away. Before Mrs. March could reply, Mr. Laurence went on with an odd little nod and smile,—
"They needn't see or speak to any one, 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 big 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,—