Ernest Thompson Seton.

The preacher of Cedar Mountain; a tale of the open country online

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it had already been more than fully investigated. Deacon Whaup had never
heard of the affair until this evening, but thought that Mr. Hartigan
ought to retire during further discussion.

As soon as Jim was outside, Higginbotham, fully determined to stop all
further talk, said: "Dr. Jebb, I move we accept the promise Mr. Hartigan
has given and table the whole matter. It is absurd to follow it further
in the light of what we know - making a big mountain of a very small
mole-hill."

Blight, however, didn't think so. He argued for delay and for stern
measures. Dr. Jebb put the motion and it was carried with but one
dissenting vote; and so the matter was officially closed. As they
dispersed, Dr. Jebb reminded them that the deliberations of the Board of
Deacons were to be considered strictly confidential.

And Jim went forth with strange and mixed feelings. He was grateful for
Higginbotham's determined protection and yet he would have held the
Board in higher respect if it had punished him severely. Such was the
nature of the ardent Celt.




CHAPTER XXII

The Three Religions Confront Him


Jack Shives's blacksmith shop, off the Main Street of Cedar Mountain,
was noted for two things: the sound, all-round work it turned out in the
smithy line, and the "perchers," an ever-present delegation of village
characters that sat chewing straws as they perched on the shop lumber.
Most of them came to hear old Shives talk, for Jack was a philosopher
and no subject was out of his field. Hartigan liked Shives, enjoyed the
shop with its smoke and flying sparks, and took a keen relish in the
unfettered debate that filled in the intervals between Shives's ringing
blows on the anvil.

Dr. Jebb thought himself a very up-to-date divine. He had tried to have
a sort of free discussion in his study Sunday nights after meeting, but
the restraint of parsondom was over it all. He was really a painfully
orthodox old person; all his up-to-dateness was within the covers of the
catechism, and the real thinkers kept away. Dr. Carson had better
success, but he was a bitter politician, so that all who differed from
him on national or local politics avoided his house. The blacksmith
shop, however, was open for all, and the real discussions of the village
were there. Shives had a masterful way of assuming the chairmanship, and
of doing the job well, often while pounding the anvil; sometimes an
effective punctuation of his remarks came in the hiss of hot iron thrust
in the tank, and Shives enjoyed the humour of obliterating his opponent
for the moment in a cloud of steam.

Jim Hartigan, with his genial, sociable instincts, was found in Shives's
shop more often than in the tiny room which, with the bed, table, and
books, was all he had in the way of home. Dr. Jebb was afraid to take
any large part in these deliberations. They were apt to discuss what he
considered the undiscussable foundations of the Church. But Dr. Carson
was one of the most strenuous of the debators.

"I tell you, there ain't a bit o' use o' your talking," said Shives. "If
I stick my finger in that fire, I'm a-going to get burnt and all the
prayers and repentance I can put up ain't a-going to wipe off that burn.
I've got to suffer for what I do just the same, whether I belong to
church or not."

"Sure, now," said Hartigan, "if I see your point, there is little to it.
You are talking about sin being its own punishment, which is true; but
suppose a doctor came along and by his work and skill saved you from
losing the finger altogether and in the end your finger was little the
worse and you were much the wiser - what about your theory then?"

"That is not the point. If it was the same thing, when I hurt my finger
I would only have to say, 'I repent; the Lord will take my punishment,'
and at once my finger would be restored as it was before."

"Well, that may be your Church's creed, but it isn't mine," said
Hartigan; and they wrangled till the blacksmith halted in his raking of
the coals, turned to Hartigan, and beating in the air with his coal rake
like a band leader with his baton, he said with punctuated emphasis: "My
creed tells me I must suffer for my own doings just as surely as if I
lay my finger on this anvil and hit it a crack with the hammer, and no
man can save me from that, and if you tell me that God is a wild beast
and merely wants a victim to punish, no matter who, then I want to know
where the justice comes in. There is not any greater wickedness than to
let the guilty escape, except it be to punish the innocent; and that's
the whole sum and substance of your religion, which was neatly summed up
by old Blue Horse down at Pine Ridge. After he had heard the missionary
explaining it for about the thousandth time, he said: 'Ho, me see now;
your God is my devil.'

"I tell you there's only one sum and substance of all religion that's
worth while, and that is to be a kind, decent neighbour, do your work,
and help others to do theirs. You will find that set forth, straight as
a string, in your own textbook, where it says, 'Love your neighbour as
yourself.'" And the blacksmith drew the radiant iron from the forge to
pound, pound, pound, amid the laughter that proclaimed the defeat of the
Preacher.

Hartigan was never strong on theology. At college he had neglected the
chance to learn the cut and parry in that strangest of all games, and
the puzzle for which he had no quick answer was that of the burnt
finger. In the smithy debates the answer had to be quick, or it was no
answer at all. He had lost the chance and was mortified to see the
verdict of the crowd against him.

"Jack," he said, "I want you to come to church and see how simple it all
is."

"Church. Huh! I think I see myself," said the blacksmith.

"That's not fair," said Hartigan. "You condemn church without going to
see what it is."

"Oh, I've been there a-plenty."

"When?"

"Twenty years ago."

"Oh, pshaw! It's all changed since then."

"Is it? That's a good one. I thought God's religion was unchangeable for
ever and ever. I tell you, young fellow, if you keep on working and
thinking you will wind up with a religion of common sense and kindness
which, as near as I can make out, is what the man Jesus did preach."

"Then why don't you come to hear it?" retorted Hartigan.

"Because ye don't preach it."

"That's not a fair way to put it," reiterated Hartigan.

"See here," said Shives, "I will go to church next Sunday and right
along, _if_ whenever you get off some fool statement that every one
knows is nonsense, you let me or some one get up and say, 'Now prove
that, or take it back before you go further.'"

Hartigan was worsted. He did not retreat, but he was glad of the
interruption furnished by a wild horse brought in to be shod. Here he
took the lead and showed such consummate horse sense in the handling of
the animal that the blacksmith growled, "If you'd put some of that into
your pulpit, I'd go to hear you."

As Jim mounted Blazing Star and rode away at an easy swing, all eyes
followed him, and the blacksmith growled: "'Homely in the cradle,
handsome on the horse,' they say. He must 'a' been a clock-stopper when
he was a kid. Pity to waste all that on a pulpiteer."

Later, the Preacher had a full discussion with Belle. The blacksmith had
dented Hartigan's armour in several places. Where was the justice in
punishing one being for another's sins? Even if the sufferer was
willing, it was still wicked injustice. How could repentance wipe out
the self-brought injury? These were among the puzzles. Dr. Jebb was his
natural helper, but the Preacher brought them first to Belle. She had
gone deeper and further than he had. She dreaded doctrinal discussion,
but at length said:

"Did you never hear of the transfusion of blood whereby a man may give
of his strength and, by suffering, save a friend from death? Did you
never hear of a man tottering and almost down who was found by a friend
at the right moment, helped to greater strength by mutual suffering, and
so restored to his balance before he went down to ruin?"

And the fervent answer was, "Yes, I have."

* * * * *

New vistas were opened to them by this open-hearted talk - truly
communion - and as they rode through the gray-bloomed sage they followed
still the thought. Then he waved a hand and raised his face toward Cedar
Mountain with its column seeming small against the sky.

"I want you to see it, Belle. I want you to stand there with me and know
how much it means when your spirit is just right."

She swung her horse with his and they headed for the trail. He had
talked to her about it before, but he had felt a little disappointed
that her imagination was not stirred as his had been - that the mystery
and charm, the emotional awe, so easy for his Celtic blood, had not been
conjured up in her by his words. But he still had hopes that the feeling
of the far-up shrine would weave enchantment of its own; and he told her
of the second sight that the fay of his mother's land could give if one
sang a song of the one right pitch in the glen of the "very stone."

So they rode through the sage to the trailing cedar robe and followed
upward till the upper edge of the fragrant woods was reached. There they
tied the horses and climbed on foot to the upland. The grass among the
rocks was yellow now, and high gentians seized on the rare moment to
flaunt their wondrous blue against that perfect background. A flock of
autumn birds rose up and flew on, as the climbers, reaching the Spirit
Rock, paused and turned to look out over the golden plains to the east,
over the blue hills to the north, and into the purple glow that the
waning sunlight left on all the west.

Belle rejoiced in it for its material beauty and its wealth of colour;
and Jim, shyly watching her, said:

"Sometimes as I stand by this rock pinnacle and look over the plain, I
feel as if I were an ocean rover, high up in the lookout, peering over
the rough and tumbling sea. It possesses me with more than the power of
a dream." Then, after a pause: "See, here is where the Indian boy was
sitting as he kept his fast and vigil. I wonder what he saw. Some day,
Belle, I want to take that vigil. Do you remember that the prophets of
old always did so when they sought light? I am learning that the Indian
had some light, and to-day I have done as he would do, I have brought my
sacred medicine with me." He produced a little cedar box that his father
had made. He opened it and deeply inhaled its fragrance. "That is cedar,
Belle; it carries me back to other days when, under the cedar shingles,
my mother put her arm about me and prayed that I might find the Eternal
Guide."

He took out his mother's Bible, her photograph and the daguerreotype of
his father. These were his sacred relics, and with them was a bundle of
cedar twigs to keep the fragrance ever there - to keep continually with
them the power, through smell, to conjure up those days and thoughts of
her love. Belle took them reverently and gazed at the prim old pictures;
then she looked him squarely in the eyes, intensely for a moment, like
one who looks through a veil for the first time and sees a hidden
chamber unguessed before.

"Belle," he said, and his voice was a little husky; "if I had gone on to
the Big Cheyenne that time, I would have built a fire as soon as I had
the chance and burnt all these to ashes; and then what - God only knows,
for these were the vessels of my sanctuary; this was the ark of my
covenant, with the rod that budded, the tables of the law, and the
precious incense." She laid her hand on his in silent comprehension and
he went on. "All my life I have had two natures struggling within me;
and the destroyer would have won, and had won, when you turned the rout.
If you had not come to me in Deadwood I would surely have burnt these
relics. Now you understand. I couldn't speak about it down there; but up
here it is easy. Some time I may be missing for a couple of days. Do not
worry then; it will only mean I have gone up into my mountain. I am
seeking the light that comes from prayer and fasting and vigil in a high
place."

"I know those things as words," she said. "Just as we all learned them
in Sunday-school; but you make them as real as this mountain, a part of
my very life."

He replaced the relics in their cedar box and she realized that for the
first time she had had a glimpse of the deep and spiritual quality of
his soul.




BOOK III

THE HORSE PREACHER




CHAPTER XXIII

Blazing Star


The Angel of Destiny who had special charge of Jim had listed and
measured his failings and had numbered them for drastic treatment. The
brawling spirit of his early days, the proneness to drink, the bigoted
intolerance of any other mode of thought than his own, the strange
mistake of thinking physical courage the only courage, a curious
disregard for the things of the understanding - each was the cause of
bitter suffering. Each in its kind was alloy, dross, and for each the
metal had to pass through the fires and, purified, come forth.

Hartigan's love of sport was rooted deep in his nature and Fate gave it
a long fling. It took no cruel or destructive form, nor did it possess
him as a hate; but certain things held him in passionate allegiance, so
deep and so reckless that when their fever was upon him nothing else
seemed worth a thought. And the chiefest of these was his love of
horses. A noble thing in itself, a necessary vent, perhaps, for the
untamed spirit's love of untrammelled motion but it was inwrought with
dangers. Most men in the West in Hartigan's day - as now - were by nature
horse-lovers; but never, so far as Cedar Mountain knew, had there been a
man so horse-crazy as the Rev. James Hartigan. Already, he was known as
the "Horse Preacher."

It was seldom that an animal received so much personal care as Blazing
Star; it was seldom that a steed so worthy could be found; and the
results were for all to behold. The gaunt colt of the immigrant became
the runner of Cedar Mountain, and the victory won at Fort Ryan was the
first of many ever growing in importance.

You can tell much of a man's relation to his horse when he goes to bring
him from pasture. If he tricks and drives him into a corner, and then by
sudden violence puts on the bridle, you know that he has no love, no
desire for anything but service; in return he will get poor service at
best, and no love at all. If he puts a lump of sugar in his pocket and
goes to the fence, calling his horse by name, and the horse comes
joyously as to meet a friend, and with mobile, velvet lips picks the
sugar clean from the offering palm and goes willingly to saddle and bit,
then you know that the man is a horse man, probably a horseman; by the
bond of love he holds his steed, and will get from him twice the service
and for thrice as long as any could extort with spur and whip.

"Whoa, Blazing Star, whoa", and the gold-red meteor of the prairie would
shake his mane and tail and come careering, curvetting, not direct, but
round in a brief spiral to find a period point at the hand he loved.

"Ten times," said Colonel Waller, of the Fort, "have I seen a man so
bound up in the friendship of his dog that all human ties had second
place; but never before or since have I seen a man so bonded to his
horse, or a horse so nobly answering in his kind, as Hartigan and his
Blazing Star."

The ancients had a fable of a horse and a rider so attuned - so wholly
one - that the brain of the man and the power of the horse were a single
being, a wonderful creature to whom the impossible was easy play. And
there is good foundation for the myth. Who that has ridden on the polo
field or swung the lasso behind the bounding herd, can forget the many
times when he dropped the reins and signalled to the horse only by the
gentle touch of knee, of heel, by voice, by body swing, by _wishing_
thus and so, and got response? For the horse and he were perfectly
attuned and trained - the reins superfluous. Thus, centaur-like, they
went, with more than twice the power that either by itself possessed.

Fort Ryan where the Colonel held command, was in the Indian reserve and
five miles south of Cedar Mountain. The life of the garrison was very
self-contained, but Cedar Mountain had its allurements, and there were
some entertainments where civilian and soldier met. The trail between
was a favourite drive or ride and to Hartigan it became very familiar.

There was one regular function that had a strong hold on him. It took
place every other Saturday afternoon on the parade ground, and was
called general riding exercises, but was really a "stunt show" of trick
riding. After they began to know him, the coming of Hartigan with his
horse was hailed by all with delight. The evenings of these festal days
were spent in the gymnasium, when there was an athletic programme with
great prominence given to sword play, boxing, and singlestick, in which
Hartigan was the king; and here his cup of joy was full.

"Ain't it a shame to waste all that stuff on a preacher?" was the
frequent expression of the soldiers. Though what better use they would
have made of it, was not clear.

Many a dark night Hartigan rode home from the Fort after the evening's
fun was over leaving it entirely to his horse to select the road, after
the manner of the wise horseman. In mid-August there had been one of the
typical Black Hill storms. After a month of drought, it had rained
inches in a few hours. The little Rapid Fork of the Cheyenne was a broad
flood which carried off most of its bridges, including that on the trail
to the Fort. The rain had ceased the day before, but the flood had
subsided very little by Saturday night as Hartigan mounted Blazing Star
and set out for the fortnightly affair at Fort Ryan.

The sky was still blocked with clouds and at eight o'clock it was black
dark, so Hartigan left the selection of the trail, as a matter of
course, to Blazing Star. From the time of leaving the last light in
Cedar Mountain till they drew up under the first lantern at Fort Ryan,
Hartigan never saw the horse he was riding, much less the road he was
riding on: nor had he touched the reins or given by word or pressure of
knee any signal of guidance. The night was too black for his senses, but
he knew he was committing his way to senses that were of a keener order
than his own, and he rode as a child might - without thought of fear. He
could feel it when they were going down into the canyon of the Rapid
Fork, and at the bottom of the slight descent he heard the rush of
waters, and noted that Blazing Star lowered his head and snorted softly
more than once. He heard the tap of the hoofs on the timber of the
bridge, and then they ascended and came in a little while to the lantern
at the door of the gymnasium in the barracks.

"Hello, Hartigan! Where in the world did you come from?" was the cordial
greeting of Colonel Waller.

"Where could I come from but Cedar Mountain?"

"The deuce you did."

"Why not?"

"How did you cross the creek?"

"By the bridge."

"Oh, no, you didn't."

"I surely did," said the Preacher.

"Well, you didn't, because there isn't any bridge. It all went out last
night," was the Colonel's astounding answer.

"Be that as it may," said the Preacher, "I have come here direct from
Cedar Mountain. I left at eight o'clock and here I am, arrived by the
road at eight forty-five; and I crossed the Rapid Fork of the Cheyenne
on the bridge. I didn't see it. I didn't see my horse from start to
finish. I didn't see one inch of the road; but I heard it and felt it.
Anyway, I'm here."

That night the Preacher stayed at the Fort, but he was up at daylight.
So were the officers, for they had laid bets on this matter. They came
to the little canyon, the river, and the place of the bridge; the bridge
was gone; but, yes, surely there was one long stringer left. It had been
held by the bolt at one end, and the officer charged with repairing the
bridge had swung it back into place that very afternoon, and made it
firm to serve as a footbridge, though it was barely twelve inches wide.

There, plainly written in the soft earth, was the story of the crossing.
Blazing Star had descended the bank, and had missed the narrow stringer
by a yard. He had nosed along till he found it and had crossed over on
that with the delicate poise and absolute sense of certainty that would
have been destroyed had the rider tried to give a guiding hand. And the
end would have been sure death had Hartigan not trusted to his horse so
utterly. The best of steed and man had thus begot a creature on a higher
plane - in spirit and effect the centaur of the ancient tale.




CHAPTER XXIV

Red Rover


August was advancing with everything shaping for a great local event.
The Corn Dance of the Indians to celebrate the first of the new crop was
an old festival and brought hundreds of them together. In addition, the
government had selected September fifteenth for the semi-annual issue of
the treaty money. This was a coincidence of festivals that insured a
great attendance and at all such times horse-racing was the favourite
sport.

On the Fourth of July of that year the Indians had produced an
extraordinary buckskin cayuse which, in spite of its humble origin and
raw exterior, had proved speedy enough to defeat all opposition and
capture the big purse. Interest in the opportunity for revenge had grown
every day since, and the fact that each Indian family was to get one
hundred dollars in cash, enhanced the chances of a fat purse. A winning
horse was the first need of the ranchmen and they turned at once to
Hartigan and Blazing Star. They were much taken aback to receive from
him a flat refusal to enter or to let any one else enter Blazing Star
for a race. In vain they held out great inducements, possibilities of a
huge fortune, certainly of a big lump sum down in advance, or almost any
price he chose to ask for Blazing Star.

Hartigan's reply was an emphatic "No." And that was the end of it.

There was nothing for the whites to do but find another racer. There
certainly was no such horse as they needed in all the country; had there
been, they would have known it; and those who took the matter to heart
were planning a visit to Illinois or Kentucky even, where it was simply
a matter of money to get a blooded horse that would settle the issue.

While on a long hard trip for the spiritual help of brethren in the
South, Jim was left for a day at Chadron, Nebraska, a distributing point
for settlers coming to the Platte. With the instinct born of his Western
life, Jim made for the big horse corral, which is always on the
outskirts of a prairie town and where he knew he could pass a pleasant
hour or more. It was, as usual, crowded with horses of low and middle
class degree - some old and worn, some young and raw, many extraordinary
pintos, one or two mounts above the average of size or beauty, but
nothing to secure more than passing attention.

The scene in and about the corral held a great fascination for Jim.
There were cowboys and stable hands; farmers whose horses were in the
corral or whose homes were in the prairie schooners anchored on the
plain near-by; men were coming and going, and groups of children
rollicked about the camp fire.

As Hartigan looked on, a young fellow - whose soft, slow speech and
"r"-less words were certain proof of Southern birth - led from a stable a
tall, clean-limbed horse and, flopping into the saddle with easy
carelessness, rode away. As he passed, the horse's coat of bronze and
gold fairly rippled in the sun as the perfect muscles played beneath,
and the delight that Jim got, none but a horseman would understand. As
the lad cantered away to a camping group and returned, the Preacher had
a fair view. The horse might have been twin brother to his own, and he
did not need the rider's assurance that the steed was a "Kaintucky blood
all right."

In all the Western towns an interesting custom has grown up in the
matter of registering. The chief hotel is accepted as the social centre
and clubhouse, so that a man arriving in town, whether he puts up at the
hotel or not, goes to the register and enters his name. "Never fail to
register; it may be handy to prove an alibi," has become a saying. Jim
went to the hotel with an idea. He registered, glanced over the other
names and learned that Cattleman Kyle was then in town. It was easy to
find him in a place of this size, and after a brief search Jim hailed
him boisterously from afar:

"Say, Kyle, I've found what you are looking for."


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Online LibraryErnest Thompson SetonThe preacher of Cedar Mountain; a tale of the open country → online text (page 10 of 24)