Chapter XVI. The Worry of It
 

There was a letter from the doctor when the bandages were removed. Daniel Burton began to read the letter, but his eyes blurred and his hand shook, so that Susan had to take it up where he had dropped it.

Yet the letter was very short.

The operation had been as successful, perhaps, as they could expect, under the circumstances. Keith could discern light now--faintly, to be sure, but unmistakably. He was well and happy. Meanwhile he was under treatment for the second operation to come later. But that could not be performed for some time yet, so they must not lose their patience. That was all.

"Well, I s'pose we ought to be glad he can see light even a little," sighed Susan; "but I'm free to confess I was hopin' he could do a little more than that."

"Yes, so was I," said Daniel Burton. And Susan, looking at his face, turned away without another word. There were times when Susan knew enough not to talk.

Then came the days when there were only Keith's letters and an occasional short note from the doctor to break the long months of waiting.

In the Burton homestead at Hinsdale, living was reduced to the simplest formula possible. On the whole, there was perhaps a little more money. Dunning tradesmen were not so numerous. But all luxuries, and some things that were almost necessities, were rigorously left out. And the money was saved always--for Keith. A lodger, a young law student, in Keith's old room helped toward defraying the family expenses.

Susan had given up trying to sell her "poems." She had become convinced at last that a cruel and unappreciative editorial wall was forever to bar her from what she still believed was an eagerly awaiting public. She still occasionally wrote jingles and talked in rhyme; but undeniably she had lost her courage and her enthusiasm. As she expressed it to Mrs. McGuire, she did not feel "a mite like a gushing siphon inside her now."

As the summer came and passed, Susan and Mrs. McGuire talked over the back-yard fence even more frequently. Perhaps because Susan was lonely without Keith. Perhaps because there was so much to talk about.

First there was Keith.

Keith was still under treatment preparatory to the second operation. He had not responded quite as they had hoped, the doctor said, which meant that the operation must be postponed for perhaps several months longer.

All this Susan talked over with Mrs. McGuire; and there was always, too, the hushed discussion as to what would happen if, after all, it failed, and Keith came home hopelessly blind.

"But even that ain't the worst thing that could happen," maintained Susan stoutly. "I can tell you Keith Burton ain't goin' to let a little thing like that floor him!"

Mrs. McGuire, however, did not echo Susan's optimistic prophecies. But Mrs. McGuire's own sky just now was overcast, which perhaps had something to do with it. Mrs. McGuire had troubles of her own.

It was the summer of 1914, and the never-to-be-forgotten August had come and passed, firing the match that was destined to set the whole world ablaze. Mrs. McGuire's eldest son John--of whom she boasted in season and out and whom she loved with an all-absorbing passion--had caught the war-fever, gone to Canada, and enlisted. Mrs. McGuire herself was a Canadian by birth, and all her family still lived there. She was boasting now more than ever about John; but, proud as she was of her soldier boy, his going had plunged her into an abyss of doubt and gloom.

"He'll never come back, he'll never come back," she moaned to Susan. "I can just feel it in my bones that he won't."

"Shucks, a great, strong, healthy boy like John McGuire! Of course, he'll come back," retorted Susan. "Besides, likely the war'll be all over with 'fore he gets there, anyhow. An' as for feelin' it in your bones, Mis' McGuire, that's a very facetious doctrine, an' ain't no more to be depended upon than my flour sieve for an umbrella. They're gay receivers every time--bones are. Why, lan' sakes, Mis' McGuire, if all things happened that my bones told me was goin' to happen, there wouldn't none of us be livin' by now, nor the sun shinin', nor the moon moonin'. I found out, after awhile, how they didn't happen half the time, an' I wrote a poem on it, like this:

     Trust 'em not, them fickle bones,
     Always talkin' moans an' groans.
     Jest as if inside of you,
     Lived a thing could tell you true,
     Whether it was goin' to rain,
     Whether you would have a pain,
     Whether him or you would beat,
     Whether you'd have 'nuf to eat!
     Bones was give to hold us straight,
     Not to tell us 'bout our Fate."

"Yes, yes, I s'pose so," sighed Mrs. McGuire. "But when I think of John, my John, lyin' there so cold an' still--"

"Well, he ain't lyin' there yet," cut in Susan impatiently. "Time enough to hunt bears when you see their tracks. Mis' McGuire, can't you see that worryin' don't do no good? You'll have it all for nothin', if he don't get hurt; an' if he does, you'll have all this extra for nothin', anyway,--that you didn't need till the time came. Ever hear my poem on worryin'?"

Without waiting for a reply--Susan never asked such questions with a view to having them answered--she chanted this:

"Worry never climbed a hill,
 Worry never paid a bill,
 Worry never led a horse to water.
 Worry never cooked a meal,
 Worry never darned a heel,
 Worry never did a thing you'd think it oughter!"

"Yes, yes, I know, I know," sighed Mrs. McGuire again. "But John is so--well, you don't know my John. Nobody knows John as I do. He'd have made a big man if he'd lived--John would."

"'If he'd lived'!" repeated Susan severely. "Well, I never, Mis' McGuire, if you ain't talkin' already as if he was dead! You don't have to begin to write his obliquity notice yet, do you?"

"But he is dead," moaned Mrs. McGuire, catching at the one word in Susan's remark and paying no attention to the rest. "He's dead to everything he was goin' to do. He was ambitious,--my John was. He was always studyin' and readin' books nights an' Sundays an' holidays, when he didn't have to be in the store. He was takin' a course, you know."

"Yes, I know--one of them respondin' schools," nodded Susan. "John's a clever lad, he is, I'm free to confess."

Under the sunshine of Susan's appreciation Mrs. McGuire drew a step nearer.

"He was studyin' so he could 'mount to somethin'--John was," declared Mrs. McGuire. "He was goin' to be"--she paused and threw a hurried look over her shoulder--"he was keepin' it secret, but he won't mind my tellin' now. He was goin' to be a--writer some day, he hoped."

Susan's instantly alert attention was most flattering.

"Sho! You don't say! Poems?"

"I don't know." Mrs. McGuire drew back and spoke a little coldly. Now that the secret was out, Mrs. McGuire was troubled evidently with qualms of conscience. "He never said much. He didn't want it talked about."

Susan drew a long breath.

"Yes, I know. 'Tain't so pleasant if folks know--when you can't sell 'em. Now in my case--"

But Mrs. McGuire, with a hurried word about the beans in her oven, had hastened into the house.

Mrs. McGuire was not the only one with whom Susan was having long talks. September had come bringing again the opening of the schools, which in turn had brought Miss Dorothy Parkman back to Hinsdale.

Miss Dorothy was seventeen now, and prettier than ever--in Susan's opinion. She had been again to her father's home; and Susan never could hear enough of her visit or of Keith. Nor was Miss Dorothy evidently in the least loath to talk of her visit--or of Keith. Patiently, even interestedly, each time she saw Susan, she would repeat for her the details of Keith's daily life, telling everything that she knew about him.

"But I've told you all there is, before," she said laughingly one day at last, when Susan had stopped her as she was going by the house. "I've told it several times before."

"Yes, I know you have," nodded Susan, drawing a long breath; "but I always get somethin' new in it, just as I do in the Bible, you know. You always tell me somethin' you hadn't mentioned before. Now, to-day --you never told me before about them dominoes you an' him played together."

"Didn't I?" An added color came into Miss Dorothy's cheeks. "Well, we played them quite a lot. Poor fellow! Time hung pretty heavily on his hands, and we had to do something for him. There were other games, too, that we played together."

"But how can he play dominoes, an' those others, when--when he can't see?"

"Oh, the points of the dominoes are raised, of course, and the board has little round places surrounded by raised borders for him to keep his dominoes in. The cards are marked with little raised signs in the corners, and there are dice studded with tiny nailheads. The checker- board has little grooves to keep the men from sliding. Of course, we already had all these games, you know. They use them for all father's patients. But, of course, Keith had to be taught first."

"And you taught him?"

"Well, I taught him some of them." The added color was still in Miss Dorothy's cheeks.

"An' you told me last week you read to him."

"Yes, oh, yes. I read to him quite a lot."

The anxiously puckered frown on Susan's face suddenly dissolved into a broad smile.

"Lan' sakes, if that ain't the limit!" she chuckled.

"Well, what do you mean by that?" bridled Miss Dorothy, looking not exactly pleased.

"Nothin'. It's only that I was jest a-thinkin' how you was foolin' him."

"Fooling him?" Miss Dorothy was looking decidedly not pleased now.

"Yes, an' you all the time Dorothy Parkman, an' he not knowin' it."

"Oh!" The color on Miss Dorothy's face was one pink blush now. Then she laughed lightly. "After all, do you know?--I hardly ever thought of that, after the very first. He called me Miss Stewart, of course-- but lots of folks out there do that. They don't think, or don't know, about my name being different, you see. The patients, coming and going all the time, know me as the doctor's daughter, and naturally call me 'Miss Stewart.' So it doesn't seem so queer when Mr. Keith does it."

"Good!" exclaimed Susan with glowing satisfaction. "An' now here's to hopin' he won't never find out who you really be!"

"Is he so very bitter, then, against--Dorothy Parkman?" The girl asked the question a little wistfully.

"He jest is," nodded Susan with unflattering emphasis. "If you'd heard him when he jest persisted that he wouldn't have anybody that was Dorothy Parkman's father even look at his eyes you'd have thought so, I guess. An'--why, he even wrote about it 'way back last Christmas--I mean, when he first told us about you. He said the doctor had a daughter, an' she was all right; but he didn't like her at all at first, 'cause her voice kept remindin' him of somebody he didn't want to be reminded of."

"Did he really write--that?"

"Them's the identifyin' words," avowed Susan. "So you'll jest have to keep it secret who you be, you see," she warned her.

"Yes, I--see," murmured the girl. All the pretty color had quite gone from her face now, leaving it a little white and strained-looking. "I'll try--to."

"Of course, when he gets back his sight he'll find out--that is, Miss Dorothy, he is going to get it back, ain't he?" Susan's own face now had become a little white and strained-looking.

Miss Dorothy shook her head.

"I don't know, Susan; but I'm--afraid."

"Afraid! You don't mean he ain't goin' to?" Susan caught Miss Dorothy's arm in a vise-like grip.

"No, no, not that; but we aren't--sure. And--and the symptoms aren't quite so good as they were," hurried on the girl a bit feverishly.

"But I thought he could see--light," faltered Susan.

"He could, at first, but it's been getting dimmer and dimmer, and now"--the girl stopped and wet her lips--"there's to be a second operation, you know. Father hopes to have it by Christmas, or before; but I know father is afraid--that is--he thinks--"

"He don't like the way things is goin'," cut in Susan grimly. "Ain't that about it?"

"I'm afraid it is," faltered Miss Dorothy, wetting her lips again. "And when I think of that boy--" She turned away her head, leaving her sentence unfinished.

"Well, we ain't goin' to think of it till it comes" declared Susan stoutly. "An' then--well, if it does come, we've all got to set to an' help him forget it. That's all."

"Yes, of--course," murmured the girl, turning away again. And this time she turned quite away and went on down the street, leaving Susan by the gate alone.

"Nice girl, an' a mighty pretty one, too," whispered Susan, looking after the trim little figure in its scarlet cap and sweater. "An' she's got a good kind heart in her, too, a-carin' like that about that poor boy's bein'--"

Susan stopped short. A new look had come to her face--a look of wonder, questioning, and dawning delight. "Lan' sakes, why hain't I never thought of that before?" she muttered, her eyes still on the rapidly disappearing little red figure down the street. "Oh, 'course they're nothin' but babies now, but by an' by--! Still, if he ever found out she was Dorothy Parkman, an' of course he'd have to find it out if he married--Oh, lan' sakes, what fools some folks be!"

With which somewhat cryptic statement Susan turned and marched irritably into the house.