Ernest Thompson Seton.

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

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forth a messenger of the Prince of Peace.

Kitty was alive to the danger of the inherited taste for drink in her
son. The stern, uncompromising Presbyterian minister of the town, in
whose church the widow had a pew, was temperate, but not an abstainer;
in fact, it was his custom to close the day with a short prayer and a
tall glass of whiskey and water. While, with his advice, she had
entirely buried her doctrinal scruples on the selling of drink to the
moderate, her mother-heart was not so easily put to sleep. Her boy
belonged to the house side of the hotel. He was not supposed to enter
the saloon; and when, one day, she found an unscrupulous barkeeper
actually amusing himself by giving the child a taste of the liquid fire,
she acted with her usual promptitude and vigour. The man was given just
enough time to get his hat and coat, and the boy was absolutely
forbidden the left wing of the house. Later, in the little room where he
was born, she told Jim sadly and gently what it would mean, what
suffering the drinking habit had brought upon herself, and thus, for the
first time, he learned that this had been the cause of his father's
death. The boy was deeply moved and voluntarily offered to pledge
himself never to touch a drop again so long as he lived. But his mother
wisely said:

"No, Jim; don't say it that way. Leaning backward will not make you
safer from a fall; only promise me you'll never touch it till you are
eighteen; then I know you will be safe."

And he promised her that he never would; he gave his word - no more; for
already the rough and vigorous teaching of Bill Kenna had gripped him in
some sort. He felt that there was no more binding seal; that any more
was more than man should give.

When Jim was twelve he was very tall and strong for his age, and almost
too beautiful for a boy. His mother, of course, was idolatrous in her
love. His ready tongue, his gift of reciting funny or heroic verse, and
his happy moods had made him a general favourite, the king of the stable
yard. Abetted, inspired and trained by Kenna, he figured in many a
boyish fight, and usually won so that he was not a little pleased with
himself in almost every way. Had he not carried out his promise of two
years before and thrashed the mayor's son, who was a year older than
himself, and thereby taught a lesson to that stuck-up, purse-proud
youngster? Could he not ride with any man? Yes, and one might add, match
tongues with any woman. For his native glibness was doubly helped by the
vast, unprintable vocabularies of his chosen world, as well as by choice
phrases from heroic verse that were a more exact reflex of his mind.

Then, on a day, came Whiskey Mason drifting into Links once more. He was
making an ever scantier living out of his wretched calling, and had sunk
as low as he could sink. But he had learned a dozen clever tricks to
make new victims.

At exactly eleven o'clock, P.M., the bar-room had been closed, as was by
law required. At exactly eleven five, P.M. a traveller, sick and weak,
supported by a friend, came slowly along the dusty road to the door,
and, sinking down in agony of cramps, protested he could go no farther
and begged for a little brandy, as his friend knocked on the door,
imploring kindly aid for the love of heaven. The barkeeper was obdurate,
but the man was in such a desperate plight that the Widow Hartigan was
summoned. Ever ready at the call of trouble her kindly heart responded.
The sick man revived with a little brandy; his friend, too, seemed in
need of similar help and, uttering voluble expressions of gratitude, the
travellers went on to lodgings on the other side of the town, carrying
with them a flask in which was enough of the medicine to meet a new
attack if one should come before they reached their destination.

At exactly eleven ten, P.M., these two helpless, harmless strangers
received the flask from Widow Hartigan. At exactly eight A.M., the next
day, at the opening of the Magistrate's office, they laid their
information before him, that the Widow Hartigan was selling liquor out
of hours. Here was the witness and here was the flask. They had not paid
for this, they admitted, but said it had been "charged." All the town
was in a talk. The papers were served, and on the following day, in
court, before Tom Ford, the Mayor, the charge was made and sworn to by
Mason, who received, and Hall, who witnessed and also received, the
unlawful drink.

It was so evidently a trumped-up case that some judges would have
dismissed it. But the Mayor was human; this woman had flouted his wife;
her boy had licked his boy. The fine might be anything from one hundred
up to one thousand dollars. The Mayor was magnanimous; he imposed the
minimum fine. So the widow was mulcted a hundred dollars for playing the
rĂ´le of good Samaritan. Mason and Hall got fifty dollars to divide, and
five minutes later were speeding out of town. They left no address. In
this precautionary mood their instincts were right, though later events
proved them to be without avail.

Just one hour after the disappearance of Mason, Kenna came to town and
heard how the Widow's open-hearted kindness had led her into a snare.
His first question was: "Where is he?" No one knew, but every one agreed
that he had gone in a hurry. Now it is well known that experienced men
seeking to elude discovery make either for the absolute wilderness or
else the nearest big city. There is no hiding place between. Kenna did
not consult Kitty. He rode, as fast as horse could bear his robust bulk
to Petersburg where Mason had in some sort his headquarters.

It was noon the next day before Bill found him, sitting in the far end
of the hardware shop. Mason never sat in the saloons, for the barkeepers
would not have him there. He did not loom large, for he always tried to
be as inconspicuous as possible, and his glance was shifty.

Bill nodded to the iron dealer and passed back to the stove end of the
store. Yes, there sat Mason. They recognized each other. The whiskey
sneak rose in trepidation. But William said calmly, "Sit down."

"Well," he continued with a laugh, "I hear you got ahead of the Widdy."

"Yeh."

"Well, she can afford it," said Bill. "She's getting rich."

Mason breathed more freely.

"I should think ye'd carry a revolver in such a business," said William,
inquiringly.

"Bet I do," said Mason.

"Let's have a look at it," said Kenna. Mason hesitated.

"Ye better let me see it, or - - " There was a note of threat for the
first time. Mason drew his revolver, somewhat bewildered. Before the
informer knew what move was best, Kenna reached out and took the weapon.

"I hear ye got twenty-five dollars from the Widdy."

"Yeh." And Mason began to move nervously under the cold glitter in
Kenna's eyes.

"I want ye to donate that to the orphan asylum. Here, Jack!" Kenna
called to the clerk, "Write on a big envelope 'Donation for the orphan
asylum. Conscience money.'"

"What does it say?" inquired Bill, for he could not read. The clerk held
out the envelope and read the inscription.

"All right," said Bill, "now, Mason, jest so I won't lose patience with
you and act rough like, hand over that twenty-five."

"I ain't got it, I tell you. It's all gone."

"Turn out your pockets, or I will."

The whiskey sneak unwillingly turned out his pockets. He had fifteen
dollars and odd.

"Put it in that there envelope," said Bill, with growing ferocity. "Now
gum it up. Here, Jack, will ye kindly drop this in the contribution box
for the orphans while we watch you?" The clerk entered into the humour
of it all. He ran across the street to the gate of the orphan asylum and
dropped the envelope into the box. Mason tried to escape but Bill's
mighty hand was laid on his collar. And now the storm of animal rage
pent up in him for so long broke forth. He used no weapon but his fists,
and when the doctor came, he thought the whiskey man was dead. But they
brought him round, and in the hospital he lingered long.

It was clearly a case of grave assault; the magistrate was ready to
issue a warrant for Kenna's arrest. But such was Bill's reputation that
they could get no constable to serve it. Meanwhile, Mason hung between
life and death. He did not die. Within six weeks, he was able to sit up
and take a feeble interest in things about him, while Bill at Links
pursued his normal life.

Gossip about the affair had almost died when the Mayor at Petersburg
received a document that made him start. The Attorney General of the
Province wrote: "Why have you not arrested the man who committed that
assault? Why has no effort been made to administer justice?"

The Mayor was an independent business man, seeking no political favours,
and he sent a very curt reply. "You had better come and arrest him
yourself, if you are so set on it."

That was why two broad, square men, with steadfast eyes, came one day
into Links. They sought out Bill Kenna and found him in the bar-room,
lifting the billiard table with one hand, as another man slipped wedges
under it to correct the level. Little Jim, though he had no business
there at all, stood on the table itself and gave an abundance of orders.

"Are you William Kenna?" said the first of the strangers.

"I am that," said he.

"Then I arrest you in the Queen's name"; and the officer held up a paper
while the other produced a pair of handcuffs.

"Oi'd like to see ye put them on me." And the flood of fight in him
surged up.

He was covered by two big revolvers now, which argument had no whit of
power to modify his mood; but another factor had. The Widow who had
entered in search of Jim and knew the tragedy that hung by a hair, sped
to his side: "Now, Bill, don't ye do it! I forbid ye to do it!"

"If they try to put them on me, I'll kill or be killed. If they jist act
dacent, I'll go quiet."

"Will ye give yer word, Bill?"

"I will, Kitty; I'll give me word as a mahn. I'll go peaceable if they
don't try to handcuff me."

"There," said Kitty to the officers. "He's give his word; and if you're
wise, ye'll take him at that."

"All right," said the chief constable, and between them William moved to
the door.

"Say, Bill, ye ain't going to be took?" piped little Jim. He had watched
the scene dumbfounded from his place on the table. This was too much.

"Yes," said Bill, "I've give me word as a mahn," and he marched away,
while the Widow fled sobbing to her room.

That was the end of Kenna, so far as Jim was concerned. And, somehow,
that last sentence, "I've give me word as a mahn," kept ringing in Jim's
ears; it helped to offset the brutalizing effect of many other
episodes - that Fighting Bill should scoff at bonds and force, but be
bound and helpless by the little sound that issued from his own lips.

Bill's after life was brief. He was condemned to a year in jail for
deadly assault and served the term and came again to Petersburg. There
in a bar-room he encountered Hall, the pal of Whisky Mason. A savage
word from Bill provoked the sneer, "You jail bird." Kenna sprang to
avenge the insult. Hall escaped behind the bar. Bill still pursued. Then
Hall drew a pistol and shot him dead; and, as the Courts held later,
shot justly, for a man may defend his life.

It was a large funeral that buried Bill, and it was openly and widely
said that nine out of ten were there merely to make sure that he was
dead and buried. The Widow Hartigan was chief mourner in the first
carriage. She and Jim led the line, and when he was laid away, she had a
stone erected with the words, "A true friend and a man without fear." So
passed Kenna; but Jim bore the traces of his influence long and
deeply - yes, all his life. Masterful, physical, prone to fight and to
consider might as right, yet Jim's judgment of him was ever tempered by
the one thought, the binding force of his "wurd as a mahn."




CHAPTER VI

Jim Loses Everything


The Widow never forgot that her tenure of the hotel might end at any
time; and, thinking ever of Jim and his future, she saved what she could
from the weekly proceeds. She was a good manager, and each month saw
something added to her bank account. When it had grown to a considerable
size her friends advised her to invest it. There were Government bonds
paying five per cent., local banks paying six and seven, and, last of
all, the Consolidated Trading Stores paying eight and sometimes more - an
enterprise of which Tom Ford was head.

The high interest was tempting, and pride was not without some power.
Kitty was pleased to think that now she could go to the pompous Mayor as
a capitalist. So, creating with an inward sense of triumph the
impression of huge deposits elsewhere, she announced that she would take
a small block of stock in the C. T. S. as a nest-egg for her boy. Thus
the accumulations of ten years went into the company of which the Mayor
was head and guide. For a time, the interest was duly paid each half
year. Then came a crash. After the reorganization the Mayor continued in
his big brick house and his wife still wore her diamonds; but the
widow's hard-earned savings were gone. Kitty was stunned but game;
falling back on the strength that was inside, she bravely determined to
begin all over and build on a rock of safety. But fortune had another
blow in store for Jim. And it fell within a month, just as he turned
thirteen.

It was the end of the Canadian winter. Fierce frost and sudden thaw were
alternated as the north wind and the south struggled for the woods, and
the heat of work in the warm sun left many ill prepared for the onset of
bitter cold at dusk. Bustling everywhere, seeing that pigs were fed,
pies made, and clothes mended; now in the hot kitchen, a moment later in
the stable yard to manage some new situation; the Widow fell a victim to
pneumonia much as John Downey had done.

For three days she lay in fever and pain. Jim was scarcely allowed to
see her. They did not understand pneumonia in those days, and as it was
the general belief that all diseases were "catching," the boy was kept
away. The doctor was doing his best with old-fashioned remedies,
blisters, mustard baths, hot herb teas and fomentations. He told her she
would soon be well, but Kitty knew better. On the third day, she asked
in a whisper for Jim, but told them first to wash his face and hands
with salt water. So the long-legged, bright-eyed boy came and sat by his
mother's bed and held her hot hands. As he gazed on her over-bright
eyes, she said softly:

"My darling, you'll soon be alone, without friend or kith or kin. This
place will no longer be your home. God only knows where you'll go. But
He will take care of you as He took care of me."

For the first time Jim realized the meaning of the scene - his mother
was dying. She quieted his sobs with a touch of her hand and began
again, slowly and painfully:

"I tried to leave you well fixed, but it was not to be. The hotel will
go to another. This is all I have for you."

She drew a little cedar box from under the covers, and opening it,
showed him her Bible, the daguerreotype of his father and a later
photograph of herself.

"Jim, promise me again that you will never touch tobacco or liquor till
you are eighteen."

"Oh, mother, mother!" he wept. "I'll do anything you say. I'll promise.
I give you my word I never will touch them."

She rested in silence, her hand was on his head. When her strength in a
little measure came again, she said in a low tone:

"My wish was to see you educated, a minister for Christ. I hope it may
yet be so."

She was still a long time; then, gently patting his head, she said to
those around:

"Take him away. Wash him with salt and water."

* * * * *

Thus it came about that the hotel which had been Jim's only home and
which he thought belonged to his mother, passed into the hands of John
Downey, Jr., nephew of the original owner. It was Mrs. John Downey who
offered the first ray of comfort in Jim's very bleak world. When she saw
the tall handsome boy she put her arms around him and said:

"Never mind, Jim, don't go away. This will always be home for you."

So the lad found a new home in the old house, but under greatly changed
conditions. The new mistress had notions of her own as to the amount of
education necessary and the measure of service to be returned for one's
keep. Jim was able to read, write, and cipher; this much was ample in
the opinion of Mrs. Downey, and Jim's school days ended. The
understanding that he must make himself useful quickly resulted in his
transference to the stable. A garret in the barn was furnished with a
bed for him, and Jim's life was soon down to its lowest level. He had
his friends, for he was full of fun and good to look upon: but they were
not of the helpful kind, being recruited chiefly from the hostlers, the
pugilists, and the horsemen. He had time for amusements, too; but they
were nearly always of the boxing glove and the saddle. Books had little
charm for him, though he still found pleasure in reciting the heroic
ballads of Lachlin, the Raid of Dermid, the Battle of the Boyne, and in
singing "My Pretty, Pretty Maid," or woodmen's "Come all ye's." His
voice was unusually good, except at the breaking time; and any one who
knew the part the minstrel played in Viking days would have thought the
bygone times come back to see him among the roystering crowd at
Downey's.

The next three years that passed were useless except for this, they
gifted Jim with a tall and stalwart form and shoulders like a grown man.
But they added little to the good things he had gathered from his mother
and from Fightin' Bill. At sixteen he was six feet high, slim and boyish
yet, but sketched for a frame of power. All this time his meagre keep
and his shabby clothes were his only pay. But Jim had often talked
things over with his friends and they pointed out that he was now doing
man's work and getting less than boy's pay. The scene that followed his
application for regular wages was a very unpleasant one; and John Downey
made the curious mistake of trying to throw young Jimmy out. The boy
never lost his temper for a moment but laughingly laid his two strong
hands on the landlord's fat little shoulders and shook him till his
collar popped and his eyes turned red. Then Jim grinned and said:

"I told ye I wasn't a kid anny more."

It was the landlady's good sense that made a truce, and after a brief,
stormy time the long-legged boy was reinstated at wages in the yard.

At seventeen Jim was mentioned among the men as a likely "bhoy." Women
in the street would turn to look in admiration at his square shoulders,
lithe swing, and handsome head. But the life he led was flat, or worse
than flat. The best that can be said of it is that in all this sordid
round of bar and barn he learned nothing that in any sort had power to
harm his rare physique. His language at times was the worst of its lurid
kind. His associates were coarse and drunken. Yet Jim lived with them in
all their ways and neither chewed, smoked, nor drank. How or why, none
understood. He said simply that he "didn't feel like he wanted to." With
the liquor it was a different matter. Here it was a question of
principle and his word to his mother helped him where by nature he was
weak. So he grew up, hedged about with a dignity that was in some sense
a foreshadowing of his destiny. But there was much dross to be burned
away and the two great passions that stood between Jim Hartigan and full
spiritual manhood had their roots in these early years at Downey's.
Later he matched his strength against theirs and with that struggle, in
which no quarter was asked or given, these pages are ultimately
concerned.




CHAPTER VII

He Gets a Much-needed Lesson


Many a man has been ruined by a high, unbroken level of success.
Intellectually it makes for despotism and a conviction of infallibility.
In the world of muscle, it creates a bully.

Young Jim was far from losing his interest in the ring, and he was
growing so big and strong that there were few in town who cared to put
on the gloves with him. All that Bill Kenna had taught him, and more,
was stored as valued learning. Kenna used to say, in his Irish vein:
"There is twelve rules for to conduct yourself right in a shindy; the
first is, get your blow in first; and, if ye live up to this, ye needn't
worry about the other iliven rules." Jim accepted this as fundamental
truth and thereby became the aggressor in nearly every brawl.

His boiling, boisterous, animal nature grew with his body and he
revelled in the things of brawn. He responded joyfully when he was
called on to eject some rowdy from the bar-room, and begetting
confidence with each new victory, he began to have a vast opinion of
himself. About this time a powerful rival of Downey's, known as the
Dummer House, claimed attention at the other end of town. One was
located to catch the inbound from the west; the other, those from the
east. And when the owners were not at war, they kept at best an armed
neutrality.

John Downey had delivered himself of some unhallowed hopes concerning
the rival house, and Jim, as he passed the opposition Inn on a certain
evening, had the picturesque devastations vividly in mind. It so
happened that a masting team of oxen was standing patiently outside
awaiting the driver who was refreshing himself at the bar. A masting
team consists of six to twelve strong, selected oxen, yoked two and two
to a mighty chain with which they can drag forth the largest pines that
are saved for masts. Jim's too-agile mind noted the several components
of a new and delightful exploit: a crowd of noisy teamsters in a log
house bar-room, a team of twelve huge, well-trained oxen on a chain, the
long, loose end of which lay near him on the ground. It was the work of
a minute to hook the chain around a projecting log of the house. A
moment more and he had the oxen on the go. Beginning with the foremost
pair, he rushed down the line, and the great, heaving, hulking
shoulders, two and two, bent and heaved their bulk against the strain.
The chain had scarcely time to tighten; no house could stand against
that power. The huge pine log was switched out at one end as a man might
jerk a corn cob from its crib. The other end, still wedged in its place,
held for a moment; but the oxen moved slowly on like a landslide. The
log was wrenched entirely away and the upper part of the building
dropped with a sullen "chock" to rest a little lower. There was a wild
uproar inside, a shouting of men, a clatter of glass, and out rushed the
flushed-faced rabble, astonished, frightened, furious to see the twelve
great oxen solemnly marching down the street, trailing the missing log,
the fragment of their house, while beside them, running, laughing,
hooting, was a long-legged boy.

Jim's intention had been to clear out, but the trick proved so
screamingly funny that he stood for a minute to enjoy the scene. Shelves
had fallen and glasses had broken, but no person had been hurt. There
was a moment's uncertainty; then with an angry shout the enraged patrons
of the Dummer House swept forward. Jim discreetly fled. In the centre of
the town friends appeared and in the street he turned to face his
pursuers. Jim had already proved himself one of "the best men in Links"
and it was with a new burst of hilarity that he wheeled about among his
backers to give them "all they wanted." Instead of the expected general
onslaught, a method new to Jim was adopted. The teamsters of the Dummer
House held back and from their ranks there issued a square-jawed,
bow-legged man, whose eye was cold, whose step was long and quick. With
the utmost deliberation he measured Jim with his eye. Then he growled:

"Come on, ye ill-born pup. Now ye'll get what ye desarve."

The sporting instinct was strong in the crowd and the two were left
alone to fight it out. It took very little time. Jim had made a
mistake - a serious one. This was no simple teamster, guileless of
training, who faced him, but a man whose life was in the outer circle of
the prize ring. The thrashing was complete, and effective for several
weeks. Jim was carried home and ever after he bore upon his chin a scar
that was the record of the final knockout from the teamster's iron fist.

The catastrophe had several important compensations. The owner of the
Dummer House decided that the boy was punished enough, and took no legal
proceeding against him. On his part, Jim began to think much more
seriously before giving reckless rein to his sense of humour. On the
whole, his respect for the rights of others was decidedly increased. His



Online LibraryErnest Thompson SetonThe preacher of Cedar Mountain; a tale of the open country → online text (page 3 of 24)