The Spirit of the Border by Zane Grey
Early on the following day Heckewelder, astride his horse, appeared at the door of Edwards' cabin.
"How is George?" he inquired of Dave, when the latter had opened the door.
"He had a bad night, but is sleeping now. I think he'll be all right after a time," answered Dave.
"That's well. Nevertheless keep a watch on him for a few days."
"I'll do so."
"Dave, I leave matters here to your good judgment. I'm off to Goshocking to join Zeisberger. Affairs there demand our immediate attention, and we must make haste."
"How long do you intend to be absent?"
"A few days; possibly a week. In case of any unusual disturbance among the Indians, the appearance of Pipe and his tribe, or any of the opposing factions, send a fleet runner at once to warn me. Most of my fears have been allayed by Wingenund's attitude toward us. His freeing Jim in face of the opposition of his chiefs is a sure sign of friendliness. More than once I have suspected that he was interested in Christianity. His daughter, Whispering Winds, exhibited the same intense fervor in religion as has been manifested by all our converts. It may be that we have not appealed in vain to Wingenund and his daughter; but their high position in the Delaware tribe makes it impolitic for them to reveal a change of heart. If we could win over those two we'd have every chance to convert the whole tribe. Well, as it is we must be thankful for Wingenund's friendship. We have two powerful allies now. Tarhe, the Wyandot chieftain, remains neutral, to be sure, but that's almost as helpful as his friendship."
"I, too, take a hopeful view of the situation," replied Edwards.
"We'll trust in Providence, and do our best," said Heckewelder, as he turned his horse. "Good-by."
"Godspeed!" called Edwards, as his chief rode away.
The missionary resumed his work of getting breakfast. He remained in doors all that day, except for the few moments when he ran over to Mr. Wells' cabin to inquire regarding Nell's condition. He was relieved to learn she was so much better that she had declared her intention of moving about the house. Dave kept a close watch on Young. He, himself, was suffering from the same blow which had prostrated his friend, but his physical strength and fortitude were such that he did not weaken. He was overjoyed to see that George rallied, and showed no further indications of breaking down.
True it was, perhaps, that Heckewelder's earnest prayer on behalf of the converted Indians had sunk deeply into George's heart and thus kept it from breaking. No stronger plea could have been made than the allusion to those gentle, dependent Christians. No one but a missionary could realize the sweetness, the simplicity, the faith, the eager hope for a good, true life which had been implanted in the hearts of these Indians. To bear it in mind, to think of what he, as a missionary and teacher, was to them, relieved him of half his burden, and for strength to bear the remainder he went to God. For all worry there is a sovereign cure, for all suffering there is a healing balm; it is religious faith. Happiness had suddenly flashed with a meteor-like radiance into Young's life only to be snuffed out like a candle in a windy gloom, but his work, his duty remained. So in his trial he learned the necessity of resignation. He chaffed no more at the mysterious, seemingly brutal methods of nature; he questioned no more. He wondered no more at the apparent indifference of Providence. He had one hope, which was to be true to his faith, and teach it to the end.
Nell mastered her grief by an astonishing reserve of strength. Undoubtedly it was that marvelously merciful power which enables a person, for the love of others, to bear up under a cross, or even to fight death himself. As Young had his bright-eyed Indian boys and girls, who had learned Christianity from him, and whose future depended on him, so Nell had her aged and weakening uncle to care for and cherish.
Jim's attentions to her before the deep affliction had not been slight, but now they were so marked as to be unmistakable. In some way Jim seemed changed since he had returned from the Delaware encampment. Although he went back to the work with his old aggressiveness, he was not nearly so successful as he had been before. Whether or not this was his fault, he took his failure deeply to heart. There was that in his tenderness which caused Nell to regard him, in one sense, as she did her uncle. Jim, too, leaned upon her, and she accepted his devotion where once she had repelled it. She had unconsciously betrayed a great deal when she had turned so tenderly to him in the first moments after her recognition, and he remembered it. He did not speak of love to her; he let a thousand little acts of kindness, a constant thoughtfulness of her plead his cause.
The days succeeding Heckewelder's departure were remarkable for several reasons. Although the weather was enticing, the number of visiting Indians gradually decreased. Not a runner from any tribe came into the village, and finally the day dawned when not a single Indian from the outlying towns was present to hear the preaching.
Jim spoke, as usual. After several days had passed and none but converted Indians made up the congregation, the young man began to be uneasy in mind.
Young and Edwards were unable to account for the unusual absence from worship, yet they did not see in it anything to cause especial concern. Often there had been days without visitation to the Village of Peace.
Finally Jim went to consult Glickhican. He found the Delaware at work in the potato patch. The old Indian dropped his hoe and bowed to the missionary. A reverential and stately courtesy always characterized the attitude of the Indians toward the young white father.
"Glickhican, can you tell me why no Indians have come here lately?"
The old chief shook his head.
"Does their absence signify ill to the Village of Peace?"
"Glickhican saw a blackbird flitting in the shadow of the moon. The bird hovered above the Village of Peace, but sang no song."
The old Delaware vouchsafed no other than this strange reply.
Jim returned to his cabin decidedly worried. He did not at all like Glickhican's answer. The purport of it seemed to be that a cloud was rising on the bright horizon of the Christian village. He confided his fears to Young and Edwards. After discussing the situation, the three missionaries decided to send for Heckewelder. He was the leader of the Mission; he knew more of Indian craft than any of them, and how to meet it. If this calm in the heretofore busy life of the Mission was the lull before a storm, Heckewelder should be there with his experience and influence.
"For nearly ten years Heckewelder has anticipated trouble from hostile savages," said Edwards, "but so far he has always averted it. As you know, he has confined himself mostly to propitiating the Indians, and persuading them to be friendly, and listen to us. We'll send for him."
Accordingly they dispatched a runner to Goshocking. In due time the Indian returned with the startling news that Heckewelder had left the Indian village days before, as had, in fact, all the savages except the few converted ones. The same held true in the case of Sandusky, the adjoining town. Moreover, it had been impossible to obtain any news in regard to Zeisberger.
The missionaries were now thoroughly alarmed, and knew not what to do. They concealed the real state of affairs from Nell and her uncle, desiring to keep them from anxiety as long as possible. That night the three teachers went to bed with heavy hearts.
The following morning at daybreak, Jim was awakened from a sound sleep by some one calling at his window. He got up to learn who it was, and, in the gray light, saw Edwards standing outside.
"What's the matter?" questioned Jim, hurriedly.
"Matter enough. Hurry. Get into your clothes," replied Edwards. "As soon as you are dressed, quietly awaken Mr. Wells and Nellie, but do not frighten them."
"But what's the trouble?" queried Jim, as he began to dress.
"The Indians are pouring into the village as thickly as flying leaves in autumn."
Edwards' exaggerated assertion proved to be almost literally true. No sooner had the rising sun dispelled the mist, than it shone on long lines of marching braves, mounted warriors, hundreds of packhorses approaching from the forests. The orderly procession was proof of a concerted plan on the part of the invaders.
From their windows the missionaries watched with bated breath; with wonder and fear they saw the long lines of dusky forms. When they were in the clearing the savages busied themselves with their packs. Long rows of teepees sprung up as if by magic. The savages had come to stay! The number of incoming visitors did not lessen until noon, when a few straggling groups marked the end of the invading host. Most significant of all was the fact that neither child, maiden, nor squaw accompanied this army.
Jim appraised the number at six or seven hundred, more than had ever before visited the village at one time. They were mostly Delawares, with many Shawnees, and a few Hurons among them. It was soon evident, however, that for the present, at least, the Indians did not intend any hostile demonstration. They were quiet in manner, and busy about their teepees and camp-fires, but there was an absence of the curiosity that had characterized the former sojourns of Indians at the peaceful village.
After a brief consultation with his brother missionaries, who all were opposed to his preaching that afternoon, Jim decided he would not deviate from his usual custom. He held the afternoon service, and spoke to the largest congregation that had ever sat before him. He was surprised to find that the sermon, which heretofore so strongly impressed the savages, did not now arouse the slightest enthusiasm. It was followed by a brooding silence of a boding, ominous import.
Four white men, dressed in Indian garb, had been the most attentive listeners to Jim's sermon. He recognized three as Simon Girty, Elliott and Deering, the renegades, and he learned from Edwards that the other was the notorious McKee. These men went through the village, stalking into the shops and cabins, and acting as do men who are on a tour of inspection.
So intrusive was their curiosity that Jim hurried back to Mr. Well's cabin and remained there in seclusion. Of course, by this time Nell and her uncle knew of the presence of the hostile savages. They were frightened, and barely regained their composure when the young man assured them he was certain they had no real cause for fear.
Jim was sitting at the doorstep with Mr. Wells and Edwards when Girty, with his comrades, came toward them. The renegade leader was a tall, athletic man, with a dark, strong face. There was in it none of the brutality and ferocity which marked his brother's visage. Simon Girty appeared keen, forceful, authoritative, as, indeed, he must have been to have attained the power he held in the confederated tribes. His companions presented wide contrasts. Elliott was a small, spare man of cunning, vindictive aspect; McKee looked, as might have been supposed from his reputation, and Deering was a fit mate for the absent Girty. Simon appeared to be a man of some intelligence, who had used all his power to make that position a great one. The other renegades were desperadoes.
"Where's Heckewelder?" asked Girty, curtly, as he stopped before the missionaries.
"He started out for the Indian towns on the Muskingong," answered Edwards. "But we have had no word from either him or Zeisberger."
"When d'ye expect him?"
"I can't say. Perhaps to-morrow, and then, again, maybe not for a week."
"He is in authority here, ain't he?"
"Yes; but he left me in charge of the Mission. Can I serve you in any way?"
"I reckon not," said the renegade, turning to his companions. They conversed in low tones for a moment. Presently McKee, Elliott and Deering went toward the newly erected teepees.
"Girty, do you mean us any ill will?" earnestly asked Edwards. He had met the man on more than one occasion, and had no hesitation about questioning him.
"I can't say as I do," answered the renegade, and those who heard him believed him. "But I'm agin this redskin preachin', an' hev been all along. The injuns are mad clear through, an' I ain't sayin' I've tried to quiet 'em any. This missionary work has got to be stopped, one way or another. Now what I waited here to say is this: I ain't quite forgot I was white once, an' believe you fellars are honest. I'm willin' to go outer my way to help you git away from here."
"Go away?" echoed Edwards.
"That's it," answered Girty, shouldering his rifle.
"But why? We are perfectly harmless; we are only doing good and hurt no one. Why should we go?"
"'Cause there's liable to be trouble," said the renegade, significantly.
Edwards turned slowly to Mr. Wells and Jim. The old missionary was trembling visibly. Jim was pale; but more with anger than fear.
"Thank you, Girty, but we'll stay," and Jim's voice rang clear.