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THE LAST INTERVIEW.
Two weeks passed away. Tom went about his business, as usual; but every day he made it a point to call at the hospital to inquire how Jacob was getting on. At first the answers were moderately encouraging, but a turn came, and the doctor spoke less hopefully. Finally Tom was told that the old man could not live.
"How soon will he die?" he asked.
"He may live forty-eight hours, but it is possible that the end may come sooner."
"Then I must see him and tell him. I promised him I would."
"It may be well to do so. If he has anything to tell you before he dies, no time should be lost."
When Tom approached Jacob's bedside he saw, from his changed appearance, that the doctors had told him truly. He was not used to the sight of those who were very sick, but soon, to an inexperienced observer, the signs of approaching death were plain. Tom, in the full vigor of perfect health, regarded his old companion with awe and pity.
"How do you feel this morning, Jacob?" he asked.
"I am very weak," said the old man, faintly.
"Are you in much pain?"
"No; the pain has gone away. If I can get stronger I shall soon be out again."
He did not realize that this relief from pain was only a sign that Nature had succumbed at last, and that Death had gained the victory. Tom hated to dispel the illusion, but it must be done.
"Jacob," he said, slowly and sadly, "I have got something to tell you."
"What is it?" said the old man, in alarm.
"It is something that the doctor told me just now."
"He—he didn't say I was going to die?" asked Jacob, agitated.
"Yes; he said you could not live."
A low and feeble wail burst from the old man's lips.
"I can't die," he said. "I'm not ready. I'm only sixty-five. He—he may be mistaken. Don't you think I look better this morning?"
"You look very sick."
"I don't want to die," wailed the old man. "It's only a little while since I was a boy. Did—did he say how long I could live?"
"He said you might live forty-eight hours."
"Forty-eight hours—only two days—are you sure he said that?"
"Yes, Jacob. I wish I could do anything to make you live longer."
"You're a good boy, Tom. I—I'm afraid I haven't been a good friend to you."
"Yes, you have, Jacob. We have always been good friends."
"But I helped do you a great wrong. I hope you will forgive me."
"I don't know what it is, but I will forgive you, Jacob."
"Then, perhaps, Heaven will forgive me, too. I'll do all I can. I'll leave you all my money."
Tom did not pay much regard to this promise, for he did not know that Jacob had any money beyond a few shillings, or possibly a few dollars.
"Thank you, Jacob," he said, "but I can earn enough to pay my expenses very well. Don't trouble yourself about me."
"There's no one else to leave it to," said the old man. "It isn't much, but you shall have it."
Here he drew out, with trembling fingers, the key suspended to a piece of twine which, through all his sickness, he had carried around his neck. He held it in his hand a moment, and a spasm convulsed his pale features. To give it up seemed like parting with life itself. It was a final parting with his treasure, to which, small though it was, his heart clung even in this solemn moment. He held it, reluctant to give it up, though he knew now that he must.
"Take this key, Tom," he said. "It is the key to my box of gold."
"I didn't know you had a box of gold," said Tom, rather surprised.
"It is not much—a hundred dollars. If I had lived longer, I might have got more."
"A hundred dollars, Jacob? I did not think you were so rich."
"It will never do me any good," said the old man, bitterly. "I was a fool to go out in the street that day. I might have lived to be as old as my father. He was seventy-five when he died."
Tom would like to have comforted him, but he would give him no hope of life, and that was what the old man longed for.
"Where is the box of money?" he asked, seeking to divert Jacob's mind, as well as to gain a necessary piece of information.
"It is under the floor of the room. You lift up a board just before you get to the pantry, and you will see a tin box underneath. You will find something else in it, Tom. It is a paper in which I wrote down all I know about you. You said you would forgive me for wronging you."
"Perhaps you can get back your rights; but I am afraid not."
"My rights!" repeated Tom, bewildered.
"Yes; I can't tell you about it; I am too weak; the paper will tell you."
The old man began to show signs of exhaustion. The excitement of learning his hopeless condition, and the conversation which he had already held with Tom, had overtasked his feeble strength, and he showed it by his appearance.
"I am afraid I have staid too long, Jacob," said Tom, considerately. "I will go, now, but I will come back to-morrow morning."
"You won't look for the box till I am gone, Tom?" said the old man, anxiously. "I—the doctors might be wrong; and, if I get well, I would want it back again."
"No, Jacob, I will not look for it while you are alive."
"Promise me," said Jacob, suspicious to the last, where money was concerned.
"I promise, Jacob. Don't be troubled. I would rather have you live than take all the money."
"Good boy!" said Jacob, faintly, as his head sank back on the pillow.
Tom left the hospital ward with one last glance of compassion at the miserable old man, who clung to life, which had so little that is ordinarily counted agreeable, with despairing hope. It was the last time he was to see Jacob alive. The next day, when he called to inquire after the old man, he was told that he was dead. He sank steadily after his last interview with our hero, and, having parted with the key to his treasure, it seemed as if there was nothing left to live for.
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