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´╗┐Title: Dawn
Author: Porter, Eleanor H. (Eleanor Hodgman), 1868-1920
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Dawn" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



[Illustration: "I MUST GO, NOW, I--MUST--GO!"]

DAWN

BY

ELEANOR H. PORTER

With Illustrations by Lucius Wolcott Hitchcock

BOSTON AND NEW YORK

1919



To My Friend

MRS. JAMES D. PARKER



CONTENTS

I.      THE GREAT TERROR

II.     DAD

III.    FOR JERRY AND NED

IV.     SCHOOL

V.      WAITING

VI.     LIGHTS OUT

VII.    SUSAN TO THE RESCUE

VIII.   AUNT NETTIE MEETS HER MATCH

IX.     SUSAN SPEAKS HER MIND

X.      AND NETTIE COLEBROOK SPEAKS HERS

XI.     NOT PATS BUT SCRATCHES

XII.    CALLERS FOR "KEITHIE"

XIII.   FREE VERSE--A LA SUSAN

XIV.    A SURPRISE ALL AROUND

XV.     AGAIN SUSAN TAKES A HAND

XVI.    THE WORRY OF IT

XVII.   DANIEL BURTON TAKES THE PLUNGE

XVIII.  "MISS STEWART"

XIX.    A MATTER OF LETTERS

XX.     WITH CHIN UP

XXI.    THE LION

XXII.   HOW COULD YOU, MAZIE?

XXIII.  JOHN MCGUIRE

XXIV.   AS SUSAN SAW IT

XXV.    KEITH TO THE RESCUE

XXVI.   MAZIE AGAIN

XXVII.  FOR THE SAKE OF JOHN

XXVIII. THE WAY

XXIX.   DOROTHY TRIES HER HAND

XXX.    DANIEL BURTON'S "JOB"

XXXI.   WHAT SUSAN DID NOT SEE

XXXII.  THE KEY

XXXIII. AND ALL ON ACCOUNT OF SUSAN



ILLUSTRATIONS

"I must go, now. I--must--go!"

Susan Betts talking with Mrs. McGuire over the back-yard fence

"Want you? I always want you!"

"You've helped more--than you'll ever know"

He gave her almost no chance to say anything herself

Keith's arm shot out and his hand fell, covering hers

It was well that the Japanese screen on the front piazza was down



CHAPTER I

THE GREAT TERROR


It was on his fourteenth birthday that Keith Burton discovered the
Great Terror, though he did not know it by that name until some days
afterward. He knew only, to his surprise and distress, that the
"Treasure Island," given to him by his father for a birthday present,
was printed in type so blurred and poor that he could scarcely read
it.

He said nothing, of course. In fact he shut the book very hastily,
with a quick, sidewise look, lest his father should see and notice the
imperfection of his gift.

Poor father! He would feel so bad after he had taken all that pains
and spent all that money--and for something not absolutely necessary,
too! And then to get cheated like that. For, of course, he had been
cheated--such horrid print that nobody could read.

But it was only a day or two later that Keith found some more horrid
print. This time it was in his father's weekly journal that came every
Saturday morning. He found it again that night in a magazine, and yet
again the next day in the Sunday newspaper.

Then, before he had evolved a satisfactory explanation in his own mind
of this phenomenon, he heard Susan Betts talking with Mrs. McGuire
over the back-yard fence.

Susan Betts began the conversation. But that was nothing strange:
Susan Betts always began the conversation.

"Have you heard about poor old Harrington?" she demanded in what Keith
called her "excitingest" voice. Then, as was always the case when she
spoke in that voice, she plunged on without waiting for a reply, as if
fearful lest her bit of news fall from the other pair of lips first.
"Well, he's blind--stone blind. He couldn't see a dollar bill--not if
you shook it right before his eyes."

"Sho! you don't say!" Mrs. McGuire dropped the wet sheet back into the
basket and came to the fence on her side concernedly. "Now, ain't that
too bad?"

"Yes, ain't it? An' he so kind, an' now so blind! It jest makes me
sick." Susan whipped open the twisted folds of a wet towel. Susan
seldom stopped her work to talk. "But I saw it comin' long ago. An' he
did, too, poor man!"

Mrs. McGuire lifted a bony hand to her face and tucked a flying wisp
of hair behind her right ear.

"Then if he saw it comin', why couldn't he do somethin' to stop it?"
she demanded.

[Illustration: SUSAN BETTS TALKING WITH MRS. MCGUIRE OVER THE BACKYARD
FENCE]

"I don't know. But he couldn't. Dr. Chandler said he couldn't. An'
they had a man up from Boston--one of them eye socialists what doesn't
doctor anythin' but eyes--an' he said he couldn't."

Keith, on his knees before the beet-bed adjoining the clothes-yard,
sat back on his heels and eyed the two women with frowning interest.

He knew old Mr. Harrington. So did all the boys. Never was there a
kite or a gun or a jack-knife so far gone that Uncle Joe Harrington
could not "fix it" somehow. And he was always so jolly about it, and
so glad to do it. But it took eyes to do such things, and if now he
was going to be blind--

"An' you say it's been comin' on gradual?" questioned Mrs. McGuire.
"Why, I hadn't heard-"

"No, there hain't no one heard," interrupted Susan. "He didn't say
nothin' ter nobody, hardly, only me, I guess, an' I suspicioned it, or
he wouldn't 'a' said it to me, probably. Ye see, I found out he wa'n't
readin' 'em--the papers Mr. Burton has me take up ter him every week.
An' he owned up, when I took him ter task for it, that he couldn't
read 'em. They was gettin' all blurred."

"Blurred?" It was a startled little cry from the boy down by the
beet-bed; but neither Susan nor Mrs. McGuire heard--perhaps because at
almost the same moment Mrs. McGuire had excitedly asked the same
question.

"Blurred?" she cried.

"Yes; all run tergether like--the printin', ye know--so he couldn't
tell one letter from t'other. 'T wa'n't only a little at first. Why,
he thought 't was jest somethin' the matter with the printin' itself;
an'--"

"And WASN'T it the printing at ALL?"

The boy was on his feet now. His face was a little white and
strained-looking, as he asked the question.

"Why, no, dearie. Didn't you hear Susan tell Mis' McGuire jest now? 'T
was his EYES, an' he didn't know it. He was gettin' blind, an' that
was jest the beginnin'."

Susan's capable hands picked up another wet towel and snapped it open
by way of emphasis.

"The b-beginning?" stammered the boy. "But--but ALL beginnings
don't--don't end like that, do they?"

Susan Betts laughed indulgently and jammed the clothespin a little
deeper on to the towel.

"Bless the child! Won't ye hear that, now?" she laughed with a shrug.
"An' how should I know? I guess if Susan Betts could tell the end of
all the beginnin's as soon as they're begun, she wouldn't be hangin'
out your daddy's washin', my boy. She'd be sittin' on a red velvet
sofa with a gold cupola over her head a-chargin' five dollars apiece
for tellin' yer fortune. Yes, sir, she would!"

"But--but about Uncle Joe," persisted the boy. "Can't he really see--at
all, Susan?"

"There, there, child, don't think anything more about it. Indeed,
forsooth, I'm tellin' the truth, but I s'pose I hadn't oughter told it
before you. Still, you'd 'a' found it out quick enough--an' you with
your tops an' balls always runnin' up there. An' that's what the poor
soul seemed to feel the worst about," she went on, addressing Mrs.
McGuire, who was still leaning on the division fence.

"'If only I could see enough ter help the boys!' he moaned over an'
over again. It made me feel awful bad. I was that upset I jest
couldn't sleep that night, an' I had ter get up an' write. But it made
a real pretty poem. My fuse always works better in the night, anyhow.
'The wail of the toys'--that's what I called it--had the toys tell the
story, ye know, all the kites an' jack-knives an' balls an' bats that
he's fixed for the boys all these years, an' how bad they felt because
he couldn't do it any more. Like this, ye know:

     'Oh, woe is me, said the baseball bat,
      Oh, woe is me, said the kite.'

'T was real pretty, if I do say it, an' touchy, too."

"For mercy's sake, Susan Betts, if you ain't the greatest!" ejaculated
Mrs. McGuire, with disapproving admiration. "If you was dyin' I
believe you'd stop to write a poem for yer gravestone!"

Susan Betts chuckled wickedly, but her voice was gravity itself.

"Oh, I wouldn't have ter do that, Mis' McGuire. I've got that done
already."

"Susan Betts, you haven't!" gasped the scandalized woman on the other
side of the fence.

"Haven't I? Listen," challenged Susan Betts, striking an attitude. Her
face was abnormally grave, though her eyes were merry.

     "Here lieth a woman whose name was Betts,
      An' I s'pose she'll deserve whatever she gets;
      But if she hadn't been Betts she might 'a' been Better,
      She might even been Best if her name would 'a' let her."

"Susan!" gasped Mrs. McGuire once more; but Susan only chuckled again
wickedly, and fell to work on her basket of clothes in good earnest.

A moment later she was holding up with stern disapproval two socks
with gaping heels.

"Keith Burton, here's them scandalous socks again! Now, do you go tell
your father that I won't touch 'em. I won't mend 'em another once. He
must get you a new pair--two new pairs, right away. Do you hear?"

But Keith did not hear. Keith was not there to hear. Still with that
strained, white look on his face he had hurried out of the yard and
through the gate.

Mrs. McGuire, however, did hear.

"My stars, Susan Betts, it's lucky your bark is worse than your bite!"
she exclaimed. "Mend 'em, indeed! They won't be dry before you've got
your darnin' egg in 'em."

Susan laughed ruefully. Then she sighed:--at arms' length she was
holding up another pair of yawning socks.

"I know it. And look at them, too," she snapped, in growing wrath.
"But what's a body goin' to do? The boy'd go half-naked before his
father would sense it, with his nose in that paint-box. Much as ever
as he's got sense enough ter put on his own clothes--and he WOULDN'T
know WHEN ter put on CLEAN ones, if I didn't spread 'em out for him!"

"I know it. Too bad, too bad," murmured Mrs. McGuire, with a virtuous
shake of her head. "An' he with his fine bringin'-up, an' now to be so
shiftless an' good-for-nothin', an'--"

But Susan Betts was interrupting, her eyes flashing.

"If you please, I'll thank you to say no more like that about my
master," she said with dignity. "He's neither shiftless, nor
good-for-nothin'. His character is unbleachable! He's an artist an' a
scholar an' a gentleman, an' a very superlative man. It's because he
knows so much that--that he jest hain't got room for common things like
clothes an' holes in socks."

"Stuff an' nonsense!" retorted Mrs. McGuire nettled in her turn. "I
guess I've known Dan'l Burton as long as you have; an' as for his
bein' your master--he can't call his soul his own when you're around,
an' you know it."

But Susan, with a disdainful sniff, picked up her now empty
clothes-basket and marched into the house.

Down the road Keith had reached the turn and was climbing the hill
that led to old Mr. Harrington's shabby cottage.

The boy's eyes were fixed straight ahead. A squirrel whisked his tail
alluringly from the bushes at the left, and a robin twittered from a
tree branch on the right. But the boy neither saw nor heard--and when
before had Keith Burton failed to respond to a furred or feathered
challenge like that?

To-day there was an air of dogged determination about even the way he
set one foot before the other. He had the air of one who sees his goal
ahead and cannot reach it soon enough. Yet when Keith arrived at the
sagging, open gate before the Harrington cottage, he stopped short as
if the gate were closed; and his next steps were slow and hesitant.
Walking on the grass at the edge of the path he made no sound as he
approached the stoop, on which sat an old man.

At the steps, as at the gate, Keith stopped and waited, his gaze on
the motionless figure in the rocking-chair. The old man sat with hands
folded on his cane-top, his eyes apparently looking straight ahead.

Slowly the boy lifted his right arm and waved it soundlessly. He
lifted his left--but there was no waving flourish. Instead it fell
impotently almost before it was lifted. On the stoop the old man still
sat motionless, his eyes still gazing straight ahead.

Again the boy hesitated; then, with an elaborately careless air, he
shuffled his feet on the gravel walk and called cheerfully:

"Hullo, Uncle Joe."

"Hullo! Oh, hullo! It's Keith Burton, ain't it?"

The old head turned with the vague indecision of the newly blind, and
a trembling hand thrust itself aimlessly forward. "It IS Keith--ain't
it?"

"Oh, yes, sir, I'm Keith."

The boy, with a quick look about him, awkwardly shook the fluttering
fingers--Keith was not in the habit of shaking hands with people,
least of all with Uncle Joe Harrington. He sat down then on the step
at the old man's feet.

"What did ye bring ter-day, my boy?" asked the man eagerly; then with
a quick change of manner, he sighed, "but I'm afraid I can't fix it,
anyhow."

"Oh, no, sir, you don't have to. I didn't bring anything to be mended
to-day." Unconsciously Keith had raised his voice. He was speaking
loudly, and very politely.

The old man fell back in his chair. He looked relieved, yet
disappointed.

"Oh, well, that's all right, then. I'm glad. That is, of course, if I
could have fixed it for you--His sentence remained unfinished. A
profound gloom settled over his countenance.

"But I didn't bring anything for you to fix," reiterated the boy, in a
yet louder tone.

"There, there, my boy, you don't have to shout." The old man shifted
uneasily hi his seat. "I ain't deaf. I'm only--I suppose you know,
Keith, what's come to me in my old age."

"Yes, sir, I--I do." The boy hitched a little nearer to the two
ill-shod feet on the floor near him. "And--and I wanted to ask you. Yours
hurt a lot, didn't they?--I mean, your eyes; they--they ached, didn't
they, before they--they got--blind?" He spoke eagerly, almost
hopefully.

The old man shook his head.

"No, not much. I s'pose I ought to be thankful I was spared that."

The boy wet his dry lips and swallowed.

"But, Uncle Joe, 'most always, I guess, when--when folks are going to
be blind, they--they DO ache, don't they?"

Again the old man stirred restlessly.

"I don't know. I only know about--myself."

"But--well, anyhow, it never comes till you're old--real old, does
it?" Keith's voice vibrated with confidence this time.

"Old? I ain't so very old. I'm only seventy-five," bridled Harrington
resentfully. "Besides anyhow, the doctor said age didn't have nothin'
ter do with this kind of blindness. It comes ter young folks, real
young folks, sometimes."

"Oh-h!" The boy wet his lips and swallowed again a bit convulsively.
With eyes fearful and questioning he searched the old man's face.
Twice he opened his mouth as if to speak; but each time he closed it
again with the words left unsaid. Then, with a breathless rush, very
much like desperation, he burst out:

"But it's always an awful long time comin', isn't it? Blindness is.
It's years and years before it really gets here, isn't it?"

"Hm-m; well, I can't say. I can only speak for myself, Keith."

"Yes, sir, I know, sir; and that's what I wanted to ask--about you,"
plunged on Keith feverishly. "When did you notice it first, and what
was it?"

The old man drew a long sigh.

"Why, I don't know as I can tell, exactly. 'T was quite a spell comin'
on--I know that; and't wasn't much of anything at first. 'T was just
that I couldn't see ter read clear an' distinct. It was all sort of
blurred."

"Kind of run together?" Just above his breath Keith asked the
question.

"Yes, that's it exactly. An' I thought somethin' ailed my glasses, an'
so I got some new ones. An' I thought at first maybe it helped. But it
didn't. Then it got so that't wa'n't only the printin' ter books an'
papers that was blurred, but ev'rything a little ways off was in a
fog, like, an' I couldn't see anything real clear an' distinct."

"Oh, but things--other things--don't look a mite foggy to me," cried
the boy.

"'Course they don't! Why should they? They didn't to me--once,"
retorted the man impatiently. "But now--" Again he left a sentence
unfinished.

"But how soon did--did you get--all blind, after that?" stammered the
boy, breaking the long, uncomfortable silence that had followed the
old man's unfinished sentence.

"Oh, five or six months--maybe more. I don't know exactly. I know it
came, that's all. I guess if 't was you it wouldn't make no difference
HOW it came, if it came, boy." "N-no, of course not," chattered Keith,
springing suddenly to his feet. "But I guess it isn't coming to me--of
course't isn't coming to me! Well, good-bye, Uncle Joe, I got to go
now. Good-bye!"

He spoke fearlessly, blithely, and his chin was at a confident tilt.
He even whistled as he walked down the hill. But in his heart--in his
heart Keith knew that beside him that very minute stalked that
shadowy, intangible creature that had dogged his footsteps ever since
his fourteenth birthday-gift from his father; and he knew it now by
name--The Great Terror.



CHAPTER II

DAD


Keith's chin was still high and his gaze still straight ahead when he
reached the foot of Harrington Hill. Perhaps that explained why he did
not see the two young misses on the fence by the side of the road
until a derisively gleeful shout called his attention to their
presence.

"Well, Keith Burton, I should like to know if you're blind!"
challenged a merry voice.

The boy turned with a start so violent that the girls giggled again
gleefully. "Dear, dear, did we scare him? We're so sorry!"

The boy flushed painfully. Keith did not like girls--that is, he SAID
he did not like them. They made him conscious of his hands and feet,
and stiffened his tongue so that it would not obey his will. The
prettier the girls were, the more acute was his discomfiture.
Particularly, therefore, did he dislike these two girls--they were the
prettiest of the lot. They were Mazie Sanborn and her friend Dorothy
Parkman.

Mazie was the daughter of the town's richest manufacturer, and Dorothy
was her cousin from Chicago, who made such long visits to her Eastern
relatives that it seemed sometimes almost as if she were as much of a
Hinsdale girl as was Mazie herself.

To-day Mazie's blue eyes and Dorothy's brown ones were full of
mischief.

"Well, why don't you say something? Why don't you apologize?" demanded
Mazie.

'"Pol--pologize? What for?" In his embarrassed misery Keith resorted
to bravado in voice and manner.

"Why, for passing us by in that impertinent fashion," returned Mazie
loftily. "Do you think that is the way ladies should be treated?"
(Mazie was thirteen and Dorothy fourteen.) "The idea!"

For a minute Keith stared helplessly, shifting from one foot to the
other. Then, with an inarticulate grunt, he turned away.

But Mazie was not to be so easily thwarted. With a mere flit of her
hand she tossed aside a score of years, and became instantly nothing
more than a wheedling little girl coaxing a playmate.

"Aw, Keithie, don't get mad! I was only fooling. Say, tell me, HAVE
you been up to Uncle Joe Harrington's?"

Because Mazie had caught his arm and now held it tightly, the boy
perforce came to a stop.

"Well, what if I have?" he resorted to bravado again.

"And is he blind, honestly?" Mazie's voice became hushed and
awestruck.

"Uh-huh." The boy nodded his head with elaborate unconcern, but he
shifted his feet uneasily.

"And he can't see a thing--not a thing?" breathed Mazie.

"'Course he can't, if he's blind!" Keith showed irritation now, and
pulled not too gently at the arm still held in Mazie's firm little
fingers.

"Blind! Ugghh!" interposed Miss Dorothy, shuddering visibly. "Oh, how
can you bear to look at him, Keith Burton? I couldn't!"

A sudden wave of red surged over the boy's face. The next instant it
had receded, leaving only a white, strained terror.

"Well, he ain't to blame for it, if he is blind, is he?" chattered the
boy, a bit incoherently. "If you're blind you're blind, and you can't
help yourself." And with a jerk he freed himself from Mazie's grasp
and hurried down the road toward home.

But when he reached the bend of the road he turned and looked back.
The two girls had returned to their perch on the fence, and were
deeply absorbed in something one of them held in her hand.

"And she said she couldn't bear--to look at 'em--if they were blind,"
he whispered. Then, wheeling about, he ran down the road as fast as he
could. Nor did he stop till he had entered his own gate.

"Well, Keith Burton, I should like to know where you've been," cried
the irate voice of Susan Betts from the doorway.

"Oh, just walking. Why?"

"Because I've been huntin' and huntin' for you.

     But, oh, dear me,
     You're worse'n a flea,
     So what's the use of talkin'?
     You always say,
     As you did to-day,
     I've just been out a-walkin'!"

"But what did you want me for?"

"I didn't want you. Your pa wanted you. But, then, for that matter,
he's always wantin' you. Any time, if you look at him real good an'
hard enough to get his attention, he'll stare a minute, an' then say:
'Where's Keith?' An' when he gets to the other shore, I suppose he'll
do it all the more."

"Oh, no, he won't--not if it's talking poetry. Father never talks
poetry. What makes you talk it so much, Susan? Nobody else does."

Susan laughed good-humoredly.

"Lan' sakes, child, I don't know, only I jest can't help it. Why,
everything inside of me jest swings along to a regular tune--kind of
keeps time, like. It's always been so. Why, Keithie, boy, it's been my
joy--There, you see--jest like that! I didn't know that was comin'. It
jest--jest came. That's all. I can make a rhyme 'most any time. Oh, of
course, most generally, when I write real poems, I have to sit down
with a pencil an' paper, an' write 'em out. It's only the spontaneous
combustion kind that comes all in a minute, without predisposed
thinkin'. Now, run along to your pa, child. He wants you. He's been
frettin' the last hour for you, jest because he didn't know exactly
where you was. Goodness me! I only hope I'll never have to live with
him if anything happens to you."

The boy had crossed the room; but with his hand on the door knob he
turned sharply.

"W-what do you mean by that?"

Susan Betts gave a despairing gesture.

"Lan' sakes, child, how you do hold a body up! I meant what I said--that
I didn't want the job of livin' with your pa if anything happened
to you. You know as well as I do that he thinks you're the very axle
for the earth to whirl 'round on. But, there, I don't know as I
wonder--jest you left, so!"

The boy abandoned his position at the door, and came close to Susan
Betts's side.

"That's what I've always wanted to know. Other boys have brothers and
sisters and--a mother. But I can't ever remember anybody only dad.
Wasn't there ever any one else?"

Susan Betts drew a long sigh.

"There were two brothers, but they died before you was born. Then
there was--your mother."

"But I never--knew her?"

"No, child. When they opened the door of Heaven to let you out she
slipped in, poor lamb. An' then you was all your father had left. So
of course he dotes on you. Goodness me, there ain't no end to the fine
things he's goin' ter have you be when you grow up."

"Yes, I know." The boy caught his breath convulsively and turned away.
"I guess I'll go--to dad."

At the end of the hall upstairs was the studio. Dad would probably be
there. Keith knew that. Dad was always there, when he wasn't sleeping
or eating, or out tramping through the woods. He would be sitting
before the easel now "puttering" over a picture, as Susan called it.
Susan said he was a very "insufficient, uncapacious" man--but that was
when she was angry or tried with him. She never let any one else say
such things about him.

Still, dad WAS very different from other dads. Keith had to
acknowledge that--to himself. Other boys' dads had offices and stores
and shops and factories where they worked, or else they were doctors
or ministers; and there was always money to get things with--things
that boys needed; shoes and stockings and new clothes, and candy and
baseball bats and kites and jack-knives.

Dad didn't have anything but a studio, and there never seemed to be
much money. What there was, was an "annual," Susan said, whatever that
was. Anyway, whatever it was, it was too small, and not nearly large
enough to cover expenses. Susan had an awful time to get enough to buy
their food with sometimes. She was always telling dad that she'd GOT
to have a little to buy eggs or butter or meat with.

And there were her wages--dad was always behind on those. And when the
bills came in at the first of the month, it was always awful then: dad
worried and frowning and unhappy and apologetic and explaining; Susan
cross and half-crying. Strange men, not overpleasant-looking, ringing
the doorbell peremptorily. And never a place at all where a boy might
feel comfortable to stay. Dad was always talking then, especially, how
he was sure he was going to sell THIS picture. But he never sold it.
At least, Keith never knew him to. And after a while he would begin a
new picture, and be SURE he was going to sell THAT.

But not only was dad different from other boys' dads, but the house
was different. First it was very old, and full of very old furniture
and dishes. Then blinds and windows and locks and doors were always
getting out of order; and they were apt to remain so, for there was
never any money to fix things with. There was also a mortgage on the
house. That is, Susan said there was; and by the way she said it, it
would seem to be something not at all attractive or desirable. Just
what a mortgage was, Keith did not exactly understand; but, for that
matter, quite probably Susan herself did not. Susan always liked to
use big words, and some of them she did not always know the meaning
of, dad said.

To-day, in the hallway, Keith stood a hesitant minute before his
father's door. Then slowly he pushed it open.

"Did you want me, dad?" he asked.

The man at the easel sprang to his feet. He was a tall, slender man,
with finely cut features and a pointed, blond beard. Susan had once
described him as "an awfully nice man to take care of, but not worth a
cent when it comes to takin' care of you." Yet there was every
evidence of loving protection in the arm he threw around his boy just
now.

"Want you? I always want you!" he cried affectionately. "Look! Do you
remember that moss we brought home yesterday? Well, I've got its twin
now." Triumphantly he pointed to the lower left-hand corner of the
picture on the easel, where was a carefully blended mass of greens and
browns.

"Oh, yes, why, so't is." (Keith had long since learned to see in his
father's pictures what his father saw.) "Say, dad, I wish't you'd tell
me about--my little brothers. Won't you, please?"

"And, Keith, look--do you recognize that little path? It's the one we
saw yesterday. I'm going to call this picture 'The Woodland Path'--and
I think it's going to be about the very best thing I ever did."

Keith was not surprised that his question had been turned aside:
questions that his father did not like to answer were always turned
aside. Usually Keith submitted with what grace he could muster; but
to-day he was in a persistent mood that would not be denied.

"Dad, WHY won't you tell me about my brothers? Please, what were their
names, and how old were they, and why did they die?"

[Illustration: "Want you? I always want you!"]

"God knows why they died--I don't!" The man's arm about the boy's
shoulder tightened convulsively.

"But how old were they?"

"Ned was seven and Jerry was four, and they were the light of my eyes,
and--But why do you make me tell you? Isn't it enough, Keith, that
they went, one after the other, not two days apart? And then the sun
went out and left the world gray and cold and cheerless, for the next
day--your mother went."

"And how about me, dad?"

The man did not seem to have heard. Still with his arm about the boy's
shoulder, he had dropped back into the seat before the easel. His eyes
now were somberly fixed out the window.

"Wasn't I--anywhere, dad?"

With a start the man turned. His arm tightened again. His eyes grew
moist and very tender.

"Anywhere? You're everywhere now, my boy. I'm afraid, at the first,
the very first, I didn't like to see you very well, perhaps because
you were ALL there was left. Then, little by little, I found you were
looking at me with your mother's eyes, and touching me with the
fingers of Ned and Jerry. And now--why, boy, you're everything. You're
Ned and Jerry and your mother all in one, my boy, my boy!"

Keith stirred restlessly. A horrible tightness came to his throat, yet
there was a big lump that must be swallowed.

"Er--that--that Woodland Path picture is going to be great, dad,
great!" he said then, in a very loud, though slightly husky, voice.
"Come on, let's----"

From the hall Susan's voice interrupted, chanting in a high-pitched
singsong:

     "Dinner's ready, dinner's ready,
      Hurry up, or you'll be late,
      Then you'll sure be cross and heady
      If there's nothin' left to ate."

Keith gave a relieved whoop and bounded toward the door. Never had
Susan's "dinner-bell" been a more welcome sound. Surely, at dinner,
his throat would have to loosen up, and that lump could then be
swallowed.

More slowly Keith's father rose from his chair.

"How impossible Susan is," he sighed. "I believe she grows worse every
day. Still I suppose I ought to be thankful she's good-natured--which
that absurd doggerel of hers proves that she is. However, I should
like to put a stop to it. I declare, I believe I will put a stop to
it, too! I'm going to insist on her announcing her meals in a proper
manner. Oh, Susan," he began resolutely, as he flung open the dining-room
door.

"Well, sir?" Susan stood at attention, her arms akimbo.

"Susan, I--I insist--that is, I wish----"

"You was sayin'--" she reminded him coldly, as he came to a helpless
pause.

"Yes. That is, I was saying--" His eyes wavered and fell to the table.
"Oh, hash--red-flannel hash! That's fine, Susan!"

But Susan was not to be cajoled. Her eyes still regarded him coldly.

"Yes, sir, hash. We most generally does have beet hash after b'iled
dinner, sir. You was sayin'?"

"Nothing, Susan, nothing. I--I've changed my mind," murmured the man
hastily, pulling out his chair. "Well, Keith, will you have some of
Susan's nice hash?"

"Yes, sir," said Keith.

Susan said nothing. But was there a quiet smile on her lips as she
left the room? If so, neither the man nor the boy seemed to notice it.

As for the very obvious change of attitude on the part of the man--Keith
had witnessed a like phenomenon altogether too often to give it
a second thought. And as for the doggerel that had brought about the
situation--that, also, was too familiar to cause comment.

It had been years since Susan first called them to dinner with her
"poem"; but Keith could remember just how pleased she had been, and
how gayly she had repeated it over and over, so as not to forget it.

"Oh, of course I know that 'ate' ain't good etiquette in that place,"
she had admitted at the time. "It should be 'eat.' But 'eat' don't
rhyme, an' 'ate' does. So I'm goin' to use it. An' I can, anyhow. It's
poem license; an' that'll let you do anything."

Since then she had used the verse for every meal--except when she was
out of temper--and by substituting breakfast or supper for dinner, she
had a call that was conveniently universal.

The fact that she used it ONLY when she was good-natured constituted
an unfailing barometer of the atmospheric condition of the kitchen,
and was really, in a way, no small convenience--especially for little
boys in quest of cookies or bread-and-jam. As for the master of the
house--this was not the first time he had threatened an energetic
warfare against that "absurd doggerel" (which he had cordially
abhorred from the very first); neither would it probably be the last
time that Susan's calm "Well, sir?" should send him into ignominious
defeat before the battle was even begun. And, really, after all was
said and done, there was still that one unfailing refuge for his
discomforted recollection: he could be thankful, when he heard it,
that she was good-natured; and with Susan that was no small thing to
be thankful for, as everybody knew--who knew Susan.

To-day, therefore, the defeat was not so bitter as to take all the
sweetness out of the "red-flannel" hash, and the frown on Daniel
Burton's face was quite gone when Susan brought in the dessert. Nor
did it return that night, even when Susan's shrill voice caroled
through the hall:

     "Supper's ready, supper's ready,
      Hurry up, or you'll be late,
      Then you'll sure be cross and heady
      If there's nothin' left to ate."



CHAPTER III

FOR JERRY AND NED


It was Susan Betts who discovered that Keith was not reading so much
that summer.

"An' him with his nose always in a book before," as she said one day
to Mrs. McGuire. "An' he don't act natural, somehow, neither, ter my
way of thinkin'. Have YOU noticed anything?"

"Why, no, I don't know as I have," answered Mrs. McGuire from the
other side of the fence, "except that he's always traipsin' off to the
woods with his father. But then, he's always done that, more or less."

"Indeed he has! But always before he's lugged along a book, sometimes
two; an' now--why he hain't even read the book his father give him on
his birthday. I know, 'cause I asked him one day what 't was about,
an' he said he didn't know; he hadn't read it."

"Deary me, Susan! Well, what if he hadn't? I shouldn't fret about
that. My gracious, Susan, if you had four children same as I have,
instead of one, I guess you wouldn't do no worryin' jest because a boy
didn't read a book. Though, as for my John, he----"

Susan lifted her chin.

"I wasn't talkin' about your children, Mis' McGuire," she interrupted.
"An' I reckon nobody'd do no worryin' if they didn't read. But Master
Keith is a different supposition entirely. He's very intelligible,
Master Keith is, and so is his father before him. Books is food to
them--real food. Hain't you ever heard of folks devourin' books? Well,
they do it. Of course I don't mean literaryly, but metaphysically."

"Oh, land o' love, Susan Betts!" cried Mrs. McGuire, throwing up both
hands and turning away scornfully. "Of course, when you get to talkin'
like that, NOBODY can say anything to you! However in the world that
poor Mr. Burton puts up with you, I don't see. _I_ wouldn't--not a
day--not a single day!" And by way of emphasis she entered her house
and shut the door with a slam.

Susan Betts, left alone, shrugged her shoulders disdainfully.

"Well, 'nobody asked you, sir, she said,'" she quoted, under her
breath, and slammed her door, also, by way of emphasis.

Yet both Susan and Mrs. McGuire knew very well that the next day would
find them again in the usual friendly intercourse over the back-yard
fence.

Susan Betts was a neighbor's daughter. She had lived all her life in
the town, and she knew everybody. Just because she happened to work in
Daniel Burton's kitchen was no reason, to her mind, why she should not
be allowed to express her opinion freely on all occasions, and on all
subjects, and to all persons. Such being her conviction she conducted
herself accordingly. And Susan always lived up to her convictions.

In the kitchen to-day she found Keith.

"Oh, I say, Susan, I was looking for you. Dad wants you."

"What for?"

"I don't know; but I GUESS it's because he wants to have something
besides beans and codfish and fish-hash to eat. Anyhow, he SAID he was
going to speak to you about it."

Susan stiffened into inexorable sternness.

"So he's goin' ter speak ter me, is he? Well, 't will be mighty little
good that'll do, as he ought to know very well. Beefsteaks an' roast
fowls cost money. Has he got the money for me?"

Without waiting for an answer to her question, she strode through the
door leading to the dining-room and shut it crisply behind her.

The boy did not follow her. Alone, in the kitchen he drummed idly on
the window-pane, watching the first few drops of a shower that had
been darkening the sky for an hour past.

After a minute he turned slowly and gazed with listless eyes about the
kitchen. On the table lay a folded newspaper. After a moment's
hesitation he crossed the room toward it. He had the air of one
impelled by some inner force against his will.

He picked the paper up, but did not at once look at it. In fact, he
looked anywhere but at it. Then, with a sudden jerk, he faced it.
Shivering a little he held it nearer, then farther away, then nearer
again. Then, with an inarticulate little cry he dropped the paper and
hurried from the room.

No one knew better than Keith himself that he was not reading much
this summer. Not that he put it into words, but he had a feeling that
so long as he was not SEEING how blurred the printed words were, he
would not be sure that they were blurred. Yet he knew that always,
whenever he saw a book or paper, his fingers fairly tingled to pick it
up--and make sure. Most of the time, however, Keith tried not to
notice the books and papers. Systematically he tried to forget that
there were books and papers--and he tried to forget the Great Terror.

Sometimes he persuaded himself that he was doing this. He contrived to
keep himself very busy that summer. Almost every day, when it did not
rain, he was off for a long walk with his father in the woods. His
father liked to walk in the woods. Keith never had to urge him to do
that. And what good times they had!--except that Keith did wish that
his father would not talk quite so much about what great things he,
Keith, was going to do when he should have become a man--and a great
artist.

One day he ventured to remonstrate.

"But, dad, maybe I--I shan't be a great artist at all. Maybe I shan't
be even a little one. Maybe I shall be just a--a man."

Keith never forgot his father's answer nor his father's anguished face
as he made that answer.

"Keith, I don't ever want you to let me hear you say that again. I
want you to KNOW that you're going to succeed. And you will succeed.
God will not be so cruel as to deny me that. _I_ have failed. You
needn't shake your head, boy, and say 'Oh, dad!' like that. I know
perfectly well what I'm talking about. _I_ HAVE FAILED--though it is
not often that I'll admit it, even to myself. But when I heard you say
to-day----

"Keith, listen to me. You've got to succeed. You've got to succeed not
only for yourself, but for Jerry and Ned, and for--me. All my hopes
for Jerry and Ned and for--myself are in you, boy. That's why, in all
our walks together, and at home in the studio, I'm trying to teach you
something that you will want to know by and by."

Keith never remonstrated with his father after that. He felt worse
than ever now when his father talked of what great things he was going
to do; but he knew that remonstrances would do no good, but rather
harm; and he did not want to hear his father talk again as he had
talked that day, about Jerry and Ned and himself. As if it were not
bad enough, under the best of conditions, to have to be great and
famous for one's two dead brothers and one's father; while if one were
blind----

But Keith refused to think of that. He tried very hard, also, to
absorb everything that his father endeavored to teach him. He listened
and watched and said "yes, sir," and he did his best to make the
chalks and charcoal that were put into his hands follow the copy set
for him.

To be sure, in this last undertaking, his efforts were not always
successful. The lines wavered and blurred and were far from clear.
Still, they were not half so bad as the print in books; and if it
should not get any worse--Besides, had he not always loved to draw
cats and dogs and faces ever since he could hold a pencil?

And so, with some measure of hope as to the results, he was setting
himself to be that great and famous artist that his father said he
must be.

But it was not all work for Keith these summer days. There were games
and picnics and berry expeditions with the boys and girls, all of
which he hailed with delight--one did not have to read, or even study
wavering lines and figures, on picnics or berrying expeditions! And
that WAS a relief. To be sure, there was nearly always Mazie, and if
there was Mazie, there was bound to be Dorothy. And Dorothy had said--
Some way he could never see Dorothy without remembering what she did
say on that day he had come home from Uncle Joe Harrington's.

Not that he exactly blamed her, either. For was not he himself acting
as if he felt the same way and did not like to look at blind persons?
Else why did he so persistently keep away from Uncle Joe now? Not
once, since that first day, had he been up to see the poor old blind
man. And before--why, before he used to go several times a week.



CHAPTER IV

SCHOOL


And so the summer passed, and September came. And September brought a
new problem--school. And school meant books.

Two days before school began Keith sought Susan Betts in the kitchen.

"Say, Susan, that was awfully good johnny-cake we had this morning."

Susan picked up another plate to dry and turned toward her visitor.
Her face was sternly grave, though there was something very like a
twinkle in her eye.

"There ain't no cookies, if that's what you're wantin'," she said.

"Aw, Susan, I never said a word about cookies."

"Then what is it you want? It's plain to be seen there's something, I
ween."

"My, how easy you do make rhymes, Susan. What's that 'I ween' mean?"

"Now, Keith Burton, this beatin' the bush like this don't do one mite
of good. You might jest as well out with it first as last. Now, what
is it you want?"

Keith drew a long sigh.

"Well, Susan, there IS something--a little something--only I meant
what I said about the johnny-cake and the rhymes; truly, I did."

"Well?" Susan was smiling faintly.

"Susan, you know you can make dad do anything."

Susan began to stiffen, and Keith hastened to disarm her.

"No, no, truly! This is the part I want. You CAN make dad do anything;
and I want you to do it for me."

"Do what?"

"Make him let me off from school any more."

"Let you off from school!" In her stupefied amazement Susan actually
forgot to pick up another plate from the dishpan.

"Yes. Tell him I'm sick, or 't isn't good for me. And truly, 't isn't
good for me. And truly, I am quite a little sick, Susan. I don't feel
well a bit. There's a kind of sinking feeling in my stomach, and----"

But Susan had found her wits and her tongue by this time, and she gave
free rein to her wrath.

"Let you off from school, indeed! Why, Keith Burton, I'm ashamed of
you--an' you that I've always boasted of! What do you want to do--grow
up a perfect ignominious?"

Keith drew back resentfully, and uptilted his chin.

"No, Susan Betts, I'm not wanting to be a--a ignominious, and I don't
intend to be one, either. I'm going to be an artist--a great big
famous artist, and I don't NEED school for that. How are
multiplication tables and history and grammar going to help me paint
big pictures? That's what I want to know. But I'm afraid that dad--
Say, WON'T you tell dad that I don't NEED books any more, and----" But
he stopped short, so extraordinary was the expression that had come to
Susan Betts's face. If it were possible to think of Susan Betts as
crying, he should think she was going to cry now.

"Need books? Why, child, there ain't nobody but what needs books. An'
I guess I know! What do you suppose I wouldn't give now if I could 'a'
had books an' book-learnin' when I was young? I could 'a' writ real
poetry then that would sell. I could 'a' spoke out an' said things
that are in my soul, an' that I CAN'T say now, 'cause I don't know the
words that--that will impress what I mean. Now, look a-here, Keith
Burton, you're young. You've got a chance. Do you see to it that you
make good. An' it's books that will help you do it."

"But books won't help me paint, Susan."

"They will, too. Books will help you do anything."

"Then you won't ask dad?"

"Indeed, I won't."

"But I don't see how books----" With a long sigh Keith turned away.

In the studio the next morning he faced his father.

"Dad, you can't learn to paint pictures by just READING how to do it,
can you?"

"You certainly cannot, my boy."

"There! I told Susan Betts so, but she wouldn't LISTEN to me. And so--I
don't have to go to school any more, do I?"

"Don't have to go to school any more! Why, Keith, what an absurd idea!
Of course you've got to go to school!"

"But just to be an artist and paint pictures, I don't see----"

But his father cut him short and would not listen.

Five minutes later a very disappointed, disheartened young lad left
the studio and walked slowly down the hall.

There was no way out of it. If one were successfully to be Jerry and
Ned and dad and one's self, all in one, there was nothing but school
and more school, and, yes, college, that would give one the proper
training. Dad had said it.

Keith went to school the next morning. With an oh-well-I-don't-care
air he slung his books over his shoulder and swung out the gate,
whistling blithely.

It might not be so bad, after all, he was telling himself. Perhaps the
print would be plainer now. Anyway, he could learn a lot in class
listening to the others; and maybe some of the boys would study with
him, and do the reading part.

But it was not to be so easy as Keith hoped for. To begin with, the
print had not grown any clearer. It was more blurred than ever. To be
sure, it was much worse with one eye than with the other; but he could
not keep one eye shut all the time. Besides--his eyes ached now if he
tried to use them much, and grew red and inflamed, and he was afraid
his father would notice them. He began to see strange flashes of
rainbow light now, too. And sometimes little haloes around the lamp
flame. As if one could study books with all that!

True, he learned something in class--but naturally he was never called
upon to recite what had already been given, so he invariably failed
miserably when it came to his turn. Even the "boy to study with"
proved to be a delusion and a snare, for no boy was found who cared to
do "all the reading," without being told the reason why it was
expected of him--and that was exactly what Keith was straining every
nerve to keep to himself.

And so week in and week out Keith stumbled along through those
misery-filled days, each one seemingly a little more unbearable than the
last. Of course, it could not continue indefinitely, and Keith, in his
heart, knew it. Almost every lesson was more or less of a failure, and
recitation hour was a torture and a torment. The teacher alternately
reproved and reproached him, with frequent appeals to his pride,
holding up for comparison his splendid standing of the past. His
classmates gibed and jeered mercilessly. And Keith stood it all. Only
a tightening of his lips and a new misery in his eyes showed that he
had heard and understood. He made neither apology nor explanation.
Above all, by neither word nor sign did he betray that, because the
print in his books was blurred, he could not study.

Then came the day when his report card was sent to his father, and he
himself was summoned to the studio to answer for it.

"Well, my son, what is the meaning of that?"

Keith had never seen his father look so stern. He was holding up the
card, face outward. Keith knew that the damning figures were there,
and he suspected what they were, though he could see only a blurred
mass of indistinct marks. With one last effort he attempted still to
cling to his subterfuge.

"What--what is it?" he stammered.

"'What is it?'--and in the face of a record like that!" cried his
father sternly. "That's exactly what I want to know. What is it? Is
this the way, Keith, that you're showing me that you don't want to go
to school? I haven't forgotten, you see, that you tried to beg off
going this fall. Now, what is the matter?"

Keith shifted his position miserably. His face grew white and
strained-looking.

"I--I couldn't seem to get my lessons, dad."

"Couldn't! You mean you wouldn't, Keith. Surely, you're not trying to
make me think you couldn't have made a better record than this, if
you'd tried."

There was no answer.

"Keith!" There was only pleading in the voice now--pleading with an
unsteadiness more eloquent than words. "Have you forgotten so soon
what I told you?--how now you hold all the hopes of Jerry and Ned and
of--dad in your own two hands? Keith, do you think, do you really
think you're treating Jerry and Ned and dad--square?"

For a moment there was no answer; then a very faint, constrained voice
asked:

"What were those figures, dad?"

"Read for yourself." With the words the card was thrust into his hand.

Keith bent his head. His eyes apparently were studying the card.

"Suppose you read them aloud, Keith."

There was a moment's pause; then with a little convulsive breath the
words came.

"I--can't--dad."

The man smiled grimly.

"Well, I don't know as I wonder. They are pretty bad. However, I guess
we'll have to have them. Read them aloud, Keith."

"But, honest, dad, I can't. I mean--they're all blurred and run
together." The boy's face was white like paper now.

Daniel Burton gave his son a quick glance.

"Blurred? Run together?" He reached for the card and held it a moment
before his own eyes. Then sharply he looked at his son again. "You
mean--Can't you read any of those figures--the largest ones?"

Keith shook his head.

"Why, Keith, how long----" A sudden change came to his face. "You
mean--is that the reason you haven't been able to get your lessons, boy?"

Keith nodded dumbly, miserably.

"But, my dear boy, why in the world didn't you say so? Look here,
Keith, how long has this been going on?"

There was no answer.

"Since the very first of school?"

"Before that."

"How long before that?"

"Last spring on my--birthday. I noticed it first--then."

"Good Heavens! As long as that, and never a word to me? Why, Keith,
what in the world possessed you? Why didn't you tell me? We'd have had
that fixed up long ago."

"Fixed up?" Keith's eyes were eager, incredulous.

"To be sure. We'd have had some glasses, of course."

Keith shook his head. All the light fled from his face.

"Uncle Joe Harrington tried that, but it didn't help--any."

"Uncle Joe! But Uncle Joe is----" Daniel Burton stopped short. A new
look came to his eyes. Into his son's face he threw a glance at once
fearful, searching, rebellious. Then he straightened up angrily.

"Nonsense, Keith! Don't get silly notions into your head," he snapped
sharply. "It's nothing but a little near-sightedness, and we'll have
some glasses to remedy that in no time. We'll go down to the
optician's to-morrow. Meanwhile I'll drop a note to your teacher, and
you needn't go to school again till we get your glasses."

Near-sightedness! Keith caught at the straw and held to it fiercely.
Near-sightedness! Of course, it was that, and not blindness, like
Uncle Joe's at all. Didn't dad know? Of course, he did! Still, if it
was near-sightedness he ought to be able to see near to; and yet it
was just as blurred--But, then, of course it WAS near-sightedness. Dad
said it was.

They went to the optician's the next morning. It seemed there was an
oculist, too, and he had to be seen. When the lengthy and arduous
examinations were concluded, Keith drew a long breath. Surely now,
after all that--

Just what they said Keith did not know. He knew only that he did not
get any glasses, and that his father was very angry, and very much put
out about something, and that he kept declaring that these old idiots
didn't know their business, anyway, and the only thing to do was to go
to Boston where there was somebody who DID know his business.

They went to Boston a few days later. It was not a long journey, but
Keith hailed it with delight, and was very much excited over the
prospect of it. Still, he did not enjoy it very well, for with his
father he had to go from one doctor to another, and none of them
seemed really to understand his business--that is, not well enough to
satisfy his father, else why did he go to so many? And there did not
seem to be anywhere any glasses that would do any good.

Keith began to worry then, for fear that his father had been wrong,
and that it was not near-sightedness after all. He could not forget
Uncle Joe--and Uncle Joe had not been able to find any glasses that
did any good. Besides, he heard his father and the doctors talking a
great deal about "an accident," and a "consequent injury to the optic
nerve"; and he had to answer a lot of questions about the time when he
was eleven years old and ran into the big maple tree with his sled,
cutting a bad gash in his forehead. But as if that, so long ago, could
have anything to do with things looking blurred now!

But it did have something to do with it--several of the doctors said
that; and they said it was possible that a slight operation now might
arrest the disease. They would try it. Only one eye was badly affected
at present.

So it was arranged that Keith should stay a month with one of the
doctors, letting his father go back to Hinsdale.

It was not a pleasant experience, and it seemed to Keith anything but
a "slight operation"; but at the end of the month the bandages were
off, and his father had come to take him back home.

The print was not quite so blurred now, though it was still far from
clear, and Keith noticed that his father and the doctors had a great
deal to say to each other in very low tones, and that his father's
face was very grave.

Then they started for home. On the journey his father talked
cheerfully, even gayly; but Keith was not at all deceived. For perhaps
half an hour he watched his father closely. Then he spoke.

"Dad, you might just as well tell me."

"Tell you what?"

"About those doctors--what they said."

"Why, they said all sorts of things, Keith. You heard them yourself."
The man spoke lightly, still cheerily.

"Oh, yes, they said all sorts of things, but they didn't say anything
PARTICULAR before me. They always talked to you soft and low on one
side. I want to know what they said then."

"Why, really, Keith, they----"

"Dad," interposed the boy a bit tensely, when his father's hesitation
left the sentence unfinished, "you might just as well tell me. I know
already it isn't good, or you'd have told me right away. And if it's
bad--I might just as well know it now, 'cause I'll have to know it
sometime. Dad, what did they say? Don't worry. I can stand it--honest,
I can. I've GOT to stand it. Besides, I've been expecting it--ever so
long. 'Keith, you're going to be blind.' I wish't you'd say it right
out like that--if you've got to say it."

But the man shuddered and gave a low cry.

"No, no, Keith, never! I'll not say it. You're not going to be blind!"

"But didn't they say I was?"

"They said--they said it MIGHT be. They couldn't tell yet." The man
wet his lips and cleared his throat huskily. "They said--it would be
some time yet before they could tell, for sure. And even then, if it
came, there might be another operation that--But for now, Keith, we've
got to wait--that's all. I've got some drops, and there are certain
things you'll have to do each day. You can't go to school, and you
can't read, of course; but there are lots of things you can do. And
there are lots of things we can do together--you'll see. And it's
coming out all right. It's bound to come out all right."

"Yes, sir." Keith said the two words, then shut his lips tight. Keith
could not trust himself to talk much just then. Babies and girls
cried, of course; but men, and boys who were almost men--they did not
cry.

For a long minute he said nothing; then, with his chin held high and
his breath sternly under control, he said:

"Of course, dad, if I do get blind, you won't expect me to be Jerry,
and Ned, and--and you, all in a bunch, then, will you?"

This time it was dad who could not speak--except with a strong right
arm that clasped with a pressure that hurt.



CHAPTER V

WAITING


Not for some days after his return from Boston did Keith venture out
upon the street. He knew then at once that the whole town had heard
all about his trip to Boston and what the doctors had said. He tried
not to see the curious glances cast in his direction. He tried not to
care that the youngest McGuire children stood at their gate and
whispered, with fingers plainly pointing toward himself.

He did not go near the schoolhouse, and he stayed at the post-office
until he felt sure all the scholars must have reached home. Then, just
at the corner of his own street, he met Mazie Sanborn and Dorothy
Parkman face to face. He would have passed quickly, with the briefest
sort of recognition, but Mazie stopped him short.

"Keith, oh, Keith, it isn't true, is it?" she cried breathlessly. "You
aren't going to be blind?"

"Mazie, how could you!" cried Dorothy sharply. And because she
shuddered and half turned away, Keith saw only the shudder and the
turning away, and did not realize that it was rebuke and remonstrance,
and not aversion, that Dorothy was expressing so forcibly.

Keith stiffened.

"Say, Keith, I'm awfully sorry, and so's Dorothy. Why, she hasn't
talked about a thing, hardly, but that, since she heard of it."

"Mazie, I have, too," protested Dorothy sharply.

"Well, anyway, it was she who insisted on coming around this way
to-day," teased Mazie wickedly; "and when I----"

"I'm going home, whether you are or not," cut in Miss Dorothy, with
dignity. And with a low chuckle Mazie tossed a good-bye to Keith and
followed her lead.

Keith, his chin aggressively high, strode in the opposite direction.

"I suppose she wanted to see how really bad I did look," he was
muttering fiercely, under his breath. "Well, she needn't worry. If I
do get blind, I'll take good care she don't have to look at me, nor
Mazie, nor any of the rest of them."

Keith went out on the street very little after that, and especially he
kept away from it after school hours. They were not easy--those winter
days. The snow lay deep in the woods, and it was too cold for long
walks. He could not read, nor paint, nor draw, nor use his eyes about
anything that tried them. But he was by no means idle. He had found
now "the boy to do the reading"--his father. For hours every day they
studied together, Keith memorizing, where it was necessary, what his
father read, always discussing and working out the problems together.
That he could not paint or draw was a great cross to his father, he
knew.

Keith noticed, too,--and noticed it with a growing heartache,--that
nothing was ever said now about his being Jerry and Ned and dad
himself all in a bunch. And he understood, of course, that if he was
going to be blind, he could not be Jerry and--

But Keith was honestly trying not to think of that; and he welcomed
most heartily anything or anybody that helped him toward that end.

Now there was Susan. Not once had Susan ever spoken to him of his
eyes, whether he could or could not see. But Susan knew about it. He
was sure of that. First he suspected it when he found her, the next
day after his return from Boston, crying in the pantry.

SUSAN CRYING! Keith stood in the doorway and stared unbelievingly. He
had not supposed that Susan could cry.

"Why, Susan!" he gasped. "What IS the matter?"

He never forgot the look on Susan's face as she sprang toward him, or
the quick cry she gave.

"Oh, Keith, my boy, my boy!" Then instantly she straightened back,
caught up a knife, and began to peel an onion from a pan on the shelf
before her. "Cryin'? Nonsense!" she snapped quaveringly. "Can't a body
peel a pan of onions without being accused of cryin' about somethin'?
Shucks! What should I be cryin' for, anyway, to be sure?

      Some things need a knife,
      An' some things need a pill,
      An' some things jest a laugh'll make a cure.
      But jest you bet your life,
      You may cry jest fit to kill,
      An' never cure nothin'--that is sure.

That's what I always say when I see folks cryin'. An' it's so, too.
Here, Keith, want a cooky? An' take a jam tart, too. I made 'em this
mornin', 'specially for you."

With which astounding procedure--for her--Susan pushed a plate of
cookies and tarts toward him, then picked up her pan of onions and
hurried into the kitchen.

Once again Keith stared. Cookies and jam tarts, and made for him? If
anything, this was even more incomprehensible than were the tears in
Susan's eyes. Then suddenly the suspicion came to him--SUSAN KNEW. And
this was her way----

The suspicion did not become a certainty, however, until two days
later. Then he overheard Susan and Mrs. McGuire talking in the
kitchen. He had slipped into the pantry to look for another of those
cookies made for him, when he heard Mrs. McGuire burst into the
kitchen and accost Susan agitatedly. And her first words were such
that he could not bring himself to step out into view.

"Susan," she had cried, "it ain't true, is it? IS it true that Keith
Burton is going--BLIND? My John says----"

"Sh-h! You don't have to shout it out like that, do ye?" demanded
Susan crossly, yet in a voice that was far from steady. "Besides,
that's a very extravagated statement."

"You mean exaggerated, I suppose," retorted Mrs. McGuire impatiently.
"Well, I'm sure I'm glad if it is, of course. But can't you tell me
anything about it? Or, don't you know?"

Keith knew--though he could not see her--just how Susan was drawing
herself up to her full height.

"I guess I know--all there is to know, Mis' McGuire," she said then
coldly. "But there ain't anybody KNOWS anything. We're jest waitin' to
see." Her voice had grown unsteady again.

"You mean he MAY be blind, later?"

"Yes."

"Oh, the poor boy! Ain't that terrible? How CAN they stand it?"

"I notice there are things in this world that have to be stood. An'
when they have to be stood, they might as well be--stood, an' done
with it."

"Yes, I suppose so," sighed Mrs. McGuire. Then, after a pause: "But
what is it--that's makin' him blind?"

"I don't know. They ain't sayin'. I thought maybe't was a catamount,
but they say't ain't that."

"But when is it liable to come?"

"Come? How do I know? How does anybody know?" snapped Susan tartly.
"Look a-here, Mis' McGuire, you must excuse me from discoursin'
particulars. We don't talk 'em here. None of us don't."

"Well, you needn't be so short about it, Susan Betts. I'm only tryin'
to show a little sympathy. You don't seem to realize at all what a
dreadful thing this is. My John says----"

"Don't I--DON'T I?" Susan's voice shook with emotion. "Don't you
s'pose that I know what it would be with the sun put out, an' the moon
an' the stars, an' never a thing to look at but black darkness all the
rest of your life? Never to be able to see the blue sky, or your
father's face, or--But talkin' about it don't help any. Look a-here,
if somethin' awful was goin' to happen to you, would YOU want folks to
be talkin' to you all the time about it? No, I guess you wouldn't. An'
so we don't talk here. We're just--waitin'. It may come in a year, it
may come sooner, or later. It may not come at all. An' while we ARE
waitin' there ain't nothin' we can do except to do ev'rything the
doctor tells us, an' hope--'t won't ever come."

Even Mrs. McGuire could have had no further doubt about Susan's
"caring." No one who heard Susan's voice then could have doubted it.
Mrs. McGuire, for a moment, made no answer; then, with an inarticulate
something that might have passed for almost any sort of comment, she
rose to her feet and left the house.

In the pantry, Keith, the cookies long since forgotten, shamelessly
listened at the door and held his breath to see which way Susan's
footsteps led. Then, when he knew that the kitchen was empty, he
slipped out, still cookyless, and hurried upstairs to his own room.

Keith understood, after that, why Susan did not talk to him about his
eyes; and because he knew she would not talk, he felt at ease and at
peace with her.

It was not so with others. With others (except with his father) he
never knew when a dread question or a hated comment was to be made.
And so he came to avoid those others more and more.

At the first signs of spring, and long before the snow was off the
ground, Keith took to the woods. When his father did not care to go,
he went alone. It was as if he wanted to fill his inner consciousness
with the sights and sounds of his beloved out-of-doors, so that when
his outer eyes were darkened, his inner eyes might still hold the
pictures. Keith did not say this, even to himself; but when every day
Susan questioned him minutely as to what he had seen, and begged him
to describe every budding tree and every sunset, he wondered; was it
possible that Susan, too, was trying to fill that inner consciousness
with visions?

Keith was thrown a good deal with Susan these days. Sometimes it
seemed as if there were almost no one but Susan. Certainly all those
others who talked and questioned--he did not want to be with them. And
his father--sometimes it seemed to Keith that his father did not like
to be with him as well as he used to. And, of course, if he was going
to be blind--Dad never had liked disagreeable subjects. Had HE
become--a disagreeable subject?

And so there seemed, indeed, at times, no one but Susan. Susan,
however, was a host in herself. Susan was never cross now, and almost
always she had a cooky or a jam tart for him. She told lots of funny
stories, and there were always her rhymes and jingles. She had a new
one every day, sometimes two or three a day.

There was no subject too big or too little for Susan to put into
rhyme. Susan said that something inside of her was a gushing siphon of
poems, anyway, and she just had to get them out of her system. And she
told Keith that spring always made the siphon gush worse than ever,
for some reason. She didn't know why.

Keith suspected that she said this by way of an excuse for repeating
so many of her verses to him just now. But Keith was not deceived. He
had not forgotten what Susan had said to Mrs. McGuire in the kitchen
that day; and he knew very well that all this especial attention to
him was only Susan's way of trying to help him "wait."



CHAPTER VI

LIGHTS OUT


And so Keith waited, through the summer and into another winter. And
April came. Keith was not listening to Susan's rhymes and jingles now,
nor was he tramping through the woods in search of the first sign of
spring. Both eyes had become badly affected now. Keith knew that and--

THE FOG HAD COME. Keith had seen the fog for several days before he
knew what it was. He had supposed it to be really--fog. Then one day
he said to Susan:

"Where's the sun? We haven't had any BRIGHT sun for days and days--just
this horrid old foggy fog."

"Fog? Why, there ain't any fog!" exclaimed Susan. "The sun is as
bright----" She stopped short. Keith could not see her face very
clearly--Keith was not seeing anything clearly these days. "Nonsense,
Keith, of course, the sun is shinin'!" snapped Susan. "Now don't get
silly notions in your head!" Then she turned and hurried from the
room.

And Keith knew. And he knew that Susan knew.

Keith did not mention the fog to his father--dad did not like
disagreeable subjects. But somebody must have mentioned it--Susan,
perhaps. At all events, before the week was out Keith went with his
father again to Boston.

It was a sorry journey. Keith did not need to go to Boston. Keith knew
now. There was no one who could tell him anything. Dad might laugh and
joke and call attention to everything amusing that he wanted to--it
would make no difference. Besides, as if he could not hear the shake
in dad's voice under all the fun, and as if he could not feel the
tremble in dad's hand on his shoulder!

Boston was the same dreary round of testing, talk, and questions,
hushed voices and furtive glances, hurried trips from place to place;
only this time it was all sharper, shorter, more decisive, and there
was no operation. It was not the time for that now, the doctors said.
Moreover, this time dad did not laugh, or joke, or even talk on the
homeward journey. But that, too, made no difference. Keith already
knew.

He knew so well that he did not question him at all. But if he had not
known, he would have known from Susan the next day. For he found Susan
crying three times the next forenoon, and each time she snapped out so
short and sharp about something so entirely foreign from what he asked
her that he would have known that Susan knew.

Keith did wonder how many months it would be. Some way he had an idea
it would be very few now. As long as it was coming he wished it would
come, and come quick. This waiting business--On the whole he was glad
that Susan was cross, and that his father spent his days shut away in
his own room with orders that he was not to be disturbed. For, as for
talking about this thing--

It was toward the last of July that Keith discovered how indistinct
were growing the outlines of the big pictures on the wall at the end
of the hall. Day by day he had to walk nearer and nearer before he
could see them at all. He wondered just how many steps would bring him
to the wall itself. He was tempted once to count them--but he could
not bring himself to do that; so he knew then that in his heart he did
not want to know just how many days it would be before--

But there came a day when he was but two steps away. He told himself
it would be in two days then. But it did not come in two days. It did
not come in a week. Then, very suddenly, it came.

He woke up one morning to find it quite dark. For a minute he thought
it WAS dark; then the clock struck seven--and it was August.

Something within Keith seemed to snap then. The long-pent strain of
months gave way. With one agonized cry of "Dad, it's come--it's come!"
he sprang from the bed, then stood motionless in the middle of the
room, his arms outstretched. But when his father and Susan reached the
room he had fallen to the floor in a dead faint.

It was some weeks before Keith stood upright on his feet again. His
illness was a long and serious one. Late in September, Mrs. McGuire,
hanging out her clothes, accosted Susan over the back-yard fence.

"I heard down to the store last night that Keith Burton was goin' to
get well."

"Of course he's goin' to get well," retorted Susan with emphasis. "I
knew he was, all the time."

"All the same, I think it's a pity he is." Mrs. McGuire's lips came
together a bit firmly. "He's stone blind, I hear, an' my John says--"

"Well, what if he is?" demanded Susan, almost fiercely. "You wouldn't
kill the child, would you? Besides SEEIN' is only one of his
facilities. He's got all the rest left. I reckon he'll show you he can
do somethin' with them."

Mrs. McGuire shook her head mournfully.

"Poor boy, poor boy! How's he feel himself? Has he got his senses, his
real senses yet?"

"He's just beginnin' to." The harshness in Susan's voice betrayed her
difficulty in controlling it. "Up to now he hain't sensed anything,
much. Of course, part of the time he hain't known ANYTHING--jest lay
there in a stupid. Then, other times he's jest moaned of-of the
dark--always the dark.

"At first he--when he talked--seemed to be walkin' through the woods;
an' he'd tell all about what he saw; the 'purple sunsets,' an'
'dancin' leaves,' an' the merry little brooks hurryin' down the
hillside,' till you could jest SEE the place he was talkin' about. But
now--now he's comin' to full conscientiousness, the doctor says; an'
he don't talk of anything only--only the dark. An' pretty quick
he'll--know."

"An' yet you want that poor child to live, Susan Betts!"

"Of course I want him to live!"

"But what can he DO?"

"Do? There ain't nothin' he can't do. Why, Mis' McGuire, listen! I've
been readin' up. First, I felt as you do--a little. I--I didn't WANT
him to live. Then I heard of somebody who was blind, an' what he did.
He wrote a great book. I've forgotten its name, but it was somethin'
about Paradise. PARADISE--an' he was in prison, too. Think of writin'
about Paradise when you're shut up in jail--an' blind, at that! Well,
I made up my mind if that man could see Paradise through them prison
bars with his poor blind eyes, then Keith could. An' I was goin' to
have him do it, too. An' so I went down to the library an' asked Miss
Hemenway for a book about him. An' I read it. An' then she told me
about more an' more folks that was blind, an' what they had done. An'
I read about them, too."

"Well, gracious me, Susan Betts, if you ain't the limit!" commented
Mrs. McGuire, half admiringly, half disapprovingly.

"Well, I did. An'--why, Mis' McGuire, you hain't any inception of an
idea of what those men an' women an'--yes, children--did. Why, one of
'em wasn't only blind, but deaf an' dumb, too. She was a girl. An' now
she writes books an' gives lecturin's, an', oh, ev'rything."

"Maybe. I ain't sayin' they don't. But I guess somebody else has to do
a part of it. Look at Keith right here now. How are you goin' to take
care of him when he gets up an' begins to walk around? Why, he can't
see to walk or--or feed himself, or anything. Has the nurse gone?"

Susan shook her head. Her lips came together grimly.

"No. Goes next week, though. Land's sakes, but I hope that woman is
expulsive enough! Them entrained nurses always cost a lot, I guess.
But we've just had to have her while he was so sick. But she's goin'
next week."

"But what ARE you goin' to do? You can't tag him around all day an' do
your other work, too. Of course, there's his father--"

"His father! Good Heavens, woman, I wonder if you think I'd trust that
boy to his father?" demanded Susan indignantly. "Why, once let him get
his nose into that paint-box, an' he don't know anything--not
anything. Why, I wouldn't trust him with a baby rabbit--if I cared for
the rabbit. Besides, he don't like to be with Keith, nor see him, nor
think of him. He feels so bad."

"Humph! Well, if he does feel bad I don't think that's a very nice way
to show it. Not think of him, indeed! Well, I guess he'll find SOME
one has got to think of him now. But there! that's what you might
expect of Daniel Burton, I s'pose, moonin' all day over those silly
pictures of his. As my John says--"

"They're not silly pictures," cut in Susan, flaring into instant
wrath. "He HAS to paint pictures in order to get money to live, don't
he? Well, then, let him paint. He's an artist--an extinguished
artist--not just a common storekeeper." (Mr. McGuire, it might be
mentioned in passing, kept a grocery store.) "An' if you're
artistical, you're different from other folks. You have to be."

"Nonsense, Susan! That's all bosh, an' you know it. What if he does
paint pictures? That hadn't ought to hinder him from takin' proper
care of his own son, had it?"

"Yes, if he's blind." Susan spoke with firmness and decision. "You
don't seem to understand at all, Mis' McGuire. Mr. Burton is an
artist. Artists like flowers an' sunsets an' clouds an' brooks. They
don't like disagreeable things. They don't want to see 'em or think
about 'em. I know. It's that way with Mr. Burton. Before, when Keith
was all right, he couldn't bear him out of his sight, an' he was goin'
to have him do such big, fine, splendid things when he grew up. Now,
since he's blind, he can't bear him IN his sight. He feels that bad.
He just won't be with him if he can help it. But he ain't forgettin'
him. He's thinkin' of him all the time. _I_ KNOW. An' it's tellin' on
him. He's lookin' thin an' bad an' sick. You see, he's so
disappointed, when he'd counted on such big things for that boy!"

"Humph! Well, I'll risk HIM. It's Keith I'm worry in' about. Who is
going to take care of him?"

Susan Betts frowned.

"Well, _I_ could, I think. But there's a sister of Mr. Burton's--she's
comin'."

"Not Nettie Colebrook?"

"Yes, Mis' Colebrook. That's her name. She's a widow, an' hain't got
anything needin' her. She wrote an' offered, an' Mr. Burton said yes,
if she'd be so kind. An' she's comin'."

"When?"

"Next week. The day the nurse goes. Why? What makes you look so queer?
Do you know--Mis' Colebrook?"

"Know Nettie Burton Colebrook? Well, I should say I did! I went to
boardin'-school with her."

"Humph!" Susan threw a sharp glance into Mrs. McGuire's face. Susan
looked as if she wanted to ask another question. But she did not ask
it. "Humph!" she grunted again; and turned back to the sheet she was
hanging on the line.

There was a brief pause, then Mrs. McGuire commented dryly:

"I notice you ain't doin' no rhymin' to-day, Susan."

"Ain't I? Well, perhaps I ain't. Some way, they don't come out now so
natural an' easy-like."

"What's the matter? Ain't the machine workin'?"

Susan shook her head. Then she drew a long sigh. Picking up her empty
basket she looked at it somberly.

"Not the way it did before. Some way, there don't seem anything inside
of me now only dirges an' funeral marches. Everywhere, all day,
everything I do an' everywhere I go I jest hear: 'Keith's blind,
Keith's blind!' till it seems as if I jest couldn't bear it."

With something very like a sob Susan turned and hurried into the
house.



CHAPTER VII

SUSAN TO THE RESCUE


It was when the nurse was resting and Susan was with Keith that the
boy came to a full, realizing sense of himself, on his lips the
time-worn question asked by countless other minds back from that
mysterious land of delirium:

"Where am I?"

Susan sprang to her feet, then dropped on her knees at the bedside.

"In your own bed--honey."

"Is that--Susan?" No wonder he asked the question. Whenever before had
Susan talked like that?

"Sure it's Susan."

"But I can't--see you--or anything. Oh-h!" With a shudder and a
quivering cry the boy flung out his hands, then covered his eyes with
them. "I know, now, I know! It's come--it's come! I am--BLIND!"

"There, there, honey, don't, please don't. You'll break Susan's heart.
An' you're SO much better now."

"Better?"

"Yes. You've been sick--very sick."

"How long?"

"Oh, several weeks. It's October now."

"And I've been blind all that time?"

"Yes."

"But I haven't known I was blind!"

"No."

"I want to go back--I want to go back, where I didn't know--again."

"Nonsense, Keith!" (Susan was beginning to talk more like herself.)
"Go back to be sick? Of course you don't want to go back an' be sick!
Listen!

      Don't you worry, an' don't you fret.
      Somethin' better is comin' yet.
      Somethin' fine! What'll you bet?
      It's jest the thing you're wantin' ter get!

Come, come! We're goin' to have you up an' out in no time, now, boy!"

"I don't want to be up and out. I'm blind, Susan."

"An' there's your dad. He'll be mighty glad to know you're better.
I'll call him."

"No, no, Susan--don't! Don't call him. He won't want to see me. Nobody
will want to see me now. I'm blind, Susan--blind!"

"Shucks! Everybody will want to see you, so's to see how splendid you
are, even if you are blind. Now don't talk any more--please don't;
there's a good boy. You're gettin' yourself all worked up, an' then,
oh, my, how that nurse will scold!"

"I shan't be splendid," moaned the boy. "I shan't be anything, now. I
shan't be Jerry or Ned or dad. I shall be just ME. And I'll be pointed
at everywhere; and they'll whisper and look and stare, and say, 'He's
blind--he's blind--he's blind.' I tell you, Susan, I can't stand it. I
can't--I can't! I want to go back. I want to go back to where I
didn't--KNOW!"

The nurse came in then, and of course Susan was banished in disgrace.
Of course, too, Keith was almost in hysterics, and his fever had gone
away up again. He still talked in a high, shrill voice, and still
thrashed his arms wildly about, till the little white powder the nurse
gave him got in its blessed work. And then he slept.

Keith was entirely conscious the next day when Susan came in to sit
with him while the nurse took her rest. But it was a very different
Keith. It was a weary, spent, nerveless Keith that lay back on the
pillow with scarcely so much as the flutter of an eyelid to show life.

"Is there anything I can get you, Keith?" she asked, when a long-drawn
sigh convinced her that he was awake.

Only a faint shake of the head answered her.

"The doctor says you're lots better, Keith."

There was no sort of reply to this; and for another long minute Susan
sat tense and motionless, watching the boy's face. Then, with almost a
guilty look over her shoulder, she stammered:

"Keith, I don't want you to talk to me, but I do wish you'd just SPEAK
to me."

But Keith only shook his head again faintly and turned his face away
to the wall.

By and by the nurse came in, and Susan left the room. She went
straight to the kitchen, and she did not so much as look toward
Keith's father whom she met in the hall. In the kitchen Susan caught
up a cloth and vigorously began to polish a brass faucet. The faucet
was already a marvel of brightness; but perhaps Susan could not see
that. One cannot always see clearly--through tears.

Keith was like this every day after that, when Susan came in to sit
with him--silent, listless, seemingly devoid of life. Yet the doctor
declared that physically the boy was practically well. And the nurse
was going at the end of the week.

On the last day of the nurse's stay, Susan accosted her in the hall
somewhat abruptly.

"Is it true that by an' by there could be an operator on that boy's
eyes?"

"Oper--er--oh, operation! Yes, there might be, if he could only get
strong enough to stand it. But it might not be successful, even then."

"But there's a chance?"

"Yes, there's a chance."

"I s'pose it--it would be mighty expulsive, though."

"Expulsive?" The young woman frowned slightly; then suddenly she
smiled. "Oh! Oh, yes, I--I'm afraid it would--er--cost a good deal of
money," she nodded over her shoulder as she went on into Keith's room.

That evening Susan sought her employer in the studio. Daniel Burton
spent all his waking hours in the studio now. The woods and fields
were nothing but a barren desert of loneliness to Daniel Burton--without
Keith.

The very poise of Susan's head spelt aggressive determination as she
entered the studio; and Daniel Burton shifted uneasily in his chair as
he faced her. Nor did he fail to note that she carried some folded
papers in her hand.

"Yes, yes, Susan, I know. Those bills are due, and past due," he cried
nervously, before Susan could speak. "And I hoped to have the money,
both for them and for your wages, long before this. But----"

Susan stopped him short with an imperative gesture.

"T ain't bills, Mr. Burton, an't ain't wages. It's--it's somethin'
else. Somethin' very importune." There was a subdued excitement in
Susan's face and manner that was puzzling, yet most promising.

Unconsciously Daniel Burton sat a little straighter and lifted his
chin--though his eyes were smiling.

"Something else?"

"Yes. It's--poetry."

"Oh, SUSAN!" It was as if a bubble had been pricked, leaving nothing
but empty air.

"But you don't know--you don't understand, yet," pleaded Susan,
unerringly reading the disappointment in her employer's face. "It's to
sell--to get some money, you know, for the operator on the poor lamb's
eyes. I--I wanted to help, some way. An' this is REAL poetry--truly it
is!--not the immaculate kind that I jest dash off! I've worked an'
worked over this, an' I'm jest sure it'll sell, It's GOT to sell, Mr.
Burton. We've jest got to have that money. An' now, I--I want to read
'em to you. Can't I, please?"

And this from Susan--this palpitating, pleading "please"! Daniel
Burton, with a helpless gesture that expressed embarrassment, dismay,
bewilderment, and resignation, threw up both hands and settled back in
his chair.

"Why, of--of course, Susan, read them," he muttered as clearly as he
could, considering the tightness that had come into his throat.

And Susan read this:

    SPRING

      Oh, gentle Spring, I love thy rills,
      I love thy wooden, rocky rills,
      I love thy budsome beauty.
      But, oh, I hate o'er anything,
      Thy mud an' slush, oh, gentle Spring,
      When rubbers are a duty.

"That's the shortest--the other is longer," explained Susan, still the
extraordinary, palpitating Susan, with the shining, pleading eyes.

"Yes, go on." Daniel Burton had to clear his throat before he could
say even those two short words.

"I called this 'Them Things That Plague,'" said Susan. "An' it's
really true, too. Don't you know? Things DO plague worse nights, when
you can't sleep. An' you get to thinkin' an' thinkin'. Well, that's
what made me write this." And she began to read:

    THEM THINGS THAT PLAGUE

      They come at night, them things that plague,
      An' gather round my bed.
      They cluster thick about the foot,
      An' lean on top the head.

      They like the dark, them things that plague,
      For then they can be great,
      They loom like doom from out the gloom,
      An' shriek: "I am your Fate!"

      But, after all, them things that plague
      Are cowards--Say not you?--
      To strike a man when he is down,
      An' in the darkness, too.

      For if you'll watch them things that plague,
      Till comin' of the dawn,
      You'll find, when once you're on your feet,
      Them things that plague--are gone!

"There, ain't that true--every word of it?" she demanded. "An' there
ain't hardly any poem license in it, too. I think they're a ways lots
better when there ain't; but sometimes, of course, you jest have to
use it. There! an' now I've read 'em both to you--an' how much do you
s'pose I can get for 'em--the two of 'em, either singly or doubly?"
Susan was still breathless, still shining-eyed--a strange, exotic
Susan, that Daniel Burton had never seen before. "I've heard that
writers--some writers--get lots of money, Mr. Burton, an' I can write
more--lots more. Why, when I get to goin' they jest come
autocratically--poems do--without any thinkin' at all; an'--But how
much DO you think I ought to get?"

"Get? Good Heavens woman!" Daniel Burton was on his feet now trying to
shake off the conflicting emotions that were all but paralyzing him.
"Why, you can't get anything for those da----" Just in time he pulled
himself up. At that moment, too, he saw Susan's face. He sat down
limply.

"Susan." He cleared his throat and began again. He tried to speak
clearly, judiciously, kindly. "Susan, I'm afraid--that is, I'm not
sure--Oh, hang it all, woman"--he was on his feet now--"send them, if
you want to--but don't blame me for the consequences." And with a
gesture, as of flinging the whole thing far from him, he turned his
back and walked away.

"You mean--you don't think I can get hardly anything for 'em?" An
extraordinarily meek, fearful Susan asked the question.

Only a shrug of the back-turned shoulders answered her.

"But, Mr. Burton, we--we've got to have the money for that operator;
an', anyhow, I--I mean to try." With a quick indrawing of her breath
she turned abruptly and left the studio.

That evening, in her own room, Susan pored over the two inexpensive
magazines that came to the house. She was searching for poems and for
addresses.

As she worked she began to look more cheerful. Both the magazines
published poems, and if they published one poem they would another, of
course, especially if the poem were a better one--and Susan could not
help feeling that they were better (those poems of hers) than almost
any she saw there in print before her. There was some SENSE to her
poems, while those others--why, some of them didn't mean anything, not
anything!--and they didn't even rhyme!

With real hope and courage, therefore, Susan laboriously copied off
the addresses of the two magazines, directed two envelopes, and set
herself to writing the first of her two letters. That done, she copied
the letter, word for word--except for the title of the poem submitted.

It was a long letter. Susan told first of Keith and his misfortune,
and the imperative need of money for the operation. Then she told
something of herself, and of her habit of turning everything into
rhyme; for she felt it due to them, she said, that they know something
of the person with whom they were dealing. She touched again on the
poverty of the household, and let it plainly be seen that she had high
hopes of the money these poems were going to bring. She did not set a
price. She would leave that to their own indiscretion, she said in
closing.

It was midnight before Susan had copied this letter and prepared the
two manuscripts for mailing. Then, tired, but happy, she went to bed.

It was the next day that the nurse went, and that Mrs. Colebrook came.

The doctor said that Keith might be dressed now, any day--that he
should be dressed, in fact, and begin to take some exercise. He had
already sat up in a chair every day for a week--and he was in no
further need of medicine, except a tonic to build him up. In fact, all
efforts now should be turned toward building him up, the doctor said.
That was what he needed.

All this the nurse mentioned to Mr. Burton and to Susan, as she was
leaving. She went away at two o'clock, and Mrs. Colebrook was not to
come until half-past five. At one minute past two Susan crept to the
door of Keith's room and pushed it open softly. The boy, his face to
the wall, lay motionless. But he was not asleep. Susan knew that, for
she had heard his voice not five minutes before, bidding the nurse
good-bye. For one brief moment Susan hesitated. Then, briskly, she
stepped into the room with a cheery:

"Well, Keith, here we are, just ourselves together. The nurse is gone
an' I am on--how do you like the weather?"

"Yes, I know, she said she was going." The boy spoke listlessly,
wearily, without turning his head.

"What do you say to gettin' up?"

Keith stirred restlessly.

"I was up this morning."

"Ho!" Susan tossed her head disdainfully. "I don't mean THAT way. I
mean up--really up with your clothes on."

The boy shook his head again.

"I couldn't. I--I'm too tired."

"Nonsense! A great boy like you bein' too tired to get up! Why Keith,
it'll do you good. You'll feel lots better when you're up an' dressed
like folks again."

The boy gave a sudden cry.

"That's just it, Susan. Don't you see? I'll never be--like folks
again."

"Nonsense! Jest as if a little thing like bein' blind was goin' to
keep you from bein' like folks again!" Susan was speaking very loudly,
very cheerfully--though with first one hand, then the other, she was
brushing away the hot tears that were rolling down her cheeks. "Why,
Keith, you're goin' to be better than folks--jest common folks. You're
goin' to do the most wonderful things that----"

"But I can't--I'm blind, I tell you!" cut in the boy. "I can't
do--anything, now."

"But you can, an' you're goin' to," insisted Susan again. "You jest
wait till I tell you; an' it's because you ARE blind that it's goin'
to be so wonderful. But you can't do it jest lyin' abed there in that
lazy fashion. Come, I'm goin' to get your clothes an' put 'em right on
this chair here by the bed; then I'm goin' to give you twenty minutes
to get into 'em. I shan't give you but fifteen tomorrow." Susan was
moving swiftly around the room now, opening closet doors and bureau
drawers.

"No, no, Susan, I can't get up," moaned the boy turning his face back
to the wall. "I can't--I can't!"

"Yes, you can. Now, listen. They're all here, everything you need, on
these two chairs by the bed."

"But how can I dress me when I can't see a thing?"

"You can feel, can't you?"

"Y-yes. But feeling isn't seeing. You don't KNOW."

Susan gave a sudden laugh--she would have told you it was a laugh--but
it sounded more like a sob.

"But I do know, an' that's the funny part of it, Keith," she cried.
"Listen! What do you s'pose your poor old Susan's been doin'? You'd
never guess in a million years, so I'm goin' to tell you. For the last
three mornin's she's tied up her eyes with a handkerchief an' then
DRESSED herself, jest to make sure it COULD be done, you know."

"Susan, did you, really?" For the first time a faint trace of interest
came into the boy's face.

"Sure I did! An' Keith, it was great fun, really, jest to see how
smart I could be, doin' it. An' I timed myself, too. It took me
twenty-five minutes the first time. Dear, dear, but I was clumsy! But
I can do it lots quicker now, though I don't believe I'll ever do it
as quick as you will."

"Do you think I could do it, really?"

"I know you could."

"I could try," faltered Keith dubiously.

"You ain't goin' to TRY, you're goin' to DO it," declared Susan. "Now,
listen. I'm goin' out, but in jest twenty minutes I'm comin' back, an'
I shall expect to find you all dressed. I--I shall be ashamed of you
if you ain't." And without another glance at the boy, and before he
could possibly protest, Susan hurried from the room.

Her head was still high, and her voice still determinedly clear--but
in the hall outside the bedroom, Susan burst into such a storm of sobs
that she had to hurry to the kitchen and shut herself in the pantry
lest they be heard.

Later, when she had scornfully lashed herself into calmness, she came
out into the kitchen and looked at the clock.

"An' I've been in there five minutes, I'll bet ye, over that fool cry
in'," she stormed hotly to herself. "Great one, I am, to take care of
that boy, if I can't control myself better than this!"

At the end of what she deemed to be twenty minutes, and after a
fruitless "puttering" about the kitchen, Susan marched determinedly
upstairs to Keith's room. At the door she did hesitate a breathless
minute, then, resolutely, she pushed it open.

The boy, fully dressed, stood by the bed. His face was alight, almost
eager.

"I did it--I did it, Susan! And if it hasn't been more than twenty
minutes, I did it sooner than you!"

Susan tried to speak; but the tears were again chasing each other down
her cheeks, and her face was working with emotion.

"Susan!" The boy put out his hand gropingly, turning his head with the
pitiful uncertainty of the blind. "Susan, you are there, aren't you?"

Susan caught her breath chokingly, and strode into the room with a
brisk clatter.

"Here? Sure I'm here--but so dumb with amazement an' admiration that I
couldn't open my head--to see you standin' there all dressed like
that! What did I tell you? I knew you could do it. Now, come, let's go
see dad." She was at his side now, her arm linked into his.

But the boy drew back.

"No, no, Susan, not there. He--he wouldn't like it. Truly, he--he
doesn't want to see me. You know he--he doesn't like to see
disagreeable things."

"'Disagreeable things,' indeed!" exploded Susan, her features working
again. "Well, I guess if he calls it disagreeable to see his son
dressed up an' walkin' around--"

But Keith interrupted her once more, with an even stronger protest,
and Susan was forced to content herself with leading her charge out on
to the broad veranda that ran across the entire front of the house.
There they walked back and forth, back and forth.

She was glad, afterward, that this was all she did, for at the far end
of the veranda Daniel Burton stepped out from a door, and stood for a
moment watching them. But it was for only a moment. And when she
begged mutely for him to come forward and speak, he shook his head
fiercely, covered his eyes with his hand, and plunged back into the
house.

"What was that, Susan? What was that?" demanded the boy.

"Nothin', child, nothin', only a door shuttin' somewhere, or a
window."

At that moment a girl's voice caroled shrilly from the street.

"Hullo, Keith, how do you do? We're awfully glad to see you out
again."

The boy started violently, but did not turn his head--except to Susan.

"Susan, I--I'm tired. I want to go in now," he begged a little wildly,
under his breath.

"Keith, it's Mazie--Mazie and Dorothy," caroled the high-pitched voice
again.

But Keith, with a tug so imperative that Susan had no choice but to
obey, turned his head quite away as he groped for the door to go in.

In the hall he drew a choking breath.

"Susan, I don't want to go out there to walk any more--NOT ANY MORE! I
don't want to go anywhere where anybody'll see me."

"Shucks!" Susan's voice was harshly unsteady again. "See you, indeed!
Why, we're goin' to be so proud of you we'll want the whole world to
see you.

      You jest wait
      An' see the fate
      That I've cut out for you.
      We'll be so proud
      We'll laugh aloud,
      An' you'll be laughin', too!

I made that up last night when I laid awake thinkin' of all the fine
things we was goin' to have you do."

But Keith only shook his head again and complained of feeling, oh, so
tired. And Susan, looking at his pale, constrained face, did not quote
any more poetry to him, or talk about the glorious future in store for
him. She led him to the easiest chair in his room and made him as
comfortable as she could. Then she went downstairs and shut herself in
the pantry--until she could stop her "fool cryin' over nothin'."



CHAPTER VIII

AUNT NETTIE MEETS HER MATCH


Mrs. Nettie Colebrook came at half-past five. She was a small,
nervous-looking woman with pale-blue eyes and pale-yellow hair. She
greeted her brother with a burst of tears.

"Oh, Daniel, Daniel, how can you stand it--how can you stand it!" she
cried, throwing herself upon the man's somewhat unresponsive shoulder.

"There, there, Nettie, control yourself, do!" besought the man
uncomfortably, trying to withdraw himself from the clinging arms.

"But how CAN you stand it!--your only son--blind!" wailed Mrs.
Colebrook, with a fresh burst of sobs.

"I notice some things have to be stood," observed Susan grimly. Susan,
with Mrs. Colebrook's traveling-bag in her hand, was waiting with
obvious impatience to escort her visitor upstairs to her room.

Susan's terse comment accomplished what Daniel Burton's admonition had
been quite powerless to bring about. Mrs. Colebrook stopped sobbing at
once, and drew herself somewhat haughtily erect.

"And, pray, who is this?" she demanded, looking from one to the other.

"Well, 'this' happens to be the hired girl, an' she's got some
biscuits in the oven," explained Susan crisply. "If you'll be so good,
ma'am, I'll show you upstairs to your room."

"Daniel!" appealed Mrs. Colebrook, plainly aghast.

But her brother, with a helpless gesture, had turned away, and Susan,
bag in hand, was already halfway up the stairs. With heightened color
and a muttered "Impertinence!" Mrs. Colebrook turned and followed
Susan to the floor above.

A little way down the hall Susan threw open a door.

"I swept, but I didn't have no time to dust," she announced as she put
down the bag. "There's a duster in that little bag there. Don't lock
the door. Somethin' ails it. If you do you'll have to go out the
window down a ladder. There's towels in the top drawer, an' you'll
have to fill the pitcher every day, 'cause there's a crack an' it
leaks, an' you can't put in the water only to where the crack is. Is
there anything more you want?"

"Thank you. If you'll kindly take me to Master Keith's room, that will
be all that I require," answered Mrs. Colebrook frigidly, as she
unpinned her hat and laid that on top of her coat on the bed.

"All right, ma'am. He's a whole lot better. He's been up an' dressed
to-day, but he's gone back to bed now. His room is right down here,
jest across the hall," finished Susan, throwing wide the door.

There was a choking cry, a swift rush of feet, then Mrs. Colebrook, on
her knees, was sobbing at the bedside.

"Oh, Keithie, Keithie, my poor blind boy! What will you do? How will
you ever live? Never to see again, never to see again! Oh, my poor
boy, my poor blind boy!"

Susan, at the door, flung both hands above her head, then plunged down
the stairs.

"Fool! FOOL! FOOL!" she snarled at the biscuits in the oven. "Don't
you know ANYTHING?" Yet the biscuits in the oven were puffing up and
browning beautifully, as the best of biscuits should.

When Susan's strident call for supper rang through the hall, Mrs.
Colebrook was with her brother in the studio. She had been bemoaning
and bewailing the cruel fate that had overtaken "that dear boy," and
had just asked for the seventh time how he could stand it, when from
the hall below came:

     "Supper's ready, supper's ready,
      Hurry up or you'll be late.
      Then you'll sure be cross an' heady,
      If there's nothin' left to ate."

"Daniel, what in the world is the meaning of that?" she interrupted
sharply.

"That? Oh, that is Susan's--er--supper bell," shrugged the man, with a
little uneasy gesture.

"You mean that you've heard it before?--that that is her usual method
of summoning you to your meals?"

"Y-yes, when she's good-natured," returned the man, with a still more
uneasy shifting of his position. "Come, shall we go down?"

"DANIEL! And you stand it?"

"Oh, come, come! You don't understand--conditions here. Besides, I've
tried to stop it."

"TRIED to stop it!"

"Yes. Oh, well, try yourself, if you think it's so easy. I give you my
full and free permission. Try it."

"TRY it! I shan't TRY anything of the sort. I shall STOP it."

"Humph!" shrugged the man. "Oh, very well, then. Suppose we go down."

"But what does that poor little blind boy eat? How can he eat--anything?"

"Why, I--I don't know." The man gave an irritably helpless gesture.
"The nurse--she used to--You'll have to ask Susan. She'll know."

"Susan! That impossible woman! Daniel, how DO you stand her?"

Daniel Burton shrugged his shoulders again. Then suddenly he gave a
short, grim laugh.

"I notice there are some things that have to be stood," he observed,
so exactly in imitation of Susan that it was a pity only Mrs. Nettie
Colebrook's unappreciative ears got the benefit of it.

In the dining-room a disapproving Susan stood by the table.

"I thought you wasn't never comin'. The hash is gettin' cold."

Mrs. Colebrook gasped audibly.

"Yes, yes, I know," murmured Mr. Burton conciliatingly. "But we're
here now, Susan."

"What will Master Keith have for his supper?" questioned Mrs.
Colebrook, lifting her chin a little.

"He's already had his supper, ma'am. I took it up myself."

"What was it?" Mrs. Colebrook asked the question haughtily,
imperiously.

Susan's eyes grew cold like steel.

"It was what he asked for, ma'am, an' he's ate it. Do you want your
tea strong or weak, ma'am?"

Mrs. Colebrook bit her lip.

"I'll not take any tea at all," she said coldly. "And, Susan!"

"Yes, ma'am." Susan turned, her hand on the doorknob.

"Hereafter I will take up Master Keith's meals myself. He is in my
charge now."

There was no reply--in words. But the dining-room door after Susan
shut with a short, crisp snap.

After supper Mrs. Colebrook went out into the kitchen.

"You may prepare oatmeal and dry toast and a glass of milk for Master
Keith to-morrow morning, Susan. I will take them up myself."

"He won't eat 'em. He don't like 'em--not none of them things."

"I think he will if I tell him to. At all events, they are what he
should eat, and you may prepare them as I said."

"Very well, ma'am."

Susan's lips came together in a thin, white line, and Mrs. Colebrook
left the kitchen.

Keith did not eat his toast and oatmeal the next morning, though his
aunt sat on the edge of the bed, called him her poor, afflicted,
darling boy, and attempted to feed him herself with a spoon.

Keith turned his face to the wall and said he didn't want any
breakfast. Whereupon his aunt sighed, and stroked his head; and Keith
hated to have his head stroked, as Susan could have told her.

"Of course, you don't want any breakfast, you poor, sightless lamb,"
she moaned. "And I don't blame you. Oh, Keithie, Keithie, when I see
you lying there like that, with your poor useless eyes--! But you must
eat, dear, you must eat. Now, come, just a weeny, teeny mouthful to
please auntie!"

But Keith turned his face even more determinedly to the wall, and
moved his limbs under the bed clothes in a motion very much like a
kick. He would have nothing whatever to do with the "weeny, teeny
mouthfuls," not even to please auntie. And after a vain attempt to
remove his tortured head, entirely away from those gently stroking
ringers, he said he guessed he would get up and be dressed.

"Oh, Keithie, are you well enough, dear? Are you sure you are strong
enough? I'm sure you must be ill this morning. You haven't eaten a bit
of breakfast. And if anything should happen to you when you were in MY
care--"

"Of course I'm well enough," insisted the boy irritably.

"Then I'll get your clothes, dear, and help you dress, if you will be
careful not to overdo."

"I don't want any help."

"Why, Keithie, you'll HAVE to have some one help you. How do you
suppose your poor blind eyes are going to let you dress yourself all
alone, when you can't see a thing? Why, dear child, you'll have to
have help now about everything you do. Now I'll get your clothes.
Where are they, dear? In this closet?"

"I don't know. I don't want 'em. I--I've decided I don't want to get
up, after all."

"You ARE too tired, then?"

"Yes, I'm too tired." And Keith, with another spasmodic jerk under the
bedclothes, turned his face to the wall again.

"All right, dear, you shan't. That's the better way, I think myself,"
sighed his aunt. "I wouldn't have you overtax yourself for the world.
Now isn't there anything, ANYTHING I can do for you?"

And Keith said no, not a thing, not a single thing. And his face was
still to the wall.

"Then if you're all right, absolutely all right, I'll go out to walk
and get a little fresh air. Now don't move. Don't stir. TRY to go to
sleep if you can. And if you want anything, just ring. I'll put this
little bell right by your hand on the bed; and you must ring if you
want anything, ANYTHING. Then Susan will come and get it for you.
There, the bell's right here. See? Oh, no, no, you CAN'T see!" she
broke off suddenly, with a wailing sob. "Why will I keep talking to
you as if you could?"

"Well, I wish you WOULD talk to me as if I could see," stormed Keith
passionately, sitting upright in bed and flinging out his arms. "I
tell you I don't want to be different! It's because I AM different
that I am so----"

But his aunt, aghast, interrupted him, and pushed him back.

"Oh, Keithie, darling, lie down! You mustn't thrash yourself around
like that," she remonstrated. "Why, you'll make yourself ill. There,
that's better. Now go to sleep. I'm going out before you can talk any
more, and get yourself all worked up again," she finished, hurrying
out of the room with the breakfast tray.

A little later in the kitchen she faced Susan a bit haughtily.

"Master Keith is going to sleep," she said, putting down the breakfast
tray. "I have left a bell within reach of his hand, and he will call
you if he wants anything. I am going out to get a little air."

"All right, ma'am." Susan kept right on with the dish she was drying.

"You are sure you can hear the bell?"

"Oh, yes, my hearin' ain't repaired in the least, ma'am." Susan turned
her back and picked up another dish. Plainly, for Susan, the matter
was closed.

Mrs. Colebrook, after a vexed biting of her lip and a frowning glance
toward Susan's substantial back, shrugged her shoulders and left the
kitchen. A minute later, still hatless, she crossed the yard and
entered the McGuires' side door.

"Take the air, indeed!" muttered Susan, watching from the kitchen
window. "A whole lot of fresh air she'll get in Mis' McGuire's
kitchen!"

With another glance to make sure that Mrs. Nettie Colebrook was safely
behind the McGuires' closed door, Susan crossed the kitchen and lifted
the napkin of the breakfast tray.

"Humph!" she grunted angrily, surveying the almost untouched
breakfast. "I thought as much! But I was ready for you, my lady. Toast
an' oatmeal, indeed!" With another glance over her shoulder at the
McGuire side door Susan strode to the stove and took from the oven a
plate of crisply browned hash and a hot corn muffin. Two minutes
later, with a wonderfully appetizing-looking tray, she tapped at
Keith's door and entered the room.

"Here's your breakfast, boy," she announced cheerily.

"I didn't want any breakfast," came crossly from the bed.

"Of course you didn't want THAT breakfast," scoffed Susan airily; "but
you just look an' see what I'VE brought you!"

Look and see! Susan's dismayed face showed that she fully realized
what she had said, and that she dreaded beyond words its effect on the
blind boy in the bed.

She hesitated, and almost dropped the tray in her consternation. But
the boy turned with a sudden eagerness that put to rout her dismay,
and sent a glow of dazed wonder to her face instead.

"What HAVE you got? Let me see." He was sitting up now.
"Hash--and--johnny-cake!" he crowed, as she set the tray before him,
and he dropped his fingers lightly on the contents of the tray. "And
don't they smell good! I don't know--I guess I am hungry, after all."

"Of course you're hungry!" Susan's voice was harsh, and she was
fiercely brushing back the tears. "Now, eat it quick, or I'll be sick!
Jest think what'll happen to Susan if that blessed aunt of yours comes
an' finds me feedin' you red-flannel hash an' johnny-cake! Now I'll be
up in ten minutes for the tray. See that you eat it up--every scrap,"
she admonished him, as she left the room.

Susan had found by experience that Keith ate much better when alone.
She was not surprised, therefore, though she was very much pleased--at
sight of the empty plates awaiting her when she went up for the tray
at the end of the ten minutes.

"An' now what do you say to gettin' up?" she suggested cheerily,
picking up the tray from the bed and setting it on the table.

"Can I dress myself?"

"Of course you can! What'll you bet you won't do it five minutes
quicker this time, too? I'll get your clothes."

Halfway back across the room, clothes in hand, she was brought to a
sudden halt by a peremptory: "What in the world is the meaning of
this?" It was Mrs. Nettie Colebrook in the doorway.

"I'm gettin' Keith's clothes. He's goin' to get up."

"But MASTER Keith said he did not wish to get up."

"Changed his mind, maybe." The terseness of Susan's reply and the
expression on her face showed that the emphasis on the "Master" was
not lost upon her.

"Very well, then, that will do. You may go. I will help him dress."

"I don't want any help," declared Keith.

"Why, Keithie, darling, of course you want help! You forget, dear, you
can't see now, and--"

"Oh, no, I don't forget," cut in Keith bitterly. "You don't let me
forget a minute--not a minute. I don't want to get up now, anyhow.
What's the use of gettin' up? I can't DO anything!" And he fell back
to his old position, with his face to the wall.

"There, there, dear, you are ill and overwrought," cried Mrs.
Colebrook, hastening to the bedside. "It is just as I said, you are
not fit to get up." Then, to Susan, sharply: "You may put Master
Keith's clothes back in the closet. He will not need them to-day."

"No, ma'am, I don't think he will need them--now." Susan's eyes
flashed ominously. But she hung the clothes back in the closet, picked
up the tray, and left the room.

Susan's eyes flashed ominously, indeed, all the rest of the morning,
while she was about her work; and at noon, when she gave the call to
dinner, there was a curious metallic incisiveness in her voice, which
made the call more strident than usual.

It was when Mrs. Colebrook went into the kitchen after dinner for
Keith's tray that she said coldly to Susan:

"Susan, I don't like that absurd doggerel of yours."

"Doggerel?" Plainly Susan was genuinely ignorant of what she meant.

"Yes, that extraordinary dinner call of yours. As I said before, I
don't like it."

There was a moment's dead silence. The first angry flash in Susan's
eyes was followed by a demure smile.

"Don't you? Why, I thought it was real cute, now."

"Well, I don't. You'll kindly not use it any more, Susan," replied
Mrs. Colebrook, with dignity.

Once again there was the briefest of silences, then quietly came
Susan's answer:

"Oh, no, of course not, ma'am. I won't--when I work for you. There,
Mis' Colebrook, here's your tray all ready."

And Mrs. Colebrook, without knowing exactly how it happened, found
herself out in the hall with the tray in her hands.



CHAPTER IX

SUSAN SPEAKS HER MIND


"How's Keith?"

It was Monday morning, and as usual Mrs. McGuire, seeing Susan in the
clothes-yard, had come out, ostensibly to hang out her own clothes, in
reality to visit with Susan while she was hanging out hers.

"About as usual." Susan snapped out the words and a pillow-case with
equal vehemence.

"Is he up an' dressed?"

"I don't know. I hain't seen him this mornin'--but it's safe to say he
ain't."

"But I thought he was well enough to be up an' dressed right along
now."

"He is WELL ENOUGH--or, rather he WAS." Susan snapped open another
pillow-case and hung it on the line with spiteful jabs of two
clothespins.

"Why, Susan, is he worse? You didn't say he was any worse. You said he
was about as usual."

"Well, so he is. That's about as usual. Look a-here, Mis' McGuire,"
flared Susan, turning with fierce suddenness, "wouldn't YOU be worse
if you wasn't allowed to do as much as lift your own hand to your own
head?"

"Why, Susan, what do you mean? What are you talkin' about?"

"I'm talkin' about Keith Burton an' Mis' Nettie Colebrook. I've GOT to
talk about 'em to somebody. I'm that full I shall sunburst if I don't.
She won't let him do a thing for himself--not a thing, that woman
won't!"

"But how can he do anything for himself, with his poor sightless
eyes?" demanded Mrs. McGuire. "I don't think I should complain, Susan
Betts, because that poor boy's got somebody at last to take proper
care of him."

"But it AIN'T takin' proper care of him, not to let him do things for
himself," stormed Susan hotly. "How's he ever goin' to 'mount to
anything--that's what I want to know--if he don't get a chance to
begin to 'mount? All them fellers--them fellers that was blind an'
wrote books an' give lecturin's an' made things--perfectly wonderful
things with their hands--how much do you s'pose they would have done
if they'd had a woman 'round who said, 'Here, let me do it; oh, you
mustn't do that, Keithie, dear!' every time they lifted a hand to
brush away a hair that was ticklin' their nose?"

"Oh, Susan!"

"Well, it's so. Look a-here, listen!" Susan dropped all pretense of
work now, and came close to the fence. She was obviously very much in
earnest. "That boy hain't been dressed but twice since that woman came
a week ago. She won't let him dress himself alone an' now he don't
want to be dressed. Says he's too tired. An' she says, 'Of course,
you're too tired, Keithie, dear!' An' there he lies, day in an' day
out, with his poor sightless eyes turned to the wall. He won't eat a
thing hardly, except what I snuggle up when she's out airin' herself.
He ain't keen on bein' fed with a spoon like a baby. No boy with any
spunk would be."

"But can he feed himself?"

"Of course he can--if he gets a chance! But that ain't all. He don't
want to be told all the time that he's different from other folks. He
can't forget that he's blind, of course, but he wants you to act as if
you forgot it. I know. I've seen him. But she don't forget it a
minute--not a minute. She's always cryin' an' wringin' her hands, an'
sighin', 'Oh, Keithie, Keithie, my poor boy, my poor blind boy!' till
it's enough to make a saint say, 'Gosh!'"

"Well, that's only showin' sympathy, Susan," defended Mrs. McGuire.
"I'm sure she ought not to be blamed for that."

"He don't want sympathy--or, if he does, he hadn't ought to have it."

"Why, Susan Betts, I'm ashamed of you--grudgin' that poor blind boy
the comfort of a little sympathy! My John said yesterday--"

"'T ain't sympathy he needs. Sympathy's a nice, soft little paw that
pats him to sleep. What he needs is a good sharp scratch that will
make him get up an' do somethin'."

"Susan, how can you talk like that?"

"'Cause somebody's got to." Susan's voice was shaking now. Her hands
were clenched so tightly on the fence pickets that the knuckles showed
white with the strain. "Mis' McGuire, there's a chance, maybe, that
that boy can see. There's somethin' they can do to his eyes, if he
gets strong enough to have it done."

"Really? To see again?"

"Maybe. There's a chance. They ain't sure. But they can't even TRY
till he gets well an' strong. An' how's he goin' to get well an'
strong lyin' on that bed, face to the wall? That's what I want to
know!"

"Hm-m, I see," nodded Mrs. McGuire soberly. Then, with a sidewise
glance into Susan's face, she added: "But ain't that likely to
cost--some money?"

"Yes, 't is." Susan went back to her work abruptly. With stern
efficiency she shook out a heavy sheet and hung it up. Stooping, she
picked up another one. But she did not shake out this. With the same
curious abruptness that had characterized her movements a few moments
before, she dropped the sheet back into the basket and came close to
the fence again. "Mis' McGuire, won't you please let me take a copy of
them two women's magazines that you take? That is, they--they do print
poetry, don't they?"

"Why, y-yes, Susan, I guess they do. Thinkin' of sendin' 'em some of
yours?" The question was asked in a derision that was entirely lost on
Susan.

"Yes, to get some money." It was the breathless, palpitating Susan
that Daniel Burton had seen a week ago, and like Daniel Burton on that
occasion, Mrs. McGuire went down now in defeat before it.

"To--to get some money?" she stammered.

"Yes--for Keith's eyes, you know," panted Susan. "An' when I sell
these, I'm goin' to write more--lots more. Only I've got to find a
place, first, of course, to sell 'em. An' I did send 'em off last
week. But they was jest cheap magazines; an' they sent a letter all
printed sayin' as how they regretted very much they couldn't accept
'em. Like enough they didn't have money enough to pay much for 'em,
anyway; but of course they didn't say that right out in so many words.
But, as I said, they wasn't anything but cheap magazines, anyway.
That's why I want yours, jest to get the addressin's of, I mean.
THEY'RE first-class magazines, an' they'll pay me a good price, I'm
sure. They'll have to, to get 'em! Why, Mis' McGuire, I've got to have
the money. There ain't nobody but me TO get it. An' you don't s'pose
we're goin' to let that boy stay blind all his life, do you, jest for
the want of a little money?"

'"A little money'! It'll cost a lot of money, an' you know it, Susan
Betts," cried Mrs. McGuire, stirred into sudden speech. "An' the idea
of you tryin' to EARN it writin' poetry. For that matter, the idea of
your earnin' it, anyway, even if you took your wages."

"Oh, I'd take my wages in a minute, if--" Susan stopped short. Her
face had grown suddenly red. "That is, I--I think I'd rather take the
poetry money, anyway," she finished lamely.

But Mrs. McGuire was not to be so easily deceived.

"Poetry money, indeed!" she scoffed sternly. "Susan Betts, do you know
what I believe? I believe you don't GET any wages. I don't believe
that man pays you a red cent from one week's end to the other. Now
does he? You don't dare to answer!"

Susan drew herself up haughtily. But her face was still very red.

"Certainly I dare to answer, Mis' McGuire, but I don't care to. What
Mr. Burton pays me discerns him an' me an' I don't care to discourse
it in public. If you'll kindly lend me them magazines I asked you for
a minute ago, I'll be very much obliged, an' I'll try to retaliate in
the same way for you some time, if I have anything you want."

"Oh, good lan', Susan Betts, if you ain't the beat of 'em!" ejaculated
Mrs. McGuire. "I'd like to shake you--though you don't deserve a
shakin', I'll admit. You deserve--well, never mind. I'll get the
magazines right away. That's the most I CAN do for you, I s'pose," she
flung over her shoulder, as she hurried into the house.



CHAPTER X

AND NETTIE COLEBROOK SPEAKS HERS


Mrs. Colebrook had been a member of the Burton household a day less
than two weeks when she confronted her brother in the studio with this
terse statement:

"Daniel, either Susan or I leave this house tomorrow morning. You can
choose between us."

"Nonsense, Nettie, don't be a fool," frowned the man. "You know very
well that we need both you and Susan. Susan's a trial, I'll admit, in
a good many ways; but I'll wager you'd find it more of a trial to get
along without her, and try to do her work and yours, too."

"Nobody thought of getting along without SOMEBODY," returned Mrs.
Colebrook, with some dignity. "I merely am asking you to dismiss Susan
and hire somebody else--that is, of course, if you wish me to stay.
Change maids, that's all."

The man made an impatient gesture.

"All, indeed! Very simple, the way you put it. But--see here, Nettie,
this thing you ask is utterly out of the question. You don't
understand matters at all."

"You mean that you don't intend to dismiss Susan?"

"Yes, if you will have it put that way--just that."

"Very well. Since that is your decision I shall have to govern myself
accordingly, of course. I will see you in the morning to say good-bye."
And she turned coldly away.

"What do you mean by that?"

"Why, that I am going home, of course--since you think more of having
that impossible, outrageously impertinent servant girl here than you
do me." Mrs. Colebrook was nearing the door how.

"Shucks! You know better than that! Come, come, if you're having any
trouble with Susan, settle it with the girl herself, won't you? Don't
come to me with it. You KNOW how I dislike anything like this."

At the door Mrs. Colebrook turned back suddenly with aggressive
determination.

"Yes, I do know. You dislike anything that's disagreeable. You always
have, from the time when you used to run upstairs to the attic and let
us make all the explanations to pa and ma when something got lost or
broken. But, see here, Daniel Burton, you've GOT to pay attention to
this. It's your son, and your house, and your maid. And you shall
listen to me."

"Well, well, all right, go ahead," sighed the man despairingly,
throwing himself back in his chair. "What is the trouble? What is it
that Susan does that annoys you so?"

"What does she do? What doesn't she do?" retorted Mrs. Colebrook,
dropping herself wearily into a chair facing her brother. "In the
first place, she's the most wretchedly impertinent creature I ever
dreamed of. It's always 'Keith' instead of 'Master Keith,' and I
expect every day it'll be 'Daniel' and 'Nettie' for you and me. She
shows no sort of respect or deference in her manner or language,
and--well, what are you looking like that for?" she interrupted
herself aggrievedly.

"I was only thinking--or rather I was TRYING to think of Susan--and
deference," murmured the man dryly.

"Yes, that's exactly it," Mrs. Colebrook reproved him severely.
"You're laughing. You've always laughed, I suspect, at her outrageous
behavior, and that's why she's so impossible in every way. Why, Daniel
Burton, I've actually heard her refuse--REFUSE to serve you with
something to eat that you'd ordered."

"Oh, well, well, what if she has? Very likely there was something we
had to eat up instead, to keep it from spoiling. Susan is very
economical, Nettie."

"I dare say--at times, when it suits her to be so, especially if she
can assert her authority over you. Why, Daniel, she's a perfect tyrant
to you, and you know it. She not only tells you what to eat, but what
to wear, and when to wear it--your socks, your underclothes. Why,
Daniel, she actually bosses you!"

"Yes, yes; well, never mind," shrugged the man, a bit irritably.
"We're talking about how she annoys YOU, not me, remember."

"Well, don't you suppose it annoys me to see my own brother so
completely under the sway of this serving-maid? And such a maid!
Daniel, will you tell me where she gets those long words of hers that
she mixes up so absurdly?"

Daniel Burton laughed.

"Susan lived with Professor Hinkley for ten years before she came to
me. The Hinkleys never used words of one or two syllables when they
could find one of five or six that would do just as well. Susan loves
long words."

"So I should judge. And those ridiculous rhymes of hers--did she learn
those, also, from Professor Hinkley?" queried Mrs. Colebrook. "And as
for that atrocious dinner-call of hers, it's a disgrace to any
family--a positive disgrace!"

"Well, well, why don't you stop her doing it, then?" demanded Daniel
Burton, still more irritably. "Go to HER, not me. Tell her not to."

"I have."

The tone of her voice was so fraught with meaning that the man looked
up sharply.

"Well?"

"She said she wouldn't do it--when she worked for me."

Daniel Burton gave a sudden chuckle.

"I can imagine just how she'd say that," he murmured appreciatively.

"Daniel Burton, are you actually going to abet that girl in her
wretched impertinence?" demanded Mrs. Colebrook angrily. "I tell you I
will not stand it! Something has got to be done. Why, she even tries
to interfere with the way I take care of your son--presumes to give me
counsel and advice on the subject, if you please. Dares to criticize
me--ME! Daniel Burton, I tell you I will not stand it. You MUST give
that woman her walking papers. Why, Daniel, I shall begin to think she
has hypnotized you--that you're actually afraid of her!"

Was it the scorn in her voice? Or was it that Daniel Burton's
endurance had snapped at this last straw? Whatever it was, the man
leaped to his feet, threw back his shoulders, and thrust his hands
into his pockets.

"Nettie, look here. Once for all let us settle this matter. I tell you
I cannot dismiss Susan; and I mean what I say when I use the words
'can not.' I literally CAN NOT. To begin with, she's the kindest-hearted
creature in the world, and she's been devotion itself all
these years since--since Keith and I have been alone. But even if I
could set that aside, there's something else I can't overlook. I--I
owe Susan considerable money."

"You owe her--MONEY?"

"Yes, her wages. She has not had them for some time. I must owe her
something like fifty or sixty dollars. You see, we--we have had some
very unusual and very heavy expenses, and I have overdrawn my
annuity--borrowed on it. Susan knew this and insisted on my letting
her wages go on, for the present. More than that, she has refused a
better position with higher wages--I know that. The pictures I had
hoped to sell--"He stopped, tried to go on, failed obviously to
control his voice; then turned away with a gesture more eloquent than
any words could have been.

Mrs. Colebrook stared, frowned, and bit her lip. Nervously she tapped
her foot on the floor as she watched with annoyed eyes her brother
tramping up and down, up and down, the long, narrow room. Then
suddenly her face cleared.

"Oh, well, that's easily remedied, after all." She sprang to her feet
and hurried from the room. Almost immediately she was back--a roll of
bills in her hand. "There, I thought I had enough money to do it," she
announced briskly as she came in. "Now, Daniel, I'LL pay Susan her
back wages."

"Indeed you will not!" The man wheeled sharply, an angry red staining
his cheeks.

"Oh, but Daniel, don't you see?--that'll simplify everything. She'll
be working for ME, then, and I--"

"But I tell you I won't have--" interrupted the man, then stopped
short. Susan herself stood in the doorway.

"I guess likely you was talkin' so loud you didn't hear me call you to
dinner," she was saying. "I've called you two times already. If you
want anything fit to eat you'd better come quick. It ain't gettin' any
fitter, waitin'."

"Susan!" Before Susan could turn away, Mrs. Colebrook detained her
peremptorily." Mr. Burton tells me that he owes you for past wages.
Now--"

"NETTIE!" warned the man sharply.

But with a blithe "Nonsense, Daniel, let me manage this!" Mrs.
Colebrook turned again to Susan. The man, not unlike the little Daniel
of long ago who fled to the attic, shrugged his shoulders with a
gesture of utter irresponsibility, turned his back and walked to the
farther side of the room.

"Susan," began Mrs. Colebrook again, still blithely, but with just a
shade of haughtiness, "my brother tells me your wages are past due;
that he owes you at least fifty dollars. Now I'm going to pay them for
him, Susan. In fact, I'm going to pay you sixty dollars, so as to be
sure to cover it. Will that be quite satisfactory?"

Susan stared frankly.

"You mean ME--take money from you, ma'am,--to pay my back wages?" she
asked.

"Yes."

"But--" Susan paused and threw a quick glance toward the broad back of
the man at the end of the room. Then she turned resolutely to Mrs.
Colebrook, her chin a little higher than usual. "Oh, no, thank you. I
ain't needin' the money, Mis' Colebrook, an' I'd ruther wait for Mr.
Burton, anyway," she finished cheerfully, as she turned to go.

"Nonsense, Susan, of COURSE you need the money. Everybody can make use
of a little money, I guess. Surely, there's SOMETHING you want."

With her hand almost on the doorknob Susan suddenly whisked about, her
face alight.

"Oh, yes, yes, I forgot, Mis' Colebrook," she cried eagerly. "There is
somethin' I want; an' I'll take it, please, an' thank you kindly."

"There, that's better," nodded Mrs. Colebrook. "And I've got it right
here, so you see you don't have to wait, even a minute," she smiled,
holding out the roll of bills.

Still with the eager light on her face, Susan reached for the money.

"Thank you, oh, thank you! An' it will go quite a ways, won't it?--for
Keith, I mean. The--" But with sudden sharpness Mrs. Colebrook
interrupted her.

"Susan, how many times have I told you to speak of my nephew as
'Master Keith'? Furthermore, I shall have to remind you once more that
you are trying to interfere altogether too much in his care. In fact,
Susan, I may as well speak plainly. For some time past you have failed
to give satisfaction. You are paid in full now, I believe, with some
to spare, perhaps. You may work the week out. After that we shall no
longer require your services."

The man at the end of the room wheeled sharply and half started to
come forward. Then, with his habitual helpless gesture, he turned back
to his old position.

Susan, her face eloquent with amazed unbelief, turned from one to the
other.

"You mean--you don't mean--Mis' Colebrook, be you tryin' to--dismissal
me?"

Mrs. Colebrook flushed and bit her lip.

"I am dismissing you--yes."

Once more Susan, in dazed unbelief, looked from one to the other. Her
eyes dwelt longest on the figure of the man at the end of the room.

"Mr. Burton, do you want me to go?" she asked at last.

The man turned irritably, with a shrug, and a swift outflinging of his
hands.

"Of course, I don't want you to go, Susan. But what can I do? I have
no money to pay you, as you know very well. I have no right to keep
you--of course--I should advise you to go." And he turned away again.

Susan's face cleared.

"Pooh! Oh, that's all right then," she answered pleasantly. "Mis'
Colebrook, I'm sorry to be troublin' you, but I shall have to give
back that 'ere notice. I ain't goin'."

Once again Mrs. Colebrook flushed and bit her lip.

"That will do, Susan. You forget. You're not working for Mr. Burton
now. You're working for me."

"For YOU?"

"Certainly. Didn't I just pay you your wages for some weeks past?"

Susan's tight clutch on the roll of bills loosened so abruptly that
the money fell to the floor. But at once Susan stooped and picked it
up. The next moment she had crossed the room and thrust the money into
Mrs. Colebrook's astonished fingers.

"I don't want your money, Mis' Colebrook--not on them terms, even for
Keith. I know I hain't earned any the other way, yet, but I hain't
tried all the magazines. There's more--lots more." Her voice faltered,
and almost broke. "I'll do it yet some way, you see if I don't. But I
won't take this. Why, Mis' Colebrook, do you think I'd leave NOW, with
that poor boy blind, an' his father so wrought up he don't have even
his extraordinary common sense about his flannels an' socks an' what
to eat, an' no money to pay the bills with, either? An' him bein'
pestered the life out of him with them intermittent, dunnin' grocers
an' milkmen? Well, I guess not! You couldn't hire me to go, Mis'
Colebrook."

"Daniel, are you going to stand there and permit me to be talked to
like this?" appealed Mrs. Colebrook.

"What can I do?" (Was there a ghost of a twinkle in Daniel Burton's
eyes as he turned with a shrug and a lift of his eyebrows?) "If YOU
haven't the money to hire her--" But Mrs. Colebrook, with an indignant
toss of her head, had left the room.

"Mr. Burton!" Before the man could speak Susan had the floor again.
"Can't you do somethin', sir? Can't you?"

"Do something, Susan?" frowned the man.

"Yes, with your sister," urged Susan. "I don't mean because she's so
haughty an' impious. I can stand that. It's about Keith I'm talkin'
about. Mr. Burton, Keith won't never get well, never, so's he can have
that operator on his eyes, unless he takes some exercise an' gets his
strength back. The nurse an' the doctor--they both said he wouldn't."

"Yes, yes, I know, Susan," fumed the man impatiently, beginning to
pace up and down the room. "And that's just what we're trying to
do--get his strength back."

"But he ain't--he won't--he can't," choked Susan feverishly. "Mr.
Burton, I KNOW you don't want to talk about it, but you've got to. I'm
all Keith's got to look out for him." The father of Keith gave an
inarticulate gasp, but Susan plunged on unheeding. "An' he'll never
get well if he ain't let to get up an' stand an' walk an' eat an' sit
down himself. But Mis' Colebrook won't let him. She won't let him do
anything. She keeps sayin', 'Don't do it, oh, don't do it,' all the
time,--when she ought to say, 'Do it, do it, do it!' Mr. Burton,
cryin' an' wringin' your hands an' moanin', 'Oh, Keithie, darling!'
won't make a boy grow red blood an' make you feel so fine you want to
knock a man down! Mr. Burton, I want you to tell that woman to let me
take care of that boy for jest one week--ONE WEEK, an' her not to come
near him with her snivelin' an'--"

But Daniel Burton, with two hands upflung, and a head that ducked as
if before an oncoming blow, had rushed from the room. For the second
time that day Daniel Burton had fled--to the attic.



CHAPTER XI

NOT PATS BUT SCRATCHES


Mrs. Colebrook went home the next day. She wore the air of an injured
martyr at breakfast. She told her brother that, of course, if he
preferred to have an ignorant servant girl take care of his poor
afflicted son, she had nothing to say; but that certainly he could not
expect HER to stay, too, especially after being insulted as she had
been.

Daniel Burton had remonstrated feebly, shrugged his shoulders and
flung his arms about in his usual gestures of impotent annoyance.

Susan, in the kitchen, went doggedly about her work, singing,
meanwhile, what Keith called her "mad" song. When Susan was
particularly "worked up" over something, "jest b'ilin' inside" as she
expressed it, she always sang this song--her own composition, to the
tune of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home":

     "I've taken my worries, an' taken my woes,
      I have, I have,
      An' shut 'em up where nobody knows,
      I have, I have.
      I chucked 'em down, that's what I did,
      An' now I'm sittin' upon the lid,
      An' we'll all feel gay when Johnny comes marchin' home.
      I'm sittin' upon the lid, I am,
      Hurrah! Hurrah!

      I'm tryin' to be a little lamb,
      Hurrah! Hurrah!
      But I'm feelin' more like a great big slam
      Than a nice little peaceful woolly lamb,
      But we'll all feel gay when Johnny comes marchin' home."

When Daniel Burton, this morning, therefore, heard Susan singing this
song, he was in no doubt as to Susan's state of mind--a fact which
certainly did not add to his own serenity.

Upstairs, Keith, wearily indifferent as to everything that was taking
place about him, lay motionless as usual, his face turned toward the
wall.

And at ten o'clock Mrs. Colebrook went. Five minutes later Daniel
Burton entered the kitchen--a proceeding so extraordinary that Susan
broke off her song in the middle of a "Hurrah" and grew actually pale.

"What is it?--KEITH? Is anything the matter with Keith?" she faltered.

Ignoring her question the man strode into the room.

"Well, Susan, this time you've done it," he ejaculated tersely.

"Done it--to Keith--ME? Why, Mr. Burton, what do you mean? Is
Keith--worse?" chattered Susan, with dry lips. "It was only a little
hash I took up. He simply won't eat that oatmeal stuff, an'--"

"No, no, I don't mean the hash," interrupted the man irritably. "Keith
is all right--that is, he is just as he has been. It's my sister, Mrs.
Colebrook. She's gone."

"Gone--for good?"

"Yes, she's gone home."

"Glory be!" The color came back to Susan's face in a flood, and frank
delight chased the terror from her eyes. "Now we can do somethin'
worthwhile."

"I reckon you'll find you have to do something, Susan. You know very
well I can't afford to hire a nurse--now."

"I don't want one."

"But there's all the other work, too."

"Work! Why, Mr. Burton, I won't mind a little work if I can have that
blessed boy all to myself with no one to feed him oatmeal mush with a
spoon, an' snivel over him. You jest wait. The first elemental thing
is to learn him self-defiance, so he can do things for himself. Then
he'll begin to get his health an' strength for the operator."

"You're forgetting the money, Susan. It costs money for that."

Susan's face fell.

"Yes, sir, I know." She hesitated, then went on, her color deepening.
"An' I hain't sold--none o' them poems yet. But there's other
magazines, a whole lot of 'em, that I hain't tried. Somebody's sure to
take 'em some time."

"I'm glad your courage is still good, Susan; but I'm afraid the dear
public is going to appreciate your poems about the way it does--my
pictures," shrugged the man bitterly, as he turned and left the room.

Not waiting to finish setting her kitchen in order, Susan ran up the
back stairs to Keith's room.

     "Well, your aunt is gone, an' I'm on,
      An' here we are together.
      We'll chuck our worries into pawn,
      An' how do you like the weather?"

she greeted him gayly. "How about gettin' up? Come on! Such a lazy
boy! Here it is away in the middle of the forenoon, an' you abed like
this!"

But it was not to be so easy this time. Keith was not to be cajoled
into getting up and dressing himself even to beat Susan's record.
Steadfastly he resisted all efforts to stir him into interest or
action; and a dismayed, disappointed Susan had to go downstairs in
acknowledged defeat.

"But, land's sake, what could you expect?" she muttered to herself,
after a sorrowful meditation before the kitchen fire. "You can't put a
backbone into a jellyfish by jest showin' him the bone--an' that's
what his aunt has made him--a flappy, transparallel jellyfish. Drat
her! But I ain't goin' to give up. Not much I ain't!" And Susan
attacked the little kitchen stove with a vigor that would have brought
terror to the clinkers of a furnace fire pot.

Susan did not attempt again that day to get Keith up and dressed; and
she gave him his favorite "pop-overs" for supper with a running fire
of merry talk and jingles that contained never a reference to the
unpleasant habit of putting on clothes, But the next morning, after
she had given Keith his breakfast (not of toast and oatmeal) she
suggested blithely that he get up and be dressed. When he refused she
tried coaxing, mildly, then more strenuously. When this failed she
tried to sting his pride by telling him she did not believe he could
get up now, anyhow, and dress himself.

"All right, Susan, let it go that I can't. I don't want to, anyhow,"
sighed the boy with impatient weariness. "Say, can't you let a fellow
alone?"

Susan drew a long breath and held it suspended for a moment. She had
the air of one about to make a dreaded plunge.

"No, I can't let you alone, Keith," she replied, voice and manner now
coldly firm.

"Why not? What's the use when I don't want to get up?"

"How about thinkin' for once what somebody else wants, young man?"
Susan caught her breath again, and glanced furtively at the
half-averted face on the pillow. Then doggedly she went on. "Maybe you
think I hain't got anything to do but trespass up an' down them stairs
all day waitin' on you, when you are perfectly capacious of waitin' on
yourself SOME."

"Why, SUSAN!" There was incredulous, hurt amazement in the boy's
voice; but Susan was visibly steeling herself against it.

"What do you think?--that I'm loafin' all day, an' your aunt gone now,
an' me with it all on my hands?" she demanded, her stony gaze
carefully turned away from the white face on the pillow. "An' to have
to keep runnin' up here all the mornin' when I've got to do the
dishes, an' bake bread, an' make soap, an'--"

"If you'll get my clothes, Susan, I'll get up," said Keith very
quietly from the bed.

And Susan, not daring to unclose her lips, wrested the garments from
the hooks, dropped them on to the chair by the bed, and fled from the
room. But she had not reached the hall below when the sobs shook her
frame.

"An' me talkin' like that when I'd be willin' to walk all day on my
hands an' knees, if't would help him one little minute," she choked.

Barely had Susan whipped herself into presentable shape again when
Keith's voice at the kitchen door caused her to face about with a
startled cry.

"I'm downstairs, Susan." The boy's voice challenged hers for coldness
now. "I'll take my meals down here, after this."

"Why, Keith, however in the world did you--" Then Susan pulled herself
up. "Good boy, Keith! That WILL make it lots easier," she said
cheerfully, impersonally, turning away and making a great clatter of
pans in the sink.

But later, at least once every half-hour through that long forenoon,
Susan crept softly through the side hall to the half-open living-room
door, where she could watch Keith. She watched him get up and move
slowly along the side of the room, picking his way. She watched him
pause and move hesitating fingers down the backs of the chairs that he
encountered. But when she saw him stop and finger the books on the
little table by the window, she crept back to her kitchen--and rattled
still more loudly the pots and pans in the sink.

Just before the noon meal Keith appeared once more at the kitchen
door.

"Susan, would it bother you very much if I ate out here--with you?" he
asked.

"With me? Nonsense! You'll eat in the dinin'-room with your dad, of
course. Why, what would he say to your eatin' out here with me?"

"That's just it. It's dad. He'd like it, I'm sure," insisted the boy
feverishly. "You know sometimes I--I don't get any food on my fork,
when I eat, an' I have to--to feel for things, an' it--it must be
disagreeable to see me. An' you know he never liked disagreeable--"

"Now, Keith Burton, you stop right where you are," interrupted Susan
harshly. "You're goin' to eat with your father where you belong. An'
do you now run back to the settin'-room. I've got my dinner to get."

Keith had not disappeared down the hall, however, before Susan was
halfway up the back stairs. A moment later she was in the studio.

"Daniel Burton, you're goin' to have company to dinner," she panted.

"Company?"

"Yes. Your son." "KEITH?"  The man drew back perceptibly.

"There, now, Daniel Burton, don't you go to scowlin' an' lookin' for a
place to run, just because you hate to see him feel 'round for what he
eats."

"But, Susan, it breaks my heart," moaned the man, turning quite away.

"What if it does? Ain't his broke, too? Can't you think of him a
little? Let me tell you this, Daniel Burton--that boy has more
consolation for your feelin's than you have for his, every time.
Didn't he jest come to me an' beg to eat with me, 'cause his dad
didn't like to see disagreeable things, an'--"

The man wheeled sharply.

"Did Keith--do that?"

"He did, jest now, sir."

"All right, Susan. I--I don't think you'll have to say--any more."

And Susan, after a sharp glance into the man's half-averted face, said
no more. A moment later she had left the room.

At dinner that day, with red eyes but a vivacious manner, she waited
on a man who incessantly talked of nothing in particular, and a boy
who sat white-faced and silent, eating almost nothing.



CHAPTER XII

CALLERS FOR "KEITHIE"


And so inch by inch Susan fought her way, and inch by inch she gained
ground. Sometimes it was by coaxing, sometimes by scolding; perhaps
most often by taunts and dares, and shrewd appeals to Keith's pride.
But by whatever it was, each day saw some stride forward, some new
victory that Keith had won over his blindness, until by the end of the
week the boy could move about the house and wait upon himself with a
facility almost unbelievable when one remembered his listless
helplessness of a week before.

Then one day there entered into the case a brand-new element, a dainty
element in white muslin and fluttering blue ribbons--Mazie Sanborn and
Dorothy Parkman.

"We heard Keithie was lots better and up and dressed now," chirped
Mazie, when Susan answered her ring; "and so we've brought him some
flowers. Please can't we see him?"

Susan hesitated. Susan had not forgotten Keith's feverish retreat from
Mazie's greeting called up to the veranda the month before. But then,
for that matter, had he not retreated from everything until she
determinedly took him in hand? And he must some time begin to mingle
with the world outside the four walls of his house!

Why not now? What better chance could she hope to have for him to
begin than this? Where could she find two more charmingly alluring
ambassadors of that outside world than right here on the door-step
now?

Susan's lips snapped together with a little defiant nod of her head,
then parted in a cordial smile.

"Sure, you may see him," she cried, "an' it's glad that I am to have
you come! It'll do him good. Come in, come in!" And with only a
heightened color to show her trepidation as to the reception that
might be accorded her charges, she threw open the sitting-room door.
"Well, Keith, here's company come on purpose to see you. An' they've
brought you some flowers," she announced gayly.

"No, no, Susan, I--I don't want to see them," stammered the boy. He
had leaped to his feet, a painful red flooding his face.

"Well, I like that!" bridled Mazie, with playful indignation; "and
when Dorothy and I have taken all this trouble to come and--"

"Is Dorothy here, too?" interrupted the boy sharply.

"Yes, Keith I am--here." Dorothy was almost crying, and her voice
sounded harsh and unnatural.

"And we brought you these," interposed Mazie brightly, crossing the
room to his side and holding out the flowers. Then, with a little
embarrassed laugh, as he did not take them, she thrust them into his
fingers. "Oh, I forgot. You can't see them, can you?"

"Mazie!" remonstrated the half-smothered voice of Dorothy.

But it was Susan who came promptly to the rescue.

"Yes, an' ain't they pretty?" she cried, taking them from Keith's
unresisting fingers. "Here, let me put 'em in water, an' you two sit
down. I always did love coronation pinks," she declared briskly, as
she left the room.

She was not gone long. Very quickly she came back, with the flowers in
a vase. Keith had dropped back into his chair; but he was plainly so
unwilling a host that Susan evidently thought best to assist him. She
set the vase on a little stand near Keith's chair, then dropped
herself on to the huge haircloth sofa near by.

"My, but I don't mind settin' myself awhile," she smiled. "Guess I'm
tired."

"I should think you would be." Mazie, grown suddenly a bit stiff and
stilted, was obviously trying to be very polite and "grown up." "There
must be an awful lot to do here. Mother says she don't see how you
stand it."

"Pooh! Not so very much!" scoffed Susan, instantly on her guard.
"Keith here's gettin' so smart he won't let me do anything hardly for
him now."

"Oh, but there must be a lot of things," began Mazie, "that he can't
do, and--"

"Er--what a lovely big, sunny room," interrupted Dorothy hastily, so
hastily that Susan threw a sharp glance into her face to see if she
were really interrupting Mazie for a purpose. "I love big rooms."

"Yes, so do I," chimed in Mazie. "And I always wanted to see the
inside of this house, too."

"What for?" Keith's curiosity got the better of his vexed reticence,
and forced the question from his lips.

"Oh, just 'cause I've heard folks say 'twas so wonderful--old, you
know, and full of rare old things, and there wasn't another for miles
around like it. But I don't see--That is," she corrected herself,
stumbling a little, "you probably don't keep them in this room,
anyway."

"Why, they do, too," interfered Dorothy, with suddenly pink cheeks.
"This room is just full of the loveliest kind of old things, just like
the things father is always getting--only nicer. Now that, right there
in the corner, all full of drawers--We've got one almost just exactly
like that out home, and father just dotes on it. That IS a--a highboy,
isn't it?" she appealed to Susan. "And it is very old, isn't it?"

"A highboy? Old? Lan' sakes, child," laughed Susan. "Maybe 'tis. I
ain't sayin' 'tisn't, though I'm free to confess I never heard it
called that. But it's old enough, if that's all it needs; it's old
enough to be a highMAN by this time, I reckon," chuckled Susan. "Mr.
Burton was tellin' me one day how it belonged to his great-grand-mother."

"Kind of funny-looking, though, isn't it?" commented Mazie.

"Father'd love it, so'd Aunt Hattie," avowed Dorothy, evidently not
slow to detect the lack of appreciation in Mazie's voice. "And I do,
too," she finished, with a tinge of defiance.

Mazie laughed.

"Well, all right, you may, for all I care," she retorted. Then to
Keith she turned with sudden disconcerting abruptness: "Say, Keith,
what do you do all day?"

It was Susan who answered this. Indeed, it was Susan who answered a
good many of the questions during the next fifteen minutes. Some she
answered because she did not want Keith to answer them. More she
answered because Keith would not answer them. To tell the truth, Keith
was anything but a polite, gracious host. He let it be plainly
understood that he was neither pleased at the call nor interested in
the conversation. And the only semblance of eagerness in his demeanor
that afternoon was when his young visitors rose to go.

In spite of Keith's worse than indifference, however, Susan was
convinced that this call, and others like it, were exactly what was
needed for Keith's best welfare and development. With all her skill
and artifice, therefore, she exerted herself to make up for Keith's
negligence. She told stories, rattled off absurd jingles, and laughed
and talked with each young miss in turn, determined to make the call
so great a success that the girls would wish to come again.

When she had bowed them out and closed the door behind them, she came
back to Keith, intending to remonstrate with him for his very
ungracious behavior. But before she could open her lips Keith himself
had the floor.

"Susan Betts," he began passionately, as soon as she entered the room,
"don't you ever let those girls in again. I won't have them. I WON'T
HAVE THEM, I tell you!

"Oh, for shame, Keith!--and when they were so kind and thoughtful,
too!"

"It wasn't kindness and thoughtfulness," resented the boy. "It was
spying out. They came to see how I took it. I know 'em. And that
Dorothy Parkman--I don't know WHY she came. She said long ago that she
couldn't bear--to look at 'em."

"Look at them?"

"Yes--blind folks. Her father is a big oculist--doctors eyes, you
know. She told me once. And she said she couldn't bear to look at
them; that--"

"An eye doctor?--a big one?" Susan was suddenly excited, alert.

"Yes, yes. And--"

"Where's he live?"

"I don't know. Where she does, I s'pose. I don't know where that is.
She's here most of the time, and--"

"Is he a real big one?--a really, truly big one?"

"Yes, yes, I guess so." Keith had fallen wearily back in his chair,
his strength spent. "Dad said he was one of the biggest in the
country. And of course lots of--of blind people go there, and she sees
them. Only she says she can't bear to see them, that she won't look at
them. And--and she shan't come here--she shan't, Susan, to look at me,
and--"

But Susan was not listening now. With chin up-tilted and a new fire in
her eyes, she had turned toward the kitchen door.

Two days later, on her way to the store, Susan spied Dorothy Parkman
across the street. Without hesitation or ceremony she went straight
across and spoke to her.

"Is it true that your father is a big occultist, one of the biggest
there is?" she demanded.

"A--what?" Dorothy frowned slightly.

"Occultist--doctors folks' eyes, you know. Is he? I heard he was."

"Oh! Y-yes--yes, he is." Miss Dorothy was giggling a bit now.

"Then, listen!" In her eagerness Susan had caught the girl's sleeve
and held it. "Can't you get him to come on an' see you, right away,
quick? Don't he want to take you home, or--or something?"

Dorothy laughed merrily.

"Why, Susan, are you in such a hurry as all that to get rid of me? Did
I act so bad the other day that--" A sudden change crossed her face.
Her eyes grew soft and luminous. "Was it for--Keith that you wanted
father, Susan?"

"Yes." Susan's eyes blurred, and her voice choked.

"Well, then I'm glad to tell you he is coming by and by. He's coming
to take me home for Christmas. But--he isn't going to stay long."

"That's all right--that's all right," retorted Susan, a little
breathlessly. "If he'd jest look at the boy's eyes an' tell if--if he
could fix 'em later. You see, we--we couldn't have it done now, 'cause
there ain't any money to pay. But we'll have it later. We'll sure have
it later, an' then--"

"Of course he'll look at them," interrupted Dorothy eagerly. "He'll
love to, I know. He's always so interested in eyes, and new cases.
And--and don't worry about the other part--the money, you know,"
nodded Dorothy, hurrying away then before Susan could protest.

As it happened Keith was more "difficult" than usual that afternoon,
and Susan, thinking to rouse him from his lassitude, suddenly
determined to tell him all about the wonderful piece of good fortune
in store for him.

"How'd you like to have that little Miss Dorothy's daddy see your
eyes, honey," she began eagerly, "an' tell--"

"I wouldn't let him see them." Keith spoke coldly, decisively.

"Oh, but he's one of the biggest occultists there is, an'--"

"I suppose you mean 'oculist,' Susan," interrupted Keith, still more
coldly; "but that doesn't make any difference. I don't want him."

"But, Keith, if he--"

"I tell you I won't have him," snapped Keith irritably.

"But you've got to have somebody, an' if he's the biggest!" All the
eager light had died out of Susan's face.

"I don't care if he is the biggest, he's Dorothy Parkman's father, and
that's enough. I WON'T HAVE HIM!"

"No, no; well, all right!" And Susan, terrified and dismayed, hurried
from the room.

But though Susan was dismayed and terrified, she was far from being
subdued. In the kitchen she lifted her chin defiantly.

"All right, Master Keith," she muttered to herself. "You can say what
you want to, but you'll have him jest the same--only you won't know
he's HIM. I'll jest tell him to call hisself another name for you. An'
some time I'll find out what there is behind that Dorothy Parkman
business. But 'tain't till Christmas, an' that's 'most two months off
yet. Time enough for trouble when trouble knocks at the door; an' till
it does knock, jest keep peggin' away."



CHAPTER XIII

FREE VERSE--A LA SUSAN


And persistently, systematically Susan did, indeed, keep "peggin'
away." No sooner had she roused Keith to the point of accomplishing
one task than she set for him another. No sooner could he pilot
himself about one room than she inveigled him into another. And when
he could go everywhere about the house she coaxed him out into the
yard. It was harder here, for Keith had a morbid fear of being stared
at. And only semi-occasionally would he consent at all to going out.

It was then that with stern determination Susan sought Daniel Burton.

"Look a-here, Daniel Burton," she accosted him abruptly, "I've done
all I can now, an' it's up to you."

The man looked up, plainly startled.

"Why, Susan, you don't mean--you aren't--GOING, are you?"

"Goin' nothin'--shucks!" tossed Susan to one side disdainfully. "I
mean that Keith ain't goin' to get that good red blood he's needin'
sittin' 'round the house here. He's got to go off in the woods an'
walk an' tramp an' run an' scuff leaves. An' you've got to go with
him. I can't, can I?"

The man shifted his position irritably.

"Do you think that boy will let me lead him through the streets,
Susan? Well, I know he won't."

"I didn't say 'lead him.' I said go WITH him. There's an awful lot of
difference between leadin' an' accommodatin'. We don't none of us like
to be led, but we don't mind goin' WITH folks 'most anywheres. Put
your arm into his an' walk together. He'll walk that way. I've tried
it. An' to see him you wouldn't know he was blind at all. Oh, yes, I
know you're hangin' back an' don't want to. I know you hate to see him
or be with him, 'cause it makes you KNOW what a terrible thing it is
that's come to you an' him. But you've got to, Daniel Burton. You an'
me is all he's got to stand between him an' utter misery. I can feed
his stomach an' make him do the metaphysical things, but it's you
that's got to feed his soul an' make him do the menial things."

"Oh, Susan, Susan!" half groaned the man. There was a smile on his
lips, but there were tears in his eyes.

"Well, it's so," argued Susan earnestly. "Oh, I read to him, of
course. I read him everything I can get hold of, especially about men
an' women that have become great an' famous an' extinguished, even if
they was blind or deaf an' dumb, or lame--especially blind. But I
can't learn him books, Mr. Burton. You've got to do that. You've got
to be eyes for him, an' he's got to go to school to you. Mr.
Burton,"--Susan's voice grew husky and unsteady,--"you've got a chance
now to paint bigger an' grander pictures than you ever did before, only
you won't be paintin' 'em on canvas backs. You'll be paintin' 'em on
that boy's soul, an' you'll be usin' words instead of them little
brushes."

"You've put that--very well, Susan." It was the man who spoke
unsteadily, huskily, now.

"I don't know about that, but I do know that them pictures you're
goin' to paint for him is goin' to be the makin' of him. Why, Mr.
Burton, we can't have him lazin' behind, 'cause when he does get back
his eyes we don't want him to be too far behind his class."

"But what--if he doesn't ever get his eyes, Susan?"

"Then he'll need it all the more. But he's goin' to get 'em, Mr.
Burton. Don't you remember? The nurse said if he got well an' strong
he could have somethin' done. I've got the doctor, an' all I need now
is the money. An'--an' that makes me think." She hesitated, growing
suddenly pink and embarrassed. Then resolutely she put her hand into
the pocket of her apron and pulled out two folded papers.

"I was goin' to tell you about these, anyhow, so I might as well do it
now," she explained. "You know, them--them other poems didn't sell
much--there was only one went, an' the man wouldn't take that till
he'd made me promise he could print my letter, too, that I'd wrote
with it--jest as if that was worth anything!--but he only paid a
measly dollar anyhow." Susan's voice faltered a little, though her
chin was at a brave tilt. "An' I guess now I know the reason. Them
kind of poems ain't stylish no longer. Rhymes has gone out.
Everything's 'free verse' now. I've been readin' up about it. So I've
wrote some of 'em. They're real easy to do--jest lines chopped off
free an' easy, anywheres that it happens, only have some long, an'
some short, for notoriety, you know, like this." And she read:

"A great big cloud
 That was black
 Came up
 Out of the West. An' I knew
 Then
 For sure
 That a storm was brewin'.
 An' it brewed."

"Now that was dead easy--anybody could see that. But it's kind of
pretty, I think, too, jest the same. Them denatured poems are always
pretty, I think--about trees an' grass an' flowers an' the sky, you
know. Don't you?"

"Why, er--y-yes, of course," murmured the man faintly.

"I tried a love poem next. I don't write them very often. They're so
common. You see 'em everywhere, you know. But I thought I would try
it--'twould be different, anyhow, in this new kind of verses. So I
wrote this:

     Oh, love of mine,
     I love
     Thee.
     Thy hair is yellow like the
     Golden squash.
     Thy neck so soft
     An' slender like a goose,
     Is encompassed in filtered lace
     So rich an'
     Rare.
     Thy eyes in thy pallid face like
     Blueberries in a
     Saucer of milk.
     Oh, love of mine,
     I love
     Thee."

"Have you sent--any of these away yet, Susan?" Daniel Burton was on
his feet now, his back carefully turned.

"No, not yet; but I'm goin' to pretty quick, an' I guess them will
sell." Susan nodded happily, and smiled. But almost instantly her face
grew gravely earnest again. "But all the money in the world ain't
goin' to do no good Mr. Burton, unless we do our part, an' our part is
to get him well an' strong for that operator. Now I'm goin' to send
Keith in to you. I ain't goin' to TELL him he's goin' to walk with
you, 'cause if I did he wouldn't come. But I'm expectin' you to take
him, jest the same," she finished severely, as she left the room.

Keith and his father went to walk. It was the first of many such
walks. Almost every one of these crisp November days found the two off
on a tramp somewhere. And because Daniel Burton was careful always to
accompany, never to lead, the boy's step gained day by day in
confidence and his face in something very like interest. And always,
for cold and stormy days, there were the books at home.

Daniel Burton was not painting pictures--pigment pictures--these days.
His easel was empty. "The Woodland Path," long since finished, had
been sent away "to be sold." Most of Daniel Burton's paintings were
"sent away to be sold," so that was nothing new. What was new,
however, was the fact that no fresh canvas was placed on the easel to
take the place of the picture sent away. Daniel Burton had begun no
new picture. The easel, indeed, was turned face to the wall. And yet
Daniel Burton was painting pictures, wonderful pictures. His brushes
were words, his colors were the blue and gold and brown and crimson of
the wide autumn landscape, his inspiration was the hungry light on a
boy's face, and his canvas was the soul of the boy behind it. Most
assuredly Daniel Burton was giving himself now, heart and mind and
body, to his son. Even the lynx-eyed, alert Susan had no fault to
find. Daniel Burton, most emphatically, was "doing his part."



CHAPTER XIV

A SURPRISE ALL AROUND


The week before Christmas Dorothy Parkman brought a tall,
dignified-looking man to the Burtons' shabby, but still beautiful,
colonial doorway.

Dorothy had not seen Keith, except on the street, since her visit with
Mazie in October. Two or three times the girls had gone to the house
with flowers or fruit, but Keith had stubbornly refused to see them,
in spite of Susan's urgings. To-day Dorothy, with this evidently in
mind, refused Susan's somewhat dubious invitation to come in.

"Oh, no, thank you, I'll not come in," she smiled. "I only brought
father, that's all. And--oh, I do hope he can do something," she
faltered unsteadily. And Susan saw that her eyes were glistening with
tears as she turned away.

In the hall Susan caught the doctor's arm nervously.

"Dr. Parkman, there's somethin'--"

"My name is Stewart," interrupted the doctor.

"What's that? What's that?" cried Susan, unconsciously tightening her
clasp on his arm. "Ain't you Dorothy Parkman's father?"

"I'm her stepfather. She was nine when I married Mrs. Parkman, her
mother."

"Then your name ain't Parkman, at all! Oh, glory be!" ejaculated Susan
ecstatically. "Well, if that ain't the luckiest thing ever!"

"Lucky?" frowned the doctor, looking thoroughly mystified, and not
altogether pleased.

Susan gave an embarrassed laugh.

"There, now, if that ain't jest like me, to fly off on a tandem like
that, without a word of exploitation. It's jest that I'm so glad I
won't have to ask you to come under a resumed name."

"Under a what, madam?" The doctor was looking positively angry now.
Moreover, with no uncertain determination, he was trying to draw
himself away from Susan's detaining fingers.

"Oh, please, doctor, please, don't be mad!" Susan had both hands hold
of his arm now. "'Twas for Keith, an' I knew you'd be willin' to do
anything for him, when you understood, jest as I am. You see, I didn't
want him to know you was Dorothy's father," she plunged on
breathlessly, "an' so I was goin' to ask you to let me call you
somethin' else--not Parkman. An' then, when I found that you didn't
have to have a resumed name, that you was already somebody else--that
is, that you was really you, only Keith wouldn't know you was you, I
was so glad."

"Oh, I see." The doctor was still frowning, though his lips were
twitching a little. "But--er--do you mind telling me why I can't be I?
What's the matter with Dorothy's father?"

"Nothin' sir. It's jest a notion. Keith won't see Dorothy, nor Mazie,
nor none of 'em. He thinks they come jest to spy out how he looks an'
acts; an' he got it into his head that if you was Dorothy's father, he
wouldn't see you. He hates to be pitied an' stared at."

"Oh, I see." A sympathetic understanding came into the doctor's eyes.
The anger was all gone now. "Very well. As it happens I'm really Dr.
Stewart. So you may call me that with all honesty, and we'll be very
careful not to let the boy know I ever heard of Dorothy Parkman. How
about the boy's father? Does he--know?"

"Yes, sir. I told him who you was, an' that you was comin'; an' I told
him we wasn't goin' to let Keith know. An' he said 'twas absurd, an'
we couldn't help lettin' him know. But I told him I knew better an'
'twas all right."

"Oh, you did!" The doctor was regarding Susan with a new interest in
his eyes.

"Yes, an' 'tis, you see."

"Where is Mr. Burton?"

"In his studio--shut up. He'll see you afterwards. I told him he'd GOT
to do that."

"Eh? What?" The doctor's eyes flew wide open.

"See you afterwards. I told him he'd ought to be in the room with you,
when you was examplin' Keith's eyes. But I knew he wouldn't do that.
He never will do such-like things--makes him feel too bad. An' he
wanted ME to find out what you said. But I told him HE'D got to do
that. But, oh, doctor, I do hope--oh, please, please say somethin'
good if you can. An' now I'll take you in. It's right this way through
the sittin'-room."

"By Jove, what a beauty!" Halfway across the living-room the doctor
had come to a pause before the mahogany highboy.

"THAT?"

"Yes, 'that'!" The whimsical smile in the doctor's eyes showed that he
was not unappreciative of the scorn in Susan's voice. "By George, it
IS a beauty! I've got one myself, but it doesn't compare with that,
for a minute. H-m! And that's not the only treasure you have here, I
see," he finished, his admiring gaze roving about the room. "We've got
some newer, better stuff in the parlor. These are awful old things in
here," apologized Susan.

"Yes, I see they are--old things." The whimsical smile had come back
to the doctor's eyes as he followed Susan through the doorway.

"Keith's upstairs in his room, an' I'm takin' you up the back way so's
Mr. Burton won't hear. He asked me to. He didn't want to know jest
exactly when you was here."

"Mr. Burton must be a brave man," commented the doctor dryly.

"He ain't--not when it comes to seein' disagreeable things, or folks
hurt," answered the literal Susan cheerfully. "But he'll see you all
right, when it's over." Her lips came together with a sudden grimness.

The next moment, throwing open Keith's door, her whole expression
changed. She had eyes and thoughts but for the blind boy over by the
window.

The doctor, too, obviously, by the keen, professional alertness that
transfigured his face at that moment, had eyes and thoughts but for
that same blind boy over by the window.

"Well, Keith, here's Dr. Stewart to see you boy."

"Dr.--Stewart?" Keith was on his feet, startled, uncertain.

"Yes, Dr. Stewart.'" Susan repeated the name with clear emphasis. "He
was in town an' jest came up to look at you. He's a big, kind doctor,
dear, an' you'll like him, I know." At the door Susan turned to the
doctor. "An' when--when you're done, sir, if you'll jest come down
them stairs to the kitchen, please--TO THE KITCHEN," she repeated,
hurrying out before Keith could remonstrate.

Down in the kitchen Susan took a pan of potatoes to peel--and when,
long hours later, after the doctor had come downstairs, had talked
with Mr. Burton, and had gone, Susan went to get those potatoes to
boil for dinner, she found that all but two of them had been peeled
and peeled and peeled, until there was nothing left but--peelings.

Susan was peeling the next to the last potato when the doctor came
down to the kitchen.

"Well?" She was on her feet instantly.

The doctor's face was grave, yet his eyes were curiously alight. They
seemed to be looking through and beyond Susan.

"I don't know. I THINK I have good news, but I'm not--sure."

"But there's a chance?"

"Yes; but-" There was a moment's silence; then, with an indrawing of
his breath, the doctor's soul seemed to come back from a long journey.
"I think I know what is the matter." The doctor was looking at Susan,
now, not through her. "If it's what I think it is, it's a very rare
disease, one we do not often find."

"But could you--can you--is it possible to--to cure it?"

"We can operate--yes; but it's six to half a dozen whether it's
successful or not. They've just about broken even so far--the cases
I've known about. But they've been interesting, most interesting." The
doctor was far away again.

"But there's a chance; and if there is a chance I'd want to take it,"
cried Susan. "Wouldn't you?"

There was no answer.

Susan hesitated, threw a hurried glance into the doctor's preoccupied
face, then hurried on again feverishly.

"Doctor, there's somethin' I've got to--to speak to you about before
you see Mr. Burton. It--it--it'll cost an awful lot, I s'pose."

There was no answer.

Susan cleared her throat.

"It--it'll cost an awful lot, won't it, doctor?" she asked in a louder
voice.

"Eh? What? Cost? Oh, yes, yes; it is an expensive operation." The
doctor spoke unconcernedly. He merely glanced at Susan, then resumed
his fixed gaze into space.

"Well, doctor." Susan cleared her throat again. This time she caught
hold of the doctor's sleeve as if to pull him bodily back to a
realizing sense of her presence. "About the money--we haven't got it.
An' that's what I wanted to speak to you about. Mr. Burton hain't got
any. He's already spent more'n he's got--part of next year's annual, I
mean. Some day he'll have more--a whole lot more--when Mis' Holworthy,
his third cousin, dies. 'Twas her husband that gave him the annual,
you understand, an' when she dies it'll come to him in a plump sum.
But 'tain't his now, an' 'course it won't be till she goes; an'
'course 'tain't for us to dodge her footsteps hopin' she'll jest
naturally stop walkin' some day--though I'm free to confess she has
lost most all her facilities, bein' deaf an' lame an' some blind; an'
I can't exactly see the harm in wishin' she had got 'em all back--in
Heaven, I mean. But 'course I don't say so to him. An' as I said
before, we hain't got money now--not any.

"An'--an' his last pictures didn't sell any better than the others,"
she went on a little breathlessly. "Then there was me--that is, I WAS
goin' to get some money; but--but, well MY pictures didn't sell,
either." She paused to wet her lips. "But I've thought it all out, an'
there's a way."

"You--you'd have to have Keith with you, somewheres, wouldn't you?"

"To operate? Oh, yes, yes."

"A long time?"

"Eh? What? Oh, yes, we would have to have him a long time, probably.
In fact, time is one of the very biggest factors in such cases--for
the after-treatment, you know. And we must have him where we can watch
him, of course."

"Oh! Then that's all right, then. I can manage it fine," sighed Susan,
showing by the way her whole self relaxed how great had been the
strain. "Then I'll come right away to work for you."

"To what?" The doctor suddenly came back to earth.

"To work for you--in your kitchen, I mean," nodded Susan. "I'll send
Mr. Burton to his sister's, then I'll come to you, an' I'll come
impaired to stay till I've paid it up--every cent."

"Good Heavens, woman!" ejaculated the man. "What are you talking
about?"

"Oh, please, please don't say that I can't," besought Susan, her
fearful eyes on his perturbed face. "I'll work real well--truly I
will. An' I'm a real good cook, honest I am, when I have a
super-abundance to do it with--butter, an' eggs, an' nice roasts. An' I
won't bother you a mite with my poetry. I don't make it much now,
anyhow. An'--oh, doctor, you've GOT to let me do it; it's the only way
there is to p-pay." Her voice choked into silence. Susan turned her
back abruptly. Not even for Keith could Susan let any one see her cry.

"Pay! And do you think you'd live long--" Just in time the doctor
pulled himself up short. Thrusting his hands into his pockets he took
a nervous turn about the kitchen; then sharply he wheeled about. "My
dear woman, let us talk no more about the money question. See here, I
shall be glad to take that boy into my charge and take care of him for
the sheer love of it--indeed, I shall!"

"Do you mean without ANY pay?" Susan had drawn herself up haughtily.

"Yes. So far as money goes--it is of no consequence, anyway. I'm glad--"

"Thank you, but we ain't charitable folks, Dr. Stewart," cut in Susan
coldly. "Maybe it is infinitesimal to you whether we pay or not, but't
ain't to us. We don't want--"

"But I tell you it's pay enough just to do it," interrupted the doctor
impatiently. "It's a very rare case, and I'm glad--"

A door banged open.

"Susan, hasn't that doctor--" a new voice cut in, then stopped short.

The doctor turned to see a pallid-faced, blond-bearded man with
rumpled hair standing in the doorway.

"Mr. Burton?" hazarded the doctor crisply.

"Yes. And you-"

"Dr. Stewart. And I'd like a little talk with you, please--if you can
talk sense." This last was added under his breath; but Daniel Burton
was not listening, in any case. He was leading the way to the studio.

In the studio the doctor did not wait for questions, but plunged at
once into his story.

"Without going into technical terms, Mr. Burton, I will say that your
son has a very rare trouble. There is only one known relief, and that
is a certain very delicate operation. Even with that, the chances are
about fifty-fifty that he regains his sight."

"But there's a chance?"

"Yes, there's a chance. And, anyway, it won't do any harm to try. It
is the only thing possible, and, if it fails--well, he'll only be
blind, as he is now. It must be done right away, however. Even now it
may be too late. And I may as well tell you, if it DOESN'T fail--there
is a strong probability of another long period of treatment and a
second operation, before there's a chance of ultimate success!"

"Could--could that time be spent here?" Daniel Burton's lips had grown
a little white.

"No. I should want the boy where I could see him frequently--with me,
in fact. And that brings me to what I was going to propose. With your
permission I will take the boy back with me next week to Chicago, and
operate at once. And let me say that from sheer interest in the case I
shall be glad to do this entirely without cost to you."

"Thank you; but of course you must understand that I could not allow
that for a moment." A painful color had flamed into Daniel Burton's
face.

"Nonsense! Don't be foolish, man. I tell you I'm glad to do it. It'll
be worth it to me--the rarity of the case--"

"How much--would it cost?" interposed Daniel Burton peremptorily, with
an unsteadiness of voice that the doctor did not fail to read aright.

"Why, man, alive, it would cost--" With his eyes on Daniel Burton's
sternly controlled face, the doctor came to an abrupt pause. Then,
turning, he began to tramp up and down the room angrily. "Oh, hang it
all, man, why can't you be sensible? I tell you I don't want any--"
Once again his tongue stopped. His feet, also, had come to an abrupt
pause. He was standing before an old colonial mirror. Then suddenly he
wheeled about. "By Jove, there IS something I want. If you'll sell me
two or three of these treasures of yours here, you will be more than
cancelling your debt, and--"

"Thank you," interrupted the other coldly, but with a still deeper red
staining his face. "As I happen to know of the unsalability of these
pictures, however, I cannot accept your generosity there, either."

"Pictures!" The doctor, turning puzzled eyes back to the mirror, saw
now that a large oil painting hung beside it on the wall. "I wasn't
talking about your pictures, man," he scoffed then. "I was looking at
that mirror there, and I'd like the highboy downstairs, if I could
persuade you to part with them, and--WOULD you be willing to part with
them?"

"What do you think!" (So marvelous was the change, and so great was
the shining glory in Daniel Burton's face, that the doctor caught
himself actually blinking.) "Do you think there's anything, ANYTHING
that I wouldn't part with, if I thought I could give that boy a
chance? Make your own selection, doctor. I only hope you'll
want--really WANT--enough of them to amount to something."

The doctor threw a keen glance into his face.

"Amount to something! Don't you know the value of these things here?"

Daniel Burton laughed and shrugged his shoulders. "Oh, I suppose they
are--valuable. But I shall have to confess I DON'T know very much
about it. They're very old, I can vouch for that."

"Old! Humph!" The doctor was close to the mirror now, examining it
with the appreciative eyes of the real lover of the antique. "I should
say they were. Jove, that's a beauty! And I've got just the place
that's hungering for it."

"Good! Suppose we look about the house, then, a little," suggested
Daniel Burton. "Perhaps we'll find some more things--er--good for a
hungry stomach, eh?" And with a light on his face such as had not been
there for long months past, Daniel Burton led the way from the studio.



CHAPTER XV

AGAIN SUSAN TAKES A HAND


That evening Daniel Burton told Susan. "Keith is to go home with Dr.
Stewart next week. The doctor will operate as soon as possible. Keith
will live at the sanatorium connected with the doctor's home and be
under his constant supervision."

Susan tried to speak, but instead of speaking she burst into tears.

"Why, Susan!" exclaimed the man.

"I know, I know," she choked, angrily dashing the drops from her eyes.
"An' me cryin' like this when I'm gettin' jest what I want, too!"

"But there's no certainty, Susan, that it'll be successful; remember
that," warned the man, his face clouding a little. "We can only--hope."

"An' there's the--the pay." Susan looked up, her voice vibrating with
fearful doubts.

"Oh, that's all right." The man lifted his head with the air of one
who at last has reached firm ground after a dangerous crossing on thin
ice. "The doctor's going to buy the highboy and that mirror in the
studio, and--oh, several other things."

"You mean that old chest of drawers in the settin'-room?" scorned
Susan openly.

"Yes." Daniel Burton's lips twitched a little.

"But will he PAY anything for 'em? Mr. Burton, you can't get nothin',
hardly, for second-hand furniture. My mother had a stove an' a real
nice bedstead, an' a red-plush parlor set, an' she sold 'em. But she
didn't get anything--not hardly anything, for 'em; an' they was 'most
new, some of 'em, too."

"That's the trouble, Susan--they were too new, probably," laughed the
man. "It's because these are old, very old, that he wants them, I
suspect.

"An' he'll really pay MONEY for 'em?" Plainly Susan still had her
doubts.

"He certainly will. I'd be almost ashamed to tell you HOW much he'll
pay, Susan," smiled the man. "It seemed to me sheer robbery on my
part. But he assures me they are very valuable, and that he's more
than delighted to have them even at that price."

"Lan' sakes! An' when I'd been worryin' an' worryin' so about the
money," sighed Susan; "an' now to have it fall plump into your lap
like that. It jest shows you not to hunt for bridges till you get your
feet wet, don't it? An' he's goin' jest next week?"

"Yes. The doctor and his daughter start Tuesday."

"You don't mean that girl Dorothy's goin' too?" Susan had almost
bounced out of her chair.

"Why, yes, Dr. Stewart SAID she was. What's the matter?"

"Matter? Matter enough! Why, if she goes--Say, why IS she taggin'
along, anyhow?" demanded Susan wrathfully.

"Well, I shouldn't exactly call it 'taggin' along' to go home with her
father for the Christmas vacation," shrugged the man. "As I understand
it, Dorothy's mother died several years ago. That's why the girl is
here in the East so much with her relatives, going to school. The
doctor's home has become practically a sanatorium--not the most
desirable place in the world to bring up a young daughter in, I should
say. Let's see, how old is Miss Dorothy?"

"Sixteen, Keith says. I asked him one day. She's about his age."

"Hm-m; well, however that may be, Susan, I don't see how we can help
ourselves very well. I fancy Miss Dorothy'll still--tag along," he
finished whimsically.

"Maybe, an' then maybe not," mumbled Susan darkly, as she turned away.

For two days after this Susan's kitchen, and even Keith himself,
showed almost neglect; persistently and systematically Susan was
running "down street" every hour or two--ostensibly on errands, yet
she bought little. She spent most of her time tramping through the
streets and stores, scrutinizing especially the face of every young
girl she met.

On the afternoon of the second day she met Dorothy Parkman coming out
of the post-office.

"Well, I've got you at last," she sighed, "though I'm free to confess
I was beginnin' to think I never would see you."

"Oh, yes, about Keith," cried the girl joyously. "Isn't it splendid!
I'm so glad! And he's going home with us right away, you know."

"Yes, I know. An' that's what--that is, I wanted--" stammered Susan,
growing red in her misery. "Oh, Miss Dorothy, you WOULD do anything
for that poor blind boy, wouldn't you?"

"Why, y-yes, of course," faltered Dorothy, stammering in her turn.

"I knew you would. Then please don't go home with your father this
time."

"Don't go home--with--my father!" exclaimed the girl, in puzzled
wonder.

"No. Because if you do--That is--Oh, I know it's awful for me to say
this, but I've got to do it for Keith. You see, if you go,--Keith
won't."

"If I go, he--I don't think--I quite understand." The girl drew back a
little haughtily. Her face showed a painful flush.

"No, no, of course you don't! An' please, PLEASE don't look like
that," begged Susan. "It's jest this. I found out. I wormed it out of
him the other day--why he won't let you come to see him. He says that
once, long ago, you said how you couldn't bear to look at blind
people, an'--"

"Oh, I never, never could have said such a cruel thing to--to a blind
boy," interposed the girl.

"He wasn't blind then. He said he wasn't. But, it was when he was
'fraid he was goin' to be blind; an' he see you an' Mazie Sanborn at
the foot of Harrington Hill, one day. It was just after the old man
had got blind, an' Keith had been up to see him. It seems that Keith
was worryin' then for fear HE was goin' to be blind."

"He WAS?"

"Yes--things blurred, an' all that. Well, at the foot of the hill he
see you an' Mazie, an' you shuddered at his goin' up to see Mr.
Harrington, an' said how could he bear to look at folks that was
blind. That YOU couldn't. An' he never forgot it. Bein' worried for
fear he himself was goin' blind, you see, he was especially acceptable
to anything like that."

"Oh, but I--I--At home I always did hate to see all the poor blind
people that came to see father," she stammered. "But it--it was only
because I felt so bad--for them. And that's one reason why father
doesn't keep me at home any more. He says--But, about Keith--I--I
didn't mean to--" Dorothy came to a helpless pause.

"Yes, I know. You didn't mean to hurt him," nodded Susan. "But it did
hurt him. An' now he always thinks of it, if he knows you're 'round.
You see, worse'n anything else, he hates to be stared at or to have
folks think he's different. There ain't anything I can ever say to him
that makes him half so happy as to act as if he wa'n't blind."

"Yes, I--see," breathed Dorothy, her eyes brimming.

"An' so now you won't go, will you? Because if you go, he won't."

Miss Dorothy frowned in deep thought for a moment.

"I shall have to go," she said at last, slowly. "Father is just
counting on my being there Christmas, and he is so lonely--I couldn't
disappoint him. But, Keith--I won't have to see much of him, anyway.
I'll explain it to father. He won't mind. He's used to his patients
taking notions. It'll be all right. Don't worry," she nodded, her face
clearing.

"But you'll have to be with Keith--some."

"Oh, yes, a little. But he won't know who I am. I'm just Dr. Stewart's
daughter. Don't you see?"

"But--he'll know your voice."

"I shan't talk much. Besides, he never did hear me talk much. It was
always Mazie that talked most. And he hasn't heard me any for a year
or more, except that little bit that day at the house."

"But your name, Dorothy," still argued Susan dubiously.

"Father never calls me that. I'm always 'Puss' to him. And there won't
be anybody else with us on the journey. Don't you worry. You just send
Keith right along, and trust me for the rest. You'll see," she nodded
again brightly, as she turned away.

Susan went home then to her neglected work. There seemed really
nothing else that she could do. But that she was far from following
Miss Dorothy's blithe advice "not to worry" was very evident from her
frowning brow and preoccupied air all the rest of the time until
Tuesday morning when Keith went--until, indeed, Mr. Burton came home
from seeing Keith off on his journey. Then her pent-up perturbation
culminated in an onslaught of precipitate questions.

"Was he all right? Was that girl there? Did he know who she was? Do
you think he'll find out?"

"One at a time, Susan, one at a time," laughed the man. "Yes, he was
all right. He went off smiling, with the doctor's arm about his
shoulders. Yes, the young lady was there, but she kept well away from
Keith, so far as I could see. Friends had come evidently to see her
off, but I noticed she contrived to keep herself and them as far away
from Keith as possible. Of course, on the journey there'll be just the
three of them. The test will come then. But I wouldn't worry, Susan.
Remember your own advice about those bridges of yours. He's started,
and he's with the doctor. I don't think he'll turn back now."

"No, I s'pose not," sighed Susan. "But I wish I could really KNOW how
things are!" she finished, as she took up her work again.

Thirty-six hours later came the telegram from the doctor telling of
their safe arrival, and a week later came a letter from Keith himself
to Susan. It was written in lead-pencil on paper that had been
carefully perforated so as to form lines not too near together.

At the top of the page in parentheses were these words:

DEAR SUSAN: If you think dad would like it you may read him a part or
the whole of this letter. I was afraid I wouldn't write very well and
that he wouldn't like to see it. So I write to you instead. I know you
won't mind.

Below came the letter.

DEAR SUSAN: How do you and dad do? I am well and hope you are the
same.

This is an awfully pretty place with trees and big lawns all around
it, and walks and seats everywhere in the summer, they say. We aren't
sitting outdoors to-day, though. It's only four below!

We had a jolly trip out. The doctor's great. He spent half his time
talking to me about the things we were seeing out the window. We went
through a wonderful country, and saw lots of interesting things.

The doctor's daughter was along, too. But she didn't have much to say
on the trip. I've seen quite a lot of her since we've been here,
though, and she's ALL RIGHT. At first I didn't like her very well. It
was her voice, I guess. It reminded me of somebody I didn't like to be
reminded of. But after I got used to it I found she was really very
nice and jolly. She knows lots of games, and we play together a lot
now. She's so different from that girl she sounded like that I don't
mind her voice now. And I don't think she minds (here a rather
unsuccessful erasure showed that "playing with me" had been
substituted for "being with blind folks").

She gave me this paper, and told me the folks at home would like a
letter, she knew. That's why I'm writing it. And I guess that's enough
for this time.

Love to all. KEITH BURTON

P.S. I'm going to have the operation to-morrow, but they won't know
for quite a while whether it's successful or not, the doctor says.
                           KEITH

Susan read this letter, then took it at once to the studio and read it
again aloud.

"Now ain't that great?" she crowed, as soon as she had finished.

"Y-yes, but he didn't say much about himself or his treatment,"
demurred the man.

Susan made an impatient gesture.

"Why, yes, he did, too! Lan' sakes, Mr. Burton, he didn't talk about
nothin' else but himself an' his treatment, all the way through. Oh, I
know he didn't say anything about his occultist treatment, if that's
what you mean. But I didn't do no worryin' about that part. It was the
other part."

"The other part!"

"Yes. They're treatin' him as if he wa'n't different an' queer. An'
didn't you notice the way he wrote? Happy as a king tellin' about what
he SAW on the way out, an' the wonderful country they went through.
They're all right--them two are. I shan't do no more worryin' about
Keith. An' her fixin' that paper so cute for him to write on--I
declare I'm that zealous of her I don't know what to do. Why couldn't
_I_ 'a' thought of that?" she sighed, as she rose to leave the room.

Two days later came a letter from the doctor. The operation had been
performed and, so far as they could judge, all was well, though, as
Keith had written, the real results would not show until the bandages
were removed some time later.

When the schools opened again in January, Dorothy Parkman came back to
Hinsdale. Susan had been counting the days ever since Christmas, for
she knew Dorothy was coming, and she could scarcely wait to see her.
This time, however, she did not have to tramp through the streets and
stores looking for her, for Miss Dorothy came at once to the house and
rang the bell.

"I knew you'd want to hear all about Mr. Keith," she smiled brightly
into Susan's eyes. "And I'm glad to report that he's doing all right."

"Be them bandages off yet? Do you mean--he can see?" demanded Susan
excitedly, leading the way to the sitting-room.

"Oh, no--no--not that!" cried the girl quickly. "I mean--he's doing
all right so far. It's a week yet before the bandages can be removed,
and even then, he probably won't see much--if at all. There'll have to
be another one--later--father says--maybe two more."

"Oh!" Susan fell back, plainly disappointed. Then, suddenly, a new
interest flamed into her eyes.

"An' he ain't sensed yet who you are?" she questioned.

Miss Dorothy blushed, and Susan noticed suddenly how very pretty she
was.

"No. Though I must confess that at first, when he heard my voice, he
looked up much startled, and even rose from his seat. But I told him
lots of folks thought I talked like Dorothy Parkman; and I just
laughed and turned it off, and made nothing of it. And so pretty quick
he made nothing of it, too. After that we got along beautifully."

"I should say you did!" retorted Susan, almost enviously. "An' you
fixin' up that paper so fine for him to write on!"

Miss Dorothy blushed again--and again Susan noticed how very charming
was the combination of brown eyes and yellow-gold hair.

"Yes, he did like that paper," smiled the young girl. "He never
mentioned the lines, and neither did I. When I first suggested the
letter home he was all ready to refuse, I could see; but I wouldn't
give him the chance. Before he could even speak I had thrust the paper
into his hands, and I could see the wonder, interest, and joy in his
face as his fingers discovered the pricked lines and followed their
course from edge to edge. But he didn't let ME know he'd found them--not
much! 'Well, I don't know but they would like a letter,' was all
he said, casually. I knew then that I had won."

"Well, I should say you had. But HOW did you know how?" cried Susan.

"Oh, you told me first that I must talk to him as if he were not
blind. Then father told me the same thing. He said lots of his
patients were like that. So I always tried to do it that way. And it's
wonderful how, when you give it a little thought, you can manage to
tell them so much that they can turn about and tell somebody else,
just as if they really had seen it."

"I know, I know," nodded Susan. "An'--Miss Dorothy"--her voice grew
unsteady--"he really IS goin' to see by an' by, ain't he?"

The girl's face clouded.

"They aren't at all sure of that."

"But they can't tell YET?" Susan had grown a little white.

"Oh, no, not sure."

"An' they're goin' to give him all the chances there is?"

"Certainly. I only spoke because I don't want you to be too
disappointed if--if we lose. You must remember that fully half of the
cases do lose."

Susan drew a long sigh. Then, determinedly she lifted her chin.

"Well, I like to think we ain't goin' to belong to that half," she
said.



CHAPTER XVI

THE WORRY OF IT


There was a letter from the doctor when the bandages were removed.
Daniel Burton began to read the letter, but his eyes blurred and his
hand shook, so that Susan had to take it up where he had dropped it.

Yet the letter was very short.

The operation had been as successful, perhaps, as they could expect,
under the circumstances. Keith could discern light now--faintly, to be
sure, but unmistakably. He was well and happy. Meanwhile he was under
treatment for the second operation to come later. But that could not
be performed for some time yet, so they must not lose their patience.
That was all.

"Well, I s'pose we ought to be glad he can see light even a little,"
sighed Susan; "but I'm free to confess I was hopin' he could do a
little more than that."

"Yes, so was I," said Daniel Burton. And Susan, looking at his face,
turned away without another word. There were times when Susan knew
enough not to talk.

Then came the days when there were only Keith's letters and an
occasional short note from the doctor to break the long months of
waiting.

In the Burton homestead at Hinsdale, living was reduced to the
simplest formula possible. On the whole, there was perhaps a little
more money. Dunning tradesmen were not so numerous. But all luxuries,
and some things that were almost necessities, were rigorously left
out. And the money was saved always--for Keith. A lodger, a young law
student, in Keith's old room helped toward defraying the family
expenses.

Susan had given up trying to sell her "poems." She had become
convinced at last that a cruel and unappreciative editorial wall was
forever to bar her from what she still believed was an eagerly
awaiting public. She still occasionally wrote jingles and talked in
rhyme; but undeniably she had lost her courage and her enthusiasm. As
she expressed it to Mrs. McGuire, she did not feel "a mite like a
gushing siphon inside her now."

As the summer came and passed, Susan and Mrs. McGuire talked over the
back-yard fence even more frequently. Perhaps because Susan was lonely
without Keith. Perhaps because there was so much to talk about.

First there was Keith.

Keith was still under treatment preparatory to the second operation.
He had not responded quite as they had hoped, the doctor said, which
meant that the operation must be postponed for perhaps several months
longer.

All this Susan talked over with Mrs. McGuire; and there was always,
too, the hushed discussion as to what would happen if, after all, it
failed, and Keith came home hopelessly blind.

"But even that ain't the worst thing that could happen," maintained
Susan stoutly. "I can tell you Keith Burton ain't goin' to let a
little thing like that floor him!"

Mrs. McGuire, however, did not echo Susan's optimistic prophecies. But
Mrs. McGuire's own sky just now was overcast, which perhaps had
something to do with it. Mrs. McGuire had troubles of her own.

It was the summer of 1914, and the never-to-be-forgotten August had
come and passed, firing the match that was destined to set the whole
world ablaze. Mrs. McGuire's eldest son John--of whom she boasted in
season and out and whom she loved with an all-absorbing passion--had
caught the war-fever, gone to Canada, and enlisted. Mrs. McGuire
herself was a Canadian by birth, and all her family still lived there.
She was boasting now more than ever about John; but, proud as she was
of her soldier boy, his going had plunged her into an abyss of doubt
and gloom.

"He'll never come back, he'll never come back," she moaned to Susan.
"I can just feel it in my bones that he won't."

"Shucks, a great, strong, healthy boy like John McGuire! Of course,
he'll come back," retorted Susan. "Besides, likely the war'll be all
over with 'fore he gets there, anyhow. An' as for feelin' it in your
bones, Mis' McGuire, that's a very facetious doctrine, an' ain't no
more to be depended upon than my flour sieve for an umbrella. They're
gay receivers every time--bones are. Why, lan' sakes, Mis' McGuire, if
all things happened that my bones told me was goin' to happen, there
wouldn't none of us be livin' by now, nor the sun shinin', nor the
moon moonin'. I found out, after awhile, how they DIDN'T happen half
the time, an' I wrote a poem on it, like this:

     Trust 'em not, them fickle bones,
     Always talkin' moans an' groans.
     Jest as if inside of you,
     Lived a thing could tell you true,
     Whether it was goin' to rain,
     Whether you would have a pain,
     Whether him or you would beat,
     Whether you'd have 'nuf to eat!
     Bones was give to hold us straight,
     Not to tell us 'bout our Fate."

"Yes, yes, I s'pose so," sighed Mrs. McGuire. "But when I think of
John, my John, lyin' there so cold an' still--"

"Well, he ain't lyin' there yet," cut in Susan impatiently. "Time
enough to hunt bears when you see their tracks. Mis' McGuire, CAN'T
you see that worryin' don't do no good? You'll have it ALL for
nothin', if he don't get hurt; an' if he does, you'll have all this
extra for nothin', anyway,--that you didn't need till the time came.
Ever hear my poem on worryin'?"

Without waiting for a reply--Susan never asked such questions with a
view to having them answered--she chanted this:

"Worry never climbed a hill,
 Worry never paid a bill,
 Worry never led a horse to water.
 Worry never cooked a meal,
 Worry never darned a heel,
 Worry never did a thing you'd think it oughter!"

"Yes, yes, I know, I know," sighed Mrs. McGuire again. "But John is
so--well, you don't know my John. Nobody knows John as I do. He'd have
made a big man if he'd lived--John would."

"'If he'd lived'!" repeated Susan severely. "Well, I never, Mis'
McGuire, if you ain't talkin' already as if he was dead! You don't
have to begin to write his obliquity notice yet, do you?"

"But he is dead," moaned Mrs. McGuire, catching at the one word in
Susan's remark and paying no attention to the rest. "He's dead to
everything he was goin' to do. He was ambitious,--my John was. He was
always studyin' and readin' books nights an' Sundays an' holidays,
when he didn't have to be in the store. He was takin' a course, you
know."

"Yes, I know--one of them respondin' schools," nodded Susan. "John's a
clever lad, he is, I'm free to confess."

Under the sunshine of Susan's appreciation Mrs. McGuire drew a step
nearer.

"He was studyin' so he could 'mount to somethin'--John was," declared
Mrs. McGuire. "He was goin' to be"--she paused and threw a hurried
look over her shoulder--"he was keepin' it secret, but he won't mind
my tellin' NOW. He was goin' to be a--writer some day, he hoped."

Susan's instantly alert attention was most flattering.

"Sho! You don't say! Poems?"

"I don't know." Mrs. McGuire drew back and spoke a little coldly. Now
that the secret was out, Mrs. McGuire was troubled evidently with
qualms of conscience. "He never said much. He didn't want it talked
about."

Susan drew a long breath.

"Yes, I know. 'Tain't so pleasant if folks know--when you can't sell
'em. Now in my case--"

But Mrs. McGuire, with a hurried word about the beans in her oven, had
hastened into the house.

Mrs. McGuire was not the only one with whom Susan was having long
talks. September had come bringing again the opening of the schools,
which in turn had brought Miss Dorothy Parkman back to Hinsdale.

Miss Dorothy was seventeen now, and prettier than ever--in Susan's
opinion. She had been again to her father's home; and Susan never
could hear enough of her visit or of Keith. Nor was Miss Dorothy
evidently in the least loath to talk of her visit--or of Keith.
Patiently, even interestedly, each time she saw Susan, she would
repeat for her the details of Keith's daily life, telling everything
that she knew about him.

"But I've told you all there is, before," she said laughingly one day
at last, when Susan had stopped her as she was going by the house.
"I've told it several times before."

"Yes, I know you have," nodded Susan, drawing a long breath; "but I
always get somethin' new in it, just as I do in the Bible, you know.
You always tell me somethin' you hadn't mentioned before. Now,
to-day--you never told me before about them dominoes you an' him
played together."

"Didn't I?" An added color came into Miss Dorothy's cheeks. "Well, we
played them quite a lot. Poor fellow! Time hung pretty heavily on his
hands, and we HAD to do something for him. There were other games,
too, that we played together."

"But how can he play dominoes, an' those others, when--when he can't
see?"

"Oh, the points of the dominoes are raised, of course, and the board
has little round places surrounded by raised borders for him to keep
his dominoes in. The cards are marked with little raised signs in the
corners, and there are dice studded with tiny nailheads. The
checker-board has little grooves to keep the men from sliding. Of
course, we already had all these games, you know. They use them for
all father's patients. But, of course, Keith had to be taught first."

"And you taught him?"

"Well, I taught him some of them." The added color was still in Miss
Dorothy's cheeks.

"An' you told me last week you read to him."

"Yes, oh, yes. I read to him quite a lot."

The anxiously puckered frown on Susan's face suddenly dissolved into a
broad smile.

"Lan' sakes, if that ain't the limit!" she chuckled.

"Well, what do you mean by that?" bridled Miss Dorothy, looking not
exactly pleased.

"Nothin'. It's only that I was jest a-thinkin' how you was foolin'
him."

"Fooling him?" Miss Dorothy was looking decidedly not pleased now.

"Yes, an' you all the time Dorothy Parkman, an' he not knowin' it."

"Oh!" The color on Miss Dorothy's face was one pink blush now. Then
she laughed lightly. "After all, do you know?--I hardly ever thought
of that, after the very first. He called me Miss Stewart, of course--but
lots of folks out there do that. They don't think, or don't know,
about my name being different, you see. The patients, coming and going
all the time, know me as the doctor's daughter, and naturally call me
'Miss Stewart.' So it doesn't seem so queer when Mr. Keith does it."

"Good!" exclaimed Susan with glowing satisfaction. "An' now here's to
hopin' he won't never find out who you really be!"

"Is he so very bitter, then, against--Dorothy Parkman?" The girl asked
the question a little wistfully.

"He jest is," nodded Susan with unflattering emphasis. "If you'd heard
him when he jest persisted that he wouldn't have anybody that was
Dorothy Parkman's father even look at his eyes you'd have thought so,
I guess. An'--why, he even wrote about it 'way back last Christmas--I
mean, when he first told us about you. He said the doctor had a
daughter, an' she was all right; but he didn't like her at all at
first, 'cause her voice kept remindin' him of somebody he didn't want
to be reminded of."

"Did he really write--THAT?"

"Them's the identifyin' words," avowed Susan. "So you'll jest have to
keep it secret who you be, you see," she warned her.

"Yes, I--see," murmured the girl. All the pretty color had quite gone
from her face now, leaving it a little white and strained-looking.
"I'll try--to."

"Of course, when he gets back his sight he'll find out--that is, Miss
Dorothy, he IS going to get it back, ain't he?" Susan's own face now
had become a little white and strained-looking.

Miss Dorothy shook her head.

"I don't know, Susan; but I'm--afraid."

"Afraid! You don't mean he AIN'T goin' to?" Susan caught Miss
Dorothy's arm in a vise-like grip.

"No, no, not that; but we aren't--SURE. And--and the symptoms aren't
quite so good as they were," hurried on the girl a bit feverishly.

"But I thought he could see--light," faltered Susan.

"He could, at first, but it's been getting dimmer and dimmer, and
now"--the girl stopped and wet her lips--"there's to be a second
operation, you know. Father hopes to have it by Christmas, or before;
but I know father is afraid--that is--he thinks--"

"He don't like the way things is goin'," cut in Susan grimly. "Ain't
that about it?"

"I'm afraid it is," faltered Miss Dorothy, wetting her lips again.
"And when I think of that boy--" She turned away her head, leaving her
sentence unfinished.

"Well, we ain't goin' to think of it till it comes" declared Susan
stoutly. "An' then--well, if it does come, we've all got to set to an'
help him forget it. That's all."

"Yes, of--course," murmured the girl, turning away again. And this
time she turned quite away and went on down the street, leaving Susan
by the gate alone.

"Nice girl, an' a mighty pretty one, too," whispered Susan, looking
after the trim little figure in its scarlet cap and sweater. "An'
she's got a good kind heart in her, too, a-carin' like that about that
poor boy's bein'--"

Susan stopped short. A new look had come to her face--a look of
wonder, questioning, and dawning delight. "Lan' sakes, why hain't I
never thought of that before?" she muttered, her eyes still on the
rapidly disappearing little red figure down the street. "Oh, 'course
they're nothin' but babies now, but by an' by--! Still, if he ever
found out she was Dorothy Parkman, an' of course he'd have to find it
out if he married--Oh, lan' sakes, what fools some folks be!"

With which somewhat cryptic statement Susan turned and marched
irritably into the house.



CHAPTER XVII

DANIEL BURTON TAKES THE PLUNGE


Dr. Stewart's second operation on Keith's eyes took place late in
November. It was not a success. Far from increasing his vision, it
lessened it. Only dimly now could he discern light at all.

In a letter to Daniel Burton, Dr. Stewart stated the case freely and
frankly, yet he declared that he had not given up hope--yet. He had a
plan which, with Mr. Burton's kind permission, he would carry out. He
then went on to explain.

In Paris there was a noted specialist in whom he had great confidence.
He wished very much that this man could see Keith. To take Keith over
now, however, as war conditions were, would, of course, be difficult
and hazardous. Besides, as he happened to know, this would not be
necessary, for the great man was coming to this country some time in
May. To bring Keith to his attention then would be a simple matter,
and a chance well worth waiting for. Meanwhile, the boy was as
comfortable where he was as he could be anywhere, and, moreover, there
were certain treatments which should still be continued. With Daniel
Burton's kind permission, therefore, the doctor would keep Keith where
he was for the present, pending the arrival of the great specialist.

It was a bitter blow. For days after the letter came, Daniel Burton
shut himself up in his studio refusing to see any one but Susan, and
almost refusing to see her. Susan, indeed, heart-broken as she was
herself, had no time to indulge her own grief, so busy was she trying
to concoct something that would tempt her employer to break a fast
that was becoming terrifying to her.

Then came Keith's letter. He wrote cheerfully, hopefully. He told of
new games that he was playing, new things of interest that he was
"seeing." He said nothing whatever about the operation. He did say
that there was a big doctor coming from Paris, whom he was going to
"see" in May, however. That was all.

When the doctor's letter had come, telling of the failure of the
second operation, Susan had read it and accepted it with sternly
controlled eyes that did not shed one tear. But when Keith's letter
came, not even mentioning the operation, her self-control snapped, and
she burst openly into tears.

"I don't care," she sobbed, in answer to Daniel Burton's amazed
exclamation. "When I think of the way that blessed boy is holdin' up
his head an' marchin' straight on; an' you an' me here--oh, lan'
sakes, what's the use of TRYIN' to say it!" she despaired, turning and
hurrying from the room.

In December Dr. Stewart came on again to take his daughter back for
the holidays. He called at once to see Mr. Burton, and the two had a
long conference in the studio, while Susan feverishly moved from room
to room downstairs, taking up and setting down one object after
another in the aimless fashion of one whose fingers are not controlled
by the mind.

When the doctor had gone, Susan did not wait for Daniel Burton to seek
her out. She went at once to the studio.

"No, he had nothing new to say about Keith," began the man, answering
the agonized question in her eyes before her lips could frame the
words.

"But didn't he say NOTHIN'?"

"Oh, yes, he said a great deal--but it was only a repetition of what
he had said before in the letter." Daniel Burton spoke wearily,
constrainedly. His face had grown a little white. "The doctor bought
the big sofa in the hall downstairs, and the dropleaf table in the
dining-room."

"Humph! But will he PAY anything for them things?"

"Yes, he will pay well for them. And--Susan."

"Yes, sir." Something in the man's face and voice put a curious note
of respect into Susan's manner as sudden as it was unusual.

"I've been intending to tell you for some time. I--I shall want
breakfast at seven o'clock to-morrow morning. I--I am going to work in
McGuire's store."

"You are goin' to--what?" Susan's face was aghast.

"To work, I said," repeated Daniel Burton sharply. "I shall want
breakfast at seven o'clock, Susan." He turned away plainly indicating
that for him the matter was closed.

But for Susan the matter was not closed.

"Daniel Burton, you ain't goin' to demean yourself like that!" she
gasped;--"an artistical gentleman like you! Why, I'd rather work my
hands to the bones--"

"That will do, Susan. You may go."

And Susan went. There were times when Susan did go.

But not yet for Susan was the matter closed. Only an hour later Mrs.
McGuire "ran over" with a letter from her John to read to Susan. But
barely had she finished reading the letter aloud, when the real object
of her visit was disclosed by the triumphant:

"Well, Susan Betts, I notice even an artist has to come down to bein'
a 'common storekeeper' sometimes."

Susan drew herself up haughtily.

"Of course, Mis' McGuire, 't ain't for me to pretense that I don't
know what you're inferrin' to. But jest let me tell you this: it don't
make no difference how many potatoes an' molasses jugs an' kerosene
cans Daniel Burton hands over the counter he won't never be jest a
common storekeeper. He'll be THINKIN' flowers an' woods an' sunsets
jest the same. Furthermore an' moreover, in my opinion it's a very
honorary an' praiseful thing for him to do, to go out in the hedges
an' byways an' earn money like that, when, if the world only knew
enough to know a good thing when they see it, they'd be buy in' them
pictures of his, an' not subjugate him to the mystification of earnin'
his bread by the sweat of his forehead."

"Oh, good gracious me, Susan Betts, how you do run on, when you get
started!" ejaculated Mrs. McGuire impatiently, yet laughingly. "An' I
might have known what you'd say, too, if I'd stopped to think. Well, I
must be goin', anyhow. I only came over to show you the letter from my
John. I'm sure I wish't was him comin' back to his old place behind
the counter instead of your Daniel Burton," she sighed. "I'd buy every
picture he ever painted (if I had the money), if 't would only bring
my John back, away from all those awful bombs an' shells an' shrapnel
that he's always writin' about."

"Them be nice letters he writes, I'm free to confess," commented Susan
graciously. "Not that they tell so much what he's doin', though; but I
s'pose they're censured, anyhow--all them letters be."

Mrs. McGuire, her eyes dreamily fixed out the window, nodded her head
slowly.

"Yes, I s'pose so; but there's a lot left--there's always a lot left.
And everything he writes I can just see. It was always like that with
my John. Let him go downtown an' come back--you'd think he'd been to
the circus, the wonderful things he'd tell me he'd seen on the way.
An' he'd set 'em out an' describe 'em until I could just see 'em
myself! I'll never forget. One day he went to a fire. The old Babcock
house burned, an' he saw it. He was twelve years old. I was sick in
bed, an' he told me about it. I can see him now, standin' at the foot
of the bed, his cheeks red, his eyes sparklin' an' his little hands
flourishin' right an' left in his excitement. As he talked, I could
just see that old house burn. I could hear the shouts of the men, the
roar an' cracklin' of the flames, an' see 'em creepin', creepin',
gainin', gainin'-! Oh, it was wonderful--an' there I was right in my
own bed, all the time. It was just the way he told it. That's why I
know he could have been a writer. He could make others see--everything.
But now--that's all over now. He'll never be--anything. I can see him.
I can see all that horrible battle-field with the reelin' men, the
flames, the smoke, the burstin' shells, an', oh, God--my John! Will
he ever, ever come back--to me?"

"There, there, Mis' McGuire, I jest wouldn't--" But Mrs. McGuire, with
a shake of her head, and her eyes half covered with her hand, turned
away and stumbled out of the kitchen.

Susan, looking after her, drew a long sigh.

     "Worry never climbed a hill,
       Worry never--

There's some times when it's frank impertinence to tell folks not to
worry," she muttered severely to herself, attacking the piled-up
dishes before her.

Daniel Burton went to work in McGuire's grocery store the next
morning, after a particularly appetizing breakfast served to him by a
silent, red-eyed, but very attentive Susan.

"An' 'twas for all the world like a lamb to the slaughter-house,"
Susan moaned to the law-student lodger when she met him on the stairs
at eight o'clock that morning. "An' if you want to see a real
slaughter-house, you jest come in here," she beckoned him, leading the
way to the studio.

"But--but--that is--well--" stammered the young fellow, looking not a
little startled as he followed her, with half-reluctant feet.

In the studio Susan flourished accusing arms.

"Look at that, an' that, an' that!" she cried. "Why, it's like jest
any extraordinary common-sense room now, that anybody might have, with
them pictures all put away, an' his easel hid behind the door, an' not
a brush or a cube of paint in sight--an' him dolin' out vinegar an'
molasses down to that old store. I tell you it made me sick, Mr.
Jenkins, sick!"

"Yes, yes, that's so," murmured Mr. Jenkins, vaguely.

"Well, it did. Why, it worked me up so I jest sat right down an' made
up a poem on it. I couldn't help it. An' it came easy, too--'most like
the spontaneous combustion kind that I used to write, only I made it
free verse. You know that's all the rage now. Like this," she
finished, producing from somewhere about her person a half-sheet of
note-paper.

     "Alone an' dark
      The studio
      Waited:
      Waited for the sun of day.
      But when it rose,
      Alas!
      No lovely pictures greeted
      The fiery gob.
      Only their backs showed
      White an' sorry an' some dusty.
      No easel sprawled long legs
      To trip
      An' make you slip.
      No cubes of pig-lent gray
      Or black,
      Nor any other color lent brightness
      To this dank world.
      An' he--the artist? The bright soul who
      Bossed this ranch?
      Alas!
      Doomed to hide his bright talons
      In smelly kegs of kerosene
      An' molasses brown an' sticky.
      Alas, that I should see an'
      Know this
      Day.

There, now, ain't that about the way 'tis?" she demanded feelingly.

"Er--yes, yes, it is. That's so." Mr. Jenkins was backing out of the
room and looking toward the stairway. Mr. Jenkins had been a member of
the Burton household long enough to have learned to take Susan at her
own valuation, with no questions asked. "Yes, that's so," he repeated,
as he plunged down the stairs.

To Daniel Burton himself Susan made no further protests or even
comments--except the silent comment of eager service with some
favorite dish for every meal. As Christmas drew near, and Daniel
Burton's hours grew longer, Susan still made no audible comment; but
she redoubled her efforts to make him comfortable the few hours left
to him at home.



CHAPTER XVIII

"MISS STEWART"


It was just after Christmas that another letter came from Keith. It
was addressed as usual to Susan. Keith had explained in his second
letter that he was always going to write to Susan, so that she might
read it to his father, thus saving him the disagreeableness of seeing
how crooked and uneven some of his lines were. His father had
remonstrated--feebly; but Keith still wrote to Susan.

Keith had been improving in his writing very rapidly, however, since
those earliest letters, and most of his letters now were models of
even lines and carefully formed characters. But this letter Susan saw
at once was very different. It bore unmistakable marks of haste,
agitation, and lack of care. It began abruptly, after the briefest of
salutations:

Why didn't you tell me you knew Miss Stewart? She says she knows you
real well, and father, too, and that she's been to the house lots of
times, and that she's going back to Hinsdale next week, and that she
is going to school there this year, and will graduate in June.

Oh, she didn't tell me all this at once, you bet your sweet life. I
had to worm it out of her little by little. But what I want to know
is, why you folks didn't tell me anything about it--that you knew her,
and all that? But you never said a word--not a word. Neither you nor
dad. But she says she knows dad real well. Funny dad never mentioned
it!

Miss Stewart sure is a peach of a girl all right and the best ever to
me. She's always hunting up new games for me to play. She's taught me
two this time, and she's read two books to me. There's a new fellow
here named Henty, and we play a lot together. I am well, and getting
along all right. Guess that's all for this time. Love to all.
                              KEITH
P.S. Now don't forget to tell me why you never said a thing that you
knew Miss Stewart.
                 K.

"Well, now I guess the kettle is in the fire, all right!" ejaculated
Susan, folding the letter with hands that shook a little.

"What do you mean?" asked Daniel Burton.

"Why, about that girl, of course. He'll find out now she's Dorothy
Parkman. He can't help findin' it out!" "Well, what if he does?"
demanded the man, a bit impatiently.

"'What if he does?'" repeated Susan, with lofty scorn. "I guess you'll
find what 'tis when that boy does find out she's Dorothy Parkman, an'
then won't have nothin' more to do with her, nor her father, nor her
father's new doctor, nor anything that is hers."

"Nonsense, Susan, don't be silly," snapped the man, still more
irritably. "'Nor her father, nor her father's new doctor, nor anything
that is hers,' indeed! You sound for all the world as if you were
chanting a catechism! What's the matter? Doesn't the boy like Miss
Dorothy?"

"Why, Daniel Burton, you know he don't! I told you long ago all about
it, when I explained how we'd got to give her father a resumed name,
so Keith wouldn't know, an'--"

"Oh, THAT! What she said about not wanting to see blind people?
Nonsense, Susan, that was years ago, when they were children! Why,
Keith's a man, nearly. You're forgetting--he'll be eighteen next June,
Susan."

"That's all right, Mr. Burton." Susan's lips snapped together grimly
and her chin assumed its most defiant tilt. "I ain't sayin' he ain't.
But there's some cases where age don't make a mite of difference, an'
you'll find this is one of 'em. You mark my words, Daniel Burton. I
have seen jest as big fools at eighteen, an' eighty, for that matter,
as I have at eight. 'T ain't a matter of decree at all. Keith Burton
got it into his head when he was first goin' blind that Dorothy
Parkman would hate to look at him if ever he did get blind; an' he
just vowed an' determined that if ever he did get that way, she
shouldn't see him. Well, now he's blind. An' if you think he's forgot
what Dorothy Parkman said, you'd oughter been with me when she came to
see him with Mazie Sanborn one day, or even when they just called up
to him on the piazza one mornin'."

"Well, well, very likely," conceded the man irritably; "but I still
must remind you, Susan, that all this was some time ago. Keith's got
more sense now." "Maybe--an' then again maybe not. However, we'll
see--what we will see," she mumbled, as she left the room with a little
defiant toss of her head.

Susan did not answer Keith's letter at once. Just how she was going to
answer that particular question concerning their acquaintance with
"Miss Stewart" she did not know, nor could she get any assistance from
Daniel Burton on the subject.

"Why, tell him the truth, of course," was all that Daniel Burton would
answer, with a shrug, in reply to her urgent appeals for aid in the
matter. This, Susan, in utter horror, refused to do.

"But surely you don't expect to keep it secret forever who she is, do
you?" demanded Daniel Burton scornfully one day.

"Of course I don't. But I'm going to keep it jest as long as I can,"
avowed Susan doggedly. "An' maybe I can keep it--till he gets his
blessed eyes back. I shan't care if he does find out then."

"I don't think--we'll any of us--mind anything then, Susan," said the
man softly, a little brokenly. And Susan, looking into his face,
turned away suddenly, to hide her own.

That evening Susan heard that Dorothy Parkman was expected to arrive
in Hinsdale in two days.

"I'll jest wait, then, an' intervene the young lady my own self," she
mused, as she walked home from the post-office. "This tryin' to settle
Dorothy Parkman's affairs without Dorothy Parkman is like havin'
omelet with omelet left out," she finished, nodding to herself all in
the dark, as she turned in at the Burton gateway.

Dorothy Parkman came two days later. As was usual now she came at once
to the house. Susan on the watch, met her at the door, before she
could touch the bell.

"Come in, come in! My, but I'm glad to see you!" exclaimed Susan
fervently, fairly pulling her visitor into the house. "Now tell me
everything----every single thing."

"Why, there isn't much to tell, Susan. Mr. Keith is about the same,
and--"

"No, no, I mean--about YOU" interrupted Susan, motioning the girl to a
chair, and drawing her own chair nearer. "About your bein' in Hinsdale
an' knowin' us, an' all that, an' his finding it out."

"Oh, THAT!" The color flew instantly into Miss Dorothy's cheeks. "Then
he's--he's written you?"

"Written us! I should say he had! An' he wants to know why we hain't
told him we know you. An', lan' sakes, Miss Dorothy, what can we tell
him?"

"I--I don't know, Susan."

"But how'd you get in such a mess? How'd he find out to begin with?"
demanded the woman.

Miss Dorothy drew a long sigh. "Oh, it was my fault, of course.
I--forgot. Still, it's a wonder I hadn't forgotten before. You see,
inadvertently, I happened to drop a word about Mr. Burton. 'Do you
know my dad?' he burst out. Then he asked another and another
question. Of course, I saw right away that I must turn it off as if I
supposed he'd known it all the time. It wouldn't do to make a secret
of it and act embarrassed because he'd found it out, for of course
then he'd suspect something wrong right away."

"Yes, yes, I s'pose so," admitted Susan worriedly. "But, lan' sakes,
look at us! What are we goin' to say? Now he wants to know why we
hain't told him about knowin' you."

"I don't know, Susan, I don't know." The girl shook her head and
caught her breath a bit convulsively. "Of course, when I first let it
go that I was 'Miss Stewart,' I never realized where it was going to
lead, nor how--how hard it might be to keep it up. I've been expecting
every day he'd find out, from some one there. But he hasn't--yet. Of
course, Aunt Hattie, who keeps house for father, is in the secret, and
SHE'D never give it away. Most of the patients don't know much about
me, anyway. You see, I've never been there much. They just know
vaguely of 'the doctor's daughter,' and they just naturally call her
'Miss Stewart.'"

"Yes, yes, I see, I see," nodded Susan, again still worriedly. "But
what I'm thinkin' of is US, Miss Dorothy. How are we goin' to get
'round not mentionin' you all this time, without his findin' out who
you be an' demandin' a full exposition of the whole affair. Say, look
a-here, would it be--be very bad if he DID find out you was Dorothy
Parkman?"

"I'm afraid--it would be, Susan." The girl spoke slowly, a bit
unsteadily. She had gone a little white at the question.

"Has he SAID anything?"

"Nothing, only he-- When we were talking that day, and he was flinging
out those questions one after another, about Hinsdale, and what I knew
of it, he--he asked if I knew Dorothy Parkman."

"Miss Dorothy, he didn't!"

"But he did. It was awful, Susan. I felt like--like--"

"Of course you did," interposed Susan, her face all sympathy,
"a-sailin' under false premises like that, an' when you were perfectly
innocuous, too, of any sinfulness, an' was jest doing it for his best
good an' peace of mind. Lan' sakes, what a prediction to be in! What
DID you say?"

"Why, I said yes, of course. I had to say yes. And I tried to turn it
off right away, and not talk any more about it. But that was easy,
anyway, for--for Mr. Keith himself dropped it. But I knew, by the way
he looked, and said 'yes, I know her, too,' in that quiet, stern way
of his, that--that I'd better not let him find out I was she--not if I
wanted to--to stay in the room," she finished, laughing a little
hysterically.

"Lan' sakes, you don't say!" frowned Susan.

"Yes; and so that's what makes me know that whatever you do, you
mustn't let him know that I am Dorothy Parkman," cried the girl
feverishly; "not now--not until he's seen the Paris doctor, for
there's no knowing what he'd do. He'd be so angry, you see. He'd never
forgive me, for on top of all the rest is the deceit--that I've been
with him all these different times, and let him call me 'Miss
Stewart.'"

"But how can we do that?" demanded Susan.

"Why, just turn it off lightly. Say, of course, you know me; and seem
surprised that you never happened to mention it before. Tell him, oh,
yes, I come quite often to tell you and Mr. Burton how he's getting
along, and all that. Just make nothing of it--take it as a matter of
course, not worth mentioning. See? Then go on and talk about something
else. That'll fix it all right, I'm sure, Susan."

"Hm-m; maybe so, an' then again maybe not," observed Susan, with
frowning doubt. "As I was tellin' Mr. Burton this mornin' we've got to
be 'specially careful about Keith jest now. It's the most
hypercritical time there can be--with him waitin' to see that big
doctor, an' all--an' he mustn't be upset, no matter what happens, nor
how many white lies we have to prognosticate here at home."

"I guess that's so, Susan." Miss Dorothy's eyes were twinkling now.
"And, by the way, where is Mr. Burton? I haven't seen him yet."

"He ain't here."

"You don't mean he has gone out of town?" The girl had looked up in
surprise at the crisp terseness of Susan's reply.

"Oh, no, he's--in Hinsdale."

"Painting any new pictures these days?" Miss Dorothy was on her feet
to go. She asked the question plainly not for information, but to fill
the embarrassing pause that Susan's second reply had brought to the
conversation.

"No, he ain't," spoke up Susan with a vehemence as disconcerting as it
was sudden. "He ain't paintin' nothin', an' he ain't drawin' nothin'
neither--only molasses an' vinegar an' kerosene. He's clerkin' down to
McGuire's grocery store, if you want to know. That's where he is."

"Why--SUSAN!"

"Yes, I know. You don't have to say nothin', Miss Dorothy. Besides, I
wouldn't let you say it if you did. I won't let nobody say it but me.
But I will say this much. When folks has set one foot in the cemetery,
an' a lame one at that, an' can't see nor hear nor think straight, I
don't think it's no hilarious offense to wish they'd hurry up an' get
to where they could have all them handy facilities back again, an'
leave their money to folks what has got their full complaint of
senses, ready to enjoy life, if they get a chance. Oh, yes, I know you
don't know what I'm talkin' about, an' perhaps it's jest as well you
don't, Miss Dorothy. I hadn't oughter said it, anyhow. Well, I s'pose
I've got to go write that letter to Keith now. Seein' as how you've
come I can't put it off no longer. Goodness only knows, though, what
I'm goin' to say," she sighed, as her visitor nodded back a
wistful-eyed good-bye.



CHAPTER XIX

A MATTER OF LETTERS


Susan said afterward, in speaking of that spring, that "'twas nothin'
but jest one serious of letters." And, indeed, life did seem to be
mostly made up of letters.

At the sanatorium Keith was waiting for spring and the new doctor; and
that the waiting was proving to be a little nerve-racking was proved
by the infrequency of his letters home, and the shortness and
uncommunicativeness of such as did come.

Letters to him from Hinsdale were longer and were invariably bright
and cheery. Yet they did not really tell so much, after all. To be
sure, they did contain frequent reference to "your Miss Stewart," and
gave carefully casual accounts of what she did and said. In the very
first letter Susan had hit upon the idea of always referring to the
young lady as "your Miss Stewart."

"Then we won't be tellin' no lies," she had explained to Mr. Burton,
'"cause she IS his 'Miss Stewart.' See? She certainly don't belong to
no one else under that name--that's sure!"

But however communicative as regards "Miss Stewart" the letters were,
they were very far from that as regarded some other matters. For
instance: neither in Daniel Burton's letters, nor in Susan's, was
there any reference to the new clerk in McGuire's grocery store. So
far as anything that Keith knew to the contrary, his father was still
painting unsalable pictures in the Burton home-stead studio.

But even these were not all the letters that spring. There were the
letters of John McGuire from far-away France--really wonderful
letters--letters that brought to the little New England town the very
breath of the battle-field itself, the smell of its smoke, the shrieks
of its shells. And with Mr. Burton, with Susan, with the whole
neighborhood indeed, Mrs. McGuire shared them. They were even printed
occasionally in the town's weekly newspaper. And they were talked of
everywhere, day in and day out. No wonder, then, that, to Susan, the
spring seemed but a "serious of letters."

It was in May that the great Paris doctor was expected; but late in
April came a letter from Dr. Stewart saying that, owing to war
conditions, the doctor had been delayed. He would not reach this
country now until July--which meant two more months of weary waiting
for Keith and for Keith's friends at home.

It was just here that Susan's patience snapped.

"When you get yourself screwed up to stand jest so much, an' then they
come along with jest a little more, somethin's got to break, I tell
you. Well, I've broke."

Whether as a result of the "break" or not, Susan did not say, neither
did she mention whether it was to assuage her own grief or to
alleviate Keith's; but whatever it was, Susan wrote these verses and
sent them to Keith:

  BY THE DAY

 When our back is nigh to breakin',
 An' our strength is nearly gone,
 An' along there comes the layin'
 Of another burden on--

 If we'll only jest remember,
 No matter what's to pay,
 That 'tisn't yet December,
 An' we're livin' by the day.

'Most any one can stand it--
 What jest TO-DAY has brought.
 It's when we try to lump it,
 An' take it by the lot!

 Why, any back would double,
 An' any legs'll bend,
 If we pile on all the trouble
 Meant to last us till the end!

 So if we'll jest remember,
 Half the woe from life we'll rob
 If we'll only take it "by the day,"
 An' not live it "by the job."

"Of course that ''tisn't yet December' is poem license, and hain't
really got much sense to it," wrote Susan in the letter she sent with
the verses. "I put it in mostly to rhyme with 'remember.' (There
simply wasn't a thing to rhyme with that word!) But, do you know,
after I got it down I saw it really could mean somethin', after
all--kind of diabolical-like for the end of life, you know, like
December is the end of the year.

"Well, anyhow, they done me lots of good, them verses did, an' I hope
they will you."

In June Dorothy Parkman was graduated from the Hinsdale Academy. Both
Mr. Burton and Susan attended the exercises, though not together. Then
Susan sat down and wrote a glowing account of the affair to Keith,
dilating upon the fine showing that "your Miss Stewart" made.

"It can't last forever, of course--this subtractin' Miss Stewart's
name for Dorothy Parkman," she said to Mr. Burton, when she handed him
the letter to mail. "But I'm jest bound an' determined it shall last
till that there Paris doctor gets his hands on him. An' she ain't
goin' back now to her father's for quite a spell--Miss Dorothy, I
mean," further explained Susan. "I guess she don't want to take no
chances herself of his findin' out--jest yet," declared Susan, with a
sage wag of her head. "Anyhow, she's had an inspiration to go see a
girl down to the beach, an' she's goin'. So we're safe for a while.
But, oh, if July'd only hurry up an' come!"

And yet, when July came--

They were so glad, afterward, that Dr. Stewart wrote the letter that
in a measure prepared them for the bad news. He wrote the day before
the operation. He said that the great oculist was immensely interested
in the case and eager to see what he could do--though he could hold
out no sort of promise that he would be able to accomplish the desired
results. Dr. Stewart warned them, therefore, not to expect
anything--though, of course, they might hope. Hard on the heels of the
letter came the telegram. The operation had been performed--and had
failed, they feared. They could not tell surely, however, until the
bandages were removed, which would be early in August. But even if it
had failed, there was yet one more chance, the doctor wrote. He would
say nothing about that, however, until he was obliged to.

In August he wrote about it. He was obliged to. The operation had been
so near a failure that they might as well call it that. The Paris
oculist, however, had not given up hope. There was just one man in the
world who might accomplish the seemingly impossible and give back
sight to Keith's eyes--at least a measure of sight, he said. This man
lived in London. He had been singularly successful in several of the
few similar cases known to the profession. Therefore, with their kind
permission, the great Paris doctor would take Keith back with him to
his brother oculist in London. He would like to take ship at once, as
soon as arrangements could possibly be made. There would be delay
enough, anyway, as it was. So far as any question of pay was
concerned, the indebtedness would be on their side entirely if they
were privileged to perform the operation, for each new case of this
very rare malady added knowledge of untold value to the profession,
hence to humanity in general. He begged, therefore, a prompt word of
permission from Keith's father.

"Don't you give it, don't you give it!" chattered Susan, with white
lips, when the proposition was made clear to her.

"Why, Susan, I thought you'd be willing to try anything, ANYTHING--for
Keith's sake."

"An' so I would, sir, anything in season. But not this. Do you think
I'd set that blessed boy afloat on top of them submarines an'
gas-mines, an' to go to London for them German Zepherin's to rain down
bombs an' shrapnel on his head, an' he not bein' able to see a thing
to dodge 'em when he sees 'em comin'? Why, Daniel Burton, I'm ashamed
of you--to think of it, for a minute!"

"There, there, Susan, that will do. You mean well, I know; but this is
a matter that I shall have to settle for myself, for myself," he
muttered with stern dignity, rising to his feet. Yet when he left the
room a moment later, head and shoulders bowed, he looked so old and
worn that Susan, gazing after him, put a spasmodic hand to her throat.

"An' I jest know I'm goin' to lose 'em both now," she choked as she
turned away.

Keith went to London. Then came more weeks of weary, anxious waiting.
Letters were not so regular now, nor so frequent. Definite news was
hard to obtain. Yet in the end it came all too soon--and it was
piteously definite.

Keith was coming home. The great London doctor, too, had--failed.



CHAPTER XX

WITH CHIN UP


Keith came in April. The day before he was expected, Susan, sweeping
off the side porch, was accosted by Mrs. McGuire.

It was the first warm spring-like day, and Mrs. McGuire, bareheaded
and coatless, had opened the back-yard gate and was picking her way
across the spongy turf.

"My, but isn't this a great day, Susan!" she called, with an ecstatic,
indrawn breath. "I only wish it was as nice under foot."

"Hain't you got no rubbers on?" Susan's disapproving eyes sought Mrs.
McGuire's feet.

Mrs. McGuire laughed lightly.

"No. That's the one thing I leave off the first possible minute. Some
way, I feel as if I was helpin' along the spring."

"Humph! Well, I should help along somethin' 'sides spring, I guess, if
I did it. Besides, it strikes me rubbers ain't the only thing you're
leavin' off." Susan's disapproving eyes had swept now to Mrs.
McGuire's unprotected head and shoulders.

"Oh, I'm not cold. I love it. As if this glorious spring sunshine
could do any one any harm! Susan, it's LIEUTENANT McGuire, now! I came
over to tell you. My John's been promoted."

"Sho, you don't say! Ain't that wonderful, now?" Susan's broom stopped
in midair.

"Not when you know my John!" The proud mother lifted her head a
little. "'For bravery an' valiant service'--Lieutenant McGuire! Oh
Susan, Susan, but I'm the proud woman this mornin'!"

"Yes, of course, of course, I ain't wonderin' you be!" Susan drew a
long sigh and fell to sweeping again.

Mrs. McGuire, looking into Susan's face, came a step nearer. Her own
face sobered.

"An' me braggin' like this, when you folks-! I know--you're thinkin'
of that poor blind boy. An' it's just to-morrow that he comes, isn't
it?"

Susan nodded dumbly.

"An' it's all ended now an' decided--he can't ever see, I s'pose,"
went on Mrs. McGuire. "I heard 'em talkin' down to the store last
night. It seems terrible."

"Yes, it does." Susan was sweeping vigorously now, over and over again
in the same place.

"I wonder how--he'll take it."

Susan stopped sweeping and turned with a jerk.

"Take it? He's got to take it, hain't he?" she demanded fiercely.
"He's GOT TO! An' things you've got to do, you do. That's all. You'll
see. Keith Burton ain't no quitter. He'll take it with his head up an'
his shoulders braced. I know. You'll see. Don't I remember the look on
his blessed face that day he went away, an' stood on them steps there,
callin' back his cheery good-bye?"

"But, Susan, there was hope then, an' there isn't any now--an' you
haven't seen him since. You forget that."

"No, I don't," retorted Susan doggedly. "I ain't forgettin' nothin'.
'But you'll see!"

"An' he's older. He realizes more. Why, he must be--How old is he,
anyway?"

"He'll be nineteen next June."

"Almost a man. Poor boy, poor boy--an' him with all these years of
black darkness ahead of him! I tell you, Susan, I never appreciated my
eyes as I have since Keith lost his. Seems as though anybody that's
got their eyes hadn't ought to complain of--anything. I was thinkin'
this mornin', comin' over, how good it was just to SEE the blue sky
an' the sunshine an' the little buds breakin' through their brown
jackets. Why, Susan, I never realized how good just seein' was--till I
thought of Keith, who can't never see again."

"Yes. Well, I've got to go in now, Mis' McGuire. Good-bye."

Words, manner, and tone of voice were discourtesy itself; but Mrs.
McGuire, looking at Susan's quivering face, brimming eyes, and set
lips, knew it for what it was and did not mistake it for--discourtesy.
But because she knew Susan would prefer it so, she turned away with a
light "Yes, so've I. Good-bye!" which gave no sign that she had seen
and understood.

Dr. Stewart came himself with Keith to Hinsdale and accompanied him to
the house. It had been the doctor's own suggestion that neither the
boy's father nor Susan should meet them at the train. Perhaps the
doctor feared for that meeting. Naturally it would not be an easy one.
Naturally too, he did not want to add one straw to Keith's already
grievous burden. So he had written:

I will come to the house. As I am a little uncertain as to the train I
can catch from Boston, do not try to meet me at the station.

"Jest as if we couldn't see through that subterranean!" Susan had
muttered to herself over the dishes that morning. "I guess he knows
what train he's goin' to take all right. He jest didn't want us to
meet him an' make a scenic at the depot. I wonder if he thinks I
would! Don't he think I knows anything?"

But, after all, it was very simple, very quiet, very ordinary. Dr.
Stewart rang the bell and Susan went to the door. And there they
stood: Keith, big and strong and handsome (Susan had forgotten that
two years could transform a somewhat awkward boy into so fine and
stalwart a youth); the doctor, pale, and with an apprehensive
uncertainty in his eyes.

"Well, Susan, how are you?" Keith's voice was strong and steady, and
the outstretched hand gripped hers with a clasp that hurt.

Then, in some way never quite clear to her, Susan found herself in the
big living-room with Keith and the doctor and Daniel Burton, all
shaking hands and all talking at once. They sat down then, and their
sentences became less broken, less incoherent. But they said only
ordinary things about the day, the weather, the journey home, John
McGuire, the war, the President's message, the entry of the United
States into the conflict. There was nothing whatever said about eyes
that could see or eyes that could not see, or operations that failed.

And by and by the doctor got up and said that he must go. To be sure,
the good-byes were a little hurriedly spoken, and the voices were at a
little higher pitch than was usual; and when the doctor had gone,
Keith and his father went at once upstairs to the studio and shut the
door.

Susan went out into the kitchen then and took up her neglected work.
She made a great clatter of pans and dishes, and she sang lustily at
her "mad song," and at several others. But every now and then, between
songs and rattles, she would stop and listen intently; and twice she
climbed halfway up the back stairs and stood poised, her breath
suspended, her anxious eyes on that closed studio door.

Yet supper that night was another very ordinary occurrence, with Keith
and his father talking of the war and Susan waiting upon them with a
cheerfulness that was almost obtrusive.

In her own room that night, however, Susan addressed an imaginary
Keith, all in the dark.

"You're fine an' splendid, an' I love you for it, Keith, my boy," she
choked; "but you don't fool your old Susan. Your chin is up, jest as I
said 'twould be, an' you're marchin' straight ahead. But inside, your
heart is breakin'. Do you think I don't KNOW? But we ain't goin' to
let each other KNOW we know, Keith, my boy. Not much we ain't! An' I
guess if you can march straight ahead with your chin up, the rest of
us can, all right. We'll see!"

And Susan was singing again the next morning when she did her
breakfast dishes.

At ten o'clock Keith came into the kitchen.

"Where's dad, Susan? He isn't in the studio and I've looked in every
room in the house and I can't find him anywhere." Keith spoke with the
aggrieved air of one who has been deprived of his just rights.

Susan's countenance changed. "Why, Keith, don't you--that is, your
father--Didn't he tell you?" stammered Susan.

"Tell me what?"

"Why, that--that he was goin' to be away."

"No, he didn't. What do you mean? Away where? How long?"

"Why, er--working."

"Sketching?--in this storm? Nonsense, Susan! Besides, he'd have taken
me. He always took me. Susan, what's the matter? Where IS dad?" A note
of uncertainty, almost fear, had crept into the boy's voice. "You're
keeping--SOMETHING from me."

Susan caught her breath and threw a swift look into Keith's unseeing
eyes. Then she laughed, hysterically, a bit noisily.

"Keepin' somethin' from you? Why, sure we ain't, boy! Didn't I jest
tell you? He's workin' down to McGuire's."

"WORKING! Down to MCGUIRE'S!" Keith plainly did not yet understand.

"Sure! An' he's got a real good position, too." Susan spoke jauntily,
enthusiastically.

"But the McGuires never buy pictures," frowned Keith, "or want--" He
stopped short. Face, voice, and manner underwent a complete change.
"Susan, you don't mean that dad is CLERKING down there behind that
grocery counter!"

Susan saw and recognized the utter horror and dismay in Keith's lace,
and quailed before it. But she managed in some way to keep her voice
still triumphant.

"Sure he is! An' he gets real good wages, too, an'--" But Keith with a
low cry had gone.

Before the noon dinner, however, he appeared again at the kitchen
door. His face was very white now.

"Susan, how long has dad been doing this?"

"Oh, quite a while. Funny, now! Hain't he ever told you?"

"No. But there seem to be quite a number of things that you people
haven't told me."

Susan winced, but she still held her ground jauntily.

"Oh, yes, quite a while," she nodded cheerfully. "An' he gets-"

"But doesn't he paint any more--at all?" interrupted the boy sharply.

"Why, no; no, I don't know that he does," tossed Susan airily. "An' of
course, if he's found somethin' he likes better--"

"Susan, you don't have to talk like that to me" interposed Keith
quietly. "I understand, of course. There are some things that can be
seen without--eyes."

"Oh, but honest, Keith, he--" But once again Keith had gone and Susan
found herself talking to empty air.

When Susan went into the dining-room that evening to wait at dinner,
she went with fear and trepidation, and she looked apprehensively into
the faces of the two men sitting opposite each other. But in the
kitchen, a few minutes later, she muttered to herself:

"Pooh! I needn't have worried. They've got sense, both of 'em, an'
they know that what's got to be has got to be. That's all. An' that it
don't do no good to fuss. I needn't have worried."

But Susan did worry. She did not like the look on Keith's face. She
did not like the nervous twitching of his hands. She did not like the
exaggerated cheerfulness of his manner.

And Keith WAS cheerful. He played solitaire with his marked cards and
whistled. He worked at his raised-picture puzzles and sang snatches of
merry song. He talked with anybody who came near him--talked very fast
and laughed a great deal. But behind the whistling and the singing and
the laughter Susan detected a tense strain and nervousness that she
did not like. And at times, when she knew Keith thought himself alone,
there was an expression on his face that disturbed Susan not a little.

But because, outwardly, it was all "cheerfulness," Susan kept her
peace; but she also kept her eyes on Keith.



CHAPTER XXI

THE LION


Keith had not been home a week before it was seen that Hinsdale was
inclined to make a lion of the boy.

Women brought him jelly and fruit, and men clapped him on the shoulder
and said, "How are you, my boy?" in voices that were not quite steady.
Young girls brought him flowers, and asked Susan if they could not
read or sing or do SOMETHING to amuse him. Children stood about the
gate and stared, talking in awe-struck whispers, happy if they could
catch a glimpse of his face at the window.

A part of this Susan succeeded in keeping from Keith--Susan had a
well-founded belief that Keith would not care to be a lion. But a
great deal of it came to his knowledge, of course, in spite of
anything she could do. However, she told herself that she need not
have worried, for if Keith had recognized it for what it was, he made
no sign; and even Susan herself could find no fault with his behavior.
He was cordial, cheery, almost gay, outwardly. But inwardly--

Susan was still keeping her eyes on Keith.

Mrs. McGuire came often to see Keith. She said she knew he would want
to hear John's letters. And there were all the old ones, besides the
new ones that came from time to time. She brought them all, and read
them to him. She talked about the young soldier, too, a great deal, to
the blind boy--She explained to Susan that she wanted to do everything
she could to get him out of himself and interest him in the world
outside; and that she didn't know any better way to do it than to tell
him of these brave soldiers who were doing something so really worth
while in the world.

"An' he's so interested--the dear boy!" she concluded, with a sigh.
"An' so brave! I think he's the bravest thing I ever saw, Susan
Betts."

"Yes, he is--brave," said Susan, a little shortly--so shortly that
Mrs. McGuire opened her eyes a bit, and wondered why Susan's lips had
snapped tight shut in that straight, hard line.

"But what ails the woman?" she muttered to herself, vexedly, as she
crossed the back yard to her own door. "Wasn't she herself always
braggin' about his bein' so brave? Humph! There's no such thing as
pleasin' some folks, it seems!" finished Mrs. McGuire as she entered
her own door.

But Mrs. McGuire was not the only frequent caller. There was Mazie
Sanborn.

Mazie began by coming every two or three days with flowers and fudge.
Then she brought the latest novel one day and suggested that she read
it to Keith.

Susan was skeptical of this, even fearful. She had not forgotten
Keith's frenzied avoidance of such callers in the old days. But to her
surprise now Keith welcomed Mazie joyously--so joyously that Susan
began to suspect that behind the joyousness lay an eagerness to
welcome anything that would help him to forget himself.

She was the more suspicious of this during the days that followed, as
she saw this same nervous eagerness displayed every time any one
called at the house. Susan's joy then at Keith's gracious response to
visitors' attentions changed to a vague uneasiness. Behind and beyond
it all lay an intangible something upon which Susan could not place
her finger, but which filled her heart with distrust. And so still she
kept her eyes on Keith.

In June Dorothy Parkman came to Hinsdale. She came at once to see
Susan. But she would only step inside the hall, and she spoke low and
hurriedly, looking fearfully toward the closed doors beyond the
stairway.

"I HAD to come--to see how he was," she began, a little breathlessly.
"And I wanted to ask you if you thought I could do any good or--or be
any help to him, either as Miss Stewart or Dorothy Parkman. Only I--I
suppose I would HAVE to be Dorothy Parkman now. I couldn't keep the
other up forever, of course. But I don't know how to tell--" She
stopped, and looked again fearfully toward the closed doors. "Susan,
how--how IS he?" she finished unsteadily.

"He's well--very well."

"He sees people--Mazie says he sees everybody now."

"Yes, oh, yes, he sees people."

"That's why I thought perhaps he wouldn't mind ME now--I mean the real
me," faltered the girl wistfully. "Maybe." Susan's sigh and frown
expressed doubt.

"But he's real brave," challenged the girl quickly. "Mazie SAID he
was."

"I know. Everybody says--he's brave." There was an odd constraint in
Susan's voice, but the girl was too intent on her own problem to
notice it.

"And that's why I hoped--about me, you know--that he wouldn't mind--now.
And, of course, it can't make any difference--about his eyes, for
he doesn't need father, or--or any one now." Her voice broke. "Oh,
Susan, I want to help, some way, if I can! WOULD he see me, do you
think?"

"He ought to. He sees everybody else."

"I know. Mazie says--"

"Does Mazie know about you?" interrupted Susan. "I mean, about your
being 'Miss Stewart'?"

"A little, but not much. I told her once that he 'most always called
me 'Miss Stewart,' but I never made anything of it, and I never told
her how much I saw of him out home. Some way, I--" She stopped short,
with a quick indrawing of her breath. In the doorway down the hall
stood Keith.

"Susan, I thought I heard--WAS Miss Stewart here?" he demanded
excitedly.

With only the briefest of hesitations and a half-despairing,
half-relieved look into Susan's startled eyes, the young girl hurried
forward.

"Indeed I'm here," she cried gayly, giving a warm clasp to his eagerly
outstretched hand "How do you do? Susan was just saying--."

But Susan was gone with upflung hands and a look that said "No, you
don't rake me into this thing, young lady!" as plainly as if she had
spoken the words themselves.

In the living-room a minute later, Keith began eager questioning.

"When did you come?"

"Yesterday."

"And you came to see me the very next day! Weren't you good? You knew
how I wanted to see you."

"Oh, but I didn't," she laughed a little embarrassedly. "You're at
home now, and you have all your old friends, and--"

"But they're not you. There's not any one like you," cut in the youth
fervently. "And now you're going to stay a long time, aren't you?"

"Y-yes, several weeks, probably."

"Good! And you'll come every day to see me?"

"W-well, as to that-"

"It's too much to ask, of course," broke off Keith contritely. "And,
truly, I don't want to impose on you."

"No, no, it isn't that," protested the girl quickly. "It's only--There
are so many--"

"But I told you there isn't anybody like you, Miss Stewart. There
isn't any one here that UNDERSTANDS--like you. And it was you who
first taught me to do--so many things." His voice faltered.

[Illustration: "YOU'VE HELPED MORE--THAN YOU'LL EVER KNOW"]

He paused, wet his lips, then plunged on hurriedly. "Miss Stewart, I
don't say this sort of thing very often. I never said it before--to
anybody. But I want you to know that I understood and appreciated just
what you were doing all those weeks for me out there at the
sanatorium. And it was the WAY you did it, with never a word or a hint
that I was different. You did things, and you made me do things,
without reminding me all the time that I was blind. I shall never
forget that first day when you told me dad would want to hear from me;
and then, before I could say a word, you put that paper in my hands,
and my fingers fell on those lines that I could feel. And how I
blessed you for not TELLING me those lines were there! Don't you see?
Everybody here, that comes to see me, TELLS me--the lines are there."

"Yes, I--know." The girl's voice was low, a little breathless.

"And that's why I need you so much. If anybody in the whole world can
make me forget for a minute, you can. You will come?"

"Why, of course, I'll come, and be glad to. You know I will. And I'm
so glad if I've helped--any!"

"You've helped more--than you'll ever know. But, come--look! I've got
a dandy new game here." And Keith, very obviously to hide the shake in
his voice and the emotion in his face, turned gayly to a little stand
near him and picked up a square cardboard box.

Half an hour later, Dorothy Parkman, passing through the hall on her
way to the outer door, was waylaid by Susan.

"Sh-h! Don't speak here, but come with me," she whispered, leading the
way through the diningroom. In the kitchen she stopped and turned
eagerly. "Well, did you tell him?" she demanded.

Miss Dorothy shook her head, mutely, despairingly.

"You mean he don't know yet that you're Dorothy Parkman?"

"I mean just that."

"But, child alive, he'll find out--he can't help finding out--now."

"I know it. But I just couldn't tell him--I COULDN'T, Susan. I tried
to do it two or three times. Indeed, I did. But the words just
wouldn't come. And now I don't know when I can tell him."

"But he was tickled to death to see you. He showed it, Miss Dorothy."

"I know." A soft pink suffused the young girl's face. "But it was
'Miss Stewart' he was glad to see, not Dorothy Parkman. And, after the
things he said--" She stopped and looked back over her shoulder toward
the room she had just left.

"But, Miss Dorothy, don't you see? It'll be all right, now. You've
SHOWN him that you don't mind being with blind folks a mite. So now he
won't care a bit when he knows you are Dorothy Parkman."

But the girl shook her head again.

"Yes, I know. He might not mind that part, PERHAPS; but I know he'd
mind the deceit all these long months, and it wouldn't be easy to--to
make him understand. He'd never forgive it--I know he wouldn't--to
think I'd taken advantage of his not being able to see."

"Nonsense! Of course he would."

"He wouldn't. You don't know. Just to-day he said something about--about
some one who had tried to deceive him in a little thing, because
he was blind; and I could see how bitter he was."

"But what ARE you goin' to do?"

"I don't know, Susan. It's harder than ever now," almost moaned the
girl.

"You're COMIN' AGAIN?"

"Yes, oh, yes. I shall come as long as he'll let me. I know he wants
me to. I know I HAVE helped a little. He spoke--beautifully about that
to-day. But, whether, after he finds out--" Her voice choked into
silence and she turned her head quite away.

"There, there, dear, don't you fret," Susan comforted her. "You jest
go home and think no more about it.

     When thinkin' won't mend it,
     Then thinkin' won't end it.

So what's the use? When you get ready, you jest come again; an' you
keep a-comin', too. It'll all work out right. You see if it don't."

"Thank you, Susan. Oh, I'll come as long as I can," sighed the girl,
turning to go. "But I'm not so sure how it'll turn out," she finished
with a wistful smile over her shoulder as she opened the door.



CHAPTER XXII

HOW COULD YOU, MAZIE?


As Miss Dorothy herself had said, it could not, of course, continue.
She came once, and once again to see Keith; and in spite of her
efforts to make her position clear to him, her secret still remained
her own. Then, on the third visit, the dreaded disclosure came,
naturally, and in the simplest, most unexpected way; yet in a way that
would most certainly have been the last choice of Miss Dorothy herself
could she have had aught to say about it.

The two, Keith and Dorothy, had had a wonderful hour over a book that
Dorothy had brought to read. They had been sitting on the porch, and
Dorothy had risen to go when there came a light tread on the front
walk and Mazie Sanborn tripped up the porch steps.

"Well, Dorothy Parkman, is this where you were?" she cried gayly. "I
was hunting all over the house for you half an hour ago."

"DOROTHY PARKMAN!" Keith was on his feet. His face had grown very
white.

Dorothy, too, her eyes on Keith's face, had grown very white; yet she
managed to give a light laugh, and her voice matched Mazie's own for
gayety.

"Were you? Well, I was right here. But I'm going now."

"You! but--Miss Stewart!" Keith's colorless lips spoke the words just
above his breath.

"Why, Keith Burton, what's the matter?" laughed Mazie. "You look as if
you'd seen a ghost. I mean--oh, forgive that word, Keith," she broke
off in light apology. "I'm always forgetting, and talking as if you
could really SEE. But you looked so funny, and you brought out that
'Dorothy Parkman' with such a surprised air. Just as if you didn't
ever call her that in the old school days, Keith Burton! Oh, Dorothy
told me you called her 'Miss Stewart' a lot now; but--"

"Yes, I have called her 'Miss Stewart' quite a lot lately," interposed
Keith, in a voice so quietly self-controlled that even Dorothy herself
was almost deceived. But not quite. Dorothy saw the clenched muscles
and white knuckles of his hands as he gripped the chair-back before
him; and she knew too much to expect him to offer his hand in good-bye.
So she backed away, and she still spoke lightly, inconsequently,
though she knew her voice was shaking, as she made her adieus.

"Well, good-bye, I must be going now, sure. I'll be over to-morrow,
though, to finish the book. Good-bye."

"Good-bye," said Keith.

And Dorothy wondered if Mazie noticed that he quite omitted a polite
"Come again," and if Mazie saw that as he said the terse "Good-bye" he
put both hands suddenly and resolutely behind his back. Dorothy saw
it, and at home, long hours later she was still crying over it.

She went early to the Burtons' the next forenoon.

"I came to finish the book I was reading to Mr. Keith," she told Susan
brightly, as her ring was answered. "I thought I'd come early before
anybody else got here."

She would have stepped in, but Susan's ample figure still barred the
way.

"Well, now, that's too bad!" Susan's voice expressed genuine concern
and personal disappointment. "Ain't it a shame? Keith said he wa'n't
feelin' nohow well this mornin', an' that he didn't want to see no
one. An' under no circumstances not to let no one in to see him. But
maybe if I told him't was you--"

"No, no, don't--don't do that!" cried the girl hurriedly. "I--I'll
come again some other time."

On the street a minute later she whispered tremulously: "He did it on
purpose, of course. He KNEW I would come this morning! But he can't
keep it up forever! He'll HAVE to see me some time. And when he does--
Oh, if only Mazie Sanborn hadn't blurted it out like that! Why didn't
I tell him? Why didn't I tell him? But I will tell him. He can't keep
this up forever."

When on a second and a third and a fourth morning, however, Dorothy
had found Susan's figure barring the way, and had received the same
distressed "He says he won't see no one, Miss Dorothy," from Susan's
plainly troubled lips, Dorothy began to think Keith did mean to keep
it up forever.

"But what IS it, Susan?" she faltered. "Is he sick, really sick?"

"I don't know, Miss Dorothy," frowned Susan. "But I don't like the
looks of it, anyhow. He says he ain't sick--not physicianly sick; but
he jest don't want to talk an' see folks. An' he's been like that
'most a week now. An' I'm free to confess I don't like it."

"But what does he do--all day?" asked the girl.

"Nothin', that I can see," sighed Susan profoundly. "Oh, he plays that
solitary some, an' putters a little with some of his raised books; but
mostly he jest sits still an' thinks. An' I don't like it. If only his
father was here. But with him gone peddlin' molasses, an' no one
'lowed into the house, there ain't anything for him to do but to
think. An' 'tain't right nor good for him. I've watched him an' I
know."

"But he used to see people, Susan."

"I know it. He saw everybody."

"Do you know why he won't--now?" asked the girl a little faintly.

"I hain't the faintest inception of an idea. It came as sudden as
that," declared Susan, snapping her finger.

"Then he hasn't said anything special about not wanting to see--me?"

"Why, no. He--Do you mean--HAS he found out?" demanded Susan,
interrupting herself excitedly.

"Yes. He found out last Monday afternoon. Mazie ran up on to the porch
and called me by name right out. Oh, Susan, it was awful. I shall
never forget the look on that boy's face as long as I live."

"Lan' sakes! MONDAY!" breathed Susan. "An' Tuesday he began refusin'
to see folks. Then 'course that was it. But why won't he see other
folks? They hain't anything to do with you."

"I don't know--unless he didn't want to tell you specially not to let
me in, and so he said not to let anybody in."

"Was he awful mad?"

"It wasn't so much anger as it was grief and hurt and--oh, I can't
express what it was. But I saw it; and I never shall forget it. You
see, to have it blurted out to him like that without any warning--and
of course he couldn't understand."

"But didn't you explain things--how 'twas, in the first place?"

She shook her head. "I couldn't--not with Mazie there. I said I'd come
the next morning to--to finish the book. I thought he'd understand I
was going to explain then. He probably did--and that's why he won't
let me in. He doesn't want any explanations," sighed the girl
tremulously.

"Well, he ought to want 'em," asserted Susan with vigor. "'Tain't fair
nor right nor sensible for him to act like this, makin' a mountain out
of an ant-hill. I declare, Miss Dorothy, he ought to be made to see
you."

The girl flushed and drew back.

"Most certainly not, Susan! I--I am not in the habit of MAKING people
see me, when they don't wish to. Do you suppose I'm going to beg and
tease: 'PLEASE won't you let me see you?' Hardly! He need not worry. I
shall not come again."

"Oh, Miss Dorothy!" remonstrated Susan.

"Why, of course I won't, Susan!" cried the girl. "Do you suppose I'm
going to keep him from seeing other people just because he's afraid
he'll have to let me in, too? Nonsense, Susan! Even you must admit I
cannot allow that. You may tell Mr. Keith, please, that he may feel no
further uneasiness. I shall not trouble him again."

"Oh, Miss Dorothy!" begged Susan agitatedly, once more.

But Miss Dorothy, with all the hurt dignity of her eighteen years,
turned haughtily away, leaving Susan impotent and distressed, looking
after her.

Two minutes later Susan sought Keith in the living-room. Her whole
self spelt irate determination--but Keith could not see that. Keith,
listless and idle-handed, sat in his favorite chair by the window.

"Dorothy Parkman jest rang the bell," began Susan, "an'-"

"But I said I'd see no one," interrupted Keith, instantly alert.

"That's what I told her, an' she's gone."

"Oh, all right." Keith relaxed into his old listlessness.

"An' she said to please tell you she'd trouble you no further, so you
might let in the others now as soon as you please."

Keith sat erect in his chair with a jerk.

"What did she mean by that?"

"I guess you don't need me to tell you," observed Susan grimly.

With a shrug and an irritable gesture Keith settled back in his chair.

"I don't care to discuss it, Susan. I don't wish to see ANY one. We'll
let it go at that, if you please," he said.

"But I don't please!" Susan was in the room now, close to Keith's
chair. Her face was quivering with emotion. "Keith, won't you listen
to reason? It ain't like you a mite to sit back like this an' refuse
to see a nice little body like Dorothy Parkman, what's been so kind--"

"Susan!" Keith was sitting erect again. His face was white, and
carried a stern anguish that Susan had never seen before. "I don't
care to discuss Miss Parkman with you or with anybody else. Neither do
I care to discuss the fact that I thoroughly understand, of course,
that you, or she, or anybody else, can fool me into believing anything
you please; and I can't--help myself."

"No, no, Keith, don't take it like that--please don't!"

"Is there any other way I CAN take it? Do you think 'Miss Stewart'
could have made such a fool of me if I'd had EYES to see Dorothy
Parkman?"

"But she was only tryin' to HELP you, an'--"

"I don't want to be 'helped'!" stormed the boy hotly. "Did it ever
occur to you, Susan, that I might sometimes like to HELP somebody
myself, instead of this everlastingly having somebody help me?"

"But you do help. You help me," asserted Susan feverishly, working her
nervous fingers together. "An' you'd help me more if you'd only let
folks in to see you, an'--"

"All right, all right," interrupted Keith testily. "Let them in. Let
everybody in. I don't care. What's the difference? But, please,
PLEASE, Susan, stop talking any more about it all now."

And Susan stopped. There were times when Susan knew enough to stop,
and this was one of them.

But she took him at his word, and when Mrs. McGuire came the next day
with a letter from her John, Susan ushered her into the living-room
where Keith was sitting alone. And Keith welcomed her with at least a
good imitation of his old heartiness.

Mrs. McGuire said she had such a funny letter to read to-day. She knew
he'd enjoy it, and Susan would, too, particularly the part that John
had quoted from something that had been printed by the British
soldiers in France and circulated among their comrades in the trenches
and hospitals, and everywhere. John had written it off on a separate
piece of paper, and this was it:

Don't worry: there's nothing to worry about.

You have two alternatives: either you are mobilized or you are not. If
not, you have nothing to worry about.

If you are mobilized, you have two alternatives: you are in camp or at
the front. If you are in camp, you have nothing to worry about.

If you are at the front, you have two alternatives: either you are on
the fighting line or in reserve. If in reserve, you have nothing to
worry about.

If you are on the fighting line, you have two alternatives: either you
fight or you don't. If you don't, you have nothing to worry about.

If you do, you have two alternatives: either you get hurt or you
don't. If you don't, you have nothing to worry about.

If you are hurt, you have two alternatives: either you are slightly
hurt or badly. If slightly, you have nothing to worry about.

If badly, you have two alternatives: either you recover or you don't.
If you recover, you have nothing to worry about. If you don't, and
have followed my advice clear through, you have done with worry
forever.

Mrs. McGuire was in a gale of laughter by the time she had finished
reading this; so, too, was Susan. Keith also was laughing, but his
laughter did not have the really genuine ring to it--which fact did
not escape Susan.

"Well, anyhow, he let Mis' McGuire in--an' that's somethin'," she
muttered to herself, as Mrs. McGuire took her departure. "Besides, he
talked to her real pleasant--an' that's more."

As the days passed, others came, also, and Keith talked with them. He
even allowed Dorothy Parkman to be admitted one day.

[Illustration: HE GAVE HER ALMOST NO CHANCE TO SAY ANYTHING HERSELF]

Dorothy had not come until after long urging on the part of Susan and
the assurance that Keith had said he would see her. Even then nothing
would have persuaded her, she told Susan, except the great hope that
she could say something, in some way, that would set her right in
Keith's eyes.

So with fear and trembling and with a painful embarrassment on her
face, but with a great hope in her heart, she entered the room and
came straight to Keith's side.

For a moment the exultation of a fancied success sent a warm glow all
through her, for Keith had greeted her pleasantly and even extended
his hand. But almost at once the glow faded and the great hope died in
her heart, for she saw that even while she touched his hand, he was
yet miles away from her.

He laughed and talked with her--oh, yes; but he laughed too much and
talked too much. He gave her almost no chance to say anything herself.
And what he said was so inconsequential and so far removed from
anything intimately concerning themselves, that the girl found it
utterly impossible to make the impassioned explanation which she had
been saying over and over again all night to herself, and from which
she had hoped so much.

Yet at the last, just before she bade him good-bye, she did manage to
say something. But in her disappointment and excitement and
embarrassment, her words were blurted out haltingly and ineffectually,
and they were not at all the ones she had practiced over and over to
herself in the long night watches; nor were they received as she had
palpitatingly pictured that they would be, with Keith first stern and
hurt, and then just dear and forgiving and UNDERSTANDING.

Keith was neither stern nor hurt. He still laughed pleasantly, and he
tossed her whole labored explanation aside with a light: "Certainly--of
course--to be sure--not at all! You did quite right, I assure you!"
And then he remarked that it was a warm day, wasn't it? And Dorothy
found herself hurrying down the Burton front walk with burning cheeks
and a chagrined helplessness that left her furious and with an
ineffably cheap feeling--yet not able to put her finger on any
discourteous flaw in Keith's punctilious politeness.

"I wish I'd never said a word--not a word," she muttered hotly to
herself as she hurried down the street. "I wonder if he thinks--I'll
ever open my head to him about it again. Well, he needn't--worry!
But--oh, Keith, Keith, how could you?" she choked brokenly. Then
abruptly she turned down a side street, lest Mazie Sanborn, coming
toward her, should see the big tears that were rolling down her cheeks.



CHAPTER XXIII

JOHN McGUIRE


So imperative was the knock at the kitchen door at six o'clock that
July morning that Susan almost fell down the back stairs in her haste
to obey the summons.

"Lan' sakes, Mis' McGuire, what a start you did give--why, Mis'
McGuire, what is it?" she interrupted herself, aghast, as Mrs.
McGuire, white-faced and wild-eyed, swept past her and began to pace
up and down the kitchen floor, moaning frenziedly:

"It's come--it's come--I knew't would come. Oh, what shall I do? What
shall I do?"

"What's come?"

"Oh, John, John, my boy, my boy!"

"You don't mean he's--dead?"

"No, no, worse than that, worse than that!" moaned the woman, wringing
her hands. "Oh, what shall I do, what shall I do?"

With a firm grasp Susan caught the twisting fingers and gently but
resolutely forced their owner into a chair.

"Do? You'll jest calm yourself right down an' tell me all about it,
Mis' McGuire. This rampagin' 'round the kitchen like this don't do no
sort of good, an' it's awful on your nerves. An' furthermore an'
moreover, no matter what't is that ails your John, it can't be worse'n
death; for while there's life there's hope, you know."

"But it is, it is, I tell you," sobbed Mrs. McGuire still swaying her
body back and forth. "Susan, my boy is--BLIND." With the utterance of
the dread word Mrs. McGuire stiffened suddenly into rigid horror, her
eyes staring straight into Susan's.

"MIS' MCGUIRE!" breathed Susan in dismay; then hopefully, "But maybe
'twas a mistake."

The woman shook her head. She went back to her swaying from side to
side.

"No, 'twas a dispatch. It came this mornin'. Just now. Mr. McGuire was
gone, an' there wasn't anybody there but the children, an' they're
asleep. That's why I came over. I HAD to. I had to talk to some one!"

"Of course, you did! An' you shall, you poor lamb. You shall tell me
all about it. What was it? What happened?"

"I don't know. I just know he's blind, an' that he's comin' home. He's
on his way now. My John--blind! Oh, Susan, what shall I do, what shall
I do?"

"Then he probably ain't sick, or hurt anywheres else, if he's on his
way home--leastways, he ain't hurt bad. You can be glad for that, Mis'
McGuire."

"I don't know, I don't know. Maybe he is. It didn't say. It just said
blinded," chattered Mrs. McGuire feverishly. "They get them home just
as soon as they can when they're blinded. We were readin' about it
only yesterday in the paper--how they did send 'em home right away.
Oh, how little I thought that my son John would be one of 'em--my
John!"

"But your John ain't the only one, Mis' McGuire. There's other Johns,
too. Look at our Keith here."

"I know, I know."

"An' I wonder how he'll take this--about your John?"

"HE'LL know what it means," choked Mrs. McGuire.

"He sure will--an' he'll feel bad. I know that. He ain't hisself,
anyway, these days."

"He ain't?" Mrs. McGuire asked the question abstractedly, her mind
plainly on her own trouble; but Susan, intent on HER trouble, did not
need even the question to spur her tongue.

"No, he ain't. Oh, he's brave an' cheerful. He's awful cheerful, even
cheerfuler than he was a month ago. He's too cheerful, Mis' McGuire.
There's somethin' back of it I don't like. He--"

But Mrs. McGuire was not listening. Wringing her hands she had sprung
to her feet and was pacing the floor again, moaning: "Oh, what shall I
do, what shall I do?" A minute later, only weeping afresh at Susan's
every effort to comfort her, she stumbled out of the kitchen and
hurried across the yard to her own door.

Watching her from the window, Susan drew a long sigh.

"I wonder how he WILL take--But, lan' sakes, this ain't gettin' my
breakfast," she ejaculated with a hurried glance at the clock on the
little shelf over the stove.

There was nothing, apparently, to distinguish breakfast that morning
from a dozen other breakfasts that had gone before. Keith and his
father talked cheerfully of various matters, and Susan waited upon
them with her usual briskness. If Susan was more silent than usual,
and if her eyes sought Keith's face more frequently than was her
habit, no one, apparently, noticed it. Susan did fancy, however, that
she saw a new tenseness in Keith's face, a new nervousness in his
manner; but that, perhaps, was because she was watching him so
closely, and because he was so constantly in her mind, owing to her
apprehension as to how he would take the news of John McGuire's
blindness.

From the very first Susan had determined not to tell her news until
after Mr. Burton had left the house. She could not have explained it
even to herself, but she had a feeling that it would be better to tell
Keith when he was alone. She planned, also, to tell him casually, as
it were, in the midst of other conversation--not as if it were the one
thing on her mind. In accordance with this, therefore, she forced
herself to finish her dishes and to set her kitchen in order before
she sought Keith in the living-room.

But Keith was not in the living-room; neither was he on the porch or
anywhere in the yard.

With a troubled frown on her face Susan climbed the stairs to the
second floor. Keith's room was silent, and empty, so far as human
presence was concerned. So, too, was the studio, and every other room
on that floor.

At the front of the attic stairs Susan hesitated. The troubled frown
on her face deepened as she glanced up the steep, narrow stairway.

She did not like to have Keith go off by himself to the attic, and
already now twice before she had found him up there, poking in the
drawers of an old desk that had been his father's. He had shut the
drawers quickly and had laughingly turned aside her questions when she
had asked him what in the world he was doing up there. And he had got
up immediately and had gone downstairs with her. But she had not liked
the look on his face. And to-day, as she hesitated at the foot of the
stairs, she was remembering that look. But for only a moment.
Resolutely then she lifted her chin, ran up the stairs, and opened the
attic door.

Over at the desk by the window there was a swift movement--but not so
swift that Susan did not see the revolver pushed under some loose
papers.

"Is that you, Susan?" asked Keith sharply. "Yes, honey. I jest came up
to get somethin'."

Susan's face was white like paper, and her hands were cold and
shaking, but her voice, except for a certain breathlessness, was
cheerfully steady. With more or less noise and with a running fire of
inconsequent comment, she rummaged among the trunks and boxes,
gradually working her way to, ward the desk where Keith still sat.

At the desk, with a sudden swift movement, she thrust the papers to
one side and dropped her hand on the revolver. At the same moment
Keith's arm shot out and his hand fell, covering hers.

She saw his young face flush and harden and his mouth set into stern
lines.

"Susan, you'll be good enough, please, to take your hand off that," he
said then sharply.

There was a moment's tense silence. Susan's eyes, agonized and
pleading, were on his face. But Keith could not see that. He could
only hear her words a moment later--light words, with a hidden laugh
in them, yet spoken with that same curious breathlessness.

"Faith, honey, an' how can I, with your own hand holdin' mine so
tight?"

Keith removed his hand instantly. His set face darkened.

"This is not a joke, Susan, and I shall have to depend on your honor
to let that revolver stay where it is. Unfortunately I am unable to
SEE whether I am obeyed or not."

It was Susan's turn to flush. She drew back at once, leaving the
weapon uncovered on the desk between them.

"I'm not takin' the pistol, Keith." The laugh was all gone from
Susan's voice now. So, too, was the breathlessness. The voice was
steady, grave, but very gentle. "We take matches an' pizen an' knives
away from CHILDREN--not from grown men, Keith. The pistol is right
where you can reach it--if you want it."

[Illustration: KEITH'S ARM SHOT OUT AND HIS HAND FELL, COVERING HERS]

She saw the fingers of Keith's hand twitch and tighten. Otherwise
there was no answer. After a moment she went on speaking.

"But let me say jest this: 'tain't like you to be a--quitter, Keith."
She saw him wince, but she did not wait for him to speak. "An' after
you've done this thing, there ain't any one in the world goin' to be
so sorry as you'll be. You mark my words."

It was like a sharp knife cutting a taut cord. The tense muscles
relaxed and Keith gave a sudden laugh. True, it was a short laugh, and
a bitter one; but it was a laugh.

"You forget, Susan. If--if I carried that out I wouldn't be in the
world--to care."

"Shucks! You'd be in some world, Keith Burton, an' you know it. An'
you'd feel nice lookin' down on the mess you'd made of THIS world,
wouldn't you?"

"Well, if I was LOOKING, I'd be SEEING, wouldn't I?" cut in the youth
grimly. "Don't forget, Susan, that I'd be SEEING, please."

"Seein' ain't everything, Keith Burton. Jest remember that. There is
some things you'd rather be blind than see. An' that's one of 'em.
Besides, seein' ain't the only sensible you've got, an' there's such a
lot of things you can do, an'--"

"Oh, yes, I know," interrupted Keith fiercely, flinging out both his
hands. "I can feel a book, and eat my dinner, and I can hear the
shouts of the people cheering the boys that go marching by my door.
But I'm tired of it all. I tell you I can't stand it--I CAN'T, Susan.
Yes, I know that's a cheap way out of it," he went on, after a choking
pause, with a wave of his hand toward the revolver on the desk;" and a
cowardly one, too. I know all that. And maybe I wouldn't have--have
done it to-day, even if you hadn't come. I found it last week, and
it--fascinated me. It seemed such an easy way out of it. Since then
I've been up here two or three times just to--to feel of it. Somehow I
liked to know it was here, and that, if--if I just couldn't stand
things another minute--

"But--I've tried to be decent, honest I have. But I'm tired of being
amused and 'tended to like a ten-year-old boy. I don't want flowers
and jellies and candies brought in to me. I don't want to read and
play solitaire and checkers week in and week out. I want to be over
there, doing a man's work. Look at Ted, and Tom, and Jack Green, and
John McGuire!"

"John McGuire!" It was a faltering cry from Susan, but Keith did not
even hear.

"What are they doing, and what am I doing? Yet you people expect me to
sit here contented with a dice-box and a deck of playing-cards, and be
GLAD I can do that much. Oh, well, I suppose I ought to be. But when I
sit here alone day after day and think and think--"

"But, Keith, we don't want you to do that," interposed Susan
feverishly. "Now there's Miss Dorothy--if you'd only let her--"

"But I tell you I don't want to be babied and pitied and 'tended to by
young women who are SORRY for me. _I_ want to do the helping part of
the time. And if I see a girl I--I could care for, I want to be able
to ask her like a man to marry me; and then if she says 'yes,' I want
to be able to take care of her myself--not have her take care of me
and marry me out of pity and feed me fudge and flowers! And there's--dad."

Keith's voice broke and stopped. Susan, watching his impassioned face,
wet her lips and swallowed convulsively. Then Keith began again.

"Susan, do you know the one big thing that drives me up here every
time, in spite of myself? It's the thought of--dad. How do you suppose
I feel to think of dad peddling peas and beans and potatoes down to
McGuire's grocery store?--dad!"

Susan lifted her head defiantly.

"Well, now look a-here, Keith Burton, let me tell you that peddlin'
peas an' beans an' potatoes is jest as honorary as paintin' pictures,
an'--"

"I'm not saying it isn't," cut in the boy incisively. "I'm merely
saying that, as I happen to know, he prefers to paint pictures--and I
prefer to have him. And he'd be doing it this minute--if it wasn't for
his having to support me, and you know it, Susan."

"Well, what of it? It don't hurt him any."

"It hurts me, Susan. And when I think of all the things he hoped--of
me. I was going to be Jerry and Ned and myself; and I was going to
make him so proud, Susan, so proud! I was going to make up to him all
that he had lost. All day under the trees up on the hill, I used to
lie and dream of what I was going to be some day--the great pictures I
was going to paint--for dad. The great fame that was going to come to
me--for dad. The money I was going to earn--for dad: I saw dad, old
and white-haired, leaning on me. I saw the old house restored--all the
locks and keys and sagging blinds, the cracked ceilings and tattered
wallpaper--all made fresh and new. And dad so proud and happy in it
all--so proud and happy that perhaps he'd think I really had made up
for Jerry and Ned, and his own lost hopes.

"And, now, look at me! Useless, worse than useless--all my life a
burden to him and to everybody else. Susan, I can't stand it. I CAN'T.
That's why I want to end it all. It would be so simple--such an easy
way--out."

"Yes, 'twould--for quitters. Quitters always take easy ways out. But
you ain't no quitter, Keith Burton. Besides, 't wouldn't end it. You
know that. 'Twould jest be shuttin' the door of this room an' openin'
the one to the next. You've had a good Christian bringin' up, Keith
Burton, an' you know as well as I do that your eternal, immoral soul
ain't goin' to be snuffled out of existence by no pistol shot, no
matter how many times you pull the jigger."

Keith laughed--and with the laugh his tense muscles relaxed.

"All right, Susan," he shrugged a little grimly. "I'll concede your
point. You made it--perhaps better than you know. But--well, it isn't
so pleasant always to be the hook, you know," he finished bitterly.

"The--hook?" frowned Susan.

Keith laughed again grimly.

"Perhaps you've forgotten--but I haven't. I heard you talking to Mrs.
McGuire one day. You said that everybody was either a hook or an eye,
and that more than half the folks were hooks hanging on to somebody
else. And that's why some eyes had more than their share of hooks
hanging on to them. You see--I remembered. I knew then, when you said
it, that I was a hook, and--"

"Keith Burton, I never thought of you when I said that," interrupted
Susan agitatedly.

"Perhaps not; but _I_ did. Why, Susan, of course I'm a hook--an old,
bent, rusty hook. But I can hang on--oh, yes, I can hang on--to
anybody that will let me! But, Susan, don't you see?--sometimes it
seems as if I'd give the whole world if just for once I could feel
that I--that some one was hanging on to me! that I was of some use
somewhere."

"An' so you're goin' to be, honey. I know you be," urged Susan
eagerly. "Just remember all them fellers that wrote books an' give
lecturing an'--"

"Oh, yes, I know," interposed Keith, with a faint smile. "You were a
good old soul, Susan, to read me all those charming tales, and I
understood of course, what you were doing it for. You wanted me to go
and do likewise. But I couldn't write a book to save my soul, Susan,
and my voice would stick in my throat at the second word of a
'lecturing.'"

"But there'll be somethin', Keith, I know there'll be somethin'. God
never locked up the doors of your eyes without givin' you the key to
some other door. It's jest that you hain't found it yet."

"Perhaps. I certainly haven't found it--that's sure," retorted the lad
bitterly. "And just why He saw fit to send me this blindness--"

"We don't have to know," interposed Susan quickly; "an' questionin'
about it don't settle nothin', anyhow. If we've got it, we've got it,
an' if it's somethin' we can't possibly help, the only questionin'
worth anything then is how are we goin' to stand it. You see, there's
more'n one way of standin' things."

"Yes, I know there is." Keith stirred restlessly in his seat.

"An' some ways is better than others."

"There, there, Susan, I know just what you're going to say, and it's
all very true, of course," cried Keith, stirring still more
restlessly. "But you see T don't happen to feel like hearing it just
now. Oh, yes, I know I've got lots to be thankful for. I can hear, and
feel, and taste, and walk; and I should be glad for all of them. And I
am, of course. I should declare that all's well with the world, and
that both sides of the street are sunny, and that there isn't any
shadow anywhere. There, you see! I know all that you would say, Susan,
and I've said it, so as to save you the trouble."

"Humph!" commented Susan, bridling a little; then suddenly, she gave a
sly chuckle. "That's all very well an' good, Master Keith Burton, but
there's one more thing I would have said if I was doin' the sayin'!"

"Well?"

"About that both sides of the street bein' sunny--it seems to me that
the man what says, yes, he knows one side is shady an' troublous, but
that he thinks it'll be healthier an' happier for him an' everybody
else 'round him if he walks on the sunny side, an' then WALKS THERE--it
seems to me he's got the spots all knocked off that feller what
says there AIN'T no shady side!"

Keith gave a low laugh--a laugh more nearly normal than Susan had
heard him give for several days.

"All right, Susan, I'll accept your amendment and--we'll let it go
that one side is shady, and that I'm supposed to determinedly pick the
sunny side. Anything more?"

"M-more?"

"That you came up to say to me--yes. You know I have just saved you
the trouble of saying part of it."

"Oh!" Susan laughed light-heartedly. (This was Keith--her Keith that
she knew.) "No that's all I--" She stopped short in dismay! All the
color and lightness disappeared from her face, leaving it suddenly
white and drawn. "That is," she faltered, "there was somethin' else--I
was goin' to say, about--about John McGuire. He--"

"I don't care to hear it." Keith had frozen instantly into frigid
aloofness. Stern lines had come to his boyish mouth.

"But--but, Keith, Mrs. McGuire came over to-"

"To read another of those precious letters, of course," cut in Keith
angrily, "but I tell you I don't want to hear it. Do you suppose a
caged bird likes to hear of the woods and fields and tree-tops while
he's tied to a three-inch swing between two gilt bars? Well, hardly!
There's lots that I do have to stand, Susan, but I don't have to stand
that."

Susan caught her breath with a half sob.

"But, Keith, I wasn't going to tell you of--of woods an' fields an'
tree-tops this time. You see--now he's in a cage himself."

"What do you mean?"

"He's coming home. He's--blind."

Keith leaped from his chair.

"BLIND? JOHN McGUIRE?"

"Yes."

"Oh-h-h!" Long years of past suffering and of future woe filled the
short little word to bursting, as Keith dropped back into his chair.
For a moment he sat silent, his whole self held rigid. Then,
unsteadily he asked the question:

"What--happened?"

"They don't know. It was a dispatch that came this mornin'. He was
blinded, an' is on his way home. That's all."

"That's--enough."

"Yes, I knew you'd--understand."

"Yes, I do--understand."

Susan hesitated. Keith still sat, with his unseeing gaze straight
ahead, his body tense and motionless. On the desk within reach lay the
revolver. Cautiously Susan half extended her hand toward it, then drew
it back. She glanced again at Keith's absorbed face, then turned and
made her way quietly down the stairs.

At the bottom of the attic flight she glanced back. "He won't touch it
now, I'm sure," she breathed. "An', anyhow, we only take knives an'
pizen away from children--not grown men!"



CHAPTER XXIV

AS SUSAN SAW IT


It was the town talk, of course--the home-coming of John McGuire. Men
gathered on street corners and women clustered about back-yard fences
and church doorways. Children besieged their parents with breathless
questions, and repeated to each other in awe-struck whispers what they
had heard. Everywhere was horror, sympathy, and interested speculation
as to "how he'd take it."

Where explicit information was so lacking, imagination and surmise
eagerly supplied the details; and Mrs. McGuire's news of the blinding
of John McGuire was not three days old before a full account of the
tragedy from beginning to end was flying from tongue to tongue--an
account that would have surprised no one so greatly as it would have
surprised John McGuire himself.

To Susan, Dorothy Parkman came one day with this story.

"Well, 't ain't true," disavowed Susan succinctly when the lurid
details had been breathlessly repeated to her.

"You mean--he isn't blind?" demanded the young girl.

"Oh, yes, he's blind, all right, poor boy! But it's the rest I
mean--about his killin' twenty-eight Germans single-handed, an' bein'
all shot to pieces hisself, an' benighted for bravery."

"But what did happen?"

"We don't know. We just know he's blind an' comin' home. Mis' McGuire
had two letters yesterday from John, but--"

"From John--himself?"

"Yes; but they was both writ long before the apostrophe, an' 'course
they didn't say nothin' about it. He was well an' happy, he said. She
had had only one letter before these for a long time. An' now to
have--this!"

"Yes, I know. It's terrible. How does--Mr. Keith take it?"

Susan opened wide her eyes.

"Why, you've seen him--you see him yesterday yourself, Miss Dorothy."

"Oh, I saw him--in a way, but not the real him, Susan. He's miles away
now, always."

"You mean he ain't civil an' polite?" demanded Susan.

"Oh, he's very civil--too civil, Susan. Every time I go I say I won't
go again. Then, when I get to thinking of him sitting there alone all
day, and of how he used to like to have me read to him and play with
him, I--I just have to go and see if he won't be the same as he used
to be. But he never is."

"I know." Susan shook her head mournfully. "An' he ain't the same,
Miss Dorothy. He don't ever whistle nor sing now, nor play solitary,
nor any of them things he used to do. Oh, when folks comes in he
braces back an' talks an' laughs. YOU know that. But in the exclusion
of his own home here he jest sits an' thinks an' thinks an' thinks.
An', Miss Dorothy, I've found out now what he's thinkin' of."

"Yes?"

"It's John McGuire an' them other soldiers what's comin' back blind
from the war. An' he talks an' talks about 'em, an' mourns an' takes
on something dreadful. He says HE knows what it means, an' that nobody
can know what hain't had it happen to 'em. An' he broods an' broods
over it."

"I can--imagine it." The girl said it with a little catch in her
voice.

"An'--an' there's somethin' else I want to tell you about. I've got to
tell somebody. I want to know if you think I done right. An' you're
the only one I can tell. I've thought it all out. Daniel Burton is too
near, an' Mis' McGuire an' all them others is too far. You ain't a
relation, an' yet you care. You do care, don't you?--about Mr. Keith?"

"Why, of--of course. I care a great deal, Susan." Miss Dorothy spoke
very lightly, very impersonally; but there was a sudden flame of color
in her face. Susan, however, was not noticing this. Furtively she was
glancing one way and another over her shoulder.

"Yes. Well, the other day he--he tried to--that is, well, I--I found
him with a pistol in his hand, an'--"

"Susan!" The girl had gone very white.

"Oh, he didn't do it. Well, that ain't a very sensitive statement, is
it? For if he had done it, he wouldn't be alive now, would he?" broke
off Susan, with a faint smile. "But what I mean is, he didn't do it,
an' I don't think he's goin' to do it."

"But, oh, Susan," faltered the girl, "you didn't leave that--that
awful thing with him, did you? Didn't you take it--away?"

"No." Susan's mouth set grimly. "An' that's what I wanted to ask you
about--if I did right, you know."

"Oh, no, no, Susan! I'm afraid," shuddered the girl. "Can't you--get
it away--now?"

"Maybe. I know where 'tis. I was up there yesterday an' see it. 'T was
in the desk drawer in the attic, jest where it used to be."

"Then get it, Susan, get it. Oh, please get it," begged the girl. "I'm
afraid to have it there--a single minute."

"But, Miss Dorothy, stop; wait jest a minute. Think. How's he goin' to
get self-defiance an' make a strong man of hisself if we take things
away from him like he was a little baby?"

"I know, Susan; but if he SHOULD be tempted--"

"He won't. He ain't no more. I'm sure of that. I talked with him.
Besides, I hain't caught him up there once since that day last week.
Oh, I'm free to confess I HAVE watched him," admitted Susan
defensively, with a faint smile.

"But what did happen that day you--you found him?"

"Oh, he had it, handlin' it, an' when he heard me, he jumped a little,
an' hid it under some papers. My, Miss Dorothy, 'twas awful. I was
that scared an' frightened I thought I couldn't move. But I knew I'd
got to, an' I knew I'd got to move RIGHT, too, or I'd spoil
everything. This wa'n't no ten-cent melodydrama down to the movies,
but I had a humane soul there before me, an' I knew maybe it's whole
internal salvation might depend on what I said an' did."

"But what DID you say?"

"I don't know. I only know that somehow, when it was over, I had a
feelin' that he wouldn't never do that thing again. That somehow the
MAN in him was on top, an' would stay on top. An' I'm more sure than
ever of it now. He ain't thinkin' of hisself these days. It's John
McGuire and them others. An' ain't it better that he let that pistol
alone of his own free will an' accordance, an' know he was a man an'
no baby, than if I'd taken it away from him?"

"I suppose--it was, Susan; but I don't think I'd have been strong
enough--to make him strong."

"Yes, you would, if you'd been there. I reckon we're all goin' to
learn to do a lot of things we never did before, now that the war has
come."

"Yes, I know." A quivering pain swept across the young girl's face.

"Somehow, the war never seemed real to me before. 'T was jest
somethin' 'way off--a lot of Dagoes an' Dutchmen, like the men what
dug up the McGuires' frozen water-pipes last spring, fightin'. Not our
kind of folks what talked English. Even when I read the papers, an'
the awful things they did over there--it didn't seem as if 't was
folks on our earth. It was like somethin' you read about in them old
histronic days, or somethin' happenin' up on the moon, or on that
plantation of Mars. Oh, of course, I knew John McGuire had gone; but
somehow I never thought of him as fightin'--not with guns an' bloody
gore, in spite of them letters of his. Some way, in my mind's eyes I
always see him marchin' with flags flyin' an' folks cheerin'; an' I
thought the war'd be over, anyhow, by the time he got there.

"But, now--! Why, now they're all gone--our own Teddy Somers, an' Tom
Spencer, an' little Jacky Green that I used to hold on my knee. Some
of 'em in France, an' some of 'em in them army canteens down to Ayer
an' Texas an' everywhere. An' poor Tom's died already of pneumonia
right here in our own land. An' now poor John McGuire! I tell you,
Miss Dorothy, it brings it right home now to your own heart, where it
hurts."

"It certainly does, Susan."

"An' let me tell you. What do you s'pose, more 'n anything else, made
me see how really big it all is?"

"I don't know, Susan,"

"Well, I'll tell you. 'Twas because I couldn't write a poem on it."

"Sure enough, Susan! I don't believe I've heard you make a rhyme
to-day," smiled Miss Dorothy.

Susan sighed and shook her head.

"Yes, I know. I don't make 'em much now. Somehow they don't sing all
the time in my heart, an' burst out natural-like, as they used to. I
think them days when I tried so hard to sell my poems, an' couldn't,
kinder took the jest out of poetizin' for me. Somehow, when you find
out somethin' is invaluable to other folks, it gets so it's invaluable
to you, I s'pose. Still, even now, when I set right down to it, I can
'most always write 'em right off 'most as quick as I used to. But I
couldn't on this war. I tried it. But it jest wouldn't do. I begun it:

     Oh, woe is me, said the bayonet,
     Oh, woe is me, said the sword.

Then the whole awful frightfulness of it an' the bigness of it seemed
to swallow me up, an' I felt like a little pigment overtopped an'
surrounded by great tall mountains of horror that were tumblin' down
one after another on my head, an' bury in' me down so far an' deep
that I couldn't say anything, only to moan, 'Oh, Lord, how long, oh,
Lord, how long?' An' I knew then't was too big for me. I didn't try to
write no more."

"I can see how you couldn't," faltered the girl, as she turned away.
"I'm afraid--we're all going to find it--too big for us."



CHAPTER XXV

KEITH TO THE RESCUE


John McGuire had not been home twenty-four hours before it was known
that he "took it powerful hard."

To Keith Susan told what she had learned.

"They say he utterly refuses to see any one outside the family; an'
that he'd rather not see even his own folks--that he's always askin'
'em to let him alone."

"Is he ill or wounded otherwise?" asked Keith.

"No, he ain't hurt outwardly or infernally, except his eyes, an' he
says that's the worst of it, one woman told me. He's as sound as a
nut, an' good for a hundred years yet. If he'd only been smashed up
good an' solid, so's he'd have some hope of dyin' pretty quick, he
wouldn't mind it, he says. But to live along like this--!--oh, he's in
an awful state of mind, everybody says."

"I can--imagine it," sighed Keith. And by the way he turned away Susan
knew that he did not care to talk any more.

An hour later Mrs. McGuire hurried into Susan's kitchen. Mrs. McGuire
was looking thin and worn these days. From her half-buttoned shoes to
her half-combed hair she was showing the results of strain and
anxiety. With a long sigh she dropped into one of the kitchen chairs.

"Well, Mis' McGuire, if you ain't the stranger!" Susan greeted her
cordially.

"Yes, I know," sighed Mrs. McGuire. "But, you see, I can't leave--him."
As she spoke she looked anxiously through the window toward her
own door. "Mr. McGuire's with him, now, so I got away."

"But there's Bess an' Harry," began Susan,

"We don't leave him with the children, ever," interposed Mrs. McGuire,
with another hurried glance through the window. "We--don't dare to.
You see, once we found--we found him with his father's old pistol. Oh,
Susan, it--it was awful!"

"Yes, it--must have been." Susan, after one swift glance into her
visitor's face, had turned her back suddenly. She was busy now with
the dampers of her kitchen stove.

"Of course we took it right away," went on Mrs. McGuire, "an' put it
where he'll never get it again. But we're always afraid there'll be
somethin' somewhere that he WILL get hold of. You see, he's SO
despondent--in such a terrible state!"

"Yes, I know," nodded Susan. Susan had abandoned her dampers, and had
turned right about face again. "If only he'd see folks now."

"Yes, an' that's what I came over to talk to you about," cried Mrs.
McGuire eagerly. "We haven't been able to get him to see anybody--not
anybody. But I've been wonderin' if he wouldn't see Keith, if we could
work it right. You see he says he just won't be stared at; an' Keith,
poor boy, COULDN'T stare, an' John knows it. Oh, Susan, do you suppose
we could manage it?"

"Why, of course. I'll tell him right away, an' he'll go over; I know
he'll go!" exclaimed Susan, all interest at once.

"Oh, but that wouldn't do at all!" cried Mrs. McGuire. "Don't you see?
John refuses, absolutely refuses, to see any one; an' he wouldn't see
Keith, if I should ASK him to. But he's interested in Keith--I KNOW
he's that, for once, when I was talkin' to Mr. McGuire about Keith,
John broke in an' asked two or three questions, an' he's NEVER done
that before, about anybody. An' so I was pretty sure it was because
Keith was blind, you know, like himself."

"Yes, I see, I see."

"An' if I can only manage it so they'll meet without John's knowin'
they're goin' to, I believe he'll get to talkin' with him before he
knows it; an' that it'll do him a world of good. Anyway, somethin's
got to be done, Susan--it's GOT to be--to get him out of this awful
state he's in."

"Well, we'll do it. I know we can do it some way."

"You think Keith'll do his part?" Mrs. McGuire's eyes were anxious.

"I'm sure he will--when he understands."

"Then listen," proposed Mrs. McGuire eagerly. "I'll get my John out on
to the back porch to-morrow mornin'. That's the only place outdoors I
CAN get him--he can't be seen from the street there, you know. I'll
get him there as near ten o'clock as I can. You be on the watch, an'
as soon as I get him all nicely fixed, you get Keith to come out into
your yard an' stroll over to the fence an' speak to him, an' then come
up on to the porch an' sit down, just naturally. He can do that all
right, can't he? It's just wonderful--the way he gets around
everywhere, with that little cane of his!"

"Yes, oh, yes."

"Well, I thought he could. An' tell him to keep right on talkin' every
minute so my John won't have a chance to get up an' go into the house.
Of course, I shall be there myself, at first. We never leave him
alone, you know. But as soon as Keith comes, I shall go. They'll get
along better by themselves, I'm sure--only, of course, I shall be
where I can keep watch out of the window. Now do you understand?"

"Yes, an' we can do it. I know we can do it."

"All right, then. I'm not so sure we can, but we'll try it, anyway,"
sighed Mrs. McGuire, rising to her feet, the old worry back on her
face. "Well, I must be goin'. Mr. McGuire'll have a fit. He's as
nervous as a witch when he's left alone with John. There! What did I
tell you?" she broke off, with an expressive gesture and glance, as a
careworn-looking man appeared in the doorway of the house across the
two back yards, and peered anxiously over at the Burtons' kitchen
door. "Now, don't forget--ten o'clock to-morrow mornin'."

"I won't forget," promised Susan cheerfully, "Now, do you go home an'
set easy, Mis' McGuire, an' don't you fret no more. It's comin' out
all right--all right, I tell you," she reiterated, as Mrs. McGuire
hurried through the doorway.

But when Mrs. McGuire was gone Susan drew a dubious sigh; and her
cheery smile had turned to a questioning frown as she went in search
of Keith. Very evidently Susan was far from feeling quite so sure
about Keith's cooperation as she would have Mrs. McGuire think.

Keith was in the living-room, his head bowed in his two hands, his
elbows on the table before him. At the first sound of Susan's steps he
lifted his head with a jerk.

"I was lookin' for you," began Susan the moment she had crossed the
threshold. Susan had learned that Keith hated above all things to have
to speak first, or to ask, "Who is it?" "Mis' McGuire's jest been
here."

"Yes, I heard her voice," returned the boy indifferently.

"She was tellin' about her John."

"How is he getting along?"

"He's in a bad way. Oh, he's real well physicianally, but he's in a
bad way in his mind."

"Well, you don't wonder, do you?"

"Oh, no, 'course not. Still, well, for one thing, he don't like to see
folks."

"Strange! Now, I'd think he'd just dote on seeing folks, wouldn't
you?"

Susan caught the full force of the sarcasm, but superbly she ignored
it.

"Well, I don't know--maybe; but, anyhow, he don't, an' Mis' McGuire's
that worried she don't know what to do. You see, she found him once
with his daddy's pistol"--Susan was talking very fast now--"an'
'course that worked her up somethin' terrible. I'm afraid he hain't
got much backbone. They don't dare to leave him alone a minute--not a
minute. An' Mis' McGuire, she was wonderin' if--if you couldn't help
'em out some way."

"_I_?" The short ejaculation was full of amazement.

"Yes. That's what she come over for this mornin'."

"I? They forget." Keith fell back bitterly. "John McGuire might get
hold of a dozen revolvers, and I wouldn't know it."

"Oh, 'twa'n't that. They didn't want you to WATCH him. They wanted you
to--Well, it's jest this. Mis' McGuire thought as how if she could get
her John out on the back porch, an' you happened to be in our back
yard, an' should go over an' speak to him, maybe you'd get to talkin'
with him, an' go up an' sit down. She thought maybe 'twould get him
out of hisself that way. You see, he won't talk to--to most folks. He
don't like to be stared at." (Susan threw a furtive glance into
Keith's face, then looked quickly away.) "But she thought maybe he
WOULD talk to you."

"Yes, I--see." Keith drew in his breath with a little catch.

"An' so she said there wa'n't anybody anywhere that could help so much
as you--if you would."

"Why, of course, if I really could HELP--"

Susan did not need to look into Keith's face to catch the longing and
heart-hunger and dawning hope in the word left suspended on his lips.
She felt her own throat tighten; but in a moment she managed to speak
with steady cheerfulness.

"Well, you can. You can help a whole lot. I'm sure you can. An' Mis'
McGuire is, too. An' what's more, you're the only one what can help
'em, in this case. So we'll keep watch to-morrow mornin', an' when he
comes out on the porch--well, we'll see what we will see." And Susan,
just as if her own heart was not singing a triumphant echo of the song
she knew was in his, turned away with an elaborate air of
indifference.

Yet, when to-morrow came, and when Keith went out into the yard in
response to the presence of John McGuire on his back porch, the result
was most disappointing--to Susan. To Keith it did not seem to be so
much so. But perhaps Keith had not expected quite what Susan had
expected. At all events, Keith came back to the house with a glow on
his face and a springiness in his step that Susan had not seen there
for months. Yet all that had happened was that Keith had called out
from the gate a pleasant "Good-morning!" to the blinded soldier, and
had followed it with an inconsequential word or two about the weather.
John McGuire had answered a crisp, cold something, and had risen at
once to go into the house. Keith, at the first sound of his feet on
the porch floor, had turned with a cheery "Well, I must be going back
to the house." Whereupon John McGuire had sat down again, and Mrs.
McGuire, who at Keith's first words, had started to her feet, dropped
back into her chair.

Apparently not much accomplished, certainly; yet there was the glow on
Keith's face and the springiness in Keith's step; and when he reached
the kitchen, he said this to Susan:

"The next time John McGuire is on the back porch, please let me know."

And Susan let him know, both then and at subsequent times.

It was a pretty game and one well worth the watching. Certainly Susan
and Mrs. McGuire thought it so. On the one side were persistence and
perseverance and infinite tact. On the other were a distrustful
antagonism and a palpable longing for an understanding companionship.

At first the intercourse between the two blind youths consisted of a
mere word or two tossed by Keith to the other who gave a still shorter
word in reply. And even this was not every day, for John McGuire was
not out on the porch every day. But as the month passed, he came more
and more frequently, and one evening Mrs. McGuire confided to Susan
the fact that John seemed actually to fret now if a storm kept him
indoors.

"An' he listens for Keith to come along the fence--I know he does,"
she still further declared. "Oh, I know he doesn't let him say much
yet, but he hasn't jumped up to go into the house once since those
first two or three times, an' that's somethin'. An' what's more, he
let Keith stay a whole minute at the gate talkin' yesterday!" she
finished in triumph.

"Yes, an' the best of it is," chimed in Susan, "it's helpin' Keith
Burton hisself jest as much as 'tis John McGuire. Why, he ain't the
same boy since he's took to tryin' to get your John to talkin'. An' he
asks me a dozen times a mornin' if John's out on the porch yet. An'
when he IS out there, he don't lose no time in goin' out hisself."

Yet it was the very next morning that Keith, after eagerly asking if
John McGuire were on the back porch, did not go out. Instead he
settled back in his chair and picked up one of his embossed books.

Susan frowned in amazed wonder, and opened her lips as if to speak.
But after a glance at Keith's apparently absorbed face, she turned and
went back to her work in the kitchen. Twice during the next ten
minutes, however, she invented an excuse to pass again through the
living-room, where Keith sat. Yet, though she said a pointed something
each time about John McGuire on the back porch, Keith did not respond
save with an indifferent word or two. And, greatly to her indignation,
he was still sitting in his chair with his book when at noon John
McGuire, on the porch across the back yard, rose from his seat and
went into the house.

Susan was still more indignant when, the next morning, the same
programme was repeated--except for the fact that Susan's reminders of
John McGuire's presence on the back porch were even more pointed than
they had been on the day before. Again the third morning it was the
same. Susan resolved then to speak. She said to herself that "patience
had ceased to be virtuous," and she lay awake half that night
rehearsing a series of arguments and pleadings which she meant to
present the next morning. She was the more incited to this owing to
Mrs. McGuire's distracted reproaches the evening before.

"Why, John has asked for him, actually ASKED for him," Mrs. McGuire
had wept. "An' it is cruel, the cruelest thing I ever saw, to get that
poor boy all worked up to the point of really WANTIN' to talk with
him, an' then stay away three whole days like this!"

On the fourth morning, therefore, when John McGuire appeared on the
back porch, Susan went into the Burton living-room with the avowed
determination of getting Keith out of the house and into the back
yard, or of telling him exactly what she thought of him.

She had all of her elaborate scheming for nothing, however, for at her
first terse announcement that John McGuire was on the back porch,
Keith sprang to his feet with a cheery:

"So? Well, I guess I'll go out myself."

And Susan was left staring at him with open eyes and mouth--yet not
too dazed to run to the open window and watch what happened.

And this is what Susan saw--and heard. Keith, with his almost
uncannily skillful stick to guide him, sauntered down the path and
called a cheery greeting to John McGuire--a John McGuire who, in his
eagerness to respond, leaned away forward in his chair with a sudden
flame of color in his face.

Keith still sauntered toward the dividing fence, pausing only to feel
with his fingers and pick the one belated rose from the bush at the
gate. He pushed the gate open then, still talking cheerfully, and the
next moment Susan was holding her breath, for Keith had gone straight
up the walk and up the steps, and had dropped himself into the vacant
chair beside John McGuire--and John McGuire, after a faint start as if
to rise, had fallen back in his seat, and had turned his face
uncertainly, fearfully, yet with infinite longing, toward the blind
youth at his side.

Susan looked then at Mrs. McGuire. Mrs. McGuire, too, was plainly
holding her breath suspended. On her face, too, were uncertainty,
fearfulness, and infinite longing. For a moment she watched the two
boys intently. Then she rose and with cautious steps made her way into
the house. After supper that night she came over and told Susan all
about it. Her face was beaming.

"Did you see them?" she began breathlessly. "Wasn't it wonderful? A
whole half-hour those two blessed boys sat there an' talked; an' John
laughed twice, actually laughed."

"Yes, I know," nodded Susan, her own face no less beaming.

"An' to think how just last night I was scoldin' an' blamin' Keith
because he didn't come over these last three days. An' I never saw at
all what he was up to."

"Up to?" frowned Susan.

"Yes, yes! Don't you see? He did it on purpose--stayed away three
whole days, so John would miss him an' WANT him. An' John DID miss
him. Why, he listened for him all the time. I could just SEE he was
listenin'. An' that's what made me so angry, because Keith didn't
come. The idea!--My boy wantin' somebody, an' that somebody not there!

"But I know now. I understand. An' I love him for it. He did it to
make him want him. An' it worked. Why, if he'd come before, every day,
just as usual, John wouldn't have talked with him. I know he wouldn't.
But now--oh, Susan, it was wonderful, wonderful! I watched 'em from
the window. I HAD to watch. I was afraid--still. An' of course I heard
some things. An', oh, Susan, it was wonderful, the way that boy
understood."

"You mean--Keith?"

"Yes. You see, first John began to talk just as he talks to us--ravin'
because he's so strong an' well, an' likely to live to be a hundred;
an' of how he'll look, one of these days, with his little tin cup held
out for pennies an' his sign, 'Please Help the Blind,' an' of what
he's got to look forward to all his life. Oh, Susan, it--it's enough
to break the heart of a stone, when he talks like that."

Susan drew in her breath.

"Don't you s'pose I know? Well, I guess I do! But what did Keith say
to him?"

"Nothin'. An' that was the first wonderful thing. You see, we--we
always talk an' try to comfort him when he talks like that. But Keith
didn't. He just let him talk, with nothin' but just a sympathetic word
now an' then. But it wasn't long before I noticed a wonderful thing
was happenin'. Keith was beginnin' to talk--not about that awful tin
cup an' the pennies an' the sign, but about other things; first about
the rose in his hand. An' pretty quick John was talkin' about it, too.
He had the rose an' was smellin' of it. Then Keith had a new knife,
an' he passed that over, an' pretty quick I saw that John had that
little link puzzle of Keith's, an' was havin' a great time tryin' to
straighten it out. That's the first time I heard him laugh.

"I began to realize then what Keith was doin'. He was fillin' John's
mind full of somethin' else beside himself, for just a minute, an' was
showin' him that there were things he could call by name, like the
rose an' the knife an' the puzzle, even if he couldn't SEE 'em. Oh,
Keith didn't SAY anything like that to him--trust him for that. But
before John knew it, he was DOIN' it--callin' things by name, I mean.

"An' Keith is comin' again to-morrow. John TOLD me so. An' if you
could have seen his face when he said it! Oh, Susan, isn't it
wonderful?" she finished fervently, as she turned to go.

"It is, indeed--wonderful," murmured Susan. But Susan's eyes were out
the window on Keith's face--Keith and his father were coming up the
walk talking; and on Keith's face was a light Susan had never seen
there before.



CHAPTER XXVI

MAZIE AGAIN


It came to be the accepted thing almost at once, then, that Keith
Burton and John McGuire should spend their mornings together on the
McGuires' back porch. In less than a fortnight young McGuire even
crossed the yard arm in arm with Keith to the Burtons' back porch and
sat there one morning. After that it was only a question as to which
porch it should be. That it would be one of them was a foregone
conclusion.

Sometimes the two boys talked together. Sometimes they worked on one
of Keith's raised picture puzzles. Sometimes Keith read aloud from one
of his books. Whatever they did, their doing it was the source of
great interest to the entire neighborhood. Not only did Mrs. McGuire
and Susan breathlessly watch from their respective kitchens, but
friends and neighbors fabricated excuses to come to the two houses in
order to see for themselves; and children gathered along the
divisional fence and gazed with round eyes of wonder. But they gazed
silently. Everybody gazed silently. Even the children seemed to
understand that the one unpardonable sin was to let the blind boys on
the porch know that they were the objects of any sort of interest.

One day Mazie Sanborn came. She brought a new book for Mrs. McGuire to
read--an attention she certainly had never before bestowed on John
McGuire's mother. She talked one half-minute about the book--and five
minutes about the beautiful new friendship between the two blind young
men. She insisted on going into the kitchen where she could see the
two boys on the porch. Then, before Mrs. McGuire could divine her
purpose and stop her, she had slipped through the door and out on to
the porch itself.

"How do you do, gentlemen," she began blithely. "I just--"

But the terrified Mrs. McGuire had her by the arm and was pulling her
back into the kitchen before she could finish her sentence.

On the porch the two boys had leaped to their feet, John McGuire, in
particular, looking distressed and angry.

"Who was that? Is anybody--there?" he demanded.

"No, dear, not now." In the doorway Mrs. McGuire was trying to nod
assurance to the boys and frown banishment to Mazie Sanborn at one and
the same moment.

"But there was--some one," insisted her son sharply.

"Just some one that brought a book to me, dearie, an' she's gone now."
Frantically Mrs. McGuire was motioning Mazie to make her assertion the
truth.

John McGuire sat down then. So, too, did Keith. But all the rest of
the morning John was nervously alert for all sounds. And his ears were
frequently turned toward the kitchen door. He began to talk again,
too, bitterly, of the little tin cup for the pennies and the sign
"Pity the Poor Blind." He lost all interest in Keith's books and
puzzles, and when he was not railing at the tragedy of his fate, he
was sitting in gloomy silence.

Keith told Susan that afternoon that if Mrs. McGuire did not keep
people away from that porch when he was out there with John, he would
not answer for the consequences. Susan told Mrs. McGuire, and Mrs.
McGuire told Mazie Sanborn, at the same time returning the loaned
book--all of which did not tend to smooth Miss Mazie's already ruffled
feelings.

To Dorothy Mazie expressed her mind on the matter.

"I don't care! I'll never go there again--never!" she declared
angrily; "nor speak to Mrs. McGuire, nor that precious son of hers,
nor Keith Burton, either. So there!"

"Oh, Mazie, but poor Keith isn't to blame," remonstrated Dorothy
earnestly, the color flaming into her face.

"He is, too. He's just as bad as John McGuire. He jumped up and looked
just as cross as John McGuire did when I went out on to that porch.
And he doesn't ever really want to see us. You know he doesn't. He
just stands us because he thinks he's got to be polite."

"But, Mazie, dear, he's so sensitive, and he feels his affliction
keenly, and--"

"Oh, yes, that's right--stand up for him! I knew you would," snapped
Mazie crossly. "And everybody knows it, too--running after him the way
you do."

"RUNNING AFTER HIM!" Dorothy's face was scarlet now.

"Yes, running after him," reiterated the other incisively; "and you
always have--trotting over there all the time with books and puzzles
and candy and flowers. And--"

"For shame, Mazie!" interrupted Dorothy, with hot indignation. "As if
trying to help that poor blind boy to while away a few hours of his
time were RUNNING AFTER HIM."

"But he doesn't WANT you to while away an hour or two of his time. And
I should think you'd see he didn't. You could if you weren't so dead
in love with him, and--"

"Mazie!" gasped Dorothy, aghast.

"Well, it's so. Anybody can see that--the way you color up every time
his name is mentioned, and the way you look at him, with your heart in
your eyes, and--"

"Mazie Sanborn!" gasped Dorothy again. Her face was not scarlet now.
It had gone dead white. She was on her feet, horrified, dismayed, and
very angry.

"Well, I don't care. It's so. Everybody knows it. And when a fellow
shows so plainly that he'd rather be let alone, how you can keep
thrusting yourself--"

But Dorothy had gone. With a proud lifting of her head, and a sharp
"Nonsense, Mazie, you are wild! We'll not discuss it any longer,
please," she had turned and left the room.

But she remembered. She must have remembered, for she did not go near
the Burton homestead for a week. Neither did the next week nor the
next see her there. Furthermore, though the little stand in her room
had shown two new picture puzzles and a new game especially designed
for the blind, it displayed them no longer after those remarks of
Mazie Sanborn's. Not that Keith had them, however. Indeed, no. They
were buried deep under a pile of clothing in the farther corner of
Dorothy's bottom bureau drawer.

At the Burton homestead Susan wondered a little at her absence. She
even said to Keith one day:

"Why, where's Dorothy? We haven't see her for two weeks."

"I don't know, I'm sure."

The way Keith's lips came together over the last word caused Susan to
throw a keen glance into his face.

"Now, Keith, I hope you two haven't been quarreling again," she
frowned anxiously.

"'Again'! Nonsense, Susan, we never did quarrel. Don't be silly." The
youth shifted his position uneasily.

"I'm thinkin' tain't always me that's silly," observed Susan, with
another keen glance. "That girl was gettin' so she come over jest
natural-like again, every little while, bringin' in one thing or
another, if 'twas nothin' more'n a funny story to make us laugh. An'
what I want to know is why she stopped right off short like this, for--"

"Nonsense!" tossed Keith again, with a lift of his chin. Then, with an
attempt at lightness that was very near a failure, he laughed: "I
reckon we don't want her to come if she doesn't want to, do we,
Susan?"

"Humph!" was Susan's only comment--outwardly. Inwardly she was vowing
to see that young woman and have it out with her, once for all.

But Susan did not see her nor have it out with her; for, as it
happened, something occurred that night so all-absorbing and exciting
that even the unexplained absence of Dorothy Parkman became as nothing
beside it.

With the abrupt suddenness that sometimes makes the long-waited-for
event a real shock, came the news of the death of the poor old woman
whose frail hand had held the wealth that Susan had coveted for Daniel
Burton and his son.

The two men left the next morning on the four-hundred-mile journey
that would take them to the town where Nancy Holworthy had lived.

Scarcely had they left the house before Susan began preparations for
their home-coming, as befitted their new estate. Her first move was to
get out all the best silver and china. She was busy cleaning it when
Mrs. McGuire came in at the kitchen door.

"What's the matter?" she began breathlessly.

"Where's Keith? John's been askin' for him all the mornin'. Is Mr.
Burton sick? They just telephoned from the store that Mr. Burton had
sent word that he wouldn't be down for a few days. He isn't sick, is
he?--or Keith? I couldn't make out quite all they said; but there was
somethin' about Keith. They ain't either of 'em sick, are they?"

"Oh, no, they're both well--very well, thank you." There was an air,
half elation, half superiority, about Susan that was vaguely
irritating to Mrs. McGuire.

"Well, you needn't be so secret about it, Susan," she began a little
haughtily. But Susan tossed her head with a light laugh.

"Secret! I guess 't won't be no secret long. Mr. Daniel Burton an'
Master Keith have gone away, Mis' McGuire."

"Away! You mean--a--a vacation?" frowned Mrs. McGuire doubtfully.

Susan laughed again, still with that irritating air of superiority.

"Well, hardly. This ain't no pleasure exertion, Mis' McGuire. Still,
on the other hand, Daniel Burton wouldn't be half humane if he didn't
get some pleasure out of it, though he wouldn't so demean himself as
to show it, of course. Mis' Nancy Holworthy is dead, Mis' McGuire. We
had the signification last night."

"Not--you don't mean THE Nancy Holworthy--the one that's got the
money!" The excited interest in Mrs. McGuire's face and voice was as
great as even Susan herself could have desired.

Susan obviously swelled with the glory of the occasion, though she
still spoke with cold loftiness.

"The one and the same, Mis' McGuire."

"My stars an' stockin's, you don't say! An' they've gone to the
funeral?"

"They have."

"An' they'll get the money now, I s'pose."

"They will."

"But are you sure? You know sometimes when folks expect the money they
don't get it. It's been willed away to some one else."

"Yes, I know. But't won't be here," spoke Susan with decision. "Mis'
Holworthy couldn't if she'd wanted to. It's all foreordained an' fixed
beforehand. Daniel Burton was to get jest the annual while she lived,
an' then the whole in a plump sum when she died. Well, she's dead, an'
now he gets it. An' a right tidy little sum it is, too."

"Was she awful rich, Susan?"

"More'n a hundred thousand. A hundred an' fifty, I've heard say."

"My gracious me! An' to think of Daniel Burton havin' a hundred and
fifty thousand dollars! What in the world will he do with it?"

Susan's chin came up superbly.

"Well, I can tell you one thing he'll do, Mis' McGuire. He'll stop
peddlin' peas an' beans over that counter down there, an' retire to a
life of ease an' laxity with his paint-brushes, as he ought to. An'
he'll have somethin' fit to eat an' wear, an' Keith will, too. An'
furthermore an' likewise you'll see SOME difference in this place, or
my name ain't Susan Betts. Them two men have got an awful lot to live
up to, an' I mean they shall understand it right away."

"Which explains this array of china an' silver, I take it," observed
Mrs. McGuire dryly.

"Eh? What?" frowned Susan doubtfully; then her face cleared. "Yes,
that's jest it. They've got to have things now fitted up to their new
estation. We shall get more, too. We need some new teaspoons an'
forks. An' I want 'em to get some of them bunion spoons."

"BUNION spoons!"

"Yes--when you eat soup out of them two-handled cups, you know. Or
maybe you don't know," she corrected herself, at the odd expression
that had come to Mrs. McGuire's face. "But I do. Mrs. Professor
Hinkley used to have 'em. They're awful pretty an' stylish, too. And
we've got to have a lot of other things--new china, an' some cut-glass,
an'--"

"Well, it strikes me," interrupted Mrs. McGuire severely, "that Daniel
Burton had better be puttin' his money into Liberty Bonds an' Red
Cross work, instead of silver spoons an' cut-glass, in these war-times.
An'--"

"My lan', Mis' McGuire!" With the sudden exclamation Susan had dropped
the spoon she was polishing. Her eyes, wild and incredulous, were
staring straight into the startled eyes of the woman opposite. "Do you
know? Since that yeller telegram came last night tellin' us Nancy
Holworthy was dead, I hain't even once thought of--the war."

"Well, I guess you would think of it--if you had my John right before
you all the time." With a bitter sigh Mrs. McGuire had relaxed in her
chair. "You wouldn't need anything else."

"Humph! I don't need anything else with Daniel Burton 'round."

"What do you mean?"

"Why, I mean that that man don't do nothin' but read war an' talk war
every minute he's in the house. An' what with them wheatless days an'
meatless days, he fairly EATS war. You heard my poem on them meatless,
wheatless days, didn't you?"

Mrs. McGuire shook her head listlessly. Her somber eyes were on the
lonely figure of her son on the porch across the two back yards.

"You didn't? Well, I'll say it to you, then. 'Tain't much; still, it's
kind of good, in a way. I hain't written hardly anything lately; but I
did write this:

     We've a wheatless day,
     An' a meatless day,
     An' a tasteless, wasteless,
                     sweetless day.

     But with never a pause,
     For the good of the cause,
     We'd even consent to an
                     eatless day.

"An' we would, too, of course.

"An' as far as that's concerned, there's a good many other kinds of
'less days that I'm thinkin' wouldn't hurt none of us. How about a
fretless day an' a worryless day? Wouldn't they be great? An' only
think what a talkless day'd mean in some households I could mention.
Oh, of course, present comp'ny always accentuated," she hastened to
add with a sly chuckle, as Mrs. McGuire stirred into sudden
resentment.

"Humph!" subsided Mrs. McGuire, still a little resentfully.

"An' I'm free to confess that there's some kinds of 'less days that
we've already got plenty of," went on Susan, after a moment's
thoughtful pause. "There is folks that take quite enough workless
days, an' laughless days, an' pityless days, an' thankless days. My
lan', there ain't no end to them kind, as any one can see. An' there
was them heatless days last winter--I guess no one was hankerin' for
more of THEM. Oh, 'course I understand that that was just preservation
of coal, an' that 'twas necessary, an' all that. An' that's another
thing, too--this preservation business. I'd like to add a few things
to that, an' make 'em preserve in fault-findin', an' crossness, an'
backbitin', an' gossip, as well as in coal, an' sugar, an' wheat, an'
beef."

Mrs. McGuire gave a short laugh.

"My goodness, Susan Betts, if you ain't the limit, an' no mistake! I
s'pose you mean CONservation."

"Heh? What's that? Well, CONservation, then. What's the difference,
anyway?" she scoffed a bit testily. Then, abruptly, her face changed.
"But, there! this ain't settlin' what I'm going to do with Daniel
Burton," she finished with a profound sigh.

"Do with him?" puzzled Mrs. McGuire.

"Yes." Susan picked up the silver spoon and began indifferently to
polish it. "'Tain't no use for me to be doin' all this. Daniel Burton
won't know whether he's eatin' with a silver spoon or one made of
pewter. No more will he retire to a life of ease an' laxity with his
paint-brushes--unless they declarate peace to-morrow mornin'."

"You don't mean--he'll stay in the store?"

Susan made a despairing gesture.

"Goodness only knows what he'll do--I don't. I know what he does now.
He's as uneasy as a fish out o' water, an' he roams the house from one
end to the other every night, after he reads the paper. He's got one
of them war maps on his wall, an' he keeps changin' the pins an'
flags, an' I hear him mutterin' under his breath. You see, he has to
keep it from Keith all he can, for Keith hisself feels so bad 'cause
he can't be up an' doin'; an' if he thought he was keepin' his father
back from helpin', I don't know what the poor boy would do. But I
think if 'twa'n't for Keith, Daniel Burton would try to enlist an' go
over. Oh, of course, he's beyond the malicious age, so far as bein'
drafted is concerned, an' you wouldn't naturally think such a
mild-tempered-lookin' man would go in much for killin'. But this war's
stirred him up somethin' awful."

"Well, who wouldn't it?"

"Oh, I know that; an' I ain't sayin' as how it shouldn't. But that
don't make it no easier for Daniel Burton to keep his feelin's hid
from his son, particularly when it's that son that's made him have the
feelin's, partly. There ain't no doubt but that one of the things
that's made Daniel Burton so fidgety an' uneasy, an' ready to jest
fling hisself into that ravin' conflict over there is his unhappiness
an' disappointment over Keith. He had such big plans for that boy!"

"Yes, I know. We all have big plans for--our boys." Mrs. McGuire
choked and turned away.

"An' girls, too, for that matter," hurried on Susan, with a quick
glance into the other's face. "An' speakin' of girls, did you see
Hattie Turner on the street last night?"

Dumbly Mrs. McGuire answered with a shake of her head. Her eyes had
gone back to her son's face across the yard.

"Well, I did. Her Charlie's at Camp Devens, you know. They say he's
invited to more places every Sunday than he can possibly accept; an'
that he's petted an' praised an' made of everywhere he goes, an'
tended right up to so's he won't get lonesome, or attend
unquestionable entertainments. Well, that's all right an' good, of
course, an' as it should be. But I wish somebody'd take up Charlie
Turner's wife an' invite her to Sunday dinners an' take her to ride,
an' see that she didn't attend unquestionable entertainments."

"Why, Susan Betts, what an idea!" protested Mrs. McGuire, suddenly
sitting erect in her chair. "Hattie Turner isn't fightin' for her
country."

"No, but her husband is," retorted Susan crisply. "An' she's fightin'
for her honor an' her future peace an' happiness, an' she's doin' it
all alone. She's pretty as a picture, an' nothin' but a child when he
married her four months ago, an' we've took away her natural pervider
an' entertainer, an' left her nothin' but her freedom for a ballast
wheel. An' I say I wish some of the patriotic people who are jest
showerin' every Charlie Turner with attentions would please sprinkle
jest a few on Charlie's wife, to help keep her straight an' sweet an'
honest for Charlie when he comes back."

"Hm-m, maybe," murmured Mrs. McGuire, rising wearily to her feet; "but
there ain't many that thinks of that."

"There'll be more think of it by an' by--when it's too late," observed
Susan succinctly, as she, too, rose from her chair.



CHAPTER XXVII

FOR THE SAKE OF JOHN


In due course Daniel Burton and his son Keith returned from the
funeral of their kinswoman, Mrs. Nancy Holworthy.

The town, aware now of the stupendous change that had come to the
fortunes of the Burton family, stared, gossiped, shook wise heads of
prophecy, then passed on to the next sensation--which happened to be
the return of four soldiers from across the seas; three crippled, one
blinded.

At the Burton homestead the changes did not seem so stupendous, after
all. True, Daniel Burton had abandoned the peddling of peas and beans
across the counter, and had, at the earnest solicitation of his son,
got out his easel and placed a fresh canvas upon it; but he obviously
worked half-heartedly, and he still roamed the house after reading the
evening paper, and spent even more time before the great war map on
his studio wall.

True, also, disgruntled tradesmen no longer rang peremptory peals on
the doorbell, and the postman's load of bills on the first of the
month was perceptibly decreased. The dinner-table, too, bore evidence
that a scanty purse no longer controlled the larder, but no new china
or cut-glass graced the board, and Susan's longed-for bouillon spoons
had never materialized. Locks and doors and sagging blinds had
received prompt attention, and already the house was being prepared
for a new coat of paint; but no startling alterations or improvements
were promised by the evidence, and Keith was still to be seen almost
daily on the McGuire back porch, as before, or on his own, with John
McGuire.

It is no wonder, surely, that very soon the town ceased to stare and
gossip, or even to shake wise heads of prophecy.

Nancy Holworthy's death was two months in the past when one day Keith
came home from John McGuire's back porch in very evident excitement
and agitation.

"Why, Keith, what's the matter? What IS the matter?" demanded Susan
concernedly.

"Nothing. That is, I--I did not know I acted as if anything was the
matter," stammered the youth.

"Well, you do. Now, tell me, what is it?"

"Nothing, nothing, Susan. Nothing you can help." Keith was pacing back
and forth and up and down the living-room, not even using his cane to
define the familiar limits of his pathway. Suddenly he turned and
stopped short, his whole body quivering with emotion. "Susan, I can't!
I can't--stand it," he moaned.

"I know, Keith. But, what is it--now?"

"John McGuire. He's been telling me how it is--over there. Why, Susan,
I could see it--SEE it, I tell you, and, oh, I did so want to be there
to help. He told me how they held it--the little clump of trees that
meant so much to US, and how one by one they fell--those brave fellows
with him. I could see it. I could hear it. I could hear the horrid din
of the guns and shells, and the crash of falling trees about us; and
the shouts and groans of the men at our side. And they needed
men--more men--to take the place of those that had fallen. Even one man
counted there--counted for, oh, so much!--for at the last there was
just one man left----John McGuire. And to hear him tell it--it was
wonderful, wonderful!"

"I know, I know," nodded Susan. "It was like his letters--you could
SEE things. He MADE you see 'em. An' that's what he always did--made
you see things--even when he was a little boy. His mother told me. He
wanted to write, you know. He was goin' to be a writer, before--this
happened. An' now----" The sentence trailed off into the silence
unfinished.

"And to think of all that to-day being wasted on a blind baby tied to
a picture puzzle," moaned Keith, resuming his nervous pacing of the
room. "If only a man--a real man could have heard him--one that could
go and do a man's work--! Why, Susan, that story, as he told it, would
make a stone fight. I never heard anything like it. I never supposed
there could be anything like that battle. He never talked like this,
until to-day. Oh, he's told me a little, from time to time. But to-day,
to-day, he just poured out his heart to me--ME!--and there are so
many who need just that message to stir them from their smug
complacency--men who could fight, and win: men who WOULD fight, and
win, if only they could see and hear and know, as I saw and heard and
knew this afternoon. And there it was, wasted, WASTED, worse than
wasted on--me!"

Chokingly Keith turned away, but with a sudden cry Susan caught his
arm.

"No, no, Keith, it wasn't wasted--you mustn't let it be wasted," she
panted. "Listen! You want others to hear it--what you heard--don't
you?"

"Why, y-yes, Susan; but----"

"Then make 'em hear it," she interrupted. "You can--you can!"

"How?"

"Make him write it down, jest as he talks. He can--he wants to. He's
always wanted to. Then publish it in a book, so everybody can see it
and hear it, as you did."

"Oh, Susan, if we only could!" A dawning hope had come into Keith
Burton's face, but almost at once it faded into gray disappointment.
"We couldn't do it, though, Susan. He couldn't do it. You know he
can't write at all. He's only begun to practice a little bit. He'd
never get it down, with the fire and the vim in it, learning to write
as he'd have to. What do you suppose Lincoln's Gettysburg Speech would
have been if he'd had to stop to learn how to spell and to write each
word before he could put it down?"

"I know, I know," nodded Susan. "It's that way with me in my poetry. I
jest HAVE to get right ahead while the fuse burns, an' spell 'em
somehow, anyhow, so's to get 'em down while I'm in the fit of it. He
couldn't do it. I can see that now. But, Keith, couldn't YOU do
it?--take it down, I mean, as he talked, like a stylographer?"

Keith shook his head.

"I wish I could. But I couldn't, I know I couldn't. I couldn't begin
to do it fast enough to keep up with him, and 't would spoil it all to
have to ask him to slow down. When a man's got a couple of Huns coming
straight for him, and he knows he's got to get 'em both at once, you
can't very well sing out: 'Here, wait--wait a minute till I get that
last sentence down!'"

"I know, I know," nodded Susan again. She paused, drew a long sigh,
and turned her eyes out the window. Up the walk was coming Daniel
Burton. His step was slow, his head was bowed. He looked like anything
but the happy possessor of new wealth. Susan frowned as she watched
him.

"I wish your father----" she began. Suddenly she stopped. A new light
had leaped to her eyes. "Keith, Keith," she cried eagerly. "I have it!
Your father--he could do it--I know he could!"

"Do what?"

"Take down John McGuire's story. Couldn't he do it?"

"Why, y-yes, he could, I think," hesitated Keith doubtfully. "He
doesn't know shorthand, but he--he's got eyes" (Keith's voice broke a
little) "and he could SEE what he was doing, and he could take down
enough of it so he could patch it up afterwards, I'm sure. But Susan,
John McGuire wouldn't TELL it to HIM. Don't you see? He won't even see
anybody but me, and he didn't talk like this even to me until to-day.
How's dad going to hear it to write it down? Tell me that?"

"But he could overhear it, Keith. No, no, don't look like that," she
protested hurriedly, as Keith began to frown. "Jest listen a minute.
It would be jest as easy. He could be over on the grass right close,
where he could hear every word; an' you could get John to talkin', an'
as soon as he got really started on a story your father could begin to
write, an' John wouldn't know a thing about it; an'--"

"Yes, you're quite right--John wouldn't know a thing about it," broke
in Keith, with a passion so sudden and bitter that Susan fell back in
dismay.

"Why, Keith!" she exclaimed, her startled eyes on his quivering face.

"I wonder if you think I'd do it!" he demanded. "I wonder if you
really think I'd cheat that poor fellow into talking to me just
because he hadn't eyes to see that I wasn't the only one in his
audience!"

"But, Keith, he wouldn't mind; he wouldn't mind a bit," urged Susan,
"if he didn't know an'--"

"Oh, no, he wouldn't mind being cheated and deceived and made a fool
of, just because he couldn't see!"

"No, he wouldn't mind," persisted Susan stoutly. "It wouldn't be a
mean listenin', nor sneak listenin'. It wouldn't be listenin' to
things he didn't want us to hear. He'd be glad, after it was all done,
an'--"

"Would he!" choked Keith, still more bitterly. "Maybe you think _I_
was glad after it was all done, and I found I'd been fooled and
cheated into thinking the girl that was reading and talking to me and
playing games with me was a girl I had never known before--a girl who
was what she pretended to be, a new friend doing it all because she
wanted to, because she liked to."

"But, Keith, I'm sure that Dorothy liked--"

"There, there, Susan," interposed Keith, with quickly uplifted hand.
"We'll not discuss it, please, Yes, I know, I began the subject
myself, and it was my fault; but when I heard you say John McGuire
would be glad when he found out how we'd lied to his poor blind eyes,
I--I just couldn't hold it in. I had to say something. But never mind
that now, Susan; only you'll--you'll have to understand I mean what I
say. There's no letting dad copy that story on the sly."

"But there's a way, there must be a way," argued Susan feverishly.
"Only think what it would mean to that boy if we could get him started
to writin' books--what he's wanted to do all his life. Oh, Keith, why,
he'd even forget his eyes then."

"It would--help some." Keith drew in his breath and held it a moment
suspended. "And he'd even be helping us to win out--over there; for if
we could get that story of his on paper as he told it to me, the
fellow that reads it wouldn't need any recruiting station to send him
over there. If there was only a way that father could--"

"There is, an' we'll find it," interposed Susan eagerly. "I know we
will. An' Keith, it's goin' to be 'most as good for him as it is for
John McGuire. He's nervous as a witch since he quit his job."

"I know." A swift cloud crossed the boy's face. "But 'twasn't giving
up his job that's made him nervous, Susan, as you and I both know very
well. However, we'll see. And you may be sure if there is a way I'll
find it, Susan," he finished a bit wearily, as he turned to go
upstairs.



CHAPTER XXVIII

THE WAY


Keith was still looking for "the way," when October came, bringing
crisp days and chilly winds. When not too cold, the boys still sat out
of doors. When it was too cold, John McGuire did not appear at all on
his back porch, and Keith did not have the courage to make a bold
advance to the McGuire door and ask admittance. There came a day,
however, when a cold east wind came up after they were well
established in their porch chairs for the morning. They were on the
Burton porch this time, and Keith suddenly determined to take the bull
by the horns.

"Brrr! but it's cold this morning," he shivered blithely. "What say
you? Let's go in. Come on." And without waiting for acquiescence, he
caught John McGuire's arm in his own and half pulled him to his feet.
Before John McGuire knew then quite what was happening, he found
himself in the house.

"No, no!--that is, I--I think I'd better be going home," he stammered.

But Keith Burton did not seem even to hear.

"Say, just try your hand at this puzzle," he was saying gayly. "I gave
it up, and I'll bet you'll have to," he finished, thrusting a
pasteboard box into his visitor's hands and nicely adjudging the
distance a small table must be pushed in order to bring it
conveniently in front of John McGuire's chair.

The quick tightening of John McGuire's lips and the proud lifting of
his chin told that Keith's challenge had been accepted even before the
laconic answer came.

"Oh, you do, do you? Well, we'll see whether I'll have to give it up
or not."

John McGuire loved picture puzzles, as Keith Burton well knew.

It was easy after that. Keith took it so unhesitatingly for granted
that they were to go indoors when it was cold that John McGuire found
it difficult to object; and it was not long before the two boys were
going back and forth between the two houses with almost as much ease
as if their feet had been guided by the eye instead of by the tap of a
slender stick.

John McGuire was learning a great deal from Keith these days, though
it is doubtful if he realized it. It is doubtful, also, if he realized
how constantly he was being made to talk of the war and of his
experience in it. But Keith realized it. Keith was not looking for
"the way" now. He believed he had found it; and there came a day when
he deemed the time had come to try to carry it out.

They were in his own home living-room. It had been a wonderful story
that John McGuire had told that day of a daring excursion into No
Man's Land, and what came of it. Upstairs in the studio Daniel Burton
was sitting alone, as Keith knew. Keith drew a long breath and made
the plunge. Springing to his feet he turned toward the door that led
into the hall.

"McGuire, that was a bully story--a corking good story. I want dad to
hear it. Wait, I'll get him." And he was out of the room with the door
fast closed behind him before John McGuire could so much as draw a
breath.

Upstairs, Daniel Burton, already in the secret, heard Keith's eager
summons and came at once. For some days he had been expecting just
such an urgent call from Keith's lips. He knew too much to delay. He
was down the stairs and at Keith's side in an incredibly short time.
Then together they pushed open the door and entered the living-room.

John McGuire was on his feet. Very plainly he was intending to go
home, and at once. But Daniel Burton paid no attention to that. He
came straight toward him and took his hand.

"I call this mighty good of you, McGuire," he said. "My boy here has
been raving about your stories of the war until I'm fairly green with
envy. Now I'm to hear a bit of them myself, he says. I wish you would
tell me some of your experiences, my lad. You know a chance like this
is a real god-send to us poor stay-at-homes. Now fire away! I'm
ready."

But John McGuire was not ready. True, he sat down--but not until after
a confused "No, no, I must go home--that is, really, they're not worth
repeating--those stories." And he would not talk at all--at first.

Daniel Burton talked, however. He talked of wars in general and of the
Civil War in particular; and he told the stories of Antietam and
Gettysburg as they had been told to him by his father. Then from
Gettysburg he jumped to Flanders, and talked of aeroplanes, and
gas-masks, and tanks, and trenches, and dugouts.

Little by little then John McGuire began to talk--sometimes a whole
sentence, sometimes only a word or two. But there was no fire, no
enthusiasm, no impetuous rush of words that brought the very din of
battle to their ears. And not once did Daniel Burton thrust his
fingers into his pocket for his pencil and notebook. Yet, when it was
all over, and John McGuire had gone home, Keith dropped into his chair
with a happy sigh.

"It wasn't much, dad, I know," he admitted, "but it was something. It
was a beginning, and a beginning is something--with John McGuire."

And it was something; for the next time Daniel Burton entered the
room, John McGuire did not even start from his chair. He gave a faint
smile of welcome, too, and he talked sooner, and talked more--though
there was little of war talk; and for the second time Daniel Burton
did not reach for his pencil.

But the third time he did. A question, a comment, a chance word--neither
Keith nor his father could have told afterward what started
it. They knew only that a sudden light as of a flame leaped into John
McGuire's face--and he was back in the trenches of France and carrying
them with him.

At the second sentence Daniel Burton's fingers were in his pocket, and
at the third his pencil was racing over the paper at breakneck speed.
There was no pause then, no time for thought, no time for careful
forming of words and letters. There was only the breakneck race
between a bit of lead and an impassioned tongue; and when it was all
over, there were only a well-nigh hopeless-looking mass of
hieroglyphics in Daniel Burton's notebook--and the sweat of spent
excitement on the brows of two youths and a man.

"Gee! we got it that time!" breathed Keith, after John McGuire had
gone home.

"Yes; only I was wondering if I had really--got it," murmured Daniel
Burton, eyeing a bit ruefully the confused mass of words and letters
in his notebook. "Still, I reckon I can dig it out all right--if I do
it right away," he finished confidently. And he did dig it out before
he slept that night.

If Daniel Burton and his son Keith thought the thing was done, and it
was going to be easy sailing thereafter, they found themselves greatly
mistaken. John McGuire scarcely said five sentences about the war the
next time they were together, though Daniel Burton had his pencil
poised expectantly from the start. He said only a little more the next
time, and the next; and Daniel Burton pocketed his pencil in despair.
Then came a day when a chance word about a new air raid reported in
the morning paper acted like a match to gunpowder, and sent John
McGuire off into a rapid-fire story that whipped Daniel Burton's
pencil from his pocket and set it to racing again at breakneck speed
to keep up with him.

It was easier after that. Still, every day it was like a game of
hide-and-seek, with Daniel Burton and his pencil ever in pursuit, and
with now and then a casual comment or a tactful question to lure the
hiding story out into the open. Little by little, as the frank
comradeship of Daniel Burton won its way, John McGuire was led to talk
more and more freely; and by Christmas the eager scribe was in
possession of a very complete record of John McGuire's war experiences,
dating even from the early days of his enlistment.

Day by day, as he had taken down the rough notes, Daniel Burton had
followed it up with a careful untangling and copying before he had had
a chance to forget, or to lose the wonderful glow born of the
impassioned telling. Then, from time to time he had sorted the notes
and arranged them in proper sequence, until now he had a complete
story, logical and well-rounded.

It was on Christmas Day that he read the manuscript to Keith. At its
conclusion Keith drew a long, tremulous breath.

"Dad, it's wonderful!" he exclaimed. "How did you do it?"

"You know. You heard yourself."

"Yes; but to copy it like that--! Why, I could hear him tell it as you
read it, dad. I could HEAR him."

"Could you, really? I'm glad. That makes me know I've succeeded. Now
for a publisher!"

"You wouldn't publish it without his--knowing?"

"Certainly not. But I'm going to let a publisher see it, before he
knows."

"Y-yes, perhaps."

"Why, Keith, I'd have to do that. Do you suppose I'd run the risk of
its being turned down, and then have to tell that boy that he couldn't
have the book, after all?"

"No, no, I suppose not. But--it isn't going to be turned down, dad.
Such a wonderful thing can't be turned down."

"Hm-m; perhaps not." Daniel Burton's lips came together a bit grimly.
"But--there ARE wonderful things that won't sell, you know. However,"
he finished with brisk cheerfulness, "this isn't one of my pictures,
nor a bit of Susan's free verse; so there's some hope, I guess.
Anyhow, we'll see--but we won't tell John until we do see."

"All right. I suppose that would be best," sighed Keith, still a
little doubtfully.

They had not long to wait, after all. In a remarkably short time came
back word from the publishers. Most emphatically they wanted the book,
and they wanted it right away. Moreover, the royalty they offered was
so good that it sent Daniel Burton down the stairs two steps at a time
like a boy, in his eagerness to reach Keith with the good news.

"And now for John!" he cried excitedly, as soon as Keith's joyous
exclamations over the news were uttered. "Come, let's go across now."

"But, dad, how--how are you going to tell him?" Keith was holding back
a little.

"Tell him! I'm just going to tell him," laughed the man. "That's
easy."

"I know; but--but----" Keith wet his lips and started again. "You see,
dad, he didn't know we were taking notes of his stories. He couldn't
see us. We--we took advantage of----"

But Daniel Burton would not even listen.

"Shucks and nonsense, Keith!" he cried. Then a little grimly he added:
"I only wish somebody'd take advantage like that of me, and sell a
picture or two when I'm not looking. Come, we're keeping John
waiting." And he took firm hold of his son's arm.

Yet in the McGuire living-room, in the presence of John McGuire
himself, he talked fully five minutes of nothing in particular, before
he said:

"Well, John, I've got some good news for you."

"GOOD news?"

"That's what I'd call it. I--er--hear you're going to have a book out
in the spring."

"I'm going to--WHAT?"

"Have a book out--war stories. They were too good to keep to
ourselves, John, so I jotted them down as you told them, and last week
I sent them off to a publisher."

"A--a real publisher?" The boy's voice shook. Every trace of color had
drained from his face.

"You bet your life--and one of the biggest in the country." Daniel
Burton's own voice was shaking. He had turned his eyes away from John
McGuire's face.

"And they'll--print it?"

"Just as soon as ever you'll sign the contract. And, by the way, that
contract happens to be a mighty good one, for a first book, my boy."

John McGuire drew a long breath. The color was slowly coming back to
his face.

"But I can't seem to quite--believe it," he faltered.

"Nonsense! Simplest thing in the world," insisted Daniel Burton
brusquely. "They saw the stories, liked them, and are going to publish
them. That's all."

"All! ALL!" The blind boy was on his feet, his face working with
emotion. "When all my life I've dreamed and dreamed and longed for----"
He stopped short and sat down. He had the embarrassed air the
habitually reserved person usually displays when caught red-handed
making a "scene." He gave a confused laugh. "I was only thinking--what
a way. You see--I'd always wanted to be a writer, but I'd given it up
long ago. I had my living to earn, and I knew I couldn't earn it--that
way--not at first. I used to say I'd give anything if I could write a
book; and I was just wondering if--if I'd been willing then to have
given--my eyes!"



CHAPTER XXIX

DOROTHY TRIES HER HAND


It was on a mild day early in February that Susan met Dorothy Parkman
on the street. She stopped her at once.

"Well, if I ain't glad to see you!" she cried. "I didn't know you'd
got back."

"I haven't been back long, Susan."

"You hain't been over to see us once, Miss Dorothy," Susan reproached
her.

"I--I have been very busy." Miss Dorothy seemed ill at ease, and
anxious to get away.

"An' you didn't come for a long, long time when you was here last
fall." Susan had laid a detaining hand on the girl's arm now.

"Didn't I?" Miss Dorothy smiled brightly. "Well, perhaps I didn't. But
you didn't need me, anyway. I've heard all about it--the splendid work
Mr. Burton and his son have done for John McGuire. And I'm so glad."

"Oh, yes, that's all right." Susan spoke without enthusiasm.

"And the book is going to be published?"

"Yes, oh, yes." Susan still spoke with a preoccupied frown.

"Why, Susan, what's the matter? I thought you'd be glad."

Susan drew a long sigh.

"I am glad, Miss Dorothy. I'm awful glad--for John McGuire. They say
it's wonderful, the change in him already. He's so proud an' happy to
think he's done it--not sinfully proud, you understand, but just
humbly proud an' glad. An' his ma says he's writin' other things
now--poems an' stories, an' he's as happy as a lark all day. An' I'm
awful glad. But it's Keith hisself that I'm thinkin' of. You see, only
yesterday I found him--cryin'."

"Crying!" Miss Dorothy seemed to have forgotten all about her haste to
get away. She had Susan's arm in HER grasp now. She had pulled her to
one side, too, where they could have a little sheltered place to talk,
in the angle of two store windows.

"Yes, cryin'. You see, 't was like this," hurried on Susan. "Mis'
McGuire was over, an' I'd been readin' a new poem to her an' him. 'T
was a real pretty one, too, if I do say it as shouldn't--the best I
ever done; all about how fame an' beauty an' pleasure didn't count
nothin' beside workin'. I got the idea out of something I found in a
magazine. 'T was jest grand; an' it give me the perspiration right
away to turn it into a poem. An' I did. An' 't was that I was readin'.
I'd jest got it done that mornin'."

"Yes, yes," nodded Miss Dorothy. "I see."

"Well, I never thought of its meanin' anything to Keith, or of his
takin' it nohow wrong; but after Mis' McGuire had gone home (she came
out an' set with me a spell first in the kitchen) I heard a queer
little noise in the settin'-room, an' I went an' looked in. Keith was
at the table, his arms flung straight out in front of him, an' his
head bowed down. An', Miss Dorothy, he was cryin' like a baby."

"Oh, Susan, what did you do? What did you say?"

"Say? Nothin'!" Susan's eyes flashed her scorn. "Do you s'pose I'd let
that poor lamb know I see him cryin'? Well, I guess not! I backed out
as soft as a feather bed, an' I didn't go near that settin'-room for
an hour, nor let any one else. I was a regular dragon-fly guardin' it.
Well, by an' by Keith comes out. His face was white an'
strained-lookin'. But he was smiling, an' he handed out my poem--I'd
left it on the table when I come out with Mis' McGuire. 'I found this
paper on the table, Susan. It's your poem, isn't it?' he says real
cheerful-like. Then he turns kind of quick an' leaves the room without
another word.

"Well, I didn't know then that't was the poem he'd been cryin' over. I
didn't know--till this mornin'. Then somethin' he said made me see
right off."

"Why, Susan, what was it?"

"It was somethin' about--work. But first you wouldn't understand it,
unless you see the poem. An' I can show it to you, 'cause I've got it
right here. I'm tryin' to memorialize it, so I keep it with me all the
time, an' repeat one line over an' over till I get it. It's right here
in my bag. You'll find it's the best I've wrote, Miss Dorothy; I'm
sure you will," she went on a bit wistfully. "You see I used a lot of
the words that was in the magazine--not that I pleasurized it any, of
course. Mine's different, 'cause mine is poetry an' theirs is prosy.
There! I guess maybe you can read it, even if't is my writin'," she
finished, taking a sheet of note-paper from her bag and carefully
spreading it out for Miss Dorothy to read.

And this is what Dorothy read:

    CONTENTMENT

              Wealth
      I asked for the earth--but when in my hands
      It shriveled and crumbled away;
      And the green of its trees and the blue of its skies
      Changed to a somber gray.

                  Beauty
      I asked for the moon--but the shimmering thing
      Was only reflected gold,
      And vanished away at my glance and touch,
      And was then but a tale that is told.

                             Pleasure
      I asked for the stars--and lots of them came,
      And twinkled and danced for me;
      But the whirling lights soon wearied my gaze--
      I squenched their flame in the sea.

                               Fame
      I asked for the sun!--but the fiery ball,
      Brought down from its home on high,
      Scorched and blistered my finger tips,
      As I swirled it back to the sky.

                   Labor
      I asked for a hoe, and I set me to work,
      And my red blood danced as I went:
      At night I rested, and looking back,
      I counted my day well spent.

"But, Susan, I don't see," began Miss Dorothy, lifting puzzled eyes
from the last line of the poem, "I don't see what there is about that
to make Mr. Keith--cry."

"No, I didn't, till this mornin'; an' then--Well, Keith came out into
the kitchen an' begun one of them tramps of his up an' down the room.
It always drives me nearly crazy when he does that, but I can't say
anything, of course. I did begin this mornin' to talk about John
McGuire an' how fine it was he'd got somethin' he could do. I
thought't would take the poor boy's mind off hisself, if I could get
him talkin' about John McGuire--he's been SO interested in John all
winter! An' so glad he could help him. You know he's always so wanted
to HELP somebody hisself instead of always havin' somebody helpin'
him. But, dear me, instead of its bein' a quieter now for him, it was
a regular stirrup.

"'That's just it, that's just it, Susan,' he moans. 'You've got to
have work or you die. There's nothin' in the whole world like
work--YOUR WORK! John McGuire's got his work, an' I'm glad of it. But
where's mine? Where's mine, I tell you?'

"An' I told him he'd jest been havin' his work, helpin' John McGuire.
You know it was wonderful, perfectly wonderful, Miss Dorothy, the way
them two men got hold of John McGuire. You know John wouldn't speak to
anybody, not anybody, till Keith an' his father found some way to get
on the inside of his shell. An' Keith's been so happy all winter doin'
it; an' his father, too. So I tried to remind him that he'd been doin'
his work.

"But it didn't do no good. Keith said that was all very well, an' he
was glad, of course; but that was only a little bit of a thing, an' 't
was all past an' gone, an' John didn't need 'em any more, an' there
wasn't anything left for him now at all. Oh, Miss Dorothy, he talked
awfully. I never heard him run on so. An' I knew, from a lot of it
that he said, that he was thinkin' of that poem--he wouldn't ask for
wealth or beauty or fame, or anything, an' that there didn't anything
count but labor. You see?"

"Yes, I--see." Miss Dorothy's voice was very low. Her face was turned
quite away, yet Susan was very sure that there were tears in her eyes.

"An' his father!--he's 'most as bad as Keith," sighed Susan. "They're
both as nervous as witches, what with the war an' all, an' they not
bein' able to do anything. Oh, they do give money--lots of it--Liberty
Bonds an' Red Cross, an' drives, of course. You knew they'd got it
now--their money, didn't you, Miss Dorothy?"

"Yes, I had heard so."

"Not that it seems to do 'em any particular good," complained Susan
wistfully. "Oh, of course things ain't so--so ambiguous as they was,
an' we have more to eat an' wear, an' don't have to worry about bills.
But they ain't any happier, as I can see. If only Keith could find
somethin'--"

"Yes, I know," sighed Miss Dorothy again, as she turned slowly away.
"I wish he--could."

"Well, come to see us, won't you?" urged Susan anxiously. "That'll
help some--it'll help a lot."

But Miss Dorothy did not seem to have heard. At least she did not
answer. Yet not twenty-four hours later she was ringing the Burtons'
doorbell.

"No, no--not there! I want to see YOU," she panted a little
breathlessly, when Susan would have led the way to the living-room.

"But Keith would be so glad--" begged Susan.

"No, no! I particularly don't want him to know I am here," insisted
Dorothy.

And without further ado, but with rebellious lips and eyes, Susan led
the way to the kitchen.

"Susan, I have a scheme, I think, that may help out Mr. Keith," began
the young girl abruptly. "I'll have to begin by telling you something
of what I've seen during these last two or three months, while I've
been away. A Mr. Wilson, an old college friend of my father's, has
been taking a lot of interest in the blind--especially since the war.
He got to thinking of the blinded soldiers and wishing he could help
them. He had seen some of them in Canada, and talked with them. What
he thought of first for them was brooms, and basket-weaving and
chair-caning, same as everybody does. But he found they had a perfect
horror of those things. They said nobody bought such things except out
of pity--they'd rather have the machine-made kind. And these men didn't
want things bought of them out of pity. You see, they were big, well,
strong, young fellows, like John McGuire here; and they were groping
around, trying to find a way to live all those long years of darkness
that they knew were ahead of them. They didn't have any especial
talent. But they wanted to work,--do something that was necessary--not
be charity folks, as they called it."

"I know," responded Susan sympathetically.

"Well, this Mr. Wilson is at the head of a big electrical machinery
manufacturing company near Chicago, like Mr. Sanborn's here, you know.
And suddenly one day it came to him that he had the very thing right
in his own shop--a necessary kind of work that the blind could be
taught to do."

"My lan', what was it? Think of blind folks goin' to work in a big
shop like Tom Sanborn's!"

"I know it. But there was something. It was wrapping the coils of wire
with tape. Mr. Wilson said they used hundreds of thousands of these
coils all the time, and they had to be wrapped to insulate them. It
was this work that he believed the blind could learn to do. Anyhow, he
determined to try it. And try it he did. He sent for those soldiers he
had talked with in Canada, and he took two or three of father's
patients, and opened a little winding-room with a good electrical
engineer in charge. And, do you know? it was wonderful, the way those
poor fellows took hold of that work! Why, they got really skillful in
no time, and they learned to do it swiftly, too."

"My lan'!" breathed Susan again.

"They did. He took me in to see them one day. It was just a big room
on the ground floor of an office building. He didn't put them in his
shop. He said he wanted to keep them separate, for the present,
anyway. It had two or three long tables, and the superintendent moved
up and down the room overseeing their work, and helping where it was
necessary. There was a new man that morning, and it was perfectly
wonderful how he took hold of it. And they were all so happy, laughing
and talking, and having the best time ever; but they sobered up real
earnest when Mr. Wilson introduced one or two of them to me. One man
in particular--he was one of the soldiers, a splendid, great, blond
fellow six feet tall, and only twenty-one--told me what this work
meant to them; how glad they were to feel of real use in the world.
Then his face flushed, and his shoulders straightened a bit. 'And
we're even helping a little to win the war,' he said, 'for these coils
we are winding now are for some armatures to go in some big motors
that are going to be used in making munitions. So you see, we are
helping--a little.' Bless his heart! He didn't know how much he was
helping every one, just by his big, brave courage.

"Well, Susan, all this gave me an idea, after what you said yesterday
about Mr. Keith. And I wondered--why couldn't he wind coils, too? And
maybe he'd get others to do it also. So I went to Mr. Sanborn, and
he's perfectly willing to let us give it a trial. He's pleased and
interested, and says he will furnish everything for the experiment,
including a first-class engineer to superintend; only he can't spend
any time over it himself, and we'll have to get somebody else to take
charge and make arrangements, about the place, and the starting of it,
and all that. And, Susan, now comes my second idea. Could we--do you
suppose we could get Mr. Daniel Burton to take charge of it?"

"Oh, Miss Dorothy, if we only could!"

"It would be so fine for Mr. Keith, and for all the others. I've been
hearing everywhere how wonderfully he got hold of John McGuire."

"He did, he did," cried Susan, "an' he was like a different man all
the time he was doin' it. He hain't had no use for his paintin'
lately, an' he's been so uneasy. I'm sure he'll do it, if you ask
him."

"Good! Then I will. Is--is he at home to-day?"

"Yes, he's upstairs. I'll call him." Susan sprang to her feet with
alacrity.

"But, Susan, just a minute!" Miss Dorothy had put out a detaining
hand. "Is--is Mr. Keith here, too?"

"Yes, both of 'em. Keith is in the settin'-room an' I'll call his
father down. 'T won't take but jest a minute." Susan was plainly
chafing at the detaining hand.

"No, no, Susan!" Miss Dorothy, too, had sprung to her feet. "If--if
Mr. Keith is here I'll wait. I want to see Mr. Daniel Burton
first--er--alone: to--to tell him about it, you know," she added
hastily, as Susan began to frown her disappointment.

"But I don't see why," argued Susan, her disapproving eyes on the
girl's flushed cheeks. "I should think you'd want to talk it up with
both of 'em."

"Yes, yes, of course; but not--not at first," stammered Miss Dorothy,
plainly growing more and more embarrassed as she tried to appear less
so. "I would rather--er--that is, I think it would be better to ask
Mr. Daniel Burton first, and then after we get it well started let him
tell his son. So I'll come to-morrow in the morning--at ten. Mr. Keith
is with Mr. John McGuire, then, isn't he? And over at his house? I
heard he was."

"Yes, he is, most generally."

"Then I'll come then. If--if you'll tell Mr. Daniel Burton, please,"
hurried on Miss Dorothy, "and ask him to see me. And please, PLEASE
keep it from Mr. Keith, Susan. Truly, I don't want him to know a thing
about it till his father and I have--have got it all fixed up," she
finished.

"But, Miss Dorothy, I know that Keith would want----"

"Susan!" With an imperiousness quite foreign to her usual manner, Miss
Dorothy cut in sharply. "If you don't promise to speak only to Mr.
Daniel Burton about this matter I shall not come at all."

"Oh, lan' sakes! Well, well, have it your own way," snapped Susan.

"You promise?"

"Yes, I promise." Susan's lips obeyed, but her eyes were still
mutinous.

"Good! Thank you, Susan. Then I'll come to-morrow at ten," nodded Miss
Dorothy, once again her smiling, gracious self, as she turned to leave
the room.



CHAPTER XXX

DANIEL BURTON'S "JOB"


Dorothy came at ten, or, to be strictly accurate, at five minutes past
ten. The additional five minutes had been consumed by her going out of
her way around the block so that she might see if Keith were visible
in one of the McGuires' windows. He was visible--and when she went up
the Burton walk at five minutes past ten, her step was confident and
her face eager; and there was about her manner none of the furtive,
nervous questioning that had marked her coming the day before.

"Good-morning, Susan," she began cheerily, as Susan answered her ring.
"Did Mr. Burton say he would see me?"

"He did. And Mr. Keith is over to the McGuires' all safe, so you don't
have to worry about him." Susan's eyes were still mutinous, her voice
still coldly disapproving.

"Yes, I know he is," nodded Miss Dorothy with a bright smile.

"Oh, you do!"

"Yes. Well, that is--er--I--" Under Susan's uncompromising frigidity
Miss Dorothy's stammering tongue came to a painful pause.

"Humph!" vouchsafed Susan. "Well, come in, an' I'll tell Mr. DANIEL
Burton you're here."

That the emphasis on "Daniel" was not lost was shown by the sudden
broad smile that chased away the confusion on Miss Dorothy's face, as
Susan led the way to the living-room. Two minutes later Daniel Burton,
thinner, paler, and more worn-looking than Dorothy had ever seen him
before, entered the room and held out a cordial hand.

"Good-morning, Miss Dorothy. I'm glad to see you," he said. "What is
it,--Red Cross, Y.M.C.A., Smileage Books?" The whimsical smile on his
lips only served to emphasize the somber pain in his eyes.

"Not any of them. Then Susan didn't tell you?"

"Not a word. Sit down, please."

"Thank you. Then I shall have to begin at the beginning," sighed the
girl a little constrainedly as she took the chair he offered her.
"I--I have a certain project that I want to carry out, Mr. Burton,
and I--I want your help."

"Why, of course--certainly. I shall be glad to, I know." Daniel
Burton's hand had already reached for his check-book. "Any project of
yours, Miss Dorothy--! How much do you want?"

But Miss Dorothy lifted her hand, palm outward.

"Thank you, Mr. Burton; but not any--in money, just yet. Oh, it'll
take money, probably, to get it started, before it's on a
self-supporting basis, I suppose. But it isn't money I want to-day,
Mr. Burton. It--it's yourself."

The man gave a short, dry laugh, not untinged with bitterness.

"I'm afraid I can't endorse either your taste or your judgment there,
Miss Dorothy. You've come for a poor stick. I can't imagine myself as
being much benefit to any sort of project. However, I shall be glad to
hear about it, of course. What is it?"

And Miss Dorothy told him. With her eyes shining, and her voice
quivering with eagerness, she told the story as she had told it to
Susan the afternoon before, but with even greater elaboration of
detail.

"And so now, Mr. Burton, you--you will help, won't you?" she begged,
in closing.

"Help! But my dear girl, how?"

"Take charge. Be the head and shoulders, the backbone of the whole
thing. Oh, yes, I know it's a whole lot to ask," she hurried on, as
she saw the dawning dismay and refusal in his face. "But I thought,
for the sake of the cause--"

"The cause!" The man's voice was bitter as he interrupted her. "I'd
crawl to France on my hands and knees if that would do any good! But,
my dear young lady, I'm an ignoramus, and worse than an ignoramus,
when it comes to machinery. I'll venture to wager that I wouldn't know
the tape from the coils--or whatever they are."

"Oh, we'd have an engineer for that part, of course," interposed the
girl eagerly. "And we want your son, too."

"You want Keith! Pray, do you expect him to teach how to wind coils?"

"No--no--not exactly;--though I think he will be teaching before he
realizes it. I want him to learn to wind them himself, and thus get
others to learn. You don't understand, Mr. Burton. I want you and Mr.
Keith to--to do just what you did for John McGuire--arouse interest
and enthusiasm and get them to do it. Don't you see?"

"But that was Keith, not I, in the case of John McGuire."

"It was you at the last," corrected the girl gently. "Mr. Burton, John
McGuire wouldn't have any book out this spring if it weren't for you
and--your eyes."

"Hm-m, perhaps not. Still there'd have been a way, probably. But even
if I grant that--all you say in the case of John McGuire--that isn't
winding armatures, or whatever they are."

"Mr. Burton, you aren't going to refuse," pleaded the girl.

"What else can I do? Miss Dorothy, you don't want to stamp this
project of yours a FAILURE from the start, do you?" Words, voice,
manner, and gesture were unmistakable. All the longing and heartache
and bitterness of years of fruitless effort and final disappointment
pulsated through that one word FAILURE.

For a moment nobody spoke. Daniel Burton had got to his feet and
crossed the room to the window. The girl, watching him with
compassionate eyes as he stood looking out, had caught her breath with
a little choking sigh. Suddenly she lifted her head resolutely.

"Mr. Burton, you've got one gift that--that I don't believe you
realize at all that you possess. Like John McGuire you can make folks
SEE what you are talking about. Perhaps it's because you can paint
pictures with a brush. Or--or perhaps it's because you've got such a
wonderful command of words." (Miss Dorothy stumbled a little
precipitately into this sentence--she had not failed to see the
disdainful movement of the man's head and shoulders at the mention of
his pictures.) "Whatever it is," she hurried on, "you've got it. I saw
it first years ago, with--with your son, when I used to see him at
father's. He would sit and talk to me by the hour about the woods and
fields and mountains, the sunsets and the flowers back home; and
little by little I found out that they were the pictures you drew for
him--on the canvas of his soul. You've done it again now for John
McGuire. Do you suppose you could have caught those wonderful stories
of his with your pencil, if you hadn't been able to help him visualize
them for himself--you and Keith together with your wonderful
enthusiasm and interest?

"I know you couldn't. And that's what I want you now for--you and your
son. Because he is blind, and knows, and understands, as no seeing
person can know and understand, they will trust him; they will follow
where he leads. But behind him has got to be YOU. You've got to be the
eyes for--for them all; not to teach the work--we'll have others for
that. Any good mechanic will do for that part. But it's the other part
of it--the soul of the thing. These men, lots of them, are but little
more than boys--big, strong, strapping fellows with the whole of life
before them. And they are--blind. Whichever way they turn a big black
curtain shuts them in. And it's those four black curtains that I want
you to paint. I want you to give them something to look at, something
to think of, something to live for. And you can do it. And when you
have done it, you'll find they're the best and--and the biggest
pictures you ever painted." Her voice broke with the last word and
choked into silence.

Over at the window the man stood motionless. One minute, two minutes
passed. Then a bit abruptly he turned, crossed the room to the girl's
side, and held out his hand.

"Miss Dorothy, I--I'll take the job," he said.

He spoke lightly, and he smiled as he said the words; but neither the
smile nor the lightness of his manner quite hid the shake in his voice
nor the moisture in his eyes.

"Thank you, Mr. Burton. I was sure you would," cried the girl.

"And now for Keith! He's over to the McGuires'. I'll get him!"
exclaimed the man boyishly.

But Miss Dorothy was instantly on her feet.

"No, no, please," she begged a little breathlessly. "I'd rather you
didn't--now. I--I think we'd better get it a little farther along
before we tell him. There's a whole lot to do, you know--getting the
room and the materials and the superintendent, and all that; and there
isn't a thing he can do--yet."

"All right. Very good. Perhaps that would be better," nodded the man.
"But, let me tell you, I already have some workers for your project."

"You mean Jack Green, here in town?"

"No. Oh, we'd want him, of course; but it's some others--a couple of
boys from Hillsboro. I had a letter yesterday from the father of one
of the boys, asking what to do with his son. He thought because of--of
Keith, that I could help him. It was a pitiful letter. The man was
heart-broken and utterly at sea. His boy--only nineteen--had come home
blind, and well-nigh crazed with the tragedy of it. And the father
didn't know which way to turn. That's why he had appealed to me. You
see, on account of Keith--"

"Yes, I understand," said the girl gently, as the man left his
sentence unfinished.

"I've had others, too--several of them--in the last few weeks. If
you'll wait I'll get the letters." He was already halfway to the door.
"It may take a minute or two to look them up; but--they'll be worth
it, I think."

"Of course they will," she cried eagerly. "They'll be just exactly
what we want, and I'm not in a bit of a hurry," she finished, dropping
back in her chair as the door closed behind him.

Alone, she looked about the room, her eyes wistful, brimming with
unshed tears. Over by the window was Keith's chair, before it the
table, with a half-completed picture puzzle spread upon it. Near the
table was a set of shelves containing other picture puzzles, games,
and books--all, as the girl well knew, especially designed and
constructed for eyes that could not see.

She had risen to her feet and half started to cross the room toward
the table when the door to the side hall opened and Keith Burton
entered the room.

With a half-stifled gasp the girl stepped back to her chair. The blind
boy stopped instantly, his face turned toward her.

"Is that--you, Susan?"

The girl wet her lips, but no words came.

"Who's there, please?" He spoke sharply this time. As everybody
knew--who knew Keith--the one thing that angered him more than anything
else was the attempted deception as to one's presence in the room.

Miss Dorothy gave a confused little laugh, and put her hand to her
throat.

"Why, Keith, it's only I! Don't look so--"

"You?" For one brief moment his face lighted up as with a hidden
flame; then instantly it changed. It became like the gray of ashes
after the flame is spent. "Why didn't you speak, then?" he questioned.
"It did no good to keep quiet. You mustn't forget that I have ears--if
I haven't eyes."

"Nonsense, Keith!" She laughed again confusedly, though her own face
had paled a little. "I did speak as soon as I caught my
breath;--popping in on a body like that!"

"But I didn't know--you were here," stammered the young fellow
uncertainly. "Nobody called me. I beg your pardon if--" He came to a
helpless pause.

"Not a bit of it! You needn't. It wasn't necessary at all." The girl
tossed off the words with a lightness so forced that it was almost
flippancy. "You see, I didn't come to see you at all. It was your
father."

"My father!"

"Certainly."

"But--but does he know?"

The girl laughed merrily--too merrily for sincerity.

"Know? Indeed he does. We've just been having a lovely talk. He's gone
upstairs for some letters. He's coming right back--right back."

"Oh-h!" Was it an indefinable something in her voice, or was it the
repetition of the last two words? Whatever it was that caused it,
Keith turned away with a jerk, walked with the swift sureness of long
familiarity straight to the set of shelves and took down a book. "Then
I'll not disturb you any further--as long as you're not needing me,"
he said tersely. "I only came for this." And with barely a touch of
his cane to the floor and door-casing, he strode from the room.

The pity of it--that he could not have seen Dorothy Parkman's eyes
looking after him!



CHAPTER XXXI

WHAT SUSAN DID NOT SEE


There was apparently no limit to Daniel Burton's enthusiastic
cooperation with Dorothy Parkman on the matter of establishing a
workroom for the blind. He set to work with her at once. The very next
morning after her initial visit, he went with her to Mazie Sanborn's
father, and together they formulated the first necessary plans.

Thomas Sanborn was generous, and cordially enthusiastic, though his
words and manner carried the crisp terseness of the busy man whose
time is money. At the end of five minutes he summoned one David Patch
to the office, and introduced him to Miss Dorothy and Daniel Burton as
one of his most expert engineers.

"And now I'll turn the whole thing over to you," he declared briskly,
with his finger already on the button that would summon his
stenographer for dictation. "Just step into that room there and stay
as long as you like. Whatever Patch says I'll back up. You'll find him
thoroughly capable and trustworthy. And now good luck to you," he
finished, throwing wide the door of the adjoining room.

The next moment Miss Dorothy and Daniel Burton found themselves alone
with the keen-eyed, alert little man who had been introduced as David
Patch. And David Patch did, indeed, appear to be very capable. He
evidently understood his business, and he gave interested attention to
Miss Dorothy's story of what she had seen, and of what she wished now
to try to do. He took them then for a tour of the great shop,
especially to the department where the busy fingers were winding with
tape the thousands of wire coils.

Miss Dorothy's eyes sparkled with excitement, and she fairly clapped
her hands in her delight, while Daniel Burton said that even he could
see the possibilities of that kind of work for their purpose.

At the end of a long hour of talking and planning, Miss Dorothy and
Daniel Burton started for home. But even then Daniel Burton had yet
more to say, for at his gate, which was on Miss Dorothy's way home, he
begged her to come in for a moment.

"I had another letter to-day about a blind soldier--this time from
Baltimore. I want to show it to you. You see, so many write to me, on
account of my own boy. You will come in, just a minute?"

"Why, yes, of course I--will." The pause, and the half-stifled word
that finished the sentence came as the tall figure of Keith Burton
turned the corner of the piazza and walked toward the steps.

"Hullo! Dad?" Keith's voice was questioning.

"Yes; and--"

"And Dorothy Parkman," broke in the girl with a haste so precipitate
as to make her almost choke.

"Miss Parkman?" Once again, for a moment, Keith's face lighted as with
a flame. "Come up. Come around on the south side," he cried eagerly.
"I've been sunning myself there. You'd think it was May instead of
March."

"No, she can't go and sun herself with you," interposed Daniel Burton
with mock severity. "She's coming with me into the house. I want to
show her something."

"Well, I--I like that," retorted the youth. He spoke jauntily, and
gave a short little laugh. But the light had died from his face and a
slow red had crept to his forehead.

"Well, she can't. She's coming with me," reiterated the man. "Now run
back to your sun bath. If you're good maybe we'll be out pretty soon,"
he laughed back at his son, as he opened the house door for his guest.
"That's right--you didn't want him to know, yet, did you?" he added,
looking a bit anxiously into the girl's somewhat flushed face as he
closed the hall door.

"Quite right. No, I don't want him to know yet. There's so much to be
done to get started, and he'd want to help. And he couldn't help about
that part; and't would only fret him and make him unhappy."

"My idea exactly," nodded the man. "When we get the room, and the
goods there, we'll want to tell him then."

"Of course, you'll tell him then," cried the girl.

"Yes, indeed, of course we will!" exclaimed the man, very evidently
not noticing the change in the pronoun. "Now, if you'll wait a minute
I'll get that letter, then we'll go out to Keith on the piazza."

It was a short letter, and one quickly read; and very soon they were
out on the piazza again. But Miss Dorothy said "No, no!" very hastily
when he urged her to go around on the other side; and she added, "I
really must go home now," as she hurried down the steps. Daniel Burton
went then around the corner of the piazza to explain her absence to
his son Keith. But he need not have hurried. His son Keith was not
there.

For all the good progress that was made on that first day, things
seemed to move a bit slowly after that. To begin with, the matter of
selecting a suitable room gave no little difficulty. The right room in
the right location seemed not to be had; and Daniel Burton even
suggested that they use some room in his own house. But after a little
thought he gave up this idea as being neither practical nor desirable.

Meanwhile he was in daily communication with Dorothy Parkman, and the
two spent hours together, thrashing out the different problems one by
one as they arose, sometimes at her home, more frequently at his; for
"home" to Dorothy in Hinsdale meant the Sanborn house, where Mazie was
always in evidence--and Daniel Burton did not care for Mazie.
Especially he did not care for her advice and assistance on the
problems that were puzzling him now.

To be sure, at his own home there was Keith; but he contrived to avoid
Keith on most occasions. Besides, Keith himself seemed quite inclined
to keep out of the way (particularly if he heard the voice of Dorothy
Parkman), which did not disturb Daniel Burton in the least, under the
circumstances. Until they got ready to tell Keith, he was rather glad
that he did keep so conveniently out of the way. And as Dorothy seemed
always glad to avoid seeing Keith or talking to him, there was really
very little trouble on that score; and they could have their
consultations in peace and quietness.

And there were so many of them--those consultations! When at last the
room was found, there were the furnishings to select, and the final
plans to be made for the real work to be done. David Patch proved
himself to be invaluable then. As if by magic a long table appeared,
and the coils and the tape, and all the various paraphernalia of a
properly equipped winding-room marched smoothly into place. Meanwhile
three soldiers and one civilian stood ready and eager to be taught,
needing only the word of command to begin.

"And now we'll tell Keith," said Daniel Burton.

"Yes; now you must tell Keith," said Miss Dorothy.

"To-morrow at nine."

"To-morrow at nine," bowed Miss Dorothy.

"I'll bring him down and we'll show him."

"And I do so hope he'll like it."

"Of course, he'll like it!" cried Daniel Burton. "You wait and see."

But she did not see. She was not there to see.

Promptly at nine o'clock Daniel Burton appeared at the winding-room
with Keith. But Dorothy Parkman was nowhere in sight. He waited ten,
fifteen minutes; then he told Keith the story of the room, and of what
they hoped to do there, fuming meanwhile within himself because he had
to tell it alone.

But it was not lack of interest that kept Miss Dorothy away. It could
not have been; for that very afternoon she sought Daniel Burton out
and asked eagerly what his son had said, and how he had taken it. And
her eyes shone and her breath quickened at the story Daniel Burton
told; and so eager was she to know every little word that had fallen
from Keith's lips that she kept Daniel Burton repeating over and over
each minute detail.

Yet the next day when Keith and four other blind youths began work in
earnest, she never once went near Keith's chair, though she went often
to the others, dropping here and there a word of encouragement or a
touch of aiding fingers. When night came, however, and she found an
opportunity for a few words alone with Daniel Burton, she told him
that, in her opinion, Keith had done the best work of the five, and
that it was perfectly marvelous the way he was taking hold. And again
her eyes sparkled and her breath quickened; and she spent the entire
ten minutes talking about Keith to his father. Yet the next day, when
the work began again, she still went to the back of every chair but
Keith's.

Things happened very rapidly after that. It was not a week before the
first long table in the big room was filled with eager workers, and
the second one had to be added to take care of the newcomers.

The project was already the talk of the town, and not the least
excited and interested of the observers was John McGuire's mother.
When the news came of the second table's being added to the equipment
of the place, she hurried over to Susan's kitchen without delay--though
with the latest poem of her son's as the ostensible excuse.

"It's 'The Stumbling-Block,'" she announced. "He just got it done
yesterday, an' I copied it for you. I think it's the best yet," she
beamed, handing over a folded paper. "It's kind of long, so don't stop
to read it now. Say, is it true? Have they had to put in another table
at that blind windin'-room?"

"They have."

"Well, if that ain't the greatest! I think it's just grand. They took
my John down there to see the place yesterday. Do you know? That boy
is a different bein' since his book an' his writin'. An' he's learnin'
to do such a lot of things for himself, an' he's so happy in it! An'
he doesn't mind seein' anybody now. An' it's all owin' to your
wonderful Keith an' his father. I wouldn't ever have believed it of
them."

Susan's chin came up a bit.

"I would. I KNEW. An' I always told you that Daniel Burton was a
superlative man in every way, an' his son's jest like him. Only you
wouldn't believe me."

"Nobody'd believe you," maintained Mrs. McGuire spiritedly. "Nobody'd
believe such a thing could be as my John bein' changed like that--an'
all those others down to the windin'-room, too. They say it's
perfectly marvelous what Keith an' his father are doin' with those men
an' boys. Aren't they awful happy over it--Keith an' his father, I
mean?"

"Daniel Burton is. Why, he's like a different man, Mis' McGuire. You'd
know that, jest to see him walk, an' hear him speak. An' I don't hear
nothin' more about his longin' to get over there. I guess he thinks
he's got work enough to do right here. An' he hardly ever touches his
war maps these days."

"But ain't Keith happy, too?"

"Y-yes, an' no," hesitated Susan, her face clouding a little. "Oh,
he's gone into it heart an' soul; an' while he's workin' on somethin'
he's all right. But when it's all quiet, an' he's settin' alone, I
don't like the look on his face. But I know he's glad to be helpin'
down there; an' I know it's helpin' him, too."

"It's helpin' everybody--not forgettin' Miss Dorothy Parkman," added
Mrs. McGuire, with a smile and a shrug, as she rose to go. "But, then,
of course, we all know what she's after."

"After! What do you mean?"

"Susan Betts!" With a jerk Mrs. McGuire faced about. "It ain't
possible, with eyes in your head, that you hain't seen!"

"Seen what?"

"Well, my lan'! With that girl throwin' herself at Daniel Burton's
head for the last six weeks, an' you calmly set there an' ask 'seen
what?'!"

"Daniel Burton--Dorothy Parkman!" There was no mistaking Susan's
dumfounded amazement.

"Yes, Daniel Burton an' Dorothy Parkman. Oh, I used to think it was
Keith; but when the money came to old Daniel I guess she thought he
wasn't so old, after all. Besides, Keith, with his handicap--you
couldn't blame the girl, after all, I s'pose."

"Daniel Burton an' Dorothy Parkman!" repeated Susan, this time with
the faintness of stupefaction.

"Why, Susan, you must've seen it--her runnin' in here every day,
walkin' home with him, an' talk, talk, talkin' to him every chance she
gets!"

"But, they--they've been makin' plans for--for the work," murmured
Susan.

"Work! Well, I guess it no need to've taken quite so many
consultations for just the work. Besides, she never thought of such a
scheme as this before the money came, did she? Not much she did! Oh,
come, Susan, wake up! She'll be walkin' off with him right under your
nose if you don't look out," finished Mrs. McGuire with a sly laugh,
as she took her departure.

Left alone, Susan sat for some time absorbed in thought, a deep frown
on her face; then with a sigh and a shrug, as if throwing off an
incomprehensible burden, she opened the paper Mrs. McGuire had left
with her.

Once, twice, three times she read the verses; then with a low chuckle
she folded up the paper, tucked it into her apron pocket, and rose to
her feet. A minute later she had attacked the pile of dishes in the
sink, and was singing lustily:

"I've taken my worries, an' taken my woes,
 I have, I have,
 An' shut 'em up where nobody knows,
 I have, I have.
 I chucked 'em down, that's what I did,
 An' now I'm sittin' upon the lid,
 An' we'll all feel gay when Johnny comes marchin' home.
 I'm sittin' upon the lid, I am,
 Hurrah! Hurrah!
 I'm tryin' to be a little lamb,
 Hurrah! Hurrah!
 But I'm feelin' more like a great big slam
 Than a nice little peaceful woolly lamb,
 But we'll all feel gay when Johnny comes marchin' home."



CHAPTER XXXII

THE KEY


There was no work at the winding-room Saturday afternoons, and it was
on Saturday afternoon that Susan found Keith sitting idle-handed in
his chair by the window in the living-room.

As was her custom she spoke the moment she entered the room--but not
before she had noted the listless attitude and wistful face of the
youth over by the window.

"Keith, I've been thinkin'."

"Bad practice, Susan--sometimes," he laughed whimsically.

"Not this time."

"Poetry?"

She shook her head.

"No. I ain't poetizin' so much these days, though I did write one
yesterday--about the ways of the world. I'm goin' to read it to you,
too, by an' by. But that's jest a common poem about common, every-day
folks. An' this thing I was thinkin' about was--was diff'rent."

"And so you couldn't put this into a poem--eh?"

Susan shook her head again and sighed.

"No. An' it's been that way lots o' times lately, 'specially since I
seen John McGuire's poems--so fine an' bumtious! Oh, I have the
perspiration to write, lots o' times, an' I yield up to it an' write.
But somehow, when it's done, I hain't said a mite what I want to, an'
I hain't said it the way I want to, either. I think maybe havin' so
many of 'em disinclined by them editors has made me kinder fearsome."

"I'm afraid it has, Susan," he smiled.

"Now, this afternoon, what I was thinkin' about--once I'd've made a
poem of that easy; but to-day I didn't even try. I KNEW I couldn't do
it. An', say, Keith, it was you I was thinkin' about."

"Heavens, Susan! A poem out of me? No wonder your muse balked! I'm
afraid you'd find even--er--perspiration wouldn't make a poem out of
me."

"Keith, do you remember?" Susan was still earnest and preoccupied. "I
told you once that it didn't make no diff'rence if God had closed the
door of your eyes. He'd open up another room to you sometime, an' give
you the key to unlock the door. An' he has. An' now you've got it--that
key."

"I've got it--the key!"

"Yes. It's that work down there--helpin' them blind men an' boys to
get hold of their souls again. Oh, Keith, don't you see? An' it's such
a big, wide room that God has given you, an' it's all yours. There
ain't no one that can help them poor blind soldiers like you can. An'
you couldn't 'a' done it if the door of your eyes hadn't been shut
first. That was what give you the key to this big, beautiful room of
helpin' our boys what's come back to us, blinded, an' half-crazed with
despair an' discouragement. Oh, if I only could make you see it the
way I do! But I can't say it--the right way. There's such a big,
beautiful idea there, if only I could make you see it. That's why I
wanted to write the poem."

"I can see it, Susan--without the poem." Keith was not smiling now.
His face was turned away and his voice had grown a bit unsteady. "And
I'm glad you showed it to me. It's going to help me a whole lot if--if
I'll just keep remembering that key, I think."

Susan threw a quick look into Keith's averted face, then promptly she
reached for the folded paper in her apron pocket.

There were times when Susan was wise beyond her station as to when the
subject should be changed.

"An' now I'm goin' to read you the poem I did write," she announced
briskly--"about every-day folks--diff'rent kinds of folks. Six of 'em.
It shows that there ain't any one anywhere that's really satisfied
with their lot, when you come right down to it, whether they've got
eyes or not."

And she began to read:

    THE WAY OF THE WORLD

     A beggar girl on the curbstone sat,
     All ragged an' hungry-eyed.
     Across the street came Peggy McGee;
     The beggar girl saw an' sighed.

    "I wish'd I was rich--as rich as she,
     For she has got things to eat;
     An' clo's an' shoes, an' a place to live,
     An' she don't beg in the street."

     When Peggy McGee the corner turned,
     SHE climbed to her garret high
     From there she gazed through curtainless panes
     At hangin's of lace near by.

    "Ah, me!" sighed Peggy. "If I had those
     An' rugs like hers on the floor,
     It seems to me that I'd never ask
     For nothin' at all no more."

    .   .   .  .  .

     From out those curtains that selfsame day,
     Looked a face all sour an' thin.
    "I hate to live on this horrid street,
     In the children's yellin' din!

    "An' where's the good of my nice new things,
     When nobody'll see or know?
     I really think that I ought to be
     A-livin' in Rich Man's Row."

     A carriage came from "Rich Man's Row,"
     An' rumbled by to the park.
     A lady sat on the carriage seat;
    "Oh, dear," said she, "what an ark!

    "If only this coach could show some style,
     My clothes, so shabby, would pass.
     Now there's an auto quite my kind--
     But 'tisn't my own--alas!"

     The "auto" carried a millionaire,
     Whose brow was knotted an' stern.
    "A million is nowhere, now," thought he,
    "That's somethin' we all must learn.

    "It's millions MANY one has to have,
     To be in the swim at all.
     This tryin' to live when one is so poor
     Is really all folderol!"

    .  .  .  .  .

     A man of millions was just behind;
     The beggar was passin' by.
     Business at beggin' was good that day,
     An' the girl was eatin' pie.

     The rich man looked, an' he groaned aloud,
     An' swore with his gouty pain.
     "I'd give my millions, an' more beside,
     Could I eat like that again!"

"Now, ain't that jest like folks?" Susan demanded, as she finished the
last verse.

Keith laughed.

"I suspect it is, Susan. And--and, by the way, I shouldn't wonder if
this were quite the right time to show that I'm no different from
other folks. You see, I, too,--er--am going to make a change--in
living."

"A change in living! What do you mean?"

"Oh, not now--not quite yet. But you see I'VE been doing some
thinking, too. I've been thinking that if father--that is, WHEN father
and Miss Parkman are married--that--"

But Susan interrupted with a groan.

"My sakes, Keith, have you seen it, too?"

Keith laughed embarrassedly.

"To be sure I have! You don't have to have eyes to see that, do you,
Susan?"

"Oh, good lan', I don't know," frowned Susan irritably. "I didn't
s'pose----"

She did not finish her sentence, and after a moment's silence Keith
began again to speak.

"I've been talking a little to David Patch--the superintendent, you
know. We're going to take the whole house where we are, for our work,
pretty quick, and when we do, Patch and his wife will come there to
live upstairs; and they'll take me to board. I asked them. Then I'll
be right there handy all the time, you see, which will be a fine
arrangement all around."

"A fine arrangement, indeed--with you 'way off down there, an' livin'
with David Patch!"

"But, Susan," argued Keith, a bit wearily, "I couldn't be living here,
you know."

"I should like to know why not."

"Because I--couldn't." He had grown very white now. "Besides, I--I
think they would be happier without me here; and I know--I should be."
His voice was low and almost indistinct, but Susan heard--and
understood. "The very fact that once I--I thought--that I was foolish
enough to think--But, of course, as soon as I remembered my
blindness--And to tie a beautiful young girl down to--" He stopped
short and pulled himself up. "Susan, are you still there?"

"I'm right here, Keith." Susan spoke constrainedly.

He gave an embarrassed laugh. A painful red had suffused his face.

"I'm afraid I got to talking--and forgetting that I wasn't--alone," he
stumbled on hurriedly. "I--I meant to go on to say that I hoped they'd
be very happy. Dad deserves it; and--and if they'd only hurry up and
get it over with, it--it would be easier--for me. Not that it matters,
of course. Dad has had an awful lot to put up with me already, as it
is, you know--the trouble, the care, and the disappointment. You see,
I--I was going to make up to him for all he had lost. I was going to
be Jerry and Ned and myself, all in a bunch. And now to turn out to be
nothing--and worse than nothing----"

"Keith Burton, you stop!" It was the old imperious Susan back again.
"You stop right where you be. An' don't you never let me hear you say
another word about your bein' a disappointment. Jerry an' Ned, indeed!
I wonder if you think a dozen Jerrys an' Neds could do what you've
done! An' no matter what they done, they couldn't have done a bigger,
splendider thing than you've done in triumphating over your blindness
the way you've done, nor one that would make your father prouder of
you! An' let me tell you another thing, Keith Burton. No matter what
you done--no matter how many big pictures you painted, or big books
you wrote, or how much money you made for your dad; there ain't
anything you could've done that would do him so much solid good as
what you have done."

"Why, Susan, are you wild? I haven't done a thing, not a thing for
dad."

"Yes, you have. You've done the biggest thing of all by NEEDIN' him."

"Needing him!"

"Yes. Keith Burton, look at your father now. Look at the splendid work
he's doin'. You know as well as I do that he used to be a thoroughly
insufficient, uncapacious man (though I wouldn't let anybody else say
it!), putterin' over a mess of pictures that wouldn't sell for a
nickel. An' that he used to run from anything an' everything that was
unpropitious an' disagreeable, like he was bein' chased. Well, then
you was took blind. An' what happened?

"You know what happened. He came right up an' toed the mark like a man
an' a gentleman. An' he's toed it ever since. An' I can tell you that
the pictures he's paintin' now with his tongue for them poor blind
boys to see is bigger an' better than any pictures he could have
painted with--with his pigmy paints if he worked on 'em for a thousand
years. An' it's YOU that's done it for him, jest by needin' him. So
there!"

And before Keith could so much as open his lips, Susan was gone,
slamming the door behind her.



CHAPTER XXXIII

AND ALL ON ACCOUNT OF SUSAN


Not one wink did Susan Betts sleep that night. To Susan her world was
tumbling about her ears in one dizzy whirl of destruction.

Daniel Burton and Dorothy Parkman married and living there, and her
beloved blind boy banished to a home with one David Patch?
Unthinkable! And yet----

Well, if it had got to be, it had got to be, she supposed--the
marriage. But they might at least be decent about it. As for keeping
that poor blind boy harrowed up all the time and prolonging the
agony--well, at least she could do something about THAT, thank
goodness! And she would, too.

When there was anything that Susan could do--particularly in the line
of righting a wrong--she lost no time in doing it. Within two days,
therefore, she made her opportunity, and grasped it. A little
peremptorily she informed Miss Dorothy Parkman that she would like to
speak to her, please, in the kitchen. Then, tall, and cold, and very
stern, she faced her.

"Of course, I understand, Miss Dorothy, I'm bustlin' in where I hain't
no business to. An' I hain't no excuse to offer except my boy, Keith.
It's for him I'm askin' you to do it."

"To do--what, Susan?" She had changed color slightly, as she asked the
question.

"Not let it be seen so plain--the love-makin'."

"Seen! Love-making!" gasped the girl.

"Well, the talkin' to him, then, an' whisperin', an' consultin's, an'
runnin' here every day, an'----"

"I beg your pardon, Susan," interrupted the girl incisively. She had
grown very white. "I am tempted to make no sort of reply to such an
absurd accusation; but I'm going to say, however, that you must be
laboring under some mistake. I do not come here to see Mr. Keith
Burton, and I've scarcely exchanged a dozen words with him for
months."

"I'm talkin' about Mr. Daniel, not Keith, an'----"

"Mr. DANIEL Burton!"

"Of course! Who else?" Susan was nettled now, and showed it. "I don't
s'pose you'll deny runnin' here to see him, an' talkin' to him, an'--"

"No, no, wait!--wait! Don't say any more, PLEASE!" The girl was half
laughing, half crying, and her face was going from white to red and
back to white again. "Am I to understand that I am actually being
accused of--of running after Mr. Daniel Burton?--of--of love-making
toward HIM?" she choked incoherently.

"Why, y-yes; that is--er----"

"Oh, this is too much, too much! First Keith, and now--" She broke off
hysterically. "To think that--Oh, Susan, how could you, how could
you!" And this time she dropped into a chair and covered her face with
her hands. But she was laughing. Very plainly she was laughing.

Susan frowned, stared, and frowned again.

"Then you ain't in love with--" Suddenly her face cleared, and broke
into a broad smile. "Well, my lan', if that ain't the best joke ever!
Of course, you ain't in love with him! I don't believe I ever more 'n
half believed it, anyway. Now it'll be dead easy, an' all right, too."

"But--but what does it all mean?" stammered the girl.

"Why, it's jest that--that everybody thought you was after him, an't
would be a match--you bein' together so much. But even then I wouldn't
have said a thing if it hadn't been for Keith."

"Keith!"

"Yes--poor boy, he--an' it WAS hard for him, seein' you two together
like this, an' thinkin' you cared for each other. An' he'd got his
plans all made how when you was married he'd go an' live with David
Patch."

"David Patch! But--why?"

"Why, don't you see? 'T wouldn't be very easy to see you married to
another man, would it?--an' lovin' you all the time hisself, an'--"

"LOVING ME!"

"That's what I said." Susan's lips came sharply together and her keen
eyes swept the girl's face.

"But, I--I think you must be mistaken--again," faltered the girl,
growing rosy.

"I ain't. I've always suspicioned it, an' now I know it."

"But, he--he's acted as if he didn't care for me at all--as if he
hated me."

"That's because he cared so much."

"Nonsense, Susan!"

"'T ain't nonsense. It's sense. As I told you, I've always suspicioned
it, an' last Saturday, when I heard him talk, I knew. He as good as
owned it up, anyhow."

"But why didn't he--he tell me?" stammered the girl, growing still
more rosy.

"Because he was blind."

"As if I'd minded----" She stopped abruptly and turned away her face.

Susan drew a resolute breath and squared her shoulders.

"Then why don't you do somethin'?" she demanded.

"Do something?"

"Yes, to--to show him that you don't mind."

"Oh, Susan, I--I couldn't do--that."

"All right. Settle back, then, an' do nothin'; an' he'll settle back
an' do nothin', an' there'll be a pretty pair of you, eatin' your
hearts out with love for each other, an' passin' each other by with
converted faces an' highbrow chins; an' all because you're afraid of
offendin' Mis' Grundy, who don't care no more about you than two
sticks. But I s'pose you'd both rather be miserable than brace up an'
defy the properties an' live long an' be happy ever after."

"But if I could be sure he--cared," spoke the girl, in a faint little
voice.

"You would have been, if you'd seen him Saturday, as I did."

"And if----"

"If--if--if!" interrupted Susan impatiently. "An' there that poor
blind boy sets an' thinks an' thinks an' thinks, an' longs for some
one that loves him to smooth his pillow an' rumple his hair, an'----"

"Susan, I'm going to do it. I'M GOING TO DO IT!" vowed the girl,
springing to her feet, her eyes like stars, her cheeks like twin
roses.

"Do what?" demanded Susan.

"I don't know. But, I'm going to do SOMETHING. Anyhow, whatever I do I
know I'm going to--to defy the 'properties,'" she babbled deliriously,
as she hurried from the room, looking very much as if she were trying
to hide from herself.

Four days later, Keith, in his favorite chair, sat on the south
piazza. It was an April day, but it was like June, and the window
behind him was wide open into the living-room. He did not hear Dorothy
Parkman's light step up the walk. He did not know that she had paused
at sight of him sitting there, and had put her hand to her throat, and
then that she had almost run, light-footed, into the house, again very
much as if she were trying to run away from herself. But he did hear
her voice two minutes later, speaking just inside the window.

At the first sentence he tried to rise, then with a despairing gesture
as if realizing that flight would be worse than to remain where he
was, he sat back in his chair. And this is what he heard Dorothy
Parkman say:

"No, no, Mr. Burton, please--I--I can't marry you. You'll have to
understand. No--don't speak, don't say anything, please. There's
nothing you could say that--that would make a bit of difference. It's
just that I--I don't love you and I do--love somebody else--Keith,
your son--yes, you have guessed it. Oh, yes, I know we don't seem to
be much to each other, now. But--but whether we ever are, or not,
there can't ever be--any one else. And I think--he cares. It's just
that--that his pride won't let him speak. As if his dear eyes didn't
make me love him--

"But I mustn't say all this--to you. It's just that--that I wanted you
to surely--understand. And--and I must go, now. I--must--go!"

And she went. She went hurriedly, a little noisily. She shut one door,
and another; then, out on the piazza, she came face to face with Keith
Burton.

"Dorothy, oh, Dorothy--I heard!"

And then it was well, indeed, that the Japanese screen on the front
piazza was down, for Keith stood with his arms outstretched, and
Dorothy, with an ineffably contented little indrawn breath, walked
straight into them. And with that light on his face, she would have
walked into them had he been standing in the middle of the sidewalk
outside.

[Illustration: IT WAS WELL THAT THE JAPANESE SCREEN ON THE FRONT
PIAZZA WAS DOWN]

To Dorothy at that moment nobody in all the world counted for a
feather's weight except the man who was holding her close, with his
lips to hers.

Later, a little later, when they sat side by side on the piazza
settee, and when coherence and logic had become attributes to their
conversation, Keith sighed, with a little catch in his voice:

"The only thing I regret about this--all this--the only thing that
makes me feel cheap and mean, is that I've won where dad lost out.
Poor old dad!"

There was the briefest of pauses, then a small, subdued voice said:

"I--I suspect, Keith, confession is good for the soul."

"Well?" he demanded in evident mystification.

"Anyhow, I--I'll have to do it. Your father wasn't there at all."

"But I heard you speaking to him, my dear."

She shook her head, and stole a look into his face, then caught her
breath with a little choking sob of heartache because he could not see
the love she knew was in her eyes. But the heartache only nerved her
to say the words that almost refused to come. "He--he wasn't there,"
she repeated, fencing for time.

"But who was there? I heard you call him by name, 'Mr. Burton,'
clearly, distinctly. I know I did."

"But--but he wasn't there. Nobody was there. I--I was just talking to
myself."

"You mean--practicing what you were going to say?" questioned Keith
doubtfully. "And that--that he doesn't know yet that you are going to
refuse him?"

"N-no--er--well, yes. That is, I mean, it's true. He--he doesn't know
I am going to refuse him." There was a hint of smothered laughter in
the girl's voice.

"Dorothy!" The arm about her waist perceptibly loosened and almost
fell away. "Why, I don't feel now that--that you half belong to me,
yet. And--and think of poor dad!"

The girl caught her breath and stole another look into his face.

"But, Keith, you--you don't understand. He--he hasn't proposed to me
yet. That is, I mean," she amended hastily, "he--he isn't going to
propose to me--ever."

"But he was. He--cares. And now he'll have to know about--us."

"But he wasn't--he doesn't. You don't understand, Keith. He--he never
thought of--of proposing to me. I know he didn't."

"Then why--what--Dorothy, what do you mean by all this?"

"Why, it's just that--that is--I--oh, Keith, Keith, why will you make
me tell you?" she cried between hysterical little laughs and sobs.
"And yet--I'd have to tell you, of course. I--I knew you were there on
the porch, and--and I knew you'd hear--what I said. And so, to make
you understand--oh, Keith, it was awful, but I--I pretended that----"

"You--darling!" breathed an impassioned voice in her ear. "Oh, how I
love you, love you--for that!"

"Oh, but, Keith, it really was awful of me," she cried, blushing and
laughing, as she emerged from his embrace. "Susan told me to defy the
'properties' and--and I did it."

"Susan!"

She nodded.

"That's how I knew--for sure--that you cared."

"And so I owe it all--even my--er--proposal of marriage, to Susan," he
bantered mischievously.

"Keith, I did NOT--er--it was not a proposal of marriage."

"No? But you're going to marry me, aren't you?"

Her chin came up.

"I--I shall wait till I'm asked," she retorted with dignity.

"Hm-m; well, I reckon it's safe to say you'll be asked. And so I owe
it all to Susan. Well, it isn't the first good thing I've owed to
her--bless her heart! And she's equal to 'most anything. But I'll wager,
in this case, that even Susan had some stunt to perform. How did she
do it?"

"She told me that you--you thought your father and I cared for each
other, and that--that you cared for me; but that you were very brave
and were going to go away, and--leave us to our happiness. Then, when
she found there was nothing to the other part of it, and that I--I
cared for you, she--well, I don't know how she did it, but she
said--well, I did it. That's all."

Keith chuckled.

"Exactly! You couldn't have described it better. We've always done
what Susan wanted us to, and we never could tell why. We--we just did
it. That's all. And, oh, I'm so glad you did this, little girl, so
glad!"

"Yes, but----" She drew away from him a little, and her voice became
severely accusing. "Keith Burton, you--you should have done it
yourself, and you know it."

He shook his head.

"I couldn't." A swift shadow fell like a cloud over his countenance.
"Darling, even now--Dorothy, do you fully realize what you are doing?
All your life to be tied----"

"Hush!" Her finger was on his lips only to be kissed till she took it
away. "I won't let you talk like that a minute--not a single minute!
But, Keith, there is something I want you to say." Her voice was half
pleading, half whimsical. Her eyes, through her tears, were studying
his face, turned partly away from her. "Confession is good for the
soul."

"Well? Anything more?" He smiled faintly.

"Yes; only this time it's you. YOU'VE got to do it."

"I?"

"Yes." Her voice rang with firm decision. "Keith, I want to know
why--why all this time you've acted so--so that I had to find out
through Susan that you--cared. And I want to know--when you stopped
hating me. And----"

"Dorothy--I never, never hated you!" cut in the man passionately.

"But you acted as if you did. Why, you--you wouldn't let me come near
you, and you were so--angry with me."

"Yes, I--know." The man fell back in his chair and was silent.

There was a long minute of waiting.

"Keith."

"Yes, dear."

"I confessed mine, and yours can't be any harder than--mine was."

Still he hesitated; then, with a long breath he began to speak.

"Dorothy, it--it's just that I've had so much to fight. And--it hasn't
been easy. But, listen, dear. I think I've loved you from away back in
the days when you wore your hair in two thick pigtails down your back.
You know I was only fourteen when--when the shadows began to come. One
day, away back then, I saw you shudder once at--blindness. We were
talking about old Joe Harrington. And I never forgot it."

"But it was only because I pitied him."

"Yes; but I thought then that it was more aversion. You said you
couldn't bear to look at them. And you see I feared, even then, that I
was going to be like old Joe some time."

"Oh, Keith!"

"Well, it came. I was like old Joe--blind. And I knew that I was the
object of curiosity and pity, and, I believed, aversion, wherever I
went. And, oh, I so hated it! I didn't want to be stared at, and
pointed out, and pitied. I didn't want to be different. And above all
I didn't want to know that you were turning away from me in aversion
and disgust."

"Oh, Keith, Keith, as if I ever could!" faltered the girl.

"I thought you could--and would. I used to picture you all in the
dark, as I used to see you with your bright eyes and pretty hair, and
I could see the look on your face as you turned away shuddering.
That's when I determined at all costs to keep out of your sight--until
I should be well again. I was going to be well, of course, then, you
know. Well, in time I went West, and on the way I met--Miss Stewart."

"Yes." Dorothy's voice was not quite steady.

"I liked Miss Stewart. She was wonderfully good to me. At first--at
the very first--she gave me quite a start. Her voice sounded so much
like--Dorothy Parkman's. But very soon I forgot that, and just gave
myself up to the enjoyment of her companionship. I wasn't afraid with
her--that her eyes were turned away in aversion and disgust. Some way,
I just knew that she wasn't like--Dorothy Parkman. You see, I hadn't
forgotten Dorothy. Some day I was going back to her--seeing.

"Well, you know what happened--the operations, the specialists, the
years of waiting, the trip to London, then home, hopelessly blind. It
was not easy then, Dorothy, but--I tried to be a man. Most of all I
felt for--dad. He'd had so many hopes--But, never mind; and, anyhow,
what Susan said the other day helped--But this has nothing to do with
you, dear. To go on: I gave you up then definitely. I know that all
the while I'd been having you back in my mind, young as I was--that
some day I was going to be big and strong and rich and have my eyes;
and that then I was going to ask you to marry me. But when I got home,
hopelessly blind, that ended it. I didn't believe you would have me,
anyway; but even if you would, I wasn't going to give you the chance
of always having to turn away in aversion and disgust from the sight
of your husband."

"Oh, Keith, how could you!"

"I couldn't. But you see how I felt. Then, one day I heard Miss
Stewart's voice in the hall, and, oh, how good it sounded to me! I
think I must have caught her hand very much as the drowning man grasps
at the straw. SHE would never turn away from me! With her I felt safe,
happy, and at peace. I don't think I exactly understood my state of
mind myself. I didn't think I was in love with her, yet with her I was
happy, and I was never afraid.

"But I didn't have a chance long to question. Almost at once came the
day when Mazie Sanborn ran up the steps and spoke--to you. And I knew.
My whole world seemed tumbling to destruction in one blinding crash.
You can never know, dear, how utterly dismayed and angry and helpless
I felt. All that I knew was that for months and months I had let
Dorothy Parkman read to me, play with me, and talk to me--that I had
been eager to take all the time she would give me; when all the while
she had been doing it out of pity, of course, and I could see just how
she must have been shuddering and turning away her eyes all the long,
long weeks she had been with me, at different times. But even more
than that, if possible, was the chagrin and dismay with which I
realized that all the while I had been cheated and deceived and made a
fool of, because I was blind, and could not see. I had been tricked
into putting myself in such a position."

"No, no! You didn't understand," protested the girl.

"Of course, I didn't understand, dear. Nobody who is blinded with rage
and hurt pride can understand--anything, rightly."

"But you wouldn't let me explain afterwards."

"No, I didn't want you to explain. I was too sore, too deeply hurt,
too--well, I couldn't. That's all. Besides, I didn't want you to
know--how much I was caring about it all. So, a little later, when I
did see you, I tried to toss it all off lightly, as of no consequence
whatever."

"Well, you--succeeded," commented Dorothy dryly.

"I had to, you see. I had found out then how much I really did care. I
knew then that somehow you and Miss Stewart were hopelessly mixed up
in my heart, and that I loved you, and that the world without you was
going to be one big desert of loneliness and longing. You see, it had
not been so hard to give you up in imagination; but when it came to
the real thing----"

"But, Keith, why--why did you insist that you must?"

"Do you think I'd ask you or anybody to tie yourself to a helpless
creature who would probably finally end up on a street corner with a
tin cup for pennies? Besides, in your case, I had not forgotten the
shudders and the averted eyes. I still was so sure----

"Then John McGuire came home blind; and after a while I found I could
help him. And, Dorothy, then is when I learned that--that perhaps YOU
were as happy in doing things for me as I had been in doing them for
John McGuire. I sort of forgot the shudders and the averted eyes then.
Besides, along about that time we had got back to almost our old
friendliness--the friendliness and companionship of Miss Stewart and
me. Then the money came and I knew that at least I never should have
to ask you to subsist on what the tin cup of pennies could bring! And
I had almost begun to--to actually plan, when all of a sudden you
stopped coming, right off short."

"But I--I went away," defended the girl, a little faintly.

"Not at once. You were here in town a long time after that. I knew
because I used to hear about you. I was sure then that--that you had
seen I was caring for you, and so you stayed away. Besides, it came
back to me again--my old fear of your pity and aversion, of your eyes
turned away. You see, always, dear, that's been a sort of obsession
with me, I guess. I hate to feel that any one is looking at me--watching
me. To me it seems like spying on me because I--I can't look
back. Yes, I know it's all very foolish and very silly; but we are all
foolish and silly over something. It's because of that feeling that I--I
so hate to enter a room and know that some one is there who won't
speak--who tries to cheat me into thinking I am alone. I--I can't bear
it, Dorothy. Just because I can't see them--"

"I know, I know," nodded the girl.  "Well, in December you went away.
Oh, I knew when you went. I knew a lot of things that YOU didn't know
I knew. But I was trying all those days to put you quite out of my
mind, and I busied myself with John McGuire and told myself that I was
satisfied with my work; that I had put you entirely out of my life.

"Then you came back in February, and I knew I hadn't. I knew I loved
you more than ever. Just at first, the very first, I thought you had
come back to me. Then I saw--that it was dad. After that I tried--oh,
you don't know how hard I tried--to kill that wicked love in my heart.
Why, darling, nothing would have hired me to let you see it then. Let
dad know that his loving you hurt me? Fail dad there, as I had failed
him everywhere else? I guess not! This was something I COULD do. I
could let him have you, and never, never let him know. So I buried
myself in work and tried to--forget.

"Then to-day you came. At the first sound of your voice in there, when
I realized what you were saying (to dad, I supposed), I started up and
would have gone. Then I was afraid you would see me pass the window,
and that it would be worse if I went than if I stayed. Besides, right
away I heard words that made me so weak with joy and amazement that my
knees bent under me and I had to sit down. And then--but you know the
rest, dear."

"Yes, I know the rest; and I'll tell you, some time, why I--I stopped
coming last fall."

"All right; but even that doesn't matter to me now; for now, in spite
of my blind eyes, the way looks all rosy ahead. Why, dear, it's like
the dawn--the dawn of a new day. And I used to so love the dawn! You
don't know, but years ago, with dad, I'd go camping in the woods, and
sometimes we'd stay all night on the mountain. I loved that, for in
the morning we'd watch the sun come up and flood the world with light.
And it seemed so wonderful, after the dark! And it's like that with me
to-day, dear. It's my dawn--the dawn of a new day. And it's so
wonderful--after the dark!"

"Oh, Keith, I'm so glad! And, listen, dear. It's not only dawn for
you, but for all those blind boys down there that you are helping. You
have opened their eyes to the dawn of THEIR new day. Don't you see?"

Keith drew in his breath with a little catch.

"Have I? Do you think I have? Oh, I should like to think--that. I
don't know, of course, about them. But I do know about myself. And I
know it's the most wonderful dawn ever was for me. And I know that
with your little hand in mine I'll walk fearlessly straight on, with
my chin up. And now that I know dad doesn't care, and that he isn't
going to be unhappy about my loving you and your loving me, I haven't
even that to fear."

"And, oh, Keith, think, think what it would have been if--if I hadn't
defied the 'properties,'" she faltered mistily.

"Dear old Susan--bless her heart! And that isn't all I owe her.
Something she said the other day made me hope that maybe I hadn't even
quite failed--dad. And I so wanted to make good--for dad!"

"And you've done it, Keith."

"But maybe he--he doesn't think so."

"But he does. He told me."

"He TOLD you!"

"Yes--last night. He said that once he had great plans for you, great
ambitions, but that he never dreamed he could be as proud of you as he
is right now--what you had done for yourself, and what you were doing
for those boys down there."

"Did dad say that?"

"Yes."

"And to think of my having that, and you, too!" breathed the man, his
arm tightening about her.



THE END





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