A surprise for Beth
Laurie and the four girls were soon great friends. Mr Brooke complained to the old gentleman that his student was always running across to see the Marches.
‘Let him have a bit of a holiday,’ said Mr Laurence. ‘He can catch up with his studies later.’
What good times they had! Writing and acting plays, happy evenings at the Marches, and little parties at the big house. Only Beth was too shy to go there. When Mr Laurence heard about Beth’s shyness, he came to have tea with their mother one day, and began to talk about music and great singers he had heard. Beth found it impossible to stay in her corner and came to listen.
‘Laurie hasn’t much time for his music,’ Mr Laurence told Mrs March, ‘so the piano is not used very often. Would any of your girls like to play it sometimes? They needn’t see or speak to anyone, and I’ll be in my study.’ He got up to go. ‘But if they don’t want to come…’
At this moment, a little hand touched his own. It was Beth’s. ‘I — I want to come,’ she said, her voice shaking. ‘Very much.’
‘You’re the musical girl,’ said Mr Laurence, gently.
‘I’m Beth. Yes, I love music, and I shall come.’
The next day, Beth waited until the old and the young gentlemen both went out, then she ran across to the big house and found her way to the room with the beautiful piano. As soon as she began to play, she forgot her fears immediately in the delight which the music gave her.
After that, Beth went every day. She never knew that Mr Laurence often opened his study door to hear her playing, or that Laurie stood in the hall to keep the servants away from the shy little girl. But she was so grateful that she asked her mother and sisters to help her make the old gentleman a pair of slippers. After several days’ careful sewing, the slippers were finished. Then Beth wrote a short letter and, with Laurie’s help, left it with the slippers in the old man’s study one morning, before he was up.
The next day, Beth went out for a walk, and when she came back the others were waiting for her. ‘Here’s a letter for you, Beth!’ they called out. ‘Come and read it!’ She hurried to the house and they took her into the front room. ‘Look there!’ everyone was saying at once. Beth looked — and got the biggest surprise of her life! For there stood a lovely little piano, with a letter on the top of it, addressed to: ‘Miss Elizabeth March’.
‘You — you read it, Jo,’ whispered Beth. ‘I can’t.’
So Jo opened the letter and began to read.
‘Dear Miss March,’ she read, ‘I have had many pairs of slippers but none which have pleased me so much as yours. I should like to thank you for your kindness by sending you something that once belonged to my little granddaughter, who died. With many thanks. I am your good friend, James Laurence.’
Jo put an arm around her sister. ‘Now try it, Beth,’ she said.
Beth sat down and began to play, and everyone thought it was the most perfect piano they had ever heard.
‘You’ll have to go and thank him,’ said Jo, with a smile, knowing that Beth was much too shy to do anything like that.
But Beth surprised them all. ‘I’ll do it at once,’ she said bravely, and away she walked, through the garden and into the big house next door. She went up to the old gentleman’s study and knocked on the door.
‘Come in,’ said Mr Laurence.
Beth went in. ‘I came to say thank you, sir,’ she began, in her quiet little voice. But he looked so friendly that she ran and put both her arms around his neck and kissed him.
The old gentleman was so surprised that he nearly fell off his chair. But he was very pleased indeed by that shy little kiss, and soon the two of them were talking like old friends. Later, he walked home with Beth. The girls, watching with great interest from the window, could not believe their eyes. ‘Well,’ Meg said, ‘I do believe the world is coming to an end!’