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CHAPTER XII.


THE FIRE-WORSHIPERS.


Wailuku is not only the principal town of the island of Maui, but it is second in importance only to Honolulu. It is close to Kahului, the great seaport of the island. It counts over a hundred business places, some of great importance, and four or five times as many dwellings.

Many of the tourists on the steamer were going to stop off at Wailuku to visit the great mountain Haleakala, which, translated into English, means the House of the Sun. This mountain possesses the largest extinct volcano in the world. There is also a valley close by, called the Iao, which is grand in its uncanny crags and gorgeous in its dress of tropical vines and flowers, so much so that it has been called the Yosemite of the Pacific.

When we landed we were immediately surrounded by half a dozen carriage-drivers, eager to take us anywhere we might want to go. But we had already completed plans to stop for one day at the Wailuku House, and walked the distance, which was not far.

"It's a Honolulu in miniature," observed Dan, as we proceeded to the hotel. "What a jumble of names on the street signs!" And he was right—every nationality under the sun seemed to be represented.

We had just entered the hotel, a comfortable two-storied affair, and Oliver was signing the register, when I happened to glance out of the doorway and caught sight of a face which almost took away my breath.

"Great Cæsar!" I murmured, and staggered to a nearby settee.

"What is it?" cried Dan. "Are you sick? You look as white as a sheet."

"I—I have seen a ghost!" I gasped. "I—oh, can it be true? " and I staggered up and to the doorway.

Much alarmed, Dan and Oliver followed me, and each caught my arm as I hurried out on the pavement.

"What did you see, tell me?" insisted Dan.

"I saw Caleb Merkin!"

"Merkin!" they ejaculated in concert.

"Oh, Mark, you must have been mistaken!" said Oliver. "He is—is——"

"No, he isn't dead. I saw him just as plainly as I see you, one arm and all."

"But where is he now?" asked Dan.

"I—I don't know. He was over there."

I pointed to a corner opposite, and both ran over to the spot, leaving me to follow as rapidly as the trembling condition of my limbs would permit.

For I am frank to confess that I was shaking like a leaf in the wind, while my heart thumped as it never had before. But my excitement was nothing to my joy. A great weight was lifted from my soul. "Thank God he lives, and that I need not even think he came to his death through any difficulty with me," was the thought which forced itself upon my mind. I did not want the blood of any person on my hands, be he criminal or otherwise.

When we reached the corner we saw only a few business men and natives walking about. A hasty look in the various shops and hallways followed, but nothing more was to be seen of the one-armed sailor.

"Mark, I am afraid you were mistaken," said Oliver gravely.

"No, I was not mistaken," I answered positively. "I saw him and he saw me. He gave me one good look and then dove out of sight around this corner."

"It's a wonder he didn't stop to speak to you," put in Dan. "No doubt he could tell an interesting story of how he escaped. I wonder if he swam to land after falling overboard from the Mariposa?"

"We were too far at sea for that," said Oliver. "If it really was Merkin he must have been picked up by some craft plying around the islands."

"I am going to look for news in the Honolulu Gazette," said I, and when we were in the hotel I asked to see all of the local English papers which were handy. At first I found nothing, but presently this item caught my eye:


"The bark Cambra has arrived at Wailuku after a stormy voyage from Waimea. When off the eastern coast of Oahu a castaway was picked up. He was a one-armed sailor named Caleb Merkin, and stated that he had fallen overboard from the Mariposa during a storm. The Mariposa officers know nothing of the fellow and no such name appears on the passenger list. After being held for two days by the local authorities, the sailor was allowed to go on his way rejoicing."


"There!" I cried, showing the item to my chums. "I'll wager he shipped on the Mariposa under an assumed name—doing that to avoid us,—although the game didn't work."

"Mark must be right," said Dan. "It's a great pity we didn't catch the fellow."

"He is another enemy to beware of," put in Oliver. "He and old Delverez would make a good team, wouldn't they?"

"They would make a mighty bad team," I replied, with a shudder. "Now that I know he is alive I don't want to see him again."

"Right you are," concluded Dan. "Come in to supper. I am as hungry as two bears and could swallow a sole-leather steak."

"How about a dish of poi?" laughed Oliver, referring to the great national staple of Hawaii. Poi is made of the taro root, baked and mashed into a paste, after which it is allowed to ferment for two days. We had tried the dish on first landing and had found it not at all to our liking, Oliver declaring that he would rather eat decayed cabbage leaves.

"No, I draw the line at poi," answered Dan, with a decided shake of his curly head. "Anything else goes, but no poi in mine, please."

Upon inquiry we learned that Rulukoa was situated in the center of the Iao valley, at a place where there was a beautiful waterfall called by the same name. We were told that we could easily find the village without a guide, and set off on horseback the second day after landing.

The scenery was certainly grand, and more than once we stopped to take in the vast mountains and the valley with its endless profusion of flowers and tropical plants.

"The ancient Greeks would call this a garden of the Gods," remarked Oliver. "I have never seen such a variety of plants before, not even on the island of Luzon."

"Nor I," was my answer, "although some parts of Cuba are almost as picturesque. One cannot wonder at the ignorant natives being worshipers of such a mountain, or of such trees and plants. To stand here in silence gives a fellow a feeling he never gets anywhere else."

"We are close to nature's heart," said Dan. "But, come on, we didn't come out here to philosophize or to preach sermons. Let us push on to this village we are after. I am anxious to learn what sort of a chap Joe Koloa will prove to be."

Half an hour's journey brought us to a small settlement called Nonuuanonuuano—a most unpronounceable name truly—although each vowel, or vowel and the preceding consonant, represents a syllable. Here we found a Hula-hula dance in process, given by several native girls dressed in skirts bedecked with flowers and vines. The music to the dance was furnished by a player on a native guitar and another native who beat a drum without snares. We watched the dance for a while and tossed the girls some silver, and then forged ahead, soon leaving the village in the distance.

The road had been fairly level heretofore, but now it grew steep and uneven, and less than a mile had been covered when we had to walk our horses with care, for fear of breaking some of the beasts' legs and ruining them.

"I'd like to know how far away we are from Rulukoa," said Oliver, as we halted for a rest. "I thought we would arrive there before this."

"Hark!" I cried, holding up my hand. "I hear a shouting in the distance."

"So do I," answered Dan. "There must be a settlement of some sort just around the bend."

We mounted once more, and went on. The bend in question was less than fifty yards away, and on reaching it, we found ourselves on a slight elevation. Beyond was a long hollow, at the upper end of which flowed a mountain torrent, backed up by a waterfall. In the center of the hollow was a village consisting of about two score of thatched huts and half as many common board buildings.

In front of the village there was a bare stretch of ground, in the center of which four poles had been planted, holding up a platform made of a huge flat rock. On the top of this rock a bonfire blazed merrily. On the ground, in a circle about the poles, blazed another fire. Around the lower fire were assembled fully a score and a half of native men, fantastically dresssed, and each holding two lighted torches in his hands. These men were dancing and singing like wild Indians, and leaping in the circle of fire and out again with marvelous rapidity. Outside of the crowd of men was another crowd of women and children, also with lighted torches, who were singing a song of their own. On the ground sat four old men beating drums fast and furiously, while a perfect hag of a woman occupied her time by spinning around and around on one heel of her naked and bony foot, like a teetotum.

"By Jove, here's a scene!" cried Oliver. "Do you know what these people are? They are fire-worshipers, and this is their annual sacred dance."