Chapter XXXIII. And All on Account of Susan
 

Not one wink did Susan Betts sleep that night. To Susan her world was tumbling about her ears in one dizzy whirl of destruction.

Daniel Burton and Dorothy Parkman married and living there, and her beloved blind boy banished to a home with one David Patch? Unthinkable! And yet---

Well, if it had got to be, it had got to be, she supposed--the marriage. But they might at least be decent about it. As for keeping that poor blind boy harrowed up all the time and prolonging the agony --well, at least she could do something about that, thank goodness! And she would, too.

When there was anything that Susan could do--particularly in the line of righting a wrong--she lost no time in doing it. Within two days, therefore, she made her opportunity, and grasped it. A little peremptorily she informed Miss Dorothy Parkman that she would like to speak to her, please, in the kitchen. Then, tall, and cold, and very stern, she faced her.

"Of course, I understand, Miss Dorothy, I'm bustlin' in where I hain't no business to. An' I hain't no excuse to offer except my boy, Keith. It's for him I'm askin' you to do it."

"To do--what, Susan?" She had changed color slightly, as she asked the question.

"Not let it be seen so plain--the love-makin'."

"Seen! Love-making!" gasped the girl.

"Well, the talkin' to him, then, an' whisperin', an' consultin's, an' runnin' here every day, an'---"

"I beg your pardon, Susan," interrupted the girl incisively. She had grown very white. "I am tempted to make no sort of reply to such an absurd accusation; but I'm going to say, however, that you must be laboring under some mistake. I do not come here to see Mr. Keith Burton, and I've scarcely exchanged a dozen words with him for months."

"I'm talkin' about Mr. Daniel, not Keith, an'---"

"Mr. Daniel Burton!"

"Of course! Who else?" Susan was nettled now, and showed it. "I don't s'pose you'll deny runnin' here to see him, an' talkin' to him, an'--- "

"No, no, wait!--wait! Don't say any more, please!" The girl was half laughing, half crying, and her face was going from white to red and back to white again. "Am I to understand that I am actually being accused of--of running after Mr. Daniel Burton?--of--of love-making toward him?" she choked incoherently.

"Why, y-yes; that is--er---"

"Oh, this is too much, too much! First Keith, and now--" She broke off hysterically. "To think that--Oh, Susan, how could you, how could you!" And this time she dropped into a chair and covered her face with her hands. But she was laughing. Very plainly she was laughing.

Susan frowned, stared, and frowned again.

"Then you ain't in love with--" Suddenly her face cleared, and broke into a broad smile. "Well, my lan', if that ain't the best joke ever! Of course, you ain't in love with him! I don't believe I ever more 'n half believed it, anyway. Now it'll be dead easy, an' all right, too."

"But--but what does it all mean?" stammered the girl.

"Why, it's jest that--that everybody thought you was after him, an't would be a match--you bein' together so much. But even then I wouldn't have said a thing if it hadn't been for Keith."

"Keith!"

"Yes--poor boy, he--an' it was hard for him, seein' you two together like this, an' thinkin' you cared for each other. An' he'd got his plans all made how when you was married he'd go an' live with David Patch."

"David Patch! But--why?"

"Why, don't you see? 'T wouldn't be very easy to see you married to another man, would it?--an' lovin' you all the time hisself, an'--"

"Loving me!"

"That's what I said." Susan's lips came sharply together and her keen eyes swept the girl's face.

"But, I--I think you must be mistaken--again," faltered the girl, growing rosy.

"I ain't. I've always suspicioned it, an' now I know it."

"But, he--he's acted as if he didn't care for me at all--as if he hated me."

"That's because he cared so much."

"Nonsense, Susan!"

"'T ain't nonsense. It's sense. As I told you, I've always suspicioned it, an' last Saturday, when I heard him talk, I knew. He as good as owned it up, anyhow."

"But why didn't he--he tell me?" stammered the girl, growing still more rosy.

"Because he was blind."

"As if I'd minded---" She stopped abruptly and turned away her face.

Susan drew a resolute breath and squared her shoulders.

"Then why don't you do somethin'?" she demanded.

"Do something?"

"Yes, to--to show him that you don't mind."

"Oh, Susan, I--I couldn't do--that."

"All right. Settle back, then, an' do nothin'; an' he'll settle back an' do nothin', an' there'll be a pretty pair of you, eatin' your hearts out with love for each other, an' passin' each other by with converted faces an' highbrow chins; an' all because you're afraid of offendin' Mis' Grundy, who don't care no more about you than two sticks. But I s'pose you'd both rather be miserable than brace up an' defy the properties an' live long an' be happy ever after."

"But if I could be sure he--cared," spoke the girl, in a faint little voice.

"You would have been, if you'd seen him Saturday, as I did."

"And if---"

"If--if--if!" interrupted Susan impatiently. "An' there that poor blind boy sets an' thinks an' thinks an' thinks, an' longs for some one that loves him to smooth his pillow an' rumple his hair, an'---"

"Susan, I'm going to do it. I'm going to do it!" vowed the girl, springing to her feet, her eyes like stars, her cheeks like twin roses.

"Do what?" demanded Susan.

"I don't know. But, I'm going to do something. Anyhow, whatever I do I know I'm going to--to defy the 'properties,'" she babbled deliriously, as she hurried from the room, looking very much as if she were trying to hide from herself.

Four days later, Keith, in his favorite chair, sat on the south piazza. It was an April day, but it was like June, and the window behind him was wide open into the living-room. He did not hear Dorothy Parkman's light step up the walk. He did not know that she had paused at sight of him sitting there, and had put her hand to her throat, and then that she had almost run, light-footed, into the house, again very much as if she were trying to run away from herself. But he did hear her voice two minutes later, speaking just inside the window.

At the first sentence he tried to rise, then with a despairing gesture as if realizing that flight would be worse than to remain where he was, he sat back in his chair. And this is what he heard Dorothy Parkman say:

"No, no, Mr. Burton, please--I--I can't marry you. You'll have to understand. No--don't speak, don't say anything, please. There's nothing you could say that--that would make a bit of difference. It's just that I--I don't love you and I do--love somebody else--Keith, your son--yes, you have guessed it. Oh, yes, I know we don't seem to be much to each other, now. But--but whether we ever are, or not, there can't ever be--any one else. And I think--he cares. It's just that--that his pride won't let him speak. As if his dear eyes didn't make me love him--

"But I mustn't say all this--to you. It's just that--that I wanted you to surely--understand. And--and I must go, now. I--must--go!"

And she went. She went hurriedly, a little noisily. She shut one door, and another; then, out on the piazza, she came face to face with Keith Burton.

"Dorothy, oh, Dorothy--I heard!"

And then it was well, indeed, that the Japanese screen on the front piazza was down, for Keith stood with his arms outstretched, and Dorothy, with an ineffably contented little indrawn breath, walked straight into them. And with that light on his face, she would have walked into them had he been standing in the middle of the sidewalk outside.

To Dorothy at that moment nobody in all the world counted for a feather's weight except the man who was holding her close, with his lips to hers.

Later, a little later, when they sat side by side on the piazza settee, and when coherence and logic had become attributes to their conversation, Keith sighed, with a little catch in his voice:

"The only thing I regret about this--all this--the only thing that makes me feel cheap and mean, is that I've won where dad lost out. Poor old dad!"

There was the briefest of pauses, then a small, subdued voice said:

"I--I suspect, Keith, confession is good for the soul."

"Well?" he demanded in evident mystification.

"Anyhow, I--I'll have to do it. Your father wasn't there at all."

"But I heard you speaking to him, my dear."

She shook her head, and stole a look into his face, then caught her breath with a little choking sob of heartache because he could not see the love she knew was in her eyes. But the heartache only nerved her to say the words that almost refused to come. "He--he wasn't there," she repeated, fencing for time.

"But who was there? I heard you call him by name, 'Mr. Burton,' clearly, distinctly. I know I did."

"But--but he wasn't there. Nobody was there. I--I was just talking to myself."

"You mean--practicing what you were going to say?" questioned Keith doubtfully. "And that--that he doesn't know yet that you are going to refuse him?"

"N-no--er--well, yes. That is, I mean, it's true. He--he doesn't know I am going to refuse him." There was a hint of smothered laughter in the girl's voice.

"Dorothy!" The arm about her waist perceptibly loosened and almost fell away. "Why, I don't feel now that--that you half belong to me, yet. And--and think of poor dad!"

The girl caught her breath and stole another look into his face.

"But, Keith, you--you don't understand. He--he hasn't proposed to me yet. That is, I mean," she amended hastily, "he--he isn't going to propose to me--ever."

"But he was. He--cares. And now he'll have to know about--us."

"But he wasn't--he doesn't. You don't understand, Keith. He--he never thought of--of proposing to me. I know he didn't."

"Then why--what--Dorothy, what do you mean by all this?"

"Why, it's just that--that is--I--oh, Keith, Keith, why will you make me tell you?" she cried between hysterical little laughs and sobs. "And yet--I'd have to tell you, of course. I--I knew you were there on the porch, and--and I knew you'd hear--what I said. And so, to make you understand--oh, Keith, it was awful, but I--I pretended that---"

"You--darling!" breathed an impassioned voice in her ear. "Oh, how I love you, love you--for that!"

"Oh, but, Keith, it really was awful of me," she cried, blushing and laughing, as she emerged from his embrace. "Susan told me to defy the 'properties' and--and I did it."

"Susan!"

She nodded.

"That's how I knew--for sure--that you cared."

"And so I owe it all--even my--er--proposal of marriage, to Susan," he bantered mischievously.

"Keith, I did not--er--it was not a proposal of marriage."

"No? But you're going to marry me, aren't you?"

Her chin came up.

"I--I shall wait till I'm asked," she retorted with dignity.

"Hm-m; well, I reckon it's safe to say you'll be asked. And so I owe it all to Susan. Well, it isn't the first good thing I've owed to her --bless her heart! And she's equal to 'most anything. But I'll wager, in this case, that even Susan had some stunt to perform. How did she do it?"

"She told me that you--you thought your father and I cared for each other, and that--that you cared for me; but that you were very brave and were going to go away, and--leave us to our happiness. Then, when she found there was nothing to the other part of it, and that I--I cared for you, she--well, I don't know how she did it, but she said-- well, I did it. That's all."

Keith chuckled.

"Exactly! You couldn't have described it better. We've always done what Susan wanted us to, and we never could tell why. We--we just did it. That's all. And, oh, I'm so glad you did this, little girl, so glad!"

"Yes, but---" She drew away from him a little, and her voice became severely accusing. "Keith Burton, you--you should have done it yourself, and you know it."

He shook his head.

"I couldn't." A swift shadow fell like a cloud over his countenance. "Darling, even now--Dorothy, do you fully realize what you are doing? All your life to be tied---"

"Hush!" Her finger was on his lips only to be kissed till she took it away. "I won't let you talk like that a minute--not a single minute! But, Keith, there is something I want you to say." Her voice was half pleading, half whimsical. Her eyes, through her tears, were studying his face, turned partly away from her. "Confession is good for the soul."

"Well? Anything more?" He smiled faintly.

"Yes; only this time it's you. You've got to do it."

"I?"

"Yes." Her voice rang with firm decision. "Keith, I want to know why-- why all this time you've acted so--so that I had to find out through Susan that you--cared. And I want to know--when you stopped hating me. And---"

"Dorothy--I never, never hated you!" cut in the man passionately.

"But you acted as if you did. Why, you--you wouldn't let me come near you, and you were so--angry with me."

"Yes, I--know." The man fell back in his chair and was silent.

There was a long minute of waiting.

"Keith."

"Yes, dear."

"I confessed mine, and yours can't be any harder than--mine was."

Still he hesitated; then, with a long breath he began to speak.

"Dorothy, it--it's just that I've had so much to fight. And--it hasn't been easy. But, listen, dear. I think I've loved you from away back in the days when you wore your hair in two thick pigtails down your back. You know I was only fourteen when--when the shadows began to come. One day, away back then, I saw you shudder once at--blindness. We were talking about old Joe Harrington. And I never forgot it."

"But it was only because I pitied him."

"Yes; but I thought then that it was more aversion. You said you couldn't bear to look at them. And you see I feared, even then, that I was going to be like old Joe some time."

"Oh, Keith!"

"Well, it came. I was like old Joe--blind. And I knew that I was the object of curiosity and pity, and, I believed, aversion, wherever I went. And, oh, I so hated it! I didn't want to be stared at, and pointed out, and pitied. I didn't want to be different. And above all I didn't want to know that you were turning away from me in aversion and disgust."

"Oh, Keith, Keith, as if I ever could!" faltered the girl.

"I thought you could--and would. I used to picture you all in the dark, as I used to see you with your bright eyes and pretty hair, and I could see the look on your face as you turned away shuddering. That's when I determined at all costs to keep out of your sight--until I should be well again. I was going to be well, of course, then, you know. Well, in time I went West, and on the way I met--Miss Stewart."

"Yes." Dorothy's voice was not quite steady.

"I liked Miss Stewart. She was wonderfully good to me. At first--at the very first--she gave me quite a start. Her voice sounded so much like--Dorothy Parkman's. But very soon I forgot that, and just gave myself up to the enjoyment of her companionship. I wasn't afraid with her--that her eyes were turned away in aversion and disgust. Some way, I just knew that she wasn't like--Dorothy Parkman. You see, I hadn't forgotten Dorothy. Some day I was going back to her--seeing.

"Well, you know what happened--the operations, the specialists, the years of waiting, the trip to London, then home, hopelessly blind. It was not easy then, Dorothy, but--I tried to be a man. Most of all I felt for--dad. He'd had so many hopes--But, never mind; and, anyhow, what Susan said the other day helped--But this has nothing to do with you, dear. To go on: I gave you up then definitely. I know that all the while I'd been having you back in my mind, young as I was--that some day I was going to be big and strong and rich and have my eyes; and that then I was going to ask you to marry me. But when I got home, hopelessly blind, that ended it. I didn't believe you would have me, anyway; but even if you would, I wasn't going to give you the chance of always having to turn away in aversion and disgust from the sight of your husband."

"Oh, Keith, how could you!"

"I couldn't. But you see how I felt. Then, one day I heard Miss Stewart's voice in the hall, and, oh, how good it sounded to me! I think I must have caught her hand very much as the drowning man grasps at the straw. She would never turn away from me! With her I felt safe, happy, and at peace. I don't think I exactly understood my state of mind myself. I didn't think I was in love with her, yet with her I was happy, and I was never afraid.

"But I didn't have a chance long to question. Almost at once came the day when Mazie Sanborn ran up the steps and spoke--to you. And I knew. My whole world seemed tumbling to destruction in one blinding crash. You can never know, dear, how utterly dismayed and angry and helpless I felt. All that I knew was that for months and months I had let Dorothy Parkman read to me, play with me, and talk to me--that I had been eager to take all the time she would give me; when all the while she had been doing it out of pity, of course, and I could see just how she must have been shuddering and turning away her eyes all the long, long weeks she had been with me, at different times. But even more than that, if possible, was the chagrin and dismay with which I realized that all the while I had been cheated and deceived and made a fool of, because I was blind, and could not see. I had been tricked into putting myself in such a position."

"No, no! You didn't understand," protested the girl.

"Of course, I didn't understand, dear. Nobody who is blinded with rage and hurt pride can understand--anything, rightly."

"But you wouldn't let me explain afterwards."

"No, I didn't want you to explain. I was too sore, too deeply hurt, too--well, I couldn't. That's all. Besides, I didn't want you to know --how much I was caring about it all. So, a little later, when I did see you, I tried to toss it all off lightly, as of no consequence whatever."

"Well, you--succeeded," commented Dorothy dryly.

"I had to, you see. I had found out then how much I really did care. I knew then that somehow you and Miss Stewart were hopelessly mixed up in my heart, and that I loved you, and that the world without you was going to be one big desert of loneliness and longing. You see, it had not been so hard to give you up in imagination; but when it came to the real thing---"

"But, Keith, why--why did you insist that you must?"

"Do you think I'd ask you or anybody to tie yourself to a helpless creature who would probably finally end up on a street corner with a tin cup for pennies? Besides, in your case, I had not forgotten the shudders and the averted eyes. I still was so sure---

"Then John McGuire came home blind; and after a while I found I could help him. And, Dorothy, then is when I learned that--that perhaps you were as happy in doing things for me as I had been in doing them for John McGuire. I sort of forgot the shudders and the averted eyes then. Besides, along about that time we had got back to almost our old friendliness--the friendliness and companionship of Miss Stewart and me. Then the money came and I knew that at least I never should have to ask you to subsist on what the tin cup of pennies could bring! And I had almost begun to--to actually plan, when all of a sudden you stopped coming, right off short."

"But I--I went away," defended the girl, a little faintly.

"Not at once. You were here in town a long time after that. I knew because I used to hear about you. I was sure then that--that you had seen I was caring for you, and so you stayed away. Besides, it came back to me again--my old fear of your pity and aversion, of your eyes turned away. You see, always, dear, that's been a sort of obsession with me, I guess. I hate to feel that any one is looking at me-- watching me. To me it seems like spying on me because I--I can't look back. Yes, I know it's all very foolish and very silly; but we are all foolish and silly over something. It's because of that feeling that I --I so hate to enter a room and know that some one is there who won't speak--who tries to cheat me into thinking I am alone. I--I can't bear it, Dorothy. Just because I can't see them--"

"I know, I know," nodded the girl. "Well, in December you went away. Oh, I knew when you went. I knew a lot of things that you didn't know I knew. But I was trying all those days to put you quite out of my mind, and I busied myself with John McGuire and told myself that I was satisfied with my work; that I had put you entirely out of my life.

"Then you came back in February, and I knew I hadn't. I knew I loved you more than ever. Just at first, the very first, I thought you had come back to me. Then I saw--that it was dad. After that I tried--oh, you don't know how hard I tried--to kill that wicked love in my heart. Why, darling, nothing would have hired me to let you see it then. Let dad know that his loving you hurt me? Fail dad there, as I had failed him everywhere else? I guess not! This was something I could do. I could let him have you, and never, never let him know. So I buried myself in work and tried to--forget.

"Then to-day you came. At the first sound of your voice in there, when I realized what you were saying (to dad, I supposed), I started up and would have gone. Then I was afraid you would see me pass the window, and that it would be worse if I went than if I stayed. Besides, right away I heard words that made me so weak with joy and amazement that my knees bent under me and I had to sit down. And then--but you know the rest, dear."

"Yes, I know the rest; and I'll tell you, some time, why I--I stopped coming last fall."

"All right; but even that doesn't matter to me now; for now, in spite of my blind eyes, the way looks all rosy ahead. Why, dear, it's like the dawn---the dawn of a new day. And I used to so love the dawn! You don't know, but years ago, with dad, I'd go camping in the woods, and sometimes we'd stay all night on the mountain. I loved that, for in the morning we'd watch the sun come up and flood the world with light. And it seemed so wonderful, after the dark! And it's like that with me to-day, dear. It's my dawn--the dawn of a new day. And it's so wonderful--after the dark!"

"Oh, Keith, I'm so glad! And, listen, dear. It's not only dawn for you, but for all those blind boys down there that you are helping. You have opened their eyes to the dawn of their new day. Don't you see?"

Keith drew in his breath with a little catch.

"Have I? Do you think I have? Oh, I should like to think--that. I don't know, of course, about them. But I do know about myself. And I know it's the most wonderful dawn ever was for me. And I know that with your little hand in mine I'll walk fearlessly straight on, with my chin up. And now that I know dad doesn't care, and that he isn't going to be unhappy about my loving you and your loving me, I haven't even that to fear."

"And, oh, Keith, think, think what it would have been if--if I hadn't defied the 'properties,'" she faltered mistily.

"Dear old Susan--bless her heart! And that isn't all I owe her. Something she said the other day made me hope that maybe I hadn't even quite failed--dad. And I so wanted to make good--for dad!"

"And you've done it, Keith."

"But maybe he--he doesn't think so."

"But he does. He told me."

"He told you!"

"Yes--last night. He said that once he had great plans for you, great ambitions, but that he never dreamed he could be as proud of you as he is right now--what you had done for yourself, and what you were doing for those boys down there."

"Did dad say that?"

"Yes."

"And to think of my having that, and you, too!" breathed the man, his arm tightening about her.

THE END