Anna Balmer Myers.

The madonna of the curb online

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peers, Robert Emmet, Patrick Henry and others of equal
calibre, lived and moved in her. So she stepped into the
place with high hope and strong faith.

Before she went to take charge of the girls on Sunset
Mountain there were threats of riot among them. Her
predecessor, loath to surrender the reins of government,
had planted mutinous seeds in the fertile hearts of the in-
corrigibles. But Miss Hughes entered calmly, took hold
of the sceptre and before she ruled a month in the cottage
on the mountain every girl loved her. Little girls whom
parents and teachers considered incorrigible, tiny waifs
their parents incarcerated for some penal transgression of
the law older ones who had fled to New York and were


brought to the mountain with sin and rebellion in their
hearts and defiance upon their faces every girl, one by
one, fell under the beneficial influence of the new matron.
Which does not mean that they were suddenly, miracu-
lously transformed into spotless creatures, for the ten-
dencies of years are seldom turned in a night, the sins of
long indulgence are not often changed at first attempts.
But it does mean that Miss Hughes was gifted with that
happy faculty of finding and fostering the latent best in
others and that a real reformation was slowly but steadily
taking place among the girls.

Sarah, too, felt an irresistible desire to please the
woman who had taken her into the big building on the
mountain and been so kind to her. The white dress Miss
Hughes wore while on duty had a strange attraction for
the new girl. Just to get near it and look at its snowy
surface, to furtively touch the starched skirt and wonder
how on earth it was kept so white for so long a time, was
a satisfaction to the child of Red Rose Court, where noth-
ing was ever spotlessly white for any length of time.
Under the influence of Miss Hughes the activities of the
new girl were gradually turned into proper and useful
channels. As the child had been quick to imitate and
adopt the grotesque slang and irreverent expressions of
the slums, she was equally eager to pattern after Miss
Hughes and learn new expressions and use less offensive
language. The strong, inherent tendency of childhood to
imitate others assisted greatly in the evolution of a more
obedient, attractive Sarah. But there were many things
which perplexed the child of Red Rose Court. If she
had ever had a mother's training the uncertainties of her
heart might have dissolved into faith. But she had lost
her own mother in babyhood and had not even a vague


recollection of any smiling face bending over her. Then
had come the miserable existence of Red Rose Court, the
absence of her father and the discovery of the secret
room beyond the closet, the unhealthy influence of the
dull, sordid people of the slums, fortunately leavened by
the wise, philosophical sayings of Mrs. Maloney. Sarah
had learned early to wrest from existence the slight
crumbs of happiness. Withered flowers from ash-boxes
of the more fortunate, bits of tawdry finery discarded by
them, were gathered while she watched cannily for the
officers of the law who were so eager to call skiddp to the
dirty, ragged child. Her thin legs learned early to flee
with the swiftness of Hermes from the bluecoats, and her
lips curled in childhood at law, order and its agents.

" Why do you call this a reform' tory ? " she asked Miss
Hughes one day soon after her arrival.

" Reform means to make over," the woman informed

" Huh, then you got some job on your hands, I'll say !
I'd begin, if I was you, on that girl with the crooked nose
and that one that's got tombstones for teeth in her trap.
I hope when you make me over you'll cut out the freckles
and give me golden hair like a fairy and make me blue
eyes like a doll."

" Child," Miss Hughes told her gently, " we don't try
to change the faces of the girls, just the hearts. But if
your heart is right your face will be lovelier."

"Hully gee," cried Sarah gleefully, " then some guys
got awful rotten hearts if you can take it from their
faces ! Why, there's a bad man in Red Rose Court most
o' the kids'd run a mile from when he was drunk, for his
face looked like the devil had got inside his skin sure. It
was screwed in a knot. I punched him in the jaw once


he got fresh with me, then I run and he was too drunk to
catch me. Mrs. Maloney used to say he had a face, or a
mouth, I mean, like a poor man's lease from 'ear to

" Sarah ! " exclaimed the matron, " are you Irish ? "
" Sure Mike ; that is half o' me is. Me father ain't, but
even if he wouldn't tell me where his relations are and
what they are, I know he's German bad luck to it, I hate
them Germans, all but my pa. He's one o' the nice kind.
Mrs. Maloney says it's like this with the Irish: there's
dirty Irish and there's nice Irish. She was one o' the
nice kind sure as guns ! But she's poor, so poor she got
to work since her man got hurt and died in the horspital.
Guess it's a good thing the baby died 'fore I come away
from the Court for I took care of it when she went to
work. She cried and felt bad but she said it must be a
blessing after all guess mebbe that there God she talks
about ain't such a chump after all. He took her baby to
heaven 'cause I was comin' here and He give me a dog
that I could bring with me where I couldn't brought the
baby. But just the same it's darned hard to have that
poor kid sick o' the heat and die that way. Mrs. Maloney,
now, she's grand! Always laughin' she is and that with
all her trouble and bein' so poor. She says such funny
things, like, 'The Lord never shuts one door but He opens
another.' Guess it's the luck o' the Irish to be laughin'
when they ain't got two cents to rub together. Mrs.
Maloney said once she knows who God likes best, that He
must love the Irish most for He taught them how to laugh.
Me, I'm half Irish, for me mother was that. Pa says she
was happy and like a sunbeam and if she hadn't died, him
and me'd be a lot better than we are. But when I get out
this place and he gets out o' jail, me and him's goin' to


have a nice house some place and I bet your life I'll keep
it like this place. I never knowed a house can be so clean,
thought just horspitals is like this. 'But, gee, mebbe it
ain't swell to eat off clean dishes and sleep in a white bed
and have the floors so that you could eat off 'em in a

" Did you ever hear that ' Cleanliness is next to Godli-
ness '?"

" Godliness what's that ? "

" Being good."

" Huh, next to it it beats it all hollow and it's a darned
sight more comfort'ble."

The days passed uneventfully to the minds of the other
girls on Sunset Mountain but to Sarah they brought an
intoxicating introduction with Nature. For the first time
in her starved life the child of Red Rose Court roamed
through fields and woods and drank deeply of pure moun-
tain air.

Each morning during the summer months after the
allotted tasks were done Miss Hughes and the girls went
for a walk, an important part of the daily routine of the
reformatory during the regime of Miss Hughes.

Sometimes they followed the road that wound past the
orchards and entered the woods. Then the girls, tread-
ing among the damp mosses or stepping from rock to
rock, searched for ferns and dug them from the black
mold. They carried them, hardy sword fern or fragile
maidenhair, to the house and planted them. Sometimes
they crossed the grass at the rear of the house and wan-
dered in the wide field of waving daisies and brown-eyed
Susans which grew so tall that the little girls waded
waist-deep through the white and yellow sea of bloom.
Then the girls gathered armfuls of the blossoms and


carried them to the wide halls and rooms of the build-

Sometimes they walked through the grasses and wild
flowers near the front piazza, and winding their way in
and out among the young silver birches, came to a field
where wild strawberries grew in abundance, and later in
the summer huckleberries and blackberries waited to be

Sometimes they chose the gray road from which they
looked away over the valley. But they never stood quiet
for any length of time to look over the familiar pano-
rama, but went lightly down the road that wound around
the great hill until it reached the foot where the boys'
quarters were. Then it went on evenly past houses and
bungalows to a busy, noisy street where cars and wagons
rumbled in great contrast to the peaceful quiet of the
mountain. However, the girls seldom went out to that
dusty highway except upon the Sabbath. Then they
walked down the hill, sat decorously during the service of
worship in a little brown chapel that faced the busy street,
and at noon returned once more to the summit of the

Rude log steps were fitted into the steep mountainside
and to these Miss Hughes frequently brought the girls to
gather the wild flowers that grew in abundance on either
side of them. The whole mountainside was a treasure
trove : trees, centuries old oak, poplar, birch, walnut and
chestnut grew so closely that their branches were inter-
woven. They formed ideal nesting-places for the my-
riads of birds who loved that secluded woodland. The
girls, guided by Miss Hughes, became observant and
gradually learned to differentiate between the feathered
neighbors, their names, habits, songs and nesting-places.


The flowers that grew on that mountainside ! One por-
tion of the hill was a home of a flaming host of speckled
lilies. A huge boulder partially imbedded in the woods
bore upon its top a great clump of wild columbine.
Along the edges of the wood pink clover stored its nectar
for the bees, and wild roses and violets bloomed in their
seasons. Goldenrod and asters made royal robes of lav-
ish beauty for the autumn coronation of the woods and a
hundred less conspicuous yet not less lovely blossoms
embroidered each nook and open road on Sunset Moun-

So, each day, whether they followed the road to wood
or field, the girls of the reformatory drew closer to the
bosom of Mother Nature, the little group of unfortunate
children learned invaluable lessons from God's bright
mountain top. And always the center of the group, the
controlling, guiding spirit, was Miss Hughes. Smiling,
cheering, loving, encouraging, helping; her heart filled
and overflowing with real kindness and patience ; her life
an unceasing fountain of gladness, courage and inspira-
tion she was able, as few others would have been in her
place, to win from each girl the good that lay dormant, to
teach the wayward ones to pick up the tangled skeins and
begin new patterns.

Sarah's initiation into the mysteries of the fields and
woods was an hour of keen, intense joy. With Jerry
frisking at her side she followed the girls and Miss
Hughes down the mountainside on her first walk.

" Oh, look ! " she cried. " What park is that ? "

" Park ! " echoed the girls with laughter. " This be-
longs to the city and is for us to enjoy."

" Gee, hully gee ' She became speechless with

wonder, but the phenomenal condition did not endure


long. Her attention was attracted by a splotch of vivid
red. " Look," she pointed to a bush growing on the side
of the hill, " there's a red ribbon hangin' on that little
tree. Guess one of youse kids musta lost it."

The girls laughed as they drew nearer to the red object
and it suddenly rose and flew away.

" A bird ! " Sarah gasped. " A red bird ! "

" That's a scarlet tanager. Miss Hughes told us all
about it," one of the girls informed the newcomer.
" That's the father bird and the mother bird is green, so
that when she sits on the nest bad boys can't see her and

" Humph," said Sarah thoughtfully, " God's good to
birds, ain't He, most gooder'n to people ? "

The next day she confided to Jerry, " Say, I learned
something yesterday you gotta know, 'cause I tell you
everything I learn so you can grow in that fine dog like
people say you are. I learned that God's good to birds.
Miss Hughes says I have to learn to be fine so I'll match
you, that I can't learn you nothin' I don't know myself,
and I guess that's about right. You must learn to be
kind and obedient. I learned from Miss Hughes that it
ain't smart to do mean things to people, that's cowardly.
She says, too, it ain't nice to say things I used to say all
the time in Red Rose Court. My, that must be a dread-
ful place! We got to stop sayin' devil. Miss Hughes
says nice, refined people don't say it bet your buttons
they think it sometimes, though, don't you? But mind
you, Jerry, if I forget and say them bad words don't you
dare wag your tail at me and laugh like it was funny,
don't you dare ! We got to stop bein' that way and act
like ladies, you and me. We like it pretty good here, don't
we? Ain't you glad now that bad boy hurt you and I


took you from him and brought you here ? I knew you
was ! We like it here and we like the dresses and things
to eat and the walks and the people, all but Lettie. We
don't like her none, do we? She's too fresh and bossy
and she laughed at me once."

It was true, Sarah persistently refused to be friendly
with the monitress. The bright sayings of the new girl,
the fact that Jerry was hers, and the magnetism of her
personality, won for her the warm admiration and affec-
tion of the girls. But there existed a subdued hostility
between Sarah and Lettie, due to the impulsive prejudice
of the former when the older girl had ridiculed her.
Sarah had a tantalizing way of uplifting her thin, pointed
chin and pug nose perceptibly higher when she met Let-
tie, but the older girl took no apparent notice of the dis-
like, though she sometimes commented to herself, " Dis-
agreeable, hateful brat ! I'd like to shake her ! "

One day the smouldering hate in the heart of Sarah
leaped into active blaze. Miss Hughes, called to the city
upon urgent business, gathered the girls together and told
them she trusted every one to obey Lettie during the time
they were without a matron.

" We'll be good, Miss Hughes," they promised her ;
" we won't give Lettie a bit of trouble."

" I'm sure you will do as she tells you, girls. Lettie
and Miss Mary will manage things until I come back.
Good-bye, girls."

" Good-bye, Miss Hughes," they called after her as
she went down the hill. " Don't forget to come back to

The older girls returned to the kitchen where Miss
Mary, housekeeper and teacher of cooking, was directing
the making of savory preserves; the little girls gathered


to play under the sheltering branches of an apple tree
quite close to the house.

" Did any of you girls ever run away ? " Sarah asked
suddenly as they played with their dolls.

" No, oh, no ! " chorused the girls. " We don't want
to run away. We like it here. Why did you ask that ? "

" I just wondered if any one ever had the spunk to do

" Oh, if one of us ran away now when Miss Hughes
is out and Lettie has charge of us wouldn't Lettie be
sore ! Here she comes now. Lettie, would you be mad if
one of us would run away for you ? "

" Run away ? " echoed the monitress. " You're all
afraid to do that. Go on, play with your dolls."

" Yes, that's more fun," said Helen.

A little later Sarah suggested, "Let's play hide-and-
go-seek. I'm tired of dolls."

" Who'll be it ? " The children danced about on the
grass. " I'll count out and see," said Helen. " ' My
mother told me to take this one. One, two, three, out
goes she.' There, you're it ! " she pointed triumphantly
to one of the smaller children. " You hold the dog
while you hide your face and count or he'll run after
us and give us away. Now no fair peeping ! "

" All right. I'll count fifty. Remember, no going in

the house! Go on " she hid her face and began to

count and the little girls scampered in all directions.

As she cried, " Fifty ! " she put Jerry down. He
started off briskly on the road that led past the orchards
and through the woods.

" Here, Jerry," she called, " no one is down there.
Come back ! " But he ran off unheedingly.

In a short time all except Sarah were found.


" I can't find Sarah," the girl pouted. " I looked every-
where for her. Did any of you see where she went? "

" No," each protested.

" Well, Jerry went down that way," she pointed to the
gray road. " I called him but he wouldn't come
back "

" Look there ! " cried Helen excitedly. " There she
goes ! "

A break in the trees showed for an instant the fleeing
figure of a child in a blue chambray dress.

" She's running away ! " cried the children. " Call
Lettie and we'll go after her ! "

In a moment the place was buzzing with excitement.
Miss Mary, her sleeves rolled up to her elbows, a worried
expression on her fine, patient face, stood in the doorway
and watched the pursuers start after the runaway. " It's
just too bad this had to happen when Miss Hughes is
away," she murmured.

Clouds of dust rose from the road as Lettie and a
number of other girls ran after Sarah. For a quarter
mile they ran, pausing sometimes to regain breath and
gather fresh impetus. But, as the road was full of
curves, they caught never a glimpse of the runaway.

" Perhaps she stopped and went in the woods," sug-
gested one of the girls.

" No," was Lettie's opinion, " I believe she went on to
the pike. We better go straight ahead."

Finally they reached the end of the road through the
woods and came to the broad highway. There, standing
pantingly in the middle of the road, was Sarah.

When she saw the excited crowd of girls running to-
ward her she advanced to meet them. Her hair hung in
great disorder, her face glowed scarlet through the


freckles, and there hovered a sarcastic little smile in her
eyes and a twitching crooked smile about her mouth that
stirred wrath in the heart of Lettie. When Sarah spoke
she added new fuel to that wrath:

" 'Lo, Lettie, are you lookin' for me ? My, you sure
must like me if you run like that to catch me on a day
like this ! It's some hot to run, ain't it? "

"You bad little thing!" Lettie retorted. "You
need a capital spanking! I have a notion to give it to

" Go ahead," said the culprit calmly. " I ain't afraid
of you. I ain't afraid of nobody nor nothin' but snakes,"
she added with an impish grin.

" Wish I had a few wriggly ones to scare you half to
death," said the monitress as she wiped the perspiration
from her face. " Where's Jerry ? What did you do with

" Me ? " Sarah cried in quick alarm. " I don't have

" He followed you," said one of the girls. " He ran
this way and wouldn't come back when we called him.
Now he's lost."

" He's lost," repeated Lettie firmly, " and it serves you
just good and right, Sarah Burkhart! I hope he never
comes back to you! I guess he ran after you and
couldn't find you and now he's lost in the woods and
you'll never see him again. If some of those people who
live down here get a hold of him they'll chain him
and keep him. See what you get for being fresh and
making us all this trouble! He's too little to find the
way home alone. Serves you right, Sarah Burkhart ! "

Sarah's face paled. " I'm goin' to find him ! " she said
tremblingly, all her bravado crumbled at the loss of her


pet. She turned to the woods and called loudly, "

The other girls stood, eagerly listening, but no answer
came to the child's distressed cry.

" I got to find him " her voice quavered " I can't let
him be lost."

She brushed her way through the tangled bushes and
weeds and entered the dense woods.

" Come back," ordered Lettie. " You'll get lost too in
that woods."

Sarah paid no heed to Lettie and the latter repeated
her command.

" I don't care if I do get lost if he's lost," the child
said defiantly, " and I won't come out till I find my dog !
I want my dog ! " She shook her head determinedly and
went farther into the woods.

Lettie whispered to the girls as a sudden thought came
to her, " Let her go a while. I'll get her out watch her
jump ! "

" Here, Jerry, Jerry," the little mistress called tear-

" Oh," cried Lettie, " a snake ! "

Sarah screamed in terror and stood as though petri-
fied. "Where? "she cried.

" Coming toward you from the back ! "

With another scream the girl rushed through the
bushes and stood panting in the road. Then the girls
burst into hearty laughter. Sarah looked at them in be-
wilderment a moment until she guessed the cause of their

" You lied ! " she hurled the words fiercely at Lettie.
" You Hed to me ! "

A wave of hot anger flooded over her. In a second


she stooped, picked up a stone and aimed it at Lettie.
Simultaneously with the uplifting of her small hand there
was a stir in the bushes upon the opposite side of the
road. Lettie, seeing the anger in the child's face, dodged
quickly to one side and the missile intended for her struck
Jerry as he came leaping through the bushes to Sarah.
The jagged stone struck his paw and he gave one yelp of
pain, rolled over on his side and extended his bleeding
paw to his mistress.

Sarah stooped over him, gazed into his piteous eyes
and cried, " My doggie, my doggie, did I kill him ? "

" Oh, you hurt him ! " the girls cried in resentment and
pity. " You hurt him ! "

But Sarah did not answer. Tears streamed from her
eyes as she spoke to the dog. " Oh, Jerry, don't die !
You come to me in the place of the Maloney baby, now
don't go off to heaven like it did ! I didn't mean to hurt
you, honest, cross my heart, I didn't! Don't die, don't
you die ! "

She picked him up, regardless of the blood that
streamed from his paw and stained her blue chambray

" Quit your crying," said Lettie in a tone of authority,
yet a bit tender considering the passage of angry words
that had so recently taken place. " Come on home. I'll
fix him."

" Can you fix him so he won't die for me ? " Sarah
turned a blotched, smeared face to her erstwhile enemy.
"If you can make him well, Lettie, I'll like you most as
much as I like him." She looked appealingly at the older


" Ah, he won't die. He's just cut a little. We can
fix it."


The little procession went home silently. When they
reached the shade of the apple tree Lettie said, " You sit
on the grass here and I'll get some water and a cloth."

The other girls crowded near but Lettie ordered them
to stand back as she came bringing water and bandage.
She bathed the wounded paw and wrapped it in the
white cloth, while Sarah watched, all the remorse, solici-
tude and gratitude of her heart written on her face.
When the dressing was completed the mistress of the
wounded animal looked into the face of the Good
Samaritan and said, " Lettie, I ain't ever liked you since
I come here because you laughed at me for wearin' my
nightgown hind-side-before and callin' me a goose. But
now you fixed Jerry so he don't die on me and I'm
likin' you a whole lot."

The apology, crude yet sincere, touched the older girl
and she replied, " I won't laugh at you any more. I'm
sorry about the dog but I know he'll soon be same as
ever. I'll tell Miss Hughes it was my fault for I fooled
you about the snake. Now go change your dress and
bring this one down and I'll wash the blood out of it."

The hot afternoon was merging, on Sunset Mountain,
into a pleasantly cool evening when Miss Hughes re-
turned from the city. The blazing sun that all day had
scorched and burned with intense, relentless heat, had
disappeared behind the great wooded hill in the west.
In its track the painted glory of sunset was diffusing its
colors through the sky. It flamed first in crimson and
orange, then softened into amber and yellow and, even
as the children on the wide piazza watched it with eager
interest, the colors changed. Deeper shadows rested
upon the distant hills, the western expanse of sky dulled
into violet and faint rose, and finally the last tinge of


glory faded and the deep blue of early evening hung
above the mountain.

As the last brightness died a sudden call echoed from
the path that led to the mountain. " Oo-oo," came Miss
Hughes' call.

" Oo-oo," the girls answered and ran to meet her.

Sarah hung back. She stood by one of the pillars of
the porch, while Jerry, wagging his tail, looked question-

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Online LibraryAnna Balmer MyersThe madonna of the curb → online text (page 4 of 22)