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CHAPTER XXXI.


THE HAUNTED HUT IN THE JUNGLE.


Leaving the rise of rocks we made our way into what seemed to be a valley slightly to the north of the volcano crater. Here the forest began again, and in some spots we had to pick our way under the dense overhanging foliage.

"Are there any houses in this vicinity?" asked Dan, after the best part of a mile had been covered.

"An old hut just a leetle further," answered Lincoln Susu. "Nobody live dare. Da say him got ghost in."

"A ghost!" I laughed. "More perils, fellows. What kind of a ghost, Susu?"

"Ghost of a man who steal some pearls from one of our kings," was the astonishing answer. "I don't know how de ghost git dare—but we no go dare," and the native shrugged his shoulders.

"Perhaps we had best go there," said Dan. "I'll wager that is where Koloa and Caleb Merkin have gone."

"No, no; you be killed—no go dare!" cried Susu. "We take udder path."

"We'll go to the ghost's home," answered Oliver. "Show us the path."

Lincoln Susu was perfectly willing to point out the trail—a path that was now almost obliterated by the brush—but he steadfastly refused to accompany us any further. "Americans werry foolish," he said. He refused even to wait for us to return, so we paid him for his work and struck out by ourselves.

"Now, boys, we must be on our guard," said Oliver. "We know just what sort of men we have to deal with."

"That's right," said Dan. "Don't let us show ourselves to our enemies until we have them at a disadvantage."

"Of course they may have gone to this so-called haunted house and left," went on Oliver.

We pushed forward silently until we had gained a little clearing under a number of mango trees. Here we paused, and while doing so I heard a faint groan coming from the brush beyond.

"Listen!" I cried warningly. "What is that?"

"Somebody is hurt," answered Dan, and was about to rush forward when Oliver checked him.

"It may be a trick, Dan; be on your guard."

We waited, and the groan was repeated several times. Then we made a short detour and presently came upon the body of a native lying in a patch of tall grass. The fellow had been struck over the head with some blunt instrument. He lay on his face and was evidently unable to help himself.

"Lola!" I ejaculated, as I turned the Kanaka over. My identification was correct, but the native was too far gone to recognize me. The blood flowed from his head in a stream, and it looked as if his hours upon earth were numbered.

"He has suffered an attack," said Oliver, as we propped the fellow up against a tree, bathed his wound and bound it up. "Lola, who hit you?"

For quite a while the native could not speak. But now he recognized us, and his face shone full of pain and despair.

"No kill me! No kill me!" he groaned.

"We won't kill you," returned Oliver kindly. "But tell us who struck you."

"Delverez hit me."

"Did you quarrel?"

"He quarrel—no want to pay me as he promise. He told me to go back—dat he want me no more. I want my pay, and den he hit me and I know nothing more."

"Where is Delverez now?"

"He go after two men, Joe Koloa and an American sailor."

"Did he meet the two men?"

"He meet Koloa, but Koloa run away from him and run away from de sailor, too. Koloa crazy man." Lola gave another groan. "I feel so bad!"

"I am sorry for you," murmured Oliver, while Dan turned away. We had all been bitter against this fellow, but now that he was down nobody felt like adding to his misery. I got him a drink of water and he sipped a few drops.

"Lola do wrong to you," he whispered thickly. "Make big fool of himself." He muttered some more, but we could not catch his words. Presently his head sank on his breast, a cry in the Kanaka tongue followed; and in a minute more we knew that all was over.

For some time after none of us could trust ourselves to speak. "I guess he wasn't so bad at heart—he was led astray by the hope of gaining money," said Dan. "What shall we do—bury him?"

"Let us place his body beside yonder rocks," answered Oliver, and his suggestion was carried out, and we covered the silent form with a number of tree branches.

It was a sober trio that continued on its way through the brush. Nobody knew what to say, but I noticed that my two companions followed my example and kept their right hands on their pistols.

Soon a half-tumbled-down bamboo hut came into view, standing in a circle of wild plantains. We all halted, and withdrew behind one of the plantains for consultation.

"Not a soul in sight," whispered Dan.

"No; but let us take nothing for granted," I returned. "We may be closer to our enemies than we anticipate."

Several minutes passed in utter silence. Then Oliver crept slowly toward the rear of the hut and looked through a crack in the wall.

"Empty," he called out, and we advanced to the building, to find it deserted, yet giving evidence that it had been occupied but a few hours before. In front was a smoldering fire, and on the ground lay an upturned tin can the water from which had scarcely yet soaked away.

We were looking about the hut when Dan uttered a short, astonished cry. "Look here, boys! the map!"

I ran forward, thinking he had found the map Merkin had stolen. Instead, however, he pointed to the wall of the hut, and there we saw a map rudely traced in yellow paint.

"By Jove, it does look like the map we had," cried Oliver. "And see, here is a name on the wall." He studied it for a moment. "Gaston Brown!"

"The father of Watt Brown, who left the treasure," ejaculated Dan. "Boys, I believe we are close to the end of this search."

"I believe you," I put in. "But Merkin and Delverez are closer than we are."

"And they have Koloa with them, I believe," added Oliver. "Merkin wouldn't let the native get away."

"Yes, but, Oliver, it's pretty hard to hold a crazy man," said Dan.

"If Koloa is really crazy," said Oliver. "To tell the plain truth, this thing is an awful mystery."

"Well, we don't care what it is, so long as we get the treasure," said I. "The question is, what is our next move?"

"We must follow up those who were here."

"That goes without saying. But how are we to follow them?"

"By locating the double-headed idol said to be standing at the entrance to the cave. I guess we have missed 'the face on the rock when the sun comes up,' as that description put it."

"Or else we are pretty close to it," said Dan.

The talk lasted a good while, but was of small satisfaction. However, we went on, until the trail seemed to come to a sudden end.

"Stuck!" said Oliver laconically. "Shall we go back?"

"Let us try to get to the top of the hill," I said. "Then we will have a chance to look around."

The hill in question was one overlooking the volcano basin. To reach it we had to take a circuitous route, to avoid the cacti which grew in profusion before us. By the time we reached the point in view all were exhausted and willing enough to sit down and rest.

"We are working back to the volcano," observed Oliver. "But that isn't saying much. I haven't any idea where the hotel lays."

"Never mind; we are not bound for the hotel just yet," I answered. "Now we have come so far, to me it's treasure or nothing."

"Hurrah! that's the talk!" burst out Dan. "Remember, our time is our own."

"Yes; but what about food?"

"We'll try to pick up something," I said. "Over yonder are some bananas to start on, if you are hungry."

"We can't live on half-ripe food, Mark."

"What! are you going to turn back?" I demanded, in astonishment.

"Oh, no; but we must take care of ourselves."

Oliver was right in his last statement. Night was coming on and we were a good distance from any shelter and were without prepared food. To obtain what would be needed was a serious question.

"Let us go on a little further," suggested Dan. "I have a feeling in my bones that something will turn up."

"We can't go very far—it is growing dark," said I; but I followed him, and presently I forged ahead, leaving Dan and Oliver to carry on the talk between themselves.

The top of the hill passed, I came out on a little plain overlooking the northern slope of the volcano crater. Before me was a steep descent of several hundred feet. "What a grand place for roller coasting!" I thought, when, without warning, the lava under my feet tilted up, and I was sent flying onto the incline. I tried to clutch at something, but failed, and rolled over and over, going down into I knew not where!