And she had reasons.
She was a high-strung child, too strong and healthy to be actually nervous, but with every faculty always at its fullest—not only in active working order but always actively at work—an admirable subject therefore for the malevolence of an enemy whose constant proximity offered him endless opportunity.
Much of his boyish persecution never reached the ears of the higher powers. Nance very soon came to accept Tom’s rough treatment as natural from a big fellow of fourteen to a small girl of eight, and she bore it stoically and hated him the harder.
Her mother taught her carefully to say her prayers, which included petitions for the welfare of Grannie and father and brother Tom, and for a time, with the perfunctoriness of childhood, which attaches more weight to the act than to the meaning of it, she allowed that to pass with a stickle and a slur. But very soon brother Tom was ruthlessly dropped out of the ritual, and neither threats nor persuasion could induce her to re-establish him.
Later on, and in private, she added to her acknowledged petitions an appendix, unmistakably brief and to the point—“And, O God, please kill brother Tom!”—and lived in hope.
She was an unusually pretty child, though her prettiness developed afterwards—as childish prettiness does not always—into something finer and more lasting.
She had, as a child, large dark blue eyes, which wore as a rule a look of watchful anxiety—put there by brother Tom. To the end of her life she carried the mark of a cut over her right eyebrow, which came within an ace of losing her the sight of that eye. It was brother Tom did that.
She had an abundance of flowing brown hair, by which Tom delighted to lift her clear off the ground, under threat of additional boxed ears if she opened her mouth. The wide, firm little mouth always remained closed, but the blue eyes burned fiercely, and the outraged little heart, thumping furiously at its impotence, did its best to salve its wounds with ceaseless repetition of its own private addition to the prescribed form of morning and evening prayer.
Once, even Tom’s dull wit caught something of meaning in the blaze of the blue eyes.
“What are you saying, you little devil?” he growled, and released her so suddenly that she fell on her knees in the mud.
And she put her hands together, as she was in the habit of doing, and prayed, “O God, please kill brother Tom!”
“Little devil!” said brother Tom, with a startled red face, and made a dash at her; but she had foreseen that and was gone like a flash.
One might have expected her childish comeliness to exercise something of a mollifying effect on his brutality. On the contrary, it seemed but to increase it. She was so sweet; he was so coarse. She was so small and fragile; he was so big and strong. Her prettiness might work on others. He would let her see and feel that he was not the kind to be fooled by such things.