Anna Balmer Myers.

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ingly up at her and urged her to follow the girls.

" You go, Jerry. But I was so bad to-day that I'm
ashamed to." But the dog stood faithfully by his mis-
tress while the other girls ran gaily down the path. As
the matron, surrounded by the eager, chattering girls,
came up the grassy slope, she looked in surprise at the
lone figure leaning against the pillar.

" All alone, Sarah ? " she asked pleasantly. Then, as
she noted the flash of white bandage on the dog's paw,
she said, " What happened to Jerry ? "

" Sarah hurt him ! " cried one girl, anxious to impart
the news to Miss Hughes, in spite of Lettie's warning to
keep silent.

Sarah hung her head and turned away a moment, then
she raised it bravely and said, " You know I didn't mean
to hurt him! "

The accent upon the last word conveyed to Miss
Hughes an inkling of what had happened. " We'll let
Sarah tell me," she said. " You girls stay on the porch
a while and Sarah will come inside with me."

When the two entered the cool sitting-room Miss
Hughes removed her hat and gloves and drew a chair to
the open window through whose wide-flung curtains the
deepening twilight entered.

"Come here, Sarah " the woman put out a hand



72 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

to draw the child closer, so that the little hands of the
girl rested upon the broad knees of the matron.

Then Miss Hughes looked searchingly into the face
of the child. " What is wrong ? Tell me about it," she
invited gently.

" I'm wrong I'm so darned rotten bad that I guess I
ain't ever goin' to learn to act like a lady. I'm ashamed
I was bad when you went off and after I promised
you to behave. But I saw a chance to get even with
Lettie for her laughin' at me when I first come and
callin' me a goose that I clean forgot all about what I
promised you. I ran away just to spite her."

" Where were you going ? "

" Nowheres. I got no place to go to. I was goin' to
walk around that road a while and then come back, but
the girls saw me and came after me and then I threw a
stone at Lettie and it hit poor Jerry and like to killed
.him. Guess if Lettie hadn't fixed it and made it stop
bleedin' mebbe he mighta died on me."

" Well," came Miss Hughes' slow query, " did your
running away to tease Lettie make you happier ? "

" No. I it hurts me in here " she put a hand to
her thin throat " I never felt like this in here before.
Guess it's because I remember now when it's too late to
do me any good what you told me about gettin' cross and
wantin' to fight. I used to think in Red Rose Court that
the best fighter was the bravest person, but you say it's
not always brave to fight."

" No, child, sometimes it's cowardly. The brave peo-
ple are the ones who can control their tempers and not
have to get what they want by using their fists. You
forgot that when you ran away to tease Lettie you were
grieving me, did you ? "



SARAH'S LESSON 73

" No, I didn't think of that nor nothin' else. I just
got hot inside o' me. Guess I'm awful bad."

" No, Sarah, you are not bad. You have been dis-
obedient and allowed your hasty temper to rule you for
a time, but I am sure you have learned a good lesson to-
day. You see how your anger and foolish prejudice
against Lettie have made you hurt the very one you would
not wish to harm poor Jerry. We usually do something
like that when we allow anger and evil passions to rule
us; we very often bring suffering to the ones we love
most. I want you to grow into a noble woman '

" Like my real ma was," came the eager words. " My
pa often told me she was the grandest lady ever lived.
She was Irish and an actress and I'd like to be just like
her so that when he comes out he'll be surprised."

A strange yearning for the little motherless girl took
possession of Miss Hughes; she put her arm about the
child.

Sarah looked up in surprise, then made a little loving
gesture with her head. " You're nice to me and I like
you," she said with the frankness of childhood. " I like
when you hold me like that, for nobody never done it
to me before, not that I can remember. Bet my mother
used to love and kiss me but I was so little I forget it.
I'm goin' to be good for you, honest I am, cross my
heart!"

" I hope so, Sarah ; in fact, I know so."

" What made that funny hurt in my neck when I was
bad?"

" Your conscience."

" Oh, that's what pa's got ! Ma said he had and that's
why he wanted to stop makin' bad money and get away
to the country where he could live right. If only he'd



74 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

had his conscience hurt him a little sooner then mebbe
we'd gotten off safe. Gee, that there conscience hurts
worse than bein' licked ! Does it ever hurt when you're
good?"

" No, it worries us only when we do wrong."

" Then I'll do my darndest to keep out o' bad things
for I don't ever want that hurt in my neck."

When Sarah and Miss Hughes returned to the girls
on the wide porch the twilight had deepened into dark-
ness. The matron at once became the center of a happy
crowd. The girls sat at her feet and on chairs close to
her side.

" Lots of stars, Miss Hughes," remarked one. " Oh,"
cried another, " we had a pretty sunset ! Did you see
it?"

" I caught glimpses of it from the car window but I
know it must have been gorgeous on Sunset Mountain
for here we have the big sweep of sky."

" This is some dandy place. I'd like to stay here al-
ways," was the hearty expression of one little child.

" Me too," said Sarah. " I'd like to stay here till my
pa comes out and takes me with him."

The girls rejoiced in that remark, for by it they knew
that peace reigned in their little kingdom.

Evening on Sunset Mountain was worthy of the rhap-
sodies of the girls and Miss Hughes. Among the clumps
of birches fireflies flashed spurts of light; on the grasses
near the porch glowworms gleamed as though the stars
reflected in their bosoms; far away, in the valley, lights
twinkled in cottage and mansion; in the dim distance,
beyond the silvered rivers, shone the lights of New York
City; and above it all hung a radiant moon and the
countless stars of a summer night.



SARAH'S LESSON 75

The influence of the night radiance crept into the hearts
of the girls, till they sang their favorite songs so softly
that the sleeping woodland creatures scarcely awoke.
Finally one of the girls pleaded, " Sing to us, Miss
Hughes."

Others took up the request. " Oh, yes, something nice
and lively, please do ! " they clamored until Miss Hughes
held up her hands in surrender.

" I'll sing," she promised and the next moment burst
into the rippling " Killarney."

" There," she laughed when the song was done, " was
that lively enough ? "

" I can dance to that," said Sarah.

" Oh, do it, Sarah ! May she, Miss Hughes ? " cried
the girls.

" Yes, go ahead, Sarah," agreed the matron.

Sarah withdrew to one end of the long porch. Then
as Miss Hughes repeated the song the child danced. It
was an original, elf-like dance, like the frolic of the
Irish Little Folk. Every movement of the slight figure
was the epitome of grace; she bent and swayed with the
noiseless ease of a butterfly.

As the dance ended the girls clapped their hands in
hearty applause.

" Where did you learn that ? " asked Miss Hughes.

" From myself," was the grave reply. " In summer
lots o' hurdy-gurdys come to the street outside Red Rose
Court and we used to dance round in the Court and have
more fun'n you could shake a stick at. I learned myself
to dance to most any tune that I heard. I just make
believe I'm what the music says and then it gets into me
and I let it move me like it wants to. I used to make
believe I was a bird and went flying way off over the



76 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

houses and factories and out to the country where the
trees and grass and flowers are. But I never could
'magine the country was as nice as this " her avidity
for nature knowledge and communion was betrayed in
the tremulousness of her deep voice "why I would have
called any person a liar who told me that you can honest-
to-goodness watch the birds on their nests and go so near
them you can see their eyes lookin' at you like they want
to talk to you and ask you not to please hurt the eggs
or babies! Funny, now here I am in the very country
I used to dream about and make believe I was in when
the music played fast, jingly things. In Red Rose Court,
crowded and dirty and smelly I used to pretend I could
fly like a bird and here I am where nothin's crowded
'cept the trees and flowers."

The children, unable to comprehend the full signifi-
cance of Sarah's flights of imagination, laughed kindly
at her. " You're a queer kid ! " they told her. But Miss
Hughes was mentally analyzing the child of Red Rose
Court: all activity and energy; intense in her likes and
dislikes ; variable in her moods ; bubbling over with sheer
exuberance of spirits ; imaginative to a high degree ; sus-
ceptible to keen sorrow and equally exquisite joy; made
to love and be loved with all the concentrated force of
womanhood a child after her own heart !

The motherless girl could not know it then, though she
realized it in later years, that that night the great mother-
yearning the divine gift that dwells in every noble
woman's heart went out from Miss Hughes to the little
girl and began its inspired ministrations for her. The
child could not know the feelings she stirred in the
breast of the matron who was, first of all, a mother at
heart; the magnitude of the love stimulated in the Irish



SARAH'S LESSON 77

woman who was destined to become a guiding influence
in the child from the slums; but instinct told Sarah of
the tenderness in the matron's heart for her and when
presently Miss Hughes responded to the call for an-
other song, Sarah sat with one arm thrown affectionately
upon the broad knees of the singer.

" Sing something soft this time," one asked. Miss
Hughes responded with that old, old song, so rich in true
sentiment, " Believe Me if All Those Endearing Young
Charms."

The years had taken from the woman's voice much of
its strength and sweetness, yet the song pleased and
touched the little group upon the porch of the reforma-
tory. When she had sung the last verse with an added
tenderness :

" No the heart that has truly loved never forgets

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

Sarah exclaimed, " Oh, I like that last part ! That means
that when you love a person you love them for keeps,
don't it ? You sang it like you meant it, Miss Hughes."

" I do mean it, child." The matron rose. " Come. It
is time to go in."

The blue-clad girls formed into line and entered the
house. They went to the schoolroom and after each had
taken her place Lettie sat down before the old-fashioned
piano and Miss Hughes took her customary place by the
desk facing the girls.

" What hymn to-night ? " she asked the girl to whom
that day brought the privilege of choosing the hymns at
prayers.



78 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

" ' Lead Kindly Light/ please," came the ready answer.
Smiles of approval shone upon the faces of many girls,
but each one sat with hands folded and body erect as
Lettie played the opening bars.

Then the song rose: tender, sweet, pulsating. Miss
Hughes joined in it, her heart throbbed with a great love
and pity as the beautiful lines fell from her lips. Did
the girls realize what the words meant ?

" The night is dark and I am far from home "

little girls whose eyes were wistful with hunger for
mother-love and their inalienable rights to the shelter
and joys of a happy home; tiny children whose brief
years had been shadowed by fear and suffering, dark-
ened by poverty and begging, haunted by vice and cor-
ruption; little girls, robbed of their birthrights, sang
sweetly :

" Keep Thou my feet, I do not ask to see
The distant scene one step enough for me."

Older girls, some mild and gentle, with faces marked
with weakness; others with intense fires smouldering in
their eyes all joined in the hymn and sang, who knows
with what true feeling :

" I loved the garish day and spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years! "

After the hymn Miss Hughes bowed her head and at
the sign every girl did likewise. Then they repeated
slowly the Lord's Prayer.

Afterward they formed again into line and, facing
Miss Hughes, said in unison, " Good-night, Miss
Hughes."



SARAH'S LESSON 79

She smiled as she replied, " Good-night, girls."

They remained in line until they reached the next floor.
There they disbanded. Each older girl retired to her
own tiny room, while the younger ones flocked together
in the large dormitory where they crept, one by one, into
narrow white beds.

Sarah, arrayed in her flowing nightgown, put on prop-
erly now, sank upon her knees by the side of her bed.

"What you doing?" asked one of the girls. " Didn't
you say your prayers down-stairs ? "

" Yes, but not all I want to say/' And her dark head
bowed upon the white sheet.

" Oh, God," she prayed half audibly, " Miss Hughes
says it helps to talk to you and I think she knows about
as much as any person you ever made. She says, too,
you know all about us so you must know how I made a
darned mess o' things to-day again when I was goin' to
be so good. But please don't forget to remember that
I'm sorry for bein' so bad and I really, truly, cross my
heart, want to be good. Please make my little dog well
where I hurt him and make him and me grow into a
fine dog and girl. And bless my poor pa, bless him a whole
lot. I couldn't tell you how much if I stayed here all
night, but bless him lots and lots and lots. And don't
forget how sorry I am for bein' bad. And and I guess
that's all. Amen."



CHAPTER V

LETTERS

'July 15.
DEAR PA:

Every girl here writes a letter to her folks once a
month, so you'll get one from me that often. You are all
the folks I have, all that I know about. Isn't it nice I
can write you letters? That'll be a whole dozen in a
year. We all sit in the schoolroom and write and then
Miss Hughes corrects them and we copy them on nice
paper. I can't write very good but neither can some of
the other girls you should see our letters when they are
corrected look like they got the smallpox, all marked
up with blue pencil.

I'm in a nice place. If you could be here with me I'd
like it so much I'd never think about going to heaven some
day. Miss Hughes, the lady has charge of us, is nice.
I asked her what kind of a place you are in and she said
it wasn't so bad if you behaved right. Anyhow I guess
it isn't worse than that little room back of the closet and
now you don't have to be afraid you'll get caught like
you used to be, so that's something to be glad for. I
could cry bushels of tears if that would bring you here
with me, but crying won't help a bit and just makes my
nose red and my heart heavy so I am going to smile like
Miss Hughes says is better to do. I hope you like it a
little anyhow where you are.



LETTERS Si

The little dog I got that day in the park is here
with me. I call him Jerry for you. He follows me all
around the place. The girls like him but he likes me
best.

Miss Hughes is nice to me. She is a kind lady and I
am going to be good for her. I have been bad since I
came here, but I guess if I can be bad I can be good, so
I am going to try that a while.

Pa, if you could only see the flowers. Well, I'll tell
you about them and you shut your eyes and make be-
lieve you see them and that will be the next best thing
to being here. Back of the house is a big field, bigger
than the whole of Red Rose Court, and it's chuck full of
daisies. There are billions and millions of them and Miss
Hughes lets us pick them and bring to the house to
decorate. She took us to a place yesterday where red
lilies grow. I found some pretty blue flowers like stars
in the grass.

I have more freckles than any girl in the whole place,
so that's something !

I help to make beds and work in the kitchen, shell peas
and peel potatoes and do things like that. Miss Mary,
the lady in the kitchen, says I'm real handy and the other
day she gave me and some of the other little girls that
helped her some cookies.

We had a Fourth of July celebration. We didn't have
any firecrackers nor such things, but we had a grand
holiday. We played under the apple tree all morning
and in the afternoon we had what the big girls said were
exercises. We sang patriotic songs, some of the girls
spoke pieces and then we all marched round the house
and waved flags. We had some ice-cream, every one
of us. We don't get ice-cream except on Fourth of



82 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

July and Decoration Day, the girls say. But then we get
molasses every day and I like that, but of course in hot
weather the ice-cream cools you off better. After sup-
per Lettie and Miss Hughes put off some rockets. Then
we sat out a long time on the porch and watched the
balloons. There were lots of them floating around in
the sky and we could see them because we are so high
up.

Miss Hughes says I am improving and Miss Mary
called me a dear child the other day. Of course I'm no
angel yet. Guess I got some to go yet. My dresses still
fit on the shoulders no wings sprouting yet. I guess I
wrote enough for this time. When winter comes I am
going to school but I like summer when we can be out
and don't have to study.

I hope you don't forget me.

Your girl,

SADE.

August 75.
DEAR PA:

I didn't tell you that we get good things to eat
here. Well, we do. We get molasses and prunes every
day for breakfast. I like the prunes but the girls say
when I have been here as long as some of them and et
prunes every morning for three hundred and sixty-five
days in a year I won't feel so nice to the prunes. One
of the little girls who has been here two years said last
week that she was going to pray that every prune tree
in the whole United States would die. But I like mo-
lasses ! It is so sweet and sticky and just the next thing
to candy. I hope you get molasses too.

We go to church every Sunday morning. We get



LETTERS 83

dressed in our best dresses, they're light-blue chambray.
The big girls have gored skirts and shirt-waists and we
little girls have gathered skirts and berthas on the waists.
I guess you don't know what a bertha is it's a wide
round thing that fits round the yoke of a dress and ours
have little ruffles all around them. They look very nice
and I feel swell in my Sunday dress. It's the prettiest
-jne I ever had.

I started to tell you about when we go to church. We
have to walk all the way down a long road from the top
of a great big hill where the reformatory is built. After
church we have to walk up the hill again and sometimes
when it's hot I wish God hadn't made any mountains but
when I get to the top and feel the cool breeze and see
how lovely it is on Sunset Mountain I am mighty glad
He did.

I guess that is all for this time.

SADE.

September 15.
DEAR FATHER:

We still get molasses every morning for breakfast
and also prunes. I still eat the prunes, but I wouldn't
miss them if Miss Mary forgot to cook them some day.
The molasses makes me feel like a stick of candy. I
wonder if I might get tired of that some day. It would
be a pity for there is so much of it here.

It is lovely here now. Last month we had lots of good
times in the fields and woods watching the birds. There
are little yellow ones come swinging on the daisies and
grass right near our porch. Miss Hughes says their name
is goldfinch. She knows all about birds, she must be
awful smart. You should see the pretty blue bird we



84 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

see often on Sunday when we go to church. He's just
a little fellow, blue all over, and he sits on the telephone
wire that runs up to our place. When he sings he often
stops like he didn't know the rest of the tune.

Last week I heard one girl say to another that if her
father was bad she'd be ashamed of him, that mine is
awful bad. It made me feel like batting her. I went to
Miss Hughes and asked her about it and she said that
no matter how bad people are if they are sorry and want
to get good they can do it. God will forgive them and
they can begin all over again. I'm trying to get this
God business fixed so I understand it, but it's such a
mixup. When Miss Hughes explains it I think I see
what she means, but when I am alone and think about it
I can't make head nor tail out of it. I think of you in
jail and lots of bad people out of it and I don't see what
God is trying to do when he lets such things happen.
Then I think of Mrs. Maloney's baby that He took and
I think He must be kind to fix things for it. But Miss
Hughes says there are many things we can't understand,
that even she don't know just why some things happen.
She makes me feel better when she tells about you be-
ginning all over again. You did want to do that but got
caught too soon. When you come out I'll be big enough
to keep house for you and we can find a nice little place
and be happy. I help Miss Mary in the kitchen all I can
so I learn how to cook and do things and will be ready
for you.

When that girl said she'd be ashamed of her father
if he was like you, before I thought I gave her a good
punch. Then I was sorry and let her play with Jerry
a whole afternoon to make up for hitting her. I told
her that you made money and she said that some more



LETTERS 85

people ought to be in jail for making money out of
children and poor people. The next Sunday the preacher
said in church that the men who make counterfeit money
are sent to jail if they get caught and he thinks men who
make money because they make people work for a little
in their factories should be put in the same place, even
if they try to cover their sin by giving some of it to poor
persons. So cheer up, pa, there are lots worse men in
the world than you !

Miss Hughes says I ought to write you cheerful letters,
but I can't think of anything funny. Something awful
came near happening to me. I'll tell you and it might
cheer you to know it didn't happen after all. There's a
woman visits the home very often. Her name is Miss
Dixon. Her brother used to be a Trustee of the re-
formatory. Trustees are the big fat men with lots of
money and bald heads who come out here to see if every-
thing is clean and right. Why, this place is always as
clean as I think heaven must be, yet when Miss Hughes
knows the Trustees are coming for a visit she makes us
clean and scrub until the floor almost has holes. Then
the Trustees, a big line of them, go all through the build-
ing and look into closets and corners, talk to Miss Hughes
and the girls a little, and ride off again down the hill.
Well, Miss Dixon had a brother who was a Trustee, and
she has friends now who still are, so she is very much
interested in the place. She comes up sometimes to see
us. She must be rich for she wears grand things and
rides in an automobile that has a roof and sides on it and
a man to make it go. She's about the richest lady I ever
saw, for she wears diamond rings and feathers on her
hats, but she isn't nicer than Miss Hughes who has no
shiny stones or feathers.



86 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

Miss Dixon came up last week in her car. She
brought some other ladies with her to see the place.
Miss Hughes called us into the schoolroom to sing for
the visitors. You know my face isn't what you would
call pretty, with my ginger snaps and my big mouth and
when I run and get hot I guess I wouldn't take much
of a prize at a show. I came in and sat in my seat and
got ready to sing. Miss Dixon put up a funny pair of
glasses with a handle and I heard her ask Miss Hughes
who I was. She talked louder than she thought for I
heard her say, " What a homely child ! " I couldn't hear
what Miss Hughes whispered. Then Miss Dixon looked
at me again and I heard her say, " Yes, the eyes are fine
but where did she get those dreadful freckles ? "

Did she think I painted the freckles on my face? Be-
fore I thought about Miss Hughes and how she would
want me to hold my tongue I stood right up and an-
swered the lady, " My freckles come from when I was
making mud pies and it splashed on my face."

All the girls thought I was funny and began to laugh.
Miss Hughes looked so ashamed of me and I was sorry
right away that I made her feel that way so I got up
again and said, " I didn't mean to be rude, but I
heard you wonder and said it before I thought. That's
the Irish in me, to speak first and be sorry after-
ward."

The silly girls thought that was funny too and some


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Online LibraryAnna Balmer MyersThe madonna of the curb → online text (page 5 of 22)