Again Craven paused, while the professor waited.
"It was Hughie sent me there. There was a jubilation supper at the manse, you understand. Thomas Finch, the goal-keeper, you know-- magnificent fellow, too--was not at the supper. A messenger had come for him, saying that his mother had taken a bad turn. Hughie was much disappointed, and they were all evidently anxious. I offered to drive over and inquire, and of course the minister's wife, though she had been on the go all day long, must needs go with me. I can never forget that night. I suppose you have noticed, sir, there are times when one is more sensitive to impressions from one's surroundings than others. There are times with me, too, when I seem to have a very vital kinship with nature. At any rate, during that drive nature seemed to get close to me. The dark, still forest, the crisp air, the frost sparkling in the starlight on the trees--it all seemed to be part of me. I fear I am not explaining myself."
Craven paused again, and his eyes began to glow. The professor still waited.
"When we reached the house we found them waiting for death. The minister's wife went in, I waited in the kitchen. By and by Billy Jack, that's her eldest son, you know, came out. 'She is asking for you,' he said, and I went in. I had often seen her before, and I rather think she liked me. You see, I had been able to help Thomas along pretty well, both in school and with his night work, and she was grateful for what I had done, absurdly grateful when one considers how little it was. I had seen death before, and it had always been ghastly, but there was nothing ghastly in death that night. The whole scene is before me now, I suppose always will be."
His dead, black eyes were beginning to show their deep, red fire.
The professor looked at him for a moment or two, and then said, "Proceed, if you please," and Craven drew a long breath, as if recalling himself, and went on.
"The old man was there at one side, with his gray head down on the bed, his little girl kneeling beside him with her arm round his neck, opposite him the minister's wife, her face calm and steady, Billy Jack standing at the foot of the bed--he and little Jessac the only ones in the room who were weeping--and there at the head, Thomas, supporting his mother, now and then moistening her lips and giving her sips of stimulant, and so quick and steady, gentle as a woman, and smiling through it all. I could hardly believe it was the same big fellow who three hours before had carried the ball through the Front defense. I tell you, sir, it was wonderful.
"There was no fuss or hysterical nonsense in that room. The mother lay there quite peaceful, pain all gone--and she had had enough of it in her day. She was quite a beautiful woman, too, in a way. Fine eyes, remarkable eyes, splendidly firm mouth, showing great nerve, I should say. All her life, I understand, she lived for others, and even now her thought was not of herself. When I came in she opened her eyes. They were like stars, actually shining, and her smile was like the sudden breaking of light through a cloud. She put out her hand for mine, and said--and I value these words, sir--'Mr. Craven, I give you a mither's thanks and a mither's blessing for a' you have done for ma laddie.' She was Lowland Scotch, you know. My voice went all to pieces. I tried to say it was nothing, but stuck. Thomas helped me out, and without a shake or quiver in his voice, he answered for me.