Something was the matter with Mr. Joe and people were talking. Mr. Joe, as JJ once said, was the last of the good guys. He was kind and helpful, with not a mean bone in his body. He fixed things and he made things for people, and if they paid him, that was fine, and if they didn’t, well, that was fine, too. Sometimes payment was a newly baked loaf of bread or a pitcher of fresh milk, sometimes just a grateful smile and a hug.
When JJ, whose real name was Jimmy Jake, brought him his bike that had gotten smashed, Mr. Joe fixed it for nothing. When little Maryanne handed him a doll with a broken head, he made a new
head--much prettier than the old one-- and she paid him with her doll’s old tea set. When Mrs. Flummery needed a new dress for her daughter’s wedding, Mr. Joe gathered shimmering silks and satins and stitched them into a gown of great beauty. After the wedding, Mrs. Flummery gave him a piece of wedding cake in payment and he thanked her most kindly. And no matter what, whenever Mr. Joe worked, he would whistle a merry tune.
At least, that’s the way it used to be. But something had changed all that. Sounds of snoring now came from the workshop at odd times of the day. When a crying child arrived with a broken toy, he’d find Mr. Joe asleep at his bench. One Monday morning, when he was fitting a new dress on Greta Goslinger, he dozed off.
“Mr. Joe, Mr. Joe… wake up. Whatever is the matter?”
He mumbled something about not getting enough sleep at night.
“And why is that, may I ask?”
Greta settled herself on the bench next to him, preparing to listen.
“Well… it’s hard to explain. You see, every night, after a hard day’s work, I put on my nightshirt, fluff up the pillow, and hop into bed. Then just as my eyes are closing… suddenly there is a yank and a pull, and all the blankets and sheets have been taken off me and are on the other side of the bed. So I pull them back and cover myself, holding on tight. Over and over the same thing happens until, finally, I just come out here and try to sleep on my bench.”
“Oh my,” sighed Greta, “that sounds awful. Do you think you might be bewitched?”
Mr. Joe looked at her and pulled at his ear.
“Could be maybe,” he said. “Guess I’d best go ask the Wise Woman on Bare Mountain.”
Now, quite a ways out of town, on the tippy-top of Bare Mountain, there lived a woman who some believed to be a witch on account of her mysterious healing ways with animals and people. She lived alone except for the small birds and animals who came to her when they were ailing or hurt, or to get tasty bits of the gingered bread she baked in an outdoor oven of her own design. This Wise Woman rarely came to town, and then only to sell her gingered bread and buy supplies. She had been given a name at birth but nobody called her by it, if indeed they knew what it was.
Mr. Joe knew, of course, that she was no witch at all, but simply a person who preferred her own company and had learned through hard work and careful seeing the secrets of nature. He also knew her name, for truth to tell, she was his sister.
Early next morning, after still another sleepless night, Mr. Joe began the long, hard climb to the top of Bare Mountain, taking many naps along the way. The narrow, winding dirt road seemed to go on forever. Finally, a cool mountain breeze brought the scent of ginger mixed with pine smoke and he knew he was just about there.
“Ho there, Mathilda!” he called out when he saw the woman bending over her stove. She looked up and a delighted smile broke out on her face, for she did indeed love her younger brother.
“Welcome!” she called back, but when he came closer, her smile turned into a frown. “What ails you, my brother? You look a bit peaked. Come sit down and I’ll fix you some tea and tonic.”
“Simple weariness.” He grinned. “You can skip the tonic and give me a nice piece of that gingered bread I smell.”
So brother and sister sat around the oven chatting of this and that until Mathilda, noticing that her brother kept nodding off, finally spoke up. “Come, come now, Brother Joe, tell me what problem it is that brings you here.”
So, he told her of his troubles, and then asked, “Do you think that I’m bewitched?”
Mathilda laughed heartily. “Well, you don’t show any of the usual symptoms. Your feet are on straight and your eyes aren’t rolling around in your head and your hair seems to be growing right-side-up.”
She sat silently for awhile and then smiled at him.
“I do believe that a hudgeon has taken a fancy to you and come to stay. Perhaps if you let your guest have a bed of its own, it will leave yours and you’ll be able to sleep soundly again. ”
“A hudgeon? What in heaven’s name is that? Or who?”
Mathilda said thoughtfully, “That, dear brother, is for me to know and for you to find out.”
“I’ll tell you one thing though,” she added, so quietly he could barely hear her “hudgeons are kind of small, but don’t be fooled… they are very, very powerful.”
With that, she bade her brother farewell.