In the cold gray dawn the sisters lit their lamp and read their chapter with an earnestness
never felt before. For now the shadow of a real trouble had come, the little books were
full of help and comfort, and as they dressed, they agreed to say good-by cheerfully and
hopefully, and send their mother on her anxious journey unsaddened by tears or
complaints from them. Everything seemed very strange when they went down, so dim
and still outside, so full of light and bustle within. Breakfast at that early hour seemed
odd, and even Hannah's familiar face looked unnatural as she flew about her kitchen with
her nightcap on. The big trunk stood ready in the hall, Mother's cloak and bonnet lay on
the sofa, and Mother herself sat trying to eat, but looking so pale and worn with
sleeplessness and anxiety that the girls found it very hard to keep their resolution. Meg's
eyes kept filling in spite of herself, Jo was obliged to hide her face in the kitchen roller
more than once, ant the little girls wore a grave, troubled expression, as if sorrow was a
new experience to them.
Nobody talked much, but as the time drew very near and they sat waiting for the carriage,
Mrs. March said to the girls, who were all busied about her, one folding her shawl,
another smoothing out the strings of her bonnet, a third putting on her overshoes, and a
forth fastening up her travelling bag...
"Children, I leave you to Hannah's care and Mr. Laurence's protection. Hannah is
faithfulness itself, and our good neighbor will guard you as if you were his own. I have
no fears for you, yet I am anxious that you should take this trouble rightly. Don't grieve
and fret when I am gone, or think that you can be idle and comfort yourselves by being
idle and trying to forget. Go on with your work as usual, for work is a blessed solace.
Hope and keep busy, and whatever happens, remember that you never can be fatherless."
"Meg, dear, be prudent, watch over your sisters, consult Hannah, and in any perplexity,
go to Mr. Laurence. Be patient, Jo, don't get despondent or do rash things, write to me
often, and be my brave girl, ready to help and cheer all. Beth, comfort yourself with your
music, and be faithful to the little home duties, and You Amy, help all you can, be
obedient, and keep happy safe at home."
"We will, Mother! We will!"
The rattle of an approaching carriage made them all start and listen. That was the hard
minute, but the girls stood it well. No one cried, no one ran away or uttered a
lamentation, though their hearts were very heavy as they sent loving messages to Father,
remembering, as they spoke that it might be too late to deliver them. They kissed their
mother quietly, clung about her tenderly, and tried to wave their hands cheerfully when
she drove away.
Laurie and his grandfather came over to see her off, and Mr. Brooke looked so strong and
sensible and kind that the girls christened him `Mr. Greatheart' on the spot.
"Good-by, my darlings! God bless and keep us all!" whispered Mrs. March, as she kissed
one dear little face after the other, and hurried into the carriage.