The Spirit of the Border HTML version

Chapter 14.
Not many miles from the Village of Peace rose an irregular chain of hills, the first faint
indications of the grand Appalachian Mountain system. These ridges were thickly
wooded with white oak, poplar and hickory, among which a sentinel pine reared here and
there its evergreen head. There were clefts in the hills, passes lined by gray-stoned cliffs,
below which ran clear brooks, tumbling over rocks in a hurry to meet their majestic
father, the Ohio.
One of these valleys, so narrow that the sun seldom brightened the merry brook, made a
deep cut in the rocks. The head of this valley tapered until the walls nearly met; it seemed
to lose itself in the shade of fern-faced cliffs, shadowed as they were by fir trees leaning
over the brink, as though to search for secrets of the ravine. So deep and dark and cool
was this sequestered nook that here late summer had not dislodged early spring.
Everywhere was a soft, fresh, bright green. The old gray cliffs were festooned with ferns,
lichens and moss. Under a great, shelving rock, damp and stained by the copper-colored
water dripping down its side, was a dewy dell into which the sunshine had never peeped.
Here the swift brook tarried lovingly, making a wide turn under the cliff, as though loth
to leave this quiet nook, and then leaped once more to enthusiasm in its murmuring flight.
Life abounded in this wild, beautiful, almost inaccessible spot. Little brown and yellow
birds flitted among the trees; thrushes ran along the leaf-strewn ground; orioles sang their
melancholy notes; robins and flickers darted beneath the spreading branches. Squirrels
scurried over the leaves like little whirlwinds, and leaped daringly from the swinging
branches or barked noisily from woody perches. Rabbits hopped inquisitively here and
there while nibbling at the tender shoots of sassafras and laurel.
Along this flower-skirted stream a tall young man, carrying a rifle cautiously stepped,
peering into the branches overhead. A gray flash shot along a limb of a white oak; then
the bushy tail of a squirrel flitted into a well-protected notch, from whence, no doubt, a
keen little eye watched the hunter's every movement.
The rifle was raised; then lowered. The hunter walked around the tree. Presently up in the
tree top, snug under a knotty limb, he spied a little ball of gray fur. Grasping a branch of
underbush, he shook it vigorously. The thrashing sound worried the gray squirrel, for he
slipped from his retreat and stuck his nose Over the limb. CRACK! With a scratching and
tearing of bark the squirrel loosened his hold and then fell; alighting with a thump. As the
hunter picked up his quarry a streak of sunshine glinting through the tree top brightened
his face.
The hunter was Joe.
He was satisfied now, for after stowing the squirrel in the pocket of his hunting coat he
shouldered his rifle and went back up the ravine. Presently a dull roar sounded above the
babble of the brook. It grew louder as he threaded his way carefully over the stones.