THE POORHOUSE WAIF
HIS DIVINE TEACHER
A True Story
BY ISABEL C. BYRUM
I The Deserted Child
II Life in the Almshouse
III From Bad to Worse
IV Finding Friends
V Suffering for the Faults of Others
VI The Strange Visitor
VII Mysteries Unfolding
VIII Discovers the Existence of God
IX In the Home of a Witch
X A Contrast
XI Searching for Light
XII A Revelation on Eternity
XIII Puzzled about Prayer
XIV A Prayer-Meeting
XV A Star of Hope
XVI A Revelation on Tobacco
XVII The Camp-Meeting
XVIII Discovers the Existence of God's Word
XIX Devotion and Works
XX Called to Service
XXI Discovers God's Church
XXII Visits the Poorhouse
THE DESERTED CHILD
In this wide world the fondest and the best Are the most tried, most troubled, and distressed.
"Why, woman, you are not thinking of leaving that child in this place for us to look after, I hope! Our hands are more than full already. You say that the child is scarcely a month old. How do you suppose that we could give it a mother's care? More than this, the board that governs the affairs of this institution has given us orders to accept no children under seven months of age whose mothers are not with them. So if we should take the child, as you say we must, you would be obliged to remain for that length of time, at least, to help us care for it."
It was August Engler, steward of the county poorhouse in one of the eastern counties of Pennsylvania during the sixties, that spoke these words, and the circumstance that called forth the language was the appearance and request of Mrs. Fischer, a well-dressed young widow. The latter had come to the poorhouse with the intention of leaving her infant child. To this plan Mr. Engler had objected unless she was willing to comply with the rules of the place.
Mrs. Fischer, the mother of three little children, had recently heard that her husband, a soldier in the Civil War, had been killed in battle, and immediately she had gone into deep mourning as far as her dress was concerned. The care of her family, however, she felt was too great a responsibility to assume alone, and she had decided that the best thing for her to do was to give her three small children away and that the sooner it was done the better it would be. It was not hard to find homes for the girl and the boy, but with baby Edwin it was different He was so young that nobody cared to be bothered with him, and although she had tried hard, she had not succeeded in finding him a home.
In her perplexity she rushed to the infirmary. So confident had she been that it would be the duty of this institution to help her out that she had not thought of asking the privilege of leaving her baby as a favor.
As steward and matron of the poorhouse, Mr. and Mrs. Engler did what they could to keep things going smoothly and in order, but the work was too large for them to handle it properly. At that early date no special place except the poor farm had been provided for the simple and the insane; so it was necessary to have several buildings, both large and small, to provide for the needs of the people.
In the building that was known as the poorhouse proper was the main office. It was here that Mrs. Fischer appeared. Several other rooms of importance were also in this building, such as the dining-room and some living-apartments, but the bakery and the kitchen were in a building just a short distance away. And there was still another building, a large brick structure close to the main building. This was used for the confinement of such persons as the insane and the unmanageable, and the doors and windows, as well as the transoms, on both the inside and the outside were secured by iron bars. From these dark prison walls many strange and hideous sounds could be heard at any hour of the night or day.
In the entire establishment the furnishings were scant and poor, and in every way things were vastly different from what we find them in the poorhouse of our modern times. In the main office, where Mr. Engler transacted his business affairs and entertained strangers, there was simply a rude desk, a homemade couch without springs or mattress, and a few rush-bottomed chairs. For years the walls had been growing darker because of the constant use of tobacco by those who frequented the place.
Had it not been that the steward and the matron of this home for the poor were capable persons and able to get considerable help out of the inmates, they could not have managed to keep up the place at all. To conceal the fact that the poorhouse was a miserable place to stay would have been an impossibility.
To the selfish mother it mattered not that the office within which she was standing was an index to the entire building. Regardless of consequences, she cared only to be freed from her burdens and responsibilities as a mother. So the answer that Mr. Engler gave her only stirred within her evil heart the anger and cruelty already there, and with a fiendish glare of derision toward the one who was endeavoring to do his duty, she took a step toward the hard couch and threw, rather than laid, the bundle she held in her arms upon it. An instant later she disappeared through the open doorway. When Mr. Engler recovered from his surprize and went to look for her, he saw her running up the road as fast as her feet would carry her.
Realizing in part the seriousness of the situation, Mr. Engler went at once to notify his wife, and, leaving her in charge of the little one, he, with others, set out to find the runaway mother. The task proved to be difficult. Owing to the fact that the woman was a stranger in the community and had gotten the advantage of her pursuers, it took some time to find her, but at last she was returned to the infirmary and was given orders by the authorities not to repeat the offense of deserting her baby.
As the feeble-minded people at the almshouse sometimes caused trouble by running off, large balls of iron had been provided to be chained to the feet of such persons. Thus their progress would be hindered and their escape be less probable. Still they could take a part in the work that had been assigned them about the place. It was thought best to use this method of securing Mrs. Fischer. When the chains were fastened about her ankles, one of the authorities who had helped in capturing her remarked, "I guess now you'll not raise your feet for a while as nimbly as you have been doing of late."
That evening Mr. Engler said to his wife: "It's the strangest case I ever heard tell of. Surely that woman has made the future of her infant son dark and uncertain. It doesn't seem possible that any mother could treat her child in such a shameful manner. I'm sure if that woman could get loose this minute she'd run away again, and we'll have to watch her closely while she's here."
"Did you see the baby's large brown eyes?" Mrs. Engler asked, as her husband ceased speaking. "He's certainly a nice child, and it's a shame to see him grow up among all these paupers; but if his mother doesn't care, I don't know who will."
"Well, I don't know that it's any of our business, either, except to see that she takes care of him while she's here, and after that I guess we can manage some way as we always have," Mr. Engler replied. "You've got too much to do to take any of her responsibilities on your shoulders, and you must not try. If people will force their children on the charity of the community, they must take the consequences."
The constant work and worry incident to caring for so many poor, disheartened people was indeed great, and Mr. Engler was right when he told his wife that she already had too much work to do; but it was very hard for her to think of the neglect that the poor little child would undergo even while its mother was there, for such a heartless woman could not be expected to do her duty. As the days and weeks glided by, it was as Mrs. Engler had feared, and the cruel manner in which the babe was handled was pitiful to behold. But scolding and criticizing the mother did neither the mother nor the child any good, and Mrs. Engler endeavored to forget about the matter and to let the baby get along as well as it could.
When at last the seven months had expired and the day for the departure of Mrs. Fischer had arrived, the woman who had so disgraced the name of motherhood was glad. The pretty costume of black was faded and worn, and the glossy hair was tangled and unkempt, but within the eye the light of evil was shining brighter than ever. It was indeed a glad moment for her when she heard the chains about her ankles clanking heavily upon the floor and she knew that she was once more a free woman and could go and do as she pleased. And without a thought for the comfort or a plan for the future of her helpless child, she left him to the generosity of the people.
It truly might seem that the young life was blighted, but there was One far better than mother, brother, or sister who cared and was ready to lend a helping hand.
"The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good" (Prov. 15:3).
"Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls?" (Luke 12:24).
LIFE IN THE ALMSHOUSE
Few save the poor feel for the poor: The rich know not how hard It is to be of needful rest And needful food debarred; They know not of the scanty meal, With small, pale faces round; No fire upon the cold, damp hearth When snow is on the ground.
Mrs. Engler had long since given the care and feeding of the children over into the hands of inexperienced women, who might have utterly ruined the delicate digestive organs had it not been that the food allowed was wholesome and the quantities too small for them to overfeed. The children, after being provided with pewter spoons, were seated in groups around large pans and were allowed to dip as they chose into the mixture that the pan contained. For a time after his mother's departure baby Edwin was fed from a cup, but as soon as he was able to handle the spoon and to toddle about the floor, he had to take his place with the others. Thus, table manners and politeness were unknown, and the earliest picture stamped upon the mind of little Edwin that he could in after-years remember was a group of boys and girls, of all ages and of whom he numbered one, hovering about a large dishpan, each eagerly watching for an opportunity to "dip" for his or her share of the food.
With the picture came a desire to be good and kind to all. Perhaps some Christian friend of the family had offered just such a prayer for him, and God, knowing the evil surroundings that would have a tendency to make him selfish or unkind, protected and shielded him with this very wall of kindness. At least God saw and understood, and he cared enough to help the poor little innocent, untaught boy as he matured from babyhood not only to be unselfish but to avoid doing many things that might have provoked others to anger. In short, God became his teacher, and many times while Edwin was still very young, when he discovered his playmates doing that which was evil, there was something within his heart that said it was wrong and that he ought not to do as they were doing. His ideas in regard to the right and wrong of different things he for a time expressed quite freely among the children; but, finding that he was only ridiculed for his pious thoughts, he learned to keep his views to himself. Although he was silent, he endeavored to keep as far away as possible from the scenes that troubled his finer nature.
But not all the days were dark for Edwin. There were times when the children were taken for long walks out in the fields or woods, where the flowers grew and where the birds sang their sweet songs. Upon such occasions Edwin's heart would be so filled with gladness that he would be almost beside himself. Not only the brown and yellow butterflies gliding hither and thither, lighting now and then upon some pretty blossom, only to soar away again high above his head as they discovered him approaching, attracted his attention; but their cousins, the little black crickets and the green and brown grasshoppers, springing about him in the meadowlands, made him shout aloud with delight. Not knowing the true names of the lively little fellows in the grass, he called them "jumper-men." Sometimes he would catch them in his hands, but he never thought of hurting them just for fun. And the turnip-patch! What a treat it was for all the children to pull the pretty white balls from the earth and to eat them, dirt and all, for it must be remembered that none of the children had been taught by their overseers to be clean and neat. It was too great an undertaking for Mrs. Engler to attend to such minor points. So the turnip just out of the ground was more of a luxury to Edwin in his half-starved condition than candy could have been, and candy at the poorhouse was practically unknown.
Once there was a kind old lady who came to stay for a short time in the home. From the first she seemed interested in Edwin, and, seeing his great desire to do the right, she endeavored to help and to encourage him. She had a son of her own, who once had been small like Edwin, and she could understand how very hard some things were for Edwin to bear.
Among the things that the lady taught him to do was to kneel down and with his little hands folded and in her lap, repeat after her the little prayer, "Now I lay me down to sleep." But she failed to tell him that it was praying or what it meant to pray. Neither did she explain that there was a great God over all, to whom he could tell all his troubles. But although Edwin did not know the meaning of prayer, there was something about the words and the repeating of them that he enjoyed, and long after the dear old lady had gone away from the almshouse, the words seemed to bring a real comfort and satisfaction to his poor little hungry soul.
Until the sixth year of Edwin's life he never heard that he had ever had a father, a mother, or a home other than the place in which he was then living. He knew only that he existed, and that from day to day there were many things happening about him, some of which he enjoyed, but a great many of which were distasteful to him. But all that took place he quietly endured, thinking that it was the best that there was in life for him. The fact that some were more favored than he was caused him no jealous or covetous feelings. He reasoned that it was all right for them, but for himself it could not be.
During the play-hours when the children were allowed to amuse themselves outside of the building, Edwin soon discovered that "a soft answer turneth away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger" (Prov. 15:1). God must surely have taught Edwin the meaning of this proverb; for the old lady did not mention it in any of her talks, and there was no one else in that wretched place to tell him.
Many times the childish games were interrupted by the screaming and the swearing of the people in the insane-apartment. The timid children would cry out and tremble, but those who were older often tried to repeat the profane language. All these things, like many others, made deep impressions upon the sensitive nature of Edwin, and although he was not afraid, he often pondered them in his heart. Sometimes seated in a secluded corner he would watch the poor demented creatures with a pitying gaze, wondering why they talked and acted so strangely, but whether he could or could not understand them, he studied the sane and the mad alike, and what he felt was right in the conduct of either he made his pattern, but the wrong he rejected.
At times during the play-hours the children, overcome by hunger, would slip around to the large window that opened into the bakery and there stand gazing wistfully down upon the loaves of fresh bread as they were taken from the large oven. Sometimes some crusts or stale biscuits were given them, and with these they would scamper away to the pump to moisten the bread before dividing it. It sometimes happened that there was not sufficient bread for each child to have even a bit, and when it happened thus, Edwin always gave his share to some one else. And when asked if he would like some certain thing, his answer was always, "If no one else wants it."
Because of his thoughtfulness he was often obliged, because of the selfishness of others, to eat foods that had been rejected as refuse, but in his heart he never complained nor felt that he had not acted wisely. Thus, the Golden Rule, although in words unknown to him, became a governing principle in his life.
When the days were pleasant and warm during the summer months, groups of men and women often gathered about upon the large platform that surrounded the pump, or under the shade of an apple-tree, to prepare the vegetables for the table or the fruits for the coming winter's use. As little was known at that time about home canning, the fruits were usually dried in the sun or in the large ovens after the baking was done. The children loved to gather about the groups at work to keep close watch for stray bunches of berries or raw potatoes and turnips, that might be carelessly dropped. In this they were now and then successful, but the rounds of Mrs. Engler were frequent, and for several reasons the workers were particular that nothing be lost or wasted.
Instead of horses, heavy teams of oxen were used for all farming purposes. These animals, although faithful and trusty under ordinary circumstances, did not like to have children playing about their feet; and as there was no one to pay especial attention to the little ones, it sometimes happened that a child was either crippled or killed by the hoofs or horns of the powerful animals. On one occasion Edwin saw one of his playmates bruised and trampled in this way.
These scenes, as well as the regular rounds of the chore-boy Jim with his water-yoke upon his shoulders, carrying either water for the home or slop for the pigs, were sights that were common and in many cases interesting to Edwin. But from them he could learn practically nothing of the things that he would need before he could become a useful man in the world. Aside from a few instructions that were given them in hard labor, the poorhouse children were allowed to grow up as a flock of poorly fed chickens or animals. They were given their rations, a place to sleep, and that was about all.
The daily routine of the almshouse from year to year was little changed. Some passed on to their reward in the beyond, but the general order of things remained the same. The steward and his wife were busy from early dawn until late at night looking after everything and everybody, but many of the things of vital importance had to be neglected for a lack of sufficient time and strength.
"Better is the poor that walketh in his uprightness, than he that is perverse in his ways, though he be rich" (Prov. 28:6).
FROM BAD TO WORSE
"What bliss is born of sorrow! 'Tis never sent in vain— The heavenly Surgeon maims to save, He gives no useless pain."
Something more than six years had passed since the departure of Mrs. Fischer from the county poor-house, but still the place was little changed. Mr. Engler was once more in the office of the institution. This time he was there to interview a stranger concerning the child Edwin. There was still the same strong odor of nicotine in the room, and the furniture and the condition of the walls and the floor still told of much want and wretchedness, as well as of habits that were unclean; but apparently as little heed was given to the fact by the stranger as had been manifested by the selfish mother.
It seems that the word that Mrs. Fischer was receiving generous pensions both for herself and for the support of her children had been carried to the board that governed the affairs of the poorhouse. Finding that none of the amount had been paid into that institution, orders had been issued to the effect that Mrs. Fischer must either pay for the support of her child or take him away from the almshouse. Having received a notice from Mr. Engler of the board's decision, she had decided to have him brought to her own home, and the stranger was no other than the boy's own uncle. He had come with horse and buggy, at the mother's request, he had told Mr. Engler, and he would appreciate having the child brought to him as quickly as possible, as he had no time to lose.
"And so the heartless woman's sent for her child at last, has she?" Mr. Engler said in a tone that might have inferred several things.
"Yes, that was her order," was the reply, and Mr. Engler left the room at once to bring the fatherless and worse than motherless boy. The steward smiled as he thought of the contrast between Edwin and his uncle. The latter, a large, powerful man, was well-dressed and was apparently of a strong will, and the peculiar light within his eye and the hard lines about his mouth revealed the same characteristics that had been so prominent in the mother. Edwin, on the other hand, was small for his age and hollow-eyed from lack of sufficient food to satisfy his hunger, and his clothes were ragged and soiled. The honest, straightforward expression of the large brown eyes and the marks of refinement around his mouth made up, however, for what he otherwise lacked.
In a room where several other children were playing Edwin was found, but he was taking no part in the games. In fact, many things were done by the children in the poorhouse day after day that he did not enjoy and in which he would take no part. If questioned he could not have explained why he felt as he did about their actions, but he preferred turning to the window, where he could look out upon God's creation. The little birds that had charmed him in his rambles had long been his friends, and as he gazed through an open window, he could see a nest full of small fuzzy heads waiting for the parent birds to bring them a meal of worms. Many times the bills had been raised and the mouths opened wide because of the rustling of the leaves above or below them, and the boy was glad when they could realize that their expected meal was there.
In answer to Mr. Engler's order to come at once to the office, Edwin followed, but before he entered the room, Mrs. Engler saw to it that his clothing was changed, so that he would be a little more respectable to appear in public.
It was evident that, when Edwin, clad in a pair of faded blue overalls and shirt, entered the presence of his uncle, the latter was greatly surprized at the slight figure before him, but he sought to conceal his thoughts and said, "Edwin, I'm your uncle and have come to take you home to your mother."
Very pleasantly these words fell upon Edwin's ears, but he associated them with his rambles; for he knew nothing at all about his father or mother, not even that any such relation was necessary in life. He therefore was glad, but said nothing, for he knew not what to say. Mistaking the meaning of his silence for timidity, the uncle spoke again.
"Come on now, boy; I am here with a horse and buggy to take you to your mother's home. Will you be glad to see your mother?"
But again Edwin was at a loss to know what to say, but his thoughts were that the man before him was very large. It was not until his uncle said impatiently, "Come along!" that he understood, and this command he instantly obeyed.
A moment later the two were standing beside a large noble-looking brown horse that was hitched to an open buggy. Next he felt a pair of strong hands placed upon his shoulders, and then he was lifted high in the air to a seat that was so different from the bed of the old ox-wagon that he had to examine and rub his hand over the soft cushion. When his uncle took the seat beside him, everything about him began to move, and he thought of the few times when the children had been taken for rides behind the large team of oxen. But he had never been away from the poorhouse farm, and when they passed from the driveway on to the public highway, he remembered that the children had been forbidden to leave the place, and he wondered what it all meant. He was not troubled, however, for Mr. Engler knew of his going, and he reasoned that since he was not going of his own accord, it must be all right.
As there was nothing else for him to do as he and his uncle rode along, he began to look about at the many interesting things. The herds in the large meadow-lands reminded him of the poorhouse cattle, and as he saw the little "jumper-men" skipping about in the tall grass, so many pleasant recollections were brought to his mind that he laughed aloud. They met other horses and buggies similar to their own as well as covered carriages, and passed some horses quite like his uncle's tied to hitching-racks in front of houses or running about in the rich pasturelands.
The musical birds also added much to the boy's enjoyment when he heard them now and then singing in some tree-top or bower, but all that he thought about any of the beautiful things around him was unexpressed and securely fastened within his little mind for future meditation. His small store of knowledge had been gained in this way, but it seemed to be God's method of teaching him the lessons that in later years would be the most useful to him.
Occasionally he turned to look at the "big man" by his side, and each time beneath the poverty-branded garments there throbbed a heart full of the deepest esteem, and his desire to do his very best to win the confidence and friendship of his new companion was strong. This was not a new impulse in Edwin, for he had always endeavored to please every one, and in doing this he had found real pleasure.
The afternoon was rapidly passing away, and as the sun sank in the western horizon, the blue sky above him became streaked with crimson and gold. Then Edwin noticed that the houses were closer together, but he did not know that it was because he was entering a village and was close to his mother's home.
During the entire journey from the poorhouse the uncle had been silent, but suddenly Edwin saw the right line tightening, and in answer to the uncle's command, "Whoa there, Bill!" they stopped close beside a hitching-post.
Without a word of explanation the uncle sprang lightly to the ground and after tying the horse grasped Edwin's shoulders and roughly placed him upon the ground. Again the boy's decision to endeavor to please was strengthened, and when the uncle started toward the pretty brown house just inside the picket fence and repeated the words he had used at the poorhouse, "Come along," Edwin instantly obeyed.
As they passed in through the open gateway, Edwin noticed pretty flower-bushes. His uncle told him that it was his mother's home. As they stepped upon the porch, Edwin could not refrain from sniffing in some of the delicious fragrance of the honey-suckle blossoms dangling so gracefully here and there from the pillars of the porch, but he was hurried on.
When they entered the house, Edwin looked about in amazement, for everything seemed so very beautiful. Then he saw a woman sitting near a window with a piece of sewing in her hands and three children—a boy about his own size, a girl, and a boy younger—playing on the floor.
"This is your mother," he heard his uncle say.
Without rising or giving the child a word of welcome, the unfeeling woman said to the uncle:
"What do you think of him?"
"I don't know what to think," was the uncle's answer. "He hasn't said a word since Engler turned him over into my care, and I certainly tried hard to get something out of him. All he did until I told him to come along was to stare at me with those large brown eyes of his. While we were riding along, though, he seemed to see everything there was to see, and by the way he kept smiling to himself one would have supposed he was looking at a circus."
Ah, could they have known the deep thoughts that had been passing through the childish mind even upon that trip, they would have understood better how to encourage him. With no consideration for the manner in which Edwin had been shut away from the better class of society and the proper helps that are usually thrown about the young, they at once gave him a low and degraded place in their estimation and pronounced him dull, stupid, and idiotic. All commands were given in a harsh tone and in such a manner that he could not comprehend them.
Before going farther into the life of Edwin, it might be well to explain that the uncle and his three small children were making their home with Edwin's mother. The house in which they were living, although rented, contained many comforts and even luxuries; for the mother, aside from her pension-money, was being liberally paid by the uncle for keeping him and his family. And Edwin's ignorance, as has already been inferred, was due to his lack of training and to the fact that everything in his mother's house was so new and different from what he had been used to in the poorhouse.
"Go and wash yourself and get ready for supper," he heard his mother say; but he had not been taught that this was necessary, and because he did not understand and so failed to obey, he was scolded and abused.
"You worthless thing!" his mother said. "I'm sorry I didn't leave you at the poorhouse now and let you grow up with the cattle if you don't know enough to wash before you eat."
When supper was ready, she ordered Edwin to get around behind the table in a corner where he would be the farthest from her, and added, "Any place in my home is too good for the like of you, and you shall stand while you eat. Do you hear?"
Evidently Edwin understood this command, for he had been used to eating his meals under just such trying circumstances, and he went at once to the place assigned him. The good food upon the table was very tempting, and when he had eaten all that was on his plate, he watched the other children to see what they would do when more was wanted, and when he saw them passing plates, he did the same.
He did not repeat this, however, for he found that he was not expected to share with the rest or to eat until his hunger was satisfied. Without a murmur he did without the dainties that were given freely to the other children, and with a dry crust he finished his meal in silence.
When bedtime came, Edwin was given a place to sleep in an unused part of the house, and there alone in the darkness he could repeat the words that the kind old lady at the poorhouse had taught him. Then while the rats and mice played hide-and-seek in the room about him, his eyelids closed in peaceful slumber.
We have heard that "there is nothing so bad that it could not have been worse." For Edwin life seemed to be constantly growing more serious and dark, but "man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh upon the heart" (I Sam. 16:7).
Oh! ask not, hope thou not too much Of sympathy below; Few are the hearts whence one same touch Bids the sweet fountains flow.
The first morning for Edwin in his mother's home dawned clear and bright, and as the soft gleams of brilliant sunlight shone in upon the coverlet of his bed, he, who had been a poorhouse waif, opened his eyes and in bewilderment gazed about the place. Suddenly he remembered some of the events of the previous day, and especially the form of the "big man" and that of the "woman," who, he had been told, was his mother. He remembered, too, his decision to do all in his power to please both.
His heavenly Father understood his heart if his earthly parent did not, and this all-wise guardian, knowing how very hard it was going to be for the child in this new home, enabled him to find friendship that was really warm and true.
Slipping noiselessly from beneath the covers—for the night had been cold—Edwin went to the window through which the morning sun was streaming, and there he saw a scene that thrilled him with delight. Lying asleep upon the walk in the warmest spot that could be found was a large Newfoundland dog. Clad in his heavy coat of shaggy fur and surrounded by a bed of green, he was indeed a pleasing picture. There had been several dogs at the poorhouse of which Edwin had been especially fond, but there had been none so beautiful as the one upon the walk below. The bees, too, were busy gathering among the flowers the honey for their winter's supply, and hopping about here and there over the lawn were the little "jumper-men."
As Edwin from his elevation beheld the part of God's creation that he had already chosen for his friends, his loneliness was quite forgotten. He was still gazing down upon the scene when his mother appeared in the doorway and with cruel words ordered him to hasten below to the kitchen. Little did she know that her child was finding in the animal kingdom the friendship that she had denied him, and she would not have cared had she known.
During the day and those that followed, Edwin endeavored in every possible way to help his mother, but his understanding so little about her ways and the names and uses of the simplest articles about the house seemed only to increase his troubles and hardships. And as slaps and bruises such as the dog had not known were his portion, the unfortunate child endeavored, whenever it was possible to do so, to hide from sight, but he always tried to be ready to give heed to the slightest order. But even this faithfulness, as well as the fact that he had so much difficulty in comprehending her meaning, made the mother still more unkind.
One duty that was assigned him as a daily task was sweeping the crumbs from beneath the dining-table, and when he had learned how, so thoroughly did he do this work that he never stopped brushing until he had found every particle of dust or lint in sight that had settled under other articles of furniture.
Another duty was carrying food to the dog, and he soon found that the well-filled plate of scraps contained far better food in many instances than he was allowed to share at the table. Whenever this happened, as it often did, and there was plenty of other food for the dog, Edwin ate a portion, but never without feeling confident that he was not robbing his friend. As the dog usually looked very wise, Edwin took it for granted that his motive was understood as right and just, and in this way the child was able to get some of the food that he would otherwise have been denied, and the dog's allowance was still sufficient. Rather than rob the dog, he would always have gladly done without.
When Edwin was given the care of his little baby cousin, who was just beginning to walk, he felt that this work was very hard indeed, but he did his best to understand just what was expected of him. Having been the youngest child at the almshouse and having spent so much of his time apart from the others, Edwin was unable to think of many ways in which he could amuse the little fellow, and sometimes it seemed that all of his efforts to please had been in vain.
A few weeks after Edwin's arrival in his mother's home the children—Edwin and his three cousins, Elmer, Jennie, and the baby—were playing in the yard with Perry the dog. Elmer, a lad scarcely a year younger than Edwin, was tossing a stick for the dog to return to him, and Edwin was astonished to find that his friend Perry was so very wise. The baby, who was in Edwin's charge, was barely able to keep upon his feet, but Edwin was doing his best to protect him from falling and to keep his eyes upon both the child and the dog at once.
Suddenly above his head in a large apple-tree Edwin heard a rustling of the leaves and a chattering of little birds, and he realized that his feathered friends had returned with a breakfast for the little ones. As he gazed upward endeavoring to locate the nest, he was just pointing to the spot when whiz went the stick with which Elmer had been amusing the group. So dangerously near to the nest did the missile go that Edwin, crying out with terror and anxiety, for the moment forgot all about his baby cousin. Running toward the tree as though hoping to protect the nest, he was just in time to see the stick miss the mark and then fall upon the ground alarmingly near the baby's foot. Although unhurt, the baby screamed, and a moment later Mrs. Fischer came rushing from the house and demanded a reason for the little one's crying.
Elmer, ever willing to justify himself at any cost, said hurriedly: "It was all Ed's fault! I just tried to throw that little stick up there in the tree, and when it came down it struck the baby's foot. If Ed had been minding his work, the baby wouldn't have been there." But Elmer failed to tell that he was throwing at the little nest with the intention of knocking it out of the tree and that the stick had done no harm to the baby's foot.
Accepting the explanation without any further details, Mrs. Fischer became furious, and, picking up the stick, she struck Edwin time and again upon the head and shoulders. Then, after calling him many hard and cruel names, she said, "I'll teach you how to attend to your business if there's any sense in you at all!"
After looking at the baby's foot and finding that there was nothing wrong with it at all, the woman, without a word of apology or sympathy for her suffering child, returned to the house.
Once again when the poor boy was so much alone, as far as a human friend was concerned, his heavenly Father understood and supplied his need. Perry at once left his former master and, going close to Edwin, did all within his power to soothe the little sufferer, and his sympathy was as balm to the wounded, troubled spirit of the child. Casting aside his grief and reserve, he caressed the noble animal, and when comforted he arose and was soon able to care for the little child that had been placed in his charge. And thus the afternoon slipped slowly away.
So thoroughly seasoned with bitterness and grief had the day been that Edwin was glad when he saw the shadows lengthening, for he knew that it would soon be dark. The sweet quiet and rest of the night were inviting. He thought of the pattering of tiny feet upon his coverlet and wondered if the rats and mice would call again. He hoped that they would, for they too were his friends. But after supper another surprize and disappointment was awaiting him. At bedtime he was told that he need not go to the attic to sleep any more, as there was room for him in Elmer's bed, and that thereafter the two would sleep in his mother's room. Edwin would have preferred the attic, but he submissively did as he was told, and as he slept the Lord kept vigil and watched tenderly over the sleeping child, for "his eye seeth every precious thing" (Job 28:10).
SUFFERING FOR THE FAULTS OF OTHERS
In silence weep. And thy convulsive sorrows inward keep.
Edwin's head was still aching when he awoke in the morning, but he arose, dressed hurriedly, and hastened to the kitchen to see if his services were needed by his mother. There was little that he could do, but with brush and pan he gathered the dust and lint from under the various articles of furniture. It was such a comfort and satisfaction to Edwin to know the names of those articles, and their uses.
After the meal was over, he carried the scraps to the dog; but as the supply was short, he did not help himself to a part as he did when there was plenty, for the golden rule was too much a part of his nature. When his morning duties were done, his mother told him to go and take care of the baby; but when he went out into the yard, he could find no one but Perry the dog.
For the moment Edwin forgot what his mother had told him to do. The eyes of his noble friend seemed beckoning him to the spot where he was lying, and Edwin obeyed. Sitting down by Perry's side, he buried his little face in the furry neck of the graceful animal, and all about him seemed to say: "Good morning, my boy. Cheer up, cheer up! Our meals you shall share and our songs you shall hear." The fact that there was no regret within his heart because of the lack of human friendship made it easy for him to accept the comfort and encouragement that was sent him through other channels by his loving, tender heavenly Father.
The small hand was stroking the sleek side of the huge animal, and the little bird-song in the tree close by added much to his enjoyment, and, sitting erect, he chirped in reply a sweet little song that he had learned at the poorhouse from the birds. This peaceful condition, however, was too good to last. In a very short time he heard the voice of his mother asking him where his cousins had gone.
"I haven't seen them yet," he said simply.
"And didn't you know that I meant for you to hunt them up?" she exclaimed in a tone that was much more harsh and severe than that in which her other words had been spoken. Then adding, "I'll teach you to pay attention to what I say!" she picked up a board that was lying near and began to beat him as she had done the day before. Hoping to escape some of the blows, the child drew closer to his mother, but the following instant he found himself tumbling head foremost toward a stone wall and heard the woman say, "Get away from me, you blockhead, or I'll dash out your brains on that stone wall. You are dumber than the dumb and not fit to live, and I wish you had never been born."
When the awful treatment was ended, Edwin was lying in the grass in almost a helpless condition, but he was left there piteously moaning while his mother went to find the other children. The baby was in the house in his crib and was still asleep, and the other two children, who had been on the opposite side of the house at play, were standing in full view of the scene. Without a word of comfort for her suffering child, she told Elmer and Jennie to go quickly to her room, as she intended to take them to the country, and the three disappeared to prepare for the trip.
It was some time before Edwin could arise, but at last, bruised and bleeding, he got upon his feet and hobbled to a place that was not quite so conspicuous. There he was sitting when his mother came from the house. The baby, then awake and dressed, was sitting in its carriage, and the other children were by her side. Before leaving the yard, she called loudly for Edwin, asking where he was hiding, and as the child came limping toward her, she threw him a package, saying as she did so: "Here's some dinner for you and Perry. We'll not be back before night, but you see to it that you stay right here in the yard. If it rains, you can crawl in with the dog." Without any other information as to what she intended to do or where she was going, and without a word of sympathy, the little group passed through the gate and were soon out of sight.
To be thus left alone at so tender an age with no other companions than nature and the dog, to some might seem cruel, but to Edwin life was already too full of varied experiences for this fact to make any material difference in his feelings. He did think, however, that it was very kind of his mother to leave Perry and the birds as his companions, and no better company could he have desired.
The small package that Edwin had received from his mother was of great interest to the half-fed child. Knowing that it was intended for the dog as well as for him, he called for Perry to come, and together they went to the place beneath the little nest where the scene of cruelty had occurred the day before.
Opening the package, he found that the dinner consisted of a small piece of boiled pork, all fat, and a little dry bread, in all scarcely enough for one, and yet two, one of which was a hungry dog, were to dine upon it. After Edwin had considered all this, feelings arose in his heart, but they were not of ingratitude or displeasure. He was anxious to know just how to divide the food so that each would receive his just portion. He concluded that since Perry and he were the parties concerned, Perry must help him to decide.
"Perry," he said, "you are the biggest, and you eat much more than I do, but, Perry, you get all you want very often, and I never do. Now, this morning your plate wasn't quite as full as it is sometimes, so I didn't take any bites. I gave it all to you, Perry, and I was so hungry. Don't you think that it would be all right now if we divided this dinner in halves? It would be all right with me if it would with you."
The dog had been an attentive listener, and as his little master waited for an answer. Perry, who had been taught to "speak" in his dog language, answered, "You, you," and Edwin understood it as being his perfect consent. Still fearing that he might not have been perfectly understood, Edwin began again, "Now, Perry, are you really willing to have it that way, and can you trust me to divide both the meat and the bread?" Again the dog's "You, you" meant "Yes" to Edwin; so, taking the bread in his fingers, he proceeded to divide it as evenly as he could. Then he did the same with the meat, and their dinner was all ready.
The next thing that puzzled them was the time of day and when to eat. This was also decided by Perry, and at last the two faithful friends began their scanty meal. There being no dishes, table manners, or napkins to bother with, the dinner was soon eaten, and after a little romp (for Edwin had quite forgotten his bruises) the two lay down together beneath the apple-tree. Here they were soon lulled to sleep by the murmuring of the wind among the leaves, the chirping of the birds in the branches, and the singing of various insects in the grass; and their dreams were sweet.
When Edwin awoke the sun was high and its rays were streaming down directly into his eyes. Again he wondered where he could be, but Perry's cold nose against his cheek reminded him of what had happened before he fell asleep, and, sitting up, he looked around to see if he was right. Everything in the yard was just as he had seen it before his nap, and the empty newspaper by his side brought to his mind the humble lunch that had been given him by his mother.
Next he gazed around at the landscape before him. His mother's home being in the very edge of the village, Edwin could look for a long distance in one direction. But it was not the gardens nor the corn-fields that attracted his attention; he was considering the sky, which was to him as a high blue arch, and he wished that he could know what was above it.
Presently he began playing with Perry, throwing a stick as he had watched his cousin do the day before. He found it great sport. Once when near the picket fence that surrounded the garden, he noticed some chickens near the gate scratching in the soft earth. After watching them for a little while, he saw something smooth and round lying where he could easily reach it, and he found that it was a pretty white stone with pink stripes in it To Edwin it was a valuable treasure, and by searching carefully he soon discovered two other stones that were equally pretty. A number of playthings belonging to his cousins were scattered about the yard, but thinking that they might be displeased if he touched them, he let them alone.
When he returned to the place beneath the apple-tree, he carefully examined each little stone in its turn, and he considered them very pretty indeed. The one with the pink stripes was so nearly round that it might have been mistaken for a marble; the next was oval in shape and was of a pearly whiteness; the third, although not quite so round as the first, was brown and was a very handsome little stone.
While he was still admiring his treasures, he heard voices and, looking up, saw his mother and the children returning from their visit. A sudden fear that Elmer might want the stones made him thrust them out of sight, but he was not swift enough to escape the eyes of that young lad. Elmer saw the act and, thinking that Edwin might have discovered something valuable, said authoritatively: "Ed, what was that that you put in your pocket just now? Let me see it."
Edwin hesitated, for he did not want to part with what seemed to him his only earthly possessions; bui when he saw his mother's threatening look and heard her say, "Out with whatever you've got, Ed, or I'll see why! You needn't try to show any of your authority around here!" he said, "I haven't anything except these little stones that I found in the yard over there." Then taking the stones from his pocket, he handed them to his mother for inspection.
Finding that the stones were of no value, Mrs. Fischer returned them to her son, and with the two younger children she passed on into the house. Elmer, however, did not go with the rest, but sat down on the grass near Edwin, and watched him closely as he returned the little stones to his pocket. Edwin, although so young and seemingly ignorant along some lines, knew what it was to be robbed of similar treasures; and, noticing the same evil light in his cousin's eye that he had noted many times before at the poorhouse among the children there, young as he was, he felt sure that, if given an opportunity, Elmer would steal. He hoped that his cousin would forget about the stones; so he decided not to refer to them any more and to play with them only when he was alone.
During the evening nothing unusual happened, and when it was time to retire for the night, Edwin was told that the bed that he had occupied the night before was to be his permanent sleeping-quarters. The moon was shining bright and clear, and beneath its silver rays the two boys crept into bed. Both were very still; in fact, they were so very quiet that in a short time each thought the other asleep. It was therefore a surprize to Edwin when he felt his cousin creeping stealthily from the bed and out upon the floor where the rays of the moon were the brightest.
As Edwin had inherited from his mother a natural love for neatness, he had already formed the habit of hanging his clothing upon the bedpost, and, turning softly in the bed, he could see from where he was lying, a sight that made him tremble with excitement. Elmer's hand was already in the pocket containing the treasured stones, and Edwin could not help exclaiming:
"What are you doing there, Elmer? Don't take those stones! They are mine!"
Elmer quickly withdrew his hand when he heard his cousin speak, for he did not expect to be caught; but in an irritated tone a voice from the bed opposite the boys said:
"Ed, what's the matter with you? Can't you let that boy alone? Shut your mouth I say and let him have those stones if he wants them, for what are they worth, anyway?"
Thus rebuked. Edwin said no more; and Elmer, glad to have his own way, yielded to his selfish desire and, again thrusting his hand into the trousers-pocket, became a thief indeed.
How sad! Edwin had early chosen the path of right because it was right, but Elmer was already on the road that leads to destruction and death! Why? Because he had decided in his heart to do evil. Even the kind old lady at the almshouse had not entered his life. Was it Elmer's fault? Not altogether. Temptation comes to all, but with the temptation there is a way of escape (1 Cor. 10: 13). Elmer could have chosen to do right and leave the stones where they belonged; but when he was caught in the act of stealing, Mrs. Fischer, who was responsible for his training, should have carefully taught him the dangers connected with stealing. A little seed of dishonesty sown in the heart needs only cultivation to help it to grow.
The following morning when Edwin's tasks in the house were completed, he was told to go outside to look after the baby, and here it was that he recalled Elmer's act. After making sure that the stones were not in his pocket, Edwin went over to that part of the yard in which his cousin was playing, and as their eyes met he said:
"Elmer, why did you steal my stones last night? I want them back."
"I haven't got anything that belongs to you, and I didn't steal your stones," Elmer almost shouted; and, running to Mrs. Fischer, he said excitedly, "Ed called me a thief and said I stole those stones out of his pocket last night."
"I'll teach him to call you a thief!" the woman exclaimed in an exasperated tone and ran toward her son with a club and began using it freely upon him, saying as she did so: "Ed, you wretched child! Is that all you've learned at the poorhouse? What are those little old stones good for, anyway? And to think you'd dare to accuse Elmer of stealing them!"
The beating that Edwin received was far worse than the one given him the day before, and in the evening when he laid his little tired and aching body upon the bed beside his cousin, he wondered why he was forced to suffer and bear the punishment that rightfully belonged to some one else, but he did not complain or feel unkindly toward those who justly deserved the blame.
When at last he fell asleep, God sent angels to minister to the needs of the little forlorn child, and they cared for him tenderly while he slept.
"When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up" (Psa. 27: 10).
"But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evil-doer" (1 Pet. 4: 15).
THE STRANGE VISITOR
How shall I ever go through this rough world! How find me older every setting sun! How merge my boyish heart in manliness!
The little seed that had been planted in Elmer's heart was not long in sending forth a sturdy sprout; for it was in fertile soil, and there was nothing to hinder rapid growth. Not only did he continue to watch Edwin's pockets for coveted articles like the stones, but from the match-safe in the kitchen to the purse of Mrs. Fischer in the bureau-drawer he stole frequently. Nor did it stop with this. At the village grocery he often slipped behind the counter and took articles for which he did not pay, and finally he visited the combination money-drawer.
Of much of Elmer's dishonesty Edwin was aware; but, feeling that his mother would believe no report about his cousin that he might bring, and dreading her punishments for tattling, he kept all such knowledge to himself. Even when blamed and abused for the things that Elmer had done, he bore it patiently, unless questioned; then he told the truth and took the consequences, usually a beating.
Elmer, on the other hand, while endeavoring to cover up his misdeeds, told lie after lie, and when accused and blamed by the grocer and others, he was screened and helped out of his difficulties by Mrs. Fischer.
When Edwin was about ten years of age, his mother moved from the village in which she had been living to a farm among the foothills of the Alleghany Mountains. Here it was that Edwin for the first time saw an outline of the wonderful Blue Mountain of which he had at Christmas time heard many weird and frightful legends. Blue Mountain was one of the tall mountain-peaks that stood out a little apart from the main ridge and was known among the people as the home of St. Nicholas and his elves. Strange stories were connected with the place, and all who believed them were full of superstition and awe.
It was reported that during the year St. Nick, as he was commonly called, was busy manufacturing and preparing wonderful toys to be distributed throughout the country among the children who were deserving. In order to know to whom the presents were to go, he sent out his elves into the homes to take an inventory of the lives of die children. These reports were to be returned just before Christmas eve so that he could use them as a guide in distributing his gifts. For all the children who were not entitled to presents tortures of many kinds were invented. These were to be inflicted when the annual tours were made.
All this and much more Edwin had heard in his former home at each Christmas-tide, and as the tortures had always been his lot, he did not like to think about the great mountain any more than he could help. It was little wonder that he felt this dread, for to him St. Nick was a fierce and terrible monster. But it was a great mystery to him why St. Nick had never found out about Elmer's misdeeds.
Even at the age of ten Edwin was very small, and his ignorance concerning the ordinary things of life was really painful. A dread of not being understood seemed constantly to hover over him, and as he had been taught to feel himself inferior and in the way, there was no opportunity for him to improve. When company came to the house, he was ordered to remain in the kitchen or in the yard, but never in hearing-distance, and he was always too busy to visit had he been permitted to do so. A few times he had been sent to school to help the smaller children through the snow or mud, but it was only occasionally and with no explanation as to the meaning of school or the value of learning.
Once the teacher sent word to Mrs. Fischer that if she cared to have her son learn to read she must supply him with a primer. Before doing as the teacher had told her, Mrs. Fischer took up a primer belonging to one of the other children, turned to a lesson well over in the book, and commanded Edwin to read the paragraph to which she was pointing. Seeing that he was unable to tell one letter from another, she shouted at him: "Ed, you blockhead! there is no use for you to try to learn anything, and I will never spend any money for books to help you to disgrace me any more." Then so great was her cruelty that the child fell prostrate at her feet in a swoon. But even this did not cause the heartless mother to be sorry for what she was doing to her child. Almost before he had recovered from the effects of this severe punishment, she ordered him, if he knew anything at all, to tell her the time of day. When he could not do this, he was again mistreated.
Shut away as he had been from the society of every one who could have helped him, he was, of course, unable to unravel the untruth that had been related to him about Blue Mountain; and when told that the time for St. Nick to pay them another visit was drawing near, he looked upon the event with increasing dread.
"No good thing, Ed, can you expect this year on Christmas eve," he heard Elmer say a few days before that eventful night. "He never has remembered you with any good, and I don't think he ever will."
Yes, Edwin knew all about the neglect. He remembered, too, that he had been told that upon Christmas eve, instead of going to bed, he must sit before the fireplace upon a certain chair in the sitting-room to await the arrival of St. Nick. Perfect obedience being so impressed upon his mind, Edwin obeyed, but imagined many things, one of which was that instant death would follow any refusal to do the bidding of St. Nick. Therefore when the appointed time arrived, Edwin was ready and seated in his chair even before the remainder of the family had retired. Then, while his cousins were thinking of the happiness the morrow held in store for them, and the children in other homes were dreaming of the sweet stories to which they had listened concerning the Christ-child and God's great love in sending his only Son as a Christmas gift to all the world, Edwin heard a sound in the yard as of heavy tramping. Then the lashing of a whip upon the window-pane and house caused him to spring from his chair and seek for a corner in which to hide. Presently he again heard the lashing upon another window-pane, followed by a fierce blow upon the kitchen-door, which had been purposely left ajar, and he saw the door fly open and beheld an object so completely hideous that he was more frightened than he had been upon any previous occasion.
There, clad in a pair of old trousers that were partly covered by a short petticoat, and wearing a bright red blouse elaborately trimmed with white cotton batting in imitation of white fur, a sunbonnet of faded blue, and a false face in the form of a mule's head, stood the object posing himself as St. Nicholas.
One glance at the frightful creature with the long whip in his hand would have been sufficient to strike terror through the heart of a more enlightened mind, and Edwin, with the remembrance of the suffering of previous years still fresh in his mind, was under a mental strain that was fearful indeed.
The strange form, pretending not to notice Edwin, laid down his whip and began loosening the large pack of toys that were upon his shoulders. As the sack was laid down in front of the old fireplace, a rubber ball rolled out upon the rug, whereupon Edwin heard him say in a gruff tone:
"Now, if that hain't a mess! Guess I've come off without that there list, after all. Thought those little imps wasn't going to get it in, and when they did"—here he pulled out a long strip of paper that appeared to have writing upon it and from which he began reading the names of the children and the presents that each one was to receive.
As Edwin saw the costly gifts that were one by one taken from the sack, there seemed to be nothing lacking and plenty for him to have at least one toy, but his name was not called. There was a hobby-horse, a top, a horn, a ball, a wagon, a doll, dishes, a rocker, candy, and nuts. A sudden longing came into his heart to be remembered.
As if divining Edwin's thoughts, the monster, who was the child's own uncle disguised, turned suddenly and, facing Edwin, said:
"Now, sir, I'll become acquainted with you! I'm the person that some folks call Santa Claus, but by others I'm known as St. Nick. To you, Edwin, I shall be St. Nick, and I want to say that if you touch any of these things that I have placed here for your cousins, you'll find out what Old Nick can do." Then with a wave of his hand he said, "Come on out here now before I leave to go to another home. I want you to look at each of these things, so that you will know just what they are like, and then you see to it that you keep your stupid hands forever off!"
In obedience to the commanding voice of the frightful being, Edwin went breathlessly forward and listened to the words:
"Do you see that horse? Well, that's Elmer's, and because he has been such a good boy he shall have the ball and the top. The other things are for his sister and brother. Now that you have seen these nice things that are for good children, I want to show you the part that is to be yours, but you will have to go out in the kitchen to see it."
On the way to the kitchen Old Nick, who had taken up his whip, flourished it to hurry the child along, saying as he did so, "Now, you little gump, here's your treat." Then he threw a few nuts upon the kitchen-floor and ordered Edwin to hurry and pick them up. As the child obeyed, down came the lash of the whip upon his fingers, and the blood began at once to ooze from the deep gashes. When the hand was withdrawn, the lash fell upon his body. Next he was told to dance and then to sing and at last to pray. As he each time tried to obey, the whip was used upon him. The dance and the song were both very crude, but the prayer was the words that he had learned from the old lady at the alms-house. Those words Edwin felt were appropriate because Old Nick had knelt beside a chair when explaining what he wanted him to do, and he remembered that he had knelt thus at the old lady's knee. But before the list of terrible tortures was exhausted, Edwin could stand no more. Weakened by the loss of blood from his wounds and by the extreme fear, he fell as though dead.
How long he was there or what happened after he had fainted Edwin could never tell, but when he became conscious, he was alone and the room was cold. Painfully he arose and by the aid of the lamp that was still burning low, he crept away to his bed, which was fortunately very close to the kitchen.
As the sun arose in the eastern sky, it cast its bright rays upon the snow-covered ground around the home of Mrs. Fischer and caused a dazzling brightness, but it did not erase the many footprints that had been made the evening before by the supposed St. Nicholas, nor was it sufficient to soothe the poor little aching head of the unfortunate Edwin.
Edwin had been in bed but a few hours when he heard the children's voices. He listened to their remarks as they examined in turn the beautiful gifts, and then—was it possible? He thought he heard the youngest child in a tone of disappointment saying, "Why, where are Ed's stocking and things? Didn't he get anything at all?"
The answer from Elmer was spoken differently. "No, hush!" he said. "Ed hasn't anything here. Santa Claus, you know, doesn't bring gifts to every one. There are only certain people who are allowed presents."
Then Edwin heard his cousin explaining the story of Blue Mountain and St Nicholas as he had often heard it before; but when his cousin said, "The reason that Ed wasn't remembered is because he does so many bad things," Edwin wondered again what kind of report the elves had carried concerning the pebbles and the other things that Elmer had taken dishonestly and what explanation they had given regarding the lies. But there was seemingly no way for Edwin to know these things. His storehouse of knowledge was apparently closed, but still he was not discouraged in well-doing nor was he tempted to do evil. Like Job, he could have said: "Thou knowest that I am not wicked ... I am full of confusion ... Even when I remember I am afraid, and trembling taketh hold on my flesh" (Job 10:7, 15; 21:6).
The brave are ever tender. And feel the miseries of suffering virtue.
Hedged about by such walls of difficulty, Edwin seemed to be shut entirely away in a little world that was all his own. As he had no one to help him to understand the every-day happenings about him, it was not strange that the mysteries of nature were hidden as well. Shunned and abused as he was, even curiosity was almost of no avail. But although he knew it not, the all-seeing Eye was watching over him and angels were rejoicing over the manner in which he was laying a foundation for a strong and noble Christian character.
Edwin's holding no revenge in his heart toward those who had so repeatedly wronged him made it easier, in a way, for him to endure his hardships. And by constantly being watchful and on his guard, he was many times able to improve little opportunities to assist either his mother or his uncle, and in this way he sometimes evaded punishments that he would have otherwise received. His always being on the alert made it easier for him to become familiar with the names of various things that he could not have otherwise known. To gain any knowledge at all was indeed a pleasure, and it enabled him to escape so much unjust abuse.
As his love for doing good increased, so also his admiration for and interest in the things of nature and that which was strange and mysterious were deepened. He often wondered about the blue arch above his head, and, supposing it to be an upper story to the earth, believed it to be inhabited by a family similar to St. Nick and his elves. He often tried to imagine what kind of man this being could be and wondered whether in any way he resembled St. Nick.
In electrical storms he supposed that the man must be very angry and that the sounds and flashes were the result of throwing or rolling heavy or combustible articles of furniture as he had so repeatedly known his mother and uncle to do. As such a view of life was all that he knew, it was not strange that he could make no better comparison.
Occasionally he noticed his uncle and Elmer throwing stones high up in the air, and sometimes when the stones went too high to be followed by the naked eye, he supposed that they pierced the arch and lodged on the other side.
The fact that while he was at the poorhouse a few persons had died and been buried in the ground was till fresh in his memory, and from the oaths and unkind language of his mother he had come to the conclusion that all must die and be buried in the same manner. What became of them after death he could not fathom, but he concluded that the frost in the winter-time was a sort of cold vapor arising from the bodies of those who were dead and that such things were all governed by the great man above the arch.
In the village where his mother had lived, very little attention was given to family quarrels or to the troubles of children, but in this new neighborhood it was different. A dear old couple by the name of Hahn, living very close, soon became greatly interested in the child Edwin. Many times they listened with deepest sympathy to his cries of agony and terror, knowing that his cries were caused by cruel blows or kicks. Then when the little fellow, all bleeding and bruised, would be discovered hobbling about and endeavoring to comprehend what was expected of him that he might the more perfectly perform the task THat had been assigned him, their hearts were filled with indignation and pity.
"I don't see how it is," said Mrs. Hahn one day to her husband at the close of the midday meal.
"Now, that Mrs. Fischer seems in some ways to be a pretty good sort of woman, but when she speaks to her son, she acts like Satan himself. Only yesterday I saw her out cleaning up the yard, and she seemed quite good-natured until she discovered Ed coming out to help her. Then, without telling him where to get it, she told him to hustle around and find her a picket, for she wanted to fix the fence. I saw right away that he didn't know what a picket was, but I wanted to see what he would do. He didn't ask. Instead he ran around the house looking in every direction and came back to tell her that he couldn't find any. Then, in a tone that she would not have used for the dog she yelled at him that it was of no use to expect an idiot like him to find anything. Next she went to a pile of pickets that was near the barn and easily got herself what she was wanting. Still she didn't explain anything to Edwin, but I could see that the boy knew then what a 'picket' looked like.
"Now, Pa, I'll tell you what I'd like to do. Since his mother acts toward him as she does, I'd like to ask him over here whenever he can come, just as though he were coming to help us, you know, and then we could tell him about many of these things that he doesn't know. Perhaps if he knew better what they meant, it would not be so hard for him, and he would escape some of the abuse."
"That's a bright idea, my good little wife," said Mr. Hahn smiling his approval. "I believe that we ought to help the boy all that we can, for he's sure having a hard time of it. Do what you think is best, but be careful not to let Mrs. Fischer think you want to help her son, or all your plans will be upset. She doesn't care what becomes of the boy, and I think she would be glad to see him die, but doesn't dare to be the one to end his life. But she'll do it if she keeps on as she is going."
"Well, with your consent I'll do what I can," replied Mrs. Hahn, and with a relieved expression she hastened to make some plans that were to amount very much to Edwin.
Mrs. Fischer graciously consented to let her son go to help the old couple now and then, "but," she added, "you'll soon find that he's no good to anybody. I find him lots more bother than he's worth."
"I'll risk that part of it," Mrs. Hahn answered, and from that day a great change came into the poor boy's life.
In the home of Mr. and Mrs. Hahn, Edwin was still very timid, but they were so kind and considerate that his intense fear gradually gave way to confidence and trust. It seemed that his new friends were never vexed because of his extreme ignorance. Instead of reproaching him for what he did not know or understand, they took extra pains to explain their meaning in the simplest language possible. To Edwin the explanation of the most trifling every-day occurrences seemed wonderful, and to the unenlightened child it opened up many avenues for thought that had hitherto been closed. Never once while he was with them did they seem to grow weary of trying to make things more simple and plain for the inquiring child.
The more Edwin associated with these friends, the more he began to understand how he had been wronged; for many questions concerning the earth, the sky, and himself were corrected. In explaining about St. Nick, Mr. Hahn said:
"Edwin, that terrible creature that treated you so shamefully on Christmas eve was not St. Nicholas at all. It was your uncle, who had, with the consent of your mother, dressed himself in the hideous clothing in which he appeared to you. He must have wanted to see just how much he could deceive and frighten you."
"But how about his home in Blue Mountain?" Edwin asked in amazement. "If Santa Claus doesn't make the toys up there, where does he make them?"
"Edwin, don't you believe those stories any longer," Mr. Hahn answered. "Your uncle bought from a store in the city of M——all those presents that he gave to his children. The stories that he told you about the elves visiting the homes to discover who were bad are untrue. I know it seems very strange to you, but what is the most difficult for me to understand is how your mother and uncle could find pleasure in frightening and deceiving you in such a way.
"Well, if Blue Mountain isn't the home of St. Nick, what is it?" Edwin asked in a mystified tone.
Then in very simple words Edwin heard for the first time the real facts regarding the great mountain that had until then been as an awful nightmare to the unenlightened boy. Pointing away toward the line of blue and white domes and peaks that grew more and more faint as they faded away in the distance, Mr. Hahn explained that they were only high parts of the earth. "Blue Mountain," he said, "is only one part of the range, and those dark places that you see on its sides are just trees and bushes such as grow right here in our yard. Then there are large rocks, some of them the size of this house, and springs of water where many animals and birds may drink. And in some places there are large flower-gardens, where the flowers grow without the use of the spade or the hoe. I would certainly like to take you to see the mountain, Edwin, if it were not so far away, but it would take us too long to go and come, for it is very much farther away than it seems."
Reasons were given also for the strange noises that Edwin had attributed to the rolling of heavy articles of furniture, and the names sky, thunder, and lightning were rightly applied. But with all their information, Mr. and Mrs. Hahn gave no hint that there was a great and supreme Being over all, one who had created all the wonders that they had been describing, for they were not Christian people and were not acquainted with the love of God. They were greatly interested in the things that pertain to this life, but seemed unconcerned about heaven, eternity, and the Bible. So Edwin continued to believe that some great man who had died and left the earth was living above the blue arch and that the electrical storms were in some way the result of fireside quarrels and confusion.
To Edwin it seemed that every moment that he from time to time spent with these kind friends was precious indeed, but the effect upon the mother was not what Mrs. Hahn had desired. Finding that her son could understand more about the work, she became more particular and increased his tasks accordingly until it seemed that he could do nothing to suit her. Poor nervous child! if only he could have known the words of the Psalmist, what a comfort they would have been—"He shall deliver the needy ... and precious shall their blood be in his sight." (Psa. 72:12, 14).
DISCOVERS THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
Where'er thou art, He is; the eternal mind Acts through all places; is to none confined; Fills ocean, earth and air and all above, And through the universal mass does move.
Mrs. Fischer may have felt that her neighbors were learning too much about her family matters and business affairs, and it may have been for other reasons best known to herself, but she soon became dissatisfied with the farm and thought best to move away to another part of the country. The place decided upon was near a public highway where there was an extra building that could be used by the uncle as a blacksmith-shop, and there was also a good barn, where the horse, cow, and chickens could be kept.
When Mrs. Hahn heard of her neighbor's plans, she was sorry, for she had become very much attached to Edwin and did not like to see him go so far away from her home. She therefore decided to ask Mrs. Fischer to allow the boy to stay through the summer months with them in their home. "He could do lots of little light things that would be a great help to husband and me," she said.
"Well, I can't see why you are taking such an interest in that boy," the mother replied. "Now, if he were bright like Elmer, I wouldn't be surprized, but Ed is such a blockhead. You can have him, though, if you can make any use of him, but I'm sure that you will very soon be sick of your bargain."
Mrs. Hahn assured the mother they were willing to run the risk, and it was decided that Edwin should stay with the Hahns for a while. So it happened that Edwin saw his people pack their goods and drive away from the farm leaving him behind. To be left in the care of the old couple whom he was learning to love so dearly was indeed a happy change, but how great it was none but him and his heavenly Father could understand. Surrounded as he was in this home by kind friends, provided good food, and enabled to think happy thoughts, he soon grew well and strong and was able to do all the work that could be expected of any eleven-year-old boy.
In the new home of Mrs. Fischer things went along seemingly well enough for a time, but as Elmer continued his underhanded work of taking things that did not belong to him, he became more and more bold, and Mrs. Fischer, not having Edwin to blame, was forced to see some of his faults.
One day shortly after the family were settled in their new home, word that the barn was on fire rang out loud and clear, and a smell of burning wood and hay and clouds of smoke filled the air. Rushing to the door, Mrs. Fischer saw that the barn was wrapped in flames. With a scream for help she ran out into the yard, where she discovered the uncle and several others endeavoring to deaden the flames, but their efforts seemed all in vain.
It was too late to save the barn, so the attention of all was turned to the house and other buildings. As the wind was in their favor, no other building besides the barn was lost, and fortunately the disaster had occurred in the daytime, when the animals and chickens were out in the lot, so that the damage was not so great.
When the excitement had somewhat subsided, and Mrs. Fischer looked about for some one to blame for carelessness, she found that Edwin was not there and that Elmer was the guilty person. Having repeatedly watched his father smoking a pipe or a cigar, Elmer had decided that it was time for him to learn to smoke if he ever expected to appear like a man. Accordingly, with a few stolen matches in his pocket and some corn-stalks cut into cigar-lengths, he had gone to a place back of the barn for his first lesson. He had not intended to have his actions upon this particular occasion known, because both his father and Mrs. Fischer had seemed to be against his learning to smoke so young. But through the fire, caused by the dropping of burning matches among the litter at his feet, and the testimony of his little brother, who had been present, his guilt became known.
Although Mrs. Fischer knew that Elmer deserved correction for this deed, she simply smoothed the matter over and allowed it to pass by unnoticed. But when the news of the burning of the barn reached the ears of Mrs. Hahn, she said: "Edwin, you should be very thankful that you were not there. Had you been, Elmer would no doubt have laid the blame on you, and in her fury your mother might have thrown you into the flames." Edwin understood that what Mrs. Hahn had said could very easily have been true, and he was very glad that he had not been present when the barn was burned.
His life in this new home was so different in every way from what it had been in his mother's and he was so happy and content that he had no desire to return. He was therefore very sad when he was told in the fall that the farm was sold and that as his old friends would go to the city to live with their children, it would be necessary for him to return to his mother.
"I'm very sorry," Mrs. Hahn said, "that you must leave us; but, Edwin, I believe that your mother will be more kind to you, because you have learned how to do so many things and can do your work so well. I will see that Mr. Hahn goes with you and will have him explain to your mother what you can do, and when she sees that you can learn when you are taught and can do the things that she expects of you, we shall hope that she will have more patience with you than she has had in the past."
Thus it was that one day late in the fall as the sun was slowly sinking down into a bed of crimson and gold, Mr. Hahn and Edwin drove up to the place of which they had both heard but only Mr. Hahn had seen. If Edwin had expected to find a pile of rubbish to be cleared away where the ruins of a barn was resting, he was mistaken; for the owner of the property had attended to that, and a new building had been erected upon the old foundation, and everything else was neat and clean.
"Well, Mr. Hahn," Mrs. Fischer began in answer to the announcement that her son had arrived, "I suppose you are very glad to be rid of your charge. I'm afraid he has made you lots of trouble."
"Oh, no, Mrs. Fischer," Mr. Hahn replied, "we got along just fine! I have no fault whatever to find with your son. He is as good-hearted and faithful a boy about his work as I have ever seen, and if we were not going to leave the farm, I wouldn't think of bringing him back. I think you have misunderstood Edwin; for he seems so very anxious to learn and asks so many questions about everything that I have found it hard to find enough answers for them all. Then, when he has once learned a thing, he never forgets it, and he seems to want to put every bit of his knowledge into use. I'm sure your fears about his being dull are groundless, but he does need to be taught, and you will do well to give him a fair chance along with the other children."
After making a few other remarks and giving Edwin the promise, "If I ever return to the farm again, I will let you know and will take you back again," Mr. Hahn said, "Good-by," and Edwin was left behind to begin again the kind of life that had been so hard and bitter. The kindnesses shown him during the summer and the greater keenness of his judgment and understanding made the renewal of past cruelties even harder to bear than they had been before.
After Edwin's home-coming Elmer and the other children found more time to shirk, and, seeing his eagerness and ability to do so many things that he had not before understood, the family forced the poor little tired form to work far beyond its strength. But without complaint Edwin strove to do all the work assigned to him and to make every move count so that he would be able to accomplish more than that if possible, but on every hand only failure and unhappiness seemed to be awaiting him.
Late in November, one evening just before time to do the milking, Mrs. Fischer, while in a terrible fit of anger because of some little mistake of Edwin's hardly worth the mentioning, ordered him to go out in the yard and bring her a good strong stick and to hurry. And Edwin, though knowing that the stick was to be used upon himself, went to an apple-tree and cut from it a good strong branch. Even under such extreme circumstances he was determined to do his best. As he handed the stick to his mother, she clutched it and with a fiendish expression she beat her son so cruelly that he fell upon the floor. Then with her foot she kicked him about the room until the blood was flowing freely from various wounds and gashes made by her shoe and the stick.
The condition of the room and the helpless state of the child seemed to enable the wicked woman at last to realize what she was doing, and, fearful lest some one discover him thus, she ceased her cruelties and commanded Edwin to get up and clean the room. Then, without waiting to be sure that he could do so, she went out to the barn to milk the cow.
Edwin, in almost an unconscious state, realized at last that he was in the kitchen alone, and he endeavored to arise, but there seemed to be a pain in every part of his body, and he was lying in a pool of blood. After a great effort he managed to reach the sink, but it was some time before he could stop the flow of blood from his mouth. Looking at himself in the glass, he saw that a portion of his lip was cut and loosely hanging so that the teeth behind it were exposed, and the blood was still running from his mouth. Until then, though he would not have known how to express the thought, he had never ceased to hope that in some way or other he would be able to win his mother's love and confidence, but with this terrible outbreak of passion all desire to try to live seemed to vanish.
After doing what he could to cover up his mother's cruel conduct, he staggered through the open door and down the walk that led to the barn. He was intending to do what he could to help with the evening work, but he could not suppress the sobs that were welling up from his poor troubled and wounded heart. Only hardships and discouragements seemed to be his portion, and without considering who was liable to hear him, he cried out in his anguish:
"If such it the best that a person can have in life, it would be better for him not to live at all."
As the cry of distress floated in through the partly open stable-door, Mrs. Fischer was filled with wonder. Never before had she heard her son speak so sensibly, and, hastening to see what it all meant, she said: "Ah, Ed! I heard you speak, and this time your words were not those of an idiot, but wise and full of reason. But how dare you wish yourself dead? Don't you know that there is a God over us who hears every word we say?" Then she added, "Why is it on such things you can talk so well and on others you seem so dull?"
At the sight of his mother's face and the sound of her words, two thoughts flashed through his mind: "Have I done anything to displease her?" and "Is there really some powerful being by the name of God above me in the sky?" Instantly a feeling of awe and reverence filled his soul, and something within him told him that this great Being who could hear all that he said must be more than a common man. The very thought that God could hear him speak made Him seem strangely near.
As he continued to think, his troubles seemed to vanish and the suffering from his wounds became less intense. Then he remembered that the name of God had been used many times by his mother, uncle, and the children in ways that he was sure were wrong. If God could hear everything, what must he think of the people who would talk about him thus? He wondered, too, why Mr. Hahn had not mentioned the name of God when explaining the reasons for the sounds above the sky, or "high blue arch," as he had called it. Poor untaught child! God alone could be his teacher.
"Who is like unto the Lord our God, who dwelleth on high, who humbleth himself to behold the things that are in heaven, and in earth! He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill; that he may set him with princes, even with the princes of his people" (Psa. 113:5-8).
IN THE HOME OF A WITCH
A mother's love—how sweet the name! What is a mother's love? A noble, pure, and tender flame. Enkindled from above. To bless a heart of earthly mold; The warmest love that can grow cold; This is a mother's love.
Yes, this is the nature of a true mother's love, but such love poor Edwin had never known. At the age of fourteen the unwelcome child felt that there was nothing in life for him except that which was hard and unreasonable. The things that he had learned from his kind friends, Mr. and Mrs. Hahn concerning nature often helped him to forget his sorrows, and the fact gained from his mother, that God's eyes were ever upon him, beholding his actions all the time, was a constant source of comfort and satisfaction, for he was sure that he was always trying to do his best.
"If I do as well as I can, God will surely know and care," he reasoned. Thus, his Creator filled a place in the lonely life that had never known a father's or mother's love. And strange as it may seem, the neglect and abuse that Edwin endured did not rob him of his strength and ability to perform all the duties assigned him. So if Mrs. Fischer had hoped to bring on the premature death of her son through her cruel treatment, she was disappointed, and within her evil heart she conceived another plan.
In a distant part of the country, among the hills where two public highways crossed was a home, large, aristocratic, and almost elegant in appearance. The large two-story-and-a-half brick house nestled amidst the dense evergreen and floral shrubbery, the large luxuriant orchards widening around it, the immense barn on the corner opposite, and the wheat- and corn-fields waving in the distance, caused many a passer-by to envy the possessors; but a look at the interior of the house and only a brief acquaintance with the occupants were sufficient to disillusion any one regarding the family's culture and happiness.
Mr. Fitch, a thriving and ambitious young farmer, had inherited the home and, having married a woman of an evil and superstitious family, soon discovered that he was bound to a person whom the community looked upon as a witch. The years had rolled by, and Mr. and Mrs. Fitch were now old. The fame of the evil woman had been published, and she was considered as one who was able to relieve people of any sickness or to drive trouble away from their doors. The treatment, called powwowing, consisted of repeating long lists of words that she had learned from a book called "The Black Arts." This book and an almanac made up the entire Fitch library.
As this Mr. Fitch passed the home of Mrs. Fischer on his way to and from the city, it became his custom to stop at the uncle's blacksmith shop. In this way the two families became acquainted, and Mrs. Fischer learned something of the nature of the witch. Just why and how it was suggested to the mind of Mrs. Fischer that the Fitch home would be the proper place to send her son is hard to tell. It would seem that Satan (understanding Edwin's desire to do right) helped her strive to throw every wicked influence possible about him and plan to discourage, deceive, and tempt him to do evil and become like the rest of the family. And she may have thought that there was a possibility of a mysterious and unquestioned death. At least, it happened that one day late in the summer she asked Mr. Fitch the question:
"How would you like a fourteen-year-old boy who would work for you for his board and clothes?"
"To be sure, I need one very much!" was the old man's reply. "My wife has a little girl to help her, and I need a boy to be with me. He could help with the chores and herd the cows. I've tried several lads, but they always run off."
"Well, my Ed will be just the one for you then," said Mrs. Fischer confidently. "You needn't be afraid that he will run off, for he knows too well that he must stay where I put him."
"How about his wages and schooling?" Mr. Fitch inquired with a suspicious glance at Mrs. Fischer, but he was instantly assured that such would not be necessary. "Only his clothes and board will be required, and I shall expect you to see that he earns them."
"Very well, ma'am, then we can count it a bargain, and I will take your son right home with me today if you like," and the old farmer and Mrs. Fischer hastened to the house to inform Edwin of the plan.
Edwin, brush in hand and down upon his knees, was diligently brushing away the crumbs from under the table in the dining-room when he was told in a few words to stop his work and prepare for the journey.
"You are to go home with Mr. Fitch," his mother explained. "He wants you to live with him and be his choreboy."
Perhaps Mrs. Fischer did not understand the expression that came over Edwin's face, but the news gave him intense satisfaction. He could compare the change only to his visit in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Hahn, and he could desire nothing better. Any place, Edwin reasoned, must be better than his mother's home, and he was soon sitting beside Mr. Fitch as he drove away in the direction of the mountains.
When they arrived at the place that Mr. Fitch explained was his home, Edwin was more delighted than ever, for he had never pictured anything more beautiful. But when they drew near the house and he heard oaths and language still more vile than he had ever heard from his mother's tongue, he wondered if he heard aright. Even during her most terrible tantrums he had never heard such words, and when through the open kitchen-door he saw Mrs. Fitch with a rolling-pin in one hand and a pie-pan in the other and with her face turned toward the sky, blaspheming the great God of the universe for permitting a certain crop to fail, he felt faint and sick.
Again and again the wicked woman blasphemed that holy name because of the failure caused by drought, and threatened, on account of the failure, to enter other fields and with a burning torch to set fire to them all. Then as curse after curse upon other things rang from her lips, she continued beating the air with rolling-pin and pan until it was dangerous to be inside the room. Edwin remained very close to the door, and the girl whom Mr. Fitch had mentioned as being his wife's helper, he saw spring to one side just in time to escape being struck by a huge piece of dough that was thrown by the wicked woman at her head.
How long the unearthly scene had been going on or would have continued is hard to say, but from exhaustion Mrs. Fitch sank heavily upon the floor and for some time was in an unconscious condition. In answer to Edwin's worried expression Mr. Fitch remarked, "Oh, that's nothing! She'll be all right after a while," and together they went out to the barn. Edwin asked no questions, but he wondered if such things were right and had to be.
In this new place he soon discovered that he must bear, in some ways, even greater cruelties than had been forced upon him in his mother's home, for in rainy weather or during the hardest storms as much was expected of him as when the sun was shining. Many times he was forced to work all day long without a dry thread of clothing upon his body and often without sufficient food. For all this he never complained, but he wondered why it was impossible to please some people, when he was always satisfied with so little.