Salted With Fire

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In the meantime the said child, a splendid boy, was the delight of the humble dwelling to which Maggie had borne him in triumph. But the mind of the soutar was not a little exercised as to how far their right in the boy approached the paternal: were they justified in regarding him as their love-property, before having made exhaustive inquiry as to who could claim, and might re-appropriate him? For nothing could liberate the finder of such a thing from the duty of restoring it upon demand, seeing there could be no assurance that the child had been deliberately and finally abandoned! Maggie, indeed, regarded the baby as absolutely hers by right of rescue; but her father asked himself whether by appropriating him she might not be depriving his mother of the one remaining link between her and humanity, and so abandoning her helpless to the Enemy. Surely to take and withhold from any woman her child, must be to do what was possible toward dividing her from the unseen and eternal! And he saw that, for the sake of his own child also, and the truth in her, both she and he must make every possible endeavour to restore the child to his mother.

So the next time that Maggie brought the crowing infant to the kitchen, her father, who sat as usual under the small window, to gather upon his work all the light to be had, said, with one quick glance at the child--

"Eh, the bonny, glaid cratur! Wha can say 'at sic as he, 'at haena the twa in ane to see til them, getna frae Himsel a mair partic'lar and carefu' regaird, gien that war poassible, than ither bairns! I would fain believe that same!"

"Eh, father, but ye aye think bonny!" exclaimed Maggie. "Some hae been dingin 't in upo me 'at sic as he maist aye turn oot onything but weel, whan they step oot intil the warl. Eh, but we maun tak care o' 'im, father! Whaur would I be wi'oot you at my back!"

"And God at the back o' baith, bairn!" rejoined the soutar. "It's thinkable that the Almichty may hae special diffeeculty wi sic as he, but nane can jeedge o' ony thing or body till they see the hin'er en' o' 't a'. But I'm thinkin it maun aye be harder for ane that hasna his ain mither to luik til. Ony ither body, be she as guid as she may, maun be but a makshift!-- For ae thing he winna get the same naitral disciplene 'at ilka mither cat gies its kitlins!"

"Maybe! maybe!--I ken I couldna ever lay a finger upo' the bonny cratur mysel!" said Maggie.

"There 'tis!" returned her father. "And I dinna think," he went on, "we could expec muckle frae the wisdom o' the mither o' 'm, gien she had him. I doobt she micht turn oot to be but a makshift hersel! There's mony aboot 'im 'at'll be sair eneuch upon 'im, but nane the wiser for that! Mony ane'll luik upon 'im as a bairn in whause existence God has had nae share-- or jist as muckle share as gies him a grup o' 'im to gie 'im his licks! There's a heap o' mystery aboot a'thing, Maggie, and that frae the vera beginnin to the vera en'! It may be 'at yon bairnie's i' the waur danger jist frae haein you and me, Maggie! Eh, but I wuss his ain mither war gien back til him! And wha can tell but she's needin him waur nor he's needin her--though there maun aye be something he canna get--'cause ye're no his ain mither, Maggie, and I'm no even his ain gutcher!"

The adoptive mother burst into a howl.

"Father, father, ye'll brak the hert o' me!" she almost yelled, and laid the child on the top of her father's hands in the very act of drawing his waxed ends.

Thus changing him perforce from cobbler to nurse, she bolted from the kitchen, and up the little stair; and throwing herself on her knees by the bedside, sought, instinctively and unconsciously, the presence of him who sees in secret. But for a time she had nothing to say even to him, and could only moan on in the darkness beneath her closed eyelids.

Suddenly she came to herself, remembering that she too had abandoned her child: she must go back to him!

But as she ran, she heard loud noises of infantile jubilation, and re-entering the kitchen, was amazed to see the soutar's hands moving as persistently if not quite so rapidly as before: the child hung at the back of the soutar's head, in the bight of the long jack-towel from behind the door, holding on by the gray hair of his occiput. There he tugged and crowed, while his care-taker bent over his labour, circumspect in every movement, nor once forgetting the precious thing on his back, who was evidently delighted with his new style of being nursed, and only now and then made a wry face at some movement of the human machine too abrupt for his comfort. Evidently he took it all as intended solely for his pleasure.

Maggie burst out laughing through the tears that yet filled her eyes, and the child, who could hear but not see her, began to cry a little, so rousing the mother in her to a sense that he was being treated too unceremoniously; when she bounded to liberate him, undid the towel, and seated herself with him in her lap. The grandfather, not sorry to be released, gave his shoulders a little writhing shake, laughed an amused laugh, and set off boring and stitching and drawing at redoubled speed.

"Weel, Maggie?" he said, with loving interrogation, but without looking up.

"I saw ye was richt, father, and it set me greitin sae sair that I forgot the bairn, and you, father, as weel. Gang on, please, and say what ye think fit: it's a' true!"

"There's little left for me to say, lassie, noo ye hae begun to say't to yersel. But, believe me, though ye can never be the bairn's ain mither, she can never be til 'im the same ye hae been a'ready, whatever mair or better may follow. The pairt ye hae chosen is guid eneuch never to be taen frae ye--i' this warl or the neist!"

"Thank ye, father, for that! I'll dee for him what I can, ohn forgotten that he's no mine but anither wuman's. I maunna tak frae her what's her ain!"

The soutar, especially while at his work, was always trying "to get," as he said, "into his Lord's company,"--now endeavouring, perhaps, to understand some saying of his, or now, it might be, to discover his reason for saying it just then and there. Often, also, he would be pondering why he allowed this or that to take place in the world, for it was his house, where he was always present and always at work. Humble as diligent disciple, he never doubted, when once a thing had taken place, that it was by his will it came to pass, but he saw that evil itself, originating with man or his deceiver, was often made to subserve the final will of the All-in-All. And he knew in his own self that much must first be set right there, before the will of the Father could be done in earth as it was in heaven. Therefore in any new development of feeling in his child, he could recognize the pressure of a guiding hand in the formation of her history; and was able to understand St. John where he says, "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." For first, foremost, and deepest of all, he positively and absolutely believed in the man whose history he found in the Gospel: that is, he believed not only that such a man once was, and that every word he then spoke was true, but he believed that that man was still in the world, and that every word he then spoke, had always been, still was, and always would be true. Therefore he also believed--which was more both to the Master and to John MacLear, his disciple--that the chief end of his conscious life must be to live in His presence, and keep his affections ever, afresh and constantly, turning toward him in hope and aspiration. Hence every day he felt afresh that he too was living in the house of God, among the things of the father of Jesus.

The life-influence of the soutar had already for some time, and in some measure, been felt at Tiltowie. In a certain far-off way, men seemed to surmise what he was about, although they were, one and all, unable to estimate the nature or value of his pursuit. What their idea of him was, may in a measure be gathered from the answer of the village-fool to the passer-by who said to him: "Weel, and what's yer soutar aboot the noo?" "Ow, as usual," answered the natural, "turnin up ilka muckle stane to luik for his maister aneth it!" For in truth he believed that the Lord of men was very often walking to and fro in the earthly kingdom of his Father, watching what was there going on, and doing his best to bring it to its true condition; that he was ever and always in the deepest sense present in the same, where he could, if he pleased, at any moment or in any spot, appear to whom he would. Never did John MacLear lift his eyes heavenward without a vague feeling that he might that very moment, catch a sight of the glory of his coming Lord; if ever he fixed his eyes on the far horizon, it was never without receiving a shadowy suggestion that, like a sail towering over the edge of the world, the first great flag of the Lord's hitherward march might that moment be rising between earth and heaven;--for certainly He would come unawares, and then who could tell what moment be might not set his foot on the edge of the visible, and come out of the dark in which he had hitherto clothed himself as with a garment--to appear in the ancient glory of his transfiguration! Thus he was ever ready to fall a watching--and thus, also, never did he play the false prophet, with cries of "Lo here!" and "Lo there!" And even when deepest lost in watching, the lowest whisper of humanity seemed always loud enough to recall him to his "work alive"--lest he should be found asleep at His coming. His was the same live readiness that had opened the ear of Maggie to the cry of the little one on the hill-side. As his daily work was ministration to the weary feet of his Master's men, so was his soul ever awake to their sorrows and spiritual necessities.

"There's a haill warl' o' bonny wark aboot me!" he would say. "I hae but to lay my han' to what's neist me, and it's sure to be something that wants deein! I'm clean ashamt sometimes, whan I wauk up i' the mornin, to fin' mysel deein naething!"

Every evening while the summer lasted, he would go out alone for a walk, generally toward a certain wood nigh the town; for there lay, although it was of no great extent, and its trees were small, a probability of escaping for a few moments from the eyes of men, and the chance of certain of another breed showing themselves.

"No that," he once said to Maggie, "I ever cared vera muckle aboot the angels: it's the man, the perfec man, wha was there wi' the Father afore ever an angel was h'ard tell o', that sen's me upo my knees! Whan I see a man that but minds me o' Him, my hert rises wi' a loup, as gien it wad 'maist lea' my body ahint it.--Love's the law o' the universe, and it jist works amazin!"

One day a man, seeing him approach in the near distance, and knowing he had not perceived his presence, lay down behind a great stone to watch "the mad soutar," in the hope of hearing him say something insane. As John came nearer, the man saw his lips moving, and heard sounds issue from them; but as he passed, nothing was audible but the same words repeated several times, and with the same expression of surprise and joy as if at something

for the first time discovered:--"Eh, Lord! Eh, Lord, I see! I
un'erstaun'!--Lord, I'm yer ain--to the vera deith!--a' yer ain!--Thy
father bless thee, Lord!--I ken ye care for noucht else!--Eh, but my
hert's glaid!--that glaid, I 'maist canna speyk!"

That man ever after spoke of the soutar with a respect that resembled awe.

After that talk with her father about the child and his mother, a certain silent change appeared in Maggie. People saw in her face an expression which they took to resemble that of one whose child was ill, and was expected to die. But what Maggie felt was only resignation to the will of her Lord: the child was not hers but the Lord's, lent to her for a season! She must walk softly, doing everything for him as under the eye of the Master, who might at any moment call to her, "Bring the child: I want him now!" And she soon became as cheerful as before, but never after quite lost the still, solemn look as of one in the eternal spaces, who saw beyond this world's horizon. She talked less with her father than hitherto, but at the same time seemed to live closer to him. Occasionally she would ask him to help her to understand something he had said; but even then he would not always try to make it plain; he might answer--

"I see, lassie, ye're no just ready for 't! It's true, though; and the day maun come whan ye'll see the thing itsel, and ken what it is; and that's the only w'y to win at the trowth o' 't! In fac', to see a thing, and ken the thing, and be sure it's true, is a' ane and the same thing!" Such a word from her father was always enough to still and content the girl.

Her delight in the child, instead of growing less, went on increasing because of the awe, rather than dread of having at last to give him up.

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