Open main menu

CHAPTER XIII.


SIGHT-SEEING THAT DID NOT PAY.


"Fire-worshipers!" I repeated, as I drew a long breath. "Why, I thought all such tomfoolery was played out here."

"So it is in the large cities. But when you go into the interior of the islands you will find many of the old customs prevailing, regardless of the march of civilization and what the missionaries have accomplished. Yes, this is a real fire dance, as they call it, and it will last from now until the moon comes up, and before they stop every man, woman, and child will have burnt blisters on his or her hands, feet, and breast."

"This is horrible!" murmured Dan. "But it is fascinating, too."

And he drew nearer to the scene, while I could not help but do the same. The leaping over the flames interested me, the leapers trying to outdo each other in approaching all portions of the fire.

"On such a hot day as this they must be about half roasted," remarked Oliver, as we dismounted and tethered our horses in a clump of bushes. "It's a wonder that old woman doesn't grow dizzy and drop."

"She will keep that spinning up for hours," returned Dan. "I've heard of it before. Some Turkish tribes can do the same thing."

Impelled by curiosity we drew closer and closer, until we had reached the nearest of the huts. Here we sought a place in the shade, sitting on a big log, upon one end of which was scattered a lot of rice and upon the other end what appeared to be the plumage of a parrot.

"They are growing wilder each minute!" cried Dan, a few seconds later. "Some of them look like regular demons."

"They are dancing in order to get the God of Fire to make them successful in their hunting, fishing, and trading," answered Oliver. "I understand this ceremony is hundreds of years old. It will soon be a thing of the past."

"Not by the way the children take hold, Oliver," I said.

"Oh, they go in for the sport more than anything, Mark. As soon as they become educated they will see the folly of all this."

"I wonder if Joe Koloa is among them," put in Dan suddenly. "I never thought of that before."

"I shouldn't be surprised," returned Oliver. "But we had better not interrupt the dance or we may get into trouble."

"I'm awful dry and must have a drink," I went on. "I wonder if there isn't a stone crock of water somewhere about?"

I arose and looked into the hut behind us. There was water there and I took a deep drink.

I had just finished when a yell from a corner of the hut startled me. An old man lay there, a native, apparently very sick.

"Don't be alarmed," I said. "I won't hurt you."

But he did not understand me, or did not care, for he continued to yell, at the same time trying to get on his feet.

"Come out here, Mark!" I heard Oliver call, and moved again toward the log.

"They are coming for us!" came from Dan, and he was right. The first yell from the old man had attracted the attention of the fire-worshipers, and now the men were running toward us with all speed, brandishing their torches as they progressed.

"This looks serious," said Oliver.

"We haven't done any harm," put in Dan, and started to draw his pistol, when I checked him.

"Don't make matters worse," I whispered. "We can easily explain the situation."

On and on came the crowd, until we were completely surrounded. Then several of the natives flung down their torches and pulled us from the log, at the same time pointing to the rice and to the parrot feathers. They jabbered away at such a speed we could not make out a word. But at last Dan comprehended.

"We've gone and done it," he groaned. "This is the Log of the Sun, and the rice is the Feast of Fire, or something like it. We've been sitting on the most sacred table they know of."

"But we hadn't any idea——" began Dan, when of a sudden he was flung on the ground. At the same time two natives attacked me, and before any of us could resist, we found ourselves close prisoners, with our hands bound behind us and our legs linked together, with a vine-like rope of native manufacture which was as tough as iron.

In vain we tried to explain the situation. No one would listen to us, and in a few minutes after being captured we were thrust into a hut, and a tall native, with a drawn war club, was placed on guard to see that we did not escape. In the meantime the spread on the log was re-arranged, and the fire dance went on as before.

"Talk about being in a pickle!" muttered Oliver, as he turned and twisted in vain. "I wish the pearl treasure was in Jericho!"

"I am with you on that!" I answered, "that is, if we are going to have very much of this sort of thing."

"Why, boys, do you want to give up?" gasped Dan. "You who vowed you would go through fire and water——"

"Oh, we don't mean all we say, Dan," I interrupted. "But this is getting serious."

"So it is—but it was more serious when old Delverez had me up on that cliff, I can tell you that."

"That depends upon how far the natives carry this affair," said Oliver. "We may have hurt their feelings deeply."

"I wish we could find one of them that speaks English," went on Dan. "We might get him to listen to an explanation, even if we have to bribe him."

After that we became quiet for a while, listening to the wild song which came from the spot where the fire dance was in progress. But suddenly Oliver gave a cry.

"Oh, my! I'm being stung to death! Look at the bugs and roaches!"

There was no need to look, since both Dan and I could feel—and we felt as keenly as did our chum. The bugs had swarmed into the hut by the hundreds, and soon it looked as if we would be literally eaten up alive.

But now footsteps were heard approaching, and a tall, lean Kanaka shoved the guard to one side and entered the hut.

"What you make much noise about?" he demanded. "American boys must keep quiet."

"We can't stand the bugs!" cried Oliver. "Take us away from here. This is all a mistake. We did not come here to interfere with your dance—we came to see a man named Joe Koloa?"

"Joe Koloa!" repeated the native leader, with some show of surprise. "What you want of Joe Koloa?"

"We want to have a talk with him."

"What about?" Oliver hesitated, and looked at Dan. His chum speedily came to the rescue.

"He used to know a friend of ours—a man named Gaston Brown."

"Koloa not here any more. He gone away yesterday."

"Did he say why he was going?" asked Oliver.

"No; he very silent about his trip. He go off with an American sailor."

"A sailor!" murmured Oliver. He turned to Dan. "Can somebody else who was on the Dart in the Philippines know of this affair?" he whispered.

"How did the sailor look?" asked Dan. "Did you hear his name?"

"The sailor had one arm."

"Caleb Merkin!" came from all of our lips simultaneously.

"Here's a mystery," added Dan.

"No mystery at all!" I almost shouted. "I now see why Merkin came to the Hawaiian Islands. He is after what we are after."

"But how could he——" began Oliver, and stopped short. "Do you think he found that lost map?"

"Not only that, but that he overheard our talk when he pretended to be asleep under the veranda of your father's house."

"By Jove, Mark, I believe you are right! Isn't he slick, though? He's just about twenty-four hours ahead of us in this game," put in Dan.

"But he shan't come out ahead at the end," said Oliver, with quiet emphasis. "I'll turn him down yet—just see if I don't." And his words meant a good deal.