Anna Balmer Myers.

The madonna of the curb online

. (page 11 of 22)
Online LibraryAnna Balmer MyersThe madonna of the curb → online text (page 11 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


them you aren't poison. You take the pocketbook and
go to the store at the corner for some sugar."

She did as she was bid, but there was none of her



FAIRVIEW'S RECEPTION 163

wonted springing lightness in her steps as she started up
the tree-shaded street. Was Aunt Sybilla right in her
conjecture? Would the young people of the town ignore
her because of what had happened in past years? She
had been an innocent victim of circumstances, but she
knew that did not always prevent injustice. Perhaps
Aunt Sybilla was soured ; what could she know about the
hearts of youth ! But even as her hopelessness gave way
to brighter things her attention was arrested by the sound
of her name. The next moment she became an unwilling
listener to two girls loitering inside a half-opened door-
way " That dreadful Burkhart girl ! Imagine Mary
Becker saying she is going to call on her and try to get
her in our crowd ! We all told Mary we'd cut her dead
if she dared to do it. Of course that girl is good looking
with wonderful eyes and black hair but who wants to
associate with her ? Mrs. Roth says "

What Mrs. Roth had said Sarah could supply from
her imagination. She went to the store, her brain saying
over and over like a worn-out song, " Why did I come
here ? They don't want me, they don't want me ! "

At the store a smile came her way and she was grate-
ful for it as a starving child for bread. It came from a
little old woman, who spoke atrocious English, but it
warmed the heart of the girl.

" How you like Fairview by now ? Pretty good, ain't ?
It is a nice place when you are acquainted around once.
How are the old girls to-day, pretty good? Fine girls,
they are fine girls ! Here are a few peppermints. I like
them still for when I don't feel so right. Mebbe you
like them?"

Sarah accepted the offering in the same spirit in which
she knew it was bestowed and some of the weight of



her heart rolled away as she returned to her home. But
the burden was too great to be cast off with her cus-
tomary Irish cheerfulness. Her heart was suddenly ach-
ing as it had not done for years. All the pent up desires
for home and family love, denied through the formative
years of her life, and thus intensified into an obsession,
struggled within her. To be an outcast after all, to have
the girls continue passing her, gay, laughing groups, to
be shut from pleasures and lose her place at the very
moment when it seemed she was coming into her own
it was too much for the girl and she ran from the house
to find some place where she could cry out all her pain
and grief.



CHAPTER X

IN THE CHERRY TREE

IN the big lot to the rear of the Burkhart house stood
half a dozen cherry trees. Sarah had exclaimed at their
mass of blossoms and several times had climbed into one
to get closer to their beauty. It was there she ran that
hour of her travail. She swung up on a low branch,
white as a bridal bower in its mass of flowers, then
climbed farther into the white loveliness and buried her
face in the cherry blossoms and cried. Great sobs shook
her, her breath came in gasping, choking efforts. When
the worst agony was over a dull pain still held her.

" I don't care," she said aloud, " it isn't fair ! Even if
I am a reformatory girl and the daughter of a criminal
I can be all right. How does any one of these people in
Fairview know that I am not fit to associate with them?
It isn't fair ! Miss Hughes didn't think I was so dreadful
a creature why didn't I stay with her? Here they
think I'm bad, bad "

" Who is this that's bad ? " a strange voice asked and
startled the girl so that she almost fell out of the cherry
tree. She looked about. Just over the fence in the ad-
joining lot stood a young man looking up at her. Then
she remembered that Aunt Mary had told her the rector
of St. Paul's Episcopal Church lived in the house next
door. But surely this young man was too ridiculously
young to be rector of a church ! Some visitor probably,
and an inquisitive one! He had heard /her cry! Of



166 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

course it would be her luck to have some person see and
hear her when she made a baby of herself !

" Who are you ? " she demanded crossly.

At that the young man jumped over the low fence and
stood under the tree in which she was perched.

" Who are you ? " he retaliated.

She looked at him and found him to be a comely crea-
ture, clean, smiling, with kind eyes. Her first impulse
to send him away died.

" Who am I ? " she said. " A dreadful person ! A
regular ogress! 'Better go away from me before you
become contaminated."

" As bad as all that?" he asked, his eyes smiling ref-
utation of her words. He had nice eyes, she decided,
brown, but it was not the color, rather the warm glow in
them that held her attention. Could one lie to eyes like
that?

" Yes," she said, suddenly finding the stranger trust-
worthy, " the people of Fairview think I'm that and
worse ! Guess you heard that Jeremiah's granddaughter
came to his house and that her father is in jail and she
has been in a reformatory for six years could anything
be worse ? "

" Well, I don't know that does sound pretty bad, but
then things are not what they seem "

" Longfellow said that."

" He did you know that? Who are you to be up in
Jeremiah's cherry tree and knowing poetry? You said
something about his granddaughter are you that? I
didn't know there was such a person. You see I have
been out of town for a week and haven't heard the news
yet."

" Then if you like gossip you have a wonderful treat



IN THE CHERRY TREE 167

in store for you ! Everybody knows about me, Jeremiah
Burkhart's granddaughter."

" I didn't know there was such a person."

" Neither did he until last week. I dropped from the
skies, and I'm thinking it was his unlucky day."

" But why all the the

"The tears?" she helped him. Of course he had
heard her cry ! " Oh, I'm sore because I don't fit here
and I did so want to."

" What's to hinder ? Isn't there lots of room in that
big house and can't you be a help and comfort to old
Jeremiah and his daughters ? "

" Comfort ! " The girl's clear, rippling laughter rang
out and at the sound he started. He had never heard so
gay, unaffected a laugh. It was infectious and he heard
his own deeper one join it. " Oh, but you're funny ! "
she told him. " Comfort ! About as much comfort as
sleeping on a bed of tacks, points up, that's what ! No,
whoever you are, kind sir, I tell you I'm not in the
right place. Somewhere I read a poem once that began
like this, ' He drew a circle that shut me out, heretic,
rebel, a thing to flout ' I don't know the rest, but I
guess that suits me. They think I'm a rebel, heretic and
most everything I shouldn't be." A sarcastic note crept
into her voice. " The good people of this town are afraid
I'll spoil their dear, sweet, lovely sons and daughters and
that is why I sit alone in a cherry tree, or work with old-
maid aunts, or look at the chickens while the other girls
laugh and have a good time. Oh, I'm hurt and mad
go on with you and leave me alone ! I want to cry ! "

" No you don't. You want to come down from that
tree and talk to me."

" With you? I don't ! " she said decidedly.



168 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

" Please," his voice was coaxing and gentle, " do let's
get acquainted."

Sarah pursed her lips, pondered a moment, then smiled
down at him and started to climb from the tree.

" See, I'm part Irish and when you are kind and good
to me I'm just like putty." She gave one leap and stood
before him. " Who are you ? "

" One who is interested in you and wants to help you."

" Oh, then you are the rector ! " She spoke as though
it were an accusation.

His face flushed at her tone. " Is that so dreadful ? *'
he asked.

" I don't know. I never saw a live rector except in
church. Never had one climb over the fence and talk to
me while I was up in a cherry tree. But all the preachers
I ever heard of want to uplift you and help you no
matter whether you want to be helped or not. I hope
you're not that kind for I have to live next door to you
as long as I stay in Fairview. I'm not looking for good
advice, either, for I have enough of that bottled up in
my brain to keep a regiment of incorrigibles going for
years. Why the I was going to say dickens but I re-
membered in time why the Sam Hill doesn't some one
tell you preachers that if you'd treat us like human be-
ings instead of wooden things to be shaved off here and
pared down there to fit your mould you'd have an easier
time to reform us ! "

"You think we fail?"

" I don't think, I know you do, too often. Every one
of the people of Fairview who thinks I'm too bad to
associate with their children would be willing to dig
after money in their pockets and give to the heathen or
any other good purpose, but the heathen in their midst



IN THE CHERRY TREE 169

is too much for them. Lordy, I wish they'd seen me six
years ago ! " The thought of the ragged little girl who
left Red Rose Court sent her into laughter. The rector
had again the feeling of being refreshed by the clarity
and sincerity of that laughter. " Too bad I didn't come
to Fairview when I went to Sunset Mountain ! Bet Mrs.
Roth would have hung a smallpox sign on me then!
Never mind, I'm not going to mind, at least not show
them that I do mind. If I ran away from them they'd
be tickled to death so I think I'll stay. I'll get Mrs.
Roth's goat yet ! Her Dan looked at me yesterday when
I went to the store on an errand for Aunt Mary. You
know he works for grandfather. He looks like a simple-
ton, but she thinks he's made of gold. Of course he's
way above me, but if he weren't working for grandfa-
ther I'd have slapped him in the face yesterday for the
way he looked at me."

The man regarded the girl. What manner of young
woman was this new neighbor ? "I see," he told her,
" you are different from the run of young people but that
does not say that you are below them. It may be a very
delightful superiority when one comes to know you
better. You will surely find a way into the affections
of some of the nice girls in town. Wouldn't you like to
come to Sunday school "

'"Et tu, Brutus!'" Then she laughed. "All the
missionaries of the town called last week to take me but
I declined with thanks."

" I thought you'd meet the young people that way."

" I see, your motive is all right." She read in his face
a desire to help her feel less keenly the aloofness of the
town people. " I will come," she promised, slightly irri-
tated to have him think that she needed the Sunday



170 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

school. " I will come and I'll make some of those peo-
ple like me. Miss Hughes used to say I have a magnetic
personality, but I won't believe it until I get the people
to like this ' heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.' You think
I'm that, too! I see it in your face. Oh, don't bother
denying it, it isn't worth the effort," she said as he would
have protested at her uncanny insight into his heart.
" I can't blame people, I suppose. I have to prove I'm
not what they think."

"I haven't offended you?" His voice was troubled.
Had he bungled in his effort to help the girl?

" Oh, no. I'm not easily hurt, I wear a pretty stout
armor. I don't often let myself go and climb into trees
to cry. Pshaw, I wish I knew the rest of that heretic
poem ! "

" I do ' But love and I had the wit to win, we drew a
circle that took him in.' "

She repeated it after him, then gave a soft, " Whew !
Some circle ! But I am going to draw it ! Watch me !
You are the first kind person I met since I came to Fair-
view, except Aunt Mary, and the woman at the little
store on the corner she doled out peppermints to me
one day- and the old man who drives the Transfer
why, that isn't so bad after all! I really didn't know I
have been the recipient of so much kindness until I
stopped to name them all. Guess I'll manage in Fair-
view, after all. You bolstered up my wobbly courage
and now I feel ready to tackle anything. Aunt Mary
is lovely to me, but tell me, did you ever see Aunt Sy-
billa laugh ? Honest now ! "

" Not very often," he admitted, smiling.

" I knew it. I'm glad for one thing, that the Lord
put some Irish into me so I know how to laugh. Is there



IN THE CHERRY TREE 171

Irish in you? If we are going to be neighbors and you
are going to have a hand in my reform I ought to know
your name, I'm thinking."

" Yes. It's James Snavely."

" Reverend James Snavely," she repeated. " I like the
sound of it. Are you Pennsylvania Dutch but I sup-
pose not, for you don't speak like most of them do."

" I am one," he said it proudly. " I was born on a
farm near Fairview, but we moved in to town when I
was about twelve and here I spent my days until time
to go away to college. I had my course in New En-
gland but when I was ready to preach I felt I wanted
to come back to my own people, so here I am."

" I see. Live alone in that big house or have you a
wife?"

" No wife. I have a housekeeper, a very nice old
lady, a widow some sixty years old. Her greatest pleas-
ure is to spoil me, cook me dishes I like, keep the place
like a new pin, just because she used to know my mother
and feels sorry for me."

"Of course," agreed the girl, with a twinkle in her
eyes. " She couldn't possibly like you a little bit for your
own sake, it's all on account of your mother! But
haven't you any aunts or anybody could live with you ? "

" No, I'm the last of the family. Haven't a relative
nearer than third cousins."

"Ah, I'm sorry." Her words embraced him like a
mother's arms. " Then you haven't a home, either ? "

" I can't say that, exactly."

" No, you can't, but it's the truth just the same. Living
with an old woman to keep house isn't having a real
home."

He frowned at her perspicacity, then changed to a



172 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

smile as he read in her face the sadness she was striving
so valiantly to conceal.

" Are we going to be friends then, companions in
exile ? " he asked.

" Poor homeless creatures," she added. " But you
aren't in the same boat with me. You are among the
elect while I am in the heretic, rebel class. Oh, I'm glad
I met you for now I know the other two lines of that
poem."

" Yes. I am glad I met you for we want to be friends.
You must have some good times like other young girls
of the town."

" Oh, thank you ! " She took his hand impulsively,
then dropped it, embarrassed. What could she know
about etiquette? How could she tell beforehand the thrill
that would make her breathless as she touched his hand ?
For the first time in her life she was self-conscious and
her face flushed with timidity.

He came to her rescue by taking her right hand and
giving it the cordial clasp he gave his church attendants
after the service, a rather impersonal yet friendly shake.
" We are going to be friends and you are going to be
happy ! Just keep on thinking that and it will happen."

" Laws," she cried, " you sound like Mrs. Maloney.
She used to say that if you thought long enough and
hard enough about a thing you'd get it if you went after
it!"

" That sounds interesting. Will you tell me about Mrs.
Maloney some day?"

" I'd be glad to. I can tell you lots of things about
the slums you never knew and won't believe unless
you know I'm a bum liar and take my word for
them."



IN THE CHERRY TREE 173

"Yes " again the word was drawn into a long

question. Here was a new aspect on the problem of
souls. A child of the slums ready to teach him. How
could the girl, attractive, though not beautiful, be a
product of the slums? But there was good blood in her
veins, perhaps that accounted for it. Circumstances had
taken her to the places of squalor and sin but she, surely,
was undefiled by contact with them. For all her slang,
uncouthness of speech and strange ways of expression
she bore evidence of fineness that unhealthful environ-
ment could not take from her. She was worthy of ef-
forts to help and certainly she had a right to a happy
girlhood.

Aunt Sybilla's voice broke into the revery of the man :

" Sarah, where in the world did you get to ? "

The man and girl turned to the house. Aunt Sybilla
stood at the kitchen door waiting for them.

" Sarah, this long time a'ready I called you that it's
time to peel potatoes. Next your grandpap will get home
and no meal made yet. Howdedo, Mr. Snavely," she
greeted her neighbor, " did you get back from your trip? "
Her voice was none too cordial. She didn't think much
of " them 'Piscopals " and wondered why he wanted to
talk with Sarah.

" Yes, thank you," he answered complacently. " I
was getting acquainted with your niece."

" So. I guess you was surprised too."

" Greatly. I have been telling her she should come to
Sunday school and meet some of the young people of
the town then she can have a much better time."

" Umph," Aunt Sybilla evidently did not agree. " I
guess Sarah won't have much time to be runnin' round.
It's the idle hands get in mischief."



174 THE MADONNA OF THE CURS

" Yes," added the girl, " but the busy ones go the fast-
est when the devil gets them won over."

Aunt Sybilla frowned at the mention of the ruler of
the lower regions. Her look spoke unmistakably that
she thought the girl needed a strong hand over her.
Sarah laughed, said good-bye to the neighbor and went
in to peel the potatoes while the man vaulted across the
hedge that divided the side yards.

As Sarah worked in the kitchen doing the menial tasks
necessary to the preparation of a meal her thoughts were
far above such common things as potatoes or ham.
Romance burned brightly within her starved heart, some
legacy from the Irish actress mother invested every minor
shred of it with glory. The meeting with the rector was
an event in her life, which however colorful it had been,
still lacked the girl and boy romances most people of her
age had experienced. During her years of adolescence
when thrills and quickening heart beats are a portion of
each day Sarah, secluded in the mountain reformatory,
had never felt the stirring of girlhood romances save as
they came to her through reading the books Miss Hughes
had wisely given her Tennyson, Dickens, Riley, and
many others which can safely be placed into the hands
of receptive youth. Sarah had read and reread them
eagerly; her heart sang as she learned the story of the
knights or followed the varied experiences of Sydney
Carton, Tiny Tim, David Copperfield and a score of
other Dickensonian favorites. 'But, after all, that was
mere reading, tame and colorless compared with flesh
and blood heroes. And the Reverend James Snavely was
all that could be desired in the way of a real hero so far
as appearance and personality went. Mothers of eligible
daughters sighed and manceuvered but so far the rector



IN THE CHERRY TREE 175

of St. Paul's had proven impregnable. Courteous,
charming, delightfully cordial to all, showing no favorit-
ism to any, he went about his work in the little parish.

James Snavely was, as he had proudly told Sarah,
Pennsylvania Dutch, a splendid example of a polished,
educated one. But the polish had not marred his genuine,
wholesome qualities, it had rather accentuated and in-
tensified them, so that all the innate sterling of him shone
from his life. But the little town of Fairview gave no
special heed to the man. Of course the people respected
him and liked him for his smiling, unaffected greetings
to them, praised his finest oratorical efforts as " pretty
good preachin' " and sometimes wondered why he didn't
try to get a church in some city and earn bigger money.
That was a natural query for there he might have ex-
panded and become a power, but the hold of his own
was strong upon him. There was, in his thoughts, no
place quite so lovely or desirable as Lancaster County,
and there he chose to work in the little parish with a
handful of people who liked him. And so, without any
of the spectacular about him to force attention, he went
about every day doing the work of the parish, reading
the prayers, burying the dead, uniting in holy matrimony,
serving without any desires for wider spheres, knowing,
as would all of his profession might know! that there
is no limit to the scope of a man's work, that the results
of honest endeavor can and do overflow the bounds of
the narrow parish. Like Tennyson's expression of it,
" Our echoes roll from soul to soul, and grow forever
and forever."

The Reverend James Snavely had lived most of his
boyhood in the same little town where later he came to
preach. Perhaps that was a mistake on his part, for



176 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

though familiarity does not always breed contempt it has
a strong tendency to lessen proper deference.

Who in Fairview did not know of the time the young
Jimmie Snavely put a tick-tack tfn an old maid's window
one merry Hallowe'en and was rewarded by a pitcher of
water spilled upon his head? If you chanced to remem-
ber that one morning while he was expounding the Gos-
pel could you think seriously about sufferings of the
Children of Israel? Then there was that oft-repeated
story of the incident in High School when some fool
question debate, namely, " Resolved that Lincoln was a
greater man than Washington," was on in the weekly
Literary Society Friday afternoon. Jimmie had heard
the pros and cons and mentally thought the pupils were
talking through their hats, trying to take lustre from one
great man and shine up the other with it when each had
all any one man could carry. Then came the moment of
general debate and the decisive time when a standing
vote was taken. " All those in favor of the affirmative
please rise " and some of the scholars scrambled to their
feet. " All those in favor of the negative please rise "
and the remaining pupils rose, all except Jimmie. He
sat tight during both uprisings. The president of the day
demanded, " Mr. Snavely, you did not rise for either
side. We want to know what you decided."

Jimmie's answer has been immortalized in Fairview
" I decided to set still ! "

Called to account by an outraged principal he an-
swered wisely, " When you can tell me whether man is
superior to woman, food more necessary than water, the
stars more beautiful than the moon, then I'll tell you
jvhether Lincoln was a greater man than Washington."

The same sane reasoning characterized him when He



IN THE CHERRY TREE 177

was grown to manhood. It was to this far-off, seemingly
inaccessible star that Sarah Burkhart, the child of Red
Rose Court and Sunset Mountain, hitched her little
wagon. Here was a man she wanted to know better,
coveted for a friend. In that brief interview, uncon-
ventional and illuminating, she had been cognizant of a
natural, unavoidable prejudice toward her or was it
mere wariness? To him, no less than to the others of
the town, she was that heretic, rebel, if not a thing to
flout, then a person who required changing and improving
before meriting close intimacy. She remembered Mrs.
Maloney's words that if you wanted a thing hard enough
you'd get it if you went after it! Somehow it did not
seem preposterous or presuming to covet the friendship
of a man like the Reverend Snavely. Perhaps some ap-
preciation of her own power and latent possibilities was
uppermost in her heart that April day as she worked in
the kitchen with the solemn Aunt Sybilla. A bit of
Tennyson she loved came to her :

" I have heard that, somewhere in the main,
Fresh-water springs come up through bitter brine."

Was it ever possible that through the acrid life she had
known the sweet waters of love would rise to sweeten her
whole being ?

" Here ! " came her aunt's stern warning, " you peel
them potatoes too thick! That ain't no way, throwin'
half the good out with the skin. That's how lots of peo-
ple do and then they never get nowheres."

" I'm sorry."

" Well, don't do it no more. Bein* sorry when it's
spoiled won't fix the potatoes."



178

" No yes I mean I'll be careful."

The woman looked at her. " What makes you talk so
ferhuddled? Anyhow, what was you and that preacher
doin', talkin' about in our lot? What did he come over
here for?"

" To see the cherry blossoms, I suppose," was the in-
nocent reply.

" Ach," she gave a disgusted look at the girl. " I
guess he could seen them from his side of the fence. I
tell you, you better not begin makin' a fuss with him, for
his members would hate to have it. He's a preacher and
got to be careful how he acts for there are so many al-
ways watchin' preachers. Course, he's only a 'Piscopal
one and I think still they are like the Catholics, only the


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryAnna Balmer MyersThe madonna of the curb → online text (page 11 of 22)