整整一个星期这间旧屋 子都洋溢着一股勤勉、谦和之风，其风之盛，足以延及邻里。这颇令人费解，因为大家似乎心情奇佳，个个都自我克制。但当她们思虑父亲的心情得到缓解之后，姑 娘们便不知不觉地放松了劲儿，又开始回复到旧日的样子。她们并没有忘记自己的座右铭，只是这种期待、忙碌的日子似乎变得没有那么难熬了，经过了种种劳顿之 后，她们觉得应该放个假来犒赏犒赏自己的努力，于是一放便放了许多。
贝思每天都忠实地做好一切琐碎的家务。因为她的姐妹们都善忘，再兼屋子里群龙无首，她便把许多属于她们的工作也揽了过来。每当她思念父母、心情沉重 的时候，她就独自走到一个衣柜边，把脸埋在旧衣服里，悄悄呜咽一阵，轻声祷告几句。没有人知道是什么使她在一阵哭泣之后重新振作起来，但大家都分明感觉到 她是多么的温柔可亲、善解人意、乐于助人，于是每逢遇上哪怕是丁点儿的小问题都喜欢找她排解。
贝思说罢在沙发上躺下来，两位姐姐重新操起自己的活儿，赫梅尔一家的事被抛到九霄云外。一个小时过去了；艾美没有回来，梅格走进自己的房间试她的新 裙子，乔全神贯注地写她的故事，罕娜对着厨房的炉火酣睡，这时，贝思轻手轻脚地戴上帽子，往篮子里装上一些零碎的东西，带给可怜的孩子们，然后挺着沉重的 脑袋，走进了刺骨的寒风中，她那宽容的眼睛中分明有一种伤心的神色。
“我不觉得恐怖，乔，只觉得伤心欲绝！我一下子就看出他病得很重了，但洛珊说她妈妈出去找医生了，我便抱过婴儿，让洛蒂歇歇。当时他似乎痉挛起来， 然后便一动不动地躺着。我跟他焐脚，洛蒂喂他牛奶，但他却纹丝不动，我知道他死了！““别哭，亲爱的，那你怎么办呢？““我坐在那儿轻轻地抱着他，直到赫 梅尔太太把医生带来。医生说他已咽了气，接着又瞧瞧患喉咙痛的海因里希和明娜。'猩红热，太太，你应该早一点叫我，'他怒气冲冲地说。赫梅尔太太解释说， 她很穷，只好自己替婴儿治病，但现在一切都已经太迟了，她只能求他帮其他几个孩子看看，费用等慈善机构支付。他听后才露出了笑意，态度也亲切了一些。婴儿 死得这么惨，我和大家一起伤心痛哭，这时地突然回过头来，叫我马上回家服颠茄叶，不然，我也会得这个病的。““不，你不会的！“乔叫道，紧紧抱着妹妹，脸 上露出恐惧的神色，“噢，贝思，如果你得病，我不会原谅自己！我们该怎么办？““别害怕，我想我不会病得很重的。我翻了翻妈妈的书，知道这种病开始时感到 头痛，喉咙痛，浑身不得劲，就像我现在这样，于是便服了些颠茄叶，现在觉得好点儿了，“贝思说，一面把冰凉的手放在热辣辣的额头上，强装作没事一般。
“如果妈妈在家就好了！“乔叫道，觉得华盛顿是那么的遥远。她一把夺过书，看了一页，望望贝思，摸摸她的额头，又瞄瞄她的喉咙，严肃地说：“你一个 多星期以来每天都在婴儿身边，又和其他几个将要发病的孩子们呆一起；我恐怕你也会得这个病，贝思。我去叫罕娜来，她什么病都懂。““别让艾美来，她没有得 过这种病，我不想传染给她。你和梅格不会再一次得病吧？“贝思担心地问。
艾美死不从命，激动地宣布她宁愿得猩红热也不愿去马奇婶婶家。梅格跟她又是商量，又是恳求，又是逼迫，无奈都是白费心机，艾美坚决反抗，就是不肯 去。梅格只得绝望地弃下她去找罕娜求救。就在她出去的当儿，劳里走进客厅，看到艾美把头埋在沙发垫里抽抽咽咽哭得好不伤心。她诉出自己的委屈，满心希望能 得到一番安慰。但劳里只是把双手插在口袋里，在房间里踱来踱去，一面轻轻吹着口哨，一面拧紧眉头苦苦思索。不一会，他在她身边坐下来，又诱又哄地说道： “做个明事理的小妇人吧，听她们的话。好了，别哭了，我告诉你一条妙计。你去马奇婶婶家，我每天都来接你出去，或是乘车，或是散步，我们玩个痛快。那岂不 比闷在这里要好？““我不想被这么打发走，好像我碍着她们似的，“艾美用一种受伤的口吻说道。
“你怎么能这样想，这都是为你好。你也不想生病吧？““不想，当然不想；但我敢说我可能也会得病，因为我一直跟贝思在一起。““那你就更应该马上离 开，免得被传染上。换一个环境，小心保养，这样对你的身体更有好处，即使有病，也不至于病得那么严重。我建议你尽早起程，猩红热可不是闹着玩的，小姐。“ “但马奇婶婶家那么沉闷，她脾气又这么坏，“艾美面露惧色地说。
“我正为这犯难，“梅格说，“如果贝思真的得了病，按理我们应该告诉她，但罕娜说我们不必这样做，因为妈妈不能搁下爸爸，告诉她只能让他们干着急。 贝思不会病很久，罕娜知道该怎么做，再说妈妈吩咐过我们要听她的话，所以我想我们还是不要发电报，但我总觉得有点不对劲。““唔，这个，我也说不清。不如 等医生来看过之后你问问爷爷。““对。乔，快去请邦斯医生，“梅格下达命令，“要等他来了我们才能作出决定。““你别动，乔。跑腿工夫我来做，“劳里说着 拿起帽子。
For a week the amount of virtue in the old house would havesupplied the neighborhood. It was really amazing, for everyoneseemed in a heavenly frame of mind, and self-denial was all thefashion. Relieved of their first anxiety about their father,girls insensibly relaxed their praiseworthy efforts a little,and began to fall back into old ways. They did not forgettheir motto, but hoping and keeping busy seemed to grow easier,and after such tremendous exertions, they felt that Endeavordeserved a holiday, and gave it a good many.
Jo caught a bad cold through neglect to cover the shornhead enough, and was ordered to stay at home till she was better,for Aunt March didn't like to hear people read with colds intheir heads. Jo liked this, and after an energetic rummage fromgarret to cellar, subsided on the sofa to nurse her cold witharsenicum and books. Amy found that housework and art did notgo well together, and returned to her mud pies. Meg went dailyto her pupils, and sewed, or thought she did, at home, but muchtime was spent in writing long letters to her mother, or readingthe Washington dispatches over and over. Beth kept on, with onlyslight relapses into idleness or grieving.
All the little duties were faithfully done each day, andmany of her sisters' also, for they were forgetful, and the houseseemed like a clock whose pendulum was gone a-visiting. When herheart got heavy with longings for Mother or fears for Father, shewent away into a certain closet, hid her face in the folds of adear old gown, and made her little moan and prayed her littleprayer quietly by herself. Nobody knew what cheered her up aftera sober fit, but everyone felt how sweet and helpful Beth was, andfell into a way of going to her for comfort or advice in theirsmall affairs.
All were unconscious that this experience was a test ofcharacter, and when the first excitement was over, felt that theyhad done well and deserved praise. So they did, but theirmistake was in ceasing to do well, and they learned this lessonthrough much anxiety and regret.
"Meg, I wish you'd go and see the Hummels. You know Mothertold us not to forget them." said Beth, ten days after Mrs. March'sdeparture.
"I'm too tired to go this afternoon," re;lied Meg, rockingcomfortably as she sewed.
"Can't you, Jo?' asked Beth.
"Too stormy for me with my cold."
"I thought it was almost well."
"It's well enough for me to go out with Laurie, but not wellenough to go to the Hummels'," said Jo, laughing, but looking alittle ashamed of her inconsistency.
"Why don't you go yourself?" asked Meg.
"I have been every day, but the baby is sick, and I don'tknow what to do for it. Mrs. Hummel goes away to work, andLottchen takes care of it. But it gets sicker and sicker,and I think you or Hannah ought to go."
Beth spoke earnestly, and Meg promised she would go tomorrow.
"Ask Hannah for some nice little mess, and take it round, Beth,the air will do you good," said Jo, adding apologetically, "I'd gobut I want to finish my writing."
"My head aches and I'm tired, so I thought maybe some of youwould go," said Beth.
"Amy will be in presently, and she will run down for us,suggested Meg.
So Beth lay down on the sofa, the others returned to their work,and the Hummels were forgotten. An hour passed. Amy did not come,Meg went to her room to try on a new dress, Jo was absorbed in herstory, and Hannah was sound asleep before the kitchen fire, whenBeth quietly put on her hood, filled her basket with odds and endsfor the poor children, and went out into the chilly air with a heavyhead and a grieved look in her patient eyes. It was late when shecame back, and no one saw her creep upstairs and shut herself intoher mother's room. Half an hour after, Jo went to `Mother's closet'for something, and there found little Beth sitting on the medicinechest, looking very grave, with red eyes and a camphor bottle inher hand.
"Christopher Columbus! What's the matter?" cried Jo, as Bethput out her hand as if to warn her off, and asked quickly, "You'vehad the scarlet fever, havent't you?"
"Years ago, when Meg did. Why?'
"Then I'll tell you. Oh, Jo, the baby's dead!"
"Mrs. Hummel's. It died in my lap before she got home," criedBeth with a sob.
"My poor dear, how dreadful for you! I ought to have gone,"said Jo, taking her sister in her arms as she sat down in hermother's bit chair, with a remorseful face.
"It wasn't dreadful, Jo, only so sad! I saw in a minute itwas sicker, but Lottchen said her mother had gone for a doctor, soI took Baby and let Lotty rest. It seemed asleep, but all of asudden if gave a little cry and trembled, and then lay very still.I tried to warm its feet, and Lotty gave it some milk, but it didn'tstir, and I knew it was dead."
"Don't cry, dear! What did you do?"
"I just sat and held it softly till Mrs. Hummel came with thedoctor. He said it was dead, and looked at Heinrich and Minna, whohave sore throats. `Scarlet fever, ma'am. Ought to have called mebefore, ' he said crossly. Mrs. Hummel told him she was poor, andhad tried to cure baby herself, but now it was too late, and shecould only ask him to help the others and trust to charity for hispay. He smiled then, and was kinder, but it was very sad, and Icried with them till he turned round all of a sudden, and told meto go home and take belladonna right away, or I'd have the fever."
"No, you won't!" cried Jo, hugging her close, with a frightenedlook. "Oh, Beth, if you should be sick I never could forgive myself!What shall we do?"
"Don't be frightened, I guess I shan't have it badly. I lookedin Mother's book, and saw that it begins with headache, sore throat,and queer feelings like mine, so I did take some belladonna, and Ifeel better," said Beth, laying her cold hands on her hot foreheadand trying to look well.
"If Mother was only at home!" exclaimed Jo, seizing the book,and feeling that Washington was an immense way off. She read a page,looked at Beth, felt her head, peeped into her throat, and thensaid gravely, "You've been over the baby every day for more than aweek, and among the others who are going to have it, so I'm afraidyou are going to have it, Beth. I'll call Hannah, she knows allabout sickness."
"Don't let Amy come. She never had it, and I should hate togive it to her. Can't you and Meg have it over again?" asked Beth,anxiously.
"I guess not. Don't care if I do. Serve me right, selfish pig,to let you go, and stay writing rubbish myself!" muttered Jo, as shewent to consult Hannah.
The good soul was wide awake in a minute, and took the lead atonce, assuring that there was no need to worry; every one had scarletfever, and if rightly treated, nobody died, all of which Jo believed,and felt much relieved as they went up to call Meg.
"Now I'll tell you what we'll do," said Hannah, when she hadexamined and questioned Beth, "we will have Dr. Bangs, just to takea look at you, dear, and see that we start right. Then we'll sendAmy off to Aunt March's for a spell, to keep her out of harm's way,and one of you girls can stay at home and amuse Beth for a day or two."
"I shall stay, of course, I'm oldest," began Meg, looking anxiousand self-reproachful.
"I shall, because it's my fault she is sick. I told Mother I'ddo the errands, and I haven't," said Jo decidedly.
"Which will you have, Beth? There ain't no need of but one,"aid Hannah.
"Jo, please." And Beth leaned her head against her sister witha contented look, which effectually settled that point.
"I'll go and tell Amy," said Meg, feeling a little hurt, yetrather relieved on the whole, for she did not like nursing, and Jodid.
Amy rebelled outright, and passionately declared that she hadrather have the fever than go to Aunt March. Meg reasoned, pleaded,and commanded, all in vain. Amy protested that she would not go,and Meg left her in despair to ask Hannah what should be done. Beforeshe came back, Laurie walked into the parlor to find Amy sobbing, withher head in the sofa cushions. She told her story, expecting to beconsoled, but Laurie only put his hands in his pockets and walkedabout the room, whistling softly, as he knit his brows in deepthought. Presently he sat down beside her, and said, in his mostwheedlesome tone, "Now be a sensible little woman, and do as they say.No, don't cry, but hear what a jolly plan I've got. You go to AuntMarch's, and I'll come and take you out every day, driving or walking,and we'll have capital times. Won't that be better than moping here?"
"I don't wish to be sent off as if I was in the way," began Amy,in an injured voice.
"Bless your heart, child, it's to keep you well. You don'twant to be sick, do you?"
"No, I'm sure I don't, but I dare say I shall be, for I've beenwith Beth all the time."
"That's the very reason you ought to go away at once, so thatyou may escape it. Change of air and care will keep you well, Idare say, or if it does not entirely, you will have the fever morelightly. I advise you to be off as soon as you can, for scarlet feveris no joke, miss."
"But it's dull at Aunt March's, and she is so cross," said Amy,looking rather frightened.
"It won't be dull with me popping; in every day to tell you howBeth is, and take you out gallivanting. The old lady likes me, andI'll be as sweet as possible to her, so she won't peck at us,whatever we do."
"Will you take me out in the trotting wagon with Puck?"
"On my honor as a gentleman."
"And come every single day?"
"See if I don't/"
"And bring me back the minute Beth is well?"
"The identical minute."
"And go to the theater, truly?"
"A dozen theaters, if we may."
"Well--I guess I will," said Amy slowly.
"Good girl! Call Meg, and tell her you'll give in," saidLaurie, with an approving pat, which annoyed Amy more than the`giving in'.
Meg and Jo came running down to behold the miracle which hadbeen wrought, and Amy, feeling very precious and self-sacrificing,promised to go, if the doctor said Beth was going to be ill.
"How is the little dear?" asked Laurie, for Beth was hisespecial pet, and he felt more anxious about her than he liked toshow.
"She is lying down on Mother's bed, and feels better. Thebaby's death troubled her, but I dare say she has only got cold.Hannah says she thinks so, but she looks worried, and that makes mefidgety," answered Meg.
"What a trying world it is!" said Jo, rumpling up her hair ina fretful way. "No sooner do we get out of one trouble than downcomes another. There doesn't seem to be anything to hold on towhen Mother's gone, so I'm all at sea."
"Well, don't make a porcupine of yourself, it isn't becoming.Settle your wig, Jo, and tell me if I shall telegraph to your mother,or do anything?" asked Laurie, who never had been reconciled to theloss of his friend's one beauty.
"That is what troubles me," said Meg. "I think we ought to tellher if Beth is really ill, but Hannah says we mustn't, for Mothercan't leave Father, and it will only make them anxious. Beth won'tbe sick long, and Hannah knows just what to do, and Mother said wewere to mind her, so I suppose we must, but it doesn't seem quiteright to me."
"Hum, well, I can't say. Suppose you ask Grandfather afterthe doctor has been."
"We will. Jo, go and get Dr. Bangs at once," commanded Meg."We can't decide anything till he has been."
"Stay where you are, Jo. I'm errand boy to this establishment,"said Laurie, taking up his cap.
"I'm afraid you are busy," began Meg.
"No, I've done my lessons for the day."
"Do you study in vacation time?" asked Jo.
"I follow the good example my neighbors set me," was Laurie'sanswer, as he swung himself out of the room.
"I have great hopes for my boy," observed Jo, watching himfly over the fence with an approving smile.
"He does very well, for a boy," was Meg's somewhat ungraciousanswer, for the subject did not interest her.
Dr. Bangs came, said Beth had symptoms of the fever, but he thoughtshe would have it lightly, though he looked sober over the Hummel story.Amy was ordered off at once, and provided with something to wardoff danger, she departed in great state, with Jo and Laurie as escort.
Aunt March received them with her usual hospitality.
"What do you want now?" she asked, looking sharply over herspectacles, while the parrot, sitting on the back of her chair,called out...
"Go away. No boys allowed here."
Laurie retired to the window, and Jo told her story.
"No more than I expected, if you are allowed to go pokingabout among poor folks. Amy can stay and make herself usefulif she isn't sick, which I've no doubt she will be, looks likeit now. Don't cry, child, it worries me to hear people sniff."Amy was on the point of crying, but Laurie slyly pulled theparrot's tail, which caused Polly to utter an astonished croak andcall out, "Bless my boots!" in such a funny way, that she laughedinstead.
"What do you hear from your mother?" asked the old ladygruffly.
"Father is much better," replied Jo, trying to keep sober.
"Oh, is her? Well, that won't last long, I fancy. Marchnever had any stamina," was the cheerful reply.
"Ha, ha! Never say die, take a pinch of snuff, goodbye, goodbye!"squalled Polly, dancing on her perch, and clawing at the oldlady's cap as Laurie tweaked him in the rear.
"Hold your tongue, you disrespectful old bird! And, Jo, you'dbetter go at once. It isn't proper to be gadding about so late witha rattlepated boy like..."
"Hold your tongue, you disrespectful old bird!" cried Polly,tumbling off the chair with a bounce, and running to peck the`rattlepated' boy, who was shaking with laughter at the last speech.
"I don't think I can bear it, but I'll try," thought Amy, asshe was left alone with Aunt March.
"Get along, you fright!" screamed Polly, and at that rude speechAmy could not restrain a sniff.