Ernest Thompson Seton.

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

. (page 5 of 24)
Online LibraryErnest Thompson SetonThe preacher of Cedar Mountain; a tale of the open country → online text (page 5 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


learned the great story of the redemption, we must respect their faith
so far as it goes."

"And these are the 'beasts of heathen' I have always heard about."

"Oh, yes," said the missionary, "they have many habits that I hope to
see stamped out; but I have learned that my Church was wise when it sent
me, not to antagonize and destroy, but to seek for the good in these
people and fortify that as a foundation on which to build the true
faith."

"Well, this is all a great surprise to me," said Hartigan; and again his
deepest astonishment lay in the new knowledge of the papist, rather than
of the Indian.

They were several hours together. The missionary and his Indian friends
finally left the train at a station nearest their home in Pine Ridge and
Jim was left alone with some very new ideas and some old-time prejudices
very badly shaken.

The rest of the journey he sat alone, thinking - thinking hard.

* * * * *

There was no one to meet him at the Cedar Mountain station when he
stepped out of the car - the last passenger from the last car, in the
last station - for at that time this was the north end of the track. All
his earthly belongings, besides the things he wore, were in a valise
that he carried in his hand; in his pocket he had less than five dollars
in money, and his letter of introduction to the Rev. Dr. Jebb of Cedar
Mountain.

In all his life, Jim had never seen a mountain, nor even a high hill;
and he stood gazing at the rugged pile behind the town with a sense of
fascination. It seemed so unreal, a sort of pretty thing with pretty
little trees on it. Was it near and little, or far and big? He could not
surely tell. After gazing a while, he turned to the railway agent and
said:

"How far off is that mountain top?"

"A matter of two miles," was the answer.

Two miles! It did not seem two hundred rods; and yet it did, for the man
on horseback half way there looked toy-like; and the distance grew as he
gazed. A rugged, rocky pile with white snow-ravines still showing in the
springtime sun, some scattering pines among the ledges and, lower, a
breadth of cedars, they were like a robe that hid the shoulders and
flanks of the mountain, then spread out on the plain, broken at a place
where water glinted, and later blended with the purple sage that lent
its colour to the view.

It was all so new and fairylike; "the glamour and dhrei that the banshee
works on the eyes of men," was the thought that came, and the Irish
tales his mother used to tell of fays and lepricauns seemed realized
before his eyes. Then, acting on a sudden impulse, he dropped his bag
and started off, intent on going up the mountain.

Swinging a stick that he had picked up, he went away with long, athletic
strides, and the motor engines of his frame responding sent his blood
a-rushing and his spirit bounding, till his joy broke forth in song, the
song of the singing prophet of Judea's hills, a song he had learned in
Coulter for the sweetness of the music rather than for its message:

How beautiful upon the mountains
Are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings,
That publisheth peace,
That bringeth good tidings of good,
That publisheth salvation,
That saith unto Zion,
"Thy God reigneth."

And when he reached the cedar belt he knew that the railway man had
spoken the truth, but he held on up the ever-steepening trail, ceasing
his song only when he needed the breath to climb. A cottontail waved its
beacon for a minute before him, then darted into the underbrush; the
mountain jays called out a wailing cry; and the flicker clucked above.
Sharp turns were in the trail, else it had faced an upright cliff or
overshot a precipice; but it was easily followed and, at length, he was
above the cedars. Here the horse trail ended, but a moccasin path went
on. It turned abruptly from a sheer descent, then followed a narrow
knife edge to rise again among the rocks to the last, the final height,
a little rocky upland with a lonely standing rock. Here Jim turned to
see the plain, to face about and gasp in sudden wonder; for the spell of
the mountain seen afar is but a little echo of the mountain power when
it has raised you up.

He recalled the familiar words, not understood till now:

"Thy mercies are like mountains great,
Thy judgments are like floods."

He gazed and his breath came fast as he took in the thought, old
thoughts, yet new thoughts, strong and elusive, and wondered what he had
found.

Crossing the little upland, he approached its farther end and stood by
the pinnacle of rock that, like a lonely watchman, forever looked down
on the blue and golden plains. A mountain chipmunk stared at him,
flicked its tail, and dived under a flat ledge; a bird whose real home
was a thousand miles off in the north faced the upland breeze and sang
in its unknown tongue. Jim drew still nearer the rocky spire, rounded a
ledge, and faced an unexpected sight. In a little open lodge of willows,
bent and roofed with a canvas cover, sat an Indian youth, alone,
motionless, beside him was a pot of water, and between him and the tall
rock, a little fire, from which a tiny thread of smoke arose.

Hartigan started, for that very morning he had learned from the old
Jesuit enough about the Red-men to know that this was something unusual.
On the rock beyond the fire he saw, painted in red, two symbols that are
used in the Red-man's prayers: "the blessed vision" leading up to the
"spirit heart of all things." A measure of comprehension came to him,
and Father Cyprian's words returned in new force.

The lad in the little lodge raised a hand in the sign of "Stop," then
gently waved in a way that, in all lands and languages, means: "Please
go away." There was a soft, dreamy look in his face, and Jim, realizing
that he had entered another man's holy place, held back and, slowly
turning, sought the downward trail.

It came to him clearly now this was one of the interesting things told
him that morning by the Jesuit. This Indian boy was taking his
_hambeday_, his manhood fast and vigil; seeking for the vision that
should be his guide, he was burning his altar fire beside the Spirit
Rock.

As he retraced his steps the wonder of this new world enveloped Jim. At
the edge of the cedars he paused and, looking out over the great expanse
of green plumage, he said aloud: "All my life have I lived in the bottom
of a little narrow well, with barely a glimpse of the sky, and never a
view of the world. Now I am suddenly brought forth to see the world and
the bigness of the heavens, and the things I dimly got from books are
here about me, big, living, actual."

He was himself so much, could he be also a part of this wonder-world? It
seemed impossible, so wholly new was everything it held.




CHAPTER XI

A New Force Enters His Life


Back at the railway station, Hartigan looked for his bag where he had
dropped it, but it was gone. The agent, glancing across and divining his
quandary, said stolidly:

"I guess Dr. Jebb took it. Ain't you the party he's looking for? He said
'J. H.' was the initials. You'll find him at that white house with the
flowers just where the boardwalk ends."

Jim went down the road with alert and curious eyes and presented himself
at the white cottage. He found a grave and kindly welcome from Mrs.
Jebb - a stout, middle-aged, motherly person - and from the Rev. Josiah
Jebb, D.D., M.A., etc., pastor of the Methodist Church and his principal
to be for the coming year.

A gentle, kindly man and a deep scholar, Dr. Jebb had no more knowledge
of the world than a novice in a convent. His wife was his shield and
buckler in all things that concerned the battle with men and affairs;
all his thoughts and energies were for his pulpit and his books.

Failing health rather than personal fitness had to do with Dr. Jebb's
being sent to the hills. But the vast extent of territory in his charge,
the occasional meetings in places separated by long hard rides, together
with the crude, blunt ranch and farmer folk who were his flock - all
called for a minister with the fullest strength of youth and mental
power. It was to meet this need that the trustees of the church had sent
James Hartigan to supplement the labours of the Rev. Dr. Jebb. Thus
these two, diverse in every particular of bodily and mental equipment,
were chosen to meet the same religious problem.

The evening meal was spread by Mrs. Jebb herself, for their meagre
stipend did not admit of a helper; and Jim, with his hearty, rollicking
ways, soon won his accustomed place, a high place in their hearts. That
night he was invited to stay with them; but it was understood that next
day he would find permanent lodgings in the town. Not a complex task,
since, to quote Mrs. Jebb, "his hat covered his family, and three
hundred a year simplified the number of rooms."

Jim rose at six in the morning, lighted a fire in the kitchen stove - for
this is etiquette in the simple regions where servants are not and the
guest is as a son - and put on a full kettle of water. This also is
etiquette; it assumes that the family will not be up for some time. Had
it been near the breakfast hour, but half a kettle would have been
correct. Then he left the house, stick in hand, for a long walk. This
time he struck out in the direction of the open plains. The flimsy
little town was soon behind him, and the winding trail among the
sagebrush, went reaching out to the east. The pine woods of his native
country were not well stocked with life; the feathered folk were
inconspicuous there; but here it seemed that every bush and branch was
alive with singing birds. The vesper sparrows ran before his feet,
flashed their white tail feathers in a little flight ahead, or from the
top of a stone or a buffalo skull they rippled out their story of the
spring. The buffalo birds in black and white hung poised in the air to
tell their tale, their brown mates in the grass applauding with a rapt
attention. The flickers paused in harrying prairie anthills and
chuckling fled to the nearest sheltering trees. Prairie dogs barked from
their tiny craters; gophers chirruped or turned themselves into peg-like
watchtowers to observe the striding stranger.

But over all, the loud sweet prairie lark sang his warbling yodel-song
of the sun with a power and melody that no bird anywhere, in any land,
can equal. It seemed to Jim the very spirit of these level lands, the
embodiment of the awakening plains and wind, the moving voice of all the
West. And all about, as though responsive, the flowers of spring came
forth: purple avens in straggling patches; golden yellow bloom, with
blots and streaks of fluffy white; while here and there, as far as eye
could reach, was the blue-white tinge of the crocus flower, the queen of
the springtime flowers, the child of the sky and the snow.

The passionate youth in him responded to the beauty of it; he felt it
lay hold on him and he would have sung, but he found no words in all his
college-born songs to tell of this new joy. "I didn't know it _could_ be
so beautiful. I didn't know," he said again and again.

At the seven o'clock whistle of a mill he wheeled about toward the town,
and saw there, almost overhanging it, the mountain, bright in the
morning, streaked with white, lifting a rugged head through the
gray-green poncho of its cedar robe, a wondrous pile capped by the one
lone tower that watched, forever watched, above the vast expanse of
plains.

Jim was nearly back to the town when a horse and rig appeared coming
rapidly toward him. He heard a shout and saw a man run from a house to
look. The horse was going very fast and shaking his head; something was
wrong. As it came toward him he saw that the driver was a young girl.
She was holding with all her strength to the reins, but the horse, a
tall, rawboned creature, was past control. Horses Jim surely understood.
He stepped well aside, then wheeling as the runaway went past, he ran
his best. For a little while a swift man can run with a horse, and in
that little while Jim was alongside, had seized the back of the seat,
and, with a spurt and a mighty leap, had tumbled into the rig beside the
driver. Instantly she held the reins toward him and gasped:

"I can't hold him; he's running away." Then, as Jim did not at once
seize the reins, she hurriedly said: "Here, take them."

"No," he said with amazing calmness, "you _can_ control him. Don't be
afraid. You hurt yourself pulling; ease up. Keep him straight, that's
all."

The sense of power in his presence and matter-of-fact tone restored her
nerve. She slackened a little on the reins. The horse had believed he
was running away; now he began to doubt it. She had been telegraphing
terror along the lines, and now she began to telegraph control.

"Speak to him, just as you would if he were all right," said Jim in a
low voice.

The girl had been pale and scared-looking, but she responded to the
suggestion and talked to the horse.

"Good boy, good boy, Stockings; keep it up," just as though she had been
putting him to his utmost.

There was open fareway straight ahead and little to fear so long as the
horse kept in the road and met no other rig. In a quarter of a mile he
began to slacken his pace.

"Will you take the lines now?" the girl asked shyly.

"No, it isn't necessary, and the horse would feel the change and think
he had beaten you."

"My arms are tired out," she said rather querulously.

"Then ease up for a while. Don't pull so hard."

She did so and was surprised that the horse did not speed away. In a
quarter of a mile more the victory was won. She gave the usual signal to
stop and Stockings came gently to a pause.

"Now," said Jim, "if you like, I'll take the lines. The battle is over.
You have won. From now on you will be able to drive that horse; but if I
had taken the lines he would have felt the change; he would have felt
that he could boss you, and ever after he would have been a dangerous
horse for you to drive."

In the struggle, the horse had got one leg over the trace. Jim got out,
spoke to the big, strong brute, and did the firm-handed, compelling
things that a horseman knows. The tall creature stood a little trembly,
but submissive now, as the man unhooked the trace, adjusted all the
leathers, and then, with a word or two, adjusted the horse's mood.

"Shall I leave you now?" he asked.

"No," she said, "my arms are aching. I wish you would drive me home."

As he mounted the seat again and headed for the village, Jim had his
first chance to look at the girl beside him. If fear had paled her face
at all it was wholly overcome, for the richest glow of health was in her
cheeks and on her brow. She was beautiful he knew, with her brown hair
flying and brilliant colour, but these things did not entirely account
for a charm of which he was delightfully conscious. Her hands were a
little shaky from the struggle with the horse, but otherwise she was
fully recovered and self-possessed and talked in an animated if somewhat
nervous way about the adventure. In a land where rasping voices were the
rule, it was instantly to be noted that her voice was soft and low.

"Stockings is not a bad horse," she said, "except in one way; the lines
get under his tail. That always makes him back up and kick; then he got
his leg over the trace, was frightened, and ran away. He's the only one
of our horses that we have any trouble with. I was bound I'd drive him,
in spite of Pa; but I'm thinking now that Pa was right." Then, abruptly:
"I'm Miss Boyd; aren't you the new preacher?"

"Yes."

"I saw you at the station when you came yesterday."

"Sure, I didn't suppose a human being took notice of it," he laughed.

"Here's where I live. Will you come in?"

"No, thank you," he said; "I'm late now for breakfast at Dr. Jebb's." So
he tied the horse to the post, helped her from the rig, and with a
flourish of his stick and cap left her.

"The Rev. James Hartigan," she mused; "so that is Dr. Jebb's assistant."
Then in Stockings's ear: "I think I like him - don't you, old runaway?"




CHAPTER XII

Belle Boyd


Belle had been in the express office signing some receipts for goods
consigned to her father when Jim stepped from the train. He appeared
framed in the open doorway; six feet four, broad and straight, supple
and easy, with the head of a Greek god in a crown of golden curls, and a
dash of wild hilarity in his bright blue eyes that suggested a Viking, a
royal pirate. He was the handsomest man she had ever seen and when he
spoke it was with a slight and winsome Irish brogue that lent new charm
to a personality already too dangerously gifted.

It seemed to her that Nature had given him all the gifts there were for
man; and he was even better furnished than she perceived, for he had
youth, health, happy moods, magnetic power in face and voice, courage,
and the gift of speech. And yet, with all these unmeasured blessings was
conjoined a bane. To be possessed of the wild, erratic spirit of the
roving, singing Celt, to be driven to all ill-judged extremities, to be
lashed by passion, anger, and remorse, to be the battle ground of this
wild spirit and its strong rival, the calm and steadfast spirit of the
North - that was a spiritual destiny not to be discerned in a first
meeting; but Belle, keen and understanding, was to discover it very
soon.

Belle Boyd was an only child. Her father was a well-to-do trader; he had
had just enough schooling to give him a high notion of its value, and he
resolved to equip his child with the best there was in reach. This meant
an Illinois college. She entered at seventeen. Here many vague
aspirations of schoolgirl life took definite shape, and resulted in some
radical changes in her course of studies. Her mother had but one
thought - to prepare Belle for being a good wife to some one. Her views
on many subjects were to be left blank, so that she might at once adopt
those of her prospective husband. Her tentacles alone were well
considered in the maternal method, so that she could cling ivy-like to
her oak, stay up with him or go down with him; but help him to stand
up - no, never and not at all!

But Illinois was seething with a different thought in the late '70's.
There were women who boldly proclaimed that sex and mind had little
bearing on each other; that woman should train herself to be herself,
and to stand on her own feet; that when woman had the business training
of men, the widow and the unmarried woman - half of all women - would no
longer be the easy prey of every kind of sharper. These new teachers
were, of course, made social martyrs, but they sowed the seed and the
crop was coming on. That every woman should prepare herself to stand
alone in the world was the first article in their creed. This
crystallized an old and shapeless thought that had often come to Belle,
and the pointed application that she made was to focus her college
studies on a business training. Bookkeeping, shorthand, and exact
methods were selected for specialization; and when at the age of twenty
Belle was graduated and went home to Cedar Mountain, she had, in
addition to her native common sense, a disciplined attention that made
her at once a power in the circle of the church. It was her own idea to
take a business position at once. Her mother was absolutely opposed to
it. "Why should her child be sent to work? Were they not able to keep
her at home? What was the good of parents giving years to toil if not to
keep their children at home with them?" Mr. Boyd was more inclined to
see things Belle's way, and at length a compromise was reached by which
Belle became her father's bookkeeper and secretary, and for a time all
went well.

Then a new factor entered the case, one for which the reformer has not
yet found a good answer. The daily routine of the desk was assumed as a
matter of course; and Belle quickly got used to that and found abundant
mental diversion in other things and in hours of freedom. But her body
had less strength than her mind, and the close confinement of the office
began to tell. Her hands got thin, her cheeks lost their colour, her
eyes grew brighter. Mrs. Boyd began to worry, and sent secretly to
Illinois for bottles of various elixirs of life, guaranteed to put
health, strength, youth, and brains into anything. She also made foolish
and elaborate efforts to trick the daughter into eating more at meals,
or between meals, without avail. At this juncture a very capable person
took matters in hand. Dr. Peter Carson, family physician and devoted
friend, was consulted; his views were clear and convincing: Belle must
give up the office for a year at least; she needed fresh air and sun;
the more the better. Every girl in the Black Hills rides as a matter of
course, and Belle was at home on a broncho; but now it must be, not an
occasional run, but a daily ride in the hills - off for miles, till the
vital forces had renewed their strength.

For a month or more Belle rode and browned in the sun. The colour came
again to her cheeks, and zest to her life; and there also came a strong
desire to be in a business of her own. But it must be something out of
doors; it must be something of little capital; and something a woman
could do. Belle studied her problem with great care and presently there
began to arrive at the post office sundry catalogues of extraordinary
hens with unbelievable records as producers of eggs and of rapid-raising
broilers. The result was that the acre of ground behind the store was
cut up into poultry runs for the various strains of stock that Belle
decided on and that spring Belle launched out on her career as a poultry
farmer. There were Leghorns and Houdans for eggs, and Brahmas in another
yard for mothers. Four things conspired to make her venture a success.
She was the only one in Cedar Mountain with thoroughbred poultry, so
there was a large demand for high-class eggs for setting. The eggs that
for table use brought fifty cents a dozen were worth two dollars and a
half a dozen for hatching. Her store training had taught her to watch
the market reports in the papers, which arrived twice a week, and her
college training taught her to study hen hygiene. Last but not least,
she got their food for nothing.

On closing her books that autumn Belle found that on her investment of
$250 capital borrowed from her father, she had cleared $250, and had all
the capital to render back intact. She realized that while it was
possible to make 100 per cent, on small capital, the rate decreased
rapidly as the capital increased. She estimated that ten times as much
capital would only produce about 25 per cent, because the possibility of
personal management of every hen and every detail would grow
proportionately smaller, and it was this personal touch which counted.
Next, the sovereign advantages of grass range and table scraps must
diminish with each additional hen; and if she had paid herself an
adequate salary the profit would have been wiped out. Last, and perhaps
the most important to her, she was absolutely tied to the farm. She
could not be away one week without suffering loss. It was with
ill-concealed admiration that her father listened to a summary of these
conclusions; later, with the remarkable common sense that characterized
most of her ways, Belle seized a chance to sell out and lodge her money
in the local bank. But the venture had been a success in two respects.
It had helped her to health and it had given her business experience and
confidence.

The winter was now on, and Belle's outdoor activities were somewhat
circumscribed, for there is a real winter in the Black Hills. But she
was in robust health again and she turned her energies more and more to
church work. She was depended on to get up the "sociables," to plan the
entertainments, to invent new and happy games that would take them as
near as they dared go in the direction of dance and stage without
actually outraging the old-fashioned Methodist conscience by getting
there. It was Belle who entirely refurnished the parsonage in one
harmonious style by copying a mission chair and table from a picture,
and then inviting each of the boys to make a like piece, and each of the
girls to make a "drape" to match it. It was a sort of Noah's Ark trick,
this gathering in of things in pairs, but it succeeded originally - the
ark was full - and it succeeded now, for the parsonage was full; and it
will always succeed, for it is built on the old fundamental pairing
instinct.

Belle also imported and put in practical working the idea of a daily



Online LibraryErnest Thompson SetonThe preacher of Cedar Mountain; a tale of the open country → online text (page 5 of 24)