She was apparently about six years of age, and the picture of infantile innocence and loveliness. She was dressed with good taste, her little feet being incased in Cinderella-like slippers, while the pretty stockings and dress set off the figure to perfection. She wore a fashionable straw hat, with a gay ribbon, and indeed looked like a child of wealthy parents, who had let her out for a little jaunt along some shady avenue.
When Captain Strathmore looked down upon this sweet child, a great pang went through his heart, for she was the picture of the little girl that once called him father.
Her mother died while little Inez was an infant, and, as soon as the cherished one could dispense with the care of a nurse, she joined her father, the captain, and henceforth was not separated from him. She was always on ship or steamer, sharing his room and becoming the pet of every one who met her, no less from her loveliness than from her childish, winning ways.
But there came one awful dark day, away out in the Pacific, when the sweet voice was hushed forever, and the rugged old captain was bowed by a grief such as that which smites the mountain-oak to the earth.
The little girl who now looked up in the face of Captain Strathmore was the image of Inez, who years before had sunk to the bottom of the sea, carrying with her all the sunshine, music and loveliness that cheered her father’s heart. With an impulse he could not resist, the captain reached out his arms and the little stranger instantly ran into them.
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.