Ernest Thompson Seton.

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

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Chicago and was expected to arrive there about noon.




CHAPTER LVIII

In the Death House


Shay sat calmly waiting as the big clock ticked his life away that
morning in the house of death at Joliet. At eleven o'clock, Hartigan
received Belle's telegram: "We have found Squeaks." He rushed to the
Sheriff with it. That officer was very sorry, but "no one except the
Governor had any right to order a stay."

"Why, sir," said Jim, "you are not going to hang an innocent man, when
here is proof of his innocence."

"There is no proof in that telegram. I don't know who "Belle" is. I get
my orders from the Courts. No one but the Governor can order a
reprieve."

Jim sent a telegram to Springfield only to learn, as Belle had done,
that the Governor had left for Chicago. He sent telegrams to every one
who had the power to help. He telegraphed Belle; he rushed to the
Sheriff to beg for God's sake but one hour's reprieve. He hurried to the
penitentiary to find another telegram from Belle:

Pray without ceasing for an hour's delay. We have Squeaks now.

But the clock ticked on. He literally ran to Michael's cell; the jailer
opened the way. "Michael," he gasped, "we have found Squeaks; we know
you are innocent."

Michael was the calmest of all. "Whatever is God's will I'll take
without a grumble," he said, and sat smoking.

At a quarter to twelve the Sheriff appeared.

"Why, Sheriff, you are not going to - when you know the reprieve is on
the way. You are not going to let a technicality lead you into murder?"

"I have no change in my instructions," said the Sheriff, "and no proof
that any change is on the way."

"Why; this is monstrous," gasped Jim. "An hour's delay is all we ask, so
the Governor can be reached."

The Sheriff motioned the guard to move on, and Shay walked firmly
between the two officers. They came into the prison yard. There
assembled were a score of officials and newspaper men.

"Have you any final statement to make?" asked the State officials.

"Nothing, only that I am innocent and Squeaks is alive at this moment."

That was an old story - an old trick to win time. The officers were
preparing to act, when Hartigan pale and exultant, swinging the last
telegram before the Sheriff, re-read it and for the first time truly got
its meaning. He said: "Let us pray."

They kneeled down, all of them, in accordance with the ancient custom,
and Jim began to pray. His voice was broken and husky, but it grew
steadier as he appealed to the God of Justice and Mercy. He prayed and
prayed; the clock struck twelve, but still he prayed. "Pray without
ceasing," Belle's message had said. His gift of speech stood by him now;
a quarter of an hour passed and still he was pouring out petitions to
the throne of grace; another quarter of an hour and his voice was a
little weary, but he prayed on. Still another, and another, and the
clock struck one. All those men still kneeled, dead silent, except for a
low, sobbing sound from the little group farther off. The Sheriff waited
uneasily; he coughed a little and waited for a gap - but there was no
gap; Jim bared his heart to God that day. He prayed as he never did
before and all his bodily strength went into his prayer. At a quarter
past one, when he was still calling on the God of Life for help, the
Sheriff knew not what to do, for by the unwritten law the man of God had
a right to finish his prayer. At half past one, the Sheriff moved
uneasily and at length uttered a faint "Amen," as though to give the
signal to stop. As it had no effect he realized for the first time just
what Hartigan's desperation and iron will were leading him to do, he
took cover under the technicality and played the game with him. Shay
would have a chance as long as the Preacher's voice lasted. The party
all stood, hats off, except those around the condemned one. They still
kneeled, some of them, while others in bodily weariness, were frankly
sitting on the scaffold. And the Preacher prayed on. His voice was thick
and husky now; he could scarcely enunciate the words. The big clock
ticked and two was struck. Still Jim prayed, as one who hopes and clings
to any hope.

There were uneasy movements among the witnesses. The Sheriff said "Amen"
twice again, quite loudly so that no one else should interrupt, but he
was under a terrible strain. It was ten minutes after two when a shout
was heard from the outer office and a warden with a paper came running,
shrieking, "_Reprieve! Reprieve!_"

Jim turned to look and closed his prayer: "...and this we ask for
Jesus's sake"; then he fell flat upon the scaffold.

"I knew she would, I knew she would; Belle never failed me yet," were
the first words he uttered when he revived.

The Sheriff read the Governor's telegram to the crowd:

"Reprieve Michael Shay for three days."

As they led him back to the house of death, which was to him a house of
resurrection, there was the whistle of a special train followed by the
clatter of a carriage approaching the gate. Whoever it was had the right
of entry. Hurried footsteps were heard, and short, low words. Then the
doors swung wide for - the Governor himself, John Hopkins, and Belle.
White fear was on their faces till they met a warder who knew.

"All right, sir; we got it in time."

"Thank God!"

"Yes, sir; two hours after the time fixed. But the minister was in the
middle of his prayer and he didn't seem to finish till it came."

The party entered the death house, and at once were ushered into the
room where Shay and Jim were sitting. Jim was weak and worn looking. The
warden announced, "The Governor." Jim rose, and in a moment, Belle was
in his arms. "I knew you would. I knew you would. I got your message. I
prayed without ceasing. I would have been at it yet."

Mike Shay, calm until now, broke down. Tears ran from his small gray
eyes, and clutching the soft hand of his deliverer, he murmured: "There
ain't anything I got too good for the Hartigans. Ye - ye - ye - oh, God
damn it! I can't talk about it!" and he sobbed convulsively.

The Governor shook his hand and said: "Michael Shay, I think the danger
is over so far as you are concerned; all will be well now that Squeaks
is found." Shay mumbled a "thank you." "Don't thank me," replied the man
of power. "You may thank the loyal friends who found the trap and found
the answer and found the Governor, when almost any other man or woman
would have given up."




CHAPTER LIX

The Heart Hunger


When the flood rushes over the meadow and tears the surface smoothness,
it exposes the unmoved rock foundation; when the fire burns down the
flimsy woodwork, it shows in double force the unchanged girders of
steel. Storm and fire in double power and heat had been Jim's lot for
weeks and, in less degree, for months. Now there was a breathing spell,
a time to stop and look at the things beneath.

It was a little thing that gave Belle the real key to a puzzle. It
occurred one afternoon in the apartment and Belle saw it from the inner
room. Jim thought he was alone; he did not know she had returned. He
stood before the picture of Blazing Star, and lifting down the bunch of
sage he smelt it a long time, then sighed a little and put it back.
Belle saw and understood. The rock foundation was unchanged; he loved
and longed for the things he had always loved, and the experiences of
these months had but exposed the granite beneath. The thought that had
been in her heart since the day he put the ring on her finger, rose up
with appalling strength. "He gave up everything for me. I taught him
that his duty lay through college and then made him give that up for
me." She had been quick enough to mark the little turnings of his spirit
toward the West when there were times of relaxation or unguardedness.
But she had hitherto set them down to a general wish to visit former
scenes rather than to a deep, persistent, fundamental craving.

Many little things which she had noted in him came up before her now,
not as accidental fragments, but as surface outcroppings of the deep,
continuous, everlasting granite rock, the real longing of his nature;
and the strength of its fixity appalled her. As she watched from the
outer room on that epochal afternoon, she saw him kneel with his face to
the western sky and pray that the way might be opened, that he yet might
fulfil the vow he made to devote his life to bearing the message of the
Gospel. "Nevertheless, not my will, but Thine be done."

He sat long facing the glowing West which filled his window and then
rose and walked into the inner room. He was greatly astonished to find
Belle there, lying on the bed, apparently asleep. He sat down beside her
and took her hand. She opened her eyes slowly as though
awakening - gentle hypocrite.

"I didn't know you were back," he said. She closed her eyes again as
though they were heavy with sleep. It was a small fraud, but it set his
mind at ease, as she meant it should.

After a time, she roused herself and began with enthusiasm: "Oh, Jim, I
have had such a clear and lovely dream. I thought we were back at Cedar
Mountain, riding again in the sagebrush, with the prairie wind blowing
through our very souls."

She watched his face eagerly and saw the response she expected. It came
in larger measure than she had looked for. "I felt as though I could do
anything," she went on, "go anywhere or take any jump; and just as I was
riding full tilt at the Yellowbank Canyon, you took me by the hand and
held me back; then I awoke and you _did_ have my hand. Isn't it queer
the way dreams melt into reality?" She laughed happily and went on as if
he were opposing the project: "Why not, Jim? You need a holiday; why
shouldn't we go and drink a long deep draught of life in the hills and
sage? I know we'll get a clearer vision of life from the top of Cedar
Mountain than we can anywhere else."

"It seems too good to be true," he slowly answered, and his voice
trembled. Less than half an hour ago he had prayed for this and suddenly
the way seemed plain, if not yet open.

The winter and spring had gone, and the summer was dying. In all this
time the Hartigans had carried their daily, hourly burden, without halt
or change. Whatever of hardship there was, came in the form of thwarted
plans, heart-cravings for things they felt they must give up. Jim made
no mention of his disappointments and, so far as he could, he admitted
his hunger neither to himself nor to Belle. It was merely a matter of
form, applying for a month's leave; this had been agreed on from the
beginning. The largest difficulty was in the fact that they must go
together - the head and the second head both away at once. But there
were two good understudies ready trained - Skystein and Dr. Mary
Mudd - with Mr. Hopkins as chairman to balance their powers. Michael Shay
too, came to offer gruffly and huskily his help: "If I can do anything,
like puttin' up cash, or fixin' anybody that's workin' agin you, count
on Mike." Then after a pause he added, a little wistfully: "I ain't got
many real friends, but I want to have them know I'm real, and I know the
real thing when I find it."

A conference was finally held and the management of the Club was turned
over to the chairman and his aides for a month. Jim and Belle were like
children on leave from boarding school. They packed in wild hilarity and
took the first train the schedule afforded for Cedar Mountain.




CHAPTER LX

The Gateway and the Mountain


August with its deadening heat was over; September, bright, sunny and
tonic, was come to revive the world. Rank foliage was shaking off the
summer dust, and a myriad noisy insects were strumming, chirping,
fiddling, buzzing, screeping in the dense undergrowth. It was evening
when they boarded the train for the West and took the trail that both
had taken before, but never with such a background of events or such an
eagerness for what was in the future. As the train roared through the
fertile fields of Illinois, with their cornfields, their blackbirds and
their myriads of cattle, red and white, the sun went down - a red beacon
blaze, a bonfire welcome on their pathway just before the engine - a
promise and a symbol.

It was near noon the next day when they reached the junction and took,
the branch line for the north. The first prairie-dog town had set Jim
ablaze with schoolboy eagerness; and when a coyote stood and gazed at
the train, he rushed out on to the platform to give him the hunter's
yell.

"My, how sleek he looked! I wonder how those prairie dogs feel as they
see him stalk around their town, like a policeman among the South
Chicago kids!"

When a flock of prairie chickens flew before the train he called, "Look,
look, Belle! See how they sail, just as they used to do!" As though the
familiar sights of ten months before were forty years in the past.

They were in the hills now, and the winding train went more slowly.
Animal life was scarcer here, but the pine trees and the sombre peaks
were all about. At five o'clock the train swung down the gorge with
Cedar Mountain before it, and Jim cried in joy: "There's our mountain;
there's our mountain!"

There was a crowd assembled at the station and as soon as Jim appeared a
familiar voice shouted, "Here he is!" and, led by Shives, they gave a
hearty cheer. All the world of Cedar Mountain seemed there. Pa Boyd and
Ma Boyd came first to claim their own. Dr. Jebb and Dr. Carson forgot
their religious differences in the good fellowship of the time, and when
the inner circle had kissed Belle and manhandled Jim to the limit of
custom, a quiet voice said: "Welcome back, Mr. Hartigan," and Charlie
Bylow grasped the Preacher's hand. "I brought my team so I could take
care of your trunks." There was only one small trunk, but he took the
check and would have resented any other man having hand or say in the
matter.

That evening the meal was a "welcome home," for a dozen of the nearer
friends were there to hear the chapters of their hero's life. Jim was in
fine feather and he told of their Chicago life as none other could have
done, with jest and sly digs at himself and happy tributes to the one
who had held his hand when comradeship meant the most.

A month of freedom, with youth, sounds like years. Many plans were
offered to fill the time. An invitation came from Colonel and Mrs.
Waller to spend three days at Fort Ryan. In a delicately worded
postscript was the sentence: "Blazing Star is well and will be glad to
feel your weight again."

"Blazing Star and Cedar Mountain!" shouted Jim as Belle read the letter
the next morning at breakfast. And then, much to Pa Boyd's amusement he
broke out in his lusty baritone:

"'Tis my ain countree,
'Tis my ain countree!'
The fairest brightest land
That the sun did ever see."

Midnight and the horse that had been Belle's were waiting in the stable.

"Now, where shall we go? Up Cedar Mountain, to Fort Ryan, or where?"
asked Belle as they saddled their mounts. His answer was not what she
expected. Cedar Mountain had ever been in his thought. "If only I could
stand on Cedar Mountain!" had been his words so many times. And now,
with Cedar Mountain close at hand, in sight, he said: "Let's ride
nowhere in particular - just through the sage."

They set off and veered away from Fort Ryan and any other place where
men might cross their path. The prairie larks sang about them their
lovely autumn song - the short, sweet call that sounds like: "_Hear me,
hear me! I am the herald announcing the King._" Fluttering in the air
and floating for a moment above the riders they carolled a wild and
glorious serenade that has no possible rendition into human notation.
After a hard gallop they rode in silence side by side, hand in hand,
while Jim gazed across the plain or watched the fat, fumbling prairie
dogs. But ever he turned his face and heart away from Cedar Mountain.

At first it had been to him but a mighty pile of rocks; then it had
grown to be a spot beloved for its sacred memories. It had become a
symbol of his highest hopes - the blessed things he held too good for
words. He was riding now in the lust of youthful force; he was dwelling
not in the past; or the hopeful far-ahead; he was in the living _now_,
and, high or low, his instinct bade him drink the cup that came.

As the sun went down, he drew rein and paused with Belle to gaze at the
golden fringe that the cedars made on the mountain's edge in the glow.
He knew it and loved it in every light - best of all, perhaps, in its
morning mist, when the plains were yet gray and the rosy dawn was
touching its gleaming sides. He was content as yet to look on it from
afar. He would seek its pinnacle as he had done before, but something
within him said: "No; not yet."

And the wise young person at his side kept silence; a little puzzled but
content, and waiting, wisely waiting.




CHAPTER LXI

Clear Vision on the Mountain


Kind friends and hearty greetings awaited the Hartigans at the Fort.
Colonel Waller, Mrs. Waller, and the staff received them as long-lost
son and daughter; and with the least delay by decency allowed they went
to the stable to see Blazing Star, still Fort Ryan's pride. The whinnied
welcome and the soft-lipped fumbling after sugar were the outward tokens
of his gladness at the meeting.

"He's the same as ever, Jim," said the Colonel, "but we didn't race last
summer. Red Cloud came as usual, but asked for a handicap of six hundred
yards, which meant that they had not got a speeder they could trust. We
had trouble, too, with the Indian Bureau over the whole thing, so the
affair was called off. As far as we know now, Blazing Star is the racer
of the Plains, with Red Rover making a good second. He's in his prime
yet; he could still walk a stringer on a black night, and while you are
here at the Fort he's yours as much as you want to use him."

Jim's cup was filled to overflowing.

Their midday meal over, a ride was in order; first around the Fort among
the men - Captain Wayne, Osier Mike, Scout Al Rennie - then out over the
sagebrush flat. "Here's the old battle ground of the horses; here's
where you chased the coyote, and here's where Blazing Star took you over
the single stringer bridge on that black night." It was less than a year
he had been away, and yet Jim felt like one who was coming back to the
scenes of his boyhood, long gone by. His real boyhood in far-away Links
was of another world. Fightin' Bill Kenna, Whiskey Mason, the Rev.
Obadiah Champ, the stable and the sawmills, his mother - they were
dreams; even Chicago was less real than this; and he rode like a
schoolboy and yelled whenever a jack rabbit jumped ahead of his horse
and jerked its white tail in quick zigzags, exactly as its kind had done
in the days when he lived in the saddle.

After dinner, by the log fire in the Colonel's dining room, Mrs. Waller
raised the question of their plans. "Now, children" (she loved to be
maternal), "what do you want to do to-morrow?"

There was a time when Belle would have spoken first, but there had been
a subtle, yet very real, change in their relationship. Jim was a child
three years before, dependent almost entirely on her; now she was less
his leader than she had been. She waited.

Gazing at the fire, his long legs straight out and crossed at the
ankles, his hands clasped behind his head, he lounged luxuriously in a
great arm chair. Without turning his gaze from the burning logs he
began:

"If I could do exactly what I wished - - "

"Which you may," interjected Mrs. Waller.

"I'd saddle Blazing Star and Red Rover at seven o'clock in the morning
and ride with Belle and not come back till noon."

"Ha, ha!" laughed Mrs. Waller and the Colonel. "You children! You two
little, little ones! Well, we must remember that Belle is still a bride
and will be for another month, so we'll bid you Godspeed on the new
wedding trip and have your breakfast ready at half past six."

Early hours are the rule in a fort at the front, so the young folk were
not alone at breakfast. And when they rode away on their two splendid
horses, many eyes followed with delight the noble beauty of the pair - so
fitly mounted, so gladly young and strong.

"Now, where, Jim?" said Belle, as they left the gate and thundered over
the bridge at a mettlesome lope. And as she asked, she remembered that
that was the very question he used always to put to her.

"Belle" (he reined in Blazing Star), "I have been waiting till it seemed
just right - waiting for the very time, so we could stand again at our
shrine. Sometimes I think I know my way and the trail I ought to seek,
and sometimes I am filled with doubt; but I know I shall have the clear
vision if we stand again as we used to stand, above our world, beside
the Spirit Rock, on the high peak of our mountain."

And then, in the soft sign language of the rein let loose, the ribs
knee-nudged, they bade their horses go. Side by side they rode and swung
like newly mated honkers in the spring - like two centaurs, feeling in
themselves the power, the blood rush of their every bound. In less than
half an hour they passed the little town and were at the foot of Cedar
Mountain. The horses would have gone up at speed, but the riders held
them in, and the winding trail was slowly followed up.

The mountain jays flew round the pines before them as they climbed; an
eagle swung in circles, watching keenly; while, close at hand, the
squirrels dropped their cones to spring behind the trunks and chatter
challenge.

At the half-way ledge they halted for a breathing. Belle looked keenly,
gently into Jim's eyes. She was not sure what she saw. She wondered what
his thoughts were. The brightness of the morning, the joy of riding and
being, the fullness of freedom - these were in glowing reflex on his
face, but she had seen these before; yet never before had she seen his
face so tense and radiant. Only once, perhaps, that time when he came
home walking in the storm.

He smiled back at her, but said nothing. They rode again and in ten
minutes came to the end of the horse trail. He leaped from the saddle,
lifted her down, and tied the horses. With his strong hand under her
arm, he made it easy for her to climb the last steep path. A hundred
feet above, they reached the top, above the final trees, above the
nearer peaks, above all other things about them except the tall, gray
Spirit Rock. Below spread a great golden world; behind them a world of
green. The little wooden town seemed at the mountain's foot - Fort Ryan
almost in shouting hail, though it was six miles off; beyond, was the
open sea of sage, with heaving hills for billows and greasewood streaks
for foam.

Jim gazed in utter silence so long that she looked a little shyly at
him. His face was radiant, his eye was glistening, but he spoke no
words. The seat they had used a year before was there and he gently drew
her toward it. Seated there as of old, he put his arm about her and held
her to him. She whispered, "Make a fire." She had indeed interpreted his
thought. He rose, lighted a little fire on the altar at the foot of the
Spirit Rock, and the smoke rose up straight in the still air. It
ascended from the earth mystery of the fire to be lost in the mystery of
the above. How truly has it been the symbol of prayer since first man
kindled fire and prayed.

Jim took his Bible from his pocket and read from the metrical Psalm
CXXI:

I to the hills will lift mine eyes,
From whence doth come mine aid;
My safety cometh from the Lord
Who heaven and earth hath made.

"They always went up into the hills to pray, Belle, didn't they? The
fathers of the faith never went down into the valley when they sought
God's guidance. I don't know why, but I know that I don't feel the same,
away down there on the plains as I do up here. I see things more
clearly, I have more belief in Him and know He is near me.

"The clouds have been gathering in my mind pretty thick and dark; yes,
darker the last half year, Belle. I began to doubt myself as I never
did. Even when we were winning in our Chicago fight, I wondered whether
I was doing right. I couldn't see clearly, Belle, and then my doubt grew
stronger and even you could not understand; there was something within
that told me to go back to Cedar Mountain. Ever since we got here I have
been waiting for the moment when I could come to the mountain. From
here, a mile above the sea, I know that I shall see the way of wisdom. I
wonder if you know what that Rock means to me with that little thread of
smoke going up?

"Belle, men called Bill Kenna a ruffian and a brute. I guess he was,


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Online LibraryErnest Thompson SetonThe preacher of Cedar Mountain; a tale of the open country → online text (page 23 of 24)