The Huge Hunter;
OR, The Steam Man of the Prairies.
EDWARD S. ELLIS
CHAPTER I. THE TERROR OF THE PRAIRIES.
CHAPTER II. 'HANDLE ME GENTLY.'
CHAPTER III. A GENIUS.
CHAPTER IV. THE TRAPPER AND THE ARTISAN.
CHAPTER V. ON THE YELLOWSTONE.
CHAPTER VI. THE MINERS.
CHAPTER VII. THE STEAM MAN ON HIS TRAVELS.
CHAPTER VIII. INDIANS.
CHAPTER IX. THE STEAM MAN AS A HUNTER.
CHAPTER X. WOLF RAVINE.
CHAPTER XI. THE STEAM MAN ON A BUFFALO HUNT.
CHAPTER XII. THE GRIZZLY BEAR.
CHAPTER XIII. AN APPALLING DANGER.
CHAPTER XIV. THE HUGE HUNTER.
CHAPTER XV. THE ATTACK IN THE RAVINE.
CHAPTER XVI. THE REPULSE.
CHAPTER XVII. HOMEWARD BOUND.
CHAPTER XVIII. THE ENCAMPMENT.
CHAPTER XIX. THE DOINGS OF A NIGHT.
CHAPTER XX. THE CONCLUDING CATASTROPHE.
CHAPTER I. THE TERROR OF THE PRAIRIES.
'HOWLY vargin! what is that?' exclaimed Mickey McSquizzle, with something like horrified amazement.
'By the Jumping Jehosiphat, naow if that don't, beat all natur'!'
'It's the divil, broke loose, wid full steam on!'
There was good cause for these exclamations upon the part of the Yankee and Irishman, as they stood on the margin of Wolf Ravine, and gazed off over the prairie. Several miles to the north, something like a gigantic man could be seen approaching, apparently at a rapid gait for a few seconds, when it slackened its speed, until it scarcely moved.
Occasionally it changed its course, so that it went nearly at right angles. At such times, its colossal proportions were brought out in full relief, looking like some Titan as it took its giant strides over the prairie.
The distance was too great to scrutinize the phenomenon closely; but they could see that a black volume of smoke issued either from its mouth or the top of its head, while it was drawing behind it a sort of carriage, in which a single man was seated, who appeared to control the movements of the extraordinary being in front of him.
No wonder that something like superstitious have filled the breasts of the two men who had ceased hunting for gold, for a few minutes, to view the singular apparition; for such a thing had scarcely been dreamed of at that day, by the most imaginative philosophers; much less had it ever entered the head of these two men on the western prairies.
'Begorrah, but it's the ould divil, hitched to his throttin 'waging, wid his ould wife howlding the reins!' exclaimed Mickey, who had scarcely removed his eyes from the singular object.
'That there critter in the wagon is a man,' said Hopkins, looking as intently in the same direction. 'It seems to me,' he added, a moment later, 'that there's somebody else a-sit-ting alongside of him, either a dog or a boy. Wal, naow, ain't that queer?'
'Begorrah! begorrah! do ye hear that? What shall we do?'
At that instant, a shriek like that of some agonized giant came home to them across the plains, and both looked around, as if about to flee in terror; but the curiosity of the Yankee restrained him. His practical eye saw that whatever it might be, it was a human contrivance, and there could be nothing supernatural about it.
Just after giving its ear-splitting screech, it turned straight toward the two men, and with the black smoke rapidly puffing from the top of its head, came tearing along at a tremendous rate.
Mickey manifested some nervousness, but he was restrained by the coolness of Ethan, who kept his position with his eye fixed keenly upon it.
Coming at such a railroad speed, it was not long in passing the intervening space. It was yet several hundred yards distant, when Ethan Hopkins gave Mickey a ringing slap upon the shoulder.
'Jerusalem! who do ye s'pose naow, that man is sitting in the carriage and holding the reins?'
'Worrah, worrah! why do you ax me, whin I'm so frightened entirely that I don't know who I am myself?'
'Git out!' replied the Irishman, but added the next moment, 'am I shlaping or dhraming? It's Baldy or his ghost.'
It certainly was no ghost, judging from the manner in which it acted; for he sat with his hat cocked on one side, a pipe in his mouth, and the two reins in his hands, just as the skillful driver controls the mettlesome horses and keeps them well in hand.
He was seated upon a large pile of wood, while near nestled a little hump-backed, bright-eyed boy, whose eyes sparkled with delight at the performance of the strange machine.
The speed of the steam man gradually slackened, until it came opposite the men, when it came to a dead halt, and the grinning 'Baldy,' as he was called, (from his having lost his scalp several years before, by the Indians), tipped his hat and said:
'Glad to see you hain't gone under yit. How'd you git along while I was gone?'
But the men were hardly able to answer any questions yet, until they had learned something more about the strange creation before them. Mickey shied away, as the timid steed does at first sight of the locomotive, observing which, the boy (at a suggestion from Baldy), gave a string in his hand a twitch, whereupon the nose of the wonderful thing threw out a jet of steam with the sharp screech of the locomotive whistle. Mickey sprung a half dozen feet backward, and would have run off at full speed down the ravine, had not Ethan Hopkins caught his arm.
'What's the matter, Mickey, naow! Hain't you ever heard anything like a locomotive whistle?'
'Worrah, worrah, now, but is that the way the crather blows its nose? It must have a beautiful voice when it shnores at night.'
Perhaps at this point a description of the singular mechanism should be given. It was about ten feet in hight, measuring to the top of the 'stove-pipe hat,' which was fashioned after the common order of felt coverings, with a broad brim, all painted a shiny black. The face was made of iron, painted a black color, with a pair of fearful eves, and a tremendous grinning mouth. A whistle-like contrivance was trade to answer for the nose. The steam chest proper and boiler, were where the chest in a human being is generally supposed to be, extending also into a large knapsack arrangement over the shoulders and back. A pair of arms, like projections, held the shafts, and the broad flat feet were covered with sharp spikes, as though he were the monarch of base-ball players. The legs were quite long, and the step was natural, except when running, at which time, the bolt uprightness in the figure showed different from a human being.
In the knapsack were the valves, by which the steam or water was examined. In front was a painted imitation of a vest, in which a door opened to receive the fuel, which, together with the water, was carried in the wagon, a pipe running along the shaft and connecting with the boiler.
The lines which the driver held controlled the course of the steam man; thus, by pulling the strap on the right, a deflection was caused which turned it in that direction, and the same acted on the other side. A small rod, which ran along the right shaft, let out or shut off the steam, as was desired, while a cord, running along the left, controlled the whistle at the nose.
The legs of this extraordinary mechanism were fully a yard apart, so as to avoid the danger of its upsetting, and at the same time, there was given more room for the play of the delicate machinery within. Long, sharp, spike-like projections adorned those toes of the immense feet, so that there was little danger of its slipping, while the length of the legs showed that, under favorable circumstances, the steam man must be capable of very great speed.
After Ethan Hopkins had some what familiarized himself with the external appearance of this piece of mechanism, he ventured upon a more critical examination.
The door being opened in front, showed a mass of glowing coals lying in the capacious abdomen of the giant; the hissing valves in the knapsack made themselves apparent, and the top of the hat or smoke-stack had a sieve-like arrangement, such as is frequently seen on the locomotive.
There were other little conveniences in the way of creating a draft, and of shutting it off when too great, which could scarcely be understood without a scrutiny of the figure itself.
The steam man was a frightful looking object, being painted of a glossy black, with a pair of white stripes down its legs, and with a face which was intended to be of a flesh color, but, which was really a fearful red.
To give the machinery an abundance of room, the steam man was exceedingly corpulent, swelling out to aldermanic proportions, which, after all, was little out of harmony with its immense hight.
The wagon dragged behind was an ordinary four-wheeled vehicle, with springs, and very strong wheels, a framework being arranged, so that when necessary it could be securely covered. To guard against the danger of upsetting it was very broad, with low wheels, which it may be safely said were made to 'hum' when the gentleman got fairly under way.
Such is a brief and Imperfect description of this wonderful steam man, as it appeared on its first visit to the Western prairies.
CHAPTER II. 'HANDLE ME GENTLY.'
WHEN Ethan Hopkins had surveyed the steam man fully, he drew a long sigh and exclaimed:
'Wal, naow, that's too had!'
'What's that?' inquired Bicknell, who had been not a little amused at his open-mouthed amazement.
'Do you know I've been thinking of that thing for ten years, ever since I went through Colt's pistol factory in Hartford, when I was a youngster?'
'Did you ever think of any plan!'
'I never got it quite right, but I intended to do it after we got through digging for gold. The thing was just taking shape in my head. See here, naow, ain't you going to give a fellow a ride?'
'Jis' what I wanted; shall I run it for you?'
'No, I see how it works; them 'ere thingumbobs and gimcracks do it all.'
'Johnny, hyar, will tell yer 'bout it.'
The little humpback sprung nimbly down, and ran around the man, explaining as well as he could in a few moments the manner of controlling its movements. The Yankee felt some sensitiveness in being instructed by such a tiny specimen, and springing into the wagon, exclaimed:
'Git eout! tryin' to teach yer uncle! I knowed how the thing would work before you were born!'
Perching himself on the top of the wood which was heaped up in the wagon, the enthusiastic New Englander carefully looked over the prairie to see that the way was clear, and was about to 'let on steam,' when he turned toward the Irishman.
'Come, Mickey, git up here.'
'Arrah now, but I never learnt to ride the divil when I was home in the ould country,' replied the Irishman, backing away.
But both Ethan and Baldy united in their persuasions, and finally Mickey consented, although with great trepidation. He timidly climbed upon the wagon and took his seat beside the Yankee, looking very much as a man may be supposed to look who mounts the hearse to attend his own funeral.
'When yer wants to start, jist pull that 'ere gimcrack!' said Baldy, pointing to the crook in the rod upon which his hand rested.
'Git eout, naow! do you think you're goin' to teach me that has teached school fur five year in Connecticut?'
There were some peculiarities about the steam man which made him a rather unwieldy contrivance. He had a way of starting with a jerk, unless great skill was used in letting on steam; and his stoppage was equally sudden, from the same cause.
When the Irishman and Yankee had fairly ensconced themselves on their perch, the latter looked carefully round to make sure that no one was in the way, and then he tuned the valve, which let on a full head of steam.
For a second the monster did not stir. The steam had not fairly taken 'hold' yet; then he raised one immense spiked foot and held it suspended in air.
'That's a great contrivance, ain't it?' exclaimed Ethan, contemptuously.
'Can't do nothin' more than lift his foot. Wait till you see more! he's goin' to dance and skip like a lamb, or outrun any locomotive you ever sot eyes on!'
'Bad luck to the loikes of yees, why d' yees go on?' exclaimed the irate Irishman, as he leaned forward and addressed the obdurate machine. 'Are yees tryin' to fool us, bad luck to yees?'
At this instant, the feet of the steam man began rising and falling with lightning like rapidity, the wagon being jerked forward with such sudden swiftness, that both Ethan and Mickey turned back summersets, rolling heels over head off the vehicle to the ground, while the monster went puffing over the prairie, and at a terrific rate. Baldy was about to start in pursuit of it, when Johnny, the deformed boy, restrained him.
'It won't run far; the steam is nearly out.'
'Be jibbers! but me head is caved in!' exclaimed the Irishman, rising to his feet, rubbing his head, and looking at his hand to see whether there was blood upon it.
'Jerusalem! I thought she had upset or busted her b'iler!' said the Yankee, looking around him with a bewildered air.
The two spectators were laughing furiously, and they could scarcely stand the trick which had been played upon them.
'Let your old machine go to blazes!' muttered Ethan. 'If it acts that way, I don't want nothin' to do with it.'
In the mean time the steamer had gone rattling over the prairie, until about a quarter of a mile distant, when it rapidly slackened, and as quickly halted.
'What's the matter wid it now?' asked Mickey; 'has it got the cramps and gi'n out?'
'The steam is used up!' replied the dwarf, as he hurried after it; 'we can soon start it again!'
All four made all haste toward the stationary figure; but the light frame and superior activity of little Johnny brought him to it considerably in advance of the others. Emptying a lot of wood from the wagon, he was busily engaged in throwing it into his stomach when the other two came up. His eyes sparkled, as he said:
'Jump up there, and I'll give you all a ride!'
The three clambered up and took their seats with great care, Mickey and Ethan especially clinging as if their life depended on it.
Johnny threw in the fuel until the black smoke poured in a stream from the hat. Before leaving it, he opened two smaller doors, at the knees, which allowed the superfluous cinders and ashes to fall out. The water in the boiler was then examined, and found all right. Johnny mounted in his place, and took charge.
'Now we are ready! hold fast!'
'Begorrah, if I goes I takes the wagon wid me,' replied Mickey, as he closed his teeth and hung on like death.
The engineer managed the monster with rare skill, letting on a full head of steam, and just as it made a move shutting it off, and letting it on almost immediately, and then shutting off and admitting it again, until it began moving at a moderate pace, which, however, rapidly increased until it was going fully thirty miles an hour.
Nothing could be more pleasant than this ride of a mile over the prairie. The plain was quite level, and despite the extraordinary speed attained, the wagon glided almost as smoothly as if running upon a railroad. Although the air was still, the velocity created a stiff breeze about the ears of the four seated on the top of the wood.
The hight of the steam man's head carried the smoke and cinders clear of those behind, while the wonderful machinery within, worked with a marvelous exactness, such as was a source of continued amazement to all except the little fellow who had himself constructed the extraordinary mechanism. The click of the joints as they obeyed their motive power was scarcely audible, and, when once started, there was no unevenness at all in its progress.
When the party had ridden about a half-mile, Johnny described a large circle, and finally came back to the starting, checking the progress with the same skill that he had started it. He immediately sprung down, examined the fire, and several points of the man, when finding everything right, he opened his knee-caps and let cinders and ashes drop out.
'How kin yeou dew that?' inquired Ethan Hopkins, peering over his shoulder.
'What's to hinder?'
'How kin he work his legs, if they're holler that way and let the fire down 'em?'
'They ain't hollow. Don't you see they are very large, and there is plenty of room for the leg-rods, besides leaving a place for the draft and ashes?'
'Wal, I swan, if that ain't rather queer. And you made it all out of your head naow?' asked the Yankee, looking at the diminutive inventor before him.
'No, I had to use a good deal of iron,' was the reply of the youngster, with a quizzical smile.
'You mean you got up the thing yourself?' 'Yes, sir,' was the quiet but proud reply of the boy.
'Jingo and Jerusalem! but your daddy must be fond of you!' exclaimed the enthusiastic New Englander, scanning him admiringly from head to foot.
'I haven't any father.'
'Your mother then.'
'I don't know about that.'
'Say, you, can't yer tell a feller 'bout it?'
'Not now; I haven't time.'
As the steam horse was to rest for the present, he was 'put up.' The engineer opened several cavities in his legs and breast, and different parts of his body, and examined the machinery, carefully oiling the various portions, and when he had completed, he drew a large oil skin from the wagon, which, being spread out, covered both it and the steam man himself.
CHAPTER III. A GENIUS.
HAVING PROGRESSED thus far in our story, or properly having began in the middle, it is now necessary that we should turn back to the proper starting point.
Several years since a widow woman resided in the outskirts of St. Louis, whose name was Brainerd. Her husband had been a mechanic, noted for his ingenuity, but was killed some five years before by the explosion of a steam boiler. He left behind him a son, hump-backed, dwarfed, but with an amiable disposition that made him a favorite with all with whom he came in contact.
If nature afflicts in one direction she frequently makes amends in another direction, and this dwarf, small and misshapen as he was, was gifted with a most wonderful mind. His mechanical ingenuity bordered on the marvelous. When he went to school, he was a general favorite with teachers and pupils. The former loved him for his sweetness of disposition, and his remarkable proficiency in all studies, while the latter based their affection chiefly upon the fact that he never refused to assist any of them at their tasks, while with the pocket-knife which he carried he constructed toys which were their delight. Some of these were so curious and amusing that, had they been securer by letters patent, they would have brought a competency to him and his widowed mother.
But Johnny never thought of patenting them, although the principal support of himself and mother came from one or two patents, which his father had secured upon inventions, not near the equal of his.
There seemed no limit to his inventive powers. He made a locomotive and then a steamboat, perfect in every part, even to the minutest, using nothing but his knife, hammer, and a small chisel. He constructed a clock with his jack-knife, which kept perfect time, and the articles which he made were wonderfully stared at at fairs, and in show windows, while Johnny modestly pegged away at some new idea. He became a master of the art of telegraphy without assistance from any one using merely a common school philosophy with which to acquire the alphabet. He then made a couple of batteries, ran a line from his window to a neighbor's, insulating it by means of the necks of some bottles, taught the other boy the alphabet, and thus they amused themselves sending messages back and forth.
Thus matters progressed until he was fifteen years of age, when he came home one day, and lay down on the settee by his mother, and gave a great sigh.
'What is the matter?' she inquired. 'I want to make something.'
'Why, then, don't you make it?'
'Because I don't know what it shall be; I've fixed up everything I can think of.'
'And you are like Alexander, sighing for more worlds to conquer. Is that it?'
'Not exactly, for there is plenty for one to do, if I could only find out what it is.'
'Have you ever made a balloon?' The boy laughed.
'You were asking for the cat the other day, and wondering what had become of her. I didn't tell you that the last I saw of her was through the telescope, she being about two miles up in the clouds, and going about fifty miles an hour.'
'I thought you looked as though you knew something about her,' replied the mother, trying to speak reprovingly, and yet smiling in spite of herself.
'Can't you tell me something to make?' finally asked the boy.
'Yes; there is something I have often thought of, and wonder why it was not made long ago; but you are not smart enough to do it, Johnny.'
'Maybe not; but tell me what it is.'
'It is a man that shall go by steam!' The boy lay still several minutes without speaking a word and then sprung up. 'By George! I'll do it!' And he started out of the room, and was not seen again until night. His mother felt no anxiety. She was pleased; for, when her boy was at work, he was happy, and she knew that he had enough now, to keep him engaged for months to come.
So it proved. He spent several weeks in thought, before he made the first effort toward constructing his greatest success of all. He then enlarged his workshop, and so arranged it, that he would not be in danger of being seen by any curious eyes. He wanted no disturbance while engaged upon this scheme.
From a neighboring foundry, whose proprietor took great interest in the boy, he secured all that he needed. He was allowed full liberty to make what castings he chose, and to construct whatever he wished. And so he began his work.
The great point was to obtain the peculiar motion of a man walking. This secured, the man himself could be easily made, and dressed up in any style required. Finally the boy believed that he had hit upon the true scheme.
So he plied harder than ever, scarcely pausing to take his meals. Finally he got the machine together, fired up, and with feelings somewhat akin to those, of Sir Isaac Newton, when demonstrating the truth or falsity of some of his greatest discoveries, he watched the result.
Soon the legs begin moving up and down, but never a step did they advance! The power was there, sufficient to run a saw-mill, every thing seemed to work, but the thing wouldn't go!
The boy was not ready to despair. He seated himself on the bench beside the machine, and keeping up a moderate supply of steam, throwing in bits of wood, and letting in water, when necessary, he carefully watched the movement for several hours.
Occasionally, Johnny walked slowly back and forth, and with his eyes upon the 'stately stepping,' endeavored to discover the precise nature of that which was lacking in his machine.
At length it came to him. He saw from the first that it was not merely required that the steam man should lift up its feet and put them down again, but there must be a powerful forward impulse at the same moment. This was the single remaining difficulty to be overcome. It required two weeks before Johnny Brainerd succeeded. But it all came clear and unmistakable at last, and in this simple manner:
(Ah! but we cannot be so unjust to the plodding genius as to divulge his secret. Our readers must be content to await the time when the young man sees fit to reveal it himself.)
When the rough figure was fairly in working order, the inventor removed everything from around it, so that it stood alone in the center of his shop. Then he carefully let on steam.
Before he could shut it off, the steam man walked clean through the side of his shop, and fetched up against the corner of the house, with a violence that shook it to its foundation. In considerable trepidation, the youngster dashed forward, shut off steam, and turned it round. As it was too cumbersome for him to manage in any other way, he very cautiously let on steam again, and persuaded it to walk back into the shop, passing through the same orifice through which it had emerged, and came very nigh going out on the opposite side again.
The great thing was now accomplished, and the boy devoted himself to bringing it as near perfection as possible. The principal thing to be feared was its getting out of order, since the slightest disarrangement would be sufficient to stop the progress of the man.
Johnny therefore made it of gigantic size, the body and limbs being no more than 'Shells,' used as a sort of screen to conceal the working of the engine. This was carefully painted in the manner mentioned in another place, and the machinery was made as strong and durable as it was possible for it to be. It was so constructed as to withstand the severe jolting to which it necessarily would be subjected, and finally was brought as nearly perfect as it was possible to bring a thing not possessing human intelligence.
By suspending the machine so that Its feet were clear of the floor, Johnny Brainerd ascertained that under favorable circumstances It could run very nearly sixty miles an hour. It could easily do that, and draw a car connected to it on the railroad, while on a common road it could make thirty miles, the highest rate at which he believed it possible for a wagon to be drawn upon land with any degree of safety.
It was the boy's intention to run at twenty miles an hour, while where everything was safe, he would demonstrate the power of the invention by occasionally making nearly double that.
As it was, he rightly calculated that when it came forth, it would make a great sensation throughout the entire United States.
CHAPTER IV. THE TRAPPER AND THE ARTISAN.
'HELLO, YOUNKER! what in thunder yer tryin' to make?'
Johnny Brainerd paused and looked up, not a little startled by the strange voice and the rather singular figure which stood before him. It was a hunter in half civilized costume, his pants tucked into his immense boot tops, with revolvers and rifles at his waist, and a general negligent air, which showed that he was at home in whatever part of the world he chose to wander.
He stood with his hand in his pocket, chewing his quid, and complacently viewing the operations of the boy, who was not a little surprised to understand how he obtained entrance into his shop.
'Stopped at the house to ax whar old Washoe Pete keeps his hotel,' replied the stranger, rightly surmising the query which was agitating him, 'and I cotched a glimpse of yer old machine. Thought I'd come in and see what in blazes it war. Looks to me like a man that's gwine to run by steam.'
'That's just what it is,' replied the boy, seeing there was no use in attempting to conceal the truth from the man.
'Will it do it?'
'Don't think you mean to lie, younker, but I don't believe any such stuff as that.'
'It don't make any difference to me whether you believe me or not,' was the quiet reply of the boy; 'but if you will come inside and shut the door, and let me fasten it, so that there will be no danger of our being disturbed, I will soon show you.'
These two personages, so unlike in almost every respect, had taken quite a fancy to each other. The strong, hardy, bronzed trapper, powerful in all that goes to make up the physical man, looked upon the pale, sweet-faced boy, with his misshapen body, as an affectionate father would look upon an afflicted child.
On the other hand, the brusque, outspoken manner of the hunter pleased the appreciative mind of the boy, who saw much to admire, both in his appearance and manner.
'I don't s'pose yer know me,' said the stranger, as he stepped inside and allowed the boy to secure the door behind him.
'I never saw you before.'
'I am Baldy Bicknell, though I ginerally go by the name of 'Baldy.''
'That's rather an odd name.'
'Yas; that's the reason.'
As he spoke, the stranger removed his hat and displayed his clean-shaven pate.
'Yer don't understand that, eh? That 'ere means I had my ha'r lifted ten years ago. The Sioux war the skunks that done it. After they took my top-knot off. It had grow'd on ag'in and that's why they call me Baldy.'
In the mean time the door had been closed, and all secured. The hat of the steam man emptied its smoke and steam into a section of stove-pipe, which led into the chimney, so that no suspicion of anything unusual could disturb the passers-by in the street.
'You see it won't do to let him walk here, for when I tried it first, he went straight through the side of the house; but you can tell by the way in which he moves his legs, whether he is able to walk or not.'
'That's the way we ginerally gits the p'ints of an animal,' returned Baldy, with great complaisance, as he seated himself upon a bench to watch the performance.
It required the boy but a short time to generate a sufficient quantity of steam to set the legs going at a terrific rate, varying the proceedings by letting some of the vapor through the whistle which composed the steam man's nose.
Baldy Bicknell stood for some minutes with a surprise too great to allow him to speak. Wonderful as was the mechanism, yet the boy who had constructed it was still more worthy of wonder. When the steam had given out, the hunter placed his big hand upon the head of the little fellow, and said:
'You'se a mighty smart chap, that be you. Did anybody help you make that?'
'No; I believe not.'
'What'll you take for it?'
'I never thought of selling it.'
'Wal, think of it now.'
'What do you want to do with it?
'Thar's three of us goin' out to hunt fur gold, and that's jist the thing to keep the Injins back an' scart. I've been out thar afore, and know what's the matter with the darned skunks. So, tell me how much money will buy it.'
'I would rather not sell it, said Johnny, after a few minutes' further thought.' It has taken me a great while to finish it, and I would rather not part with it, for the present, at least.'
'But, skin me, younker, I want to buy it! I'll give you a thousand dollars fur it, slap down.'
Although much less than the machine was really worth, yet it was a large offer, and the boy hesitated for a moment. But it was only for a moment, when he decidedly shook his head.
'I wish you wouldn't ask me, for I don't want to sell it, until I have had it some time. Besides, it isn't finished yet.'
'It ain't,' exclaimed Baldy, in surprise. 'Why, it works, what more do you want?'
'I've got to make a wagon to run behind it.'
'That's it, eh? I thought you war goin' to ride on its back. How much will it draw?'
'As much as four horses, and as fast as they can run.'
The hunter was half wild with excitement. The boy's delight was never equal to one-half of his.
'Skulp me ag'in, ef that don't beat all! It's jest the thing for the West; we'll walk through the Injins in the tallest kind of style, and skear 'em beautiful. How long afore you'll have it done?'
'It will take a month longer, at least.'
Baldy stood a few minutes in thought.
'See here, younker, we're on our way to the 'diggin's,' and spect to be thar all summer. Ef the red-skins git any ways troublesome, I'm comin' back arter this y'ar covey. Ef yer don't want to sell him, yer needn't. Ef I bought him, it ain't likely I'd run him long afore I'd bust his b'iler, or blow my own head off.'
'Just what I thought when you were trying to persuade me to sell it,' interrupted the boy.
'Then, if he got the cramp in any of his legs, I wouldn't know how to tie it up ag'in, and thar we'd be.'
'I am glad to see you take such a sensible view of it,' smiled Johnny.
'So, I'm goin' on West, as I said, with two fools besides myself, and we're goin' to stay thar till yer get this old thing finished; and then I'm comin' after you to take a ride out thar.'
'That would suit me very well,' replied the boy, his face lighting up with more pleasure than he had shown. 'I would be very glad to make a trip on the prairies.'
'Wal, look fur me in about six weeks.'
And with this parting, the hunter was let out the door, and disappeared, while Johnny resumed his work.
That day saw the steam man completed, so far as it was possible. He was painted up, and every improvement made that the extraordinarily keen mind of the boy could suggest. When he stood one side, and witnessed the noiseless but powerful workings of the enormous legs, he could not see that anything more could be desired.
It now remained for him to complete the wagon, and he began at once.
It would have been a much easier matter for him to have secured an ordinary carriage or wagon, and alter it to suit himself; but this was not in accordance with the genius of the boy. No contrivance could really suit him unless he made it himself. He had his own ideas, which no one else could work out to his satisfaction.
It is unnecessary to say that the vehicle was made very strong and durable.
This was the first great requisite. In some respects it resembled the ordinary express wagons, except that it was considerably smaller.
It had heavy springs, and a canvas covering, with sufficient, as we have shown in another place, to cover the man also, when necessary.
This was arranged to carry the wood, a reserve of water, and the necessary tools to repair it, when any portion of the machinery should become disarranged.
English coal could be carried to last for two days, and enough wood to keep steam going for twenty-four hours. When the reserve tank in the bottom of the wagon was also filled, the water would last nearly as long.
When these contingencies were all provided against, the six weeks mentioned by the hunter were gone, and Johnny Brainerd found himself rather longing for his presence again.
CHAPTER V. ON THE YELLOWSTONE.
BALDY BICKNELL was a hunter and trapper who, at the time we bring him to the notice of the reader, had spent something over ten years among the mountains and prairies of the West.
He was a brave, skillful hunter, who had been engaged in many desperate affrays with the red-skins, and who, in addition to the loss of the hair upon the crown of his head, bore many other mementos on his person of the wild and dangerous life that he had led.
Like most of his class, he was a restless being, constantly flitting back and forth between the frontier towns and the western wilds. He never went further east than St. Louis, while his wanderings, on more than one occasion, had led him beyond the Rocky Mountains.
One autumn he reached the Yellowstone, near the head of navigation, just as a small trading propeller was descending the stream. As much from the novelty of the thing, as anything else, he rode on board, with his horse, with the intention of completing his journey east by water.
On board the steamer he first met Ethan Hopkins and Mickey McSquizzle, who had spent ten years in California, in a vain hunt for gold, and were now returning to their homes, thoroughly disgusted with the country, its inhabitants and mineral resources.
Baldy was attracted to them by their peculiarities of manner; but it is not probable that anything further would have resulted from this accidental meeting, but for a most startling and unforeseen occurrence.
While still in the upper waters of the Yellowstone, the steamer exploded her boiler, making a complete wreck of the boat and its contents. The hunter, with the others, was thrown into the water, but was so bruised and injured that he found it impossible to swim, and he would assuredly have been drowned but for the timely assistance of his two acquaintances.
Neither the Yankee nor Irishman were hurt in the least, and both falling near the trapper, they instantly perceived his helplessness and came to his rescue. Both were excellent swimmers, and had no difficulty in saving him.
'Do ye rist aisy!' said Mickey, as he saw the hunter's face contorted with pain, as he vainly struggled in the water, 'and it's ourselves that 'll take the good care of yees jist.'
'Stop yer confounded floundering,' admonished Hopkins; 'it won't do no good, and there ain't no necessity for it.'
One of them took the arm upon one side, and the other the same upon the opposite side, and struck out for the shore. The poor trapper realized his dire extremity, and remained motionless while they towed him along.
'Aisy jist-aiey now!' admonished Mickey: 'ye're in a bad fix; but by the blessin' of Heaven we'll do the fair thing wid yees. We understand the science of swimmin', and—'
At that moment some drowning wretch caught the foot of the Irishman, and he was instantly drawn under water, out of sight.
Neither Hopkins nor Baldy lost presence of mind in this fearful moment, but continued their progress toward shore, as though nothing of the kind had happened.
As for the Irishman, his situation for the time was exceedingly critical. The man who had clutched his foot did so with the grasp of a drowning man; in their struggle both went to the bottom of the river together. Here, by a furious effort, Mickey shook him free, and coming to the surface, struck out again for the suffering hunter.
'It is sorry I am that I was compelled to leave yees behind,' he muttered, glancing over his shoulder in search of the poor fellow from whom he had just freed himself; 'but yees are past helpin', and so it's maeself that must attend to the poor gentleman ahead.'
Striking powerfully out, he soon came beside his friends again and took the drooping arm of Baldy Bicknell.
'Be yees sufferin' to a great extent?' inquired the kind-hearted Irishman, looking at the white face of the silent hunter.
'Got a purty good whack over the back,' he replied, between his compressed lips, as he forced back all expression of pain.
''Ye'll be aisier when we fotch ye to the land, as me uncle obsarved whin he hauled the big fish ashore that was thrashing his line to pieces jist.'
'Twon't take you long to git over it,' added Hopkins, anxious to give his grain of consolation; 'you look, now, like quite a healthy young man.'
The current was quite rapid, and it was no light labor to tow the helpless hunter ashore; but the two friends succeeded, and at length drew him out upon the land and stretched him upon the sward.
The exertion of keeping their charge afloat, and breasting the current at the same time, carried them a considerable distance downstream, and they landed perhaps an eighth of a mile below where the main body of shivering wretches were congregated.
'Do yees feel aisy?' inquired Mickey, when the hunter had been laid upon the grass, beneath some overhanging bushes.
'Yes, I'll soon git over it but woofh! that thar war a whack of the biggest kind I got. It has made me powerful weak.'
'What might it have been naow!' inquired Hopkins.
'Can't say, fust thing I know'd, I didn't know nothin', remember suthin' took me back the head, and the next thing I kerwholloped in the water.'
The three men had lost everything except what was on their bodies when the catastrophe occurred. Their horses were gone, and they hadn't a gun between them; nothing but two revolvers, and about a half dozen charges for each.
Of the twenty odd who were upon the steamer at the time of the explosion, nearly one-half were killed; they sinking to the bottom almost as suddenly as the wrecked steamer, of which not a single trace now remained.
The survivors made their way to land, reaching it a short distance below their starting-point, and here they assembled, to commiserate with each other upon their hapless lot and determine how they were to reach home.
Our three friends had remained upon shore about half an hour, the two waiting for the third to recover, when the latter raised himself upon his elbow in the attitude of listening. At the same time he waved his hand for the others to hold their peace.
A moment later he said:
'I hear Injins.''
'Begorrah! where bees the same?' demanded Mickey, starting to his feet, while Ethan gazed alarmedly about.
'Jist take a squint up the river, and tell me ef they ain't pitchin' into the poor critters thar.'
Through the sheltering trees and undergrowth, which partly protected them, the two men gazed up-stream. To their horror, they saw fully fifty Indians massacring the survivors of the wreck, whooping, screeching and yelling like demons, while their poor victims were vainly endeavoring to escape them.
'Begorrah, now, but that looks bad!' exclaimed the Irishman. 'Be the same towken, what is it that we can do?'
'Jerusalem! They'll be sure to pay us a visit. I'll be gumtued if they won't,' added the Yankee, in some trepidation, as he cowered down again by the side of the hunter, and said to him in a lower Voice:
'The worst of it is, we haven't got a gun atwixt us. Of course we shall stick by you if we have to lose our heads fur it. But don't you think they'll pay us a visit?'
'Like 'noughtin',' was the indifferent reply of the hunter, as he laid his head back again, as if tired of listening to the tumult.
'Can't we do anything to get you out of danger!'
'Can't see that you kin; you two fellers have done me a good turn in gittin' me ashore, so jist leave me yere, and it don't make no difference about me one way or t'other, Ef I hear 'em comin' I'll jist roll into the water and go under in that style.'
'May the Howly Vargin niver smile upon us if we dissart you in this extremity,' was the reply of the fervent-hearted Irishman.
'And by the jumpin' jingo! if we was consarnedly mean enough to do it, there ain't no need of it.'
As the Yankee spoke, he ran down to the river, and walking out a short distance, caught a log drifting by and drew it in.
'Naow, Mr. Baldy, or Mr. Bicknell, as you call yourself, we'll all three git hold of that and float down the river till we git beyond fear of the savages.'
The plan was a good one, and the hunter so expressed himself. With some help he managed to crawl to the river bank, where one arm was placed over the log, in such a manner that he could easily float, without any danger of sinking.
'Keep as close to shore as you kin,' he said, as they were about shoving off.
'We can go faster in the middle,' said Hopkins.
'But the reds'll see us, and it'll be all up then.'
This was the warning of prudence, and it was heeded.
CHAPTER VI. THE MINERS.
IT WAS late in the afternoon when the explosion occurred, and it was just beginning to grow dark when the three friends began drifting down the Yellowstone.
This fact was greatly in their favor, although there remained an hour or two of great danger, in case the Indians made any search for them. In case of discovery, there was hardly an earthly chance for escape.
The log or raft, as it might be termed, had floated very quietly down-stream for about half an hour, when the wonderfully acute ears of the trapper detected danger.
'Thar be some of the skunks that are creep-in 'long shore,' said he; 'you'd better run in under this yar tree and hold fast awhile.'
The warning was heeded. Just below them, the luxuriant branches of an oak, dipped in the current, formed an impenetrable screen. As the log, guided thither, floated beneath this, Mickey and Ethan both caught hold of the branches and held themselves motionless.
'Now wait till it's dark, and then thar'll be no fear of the varmints,' added the trapper.
''Sh! I haars sumfin'!' whispered the Irishman
'What is it?' asked Ethan.
'How does I know till yees kaaps still?'
'It's the reds goin' long the banks,' said the trapper.
The words were yet in his mouth, when the voice of one Indian was heard calling to another. Neither Mickey nor Ethan had the remotest idea of the meaning of the words uttered, but the trapper told them that they were inquiring of each other whether anything had been discovered of more fugitives. The answer being in the negative, our friends considered their present position safe.
When it was fairly dark, and nothing more was seen or heard of the Indians, the raft was permitted to float free, and they drifted with the current. They kept the river until daylight, when, having been in the water so long, they concluded it best to land and rest themselves. By the aid of their revolvers they succeeded in' kindling a fire, the warmth of which proved exceedingly grateful to all.
They would have had a very rough time had they not encountered a party of hunters who accompanied them to St. Louis, where the trapper had friends, and where, also, he had a good sum of money in the bank.
Here Baldy remained all winter, before he entirely recovered from the hurt which he received during the explosion and sinking of the steamer. When the Irishman and Yankee were about to depart, he asked them where they were going.
'I'm goin' home in Connecticut and goin' to work on the farm, and that's where I'm goin' to stay. I was a fool ever to leave it for this confounded place. I could live decent put there, and that's more than I can do in this blamed country.'
'And I shall go back to work on the Erie railroad, at thirty-siven cents a day and boord myself,' replied the Irishman.
'If yer were sartin of findin' all the gold yor want, would yer go back to Califony?''
'Arrah. Now, what are yees talkin' about?' asked McSquizzle, somewhat impatiently. 'What is the good of talkin'?'
'I didn't ax yer to fool with yer,' replied the trapper, 'thar's a place that I know away out West, that I call Wolf Ravine, whar thar's enough gold to make both of yer richer than yer ever war afore, and then leave some for yer children.'
'Jerusalem! but you're a lucky dog!' exclaimed Ethan Hopkins, not daring to hope that he would reveal the place. 'Why don't you dig it up naow, yourself?'
'I only found it a month ago, and I made a purty good haul of it, as it was. When that old boss of mine went down with the steamer, he carried a powerful heft of gold with him, and if anybody finds his carcass, it'll be the most vallyable one they ever come across.'
'Jingo! if I'd know'd that, I'd taken a hunt for him myself.'
'Howsumever, that's neither yar nor thar. You both done me a good turn when I got into trouble on the river, and I mud' up my mind to do what I could toward payin' it back the first chance I got. I didn't say nothin' of it when we was on our way, 'cause I was afeard it would make you too crazy to go back ag'in: but if you'll come back this way next spring I'll make the trip with you.'
'Why not go naow?' eagerly inquired Hopkins.
'It's too late in the season. I don't want to be thar when thar's too much snow onto the ground, and then I must stay yar till I git well over that whack I got on the boat.'
It is hardly necessary to say that the offer of the kind-hearted trapper was accepted with the utmost enthusiasm. Mickey and Ethan were more anxious to go out upon the prairies than they had been a year and a half before, when they started so full of fife and hope for that vast wilderness, and had come back with such discouragement and disgust.
It was arranged that as soon as the succeeding spring had fairly set in, they would set out on their return for St. Louis, where the trapper would meet and accompany them to the wonderful gold region of which he had spoken.
Before continuing their journey homeward, Baldy presented each with a complete outfit, paid their passage to their homes, and gave them a snug sum over. Like the Indian, he never could forget a kindness shown him, nor do too great a favor to those who had so signally benefited him.
So the separation took place again; and, on the following spring Mickey and Ethan appeared in St. Louis, where they had no difficulty in finding their old friend, the trapper.
He had recovered entirely from his prostrating blow, and was expecting them, anxious and glad to join in the promised search for gold. As the fair weather had really begun, there was no time lost in unnecessary delay. The purse of Baldy Bicknell was deep, and he had not the common habit of intoxication, which takes so much substance from a man. He purchased a horse and accouterments for each of his friends; and, before they started westward, saw that nothing at all was lacking in their outfit.
Three weeks later the men drew rein in a tort of valley, very deep but not very wide. It was on the edge of an immense prairie, while a river of considerable size flowed by the rear, and by a curious circuit found its way into the lower portion of the ravine, dashing and roaring forward in a furious canyon.
The edge and interior of the ravine was lined with immense bowlders and rocks, while large and stunted trees seemed to grow everywhere.
'Yar's what I call Wolf Ravine,' said Baldy when they had spent some time in looking; about them.
'And be the same towken, where is the goold?' inquired Mickey.
'Yes, that there is what I call the important question,' added Ethan.
'That it is, of the greatest account, as me grandmither observed, whin she fell off the staaple, and axed whether her pipe was broke.'
'It's in thar,' was the reply of the hunter, as he pointed to the wildest-looking portion of the ravine.
'Let's geit it then.'
'Thar be some other things that have got to be looked after first,' was the reply, 'and we've got to find a place to stow ourselves away.'
This was a matter of considerable difficulty: but they succeeded at last in discovering a retreat in the rocks, where they were secure from any attack, no matter by how formidable a number made.
After this, they hunted up a grazing place for their animals, which were turned loose.
They soon found that the trapper had not deceived them. There was an unusually rich deposit of gold in one portion of the ravine, and the men fell to work with a will, conscious that they would reap a rich reward for their labor.
The name, Wolf Ravine, had been given to it by the trapper, because on his first discovery of it he had shot a large mountain wolf, that was clambering up the side; but none others were seen afterward.
But there was one serious drawback to this brilliant prospect of wealth. Indians of the most treacherous and implacable kind were all around them, and were by no means disposed to-let them alone.
On the second day after their labor, a horde of them came screeching down upon them; and had it not been for the safe retreat, which the trapper's foresight had secured, all three would have been massacred.
As it was, they had a severe fight, and were penned up for the better part of two days, by which time they had slain too many of their enemies that the remaining ones were glad to withdraw.
But when the trapper stole out on a visit to his horses he found that every one had been completely riddled by balls. The treacherous dogs had taken every means of revenge at hand.
'Skin me fur a skunk, but we've stood this long as we ought to!' exclaimed Baldy Bicknell, when he returned. 'You take care of yourselves till I come back again!'
With which speech he slung his rifle over his shoulder and started for St. Louis.
CHAPTER VII. THE STEAM MAN ON HIS TRAVELS.
YOUNG BRAINERD had a mortal fear that the existence of the steam man would be discovered by some outsider, when a large crowd would probably collect around his house, and his friends would insist on a display of the powers of the extraordinary mechanism.
But there was no one in the secret except his mother, and there was no danger of her revealing it. So the boy experimented with his invention until there was nothing more left for him to do, except to sit and watch its workings.
Finally, when he began to wonder at the prolonged delay of the trapper, who had visited him some weeks before, he made his appearance as suddenly as if he had risen from the ground, with the inquiry:
'Have you got that thundering old thing ready?'
'Yes: he has been ready for a week, and waiting.'
'Wal, start her out then, fur I'm in a hurry.'
'You will have to wait awhile, for we can't get ready under half a day.'
It was the hunter's supposition that the boy was going to start the man right off up street, and then toward the West; but he speedily revealed a far different plan.
It was to box up the man and take it to Independence by steamboat. At that place they would take it out upon the prairie, set it up and start it off, without any fear of disturbance from the crowds which usually collect at such places, as they could speedily run away from them.
When the plan was explained to Baldy, he fully indorsed it, and the labor was begun at once. The legs of the steam man being doubled up, they were able to get it in a box, which gave it the appearance of an immense piano under transportation. This, with considerable difficulty, was transported to the wharf, where, with much grumbling upon the part of the men, it was placed on board the steamboat, quickly followed by the wagon and the few necessary tools.
The boy then bade his mother good-by, and she, suspecting he would be gone but a short time, said farewell to him, with little of the regret she would otherwise have felt, and a few hours later the party were steaming rapidly up the 'Mad Missouri.'
Nothing worthy of notice occurred on the passage, and they reached Independence in safety. They secured a landing somewhat above the town, on the western side, where they had little fear of disturbance.
Here the extraordinary foresight and skill of the boy was manifest, for, despite the immense size of the steam man, it was so put together that they were able to load it upon the wagon, and the two, without any other assistance, were able to drag it out upon the prairie.
'You see, it may break down entirely,' remarked young Brainerd, 'and then we can load it on the wagon and drag it along.'
'That must be a powerful strong wagon to carry such a big baby in if, as that.'
'So it is; it will hold five times the weight without being hurt in the least.'
It was early in the forenoon when they drew It out upon the prairie in this manner, and began putting it together. It certainly had a grotesque and fearful look when it was stripped of all its bandages, and stood before them in all its naked majesty.
It had been so securely and carefully put away, that it was found uninjured in the least. The trapper could not avoid laughing when the boy clambered as nimbly up its shoulder as another Gulliver, and made a minute examination of every portion of the machinery.
While thus employed, Baldy took the shafts of the wagon, and trotted to a farm-house, which he descried in the distance, where he loaded it down with wood and filled the tank with water. By the time he returned, Johnny had everything in readiness, and they immediately began 'firing up.'
In this they bore quite a resemblance to the modern steam fire engines, acquiring a head of steam with remarkable quickness. As the boy had never yet given the man such an opportunity to stretch his legs as he was now about to do, he watched its motions with considerable anxiety.
Everything was secured in the most careful manner, a goodly quantity of fuel piled on, the boiler filled with water, and they patiently waited the generation of a sufficient head of steam.
'Is it all good prairie land in that direction?' inquired the boy, pointing to the West.
'Thar's all yer kin want.'
'Then we'll start. Look out!'
Despite the warning thus kindly given, the steam man started with a sudden jerk, that both of them came near being thrown out of the wagon.
The prairie was quite level and hard, so that everything was favorable, and the wagon went bounding over the ground at a rate so fast that both the occupants were considerably frightened, and the boy quickly brought it down to a more moderate trot.
This speed soon became monotonous, and as it ran so evenly, Baldy said:
'Let her go, younker, and show us what she can do.'
The rod controlling the valve was given a slight pull, and away they went, coursing like a locomotive over the prairies, the wheels spinning round at a tremendous rate, while the extraordinary speed caused the wind thus created almost to lift the caps from their heads, and a slight swell in the prairie sent the wagon up with a bound that threatened to unseat them both.
It worked splendidly. The black smoke puffed rapidly from the top of the hat, and the machinery worked so smoothly that there was scarcely a click heard. The huge spiked feet came lightly to the ground, and were lifted but a short distance from it, and their long sweep and rapid movement showed unmistakably that the steam man was going at a pace which might well defy anything that had yet swept the prairies.
As there was no little risk in running at this speed, and as young Brainerd had not yet become accustomed to controlling it, he slackened the rate again, so that it sank to an easy gliding motion, equal to the rapid trot of an ordinary horse.
Fully ten minutes were passed in this manner, when steam was entirely shut off, whereupon the giant came to such a sudden halt that both were thrown violently forward and bruised somewhat.
'Skulp me! but don't stop quite so sudden like,' said the hunter. 'It's a little unhandy fur me to hold up so quick!'
'I'll soon learn to manage it,' replied Johnny. 'I see it won't do to shut off all at once.'
Descending from his perch, he examined every portion of the engine. Several parts were found heated, and the fuel was getting low. The water in the boiler, however, was just right, the engineer having been able to control that from his seat in the wagon.
Throwing in a lot of wood, they remounted to their perch and started forward again. There was an abundance of steam, and the boy readily acquired such a familiarity with the working of his man, that he controlled it with all the skill of an experienced engineer.
The speed was slackened, then increased. It stopped and then started forward again with all the ease and celerity that it could have done if really human, while it showed a reserve of power and velocity capable of performing wonders, if necessary.
As yet they had seen nothing of any travelers. They were quite anxious to come across some, that they might show them what they were capable of doing.
'There must be some passing over the plains,' remarked Johnny, when they had passed some thirty or forty miles.
'Plenty of 'em; but we've got out of the track of 'em. If you'll turn off summat to the left, we'll run foul of 'em afore dark.'
The boy did as directed, and the rattling pace was kept up for several hours. When it was noon they helped themselves to a portion of the food which they brought with them, without checking their progress in the least. True, while the boy was eating, he kept one eye on the giant who was going at such rapid strides; but that gentleman continued his progress in an unexceptionable manner, and needed no attention.
When the afternoon was mostly gone, Baldy declared that they had gone the better part of a hundred miles.
The boy could hardly credit it at first; but, when he recalled that they had scarcely paused for seven hours, and had gone a portion of the distance at a very high rate, he saw that his friend was not far out of the way.
It lacked yet several hours of dusk, when the trapper exclaimed:
'Yonder is an emigrant train, now make for 'em!'
CHAPTER VIII. INDIANS.
THE STEAM man was headed straight toward the emigrant train, and advanced at a speed which rapidly came up with it.
They could see, while yet a considerable distance away, that they had attracted notice, and the emigrants had paused and ware surveying them with a wonder which it would be difficult to express.
It is said that when Robert Fulton's first steamboat ascended the Hudson, it created a consternation and terror such as had never before been known, many believing that it was the harbinger of the final destruction of the world.
Of course, at this late day, no such excitement can be created by any human invention, but the sight of a creature speeding over the country, impelled by steam, and bearing such a grotesque resemblance to a gigantic man, could not but startle all who should see it for the first time.
The steam man advanced at a rate which was quite moderate, until within a quarter of a mile of the astonished train, when the boy let on a full head of steam and instantly bounded forward like a meteor. As it came opposite the amazed company, the whistle was palled, and it-gave forth a shriek hideous enough to set a man crazy.
The horses and animals of the emigrant train could be seen rearing and plunging, while the men stood too appalled to do anything except gaze in stupid and speechless amazement.
There were one or two, however, who had sense enough to perceive that there was nothing at all very supernatural about it, and they shouted to them to halt; but our two friends concluded it was not desirable to have any company, and they only slackened their speed, without halting.
But there was one of the emigrants who determined to know something more about it and, mounting his horse, he started after it on a full run. The trapper did not perceive him until he had approached quite close, when they again put on a full head of steam, and they went bounding forward at a rate which threatened to tear them to pieces.
But the keen perception of the boy had detected what they were able to do without real risk: and, without putting his invention to its very best, he kept up a speed which steadily drew them away from their pursuer, who finally became discouraged, checked his animal, and turned round and rode back to his friends, a not much wiser man.
This performance gave our friends great delight. It showed them that they were really the owners of a prize whose value was incalculable.
'Ef the old thing will only last,' said Baldy, when they had sunk down to a moderate trot again.
'What's to binder?'
'Dunno; yer oughter be able to tell. But these new-fangled things generally go well at first, and then, afore yer know it, they bust all to blazes.'
'No fear of this. I made this fellow so big that there is plenty of room to have everything strong and give it a chance to work.'
'Wal, you're the smartest feller I ever seen, big or little. Whoever heard of a man going by steam?'
'I have, often; but I never saw it. I expect when I go back to make steam horses.'
'And birds, I s'pose?'
'Perhaps so; it will take some time to get such things in shape, but I hope to do it after awhile.'
'Skulp me! but thar must be some things that you can't do, and I think you've mentioned 'em.
'Perhaps so,' was the quiet reply. 'When you git through with this 'Western trip, what are you goin' to do with this old feller?'
'I don't know. I may sell him, if anybody wants him.'
'No fear of that; I'll take him off your hands, and give you a good price for him.'
'What good will' he do you?'
'Why, you can make more money with him than Barnum ever did with his Woolly Home.'
'How so?' inquired the boy, with great simplicity.
'Take him through the country and show him to the people. I tell yer they'd run after such things. Get out yer pictures of him, and the folks would break thar necks to see him. I tell yer, thar's a fortune thar!'
The trapper spoke emphatically like one who knows.
As it was growing dusk, they deemed it best to look for some camping-place. There was considerable danger in running at night, as there was no moon, and they might run into some gully or ravine and dislocate or wrench some portion of their machinery, which might result in an irreparable catastrophe.
Before it was fairly dark they headed toward a small clump of trees, where everything looked favorable.
'You see we must find a place where there is plenty water and fuel, for we need both,' remarked the boy.
'Thar's plenty of wood, as yer see with yer eyes,' replied Baldy, 'and when trees look as keen as that, thar's purty sure sign thar's water not fur off.'
'That's all we want,' was the observation of the engineer as he headed toward the point indicated.
Things were growing quite indistinct, when the steam man gave its last puff, and came to rest in the margin of the grove. The fires were instantly drawn, and every-thing was put in as good shape as possible, by the boy, while the trapper made a tour of examination through the grove. He came back with the report that everything was as they wished.
'Thar's a big stream of water runnin' right through the middle, and yer can see the wood fur yourself.'
'Any signs of Indians?' asked the boy, in a low voice, as if fearful of being overheard. 'Dunno; it's too dark to tell.'
'If it's dangerous here, we had better go on.'
'Yer ain't much used to this part the world. You may keep powerful easy till mornin'.'
As they could not feel certain whether in danger or not, it was the part of prudence to believe that some peril threatened them. Accordingly they ate their evening meal in silence, and curled up in the bottom of their wagon, first taking the precaution to fill their tank with water, and placing a portion of wood and kindlings in the bowels of the steam man, so that in case of danger, they would be able to leave at a short notice.
Johnny Brainerd was soon sound asleep, and the trapper followed, but it was with that light, restless slumber which is disturbed by the slightest noise.
So it came about that, but a few hours had passed, when he was aroused by some slight disturbance in the grove. Raising his head he endeavored to peer into the darkness, but he could detect nothing.
But he was certain that something was there, and he gently aroused the boy beside him.
'What is it?' queried the latter in a whisper, but fully wide-awake.
'I think thar ar Ingins among the trees.' 'Good heavens! what shall we do?'
'Keep still and don't git skeart! sh!' At this juncture he heard a slight noise, and cautiously raising his head, he caught the outlines of an Indian, in a crouching position, stealing along in front of the wagon, as though examining the curious contrivance. He undoubtedly was greatly puzzled, but he remained only a few minutes, when he withdrew as silently as he had come.
'Stay yer, while I take a look around!' whispered Baldy, as he slid softly out the wagon, while the boy did the same, waiting; until sure that the trapper would not see him.
Baldy spent a half-hour in making his reconnoissance. The result of it was that he found there were fully twenty Indians, thoroughly wide-awake, who were moving stealthily through the grove.
When he came back, it was with the conviction that their only safety lay in getting away without delay.
'We've got to learn,' said he, 'how long it will take yer to git up steam, youngster?'
'There is a full head on now. I fired up the minute you left the-wagon.'
'Good!' exclaimed Baldy, who in his excitement did not observe that the steam man was seething, and apparently ready to explode with the tremendous power pent up in its vitals.
CHAPTER IX. THE STEAM MAN AS A HUNTER.
AT this juncture the trapper whispered that the Indians were again stealing around them. Johnny's first proceeding was to pull the whistle wide open, awaking the stillness of the night by a hideous, prolonged screech.
Then, letting on the steam, the man made a bound forward, and the next moment was careering over the prairie like a demon of darkness, its horrid whistle giving forth almost one continual yell, such as no American Indian has ever been able to imitate.
When they had gone a few hundred yards, Johnny again slackened the speed, for there was great risk in going at this tremendous rate, where all was entire blank darkness, and there was no telling into what danger they might run. At the speed at which they were going they would have bounded into a river before they could have checked themselves.
'Yer furgot one thing,' said Baldy, when they had considerably moderated their gait, and were using great caution.
'What is that?'
'Yer oughter had a lamp in front, so we could travel at night, jist as well as day.'
'You are right; I don't see how I came to forget that. We could have frightened the Indians more completely, and there would have been some consolation in traveling at such a time.'
'Is it too late yet?'
'Couldn't do it without going back to St. Louis.'
'Thunderation! I didn't mean that. Go ahead.'
'Such a lamp or head-light as the locomotives use would cost several hundred dollars, although I could have made one nearly as good for much less. Such a thing in the center of a man's forehead, and the whistle at the end of his nose, would give him quite an impressive appearance.'
'Yer must do it, too, some day My God!'
The boy instantly checked their progress, as the trapper uttered his exclamation; but quickly as it was done, it was none too soon, for another long step and the steam man would have gone down an embankment, twenty feet high, into a roaring river at the base. As it was, both made rather a hurried leap to the ground, and ran to the front to see whether there was not danger of his going down.
But fortunately he stood firm.
'I declare that was a narrow escape!' exclaimed the boy as he gazed down the cavernous darkness, looking doubly frightful in the gloom of the night.
'Skulp me if that wouldn't have been almost as bad as staying among the red-skins,' replied the trapper. 'How are we goin' to get him out of this?'
'We've got to shove him back ourselves.'
'Can't we reverse him?'
'No; he isn't gotten up on that principle.'
By great labor they managed to make him retrograde a few steps, so that he could be made to shy enough to leave the dangerous vicinity, and once more started upon the broad firm prairie.
'Do you suppose these Indians are following us?' inquired the boy.
'No fear of it.'
'Then we may as well stay here.'
The fires were drawn again, everything made right, and the two disposed themselves again for spending the night in slumber.
No disturbance occurred, and both slept Roundly until broad daylight. The trapper's first proceeding upon awakening was to scan the prairie in every direction in quest of danger.
He was not a little amused to see a dozen or so mounted Indians about a third of a mile to the west. They had reined up on the plain, and were evidently scanning the strange object, with a great deal of wonder, mixed with some fear.
'Do you think they will attack us?' inquired the boy, who could not suppress his trepidation at the sight of the warlike savages, on their gayly-caparisoned horses, drawn up in such startling array.
'Ef thar war any danger of that, we could stop 'em by 'tacking 'em.
'Jest fire up and start toward 'em, and see how quick they will scatter.' The advice was acted upon on the instant, although it was with no little misgiving on the part of the engineer.
All the time that the 'firingup' process was under way the savages sat as motionless as statues upon their horses. Had they understood the real nature of the 'animal,' it cannot be supposed that they would rave hesitated for a moment to charge down upon it and demolish it entirely.
But it was a terra incognita, clothed with a terror such as no array of: enemies could wear, and they preferred to keep at a goodly distance from it.
'Now, suppose they do not run?' remarked Johnny, rather doubtingly, as he hesitated whether to start ahead or not.
'What if they don't? Can't we run another way? But yer needn't fear. Jist try it on.'
Steam was let on as rapidly as possible, and the momentum gathering quickly, it was soon speeding over the prairie at a tremendous rate, straight toward the savages.
The latter remained motionless a few moments, before they realized that it was coining after them, and then, wheeling about, they ran as though all the legions of darkness were after them.
'Shall I keep it up?' shouted Johnny in the ear of the hunter.
'Yas; give 'em such a skear that they won't be able to git over it ag'in in all thar lives.'
There is some fun in chasing a foe, when you know that he is really afraid of you, and will keep running without any thought of turning at bay, and the dwarf put the steam man to the very highest notch of speed that was safe, even at the slight risk of throwing both the occupants out.
The prairie was harder and nearer level than any over which they had passed since starting, so that nothing was in the way of preventing the richest kind of sport.
'Are we gaining?' inquired Johnny, his eyes glowing with excitement.
'Gaining? Thar never was a red-skin that had such a chase in all the world. Ef they don't git out the way mighty soon, we'll run over 'em all.'
They were, in truth, rapidly overhauling the red-skins, who were about as much terrified as it was possible for a mortal to be, and still live.
To increase their fears, the boy kept up a constant shrieking of his whistle. If there had been any other contrivance or means at his command, it is possible the red-skins would have tumbled off their horses and died; for they were bearing almost all the fright, terror and horror that can possibly be concentrated into a single person.
Finding there was no escape by means of the speed of their horses, the Indians sensibly did what the trapper had prophesied they would do at first.
They 'scattered,' all diverging over the prairie. As it was impossible for the steam man to overtake all of these, of course, this expedient secured the safety of the majority.
Neither Baldy nor the boy were disposed to give up the sport in this manner; so, they singled out a single 'noble red-man,' who was pursuing nearly the same direction as they were, and they headed straight for him.
The poor wretch, when he saw that he was the object of the monster's pursuit, seemed to become frantic with terror. Rising on his horse's back, he leaned forward until it looked as though there was danger of going over his head altogether. Then, whooping and shrieking to his terrified horse, that was already straining every nerve, he pounded his heels in its sides, vainly urging it to still greater speed.
In the mean time, the steam man was gaining steadily upon him, while to add variety to the scene, Johnny kept up the unearthly shrieking of the nose-whistle of the giant. It was difficult to tell which sounded the most hideously in this strange chase.
The remaining Indians had improved their advantage to the utmost. Fearful that their dreadful enemy might change its mind and single them out, they kept up their tearing light, all regardless of the great extremity to which their companion was reduced, until finally they disappeared in the distance.
A short distance only separated pursuer and pursued, when the latter, realizing that there was no escape in flight, headed toward the river, which was a short distance on the right.
This saved him. When with a bowl, horse and rider thundered over the bank and disappeared, the steam man could not follow him. He was compelled to give up the chase and draw off. A few days later, and without further noteworthy incident, the steam man reached Wolf Ravine, being received in the manner narrated at the beginning of this story.
CHAPTER X. WOLF RAVINE.
DURING THE absence of Baldy Bicknell in search of the steam man, neither Mickey nor Ethan had been disturbed by Indians.
They had worked unceasingly in digging the gold mine to which they had gained access through the instrumentality of the trapper. When they had gathered together quite a quantity of the gravel and dirt, with the yellow sand glittering through it, it was carried a short distance to the margin of the river, where it underwent the 'washing' process.
While thus engaged, one of them was constantly running up the bank, to make sure that their old enemies did not steal upon them unawares. Once or twice they caught sight of several moving in the distance, but they did not come near enough to molest them, doing nothing more than to keep them on the qui vive.
There was one Indian, however, who bestrode a black horse, who haunted them like a phantom. When they glanced over the river, at almost any time, they could see this individual cautiously circling about on his horse, and apparently waiting for a chance to get a shot at his enemies.
'Begorrah, but he loves us, that he does, as the lamb observed when speaking of the wolf,' said Mickey, just after he had sent a bullet whistling about their ears.
'Jehosiphat! he loves us too much!' added the Yankee, who had no relish for these stolen shots. 'If we ain't keerful, there'll be nuthin' of us left when Baldy comes back, that is, if he comes back at all.'
This red-skin on his black horse was so dangerous that he required constant watching, and the men could perform only half their usual work. It was while Mickey was on the lookout for him that he caught sight of the steam man coming toward him, as we have related in another place.
So long as that personage was kept puffing and tearing round the vicinity, they knew there was no fear of disturbance from the treacherous red-skins, who were so constantly on the alert to avenge themselves for the loss they had suffered in the attack; but it would hardly pay to keep an iron man as sentinel, as the wear and tear in all probability would be too much for him.
After consulting together upon the return of Baldy, and after they had ridden behind the steam man to their heart's content, they decided upon their future course. As the boy, Johnny, had no intention of devoting himself to manual labor, even had he been able, it was agreed that he should take upon himself the part of sentinel, while the others were at work.
In this way it was believed that they could finish within a couple of weeks, bidding good-by to the Indians, and quickly reach the States and give up their dangerous pursuits altogether, whereas, if compelled to do duty themselves as sentinels, their stay would be doubly prolonged.
This arrangement suited the boy very well, who was thereby given opportunity to exercise his steam man by occasional airings over the prairies. To the east and south the plains stretched away till the horizon shut down upon them, as the sky does on the sea. To the west, some twenty odd miles distant, a range of mountains was visible, the peaks being tinged with a faint blue in the distance, while some of the more elevated looked like white conical clouds resting against the clear sky beyond.
From the first, young Brainerd expressed a desire to visit these mountains. There was something in their rugged grandeur which invited a close inspection, and he proposed to the trapper that they should make a hunting excursion in that direction.
'No need of goin' so fur for game,' he replied, 'takes too much time, and thar's sure to be red-skins.'
'But if we go with the steam man we shall frighten them all away,' was the reply.
'Yas,' laughed Baldy, 'and we'll skear the game away too.'
'But we can overtake that as we did the poor Indian the other day.'
'Not if he takes to the mountains. Leastways yer isn't him that would like to undertake to ride up the mountain behind that old gintle-man.'
'Nor I either, but we can leave the wagon when we get to the base of the mountain.'
'And give the reds time to come down and run off with yer whole team.'
'Do you think there is danger of that?'
'Dunno as thar be, but ef they catched sight of yourself, they'd raise yer ha'r quicker'n lightning.'
Seeing that the little fellow was considerably discouraged, Baldy hastened to add:
'Ef you're keerful, younker, and I b'lieve yer generally be, take a ride thar yerself, behind yer jumping-jack, but remember my advice and stick to yer wagon.'
Having thus obtained permission of the hunter, Johnny Brainerd, as may well be supposed, did not wait long before availing himself of his privilege.
The weather, which had been threatening toward the latter part of the day, entirely cleared away, and the next morning dawned remarkably clear and beautiful. So the boy announced his intention of making the expected visit, after which, he promised to devote himself entirely to performing the duty of sentinel.
'Abeout what time may we look for you, neow!' asked Ethan, as he was on the point of starting.
'Sometime this afternoon.'
'Come in before dark, as me mither used to observe to meself, when I wint out shparkin',' added Mickey.
The boy promised to heed their warnings, and began firing up again. The tank was completely filled with water, and the wagon filled nearly full of wood, so that the two were capable of running the contrivance for the entire day, provided there was no cessation, and that he was on the 'go' continually.
Before starting, it was thoroughly oiled through and through, and put in the best possible condition, and then waving them all a pleasant farewell, he steamed gayly toward the mountains.
The ground was admirable, and the steam man traveled better than ever. Like a locomotive, he seemed to have acquired a certain smoothness and steadiness of motion, from the exercise he had already had, and the sharp eye of the boy detected it at once. He saw that he had been very fortunate indeed in constructing his wonderful invention, as it was impossible for any human skill to give it any better movement than it now possessed.
The first three or four miles were passed at a rattling gait, and the boy was sitting on the front of his wagon, dreamily watching the play of the huge engine, when it suddenly paused, and with such abruptness that he was thrown forward from his seat, with violence, falling directly between the legs of the monster, which seemed to stand perfectly motionless, like the intelligent elephant that is fearful of stirring a limb, lest he might crush his master lying beneath him.
The boy knew at once that some accident had happened, and unmindful of the severe scratch he had received, he instantly clambered to his feet, and began examining the machinery, first taking the precaution to give vent to the surplus steam, which was rapidly gathering.
It was some time before he could discover the cause of difficulty, but he finally ascertained that a small bolt had slipped loose, and had caught in such a manner as to check the motion of the engine on the instant.
Fortunately no permanent injury was done, and while he was making matters right, he recollected that in chatting with the trapper as he was on the point of starting, he had begun to screw on the bolt, when his attention had been momentarily diverted, when it escaped his mind altogether, so that he alone was to blame for the accident, which had so narrowly escaped proving a serious one.
Making sure that everything was right, he remounted the wagon, and cautiously resumed his journey, going very slowly at first, so as to watch the play of the engine.
Everything moved with its usual smoothness, and lifting his gaze he descried three buffaloes, standing with erect heads, staring wonderingly at him.
'If you want a chase you may have it!' exclaimed the boy as he headed toward them.
CHAPTER XI. THE STEAM MAN ON A BUFFALO HUNT.
WITH A WILD snort of alarm, the three buffaloes turned tail and dashed over the prairie, with the shrieking steam man in pursuit.
The boy had taken the precaution to bring a rifle with him. When he saw them flee in this terrified manner, the thought came to him at once that he would shoot one of them, and take a portion back to his friends for their supper.
It would to a grand exploit for him, and he would be prouder of its performance than he was of the construction of the wonderful steam man.
The lumbering, rolling gait of the buffaloes was not a very rapid one, and the boy found himself speedily overhauling them without difficulty. They did not know enough to separate, but kept close together, sometimes crowding and striking against each other in their furious efforts to escape.
But, after the chase had continued some time, one of the animals began to fall in the rear, and Johnny directed his attention toward him, as he would be the most easy to secure.
This fellow was a huge bull that was slightly lame, which accounted for his tardiness of gait. Frightened as he was, it was not that blind terror which had seized the Indians when they discovered the steam man so close at their heels. The bull was one of those creatures that if closely pressed would turn and charge the monster. He was not one to continue a fruitless flight, no matter who or what was his pursuer.
The boy was not aware of this sturdy trait in the animal, nor did he dream of anything like resistance.
So he steadily drew toward him, until within twenty yards, when he let go of his controlling rod, and picked up the rifle beside him. A bullet from this, he supposed, would kill any animal, however large, no matter at what portion of his body he aimed.
So raising partly to his feet, and steadying himself as well as he could, he aimed for the lumping haunch of the animal. The ball buried itself in his flank, and so retarded his speed, that the next moment the boy found himself beside him.
The instant this took place, the bull lowered his head, and without further warning, charged full at the steam man.
The boy saw the danger, but too late to stave it off. His immense head struck the rear of the monster with such momentum that he was lifted fully a foot from the ground, the concussion sounding like the crack of a pistol.