那座大楼确实是个"丽 宫"，不过众人颇费时日才全部走进去，贝思更是觉得很难走过"狮子群"。劳伦斯老先生就是最大的狮子。不过，自他到她们家拜访，跟众姐妹逐个谈笑一番并和 她们母亲交谈旧事后，大家便不再害怕他了，只有腼腆的贝思例外。另一头狮子是两家贫富悬殊这个现实，这使她们不好意思接受她们报答不了的恩惠。不过，后来 她们发觉他反把她们视为恩人，他对马奇太太的亲切款待、姐妹们的温馨情意，以及他在那间简陋的屋子里所得到的温暖深表感激。于是她们不再自卑，更加亲热往 来，不再理会谁付出的更多。
新的友谊像春草一样茁壮成长，各种美好的事情都在那个时候发生。人人喜欢劳里，他也悄悄告诉他的私人教师"马奇家的姑娘们十分出众"。充满热情的年 轻姑娘们把孤独的男孩带进她们的圈子里，对他悉心照顾。她们心地善良而单纯，劳里在这种天真无邪的交往中感到十分陶醉。由于他从小失去母亲，又没有姐妹， 因此很快便感受到她们给他带来的影响。她们忙碌、活跃的生活方式使他对自己的懒惰生活感到惭愧。他现在厌倦读书，发现与人交往极有乐趣。布鲁克先生不得不 非常不满意地向劳伦斯先生告状，因为劳里常常逃学跑到马奇家去。
而贝思，虽然对大钢琴朝思暮想，却鼓不起勇气走进那间被梅格称为"极乐大厦"的屋子。她也曾随乔去过一次，但老人不知道她天性懦弱，浓眉下的一双眼 睛紧紧盯着她，大叫一声"嗨！“吓得她"双脚在地板上乱抖"，这是她后来告诉妈妈的；她夺路而逃，并宣布以后永不踏足此地，对大钢琴也忍痛割爱了。大家百 般劝哄无效，后来，劳伦斯先生不知从何处听到了这事，亲自着手弥补。在一次短暂的拜访中，他巧妙地把话题扯到音乐，大谈他所见所闻的歌唱家和弦琴珍曲等奇 闻趣事。呆在远远一角的贝思听入迷了，忍不住渐渐靠上前来，站在他椅子背后悄悄聆听，眼睛瞪大，脸颊因自己不寻常的举动而羞得通红。劳伦斯先生对她视如不 见，继续谈劳里的功课和教师，一会，他似乎突然想起了什么，对马奇太太说--“那孩子现在不大理音乐了，我倒挺高兴，因为他原来喜欢得有点过头。不过钢琴 闲置着太可惜，你家姑娘们愿不愿意过来时不时弹弹，免得荒废了。你说呢，夫人？“贝思上前一步，双手紧紧握住才没有拍起掌来。这个诱惑不可抗拒，想到在那 架漂亮的钢琴上弹奏，她真是又惊又喜。还没等马奇太太回答，劳伦斯先生古怪地轻轻点点头，微笑道--“她们用不着跟人说，随时都可以跑进来；因为我总呆在 屋子另一头的书房里，劳里常常不在家，九点钟后佣人也从不走近客厅。“说到这他站起来，似乎要告辞了。贝思下定决心要讲两句话，因为最后的安排完全乘了她 的心愿。“请把我的话转告年轻女士们，如果她们不想来，嘿，那就算了。“这时一只小手塞进他的手里，贝思满脸感激地仰头望着他，诚恳而腼腆地说--“噢， 先生，她们想的，非常非常想！““你就是弹琴的姑娘？“他问道，没有吓人地叫"嗨！“而是非常慈爱地望着她。
“不会有人听到，亲爱的。屋子有半天空着；你尽管过来弹吧，非常欢迎你。“您真是菩萨心肠，先生！“贝思被他友善的眼光看得脸红耳赤；不过她现在不 再害怕，因为找不到话来感谢他送给自己的珍贵礼物，便感激地把那只大手紧紧攥祝老人轻轻拨开她额上的头发，俯下身来吻了一下，用一种少有的声调说--“我 曾经有个小姑娘，眼睛跟你的一模一样。上帝保佑你，亲爱的孩子！再见，夫人，“说毕他匆匆离去。
贝思与母亲狂喜一番后，因为姑娘们不在家，便冲上去把好消息告诉那班残破不堪的布娃娃。那天晚上她高兴得唱个不停，半夜，她睡梦中在艾美脸上弹钢 琴，把艾美闹醒，引得姐妹们大笑不已。第二天，贝思看到一老一少两位绅士都出了门，犹豫再三后，从侧门走进去，轻手轻脚地朝搁置着钢琴的客厅走去。碰巧， 当然啦，钢琴上摆着几张简单而动听的乐谱，贝思不时四面窥探，终于用颤抖的手指弹响了琴键，旋即便忘掉了恐惧，忘掉了自己和周围的一切，音乐声仿如一位挚 友的声音，给她带来难以言喻的快乐。
从此以后，一个戴着棕色小帽的身影几乎每天都溜过树篱，一个静悄悄的音乐精灵常常在那间大客厅出没。她不知道劳伦斯先生经常打开书房门聆听他喜欢的 旧曲子；没有看到劳里在大厅放哨，提醒佣人不要走近；也从不怀疑乐器架上的练习书和新歌是特意为她放置的；劳伦斯先生在家里跟她谈论音乐，使她大获裨益， 她也只以为他是出于好心而已。
贝思跟梅格和乔严肃讨论后，选定了图案，接着便购买材料，开始动工。大家一致称紫黑色底衬着一丛庄重而生机勃勃的三色堇非常合适漂亮。贝思夜以继日 地缝制，只是难做的部分才偶尔要人帮忙。她做缝纫活儿心灵手巧，众人还未感到厌倦鞋子便完工了。然后她写了一张简单的便条，一天早上趁老人尚未起床，让劳 里帮她悄悄把它们捎到书房，放在书桌上。
此后，贝思怀着紧张的心情等着看老人的反应。当天无事发生，第二天中午仍然无声无息，她开始担心自己冒犯了那位怪癖的朋友。下午，她出去办点差事， 并带乔安娜，一个残破的洋娃娃，去做日常锻炼。回来走近大街时，她看到三个，对了，是四个人在客厅的窗边探头探脑。看到她走来，她们一起招手，快乐地尖声 高叫--“老先生来了一封信！快，快来读吧！““噢，贝思，他送你--"艾美争先说，笨拙地使劲打着手势，不过她没再往下说，因为乔砰的一声关上窗户，把 她的话堵了回去。
如果她们看到贝思后来做的事情一定会更加惊异。真的，她径直走到书房门口，毫不思索便叩门。一个生硬的声音叫道：“进来！“她果真走进去，走到大吃 一惊的劳伦斯先生面前，伸出手，声音微颤地说道：“我来谢谢您，先生。谢谢你--"一语未毕，劳伦斯先生慈爱友善的目光令她忘记了要说的话，她只记得他失 去了最钟爱的小孙女，于是伸出双臂抱住他的颈部，吻了他一下。
即使屋顶突然飞落，老人也不会这么震惊，但他非常欢喜--啊，真的，欢喜得难以言喻！--那流露真情的轻轻一吻使他深深感动、非常愉快，他彻底软化 了。他把她放在膝头上，把自己满布皱纹的脸颊贴住她玫瑰色的脸颊，仿佛自己又寻回了自己的小孙女。贝思从那一刻起不再怕他，她坐在那里与他亲密地交谈，仿 佛从一生下来就已经认识他一般，因为爱可以驱除恐惧，感激可以征服自尊。她回家时劳伦斯先生把她一直送到家门口，跟她诚挚地握手，往回走时又轻触帽檐向她 致意，腰身挺直，神态庄重，活像个英俊勇敢的老绅士，而事实也正是如此。
The big house did prove a Palace Beautiful, though it tooksome time for all to get in, and Beth found it very hard to passthe lions. Old Mr. Laurence was the biggest one, but after hehad called, said something funny or kind to each one of the girls,and talked over old times with their mother, nobody felt muchafraid of him, except timid Beth. The other lion was the fact thatthey were poor and Laurie rich, for this made them shy of acceptingfavors which they could not return. But, after a while, they foundthat he considered them the benefactors, and could not do enough toshow how grateful he was for Mrs. March's motherly welcome, theircheerful society, and the comfort he took in that humble home oftheirs. So they soon forgot their pride and interchanged kindnesseswithout stopping to think which was the greater.
All sorts of pleasant things happened about that time, for thenew friendship flourished like grass in spring. Every one likedLaurie, and he privately informed his tutor that "the Marches wereregularly 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 companionshipof these simple-hearted girls. Never having known mother or sisters,he was quick to feel the influences they brought about him, andtheir 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 Lauriewas 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 studyingtoo hard and needs young society, amusement, and exercise. I suspectshe is right, and that I've been coddling the fellow as if I'd beenhis 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, andMrs. 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 inthe old parlor, and now and then such gay little parties at thegreat house. Meg could walk in the conservatory whenever she likedand revel in bouquets, Jo browsed over the new library voraciously,and convulsed the old gentleman with her criticisms, Amy copiedpictures and enjoyed beauty to her heart's content, and Laurieplayed `lord of the manor' in the most delightful style.
But Beth, though yearning for the grand piano, could notpluck up courage to go to the `Mansion of Bliss', as Meg calledit. She went once with Jo, but the old gentleman, not beingaware of her infirmity, stared at her so hard from under hisheavy eyebrows, and said "Hey!" so loud, that he frightened herso much her `feet chattered on the floor', she never told hermother, and she ran away, declaring she would never go thereany more, not even for the dear piano. No persuasions orenticements could overcome her fear, till, the fact coming toMr. Laurence's ear in some mysterious way, he set about mendingmatters. During one of the brief calls he made, he artfullyled the conversation to music, and talked away about greatsingers whom he had seen, fine organs he had heard, and toldsuch charming anecdotes that Beth found it impossible to stayin her distant corner, but crept nearer and nearer, as iffascinated. At the back of his chair she stopped and stoodlistening, with her great eyes wide open and her cheeks redwith excitement of this unusual performance. Taking no morenotice of her than if she had been a fly, Mr. Laurence talked onabout Laurie's lessons and teachers. And presently, as if theidea had just occurred to him, he said to Mrs. March...
"The boy neglects his music now, and I'm glad of it, forhe was getting too fond of it. But the piano suffers for wantof use. Wouldn't some of your girls like to run over, andpractice on it now and then, just to keep it in tune, you know,ma`am?"
Beth took a step forward, and pressed her hands tightlytogether to keep from clapping them, for this was an irresistibletemptation, and the thought of practicing on that splendidinstrument quite took her breath away. Before Mrs. March couldreply, 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, Laurieis out a great deal, and the servants are never near the drawingroom 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, tellthe 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 lookedup at him with a face full of gratitude, as she said, in her earnestyet timid way...
"Oh 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 quitesure nobody will hear me, and be disturbed," she added, fearing tobe rude, and trembling at her own boldness as she spoke.
"Not a soul, my dear. The house is empty half the day, socome and drum away as much as you like, and I shall be obliged toyou."
"How kind you are, sir!"
Beth blushed like a rose under the friendly look he wore, but shewas not frightened now, and gave the hand a grateful squeeze becauseshe 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 herr, 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 toimpart the glorious news to her family of invalids, as the girlswere not home. How blithely she sang that evening, and how theyall laughed at her because she woke Amy in the night by playingthe piano on her face in her sleep. Next day, having seen boththe old and young gentleman out of the house, Beth, after two orthree retreats, fairly got in at the side door, and made her wayas noiselessly as any mouse to the drawing room where her idolstood. Quite by accident, of course, some pretty, easy music layon the piano, and with trembling fingers and frequent stops tolisten and look about, Beth at last touched the great instrument,and straightway forgot her fear, herself, and everything else butthe unspeakable delight which the music gave her, for it was likethe voice of a beloved friend.
She stayed till Hannah came to take her home to dinner, but shehad no appetite, and could only sit and smile upon everyone in a generalstate of beatitude.
After that, the little brown hood slipped through the hedgenearly every day, and the great drawing room was haunted by a tunefulspirit that came and went unseen. She never knew that Mr. Laurenceopened his study door to hear the old-fashioned airs he liked. Shenever saw Laurie mount guard in the hall to warn the servants away.She never suspected that the exercise books and new songs which shefound in the rack were put there for her especial benefit, and whenhe talked to her about music at home, she only thought how kind hewas to tell things that helped her so much. So she enjoyed herselfheartily, and found, what isn't always the case, that her grantedwish was all she had hoped. Perhaps it was because she was so gratefulfor this blessing that a greater was given her. At any rate shedeserved both.
"Mother, I'm going to work Mr. Laurence a pair of slippers. Heis so kind to me, I must thank him, and I don't know any other way.Can I do it?" asked Beth, a few weeks after that eventful call of his.
"Yes, dear. It will please him very much, and be a nice way ofthanking him. The girls will help you about them, and I will pay forthe making up," replied Mrs. March, who took peculiar pleasure ingranting Beth's requests because she so seldom asked anything forherself.
After many serious discussions with Meg and Jo, the pattern waschosen, the materials bought, and the slippers begun. A cluster ofgrave yet cheerful pansies on a deeper purple ground was pronouncedvery appropriate and pretty, and beth worked away early and late, withoccasional lifts over hard parts. She was a nimble little needlewoman,and they were finished before anyone got tired of them. Then she wrotea short, simple note, and with Laurie's help, got them smuggled ontothe study table one morning before the old gentleman was up.
When this excitement was over, Beth waited to see what wouldhappen. All day passed a a part of the next before anyacknowledgement arrived, and she was beginning to fear she had offendedher crochety friend. On the afternoon of the second day, she went outto do an errand, and give poor Joanna, the invalid doll, her dailyexercise. As she came up the street, on her return, she saw three,yes, four heads popping in and out of the parlor windows, and themoment they saw her, several hands were waved, and several joyfulvoices screamed...
"Here's a letter from the old gentleman! Come quick, and read it!"
"Oh, Beth, he's sent you..." began Amy, gesticulating withunseemly energy, but she got no further, for Jo quenched her byslamming down the window.
Beth hurried on in a flutter of suspense. At the door hersisters seized and bore her to the parlor in a triumphal procession,all pointing and all saying at once, "Look there! Look there!" Bethdid look, and turned pale with delight and surprise, for there stooda little cabinet piano, with a letter lying on the glossy lid, directedlike a sign board to "Miss Elizabeth March."
"For me?" gasped Beth, holding onto Jo and feeling as if sheshould tumble down, it was such an overwhelming thing altogether.
"Yes, all for you, my precious! Isn't it splendid of him? Don'tyou think he's the dearest old man in the world? Here's the key inthe letter. We didn't open it, but we are dying to know what he says,"cried Jo, hugging her sister and offering the note.
"You read it! I can't, I feel so queer! Oh, it is too lovely!"and Beth hid her face in Jo's apron, quite upset by her present.
Jo opened the paper and began to laugh, for the first worked shesaw were...
"How nice it sounds! I wish someone would write to me so!" saidAmy, who thought the old-fashioned address very elegant.
"`I have had many pairs of slippers in my life, but I never hadany that suited me so well as yours, '" continues Jo. "`Heartsease ismy favorite flower, and these will always remind me of the gentlegiver. I like to pay my debts, so I know you will allow `the oldgentleman' to send you something which once belonged to the littlegrand daughter he lost. With hearty thanks and best wishes, I remain"`Your grateful friend and humble servant,"`JAMES LAURENCE'
"There, Beth, that's an honor to be proud of, I'm sure! Laurietold me how fond Mr.Laurence used to be of the child who died, andhow he kept all her little things carefully. Just think, he's givenyou her piano. That comes of having big blue eyes and loving music,"said Jo, trying to soothe Beth, who trembled and looked more excitedthan she had ever been before.
"See the cunning brackets to hold candles, and the nice greensild, puckered up, with a gold rose in the middle, and the prettyrack and stool, all complete," added Meg, opening the instrumentand displaying its beauties.
"`Your humble servant, James Laurence'. Only think of hiswriting that to you. I'll tell the girls. They'll think it'ssplendid," said Amy, much impressed by the note.
"Try it, honey. Let's hear the sound of the baby pianny,"said Hannah, who always took a share in the family joys and sorrows.
So Beth tried it, and everyone pronounced it the most remarkablepiano ever heard. It had evidently been newly tuned and put in apple-pie order, but, perfect as it was, I think the real charm lay in thehappiest of all happy faces which leaned over it, as Beth lovinglytouched the beautiful black and white keys and pressed the bright pedals.
"You'll have to go and thank him," said Jo, by way of a joke,for the idea of the child's really going never entered her head.
"Yes, I mean to. I guess I'll go no, before I get frightenedthinking about it." And, to the utter amazement of the assembledfamily, Beth walked deliberately down the garden, through thehedge, and in at the Laurences' door.
"Well, I wish I may die if it ain't the queerest thing I eversee! The pianny has turned her head! She'd never have gone inher right mind," cried Hannah, staring after her, while the girlswere rendered quite speechless by the miracle.
They would have been still more amazed if they had seen whatBeth did afterward. If you will believe me, she went and knockedat the study door before she gave herself time to think, and whena gruff voice called out, "come in!" she did go in, right up toMr. Laurence, who looked quite taken aback, and held out her hand,saying, with only a small quaver in her voice, "I came to thank you,sir, for..." But she didn't finish, for he looked so friendly thatshe forgot her speech and, only remembering that he had lost thelittle girl he loved, she put both arms round his neck and kissedhim.
If the roof of the house had suddenly flown off, the oldgentleman wouldn't have been more astonished. But he liked it.Oh, dear, yes, he liked it amazingly! And was so touched andpleased by that confiding little kiss that all his crustinessvanished, and he just set her on his knee, and laid hiswrinkled cheek against her rosy one, feeling as if he had got hisown little grand daughter back again. Beth ceased to fear himfrom that moment, and sat there talking to him as cozily as ifshe had known him all her life, for love casts out fear, andgratitude can conquer pride. When she went home, he walked withher to her own gate, shook hands cordially, and touched his hatas he marched back again, looking very stately and erect, likea handsome, soldierly old gentleman, as he was.
When the girls saw that performance, Jo began to dance a jig,by way of expressing her satisfaction, Amy nearly fell out of thewindow in her surprise, and Meg exclaimed, with up-lifted hands,"Well, I do believe the world is coming to an end.