Anna Balmer Myers.

The madonna of the curb online

. (page 8 of 22)
Online LibraryAnna Balmer MyersThe madonna of the curb → online text (page 8 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


of my people, but never for one minute was I ready to
sacrifice our happiness for the prejudices of father or
mother. For a time we kept our love secret. I had some
foreboding of what my father would say, but I hoped, as
lovers always do, that his objections would be driven
away when he met Sarah.

When my course of study was completed I went home,
ready to tell all about my happiness and waiting to be
asked to bring to them the girl I had chosen. The first
day father called me to the parlor for a talk. That was
unusual for him, for he was not a talkative man. I can
see him now with his big frame in the plain gray Men-
nonite suit, his hair parted, his face strong as the painting
of a prophet, a glint of hardness, sternness, righteousness,
in his eyes.

" Jeremiah," he never shortened the name " now
you are done school and ready to earn your own living;
your mother and I talked it over and we hope you will
find you some nice Mennonite girl to marry and then set-
tle down and be a man. We hope you can find it in your
heart to come in the church. Your sisters done so a'ready
but you say you ain't ready. But now, surely, Jeremiah,
when you get grown up to a man you can take your place
with the others in the family. All your cousins went in
the Mennonite church last fall a'ready and you still hang
back. I don't believe forcing children to such things,
but I thought mebbe if I say something it will help you
to see the light. Getting a nice Mennonite girl for wife
will help you keep in the right way. If you want to
marry and settle down somewhere out of Fairview we
don't care so much. I can set you up in business or loan
you money for a start. Mebbe Lancaster or Lebanon
.would be more for you than this little town. Just so you



REVELATIONS OF SARAH'S FATHER 119

don't go too far away for your mom is growing older
every day and you being the only boy she has her heart
set on your staying pretty close. Come now, Jeremiah,"
a smile wrinkled the corners of his eyes, " haven't you
seen yet a nice Mennonite girl you want to marry ? "

I thought of Sarah, dancing, playing a joyous part be-
hind the footlights and my courage oozed away like water
through the fingers. Perhaps I groaned, for father
looked at me with eyes I never could deceive and asked,
" You found the girl in the city ? "

I nodded, then rose and asserted myself. " Father, I
found the girl ! I am going to marry her. All I need is
your consent and mother's and an invitation to bring her
here for you to meet. You'll love her, she's a dear, sweet
girl. All she wants is a chance to win your love, to get
acquainted, and you can't help liking her."

" Who is she ? " Father rarely showed excitement.

" Sarah Galleghar. She's lovely, but all her life has
been so hard. She's absolutely alone in the world, had to
hoe her own row since she was fourteen."

" What does she work ? "

" She's an actress."

Well, if I had uttered the most depraved word in the
whole language he could not have looked at me with a
greater expression of horror. It left him speechless for
a minute. Then he rose, his mighty body seemed afire
with passion and I never heard, before or since, words
that seemed to burn like his. " Jeremiah," he thundered,
" are you a son of mine ? You dare to stand down there
and tell me that you love an actress a low-down dancing
fool that knows nothing but wickedness ? "

" Father ! " I tried to stop him but he went on ruth-
lessly.



120 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

" You Jeremiah Burkhart, with your mother wearing
a plain dress and white cap and a father that had always
tried to show his children the straight and narrow way
you, my own flesh and blood, to know, even to know an
actress, and then to say you love her and want to marry
her ! I wonder the Lord don't strike you dumb ! I won-
der you stop to marry her they don't often bother doing
that." Oh, father could be withering in his wrath and
scorn !

But some of the Burkhart fire dwelt in me. He went
too far when he said such things about the girl I loved
and knew to be pure. I stepped before him and shook
my fist in his livid face. " You say another word against
that girl and I'll, by heaven, I'll "

" Go on," he dared me. " To strike me would be so
much kinder than to tell me you want to marry an
actress."

I sank into a chair. I was weak, as always, quick to
dare, but lacking courage to keep up the fight. " She's as
good as any girl in Lancaster County," I blurted, " as
good as any Mennonite girl or any other. I know she is !
You have no right to condemn her without knowing her
or even meeting her."

My father's anger had cooled by that time and he
looked at me with something like pity for my weakness.
" Jeremiah," he said slowly, " you are going in this thing
with your eyes shut. You do not stop to think what it
will mean to bring a woman like that here, to have her be
a sister to your sisters, a daughter to your mother. You
have been taught something about the evil in the world,
and I thought your time spent in the big city would show
you how much better it is to forsake the vanities of the
wicked. But you must know that what is wrong can't



REVELATIONS OF SARAH'S FATHER 121

ever be called right and then be right because it is called
so. Dancing and such things are the work of the devil,
and woe to those who follow after the darkness ! You
mind what dreadful things happened because that girl
danced before Herod. What good has ever come out of
dancing? Would you want your sisters to marry men
who danced and acted on the stage ? "

"If they were as good and fine as Sarah, yes ! "

He shook his head. " What have I done to have a son
like you?" The next moment his wrath flamed again.
" I tell you," he thundered, " I'd rather bury you than see
you married to a woman like that, an actress, a dancer!
A disgrace you'll be to the whole f reundschaf t ! There
never was a Burkhart done a thing like that ! All I got
to say is that she'll never sit at my table ! I'll have none
of her kind for my daughter ! "

" You don't believe in eating with publicans and sin-
ners ? " I sneered.

" No. Not unless they repent of their wickedness and
become converted," he replied unflinchingly. " Your
mother and I will pray that she may do that."

" Save your breath," I told him. " I don't want Sarah
to turn Mennonite." I thought of her, pretty, liking nice
clothes, her toes tingling at every strain of music could
they make a Quaker-like little Mennonite of her ? Never !

" I am going to marry her just as she is !" I announced,
" and be proud to do so ! " I delivered my ultimatum
and left my father. He refrained from replying; words
must have failed him once more as he pondered upon the
heretical sayings and contemplated downward step of his
son.

My mother said less, nothing cruel or stinging, but I
read horror and unhappiness on her face when I met her
later. Father had told her all the sorrowful tale, embel-



122 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

lished, I suppose, with his opinion of the wretched mat-
ter. She felt keenly the disgrace I was going to bring
upon them.

" Jerry," she made the name soft and sweet as she had
always done, and as I looked into her face with its halo
of white Mennonite cap and read the sorrow in her heart,
I would have given up anything in the world to please her
except the one thing she wanted me to the girl I loved.
She took my face between her hands as she had so often
done when I was a child and she wanted to impress some-
thing upon me or sought to question me. " Jerry," she
said sadly, " you must see that a girl like that is not for
you, she is of another world. Can't you forget her and
find some nice plain girl from Fairview or near here ? "

" I can't, mother. I love her and what right has any-
body to come between us? She's such a sweet, frail
thing ; never had anybody really care for her, and she has
kept straight in surroundings that many of the good girls
from the country would have found too much for them.
I can't give her up."

My mother looked at me for a while, then she must
have read my very heart. She dropped her hands from
my cheeks and laid them on my shoulders. " Jerry," she
said, and I can hear her yet, " Jerry, I see you mean it.
It is beyond our power to change things and perhaps you
are right when you say no person has a right to come be-
tween you. If that's the way you care for her and she
for you you can't do anything but get married. We'll
pray the Lord to change her heart and make her one of
us. Whoever you marry I'll love, Jerry. She'll be my
daughter. Poor child, not to know a mother's love and
care poor girl I'll try to make it up to her."

I remember I cried then and she comforted me, though



REVELATIONS OF SARAH'S FATHER 123

I felt that the world was once more a good place. But
when my fit of weeping was over I thought of father.
" Father " I said to her.

" Yes, Jerry, your father is so strong in his belief that
it will be hard to make him see. But we'll hope that in
time he will think of her as a daughter. Perhaps we can
show the light to the poor girl."

But father did not see the light. He was firm and
frank. " No play-actress and dancer, except a converted
one, comes in my house ! " was the final verdict of the big
man who was so good himself in his narrow way that he
had no patience with offenders. "If you marry her
you'll be a disgrace to the family^ to the whole town,
forever ! "

I said good-bye to mother and went back to the city
and several days later I married the woman I loved.
Only after we were married did I tell her about my fa-
ther's attitude, for I was afraid if she knew it before she
would think it her duty to give me up. She was hurt,
poor girl, poor motherless girl who had been buffeted
about like a leaf in the storm and thought she had found
a safe place at last, only to discover that she was unwel-
come in the family. She couldn't understand the attitude
of the people who are opposed to her profession, she was
so sure that her life had been as blameless -as a baby's and
could not fathom why any man should sit in judgment
upon her. But there was a haughtiness about her, too,
for all her childlikeness, and she would not go to my
home to meet my mother. " I can't bear being pointed at
and called bad, or to be ordered out of the house. That
would be so much harder than to stay away. We'll just
cling together and long as you like me I'll manage to get
along," she said in her Irish teasing way. " But ask your



124 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

mother to came make us a visit. I know I'll love her like
me own mother, so ask her soon, Jerry. I want to thank
her for you."

But my mother, partly from worry, I suppose, but
chiefly from a long-standing trouble, was taken suddenly
ill and before I could get to her she died. Your mother
would not go back with me then, for she said they would
make her feel like a murderess, so I went alone. I didn't
get a cordial welcome. My father would not tell me that
I was the cause of my mother's death, but he acted it and
I felt it burning in his eyes every time he looked at me.
He was a broken man but he hid it, as men of his nature
do, by gruffness and a greater drawing within himself. I
went back to the city, knowing that my chances for for-
giveness were scantier than ever. My two sisters kept
house for him and I knew they did not relish having me
around. Sybilla was just like father and told me what
she thought of my disgraceful actions, but Mary, bless
her heart, was like mother, and though she did not say
much I saw she was sorry for me and would have helped
me if she could.

" I am done with you for good," my father said to me
as I came away from my home after my mother was laid
away in the pretty little cemetery where the wild straw-
berries grow and the graveyard pinks carpet the whole
place in the spring. I took him at his word and went
back to my wife. We moved to New Jersey, getting out
of touch completely with the little Pennsylvania Dutch
town where I was born and had lived so many years.
There were few in the place who cared for me or dared
show it if they did. My old friends and relatives felt
that I was a disgrace, gone to the bad, married an actress,
broke my mother's heart, gone against my father's wishes,



REVELATIONS OF SARAH'S FATHER 125

thrown away my chances for a bright future as though
they were so many sticks, dragged the good name of
Burkhart down in the mud what greater criminal could
I be?

So the last cords with the old home were broken when
my mother died. Your mother made it up to me so far
as anything like that can be made up. She and I were
happy. I worked for her and she kept the home like a
new pin. It was fun to watch her, see her enjoy every
little bit of the home life. I never regretted my marriage
to her. She was all that I had hoped for, and more
sweet, unspoiled. When you came our little home be-
came a Paradise. You were so like her, laughing, sunny,
smiling. As soon as you walked you tripped about like a
dancer and sang like the birds. Your mother took such
great -joy in you, sewed pretty things, taught you to sing,
sang you to sleep I have often been sorry that you could
not remember those days.

When you were two years old she died. Child, it
doesn't take long to write that line, but oh, what it meant
to me ! The world went black for me. What was left ?
Could I go back to the old town where my sisters and
father lived and where my fancied disgrace was still re-
membered ? Could I remain in the big city and face life
alone, with only you to comfort me ? I was almost mad,
altogether, I think, for a time. I sold everything, and
started off with you on my arm. I think I intended to
take you to my sisters and then disappear, wander to the
ends of the earth. We tramped on a country road. I
remember as in a dream. We must have gone miles, you
on my arm and walking at times until you said you were
too tired. We rested along the road, then off again, not
knowing just where we were going. I have recollections



126 THE MADONNA OF THE CURfi

of stopping at a farmhouse and getting milk, and once a
man thought I was a kidnapper, but you saved me by
telling that I was your very own daddy and we were go-
ing to aunties and grandfather far away. After a while
we came to the edge of a city, and I think I must have
been thoroughly unbalanced or fevered, for we stumbled
along my mind went blank and I remembered nothing
more until I came to in a little room. A woman brought
you in to me and you were so glad I woke up that you
cried and kissed me. How like your mother you have
always been ! The woman said I had fallen at her door
and you cried and brought them out. She was a widow
and lived with her mother in a poor but respectable sec-
tion of a big city in New Jersey.

I didn't care to get well, but after several months I was
all right again. Then a dullness, like sleep, seemed to be
upon my spirit. I hadn't enough ambition to get out and
go on with you. We might as well stay where we were
for a while until I felt better able to face the condemning
glances of the people in the little town back home. The
two women were kind to us, took fine care of you while I
dragged out to work, and we boarded with them for sev-
eral years. I knew it were better to take you to your
aunts, but somehow I could never bear the thought of
losing you. It was like putting from me the last thing
left of your adored mother. Then the mother of the
young woman died and I knew that we would have to go
unless I married the daughter. I did it, God forgive me,
for I married her when I had not one shred of love to
give her. But I got all the punishment I deserved, for
she soon made it plain that she cared for me only as I
earned money. She spent it faster than I could bring it
home, but I was married to her and after that I could not



REVELATIONS OF SARAH'S FATHER 127

go back home. So we stayed on, going from bad to
worse, moving from one neighborhood to another not
quite so clean and nice, until at last in desperation we
landed in Red Rose Court. One day she brought out a
counterfeiter's outfit, left in the house by some one who
had to make a hasty getaway, I suppose. I fooled with
the thing just in fun at first, then when I saw what I
could do with it it got me. I always was handy with
tinkering and when it brought me money so like the real
that it fooled most everybody, I let myself spend more
and more time in that little room back of the closet; a
mania seized me, I didn't care how you lived, what you
did or how you fared, just to make money, real money
out of nothing, the fascination of it got into my blood
and I waved aside all conscience and pride and gave my-
self up to the violation of the law. But the money didn't
do me any good ; it went like the real coins, through your
stepmother's fingers. She soon showed her real self.
The kind, pitying woman was gone and she drank, neg-
lected the house and would have been cruel to you if she
had not feared me on that point. Then one day I woke
up to my better nature once more. I saw my hideous
sins as though they were painted on a fifty feet canvas.
I wanted to turn over a new leaf, get away from that
awful Red Rose Court, go to a farm and begin life all
over again. You should have your chance, be raised
more like your mother would want you to be. You know
the rest, how my plans went wrong. I was arrested and
sent here and you to a reformatory. Oh, I am paying the
penalty the state demands for transgression of the law,
but I am paying more than that. Every day is one of
torture, for I can't put from me the memory of your
mother and the white-capped face of my own sainted one.



128 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

How I have fallen from the standard they thought I
would uphold! Remorse remorse can any physical
punishment, any deprivation of freedom or comfort be
half so hard to bear as remorse that eats into the heart
and burns and cannot be relieved !

Now you know the whole black story. I can't blame
any one for my sins except my own weakness and lack of
strength to stand against the storm. But if it is in my
power to restore you to what you should have had all
your life, a home, I am willing and glad to do it. My
father and sisters are still living. The warden looked it
up for me. In the little town of Fairview, in Lancaster
County, they are living in the big old house where I was
born and where I lived my boyhood. There is your home
and there you will find your people. They are different
from the people you know, perhaps they will not be glad
to have you, but I know their sense of justice is so strong
that in duty's name you will find a good home with
them. I think I shall be tortured less with remorse
if I know you are safe with them. Do as you
please about going to them, and if you can forgive
me for depriving you of all I did it will be more than
I deserve. If you denounce me for my weakness it
will be my due. Many of the people who live in places
like Red Rose Court know no better, have had no chance
to gain better things, but after you see my home in Fair-
view and meet the good, though odd, people there, you
will see just how far I fell when I went to the slums.
Sometimes I think it must have been an evil dream, but I
guess it has all been only too true. I'm afraid to die and
meet your mother after the way I dragged you to Red
Rose Court and neglected you. But you must be like her,
for the evil of the place did not seem to touch you.



REVELATIONS OF SARAH'S FATHER 129

However, my wrong to you is not lessened by the fact
that you kept right through the dreadful experience of
that place and the reformatory. My conscience worries
me day and night ; only when I know you are happy in the
home of my people will I feel some relief. I should have
sent you back to them long ago, when I was sent here.
Then you would have been spared the stigma of these six
years in a reformatory. But I couldn't bear to have you
go to them. Now I see my mistake, one more in a long
life of them. Seems like the only right thing I ever did
was to marry your mother. That is one thing I have
never regretted. Now you know the story. Forgive if

you can

YOUR FATHER.

Sarah dropped the letter into her lap. Her gray eyes
were fixed on space, vagrant, dreaming. " Poor father,"
she murmured, "poor mother, poor me! Oh," she
clasped the closely written sheets against her heart, " he
wronged himself infinitely more than he wronged me.
Poor father hasn't been an angel, but I think his people
have some of that to account for. They did not under-
stand. His mother was the only one who tried to be
broad-minded and kind to him. The rest were, and I
dare say still are, like the woman who came to the re-
formatory to take notes on juvenile reform. They must
be cold, hard, their minds fixed on one standard. I'm
going to Fairview to my father's people and stay a while
just to show them what mean little hypocrites they are!
But I must write to daddy at once poor old shipwrecked
daddy ! He loved my mother and was true to her though
it cost him everything else he cared for in the world.
For that I can forgive him all that has happened."



130 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

DEAR FATHER :

If there is anything for me to forgive you I did it
so long ago that I clean forgot all about it, so don't you
worry about that ! Why, Red Rose Court didn't hurt me
a bit ! I learned much there and it gave me a chance to
see how poor people live. Now when I fall heir to the
Burkhart fortune I take it for granted there is one, for
there always is in cases like this I shall know how to
appreciate it properly. Why, without my experience
there I'd never held the Maloney baby and loved it or
wheeled it home from the park while its soul went flying
back to heaven! And I should never have learned that
there are perfectly good shoes, dresses, flowers and so
forth in the ash cans of the wealthy. Oh, father, I may
sound frivolous but I mean every word I say. I do for-
give you anything, everything! I am glad you told me
about Fairview and my relatives. To think that I really
have a grandfather and two aunts and possibly a stack of
cousins after I thought I was almost alone in the world
is mighty strange and makes me feel that, after all, I
wasn't picked out of a garbage can. So I am going to
Fairview, without telling them that I am coming, else
they might go away and I'd find the house locked. No,
I'll just drop in on a visit and won't they be surprised!
I was going to say glad, but I guess that would be ex-
pecting too much. Miss Hughes is going to help me get
a proper outfit so they won't be ashamed of their new
relative. She offered to help me make dresses that are a
little different from the eternal blue uniforms of the re-
formatory. So, sometime in early spring, think of me
stopping at that old big house on Main Street, Fairview
seeing my people ! I shall write to you and let you know
how many parties and receptions they have in my honor.



REVELATIONS OF SARAH'S FATHER 131

But, seriously, father, I am eager to go, to have, for a
time at least, a taste of a real home. Do you know that
in all my life, since I can remember, I have not lived in
one Red Rose Court doesn't count. Now I want a
Christmas tree, an Easter nest, a party, and all the trim-
mings. If they are not glad to see me come, then, as
Mrs. Maloney used to say, they'll be glad to see me go.

.With love,

SARAH.



CHAPTER VIII

LANCASTER COUNTY

AFTER a long, bitter winter April smiled upon Lancas-
ter County. The gray succession of bleak days ended
and spring came with a rush. It blew fresh across the
mountains where the tall trees stood in serried ranks, it
ran smilingly along the meadows ancl fields of the valley
until every spot rejoiced in the promise of new beauty,
new activities, new growth and every woodland nook was
dappled with flowers and dimpled with life. The trees,
quickened, unfolded tassel and leaf; the flowers sprung
up with miraculous haste; the erstwhile doubting ones
who had asked querulously, " Will spring never come ? "
rejoiced in the fulfilment of the promise, " While the
earth remaineth . . . summer and winter . . . shall
not cease."

When Sarah Burkhart reached Lancaster County the
warmth and promise of the spring enwrapped it like a
garment. It had been a slow journey but to the girl who
had lived in so small a circle each hour of the two hun-
dred miles from Sunset Mountain to Fairview was
fraught with interest. Older, blase travelers complained
of the frequent stops on the last lap of the trip, as though


1 2 3 4 5 6 8 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryAnna Balmer MyersThe madonna of the curb → online text (page 8 of 22)