The Spirit of the Border HTML version

Chapter 15.
So the days passed swiftly, dreamily, each one bringing Joe a keener delight. In a single
month he was as good a woodsman as many pioneers who had passed years on the
border, for he had the advantage of a teacher whose woodcraft was incomparable.
Besides, he was naturally quick in learning, and with all his interest centered upon forest
lore, it was no wonder he assimilated much of Wetzel's knowledge. He was ever willing
to undertake anything whereby he might learn. Often when they were miles away in the
dense forest, far from their cave, he asked Wetzel to let him try to lead the way back to
camp. And he never failed once, though many times he got off a straight course, thereby
missing the easy travelling.
Joe did wonderfully well, but he lacked, as nearly all white men do, the subtler, intuitive
forest-instinct, which makes the Indian as much at home in the woods as in his teepee.
Wetzel had this developed to a high degree. It was born in him. Years of training, years
of passionate, unrelenting search for Indians, had given him a knowledge of the wilds that
was incomprehensible to white men, and appalling to his red foes.
Joe saw how Wetzel used this ability, but what it really was baffled him. He realized that
words were not adequate to explain fully this great art. Its possession required a
marvelously keen vision, an eye perfectly familiar with every creature, tree, rock, shrub
and thing belonging in the forest; an eye so quick in flight as to detect instantly the
slightest change in nature, or anything unnatural to that environment. The hearing must
be delicate, like that of a deer, and the finer it is, the keener will be the woodsman.
Lastly, there is the feeling that prompts the old hunter to say: "No game to-day." It is
something in him that speaks when, as he sees a night-hawk circling low near the ground,
he says: "A storm to-morrow." It is what makes an Indian at home in any wilderness. The
clouds may hide the guiding star; the northing may be lost; there may be no moss on the
trees, or difference in their bark; the ridges may be flat or lost altogether, and there may
be no water-courses; yet the Indian brave always goes for his teepee, straight as a crow
flies. It was this voice which rightly bade Wetzel, when he was baffled by an Indian's
trail fading among the rocks, to cross, or circle, or advance in the direction taken by his
wily foe.
Joe had practiced trailing deer and other hoofed game, until he was true as a hound. Then
he began to perfect himself in the art of following a human being through the forest.
Except a few old Indian trails, which the rain had half obliterated, he had no tracks to
discover save Wetzel's, and these were as hard to find as the airy course of a grosbeak.
On soft ground or marshy grass, which Wetzel avoided where he could, he left a faint
trail, but on a hard surface, for all the traces he left, he might as well not have gone over
the ground at all.
Joe's persistence stood him in good stead; he hung on, and the more he failed, the harder
he tried. Often he would slip out of the cave after Wetzel had gone, and try to find which
way he had taken. In brief, the lad became a fine marksman, a good hunter, and a close,