Chapter VI. Lights Out
 

And so Keith waited, through the summer and into another winter. And April came. Keith was not listening to Susan's rhymes and jingles now, nor was he tramping through the woods in search of the first sign of spring. Both eyes had become badly affected now. Keith knew that and--

The fog had come. Keith had seen the fog for several days before he knew what it was. He had supposed it to be really--fog. Then one day he said to Susan:

"Where's the sun? We haven't had any bright sun for days and days-- just this horrid old foggy fog."

"Fog? Why, there ain't any fog!" exclaimed Susan. "The sun is as bright---" She stopped short. Keith could not see her face very clearly--Keith was not seeing anything clearly these days. "Nonsense, Keith, of course, the sun is shinin'!" snapped Susan. "Now don't get silly notions in your head!" Then she turned and hurried from the room.

And Keith knew. And he knew that Susan knew.

Keith did not mention the fog to his father--dad did not like disagreeable subjects. But somebody must have mentioned it--Susan, perhaps. At all events, before the week was out Keith went with his father again to Boston.

It was a sorry journey. Keith did not need to go to Boston. Keith knew now. There was no one who could tell him anything. Dad might laugh and joke and call attention to everything amusing that he wanted to--it would make no difference. Besides, as if he could not hear the shake in dad's voice under all the fun, and as if he could not feel the tremble in dad's hand on his shoulder!

Boston was the same dreary round of testing, talk, and questions, hushed voices and furtive glances, hurried trips from place to place; only this time it was all sharper, shorter, more decisive, and there was no operation. It was not the time for that now, the doctors said. Moreover, this time dad did not laugh, or joke, or even talk on the homeward journey. But that, too, made no difference. Keith already knew.

He knew so well that he did not question him at all. But if he had not known, he would have known from Susan the next day. For he found Susan crying three times the next forenoon, and each time she snapped out so short and sharp about something so entirely foreign from what he asked her that he would have known that Susan knew.

Keith did wonder how many months it would be. Some way he had an idea it would be very few now. As long as it was coming he wished it would come, and come quick. This waiting business--On the whole he was glad that Susan was cross, and that his father spent his days shut away in his own room with orders that he was not to be disturbed. For, as for talking about this thing--

It was toward the last of July that Keith discovered how indistinct were growing the outlines of the big pictures on the wall at the end of the hall. Day by day he had to walk nearer and nearer before he could see them at all. He wondered just how many steps would bring him to the wall itself. He was tempted once to count them--but he could not bring himself to do that; so he knew then that in his heart he did not want to know just how many days it would be before--

But there came a day when he was but two steps away. He told himself it would be in two days then. But it did not come in two days. It did not come in a week. Then, very suddenly, it came.

He woke up one morning to find it quite dark. For a minute he thought it was dark; then the clock struck seven--and it was August.

Something within Keith seemed to snap then. The long-pent strain of months gave way. With one agonized cry of "Dad, it's come--it's come!" he sprang from the bed, then stood motionless in the middle of the room, his arms outstretched. But when his father and Susan reached the room he had fallen to the floor in a dead faint.

It was some weeks before Keith stood upright on his feet again. His illness was a long and serious one. Late in September, Mrs. McGuire, hanging out her clothes, accosted Susan over the back-yard fence.

"I heard down to the store last night that Keith Burton was goin' to get well."

"Of course he's goin' to get well," retorted Susan with emphasis. "I knew he was, all the time."

"All the same, I think it's a pity he is." Mrs. McGuire's lips came together a bit firmly. "He's stone blind, I hear, an' my John says--"

"Well, what if he is?" demanded Susan, almost fiercely. "You wouldn't kill the child, would you? Besides seein' is only one of his facilities. He's got all the rest left. I reckon he'll show you he can do somethin' with them."

Mrs. McGuire shook her head mournfully.

"Poor boy, poor boy! How's he feel himself? Has he got his senses, his real senses yet?"

"He's just beginnin' to." The harshness in Susan's voice betrayed her difficulty in controlling it. "Up to now he hain't sensed anything, much. Of course, part of the time he hain't known anything--jest lay there in a stupid. Then, other times he's jest moaned of-of the dark-- always the dark.

"At first he--when he talked--seemed to be walkin' through the woods; an' he'd tell all about what he saw; the 'purple sunsets,' an' 'dancin' leaves,' an' the merry little brooks hurryin' down the hillside,' till you could jest see the place he was talkin' about. But now--now he's comin' to full conscientiousness, the doctor says; an' he don't talk of anything only--only the dark. An' pretty quick he'll --know."

"An' yet you want that poor child to live, Susan Betts!"

"Of course I want him to live!"

"But what can he do?"

"Do? There ain't nothin' he can't do. Why, Mis' McGuire, listen! I've been readin' up. First, I felt as you do--a little. I--I didn't want him to live. Then I heard of somebody who was blind, an' what he did. He wrote a great book. I've forgotten its name, but it was somethin' about Paradise. Paradise--an' he was in prison, too. Think of writin' about Paradise when you're shut up in jail--an' blind, at that! Well, I made up my mind if that man could see Paradise through them prison bars with his poor blind eyes, then Keith could. An' I was goin' to have him do it, too. An' so I went down to the library an' asked Miss Hemenway for a book about him. An' I read it. An' then she told me about more an' more folks that was blind, an' what they had done. An' I read about them, too."

"Well, gracious me, Susan Betts, if you ain't the limit!" commented Mrs. McGuire, half admiringly, half disapprovingly.

"Well, I did. An'--why, Mis' McGuire, you hain't any inception of an idea of what those men an' women an'--yes, children--did. Why, one of 'em wasn't only blind, but deaf an' dumb, too. She was a girl. An' now she writes books an' gives lecturin's, an', oh, ev'rything."

"Maybe. I ain't sayin' they don't. But I guess somebody else has to do a part of it. Look at Keith right here now. How are you goin' to take care of him when he gets up an' begins to walk around? Why, he can't see to walk or--or feed himself, or anything. Has the nurse gone?"

Susan shook her head. Her lips came together grimly.

"No. Goes next week, though. Land's sakes, but I hope that woman is expulsive enough! Them entrained nurses always cost a lot, I guess. But we've just had to have her while he was so sick. But she's goin' next week."

"But what are you goin' to do? You can't tag him around all day an' do your other work, too. Of course, there's his father--"

"His father! Good Heavens, woman, I wonder if you think I'd trust that boy to his father?" demanded Susan indignantly. "Why, once let him get his nose into that paint-box, an' he don't know anything--not anything. Why, I wouldn't trust him with a baby rabbit--if I cared for the rabbit. Besides, he don't like to be with Keith, nor see him, nor think of him. He feels so bad."

"Humph! Well, if he does feel bad I don't think that's a very nice way to show it. Not think of him, indeed! Well, I guess he'll find some one has got to think of him now. But there! that's what you might expect of Daniel Burton, I s'pose, moonin' all day over those silly pictures of his. As my John says--"

"They're not silly pictures," cut in Susan, flaring into instant wrath. "He has to paint pictures in order to get money to live, don't he? Well, then, let him paint. He's an artist--an extinguished artist --not just a common storekeeper." (Mr. McGuire, it might be mentioned in passing, kept a grocery store.) "An' if you're artistical, you're different from other folks. You have to be."

"Nonsense, Susan! That's all bosh, an' you know it. What if he does paint pictures? That hadn't ought to hinder him from takin' proper care of his own son, had it?"

"Yes, if he's blind." Susan spoke with firmness and decision. "You don't seem to understand at all, Mis' McGuire. Mr. Burton is an artist. Artists like flowers an' sunsets an' clouds an' brooks. They don't like disagreeable things. They don't want to see 'em or think about 'em. I know. It's that way with Mr. Burton. Before, when Keith was all right, he couldn't bear him out of his sight, an' he was goin' to have him do such big, fine, splendid things when he grew up. Now, since he's blind, he can't bear him in his sight. He feels that bad. He just won't be with him if he can help it. But he ain't forgettin' him. He's thinkin' of him all the time. I know. An' it's tellin' on him. He's lookin' thin an' bad an' sick. You see, he's so disappointed, when he'd counted on such big things for that boy!"

"Humph! Well, I'll risk him. It's Keith I'm worry in' about. Who is going to take care of him?"

Susan Betts frowned.

"Well, I could, I think. But there's a sister of Mr. Burton's--she's comin'."

"Not Nettie Colebrook?"

"Yes, Mis' Colebrook. That's her name. She's a widow, an' hain't got anything needin' her. She wrote an' offered, an' Mr. Burton said yes, if she'd be so kind. An' she's comin'."

"When?"

"Next week. The day the nurse goes. Why? What makes you look so queer? Do you know--Mis' Colebrook?"

"Know Nettie Burton Colebrook? Well, I should say I did! I went to boardin'-school with her."

"Humph!" Susan threw a sharp glance into Mrs. McGuire's face. Susan looked as if she wanted to ask another question. But she did not ask it. "Humph!" she grunted again; and turned back to the sheet she was hanging on the line.

There was a brief pause, then Mrs. McGuire commented dryly:

"I notice you ain't doin' no rhymin' to-day, Susan."

"Ain't I? Well, perhaps I ain't. Some way, they don't come out now so natural an' easy-like."

"What's the matter? Ain't the machine workin'?"

Susan shook her head. Then she drew a long sigh. Picking up her empty basket she looked at it somberly.

"Not the way it did before. Some way, there don't seem anything inside of me now only dirges an' funeral marches. Everywhere, all day, everything I do an' everywhere I go I jest hear: 'Keith's blind, Keith's blind!' till it seems as if I jest couldn't bear it."

With something very like a sob Susan turned and hurried into the house.