I cannot feel that I have done my duty as humble historian of the March family, without devoting at least one chapter to the two most precious and important members of it. Daisy and Demi had now arrived at years of discretion; for in this fast age babies of three or four assert their rights, and get them, too, which is more than many of their elders do. If there ever were a pair of twins in danger of being utterly spoilt by adoration, it was these prattling Brookes. Of course they were the most remarkable children ever born, as will be shown when I mention that they walked at eight months, talked fluently at twelve months, and at two years they took their places at table, and behaved with a propriety which charmed all beholders. At three, Daisy demanded a “needler,” and actually made a bag with four stitches in it; she likewise set up housekeeping in the sideboard, and managed a microscopic cooking-stove with a skill that brought tears of pride to Hannah’s eyes, while Demi learned his letters with his grandfather, who invented a new mode of teaching the alphabet by forming the letters with his arms and legs, thus uniting gymnastics for head and heels. The boy early developed a mechanical genius which delighted his father and distracted his mother, for he tried to imitate every machine he saw, and kept the nursery in a chaotic condition, with his “sewin-sheen,”—a mysterious structure of string, chairs, clothespins, and spools, for wheels to go “wound and wound;” also a basket hung over the back of a big chair, in which he vainly tried to hoist his too confiding sister, who, with feminine devotion, allowed her little head to be bumped till rescued, when the young inventor indignantly remarked, “Why, marmar, dat’s my lellywaiter, and me’s trying to pull her up.”
Though utterly unlike in character, the twins got on remarkably well together, and seldom quarrelled more than thrice a day. Of course, Demi tyrannized over Daisy, and gallantly defended her from every other aggressor; while Daisy made a galley-slave of herself, and adored her brother as the one perfect being in the world. A rosy, chubby, sunshiny little soul was Daisy, who found her way to everybody’s heart, and nestled there. One of the captivating children, who seem made to be kissed and cuddled, adorned and adored like little goddesses, and produced for general approval on all festive occasions. Her small virtues were so sweet that she would have been quite angelic if a few small naughtinesses had not kept her delightfully human. It was all fair weather in her world, and every morning she scrambled up to the window in her little nightgown to look out, and say, no matter whether it rained or shone, “Oh, pitty day, oh, pitty day!” Everyone was a friend, and she offered kisses to a stranger so confidingly that the most inveterate bachelor relented, and baby-lovers became faithful worshippers.
“Me loves evvybody,” she once said, opening her arms, with her spoon in one hand, and her mug in the other, as if eager to embrace and nourish the whole world.
As she grew, her mother began to feel that the Dovecote would be blest by the presence of an inmate as serene and loving as that which had helped to make the old house home, and to pray that she might be spared a loss like that which had lately taught them how long they had entertained an angel unawares. Her grandfather often called her “Beth,” and her grandmother watched over her with untiring devotion, as if trying to atone for some past mistake, which no eye but her own could see.
Demi, like a true Yankee, was of an inquiring turn, wanting to know everything, and often getting much disturbed because he could not get satisfactory answers to his perpetual “What for?”
He also possessed a philosophic bent, to the great delight of his grandfather, who used to hold Socratic conversations with him, in which the precocious pupil occasionally posed his teacher, to the undisguised satisfaction of the womenfolk.
“What makes my legs go, dranpa?” asked the young philosopher, surveying those active portions of his frame with a meditative air, while resting after a go-to-bed frolic one night.
“It’s your little mind, Demi,” replied the sage, stroking the yellow head respectfully.
“What is a little mine?”
“It is something which makes your body move, as the spring made the wheels go in my watch when I showed it to you.”
“Open me; I want to see it go wound.”
“I can’t do that any more than you could open the watch. God winds you up, and you go till He stops you.”
“Does I?” and Demi’s brown eyes grew big and bright as he took in the new thought. “Is I wounded up like the watch?”
“Yes; but I can’t show you how; for it is done when we don’t see.”
Demi felt of his back, as if expecting to find it like that of the watch, and then gravely remarked—
“I dess Dod does it when I’s asleep.”
A careful explanation followed, to which he listened so attentively that his anxious grandmother said—
“My dear, do you think it wise to talk about such things to that baby? He’s getting great bumps over his eyes, and learning to ask the most unanswerable questions.”
“If he is old enough to ask the questions he is old enough to receive true answers. I am not putting the thoughts into his head, but helping him unfold those already there. These children are wiser than we are, and I have no doubt the boy understands every word I have said to him. Now, Demi, tell me where you keep your mind?”
If the boy had replied like Alcibiades, “By the gods, Socrates, I cannot tell,” his grandfather would not have been surprised; but when, after standing a moment on one leg, like a meditative young stork, he answered, in a tone of calm conviction, “In my little belly,” the old gentleman could only join in grandma’s laugh, and dismiss the class in metaphysics.
There might have been cause for maternal anxiety, if Demi had not given convincing proofs that he was a true boy, as well as a budding philosopher; for, often, after a discussion which caused Hannah to prophesy, with ominous nods, “That child ain’t long for this world,” he would turn about and set her fears at rest by some of the pranks with which dear, dirty, naughty little rascals distract and delight their parents’ souls.
Meg made many moral rules, and tried to keep them; but what mother was ever proof against the winning wiles, the ingenious evasions, or the tranquil audacity of the miniature men and women who so early show themselves accomplished Artful Dodgers?
“No more raisins, Demi, they’ll make you sick,” says mamma to the young person who offers his services in the kitchen with unfailing regularity on plum-pudding day.
“Me likes to be sick.”
“I don’t want to have you, so run away and help Daisy make patty-cakes.”
He reluctantly departs, but his wrongs weigh upon his spirit; and, by and by, when an opportunity comes to redress them, he outwits mamma by a shrewd bargain.
“Now you have been good children, and I’ll play anything you like,” says Meg, as she leads her assistant cooks upstairs, when the pudding is safely bouncing in the pot.
“Truly, marmar?” asks Demi, with a brilliant idea in his well-powdered head.
“Yes, truly; anything you say,” replies the shortsighted parent, preparing herself to sing “The Three Little Kittens” half a dozen times over, or to take her family to “Buy a penny bun,” regardless of wind or limb. But Demi corners her by the cool reply—
“Then we’ll go and eat up all the raisins.”
Aunt Dodo was chief playmate and confidante of both children, and the trio turned the little house topsy-turvy. Aunt Amy was as yet only a name to them, Aunt Beth soon faded into a pleasantly vague memory, but Aunt Dodo was a living reality, and they made the most of her, for which compliment she was deeply grateful. But when Mr. Bhaer came, Jo neglected her playfellows, and dismay and desolation fell upon their little souls. Daisy, who was fond of going about peddling kisses, lost her best customer and became bankrupt; Demi, with infantile penetration, soon discovered that Dodo liked to play with “the bear-man” better than she did with him; but, though hurt, he concealed his anguish, for he hadn’t the heart to insult a rival who kept a mine of chocolate-drops in his waistcoat-pocket, and a watch that could be taken out of its case and freely shaken by ardent admirers.
Some persons might have considered these pleasing liberties as bribes; but Demi didn’t see it in that light, and continued to patronize the “bear-man” with pensive affability, while Daisy bestowed her small affections upon him at the third call, and considered his shoulder her throne, his arm her refuge, his gifts treasures of surpassing worth.
Gentlemen are sometimes seized with sudden fits of admiration for the young relatives of ladies whom they honor with their regard; but this counterfeit philoprogenitiveness sits uneasily upon them, and does not deceive anybody a particle. Mr. Bhaer’s devotion was sincere, however likewise effective—for honesty is the best policy in love as in law; he was one of the men who are at home with children, and looked particularly well when little faces made a pleasant contrast with his manly one. His business, whatever it was, detained him from day to day, but evening seldom failed to bring him out to see—well, he always asked for Mr. March, so I suppose he was the attraction. The excellent papa labored under the delusion that he was, and revelled in long discussions with the kindred spirit, till a chance remark of his more observing grandson suddenly enlightened him.
Mr. Bhaer came in one evening to pause on the threshold of the study, astonished by the spectacle that met his eye. Prone upon the floor lay Mr. March, with his respectable legs in the air, and beside him, likewise prone, was Demi, trying to imitate the attitude with his own short, scarlet-stockinged legs, both grovellers so seriously absorbed that they were unconscious of spectators, till Mr. Bhaer laughed his sonorous laugh, and Jo cried out, with a scandalized face—
“Father, father, here’s the Professor!”
Down went the black legs and up came the gray head, as the preceptor said, with undisturbed dignity—
“Good evening, Mr. Bhaer. Excuse me for a moment; we are just finishing our lesson. Now, Demi, make the letter and tell its name.”
“I knows him!” and, after a few convulsive efforts, the red legs took the shape of a pair of compasses, and the intelligent pupil triumphantly shouted, “It’s a We, dranpa, it’s a We!”
“He’s a born Weller,” laughed Jo, as her parent gathered himself up, and her nephew tried to stand on his head, as the only mode of expressing his satisfaction that school was over.
“What have you been at today, bübchen?” asked Mr. Bhaer, picking up the gymnast.
“Me went to see little Mary.”
“And what did you there?”
“I kissed her,” began Demi, with artless frankness.
“Prut! thou beginnest early. What did the little Mary say to that?” asked Mr. Bhaer, continuing to confess the young sinner, who stood upon his knee, exploring the waistcoat-pocket.
“Oh, she liked it, and she kissed me, and I liked it. Don’t little boys like little girls?” added Demi, with his mouth full, and an air of bland satisfaction.
“You precocious chick! Who put that into your head?” said Jo, enjoying the innocent revelations as much as the Professor.
“ ’Tisn’t in mine head; it’s in mine mouf,” answered literal Demi, putting out his tongue, with a chocolate-drop on it, thinking she alluded to confectionery, not ideas.
“Thou shouldst save some for the little friend: sweets to the sweet, mannling;” and Mr. Bhaer offered Jo some, with a look that made her wonder if chocolate was not the nectar drunk by the gods. Demi also saw the smile, was impressed by it, and artlessly inquired—“Do great boys like great girls, too, ’Fessor?”
Like young Washington, Mr. Bhaer “couldn’t tell a lie;” so he gave the somewhat vague reply that he believed they did sometimes, in a tone that made Mr. March put down his clothes-brush, glance at Jo’s retiring face, and then sink into his chair, looking as if the “precocious chick” had put an idea into his head that was both sweet and sour.
Why Dodo, when she caught him in the china-closet half an hour afterward, nearly squeezed the breath out of his little body with a tender embrace, instead of shaking him for being there, and why she followed up this novel performance by the unexpected gift of a big slice of bread and jelly, remained one of the problems over which Demi puzzled his small wits, and was forced to leave unsolved forever.