Anna Balmer Myers.

The madonna of the curb online

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THE place Sarah called her home was a hovel of the
dreariest type. Foul air of cooking, heat and accumu-
lated filth greeted her as she stepped into the room.
Against one wall a table covered with a torn brown oil-
cloth was littered with unsightly heaps of soiled dishes
upon which remnants of food attracted great swarms of

Sarah gave one glance at the table, then she called,
"Ma, oh ma!"

She received no answer.

" Puppy," she confided to the dog, " she's out again.
Bet she's to Murphy's. If she comes back soused you
better stick close to me. But she better not touch you,
that's what ! " A fierce joy of possession coursed through
the child as she spoke. " The baby I liked is dead so
you're all I got now, and my pa." She bent and bestowed
a kiss upon the shaggy fur of the puppy, then began to
ascend the narrow, dark stairs.

" Won't pa be surprised ? " she said. " He'll like you,
I bet."

Very quietly she opened the door of a small closet in
the corner of a low-ceilinged room at the head of the
stairs. Rows of hooks hung with old clothes lined the
three walls of the closet. Sarah stepped inside the nar-
row place, pulled the door close behind her and with her
free hand groped under the clothes until her fingers


found a small groove. In a moment she had opened a
door only wide enough to admit sidewise entrance into
a tiny room beyond the closet.

The girl stepped quickly into the room and closed the
door. At the sound a man looked up nervously.

" It's only Sade," she hastened to reassure him. " See
what I got ! "

The man was thin, stooped and contracted, as though
the little room had pressed upon him from all sides. His
face was stamped with marks of 'weakness and dejec-
tion. The flickering light of a gas burner flared in his
face as he stood over his work he was a clever counter-
feiter of American money !

Originally the little room in which he sat had been part
of the closet. It was without windows, one tiny skylight
admitting a pitiably small amount of the glorious light of
day and the health-renewing fresh air. Shelves piled
with boxes, a table with tools, and a stool upon which the
man sat, occupied most of the floor space of the room, so
that there was scant space for the child to stand.

As she greeted him he stopped working. " Hello,
Sade," he replied softly. " Where did you get the dog? "

" Out in the park. A boy was hurtin' him and I told
him skiddo and kept the dog. I won't let nothin' get hurt
I can help ; you wouldn't neither, pa ? "

" No " the man seemed to sink into a revery while

the child petted the puppy.

"Ain't he a. nice dog, pa?" she asked after a few

" Umph, yes," he answered absently, then roused him-
self and patted the dog's head. " What'll ma say?" he

Sarah frowned as she replied quickly, " Ma can say


what she's a mind to the dog's mine and he stays with

" I hope she won't whip you again," the man said

" Who cares if I don't ! " she spoke contemptuously.
" I ain't afraid of her, ain't afraid of nobody nor nothin'
but snakes ! "

The man smiled wearily and Sarah added in a matter-
of-fact way, " She's out again, guess down to Murphy's."

" I suppose so. Sarah, when you are older I'll tell you
about your own mother. She was different oh, mercy,
mercy, how low I've gone ! I'll tell you, Sade, you come
from good stock, your pa is the crocked, rotten branch
of a noble tree. Some day perhaps you'll be able to meet
your relations, but not now, not now. I'm going to

The strain was a new one to Sarah; her father had
never spoken about her people before, had evaded her
questions, would not even admit that she had any rela-
tives in the world other than him. What ailed him, what
did he mean when he said he was going to quit ?

" Quit ? " she echoed. " Quit what ? Makin' money ? "
she asked eagerly.

" Yes. I should have never begun it. But I did and
when I see it come out so like the real thing it seems to
hold me and just make me keep on. But I'm going to
stop right now. I started taking the things apart. I'm
going to break them so that no one coming here after me
can be tempted. To-morrow we'll clear out and find
some nice home, far from this dirty place, and live right."

" Will you take me and ma and the dog ? "

"Yes. Now take the dog and feed him and let me
finish up."


Sarah crept through the narrow door and the dark
closet and went down to the kitchen. The prospect of
moving away from the miserable place in Red Rose
Court and being freed from the dreadful concern about
her father's safety put a new gladness into her heart.

As she entered the untidy kitchen a woman came slowly
in from the street.

" Ho, ma," the girl greeted her. " Where you been ? "

The woman laughed hilariously. It was evident that
she had imbibed too freely of some intoxicant. " Where
have I been ? " she repeated. " Where have I been ? To
heaven, don't I look it ? Got supper ready ? " She
glanced at the table " Now, Sade, where you been to
heaven too? No supper made," she laughed good-na-
turedly, "no supper made and your poor sick pa, him
that's so sick that he can't come down-stairs to his meals
sometimes, him that only once in a while can sit at the
window and wave to my friends, him, your poor sick pa,
has to wait for his supper ! Ha, ha, it's sick he is, sick
with a conscience! And serves him darned right for
keepin' a conscience, / say. Sade, that pa of yourn is a
poor sport. His spine's turning to jelly." Here she
seated herself in a rickety chair. "Whew," she
whistled, " chair's wobbly." She steadied herself by
holding on to the table and went on in her talkative strain.

" Say, Sade, d'you mind the day some one told about
your pa bein' sick and one of them busybody nurses came
to see him? How you talked with her down here and I
went and pulled him out his ' labaratory ' as he calls that
nice little room, and how I stuffed pillows back of him
and told the nurse he was gettin' better and we didn't
need no help. Lucky for us then that he looks pinched
and thin like he had the consumption, lucky for us. Bet


he's got the real con, too, by this time; look at him, so
thin you could say ' pouf ' and out he'd go ! Yessir,
Sade, that pa o' yourn ain't long for this world, but it's a
good thing for he's gettin' too good for the likes o' us.
What's that thing you got there ? " she demanded, notic-
ing for the first time the dog in Sarah's arm.

"A dog. I'm goin' to keep him."

"Keep him, that dirty little bundle of a dog not
much ! Out he goes ! "

She half rose from her chair but Sarah stepped to her
quickly, a menacing frown on her face.

" Sit down, ma, you're drunk ! The dog stays."

" The dog goes ! " the woman retorted, her mood
changed suddenly from jovial hilarity to nasty ill-temper.
A sharp torrent of abuse leaped to her lips " You black-
haired brat with freckles and a pug nose, d'you think
you'll boss me ? I'll kill that dog ! "

" Then I'll put the cop wise to that watch you stole
Christmas and you'll go up for a while." Sarah spoke
very deliberately so that the woman might not fail to
grasp the significance of her words.

A livid rage spread over the ugly face of the woman.
" You, you brat ! " she sputtered. " You're a witch !
How do you know I stole that watch? You're a witch,
I'd like to kill you ! "

" Then pa'd kill you and you know it ! "

" Humph, guess he would get ravin' if I hurt you."
The woman was silent for a moment. " He thinks you're
an angel makes me sick ! " Her anger cooled as sud-
denly as it had risen. Presently she said more calmly,
" Your pa should have been a parson or some such softy.
Says he was good till he married me, says his first wife
was an angel and looked just like you uh, swell lookin'


angel you'd make, with freckles and a pug nose humph,
makes me sick."

" Hush, ma," cautioned the child. " You talk too loud,
the whole Court'll come in to hear the row. Better go lie
down and get sober while I'll get supper. You want to
sleep off that drunk for we pull out o' Red Rose Court
to-morrow. Pa said so. We're goin' off to a new place
far from here and we're goin' to live in a clean place and
live right, begin all over again, pa said."

" Huh ? " The woman looked up eagerly. " Your pa
said that?"

" Yes. He just told me. He wants to live right
now and not make money or do what's wrong. I'm
glad. Mebbe I can have a new dress once in a while
and if we live in a clean place pa will stop bein* so
thin and sick lookin' did you know the Maloney baby

" Naw, did it good riddance of the pesky brat. That
stops your draggin' it round all the time."

" You ain't you got no heart ? " Sarah asked fiercely,
but the sorrow of the child's death left her in no mood
to quarrel about it. She sighed, and said, " Go sleep
while I fix the grub."

The woman staggered into the adjoining room and
threw herself upon a shabby couch. She closed her eyes
but did not sleep. The revelation of Sarah sobered her
muddled brain as if by magic.

" So," she thought, " this is the end. He's afraid of
that conscience. He thinks he'll drag us off to some
place out of the world and have us live right. That
means I take care of the kid and work like a slave to
keep a house clean and mebbe even go to church every
week watch me! I'm in the game too long to leave it


to turn missionary." She lay very quiet, formulating a

When Sarah called her for supper she walked steadily
into the kitchen, much to the child's surprise.

"Feel all right?"

" Yes, Sade, I feel good ; guess knowin' that we're goin'
out of this rotten Red Rose Court helps. You can keep
the dog, I don't care."

Sarah smiled. " Yes, I was goin' to keep him," she
said quietly.

Later the woman went up-stairs and found her way to
the room beyond the closet. Again the man turned sus-
piciously at the sound of the opening door, then smiled in
relief. " Oh, it's you, Mary. Where have you been all

" Out," she said curtly, then added more kindly,
" Come out to the room. I have your supper there ; it's
too hot in here."

" Thanks, Mary," he said as he followed her into the
larger room where the heat was several degrees less in-

" Sade tells me you want to quit and move out of here."

"Yes, Mary. I'm tired of this awful life!" He
raised a hand to his throat " I'm choking in there.
We'll go away and begin life again. We can get a little
place in the country and earn an honest living and there
Sade can grow into a woman like she ought. Lord, to be
out in the air, free, once more what it will be for me ! I
haven't lived these years I worked in that hole back of
the closet, I've been dying! What do you say can you
be ready to pull out in the morning? We'll take just our
clothes; the rest isn't worth ten cents. Can you be
ready ? "


" Yes, I'll be ready," she assented simply, making no
comment on the plan.

Her ready acquiescence touched the man. " Mary,
you're good to go without fussing. I was afraid you
might be hard to manage, but I'm glad there is so much
more good in you than I dreamed. I am sorry I mis-
judged you. You will have a new chance, too. In the
country, away from evil influences of the city, you and I
can learn to be happy together. We must make Sarah
forget these years in the slums slums I have kept my
child in the slums "

" Sure, it's never too late to mend, the preachers say,"
the woman consoled him.

After she went away and he returned to the little room
to complete the task of wrecking the counterfeiting outfit,
he thought of the woman. How much more tractable she
was than he had dared to hope, how fortunate that she
was willing to share his trial at a new, better life ! There
was good in her, after all. Perhaps she would yet come
to love the child and try to be a mother to her the child,
the little girl who looked so like the woman he first loved,
the only woman he ever loved how he had wronged her !
Had he been under the spell of some evil power, had it all
been a hideous nightmare, or did he really bring an inno-
cent child to Red Rose Court and keep her there through
the long years ? He thought of the mother of Sarah, the
woman who had been with him for a few short wonderful
years, whose going out had shattered his very centers of
being, whose absence he had mourned and tried to forget
in vice. For years he had failed so grievously in his duty
to the child that the mere thought of that pure, devoted
.wife sent him shivering with shame and remorse. But
now he resolved he would atone for the neglect, and the


spirit of that first love would yet find cause to be proud
of him. He would take up his long-neglected duty of
being a good father to her, she should grow into a noble
woman as her mother had been so he dreamed and
planned through the long night until he fell asleep.

Morning dawned fair and sultry in Red Rose Court.
Early in the day Sarah's stepmother turned to the child
and said pleasantly, " I'm goin' out for a little while.
You know the rent is due and I want to pay it so there
won't be any followin' up on us."

" Sure, ma, we don't want to do anything to send the
cops after us now when pa wants to go straight. While
you're off I'll put the clothes in our bags, mine in the old
brown satchel and yourn and pa's in the big bag. Gee,
I'll be glad to get to a nice place to live. Guess I'll be
thinkin' I'm in heaven with the Maloney baby when I get
out o' this dirty hole and live in the country. Oh, I
couldn't be happier if I had new shoes and dress and hat
all at one whack ! I'll be glad to live nice."

" Guess you will," the woman said. Then she pursed
her lips, laughed so gaily that the child looked up, aston-
ished at the sound, and a few minutes later the step-
mother of Sarah Burkhart went out through the arched
alleyway, away from Red Rose Court.

Some time later a ragged little boy accosted a police-
man and handed him a soiled letter marked " Important."

"A lady give me a quarter to give this to a policeman,"
the boy explained.

The officer opened the note and read :

"If you want to catch a conterfitter go to number 46 in
Red rose cort. Be sure to hurry before he gets wise I'm
sqeeling. Go up the stairs to the second floor and find
the closet, there ain't more than one, and push in the back


of it and see what you find. And tell the man I hope he
likes that nice new home where he's going to."

Sarah was so busy in her haphazard way, packing the
few miserably poor belongings she felt they wished to
carry with them as they started off on the great adventure
of finding that new home in the country where her father
could begin all over again and she could grow into a lady
as he had promised her she would, that the length of her
stepmother's stay did not alarm her at once. But at
length she murmured to her father, " I don't see where
ma stays so long. Hope she ain't off again to Murphy's."

" Oh, no," he replied cheerily, " she wouldn't do that.
She seems most as anxious as we to get out of this place.
Perhaps she will be nicer to you when we get to the new
place. There must be more good in her than I thought.
She was so different when I married her, so kind to you
and kept the house tidy, but since we sank to Red Rose

Court she " he sighed. " What's the good of talking

about it ! We want to forget this place. Guess she'll be
here soon."

" Mebbe so," said Sarah gloomily. " I wish she'd

" Don't worry, she'll be here soon. While you wait for
her you might come up to the little room and help me
carry down some of the tools and take apart the things I
used you know, the outfit"

The two crept through the closet and entered the small,
stuffy workshop.

" Gee, it's hot here ! " Sarah exclaimed. " It's so
darned hard to get your breath here that it's no wonder
you look like the wrath of Moses. I bet you're glad to
get out of this place and kiss the little room good-bye."


" Yes, when I get to the country I can hold my head up
once more. There'll be trees and birds "

" Oh, pa ! " She clapped her hands. " Trees and
birds just what I always wished I could live near ! I'm
so glad I could cry ! Ain't you glad too ? "

" Yes." The man's voice trembled.

Sarah looked at him, her quick intuition helping her to
understand what the life in that dark, narrow room must
have been to the man. " You don't look good, pa." She
eyed him solicitously.

" It's been awful, but I'll feel better soon, especially
when my conscience stops condemning me so dreadfully."

" What's a conscience ? "

But the man was spared an explanation. A sudden
noise in the house startled them. Both stood in an atti-
tude of attentiveness.

" There's ma now," said the child. " I'll go down and
ask her if she wants that black skirt packed."

She opened the door, closed it, groped through the dark
closet and opened the door into the bedroom and then
found herself face to face with two men !

" What d'you want here ? " she demanded, shielding the
door with her tiny form.

" Hold the kid, Joe," the one man cautioned the other,
then he stepped quickly past her, through the closet and
into the laboratory before the stooped counterfeiter had
time to defend himself. Weak from long confinement
and foul air, the offender could not combat a husky offi-
cer of the law armed with club and revolver. As the
handcuffs snapped about the thin wrists of the man he
paled and would have fallen had not the strong arm of
the officer supported him. The suddenness and unex-
pectedness of the arrest staggered the counterfeiter com-


pletely and left him shaking and bowed like a tree upon
which a mighty storm has raged.

Sarah, held firmly in the grip of the second officer,
grew purple with rage, then pale, as she beheld the fate
of her father and realized its significance. The thing she
had dreaded for a whole year, ever since the day she had
unwittingly stumbled upon the little room back of the
closet, the thing that had haunted her dreams and hov-
ered darkly about her waking hours, the awful thing had
come to pass at the very moment when she thought relief
from worry was at hand: her father's transgression
against the law was discovered, he was arrested and
would be taken away from her !

The fierce, impulsive anger that was characteristic of
her nature rushed upon her with a new force. She
struggled against the hold of the man, she kicked and
screamed and fought with wild, demoniac fierceness, but
all to no avail.

" Behave yourself, kid," he said, not unkindly. " Your
father ain't dead yet."

Then the child changed her tactics and resorted to
pleading and alluring coaxing. Her eyes brimmed with
tears as she looked up into the face of the big man who
gripped her.

" Please," she begged, " please let him go ! Don't take
him off to jail, don't take him away from me. He's all I
got in the world but a puppy dog. He ain't goin' to make
no more of that bad money with a machine. He was
sorry he done it and we have everything fixed to pull out
of this hole and go some place nice and live like decent
folks. Please, let him go, please ! "

But the man shook his head. " Can't do it, kid.
Duty's duty."


" But it can't be your duty to get him sent up for
long and me what'll become o' me? I ain't got no
other relations, only him and my dog. Oh, why did
youse come here? Why don't ma come and chase you

A queer, pitying smile flitted across the face of the
man. Sarah read its meaning instantly.

" Ma squealed ! " she cried. " I see it in your face !
Oh, the dirty cat, I could kill her ! "

The officer released her. " Guess we better take you
along, for I'm thinking you won't want to stay with that
stepmother. Go get anything you want to take, but bet-
ter hurry up, we're going soon."

A little later the two men and the handcuffed incarna-
tion of misery, waiting in the kitchen, looked up at the
sound of the child's step. She had snatched an old hat
from one corner, tried to pull her black hair into a less
jumbled mass, and in one hand she carried the shabby
brown satchel containing her clothes, on the other arm the
little dog lay curled.

" What, you taking a dog ? " asked the man who had
tried to be kind to her.

" Bet your buttons I am ! I don't go nowheres this dog
can't go! He's mine, belongs to me. I got to look out
for him, ain't I ? "

" Poor kid," thought the officer compassionately, " let
her take it, it'll be all she'll have to console her when her
father leaves her." Aloud he said, "Well, take him
along- Perhaps you can keep him."

A curious crowd gathered quickly in Red Rose Court.
Dowdy, miserable looking men and women and a swarm
of frightened, interested children waited anxiously for
the development of the officers' visit to the Burkhart


home. As the three men and the child stepped from the
house little Jakey ran to Sarah.

"Ach, Sade," he wailed, " where you goin* at ? Are
you comin' back soon ? Why's your pa pinched ? "

But the girl shook her head and would not satisfy the
curiosity of Jakey and the others. Only when she
reached the exit from the familiar Red Rose Court did
she trust herself to speak she called out a sorrowful
" Good-bye."

So the little procession went out from Red Rose Court
the prisoner drooping, silent and unresisting; the two
officers dignified and awe-inspiring; Sarah sad and agi-
tated, her heart throbbing painfully; the dog panting
gently and turning great brown eyes to the troubled face
of his new mistress. It was only the beginning of the
reaping that which inevitably follows sowing to the whirl-
wind. Sad it is that the offender cannot reap alone and
be done with it, that the one who sins cannot eat all the
bitter bread that springs from his sowing, that innocent
children must share in the harvest.



THE great city of which Red Rose Court is a part
maintains for its derelict children a reformatory mod-
ernly built and conducted. Situated eight miles from the
city it lies in a pleasant country place where the beneficial
open air can combine with human agencies for reforma-
tion of the unfortunate inmates. The boys' cottages form
a small group at the foot of a great mountain, while upon
the summit of the hill, appropriately called Sunset
Mountain, stands the girls' cottage.

To that place Sarah Burkhart was committed after her
father's incarceration pending trial as a counterfeiter. A
reformatory what evil thing had she done to be placed
in a reformatory ? The little Madonna of the curb, who
had held for long hours the peevish Maloney baby and
ministered to it according to her meagre knowledge and
her rich maternal instinct what tribunal could mete out
to her segregation with vicious lawbreakers whose youth
alone saved them from heavier punishments? Sarah
Burkhart had in all her squalid young life wrought no
greater harm than fight the bullies of Red Rose Court;
deride selfish children of the gutter; garnish her speech
with oaths whose virulence she could not understand;
have familiarity with grating slang; staunchly brave the
wrath and cruelty of her stepmother. Yet she was or-


dered to spend a number of years in the city reformatory
and be branded with its stigma forever after. The law
was inexorable. There was no friend to open a door for
the child, the father grimly refused to make known the
name and whereabouts of any relatives who might be
capable of caring for the girl the reformatory was the
proper place for Sarah Burkhart, so decided the arbitra-
tors of the law. And to Sunset Mountain Sarah was

" For the love o' Mike, where youse takin' me ? " the
girl asked the officer after they had ridden an hour in a
trolley and started up a long, dark suburban street.

"Ain't much further now, wait till you see the fine
place you're going to, then you won't mind the long

" Say, what you givin' me? " she asked with a curl of
her thin lips. " Guess a reform'tory ain't no mansion.
But I got nowheres else to go. Gosh, I could grind that
darned stepmother into powder ! "

" It's all right, kid, you'll be happier'n a flea on the
collie when you get up on Sunset Mountain. And you
got your dog mighty fine of the judge to let you bring
him along."

"Let me? why, I'd have to take him where I go!

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Online LibraryAnna Balmer MyersThe madonna of the curb → online text (page 2 of 22)