The Spirit of the Border
The sight which Joe had seen horrified him, for several moments, into helpless inaction.
He lay breathing heavily, impotent, in an awful rage. As he remained there stunned by the
shock, he gazed up through the open space in the leaves, trying to still his fury, to realize
the situation, to make no hasty move. The soft blue of the sky, the fleecy clouds drifting
eastward, the fluttering leaves and the twittering birds--all assured him he was wide
awake. He had found Girty's den where so many white women had been hidden, to see
friends and home no more. He had seen the renegade sleeping, calmly sleeping like any
other man. How could the wretch sleep! He had seen Kate. It had been the sight of her
that had paralyzed him. To make a certainty of his fears, he again raised himself to peep
into the hole. As he did so a faint cry came from within.
Girty lay on a buffalo robe near a barred door. Beyond him sat Kate, huddled in one
corner of the cabin. A long buckskin thong was knotted round her waist, and tied to a log.
Her hair was matted and tangled, and on her face and arms were many discolored bruises.
Worse still, in her plaintive moaning, in the meaningless movement of her head, in her
vacant expression, was proof that her mind had gone. She was mad. Even as an agonizing
pity came over Joe, to be followed by the surging fire of rage, blazing up in his breast, he
could not but thank God that she was mad! It was merciful that Kate was no longer
conscious of her suffering.
Like leaves in a storm wavered Joe's hands as he clenched them until the nails brought
blood. "Be calm, be cool," whispered his monitor, Wetzel, ever with him in spirit. But
God! Could he be cool? Bounding with lion-spring he hurled his heavy frame against the
Crash! The door was burst from its fastenings.
Girty leaped up with startled yell, drawing his knife as he rose. It had not time to descend
before Joe's second spring, more fierce even than the other, carried him directly on top of
the renegade. As the two went down Joe caught the villain's wrist with a grip that literally
cracked the bones. The knife fell and rolled away from the struggling men. For an instant
they tumbled about on the floor, clasped in a crushing embrace. The renegade was strong,
supple, slippery as an eel. Twice he wriggled from his foe. Gnashing his teeth, he fought
like a hyena. He was fighting for life--life, which is never so dear as to a coward and a
murderer. Doom glared from Joe's big eyes, and scream after scream issued from the
renegade's white lips.
Terrible was this struggle, but brief. Joe seemingly had the strength of ten men. Twice he
pulled Girty down as a wolf drags a deer. He dashed him against the wall, throwing him
nearing and nearer the knife. Once within reach of the blade Joe struck the renegade a
severe blow on the temple and the villain's wrestling became weaker. Planting his heavy
knee on Girty's breast, Joe reached for the knife, and swung it high. Exultantly he cried,
mad with lust for the brute's blood.