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Coals of Fire - Part 1

December 2008

     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, mother."
     "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 now?"
     "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 spoiled him.
     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 life alone.
     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.

- to be continued

The Story "Coals of Fire"
is public domain.