Reading: Matthew 5:38-48
“Coals of Fire,” is a short story that was published in the book Tiger and Tom in 1910. This collection of moral tales for children is now out of print and can be read freely online.
COALS OF FIRE
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
“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 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.
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.
For Further Study:
- The term “coals of fire” comes from a passage in the book of Romans. Read Romans 12:17-21. Then read Romans 5:6-11. How did Christ overcome evil with good? See also Exodus 23:5; Luke 6:35; and 1 Thessalonians 5:15.
- When someone treats you badly, do you see that as an opportunity to follow God and glorify Christ? Those times when we face injustice and meanness can be the moments when our faith shines the brightest. What makes it hard to overcome evil with good (see today’s memory verse for a hint)? What can you pray about this?