Ernest Thompson Seton.

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

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Without a doubt, this was the easiest way. The Ogallala scouts would
gladly pursue their ancient enemies and force them to give up the stolen
horse. These men knew which line the Crows would most likely take, and
could probably pick up the trail in a day. Prompt action was necessary.
The Indian bands were breaking up and going home laden with plunder,
their fresh trails would render it impossible to follow the trail of the
horse thieves. The Colonel's mind was quickly made up.

"Red Cloud," he said emphatically, "I'll give you two hundred and fifty
dollars cash if you find Blazing Star and bring him back here in good
condition within one week."

The Indian Chief smoked for a few puffs and said: "Seven suns, no good.
Crow country far away; one moon maybe."

Reckless riders like the Crows might easily ruin a horse in one month;
so, at length, a compromise was reached, whereby Red Cloud was to
receive two hundred and fifty dollars if within two-weeks; and one
hundred if a month passed before the return. Then the Sioux Chief rose
"to find his young men," and his party rode away.

It was nine the next morning when the sentry discovered a considerable
body of mounted Indians in the northeast, riding rapidly toward the
Fort. Had it been from the south, he would scarcely have made a report.
Before ten o'clock they had arrived. They numbered about fifty warriors
in full war paint. They were singing their war songs, and fastened to
their coup sticks were one or two terribly fresh-looking scalps. At
their head was Red Cloud. A hundred troopers were under arms, so they
did not hesitate to admit the Indians. The warriors passed through the
gate; then spreading out before the Colonel's house, their opening ranks
revealed the noble form of Blazing Star. Bestriding him was the boy
Chaska, his bright eyes and clear white teeth gleaming in a smile.

A mighty shout went up among the white men as the blooded racer was led
to the Colonel's office. One or two formalities, and the two hundred and
fifty dollars was paid over to Red Cloud. Blazing Star was hastily
examined, found in perfect trim, then handed over to the Irish hostler.

"You take him to the stable," was all the Colonel said, but he said it
in large capital letters and it was full of grim threats and reminder,
hostler Mike led the lost darling back to the stable where a crowd of
men were waiting.

Red Cloud crammed the new wealth into his tobacco pouch and rode away at
the head of his men.

Al Rennie felt sick with disgust that he should fail when the trail was
fresh, while the Sioux, on a washed-out trail, made such a showing in so
short a time. He was puzzled, too, by the scalps. The two he managed to
examine were not fresh. But he had to swallow his disgust.

All that day the Indian bands had been going off. Their camps were
breaking up; they were dispersing to their homes. The Plain was nearly
deserted that afternoon when hostler Mike took Blazing Star out into the
heat of the sun to give him the thorough washing and cleaning that he
surely needed. A minute later, Mike came rushing across the square to
the Colonel's office.

"Colonel, Colonel," he gasped, "come here, sir."

"What's the matter with you?" said the Colonel in a voice of wrath which
boded ill for a new blunder.

"Colonel, come at once. Come, it's Blazing Star."

There was a total lack of soldier decorum in the hostler's address. He
was so intensely excited that the Colonel overlooked the informality and
went quickly to where Blazing Star was standing tied to the washing
post.

"There, sir; look there - and there!" ejaculated Mike with growing
excitement, as he pointed to Blazing Star's legs. "And look at that!"
and he swept his bony finger round the big liquid eye of the racer. The
Colonel looked, looked closer, parted the hair, looked down to the roots
and saw _paint - red paint, white paint, black paint_ - traces of
horseshoes, red hands, white patches and stripes; not much, but enough
to tell the tale.

Without a question, _Blazing Star was the Pinto that had won the race_!

The simple Red men knew that the Buckskin was overmatched, so they
secured the only horse on the plains that _could_ win. They drove the
Crows away at the right moment to leave a red herring trail. Then,
having captured the stakes, they calmly collected two hundred and fifty
dollars for restoring him to his owner. The simple Red men!

And when Jim Hartigan heard of it he yelled with joy. He laughed; he
almost cried. After all, his horse had won; his Blazing Star was the
steed of all the plains. He was tossed with different moods - regret and
joy, grim humour, sadness and madness; he was stirred to the depths; all
his primitive nature was set free. He did not sleep for hours, and when
the dawn was near, his boyhood memories filled his brain and he was back
in the livery stable garret once again, and repossessed of all his
boyhood's ways and words he softly swore himself to sleep.




CHAPTER XLIV

A Fair Rider


Life at Cedar Mountain had dropped to normal. Charles Bylow and his wife
were regular church members now, and no warmer, truer friends on earth
had Hartigan. Pat Bylow had gone to Deadwood seeking work on the railway
and it was said that his wife was still importing an occasional flask;
but no more sprees took place. Jack Lowe had left Cedar Mountain
abruptly after the Bylow affair. Higginbotham had spread the truth about
Lowe's part in the drugged liquor and the schoolteacher had received
pointed advice to leave the town. He lost no time. Dr. Carson and Jack
Shives were alternately confronting each other with abstruse problems;
John and Hannah Higginbotham were building an addition to their house
and getting a hired girl; and old man Boyd was worrying over a possible
extension of the road to Deadwood, which might seriously hurt his
business.

Jim found life very sweet as he grew into the hearts of the townsfolk
and came to know their perfectible qualities; he was acquiring a fine
reputation for pulpit oratory. Every Thursday and every Sunday afternoon
and evening were spent at the Boyds' as their accepted son-in-law to be.
On these occasions it was his keenest pleasure to lay his sermons and
plans before Belle for her criticism and approval. When they were not
together indoors, they were in the saddle together; all the world knew,
understood, and wished them joy.

The Hoomers had come to be prominent in the church now - at least, Ma
Hoomer and Lou-Jane had. It was Lou-Jane's doing. And Hartigan, after
long delay, felt bound to pay them a pastoral visit. Lou-Jane was
heartiness and propriety combined. She chatted gaily on every subject he
opened; showed no forwardness; was even shy when, after dinner, he sat
down near her. Her riding at the racetrack was vividly in his mind and
she blushed quite prettily when he referred to it in admiration.

"You should see my pony take a fence," she said.

"Well, sure; that's what I'd like to see," was the response.

"Some day soon, maybe."

"Why not now?" he inquired.

"I must help mother with the dishes."

And he thought: "Isn't she fine? I like a girl to consider her mother."
But he lingered and chatted till the dishes were washed; then he
suggested: "If I go out and saddle your pony, will you show me that
jump?"

"Certainly," she answered, with a merry laugh.

He went to the stable, saddled and brought the bay horse. Lou-Jane put
her foot in the stirrup and swung into the saddle before he could offer
his help.

"Drop all the bars but the middle one." Hartigan did so, leaving only
the three-foot bar of the pasture. Lou-Jane circled off and cleared it
without an effort.

"Raise it one," she shouted.

He did so, and over she went.

"Again."

Now, at four feet, the pony rose and went over.

"Another," and he raised to four and a half feet. As before, she and her
pony sailed over like one creature.

"Again," and he raised it to five feet. The pony rose with just a hint
of effort. One front hoof touched, but he made the jump in triumph.
Lou-Jane laughed for joy and circled back, but, warned by that toe tap,
jumped no more. She leaped from the saddle before Jim could come near to
help and in his frank, beaming admiration she found what once she had
hungered for in vain.

As he rode away that day, his unvoiced thought was: "Isn't she fine - and
me misjudging her all the time! I'm ashamed of myself."

Lou-Jane watched him out of sight, waving a hand to him as he topped the
hill. The visit and Hartigan's open delight in her riding had stirred
her very much. Was it loyalty to Belle that led her to throw up a
barrier between herself and the Preacher? or was it knowledge that the
flowers are ever fairest in the fenced-in field? This much was sure, the
interest of passing attraction was giving place to a deeper feeling. A
feeling stronger every month. Lou-Jane was in the game to win; and was
playing well.

August, bright and fruit-giving, was passing; September was near with
its dryness, its payments on the springtime promises; and Belle, as she
gazed at the radiant sky or the skurrying prairie dogs that tumbled,
yapping, down their little craters, was tormented with the flight of the
glowing months. In October the young Preacher and she must say good-bye
for a long, long time, with little chance of any break till his course
was completed, and he emerged a graduate of Coulter. That was a gloomy
thought. But others of equal dread had come of late.

Hartigan was paying repeated pastoral calls at Hoomers' and last week
Jim and Lou-Jane had ridden to Fort Ryan together. It was a sort of
challenge race - on a dare - and Jim had told Belle all about it before
and after; but just the same, they had ridden there and back and,
evidently, had a joyful time.

Jim was a child. He always thought of himself as a coarse, cruel, rough
brute; but really he was as soft-hearted as a woman; and, outside of his
fighting mood, nothing pained him more than the idea of making any one
unhappy. His fighting moods were big and often; but they had existence
only in the world of men. He believed himself very wise in the ways of
life, but he had not really begun to see, and he was quite sublimely
unconscious of all the forces he was setting in motion by his evident
pleasure in the horsemanship of Lou-Jane Hoomer and in their frequent
rides together.

Lou-Jane had a voice of some acceptability and she was easily persuaded
to join the choir. A class in Sunday-school was added to her activities,
and those who believed the religious instinct to be followed closely by
another on a lower plane, began to screw up their eyes and smile when
Lou-Jane appeared with Jim.

The glorious September of the hills was waning when a landslide was
started by a single sentence from Lou-Jane. She had ridden again with
Jim to Fort Ryan. Her horse had cleared a jump that his had shied at.
Mrs. Waller had said to her across the table, half in fun and meaning it
every word:

"See here, I won't have you trifling with Mr. Hartigan's affections;
remember, he's preƫmpted."

Lou-Jane laughed with delight. And, looking very handsome all the while,
she said with mock humility: "No one would consider me a rival."

Jim told Belle every word of it; he was simplicity itself in such
things; he didn't seem to have any idea of the game. He was wholly
oblivious of the little cloud which his anecdote left on her. It was a
little cloud, but many little clouds can make a canopy of gloom and
beget a storm. Then came the words. It was at one of the church evenings
in the parsonage - a regular affair, but not soaring to the glorious
heights of a sociable - that the words were uttered which wrought a
mighty change. Jim had alluded to the inevitable journey East in
October, not half a month ahead now, when Lou-Jane Hoomer announced "I'm
going East, too. My dad is giving me a trip back to Rochester to see
grandma," she said.

"Why, Rochester is just a little run across the lake from Coulter
College," exclaimed Jim.

"Maybe I'll see you when I am there," said Lou-Jane. "What fun!"

Every one applauded and Jim said: "Well, that would make a pleasant
change in the dreary grind."

Belle's only comment was, "How nice!" and she gave no sign of special
interest; but a close observer might have seen a tightening of her lips,
a sudden tensity of look. The merry chatter of the parlour ceased not
and she seemed still a factor in all its life, but the iron had entered
her very soul. She played her part as leader, she gave no outward sign
of the agony of fear that filled her heart, but she took the earliest
reasonable time to signal Jim and steal away.




CHAPTER XLV

The Life Game


Trump cards you must have to win in the life game; and you must know how
to play them, or a much poorer hand may beat you. You must know the
exact time to play your highest trump, and there is no general rule that
is safe, but Belle had a woman's instinctive knowledge of the game.

In two weeks Jim was to leave Cedar Mountain. Belle had reasoned with
him, coaxed him, cajoled him into seeing that that was the right trail
for him. He must complete his college course, then they could marry with
the sanction of the Church and be assured of a modest living. But the
rules were strict; no ungraduated student might marry. The inadequacy of
the stipend, the necessity for singleness of aim and thought, the
imperative need of college atmosphere - these were absolute. Viewed from
any standpoint, celibacy was the one wise condition for the untrained
student.

It had taken all of Belle's power to make Jim face the horror of those
classrooms in the far East; and from time to time his deep repulsion
broke into expression. Then she would let him rage for a while, chew the
bit, froth and rail till his mood was somewhat spent. And when the
inevitable reaction set in she would put her arm about him and would
show him that the hard way was surely the best way, and then paint a
bright picture of their future together when his rare gifts as an orator
should bring him fame, and secure a position in the highest ranks of the
Church. Thus she had persuaded him, holding out the promise that every
vacation should be spent with her; curbing her own affections, even as
she had curbed his, she walked the path of wisdom - determined,
resigned - in the knowledge that this was the way to win. And Jim had
come to face it calmly now, even as she had done. The minute details of
the plan were being filled in. Then came those little words from
Lou-Jane.

Had Jim been a worldly-wise person with many girl friends and a mouth
full of flattery for them all, Belle would have paid no attention to the
proposed visit of Lou-Jane to Rochester. Knowing Jim as she did, and
having a very shrewd idea of Lou-Jane's intentions, Belle realized that
this was a crisis, the climax of her life and hopes, that everything
that made her life worth while was staked on the very next move.

She said little as they walked home from the parsonage, but her hand,
locked in his arm, clung just a little more than usual, and he was moved
by the tenderness of her "Good-night."

Little she slept that night; but tossed and softly moaned, "That woman,
that coarse, common woman! How _can_ he see anything in her? She is
nothing but an animal. And yet, what may happen if he is East and she is
playing around, with me far away? It cannot be. I know what men are. Now
he is mine; but, if I let him go far away and she follows - -

"It cannot be! It must not be - at any price, I must stop it. I must hold
him."

And she tossed and moaned, "At any price! At any price! I'd do
anything - - "

The simple, obvious plan was to put him under promise never to see or
hear from Lou-Jane; but her pride and her instincts rebelled at the
thought. "What? Admit that there was danger from that creature? No,
no - why, that would have just the wrong effect on him; she would become
doubly interesting; no, that would not do. She would ignore
that - that - that snake. And then what?

"At any price, this must be stopped"; and out of the whirling maelstrom
of her thoughts came this: "If I cannot keep her from going, I'll go,
too!" How? In what capacity? Belle knew enough of his mind to be sure
that however the plan was carried out, it would shock his ideas of
propriety and be a losing game.

Lou-Jane was playing better than she was, and it maddened her ever more
as she realized that the present plans could end only in one way - the
way that she, at any price, must stop. And in the hours of tumult, of
reasoning every course out to its bitter end, this at length came clear:
There was but one way - that was _marry him now_. It was that or wreck
the happiness upon which both their lives had been built. And yet that
meant ruin to his whole career. She, herself, had told him so a hundred
times. "He must go back to college. He must not marry till his three
years were completed." These were her very words.

It seemed that ruin of his hopes was in one scale; ruin of hers in the
other. And she tried to pray for light and guidance; but there do seem
to be times when the Lord is not interested in our problems; at least,
no light or guidance of the kind she sought for came.

And she wrought herself up into a state of desperation. "At any price,
this must stop," she kept saying over and over. Every expedient was
turned in her mind and its outcome followed as far as she could; and
ever it came back to this - her hopes or his were to be sacrificed.

"_I will not let him go_," she said aloud, with all the force of a
strong will become reckless. "It would certainly be my grave; but it
need not be his. There are other colleges and other ways. I'm not afraid
of that. At any price, I must keep him. I'll marry him now. We'll be
married at once. That will settle it."

* * * * *

The storm was over. The one plan was clear. That she would take - take
and win; but, oh, how selfish she felt in taking it! She was sacrificing
his career.

Yet ever she crushed the rising self-accusation with the "There are
other colleges and other ways. I'll open the way for that." That was the
sop to her inner judge, but the motive power was this: "At any price I
must hold him." And convinced that the time had come to play her highest
trump she fell asleep.

* * * * *

The following morning found Belle fully prepared for energetic action.
She cleared the table and washed the dishes, putting them in their
accustomed places, and stopped suddenly with the last of the china in
her hand, wondering how long it would be before she held it again.
Upstairs, she quickly packed her hand-bag for "a one-night camp" and,
keeping ears and eyes alert, noted when at length her father had gone to
his office and her mother had settled to her knitting. Then she went to
her room and set about a careful toilet. The rebellious forelock was
curled on a hot slate pencil and tucked back among its kind. Over each
ear, she selected another lock for like elaboration. She put on her most
becoming dress and studied the effect of her two brooches to make sure
which one would help the most. She dashed a drop of "Violetta" on her
handkerchief and pinched her cheeks to heighten their colour and remove
the traces of the previous night's vigil. The beauty-parlour methods
were not yet known in Cedar Mountain.

Jim always dropped in for a chat in the morning and it was not long
before his cheery whistle sounded as down the street he came to the tune
of "Merry Bandon Town." In his right hand he twirled a stout stick in a
way that suggested a very practical knowledge of the shillelah. The
flush of health and of youth suffused his cheeks and mounted to his
forehead. All signs of worry over his impending fate were gone; indeed,
no worry could live long in his buoyant mind; its tense electric
chargement was sure death to all such microbes. Arrived at the Boyds',
he did not stop to open the five-foot gate. Laying his fingers on the
post, he vaulted over the pickets.

Belle met him on the porch. From somewhere back, Ma Boyd called out a
thin-voiced "good morning," as they went into the front room.

"My little girl looks pale to-day," he said, as he held her at arm's
length.

"Yes, I didn't sleep well. I wish I could get out for a few hours. Can't
you take me?"

"Sure, that's what I came for," he answered gaily.

"I don't feel much like riding, Jim. Can you get a good buckboard?"

"Why, yes, of course I can. Carson says I can have his double-harness
buckboard any time, ponies and all."

"Good! Just the thing. I want to go out to Bylow's Corner to make a
call, and maybe farther, if we can manage. I'll be ready by the time you
are here with the rig."

She went to her desk and wrote a note to her father. Somehow, mother
didn't seem to count.

DEAR DAD: If I am not home to-night, I shall be with Aunt Collins.
Lovingly, BELLE.

Then she put it in his tobacco jar, where he would be certain to see it
on coming home for dinner, and where Ma Boyd would never dream of
looking.

When Jim returned she carried a hand-bag: "Some things I need," and she
laughed happily as he lifted her into the rig and inquired if she wasn't
taking a trunk. Then away they went, as they had so many times before.

Youth and health, love and beauty; October and the Dakota Hills - what a
wonderful conjunction! The world can do no better to multiply the joy of
being alive. If either had a care, it was quickly buried out of sight.
Jim was in rollicking mood. Not a prairie dog sat up and shook its tail
in time to its voice, but Jim's humour suggested resemblances to some
one that they knew; this one looked like Baxter, the fat parson of the
Congregationalists; "that little one's name is likely Higginbotham; see
how Hannah makes him skip around. And there goes Lawyer Scrimmons," he
chuckled, as a blotched, bloated rattlesnake oozed along and out of
sight at the hint of danger. Two owls that gazed and blinked in silence
were named for a pair of fat twin sisters of their church; perfectly
well-meaning, but without a word of conversation or any expression but
their soulful eyes. And a solitary owl that gazed from the top of a post
straight up in the sky was compared to an old-time Methodist woman with
her eyes uplifted in prayer while the collection plate was shoved under
her nose.

Bylow's Corner was reached all too soon. As Jim was about to draw up
Belle said: "Let's go on farther; we can take them in on the road back.
Let's go as far as Lookout Mountain." And Jim was happy to go.

They were six miles from Cedar Mountain now, with no more houses by the
road for miles. Belle had fallen silent. It was all as she had planned,
but somehow the firm resolve of the night before seemed open to question
now. She gazed absently away over the level, toward a distant hillside,
and the smile faded from her lips. To his next light speech she barely
made response. He threatened to charge a "thank you ma'am" at high speed
if she didn't laugh. Then, getting no response, he burst out:

"What the divil is the matter with my little girl to-day? Have ye
anything on your mind, Belle?"

This was the fork in their trail: either she must tell him or give him
up. For a fraction of an instant she lived through the agony of doubt.
Then, with a certainty she had not thought possible, she said: "Yes,
Jim, I surely have."

"Well, shake it off, Belle. Let some other mind have it. Use mine, if
you'll allow that I have one."

"I haven't slept all night for thinking of it, Jim," she began.

"Thinking of what?"

"Your going away."

His face clouded; he became suddenly silent and she continued:

"Jim, dear, I've tried to keep my feelings out of it altogether; I've
argued it out, using nothing but my judgment, and it seemed the wise
thing for you to go back East to college. All my judgment says: 'send
him back'; but, oh, all my instincts say 'keep him here.'" She covered
both his hands with hers and put her cheek on them for a moment.

"I'm always trying to be wise, Jim, but I suppose I'm really very stupid
and very weak like most humans; and there come times when I feel like
kicking everything over and saying 'what's the use?' This time I'm going
to let my feelings hold the reins."

"Why, Belle darling! That sounds more like me than you."

"Jim, as I lay awake last night, a voice seemed to be sounding in my
heart: 'Don't let him go. If he goes, you'll lose him, you'll lose each
other.' Jim, do you suppose God brought you and me together in this way,


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Online LibraryErnest Thompson SetonThe preacher of Cedar Mountain; a tale of the open country → online text (page 17 of 24)