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- Dawn - 10/52 -
"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'."
"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.
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."
"Yes. You've been sick--very sick."
"Oh, several weeks. It's October now."
"And I've been blind all that time?"
"But I haven't known I was blind!"
"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.
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