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could not be many miles from Mount Gretna! The
mountain was not so huge that she could not find an
outlet soon!

" I'll just keep on going and trust to luck," she thought
as she stood ready to resume her search for the home-
ward trail. She reasoned that if the road she had taken
the previous night had been the right one she would have
reached familiar places, so she might as well start out in
a different direction. She had passed the mammoth oak
the previous night now which way? Then she remem-
bered one of the tricks of Red Rose Court used by the
urchins to find lost marbles and so forth she solemnly
opened her left hand and spat into it, then clapped into
it the forefinger of the right hand. It was an unfailing
guide, she had thought in those Red Rose Court days,
and now, though grown above superstition, she resorted
to the old method and gravely set out in the direction
indicated by the test.


It was still early morn, the daylight not yet full, but so
eager was she to find the way back that she set out gladly
in the dimness. What had they thought at the cottage?
Had they feared for her ? But, pshaw ! There were none
to actually worry about her. None in that little group
cared whether she were lost or not. They might feel
curious about her, worried for what the world would
say if any harm befell her while with them, but real
worry for her own sake that was out of the ques-
tion! Sarah laughed to keep from crying as she went

"Why did this have to happen?" she asked herself.
" Just when Mary Becker and some of the girls were
beginning to act as though they liked me I had to go
spoil the whole thing. Of course they are so proper they
are shocked terribly at a girl who runs from a boy and
gets lost and spends the night alone in the woods! I
am marking up a list of black crosses after my name ! "

Then she thought of Dan. What had he told them?
Had he invented some ingenious tale? Oh, Dan would
look out for Dan every time ! She had no fear that he
would tell the reason of her flight.

As she tramped through the underbrush, her eyes keen
for snakes in the tangled weeds, a faint " Hello ! " came
to her. Her heart seemed to suspend action for a mo-
ment, a panic of fear seized her. She crouched in the
grass behind a clump of laurel whose glossy leaves hid
her effectually. All thought of snakes left her; a lurking
copperhead might have struck its fangs deeply in a death
blow as she knelt there, her ears strained for the sound
of that voice.

" Hello ! " It came nearer. Was that Dan's voice ?

" Hello ! Sarah ! " The voice was not Dan's ! A re-


laxation stole over the girl as she caught through the
bushes a glimpse of the rector. She rose and answered,
then stood by the laurel and swayed unsteadily.

" Oh, I'm so glad it's you ! " she said as he ran down
the woodland aisle to her.

" Are you all right ? " His words came in breathless

She nodded her head; words seemed to be difficult to

" Perfectly all right ? " he insisted.

Quickly she regained her composure. " ' I'm clothed
and in my right mind,' " she quoted.

The man laughed in relief. The search was ended, he
had found Sarah! "How, why did it happen?" he
asked as they started off through the woods.

" Am I far from Mount Gretna ? " she evaded.

" Just about two miles and in the heart of the woods.
How did it happen ? "

" Didn't Dan tell you what did Dan tell you ? "

" He said you ran away from him and got lost."

" Well, I guess Dan knows as well as I do, so why
ask me the same thing ? " she answered, which was, he
felt, a polite way to tell him that further probing would
be useless.

" So long as you're all right " the man began, then

he looked away quickly. He was struggling hard not
to be drawn into that circle she and Love were drawing!
" Where did you spend the night ? " he asked. " At the
birds' inn?"

" No, the chipmunks'," she replied. Then she told him
of her supper of wild grapes and breakfast of wild
grapes, her rest in the tree, and she launched into a
description of the early chorus of the birds until the man


felt relieved in knowing that the experience had not been
so harrowing for her as one might imagine.

"If some one had been with me it would have been
the greatest treat of my life ! " she ended. " To hear the
birds usher in the dawn in the forest is wonderful. To
be out under the stars all night is delightful ! "

" Yes. I have enjoyed those things. I slept many
nights under the open sky one summer in Colorado. It's
great great! You'd enjoy the mountains of the west
where we carry blankets and food and climb miles and
miles to the summit and see the sunset, then roll up in
the blanket and sleep under the stars until sunrise."

"Oh, I should enjoy that! I hope I'll get to see it
some day."

They went on silently a while then began to talk; she
thanking him for the rescue, he trying to make light of
it, and both at length turning to nature's boundless, in-
teresting subjects for relief from the strange embarrass-
ment that had foolishly touched them.

" I saw a tree up there blown by the storm," she told
him. " A big, green tree with thick trunk like the other
trees but when it was wrecked you could see that where
its heart should have been there was nothing but a big
vacant hollow."

" Yes " he drew the word out in that drawling,

inquiring way he had. Sarah flushed. What had made
her say that? As if she were trying to imply that he had
no heart oh, life was a complicated thing !

She was glad when they reached a little mountain
brook and her perplexities of mind could be forgotten
while they talked of the clear waters and the sands show-
ing through the transparency.

Sarah sank to her knees, dipped her hand in the cold



water and drank from her cupped palm. He stood by
regarding the picture. Like a Narcissus bending over
the stream, he likened her.

"Oh," she startled him with her cry, "look!" She
pointed down stream to where a few sprigs of flaming
cardinal flowers stood like soldiers among the reeds and
grasses. Darting through the weeds she plucked two
branches of the rare crimson blossoms. " One for each
of us," she said, smiling, as she handed it to him. " This
says, ' Thank you, Reverend Snavely, for what you did
for me.' "

"Thank you!" He drew from his pocket a small
note-book and laid the scarlet flowers between the pages
as if to press them.

" I won't press mine," she said gaily. Then she tucked
the red flowers in her hair where they made a vivid
streak of color against the black of her locks.

All the rest of the way to the old trail the girl was
laughing and merry. It seemed to the man beside her
that some brightness of the very morning itself had been
caught by her and rang out in her infectious laugh. She
sobered as they entered the grounds where the cottages

" I forget," she confessed, " that not everybody in this
place has been out all night ! It behooves me to be sober
and dignified. I dare say I should assume a doleful ex-
pression and look at you with that ' Fond-hero-you
saved-my-life ' expression ! "

She checked her tongue as they passed a cottage where
an early riser was sweeping the porch. Doubtless the
two young people were thought of as lovers strolling out
to escape the maddening crowd. A warm smile followed
them as they passed.


Mary Becker, the girl who had championed Sarah the
previous day, was sweeping the porch when Sarah and
the rector came in sight. As Sarah called, " Oo-oo ! "
Mary turned. The next moment her broom was thrown
aside and her arms twined about the neck of the lost girl.

" Sarah, I'm glad to see you safely back ! We thought
you were lost ! "

" Why " the demonstration was surprising to the

girl who had received so little in that line during her
eighteen years. " I was lost but Reverend Snavely found

" Oh, I'm so glad ! " Tears sprang to the eyes of the

" Why " Sarah looked at her, amazed. " I never

thought any one would care if I were lost, not really

" But I do. I care very much, Sarah. You're the
dearest girl I know and I don't want to lose you just
when I come to my senses enough to appreciate you."

" Why, Mary Becker, it's worth living in the woods,
lost, a whole week to hear you say that ! I'd live on wild
grapes for more than one day to hear you tell me that I
really have a friend."

" Listen to her," said Mary to the rector ; " wouldn't
you know she's part Irish by the blarney of her ? " She
linked her arm affectionately in Sarah's. " Mrs. Roth
will be so relieved to know you are back. When Dan
and the boys got back last night without you she almost
had hysterics. We had a hard time keeping her from
sounding a general alarm and getting out the whole
colony to hunt for the lost girl. But so long as Reverend
Snavely did not come in and report failure we thought
it best to wait for morning. I couldn't sleep for won-


dering where you were. So I got up early and came out
to sweep the porch. I tell you there's nothing like stiff
sweeping and making the dust fly if you're worried or
cross, even if it isn't hygienic."

They laughed and a little later the rector went to his
own cottage and the girls entered theirs.

" She's here ! " called Mary up the stairs.

Soon Mrs. Roth and the girls ran down in negligee, all
eager to hear an account of the night in the woods.

When Sarah had finished her simple tale, in which she
had not divulged the cause of her flight from Dan, Mrs.
Roth looked skeptically at her. " So you slept in a tree
all night and Reverend Snavely was in the woods all
night too, you say um, a very thrilling adventure," she
said smugly.

Sarah was tempted to mete to her the same chastise-
ment Dan had received at her hands. But the girl merely
looked her squarely in the eyes and repeated, " Yes, we
were within less than half a mile of each other. If I
had known that I should have enjoyed the stars more."

The girl's calm, steady gaze should have warned the
woman but she went on heedlessly. " Well, all I can
say is I hope it doesn't get out in Fairview that you two
were out in the woods all night! It would spoil the
rector's reputation. Of course, if you were any other
girl, like Mary or one of the others, but with your "

" Mrs. Roth ! " cried Mary, hot indignation in her voice,
" how dare you speak to Sarah like that ! She is good
as any of us, better than most of us ! "

" Thank you, Mary," said Sarah, " but don't waste
time trying to convince Mrs. Roth that I'm all wool and
a yard wide. You know the old saying about a man
convinced against his will. But, Mrs. Roth," she faced


the woman and her eyes gleamed dark, " I want to tell
you that you better not try to spoil the good name of
Reverend Snavely by linking it with mine and a night in
the woods! It doesn't matter for me I'd presumably
be * never the worse for a spot or two on my speckled
hide ' but don't you besmirch the name of that man ! If
you gossip about it in Fairview I well, I'll tell whole
Fairview why I ran away from Dan ! " And with that
to ponder she left Mrs. Roth and went up-stairs to wash
and to comb her hair, rather disreputable from its contact
with the grape-vines.

Later in the morning Dan came strolling to the girls'
cottage. He tried to look innocent and casually con-

" Ho, Sarah," he greeted her as she sat in the swing
beside Mary, " I see you got back. Were you really

" No," disclaimed the girl. " I wasn't lost, Mount
Gretna was lost."

That was too much for the youth to fathom, but he
breathed more easily Sarah wasn't going to tell after
all. She was rather a good sport even if she was squeam-
ish about a little thing like a stolen kiss.

But Dan found that even if the girl kept silent about
the adventure in the woods she had no further use for
him. He could never manage, contrive as he would, to
have one minute alone with her. Hang it, how was a
fellow to apologize when she built a wall about herself!
Sarah had no wish to hear any apology, all she desired
was to have Dan leave her alone.

The last days at Mount Gretna were uneventful. The
last one was occupied with packing in which Sarah en-
tered with good will. It was a blessing to have work to


do when her heart ached, for the experience with Dan
had left its mark upon her. Her faith in human nature
was a bit shaken ; she felt humiliated and ashamed of her-
self for affording an opportunity for the boy's insult.
She would be more wary, less gullible. Never again
would she trust a man of Dan's calibre, she told herself.
Now the rector, he was different! How utterly gentle-
manly he had treated her as they had walked through
the silent woods to safety.

On the whole the vacation at Mount Gretna was one
long to be remembered by the girl whose first pleasure
trip it was. There she had gained the confidence of the
girls, secured a warm friend in Mary Becker, read an-
other page of weak human nature uncurbed by the su-
periority of spirit, learned to know the rector better and
appreciate his fine qualities anew as she looked at the
cottage for the last time she felt that she had learned
many things there.

Grandfather Burkhart greeted her with warm welcome.

" Hello, Sarah, so you got back once ! " he called to
her before she had entered the big house in Fairview.
" Well, I'm glad ! It was kinda lonesome here this while
past. I said to Sybilla yesterday that it's funny how
soon we get used to something and don't want to part
with it. Here you been with us just since April and
before that the place was still like a church and now
since you come it's lively and when you go off for a few
weeks we miss you."

" Oh, grandpap, did you miss me ? "

"Miss you? Yes."

" Like you'd miss a boil on the neck after it went
like that ? " she asked laughingly.

He laughed. Laughs were rare in his life. Sarah


joined in his deep, throaty chuckle and even Sybilla
smiled at the girl's words.

" No, Sarah," he told her, " we missed you like we
miss the robins when they go away for the winter, didn't
we, Sybilla, Mary ? "

Sybilla nodded and Mary wiped her eyes on her apron
before she could speak. " Laws, Sarah, it was like a
cemetery round here. I was for borrowing Mrs. Felker's
polly, only they say it swears so ugly still."

Sarah laughed and her eyes shone. She was missed
then! Oh, her circle was closing up! The girls had
been drawn into it, grandpap and Aunt Mary were in-
side, and Aunt Sybilla might be near enough to get
hauled in at a moment's notice.

" Love and I had the wit to win
We drew a circle that took him in."

She loved them so much they had to love her !



WHEN Sarah returned from her vacation at Mount
Gretna she found her grandfather had decided to turn
many of his private affairs of the office over to her.
He came to depend upon her more and more, greatly to
the chagrin of Dan Roth who had longed for a greater
interest in the business at some future day. There was
no male heir to the Burkhart family, he reasoned, and
some day the old man would want to shift the burden.
Then if a capable young man happened to be employed
in the office there might be a chance of advancement.
But the coming of Sarah had changed some of the plans
of old Jeremiah Burkhart. Sarah might marry some day
and her husband take over the hardware business, so it
would be well for her to become acquainted with some
of the routine of the office.

Since the death of the girl's father the old man was
devoted to Sarah. The dark-haired, gray-eyed girl could
have twisted him about her finger like a supple string.
Of course she was a Burkhart but he had to confess there
was strong evidence of her mother's blood in her per-
sonality. And that mother had been an actress and
dancer. Old Jeremiah could not reconcile the old knowl-
edge with new opinions. Some of the things about which
he had been so sure all his life were beginning to be hazy
with doubts. Was it possible that a person could dance,
follow the vain things of the world, and yet be endowed


with so many sterling qualities that the child born to
her would be like Sarah ? Were not all dancers followers
of Satan ? He had believed they were. He remembered
some of the things his son had revealed to him during
those intimate soul- communing days before death ended
the revelations. Jeremiah junior had told of the Irish
actress wife, her gentleness, kindness, goodness and
staunch devotion to him. Surely, Sarah bore evidence
of noble qualities that the weak-willed father could not
have transmitted to her. Old Jeremiah was perplexed as
he tried to puzzle out the world-old riddle. He felt satis-
fied that his faith was sufficient unto him, that the plain,
severe ways of the Mennonites were wholesome and
worthy of emulation, but for the first time in his life he
wondered whether the conduct of persons outside the
sect might be wholly commendable. The man who had
been hemmed in by one narrow horizon was looking be-
yond it and seeing a world of good outside the lines he
had drawn. Had he been narrow and selfish? Certainly
he could never indulge in any worldly pleasures, but was
that sufficient reason for marking them sins ? Was there
good in everybody and wickedness in the most pious?
He, who had prided himself for years upon his square
dealing with his fellow men, had been unfair to his own
son. He who had been unimpeachable in the matter of
outward observances of his religion had failed to practice
charity and mercy. The spirit of catholicity stirred in
him. What a self-satisfied old sinner he had been when
he deemed himself so righteous as to be qualified to
arbitrate the destiny of his son ! Now, since that girl of
the slums and reformatory had come to him and taught
him the meaning of the word forgive, along with in-
numerable other valuable lessons, he could discern good


in the most wretched offenders against all laws of man
and God.

It reminded him of the story Mary once told about a
town character, an old woman who went to every funeral
in and near Fairview and always said something to the
credit of the deceased. One day a miserable wretch
died, so miserable that none could think of any good
quality the optimistic old lady could employ as a last
eulogy. Some curious ones lingered near the casket as
the old woman came to look at the dead and speak her
good word. She gazed long into the still face, then
turned to the group who waited for the words and said,
" Poor Joe ! He always was such a good whistler ! " It
was true ! They remembered then how in the years gone
by the man's cheery whistle had floated on the air and
often inspired and heartened them.

Old Jeremiah did much thinking those days. The
death of his son and the coming of Sarah had opened his
eyes to truths hidden from him for years. But the trou-
bles under which he had passed left their stamp upon
him. He stooped and looked older. The weight of busi-
ness seemed to be growing heavy and he welcomed the
opportunity to initiate Sarah into the secrets of hardware
and give more and more of his affairs into her hands.

The responsibilities thus thrust upon the girl did not
dismay her, rather they filled her with pride. Her grand-
father trusted her !

One day in September as she sat in the office looking
over some bills and making out a list of orders for her
grandfather's approval, a strange paper lay before her
eyes as she turned over a stack of order sheets. Dan
Roth had arranged the papers what had that one to do
with orders? It was a white sheet the same size as the.


others, but its surface was covered with her grandfa-
ther's name. Some twenty copies of it were written
closely, one under the other, copy-book style, Jeremiah
Burkhart. At first glance she thought it her grandfa-
ther's handwriting, then she looked more closely. It was
a clever, successful attempt to copy the writing of the
owner of the hardware store ! Who had done it ? Who
but Dan? A great suspicion woke in her heart. Had
Dan tried to write like her grandfather? For what pur-
pose? The paper fell from her hand. She was grateful
that Dan was not in the office. She must hide it before
he returned. But she sat and looked at it dumfounded.
The writer had had difficulty with the old-fashioned
script of Jeremiah Burkhart's day. The curly B was
hard to copy and the slant writing had been almost im-
possible to do well Dan wrote vertical writing. The
last names at the bottom of the page were remarkably
like the signature of the old man. Oh, what had she
stumbled upon ? Was Dan daring to but no ! He was
a silly young boy who needed some hard bumps to bring
him to his senses but surely he would not be guilty of
forgery! What an ugly word! She shivered at the
thought of it. Determined to keep watch over the boy
she stuffed the paper into her blouse and applied herself
to the bills and orders. " I'll keep two eyes on Dan
Roth," she decided. " He needn't think he can cheat my
grandfather! He'll stand watching, I'm thinking."

She took the incriminating paper home and placed it
in her bureau drawer. " Now for some Sherlock Holmes
shrewdness," she told herself.

Dan did not discover the loss of the paper. He had
made many such attempts to copy the name, then torn
them into shreds. But he wondered why Sarah looked


at him so keenly when he returned to the office. " Ah,"
he thought complacently, " guess she's coming round !
Give her time and she'll be eating out of my hand. She's
deuced good-looking but as proud as Lucifer." How-
ever, he liked girls with spirit, ones you had to fight to
get. Not that he wanted to marry her far from it!
Though, when he came to think about it, she would be
a good catch for she would some day inherit all the
Burkhart money. She was the last of that family and
Fairview said Jeremiah was one of its richest men. No,
he wouldn't think of marrying her, the little wildcat!
How she stung his face that day in the woods ! But he'd
get even some day. He'd make her like him and then trot
off and forget her. He could dance and not pay the
piper. Of course he would have to be careful not to
make the old man doubt him for he wanted to hold on to
the position in the office. He would have to walk cir-
cumspectly to please the old man. Pshaw! Only for
that he'd pay back that upstart who acted as though a
Roth were not good enough for her! He'd try to make
her care for him, though, to save his pride.

However, Sarah gave him no encouragement. Every
overture for friendliness she met with cool indifference,
until he became more and more eager to win her friend-
ship. His mother was pleased by the girl's refusal to
have any semblance of friendship with Dan, yet she, too,
resented Sarah's haughty scorn of Dan. What a shame,
thought Mrs. Roth, that all the Burkhart money would
go to a girl like that! If she were a different type Dan
might have feathered his nest very nicely by marrying
her. But much as Mrs. Roth liked money and little as
she had at her command, she felt that ambitions would
be gratified at too costly a price if the money were se-


cured by Dan's marriage with the daughter of a convict.
She still thanked heaven that her family was free from
such taints. She hoped Sarah would never care for him.

Mrs. Roth might have spared herself any disquietude
on that subject. Sarah had no intentions of angling for
Dan. In fact she regretted deeply any former friendli-
ness for she knew that what had happened she had
brought upon herself. " I ran around with Dan to get
his mother's goat and the goat turned and butted me,"
she thought whimsically.

Then, too, the girl had other things to claim her at-
tention. Since her return from the mountains her days
had been filled so full that she felt certain she was, at
last, experiencing all the thrills and busy times other
girls knew. Working in the store and office, helping in
the house and garden, during the long autumn days, the
hours were all too short. Sometimes when evening came
Mary Becker and a few of the other girls stopped and
asked her to go for one of the long walks round the town
or they stopped at the home of one of the crowd and sat
in friendly fashion on the porch and laughed and ex-

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Online LibraryAnna Balmer MyersThe madonna of the curb → online text (page 17 of 22)