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CHAPTER XIV.


LOST IN THE IAO VALLEY.


The native leader had listened to our talk with interest, but, of course, without understanding the full drift of it. We now remembered where we were, and I turned to him.

"We are very sorry that we have disturbed your dance and ceremony," I said gravely. "We are willing to do whatever is proper if you will let us go. We meant no harm."

"Perhaps we can aid your fire god with silver," suggested Dan, but at this the native frowned. A Kanaka cannot be bribed when it comes to interfering with his time-honored customs. He may be shiftless and indolent, but he is honorable to the core—unless he happens to be the black sheep which is found in every flock.

Several other Kanakas now came up, and a short discussion took place, of which we understood only a few words. But at the conclusion we were told to come into the open again, and the bonds which bound us were severed.

"American boys are ignorant," said the leader.

"They do not know the glories of the Fire God—their missionaries teach them other things, just as they have come here and led some of our people astray. But we will forgive, since you meant no harm. You came to see Joe Koloa. He is gone. What more do you want?"

"We want nothing more, outside of a drink of water, if you will be kind enough to give it to us," said Dan.

The drink was speedily forthcoming, and Dan insisted upon giving the man who brought it a silver quarter. This made him smile, and before we left the leader of the community was prevailed upon to accept a silver half dollar—"just as a token of friendship," as Oliver facetiously put it. In the meantime the fire dance continued in progress, and went on with renewed vigor as we mounted our steeds and started on the return to Wailuku.

"I would like to know if Merkin is around the city," said Oliver, as we passed along the Iao valley, now deep with the shades of gathering darkness. "If he is, we ought to hunt him up and get that map away from him."

"We can search around as soon as we get back," I answered. "We need not keep together, but divide up, and get the local authorities to hold him, if he is found."

"And we must separate him from this Joe Koloa," said Dan. "If that native is simple-minded, he may give away the whole secret."

Night was coming on rapidly, and long before we had reached the end of the valley we found ourselves shut in by lofty crags and almost total darkness.

"We will have to proceed with care," announced Oliver. "If we don't, we may go wrong."

A few minutes later we came to a fork in the road. Dan, who was in advance, wanted to turn to the right, but Oliver stopped him.

"To the left, Dan."

"Why, no, we want to go to the right," was the answer; and then both looked at me.

"I'm sure I don't know which is the right road," I announced, after a look around. "It seems to me, boys, that we didn't pass this point before."

"Well, it does look rather strange," was Oliver's return. "I wonder if we are mixed already."

We talked the matter over, and decided, right or wrong, to push ahead until the end of the valley was gained. A ten-cent piece was tossed up, and it was thereby settled that we should try the road to the left, close to the crags that frowned down upon us.

The way was stony and uncertain, and as it grew darker and darker, we dismounted and led our horses along.

"We don't want to go down into any hole," observed Oliver. "My, but this is as dark as a—a——"

"Coal hole," I finished. "And, what is worse, we seem to be going down among the hills instead of going up. I believe we're lost."

"That is what it amounts to," said Dan grimly. "Mark, doesn't it put you in mind of the time when you were lost in Cuba with Alano Guerez?"

"I was just going to speak of that," I cried. "But we had a difficulty to contend with that doesn't appear here. We were between the Cuban and Spanish lines all the time and in danger of being shot by one side or the other."

Soon we were forced to come to another halt. On each side of us arose the craggy hills, while before us ran a wild mountain torrent, foaming and bubbling over the volcanic rock.

"Can we ford that stream?" asked Oliver. "It doesn't seem to be very deep."

"It's the swiftness that counts," I said. "Better back your horse in first and see how he stands it."

Oliver did as I suggested. At first the steed would not submit to the backing-up process, but finally he took a few steps to the rear. The water reached his middle, and in a twinkle he was carried off his footing, and made a splash that wet us all as he clambered to safety.

"That settles it; we are cut off in that direction," I said. "Now we must either climb a hillside or turn back."

"I wonder if I could see anything by climbing this crag," observed Oliver. "I'll leave my horse with you."

"Let us all go up," said Dan. "We don't want to become separated out here in this darkness."

The horses were tethered near the stream and we began the ascent of the hill, or more properly, mountain, on our left. At first climbing was difficult, but presently the cliff spread out and we found ourselves in a second valley.

"There is a light ahead! " announced Oliver. "That must surely come from some native camp fire."

"We'll push on and see," I replied. "We don't want to remain in this valley all night."

"We must not lose track of our horses," put in Dan. "I can still locate them, but I don't know how it will be if we go away off to that light."

"Oh, I can read the road," I smiled. "I learned that in Cuba. I wouldn't have missed the way before, only, to tell the truth, I was depending upon you and Oliver and paid no attention as to how we were riding."

"That shows that we must have a leader from henceforth," laughed Oliver. "Now, don't get mad about it," he went on, as Dan's face darkened. "It was everybody's fault. After this, when we are out, we'll take turns at leading—and then there won't be any further trouble." And so it was arranged.

But now the fire ahead demanded all of our attention. It was spreading rapidly, until we could make out half a dozen distinct piles.

"By George! do you know what I think?" burst out Oliver suddenly.

"Well?" I queried.

"I think that is a village afire!"

"Just my idea!" came from Dan. "Come on, fellows, we may be able to assist some unfortunates."

He started on a run, and Oliver and I followed him. The flames mounted higher than ever, reddening the sky and marking our path with great clearness. We were leaping over loose rocks, but soon a grassy plain followed, and now we saw the fire more clearly than ever.

It was indeed a native village, built for the most part of bamboo. On one side of the street were eight dwellings and seven of these were already burning, with the sparks falling thickly on the eighth. As the wind was blowing away from them, the other houses were in little or no danger, providing the wind did not shift.

The natives were in despair over the loss of their property, and many were going around wringing their hands and moaning at the top of their voices.

"This is too bad!" exclaimed Dan. "I wonder if we can't help in some way?"

"Nothing much can be done. To put out such flames with buckets of water is out of the question."

Presently the natives caught sight of us, and several women ran forward, jabbering wildly and pointing their fingers at one and another of us.

"See here, I don't like this," cried Oliver in alarm. "I think we made a mistake by coming here."

"Why, what do you mean?" broke in Dan.

"I mean that they suspect we started the fire," answered Oliver, and he struck the nail directly on the head.