Chapter 18 Summary
Hannah and the doctor both realize quickly that Beth is gravely ill, but they try to protect the girls from this frightening fact. Even so, the girls want badly to write to Marmee and tell her what is happening. Hannah, however, declares that they should not worry Mrs. March when she is busy caring for her husband far away.
As Beth’s condition deteriorates, the girls receive word that Father’s illness is worsening as well. Jo sits by Beth all day, every day. Meg tries to keep the household running smoothly, but she often stops and cries. She thinks about how often she has wished for wealth, and she is amazed that she never realized how rich she was in loving family. Amy feels lost and lonely in her grumpy aunt’s huge house.
At first Beth is just weak and tired, but soon she grows so ill that she confuses the names of her sisters. Sometimes she loses consciousness altogether. Meg and Jo live in constant fear, and Meg keeps a telegram ready in case Hannah ever consents to contact Marmee. In private, Meg, Jo, and Laurie often debate whether to disobey Hannah, but in the end they decide to wait.
The doctor comes to see Beth twice every day. One afternoon, to the girls’ despair, he says that Mrs. March needs to come home as soon as she can. Jo gets up, grabs the waiting telegram, and runs away with it. When she returns home, she dissolves into tears. Laurie comforts her with wine and good news: he already sent a telegram yesterday, and Mrs. March is coming home tonight. Jo hugs him happily. Afterward, he goes home to rest because he has promised to drive to the train station in the middle of the night and bring Mrs. March home.
The doctor tells the girls and Hannah that Beth’s illness is at its crisis. He says that a change will come over her around midnight, either for better or for worse. Jo and Meg sit by Beth’s side and wait, wishing that Marmee were with them. A change does come, and Beth looks so peaceful that Jo wonders for a moment if she is dead. In fact, the opposite is true. Beth’s illness is passing, and she is beginning to heal. The girls are afraid to believe this until the doctor comes to confirm it. Just as the long night ends, Marmee returns home.