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For a week after Mrs. March goes to Washington, her daughters behave impeccably. They work hard and try to do everything perfectly.
However, after the first excitement, the girls begin neglecting their duties. Jo gets sick and has to stay home from Aunt March's, and then she falls into a pattern of reading and lying around. Amy stops doing housework and just experiments with art and sculpting. Meg starts to waste time reading the news over and over and writing long letters to her mother.
Beth alone keeps doing all her chores – in fact, she starts doing a lot of her sisters' chores, too.
When Mrs. March has been gone for ten days, Beth asks Meg to visit the Hummels. Mrs. March asked the girls to remember the poor family. Meg says she's too tired to go, and Jo says that she's too sick.
Meg tells Beth to go herself. Beth says that she has been going every day, but the baby is sick and she doesn't know how to take care of it.
Meg says she'll go tomorrow, or that Amy, who will be home soon, can go. Beth has a headache and is tired, so she lies down on the sofa.
An hour passes, but Amy doesn't come home. Jo is absorbed in her writing, Meg goes upstairs to try on a new dress, and Hannah falls asleep. Beth gets up and quietly goes out with a basket of things to take to the Hummels.
Beth comes home late and shuts herself into her mother's room. When Jo goes looking for something there, she finds Beth looking sad with red eyes.
Jo asks what's wrong. Beth asks her if she's had scarlet fever. Jo says yes, that she and Meg had it when they were little.
Beth tells Jo that the Hummels' baby died in her lap that afternoon. The doctor came and said that it was scarlet fever and sent Beth home.
Beth explains that she looked up scarlet fever in the family's medical dictionary and realized that she did have the first symptoms. She took some belladonna (a common home remedy) and says that she feels better.
Jo feels sure that Beth is going to get sick – she's spent every day with the sick baby for the last week. Beth warns her not to let Amy come home; unlike Meg and Jo, Amy hasn't had scarlet fever and would be susceptible.
Jo tells Hannah what is going on. Hannah sends for Dr. Bangs and decides that Amy will stay with Aunt March. Jo plans to stay home and nurse Beth while Meg continues working.
When Amy comes home and is told that she has to go away, she is very upset. Laurie walks into the house and finds her crying on the sofa.
Laurie promises Amy that, if she goes to Aunt March's and is good, he will come and visit her every day and take her driving or walking. Amy reluctantly agrees.
Meg and Jo are relieved that Laurie has convinced Amy to go to Aunt March's quietly.
Laurie asks Meg and Jo how Beth is doing. They tell him that she is lying down and seems to feel better.
Laurie asks if he should send a telegram to Mrs. March to tell her that Beth is sick. Jo and Meg aren't sure; they don't want to worry their mother and they don't know how sick Beth really is. They decide to consult the doctor first.
Laurie goes to get the doctor. Dr. Bangs arrives and says that she will probably have scarlet fever, but only "lightly."
Jo and Laurie take Amy to Aunt March's house. Aunt March agrees to look after Amy while Beth is sick.
Aunt March's parrot, Polly, keeps saying ridiculous things that amuse Amy, Laurie, and Jo – especially when Laurie pulls its tail.
Amy is depressed at the prospect of several weeks with Aunt March.