Anna Balmer Myers.

The madonna of the curb online

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With the frankness of youth the girls refused to accept
the opinions of Mrs. Roth and the town in general and
took into their hearts the child of a convict. " I don't
care," they told each other confidentially, " she's lots of
fun and I like her ! "

Sarah felt the breaking of the barrier between them
and was glad. She began to see the first swath of that
circle she had planned to draw.

Every day was a joy day. There were walks to the
lake, down a long winding path through the heart of the
dense woods that edges Lake Conewago. Sometimes
there were longer climbs to the several peaks from whose
summits a panoramic view of the country could be had.'


It was to one of these peaks that Sarah and Dan came
several days before the end of the two weeks' stay at
Mount Gretna.

Another girl and boy had started with them for the
place where maidenhair ferns grow, but before they
reached the last trail the others decided to change their
destination and seek high moss that grew along a stream
and, they agreed, when the two parties returned to the
cottage the spoils could be divided. Sarah demurred but
the girl laughed and said, " Oh, what's going to bite you ?
Are you afraid of Dan ? "

Thus cornered Sarah could do no less than agree to the
changed plan and she and Dan continued on their way to
the rare maidenhair while the others turned aside to a
lower trail.

It was a perfect day in the woods. The grand old trees
reared their tops so high and were growing so close to-
gether that when Sarah looked upward her eyes met only
a tangle of green boughs oak, maple, pine, interlaced
until it was difficult to distinguish the parent trunk of
each tree. Hardy sword ferns grew in profusion, black-
berry vines and elders, laurel bushes and Solomon's seal
made a thick carpet under the trees. Along a sloping
bank away from the narrow trail tramped for years
through the woods, the dainty maidenhair fern lifted its
delicate parasols of green.

Sarah exclaimed joyously when she spied the first one.
She ran to it, knelt in the moss and touched the fronds
gently. " Oh," she cried, " these make me feel home-
sick for Sunset Mountain ! We used to get them there,
plant them in moss and keep them all winter. That was
a paradise for birds, flowers and so forth."

" But not for people," said the boy unsympathetically.


" I should think you'd want to forget that place instead
of talking about it all the time."

"Why?" she challenged, looking up at him with a
frown on her face that had so lately been radiant.

" Oh, well, you know a reformatory isn't exactly a
place to boast of as a former residence," he said jauntily,

" No I suppose you are like your mother you thank
heaven there was never a criminal or reformatory inmate
in your family ! "

The sarcasm did not escape the young man but he
threw back his head and laughed loudly. " Really,
girlie," he said gaily, " you are almost handsome when
you're angry."

Sarah's eyes grew dark. She ignored the bold speech
and bent more closely over the ferns.

Dan did not change the subject so readily. He turned
to where the girl knelt among the ferns and smiled down
at her. " Dearie, you're some girl ! I told mother you
have the others skinned a mile."

Sarah rose from the damp earth and faced him, her
face scarlet with wrath, her lips tense. " You better be
careful how you speak to me, Dan Roth!" she warned
him. But he was deaf to her words. The next instant
he grabbed her and though she struggled, succeeded in
printing a kiss upon her face. With a mighty wrench
she loosened his hold, gave him a hard smack on the
mouth, and darted down the woods away from him.

" Sarah ! " the boy called after her ; the unexpected
chastisement nonplussed him.

" Sarah ! " He looked about in bewilderment had the
earth opened and swallowed her? She was nimble and
the dense growth of bushes aided her. In a short time


she was completely out of sight of the youth, who stood
among the ferns, occasionally rubbing a hand ruefully
across his smarting face.

" By George ! The little fool ! She can't find her way
back to the cottage if she goes in that direction. Sarah ! "
But the woods gave back the empty sound, " ah ! " He
called again ; the " ah " fell mockingly upon his ears.
" Sarah ! " He started in pursuit. " Come back ! I
won't touch you again. You'll never find the way back
alone ! "

If the girl heard his frantic appeals she gave no sign.
She had struck headlong into the woods and kept going
circuitously anywhere to get away from the man who
had managed to instil genuine fear into her heart.

Dan floundered about in the dense undergrowth, call-
ing vainly but finding no trace of the girl's path. If he
had been endowed with Indian shrewdness and ability to
read the trail by trampled weeds left in her wake follow-
ing her might have been comparatively easy, but he was
an ordinary youth with little knowledge of woodcraft and
in his shock and apprehension he had stood helplessly by
while she ran far enough from him to be completely
concealed by the dense growth and after his scattered
wits were collected he had no means of determining the
direction of her flight. After an hour's vain search along
the narrow trail he confessed himself at a loss to find
her and started on the homeward road alone.

" Confound her ! " he muttered, " there'll be a grand
fuss if I get in ahead of her or she doesn't turn up soon !
Perhaps she's there now and will have the laugh on me
for hunting her when she's safe at the cottage."

But when Dan came to the girls' cottage he found as-
sembled on the porch all except Sarah.


" Why, where's Sarah ? " called the girl who had started
with them on the walk. " Have you lost her or thrown
her down a gulley ? "

" I she left me and started back alone." He was
thoroughly confused.

" What ! " shouted several of the girls. " You let her
go off alone in those mountains ! Are you crazy, Dan

His mother came to his rescue. " Oh, she'll get back
all right! It simply goes to show what a wild creature
she is. The idea of her running away from Dan and
placing him in such a predicament ! But what else can
one expect from such a girl? Serves her right if she
gets a good scare. But she can easily find the path and
keep on it till she strikes the railroad, then she'll know
where she is. There is no need to worry. She will be
back soon enough."

" Yes," said Mary Becker who had tramped over those
mountains and knew their vastness, " that would be very
easy if there were only one trail, but I happen to know
there are dozens of wood-cutters' trails leading deep into
the woods, miles from here, some of them. To be lost
in the heart of that hill is no joke. It's a shame! What
kind of an escort are you, Dan Roth, to allow a girl to
do such a thing ! "

" Ah, she didn't ask me, just got funny and ran off
and before I knew what she was up to she was gone so
I couldn't find her. She was lost as a needle in a hay-

" Urn," the girl eyed him keenly. " What made her do
that ? " she demanded. " She would not have done it
unless she had some good reason."

" Bah ! " Dan turned from his inquisitor. " She makes


me sick! Let her be lost! What is she at any rate
just a convict's kid and a reformatory girl ! "

" Oh, no, you aren't fair to her ! " said Sarah's cham-
pion. " Sarah is more than you said just now! She is
the cleverest, kindest, most original and entertaining girl
I know ! We have been mean to her, so mean we couldn't
see her fine qualities. I guess we were prejudiced by
gossip, most of us. But if she ever comes back I'm
going to try to win her friendship; she's worth cultivat-
ing. I have an idea we could all learn a few things from
Sarah Burkhart."

The praise, coming from one of Fairview's socially
elect, augured well for the future happiness of Sarah.
But the praise struck terror to the heart of Mrs. Roth.
The words, " if she ever comes back," set her thinking.

" My gracious," she cried, " the girl might really get
lost! What shall we do?" She lifted her eyes to the
big mountain that reared its head above Mount Gretna
and trailed away into dimness remote. To be lost there
was, indeed, no joking matter.

" Dan," she cried, " whatever made you let her do such
a thing ? We must find her ! I'll tell the rector and you
have to start after her."

" Go ahead," said the boy stubbornly. " I'm not in it !
I called her and she wouldn't come back."

His mother did not answer but ran down to the cottage
where the rector was. Her story was soon told. The
look on the face of the Reverend Snavely did not tend
to reassure her. The man sensed something more than
mere caprice in the flight of the girl. What had Dan
done? But there was scanty time for ruminating. It
was already late in the afternoon. In several hours at
most dusk would envelop the mountains. The rector


moved quickly. In a short time he had gathered the
boys, Dan making an unwilling member of the searching
party, though he could not meet the inquiring eyes of the

" Ah," he grumbled, " all this fuss and while we're
off she'll come strolling to the cottage and laugh at us
for a pack of fools."

" Would you like to spend the night alone in the hills ? "
asked the man so quietly that Dan flushed and said,
" Come on, I'm ready."

Prepared with lanterns and flash-lights the rescue
party started off. Doubtless many of the cottagers won-
dered at the strange procession but they were not en-
lightened. Mrs. Roth persuaded the rector to keep the
matter quiet unless it became imperative to call upon
others for assistance. The little party crossed the picnic
grounds, the railroad, then struck into the woods. Up,
up led the trail to the lair of the maidenhair ferns,
through aisles of sylvan beauty. Great monarchs of the
mountains towered over them, the green of August
springing luxuriantly covered every corner with loveli-
ness. But they had no eyes for the beauties of the woods
then. Even Dan began to feel the loneliness and utter
isolation of the woodland depths.

When they reached the place where two trails branched
away from the main one they had followed the rector
decided te split the party.

" It would be best to go several ways. Two of you
follow the one to the right and one take the left-hand
road for that leads to the lake after a long winding and
won't be so lonely for one to go alone. I'll follow this
main trail to the maidenhair place."

" Aren't you afraid ? "


" No. I have a gun in my pocket. In case you find
her hello. But if I find some trace of her and think I'm
on the right track I'll keep on till dark overtakes me. If
I find her I'll fire the gun. I really think, though, there's
more chance of your finding her on the lower trails as
she'd naturally go down hill if she became lost. I know
the lay of the land fairly well up there for I've tramped
all over it. I'm hoping some of us will find her before
dusk. Of course there is little danger from any wild
beasts, but it's creepy to be lost in the woods at night.
Well, boys, go on till you think dusk is coming then get
back to the cottage. Good luck ! "

So the boys followed the directions of the rector while
he plodded up the steep path to the place where the ferns
grew. He paused there a time, noted the trampled ferns
and broken branches of interfering shrubbery. A huckle-
berry plant flat upon the ground pointed to the direction
the girl had taken from the fern bower. But the trail
was hard to follow. It led straight through the densest
portions of the woods, down hill over a sloping portion
whose precipitous descent had helped the girl in conceal-

" That boy scared her ! " the rector exclaimed. " I'd
like to know what sort of a fool he made of himself ! "

It was, indeed, like the renowned search for a needle
in a haystack. Once he found the imprint of a woman's
shoe in the soft mold. He hailed it with delight. For a
stretch he was able to follow her trail by the footprints
planted into the dark earth. It was drawing him deeper
into the woods. He wished he had brought the others up
there and then sent them into other directions, for he was
almost certain she had gone into the woods far away
from the trails he had sent them to follow. Yet, who


knew where her wanderings would lead her! Accord-
ing to the evidence before the rector she was traveling
farther away from Mount Gretna every step. Once he
spied something white and stooped to pick it up. It was
a handkerchief with an embroidered S in one corner.
He tucked it into his pocket and kept on, confident he
was on the right trail. Yet the others might reach her
rather than he for he knew how many were the curves
of the trails. If by any chance she had turned and gone
down hill the boys might have found her but if she kept
on as she seemed to have done he would be nearest to
her. Frequently he called loudly, but no response greeted
him. Dusk began to settle in the woods and still he kept
on going. He felt sure he was on the proper trail, though
his frequent hellos met with only the mournful echo of
the woods.

" Sarah ! " he called, but the forest swallowed her name.

He kept on, his lantern lighted and swung low to search
for traces of her going. He found them at intervals,
prints of her shoes in the loam of the woods, and he
blessed the spongy nature of the soil. Broken, trampled
plants greeted him at other places and he clung to the
hope that they had been trampled by Sarah, not by any
woodland creature. Then darkness came and with it an
uneasy feeling that perhaps he had missed the trail after
all. He could see no more prints in the ground ; it sud-
denly became covered thickly with leaves and low shrub-
bery. He confessed himself entirely uncertain as how to
go. But he felt he could not go back. He had followed
her so far and going back would mean losing the scent.
He resolved to spend the night in the woods and wait for
daybreak to continue the search. In the light he stood
more chance to discover new clews. So the rector se-


lected a sheltered place under a tree, broke off branches
of pine and made a bed, then stretched out in the green
nest, pulled other branches over him. The night had
brought chilliness on the hills and a blanket would not
have been amiss. The man closed his eyes but not to
sleep. A thousand worries plagued him like devils
how was the girl faring, what shelter had she from the
cold? Had the others found her? Was she scared or
hurt or still tramping hopelessly farther into the maze
of trees?

Once he stopped short to ask his heart why the plight
of the .girl was so much concern to him. Was it mere
humanitarianism for a friend in distress, was it wholly
pity and a desire to rescue from discomfort that urged
him to spend the night in the open and then go on until
he should find the lost girl? 'But the riddle of his heart
received no solution that night. When the. first streaks
of dawn invested the trees with a gray ghostliness he
jumped from his bed, shook the pine needles from his
clothes, and started off for new clews to lead him to the



WHEN Sarah ran from the kiss of Dan Roth she
seemed impelled by a force over which she had no con-
trol. Anywhere to get away from that look in his eyes
and the hot sacrilege of his touch on her lips! She
struck into the wildest part of the woods expecting that
he would see and follow her and subject her to further
humiliation. She glanced back in terror and was amazed
to find that the kindly bushes had hidden her. She could
not see Dan and reasoned that he therefore could not see
her. Then she crept cautiously on her hands and knees
farther away from him, hiding behind giant trunks, curv-
ing her direction a trifle so that she kept behind the place
where they had come for ferns. She heard him calling
and moved from the sound of his voice. Fainter and
fainter grew his calls and she thanked heaven that he had
taken the wrong direction. But she still kept on, low on
the ground, which accounted for the trampled bushes
which had helped the rector. After what seemed ages
to her she raised herself and stood still. All was quiet
about her. She was in the heart of a thick woods, no
trail or path in sight, only an unbroken forest that stood
majestically all around her.

" Oh," she breathed, " what a place ! But how am I
going to get out of it? "

In her terror she had taken no account of the turns
and twists she had made, following only the least tangled


course through the woods, and making numerous turns
that completely shut her from any knowledge of the di-
rection in which Mount Gretna and its haven cottage lay.
She went on until she thought it must be just ahead, but
no path came in sight. It was dusk, she was tired and
hungry and lost ! The consciousness of the fact pierced
her mind. Lost she repeated the word. Her face
blanched for an instant lost in the mountains the
words were pregnant with terror and nameless fear.
She was afraid to call for Dan. Perhaps he was still
lurking about, perhaps other fugitives were in those hills
what could she do! She stood still and pondered, a
feeling of helplessness possessing her. As she stood so
a small rabbit bounded out of the bushes close to her.
.He froze at sight of her, then turned and hopped into the
woods again, his white cottontail bobbing like a ball.

Sarah laughed. " There," she said to herself, " if a
-tiny bunny isn't afraid in these woods I shouldn't be!
I guess there are no wolves or lions or their like here
to eat me up. It's getting dark and I can't think of any-
thing better to do than wait until the lights are out and
then climb a tree and look for Mount Gretna. If I were
a girl scout or an Indian I'd know how to get out of
this, I suppose. But I don't seem able to remember any-
thing I learned about the woods from Miss Hughes ex-
cept that the moss grows on the north side of the trees.
But heaven only knows whether Mount Gretna is north
or some other direction from here. I'm the dumbest
thing when it comes to direction. I lose myself as easily
as a baby. But I'm not lost. I'm like the Indian who
was lost but said, ' Indian not lost, wigwam lost ! ' I'm
not lost, Mount Gretna's lost! Poor Mount Gretna, it's
too lovely a place to be lost ! " She smiled. " But I'll


find it in the morning." So, with the indomitable will of
her ancestors, a strong strain both paternally and ma-
ternally, she decided to make the best of the situation
and refrain from hysteria. " I'm lost no, I mean Mount
Gretna's lost and I can't find it right away so I'll have
to stay where I am. I'm afraid to sleep on the ground."
The old saying of her childhood came to her " I ain't
afraid of nobody nor nothin' but snakes ! " It still held
good. She feared crawly things as much as in those
early days. " I'll have to look around for a tree I can
climb and roost there, then I guess I'll be a rooster."
She laughed at her feeble wit, making the experience as
much of a lark as she could.

The place where she halted was closely set with oaks
looming dark in the swift-gathering night. About the
trunk of one was twined a wild grape-vine that reached
high into the branches and had sent out tendrils, across
to other trees, forming a natural swing of green. Sarah
tried the swing; it bore her weight without sagging
greatly. She gripped it firmly and was soon in the lowest
branch of the oak, with the vine of the grape forming a
green back for her comfort.

"There," she said as she settled herself in a crotch,
trying to find the softest spot in the tree and pulling some
of the luxuriant vines for a cushion, then twining some
about her neck and shoulders to keep out the cold wind
that rustled through the woods. Once a pair of black
eyes regarded her curiously and a striped chipmunk
looked out from behind the shelter of a neighboring tree
as though to ask the reason of such intrusion in his grape
haunt. But Sarah laughed at him and pulled some of the
wild grapes from the vine and ate them.

" I'm hungry ! I've been so flabbergasted I forgot


about it, but I am hungry! If I can't find the way out
in the morning I'll have to be like Elijah. But I could
eat grapes. I wouldn't starve. There are grapes and
grapes and I guess I would grow tired of a diet of
just grapes ! "

The sleepy cheep of birds was all she heard in the tree.
By and by that, too, was hushed and silence reigned in
the forest. When the stars came out she climbed farther
up; perhaps she could see lights and find her bearings.
But though she mounted branch after branch she could
not reach the top of the oak by many feet and all she
could discern was more trees and more trees until her
heart sank.

" I'll climb back nearer the ground for there I feel less
keenly that I am lost. Up here " her lips trembled
" I'll just have to stay here all night. Perhaps I'm a
short distance from the cottage, perhaps miles."

She crept back to her grape-vine once more so soon
it had become a blessed refuge. There she settled as
comfortably as possible in the broad crotch and waited
for dawn. She was afraid to sleep ; her hold on the tree
was none too solid. With sleep might come a tumble
into the grass and perhaps upon a sleeping snake. The
very thought sent shivers up and down her back. So
she sat all night wide awake, nodding at times, drawing
her thin dress closely about her and wishing for some
magic power to transform the grape leaves into blankets.
She was tired and hungry and cold and unhappy and all
because she had run away from Dan Roth in a moment
of wild fright. Dan Roth was the fault of her predica-
ment Dan, the son of the woman who thanked God her
family had no black sheep ! Sarah's attitude toward that
family was none too pleasant during that night. If Dan


had been within reach of her he would have undoubtedly
suffered more than a slap upon the mouth. But Dan was
safe in his cottage while she clung to the wild grape-vine
in an oak tree.

At times the funny side of the situation demanded her
attention and she laughed. " I'm up a tree, for sure,"
she thought. But the next minute she would shiver and
tremble and wish all sorts of bad luck upon the one who
was responsible for her discomfort.

" And yet," she confessed, " I guess I'm getting just
what I deserve. I just ran around with Dan and was
nice to him because his mother hates me so. Serves me
right, what I got ! "

Never was the dawn welcomed so cordially by Sarah
as that morning. The light came slowly into the fastness
of the forest, but it came none the less surely. First a
dull gray crept into the woods, then the light filtered
through the canopy of leaves and Sarah could see the
dim outlines of the bushes under the trees. With the
first glimmer of light the birds began their morning songs.
To Sarah, who found delight in the feathered friends,
the chorus was a joy long to be remembered, even above
the terror and discomfort of the night. A whistling cat-
bird started the song and was quickly followed by a
medley of other bird-voices that roused the curiosity of
the listener in the tree.

"What bird is that? Oh, that's a new song!" fell
from the lips of the girl. " Glory, how sweet ! "

Dawn in the forest was delightful, she thought, and
almost made up for the night spent in the crotch of an
oak. Warblers and vireos poured forth their limpid notes
of joy, thrushes added their sweetness to the music, a
screaming jay forever picking a quarrel sounded the only


discordant note in the chorus, tie flew close to Sarah's
tree and flashed his blue gorgeousness about with seem-
ing unconcern of her presence.

Underfoot the earth seemed to waken too with the
light. Squirrels scampered across the weeds, a big brown
butterfly rose from a flower where he had doubtless spent
the night, a few vagrant bees started off on their round
of daily toil. Sarah climbed from the tree and looked
about her. Which way to go to reach the cottage ?

She picked a handful of wild grapes and ate them,
thinking how monotonous grape diet would become if
indefinitely resorted to. In spite of her uncomfortable
position in the tree she felt ready to tramp anew; her
heart beat with fresh courage. Dawn brought to her
some of its magic, invigorating power. Of course she

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Online LibraryAnna Balmer MyersThe madonna of the curb → online text (page 16 of 22)