Ernest Thompson Seton.

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

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Thus it came about. The biggest, strongest team in the stable was
harnessed in a minute. The men were not too drunk to pick the best in
horses and harness. The barrel was filled brim-full with water and well
stirred up, so that ammunition would be abundant. Jimmy was to be the
driver; the other five were each armed with a bucket, except one who
found a force pump through which the whitewash could be squirted with
delightful precision. They were to stand around the barrel and dash its
contents right and left as Jimmy drove the horses at full speed down the
middle of the procession. Glorious in every part was the plan; wild
enthusiasm carried all the six away and set the horses on their mettle.

Armed with a long, black snake whip, Jimmy mounted the wagon seat. The
gate was flung wide, and, with a whoop, away went that bumping chariot
of splashing white. Bill Kenna had just dropped his Bible for the
eleventh time and, condemning to eternal perdition all those
ill-begotten miscreants who dared to push him on or help his search, he
held the ranks behind him for a moment halted. At this instant with a
wild shout, in charged Jim Hartigan, with his excited crew. There was
not a man in the procession who had not loved Hartigan the day before,
and who did not love him the day after; but there was none that did not
hate him with a bitter hate on this twelfth day of July, as he charged
and split the procession wide open.

The five helpers dashed their bewildering, blinding slush fast and far,
on every face and badge that they could hit; and the pump stream hit
Kenna square in the face as he yelled in wrath. The paraders were not
armed for such a fight. Men that could face bullets, knives, and death,
were dismayed, defeated, and routed by these baffling bucketfuls and the
amazing precision of the squirting pump.

Strong hands clutched at the bridle reins, but the team was plunging and
going fast. The driver was just drunk enough for recklessness; he kept
the horses jumping all down that Orangemen's parade. Oh, what a rout it
made! And the final bucketfuls were hurled in through the window of the
Orange Lodge, just where they were needed most, as Jimmy and his five
made their escape.

The bottle now went round once more. Shrieking with laughter at their
sweeping, bloodless victory, the six Papists saw the procession
rearrayed. Kenna had recovered and wiped his face with one coat sleeve,
his Bible with the other. The six dispensers of purity could not resist
it; they must charge again. Hartigan wheeled the horses to make the turn
at a run. But with every circumstance against him - speed and reckless
driving, a rough and narrow roadway beset with stumps - the wagon
lurched, crashed, upset, and the six went sprawling in the ditch. The
horses ran away to be afterward rounded up at a farm stable three miles
off, with the fragments of a wagon trailing behind them.

The anger of the Orangemen left them as they gathered around. Five of
the raiders were badly shaken and sobered, one lay still on the stones,
a deep and bloody dent in his head. The newly arrived, newly fledged
doctor came, and when after a brief examination, he said: "He's
dead - all right," there was a low, hollow sound of sympathy among the
men who ten minutes before would gladly have killed him. One voice spoke
for all the rest.

"Poor lad! He was a broth of a bhoy! Poor little Widdy Hartigan."




CHAPTER IV

The Atmosphere of His Early Days


There were many surprises and sharp contrasting colour spots on the map
of the "Widdy's" trail for the next nine years. With herself and the
expected child to make a home for after that mad Orange Day, she had
sought employment and had been welcomed back to the hotel where she had
ever been a favourite.

The little room above the kitchen which projected over the yard was her
only resting place. The cheapest, simplest of wooden furniture was all
it held. On a tiny stand, made of a packing case, was her Bible and,
hanging over it a daguerreotype of her husband - his frank, straight gaze
and happy face looking forth with startling reality. Outside and very
near, for the building was low, the one window looked upon the yard of
the hotel, with its horses, its loafers, its hens and its swine; while
just above the shutter's edge a row of swallows had their nests, where
the brooding owners twittered in the early summer morning, as she rose
with the sunrise and went about her work. A relief at first, the duties
Kitty had undertaken grew heavier with the months, till at last the
kindly heart of the owner's wife was touched, and a new _régime_ of rest
ensued.

Eight months after that fatal Orange Day, James Hartigan, Jr., was born
in the little room over the yard; and baby wailings were added to the
swallows' chirps and the squeals of pigs. Mother Downey, rough and
rawboned to the eye, now appeared in guardian-angel guise, and the
widow's heart was deeply touched by the big, free kindness that events
had discovered in the folk about her. Kitty was of vigorous stock; in a
week she was up, in a fortnight seemed well; and in a month was at her
work, with little Jim - named for his father and grandfather - in hearing,
if not in sight.

Then, quite suddenly, Mrs. Downey died. A big, gaunt woman, she had the
look of strength; but the strength was not there; and a simple malady
that most would have shaken off was more than she could fight. With her
husband and Kitty by the bed, she passed away; and her last words were:
"Be good - to - Kitty, John - and - Little Jim."

It was an easy promise for John Downey to give and a pleasant
undertaking to live up to. Before his wife had been dead three months,
John Downey had assured Kitty that she might become Mrs. Downey Number
Two as early as she pleased. It was not by any means the first offer
since her loss. Indeed, there were few free men in Links who would not
have been glad to marry the winsome, young, energetic widow.

But all her heart was on her boy, and until she could see that it was
best for him she would take no second partner. Downey's proposal was a
puzzle to her; he was a big, strong, dull, moderately successful,
unattractive man. But he had a good business, no bad habits, and was
deeply in love with her.

It was the thought of little Jim that settled it. Downey showed genuine
affection for the child. To give him a father, to have him well
educated - these were large things to Kitty and she consented. As soon as
the late Mrs. Downey should have been laid away for six months, the
wedding was to be and Kitty moved to other lodgings meanwhile. But
Fate's plans again disagreed with Kitty's. A few weeks after her
consent, the town was startled by the news that John Downey was dead. A
cold - neglect (for he did not know how to be sick), and pneumonia. The
folk of the town had much to talk of for a day, and the dead man's will
gave still higher speed to their tongues, for he had left the hotel and
all its appurtenances to Widdy Hartigan, as a life interest; after her
death it was to go to a kinsman. Thus, out of John Downey's grave there
grew a tree with much-needed and wholesome fruit.

Now Kitty was in a quandary. She was an abstainer from choice rather
than principle; but she was deeply imbued with the uncompromising
religion of her Ulster forbears. How could she run a bar-room? How could
she, who had seen the horror of the drink madness, have a hand in
setting it in the way of weak ones? Worst dilemma of all, how could she
whose religious spirit was dreaming of a great preacher son, bring him
up in these surroundings - yet how refuse, since this was his only
chance?

She consulted with her pastor; and this was the conclusion reached: She
would accept the providential bequest. Downey's would be an inn, a
hotel; not a bar-room. The place where the liquor was sold should be
absolutely apart, walled off; and these new rules were framed: No minor
should ever be served there, no habitual drunkard, no man who already
had had enough. Such rules in Canada during the middle of last century
were considered revolutionary; but they were established then, and, so
far as Kitty could apply them, they were enforced; and they worked a
steady betterment.

With this new responsibility upon her, the inborn powers of Kitty
Hartigan bloomed forth. Hers was the gift of sovereignty, and here was
the chance to rule. The changes came but slowly at first, till she knew
the ground. A broken pane, a weak spot in the roof, a leaky horse
trough, and a score of little things were repaired. Account books of a
crude type were established, and soon a big leak in the treasury was
discovered and stopped; and many little leaks and unpaid bills were
unearthed. An aspiring barkeeper of puzzling methods was, much to his
indignation, hedged about by daily accountings and, last of all, a thick
and double door of demarcation was made between the bar-room and the
house. One was to be a man's department, a purely business matter; the
other a place apart - another world of woollen carpets and feminine
gentleness, a place removed ten miles in thought. The dwellers in these
two were not supposed to mix or even to meet, except in the dining room
three times a day; and even there some hint of social lines was
apparent.

In former times the hotel had been a mere annex of the bar-room. Now the
case was reversed; the bar-room became the annex. The hotel grew as
Kitty's power developed. Good food temptingly served brought many to the
house who had no interest in the annex. Her pies made the table famous
and were among the many things that rendered it easy to displace the
brown marbled oilcloth with white linen, and the one roller towel for
all, with individual service in each room.

In this hotel world the alert young widow made her court and ruled as a
queen. Here little Jim slept away his babyhood and grew to consciousness
with sounds of coming horses, going wheels; of chicken calls and
twittering swallows in their nests; shouts of men and the clatter of tin
pails; the distant song of saw mills and their noontide whistles; smells
of stables mixed with the sweet breathings of oxen and the pungent odour
of pine gum from new-sawn boards.

And ever as he grew, he loved the more to steal from his mother's view
and be with the stable hands - loving the stable, loving the horses,
loving the men that were horsemen in any sort, and indulged and spoiled
by them in turn. The widow was a winner of hearts whom not even the wife
of Tom Ford, the rich millman and mayor of the town, could rival in
social power, so Jim, as the heir apparent, grew up in an atmosphere of
importance that did him little good.




CHAPTER V

Little Jim's Tutors


"Whiskey" Mason had been for more than three years with Downey. He was
an adroit barkeep. He knew every favourite "mix" and how to use the
thickest glasses that would ever put the house a little more ahead of
the game. But the Widow soon convinced herself that certain rumours
already hinted at were well-founded, and that Mason's salary did not
justify his Sunday magnificence. Mason had long been quite convinced
that he was the backbone of the business and absolutely indispensable.
Therefore he was not a little surprised when the queen, in the beginning
of her reign, invited him to resign his portfolio and seek his fortune
elsewhere, the farther off the better to her liking.

Mason went not far, but scornfully. He took lodgings in the town to wait
and see the inevitable wreck that the widow was inviting for her house.
For two months he waited, but was disappointed. The hotel continued in
business; the widow had not come to beg for his return; his credit was
being injured with excessive use; and as he had found no other work, he
took the stage to the larger town of Petersburg some thirty miles away.
Here he sought a job, in his special craft of "joy mixer" but, failing
to find that, he turned his attention to another near akin. In those
days the liquor laws of Canada provided a heavy fine for any breach of
regulation; and of this the informant got half. Here was an easy and
honourable calling for which he was well equipped.

* * * * *

It has ever been law in the man's code that he must protect the place he
drinks in, so that the keepers of these evil joints are often careless
over little lapses. Thus Whiskey Mason easily found a victim, and within
three days was rich once more with half of the thousand-dollar fine that
the magistrate imposed.

He felt that all the country suddenly was his lawful prey. He could not
long remain in Petersburg, where he was soon well known and shunned. He
had some trouble, too, for threats against his life began to reach him
more and more. It was the magistrate himself who suggested
contemptuously, "You had better take out a pistol license, my friend;
and you would be safer in a town where no one knows you."

In those early days before his dismissal by Kitty, Mason's life and
Little Jim's had no point of meeting. Six years later, when he returned
to Links, Jimmy was discovering great possibilities in the stables of
the Inn. Mason often called at the bar-room where he had once been the
ruling figure, and was received with cold aloofness. But he was used to
that; his calling had hardened him to any amount of human scorn. He
still found a kindred spirit, however, in the stable man, Watsie Hall,
and these two would often "visit" in the feed room, which was a
favourite playground of the bright-haired boy.

It is always funny if one can inspire terror without actual danger to
the victim. Mason and Hall taught Jim to throw stones at sparrows, cats,
and dogs, when his mother was not looking. He hardly ever hit them, and
his hardest throw was harmless, but he learned to love the sport. A
stray dog that persisted in stealing scraps which were by right the
heritage of hens, was listed as an enemy, and together they showed Jim
how to tie a tin can on the dog's tail in a manner that produced
amazingly funny results and the final disappearance of the cur in a
chorus of frantic yelps.

These laboratory experiments on animals developed under the able tutors,
and Jim was instructed in the cat's war dance, an ingenious mode of
inspiring puss to outdo her own matchless activity in a series of wild
gyrations, by glueing to each foot a shoe of walnut shell, half filled
with melted cobbler's wax to hold it on. Flattered by their attentions
at first, the cat purred blandly as they fitted on the shoes. Jim's eyes
were big and bright with tensest interest. The cat was turned loose in
the grain room. To hear her own soft pads drop on the floor, each with a
sharp, hard crack, must have been a curious, jarring experience. To find
at every step a novel sense of being locked in, must have conjured up
deep apprehensions in her soul. And when she fled, and sought to scale
the partition, to find that her claws were gone - that she was now a
thing with hoofs - must have been a horrid nightmare. Fear entered into
her soul, took full control; then followed the wild erratic circling
around the room, with various ridiculous attempts to run up the walls,
which were so insanely silly that little James shrieked for joy, and
joining in with the broom, urged the cat to still more amazing evidences
of muscular activity not excelled by any other creature.

It was rare sport with just a sense of sin to give it tang, for he had
been forbidden to torment the cat, and Jim saw nothing but the funny
side; he was only seven.

It was a week later that they tried the walnut trick again, and Jim was
eager to see the "circus." But the cat remembered; she drove her teeth
deep into Hall's hand and fought with a feline fury that is always
terrifying. Jim was gazing in big-eyed silence, when Hall, enraged,
thrust the cat into the leg of a boot and growled, "I'll fix yer
biting," and held her teeth to the grindstone till the body in the boot
was limp.

At the first screech of the cat, Jim's whole attitude had changed.
Amusement and wild-eyed wonder had given way to a shocking realization
of the wicked cruelty. He sprang at Hall and struck him with all the
best vigour of his baby fists. "Let my kitty go, you!" and he kicked the
hostler in the shins until he himself was driven away. He fled indoors
to his mother, flung himself into her arms and sobbed in newly awakened
horror. To his dying day he never forgot that cry of pain. He had been
in the way of cruel training with these men, but the climax woke him up.
It was said that he never after was cruel to any creature, but this is
sure - that he never after cared to be with cats of any sort.

This was the end of Hall, so far as his life had bearing on that of
James Hartigan Second; for Kitty dismissed him promptly as soon as she
heard the story of his brutality.

* * * * *

Of all the specimens of fine, physical manhood who owned allegiance to
Downey's Hotel, Fightin' Bill Kenna was the outstanding figure. He was
not so big as Mulcahy, or such a wrestler as Dougherty, or as skilled a
boxer as McGraw; he knew little of the singlestick and nothing of
knife- or gun-play; and yet his combination of strength, endurance and
bullet-headed pluck made him by general voice "the best man in Links."

Bill's temper was fiery; he loved a fight. He never was worsted, the
nearest thing to it being a draw between himself and Terry Barr. After
that Terry went to the States and became a professional pugilist of
note. Bill's social record was not without blemish. He was known to have
appropriated a rope, to the far end of which was attached another man's
horse. He certainly had been in jail once and should have been there a
dozen times, for worse crimes than fighting. And yet Bill was firmly
established as Bible bearer in the annual Orangemen's parade and would
have smashed the face of any man who tried to rob him of his holy
office.

Kenna was supposed to be a farmer, but he loved neither crops nor land.
The dream of his exuberant life was to be a horse breeder, for which
profession he had neither the capital nor the brains. His social and
convivial instincts ever haled him townward, and a well-worn chair in
Downey's bar-room was by prescriptive right the town seat of William
Kenna, Esq., of the Township of Opulenta. Bill had three other good
qualities besides his mighty fists. He was true to his friends, he was
kind to the poor and he had great respect for his "wurd as a mahn." If
he gave his "wurd as a mahn" to do thus and so, he ever made a strenuous
effort to keep it.

Bill was madly in love with Kitty Hartigan. She was not unmoved by the
huge manliness of the warlike William, but she had too much sense to
overlook his failings, and she held him off as she did a dozen more - her
devoted lovers all - who hung around ever hoping for special favour. But
though Kitty would not marry him, she smiled on Kenna indulgently and
thus it was that this man of brawn had far too much to say in shaping
the life of little Jim Hartigan. High wisdom or deep sagacity was
scarcely to be named among Kenna's attributes, and yet instinctively he
noted that the surest way to the widow's heart was through her boy. This
explained the beginning of their friendship, but other things soon
entered in. Kenna, with all his faults, was a respecter of women,
and - they commonly go together - a clumsy, awkward, blundering lover of
children. Little Jim was bright enough to interest any one; and, with
the certain instinct of a child, he drifted toward the man whose heart
was open to him. Many a day, as Kenna split some blocks of wood that
were over big and knotty for the official axeman, Jim would come to
watch and marvel at the mighty blows. His comments told of the
imaginative power born in his Celtic blood:

"Bill, let's play you are the Red Dermid smiting the bullhide bearing
Lachlin," he would shout, and at once the brightness of his mental
picture and his familiarity with the nursery tales of Erin that were
current even in the woods created a wonder-world about him. Then his
Ulster mind would speak. He would laugh a little shamefaced chuckle at
himself and say:

"It's only Big Bill Kenna splitting wood."

Bill was one of the few men who talked to Jim about his father; and,
with singular delicacy, he ever avoided mentioning the nauseating fact
that the father was a papist. No one who has not lived in the time and
place of these feuds can understand the unspeakable abomination implied
by that word; it was the barrier that kept his other friends from
mention of the dead man's name; and yet, Bill spoke with kindly
reverence of him as, "a broth of a bhoy, a good mahn, afraid of no wan,
and as straight as a string."

Among the occasional visitors at the stable yard was young Tom Ford,
whose father owned the mill and half the town. Like his father, Tom was
a masterful person, hungry for power and ready to rule by force. On the
occasion of his first visit he had quarrelled with Jim, and being older
and stronger, had won their boyish fight. It was in the hour of his
humiliation that Kenna had taken Jim on his knee and said:

"Now Jim, I'm the lepricaun that can tache you magic to lick that fellow
aisy, if ye'll do what I tell you." And at the word "lepricaun," the
Celt in Jim rose mightier than the fighting, bullet-headed Saxon. His
eager word and look were enough.

"Now, listen, bhoy. I'll put the boxing gloves on you every day, an'
I'll put up a sack of oats, an' we'll call it Tom Ford; an' ye must hit
that sack wi' yer fist every day wan hundred times, twenty-five on the
top side and siventy-five on the bottom side for the undercut is worth
more than the uppercut anny day; an' when ye've done that, ye're making
magic, and at the end of the moon ye'll be able to lick Tom Ford."

Jim began with all his ten-year-old vigour to make the necessary magic,
and had received Bill's unqualified approval until one day he appeared
chewing something given him by one of the men as a joke. Jim paused
before Bill and spat out a brown fluid.

"Fwhat are ye doing?" said Bill; then to his disgust, he found that Jim,
inspired probably by his own example, was chewing tobacco.

"Spit it out, ye little divil, an' never agin do that. If ye do that
three times before ye're twenty-one, ye'll make a spell that will break
you, an' ye'll never lick Tom Ford."

Thus, with no high motive, Kenna was in many ways, the guardian of the
child. Coarse, brutish, and fierce among men, he was ever good to the
boy and respectful to his mother; and he rounded out his teaching by the
doctrine: "If ye give yer word as a mahn, ye must not let all hell
prevent ye holding to it." And he whispered in a dreadful tone that sent
a chill through the youngster's blood: "It'll bring the bone-rot on ye
if ye fail; it always does."

It is unfortunate that we cannot number the town school principal as a
large maker of Jim's mind. Jim went to school and the teacher did the
best he could. He learned to read, to write and to figure, but books
irked him and held no lure. His joy was in the stable yard and the barn
where dwelt those men of muscle and of animal mind; where the boxing
gloves were in nightly use, the horses in daily sight, and the world of
sport in ring or on turf was the only world worth any man's devotion.

There were a dozen other persons who had influence in the shaping of the
life and mind of Little Jim Hartigan; but there was one that
overpowered, that far outweighed, that almost negatived the rest; that
was his mother. She could scarcely read, and all the reading she ever
tried to do was in her Bible. Filled with the vision of what she wished
her boy to be - a minister of Christ - Kitty sent him to the public
school, but the colour of his mind was given at home. She told him the
stories of the Man of Galilee, and on Sundays, hand in hand, they went
to the Presbyterian Church, to listen to tedious details that
illustrated the practical impossibility of any one really winning out in
the fight with sin.

She sang the nursery songs of the old land and told the tales of magic
that made his eyes stare wide with loving, childish wonder. She told him
what a brave, kind man his father had been, and ever came back to the
world's great Messenger of Love. Not openly, but a thousand times - in a
thousand deeply felt, deeply meant, unspoken ways - she made him know
that the noblest calling man might ever claim was this, to be a herald
of the Kingdom. Alone, on her knees, she would pray that her boy might
be elected to that great estate and that she might live to see him going



Online LibraryErnest Thompson SetonThe preacher of Cedar Mountain; a tale of the open country → online text (page 2 of 24)