Girty tried to strike the buzzard as he sailed close by, but his arm fell useless. He tried to scream, but his voice failed.
Slowly the buzzard king sailed by and returned. Every time he swooped a little nearer, and bent his long, scraggy neck.
Suddenly he swooped down, light and swift as a hawk; his wide wings fanned the air; he poised under the tree, and then fastened sharp talons in the doomed man’s breast.
The fleeting human instinct of Wetzel had given way to the habit of years. His merciless quest for many days had been to kill the frontier fiend. Now that it had been accomplished, he turned his vengeance into its accustomed channel, and once more became the ruthless Indian-slayer.
A fierce, tingling joy surged through him as he struck the Delaware’s trail. Wingenund had made little or no effort to conceal his tracks; he had gone northwest, straight as a crow flies, toward the Indian encampment. He had a start of sixty minutes, and it would require six hours of rapid traveling to gain the Delaware town.
“Reckon he’ll make fer home,” muttered Wetzel, following the trail with all possible speed.
The hunter’s method of trailing an Indian was singular. Intuition played as great a part as sight. He seemed always to divine his victim’s intention. Once on the trail he was as hard to shake off as a bloodhound. Yet he did not, by any means, always stick to the Indian’s footsteps. With Wetzel the direction was of the greatest importance.
For half a mile he closely followed the Delaware’s plainly marked trail. Then he stopped to take a quick survey of the forest before him. He abruptly left the trail, and, breaking into a run, went through the woods as fleetly and noiselessly as a deer, running for a quarter of a mile, when he stopped to listen. All seemed well, for he lowered his head, and walked slowly along, examining the moss and leaves. Presently he came upon a little open space where the soil was a sandy loam. He bent over, then rose quickly. He had come upon the Indian’s trail. Cautiously he moved forward, stopping every moment to listen. In all the close pursuits of his maturer years he had never been a victim of that most cunning of Indian tricks, an ambush. He relied solely on his ear to learn if foes were close by. The wild creatures of the forest were his informants. As soon as he heard any change in their twittering, humming or playing—whichever way they manifested their joy or fear of life—he became as hard to see, as difficult to hear as a creeping snake.