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CHAPTER VI.


IN WHICH A BAD MAN SUDDENLY DISAPPEARS.


We had watched Caleb Merkin closely ever since the encounter in the steerage, but I must confess that I had supposed it was done so secretly that he had not suspected it. His words revealed the truth, and I saw that he was about as angry as he could get, and willing to do anything while in this frame of mind.

I tried my best to keep my feet and with my left hand held to the rail. But the Mariposa was now tumbling and tossing under the full force of the storm, and it looked very much as if both of us might go overboard.

"Let go!" I cried. "Let go, or I will cry for help and have you placed under arrest."

"Keep still!" was his only answer. And then he lifted me again, and both of us struggled as I had never struggled before, not even when in peril in Cuba. Nobody was near, and, strange to say, Oliver failed to come back.

He had me about halfway over the rail, when, by an almost superhuman effort, I caught him by the throat and forced him backward. Then both of us pitched forward and his body slipped outward again, while I tried to draw still further back.

A sharp flash of lightning at this instant nearly blinded me, and the report which followed was deafening. Caleb Merkin's hold on me loosened and a roll of the steamer sent me flat on the deck. To keep myself from sliding I knew not whither, I grabbed the netting below the rail. I expected to have the one-armed sailor tackle me again, but—he had disappeared!

Yes, it was true, he had disappeared! Whether he had gone overboard or not I could not tell, but I felt that the chances were nine out of ten that he had landed into the ocean. I strained my eyes in vain to pierce the darkness. I could see absolutely nothing, excepting when another flash of lightning lit up the scene, and then I saw a sight that filled me with horror.

He was floating in the water, some distance back of the steamer. Evidently he was keeping afloat by treading with his feet, and his single hand was waving frantically for assistance.

This was what I saw only for a second—then the blackness of the night blotted out everything, and I found myself struggling to reach the cabin, for it was becoming extremely dangerous to remain outside.

"I must do something for that poor wretch!" I thought. "I cannot let him die in this fashion!"

The thought had scarcely crossed my mind when the Mariposa gave a heavy lurch to starboard. Up went my feet and I flew through the air, to bring up against the cabin side with a bang. I tried to save my head a heavy knock, but could not. A thousand lights flashed before my eyes—and then I knew no more.

When I recovered my senses I found myself in my stateroom berth with Dr. Barton bending over me. There was a bandage over my forehead, and the first thing that I realized was that my head was aching as if ready to split open.

"Oh," I groaned, and tried to stare about me.

"He is coming around," I heard, in Oliver's voice. "Thank heaven for that! I was afraid he was knocked out completely."

"He must have got an awful rap," came from Dan, and now I saw that both of them stood behind the doctor.

"I did get an awful rap——" I began, when Dr. Barton placed his hand over my mouth.

"Keep quiet, my lad; it will be best for the present," he said soothingly.

"Yes, but that sailor——" I cried, and then my head swam around again, and I fainted dead away.

My second recovery came an hour later, and then I felt much stronger. But the physician would not let me sit up, excepting to swallow some stimulants he had prepared for me. It was now broad daylight and the hurricane was a thing of the past.

As I lay there flat on my back, I could not get the one-armed sailor out of my mind. Beyond a doubt he must be drowned. Was I responsible for his death?

The thought made me break out into a cold perspiration, and before night a fever followed, and once more I was at the rail fighting for my life amid the fury of the hurricane. Caleb Merkin's eyes glared fiercely into my own, until they burned themselves into my brain, and the fever rose until both Dr. Barton and the regular steamer physician were in grave fear for my life.

What followed was not made clear to me until two weeks later. The run to Honolulu was finished without further incident, and once we had landed I was taken by Dr. Barton and my two companions to the Queen's Hospital, a commodious institution, set in a garden of tropical trees and shrubbery. Here I was given a delightful room, opening upon a wide veranda, where the trade winds from the north made all as cool as could be expected.

The doctor who attended me here was an Englishman, but the nurse was a native, a dark-eyed girl of sixteen, who put me strongly in mind of the sisters of my old Cuban chum, Alano. No nurse could have been more attentive than was Kookoo, and to her I think I owe my speedy restoration to health.

It was while sitting among the date palms of the hospital grounds, getting back my strength, that I told my two chums my story for the first time.

"I cannot keep it to myself any longer," I said. "It weighs too heavily on my mind." Then I told them all, and asked them if they thought I was responsible for Caleb Merkin's death.

"No, you are not to blame," said Oliver promptly. "He brought it on himself."

"Of course you are not to blame," put in Dan. "But I suppose it's an awful thing to have on one's mind," he added reflectively.

"It is, Dan. I would much rather see him alive, wretch that he was, than have his—his——" I could not finish.

"As you haven't seen fit to take Dr. Barton into your confidence I presume you don't want to tell the authorities," said Oliver.

"No, no! What good would it do? They cannot bring him back to life, and it may only cause me endless trouble."

"No, I wouldn't say anything more. He brought it on himself and had to pay the penalty of his rashness," said Dan. "Let the matter drop and try to think of something else."

"I'll never forget it," I shuddered. "But you are right; it was his life or mine——"

"And Providence aided you," finished Oliver. "That's the way you must look at it, Mark." He mused for a moment. "Now we are clear of this sailor, I presume we'll have this search for the Cave of Pearls all to ourselves."

"Where is Dr. Barton?"

"He has gone to another island, knowing you were out of danger. He expects to meet us somewhere around the volcano later on. He said we might leave word at the Volcano House when we arrived."

"I—I'm afraid I can't move just yet," I answered, with a sickly smile. "My legs are mighty shaky when I stand on them."

"We'll stay here for a week longer, at least," returned Dan. "I've ordered a carriage for to-morrow morning and we'll drive out every day to the different places of interest."

And drive we did, to the wonderful Pali, or precipice, some miles back of Honolulu, and to the beautiful beach at Waikiki, where Dan and Oliver took a bath, while I laid back in a swinging seat under an awning and watched the goings and comings of the people at this Coney Island of Hawaii. "This doesn't look much like a savage country," I thought.

The drives around the city, to the museum, churches, colleges, and other public buildings, were equally interesting. I had expected to behold a city "behind the times," but here was something thoroughly up-to-date, with electric lights, telephones, and street cars and stages running in all directions.

And yet it was vastly different from anything I had yet seen; different from Santiago, Cuba, and different from New York and San Francisco. It was the jumble of population as much as anything, and the variety of costumes worn. The shops, big and little, were kept by all sorts of people, and a good deal of trading was done in the open air.

"It's a patch-quilt from the whole world," said Dan. "I believe you can go out and in a day meet a man from nearly every nationality under the sun, including South Sea Islanders, South Americans, and all the rest."

"For dress everything seems to be the fashion," laughed Oliver. "I just saw two natives go by. One had on a regular dress-suit and the other, well, he didn't have on much of anything at all."

"It's a go-as-you-please mode of living," I said. "But the Kanakas don't seem to keep many stores or shops."

"No, the natives prefer working outdoors, if they work at all," said Dan. "I got that from the doctor. A good many of them would rather spend their time in fishing, hunting small game, or in lying in the sun sleeping or day-dreaming."

"Well, it's certainly an ideal spot for day-dreaming," I concluded. "No wonder some folks call the islands the Paradise of the Pacific."