Chapter XXXII. The Key
 

There was no work at the winding-room Saturday afternoons, and it was on Saturday afternoon that Susan found Keith sitting idle-handed in his chair by the window in the living-room.

As was her custom she spoke the moment she entered the room--but not before she had noted the listless attitude and wistful face of the youth over by the window.

"Keith, I've been thinkin'."

"Bad practice, Susan--sometimes," he laughed whimsically.

"Not this time."

"Poetry?"

She shook her head.

"No. I ain't poetizin' so much these days, though I did write one yesterday--about the ways of the world. I'm goin' to read it to you, too, by an' by. But that's jest a common poem about common, every-day folks. An' this thing I was thinkin' about was--was diff'rent."

"And so you couldn't put this into a poem--eh?"

Susan shook her head again and sighed.

"No. An' it's been that way lots o' times lately, 'specially since I seen John McGuire's poems--so fine an' bumtious! Oh, I have the perspiration to write, lots o' times, an' I yield up to it an' write. But somehow, when it's done, I hain't said a mite what I want to, an' I hain't said it the way I want to, either. I think maybe havin' so many of 'em disinclined by them editors has made me kinder fearsome."

"I'm afraid it has, Susan," he smiled.

"Now, this afternoon, what I was thinkin' about--once I'd've made a poem of that easy; but to-day I didn't even try. I knew I couldn't do it. An', say, Keith, it was you I was thinkin' about."

"Heavens, Susan! A poem out of me? No wonder your muse balked! I'm afraid you'd find even--er--perspiration wouldn't make a poem out of me."

"Keith, do you remember?" Susan was still earnest and preoccupied. "I told you once that it didn't make no diff'rence if God had closed the door of your eyes. He'd open up another room to you sometime, an' give you the key to unlock the door. An' he has. An' now you've got it-- that key."

"I've got it--the key!"

"Yes. It's that work down there--helpin' them blind men an' boys to get hold of their souls again. Oh, Keith, don't you see? An' it's such a big, wide room that God has given you, an' it's all yours. There ain't no one that can help them poor blind soldiers like you can. An' you couldn't 'a' done it if the door of your eyes hadn't been shut first. That was what give you the key to this big, beautiful room of helpin' our boys what's come back to us, blinded, an' half-crazed with despair an' discouragement. Oh, if I only could make you see it the way I do! But I can't say it--the right way. There's such a big, beautiful idea there, if only I could make you see it. That's why I wanted to write the poem."

"I can see it, Susan--without the poem." Keith was not smiling now. His face was turned away and his voice had grown a bit unsteady. "And I'm glad you showed it to me. It's going to help me a whole lot if--if I'll just keep remembering that key, I think."

Susan threw a quick look into Keith's averted face, then promptly she reached for the folded paper in her apron pocket.

There were times when Susan was wise beyond her station as to when the subject should be changed.

"An' now I'm goin' to read you the poem I did write," she announced briskly--"about every-day folks--diff'rent kinds of folks. Six of 'em. It shows that there ain't any one anywhere that's really satisfied with their lot, when you come right down to it, whether they've got eyes or not."

And she began to read:

    THE WAY OF THE WORLD

     A beggar girl on the curbstone sat,
     All ragged an' hungry-eyed.
     Across the street came Peggy McGee;
     The beggar girl saw an' sighed.

    "I wish'd I was rich--as rich as she,
     For she has got things to eat;
     An' clo's an' shoes, an' a place to live,
     An' she don't beg in the street."

     When Peggy McGee the corner turned,
     She climbed to her garret high
     From there she gazed through curtainless panes
     At hangin's of lace near by.

    "Ah, me!" sighed Peggy. "If I had those
     An' rugs like hers on the floor,
     It seems to me that I'd never ask
     For nothin' at all no more."

    .   .   .  .  .

     From out those curtains that selfsame day,
     Looked a face all sour an' thin.
    "I hate to live on this horrid street,
     In the children's yellin' din!

    "An' where's the good of my nice new things,
     When nobody'll see or know?
     I really think that I ought to be
     A-livin' in Rich Man's Row."

     A carriage came from "Rich Man's Row,"
     An' rumbled by to the park.
     A lady sat on the carriage seat;
    "Oh, dear," said she, "what an ark!

    "If only this coach could show some style,
     My clothes, so shabby, would pass.
     Now there's an auto quite my kind--
     But 'tisn't my own--alas!"

     The "auto" carried a millionaire,
     Whose brow was knotted an' stern.
    "A million is nowhere, now," thought he,
    "That's somethin' we all must learn.

    "It's millions many one has to have,
     To be in the swim at all.
     This tryin' to live when one is so poor
     Is really all folderol!"

    .  .  .  .  .

     A man of millions was just behind;
     The beggar was passin' by.
     Business at beggin' was good that day,
     An' the girl was eatin' pie.

     The rich man looked, an' he groaned aloud,
     An' swore with his gouty pain.
     "I'd give my millions, an' more beside,
     Could I eat like that again!"

"Now, ain't that jest like folks?" Susan demanded, as she finished the last verse.

Keith laughed.

"I suspect it is, Susan. And--and, by the way, I shouldn't wonder if this were quite the right time to show that I'm no different from other folks. You see, I, too,--er--am going to make a change--in living."

"A change in living! What do you mean?"

"Oh, not now--not quite yet. But you see I've been doing some thinking, too. I've been thinking that if father--that is, when father and Miss Parkman are married--that--"

But Susan interrupted with a groan.

"My sakes, Keith, have you seen it, too?"

Keith laughed embarrassedly.

"To be sure I have! You don't have to have eyes to see that, do you, Susan?"

"Oh, good lan', I don't know," frowned Susan irritably. "I didn't s'pose---"

She did not finish her sentence, and after a moment's silence Keith began again to speak.

"I've been talking a little to David Patch--the superintendent, you know. We're going to take the whole house where we are, for our work, pretty quick, and when we do, Patch and his wife will come there to live upstairs; and they'll take me to board. I asked them. Then I'll be right there handy all the time, you see, which will be a fine arrangement all around."

"A fine arrangement, indeed--with you 'way off down there, an' livin' with David Patch!"

"But, Susan," argued Keith, a bit wearily, "I couldn't be living here, you know."

"I should like to know why not."

"Because I--couldn't." He had grown very white now. "Besides, I--I think they would be happier without me here; and I know--I should be." His voice was low and almost indistinct, but Susan heard--and understood. "The very fact that once I--I thought--that I was foolish enough to think--But, of course, as soon as I remembered my blindness --And to tie a beautiful young girl down to--" He stopped short and pulled himself up. "Susan, are you still there?"

"I'm right here, Keith." Susan spoke constrainedly.

He gave an embarrassed laugh. A painful red had suffused his face.

"I'm afraid I got to talking--and forgetting that I wasn't--alone," he stumbled on hurriedly. "I--I meant to go on to say that I hoped they'd be very happy. Dad deserves it; and--and if they'd only hurry up and get it over with, it--it would be easier--for me. Not that it matters, of course. Dad has had an awful lot to put up with me already, as it is, you know--the trouble, the care, and the disappointment. You see, I--I was going to make up to him for all he had lost. I was going to be Jerry and Ned and myself, all in a bunch. And now to turn out to be nothing--and worse than nothing---"

"Keith Burton, you stop!" It was the old imperious Susan back again. "You stop right where you be. An' don't you never let me hear you say another word about your bein' a disappointment. Jerry an' Ned, indeed! I wonder if you think a dozen Jerrys an' Neds could do what you've done! An' no matter what they done, they couldn't have done a bigger, splendider thing than you've done in triumphating over your blindness the way you've done, nor one that would make your father prouder of you! An' let me tell you another thing, Keith Burton. No matter what you done--no matter how many big pictures you painted, or big books you wrote, or how much money you made for your dad; there ain't anything you could've done that would do him so much solid good as what you have done."

"Why, Susan, are you wild? I haven't done a thing, not a thing for dad."

"Yes, you have. You've done the biggest thing of all by needin' him."

"Needing him!"

"Yes. Keith Burton, look at your father now. Look at the splendid work he's doin'. You know as well as I do that he used to be a thoroughly insufficient, uncapacious man (though I wouldn't let anybody else say it!), putterin' over a mess of pictures that wouldn't sell for a nickel. An' that he used to run from anything an' everything that was unpropitious an' disagreeable, like he was bein' chased. Well, then you was took blind. An' what happened?

"You know what happened. He came right up an' toed the mark like a man an' a gentleman. An' he's toed it ever since. An' I can tell you that the pictures he's paintin' now with his tongue for them poor blind boys to see is bigger an' better than any pictures he could have painted with--with his pigmy paints if he worked on 'em for a thousand years. An' it's you that's done it for him, jest by needin' him. So there!"

And before Keith could so much as open his lips, Susan was gone, slamming the door behind her.