Anna Balmer Myers.

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" I'm glad."

" Of course you are. And didn't you help me ? It
was you first made me perk up when I cried in the cherry
tree. I have drawn part of that enormous circle already.



THE CARDINAL FLOWER 301

The girls are nice to me, even Mrs. Roth has buried the
old hatchet "

Her face flushed at the remembrance of the incident in
the Roth home, the burning of the check. But the man
looked at her and misunderstood the flush. His heart
sank a little lower. He prided himself upon his powers
of deduction. Sarah and Dan did care for each other !

" Imagine ! " went on the girl, " Mrs. Roth says now
that she is glad I came to Fair view ! "

" That is a conquest. I might as well tell you she told
me you are the sweetest, finest girl in town."

" Glory ! I did drag her into that circle ! With her on
my side my ears won't burn so often." She threw back
her head and laughed one of her gay, rippling laughs that
had so thrilled him before. Often he had heard the
merry sound come into his home and paused in his read-
ing or writing to enjoy the fresh naturalness of it.

" Then you are happy now well, I'm glad, more glad
than I can tell you ! If ever a mortal was meant for joy
it is you ! "

"Are not all mortals * born to trouble as the sparks fly
upward'?" she asked.

" Yes. But I warrant you'd see something to be glad
about no matter how much trouble came to you."

" So I should. I think I'd never be down so low that I
couldn't look up."

" Good ! I hope your happiness will keep on growing.
You deserve it. I wish I could make you perfectly happy,
give you what you want "

" Oh, don't ! " She rose from her chair, the words of
the marked sonnet burning into her brain. She turned
her back to him and stood before the bookcase as if read-
ing the titles. Something new and delightful pulsed



302 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

through her. What was it? That tingling rush in her
fingers ! Was it love ? Why that precipitate withdraw-
ing from his gaze ? It seemed a long time she stood with
her back to him, then she turned and walked back to her
chair. He saw that some change had taken place, that
she was lovelier than ever. Her eyes looked fearlessly
into his as she said, " You see I came back."

" I knew you would. Why did you run away ? What
had I done?"

" You ? Oh, you didn't do anything."

" But you ran from me as you ran from Dan last sum-
mer."

" No, oh, no ! Not like that ! That time I ran from
Dan, this time from myself. Were you ever afraid of
yourself, Mr. Preacher?"

" Many times."

She avoided his eyes as he spoke, but he could see the
lambent fires of hers.

" Doesn't it beat the dickens, this growing up busi-
ness ! " She said it seriously yet she looked so bewil-
dered that the man laughed. Then as she studied the
back of the Stevenson book he looked at her. What a
child she was and, paradoxical, what a woman! She
would give with the generousness of a child, yet could
withhold with the measuring of a woman. He closed his
eyes a moment as though he stood before an unveiled
sanctuary which he had no right to behold.

She brought him back to earth. " You told me of your
memories of childhood, now let me tell you mine. Don't
you think I haven't any ! " Her expression told him she
was trying to be flippant to suppress her pangs of regret
for what she had missed.

" Let me hear about them," he urged.



THE CARDINAL FLOWER 303

"Well, once when I was about nine there was a big
wedding in the fashionable church around on Fourth
Street not very far from Red Rose Court. A whole gang
of us went. Invited? No! We sneaked in, watched
our chance and got through past the swells in stiff shirts.
It was great! All the ladies in evening dress took my
time. I was just a ragged youngster from Red Rose
Court but I was shocked by the little they wore and got
away with it. Since then I've seen worse and sometimes
it makes me think of Kipling's Gunga Din. You remem-
ber:

" ' The uniform he wore
Was nothin' much before,
An' rather less than 'arf o' that be'ind.' "

He laughed heartily. " You are clever to think of
that! But if those grand ladies who wear the evening
gowns heard you I fancy they wouldn't relish having the
creations compared to any ' twisty piece of rag.' "

" But that isn't the only glimpse I got into high society,
please, sir. One night we were wandering about in one
of the exclusive sections of the aristocrats when a dinner
party was in progress. We boosted each other up at a
side window to look into the dining-room. Say, there
was enough silver on the table to perform an operation !
And flowers! I thought at first somebody was dead!
Just as I had my look-in a cop came along and we ran
like rabbits. Bet he never had a chance to count how
many there were of us. When I think of the harum-
scarum piece of humanity I was I feel sorry for Miss
Hughes. I'm everlastingly indebted to her. She's a
darling, the best person I know, barring none."

" Rather hard on present company."



304 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

" Well, you might be almost as good."

" That's a concession. Thank you. I'll have to stretch
my soul and try to rival that wonderful Miss Hughes."

" Well, I don't think you'll have to go so awful far to
catch up, at any rate, to get within sight of her ! "

They laughed together. Then she rose, the volume of
Stevenson in her hand. " May I take this ? "

" Help yourself. Read the chapter on El Dorado.
There are many things in that I'm sure you'll like."

After she left the man sat with his books, but not read-
ing any of them. The room seemed suddenly dim. He
paraphrased Stevenson and thought her going from a
room was as if all the candles had been extinguished.



THE CLOUDS ROLLED AWAY

AUNT SYBILLA had not forgotten the mysterious lend-
ing of Sarah's fifty dollars. The more she thought of it
the more eager she became to solve the riddle. She was
thinking about it two days before Christmas as she
cleaned Sarah's room while the girl was at the store.

" Fifty dollars loaned away and she won't do it to tell
to who ! I don't like them sneaky ways. Mebbe, for all,
she's goin' to give us trouble. That mom she had wasn't
the right kind. Such badness comes out in the children,
it got to, it just got to ! Sarah said she got some pictures
of Miss Hughes I'm to see once when I got time. Mebbe
they are in her drawer. I'll look once."

She opened the bureau drawer. On the top of a stack
of letters lay the paper Dan had written in preparation
for the forgery.

" What in the world ! " she snapped. " Pop's name
wrote all over like some one was tryin' to do it like him !
My goodness ! " She opened and closed her mouth.
" My goodness ! Ach, she wouldn't do that ! But

what " She stared at the paper, her brain trying to

solve the significance of it. Finally she came to the natu-
ral conclusion that Sarah had written the paper and for
no other purpose than to use the grandfather's name for
some illegal purpose. The woman's face hardened. She



306 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

decided to confront the girl with the incriminating paper
and demand an explanation.

The first opportunity came at the dinner table. As
soon as the four were seated there Aunt Sybilla produced
the paper and held it to the girl. " Here, what does this
mean ? "

"What?" But she recognized the import of the in-
terrogation.

"Ach, you know good enough what ! I found it in your
drawer when I looked in for them pictures you talked
about."

" What is it ? " asked Aunt Mary.

" Who wrote this ? " demanded Jeremiah Burkhart as
his daughter handed the paper to him. He looked to the
girl for an answer, but she shook her head and her lips
were hard as she told him she could not tell him that.

" Just what I thought ! " Aunt Sybilla had the air of a
prophet who sees his prophecies verified. " Who wrote
that ? " she asked Sarah. " I want to know who did."

" I can't tell you."

" Well," compromised the old man, " tell us if you did
or somebody else."

" I can't tell you that much even." The agonizing bit-
terness of being suspected tempted her to divulge the real
author of the paper, but something stronger than her
temptation held her back. What would it profit her peo-
ple to know and how much harm it might do the boy!
She was convinced that Dan was trying his best to go
straight, that he had learned his lesson and was keeping
that promise to her. She couldn't expose him to stave
off a bit of unpleasantness from herself. Her grandfa-
ther might discharge him, the news of the crime might be
spread and the whole future of the foolish lad be jeopard-



THE CLOUDS ROLLED AWAY 307

ized because of that one fall which he so sincerely re-
gretted.

" I can't tell you anything about it," she said with a
tone of finality.

" Then I guess you done it yourself and was gettin'
ready to forge checks on your grandpap ! " pronounced
Sybilla.

Her words brought a protest from the other aunt.
" Sybilla, be careful ! That ain't a little thing to say
about abody ! "

" Well, if she ain't guilty why can't she say so? Why
does she act dumb for, like she didn't know who done it
nor why ? What do you do with your money, anyhow ? "
she demanded of the girl. " First you borrow out fifty
dollars and can't tell who to, then you try to forge checks
what do you do with the money ? Do you gamble it, or
what?"

If the matter had not been so serious Sarah would have
indulged in a gale of laughter at the utter ridiculousness
of the question. But she was in no mood for laughter.
She bit her lips to keep back the tears.

" Why can't you tell ? " insisted the old grandfather, to
whom the strange conduct of the girl was a painful ex-
perience. " I trust you and I felt so sure you would be
a girl to do the right "

" But look at her mom and her pop ! " Sybilla reminded
him.

Sarah sprang to her feet. "Aunt Sybilla, don't you
dare talk like that about them ! My mother never stole a
penny in her life ! For all her dancing she would never
have taken the name of an innocent person and dragged it
in the dirt ! My mother was noble and she had a heart ! "

Sobs were in her voice and an ominous moisture in her



308 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

eyes but she steadied her lips and went on, " I guess my
father well, he was ray father, but he was also your
brother! When it comes to throwing dirt I can sling a
little as well as you can." She narrowed her eyes as she
used to do long ago in Red Rose Court when she called
some bully to account.

But Aunt Sybilla was not easily intimidated. " Well,"
she said curtly, " if you don't want people to think bad of
you then don't be sneaky. What else can that paper
mean but that you was tryin' to write like pop, and what
for?"

Sarah could stand no more. She ran from the room,
up-stairs to the white bed whose immaculate counterpane
had so pleased her and there, with her face buried in its
roses, she sobbed out her pain.

To be suspected, even in the face of circumstantial evi-
dence, not to be trusted, hurt her more than anything had
ever done before.

" They think I'm a thief, stealing from my own grand-
father after I'm living in his house, earning money in his
store how can they think that? I'll never forget the
shame of it! If they had struck me it would be less
painful. To think me a thief "

" Sarah ! " A gentle voice called her and a cool hand
was placed on her hot head. Aunt Mary sat down beside
the bed. " Come, Sarah, you mustn't mind how Sybilla
talks. She's quick and says too much once in a while.
Pop just said to us he don't think you would do anything
like that. I told him I know you wouldn't."

"You don't think I'm a thief?" She turned her
swollen face to the white-capped woman.

" Sarah, I know you are not ! Just because things are
mysteries don't say they must be bad."



THE CLOUDS ROLLED AWAY 309

Sarah sat up. " If I live to be a hundred I'll remember
that you had faith in me when things looked black against
me."

" Come down now and finish your dinner. It's too bad
Sybilla didn't wait to make a fuss till you eat your snitz
pie when you like them so ! Come down and eat."

" I couldn't swallow a bite ! "

" Now ain't that too bad of Sybilla ? But you mustn't
be too hard on her for she has so much trouble."

" Trouble ! I'm thinking that Jake is mighty lucky she
did turn him down ! "

" Now, now ! Sybilla's all right. She'd make Jake a
good wife."

Sarah refrained from further expression of her opinion
just then for she knew it would hurt the gentle woman
who had borne heavy burdens cheerfully and yet saw ex-
cuse for those who sank under theirs.

When she returned to work her reddened eyes sur-
prised Dan.

"What's wrong? Anything I can help?" He was
considerate and gentlemanly in his attitude to her since
that day of her magnanimous action to him; his whole
bearing in her presence spelled gratitude and a determina-
tion to prove worthy of her kindness.

" No, Dan, nothing you can help."

"Ah, that's rotten! I wish I could do something to
show how much I appreciate "

She held up a silencing finger. " Then don't talk about
it, please. That's the best way to show me." She smiled
at him and bent over her work and he could not guess
how heavy was the heart she bore. All through the long
afternoon, with its press of work, the thought haunted
her they think I'm a criminal! Like claps of thunder



310 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

the dire words rang in her ears so that her hands trem-
bled and tears blurred the pages she was trying to fill.
Her tortured brain was trying to look into the future
how could she live through years of mistrust? Would
she ever be happy again? Would she had never found
her people if they had no faith in her. Miss Hughes
would have understood. She would have trusted and
said, " Dear child, it looks bad on the surface but I'll
trust you until you can explain the clouds away." But
then Miss Hughes was like that, so understanding, so
broad-minded she could see the good in people though
they were covered with the very slime of sin. One thing
she would remember, Aunt Mary was like Miss Hughes.

When supper-time came Sarah rose reluctantly. She
would rather have faced a company of ferocious animals
than submit to another tirade from Aunt Sybilla. But
Aunt Mary had evidently implored the sister to refrain
from further questioning, for the evening meal brought
no renewal of the dreaded subject. Aunt Mary talked and
smiled, grandfather hid valiantly his uncertainty about
the girl and Aunt Sybilla sat silent and grim. Sarah felt
the iron about her neck growing heavier each minute. A
life like that would soon be intolerable, or did one become
accustomed to it in time and accept it with apathy or
stoicism ?

She went to her room early that night, pleading a few
last gifts to be tied up in festive ribbons. As she went
she thought of the farcical task of tying gifts, adding gay
cards with gay messages when her heart was so heavy.
Tears fell on the white tissue paper until the blistered
surface told her it would never do. She sat for a long
time and thought over the matter. Would it have been
better to shield herself and let Dan look out for himself ?



THE CLOUDS ROLLED AWAY 311

He had been headed for destruction ; she had turned him
to a better path, and this was what she got for it ! She
was a fool to meddle with his affairs ! Did it pay to do
good ? She laughed a cynical laugh as she thought of the
old saying that virtue is its own reward some reward
she was getting out of it! For the first time in her life
the child who had come from Red Rose Court and Sunset
Mountain to live in Fairview cried herself to sleep. She
thought of her first Christmas at home, her dreams about
it, her plans, and it was all dead sea fruit, ashes and dust,
bitter gall.

When she woke her misery was still with her. She lay
wide-eyed, thinking, thinking! If she could stop her
brain from whirling and her heart from aching ! In her
extremity she thought of the rector next door and won-
dered dully whether he would trust her if he knew. How
she wished she could fly to him for comfort. Was it just
two nights ago they had joked about her seeking consola-
tion in the rectory? it seemed like aeons ago. She had
said so glibly to him that she would never be down so low
that she couldn't look up what an easy assertion to
make, a harder one to carry out !

At breakfast Aunt Sybilla did not allude to the mat-
ter, but her manner, her very silence, spoke eloquently
that she still remembered it and wanted to know the
truth.

However, when noon came and they were seated about
the table her desire to fathom the mystery was too strong
to permit silence.

" Sarah, ain't you ready to tell yet about that paper ? "
she asked.

" No ! "

"Well, I won't rest in my grave till I know if you



312 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

wrote it and if you was goin' to forge your grandpap's
name."

In her excitement her voice became shrill and every
word fell distinctly upon the ears of Mrs. Roth, who had
come round the back way and stood at the kitchen door
ready to enter as the words fell. That woman's first im-
pulse was to run and never let the people of the house
know she overheard. She knew what the words meant.
In some manner Sybilla had heard of the check and sus-
pected Sarah. Mother-desire to protect her offspring
urged her to keep silent and allow the stigma to settle
upon the innocent. In a flash that seared her very heart
she saw the scene of that night when Sarah had con-
fronted Dan with the evidence of his guilt. She felt
again the terror and hopelessness as the disgrace of her
boy loomed before her. Could she forget the moment
Sarah walked to the fire and threw the forgery into the
flames ? In that moment Mrs. Roth reached the heights ;
the multitude of her sins were covered by one act of real
charity. She turned and ran across the street to her own
home, where Dan was reading the paper during the brief
recess of the noon hour.

" Dan." She told the story in a breathless jumble of
words.

He, too, proved that contact with Sarah had been a
saving experience. He rose. " They blame Sarah for
my guilt ! She's an angel ! I'm going straight over ! "

A few minutes later the Burkhart family gasped simul-
taneously at the apparition that appeared in the doorway
of the kitchen : Mrs. Roth, panting, weeping ; Dan, hatless
and bursting with some information.

" I heard you " the mother began.

Dan stepped out and said, " Mother, let me tell it !



THE CLOUDS ROLLED AWAY 313

Mother heard something makes her think you found a
paper with Jeremiah Burkhart written all over it."

" Yes. I did ! " Sybilla wasn't loath to admit.

" And you suppose that because Sarah had it she wrote
it?"

" She won't tell."

" No, she can't tell, because she'd expose the real sin-
ner ! I wrote that paper ! "

Sarah made a protesting sound but he paid no attention
to it.

" I wrote it and she found it and thought I needed
watching. So when I forged a check and she got it she
saw just what it was. She came over and told us about
it. I'll never forget the hell I went through that night.
I saw what I had done, how I was started on the down
road. But that blessed girl burned the check after she
had given me a good scare and because we had spent our
money so close we had no fifty to make it good, she gave
me hers to make it good until after the holidays, when I
can pay her back. It isn't easy to tell you this. I was
hoping it could be kept in the dark, but I couldn't see her
blamed for anything like that. It's a wretched story so
far as I am concerned but it puts a halo round her head.
Mr. Burkhart, I'm sorry. I don't suppose you can trust
me after this "

" My boy ! " cried the mother. " Oh, Mr. Burkhart,
don't be too hard on him! He's trying so hard to go
right now. I know he learned his lesson. Don't send
him to jail or discharge him say you won't! "

The old man spoke with irritating slowness to the ones
who hung upon his words as though much depended upon
them. " I guess mebbe Dan got enough punishment for
it a'ready. If this had happened before Sarah come to



314 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

live with us I'd been for puttin' him to jail or anyhow to
discharge him, but " his voice trembled " she learned
me to be merciful and forgive, and I guess we'll call it all
in the past so long as Dan goes right."

Mrs. Roth was overjoyed. " Sarah, I want to tell you
how mean I talked about you and all and how sorry I am.
And what I said about Reverend Snavely making up to
girls and then going off wasn't true. I was so mean I
didn't want you to get a good man, but now I think the
best one in the world won't be too good for you."

After Dan and his mother left, a happy pair once more,
Aunt Sybilla came to Sarah. " Say," she said humbly,
" I ain't fit to wipe off your shoes after all I said to you,
but if you don't hold it against me I want to be nice to
you from now on."

"Aunt Sybilla, of course you didn't know! It was
natural to suspect me." The girl smiled through tears
and before they knew it her arms were twined around the
neck of the old aunt. " I believe," she said, " that I'm
going to like you every bit as much now as I like Aunt
Mary!"

" Well, I guess it's time once I treat you nice ! "

" Now we're going to have a happy Christmas, after
all ! " Sarah clapped her hands. "And this morning I
thought it would be the worst one ever I knew. It just
shows that we shouldn't worry so, that things turn out
better than we expect and people are so much nicer than
we think they are. Here's Dan going to make me proud
of him, and his mother nice to me, and you all so kind to
me oh, I'd like to run up and down the street and shout
hurrah!"



CHAPTER XXII

CHRISTMAS EVE

CHRISTMAS EVE Sarah declared she was so happy she
felt tempted to stay awake all night to see Christmas
ushered in. At the remark her aunts exchanged glances
which the girl would have noted if she had been less oc-
cupied with singing paeans of gladness. Every time she
left the room the women spoke in hurried whispers that
ran this wise "Are you sure he'll bring it to-night ? "
" Yes, he said he'd come after the store closes and not
make any noise but put it on the porch sh! here she
comes ! "

Sarah, not knowing that strange doings were brewing
in the old house, asked why they sewed so long on Christ-
mas Eve. " I declare, to see you, Aunt Sybilla, one
would never think you had twenty aprons in your chest !
You sew on that one as though you had to wear it to-
morrow ! "

" But I want to give it to Mrs. Felker with her cookies,
for she's so good to that poor crazy boy and I think still
abody can't be too glad when you ain't got one like him."

Sarah accepted the explanation and the aunts sewed
on. At ten grandfather went to bed, but the women
made no move toward " fixing things for the night."

Finally the girl said, " I'm going to bed. I'm tired ; it's
been a full day but a happy one. I couldn't hold another
ounce of joy."

As soon as she was safely up-stairs the sewing was



316 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

thrown aside and strange doings began in the Burkhart
sitting-room. The women brought out from under the
haircloth sofa several boxes and opened them. Stifled
exclamations were heard as colored balls for a tree were
held up. Then the door was opened cautiously, a tree
dragged into the room and Aunt Mary whispered, " He
had no stand left but he said to put it in a bucket of coal
would hold it up."

They followed directions, stood off to look at the tree,
then set to work with the trimming. It was a new task
for the Mennonite women but love guided their hands.
Their niece, the wonderful girl who had done so much
for them, showed them how to forgive, taught them how
to be loyal, lighted their drab lives and set the house ring-
ing with her music their child had never had a tree of
her own, she wanted one and she was going to have one !

When the last red ball had been hooked on a branch
they stood away and viewed their work. " Um," said
Aunt Sybilla, " ain't so bad for two old maids ! "

"Yes. Won't she jump?"

Then they turned out the lights and went up-stairs.
Sarah called to them, " Gracious, did you make a whole
dress for Mrs. Felker? I just woke up and had a notion
to come down and see if anything is wrong, then I heard
you come up."

The women smiled at the narrow escape and bit their
lips like children fearful of discovery in some fault.
Their good-nights to the girl were full of love, but given
between mysterious chuckles.

When the aunts reached the room they had shared
since girlhood and closed the door Aunt Mary said,


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Online LibraryAnna Balmer MyersThe madonna of the curb → online text (page 20 of 22)