But Beth, though yearning for the grand piano, could not pluck up courage to go to the ‘Mansion of Bliss’, as Meg called it. She went once with Jo, but the old gentleman, not being aware of her infirmity, stared at her so hard from under his heavy eyebrows, and said “Hey!” so loud, that he frightened her so much her ‘feet chattered on the floor’, she never told her mother, and she ran away, declaring she would never go there any more, not even for the dear piano. No persuasions or enticements could overcome her fear, till, the fact coming to Mr. Laurence’s ear in some mysterious way, he set about mending matters. During one of the brief calls he made, he artfully led the conversation to music, and talked away about great singers whom he had seen, fine organs he had heard, and told such charming anecdotes that Beth found it impossible to stay in her distant corner, but crept nearer and nearer, as if fascinated. At the back of his chair she stopped and stood listening, with her great eyes wide open and her cheeks red with excitement of this unusual performance. Taking no more notice of her than if she had been a fly, Mr. Laurence talked on about Laurie’s lessons and teachers. And presently, as if the idea had just occurred to him, he said to Mrs. March…
“The boy neglects his music now, and I’m glad of it, for he was getting too fond of it. But the piano suffers for want of use. Wouldn’t some of your girls like to run over, and practice on it now and then, just to keep it in tune, you know, ma’am?”
Beth took a step forward, and pressed her hands tightly together to keep from clapping them, for this was an irresistible temptation, and the thought of practicing on that splendid instrument quite took her breath away. Before Mrs. March could reply, Mr. Laurence went on with an odd little nod and smile…
“They needn’t see or speak to anyone, but run in at any time. For I’m shut up in my study at the other end of the house, Laurie is out a great deal, and the servants are never near the drawing room after nine o’clock.”
Here he rose, as if going, and Beth made up her mind to speak, for that last arrangement left nothing to be desired. “Please, tell the young ladies what I say, and if they don’t care to come, why, never mind.” Here a little hand slipped into his, and Beth looked up at him with a face full of gratitude, as she said, in her earnest yet timid way…
“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 quite sure nobody will hear me, and be disturbed,” she added, fearing to be rude, and trembling at her own boldness as she spoke.
“Not a soul, my dear. The house is empty half the day, so come and drum away as much as you like, and I shall be obliged to you.”
“How kind you are, sir!”
Beth blushed like a rose under the friendly look he wore, but she was not frightened now, and gave the hand a grateful squeeze because she had no words to thank him for the precious gift he had given her. The old gentleman softly stroked the hair off her forehead, and, stooping down, he kissed her, saying, in a tone few people ever heard…
“I had a little girl once, with eyes like these. God bless you, my dear! Good day, madam.” And away he went, in a great hurry.
Beth had a rapture with her mother, and then rushed up to impart the glorious news to her family of invalids, as the girls were not home. How blithely she sang that evening, and how they all laughed at her because she woke Amy in the night by playing the piano on her face in her sleep. Next day, having seen both the old and young gentleman out of the house, Beth, after two or three retreats, fairly got in at the side door, and made her way as noiselessly as any mouse to the drawing room where her idol stood. Quite by accident, of course, some pretty, easy music lay on the piano, and with trembling fingers and frequent stops to listen and look about, Beth at last touched the great instrument, and straightway forgot her fear, herself, and everything else but the unspeakable delight which the music gave her, for it was like the voice of a beloved friend.
She stayed till Hannah came to take her home to dinner, but she had no appetite, and could only sit and smile upon everyone in a general state of beatitude.
After that, the little brown hood slipped through the hedge nearly every day, and the great drawing room was haunted by a tuneful spirit that came and went unseen. She never knew that Mr. Laurence opened his study door to hear the old-fashioned airs he liked. She never saw Laurie mount guard in the hall to warn the servants away. She never suspected that the exercise books and new songs which she found in the rack were put there for her especial benefit, and when he talked to her about music at home, she only thought how kind he was to tell things that helped her so much. So she enjoyed herself heartily, and found, what isn’t always the case, that her granted wish was all she had hoped. Perhaps it was because she was so grateful for this blessing that a greater was given her. At any rate she deserved both.