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CHAPTER XXIII.


THE HUT IN THE FOREST.


My first thought on getting out of the tree was to obtain something to eat and to drink, and my second to learn, if possible, what had become of my two chums.

Getting a drink was easy enough, for the rain was forming little pools in every direction. But there was nothing in the way of food to be had, and I started off on my search hungry.

I was entirely unarmed, the Kanaka having taken my pistol away from me; also my pocketknife. I, therefore, advanced with caution, for I had no desire to be taken unawares again.

I had no compass, but as the storm was abating and the sun was shining faintly through the scattering clouds, I readily steered a course to the southward, in which direction I knew the river was located.

Ten minutes of rough traveling brought me to the stream, at a point not far from where our rowboat rested. The craft was still intact, the single pair of oars resting on the seats, so I felt certain that Dan and Oliver had not yet left the vicinity.

Had I dared I would have sent up a call for my friends. But this I did not deem a prudent thing to do. Casting about I found a heavy stick, which I fashioned into a club, and with this as a weapon, walked slowly up the river bank, keeping my eyes and ears on the alert for the first token of danger.

Nothing came to view until I had covered a hundred yards or more. Here, on turning a bushy projection, I came upon a sandy strip, backed up by a grove of cocoanut trees. The sand was tumbled about, and I easily made out a number of footprints, some made by shoes or boots and others by the naked feet.

"There has been a fight of some sort here," I thought, when I saw a form coming from among the cocoanut trees. It was a native approaching, and as he came closer I discovered that he held a pistol in his hand.

I made up my mind at once that this was the rascal who had attacked me and dropped me into the hollow tree. Probably he was the same individual who had paddled the canoe for Ramon Delverez. He was a fellow not to be trifled with, and as he came near to me I resolved that, come what might, I would not let him get the best of me a second time.

Reaching the strip of sand, the Kanaka paused and gazed earnestly around him. I was behind a wild berry bush and I took good pains that he should not see me.

The man appeared to be searching for something on the river. But he was disappointed, as he uttered a grunt of disgust and then backed to the bush in front of me. Presently he threw himself down on a rock, resting his head on one elbow, his long fingers running through his kinky, black hair. The fingers of the other hand held the revolver, the muzzle of which was pointed before him. Evidently he was charmed over the weapon, which, being nickel-plated and new, was very bright, and he turned the pistol over and over.

The bush was between us, but we were not over five feet apart. For fully a minute I deliberated, then raised my club, leaped forward, and struck him on the arm. The Kanaka gave a yell of pain and dropped the pistol, and in a trice I had it in my hand and had the muzzle pointed at his head.

"Don't you stir," I cried. "If you do, I'll fire."

I do not believe he understood the words very well, but he understood my meaning, and dropped back on the rock, at the same time lifting both hands in token of submission.

"No kill me!" he said, when he could collect his scattered senses. "No kill Lola."

"You rascal," I returned. "You served me a fine trick last night!"

"No kill me!" was all the answer he gave me. "No kill!"

"Where are my two friends?" I went on, after a short pause.

"No kill Lola!"

"Then answer my question."

"What say?"

"Where are my two friends?"

The Kanaka shrugged his huge shoulders and shook his head.

"You don't know where they are?"

Again the man shook his head. But I was not to be fooled, and coming nearer I placed the muzzle of my weapon upon his forehead.

The yell he gave would have caused an Indian to blush with envy. He rolled from the rock and fairly groveled in the sand. "No kill Lola!" he shrieked. "No! no! no!"

But even as he spoke he edged closer to the river. Not wishing to kill him in cold blood I paused, and like a flash he went overboard and dove out of sight.

This slick movement to escape enraged me, and I remembered only too well how the villain had served me. "It's foolishness to be too merciful," I told myself, and aiming the pistol at the point where the Kanaka had disappeared, I fired two shots.

There was a wild splutter and a churning of the water, and the native reappeared. He had received an ugly, although not a serious, wound in the shoulder, and as he looked at me his face was full of commingled pain and rage. "No kill Lola!" he cried again.

"Then come ashore," I answered, and continued to cover him.

Slowly, like a cat watching for a chance to escape, he emerged from the river, his chocolate-colored body dripping at every step. I could see that he was enraged enough to strangle me, but I did not give him a chance to get near me.

"Keep your distance," I ordered. "And now tell me where my friends are."

"Lola don't know where the other Americans are."

"Where did you leave them?"

"They run away."

"When you went after them?"

"Yes."

"Where is Ramon Delverez? I mean the man you had in your canoe?"

"He go back to Hilo."

"You are certain of this?"

"Yes; he go back."

I looked the Kanaka straight in the eyes and made up my mind that he was telling an untruth. He shifted uneasily from one foot to another. I determined to get the truth out of him, or else know the reason why.

"Get down on your knees," I said, more sternly than ever.

"No kill Lola!" he burst out, and I saw him beginning to tremble.

"I shall kill you—unless you tell me the truth."

"No kill—Lola tell eberyt'ing!" he whined.

"All right; go ahead. Tell me about my friends first."

"Lola know nothing. He——"

"You do know. Now, no more nonsense. Have my friends been killed?"

The Kanaka paused, and the pause caused my heart to leap into my throat. What if poor Dan and Oliver were really dead. The thought was truly terrifying.

"American boys no dead," came the slow answer. "But both of them hurt a little. Big man try to kill them."

"You mean the man you had in the boat?"

"Yes."

"And where are my friends?"

"Lola show you, if you no shoot."

"You behave yourself and I won't shoot any more," I replied.

A few words more followed, and then the Kanaka led the way up through the cocoanut grove and along a trail leading to a small clearing. Here there was a hut of logs and ti leaves. In front of the hut a dozen chickens were roaming about, and on a rude bench sat a Kanaka woman making flower baskets.

As soon as the Kanaka woman saw us, and noticed the wound on the man's shoulder and my pistol, she set up a yell which was calculated to raise the dead. "You hurt!" she cried, in her native tongue. Later on I learned that Lola was her husband, and that he was also a basketmaker, when he chose to work, which was not often.

"Come in," said the Kanaka surlily; but I was not to be caught in a trap, and shook my head. "Oliver! Dan!" I called out. "Are you inside?"

"We are!" was the muffled answer. "Help us, Mark! We are bound fast."

"Are you alone?"

"We are."

"Then I'll soon be with you." I turned to the two natives. "Get back there," I ordered, and compelled both to move a distance of a hundred feet from the hut. Then I rushed inside, to behold Oliver and Dan both on their backs, bound to several heavy stakes driven into the hard dirt flooring. A knife was handy, and I soon had them liberated, after which I ran outside again.

I had feared for an attack from Lola, but instead of advancing, the burly Kanaka had retreated, and now he was no longer in sight. But the woman, his wife, remained where I had left her, crying piteously and wringing her hands.