For a week the amount of virtue in the old house would have supplied the neighbourhood. It was really amazing, for everyone seemed in a heavenly frame of mind, and self-denial was all the fashion. Relieved of their first anxiety about their father the girls insensibly relaxed their praiseworthy efforts a little, and began to fall back into the old ways. They did not forget their motto, but hoping and keeping busy seemed to grow easier; and after such tremendous exertions, they felt that Endeavour deserved a holiday, and gave it a good many.
Jo caught a bad cold through neglect to cover the shorn head enough, and was ordered to stay at home till she was better, for Aunt March didn't like to hear people read with colds in their heads. Jo liked this, and after an energetic rummage from garret to cellar, subsided on the sofa to nurse her cold with arsenicum and books. Amy found that housework and art did not go well together, and returned to her mud pies. Meg went daily to her pupils, and sewed, or thought she did, at home, but much time was spent in writing long letters to her mother, or reading the Washington dispatches over and over. Beth kept on, with only slight relapses into idleness or grieving.
All the little duties were faithfully done each day, and many of her sisters' also, for they were forgetful, and the house seemed like a clock whose pendulum was gone a-visiting. When her heart got heavy with longings for Mother or fears for Father, she went away into a certain closet, hid her face in the folds of a certain dear old gown, and made her little moan and prayed her little prayer quietly by herself. Nobody knew what cheered her up after a sober fit, but everyone felt how sweet and helpful Beth was, and fell into a way of going to her for comfort or advice in their small affairs.
All were unconscious that this experience was a test of character; and when the first excitement was over, felt that they had done well, and deserved praise. So they did; but their mistake was in ceasing to do well, and they learned this lesson through much anxiety and regret.
`Meg, I wish you'd go and see the Hummels; you know Mother told us not to forget them,' said Beth, ten days after Mrs. March's departure.
`I'm too tired to go this afternoon,' replied Meg, rocking comfortably as she sewed.
`Can't you, Jo?' asked Beth.
`Too stormy for me with my cold.'
`I thought it was almost well.'
`It's well enough for me to go out with Laurie, but not well enough to go to the Hummels', said Jo, laughing, but looking a little ashamed of her inconsistency.
`Why don't you go yourself?' asked Meg.
`I have been every day, but the baby is sick, and I don't know what to do for it. Mrs. Hummel goes away to work, and Lottchen takes care of it; but it gets sicker and sicker, and I think you or Hannah ought to go.'
Beth spoke earnestly, and Meg promised she would go tomorrow.
`Ask Hannah for some nice little mess, and take it round, Beth; the air will do you good,' said Jo, adding apologetically, `I'd go, but I want to finish my writing.'
`My head aches and I'm tired, so I thought maybe some of you would go,' said Beth.
`Amy will be in presently, and she will run down for us,' suggested Meg.
`Well, I'll rest a little and wait for her.'
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