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Coals of Fire - Part 2

January 2009

     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 again?
     Teachers and scholars went to work alike for their restoration. It was well that there was intelligent guidance, or their best efforts might have failed.
     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 else understood.
     Some of the larger girls arranged one of the wagons, and received Hetty into it.
     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 throbbed chokingly.
     "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.

- The End

The Story "Coals of Fire"
is public domain.
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