Coals of Fire by Unknown
Guy Morgan came in from school with rapid step and impetuous manner. His
mother looked up from her work. There was a round, red spot on his
cheek, and an ominous glitter in his eyes. She knew the signs. His
naturally fierce temper had been stirred in some way to a heat that had
kindled his whole nature. He tossed down his cap, threw himself on an
ottoman at her feet, and then said, with still a little of the heat of
his temper in his tone, "Never say, after this, that I don't love you,
"I think I never did say so," she answered gently, as she passed her
hand over the tawny locks, and brushed them away from the flushed brow.
"But what special thing have you done to prove your love for me just
"Taken a blow without returning it." She bent over and kissed her boy.
He was fifteen years old, a tall fellow with strong muscles; but he had
not grown above liking his mother's kisses.
Then she said softly, "Tell me all about it, Guy."
"O, it was Dick Osgood! You know what a mean fellow he is, anyhow. He
had been tormenting some of the younger boys till I could not stand it.
Every one of them is afraid of him.
"I told him he ought to be ashamed of himself, and tried to make him
leave off, till, after a while, he turned from them, and coming to me,
he struck me in the face. I believe the mark is there now;" and he
turned the other cheek toward his mother. Her heart was filled with
sympathy and secret indignation.
"Well," she said, "and you—what did you do?"
"I remembered what I had promised you for this year, and I took
it—think of it, mother—took it, and never touched him! I just looked
into his eyes, and said, 'If I should strike you back, I should lower
myself to your level.'
"He laughed a great, scornful laugh, and said, 'You hear, boys, Morgan's
turned preacher. You'd better wait, sir, before you lecture me on my
behavior to the little ones, till you have pluck enough to defend them.
I've heard about the last impudence I shall from a coward like you.'
"The boys laughed, and some of them said, 'Good for you, Osgood!' and I
came home. I had done it for the sake of my promise to you! for I'm
stronger than he is, any day; and you know, mother, whether there's a
drop of coward's blood in my veins. I thought you were the one to
comfort me; though it isn't comfort I want so much, either. I just want
you to release me from that promise, and let me go back and thrash him."
Mrs. Morgan's heart thrilled with silent thanksgiving. Her boy's temper
had been her greatest grief. His father was dead, and she had brought
him up alone, and sometimes she was afraid her too great tenderness had
She had tried in vain to curb his passionate nature. It was a power
which no bands could bind. She had concluded at last that the only hope
was in enlisting his own powerful will, and making him resolve to
conquer himself. Now he had shown himself capable of self-control. In
the midst of his anger he had remembered his pledge to her, and had kept
it. He would yet be his own master,—this brave boy of hers,—and the
kingdom of his own mind would be a goodly sovereignty.
"Better heap coals of fire on his head!" she said quietly.
"Yes, he deserves a good scorching,"—pretending to misunderstand
her,—"but I should not have thought you would be so revengeful."
"You know well enough what kind of coals I mean, and who it was that
said, 'If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink.'
I can not release you from your promise till the year for which you made
it is over.
"I think that the Master who told us to render good for evil, understood
all the wants and passions of humanity better than any other teacher has
ever understood them. I am sure that what He said must be wise and right
and best. I want you to try His way first. If that fails, there will be
time enough after this year to make a different experiment."
"Well, I promised you," he said, "and I'll show you that, at least, I'm
strong enough to keep my word until you release me from it. I think,
though, you don't quite know how hard it is."
Mrs. Morgan knew that it was very hard for a true, brave-hearted boy to
be called a coward; but she knew, also, that the truest bravery on earth
is the bravery of endurance.
"Look out for the coals of fire!" she said smilingly, as her boy started
for school the next morning. "Keep a good watch, and I'm pretty sure
you'll find them before the summer is over."
But he came home at night depressed and a little gloomy. There had
always been a sort of rivalry between him and Dick Osgood, and now the
boys seemed to have gone over to the stronger side, and he had that
bitter feeling of humiliation and disgrace, which is as bitter to a boy
as the sense of defeat ever is to a man.
The weeks went on, and the feeling wore away a little. Still the memory
of that blow rankled in Guy's mind, and made him unsocial and ill at
ease. His mother watched him with some anxiety, but did not interfere.
She had the true wisdom to leave him to learn some of the lessons of
At length came the last day of school, followed next day by a picnic, in
which all the scholars, superintended by their teachers, were to join.
Guy Morgan hesitated a little and then concluded to go. The place
selected was a lovely spot, known in all the neighborhood as "the old
mill." It was on the banks of the Quassit River, where the stream ran
fast, and the grass was green, and great trees with drooping boughs shut
away the July sunlight.
Among the rest were Dick Osgood and his little sister Hetty, the one
human being whom he seemed really and tenderly to love. The teacher's
eyes were on him for this one day, and he did not venture to insult the
older scholars or domineer over the little ones. He and Guy kept apart
as much as they conveniently could; and Guy entered into the spirit of
the day, and really enjoyed it much better than he had anticipated.
Dinner was spread on the grass, and though it was eaten with pewter
spoons, and out of crockery of every hue and kind, it was certainly
eaten with greater enjoyment and keener appetite than if it had been
served in the finest dining room.
They made dinner last as long as they could, and then they scattered
here and there, to enjoy themselves as they liked.
On the bridge, just above the falls, stood a little group, fishing.
Among them were Dick Osgood and his sister. Guy Morgan, always deeply
interested in the study of botany, was a little distance away, with one
of the teachers, pulling in pieces a curious flower.
Suddenly a wild cry arose above the sultry stillness of the summer
afternoon and the hum of quiet voices round. It was Dick Osgood's cry:
"She's in, boys! Hetty's in the river, and I can't swim. O, save her!
save her! Will no one try?"
Before the words were out of his lips, they all saw Guy Morgan coming
with flying feet,—a race for life. He unbuttoned coat and vest as he
ran, and cast them off as he neared the bridge. He kicked off his shoes,
and threw himself over.
They heard him strike the water. He went under, rose again, and then
struck out toward the golden head, which just then rose for the second
time. Every one who stood there lived moments which seemed hours.
Mr. Sharp, the teacher with whom Guy had been talking, and some of the
boys, got a strong rope, and running down the stream, threw it out on
the water just above the falls, where Guy could reach it if he could get
so near the shore—if!
The water was very deep where Hetty had fallen in, and the river ran
fast. It was sweeping the poor child on, and Dick Osgood threw himself
upon the bridge, and sobbed and screamed. When she rose the third time,
she was near the falls. A moment more and she would go over, down on
the jagged, cruel rocks beneath.
But that time Guy Morgan caught her—caught her by her long, glistening,
golden hair. Mr. Sharp shouted to him. He saw the rope, and swam toward
it, his strong right arm beating the water back with hammer-strokes—his
left motionless, holding his white burden.
"O God!" Mr. Sharp prayed fervently, "keep him up, spare his strength a
little longer, a little longer!" A moment more and he reached the rope
and clung to it desperately, while teacher and boys drew the two in over
the slippery edge, out of the horrible, seething waters, and took them
in their arms. But they were both silent and motionless. Mr. Sharp spoke
Guy's name, but he did not answer. Would either of them ever answer
Teachers and scholars went to work alike for their restoration. It was
well that there was intelligent guidance, or their best efforts might
Guy, being the stronger, was first to revive. "Is Hetty safe?" he asked.
"Only God knows?" Mr. Sharp answered. "We are doing our best."
It was almost half an hour before Hetty opened her blue eyes. Meantime
Dick had been utterly frantic and helpless. He had sobbed and groaned
and even prayed, in a wild fashion of his own, which perhaps the pitying
Father understood and answered.
When he heard his sister's voice, he was like one beside himself with
joy; but Mr. Sharp quieted him by a few low, firm words, which no one
Some of the larger girls arranged one of the wagons, and received Hetty
Mr. Sharp drove home with Guy Morgan. When he reached his mother's gate,
Guy insisted on going in alone. He thought it might alarm her to see
some one helping him; besides, he wanted her a few minutes quite to
himself. So Mr. Sharp drove away, and Guy went in. His mother saw him
coming, and opened the door.
"Where have you been?" she cried, seeing his wet, disordered plight.
"In Quassit River, mother, fishing out Hetty Osgood."
Then, while she was busying herself with preparations for his comfort,
he quietly told his story. His mother's eyes were dim, and her heart
"O, if you had been drowned, my boy, my darling!" she cried, hugging
him close, wet as he was. "If I had been there, Guy, I couldn't have let
you do it."
"I went in after the coals of fire, mother."
Mrs. Morgan knew how to laugh as well as to cry over her boy. "I've
heard of people smart enough to set the river on fire," she said, "but
you are the first one I ever knew who went in there after the coals."
The next morning came a delegation of the boys, with Dick Osgood at
their head. Every one was there who had seen the blow which Dick struck,
and heard his taunts afterward. They came into the sitting room, and
said their say to Guy before his mother. Dick was spokesman.
"I have come," he said, "to ask you to forgive me. I struck you a mean,
unjustifiable blow. You received it with noble contempt. To provoke you
into fighting, I called you a coward, meaning to bring you down by some
means to my own level. You bore that, too, with a greatness I was not
great enough to understand; but I do understand it now.
"I have seen you—all we boys have seen you—face to face with Death,
and have seen that you were not afraid of him. You fought with him, and
came off ahead; and we all are come to do honor to the bravest boy in
town; and I to thank you for a life a great deal dearer and better worth
saving than my own."
Dick broke down just there, for the tears choked him.
Guy was as grand in his forgiveness as he had been in his forbearance.
Hetty and her father and mother came afterward, and Guy found himself a
hero before he knew it. But none of it all moved him as did his mother's
few fond words, and the pride in her joyful eyes. He had kept, with
honor and with peace, his pledge to her, and he had his reward. The
Master's way of peace had not missed him.