Chapter IX. Susan Speaks Her Mind
 

"How's Keith?"

It was Monday morning, and as usual Mrs. McGuire, seeing Susan in the clothes-yard, had come out, ostensibly to hang out her own clothes, in reality to visit with Susan while she was hanging out hers.

"About as usual." Susan snapped out the words and a pillow-case with equal vehemence.

"Is he up an' dressed?"

"I don't know. I hain't seen him this mornin'--but it's safe to say he ain't."

"But I thought he was well enough to be up an' dressed right along now."

"He is well enough--or, rather he was." Susan snapped open another pillow-case and hung it on the line with spiteful jabs of two clothespins.

"Why, Susan, is he worse? You didn't say he was any worse. You said he was about as usual."

"Well, so he is. That's about as usual. Look a-here, Mis' McGuire," flared Susan, turning with fierce suddenness, "wouldn't you be worse if you wasn't allowed to do as much as lift your own hand to your own head?"

"Why, Susan, what do you mean? What are you talkin' about?"

"I'm talkin' about Keith Burton an' Mis' Nettie Colebrook. I've got to talk about 'em to somebody. I'm that full I shall sunburst if I don't. She won't let him do a thing for himself--not a thing, that woman won't!"

"But how can he do anything for himself, with his poor sightless eyes?" demanded Mrs. McGuire. "I don't think I should complain, Susan Betts, because that poor boy's got somebody at last to take proper care of him."

"But it ain't takin' proper care of him, not to let him do things for himself," stormed Susan hotly. "How's he ever goin' to 'mount to anything--that's what I want to know--if he don't get a chance to begin to 'mount? All them fellers--them fellers that was blind an' wrote books an' give lecturin's an' made things--perfectly wonderful things with their hands--how much do you s'pose they would have done if they'd had a woman 'round who said, 'Here, let me do it; oh, you mustn't do that, Keithie, dear!' every time they lifted a hand to brush away a hair that was ticklin' their nose?"

"Oh, Susan!"

"Well, it's so. Look a-here, listen!" Susan dropped all pretense of work now, and came close to the fence. She was obviously very much in earnest. "That boy hain't been dressed but twice since that woman came a week ago. She won't let him dress himself alone an' now he don't want to be dressed. Says he's too tired. An' she says, 'Of course, you're too tired, Keithie, dear!' An' there he lies, day in an' day out, with his poor sightless eyes turned to the wall. He won't eat a thing hardly, except what I snuggle up when she's out airin' herself. He ain't keen on bein' fed with a spoon like a baby. No boy with any spunk would be."

"But can he feed himself?"

"Of course he can--if he gets a chance! But that ain't all. He don't want to be told all the time that he's different from other folks. He can't forget that he's blind, of course, but he wants you to act as if you forgot it. I know. I've seen him. But she don't forget it a minute--not a minute. She's always cryin' an' wringin' her hands, an' sighin', 'Oh, Keithie, Keithie, my poor boy, my poor blind boy!' till it's enough to make a saint say, 'Gosh!'"

"Well, that's only showin' sympathy, Susan," defended Mrs. McGuire. "I'm sure she ought not to be blamed for that."

"He don't want sympathy--or, if he does, he hadn't ought to have it."

"Why, Susan Betts, I'm ashamed of you--grudgin' that poor blind boy the comfort of a little sympathy! My John said yesterday--"

"'T ain't sympathy he needs. Sympathy's a nice, soft little paw that pats him to sleep. What he needs is a good sharp scratch that will make him get up an' do somethin'."

"Susan, how can you talk like that?"

"'Cause somebody's got to." Susan's voice was shaking now. Her hands were clenched so tightly on the fence pickets that the knuckles showed white with the strain. "Mis' McGuire, there's a chance, maybe, that that boy can see. There's somethin' they can do to his eyes, if he gets strong enough to have it done."

"Really? To see again?"

"Maybe. There's a chance. They ain't sure. But they can't even try till he gets well an' strong. An' how's he goin' to get well an' strong lyin' on that bed, face to the wall? That's what I want to know!"

"Hm-m, I see," nodded Mrs. McGuire soberly. Then, with a sidewise glance into Susan's face, she added: "But ain't that likely to cost-- some money?"

"Yes, 't is." Susan went back to her work abruptly. With stern efficiency she shook out a heavy sheet and hung it up. Stooping, she picked up another one. But she did not shake out this. With the same curious abruptness that had characterized her movements a few moments before, she dropped the sheet back into the basket and came close to the fence again. "Mis' McGuire, won't you please let me take a copy of them two women's magazines that you take? That is, they--they do print poetry, don't they?"

"Why, y-yes, Susan, I guess they do. Thinkin' of sendin' 'em some of yours?" The question was asked in a derision that was entirely lost on Susan.

"Yes, to get some money." It was the breathless, palpitating Susan that Daniel Burton had seen a week ago, and like Daniel Burton on that occasion, Mrs. McGuire went down now in defeat before it.

"To--to get some money?" she stammered.

"Yes--for Keith's eyes, you know," panted Susan. "An' when I sell these, I'm goin' to write more--lots more. Only I've got to find a place, first, of course, to sell 'em. An' I did send 'em off last week. But they was jest cheap magazines; an' they sent a letter all printed sayin' as how they regretted very much they couldn't accept 'em. Like enough they didn't have money enough to pay much for 'em, anyway; but of course they didn't say that right out in so many words. But, as I said, they wasn't anything but cheap magazines, anyway. That's why I want yours, jest to get the addressin's of, I mean. they're first-class magazines, an' they'll pay me a good price, I'm sure. They'll have to, to get 'em! Why, Mis' McGuire, I've got to have the money. There ain't nobody but me to get it. An' you don't s'pose we're goin' to let that boy stay blind all his life, do you, jest for the want of a little money?"

'"A little money'! It'll cost a lot of money, an' you know it, Susan Betts," cried Mrs. McGuire, stirred into sudden speech. "An' the idea of you tryin' to earn it writin' poetry. For that matter, the idea of your earnin' it, anyway, even if you took your wages."

"Oh, I'd take my wages in a minute, if--" Susan stopped short. Her face had grown suddenly red. "That is, I--I think I'd rather take the poetry money, anyway," she finished lamely.

But Mrs. McGuire was not to be so easily deceived.

"Poetry money, indeed!" she scoffed sternly. "Susan Betts, do you know what I believe? I believe you don't get any wages. I don't believe that man pays you a red cent from one week's end to the other. Now does he? You don't dare to answer!"

Susan drew herself up haughtily. But her face was still very red.

"Certainly I dare to answer, Mis' McGuire, but I don't care to. What Mr. Burton pays me discerns him an' me an' I don't care to discourse it in public. If you'll kindly lend me them magazines I asked you for a minute ago, I'll be very much obliged, an' I'll try to retaliate in the same way for you some time, if I have anything you want."

"Oh, good lan', Susan Betts, if you ain't the beat of 'em!" ejaculated Mrs. McGuire. "I'd like to shake you--though you don't deserve a shakin', I'll admit. You deserve--well, never mind. I'll get the magazines right away. That's the most I can do for you, I s'pose," she flung over her shoulder, as she hurried into the house.