Chapter XXX. Daniel Burton's "Job"
 

Dorothy came at ten, or, to be strictly accurate, at five minutes past ten. The additional five minutes had been consumed by her going out of her way around the block so that she might see if Keith were visible in one of the McGuires' windows. He was visible--and when she went up the Burton walk at five minutes past ten, her step was confident and her face eager; and there was about her manner none of the furtive, nervous questioning that had marked her coming the day before.

"Good-morning, Susan," she began cheerily, as Susan answered her ring. "Did Mr. Burton say he would see me?"

"He did. And Mr. Keith is over to the McGuires' all safe, so you don't have to worry about him." Susan's eyes were still mutinous, her voice still coldly disapproving.

"Yes, I know he is," nodded Miss Dorothy with a bright smile.

"Oh, you do!"

"Yes. Well, that is--er--I--" Under Susan's uncompromising frigidity Miss Dorothy's stammering tongue came to a painful pause.

"Humph!" vouchsafed Susan. "Well, come in, an' I'll tell Mr. Daniel Burton you're here."

That the emphasis on "Daniel" was not lost was shown by the sudden broad smile that chased away the confusion on Miss Dorothy's face, as Susan led the way to the living-room. Two minutes later Daniel Burton, thinner, paler, and more worn-looking than Dorothy had ever seen him before, entered the room and held out a cordial hand.

"Good-morning, Miss Dorothy. I'm glad to see you," he said. "What is it,--Red Cross, Y.M.C.A., Smileage Books?" The whimsical smile on his lips only served to emphasize the somber pain in his eyes.

"Not any of them. Then Susan didn't tell you?"

"Not a word. Sit down, please."

"Thank you. Then I shall have to begin at the beginning," sighed the girl a little constrainedly as she took the chair he offered her. "I-- I have a certain project that I want to carry out, Mr. Burton, and I-- I want your help."

"Why, of course--certainly. I shall be glad to, I know." Daniel Burton's hand had already reached for his check-book. "Any project of yours, Miss Dorothy--! How much do you want?"

But Miss Dorothy lifted her hand, palm outward.

"Thank you, Mr. Burton; but not any--in money, just yet. Oh, it'll take money, probably, to get it started, before it's on a self- supporting basis, I suppose. But it isn't money I want to-day, Mr. Burton. It--it's yourself."

The man gave a short, dry laugh, not untinged with bitterness.

"I'm afraid I can't endorse either your taste or your judgment there, Miss Dorothy. You've come for a poor stick. I can't imagine myself as being much benefit to any sort of project. However, I shall be glad to hear about it, of course. What is it?"

And Miss Dorothy told him. With her eyes shining, and her voice quivering with eagerness, she told the story as she had told it to Susan the afternoon before, but with even greater elaboration of detail.

"And so now, Mr. Burton, you--you will help, won't you?" she begged, in closing.

"Help! But my dear girl, how?"

"Take charge. Be the head and shoulders, the backbone of the whole thing. Oh, yes, I know it's a whole lot to ask," she hurried on, as she saw the dawning dismay and refusal in his face. "But I thought, for the sake of the cause--"

"The cause!" The man's voice was bitter as he interrupted her. "I'd crawl to France on my hands and knees if that would do any good! But, my dear young lady, I'm an ignoramus, and worse than an ignoramus, when it comes to machinery. I'll venture to wager that I wouldn't know the tape from the coils--or whatever they are."

"Oh, we'd have an engineer for that part, of course," interposed the girl eagerly. "And we want your son, too."

"You want Keith! Pray, do you expect him to teach how to wind coils?"

"No--no--not exactly;--though I think he will be teaching before he realizes it. I want him to learn to wind them himself, and thus get others to learn. You don't understand, Mr. Burton. I want you and Mr. Keith to--to do just what you did for John McGuire--arouse interest and enthusiasm and get them to do it. Don't you see?"

"But that was Keith, not I, in the case of John McGuire."

"It was you at the last," corrected the girl gently. "Mr. Burton, John McGuire wouldn't have any book out this spring if it weren't for you and--your eyes."

"Hm-m, perhaps not. Still there'd have been a way, probably. But even if I grant that--all you say in the case of John McGuire--that isn't winding armatures, or whatever they are."

"Mr. Burton, you aren't going to refuse," pleaded the girl.

"What else can I do? Miss Dorothy, you don't want to stamp this project of yours a failure from the start, do you?" Words, voice, manner, and gesture were unmistakable. All the longing and heartache and bitterness of years of fruitless effort and final disappointment pulsated through that one word failure.

For a moment nobody spoke. Daniel Burton had got to his feet and crossed the room to the window. The girl, watching him with compassionate eyes as he stood looking out, had caught her breath with a little choking sigh. Suddenly she lifted her head resolutely.

"Mr. Burton, you've got one gift that--that I don't believe you realize at all that you possess. Like John McGuire you can make folks see what you are talking about. Perhaps it's because you can paint pictures with a brush. Or--or perhaps it's because you've got such a wonderful command of words."(Miss Dorothy stumbled a little precipitately into this sentence--she had not failed to see the disdainful movement of the man's head and shoulders at the mention of his pictures.) "Whatever it is," she hurried on, "you've got it. I saw it first years ago, with--with your son, when I used to see him at father's. He would sit and talk to me by the hour about the woods and fields and mountains, the sunsets and the flowers back home; and little by little I found out that they were the pictures you drew for him--on the canvas of his soul. You've done it again now for John McGuire. Do you suppose you could have caught those wonderful stories of his with your pencil, if you hadn't been able to help him visualize them for himself--you and Keith together with your wonderful enthusiasm and interest?

"I know you couldn't. And that's what I want you now for--you and your son. Because he is blind, and knows, and understands, as no seeing person can know and understand, they will trust him; they will follow where he leads. But behind him has got to be you. You've got to be the eyes for--for them all; not to teach the work--we'll have others for that. Any good mechanic will do for that part. But it's the other part of it--the soul of the thing. These men, lots of them, are but little more than boys--big, strong, strapping fellows with the whole of life before them. And they are--blind. Whichever way they turn a big black curtain shuts them in. And it's those four black curtains that I want you to paint. I want you to give them something to look at, something to think of, something to live for. And you can do it. And when you have done it, you'll find they're the best and--and the biggest pictures you ever painted." Her voice broke with the last word and choked into silence.

Over at the window the man stood motionless. One minute, two minutes passed. Then a bit abruptly he turned, crossed the room to the girl's side, and held out his hand.

"Miss Dorothy, I--I'll take the job," he said.

He spoke lightly, and he smiled as he said the words; but neither the smile nor the lightness of his manner quite hid the shake in his voice nor the moisture in his eyes.

"Thank you, Mr. Burton. I was sure you would," cried the girl.

"And now for Keith! He's over to the McGuires'. I'll get him!" exclaimed the man boyishly.

But Miss Dorothy was instantly on her feet.

"No, no, please," she begged a little breathlessly. "I'd rather you didn't--now. I--I think we'd better get it a little farther along before we tell him. There's a whole lot to do, you know--getting the room and the materials and the superintendent, and all that; and there isn't a thing he can do--yet."

"All right. Very good. Perhaps that would be better," nodded the man. "But, let me tell you, I already have some workers for your project."

"You mean Jack Green, here in town?"

"No. Oh, we'd want him, of course; but it's some others--a couple of boys from Hillsboro. I had a letter yesterday from the father of one of the boys, asking what to do with his son. He thought because of--of Keith, that I could help him. It was a pitiful letter. The man was heart-broken and utterly at sea. His boy--only nineteen--had come home blind, and well-nigh crazed with the tragedy of it. And the father didn't know which way to turn. That's why he had appealed to me. You see, on account of Keith--"

"Yes, I understand," said the girl gently, as the man left his sentence unfinished.

"I've had others, too--several of them--in the last few weeks. If you'll wait I'll get the letters." He was already halfway to the door. "It may take a minute or two to look them up; but--they'll be worth it, I think."

"Of course they will," she cried eagerly. "They'll be just exactly what we want, and I'm not in a bit of a hurry," she finished, dropping back in her chair as the door closed behind him.

Alone, she looked about the room, her eyes wistful, brimming with unshed tears. Over by the window was Keith's chair, before it the table, with a half-completed picture puzzle spread upon it. Near the table was a set of shelves containing other picture puzzles, games, and books--all, as the girl well knew, especially designed and constructed for eyes that could not see.

She had risen to her feet and half started to cross the room toward the table when the door to the side hall opened and Keith Burton entered the room.

With a half-stifled gasp the girl stepped back to her chair. The blind boy stopped instantly, his face turned toward her.

"Is that--you, Susan?"

The girl wet her lips, but no words came.

"Who's there, please?" He spoke sharply this time. As everybody knew-- who knew Keith--the one thing that angered him more than anything else was the attempted deception as to one's presence in the room.

Miss Dorothy gave a confused little laugh, and put her hand to her throat.

"Why, Keith, it's only I! Don't look so--"

"You?" For one brief moment his face lighted up as with a hidden flame; then instantly it changed. It became like the gray of ashes after the flame is spent. "Why didn't you speak, then?" he questioned. "It did no good to keep quiet. You mustn't forget that I have ears--if I haven't eyes."

"Nonsense, Keith!" She laughed again confusedly, though her own face had paled a little. "I did speak as soon as I caught my breath;-- popping in on a body like that!"

"But I didn't know--you were here," stammered the young fellow uncertainly. "Nobody called me. I beg your pardon if--" He came to a helpless pause.

"Not a bit of it! You needn't. It wasn't necessary at all." The girl tossed off the words with a lightness so forced that it was almost flippancy. "You see, I didn't come to see you at all. It was your father."

"My father!"

"Certainly."

"But--but does he know?"

The girl laughed merrily--too merrily for sincerity.

"Know? Indeed he does. We've just been having a lovely talk. He's gone upstairs for some letters. He's coming right back--right back."

"Oh-h!" Was it an indefinable something in her voice, or was it the repetition of the last two words? Whatever it was that caused it, Keith turned away with a jerk, walked with the swift sureness of long familiarity straight to the set of shelves and took down a book. "Then I'll not disturb you any further--as long as you're not needing me," he said tersely. "I only came for this." And with barely a touch of his cane to the floor and door-casing, he strode from the room.

The pity of it--that he could not have seen Dorothy Parkman's eyes looking after him!