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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."
"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'--"
"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."
"'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.
"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."
"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?"
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