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SALTED WITH FIRE
By George Macdonald
"Whaur are ye aff til this bonny mornin', Maggie, my doo?" said the
soutar, looking up from his work, and addressing his daughter as she
stood in the doorway with her shoes in her hand.
"Jist ower to Stanecross, wi' yer leave, father, to speir the
mistress for a goupin or twa o' chaff: yer bed aneth ye's grown unco
"Hoot, the bed's weel eneuch, lassie!"
"Na, it's onything but weel eneuch! It's my pairt to luik efter my ain
father, and see there be nae k-nots aither in his bed or his parritch."
"Ye're jist yer mither owre again, my lass! - Weel, I winna miss ye that
sair, for the minister 'ill be in this mornin'."
"Hoo ken ye that, father?"
"We didna gree vera weel last nicht."
"I canna bide the minister - argle-barglin body!"
"Toots, bairn! I dinna like to hear ye speyk sae scornfulike o' the gude
man that has the care o' oor sowls!"
"It wad be mair to the purpose ye had the care o' his!"
"Sae I hae: hasna ilkabody the care o' ilk ither's?"
"Ay; but he preshumes upo' 't - and ye dinna; there's the differ!"
"Weel, but ye see, lassie, the man has nae insicht - nane to speak o',
that is; and it's pleased God to mak him a wee stoopid, and some thrawn
(_twisted_). He has nae notion even o' the wark I put intil thae wee bit
sheenie (_little shoes_) o' his - that I'm this moment labourin ower!"
"It's sair wastit upo' him 'at caana see the thoucht intil't!"
"Is God's wark wastit upo' you and me excep' we see intil't, and
The girl was silent. Her father resumed.
"There's three concernt i' the matter o' the wark I may be at: first,
my ain duty to the wark - that's me; syne him I'm working for - that's
the minister; and syne him 'at sets me to the wark - ye ken wha that is:
whilk o' the three wad ye hae me lea' oot o' the consideration?"
For another moment the girl continued silent; then she said -
"Ye maun be i' the richt, father! I believe 't, though I canna jist
_see_ 't. A body canna like a'body, and the minister's jist the ae man I
"Ay could ye, gi'en ye lo'ed the _ane_ as he oucht to be lo'ed, and as
ye maun learn to lo'e him."
"Weel I'm no come to that wi' the minister yet!"
"It's a trowth - but a sair pity, my dautie _(daughter - darling)_."
"He provokes me the w'y that he speaks to ye, father - him 'at's no fit
to tie the thong o' your shee!"
"The Maister would lat him tie his, and say _thank ye_!"
"It aye seems to me he has sic a scrimpit way o' believin'! It's no like
believin' at a'! He winna trust him for naething that he hasna his ain
word, or some ither body's for! Ca' ye that lippenin' til him?"
It was now the father's turn to be silent for a moment. Then he said, -
"Lea' the judgin' o' him to his ain maister, lassie. I ha'e seen him
whiles sair concernt for ither fowk."
"'At they wouldna hand wi' _him,_ and war condemnt in consequence - wasna
"I canna answer ye that, bairn."
"Weel, I ken he doesna like you - no ae wee bit. He's aye girdin at ye to
"May be: the mair's the need I sud lo'e him."
"But noo _can_ ye, father?"
"There's naething, o' late, I ha'e to be sae gratefu' for to _Him_ as
that I can. But I confess I had lang to try sair!"
"The mair I was to try, the mair I jist couldna."
"But ye could try; and He could help ye!"
"I dinna ken; I only ken that sae ye say, and I maun believe ye. Nane
the mair can I see hoo it's ever to be broucht aboot."
"No more can I, though I ken it can be. But just think, my ain Maggie,
hoo would onybody ken that ever ane o' 's was his disciple, gien we war
aye argle-barglin aboot the holiest things - at least what the minister
coonts the holiest, though may be I think I ken better? It's whan twa
o' 's strive that what's ca'd a schism begins, and I jist winna, please
God - and it does please him! He never said, Ye maun a' think the same
gait, but he did say, Ye man a' loe are anither, and no strive!"
"Ye dinna aye gang to his kirk, father!"
"Na, for I'm jist feared sometimes lest I should stop loein him. It
matters little about gaein to the kirk ilka Sunday, but it matters a
heap aboot aye loein are anither; and whiles he says things aboot the
mind o' God, sic that it's a' I can dee to sit still."
"Weel, father, I dinna believe that I can lo'e him ony the day; sae, wi'
yer leave, I s' be awa to Stanecross afore he comes."
"Gang yer wa's, lassie, and the Lord gang wi' ye, as ance he did wi'
them that gaed to Emmaus."
With her shoes in her hand, the girl was leaving the house when her
father called after her -
"Hoo's folk to ken that I provide for my ain, whan my bairn gangs
unshod? Tak aff yer shune gin ye like when ye're oot o' the toon."
"Are ye sure there's nae hypocrisy aboot sic a fause show, father?"
asked Maggie, laughing, "I maun hide them better!"
As she spoke she put the shoes in the empty bag she carried for the
chaff. "There's a hidin' o' what I hae - no a pretendin' to hae what I
haena! - Is' be hame in guid time for yer tay, father. - I can gang a heap
better withoot them!" she added, as she threw the bag over her shoulder.
"I'll put them on whan I come to the heather," she concluded.
"Ay, ay; gang yer wa's, and lea' me to the wark ye haena the grace to
adverteeze by weirin' o' 't."
Maggie looked in at the window as she passed it on her way, to get a
last sight of her father. The sun was shining into the little bare room,
and her shadow fell upon him as she passed him; but his form lingered
clear in the close chamber of her mind after she had left him far. And
it was not her shadow she had seen, but the shadow, rather, of a great
peace that rested concentred upon him as he bowed over his last, his
mind fixed indeed upon his work, but far more occupied with the affairs
of quite another region. Mind and soul were each so absorbed in its
accustomed labour that never did either interfere with that of the
other. His shoemaking lost nothing when he was deepest sunk in some
one or other of the words of his Lord, which he sought eagerly to
understand - nay, I imagine his shoemaking gained thereby. In his leisure
hours, not a great, he was yet an intense reader; but it was nothing in
any book that now occupied him; it was the live good news, the man Jesus
Christ himself. In thought, in love, in imagination, that man dwelt in
him, was alive in him, and made him alive. This moment He was with him,
had come to visit him - yet was never far from him - was present always
with an individuality that never quenched but was continually developing
his own. For the soutar absolutely believed in the Lord of Life, was
always trying to do the things he said, and to keep his words abiding in
him. Therefore was he what the parson called a mystic, and was the
most practical man in the neighbourhood; therefore did he make the best
shoes, because the Word of the Lord abode in him.
The door opened, and the minister came into the kitchen. The soutar
always worked in the kitchen, to be near his daughter, whose presence
never interrupted either his work or his thought, or even his
prayers - which often seemed as involuntary as a vital automatic impulse.
"It's a grand day!" said the minister. "It aye seems to me that just on
such a day will the Lord come, nobody expecting him, and the folk all
following their various callings - as when the flood came and astonished
The man was but reflecting, without knowing it, what the soutar had
been saying the last time they encountered; neither did he think, at the
moment, that the Lord himself had said something like it first.
"And I was thinkin, this vera meenute," returned the soutar, "sic a
bonny day as it was for the Lord to gang aboot amang his ain fowk. I
was thinkin maybe he was come upon Maggie, and was walkin wi' her up the
hill to Stanecross - nearer til her, maybe, nor she could hear or see or
"Ye're a deal taen up wi' vain imaiginins, MacLear!" rejoined the
minister, tartly. "What scriptur hae ye for sic a wanderin' invention,
o' no practical value?"
"'Deed, sir, what scriptur hed I for takin my brakwast this mornin, or
ony mornin? Yet I never luik for a judgment to fa' upon me for that!
I'm thinkin we dee mair things in faith than we ken - but no eneuch! no
eneuch! I was thankfu' for't, though, I min' that, and maybe that'll
stan' for faith. But gien I gang on this gait, we'll be beginnin as
we left aff last nicht, and maybe fa' to strife! And we hae to loe ane
anither, not accordin to what the ane thinks, or what the ither thinks,
but accordin as each kens the Maister loes the ither, for he loes the
twa o' us thegither."
"But hoo ken ye that he's pleased wi' ye?"
"I said naething aboot that: I said he loes you and me!"
"For that, he maun be pleast wi' ye!"
"I dinna think nane aboot that; I jist tak my life i' my han', and awa'
wi' 't til _Him_; - and he's never turned his face frae me yet. - Eh, sir!
think what it would be gien ever he did!"
"But we maunna think o' him ither than he would hae us think."
"That's hoo I'm aye hingin aboot his door, luikin for him."
"Weel, I kenna what to mak o' ye! I maun jist lea' ye to him!"
"Ye couldna dee a kinder thing! I desire naething better frae man or
minister than be left to Him."
"Weel, weel, see til yersel."
"I'll see to _him_, and try to loe my neebour - that's you, Mr. Pethrie.
I'll hae yer shune ready by Setterday, sir. I trust they'll be worthy
o' the feet that God made, and that hae to be shod by me. I trust and
believe they'll nowise distress ye, sir, or interfere wi' yer comfort
in preachin. I'll fess them hame mysel, gien the Lord wull, and that
"Na, na; dinna dee that; lat Maggie come wi' them. Ye wad only be puttin
me oot o' humour for the Lord's wark wi' yer havers!"
"Weel, I'll sen' Maggie - only ye wad obleege me by no seein her, for ye
micht put _her_ oot o' humour, sir, and she michtna gie yer sermon fair
play the morn!"
The minister closed the door with some sharpness.
In the meantime, Maggie was walking shoeless and bonnetless up the hill
to the farm she sought. It was a hot morning in June, tempered by a wind
from the north-west. The land was green with the slow-rising tide of
the young corn, among which the cool wind made little waves, showing the
brown earth between them on the somewhat arid face of the hill. A few
fleecy clouds shared the high blue realm with the keen sun. As she rose
to the top of the road, the gable of the house came suddenly in sight,
and near it a sleepy old gray horse, treading his ceaseless round at the
end of a long lever, too listless to feel the weariness of a labour
that to him must have seemed unprogressive, and, to anything young,
heart-breaking. Nor did it appear to give him any consolation to be
aware of the commotion he was causing on the other side of the wall,
where a threshing machine of an antiquated sort responded with multiform
movement to the monotony of his round-and-round.
Near by, a peacock, as conscious of his glorious plumage as indifferent
to the ugliness of his feet, kept time with undulating neck to the
motion of those same feet, as he strode with stagey gait across the
cornyard, now and then stooping to pick up a stray grain spitefully, and
occasionally erecting his superb neck to give utterance to a hideous cry
of satisfaction at his own beauty - a cry as unlike the beauty as ever
was discord to harmony. His glory, his legs and his voice, perplexed
Maggie with an unanalyzed sense of contradiction and unfitness.
Radiant with age and light, the old horse stood still just as the sun
touched the meridian; the hour of repose and food was come, and he knew
it; and at the same moment the girl, passing one of the green-painted
doors of the farm house, stopped at the other, the kitchen one. It stood
open, and in answer to her modest knock, a ruddy maid appeared, with
a question in her eyes, and a smile on her lips at sight of the
shoemaker's Maggie, whom she knew well. Maggie asked if She might see
"Here's soutar's Maggie wanting ye, mem!" said the maid and Mistress
Blatherwick who was close at hand, came; to which Maggie humbly but
confidently making her request had it as kindly granted, and followed
her to the barn to fill her pock with the light plumy covering of the
husk of the oats, the mistress of Stonecross helping her the while
and talking to her as she did so - for the soutar and his daughter were
favourites with her and her husband, and they had not seen either of
them for some while.
"Ye used to ken oor Maister Jeames I' the auld land-syne, Maggie!" for
the two has played together as children in the same school although
growth and difference in station had gradually put and end to
their intimacy so that it became the mother to refer to him with
circumspection, seeing that, in her eyes at least, Maister Jeames was
now far on the way to becoming a great man, being a divinity student;
for in the Scotch church, although it sets small store on apostolitic
descent, every Minister, until he has shown himself eccentic or
incapable of interesting a congregation, is regarded with quite as
much respect as in England is accorded to the claimant of a
phantom-priesthood; and therefore, prospectively, Jeames was to his
mother a man of no little note. Maggie remembered how, when a boy, he
had liked to talk with her father; and how her father would listen to
him with a curious look on his rugged face, while the boy set forth
the commonplaces of a lifeless theology with an occasional freshness
of logical presentation that at least interested himself. But she
remembered also that she had never heard the soutar on his side make
any attempt to lay open to the boy his stores of what one or two in the
place, one or two only, counted wisdom and knowledge.
"He's a gey clever laddie," he had said once to Maggie, "and gien he
gets his een open i' the coorse o' the life he's hardly yet ta'en hand
o', he'll doobtless see something; but he disna ken yet that there's
onything rael to be seen, ootside or inside o' him!" When he heard that
he was going to study divinity, he shook his head, and was silent.
"I'm jist hame frae peyin him a short veesit," Mrs. Blatherwick went on.
"I cam hame but twa nichts ago. He's lodged wi' a dacent widow in Arthur
Street, in a flat up a lang stane stair that gangs roun and roun till ye
come there, and syne gangs past the door and up again. She taks in han'
to luik efter his claes, and sees to the washin o' them, and does her
best to hand him tidy; but Jeamie was aye that partic'lar aboot his
appearance! And that's a guid thing, special in a minister, wha has to
set an example! I was sair pleased wi' the auld body."
There was one in the Edinburgh lodging, however, of whom Mrs.
Blatherwick had but a glimpse, and of whom, therefore, she had made no
mention to her husband any more than now to Maggie MacLear; indeed, she
had taken so little notice of her that she could hardly be said to
have seen her at all - a girl of about sixteen, who did far more for the
comfort of her aunt's two lodgers than she who reaped all the advantage.
If Mrs. Blatherwick had let her eyes rest upon her but for a moment, she
would probably have looked again; and might have discovered that she was
both a good-looking and graceful little creature, with blue eyes, and
hair as nearly black as that kind of hair, both fine and plentiful, ever
is. She might then have discovered as well a certain look of earnestness
and service that would at first have attracted her for its own sake, and
then repelled her for James's; for she would assuredly have read in it
what she would have counted dangerous for him; but seeing her poorly
dressed, and looking untidy, which at the moment she could not help, the
mother took her for an ordinary maid-of-all-work, and never for a moment
doubted that her son must see her just as she did. He was her only son;
her heart was full of ambition for him; and she brooded on the honour
he was destined to bring her and his father. The latter, however, caring
less for his good looks, had neither the same satisfaction in him nor an
equal expectation from him. Neither of his parents, indeed, had as yet
reaped much pleasure from his existence, however much one of them might
hope for in the time to come. There were two things indeed against such
satisfaction or pleasure - that James had never been open-hearted toward
them, never communicative as to his feelings, or even his doings;
and - which was worse - that he had long made them feel in him a certain
unexpressed claim to superiority. Nor would it have lessened their
uneasiness at this to have noted that the existence of such an implicit
claim was more or less evident in relation to every one with whom
he came in contact, manifested mainly by a stiff, incommunicative
reluctance, taking the form now of a pretended absorption in his books,
now of contempt for any sort of manual labour, even to the saddling of
the pony he was about to ride; and now and always by an affectation of
proper English, which, while successful as to grammar and accentuation,
did not escape the ludicrous in a certain stiltedness of tone and
inflection, from which intrusion of the would-be gentleman, his father,
a simple, old-fashioned man, shrank with more of dislike than he was
willing to be conscious of.
Quite content that, having a better education than himself, his son
should both be and show himself superior, he could not help feeling that
these his ways of asserting himself were signs of mere foolishness, and
especially as conjoined with his wish to be a minister - in regard to
which Peter but feebly sympathized with the general ambition of Scots
parents. Full of simple paternal affection, whose utterance was quenched
by the behaviour of his son, he was continuously aware of something that
took the shape of an impassable gulf between James and his father and
mother. Profoundly religious, and readily appreciative of what was new
in the perception of truth, he was, above all, of a great and simple
righteousness - full, that is, of a loving sense of fairplay - a
very different thing indeed from that which most of those who count
themselves religious mean when they talk of the righteousness of God!
Little, however, was James able to see of this, or of certain other
great qualities in his father. I would not have my reader think that he
was consciously disrespectful to either of his parents, or knew that his
behaviour was unloving. He honoured their character, indeed, but shrank
from the simplicity of their manners; he thought of them with no
lively affection, though not without some kindly feeling and much
confidence - at the same time regarding himself with still greater
confidence. He had never been an idler, or disobedient; and had made
such efforts after theological righteousness as served to bolster
rather than buttress his conviction that he was a righteous youth,
and nourished his ignorance of the fact that he was far from being the
person of moral strength and value that he imagined himself. The person
he saw in the mirror of his self-consciousness was a very fine and
altogether trustworthy personage; the reality so twisted in its
reflection was but a decent lad, as lads go, with high but untrue
notions of personal honour, and an altogether unwarranted conviction
that such as he admiringly imagined himself, such he actually was: he
had never discovered his true and unworthy self! There were many things
in his life and ways upon which had he but fixed eyes of question, he
would at once have perceived that they were both judged and condemned;
but so far, nevertheless, his father and mother might have good hope of
It is folly to suppose that such as follow most the fashions of this
world are more enslaved by them than multitudes who follow them only
afar off. These reverence the judgments of society in things of far
greater importance than the colour or cut of a gown; often without
knowing it, they judge life, and truth itself, by the falsest of all
measures, namely, the judgment of others falser than themselves; they do
not ask what is true or right, but what folk think and say about this
or that. James, for instance, altogether missed being a gentleman by his
habit of asking himself how, in such or such circumstances, a gentleman
would behave. As the man of honour he would fain know himself, he would
never tell a lie or break a promise; but he had not come to perceive
that there are other things as binding as the promise which alone
he regarded as obligatory. He did not, for instance, mind raising
expectations which he had not the least intention of fulfilling.
Being a Scotch lad, it is not to be wondered at that he should turn
to Theology as a means of livelihood; neither is it surprising that
he should do so without any conscious love to God, seeing it is not in
Scotland alone that untrue men take refuge in the Church, and turn the
highest of professions into the meanest, laziest, poorest, and most
unworthy, by following it without any genuine call to the same. In
any profession, the man must be a poor common creature who follows
it without some real interest in it; but he who without a spark of
enthusiasm for it turns to the Church, is either a "blind mouth," as
Milton calls him - scornfullest of epithets, or an "old wife" ambitious
of telling her fables well; and James's ambition was of the same
contemptible sort - that, namely, of distinguishing himself in the
pulpit. This, if he had the natural gift of eloquence, he might well do
by its misuse to his own glory; or if he had it not, he might acquire a
spurious facility resembling it, and so be every way a mere windbag.
Mr. Petrie, whom it cost the soutar so much care and effort to love, and
who, although intellectually small, was yet a good man, and by no means
a coward where he judged people's souls in danger, thought to save
the world by preaching a God, eminently respectable to those who could
believe in such a God, but to those who could not, a God far from lovely
because far from righteous. His life, nevertheless, showed him in many
ways a believer in Him who revealed a very different God indeed from the
God he set forth. His faith, therefore, did not prevent him from looking
upon the soutar, who believed only in the God he saw in Jesus Christ,
as one in a state of rebellion against him whom Jesus claimed as his
Young Blatherwick had already begun to turn his back upon several of the
special tenets of Calvinism, without, however, being either a better or
a worse man because of the change in his opinions. He had cast aside,
for instance, the doctrine of an everlasting hell for the unbeliever;
but in doing so he became aware that he was thus leaving fallow a great
field for the cultivation of eloquence; and not having yet discovered
any other equally productive of the precious crop, without which so
little was to be gained for the end he desired - namely, the praise of
men, he therefore kept on, "for the meantime," sowing and preparing to
reap that same field. Mr. Petrie, on the other hand, held the doctrine
as absolutely fundamental to Christianity, and preached it with power;
while the soutar, who had discarded it from his childhood, positively
refused, jealous of strife, to enter into any argument upon it with the
disputatious little man.
As yet, then, James was reading Scotch metaphysics, and reconciling
himself to the concealment of his freer opinions, upon which concealment
depended the success of his probation, and his license. But the close of
his studies in divinity was now near at hand.
Upon a certain stormy day in the great northern city, preparing for
what he regarded as his career, James sat in the same large, shabbily
furnished room where his mother had once visited him - half-way up the
hideously long spiral stair of an ancient house, whose entrance was in a
narrow close. The great clock of a church in the neighbouring street had
just begun to strike five of a wintry afternoon, dark with snow, falling
and yet to fall: how often in after years was he not to hear the ghostly
call of that clock, and see that falling snow! - when a gentle tap came
to his door, and the girl I have already mentioned came in with a tray
and the materials for his most welcomed meal, coffee with bread and
butter. She set it down in a silence which was plainly that of deepest