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CHAPTER V.


THE ATTACK ON SHIPBOARD.


"You are certain he had the map?" I cried.

"It looked very much like it—was the same size and just as rumpled and yellow."

"Why didn't Oliver demand to see it?"

"As soon as the sailor caught sight of us he jammed the paper into his pocket and hurried down into the steerage."

"And what is Oliver doing now?"

"Trying to get permission to visit the steerage and interview the fellow," returned Dan, as he and I hurried on deck.

We soon found Oliver, who was accompanied by one of the under officers. Matters were briefly explained, and all four of us descended into the steerage, which was as clean and light as could be reasonably expected.

For some time we could not locate the one-armed man, but at last spotted him, apparently asleep in a corner devoted to male passengers. He opened his eyes slowly when shaken by the officer of the ship.

"We want to talk to you," said the officer. "What is your name?"

"I am not ashamed of that," was the bold answer. "It is Caleb Merkin."

"These young men want to talk to you."

"I want to see that paper you were reading awhile ago," put in Oliver.

"This paper?" and Caleb Merkin held out a copy of one of the San Francisco daily newspapers.

"No; that document which belongs to me."

"I haven't anything belonging to you, young fellow," blustered the one-armed man, getting up. "Don't you dare to say I have, either."

"Do you deny that you were reading a bit of parchment yellow with age?"

"I certainly do."

Oliver turned to Dan. "What do you think of this?"

"He isn't telling the truth," was Dan's reply.

"Why don't you search him and his belongings?" I suggested.

"Do it, if you dare!" burst out Caleb Merkin. "I'm an honest sailor. Who are you, anyway? I never saw you before."

"Perhaps there is some mistake," said the ship's officer nervously. "You don't want to accuse the wrong man."

"I know this man, and so do my friends," answered Oliver. "He is a thief—and I'm almost certain he has that paper."

"Was the paper of such great importance?"

"Why, of——" Oliver was about to say, "of course," when I checked him.

"No, it wasn't of much consequence, but my friend was keeping it to prove that the man who got it up was insane," I put in. "He wants the sheet, that's all. It's of no value in itself."

At my words I saw Caleb Merkin's face fall and knew what I had said had had its effect. If he had had any idea of hunting up that treasure for himself I felt certain he would now lose a good deal of his interest in the matter.

Oliver at once understood the ruse I had employed, and so did Dan, and both smiled behind Caleb Merkin's back. For a moment there was an awkward pause all around.

"Do you make a formal complaint against this man?" said the officer, at length.

"Don't do it," whispered Dan. "It will only make a lot of trouble."

"But the map——" whispered Oliver in return.

"We'll do better by saying nothing and keeping our eyes on this Merkin," I said. "You can wager he has hidden the map where it can't be found through an ordinary search."

"Well, I won't make a formal complaint," said Oliver aloud. "But I shall remember you," he added to the sailor.

"And perhaps I'll remember you," was the bold answer; and then we three boys left the under officer and walked on deck.

"I'll wager that rascal is after the treasure," said Oliver. "What gets me is, how did he get money to pay his passage to Honolulu?"

"More than likely he stole it," I answered. "If he would steal from your family he wouldn't hesitate to steal from somebody else."

"That must be it," said Dan. "We must keep a strict watch on Mr. Caleb Merkin, especially after we arrive in port."

Dr. Barton was curious to know what the trouble was about, and as Dan vouched for his honesty, we told him about our mission, after he had promised to keep it a secret. We also showed him the duplicate map and the description, both of which he examined with interest.

"I'm afraid it is rather a wild goose chase," he said. "Still it will do no harm to look the matter up. I expect, after a brief stop in Honolulu, to visit the volcano myself, and we may run across each other out there, and, if we do, I'll help you all I can—if you'll accept my services."

As I have said, Dr. Barton had visited the islands before, and during the next few days of the trip, days when the weather was most delightful, he regaled us with stories concerning this little-known portion of the globe.

"The islands are twelve in number, but only eight are worthy of mention," he said. "The largest by far is Hawaii, on which the volcano exists. It is about ninety miles long by seventy miles wide. North of it is Maui, next in size but much smaller, and then to the northwest come Molokai, Oahu, Kauai, and Niihau. West of Maui lie Lanai and several smaller islands, including one upon which is located a leper settlement, which, fortunately, is gradually dying out."

"Gracious! we don't want anything to do with lepers!" cried Dan.

"You won't get near them—unless you visit the island on purpose," returned the doctor. "As you know, Honolulu is situated on a beautiful bay on the south shore of Oahu. It is the principal city, and has steamship connections with the United States, China, Japan, Australia, and other important countries."

"And what of the population of the islands?" I asked. "Do the Americans or the Kanakas rule?"

"Neither. Of the Caucasian race there are Americans, Englishmen, Frenchmen, and Germans, and these together rule at present. But there are a great number of Kanakas, Chinese, and Japanese, as well as a mixed-up class of no particular blood—natives and foreigners having intermarried for several generations. You will see them all when you get there."

"Are the islands of volcanic formation?" asked Oliver.

"Both volcanic and coral formation. The soil everywhere is composed of pulverized stone, sand, sea-mud, and ashes, mixed up with broken coral, and constant irrigation is necessary to assure a perfect crop."

"What of oysters?" asked Oliver suddenly.

"You want to know about those pearls, don't you?" laughed the doctor. "Well, pearl oysters are about the only kind that thrive around the islands, and the common oyster of America is unknown. Pearls are plentiful, but a good many of them are worthless. In years gone by the pearl industry was monopolized by the king. If those pearls were really hidden as the parchment says they were discovered and gathered without the royal knowledge, you may be sure of that."

"I reckon the king wanted everything," grumbled Dan. "That's the reason they made the queen step down and out. Onward the Flag of Freedom takes its way!"

"That's right, Dan. One of these days I expect to see the whole world free, if not under our own Stars and Stripes, then under some banner which shall be equally just to all."

On the fifth day out it began to grow stormy, and by nightfall it was blowing half a gale. We were now in a warm latitude and the stateroom was suffocating.

"I'm going to stay on deck for some air," said Oliver.

"I am with you," I returned. "I can't stand it when it is so stuffy."

"I understand the barometer is falling rapidly," he went on, as we walked to the deck. "I hope the storm doesn't prove too heavy for us."

"Oh, such a steamer as this can weather almost anything, Oliver. And we have a good many miles of open sea around us, so there is no danger of striking on a rocky coast in the darkness."

We found a comfortable spot on deck and sat down to view the preparations going on to weather the coming gale, or hurricane, as such things are termed in these latitudes.

"It's funny Dan don't come up," mused Oliver presently. "Guess I'll take a look for him."

He sprang up and left me to myself. Satisfied that our seats would still be waiting for us when we should want them, I also arose and strolled to the rail, close to the companionway leading to the steerage.

I had been standing musing for about five minutes when I heard a footstep behind me. Thinking it was Dan or Oliver I turned—to find myself confronted by Caleb Merkin.

"You've been watching me pretty closely, haven't you?" he hissed into my ear.

"I don't deny it, Merkin," I answered. "We intend to keep it up, too."

"Do you," he sneered.

"Yes, we do."

"I'll bet you won't! " he snarled, and in a twinkle he hurled himself at me and caught me around the breast with his single arm, pinning my own right arm to my side.

"Hi! let up there!" I cried.

"I won't, hang ye," he snarled. "I'm going to heave ye overboard, an' I'll heave your friends over, too—if I get the chance!"

And then he tried his best to lift me over the rail and fling me into the dark and angry ocean.