梅格走回去烤脚，读她的《艾凡赫》，乔则开始使劲挖路。积雪不厚，她很快便用扫帚绕着花园扫出一条小道，这样，太阳出来时，贝思便可以在这里散步， 把病娃娃抱出来呼吸新鲜空气。马奇家的屋子和劳伦斯家的只有一园之隔。两座屋子地处市郊，颇富乡村风味，周围是草皮、小树林、大花园，还有静静的街道。一 道低矮的树篱把两户人家分隔开来。树篱的一面是一所破旧的棕色房子，显得颓败荒芜，夏天盖在墙上的藤叶和绕屋的鲜花早已凋零。另一面是一栋很有气派的石 楼，内设大型马车房和植物温室，地面保持得干干净净，透过华丽的窗帘布，隐约可以看到漂亮精致的家居布置，一望而知里头的主人过着安逸豪华的生活。然而这 栋房子似乎孤单寂寞、缺乏生气，草皮上没有孩子在玩耍，窗边见不到母亲的笑脸，门庭冷落，进进出出，只能见到老绅士和他的孙子。
在富有想像力的乔眼里，这栋富丽的楼房就像是一座幻想中的宫殿，流光溢彩，富丽堂皇，但却无人欣赏。她早就想看看里头究竟藏着什么宝物，并结识那 位"劳伦斯家的男孩"。他看来也有意想交个朋友，只是不知从何做起。自从那次晚会之后，她这种愿望尤其强烈，心里盘算了许多与他交朋友的方法；但最近他却 很少露面，乔正以为他出了远门，一天却突然发现楼上一扇窗边露出一个脸孔，若有所思地往下望着她们的花园，花园里贝思和艾美正在一起玩雪球。
“这个小伙子没有朋友，没有欢乐，“她心里说，“他爷爷不知道他需要什么，总是把他孤零零地关在屋里。其实他很需要一班快乐的小伙子来陪他玩，需要 活泼有朝气的年青人作伴。我真想走过去把这些话告诉那位老绅士！“想到这里乔乐了，她是个有胆识的姑娘，常常做出一些出奇不意的事情，令梅格震惊不已。“ 走过去"这个计划一直在乔的脑海里纠缠；这天下午雪花飘落时，乔决定采取行动。她看到劳伦斯先生坐车出了门，便开始挖路，一直挖到树篱边，这才停下来望 望。四处悄无声息--楼下窗户帘幕低垂，佣人也全无踪影，独见楼上窗边露出一个黑色鬈发的脑袋靠在纤薄的手掌上。
“他在上头呢，“乔想，“多可怜的人！这么阴沉沉的日子孤独一人，郁郁不乐。简直，岂有此理！我要抛个雪球上去，引他望过来，再跟他好好说上几句 话。“乔抛出一捧软绵绵的雪花，楼上的人马上转过头来，脸上无精打采的神情一扫而光，大眼睛闪闪发亮，嘴角露出笑意。乔点点头笑了，挥舞着手中的扫帚叫道 —-“你好吗？是不是病了？“劳里打开窗，像个渡鸦般嘶哑着嗓子答道--“好点了，谢谢你。我得了重感冒，在屋里关了一个星期了。““真遗憾。有什么消遣 吗？““没有。这里头闷得像个坟墓。““你不看书吗？““不大看。他们不让我看。““没有人念给你听吗？““爷爷有时念一点，但我的书他不感兴趣，我又不 愿意老叫布鲁克来念。“
“我不文静，也并非什么好女孩，但如果妈妈允许的话，我就过来。我去问问她。你乖乖关上窗子，我一会就来。“言毕，乔肩扛扫帚走进屋里，一面思忖大 家会怎么说。劳里想到将有人作伴，欣喜不已，四处奔忙做准备；正如马奇太太所说，他是个"小绅士"，为对客人的光临表示敬意，他把卷曲的头发梳理一遍，换 上一条干净领带，并试着整理房间，虽说有六个佣人，房间仍然零乱不堪。一会，铃声大响，一个沉着的声音请求见"劳里先生"，一位满脸疑云的佣人跑上楼来， 对劳里说有一位小姐求见。
“我来了，带着全部家当，“她爽快地说，“妈妈谨致爱意，若我能为你效劳的话，她深感高兴。梅格要我送上她做的牛奶冻，她做得好极了。贝思认为她的 小猫咪可以安慰你。我知道你一定会取笑它们，但我不能拒绝，她是这么想帮助别人。“贝思想得不错，她借出的小猫咪还真管用，劳里被这种有趣的礼物逗得大 笑，他顾不得害羞，马上变得活跃起来。
“这不值什么，只是她们的好意而已。叫女佣人拿去给你做茶点：区区一物，你不必客气，因为它又软又滑，喉咙酸痛吃下去也不碍事。你这房间真舒服！“ “如果打理得当，倒是挺舒服的；但女佣们都懒，我又不知怎样才能让她们用心。这令我挺伤脑筋呢。““我两分钟就可以把它弄妥，其实只需要扫扫壁炉地面，这 么着--把壁炉台上的东西竖起来，这么着--书放在这边，瓶子放那边，你的沙发不要直对光线，枕头鼓满一点。行了，一切妥当。“真的一切妥当；因为谈笑之 间，乔已经把东西收拾得有条不紊，并给房间带来一种特别的气氛。劳里恭敬地默默注视着她，当她示意他坐到沙发上时，他坐下来满意地舒了一口气，感激地说道 —-“你心地真好！房间是需要这么收拾一下。现在请坐到这张大椅子上，让我为我的客人效劳点什么。““不，是我来为你效劳。我朗读好吗？“乔热切地望着近 处几本诱人的书。
“当然不介意。如果你愿意听，我可以讲上一天。贝思常说我从不懂得适可而止。““贝思是不是常呆在家里，有时提着个小篮子出来，脸色红润润的那一 位？“对了，那就是贝思。十足的乖乖女，我最疼爱她了。““漂亮的那位是梅格，鬈发的是艾美，对吗？““你是怎么知道的？“劳里红了脸，不过还是坦白回 答：“嗯，你知道，我常听到你们叫唤对方，当我在楼上孤零零一个人时，就忍不住望向你们的屋子，你们似乎总是玩得很开心。请原谅我这样无礼，但有时你们忘 记放下摆着鲜花的那扇窗户的帘子，灯亮时简直就像是看一幅画，炉火下你们和母亲绕桌而坐，她的脸刚好对着我，在鲜花的掩映下显得异常甜美，我忍不住要看。 我没有妈妈，你知道。“劳里的嘴唇忍不住轻轻抽搐了一下，他捅捅炉火借以掩饰。
劳里孤独、渴望的眼神直刺入乔炽热的心胸。她受到的教育十分单纯，心中全无一丝杂念，年届十五，仍像孩子一样坦诚直率、天真无邪。劳里有病而且孤 独，极羡慕她享有家庭温暖和幸福，她也很想与他一同分享。她神情十分友好，尖嗓子也变得非同寻常地轻柔，说--“那个窗的帘幕我们以后不再拉上，你尽可以 看个够。不过，我却希望你能过来看望我们，而不只是偷偷观望。妈妈非同凡响，你一定会受益良多；贝思可以唱歌给你听，如果我请求她的话；而艾美则可以为你 跳舞，我和梅格可以给你看我们有趣的舞台道具，让你笑一常我们一定会玩得很开心。你爷爷会让你来吗？““如果你妈妈跟他说，我想会的。他心地最善良，只是 不表露出来；可以说他相当纵容我，只不过担心我会妨碍陌生人，“劳里说，神情越发亢奋。
“爷爷就爱看书，对外面发生的事情不大关心。我的私人教师布鲁克先生又不住在这里，没有人跟我一起玩，所以我只是呆在家里自己过。““太可惜了。如 果有人邀请，你应该多外出拜会，这可以交许多朋友，去许多有趣的地方。别老惦着害羞，你不想它就没事了。“劳里脸又红起来，但却没有生气，虽然乔言语唐 突，责备他害羞，但言谈之间那一番真情实意，却令他非常感激。
劳里刚要张口再问，猛然想到打探太多别人的私事不礼貌，便闭口不语，神态显得颇不自然。乔喜欢他这样有教养，但觉得谈谈马奇婶婶的趣事并无妨，便活 灵活现地跟他描绘那位烦躁不安的老太太，她的胖卷毛狗，会讲西班牙语的鹦鹉鹦哥，还有自己最喜爱的藏书室。劳里听得如痴如醉；她说到一次一位庄重的老绅士 来向马奇婶婶求婚，正当他甜言蜜语之际，鹦哥扯下了他的假发，令他大为懊丧。劳里听到这儿身子向后一仰，笑得眼泪都流了出来，引得一个女佣探头进来看个究 竟。
整座屋里的气氛与夏天无异，劳里领着乔沿房间逐一观赏，遇到乔感兴趣的地方便驻足细看一番；这样走走停停，最后来到藏书室，乔旋即兴奋得手舞足蹈， 一如她平日特别高兴时那样。藏书室里头一层一层摆满了书本，放着图画、雕塑、装满了钱币和古玩的引人注目的小橱柜，还有《睡谷传奇》里的椅子、古怪的桌子 和青铜器，最令人叫绝的是一个用精致的花砖砌成的敞开式大壁炉。
劳里走出去，留下客人独个自娱自乐。她正站在那位老绅士的肖像前，门忽地又打开了，她没有回头，自信地说：“现在我肯定不会怕他。虽然他的嘴唇冷 峻，但他有一双善良的眼睛，看样子他很有个性。虽然他不及我外公英俊，但我喜欢他。““承蒙夸奖，夫人。“一个生硬的声音从她身后传来，原来进来的是劳伦 斯老人，乔窘得恨不能找个地缝儿钻进去。
可怜的乔脸色红得不能再红，想到自己方才说的话，心里慌得怦怦乱跳。她一开始很想马上跑掉，但那是懦夫的行为，姐妹们一定会嘲笑她的；于是她决定按 兵不动，尽自己的能力摆脱困境。她又望了一眼老人，发现灰白浓眉下面的两只眼睛比起像片上的更加善良，目光中还闪着一丝狡黠，于是心里轻松了许多。突然， 老人打破可怕的沉默，用更为生硬的声音问道：“那么说你不怕我，嗯？““不是很怕，先生。““你觉得我不如你外公英俊？““不错，先生。““我很有个性， 对吗？““我只是说我这么认为。““但尽管如此，你还喜欢我？““是的，是这样，先生。“这个回答使老人很高兴，他笑一笑，跟她握手，然后用手指托着她的 下巴，把她的脸抬起来，严肃地细看一回，放下手点头说道：“虽然你没有继承你外公的相貌，但你继承了他的精神。他是个好人，孩子；但更难得的是，他勇敢正 直。
假如劳伦斯一家真如乔原来所说的那样"既严肃，又冷漠"的话，乔便不可能和他们相处下去，因为这种人总会使她感到羞怯和尴尬；但她现在却发现他们很 随和，和他们在一起，她自己便也轻松下来，谈笑自如，给主人留下了良好的印象。当他们站起来的时候，她提出告辞，但劳里说他还有些东西要给她看，随之把她 带到温室。温室里专为她而点亮了灯。乔在走道上徘徊往返，在柔和的灯光下仔细欣赏墙边盛开的鲜花，以及周围千奇百怪的藤蔓灌木，尽情呼吸湿润清新、芬芳怡 人的空气，仿佛置身于神仙景界。她的新朋友剪下满满一捧亮丽的鲜花，然后绑起来，带着令她愉快的神情说：“请把它交给你妈妈，就说我很感激她送给我的 药。“他们发觉劳伦斯先生站在大客厅的炉火前，但乔的注意力却被一架打开着的大钢琴牢牢吸引住了。
“能弹一首吗？我现在想听听，回去告诉贝思。““你先请吧。““不会弹。太笨学不会，但我酷爱音乐。“于是劳里弹琴，乔把鼻子深深埋在天莱花和香水 月季里留神细听。劳里弹得妙极了，而且毫不矫揉造作。乔对这位"劳伦斯家的男孩"更添一层敬意。她想如果贝思也来听就好了，但却没有说出来，只是对他赞不 绝口，夸得他挺不好意思。爷爷赶忙过来解围：“行了，行了，小姐。甜言蜜语太多他吃不消。他的音乐是不错，但我希望其他更重要的事情他也一样能干好。要回 去了？好吧，我非常感谢你，并希望你再来。问候你母亲。晚安，乔医生。“他慈爱地跟她握手，但神色似乎有点不快。当他们走入大厅时，乔问劳里是否自己说错 了话，劳里摇摇头。
“没有，原因在我；他不喜欢听我弹琴。““为什么？““以后我会告诉你。约翰送你回家，恕我不能送了。““用不着。我不是娇小姐，而且只有一步之 隔。多多保重，好吗？““好的，但你会再来吧，我希望。““如果你答应病好后来看望我们的话。““我会来的。““晚安，劳里！““晚安，乔，晚安！“听了 乔这个下午的奇遇后，一家人都感到有必要全体作一次访问，因为大家都觉得树篱那边的大房子有一种说不出来的魅力。马奇太太想跟老人谈谈自己的父亲，因为老 人还没有忘记他，梅格渴望到温室里走走，贝思为那架大钢琴而叹息不已，艾美则很想看看那些精致的图画和雕塑。
“这我不是很清楚，但我想是因为他的儿子，劳里的父亲娶了位意大利女子—-一个音乐家，这事令自尊心极强的老人很不愉快。其实那个女子贤淑可爱，而 且多才多艺，但他不喜欢她，他们婚后他便没有再见儿子。劳里还很小的时候，他们便去世了，爷爷把他接回家。那男孩在意大利出生，身子骨不大壮实，我想老人 是害怕失去他，因此格外小心。劳里像他母亲，天生热爱音乐。我敢说他爸爸害怕他有当音乐家的念头。不论怎样，他的琴艺使老人想起了自己不喜欢的那个女人， 所以他'怒目而视'，就像乔说的那样。““哎哟，多浪漫！“梅格叫道。
“我认为这种事荒唐之极。你别傻，别扫我的兴，我便多谢了。劳里是个好男孩，我喜欢他，我不要听什么情呀意呀之类的废话。我们都要对他好，因为他没 有母亲。他也可以过来看我们，您说对吗，妈妈？““对，乔，非常欢迎你的小朋友，我也希望梅格记住，儿童就应该尽量天真无邪。““我认为自己不算儿童，我 还不到十岁呢，“艾美说，“你说呢，贝思？““我正在想我们的'天路历程'，“贝思答道。她一句话也没有听进去。“我们怎样下定决心做好孩子，走出'深渊 '，穿过'边门’，努力爬上陡坡；也许那边那座装满漂亮东西的屋子便是我们的'丽宫'。““我们得先走过狮子群，“乔满怀憧憬地说。
"What in the world are you going to do now, Jo." askedMeg one snowy afternoon, as her sister came tramping throughthe hall, in rubber boots, old sack, and hood, with a broomin one hand and a shovel in the other.
"Going out for exercise," answered Jo with a mischievoustwinkle in her eyes.
"I should think two long walks this morning would havebeen enough! It's cold and dull out, and I advise you tostay warm and dry by the fire, as I do," said Meg with ashiver.
"Never take advice! Can't keep still all day, and notbeing a pussycat, I don't like to doze by the fire. I likeadventures, and I'm going to find some."
Meg went back to toast her feet and read IVANHOE, and Jobegan to dig paths with great energy. The snow was light, andwith her broom she soon swept a path all round the garden, forBeth to walk in when the sun came out and the invalid dollsneeded air. Now, the garden separated the Marches' house fromthat of Mr. Laurence. Both stood in a suburb of the city, whichwas still countrylike, with groves and lawns, large gardens, andquiet streets. A low hedge parted the two estates. On one sidewas an old, brown house, looking rather bare and shabby, robbedof the vines that in summer covered its walls and the flowers,which then surrounded it. On the other side was a stately stonemansion, plainly betokening every sort of comfort and luxury, fromthe big coach house and well-kept grounds to the conservatory andthe glimpses of lovely things one caught between the rich curtains.
Yet it seemed a lonely, lifeless sort of house, for no childrenfrolicked on the lawn, no motherly face ever smiled at the windows,and few people went in and out, except the old gentleman and hisgrandson.
To Jo's lively fancy, this fine house seemed a kind of enchantedpalace, full of splendors and delights which no one enjoyed. Shehad long wanted to behold these hidden glories, and to know theLaurence boy, who looked as if he would like to be known, if he onlyknew how to begin. Since the party, she had been more eager than ever,and had planned many ways of making friends with him, but he had notbeen seen lately, and Jo began to think he had gone away, when sheone day spied a brown face at an upper window, looking wistfully downinto their garden, where Beth and Amy were snow-balling one another.
"That boy is suffering for society and fun," she said to herself."His grandpa does not know what's good for him, and keeps him shut upall alone. He needs a party of jolly boys to play with, or somebodyyoung and lively. I've a great mind to go over and tell the oldgentleman so!"
The idea amused Jo. who liked to do daring things and wasalways scandalizing Meg by her queer performances. The plan of`going over' was not forgotten. And when the snowy afternoon came,Jo resolved to try what could be done. She saw Mr. Lawrence drive off,and then sallied out to dig her way down to the hedge, where shepaused and took a survey. All quiet, curtains down at the lower windows,servants out of sight, and nothing human visible but a curlyblack head leaning on a thin hand at the upper window.
"There he is," thought Jo, "Poor boy! All alone and sick thisdismal day. It's a shame! I'll toss up a snowball and make him lookout, and then say a kind word to him."
Up went a handful of soft snow, and the head turned at once,showing a face which lost its listless look in a minute, as the bigeyes brightened and the mouth began to smile. Jo nodded and laughed,and flourished her broom as she called out...
"How do you do? Are you sick?"
Laurie opened the window, and croaked out as hoarsely as a raven...
"Better, thank you. I've had a bad cold, and been shut up aweek."
"I'm sorry. What do you amuse yourself with?"
"Nothing. It's dull as tombs up here."
"Don't you read?"
"Not much. They won't let me."
"Can't somebody read to you?"
"Grandpa does sometimes, but my books don't interest him, andI hate to ask Brooke all the time."
"Have someone come and see you then."
"There isn't anyone I'd like to see. Boys make such a row, andmy head is weak."
"Isn't there some nice girl who'd read and amuse you? Girlsare quiet and like to play nurse."
"Don't know any."
"You know us," began Jo, then laughed and stopped.
"So I do! Will you come, please?" cried Laurie.
"I'm not quiet and nice, but I'll come, if Mother will let me.I'll go ask her. Shut the window, like a good boy, and wait till Icome."
With that, Jo shouldered her broom and marched into the house,wondering what they would all say to her. Laurie was in a flutterof excitement at the idea of having company, and flew about to getready, for as Mrs. March said, he was `a little gentleman'. and didhonor to the coming guest by brushing his curly pate, putting on afresh color, and trying tidy up the room, which in spite of half adozen servants, was anything but neat. Presently there came a loudring, than a decided voice, asking for `Mr. laurie', and a surprised-looking servant came running up to announce a young lady.
"All right, show her up, it's Miss Jo, "said Laurie, going to thedoor of his little parlor to meet Jo, who appeared, looking rosy andquite at her ease, with a covered dish in one hand and Beth's threekittens in the other.
"Here I am, bag and baggage," she said briskly. "Mother sent herlove, and was glad if I could do anything for you. Meg wanted me tobring some of her blancmange, she makes it very nicely, and Beth thoughther cats would be comforting. I knew you'd laugh at them, but I couldn'trefuse, she was so anxious to do something."
It so happened that Beth's funny loan was just the thing, forin laughing over the kits, Laurie forgot his bashfulness, and grewsociable at once.
"That looks too pretty to eat," he said, smiling with pleasure,as Jo uncovered the dish, and showed the blancmange, surrounded by agarland of green leaves, and the scarlet flowers of Amy's pet geranium.
"It isn't anything, only they all felt kindly and wanted to showit. Tell the girl to put it away for your tea. It's so simple you caneat it, and being soft, it will slip down without hurting your sorethroat. What a cozy room this is!"
"It might be it it was kept nice, but the maids are lazy, andI don't know how to make them mind. It worries me though."
"I'll right it up in two minutes, for it only needs to have thehearth brushed, so--and the things made straight on the mantelpiece,so--and the books put here, and the bottles there, and your sofaturned from the light, and the pillows plumped up a bit. Now then,you're fixed."
And so he was, for, as she laughed and talked, Jo had whiskedthings into place and given quite a different air to the room. Lauriewatched her in respectful silence, and when she beckoned him to hissofa, he sat down with a sigh of satisfaction, saying gratefully...
"How kind you are! Yes, that's what it wanted. Now please takethe big chair and let me do something to amuse my company."
"No, I came to amuse you. Shall I read aloud?" and Jo lookedaffectionately toward some inviting books near by.
"Thank you! I've read all those, and if you don't mind, I'drather talk," answered Laurie.
"Not a bit. I'll talk all day if you'll only set me going.Beth says I never know when to stop."
"Is Beth the rosy one, who stays at home good deal and sometimesgoes out with a little basket?" asked Laurie with interest.
"Yes, that's Beth. She's my girl, and a regular good one she is, too."
"The pretty one is Meg, and the curly-haired one is Amy, I believe?"
Laurie colored up, but answered frankly, "Why, you see I oftenhear you calling to one another, and when I'm alone up here, I can'thelp looking over at your house, you always seem to be having suchgood times. I beg your pardon for being so rude, but sometimes youforget to put down the curtain at the window where the flowers are.And when the lamps are lighted, it's like looking at a picture tosee the fire, and you all around the table with your mother. Herface is right opposite, and it looks so sweet behind the flowers,I can't help watching it. I haven't got any mother, you know."And Laurie poked the fire to hide a little twitching of the lipsthat he could not control.
The solitary, hungry look in his eyes went straight to Jo'swarm heart. she had been so simply taught that there was nononsense in her head, and at fifteen she was as innocent and frankas any child. Laurie was sick and lonely, and feeling how rich shewas in home and happiness, she gladly tried to share it with him.Her face was very friendly and her sharp voice unusually gentle asshe said...
"We'll never draw that curtain any more, and I give you leaveto look as much as you like. I just wish, though, instead of peeping,you'd come over and see us. Mother is so splendid, she'd do you heapsof good, and Beth would sing to you if I begged her to, and Amy woulddance. Meg and I would make you laugh over our funny stageproperties, and we'd have jolly times. Wouldn't your grandpa let you?"
"I think he would, if your mother asked him. He's very kind,though he does not look so, and he lets me do what I like, pretty much,only he's afraid I might be a bother to strangers," began Laurie,brightening more and more.
"We are not strangers, we are neighbors, and you needn't thinkyou'd be a bother. We want to know you, and I've been trying to doit this ever so long. We haven't been here a great while, you know,but we have got acquainted with all our neighbors but you."
"You see, Grandpa lives among his books, and doesn't mind muchwhat happens outside. Mr. Brooke, my tutor, doesn't stay here, youknow, and I have no one to go about with me, so I just stop at homeand get on as I can."
"That's bad. You ought to make an effort and go visitingeverywhere you are asked, then you'll have plenty of friends, andpleasant places to go to. Never mind being bashful. It won't lastlong if you keep going."
Laurie turned red again, but wasn't offended at being accusedof bashfulness, for there was so much good will in Jo it wasimpossible not to take her blunt speeches as kindly as they weremeant.
"Do you like your school?" asked the boy, changing the subject,after a little pause, during which he stared at the fire and Jolooked about her, well pleased.
"Don't go to school, I'm a businessman--girl, I mean. I go towait on my great-aunt, and a dear, cross old soul she is, too,"answered Jo.
Laurie opened his mouth to ask another question, but rememberingjust in time that it wasn't manners to make too many inquiries intopeople's affairs, he shut it again, and looked uncomfortable.
Jo liked his good breeding, and didn't mind having a laugh atAunt March, so she gave him a lively description of the fidgetyold lady, her fat poodle, the parrot that talked Spanish, and thelibrary where she reveled.
Laurie enjoyed that immensely, and when she told about theprim old gentleman who came once to woo Aunt March, and in themiddle of a fine speech, how Poll had tweaked his wig off to hisgreat dismay, the boy lay back and laughed till the tears randown his cheeks, and a maid popped her head in to see what wasthe matter.
"Oh! That does me no end of good. Tell on, please," hesaid, taking his face out of the sofa cushion, red and shiningwith merriment.
Much elated with her success, Jo did `tell on', all abouttheir plays and plans, their hopes and fears for Father, andthe most interesting events of the little world in which thesisters lived. Then they got to talking about books, and toJo's delight, she found that Laurie loved them as well as shedid, and had read even more than herself.
"If you like them so much, come down and see ours. Grandfatheris out, so you needn't be afraid," said Laurie, getting up.
"I'm not afraid of anything," returned Jo, with a toss ofthe head.
"I don't believe you are!" exclaimed the boy, looking at herwith much admiration, though he privately thought she would havegood reason to be a trifle afraid of the old gentleman, if shemet hem in some of his moods.
The atmosphere of the whole house being summerlike, Laurieled the way from room to room, letting Jo stop to examine whateverstruck her fancy. And so, at last they came to the library,where she clapped her hands and pranced, as she always did whenespecially delighted. It was lined with books, and there werepictures and statues, and distracting little cabinets full ofcoins and curiosities, and Sleepy Hollow chairs, and queer tables,and bronzes, and best of all, a great open fireplace with quainttiles all round it.
"What richness!" sighed Jo, sinking into the depth of a velourchair 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 headas he perched on a table opposite.
Before he could more, a bell rang, and Jo flew up, exclaimingwith alarm, "Mercy me! It's your grandpa!"
"Well, what if it is? You are not afraid of anything, youknow," returned the boy, looking wicked.
"I think I am a little bit afraid of him, but I don't knowwhy I should be. Marmee said I might come, and I don't thinkyou're any the worse for it," said Jo, composing herself, thoughshe 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 of talking to me. It was sopleasant, I couldn't bear to stop," said Laurie gratefully.
"The doctor to see you, sir," and the maid beckoned as shespoke.
"Would you mind if I left you for a minute? I suppose Imust see him," said Laurie.
"Don't mind me. I'm 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 whenthe door opened again, and without turning, she said decidedly, "I'msure 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 willof 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 herheart began to beat uncomfortably fast as she thought what she hadsaid. For a minute a wild desire to run away possessed her, butthat was cowardly, and the girls would laugh at her, so she resolvedto stay and get out of the scrape as she could. A second look showedher that the living eyes, under the bushy eyebrows, were kinder eventhan the painted ones, and there was a sly twinkle in them, whichlessened her fear a good deal. The gruff voice was gruffer than ever,as the old gentleman said abruptly, after the dreadful pause, "Soyou'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, turnedup 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. Hewas a fine man, my dear, but what is better, he was a brave and anhonest one, and I was proud to be his friend."
"Thank you, sir," And Jo was quite comfortable after that, forit suited her exactly.
"What have you been doing to this boy of mine, hey?" was thenext question, sharply put.
"Only trying to be neighborly, sir." And Jo to how her visitcame about.
"You think he needs cheering up a bit, do you?"
"Yes, sir, he seems a little lonely, and young folks would dohim good perhaps. We are only girls, but we should be glad tohelp if we could, for we don't forget the splendid Christmas presentyou sent us," said Jo eagerly.
"Tut, tut, tut! That was the boy's affair. How is the poorwoman?"
"Doing nicely, sir." And off went Jo, talking very fast, asshe told all about the Hummels, in whom her mother had interestedricher friends than they were.
"Just her father's way of doing good. I shall come and seeyour 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 beingneighborly."
"If you'd like to have me, sir."
"Shouldn't ask you, if I didn't." And Mr. Laurence offeredher his arm with old-fashioned courtesy.
"What would Meg say to this?" thought Jo, as she was marchedaway, while her eyes danced with fun as she imagined herself tellingthe story at home.
"Hey! Why, what the dickens has come to the fellow?" said theold gentleman, as Laurie came running downstairs and brought up witha start of surprise at the astounding sight of Jo arm in arm withhis redoubtable grandfather.
"I didn't know you'd come, sir," he began, as Jo gave him atriumphant little glance.
"That's evident, by the way you racket downstairs. Come toyour tea, sir, and behave like a gentleman." And having pulledthe boy's hair by way of a caress, Mr. Laurence walked on, whileLaurie went through a series of comic evolutions behind theirbacks, which nearly produced an explosion of laughter from Jo.
The old gentleman did not say much as he drank his fourcups of tea, but he watched the young people, who soon chattedaway like old friends, and the change in his grandson did notescape him. There was color, light, and life in the boy's facenow, vivacity in his manner, and genuine merriment in his laugh.
"She's right, the lad is lonely. I'll see what these littlegirls can do for him," thought Mr. Laurence, as he looked andlistened. He liked Jo, for her odd, blunt ways suited him, andshe seemed to understand the boy almost as well as if she hadbeen 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 madeher shy and awkward. But finding them free and easy, she wasso herself, and made a good impression. When they rose sheproposed to go, but Laurie said he had something more to showher, and took her away to the conservatory, which had beenlighted for her benefit. It seemed quite fairylike to Jo, asshe went up and down the walks, enjoying the blooming walls oneither side, the soft light, the damp sweet air, and the wonderfulvines and trees that hung about her, while her new friend cut thefinest flowers till his hands were full. Then he tied them up,saying, with the happy look Jo liked to see, "Please give theseto your mother, and tell her I like the medicine she sent me verymuch."
They found Mr. Laurence standing before the fire in the greatdrawing room, by Jo's attention was entirely absorbed by a grandpiano, which stood open.
"Do you play?" she asked, turning to Laurie with a respectfulexpression.
"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 luxuriouslyburied in heliotrope and tea roses. Her respect and regard forthe `Laurence' boy increased very much, for he played remarkably welland didn't put on any airs. She wished Beth could hear him, butshe did not say so, only praised him till he was quite abashed, andhis grandfather came to his rescue.
"That will do, that will do, young lady. too many sugarplumsare not good for him. His music isn't bad, but I hope he will doas well in more important things. Going? well, I'm much obligedto 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 notplease him. When they got into the hall, Jo asked Laurie if shehad said something amiss. He shook his head.
"No, it was me. He doesn't like to hear me play."
"I'll tell you some day. John is going home with you, as Ican't."
"No need of that. I am not a young lady, and it's only astep. 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."
"Good night, Laurie!"
"Good night, Jo, good night!"
When all the afternoon's adventures had been told, the familyfelt inclined to go visiting in a body, for each found somethingvery 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 hadnot forgotten him, Meg longed to walk in the conservatory, Bethsighed for the grand piano. and Amy was eager to see the finepictures 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'sfather, married an Italian lady, a musician, which displeased theold man, who is very proud. The lady was good and lovely andaccomplished, but he did not like her, and never saw his son afterhe married. They both died when Laurie was a little child, andthen his grandfather took him home. I fancy the boy, who was bornin Italy, is not very strong, and the old man is afraid of losinghim, which makes him so careful. Laurie comes naturally by hislove of music, for he is like his mother, and I dare say hisgrandfather 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 hatesto go."
"That's why he has such handsome black eyes and pretty manners,I suppose. Italians are always nice," said Meg, who was a littlesentimental.
"What do you know about his eyes and his manners? You neverspoke to him, hardly," cried Jo, who was not sentimental.
"I saw him at the party, and what you tell shows that he knowshow to behave. That was a nice little speech about the medicineMother sent him."
"He meant the blanc mange, I suppose.""How stupid you are, child! He meant you, of course."
"Did he?" And Jo opened her eyes as if it had never occurredto her before.
"I never saw such a girl! You don't know a compliment whenyou get it," said Meg, with the air of a young lady who knew allabout the matter.
"I think they are great nonsense, and I'll thank you not tobe 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 suchrubbish. 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?"
"Yes, Jo, your little friend is very welcome, and I hope Megwill 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 throughthe Wicket Gate by resolving to be good, and up the steep hill bytrying, 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 lions first," said Jo, as if sherather liked the prospect.