Little women, p.10
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       Little Women, p.10

         Part #1 of Little Women series by Louisa May Alcott
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  “If you like them so much, come down and see ours. Grandpa is out, so you needn’t be afraid,” said Laurie, getting up.

  “I’m not afraid of anything,” returned Jo, with a toss of the head.

  “I don’t believe you are!” exclaimed the boy, looking at her with much admiration, though he privately thought she would have good reason to be a trifle afraid of the old gentleman, if she met him in some of his moods.

  The atmosphere of the whole house being summerlike, Laurie led the way from room to room, letting Jo stop to examine whatever struck her fancy; and so at last they came to the library, where she clapped her hands and pranced, as she always did when especially delighted. It was lined with books, and there were pictures and statues, and distracting little cabinets full of coins and curiosities, and Sleepy Hollow chairs,am and queer tables, and bronzes, and, best of all, a great open fireplace with quaint tiles all round it.

  “What richness!” sighed Jo, sinking into the depth of a velvet chair and gazing about her with an air of intense satisfaction. “Theodore Laurence, you ought to be the happiest boy in the world,” she added impressively.

  “A fellow can’t live on books,” said Laurie, shaking his head as he perched on a table opposite.

  Before he could say more, a bell rang, and Jo flew up, exclaiming with alarm, “Mercy me! It’s your grandpa!”

  “Well, what if it is? You are not afraid of anything, you know,” returned the boy, looking wicked.

  “I think I am a little bit afraid of him, but I don’t know why I should be. Marmee said I might come, and I don’t think you’re any the worse for it,” said Jo, composing herself, though she kept her eyes on the door.

  “I’m a great deal better for it, and ever so much obliged. I’m only afraid you are very tired talking to me; it was so pleasant, I couldn’t bear to stop,” said Laurie gratefully.

  “The doctor to see you, sir,” and the maid beckoned as she spoke.

  “Would you mind if I left you for a minute? I suppose I must see him,” said Laurie.

  “Don’t mind me. I’m as happy as a cricket here,” answered Jo.

  Laurie went away, and his guest amused herself in her own way. She was standing before a fine portrait of the old gentleman when the door opened again, and, without turning, she said decidedly, “I’m sure now that I shouldn’t be afraid of him, for he’s got kind eyes, though his mouth is grim, and he looks as if he had a tremendous will of his own. He isn’t as handsome as my grandfather, but I like him.”

  “Thank you, ma‘am,” said a gruff voice behind her, and there, to her great dismay, stood old Mr. Laurence.

  Poor Jo blushed till she couldn’t blush any redder, and her heart began to beat uncomfortably fast as she thought what she had said. For a minute a wild desire to run away possessed her, but that was cowardly, and the girls would laugh at her; so she resolved to stay and get out of the scrape as she could. A second look showed her that the living eyes, under the bushy gray eyebrows, were kinder even than the painted ones; and there was a sly twinkle in them, which lessened her fear a good deal. The gruff voice was gruffer than ever, as the old gentleman said abruptly, after the dreadful pause, “So you’re not afraid of me, hey?”

  “Not much, sir.”

  “And you don’t think me as handsome as your grandfather?”

  “Not quite, sir.”

  “And I’ve got a tremendous will, have I?”

  “I only said I thought so.”

  “But you like me in spite of it?”

  “Yes, I do, sir.”

  That answer pleased the old gentleman; he gave a short laugh, shook hands with her, and, putting his finger under her chin, turned up her face, examined it gravely, and let it go, saying with a nod, “You’ve got your grandfather’s spirit, if you haven’t his face. He was a fine man, my dear; but, what is better, he was a brave and an honest one, and I was proud to be his friend.”

  “Thank you, sir.” And Jo was quite comfortable after that, for it suited her exactly.

  “What have you been doing to this boy of mine, hey?” was the next question, sharply put.

  “Only trying to be neighborly, sir.” And Jo told how her visit came about.

  “You think he needs cheering up a bit, do you?”

  “Yes, sir, he seems a little lonely, and young folks would do him good perhaps. We are only girls, but we should be glad to help if we could, for we don’t forget the splendid Christmas present you sent us,” said jo eagerly.

  “Tut, tut, tut! That was the boy’s affair. How is the poor woman?”

  “Doing nicely, sir.” And off went Jo, talking very fast, as she told all about the Hummels, in whom her mother had interested richer friends than they were.

  “Just her father’s way of doing good. I shall come and see your mother some fine day. Tell her so. There’s the tea bell, we have it early on the boy’s account. Come down and go on being neighborly.”

  “If you’d like to have me, sir.”

  “Shouldn’t ask you, if I didn’t.” And Mr. Laurence offered her his arm with old-fashioned courtesy.

  “What would Meg say to this?” thought Jo, as she was marched away, while her eyes danced with fun as she imagined herself telling the story at home.

  “Hey! Why, what the dickens has come to the fellow?” said the old gentleman, as Laurie came running downstairs and brought up with a start of surprise at the astonishing sight of Jo arm in arm with his redoubtable grandfather.

  “I didn’t know you’d come, sir,” he began, as Jo gave him a triumphant little glance.

  “That’s evident, by the way you racket downstairs. Come to your tea, sir, and behave like a gentleman.” And having pulled the boy’s hair by way of a caress, Mr. Laurence walked on, while Laurie went through a series of comic evolutions behind their backs, which nearly produced an explosion of laughter from Jo.

  The old gentleman did not say much as he drank his four cups of tea, but he watched the young people, who soon chatted away like old friends, and the change in his grandson did not escape him. There was color, light, and life in the boy’s face now, vivacity in his manner, and genuine merriment in his laugh.

  “She’s right, the lad is lonely. I’ll see what these little girls can do for him,” thought Mr. Laurence, as he looked and listened. He liked Jo, for her odd, blunt ways suited him, and she seemed to understand the boy almost as well as if she had been one herself.

  If the Laurences had been what Jo called “prim and poky,” she would not have got on at all, for such people always made her shy and awkward; but finding them free and easy, she was so herself, and made a good impression. When they rose she proposed to go, but Laurie said he had something more to show her, and took her away to the conservatory, which had been lighted for her benefit. It seemed quite fairylike to Jo, as she went up and down the walks, enjoying the blooming walls on either side, the soft light, the damp sweet air, and the wonderful vines and trees that hung about her, while her new friend cut the finest flowers till his hands were full; then he tied them up, saying, with the happy look Jo liked to see, “Please give these to your mother, and tell her I like the medicine she sent me very much.”

  They found Mr. Laurence standing before the fire in the great drawing room, but Jo’s attention was entirely absorbed by a grand piano, which stood open.

  “Do you play?” she asked, turning to Laurie with a respectful expression.

  “Sometimes,” he answered modestly.

  “Please do now. I want to hear it, so I can tell Beth.”

  “Won’t you first?”

  “Don’t know how. Too stupid to learn, but I love music dearly.”

  So Laurie played and Jo listened, with her nose luxuriously buried in heliotrope and tea roses. Her respect and regard for the “Laurence boy” increased very much, for he played remarkably well and didn’t put on any airs. She wished Beth could hear him, but she did not say so, only praised him till he was quite abashed, and his grandfather came to the res
cue. “That will do, that will do, young lady. Too many sugarplums are not good for him. His music isn’t bad, but I hope he will do as well in more important things. Going? Well, I’m much obliged to you, and I hope you’ll come again. My respects to your mother. Good night, Doctor Jo.”

  He shook hands kindly, but looked as if something did not please him. When they got into the hall, Jo asked Laurie if she had said anything amiss. He shook his head.

  “No, it was me; he doesn’t like to hear me play.”

  “Why not?”

  “I’ll tell you some day. John is going home with you, as I can’t.”

  “No need of that. I am not a young lady, and it’s only a step. Take care of yourself, won’t you?”

  “Yes, but you will come again, I hope?”

  “If you promise to come and see us after you are well.”

  “I will.”

  “Good night, Laurie!”

  “Good night, Jo, good night!”

  When all the afternoon’s adventures had been told, the family felt inclined to go visiting in a body, for each found something very attractive in the big house on the other side of the hedge. Mrs. March wanted to talk of her father with the old man who had not forgotten him, Meg longed to walk in the conservatory, Beth sighed for the grand piano, and Amy was eager to see the fine pictures and statues.

  “Mother, why didn’t Mr. Laurence like to have Laurie play?” asked Jo, who was of an inquiring disposition.

  “I am not sure, but I think it was because his son, Laurie’s father, married an Italian lady, a musician, which displeased the old man, who is very proud. The lady was good and lovely and accomplished, but he did not like her, and never saw his son after he married. They both died when Laurie was a little child, and then his grandfather took him home. I fancy the boy, who was born in Italy, is not very strong, and the old man is afraid of losing him, which makes him so careful. Laurie comes naturally by his love of music, for he is like his mother, and I dare say his grandfather fears that he may want to be a musician. At any rate, his skill reminds him of the woman he did not like, and so he ‘glowered,’ as Jo said.”

  “Dear me, how romantic!” exclaimed Meg.

  “How silly!” said Jo. “Let him be a musician if he wants to, and not plague his life out sending him to college, when he hates to go.”

  “That’s why he has such handsome black eyes and pretty manners, I suppose. Italians are always nice,” said Meg, who was a little sentimental.

  “What do you know about his eyes and his manners? You never spoke to him, hardly,” cried Jo, who was not sentimental.

  “I saw him at the party, and what you tell shows that he knows how to behave. That was a nice little speech about the medicine Mother sent him.”

  “He meant the blancmange, I suppose.”

  “How stupid you are, child! He meant you, of course.”

  “Did he?” And Jo opened her eyes as if it had never occurred to her before.

  “I never saw such a girl! You don’t know a compliment when you get it,” said Meg, with the air of a young lady who knew all about the -matter.

  “I think they are great nonsense, and I’ll thank you not to be silly and spoil my fun. Laurie’s a nice boy and I like him, and I won’t have any sentimental stuff about compliments and such rubbish. We’ll all be good to him because he hasn’t got any mother, and he may come over and see us, mayn’t he, Marmee?” Meg will

  “Yes, Jo, your little friend is very welcome, and I hope Meg will remember that children should be children as long as they can.”

  “I don’t call myself a child, and I’m not in my teens yet,” observed Amy. “What do you say, Beth?”

  “I was thinking about our ‘Pilgrim’s Progress,”’ answered Beth, who had not heard a word. “How we got out of the Slough and through the Wicket Gate by resolving to be good, and up the steep hill by trying; and that maybe the house over there, full of splendid things, is going to be our Palace Beautiful.”

  “We have got to get by the lionsan first,” said Jo, as if she rather liked the prospect.

  6

  Beth Finds the Palace Beautiful

  The big house did prove a Palace Beautiful, though it took some time for all to get in, and Beth found it very hard to pass the lions. Old Mr. Laurence was the biggest one, but after he had called, said something funny or kind to each one of the girls, and talked over old times with their mother, nobody felt much afraid of him, except timid Beth. The other lion was the fact that they were poor and Laurie rich, for this made them shy of accepting favors which they could not return. But, after a while, they found that he considered them the benefactors, and could not do enough to show how grateful he was for Mrs. March’s motherly welcome, their cheerful society, and the comfort he took in that humble home of theirs. So they soon forgot their pride and interchanged kindnesses without stopping to think which was the greater.

  All sorts of pleasant things happened about that time, for the new friendship flourished like grass in spring. Every one liked Laurie, and he privately informed his tutor that “the Marches were regularly splendid girls.” With the delightful enthusiasm of youth, they took the solitary boy into their midst and made much of him, and he found something very charming in the innocent companionship of these simple-hearted girls. Never having known mother or sisters, he was quick to feel the influences they brought about him, and their busy, lively ways made him ashamed of the indolent life he led. He was tired of books, and found people so interesting now that Mr. Brooke was obliged to make very unsatisfactory reports, for Laurie was always playing truant and running over to the Marches‘.

  “Never mind, let him take a holiday, and make it up afterward,” said the old gentleman. “The good lady next door says he is studying too hard and needs young society, amusement, and exercise. I suspect she is right, and that I’ve been coddling the fellow as if I’d been his grandmother. Let him do what he likes, as long as he is happy. He can’t get into mischief in that little nunnery over there, and Mrs. March is doing more for him than we can.”

  What good times they had, to be sure! Such plays and tableaux, such sleigh rides and skating frolics, such pleasant evenings in the old parlor, and now and then such gay little parties at the great house. Meg could walk in the conservatory whenever she liked and revel in bouquets, Jo browsed over the new library voraciously, and convulsed the old gentleman with her criticisms, Amy copied pictures and enjoyed beauty to her heart’s content, and Laurie played “lord of the manor” in the most delightful style.

  But Beth, though yearning for the grand piano, could not pluck up courage to go to the “Mansion of Bliss,” as Meg called it. She went once with Jo, but the old gentleman, not being aware of her infirmity, stared at her so hard from under his heavy eyebrows, and said “Hey!” so loud, that he frightened her so much her “feet chattered on the floor,” she told her mother; and she ran away, declaring she would never go there any more, not even for the dear piano. No persuasions or enticements could overcome her fear, till, the fact coming to Mr. Laurence’s ear in some mysterious way, he set about mending matters. During one of the brief calls he made, he artfully led the conversation to music, and talked away about great singers whom he had seen, fine organs he had heard, and told such charming anecdotes that Beth found it impossible to stay in her distant comer, but crept nearer and nearer, as if fascinated. At the back of his chair she stopped and stood listening, with her great eyes wide open and her cheeks red with the excitement of this unusual performance. Taking no more notice of her than if she had been a fly, Mr. Laurence talked on about Laurie’s lessons and teachers; and presently, as if the idea had just occurred to him, he said to Mrs. March—

  “The boy neglects his music now, and I’m glad of it, for he was getting too fond of it. But the piano suffers for want of use. Wouldn’t some of your girls like to run over, and practice on it now and then, just to keep it in tune, you know, ma‘am?”

  Beth took a step forward, and pressed her han
ds tightly together to keep from clapping them, for this was an irresistible temptation, and the thought of practicing on that splendid instrument quite took her breath away. Before Mrs. March could reply, Mr. Laurence went on with an odd little nod and smile—

  “They needn’t see or speak to anyone, but run in at any time; for I’m shut up in my study at the other end of the house, Laurie is out a great deal, and the servants are never near the drawing room after nine o‘clock.”

  Here he rose, as if going, and Beth made up her mind to speak, for that last arrangement left nothing to be desired. “Please tell the young ladies what I say, and if they don’t care to come, why, never mind.” Here a little hand slipped into his, and Beth looked up at him with a face full of gratitude, as she said, in her earnest yet timid way—

  “O sir, they do care, very, very much!”

  “Are you the musical girl?” he asked, without any startling “Hey!” as he looked down at her very kindly.

  “I’m Beth. I love it dearly, and I’ll come, if you are quite sure nobody will hear me—and be disturbed,” she added, fearing to be rude, and trembling at her own boldness as she spoke.

  “Not a soul, my dear. The house is empty half the day; so come and drum away as much as you like, and I shall be obliged to you.”

  “How kind you are, sir!”

  Beth blushed like a rose under the friendly look he wore; but she was not frightened now, and gave the big hand a grateful squeeze because she had no words to thank him for the precious gift he had given her. The old gentleman softly stroked the hair off her forehead, and, stooping down, he kissed her, saying, in a tone few people ever heard—

  “I had a little girl once, with eyes like these. God bless you, my dear! Good day, madam.” And away he went, in a great hurry.

  Beth had a rapture with her mother, and then rushed up to impart the glorious news to her family of invalids, as the girls were not at home. How blithely she sang that evening, and how they all laughed at her because she woke Amy in the night by playing the piano on her face in her sleep. Next day, having seen both the old and young gentleman out of the house, Beth, after two or three retreats, fairly got in at the side door, and made her way as noiselessly as any mouse to the drawing room where her idol stood. Quite by accident, of course, some pretty, easy music lay on the piano, and with trembling fingers and frequent stops to listen and look about, Beth at last touched the great instrument, and straightway forgot her fear, herself, and everything else but the unspeakable delight which the music gave her, for it was like the voice of a beloved friend.

 
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