RETRIBUTION!

It was some time before the boys could again regain their feet. As the
minutes slipped past without a recurrence of the shocks their courage
and self-confidence returned. They did not stop to discuss the matter,
but promptly obeyed their first instinct, which was to leave the
accursed spot without delay.
They had barely started down the ravine with tottering limbs when
Nattie, who was in the rear heard a hoarse cry behind him. It was not
human. It was harsh and gurgling, like the scream of a wild fowl in the
clutches of a giant eagle.
The lad paused and glanced back, then he cried out in horror. His
companions instantly turned and looked in the direction indicated by his
outstretched hand. Approaching them at a staggering walk was the almost
unrecognizable figure of a tall, thin man.
His clothing hung in charred tatters from a frame that seemed bent and
distorted, evidently from some great calamity; the hat was gone, the
hair burned away, and caking the lower limbs as high as the knees was a
mass of grayish, slimy mud.
As he advanced in a series of tremulous lurches he stretched forth his
hands in piteous supplication. Presently he fell to the ground and lay
there writhing like a wounded animal. The boys ran to his side. They
gave him one glance, then recoiled in horrified amazement.
“Heavens above!” cried Grant; “it is Willis Round!”
The poor wretch at their feet twisted around and revealed a scarred,
marked face with sightless eyes. After great effort, he whispered,
hoarsely:
“Water! water! Give me water!”
Luckily, Nattie carried a canteen-shaped bottle of the precious fluid.
Bending over, he placed it to the sufferer’s lips. With what joy and
relief did he drink! The draught placed new life in him. He presently
gasped:
“Who is–is here? Is it Grant–Grant Manning?”
“Yes, it is I,” quickly replied the lame youth. “Can I do anything for
you? Ha! why do I ask such a question? Quick, Nattie, Mori; we must take
him to the nearest town. He needs medical attendance at once.”
“It is too late,” groaned Round. “I am a dead man. The end of the world
is at hand, and I am caught in sin. The others—-”
“What of them?” asked Grant, eagerly.
“They are gone.”
“Dead?”
“Yes; the volcano was shattered by the eruption, the liquid mud and
earth–ugh!–rolled down to the caves. I saw it in time and almost
succeeded in–in escaping. But Ralph and Patrick were buried under
thousands–ugh!–of tons of molten earth.”
For the first time since the convulsion the boys glanced up at the peak
of Bandai-San. To their awe they saw that its shape had been totally
changed. Instead of the graceful cone with its dimple of a crater, it
now seemed shorn of half its height. The summit was simply a jagged edge
of cliff-like reaches.
[1]In plain view to the left was a peculiar river, almost black in
color, and evidently rolling down the steep slope of the mountainside
like the waters of a cascade. Dense clouds of steam hovered over it, and
plainly apparent in the air were strange, weird sounds impossible to
describe.
The grewsome sight brought back the first feeling of terror, and for a
moment the lads eyed one another in doubt. The desire to flee soon
passed away, however, and they again turned their attention to the
prostrate wretch.
A change was coming over him. It needed no medical skill to tell that
the man was dying. Nattie gave him more water, and others made a couch
of their coats, but that was all. Willis Round was beyond mortal aid. In
the course of half an hour he gave a gasp, half arose upon his elbow and
then fell back lifeless.
He was buried where he had died. Scooping a shallow grave in the soft
earth he was placed tenderly within and left to his last rest. As they
hurried away from the spot a strange silence fell upon Grant and his
companions.
One brief hour before they had been eager in their denunciations of
Ralph Black and his fellow conspirators. Now all that was changed. An
awful fate had overtaken them in the very midst of their sins. In the
presence of the dread retribution all animosity was forgotten. Their
death was from the awful hand of Nature, and their tomb under thousands
of tons of Mother Earth!
With all possible speed the boys left the eventful ravine. The horses
tethered near the spot of tableland had disappeared, evidently stampeded
by the convulsions. In due time the village from which Ralph had taken
his reinforcements was reached. It was entirely deserted.
At a small town beyond the castle of Yamagata, reached late in the
afternoon, Sumo was found with other natives more brave than their
fellows. The giant porter became wild with delight and ran forth to
meet the tired wayfarers.
“Welcome! thrice welcome!” he shouted, bowing his huge bulk almost to
the ground. “And thou escaped from old ‘Jishin’ after all? Glad am I,
excellencies; glad am I! But where are the fugitives? And where is the
foreigner, old Red-Beard?”


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“They are dead,” gravely replied Mori. “They were killed by the
eruption. Get us meat and drink at once, coward. I am minded to punish
you for your desertion, dog.”
Sumo shrugged his shoulders philosophically.
“As thou will, little master,” he replied. “Punish if it be in thy
heart. I would have fought for thee if mortal enemies threatened, but
what is my puny arm to that of the underground demon?”
“I do not blame you for running away, Sumo,” spoke up Nattie, with an
involuntary shudder. “It was an awful experience, and one I have no
desire to meet again.”
“Amen!” fervently exclaimed Grant.
That afternoon and night the boys rested. At daybreak on the following
day they started for the nearest railway station, in _jinrikishas_. As
reports came in from the country nearest to the other slope of
Bandai-San the terrible nature of the calamity became apparent.
Whole towns had been swept away by the dreadful sea of molten mud
thrown from the crater. Thousands had been injured, and a thousand lost.
Many miles of land had been ruined. The destruction was almost
irreparable.
At Tokio the boys purchased new outfits. They remained a few hours in
the capital, and then left for Yokohama. At Nattie’s personal request,
Sumo had accompanied them. It was the lad’s intention to install the
giant as a factotum of the firm in the counting-room. It was late in the
morning when they steamed into the railway station. As they left the
train, Mori turned to Grant with a cry of dismay.
“By Jove! do you know what day this is?” he asked, excitedly.
“No–that is–it’s—-”
“The first of August, and the bids for those army contracts are to be
opened at noon!”