Tom, tired out by his active day, fell asleep soon, and slept soundly; it seemed to him as if he had only just come to bed, when he waked to see his mother standing by him in the gray light of early morning.
"My boy, you must get up this minute; I've sent for the doctor, and your father wants you and Maggie to come to him."
"Is he worse, mother?"
"He's been very ill all night with his head, but he doesn't say it's worse; he only said suddenly, 'Bessy, fetch the boy and girl. Tell 'em to make haste.'"
Maggie and Tom threw on their clothes hastily in the chill gray light, and reached their father's room almost at the same moment. He was watching for them with an expression of pain on his brow, but with sharpened, anxious consciousness in his eyes. Mrs. Tulliver stood at the foot of the bed, frightened and trembling, looking worn and aged from disturbed rest. Maggie was at the bedside first, but her father's glance was toward Tom, who came and stood next to her.
"Tom, my lad, it's come upon me as I sha'n't get up again. This world's been too many for me, my lad, but you've done what you could to make things a bit even. Shake hands wi' me again, my lad, before I go away from you."
The father and son clasped hands and looked at each other an instant. Then Tom said, trying to speak firmly, —
"Have you any wish, father — that I can fulfil, when — — "
"Ay, my lad — you'll try and get the old mill back."
"And there's your mother — you'll try and make her amends, all you can, for my bad luck — and there's the little wench — — "
The father turned his eyes on Maggie with a still more eager look, while she, with a bursting heart, sank on her knees, to be closer to the dear, time-worn face which had been present with her through long years, as the sign of her deepest love and hardest trial.
"You must take care of her, Tom — don't you fret, my wench — there'll come somebody as'll love you and take your part — and you must be good to her, my lad. I was good to my sister. Kiss me, Maggie. — Come, Bessy. — You'll manage to pay for a brick grave, Tom, so as your mother and me can lie together."
He looked away from them all when he had said this, and lay silent for some minutes, while they stood watching him, not daring to move. The morning light was growing clearer for them, and they could see the heaviness gathering in his face, and the dulness in his eyes. But at last he looked toward Tom and said, —
"I had my turn — I beat him. That was nothing but fair. I never wanted anything but what was fair."
"But, father, dear father," said Maggie, an unspeakable anxiety predominating over her grief, "you forgive him — you forgive every one now?"
He did not move his eyes to look at her, but he said, —
"No, my wench. I don't forgive him. What's forgiving to do? I can't love a raskill — — "
His voice had become thicker; but he wanted to say more, and moved his lips again and again, struggling in vain to speak. At length the words forced their way.
"Does God forgive raskills? — but if He does, He won't be hard wi' me."
His hands moved uneasily, as if he wanted them to remove some obstruction that weighed upon him. Two or three times there fell from him some broken words, —
"This world's — too many — honest man — puzzling — — "
Soon they merged into mere mutterings; the eyes had ceased to discern; and then came the final silence.
But not of death. For an hour or more the chest heaved, the loud, hard breathing continued, getting gradually slower, as the cold dews gathered on the brow.
At last there was total stillness, and poor Tulliver's dimly lighted soul had forever ceased to be vexed with the painful riddle of this world.
Help was come now; Luke and his wife were there, and Mr. Turnbull had arrived, too late for everything but to say, "This is death."
Tom and Maggie went downstairs together into the room where their father's place was empty. Their eyes turned to the same spot, and Maggie spoke, —
"Tom, forgive me — let us always love each other"; and they clung and wept together.