The Huge Hunter/Chapter XVII

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THE PUNISHMENT administered to the Indians who had so greatly annoyed the miners proved a very beneficial one.

Nothing more was seen of them, except one or two glimpses of the redskin upon his black horse. He, however, maintained a respectful distance, and at the end of a day or two disappeared altogether.

These were golden moments indeed to the miners, and they improved them to the utmost. From earliest light until the darkness of night they toiled almost unceasingly. Half the time they went hungry rather than stop their work to procure that which was so much needed. When, however, the wants of nature could no longer be trifled with, Baldy took his rifle and started off on a hunt, which was sure to be brief and successful.

Sometimes he caught sight of some game in the gulch, and sometimes something in the air drew the fire of his unerring rifle, and the miners feasted and worked as only such violently laboring men can do.

Although the boy was unable to assist at the severe labor, yet he soon demonstrated his genius and usefulness. He not only constructed a dam, but made a 'rocker,' or machine, of an original style, that did the work far more expeditiously and thoroughly than it had yet been done.

While the men were getting the auriferous sand, he separated it from the particles of dirt and gravel, without any assistance from them, and without any severe labor for himself.

There was some apprehension upon the part of all that the huge trapper, whom young Brainerd had met at night, would make his appearance. Should he do so, it would be certain to precipitate a difficulty of the worst kind, as he was morose, sullen, treacherous, envious and reckless of danger.

Baldy Bicknell really feared him more than he did the Indians, and the constant watchfulness he exercised for several days showed how great was his apprehension.

Fortunately, indeed, for all concerned, the giant hunter continued his travels in a different direction, and the miners were undisturbed by him.

Two weeks passed, by the end of which time the ravine was about exhausted of its precious stuff, and the miners made their preparations for going home.

It was impossible to do anything more than conjecture the amount of wealth they had obtained, but Baldy was sure that there was enough, when sold, to buy each of them a handsome farm.

'Jerusalem! but naow ain't that good?' exclaimed the delighted Ethan Hopkins, as he mopped off his perspiring forehead. 'That 'ere encourages me to take a step that I've often contemplated.'

'What might the same be?'

'Git married: me and Seraphenia Pike hev been engaged for the last ten years, and now I'll be hanged ef I don't go home and get spliced.'

'And it's myself that'll do the same,' added Mickey, as he executed an Irish jig on the barren earth in front of their cavern home, after they had concluded to leave the place.

'Where does she reside?' inquired Ethan.

'Ballyduff, Kings County, in the Oim of the Sea; it's there that lives the lass that's to have the honor of becoming Mrs. McSquizzle, and becomin' the mither of her own children. Arrah, but isn't the same a beauty?'

'The same as my own, Michael,' ventured the Yankee, who deemed it his duty to correct this general remark of his friend.

'Arrah, now, get out wid ye! she can't begin wid Miss Bridget Moghlaghigbogh that resides wid her mither and two pigs on the outskirts of Ballyduff, in the wee cabin that has the one room and the one windy. Warrah, warrah, now isn't she a jewel?'

'And so is Seraphenia.'

'But has she the rid hair, that makes it onnecessary for them to have the candle lit at night? and has she the same beautiful freckles, the size of a ha'penny, on the face and the nose, that has such an iligant turn up at the end, that she used to hang her bonnet on it? Arrah, now, and didn't she have the swate teeth—six of the same that were so broad that they filled her mouth—and it was none of yer gimblet holes that was her mouth, but a beautiful one, that, when she smiled went round to her ears, did the same. And her shoes! but you orter seen them.'

'Why so?'

'What was the matter with her shoes?'

'Nothing was the same. They was the shoes that the little pigs went to slaap in, afore they got so big that they couldn't git in them, and then it was her brother that used one of them same for a trunk when he emigrated to Amenity. Arrah, now, but wasn't me own Bridget a jewel?'

'Jehosephat! I should think she was!' exclaimed Hopkins, who had listened in amazement to this enumeration of the beauties of the gentle Irish lass, who had won the affections of Mickey McSquizzle. 'No doubt she had a sweet disposition.'

'Indeed she had, had she; it was that of an angel, was the same. It was niver that I staid there a night coorting the fame that she didn't smash her shillaleh to smithereens over me head. Do yees obsarve that?' asked Mickey, removing his hat, and displaying a scar that extended half way across his head.

'I don't see how any one can help seeing that.'

'Well, that was the parting salute of Bridget, as I started for Ameriky. Arrah, now, but she did the same in style.'

'That was her parting memento, was it?'

'Yes; I gave her the black eye, and she did the same fur me, and I niver takes off me hat to scratch me head that I don't think of the swate gal that I left at home.'

And thereupon the Irishman began whistling 'The Girl I Left Behind Me,' accompanying it with a sort of waltzing dance, kept with remarkably good time.

'And so you intend to marry her?' inquired Hopkins, with no little amazement.

'It's that I do, ef I finds her heart fraa when I return to Ballyduff, You know, that the loikes of her is sought by all the lads in Kings County, and to save braaking their hearts, she may share the shanty of some of 'em.'

'Jerusalem! but she is the all-firedest critter I ever heard tell on.'

'What does ye maan by that?' demanded the Irishman, instantly flaring up; 'does ye maan to insinooate that she isn't the most charming craater in the whole counthry?'

'You'll allow me to except my own Seraphenia?'

'Niver a once.'

'Then I'll do it whether you like it or not Your gal can't begin with mine, and never could.'

'That I don't allow any man to say.'

And the Irishman immediately began divesting himself of his coat, preparatory to settling the difference in the characteristic Irish manner. Nothing loth, the Yankee put himself in attitude, determined to stand up for the rights of his fair one, no matter by whom assailed.

Matters having progressed so far, there undoubtedly would have been a set-to between them, had not the trapper interfered. He and the boy were engaged in preparing the steam man and wagon for starting, when the excited words drew their attention, and seeing that a fight was imminent, Baldy advanced to where they stood and said:

'Not another word, or skulp me! ef I don't hammer both of you till thar's nothin left o' you.'

This was unequivocal language, and neither of the combatants misunderstood it. All belligerent manifestations ceased at once, and they turned to in assisting in the preparations for moving.

When all four were seated in the wagon, with their necessary baggage about them, it was found that there was comparatively little room for the wood. When they had stored all that they could well carry, it was found that there was hardly enough to last them twelve hours, so that there was considerable risk run from this single fact.

The steam man, however, stepped off with as much ease as when drawing the wagon with a single occupant. The boy let on enough of steam to keep up a rattling pace, and to give the assurance that they were progressing home ward in the fastest manner possible.

Toward the middle of the afternoon a storm suddenly came up and the rain poured in torrents. As the best they could do, they took refuge in a grove, where, by stretching the canvas over themselves and the steam man, they managed to keep free from the wet.

The steam man was not intended to travel during stormy weather, and so they allowed him to rest.