Jo realizes that Beth’s health has waned in her absence. Jo reveals to her family that she has made some extra money selling sensation stories, and offers to send Beth on holiday to the mountains, with the hope that it will help her gain strength. Beth declines, and asks instead to go somewhere closer to home. It’s decided that she and Jo will go on holiday to the seaside instead.
The upside of Jo’s writing is that it affords her a degree of power that most women of her station in life often never enjoyed: the ability to confer comfort and luxury to those she loves most. Beth’s suggestion of going to the seashore implies that she is on death’s door.
Jo and Beth go to the seaside. During their trip, Jo somehow senses that Beth is going to die soon. She refrains from discussing this, however, as she doesn’t know how to broach the subject. One day, while they sit in the sand, Beth looks at Jo and (without hesitation) says she’s glad that Jo knows that she’s near death. Beth reveals that this was the source of her unhappiness the previous fall.
Jo’s relationship with Beth reveals another of her stereotypically feminine traits: that she is a caretaker. It’s implied that the sisterly love between the two is so strong that Jo is able to telepathically understand that Beth will die soon.
Jo implores Beth to not give up on life just yet. Soon after, a small brown sandpiper sits on a rock near them. Beth finds the bird comforting, as it reminds her that “a pleasant world was still to be enjoyed.”
The bird, though a dull color, is nonetheless beautiful insofar as it belongs to the natural world. This bird can be seen as representing Beth.
When they return home, Mr. and Mrs. March plainly see that Beth is not long for the world. Beth is tired from the journey and immediately goes to bed. The rest of the family quietly grieves.
The family understands that Beth was never long for this world, given that she is so pure of heart.