Ernest Thompson Seton.

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

. (page 20 of 24)
Online LibraryErnest Thompson SetonThe preacher of Cedar Mountain; a tale of the open country → online text (page 20 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


seen profligate luxury, and the shock of contrast brought to him the
sudden, overwhelming thought: "These people don't want preaching, they
want fair play. This is not a religious question, it is an economic
question." And in a flash: "The religious questions _are_ economic
questions," and all the seemingly wild utterances of old Jack Shives
came back, like a sudden overwhelming flood at the breaking of a dam. In
an instant he was staggering among the ruins of all in religious thought
that he had held holy.

When he reached their apartment that evening he was in a distraught
condition. For some time he paced up and down. At last he said: "I must
go out, Belle. I must walk alone." He spoke with intense emotion. He
longed for his mountain; there was but one thing like it near - the
mighty, moving lake. He put on his hat and strode away. Belle wanted to
go with him, but he had not asked her; her instinct also said "no";
besides, there was the physical impossibility of walking with him when
he went so striding. She sat down in the dusk to wonder - to wait.

He went to the lake shore. A heavy gale was blowing from the north and
the lake was a wild waste. It touched him as the sage plains did; and
the rough wind helped him by driving away all other folk afoot.
Northward he went, feeling, but seeing nothing, of the rolling waters.
Jack Shives with his caustic words came back to mind: "It's their
'fore-God duty to steal if their babies are hungry and they can't feed
them any other way." Jim had never seen these things before; now they
were the whole world; he had seen nothing else these slumming days. His
spiritual ferment was such that, one by one, all the texts he had read
came back as commentaries on this new world of terror. He recalled the
words of the Master: "Your Heavenly Father knoweth ye have need of these
things"; the fearful doom of those that "offend these little ones"; the
strict injunction to divide with the needy and care for the helpless;
and again, the words, "The Kingdom of heaven is within you" - not in a
vague, unplaced world after death, but here, now - and those who thought
that, by placating the custodians of costly edifices, they were laying
up "treasure in heaven" were blindly going to destruction.

He strode in the night with his brain awhirl. The old texts held for him
some new power: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,
and all these things shall be added into you"; and again, "The kingdom
of heaven is within you"; "Sell all that thou hast and give to the
poor." In vain he sought for inspired words that would reestablish the
happy land beyond the grave that his teachers had ever pictured in set
phrase. Yet every word of the Master pointed the other way. "_Here_";
"_now_"; and "_first within_" was the kingdom. And the hollowness of all
the rich man's preachment - that the poor must suffer patiently in hope
of a reward beyond the grave - was more and more a hideous stratagem as
in his mind arose together two portrait types: the pinched, sullen,
suffering face of the slums and the bloated, evil face to be found on
the boulevard.

The mockery of it horrified as the immensity of it all swamped him. He
had no mind, no equipment, for the subtleties of theology, and his head
was a whirl of maddening contradictions, till the memory of his mother's
simple devotion came like a cooling drink in his fever: "Never mind
trying to reason it all out; you can't do it; no one can. Only ask what
would the Master have done?" Yes, that was easy. "Feed the hungry,
clothe the naked, visit the sick"; and turning, he wheeled homeward. The
upheaval of all foundations seemed less dreadful. He could not expect to
reason it all out. It was enough to do as the Master would have done;
and, whether it was the feeding of the multitude, the healing of the
lepers, the gentleness to the woman taken in adultery, or the helping of
the man who fell among thieves, there was no doctrine, no
preaching - only kindness shown as sympathy and physical help in their
troubles, here and now. The words of another childhood friend came back
to him - those of Fighting Bill Kenna. He used to say, "I don't care a
dom what he is, if he's a good neighbour." Yet the neighbour in question
was a papist and they were kind and friendly every day of the year,
except on those two set apart by the devil to breed hate. Kenna was
right where his heart led him and wrong where his creed was guide.

Hartigan could not have told why he went alone on that walk. He only
knew that in this crisis something cried out in him to be alone with the
simple big things. Why should the worldly-wise companion he had chosen
be left out? He didn't know; he only felt that he wanted no worldly
wisdom now. He wished to face the judgment day in his soul all alone. He
would not have done so a year before; but the Angel of Destiny had led
on an upward trail and now he was brought aside to the edge so that he
might look over, and down, and know that he was climbing.

* * * * *

Belle met him at the door. Her face was anxious. But his look reassured
her. He took her on his knees as one might lift a child and, sitting
with his arm around her and gazing far away, he said: "I had a
landslide, Belle. All my church thought and training were swept away in
a moment. I was floundering, overwhelmed in the ruin, when I found a
big, solid, immovable rock on which I could build again. It was not the
Church, it was my mother gave it to me. She used to say: 'Don't try to
reason it all out; no one can. Only try to do as the Master would do';
what that is we are not always sure; but one who followed Him has told
us, 'Keep cool and kind and you won't go far astray.'"

She looked into his face and saw something that she had never seen there
before. The thought that flashed through her mind was of Moses and how
his countenance showed that a little while before he had talked with
God. She was awed by this new something he had taken on; and her
instinct hushed the query that arose within her. She only gripped his
hand a little and looking far away, said slowly: "There are times when
He comes to talk with His own. I think he wanted to walk with you alone
by the lake and talk, as He one time walked with His men on the shore of
Galilee."

"My mind is clear now, Belle," he continued, "if these people want me to
begin here merely as orthodox pulpit preacher, I must give up the post.
That is what I want to be, but this is not the time or place for it. If,
on the other hand, they will let me try to help those who need help, and
in the form in which they need it - well and good; I will do my best to
understand and meet the problems. But we must at once have a clear
understanding."

She put her arms about him and after a little silence said: "I am with
you to the finish, Jim. I know you have received a message and have
guidance as to how it should be delivered."

It was in the little flat, with sagebrush in the vases, that they
thought it out, and reached a solution that was the middle of the road.
The first presentation of his new understanding Jim made to the Board of
Deacons two days later. He said:

"When a man is swimming for his life, he does not want to discuss
politics. When a man's children are hungry, he can't be expected to
respect the law that prevents him from feeding them. When a man has no
property, you needn't look to him for a fine understanding of the laws
of property. When a man has no chance for lawful pleasures in life, he
cannot be blamed much for taking any kind that comes within reach. When
a man's body is starved, cold, and tormented, he is not going to bother
about creeds that are supposed to guide his soul."

"All of which we freely admit," said Mr. Hopkins, with characteristic
gravity. "The problems that you name are very real and grave, but they
are the problems of the nation. Rest assured that every man of force in
America to-day is aware of these things, and is doing all he can to meet
them squarely. Moreover, they are being met with success - slow, but
continued success.

"Are you prepared to outline the plan by which you would contribute to
the local solution of these national problems?"

Yes, Hartigan had it there on paper. "I must approach these people
through the things which they know they need. They don't feel any need
of a church, but they do feel the need of a comfortable meeting place
where the wholesome love of human society may be gratified. Their lives
are devoid of pleasure, except of the worst kinds. This is not choice,
but is forced on them; there is not a man, woman or child among them
that does not - sometimes, at least - hunger for better things - that would
not enjoy the things that you enjoy, if they had the chance. I want
harmless pleasures in abundance put within their reach.

"Man is an animal before he is a soul; so I would begin by providing the
things needful for a body. All men glory in physical prowess; therefore
I want a gymnasium, and with it, the natural accompaniments of bath
house and swimming tank. In short, I don't want a church; I want an
up-to-date People's Club, with a place for all and a welcome for all."

The deacons sat back and gazed at one another. "Well," said Deacon
Starbuck, president of the Stock Bank, "you surely have a clear-thinking
business head among your gifts."

There was a distinct split in the views of the Board. The older men
objected that this was an organization for propagating the Gospel of
Christ, not for solving economic problems, and proved with many
Scripture texts that we must "first of all seek the Kingdom of God and
His righteousness," after having secured which, the rest would follow.

But the younger men took Hartigan's view that it was no time to talk
politics to a man when he was swimming for his life. Fortunately,
Hopkins was able to stave off action, pending a fuller discussion, and
brought that on at once.

"Let us understand. Is the club to be a charity, a benevolence, or a
business proposition - that is, a free gift, a partly supported
institution, or a dollar-for-dollar bargain?"

The older men believed in charity. Jim opposed it as wrong in principle.
As a business proposition it was hopeless, at present; so he definitely
labelled it a "benevolence."

"All right," said Hopkins, "now how much money do you want, and how long
to make good?"

Again Jim referred to the paper in his hand.

"I want twenty-five thousand dollars cash to provide and equip a
temporary building; I want five thousand a year to run it, and I want
one thousand dollars a year salary paid to my wife, who is with me in
all things, and will give all her time to it. I want three years to make
good, that is to make a noticeable reduction in drink and crime, which
is the same thing, and this we shall gauge by the police records. By
that time I shall have fifteen hundred families in touch with the club,
paying dues to it. I shall stand or fall by the result. If I satisfy
you, I shall ask for a hundred-thousand-dollar building at the end of
that time."

"You say nothing about street sermons," said a plaintive old gentleman
with a long white beard and the liquid eyes of an exhorter.

"No, not one. I don't want them. I can work better indoors."

The president said, "Well, Mr. Hartigan, perhaps it would be well for
you to retire, in order that we may freely discuss your plan. As you
seem to have it on paper, would you mind leaving the document?" Jim
hesitated, glanced at it, then handed it to Mr. Hopkins. It was all in a
woman's hand.

In fifteen minutes, Jim was summoned to learn the decision. They
accepted, not unanimously, but they accepted his entire proposition,
with the exception of one item; they would not pay salary to or
officially recognize his wife. It was a bitter pill, and Jim's eyes were
brimming with tears and his face flushed at the injustice when he went
home to tell her. Poor little woman! Her lips tightened a trifle, but
she said: "Never mind, I'll work for it just the same. I'm afraid they
are still in the Dark Ages; but the light will come."




CHAPTER LII

The Boss


It had been a private dwelling, far out on the prairie once, but the
hot, steady lava flow of the great city had reached and split and swept
around the little elevated patch of grimy green with its eleven
despairing trees. A wooden house it was, and in the very nature of it a
temporary shift; but the committee - Hopkins, Hartigan, and Belle - felt
it worth looking into.

With the agent, these three went over it and discussed its possibilities
and the cost. Ten times in that brief talk did Hopkins find himself
consulting Belle when, in the ordinary process, he should have consulted
Hartigan. Why? No man raises himself to the power and pitch that Hopkins
had attained, without a keen, discriminating knowledge of human nature.
And he felt the fact long before he admitted it even to himself: "Yes,
he's a pair of giant wings, but she's the tail, all right." And he was
not displeased to find this original estimate justified by events.

The three years' lease was signed; and a bulletin board appeared on the
bravest of all the battered old trees at the front - the very battle
front. A gnarled and twisted cedar it was, and when a richer name than
"Club" was sought for the venture, it was this old tree that linked up
memory with itself and the house was named, not "The People's Club," as
at first intended, but "Cedar Mountain House" - the word "mountain" being
justified in the fact that the house was on a prairie knoll at least a
foot above the surrounding level.

The bulletin board displayed this to all passers-by:

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
| CEDAR MOUNTAIN HOUSE |
| |
| Notice |
| |
|A Meeting to organize this Club will be held here|
|on these premises Sunday afternoon next. Men and |
|women who are interested are cordially invited. |
| |
| REFRESHMENTS |
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The Board of Deacons would have had a wrangle over each and every word
of that notice. That was why they never saw it till long afterward.

"Now what's going to happen?" said Hopkins.

"A few will come and act very shyly; but I've a notion the refreshments
will bring them," was Belle's guess.

"I am afraid we have omitted something of importance," said Jim. "We are
invading a foreign savage country without taking any count of the native
chiefs."

"What's your idea?" said Hopkins, sharply.

"I mean, we have arranged matters with the real estate man, and the
Church workers and the police; but we haven't taken the trouble to look
up the ward boss."

"We ignored the boss because we thought he was an enemy," said Hopkins.

"I'm not so sure about that," said Jim. "I've been talking with the
police sergeant, who knows him well. He says he's a queer mixture of
prizefighter and politician. He can protect anything he likes, and
pretty nearly drive out anything he doesn't like. Isn't it worth while
making a bid for his support? It may please him to be asked."

"Who is he?"

"Oh, a saloon-keeper, Irish, ex-pugilist. His name is Michael Shay. He's
easy to find," said Jim.

"Let's go now," said Hopkins. "But I'm afraid that this is where you
drop out, Mrs. Hartigan."

So they went down to the headquarters of the boss. It was an ordinary
Chicago saloon of less than ordinary pretensions. The plate-glass and
polished-mahogany era had not yet set in. The barkeeper was packing the
ice chest and a couple of "types" were getting their "reg'lar" as the
two strangers from another world entered. The build of Hartigan at once
suggested plain-clothes policeman, and the barkeeper eyed him
suspiciously. Hopkins spoke first:

"Is the boss in?"

The barkeeper made a gesture, pointing to the back room.

"May we see him?"

"I s'pose so." And again, with a jerk of the thumb, the back room was
indicated.

The two walked in. It was a small room, meanly furnished, with a square
table in the centre. Sitting by it were three men. Two were drinking
beer - one a small, thin man; the other a red-faced specimen with rotund
outline. The third and biggest was smoking a briarwood pipe. He was a
heavily built man with immense shoulders square jaw, and low, wrinkled
forehead; deep under his bushy eyebrows were two close-set, twinkling
gray eyes, which were turned on the visitors with a hostile stare.

"Is Mr. Michael Shay here?" asked Hopkins.

"I'm Mike Shay," said the smoker, without rising or removing his pipe;
"what do ye want?" There was a sullen defiance in the tone that showed
resentment at the different dress and manner of the strangers.

"We have come to ask for your support for the club we are going to open
in the old house down the street."

"Support nuthin'," was the gracious reply.

Hopkins began to explain that this was not to be a rival show - no drinks
would be sold; the idea was merely to found a place of amusement for the
people. The only effect on the boss was to evoke a contemptuous
"E-r-r-r!" and an injunction, in Chicago vernacular, to get out of that
as soon as they liked - or sooner. And, by way of punctuation, he turned
to expectorate copiously, but with imperfect precision at a box of
sawdust which was littered with cigar stumps. The interview was over - he
wished them to understand that. He turned to his companions.

Hartigan felt that it was his chance now. He began: "See here, now,
Michael Shay; you're an Irishman and I'm an Irishman - - "

"Oh, g'wan!" and Shay rose to walk out the back way. As he did so, Jim
noticed fully, for the first time, the huge shoulders, the strong, bowed
legs, the gorilla-like arms; and the changing memory of another day grew
clear and definitely placed. There could be no doubt about it now; this
was bow-legged Mike, the teamster of seven years before.

At once, a different colour was given to Jim's thought and manner; no
longer cautious, respectful, doubtful, he began in his own more
boisterous way, "Say, Mike. I have a different matter to talk about
now."

Mike stopped and stared.

Jim proceeded. "Were you ever at Links, Ontario?"

"Maybe I was, an' maybe I wasn't. What's that to you?"

"Well, do you remember licking a young fellow there for jerking the roof
log out of the hotel with your masting team of oxen?"

"Bejabers, I do that"; and Mike's eyes twinkled for the first time with
a pleasant look.

"Well, Mike, I am that fellow; an' that's what ye gave me." Jim raised
his chin and showed an irregular scar.

"Well sure, that's the Gospel truth"; and Michael grinned. "By gosh,
that's the time I had to skip out of Chicago. A little election fuss ye
understand," and he chuckled. "Set down. What'll ye drink?" and the huge
hand swung two chairs within reach.

"No," said Jim. "I'm not drinking to-day; but I want to tell you that I
was only a kid when you licked me. I swore that some day I'd meet you
and have another try. Well, I've filled out some in the last seven
years, an' some day, when ye feel like it, we might put on the gloves
together."

Mike chuckled, "Now you're talking! What's the matter with right now?"
and he pointed to a room farther back. "But, say, ye ain't in training,
are ye?"

"No; are you?"

"No."

"Then come on."

Mike opened the next door and led the way into a larger room, with the
fixings of a regular boxing academy, followed by his friends and one or
two additional customers from the bar room.

Hopkins followed Hartigan, and was filled, apparently, with strange and
mixed emotions. "Really, Mr. Hartigan, as President of the Board of
Deacons, I must protest against this whole shocking procedure." Then, in
a different tone: "But, as a man, by jinks! I'm going to see it
through."

"Why not?" said Jim. "Sure it's simple and easy. In about three rounds,
I'll get him or he'll get me; then we'll shake hands and all be good
friends ever after. It couldn't have happened better."

Both men stripped to the waist, and the contrast was as great as the
resemblance. Broad, equally broad, and superbly muscled, the
saloon-keeper was, if anything, heavier, but there was just a suspicion
of bloat over all his frame. Jim was clean built, statuesque - a Jason
rather than a Hermes. He was by six inches taller, but the other had
just as long a reach. And, as the officious patrons of the "pub"
strapped on the gloves and made the usual preparation of wet sponge and
towel, it seemed in all respects an even match - in all respects but one;
Jim was twenty-odd, Mike was forty-odd.

The small man with a squeaky voice installed himself as timekeeper. He
struck the gong, and the boxers met. Jim always smiled and bared his
teeth while boxing. Mike was one of the bull-dog jaw; he kept his lips
tight shut, and his small eyes twinkled with every appearance of rage.

On the first round, the great experience of the pugilist enabled him to
land one or two heavy jolts, and when the gong sounded the time-limit,
Jim had got rather the worst of it.

The second round opened much like the first. Jim landed on Mike's under
jaw more than once; and Mike got in a body blow that was something to
think about.

It was the third round that told the tale. What chance in a fight has
forty-five against twenty-five? The extra weight of the prize fighter
was mere softness. His wind was gone; and half the time had not passed
before Jim landed under his left jaw the classic punch that Mike had one
time given him, and Mike went down like a sack of meal.

In five minutes, he was up and game, but the bout was over. The men
shook hands, and Michael, rapidly recovering his spirits, rumbled out of
his deep chest: "Bejabers, it's the first time in five years I've been
knocked out - and it was done scientific. Say, Hartigan, ye can put me
down for a member of your club; or yer church or whatever the dom thing
is an' I'll see ye get whatever ye need in the way of protection; an' if
ye want to sell any liquor on the sly, that'll be all right. You count
on Mike."

Then, with a singular clearing of hate and an access of good
feeling - psychological reactions which so often follow in the wake of a
finish fight - the men all shook hands and parted in excellent humour.

"By George!" said President Hopkins of the Board of Deacons, "I wouldn't
have missed that for a thousand dollars. It was perfectly bully - just
what we wanted! I've heard of things like this, but never really
believed they happened. It's a new side of human nature for me. I
wouldn't have missed it for - no, not for five thousand dollars."




CHAPTER LIII

The First Meeting


The notice on the old tree had been up a week. By Thursday there had
been no sign of response; on Friday Jim had had it out with the boss;
and Saturday morning the community seemed, in some subtle way, to be
greatly stirred by the coming event. Sunday afternoon there was a fairly
good assemblage of men and women in the large room of the rearranged old
house. Bow-legged Mike was not present; but the little man with the
squeaky voice - commonly known as "Squeaks" - was there to represent him,
as he did in divers ways and on different occasions in the ward.

Hartigan and Hopkins were on the platform. Belle sat at a small table to
act as recording secretary. Hopkins opened the meeting by introducing
Hartigan, who spoke as follows:

"My friends; we are assembled to discuss the formation of a club to
provide for the residents of this district such things as they need in
the way of a convenient social meeting place and whatever else is
desirable in a club. We have not fully worked out our plan, but this is
the main idea: the club will be called Cedar Mountain House; it will be
managed by five governors - two of them appointed by the men who own the
building lease; two of them elected by the people who join; these four
to elect a fifth as chairman of the board.

"The club is open to men and women twenty-one years of age; their
families come in free on their tickets. The dues are to be ten cents a
week, or five dollars a year. This covers the gymnasium, the lecture
hall, the library, and the baths. Now we are ready for any questions."

A very fat woman, with a well-developed moustache, rose to claim the
floor, and began: "I want to know - - "

Hopkins interrupted: "As the Chair is not acquainted with all present,


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 20 22 23 24

Online LibraryErnest Thompson SetonThe preacher of Cedar Mountain; a tale of the open country → online text (page 20 of 24)