Discovers the Existence of God
Where’er thou art, He is; th’ 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, or 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 surprised, 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 someone 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 cornstalks 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 someone 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 the 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.” (Psalm 113:5-8)