"Much obliged, but I'm busy ; " and Meg whisked out her work-basket, for she had agreed with her mother that it was best, for her at least, not to drive often with the young gentleman.
" We three will be ready in a minute," cried Amy, running away to wash her hands.
"Can I do anything for you, Madam Mother?" asked Laurie, leaning over Mrs. March's chair, with the affectionate look and tone he always gave her.
" No, thank you, except call at the office, if you'll be so kind, dear. It's our day for a letter, and the penny postman hasn't been. Father is as regular as the sun, but there's some delay on the way, perhaps."
A sharp ring interrupted her, and a minute after Hannah came in with a letter.
" It's one of them horrid telegraph things, mum," she said, handing it as if she was afraid it would ex- plode, and do some damage.
At the word " telegraph," Mrs. March snatched it, read the two lines it contained, and dropped back into her chair as white as if the little paper had sent a bullet to her heart. Laurie dashed down stairs for water, while Meg and Hannah supported her, and Jo read aloud, in a frightened voice, —
" Your husband is very ill. Come at once.
"S. Hale, " Blank Hospital, Washington."
How still the room was as they listened breath- lessly ! how strangely the day darkened outside ! and