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- Dawn - 5/52 -
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."
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."
"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.
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Schulers Books Online
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