Chapter XVII. Daniel Burton Takes the Plunge
 

Dr. Stewart's second operation on Keith's eyes took place late in November. It was not a success. Far from increasing his vision, it lessened it. Only dimly now could he discern light at all.

In a letter to Daniel Burton, Dr. Stewart stated the case freely and frankly, yet he declared that he had not given up hope--yet. He had a plan which, with Mr. Burton's kind permission, he would carry out. He then went on to explain.

In Paris there was a noted specialist in whom he had great confidence. He wished very much that this man could see Keith. To take Keith over now, however, as war conditions were, would, of course, be difficult and hazardous. Besides, as he happened to know, this would not be necessary, for the great man was coming to this country some time in May. To bring Keith to his attention then would be a simple matter, and a chance well worth waiting for. Meanwhile, the boy was as comfortable where he was as he could be anywhere, and, moreover, there were certain treatments which should still be continued. With Daniel Burton's kind permission, therefore, the doctor would keep Keith where he was for the present, pending the arrival of the great specialist.

It was a bitter blow. For days after the letter came, Daniel Burton shut himself up in his studio refusing to see any one but Susan, and almost refusing to see her. Susan, indeed, heart-broken as she was herself, had no time to indulge her own grief, so busy was she trying to concoct something that would tempt her employer to break a fast that was becoming terrifying to her.

Then came Keith's letter. He wrote cheerfully, hopefully. He told of new games that he was playing, new things of interest that he was "seeing." He said nothing whatever about the operation. He did say that there was a big doctor coming from Paris, whom he was going to "see" in May, however. That was all.

When the doctor's letter had come, telling of the failure of the second operation, Susan had read it and accepted it with sternly controlled eyes that did not shed one tear. But when Keith's letter came, not even mentioning the operation, her self-control snapped, and she burst openly into tears.

"I don't care," she sobbed, in answer to Daniel Burton's amazed exclamation. "When I think of the way that blessed boy is holdin' up his head an' marchin' straight on; an' you an' me here--oh, lan' sakes, what's the use of tryin' to say it!" she despaired, turning and hurrying from the room.

In December Dr. Stewart came on again to take his daughter back for the holidays. He called at once to see Mr. Burton, and the two had a long conference in the studio, while Susan feverishly moved from room to room downstairs, taking up and setting down one object after another in the aimless fashion of one whose fingers are not controlled by the mind.

When the doctor had gone, Susan did not wait for Daniel Burton to seek her out. She went at once to the studio.

"No, he had nothing new to say about Keith," began the man, answering the agonized question in her eyes before her lips could frame the words.

"But didn't he say nothin'?"

"Oh, yes, he said a great deal--but it was only a repetition of what he had said before in the letter." Daniel Burton spoke wearily, constrainedly. His face had grown a little white. "The doctor bought the big sofa in the hall downstairs, and the dropleaf table in the dining-room."

"Humph! But will he pay anything for them things?"

"Yes, he will pay well for them. And--Susan."

"Yes, sir." Something in the man's face and voice put a curious note of respect into Susan's manner as sudden as it was unusual.

"I've been intending to tell you for some time. I--I shall want breakfast at seven o'clock to-morrow morning. I--I am going to work in McGuire's store."

"You are goin' to--what?" Susan's face was aghast.

"To work, I said," repeated Daniel Burton sharply. "I shall want breakfast at seven o'clock, Susan." He turned away plainly indicating that for him the matter was closed.

But for Susan the matter was not closed.

"Daniel Burton, you ain't goin' to demean yourself like that!" she gasped;--"an artistical gentleman like you! Why, I'd rather work my hands to the bones--"

"That will do, Susan. You may go."

And Susan went. There were times when Susan did go.

But not yet for Susan was the matter closed. Only an hour later Mrs. McGuire "ran over" with a letter from her John to read to Susan. But barely had she finished reading the letter aloud, when the real object of her visit was disclosed by the triumphant:

"Well, Susan Betts, I notice even an artist has to come down to bein' a 'common storekeeper' sometimes."

Susan drew herself up haughtily.

"Of course, Mis' McGuire, 't ain't for me to pretense that I don't know what you're inferrin' to. But jest let me tell you this: it don't make no difference how many potatoes an' molasses jugs an' kerosene cans Daniel Burton hands over the counter he won't never be jest a common storekeeper. He'll be thinkin' flowers an' woods an' sunsets jest the same. Furthermore an' moreover, in my opinion it's a very honorary an' praiseful thing for him to do, to go out in the hedges an' byways an' earn money like that, when, if the world only knew enough to know a good thing when they see it, they'd be buy in' them pictures of his, an' not subjugate him to the mystification of earnin' his bread by the sweat of his forehead."

"Oh, good gracious me, Susan Betts, how you do run on, when you get started!" ejaculated Mrs. McGuire impatiently, yet laughingly. "An' I might have known what you'd say, too, if I'd stopped to think. Well, I must be goin', anyhow. I only came over to show you the letter from my John. I'm sure I wish't was him comin' back to his old place behind the counter instead of your Daniel Burton," she sighed. "I'd buy every picture he ever painted (if I had the money), if 't would only bring my John back, away from all those awful bombs an' shells an' shrapnel that he's always writin' about."

"Them be nice letters he writes, I'm free to confess," commented Susan graciously. "Not that they tell so much what he's doin', though; but I s'pose they're censured, anyhow--all them letters be."

Mrs. McGuire, her eyes dreamily fixed out the window, nodded her head slowly.

"Yes, I s'pose so; but there's a lot left--there's always a lot left. And everything he writes I can just see. It was always like that with my John. Let him go downtown an' come back--you'd think he'd been to the circus, the wonderful things he'd tell me he'd seen on the way. An' he'd set 'em out an' describe 'em until I could just see 'em myself! I'll never forget. One day he went to a fire. The old Babcock house burned, an' he saw it. He was twelve years old. I was sick in bed, an' he told me about it. I can see him now, standin' at the foot of the bed, his cheeks red, his eyes sparklin' an' his little hands flourishin' right an' left in his excitement. As he talked, I could just see that old house burn. I could hear the shouts of the men, the roar an' cracklin' of the flames, an' see 'em creepin', creepin', gainin', gainin'-! Oh, it was wonderful--an' there I was right in my own bed, all the time. It was just the way he told it. That's why I know he could have been a writer. He could make others see-- everything. But now--that's all over now. He'll never be--anything. I can see him. I can see all that horrible battle-field with the reelin' men, the flames, the smoke, the burstin' shells, an', oh, God--my John! Will he ever, ever come back--to me?"

"There, there, Mis' McGuire, I jest wouldn't--" But Mrs. McGuire, with a shake of her head, and her eyes half covered with her hand, turned away and stumbled out of the kitchen.

Susan, looking after her, drew a long sigh.

     "Worry never climbed a hill,
       Worry never--

There's some times when it's frank impertinence to tell folks not to worry," she muttered severely to herself, attacking the piled-up dishes before her.

Daniel Burton went to work in McGuire's grocery store the next morning, after a particularly appetizing breakfast served to him by a silent, red-eyed, but very attentive Susan.

"An' 'twas for all the world like a lamb to the slaughter-house," Susan moaned to the law-student lodger when she met him on the stairs at eight o'clock that morning. "An' if you want to see a real slaughter-house, you jest come in here," she beckoned him, leading the way to the studio.

"But--but--that is--well--" stammered the young fellow, looking not a little startled as he followed her, with half-reluctant feet.

In the studio Susan flourished accusing arms.

"Look at that, an' that, an' that!" she cried. "Why, it's like jest any extraordinary common-sense room now, that anybody might have, with them pictures all put away, an' his easel hid behind the door, an' not a brush or a cube of paint in sight--an' him dolin' out vinegar an' molasses down to that old store. I tell you it made me sick, Mr. Jenkins, sick!"

"Yes, yes, that's so," murmured Mr. Jenkins, vaguely.

"Well, it did. Why, it worked me up so I jest sat right down an' made up a poem on it. I couldn't help it. An' it came easy, too--'most like the spontaneous combustion kind that I used to write, only I made it free verse. You know that's all the rage now. Like this," she finished, producing from somewhere about her person a half-sheet of note-paper.

     "Alone an' dark
      The studio
      Waited:
      Waited for the sun of day.
      But when it rose,
      Alas!
      No lovely pictures greeted
      The fiery gob.
      Only their backs showed
      White an' sorry an' some dusty.
      No easel sprawled long legs
      To trip
      An' make you slip.
      No cubes of pig-lent gray
      Or black,
      Nor any other color lent brightness
      To this dank world.
      An' he--the artist? The bright soul who
      Bossed this ranch?
      Alas!
      Doomed to hide his bright talons
      In smelly kegs of kerosene
      An' molasses brown an' sticky.
      Alas, that I should see an'
      Know this
      Day.

There, now, ain't that about the way 'tis?" she demanded feelingly.

"Er--yes, yes, it is. That's so." Mr. Jenkins was backing out of the room and looking toward the stairway. Mr. Jenkins had been a member of the Burton household long enough to have learned to take Susan at her own valuation, with no questions asked. "Yes, that's so," he repeated, as he plunged down the stairs.

To Daniel Burton himself Susan made no further protests or even comments--except the silent comment of eager service with some favorite dish for every meal. As Christmas drew near, and Daniel Burton's hours grew longer, Susan still made no audible comment; but she redoubled her efforts to make him comfortable the few hours left to him at home.