The Spirit of the Border by Zane Grey
"Jim, come out here," called Edwards at the window of Mr. Wells' cabin.
The young man arose from the breakfast table, and when outside found Edwards standing by the door with an Indian brave. He was a Wyandot lightly built, lithe and wiry, easily recognizable as an Indian runner. When Jim appeared the man handed him a small packet. He unwound a few folds of some oily skin to find a square piece of birch bark, upon which were scratched the following words:
"Rev. J. Downs. Greeting.
"Your brother is alive and safe. Whispering Winds rescued him by taking him as her husband. Leave the Village of Peace. Pipe and Half King have been influenced by Girty.
"Now, what do you think of that?" exclaimed Jim, handing the message to Edwards. "Thank Heaven, Joe was saved!"
"Zane? That must be the Zane who married Tarhe's daughter," answered Edwards, when he had read the note. "I'm rejoiced to hear of your brother."
"Joe married to that beautiful Indian maiden! Well, of all wonderful things," mused Jim. "What will Nell say?"
"We're getting warnings enough. Do you appreciate that?" asked Edwards. "'Pipe and Half King have been influenced by Girty.' Evidently the writer deemed that brief sentence of sufficient meaning."
"Edwards, we're preachers. We can't understand such things. I am learning, at least something every day. Colonel Zane advised us not to come here. Wetzel said, 'Go back to Fort Henry.' Girty warned us, and now comes this peremptory order from Isaac Zane."
"It means that these border men see what we will not admit. We ministers have such hope and trust in God that we can not realize the dangers of this life. I fear that our work has been in vain."
"Never. We have already saved many souls. Do not be discouraged."
All this time the runner had stood near at hand straight as an arrow. Presently Edwards suggested that the Wyandot was waiting to be questioned, and accordingly he asked the Indian if he had anything further to communicate.
"Huron--go by--paleface." Here he held up both hands and shut his fists several times, evidently enumerating how many white men he had seen. "Here--when--high--sun."
With that he bounded lightly past them, and loped off with an even, swinging stride.
"What did he mean?" asked Jim, almost sure he had not heard the runner aright.
"He meant that a party of white men are approaching, and will be here by noon. I never knew an Indian runner to carry unreliable information. We have joyful news, both in regard to your brother, and the Village of Peace. Let us go in to tell the others."
The Huron runner's report proved to be correct. Shortly before noon signals from Indian scouts proclaimed the approach of a band of white men. Evidently Girty's forces had knowledge beforehand of the proximity of this band, for the signals created no excitement. The Indians expressed only a lazy curiosity. Soon several Delaware scouts appeared, escorting a large party of frontiersmen.
These men turned out to be Captain Williamson's force, which had been out on an expedition after a marauding tribe of Chippewas. This last named tribe had recently harried the remote settlers, and committed depredations on the outskirts of the white settlements eastward. The company was composed of men who had served in the garrison at Fort Pitt, and hunters and backwoodsmen from Yellow Creek and Fort Henry. The captain himself was a typical borderman, rough and bluff, hardened by long years of border life, and, like most pioneers, having no more use for an Indian than for a snake. He had led his party after the marauders, and surprised and slaughtered nearly all of them. Returning eastward he had passed through Goshocking, where he learned of the muttering storm rising over the Village of Peace, and had come more out of curiosity than hope to avert misfortune.
The advent of so many frontiersmen seemed a godsend to the perplexed and worried missionaries. They welcomed the newcomers most heartily. Beds were made in several of the newly erected cabins; the village was given over for the comfort of the frontiersmen. Edwards conducted Captain Williamson through the shops and schools, and the old borderman's weather-beaten face expressed a comical surprise.
"Wal, I'll be durned if I ever expected to see a redskin work," was his only comment on the industries.
"We are greatly alarmed by the presence of Girty and his followers," said Edwards. "We have been warned to leave, but have not been actually threatened. What do you infer from the appearance here of these hostile savages?"
"It hardly 'pears to me they'll bother you preachers. They're agin the Christian redskins, that's plain."
"Why have we been warned to go?"
"That's natural, seein' they're agin the preachin'."
"What will they do with the converted Indians?"
"Mighty onsartin. They might let them go back to the tribes, but 'pears to me these good Injuns won't go. Another thing, Girty is afeered of the spread of Christianity."
"Then you think our Christians will be made prisoners?"
"And you, also, think we'd do well to leave here."
"I do, sartin. We're startin' for Fort Henry soon. You'd better come along with us."
"Captain Williamson, we're going to stick it out, Girty or no Girty."
"You can't do no good stayin' here. Pipe and Half King won't stand for the singin', prayin' redskins, especially when they've got all these cattle and fields of grain."
"Wetzel said the same."
"Hev you seen Wetzel?"
"Yes; he rescued a girl from Jim Girty, and returned her to us."
"That so? I met Wetzel and Jack Zane back a few miles in the woods. They're layin' for somebody, because when I asked them to come along they refused, sayin' they had work as must be done. They looked like it, too. I never hern tell of Wetzel advisin' any one before; but I'll say if he told me to do a thing, by Gosh! I'd do it."
"As men, we might very well take the advice given us, but as preachers we must stay here to do all we can for these Christian Indians. One thing more: will you help us?"
"I reckon I'll stay here to see the thing out," answered Williamson. Edwards made a mental note of the frontiersman's evasive answer.
Jim had, meanwhile, made the acquaintance of a young minister, John Christy by name, who had lost his sweetheart in one of the Chippewa raids, and had accompanied the Williamson expedition in the hope he might rescue her.
"How long have you been out?" asked Jim.
"About four weeks now," answered Christy. "My betrothed was captured five weeks ago yesterday. I joined Williamson's band, which made up at Short Creek to take the trail of the flying Chippewas, in the hope I might find her. But not a trace! The expedition fell upon a band of redskins over on the Walhonding, and killed nearly all of them. I learned from a wounded Indian that a renegade had made off with a white girl about a week previous. Perhaps it was poor Lucy."
Jim related the circumstances of his own capture by Jim Girty, the rescue of Nell, and Kate's sad fate.
"Could Jim Girty have gotten your girl?" inquired Jim, in conclusion.
"It's fairly probable. The description doesn't tally with Girty's. This renegade was short and heavy, and noted especially for his strength. Of course, an Indian would first speak of some such distinguishing feature. There are, however, ten or twelve renegades on the border, and, excepting Jim Girty, one's as bad as another."
"Then it's a common occurrence, this abducting girls from the settlements?"
"Yes, and the strange thing is that one never hears of such doings until he gets out on the frontier."
"For that matter, you don't hear much of anything, except of the wonderful richness and promise of the western country."
"You're right. Rumors of fat, fertile lands induce the colonist to become a pioneer. He comes west with his family; two out of every ten lose their scalps, and in some places the average is much greater. The wives, daughters and children are carried off into captivity. I have been on the border two years, and know that the rescue of any captive, as Wetzel rescued your friend, is a remarkable exception."
"If you have so little hope of recovering your sweetheart, what then is your motive for accompanying this band of hunters?"
"And you are a preacher?" Jim's voice did not disguise his astonishment.
"I was a preacher, and now I am thirsting for vengeance," answered Christy, his face clouding darkly. "Wait until you learn what frontier life means. You are young here yet; you are flushed with the success of your teaching; you have lived a short time in this quiet village, where, until the last few days, all has been serene. You know nothing of the strife, of the necessity of fighting, of the cruelty which makes up this border existence. Only two years have hardened me so that I actually pant for the blood of the renegade who has robbed me. A frontiersman must take his choice of succumbing or cutting his way through flesh and bone. Blood will be spilled; if not yours, then your foe's. The pioneers run from the plow to the fight; they halt in the cutting of corn to defend themselves, and in winter must battle against cold and hardship, which would be less cruel if there was time in summer to prepare for winter, for the savages leave them hardly an opportunity to plant crops. How many pioneers have given up, and gone back east? Find me any who would not return home to-morrow, if they could. All that brings them out here is the chance for a home, and all that keeps them out here is the poor hope of finally attaining their object. Always there is a possibility of future prosperity. But this generation, if it survives, will never see prosperity and happiness. What does this border life engender in a pioneer who holds his own in it? Of all things, not Christianity. He becomes a fighter, keen as the redskin who steals through the coverts."
The serene days of the Village of Peace had passed into history. Soon that depraved vagabond, the French trader, with cheap trinkets and vile whisky, made his appearance. This was all that was needed to inflame the visitors. Where they had been only bold and impudent, they became insulting and abusive. They execrated the Christian indians for their neutrality; scorned them for worshiping this unknown God, and denounced a religion which made women of strong men.
The slaughtering of cattle commenced; the despoiling of maize fields, and robbing of corn-cribs began with the drunkenness.
All this time it was seen that Girty and Elliott consulted often with Pipe and Half King. The latter was the only Huron chief opposed to neutrality toward the Village of Peace, and he was, if possible, more fierce in his hatred than Pipe. The future of the Christian settlement rested with these two chiefs. Girty and Elliott, evidently, were the designing schemers, and they worked diligently on the passions of these simple-minded, but fierce, warlike chiefs.
Greatly to the relief of the distracted missionaries, Heckewelder returned to the village. Jaded and haggard, he presented a travel-worn appearance. He made the astonishing assertions that he had been thrice waylaid and assaulted on his way to Goshocking; then detained by a roving band of Chippewas, and soon after his arrival at their camping ground a renegade had run off with a white woman captive, while the Indians west of the village were in an uproar. Zeisberger, however, was safe in the Moravian town of Salem, some miles west of Goshocking. Heckewelder had expected to find the same condition of affairs as existed in the Village of Peace; but he was bewildered by the great array of hostile Indians. Chiefs who had once extended friendly hands to him, now drew back coldly, as they said:
"Washington is dead. The American armies are cut to pieces. The few thousands who had escaped the British are collecting at Fort Pitt to steal the Indian's land."
Heckewelder vigorously denied all these assertions, knowing they had been invented by Girty and Elliott. He exhausted all his skill and patience in the vain endeavor to show Pipe where he was wrong. Half King had been so well coached by the renegades that he refused to listen. The other chiefs maintained a cold reserve that was baffling and exasperating. Wingenund took no active part in the councils; but his presence apparently denoted that he had sided with the others. The outlook was altogether discouraging.
"I'm completely fagged out," declared Heckewelder, that night when he returned to Edwards' cabin. He dropped into a chair as one whose strength is entirely spent, whose indomitable spirit has at last been broken.
"Lie down to rest," said Edwards.
"Oh, I can't. Matters look so black."
"You're tired out and discouraged. You'll feel better to-morrow. The situation is not, perhaps, so hopeless. The presence of these frontiersmen should encourage us."
"What will they do? What can they do?" cried Heckewelder, bitterly. "I tell you never before have I encountered such gloomy, stony Indians. It seems to me that they are in no vacillating state. They act like men whose course is already decided upon, and who are only waiting."
"For what?" asked Jim, after a long silence.
"God only knows! Perhaps for a time; possibly for a final decision, and, it may be, for a reason, the very thought of which makes me faint."
"Tell us," said Edwards, speaking quietly, for he had ever been the calmest of the missionaries.
"Never mind. Perhaps it's only my nerves. I'm all unstrung, and could suspect anything to-night."
"Heckewelder, tell us?" Jim asked, earnestly.
"My friends, I pray I am wrong. God help us if my fears are correct. I believe the Indians are waiting for Jim Girty.