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ANNA BALMER





r





THE MADONNA OF THE CURB



The Madonna of
the Curb



By

ANNA BALMER MYERS
Author of "Patchwork" and "Amanda



ILLUSTRATED BY

HELEN MASON GROSE










PHILADELPHIA
GEORGE W. JACOBS & COMPANY

PUBLISHERS



Copyright, 1922, by
GEORGE W. JACOBS & COMPANY



All rights reserved
Printed in U. S. A.



To

ANNA VERONICA FARRINGTON*

in memory of the days when we worked

together on Sunset Motintain

this book is dedicated



2137479



THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

On the curb of a city pavement,

By the ash and garbage cans,
In the stench and rolling thunder;

Of motor trucks and vans,
There sits my little lady,

With brave but troubled eyes,
And in her arms a baby

That cries and cries and cries.

She cannot be more than seven ;

But years go fast in the slums,
And hard on the pains of winter

The pitiless summer comes.
The wail of sickly children

She knows ; she understands
The pangs of puny bodies,

The clutch of small hot hands.

In the deadly blaze of August,

That turns men faint and mad,
She quiets the peevish urchins

By telling a dream she had
A heaven with marble counters,

And ice, and a singing fan ;
And a God in white, so friendly,

Just like the drug-store man.

Her ragged dress is deafer

Than the perfect robe of a queen !
Poor little lass, who knows not

The blessing of being clean.
And when you are giving millions

To Belgian, Pole and Serb,
Remember my pitiful lady

Madonna of the Curb !

CHRISTOPHER MORLEY.

(The Author acknowledges zvith thanks permission from Mr.
Morley and George Dor an & Co. to print this poem.)



Contents

L RED ROSE COURT 1 1

II. THE COUNTERFEITER . . . .25

III. SUNSET MOUNTAIN 39

IV. SARAH'S LESSON .... 56
V. LETTERS ....... 80

VI. AFTER Six YEARS MORE LETTERS . 95

VII. REVELATIONS OF SARAH'S FATHER . .114

VIII. LANCASTER COUNTY . . . .132

IX. FAIRVIEW'S RECEPTION . . . .152

X. IN THE CHERRY TREE . . . .165

XI. WORK AND PLAY 180

XII. LETTERS . 202

XIII. THE PRODIGAL 215

XIV. MOUNT GRETNA 231

XV. THE LOST COTTAGE .... 248

XVI. A DISCOVERY 263

XVII. COALS OF FIRE 274

XVIII. THE HEART OF A RECTOR . . .283
XIX. SUSPICION 288

XX. THE CARDINAL FLOWER . . . 295

XXL THE CLOUDS ROLLED AWAY . . . 305

XXII. CHRISTMAS EVE 315

XXIII. CHRISTMAS MORNING . . . .318

XXIV. THE GUEST 326

XXV. THE CIRCLE COMPLETE . . . '.331



Illustrations

The Madonna of the Curb .... Frontispiece
" I won't press mine," she said gaily . Facing page 256
" Who wrote this ?" ...." 306



The Madonna of the Curb



CHAPTER I

RED ROSE COURT

PERHAPS when the great manufacturing city of New
Jersey in which Red Rose Court was located was in its
infancy, before the tide of business and the spreading
factories had swallowed gardens and lawns; perchance
then, many years ago, there stood two or three cottages,
where in the early summer red roses climbed about the
porches or twined their rambling branches along old
fences, and gave to the street its perfume-suggesting
name. But upon the summer day of this story, Red Rose
Court was as dirty, crowded and ill-smelling a habitation
of human creatures as exists under God's blue sky.

Upon each side of the narrow street was a row of
dingy houses, beyond and against which tall factories
and tenements were built so closely that they formed a
rectangle about the place, leaving only one exit from the
Court.

This miserable exit, formed by a six-foot archway be-
tween two buildings, opened to a busy thoroughfare
where cars and trucks sped on their noisy way. In and
out through this alleyway passed those who lived in the
dozen houses of Red Rose Court.

The structures were tumble-down, unsightly, unsani-
tary hovels. Shutters hung upon one hinge, broken
panes of window glass were replaced by dirty rags. The



12 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB "*

1.

cobble-paved street was littered with a collection of
boxes, broken furniture, ash cans and garbage pails, the
latter spilling their malodorous contents, while from the
narrow gutter along one side a stream of nauseous gray
water spread, overflowing, and added its horror of damp
putridness to the foul stench that vitiated the air in all
directions.

On the side of the street where the shadows afforded
a slight relief from the intense heat a number of chil-
dren played. Like the houses they were filthy and ill-
kept. The oldest, a girl of eleven, sat on the curb and held
in her arms a baby, puny, whining and unmistakably ill.
The girl's face bent anxiously over the fretting child,
which she cradled more comfortably in her arm.

" Poor kid," the little mother murmured as she rocked
back and forth on the curb and crooned tenderly, " Poor
kid! It's darned tough on youse young ones in Red
Rose Court. Now if it was nice as the name sounds
you'd be next thing to heaven, but Red Rose Court is the
very hell of a hot hole on a day like this, ain't it, though !
Poor kid, now you shut up your cryin' and Sade'll fix a
fan to make you cool. Here, you Jakey, gimme that
there rag," she shouted to one of the small boys who
was rigging a sailboat from an old shoe and a dirty rag.

" Ach, Sade, I wants "

"D'you always get what you wants, eh? You heard
what I said gimme that rag."

She accompanied the words with a wild shake of her
head, a shake apparently suggestive of efficient punish-
ment waiting for him if he dared disobey. The boy, vis-
ibly intimidated, came nearer and held out the coveted
rag.

" Pig of a Dutchman ! " she said as she snatched the



RED ROSE COURT 13

object from fiis hands and turned to wave it before the
face of the gasping babe. Then she dipped the cloth into
the dirty water of the gutter and wiped the hot cheeks
and forehead of the baby.

"There, ain't that the ticket?" she said tenderly.
" Bet your life Sade can make you cool."

A feeble laugh from the sick child brought a loud one
from the little protectress as she lifted the baby -to a new
position on her lap. She began to speak to it as though
it were old enough to grasp the meaning of her words.
"You little angel, if you was mine I'd take you to the
country, I'd take all youse little kids o' Red Rose Court,
but 'specially you out to the country where the green
grass is growin' and wonderin' why there ain't no babies
to roll on it, and where the birds sing you to sleep, and
you could splash in a little brook like we read about in
school, with ferns and pebbles and forget-me-nots on the
banks, and where you could paddle your feet in water
that looks like silver. Then I'd put you in a bed all white
and cool, like them I see in the store windows, or like
them they had in the horspital I was to with your ma that
time your pa got hurt in the accident. And I'd have ice
in the room to keep it cool, and butterflies wavin' round
and f annin' you, and I'd have cold milk and ice-cream for
you go on with youse, I was talkin' to the baby," she
exclaimed to the other children who had drawn around
her as her fancy painted the heaven she'd make for the
baby if she could.

"Ah, Sade, have a heart," spoke up a girl scarcely
seven, yet old beyond her years in the language of the
slums. " We're a darned sight hotter'n that kid ! Give
her back to old lady Maloney, and take us to the park
for a walk."



I* THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

"Yeh, do, Sade," shouted the others and swarmed
around the girl on the curb. Sade looked down into the
hot face of the baby. " Ain't youse got no f eelin's ?
Don't you know her ma is workin' this week? I prom-
ised Mrs. Maloney I'd keep the kid. Shut up," she said
as the baby gave a pitiable little wail, " did you think
Sade'd go off and leave you in this hot hole ? " Her
words were rough but her voice was as tender as mother-
hood itself. " Poor kid, it's a tough deal they're handin'
you. But it'll be cool again some day, and while it's hot,
believe me, Sade's goin' to make you comfortable. Leave
it to Sade ! Come on, everybody that wants to go to the
park, we'll get the coach and take the baby."

A shout greeted her words ; the play in the dirty water
was willingly left at the prospect of a visit to the park.

One of the boys ran for the coach and the girl stood
up. She looked like a miserable, forlorn, but devoted
Madonna, in that dirty, notorious alley, ironically called
Red Rose Court.

Her full name was Sarah Burkhart, but the only place
she ever heard that version of it was at school. To her
father, stepmother and the people of Red Rose Court she
was Sade.

Her eleven years had brought her much premature
knowledge of the world and its wickedness. Sordidness
and squalor, with all their loathsome progeny, formed her
environment, and yet, was there not a possibility that the
same Nature that roots a lily in the mud and fashions a
pearl in a slimy bivalve might accomplish a like transfor-
mation for that child of the slums? Such a suggestion
would have been met by Sade with a sneering laugh, and
a disdainful answer, " Me grow like a lily ? Hot air !
Nothin' doin' ! " For she had long since learned to face



RED ROSE COURT 15

the truth without squirming and knew she was homely.
The cracked mirror in her home had shown her how
appropriate was the appellation her stepmother fre-
quently hurled at her, " You ugly brat."

She was far from beautiful ; her cheeks were too thin,
her mouth too large, her black hair habitually unkempt.
The only thing that redeemed her face from positive
ugliness was a pair of big gray eyes. They were lovely
and expressive when wide open, but she had a way of
half veiling them with her lashes, as though she were
peering into the very soul of things and people. It gave
her a shrewd, unlovely expression but added emphasis to
her dictates at such times when she chose to rule the other
children of the Court.

After the rickety coach was bumped over the cobble-
stones and into the street outside the archway Sarah laid
the baby on its worn cushions. " There now, off we go.
You're the only one's got an autermobile. You should
worry how far it is to the park! Sh," she shook her
tousled head as the child began to cry, " don't you cry
when you're off to heaven. All aboard ! " She wheeled
the carriage a few feet then stood still and faced one of
the little boys. " You, Jakey Schlotzberger, I got a big
notion to leave you home this time. Yesterday when I
took you past the candy factory you bawled 'cause you
couldn't have none."

"Ach, I won't cry this time," half wailed Jakey. " I
won't bawl at all, no matter what it happens, Sade, if you
just takes me with."

" Well," she relented, " I'll try you once more, but if
you cry this time you'll never go again till roses bloom
in Red Rose Court. Come on, kids. But mind, it's hot,
it's awful hot to walk."



16 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB,

" We don't care," they assured her ; and the little party
started off. In some sections of the city their departure
would have attracted attention, but in that thickly popu-
lated neighborhood no one took notice of the pleasure
seekers.

" Which park we goin' at ? " asked one.

" Might as well go to North Broqk; that's the test."

" Hooray, you're bully, Sade ! " the chorus of happy
voices and squeals of delight greeted her announcement.

" Aw, cut the noise and come on," she ordered.

Through the noisy business section the girl led her
party until they entered at length upon a long street lined
with great brownstone houses.

" Gee, it's quiet here," exclaimed Jakey. " Who lives
in them big houses ? "

" Rich guys."

" Where does they get all their money? "

" Make it. But shut up, you talk too much."

" Make it ? " repeated the irrepressible Jakey. " How
does they make it? Does they have a machine? I'm
goin' to make some too when I get big ; I'm goin' to have
a machine and make lots and "

A frightened look came into the girl's eyes and her face
paled. She turned quickly to the boy.

" Do you know any one makes money with a ma-
chine ? " she asked.

" Me ? Ach, no. But when I get big -

The color returned to Sarah's face. " Jakey," she said
fiercely, " don't you know that makin* money with ma-
chines is bad? If you get pinched at it it's jail for long."

Jakey shivered. "Ach, Sade, don't scare me like that.
I won't never make no money that ways if you gets sent
up for it. How much farder is it to that park?" he



RED ROSE COURT 17

asked, eager to change the conversation to a less terrify-
ing subject.

" Steen more miles," she told him. " Tired? "

" A little," he admitted.

"Aw, we ain't! That little Dutchman always gets
tired first."

They trudged on silently for a while. Then suddenly
one child cried, "I see it! There's the park! "

At the end of the long street the park lay cool and
green, and the children jumped in delight as they drew
near to it. Jakey ran ahead and seated himself under a
tree.

" Come on, it's fine here ! " he cried, turning a somer-
sault on the grass.

" Go on," Sarah scoffed. " Youse don't want to sit
near the street like that! When you go to a park go
right. Come on in." She led the way to a cooler spot
under an oak-tree.

" There now, kids," she said as she set the baby on the
grass, " ain't you swell, though ! "

" Say," asked one of the children, " wouldn't it be
grand if we had grass like this in Red Rose Court?
Think mebbe some'd grow if we planted it ? "

" Humph," was Sarah's response, " how could anything
grow in that place? The person named it after roses
must 'a' had bats in his belfry. But, say, now ain't you
havin' a swell time ? " she said, smiling as she watched
the children romp and skip, then roll on the grass. But
the baby held her deepest interest. She found green
leaves and put them into its puny hands, she invited it to
kick or creep on the cool ground, but it lay inertly in the
shade and looked up at her, a smile on its wizened face as
though it were longing to convey to her some idea of its



18 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

gratitude for the relief from the cruel heat of Red Rose
Court.

" Say, this beats heaven all hollow," Sarah told the
baby, " for pearly gates and golden streets like I heard
once are there ain't half as fine as grass and wind.
Mebbe there's a part o' heaven that's got a park, then it'd
be all right."

The section of the park in which the children played
was almost deserted at that hour. Occasionally faint
echoes of laughter and calls of other children floated to
the secluded shade of the oak tree, but the children of
Red Rose Court paid no attention to the sounds. Their
hungry little souls were given wholly to their play. But
suddenly Sarah held up a warning finger and ordered a
crisp, " Shut up ! " She held her head rigid in an atti-
tude of keen listening ; her eyes burned under her narrow-
ing lids. Then she rose. She had heard the cry of an
animal in pain and the derisive yell of a boy.

" Say," she told the children, " you kids stay right here,
and mind nothin' happens to the baby. Jakey and me's
goin' to walk up there a little ways. Youse stay right
here till we get back."

"All right," they promised.

Sarah, going in the direction from which the sounds
had come, approached a slight depression securely hedged
by trees and shrubbery. As she and Jakey came nearer
the whine of a puppy and the voice of a boy rose more
distinctly.

" Where was we goin' at ? " asked Jakey.

" To hunt trouble. Mind what I tell you, if there's a
fight you keep out o* it."

" Fight ? " Jakey cried in terror. "Ach, Sade, police-
mans gets you if you fight ! "



RED ROSE COURT 19

" Shut up, you baby, and come on ! "

Sarah tiptoed noiselessly to the little clump of bushes
and pushed the profuse vegetation aside.

" Let me see once," whispered Jakey in awe-filled
tones.

" Sh ! " cautioned Sarah, " you stay here while I show
that kid a few tricks."

Within the shelter of the dense shrubbery a boy stood
at the edge of a small lily pond. He held in one hand a
wriggling yellow pup, whose long shaggy hair was drip-
ping from a recent immersion in the water, while with the
other hand he waved a stick, and the frightened animal,
evidently acquainted with the sting of sticks, cowered and
whined.

" You little coward, afraid of water and a stick," the
boy addressed the dog.

" You big coward ! " cried Sarah as she took one big
stride and stood before the boy, a veritable volcano of
wrath and indignation.

" Who are you ? " he said, laughing at her ludicrous,
forlorn appearance.

" I'll show you ! " she retorted. Like a flash she struck
out a fist and hit him squarely on the jaw. The unex-
pectedness of the attack sent him reeling, but he quickly
regained his balance. He faced her angrily. " You
want to get pinched, you little shrew ? " he said. "An-
other punch like that from that match-stick of an arm
and I'll get the cop."

" Huh," she faced him defiantly, " guess he'd pinch
you first for hurtin' the dog. Don't you give me none o'
your hot air. You dirty thing, to hurt a puppy that can't
bite you back! Why don't you take a cat that can
scratch ? You put it down 1 "



20 THE MADONNA OF THE CURS

" I will not ! " he told her boldly. " Run along and sell
your papers, you ugly brat ; this is my party."

The last words choked in his throat. Sarah, seeing
that the culprit was obstinate, decided upon strenuous
measures. She remembered a trick she had once used to
rout a bully of Red Rose Court. With an agile spring
she leaped upon the boy's back ; in an instant her bare legs
were twisted around his chest and her thin arms doubled
about his throat so tightly that he found it difficult to
breathe. He tried to shake her off, but she clung with
the tenacity of a crab.

" Get off," he muttered thickly. " Can't you see

I can't let him fall. Get off and I'll give him to
you."

" Cross your heart," she demanded.

" Cross my heart," he agreed, almost choked.

Sarah loosened her hold and slid to the ground, while
he breathed deeply and rubbed his neck.

" Hand me that there dog. You ain't fit to have any-
thing alive."

He did as she bid him and she cuddled the frightened
animal in her arm. " Poor little brat," she said to it,

" that bad boy " She turned suddenly to the youth

and ordered, " You devil, better run while the running's
good. If I ever get my fist on your hide again I'll make
shoestrings out o' it! Better run or your ma'll have a
funeral to go to to-morrow ! Scat ! "

The boy had evidently no desire for further chastise-
ment from her, for he muttered sullenly and turned from
her, leaving the dog in her arms. Sarah fondled the
panting animal as he snuggled close to her, his wet fur
rubbing against her dress.

" Lucky me and Jakey come in time 'fore that bad boy



RED ROSE COURT 21

killed you. Jakey ! " She looked around but the boy
had gone. " Huh," she curled her lips, " he got scared."

As she drew near to the children a wild yell went up at
sight of the dog. " Oh, Sade, where'd you get him ? Is
he yourn ? Dare you keep him ? " Jakey peeped round
the trunk of a tree, his curiosity too strong to keep him
hidden.

" You're a fine body-guard," she told him sarcastically.

" Me, I ain't nothin' at all like that, Sade. I just got
scared when I seen there was goin' to be a fight and I
run back here to help mind the baby."

" Humph, need mindin' yourself."

Here the questions came again. "Is the pup yourn?
Goin' to keep him ? "

" He's mine, and I'm goin' to keep him or lose a leg ! "
was Sarah's assertion. " Come on, it's time we got to
the Court and them red roses." She made a grimace to-
ward the sky and went on, " Wonder what nut named the
place we live at. Like Mrs. Maloney says, ' If the fool
killer ever comes along that man better hide in the closet.'
Come on, kids."

So the little party with its new acquisition started
homeward. As they passed through the archway and
entered Red Rose Court a medley of shrieking siren
whistles broke upon their ears.

"Ach, supper ! " cried Jakey. " I just hopes we has
cabbage again ! "

One by one the children scattered, leaving Sarah alone
with the Maloney baby and the dog. She wheeled the
rickety coach as gently as possible over the rough way of
the Court.

" Poor kid," she said as she peered in at the child, " if
you ain't went to sleep in all that racket! Guess your



22 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

ma'll be glad, then she can get supper 'fore you wake up.

Poor kid " Something in the rigid position of the

child arrested her attention. She bent lower and lifted
one of the tiny hands ; it fell lifelessly back. Real terror
seized her then ; she shook the child tenderly and called,
" Baby, darlin', wake up and smile for Sade." But the
eager call met with no response; the child was beyond
call of human voice. Sarah snatched it from the coach
and ran into the Maloney house. " The baby," she
panted, " the baby's dead ! "

The mother's cry brought a crowd of curious residents
of the Court. Sarah had to tell over and over the story
of the trip to the park, how the baby had enjoyed the
cool shade and had even smiled its thanks, and how as she
wheeled it home she thought it was asleep. It was merely
an incident in the sordid life of Red Rose Court, but to
Sarah it was a tragedy. The little hands had clung to
her so confidingly, the face had looked up into hers with
so piteous a smile. How it had seemed to understand
when she told that fairy tale about the heaven she'd like
to take it to ! Was there such a heaven ? Was even then
the Maloney baby in a place where cool breezes swept
their healing over it ?

As she walked away from the squalid Maloney home
something the bereaved mother had said in her grief,
something about God knowing best, set Sarah pondering.
Mrs. Maloney was a devout Catholic, and many of her
sayings lingered in the mind of Sarah, who never heard
the name of God spoken in her own home except when
used in blasphemy. All Sarah Burkhart knew of matters
divine and supernatural was the meagre, visionary knowl-
edge she could cull from the few residents of Red Rose
Court who clung to their religion despite the low estate



RED ROSE COURT 23

to which they had descended. Was Mrs. Maloney right ;
did God know best? Was He kind when He took the
baby away? Just how He took it wasn't clear to the
girl. She knew it would be placed in a little box and
buried in the cemetery, for she had seen it happen many
times. How did God get it ? Perhaps at night when no
one could see, angels came and took it to heaven. She
could visualize the baby's smile when the angels woke it
and carried it off to heaven. But how she'd miss it, how
she missed it already ! Why, every day while Mrs. Ma-
loney was at work, she had kept the baby, loved it, carried
it around and tried to keep it happy. She knew how to
fill its bottle, and she had adored the way the little hands
had reached up for the milk. Now it was dead, and Mrs.
Maloney, although a widow with a number of other chil-
dren to care for, would be lonely without her baby. She
knew why it had died ; the heat of Red Rose Court was
too intense for it. Gee, it was a tough place for babies !
Why was so much grass in the park and front of some
persons' houses and not one stalk in Red Rose Court?
Why could some people live in the big cool houses they
passed on the way to the park and others had to live in
places like the one in which she lived? Why could lots
of babies be taken care of in fine homes and have com-
fortable beds and others, like the Maloney baby, had to
drag along or die in the death-ridden slums ?

*' God," she lifted her face and heart to the sky, the
narrow sky that looked down even above the Court
" God, I ain't sure where you are. I been to church with
Catholics and Jews and Pros'tants, and every one of them
thinks they got you in their place, but I heard the Salva-
tion Army guys sing and tell that you was everywhere, so
mebbe you ain't so far from Red Rose Court that you



24 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

can't hear me. If you can hear me, why I want to ask
you can't you fix some things a little better? The Ma-
loney baby just died because it couldn't live no longer in
Red Rose Court, for that's a hell of a hole dirty and
awful smelly but I guess I hadn't ought to talk to you
like this, only I don' know much about you and the proper
way to speak. I can't act the lady good, for I ain't never
been learned, but I guess you can understand what I
mean. Please try to make it a little nicer for some of the
poor babies like the one just died, so they needn't die
from being hot and not havin' what's right to eat. If
you do that, God, I'll say hurrah for you ! "



CHAPTER II

THE COUNTERFEITER


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