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.