“Keep hoping for the best, that will help you, Jo. Soon your mother will be here, and then everything will be all right.”
“I’m so glad Father is better. Now she won’t feel so bad about leaving him. Oh, me! It does seem as if all the troubles came in a heap, and I got the heaviest part on my shoulders,” sighed Jo, spreading her wet handkerchief over her knees to dry.
“Doesn’t Meg pull fair?” asked Laurie, looking indignant.
“Oh, yes, she tries to, but she can’t love Bethy as I do, and she won’t miss her as I shall. Beth is my conscience, and I can’t give her up. I can’t! I can’t!”
Down went Jo’s face into the wet handkerchief, and she cried despairingly, for she had kept up bravely till now and never shed a tear. Laurie drew his hand across his eyes, but could not speak till he had subdued the choky feeling in his throat and steadied his lips. It might be unmanly, but he couldn’t help it, and I am glad of it. Presently, as Jo’s sobs quieted, he said hopefully, “I don’t think she will die. She’s so good, and we all love her so much, I don’t believe God will take her away yet.”
“The good and dear people always do die,” groaned Jo, but she stopped crying, for her friend’s words cheered her up in spite of her own doubts and fears.
“Poor girl, you’re worn out. It isn’t like you to be forlorn. Stop a bit. I’ll hearten you up in a jiffy.”
Laurie went off two stairs at a time, and Jo laid her wearied head down on Beth’s little brown hood, which no one had thought of moving from the table where she left it. It must have possessed some magic, for the submissive spirit of its gentle owner seemed to enter into Jo, and when Laurie came running down with a glass of wine, she took it with a smile, and said bravely, “I drink— Health to my Beth! You are a good doctor, Teddy, and such a comfortable friend. How can I ever pay you?” she added, as the wine refreshed her body, as the kind words had done her troubled mind.
“I’ll send my bill, by-and-by, and tonight I’ll give you something that will warm the cockles of your heart better than quarts of wine,” said Laurie, beaming at her with a face of suppressed satisfaction at something.
“What is it?” cried Jo, forgetting her woes for a minute in her wonder.
“I telegraphed to your mother yesterday, and Brooke answered she’d come at once, and she’ll be here tonight, and everything will be all right. Aren’t you glad I did it?”
Laurie spoke very fast, and turned red and excited all in a minute, for he had kept his plot a secret, for fear of disappointing the girls or harming Beth. Jo grew quite white, flew out of her chair, and the moment he stopped speaking she electrified him by throwing her arms round his neck, and crying out, with a joyful cry, “Oh, Laurie! Oh, Mother! I am so glad!” She did not weep again, but laughed hysterically, and trembled and clung to her friend as if she was a little bewildered by the sudden news.
Laurie, though decidedly amazed, behaved with great presence of mind. He patted her back soothingly, and finding that she was recovering, followed it up by a bashful kiss or two, which brought Jo round at once. Holding on to the banisters, she put him gently away, saying breathlessly, “Oh, don’t! I didn’t mean to, it was dreadful of me, but you were such a dear to go and do it in spite of Hannah that I couldn’t help flying at you. Tell me all about it, and don’t give me wine again, it makes me act so.”
“I don’t mind,” laughed Laurie, as he settled his tie. “Why, you see I got fidgety, and so did Grandpa. We thought Hannah was overdoing the authority business, and your mother ought to know. She’d never forgive us if Beth… Well, if anything happened, you know. So I got grandpa to say it was high time we did something, and off I pelted to the office yesterday, for the doctor looked sober, and Hannah most took my head off when I proposed a telegram. I never can bear to be ‘lorded over’, so that settled my mind, and I did it. Your mother will come, I know, and the late train is in at two A.M. I shall go for her, and you’ve only got to bottle up your rapture, and keep Beth quiet till that blessed lady gets here.”
“Laurie, you’re an angel! How shall I ever thank you?”
“Fly at me again. I rather liked it,” said Laurie, looking mischievous, a thing he had not done for a fortnight.
“No, thank you. I’ll do it by proxy, when your grandpa comes. Don’t tease, but go home and rest, for you’ll be up half the night. Bless you, Teddy, bless you!”
Jo had backed into a corner, and as she finished her speech, she vanished precipitately into the kitchen, where she sat down upon a dresser and told the assembled cats that she was “happy, oh, so happy!” while Laurie departed, feeling that he had made a rather neat thing of it.
“That’s the interferingest chap I ever see, but I forgive him and do hope Mrs. March is coming right away,” said Hannah, with an air of relief, when Jo told the good news.
Meg had a quiet rapture, and then brooded over the letter, while Jo set the sickroom in order, and Hannah “knocked up a couple of pies in case of company unexpected”. A breath of fresh air seemed to blow through the house, and something better than sunshine brightened the quiet rooms. Everything appeared to feel the hopeful change. Beth’s bird began to chirp again, and a half-blown rose was discovered on Amy’s bush in the window. The fires seemed to burn with unusual cheeriness, and every time the girls met, their pale faces broke into smiles as they hugged one another, whispering encouragingly, “Mother’s coming, dear! Mother’s coming!” Every one rejoiced but Beth. She lay in that heavy stupor, alike unconscious of hope and joy, doubt and danger. It was a piteous sight, the once rosy face so changed and vacant, the once busy hands so weak and wasted, the once smiling lips quite dumb, and the once pretty, well-kept hair scattered rough and tangled on the pillow. All day she lay so, only rousing now and then to mutter, “Water!” with lips so parched they could hardly shape the word. All day Jo and Meg hovered over her, watching, waiting, hoping, and trusting in God and Mother, and all day the snow fell, the bitter wind raged, and the hours dragged slowly by. But night came at last, and every time the clock struck, the sisters, still sitting on either side of the bed, looked at each other with brightening eyes, for each hour brought help nearer. The doctor had been in to say that some change, for better or worse, would probably take place about midnight, at which time he would return.
Hannah, quite worn out, lay down on the sofa at the bed’s foot and fell fast asleep, Mr. Laurence marched to and fro in the parlor, feeling that he would rather face a rebel battery than Mrs. March’s countenance as she entered. Laurie lay on the rug, pretending to rest, but staring into the fire with the thoughtful look which made his black eyes