Ernest Thompson Seton.

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

. (page 6 of 24)
Online LibraryErnest Thompson SetonThe preacher of Cedar Mountain; a tale of the open country → online text (page 6 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

school 'bus, which gathered up the twenty-odd children for ten miles
along the winter road and brought them on a huge hay rack to the Cedar
Mountain School in the morning, and took them back at night to their
homes. But in all these multiplied activities there was a secret
dissatisfaction. She felt that she was a mere hanger-on of the church, a
sort of pet cat to the parson's wife. She was not developing herself
independently, and she began secretly to outline a scheme which meant
nothing less than leaving home to take some sort of position on the west
coast. She had no fear for her success, but she was restrained by two
things: the question of health in case she could not find an outdoor
enterprise, and the sorrow her parents would feel over her - to their
thinking, unnecessary - departure.

For some time both in her school and church work Belle had been much
associated with John Lowe, the schoolteacher. He was considered a
well-meaning person, a dozen years older than herself, and had certain
pleasing qualities, a suave manner - almost too suave - and a readiness of
speech. He was fairly well educated, a good worker, a member of the
church, and had no obvious bad habits. His history was not known; in
fact, no one's history was known in those days of beginnings. Every one
had to be taken as he was found and often on his own statement.

Lowe soon became a devoted admirer of Belle; and Mrs. Boyd, seeing a
chance to beguile her daughter into settling down, did all she could to
bring them together, never losing a chance of praising Jack. He was just
what Belle needed as an executive help to realize much that she had
planned. As a public reciter he had some little prominence; as a
schoolteacher he was just a step nearer the world of brains than were
the other possible men in town, and by that much more acceptable; and
the inevitable result of propinquity was reached. The engagement of
Belle Boyd and Jack Lowe was announced.

There was no ardent love-making on either side, and sometimes Belle,
when left alone, would wonder why she was not more elated each time she
heard him coming; rather, she seemed to feel weighted by the attachment.
She reproached herself for this and as she strove to reach a more
satisfactory state of mind she found herself thinking with a sigh of
that free career she had planned in the business world. Mrs. Boyd's
maternal hopes were too nearly realized to leave her with any
discernment and Belle's father was too much wrapped up in business and
small politics, to see even the mountains that were beyond his back
yard; but another frequent visitor at the house was gifted with better
eyes and more knowledge of the world.

Dr. Carson had never felt attracted toward Lowe. Instinctively he
disliked him. He knew at the beginning that the teacher was much older
than he admitted. The facts that the Boyds were well-to-do and that
Belle was their only child offered, in his frame of mind, a suggestive
sidelight. There were two other things that to Carson seemed important:
one, that Lowe had rather obviously avoided any reference to his
previous place of residence; the other that at one of the sociables he
had amused them all by some exceedingly clever sleight-of-hand tricks
with cards - not playing-cards, of course - they were unmentionable - but
with a few business cards marked in a special way. Carson was sure he
knew in what school such manual dexterity had been acquired.

The doubts in Belle's mind had not yet taken definite form when a new
and unpleasant circumstance obtruded. More than once lately Lowe had
come to the house carrying the unmistakable odour of drink about him. It
was smothered with cloves and peppermint, but still discoverable.
Belle's ideas were not narrow, but this thing shocked and disgusted her,
chiefly because Lowe had repeatedly and voluntarily avowed himself as
flatly opposed to it. She was thus drifting along in perplexity, taking
the trail that her instincts said was not her trail, ever prompted to
cut across to the other fork which meant developing herself, and always
restrained by the fear of breaking with her people, when in the spring
of that year the local press announced the coming to Cedar Mountain of
the Rev. James Hartigan. And on the day after her meeting with him and
their unexpected adventure with the runaway, the parson's wife gave a
tea to introduce the young man to the congregation.

Jim's eyes met hers the moment she entered Jebb's parlour. His greeting
was a joyous one and Belle felt the colour mount in her cheeks as
Hartigan drew her aside to talk. There was something very stimulating
about him, she found - a thrill in his voice, his eyes, and his presence
that she had never experienced with Lowe.

A little later, Lowe himself arrived. Belle, as she turned to greet him,
got an unpleasant shock to note the contrast between the frank, boyish
face of the curly-haired giant and the thin features and restless eyes
of the man she had promised to marry. Her conscience smote her for
disloyalty; but in her heart she was not satisfied. Vague, unspoken,
half-realized criticisms of past months rose to fill her with disquiet.
A cumulative unhappiness in her association with Lowe took possession of
her. And, as she watched with a little thrill the meeting between Jack
and the Preacher, she read plainly on the face of her fiancé the
disapproval that even his practised art could not conceal. For her, the
meeting was portentous; it marked a turning-point; and as she thought of
it later she took a slightly guilty pleasure in the fact that without a
clash of words there was at once a clash of personalities, and that the
Preacher had dominated the scene.


Preacher Jim's First Sermon

The Sunday on which Jim first appeared in the pulpit will long be
remembered in Cedar Mountain. The "grapevine telegraph" had been working
hard so that all the world of that region had heard of the new preacher,
and curiosity to see him was responsible, more than anything else, for a
church filled with critical folk.

The sight of all the riot and wickedness about the Black Hills, the mad
striving after sudden gold, and the total lack of real joy in its use
after getting it, suggested to Jim a sermon founded on the proverb:
"Better is a dinner of herbs and contentment therewith, etc...." But,
for once in his life, Hartigan was a little abashed by the situation
and, reciting the verses from memory, he managed to get them mixed and
rendered them thus: "Better is a stalled ox and contentment therewith
than a dinner of herbs with a brawling woman." It made an unexpected
hit. Realizing his blunder, he smiled broadly and added:

"Well, if you have any doubts about Solomon's statement, you can have
none whatever about mine."

He then went on to preach a most extraordinary discourse in which fun,
wit, and humour were occasionally interspersed with allusions to the
subject matter. No arguments, no logic, were discoverable; but there
were plenty of amusing illustrations, a good deal that might better have
been left out, and the audience was highly amused though wholly

"And how did ye like my sermon?" was the hearty greeting Hartigan gave
Belle Boyd next day, as they met on the boardwalk of Main Street. She
glanced up with a faint flush, looked down, then meeting his eyes
squarely she said:

"Some parts I liked, but much of it I did not."

This was an unexpected reply; Jim had quite looked for a burst of
admiration. In answer to his questions, Belle gave an analysis of the
sermon, as they walked along, pointing out the clay and the gold, and
the total lack of form.

His attitude, at first, had been superior and his tone frivolous. For,
strange to say, the gallantry so strong in his Irish blood is ever mixed
with, or maybe it is a mere mark of belief in, the superiority of the
male. But, before Belle had finished two things had happened - he was
much less sure of his sermon and was a little in awe of her. There could
be no doubt that she was right. Yes, those two stories would have been
better left out; an early paragraph should have been at the end, for it
was the summing up; and the illogical conclusion, which had no promise
in anything he said before, was weak, to say the least. Hartigan felt
much as he used to feel when his mother had called him into a detailed
account of some doubtful conduct.

"What are you going to give us next time?" inquired Belle.

"I thought of beginning a series of sermons on the bad habits of the
congregation - swearing, drinking, gambling, horse-racing, smoking, and
spitting. Last Sunday, right by the door in church, two men were smoking
their pipes and spitting on the floor. It seems to me that Revelations
XI:2 is about the right medicine for such conduct. This is the text:
'And he opened the bottomless pit and there arose a smoke out of the
pit,' Or Psalms XXXVII:20: 'The wicked shall perish ... into smoke shall
they consume away,' Then there is a passage in Jeremiah VII:30: 'They
have set their abominations in the house which is called by my name to
pollute it,' With these I think we have a good scaffolding to build on."

Belle looked puzzled and said nothing. Hartigan was waiting for her
approval. He wanted it.

"What do you think?" he asked, a decided note of anxiety creeping into
his question.

"I would not do it," was the answer.

"Why not?" said Jim instantly on the defensive. "Don't they need it, and
aren't they awfully weak on these things?"

"Yes, they are," said Belle, "but - - "

"But what?"

"Mr. Hartigan," she replied as she stopped at her gate, "if you wanted a
rich man to help a poor widow, and went to him saying: 'You miserable
old skinflint, I know you are as greedy as the pit, but I demand it as a
human right that you help this poor woman out of your ill-gotten
abundance,' how much are you going to get? Nothing at all; and the truer
it is the less your chance. On the other hand, if you go to him and say:
'Mr. Dives, you are one of the few men in town who have the power to
help this woman. I know she is well worthy of help, for she's having a
hard struggle. Now, you had a struggle once and know what that means. It
made a keen, successful business man of you; but I know you are
kind-hearted and generous and that all you want is to be sure that the
case is genuine. Well, I can assure you it is. Will you not help her
with the rent till strawberry time, when she expects to get a little
money?' That way you will get something. He _has_ to become generous
when you _say_ he is; and I think that you will get more out of these
people if you assume that they are something good. Later, when they know
you better, you can put them right on their faults."

Hartigan stared at her with frankly admiring eyes.

"Well," he said, "you surely have the level head. You are right and I
will do as you say. But I wonder why you take all this trouble with me?"

Flushed and happy over her victory and very deeply moved by the look she
had seen on Jim's face, Belle realized the full meaning of her success
and took a woman's pride in the fact that this great, powerful,
self-confident, gifted man should in two short encounters completely
change about and defer to her judgment. There was a moment's silence in
which she sought to get her voice under control. Then she added:

"Will you let me know what you decide to preach on?"

"I will," said Jim, his eyes still on her face.

They had been standing at the door of the Boyd home. In that instant of
his dependence upon her Belle had been conscious of a very sweet and
precious bond between them. Without turning toward him, she touched his
arm lightly with her hand and went into the house.

* * * * *

Jim's first effort had not encouraged Dr. Jebb to transfer much of the
pulpit service to the young man. Subsequently, he had a long talk with
him and pointed out some of the defects as Belle had done; also a number
of lapses which, though purely academic, he considered of prime
importance. Thus, more than a month elapsed before Jim was again called
to fill the pulpit.

Meanwhile, he had had many experiences of value in his widespread
congregation, among them the raising of a charitable fund for an
unfortunate neighbour, and he had become well acquainted with Jack
Shives, the blacksmith, a singular mixture of brusqueness and kindness.
Shives was a good citizen who did good work at the forge, but he was
utterly opposed to all creeds and churches. He made it a point to set
all the weight of his solid character against these, as well as the
power of his biting tongue.

As soon as Dr. Jebb asked him to take the pulpit, Jim called on Belle.

"Well, I'm to have another chance," he said, as with one hand he lifted
an armchair that Dr. Jebb could not have moved at all.

"Good," said she. "What is the subject to be?"

"I have three subjects I wish to treat," he began; "one, foreign
missions; the next is the revised version of the New Testament; and the
last is the secularizing influence of church clubs. Which do you say?"

Belle looked serious. At length she said:

"Maybe you can make something constructive out of these ideas. It
depends on how you handle them; but they seem to me far-off and

He looked the disappointment he felt and waited for her to go on.

"What was the _good_ thing that struck you most when you came among us?"

Hartigan gazed through the window at the round top of Cedar Mountain,
then at the frank face of the slim girl, and with a little outburst of
his real nature he cried:

"Bejabers, it was the kind way you all received me."

"All right, then; why not make _that_ your subject for the next sermon?
Let these people know that you think they are kind, and that they make
you feel it, and they will become kinder. Then, when you are established
in their hearts, you can talk about their faults. That will come later.
Since we must find a scripture text to hang your talk on, let's take
Ephesians IV:32: 'Be ye kind one to another, tender hearted, forgiving
one another even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.'"

The sermon was duly outlined. The outline was brought for Belle to hear.
She was keenly interested because in some sense she was on trial; and
under the stimulating influence of her attention, Jim expanded the
outline to a whole sermon and preached it all to Belle then and there.
It was full of eloquent passages and wholesome lessons, but it was far
too long, as Belle insisted; and again there was a readjustment with the
result that on the following Sunday Hartigan delivered a brilliant
sermon on Kindness, the kindness he had received, the kindness that is
the heart of all true religion. The quaint humour, the vivid
presentation, and the every-day applications were new and true notes to
that congregation. It shocked some of the old-fashioned type, but the
reality it gave to religion was not lost, and the human interest and
sincerity of it held every mind. It cannot be given in full, but the
opening passages will illustrate Jim's theme and his method. After
reading the parable of the Good Samaritan, he said:

"Now, friends, I have selected the story of the Good Samaritan for
a starting point; and it's a good one, even if I never get back to
it through the whole length of the sermon.

"I want you to understand that here was a man who was a kind of
outcast; he didn't go to church and he didn't know or care a cent
about doctrines or creeds; his people were notorious for wine
drinking so that it's more than likely he was often drunk, and it's
ten to one he swore every time he got mad. But he was ready to lend
a helping hand to _anybody_ that had need of him.

"And I want you to note that the men who would not do a finger's
tap to help were a holy priest with a big salary and a highly
respectable church member in training for the ministry. So you see,
the Lord selected these three to illustrate this point then, now,
and for all time, that he had nothing but contempt for the
coldblooded holy-rollers and that the ignorant outcast infidel was
his sort because he had a kind heart.

"Now, friends, we've all three kinds right with us all the time.
Though I don't go much on mincing words, I won't specify the priest
nor the Levite right here in Cedar Mountain; but I will make
mention of the Good Samaritan.

"Ye see, it wasn't exactly a case of being held up by robbers; but
we had to raise enough to get the Hanky family out of their
troubles when Jack Hanky broke his arm, his leg, his buggy, and his
bank account all on one and the same unlucky day; and it was my job
to raise the wind to help him weather the storm. Well, I went about
as you all know, and got a little here and a little there; then
squeezed out a little more from some of the dry sponges, and still
was short. So I went to Jack Shives and he contributed more than
any one else; and then, on top of that, he put Hanky's buggy in
good shape without a cent of pay, and went down night after night
to sit at his bedside and help him pass the long hours away.

"Now the fact is, Jack Shives and I have had many a fight on
religious questions. He swears and drinks all he wants to, which
I'm bound to say isn't much. He jokes about the church and the
preacher and every one that goes to church. He pokes fun at the
hymn book and laughs at the Bible and every one that tries to
follow it word for word. Jack thinks he's all kinds of an infidel;
but he isn't. I have a notion of my own that he's a better
Christian than he allows, better than a good many church members I
could name. In fact, I believe if the Lord Jesus were to get off at
Cedar Mountain from to-morrow's noon train, the first thing he
would do would be to go to the post office and say: 'Can you tell
me where Jack Shives, the blacksmith, lives? He's a particular
friend of mine, he's done a lot of little odd jobs for me and I
guess I'll put up at his house while I'm in Cedar Mountain.'"

And so he talked for the allotted time, translating the age-old truth
into terms of to-day and personal application. A few of the older folk
thought he treated some very serious subjects too lightly; they
preferred the sing-song tone so long associated with scripture texts.
Others had their doubts as to Jim's theology. His eulogy of the
blacksmith was a little too impulsive, but none had any question of the
thrilling human interest of his words and the completeness of his hold
on every one's attention. It was wholesome, if not orthodox; it drove
home with conviction; it made them laugh and cry; and it was a
masterpiece of the simple eloquence that was so much his gift and of the
humour that was the birthright of his race.

From that day forth the doubtful impressions created by Hartigan's first
appearance in the pulpit were wiped out and he was reckoned as a new and
very potent force in the community.


The Lure of the Saddle

One of the needs that Hartigan very soon became aware of in his
far-flung pastoral work was that of a good saddle horse. An income of
three hundred dollars a year will not maintain very much in the way of a
stable, but a horse had to be got, and the idea of looking for one was
exceedingly pleasant to him. It needed but the sight and smell of the
horse leathers to rouse the old passion bred and fostered in Downey's
stable. He loved the saddle, he knew horses as few men did, and had he
been ninety pounds lighter he would have made a famous jockey.

For many days he was able to put his mind on nothing else. He eagerly
took every chance to visit likely stock; he was never so happy as when
he was astride of some mettlesome animal, interpreting its moods as only
the born horseman can do, and drawing on the reserves of strength which
are closed to all but the expert rider. He responded in every fibre of
his great physique to the zest of this renewed experience of a loved and
lost stable life, and yet the very passion of his enjoyment appalled him
at times for it seemed to be in some sense a disloyalty to the new life
he had taken up and to draw him away from it.

In those days there were motley bands of immigrants crossing the plains
from the East, making for the Black Hills as an island of promise in the
great open sea, and one of these wanderers from far-off Illinois arrived
one evening with the usual outfit of prairie schooner, oxen, milch cow,
saddle horses, dogs, and children. Calamity had overtaken the caravan.
The mother had died; the father was disgusted with the country and
everything in it; and his one idea was to sell his outfit and get the
children back East, back to school and granny. At the auction, the
cattle brought good prices, but no one wanted the horses. They were
gaunt and weary, saddle-and spur-galled; one young and the other past
middle life. It was the young horse that caught Hartigan's eye. It was
rising three, a well-built skeleton, but with a readiness to look alert,
a full mane and tail, and a glint of gold on the coat that had a meaning
and a message for the horse-wise. The auctioneer was struggling to raise
a bid.

"Will any one bid on this fine young colt? All he needs is oats, and a
few other things."

A laugh went up, which was just what the auctioneer wanted, for
merriment is essential to a successful sale.

"Here now, boys, who will start him at five dollars? And him worth a

It was too much for Hartigan. He raised his finger to the auctioneer.

"There, now, there's a preacher that knows a horse," he prattled away,
but no second offer came, and the colt was knocked down to Hartigan for
five greasy dollars.

"A good clean-down is worth a bushel of oats to a horse," is old stable
wisdom, "and a deal cheaper," as Hartigan added. Within the hour Blazing
Star, as the new owner named him from the star blaze in his forehead,
was rubbed and curry-combed as probably he never had been in his life
before. He was fed with a little grain and an abundance of prairie hay,
his wounds were painted with iodine and his mane was plaited. He was
handled from forelock to fetlock and rubbed and massaged like a
prizefighter who is out for mighty stakes.

"They are just like humans," Hartigan remarked to the "perchers" at
Shives's blacksmith shop. "All they need is kindness and common sense."

Before a month had gone, Hartigan was offered fifty dollars for the
colt; and this in a land where twenty-five dollars is the usual price
for a saddle horse. In truth, no one would have recognized this fine,
spirited young horse as the sorry jade that landed in the town a short
four weeks before. But Hartigan, who had a trainer's eye, said to Shives
and the "perchers":

"Wait for two months and then you will see something."

And they did. They saw the young Achilles riding down the street on the
wonderful chosen steed of all the herd. There were perfectly balanced
life and power in every move of both, the eagerness to up and do, the
grace of consummate animalism. They had seen many a fine man on a noble
horse, but never before had they beheld a picture so satisfying to both
eye and heart as that of the Preacher on his five-dollar steed.

Five miles from Cedar Mountain is Fort Ryan and to the south of it a
plain, where every year in the first week of July the Indians gather in
their tepees and the whites in tents and prairie schooners for a sort of
fair, in which are many kinds of sin on the largest scale. Herds of
horses are there, and racing is a favourite sport. It was here on the
Fourth of July that an Indian on a rough-looking buckskin pony had won,
over all the field that year, a purse containing five hundred dollars.
The whites, who had their racers set at naught, were ready for almost
any scheme that promised them revenge, and they made an ill-favoured and
sulky lot as they sat on the shady side of the movable saloon that
lingered still on the racing plain. Their eyes were pinched at the
corners with gazing at the sunlight, and their ragged beards were like
autumn grass. A horseman appeared in the distance, and ambled toward
them. This was a common enough sight, but the easy pace was pleasing to
the eye, and when he drew near these men of the saddle found a
horseman's pleasure in the clean-limbed steed so easily ridden.

"Guess it's the new preacher," said one with a laugh. "He's come down
from Cedar Mountain to save us from Hell, as if Hell could be any worse

Online LibraryErnest Thompson SetonThe preacher of Cedar Mountain; a tale of the open country → online text (page 6 of 24)