Anna Balmer Myers.

The madonna of the curb online

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" Sybilla, it don't right suit me to just give her sensible
things. Of course the petticoat you got and the woolen


dress I bought are nice, but ain't they a little ach, you
know, they don't seem like Christmas ! "

" I know what you mean. Guess we might have bought
her a little perfume or something like that." Perfume
was the one frivolous desire in the heart of Sybilla.

" Now I know what ! " Aunt Mary had an inspiration.
"Why not give her that jewelry we had long a'ready?
Them breastpins."

" We might. We're plain and don't wear them any-
how. She likes to be fixed up, for Mary Becker is, and
they go together. Let's look once."

So the white-capped women bent over an old velvet
jewel box and took from it an antique cameo and a pearl-
studded pin, relics of past generations.

" They're good, and I seen a lady with one of them
picture pins on not so long ago. I guess they are in style
again. Here, I'll put them in this little box and slip
down and put it with her other presents."



HOME there is a magic about the word that will not
be denied. Christmas at home thrice magical words
that fling aside the mists of vanished years and bring,
even to hardened hearts, memories of childhood days and
Christmas at home.

To Sarah the words were fraught with wonder. She
wakened early, heard the aunts prowling about in their
room, and sprang from her high old-fashioned bed. As
she dressed she called gaily " Merry Christmas ! " first
down the hall to her grandfather, then up the other direc-
tion to her aunts.

" Don't you go down-stairs till we do," commanded
Aunt Sybilla.

"Why not?"

" Well, just you do like I tell you ! "

" All right. I'll be good, seeing it's Christmas."

So when the women and Grandfather Burkhart were
ready to go down they found the girl sitting meekly at the
head of the stairs.

"Did you ever see such a good child?" she asked
roguishly. "But I'm only being good so I'll get some

" You better ! Pop, you go down first."

The family procession moved slowly, too slowly for the
eager girl, who would have slid down the bannister if the
coast had been clear.


Grandfather led the way into the sitting-room. Sarah
was so excited she did not see the tree at once. Some-
thing in the expectant smiles of the women aroused her
suspicions ; she followed her grandfather's glance

" Oh, sweet Peter ! A tree ! "

She ran to it and touched the lowest shining balls, then
turned and faced her family. " You're the dearest peo-
ple on earth ! I couldn't be any happier if I had a million
dollars left to me ! When did you do it ? How did you
get it fixed without me knowing? I'm not as smart as I
thought I was ! "

Sybilla laughed. "Mary ordered it and bought the
balls when she went up-town last evening. It was on the
side porch till you went to bed. We had a time trimmin'
it to suit, but we done pretty good, ain't ? "

" Chased me to bed," said grandfather. " They thought
you'd smell the rat if I stayed up late too. You done
pretty good for the first tree, girls."

" Their first tree too ? " asked the girl. When they told
her it was, she exclaimed, " Then we'll all enjoy our first
tree together."

A little later they gathered for morning worship.
Sarah found the place in the huge family Bible and
grandfather read the Christmas message. She looked
across at Aunt Sybilla. The lined face was softened.
Sarah felt a tug at her heart. How much better she un-
derstood and liked the woman now! She hoped they
would become capital friends since Aunt Sybilla had been
drawn into the magic circle.

" Now it's time to give out the presents," came Aunt
Mary's announcement. Sarah ran up the stairs and
brought down the candy, perfume and gilt- framed pic-
ture. She dimpled as she saw the smiles of pleased sur-


prise on the faces of the family. Her white-hyacinth
gifts were very welcome.

Then came her turn to open packages. The dress, pet-
ticoat and money from grandfather pleased her, but it
was the last little box with the precious jewelry in it that
brought from her the greatest cries of delight.

" For me ? These for me ? "

" Be sure."

"To keep?"

" Yes, abody generally dare keep presents. The pearl
pin belonged to your great granny and the picture one
your granny wore when she was a girl."

" Oh, to think that I have a real grandmother's jewelry,
and a great-grandmother's too! I'll sit up all night to
watch these pins ! "

It was only after Aunt Sybilla's repeated warnings that
the turkey had to be placed in the oven early and break-
fast prepared that the girl laid her presents on a table and
went to the kitchen. As she helped with the work she
broke into singing. Nothing seemed adequate to express
her feeling but the carol, " It Came Upon the Midnight
Clear." Aunt Sybilla, placing the turkey into the roaster,
paused a moment as she heard the words, " Oh, rest be-
side the weary road and hear the angels sing ! " Had her
ears been stopped these many years? It had taken the
hand of the girl to tear from her the grave clothes that
bound her and to show her how to forgive and under-
stand and love her fellow mortals. She thought of recent
Christmas days in their home, the dull quiet time, a few
useful gifts, a little rest or nodding over a paper. But
this year with the girl's laughter sounding through the
house like the peal of bells, her spontaneous joy in her
gifts what a day it was! Then she thought of Jake.


The thought was disturbing. Where was he spending his
Christmas ? Had she been too hard on him ? She wished
she could tell him she forgave him not that she wanted
to speak to him or have him come oh, no ! But just to
know that everything was right between them would be a
blessing. She shook her head. Never, never, could she
make the first move to reconciliation, never !

After breakfast Sarah donned red cap, mittens and
sweater and went out to sweep the light snow that had
fallen during the night. Her dark hair escaped from
under her cap and before she had swept many minutes
her cheeks matched her sweater and cap. There was a
sharp tang in the air, a clear cold that moved one to walk
briskly at the same time it filled you with appreciation of
the perfection of the winter day.

" Merry Christmas ! " called the rector from his side of
the hedge, where he, too, was exercising with a broom.

" Merry Christmas ! " came the gay reply as she waved
her broom in friendly greeting. " Isn't this great ! "

" I think so. You like to do it ? "

" I'd sweep all Fairview if I could ! "

"Off the map?"

" No, no ! Certainly not ! Rather on the map in big
capitals ! It's the finest, dearest place I ever struck."

" With the finest people ? "

" Um yes, some of them." Then she laughed and the
heart of the rector fluttered like a captive bird as he met
the flash of it and saw the light dancing in her gray eyes.

Just then Sarah reached the walk that ran round the
side of the house and permitted a view of the home across
the street.

" Hello, Dan ! " she called. " Merry Christmas ! "

The rector's heart fluttered with another emotion. Lit-


tie demons of jealousy pranced about in him. He was
finding how easy it is to break the tenth commandment.

Dan returned a merry call and went down the street.

" Dan's a nice boy," the rector's curiosity began like the
investigating antennae of a butterfly.

" Yes," responded the girl so fervently that the man
did not gain much comfort from his probing. " Isn't it
strange how you can change in feeling for some people ?
When I first came here I detested Dan Roth, but now
well, I think he is going to be a man we can be proud of."

The rector gave his broom a far more vigorous swing
than was necessary to move the light snow, but said no
more as the girl moved farther to the front of the house
and away from him. He thought of her words as he
went on sweeping the snow. Of course Dan would come
over with a gift for Sarah later lucky Dan !

His supposition proved true. Later in the morning
Dan ran across the street with cookies his mother sent
and a box of candy for Sarah. His eyes pleaded with
the girl to accept his offering, his thank offering for her
goodness to him. She responded royally. There was no
coquettishness in her manner neither any lover-like atti-
tude in his, just a frank friendliness.

But the rector, who had seen the youth enter the Burk-
hart home, pictured to himself a far different meeting.
He pulled himself up short " time to halt," he admon-
ished his heart. Later when he joined the family of one
of his parishioners at Christmas dinner and found him-
self in the company of two eligible daughters he remem-
bered what was expected of him as a guest and tried to
be entertaining and not a bore, but the vision of a red-
clad girl with laughing face thrust itself before him until
he felt relieved when the dinner was over and the time


came when he could take his departure. He supposed
Burkharts also had a dinner guest. Lucky Dan !

Burkharts did have a dinner guest but it was not Dan.
The identity of that guest would have surprised Fairview
if the news had spread. It was not Dan, but Dan was
responsible for the invitation. In the morning the boy
had admired the tree and remarked thoughtfully, " Say,
why didn't you put an angel on the top, Aunt Sybilla?
Don't you know that every Christmas tree must have an
angel on the very tip-top ? "

" No, ain't that too bad ! But me nor Mary never
trimmed none before and didn't know that." After he
left she racked her brains to think where she could secure
an angel did she have any in the house ? An inspiration
came to her. She went to the attic, brought from under
the rafters a box and stirred about until she found an old-
fashioned valentine. It was a huge heart, covered with
lace, and had pasted upon it a figure she called an angel.
It was none other than the Little Blind God, but to her it
had always been an angel. She lifted it from the lace
heart and carried it down-stairs. When they fixed a tree
once in their lives they wanted to have it right! She
fastened the cupid to the very top and called Sarah.

" Where did you get it? "

" Up in the garret."

" Looks like part of a valentine."

" It is. Ach, Jake sent it to me once when we went to
school yet."

"Aunt Sybilla!" The girl had a sudden inspiration.
" Why don't you invite Jake here for dinner to-day ? "

"Here! To-day! For dinner! Well, I guess
not ! "

" Why not ? Isn't it Christmas and don't you feel


sorry for him, and isn't this the day to meet old friends
and make up with them and be nice to them ? "

" Mebbe it is, but Jake why he ach, he wouldn't
come if I would ask it."

" Yes he would. I know him. He often comes to the
store and asks about the family."

" Not me ! " She raised a hand in protest.

" Yes, you ! He asks if you are well and but I won't
tell you another thing! If you want to know how nice
Jake is you better ask him to come for dinner. I'll call
him up and invite him may I ? "

" No wait once mebbe it would be nice well, I
don't care if you don't tell him I said so "

" I may ? Good ! " Sarah ran to the telephone. By
the time she had secured the number the woman realized
what was happening.

" Stop ! Sarah ! " She laid a heavy hand on the girl's
arm, but it was shaken off.

" You're too late. You said I might." And she spoke
into the instrument the words that brought a promise
from the farmer several miles away. He would be glad
to eat his Christmas dinner in the Burkhart home.

" My, what did you do that for ? " Sybilla demanded,
trembling, as the girl faced her and smiled triumphantly.

" I don't know, but I think I'm just a willing instru-
ment in the hand of fate," she said as she followed the
perturbed woman to the kitchen, where the savory odor
of turkey was already foretelling one of the good things
that waited for the visitor.

Aunt Mary received the news with a little relieved
laugh. " Sybilla, I'm glad. I used to wish poor Jake
could come for dinner, for he always liked our cookin'


Jeremiah Burkhart said little but he nodded his head as
Sarah ran to him with the news. It meant that Sybilla
was learning to forgive. He liked Jake, he always did
like Jake.

Sybilla's heart beat too fast as the time approached for
the coming of Jake. She made unnecessary trips to the
cellar and trotted back and forth in the kitchen until
Mary felt tempted to tell her to go sit down. But she
understood how agitated her sister must be and bore with

" What ailed me ? " the elder sister said over and over
to Sarah. " What in the world made me say you dare
ask him? But you might knowed I didn't mean it! If
only you'd listened when I said you should not do it!
But you went on and asked him and now he's comin' ! "



WHEN Jake came it was very simple after all. Sarah
opened the door for him and stood in the hall with him as
he shook the snow from his overshoes, then she led the
way into the sitting-room where the man of the house
greeted him as if he had been a weekly visitor. Then
Mary came in from the kitchen, followed by Sybilla wip-
ing her hands on her apron.

" Well, Jake," she addressed him.

" Well, Sybilla," he said in his slow, gentle way, with a
rising inflection on the last syllable of her name. They
shook hands and then Sarah stepped into the silence and
made some trivial remark that set Mary and the grand-
father talking and left the two estranged to make their

" You give me a mighty fine Christmas present, Sybilla.
When the girl here called up I could hardly believe it at
first. Then it come to me that you thought we was old
enough to get some sense and not have hard feelin's no
more. It seems good to make up, don't it, Sybilla ? "

" Yes. It worried me a lot to think that I felt so hard
to you but when Sarah come and learned us that we ain't
Christians like we think we are if we don't forgive people
then it set me thinkin'. I guess I was too much like a
stone. I felt long a'ready that we ought to talk together.
I'm glad you come and you dare stop in sometimes like
you used for dinner or supper."


"And is that all ? " Jake looked at her over his steel-
rimmed spectacles. His fifty years of life had mellowed
him and made him a kindly man, but they had also taught
him to read human nature with a fair degree of accuracy.
He knew he would have to assert himself to gain any in-
road into the heart of Sybilla. She would hold him at
arm's length if he were too slow.

" Why, ach, Jake, I guess I didn't get you in here to
make up that old to be promised like we used I just
wanted to do the right thing by you and not feel we don't
talk together."

" Yes ? Well, I'm a pretty good waiter. I waited
twenty years for you to forget that one slip I made, and
I guess I can wait a little longer for you to make up right.
Say, that turkey smells mighty good! There ain't any-
body can beat you and Mary cookin'."

" Go on, now, Jake," Sybilla smiled at him. " You
talk to pop a while and I'll go out help with the dinner."

She bustled away and as she entered the kitchen where
Sarah was working the girl looked at her in amazement.
Did the coming of Jake make the grim old woman like
that? Why, her face was shining, years seemed to have
rolled off her shoulders, a light shone in her eyes Sarah
wanted to run to her and say some of the tender things
she had never wanted to say before.

The Christmas dinners on Sunset Mountain had seemed
veritable feasts to the children and Sarah had thought
nothing could ever be finer than they, but the dinner she
ate in her home with Sybilla and Jake looking at each
other as though their youth had come back to stay, Mary
beaming in her sweet way, glad because others were
happy, grandpap contentedly eating and talking and jok-
ing about the wish-bone and reminding Sybilla of the time


she climbed on a chair to put one over the door when she
knew Jake was coming, and Sybilla blushing at the re-
minder, and Jake chuckling and grandpap laughing at his
own joke that was a real dinner ! It was small wonder
the girl swallowed pure joy with every mouthful of the

There was a touch of pathos in it also. During the
conversation Mary asked Jake what they were having
for dinner at home and brought the laughing answer,
" Nothing like this ! My sister went to Mount Joy and
she boiled me some ham for cold and I was going to cook
potatoes and she did fix me some cranberry sauce and
get dried corn out."

" Jake, you would have eat all alone out there ? "

" Ach, I done that often a'ready. She likes to go way
holidays and it don't do to tie her down too close. I can
shift pretty good alone but of course this is better
tastin' ! "

" But alone on Christmas ! " Sybilla was distressed.

" Yes, but you fixed it for me that I got here. See the
fine old-fashioned dinner I got and now we're friends
again and Sarah, I promise you that when you get mar-
ried I'll buy you the best ' haustire ' (wedding gift) in
Lancaster County ! "

Jake stayed late into the afternoon. There were so
many threads of other days to pick up that when he
looked at his big silver watch he whistled, " Whew ! How
time flies without us chasin' it! I got to get home and
feed. Can't starve the chickens and things on Christ-

Before he left he shocked Sybilla by holding her hand
with a vise-like grasp which she knew would be futile to


**Say, Sybilla, I guess that engagement was never
broke, now was it ? "

" Why, yes."

" Oh, no ! Not my part of it. They say still it takes
two to make a bargain and I think it ought to take two to
break one. If you don't mind my bein' a little sloppy and
spillin' things on the floor or havin' mud on my shoes
sometimes, when you are so particular, why I guess,
mebbe, for all, you and me might get hitched up yet."

" Jake I don't know. I don't believe '

" Ach," he laughed. " You just think about it once.
Mebbe when I come again you change your mind. I'm
comin' in soon."

" You dare come, but "

" Now, no buts, them belong in your pop's store." He
laughed at his own pun and even Sybilla understood it
and smiled. "Jake, you ain't different from twenty
years back," she told him.

" Yes I am. I'm nicer but you got to marry me to find
out how nice I'd be to you. Well, thanks for my dinner.
It was like old times."

After he left Sybilla had many things to ponder about.
Could they travel back again to the days of their youth?
No, but they could find happiness regardless of their age,
if they understood and loved each other and were ready
to bear and forbear.

How foolish Jake talked, thought the woman; why
would they want to marry when they were almost fifty?
Of course, she would never, never do such a thing! Of
course not! How nice Jake was, just as nice as ever,
more so! She liked to have him around and she'd just
make that farm of his the best home ever he had ! The
idea of that sister of his going off and leaving poor Jake


alone for dinner on that day ! Poor Jake ! If she mar-
ried him but she wasn't going to marry him ! That was
settled. Yet she bet he wasn't sloppy like he said and
if he did drag mud into the house a woman didn't mind
cleaning up after her man when she liked him. She was
glad she and he had made up, but of course she wouldn't
think of marrying him!

Which showed that Sybilla was woman to the core and
that Jake stood a very good chance of gaining her for his


CHRISTMAS night and the stars shone as they must
have done that night when Christmas was young. Sarah
felt the lure of them as she stepped to the street after
services in St. Paul's. She walked with a happy crowd
of young people, now accepted as one of them, until one
by one they dropped off at their own doors and she was
left to finish the last half block alone to her house. But
the night was so bright and the stars and the still sky
called, so she went past the Burkhart gate and kept on

It had been a day long to be remembered. Where
would she find another so brimful of happiness, so run-
ning over with glad happenings? First the tree and the
loving thought of the aunts who had trimmed it for her,
then the friendly call of Dan and its satisfaction, the
coming of Jake and the weaving of a romance in her ro-
mantic Irish heart, then the service in the church when
the children sang and everybody seemed to spill the spirit
of the day. Now for a walk under the stars, then to go
in and sit a while with her family, and later to creep un-
der the patchwork quilt which the indefatigable fingers
of the aunts had pieced, to pull it close to her chin and
sink into quiet sleep or happy dreams.

The town clock struck nine and Sarah felt like shout-
ing, "All's well ! "


However, she went silently down the street, the snow
crunching under her tread, her hands in the pockets of
her coat, her thoughts up among the clouds. Then sud-
denly they came to earth again. It was strange, she
thought, the rector had never come over to see her tree
though she had told him about it and invited him to come.
Well, if he didn't choose to be friendly she wouldn't care !
But what had he meant when he wrote those words under
the sonnet and laid her cardinal flower there? If he had

" Pig! " she cried to herself. " You got the earth with
a fence around it, now you want the moon ! "

As she mused some one called her name and hurrying
steps sounded behind her. She turned and saw the Rev-
erend James Snavely trying to reach her.

He breathed pantingly. " You are a walker ! I saw
you leave the girls and keep on past the house. May I
come with you ? Are you going for a walk ? "

" How in the wide world shall I answer all those ques-
tions? Yes, yes, I'm going for a walk and you may
come. I think it's too fine a night to go in so early. I
started to go round the block. I can do it in fifteen min-

" Please don't. I have several things to ask you. I
didn't get over to see that tree but I'm coming to-morrow
please don't go so fast or we'll be back before I ask
what I must ask to-night."

She slackened her pace, but kept silent. Her heart be-
gan strange antics what was he going to ask her?

" Sarah, if a man came to you and offered his love
would he be too late ? "

Now she knew!

" Why " She knitted her forehead, then laughed.


" That's a personal question, but because you're my neigh-
bor and have been nice to me, I'll answer it. If a man
came to me and offered me his love, would he be too
late ? " She thought over it as a small boy might con-
sider a puzzling mental problem in school. " No, I'd say
he were in very good time if he were the right man."

" Sarah ! Look at me ; am I the right one ? I love you,
I want you ! "

"You do you remember what, who I am? My fa-
ther, myself "

" Sweetheart, as if that mattered ! All that counts is
whether we love each other. I'm eternally sure about my
part of it ; what I want to know is whether you can care
for me."

" Then I'll tell you I'm loving you as only an Irish^
Dutch girl can ! Don't you kiss me on the street ! " she
said as his arm went around her and he bent over her

" I will ! " he whispered, and did so, but the street was
deserted and none of the town gossips were there to see.

" Jimmie," she said as she straightened her hat, " that's
dreadful ! To kiss me on the street ! "

" Then don't smile at me like that or I'll have to do it

" Tell me," she asked, " what made you think you care

" Think ? Know ! " he corrected.

" Know," she repeated obediently. " Tell me."

" Oh, Sarah, I've been tortured these few weeks. I
saw Dan Roth kiss your hand one night over in their
house and his mother smiling at you both, then she sang
your praises so loudly, and I concluded you and Dan
were engaged."


"Dan and I!" The girl's laugh rang out. "Why,
that couldn't ever be! If you listened to town gossip
you'd know that he and Mary Becker are crazy about
each other. That kiss he gave me was just for some lit-
tle service I was able to do for him."

" Glory ! And I thought, I jumped to conclu-
sions "

"A very foolish thing to do and rather dangerous," she
told him. " But if you thought that, what made you

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Online LibraryAnna Balmer MyersThe madonna of the curb → online text (page 21 of 22)