Chapter XV. Again Susan Takes a Hand
 

That evening Daniel Burton told Susan. "Keith is to go home with Dr. Stewart next week. The doctor will operate as soon as possible. Keith will live at the sanatorium connected with the doctor's home and be under his constant supervision."

Susan tried to speak, but instead of speaking she burst into tears.

"Why, Susan!" exclaimed the man.

"I know, I know," she choked, angrily dashing the drops from her eyes. "An' me cryin' like this when I'm gettin' jest what I want, too!"

"But there's no certainty, Susan, that it'll be successful; remember that," warned the man, his face clouding a little. "We can only-- hope."

"An' there's the--the pay." Susan looked up, her voice vibrating with fearful doubts.

"Oh, that's all right." The man lifted his head with the air of one who at last has reached firm ground after a dangerous crossing on thin ice. "The doctor's going to buy the highboy and that mirror in the studio, and--oh, several other things."

"You mean that old chest of drawers in the settin'-room?" scorned Susan openly.

"Yes." Daniel Burton's lips twitched a little.

"But will he pay anything for 'em? Mr. Burton, you can't get nothin', hardly, for second-hand furniture. My mother had a stove an' a real nice bedstead, an' a red-plush parlor set, an' she sold 'em. But she didn't get anything--not hardly anything, for 'em; an' they was 'most new, some of 'em, too."

"That's the trouble, Susan--they were too new, probably," laughed the man. "It's because these are old, very old, that he wants them, I suspect.

"An' he'll really pay money for 'em?" Plainly Susan still had her doubts.

"He certainly will. I'd be almost ashamed to tell you how much he'll pay, Susan," smiled the man. "It seemed to me sheer robbery on my part. But he assures me they are very valuable, and that he's more than delighted to have them even at that price."

"Lan' sakes! An' when I'd been worryin' an' worryin' so about the money," sighed Susan; "an' now to have it fall plump into your lap like that. It jest shows you not to hunt for bridges till you get your feet wet, don't it? An' he's goin' jest next week?"

"Yes. The doctor and his daughter start Tuesday."

"You don't mean that girl Dorothy's goin' too?" Susan had almost bounced out of her chair.

"Why, yes, Dr. Stewart said she was. What's the matter?"

"Matter? Matter enough! Why, if she goes--Say, why is she taggin' along, anyhow?" demanded Susan wrathfully.

"Well, I shouldn't exactly call it 'taggin' along' to go home with her father for the Christmas vacation," shrugged the man. "As I understand it, Dorothy's mother died several years ago. That's why the girl is here in the East so much with her relatives, going to school. The doctor's home has become practically a sanatorium--not the most desirable place in the world to bring up a young daughter in, I should say. Let's see, how old is Miss Dorothy?"

"Sixteen, Keith says. I asked him one day. She's about his age."

"Hm-m; well, however that may be, Susan, I don't see how we can help ourselves very well. I fancy Miss Dorothy'll still--tag along," he finished whimsically.

"Maybe, an' then maybe not," mumbled Susan darkly, as she turned away.

For two days after this Susan's kitchen, and even Keith himself, showed almost neglect; persistently and systematically Susan was running "down street" every hour or two--ostensibly on errands, yet she bought little. She spent most of her time tramping through the streets and stores, scrutinizing especially the face of every young girl she met.

On the afternoon of the second day she met Dorothy Parkman coming out of the post-office.

"Well, I've got you at last," she sighed, "though I'm free to confess I was beginnin' to think I never would see you."

"Oh, yes, about Keith," cried the girl joyously. "Isn't it splendid! I'm so glad! And he's going home with us right away, you know."

"Yes, I know. An' that's what--that is, I wanted--" stammered Susan, growing red in her misery. "Oh, Miss Dorothy, you would do anything for that poor blind boy, wouldn't you?"

"Why, y-yes, of course," faltered Dorothy, stammering in her turn.

"I knew you would. Then please don't go home with your father this time."

"Don't go home--with--my father!" exclaimed the girl, in puzzled wonder.

"No. Because if you do--That is--Oh, I know it's awful for me to say this, but I've got to do it for Keith. You see, if you go,--Keith won't."

"If I go, he--I don't think--I quite understand." The girl drew back a little haughtily. Her face showed a painful flush.

"No, no, of course you don't! An' please, please don't look like that," begged Susan. "It's jest this. I found out. I wormed it out of him the other day--why he won't let you come to see him. He says that once, long ago, you said how you couldn't bear to look at blind people, an'--"

"Oh, I never, never could have said such a cruel thing to--to a blind boy," interposed the girl.

"He wasn't blind then. He said he wasn't. But, it was when he was 'fraid he was goin' to be blind; an' he see you an' Mazie Sanborn at the foot of Harrington Hill, one day. It was just after the old man had got blind, an' Keith had been up to see him. It seems that Keith was worryin' then for fear he was goin' to be blind."

"He was?"

"Yes--things blurred, an' all that. Well, at the foot of the hill he see you an' Mazie, an' you shuddered at his goin' up to see Mr. Harrington, an' said how could he bear to look at folks that was blind. That you couldn't. An' he never forgot it. Bein' worried for fear he himself was goin' blind, you see, he was especially acceptable to anything like that."

"Oh, but I--I--At home I always did hate to see all the poor blind people that came to see father," she stammered. "But it--it was only because I felt so bad--for them. And that's one reason why father doesn't keep me at home any more. He says--But, about Keith--I--I didn't mean to--" Dorothy came to a helpless pause.

"Yes, I know. You didn't mean to hurt him," nodded Susan. "But it did hurt him. An' now he always thinks of it, if he knows you're 'round. You see, worse'n anything else, he hates to be stared at or to have folks think he's different. There ain't anything I can ever say to him that makes him half so happy as to act as if he wa'n't blind."

"Yes, I--see," breathed Dorothy, her eyes brimming.

"An' so now you won't go, will you? Because if you go, he won't."

Miss Dorothy frowned in deep thought for a moment.

"I shall have to go," she said at last, slowly. "Father is just counting on my being there Christmas, and he is so lonely--I couldn't disappoint him. But, Keith--I won't have to see much of him, anyway. I'll explain it to father. He won't mind. He's used to his patients taking notions. It'll be all right. Don't worry," she nodded, her face clearing.

"But you'll have to be with Keith--some."

"Oh, yes, a little. But he won't know who I am. I'm just Dr. Stewart's daughter. Don't you see?"

"But--he'll know your voice."

"I shan't talk much. Besides, he never did hear me talk much. It was always Mazie that talked most. And he hasn't heard me any for a year or more, except that little bit that day at the house."

"But your name, Dorothy," still argued Susan dubiously.

"Father never calls me that. I'm always 'Puss' to him. And there won't be anybody else with us on the journey. Don't you worry. You just send Keith right along, and trust me for the rest. You'll see," she nodded again brightly, as she turned away.

Susan went home then to her neglected work. There seemed really nothing else that she could do. But that she was far from following Miss Dorothy's blithe advice "not to worry" was very evident from her frowning brow and preoccupied air all the rest of the time until Tuesday morning when Keith went--until, indeed, Mr. Burton came home from seeing Keith off on his journey. Then her pent-up perturbation culminated in an onslaught of precipitate questions.

"Was he all right? Was that girl there? Did he know who she was? Do you think he'll find out?"

"One at a time, Susan, one at a time," laughed the man. "Yes, he was all right. He went off smiling, with the doctor's arm about his shoulders. Yes, the young lady was there, but she kept well away from Keith, so far as I could see. Friends had come evidently to see her off, but I noticed she contrived to keep herself and them as far away from Keith as possible. Of course, on the journey there'll be just the three of them. The test will come then. But I wouldn't worry, Susan. Remember your own advice about those bridges of yours. He's started, and he's with the doctor. I don't think he'll turn back now."

"No, I s'pose not," sighed Susan. "But I wish I could really know how things are!" she finished, as she took up her work again.

Thirty-six hours later came the telegram from the doctor telling of their safe arrival, and a week later came a letter from Keith himself to Susan. It was written in lead-pencil on paper that had been carefully perforated so as to form lines not too near together.

At the top of the page in parentheses were these words:

DEAR SUSAN: If you think dad would like it you may read him a part or the whole of this letter. I was afraid I wouldn't write very well and that he wouldn't like to see it. So I write to you instead. I know you won't mind.

Below came the letter.

DEAR SUSAN: How do you and dad do? I am well and hope you are the same.

This is an awfully pretty place with trees and big lawns all around it, and walks and seats everywhere in the summer, they say. We aren't sitting outdoors to-day, though. It's only four below!

We had a jolly trip out. The doctor's great. He spent half his time talking to me about the things we were seeing out the window. We went through a wonderful country, and saw lots of interesting things.

The doctor's daughter was along, too. But she didn't have much to say on the trip. I've seen quite a lot of her since we've been here, though, and she's all right. At first I didn't like her very well. It was her voice, I guess. It reminded me of somebody I didn't like to be reminded of. But after I got used to it I found she was really very nice and jolly. She knows lots of games, and we play together a lot now. She's so different from that girl she sounded like that I don't mind her voice now. And I don't think she minds (here a rather unsuccessful erasure showed that "playing with me" had been substituted for "being with blind folks").

She gave me this paper, and told me the folks at home would like a letter, she knew. That's why I'm writing it. And I guess that's enough for this time.

Love to all. KEITH BURTON

P.S. I'm going to have the operation to-morrow, but they won't know for quite a while whether it's successful or not, the doctor says.

KEITH

Susan read this letter, then took it at once to the studio and read it again aloud.

"Now ain't that great?" she crowed, as soon as she had finished.

"Y-yes, but he didn't say much about himself or his treatment," demurred the man.

Susan made an impatient gesture.

"Why, yes, he did, too! Lan' sakes, Mr. Burton, he didn't talk about nothin' else but himself an' his treatment, all the way through. Oh, I know he didn't say anything about his occultist treatment, if that's what you mean. But I didn't do no worryin' about that part. It was the other part."

"The other part!"

"Yes. They're treatin' him as if he wa'n't different an' queer. An' didn't you notice the way he wrote? Happy as a king tellin' about what he saw on the way out, an' the wonderful country they went through. They're all right--them two are. I shan't do no more worryin' about Keith. An' her fixin' that paper so cute for him to write on--I declare I'm that zealous of her I don't know what to do. Why couldn't I 'a' thought of that?" she sighed, as she rose to leave the room.

Two days later came a letter from the doctor. The operation had been performed and, so far as they could judge, all was well, though, as Keith had written, the real results would not show until the bandages were removed some time later.

When the schools opened again in January, Dorothy Parkman came back to Hinsdale. Susan had been counting the days ever since Christmas, for she knew Dorothy was coming, and she could scarcely wait to see her. This time, however, she did not have to tramp through the streets and stores looking for her, for Miss Dorothy came at once to the house and rang the bell.

"I knew you'd want to hear all about Mr. Keith," she smiled brightly into Susan's eyes. "And I'm glad to report that he's doing all right."

"Be them bandages off yet? Do you mean--he can see?" demanded Susan excitedly, leading the way to the sitting-room.

"Oh, no--no--not that!" cried the girl quickly. "I mean--he's doing all right so far. It's a week yet before the bandages can be removed, and even then, he probably won't see much--if at all. There'll have to be another one--later--father says--maybe two more."

"Oh!" Susan fell back, plainly disappointed. Then, suddenly, a new interest flamed into her eyes.

"An' he ain't sensed yet who you are?" she questioned.

Miss Dorothy blushed, and Susan noticed suddenly how very pretty she was.

"No. Though I must confess that at first, when he heard my voice, he looked up much startled, and even rose from his seat. But I told him lots of folks thought I talked like Dorothy Parkman; and I just laughed and turned it off, and made nothing of it. And so pretty quick he made nothing of it, too. After that we got along beautifully."

"I should say you did!" retorted Susan, almost enviously. "An' you fixin' up that paper so fine for him to write on!"

Miss Dorothy blushed again--and again Susan noticed how very charming was the combination of brown eyes and yellow-gold hair.

"Yes, he did like that paper," smiled the young girl. "He never mentioned the lines, and neither did I. When I first suggested the letter home he was all ready to refuse, I could see; but I wouldn't give him the chance. Before he could even speak I had thrust the paper into his hands, and I could see the wonder, interest, and joy in his face as his fingers discovered the pricked lines and followed their course from edge to edge. But he didn't let me know he'd found them-- not much! 'Well, I don't know but they would like a letter,' was all he said, casually. I knew then that I had won."

"Well, I should say you had. But how did you know how?" cried Susan.

"Oh, you told me first that I must talk to him as if he were not blind. Then father told me the same thing. He said lots of his patients were like that. So I always tried to do it that way. And it's wonderful how, when you give it a little thought, you can manage to tell them so much that they can turn about and tell somebody else, just as if they really had seen it."

"I know, I know," nodded Susan. "An'--Miss Dorothy"--her voice grew unsteady--"he really is goin' to see by an' by, ain't he?"

The girl's face clouded.

"They aren't at all sure of that."

"But they can't tell yet?" Susan had grown a little white.

"Oh, no, not sure."

"An' they're goin' to give him all the chances there is?"

"Certainly. I only spoke because I don't want you to be too disappointed if--if we lose. You must remember that fully half of the cases do lose."

Susan drew a long sigh. Then, determinedly she lifted her chin.

"Well, I like to think we ain't goin' to belong to that half," she said.