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Salted With Fire
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CHAPTER XXIV

She woke in the first of the gray dawn, while the house was in utter stillness, and rising at once, rose and dressed herself with soundless haste. It was hard indeed to go and leave James thus in danger, but she had no choice! She held her breath and listened, but all was still. She opened her door softly; not a sound reached her ear as she crept down the stair. She had neither to unlock nor unbolt the door to leave the house, for it was never made fast. A dread sense of the old wandering desolation came back upon her as she stepped across the threshold, and now she had no baby to comfort her! She was leaving a mouldy peace and a withered love behind her, and had once more to encounter the rough coarse world! She feared the moor she had to cross, and the old dreams she must there encounter; and as she held on her way through them, she felt, in her new loneliness, and the slow-breaking dawn, as if she were lying again in her trance, partly conscious, but quite unable to move, thinking she was dead, and waiting to be buried. Then suddenly she knew where she was, and that God was not gone, but her own Maker was with her, and would not forsake her.

Of the roads that led from the farm she knew only that by which Mr. Robertson had brought her, and that would guide her to the village where they had left the coach: there she was sure to find some way of returning to Deemouth! Feeble after her prolonged inaction, and the crowd of emotions succeeding her recovery, she found the road very weary, and long ere she reached Tiltowie, she felt all but worn out. At the only house she had come to on the way, she stopped and asked for some water. The woman, the only person she had seen, for it was still early morning, and the road was a lonely one, perceived that she looked ill, and gave her milk instead. In the strength of that milk she reached the end of her first day's journey; and for many days she had not to take a second.

Now Isy had once seen the soutar at the farm, and going about her work had heard scraps of his conversation with the mistress, when she had been greatly struck by certain things he said, and had often since wished for the opportunity of a talk with him. That same morning then, going along a narrow lane, and hearing a cobbler's hammer, she glanced through a window close to the path, and at once recognized the soutar. He looked up as she obscured his light, and could scarce believe his eyes when, so early in the day, he saw before him Mistress Blatherwick's maid, concerning whom there had been such a talk and such a marvelling for weeks. She looked ill, and he was amazed to see her about so soon, and so far from home. She smiled to him feebly, and passed from his range with a respectful nod. He sprang to his feet, bolted out, and overtook her at once.

"I'm jist gaein to drop my wark, mem, and hae my brakfast: wull ye no come in and share wi' an auld man and a yoong lass? Ye hae come a gey bit, and luik some fatiguit!"

"Thank ye kindly, sir," returned Isy. "I am a bit tired!—But I won'er ye kenned me!"

"Weel, I canna jist say I ken ye by the name fowk ca' ye; and still less div I ken ye by the name the Lord ca's ye; but nowther maitters muckle to her that kens He has a name growin for her—or raither, a name she's growin til! Eh, what a day will that be whan ilk habitant o' the holy city 'ill tramp the streets o' 't weel kenned and weel kennin!"

"Ay, sir! I 'maist un'erstan' ye ootricht, for I h'ard ye ance sayin something like that to the mistress, the nicht ye broucht hame the maister's shune to Stanecross. And, eh, I'm richt glaid to see ye again!"

They were already in the house, for she had followed him in almost mechanically; and the soutar was setting for her the only chair there was, when the cry of a child reached their ears. The girl started to her feet. A rosy flush of delight overspread her countenance; she fell a-trembling from head to foot, and it seemed uncertain whether she would succeed in running to the cry, or must fall to the floor.

"Ay," exclaimed the soutar, with one of his sudden flashes of unquestioning insight, "by the luik o' ye, ye ken that for the cry o' yer ain bairn, my bonny lass! Ye'll hae been missin him, sair, I doobt!—There! sit ye doon, and I'll hae him i' yer airms afore ae meenut!"

She obeyed him and sat down, but kept her eyes fixed on the door, wildly expectant. The soutar made haste, and ran to fetch the child. When he returned with him in his arms, he found her sitting bolt upright, with her hands already apart, held out to receive him, and her eyes alive as he had never seen eyes before.

"My Jamie! my ain bairn!" she cried, seizing him to her bosom with a grasp that, trembling, yet seemed to cling to him desperately, and a look almost of defiance, as if she dared the world to take him from her again. "O my God!" she cried, in an agony of thankfulness, "I ken ye noo! I ken ye noo! Never mair wull I doobt ye, my God!—Lost and found!—Lost for a wee, and found again for ever!"

Then she caught sight of Maggie, who had entered behind her father, and stood staring at her motionless,—with a look of gladness indeed, but not all of gladness.

"I ken fine," Isy broke out, with a trembling, yet eager, apologetic voice, "ye're grudgin me ilka luik at him! I ken't by mysel! Ye're thinkin him mair yours nor mine! And weel ye may, for it's you that's been motherin him ever since I lost my wits! It's true I ran awa' and left him; but ever sin' syne, I hae soucht him carefully wi' tears! And ye maunna beir me ony ill will—for there!" she added, holding him out to Maggie! "I haena kissed him yet!—no ance!—But ye wull lat me kiss him afore ye tak him awa'?—my ain bairnie, whause vera comin I had prepared shame for!—Oh my God!—But he kens naething aboot it, and winna ken for years to come! And nane but his ain mammie maun brak the dreid trowth til him!—and by that time he'll lo'e her weel eneuch to be able to bide it! I thank God that I haena had to shue the birds and the beasts aff o' his bonny wee body! It micht hae been, but for you, my bonnie lass!—and for you, sir!" she went on, turning to the soutar.

Maggie caught the child from her offering arms, and held up his little face for his mother to kiss; and so held him until, for the moment, Isy's mother-greed was satisfied. Then she sat down with him in her lap, and Isy stood absorbed in regarding him. At last she said, with a deep sigh—

"Noo I maun awa', and I dinna ken hoo I'm to gang! I hae found him and maun leave him!—but I houp no for vera lang!—Maybe ye'll keep him yet a whilie—say for a week mair? He's been sae lang disused til a wan'erin life, that I doobt it mayna weel agree wi' him; and I maun awa' back to Deemooth, gien I can get onybody to gie me a lift."

"Na, na; that'll never dee," returned Maggie, with a sob. "My father'll be glaid eneuch to keep him; only we hae nae richt ower him, and ye maun hae him again whan ye wull."

"Ye see I hae nae place to tak him til!" pleaded Isy.

"Gien ye dinna want him, gie him to me: I want him!" said Maggie eagerly.

"Want him!" returned Isy, bursting into tears; "I hae lived but upo the bare houp o' gettin him again! I hae grutten my een sair for the sicht o' 'im! Aften hae I waukent greetin ohn kenned for what!—and noo ye tell me I dinna want him, 'cause I hae nae spot but my breist to lay his heid upo! Eh, guid fowk, keep him till I get a place to tak him til, and syne haudna him a meenute frae me!"

All this time the soutar had been watching the two girls with a divine look in his black eyes and rugged face; now at last he opened his mouth and said:

"Them 'at haps the bairn, are aye sib (related) to the mither!—Gang ben the hoose wi' Maggie, my dear; and lay ye doon on her bed, and she'll lay the bairnie aside ye, and fess yer brakfast there til ye. Ye winna be easy to sair (satisfy), haein had sae little o' 'im for sae lang!—Lea' them there thegither, Maggie, my doo," he went on with infinite tenderness, "and come and gie me a han' as sune as ye hae maskit the tay, and gotten a lof o' white breid. I s' hae my parritch a bit later."

Maggie obeyed at once, and took Isy to the other end of the house, where the soutar had long ago given up his bed to her and the baby.

When they had all breakfasted, the soutar and Maggie in the kitchen, and Isy and the bairnie in the ben en', Maggie took her old place beside her father, and for a long time they worked without word spoken.

"I doobt, father," said Maggie at length, "I haena been atten'in til ye properly! I fear the bairnie 's been garrin me forget ye!"

"No a hair, dautie!" returned the soutar. "The needs o' the little are stude aye far afore mine, and had to be seen til first! And noo that we hae the mither o' 'im, we'll get on faumous!—Isna she a fine cratur, and richt mitherlike wi' the bairn? That was a' I was concernt aboot! We'll get her story frae her or lang, and syne we'll ken a hantle better hoo to help her on! And there can be nae fear but, atween you and me, and the Michty at the back o' 's, we s' get breid eneuch for the quaternion o' 's!"

He laughed at the odd word as it fell from his mouth and the Acts of
Apostles. Maggie laughed too, and wiped her eyes.

Before long, Maggie recognized that she had never been so happy in her life. Isy told them as much as she could without breaking her resolve to keep secret a certain name; and wrote to Mr. Robertson, telling him where she was, and that she had found her baby. He came with his wife to see her, and so a friendship began between the soutar and him, which Mr. Robertson always declared one of the most fortunate things that had ever befallen him.

"That soutar-body," he would say, "kens mair aboot God and his kingdom, the hert o' 't and the w'ys o' 't, than ony man I ever h'ard tell o'—and that heumble!—jist like the son o' God himsel!"

Before many days passed, however, a great anxiety laid hold of the little household: wee Jamie was taken so ill that the doctor had to be summoned. For eight days he had much fever, and his appealing looks were pitiful to see. When first he ceased to run about, and wanted to be nursed, no one could please him but the soutar himself, and he, at once discarding his work, gave himself up to the child's service. Before long, however, he required defter handling, and then no one would do but Maggie, to whom he had been more accustomed; nor could Isy get any share in the labour of love except when he was asleep: as soon as he woke, she had to encounter the pain of hearing him cry out for Maggie, and seeing him stretch forth his hands, even from his mother's lap, to one whom he knew better than her. But Maggie was very careful over the poor mother, and would always, the minute he was securely asleep, lay him softly upon her lap. And Maggie soon got so high above her jealousy, that one of the happiest moments in her life was when first the child consented to leave her arms for those of his mother. And when he was once more able to run about, Isy took her part with Maggie in putting hand and needle to the lining of the more delicate of the soutar's shoes.

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