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It was when the nurse was resting and Susan was with Keith that the boy came to a full, realizing sense of himself, on his lips the time- worn question asked by countless other minds back from that mysterious land of delirium:
"Where am I?"
Susan sprang to her feet, then dropped on her knees at the bedside.
"In your own bed--honey."
"Is that--Susan?" No wonder he asked the question. Whenever before had Susan talked like that?
"Sure it's Susan."
"But I can't--see you--or anything. Oh-h!" With a shudder and a quivering cry the boy flung out his hands, then covered his eyes with them. "I know, now, I know! It's come--it's come! I am--blind!"
"There, there, honey, don't, please don't. You'll break Susan's heart. An' you're so much better now."
"Yes. You've been sick--very sick."
"Oh, several weeks. It's October now."
"And I've been blind all that time?"
"But I haven't known I was blind!"
"I want to go back--I want to go back, where I didn't know--again."
"Nonsense, Keith!" (Susan was beginning to talk more like herself.) "Go back to be sick? Of course you don't want to go back an' be sick! Listen!
Don't you worry, an' don't you fret. Somethin' better is comin' yet. Somethin' fine! What'll you bet? It's jest the thing you're wantin' ter get!
Come, come! We're goin' to have you up an' out in no time, now, boy!"
"I don't want to be up and out. I'm blind, Susan."
"An' there's your dad. He'll be mighty glad to know you're better. I'll call him."
"No, no, Susan--don't! Don't call him. He won't want to see me. Nobody will want to see me now. I'm blind, Susan--blind!"
"Shucks! Everybody will want to see you, so's to see how splendid you are, even if you are blind. Now don't talk any more--please don't; there's a good boy. You're gettin' yourself all worked up, an' then, oh, my, how that nurse will scold!"
"I shan't be splendid," moaned the boy. "I shan't be anything, now. I shan't be Jerry or Ned or dad. I shall be just me. And I'll be pointed at everywhere; and they'll whisper and look and stare, and say, 'He's blind--he's blind--he's blind.' I tell you, Susan, I can't stand it. I can't--I can't! I want to go back. I want to go back to where I didn't--know!"
The nurse came in then, and of course Susan was banished in disgrace. Of course, too, Keith was almost in hysterics, and his fever had gone away up again. He still talked in a high, shrill voice, and still thrashed his arms wildly about, till the little white powder the nurse gave him got in its blessed work. And then he slept.
Keith was entirely conscious the next day when Susan came in to sit with him while the nurse took her rest. But it was a very different Keith. It was a weary, spent, nerveless Keith that lay back on the pillow with scarcely so much as the flutter of an eyelid to show life.
"Is there anything I can get you, Keith?" she asked, when a long-drawn sigh convinced her that he was awake.
Only a faint shake of the head answered her.
"The doctor says you're lots better, Keith."
There was no sort of reply to this; and for another long minute Susan sat tense and motionless, watching the boy's face. Then, with almost a guilty look over her shoulder, she stammered:
"Keith, I don't want you to talk to me, but I do wish you'd just speak to me."
But Keith only shook his head again faintly and turned his face away to the wall.
By and by the nurse came in, and Susan left the room. She went straight to the kitchen, and she did not so much as look toward Keith's father whom she met in the hall. In the kitchen Susan caught up a cloth and vigorously began to polish a brass faucet. The faucet was already a marvel of brightness; but perhaps Susan could not see that. One cannot always see clearly--through tears.
Keith was like this every day after that, when Susan came in to sit with him--silent, listless, seemingly devoid of life. Yet the doctor declared that physically the boy was practically well. And the nurse was going at the end of the week.
On the last day of the nurse's stay, Susan accosted her in the hall somewhat abruptly.
"Is it true that by an' by there could be an operator on that boy's eyes?"
"Oper--er--oh, operation! Yes, there might be, if he could only get strong enough to stand it. But it might not be successful, even then."
"But there's a chance?"
"Yes, there's a chance."
"I s'pose it--it would be mighty expulsive, though."
"Expulsive?" The young woman frowned slightly; then suddenly she smiled. "Oh! Oh, yes, I--I'm afraid it would--er--cost a good deal of money," she nodded over her shoulder as she went on into Keith's room.
That evening Susan sought her employer in the studio. Daniel Burton spent all his waking hours in the studio now. The woods and fields were nothing but a barren desert of loneliness to Daniel Burton-- without Keith.
The very poise of Susan's head spelt aggressive determination as she entered the studio; and Daniel Burton shifted uneasily in his chair as he faced her. Nor did he fail to note that she carried some folded papers in her hand.
"Yes, yes, Susan, I know. Those bills are due, and past due," he cried nervously, before Susan could speak. "And I hoped to have the money, both for them and for your wages, long before this. But---"
Susan stopped him short with an imperative gesture.
"T ain't bills, Mr. Burton, an't ain't wages. It's--it's somethin' else. Somethin' very importune." There was a subdued excitement in Susan's face and manner that was puzzling, yet most promising.
Unconsciously Daniel Burton sat a little straighter and lifted his chin--though his eyes were smiling.
"Oh, Susan!" It was as if a bubble had been pricked, leaving nothing but empty air.
"But you don't know--you don't understand, yet," pleaded Susan, unerringly reading the disappointment in her employer's face. "It's to sell--to get some money, you know, for the operator on the poor lamb's eyes. I--I wanted to help, some way. An' this is real poetry--truly it is!--not the immaculate kind that I jest dash off! I've worked an' worked over this, an' I'm jest sure it'll sell, It's got to sell, Mr. Burton. We've jest got to have that money. An' now, I--I want to read 'em to you. Can't I, please?"
And this from Susan--this palpitating, pleading "please"! Daniel Burton, with a helpless gesture that expressed embarrassment, dismay, bewilderment, and resignation, threw up both hands and settled back in his chair.
"Why, of--of course, Susan, read them," he muttered as clearly as he could, considering the tightness that had come into his throat.
And Susan read this:
SPRING Oh, gentle Spring, I love thy rills, I love thy wooden, rocky rills, I love thy budsome beauty. But, oh, I hate o'er anything, Thy mud an' slush, oh, gentle Spring, When rubbers are a duty.
"That's the shortest--the other is longer," explained Susan, still the extraordinary, palpitating Susan, with the shining, pleading eyes.
"Yes, go on." Daniel Burton had to clear his throat before he could say even those two short words.
"I called this 'Them Things That Plague,'" said Susan. "An' it's really true, too. Don't you know? Things do plague worse nights, when you can't sleep. An' you get to thinkin' an' thinkin'. Well, that's what made me write this." And she began to read:
THEM THINGS THAT PLAGUE They come at night, them things that plague, An' gather round my bed. They cluster thick about the foot, An' lean on top the head. They like the dark, them things that plague, For then they can be great, They loom like doom from out the gloom, An' shriek: "I am your Fate!" But, after all, them things that plague Are cowards--Say not you?-- To strike a man when he is down, An' in the darkness, too. For if you'll watch them things that plague, Till comin' of the dawn, You'll find, when once you're on your feet, Them things that plague--are gone!
"There, ain't that true--every word of it?" she demanded. "An' there ain't hardly any poem license in it, too. I think they're a ways lots better when there ain't; but sometimes, of course, you jest have to use it. There! an' now I've read 'em both to you--an' how much do you s'pose I can get for 'em--the two of 'em, either singly or doubly?" Susan was still breathless, still shining-eyed--a strange, exotic Susan, that Daniel Burton had never seen before. "I've heard that writers--some writers--get lots of money, Mr. Burton, an' I can write more--lots more. Why, when I get to goin' they jest come autocratically--poems do--without any thinkin' at all; an'--But how much do you think I ought to get?"
"Get? Good Heavens woman!" Daniel Burton was on his feet now trying to shake off the conflicting emotions that were all but paralyzing him. "Why, you can't get anything for those da---" Just in time he pulled himself up. At that moment, too, he saw Susan's face. He sat down limply.
"Susan." He cleared his throat and began again. He tried to speak clearly, judiciously, kindly. "Susan, I'm afraid--that is, I'm not sure--Oh, hang it all, woman"--he was on his feet now--"send them, if you want to--but don't blame me for the consequences." And with a gesture, as of flinging the whole thing far from him, he turned his back and walked away.
"You mean--you don't think I can get hardly anything for 'em?" An extraordinarily meek, fearful Susan asked the question.
Only a shrug of the back-turned shoulders answered her.
"But, Mr. Burton, we--we've got to have the money for that operator; an', anyhow, I--I mean to try." With a quick indrawing of her breath she turned abruptly and left the studio.
That evening, in her own room, Susan pored over the two inexpensive magazines that came to the house. She was searching for poems and for addresses.
As she worked she began to look more cheerful. Both the magazines published poems, and if they published one poem they would another, of course, especially if the poem were a better one--and Susan could not help feeling that they were better (those poems of hers) than almost any she saw there in print before her. There was some sense to her poems, while those others--why, some of them didn't mean anything, not anything!--and they didn't even rhyme!
With real hope and courage, therefore, Susan laboriously copied off the addresses of the two magazines, directed two envelopes, and set herself to writing the first of her two letters. That done, she copied the letter, word for word--except for the title of the poem submitted.
It was a long letter. Susan told first of Keith and his misfortune, and the imperative need of money for the operation. Then she told something of herself, and of her habit of turning everything into rhyme; for she felt it due to them, she said, that they know something of the person with whom they were dealing. She touched again on the poverty of the household, and let it plainly be seen that she had high hopes of the money these poems were going to bring. She did not set a price. She would leave that to their own indiscretion, she said in closing.
It was midnight before Susan had copied this letter and prepared the two manuscripts for mailing. Then, tired, but happy, she went to bed.
It was the next day that the nurse went, and that Mrs. Colebrook came.
The doctor said that Keith might be dressed now, any day--that he should be dressed, in fact, and begin to take some exercise. He had already sat up in a chair every day for a week--and he was in no further need of medicine, except a tonic to build him up. In fact, all efforts now should be turned toward building him up, the doctor said. That was what he needed.
All this the nurse mentioned to Mr. Burton and to Susan, as she was leaving. She went away at two o'clock, and Mrs. Colebrook was not to come until half-past five. At one minute past two Susan crept to the door of Keith's room and pushed it open softly. The boy, his face to the wall, lay motionless. But he was not asleep. Susan knew that, for she had heard his voice not five minutes before, bidding the nurse good-bye. For one brief moment Susan hesitated. Then, briskly, she stepped into the room with a cheery:
"Well, Keith, here we are, just ourselves together. The nurse is gone an' I am on--how do you like the weather?"
"Yes, I know, she said she was going." The boy spoke listlessly, wearily, without turning his head.
"What do you say to gettin' up?"
Keith stirred restlessly.
"I was up this morning."
"Ho!" Susan tossed her head disdainfully. "I don't mean that way. I mean up--really up with your clothes on."
The boy shook his head again.
"I couldn't. I--I'm too tired."
"Nonsense! A great boy like you bein' too tired to get up! Why Keith, it'll do you good. You'll feel lots better when you're up an' dressed like folks again."
The boy gave a sudden cry.
"That's just it, Susan. Don't you see? I'll never be--like folks again."
"Nonsense! Jest as if a little thing like bein' blind was goin' to keep you from bein' like folks again!" Susan was speaking very loudly, very cheerfully--though with first one hand, then the other, she was brushing away the hot tears that were rolling down her cheeks. "Why, Keith, you're goin' to be better than folks--jest common folks. You're goin' to do the most wonderful things that---"
"But I can't--I'm blind, I tell you!" cut in the boy. "I can't do-- anything, now."
"But you can, an' you're goin' to," insisted Susan again. "You jest wait till I tell you; an' it's because you are blind that it's goin' to be so wonderful. But you can't do it jest lyin' abed there in that lazy fashion. Come, I'm goin' to get your clothes an' put 'em right on this chair here by the bed; then I'm goin' to give you twenty minutes to get into 'em. I shan't give you but fifteen tomorrow." Susan was moving swiftly around the room now, opening closet doors and bureau drawers.
"No, no, Susan, I can't get up," moaned the boy turning his face back to the wall. "I can't--I can't!"
"Yes, you can. Now, listen. They're all here, everything you need, on these two chairs by the bed."
"But how can I dress me when I can't see a thing?"
"You can feel, can't you?"
"Y-yes. But feeling isn't seeing. You don't know."
Susan gave a sudden laugh--she would have told you it was a laugh--but it sounded more like a sob.
"But I do know, an' that's the funny part of it, Keith," she cried. "Listen! What do you s'pose your poor old Susan's been doin'? You'd never guess in a million years, so I'm goin' to tell you. For the last three mornin's she's tied up her eyes with a handkerchief an' then dressed herself, jest to make sure it could be done, you know."
"Susan, did you, really?" For the first time a faint trace of interest came into the boy's face.
"Sure I did! An' Keith, it was great fun, really, jest to see how smart I could be, doin' it. An' I timed myself, too. It took me twenty-five minutes the first time. Dear, dear, but I was clumsy! But I can do it lots quicker now, though I don't believe I'll ever do it as quick as you will."
"Do you think I could do it, really?"
"I know you could."
"I could try," faltered Keith dubiously.
"You ain't goin' to try, you're goin' to do it," declared Susan. "Now, listen. I'm goin' out, but in jest twenty minutes I'm comin' back, an' I shall expect to find you all dressed. I--I shall be ashamed of you if you ain't." And without another glance at the boy, and before he could possibly protest, Susan hurried from the room.
Her head was still high, and her voice still determinedly clear--but in the hall outside the bedroom, Susan burst into such a storm of sobs that she had to hurry to the kitchen and shut herself in the pantry lest they be heard.
Later, when she had scornfully lashed herself into calmness, she came out into the kitchen and looked at the clock.
"An' I've been in there five minutes, I'll bet ye, over that fool cry in'," she stormed hotly to herself. "Great one, I am, to take care of that boy, if I can't control myself better than this!"
At the end of what she deemed to be twenty minutes, and after a fruitless "puttering" about the kitchen, Susan marched determinedly upstairs to Keith's room. At the door she did hesitate a breathless minute, then, resolutely, she pushed it open.
The boy, fully dressed, stood by the bed. His face was alight, almost eager.
"I did it--I did it, Susan! And if it hasn't been more than twenty minutes, I did it sooner than you!"
Susan tried to speak; but the tears were again chasing each other down her cheeks, and her face was working with emotion.
"Susan!" The boy put out his hand gropingly, turning his head with the pitiful uncertainty of the blind. "Susan, you are there, aren't you?"
Susan caught her breath chokingly, and strode into the room with a brisk clatter.
"Here? Sure I'm here--but so dumb with amazement an' admiration that I couldn't open my head--to see you standin' there all dressed like that! What did I tell you? I knew you could do it. Now, come, let's go see dad." She was at his side now, her arm linked into his.
But the boy drew back.
"No, no, Susan, not there. He--he wouldn't like it. Truly, he--he doesn't want to see me. You know he--he doesn't like to see disagreeable things."
"'Disagreeable things,' indeed!" exploded Susan, her features working again. "Well, I guess if he calls it disagreeable to see his son dressed up an' walkin' around--"
But Keith interrupted her once more, with an even stronger protest, and Susan was forced to content herself with leading her charge out on to the broad veranda that ran across the entire front of the house. There they walked back and forth, back and forth.
She was glad, afterward, that this was all she did, for at the far end of the veranda Daniel Burton stepped out from a door, and stood for a moment watching them. But it was for only a moment. And when she begged mutely for him to come forward and speak, he shook his head fiercely, covered his eyes with his hand, and plunged back into the house.
"What was that, Susan? What was that?" demanded the boy.
"Nothin', child, nothin', only a door shuttin' somewhere, or a window."
At that moment a girl's voice caroled shrilly from the street.
"Hullo, Keith, how do you do? We're awfully glad to see you out again."
The boy started violently, but did not turn his head--except to Susan.
"Susan, I--I'm tired. I want to go in now," he begged a little wildly, under his breath.
"Keith, it's Mazie--Mazie and Dorothy," caroled the high-pitched voice again.
But Keith, with a tug so imperative that Susan had no choice but to obey, turned his head quite away as he groped for the door to go in.
In the hall he drew a choking breath.
"Susan, I don't want to go out there to walk any more--not any more! I don't want to go anywhere where anybody'll see me."
"Shucks!" Susan's voice was harshly unsteady again. "See you, indeed! Why, we're goin' to be so proud of you we'll want the whole world to see you.
You jest wait An' see the fate That I've cut out for you. We'll be so proud We'll laugh aloud, An' you'll be laughin', too!
I made that up last night when I laid awake thinkin' of all the fine things we was goin' to have you do."
But Keith only shook his head again and complained of feeling, oh, so tired. And Susan, looking at his pale, constrained face, did not quote any more poetry to him, or talk about the glorious future in store for him. She led him to the easiest chair in his room and made him as comfortable as she could. Then she went downstairs and shut herself in the pantry--until she could stop her "fool cryin' over nothin'."
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