Ernest Thompson Seton.

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

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are there and ready to resound to the strong, true soul that can touch
them with music.

But what was it in the trampling horses that stirred some undiscovered
depth in his own heart? How came it that those lines drove fogbanks back
and showed another height in his soul, a high place never seen before,
even by himself? And, as those simple townfolk, stirred they knew not
how, all clamoured for another song, he felt the thrill that once was
his in the far-off stable yard of Links, when Denny Denard, brandishing
a dung-fork, chanted "The Raiding of Aymal." Now it all came back and
Hartigan shouted out the rede:

"Haakon is dead! Haakon is dead!
Haakon of the bronze-hilt sword is dead.
His son's in his stead;
Aymal, tall son of Haakon,
Swings now the bronze-hilt sword of his father.
He is gone to the High-fielden
To the high pasture to possess the twelve mares of his father;
Black and bay and yellow, as the herdsman drave them past him;
Black and yellow, their manes on the wind;
And galloped a colt by the side of each."

So he sang in a chant the saga-singer's tale of the king killing all the
colts save one that it might have the nursing of the twelve. His eye
sparkled and glowed; his colour mounted; his soul was so stirred with
the story that his spirit could fill the gaps where his memory failed.
The sense of power was on him; he told the swinging tale as though it
were in verity his own; and the hearers gazed intensely, feeling that he
sang of himself. It was no acting, but a king proclaiming himself a
king, when he told of the world won by the bronze sword bearer mounted
on the twelve-times-nourished stallion colt; and he finished with a
royal gesture and injunction:

"Ho! ye, ye seven tall sons of Aymal,
Comes there a time when face you many trails;
Hear this for wisdom now;
Twelve colts had I and all save one I slew.
The twelve-times-nourished charger grew
And round the world he bore me
And never failed; so all the world was mine
And all the world I ruled.
Ho, children of the bronze-hilt sword,
Take this for guiding creed:
Pick out your one great steed
And slay the rest and ride."

And when he smote the table with his fist the folk in that poor, simple
hall were hushed with awe. They had no words to clothe the thoughts that
came, no experience of their own to match them. There was a pauses - a
silence; a slow, uncertain sounding of applause. Carson glared half
hypnotized; then said to himself: "This is not Jim Hartigan; this is the
royal saga who sang."

What he clearly expressed, the others vaguely but deeply felt. As for
Belle, the passion and the power of it possessed her. She was deeply
moved - and puzzled, too. It was a side of Jim she had not known before.
Later, as they went home together hand on arm, she held on to him very
tightly and said softly: "Now I know that you are marked for big things
in the world."




CHAPTER XXXIV

Springtime


Have you seen the springtime dawn on the Black Hills? No? Then you have
never seen a real spring.

For long, dark, silent months the land has lain under a broad white
robe, the plains are levelled, hidden, and the whiteness of the high
spaces sweeps down to meet, on the lower hills, the sudden blackness of
the forest pine. And now you know why these are named Black Hills. Full
four white moons have waned; the blizzard wind has hissed and stung,
till the house-bound wonder if the days of spring will ever come. In
March, when the northward-heading crows appear, the sting-wind weakens,
halts; the sweet south wind springs up, the snow-robe of the plains
turns yellow here and there as the grass comes through, then lo! comes
forth a world of crocus bloom. The white robe shrivels fast now, the
brown pursues it up the mountain side till at the last there is nothing
left but a high-up snow-cap hiding beneath the pines, slowly dissolving
in a million crystal rills to swell the rolling Cheyenne far below. The
spring birds fill the air, the little ones that twitter as they pass,
and the great gold-breasted prairie lark that sings and sings: "The
Spring, the Spring, the glory of the Spring!" Then all the world is
glad, and stronger than the soft new wind, deeper than the impulse of
awakening flower bulbs, broader than the brightening tinge of green - is
the thrill of a world-wide, sky-wide joy and power, the exquisite
tenderness and yearning which if you know, you know; and if you do not
know it none can make you understand.

"O God of the blue and the green and the wind, oh, send me what my
spirit craves." That is the prayer, the unspoken prayer, of every
sun-wise creature in these days; and the wild things race and seek, and
search and race, not knowing what draws them ever on; but they surely
know when they find it, and then they are at rest.

And they rode, Belle and Jim, the big square man, and the maid with the
age-old light in her eyes, and they rejoiced in the golden plains. They
rode with the wild things of the plain, and though they talked of the
past and the future there was for them but one thing worth a thought,
the golden present in their golden youth.

"Oh, Belle, what fools we are! We talk of the past and of far-off days,
of the blessings that are ahead of us, and I know there is no better joy
than this, to ride and shout and be alive right now with you!"

Midnight had burgeoned out into a big strong horse; not swift, but
staunch and better fitted than the other for a rider of such weight. The
wound of losing Blazing Star had healed, and the scar it left was a
precious thing to Jim much as the Indian holds his Sun Dance scars as
proofs of fortitude unflinching.

Fort Ryan and all the plains were in a rosy light this spring. It was a
threefold joy to ride on Midnight, with Belle, and to visit Blazing Star
in his stall at the Fort. Hartigan felt a little guilty as the gentle
creature would come and nose about for sugar lumps while Midnight would
lay back his ears at the approach. Midnight had a temper, as was well
known; but it was never let forth, for the master that had so little
skill in handling men was adept with the horse.

These were very full days for Jim and Belle, though they took their
happiness in very different moods. There never was a grown man more
incapable of thought for the morrow than Hartigan; he was alive right
now, he would right now enjoy his life and Belle should be the crown.
But in her eyes even his imperception discovered a cloud.

"What is it, Belle? Why do you get that far-off troubled look?"

"Oh, Jim, you big, blind, childish giant; do you never think? You are
only a probationer with one year's leave. That year is up on the first
of May."

"Why, Belle darling, that's five weeks off. A world of things may happen
before that."

"Yes, if we make them happen, and I'm going to try."

"Well, Belle, this thing I know; if you set your mind to it I'd bet - if
I weren't a preacher - I'd bet there's not a thing could stand against
you."

"I like your faith, Jim; but 'faith without works is dead'; and that
means we must get up and rustle."

"What do you suggest?"

"Well, I have been rustling this long while back. I've been working Dr.
Jebb and Mrs. Jebb and anybody else I could get hold of, to have your
probation extended for another year. And the best news we have so far is
the possibility of another six months. After that, you must go back to
college to complete your course."

COLLEGE! Jim was thunderstruck. How many a man has all his dream of
bliss summed up in that one word - college? "Oh, if only I had money
enough to go to college!" is the cry of hundreds who hunger for the
things that college means; and yet, to Jim, it was like a doom of death.
College, with all the horror of the classroom ten times worse since
knowing the better things. College in the far-off East - deadly,
lifeless, crushing thing; college that meant good-bye to Belle, to life,
and red blood on the plains. Yes, he knew it was coming, if ever he gave
the horrid thing a thought; but now that it was close at hand the idea
was maddening. College was simply another name for hell. The effect of
the sudden thought on his wild, impulsive nature was one great surging
tide of rebellion.

"_I won't go!_" he thundered. "Belle, do you suppose God brought me out
here to meet you, and have you save me from ruin and help me to know the
best things on earth, just to chuck it all and go back to a lot of
useless rot about the number of wives the kings of Judah used to have,
or how some two-faced Hebrew woman laid traps for some wine-soaked
Philistine brute, and stuck the rotten loafer in the back with a kitchen
knife all for the pleasure and glory of a righteous God! I don't want
any more of it, Belle; _I won't go!_ You've told me often enough that my
instincts are better than my judgment, and my instincts tell me to stay
right here," and his face flushed red with passion.

"Dear boy! Don't you know I'm trying to help you? Don't you know I mean
to keep you here? You know that we can get anything we want, if we are
willing to pay the price, and _will_ have it. I mean to keep you here;
only I am trying not to pay too high a price."

She laid her hand on his. He reached out and put an arm about her. She
said nothing, and did nothing. She knew that he must blow off this
fierce steam, and that the reaction would then set in with equal force.

They rode for a mile in silence; she wanted him to speak first.

"You always help me," he said at last, heaving a great sigh. "You are
wiser than I am."

She gently patted his cheek. He went on: "What do you think I should
do?"

"Nothing for three days; then we'll see."

They galloped for half a mile, and every sign of worry was gone from his
face as they reined their horses in at the stable of Fort Ryan.




CHAPTER XXXV

When the Greasewood is in Bloom


Big things were in the air, as all the horsemen knew. Blazing Star had
wintered well and, being a four-and-a-half-year-old, was in his prime.
Red Rover in the adjoining stable was watched with equal care. Prairie
hay was judged good enough for the country horses; but baled timothy, at
shocking prices, was brought from Pierre for the two racers; and, after
a brief period of letdown on clover and alfalfa, the regular routine
diet of a race horse was begun, as a matter of course. Little Breeches
had left, chiefly because of unpleasant remarks that he continued to
hear in the stable. He had taken a springtime job among the cattle. So
Peaches, having no other string to his bow, allowed the officers "to
secure his services as second assistant trainer," as he phrased it, or,
as they with brutal simplicity put it, "as stable boy." He accepted this
gravely responsible position on the explicit understanding that
allusions to the late race were in bad taste.

Why should these two horses be so carefully trained? There was no race
on the calendar. No, but every one assumed that there would be a
challenge, and nobody dreamed of declining it. So, one day when all the
plains were spangle-glint with grass and bloom, the sentry reported
horsemen in the south, a band of Indians, probably Sioux. It was an hour
before they halted near the Fort, and Red Cloud, on a fine strong pony,
came with his counsellors around him to swing his hand in the free grace
of the sign talk, to smoke and wait, and wait and smoke, and then speak,
as before, on the Colonel's porch.

"Did the Soldier High Chief want a race this year?"

"Sure thing," was all the interpreter had to transmute.

"When?"

"As before."

"When the greasewood blooms, on the white man's big noisy wet Sunday?"
For the treaty money was to be paid that day. And Colonel Waller's eyes
lit up.

So it was arranged that the Fourth of July they should race as before on
the Fort Ryan track; the horses were to be named on the day of the race.
And Red Cloud rode away.

Jim Hartigan was present at that interview; he watched their every move,
he drank in every word, and he rode at a gallop till he found Belle.
"Belle, the race is on for the Fourth of July, they're going to enter
Blazing Star. Oh, glory be! I'll see that race; I'll see Blazing Star
show all the country how."

"Yes, unless you are sent back to college."

"Oh, Belle, that's a cruel one. Just as everything looks gay, you hand
me that," and his face clouded. He knew too well that there was little
likelihood of an extension; it was most unusual. Why should an exception
be made in his case?

"You know, Jim," she said very seriously, "we have been trying to move
the president of the college; and the fact that you are so much of a
favourite is additional reason for getting you back. The president has
turned us down."

"Well, Belle, I simply won't go."

"You mean you will break with the Church?"

"I'll avoid that as long as possible, but I won't go back - at least, not
now."

"Jim," she said, with a twinkle in her eye, "the president turned down
Dr. Jebb and John Higginbotham and you; but we were not licked. Mrs.
Jebb, Hannah Higginbotham, and myself went after the president's wife,
and this morning Dr. Jebb got a new mandate; not all we asked, but your
furlough is extended for six months more."

"Hooray! Whoop!" was the response.

"Yes, I thought so," said Belle. "That's why I asked Dr. Jebb to let me
break the news. For a serious divinity student, it's wonderful what a
good imitation you can give of a man who hates books."

"Well, now, Belle, you know, and I know, and all the world knows, I can
preach a better sermon than Dr. Jebb, although he has studied a thousand
books to my one and knows more in a minute of time than I can ever know
in a month of Sundays. And, if I go to college and learn to talk like
him, I'll put people to sleep in church just as he does. Hasn't the
attendance doubled since I came?" There was no question of that due in
part to the growth of the town, and partly also to Hartigan's winning
personality and interesting though not very scholarly sermons.

"All right," said Belle. "You are saved from the terrible fate for six
months. Be happy."

And he was. To such a buoyant soul a guarantee of six months' freedom
put slavery so very far away that it was easy to forget it.




CHAPTER XXXVI

Shoeing the Buckskin


Hartigan and the blacksmith were at it hard again.

"Look a' here," said Shives, "I want ye to notice all this here Church
business was faked up by that man Paul, or Saul, or whatever he called
himself; and the real disciples would have nothing to do with him. They
threw him down cold whenever he tried to mix in. Now if you chuck him
and stick to the simple kindness of the old-timers that really did sit
around with the Master - Paul _never even saw_ Him! - I'm willing to hear
ye. But a man that writes whole screeds about getting or not getting
married and what kind of frippery women have to wear on their heads,
well, I've got him sized up for a fellow that had a dressing down from
some woman and probably deserved all he got - and more."

It was a long speech for Shives and more than once John Higginbotham
tried to break in.

But Shives struck the anvil a succession of ringing blows which
overpowered all rival voices as effectively as any speaker's gavel could
have done. Then, turning suddenly on Higginbotham, he said, "See here,
_Deacon_" (and he stressed the "Deacon"), "if you take the trouble to
read a publication called the Bible, and in particular the early numbers
of the second volume, you'll find that the Big Teacher taught
socialism - and the real disciples did, too. It was that little lawyer
feller Paul that succeeded in twisting things around to the old basis of
'get all you can; there must always be rich and poor'; and it ain't a
bit of use your preaching to a man 'don't steal,' when his babies are
crying for bread. I know I'd steal fast enough; so would you, if you
were anything of a man. It would be your 'fore-God duty to steal; yes,
and murder, too, if there was no other way of feeding them that He gave
you to feed. And the law has no right to preach 'no stealing' when it
fixes it so you can't help stealing. If this yere government of ours was
what it pretends to be and ain't, it would arrange so every man could
get enough work at least to feed him and his folks and save himself from
starvation when he was sick or old. There wouldn't be any stealing then
and mighty little of any other crime.

"That's my opinion; and I tell you it was that way the Big Teacher
preached it in the beginning, as you can see plain enough. And the first
ring of disciples were honest socialists. It was that letter-writing
advance agent of the trusts that you call _Saint_ Paul, that managed to
get control of the company and then twisted things back into the old
ways. And in my opinion the hull bunch of you is crooks hiding behind
the name of a good man who threw you down cold when He was alive. And
the very words He used happens to be a verse I remember: 'Ye compass sea
and land to make one proselyte and when he is made ye make him twofold
more a child of hell than yourselves.'"

And the anvil rang, "clang, clang, clang!"

"Now, Shives," bawled Jim in his stentorian voice, "you haven't _begun_
to think. And every statement you make is wrong and none of your
quotations ever happened before; otherwise, I am quite willing to accept
everything you say. For example - - "

"Hello! who's this?"

Up to the door of the blacksmith shop came riding a band of mounted
Indians. First of these was a middle-sized man with large square
features, a single eagle feather in his hair. Hartigan recognized at
once the famous War Chief, Red Cloud, the leader of all the Sioux.
Riding beside him was an interpreter, and behind him was a small boy,
mounted on a tall pony - buckskin, so far as one could tell, but so
shrouded in a big blanket that little of his body was seen; his head was
bedizened with a fancy and expensive bridle gear.

The whole shop turned to see. The interpreter got down and approaching
Shives, said, "You can shoe pony, when he ain't never been shod?"

"Sure thing," said Shives, "we do it every day."

"How much?"

"Five dollars."

"Do him now?"

"Yes, I guess so."

The interpreter spoke to Red Cloud; the Chief motioned to the boy, who
dropped from the blanketed pony and led it forward.

"Bring him in here," and Shives indicated the shop. But that was not so
easy. The pony had never before been under a roof, and now he positively
declined to break his record. Some men would have persisted and felt it
their duty to show the horse "who is boss." Shives was inclined to be
masterful; it was Hartigan who sized up the situation.

"He's never been under a roof, Jack. I wouldn't force him; it'll only
make trouble."

"All right; tie him out there." So the pony was tied on the shady side
of the shop.

Hartigan turned to the half-breed interpreter to ask, "What do you want
him shod for?" It was well known that the Indians did not shoe their
horses.

The half-breed spoke to Red Cloud, who was standing near with his men,
talking among themselves.

The Chief said something; then the interpreter replied, "By and by, we
race him, maybe on the Big Wet Sunday; prairie wet, so he go slow."

There was a general chuckle at this. Sure enough, the Fourth of July,
presumably the race day in mind, it nearly always rained; and for the
wet track they wanted their racer shod.

There are few short operations that take more horse management that the
first shoeing of a full-grown horse, especially a wild Indian pony.
Nearly everything depends on the handling and on the courage of the
pony. In nine cases out of ten, the pony must be thrown. On rare
occasions a very brave horse, of good temper, can be shod by a clever
farrier without throwing. But it takes a skilful shoer, with a strong
and skilful helper, for the assistant must keep one front foot of the
horse off the ground all the time the hind shoe is being put on, or the
shoer is liable to get his brains kicked out. As they were discussing
the need of throwing the pony, the interpreter said:

"Red Cloud no want him thrown. Chaska hold him." The bright-eyed boy
from the mountain top - yes, the same - came forward and, holding the
pony's head, began crooning a little song. The pony rubbed his nose
against him, recovered his calm, and thanks to Hartigan's help - for he
had volunteered eagerly to lend a hand - the operation progressed without
mishap. There were, however, one or two little tussles, in which the
great blanket slipped off the pony's back and showed a rounded,
beautiful barrel of a chest, hocks like a deer, and smooth, clean limbs;
a very unusually fine build for an Indian pony.

"By George! He's a good one," said Jim, and his heart warmed to the
brave pony. The falling of the blanket also showed some white spots,
left by ancient saddle galls. Hartigan, after a discriminating glance,
said:

"Say, boys, this is their racer all right. This is the famous Buckskin
Cayuse. He's a good one. Now you see why they want him shod."

What a temptation it was to the white men; how easy it would have been
for Shives to put one nail in a trifle deep, to send that pony forth
shod - well shod - but shod so that within the next ten miles he would go
lame, and in the race, a month ahead, fall far behind - if, indeed, he
raced at all. Yet, to his credit be it said that Shives handled that
pony as though it were his own; he gave him every care, and Red Cloud
paid the five dollars and rode away content.

Jim gazed after the little band as they loped gently down the street and
round the curve till a bank cut off the view. "Say, boys, this is
great," he said, "I wouldn't have missed it for anything. There's going
to be a real race this year."

There could be no question of that. The securing of Blazing Star was a
guarantee of a wonderful event if widespread interest and fine
horseflesh could make it so.




CHAPTER XXXVII

The Boom


With the definite assurance of Blazing Star being entered, every man in
Fort Ryan focussed his thoughts on how he might best turn the race to
account, wipe out the damage of the last defeat, and recoup his loss
with a double profit. They were very sorry for themselves, most of these
losers; especially sorry that they, who could really enjoy money and who
had actual need of so much, should lose their all to a lot of Indians
who neither sought nor cared for cash and whose only pleasure in the
race was the gambling spirit, the excitement of the game. This time the
whites were going to leave no stone unturned to make a "killing." Every
plan was discussed, and there were not lacking those who called Shives
by ugly names - behind his back - for not seizing on the chance, when it
was so easily in his hands, to put the Indian racer under shadow of a
sure defeat. But they made no such speeches when the Colonel was in
hearing.

Yet, after all, what did it matter? They had the ace in their hands now.
There was no horse on the plains could run with Blazing Star; and,
training with him, in the best of care, was the Red Rover, only a little
less swift than the Star, now that careful methods had brought him his
full-grown strength and speed. Microscopic studies were made of every
fact that seemed to furnish a gauge of the horses' powers, and this was
clear: Blazing Star was easily first; Red Rover would make a good
second; and the buckskin cayuse could not possibly do so well as the Red
Rover under the new training and lighter leather gear. Of course, the
horse was not to be named until the day and hour of the race, but it was
quite certain that the Indians would enter the Buckskin. Vague reports
there were of a wonderful pinto that the Red men had somewhere in
training; but the Crow spies could furnish no corroboration of the
report; and, in any case, the shoeing of the Buckskin was a guarantee
that the Indians meant to enter him.

From all of which there was but one logical conclusion. So the message
went forth through the length and breadth of Dakota, "Come on, we've got
a dead-sure thing. Come on, and bring all you can raise or borrow." It
is wonderful, the faith of the racetrack gamblers in a tip! Their belief
in the "hunch" is blind and absolute; hope never dies on the racetrack,
even though, once in a while, it goes into a very deathlike swoon.

Not merely Dakota responded to the chances of the coming race, but
Wyoming, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, yes, even Illinois. And Cedar
Mountain post office began to have hopes of stepping up to a higher


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Online LibraryErnest Thompson SetonThe preacher of Cedar Mountain; a tale of the open country → online text (page 14 of 24)