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- Dawn - 3/52 -
The old man shook his head.
"No, not much. I s'pose I ought to be thankful I was spared that."
The boy wet his dry lips and swallowed.
"But, Uncle Joe, 'most always, I guess, when--when folks are going to be blind, they--they DO ache, don't they?"
Again the old man stirred restlessly.
"I don't know. I only know about--myself."
"But--well, anyhow, it never comes till you're old--real old, does it?" Keith's voice vibrated with confidence this time.
"Old? I ain't so very old. I'm only seventy-five," bridled Harrington resentfully. "Besides anyhow, the doctor said age didn't have nothin' ter do with this kind of blindness. It comes ter young folks, real young folks, sometimes."
"Oh-h!" The boy wet his lips and swallowed again a bit convulsively. With eyes fearful and questioning he searched the old man's face. Twice he opened his mouth as if to speak; but each time he closed it again with the words left unsaid. Then, with a breathless rush, very much like desperation, he burst out:
"But it's always an awful long time comin', isn't it? Blindness is. It's years and years before it really gets here, isn't it?"
"Hm-m; well, I can't say. I can only speak for myself, Keith."
"Yes, sir, I know, sir; and that's what I wanted to ask--about you," plunged on Keith feverishly. "When did you notice it first, and what was it?"
The old man drew a long sigh.
"Why, I don't know as I can tell, exactly. 'T was quite a spell comin' on--I know that; and't wasn't much of anything at first. 'T was just that I couldn't see ter read clear an' distinct. It was all sort of blurred."
"Kind of run together?" Just above his breath Keith asked the question.
"Yes, that's it exactly. An' I thought somethin' ailed my glasses, an' so I got some new ones. An' I thought at first maybe it helped. But it didn't. Then it got so that't wa'n't only the printin' ter books an' papers that was blurred, but ev'rything a little ways off was in a fog, like, an' I couldn't see anything real clear an' distinct."
"Oh, but things--other things--don't look a mite foggy to me," cried the boy.
"'Course they don't! Why should they? They didn't to me--once," retorted the man impatiently. "But now--" Again he left a sentence unfinished.
"But how soon did--did you get--all blind, after that?" stammered the boy, breaking the long, uncomfortable silence that had followed the old man's unfinished sentence.
"Oh, five or six months--maybe more. I don't know exactly. I know it came, that's all. I guess if 't was you it wouldn't make no difference HOW it came, if it came, boy." "N-no, of course not," chattered Keith, springing suddenly to his feet. "But I guess it isn't coming to me--of course't isn't coming to me! Well, good-bye, Uncle Joe, I got to go now. Good-bye!"
He spoke fearlessly, blithely, and his chin was at a confident tilt. He even whistled as he walked down the hill. But in his heart--in his heart Keith knew that beside him that very minute stalked that shadowy, intangible creature that had dogged his footsteps ever since his fourteenth birthday-gift from his father; and he knew it now by name--The Great Terror.
Keith's chin was still high and his gaze still straight ahead when he reached the foot of Harrington Hill. Perhaps that explained why he did not see the two young misses on the fence by the side of the road until a derisively gleeful shout called his attention to their presence.
"Well, Keith Burton, I should like to know if you're blind!" challenged a merry voice.
The boy turned with a start so violent that the girls giggled again gleefully. "Dear, dear, did we scare him? We're so sorry!"
The boy flushed painfully. Keith did not like girls--that is, he SAID he did not like them. They made him conscious of his hands and feet, and stiffened his tongue so that it would not obey his will. The prettier the girls were, the more acute was his discomfiture. Particularly, therefore, did he dislike these two girls--they were the prettiest of the lot. They were Mazie Sanborn and her friend Dorothy Parkman.
Mazie was the daughter of the town's richest manufacturer, and Dorothy was her cousin from Chicago, who made such long visits to her Eastern relatives that it seemed sometimes almost as if she were as much of a Hinsdale girl as was Mazie herself.
To-day Mazie's blue eyes and Dorothy's brown ones were full of mischief.
"Well, why don't you say something? Why don't you apologize?" demanded Mazie.
'"Pol--pologize? What for?" In his embarrassed misery Keith resorted to bravado in voice and manner.
"Why, for passing us by in that impertinent fashion," returned Mazie loftily. "Do you think that is the way ladies should be treated?" (Mazie was thirteen and Dorothy fourteen.) "The idea!"
For a minute Keith stared helplessly, shifting from one foot to the other. Then, with an inarticulate grunt, he turned away.
But Mazie was not to be so easily thwarted. With a mere flit of her hand she tossed aside a score of years, and became instantly nothing more than a wheedling little girl coaxing a playmate.
"Aw, Keithie, don't get mad! I was only fooling. Say, tell me, HAVE you been up to Uncle Joe Harrington's?"
Because Mazie had caught his arm and now held it tightly, the boy perforce came to a stop.
"Well, what if I have?" he resorted to bravado again.
"And is he blind, honestly?" Mazie's voice became hushed and awestruck.
"Uh-huh." The boy nodded his head with elaborate unconcern, but he shifted his feet uneasily.
"And he can't see a thing--not a thing?" breathed Mazie.
"'Course he can't, if he's blind!" Keith showed irritation now, and pulled not too gently at the arm still held in Mazie's firm little fingers.
"Blind! Ugghh!" interposed Miss Dorothy, shuddering visibly. "Oh, how can you bear to look at him, Keith Burton? I couldn't!"
A sudden wave of red surged over the boy's face. The next instant it had receded, leaving only a white, strained terror.
"Well, he ain't to blame for it, if he is blind, is he?" chattered the boy, a bit incoherently. "If you're blind you're blind, and you can't help yourself." And with a jerk he freed himself from Mazie's grasp and hurried down the road toward home.
But when he reached the bend of the road he turned and looked back. The two girls had returned to their perch on the fence, and were deeply absorbed in something one of them held in her hand.
"And she said she couldn't bear--to look at 'em--if they were blind," he whispered. Then, wheeling about, he ran down the road as fast as he could. Nor did he stop till he had entered his own gate.
"Well, Keith Burton, I should like to know where you've been," cried the irate voice of Susan Betts from the doorway.
"Oh, just walking. Why?"
"Because I've been huntin' and huntin' for you.
But, oh, dear me, You're worse'n a flea, So what's the use of talkin'? You always say, As you did to-day, I've just been out a-walkin'!"
"But what did you want me for?"
"I didn't want you. Your pa wanted you. But, then, for that matter, he's always wantin' you. Any time, if you look at him real good an' hard enough to get his attention, he'll stare a minute, an' then say: 'Where's Keith?' An' when he gets to the other shore, I suppose he'll do it all the more."
"Oh, no, he won't--not if it's talking poetry. Father never talks poetry. What makes you talk it so much, Susan? Nobody else does."
Susan laughed good-humoredly.
"Lan' sakes, child, I don't know, only I jest can't help it. Why, everything inside of me jest swings along to a regular tune--kind of keeps time, like. It's always been so. Why, Keithie, boy, it's been my
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