The Spirit of the Border by Zane Grey
It was late afternoon at Fort Henry. The ruddy sun had already sunk behind the wooded hill, and the long shadows of the trees lengthened on the green square in front of the fort.
Colonel Zane stood in his doorway watching the river with eager eyes. A few minutes before a man had appeared on the bank of the island and hailed. The colonel had sent his brother Jonathan to learn what was wanted. The latter had already reached the other shore in his flatboat, and presently the little boat put out again with the stranger seated at the stern.
"I thought, perhaps, it might be Wetzel," mused the colonel, "though I never knew of Lew's wanting a boat."
Jonathan brought the man across the river, and up the winding path to where Colonel Zane was waiting.
"Hello! It's young Christy!" exclaimed the colonel, jumping off the steps, and cordially extending his hand. "Glad to see you! Where's Williamson. How did you happen over here?"
"Captain Williamson and his men will make the river eight or ten miles above," answered Christy. "I came across to inquire about the young people who left the Village of Peace. Was glad to learn from Jonathan they got out all right."
"Yes, indeed, we're all glad. Come and sit down. Of course you'll stay over night. You look tired and worn. Well, no wonder, when you saw that Moravian massacre. You must tell me about it. I saw Sam Brady yesterday, and he spoke of seeing you over there. Sam told me a good deal. Ah! here's Jim now."
The young missionary came out of the open door, and the two young men greeted each other warmly.
"How is she?" asked Christy, when the first greetings had been exchanged.
"Nell's just beginning to get over the shock. She'll be glad to see you."
"Jonathan tells me you got married just before Girty came up with you at Beautiful Spring."
"Yes; it is true. In fact, the whole wonderful story is true, yet I cannot believe as yet. You look thin and haggard. When we last met you were well."
"That awful time pulled me down. I was an unwilling spectator of all that horrible massacre, and shall never get over it. I can still see the fiendish savages running about with the reeking scalps of their own people. I actually counted the bodies of forty-nine grown Christians and twenty-seven children. An hour after you left us the church was in ashes, and the next day I saw the burned bodies. Oh! the sickening horror of the scene! It haunts me! That monster Jim Girty killed fourteen Christians with his sledge-hammer."
"Did you hear of his death?" asked Colonel Zane.
"Yes, and a fitting end it was to the frontier 'Skull and Cross-bones'."
"It was like Wetzel to think of such a vengeance."
"Has Wetzel come in since?"
"No. Jonathan says he went after Wingenund, and there's no telling when he'll return."
"I hoped he would spare the Delaware."
"Wetzel spare an Indian!"
"But the chief was a friend. He surely saved the girl."
"I am sorry, too, because Wingenund was a fine Indian. But Wetzel is implacable."
"Here's Nell, and Mrs. Clarke too. Come out, both of you," cried Jim.
Nell appeared in the doorway with Colonel Zane's sister. The two girls came down the steps and greeted the young man. The bride's sweet face was white and thin, and there was a shadow in her eyes.
"I am so glad you got safely away from--from there," said Christy, earnestly.
"Tell me of Benny?" asked Nell, speaking softly.
"Oh, yes, I forgot. Why, Benny is safe and well. He was the only Christian Indian to escape the Christian massacre. Heckewelder hid him until it was all over. He is going to have the lad educated."
"Thank Heaven!" murmured Nell.
"And the missionaries?" inquired Jim, earnestly.
"Were all well when I left, except, of course, Young. He was dying. The others will remain out there, and try to get another hold, but I fear it's impossible."
"It is impossible, not because the Indian does not want Christianity, but because such white men as the Girty's rule. The beautiful Village of Peace owes its ruin to the renegades," said Colonel Zane impressively.
"Captain Williamson could have prevented the massacre," remarked Jim.
"Possibly. It was a bad place for him, and I think he was wrong not to try," declared the colonel.
"Hullo!" cried Jonathan Zane, getting up from the steps where he sat listening to the conversation.
A familiar soft-moccasined footfall sounded on the path. All turned to see Wetzel come slowly toward them. His buckskin hunting costume was ragged and worn. He looked tired and weary, but the dark eyes were calm.
It was the Wetzel whom they all loved.
They greeted him warmly. Nell gave him her hands, and smiled up at him.
"I'm so glad you've come home safe," she said.
"Safe an' sound, lass, an' glad to find you well," answered the hunter, as he leaned on his long rifle, looking from Nell to Colonel Zane's sister. "Betty, I allus gave you first place among border lasses, but here's one as could run you most any kind of a race," he said, with the rare smile which so warmly lighted his dark, stern face.
"Lew Wetzel making compliments! Well, of all things!" exclaimed the colonel's sister.
Jonathan Zane stood closely scanning Wetzel's features. Colonel Zane, observing his brother's close scrutiny of the hunter, guessed the cause, and said:
"Lew, tell us, did you see Wingenund over the sights of your rifle?"
"Yes," answered the hunter simply.
A chill seemed to strike the hearts of the listeners. That simple answer, coming from Wetzel, meant so much. Nell bowed her head sadly. Jim turned away biting his lip. Christy looked across the valley. Colonel Zane bent over and picked up some pebbles which he threw hard at the cabin wall. Jonathan Zane abruptly left the group, and went into the house.
But the colonel's sister fixed her large, black eyes on Wetzel's face.
"Well?" she asked, and her voice rang.
Wetzel was silent for a moment. He met here eyes with that old, inscrutable smile in his own. A slight shade flitted across his face.
"Betty, I missed him," he said, calmly, and, shouldering his long rifle, he strode away.
Nell and Jim walked along the bluff above the river. Twilight was deepening. The red glow in the west was slowly darkening behind the boldly defined hills.
"So it's all settled, Jim, that we stay here," said Nell.
"Yes, dear. Colonel Zane has offered me work, and a church besides. We are very fortunate, and should be contented. I am happy because you're my wife, and yet I am sad when I think of--him. Poor Joe!"
"Don't you ever think we--we wronged him?" whispered Nell.
"No, he wished it. I think he knew how he would end. No, we did not wrong him; we loved him."
"Yes, I loved him--I loved you both," said Nell softly.
"Then let us always think of him as he would have wished."
"Think of him? Think of Joe? I shall never forget. In winter, spring and summer I shall remember him, but always most in autumn. For I shall see that beautiful glade with its gorgeous color and the dark, shaded spring where he lies asleep."
The years rolled by with their changing seasons; every autumn the golden flowers bloomed richly, and the colored leaves fell softly upon the amber moss in the glade of Beautiful Spring.
The Indians camped there no more; they shunned the glade and called it the Haunted Spring. They said the spirit of a white dog ran there at night, and the Wind-of-Death mourned over the lonely spot.
At long intervals an Indian chief of lofty frame and dark, powerful face stalked into the glade to stand for many moments silent and motionless.
And sometimes at twilight when the red glow of the sun had faded to gray, a stalwart hunter slipped like a shadow out of the thicket, and leaned upon a long, black rifle while he gazed sadly into the dark spring, and listened to the sad murmur of the waterfall. The twilight deepened while he stood motionless. The leaves fell into the water with a soft splash, a whippoorwill caroled his melancholy song.
From the gloom of the forest came a low sigh which swelled thrillingly upon the quiet air, and then died away like the wailing of the night wind.
Quiet reigned once more over the dark, murky grave of the boy who gave his love and his life to the wilderness.