Little Women HTML version

Dark Days
Beth did have the fever, and was much sicker than anyone but Hannah and the doctor
suspected. The girls knew nothing about illness, and Mr. Laurence was not allowed to see
her, so Hannah had everything her own way, and busy Dr. Bangs did his best, but left a
good deal to the excellent nurse. Meg stayed at home, lest she should infect the Kings,
and kept house, feeling very anxious and a little guilty when she wrote letters in which no
mention was made of Beth's illness. She could not think it right to deceive her mother,
but she had been bidden to mind Hannah, and Hannah wouldn't hear of 'Mrs. March bein'
told, and worried just for sech a trifle.'
Jo devoted herself to Beth day and night, not a hard task, for Beth was very patient, and
bore her pain uncomplainingly as long as she could control herself. But there came a time
when during the fever fits she began to talk in a hoarse, broken voice, to play on the
coverlet as if on her beloved little piano, and try to sing with a throat so swollen that there
was no music left, a time when she did not know the familiar faces around her, but
addressed them by wrong names, and called imploringly for her mother. Then Jo grew
frightened, Meg begged to be allowed to write the truth, and even Hannah said she
`would think of it, though there was no danger yet'. A letter from Washington added to
their trouble, for Mr. March had had a relapse, and could not think of coming home for a
long while.
How dark the days seemed now, how sad and lonely the house, and how heavy were the
hearts of the sisters as they worked and waited, while the shadow of death hovered over
the once happy home. Then it was that Margaret, sitting alone with tears dropping often
on her work, felt how rich she had been in things more precious than any luxuries money
could buy--in love, protection, peace, and health, the real blessings of life. Then it was
that Jo, living in the darkened room, with that suffering little sister always before her eyes
and that pathetic voice sounding in her ears, learned to see the beauty and to sweetness of
Beth's nature, to feel how deep and tender a place she filled in all hearts, and to
acknowledge the worth of Beth's unselfish ambition to live for others, and make home
happy by that exercise of those simple virtues which all may possess, and which all
should love and value more than talent, wealth, or beauty. And Amy, in her exile, longed
eagerly to be at home, that she might work for Beth, feeling now that no service would be
hard or irksome, and remembering, with regretful grief, how many neglected tasks those
willing hands had done for her. Laurie haunted the house like a restless ghost, and Mr.
Laurence locked the grand piano, because he could not bear to be reminded of the young
neighbor who used to make the twilight pleasant for him. Everyone missed Beth. The
milkman, baker, grocer, and butcher inquired how she did, poor Mrs. Hummel came to
beg pardon for her thoughtlessness and to get a shroud for Minna, the neighbors sent all
sorts of comforts and good wishes, and even those who knew her best were surprised to
find how many friends shy little Beth had made.
Meanwhile she lay on her bed with old Joanna at her side, for even in her wanderings she
did not forget her forlorn protege. She longed for her cats, but would not have them
brought, lest they should get sick, and in her quiet hours she was full of anxiety about Jo.
She sent loving messages to Amy, bade them tell her mother that she would write soon,
and often begged for pencil and paper to try to say a word, that Father might not think she
had neglected him. But soon even these intervals of consciousness ended, and she lay
hour after hour, tossing to and fro, with incoherent words on her lips, or sank into a heavy
sleep which brought her no refreshment. Dr. Bangs came twice a day, Hannah sat up at