Anna Balmer Myers.

The madonna of the curb online

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no Sabbath, was carrying threads and grass to the

" Grandpap ! " The girl sat beside him.

" Well, I see you got your finery on. Worked almost
two weeks for it and spent it all in ten minutes, eh ? " he
said, not unkindly.

" Yes but, grandpap, I want to talk to you. You told
me never to bring it up again when you are here but I
must ! It's about father "

" I told you "

" I must, grandpap." Her distress was so evident that
he suffered her to go on. " Won't you forgive him ?
Won't you tell him you do? Think of him in that awful
place and we here in this yard."

" Sarah, the Book says that what a man sows he must

" I know. But it says more. I heard it this morning.
You know the Lord's Prayer. It says, ' Forgive us our
trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us.'
If God took us at our word when we say that we'd have
a pretty hard time, all of us, wouldn't we, grandpap ? "

" Eh ? What do you mean ? You mean I ain't done
right by the boy? I trained him right and tried to make
a good man out him but he went his way and what he got
is what he earned."

" But, grandpap, don't you ever stop to think that even
if he does deserve all he is getting how dreadful it must
be for him ? How he must feel sorry about it and wish he
had done as you tried to teach him, stick to the honest
way. They said the Apostles' Creed in church to-day
guess you know it too. When they came to that part, ' I
believe in the forgiveness of sins,' I wondered how many
really acted as if they do believe that. Oh, they believe


in the forgiveness of their sins, but what about the sins of
others ? Father will be out of that place in a few years
and then I want him to be with me and I want to be with
you, and how are we going to fix it if you won't make up
with him ? "

" We'll cross our bridges when we come to them," said
the old man, but there were smouldering fires in his eyes
the girl had never seen there before. She hoped she had
touched some chord of responsiveness in his heart. But
he sat, chin resting on his cane, his eyes hidden from the
girl. Aunt Sybilla came then to call her to change her
dress and help dish the dinner and the matter of her fa-
ther was dropped. Her heart was heavy. After all, she
found, what availed a new hat and coveted white gloves
if the heart was heavy ? She had learned the first step in
the appreciation of the littleness of things. Things
what joy would diamonds, silk dresses, all purchasable
things bring her when her spirit was troubled ! It was an
hour of deep discernment and education, but an unhappy

During the days that followed Jeremiah Burkhart did
not refer to the forbidden subject of the criminal. His
face was set and stern, as though he were wearing a mask
to hide his real feeling. So far as he was concerned it
was once more a closed matter, requiring no further ac-
tion or discussion. The girl wondered if his heart was
still as hard to his son, whether he could much longer ig-
nore the very existence of him. But she forbore to ques-
tion him. Every day she went to the office and in her
work there she greatly pleased her grandfather, who
frankly told her as he would have been equally frank to
find fault if that had been necessary.

So the days passed in the new home. After store


hours Sarah helped her aunts in the house, sometimes in
the garden. Her love of optimistic poetry helped her
through some days that had else been dreary. Her Irish
strain showed her the funny, glad side to everything, so
that to all appearances she was happy. At least, she told
herself, she was learning lots of things. And she was,
adding new circles of growth like the exogenous rings of
a tree.

Quite by accident she stumbled upon the mystery of
Aunt Sybilla's twenty-year trouble. One evening at sup-
per she said, " Oh, I met the nicest man in the store to-
day. He came to me and asked, 'Are you Jeremiah's
granddaughter ? ' and when I told him I had that honor
he looked me over, put out his hand, and said he'd like to
shake hands with me, that he knew my father and liked
him and felt so sorry things had happened the way they
did. I couldn't feel hurt because he was so fatherly about
it. He's the nicest man I met in a long while."

" Yes ? Who was he ? " asked Aunt Mary.

" He said his name is Jake Herr "

At the words her grandfather looked up, Mary uttered
a soft, " Sh ! " and the girl glanced at Aunt Sybilla her
face was pale. There was the secret of the long-standing
trouble, Sarah knew. So it was that nice man had
broken the heart of Aunt Sybilla she could scarcely
credit it.

Sarah tactfully changed the subject of conversation but
the thing lingered in her mind. She was relieved that
evening when Aunt Mary came into her room and offered

" I guess you thought we acted funny at the table when
you said that about Jake Herr, but I'll tell you about it.
You guess there's something and it's better to know than


to guess. Sybilla and Jake was goin' to marry once when
she was a girl. He was a nice boy, worked on his pop's
farm and we thought he would make her a good man.
He saved his money and bought a little place out from the
town for him and Sybilla to go to farmin'. Well, one
thing Sybilla was set against was drinkin'. She used to
say when she was just little that she'd never marry a man
who drank. A month before they was to be married
Jake got drunk and somebody came and told her. She
asked him and he said it was so, but that he wouldn't do
it again. But that settled it for Sybilla. She felt she
could never trust him after that and they didn't get mar-
ried. Sybilla never forgave him, said he ruined her life,
made her so she'd never believe any man except pop.
Everybody said Jake would go to the bad then for sure
but he didn't. He got his sister to come keep house for
him, he run the farm and hasn't been drunk since that
anybody knows. He first used to try to get her to for-
give him and make up so they would marry, but she acted
so funny to him that he give up trying that. Now they
don't look at each other when they get to the same Meet-
ing House, and if anybody says his name it hurts her.
She won't ever get over it, I guess, but sometimes I have
to pity Jake, for I think he would made her a good hus-
band. Sybilla and pop are alike in that, they find it so
hard to forgive when somebody does something to them.
Poor Jake is still workin' his farm and keepin* sober, and
I wonder sometimes if he still thinks she might look at
him again some day. 'But I guess she's been carry in' her
trouble too long to do that. It's too bad, now, when
people make such a mixup of their life, ain't? "

" Yes, I think Aunt Sybilla is foolish. If the man has
proved he is over that and still likes her oh, I think she


is mighty foolish! But I suppose she has carried her
trouble so long that she wouldn't be happy without it."

"Ach what? That's a funny way to put it, but now,
mebbe for all, it might be true. Only never say nothin'
about Jake when she is here or tell her I told you, for she
would be put out."

The discovered romance of the grim old aunt veiled
her in a new interest to Sarah. So that was what she
had read about disappointed in love! How dreadful!
Did it leave its marks on everybody as it had on Aunt
Sybilla? She would try to be more companionable with
the aunt since she knew the sorrow of her heart.

"Aunt Sybilla," she asked her one day, " where did you
get your name ? Were you named for anybody ? I never
heard it before."

" No ? Well, I guess there's more things you never
heard of. But me, I was named out the Almanac."

" The Almanac ! " Here was something new.

" Ach, yes, didn't you never hear about that? Lots of
us Pennsylvania Dutch get named that way. When
there's a new baby they look up that date in the Almanac
and if the name that's long side the date is one that suits
they give it to the baby. I know lots of people named
like that. There's Cletus Longenecker, Sabina Miller,
Donatus Hilton, and me. I was born on April 29.
Wait once." She brought the Almanac as evidence.
" See, here it is, April 29, Sybilla."

Sarah looked over the pages of the Agricultural Al-
manac, the infallible friend of the Pennsylvania Dutch,
many of whom still cling to the ways of their parents and
plant their gardens, pickle their beets, make their sauer-
kraut, slip their geraniums, by the signs of the Almanac
depicted in drawing and explained in words.


" Oh, what queer names ! " exclaimed the girl. "Aunt
Sybilla, just suppose you had been born January 4, then
you'd be named Methusalem! Or on February 10 and
you'd gotten Scholastica, or April 15 would have brought
you Olympia."

"Ach, that's too dumb to talk of. I guess then they'd
called me Lizzie or Katie or some such nice name. I
don't like fancy names. I think sometimes mine is a
little too fancy. I like plain ones like the dresses I

" Yes you like to wear those plain clothes ? " Sarah
felt bold in asking but she had often wondered whether
the women who were garbed in the severely plain dresses
really enjoyed life in them. They appeared to.

" Me ? Well, I guess I do ! I wouldn't wear none of
them fussy dresses for nothin'! Me and Mary both
started plain when we was young, before the vanities of
the world got a good hold on us. It saves wonderful
much, too; for we can wear the same style one year after
another. Mom was plain too."

" I see." Sarah felt a reverence as she thought of the
sweet woman her father had called " The sweetest
woman, the dearest mother in the world." Of course
there must be some peace afforded to the wearers of the
plain garb, some secret calm and satisfaction that fol-
lowers after the styles of the world could not know.

She changed the subject. "Aunt Sybilla, don't you
ever think the Pennsylvania Dutch say funny things ? "

" No, be sure not. What's funny about the way we
talk ? Guess it ain't different from the way you do."

" Sometimes it is. I went to the store the other day
and the old woman said, ' I guess Fairview gives a city
soon with so many new houses goin' up.' "

"Well, what's funny about that? Guess it will soon
give a city."

" Oh, nothing," said Sarah, hiding a smile. " I guess
it must be myself that's funny. I can laugh at nothing,
you know. A woman came in the store then and told
about the trip she and her husband took last winter and
it was so cold in the train that he ' walked the car up and
down to keep warm.' "

" You think that's funny? " Aunt Sybilla failed to see
the humor of it.

" No, but I bet he kept warm all right." Sarah's face

"Ach, I guess that was old Bevy Warner ; she and her
man goes away in all kinds of weather still. She's dumb,
so dumb as Brenner's bull."

" How dumb was he ? "

" So dumb he waded through the crick to get a drink
of water ! "

A gay peal of laughter rang out and Aunt Sybilla irre-
sistibly joined in it. " You stop now," she ordered,
" next with your dumb laughin' all the time you make me
get like you, laughin' at nothin'."

" Oh, if I could ! " Sarah clapped her hands.

"Well, I guess not! I don't want to get that way.
You behave yourself now."

Verily the girl was a changeling, but her infectious
laugh soon came to be an accepted thing in the old house
and if it had become silent the three older people would
have wondered at the quiet. Sarah was becoming accli-
mated to Fairview. What though the young people, with
the exception of Mary Becker, seldom looked her way
when she was looking theirs, the children of the street
answered her smiles and ran beside her as she went to


and fro. She could bide her time and, like the patient
man in Riley's poem, all things would come to her some

The friendship with the rector next door progressed
slowly. Several times in as many weeks they exchanged
commonplace remarks over the back fence. " That
friendship he talked about moves about as fast as a
glacier," she thought, " but small favors are gratefully
received by the needy so I should be satisfied. I don't
wonder he balks at intimacy with the daughter of a con-
vict and all the rest of my pedigree. I can't expect him
to swallow all that at one gulp and look pleasant during
the ordeal. But life is moving. I have a home and fam-
ily and I could be as happy as an ant in a sugar barrel if
it were not for poor father. Guess I'll write to him for
that seems to be all I can do for him at present."




You see by the heading that I'm in Fairview!
Wish I could tell you just what that means to me after
all those years of wondering who and where my people
are. Of course they were surprised to see me, for they
did not know I was on the face of the earth. Aunt Mary
is the dearest body ! I look at her and like to remember
you told me your mother, my grandmother, was like that.
But grandfather scares me a little; he's so sober and
quiet. I never met any one like him. No longer can I
boast, " I ain't afraid of nobody nor nothing but snakes,"
for I am sometimes afraid of Jeremiah Burkhart !

The first day I was there a neighbor came in to see
who the company might be. It was can you guess who ?
Mrs. Roth! She said she went to school with you.
I'd like to bet she tattled even then. She's a gossip, the
kind tells you a lurid tale about somebody and follows it
up with, " But don't repeat it." No, of course you are
not to repeat it, let her do it ! She has the loveliest time
going from house to house gathering and dispensing news
for, as Miss Hughes says, "A dog that'll fetch a bone will
carry one away." I dare say nobody escapes the tongue
of Mary Ann Roth. There's a son, too, who works in
grandfather's store. The only thing his head is fit for
is to use for a hat-rack. He thought he could have some
fun with me and make a fool out of Sarah 'Burkhart.
I'm like Mrs. Maloney; she used to say that as long as


the Lord didn't make a fool out of her she'd be hanged if
she'd let any one else do it.

I guess you remember how lovely the old house is.
Oh, father, if you could be here it would be glorious!
The big rooms and everything clean and sweet! Aunt
Sybilla and Aunt Mary are wonderful housekeepers. I
believe most of these funny people called Pennsylvania
Dutch are. All the yards and porches and what I can see
of their houses look neat as a new pin. Do you remem-
ber the cherry trees in the lot? But perhaps these are
new ones. At any rate, they are blooming now and if
Japan has anything prettier in the way of cherry blos-
soms you'd have to take me over to prove it. I climb up
and sit there and just laugh because I'm so glad cherries
have to bloom before they can be cherries ! Aunt Sybilla
works in the garden a lot and when I told her I like to do
it she seemed pleased. She gave me a hoe and so forth
and I have had plenty chance to dig and weed.

I certainly am glad you told me who my people are.
Now I feel I belong to somebody. Aunt Mary says she
is glad, too, but the other two haven't expressed any such
feeling as yet! Bet they do notice the presence of a
lively young person about the house, though. I am that,
for I 'can't easily be anything else. I break into some
kind of noise about every five minutes. One of my nice
habits is singing. I think Aunt Sybilla got nervous at
first when I washed the dishes to the tune of Killarney
or sang Macushla when I swept the kitchen, but I pre-
tended not to see her frowns and kept right on. Now I
bet she'd miss my warbling if I should stop. She never
sings, at least not when I can hear it. Guess she must be
the kind that will die with all her music in her alas!
Now if she had to boil the breakfast eggs she wouldn't


sing, " Onward, Christian Soldiers," one verse for soft
and two for hard ! Her chant would probably be :

" A-a f ew-oo-oo more ye-ye-ars shall ro-11,

A-a f ew-oo-oo more sea-ea-ea-sons come,
And we-e-e shall be-e-e with-th those that re-st
A-a-sle-e-ep with-in the tomb."

By the time that verse would be half sung the eggs would
be hard !

I am not making fun of the way she'd sing, for I can't
sing a little bit, I just bubble over like a teakettle, but it
makes me feel better clean through. Then I laugh a lot.
There is something funny everywhere to laugh about, it
strikes me. One Sunday in Mennonite Church I got to
thinking what a funny thing a handkerchief was, and I
started to laugh. When I told Aunt Sybilla after we got
home she couldn't see why that made me laugh. I rather
suspect she thought I had a screw loose. If ever I make
her laugh, a loud, merry laugh, I'll chalk it in the chim-
ney. One day when it rained I sang and she asked me
what in the world I could find to sing about on a rainy
day. I said I had some robin in me. But the words of
the song did not please her. It was that pretty one about,
" It is not raining rain to me, it's raining daffodils." She
wanted to know what dumb talk that was, how could it
rain daffodils? When I said it was just a poet's imagina-
tion she informed me that her granny knew as much as
that poet then, for she remembered how that old lady had
said, when it rained after a dry spell in summer, that it
was raining potatoes or corn. Aunt Sybilla has little re-
spect for poets, but she is funny at times, more so because
she has no idea she is funny.

Between this letter and the next you can imagine how


busy and interested I am in exploring my new home and
learning to know my relatives. I must write to Miss
Hughes and tell her all about it. She has been so good
to me that even if I do find and like loads of relatives in
the years to come I shall never forget her. Only for her
my aunts would have a far worse specimen of humanity
to reform in Sarah Burkhart. I feel sorry enough for
them as it is; it must be an ordeal to think you have a
quiet tomb-like house and then have a young girl come
whirling in to stay. For me it's all gold and silver with
rainbow round the edges ; that's the Irish in me ; I can see
the rainbow every time.

You wrote once that you felt guilty because you took
me to Red Rose Court, but I can forgive you anything,
father, because you gave me an Irish mother !

With love,


I was up in the attic to-day such a place ! I im-
agined I felt the ghosts of many dead generations brush
against me as I stood under the brown rafters, taking
care, however, that my head didn't bump the ceiling ! I
had no idea an attic was half so romantic and spooky
and nice ! It gave me crawls along my spine and shivers
in my shoes. I saw the spinning wheel that some grand-
mother, with I don't know how many greats added, used to
spin the flax she herself had helped to plant and get ready
for the wheel. I felt as though I were back in history to
the Thirteen Original Colonies all in one minute. Then
I looked around and found a copper kettle, a mold for
making candles, a quilting frame, a hanging bric-a-brac
shelf made of spools and a few little boards. How that
ever escaped from the parlor I can't see. Isn't an attic a


most exciting place ! But I wasn't sent up to investigate
or enjoy it. Aunt Sybilla sent me there to get some home-
made soap from a box covered with a heavy board. The
first box I looked into was the wrong one but I am glad,
for thereby I found some old pictures I treasure. I stole
them, took them for my own, for they are pictures of you
when you were a boy. When I looked through the red
plush album that is set on an easel on the marble-top
parlor table, I wondered whether there were no pictures
of you. You can imagine how pleased I was to find some
in that box in the attic. One was a woman, sweet like
Aunt Mary, with a little boy by her side; the other
showed the same boy a few years older, standing by a
fancy gate holding a big hoop in his hand. They must
have been you when you were little. So I salved my
conscience by thinking nobody had a better right to them
than I, and here they are in my room. At night when the
door is shut and nobody can see, I take them out of my
bureau drawer and stand them on the top of it. You
were such a dear little fellow ! Those pictures make me
sad but glad at the same time.

Here's some pleasant news- I'm working in the store
office for grandfather. If I were getting a thousand a
month for being secretary to some millionaire I couldn't
be gladder than I am here. I am really earning money.
Grandfather says I'm doing well and he is paying me for
the work after giving me a home. He does have a fine
sense of honor. If only you two had understood each
other better years ago but what's the use of a post-
mortem now?

The people of Fairview are having the time of their
lives this week. Everybody in the town seems to need
nails, putty or paint. Bet there won't be an unpainted


porch or a loose board in the whole town. Of all the
customers in that store since I am working in that glass
office ! One old man who owed a bill for five years came
in and asked me how much it was. He paid it, two dol-
lars and ten cents, and he acted like he thought it was
worth it to have a good look at the girl who had such a
strange record. If grandfather charged admission he'd
make enough to retire in a week more. But I should
worry; if I'm good advertisement for the store then at
least I'm good for something.

There is a rector lives next door. He is so much nicer
than he sounds, just like any other human being. He
says I am original and amusing and once he called me
clever. I don't know how he figures that out. But he is
interesting and I am glad he lives next door. Sometimes
in the evening when we sit on the porch he jumps across
the hedge and comes to talk with us a while. Hedges are
convenient things! He sat with us several hours last
evening and asked me to tell him about Sunset Mountain.
Aunt Sybilla and grandfather went in after a while but
Aunt Mary stuck to me like the good person she is.
Once when I was telling about some of the girls I felt a
tear drop from her eyes on my hands. Then I told them
about Red Rose Court, the little Maloney baby and how I
used to sit on the curb and hold it and try to keep it
amused and not too hot, but it died just the same. The
rector laid his hand on my shoulder and said something
about a Madonna, but I don't know why he said that. I
guess he didn't call me that he couldn't! The ragged,
dirty little youngster that was Sade then was anything
but a Madonna. I was just a poor kid who loved the
other ones. They had a hard time in that Court. While
I was talking about it I could imagine I was right back


there, smelled the cabbage and worse things. I ran from
the porch and picked a few stems of lilies-of-the-valley
and poked my nose into them. When the rector asked
what I was doing I told him I had to get the smell of Red
Rose Court out of my head. Then he said something
about the sweetness of a noble soul being more potent
than the perfume of a perishable flower and that, there-
fore, I didn't need any lilies-of-the-valley. I didn't an-
swer him, for I wasn't quite sure what he meant. Rec-
tors do say things over one's head, sometimes ! But I
did understand the next thing he said : " Sarah, you have
had a varied life but it has not spoiled you. That big,
sympathizing heart of yours is all gold." I wanted to
cry coming from the Reverend Snavely that was much
to me. Then he no longer thinks I am that " heretic,
rebel, a thing to flout " !

I asked him if he did. " No, no, indeed ! " he told me.
" I know you are not that."

I suppose it all went over Aunt Mary's head but she
smiled and looked interested.

Reverend Snavely has stacks of good books and he has
told me to come over any time and help myself. If he is
gone the housekeeper will show me where to get them. I
have gone over several times and have always taken the
precaution to wait until I saw him go up the street.
Then I ran in, selected in a hurry, and was gone before
the owner could return. I wonder why I act so, but
something seems to make me. Guess I want to keep the
neighbors from gossip. For myself it wouldn't matter
much. I have so many black marks now that Fairview
scratching a few more against me would not greatly con-
cern me, but I'd rather lose my right hand than be the
cause of any dark hintings against the fair name of that


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Online LibraryAnna Balmer MyersThe madonna of the curb → online text (page 13 of 22)