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.