“Can I do anything for you, Madam Mother?” asked Laurie, leaning over Mrs. March’s chair with the affectionate look and tone he always gave her.
“No, thank you, except call at the office, if you’ll be so kind, dear. It’s our day for a letter, and the postman hasn’t been. Father is as regular as the sun, but there’s some delay on the way, perhaps.”
A sharp ring interrupted her, and a minute after Hannah came in with a letter.
“It’s one of them horrid telegraph things, mum,” she said, handling it as if she was afraid it would explode and do some damage.
At the word ‘telegraph’, Mrs. March snatched it, read the two lines it contained, and dropped back into her chair as white as if the little paper had sent a bullet to her heart. Laurie dashed downstairs for water, while Meg and Hannah supported her, and Jo read aloud, in a frightened voice…
Your husband is very ill. Come at once.
Blank Hospital, Washington.
How still the room was as they listened breathlessly, how strangely the day darkened outside, and how suddenly the whole world seemed to change, as the girls gathered about their mother, feeling as if all the happiness and support of their lives was about to be taken from them.
Mrs. March was herself again directly, read the message over, and stretched out her arms to her daughters, saying, in a tone they never forgot, “I shall go at once, but it may be too late. Oh, children, children, help me to bear it!”
For several minutes there was nothing but the sound of sobbing in the room, mingled with broken words of comfort, tender assurances of help, and hopeful whispers that died away in tears. Poor Hannah was the first to recover, and with unconscious wisdom she set all the rest a good example, for with her, work was panacea for most afflictions.
“The Lord keep the dear man! I won’t waste no time a-cryin’, but git your things ready right away, mum,” she said heartily, as she wiped her face on her apron, gave her mistress a warm shake of the hand with her own hard one, and went away to work like three women in one.
“She’s right, there’s no time for tears now. Be calm, girls, and let me think.”
They tried to be calm, poor things, as their mother sat up, looking pale but steady, and put away her grief to think and plan for them.
“Where’s Laurie?” she asked presently, when she had collected her thoughts and decided on the first duties to be done.
“Here, ma’am. Oh, let me do something!” cried the boy, hurrying from the next room whither he had withdrawn, feeling that their first sorrow was too sacred for even his friendly eyes to see.
“Send a telegram saying I will come at once. The next train goes early in the morning. I’ll take that.”
“What else? The horses are ready. I can go anywhere, do anything,” he said, looking ready to fly to the ends of the earth.
“Leave a note at Aunt March’s. Jo, give me that pen and paper.”
Tearing off the blank side of one of her newly copied pages, Jo drew the table before her mother, well knowing that money for the long, sad journey must be borrowed, and feeling as if she could do anything to add a little to the sum for her father.
“Now go, dear, but don’t kill yourself driving at a desperate pace. There is no need of that.”
Mrs. March’s warning was evidently thrown away, for five minutes later Laurie tore by the window on his own fleet horse, riding as if for his life.
“Jo, run to the rooms, and tell Mrs. King that I can’t come. On the way get these things. I’ll put them down, they’ll be