Salted With Fire

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Already, ere James's flight was discovered, morning saw Mr. Robertson on his way to do what he might for the redemption of one of whom he knew little or nothing: the policemen returning from their night's duty, found him already at the door of the office. He was at once admitted, for he was well known to most of them. He found the poor woman miserably recovered from the effects of her dissipation, and looking so woebegone, that the heart of the good man was immediately filled with profoundest pity, recognizing before him a creature whose hope was wasted to the verge of despair. She neither looked up nor spoke; but what he could see of her face appeared only ashamed, neither sullen nor vengeful. When he spoke to her, she lifted her head a little, but not her eyes to his face, confessing apparently that she had nothing to say for herself; and he saw her plainly at the point of taking refuge in the Dee. Tenderly, as if to the little one he had left behind him in bed, he spoke in her scarce listening ear child-soothing words of almost inarticulate sympathy, which yet his tone carried where they were meant to go. She lifted her lost eyes at length, saw his face, and burst into tears.

"Na, na," she cried, through tearing sobs, "ye canna help me, sir! There's naething 'at you or onybody can dee for me! But I'm near the mou o' the pit, and God be thankit, I'll be ower the rim o' 't or I hae grutten my last greit oot!--For God's sake gie me a drink--a drink o' onything!"

"I daurna gie ye onything to ca' drink," answered the minister, who could scarcely speak for the swelling in his throat. "The thing to dee ye guid is a cup o' het tay! Ye canna hae had a moofu' this mornin! I hae a cab waitin me at the door, and ye'll jist get in, my puir bairn, and come awa hame wi' me! My wife'll be doon afore we win back, and she'll hae a cup o' tay ready for ye in a moment! You and me 'ill hae oor brakfast thegither."

"Ken ye what ye're sayin, sir? I daurna luik an honest wuman i' the face. I'm sic as ye ken naething aboot."

"I ken a heap aboot fowk o' a' kin's--mair a heap, I'm thinkin, nor ye ken yersel!--I ken mair aboot yersel, tee, nor ye think; I hae seen ye i' my ain kirk mair nor ance or twice. The Sunday nicht afore last I was preachin straucht intil yer bonny face, and saw ye greitin, and maist grat mysel. Come awa hame wi' me, my dear; my wife's anither jist like mysel, an'll turn naething to ye but the smilin side o' her face, I s' un'ertak! She's a fine, herty, couthy, savin kin' o' wuman, my wife! Come ye til her, and see!"

Isy rose to her feet.

"Eh, but I would like to luik ance mair intil the face o' a bonny, clean wuman!" she said. "I'll gang, sir," she went on, with sudden resolve "-- only, I pray ye, sir, mak speed, and tak me oot o' the sicht o'fowk!"

"Ay, ay, come awa; we s' hae ye oot o' this in a moment," answered Mr. Robertson.--"Put the fine doon to me," he whispered to the inspector as they passed him on their way out.

The man returned his nod, and took no further notice.

"I thoucht that was what would come o' 't!" he murmured to himself, looking after them with a smile. But indeed he knew little of what was going to come of it!

The good minister, whose heart was the teacher of his head, and who was not ashamed either of himself or his companion, showed Isy into their little breakfast-parlour, and running up the stair to his wife, told her he had brought the woman home, and wanted her to come down at once. Mrs. Robertson, who was dressing her one child, hurried her toilet, gave over the little one to the care of her one servant, and made haste to welcome the poor shivering night-bird, waiting with ruffled feathers below. When she opened the door, the two women stood for a moment silently gazing on each other--then the wife opened her arms wide, and the girl fled to their shelter; but her strength failing her on the way, she fell to the floor. Instantly the other was down by her side. The husband came to her help; and between them they got her at once on the little couch.

"Shall I get the brandy?" said Mrs. Robertson.

"Try a cup of tea," he answered.

His wife made haste, and soon had the tea poured out and cooling. But Isy still lay motionless. Her hostess raised the helpless head upon her arm, put a spoonful of the tea to her lips, and found to her joy that she tried to swallow it. The next minute she opened her eyes, and would have risen; but the rescuing hand held her down.

"I want to tell ye," moaned Isy with feeble expostulation, "'at ye dinna ken wha ye hae taen intil yer hoose! Lat me up to get my breath, or I'll no be able to tell ye."

"Drink your tea," answered the other, "and then say what you like. There's no hurry. You'll have time enough."

The poor girl opened her eyes wide, and gazed for a moment at Mrs. Robertson. Then she took the cup and drank the tea. Her new friend went on--

"You must just be content to bide where you are a day or two. Ye're no to fash yersel aboot onything: I have clothes enough to give you all the change you can want. Hold your tongue, please, and finish your tea."

"Eh, mem," cried Isy, "fowk 'ill say ill o' ye, gien they see the like o' me in yer hoose!"

"Lat them say, and say 't again! What's fowk but muckle geese!"

"But there's the minister and his character!" she persisted.

"Hoots! what cares the minister?" said his wife. "Speir at him there, what he thinks o' clash."

"'Deed," answered her husband, "I never heedit it eneuch to tell! There's but ae word I heed, and that's my Maister's!"

"Eh, but ye canna lift me oot o' the pit!" groaned the poor girl.

"God helpin, I can," returned the minister. "--But ye're no i' the pit yet by a lang road; and oot o' that road I s' hae ye, please God, afore anither nicht has darkent!"

"I dinna ken what's to come o' me!" again she groaned.

"That we'll sune see! Brakfast's to come o' ye first, and syne my wife and me we'll sit in jeedgment upo ye, and redd things up. Min' ye're to say what ye like, and naither ill fowk nor unco guid sail come nigh ye."

A pitiful smile flitted across Isy's face, and with it returned the almost babyish look that used to form part of her charm. Like an obedient child, she set herself to eat and drink what she could; and when she had evidently done her best--

"Now put up your feet again on the sofa, and tell us everything," said the minister.

"No," returned Isy; "I'm not at liberty to tell you everything."

"Then tell us what you please--so long as it's true, and that I am sure it will be," he rejoined.

"I will, sir," she answered.

For several moments she was silent, as if thinking how to begin; then, after a gasp or two,--

"I'm not a good woman," she began. "Perhaps I am worse than you think me.-- Oh, my baby! my baby!" she cried, and burst into tears.

"There's nae that mony o' 's just what ither fowk think us," said the minister's wife. "We're in general baith better and waur nor that.--But tell me ae thing: what took ye, last nicht, straucht frae the kirk to the public? The twa haudna weel thegither!"

"It was this, ma'am," she replied, resuming the more refined speech to which, since living at Deemouth, she had been less accustomed--"I had a shock that night from suddenly seeing one in the church whom I had thought never to see again; and when I got into the street, I turned so sick that some kind body gave me whisky, and that was how, not having been used to it for some time, that I disgraced myself. But indeed, I have a much worse trouble and shame upon me than that--one you would hardly believe, ma'am!"

"I understand," said Mrs. Robertson, modifying her speech also the moment she perceived the change in that of her guest: "you saw him in church--the man that got you into trouble! I thought that must be it!--won't you tell me all about it?"

"I will not tell his name. I was the most in fault, for I knew better; and I would rather die than do him any more harm!--Good morning, ma'am!--I thank you kindly, sir! Believe me I am not ungrateful, whatever else I may be that is bad."

She rose as she spoke, but Mrs. Robertson got to the door first, and standing between her and it, confronted her with a smile.

"Don't think I blame you for holding your tongue, my dear. I don't want you to tell. I only thought it might be a relief to you. I believe, if I were in the same case--or, at least, I hope so--that hot pincers wouldn't draw his name out of me. What right has any vulgar inquisitive woman to know the thing gnawing at your heart like a live serpent? I will never again ask you anything about him.--There! you have my promise!--Now sit down again, and don't be afraid. Tell me what you please, and not a word more. The minister is sure to find something to comfort you."

"What can anybody say or do to comfort such as me, ma'am? I am lost--lost out of sight! Nothing can save me! The Saviour himself wouldn't open the door to a woman that left her suckling child out in the dark night!-- That's what I did!" she cried, and ended with a wail as from a heart whose wound eternal years could never close.

In a while growing a little calmer--

"I would not have you think, ma'am," she resumed, "that I wanted to get rid of the darling. But my wits went all of a sudden, and a terror, I don't know of what, came upon me. Could it have been the hunger, do you think? I laid him down in the heather, and ran from him. How far I went, I do not know. All at once I came to myself, and knew what I had done, and ran to take him up. But whether I lost my way back, or what I did, or how it was, I cannot tell, only I could not find him! Then for a while I think I must have been clean out of my mind, and was always seeing him torn by the foxes, and the corbies picking out his eyes. Even now, at night, every now and then, it comes back, and I cannot get the sight out of my head! For a while it drove me to drink, but I got rid of that until just last night, when again I was overcome.--Oh, if I could only keep from seeing the beasts and birds at his little body when I'm falling asleep!"

She gave a smothered scream, and hid her face in her hands. Mrs. Robertson, weeping herself, sought to comfort her, but it seemed in vain.

"The worst of it is," Isy resumed, "--for I must confess everything, ma'am!--is that I cannot tell what I may have done in the drink. I may even have told his name, though I remember nothing about it! It must be months, I think, since I tasted a drop till last night; and now I've done it again, and I'm not fit he should ever cast a look at me! My heart's just like to break when I think I may have been false to him, as well as false to his child! If all the devils would but come and tear me, I would say, thank ye, sirs!"

"My dear," came the voice of the parson from where he sat listening to every word she uttered, "my dear, naething but the han' o' the Son o' Man'll come nigh ye oot o' the dark, saft-strokin yer hert, and closin up the terrible gash intil't. I' the name o' God, the saviour o' men, I tell ye, dautie, the day 'ill come whan ye'll smile i' the vera face o' the Lord himsel, at the thoucht o' what he has broucht ye throuw! Lord Christ, haud a guid grup o' thy puir bairn and hers, and gie her back her ain. Thy wull be deen!--and that thy wull's a' for redemption!--Gang on wi' yer tale, my lassie."

"'Deed, sir, I can say nae mair--and seem to hae nae mair to say.--I'm some--some sick like!"

She fell back on the sofa, white as death.

The parson was a big man; he took her up in his arms, and carried her to a room they had always ready on the chance of a visit from "one of the least of these."

At the top of the stair stood their little daughter, a child of five or six, wanting to go down to her mother, and wondering why she was not permitted.

"Who is it, moder?" she whispered, as Mrs. Robertson passed her, following her husband and Isy. "Is she very dead?"

"No, darling," answered her mother; "it is an angel that has lost her way, and is tired--so tired!--You must be very quiet, and not disturb her. Her head is going to ache very much."

The child turned and went down the stair, step by step, softly, saying--

"I will tell my rabbit not to make any noise--and to be as white as he can."

Once more they succeeded in bringing back to the light of consciousness her beclouded spirit. She woke in a soft white bed, with two faces of compassion bending over her, closed her eyes again with a smile of sweet content, and was soon wrapt in a wholesome slumber.

In the meantime, the caitiff minister had reached his manse, and found a ghastly loneliness awaiting him--oh, how much deeper than that of the woman he had forsaken! She had lost her repute and her baby; he had lost his God! He had never seen his shape, and had not his word abiding in him; and now the vision of him was closed in an unfathomable abyss of darkness, far, far away from any point his consciousness could reach! The signs of God were around him in the Book, around him in the world, around him in his own existence--but the signs only! God did not speak to him, did not manifest himself to him. God was not where James Blatherwick had ever sought him; he was not in any place where was the least likelihood of his ever looking for or finding him!

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