一个热烘烘的九月下 午，劳里舒舒服服地躺在吊床上摇来晃去，很想知道邻居姐妹们在干什么却又懒得去弄清楚。他正在闹情绪，因为这天过得既无意义又不舒心，他很想从头再来一 次。炎热的天气使他懒洋洋的，他书也不读了，惹得布鲁克先生忍无可忍，又花了半个下午弹琴，弄得爷爷很不高兴，还恶作剧地暗示他的一只狗即将发疯，把女佣 们吓得几乎神经错乱，接着又毫无根据地指责马夫疏忽了他的马儿，和马夫吵了一架，之后便跳上吊床，怒火中烧，认定世人全都愚不可及。夏日明媚，四处静悄悄 一片，他不知不觉安静了下来。盯着头上绿森森的七叶树，他做开了形形式式的白日梦。正想象着自己在海洋上颠簸作环球航行，突然一阵声音传来，转瞬间便把他 带回到岸上。透过吊床的网孔一望，他看到马奇姐妹走出来，好像要去进行什么探险似的。
“这个时候那些姑娘们到底要去干什么？“劳里想，一面睁开睡意惺忪的双眼看个究竟，因为他的邻居们打扮相当古怪。每人戴一顶悬垂着边儿的大帽，肩头 斜挎一个棕色的亚麻布小袋，手拿一根长棍棒。梅格带着一个垫子，乔拿本书，贝思提个篮子，艾美夹个画夹。她们静静走过花园，出了后院小门，开始攀登位于屋 子和小河之间的一座小山丘。
“好啊！“劳里自语道，“去野餐竟然不叫我！她们不会去乘那只艇吧？她们没有钥匙埃或者她们忘了呢；我把钥匙带给她们，看看是怎么回事。“虽然帽子 有半打之多，他花了不少功夫才找出一顶；接着又四处翻找钥匙，最后发现原来就在自己的衣袋里。这么一来，当他跃过围栏追过去时，姑娘们已经消失得无影无 踪。
这果然是一幅漂亮的小图画，只见四姐妹一起坐在树荫一角，斑驳的日影在她们身上摇曳不定，清风撩起她们的发梢，吹凉她们炽热的脸颊，林子里的几个小 孩子全都继续忙着自己的事情，似乎她们是老朋友而不是陌生人。梅格穿着一身粉红色衣裙，坐在她带来的垫子上，用白皙的双手灵巧地穿针引线，林木青青，更显 得她像玫瑰花般娇艳。贝思在挑拣铁杉树下堆了厚厚一层的松果，用来做精致的小玩意。艾美对着一丛蕨类植物写生，乔则一面编织一面大声朗读。男孩望着她们， 脸上闪过一丝乌云，他觉得自己应该走开，因为人家并没有邀请自己，但却徘徊不去，因为他的家似乎十分孤寂乏味，而林中这个宁静的队伍又牢牢吸引着他那颗不 安分的心。他呆呆静立一旁，一只忙着觅食的小松鼠从他身旁的一棵松树上溜下来，突然发现了他，吓得往后一跳，尖声叫了起来。贝思闻声抬起头，看见了白桦树 后那张若有所思的脸孔，于是展颜一笑，向他致意。
“妈妈喜欢我们多到户外活动，我们便把活计带到这来，过得开开心心。为了使这个活动增添趣味，我们把东西放在这些布袋里头，头戴旧帽子，手持登山用 的棍子，扮演香客，就跟我们几年前玩的一样。我们把这座山丘叫做'快乐山'，因为从这里可以远远望到我们日后希望居住的地方。“乔用手指去，劳里坐起来凝 神观望。透过林中的空隙之处，可以看到宽阔、碧蓝的河流，隔河那边青青的草地，以及草地之外一望无际的郊野。极目之处，一脉绿色的山脉耸入云霄。时值秋 季，夕阳西斜，天边霞光万道，蔚为壮观。山顶祥云缭绕，紫气千条，高高耸入红霞之中的银白色山峰金光灿烂，仿如传说中"天国"的塔尖。
“那我们还要走漫漫长路，还要付出巨大的劳动。我真想此刻生一双翅膀，像燕子一样飞呀飞，飞进那扇金碧辉煌的大门。““你会飞到那里的，贝思，迟早 都会，用不着担心，“乔说，“但我却要奋斗、工作，还要攀登、等待，而且可能永远也进不去。““那我会陪着你，只要你乐意。我还要走许多许多路才能看到你 们的'天国'。如果我迟到，你会替我说句好话，是吗，贝思？“小伙子那副郑重其事的神情令他的小朋友心慌意乱，但她用平静的眼睛注视着变幻不定的云彩，兴 致勃勃地说：“只要一个人真心想去，而且毕其一生不懈努力，我想他就可以进去。我不相信'天国'之门上了锁，也不相信门口有卫兵把守。我总是把它想象得跟 图画里的一样：金光照人的众神伸出双手，迎接从河里上来的可怜的基督徒。““如果我们营造的空中楼阁都能成真，而且我们可以住进里头，那不是很有趣吗？“ 沉默一会之后，乔说道。
“如果我说出来，你也会把自己的说出来吗？““行，只要她们也说。““我们会的。说吧，劳里。““等我们世界游览个够后，我想在德国定居下来，尽情 欣赏音乐。我自己要做个著名的音乐家，全世界的人都得跑来听我演奏；我不用牵挂什么金钱、生意，而是尽情享受生活，爱怎么活便怎么活。这便是我最喜欢的空 中楼阁。你的呢，梅格？“玛格丽特似乎觉得自己的有点不好说，她用一枝蕨在面前扇扇，似乎要赶走并不存在的小昆虫，一边慢吞吞地说：“我想要一栋漂亮的屋 子，里面装满了各种各样奢侈的东西--美味的食物、漂亮的衣服、典雅的家具、合心意的人，还有一堆堆钱。我自己是屋子的女主人，可以随意支配一切，还有许 多佣人，这样我便什么活也不用干。我一定活得有声有色！我不会闲呆着的，我会做善事，让每个人都深深爱我。““你的空中楼阁里不要一个男主人么？“劳里狡 黠地问。
“这有何不好？我要一个养满阿拉伯骏马的马厩，还要几间堆满书本的房子，我要用一枝生花妙笔来写作，这样我的作品便可以跟劳里的音乐一样出名。我在 走进自己的楼阁前想实现一个伟业--一个崇高美好、可以传世留芳的事业。我不知道这是什么，但我正在酝酿之中，决意将来一鸣惊人。我想我会写书，并因此而 致富成名；这挺适合我。这便是我最喜欢的梦想了。““我的梦想是和爸爸妈妈平安呆在家里，帮忙料理家务，“贝思满足地说。
“我希望到那时能做出一点引以为荣的成绩，但我是条大懒虫，只怕会'虚郑（掷）光阴'呢，乔。““你需要一个动力，妈妈说，一旦有了动力，你肯定就 会干得十分出色。““真的？我发誓一定会，但哪里有这样的机会！“劳里叫道，冲动地坐起来，“我很应该讨爷爷的欢心，我也确实尽力而为，但这样做跟我的性 格格格不入，你们知道，我因此十分痛苦。他要我做个像他一样的印度商人，这还不如把我杀掉。我痛恨茶叶、丝绸、香料，痛恨他的破船运来的每一种垃圾。这些 船只归到我名下后，什么时候沉到海底我都不会在乎。我读大学应该遂了他的心，我献给他四年，他便该放过我，不用我做生意；但他铁定了心，非要我步他的后尘 不可，除非我像父亲一样逃离家门，走自己喜欢的路。如果家里有人陪着老人的话，我明天就远走高飞。“劳里言辞激越，似乎一点点小事就能惹得他采取行动。他 正处于急飞猛进的发育时期，虽然行动懒懒洋洋，却有一种年轻人的叛逆心理，内心躁动不安，渴望能自由闯荡天下。
“那样不对，乔，你不能这样说话，劳里也不能接受你的５８１小坏主意。你应该按照你爷爷的意愿行事，好孩子。“梅格摆出一副大姐姐的口吻。“努力念 好大学，当他看到你尽自己的能力来取悦他，我肯定他对你便不会这么强硬，这么不讲理。你也说了，家里再无别人来陪伴他，爱他。如果你擅自把他抛下，你也永 不会原谅自己的。不要烦恼消沉，做自己该做的，这样你就能受人敬爱，得到好的报偿，就像好人布鲁克先生一样。““你知道他些什么？“劳里问。他对这个好建 议心存感激，但对这番教诲却不以为然，刚才他不同寻常地发泄了一番，现在很高兴把话题从自己身上转开。
“只知道你爷爷告诉我们的那些--他如何精心照顾自己的母亲，一直到她去世为止。由于不愿抛下母亲，国外很好的人家请他当私人教师他也不去。还有他 如何赡养一位照顾过他母亲的老太太，却从不告诉别人，而是尽力而为，慷慨、坚忍、善良。““说得一点不错，他是个大好人！“劳里由衷地说。而梅格这时沉默 不语，双颊通红，神情热切。“我爷爷就是喜欢这样，背地里把人家了解得一清二楚，然后到处宣传他的美德，使大家都喜欢他。布鲁克不会明白为什么你母亲会待 他这样好。她请他跟我一同过去，把他敬如上宾，款待得十分亲切周到。他认为她简直十全十美，回来后好些天都把她挂在嘴边，接着又热情如火地谈论你们众姐 妹。若我有朝一日梦想成真，一定为布鲁克做点什么。““不如从现在做起，不要再把他气得七窍生烟，“梅格尖刻地说。
“每次他走的时候看他的脸色就知道了。如果你表现好，他就神采飞扬，脚步轻快；如果你淘气了，他就脸色阴沉，脚步缓慢，仿佛想走回去把工作重新做 好。““啊哈，好啊！这么说来，你通过看布鲁克的脸色就把我的成绩全都记录下来了，对吧？我看到他经过你家窗口时躬身微笑，却不知道你从中收到一封电报 呢。““没有的事。别生气，还有，噢，别告诉他我说了什么！
“如果布鲁克要做个温度计，我就得注意让他有准确的天气可报告。““请别生气。我刚才并非是要说教或搬弄是非，也并非出于无聊。我只是觉得乔这么怂 恿你，你日后会后悔的。你对我们这么好，我们把你当作亲兄弟，把心里话儿都跟你说出来。对不起了，我也是一片好心。“梅格热情而又腼腆地打了个手势，伸出 手来。
想到自己刚才一时负气，劳里不好意思了，他紧紧握住那只小手，坦诚地说：“说对不起的应该是我。我脾气暴躁，而且今天一整天都心情不好。你们指出我 的缺点，像亲姐妹一样待我，我心里不知有多高兴。如果我一时有冲撞无礼之处，请不要放在心上，我还要谢谢你呢。“为了表示自己没有生气，他使出浑身解数来 取悦姐妹们--为梅格绕棉线，替乔朗诵诗歌，帮贝思把松果摇下来，帮艾美画蕨类植物，证明自己是名符其实的"繁忙的蜜蜂会"成员。正当他们兴致勃勃地讨论 着海龟的驯养习惯的时候（起时一只和善可亲的海龟从河里爬了上来），一阵铃声远远飘过来，通知姐妹们罕娜已把茶泡下，是回家吃晚饭的时候了。
那天晚上，当贝思在黄昏下为劳伦斯先生弹奏时，劳里站在帘幕暗处倾听。这位小大卫弹出的简单的音乐声总能使他那颗喜怒无常的心平静下来。他细细端详 坐在一边的老人，只见他用一只手托着白发斑斑的脑袋，无限柔情地在追忆他那逝去的宝贝小女儿。想到下午的谈话，小伙子决定心甘情愿她作出牺牲。他对自己 说：“让我的空中楼阁滚蛋吧。
Laurie lay luxuriously swinging to and fro in his hammockone warm September afternoon, wondering what his neighbors wereabout, but too lazy to go and find out. He was in one of hismoods, for the day had been both unprofitable and unsatisfactory,and he was wishing he could live it over again. The hot weathermade him indolent, and he had shirked his studies, tried Mr.Brooke's patience to the utmost, displeased his grandfather bypracticing half the afternoon, frightened the maidservants halfout of their wits by mischievously hinting that one of his dogswas going mad, and, after high words with the stableman aboutsome fancied neglect of his horse, he had flung himself intohis hammock to fume over the stupidity of the world in general,till the peace of the lovely day quieted him in spite of himself.Staring up into the green gloom of the horse-chestnut trees abovehim, he dreamed dreams of all sorts, and was just imagininghimself tossing on the ocean in a voyage round the world,when the sound of voices brought him ashore in a flash.Peeping through the meshes of the hammock, he saw the Marchescoming out, as if bound on some expedition.
"What in the world are those girls about now?" thoughtLaurie, opening his sleepy eyes to take a good look, for therewas something rather peculiar in the appearance of hisneighbors. Each wore a large, flapping hat, a brown linen pouchslung over one shoulder, and carried a long staff. Meg had acushion, Jo a book, Beth a basket, and Amy a portfolio. Allwalked quietly through the garden, out at the little back gate,and began to climb the hill that lay between the house and river.
"Well, that's cool," said Laurie to himself, "to have a picnicand never ask me! They can't be going in the boat, for theyhaven't got the key. Perhaps they forgot it. I'll take it to them,and see what's going on."
Though possessed of half a dozen hats, it took him some timeto find one, then there was a hunt for the key, which was at lastdiscovered in his pocket, so that the girls were quite out of sightwhen leaped the fence and ran after them. Taking the shortest wayto the boathouse, he waited for them to appear, but no one came,and he went up the hill to take an observation. A grove of pinescovered one part of it, and from the heart of this green spot camea clearer sound than the soft sigh of the pines or the drowsy chirpof the crickets.
"Here's a landscape!" thought Laurie, peeping through thebushes, and looking wide-awake and good-natured already.
It was a rather pretty little picture, for the sisters sattogether in the shady nook, with sun and shadow flickering overthem, the aromatic wind lifting their hair and cooling their hotcheeks, and all the little wood people going on with their affairsas if these were no strangers but old friends. Meg sat upon hercushion, sewing daintily with her white hands, and looking as freshand sweet as a rose in her pink dress among the green. Beth wassorting the cones that lay thick under the hemlock near by, forshe made pretty things with them. Amy was sketching a group offerns, and Jo was knitting as she read aloud. A shadow passedover the boy's face as he watched them, feeling that he ought togo away because uninvited, yet lingering because home seemed verylonely and this quiet party in the woods most attractive to hisrestless spirit. He stood so still that a squirrel, busy with it'sharvesting, ran dawn a pine close beside him, saw him suddenlyand skipped back, scolding so shrilly that Beth looked up, espiedthe wistful face behind the birches, and beckoned with a reassuringsmile.
"May I come in, please? Or shall I be a bother?" he asked,advancing slowly.
Meg lifted her eyebrows, but Jo scowled at her defiantly andsaid at once, "Of course you may. We should have asked you before,only we thought you wouldn't care for such a girl's game as this."
"I always like your games, but if Meg doesn't want me, I'llgo away."
"I've no objection, if you do something. It's against therules to be idle here," replied Meg gravely but graciously.
"Much obliged. I'll do anything if you'll let me stop a bit,for it's as dull as the Desert of Sahara down there. Shall I sew,read, cone, draw, or do all at once? Bring on your bears.I'm ready." And Laurie sat down with a submissive expressiondelightful to behold.
"Finish this story while I set my heel," said Jo, handing himthe book.
"Yes'm." was the meek answer, as he began, doing his best toprove his gratitude for the favor of admission into the `Busy BeeSociety'.
The story was not a long one, and when it was finished, heventured to ask a few questions as a reward of merit.
"Please, ma'am, could I inquire if this highly instructiveand charming institution is a new one?"
"Would you tell him?" asked Meg of her sisters.
"He'll laugh," said Amy warningly.
"Who cares?" said Jo.
"I guess he'll like it," added Beth.
"Of course I shall! I give you my word I won't laugh. Tellaway, Jo, and don't be afraid."
"The idea of being afraid of you! Well, you see we used toplay Pilgrim's Progress, and we have been going on with it inearnest, all winter and summer."
"Yes, I know," said Laurie, nodding wisely.
"Who told you?" demanded Jo.
"No, I did. I wanted to amuse him one night when you wereall away, and he was rather dismal. He did like it, so don'tscold, Jo," said Beth meekly.
"You can't keep a secret. Never mind, it saves trouble now."
"Go on, please," said Laurie, as Jo became absorbed in herwork, looking a trifle displeased.
"Oh, didn't she tell you about this new plan of ours? Well,we have tried not to waste our holiday, but each has had a taskand worked at it with a will. The vacation is nearly over, thestints are all done, and we are ever so glad that we didn't dawdle."
"Yes, I should think so," and Laurie thought regretfully ofhis own idle days.
"Mother likes to have us out-of-doors as much as possible, sowe bring our work here and have nice times. For the fun of it webring our things in these bags, wear the old hats, use poles toclimb the hill, and play pilgrims, as we used to do years ago. Wecall this hill the Delectable Mountain, for we can look far awayand see the country where we hope to live some time."
Jo pointed, and Laurie sat up to examine, for through anopening in the wood one could look cross the wide, blue river,the meadows on the other side, far over the outskirts of thegreat city, to the green hills that rose to meet the sky. Thesun was low, and the heavens glowed with the splendor of anautumn sunset. Gold and purple clouds lay on the hilltops,and rising high into the ruddy light were silvery white peaksthat shone like the airy spires of some Celestial City.
"How beautiful that is!" said Laurie softly, for he was quickto see and feel beauty of any kind.
"It's often so, and we like to watch it, for it is never thesame, but always splendid," replied Amy, wishing she could paint it.
"Jo talks about the country where we hope to live sometime--thereal country, she means, with pigs and chickens and haymaking.It would be nice, but I wish the beautiful country up there was real,and we could ever go to it," said Beth musingly.
"There is a lovelier country even than that, where we shall go,by-and-by, when we are good enough," answered Meg with her sweetest voice.
"It seems so long to wait, so hard to do. I want to fly awayat once, as those swallows fly, and go in at that splendid gate."
"You'll get there, Beth, sooner or later, no fear of that,"said Jo. "I'm the one that will have to fight and work, and climband wait, and maybe never get in after all."
"you'll have me for company, if that's any comfort. I shallhave to do a deal of traveling before I come in sight of yourCelestial City. If I arrive late, you'll say a good word for me,won't you, Beth?"
Something in the boy's face troubled his little friend, butshe said cheerfully, with her quiet eyes on the changing clouds,"If people really want to go, and really try all their lives, Ithink they will get in, for I don't believe there are any lockson that door or any guards at the gate. I always imagine it isas it is in the picture, where the shining ones stretch out theirhands to welcome poor Christian as he comes up from the river.
"Wouldn't it be fun if all the castles in the air which wemake could come true, and we could live in them?" said Jo, aftera little pause.
"I've made such quantities it would be hard to choose whichI'd have," said Laurie, lying flat and throwing cones at thesquirrel who had betrayed him.
"You'd have to take your favorite one. What is it?" askedMeg.
"If I tell mine, will you tell yours?"
"Yes, if the girls will too."
"We will. Now, Laurie."
"After I'd seen as much of the world as I want to, I'd liketo settle in Germany and have just as much music as I choose. I'mto be a famous musician myself, and all creation is to rush to hearme. And I'm never to be bothered about money or business, but justenjoy myself and live for what I like. That's my favorite castle.What's yours, Meg?"
Margaret seemed to find it a little hard to tell hers, andwaved a brake before her face, as if to disperse imaginary gnats,while she said slowly, "I should like a lovely house, full of allsorts of luxurious things--nice food, pretty clothes, handsomefurniture, pleasant people, and heaps of money. I am to bemistress of it, and manage it as I like, with plenty of servants,so I never need work a bit. How I should enjoy it! For I wouldn'tbe idle, but do good, and make everyone love me dearly."
"Wouldn't you have a master for your castle in the air?" askedLaurie slyly.
"I said `pleasant people', you know," And Meg carefully tiedup her shoe as she spoke, so that no one saw her face.
"Why don't you say you'd have a splendid, wise, good husbandand some angelic little children? You know your castle wouldn'tbe perfect without," said blunt Jo, who had no tender fancies yet,and rather scorned romance, except in books.
"You'd have nothing but horses, inkstands, and novels inyours," answered Meg petulantly.
"Wouldn't I though? I'd have a stable full of Arabian steeds,rooms piled high with books, and I'd write out of a magic inkstand,so that my works should be as famous as Laurie's music. I want todo something splendid before I go into my castle, something heroicor wonderful that won't be forgotten after I'm dead. I don't knowwhat, but I'm on the watch for it, and mean to astonish you allsome day. I think I shall write books, and get rich and famous,that would suit me, so that is my favorite dream."
"Mine is to stay at home safe with Father and Mother, andhelp take care of the family," said Beth contentedly.
"Don't you wish for anything else?" asked Laurie."Since I had my little piano, I am perfectly satisfied. Ionly wish we may all keep well and be together, nothing else."
"I have ever so many wishes, but the pet one is to be anartist, and go to Rome, and do fine pictures, and be the bestartist in the whole world," was Amy's modest desire.
"We're an ambitious set, aren't we? Every one of us, butBeth, wants to be rich and famous, and gorgeous in every respect.I do wonder if any of us will ever get our wishes," said Laurie,chewing grass like a meditative calf.
"I've got the key to my castle in the air, but whether I canunlock the door remains to be seen," observed Jo mysteriously.
"I've got the key to mine, but I'm not allowed to try it.Hang college!" muttered Laurie with an impatient sigh.
"Here's mine!" and Amy waved her pencil.
"I haven't got any," said Meg forlornly.
"Yes, you have," said Laurie at once.
"In your face."
"Nonsense, that's of no use."
"Wait and see if it doesn't bring you something worth having,"replied the boy, laughing at the thought of a charming littlesecret which he fancied he knew.
Meg colored behind the brake, but asked no questions andlooked across the river with the same expectant expression whichMr. Brooke had worn when he told the story of the knight.
"If we are all alive ten years hence, let's meet, and see howmany of us have got our wishes, or how much nearer we are then thannow," said Jo, always ready with a plan.
"Bless me! How old I shall be, twenty-seven!" exclaimed Meg,who felt grown up already, having just reached seventeen.
"You and I will be twenty-six, Teddy, Beth twenty-four, andAmy twenty-two. What a venerable party!" said Jo.
"I hope I shall have done something to be proud of by thattime, but I'm such a lazy dog, I'm afraid I shall dawdle, Jo."
"You need a motive, Mother says, and when you get it, she issure you'll work splendidly."
"Is she? By Jupiter, I will, if I only get the chance!" criedLaurie, sitting up with sudden energy. "I ought to be satisfied toplease Grandfather, and I do try, but it's working against the grain,you see, and comes hard. He wants me to be an India merchant, as hewas, and I'd rather be shot. I hate tea and sild and spices, andevery sort of rubbish his old ships bring, and I don't care how soonthey go to the bottom when I own them. Going to college ought tosatisfy him, for if I give him four years he ought to let me offfrom the business. But he's set, and I've got to do just as he did,unless I break away and please myself, as my father did. If therewas anyone left to stay with the old gentleman, I'd do it tomorrow."
Laurie spoke excitedly, and looked ready to carry his threatinto execution on the slightest provocation, for he was growing upvery fast and, in spite of his indolent ways, had a young man'shatred of subjection, a young man's restless longing to try theworld for himself.
"I advise you to sail away in one of your ships, and nevercome home again till you have tried your own way," said Jo, whoseimagination was fired by the thought of such a daring exploit, andwhose sympathy was excited by what she called `Teddy's Wrongs'.
"That's not right, Jo. You mustn't talk in that way, and Lauriemustn't take your bad advice. You should do just what yourgrandfather wishes, my dear boy," said Meg in her most maternal tone."Do your best at college, and when he sees that you try to please him,I'm sure he won't be hard on you or unjust to you. As you say, thereis no one else to stay with and love him, and you'd never forgiveyourself if you left him without his permission. Don't be dismal orfret, but do your duty and you'll get your reward, as good Mr. Brookehas, by being respected and loved."
"What do you know about him?" asked Laurie, grateful for thegood advice, but objecting to the lecture, and glad to turn theconversation from himself after his unusual outbreak.
"Only what your grandpa told us about him, how he took goodcare of his own mother till she died, and wouldn't go abroad astutor to some nice person because he wouldn't leave her. And howhe provides now for an old woman who nursed his mother, and nevertells anyone, but is just as generous and patient and good as hecan be."
"So he is, dear old fellow!" said Laurie heartily, as Megpaused, looking flushed and earnest with her story. "It's likeGrandpa to find out all about him without letting him know, andto tell all his goodness to others, so that they might like him.Brooke couldn't understand why your mother was so kind to him,asking him over with me and treating him in her beautiful friendlyway. He thought she was just perfect, and talked about it fordays and days, and went on about you all in flaming style. If everI do get my wish, you see what I'll do for Booke."
"Begin to do something now by not plaguing his life out,"said Meg sharply.
"How do you know I do, Miss?"
"I can always tell by his face when he goes away. If youhave been good, he looks satisfied and walks briskly. If youhave plagued him, he's sober and walks slowly, as if he wantedto go back and do his work better."
"Well, I like that? So you keep an account of my good andbad marks in Brooke's face, do you? I see him bow and smile ashe passes your window, but I didn't know you'd got up a telegraph."
"We haven't. Don't be angry, and oh, don't tell him I saidanything! It was only to show that I cared how you get on, andwhat is said here is said in confidence, you know," cried Meg,much alarmed at the thought of what might follow from hercareless speech.
"I don't tell tales," replied Laurie, with his `high and mighty'air, as Jo called a certain expression which he occasionally wore."Only if Brooke is going to be a thermometer, I must mind and havefair weather for him to report."
"Please don't be offended. I didn't meant to preach or telltales or be silly. I only thought Jo was encouraging you in afeeling which you'd be sorry for by-and-by. You are so kind tous, we feel as if you were our brother and say just what we think.Forgive me, I meant it kindly." And Meg offered her hand with agesture both affectionate and timid.
Ashamed of his momentary pique, Laurie squeezed the kindlittle hand, and said frankly, "I'm the one to be forgiven. I'mcross and have been out of sorts all day. I like to have youtell me my faults and be sisterly, so don't mind if I am grumpysometimes. I thank you all the same."
Bent on showing that he was not offended, he made himself asagreeable as possible, wound cotton for Meg, recited poetry toplease Jo, shook down cones for Beth, and helped Amy with herferns, proving himself a fit person to belong to the `Busy BeeSociety'. In the midst of an animated discussion on the domestichabits of turtles (one of those amiable creatures having strolledup from the river), the faint sound of a bell warned them thatHannah had put the tea `to draw', and they would just have timeto get home to supper.
"May I come again?" asked Laurie.
"Yes, if your are good, and love your book, as the boys inthe primer are told to do," said Meg, smiling.
"Then you may come, and I'll teach you to knit as the Scotchmen do.There's a demand for socks just now," added Jo, waving herslike a big blue worsted banner as they parted at the gate.
That night, when Beth played to Mr. Laurence in the twilight,Laurie, standing in the shadow of the curtain, listened to thelittle David, whose simple music always quieted his moody spirit,and watched the old man, who sat with his gray head on his hand,thinking tender thoughts of the dead child he had loved so much.Remembering the conversation of the afternoon, the boy said tohimself, with the resolve to make the sacrifice cheerfully, "I'lllet my castle go, and stay with the dear old gentleman while heneeds me, for I am all he has."