“WILL he go with us?”
Jack heard no more of Crish until the following Monday. On that day, as he sauntered across the road on his way to his room in the college park, he noticed that the door of the church was open. Springing over the low chain fence, he crossed toward it, intending to go and look at the chancel windows in the morning light. To his surprise, on nearing the entrance, he saw the bishop standing on the steps of the nave.
“Dear old gentleman!” thought Jack, affectionately, as he took off his hat and advanced to meet him. “I wonder what he wants?” for the bishop had come down upon the lawn and stood in the sunshine, evidently waiting.
“You wished to speak to me?” asked the bishop, looking up into Jack’s clear hazel eyes, and noting, half-unconsciously, the reddish bronze tint that the strong sunlight was bringing out in his dark, curling hair.
“N-no; that is, not particularly,” stammered Jack. “I mean I am always glad to see you, sir,” and he laughed frankly at his own confusion. “But there was nothing particular this morning. It is lovely, sir, isn’t it?”
He drew in a deep breath as he spoke, and squaring his broad shoulders, looked the sun in the face. The bishop surveyed him in silence; all the color and life and vigor of the young year seemed to centre in Jack as he stood, and the old man sighed.
“Have you nothing, then, to ask me? Nothing?” adding, as if in answer to the puzzled expression that crept into Jack’s face, “I saw you crossing the lawn, and hoped that you wished to speak with me.”
“The church door was open,” answered Jack, “and I thought that I would go in a moment. The east windows are so fine when the sun is on them—”
The bishop moved away as if disappointed. Then prompted by a second thought, he turned again to where Jack was standing, and raising his arm in a gesture of mingled command and entreaty, and pointing toward the wide archway before him, said:
“My son, the Door is always open to you. I do not wish to force your confidence; but I bid you remember this, that in coming trouble you may know whither to turn.”
Again he waited, as if hoping for some appeal or confidence; but Jack remained silent and mystified.
“I will await your own time,” said the bishop; and with another sigh he began to mount the broad church steps. Still again, at the top, he paused.
“Did you know that little Lucretia Parkhurst is very ill?” he added; and without waiting for an answer, he disappeared within the nave.
Little Crish very ill! Troubled beyond expression, Jack went to his room and tried in vain to study. He had not long been there when a heavy step was heard on the stairs, and without troubling himself to knock or to speak, Jim Parkhurst entered, and roughly threw a bag of clean clothes on the floor.
“How is Crish?” asked Jack.
“Well, I guess Crish is about played out,” Jim answered, sullenly.
“Is she no better?”
“It’s no thanks to you she aint dead!”
“Is the doctor there?”
“Doctor!” repeated Jim. “I guess you an’ the old bishop think we’re made of money! I tell you, if she’s a-goin’ to die she’ll die, an’ ’taint no use for grannie to be spendin’ five dollars on Windsor fer comin’ out from Littleton.”
“Why doesn’t she have Crag?”
“She might—if ’twas a horse.” Jim took his leave.
Jack sprang to the door. “Tell your grandmother that I shall bring Doctor Windsor myself this afternoon!” he called; but Jim neither turned nor answered.
It was about four o’clock when Jack alighted at Mrs. Parkhurst’s gate, accompanied by the doctor from Littleton. The old woman met them at the door, and without a word led them into the room where Crish lay on a lounge by the fire.
The little girl rose on her elbow as they entered, and looked anxiously at Jack. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes bright with fever; her lips, sharply defined and scarlet, gave a beauty and meaning to her face which it had not possessed in the indeterminate outlines of youthful health.
She beckoned Jack to approach, and taking advantage of a conversation between Doctor Windsor and her grandmother, whispered eagerly:
“Grannie suspicions you! Mind you don’t let on. I’ve kept dark enough, but I believe she’s been to the bishop. I wouldn’t have thought it of grannie!”
“Never mind,” said Jack, reassuringly; “your grannie’s right.”
“Right?” queried Crish, angrily. “After all you’ve done fer us, and for her, too! You paid her for three months washin’ she never did last winter, an’ got a woman in to nurse her, an’—”
“Hush!” said Jack; for the child’s voice was rising. “I owed her that for the trick we played about her woodshed.”
“I been a-lyin’ here thinkin’,” said Crish. “If you’re found out, you’ll be expelled. I heard Mr. Prexy an’ the bishop talkin’ in the vestry Saturday before last, when I was cleanin’ the church with grannie. ‘The next thing you did,’ Mr. Prexy said, ‘you’d have to go.’ You’ll be expelled, Mr. Jack!”
“Oh, they won’t expel me,” said Jack, easily.
“They will!” whispered Crish, hoarsely. “It worrits me out of my senses! An’ for grannie, grannie! to tell! I’m that ashamed—”
“You needn’t be,” interrupted Jack, softly. “She hasn’t made matters a bit worse than they would have been anyhow. I shall tell myself. I am going to see the president—”
Crish started up.
“Don’t, don’t, Mr. Jack!” She caught his sleeve. “I know it’s your last chance! They’ll send you off, an’ I can’t have you sent off all along of me—I can’t, I can’t!” The emotion she had been suppressing ended in a violent fit of coughing.
Doctor Windsor came forward and seated himself in a rough rocking-chair near the head of the lounge. He listened, gravely turning his head toward her as he did so with a lowering look from under his shaggy eyebrows. Finally he laid his ear at her chest.
“How long has this been going on?” he asked, when the paroxysm was over. “Ten days,” replied Mrs. Parkhurst.
“Manson,” said the doctor, looking up at Jack, “please wait for me outside.” Jack went outside and waited. The time seemed to stretch out interminably.
“What have you done?” something within him kept repeating; and from time to time he muttered doggedly, as if in answer to the questioning, “She must recover!”
At last Doctor Windsor came limping down the narrow flagged walk, and after helping him into the carriage, Jack drove off. The old man leaned back wearily.
“Poor little thing! poor little thing!” he said at last, with a sigh; and Jack’s heart sank.
“Does she suffer?” he asked, remorsefully.
“Not much. No, not very much. Her suffering is nearly over, I’m afraid. Poor little thing! A week ago perhaps I might have saved her.”
An awful silence fell upon the earth. To Jack the thud of the horse’s feet and the roll of the carriage wheels became inaudible; the sound of the doctor’s voice died into a whisper; a deadly horror laid hold upon him. He must have unconsciously pulled the reins, for the horse swerved and the light vehicle turned sidewise upon its wheels.
“What are you about?” cried the doctor.
“Will you come out and see her to-morrow?” Jack gasped.
To himself his voice sounded hollow and far away—scarcely more than a murmur.
“I’ll stop and tell Crag what to do. He can do as well as I can now; there is very little that any one can do.”
“She hates Doctor Crag. I wish you would come.”
“Oh, Crag will do. I can’t afford to come out for nothing, and that poor old woman has trouble enough ahead—”
“I will come for you myself,” interrupted Jack. “It’s—it’s my affair.”
“Umph! How does it come to be your affair?” said the doctor, looking at him curiously.
There was a pause. Jack dared not trust his voice.
“I am a murderer!” he cried at last, in bitter misery.
“Perhaps you are,” was the grim response, “but how?”
“By my own miserable, miserable folly!” In short, agonized sentences the poor boy told the whole story.
Doctor Windsor listened to him to the end without interruption.
“Have you been to the president?” he asked, when Jack had ceased speaking.
“No,” said Jack. “I did not know that she was seriously ill until this morning. It was the bishop who first told me of it; he knows all this, I think.”
“You had better see him.”
After that they rode in silence. From time to time the doctor glanced at his young companion, who stared ahead in stony wretchedness, mechanically avoiding the ruts and breaks in the ill-made country road.
“He is dazed, but he handles a horse by instinct,” thought the old man. By and by he said, “I think that this is about your last prank.” Jack’s only answer was a nod. Not a word more was said.
The evening shadows were beginning to fall in the streets of Littleton, when they drew up by the mounting-block in front of the doctor’s old red brick house.
“You will come to-morrow, if I call for you?” asked Jack, almost imploringly.
“Yes; I will come. It comforts you, I suppose, to do what you can. Well, may God help you, my poor lad! For He only can!”
Without waiting for assistance the doctor climbed down from the carriage, and pulling out a great red-silk handkerchief, limped slowly toward the door, violently blowing his nose.
On his return to Dulwich Jack drove up to the bishop’s house, and for the second time that day told the story of his folly. It was not easy; the sharp pain of the afternoon had made him realize that he was a boy no longer; and in his newly found manhood this tale of childish heedlessness added a sting of bitter humiliation to the remorse he already felt.
“You are willing to abide by the consequences of your act?” said the bishop.
“Yes,” answered Jack.
“Then I should advise you to go at once to the president. And I ought to warn you that, since you are already on probation, I fear you may be compelled to leave the college. Not for this in itself, but as the crowning folly in three years of reckless mischief. The matter is out of my jurisdiction; but the president has but lately been speaking to me of your conduct.”
“I know,” said Jack. “He told me.”
There was a painful silence. At last Jack broke it with an effort.
“Don’t think that I am cowardly, or trying to escape what is just, but—if I might only wait! That poor little thing! She has tried in every way to shield me, and—if I were expelled—they would tell her. That brother of hers is a brute! And Doctor Windsor says it is only a matter of a week or so. O bishop, let me wait! Not for myself, but until—”
His voice died away. He covered his face with his hands, and bowed his head on the table before him, and sobbed.
The bishop was greatly moved. “You may wait,” he said in a husky tone; and Jack, scarcely knowing what he did, stumbled out of the house, down the hill, and walked wearily to his own room.
Soon after Jack’s departure the bishop heard the sound of a horse’s feet stamping upon the gravel in the carriageway.
“Atwater,” he called to his servant, who was inspecting the vehicle curiously, “is that the horse and buggy Mr. Manson came with?”
“Drive them down to Allen’s stable, will you? Mr. Manson walked home.”
Jack, in his misery, had forgotten that he had left the horse.
That was the first of several sad drives between Dulwich and Littleton. Crish’s life continued to flicker on from day to day, and poor Jack did what he could. He procured a nurse, since the old grandmother was soon worn out with unaccustomed care and confinement. He levied a tax in jellies and nutritious soups on all the ladies he knew, and hoping against hope, he haunted Mrs. Parkhurst’s little front garden daily. But Crish was too ill to see him.
Finally Doctor Windsor refused to come out any longer. “I can do nothing more,” he said; “nothing.” And still the child lingered.
“Somethin’ ’s a-keepin’ her,” Mrs. Parkhurst said one day to the nurse. “Seems as if she couldn’t die.”
“I’ve seen it before,” said the nurse, sagely.
“Do ye think she’ll rally toward the end?” asked the old woman, with the leaden self-control of age and penury.
“They most always do,” said the nurse.
There was a little stir from the bed. The two women turned to find a pair of bright eyes fixed on them impatiently. Crish had “rallied.”
“Send for Mr. Jack,” she murmured.
Reluctant even to obey the behest of a dying sister, Jim was despatched to the college, and before long Jack was standing in the narrow doorway of Crish’s little room.
“Here!” she whispered, “stoop down.” Jack knelt by the bed. “Does the bishop know?” she asked, faintly but eagerly.
“Who told him?” she breathed; “I never did.”
“I told him myself,” said Jack.
“Did you make him promise to let you off?”
“I don’t care to be let off, Crish,” he answered, incautiously, “but the bishop has nothing to do with it.”
“Oh, he has, he has!” In her weakness she began to cry softly.
“She’s fretted over that ever sence she was took,” said old Mrs. Parkhurst, in a low, monotonous voice, to the nurse. “I do believe it’s what’s a-keepin’ her. She sets that store by Mr. Jack.”
“O Crish!” whispered Jack, “say you forgive me once more! Do not worry for my sake. Nothing worse can happen to me than having you here so ill, and all my fault.”
“Don’t!” said she, impatiently. “Don’t, Mr. Jack, that aint it! I don’t mind. Why, I’d just as lief’s die as not. But won’t he let you off?”
Jack tried to smile, but his eyes were full of tears.
“Do not think of it, child,” he said “Nothing will harm me.”
But she held fast to his hand, looking at him with her bright, feverish eyes, and was not satisfied.
“Is there anything I can do for you?” he asked.
“Yes,” she answered, faintly, “it’s why I sent for you.”
There was a long silence; she seemed to be thinking deeply.
“Would you mind going for the bishop? I want to see him,” she whispered at last. “I’d like to hear him say, ‘The peace of God,’ once more, just as he does in church—with his white sleeves—before I—go, you know. Ask him if he won’t wear ’em.”
Later in the day the noise of wheels was heard in the room where the little girl lay, and soon the door opened to admit the bishop. Jack’s dark head towered above the old man’s white one. The low fire in the grate flickered on the rich satin and gleamed on the white sleeves of the bishop’s robes. He had put them on, as the little girl had requested. Her eyes brightened and fixed themselves on the bishop as they entered.
“She wants you,” said Mrs. Parkhurst.
Seating himself by the bed, he bent over to catch her feeble utterance.
“About Curley,” she gasped, “and Mr. Jack, you know; you must let him off.”
The bishop’s face grew grave.
“He’s punished enough,” she said, her forces almost exhausted. “He’s played his last prank. Make—them—let—him—off!” She gazed imploringly into his face.
“Make them—you can! Promise!” Her lips formed the words only, and still the bishop hesitated.
“Oh, promise!” murmured the dying child.
“I promise,” said the bishop, solemnly.
“She’ll have rest now,” said Mrs. Parkhurst, with a sigh.
The glory of the setting sun filled the room. No one spoke. Jack came softly, and kneeling on the other side of the bed, waited.
“Now say it!” cried Crish, with a strange increase of strength in her voice.
The bishop rose slowly to his feet, and with outstretched arms, protecting and blessing at once, gave the little girl her last benediction.
“‘The peace of God which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ, our Lord; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you, and remain with you—always.’”
No response followed. As the day waned, peacefully the soul of little Crish passed on into the silence of the life that is eternal.
“His Last” by Mary Tappan Wright was originally published as a two part serial in The Youth’s Companion no. 3498, Jun. 7, 1894, and no. 3499, Jun. 14, 1894; reprinted as “His Last Offence, a Story of College Life” in A Boy Lieutenant : true stories of life and adventure on land and sea, ca. 1905; reprinted under the original title in Beginning Alone, and Other Stories by Mary Tappan Wright, edited by Brian Kunde, Mountain House, Fleabonnet Press, 2008.
The work of Mary Tappan Wright here reproduced is in the public domain. All other material in this edition is ©2008-2009 by Brian Kunde.
1st web edition posted
This page last updated 3/4/2009.
Published by Fleabonnet Press.