Anna Balmer Myers.

The madonna of the curb online

. (page 18 of 22)
Online LibraryAnna Balmer MyersThe madonna of the curb → online text (page 18 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

changed confidences as she had so longed to do during
those first days of her ostracism. Every Saturday after-
noon she accompanied one of the aunts "up-town," which
meant in Fairview walking up the shaded streets to the
business section and buying provisions for the week-end.
When Sarah went along, a big basket on her arm, she
felt most important, though the packages in her basket
held such ordinary contents as coffee, dried beef or
cheese. At last she was sharing in a real home and each
detail of it was glorified in her eyes.

Since the return from Mount Gretna the Reverend
Snavely had an odd, puzzling way of being friendly one


day and distant the next. At times it hurt her. Had
she fallen in his estimation since that day she was lost
in the woods? Why did he wear that air of cool aloof-
ness, that look of a desire to keep out of contact with
her? Then her old bravado came to her rescue and she
went about humming gay songs, laughing at nothings, not
daring to confess to herself that the songs were loudest
when the heart ached most.

However, sometimes the rector jumped across the
hedge and joined Sarah on the porch and then she im-
agined she could detect on his face an expression of
I-don't-care-I-had-to-come ! At such times Aunt Sybilla
did not welcome him very cordially. She was suspicious
and remembered Mrs. Roth's information that he had a
penchant for making love to girls then leaving them to
regret. The lonely girl from Sunset Mountain had en-
tered far enough into the affections of the grim old aunt
to claim her protection. She wasn't goin' to have any
'Piscopal preacher make a fool of her niece! Why had
the girl ever joined the 'Piscopal Church? Why did they
have to live next door to the preacher of it ? Heathenish
doin's they had in that church, just about like them
Catholics she heard a'ready! So Aunt Sybilla sat, a
silent, watchful guardian when the rector called. Their
conversation did not interest her. She wondered where
Sarah had learned to talk such funny things, all about
poetry and books and things nobody knew years ago. If
they had discussed the weather and crops and wondered
how much Felkers' new automobile cost or whether old
Dan Miller would get the electric lights put in his house
next fall like he promised his wife, then there would have
been some sense in sitting on a porch for three hours
talking. Sometimes they talked about religion and then


the girl said things that made her aunt think a missionary
would not be amiss in the Burkhart home. For instance,
one day the girl said to the rector, " I think the biggest
hypocrites I ever knew were church people."

" Yes," agreed the man, " but remember, there never
was a counterfeit without a genuine."

Then Sarah looked thoughtful and admitted she had
no answer to that, and the preacher went on, " Don't you
know that the worst scamps in the world like to hide
behind the best things ? "

" Yes. I have been prejudiced. I am beginning to
understand some things that were dark to me."

Aunt Sybilla gasped then, for the man laid his hand
upon the girl's arm and said, " You are too fine to be
skeptical or cynical." The woman wondered why he
didn't use words abody could understand.

When October came with its cool days and fires the
girl in the big Burkhart house experienced another series
of thrills. It was delightful to run to the cellar and put
on drafts, call to Aunt Sybilla about the fires, and feel
she was needed. When they sat in the cozy sitting-room
by the lamp she discovered what an interesting com-
panion her grandfather could be. He had many stories
of his youth tucked away in his brain, stories that had
been handed down from other generations. Some were
about ancestors who had lived in Lancaster County dur-
ing the time of Indians, when massacres occurred and
the shotgun was kept within reach. Then of later days,
during the great Civil War, when the enemy soldiers had
reached the Susquehanna and the people fled in terror
past the old farmhouse in which they lived, fled in
Conestoga wagons with their worldly possessions and
children mixed promiscuously under the white canvas.


Each story of that sturdy pioneer stock was more charm-
ing to the girl than any colorful tale of Ulysses. They
were her people, from them she had sprung !

When cold weather came Aunt Mary brought out a
popper and taught the girl how to make popcorn balls
and taffy after ancient recipes handed down from grand-
mothers long dead. Aunt Mary even manceuvered until
Sybilla gave her consent to a taffy pull in the Burkhart
kitchen. One night eight girls from the class came to
the kitchen that had never known such jollity for many
years and with the help of Aunt Mary pans of taffy were
cooked and then pulled until hands were blistered and
everything sticky. It was Sarah's first party and she
reveled in it.

Aunt Sybilla was the habitual wet-blanket. She
couldn't see the use " makin' such candy that sticks to
false teeth like shoemaker's wax. Now peppermints and
lemon drops were more fit to eat ! All she wanted was
that they should wash the tables right so the sticky mess
gets off!"

Sarah was having the time of her life those days and
she frankly admitted it to the three in the big house with

" You are so good to me I won't ever want to go away
from here."

"Away! What made you think of such a thing?"
asked the old man. " Were you thinkin' of such a thing ?
Ain't this your home ? "

" I don't want to go, but don't you ever get tired of
having me around ? "

" Ach, don't talk so dumb ! " came Aunt Sybilla's crisp
command. " I guess now we got used to you we want
to keep you, till you get married, anyhow."


" Married ! " echoed the grandfather. " Any boys
sneakin' round here and I don't know it ? "

" No," Sarah hastened to assure him. " Dan Roth is
the only boy in Fairview who ever talks to me except
passing the time, and he's not the kind I like. But I'm
not wanting any beaus. I'm too happy having you people
to think about such things. Haven't I two aunts and a
grandpap ? What more could I want ? "

" Yes, but wait once," Aunt Mary shook her head
wisely, " old aunts are all right, but when that nice young
man comes along that's the right one we won't count."

So Aunt Mary knew something about romance after
all, decided the girl. She had taken it for granted that
the woman had never had any love affairs. And yet
could a woman who had never known the softening in-
fluence of love with all its humanizing tenderness have
in her bosom a heart like that Aunt Mary constantly re-
vealed ?

" Aunt Mary," she asked her when they were alone,
" tell me about your romances."

" Ach why " a flush crept across her face, a ten-
der smile as if she were drawing from years long dead a
precious treasure. " I haven't much to tell. Only once
did I like a man, a nice one he was and we would have
been happy. But just when we were promised your
Jerry went away and then mom died and Sybilla had
her trouble and I said I didn't see how I could go off
and be married and be happy and let pop and Sybilla
alone in this big house and so much trouble with them.
So we said we'd wait a while till things got a little set-
tled. Then the next year he got the typhoid from bad
water where he boarded down the country and he died.
I always blamed myself thinking that if we'd married


he wouldn't boarded there and mebbe would be Hvin' yet.
But abody can't know what's the best to do sometimes."

"Aunt Mary ! " Sarah twined her arm about the neck
of the woman and drew the white-capped head down for
a kiss. " Here I was thinking you never had any trouble
and you had the real one and it left you sweet and kind,
while Aunt Sybilla "

" Sh, Sarah ! It ain't nice to talk about poor Sybilla,
for not everybody can take trouble the same way."

" No, it takes a big heart to meet it like you did ! "



As the Christmas season drew near Sarah could have
shouted her joy aloud through the streets of Fairview.
Everything seemed to be working together for her happi-
ness ; no clouds marred her days. Aunt Mary and Aunt
Sybilla began making delicious cookies and cakes in such
quantities that some of the baking was done at night and
Sarah found time to help. As she stood elbow deep in
flour and rolled the cookies and pressed shellbark kernels
into them she was happier than she had ever been before.
She was anticipating many thrills as she looked forward
to Christmas morning when those same cookies would
be placed in baskets and carried through the frosty
streets to numerous friends and relatives, or needy ones
to whom the aunts were Lady Bountifuls on Christmas

The matter of presents for the family engrossed her
attention and afforded many hours of exciting contem-
plation. Grandfather should have a big box of chocolates
of the finest she could buy in Lancaster. Aunt Sybilla
should be presented with a bottle of perfume, having one
day confessed she always wanted some but considered it
a sinful waste of money. Aunt Mary would find at her
plate Christmas morning a hand-colored picture of her
mother to place on her bureau. She had seen one in the
town and wished she could have their mother's done like
that and put in a gilt frame.


The girl planned it with little flutterings of the heart.
She would give them things they wanted white hya-
cinths for once! Her earnings in the store had been
saved, part of them placed in bank and marked in the
little book duly inspected and approved of by the aunts
and grandfather. But each week the girl had kept from
her pay some portion of it to spend on little things dear
to the heart of femininity. Recently she had pared down
on those personal expenditures so that when she counted
the amount reserved for gifts she found fifty-five dollars.
" Hooray ! that means I can buy all the things for my
people, send a box to Mrs. Maloney, a gift to Miss
Hughes, and still have some money left to get those new
shoes Aunt Sybilla says I must buy. This is going to
be the gladdest, merriest Christmas I have ever known!
I won't need any one to ' call-me-early,-mother-dear/
I'll be up before daylight."

But Sarah Burkhart reckoned without fate!

The very day before she intended to take the im-
portant shopping trip to Lancaster she was alone in the
office. Grandfather was at home with a slight cold.
Sarah had been given directions about some banking
business to be attended to and other urgent matters and
had bent over her desk all morning to dispose of the
work. Some canceled checks were on hand for filing;
she looked them over, and a cry escaped her. Quickly
stifling it with a cough she made sure that no person was
watching her and then bent over the check in her hand.
It was made out in favor of Dan Roth, fifty dollars,
signed by Jeremiah Burkhart, endorsed and cashed. But
the signature of Jeremiah Burkhart was the same as that
on the practice sheet she had discovered and kept. It
had passed the observant bank employee and would have


passed her if the memory of that sheet in her bureau
drawer were not fresh in her mind.

The demon of revenge that sleeps in every human
heart awoke and exulted and danced. Here was a chance
to humiliate Mrs. Roth ! Her Dan, her boasted Dan, was
a forger ! No longer could she look sanctimoniously up-
ward and thank heaven there was no criminal in her
family. Sarah tucked the check in her waist. She
nodded her head in satisfaction and thought, " I guess
people like Mrs. Roth get their comeuppance if we wait
long enough."

When Dan came into the office, in a flurry of eagerness
to finish the work as soon as possible and be free for the
holidays, the girl looked at him while he bent over his
books. How young he was and attractive in a way!
His face was appealing in spite of the too-full lips. He
did not have the appearance of a criminal. Would he be
sentenced to the penitentiary the word chilled her to
the marrow. She had a vision of the place she had
visited to see her father. Would Dan be placed there or
in some similar building? What chance for manhood had
he after release from it? What would his mother do in
his absence ? " Ah," she tossed her head, " I don't care
what happens to either of them ! They have been rotten
to me and I'm going to pay them back ! I'll never have
another chance like this! The fates are with me this
time ! " She gloated over the prospect like a miser over
his gold. She'd take the check to Mrs. Roth and prove
what a son was hers, then she'd give it to her grand-
father and let him deal with the offender.

After supper she ran up to her room and compared the
writing on the check with that on the paper in her
drawer. There was the same little imperfection in the r,


the indecision and wavering of the J, and in writing fifty
Dan had used an f unlike her grandfather's. Sarah
curled her lips " He's a dumb forger. I could have
done better than that ! "

She replaced the paper in the drawer and thought of
some errand to account to the inquisitive aunts for her
visit to the house across the street.

Dan and his mother were alone, sitting in the sitting-
room. The girl's heart sank a trifle as she glanced
through the windows into the lighted room and saw the
home picture of the two about the rose-colored lamp.
But her lips tightened next instant and she knocked at
the door.

Mrs. Roth's face frankly expressed wonder as Dan
ushered the visitor into the room. " You want to see

" You and Dan."

" Whew ! " whistled the boy boldly, " I suppose if dad
were living you'd include him sort of a family party,

Sarah looked at him and scorned to answer his re-
mark, then she burst out boldly, " Dan Roth, why did
grandfather give you a check for fifty dollars ? "

The youth paled, then tried to bluff. " Oh," he said
convincingly, " he often does that. When there are little
bills to pay he writes a big check and I get it cashed and
then pay the bills, when they're to people in town."

"What do you mean?" said the mother indignantly.
" You dare to think that because your father did such
things my Dan would stoop to them? How can you in-
sinuate such a crime ! You better leave the house before
I show you where the carpenter left a hole! "

" Oh, no, I'm not going yet, I'm not through ! Dan

Roth, perhaps grandfather does write checks to you but
he didn't write that one ! Some time ago you left one of
your practice sheets where it fell into my hands a very
imprudent thing to do ! I compared that with the check
and found them alike."

" Sarah ! " came the agonized cry of Dan, then he hung
his head.

" You better be scared ; forger isn't a very nice

" Will you go ! " cried the mother frantically. " How
do you dare accuse Dan of such a thing ! "

" I have proof of it."

" Dan ! " But Dan could not meet the gaze of his

" The jig's up," he confessed. " I did do it."

" Dan ! " The mother gave one cry then sank back in
her chair. She didn't faint but all feeling seemed to flow
from her. No, it could never be true. Her boy could
not be guilty of such a thing! Her proud spirit was
crushed. " Dan, say it isn't true, that it's all a hideous
mistake ! " she implored.

" I can't, mother. I'm rotten ! It was the first one I
forged "

" Oh, don't use that dreadful word ! "

" Well," said Sarah with the cloying sweetness of a
fiend, " what will you thank heaven for now since you
lost your pet one about not having a criminal in the

" Sarah," the youth was wretchedly humble, " say any-
thing to me but don't be hard on mother. She's always
been so proud of me, bragged me up sky-high. This will
kill her."

" Um you should have thought of that sooner." The


girl stood like an obdurate Nemesis. " Now " she ad-
dressed Mrs. Roth "you know how I felt when you
rubbed it in about my father."

" Oh, Sarah, I was rotten too ! I'm sorry forgive

But Sarah stood rigid. She had no desire to forgive.
Some of the Burkhart stubbornness ruled her. " It's easy
to say forgive when you get in a pinch."

" But I mean it," the woman repeated. " I'm sorry for
everything I said about you. I want you to know that,
even if you don't believe it. If there'll be any satisfaction
to you to know that my heart is broken because of Dan
then you may have that satisfaction right now. Your
grandfather what does he think about it? After he
trusted Dan and was so good to him ! But I spoiled Dan
from a baby, I guess. He was all I had after his father
died and I spoiled him. What will your grandfather

Something seemed to break in Sarah's heart. " Why,"
she said more gently, " he doesn't know about it."

Hope dawned for an instant in the tear-stained face of
the mother. " Then just you know about it? "

" Mother ! " cried Dan, guessing the mother's thoughts,
" don't ask Sarah to keep it from him ! After the rotten
way I've treated her no one can blame her for taking
the chance to get even."

" What do you think I am, Dan Roth ? " she flared, re-
senting their thinking her capable of doing the very thing
she had come to do ! Then there came to her the memory
of her father's wretchedness, the wasted years behind a
walled domain, the sorrow visited upon others because of
his sin. That memory weighed with all that was noble
in her nature and she turned to the boy and said, " If I


don't tell will you promise to behave yourself and never
do such a thing again ? "

" Sarah! If you could do that ! But you're just teas-
ing me as a cat does a mouse."

" Um, much you know about me, Dan Roth ! You
Dutch never can understand the Irish! I guess if there's
one word I've learned the meaning of it's FORGIVE. You
promise what I ask and I'll fix things up so no one will
ever know it but we three."

" Sarah ! " Mrs. Roth grabbed the girl's hand.

" Come on," said the girl, wrenching loose and falling
into the slang of Red Rose Court, " let's get the thing
over before somebody butts in. Dan Roth, will you
promise to let other people's money where it belongs and
never be dishonest again or give your mother such a
scare ? "

" I promise." He put his hand on his heart.

" Good ! Here goes ! " She pulled the forged check
from her dress and held it before them. Then she walked
to the gas log and threw the paper into the flames which
speedily devoured it.

" Sarah," the woman faltered, " how can I thank

" By not thanking me at all. But perhaps some day
you'll meet another girl like me who has had a clouded
past and if you could be kind to her "

" Child, you're an angel ! "

" No, I'm not ! Angels have golden hair, not black
locks and freckles." For the first time that evening the
girl smiled. " I haven't got any wings sprouting on me
yet so you could notice them. I'll tell you the truth I
came over here determined to make you and Dan crawl
and then I meant to take that check straight to my grand-


father and clap my hands while Dan got his punishment
and you suffered with him. Now you see I'm as bad as
anybody. It was only when you said something about
forgiving that I got my sense back."

" Sarah, I'll go straight after this. In these ten min-
utes I lived through all the horrors of twenty years in
jail. Your grandfather might discover it, though, then
what would happen ? "

" What he doesn't know won't hurt him. But we have
to fix his account at once. Have you the money to make
it good?"

Dan shook his head. " I spent it in Lancaster last
week. And mother was just saying before you came that
we have to economize until New Year when she gets
her next check. We spent everything for the holidays,
gifts, turkey and so on."

" I tell you, Dan, I have fifty I don't need now. I'll
put it to bank in grandfather's name and you can pay me
back when you get it."

" Say " there was a wholesome admiration and rever-
ence in his eyes as he looked at her "you don't do
things by halves, do you ? "

" No, I swallow the whole thing, bait, hook, line and
sinker ! "

" You're a wonder. I was a rotten brute that day at
Mount Gretna ! Mother, I grabbed Sarah and kissed her
and would have kissed her ten times more if she hadn't
run away from me ! Now you know what a contemptible
thing I've been ! But I'm cured, I'm going straight ! I'm
going to be what you thought I was, a son to be proud

" Well, Dan Roth, you ought to be ! " spoke up Sarah.
"You have a mother to be proud of you or nurse a


broken heart because of you. Don't you know how much

that means ? To have a mother if I had one " She

turned away and pressed back the tears.

Dan stepped up to her then and took her hands.
" Sarah, you are saving me from disgrace. I'll never for-
get it ! " He bent his head and lifted her hands to his
lips. Then he released them and looked at her, all his
earnest awakened young soul in his eyes.

" You're an angel ! " he told her.

She answered lightly to relieve the seriousness of the
moment. " If everybody keeps telling me I am one I'll
soon be thinking I'm dead ! We won't ever say anything
about this again; just hand me the fifty when you have
it and that's the end."

They would have detained her, smothered her with
thanks and incoherent murmurings of eternal devotion
for her goodness but she laughed them away and ran
from the house. In her heart was a lasting impression
of the divine quality of mercy. She felt sorry for the
two who still had the companionship of troubled con-
sciences. After all, she reflected, gossipers do themselves
more harm than those they gossip about. Dan and his
mother would have seared scars in their hearts for a
long time because of the boy's deviation from the straight
and narrow path. For the first time she felt sorry for
them and saw in them only human beings frail as others,
needing the help of other mortals, even her help. She
knew now the meaning of that phrase, " To err is human,
to forgive divine."



THE Reverend James Snavely stepped upon the Roth
porch. Ever since his entering upon the duties of the
little parish in Fairview he had taken an interest in Dan,
along with other impulsive, heedless youths of the town.
He had encouraged Dan's natural love of reading and
from time to time had taken him books to enjoy.

After the manner of small town familiarity the rector
used the side-door entrance instead of formally ringing
the bell. That evening he hummed as he mounted the
steps. Christmas was in the air and the rector of St.
Paul's always felt the tugging of its eternal heart interest.
The windows of the Roth house attracted him. He
wished some of the residents of the town who lived be-
hind closed shutters as soon as evening fell would copy
Mrs. Roth and have their lights streaming out their cheer
on dark nights. Idly musing on that subject he stooped
a bit and glanced into the room without any intention of
spying, for Dan and his mother usually were alone at
that hour. What he saw as he stood by the open window
made him draw back as if struck by an unexpected
missile. By the light of the rose-shaded lamp he saw
Dan bending over the uplifted hands of Sarah Burkhart,
then print a kiss upon them. What did that mean?
Upon what romance had he inadvertently stumbled?
Dan and Sarah Sarah and Dan to care for each other ?
He could scarcely credit it, yet there they stood face to
face and the girl made no objection to the caress. Doubt-


less the presence of Mrs. Roth prevented a more demon-
strative kiss. The rector walked away from the window,
down the steps and across the street to his own home.
He had no desire to enter that house then. The scene he
had witnessed left him trembling, dismayed, unhappy.
Fool that he had been ! He wanted Sarah, of course he
did! But he had been too blind to recognize love or, if
the truth be told, he had fought against confessing that
love. He had deliberately closed his heart to the heaven-
sent emotion. Fool, fool ! He condemned himself. Was
there ever a girl like Sarah, so sweet, tender, big-
hearted, so desirable ! He ran through the list of women
he knew they all paled beside the dark-haired, gray-
eyed Dutch-Irish girl whose father had been a convict
and she herself a child of the slums and reform school.
What did that matter, what did anything matter except
that he loved her ? And he had lost her by his slow, poky

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 18 20 21 22

Online LibraryAnna Balmer MyersThe madonna of the curb → online text (page 18 of 22)