Chapter XXIX. Dorothy Tries Her Hand
 

It was on a mild day early in February that Susan met Dorothy Parkman on the street. She stopped her at once.

"Well, if I ain't glad to see you!" she cried. "I didn't know you'd got back."

"I haven't been back long, Susan."

"You hain't been over to see us once, Miss Dorothy," Susan reproached her.

"I--I have been very busy." Miss Dorothy seemed ill at ease, and anxious to get away.

"An' you didn't come for a long, long time when you was here last fall." Susan had laid a detaining hand on the girl's arm now.

"Didn't I?" Miss Dorothy smiled brightly. "Well, perhaps I didn't. But you didn't need me, anyway. I've heard all about it--the splendid work Mr. Burton and his son have done for John McGuire. And I'm so glad."

"Oh, yes, that's all right." Susan spoke without enthusiasm.

"And the book is going to be published?"

"Yes, oh, yes." Susan still spoke with a preoccupied frown.

"Why, Susan, what's the matter? I thought you'd be glad."

Susan drew a long sigh.

"I am glad, Miss Dorothy. I'm awful glad--for John McGuire. They say it's wonderful, the change in him already. He's so proud an' happy to think he's done it--not sinfully proud, you understand, but just humbly proud an' glad. An' his ma says he's writin' other things now-- poems an' stories, an' he's as happy as a lark all day. An' I'm awful glad. But it's Keith hisself that I'm thinkin' of. You see, only yesterday I found him--cryin'."

"Crying!" Miss Dorothy seemed to have forgotten all about her haste to get away. She had Susan's arm in her grasp now. She had pulled her to one side, too, where they could have a little sheltered place to talk, in the angle of two store windows.

"Yes, cryin'. You see, 't was like this," hurried on Susan. "Mis' McGuire was over, an' I'd been readin' a new poem to her an' him. 'T was a real pretty one, too, if I do say it as shouldn't--the best I ever done; all about how fame an' beauty an' pleasure didn't count nothin' beside workin'. I got the idea out of something I found in a magazine. 'T was jest grand; an' it give me the perspiration right away to turn it into a poem. An' I did. An' 't was that I was readin'. I'd jest got it done that mornin'."

"Yes, yes," nodded Miss Dorothy. "I see."

"Well, I never thought of its meanin' anything to Keith, or of his takin' it nohow wrong; but after Mis' McGuire had gone home (she came out an' set with me a spell first in the kitchen) I heard a queer little noise in the settin'-room, an' I went an' looked in. Keith was at the table, his arms flung straight out in front of him, an' his head bowed down. An', Miss Dorothy, he was cryin' like a baby."

"Oh, Susan, what did you do? What did you say?"

"Say? Nothin'!" Susan's eyes flashed her scorn. "Do you s'pose I'd let that poor lamb know I see him cryin'? Well, I guess not! I backed out as soft as a feather bed, an' I didn't go near that settin'-room for an hour, nor let any one else. I was a regular dragon-fly guardin' it. Well, by an' by Keith comes out. His face was white an' strained- lookin'. But he was smiling, an' he handed out my poem--I'd left it on the table when I come out with Mis' McGuire. 'I found this paper on the table, Susan. It's your poem, isn't it?' he says real cheerful- like. Then he turns kind of quick an' leaves the room without another word.

"Well, I didn't know then that't was the poem he'd been cryin' over. I didn't know--till this mornin'. Then somethin' he said made me see right off."

"Why, Susan, what was it?"

"It was somethin' about--work. But first you wouldn't understand it, unless you see the poem. An' I can show it to you, 'cause I've got it right here. I'm tryin' to memorialize it, so I keep it with me all the time, an' repeat one line over an' over till I get it. It's right here in my bag. You'll find it's the best I've wrote, Miss Dorothy; I'm sure you will," she went on a bit wistfully. "You see I used a lot of the words that was in the magazine--not that I pleasurized it any, of course. Mine's different, 'cause mine is poetry an' theirs is prosy. There! I guess maybe you can read it, even if't is my writin'," she finished, taking a sheet of note-paper from her bag and carefully spreading it out for Miss Dorothy to read.

And this is what Dorothy read:

    CONTENTMENT

              Wealth
      I asked for the earth--but when in my hands
      It shriveled and crumbled away;
      And the green of its trees and the blue of its skies
      Changed to a somber gray.

                  Beauty
      I asked for the moon--but the shimmering thing
      Was only reflected gold,
      And vanished away at my glance and touch,
      And was then but a tale that is told.

                             Pleasure
      I asked for the stars--and lots of them came,
      And twinkled and danced for me;
      But the whirling lights soon wearied my gaze--
      I squenched their flame in the sea.

                               Fame
      I asked for the sun!--but the fiery ball,
      Brought down from its home on high,
      Scorched and blistered my finger tips,
      As I swirled it back to the sky.

                   Labor
      I asked for a hoe, and I set me to work,
      And my red blood danced as I went:
      At night I rested, and looking back,
      I counted my day well spent.

"But, Susan, I don't see," began Miss Dorothy, lifting puzzled eyes from the last line of the poem, "I don't see what there is about that to make Mr. Keith--cry."

"No, I didn't, till this mornin'; an' then--Well, Keith came out into the kitchen an' begun one of them tramps of his up an' down the room. It always drives me nearly crazy when he does that, but I can't say anything, of course. I did begin this mornin' to talk about John McGuire an' how fine it was he'd got somethin' he could do. I thought't would take the poor boy's mind off hisself, if I could get him talkin' about John McGuire---he's been so interested in John all winter! An' so glad he could help him. You know he's always so wanted to help somebody hisself instead of always havin' somebody helpin' him. But, dear me, instead of its bein' a quieter now for him, it was a regular stirrup.

"'That's just it, that's just it, Susan,' he moans. 'You've got to have work or you die. There's nothin' in the whole world like work-- your work! John McGuire's got his work, an' I'm glad of it. But where's mine? Where's mine, I tell you?'

"An' I told him he'd jest been havin' his work, helpin' John McGuire. You know it was wonderful, perfectly wonderful, Miss Dorothy, the way them two men got hold of John McGuire. You know John wouldn't speak to anybody, not anybody, till Keith an' his father found some way to get on the inside of his shell. An' Keith's been so happy all winter doin' it; an' his father, too. So I tried to remind him that he'd been doin' his work.

"But it didn't do no good. Keith said that was all very well, an' he was glad, of course; but that was only a little bit of a thing, an' 't was all past an' gone, an' John didn't need 'em any more, an' there wasn't anything left for him now at all. Oh, Miss Dorothy, he talked awfully. I never heard him run on so. An' I knew, from a lot of it that he said, that he was thinkin' of that poem--he wouldn't ask for wealth or beauty or fame, or anything, an' that there didn't anything count but labor. You see?"

"Yes, I--see." Miss Dorothy's voice was very low. Her face was turned quite away, yet Susan was very sure that there were tears in her eyes.

"An' his father!--he's 'most as bad as Keith," sighed Susan. "They're both as nervous as witches, what with the war an' all, an' they not bein' able to do anything. Oh, they do give money--lots of it--Liberty Bonds an' Red Cross, an' drives, of course. You knew they'd got it now--their money, didn't you, Miss Dorothy?"

"Yes, I had heard so."

"Not that it seems to do 'em any particular good," complained Susan wistfully. "Oh, of course things ain't so--so ambiguous as they was, an' we have more to eat an' wear, an' don't have to worry about bills. But they ain't any happier, as I can see. If only Keith could find somethin'--"

"Yes, I know," sighed Miss Dorothy again, as she turned slowly away. "I wish he--could."

"Well, come to see us, won't you?" urged Susan anxiously. "That'll help some--it'll help a lot."

But Miss Dorothy did not seem to have heard. At least she did not answer. Yet not twenty-four hours later she was ringing the Burtons' doorbell.

"No, no--not there! I want to see you," she panted a little breathlessly, when Susan would have led the way to the living-room.

"But Keith would be so glad--" begged Susan.

"No, no! I particularly don't want him to know I am here," insisted Dorothy.

And without further ado, but with rebellious lips and eyes, Susan led the way to the kitchen.

"Susan, I have a scheme, I think, that may help out Mr. Keith," began the young girl abruptly. "I'll have to begin by telling you something of what I've seen during these last two or three months, while I've been away. A Mr. Wilson, an old college friend of my father's, has been taking a lot of interest in the blind--especially since the war. He got to thinking of the blinded soldiers and wishing he could help them. He had seen some of them in Canada, and talked with them. What he thought of first for them was brooms, and basket-weaving and chair- caning, same as everybody does. But he found they had a perfect horror of those things. They said nobody bought such things except out of pity--they'd rather have the machine-made kind. And these men didn't want things bought of them out of pity. You see, they were big, well, strong, young fellows, like John McGuire here; and they were groping around, trying to find a way to live all those long years of darkness that they knew were ahead of them. They didn't have any especial talent. But they wanted to work,--do something that was necessary--not be charity folks, as they called it."

"I know," responded Susan sympathetically.

"Well, this Mr. Wilson is at the head of a big electrical machinery manufacturing company near Chicago, like Mr. Sanborn's here, you know. And suddenly one day it came to him that he had the very thing right in his own shop--a necessary kind of work that the blind could be taught to do."

"My lan', what was it? Think of blind folks goin' to work in a big shop like Tom Sanborn's!"

"I know it. But there was something. It was wrapping the coils of wire with tape. Mr. Wilson said they used hundreds of thousands of these coils all the time, and they had to be wrapped to insulate them. It was this work that he believed the blind could learn to do. Anyhow, he determined to try it. And try it he did. He sent for those soldiers he had talked with in Canada, and he took two or three of father's patients, and opened a little winding-room with a good electrical engineer in charge. And, do you know? it was wonderful, the way those poor fellows took hold of that work! Why, they got really skillful in no time, and they learned to do it swiftly, too."

"My lan'!" breathed Susan again.

"They did. He took me in to see them one day. It was just a big room on the ground floor of an office building. He didn't put them in his shop. He said he wanted to keep them separate, for the present, anyway. It had two or three long tables, and the superintendent moved up and down the room overseeing their work, and helping where it was necessary. There was a new man that morning, and it was perfectly wonderful how he took hold of it. And they were all so happy, laughing and talking, and having the best time ever; but they sobered up real earnest when Mr. Wilson introduced one or two of them to me. One man in particular--he was one of the soldiers, a splendid, great, blond fellow six feet tall, and only twenty-one--told me what this work meant to them; how glad they were to feel of real use in the world. Then his face flushed, and his shoulders straightened a bit. 'And we're even helping a little to win the war,' he said, 'for these coils we are winding now are for some armatures to go in some big motors that are going to be used in making munitions. So you see, we are helping--a little.' Bless his heart! He didn't know how much he was helping every one, just by his big, brave courage.

"Well, Susan, all this gave me an idea, after what you said yesterday about Mr. Keith. And I wondered--why couldn't he wind coils, too? And maybe he'd get others to do it also. So I went to Mr. Sanborn, and he's perfectly willing to let us give it a trial. He's pleased and interested, and says he will furnish everything for the experiment, including a first-class engineer to superintend; only he can't spend any time over it himself, and we'll have to get somebody else to take charge and make arrangements, about the place, and the starting of it, and all that. And, Susan, now comes my second idea. Could we--do you suppose we could get Mr. Daniel Burton to take charge of it?"

"Oh, Miss Dorothy, if we only could!"

"It would be so fine for Mr. Keith, and for all the others. I've been hearing everywhere how wonderfully he got hold of John McGuire."

"He did, he did," cried Susan, "an' he was like a different man all the time he was doin' it. He hain't had no use for his paintin' lately, an' he's been so uneasy. I'm sure he'll do it, if you ask him."

"Good! Then I will. Is--is he at home to-day?"

"Yes, he's upstairs. I'll call him." Susan sprang to her feet with alacrity.

"But, Susan, just a minute!" Miss Dorothy had put out a detaining hand. "Is--is Mr. Keith here, too?"

"Yes, both of 'em. Keith is in the settin'-room an' I'll call his father down. 'T won't take but jest a minute." Susan was plainly chafing at the detaining hand.

"No, no, Susan!" Miss Dorothy, too, had sprung to her feet. "If--if Mr. Keith is here I'll wait. I want to see Mr. Daniel Burton first-- er--alone: to--to tell him about it, you know," she added hastily, as Susan began to frown her disappointment.

"But I don't see why," argued Susan, her disapproving eyes on the girl's flushed cheeks. "I should think you'd want to talk it up with both of 'em."

"Yes, yes, of course; but not--not at first," stammered Miss Dorothy, plainly growing more and more embarrassed as she tried to appear less so. "I would rather--er--that is, I think it would be better to ask Mr. Daniel Burton first, and then after we get it well started let him tell his son. So I'll come to-morrow in the morning--at ten. Mr. Keith is with Mr. John McGuire, then, isn't he? And over at his house? I heard he was."

"Yes, he is, most generally."

"Then I'll come then. If--if you'll tell Mr. Daniel Burton, please," hurried on Miss Dorothy, "and ask him to see me. And please, please keep it from Mr. Keith, Susan. Truly, I don't want him to know a thing about it till his father and I have--have got it all fixed up," she finished.

"But, Miss Dorothy, I know that Keith would want---"

"Susan!" With an imperiousness quite foreign to her usual manner, Miss Dorothy cut in sharply. "If you don't promise to speak only to Mr. Daniel Burton about this matter I shall not come at all."

"Oh, lan' sakes! Well, well, have it your own way," snapped Susan.

"You promise?"

"Yes, I promise." Susan's lips obeyed, but her eyes were still mutinous.

"Good! Thank you, Susan. Then I'll come to-morrow at ten," nodded Miss Dorothy, once again her smiling, gracious self, as she turned to leave the room.