The Test of the Heart

by Guie Leo Deliglio

[from The Silent Worker
vol. 34, no. 3, December 1921]

As Mrs. Ramsey came out of her daughter's room she was met by her son-in-law, Keith Kendell. "How is Gloria?" he asked in signs, and pointed to his wife's room. "She is doing finely," signed back Mrs. Ramsey, with the slowness of a hearing person unaccustomed to conversing with the deaf. "The doctor thinks she will soon be able to hear perfectly."

"For her sake I will be glad."

"It is wonderful to think she will have her chance in life again! I hope you understand what her hearing will mean to her."

The young man nodded. "I understand. She will, of course, desire to be with hearing people more. I will not keep her from them."

"I knew you would be sensible. If possible, I shall try to cut her entirely off from her former associates. She will have nothing in common with them now, and her social duties among the hearing will leave her no time to tolerate deaf companions."

A look of dismay passed over Keith's face. "I don't believe Gloria will want to give up all of her old friends."

Mrs. Ramsey's usually calm features became stern. She knew it would be hard to tell the young man what she had decided days ago to say to him. But now that her daughter's whole future was at stake, she would make it plain to Keith Kendell that was impossible for him to remain Gloria's husband.

"I have something very serious to talk over with you, and if you are sensible and really love my daughter, you will do as I desire.

You know Gloria's early history. When she was about thirteen she lost her hearing through sickness. This blow nearly killed me. I loved her dearly, and she was my sole comfort after my husband died. When I found there was very little hope of her recovering her hearing, I immediately had her taught lip-reading so she could understand me without the use of signs. I do now know when she first started to learn the signs, but I found out that she was an expert signer at sixteen. Although it grieved me deeply, I let her associate with the deaf. You also know I looked upon her marriage to you with disfavor, for I wanted her to marry a man who could support her in luxury. But she would not hear of giving you up, and as I thought she would always be deaf, I finally consented to let her marry a deaf man. I believe up to this time you have made her a good husband."

"I have tried to be good to her, for I love her." Keith wondered what Mrs. Ramsey had on her mind. Surely she wasn't trying to part Gloria from him. Why, Gloria was his wife!

"Gloria has her hearing back now," went on Mrs. Ramsey quickly. "We both know what a difference it will make to her. It has always been my wish for her to take her proper place in society, and now there is only one thing to interfere."

"What will interfere?" but Keith guessed without asking the question.

"To put it plainly, I think if Gloria is handicapped with a deaf husband her whole glorious future will be spoiled."

"I am sorry, but what can I do? I love Gloria and believe she loves me."

"Then if you love Gloria, why don't you prove it? Go away to some place for a year and let her get a divorce."

"A divorce! Gloria would not consent. It would be impossible."

"Gloria will consent. Do you think her love will last if she continues to live with you, a deaf-mute? Will she like to slave her life away in a little cottage when she can get far better things if she leaves you. Surely you cannot expect the utterly impossible. If Gloria went back to you it would be only from a sense of duty, not because she desires to live with you. If you love her, as you profess, you will let her get a divorce as soon as possible."

Keith bowed his head in his hands. Was she right? Would he be a handicap to Gloria's future? Would Gloria's love die if she continued to live with him, a deaf-mute?

Mrs. Ramsey looked on triumphantly. She knew she had won Keith with her plea. If she could win Gloria as easily, she knew she would be able to separate the young couple with each believing the other had grown tired of the matrimonial bond.

She was somewhat shocked at the careworn look that had come into Keith's face in the last few minutes. Still he was scarcely twenty-five, and boys of his age seldom carry a load of sorrow for long. Soon he would meet some nice deaf-mute girl, and all thoughts of Gloria would vanish. Gloria, too, would soon find another mate more fitted to her station in life. Mrs. Ramsey felt almost proud of the work she was accomplishing. She could even afford to be a little kind to the young man beside her.

"I know how you feel now, Keith," she patted him tenderly on the arm. "I am sorry I had to use such hard words to make you understand, but you know I am doing it for the best. You will not lose money by leaving your business for a year. I will provide sufficient funds for you to travel a year, and of course, Gloria will not ask for alimony."

The young man drew himself up sharply. "Thank you, no," he signed quickly. "I have all the money I need. You have already paid for Gloria's operation. I cannot ask more from you, and if possible I will repay you for it as soon as I can."

"No, no. It is right that I should pay for the operation. I refuse to allow you to refund that money. If you ever find yourself in need of funds, do not hesitate to let me know."

"I cannot take your money, Mrs. Ramsey." He glanced at the door of his wife's room. "Could I see her before I go?"

"I think it would be best for you not to disturb her. But if you must---"

"Perhaps you are right. It might make it harder." Keith picked up his had and overcoat. "Good-bye. I will leave town as soon as I can arrange things at the office. I will leave my address with the company, and you can call me if anything happens and I am needed."

*     *     *     *     *

Gloria Kendell sat in her invalid chair gazing out on the street. After two months she could hear almost perfectly, and the doctor had said her ear drums were almost entirely healed and she could soon dispense with her ear pieces she was now required to wear to modify the sound around her. In another week she would be able to go out and around, and her mother was often talking about the joys of attending the theatre and church, pleasures her deafness had caused her to miss so many years.

But Gloria was not in a happy frame of mind. Her hearing brought none of the joys she had anticipated. When deaf she had found a great deal of pleasure in the motion pictures, the deaf church service, and the frequent informal socials given by her deaf friends. Then, too, she had her husband and cozy little bungalow. She smiled wistfully as tender little memories flitted across her mind. It had been such fun to watch the vegetable garden grow. And how she loved to pour over the cook books trying to find a new way to use up the left over scraps and surprise Keith.

Keith? What was he doing now, she wondered. Why had he left her in such an abrupt fashion without a word? Was he angry because she let her mother persuade her into an operation that had succeeded. Of course, she had wanted it, for she could hear and could do more to influence hearing people to give the deaf a fair chance. But she had talked this over with Keith many times, and he always seemed pleased at the idea. Her mother had said something about a divorce, but there would be no divorce if she could help it. Why, she loved Keith with all her body and soul. She belonged to him!

For many days she had wondered why Keith had left her. Mrs. Ramsey had been very vague in her explanation. She subtly hinted that Keith had not wanted a hearing wife who would outshine him and make his defect conspicuous. Besides he had sensibly realized he would handicap her future and left her rather than find himself in the way.

Gloria could scarcely believe this of Keith. It was not like him to go off without explanation to her. He had either misunderstood her, or had been influenced by her mother to leave her so she could obtain a divorce. But her mother would not have done such an underhanded thing. She knew how much they thought of each other, and what mother would wish to wreck such a perfect marriage as theirs had been?

"What is my little daughter thinking about now?" asked Mrs. Ramsey, coming over to her daughter's side. "I hope you are looking forward to the future good times I have planned for you, my dear."

Gloria sighed. What good would theatres and concerts do her without Keith to sit beside her and hold her hand as he did in the old days at the movies. "I was not thinking of the things you planned, mother. I was trying to think of the reason Keith left me."

"My dear child, don't trouble your head over Keith. No one knows why a man leaves his wife. Probably a fairer maiden."

"Probably you told him I should be better off without him," interrupted Gloria, angered at her mother's levity.

"Who told you? Has he--?" Mrs. Ramsey stopped short, realizing she was betraying herself.

"Then that was it Mother!" The anger in Gloria's voice startled Mrs. Ramsey. She had never seen her daughter in such a mood before. "You sent Keith away by making him believe I would not love him if I could hear. You lied to him, you know it! You thought my hearing would make a difference. You are mistaken. I love Keith all the more, now that I know what a sacrifice he would make for me. What a test for my poor Keith. But I am not going to hear, Mother. I am going to take out these ear pieces and let the noise come it. The doctor said it would break the ear drums, and if it does I won't be too good for Keith, and you won't care to keep me if I can't hear."

"Gloria! Gloria! You mustn't do that. Think of what it will mean. Think of the years ahead of you. For my sake, Gloria, you mustn't take them out. Keith would say the same. I'll let you go back to him if you will only leave the ear pieces in and try to keep your hearing!" But her words were too late. Gloria had already plucked out the small rubber ear pieces the doctor had placed in her ears after the operation. Suddenly the world seemed to have broken loose. The cool air rushed into her delicate ears, and her mother's voice resounded in shrill blasts. Mercifully the world seemed to grow dark, and she fell forward in her chair unconscious.

*     *     *     *     *

Some weeks later a pale-faced girl descended from the train at the small village of Sheridianville. Inquiring her way of the villagers, she soon found herself in front of a large factory.

"Does Mr. Keith Kendell, a deaf-mute, work here?" She inquired of the doorman.

"Yes, ma'am. He's one of the new book-keepers in the office. Shall I tell him you want to see him?"

"Yes, please. Tell him his wife, Gloria Kendell, wishes to see him on important matters. It's so near six o'clock, don't you think he could leave now?"

"I guess so, ma'am. Stay here until I see."

"Mr. Kendell said to ask you to go in. He's all alone there and isn't quite finished," said the man on his return.

Gloria was surprised at the change in Keith as she entered the small office room. He was much thinner than when she had last seen him, and his face was haggard and aged. Impulsively she ran to him and threw her arms around his neck. It needed no signs to show how glad she was to see him.

"How thin you are!" she signed. "Have you been ill?"

"No; only working, and anxious, about you."

"Now I shall make you fat again. You will starve yourself if I am not around to look after you."

"Your mother? Did she not tell you I left you so you could get your divorce?"

"Silly! Why should I want a divorce from the nicest man in the world. I will not let you off that easy. I am going to live with you from now on. Do you think I could be happy without you?"

"But you do not realize what a handicap I will be to you. You must take your rightful place in the world now."

"I am sorry, but I can't."

"Because I should hinder you."

Gloria laughed. "No. Only because I can't hear any more!"

"What! The operation failed?" a look of happiness flashed over Keith's face a moment, but almost at once it gave place to a look of deep concern.

"The operation succeeded, but when I heard what my mother had said to you about me, I was so angry I tore out the ear pieces and let my ear drums break." And she told Keith what had occurred between her mother and herself a few weeks before.

"I couldn't help it, Keith," she finished. "I never could have enjoyed my hearing without you, and you would always have thought yourself in my way if I had come back to you as I was. Now there is no barrier between us, and we can begin again where we left off before that horrid operation spoiled it all. You do love me just as well now, don't you?"

Keith looked down at her, realizing all at once what a wonderful girl his wife was to sacrifice her hearing to keep on though live with him.

"What courage you had to do this!" his signs were reverent. "May my love be big enough to justify it all."

She smiled and shook her head. Putting her arms around his neck, she looked up into his face and spoke.

Though a poor lip-reader, Keith knew what she said. It was:

"Not courage, dear, just love."