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Magicians And Witch Folk
by [?]

When a boy, I occasionally met, at the house of a relative in an adjoining town, a stout, red-nosed old farmer of the neighborhood. A fine tableau he made of a winter’s evening, in the red light of a birch-log fire, as he sat for hours watching its progress, with sleepy, half-shut eyes, changing his position only to reach the cider-mug on the shelf near him. Although he seldom opened his lips save to assent to some remark of his host or to answer a direct question, yet at times, when the cider-mug got the better of his taciturnity, he would amuse us with interesting details of his early experiences in “the Ohio country.”

There was, however, one chapter in these experiences which he usually held in reserve, and with which “the stranger intermeddled not.” He was not willing to run the risk of hearing that which to him was a frightful reality turned into ridicule by scoffers and unbelievers. The substance of it, as I received it from one of his neighbors, forms as clever a tale of witchcraft as modern times have produced.

It seems that when quite a young man he left the homestead, and, strolling westward, worked his way from place to place until he found himself in one of the old French settlements on the Ohio River. Here he procured employment on the farm of a widow; and being a smart, active fellow, and proving highly serviceable in his department, he rapidly gained favor in the eyes of his employer. Ere long, contrary to the advice of the neighbors, and in spite of somewhat discouraging hints touching certain matrimonial infelicities experienced by the late husband, he resolutely stepped into the dead man’s shoes: the mistress became the wife, and the servant was legally promoted to the head of the household.–

For a time matters went on cosily and comfortably enough. He was now lord of the soil; and, as he laid in his crops of corn and potatoes, salted down his pork, and piled up his wood for winter’s use, he naturally enough congratulated himself upon his good fortune and laughed at the sinister forebodings of his neighbors. But with the long winter months came a change over his “love’s young dream.” An evil and mysterious influence seemed to be at work in his affairs. Whatever he did after consulting his wife or at her suggestion resulted favorably enough; but all his own schemes and projects were unaccountably marred and defeated. If he bought a horse, it was sure to prove spavined or wind-broken. His cows either refused to give down their milk, or, giving it, perversely kicked it over. A fine sow which he had bargained for repaid his partiality by devouring, like Saturn, her own children. By degrees a dark thought forced its way into his mind. Comparing his repeated mischances with the ante-nuptial warnings of his neighbors, he at last came to the melancholy conclusion that his wife was a witch. The victim in Motherwell’s ballad of the Demon Lady, or the poor fellow in the Arabian tale who discovered that he had married a ghoul in the guise of a young and blooming princess, was scarcely in a more sorrowful predicament. He grew nervous and fretful. Old dismal nursery stories and all the witch lore of boyhood came back to his memory; and he crept to his bed like a criminal to the gallows, half afraid to fall asleep lest his mysterious companion should take a fancy to transform him into a horse, get him shod at the smithy, and ride him to a witch-meeting. And, as if to make the matter worse, his wife’s affection seemed to increase just in proportion as his troubles thickened upon him. She aggravated him with all manner of caresses and endearments. This was the drop too much. The poor husband recoiled from her as from a waking nightmare. His thoughts turned to New England; he longed to see once more the old homestead, with its tall well-sweep and butternut-trees by the roadside; and he sighed amidst the rich bottom-lands of his new home for his father’s rocky pasture, with its crop of stinted mulleins. So one cold November day, finding himself out of sight and hearing of his wife, he summoned courage to attempt an escape, and, resolutely turning his back on the West, plunged into the wilderness towards the sunrise. After a long and hard journey he reached his birthplace, and was kindly welcomed by his old friends. Keeping a close mouth with respect to his unlucky adventure in Ohio, he soon after married one of his schoolmates, and, by dint of persevering industry and economy, in a few years found himself in possession of a comfortable home.