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.
--Montgomery.

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.",p> "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.

The greater part of the Fitch property that was used for pasturing purposes was low and swampy and had long been the haunt of many poisonous snakes. One portion of the land that was higher than the rest, Mr. Fitch had decided to have prepared for spring plowing, and Edwin's work was to gather the brush and the stones into piles that they might be burned or hauled away. He was also instructed to drive the cows from those parts of the pasture in which the snakes were the most numerous. With nothing to protect his bare feet and with no understanding of the danger of snakebites, he was often tramping in places where the reptiles were gliding past him in many directions, but upon none of these occasions was he ever bitten.

It was said that ghosts and many strange objects were often discovered in the house or grove of the Fitch property, and also that some unearthly creatures had been frequently known to rise from an unused chimney and, moving slowly toward the large field, to disappear always at a certain place. Others said that ghosts and horrible-looking forms had been met in the grove, and still others had heard strange noises, as the slamming of doors and windows when no breeze was blowing, the moving of heavy pieces of furniture, and the rattling and dragging of heavy chains.

One man said that once while working for Mr. Fitch he was sleeping in a certain room when suddenly the covers from the bed began to move and that although he resisted with all his strength, they were torn away. Feeling confident that he was the only occupant of the room, he left the place in the night vowing that he would never return.

These stories and many more were told by the visitors who congregated in the evening about the home from time to time, and they were usually approved and strengthened by Mr. and Mrs. Fitch, who could tell of many worse and more absurd happenings. Edwin often listened to the weird tales because those telling them were anxious to frighten him, but sometimes it was because of his own curiosity. He was often seized with a strong desire to investigate and to find out for himself whether the things that they said were really true. Upon different occasions he was allowed to sleep in the rooms that were supposed to be haunted, but never did he see or find out anything that was unusual.

Lying and stealing and other evils were often freely discussed by the boys and girls of the neighborhood when they gathered in the grove, and it was no uncommon thing to hear some one telling of a narrow escape from detection. Occasionally Eldwin was asked to tell a lie to help another cover up some evil deed, but this Edwin always stoutly refused to do. When fun was made of him or he was mocked for his principles of right, his answer was always, "I never want any one to lie or steal for me, and I will not do such things for any one else." His reason for speaking thus was not that he looked upon either of these things as sins, for he had no conception of what sin was. It was simply his sense of duty and his admiration of doing that which was right and just. Thus, his mother's desire to have him educated in wrong-doing was in no wise gratified, and his young life, even in the home of one of Satan's most efficient servants, was protected and preserved pure and blameless.

"Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners." (Psa. 1:1).