“What’s the matter, Daisy?”
“The boys won’t let me play with them.”
“They say girls can’t play football.”
“They can, for I’ve done it!” and Mrs. Bhaer laughed at the remembrance of certain youthful frolics.
“I know I can play; Demi and I used to, and have nice times, but he won’t let me now because the other boys laugh at him,” and Daisy looked deeply grieved at her brother’s hardness of heart.
“On the whole, I think he is right, deary. It’s all very well when you two are alone, but it is too rough a game for you with a dozen boys; so I’d find some nice little play for myself.”
“I’m tired of playing alone!” and Daisy’s tone was very mournful.
“I’ll play with you by and by, but just now I must fly about and get things ready for a trip into town. You shall go with me and see mamma, and if you like you can stay with her.”
“I should like to go and see her and Baby Josy, but I’d rather come back, please. Demi would miss me, and I love to be here, Aunty.”
“You can’t get on without your Demi, can you?” and Aunt Jo looked as if she quite understood the love of the little girl for her only brother.
“‘Course I can’t; we’re twins, and so we love each other more than other people,” answered Daisy, with a brightening face, for she considered being a twin one of the highest honors she could ever receive.
“Now, what will you do with your little self while I fly around?” asked Mrs. Bhaer, who was whisking piles of linen into a wardrobe with great rapidity.
“I don’t know, I’m tired of dolls and things; I wish you’d make up a new play for me, Aunty Jo,” said Daisy, swinging listlessly on the door.
“I shall have to think of a brand new one, and it will take me some time; so suppose you go down and see what Asia has got for your lunch,” suggested Mrs. Bhaer, thinking that would be a good way in which to dispose of the little hindrance for a time.
“Yes, I think I’d like that, if she isn’t cross,” and Daisy slowly departed to the kitchen, where Asia, the black cook, reigned undisturbed.
In five minutes, Daisy was back again, with a wide-awake face, a bit of dough in her hand and a dab of flour on her little nose.
“Oh aunty! Please could I go and make gingersnaps and things? Asia isn’t cross, and she says I may, and it would be such fun, please do,” cried Daisy, all in one breath.
“Just the thing, go and welcome, make what you like, and stay as long as you please,” answered Mrs. Bhaer, much relieved, for sometimes the one little girl was harder to amuse than the dozen boys.
Daisy ran off, and while she worked, Aunt Jo racked her brain for a new play. All of a sudden she seemed to have an idea, for she smiled to herself, slammed the doors of the wardrobe, and walked briskly away, saying, “I’ll do it, if it’s a possible thing!”
What it was no one found out that day, but Aunt Jo’s eyes twinkled so when she told Daisy she had thought of a new play, and was going to buy it, that Daisy was much excited and asked questions all the way into town, without getting answers that told her anything. She was left at home to play with the new baby, and delight her mother’s eyes, while Aunt Jo went off shopping. When she came back with all sorts of queer parcels in corners of the carry-all, Daisy was so full of curiosity that she wanted to go back to Plumfield at once. But her aunt would not be hurried, and made a long call in mamma’s room, sitting on the floor with baby in her lap, making Mrs. Brooke laugh at the pranks of the boys, and all sorts of droll nonsense.
How her aunt told the secret Daisy could not imagine, but her mother evidently knew it, for she said, as she tied on the little bonnet and kissed the rosy little face inside, “Be a good child, my Daisy, and learn the nice new play aunty has got for you. It’s a most useful and interesting one, and it is very kind of her to play it with you, because she does not like it very well herself.”
This last speech made the two ladies laugh heartily, and increased Daisy’s bewilderment. As they drove away something rattled in the back of the carriage.
“What’s that?” asked Daisy, pricking up her ears.
“The new play,” answered Mrs. Jo, solemnly.
“What is it made of?” cried Daisy.
“Iron, tin, wood, brass, sugar, salt, coal, and a hundred other things.”
“How strange! What color is it?”
“All sorts of colors.”
“Is it large?”
“Part of it is, and a part isn’t.”
“Did I ever see one?”
“Ever so many, but never one so nice as this.”
“Oh! what can it be? I can’t wait. When shall I see it?” and Daisy bounced up and down with impatience.
“Tomorrow morning, after lessons.”
“Is it for the boys, too?”
“No, all for you and Bess. The boys will like to see it, and want to play one part of it. But you can do as you like about letting them.”
“I’ll let Demi, if he wants to.”
“No fear that they won’t all want to, especially Stuffy,” and Mrs. Bhaer’s eyes twinkled more than ever as she patted a queer knobby bundle in her lap.
“Let me feel just once,” prayed Daisy.
“Not a feel; you’d guess in a minute and spoil the fun.”
Daisy groaned and then smiled all over her face, for through a little hole in the paper she caught a glimpse of something bright.
“How can I wait so long? Couldn’t I see it today?”
“Oh dear, no! It has got to be arranged, and ever so many parts fixed in their places. I promised Uncle Teddy that you shouldn’t see it till it was all in apple-pie order.”
“If uncle knows about it then it must be splendid!” cried Daisy, clapping her hands; for this kind, rich, jolly uncle of hers was as good as a fairy godmother to the children, and was always planning merry surprises, pretty gifts, and droll amusements for them.
“Yes; Teddy went and bought it with me, and we had such fun in the shop choosing the different parts. He would have everything fine and large, and my little plan got regularly splendid when he took hold. You must give him your very best kiss when he comes, for he is the kindest uncle that ever went and bought a charming little coo Bless me! I nearly told you what it was!” and Mrs. Bhaer cut that most interesting word short off in the middle, and began to look over her bills, as if afraid she would let the cat out of the bag if she talked any more. Daisy folded her hands with an air of resignation, and sat quite still trying to think what play had a “coo” in it.
When they got home she eyed every bundle that was taken out, and one large heavy one, which Franz took straight upstairs and hid in the nursery, filled her with amazement and curiosity. Something very mysterious went on up there that afternoon, for Franz was hammering, and Asia trotting up and down, and Aunt Jo flying around like a will-o’-the-wisp, with all sort of things under her apron, while little Ted, who was the only child admitted, because he couldn’t talk plain, babbled and laughed, and tried to tell what the “sumpin pitty” was.
All this made Daisy half-wild, and her excitement spread among the boys, who quite overwhelmed Mother Bhaer with offers of assistance, which she declined by quoting their own words to Daisy:
“Girls can’t play with boys. This is for Daisy, and Bess, and me, so we don’t want you.” Whereupon the young gentlemen meekly retired, and invited Daisy to a game of marbles, horse, football, anything she liked, with a sudden warmth and politeness which astonished her innocent little soul.
Thanks to these attentions, she got through the afternoon, went early to bed, and next morning did her lessons with an energy which made Uncle Fritz wish that a new game could be invented every day. Quite a thrill pervaded the school-room when Daisy was dismissed at eleven o’clock, for everyone knew that now she was going to have the new and mysterious play.
Many eyes followed her as she ran away, and Demi’s mind was so distracted by this event that when Franz asked him where the desert of Sahara was, he mournfully replied, “In the nursery,” and the whole school laughed at him.
“Aunt Jo, I’ve done all my lessons, and I can’t wait one single minute more!” cried Daisy, flying into Mrs. Bhaer’s room.
“It’s all ready, come on;” and tucking Ted under one arm, and her workbasket under the other, Aunt Jo promptly led the way upstairs.
“I don’t see anything,” said Daisy, staring about her as she got inside the nursery door.
“Do you hear anything?” asked Aunt Jo, catching Ted back by his little frock as he was making straight for one side of the room.
Daisy did hear an odd crackling, and then a purry little sound as of a kettle singing. These noises came from behind a curtain drawn before a deep bay window. Daisy snatched it back, gave one joyful, “Oh!” and then stood gazing with delight at what do you think?
A wide seat ran round the three sides of the window; on one side hung and stood all sorts of little pots and pans, gridirons and skillets; on the other side a small dinner and tea set; and on the middle part a cooking-stove. Not a tin one, that was of no use, but a real iron stove, big enough to cook for a large family of very hungry dolls. But the best of it was that a real fire burned in it, real steam came out of the nose of the little tea-kettle, and the lid of the little boiler actually danced a jig, the water inside bubbled so hard. A pane of glass had been taken out and replaced by a sheet of tin, with a hole for the small funnel, and real smoke went sailing away outside so naturally, that it did one’s heart good to see it. The box of wood with a hod of charcoal stood near by; just above hung dust-pan, brush and broom; a little market basket was on the low table at which Daisy used to play, and over the back of her little chair hung a white apron with a bib, and a droll mob cap. The sun shone in as if he enjoyed the fun, the little stove roared beautifully, the kettle steamed, the new tins sparkled on the walls, the pretty china stood in tempting rows, and it was altogether as cheery and complete a kitchen as any child could desire.
Daisy stood quite still after the first glad “Oh!” but her eyes went quickly from one charming object to another, brightening as they looked, till they came to Aunt Jo’s merry face; there they stopped as the happy little girl hugged her, saying gratefully:
“Oh aunty, it’s a splendid new play! Can I really cook at the dear stove, and have parties and mess, and sweep, and make fires that truly burn? I like it so much! What made you think of it?”
“Your liking to make gingersnaps with Asia made me think of it,” said Mrs. Bhaer, holding Daisy, who frisked as if she would fly. “I knew Asia wouldn’t let you mess in her kitchen very often, and it wouldn’t be safe at this fire up here, so I thought I’d see if I could find a little stove for you, and teach you to cook; that would be fun, and useful too. So I travelled round among the toy shops, but everything large cost too much and I was thinking I should have to give it up, when I met Uncle Teddy. As soon as he knew what I was about, he said he wanted to help, and insisted on buying the biggest toy stove we could find. I scolded, but he only laughed, and teased me about my cooking when we were young, and said I must teach Bess as well as you, and went on buying all sorts of nice little things for my ‘cooking class’ as he called it.”
“I’m so glad you met him!” said Daisy, as Mrs. Jo stopped to laugh at the memory of the funny time she had with Uncle Teddy.
“You must study hard and learn to make all kinds of things, for he says he shall come out to tea very often, and expects something uncommonly nice.”
“It’s the sweetest, dearest kitchen in the world, and I’d rather study with it than do anything else. Can’t I learn pies, and cake, and macaroni, and everything?” cried Daisy, dancing round the room with a new saucepan in one hand and the tiny poker in the other.
“All in good time. This is to be a useful play, I am to help you, and you are to be my cook, so I shall tell you what to do, and show you how. Then we shall have things fit to eat, and you will be really learning how to cook on a small scale. I’ll call you Sally, and say you are a new girl just come,” added Mrs. Jo, settling down to work, while Teddy sat on the floor sucking his thumb, and staring at the stove as if it was a live thing, whose appearance deeply interested him.
“That will be so lovely! What shall I do first?” asked Sally, with such a happy face and willing air that Aunt Jo wished all new cooks were half as pretty and pleasant.
“First of all, put on this clean cap and apron. I am rather old-fashioned, and I like my cook to be very tidy.”
Sally tucked her curly hair into the round cap, and put on the apron without a murmur, though usually she rebelled against bibs.
“Now, you can put things in order, and wash up the new china. The old set needs washing also, for my last girl was apt to leave it in a sad state after a party.”
Aunt Jo spoke quite soberly, but Sally laughed, for she knew who the untidy girl was who had left the cups sticky. Then she turned up her cuffs, and with a sigh of satisfaction began to stir about her kitchen, having little raptures now and then over the “sweet rolling pin,” the “darling dish-tub,” or the “cunning pepper-pot.”
“Now, Sally, take your basket and go to market; here is the list of things I want for dinner,” said Mrs. Jo, giving her a bit of paper when the dishes were all in order.
“Where is the market?” asked Daisy, thinking that the new play got more and more interesting every minute.
“Asia is the market.”
Away went Sally, causing another stir in the schoolroom as she passed the door in her new costume, and whispered to Demi, with a face full of delight, “It’s a perfectly splendid play!”
Old Asia enjoyed the joke as much as Daisy, and laughed jollily as the little girl came flying into the room with her cap all on one side, the lids of her basket rattling like castanets and looking like a very crazy little cook.
“Mrs. Aunt Jo wants these things, and I must have them right away,” said Daisy, importantly.
‘Let’s see, honey; here’s two pounds of steak, potatoes, squash, apples, bread, and butter. The meat ain’t come yet; when it does I’ll send it up. The other things are all handy.”
Then Asia packed one potato, one apple, a bit of squash, a little pat of butter, and a roll, into the basket, telling Sally to be on the watch for the butcher’s boy, because he sometimes played tricks.
“Who is he?” and Daisy hoped it would be Demi.
“You’ll see,” was all Asia would say; and Sally went off in great spirits, singing a verse from dear Mary Howitt’s sweet story in rhyme:
Away went little Mabel,
With the wheaten cake so fine,
The new-made pot of butter,
And the little flask of wine.
“Put everything but the apple into the store-closet for the present,” said Mrs. Jo, when the cook got home.
There was a cupboard under the middle shelf, and on opening the door fresh delights appeared. One half was evidently the cellar, for wood, coal, and kindlings were piled there. The other half was full of little jars, boxes, and all sorts of droll contrivances for holding small quantities of flour, meal, sugar, salt, and other household stores. A pot of jam was there, a little tin box of gingerbread, a cologne bottle full of currant wine, and a tiny canister of tea. But the crowning charm was two doll’s pans of new milk, with cream actually rising on it, and a wee skimmer all ready to skim it with. Daisy clasped her hands at this delicious spectacle, and wanted to skim it immediately. But Aunt Jo said:
“Not yet; you will want the cream to eat on your apple pie at dinner, and must not disturb it till then.”
“Am I going to have pie?” cried Daisy, hardly believing that such bliss could be in store for her.
“Yes; if your oven does well we will have two pies, one apple and one strawberry,” said Mrs. Jo, who was nearly as much interested in the new play as Daisy herself.
“Oh, what next?” asked Sally, all impatience to begin.
“Shut the lower draught of the stove, so that the oven may heat. Then wash your hands and get out the flour, sugar, salt, butter, and cinnamon. See if the pie-board is clean, and pare your apple ready to put in.”
Daisy got things together with as little noise and spilling as could be expected, from so young a cook.
“I really don’t know how to measure for such tiny pies; I must guess at it, and if these don’t succeed, we must try again,” said Mrs. Jo, looking rather perplexed, and very much amused with the small concern before her. “Take that little pan full of flour, put in a pinch of salt, and then rub in as much butter as will go on that plate. Always remember to put your dry things together first, and then the wet. It mixes better so.”
“I know how; I saw Asia do it. Don’t I butter the pie plates too? She did, the first thing,” said Daisy, whisking the flour about at a great rate.