“GRANT! BROTHER, IS IT YOU?”

The scene was tragic. A ray from the afternoon sun glinted down through
a rift in the foliage, bringing out in bold relief the warrior figure of
the giant. Thus he stood for a moment, evidently tasting his triumph to
the full, then, with a contemptuous laugh, he tossed the head of his
fallen foe upon the prostrate trunk.

“Send me to the offal heap, thou braggart?” he exclaimed. “Where art
thou now, Raiko? It was a lie to be answered with the rest of thy sins
at the foot of the throne of Buddha. Poof! that was an easy fight. Now I
try conclusions with the fiery-bearded foreigner.”

Turning, he sped up the ravine and vanished from sight, leaving Nattie
and Mori eying one another in astonishment.

“What a bloodthirsty wretch it is!” said the latter.

“Civilization is merely skin deep in some,” dryly replied his companion.
“This is a sorry spectacle even in the interior of your country. Don’t
you think we should feel ashamed?”

“I don’t know but that you are right,” was the naïve reply. “But,
confound it all, Nattie, Sumo had great provocation, and, remember, he
fought in our interests.”

“Then we will forgive him. I’ll harbor a little contempt for myself for
some time, though. Let somebody bury the body, or take it to the nearest
village. Come; we have lost too much time as it is.”

“Sumo is as rash as he is brave,” remarked Mori, as he rode along at his
friend’s side. “If he don’t watch out, Patrick will nab him.”

While trotting across a rocky shelf, Nattie chanced to look up toward
the cone of the nearby volcano. To his surprise, he saw that the vapory
mist had given way to a dense volume of pitch-black smoke. Little
tongues of flame shot athwart the column at intervals, and hovering over
the summit was a cloud of ashes glinting dully in the sun.

“That looks threatening,” he exclaimed, calling Mori’s attention to it.

“By Jove, Bandai-San is in eruption,” was the instant reply. “It is the
first time in my memory, too.” Then he added, gravely: “Nattie, this
comes at a bad time.” “Why?”

“If there should be a flow of lava–which is highly probable–our stay
in this neighborhood will be dangerous.”

“Does it ever reach this far?”

“No; but we must pass near the base of the mountain on our way to the
caves.”

“And the other party?”

“They will be placed in peril also.”

“Then we must catch them before they reach there,” exclaimed Nattie,
urging his horse forward. “I don’t care a snap for Ralph or his crew,
but Grant—-”

“Sh-h-h! Some one is coming down the ravine.”

A dull noise, like the scrambling of naked feet over the gravel and
rocky soil of the dry river bed, came to their ears. It increased until
at last it became evident that a considerable body of men were
approaching.

“Quick! out of the way!” exclaimed Nattie, turning sharply to the right.

Reining in his steed behind an overhanging mass of earth, he drew his
revolver and waited in silence.

Mori soon joined him. They had barely concealed themselves when a score
of half-naked natives dashed past, uttering cries of alarm as they ran.

They were apparently wild with terror. The cause was speedily explained.
While hurrying down the ravine more than one would pause and cast
fearful glances toward the smoking crater of old Bandai-San. The
impending eruption was the secret of their flight.

“It is the body of villagers taken away by Ralph,” said Mori. “Their
terror of the volcano has proved stronger than their fear of the
foreigners. Good! I am glad they have abandoned him. Now he won’t have
such an overwhelming force.”

“Did you notice whether the two other coolies were with them? I mean
those who were with Ralph at the castle?”

“I think I did see one. Humph! you can rest assured that very few
natives will remain in the neighborhood when a volcano is spouting fire.
I even wonder that Sumo—-”

As if the name carried the magic power of conjuring, it was barely
uttered when the bushes on the left slope of the ravine parted and the
giant porter strode into view.

“Hail, masters,” he said, stopping and wiping his perspiring face.

“Where have you been? What have you seen?” asked Nattie and Mori, in a
breath.

“I was in chase of the devil with the red beard.”

“Did you see him?”

Sumo laughed grimly.

“Yes, as the hunter sees the hawk in its flight,” he replied. “Red-beard
is swift in his pace when danger threatens.”

“Did you see the others?” eagerly asked Nattie.

“No, but I followed them close to the mud caves. Poof! they are fools.
Know they not that the demon of the mountain, old ‘Jishin’ himself,
lives there? And now is his hunting time. See! Bandai-San is angry. He
sends forth fire and smoke. Presently the river that runs molten red
will flow down the mountainside.”

“Are you afraid?” rather contemptuously asked Nattie.


(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

“Not of mortal, master; but it is no shame to bow to the wrath of the
gods. Whither go you?”

“In search of my brother,” was the terse reply, and the lad set spurs to
his horse.

“You shall not go alone,” spoke up Mori, riding after him.

Sumo glanced after their retreating forms, then he cast his eyes upward
to where the smoke over the crater was assuming a ruddy tinge. It was
enough. Tossing up his arms, he started off at a long trot and vanished
over the bit of tableland at the head of the ravine. His superstitious
fears had proved the victor.

“Mori, you are a friend indeed,” said Nattie, when the young Japanese
rejoined him. “But I cannot permit you to run unnecessary risks for our
sake. Return while you have the chance.”

“Not much,” was the hearty reply. “Where you go I go. You insult me. Do
you think I would leave you and Grant in the lurch? Not if ten thousand
volcanoes were to erupt. Tut! tut! that will do. Not another word.”

“I will say this, old fellow,” gratefully. “You will never regret your
actions on this trip. We will find some way to repay you.”

On up the valley rode the two friends, side by side. Presently a place
was reached where it became necessary to leave the horses and continue
on foot. Shortly after they had dismounted there came a deep rumbling
noise and the earth trembled beneath their feet.

Pale but resolute, they strode along. There was a smell of sulphur in
the air; the leaves of the scrubby trees were coated with impalpable
gray ashes, and a sifting cloud of powdery fragments fell upon them.

Suddenly, while passing around an abrupt bend in the ravine, they saw
ahead of them the figure of a youth limping in their direction. Nattie
gave the newcomer one startled glance, then he rushed forward, crying:

“Grant! Brother, is it you?”