The Spirit of the Border by Zane Grey
Joe lounged in the doorway of the cabin, thoughtfully contemplating two quiet figures that were lying in the shade of a maple tree. One he recognized as the Indian with whom Jim had spent an earnest hour that morning; the red son of the woods was wrapped in slumber. He had placed under his head a many-hued homespun shirt which the young preacher had given him; but while asleep his head had rolled off this improvised pillow, and the bright garment lay free, attracting the eye. Certainly it had led to the train of thought which had found lodgment in Joe's fertile brain.
The other sleeper was a short, stout man whom Joe had seen several times before. This last fellow did not appear to be well-balanced in his mind, and was the butt of the settlers' jokes, while the children called him "Loorey." He, like the Indian, was sleeping off the effects of the previous night's dissipation.
During a few moments Joe regarded the recumbent figures with an expression on his face which told that he thought in them were great possibilities for sport. With one quick glance around he disappeared within the cabin, and when he showed himself at the door, surveying the village square with mirthful eyes, he held in his hand a small basket of Indian design. It was made of twisted grass, and simply contained several bits of soft, chalky stone such as the Indians used for painting, which collection Joe had discovered among the fur-trader's wares.
He glanced around once more, and saw that all those in sight were busy with their work. He gave the short man a push, and chuckled when there was no response other than a lazy grunt. Joe took the Indians' gaudy shirt, and, lifting Loorey, slipped it around him, shoved the latter's arms through the sleeves, and buttoned it in front. He streaked the round face with red and white paint, and then, dexterously extracting the eagle plume from the Indian's head-dress, stuck it in Loorey's thick shock of hair. It was all done in a moment, after which Joe replaced the basket, and went down to the river.
Several times that morning he had visited the rude wharf where Jeff Lynn, the grizzled old frontiersman, busied himself with preparations for the raft-journey down the Ohio. Lynn had been employed to guide the missionary's party to Fort Henry, and, as the brothers had acquainted him with their intention of accompanying the travelers, he had constructed a raft for them and their horses.
Joe laughed when he saw the dozen two-foot logs fastened together, upon which a rude shack had been erected for shelter. This slight protection from sun and storm was all the brothers would have on their long journey.
Joe noted, however, that the larger raft had been prepared with some thought for the comfort of the girls. The floor of the little hut was raised so that the waves which broke over the logs could not reach it. Taking a peep into the structure, Joe was pleased to see that Nell and Kate would be comfortable, even during a storm. A buffalo robe and two red blankets gave to the interior a cozy, warm look. He observed that some of the girls' luggage was already on board.
"When'll we be off?" he inquired.
"Sun-up," answered Lynn, briefly.
"I'm glad of that. I like to be on the go in the early morning," said Joe, cheerfully.
"Most folks from over Eastways ain't in a hurry to tackle the river," replied Lynn, eyeing Joe sharply.
"It's a beautiful river, and I'd like to sail on it from here to where it ends, and then come back to go again," Joe replied, warmly.
"In a hurry to be a-goin'? I'll allow you'll see some slim red devils, with feathers in their hair, slipping among the trees along the bank, and mebbe you'll hear the ping which's made when whistlin' lead hits. Perhaps you'll want to be back here by termorrer sundown."
"Not I," said Joe, with his short, cool laugh.
The old frontiersman slowly finished his task of coiling up a rope of wet cowhide, and then, producing a dirty pipe, he took a live ember from the fire and placed it on the bowl. He sucked slowly at the pipe-stem, and soon puffed out a great cloud of smoke. Sitting on a log, he deliberately surveyed the robust shoulders and long, heavy limbs of the young man, with a keen appreciation of their symmetry and strength. Agility, endurance and courage were more to a borderman than all else; a new-comer on the frontier was always "sized-up" with reference to these "points," and respected in proportion to the measure in which he possessed them.
Old Jeff Lynn, riverman, hunter, frontiersman, puffed slowly at his pipe while he mused thus to himself: "Mebbe I'm wrong in takin' a likin' to this youngster so sudden. Mebbe it's because I'm fond of his sunny-haired lass, an' ag'in mebbe it's because I'm gettin' old an' likes young folks better'n I onct did. Anyway, I'm kinder thinkin, if this young feller gits worked out, say fer about twenty pounds less, he'll lick a whole raft-load of wild-cats."
Joe walked to and fro on the logs, ascertained how the raft was put together, and took a pull on the long, clumsy steering-oar. At length he seated himself beside Lynn. He was eager to ask questions; to know about the rafts, the river, the forest, the Indians--everything in connection with this wild life; but already he had learned that questioning these frontiersmen is a sure means of closing their lips.
"Ever handle the long rifle?" asked Lynn, after a silence.
"Yes," answered Joe, simply.
"Ever shoot anythin'?" the frontiersman questioned, when he had taken four or five puffs at his pipe.
"Good practice, shootin' squirrels," observed Jeff, after another silence, long enough to allow Joe to talk if he was so inclined. "Kin ye hit one--say, a hundred yards?"
"Yes, but not every time in the head," returned Joe. There was an apologetic tone in his answer.
Another interval followed in which neither spoke. Jeff was slowly pursuing his line of thought. After Joe's last remark he returned his pipe to his pocket and brought out a tobacco-pouch. He tore off a large portion of the weed and thrust it into his mouth. Then he held out the little buckskin sack to Joe.
"Hev' a chaw," he said.
To offer tobacco to anyone was absolutely a borderman's guarantee of friendliness toward that person.
Jeff expectorated half a dozen times, each time coming a little nearer the stone he was aiming at, some five yards distant. Possibly this was the borderman's way of oiling up his conversational machinery. At all events, he commenced to talk.
"Yer brother's goin' to preach out here, ain't he? Preachin' is all right, I'll allow; but I'm kinder doubtful about preachin' to redskins. Howsumever, I've knowed Injuns who are good fellows, and there's no tellin'. What are ye goin' in fer--farmin'?"
"No, I wouldn't make a good farmer."
"Jest cum out kinder wild like, eh?" rejoined Jeff, knowingly.
"I wanted to come West because I was tired of tame life. I love the forest; I want to fish and hunt; and I think I'd like to--to see Indians."
"I kinder thought so," said the old frontiersman, nodding his head as though he perfectly understood Joe's case. "Well, lad, where you're goin' seein' Injuns ain't a matter of choice. You has to see 'em, and fight 'em, too. We've had bad times for years out here on the border, and I'm thinkin' wuss is comin'. Did ye ever hear the name Girty?"
"Yes; he's a renegade."
"He's a traitor, and Jim and George Girty, his brothers, are p'isin rattlesnake Injuns. Simon Girty's bad enough; but Jim's the wust. He's now wusser'n a full-blooded Delaware. He's all the time on the lookout to capture white wimen to take to his Injun teepee. Simon Girty and his pals, McKee and Elliott, deserted from that thar fort right afore yer eyes. They're now livin' among the redskins down Fort Henry way, raisin' as much hell fer the settlers as they kin."
"Is Fort Henry near the Indian towns?" asked Joe.
"There's Delawares, Shawnees and Hurons all along the Ohio below Fort Henry."
"Where is the Moravian Mission located?"
"Why, lad, the Village of Peace, as the Injuns call it, is right in the midst of that Injun country. I 'spect it's a matter of a hundred miles below and cross-country a little from Fort Henry."
"The fort must be an important point, is it not?"
"Wal, I guess so. It's the last place on the river," answered Lynn, with a grim smile. "There's only a stockade there, an' a handful of men. The Injuns hev swarmed down on it time and ag'in, but they hev never burned it. Only such men as Colonel Zane, his brother Jack, and Wetzel could hev kept that fort standin' all these bloody years. Eb Zane's got but a few men, yet he kin handle 'em some, an' with such scouts as Jack Zane and Wetzel, he allus knows what's goin' on among the Injuns."
"I've heard of Colonel Zane. He was an officer under Lord Dunmore. The hunters here speak often of Jack Zane and Wetzel. What are they?"
"Jack Zane is a hunter an' guide. I knowed him well a few years back. He's a quiet, mild chap; but a streak of chain-lightnin' when he's riled. Wetzel is an Injun-killer. Some people say as how he's crazy over scalp-huntin'; but I reckon that's not so. I've seen him a few times. He don't hang round the settlement 'cept when the Injuns are up, an' nobody sees him much. At home he sets round silent-like, an' then mebbe next mornin' he'll be gone, an' won't show up fer days or weeks. But all the frontier knows of his deeds. Fer instance, I've hearn of settlers gettin' up in the mornin' an' findin' a couple of dead and scalped Injuns right in front of their cabins. No one knowed who killed 'em, but everybody says 'Wetzel.' He's allus warnin' the settlers when they need to flee to the fort, and sure he's right every time, because when these men go back to their cabins they find nothin' but ashes. There couldn't be any farmin' done out there but fer Wetzel."
"What does he look like?" questioned Joe, much interested.
"Wetzel stands straight as the oak over thar. He'd hev' to go sideways to git his shoulders in that door, but he's as light of foot an' fast as a deer. An' his eyes--why, lad, ye kin hardly look into 'em. If you ever see Wetzel you'll know him to onct."
"I want to see him," Joe spoke quickly, his eyes lighting with an eager flash. "He must be a great fighter."
"Is he? Lew Wetzel is the heftiest of 'em all, an' we hev some as kin fight out here. I was down the river a few years ago and joined a party to go out an' hunt up some redskins as had been reported. Wetzel was with us. We soon struck Injun sign, and then come on to a lot of the pesky varmints. We was all fer goin' home, because we had a small force. When we started to go we finds Wetzel sittin' calm-like on a log. We said: 'Ain't ye goin' home?' and he replied, 'I cum out to find redskins, an' now as we've found 'em, I'm not goin' to run away.' An' we left him settin' thar. Oh, Wetzel is a fighter!"
"I hope I shall see him," said Joe once more, the warm light, which made him look so boyish, still glowing in his face.
"Mebbe ye'll git to; and sure ye'll see redskins, an' not tame ones, nuther."
At this moment the sound of excited voices near the cabins broke in on the conversation. Joe saw several persons run toward the large cabin and disappear behind it. He smiled as he thought perhaps the commotion had been caused by the awakening of the Indian brave.
Rising to his feet, Joe went toward the cabin, and soon saw the cause of the excitement. A small crowd of men and women, all laughing and talking, surrounded the Indian brave and the little stout fellow. Joe heard some one groan, and then a deep, guttural voice:
"Paleface--big steal--ugh! Injun mad--heap mad--kill paleface."
After elbowing his way into the group, Joe saw the Indian holding Loorey with one hand, while he poked him on the ribs with the other. The captive's face was the picture of dismay; even the streaks of paint did not hide his look of fear and bewilderment. The poor half-witted fellow was so badly frightened that he could only groan.
"Silvertip scalp paleface. Ugh!" growled the savage, giving Loorey another blow on the side. This time he bent over in pain. The bystanders were divided in feeling; the men laughed, while the women murmured sympathetically.
"This's not a bit funny," muttered Joe, as he pushed his way nearly to the middle of the crowd. Then he stretched out a long arm that, bare and brawny, looked as though it might have been a blacksmith's, and grasped the Indian's sinewy wrist with a force that made him loosen his hold on Loorey instantly.
"I stole the shirt--fun--joke," said Joe. "Scalp me if you want to scalp anyone."
The Indian looked quickly at the powerful form before him. With a twist he slipped his arm from Joe's grasp.
"Big paleface heap fun--all squaw play," he said, scornfully. There was a menace in his somber eyes as he turned abruptly and left the group.
"I'm afraid you've made an enemy," said Jake Wentz to Joe. "An Indian never forgets an insult, and that's how he regarded your joke. Silvertip has been friendly here because he sells us his pelts. He's a Shawnee chief. There he goes through the willows!"
By this time Jim and Mr. Wells, Mrs. Wentz and the girls had joined the group. They all watched Silvertip get into his canoe and paddle away.
"A bad sign," said Wentz, and then, turning to Jeff Lynn, who joined the party at that moment, he briefly explained the circumstances.
"Never did like Silver. He's a crafty redskin, an' not to be trusted," replied Jeff.
"He has turned round and is looking back," Nell said quickly.
"So he has," observed the fur-trader.
The Indian was now several hundred yards down the swift river, and for an instant had ceased paddling. The sun shone brightly on his eagle plumes. He remained motionless for a moment, and even at such a distance the dark, changeless face could be discerned. He lifted his hand and shook it menacingly.
"If ye don't hear from that redskin agin Jeff Lynn don't know nothin'," calm said the old frontiersman.