could soothe and satisfy the child he would not allow it to be otherwise.  At first Nan would lie with her hand in Annie’s, and her little cry of “sing, Annie,” going on from time to time; but as she grew better Annie would sit with her by the open window, with her head pillowed on her breast, and her arm round the little slender form, and Nan would smile and look adoringly at Annie, who would often return her gaze with intense sadness, and an indescribable something in her face which caused the little one to stroke her cheek tenderly, and say in her sweet baby voice: 

“Poor Annie; poor tibby Annie!”

They made a pretty picture as they sat there.  Annie, with her charming gypsy face, her wild luxuriant, curly hair, all the sauciness and unrest in her soothed by the magic of the little child’s presence; and the little child herself, with her faint, wild-rose color, her dark, deep eyes, clear as summer pools, and her sunshiny golden hair.  But pretty as the picture was Hester loathed it, for Hester thought during these wretched days that her heart would break.

Not that Nan turned away from Hetty; she petted her and kissed her, and sometimes put an arm round Hetty and and an arm round Annie, as though, if she could, she would draw them together; but any one could see that her heart of hearts was given to Annie, and that Hester ranked second in her love.  Hester would not for worlds express any of her bitter feelings before Annie; nay, as the doctor and Miss Danesbury both declared that, however culpable Annie might have been in causing the accident, she had saved little Nan’s life by her wonderful skill in soothing her to sleep on the first night of her illness, Hester had felt obliged to grumble something which might have been taken for “thanks.”

Annie, in reply to this grumble, had bestowed upon Hester one of her quickest, brightest glances, for she fathomed the true state of Hester’s heart toward her well enough.

These were very bad days for poor Hester, and but for the avidity with which she threw herself into her studies she could scarcely have borne them.

By slow degrees Nan got better; she was allowed to come down stairs and to sit in Annie’s arms in the garden, and then Mrs. Willis interfered, and said that Annie must go back to her studies, and only devote her usual play hours and half-holidays to Nan’s service.

This mandate, however, produced woe and tribulation.  The spoiled child screamed and beat her little hands, and worked herself up into such a pitch of excitement that that night she found her way in her sleep to Annie’s room, and Annie had to quiet her by taking her into her bed.  In the morning the doctor had to be sent for, and he instantly prescribed a day or two more of Annie’s company for the child.

Mrs. Willis felt dreadfully puzzled.  She had undertaken the charge of the little one; her father was already far away, so it was impossible now to make any change of plans; the child was ill ­had been injured by an accident caused by Annie’s carelessness and by Hester’s want of self-control.  But weak and ill as Nan still was, Mrs. Willis felt that an undue amount of spoiling was good for no one.  She thought it highly unjust to Annie to keep her from her school employments at this most important period of the year.  If Annie did not reach a certain degree of excellence in her school marks she could not be promoted in her class.  Mrs. Willis did not expect the wild and heedless girl to carry off any special prizes; but her abilities were quite up to the average, and she always hoped to rouse sufficient ambition in her to enable her to acquire a good and sound education.  Mrs. Willis knew how necessary this was for poor Annie’s future, and, after giving the doctor an assurance that Nan’s whims and pleasures should be attended to for the next two or three days, she determined at the end of that time to assert her own authority with the child, and to insist on Annie working hard at her lessons, and returning to her usual school-room life.

On the morning of the third day Mrs. Willis made inquiries, heard that Nan had spent an excellent night, eaten a hearty breakfast, and was altogether looking blooming.  When the girls assembled in the school-room for their lessons, Annie brought her little charge down to the large play-room, where they established themselves cozily, and Annie began to instruct little Nan in the mysteries of

“Tic, tac, too,
The little horse has lost his shoe.”

Nan was entering into the spirit of the game, was imagining herself a little horse, and was holding out her small foot to be shod, when Mrs. Willis entered the room.

“Come with me, Nan,” she said; “I have got something to show you.”

Nan got up instantly, held out one hand to Mrs. Willis and the other to Annie, and said, in her confident baby tones: 

“Me tum; Annie tumming too.”

Mrs. Willis said nothing, but holding the little hand, and accompanied by Annie, she went out of the play-room, across the stone hall, and through the baize doors until she reached her own delightful private sitting-room.

There were heaps of pretty things about, and Nan gazed round her with the appreciative glance of a pleased connoisseur.

“Pitty ’oom,” she said approvingly.  “Nan likes this ’oom.  Me’ll stay here, and so will Annie.”

Here she uttered a sudden cry of rapture ­on the floor, with its leaves temptingly open, lay a gaily-painted picture-book, and curled up in a soft fluffy ball by its side was a white Persian kitten asleep.

Mrs. Willis whispered something to Annie, who ran out of the room, and Nan knelt down in a perfect rapture of worship by the kitten’s side.

“Pitty tibby pussy!” she exclaimed several times, and she rubbed it so persistently the wrong way that the kitten shivered and stood up, arched its back very high, yawned, turned round three times, and lay down again, Alas! “tibby pussy” was not allowed to have any continuous slumber.  Nan dragged the Persian by its tail into her lap, and when it resisted this indignity, and with two or three light bounds disappeared out of the room, she stretched out her little hands and began to cry for it.

“Tum back, puss, puss ­tum back, poor tibby puss ­Nan loves ’oo.  Annie, go fetch puss for Nan.”  Then for the first time she discovered that Annie was absent, and that she was alone, with the exception of Mrs. Willis, who sat busily writing at a distant table.

Mrs. Willis counted for nothing at all with Nan ­she did not consider her of the smallest importance and after giving her a quick glance of some disdain she began to trot round the room on a voyage of discovery.  Any moment Annie would come back ­Annie had, indeed, probably gone to fetch the kitten, and would quickly return with it.  She walked slowly round and round, keeping well away from that part of the room where Mrs. Willis sat.  Presently she found a very choice little china jug, which she carefully abstracted with her small fingers from a cabinet, which contained many valuable treasures.  She sat down on the floor exactly beneath the cabinet, and began to play with her jug.  She went through in eager pantomime a little game which Annie had invented for her, and imagined that she was a little milkmaid, and that the jug was full of sweet new milk; she called out to an imaginary set of purchasers, “Want any milk?” and then she poured some by way of drops of milk into the palm of her little hand, which she drank up in the name of her customers with considerable gusto.  Presently knocking the little jug with some vehemence on the floor she deprived it with one neat blow of its handle and spout.  Mrs. Willis was busily writing, and did not look up.  Nan was not in the least disconcerted; she said aloud: 

“Poor tibby zug b’oke,” and then she left the fragments on the floor, and started off on a fresh voyage of discovery.  This time she dragged down a large photographic album on to a cushion, and, kneeling by it, began to look through the pictures, flapping the pages together with a loud noise, and laughing merrily as she did so.  She was now much nearer to Mrs. Willis, who was attracted by the sound, and looking up hastened to the rescue of one of her most precious collections of photographs.

“Nan, dear,” she said, “shut up that book at once.  Nan mustn’t touch.  Shut the book, darling, and go and sit on the floor, and look at your nice-colored pictures.”

Nan, still holding a chubby hand between the leaves of the album, gave Mrs. Willis a full defiant glance, and said: 

“Me won’t.”

“Come, Nan,” said the head-mistress.

“Me want Annie,” said Nan, still kneeling by the album, and, bending her head over the photographs, she turned the page and burst into a peal of laughter.

“Pitty bow vow,” she said, pointing to a photograph of a retriever; “oh, pitty bow woo, Nan loves ’oo.”

Mrs. Willis stooped down and lifted the little girl into her arms.

“Nan, dear,” she said, “it is naughty to disobey.  Sit down by your picture-book, and be a good girl.”

“Me won’t,” said Nan again, and here she raised her small dimpled hand and gave Mrs. Willis a smart slap on her cheek.

“Naughty lady, me don’t like ’oo; go ’way.  Nan want Annie ­Nan do want Annie.  Me don’t love ’oo, naughty lady; go ’way.”

Mrs. Willis took Nan on her knee.  She felt that the little will must be bent to hers, but the task was no easy one.  The child scarcely knew her, she was still weak and excitable, and she presently burst into storms of tears, and sobbed and sobbed as though her little heart would break, her one cry being for “Annie, Annie, Annie.”  When Annie did join her in the play hour, the little cheeks were flushed, the white brow ached, and the child’s small hands were hot and feverish.  Mrs. Willis felt terribly puzzled.