فصل 11

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فصل 11

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CHAPTER ELEVEN

Beth

Ten days after their mother went away, Beth came home late after one of several visits to a sick baby at the Hummels’ house. She went straight to her mother’s room and shut herself inside. Half an hour later, Jo found her sitting there, looking very ill.

‘Beth, what’s the matter?’ cried Jo.

Beth put out a hand to keep her away. ‘You’ve had scarlet fever, haven’t you?’ she said.

‘Years ago, when Meg did,’ said Jo. ‘Why?’

‘Oh, Jo! Mrs Hummel’s baby is dead,’ said Beth. ‘It died in my arms before Mrs Hummel got home.’

‘My poor Beth, how awful for you!’ said Jo, putting an arm around her sister. ‘What did you do?’

‘I just sat and held it until Mrs Hummel came with the doctor. He looked at Heinrich and Minna who were also feeling sick. “It’s scarlet fever,” he said. Then he told me to come home and take some medicine quickly or I would catch it, too.’

‘I’ll fetch Hannah,’ said Jo.

‘Don’t let Amy come,’ said Beth. ‘She hasn’t had it, and I don’t want to give it to her.’

It was decided that Amy must go to Aunt March’s house, so Laurie took her there. Poor Amy did not like this plan at all and only agreed to go when Laurie said he would visit her every day to bring her news of Beth.

When Laurie got back, he asked Jo and Meg if he ought to send a telegram to Mrs March.

‘Hannah says Mother can’t leave Father and would only worry,’ said Meg. ‘She says Beth won’t be sick long, and that she knows what to do, but it doesn’t seem right.’

Mr Laurence was not allowed to see Beth, and Meg felt unhappy writing letters to her mother saying nothing about Beth’s illness. Jo nursed Beth night and day, but the time came when Beth did not know her and called for her mother. Jo was frightened, and Meg begged to be allowed to write the truth, but Hannah said there was no danger yet. Then a letter came saying that Mr March was worse and could not think of coming home for a long time.

How dark the days seemed, how sad and lonely. The sisters worked and waited as the shadow of death lay over the once happy home. It was then that Meg realized how rich she had been in the things which really mattered - love, peace, good health. And Jo, watching her little sister, thought about how unselfish Beth always was - living for others and trying to make home a happy place for all who came there. Amy, sad and lonely at Aunt March’s house, just wanted to come home so that she could do something to help Beth.

On the first day of December, the doctor came in the morning. He looked at Beth, then said quietly, ‘If Mrs March can leave her husband, I think she should come home now.’

Jo threw on her coat and ran out into the snow to send a telegram. When she arrived back, Laurie came with a letter saying that Mr March was getting better again. This was good news, but Jo’s face was so unhappy that Laurie asked, ‘What is it? Is Beth worse?’

‘I’ve sent for Mother,’ said Jo, beginning to cry. ‘Beth doesn’t know us anymore.’

Laurie held her hand and whispered, ‘I’m here, Jo. Hold on to me. Your mother will be here soon, and then everything will be all right.’

‘I’m glad Father is better,’ said Jo. ‘Now Mother won’t feel so bad about coming home.’

‘You’re very tired,’ said Laurie. ‘But I’ll tell you something to cheer you up better than anything.’

‘What is it?’ said Jo.

Laurie smiled. ‘I sent a telegram to your mother yesterday, and Mr Brooke answered that she’d come at once. She’ll be here tonight and everything will be all right!’ Jo threw her arms around him.

‘Oh, Laurie! Oh, Mother! I am so glad!’ She did not cry again, but held on to her friend. He was surprised, but he smoothed her hair and followed this with a kiss or two.

Jo pushed him gently away. ‘Oh, don’t! I didn’t mean-!’

‘I enjoyed it!’ laughed Laurie, then went on, ‘Grandfather and I thought your mother ought to know. She wouldn’t forgive us if Beth - well, if anything happened. Her train will be in at two o’clock in the morning, and I’ll meet her.’

All that day, the snow fell and the hours went slowly by. The doctor came, then said he would come back after midnight when he expected there to be some change in Beth’s condition, for better or worse. Hannah fell asleep in a chair beside Beth’s bed. Mr Laurence waited downstairs, while Laurie lay on the floor pretending to rest. The girls just waited, unable to sleep.

At twelve o’clock, a change seemed to pass over Beth’s face. Hannah slept on, but the girls saw the shadow which seemed to fall upon the little bed. An hour went by and Laurie left quietly for the station.

At two o’clock, Jo was standing at the window, watching the snow. She heard something and turned to see Meg kneeling beside her mother’s chair. A cold feeling of fear passed over Jo. ‘Beth is dead,’ she thought.

She ran to the bed. The pain had gone from Beth’s face, and now there was a look of peace instead. Jo kissed her and softly whispered, ‘Goodbye, Beth, goodbye!’

Hannah woke up and looked at Beth. ‘The fever’s gone!’ she cried. ‘She’s sleeping and breathing easily!’

The doctor came soon after. ‘I think she’ll be all right,’ he said. ‘Keep the house quiet and let her sleep.’

Meg and Jo held each other close, their hearts too full for words. Beth was lying as she used to, with her cheek on her hand, and breathing quietly.

‘I wish Mother would come now,’ whispered Jo.

And a moment later, they heard the sound of the door below, a cry from Hannah, then Laurie’s happy voice saying, ‘Girls, she’s come! She’s come!’

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