圣诞节一早，天刚蒙蒙 亮，乔便第一个醒来。她看到壁炉边没有挂着袜子，一时深感失望。多年前，她的小袜子因为糖果塞得太满而掉落地上，她也曾这样失望过。稍后她想起母亲的诺 言，便悄悄把手伸到枕头下面，果然摸出一本菲红色封面的书。她十分熟悉这本书，因为它记载的是历史上最优秀的人物的经典故事。乔觉得这正是一切踏上漫长征 途的朝圣者所需要的指导书。她一声"圣诞快乐“把梅格叫醒，叫她看看枕头下面有什么。梅格掏出一本绿色封面、带有相同插图的书，妈妈在上面题了词，使这件 礼物倍添珍贵。不一会，贝思和艾美也醒来了，翻寻到各自的小书--一本乳白色，另一本蓝色--四姐妹于是坐着边看边讨论，不觉东方已泛起红霞，新的一天又 告开始。
“姑娘们，“梅格严肃地说，看看身边头发蓬乱的一位，又看看房间另一头戴着睡帽的两个小脑袋，“妈妈希望我们爱惜这些书，读好这些书，我们应该立即 行动。虽然我们以前做得挺认真，但自从爸爸离家后，战乱七繁，我们忽略了许多事。你们爱怎样我不管，但我要把书放在这张桌上，每天早上一醒来就读一点，因 为我知道，这样会有好处，它将伴我度过每一天。“说完她打开新书读了起来，乔用胳膊拥着她，与她并肩而读，不安分的脸上露出少见的宁静。
“别笑我，乔！我并不是有意要瞒着你们，我只是花掉全部的钱把小瓶的古龙水换成大瓶的，我真的不想再那么自私了。“艾美一边说一边给大家看她用原先 的便宜货换回来的大瓶古龙水。她努力克服私利，显得诚恳而谦恭，梅格一把抱住了她，乔宣布她是个"大好人"，贝思则跑到窗边摘下一朵美丽的玫瑰花来装饰这 个漂亮的大瓶子。
“圣诞快乐，小姑娘们！真高兴你们马上就开始学习，可要坚持下去埃不过坐下之前我想说几句话。离这儿不远的地方，躺着一个可怜的妇人和一个刚生下来 的婴儿。六个孩子为了不被冻僵挤在一张床上，因为他们没有火取暖。那里没有吃的，最大的孩子来告诉我他们又冷又饿。姑娘们，你们愿意把早餐送给他们做圣诞 礼物吗？“她们刚才等了差不多一个小时，现在正饿得慌，有一阵子大家都默不作声--就那么一阵子，只听乔冲口而出道：“我真高兴，早餐还没开始呢！““我 帮着把东西拿给那些可怜的孩子好吗？“贝思热切地问道。
这情景真让人以为是好心的神灵在显圣呢。罕娜用带来的木柴生起炉火，又用一些旧帽子和自己的斗篷挡住破烂的玻璃窗。马奇太太一边为做母亲的端茶递 粥，一边安慰她，让她宽心，又像对待自己的亲生骨肉一样轻柔地为小宝宝穿上衣服。姑娘们摆好桌子，把孩子们安顿到火炉边，像喂一群饥饿的小鸟一样喂他们， 并跟他们说笑，尽力想听明白他们有趣而又蹩脚的英语。
姑娘们还是第一次被人称作小天使，觉得非常惬意，尤其是乔，她自打娘胎生下来就被大家当作"桑丘"，因此更加得意。虽然她们没有吃上一口早餐，心里 却感到无比的舒畅。当这四个饥肠辘辘的小姑娘把温暖留给别人，走在回家的路上时，我想合城里再没人能比她们更幸福了。她们在圣诞节早上把最好的早餐送给穷 人，自己却宁愿吃面包和牛奶。
早上的慈善活动和庆典花了不少时间，余下的时间便用来准备晚上的欢庆活动。由于年龄太小，不宜经常上戏院，又因为经济拮据，支付不起业余表演的大笔 费用，姑娘们于是充分发挥才智--需要是发明之母--需要什么，她们便做什么。她们的创造品有些还挺见心机--用纸板做的吉它，用旧式牛油瓶裹上锡纸做成 的古灯，用旧棉布做的鲜艳夺目的长袍，面上亮晶晶地镶着从一家腌菜厂拿来的小锡片，还有镶有同样的钻石形小锡片的盔甲，这些被派上用场的小锡片是腌菜厂做 罐头剩下的边角料。屋子里的家具常常被弄得乱七八糟，大房间就是舞台，姑娘们在台上天真无邪地尽兴表演。
由于不收男士，乔便尽情地扮演男角。她对一双黄褐色的长统皮靴尤为满意。因为靴子是她的一个朋友赠送的，这位朋友认识一位女士，女士又认识一位演 员。这双靴子、一把旧钝头剑，还有某个艺术家用来画过几幅画的开衩背心，这些便是乔的主要宝藏，任何场合都得登台亮相。因为剧团小，两个主要演员必须分别 扮演几个角色。她们同时学习三四个不同角色的表演，飞快地轮番换上各式各样的戏服，同时还要兼顾幕后工作，其努力精神值得称道。这种有益的娱乐活动可以很 好地锻炼她们的记忆力，并可以打发闲暇，排遣寂寞，减少无聊的社交。
几株盆栽灌木、铺在地板上的绿色厚毛呢，以及远处的一个洞穴构成了节目单上的"阴森森的树林"，洞穴用晒衣架做洞顶，衣柜做墙壁，里头有一个熊熊燃 烧着的小炉子，一个老巫婆正俯身把弄炉上的一个黑锅。舞台阴森黑暗，熊熊的炉火营造了良好的舞台效果。女巫揭开锅盖，锅里冒出阵阵蒸气，令人叫绝。第一阵 高潮过后，歹徒雨果阔步上常他嘴上蓄着黑胡子，头上歪戴着一顶帽子，脚踏长靴，身披神秘外衣，腰间佩一把当啷作响的宝剑。他焦躁不安地来回走了几步，猛然 一拍额头，放声高歌，唱他对罗德力戈的恨、对萨拉的爱，以及要杀掉仇人、赢得莎拉的心愿。雨果粗哑的嗓音和感情暴发时偶然发出的一声大喝给观众留下极其深 刻的印象，他刚停下要歇口气，大家便报以热烈的掌声。他习以为常地躬身谢过，又轻轻走到洞穴，大模大样地命黑格出来：“呔！奴才！出来！“梅格出来，脸上 挂着灰色马鬃，身穿黑红二色长袍，手持拐杖，大衣上画着神秘符号。雨果向他索取两种魔药，一种可以使莎拉爱他，另一种用来毒死罗德力戈。黑格唱起优美的歌 儿，答应把两种魔药都给他，接着他把送魔药的小精灵叫出来。戏文唱道：来吧、来吧，空中的小精灵。
小精灵把一个金闪闪的小瓶子扔到女巫脚下，随之消失。黑格再次施用魔法唤来另一个幽灵。只听呯的一声，一个丑陋的黑色小魔鬼出来。它用阴森森的声音 作了回答，然后把一个黑色瓶子扔向雨果，冷笑一声，消失得无影无踪。雨果用颤抖的嗓音道过谢，把两瓶魔药放进靴子里，转身离去。黑格告诉观众，因为雨果以 前曾杀死过她的几个朋友，她给他下了魔咒，准备挫败他的计划，向他复仇。接着帘幕落下，观众们一边休息和吃糖，一边评长论短。
帘幕迟迟没有拉开，里头传来好一阵锤打声。不过当舞台布景终于出现在眼前时，观众们谁都顾不得抱怨刚才耽误了时间，因为布景实在太美了，简直是巧夺 天工！只见一座塔楼耸入屋顶，塔楼半空露出一扇亮着灯光的窗户，白色的帘幕后面莎拉身穿一套漂亮的银蓝二色裙子在等待罗德力戈。罗德力戈盛装走进。他一头 栗色鬈发，戴一顶插着羽毛的帽子，身披红色外衣，手拿吉它，脚踏长靴。当然啦，他跪在塔下，柔情万分地唱起一支小夜曲。莎拉回答他，用歌声对了几句话后， 同意私奔。接下来是话剧的大场面。罗德力戈拿出一张有五个梯级的草绳软梯，把一端抛上去，请莎拉下来。莎拉含羞从花窗格子爬下来，手扶罗德力戈的肩头，正 要优雅地往下跳，突然观众叫起来：“哎呀！哎呀！莎拉！“原来一不留神，她的长裙被窗户绊住了。塔楼摇晃着向前倾斜，轰的一声倒下，把这对倒霉的恋人埋在 废墟里！
“别笑！继续演，就当什么也没发生过！“他命令罗德力戈站起来，盛怒而轻蔑地将他驱逐出去。虽然被倒下的塔楼砸得不轻，罗德力戈并没有忘掉自己的角 色，他不理睬这位老绅士，就是不动身子。这种大无畏的精神启发了莎拉；她也不理睬父亲。唐·佩得罗于是命令两人一起下到城堡最低层的地牢里。一位稍胖的小 侍从手持锁链走进来，神色慌张地把他们带走，显然是把讲的台词忘掉了。
第三幕是城堡的大厅，黑格在此出现，准备解救这对恋人并解决雨果。她听到雨果走进来便藏起来，看他把魔药倒进两个酒杯，又听他吩咐那位腼腆的小侍 从：“把酒带给地牢里的囚徒，告诉他们我一会就来。“小侍从把雨果带到一边说了几句话，黑格随即把两杯药酒换成两杯没有药性的。“奴才"费迪南多把酒带走 了，黑格把原来要给罗德力戈的那杯毒酒放回去。雨果唱完一支冗长的歌后感到口渴，便喝下那杯毒酒，顿时失去神智，拼命挣扎一番后，挺直身子倒地而死。这时 黑格用热烈而优美的曲调唱了一首歌，说明自己刚才使了什么手段。
第五幕开场时，莎拉和唐·佩得罗正闹得不可开交。唐·佩得罗要她进修道院，她坚决不从，并伤心欲绝地求他开恩，正要晕倒时，罗德力戈闯入并向她求 婚。唐·佩德罗不答应，因为他没有钱。两人大吵大闹一番，依然互不相让。罗德力戈正要把筋疲力尽的莎拉背走，羞怯的小侍从拿着黑格交给她的一封信和一个布 袋走进来，黑格此时已神秘地消失。
这封信告诉大家她把一大笔财富赠给这对年轻人，如果唐·佩得罗破坏他们的幸福，必遭厄运。接着布袋打开了，大把大把的锡币洒落下来，堆在台上闪闪发 亮，极为壮观。“狠心的父亲"这才软下心肠，一声不响地表示同意。众人于是齐声欢唱，一双恋人以极为优雅浪漫的姿态跪下，接受唐·佩德罗的祝福，帘幕随之 降下。
接下来响起了热烈的掌声，正当此时，那座用作花楼的帆布床突然折拢，把热情洋溢的观众压倒。罗德力戈和唐·佩德罗飞身前来抢救，众人虽然毫发无损， 但全都笑得说不出话来。大家刚刚恢复神态，罕娜进来说：“马奇太太致以祝贺，并请女士们下来用餐。“大家一阵惊喜，连演员亦不例外。看到桌子上摆着的东 西，她们高兴得互相对望，同时都感到十分奇怪。妈妈平时也会弄点吃的款待她们，不过自从告别了宽裕的日子以来，这样的好东西连听都没听说过。桌子上摆着雪 糕--而且有两碟，一碟粉红色，一碟白色--还有蛋糕、水果和迷人的法式夹心糖，桌子中间还摆着四束美丽的温室鲜花！
“罕娜把你们早上做的事告诉了他的一个佣人。这位老绅士脾气古怪，但他听后很高兴。他多年前就认识我父亲，今天下午便给我送了张十分客气的字条，说 希望我能允许他向我的孩子们表示他的善意，送上一点微不足道的圣诞礼物，我不便拒绝，所以你们晚上就开个小宴会，作为对面包加牛奶早餐的补偿。““一定是 那男孩出的主意，准没错！他是个一流的小伙子，但愿我们可以交朋友。他看来也想认识我们，只是有点怕羞，而梅格又一本正经，我们路过也不让我跟他说句 话。“这时碟子传过来，雪糕已开始融化，乔一边说一边呵哈呵哈地吃得津津有味。
“你们说的是住在隔壁那座大房子里的人吗？“一个姑娘问，“我妈妈认识劳伦斯先生，但说他非常高傲，不喜欢与邻里交往。他把自己的孩子关在家里，只 让他跟着家庭教师骑马散步，逼他用功读书。我们曾经邀请他参加我们的晚会，但他没来。妈妈说他相当不错，虽然他从不跟我们女孩子说话。““一次我家的猫儿 不见了，是他送回来的。我们隔着篱笆谈了几句，而且相当投机--谈的都是板球一类的东西--他看到梅格走过来，就走开了。我终有一天要认识他的，因为他需 要乐趣，我肯定他很需要，“乔自信地说道。
“他举止彬彬有礼，令人喜爱。如果时机适宜，我不反对你们交朋友。他今天亲自把鲜花送过来，我本应该请他进来的，但因为不知道你们在楼上干什么，就 没让他进来。他走的时候似乎闷闷不乐，若有所思；他听到你们在玩闹，而显然他自己没什么玩的。““幸亏没叫他进来，妈妈！“乔望望自己的靴子笑道，“不过 以后我们会做一出他可以看的戏。或许他还可以和我们一起演出呢。那岂不更有趣？““我从未收到过这样漂亮的花束！真是美极了！“梅格饶有兴致地审视着自己 那束鲜花。
Jo was the first to wake in the gray dawn of Christmas morning.No stockings hung at the fireplace, and for a moment shefelt as much disappointed as she did long ago, when her littlesock fell down because it was crammed so full of goodies. Thenshe remembered her mother's promise and, slipping her hand underher pillow, drew out a little crimson-covered book. She knewit very well, for it was that beautiful old story of the bestlife ever lived, and Jo felt that it was a true guidebook forany pilgrim going on a long journey. She woke Meg with a "MerryChristmas," and bade her see what was under her pillow. A green-covered book appeared, with the same picture inside, and a fewwords written by their mother, which made their one present veryprecious in their eyes. Presently Beth and Amy woke to rummageand find their little books also, one dove-colored, the otherblue, and all sat looking at and talking about them, while theeast grew rosy with the coming day.
In spite of her small vanities, Margaret had a sweet andpious nature, which unconsciously influenced her sisters,especially Jo, who loved her very tenderly, and obeyed herbecause her advice was so gently given.
"Girls," said Meg seriously, looking from the tumbled headbeside her to the two little night-capped ones in the room beyond,"Mother wants us to read and love and mind these books, and wemust begin at once. We used to be faithful about it, but sinceFather went away and all this war trouble unsettled us, we haveneglected many things. You can do as you please, but I shall keepmy book on the table here and read a little every morning as soonas I wake, for I know it will do me good and help me through the day."
Then she opened her new book and began to read. Jo put herarm round her and, leaning cheek to cheek, read also, with thequiet expression so seldom seen on her restless face.
"How good Meg is! Come, Amy, let's do as they do. I'llhelp you with the hard words, and they" explain things if wedon't understand," whispered Beth, very much impressed by thepretty books and her sisters, example.
"I'm glad mine is blue," said Amy. and then the rooms werevery still while the pages were softly turned, and the wintersunshine crept in to touch the bright heads and serious faceswith a Christmas greeting.
"Where is Mother?" asked Meg, as she and Jo ran down tothank her for their gifts, half an hour later.
"Goodness only knows. some poor creeter came a-beggin', andyour ma went straight off to see what was needed. There never wassuch a woman for givin' away vittles and drink, clothes and firin',"replied Hannah, who had lived with the family since Meg was born,and was considered by them all more as a friend than a servant.
"She will be back soon, I think, so fry your cakes, and haveeverything ready," said Meg, looking over the presents which werecollected in a basket and kept under the sofa, ready to be producedat the proper time. "why, where is Amy's bottle of cologne?"she added, as the little flask did not appear.
"She took it out a minute ago, and went off with it to put aribbon on it, or some such notion," replied Jo, dancing about theroom to take the first stiffness off the new army slippers.
"How nice my handkerchiefs look, don't they? Hannah washedand ironed them for me, and I marked them all myself," said Beth,looking proudly at the somewhat uneven letters which had cost hersuch labor.
"Bless the child! She's gone and put `Mother' on them insteadof `M. March'. How funny!" cried Jo, taking one up.
"Isn't that right? I thought it was better to do it so,because Meg's initials are M.M., and I don't want anyone to usethese but Marmee," said Beth;, looking troubled.
"It's all right, dear, and a very pretty idea, quite sensibletoo, for no one can ever mistake now. It will please her very much,I know," said Meg, with a frown for Jo and a smile for Beth.
"There's Mother. Hide the basket, quick!" cried Jo, as a doorslammed and steps sounded in the hall.
Amy came in hastily, and looked rather abashed when she sawher sisters all waiting for her.
"Where have you been, and what are you hiding behind you?"asked Meg, surprised to see, by her hood and cloak, that lazy Amyhad been out so early.
"Don't laugh at me, Jo! I didn't mean anyone should know tillthe time came. I only meant to change the little bottle for a bigone, and I gave all my money to get it, and I'm truly trying notto be selfish any more."
As she spoke, Amy showed the handsome flask which replacedthe cheap one, and looked so earnest and humble in her littleeffort to forget herself that Meg hugged her on the spot, and Jopronounced her `a trump', while Beth ran to the window, and pickedher finest rose to ornament the stately bottle.
"You see I felt ashamed of my present, after reading and talkingabout being good this morning, so I ran round the corner and changedit the minute I was up, and I'm so glad, for mine is the handsomestnow."
Another bang of the street door sent the basket under the sofa,and the girls to the table, eager for breakfast.
"Merry Christmas, Marmee! Many of them! Thank you for ourbooks. We read some, and mean to every day," they all cried inchorus.
"Merry Christmas, little daughters! I'm glad you began atonce, and hope you will keep on. But I want to say one wordbefore we sit down. Not far away from here lies a poor womanwith a little newborn baby. Six children are huddled into one bedto keep from freezing, for they have no fire. There is nothing toeat over there, and the oldest boy came to tell me they weresuffering hunger and cold. My girls, will you give them yourbreakfast as a Christmas present?"
They were all unusually hungry, having waited nearly an hour,and for a minute no one spoke, only a minute, for Jo exclaimedimpetuously, "I'm so glad you came before we began!"
"May I go and help carry the things to the poor little children?"asked Beth eagerly.
"I shall take the cream and the muffings," added Amy, heroicallygiving up the article she most liked.
Meg was already covering the buckwheats, and piling the breadinto one big plate.
"I thought you'd do it," said Mrs. March, smiling as if satisfied."You shall all go and help me, and when we come back we will have breadand milk for breakfast, and make it up at dinnertime."
They were soon ready, and the procession set out. Fortunatelyit was early, and they went through back streets, so few people sawthem, and no one laughed at the queer party.
A poor, bare, miserable room it was, with broken windows, nofire, ragged bedclothes, a sick mother, wailing baby, and a groupof pale, hungry children cuddled under one old quilt, trying tokeep warm.
How the big eyes stared and the blue lips smiled as the girlswent in.
"Ach, mein Gott! It is good angels come to us!" said the poorwoman, crying for joy.
"Funny angels in hoods and mittens," said Jo, and set them tolaughing.
In a few minutes it really did seem as if kind spirits had beenat work there. Hannah, who had carried wood, made a fire, andstopped up the broken panes with old hats and her own cloak. Mrs.March gave the mother tea and gruel, and comforted her with promisesof help, while she dressed the little baby as tenderly as if it hadbeen her own. The girls meantime spread the table, set the childrenround the fire, and fed them like so many hungry birds, laughing,talking, and trying to understand the funny broken English.
"Das ist gut!" "Die Engel-kinder!" cried the poor things asthey ate and warmed their purple hands at the comfortable blaze.The girls had never been called angel children before, andthought it very agreeable, especially Jo, who had been considereda `Sancho' ever since she was born. That was a very happy breakfast,though they didn't get any of it. And when they went away,leaving comfort behind, I think there were not in all the cityfour merrier people than the hungry little girls who gave awaytheir breakfasts and contented themselves with bread and milkon Christmas morning.
"That's loving our neighbor better than ourselves, and Ilike it," said Meg, as they set out their presents while theirmother was upstairs collecting clothes for the poor Hummels.
Not a very splendid show, but there was a great deal oflove done up in the few little bundles, and the tall vase ofred roses, white chrysanthemums, and trailing vines, whichstood in the middle, gave quite an elegant air to the table.
"She's coming! Strike up, Beth! Open the door, Amy! Threecheers for Marmee!" cried Jo, prancing about while Meg went toconduct Mother to the seat of honor.
Beth played her gayest march, amy threw open the door, andMeg enacted escort with great dignity. Mrs. March was bothsurprised and touched, and smiled with her eyes full as sheexamined her presents and read the little notes which accompaniedthem. The slippers went on at once, a new handkerchief was slippedinto her pocket, well scented with Amy's cologne, the rose wasfastened in her bosom, and the nice gloves were pronounced a perfectfit.
There was a good deal of laughing and kissing and explaining,in the simple, loving fashion which makes these home festivals sopleasant at the time, so sweet to remember long afterward, andthen all fell to work.
The morning charities and ceremonies took so much time thatthe rest of the day was devoted to preparations for the eveningfestivities. Being still too young to go often to the theater,and not rich enough to afford any great outlay for privateperformances, the girls put their wits to work, and necessity beingthe mother of invention, made whatever they needed. Very cleverwere some of their productions, pasteboard guitars, antique lampsmade of old-fashioned butter boats covered with silver paper,gorgeous robes of old cotton, glittering with tin spangles froma pickle factory, and armor covered with the same useful diamondshaped bits left inn sheets when the lids of preserve pots werecut out. The big chamber was the scene of many innocent revels.
No gentleman were admitted, so Jo played male parts to herheart's content and took immense satisfaction in a pair of russetleather boots given her by a friend, who knew a lady who knew anactor. These boots, an old foil, and a slashed doublet once usedby an artist for some picture, were Jo's chief treasures andappeared on all occasions. The smallness of the company made itnecessary for the two principal actors to take several partsapiece, and they certainly deserved some credit for the hard workthey did in learning three or four different parts, whisking inand out of various costumes, and managing the stage besides. Itwas excellent drill for their memories, a harmless amusement, andemployed many hours which otherwise would have been idle, lonely,or spent in less profitable society.
On christmas night, a dozen girls piled onto the bed whichwas the dress circle, and sat before the blue and yellow chintzcurtains in a most flattering state of expectancy. There was agood deal of rustling and whispering behind the curtain, a trifleof lamp smoke, and an occasional giggle from Amy, who was apt toget hysterical in the excitement of the moment. Presently a bellsounded, the curtains flew apart, and the OPERATIC TRAGEDY began.
"A gloomy wood," according to the one playbill, was representedby a few shrubs in pots, green baize on the floor, and acave in the distance. This cave was made with a clothes horsefor a roof, bureaus for walls, and in it was a small furnace infull blast, with a black pot on it and an old witch bending overit. The stage was dark and the glow of the furnace had a fineeffect, especially as real steam issued from the kettle when thewitch took off the cover. A moment was allowed for the firstthrill to subside, then Hugo, the villain, stalked in with aclanking sword at his side, a slouching hat, black beard,mysterious cloak, and the boots. After pacing to and fro in muchagitation, he struck his forehead, and burst out in a wildstrain, singing of his hatred to Roderigo, his love for Zara,and his pleasing resolution to kill the one and win the other.The gruff tones of Hugo's voice, with an occasional shout whenhis feelings overcame him, were very impressive, and the audienceapplauded the moment he paused for breath. bowing with the airof one accustomed to public praise, he stole to the cavern andordered Hagar to come forth with a commanding, "What ho, minion!I need thee!"
Out came Meg, with gray horsehair hanging about her face,a red and black robe, a staff, and cabalistic signs upon hercloak. Hugo demanded a potion to make Zara adore him, and onedestroy Roderigo. Hagar, in a fine dramatic melody, promisedboth, and proceeded to call up the spirit who would bring thelove philter.
Hither, hither, from thy home,
Airy sprite, I bid thee come!
Born of roses, fed on dew,
Charms and potions canst thou brew?Bring me here, with elfin speed,
The fragrant philter which I need.
Make it sweet and swift and strong,Spirit, answer now my song!
A soft strain of music sounded, and then at the back of thecave appeared a little figure in cloudy white, with glitteringwings, golden hair, and a garland of roses on its head. Wavinga wand, it sang...
Hither I come,
From my airy home,
Afar in the silver moon.
Take the magic spell,
And use it well,
Or its power will vanish soon!
And dropping a small, gilded bottle at the witch's feet, thespirit vanished. Another chant from Hagar produced another apparition,not a lovely one, for with a bang an ugly black imp appeared and,having croaked a reply, tossed a dark bottle at Hugo and disappearedwith a mocking laugh. Having warbled his thanks and put the potionsin his boots, Hugo departed, and Hagar informed the audience thatas he had killed a few of her friends in times past, she had cursedhim, and intends to thwart his plans, and be revenged on him. Thenthe curtain fell, and the audience reposed and ate candy whilediscussing the merits of the play.
A good deal of hammering went on before the curtain rose again,but when it became evident what a masterpiece of stage carpenteryhad been got up, no one murmured at the delay. It was truly superb.A tower rose to the ceiling, halfway up appeared a window with alamp burning in it, and behind the white curtain appeared Zara ina lovely blue and silver dress, waiting for Roderigo. He came ingorgeous array, with plumed cap, red cloak, chestnut lovelocks, aguitar, and the boots, of course. Kneeling at the foot of the tower,he sang a serenade in melting tones. Zara replied and, after amusical dialogue, consented to fly. Then came the grand effect ofthe play. Roderigo produced a rope ladder, with five steps to it,threw up one end, and invited Zara to descend. Timidly she creptfrom her lattice, put her hand on Roderigo's shoulder, and wasabout to leap gracfully down when "Alas! Alas for Zara!" sheforgot her train. It caught in the window, the tower tottered,leaned forward, fell with a crash, and buried the unhappy loversin the ruins.
A universal shriek arose as the russet boots waved wildlyfrom the wreck and a golden head emerged, exclaiming, "I told youso! I told you so!" With wonderful presence of mind, Don Pedro,the cruel sire, rushed in, dragged out his daughter, with a hastyaside...
"Don't laugh! Act as if it was all right!" and, orderingRoderigo up, banished him form the kingdom with wrath and scorn.Though decidedly shaken by the fall from the tower upon him,Roderigo defied the old gentleman and refused to stir. Thisdauntless example fired Zara. She also defied her sire, and heordered them both to the deepest dungeons of the castle. A stoutlittle retainer came in with chains and led them away, looking verymuch frightened and evidently forgetting the speech he ought tohave made.
Act third was the castle hall, and here Hagar appeared, havingcome to free the lovers and finish Hugo. She hears him coming andhides, sees him put the potions into two cups of wine and bid thethe timid little servant, "Bear them to the captives in their cells,and tell them I shall come anon." The servant takes Hugo aside totell him something, and Hagar changes the cups for two others whichare harmless. Ferdinando, the `minion', carries them away, andHagar puts back the cup which holds the poison meant for Roderigo.Hugo, getting thirsty after a long warble, drinks it, loses his wits,and after a good deal of clutching and stamping, falls flat and dies,while Hagar informs him what she has done in a song of exquisitepower and melody.
This was a truly thrilling scene, though some persons mighthave thought that the sudden tumbling down of a quantity of long redhair rather marred the effect of the villain's death. He was calledbefore the curtain, and with great propriety appeared, leading Hagar,whose singing was considered more wonderful than all the rest of theperformance put together.
Act fourth displayed the despairing Roderigo on the point ofstabbing himself because he has been told that Zara has deserted him.Just as the dagger is at his heart, a lovely song is sung under hiswindow, informing him that Zara is true but in danger, and he cansave her if he will. A key is thrown in, which unlocks the door,and in a spasm of rapture he tears off his chains and rushes awayto find and rescue his lady love.
Act fifth opened with a stormy scene between Zara and Don Pedro.He wishes her to go into a convent, but she won't hear of it, andafter a touching appeal, is about to faint when Roderigo dashes inand demands her hand. Don Pedro refuses, because he is not rich.They shout and gesticulate tremendously but cannot agree, andRodrigo is about to bear away the exhausted Zara, when the timidservant enters with a letter and a bag from Hagar, who has mysteriouslydisappeared. The latter informs the party that she bequethsuntold wealth to the young pair and an awful doom to Don Pedro, ifhe doesn't make them happy. The bag is opened, and several quarts oftin money shower down upon the stage till it is quite glorified withthe glitter. This entirely softens the stern sire. He consentswithout a murmur, all join in a joyful chorus, and the curtain fallsupon the lovers kneeling to receive Don Pedro's blessing in attitudesof the most romantic grace.
Tumultuous applause followed but received an unexpected check,for the cot bed, on which the dress circle was built, suddenly shutup and extinguished the enthusiastic audience. Roderigo and DonPedro flew to the rescue, and all were taken out unhurt, though manywere speechless with laughter. the excitement had hardly subsidedwhen Hannah appeared, with "Mrs. March's compliments, and would theladies walk down to supper."
This was a surprise even to the actors, and when they saw thetable, they looked at one another in rapturous amazement. It waslike Marmee to get up a little treat for them, but anything so fineas this was unheard of since the departed days of plenty. There wasice cream, actually two dishes of it, pink and white, and cake andfruit and distracting french bonbons and, in the middle of thetable, four great bouquets of hot house flowers.
It quite took their breath away, and they stared first at thetable and then at their mother, who looked as if she enjoyed itimmensely.
"Is it fairies?" asked Amy.
"Santa Claus," said Beth.
"Mother did it." And Meg smiled her sweetest, in spite of hergray beard and white eyebrows.
"Aunt March had a good fit and sent the supper," cried Jo, witha sudden inspiration.
"All wrong. Old Mr. Laurence sent it," replied Mrs. March.
"The Laurence boy's grandfather! What in the world put such athing into his head? We don't know him!' exclaimed Meg.
"Hannah told one of his servants about your breakfast party.He is an odd old gentleman, but that pleased him. He knew my fatheryears ago, and he sent me a polite note this afternoon, saying hehoped I would allow him to express his friendly feeling toward mychildren by sending them a few trifles in honor of the day. Icould not refuse, and so you have a little feast at night to makeup for the bread-and-milk breakfast."
"That boy; put it into his head, I know he did! He's a capitalfellow, and I wish we could get acquainted. He looks as if he'dlike to know us but he's bashful, and Meg is so prim she won't letme speak to him when we pass," said Jo, as the plates went round,and the ice began to melt out of sight, with ohs and ahs of satisfaction.
"You mean the people who live in the big house next door, don'tyou?" asked one of the girls. "My mother knows old Mr. Laurence,but says he's very proud and doesn't like to mix with his neighbors.He keeps his grandson shut up, when he isn't riding or walking withhis tutor, and makes him study very hard. We invited him to ourparty, but he didn't come. Mother says he's very nice, though henever speaks to us girls."
"Our cat ran away once, and he brought her back, and wetalked over the fence, and were getting on capitally, all aboutcricket, and so on, when he saw Meg coming, and walked off. Imean to know him some day, for he needs fun, I'm sure he does,"said Jo decidedly.
"I like his manners, and he looks like a little gentleman, soI've no objection to your knowing him, if a proper opportunity comes.He brought the flowers himself, and I should have asked him in, ifI had been sure what was going on upstairs. He looked so wistfulas he went away, hearing the frolic and evidently having none ofhis own."
"It's a mercy you didn't , Mother!" laughed Jo, looking ather boots. "But we'll have another play sometime that he cansee. Perhaps he'll help act. Wouldn't that be jolly?"
"I never had such a fine bouquet before! How pretty it is!"And Meg examined her flowers with great interest.
"They are lovely. But Beth's roses are sweeter to me," saidMrs. March, smelling the half-dead posy in her belt.
Beth nestled up to her, and whispered softly, "I wish I could send my bunch to Father. I'm afraid he isn't having sucha merry Christmas as we are."