The Spirit of the Border by Zane Grey
Joe went to bed that night with a promise to himself to rise early next morning, for he had been invited to take part in a "raising," which term meant that a new cabin was to be erected, and such task was ever an event in the lives of the settlers.
The following morning Joe rose early, dressing himself in a complete buckskin suit, for which he had exchanged his good garments of cloth. Never before had he felt so comfortable. He wanted to hop, skip and jump. The soft, undressed buckskin was as warm and smooth as silk-plush; the weight so light, the moccasins so well-fitting and springy, that he had to put himself under considerable restraint to keep from capering about like a frolicsome colt.
The possession of this buckskin outfit, and the rifle and accouterments which went with the bargain, marked the last stage in Joe's surrender to the border fever. The silent, shaded glens, the mystery of the woods, the breath of this wild, free life claimed him from this moment entirely and forever.
He met the others, however, with a serene face, showing no trace of the emotion which welled up strongly from his heart. Nell glanced shyly at him; Kate playfully voiced her admiration; Jim met him with a brotherly ridicule which bespoke his affection as well as his amusement; but Colonel Zane, having once yielded to the same burning, riotous craving for freedom which now stirred in the boy's heart, understood, and felt warmly drawn toward the lad. He said nothing, though as he watched Joe his eyes were grave and kind. In his long frontier life, where many a day measured the life and fire of ordinary years, he had seen lad after lad go down before this forest fever. It was well, he thought, because the freedom of the soil depended on these wild, light-footed boys; yet it always made him sad. How many youths, his brother among them, lay under the fragrant pine-needle carpet of the forest, in their last earthly sleep!
The "raising" brought out all the settlement--the women to look on and gossip, while the children played; the men to bend their backs in the moving of the heavy timbers. They celebrated the erection of a new cabin as a noteworthy event. As a social function it had a prominent place in the settlers' short list of pleasures.
Joe watched the proceeding with the same pleasure and surprise he had felt in everything pertaining to border life.
To him this log-raising appeared the hardest kind of labor. Yet it was plain these hardy men, these low-voiced women, and merry children regarded the work as something far more significant than the mere building of a cabin. After a while he understood the meaning of the scene. A kindred spirit, the spirit of the pioneer, drew them all into one large family. This was another cabin; another home; another advance toward the conquering of the wilderness, for which these brave men and women were giving their lives. In the bright-eyed children's glee, when they clapped their little hands at the mounting logs, Joe saw the progress, the march of civilization.
"Well, I'm sorry you're to leave us to-night," remarked Colonel Zane to Joe, as the young man came over to where he, his wife, and sister watched the work. "Jonathan said all was ready for your departure at sundown."
"Do we travel by night?"
"Indeed, yes, my lad. There are Indians everywhere on the river. I think, however, with Jack and Lew handling the paddles, you will slip by safely. The plan is to keep along the south shore all night; then cross over at a place called Girty's Point, where you are to remain in hiding during daylight. From there you paddle up Yellow Creek; then portage across country to the head of the Tuscarwawas. Another night's journey will then bring you to the Village of Peace."
Jim and Mr. Wells, with his nieces, joined the party now, and all stood watching as the last logs were put in place.
"Colonel Zane, my first log-raising is an education to me," said the young minister, in his earnest manner. "This scene is so full of life. I never saw such goodwill among laboring men. Look at that brawny-armed giant standing on the topmost log. How he whistles as he swings his ax! Mr. Wells, does it not impress you?"
"The pioneers must be brothers because of their isolation and peril; to be brothers means to love one another; to love one another is to love God. What you see in this fraternity is God. And I want to see this same beautiful feeling among the Indians."
"I have seen it," said Colonel Zane, to the old missionary. "When I came out here alone twelve years ago the Indians were peaceable. If the pioneers had paid for land, as I paid Cornplanter, there would never have been a border war. But no; the settlers must grasp every acre they could. Then the Indians rebelled; then the Girtys and their allies spread discontent, and now the border is a bloody warpath."
"Have the Jesuit missionaries accomplished anything with these war tribes?" inquired Jim.
"No; their work has been chiefly among the Indians near Detroit and northward. The Hurons, Delawares, Shawnees and other western tribes have been demoralized by the French traders' rum, and incited to fierce hatred by Girty and his renegades. Your work at Gnaddenhutten must be among these hostile tribes, and it is surely a hazardous undertaking."
"My life is God's," murmured the old minister. No fear could assail his steadfast faith.
"Jim, it strikes me you'd be more likely to impress these Indians Colonel Zane spoke of if you'd get a suit like mine and wear a knife and tomahawk," interposed Joe, cheerfully. "Then, if you couldn't convert, you could scalp them."
"Well, well, let us hope for the best," said Colonel Zane, when the laughter had subsided. "We'll go over to dinner now. Come, all of you. Jonathan, bring Wetzel. Betty, make him come, if you can."
As the party slowly wended its way toward the colonel's cabin Jim and Nell found themselves side by side. They had not exchanged a word since the evening previous, when Jim had kissed her. Unable to look at each other now, and finding speech difficult, they walked in embarrassed silence.
"Doesn't Joe look splendid in his hunting suit?" asked Jim, presently.
"I hadn't noticed. Yes; he looks well," replied Nell, carelessly. She was too indifferent to be natural.
"Are you angry with him?"
Jim was always simple and frank in his relations with women. He had none of his brother's fluency of speech, with neither confidence, boldness nor understanding of the intricate mazes of a woman's moods.
"But--you are angry with--me?" he whispered.
Nell flushed to her temples, yet she did not raise her eyes nor reply.
"It was a terrible thing for me to do," went on Jim, hesitatingly. "I don't know why I took advantage--of--of your mistaking me for Joe. If you only hadn't held up your mouth. No--I don't mean that--of course you didn't. But--well, I couldn't help it. I'm guilty. I have thought of little else. Some wonderful feeling has possessed me ever since--since---"
"What has Joe been saying about me?" demanded Nell, her eyes burning like opals.
"Why, hardly anything," answered Jim, haltingly. "I took him to task about--about what I considered might be wrong to you. Joe has never been very careful of young ladies' feelings, and I thought--well, it was none of my business. He said he honestly cared for you, that you had taught him how unworthy he was of a good woman. But he's wrong there. Joe is wild and reckless, yet his heart is a well of gold. He is a diamond in the rough. Just now he is possessed by wild notions of hunting Indians and roaming through the forests; but he'll come round all right. I wish I could tell you how much he has done for me, how much I love him, how I know him! He can be made worthy of any woman. He will outgrow this fiery, daring spirit, and then--won't you help him?"
"I will, if he will let me," softly whispered Nell, irresistibly drawn by the strong, earnest love thrilling in his voice.