Anna Balmer Myers.

The madonna of the curb online

. (page 12 of 22)
Online LibraryAnna Balmer MyersThe madonna of the curb → online text (page 12 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

name is different."

" Oh, no ! " protested the girl, but it fell on deaf ears.

" Mrs. Roth, she goes to that church and she told me
a'ready how they do, bowing and gettin' up and down all
the time, rutchin' round in church like that ! It wonders
me if the 'Piscopal preachers can't make up no prayers
or why they always read them out a little book, that
ain't the Bible, neither! But then some churches got
funny ways. I'm glad ourn hasn't."

Sarah smiled, thinking how extremely queer and novel
the Mennonite service had been to her. It was all a
matter of perspective, she told herself.

" Anyhow," went on the woman, " I don't want you to
begin gettin' notions about boys. Mr. Snavely he's a
man, lots too old for you, so that don't worry me only
what his members would say if they seen you and him
together a lot. But boys, like Dan Roth, you better leave
them alone. It ain't no good to start anything like that
for half the time it brings you trouble."


" You think," Sarah sang,

' ' Men are deceivers ever,
One foot on land and one on sea.
To one thing constant never.' "

" Well, I never heard it sang like that but I guess it's
not far from true. There ain't many good men like your
grandpap no more."

And the woman sighed and looked so sad that Sarah
felt she had a clue to that twenty-year trouble that had
soured her. Some love story with an unhappy ending!
That was it! Poor Sybilla! She hoped when her love
story came it would end, " They lived happy ever after."



WHEN Sarah sat down to her supper that day she was
still thinking about her new acquaintance. Then the im-
portance of sitting around the table with her own family
overshadowed all lesser interests and she gave herself
up to the enjoyment of the meal.

Meal-time in the Burkhart home had been a revelation
to the newcomer. Six years in a reformatory where the
food was cooked in great quantities and distributed in
platefuls had not taught her much about the manner of
eating in a private home. Sometimes she had walked
with Miss Hughes along the little street at the foot of
Sunset Mountain at supper time and seen through the
windows of the lighted room a family or two seated
round a small table. At such times her heart had ached
poignantly. Oh, to be one of the group ! But each time
she had gone back to the big dining-room on the hill and
taken her place at the long table with twenty-odd other

The days of sojourn in her new home had brought her
many experiences that warmed her heart but none dearer
than the half hour spent each meal-time. True, her grand-
father and aunts ate in the kitchen instead of using the
big dining-room whose corner cupboard with lovely old-
fashioned dishes proclaimed it the proper place for the
family meals, but the table in the kitchen was always
laden with a variety of dishes, made after infallible,
ancient Pennsylvania Dutch recipes, that the girl liked


to hear the call for meals. Then she flattered herself
that her presence at the table added life to the party.
They needed it badly enough, goodness knows, she told
herself. The meals were far too solemn affairs ! Some-
times grandfather had some bit of news he had gathered
at the store, Aunt Mary found a few pleasant things to
recount, and even Aunt Sybilla, under the softening in-
fluence of home-made crullers and pie thought of some-
thing to say, but there was no sustained conversation
unless Sarah took the helm. She would have enjoyed
discussing topics of the day but all efforts to do so met
with frosty answers from Aunt Sybilla who immediately
started to speak about the necessity of buying new sheets.
Did Mary know that the towels were down to twenty and
that mom always tried to keep two dozen of everything
in the house for you never know when there might be
sickness or something and you'd hate to have the neigh-
bors come in and find you were short on anything.
Didn't Mary think they ought to get at making some
real soon ?

After a few days Sarah entered into the spirit of the
family and grew to like the homely topics spoken about
at the table. Their very prosaicness attracted her and
she felt more like one of the family to hear them than if
the topic had been a summary of the news in the daily

That April evening when Aunt Sybilla turned to her
and asked, " What do you think of the new coffee ? I
got it for only twenty-eight cents at that new cheap store
just opened. I think it's as good as the thirty-cent coffee
we got so long. What's the use throwin' away two cents
every time you buy a pound of coffee if this is just as


Sarah had a hard time to keep from declaring that the
coffee tasted like nectar and ambrosia to her after they
had deigned to ask her opinion of it but she merely an-
swered, " It's fine, Aunt Sybilla ! But I suppose I'm not
much of a judge; any coffee would taste good to me for
I never got it on the mountain."

" What, no coffee ! " The woman looked aghast, some-
thing like pity showing in her face at the thought of what
she considered the girl's deprivation. " Then I guess you
got to do like the hired man mom used to tell about still
when he worked any place where they didn't give him
coffee at noon he always drank an extra cup at supper
to make up for it."

Sarah laughed. She was beginning to feel more at
home with these strange people who were her own.
After all, they were good to her, as good as they knew
how to be. But her grandfather, how stern he generally
looked! Would she ever learn to feel free with him!
What a peculiar old man he was !

" Sarah." He startled her so she almost spilled her

" Yes, sir, I mean what is it, grandfather ? "

" Ach, you needn't call me nothin' tony like that. Just
grandpap will do."

" Yes, grandpap."

" Are you good at figgers ? "

" Yes. The teacher at on the mountain used to say
that mathematics was my best work."

" I mean just plain figgers, like the figgerin' in the
books at the store."

" I think I could do it."

" Then I wish you'd try it for me. Mebbe you can
help us out for a few weeks. Dan Roth across the street


Is in the office and another man, but he's goin' to Cali-
fornia for a few weeks and I need some one to help
Dan. We got a few clerks in the store but they'd mess
everything up in the office and then I need them behind
the counters anyway. Would you like to try it once ? "

" Oh, grandpap, I'd love to ! Then I'd be able to show
you how grateful I am for keeping me

" That's enough of such dumb talk ! " The old man
frowned forbiddingly. " You belong to us ; ain't you
Jeremiah's girl ! I'll pay you to help in the store."

" Oh, no pay ! When you are keeping me "

" Ain't I told you not to say that ! I guess whoever
works for me get some pay for it, relation or no rela-

" Be sure, yes," agreed Aunt Sybilla. " Pop he
wouldn't have no one work for him for nothin'. That's
only right."

Aunt Mary spoke up gently, " You do like your grand-
pap says. It will be nice to have you help him then
people can see you ain't lazy, that you got some of the
good in the family along with the rest now, what a
dumb way for talkin', ain't ! But I didn't mean nothin'
by it, only I want you to show these people you are all
right. Mrs. Roth said this morning '

" Mary, Mrs. Roth don't always say what is the truth,"
her sister warned her.

" Well, anyhow she got this wrong. She said .she
guessed we'd be sorry yet for takin' Sarah in our home.
I told her no, never ! "

" Oh," cried Sarah, " I hate that woman ! She's so
sweet to some people and I bet she stings them every
time she gets a chance. She's too sweet. Even the Irish
don't laugh all the time and smile. Mrs. Maloney used


to say too much sweet was worse than too much bitter or
sour, that it made you sick sooner."

Grandfather rapped on the plate with his knife.
" Here, here, let's talk business instead of pullin' the
neighbors to pieces. Will you come to the store to-mor-
row morning once, then you can find out what is to do ? "

"I'll come. Got a cage, grandpap?" she asked face-

" What kind of cage ? " he asked, not understanding.

" For the specimen on exhibition. If I work in that
little glass office in the store it will be a fine chance for
the town to come in and get a good look at me without
appearing to be curious."

" Ach, I guess not. Anyhow, it's my store and I dare
put in it who I want."

Sarah smiled. She was thinking of what Mrs. Roth
would say when she knew that her boy was working in
the office with the despised granddaughter of Jeremiah

Dan Roth was the idol of his mother's heart, and, like
many other idols, spoiled, petted and supported until his
natural stamina was stultified. Like his mother he looked
contemptuously upon the daughter of a convict, but the
desire of youth for pleasure kept him from revealing his
contempt too plainly. When Sarah came to the office to
work with him and was introduced Dan was very cordial.
She was, in his eyes, attractive; her manner of carrying
her head, chin up, put him on his mettle. By heaven,
he'd like to make her drop it a bit ! Dan was an admirer
of the fair sex and the fairer they were the better he
liked them, and the haughtier they acted the more he
prided himself when he won their interest. Then there
was a tantalizing winsomeness about the new girl that


roused his desire to know her better. Here he saw an
opportunity to amuse himself, pass the hours in the store
more pleasantly, without having any unpleasant scenes
after he grew tired of the amusement. True, she was
the relative of old man Jeremiah, but doubtless an un-
welcome member of the family, and so long as only an
innocent flirtation took place no one would call him to
account if he did hurt the heart of the girl a bit. Here
was a chance to dance without having to pay the fiddler
later. For no one would expect a boy like Dan to be
seriously interested in a girl who had been in a reform-
atory. So Dan Roth was at once pleasant and obliging
and so friendly that Sarah at once became suspicious.

The first noon he walked home from the store with
her and they loitered at the Burkhart gate, Sarah hoping
Mrs. Roth was peeping at some window and seeing her
son and heir wasting time with that dreadful Burkhart
girl. Dan was thinking how expressive were the eyes of
the girl near him and how merry her laughter.

After she had eaten she spied him lingering by the
gate again so she roguishly slipped down through the
back lot, down the alley and reached the store by another
route. When he came in, barely on time, she was bent
over her books.

" You " he faced her angrily, " how did you get

" Walked, of course. Did you think I hired a taxi ? "

" Come off, now, don't put on airs with me. Let's be
friends," he coaxed. " I want you to meet some of the
crowd and have fun. This is a dead dry town but we
manage to have some good times in it. Another young
person and a charming one at that, will be a valuable


" Asset," she laughed. " Much you know about
banking terms if you call me that. Go on, you're
fooling. I'm part Irish and I can tell blarney every
time and can outblarney anybody, so don't try that with

" I mean it. I do want to be friends."

" Well, I'll think about it."

Dan mentally said, " Darn her, wonder who she thinks
she is ! " [But aloud he repeated his desire to become
friends. He gained no promise from her. " Go on, and
let me do my work," she told him. " My grandfather
isn't paying either of us to be galavanting."

True to her promise Sarah went to Sunday school the
next week. She was placed in a class of young ladies
about her own age, who smiled dutifully then ignored her.
It was a new experience for Sarah. She liked the music
and the beginning of the lesson talk by a woman who
was educated and seemed to know her subject, but the
new girl soon fell to comparing her clothes with those of
the other girls and the process hurt. Of course Miss
Hughes had outfitted her wonderfully well for a reforma-
tory girl, a city charge, but those silk dresses the other
girls wore made her envious. She saw how limited was
her wardrobe and while the teacher went on eloquently
expounding the lesson of Daniel and the lions Sarah sat
with rapt attention on her own thoughts how far her
money would go toward the purchase of pretty clothes!
Grandfather promised to pay her for the work at the
store and she'd buy first a new hat; hers was a sight!
Then she did want a pair of white kid gloves, had always
wanted them since her first sight of them on the hands of
others. If she ever earned enough money she'd have a
silk dress and satisfy the long craving of her soul. After


her work at the store was finished she'd try to find some-
thing else to do in Fairview and earn money for clothes
like the other girls wore. Of course she couldn't expect
her people to dress her like that !

The teacher's pleased, " You are a very attentive
scholar, Miss Burkhart," made the girl say to herself^
" Sarah, you're a darned hypocrite ! "

She smiled her sweetest at the thought and several of
the girls grudgingly admitted to themselves that she was
real attractive when she smiled; if only she were the right
sort she might be lots of fun to know. One girl, less
subservient to opinion or dictates of her elders, Mary
Becker, was openly friendly to the new member of the
class. She could afford to be. Her father was president
of the bank, her mother head of the town aristocracy,
her brother one of the town physicians and Mary her-
self a student at Vassar and accustomed to take the law
into her own hands on many occasions. Oh, Mary might
defy parental instructions and still lose no prestige; her
family was too firmly established at the top. But the
other girls of the class were not so cordial. True, some
of them shook hands with Sarah and said they hoped
she could come every Sunday, but she saw they did not
really want to say it, knowing how wicked it was to lie.
She felt herself accepted on sufferance. One by one they
drifted away after the session, started off down the street
in happy groups and Sarah walked alone to her home.
A grim determination rose in her. She would make them
like her. She could give as clever answers to the ques-
tions as those girls why some of them knew lots less
than she ! She would prove to them that even if she was
reared in an atmosphere totally diverse from that in
which they had basked during childhood she was just as


human, lovable, tender as they, and not one whit less
worthy the friendship of noble persons.

" I'll make them love me yet ! " she determined. " I'll
go to that Sunday school every week and enter into
their affairs until I can't be ignored."

For several weeks there was no appreciable increase in
warmth in the manners of the other girls of the class to
the newcomer. Neither did any young people of the
town call or pay any attention to the girl at Jeremiah
Burkhart's house. Only Dan Roth showed any desire to
be friendly and she kept him at arm's length, so that he
said frequently, " Darn her, wonder who she thinks she
is ! " She refused his invitations to go for ice-cream at
the drug store or to walk about the town on a fine April
evening. " I'm keeping Lent," she told him, " and de-
prive myself of all such pleasures." But he knew she
was making sport of him.

Easter came late that year. Jeremiah Burkhart paid
his help every week so just before Easter he handed
Sarah ten dollars. " Your pay up to Easter, thought you
might like it to spend some. I'll pay you more if you
stay and earn more."

" Grandpap, the first money I ever earned ! It's really
mine ? "

" You earned it," he said matter-of-factly.

" I may spend it ? "

" Folks generally dare spend their own money." But
his eyes smiled as he looked into the eager face of the
girl. Perhaps some memory of the days when his wife
had been young like that stirred in him. " You just do
what you want with it," he told her kindly.

Sarah wished he would pat her head or kiss her or do
something to show he liked her. But he was parsimoni-


busiy chary with demonstrations of affection and Sarah
had to be satisfied with the smile.

" Look, Aunt Mary, Aunt Sybilla," she cried as she
ran to the kitchen, " this is what grandpap gave me and
he says I may spend it if I want."

" Now," spoke up Sybilla the practical, " if I was you
I'd put it to bank till you got more then take out a
certificate and draw interest every year and that way you
can get a nice nest-egg together."

" No," protested the girl. " I am going to spend it. I
want a new hat and I've longed for white kid gloves till
it hurt."

" White kid gloves, like a pall-bearer, eh ? You needn't
spend no ten dollars for a hat and them silly gloves ! "
Such extravagance was almost criminal, thought Sybilla.
If the girl was going to be improvident it would take a
lot of money to keep her.

Aunt Mary intervened. " Sybilla, let the girl do what
she wants with the money. She worked for it. She
ain't young more than once and if she wants a new hat
and gloves "

" Well, I'll ask pop to-night if she dare spend money
so, go on like she had a barrel of it."

But Sarah was determined and decided to avoid further
controversy by spending the ten dollars at once. She
went straight to the little millinery shop up town, tried
on ten hats and bought the first one she had tried on, then
she marched to another store and bought her first pair
of white gloves. Her blue serge suit was good; if she
brushed it and laundered the white voile waist she would
have an Easter outfit far grander than any she had had

Her dream of an Easter basket in a real home, dyeing

eggs and hiding them, seemed doomed to non-fulfilment.
Saturday noon came and no sign of eggs had she seen.

" You know," she told the aunts as they cleared away
the dinner dishes, " I have no work at the store this
afternoon and I'd dye a few eggs if I knew how."

" Dye eggs on a Saturday when the kitchen is
cleaned ! " Aunt Sybilla disapproved. " That's a dumb
notion, to smear round with dye and then afterward you
can't hardly eat the eggs for the dye gets in and colors
the white. Mebbe you'd be poisoned yet."

" Mebbe we could fix some like mom used to do for
us, Sarah," Aunt Mary suggested. " With onion skins
and calico."

" Well, I got to go up town and if you want to make
such a mess be sure to clean up after." And Sybilla left
the two foolish persons alone in the kitchen.

" Are we really going to dye eggs ? " asked Sarah.

" Be sure yes, if you want to. I ain't done it in years.
Run up to the back room and get the patch bag and I'll
get things ready. Oh, and fetch some big onions from
the garret, some with nice brown skins."

Sarah flew up the stairs, a blessed feeling of belonging
to Aunt Mary racing with her. She gathered up some
onions in her skirt, lugged the heavy patch bag down the
stairs, panting, " Oh, this is more fun than a circus."

She watched and helped the aunt as the onion skins
were put on to boil and the eggs dipped in the colored
liquid. " Oh, aren't they pretty ! " She was pleased as
a little child.

" You just wait once till you see them dyed in the
calico ! "

Sarah watched the woman as she selected scraps of
bright goods, crimson with yellow sprigs, yellow with


maroon figures, vivid greens, gay blues, and then in every
scrap was tied an egg and the whole placed into boiling
water and left to bubble away on the stove. When the
eggs were removed from the calico the pattern and color
of the goods was left upon them.

Sarah squealed with delight. " Who ever would think
of that ! "

The eggs were all rubbed with lard to make them
glossy and then laid in a dish, ready for the morrow.

When Sybilla came home she found the kitchen in
order and the finished eggs on the table. " Um, got done
soon. But it wonders me that a big girl like you wants
to do such baby things. Why, you are too big for such

The girl's eyes filled. " I never had them when I was
the proper age for them. I wanted to know just once
how it felt to color Easter eggs and hunt for an Easter
basket in the morning. I guess I am too old. I won't
want to do it next year, but this once was fun."

Aunt Mary wiped her eyes on her apron and mentally
vowed that the girl should have her Easter nest in the
morning. So when Sarah awoke on the first Easter in
her own home and went down-stairs she was greeted
with, " Now hunt your nest."

" Oh, really ? Did you fix one for me ? "

" Yes, but you got to find it."

Sarah began the search, having much fun and laugh-
ing often as the most likely places proved false alarms.
At last she found it under the kitchen table in an old-
fashioned brown basket Aunt Mary had brought from
the attic. Scraps of bright tissue paper lined it and upon
them were the lovely calico and onion eggs and a few
chocolate ones Aunt Mary had bought.


Sarah ran to her and throwing an arm about her neck,
kissed her warmly on the cheek. Then she looked
abashed at her own boldness but the woman laughed.
" You dare do that whenever you want, Sarah. I like
you and I wish I could give you everything you didn't
get when you was little."

" Oh, you dear ! " cried the girl, but further expres-
sions of understanding were cut off by the appearance of
Jeremiah Burkhart.

"What's all the racket about?" he asked rather
sternly. " I heard Sarah laugh before I got up a'ready."

" Oh, grandpap," she held out her basket, " see what
Aunt Mary fixed for me ! "

" Well, that ain't nothin' to make so much fuss about.
It's Sunday," he added in a tone of reproof.

" Yes," the girl said, " Sunday and Easter and if ever
there was a day to be glad on it's this one ! "

Such rank opposition and defiance left the man speech-
less. He wondered again, what manner of girl was this ?
Would she ever grow into the mould he thought she
would have to fit?

The rebuff of the man left Sarah subdued. After all,
he was right, Easter baskets were for children. No
amount of them could make up to her the lack of them
when they were due her.

That Easter was an ideal day, greatly to the delight of
the young girls who had beautiful silk dresses to initiate.

Sarah donned her blue suit, the white waist, freshly
ironed, pulled the new hat at the right angle on her black
hair, pinned to her coat a bunch of fragrant white violets
Aunt Mary had allowed her to pick from the grassy place
in the yard where they were abundant, then she was
ready for church.


Easter in the Episcopal Church brings a beautiful, in-
spiring service. The scent of lilies was heavy in the little
church of St. Paul. The soft bustle of arriving attend-
ants, the whispers, and then the processional, the music
and the measured march of the choir boys. She thought
she had never heard anything more beautiful than the
tenor solo, " Open the Gates of the Temple." At the
words, " I know that my Redeemer liveth, and because
He lives I too shall live," her heart throbbed in answering
faith. Oh, it was wonderful to be in that church on that
day ! She looked at the colored windows, turned to lis-
ten to the words of the Reverend Snavely as he told the
Easter story, and suddenly, as the passage of a bird, there
stole into her heart a feeling of unhappiness her father
in what dark corner was he languishing that bright
day? What songs of hope was he hearing? Oh, to have
him with her in that church! She resolved to speak to
her grandfather about him, though he had forbidden her
to mention the name of the one who was paying the
penalty of his misdeeds.

After the service the rector shook hands with her, sev-
eral others spoke to her, but she had no mind then for the
likes or dislikes of the Fairview people. Her whole
thought was of her father and what she was going to say
about him to her grandfather.

Her grandfather had already returned from the service
in the Mennonite Church and sat on the back porch while
the aunts prepared the dinner.

It was almost May. A few lingering cherry blossoms
still made white splashes on the trees, apple buds showed
pink on the big tree in the yard, where a provident robin
was already building his nest on a broad crotch. Grand-
father seemed to be watching the bird who, knowing

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryAnna Balmer MyersThe madonna of the curb → online text (page 12 of 22)