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CHAPTER XV.


FROM ONE DIFFICULTY TO ANOTHER.


To become lost was bad enough; to be suspected of starting a fire such as that which now roared before us was much worse. Each of us looked at the others in alarm.

"If that's the case, I think we had better get out," I said. "Why, these people may become enraged enough to kill us."

"You make fire!" screamed one elderly female, a short woman weighing all of two hundred pounds. "You make fire! Lokuli! Ahaoah!"

"They don't capture us again!" cried Oliver. "Come on, fellows; we must get back to the horses on the double-quick!"

He led the way and we ranged up beside him. No sooner had we started off than the Kanakas set up a cry that could be heard a quarter of a mile. Some of the females started to run after us, but soon gave up the chase.

"Are they coming?" queried Dan, as we bounded over the grassy plain in the direction of the rocky crag, below which the horses were stationed.

"I see two men," I answered, looking back.

"And two more are behind the first couple," added Oliver. "Come on, there is not a second to lose!"

On and on we went, until the first line of rocks was gained. But here Dan pitched headlong and Oliver, too, went down, both having caught their toes in a concealed crevice.

"Get up!" I urged. "Hurry!"

"My—my wind is—is knocked out of—of me!" panted Oliver, and Dan could not talk at all for the moment. By the time they arose I was dismayed to notice that the four Kanakas were less than a hundred yards off.

"We are caught!" were Dan's first words.

"No, we are not," I answered. "Come, brace up. If the worst comes to the worst we can fight them. But we have an advantage. We can see them because they are between us and that fire. I don't believe they can see us."

"Don't make too sure," came from Oliver. "But come, Dan, we can't stand here." And off we pushed once more, but with added caution, and Dan limping painfully from a stretched ankle.

It was soon evident that the Kanakas were slowly but surely gaining upon us, and that being so, I looked about for some other means of getting away than by running.

"Let us fool them," I whispered. "We can run to the edge of the cliff, pretend to leap over, and then hide in the brush."

My proposition was instantly accepted, and we turned to our left, reaching the cliff's edge a few minutes later. Here we paused, then gave a cry, at the same time crouching low and hurling several heavy rocks down into the valley below.

The natives had neared the cliff at a distance of sixty yards south of us. They heard our cry and the crashing of the rocks, and immediately came to a halt.

"Now, move back as silently as cats," I whispered, "and don't show your heads above the grass or brush," and I set the example.

"I understand," whispered Oliver. "Dan and I went through this in Luzon."

No more was said,, and in five minutes we had covered a distance of fifty yards. Reaching a hollow thick with wild berry bushes, we worked our way into it and remained silent.

We heard the natives come swiftly along the edge of the cliff until they gained the point where we had executed our ruse. Here they halted, while one of their number let himself down over the brink. A whispered talk followed, of which we heard but little and understood less.

"I wonder if they will spot our horses?" whispered Oliver.

"Hardly, unless they branch off to the northward. So far they must be a good distance from the beasts."

"They'll be wanting to get back home soon, to watch the progress of that fire. The wind is shifting, and that will place the balance of the village in peril."

"Well, I don't want to see their homes burned down, but I do want to get away," groaned Dan, whose ankle hurt him not a little.

"Hush! they are coming this way," I whispered, as I detected advancing footsteps. "Lay low, now, or the game will be up."

After that we relapsed into silence, fairly holding our breath as two of the Kanakas kept drawing closer and closer to our hiding place. Presently the pair stood less than eight yards off, and I felt we must be uncovered, even in the darkness.

"Be prepared to run again," whispered Oliver, when from a distance came a low boom, like the discharge of a cannon. Long afterward we heard that a small keg of powder, situated in one of the burning huts, had exploded.

The report startled the Kanakas even more than it did us, and without waiting they retraced their steps to the cliff. Here their fellows joined them, and an exciting conversation ensued.

"Can you make out what they are saying?" I whispered.

"They are wondering if they had better go back or continue the search," answered Dan.

"I hope they do go back," put in Oliver. Then he drew a sharp breath. "Gosh, how my foot hurts where I caught it!"

The conversation between the four Kanakas continued for perhaps five minutes. In the meantime the fire at the village seemed to spurt up and then die lower than before. But the explosion had scattered the burning brands in every direction.

"Great Scott!" came suddenly from Dan, and he let out a subdued yell, while at the same time he clutched at his collar. "Something is pinching me in the back! Take it off!"

"Hush!" I returned warningly, and caught at his neck, to receive a savage nip from a black and ugly-looking spider that had dropped from the bushes above us. Flinging the creature down, I smashed it with my heel.

"Do you reckon it was—was poisonous?" queried Dan, his face full of added alarm.

"If it was, we will both have to suffer," I replied, as I began to suck my finger. "If we—— Here come those natives!"

I dodged down and so did my two companions. One of the Kanakas had caught our words, raised his head, and was making straight for the hollow, followed by his three companions.

Further hiding was out of the question, and it was likewise impossible to run away, for the Kanakas completely surrounded the hollow. I felt for my pistol and was on the point of drawing the weapon when Oliver checked me.

"Don't, Mark; it will only make matters worse."

"But they may kill us!"

"No, I don't think they will dare do that."

Before more could be said two of the Kanakas leaped forward and one caught Dan while the other grabbed me.

I tried to resist, but, although I count myself as powerful as the average American lad, I soon felt that I had fallen into the hands of a veritable giant for strength. I later on learned that Buowa, who had attacked me, was considered the most powerful Kanaka in the district. By occupation he was a breaker-in of wild horses, and by a single turn of his arm had thrown a steed more than once.

"American boy come with me," growled Buowa, when he had caught both of my hands and crossed them behind my back. He fairly hauled me out of the hollow, while the three remaining Kanakas did the same with my chums.

"I reckon we are in for it now," said Dan soberly. "We ought to have kept on running."

"The horses——" began Oliver, when he checked himself.

"What you say about horses?" asked one of the Kanakas, the shortest and fattest of the four, a flat-nosed fellow who rejoiced in the name of Bun Bun.

"I want to know what you are going to do with us?" demanded Oliver, ignoring the question.

"We take you back to Paliano."

"The place that is burning?"

"Yes."

"We don't want to go there," put in Dan. "We have done nothing wrong, and we want you to let us go."

At this the four Kanakas looked dark. They began to talk in their own language, two of them in the meantime breaking off some trailing vines from the rocks and twisting them into ropes. In a minute more, despite our earnest protestations, our hands were bound behind us, and then Buowa searched us and confiscated our pistols and knives. Our money and other things were not touched, showing that with it all the Kanakas meant to be honest.

"Now come, and no make try to escape," commanded Buowa; and as there was no help for it, we marched in the direction of Paliano, one native in front of us, one on each side, and Buowa, with a war club, fetching up the rear.