Ernest Thompson Seton.

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

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Hartigan's determination to erect a stable of his own, where he could
have his horse under his eye, day and night. What he built was not a
large stable, only ten by twelve feet, of rough pine lumber, with
tar-paper weather-proofing and no floor, but he did it entirely with his
own hands at a material cost of twelve dollars; and he put his soul into
it. There were two stalls, one for Blazing Star and one for supplies.
There was much good-humoured jesting at the "Horse Preacher" while the
stable was building and the story went the rounds that he often used the
empty stall for a study, in preference to the silent little room in the
house. In any case, he hand-picked the hay to guard against the
poisonous loco-weed, and washed the oats, to shut out any possibility of
smut.

Immediately after the fire Higginbotham began to talk business to Jim. A
mutual affection had grown up and the little agent and his wife had
early become prominent in the church. As deacon, Higginbotham rendered
good service, although it was noted that his judgment was always best
after he had talked matters over at home. He was not averse to using his
church connection for business purposes. In fact, he had been heard to
say that the Church itself was chiefly a huge fire insurance company,
taking risks for the next world instead of this. On the morning after
the fire, he was up betimes to sail with the wind, to take advantage of
the stir-up that the public mind had got; and he secured a lot of new
business.

"Now, Mr. Hartigan, why don't you insure that horse of yours? Just think
where you would have been if you hadn't got him out in time last night.
Why, I knew a man who bought a horse for fifty dollars in the morning,
insured him for two hundred and fifty dollars at noon, and next night he
was burnt up. The very next day he got his check for two hundred and
fifty dollars. That's the way our company does business; all in
twenty-four hours."

The idea of a joyful profit out of Blazing Star's incinerated remains
was distinctly unpleasant, much like asking a mother to realize on her
baby, and Hartigan took out no policy, but it had the effect of making
him try to set a market value on the horse.

It was late in the season now, October was nearly gone; but still he and
Belle rode forth together.

"What is next Sunday's lesson?" was Belle's very usual question. "Well,"
said Hartigan, "I came across a text that filled me with joy. 'When
Amaziah, King of Judah, was murdered,' it says, 'They brought him upon
horses and buried him with his fathers in the city of Judah.'

"Brought him on horses. What a picture, Belle! Just think of that royal
stiff strapped square across the backs of four fine horses, all bridled
together, and then driven madly across the desert, through the land of
the freebooting Arabs, who would be more than apt to seize the corpse
and hold it for a ransom. What a race! You bet they had horses then!
They were Arab stock all right. I wonder no artist ever put that royal
funeral on canvas. How does it strike you, Belle?"

"Wild enough and picturesque enough for the Black Hills; but I don't
seem to get the lesson, I might almost add another text to your list: 'A
horse is a vain thing for safety.'" Then, suddenly, she said: "Have you
seen Colonel Waller lately?"

"No."

"Is it too far to ride there?"

"Not if you can stand it."

"I can; but I wish you'd tighten my cinch."

Jim was well pleased to be her groom; and, hauling on the strap, his hat
tipped off and his head touched her knee, she laid her hand on his head
and a thrill went through him. Belle knew the game and the risks, in
spite of her very old-fashioned parents. All along, she had held him
back to a certain line; even though it was clearly understood to both of
them and all their world that he was her avowed and accepted lover. She
gloried in his physical charm and power. She took a woman's pride in his
devotion, and maybe, most of all, in her sovereignty over him; she
realized more clearly than any one else, how completely he was her
plastic material. A mighty engine, indeed, he had need of a skilful
engineer. A splendid steed of rarest power and gift, his power and gift
were useless, even worse, without the deft control of the rider, who
should become in a sense his soul, as the captain is the soul of a great
ship. And Belle had come to know that the best work she could ever hope
to do was as the captain of this ship.

And what was to hinder? Belle knew; her soft brown eyes could see much
farther through the stone wall than could his piercing eyes of blue. She
estimated at its true potency the passion that now threatened to wreck
his career. A lover of horses always, an absolute worshipper of Blazing
Star, he was barely held in restraint by his promises and fears of
Church discipline, and Belle foresaw a time when his wild, impulsive
nature would break out. He would surely be swept away by the wild
currents of which the horse race is the vortex; and, having once lost
hold, he would go the pace, break all rules, and end...? She knew, but
dared not say.

Winter would soon be on them and, with that, the end of their happy
rides together on the plains. The different life enforced would put them
more apart - cut off these saddle _tête-à-têtes_, and with all the
happenings, past or future, in her mind Belle was ready for a woman's
game; the time had come to play it. That tightening of the cinch was not
by chance.

They rode a race for a mile and Jim gallantly held back his mount so
that she should keep the lead. They passed a slough along whose edge the
gentians still were blue; she wanted some, and when he brought them she
patted his hand, and gave the flowers an honoured place. Suddenly a
coyote appeared and she raced with him on its trail till it was lost to
view. She called forth all her horsemanship to match his, and make him
feel their perfect harmony; and as they rode side by side, she laid her
hand on his arm to call attention to some creature of the plains when at
other times she would merely have spoken. It thrilled and stirred him,
so he tried to follow up this willingness for touch. But she swung away
each time. Then at a later keep-your-distance hint she gaily held out a
hand to him and teased him by eluding his grasp. But not for long; with
a great spurt he swept upon her, seized the tantalizing hand now
accidentally bared, and the thrill of her touch, the joy of acceptation
in that tiny squeeze, went warmly kindling through him. His colour came,
his bright blue eyes grew brighter, he glowed in body and in spirit.
Never before had she seemed so absolutely fascinating; never before had
he felt how much she was to him, how wholly desirable and lovely she
was, how much his measure of all good things. But he was such a boy in
this side of life that he had never said one open word of love. He was
as shy as most youths are at sixteen.

They were half way to the Fort now, the level plain spreading for a mile
about them. There was no chance of interruption. Their horses had drawn
close together again. She said, "Look at the bruise on my hand from last
week's ride through the brush." He seized the hand; there was no bruise
to be seen, but he bent his head and fervently kissed the place.

"Jim, do you really care so much?" she asked, with a sidelong glance and
a little flush.

"Oh, Belle, you know - you must know - - " And he choked.

"I wouldn't like to see you hold any other woman's hand that way." Their
horses' shoulders rubbed and she accidentally swayed toward him; she
seemed to lose her balance. In a minute his strong arms were about her;
a great emotion swept him and all his ardent soul was aflame. With
sudden abandon of all restraint, he showered on her lips a lover's
passionate kisses, and forced his unwonted tongue and lips to shape the
old refrain: "I love you; I love you; I love you better than my life."

She hid her burning face, but he held her tight, and the horses moved as
one.

"Will you, Belle? Will you be my wife? I can't do anything without you.
You have saved me from ruin. I can't do anything without you."

A jack rabbit sprang from under their feet, and Blazing Star, true to
his training, darted away; and so the pair were forced apart. But, in a
moment, Jim was back.

"Will you, Belle? Won't you take me?" He seized her hand and would have
sought her lips again, but she held him back.

"I will, Jim, on one condition. Will you promise?"

"Anything. I'll promise anything I have or can be. Tell me what it is,
Belle?"

"I will not tell you now; but I will before we get back to Cedar
Mountain. Now let us ride"; and she touched her pony with the quirt, and
led at a gallop which ended only at the house of Colonel Waller in Fort
Ryan.




CHAPTER XXXI

Love in The Saddle


"Here come Apollo and Psyche," said Mrs. Waller, as she glimpsed them
from the window. The Colonel was just leaving for his office and called
to them, "Good morning! Go on in; Mrs. Waller is at home. I'll be back
in half an hour."

Already there was a fire in the house, for the nights were chilly, and
when the Colonel returned, they were sitting around it in the parlour.

"I want to see the stable," said Belle, so forth they went together,
Hartigan with Mrs. Waller leading, and Belle with the Colonel. She
lingered till the others were out of easy hearing, then led up to the
subject of the horse race.

"It's a pretty sore subject yet," answered the Colonel. "Most of my men
are pinching their families on half pay to work off their debts to those
wily redskins."

"Do they have to pay?" said Belle.

"Well, these are debts of honour, you know, and in the man's code, that
puts them ahead of rent, clothing, food, or mortgages."

"I suppose the men have got a lesson that will cure them of gambling for
evermore?"

"Oh, no. Not at all. All they are thinking about now is where to get a
horse that can turn the tables."

"Seems to me like burning one's hand because one got a finger scorched."

"Well, that's the man of it," said the Colonel. "If we could get Jim to
run Blazing Star, the whole garrison would mortgage their lives for cash
to stake on it and win back all they had lost or risked."

"Well, he won't; I tell you that. But why don't you buy Blazing Star,
Colonel?"

"Because he won't sell. We've tried every way. I never saw a man so
daffy over his horse."

"What would you consider a fair price, Colonel?"

"Well, Jim gave five dollars for him, to begin with, and refused two
hundred and fifty dollars when he proved what stuff he had got. I should
say three hundred dollars would be a fair price, four hundred dollars a
good price and five hundred dollars an absolutely outside record
price - scaled wholly on the fact that he's the fastest horse on these
plains."

"Would _you_ give five hundred dollars?"

"Yes, I would. I'll give Hartigan five hundred dollars for Blazing Star
right now, in hard cash; but I don't say I'll hold it out very long.
Accidents will happen; winter is coming, and a bad wintering often ruins
a horse."

"Will you take the first chance to offer that to Hartigan? He'll refuse;
but say you'll leave it open for a week, and I think you'll get Blazing
Star."

The Colonel laughed a little, and wondered what was up. His wife, when
she heard of it, said: "Ho, ho! I know; they want to get married, and
that's the easiest way to raise the needful."

And thenceforth she took a motherly interest in the handsome couple.

Within half an hour the Colonel found the chance to make his offer; and
got what he expected, a flat refusal.

"Sure, Colonel, it would be like selling the hand off my arm or the soul
out of my body."

"Well, well," said the Colonel, "never mind. I won't take your answer
now; we'll leave it open for a week."

After the midday meal, Jim and Belle mounted and rode away. Jim thought
to take matters up where he had left off, but he found Belle inclined to
be shy and rather preoccupied. He made several ineffectual attempts to
get her to talk, but she always relapsed into silence. They were,
indeed, half-way back, when Hartigan began for the fifth time:

"You said you would tell me on the road back."

"Tell you what?"

"Tell me the condition on which you will have me."

He leaned over and put his arm around her. This time she did not elude
him. He clasped her and sought her lips and she allowed her head to sink
on his shoulder while he gathered the reins of both horses in his hand,
that they might not separate. She seemed content.

"You do care for me, don't you?" she whispered.

"Oh, Belle! I'd do anything for you. I'd give my life for you."

"You would? Anything?"

"Only try me."

"Would you give up the ministry if I asked you?"

"If - if - you thought it was right - I know it would be right. Yes, I'd do
it."

"Then I won't ask that. I'll put you to a smaller test. Will you face
it?"

"I'll promise now; I give you my word before you name it."

"Then this is what I ask - that you sell Blazing Star to Colonel Waller
right now, this very day."

"Oh, oh, Belle!" he said, feebly; "Blazing Star!"

"Yes, Jim, that is the condition. I love you, Jim; but you must choose
now between us. Is it Belle or Blazing Star?"

For a moment he seemed stunned but he tightened his arms about her, and
tense the answer came. "I can't do without you, Belle, I can't do
without you. I've given you my word. I take you on your terms."

"Oh, Jim!" and she broke down, passionately sobbing in his arms. "Oh,
Jim! You great, glorious, wonderful, blind Jim Hartigan, don't you know
that I love you? Don't you know I have thought it all out? Can't you see
where Blazing Star was taking you? It is not caprice; you will know some
day."

"I know, I know now. I'll do what you say."

"Then turn right around and go back to Fort Ryan." They turned; she led;
and they raced without pulling rein.

"Colonel, I've come to take your offer," said Hartigan.

"You're a wise man," said the Colonel. "Come into the office." He drew
up a check for five hundred dollars. Jim put it in his wallet and said
feebly, "He's yours. You'll be kind to him?" Then he covered his face
with his hands, and the tears splashed through his fingers to the floor.

"Never mind," said the Colonel, deeply touched. "He'll be treated like a
king. You'll see him in the race next summer and you'll see him win."

In all the blackness of that hour of loss that thought was the one gleam
of comfort in the realm of horse. Now he would see his racer on the
track. The Church held him, but held his horse no longer.

* * * * *

Then the Angel of Destiny as he downward gazed, said to the Angel of the
Fire - and his voice trembled a little as he spoke - "Rejoice, for the
furnace was heated exceeding hot and the metal is shining brighter, far
brighter than before."




BOOK IV

THE HORSE PREACHER AFOOT




CHAPTER XXXII

The Advent of Midnight


The ride home after that fateful decision was an event to be remembered.
Jim was on a cavalry mount, loaned for the occasion. Belle felt that
since he had given up so much for her, it was her part now to prove how
good a bargain he had made; and she exerted all her powers to double her
ample hold on his love and devotion. She had no reason to question her
power; she had almost overmuch success. Jim wanted her to name the day,
but whatever her wishes might have been, her judgment held her back.

"Jim, dear love, don't you see? We must wait a long time. Your income is
barely enough for one. You are only a probationer with one year's leave
from college, and, at most, an extension of another year possible. What
little I can bring as my share of the 'combine' won't go very far."

"Well," said Jim, "I've got the cash to furnish our house with, anyway,"
and he slapped his hand on his wallet pocket. "I'll put that in the bank
till we need it."

"Good boy!" and Belle smiled happily.

Arrived at Cedar Mountain, Jim took the cavalry mount to the livery
stable; and three days later, the little stable he had built for Blazing
Star was torn down and carried away.

Jim was looking for a new mount, when one day Cattleman Kyle appeared in
the town, and they met for a few minutes at the blacksmith shop.

"Hello, Jim! What are you riding these days?" was his greeting.

"To tell the truth, I'm afoot, hard afoot," was the reply.

"Anything in sight?"

"Not yet."

"Come with me for a minute. I'm cutting down my saddle stock for the
winter. I've got a bunch of bronchos in the corral by the river. Have a
look at them."

Jim went rather reluctantly; his heart was still sore over Blazing Star,
and he was not ready yet to put another into the vacant place. After a
silent five minutes' walk, they reached the corral with fifty horses of
all colours, sizes, and shapes. Then Kyle said: "Jim, I've been
thinking, preachers ain't exactly broken-backed carrying their
spondulix. I kind o' think I owe ye something in the way of
possibilities for putting Blazing Star in hands which may be a big help
to me. So there's my bunch; you can go over them at your own time and
pick the best as a free gift."

"Ye mean it?"

"That's what I mean, and there's my hand on it," said Kyle. And it was
so. That was the way of the old-time cattleman. If he lived at all, his
money came in large chunks. He lived lavishly, and made a fortune, if
moderately lucky. So they were a generous lot; they were truly cattle
kings.

But the cattle king reducing his horse herd does not select his best
stock for the hammer; quite the reverse. Some would have called his
bunch the scrubs and tailings of the Circle K ranch. Hartigan knew that;
but he also knew that it must contain some unbroken horses and he asked
to see them. There were ten, and of these he selected the biggest. A man
of his weight must have a better mount than a pony. So the tall,
rawboned, black three-year-old was roped and handed over to the
Preacher. Kyle did not fail to warn him that "Midnight" had a temper.

"Faith, it's mesilf can see that," said Hartigan, "but he isn't broken
yet, and that means his temper isn't spoiled. And it's mesilf will bring
him to time, and he never will be broke. If your broncho-busters take
him in hand, they'll ride him in a week, but they'll make a divil of
him. I'll take him in hand and in three months I'll have him following
me round with tears in his eyes, just begging me to get on his back, and
go for a run."

Who that knows the horse will doubt it? Hartigan's first aim was to
convince the black colt that men were not cruel brutes, and that he,
Hartigan, was the gentlest and kindest of them all. And this he did by
being much with him, by soft talking, by never being abrupt, and by
bringing him favourite food. Not in a stable - it was a month before the
wild horse would consent to enter a stable - this first period of
training was all in a corral. Then came the handling. Midnight was very
apt to turn and kick when first a hand was laid on him, but he learned
to tolerate, and then to love the hand of his master; and when this
treatment was later reinforced with a currycomb, the sensation pleased
him mightily. The bridle next went on by degrees - first as a halter,
then as a hackimore, last complete with bit. The saddle was the next
slow process - a surcingle, a folded blanket and cinch, a double blanket
and cinch, a bag of oats and cinch and, finally, the saddle and rider.
It was slow, but it was steadily successful; and whenever the black
colt's ears went back or his teeth gave a rebellious snap, Jim knew he
was going too fast, and gently avoided a clash. Never once did he fight
with that horse; and before three months had passed, he was riding the
tall black colt; and the colt was responding to his voice and his touch
as a "broken" horse will never do.

"Yes," said Kyle, "I know all about that. It costs about twenty-five
dollars to learn a horse that way, and it costs about five dollars to
break him cowboy way. An average horse is worth only about twenty-five
dollars. The cowboy way is good enough for our job, so I don't see any
prospect of change till we get a price that will justify the
'training.'"

Belle was an intensely interested spectator of all this Midnight
chapter. She wanted Jim to get a good horse that he would love, but oh,
how she prayed and hoped he would not happen on another speeder! She
knew quite well that it was about one chance in ten thousand; but she
also knew that Jim could make a good horse out of mediocre material; and
it was with anxiety just the reverse of his that she watched the black
colt when first they rode together. He was strong and hard, but, thank
heaven, she thought, showed no sign of racing blood.

"Of course, he'll come up a little later, when I get him well in hand,"
Jim explained apologetically.

And Belle added, "I hope not."

"Why?" asked Jim in surprise.

"Because, you might ride away from me." And she meant it.




CHAPTER XXXIII

The Sociable


Christmas time with its free days and its social gatherings was at hand;
and the Church folk must needs respond to the spirit of the season with
a "sociable." In such a meeting, the young minister is king - that is the
tradition - and on this occasion it was easier than usual to crown the
heir apparent. At least twenty girls were making love to Jim, and he was
quite unconscious of it all, except that he thought them a little free,
and at length he recited an appropriate couplet from "The Solitude of
Alexander Selkirk": "They are so unaccustomed to man, their tameness is
shocking to me." He joked and laughed with all; but ever he drifted over
toward Belle, to consult, to whisper, to linger.

For such affairs there is a time-honoured and established programme that
was fairly well adhered to at least in the early part. They met at the
church parlours and gossiped; had a prayer, then more gossip; next
followed tea and cakes in a poisonous abundance, and more gossip. Now
the older preacher, as expected, read a chapter out of some safe story
book, amid gossip - harmless in the main, but still gossip. Next the
musical geniuses of the congregation were unchained. A perfectly
well-meaning young lady sang, "Be kind to your brother, he may not last
long," to an accompaniment of squeaks on the melodeon - and gossip. A boy
orator recited "Chatham's speech on American Independence," and received
an outburst of applause which, for a moment, overpowered the gossip.

Lou-Jane Hoomer, conspicuous for her intense hair and noisy laugh, had
been active in getting up the sociable, and now she contributed of her
talents by singing "Home, Sweet Home." About the middle of the second
period, according to custom, the preacher should recite "Barbara
Frietchie" to a whispering chorus of gossip. But Jim was brought up in a
land not reached by Barbara's fame and he made a new departure by giving
a Fenian poem - "Shamus O'Brien" - with such fervour that, for the moment,
the whisperers forgot to gossip.

Belle, as the manager of the affair, was needed everywhere and all the
time, but made no contribution to the programme. Lou-Jane scored such a
success with "Home, Sweet Home" that she was afterward surrounded by a
group of admirers, among them Jim Hartigan.

"Sure," he said, she "was liable to break up the meeting making every
one so homesick," and she replied that "it would never break up as long
as he was there to attract them all together."

John Higginbotham, with his unfailing insurance eye, pointed out that
the stove-pipe wire had sagged, bringing the pipe perilously near the
woodwork, and then gossiped about the robberies his company had
suffered. A game of rhymes was proposed. In this one person gives a word
and the next to him must at once match it with an appropriate rhyme.
This diversion met with little enthusiasm and the party lagged until
some one suggested that Jim recite. He chose a poem from Browning, "How
They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix." He put his very soul in
those galloping horses and wondered why the poet said so much about the
men and so little about the steeds. Dr. Jebb could not quite "see the
lesson," but the fire and power of the rendering gripped the audience.
Dr. Carson said, "Now you're doing real stuff! If you'd cut out all your
piffling goody talk and give us life like that, you'd have all the town
with you."

Lou-Jane was actually moved, and Belle glowed with pride to see her hero
really touching the nobler strings of human emotion - strings that such a
community is apt to lose sight of under cobwebs of long disuse but they


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Online LibraryErnest Thompson SetonThe preacher of Cedar Mountain; a tale of the open country → online text (page 13 of 24)