The Huge Hunter/Chapter IV

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'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?'

'Yes, sir.'

'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 Bicknellthough 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.