“Then make the DOG the nanny,” Mr. Darling snapped.
Mrs. Darling laughed.
His eyes glittered. “I wasn’t joking.”
That was the night everything changed.
Even for a dog, Nana’s loyalty and hard work were impressive. She tried valiantly every day to improve herself. But there were some things that only a human nanny could do. There was always dog hair in their lunches. The other students pretended politely not to notice, but no one was ever willing to trade sandwiches with the Darling children.
“Where’s the cap?” Mr. Darling asked out of nowhere one day. His voice was merry, which meant he was particularly dangerous. No one had done anything to displease him the whole afternoon, but when Mr. Darling decided that something was a problem, it didn’t matter what you had or hadn’t done. It was going to be a problem, and you were going to be sorry.
“The cap, dear?” Mrs. Darling asked lightly. Perhaps his cheerful mood could still be saved. “What cap?”
“For her.” He pointed to Nana, who was mopping up the tea with a rag held delicately between her canines. “The old nanny always used to wear a cap. A white, starched cap. That’s how you know she’s a nanny.”
“Father, please–” Wendy started to say, but a look from John made her fall silent and return to making bread pills over her cucumber sandwiches.
“A white, starched cap,” Mr. Darling said again, looking enormously pleased with himself. “Nana, the next time you present yourself into the family’s presence, it will be with an appropriate white, starched hat upon your head.”
“And a dark blue linen,” he added, “for outings.” He held out his cup and spilled a little more of his tea on the floor.
“She still sleeps outside,” Mr. Darling said firmly.
“But Father,” Michael protested, “It’s raining out, and I like to have her in the house in case I have nightmares.”
“Then stop having nightmares,” Mr. Darling said. “Ridiculous. Waste of time, nightmares. You should be using the night for sleep, not frivolous nightmares. I forbid you to have another one. She sleeps outside.”
Nana slept outside that night, and Michael learned how to sleep without dreaming, or at least without remembering what he had dreamed.
With a great deal of effort, Mrs. Darling was able to persuade Mr. Darling that the cockatiel would never make an effective doorman, no matter how much they would be able to save on his salary.
“Nana,” John overheard his father saying in the passage one evening before she came in with their medicine, “it has come to my attention that dogs age seven years for every single human years. I forbid you to do such a thing in this household. Do you understand?” There was a pause.
Nana can’t say anything with the medicine tray in her mouth, John thought crossly, but dared not say anything, or let on that he had overheard.
“Excellent,” Mr. Darling said. “I’m glad to hear that we understand each other. For your troubles,” and then the sound of a coin falling on metal.
What is a dog going to do with a shilling, John asked himself. Mr. Darling had paid their last human nanny in dog biscuits. It was pure spite that led him to give money to the dog.
The children never came back. Nana and Mrs. Darling never blamed them, only wished they were still young enough to have gone that way too.
On especially stormy nights, Mrs. Darling took to sleeping outside too. Nana didn’t seem to mind, and she thought that if the children ever came by to look in on them, they would appreciate not having to go back inside the house.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.