Anna Balmer Myers.

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fifteen stations in thirty-two miles were an outrage, but
Sarah laughed at them and wished the train would stop
oftener, for was she not in her own father's country and
eager to see as much of it as possible ! Yet she rose with
alacrity when the train man cried, " Fairview ! " Here,
at last, was her home the home of her people !



LANCASTER COUNTY 133

A kind conductor helped her off the train with her bag-
gage and answered her smile with one equally sincere,
while he wondered who might be the radiant young crea-
ture who put into her " Thank you " so much feeling.

Sarah Burkhart at eighteen was worthy of a second
glance. Of medium height, slender and vibrant as a
sapling of the woods, she gave one the impression of con-
served strength, unbounded energy. Her six years on
the mountain had done wonders for her, but not miracles.
She still had the same little turned-up nose and the
freckles that had brought upon her so many fights in Red
Rose Court when spoken of disparagingly. But her hair
was black as ever and her gray eyes held depths as still
and lovely as a mountain stream. She still had her child-
hood's way of narrowing her lids in a scrutinizing gaze
when doubtful or perplexed, but at other times her eyes,
wide open as a Madonna's, had all the innocence of a
child's. As she stood on the little platform at Fairview
and watched the train depart, who would have dreamed
that the slim young girl had lived in the slums of a great
city and subsequently spent six years in a reformatory ?

As she stood there she was thinking of Miss Hughes.
How kind she had been, how more than kind! It had
been Miss Hughes who kept her on the mountain and
away from slavish labor in the home of some want-to-be
aristocrat who shied from paying proper servants. It
had been Miss Hughes who taught, loved and helped the
harum-scarum Sade of Red Rose Court how to act like a
lady, as the child expressed it in those first days away
from her father. Then later it was Miss Hughes who
arranged for new clothes and cajoled the Trustees into
buying for Sarah an outfit proper for her going back to
the home of her father's people. And it was Miss Hughes



134 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

who found out about the trains, took her to the depot,
kissed her good-bye and waved a gay farewell as the mo-
mentous journey was begun.

Sarah felt elated at her successful carrying out of the
trip. " Why," she thought happily, " I bet I could travel
all the way to California alone! Here I am at last in
Fairview and I feel it in my bones that I am going to
have an adventure. Wish I had brought Jerry along.
But Miss Hughes persuaded me to leave him with her
guess it is the better way, for one girl my relatives don't
expect is quite enough, without adding a collie."

The thought set her laughing. At the sound an old
man who stood by an older conveyance turned to her
and asked, " Miss, was you wantin' to be drove any-
wheres ? "

Sarah looked at the hackman, then at the hack, and
suppressed a smile. She did not know that she was look-
ing at the important Transfer, as the residents of Fair-
view named the hack, important because it carried the
mail to and from the depot three times a day and could
be called upon to carry passengers to any part of the
little town of two thousand inhabitants. She saw merely
an odd, closed conveyance which she had no desire to
enter and leaning against it, a funny little old man who
chewed his gums, wore his trousers hitched to pink
suspenders, and turned a wrinkled, smiling face to her.

" No, I think I'll walk, thank you," she told him. " I
suppose it isn't very far. Do you know where Jeremiah
Burkhart lives ? " she asked eagerly.

" Me, well, I guess ! " came the swift reply. " Why, I
done all his haulin' since I drive the Transfer, for thirty
years anyhow, if not more. Ach, be sure I know where
he lives at! See that big street across them tracks?"



LANCASTER COUNTY 135

He pointed to the long shaded street where lindens and
horse-chestnuts grew rank along the curb.

" Yes," the girl told him.

" Well, now that's where Jeremiah Burkhart lives at.
In that big house, fourth from the corner this-a-way, the
one that's set back a piece in the yard and got the two
big trees right in the front yard that's it ! "

" Oh, thank you," Sarah said, her heart beating with
excitement.

" Don't mention it. But are you a relation of his,
mebbe ? " The curiosity of the small town person who
knows the name and pedigree of every visitor leaped to
the front.

"Thank you very much," repeated the girl, seeming
not to have heard the question.

" Comin' to visit then, mebbe ? " persisted the man.

" I think I can find it all right, thank you," said Sarah
as she picked up her bag and started off.

" Jimminy pats, she's close-mouthed ! Wonder now if
she might be some high-toned relation from the city !
Heh, wonder how she'll like old Jerry must be her first
trip here if she don't know where he lives. Wonder how
he'll like her, with them stylish duds and pretty face and
all heh, he'll have some job makin' a Mennonite out her
if she's some one comin' to stay."

When Sarah reached the iron fence that separated the
Burkhart home from the street she stood still a moment.
A swift glance up the street showed her that all the
houses of the block were set in green terraced yards, back
from the fences and hedges. Oh, what a place for a
home! The Burkhart place was big, attractive in its
old-fashioned plain architecture, and to the girl who had
known nothing like it, appeared a veritable mansion.



136 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

What a place for Christmas trees, parties and all the
delightful occurrences one read of in books. At that
moment she realized that dear as the home on the
mountain had come to be because of Miss Hughes, it had,
nevertheless, been merely an institution. Home would
this lovely old house with its yard and trees and its flow-
ers already bursting into bloom along the side of the
walks, be a real home for her ? It had been her father's.
Here had fallen upon his ears the denunciation of the
girl he loved, within those red brick walls had been
spoken the bitter words that had made him an outcast
from his people. Feelings varied and uncertain were
within her as she opened the gate and went up the three
sandstone steps that led to the walk and the front
porch.

She rang the bell. The door opened and a woman in
the garb of a Mennonite stood before her. For a minute
Sarah was confused. The plain dress of the woman, the
sheer white cap upon her head, surprised her. Then she
remembered that her father had mentioned something
about some religious sects flourishing among the Penn-
sylvania Dutch, sects that demanded of their followers
some peculiar garb to denote their aloofness from the
vanities of the world. Of course, her father's people
were members of some such sect.

" What did you want ? " The woman's voice was gen-
tle but none too cordial. Here, probably, was another
agent for books, aluminum, or something they didn't
need.

" Is this the place where Jeremiah Burkhart lives ? "
" Why, yes it is. Did you want to see him ? "
" Yes, or some other person in his family I'm his
granddaughter."



LANCASTER COUNTY 137

"His what?" The woman frowned, then looked
puzzled. " I guess you made a mistake, mebbe. He got
no granddaughter. He's my pop so I know."

" But he has a granddaughter," repeated Sarah, " I
know he has ! Didn't he have a son Jeremiah and hasn't
that son a daughter? Well, I am that daughter, so that
makes him my grandfather."

The woman started, then drew the girl into the hall and
closed the door.

" Come in," she said with agitation, " it's for no use to
stand on the step and let the neighbors hear it all. Now,
what's your name ? " She still appeared unconvinced.

" Sarah Burkhart. My father's name is Jeremiah. He
told me you lived here, and that you are my people."

" My, my," the woman shook her head sorrowfully,
" then Jeremiah had a girl and you're her my, my, pop,
he'll be dreadful put out. But mebbe it's good, for all,
you come, for he sits a lot and thinks and I got a notion
he often wonders what become of his boy. Now he's
gettin' old those things kinda stick to him. I guess you
know that your pop went to the bad, married a play-
woman, a dancer and that pop told him he was done with
him. It broke mom all up and she died soon after. Then
me and Sybilla, that's my big sister, started to keep the
house for pop and done so since. But we never heard
nothin' from Jeremiah since mom died; we thought he
was dead long a'ready. Guess he was ashamed to come
back after what he done. Pop, he says still that he made
his bed now let him lay in it."

" Are you my aunt ? " Sarah had to ask something to
keep her "Irish, temper from retorting denial of the
woman's accusations about her father.

" Me ? Why, yes. I'm your Aunt Mary, then. But



138 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

come in the parlor and I'll go tell pop and Sybilla. Just
happens pop is home from the store."

" Pop ! " she called as she went down the wide hall,
" there's somebody in the parlor for you to see."

" For me ? " came a man's deep voice. Then the visitor
heard whispered conversations and once a raised, " My,
my, what a business ! " A few minutes later Aunt Mary
returned, followed by an older woman and an old man.

Sarah's hands were unconsciously flung out in entreaty
for welcome. " Are you my grandfather ? " she asked.

Jeremiah Burkhart was not the type to whom one
could give an impetuous greeting. Sarah's hands fell to
her sides and the two regarded each other in silence for
a spell.

She saw a patriarchal, dignified old man, the like of
which one finds frequently among the plain sects. His
big frame, and massive head, were dependable indices to
the strength and ruggedness of his nature. Stern, just,
uncompromising, Jeremiah Burkhart was a pillar in his
church, a man esteemed in his town, true as steel in
business, hating evil and worldliness equally, and so un-
swerving in his adherence to the straight and narrow way
that he had small patience with those who followed the
primrose paths of pleasure. His expression was not one
to inspire love or waken confidence in the heart of the
girl who had thrust her way unannounced into his house-
hold.

He looked at her over his steel-rimmed spectacles.
" You say you are Jeremiah's girl ? "

" Yes," the answer came weakly, while the girl won-
dered what had suddenly happened to her splendid
courage. She glanced at the elder daughter and found
there the same stern expression the man carried in his



LANCASTER COUNTY 139

eyes'. Only in the face of Aunt Mary was anything akin
to welcome.

" My father is your son," she gathered her recreant
senses together. " His name is Jerry."

"Jeremiah," corrected the man. "I never named no boy
Jerry. He was named for me and I am Jeremiah. But
he's been gone out of our lives for twenty years. Where
is he? Why did he send you to us? Was he afraid to
come himself and sent you instead? Why didn't you
come long ago if you want to know us? Where's
your mom ? " The questions were given in rapid suc-
cession, while the three of the household waited for
replies.

" My mother is dead, has been dead for sixteen years.
And my father '

" Yes, what about him ? Is he dead too ? "

" No." Tears welled to the eyes of the girl. Oh, they
wouldn't understand and pity and forgive ! They would
condemn. " He is in in the penitentiary."

Aunt Mary drew in her breath and clapped a hand
over her eyes as if she would shut out the terrible fact.
Aunt Sybilla and her father nodded solemnly and the
latter expressed the opinion of both when he said,
" That's just where I thought he would end up when he
went against the teachings of a good mother and father.
In jail, and all because he married himself to a bad
woman."

" No, no ! " came the shrill protest of the girl. " My
mother was not a bad woman ! My mother didn't make
my father get where he is to-day. If you can blame any
one besides himself I guess " she pointed an accusing
finger to the man, her face drawn into a hard expres-
sion " I guess the blame comes back to you. I know the



140 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

story of his life. You were so good and religious you
couldn't have any mercy on a decent girl when she
earned an honest living in the only way she thought she
could and a way she thought was all right. You said she
was wicked, but you didn't know her and had no right to
judge. My father married her and they were happy, for
they stuck to each other through thick and thin. He must
have loved her an awful lot to give up a home like this
and a mother like he told me about, but I guess that's
what he did do, for he says he is not sorry he married
her. Then she died and he had nobody but me, two years
old. Perhaps if he could have brought me back here and
stayed in his old home he would have been as good as
when my mother lived. But you said you were through
with him and he stayed away. He got into bad habits,
counterfeited and got caught and arrested and put be-
hind the bars. I was sent to a reformatory for there was
no person to take care of me. I stayed there six years.
Several months ago father told me about my people and
here I am."

She looked defiantly up into the face of the old man,
half wondering how she managed to say so long an
indictment to the stern person.

" Well," his words came slowly as though he were
weighing each one before utterance. " Here you are and
I guess this is the place for you if you are in the family
like you are. We will keep you even if you are the child
of that "

" I wouldn't say it," she suggested with dangerous
sweetness. " I guess you know your girls wouldn't want
to hear anything mean about their mother and I love the
memory of mine as much as they love the memory of
their Mennonite mother." She raised her head and



LANCASTER COUNTY 141

looked at her grandfather with calm, level dignity. " I
am here and would like to stay a while and get acquainted,
but please don't ever say anything mean about my dead
mother. She was sweet and good as any saint and I'll
love her always, so I will ! I love my father, too, even if
he is in jail ! Then you want me ? " she asked with pro-
voking Irish boldness. She knew only too well how
dubious was her welcome.

Aunt Sybilla, so like the stern old man, smoothed her
white cap strings and answered dutifully, " Of course,
you got a right to be here. Long as pop is your grand-
pap we ain't got no right to turn you out. Anyhow,
where would you go? Guess this is the only place you
can go unless you hire out and we wouldn't want that
when it ain't necessary. But you got to behave yourself
and not make abody ashamed with you. We got trouble
enough a'ready without you givin' yet more. If you act
like you should you dare stay for all it makes out to me.
I guess pop will say the same, ain't ? " She turned to the
man for approval.

" Yes. She's in the family but look here what's your
name Sarah ? Well, Sarah, you don't dare talk no more
to me like you done a while past ! To say I drove your
pop to the bad ! I won't have it ! I just wanted to make
a good man out him and if he'd done like I tried to make
him he'd be a blessing instead of makin' us all trouble.
He's reapin' what he sowed."

" Yes " Sarah lingered over the word and spoke with
so great an apparent guilelessness that the man could not
call her to halt. " Yes, he is reaping what he sowed and
I suppose we all -have some reaping to do we'd like to
run away from if we could." The shrewd Pennsylvania
Dutchman, wise and quick though he might be, was no



142 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

match for the clever Irish strain that was so strong in
his newly found grandchild.

He admitted to himself that he did not relish the pres-
ence of the sharp-tongued, self-willed girl in his house
but he could do no less than open his door for her. The
knowledge that his son was a criminal was a sore blow to
him, but it added strength to his ancient conviction that
the ways of the world are evil ones, that dancing and all
frivolities carry ruin and disgrace in their wake. Per-
haps the child of the dancer could be redeemed, the in-
fluence of a religious family might keep her from follow-
ing after her parents oh, what a double inheritance the
child had weakness, worldliness! It would be their
duty to train her in the way she should go.

Presently Aunt Sybilla departed up-stairs to prepare a
room for the new member. Aunt Mary followed timidly
after her, though she longed to stay and become ac-
quainted with the girl. Sarah was left alone with her
grandfather. She squirmed about on her chair, but he
paid no attention to her uneasiness as he sat with his
hands resting on his cane and his eyes downcast. The
silence and presence of the man so deep in thought made
her restive.

" May I," she asked quietly, " please may I go out in
the yard and see the flowers ? "

He looked at her suddenly; his eyes had lost some of
their stern coldness and a brooding sadness was in them.
When he spoke he sounded totally unlike the accusing
man who had said such stinging things about her parents.
" Go out. We got a nice yard."

She found her way through the hall, dining-room and
into the immaculate kitchen open to the breezes from the
back yard. At the kitchen window she stood still and



LANCASTER COUNTY 143

looked out. The green loveliness of the grass and flower-
decked yard brought a sudden lump to her throat. She
dashed away a few tears, her lips quivered " I'm home
at last! But I'm not welcome. I'll have to work and
earn my place here. If I weren't so much of a coward
I'd pack right back to Miss Hughes, but it takes more
courage to do that than to stay here, so I'll stay." The
yearning for a home was for the time paramount over
the wicked desire to teach them what " mean little hypo-
crites they were " as she had said on the mountain.

Up-stairs the two sisters faced each other. " Mary,"
the elder said sternly, " it seems like more than we de-
serve in the way of burdens to have that girl, the child
of a dancer, in our home. Jeremiah makes trouble for
us even after he's been away for twenty years."

" Poor Jerry," the other whispered.

" Yes, you pitied him always ; you got too much of his
softness in you ! Me, I'm like pop now, I make no fuss
over wickedness ; I call a spade a spade and a sin a sin."

" I know, Sybilla, you are very strong and so good ^
Christian like I can never be. Guess I got too much
easiness in me, like you say. But I can't seem to get over
it, no matter how hard I try still. Now mebbe this is
our chance to help poor Sarah, to show her the right way
and keep her from goin' to the bad."

" Well, that's the only way I can find any comfort in
her bein' here. She's not much of a Burkhart, did you
notice? Her eyes and hair must be her mom's. Her
nose, turnin' up, is all that's ours. But to think of it
our Jeremiah, our own flesh and blood, to be in jail!
Fairview will have somethin' to talk about now for a
while."

"Must they know?"



THE MADONNA OF THE CURB 1

" Ach, how could abody keep it quiet in a town like
this? We might as good print it in the Examiner next
week for everybody will know the girl is here and want
to know who she is and where her pop is and before you
know the cat will be out the bag. So we might better tell
and done with it. We can't lie."

" No, we can't lie," agreed Mary. " Sybilla, it makes
abody feel bad about her not havin' a home for so long
and livin' in one of them places they sent bad girls to.
I thought still only terrible bad ones was there, but I
guess nobody wanted her and what could they do with
her? If only her pop'd sent her to us long a'ready ! It's
a wonder she ain't gone to the bad altogether bein' in
with them others. Now we got to show her how good a
home she has here."

" Don't you go spoilin' her a'ready. She's her mom's
child and I guess we got our hands full till she grows up.
She looks strong and can help with the work. It'll come
in handy this summer with the cherries and things to can
and garden to tend and such things. Mebbe for all it's
good she come, and she's relation to us."

" Well, I guess ! " said Mary, smiling, " 'bout as near
as we got except pop." The face of the younger woman
bore a strange, unwonted expression. At last she was
going to have one of her eternal longings satisfied a
young person in the house, to love and teach and help.
Sarah was sure of one friend. But she had no pre-
science of that friendship as she stood by the kitchen win-
dow and looked out at the yard. A sudden loneliness
seized her ; she wished she had her dog, or Miss Hughes,
or even Mrs. Maloney, to talk to. Then she heard her
name called and turned to the hall.

" Ma'am ? " she answered.



LANCASTER COUNTY 145

" Fetch your things up here," came Aunt Sybilla's
voice. As the girl reached the top step the aunt told her,
" You needn't call me ma'am. I'm your Aunt Sybilla.
You call me that."

" Yes, Aunt Sybilla." The girl was suddenly very meek
as she followed the woman into a big room where a
freshly made bed stood along one side.

" This will be your room. You dare take care of it
yourself, all but the sweepin' every week on Friday. I
do that. Can you make a bed ? "

" Oh, yes ! I learned to work in the reformatory."

" And you needn't keep talkin' about that reform'tory
all the time, neither. In a little town like Fairview such
things gets round quick enough without you tell them
every time you open your mouth."

" Yes, ma'am, I mean Aunt Sybilla ! You must par-
don me if I forget how to address you for I never had
an aunt. You see I never had any family till I found
you. That's the reason I was so anxious for father to
tell me where to find you for I did so want relatives like
other people have."

" And you needn't talk about your pop all the time,
either," came another command of the woman. " We
can talk without draggin' his name in. Your grandpap
ain't too anxious to hear his name and me neither, seein'
all the trouble we had from his actin'."

Sarah's strange meekness vanished like smoke. She
tossed her head and said, " When it comes to my father
no one is going to muzzle me! I care for him and I
guess it's no crime to talk about him." Her loyal heart
had no thought to allow the memory of him to sink into
oblivion.

" Well," responded the woman diplomatically, " if you



146 THE MADONNA OF THE CURB

want the whole town of Fairview to hash over all the
things your pop done and get it printed in the paper that
he's in jail, just you go ahead and talk about him all the
time, that's all ! "

" Oh, I guess I guess perhaps it would be wiser not
to mention him too often. But I'll think about him ; no-
body can stop me thinking about him ! "

" Put your things in that closet and then come down
in the kitchen," ordered Aunt Sybilla. " Mebbe you can
help your Aunt Mary for I got work in the garden yet.
This here comin' unexpected upset the day for us. Now
you know where your room is I can go back to my work."

When Sarah was left alone in her sanctum she looked
about. It was the largest bedroom she had ever seen.
In the home on the mountain they were such tiny things,
but this it appeared very fine to her eyes. The old-
fashioned walnut bureau and its tombstone marble slab
top was novel to her. Also the massive bed with its
patchwork quilt, the wash-stand with its pitcher and bowl
and its red-outlined splasher tacked to the back to save
the wall-paper, the rag carpet and hooked rugs. On a
hooked rug spread before the bureau was the word
WELCOME drawn in with vivid red wool on a background
of tan. The absurdity of the word in her room when
she was certainly not as welcome as the rug implied sent
her into a merry gale of laughter. " Why," she gasped
after a moment's indulgence in mirth, " I can laugh yet !
Bless me, if I didn't think I clean forgot how since Aunt
Sybilla scared me stiff."

Her room was lovely, she thought, perfectly lovely;
there at least she was not disappointed. But the rooms
down-stairs, what she had seen of them, were impres-
sive. Her family must be wealthy to have a house with



LANCASTER COUNTY 147

so many rooms, all large ones, and furnished with heavy
furniture and fine carpets almost covered with numerous
small rugs. And the lawn and porch she sighed with
pleasure to think it was all a part of her home. What a
place for little children! How the Maloney baby that
died from the heat would have enjoyed that grass and
fresh air!

"Sarah!"


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Online LibraryAnna Balmer MyersThe madonna of the curb → online text (page 9 of 22)