The Spirit of the Border by Zane Grey
Simon Girty lolled on a blanket in Half King's teepee. He was alone, awaiting his allies. Rings of white smoke curled lazily from his lips as he puffed on a long Indian pipe, and gazed out over the clearing that contained the Village of Peace.
Still water has something in its placid surface significant of deep channels, of hidden depths; the dim outline of the forest is dark with meaning, suggestive of its wild internal character. So Simon Girty's hard, bronzed face betrayed the man. His degenerate brother's features were revolting; but his own were striking, and fell short of being handsome only because of their craggy hardness. Years of revolt, of bitterness, of consciousness of wasted life, had graven their stern lines on that copper, masklike face. Yet despite the cruelty there, the forbidding shade on it, as if a reflection from a dark soul, it was not wholly a bad countenance. Traces still lingered, faintly, of a man in whom kindlier feelings had once predominated.
In a moment of pique Girty had deserted his military post at Fort Pitt, and become an outlaw of his own volition. Previous to that time he had been an able soldier, and a good fellow. When he realized that his step was irrevocable, that even his best friends condemned him, he plunged, with anger and despair in his heart, into a war upon his own race. Both of his brothers had long been border ruffians, whose only protection from the outraged pioneers lay in the faraway camps of hostile tribes. George Girty had so sunk his individuality into the savage's that he was no longer a white man. Jim Girty stalked over the borderland with a bloody tomahawk, his long arm outstretched to clutch some unfortunate white woman, and with his hideous smile of death. Both of these men were far lower than the worst savages, and it was almost wholly to their deeds of darkness that Simon Girty owed his infamous name.
To-day White Chief, as Girty was called, awaited his men. A slight tremor of the ground caused him to turn his gaze. The Huron chief, Half King, resplendent in his magnificent array, had entered the teepee. He squatted in a corner, rested the bowl of his great pipe on his knee, and smoked in silence. The habitual frown of his black brow, like a shaded, overhanging cliff; the fire flashing from his eyes, as a shining light is reflected from a dark pool; his closely-shut, bulging jaw, all bespoke a nature, lofty in its Indian pride and arrogance, but more cruel than death.
Another chief stalked into the teepee and seated himself. It was Pipe. His countenance denoted none of the intelligence that made Wingenund's face so noble; it was even coarser than Half King's, and his eyes, resembling live coals in the dark; the long, cruel lines of his jaw; the thin, tightly-closed lips, which looked as if they could relax only to utter a savage command, expressed fierce cunning and brutality.
"White Chief is idle to-day," said Half King, speaking in the Indian tongue.
"King, I am waiting. Girty is slow, but sure," answered the renegade.
"The eagle sails slowly round and round, up and up," replied Half King, with majestic gestures, "until his eye sees all, until he knows his time; then he folds his wings and swoops down from the blue sky like the forked fire. So does White Chief. But Half King is impatient."
"To-day decides the fate of the Village of Peace," answered Girty, imperturbably.
"Ugh!" grunted Pipe.
Half King vented his approval in the same meaning exclamation.
An hour passed; the renegade smoked in silence; the chiefs did likewise.
A horseman rode up to the door of the teepee, dismounted, and came in. It was Elliott. He had been absent twenty hours. His buckskin suit showed the effect of hard riding through the thickets.
"Hullo, Bill, any sign of Jim?" was Girty's greeting to his lieutenant.
"Nary. He's not been seen near the Delaware camp. He's after that chap who married Winds."
"I thought so. Jim's roundin' up a tenderfoot who will be a bad man to handle if he has half a chance. I saw as much the day he took his horse away from Silver. He finally did fer the Shawnee, an' almost put Jim out. My brother oughtn't to give rein to personal revenge at a time like this." Girty's face did not change, but his tone was one of annoyance.
"Jim said he'd be here to-day, didn't he?"
"To-day is as long as we allowed to wait."
"He'll come. Where's Jake and Mac?"
"They're here somewhere, drinkin' like fish, an' raisin' hell."
Two more renegades appeared at the door, and, entering the teepee, squatted down in Indian fashion. The little wiry man with the wizened face was McKee; the other was the latest acquisition to the renegade force, Jake Deering, deserter, thief, murderer--everything that is bad. In appearance he was of medium height, but very heavily, compactly built, and evidently as strong as an ox. He had a tangled shock of red hair, a broad, bloated face; big, dull eyes, like the openings of empty furnaces, and an expression of beastliness.
Deering and McKee were intoxicated.
"Bad time fer drinkin'," said Girty, with disapproval in his glance.
"What's that ter you?" growled Deering. "I'm here ter do your work, an' I reckon it'll be done better if I'm drunk."
"Don't git careless," replied Girty, with that cool tone and dark look such as dangerous men use. "I'm only sayin' it's a bad time fer you, because if this bunch of frontiersmen happen to git onto you bein' the renegade that was with the Chippewas an' got thet young feller's girl, there's liable to be trouble."
"They ain't agoin' ter find out."
"Where is she?"
"Back there in the woods."
"Mebbe it's as well. Now, don't git so drunk you'll blab all you know. We've lots of work to do without havin' to clean up Williamson's bunch," rejoined Girty. "Bill, tie up the tent flaps an' we'll git to council."
Elliott arose to carry out the order, and had pulled in the deer-hide flaps, when one of them was jerked outward to disclose the befrilled person of Jim Girty. Except for a discoloration over his eye, he appeared as usual.
"Ugh!" grunted Pipe, who was glad to see his renegade friend.
Half King evinced the same feeling.
"Hullo," was Simon Girty's greeting.
"'Pears I'm on time fer the picnic," said Jim Girty, with his ghastly leer.
Bill Elliott closed the flaps, after giving orders to the guard to prevent any Indians from loitering near the teepee.
"Listen," said Simon Girty, speaking low in the Delaware language. "The time is ripe. We have come here to break forever the influence of the white man's religion. Our councils have been held; we shall drive away the missionaries, and burn the Village of Peace."
He paused, leaning forward in his exceeding earnestness, with his bronzed face lined by swelling veins, his whole person made rigid by the murderous thought. The he hissed between his teeth: "What shall we do with these Christian Indians?"
Pipe raised his war-club, struck it upon the ground; then handed it to Half King.
Half King took the club and repeated the action.
Both chiefs favored the death penalty.
"Feed 'em to ther buzzards," croaked Jim Girty.
Simon Girty knitted his brow in thought. The question of what to do with the converted Indians had long perplexed him.
"No," said he; "let us drive away the missionaries, burn the village, and take the Indians back to camp. We'll keep them there; they'll soon forget."
"Pipe does not want them," declared the Delaware.
"Christian Indians shall never sit round Half King's fire," cried the Huron.
Simon Girty knew the crisis had come; that but few moments were left him to decide as to the disposition of the Christians; and he thought seriously. Certainly he did not want the Christians murdered. However cruel his life, and great his misdeeds, he was still a man. If possible, he desired to burn the village and ruin the religious influence, but without shedding blood. Yet, with all his power, he was handicapped, and that by the very chiefs most nearly under his control. He could not subdue this growing Christian influence without the help of Pipe and Half King. To these savages a thing was either right or wrong. He had sown the seed of unrest and jealousy in the savage breasts, and the fruit was the decree of death. As far as these Indians were concerned, this decision was unalterable.
On the other hand, if he did not spread ruin over the Village of Peace, the missionaries would soon get such a grasp on the tribes that their hold would never be broken. He could not allow that, even if he was forced to sacrifice the missionaries along with their converts, for he saw in the growth of this religion his own downfall. The border must be hostile to the whites, or it could no longer be his home. To be sure, he had aided the British in the Revolution, and could find a refuge among them; but this did not suit him.
He became an outcast because of failure to win the military promotion which he had so much coveted. He had failed among his own people. He had won a great position in an alien race, and he loved his power. To sway men--Indians, if not others--to his will; to avenge himself for the fancied wrong done him; to be great, had been his unrelenting purpose.
He knew he must sacrifice the Christians, or eventually lose his own power. He had no false ideas about the converted Indians. He knew they were innocent; that they were a thousand times better off than the pagan Indians; that they had never harmed him, nor would they ever do so; but if he allowed them to spread their religion there was an end of Simon Girty.
His decision was characteristic of the man. He would sacrifice any one, or all, to retain his supremacy. He knew the fulfillment of the decree as laid down by Pipe and Half King would be known as his work. His name, infamous now, would have an additional horror, and ever be remembered by posterity in unspeakable loathing, in unsoftening wrath. He knew this, and deep down in his heart awoke a numbed chord of humanity that twinged with strange pain. What awful work he must sanction to keep his vaunted power! More bitter than all was the knowledge that to retain this hold over the indians he must commit a deed which, so far as the whites were concerned, would take away his great name, and brand him a coward.
He briefly reviewed his stirring life. Singularly fitted for a leader, in a few years he had risen to the most powerful position on the border. He wielded more influence than any chief. He had been opposed to the invasion of the pioneers, and this alone, without his sagacity or his generalship, would have given him control of many tribes. But hatred for his own people, coupled with unerring judgment, a remarkable ability to lead expeditions, and his invariable success, had raised him higher and higher until he stood alone. He was the most powerful man west of the Alleghenies. His fame was such that the British had importuned him to help them, and had actually, in more than one instance, given him command over British subjects.
All of which meant that he had a great, even tough an infamous name. No matter what he was blamed for; no matter how many dastardly deeds had been committed by his depraved brothers and laid to his door, he knew he had never done a cowardly act. That which he had committed while he was drunk he considered as having been done by the liquor, and not by the man. He loved his power, and he loved his name.
In all Girty's eventful, ignoble life, neither the alienation from his people, the horror they ascribed to his power, nor the sacrifice of his life to stand high among the savage races, nor any of the cruel deeds committed while at war, hurt him a tithe as much as did this sanctioning the massacre of the Christians.
Although he was a vengeful, unscrupulous, evil man, he had never acted the coward.
Half King waited long for Girty to speak; since he remained silent, the wily Huron suggested they take a vote on the question.
"Let us burn the Village of Peace, drive away the missionaries, and take the Christians back to the Delaware towns--all without spilling blood," said Girty, determined to carry his point, if possible.
"I say the same," added Elliott, refusing the war-club held out to him by Half King.
"Me, too," voted McKee, not so drunk but that he understood the lightninglike glance Girty shot at him.
"Kill 'em all; kill everybody," cried Deering in drunken glee. He took the club and pounded with it on the ground.
Pipe repeated his former performance, as also did Half King, after which he handed the black, knotted symbol of death to Jim Girty.
Three had declared for saving the Christians, and three for the death penalty.
Six pairs of burning eyes were fastened on the Deaths-head.
Pipe and Half King were coldly relentless; Deering awoke to a brutal earnestness; McKee and Elliott watched with bated breath. These men had formed themselves into a tribunal to decide on the life or death of many, and the situation, if not the greatest in their lives, certainly was one of vital importance.
Simon Girty cursed all the fates. He dared not openly oppose the voting, and he could not, before those cruel but just chiefs, try to influence his brother's vote.
As Jim Girty took the war-club, Simon read in his brother's face the doom of the converted Indians and he muttered to himself:
"Now tremble an' shrink, all you Christians!"
Jim was not in a hurry. Slowly he poised the war-club. He was playing as a cat plays with a mouse; he was glorying in his power. The silence was that of death. It signified the silence of death. The war-club descended with violence.
"Feed the Christians to ther buzzards!"