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 that 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 still 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.” (Psalm 72:12,14)