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?...