The Huge Hunter/Chapter II

WHEN Ethan Hopkins had surveyed the steam man fully, ha 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 be 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!' ex-claimed 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 height 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 unnevenness 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.