His Last

by Mary Tappan Wright

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Chapter I. The Sowing.

“WILL he go with us?”
     “Did you tell him I would pay him?”
     “What are we going to do?”
     “We can’t go without some one to help in the carry. It’s too late now to find anybody else, since he will not do it.”
     “Had he any excuse?”
     “If he had, he didn’t tell it.”
     “Lazy brute!”
     The two students had intended to camp out during the coming night in the “Long Marsh,” at a place three miles from Dulwich, where they expected to find good “spring shooting” of ducks the next morning. And now Jim Parkhurst, on whom they had depended for help, refused to go.
     The students were standing with their guns in a small pasture that sloped toward the distant marsh. Near them a little white Alderney cow was daintily nosing among the winter-cured grass of the last year. The loutish-looking young man who had disappointed them seemed to be watching the cow, which had been turned loose for exercise and fresh air rather than food. He leaned on the gate before a low cottage that stood on the farther side of the road that bounded one side of the pasture.
     Jim’s grandmother was a laundress, who served most of the students at Dulwich College, and his little sister Crish, with her basket of clothes, was a familiar figure about the college.
     “Look at him now!” said the student who had first spoken. “He will lounge there till evening.”
     “I don’t think he’s much more than half-witted,” said the other.
     “He has wits enough to be malicious. It’s pure spite, or else laziness, his refusing this job. I’d give ten dollars for a plan to punish him.”
     “Oh, come along!” said the other. “We have no business to go hunting in March, anyhow, and you can’t afford to play any tricks, Jack. If you get caught, you’ll be dropped out of college as sure as you’re living. I tell you old Prexy meant it when he put you on probation, and you’ll not have any grace granted you the next scrape you get into. I’m going back now.”
     “Well, I’m not!” said Jack, doggedly. “I shall get that lazy beggar into motion if I have to borrow a charge of dynamite to do it with.”
     “All right!” said the other, sauntering off. “Only don’t get blown up yourself.”
     Jack, left alone, found that the sight of the lazy figure by the gate irritated him beyond endurance, so he moved farther down the pasture slope, and seated himself on a stone from which the cottage gate was hidden.
     The little Alderney cow, accustomed to petting, came and rubbed her head against his shoulder. Mechanically he lifted his arm to return the caress when something caught his sleeve. It was a long brier growing over the back of the rock on which be sat.
     Quick as thought Jack pulled out his knife and cut the brier; then, taking his handkerchief, he tied it to the poor little cow’s tail, and letting down the bars near by, gave her a sharp cut with a switch. She hurried away crazily across the hill behind the cottage.
     It had not been a plan; it was an evil impulse. And Jack Manson returned to his room feeling that Jim Parkhurst, the lazy man, would have to run far after the cow, and would be well served for spoiling the day’s sport he and his chum had planned.
     Three days later Jack was lying on the window-seat of his room at college, pretending to study. It was early in March—a warm, hazy day, almost like Indian summer. The students were coming from the post-office in little squads, and Jack shouted a friendly inquiry as to what there was for himself—a query prompted more by dread than by hope; for had not the president of the college been corresponding with old Mr. Manson in San Francisco?
     It was the end of Jack’s sophomore year, and as he had spent two years in the preparatory school, Dulwich knew him well. Too well, it sometimes declared, in moments of wrathful emergence from an extra coat of red paint. But unfortunately for Jack, reflection always brought him forgiveness.
     There was a degree of originality in most of his doings that cast a halo around the more stupid pranks of which he was sometimes guilty. But if Jack had a faculty for getting into scrapes, it was counterbalanced by a genius for getting out of them. The professor of Greek said that it was because he did not know the meaning of cowardice, moral or physical; and the professor of mathematics briefly declared that it was because he never lied.
     However that might be, most of the people in Dulwich loved Jack. From little Crish Parkhurst and her old grandmother up to the bishop himself, there was hardly a heart in the whole village that had not a soft spot in it for the gay, bright young fellow.
     As no letter came to him, Jack had finally succeeded in busying himself in his books, when a knock at the door aroused him.
     “Come in!” he cried.
     A little girl, about twelve or thirteen years old, entered, without either hat or bonnet. Her heavy black hair strayed before her large dark eyes, and hung over her shoulders. In her short red cloak and scanty blue gown, the child looked like a little gipsy.
     “Hello, Crish!” said Jack. “You are late this week.”
     “I’ve been sick,” the child answered, hoarsely. “Where’s your clothes?”
     “In the bottom of the closet,” said Jack, serenely turning his eyes to his book again.
     Crish turned to the closet, coughing as she did so.
     “How did you manage to get such a cough?” asked Jack.
     “Huntin’ my cow.”
     Her back was turned, and there was a slight pause as she assorted the things into different heaps. Jack flushed a deep red.
     “Why didn’t that lazy Jim go for her?” he asked, impatiently.
     “Jim ’lowed he hadn’t time.”
     “Hadn’t time! Why, he hangs over the gate and sulks all day. I tried to hire him last Saturday, and he was too lazy to budge. A chase for that cow was just what he needed.”
     “He ’lowed you thought so,” said Crish, significantly. “But the cow aint hisn. You gave her to me, you know.”
     “Never mind that!” said Jack impatiently, for he regarded all his own acts of generosity as paid-up debts, and hated to be reminded of them. “I had to give you that cow when your grandmother’s cow died. The question is, Where did you find her?”
     “Over by Holland House.”
     “Holland House! Why, that’s five miles off! When did you get back?”
     “Next morning.”
     Jack stared at her incredulously. “Were you out there all night, at that abominable place?”
     Crish shook her head and shuddered slightly. “I got lost,” she said, and returned to her counting of the pieces of soiled clothes.
     Jack put aside his book and walked twice up and down the room.
     “I’d like to thrash that brother of yours,” he exclaimed, wrathfully, “and I will, too! Tell me all about it.”
     “’Taint much to tell,” said Crish, laboriously setting down the names of the garments and stopping at intervals to cough. “After I found she’d got out, an’ Jim wouldn’t go for her, of course I had to go. Eli Gale told me he’d seen the cow goin’ down toward the red mill, and so I knew I’d got to cross the creek. It was gettin’ on toward evenin’, an’ so I thought I’d take the short cut on the railroad bridge. An’ what should I hear, just when I was out on the bridge walkin’ over the ties, but the five-twenty train a-whistlin’ ’round the bend! I thought I was caught and should be killed, sure! But I ran to one of the piers an’ dropped down on it, outside the track, and so I didn’t get run over, but I was ’most scared to death.”
     “That was terrible!” said Jack. “But how in the world did you get over to Holland House?"
     “Well, I must have gone half-way round the township. I kep’ on an’ on; first one person ’d seen Curley—the cow, you know—an’ then another, an’ I hardly thought how late it was until I found folks was goin’ to bed in the last house I’d come to. Then I made up my mind to go home. The night was very dark, an’ the road lonely, and so I just got lost.”
     “And what on earth did you do?”
     “Well, I kep’ a-runnin’ an’ runnin’ until I was too tired to run another step. And then it began to rain. You don’t know how cold I felt in my wet clothes, an’ I was more ’n half broken-hearted over Curley, too, for I love her—more ’n I do some people,” she added, reflectively, thinking of Jim.
     “I’d clum a rail fence after I don’t know how long, an’ was sitting on the corner to look ’round when all at once Curley moo-ed. I’d know her moo at the day o’ judgment, an’ I fairly tumbled off that fence, an’ started through a plowed field. I was dead tired, an’ it seemed as if I lifted pounds of clay every time I raised a foot, but I pushed on like a crazy thing until I come to a hedge on the far side.
     “I could hear Curley quite plain behind it, but there wasn’t no openin’ anywhere to be found. I suppose I’d got kind of desprit, for when I’d come to what looked like a thin place I jus’ put out all the stren’th I had left an’ broke through. Down I went spinnin’ to the bottom of a little bank on the other side, and bang! right into somebody’s back door.
     “It flew open with me, an’ I staggered into a room full of men, an’ fell against an old fellow, who was pourin’ somethin’ out of a bottle into a tumbler.
     “He gave a yell, but when he saw I was only a girl he began to swear at me, an’ the other men laughed at him. There was six of ’em, and they all seemed drunk.”
     “This is terrible—terrible,” said Jack. “You must have been dreadfully frightened.”
     “Yes, but they was soon scared worse’n me. The old man kep’ a-shakin’ me by the shoulders an’ shoutin’, ‘Wha’ d’ ye want? Wha’ d’ ye want?’ but I was too frightened to speak—for, Mr. Jack—”
     Crish leaned across the table and whispered fearfully:
     “I knew three of them; they were the two Leonards an’ Sam Bennett.”
     “What? The men they’ve been hunting for ever since old Mr. Brewster was found murdered under Littleton Bridge!” cried Jack.
     “Yes, and I’d never come out of there alive if they’d known I knew ’em. But they didn’t, for one of ’em called out, ‘Let her go, Holland, you’ll knock the life out of her.’ And then I knew where I was, and I couldn’t have been in a worse place—could I?”
     “Go on!” cried Jack, in a voice nearly as hoarse as her own. “Go on! You were not there all night? Poor child!”
     He put his elbows on the table and covered his face with his hands. Crish regarded him with amazement.
     “Don’t you care, Mr. Jack,” she said; “I aint a-goin’ to tell you another word if it’s goin’ to make you feel bad.”
     “Go on!” cried Jack, in torture.
     “Well, I knew I must get away from that, somehow, an’ it popped into my head how Si Martin, the sheriff, has been huntin’ those men these last three weeks. So I just stammered out, ‘I’m huntin’ my cow, she’s a little white cow; I was sure I heard her here, as I run up to the field. My father an’ brothers are down on the road hunting for her with Si Martin.”
     “It was a lie, and I oughtn’t to have told it, but my, it scared them, all but one. He laughed and said to old Holland, ‘You’re a cow poorer than you thought you was, Jimmie.’
     “But the Leonards jumped up, pale as sheets, an’ Sam Bennett made for the door. Then old Jimmie took me by the arm an’ led me through a little hall to his front room.
     “‘You’ll find your cow outside, my dear,’ he said. ‘One of you go an’ turn her loose.’
     “The Leonards an’ Sam Bennett all three ran away at once, an’ old Jimmie shut the door behind me. In the dark he stooped to my ear an’ whispered:
     “‘If you tell Si Martin you saw anybody here but me, I’ll cut your heart out, mind!
     “An’ then he opened his front door and gave me a push that sent me flying down the hill toward the road.
     “I heard Curley crashing through the underbrush alongside, an’ we landed at the bottom together. I looked back an’ there wasn’t a spark of light to be seen. So I drove Curley along the road as fast as I could make her go, an’ it seemed forever, and I was so tired and cold that I think I must have fainted or went to sleep, for the next thing I knew it was broad daylight, and Curley was lying close beside me alongside the road.
     “I got up, and didn’t feel very well, I was so stiff an’ sore. But I drove Curley out on the road.
     “I couldn’t ’a’ been so far from town as I thought I was, for I got in by the north road long before anybody was up. An’ then, Mr. Jack,—this is about the worst of it for you,—who should Curley an’ I meet up by Vexley but the old bishop himself!
     “‘You’re out early,’ the bishop said, an’ he looked at me with his blue eyes an’ his white eyebrows drawn into a frown.
     “I tried to speak, but my throat seemed all bound up. If only I’d been able to answer quick-like an’ natural it’d all gone well enough, but when not a sound came, no matter how hard I tried, I just gave up and cried. Then things begun a-rockin’, an’ I thought I should fall. The bishop reached out an’ caught me by the arm.
     “‘Why, child,’ he said, ‘you’re wet!’ an’ still I only trembled. Then he turned round an’ went home with me, and helped me drive the cow!”
     Crish stopped short in order to give her statement full significance.
     “And what happened next?” gasped Jack.
     “When he got me home, he made granny put me to bed in hot blankets, an’ after I’d quieted down a bit he came in an’ talked to me; but I couldn’t do nothing but cry. There’s something about the old bishop’s voice that always makes me cry. I do it in church when I can’t make head or tail of what he’s sayin’. And yet,” she added in puzzled tones, “I’d go a hundred miles just to hear him say, ‘The peace of God,’ you know—he does it to let out church.”
     Jack nodded.
     “In spite of his beautiful voice,” Crish went on, “the bishop can ask questions pretty sharp if he’s a mind to. He kep’ askin’ me if I had any idea who it was let Curley out of our pasture. I didn’t tell him.”
     Crish made a significant pause here.
     “’Pears to me I should feel pretty shabby to treat a cow like that,” she went on, taking care not to look in Jack’s direction.
     “There was a brier—it had worked round so it stopped hurtin’ Curley. And whoever put it on used one of your handkerchiefs,” she said, placing a torn rag on the table. “You can tell him no one knows anything about it but me, an’ I sha’n’t tell. But he’d better look out, for the old bishop’s after him!”
     Jack’s handsome hazel eyes were full of tears.
     “Crish!” he-cried, “I’m very sorry—I never meant—to hurt you”—and his voice broke.
     “My! Mr. Jack,” said the little thing magnanimously, “as if I minded!”
     Then after a few moments she took up her bundle of clothes and left the room, coughing hard as she heavily descended the stairs.
     It had grown late. The sun was setting as she crossed the park, and she shivered in the chill evening air.
     “I’m that tired,” she murmured to herself, “that I’d like to go to bed an’ stay there a week.”
     As she spoke she turned to cross the little lawn which sloped behind the college church. A sudden burst of song arrested her footsteps. The evening Lenten service was nearly over.
     “I’d be just about in time to hear the old bishop give ’em the benediction,” she said, undecidedly. “Granny won’t care!” Depositing her bundle safely under the ivy, she stole around the corner and entered the transept.
     Slipping noiselessly into a back pew she knelt, her hands clasped before her, and her eyes fixed on the chancel, where a single light illuminated the noble figure of the old man who was officiating at the altar.
     The aisles were dim, and the few kneeling worshippers were hardly visible. There was a moment of reverent silence; then the voice of the bishop, speaking without effort, fell in the shadows and loneliness conveying a reality of blessing, inexpressibly sweet and solemn.
     “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.
     In the pause which followed, Crish stole away. This was all that she had come for, and as she walked home in the twilight, fatigue, weariness, cold, all, were forgotten.
     With her eyes fixed on the stars, which were beginning to show above the hills on the other side of the valley, she trod softly and whispered to herself from time to time:

Chapter II. The Reaping.

     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.”
     “I shall.”
     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?”
     “Yes, sir.”
     “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.
     Jack nodded.
     “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.

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1st web edition posted 7/7/2008
This page last updated 3/4/2009.

Published by Fleabonnet Press.