Anna Balmer Myers.

The madonna of the curb online

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of them snickered. Then I did feel ashamed. I was
wondering what would happen next, whether Miss
Hughes would punish me in the Meditation Room or
only on the Homestead. Then Miss Dixon began to
laugh. She laughed so the feather on her hat almost
fell off. When she stopped a little she said something to


Miss Hughes and they called me up.. She put her hand
on my head. " I beg your pardon," she said like I was
a lady like her and rich, " I didn't think you would hear
what I said. You do have freckles but don't let that
worry you for you have some brains under all that black
hair and as Miss Hughes says, your eyes are fine. Look
at me, Sarah." I did it and she smiled and I could have
forgiven her for anything she said, for she was so sweet.
She patted my head and told me she would come to see
me soon again for she knew I would grow into a young
woman to be proud of. I am glad that happened for
now I know I have nice eyes. Freckles and a pug nose
don't make a very pretty map, but since I know my eyes
are fine I feel lots better.

Next week we all go to school. A new teacher is com-
ing and we are all anxious to see her. If she's nice to us
we'll like her but if she's cranky well, she'll say good-
bye to Sunset Mountain most as soon as she says how-
de-do. I'll tell you about her next time I write.

Lots of love from


October 15.

The new teacher came and is very nice so far.
Some of the big girls say perhaps she is foxy enough to
get us on her side and then turn round and be cranky
like some others they had. But Miss Hughes says Miss
Fowler, that's the new teacher's name is a dear little
thing and I guess she knows. Miss Fowler is little, not
big around nor up and down, but she knows a lot. She
goes with Miss Hughes and us for walks and invites us


to come in her room after school. Then she shows us
pictures and tells about them for she's been all over the
whole United States! Oh, she has the most beautiful
dresses ! All the girls are planning to have some like .
them when they go out. She has waists of thin lacey
stuff and silk dresses. She just wears those fancy things
in the evenings when she goes down the mountain to
visit some of her friends that live out where the trolleys
run. Every Sunday she takes us to church. Then she
wears a pretty brown suit and I am going to have one
like that when I grow up. I'd like to have all my clothes
like Miss Fowler's. Miss Hughes says we are going to
have a lovely winter on our mountain now that Miss
Fowler is here. We are to learn to make baskets out of
grass and some other stuff Miss Fowler calls raffia. She
showed us some pretty ones she made.

The goldenrod is out, lots and lots of it. There's a
big patch along the road and there are blue asters grow-
ing near it. The trees are showing gay colors, a little
red and yellow and the girls say Sunset Mountain will
soon be like a picture. Last night the sunset was so
pretty it made that funny hurt come in my throat like I
felt the first time I knew I had a conscience, the time I
was bad and hurt Jerry. I was wishing you could see it

Miss Dixon was here the other day and saw my dog.
She asked me what I would take for him and I told her
he is not for sale. She tried to coax me to sell him but
I said that if she was rich as the Midas in the Reader in
school and could make every leaf on our mountain turn
to gold she wouldn't have enough money to buy that dog !
Then she laughed and called me an original, clever child
and said I should always be loyal like that and take good


care of the dog. He is fine now, with his white collar
of hair round his neck, that looks like the one Queen
Elizabeth wears in the History book.
Much love from


November 15.

We have no flowers now. They are all dead but
Miss Hughes says they are just sleeping and will come
back to us in the spring. A few butterflies still come
around but their wings are torn and ragged and I guess
they will die too before long. Sometimes I make up
poetry just because something inside me makes me feel
like it. One of the girls showed some to Miss Hughes
and Miss Fowler and they said I have talent for it, that
perhaps some day I might be a real writer of things that
sing. So now I am going to practice writing poetry a
lot and when I grow up you can be proud of me. Here
is one I wrote about the flowers and called, " The Death
of the Butterfly." Helen says it makes her feel like cry-
ing but I hope you won't feel that way for it is the nicest
one I ever did and I want you to read it.


The flowers are all dead

But they'll grow again in the spring,
The birds all went far away from here

But some day we'll hear them sing.
But the poor little butterfly

With its wings so pretty all ragged and tore
Will soon die too and stay dead

Forever and evermore,


I hope that God will fix a heaven for the poor butter-
flies, don't you ?

I am learning to sew. Miss Hughes teaches us to
make all our own clothes. Oh, I am making a new blue
chambray dress for myself and am prouder of it than an
Irishman in his new policeman uniform. When I first came
here it seemed strange to see so many girls all dressed
in the very same kind of dresses but I'm getting used to
seeing a pack of girls that look just like me and forget
all about it until we go to church Sunday mornings and
see people watch us and whisper about us to each other.
Guess they are glad their children are not sent to a re-
formatory but some of them act in church like they
needed to be sent some place and be taught manners.
But most of the people in the church are nice to us and
say good-morning to us after church. Listen, pa, while
I tell you about the funny kid was sent here last week.
Just a skinny young one, nine years old, but she looked
tougher than leather. The things that kid said to Miss
Hughes the first day whew, if that lady weren't an
angel she'd have thrashed the hide off the young one!
Well, the new girl sat beside me the first Sunday in
church and when the preacher got up to read the Bible
she whispered to me, " Is that God talking ? " I hushed
her up and thought when we got out I'd tell her how a
church is run, but after a while another man, a young
one, got up to preach and she whispered again, " Now,
that's God's Son, ain't it ! " And she smiled like she dis-
covered some great secret. I told Miss Hughes about it
and she looked sad and said something about the heathen
in our midst and then she took that new girl in her room
and talked to her a while. And I bet my new Sunday
shoes that Miss Hughes makes something more than a


Eeathen out that girl. Miss Hughes is like well, I
wish I could write some poetry about her telling just
what I think of her she's like sunshine, sunshine on a
rainy day, water when you are thirsty, she is like what
I like to think my own mother would be if she was

Miss Fowler is nice to us too and I guess that is lucky
for her. The girls said the last teacher they had was a
grouch and she told the girls they were bad, that she
knew why they had been sent to that reformatory, that
there was no good in them and if they did not mind her
she'd have them sent to prison as soon as they were old
enough. Well, it got so hot for her that she left and
now we have Miss Fowler. She and Miss Hughes and
Miss Mary sit together after we go to bed and Miss
Fowler says she is gaining so much from Miss Hughes.
Wish I would grow to be a nice woman like that, nice
and good yet laughing and liking fun like Miss Hughes
does. So you see we are all happy here and I hope you
are the same.

With love,


December 75.

I hope you had a nice Thanksgiving. Lettie says
that is a funny thing to say to you but I mean I hope
youjiad a nice one in your heart no matter where you
were. You could be thankful that you are not there
because you did some dreadful thing like many people
do, and you could be thankful that I have a nice home
and am growing and learning to work and to make bas-


kets and lots of other things and that I don't have to
live with ma any more and you don't neither and that
I have nice clean dresses now and shoes and won't have
to be cold or hungry once all this whole winter coming.
Miss Hughes says there is a silver lining to every cloud
and I hope you can see yours.

Lettie is going away from the reformatory next week.
She has been obedient and now she will have a fine home
with nice people who want her to take care of two chil-
dren. She isn't anxious to go for we all like the moun-
tain but the place she is going the people are friends to
Miss Hughes and so she won't be treated like a slave as
some of the girls were who went out to work and earn
money. We can't stay here forever and the Trustees
want every girl to go as soon as she is good enough and
knows enough to help herself out in the world. Oh, I
don't want to be sent out to people I don't know and
have to work for them! I hope you get out soon and
take me to a nice home. I like it here and am learning
so much that is making me a better girl, Miss Hughes
tells me. Sometimes I have to be punished for the good
of my soul, as she says. Last week in school Helen got
up and when she came to the part in the reading les-
son that says, " Darkness falls over the land " she
said, " Darkness stumbles over the land." I got the
giggles and the teacher had to scold me to make me

Miss Hughes gave me a doll dressed in white, and has
eyes that shut when you lay it down. It is the very first
nice doll I ever got and I am going to keep it until I am
big and I can show it to my children and tell them about
Miss Hughes and ask them, " Aren't you glad you have
a nice mother to love you and take care of you and don't


have to be brought up by strangers in a bad place ? " I
bet that will make them happy.

Our mountain is pretty now, all covered with snow,
but the snow stays white. In Red Rose Court, you re-
member, it used to be black most as soon as it hit the
ground, but here it is white, so white it hurts your eyes.
Last evening Miss Hughes called us to see the sunset.
The trees on the hills and all around were covered with
ice and the sky was red and yellow and when it shined
on the trees they looked nicer than any picture I ever
saw and sparkled more than the diamonds and things
we used to see in the windows on Fourth Street. Miss
Hughes said it looked like a glimpse of heaven if
heaven is half that fine I think I'd like to get there

We went down the hill in the snow Sunday to church.
Wore our coats and blue hats with red ribbons on them
one of the Trustees must like red for we have it on all
our hats and use it for hair ribbons most of the time, but
I am not kicking about it for it's a sight better than the
shoe string I used to tie round my plait down in Red
Rose Court. After Christmas Miss Fowler is going to
teach us to make raffia hats and Miss Hughes is going
to try to get blue ribbon for them.

We still get molasses every day. Some time ago I got
tired of it so now I do without it for a few days then I
am glad to eat it again. Just think of getting tired of
anything sweet like molasses! I never thought I'd do
that ! I am learning lots of things here on the top of the
mountain. You need not feel sad about me, but if you
ever do then try to think ahead to the time when you
and I can have a little home. I think that will be won-
derful, for I will know how to keep house and cook for


you and we can live like decent people. I hope you are
well and happy. And I send you much love from Jerry

and me.





When I wrote my first letter to you from this
place I never dreamed I would be writing from it after
six years. But here I am, still on Sunset Mountain,
thanks to Miss Hughes and Miss Dixon. You remember
the latter as the woman who has influential friends, Trus-
tees of the reformatory, and whose interest I once gained
by some childish remarks about my countless freckles.
The combined petitions of Miss Dixon and Miss Hughes
have spared me the unhappiness of being " loaned " to
some busy housewife who desired the valuable but sur-
prisingly cheap services of a young girl who could be
transformed, or deformed, into a submissive, patient
slave. Miss Dixon has done much for me in that way but
Miss Hughes God be good to her forever she has
been my white angel of deliverance these six years !
Guess the Irish in her calls to the Irish in me. As soon
as I finished the eighth grade in school reformatory girls
evidently need no more extensive education than that
she persuaded the Trustees to have me appointed assist-
ant in the kitchen! So now I am earning my living in
the very place I have been I was going to say im-
prisoned, but that would not be fair, for it has been any-
thing but that. Some matrons would have made it that,
out never Miss Hughes. I am to work for my board and


clothes until I am eighteen and then if I remain I shall
be placed on the pay-roll. Imagine, Sade of Red Rose
Court being paid from the city treasury! I'm climbing
up, father. In the meantime I am to help Miss Mary,
relieve Miss Hughes in any way I can, take visitors
through the place, help to watch and guide the girls and
have one afternoon each week and also every other Sun-
day for my own. I'll be going back to Red Rose Court
some day soon to see Mrs. Maloney. She'll hardly know
me, for I have grown tall and you'll be glad to hear it
a trifle better looking. Miss Hughes says I have im-
proved wonderfully but it does make a difference when
one is clean and well fed and looked after.

One of the first trips I take will be to see you. Miss
Hughes is going to bring me, father. After all these
years to see you once more I can scarcely wait pa-
tiently for the time. I do long to see you. Why can't
time fly until the time when you can be free! If I al-
lowed my thoughts to dwell upon your lot, your life in
that dreadful place I just have to set my Irish working
and make myself stop worrying. Sometimes when Miss
Hughes talks to me and tries to make me take a phil-
osophical view of it I can see that your punishment is
just, if hard. But at other moments I rebel against the
long years you have been paying and still must pay for
the offense against the law. Are you not getting more
than you deserve, greater punishment than you earned?
You made money out of metal, others coin it from the
blood, body and very sinews of children and underpaid
older workers and by turning a pitiably small portion of
the ill-gotten wealth into the coffers of charity are lauded
as philanthropists. Surely, your state is more to be de-
sired than theirs! The time of reckoning is inevitable


and I'd rather have your chance of future happiness
than theirs. Miss Hughes says there will always be in-
justice in this world, that the only way to meet it is to be
personally just and do the right thing and leave the rest
to Providence. I wish I had her magnificent faith and
hope and could look at life as she does. What a friend
she has been to me ! She is a Catholic, a devout one, and
I am a Protestant but if the East and the West can't
meet they can look across to each other and understand.
I don't know whether Miss Hughes prays for my soul or
if when I die she'll have prayers said to try to have me
delivered from purgatory, but I do know that while I am
living with her she is just as kind to me as though I
were of her own faith. And come to think about it,
that's a big thing to say and proves that there is no nar-
rowness or bigotry about Miss Hughes. She encourages
me to go to church. It was forced upon me during the
six years I was an inmate of the reformatory but since
I am a worker there I have the blessed privilege of doing
as I please in many matters and I have found to my utter
surprise that I please to continue doing many of the very
things I thought were irksome duties when they were
compulsory. So I go often to the little chapel at the
foot of the mountain. Sometimes I feel happier as I sit
there and listen to the music and the words of the old
clergyman, other days I am possessed with a restlessness
and trouble, which surges through me so that I want to
run out from the church and find some lonely spot and
just cry. Will I ever feel the contentment and peace so
many people seem to have? How can I attain to the
poise and sane thinking of Miss Hughes? Will that
childish desire to laugh and cry all at the same time ever
be controlled glory, what a doleful letter ! Sounds like


the Irish in me is clean dead. But I'll cheer myself up
in one second that's the glorious part of having Irish
in your veins! How's this for a gloom chaser Miss
Hughes went to a wake recently. They had holy water
in the room and a woman came in and dipped her
fingers into the saucer on the mantelpiece, thinking it
was the holy water. But some one had snuffed the
candles and laid the black ends in that saucer and the
woman daubbed it all over her face when she went to
make the sign of the cross. It looked ridiculous, of
course I feel cheered up and hope you do too.

I must tell you about our Memorial Day. We all got
up early. I helped the little girls get dressed, combed
the hair of ten won't I make a fine stepmother for a
widower with ten children and then I helped shoo them
down-stairs to get their work all done early. They
cleaned and polished floors in record time that day. Then
we went out to the big field back of the house and picked
daisies, bushels of them ! It was a picture for an artist,
the daisy field with twenty girls in blue chambray dresses,
each one picking daisies until her arms ached. We
carried them to the laundry and made wreaths and long
chains of them. It looked like a fairy bower. In the
afternoon we went down the mountain to the little ceme-
tery near the chapel. People looked at us as we passed
their houses and I speculated upon what their thoughts
might be. Were we just bad girls, parading with flowers
whose beauty and symbolism we could not appreciate;
were we poor unfortunates who merited pity, the far-
off variety, and might even be prayed over; were we
wood nymphs resurrected for the occasion and present-
ing a charming picture as we went along swinging our
daisy chains?


At the cemetery we stood in a half circle, Miss Hughes
near by. After addresses about the brave soldiers, and a
few of the old patriotic songs, we sang, " Cover Them
Over with Beautiful Flowers " and as we sang we
marched round and placed our flowers on the graves
marked with the flag. People were lovely to us, they
seemed to forget that we came from the dreadful red
brick reformatory on the summit of the great hill.

As we walked home Miss Hughes told us about her
brother who marched away with the others and never
came back. How her mother used to keep a lamp in the
window for him for a long time, thinking perhaps he
would return, but he never came back. Then we felt
something of what it must have meant to see your own
dear ones march away to war. It was a beautiful day
and I suppose it was " good for our souls," as Miss
Hughes says so many times, but it was sad. Next time,
father, I promise you to write a wholly cheerful letter.

With love,



This is going to be my joy letter. Like the man
who went slumming and took some poor ragged young-
sters on a picnic and told them he wanted them to have
a good time, he'd make them have a good time, if he had
to lick every blooming kid to get it ! So I'm going to be
cheerful if I lose a leg, as Mrs. Maloney used to say.
Do you remember the time a dog bit her and when some
one asked her whether he was mad she said, " Mad
the dog ! What call had he to be mad ? Ain't I the one
ought to be mad ! " She was funny.
This mountain is the finest place ever created. We


have wild strawberries, so many of them we can scarcely
pick them all and when we do pick them we have to
tramp a lot for they grow so thick. We get enough for
Miss Mary and the girls to make shortcake for all hands
mouths, I should say. Miss Mary could make food
for an Irish king. I never saw her beat.

Last week we found a chewinks' nest. I was walking
along in the grass when a brown bird flew out of a clump
of weeds and there was the prettiest nest right on the
ground. Such a fuss as they made ! Daddy chewink
came with his black hood and both yelled " Chewink "
until I pitied them and went off. Later I heard him
sing, perched way up in a tree he was, and he called,
" Sweetheart, I'm here ! " I loved him for that. 'But
last week when Miss Hughes took me to the Zoo and we
were in the bird house I heard that same " Sweetheart,
I'm here ! " And when I looked, there in a corner of a
big cage sat a melancholy daddy chewink, without his
mate, far away from nests and green woods and all that
he loved. I could have cried for that bird. I wanted
to steal him and let him fly. Is there anything sadder
than a caged bird? His wings useless, those wonderful
wings that can carry him soaring among the clouds ! But
I'm forgetting I'm not to be writing anything mournful,
so I think a little harder and decide that perhaps the
chewink is happier there in the cage than in the open.
I can find several good arguments in favor of that theory
isn't he safer, hasn't he food brought to him instead
of having to hunt for it what more could any bird want ?
That chewink is a darned lucky bird if he only knew it !

Here's some news ! The girls of this reformatory are
making good citizens out in the world. Miss Hughes
and I hunted up the records and found that over half of


the girls parolled have gone straight. Sure, father, I'm
in the right half ! And perhaps there is still some good
in those whom we counted in the wrong half. You have
heard of the people who wanted to stone a wicked per-
son and were told that the privilege of throwing the first
stone belonged to the one who was without sin. If
everybody could remember that story and profit by it
wouldn't this whole world be nice as Ireland must be !

I told you once about writing poetry. Since I am
older I feel guilty when I name it that, but I do some-
times scribble little rhymes and jingles. I 'have kept them
all in a little book so that no literary masterpiece be
carelessly lost to the world. I think you might like to
read some of my attempts.

"If you were here, if you were here,

Oh, love, what happiness !
I would not ask that you should cheer

With kisses or caress.
But just to sit there in the light

And let me look a while
Into your eyes and read all's right,

And see your old time smile.

"If you were here I'd only look

Into your eyes so deep,
As blossoms growing by the brook

Watch o'er their shadows keep.
What need of paltry words to fling

When hearts are opened wide ?
The eyes can speak ! The eyes can sing !

When we are satisfied."

I thought of you when I wrote that, father. Hope
you'll like it.


I am having great fun teaching the girls new songs.
Miss Fowler taught me how to play songs and hymns
and I've had more pleasure drumming the old square
piano in the schoolroom than you could shake a stick at.
During the summer when the teacher is away I take
charge of the music at prayers and sometimes when it
is raining we all gather in the schoolroom and sing. I
found a new song last week. It goes like this, part of it :

" O, the goal of the world is joy,

Joy divine that is born of love.
Sorrows are wings that safe convoy
The soul to the fairer realms above."

Don't you think there is some comfort in knowing thut?
Can you believe it? I think it is sometimes almost im-
possible to do as Tennyson says, " Reach a hand through
time to catch the far-off interest of tears " but it is com-
forting to think that the interest is there for us. I went
to church yesterday and the preacher said something that
made me think of you Lazarus had his sores and evil
things in this world, and perhaps he deserved them, but
he somehow earned good things in the other world and
he got them also.

Miss Hughes and I are coming to see you next visiting
day. I shall be so glad to see you again so glad !

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Online LibraryAnna Balmer MyersThe madonna of the curb → online text (page 6 of 22)