Anna Balmer Myers.

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ambling along. He had walked with Sarah, talked with
her, consoled and advised her, comforted her in sorrow,
and through all the blessed intimacy he had gone with
clay upon his eyes. Perhaps he might have won her love
if he had utilized his opportunities. If she could care for
that shallow Dan that hour the rector was more man
than minister and he wanted to run across the street and
snatch the girl into his arms and declare to the world
she was his by right of love! If she could come to care
for Dan surely she could have cared for him, a man of
finer development and understanding. How smug and
complacent he had been, how unmindful of the presence
of the little God of Arrows ! And then when he feared
the inroads of the Blind God how he had set up a barri-
cade of convention, fear of Mrs. Grundy, and false pride
to keep the miracle from his life! He dubbed himself



THE HEART OF A RECTOR 285

an asinine fool as he entered the house and thought of
the radiant young lovers across the street.

An hour later he crossed the street once more. Mrs.
Roth greeted him and he noted that her face bore evi-
dences of recent tears; her eyes were red from copious
weeping.

" Can I help ? " he asked kindly.

" No, oh, no ! I have been crying but just tears of
joy. I'm so happy ! "

" I'm glad " never a preacher of the Gospel lied

more valiantly. He was not glad, his heart ached. Well
might she be happy if her son had conferred upon him
the honor of winning Sarah's love !

" Yes, I'm so happy ! I wish I could tell you about it,
but I I promised Dan I would keep it a secret. But
it's him I'm happy about. I feel he is going to fulfil my
dreams about him and become a fine young man, one I
can be proud of. I'm so happy ! " She was almost bab-
bling in her relief from the anxiety about Dan. Her
heart was soft and her eyes welled with tears like those
of a lacrimose child. To have so dreadful a tragedy
averted by the mercy of Sarah was more than she had
expected. She had the gossip's respect for the noble,
altruistic conduct of others and, in spite of all her mean,
pernicious tongue and her love of lurid scandals, she
could appreciate what the girl had done.

" Oh," she said feelingly, " I want to tell you that I
think Sarah Burkhart is the dearest, finest girl I ever
met ! "

" Yes she is very fine."

" There ain't a word in the whole English language to
describe her ! " declared the mother effusively. " I thank
heaven she came to this town ! "



286 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

The man suppressed a smile. In spite of his aching
heart he saw the humor of the words, remembered how
often Mrs. Roth had thanked heaven for lesser blessings.
What could have happened to turn her into so eager a
champion of Sarah? What, except that Dan and the
girl had come to an understanding in love and by some
magic the mother had been won from her antagonism
to an appreciation of the girl whose rare qualities and
personality where phenomenal in Fairview?

The rector left the book for Dan and went home, more
than ever convinced that his inference was well founded.
Then it was too late, forever too late, like the foolish
virgins' knock at the door !

His unhappiness was not lessened the following day
when he was seated in his study preparing the sermon
for the coming Sabbath and Sarah's voice came to him
in song. He had heard her frequently since her arrival
at the house next door. Her voice was not more than
ordinarily sweet or strong, but it was tuneful and, like
her laugh, had a quality that attracted. The songs she
sang were generally merry, bubbling ones, but that day it
was a new note, the old one of pure romance and senti-
ment written by the inimitable Thomas Moore, " Believe
me if all those endearing young charms."

The man paused in the attempt to write a sermon. The
last words of the song rang into his consciousness with
the resonance of a silver bell :

" No, the heart that has truly loved, never forgets,

But as truly loves on to the close :
As the sunflower turns on her god when he sets,
The same look which she turned when he rose."

The Reverend Snavely bowed his head upon the desk



THE HEART OF A RECTOR 287

and gave himself up to grief and regret. He never
doubted the truthfulness of those words. Could he ever
forget Sarah, the child- woman ? Sarah, adorable, whim-
sical yet strong and courageous, brave to stand for the
right and meeting the taunts of her inferiors with that
irresistible poise and calm that she had inherited from her
actress mother. Sarah ah, she was more precious than
mintage of gold and he had lost her !



CHAPTER XIX

SUSPICION

SARAH'S long-planned shopping trip to Lancaster lost
some of its potential thrills that night after the burning
of the forged check as she sat alone and counted the
worldly goods at her disposal for Christmas gifts. She
feared to touch the money deposited in bank, for she had
too often exhibited proudly her bank-book and its figures
were familiar to the rest of the household. She counted
her ready cash five dollars and thirty-two cents ! What
about the lovely gifts she had planned to buy? The beau-
tifully unnecessary gifts she wanted to buy? She sighed
but did not regret the temporary loss of her fifty dollars,
for was not the peace of mind of a mother even Mrs.
Roth worth more than white hyacinth gifts? Was not
the reclamation of a boy even Dan Roth more to be
desired than paltry perfume, gilt-frame pictures, choco-
lates ? She wasted no time in bemoaning the slimness of
her pocketbook, but with characteristic buoyancy set to
work with paper and pencil to see how elastic she could
make those five dollars and thirty-two cents. How could
she squeeze from it the last penny's worth of joy for
others ?

She would buy cheaper candy or a smaller box one
dollar for that ! Perfume at seventy-five cents, the low-
est ; a gilt frame and picture already ordered came to the
now-appalling sum of two dollars. She would have to
buy Miss Hughes an insignificant handkerchief and one
for Mary Becker, That would leave seventy-five cents for



SUSPICION;

a gift for Mrs, Maloney and she had meant to send her
a box of nuts, candy and luxuries she knew never came
to Red Rose Court except in parsimonious portions.
Well, at any rate, she was thankful for handkerchiefs !

" They are such a blessing for the shopper ! They fill
so many gaps, are so handy to send and of course, every-
body needs handkerchiefs! That has been said from the
first day of their invention ! If your money is low or you
don't know what under the sun to buy for her or him
you just walk to the handkerchief counter, close your
eyes, say * Eeney, meeney, miney, moe,' and stab at one,
and the one you touch you buy. It requires so little ex-
penditure of gray matter or discrimination, for a hand-
kerchief's a handkerchief! I can't buy those new shoes
I was going to get before Christmas, but my old ones will
do. I'll just keep quiet about shoes and after the holi-
days I'll get them."

But Aunt Sybilla did not forget about the shoes. She
considered it her duty to see that the girl was supplied
with all necessary articles of clothing. The unessentials,
like gloves, veils and such frivolities, she left to Sarah,
but shoes were a necessity and she was horrified at the
very idea of any one having less than two pairs, one for
Sundays, the other for week-days.

" Sarah," she announced one night at supper several
days after the fifty dollars had changed hands, " I seen
the shoe man to-day and he said his new ones come in.
You better go up and pick out a pair before Christmas
yet, else they get picked over so. We can go to-morrow
if you get out the store a little early."

Sarah swallowed how to parry for time " Why," she
said sweetly, " I decided not to get the shoes until after
the holidays."



290 THE MADONNA'OF THE CURB

"What for?"

" Oh, I don't need them right away and ' she

floundered.

" Not need them ! With only one Sunday pair and
your week-day ones needin' solin'. You must fetch them
to the shoemaker now and you need another pair, that's
sure."

" Why, bless your heart," said the girl, " when I lived
in Red Rose Court I was lucky to have one whole pair."

Aunt Sybilla threw up her hands in a horrified gesture.
" My, to think our Jeremiah's girl would come so low as
to have only one pair of shoes ! "

Aunt Mary and grandfather made soft sounds of dis-
may with their lips. They, too, found the thought of
such abject poverty too sad to contemplate. But the
diversion was too trivial to side-track Sybilla permanently
from the matter to be considered.

" Then it's high time you always have plenty shoes.
You got to get them shoes right away. I'll go up with
you to-morow."

Sarah knew the futility of trying to evade the issue.
"Aunt Sybilla, I have no money for them now."

" No money ! Didn't you say the other day you got
over fifty dollars for shoes and presents? You ain't
spent all that?"

" Most of it."

" Goodness-a-life, what for?"

Before the girl could answer grandpap laid his knife
and fork across his plate and addressed her. " Sarah,
mebbe it ain't my business what you do with your money
when you earn it, but I can't see you wasting it and not
try to stop you. Money ain't picked off the streets.
How did you spend so much ? "



SUSPICION 291

" I I didn't really spend it. I loaned it to some one."

" Oh, then you got a note for it and will get it back."

" I'll get it back but I have no note for it."

" What for kind of business is that ? To loan money
without gettin' any writin' for it! Thought you knew
more than that ! I'd like to know, anyhow, what for any-
body loans money off you. Ain't they able to get it out
the bank ? " The old-time severity sounded in his voice.

" I can't tell you about it. I can't ever tell you, so
please don't ask me."

Her apparent confusion and unwillingness to tell the
truth aroused the suspicion of Aunt Sybilla. " Sarah,"
she began, " don't you play no tricks on us. Your grand-
pap is too good to you for you to do what you can't tell
him about. Better let him know who's borrowin' money
off you."

But the girl shook her head once more. " I can't ! I
had to do it, but I can't tell you about it."

" Well," sniffed the woman, " it looks mighty funny to
me."

"Sybilla!" Aunt Mary's voice interjected. "Don't
make on you think Sarah done what ain't right. Some-
times there's things abody can't tell about but they ain't
bad."

Sarah voiced her appreciation " You know I didn't
do anything wrong with the money ! "

" Yes, be sure I do. So do the others, only they look
for trouble too quick. I guess I'm a softy but I don't
think a person does bad until I know. I know you are
all right."

" Let's hope so," said the elder sister with a solemn ex-
pression. " There's been trouble enough in this family
without Sarah makin' more."



292 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

"Aunt Sybilla!" The girl's voice rang through the
room, but the woman walked away from her and left be-
hind a troubled heart in the bosom of Sarah.

" She doesn't trust me yet," thought the girl. " I
counted her inside that circle too soon."

" Don't you mind her," the other aunt consoled her.
" She's had so much trouble that she's a little sour some-
times."

" Then for heaven's sake why doesn't she put an end to
her trouble and act like a human being ? "

" Sarah," spoke up the old man, " mebbe Sybilla and I
are a little too hard on you but I guess we don't have the
knack of handlin' young people. We're set in our ways,
but I think we are a little better than we used to be since
you came."

" Grandpap, then you do like to have me here ? "

" Now, ain't I told you that long a' ready ! You're get-
tin' short-minded and you ain't near so old as I am yet."

Sarah smiled. She knew that in spite of curiosity
about the money the man trusted her. She was dubious
about Aunt Sybilla's trust in her. That determined per-
son would try to worm out of the girl the secret of the
money. Sarah set her lips wild horses could not drag it
from her!

Aunt Sybilla said nothing more about the matter for
several days, greatly to the relief of the girl. She wanted
her Christmas to be unspoiled by nagging or lack of har-
mony. It was her first one in a real home and at the
thought little thrills ran and cavorted in her heart. She
regretted that she was too old for the delights of a tree
and a mysterious Santa Claus but, nevertheless, there re-
mained sufficient cause for happiness. She would have
the pleasure of giving gifts to her family !



SUSPICION 293

Three days before Christmas she said to the aunts,
" Oh, I can hardly wait for the day ! I'm sorry I'm not
little enough to believe in Santa and hang up my stock-
ing."

" Santa Claus ! " Aunt Sybilla said the name as though
it had some evil significance. " We don't learn our chil-
dren such lies ! "

" Oh, you mean you never believed in Santa Claus ? "

" No, be sure not ! There ain't any such person. What
for should we tell children there is ? "

" I don't know, but it seems to me there is a Santa
Claus, lots of them. They may not always come down
the chimney but there are some in the world. Don't you
believe in fairies, either ? "

" What for ? Spooks and such things are heathen and
not fit for Christian people to believe in."

" Oh, Aunt Sybilla, but I do feel sorry for you ! "

The words rang so truthfully that the woman turned
from her work to look at the girl. " Sorry for me! Me,
with such a good home and everything I need or want ! "

"And not one snitch of romance or real fun in your
make-up ! Can't you see anything more than a flower in
the red geraniums you have in the front room now ? "

" What else could abody see but geraniums ? "

" Why," Sarah laughed, " every time I go into that
room I talk to them. They seem like little fairies danc-
ing round a fire on a cold night."

" Are you ferhexed, or what? "

Mary laughed. " Guess me and Sarah's alike in some
ways then, for pansies always look like little old ladies in
caps when I look at them, and the sweet alyssum makes
me think of clean white babies."

"Ach, my goodness! You two must be funny in the



1294 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

heads ! It wonders me how you can think of such dumb
things." She looked worried about the evident degenera-
tion of her close kin.

" I'm going over to the rector's to borrow a book," said
Sarah. " I need something to read to keep me from fid-
geting while I wait for Christmas. I saw him go up-
town and I'll hurry and get one from the housekeeper
before he comes back."

"All right," said Aunt Sybilla. As she looked after the
girl she thought, " Something ails that girl ! She acts too
dumb! I just wish I could find out where them fifty
dollars went ! "



CHAPTER XX

THE CARDINAL FLOWER

SARAH found the rector out as she had anticipated.
The old housekeeper told her to walk into the front room
where the books were and help herself.

The array of long shelves, such prodigal wealth of lit-
erature, placed her in the quandary of a child who is asked
to choose one toy from a tempting assortment. She drew
out a book and found, tucked at the back of the shelf and
apparently hidden, a small leather-bound copy of Son-
nets from the Portuguese. It was well worn and the
pages opened her heart thumped and throbbed! The
red cardinal flower she had picked at Mount Gretna and
given to the rector lay in the book, pressed and beautiful
even though dead. She turned it over and her glance
was held by the sonnet on that page. It was a much-pen-
ciled, underlined sonnet and the words of it sprang up to
meet her eyes :

" Go from me. Yet I feel that I shall stand

Henceforward in thy shadow

The widest land

Doom takes to part us leaves thy heart in mine
With pulses that beat double. What I do
And what I dream include thee, as the wine
Must taste of its own grapes. And when I sue
God for myself, He hears the name of thine,
And sees within my eyes the tears of two."



296 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

And underneath the last line was written in the rector's
hand the exclamation, " My Madonna of the Curb, how
can I let you go ? "

Sarah closed the book and thrust it back to its hiding-
place, a feeling of panic in her heart. What had she
done? Whom did he mean? Ah, she remembered that
he had once called her " The Madonna of the Curb ! "
Was it true, did he mean her? Then why the words,
" How can I let you go ? " what did they mean ? Did
he feel that way about her oh, it could not be ! Surely
it was some dream, some wild flight of her impulsive
Irish imagination ! How dared she harbor the thought ?
He could not have meant her ! Yet there lay the scarlet
flower, pressed and kept, like a very heart of love against
the words of the sonnet. With trembling fingers she took
from the shelf a volume of Stevenson and tried to still
her hammering heart by reading the words of the gentle
invalid. Those pages, too, were lined and marked. It
was evident that the author was a favorite with the rec-
tor. Sarah turned over the pages, culling here a helpful
expression, finding there a new setting for an old thought.
Her eyes fell on a marked paragraph. "A happy man or
woman is a better thing to find than a five-pound note.
He or she is a radiating focus of good-will; and their en-
trance into a room is as though another candle had been
lighted. We need not care whether they could prove the
forty-seventh proposition; they do a better thing than
that, they practically demonstrate the great Theorem of
the Liveableness of Life."

She turned at a sound and the rector stood in the room.

" Good-evening," he said. " I am sorry that on the
rare occasions you honor my house with a visit I am out."

" But I came for a book, not to see you." Then her



THE CARDINAL FLOWER 297

face flushed at the seeming unkindness. " I mean I
really did come for a book."

" Yes, I understand," he replied gravely, his eyes belie-
ing the gravity of his voice. " Don't run away, please.
I haven't seen you for some time. It's perfectly proper,
you know. The housekeeper is old enough to qualify for
chaperone and the shades are all up so the world can see
you here and wonder what trouble you have encountered
to make you seek the rectory for counsel."

" You're foolish to-night," she told him, but her man-
ner implied that she liked his rare moods of flippancy.

" What were you reading ? Find anything good ? "

" This." She held up Stevenson.

" I like Robert Louis, he's an old favorite of mine. As
a child I heard his verses read by my mother and I have
never lost my love for him. It's a blessing to look back
to those years and remember my mother reading "

He looked up suddenly and was shocked by the pale,
twitching face of the visitor.

" Sarah ! Forgive me ! That was thoughtless of me !
I didn't mean to hurt you. I wouldn't have done that for
worlds ! "

" Oh, don't mind me," she smiled then. " I'm just a
little sore on the point of what I lost when I lost my
mother. You'd think I should be calloused by this time
but when you spoke a moment ago it made me feel the old
hurt. Go on, please tell me about your mother. I'm not
such a dog-in-the-manger that I can't enjoy hearing about
other people's happiness and memories of a happy child-
hood."

" You really want to hear ? " He regarded her. How
mature she looked then with that serious expression on
her face, how changed from the almost hoydenish hilarity



298 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

that so often moved her. Fool, fool that he had been to
let her slip into the keeping of namby-pamby Dan Roth 1
She never guessed what thoughts raced back of the man's
glowing eyes as he looked into hers and began to describe
some of the pictures of his memory.

" I have many happy memories and I want to share
them with you. It is strange how the strains of an old
song, the inflection of a voice, the shimmer of a bird's
wings, the utterance of a word, lifts the veil of long years
and you stand thrilled at the memory of other days. You
look down the vista of the long road over which you have
traveled, and though much of it is shrouded in darkness,
there are many scenes that stand out in vivid relief.

" The phrase ' white violets ' brings to your mental
eyes a bed of them nestling in the grass. You see the
children, yourself among them, crouching upon the earth
to gather them, you feel the perfume in your nostrils,
though you have not seen white violets in many years.

" Close to that picture is another of marvelous bright-
ness, though the setting is twilight. The background is
the favorite room in your childhood's home, the sitting-
room, where in summer-time the robins' songs floated in
through the open windows, where in winter days the fire
burned brightest in the big stove. Now it is twilight, the
day's play is over, the toys neatly piled into their corner,
and bedtime is come. You climb into mother's lap as she
sits in the big rocker, that old-fashioned rocker with the
roses painted upon its back and the broad arms which
make it comfortable for a little fellow to be held there.
But you are not thinking of the roses as you climb into
mother's lap. You want cuddling and loving and a song.
But the mother hesitates if she sings to you she knows
you'll fall asleep and you are growing too heavy to carry



THE CARDINAL FLOWER 290

to bed. But you see leniency in her eyes and beg for one
song, just one, while you promise to surely keep wide
awake. So she gathers you close and sings your favorite.
In after years you wonder why it was your favorite, that
simple old song, ' Whiter Than Snow.' But as she sings
it is unspeakably sweet. You look up into the face whose
loveliness has been unmatched in all the years since and
listen to each word as it falls from her lips until the
same old drowsiness creeps over you and you do not hear
the ending. So the dear, tired mother carries you once
more to bed and you do not feel the kiss she gives you
before she carries away the light. A wonderful picture
that ! More worthy of preservation than any Old Master
of fabulous price!

" There is another that has shadows in it, very vague
in parts, fearfully realistic in others. You are ill, seri-
ously ill, and you lie in the huge four-poster bed for many
weary days and nights. You are so uncomfortable, you
can't swallow, you can't lift your head for it throbs and
burns. The days go slowly but the nights how long they
are! You toss and moan, you try to watch the shaded
lamp on the high old bureau or trace the pictures on the
old clock's glass doors, then you turn your face to the
wall and try to sleep. But something is all wrong with
your throat, your head is too hot you utter a piteous
moan. Then the mother, who had sat by your bed so
long it must be years according to your calculation
places her cool hand upon your forehead, rearranges your
pillows and says gently, ' My poor lamb, go to sleep.'
Presently, soothed by that touch, you do sleep. You
waken often and always she is there to hush you to slum-
ber again. As you look at that picture through memory's
lifted veil you wonder how, after those long vigils for



300 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

you, you could ever wilfully grieve her and you sigh at
your own unworthiness.

" Farther along the road is another picture, one painted
in bright colors and splashes of sunshine. It is your first
look at the great ocean. You feel so important as you
take the trip with a kind, indulgent father. You had
wondered on the train whether the ocean could be much
bigger than your pond at home. When you see it you
are staggered, speechless for a moment, then with childish
loyalty to home you exclaim, ' Why, it slops up just like
our pond ! ' You wonder why father laughs and later,
when he repeats it to the home folks, you resent the mer-
riment it provokes. That sea how much bigger and
bluer it is than you have ever seen it since! The big
waves thrill you as they break on the shore in misty white
foam ; in your childish imagination you can look across it
and see the country that lies beyond."

He sat dreamy-eyed, as though living once more those
happy days of his childhood. Sarah broke into his retro-
spection.

" I hope you are properly thankful for such memories.
But I know you are ! " She veered suddenly from his
pictures to her own, as though fearing to trust her own
powers of control. " I want you to know that if I did
miss what you had I'm happy now."

" Perfectly happy ? "

" Well I suppose such a thing as perfect happiness is
not for mortals to know. But I'm almost in that state
since I've found my people."


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Online LibraryAnna Balmer MyersThe madonna of the curb → online text (page 19 of 22)