Two rifle-“cracks” broke the stillness of the wilderness, that stretched in one almost unbroken line from the Alleghany and Blue Ridge peaks to the Ohio river. The reports re-echoed over the broad expanse of the Kanawha and Ohio rivers, for the shots were fired near the junction of the two streams—fired so nearly at the same time that the two seemed almost like one report.
Then, before the smoke of the rifles had curled lazily upward in spiral rings on the air, came a crash in the tangled underbrush, and forth into a little open glade—the work of Nature’s master hand—dashed a noble buck. The red stream bursting from a wound just behind the shoulder and staining crimson the glossy brown coat of the forest lord, told plainly that he was stricken unto death.
The buck gained the center of the glade, then his stride weakened; the dash through the thicket was the last despairing effort of the poor brute to escape from the invisible foes whose death-dealing balls had pierced his side.
With a moan of pain, almost human in its expression, the buck fell upon his knees, then rolled over on his side, dead.
The brute had fallen near the trunk of a large oak tree—a tree distinguished from its neighbors by a blazon upon its side, whereon, in rude characters, some solitary hunter had cut his name.
Scarcely had the death-bleat of the buck pierced the silence of the glen, when two men came dashing through the woods, each eager to be the first to secure the game.
One of the two was some twenty yards in advance of the other, and reached the body of the dead buck just as his rival emerged from the thicket.
Placing his foot upon the buck, and rifle in hand, he prepared to dispute the quarry with the second hunter, for both men—strangers to each other—had fired at the same deer.
The hunter who stood with his foot upon the buck, in an attitude of proud defiance, had reloaded his rifle as he ran and was prepared to defend his right to the game to the bitter end.
In person, the hunter was a muscular, well-built man, standing some six feet in hight. Not a clumsy, overgrown giant, hardly able to bear his own weight, but a man as supple and as active as a panther. He was clad in buck-skin hunting-shirt and leggins, made in the Indian fashion, but unlike that fashion in one respect, and that was that no gaudy ornaments decorated the garments. Upon the feet of the hunter were a pair of moccasins. A cap rudely fashioned from a piece of deer-skin, and with the little flat tail of the animal as an ornament, completed the dress of the hunter.
The face of the man was singular to look upon. The features were large and clearly cut. The cold gray eye, broad forehead, and massive, squarely-chiseled chin, told of dauntless courage and of an iron will. A terrible scar extended from the temple to the chin on the left side of the face.
The hunter was quite young—not over twenty-five, though deep lines of care were upon the face.
The second hunter, who came from the tangled thicket, but paused on the edge of the little glen on beholding the threatening attitude of the hunter who stood with his foot on the deer, was a man who had probably seen forty years. He, too, like the other, was of powerful build, and his muscular frame gave promise of great strength.