FROM BAD TO WORSE
"What bliss is born of
'Tis never sent in vain--
The heavenly Surgeon
maims to save,
He gives no useless pain."
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."
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
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.
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
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
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
"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.
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.
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?"
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.