So Beth lay down on the sofa, and others returned to their work, and the Hummels were forgotten. An hour passed: Amy did not come; Meg went to her room to try on a new dress; Jo was absorbed in her story, and Hannah was sound asleep before the kitchen fire, when Beth quietly put on her hood, filled her basket with odds and ends f or the poor children, and went out into the chilly air, with a heavy head, and a grieved look in her patient eyes. It was late when she came back, and no one saw her creep upstairs and shut herself into her mother's room. Half an hour after, Jo went to `Mother's closet' for something, and there found Beth sitting on the medicine chest looking very grave, with red eyes, and a camphor- bottle in her hand.
`Christopher Columbus! What's the matter?' cried Jo, as Beth put out her hand as if to warn her off, and asked quickly:
`You've had the scarlet fever, haven't you?'
`Years ago, when Meg did. Why?'
`Then I'll tell you. Oh, Jo, the baby's dead!'
`Mrs. Hummel's; it died in my lap before she got home,' cried Beth, with a sob.
`My poor dear, how dreadful for you! I ought to have gone,' said Jo, taking her sister in her arms as she sat down in her mother's big chair, with a remorseful face.
`It wasn't dreadful, Jo, only so sad! I saw in a minute that it was sicker, but Lottchen said her mother had gone for a doctor, so I took baby and let Lotty rest. It seemed asleep, but all of a sudden it gave a little cry, and trembled, and then lay very still. I tried to warm its feet, and Lotty gave it some milk, but it didn't stir, and I knew it was dead.'
`Don't cry, dear! What did you do?'
`I just sat and held it softly till Mrs. Hummel came with the doctor. He said it was dead, and looked at Heinrich and Minna, who have got sore throats. "Scarlet fever, ma'am. Ought to have called me before," he said, crossly. Mrs. Hummel told him she was poor, and had tried to cure baby herself, but now it was too late, and she could only ask him to help the others, and trust to charity for his pay. He smiled then, and was kinder; but it was very sad, and I cried with them till he turned round, all of a sudden, and told me to go home and take belladonna right away, or I'd have the fever.'
`No, you won't!' cried Jo, hugging her close, with a frightened look. `Oh, Beth, if you should be sick I never could forgive myself! What shall we do?'
`Don't be frightened, I guess I shan't have it badly. I looked in Mother's book, and saw that it begins with headache, sore throat, and queer feelings like mine, so I did take some belladonna, and I feel better,' said Beth, laying her cold hands on her hot forehead, and trying to look well.
`If Mother was only at home!' exclaimed Jo, seizing the book, and feeling that Washington was an immense way off. She read a page, looked at Beth, felt her head, peeped into her throat, and then said gravely, `You've been over the baby for more than a week, and among the others who are going to have it; so I'm afraid you are going to have it, Beth. I'll call Hannah, she knows all about sickness.'
`Don't let Amy come: she never had it, and I should hate to give it to her. Can't you and Meg have it over again?' asked Beth anxiously.
`I guess not; don't care if I do; serve me right, selfish pig, to let you go, and stay writing rubbish myself!' muttered Jo, as she went to consult Hannah.
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