Ernest Thompson Seton.

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

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world know we are partners.' So that's why that signboard went up. Not a
bad ad I reckon, for no one sees it without taking notice; so, if
there's anything in our line you need, let me know."

As Carson and Hartigan walked down the street, the doctor said: "Well,
what do you think of Woman Suffrage now?"

Hartigan shrugged his big shoulders, gave a comical glance back at the
signboard, and replied:

"You've got me!"

It was indeed a poser for Jim; a shock to a deep-set prejudice.
Notwithstanding the fact that his mother had been a woman of power, the
unquestioned and able head in a community of men, he had unconsciously
clung to the old idea of woman's mental inferiority. In college he had
had that notion bolstered up with Scripture texts and alleged Christian
doctrine.

This was not the time or place, he felt, to discuss the principle of it,
and his natural delicacy would, in any case, have kept him from a free
expression; but later, in the blacksmith shop, that neutral territory of
free speech, they had it out. Higginbotham was there and was ready and
able to fight with Scriptural weapons. He pointed out that all the texts
quoted, such as: "Wives be in subjection to your own husbands in
everything, etc.," were from St. Paul, who was believed to have had a
painful history in such matters; whereas, St. Peter, admittedly a far
better authority, said: "Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them, giving
honour to the wife."

"Which may or may not be sound doctrine," said John, "but I know my wife
brought me out here, it was her capital that set me up, she has a hand
in all business, so why not say so on the signboard?"

Cedar Mountain had its fill of fun and there were many venerable jokes
about "wearing the pants" and others about a spelling of "hen-pecked."
"Wasn't it 'Hannah-pecked' now?" And some there were, even women, who
condemned the innovation as godless; but all of these hostile comments
died away when folk came to know the pair and realize how justly they
were represented on the signboard: "John and Hannah Higginbotham,
Insurance Agents."




CHAPTER XVII

Belle Makes a Decision and Jim Evades One


It was late on Wednesday afternoon. Belle was working at the sewing
machine in the back room of the Boyd home when there was a familiar
knock at the front door. She was not unprepared for it and yet she
dreaded this inevitable interview. Lowe had been pointedly cold for some
time. He had been to the house only once in the past month and he had
made it quite plain that Hartigan was the objectionable figure in the
horizon. Belle realized that their relations had come to a crisis. She
had not admitted frankly to herself what she would do when this talk
took place, but in her heart there was not the slightest doubt.

At the sound of his step and knock she went into the parlour, closing
the door into the rear room to insure some measure of privacy, and then
admitted Jack. His greeting had the obvious air of a man who has been
wronged. For a while, with characteristic obliquity, he talked of his
school work. Belle sewed meanwhile, asking occasional questions. After a
quarter of an hour of this the conversation languished. Belle was
determined that he should open the subject himself, and in the awkward
pause that ensued she busied herself basting up a lining for her frock.
At last, clearing his throat, Lowe began:

"Belle, I've got something else to say to you."

She looked at him squarely, the direct gaze of her clear, dark eyes in
striking contrast with his close-lidded, shifting glance. He went on:

"I think that you and the new preacher are going too far and it had
better stop now."

"Just what do you mean, Jack? What do you accuse me of, exactly?"

From the very beginning of their friendship he had always writhed under
the directness of her mental processes. He was ever for evasion,
indirection; she for frank, open dealing in all things. He tried to
retreat.

"I'm not accusing you of anything."

"No, but of _something_," she replied with a faint smile. "What is it?"

"There's a lot of talk about town - about you and Hartigan. It makes me a
laughing stock. If we weren't engaged - - "

Belle interrupted:

"That's just what I want to speak about. I've been wanting to have a
frank talk with you for some time, Jack, and we may as well have it now.

"I have always liked you and you have been awfully attentive and helpful
to me. I thought I was in love with you, but you know that when we had
our talk a year ago, I begged you not to make an announcement and when
you insisted on telling a few friends it was agreed that I was to have a
year to decide finally. That was why I never wore your ring." She drew a
box from her breast and held it out to him.

"We have both made a mistake, Jack. I made the worst one when I allowed
you to over-persuade me a year ago; but we are not going to spoil two
lives by going on with it."

Lowe's mind was not of particularly fine calibre. For some months,
whenever he faced the truth, he had realized that he would never marry
Belle. He was fond of her to the extent possible in a nature such as his
and he was keenly alive to the financial advantage of becoming Boyd's
son-in-law. His past history would not bear close inspection and
latterly some of his youthful vices had come to light and to life. He
knew only too well what a marriage into the Boyd family would do for his
fortunes, financially and socially, and a dull rage of several weeks'
nursing burned in him against Hartigan. As he took his hat to depart he
was foolish enough to speak what was in his mind. He uttered a silly
attack on the Preacher. It moved Belle and brought the colour to her
face. His bitter comments on their own relations had not called forth
any response from her, but this shaft went home, as he meant it should.
She controlled herself and merely remarked:

"I would not say that; it might get to his ears."

And so he departed.

* * * * *

It was on that same afternoon that Hartigan had a new and, to him,
terrifying experience in the dangerous world of the emotions.

He had ridden forth to make a pastoral call at the Hoomer homestead, out
on the plain five miles northeast of Cedar Mountain. When first he
glimpsed the house among the low log stables, there were two women in
sight; when he came to the door and entered, there was but one, the
mother. Half an hour later, the daughter, Lou-Jane, appeared arrayed for
conquest. She was undeniably handsome, in spite of a certain coarseness
that made Hartigan subtly uneasy, though he could not have told why. She
was of the rare vigorous type that is said to have appeared in Ireland
after many survivors of the great Armada were washed ashore on the
rugged western coast. The mingling of the Irish and Spanish blood in her
had resulted in black eyes, black eyebrows, and red, or golden-red hair,
combined with a clear, brilliant Irish complexion. She was lively,
energetic, rather clever, and tremendously taken with the new preacher.

Jim was naturally shy with women, as most big men seem to be, and the
masterful Lou-Jane smote him with utter confusion. She prattled on about
the tea, about the church, the Rev. Dr. Jebb, the local people, the
farm, national politics, dry-farming, horses, cows and alfalfa, with the
definite purpose of finding out his interests. Getting the best response
on the topic of horses, she followed it up.

"You must come and see my pony. He's a beauty. I got first prize on him
as girl rider at the fair last year. I'm so glad you like horses."

She laid her hand on his arm a dozen times to guide him here or there;
she took his hand at last and held on, to his utter embarrassment, long
after he had helped her over a fence, and looked disappointed when she
got no flirtatious response. She led out her saddle pony and laughingly
said:

"Here, give me a hand."

Grasping her raised foot, he lifted her with a sweep to the pony's bare
back.

"My, you're strong," was her flattering comment, and she swung the
hackima and loped the pony round the field and back to the stable,
delighted to see in his eye a frank glow of admiration for her skill.

"Will you lift me down?" she said merrily; not that she had the least
need of help, but she liked to feel those strong arms about her; and as
he did so, she made herself quite unnecessarily limp and clinging.

Jim did not usually lack words, but Lou-Jane was so voluble that he was
completely silenced. At the stable, where Ma Hoomer was milking,
Lou-Jane delayed for a moment to whisper: "Stay here till I come for
you."

Then she tripped on with Jim at her heels. As they entered the house
Hartigan looked at his watch.

"Now please don't hurry," said Lou-Jane. "Ma'll be back in a few
minutes, then we'll have a cup of tea. Sit here; you'll find it more
comfortable," and she motioned to a sofa.

Sitting down beside him so that they were very close together and giving
the archest of smiles, she said:

"I wonder if I might ask you a question."

"Why, sure," said Jim, just a little uneasy at the warmth of the tone.
He had instincts, if not experience.

"Were you ever in love?" she said softly. Her arm, resting on the back
of the sofa, moved accidentally and lay across his shoulder.

"Why, no - I - no - I guess not," and Hartigan turned red and
uncomfortable.

"I wish you would let me be your friend," she continued. "I do like you
very much, you know. I want to be your friend and I can help you in so
many ways."

She leaned toward him, and Jim, being more terrified than he had ever
been, murmured something inarticulate about "not being a lady's man."
What he would have done to effect his escape he was never afterward able
to decide. A spell of helplessness was upon him, when suddenly a heavy
step was heard outside and Pa Hoomer's voice calling:

"Ma, Ma! Who's left that corral gate open?"

Lou-Jane sprang up, shook her bright hair from her flushed face, and
with a hasty apology went to meet her father. The Preacher also rose
with inexpressible relief, and, after a hurried farewell, he mounted and
rode away.




CHAPTER XVIII

The Second Bylow Spree


Woman to-day reverences physical prowess just as much as did her cave
forebears, and she glories in the fact that her man is a strong,
fighting animal, even though she recognizes the value of other gifts.

Belle was no exception to this human rule; and her eyes sparkled as she
listened to Jim's story of that unusual prayer meeting held in the Bylow
cabin. It was Hartigan's nature always to see the humorous side of
things, and his racy description of the big man with the knife, down on
his knees with one eye on the door and the other on the Preacher, was
irresistible, much funnier than the real thing. It gave her a genuine
thrill, a woman's pleasure in his splendid physical strength.

"Sure," he said with his faint delicious brogue, "it was distasteful to
have to annoy them, but there are times when one has to do what he
doesn't like."

Then he proceeded to a graphic account of the second ruffian smelling
the palms of his hands and squinting through his fingers, praying for
grace with his lips and for a club with his heart.

"I don't know what Dr. Jebb will say," she remarked at last, "but it
seems to me we must judge by results in this case."

Hypocrite that she was! Had she not that very week denounced the
opportunist doctrine that the end justifies the means? But in her
delighted eyes and glowing interest Jim found a vast reward.

Dr. Jebb was human and discreet. He smiled and said little about the
energetic methods of his assistant; and when next Sunday Charlie Bylow
and his wife appeared in church and later joined the group on the
anxious seat, he felt that the matter was happily ended as it had oddly
begun.

Exactly four weeks after the strenuous prayer meeting word reached the
Preacher in a rather pointed way that a keg of the "pizen juice" had
arrived on the evening train and was to be carried at once to Pat
Bylow's. Hartigan mounted his racer and sped thitherward at nightfall. A
half mile from Pat's house was Charlie's, and at the door was the owner,
apparently expecting to see him - though this circumstance did not
impress Hartigan.

"Can I do anything to help?" he asked.

Hartigan shook his head, laughed lightly, and rode on. At Pat's shanty
he tied his horse to the fence, stepped to the door, knocked, and,
without waiting, went in. A woman's voice shrilled:

"Pat, here's that - - preacher again."

There were other voices, male and female, in the lean-to kitchen. Pat
came in and glared at the intruder. There was a rising fury in his
manner, but no evidence of drink.

"What do you want?" he asked.

"Well, to be frank with you," said Hartigan, "I have reason for
suspecting an unhelpful indulgence is planned here for to-night, and I
was hoping that I might persuade you to reconsider it beforehand. And
sure we don't want to get agitated, and I don't want to use language
that might sound like disapproval."

He glanced around. There was no sight of any spree in prospect. A
glimpse of the kitchen showed only the preparations for an ordinary
meal, and Hartigan wondered whether or not there had been a mistake.
Could it be that he was the butt of a practical joke?

Pat was sulkily waiting, not knowing just what to say, when voices were
heard outside and heavy steps; then the door opened and in came three
men, the first carrying under his arm a barrel-shaped bundle. The
presence of the Preacher was obviously disconcerting to the new-comers.

"Gimme that," growled Pat. He seized the keg and was marching off with
it when Hartigan strode over in front of him.

"Hold on, Pat, let me see that."

Bylow exploded into a torrent of abusive profanity. Some of those
present had been witnesses of the previous affair, and realizing what
the pastoral visit might mean, they added their voices to the uproar.
The language was emphatic rather than concise. The women, too, gave free
rein to their tongues, but their observations reflected on their male
escorts more harshly than they did on any one or anything else.

However puzzled Hartigan might be by the complexities of the female
mind, the mental processes of the unlettered male were quite familiar to
him and he showed his comprehension by a simple challenge.

"Now, boys, I don't want to seem thoughtless or indelicate, but I want
you to know that I can lick the whole bunch of you with one hand tied
behind my back and the other in a sling. Not that I have any intention
of doing it, and I apologize to the ladies for mention of the subject,
but it may help us to an understanding. If you have not yet gathered my
meaning, I will put it simpler. I am here to stop this spree before it
begins."

At this moment there was a light shuffling step outside and the door
swung back revealing the small, familiar figure of Jack Lowe. A quick,
meaning look and some sort of indistinguishable signal passed between
Lowe and Pat, whereupon the latter at once placed the keg on the table.

"How do you do, Mr. Hartigan?" said Lowe. "I think we are here for the
same purpose."

"Maybe so," said Jim dryly, "I don't know. I'm here to remove temptation
from our friends, and before I leave I mean to spill that cursed stuff
on the floor."

"You are right," said Lowe, "absolutely right. Pat, let me have that
keg," and the schoolteacher proceeded to hammer around the bung, in the
way of the orthodox bung-starter. There were murmurs and strong words,
but he went on while Hartigan stood guard. The bung came loose, he
lifted it out, and put his nostrils to the hole.

"That's the real stuff, just as it dropped from the quill. Smell that,
Mr. Hartigan. Ain't that the real magollyon? But all the same here she
goes." He tipped the keg a little and some liquor spilled out.

"See that? You get the gold? I tell you, Mr. Hartigan, that green
rot-gut is poison, but you can tell when it's real by the shine. If it
is whiskey it shines yellow like corn, if it is vitriol it shines
green." He took a glass and filled it. "See the gold, and it smells like
corn tossel." He put it to his lips. "That's what puts heart in a man,
and makes him forgive his worst enemy.

"But here she goes." He spilled a little more on the ground. Then:

"You know, Mr. Hartigan, I am wholly in sympathy with this visit of
yours, but I don't go as far as you do. I've been talking to Pat and
he's a good sport. He realizes that you put up a fine fight that other
time and that you cleaned them up single-handed. He doesn't want any
further unpleasantness, but he doesn't see what right you have to keep
him and his friends from using a moderate amount of this keg. Is that
your idea, Pat?"

"An' what's the matter with it," growled Pat. "Why shouldn't I have one
or two drinks? No man gets drunk on that."

"There you are," said Lowe, turning to Hartigan, "that's in reason. Why
not have a drink all round and then talk it over?"

Hartigan was frankly puzzled by the turn of affairs. It seemed to be an
offer of peace, after a fashion, but he could not fit Lowe into the
scheme of things. He tried to read what was going on behind the
schoolteacher's shifty eyes, but the face was a mask. At last he said:

"If these men and women," and Hartigan let his eyes travel over the
faces about him, "could have stopped with one or two drinks I wouldn't
be here now. Ye take one or two, but that is only the beginning. I know
what drink is; I've been through it all, I tell ye, and there's no
stopping if it gets the hold on ye."

"Leave it to the d - d preachers and there wouldn't be nothin' left to do
in life," said Pat with a contemptuous sneer.

"Come now," said Lowe, eager to prevent hostilities. "You wouldn't
object to liquor if nobody took too much, would you, Mr. Hartigan?"

"No," said Jim with a grim smile, "but I'm not to be taken in by the
plausibilities of the Devil. That keg is going to be emptied."

"I'm with you to the finish there," said Lowe, "but what harm is there
in filling these small glasses so"; he emptied a moderate draught into a
row of tumblers set out upon the table.

"If Pat is willing to meet you half way and see this keg emptied on the
floor, you wouldn't refuse a small drink with him in his own house,
would you?"

Hartigan hesitated. He could not convince himself that the offer was
genuine. And yet if he actually saw, with his own eyes, the keg emptied
of its contents, what trick could there be? It seemed churlish to
refuse. Suppose the offer were made in good faith, by not refusing that
which in the male code is the sign of brotherhood and equality, he might
secure an influence for good with the elder Bylow. And Lowe seemed to
sense the thought, for he said, "If you take just a taste with these men
now, all will come to hear you preach next Sunday. Won't you, boys?" And
there was a grunt of assent. "All right; it's a bargain."

Jim was actually weighing the proposition - his old craving for drink was
not by any means eradicated. The sight of the liquor and the smell
roused an appetite that only an iron will had subdued. As he stood
uncertain, debating, Lowe said, "Hold on; we're a glass short. Never
mind, I'll find one"; and he hastened back into the lean-to kitchen and
returned with a glass, which was partly concealed by his hand till it
was filled with whiskey. Then he said, "If it was 'pizen juice' I
wouldn't let any one touch it; but this is the simple clear whiskey, as
you can prove for yourself. I wish we could send this to the hospital."

He offered it to Hartigan, who smelled it. Then Lowe said, "Well, here's
to the empty keg."

The seductive liquor was potent in his nostrils, even there it had
stimulation; and Hartigan, acting on a sudden impulse, drained the
glass, as the others drank in silence.

There said Lowe, "You see it is the mildest of the mild; it wouldn't
hurt a child." And he prattled away of truth and soberness, so that the
potion should have ample freedom for its work; till the planned and
subtle mixture should have time to dethrone Hartigan's reason, blind his
spirit, and unhinge his will. The ancient fury in his hot young blood
was all too ready to be aroused. Without a word, Lowe filled the glass
again and Jim, no longer his best self, but dazed and reckless, drank
with all the rest; then soon threw all restraint aside; and in the
bacchanalian orgy that followed fast and filled the night, he was the
stable-yard rowdy once again - loud and leading - but here let the curtain
fall - draw down the thickest, blackest veil.




CHAPTER XIX

The Day of Reckoning


The sun was high next day when the door of Pat Bylow's abode was opened,
and a man entered. The scene that met his eyes is better undescribed,
but to him it gave no shock. He came expecting to see it. In his hand he
carried a tin pail. There were men and women lying about the floor. He
stepped over them toward a tall form in soiled black clothes and knelt
beside it. Pouring some water on a cloth he laid it on the pale
forehead. The prostrate man opened his eyes and groaned.

"Mr. Hartigan," said the other. "It's me. It's Charlie Bylow. Won't you
be after having a drink of water?"

Hartigan raised himself on his elbow, peered out of his bloodshot eyes,
and drank eagerly. The cup was three times emptied.

"You better come over to my shanty and go to bed," said Charlie
seriously. The Preacher groaned:

"Oh! God what have I done? What have I done?" He clutched his throbbing
brow with both hands, as he rose and shakily followed Charlie.

"Oh! fool that I am. Oh, God! Ruined. All is ruined. I wish I were
dead!" he exclaimed. "Oh! God forgive me."

As they passed the fence where Blazing Star had been hitched, Hartigan
stopped and stared. Charlie said:

"It's all right, Mr. Hartigan, I took care of him. He is in the stable."

Coming to Bylow's house, Jim passed the entrance and went on to the
stable. With trembling hands he opened the door and hesitated. He half
expected Blazing Star to spurn and disown him. He was prepared for any
and every humiliation, but the long, joyous neigh that greeted him was a
shock, and a help.

"Oh! Blazing Star, if you only knew, you would not even look at me."

Charlie took the Preacher by the arm and led him to the house.

"Here, Mr. Hartigan, take off your clothes and go to bed. I will give
you a wet towel for your head and, by and by, I will bring you some
coffee."

"Oh! God be merciful, or strike me dead," and Jim broke down in an agony
of remorse. "This is the end. All I hoped for gone. I don't want to live
now."

"Mr. Hartigan, sure now I know how you feel. Ain't I been through it?
But don't be after making plans that are rash when you ain't just
yourself. Now go to bed and rest awhile," and his kind Irish heart was
wrung as he looked on the utter degradation of the manly form before
him, and the shocking disfigurement of the one-time handsome face.
Charlie and his wife left Hartigan alone. They shut the door and Charlie
went back to his brother's shanty to help the other victims of the orgy.

Jim tossed around uneasily, winning snatches of sleep, groaning,
talking, abasing himself.

"Oh, Belle!" he moaned aloud. "Will you ever look at me again? Oh, God!
And me a preacher."

Cedar Mountain was not so big but that every one knew everybody else's
business; and Mary Bylow understood when she heard the name "Belle." But
she didn't know just what to do. After an hour she again heard him.

"Oh! Belle, Belle, what will you say?"

Taking the hot coffee from the stove, Mrs. Bylow knocked at the door and
went in.

"Take this, it will make you feel better."

She hoped he would talk, but he didn't. He only thanked her feebly. Then
Charlie came back from his brother's shanty. He had remembered that, it
being Sunday, the Preacher would be missed and he saddled his horse to
set out for Cedar Mountain. As he left, his wife came out and said:

"While you are there, drop a hint to Belle Boyd," and Charlie nodded.

Arriving at Dr. Jebb's, Charlie explained the case to the pastor without
detail:

"Sure, Mr. Hartigan had a little accident at our corner last night and
sprained his ankle. My wife is nursing him, but he won't be able to
preach to-day."

"Oh, dear! Oh, dear! Well, it is all right, I will take both services,"
and the blind and gentle old man turned to his books.

Then Bylow rode to the Boyd home. Here, he realized, was a much more
difficult job. But he was determined to go into no details. It was Belle
who answered his knock. Charlie began:



Online LibraryErnest Thompson SetonThe preacher of Cedar Mountain; a tale of the open country → online text (page 8 of 24)