how suddenly the whole world seemed to change, as the girls gathered about their mother, feeling as if all the happiness and support of their lives was about to be taken from them. Mrs. March was herself again directly ; read the message over, and stretched out her arms to her daughters, saying, in a tone they never forgot, " I shall go at once, but it may be too late ; oh, children, children ! help me to bear it ! "
For several minutes there was nothing but the sound of sobbing in the room, mingled with broken words of comfort, tender assurances of help, and hopeful whispers, that died away in tears. Poor Hannah was the first to recover, and with unconscious wisdom she set all the rest a good example ; for, with her, work was the panacea for most afflictions.
" The Lord keep the dear man ! I won't waste no time a cryin', but git your things ready right away, mum," she said, heartily, as she wiped her face on her apron, gave her mistress a warm shake of the hand with her own hard one, and went away to work, like three women in one.
" She's right ; there's no time for tears now. Be calm, girls, and let me think."
They tried to be calm, poor things, as their mother sat up, looking pale, but steady, and put away her grief to think and plan for them.
" Where's Laurie?" she asked presently, when she had collected her thoughts, and decided on the first duties to be done.
" Here, ma'am ; oh, let me do something ! " cried the boy, hurrying from the next room, whither he had