The Spirit of the Border by Zane Grey
In the confusion the missionaries carried Young and Edwards into Mr. Wells' cabin. Nell's calm, white face showed that she had expected some such catastrophe as this, but she of all was the least excited. Heckewelder left them at the cabin and hurried away to consult Captain Williamson. While Zeisberger, who was skilled in surgery, attended to the wounded men, Jim barred the heavy door, shut the rude, swinging windows, and made the cabin temporarily a refuge from prowling savages.
Outside the clamor increased. Shrill yells rent the air, long, rolling war-cries sounded above all the din. The measured stamp of moccasined feet, the rush of Indians past the cabin, the dull thud of hatchets struck hard into the trees--all attested to the excitement of the savages, and the imminence of terrible danger.
In the front room of Mr. Wells' cabin Edwards lay on a bed, his face turned to the wall, and his side exposed. There was a bloody hole in his white skin. Zeisberger was probing for the bullet. He had no instruments, save those of his own manufacture, and they were darning needles with bent points, and a long knife-blade ground thin.
"There, I have it," said Zeisberger. "Hold still, Dave. There!" As Edwards moaned Zeisberger drew forth the bloody bullet. "Jim, wash and dress this wound. It isn't bad. Dave will be all right in a couple of days. Now I'll look at George."
Zeisberger hurried into the other room. Young lay with quiet face and closed eyes, breathing faintly. Zeisberger opened the wounded man's shirt and exposed the wound, which was on the right side, rather high up. Nell, who had followed Zeisberger that she might be of some assistance if needed, saw him look at the wound and then turn a pale face away for a second. That hurried, shuddering movement of the sober, practical missionary was most significant. Then he bent over Young and inserted on of the probes into the wound. He pushed the steel an inch, two, three, four inches into Young's breast, but the latter neither moved nor moaned. Zeisberger shook his head, and finally removed the instrument. He raised the sufferer's shoulder to find the bed saturated with blood. The bullet wound extended completely through the missionary's body, and was bleeding from the back. Zeisberger folded strips of linsey cloth into small pads and bound them tightly over both apertures of the wound.
"How is he?" asked Jim, when the amateur surgeon returned to the other room, and proceeded to wash the blood from his hands.
Zeisberger shook his head gloomily.
"How is George?" whispered Edwards, who had heard Jim's question.
"Shot through the right lung. Human skill can not aid him! Only God can save."
"Didn't I hear a third shot?" whispered Dave, gazing round with sad, questioning eyes. "Heckewelder?"
"Is safe. He has gone to see Williamson. You did hear a third shot. Half King fell dead with a bullet over his left eye. He had just folded his arms in a grand pose after his death decree to the Christians."
"A judgment of God!"
"It does seem so, but it came in the form of leaden death from Wetzel's unerring rifle. Do you hear all that yelling? Half King's death has set the Indians wild."
There was a gentle knock at the door, and then the word, "Open," in Heckewelder's voice.
Jim unbarred the door. Heckewelder came in carrying over his shoulder what apparently was a sack of meal. He was accompanied by young Christy. Heckewelder put the bag down, opened it, and lifted out a little Indian boy. The child gazed round with fearful eyes.
"Save Benny! Save Benny!" he cried, running to Nell, and she clasped him closely in her arms.
Heckewelder's face was like marble as he asked concerning Edwards' condition.
"I'm not badly off," said the missionary with a smile.
"How's George?" whispered Heckewelder.
No one answered him. Zeisberger raised his hands. All followed Heckewelder into the other room, where Young lay in the same position as when first brought in. Heckewelder stood gazing down into the wan face with its terribly significant smile.
"I brought him out here. I persuaded him to come!" whispered Heckewelder. "Oh, Almighty God!" he cried. His voice broke, and his prayer ended with the mute eloquence of clasped hands and uplifted, appealing face.
"Come out," said Zeisberger, leading him into the larger room. The others followed, and Jim closed the door.
"What's to be done?" said Zeisberger, with his practical common sense. "What did Williamson say? Tell us what you learned?"
"Wait--directly," answered Heckewelder, sitting down and covering his face with his hands. There was a long silence. At length he raised his white face and spoke calmly:
"Gentlemen, the Village of Peace is doomed. I entreated Captain Williamson to help us, but he refused. Said he dared not interfere. I prayed that he would speak at least a word to Girty, but he denied my request."
"Where are the converts?"
"Imprisoned in the church, every one of them except Benny. Mr. Christy and I hid the child in the meal sack and were thus able to get him here. We must save him."
"Save him?" asked Nell, looking from Heckewelder to the trembling Indian boy.
"Nellie, the savages have driven all our Christians into the church, and shut them up there, until Girty and his men shall give the word to complete their fiendish design. The converts asked but one favor--an hour in which to pray. It was granted. The savages intend to murder them all."
"Oh! Horrible! Monstrous!" cried Nell. "How can they be so inhuman?" She lifted Benny up in her arms. "They'll never get you, my boy. We'll save you--I'll save you!" The child moaned and clung to her neck.
"They are scouring the clearing now for Christians, and will search all the cabins. I'm positive."
"Will they come here?" asked Nell, turning her blazing eyes on Heckewelder.
"Undoubtedly. We must try to hide Benny. Let me think; where would be a good place? We'll try a dark corner of the loft."
"No, no," cried Nell.
"Put Benny in Young's bed," suggested Jim.
"No, no," cried Nell.
"Put him in a bucket and let him down in the well," whispered Edwards, who had listened intently to the conversation.
"That's a capital place," said Heckewelder. "But might he not fall out and drown?"
"Tie him in the bucket," said Jim.
"No, no, no," cried Nell.
"But Nellie, we must decide upon a hiding place, and in a hurry."
"I'll save Benny."
"You? Will you stay here to face those men? Jim Girty and Deering are searching the cabins. Could you bear it to see them? You couldn't."
"Oh! No, I believe it would kill me! That man! that beast! will he come here?" Nell grew ghastly pale, and looked as if about to faint. She shrunk in horror at the thought of again facing Girty. "For God's sake, Heckewelder, don't let him see me! Don't let him come in! Don't!"
Even as the imploring voice ceased a heavy thump sounded on the door.
"Who's there?" demanded Heckewelder.
The heavy blows shook the cabin. The pans rattled on the shelves. No answer came from without.
"Quick! Hide Benny! It's as much as our lives are worth to have him found here," cried Heckewelder in a fierce whisper, as he darted toward the door.
"All right, all right, in a moment," he called out, fumbling over the bar.
He opened the door a moment later and when Jim Girty and Deering entered he turned to his friends with a dread uncertainty in his haggard face.
Edwards lay on the bed with wide-open eyes staring at the intruders. Mr. Wells sat with bowed head. Zeisberger calmly whittled a stick, and Jim stood bolt upright, with a hard light in his eyes.
Nell leaned against the side of a heavy table. Wonderful was the change that had transformed her from a timid, appealing, fear-agonized girl to a woman whose only evidence of unusual excitement were the flame in her eyes and the peculiar whiteness of her face.
Benny was gone!
Heckewelder's glance returned to the visitors. He thought he had never seen such brutal, hideous men.
"Wal, I reckon a preacher ain't agoin' to lie. Hev you seen any Injun Christians round here?" asked Girty, waving a heavy sledge-hammer.
"Girty, we have hidden no Indians here," answered Heckewelder, calmly.
"Wal, we'll hev a look, anyway," answered the renegade.
Girty surveyed the room with wolfish eyes. Deering was so drunk that he staggered. Both men, in fact, reeked with the vile fumes of rum. Without another word they proceeded to examine the room, by looking into every box, behind a stone oven, and in the cupboard. They drew the bedclothes from the bed, and with a kick demolished a pile of stove wood. Then the ruffians passed into the other apartments, where they could be heard making thorough search. At length both returned to the large room, when Girty directed Deering to climb a ladder leading to the loft, but because Deering was too much under the influence of liquor to do so, he had to go himself. He rummaged around up there for a few minutes, and then came down.
"Wal, I reckon you wasn't lyin' about it," said Girty, with his ghastly leer.
He and his companion started to go out. Deering had stood with bloodshot eyes fixed on Nell while Girty searched the loft, and as they passed the girl on their way to the open air, the renegade looked at Girty as he motioned with his head toward her. His besotted face expressed some terrible meaning.
Girty had looked at Nell when he first entered, but had not glanced twice at her. As he turned now, before going out of the door, he fixed on her his baleful glance. His aspect was more full of meaning than could have been any words. A horrible power, of which he was boastfully conscious, shone from his little, pointed eyes. His mere presence was deadly. Plainly as if he had spoken was the significance of his long gaze. Any one could have translated that look.
Once before Nell had faced it, and fainted when its dread meaning grew clear to her. But now she returned his gaze with one in which flashed lightning scorn, and repulsion, in which glowed a wonderful defiance.
The cruel face of this man, the boastful barbarity of his manner, the long, dark, bloody history which his presence recalled, was, indeed, terrifying without the added horror of his intent toward her, but not the self-forgetfulness of a true woman sustained her.
Girty and Deering backed out of the door. Heckewelder closed it, and dropped the bar in place.
Nell fell over the table with a long, low gasp. Then with one hand she lifted her skirt. Benny walked from under it. His big eyes were bright. The young woman clasped him again in her arms. Then she released him, and, laboring under intense excitement, ran to the window.
"There he goes! Oh, the horrible beast! If I only had a gun and could shoot! Oh, if only I were a man! I'd kill him. To think of poor Kate! Ah! he intends the same for me!"
Suddenly she fell upon the floor in a faint. Mr. Wells and Jim lifted her on the bed beside Edwards, where they endeavored to revive her. It was some moments before she opened her eyes.
Jim sat holding Nell's hand. Mr. Wells again bowed his head. Zeisberger continued to whittle a stick, and Heckewelder paced the floor. Christy stood by with every evidence of sympathy for this distracted group. Outside the clamor increased.
"Just listen!" cried Heckewelder. "Did you ever hear the like? All drunk, crazy, fiendish! They drank every drop of liquor the French traders had. Curses on the vagabond dealers! Rum has made these renegades and savages wild. Oh! my poor, innocent Christians!"
Heckewelder leaned his head against the mantle-shelf. He had broken down at last. Racking sobs shook his frame.
"Are you all right again?" asked Jim of Nell.
"I am going out, first to see Williamson, and then the Christians," he said, rising very pale, but calm.
"Don't go!" cried Heckewelder. "I have tried everything. It was all of no use."
"I will go," answered Jim.
"Yes, Jim, go," whispered Nell, looking up into his eyes. It was an earnest gaze in which a faint hope shone.
Jim unbarred the door and went out.
"Wait, I'll go along," cried Zeisberger, suddenly dropping his knife and stick.
As the two men went out a fearful spectacle met their eyes. The clearing was alive with Indians. But such Indians! They were painted demons, maddened by rum. Yesterday they had been silent; if they moved at all it had been with deliberation and dignity. To-day they were a yelling, running, blood-seeking mob.
"Awful! Did you ever see human beings like these?" asked Zeisberger.
"I saw such a frenzy once before, but, of course, only in a small band of savages. Many times have I seen Indians preparing for the war-path, in search of both white men and redskins. They were fierce then, but nothing like this. Every one of these frenzied fiends is honest. Think of that! Every man feels it his duty to murder these Christians. Girty has led up to this by cunning, and now the time is come to let them loose."
"It means death for all."
"I have given up any thought of escaping," said Zeisberger, with the calmness that had characterized his manner since he returned to the village. "I shall try to get into the church."
"I'll join you there as soon as I see Williamson."
Jim walked rapidly across the clearing to the cabin where Captain Williamson had quarters. The frontiersmen stood in groups, watching the savages with an interest which showed little or no concern.
"I want to see Captain Williamson," said Jim to a frontiersman on guard at the cabin door.
"Wal, he's inside," drawled the man.
Jim thought the voice familiar, and he turned sharply to see the sun-burnt features of Jeff Lynn, the old riverman who had taken Mr. Wells' party to Fort Henry.
"Why, Lynn! I'm glad to see you," exclaimed Jim.
"Purty fair to middlin'," answered Jeff, extending his big hand. "Say, how's the other one, your brother as wus called Joe?"
"I don't know. He ran off with Wetzel, was captured by Indians, and when I last heard of him he had married Wingenund's daughter."
"Wal, I'll be dog-goned!" Jeff shook his grizzled head and slapped his leg. "I jest knowed he'd raise somethin'."
"I'm in a hurry. Do you think Captain Williamson will stand still and let all this go on?"
"I'm afeerd so.'
Evidently the captain heard the conversation, for he appeared at the cabin door, smoking a long pipe.
"Captain Williamson, I have come to entreat you to save the Christians from this impending massacre."
"I can't do nuthin'," answered Williamson, removing his pipe to puff forth a great cloud of smoke.
"You have eighty men here!"
"If we interfered Pipe would eat us alive in three minutes. You preacher fellows don't understand this thing. You've got Pipe and Girty to deal with. If you don't know them, you'll be better acquainted by sundown."
"I don't care who they are. Drunken ruffians and savages! That's enough. Will you help us? We are men of your own race, and we come to you for help. Can you withhold it?"
"I won't hev nuthin' to do with this bizness. The chiefs hev condemned the village, an' it'll hev to go. If you fellars hed been careful, no white blood would hev been spilled. I advise you all to lay low till it's over."
"Will you let me speak to your men, to try and get them to follow me?"
"Heckewelder asked that same thing. He was persistent, and I took a vote fer him just to show how my men stood. Eighteen of them said they'd follow him; the rest wouldn't interfere."
"Eighteen! My God!" cried Jim, voicing the passion which consumed him. "You are white men, yet you will stand by and see these innocent people murdered! Man, where's your humanity? Your manhood? These converted Indians are savages no longer, they are Christians. Their children are as good, pure, innocent as your own. Can you remain idle and see these little ones murdered?"
Williamson made no answer, the men who had crowded round were equally silent. Not one lowered his head. many looked at the impassioned missionary; others gazed at the savages who were circling around the trees brandishing their weapons. If any pitied the unfortunate Christians, none showed it. They were indifferent, with the indifference of men hardened to cruel scenes.
Jim understood, at last, as he turned from face to face to find everywhere that same imperturbability. These bordermen were like Wetzel and Jonathan Zane. The only good Indian was a dead Indian. Years of war and bloodshed, of merciless cruelty at the hands of redmen, of the hard, border life had rendered these frontiersmen incapable of compassion for any savage.
Jim no longer restrained himself.
"Bordermen you may be, but from my standpoint, from any man's, from God's, you are a lot of coldly indifferent cowards!" exclaimed Jim, with white, quivering lips. "I understand now. Few of you will risk anything for Indians. You will not believe a savage can be a Christian. You don't care if they are all murdered. Any man among you--any man, I say--would step out before those howling fiends and boldly demand that there be no bloodshed. A courageous leader with a band of determined followers could avert this tragedy. You might readily intimidate yonder horde of drunken demons. Captain Williamson, I am only a minister, far removed from a man of war and leader, as you claim to be, but, sir, I curse you as a miserable coward. If I ever get back to civilization I'll brand this inhuman coldness of yours, as the most infamous and dastardly cowardice that ever disgraced a white man. You are worse than Girty!"
Williamson turned a sickly yellow; he fumbled a second with the handle of his tomahawk, but made no answer. The other bordermen maintained the same careless composure. What to them was the raving of a mad preacher?
Jim saw it and turned baffled, fiercely angry, and hopeless. As he walked away Jeff Lynn took his arm, and after they were clear of the crowd of frontiersmen he said:
"Young feller, you give him pepper, an' no mistake. An' mebbe you're right from your side the fence. But you can't see the Injuns from our side. We hunters hevn't much humanity--I reckon that's what you called it--but we've lost so many friends an' relatives, an' hearn of so many murders by the reddys that we look on all of 'em as wild varmints that should be killed on sight. Now, mebbe it'll interest you to know I was the feller who took the vote Williamson told you about, an' I did it 'cause I had an interest in you. I wus watchin' you when Edwards and the other missionary got shot. I like grit in a man, an' I seen you had it clear through. So when Heckewelder comes over I talked to the fellers, an' all I could git interested was eighteen, but they wanted to fight simply fer fightin' sake. Now, ole Jeff Lynn is your friend. You just lay low until this is over."
Jim thanked the old riverman and left him. He hardly knew which way to turn. He would make one more effort. He crossed the clearing to where the renegades' teepee stood. McKee and Elliott were sitting on a log. Simon Girty stood beside them, his hard, keen, roving eyes on the scene. The missionary was impressed by the white leader. There was a difference in his aspect, a wilder look than the others wore, as if the man had suddenly awakened to the fury of his Indians. Nevertheless the young man went straight toward him.
"Girty, I come---"
"Git out! You meddlin' preacher!" yelled the renegade, shaking his fist at Jim.
Simon Girty was drunk.
Jim turned from the white fiends. He knew his life to them was not worth a pinch of powder.
"Lost! Lost! All lost!" he exclaimed in despair.
As he went toward the church he saw hundreds of savages bounding over the grass, brandishing weapons and whooping fiendishly. They were concentrating around Girty's teepee, where already a great throng had congregated. Of all the Indians to be seen not one walked. They leaped by Jim, and ran over the grass nimble as deer.
He saw the eager, fire in their dusky eyes, and the cruelly clenched teeth like those of wolves when they snarl. He felt the hissing breath of many savages as they raced by him. More than one whirled a tomahawk close to Jim's head, and uttered horrible yells in his ear. They were like tigers lusting for blood.
Jim hurried to the church. Not an Indian was visible near the log structure. Even the savage guards had gone. He entered the open door to be instantly struck with reverence and awe.
The Christians were singing.
Miserable and full of sickening dread though Jim was, he could not but realize that the scene before him was one of extraordinary beauty and pathos. The doomed Indians lifted up their voices in song. Never had they sung so feelingly, so harmoniously.
When the song ended Zeisberger, who stood upon a platform, opened his Bible and read:
"In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment, but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord, thy Redeemer."
In a voice low and tremulous the venerable missionary began his sermon.
The shadow of death hovered over these Christian martyrs; it was reflected in their somber eyes, yet not one was sullen or sad. The children who were too young to understand, but instinctively feeling the tragedy soon to be enacted there, cowered close to their mothers.
Zeisberger preached a touching and impressive, though short, sermon. At its conclusion the whole congregation rose and surrounded the missionary. The men shook his hands, the women kissed them, the children clung to his legs. It was a wonderful manifestation of affection.
Suddenly Glickhican, the old Delaware chief, stepped on the platform, raised his hand and shouted one Indian word.
A long, low wail went up from the children and youths; the women slowly, meekly bowed their heads. The men, due to the stoicism of their nature and the Christianity they had learned, stood proudly erect awaiting the death that had been decreed.
Glickhican pulled the bell rope.
A deep, mellow tone pealed out.
The sound transfixed all the Christians. No one moved.
Glickhican had given the signal which told the murderers the Christians were ready.
"Come, man, my God! We can't stay here!" cried Jim to Zeisberger.
As they went out both men turned to look their last on the martyrs. The death knell which had rung in the ears of the Christians, was to them the voice of God. Stern, dark visages of men and the sweet, submissive faces of women were uplifted with rapt attention. A light seemed to shine from these faces as if the contemplation of God had illumined them.
As Zeisberger and Jim left the church and hurried toward the cabins, they saw the crowd of savages in a black mass round Girty's teepee. The yelling and leaping had ceased.
Heckewelder opened the door. Evidently he had watched for them.
"Jim! Jim!" cried Nell, when he entered the cabin. "Oh-h! I was afraid. Oh! I am glad you're back safe. See, this noble Indian has come to help us."
Wingenund stood calm and erect by the door.
"Chief, what will you do?"
"Wingenund will show you the way to the big river," answered the chieftain, in his deep bass.
"Run away? No, never! That would be cowardly. Heckewelder, you would not go? Nor you, Zeisberger? We may yet be of use, we may yet save some of the Christians."
"Save the yellow-hair," sternly said Wingenund.
"Oh, Jim, you don't understand. The chief has come to warn me of Girty. He intends to take me as he has others, as he did poor Kate. did you not see the meaning in his eyes to-day? How they scorched me! Ho! Jim, take me away! Save me! Do not leave me here to that horrible fate? Oh! Jim, take me away!"
"Nell, I will take you," cried Jim, grasping her hands.
"Hurry! There's a blanket full of things I packed for you," said Heckewelder. "Lose no time. Ah! hear that! My Heavens! what a yell!" Heckewelder rushed to the door and looked out. "There they go, a black mob of imps; a pack of hungry wolves! Jim Girty is in the lead. How he leaps! How he waves his sledge! He leads the savages toward the church. Oh! it's the end!"
"Benny? Where's Benny?" cried Jim, hurriedly lacing the hunting coat he had flung about him.
"Benny's safe. I've hidden him. I'll get him away from here," answered young Christy. "Go! Now's your time. Godspeed you!"
"I'm ready," declared Mr. Wells. "I--have--finished!"
"There goes Wingenund! He's running. Follow him, quick! Good-by! Good-by! God be with you!" cried Heckewelder.
Jim hurried Nell toward the bushes where Wingenund's tall form could dimly be seen. Mr. Wells followed them. On the edge of the clearing Jim and Nell turned to look back.
They saw a black mass of yelling, struggling, fighting savages crowding around the church.
"Oh! Jim, look back! Look back!" cried Nell, holding hard to his hand. "Look back! See if Girty is coming!"