The Huge Hunter/Chapter VIII
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 hinder?'
'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 be 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. The result of it was that be 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.