Ernest Thompson Seton.

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

. (page 9 of 24)
Online LibraryErnest Thompson SetonThe preacher of Cedar Mountain; a tale of the open country → online text (page 9 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


"My wife told me to tell you that Mr. Hartigan got hurt last night. He
is at our house. He won't be in town to-day."

"What? Did he interfere in a spree?"

"Yes."

"Is he shot?"

"No."

"Is he wounded?"

"No, not exactly."

"What is the matter?"

"Only a general shakeup, he had a bad fall," and Bylow moved uneasily.

It was a simple matter to bluff a simple old clergyman, but it was
another thing altogether to mislead an alert young woman. Belle knew
there was something wrong - something more and different from what she
had been told.

"Is the doctor with him?"

"No."

"I will get the doctor and come at once."

"No, I wouldn't; at least, not till morning."

Bylow's manner roused Belle all the more to prompt action. Seeing that
all his explanations made things worse, Charlie abruptly left, mounted
his broncho, and went "rockity rockity" as the pony's heels went "puff,
puff" on the dusty trail around the hill and away.

The doctor was not to be found that morning and Belle found it hard to
await his return. In the meantime, some strange rumour must have reached
the town for in Sunday-school Belle met Eliza Lowe, the recently arrived
sister of the schoolteacher. The look on her face, the gleam in her eye,
were unmistakable. She had not yet learned of her brother's part in the
affair. Belle found herself avoiding the sister's gaze.

As the hours passed the conviction deepened in Belle that there was
something seriously wrong; she could feel it in the air. It was
something more than an accident to Hartigan. There was the indefinable
shadow of shame about it. The oppression became unbearable and on
leaving Sunday-school, she went down to the doctor's house. He had just
got in from a case near Fort Ryan and was eating a belated meal. Belle
went straight to the point:

"Dr. Carson, I want you to take me at once to Bylow's Corner."

"Why?"

"There's something wrong. Mr. Hartigan is in serious trouble. I don't
believe that he has fallen from his horse as they say. I want to know
the truth."

Her face was pale, her mouth was set. The doctor looked keenly at her a
moment and then, comprehending, said:

"All right, I will"; and in ten minutes the mudstained buckboard with a
fresh horse in it was speeding over the foot of Cedar Mountain on the
trail to Bylow's.

* * * * *

While Belle was fretting under the delay and marshalling her forces for
the trip to the Corner, Hartigan lay in the quiet Bylow cabin and under
the influence of cold water, coffee, and a more collected mind,
gradually acquired some degree of composure. He had risen and dressed
and was sadly musing on the wreck of all his life which that one fiery
sip had brought about, when the thought of Blazing Star came to him. He
went eagerly to the stable and as he rubbed the animal down he found
help in the physical action. He hammered the currycomb on a log to clean
it before putting it in the box, then gazing to the eastward along the
trail that climbed around the shoulder of Cedar Mountain, he saw a
buckboard approaching. In the Black Hills one identifies his visitor by
his horse, and Jim recognized the Carson outfit. Sitting beside the
doctor was a woman in a light-coloured dress with a red parasol raised
above her. It smote him as no man's fist had ever done. He turned into
the stable, put saddle and bridle on Blazing Star, swung to the seat,
gave rein to the willing beast and, heading away from Cedar Mountain on
the Deadwood Trail, went bounding, riding, stricken, too hard hit and
shamed to meet the eyes of the woman whose praise he had come to value
as the best approval he might hope to win.

The doctor's buckboard came to the door, tied up, and the two occupants
went in.

"Where is your patient, Mrs. Bylow?"

The woman pointed to the bedroom door, went to it, knocked, opened it,
and finding the room empty said:

"He was here a few minutes ago. I expect he is out to the stable."

Belle sat down. The nervous strain of the past hours was telling on her.
She felt unstrung and vaguely depressed.

The doctor and Mary Bylow went to the stable. The empty stall, with no
sign of saddle, bridle, or preacher, were enough. They returned to the
house.

In answer to Belle's look the doctor made a gesture, and said simply:

"Gone."

"Where?"

The doctor shook his head and pointed northward.

"Please tell me all about it, Mrs. Bylow," said Belle.

"There is times to tell lies," said Mary naively, "but this ain't. I'll
tell you the whole truth," and she did in a quivering voice, while tears
ran from her eyes.

"Trapped, trapped," was Belle's only comment. "Where do you suppose he
went?"

"Not to Cedar Mountain," said Carson, "that's sure. No one passed us."

Charlie Bylow, coming into the cabin, heard the doctor's last comment.

"He was heading due north and going hard when last we saw him," was his
contribution.

"Dr. Carson, he's headed for Deadwood, and I'm going after him to bring
him back." Belle stood up with sudden decision. The need for action once
more present, all her strength responded.

The doctor shook his head. "I don't think you should go. You know what
all the town would say."

"You are going with me," was the answer.

"When?"

"Right now."

"Better go home first."

"And have a fight with my folks? No, no! We go now. I have an aunt in
Deadwood, you know!"

"It's forty-five miles, and we can't get there till midnight, even if my
horse holds out."

"We may overtake him before that," said Belle, though she knew quite
well they would not, for Hartigan would ride like a madman.

It had not been difficult to enlist Carson's sympathies. A sincere
friendship had sprung up between the boyish preacher and himself and
their total dissimilarity had made them congenial. Carson was amused in
his quiet way to note how exactly Belle was moving as he thought best
and surest, so now he merely added:

"Deadwood it is," and with a farewell word to the Bylows they were off.




CHAPTER XX

The Memorable Trip to Deadwood


It was a long, hard journey, and it was one o'clock in the morning
before they reached Deadwood. Every public house that could get a
license to sell liquor announced itself as a "hotel." Those few that
could not, made a virtue of their failure and flaunted a sign,
"Temperance House." The "wet houses" were on the main gulch, the "dry"
ones in off nooks, or perched on breezy hills. To the best of these
latter the doctor drove, had the luck to find the owner still on duty,
and secured a room for himself. Then they drove to the home of Belle's
aunt, Mrs. Collins. One has to take a hotel on its rules; but a relative
may be called up and inconvenienced at any time.

"Well, Auntie, it's Belle Boyd. I want you to take care of me till the
morning. I will tell you all about it later," this to the inquiring head
that emerged from an upper window. So Belle was left and the doctor went
to his hotel.

Up very early next morning, Belle went at once to the stable of the
Temperance House. Yes, there he was, Blazing Star, in all his beauty.
Then she went into the hotel and mounted guard in the little parlour.
Dr. Carson came down and was sent to sit out of doors. At length the
sound of the foot she awaited came from the stairs and she heard the
landlady say:

"There's some one in the parlour waiting for you." For a moment there
was no sound; then the footsteps approached.

Belle was at the window looking out, partly hidden by the cheap lace
curtains. As the Preacher entered, she turned fully toward him. Her back
was to the light and he did not immediately perceive her. Then with a
gasp:

"Belle!" and, sinking into a chair, he covered his face with his hands.

She went to him, laid her hand on his shoulder, and stood there in
silence. The great broad shoulders began to shake under that soft touch.
There was no sound uttered for long, then, brokenly, his one refrain:
"Oh, Belle!"

She sat down beside him, and took his hand - the first time she had ever
done so - and waited in silence.

He wanted to tell her all, but found no words.

She said, "Never mind that now. Tell me what you are here for."

He tried again but in a wild, incoherent way. The sum of it all was that
he was "ruined, degraded, and lost. He would go down to the Big Cheyenne
and get a job as a cowboy."

"Now listen, Jim," she said. "You have made a bad mistake; but a man may
make one big, bad mistake and still be all right. It is the man that
goes on making a little mistake every day that is hopeless."

There was a long pause. Then she continued: "What is it you of all
people admire most in a man? Is it not courage to see things through, no
matter how black they look?"

In his then frame of mind Hartigan had expected drunkenness to be
singled out as the worst of all sins; there was a ray of comfort in this
other thought; he nodded and grunted an inarticulate assent.

"Jim, I don't doubt your courage. I know you too well, believe in you
too much. I want you to drop the idea of the Big Cheyenne. Turn right
around and go back to Cedar Mountain at once; and the sooner you get
there the easier it will be."

He shook his head, and sat as before, his face buried in his hands.
"I - cannot - do - it." He forced out the words.

"Jim Hartigan cannot - isn't brave enough?" she asked, her voice a little
tremulous with sudden emotion.

In all his life, he had never been charged with cowardice. It stung. Of
all things he most despised cowardice, and here it was, brought squarely
home to him. He writhed under the thought. There was a dead silence in
the little parlour.

Then Belle spoke: "Is this the only answer I am to have - after coming so
far?" she asked in a low voice.

Oh, blind, stupid, cowardly fool that he was! He had not thought of
that. How much was she braving for him! He was rated a man of courage
among his friends, yet now he was yielding to miserable cowardice.

Then his impulsive nature responded. He blurted out: "Belle, I will do
anything for you; I will do anything you tell me to." It was an
unconditional surrender, and the wise victor gave the honours of war to
the vanquished by changing the subject.

"Then come to breakfast," she said in a lighter tone and led him to Aunt
Collins's house, whither the doctor had already gone.

A day's rest, a forty-mile ride in the wind, a change of scene, good
friends, a buoyant disposition, a flush of youth, and Belle, absorbed in
all he did and said - who would not respond to such a concentration of
uplifting forces?

Hartigan's exuberance returned. His colour was back in his cheeks. His
eyes sparkled and his wit sparkled, too. He won the heart of Mrs.
Collins. She said he was "the beautifullest man she had ever seen." Even
John Collins, a plough- and wagon-dealer by trade, was impressed with
the mental gifts and manly appearance of the young preacher, and Belle
knew that the thing she had set out for was won.

Instead of discussing plans she announced them as if they were settled.
The doctor wished to stay a day or two in Deadwood, but that did not
suit Belle at all. She was quite clear about it. Her aunt must drive
back with her at once. The doctor and the Preacher must come, too, but
arrive a little later in Cedar Mountain. So they boarded their
buckboards, waved good-bye, and set their faces to the south.

The sun shone as it knows how in Dakota. The great pine-clad hills were
purple in the lovely morning haze as the little party left Deadwood that
day on the buffalo trail for Cedar Mountain. The doctor drove first in
his buckboard, not without misgivings, for the good horse had had little
rest since that forty-five mile drive. Next came the horseman on the
gold-red horse that men turned to look after. Last, the prairie
buckboard of the house of Collins with Aunt Anna driving and Belle at
her side.

The prairie larks sang from low perches or soared a little way in the
air to tell the world how glad they were on that bright summer morning.
The splendour of the hills was on all things, and Jim on Blazing Star
was filled with the glad tonic. For five miles they ambled along, and
when the doctor stopped at a watering place - he had been told to stop
there - the others caught up with him. Hereupon there was a readjustment,
and their next going found the Collins rig leading with Blazing Star
behind, and Belle with Hartigan in the second buckboard.

That was a drive of much consequence to two of the party. In that second
buckboard the fates laid plans, spun yarns, and rearranged many things.
Hartigan opened his heart and life. He told of his mother, of his happy
childhood; of his losses; of his flat, stale, unprofitable boyhood; of
Bill Kenna and his "word as a man"; of his own vow of abstinence, kept
unbroken till he was eighteen. He gave it all with the joyous side alone
in view, and when a pathetic incident intruded, the pathos was in the
things, not in the words of the narrator. The man had a power of
expression that would have made a great journalist. His talk was one
continuous entertainment, and lasted unbroken to the half-way house,
where they were to stay an hour for rest and food.

How sweet it is to tell one's history to a woman who takes in every word
as of large importance! How pleasant it is to confess to a keen and
sympathetic hearer. The twenty-five miles passed far too soon. It was
short, but long enough for large foundations to be laid.

Belle was only twenty-two, but hers was a wise head. Hartigan had spoken
freely about himself and thus had conferred in some large sort a right
to advise. She had deliberately constructed a new mood for his thoughts,
so that the horrors of the Bylow cabin were forgotten. The questions now
for him and for her were, how to set him right with the church, and how
begin all over again. Hartigan's idea was to go openly before the whole
congregation with a humble apology, and publicly promise to abstain from
drink forever. Belle vetoed this emphatically.

"Never rub your head in the mud," she said. "You make your peace with
God first, then with Dr. Jebb, and the deacons. Pay no attention to any
one else. There will be some talk for a while, but it will die away.

"You don't know the Black Hills as I do, Jim. People out here don't take
things quite so seriously as eastern folk. Many a western preacher
carries a flask of brandy as snakebite antidote or chill cure. Not long
ago I heard of a minister up north who was held for horse-stealing. Yes,
more than once. And how he explained it, I don't know: but he is
preaching yet. I don't mean to make light of these things, Jim, but I
want to keep you from a kind of reparation which will be more of a shock
to the people than what they now know. We must have some sense of
proportion. Since there was no public scandal, you will find that the
whole matter will be overlooked."

Belle was right; he knew she was; and later events proved it.

Most men propose when they find "the one woman"; but some don't. Many
marriages take place without any formal proposal. The man and the woman
come together and discover such sympathy, such need of each other, that
they assume much that remains unspoken. Nothing was said of love or
marriage on that journey from Deadwood, but James Hartigan and Belle
Boyd were conscious of a bond that happily and finally became complete.
Thenceforth he made no move without consulting her; thenceforth she had
no plans in which he was not more than half.

They were ten miles from Cedar Mountain when the last change was made.
Those who noted their arrival some while later saw Belle ride up the
Main Street with her aunt, and tie up at her father's door. Twenty
minutes later Hartigan rode beside the doctor's rig to his home, at the
other side of the town.




CHAPTER XXI

The Ordeal


Jim went at once to Dr. Jebb's to report. Mrs. Jebb opened the door,
greeted him with a hearty handshake, and was more than usually cordial.
Dr. Jebb was kind, but embarrassed. He offered Jim a chair and began
nervously:

"There was a rumour - there - that is - we missed you on Sunday."

Jim, with characteristic directness, said: "Doctor, I'll tell you all
about it." Just then there was a timid knock and Mrs. Jebb reappeared.
"May I be present, Jim?" she said. "I understand that you have something
to talk about, and you know, you were always my boy."

Dr. Jebb looked puzzled. Jim said: "If I can't trust you, who is there
left to trust?" And then told the story of his fall. He painted himself
not quite so black as he might have done the day before, but black
enough.

Dr. Jebb looked terribly worried and distressed. "I don't know what to
say," he kept repeating. "All my heart is with you, but my judgment
condemns you. I don't know what to say."

Then Mrs. Jebb spoke. "Now, Josiah, you know perfectly well that your
affections always were a safer guide than your judgment. There was no
bad intention on the part of the sinner - for we are all sinners - this
was just an unfortunate accident, and Jim shows in every possible way
his regret. There has been no public scandal, and so I think you had
better drop the whole thing and forget it. I know enough about Jim to
know that he has made out the worst possible case against himself."

"That may be," said Dr. Jebb, "but I fear we must bring the matter up
before the deacons, at least."

"As long as you don't make it public by bringing it before the church,"
said Mrs. Jebb, "all right."

Thus it was that Dr. Jebb sent out a notice, to such of the deacons as
he could not see personally, that a meeting was to be held at his house
that night.

In the same afternoon another interview took place in Cedar Mountain.
School-trustee Higginbotham was sitting in his office when the
schoolteacher came up the boardwalk and into the insurance office.

"Hello, Jack."

"Hello, John"; and the visitor sat down. Higginbotham glanced at him and
noticed that his face was drawn and his eyes "like holes burnt in a
blanket." His fingers trembled as he rolled a cigarette.

"Say, John," Lowe began nervously, "in case any rumour gets around that
the Preacher and I were a little reckless at Bylow's, you can contradict
it. At least there's nothing in it as far as I am concerned. I think the
Preacher must have taken some before I arrived. He showed the effects,
but not much."

"Hm," said Higginbotham. "You got there late?"

"Yes, you see we - that is, both of us - went there to stop that
spree - and we did, in a way, but things got a little mixed."

"How was that?"

"Well, I went there to help him and I did what I could for him, but they
had had some already. We spilled the keg on the floor and the fumes were
pretty strong and affected him a little. Didn't amount to much. I did
what I could. It was strong enough to affect me - unpleasantly, too. I
thought I'd just let you know in case there was anything said about it."

As soon as he was gone, Hannah appeared. Apparently, she had overheard
the conversation. "Well, did you catch on?"

"Partly; how did it strike you?"

"I think he is trying to save his own skin by dragging in the Preacher."

"I think so, too; but all the same, I won't use his story if it can be
dispensed with. The less we dig into this thing the better."

A little later the notice came from Dr. Jebb, inviting Deacon
Higginbotham to a meeting at his house that evening, for important
business. As he walked across the village Charlie Bylow stepped out from
a dark corner near Dr. Jebb's house.

"Say, Deacon," he began, "I've been waiting to see you. I know what is
on to-night. I want you to know it was a put-up job. It was the
schoolteacher worked it. The stuff was doped all right. The Preacher
went there to stop it as he did the other time, but they fooled him and
trapped him."

"Yes, I thought so," said the little deacon, "and how was it worked?"

"Well, I don't just exactly know. I haven't been on good terms with my
brother since I joined the church, so I don't go to his house any more;
but I heard some talk about its being the 'slickest thing ever.' I know
the Preacher went there to stop it and that they trapped him and that it
was Jack Lowe did it."

"Will you go before the deacons of the church and tell them that - if it
is necessary?"

"No," replied Bylow uneasily; "at least I don't want to go before any
meeting. I only know that's right; that's the way it happened; and I
don't want any one to blame Mr. Hartigan." Here Charlie abruptly ended
and went away.

Higginbotham turned back to his house. Hannah listened with the keenest
attention and then said: "It's easy to straighten it all out. I'll see
Belle and tell her to go to Jim at once and keep him from talking. You
know what he is when he gets going. He'll talk too much and spoil it
all." Thus these two loyal friends laid plans to screen him.

At Jebb's house, Higginbotham took the earliest occasion to warn Jim.

"Now don't talk. Simply answer one or two questions when asked and as
briefly as possible. 'Yes' or 'No' is enough. You know we've got to
satisfy the old Deacon Blight crowd somehow." And Jim promised to obey.

Dr. Jebb called the meeting to order and, at once, Higginbotham arose
and said: "Mr. Chairman, I think it would be better for Mr. Hartigan to
retire to another room." So Jim went out.

Dr. Jebb then gave a brief and rather halting account of a "certain
rumour reflecting on the sobriety of his assistant." Before he had more
than outlined the facts, Higginbotham jumped up:

"Dr. Jebb, you have alluded to a rumour. I call it a shameful
fabrication, with no basis in fact. I have made a thorough investigation
and am prepared, with two reliable witnesses, to prove that Mr. Hartigan
went to the Bylow cabin to prevent a disgraceful spree, as he did once
before. They had prepared by getting a keg of whiskey. This liquid sin,
if I may so call it, Mr. Hartigan spilled on the floor; unfortunately,
it was in a small, close cabin and the fumes affected his head so that
he was temporarily ill. These are the facts; and to prove them I have
two reliable witnesses. Call in Charlie Bylow and John Lowe." He looked
with a pretense of expectation toward the door; getting no response he
said: "Humph, not arrived yet. Well, we won't wait. In the meantime, I
must say that to my mind altogether too much has been made of this
accident and I am satisfied to dismiss the subject if the rest of the
deacons consent."

"No, I don't consent; I don't think we should," said Deacon Blight. "We
can't afford to have a scandal about our spiritual leader. Let's prove
it or disprove it right now."

And, acting on the majority vote, Dr. Jebb called Jim Hartigan to
appear. Dr. Jebb was supposed to be chairman, but Higginbotham was
irrepressible.

"I want to ask one or two questions," he called out; and, without
waiting for permission, he began: "Now, Mr. Hartigan, I understand that
you went to the Bylow Corner last Saturday night to prevent a whiskey
spree, as we know you have done before; that in some way the fumes of
the liquor entered your head and so overpowered you that you were ill
afterward; and that it was a painful surprise to you, as one well known
to be a teetotaller. Isn't that so?"

"Well, yes," said Jim, in some perplexity; "but it was this way - - "

"Never mind the way of it," said Higginbotham emphatically. Then,
turning to the others: "I don't see that we need go any further."

"Hold on, hold on," said Deacon Blight; "I'd like to ask one or two
questions. You admit being under the influence of liquor at Bylow's?"

"Yes," was the reply.

"Were you ever under the influence of liquor before?"

"I was."

"Once, or more than once?"

"More than once," said Jim. He would have said "many times" but for a
scowl from Higginbotham.

"Oh, ho!" said the deacon. "When was that?"

"Before I was converted."

"Never since?"

"No; except last Saturday."

Here Dr. Jebb interrupted. "It seems to me that we need not follow the
subject any further than to inquire into the mental attitude of the
brother who fell into the snare. I know it is one of absolute contrition
now, especially as the affair was of the nature of an accident during
the discharge of his duty. It seems to me, therefore, that we should
accept his expression of penitence coupled with a promise to abstain so
long as he is here with us."

Jim volunteered to abstain for all time, but Higginbotham's moderate
counsels prevailed.

Deacon Blight thought that the transgressor should be suspended from
office pending a fuller investigation. Deacon Higginbotham thought that



Online LibraryErnest Thompson SetonThe preacher of Cedar Mountain; a tale of the open country → online text (page 9 of 24)