Salted With Fire

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On the morning of a certain Saturday, therefore, which day of the week he always made a holiday, he resolved to let her know without further delay that he loved her; and the rather that on the next day he was engaged to preach for a brother clergyman at Deemouth, and felt that, his fate with Maggie unknown, his mind would not be cool enough for him to do well in the pulpit. But neither disappointment nor a fresh love had yet served to set him free from his old vanity or arrogance: he regarded his approaching declaration as about to confer great honour as well as favour upon the damsel of low estate, about to be invited to share in his growing distinction. In his late disappointment he had asked a lady to descend a little from her social pedestal, in the belief that he offered her a greater than proportionate counter-elevation; and now in his suit to Maggie he was almost unable to conceive a possibility of failure. When she would have shown him into the kitchen, he took her by the arm, and leading her to the ben-end, at once began his concocted speech. Scarcely had she gathered his meaning, however, when he was checked by her startled look.

"And what wad ye hae me dee wi' my bairn?" she asked instantly, without sign of perplexity, smiling on the little one as at some absurdity in her arms rather than suggested to her mind.

But the minister was sufficiently in love to disregard the unexpected indication. His pride was indeed a little hurt, but he resisted any show of offence, reflecting that her anxiety was not altogether an unnatural one.

"Oh, we shall easily find some experienced mother," he answered, "who will understand better than you even how to take care of him!"

"Na, na!" she rejoined. "I hae baith a father and a wean to luik efter; and that's aboot as muckle as I'll ever be up til!"

So saying, she rose and carried the little one up to the room her father now occupied, nor cast a single glance in the direction of her would-be lover.

Now at last he was astonished. Could it mean that she had not understood him? It could not be that she did not appreciate his offer! Her devotion to the child was indeed absurdly engrossing, but that would soon come right! He could have no fear of such a rivalry, however unpleasant at the moment! That little vagrant to come between him and the girl he would make his wife!

He glanced round him: the room looked very empty! He heard her oft- interrupted step through the thin floor: she was lavishing caresses on the senseless little animal! He caught up his hat, and with a flushed face went straight to the soutar where he sat at work.

"I have come to ask you, Mr. MacLear, if you will give me your daughter to be my wife!" he said.

"Ow, sae that's it!" returned the soutar, without raising his eyes.

"You have no objection, I hope?" continued the minister, finding him silent.

"What says she hersel? Ye comena to me first, I reckon!"

"She said, or implied at least, that she could not leave the child. But she cannot mean that!"

"And what for no?--There's nae need for me to objeck!"

"But I shall soon persuade her to withdraw that objection!"

"Then I should hae objections--mair nor ane--to put to the fore!"

"You surprise me! Is not a woman to leave father and mother and cleave to her husband?"

"Ow ay--sae be the woman is his wife! Than lat nane sun'er them!--But there's anither sayin, sir, that I doobt may hae something to dee wi' Maggie's answer!"

"And what, pray, may that be?"

"That man or woman must leave father and mother, wife and child, for the sake o' the Son o' Man."

"You surely are not papist enough to think that means a minister is not to marry?"

"Not at all, sir; but I doobt that's what it'll come til atween you and Maggie!"

"You mean that she will not marry?"

"I mean that she winna merry you, sir."

"But just think how much more she could do for Christ as the minister's wife!"

"I'm 'maist convinced she wad coont merryin you as tantamount to refusin to lea' a' for the Son o' Man."

"Why should she think that?"

"Because, sae far as I see, she canna think that ye hae left a' for him."

"Ah, that is what you have been teaching her! She does not say that of herself! You have not left her free to choose!"

"The queston never came up atween's. She's perfecly free to tak her ain gait--and she kens she is!--Ye dinna seem to think it possible she sud tak his wull raither nor yours!--that the love o' Christ should constrain her ayont the love offert her by Jeames Bletherwick!--We hae conversed aboot ye, sir, but niver differt!"

"But allowing us--you and me--to be of different opinions on some points, must that be a reason why she and I should not love one another?"

"No reason whatever, sir--if ye can and do: that point would be already settlet. But ye winna get Maggie to merry ye sae long as she disna believe ye loe her Lord as well as she loes him hersel. It's no a common love that Maggie beirs to her Lord; and gien ye loed her wi' a luve worthy o' her, ye would see that!"

"Then you will promise me not to interfere?"

"I'll promise ye naething, sir, excep to do my duty by her--sae far as I understan' what that duty is. Gien I thoucht--which the God o' my life forbid!--that Maggie didna lo'e him as weel at least as I lo'e him, I would gang upo' my auld knees til her, to entreat her to loe him wi' a' her heart and sowl and stren'th and min';--and whan I had done that, she micht merry wha she wad--hangman or minister: no a word would I say! For trouble she maun hae, and trouble she wull get--I thank my God, who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not!"

"Then I am free to do my best to win her?"

"Ye are, sir; and mair--afore the morn's mornin, I winna pass a word wi' her upo the subjeck."

"Thank you, sir," returned the minister, and took his leave.

"A fine lad! a fine lad!" said the soutar aloud to himself, as he resumed the work for a moment interrupted,"--but no clear--no crystal-clear--no clear like the Son o' Man!"

He looked up, and saw his daughter in the doorway.

"No a word, lassie!" he cried. "I'm no for ye this meenute.--No a word to me aboot onything or onybody the day, but what's absolute necessar!"

"As ye wull! father," rejoined Maggie.--"I'm gaein oot to seek auld Eppy; she was intil the baker's shop a meenute ago!--The bairnie's asleep."

"Vera weel! Gien I hear him, I s' atten' til 'im," answered the soutar.

"Thank ye, father," returned Maggie, and left the house.

But the minister, having to start that same afternoon for Deemouth, and feeling it impossible, things remaining as they were, to preach at his ease, had been watching the soutar's door: he saw it open and Maggie appear. For a moment he flattered himself she was coming to look for him, in order to tell him how sorry she was for her late behaviour to him. But her start when first she became aware of his presence, did not fail, notwithstanding his conceit, to satisfy him that such was not her intent. He made haste to explain his presence.

"I've been waiting all this time on the chance of seeing you, Margaret!" he said. "I am starting within an hour or so for Deemouth, but could not bear to go without telling you that your father has no objection to my saying to you what I please. He means to have a talk with you to-morrow morning, and as I cannot possibly get back from Deemouth before Monday, I must now express the hope that he will not succeed in persuading you to doubt the reality of my love. I admire your father more than I can tell you, but he seems to hold the affections God has given us of small account compared with his judgment of the strength and reality of them."

"Did he no tell ye I was free to do or say what I liked?" rejoined Maggie rather sharply.

"Yes; he did say something to that effect."

"Then, for mysel, and i' the name o' my father, I tell ye, Maister Bletherwick, I dinna care to see ye again."

"Do you mean what you say, Margaret?" rejoined the minister, in a voice that betrayed not a little genuine emotion.

"I do mean it," she answered.

"Not if I tell you that I am both ready and willing to take the child and bring him up as my own?"

"He wouldna be yer ain!"

"Quite as much as yours!"

"Hardly," she returned, with a curious little laugh. "But, as I daur say my father tellt ye, I canna believe ye lo'e God wi' a' yer hert."

"Dare you say that for yourself, Margaret?"

"No; but I do want to love God wi' my whole hert. Mr. Bletherwick, are ye a rael Christian? Or are ye sure ye're no a hypocreet? I wad like to ken. But I dinna believe ye ken yersel!"

"Well, perhaps I do not. But I see there is no occasion to say more!"

"Na, nane," answered Maggie.

He lifted his hat, and turned away to the coach-office.

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