Chapter XXVI. Mazie Again
 

It came to be the accepted thing almost at once, then, that Keith Burton and John McGuire should spend their mornings together on the McGuires' back porch. In less than a fortnight young McGuire even crossed the yard arm in arm with Keith to the Burtons' back porch and sat there one morning. After that it was only a question as to which porch it should be. That it would be one of them was a foregone conclusion.

Sometimes the two boys talked together. Sometimes they worked on one of Keith's raised picture puzzles. Sometimes Keith read aloud from one of his books. Whatever they did, their doing it was the source of great interest to the entire neighborhood. Not only did Mrs. McGuire and Susan breathlessly watch from their respective kitchens, but friends and neighbors fabricated excuses to come to the two houses in order to see for themselves; and children gathered along the divisional fence and gazed with round eyes of wonder. But they gazed silently. Everybody gazed silently. Even the children seemed to understand that the one unpardonable sin was to let the blind boys on the porch know that they were the objects of any sort of interest.

One day Mazie Sanborn came. She brought a new book for Mrs. McGuire to read--an attention she certainly had never before bestowed on John McGuire's mother. She talked one half-minute about the book--and five minutes about the beautiful new friendship between the two blind young men. She insisted on going into the kitchen where she could see the two boys on the porch. Then, before Mrs. McGuire could divine her purpose and stop her, she had slipped through the door and out on to the porch itself.

"How do you do, gentlemen," she began blithely. "I just--"

But the terrified Mrs. McGuire had her by the arm and was pulling her back into the kitchen before she could finish her sentence.

On the porch the two boys had leaped to their feet, John McGuire, in particular, looking distressed and angry.

"Who was that? Is anybody--there?" he demanded.

"No, dear, not now." In the doorway Mrs. McGuire was trying to nod assurance to the boys and frown banishment to Mazie Sanborn at one and the same moment.

"But there was--some one," insisted her son sharply.

"Just some one that brought a book to me, dearie, an' she's gone now." Frantically Mrs. McGuire was motioning Mazie to make her assertion the truth.

John McGuire sat down then. So, too, did Keith. But all the rest of the morning John was nervously alert for all sounds. And his ears were frequently turned toward the kitchen door. He began to talk again, too, bitterly, of the little tin cup for the pennies and the sign "Pity the Poor Blind." He lost all interest in Keith's books and puzzles, and when he was not railing at the tragedy of his fate, he was sitting in gloomy silence.

Keith told Susan that afternoon that if Mrs. McGuire did not keep people away from that porch when he was out there with John, he would not answer for the consequences. Susan told Mrs. McGuire, and Mrs. McGuire told Mazie Sanborn, at the same time returning the loaned book--all of which did not tend to smooth Miss Mazie's already ruffled feelings.

To Dorothy Mazie expressed her mind on the matter.

"I don't care! I'll never go there again--never!" she declared angrily; "nor speak to Mrs. McGuire, nor that precious son of hers, nor Keith Burton, either. So there!"

"Oh, Mazie, but poor Keith isn't to blame," remonstrated Dorothy earnestly, the color flaming into her face.

"He is, too. He's just as bad as John McGuire. He jumped up and looked just as cross as John McGuire did when I went out on to that porch. And he doesn't ever really want to see us. You know he doesn't. He just stands us because he thinks he's got to be polite."

"But, Mazie, dear, he's so sensitive, and he feels his affliction keenly, and--"

"Oh, yes, that's right--stand up for him! I knew you would," snapped Mazie crossly. "And everybody knows it, too--running after him the way you do."

"Running after him!" Dorothy's face was scarlet now.

"Yes, running after him," reiterated the other incisively; "and you always have--trotting over there all the time with books and puzzles and candy and flowers. And--"

"For shame, Mazie!" interrupted Dorothy, with hot indignation. "As if trying to help that poor blind boy to while away a few hours of his time were running after him."

"But he doesn't want you to while away an hour or two of his time. And I should think you'd see he didn't. You could if you weren't so dead in love with him, and--"

"Mazie!" gasped Dorothy, aghast.

"Well, it's so. Anybody can see that--the way you color up every time his name is mentioned, and the way you look at him, with your heart in your eyes, and--"

"Mazie Sanborn!" gasped Dorothy again. Her face was not scarlet now. It had gone dead white. She was on her feet, horrified, dismayed, and very angry.

"Well, I don't care. It's so. Everybody knows it. And when a fellow shows so plainly that he'd rather be let alone, how you can keep thrusting yourself--"

But Dorothy had gone. With a proud lifting of her head, and a sharp "Nonsense, Mazie, you are wild! We'll not discuss it any longer, please," she had turned and left the room.

But she remembered. She must have remembered, for she did not go near the Burton homestead for a week. Neither did the next week nor the next see her there. Furthermore, though the little stand in her room had shown two new picture puzzles and a new game especially designed for the blind, it displayed them no longer after those remarks of Mazie Sanborn's. Not that Keith had them, however. Indeed, no. They were buried deep under a pile of clothing in the farther corner of Dorothy's bottom bureau drawer.

At the Burton homestead Susan wondered a little at her absence. She even said to Keith one day:

"Why, where's Dorothy? We haven't see her for two weeks."

"I don't know, I'm sure."

The way Keith's lips came together over the last word caused Susan to throw a keen glance into his face.

"Now, Keith, I hope you two haven't been quarreling again," she frowned anxiously.

"'Again'! Nonsense, Susan, we never did quarrel. Don't be silly." The youth shifted his position uneasily.

"I'm thinkin' tain't always me that's silly," observed Susan, with another keen glance. "That girl was gettin' so she come over jest natural-like again, every little while, bringin' in one thing or another, if 'twas nothin' more'n a funny story to make us laugh. An' what I want to know is why she stopped right off short like this, for--"

"Nonsense!" tossed Keith again, with a lift of his chin. Then, with an attempt at lightness that was very near a failure, he laughed: "I reckon we don't want her to come if she doesn't want to, do we, Susan?"

"Humph!" was Susan's only comment--outwardly. Inwardly she was vowing to see that young woman and have it out with her, once for all.

But Susan did not see her nor have it out with her; for, as it happened, something occurred that night so all-absorbing and exciting that even the unexplained absence of Dorothy Parkman became as nothing beside it.

With the abrupt suddenness that sometimes makes the long-waited-for event a real shock, came the news of the death of the poor old woman whose frail hand had held the wealth that Susan had coveted for Daniel Burton and his son.

The two men left the next morning on the four-hundred-mile journey that would take them to the town where Nancy Holworthy had lived.

Scarcely had they left the house before Susan began preparations for their home-coming, as befitted their new estate. Her first move was to get out all the best silver and china. She was busy cleaning it when Mrs. McGuire came in at the kitchen door.

"What's the matter?" she began breathlessly.

"Where's Keith? John's been askin' for him all the mornin'. Is Mr. Burton sick? They just telephoned from the store that Mr. Burton had sent word that he wouldn't be down for a few days. He isn't sick, is he?--or Keith? I couldn't make out quite all they said; but there was somethin' about Keith. They ain't either of 'em sick, are they?"

"Oh, no, they're both well--very well, thank you." There was an air, half elation, half superiority, about Susan that was vaguely irritating to Mrs. McGuire.

"Well, you needn't be so secret about it, Susan," she began a little haughtily. But Susan tossed her head with a light laugh.

"Secret! I guess 't won't be no secret long. Mr. Daniel Burton an' Master Keith have gone away, Mis' McGuire."

"Away! You mean--a--a vacation?" frowned Mrs. McGuire doubtfully.

Susan laughed again, still with that irritating air of superiority.

"Well, hardly. This ain't no pleasure exertion, Mis' McGuire. Still, on the other hand, Daniel Burton wouldn't be half humane if he didn't get some pleasure out of it, though he wouldn't so demean himself as to show it, of course. Mis' Nancy Holworthy is dead, Mis' McGuire. We had the signification last night."

"Not--you don't mean the Nancy Holworthy--the one that's got the money!" The excited interest in Mrs. McGuire's face and voice was as great as even Susan herself could have desired.

Susan obviously swelled with the glory of the occasion, though she still spoke with cold loftiness.

"The one and the same, Mis' McGuire."

"My stars an' stockin's, you don't say! An' they've gone to the funeral?"

"They have."

"An' they'll get the money now, I s'pose."

"They will."

"But are you sure? You know sometimes when folks expect the money they don't get it. It's been willed away to some one else."

"Yes, I know. But't won't be here," spoke Susan with decision. "Mis' Holworthy couldn't if she'd wanted to. It's all foreordained an' fixed beforehand. Daniel Burton was to get jest the annual while she lived, an' then the whole in a plump sum when she died. Well, she's dead, an' now he gets it. An' a right tidy little sum it is, too."

"Was she awful rich, Susan?"

"More'n a hundred thousand. A hundred an' fifty, I've heard say."

"My gracious me! An' to think of Daniel Burton havin' a hundred and fifty thousand dollars! What in the world will he do with it?"

Susan's chin came up superbly.

"Well, I can tell you one thing he'll do, Mis' McGuire. He'll stop peddlin' peas an' beans over that counter down there, an' retire to a life of ease an' laxity with his paint-brushes, as he ought to. An' he'll have somethin' fit to eat an' wear, an' Keith will, too. An' furthermore an' likewise you'll see some difference in this place, or my name ain't Susan Betts. Them two men have got an awful lot to live up to, an' I mean they shall understand it right away."

"Which explains this array of china an' silver, I take it," observed Mrs. McGuire dryly.

"Eh? What?" frowned Susan doubtfully; then her face cleared. "Yes, that's jest it. They've got to have things now fitted up to their new estation. We shall get more, too. We need some new teaspoons an' forks. An' I want 'em to get some of them bunion spoons."

"Bunion spoons!"

"Yes--when you eat soup out of them two-handled cups, you know. Or maybe you don't know," she corrected herself, at the odd expression that had come to Mrs. McGuire's face. "But I do. Mrs. Professor Hinkley used to have 'em. They're awful pretty an' stylish, too. And we've got to have a lot of other things--new china, an' some cut- glass, an'--"

"Well, it strikes me," interrupted Mrs. McGuire severely, "that Daniel Burton had better be puttin' his money into Liberty Bonds an' Red Cross work, instead of silver spoons an' cut-glass, in these war- times. An'--"

"My lan', Mis' McGuire!" With the sudden exclamation Susan had dropped the spoon she was polishing. Her eyes, wild and incredulous, were staring straight into the startled eyes of the woman opposite. "Do you know? Since that yeller telegram came last night tellin' us Nancy Holworthy was dead, I hain't even once thought of--the war."

"Well, I guess you would think of it--if you had my John right before you all the time." With a bitter sigh Mrs. McGuire had relaxed in her chair. "You wouldn't need anything else."

"Humph! I don't need anything else with Daniel Burton 'round."

"What do you mean?"

"Why, I mean that that man don't do nothin' but read war an' talk war every minute he's in the house. An' what with them wheatless days an' meatless days, he fairly eats war. You heard my poem on them meatless, wheatless days, didn't you?"

Mrs. McGuire shook her head listlessly. Her somber eyes were on the lonely figure of her son on the porch across the two back yards.

"You didn't? Well, I'll say it to you, then. 'Tain't much; still, it's kind of good, in a way. I hain't written hardly anything lately; but I did write this:

     We've a wheatless day,
     An' a meatless day,
     An' a tasteless, wasteless,
                     sweetless day.

     But with never a pause,
     For the good of the cause,
     We'd even consent to an
                     eatless day.

"An' we would, too, of course.

"An' as far as that's concerned, there's a good many other kinds of 'less days that I'm thinkin' wouldn't hurt none of us. How about a fretless day an' a worryless day? Wouldn't they be great? An' only think what a talkless day'd mean in some households I could mention. Oh, of course, present comp'ny always accentuated," she hastened to add with a sly chuckle, as Mrs. McGuire stirred into sudden resentment.

"Humph!" subsided Mrs. McGuire, still a little resentfully.

"An' I'm free to confess that there's some kinds of 'less days that we've already got plenty of," went on Susan, after a moment's thoughtful pause. "There is folks that take quite enough workless days, an' laughless days, an' pityless days, an' thankless days. My lan', there ain't no end to them kind, as any one can see. An' there was them heatless days last winter--I guess no one was hankerin' for more of them. Oh, 'course I understand that that was just preservation of coal, an' that 'twas necessary, an' all that. An' that's another thing, too--this preservation business. I'd like to add a few things to that, an' make 'em preserve in fault-findin', an' crossness, an' backbitin', an' gossip, as well as in coal, an' sugar, an' wheat, an' beef."

Mrs. McGuire gave a short laugh.

"My goodness, Susan Betts, if you ain't the limit, an' no mistake! I s'pose you mean conservation."

"Heh? What's that? Well, conservation, then. What's the difference, anyway?" she scoffed a bit testily. Then, abruptly, her face changed. "But, there! this ain't settlin' what I'm going to do with Daniel Burton," she finished with a profound sigh.

"Do with him?" puzzled Mrs. McGuire.

"Yes." Susan picked up the silver spoon and began indifferently to polish it. "'Tain't no use for me to be doin' all this. Daniel Burton won't know whether he's eatin' with a silver spoon or one made of pewter. No more will he retire to a life of ease an' laxity with his paint-brushes--unless they declarate peace to-morrow mornin'."

"You don't mean--he'll stay in the store?"

Susan made a despairing gesture.

"Goodness only knows what he'll do--I don't. I know what he does now. He's as uneasy as a fish out o' water, an' he roams the house from one end to the other every night, after he reads the paper. He's got one of them war maps on his wall, an' he keeps changin' the pins an' flags, an' I hear him mutterin' under his breath. You see, he has to keep it from Keith all he can, for Keith hisself feels so bad 'cause he can't be up an' doin'; an' if he thought he was keepin' his father back from helpin', I don't know what the poor boy would do. But I think if 'twa'n't for Keith, Daniel Burton would try to enlist an' go over. Oh, of course, he's beyond the malicious age, so far as bein' drafted is concerned, an' you wouldn't naturally think such a mild- tempered-lookin' man would go in much for killin'. But this war's stirred him up somethin' awful."

"Well, who wouldn't it?"

"Oh, I know that; an' I ain't sayin' as how it shouldn't. But that don't make it no easier for Daniel Burton to keep his feelin's hid from his son, particularly when it's that son that's made him have the feelin's, partly. There ain't no doubt but that one of the things that's made Daniel Burton so fidgety an' uneasy, an' ready to jest fling hisself into that ravin' conflict over there is his unhappiness an' disappointment over Keith. He had such big plans for that boy!"

"Yes, I know. We all have big plans for--our boys." Mrs. McGuire choked and turned away.

"An' girls, too, for that matter," hurried on Susan, with a quick glance into the other's face. "An' speakin' of girls, did you see Hattie Turner on the street last night?"

Dumbly Mrs. McGuire answered with a shake of her head. Her eyes had gone back to her son's face across the yard.

"Well, I did. Her Charlie's at Camp Devens, you know. They say he's invited to more places every Sunday than he can possibly accept; an' that he's petted an' praised an' made of everywhere he goes, an' tended right up to so's he won't get lonesome, or attend unquestionable entertainments. Well, that's all right an' good, of course, an' as it should be. But I wish somebody'd take up Charlie Turner's wife an' invite her to Sunday dinners an' take her to ride, an' see that she didn't attend unquestionable entertainments."

"Why, Susan Betts, what an idea!" protested Mrs. McGuire, suddenly sitting erect in her chair. "Hattie Turner isn't fightin' for her country."

"No, but her husband is," retorted Susan crisply. "An' she's fightin' for her honor an' her future peace an' happiness, an' she's doin' it all alone. She's pretty as a picture, an' nothin' but a child when he married her four months ago, an' we've took away her natural pervider an' entertainer, an' left her nothin' but her freedom for a ballast wheel. An' I say I wish some of the patriotic people who are jest showerin' every Charlie Turner with attentions would please sprinkle jest a few on Charlie's wife, to help keep her straight an' sweet an' honest for Charlie when he comes back."

"Hm-m, maybe," murmured Mrs. McGuire, rising wearily to her feet; "but there ain't many that thinks of that."

"There'll be more think of it by an' by--when it's too late," observed Susan succinctly, as she, too, rose from her chair.