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party as it crossed the small cleared spaces in the middle of the
impenetrable growth, but nothing except the green plain of bushy tops
and parasitical creepers was visible. As we waited beneath the tree the
"ticking" of a wood bug sounded like hammer blows in the tremendous
quietude, while the bursting of a pod reminded one of the beginning of a
Fourth of July celebration. We had lost all trace of Leith, and now,
immediately in front, rose the cliffs, and we saw a menace on their
dark, forbidding front.

The base of the hills presented the same nearly perpendicular formation
that we had met when endeavouring to reach the long gallery, and we held
a council to decide on what would be the best course to pursue. Maru was
confident that Leith was heading for this particular point at the moment
that Barbara's bribe caused the Raretongan to desert, and it was
reasonable to think that the ruffian had retired to some hiding place to
nurse his wound and decide upon the fate of the Professor and his two
daughters. From the scraps of conversation which we had overheard before
Holman interrupted the argument between Leith and the scientist, we
thought it probable that the old man would visit the centipede upon the
big table if he did not sign the papers that Leith required, while we
shuddered at the probable fate of the two girls unless Providence
directed us as to the manner in which we could effect a rescue.

"We must divide," said Holman. "I'll take Kaipi and go north, you take
Maru and go in the opposite direction. If you find the trail, camp near
it and send Maru on the run back to us. I'll do the same if I strike the
spoor of the big devil."

It was about two o'clock, as nearly as we could judge, when we
separated. We agreed to keep as close as possible to the rocky wall so
that a messenger from one would have less difficulty in locating the
other, and Maru and I found, before we had gone a hundred yards, that
the nearer we could get to the cliff the quicker we could get along. The
lianas found it difficult to get a grip upon the rocks, and we could
worm our way without much trouble.

We had travelled about three quarters of a mile when the native dropped
upon his knees and I immediately followed his example. The ordinary
Polynesian is not to be compared with the Australian black fellow or the
American Indian in his knowledge of the forest, but Maru was an
exception. His sight and hearing were abnormally keen, and he examined
the grass carefully.

"One man go by here pretty short time ago," he whispered.

"Native?" I asked.

"No, him wear shoes."

The Raretongan crawled forward on his knees, his face close to the
grass. The tracks upon the soft grass showed that the person was moving
in the direction we were going, and for about twenty yards we followed
cautiously. Leith, the one-eyed white man, and the Professor were the
only three men on the Isle of Tears, outside Holman and myself, who
would be wearing shoes. It was hard to think that the Professor or Leith
would be alone at that moment, so I concluded, as we crawled along in
the shadow of the cliff, that the tracks were made by One Eye.

Maru suddenly sprang to his feet and stood listening. I listened too.
Into the awful silence came a tremendous rumbling that increased each
second till I pictured it as a cancer of noise growing with appalling
rapidity within the encompassing stillness.

"What is it?" I gasped. "Why it's - - "

I understood at that moment, and I sprang toward the jungle, but the
big hand of the Raretongan gripped my shoulder and dragged me close to
the cliff beneath an overhanging ledge.

"Stay here!" he yelled, raising his voice above the tumult that seemed
to be coming out of the heavens. "Keep close much!"

The noise was deafening. The black cliff seemed to rock behind us, and
as Maru pulled me down on my knees five hundred tons of rock shot from
the heights and flattened ten square yards of the packed shrubs
immediately in front of us!

"Now!" screamed Maru, as the dust swept in under the ledge and nearly
choked us; "we get away quick, plenty dust, they can't see!"

The dirt and small rocks had rolled back upon us till we stood ankle
deep, but the native's advice was good. Hugging the wall of the cliff,
we ran back on our tracks till we had passed the area devastated by the
landslide; then we sprang into the bushes and peered up at the cliff.
High above the cloud of dust that was still rising from the ground, and
leaning forward so that he could view the extent of the avalanche, was
the one-eyed white man!

"Maru," I whispered, "go back and get Holman. I'll wait here till you
come."


[Illustration]


CHAPTER XIX

LEITH SCORES

The one-eyed man stood for a long time contemplating his handiwork. From
his point of observation he watched the pile of rocks and the
surrounding bushes, and the absence of movement convinced him that the
job had been well done. He commenced to make facial contortions as an
outlet for the mirth he was generating inside, and at intervals he
managed to produce a peculiar noise that reminded one of the bubbling of
a camel. I began to think that One Eye, besides being deaf and dumb, was
suffering from a shortage of gray matter inside his ugly-shaped head. He
strutted up and down, and narrowly escaped toppling over the ledge
through attempting a cake dance as a grand finale to the insane actions
prompted by the successful manner in which he had engineered the
landslide.

The afternoon had lengthened out before Maru returned with Holman and
Kaipi, and we hurriedly considered the best course to pursue. One Eye
had been with Leith when Maru deserted, so it was obvious that we were
not far from the ruffian's hiding place.

"If we could catch this lunatic on the cliff?" muttered Holman. "Gee! we
could tickle him with Kaipi's old knife blade till he ran us right into
the haunt."

"He's deaf," I said; "there's a good chance of roping him in if we could
scale the cliff."

"Me climb!" said Maru. "Him not hear. Me climb all alonga track, drop
down, breakem him neck."

"No, don't break his neck!" growled Holman. "We want him as a guide. Do
you understand? He knows where Leith is hiding, and if we could get hold
of him it would be clear sailing."

Maru borrowed Kaipi's knife, nodded confidently as we adjured him to use
caution, and then slipped back along the track so that he could climb to
the level of the one-eyed person's perch before attempting to creep upon
him. We sat down to await developments. The witless one was evidently a
lookout, and it was advisable to wait and see the success of Maru's
expedition before we attempted to move.

It was a long wait. Maru didn't intend to take any chances by closing in
hurriedly, and it was nearly two hours after his departure before we saw
his head rise above a boulder high up over the spot where One Eye was
keeping his vigil. It was evidently not the first time that the native
had stalked a human being, and his fine tactics, which should have
called forth praise, severely tried the small amount of patience that we
possessed. Holman cursed softly beneath his breath as Maru sat for ten
minutes at a time studying the route before attempting to move from a
sheltering rock, and my own nails burrowed into the palms of my hands as
I watched. The Raretongan was a genius in his own particular line, and I
think he took more than ordinary precautions so that his success would
prove to Holman that Barbara Herndon had not overpaid him when she
presented him with the emerald ring as a reward for his desertion from
Leith. Maru had no idea of the sentimental view of the matter which the
youngster took; and he thought that Holman's objections against the
bargain were caused by the thought that no services could be rendered
that would be half as valuable as the trinket. The unsentimental savage
could not imagine that the unstrung lover wanted the ring as a keepsake
of the girl who had won his heart on board _The Waif_.

"Caesar's Ghost! Why doesn't he hurry?" cried Holman. "That madman looks
as if he's going to change his camping ground!"

It looked as if the witless one was really going to move, and Maru had
still some fifty yards to cover before he would be directly above the
other's head. Our nerves were in such a state that we felt inclined to
scream out to the patient stalker. If we could grab the scout we could
probably induce him by gentle persuasion to act as guide, but if he
escaped us, we pictured ourselves stumbling over precipices and through
dark caverns with the same lack of results as had marked our trip to the
place of skulls.

Maru was decreasing the distance by inches. Slowly, very slowly, with
all the serpentlike cunning of the savage, he advanced till he was
almost above the spot where the other stood taking a survey of the
jungle. But it was a farewell glance for One Eye. If Leith had placed
him there to keep watch till he had reached a safe position, the watcher
evidently considered that the time was up. He hopped to another ledge
with the agility of a goat, and Holman groaned.

Maru noticed the retreat, and quickened his movements. Dropping
cautiously from ledge to ledge he crept upon the other with the
swiftness of a leopard creeping upon its prey. One Eye's deafness left
him at the mercy of the shadow in his rear. Swiftly taking cover
whenever the white man's head moved to the right or the left, the native
decreased the distance, and we rose to our knees.

Then Maru sprang. His muscular right arm went round the neck of the
white, and we were rushing toward the cliff without waiting to see the
outcome of the struggle. The Raretongan's strength was immense, and we
knew that the other could not break the strangle hold that had been put
upon him. We were more afraid that One Eye would be choked into
insensibility before we reached the post.

The big native was sitting astride his captive when we gained the ledge,
and the prisoner was blinking his one good eye as he stared up at him.
We dropped down beside him and took a look at the sun-tanned face. He
exhibited no fear, and the weak, watery eye showed no glint of
intelligence. It was plain that his brain was slightly deranged.

Holman jerked him into a sitting position, and with signs and gestures
we endeavoured to explain what we wanted him to do. Neither of us
understood the deaf and dumb alphabet, but the alphabet was hardly
necessary. With much pantomimic action we described Leith, the
Professor, and the two girls, and Kaipi enjoyed himself immensely by
waving his knife in front of One Eye's face to signify the fate that
awaited him if he did not immediately guide us to the spot. The Fijian
was so proud of the blade that he could hardly be prevented from burying
an inch of the steel in the prisoner's body.

One Eye, although obviously half-witted, saw that Kaipi was only looking
for an excuse to send him to a more undesirable place than the Isle of
Tears, and he made eager signs that he would act as our guide. Holman
relieved him of the revolver and cartridges he had in his pockets,
strapped his arms behind him, and with Maru's hand clutching the collar
of his coat, we signalled to him to step forward and step lively if he
wished to delay his journey to the other world till his soul was in a
better condition. The sun was close to the high ridges in the west, and
we wished to close with Leith before nightfall.

One Eye taxed our climbing powers in the next ten minutes. With the
agility of a chamois he scurried along the narrow ledges, and several
times Maru was forced to check his speed so that we could keep pace with
him. Holman's face showed the joy he felt at receiving another
opportunity to retrieve the blunders we had made in our two previous
attacks. Now we had reduced the big villain's fighting bodyguard to two
persons, Soma and the dancer, and if he had not impressed the carriers,
we outnumbered him. But Leith was on his own ground, and we had already
discovered that the Isle of Tears made an ideal retreat for an outlaw.
The nearly impassable jungle, surrounded by the cliffs that were
tunnelled with tremendous caverns, made a hiding place in which a few
men could defy an army.

One Eye moved along the side of the cliff for about five hundred yards,
then turned into a small cañon hardly thirty feet wide, the bottom of
which was about twenty yards above the valley from which we had climbed.

Our intuition told us that we were near the retreat, and we halted the
hurrying guide, and in the shelter of a boulder explained to him with
more signs and gestures that we wished to proceed with extreme caution.
The end of the gulch that was not more than a stone's throw from the
face of the cliff was already dark with the shadows of the hills, and as
we suspected that the opening to Leith's refuge was close, we wished to
make no unnecessary noise in approaching it. Using the scattered rocks
as covering, we advanced slowly, but before we reached the end the sun
had disappeared, and the absence of twilight, noticeable in that
latitude, compelled us to crawl along in a darkness that made it
impossible to discern any object that was more than three feet distant.
Holman was on one side of One Eye while Maru guarded him on the other
side, and as the bottom of the gorge made it impossible for more than
three to move abreast, Kaipi and I crawled in the rear.

We were at One Eye's mercy at that moment, but the idiot appeared to be
much impressed by the manner in which we had pictured the sure and
sudden fate that would fall upon him if we suspected him of treachery.
The mystery of the place gripped us as we went forward. High above us
the stars looked as if they were floating sequins in a sea of dark blue.

But the stars were blotted out suddenly, and I drew Holman's attention
to the fact. The youngster got to his feet and groped around in the
gloom, while we halted till he made an investigation. It was impossible
to see the face of the half-witted guide to gain any information from
his gestures.

Holman stooped and whispered his finding to us. "We're in a covered
passageway," he murmured. "I can just touch the roof by standing on
tiptoe. As we're in the place we might as well walk instead of crawling;
we'll get to the end quicker."

Maru dragged One Eye to his feet, and we pushed on. The air of the place
was much sweeter than the atmosphere of the Cavern of Skulls. The
floor, instead of being covered with thick dust as we had found it in
the former place, was one of clean, smooth rock, and the walls were
perfectly dry.

I had gripped One Eye's left arm while Holman was making the examination
of the passage, and we had not proceeded more than twenty yards when he
intimated that he wished to turn to the right. We allowed him to do so,
and for fully twenty minutes he followed a zigzag course that left us
completely nonplussed as to the way we had come. We could hardly count
the number of the turnings. First to the right, then to the left, then
back again toward the mouth of the place, he trotted forward with
nothing to guide him, yet when we checked him at certain corners to find
out if there was an angle in the path, we found that he was right in
every instance.

"He's counting the number of paces he takes between the turnings,"
muttered Holman. "No man, unless he had the eyes of a cat, could find
his way along this passage. Keep a grip on him or we'll never see
daylight again."

We guessed that we had walked for over half a mile when the guide
stopped abruptly. In the dark we endeavoured to find out what had pulled
him up short, but we tried in vain. A prick from Kaipi's knife blade
would not make him budge an inch, and we clustered together and racked
our brains to find the solution.

"P'raps we're up against something," whispered Holman, "Feel if there's
anything in front, Verslun."

I walked forward a pace and groped in the blackness. My fingers touched
solid rock. It hemmed us in on all sides. One Eye had walked us to the
end of the passage, and we had come up against a blind wall.

I whispered the news to Holman, and he swore softly. Maru's fingers
tightened on the collar of the prisoner till his breath came in short
gasps. Kaipi moved around to the side of the prisoner, but I pushed him
roughly back. The Fijian's desire to use his knife on all occasions was
somewhat irritating.

"What'll we do?" asked Holman.

"Get back," I answered. "He's either fooled us or he's lost his way."

Holman gripped One Eye by the neck and shook him roughly. The
youngster's temper was up, and it looked as if we had wasted the hours
we had spent in capturing the idiot alive, and the time lost in
following behind him through the cañon and the crooked passage. And time
was precious when we thought of the agony which Edith and Barbara
Herndon were suffering.

In his temper Holman forgot that the prisoner was deaf, and he shouted
a question at him. "What the devil is wrong?" he screamed. "Damn you,
will - "

Maru interrupted with a cry of astonishment. The wall at the end of the
passage appeared to slide away, and, standing directly in front of us,
his big frame outlined against a fire of brushwood that blazed behind
him, was Leith!

Holman gave a yell of rage and sprang forward, and Leith turned and sped
into the gloom. In his astonishment at finding himself confronted by the
enemy when the stone door had rolled aside, Holman had forgotten that he
had a revolver in his possession, and Leith had passed the brushwood
fire before I yelled out to the youngster to shoot.

Holman fired immediately, and Leith staggered. For a moment we thought
that he was down, but he picked himself up and ran on. I snatched a
blazing pine limb from the fire as I rushed by, and with the light
flickering upon the walls of the place, we sped madly after the flying
figure that was barely discernible when the blazing branch flung a
splinter of light into the gloom.

Holman emptied the revolver, but the pounding of Leith's feet that came
back to us proved that he was still running. Maru and Kaipi were
hallooing far behind, but Holman and I ran side by side, our minds
unable to think of anything but the capture of the human tiger in front.

We were gaining on him. We could hear his laboured breathing, and I
remembered with a thrill of satisfaction the wound that he had received
the night before. It was only a question of time when we would have our
fingers on his throat. "Keep it up!" gasped Holman. "We've got him,
Verslun! We've got him!"

It looked like it. The red glow from the torch enabled us to catch an
occasional glimpse of shoes moving up and down at such a rate that the
limbs to which they were attached always remained outside the area that
was faintly illuminated. The momentary view of the footgear, together
with the maddening _plop plop_ it made upon the rock, raised an insane
idea within my brain that we were chasing a pair of bewitched shoes that
were enticing us into the very heart of the mountain. The scanty diet
and the happenings of the two preceding days had left me light-headed.
The race was unreal. I had an idea that the shoes would run on forever,
and that every yard they covered took me farther away from Edith
Herndon.

The flame of the pine branch went out, and we were left in utter
darkness. But the sound of the flying feet still came back to us. At
times we were so near that Holman thrust out his hands as he ran, and
cursed softly as the sounds seemed to draw away from him.

"I'll have you yet!" he cried. "I'll choke you, you devil!"

A chuckle came out of the darkness and at that instant I made a
discovery. Leith was not alone. Keeping time with the clatter of the
shoes was a softer tattoo that told me that a barefooted runner was
racing beside the man we were pursuing.

Holman made the discovery at the same moment. "Soma," he breathed, and
he ran faster. From some place that seemed to be leagues in the rear
came the shouts of Maru and Kaipi, but their yells died away, and we
were convinced that they had given up the chase.

The _plop plop_ of the shoes ceased suddenly, and we slackened speed.
Our brains suggested that Leith had stopped abruptly on the chance of
doubling back before we could pull up, and a sweat of terror broke out
upon us. If he doubled successfully he would reach the stone door
through which we had got the first glimpse of him.

"He's turned!" cried Holman. "We'll get him, Verslun! After the - O God!
_Look out_!"

Holman's warning came too late. The rocky floor over which we had been
running, dropped away from us. I pitched forward after the youngster
into a gulf of darkness, landed on my shoulder upon a mass of volcanic
ash, and clutching vainly at the stuff, I rolled at tremendous speed
down into the bowels of the earth. From far above us came the sounds of
uncontrolled merriment - the high-pitched shrieks of a native rising
above the deep bass laughter of Leith.


[Illustration]


CHAPTER XX

THE BLACK KINDERGARTEN

I thought we were a thousand years rolling down that slope of smothering
ash. It was a quicksand that melted beneath us. We drove our arms into
it, but the stuff slipped away like fine wood ash, and we went on and
on. I knew Holman was in front of me. Occasionally a curse directed at
Leith managed to slip out when his mouth was not filled with the
smothering dust. Once I shouted at him, and he answered the cry with a
groan that told me how the happening had affected him. The arch ruffian
had checkmated us for the third time inside three days.

We struck the bottom at last, and, like moles, we clawed our way out of
the pile of soft, feathery stuff that came streaming down upon us like a
river, and for some minutes we were busy wiping the fluffy ash from
mouth and eyes and ears. It clung to us like down, and with each breath
we drew it into our lungs till we coughed and sneezed from the
irritation it produced. Struggling forward, knee-deep in the fine, dry
powder, we reached a spot that was practically clear, and for five
minutes we were busy endeavouring to relieve our tortured lungs.

"How far did we roll?" asked Holman.

"About half a mile," I replied.

"But straight, Verslun! What do you think?"

"Over a hundred yards; I'm certain of that."

"Well, I'm going to climb back."

"You can't do it!" I gasped. "That stuff is like quicksand."

"All the same I'm going to make a try."

We stumbled back to the gigantic ash pile, and shoulder to shoulder we
made a rush at the immense mountain down which we had rolled. We
couldn't see it, but we felt it rise around us like a flood as our legs
sank deeper. It came up to our waists - to our armpits, choking and
smothering us. Coming down we had rolled lightly over its surface, now
our legs bored into it like rods, and we struggled vainly to move. The
pile was like a high snowdrift into which we sank deeper and deeper the
more we struggled, and, worn out with our efforts, we fought our way
clear of the smothering ash and made an attempt to review the situation.

"He's beat us," groaned Holman. "He just trotted ahead of us till he
had us on the verge of the thing, and then he side-stepped. O God! What
asses we have been!"

"We did our best," I said.

"Our best?" repeated Holman. "And the man who tells you that he did his
best as an excuse for failure should be shot, Verslun."

"We couldn't tell that this infernal trench was in front," I grumbled.

"Then we shouldn't have chased him like a brace of madmen. I wonder if
Maru and Kaipi came near it?"

"We might call out, perhaps they'd hear."

Holman yelled the names of the two natives into the gloom above us, but
his yells only started a million echoes rolling through the tremendous
fissure in which we were prisoners.

"They turned back," said Holman. "They had sense enough to stay with One
Eye; we hadn't."

It was no use arguing with the youngster. He denounced our stupidity
till his tongue was too dry to utter the charges his half-crazed brain
made against us.

To divert his thoughts I proposed that we make an attempt to explore the
place, and without making any choice regarding direction we moved into
the inky darkness.

"We'll take it in turns to lead," said Holman gruffly. "Then if one of
us topples over a precipice the other has a chance to save himself. I'll
take first try at it, and if I find that I have pushed my foot into a
hole I'll yell out a warning."

I agreed, and we moved forward slowly. The chances of ever finding our
way out of that place seemed small at that moment. Leith had put us in a


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