Ernest Thompson Seton.

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

. (page 4 of 24)
Online LibraryErnest Thompson SetonThe preacher of Cedar Mountain; a tale of the open country → online text (page 4 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

self-esteem shrunk to more normal proportions and if he thought of the
incident at all it was to wish very earnestly that some day, somewhere,
he might meet the teamster again on more even terms.

Unfortunately these salutory results were negatived some six months
later by an event that took place in Downey's bar. It was Jim's
birthday; he was eighteen and he announced it with pride.

"And here's where ye join us," said several.

"No, I don't care about it," said Jim.

"Ye ain't promise bound now, are ye?"

"No," replied Jim, "but - - "

"Make him a sweet one with syrup and just a spoonful of the crather to
take the curse off."

Refusing, protesting, half ashamed of his hesitation, Jim downed at a
gulp a fruity concoction, much to the delight of the assemblage. It was
not so bad as he had expected it to be and the crowd roared at the
expression on his face.

"Ye're a man for yourself now, lad," said a woodsman clapping him on the
shoulder. "Come boys, another round to Hartigan's health."

It could not be said of Jim that he was normal in anything. In a rare
and multiplied degree he had inherited the full muscling and robust
heart of his folk in both lines of forbears. It was a great inheritance,
but it carried its own penalty. The big animal physique holds a craving
for strong drink. Physical strength and buoyancy are bound up with the
love of bacchanalian riot. Jim had given his word to abstain from liquor
until he was of age; he had kept it scrupulously. Now he had tasted of
it the pendulum swung full to the other side. That was his nature. His
world might be a high world or a low world; whichever sphere he moved in
he practised no half-way measures.

From that eighteenth birthday Jim Hartigan waged ceaseless warfare
within himself. During the early days he was an easy victim. Then came a
shock that changed the whole aspect of his life, and later one stood
beside him who taught him how to fight. But until those events took
place, the town of Links knew him for what he was, a reckless,
dare-devil youth, without viciousness or malice, but ripe for any
extravagance or adventure. His pranks were always begun in fun though it
was inevitable that they should lead to serious consequences. It was
admitted by his severest critics that he had never done a cruel or a
cowardly thing, yet the constant escapades and drinking bouts in which
he was ever the leader earned him the name of Wild Jim Hartigan.

After each fresh exploit his abject remorse was pitiful. And so, little
by little, a great nature was purged; his spirit was humbled by
successive and crushing defeats. At first the animal rebound was
sufficient to set him on his feet unashamed. But during the fourth year
after his coming of age, an unrest, a sickness of soul took possession
of Jim and no wildness sufficed to lift this gloom. And it was in
frantic rebellion against this depression that he entered upon his
memorable visit to the Methodist revival.




The Conversion of Jim

There was much excitement in Methodist circles that autumn. A preacher
of power had come from the east. The church was filled to overflowing on
Sunday, and a prayer meeting of equal interest was promised for
Wednesday night.

The people came from miles around and there were no vacant seats. Even
the aisles were filled with chairs when the Rev. Obadiah Champ rose and
bawled aloud in rolling paragraphs about "Hopeless, helpless,
hell-damned sinners all. Come, come to-day. Come now and be saved." A
wave of religious hysteria spread over the packed-in human beings. A
wave that to those untouched was grotesque and incomprehensible.

"Sure, they ain't right waked up yet," said one of Jim's half-dozen
unregenerate friends who had come to sit with him on the fence outside,
and scoff at the worshippers. Jim was silent, but a devil of wild deeds
stirred irritatingly within him. He looked about him for some supreme
inspiration - some master stroke. The crowd was all in the church now,
and the doors were closed tight. But muffled sounds of shouting, of
murmurings, of halleluiahs were heard.

"They're goin' it pretty good now, Jim," said another. "But I think you
could arouse 'em," he added, with a grin.

Standing by the church was a tall elm tree; near by was a woodshed with
axe, saw, and wood pile. Jim's eye measured the distance from trunk to
roof and then, acting on a wild impulse, with visions of folk in terror
for their bodies when they professed concern for nothing but their
souls, he got the axe, and amid the suppressed giggles and guffaws of
his chums, commenced to fell the tree. In twenty minutes the great trunk
tottered, crackled, and swung down fair on the roof of the crowded

The congregation had reached a degree of great mental ferment with the
revival, and a long, loud murmuring of prayers and groans, with the
voice of the exhorter, harsh and ringing, filled the edifice, when with
a crash overhead the great arms of the tree met the roof. At first, it
seemed like a heavenly response to the emotion of the congregation, but
the crackling of small timber, the showering down of broken glass and
plaster gave evidence of a very earthly interposition.

Then there was a moment of silence, then another crack from the roof,
and the whole congregation arose and rushed for the door. All in vain
the exhorter tried to hold them back. He shrieked even scriptural texts
to prove they should stay to see the glory of the Lord. Another flake of
plaster fell, on the pulpit this time; then he himself turned and fled
through the vestry and out by the back way.

Jim's following had deserted him, but he himself was there to see the
fun; and when the congregation rushed into the moonlight it was like a
wasp's nest poked with a stick, or a wheat shock full of mice turned
over with a fork. The crowd soon understood the situation and men
gathered around the sinner. There was menace in every pose and speech.
They would have him up to court; they would thrash him now. But the
joyful way in which Jim accepted the last suggestion and offered to meet
any or all "this holy minute" had a marked effect on the programme,
especially as there were present those who knew him.

Then the exhorter said:

"Brethren, let me talk to this heinous sinner. Young man, do you realize
that this is the House of God, which you have so criminally destroyed?"

"The divil an' all it is," said Jim. "Sure, ye ain't got the cheek to
call a Methody shindy hall the House of God. I think ye ought to be
ashamed of yourself to give a lot of dacent farmers the hysterics like
yer doin'."

"Young man, the spirit of the Lord is mighty, and cometh like a strong
wind on the four corners of the house."

"Then why in the divil did ye blame me for it?" was the answer.

"Oh, son of Belial! Hell fire and eternal damnation, a portion in the
pit that burneth with fire, is the lot of those that desecrate the
sanctuary of the Most High. I tell you it were better for you that you
had never been born - - "

"But sure, I am born; and it's mesilf that's aloive yet an' going

"Oh, unregenerate blasphemer - - "

But a sudden cry and commotion interrupted the preacher.

"Here, lay her down, get some water."

A little girl had been hurt in the crush and now she had fainted. The
threats of the men had roused Jim to his joyful, battle enthusiasm. The
onslaught of the preacher had stirred his sense of humour; but the poor,
limp, and seemingly dead form of the little girl, a child whom he knew
and had often petted, was an attack he was ill-prepared to meet.

"There, see what you have done. It were better that a millstone were
hanged about your neck and that you were cast into the depths of the sea
than that you should have harmed this little one. Her blood be on your

The mother was kneeling by the child, unwisely holding up its head. She
was praying intently; the air was full of religious fervour. "Oh, God,
spare my baby. Oh, God, be merciful."

Jim heard the words and they entered his soul like a two-edged sword.
All the fun of the incident was gone, and all the cruelty, the
unkindness, the wickedness, loomed large and larger. With his intense
nature, subject to the most violent reactions, the effect was profound.
It seemed to him, as he stood there, that a veil dissolved before his
eyes and that he saw himself and his life for the first time. There had
ever been two natures struggling in his soul, the calm and wise one of
his Ulster blood of placid Saxon stock, and that of the wild and fiery
Celt from Donegal, ready to fight, ready to sing, ever ready for fun,
but ever the easy prey of deep remorse in even measure with the mood of
passion that foreran and begot it.

Smitten from within and without, utter humiliation, self-accusation, and
abasement filled his soul. Jim sank to the ground by the little girl,
and wept in an agony of remorse.

"Young man," said the exhorter, "if God in His mercy has sent me here to
save your soul from eternal damnation by this hellish deed of yours,
then shall I rejoice and praise the Lord, that out of fire and brimstone
He can create a golden pathway."

The little girl now opened her eyes and with a cry of relief the mother
sought to lift her up, but had not the strength. Jim's mighty arms were
eager for service, and with that soft, limp little body against his
broad chest, her head on his shoulder, his heart was filled with
inexpressible emotion.

"Bring her in here," and the remnant of the congregation reassembled in
the church. In the very front was Jim, sitting by the mother with the
little girl between them. His head was bowed on his hands, his elbows on
his knees.

Then the exhorter began again. Full of scriptural texts charged with
holy fire, abounding in lurid thoughts of burning lakes, of endless
torment; gifted with the fluency that sometimes passes for logic and
makes for convincement, he dwelt on the horrors and the
might-have-beens. He shouted out his creeds of holiness, he rumbled in
his chest and made graphic mouthings. He played on all the emotions
until he found the most responsive, and then hammered hard on these. The
big broad shoulders before him shook, tears fell from the half-hidden
face. Then the preacher chanced to strike on the note, "your mother,"
and Jim Hartigan's breakdown was complete. He sobbed, "Oh, God, be
merciful to me, a sinner," and rising, staggered to a place on the
upraised bench - the seat of those who dared to hope for salvation - and

Carried away by his own vehemence, the exhorter wept, too. There was no
human being in the hall who could stand the overwhelming surge of
emotion. The congregation wept. Then Jim arose and in broken voice said:
"My mother's dying prayer was that I might join the Church and be a
witness for God. As sure as she is looking down on me now I promise that
I will join His people and niver rest till I have been made fit to stand
among those who bear His message. I give my word as a man."


Jim Hartigan Goes to College

Hartigan never walked in the middle of the road. He was either in the
ditch or on the high place. Having "got religion" it was inevitable,
with his nature, that he should become a leader in the fold. That vision
of himself as a preacher, fully ordained, which had burst upon him at
the revival, filled his mind. His mother's last wish resounded in his
ears with all the imperative force of a voice from the grave and he was
emotionally ripe for such inner urgings.

The difficulties in the way of such a course would have daunted most
men; but Jim was going strong for the moment, and to him impossibilities
were mere trivialities. The Rev. Obadiah Champ, with others who were
proud of the new convert, took him before the Board of Deacons and there
Jim made his ambitions known. He was illiterate, friendless, penniless,
and already twenty-three. He had no taste for study or a life of
self-control; meekness and spirituality were as much to his liking now
as travelling on a bog is to a blooded horse.

But his magnificent presence, his glib Irish tongue, his ready wit, his
evident warmth and sincerity, were too much for the reverend bearded
ones of the Board. They were carried away, as most humans were, by his
personal charm. They listened with beaming faces. They cast significant
glances at one another. They sent Jim into another room while they
discussed his fate. In twenty minutes he was brought back to hear their
decision. "Yes, they would accept him as a chosen vessel to bear the
grace of God abroad among the people. They would educate him without
expense to himself. He might begin his college career at once."

In the ordinary course, Jim would have set to work with a tutor in Links
to prepare himself to enter Coulter College at the next term. But life
seemed to order itself in unusual ways when it was a question concerning
Jim. He had no home in Links; he had no money to pay a tutor; he was as
eager as a child to begin the serious work; and his ardour burnt all the
barriers away. He became at once an inmate of Coulter, a special protégé
of the president's, admitted really as a member of the latter's family,
and bound by many rules and promises. In preparation for his formal
entry he was required to devote six hours a day to study, and those who
knew him of old had given the president a hint to exact from Jim his
"wurd as a mahn" that he would do his daily task.

In looking back on those days Jim used to revile them for their
uselessness and waste. What he did not understand until life had put him
through the fire was that the months at Coulter broke him to harness. It
was beyond the wildest imagining that a youth brought up as Jim had been
should step from a life of boisterous carousing in a backwoods
settlement into a seminary and find congenial or helpful occupation
among books. And yet the shock, the change of environment, the
substitution of discipline for license and, above all, the heroic
struggle of the man to meet this new order of existence - these were the
things, the fine metals of a great soul, which life was hammering,
hammering into shape.

What this period meant to Jim no one but himself knew. The agony of
spirit and of body was intense. He had given his word to go through with
it and he did. But every instinct, every association of his old life led
his mind abroad. Every bird that flew to the roof or hopped on the lawn
was a strong attraction; every sound of a horse's hoof aroused his
wayward interest; and the sight of a horse sent him rushing
incontinently to the window. At the beginning, the football captain had
pounced on him as the very stuff he needed, and Jim responded as the
warhorse does to the bugle. He loved the game and he was an invaluable
addition to the team. And yet, helpful as such an outlet was for his
pent-up energy, his participation merely created new tortures, so that
the sight of a sweater crossing the lawn became maddening to him in the
hours of study. He had never liked books, and now as the weeks went by
he learned to loathe them.

It is greatly to be feared that in a fair, written examination with an
impartial jury, Jim Hartigan would have been badly plucked on his
college entrance. But great is the power of personality. The president's
wife behaved most uncollegiately. She interested herself in Jim; she had
interviews with the examiners; she discovered in advance questions to be
asked; she urged upon the authorities the absolute necessity of
accepting this promising student. The president himself was biased. He
hinted that the function of examiners was not so much to make absolute
measurement of scholastic attainments as to manifest a discretionary
view of possibilities, and to remember that examination papers were
often incapable of gauging the most important natural endowments of the
candidate; that sometimes when it was necessary to put a blood horse
over a five-barred gate, the wisest horseman laid the gate down flat.

The admonitions were heeded, the gate laid flat, and the thoroughbred
entered the pasture. But to Jim, caught up in the wearisome classroom
grind, the days held no glimmer of light. Of what possible value, he
asked himself again and again, could it be to know the history of
Nippur? Why should the cuneiforms have any bearing on the morals of a
backwoods Canadian? Would the grace of God be less effective if the
purveyor of it was unaware of what Sprool's Commentaries said about the
Alexandrian heresy? Was not he, Jim Hartigan, a more eloquent speaker
now, by far, than Silas McSilo, who read his Greek testament every
morning? And he wrote to the Rev. Obadiah Champ: "It's no use. I don't
know how to study. I'm sorry to get up in the morning and glad to go to
bed and forget it. I'd rather be in jail than in college. I hate it more
every day." But Jim had given his "wurd as a mahn" and he hammered away
sadly and sorrowfully as one who has no hope, as one who is defeated but
continues to fight merely because he knows not how to surrender.


Escape to Cedar Mountain

It is generally admitted that a college offers two main things, book
learning and atmosphere. Of these the latter is larger and more vital,
if it be good. If the college lose ground in either essential, the loss
is usually attributable to a leading set of students. Coulter was losing
ground, and the growth of a spirit of wildness in its halls was no small
worry to the president. He knew whence it sprang, and his anxiety was
the greater as he thought of it. Then a happy inspiration came. Jim's
dislike of books had intensified. He had promised to study for one year.
According to the rules, a student, after completing his first year,
might be sent into the field as an assistant pastor, to be in actual
service under an experienced leader for one year, during which he was
not obliged to study.

To Jim this way out was an escape from a cavern to the light of day, and
every officer of Coulter College breathed a sigh of relief as he packed
his bag and started for the West.

It was in truth a wending of the Spirit Trail when Jim set out; as if
the Angel of Destiny had said to the lesser Angel of Travel: "Behold,
now for a time he is yours. You can serve him best." Jim's blood was
more than red; it was intense scarlet. He hankered for the sparkling
cups of life, being alive in every part - to ride and fight and burn in
the sun, to revel in strife, to suffer, struggle, and quickly strike and
win, or as quickly get the knockout blow! Valhalla and its ancient
fighting creed were the hunger in his blood, and how to translate that
age-old living feeling into terms of Christianity was a problem to which
Jim's reason found no adequate answer. He talked of a better world, of
peace and harps and denial and submission, because that was his job. He
had had it drilled into him at Coulter; but his flashing eye, his mighty
sweeping hand, gave the lie to every word of meekness that fell from his
school-bound tongue. He longed for life in its fullest, best, most human
form. He was fiery as a pirate among the wild rowdies he had lived with
yet he had that other side - a child or a little girl could bully him
into absolute, abject submission.

Whoever knows the West of the late '70s can have no doubt as to where
the whirlpool of red-blooded life surged deepest, most irresistibly;
where the strong alone could live and where the strongest only could
win. In the Black Hills the strongest of the savages met the strongest
of the whites, and there every human lust and crime ran riot. It was not
accident but a far-sighted wisdom on the part of his directors that sent
Jim to Cedar Mountain.

This town of the Black Hills was then in the transition stage. The
cut-throat border element was gone. The law and order society had done
its work. The ordinary machinery of justice was established and doing
fairly well. The big strikes of gold were things of the past; now
plodding Chinese and careful Germans were making profitable daily wages;
and farmers were taking the places of the ranchmen. But there was still
a rowdy element in the one end of the town, where cowboy and miner left
their horses waiting for half the night, by the doors of noisy life and
riot. This was the future field of pastoral work selected for the Rev.
James Hartigan by elders wise in the testing of the human spirit.

All alone, Jim set forth on his three days' journey from Coulter, by way
of Toronto, Detroit, and Chicago, to the West, and seldom has a grown
man had so little knowledge of the world to rely upon. On the train he
met with a painted woman, whose smirks and overtures he did not
understand; and some farmer folk of simple kindness. In the coach, where
all slept on their seats at night, he was like another brother to the
little folks, and when a lumberjack, taking advantage of his size,
sought to monopolize two seats, whereby the old farmer was left
standing, Jim's mild and humorous "Sure, I wouldn't do that; it doesn't
seem neighbourly," as he tapped the ruffian's shoulder, put a new light
on the matter; and the lumberjack, after noting the shoulders of the
speaker, decided that it _wasn't_ neighbourly, and removed his feet.

Most of the passengers said "good-bye" at Chicago, and the rest at
Sidney Junction, where Jim changed cars for the last leg of the journey.

He had no sooner transferred himself and his bag to the waiting train
than there entered his coach five new passengers who at once attracted
his full attention - a Jesuit missionary and four Sioux Indians. The
latter were in the clothes of white men, the Jesuit in his clerical
garb. They settled into the few available places and Jim found himself
sharing his seat with the black-robed missionary.

All his early training had aimed to inspire him with hatred of the
papist, and the climax of popery, he believed, was a Jesuit. He had
never met one before, yet he knew the insignia and he was not at all
disposed to be friendly. But the black-robe was a man of the world,
blessed with culture, experience, and power; and before half an hour, in
spite of himself, Jim found himself chatting amicably with this arch
enemy. The missionary was full of information about the country and the
Indians; and Jim, with the avidity of the boy that he was, listened
eagerly, and learned at every sentence. The experience held a succession
of wholesome shocks for him; for, next to the detested papist, he had
been taught to look down on the "poor, miserable bastes of haythens,"
that knew nothing of God or Church. And here, to his surprise, was a
priest who was not only a kindly, wise, and lovable soul, but who looked
on the heathen not as utterly despicable, but as a human being who
lacked but one essential of true religion, the one that he was there to

"Yes," continued the missionary, "when I came out here as a young man
twenty-five years ago, I thought about the Indians much as you do. But I
have been learning. I know now that in their home lives they are a kind
and hospitable people. The white race might take them as models in some
particulars, for the widow, the orphan, the old, and the sick are ever
first cared for among them. We are told that the love of money is the
root of all evil; and yet this love of money, in spite of all the white
man can do to inculcate it, has no place at all in the Indian heart."

Jim listened in astonishment, first to hear the dreadful savages set so
high by one who knew them and had a right to speak, but chiefly to find
such fair-mindedness and goodness in one who, according to all he had
ever heard, must be, of course, a very demon in disguise, at war with
all who were not of his faith. Then the thought came, "Maybe this is all
put on to fool me." But at this point two of the Indians came over to
speak to the missionary. Their respectful but cordial manner could not
well have been put on and was an answer to his unspoken question.

"Are these men Catholics?" he asked.

"I'm afraid not yet," said the priest, "although I believe they are
influenced strongly. They observe some of the practices of the Church
and cling to others of their own."

"Their own what?"

"Well, I may say their own Church," said the father.

"Church? You call theirs a Church?" exclaimed Jim.

"Why not? Their best teachers inculcate cleanness, courage, kindness,
sobriety, and truth; they tell of one Great Spirit who is the creator
and ruler of all things and to whom they pray. Surely, these things are
truth and all light comes from God; and, even though they have not

Online LibraryErnest Thompson SetonThe preacher of Cedar Mountain; a tale of the open country → online text (page 4 of 24)