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Title: Nightmare!
Author: Francis Stevens
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0607371.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: September 2006
Date most recently updated: September 2006

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Nightmare!
Francis Stevens



CHAPTER I



"PHILIP, did you notice that tall, thin man in the gray ulster,
who was walking up and down the boat-deck just before dinner?"

"Yes, sir. I observed the gentleman. Very haristocratic
appearance, if I may say so, Mr. Jones."

"Exactly. He never bought that ulster in New York. When we reach
London I want you to look around and see if you can find a tailor who
will make me one of the same cut."

"Very well, sir. Very good taste, if I may say so, Mr. Jones."

"You may. And--let's see--I need a few new golf sticks, and--a
dozen new shirts. Why did you pack this automatic in this trunk,
Philip? Put it in that suitcase."

"Yes, sir. I 'ardly thought you'd require it while on board the
Lusitania, Sir, if I may say so, Mr. Jones."

"Certainly you may. No, events requiring a pistol as stage-
property are not frequent on a liner. By the way, you never showed me
how to work the thing, Philip."

"No, Sir. The shopman from whom I purchased it declared it simple
of hoperation, but I 'ave not found it so sir."

"Well, find out in London and show me. I never met a burglar, but
if I ever should it would be embarrassing to point a pistol at him and
not be able to fire it off. I admire the heroes of burglar stories.
They're always such efficient people."

"Hunder exciting circumstances, sir, one becomes much more
efficient. They bring it out of a man, if I may say so, Mr. Jones."

"By all means. Well, golf is exciting enough for me. Merridale and
I are going to run over to the St. Andrews links. It's been the dream
of my life to play the St. Andrews, but something has always come up
to prevent."

"Nothing is likely to hoccur, I am sure, sir. Shall I repack the
steamer trunk now, Mr. Jones?"

"Yes. And call me a little earlier, in the morning, Philip. I have
an idea it's going to be fine weather, and since it's the last of the
voyage I want to make the most of it. What time is it? Eleven, eh?
Well, I'll go to bed early for once and get a good night's rest. Thank
Heaven for a quiet life, Philip. Cribbage and the Times for you, golf
and--"

"Beg pardon for hinterrupting, sir, but do you want this book
packed in the trunk?"

"'Paradise Island'? Yes, pack the thing away. Did you ever read
it, Philip?"

"No, sir. I don't care for them himpossible stories, if I may say
so, sir."

"And welcome. Now, I'm thirty-two years old, I've yachted, ridden,
motored and been about the world a good bit, and I've never had a real
adventure in my life. People don't have adventures unless they're
gentlemen in the filibustering line, or polar explorers, or something
like that. This modern world of ours is as safe as a church, barring
accidents, and they are never romantic. End in a hospital or a beastly
morgue. Anybody I suppose, can find trouble by looking for it, but
that's not exactly in my line."

"No, sir. Very bad form, sir, if I may say so, Mr. Jones."

"You may indeed. Here, I'll help you with that strap, and then--
bed."

 * * * *

Ragged fragments of cloud raced across a sky where great,
brilliant stars beamed fitfully. The wind hurled the wave crests
through space, so that the air was almost as watery as the wide waste
of billows and creaming surges in the midst of which Mr. Roland C.
Jones, of New York City, found himself most unexpectedly struggling.

How it could be that he was here battling for his life, with the
stars, the wind and raging, tumbling seas for his sole companions, did
not immediately trouble him. He was too thoroughly engaged in trying
to get a breath that was not half or all salt water to concern himself
about either past or future. The mere physical present was a little
bit more than he could comfortably handle.

But the fight between man and sea was too unequal. Mr. Jones was a
fair swimmer, but not being provided with gills he found it impossible
to get a living modicum of oxygen out of the saturated air, even when
the waves did not go clean over his head. Thoroughly exhausted, more
than half drowned, he had just decided that he might as well throw up
his arms and let the sea have its will of him, when he found himself
rising upon the shoulder of a particularly mighty billow.

For an instant he caught a glimpse of something dark and huge
looming above him. Then he was in the trough again, but only for a
moment. Up, up he was borne in a long, swift, surging motion. The
water seemed to fall away from under him. He was on his knees in sand
and the receding breaker was trying to drag him back with it. The next
wave, however, carried him much farther up the beach, dropping him
with a vicious thud when it was done with him.

Barely conscious of his own efforts, Jones dragged himself along
on hands and knees until he was actually out of reach of the ocean
which had been so unappreciative as to spew him up.

For a time he lay still, gasping the water out of lungs and
stomach, then rolled over and sat up. He felt like a man in a dream,
yet the pain he suffered informed Mr. Jones that this was no dream,
but a grim, incredible reality.

It was not alone the question, where was he, although that seemed
pressing enough. But how had he gotten into the water at all? The last
thing he remembered was a little, pleasant, white-finished room--a
state room--ah, that was it. He was in his state room on board the
liner. He was on board the Lusitania, and he was going to London to
visit his cousin, the Hon. Percy Merridale. And he had--let's see, he
had been going over the things in his steamer trunk with his man,
Philip. And then--then he was going to bed. He must have gone to bed,
and then-

He cudgeled his memory, but failed to beat out one single further
recollection back of that dazed, strangling moment when he had found
himself struggling with the waves.

Where was the liner? While in the water he could not recall having
seen any lights, receding or otherwise. Stare earnestly as he might
now across the sea, there were certainly no lights visible other than
the stars, which storm-clouds now obscured at ever-increasing
intervals.

Where was the Lusitania? And how had he come to part company with
her so inexplicably? If the huge ship had melted away from about his
slumbering form like a dream thing, instead of the vast solid steel
hulk she was, she could not have vanished more thoroughly or
mysteriously.

Only one explanation occurred to Mr. Jones, and even that was
inadequate to explain the liner's total disappearance. When a boy he
had been given to the habit of sleep-walking. He had usually slept
locked in, in those days, but had thought the habit long since dead
and gone. Nevertheless, he must have risen in a dream, gone on deck,
and in some way fallen over the rail without being seen by any one.

What an extremely awkward predicament! Where could he be? What
land lay near enough for him to have reached it undrowned? In view of
the approximate position of the liner, so far as he knew it, Ireland
seemed the only possible answer to that question. Had he been cast
upon some portion of the Irish coast? Certainly the only thing for him
to do was to get up and walk along this lonely, God and man forsaken
beach until he came to some place where he could get dry clothes and
cable his friends in London.

His clothes! He was fully dressed, and he examined the garments as
well as he was able by starlight. They seemed wrong, some way. They
were not his clothes, at all, but the clothes of a stranger. Had he,
in his sleep, wandered into a neighboring stateroom and robbed some
innocent stranger? He recalled that he had been talking to Philip
about burglars and pistols--lightly it is true, but perhaps the
suggestion of that conversation had led him into such an astounding
exploit.

Mr. Jones searched this hypothetical other person's pockets, but
all he brought to light were some wet, useless matches, a small
penknife, an unmarked handkerchief, and a little loose change. There
were no letters or anything by which the rightful owner could be
identified.

By a mighty effort Jones forced the problem of the clothes out of
his mind and fixed it upon the greater one of finding shelter and
means of communication with London.

While he sat there the sky had completely cleared, and even by
starlight he could make out that he was on a long, bare stretch of
sand, which curved smoothly away on either side. From the inner edge
of this strip a black wall of rock rose sharply, looming to the stars
above Jones's head. This enormous cliff also curved away on either
hand, following the line of the beach.

Selecting a quarter from the small coins he had found, Mr. Jones
flipped it into the air. "Heads to the right, tails to the left," said
he. The coin fell with the eagle uppermost and the castaway obediently
started off in the direction indicated by Fate.

Walking was easy on the smooth, wet sand. The night air was so
warm that even in his wet clothes Jones was not uncomfortably cold,
and although the interminable breakers still roared in almost to his
feet, the storm had evidently blown itself out. These rushing seas
were only the aftermath.

Presently the beach dwindled away to nothing, and the cliff
extended itself into the sea in a sort of long, sloping foot of jagged
rocks. Mr. Jones managed to feel his way around this point, drenched
again with spray, and wading through shallow pools of water. He tore
his clothes and scraped his hands raw, but at last achieved the place
where the beach began again.

"Halt!" commanded a stern, uncompromising voice.

Before him loomed the dark bulk of a figure which seemed to be
pointing something at him. The figure came closer and the "something"
developed into an unpleasant-looking rifle, along whose leveled barrel
the starlight glimmered. Behind the figure, a hundred yards or so,
Jones, saw a yellow gleam of lights, and not far out to sea, on the
comparatively quiet waters of a little bay, some sort of vessel lay at
anchor.

"Halt!" the man of the rifle again exclaimed in yet harsher tones.

"I have halted," replied Mr. Jones mildly. "May I ask--"

"None of your lip!" said the stranger ferociously. "Who are youse,
and what do youse want around here?"

"Nothing--nothing at all. I was just walking along the beach--"

"Ho! Takin' y'r evenin' stroll up Fift' Avenoo, was youse? Well,
just stroll along ahead of me now, and no more of your lip. I'll turn
youse over to the captain, see? Now, march!"

Perforce Jones marched. He was unarmed, but even if he had carried
the automatic pistol (and known how to use it) he could not see what
would be gained by opposing this determined and ruffianly person. He
stumbled along ahead of his captor, who occasionally hastened his
footsteps by prodding him in the back most uncomfortably with his
rifle-muzzle.

Luckily it was not far to the lights, where Jones presently
discovered that three small tents were erected on the sand.

Another man came forward to meet them. He was a tall, well set-up
figure. Even by the dim light of three ship's lanterns, set about in
the sand, Jones could see that he was handsome, after a dark, foreign
manner, and generally rather aristocratic in appearance. Neatly
attired in white-ducks and of a fairly amiable expression, he seemed
to Jones far preferable to his first acquaintance.

"What is this, Doherty?" inquired the gentleman in white.

"Youse c'n search me, y'r excellency," replied the man with the
rifle. "I found it up there by the point, and I brung it into camp for
youse fellers to cut up or keep, just as you please. I don't--"

"That will do, Doherty," broke in the other, a shade of annoyance
in his even, cultivated voice. "You may return to your post And now,"
turning to the castaway, "who are you, sir, and how did you come
here?" He spoke courteously and with the slightest trace of foreign
accent in his otherwise faultless English.

Several other men had now gathered about them. They were
roughlooking fellows, unshaven, and with dull, uneducated faces. Their
costumes were not elaborate, consisting mostly of a shirt and a pair
of more or less ragged trousers, the only exceptions being the man in
white and a tall, powerful-looking brute of a fellow who was dressed
in a blue serge uniform, like a ship's officer.

The moment had come for Mr. Jones to relate the tale of his
strange misadventure and receive the aid and sympathy to which he knew
himself entitled and which he fully expected to get, since rough
clothes are by no means the natural insignia of unkind hearts.

"My name is Roland C. Jones," he began. "I am an American, and
during the storm I was cast up on the beach--over beyond that point.
By the way, is this the coast of Ireland?"

"Is this--what?" exclaimed the man in white with a look of intense
astonishment.

"Oh, isn't it?" stammered Mr. Jones, rather taken aback by the
stranger's amazement. "Well, you see I couldn't very well know what
place it was. As I said, I was cast here by the storm, and of course I
am very glad indeed to run across you fellows. That's a yacht you've
got out there, isn't it? I thought by the look of her. I'm a yachtsman
myself. My craft's the little Bandersnatch, New York Yacht Club."

These words should have been an open sesame to instant solicitude
and hospitality, for to own a yacht is to belong to a sort of
freemasonry, extending over the whole wide seas; but this stranger.
only stared at Jones with increasing coldness and suspicion.

"Exactly," he commented briefly, his lips curling in a curious
little smile. "And how did you come to be cast away? Has your yacht
been wrecked? Did no one else come ashore? Where are your companions?"

In the teeth of this fusillade of questions Mr. Jones launched
once more into his explanation.

"My yacht was not wrecked. I was not on my yacht. I was on board
the Lusitania, and Heaven knows where she is now."

"Heaven probably does," interrupted the stranger, smiling coldly.
"The Lusitania was torpedoed by a German submarine early this morning.
We have but just received the information by wireless. If you were one
of the victims you are indeed to be pitied. You have been forced to
swim a very long way--several thousand miles, I think. Did you come
around the Horn, or through the canal, my friend?"

Jones stared at him blankly. Was the man insane? Torpedoed--by
Germans--thousands of miles! He clasped his head in his hands and
groaned. It must be he himself who was mad. Then raising a very white
face he spread out his arms in a gesture of despair.

"I'll have to admit that I don't know what you are talking about.
I--I am afraid something has happened to my head--or I don't hear you
correctly. No one could possibly torpedo the Lusitania--unless it were
an anarchist, and I can't imagine what you mean by several thousand
miles."

"That is sad. Yes, your brain must be affected, sir. You recollect
that you are an American, and that is much, but I think you are
mistaken about your name. Well, we will keep you with us. I do not
really think it would be safe for you to stray about any longer alone
in your pitiful condition. Captain Ivanovitch," he turned to the tall
man in blue serge, "I will turn this young man over to you. You have
heard him and will agree with me that it is wise to guard him
carefully--against himself, of course. Do you understand?"

He still spoke in English, and it was in broken English that the
captain replied. He spoke with a grin.

"Excellency, I und'stand. He have forgot his name. He have forgot
even that there ees war. Have you suggest a name which he know perhaps
better than that one he say?"

"Not yet. My friend, if I should address you as Richard Holloway,
would it arouse no recollections in your mind?" The words were
pleasant enough, but the voice was keen and cold as a winter wind.

Jones looked at the man in increased bewilderment. For the sake of
peace and until he could escape from these madmen, had he better
accept this now cognomen? Before he could make up his mind, "his
excellency" turned aside with a short laugh. "Take good care of Mr.
Holloway, Ivanovitch," he flung back over his shoulder. "It is just
possible that we may arouse his memory and make him useful."

"Eester way," said the captain, with deceitful politeness, "eet is
great pleasure to entertain you. So leetle we theenk Reechard Hol'way
come to us so, free of weel. Weel you accept shelter from one of our
leetle tents? Yes?"

Some inner instinct informed Mr. Jones that this Holloway
personality was a dangerous one to assume. Playing himself off as
another man did not appeal to him, anyway.

"I am not the person you seem to think I am," he said rather
doggedly. "But I'd go anywhere to get something to eat. I'm nearly
starved."

The captain grinned again, mockingly, hatefully. "At once, Meester
Hol'way. We are all humbly servants. Dmitri--" Here he turned to one
of the seamen who stood by staring stupidly and launched a command in
some language which was unfamiliar to Jones, although, judging by the
captain's own name and that of the man addressed, he assumed it to be
Russian.

The sailor sprang to obey, and Captain Ivanovitch led Mr. Jones to
one of the small tents. "Here," said he, "weel Meester Hol'way, permit
to lodge himself. The tent, he is leetle, but you not mind that. Eet
is more better than the ocean, no?"

"Humph! Perhaps," grunted Mr. Jones. He had taken an immediate
dislike to the amiable captain. "By the way, you people seem to be
very chary of introductions. Who is that gentleman I was just now
speaking to? Your owner, I presume?"

"You not know? But of course. I forget you have jus' been
sheepwreck. That ees his highness, Preence Sergius Petrofsky. The name
also--it call nothing to your mind?"

"Nothing but Siberia and--er--Russian cigarettes. So, he's a
connection of the royal family, is he? Now, tell me, what is all this
fuss about, this man Holloway? There's no particle of use in calling
me Holloway any longer, you know. I never even knew one of that name."

"So sad, Meester Hol'way. Perhaps you receive the blow upon the
head--from wreckage, you und'stand? Eef you will show the place, we
try to play the good part. We weel put upon eet the bandage."

"My head is all right, I tell you. My stomach is the only part of
me that is in need of attention."

"Ver' good. Here come my man now weeth the good food. We shall not
starve you, my friend. Also comes once more hees excellency."

The prince indeed came up at that moment. His features were set in
a haughty frown, and he addressed himself immediately to Mr. Jones in
a domineering tone.

"See here, Holloway, I have been considering this matter
carefully, and can see no reason for your continuing the farce. How
you came to fall into our hands is your own affair. But you must not
rely upon the fact that your face is unfamiliar to us. There can be no
question of your identity. You are the only man on the island--at
least on the outside of it, for you yourself are theonly person who
knows what is inside--who did not come here in the Monterey. Which
places you beyond the shadow of a doubt as Richard Holloway. Now,
answer me, yes or no. Will you tell me where lies the entrance to the
caverns? If you help us we will make it well worth your while."

"What caverns?" queried Jones impatiently and with rising anger.
These Russians were intolerable.

"Your feigned ignorance will not help you in the least, my
friend," replied Petrofsky sternly. "I mean, of course, the caverns
that lead beneath the cliffs. Out of all the caverns, the one which
leads to that inner valley of yours. It was your story and yours alone
which brought my brother across half a world to seek it.

"Come, sir, it is true that all of us here belong to the
Brotherhood, and Paul has poisoned your mind against us. Also, by
American eyes, I know that the great cause of nihilism is regarded
askance.

"That is because you have experienced nothing of the evils which
we plan to correct. But at least you know that I am a gentleman. If I
give my word, I keep it. My brother has your trust."

"I am glad to hear it," murmured Jones wearily.

"What is that? I say that I, too, am a Petrofsky, and I swear to
you that neither Paul nor those with him shall suffer the very least
harm if you will help me. Nay, I will go further and promise that he
shall receive his full share of the gains. The cause will not begrudge
him that, although he has done his utmost to thwart our participation
in this venture. But he and his little party can do nothing now. They
have scarcely any provisions, hardly any arms or amunition. We could
sweep down and annihilate them at this moment if I did not always
remember that Paul is indeed my brother. Come, Mr. Holloway save him
against himself and for the time at least cast in your lot with us.
Will you give me your hand on it?"

Jones hesitated. To him this long rigmarole of nihilists and
caverns failed to carry any meaning whatsoever.

"How can I convince you, Sir," he said at last, "that I know
nothing whatever of these matters? That all I desire is to get away
from this place and continue my quiet, respectable journey to London.
And last and most emphatically that my name is certainly not Holloway,
but Roland C. Jones, of New York City. You are making a serious
mistake, Prince Petrofsky, and a most absurd one, if you will pardon
me."

The Russian's eyes flashed angrily.

"Ho! You are yet stubborn? We will see if we cannot loosen your
tongue a bit. Now, listen to me, and remember that I pledge my word as
a Petrofsky that this promise will be kept. If you persist in your
present attitude you will be taken on board that yacht and triced up
to the signal-mast. Then you will be beate--they beat criminals in
Russia. With the knout. Do you know what the knout means? I can see by
your expression that you do. Well, make up your mind which it is to
be. You may expect either our gratitude or--the other! You have until
morning to decide. While making up your mind you may remain in that
tent. Ivanovitch, set a guard over this man and see that he does not
escape. Mr. Holloway, I give you a very good evening!"

Sergius Petrofsky turned his straight white back upon the dismayed
American and stalked off down to the shore. There he got into a
waiting dingey and was rowed out to the yacht.

Jones started, shivering slightly, as the captain touched his
elbow and said in a soft voice, "You are foolish man, Meester Hol'way.
But do not be so foolish as try leave us to-night. You und'stand?"

And Mr. Jones was left with his guard of two bearded sailors.

"Good Lord!" he muttered to himself. "What a crazy mess! Is
knouting any worse than drowning, I wonder? I'll bet it is!"



CHAPTER II



MIDNIGHT found Mr. Jones sitting in his prison tent disconsolate.

There was a neat cot and blankets, but he had never felt less like
sleeping in his life. He clung to his wakefulness and the few hours
intervening between him and the morrow, like a sick man anticipating
an extremely painful but inevitable operation. For something told him
that Sergius Petrofsky was not the man to make empty threats.

Mr. Jones could see no way out of his predicament--unless he might
anger the Russian into shooting instead of torturing him. The man
certainly possessed a violent temper behind those haughty eyes of his.

While the captive was still revolving in his mind this desperate
expedient, he suddenly felt something poke him sharply in the back. At
the same instant some one said "Sh!" in a sharp, sibilant whisper.

The pain of the unexpected jab made Jones spring to his feet,
crashing into the tent-pole and shaking the whole tent so violently
that one of his guards appeared in the entrance. He thrust a large,
hirsute countenance into the aperture and said something that sounded
like the name of a Russian province.

"Get out, get out!" exclaimed Mr. Jones, gesturing violently to
make his meaning clear. "It is nothing at all. Nothing. I bumped into
the pole. Go away!"

The guard stared at him suspiciously for a moment longer, glanced
about the little tent, which was dimly lighted by a lantern, and at
last withdrew himself.

Once more the prisoner sat down, close to the canvas wall, and
cautiously whispered, "It's all right. He has gone. Who are you and
what do you want? What did you poke me like that for?"

There was a moment's silence, followed by a slight ripping sound.
Through the canvas close by his shoulder Jones saw the point of a
knife appear. It deftly cut two sides of a small triangle, then the
flap so made was lifted and a face appeared. The face looked familiar.
Then Mr. Jones recognized Doherty, the man who had captured him.

"Say, where are youse from?" The question was barely breathed in a
voice which could not possibly have carried beyond the walls of the
tent. Jones replied in the same bated tone:

"New York. Why?"

"That settles it, bo. Wait a jif."

The face was withdrawn, and the knife came into use once more.
This time, however, it sawed out an aperture about three feet square
near the bottom of the canvas wall. "Come on out, bo," whispered the
rescuer.

Mr. Jones obeyed, moving as stealthily as he could, and having
first made sure that the lantern would not cast the shadow of his
escaping form upon the side of the tent. The situation required
caution if ever a situation did.

Once outside he straightened himself, and felt a powerful hand
grasp his arm. "This way, bo," came the whisper, and rescuer and
rescued crept softly across the sands, behind the tents, and away,
keeping close to the cliff. Glancing seaward, Jones saw the riding
lights of the yacht, otherwise a dim, black bulk upon the quiet waters
of the bay.

His guide led him away from the camp, not in the direction of the
point where the two had first met, but onward along the beach. As soon
as they were out of ear-shot of his Russian companions Doherty halted
and said:

"I don't go no furder wid youse, see? G'wan on along until youse
comes to a ravine. Go up there, and pretty soon youse comes to where
dis other prince guy is, see? I don't know whether youse and this
Holloway feller are the same guy or not. If you are, then youse don't
need no more help from me. If youse ain't, then take a tip and hold
your jawr about comin' straight from this camp, see? Now, beat it!"

"But see here!" exclaimed Jones, laying his hand on the other's
shoulder to stay him. "Why have you helped me out this way? I'm
everlastingly obliged to you, and--"

"Aw, ferget it!" snapped the other, shaking off the detaining hand
roughly. "I ain't no friend of youse, neither, see? But no Russian
dook ain't my boss when it comes to beatin' up another N'York feller
with that knout thing. See? Now, will youse beat it, or d'youse want
t'go back there and get what's comin' to youse?"

"I'll go. But, thank you, just the same. Say, can't you tell me
something about all this business--"

But already Doherty had disappeared in the darkness, and with a
slight sigh Roland C. Jones turned his face in the direction he had
been instructed to follow. At any rate, the knouting was indefinitely
postponed, and he could think of nothing much worse which could
befall.

A short distance beyond the place where Doherty had left him the
beach again ended in rocks. The man had spoken of a "ravine," so Mr.
Jones again climbed and scrambled, coming at last to where the cliff
seemed to be split in two parts. How far this split penetrated into
the rocky wall, he had no means of knowing, for it was all as dark as
a pocket.

He discovered by stumbling into it that a little rill of water
flowed down the middle of the split and into the sea. His best chance
of exploring the ravine was to walk up the bed of this stream, which
was no more than ankle deep. The water, he found, had the bitter chill
of a glacier stream, and his feet were soon numb with cold. He had
been offered no opportunity to dry his clothing, and it was still very
damp and uncomfortable. He hoped that the extreme warmth of the night
might prevent him from getting pneumonia.

Mr. Jones was not accustomed to such privations and hardships, and
he found them extremely annoying.

Having no means of making a light, he stumbled along in the
darkness, alternately cursing himself for having fallen overboard and
the Hon. Percy Merridale as the (however remote) cause of all his
misfortunes.

At length, however, the watercourse made a sharp bend, and
rounding it, he beheld, a short distance ahead of him, a reddish glow
upon the rocks. Then a black figure appeared in silhouette against the
glow. He was considering how he could best make his presence known,
for this he correctly surmised to be the place of that mysterious
other encampment, when a voice exclaimed, "Hands up, there, or I'll
fire!"

"Twice in one night!" muttered Jones rebelliously.

"What's that? Stranger, you've strayed onto the wrong range. Come
into the light, and don't make no false moves, or you'll sure get
perforated."

The voice had now come close to his side, and Mr. Jones felt the
hard muzzle of some sort of weapon pressing against his ribs.

"I assure you that I am not armed," he said.

"I'll assure myself in a minute," responded the unsympathetic
voice. "March, now!"

And again Jones marched. The light which Jones had seen reflected
upon the cliff was cast by a fire built between two huge boulders in
such a manner as to obscure its radiance so far as was possible.
Emerging into the full glare, the unfortunate halted again, obedient
to the pressure on his arm.

About the fire, which they were probably maintaining for the sake
of illumination, since they were cooking nothing, and the temperature
of the night was so high, several figures were gathered. All save one
of these persons were men, the exception being a slender young girl,
who at that moment turned her face and stared straight into the eyes
of Mr. Jones.

"By Jupiter!" he murmured. "What's a girl like that doing with
this crowd?"

The young lady was attired in a somewhat dilapidated white
yachting costume, which looked as if it had been soaked more than once
and not pressed in a long time. But she was not of the type whose
social standing or personal attraction would ever be judged by her
clothes, however she might be dressed. Her crisply curling hair
gleamed almost red in the firelight, though in daytime it would
probably be no more than auburn. Her skin was of that clear,
transparent whiteness which sometimes accompanies such hair; her
features clean-cut and firm to a point which would have been almost
masculine had they not been relieved by, a pair of blue eyes so pure,
childish, and innocent that looking at them one could only be reminded
of the eyes of a suddenly awakened baby.

For the rest, she was slight of figure, with small, tapering hands
and feet, giving an impression of physical weakness which Mr. Jones
later discovered to be deceptive.

He did not, of course, absorb all these details of appearance in
that first brief meeting. At the moment he saw only that here was a
beautiful, well-bred girl in the midst of surroundings entirely
unsuitable--unless she happened to be a movie actress, which seemed
improbable.

Of her companions, one was a tall, rather good-looking man with a
sensitive mouth and slightly receding chin, also in yachting costume.
Another was a rangy, lanky sort of fellow, attired in nothing more
formal than a shirt and shabby trousers. The two remaining men were
plainly of a lower class, probably seamen from their general
appearance.

With a look of astonishment the girl glanced from Jones to his
captor, who stood slightly behind him, and said:

"James, who is this person? How did he come here?"

Yes, she said it exactly as if she were standing in her own
drawing-room, inquiring of the butler how some unknown vagabond had
penetrated into her domain. Something humorous in the whole situation
smote Jones abruptly, so that he laughed aloud, and she stared at him
more haughtily than ever.

"I beg your pardon," said Mr. Jones, hastening to correct his
involuntary rudeness, "I have had a rather trying evening, and--er--I
did not expect to see a young lady in this place."

"And why not, pray? You are one of Prince Sergius' friends, are
you not? Paul, this must be one of your brother's men, although I for
one have never seen him before. Do you know him?"

She addressed the handsome man with the weak chin, and Jones knew
this must be the brother of the Russian who had imprisoned him.

"No," he replied, rising lazily. "I have never seen the fellow
before. Do you know him? Dick Holloway?"

"Not yet, but I've no objection. What is your name, anyway?"

So the man in the shirt and trousers was Holloway. Jones looked at
him with considerable interest, since it was in his name that he had
nearly suffered so much, and saw that he was a young man with a keen,
rather strong face. Dressed differently, he might have been either a
reporter or an automobile salesman--or a member of Jones's own club.

"My name is Roland C. Jones," stated the castaway, somewhat weary
of reiterating that fact. "Some hours ago, early in the evening, I was
cast up on the beach by the storm. I--think I had fallen overboard in
my sleep. I was on my way to London. Then I--" He suddenly remembered
Doherty's warning. He decided that he owed it to his benefactor to
keep faith. "I came on up the beach and stumbled into this ravine and
walked up it and--and here I am, you know."

This simple statement was met by dead silence for a moment. Then
the Russian asked: "You were going to London, you say? That sounds a
little peculiar. And you say you were wrecked, some hours ago? Where
were you, pray, in the interval? Do you mean you have met no one since
that time?"

"Yes," admitted Mr. Jones, realizing that his story lacked
strength. "I met one man--or, rather, I saw a man; but as soon as he
caught sight of me he made off. I chased him, but he was too quick.
Then I wandered around a while, until I found my way here."

"H--m What ship were you on?"

Jones started to reply, "The Lusitania," but checked himself. He
was actually afraid that these people, too, would insist on that
nightmare tangle of German torpedoes and impossible distances. Then he
would know that something had crone wrong in his brain. He did not
want to know it just then. There was too much to attend to without
that. "I was on my own yacht, the Bandersnatch. We were just cruising
around, you know. We had thought of running over to the Azores."
(Jones was not at all sure by this time where in the Atlantic he might
be, but the Azores, as occupying a fairly central position, seemed
safe.) "I must have walked in my sleep, for first thing I knew I was
in the water, and the only wonder is that I was not drowned. I am a
New Yorker, but we sailed from Savannah." He was rather proud of this
touch of realism, but Holloway burst out laughing.

"First London, and now the Azores," the latter remarked in a tone
of goodnatured amusement. "You seem to have put out on a remarkable
voyage."

"For my part," interposed the young lady, who, despite her
infantile eye, seemed of very determined and decisive character, "I
don't believe a word of your story. If you were on a yacht, which I
don't doubt, it was the Monterey, and she lies in the bay now. I
believe you were on board at the same time we were, although we didn't
see you. That about London and Savannah and the Azores is merely
ridiculous. I can't imagine your object in making such absurd
statements. Paul, this man has been sent here by your brother to spy
upon us and find out the secret of the caverns."

Paul nodded his head, saying: "Holloway, do you not think that
Miss Weston is right?"

"It's a one best bet she is, prince. All that gas about his yacht
and the rest of it was probably planned to make us think he's a bit
light in his upper story."

"What?"

"Bats in his belfry--nobody home--you know."

"Oh, you mean insane. But why should he wish us to think that?"

"So we won't take too much pains to keep our cards face down. If
you'll take a tip from me, prince, you'll keep this angel-faced little
castaway tied right to mama's apron-strings till time's called."

The prince laughed amiably, but the amiability was for Holloway,
not Mr. Jones.

"Your expressions--your idioms--they are so very charming, Dick
Holloway. But you are right. We cannot afford to be betrayed. James
Haskins, you will kindly remain close to this gentleman's side. Take
him with you and return to your post. And now, my friends, we have
already sat too long talking. Let us sleep for the two hours that
remain of night. Remember, we start at dawn."



CHAPTER III



AS IF stricken dumb, Mr. Jones obeyed the guiding hand of James
Haskins, as it steered him back to the point whence he had first
sighted the camp-fire. It seemed as though something even stronger
than Fate were against him. Whatever he said was turned back upon him;
whatever he did, it merely led him into fresh disaster. There was no
use in fighting the tide. Henceforth he would keep still and permit
events to shape themselves, unhelped or hindered by his efforts.

Perhaps, presently, he would wake up. Yes, this must be some
unusually vivid nightmare which had him in its clutches.

"Squat right down on that rock, stranger, and make yourself at
home." Of course, it was Haskins who broke in on his reverie. "If any
more mavericks stray off your range up this way, I'll be right here to
throw, tie, and brand 'em. Have a cigarette?"

"No--Yes, thank you, I believe I will."

For a few moments the two smoked without speaking. The night was
silent, save for the low, distant murmur of the sea and the occasional
squeak of a bat. Overhead the great, brilliant stars, which hung so
strangely low and near, seemed to wink at Jones, as if they were
sharers in some huge joke of whose nature he was not yet informed, but
of which he was unquestionably the butt.

"Strange," he reflected. "I can't remember ever having smoked in a
dream before. I can taste the tobacco, too. And my hands hurt like the
dickens, where I scraped 'em on the rocks. I wonder if I ever will
wake up. That girl is a winner for looks, all right; but, oh, mama, I
don't like her disposition one little bit! Seems to have it in for me,
all right. I wonder--"

"Pleasant dreams!" It was James Haskins again. "Say, did you
really get washed ashore like you told the bunch?"

"I certainly did," said Jones with convincing vigor and
promptitude. "Look here; if I should tell you the whole story about
what has happened since I reached this place, would you believe me?"

"Fire away!" the other replied noncommittally.

Jones obeyed, and his jailer listened patiently and in silence to
the full tale of his misadventures. Barring the fact that it was a
liner and not his own yacht from which he had fallen, he adhered
closely to facts; for, in the light of his reception, it seemed it was
only for his own good that Doherty had warned him not to speak of the
other camp. And in this opinion his listener presently confirmed him.

"So this man Doherty told you not to tell you'd been in his camp,
did he?" was Haskins's comment at the end of the recital. "Well, he,
was dead right, friend castaway. Prince Paul has got just the same
love for Prince Sergius that a grizzly has for a rattlesnake.

"But me, I think you're straight. For one thing, you haven't got
the map of a bunco-steerer; and for another, I think you are because
size thinks you ain't. Do you get me? I never saw anything in skirts
yet that you couldn't copper her guess and be on the right trail. Only
your swim seems to have twisted your geography some. It isn't the
Azores you mean--it's the Philippines, or Hawaii. Now, if you and me
should swap yarns, will you give me away to my outfit, or will you
keep it under your hair?"

"Prince Sergius' knout wouldn't extract it from me," sighed Mr.
Jones, with the happy sense that here again, where least expected, he
had found a friend.

"Well, to commence with, me, I'm riding a long way off my own
range, which is Colorado, by rights, though I was born in Arizona.
Arizona Jim, that's me. Well, this prince fellow come along when I was
on my uppers in Frisco, having gone up against a few large doses of
redeye and an outfit of card-sharks some simultaneous. But, say, you
fellows started from Savannah, you said. Did you get into the Pacific
through the canal?"

The Pacific? Jones's brain reeled again, but he managed to keep
his voice steady and reply: "Yes, of course we went through the
canal."

"I asked because I know a fellow that runs a cafe in Colon. Did
you stop there?"

"I didn't go ashore there. But how did you meet the prince?"

"Oh, yes. Well, as I was saying, he met up with me, and he offers
me a job. Says he's goin' on a big trip and wants a guy with a good
gun-eye. That's me, all right; so I joins the outfit immediate. Then's
when I meet this brother of his, they bein' on good terms then, just
like an owl and a prairie-dog.

"So brother Sergius, it seems, he's gone right ahead and chartered
a yacht without waiting for brother Paul to approve the deal. This
annoys us some, but not half so much as when we get away out on the
broad, be-yutiful, lonesome Pacific Ocean and finds that the captain
and the crew are all 'brothers' of his, too. Yes, little Annie,
Sergius is in with the anarchists, saddle, bridle, and spurs, and the
great and noble cause has got to get its share in the profits, even if
brother Sergius has to knife brother Paul to do it. Oh, yes, it was
some rotten deal, take it from me."

"But where does this Miss ... Miss--"

"Weston come in? Not yet but soon. We picks Miss Weston up out of
an open boat, along with a couple of half-dead sailors. She's a Boston
young lady that's been taking lessons in nursing. She aims to join the
Red Cross, but she's some foxy, so she comes clear across to Frisco
and takes a boat for Japan, figurin' to get into the festivities by
the back gate, so to speak. No German torpedoes in hers."

(Jones gave a mental groan. Again!)

"And right then, was when the lid blew off the kettle for keeps. I
never did see two brothers take a shine to the same girl quite so
simultaneous and sudden. Gee, they ought to have been twins, their
tastes are so similar. Was she going to be Princess Sergius or
Princess Paul? I suggests to Paul, casual-like, that they cut her in
two and divide her up, it being my idea that there ain't any female
woman born that's any real good in a round-up like this one. But he
didn't seem to take to it.

"So brother Paul, he reveals to her the perfidy of brother
Sergius, and right away that swings her. No nihilanarchists for hers.
In which she shows more sense than I'd expected.

"Right about then we sights this here Joker Island. Some name,
Joker; but she's some Island, too, believe me. There being
considerable hard feeling, what with one thing and another, me and
Prince Paul and this Weston girl and her two sailors, we thinks it
wise and becoming to withdraw ourselves from evil associations, and we
drops off the yacht the first dark night. Then Prince Paul he says
there's a guy on the island expecting him, which is the first I heard
of Holloway. As near as I can make out, this is Holloway's island, by
right of being wrecked here and finding out some darn thing about the
inside of it. These cliffs go all the way around, you know, but
there's a cave runs under 'em, and Mr. Holloway, he's the only one
that knows where it is."

"I shouldn't think it would be very difficult to find a cave in a
wall of rock like this, if one hunted for it," suggested Jones, deeply
interested in the narrative.

"Oh, no, it's dead easy--like three guesses at which is the right
hole in a colander. There's about fifteen hundred other caves, and
they all run back under the cliffs, and there's only one that goes
clear through. And if you get lost in a blind lead--good night!"

"But what is there inside, anyway?"

"Me not being Prince Paul's confidential secretary, I don't know,
nor I don't know how Sergius thinks he's going to get there without
dear brother Paul and friend Holloway. But it's plain he knows
something about Holloway, or he wouldn't have made that nice, kind
offer to persuade you when he thought you was Holloway. One thing,
it's clear he don't know him by sight. The way I figure it is that
when Holloway was wrecked here, after he comes out of the inside
again, he was taken off by some ship, and then he hikes right after
Prince Paul, who, it seems, is his dear old college chum. It must be
some secret, all right; for Paul, he gets leave immediate from his
regiment by the Czar's special permit.

"But brother Sergius, who's some unpopular at home, he don't need
no permit, because he's in America already. I don't think Paul was
lookin' to run across him; but when he does, he takes him in on the
deal for the sake of them old days back on the farm. Well, while Paul
is rustling this outfit together, friend Richard gets himself put on
the island alone again, with provisions, and stays right on the claim
to wait for Paul. Paul comes along with a brother and a aggregation of
nihilanarchists and a Boston schoolmarm girl, and now the only way out
is in."

"What?"

"Just like I says--in. We're going through the caves at daybreak.
Holloway says even he might get the wrong one at night."

"Good Lord!" murmured Mr. Jones softly. From boyhood he had
suffered from a dread of dark, shut-in places, running parallel,
perhaps, with his habit of sleep-walking. Even now be never slept
without a light in his room, and he would not have explored the
Mammoth Caves with a guard of fifty guides for all the money in the
world. "Are you--are they going to take me along?"

"What's the matter? Don't you want to sit in? Take it from me,
you're better off with Paul than you would be with Sergius, and you've
only got Paul and Sergius to choose between."

"What sort of lights are you going to use?" queried Mr. Jones
anxiously.

"Oh, we have some electric torches. Stranger, I've talked myself
into the finest thirst outside of Arizona. But it's wasted--absolutely
wasted. Ain't that a sad thought? By gracious, I'd almost go over and
take up with this naughty Sergius party, if I thought he had anything
stronger than water to give me. But, alas! The Monterey is like
Russia--she's gone prohibition. Don't you notice a different feeling
in the air? What time's it getting to be?" He glanced at his watch.

"'What time were you intending to start?" inquired Jones.

"Half an hour. It's three now. Here comes Holloway."



CHAPTER IV



"DID you catch any more bugs, Jim?" called Richard Holloway
cheerfully as he approached. "No? Too bad. Hoped we could start a
collection. Say, Mr.--er, what did you say your name was? Something
unusual, wasn't it?"

"Jones," replied the castaway rather stiffly. He was a trifle
tired of the disdainful attitude which every one except the cowboy had
so far assumed toward him. "Roland C. Jones."

"Mr. Roland C. Jones, I salute you." Holloway bowed very low and
straightened with a laugh. "Did you leave any last will and testament
with his serene and nihilistic highness when he sent you over here?
Because, you know, it's just possible that something might happen to
you inside. You've no idea how wonderfully exciting 'inside' is, Mr.
Jones. Don't let me alarm you, though."

Jones laughed almost hysterically. "It can't be much more exciting
than--than everything else," he said. "And as for getting killed, I'm
beginning to have a suspicion that that's the best thing which could
happen to me."

He was thinking of his own mental condition, but Holloway
understood him differently.

"So bad as that?" he asked with mock commiseration. "No home? No
friends? Somebody cooked your chestnuts for you? Never mind, sweet
child. We'll buy you some more--if we ever get off Joker Island.
Coming, Prince?" he called back, as a voice hailed him from the little
camp. "Come on, Jimmy; and you, too, Rolly! You don't mind if I call
you Rolly? I feel in my heart that we're going to be friends, Rolly,
and what's a name between pals?"

"I don't care what you call me," replied Mr. Jones, smiling in
spite of himself. After all, there was something very likeable about
this impertinent, goodnatured fellow. He felt that he could get along
very nicely if he had nobody but the cowboy and Richard Holloway to
deal with.

They found the rest of the party eating a very informal breakfast,
consisting of hardtack, a few rashers of bacon, and some really
excellent coffee. Jones received his share thankfully. He could not
remember a time when he had been so hungry, or hungry so often, as in
the few hours since he had come to Joker Island.

Then the fire was extinguished; what provisions were left and some
simple impedimenta were divided equally among the men, and the
expedition started with only Miss Weston unburdened. She tripped
lightly along beside her Russian admirer, apparently as merry and
light-hearted as if they were bound on a picnic.

Dawn had come upon them with extraordinary suddenness as they ate,
it seemed to Mr. Jones. There had been a few moments of ghostly
twilight. Then the sun leaped into the sky, like a tiger springing
from its lair, and flung at them his first rays with an ardor which
promised insufferable heat later on.

Now that it was light, Jones perceived that the ravine, or split
in the cliff wall, ended abruptly just beyond the camp. There the
precipice towered as forbidding and unscalable as it hung above the
outer beach. The little stream sprang from a mere crevice in the
otherwise solid wall. There were certainly no caverns in that
direction, and he was not surprised when Holloway, in his capacity of
guide, led the way back down the ravine toward the sea; but he did
wonder how they could emerge upon the beach without being seen by the
nihilists.

They had followed the watercourse only a short distance, however,
when Holloway turned aside and led them into a yet narrower crack in
the rocks which branched off from the main ravine. The going became
more and more difficult, and Paul Petrofsky was obliged to almost
carry the girl over some places, while the rest of the party scrambled
and sweated and swore sotto voce.

At last the crack widened; they caught a glimpse of blue beyond,
and in another moment they came out upon a part of the beach which was
cut off by a jutting promontory of rock from the small bay where the
Monterey lay anchored. Jones thought that a bird's-eye view of that
island must show the cliff to be fairly scalloped with little bays and
promontories.

And here the black rock was honeycombed with dark holes, bored out
either by the sea or by volcanic agency; some of them no more than a
foot or so across, a few large enough so that a motor-truck could have
been safely driven in.

"This is only the beginning of 'em," declared Holloway, addressing
Petrofsky, but in loud enough tones to be heard by all. "Half way
'round the island the rock is fairly-perforated. Some place for a
tribe of cave men, no?"

Then, suddenly assuming the manner of a tourist guide: "Just step
this way, lady and gentlemen. Here you may behold the finest--oldest--
most dog-gonedest aggregation of black holes--"

His voice died away and became indistinguishable, for he had
dropped to hands and knees and crawled into one of the smaller
caverns.

Petrofsky, pausing only to draw an electric torch from his pocket,
immediately followed, and close upon his heels crept Miss Margaret
Weston. To Jones's amazement, the girl was laughing just before she
disappeared. He could not have laughed himself to win a medal.
However, Jim Haskins and the two sailors were looking at him
expectantly.

There was nothing else for it, so he, too, dropped to his knees
and crawled into the hole, pushing ahead of him the small bundle which
had been assigned him to carry. He wondered bitterly if they were to
crawl all the way through the cliff.

Ahead of him he could see a moving black mass against a dim glow
of light, which he knew to be the intrepid Miss Weston, of Boston,
Massachusetts. Jones had no light himself, and was too far behind the
leaders to get any benefit from theirs. The rock was wet and a trifle
slimy. He thought of snakes, but remembered gratefully that if there
were any they would have a good chance to bite three people before
they got to him.

Behind, he could hear a grunting and scraping, and knew the other
three were following.

Then the glow ahead abruptly disappeared, and there was a
scrambling, thumping sound. Had Holloway and the Russian fallen into
some abyss? He halted, but immediately after heard a voice calling,
"Come ahead! It's all right! Oh, what a perfectly lovely, splendid
place!"

It was the voice of Margaret Weston, and a moment later Mr. Jones
scrambled out of the narrow hole into an enormous, scintillating
cavern. The lights of two electric torches were reflected dazzlingly
from a million fiery points.

"What perfectly gorgeous stalactites!" exclaimed the girl
rapturously. "Oh, Mr. Holloway, I'm so glad you found this place! It's
worth anything just to have seen it. Why, if it were not so hard to
reach, this would be one of the show places of the world, would it
not?"

"It would," admitted the flattered Mr. Holloway. "But I only wish
I could let some sunlight into the hole for you. I've taken some
pieces of this stuff out, and in daylight they are all colors of the
rainbow. Look like stuff out of a jeweller's window. The colors don't
show up in this light."

"Thank you, but it's quite beautiful enough as it is."

Even Jones had to admit to himself that Miss Weston was, in a
measure, right. Above their heads was a black void. The roof was too
high and probably too dark in color for their lights to show it, but
all about them, depending almost to the floor, hung a thousand icicle-
points, which reflected the electric rays as if they had been
encrusted with diamonds. From the floor, also, rose points and mounds
of brilliant crystals. This lower forest of stalagmites seemed to
extend itself indefinitely, certainly beyond range of the torches.

"Dick Holloway," said the prince, "this is fairyland to which you
have brought us. The air, too, which I had thought would be almost
poisonous, it is fresh. It smells of the sea. There must be many more
openings into this place than that by which we entered."

"There probably are," agreed Holloway, "but I'd hate to hunt for
them. I was lost in these caves once--that was the way I happened to
locate the way through--but I'd hate to risk it twice."

"But tell me," continued the prince, gazing upward curiously, "is
there no danger from the falling of some of these huge masses from the
roof?"

"Sure thing there is. But--Jimmy, there goes a beauty right this
minute!"

There was an ominous crackling sound, the mild forerunner of a
thunderous, deafening crash. The air was filled with a cloud of
choking white dust, through which the torches gleamed faintly as
through a fog. The noise was followed by a series of lesser crashes.
Then came again the calm, unagitated voice of Holloway.

"Did that hit anybody? If it did, farewell to the dear departed.
Is every one here?"

One by one the little party answered with their names, Jones last,
and in a voice which he rendered steady with some effort. He had
always known that caverns would be just like this. For a moment he had
been deceived by the treacherous beauty of this one, but no more.
Surely they would turn back now. Nobody could expect to pass through
this place where at any moment a thousand pounds of glittering
stalactite was liable to drop on him-

It was the voice of Miss Weston which answered his unspoken
thought.

"Well, there is no need of our standing here, is there? How in the
world can you find your way, Mr. Holloway?"

"Been here before," replied that gentleman cheerfully. "Know it
like the streets of my hometown. Come along."

By this time the white dust had somewhat settled, and Jones could
see his companions clearly. They were starting off single file between
the innumerable stalagmites, apparently careless of disaster. On an
impulse he crouched down behind a white mound.

Jim Haskins passed within hand's reach, but did not see him in the
shadow. The two sailors were a little behind, and on a sudden thought
Jones cautiously pushed his bundle of miscellaneous camp articles out
from behind his mound.

An instant later one of the sailors stumbled over it, and as Jones
had craftily foreseen, imagined that it had been dropped by one of the
men ahead. Grumbling, the man picked it up and added it to his own
load, and with no thought for a possible escaping prisoner, passed on.

In fact, nobody gave Mr. Jones a thought. He was alone, neglected
and forsaken, and the fact gave him supreme relief. He had looked
carefully, while there was still sufficient light, and a seen a black
hole yawning, the hole by which they had entered this place of terror.
Having honestly restored to his captors the goods with which he had
been entrusted, Mr. Jones felt no scruples about deserting them.

Just before the last gleam of light from the electric torches
faded and disappeared, Mr. Jones plunged back into the small tunnel
and began rapidly wriggling his way toward open air and the blessed
light of day.

Somehow or other the passage seemed much longer than when he had
come that way at the heels of the Boston girl. Jones crawled and
crawled, until his knees and elbows were sore, but still he could see
no gleam of light ahead. It seemed to him that he had been crawling
for hours. What could be the matter?

Suddenly the horrifying explanation dawned upon him. This was not
the tunnel by which they had entered, but another of the labyrinthine
system of caves to which Holloway had referred!

Mr. Jones stopped crawling and tried to turn himself about. There
was not room enough, however, and he only hurt himself still more upon
the slimy rock. There was no use in trying to wriggle backward, for he
knew that he would become exhausted before he could ever regain the
cave of stalactites by such a laborious process. Besides, he
reflected, even if be did get back there he would be no better off.
Surrounded by impenetrable midnight darkness, how could he hope to
rediscover the passage he had been unable to identify while there was
light?

With a sinking heart he contemplated the many hours of mental and
physical suffering which lay before him if he should fail to extricate
himself. He must go on. What a fool he had been to desert the party of
adventurers! After all, they were kindly, honest folk and it would
have been far better to have died suddenly by the fall of a
stalactite, or in some merciful abyss, than here alone in the darkness
of the damned.

He must get out! And when "must" drives, a man will do a great
deal more than appears possible. Roland C. Jones did. He crawled
literally for hours, turning, winding with the tunnel, like an unhappy
and desolate angle-worm in the black bosom of Earth.

Once, exhausted, he let himself subside, and despite all the
terrors of darkness went to sleep. He had not slept for v. long time,
and when he awoke, though he ached in every limb, he felt refreshed
and took new courage to crawl on.

Crawling is a slow process--at least, for a human being--but if a
man crawl far enough, and encounters no obstruction, he is bound to
get somewhere sometime, and that is what happened to Mr. Jones. He had
long since given up all hope, and become a mere, dogged crawling-
machine, when it happened. It was a tremendous thing and an experience
which in all his after-life he never forgot. He saw the rock beneath
him!

Then he raised his head, hopefully, prayerfully, and there, far
ahead, beamed a glorious star of light!

Then did Mr. Jones perform prodigies of crawling. As if he had
just started, he wriggled and scrambled along, and at last actually
emerged from the black womb of death into the adorable, intolerable
brilliance of day. Also into the very arms of Doherty, his former
rescuer!

Behind Doherty stood Captain Ivanovitch, and beside him was
Sergius Petrofsky. Mr. Jones had crawled windingly through the rock,
all the way from behind the promontory, around the end of the ravine,
and back to the little bay whereon the Monterey still lay at anchor.

He had expected anything--but not this. In the eternity which had
elapsed since entering that black rat-hole he had forgotten that such
a person as Sergius Petrofsky existed. His clothing was ripped to
slimy rags. In a dozen places his body and limbs were scraped raw, he
was faint and sick for lack of food and drink--and before him stood
the man who had promised to torture him that day. The villainies of
Fate were too prodigious.

Mr. Jones slipped suddenly from the sustaining grip of Doherty,
and dropped in a wretched heap upon the sand.



CHAPTER V



WHEN sense at last returned to the castaway, he opened his eyes
and stared blankly about for a moment. He had dreamed that he was in
his own bedroom in his own New York bachelor apartment, and these
walls of brown canvas, that strange face bent above his, seemed
incredible, far more visionary than the dream itself. Then the whiff
of an agreeable odor reached his nostrils. Food! Mr. Jones sat up, and
reached out his hands in one single motion. Doherty placed the bowl
which he carried with them.

"I've brought youse your scoffin's," he said. "Gee! Youse was a
sight when youse fell out of diat hole. His nibs is waitin' to see
youse."

"Let him wait," commanded Jones in a determined voice. "Keep him
out, can't you, till I finish this? This is the first thing I've had
to eat for--for week's judging by the way my appetite feels."

Doherty laughed and seated himself on the side of the cot. "I'll
tell him youse was pounding your ear so hard I couldn't wake youse
up."

"Thanks, old man." There was an interval of silence, then Jones
handed back the polished bowl with a great sigh, swung his legs to the
floor and sat up. "Where are my clothes?" he asked.

"Your clothes? Gee, youse ain't got no clothes. There was a couple
of old rags hangin' to youse, but if dat Anthony Comstock guy ever
seen youse he'd t'row a fit, sure. Them things youse has on now
belongs to the captain."

"But what am I to do? I can't walk around in these pajamas."

Doherty grinned. He seemed in an uncommonly good humor.

"Dat's all right. His nibs has came across wit' dese here glad
rags. Climb, into 'em and look sharp, or I'll get the hide tore off me
for keepin' him waitin'. There's a basin over there if youse wants to
wash some more, but gee! They sure had to give you one bath before
they could put youse to bed even."

"Well, I guess a little more water won't hurt me."

Jones also found a safety razor and a mug of luke-warm water
beside the basin, and was glad enough to shave, although his beard was
by this time a very stiff one to get rid of.

Then he dressed in the "glad rags" indicated by Mr. Doherty, which
he found consisted of a suit of thin silk underwear, breeches and
tunic coat of khaki, socks, puttees, and a pair of heavy, but wellmade
shoes. In fact, as good an outfit for a tramping or hunting expedition
as Jones could have bought anywhere in New York.

Very gratefully he donned the garments, which to his joy fitted
him quite passably. The shoes were a little loose, but that was much
more satisfactory than if they had been too tight.

He thought, as he dressed, that if they intended to abuse him--
they had made a peculiar beginning. Sleep and food had done a great
deal to bring him back to a normal outlook on life. His limbs still
ached, but that was hardly strange in view of the strenuous character
of recent experiences. Mr. Jones presently announced his readiness to
go to or receive the waiting Sergius.

"Youse can wait here. I'll get him," said Doherty, who all the
time preserved the same astonishing amiability. He did not even
question Mr. Jones in regard to how he had come to return there, and
not only return, but return in such a singular manner and condition.
Some species of relief or joy fairly radiated from the man's every
glance and word.

Mr. Jones did not have to wait long after Doherty's departure. He
had gone to the entrance and stood looking out. The sun beat down from
almost directly overhead, and he correctly surmised that this was the
day following that on which he had emerged from the cave. He must have
slept the clock fairly around.

Some distance up the beach a number of men were gathered about a
large object which was partly obscured by an intervening tent, so that
he could not quite make out its nature. In a moment he saw Sergius
Petrofsky coming toward him alone.

"My friend," said the nihilist, glancing him up and down with a
smile, "you have a much improved appearance."

"Thanks to you, Prince Sergius," asserted Jones, wondering yet
more at the apparent friendliness of every one.

"You are entirely welcome, Mr. Holloway. But come inside, please.
We must talk together."

They seated themselves, Jones on the cot, Sergius on the
campchair.

"And now, Mr. Holloway, perhaps you will explain what has become
of my brother and--and the young lady, Miss Weston."

So that was it. They had discovered that the other party had
vanished into thin air and looked to him to recover the trail. Jones
determined in his own honest mind that he would never discover to them
the location of those caves. Besides, they might try to make him enter
them again! But he could not feel that any loyalty to a party which
had, after all, treated him only as a spy and a liar, demanded further
sacrifice than this.

"In the first place, Prince Sergius, I am not Richard Holloway.
When you found me I had never seen or heard of such a person, but
since that time I have met the man himself."

Without reserve, save as regarded any implication of Doherty,
Jones proceeded to tell his story, to which the Russian listened with
an impassive face. At the end, however, he rose and extended his hand
to his involuntary guest.

"I was mistaken, Mr. Jones, and I have to ask your forgiveness. We
must have seemed to you not only inhospitable, but boorish in the last
degree to so threaten you who deserved only our help and kindness. But
your story of the Lusitania you yourself will admit was--well, let us
speak no more of that. Perhaps some day you will entrust me with your
full confidence. Now, however, you are in a position to extend to me a
very great service.

"No--" he raised a protesting hand as Jones started to speak, "I
do not longer ask that you reveal the cavern entrance. Your own
experience shows what is the most likely fate of those attempting it
without good guidance. We have done all in our power to make you
forget our past unjust treatment, even while we still deemed you
Richard Holloway. May I expect your favor in return?"

"Why, of course," replied Jones in some surprise. "But I don't
exactly see what I could do--"

"You will see," said the prince, with a rather peculiar smile.
"Will you be pleased to follow me?"

Together they left the tent and walked across the sands toward the
object of which Jones had earlier caught a glimpse. Now he saw what it
was. It was an aeroplane. The nihilist was again speaking:

"I had planned to take with me the man, Doherty, but he is an
ignorant fellow, entirely unsuited to such an undertaking. Also, he
was afraid to go. None other of the men are suitable. Ivanovitch, he
must remain to look after our crew. My mechanic is ill on board the
Monterey. The others are too stupid. They are fellow Russians and
brothers in the cause, but you see I speak frankly. You, on the other
hand, are young, intelligent, and--"

"You want me to go up in that thing with you?" gasped Mr. Jones.

"Of course. I am a good airman, You need feel no alarm, for in the
air you will be in no danger. It is when we descend to what is within
that I desire with me a reliable companion. Are we to be comrades?"

"You give me a choice?"

"But yes. Unless you come willingly, I would better make my flight
alone."

"All right. I'll go."

Yes, it was really Roland Chesterton Jones, the coward of the
caverns, who said these words! As a matter of fact, Jones was not a
coward at all, but a victim of subconscious terror of the dark. Given
a fair chance and the open air, he had always felt perfectly willing
to face danger, although his life before coming to Joker Island had
not been an adventurous one and he was by choice a young man of quiet
life and manners.

The prince gave him an approving nod.

"I am not a bad reader of features. We will' meet everything like
comrades, eh? And you will not be tempted, if we should come upon
them, to return to my brother and his people?"

"I will not," said Jones firmly. He had nothing against any of
them, but he possessed a natural predilection toward any one who
treated him courteously, nihilist or not.

Moreover, there was something about Sergius Petrofsky which had
attracted him from the first, in spite of his brutal threat that first
night. Fanatical, cruel even, when thwarted, there was yet about him
that invisible aura which we term personality, for lack of a better
name. If he had been an actor he would undoubtedly have been an idol
of the matinee girls. Jones wondered, when he thought of it, that Miss
Weston had turned from him to his less attractive brother.

They had now reached the group of sailors gathered about the
monoplane. Captain Ivanovitch was nowhere in sight, and they were
lounging about in the sand, but all sprang to their feet at sight of
Sergius. He said something sharply to them in Russian and all save two
went off toward the tents. Then he turned again to his guest.

"I have been obliged to do almost all the work of assembling the
plane with my own hands, because of this unfortunate illness of
Thoreau, my mechanic. Are you in the least familiar with this sort of
engine? It would be too much to hope that you know anything of the
science of flight."

Mr. Jones hastened to disclaim any knowledge on either subject. He
had always left even the mysteries of his own motor-cars, and his big
power-boat, the Bandersnatch, to the expert attentions of their
respective chauffeurs and captain. The most he knew about gasoline was
that it sometimes exploded, and was used to drive automobiles,
powerboats, and aeroplanes. Of the dark secrets of spark, ignition,
carburetor, and so forth he was as innocent as a child.

"Then it is of no use for me to try to instruct you in the brief
space which lies between us and departure. Your part will be to sit
quiet in that seat which you see behind the pilot's place, and if we
come to any grief I will endeavor to play the part of driver and
mechanic also. We are taking with us no provisions, save a slight
luncheon in that hamper, but these rifles may prove convenient. It is
my purpose to make, as it were, a reconnaissance, and we may not even
descend into the inner valley or crater until a later flight."

At this moment Captain Ivanovitch came up, accompanied by Doherty.
The captain entered into conversation with Sergius in Russian, and as
Mr. Jones waited for the next move, Doherty said in a low voice, "Gee,
ain't I glad youse showed up? I ain't got no use for them flyin'
things. If ever I gets to be a angel I suppose I'll have to flutter me
wings--but till I gets 'em I sticks right to the ground floor."

"You may be right," Jones admitted.

"I thought we'd butt into the valley by the subway after all when
I seen youse come out. But, gee, this lets little Willie out complete.
Youse is welcome to the job."

"Mr. Jones," interrupted Sergius, "will you put these things on?
It is not so warm up above there, you know."

He was holding out a heavy coat and a sort of hood, which Jones
donned, while the nihilist put on a similar outfit. To the hood was
attached a pair of large goggles which could be pulled down over the
eyes. It was not a regular aviator's costume, but near enough for the
short flight contemplated.

Then the two strangely assorted companions climbed to their
places. Needless to say, it was the first time Mr. Jones had ever been
in an aeroplane. He had attended meets, watched the daring evolutions
of the dragon-flylike things against the sky, and had one or two
opportunities to go up himself, but he had never experienced any
desire to rise higher above solid earth than the top floor of a
skyscraper.

Yet now he found himself strangely cool and unperturbed. Sergius
Petrofsky inspired him with a great deal of confidence in his ability
as a man of action.

Now Ivanovitch and a seaman had grasped the monoplane, one on each
side at the rear, and were standing with feet braced as if expecting
some great strain upon their muscles. Sergius did something with a
lever and the engine burst forth into a roar which startled Mr. Jones
extremely. He had forgotten what a racket the things make.

Then he felt a slight jerk and the plane was rolling swiftly along
the sand. He was thrown back in his seat, as the machine tilted
upward, and a moment later shut his eyes; for he had seen the beach
dropping away from under them, and it seemed as if a violent wind had
suddenly arisen. Remembering the goggles he reached up and pulled them
down over his eyes before opening them again.

Glancing downward he saw the sea, rocking and swaying beneath
them, had a moment of nausea, and realized that it was the plane which
was rocking. They were up, they were actually flying through the air.
The wind of their flight was beating upon his fate. The experience was
different from anything which he had ever imagined, arid yet it was
strangely exhilarating too. For the first time since he had found
himself adrift in the sea, he was glad that he had fallen off the
liner.

No matter what might befall, nothing could ever rob him of the
memory of this moment when he learned the real meaning of man's
victory over the air.

Sergius turned slightly and shouted something over his shoulder,
but the roar of engine and propeller drowned his voice. Jones shook
his head and shouted back something equally indistinguishable. He had
meant to say "Grand! Glorious! Splendid!" but the wind seemed to hurl
the words back down his throat.

He looked down again and saw to his amazement how high they had
already climbed. The island lay beneath them, with that maplike
appearance which one notices in bird's-eye views. The black cliff
which had appeared so awesome and forbidding was now no more than a
huge, irregular oval line of black. And this line surrounded--what? A
sea of green, it seemed, probably the tops of trees, although the
foliage was indistinguishable from that height. Moreover it all
appeared to be swinging in vast circles, for they were ascending in a
steep spiral.

Jones began to wonder how high they were to mount. He had
imagined, in the brief time given him for thought, that they would
simply rise above the cliff and immediately descend upon the other
side.

Then, abruptly, the steady roar of the engine slackened and died.
The nose of the plane dipped earthward and they were sliding down the
air, swiftly, but so smoothly that the sensation was one of pure
delight. The circles of their descent were so wide that, as they came
nearer, Jones had plenty of time to study the strange valley which lay
shut off from and unsuspected of the outer world.

That the island had been one huge volcanic crater at one time in
its history, there could be no doubt. Now, however, there was nothing
to suggest a volcano save the wall itself, and within was a wide
expanse of the greenest verdure. The great oval was about ten or
twelve miles long. Its floor was of a slightly undulating, parklike
appearance, the upper, darker green being broken here and there by
lighter patches which. Jones presumed to be little lawns and open
glades in the forest.

The engine roared out again, but this time Sergius did not ascend.
He turned so sharply that the plane "banked" at what seemed to his
passenger an alarming angle, and shot straight across the valley. Then
he once more cut out the engine and shot downward swiftly and steeply.

Suddenly Jones perceived what they were aiming at, a broad, smooth
space of green, about a quarter of a mile in length, which the prince
in his circlings had picked out for a landing place. An instant later
dark masses shot upward on both sides, the pilot deftly straightened
out the plane, and with a stiff jolt they had struck the earth.

The lawn, which had looked so smooth and even from above, proved
to be an expanse of villainous hummocks over which they bounded and
sprang for fifty yards or so, and at last came to a creaking, swaying
halt.



CHAPTER VI



"THAT, my friend," cried Sergius, turning a beaming face, "that
was a good landing, no? Coming down in such unknown country something
is always liable to break, but we have better fortune."

"What funny-looking trees!" exclaimed Mr. Jones, paying no heed to
the Russian's self-congratulations. "Why, they look like--like
cabbages! And what a horrible smell!"

The word "horrible" was none too strong to describe the
intolerable odor which permeated the air. Descending as they had done
from the clear, clean, fresh upper atmosphere, it seemed at first
almost impossible to breathe at all. It was a sort of concentrated,
well-nigh visible stench, suggesting nothing less than decayed
slaughter-houses or open graveyards. Even the prince lost his smile
after the first moment of delight over his successful landing.

The "trees" to which Mr. Jones had referred, were indeed not trees
at all, but some sort of vegetable growth entirely unfamiliar to
either of the men. If they had really been the cabbages they
resembled, they would have made the everlasting fortune of the market-
gardener who grew them, for the smallest was as large as a fair-sized
hen-house, and some of the larger ones must have measured at least a
hundred feet from root to crest, with a diameter at least one fourth
as great. They were a dark purple in color, shading upward into a
sickly green. None of them grew very close together, and the spaces
between were filled with an astonishing variety of mushroomlike
things, whose vivid coloring, red, yellow, violet, and orange, jarred
upon the eye in a disharmony of which nature is very seldom guilty.

Like a giant's vegetable garden, these monstrous growths entirely
surrounded the glade where they had alighted. But even though they
towered so high over the heads of the aeronauts, they caught glimpses
between and above them of other and different growths, yet higher.

There was no wind in the glade. The sun beat down and the stench
rose up. Mr. Jones had a strong feeling that if they did not get out
of the place in a short time he was going to be very ill indeed.

"This is awful," he said appealingly. "Can't we go up again?"

The Russian, who had been looking about with much interest, shook
his head. "Of what use to rise now when we have just made such a very
nice landing? Another time we might not be so lucky. The odor is
certainly unpleasant, but after all it is only a smell. It is only the
vegetation. I knew that here in the crater valley we would find some
very peculiar things. We must not be too easily deterred. Let us
penetrate past these vegetables and find what lies beyond."

Sergius undoubtedly had the final say so in regard to their
leaving or remaining, so his companion followed his example,
unstrapped himself from his seat in the monoplane, and descended to
earth. The prince handed him a rifle and cartridge belt and took one
himself. They discarded their coats and hoods and advanced toward the
nearest passage between the "cabbages."

As they approached the dreadful charnel odor became more intense,
if that were possible. Shoulders thrown forward, eyes half-shut and
smarting, they pushed through it as through some tangible obstruction.

Then the first of the many-hued mushrooms were crunching beneath
their feet. They crushed and squelched, with a semiliquid sound,
sending up a sort of acid gas into the faces of the two adventurers,
somewhat like the fumes of hydrochloric acid. The prince took out his
handkerchief and bound it over his mouth and nose, signaling to Jones
to do likewise, for both of them were past speaking. With these
improvised and inadequate gas-masks, they waded doggedly on through
the fungi.

They were within fifteen feet of one of the smaller cabbages, when
with a sort of swishing sound it began to move. Its outer sheath of
purple and green leaves, twenty-five feet long and five broad, began
to open out and descend.

Jones caught a glimpse between them of a huge, scarlet, writhing
mass, and tried to turn and run. The crushed mushroom things held his
feet. It was like trying to leap or run in a quicksand.

Then the rough, thick, sawlike edge of the nearest leaf struck him
a glancing blow on the shoulder, And he was down in the mess of fungi.
A long, writhing, bright-red thing, like a nightmare fishingworm,
lashed out above him, curled back and encircled his neck in a
strangling grip.

"Help!" he tried to shout. "Sergius--help!"

Then his shoulder was seized and he was being pulled away from the
giant cabbage. The tentacle which held him straightened out and
actually stretched as if it had been made of india-rubber. A knife
flashed over him, severing the tentacle, and a moment later he was out
of reach of a dozen more which were shooting after him. That was the
last thing he remembered until he came to under the shadow of the
plane, to look up into the anxious face of Sergius Petrofsky, who was
fanning him with a handkerchief.

Mr. Jones sat up and felt of his neck gingerly. Luckily his collar
had somewhat protected it, but it felt very stiff and sore.

"I thought you were gone, my friend," said Sergius, standing up
and wiping his perspiring face with the handkerchief.

"So did I. What I can't understand is why the thing didn't get
you, too. Look at it now--ugh, the horrible, nasty, writhing beast!"

The "death cabbage" (as they afterward named the interesting
vegetables) had not closed its outer sheath, and its inner hideousness
stood fully exposed to the sun. Straight up from the center sprang a
sort of slimy, blue-black stalk, terminating some twenty-five feet
above the ground in a wide plume of green fronds. Surrounding this
stalk was a dense, intertwined mass of the long, scarlet tentacles
which had nearly dragged Mr. Jones to his doom. To be eaten by a
vegetable--and such a vegetable! Jones shuddered and looked away,
feeling very sick and disgusted.

"Look!" cried the nihilist. "It is twisting itself about like a
thing in agony. I wonder if the brute has eyes and sees us here and
still hungers after its prey? But that is curious. See, it is becoming
of a bright orange color!"

Jones looked again, rather unwittingly, but what the Russian said
was quite true. The wriggling scarlet mass was rapidly changing to
orange, and from orange it faded to a sickly yellow. Moreover it was
wriggling more and more feebly. The outstretched sheath-leaves lifted
themselves spasmodically two or three times, then wilted limply among
the fungi at its base. The central stalk began to droop over to one
side, and the green fronds hung dispiritedly down. At the end of five
minutes all motion had ceased. Even the now pale tentacles writhed no
more. The death cabbage was itself dead.

"Do you suppose it perished of a broken heart?" asked Sergius
whimsically. "'You resisted its ardent caresses, and it died of
disappointment But rather, I think, it possible that another than
either of us has killed this monster, my friend."

"What do you mean? Have you seen anybody else?"

Sergius pointed upward solemnly.

"I mean him," he said, and he was pointing at the sun. "There is
but one explanation. These are creatures of the night, and they get
their--their food in the night, whatever it may be. They are not
accustomed to grasp their prey by daylight. This one was tempted, and
he opened his protecting sheath, and he was slain by the sun! But he
would have killed us first, if I had not been able to spring back more
quickly than you, my friend, and escape his first gropings."

"I owe you my life," said Jones earnestly. "I never knew anybody
before who would have had the courage to throw himself within reach of
that--that thing, and drag another man away from it."

"It is nothing," Sergius demurred, looking very much pleased
nevertheless. "Now we will be comrades, indeed--no? I think, however,
that we have done and seen enough for one day. Mount again to your
seat and we will leave this valley of death. But we will return to-
morrow and alight in some more favorable spot."

"I'm with you," Mr. Jones assented joyfully.

But first they cleaned themselves as well as they could of the
pulpy fungoids with which they were both plastered; Jones from head-to
foot. Then they started to put on their heavy coats. Mr. Jones was
buttoning his and Sergius had just slipped his arms into the sleeves,
when a voice behind them said sharply: "Stand perfectly still, please!
If either one of you moves a finger I'll kill you first, Prince
Sergius Petrofsky!"



CHAPTER VII



STARTLED and amazed, Jones and the nihilist yet obeyed, for there
was a certain sincerity back of the command which was not to be
denied. Their rifles lay on the ground a few feet distant and Sergius
himself, with his arms half into his coat, was peculiarly helpless.

Both looked over their shoulders, however, and there behind them,
rifle pointed at the middle of the Russian's back, stood Richard
Holloway! He was still attired in his simple costume of shirt and
trousers, now very ragged and dirty, and his face wore a grim smile.

"Who are you?" asked Sergius, although he may have guessed.

"It's Holloway," supplied Jones in a whisper.

"You don't need to murmur it in his ear, sweet child," interrupted
the newcomer. "I'm so glad to meet you again, Rolly. You know I said I
was sure we should be friends. But we thought after all a stalactite
must have dropped and crushed out your innocent young life."

Mr. Jones could think of no reply. Of course, now, the other party
would never believe that he had not been lying when he said that he
had nothing to do with Sergius Petrofsky. Even Jim Haskins would no
longer believe him. Then he forgot his own troubles in wondering how
this unexpected meeting would affect his newer friend, Sergius.

"Move farther back from those rifles," commanded Holloway. "That's
right. And just remember that I don't love either of you one little
bit. The only pity is that my dear little vegetable garden didn't
succeed in getting both of you for its luncheon. It's a lucky thing
for you that you didn't try conclusions with one of the really big
fellows. That one was a mere child--poor innocent thing!" He shifted
his rifle to the hollow of his arm and came toward them.

Sergius, his face white and strained with anger, still stood with
his arms half way in the coat. "May I--have I your very kind
permission, Mr. Holloway, to finish putting on my coat? I give you my
word that we are neither of us armed, except for the rifles."

"In just a minute, prince. Sorry about your word, but if you did
happen to get careless about it, where would I be? Rolly, I've got you
covered. Just go over and turn your friend's pockets inside out for
me, will you? And now your own? That's right. No, I wronged your
serene highness. You can put your coat on, though you must be a cold-
blooded fish to want it in this sun."

"We were just about to ascend," said the Russian stiffly.

"Oh, I see. Well, you're just about not to ascend now, so you
won't need it. We saw you fluttering gaily about over the valley, and
saw you drop into this place. Paul (he really seems to retain a regard
for you, for some reason), your brother, asked me to come out and pick
up the remains, if there were any, which I doubted myself, knowing
what sort of place you had landed in. He asked me to extend to you his
apologies for not coming himself. He sprained his ankle in the caves,
but Miss Weston is looking after him so well that really it can't be
much hardship."

Sergius' eyes narrowed, and Jones remembered that Jim Haskins had
told him both brothers were seeking the girl's favor.

Holloway picked up the two rifles from the ground and tucked them
under his other arm. "So nice of you," he murmured. "We're rather
short on arms and ammunition. But I know you're anxious to be welcomed
in camp. Turn to the right, please, and straight ahead. Don't be
frightened of the little cabbages. I won't feed you to them this
time."

Jones was beginning to detest the young American as much as he had
formerly been inclined to like him. His mocking banter in this place
that smelt like the tomb and was the home of detestable death, seemed
as out of place as the tinkle of a pianola in Purgatory.

However, the man must know a safe way out, or he could not have
appeared there himself, so the two prisoners turned their faces in the
direction indicated and started off, with Holloway close behind.

They crossed the glade obliquely and came into view of a broad
road, or trail, which had apparently been trampled over and through
the fungi and several of the young and comparatively small death
plants which lay crushed and broken. Two of them, each well above ten
feet from root to crest, had been actually torn up by the roots and
tossed to some distance from the place where they had been growing.

What power or agency had been strong enough to perform such a feat
with such victims?

As they involuntarily paused, staring, Holloway's mocking voice
answered the unspoken question:

"That's the work of another of my lovely island's children. Don't
get scared. He doesn't prowl around much by daylight, but when he does
take a walk, and things get in his way or annoy him, he just pushes
them gently to one side--as you see. He's a foul brute, but not foul
enough to feed upon such carrion plants as these. He was probably
hunting something."

The nihilist was too proud, and Jones too overcome, to question
Holloway in regard to the mysterious "brute" to which he referred, and
after a moment of hesitation they marched on through the sickening
mess of broken fungi and wilted, blood-sucking tentacles. But first,
at Holloway's own suggestion, they all three again bound handkerchiefs
over mouth and nose as a partial protection against the thrice-vile
fumes rising from beneath their feet.

At last, however, a breath of purer air reached their nostrils,
and raising his head, Jones's watering eyes beheld a scene of weird
and unearthly beauty. Behind them lay the field of death cabbages, in
all its foul ugliness. Before them was a forest--but such a forest!
The trees were mere slender, graceful stems, shooting up to an
unbelievable height, where they branched out into a feathery tuft of
graceful leaves, resembling palms.

But these slender stems were all wound and garlanded with gorgeous
blossoms, like glorious floral butterflies swaying and fluttering to
every breath of air.

Here and there huge balloonlike growths had forced their way
upward between the palms, bending them aside and so making their own
path to the sunlight. These, however, unlike the cabbages, had nothing
horrible or loathsome in their appearance, but were of the most
delicate shades of pink, shading into lemon yellow at the summits.
They, too, were overgrown in the riotous embrace of a thousand
blossoming vines.

Underfoot the ground was thickly carpeted with moss in wide
patches, like rich rugs of velvet green, starred all over with little
points of brilliant blue and scarlet, which were also flowers. Between
the butterflylike blossoms of the vines innumerable real butterflies
were flitting. Their colors were so similar to the flowers that it was
impossible to tell if a blossom one's eyes rested upon were really
such or a butterfly, unless it suddenly spread its wings and flickered
away through the slanting sunlight.

Moving forward slowly, like men in a dream of fairyland, they came
at last entirely out of the zone of vile odors; and the more
delightful by contrast, their nostrils were filled by the divine
fragrance of this unlegended Garden of the Hesperides.

Again Holloway had his comment to make.

"You like this all right, now--but I just invite you to take the
trip by moonlight!"

"By moonlight," said the Russian softly, forgetting for the moment
his animosity toward the speaker. "I should think by moonlight this
place would be--ah, celestial!

"H--m! Well, I've been here, and take it from me it was more like
the other place."

"Impossible!

"In the bright lexicon of Joker Island, there ain't no such word,
dear child. Your imagination needs exercise--or you wouldn't have come
here, so I'll just permit you to exercise it on this. But I'll give
you one tip: You've seen the flora, but you haven't seen the fauna--
yet. Straight ahead, now, through that little lane between the
vegetable balloons. No, not that way. Halt! Good Lord, man, if you'd
gone down there you'd have wished you was safe inside one of those
mild-tempered little cabbages back yonder!"

Sergius, absorbed in gazing at the wonders about them, had started
to go to the left of the balloon in question instead of the right. The
ground sloped sharply downward there, and as he drew back his foot in
surprise at Holloway's evident agitation, there was a sudden rattle
and slide off falling gravel.

Both he and his fellow-captive looked keenly down the incline, but
could see nothing out of the way. A tangle of gray, leafless vines
formed a veil across the bottom of the slope, through which they could
see nothing.

Then, the perspiration sprang out on Sergius' forehead, and for
the first time since Jones had met him the prince looked really
frightened. For over that tangle of vines something was moving. It was
a leg, and it had come out from between the vines. It was jointed in
two places, the space between the upper joints being about three feet
long, and at the end of it was a single, great, curved claw, black and
gleaming like polished ebony.

Another similar leg followed it into visibility. Then two eyes
came into view, round, black, and fastened upon the ends of stalks
like those of a lobster.

"Good God!" breathed the Russian.

"What is the thing, Holloway?"

"Just a. little spider," responded their captor cheerfully. "But
plenty big enough to make three mouthfuls of you. That's its web it's
sitting in, wondering why you don't come on down to dinner. I'd shoot
the old devil, but what's the use? He's only one. Shall we go on now?"

With cold shivers running up and down their spinal columns, Mr.
Jones and his companion stepped carefully back from the entrance to
the giant spider's den, and entered a little path or trail which led
windingly away through the lovely, treacherous forest. Jones, for one,
heartily wished that their guardian would march in front instead of
the rear. The death cabbages had been bad enough, but they had seemed
such vast, unnatural prodigies that already his memory reproduced them
dreamily.

That spider was another matter. He had, heard of spiders as large
as dinner plates, and shuddered at the thought of them. This spider
had been as large as well, judging from its forelegs it could better
be compared with an extra large dining-table.

And Holloway had spoken of it as "only one." How many more such
fiends lay hidden, waiting for the false tread of a foot, or the
careless speed of some hunted jungle thing? He began to be careful
indeed to look where he trod, and suspicious of even the supposedly
harmless flowers and butterflies. Beauty becomes more horrible than
frank ugliness when one has learned that death lurks behind it.

Fortunately, however, for their peace of mind they saw no more of
the "fauna" of which Holloway had hinted, although once in skirting a
dark morass they heard distant crashing sounds, as if some large beast
were threshing about somewhere in the depths.

"This place is like a Broadway cafe," Holloway informed them.
"Nothing much doing in the daytime--but--oh you midnight suppers. Eat
and be eaten, that's our motto after sunset."

"You seem to know a whole lot about the place," Jones ventured.

"Yes, indeed. Regular old homestead to little Willy. You see, I
lived here for two years, and got real well acquainted with the
inhabitants. Maybe we'll let you and your dear friend Prince Sergius
try it, when it comes time for us to leave. You'd learn a whole lot
you never knew before, believe me. That is, if you survived the first
week or two."

Mr. Jones looked at him hopelessly. Was the man in earnest?

But Sergius laughed scornfully. "I should not particularly mind,"
he said, "so long as we were relieved of your company, Mr. Holloway."

"You don't say! How very rude and unkind you are, prince. But
never mind. I'd be sore, too, if I were in your place, so I forgive
you like a true Christian. And here we are--home at last all safe and
sound."

For the path, turning sharply, passed out of the jungle and into
the full light of day. Half a mile away, across a broad expanse of
green meadow, the rim of the crater raised its black height, hidden
from them until now by the forest. To the right, in the distance, some
unidentifiable animals were grazing, and ahead, close to the wall, a
pillar of smoke was rising, almost white against its dead blackness.

"There's our camp. Keep right on going. Don't worry, they're
expecting us."

That they were expected was presently evidenced, for the figure of
a man appeared coming toward them across the meadow. In a few minutes
Jones was able to identify him, for it was Jim, Paul's cowboy
retainer. He met then, with a grin, which suddenly faded as he
recognized Mr. Jones. He looked from him to Sergius and then back
again.

"Well, of all the--snakes!" he exclaimed, and his hand dropped
suggestively to his hip-pocket. "So that yarn of yours was just a
string of whoppers, was it? By jiminy, I've a notion to drill you
right now, you--you low-down horsethief! Lettin' me get the notion
that you was layin' smashed back there in the cave, and me mad as
thunder because they wouldn't let me hike back to look for you. An'
all the time you pikin' around with this here nihilanarchist bunch.
Say, what kind of a low-down, lyin' cattle-rustler are you, anyhow?"

"Shut up, Jimmy," interrupted Holloway at last, although he had
listened to the arraignment with a grin of pure enjoyment. "Rolly's
nerves are all upset as it is. How is Prince Petrofsky?"

Jim's face relaxed again into a grin.

"Doin' fine," he answered. "I know now why he brought that female
woman along. Gee! I wouldn't mind sprainin' a leg or so to get nursed
that luxurious."

"He'll get well for pure joy when he sees who's here. Forward the
army. We'll be right behind you, gentlemen. Sorry the hotel bus wasn't
running, so as to save your walking all this way, but you know what
these summer resorts are."

His cheerful nonsense bored Jones wretchedly, as they went on
toward the camp. What sort of a greeting were he and Sergius likely to
get? Not a very pleasant one, judging from the sample offered by
Haskins. He heartily wised that Sergius had stuck to his original
intention of "a mere reconnaissance." They would have been back with
the nihilists by this time, and at that moment the nihilist camp
actually seemed like home to Mr. Jones.

What could there possibly be in the crater valley of sufficient
value to make all these people so very anxious to reach it? Unless the
were seeking the rather morbid pleasure of being killed and eaten, he
could conceive of nothing liable to be there which would repay the
extreme trouble and risk attendant upon obtaining it.

A gold mine? How could anybody work a gold mine in a place like
this? Diamonds, perhaps? He himself would have cheerfully forfeited a
full ownership in Tiffany's just to escape from the place.

He had never had any opportunity to question Sergius Petrofsky,
and as that gentleman stalked along moodily by his side now he did not
look in a good humor to answer such interrogations. Both men had long
since removed their heavy coats and were carrying them, but even-so
their clothing was saturated with perspiration.

Hot, weary, and disgusted, they neither of them looked as they
came into camp, as if they had been upon any pleasurable expedition.

A fire was snapping and crackling cheerfully in the cliff shadow,
and about it lay scattered various paraphernalia, but no one was in
sight.

"All in the cave," said Jim, in an explanatory tone. "Some cliff-
dwellers, our bunch, ain't we, Holloway?"

"First-class apartments," corrected the other. "Dry, airy, cool,
but dogs and children barred. Hey, there! Anybody home?"

At Holloway's hail a woman appeared in the entrance to one of a
large number of the dark openings which perforated the crater wall. It
was of course Margaret Weston.

"Oh, did you find them, Mr. Holloway? Who is that with the prince?
Isn't that the man we lost in the caverns?"

"It sure is, ma'am," grinned the cowboy, not giving Holloway a
chance to reply. "He ain't crushed none, not so you could notice it. I
take off my hat to you, ma'am. You was dead right about the snake, but
I was too plumb pigheaded to know it."

"That is all right, James," said the girl, smiling sweetly. "A
woman's intuition is sometimes correct after all, is it not? Prince
Sergius," with a sudden severe formality, "your brother would like to
see you as soon as it is convenient."

The nihilist bowed with a dignity equal to her own. His face was
sternly set, but Jones, watching curiously, saw a look flash up into
his eyes as they rested on the girl which confirmed the cowboy's
statement in regard to his feeling toward her. He could hardly be
blamed, either. Miss Weston looked a good deal more than attractive,
standing there with one white, shapely arm extended to support herself
on the precarious foothold of rocks at the cavern door. She looked
very young, girlish and utterly out of place in that nightmare valley.
Her smooth cheeks were slightly flushed, her scarlet lips were set
just sufficiently to bring out their exquisite lines, and her big blue
eyes were shining with some emotion, but one hardly favorable to
Sergius, if Mr. Jones were any judge.

In fact, Miss Weston was angry, and Jones felt vaguely sorry for
Sergius Petrofsky. He wondered again at the girl's ardent dislike for
his friend.

"I am grateful to my brother," said Sergius slowly, "for sending
such a charming messenger!"

"Thank you. But kindly reserve your compliments for some one who
will better deserve and--appreciate them. Mr. Holloway, will you
kindly accompany these gentlemen? The sailors are in the other cave,
and I hardly think it safe for Prince Paul to receive them alone--"

Sergius flushed deeply. The thrust evidently went home.

"Certainly, Miss Weston," assented Holloway, with a smile of
amusement. "But I was just going to start cooking supper."

"I am not myself such a bad cook as you seem to think," laughed
the girl. "What use is a woman in camp if she can't do the nursing and
cooking?"

"You're dead right, ma'am," commented Jim, but in a most
respectful voice. Jones reflected sadly that even this woman-hater
appeared to have been converted to admiration for the girl. Probably
he regarded her diagnosis of his, Jones's, character as a symptom of
most unusual wisdom.

"Go right in, gentlemen," commanded Holloway. "Here, Jim, will you
take these rifles? And lend me your little popgun? Thanks. A rifle is
no good at close quarters."

With a disdainful shrug Sergius turned his back on the voluble
American and entered the cave, Mr. Jones close at his heels.



CHAPTER VIII



ON one of the dark but cool chambers in the rock a rude couch of
blankets had been laid. Beside it, upon a flattopped stone, stood an
electric lantern of the type which, using large batteries, will burn
for eighty or ninety hours, and which illuminated the place quite
brightly. Beside it a bottle of arnica and some carefully folded
bandages were arranged.

Upon the couch lay Paul Petrofsky, the lower part of one leg
swathed in more and beautifully adjusted bandages. As the two captives
entered, however, he sat up and gave utterance to an exclamation of
joy as he recognized his brother.

For the first time, seeing them together, Jones realized the
strong resemblance between the two men. There were the same broad,
intelligent brow, the same high-bridged, symmetrical nose, the same
thin-lipped, sensitive mouth, and pleasant, dark eyes. The only real
difference between the two faces lay in the expression and in that
slight inclination of Paul's chin to recede.

Sergius' eyes were keen as well as pleasant, his mouth was set in
firmer lines, and his chin was of a squarish and very determined
shape. Also, at time, his face wore a haughty and somewhat domineering
look--a look which Paul's countenance never assumed.

If, knowing neither of them, Jones had been asked to choose, he
would have unhesitatingly named Sergius as the supporter of
aristocratic government, and Paul as the man to be easily led,
particularly into any scheme, however wild, for the betterment of his
fellow Russians.

"Sergius!" exclaimed the man on the couch. There was pure relief
in his voice. "Then you are safe. I was afraid--"

"That some of your friend Holloway's pets had made a meal an your
dear brother? I should not have thought that would have appeared to
you as a great trouble, Paul."

His brother shook his head impatiently, with a slight frown.

"That is absurd, as you very well know. Because you have been
misled by these murderous, bomb-throwing companions of yours is no
reason for me to forget that you are my brother."

Sergius flushed and straightened himself.

"My companions are not bomb-throwers, and you very well know the
difference between nihilism and the madness of anarchy, although you
choose to pretend that there is none. You are in a position to say
what you please to me, Paul, but you know my feelings on that subject
and it seems hardly generous--"

"It is not a question of generosity, but of common sense," the
other broke out. "Someday you will thank me for standing out against
your fanatical views. Russia will never be saved by such mad dreamers
as your so-called friends. It is I who truly serve Russia in her hour
of need. How long, think you, will the war which is slaughtering our
people continue after I turn over to the government the--that which we
have come to seek?"

"Long enough, I hope, to destroy every member of the cruel
beaurocracy which holds her in its bloody grip. Yes, it is your
friends who are bloody, Paul, not mine."

"There is tyranny in every fixed government. Moreover, it is not
the rulers of Russia who suffer most. It is the very peasantry which
you profess to love so much. Turn your face from the mirage you are
pursuing, my brother, and cast in your lot with us!"

"I will not desert my brothers," replied Sergius briefly, but with
evident sincerity.

"Then," said Prince Paul with some firmness, "you will not be
allowed to return to them either. Dick Holloway, I had hoped that
after all I might persuade my brother--I have no brothers--to ally
himself with us. Since he is not yet ready to do so, I must ask that
you and James Haskins see to it that he remains in this camp. As for
his companion, the spy, it would be no more than right if we should
shoot him outright."

Jones started slightly, This amiablelooking Russian seemed to be
even more arbitrary than his nihilist brother.

"Oh, I wouldn't go that far," counseled Holloway, with an amused
grin. "I'll be responsible for it that--he doesn't leave us so easily
as he did before. By the way, prince, I left the aeroplane where they
landed. Do you want the thing brought into camp?"

"No, I think not," said Paul, after a moment's hesitation. "I fail
to see how it could be of any use to us. If you or Jim chance to go
that way again you might see to it that it is rendered useless for any
one, however." He gave a significant glance in the direction of the
plane's rightful owner.

Then he dropped back upon his couch with a little grimace of pain.
"Sergius, will you remain here with me? I should very much like to
hear of what befell when you descended into the valley. That is, if
you don't mind telling me. Dick Holloway, please take this man Jones
out with you and set him to work about the camp. We may as well make
him useful since you are set on keeping him."

Holloway looked doubtfully at the two brothers. Sergius saw the
look and laughed bitterly.

"You had better assure your friend, Paul, that I am unlikely to
murder you in his absence. Also you are mistaken in regard to Mr.
Jones's relations with me. I never met the gentleman until night
before last, and we parted then because he managed to cut a hole in
the side of his prison tent and escape. I will admit that I do now
regard him as a friend, but that is because of his very excellent
qualities. We are friends, however, and any treatment which you accord
him I must beg you to offer me also."

He looked very haughty and dignified as he uttered these
sentiments, and Mr. Jones's heart went out to him more than ever. The
man had not only saved his life, but now he was defending him from
undeserved oppression. Somehow, he determined, he would endeavor to
repay Prince Sergius.

Paul shrugged his shoulders and smiled rather dubiously at his
brother. "' Of course, if you say he did not come to our camp as a spy
I shall have to take your word. You are in a position to know if any
one is. Holloway, we will have to treat the gentleman courteously,
since my brother is determined to share his fate." He laughed. "I
really don't care to make you wash dishes Sergius."

Holloway and Mr. Jones went back to the camp fire, leaving the two
brothers alone together. There was no exit to the cavern chamber, save
that by which they had entered, and even Holloway did not really
believe that the nihilist would harm his brother for mere revenge.

Jones longed to ask some questions in regard to this mysterious
war which had been again hinted at, but he still suffered from a deep-
seated dread of what the answer might reveal, and also of being
regarded by these strangers as hopelessly feeble-minded.

"Let it wait. If I'm really crazy I'm bound to find it out soon
enough," he thought bitterly.

In a short time supper was prepared, consisting of canned goods
and the fresh meat of some animal, probably one of those creatures
which still grazed quietly in the distant meadow. Jones, for one, was
ravenously hungry. He had eaten nothing save the bowl of stew brought
him by Doherty for thirty-six hours or more, and did full justice to
Miss Weston's cooking, which was excellent. She explained this by
saying that she had taken a course in domestic science to supplement a
brief hospital training, preparatory to her work as a Red Cross nurse
in the European battlefields.

The European battlefields! How much of Europe then was involved in
this mad, chimerical war of theirs? Whoever the fighters might be, he
felt that they had missed a very beautiful and determined young nurse
when Miss Weston was sidetracked into this equally mad island affair.
Mr. Jones was feeling more and more as if, having slept a single
night, he had awakened into a new and entirely unfamiliar world.

Paul had managed to hobble out of his cavern retreat, supporting
himself on the shoulder of his brother, and the whole party, including
the two sailors, ate together without regard to caste or rank. Paul
was glad to sit down at once, but Sergius first wandered about for a
few moments, apparently inspecting the arrangements. Jones wondered if
his reckless companion had designs on the rifles, three of which lay
together close by; but if this were so he resigned them as
impracticable, for presently he came and seated himself between
Holloway and his brother.

As he did so he leaned across, behind Holloway's back, and
whispered something to Jones, who had taken his place just beyond.
Jones, however, did not catch the words, and he thought best not to
attract the attention of the company by asking for a repetition.

The upper rim of the sun was just disappearing below the western
wall as they finished, and only a few minutes later the sudden tropic
night was upon them, with its wonderful stars and refreshing, fragrant
breath of coolness.

It brought something more than coolness in its wake, it brought a
rising wave of sound from the jungle beyond the open meadow. The
valley of the day was no more, and the valley of night had swung wide
its doors for all the creatures which crouched, awaiting the
liberating touch of darkness.

The first intimation of this other valley, which none of the party
save Holloway really knew, was a deep-throated roar from the jungle
immediately opposite. This was followed by a sort of wild, bubbling
shriek, as of a creature slivering from nightmare. The sound ended so
abruptly that one could only judge the shrieker to have been swallowed
by the roarer. Next there was a great snarling and yowling and
crashing of branches, as if two enormous tom-cats were engaged in a
combat to the death. The noise of battle was soon drowned out,
however, by the full rising chorus of night life, the separate notes
of which, all blended as into one mighty, discordant cry, rising
harshly toward the white, indifferent stars.

Only Holloway remained entirely unaffected by the uproar. Miss
Weston, the intrepid, actually trembled and shrank toward the
protecting of her Russian lover--that is, of the Russian lover she
favored.

The two sailors sprang to their feet and looked longingly in the
direction of the caverns. Arizona Jim reached casually over and drew
his rifle up beside him. Sergius also gazed desirefully in the
direction of the rifles, forbidden to him and Jones, while the latter,
shuddering inwardly, remembered that they had actually walked through
the midst of all that only a couple of hours ago.

"Some opera, isn't it?" remarked Holloway, with an amused glance
about the little circle of white faces. "When I first came here I used
to lie all night and shiver and shake and try to make up sleep in the
daytime. I had a gun, but only a little ammunition, you know. I found
that a good-sized fire would keep all but the really big fellows away,
though, so I got in the habit of building one in front of a small cave
and sleeping behind it. If a little fellow came along, he was afraid
of the fire. A big one couldn't get in the cave. Great Scott! For a
while after I got taken off the island I couldn't sleep at all. Missed
the noise, you see."

"Great Heaven! What was that?"

The whole party, except Holloway, sprang to their feet and stared
wildly into the air. Something huge, black, monstrous had flapped out
of the darkness and into it again, passing so close that the wind of
its flight scattered burning brands right and left from the fire.

"Guess we'd better be going to bed," said Holloway, rising but
with no undue haste. "I don't know exactly what those things are,
because I've never caught a glimpse of the brutes by daylight, but the
fire really seems to attract them instead of keeping them away. Once
one of 'em made a grab at me in passing. Made a nasty gash on my
cheek. I just dodged into my little boudoir in time."

"It looked like a--like a great, impossible bat," cried Margaret
Weston, and there was a hysterical note in her voice. "Oh, why was I
brought to this frightful place? Why did we not retire into the
caverns before sunset, as we did last night?"

"Poor little girl," said Paul Petrofsky gently. "I never would
have brought you here, if there had been any other way. Come. You
shall sleep to-night on that nice, soft couch you prepared for me,
Miss Margaret, and Dick Holloway and I will sleep in the cave
entrance. Nothing shall come near you that can harm."

"There's really no need for you to be frightened," interrupted
Holloway in a more serious and considerate tone than one usually heard
from his lips. "There are five men of us, at least, who are wellarmed,
and any one of us would die before we would let harm come to the only
girl in Joker Island."

Sergius bit his lip, but said nothing. By his "five men" the
American had carefully left him and Mr. Jones out of the number of
Miss Weston's protectors.

"You and Rolly," continued Holloway, addressing the nihilist, "can
sleep in Room 5, Suite A. Here it is, and here's a torch. Be sparing
with it, for we haven't many more batteries."

He pointed out the cave which he humorously dignified with the
title of Room 5. "Jimmy boy will be right at your door in case you
want anything in the night," he added significantly.

The prisoners entered, Sergius leading the way with the torch.
They found it to be a small but dry cavern, and as they spread down
their heavy coats to sleep on, it seemed as decent a bedroom as could
be expected. It also formed a very efficient jail, since, like the
other where Paul had lain, it had but the one exit, and that way led
past the presumably wakeful Jim Haskins.

At least he had enough to keep him awake in listening to the wild
night chorus of Joker Island and keeping his little fire going at the
entrance.

For a time the two companions in misfortune lay silent, listening
to the uproar which was somewhat muffled by the rocky walls about
them. It was Jones who spoke first, voicing a question which had been
all along in his mind.

"Prince Sergius," he said, "what on earth are you and the rest of
them after in this place? I mean, why did Holloway want to come back,
and why did he persuade your brother to fit out a yacht and come after
him, and why did you--" He paused suddenly, wondering just how
sensitive the prince was on that subject.

But his companion laughed softly in the darkness.

"That American--that Jim--he did not tell you everything, eh?"

"I think he told me all he knew. But of course, if you don't want
to trust me, just say so. I'm only curious, that's all."

"But I do trust you." Sergius reached over, caught Jones's hand,
gripped it hard, and then dropped it as suddenly. "Really--do not
laugh--you are the only friend I have within two thousand miles at
least. Those men of mine? They are of the rough peasant type whom I
pity but cannot love. My Captain Ivanovitch? He is--well, to be frank,
I do not like him. He has not the least refinement. My brother? Ah,
yes, I love him, but we are not friends--not now. He is my elder, the
head of my house since our father died.

"Paul was educated in America, and our father sent me to Oxford,
for he was a man of broad, splendid ideas. He thought thus we two
should share the education of two continents, but instead it was so we
grew apart. At Oxford I met other Russians, thinking men, one of
whom--alas, he is now in Siberia--changed the whole course of my life.
But I cannot now tell you of all that. Paul, in your free America,
clung still to the old, I call them the cruel and tyrannous, ideals.

"But you I liked, even when I thought you were that beast, Richard
Holloway. It is true that I threatened you, but then I was angry,
because I wished you to do something reasonable and you would not. But
when we met again and I asked you to come with me into this place of
hell, you did not even hesitate. You came like an old friend--a
comrade."

"But you saved my life afterward, prince," said Jones, amazed at
this tribute and the evidently sincere feeling which lay behind it. "I
am in your debt for that and for standing up for me to your brother."

"And why not? Comrades must not desert one another. And I do not
like to be named prince. Such titles stand for all I most abhor, Call
me Sergius and I will call you Roland, as friends should. Tell me,
would you go yet further and accompany me upon a greater adventure
than any of these dogs that hold us dare attempt?"

"What do you mean?" asked Mr. Jones, somewhat startled.

"I mean," the other replied, lowering his voice to a whisper,
"that to-morrow they will destroy our only means of escape--the
aeroplane. To-night it still stands there, safe unless some night-
devil has trampled it. In half an hour we could be on board the
Monterey. Is it not worth some risk to attain that? And we could
return, but next time we would not be trapped so easily. We would be
upon our guard."

"Good Lord," groaned Mr. Jones. "What you propose is impossible,
prince--I mean, Sergius. We should be killed before we had gone fifty
yards into that nightmare out there."

"You hesitate? But I have not yet answered your question. Listen.
In this island--this island which contains so many strange and
unaccountable surprises--in its soil is a substance more valuable a
thousand times than gold."

"Radium?" hazarded Mr. Jones.

"Radium--bah! No, it is a strange, secret substance, which for
ages has been sought by science until it has been termed a vision of
fools and madmen." He lowered his voice yet more. "It is that which
was once named the Philosopher's Stone--and it will change the nature
of what have been called the elements. My friend, this substance will
transmute common lead to gold!"

"Oh, is that all?" sighed Mr. Jones. "I thought it was probably
something about gold, but believe me, it isn't worth it, prince--it
really isn't."

Sergius sat up, and Jones knew that he was staring at him in
amazement.

"You are a very strange man, my friend. Has gold no temptation for
you?"

"Not a bit--not that sort of gold, anyway. Do you realize that if
this mythical stuff of Holloway's proves what he has claimed to you
people, it will upset the financial systems of the entire world, and
become itself of no more value than--than mud?"

"Not at all. Do you think we would be so mad as to flood the world
with gold? No, we will give out that we have discovered a very
valuable mine and we will only release it in such quantities as may
prove judicious. For myself, I desire it only for the cause. Russia
shall be freed from herself and become a blazing lamp of liberty to
enlighten the whole world. Paul, he desires only to help the
government in overcoming the Germans. I desire to make the Germans my
brothers."

So, it was really Germany that Russia was fighting! It all seemed
very strange. If it had been England, now-

"As for this Holloway," continued Sergius, "who discovered it, he
thinks only of himself. He says he wants to be a captain of industry."

"But why didn't he bring some of the stuff away with him in the
first place?"

"He could carry only a little, and that was used up in
demonstrating to us its value. But there is a great deal more here--
the whole soil is impregnated with it, and he discovered it by the
chance of a leaden bullet falling into the fire. The heat melted the
bullet and it sank to the earth beneath. And in the morning, when he
swept away the ashes from before his cave, there lay a splash of gold
upon the ground. He is a bright man, this Richard Holloway, and after
thought he experimented with another bullet."

"Yes, he would," sighed Mr. Jones in spite of Sergius' assurance,
the effect on himself and all his friends, if this improbable tale
proved true, was staggering to contemplate. "Now I know why I dislike
the man so much. Isn't the air in here frightfully stuffy? I can
hardly keep my eyes open."

"A little smoke from the fire at the entrance, perhaps. Or--my
friend, do not tell me that you ignored the warning I gave you!"

"Warning? What warning?" Jones felt himself growing drowsier and
drowsier. He wished Sergius would shut up and let him sleep.

He realized that some one was shaking him vigorously. "The soup--
the tomato soup! Tell me, surely you did not eat of it?"

"Yes--sure. Good soup. Mighty nice soup--nice girl--too--"

His voice dwindled away. He was drifting comfortably off upon a
sea of the softest down. Then something hard, unpleasant, was
thrusting itself against his teeth. His mouth filled with fire-liquid
fire. Coughing, strangling, he sat up and recovered sufficiently to
push his companion's hand away from his mouth.

"Wha'--wha' you tryin' to do?" he asked hoarsely. His throat and
lips felt stiff and numb.

"Trying to revive you, my friend. Here, drink some more of this."

"No. 'S horrid stuff. Take--away."

"Drink. You must."

Again something was forced against his teeth in the dark, and his
mouth was flooded with the fiery liquid.

It was "horrid stuff," but it was effective. Jones felt the
numbness going out of his vocal organs, and his brain cleared.

"What's the matter with me?" he gasped. "Have I been poisoned?"

"No, no, just a harmless drug, but it would have been disastrous
had you succumbed to it, though I pray Heaven the rest have done so. I
warned you not to touch that soup. Why did you do it?"

"Was that what you whispered to me? I didn't understand. But do
you mean to tell me that you have--that you have--"

"I've put them all to sleep, that's all. The stuff is a perfectly
harmless soporific, but it tastes a little, and that is why I put it
in the highly seasoned soup, which all would be most likely to eat.
But it is fortunate I had with me also the antidote, or my plan would
have surely reacted upon myself, for I would not leave you here to
meet their anger."

Jones staggered to his feet.

"I can't say I like the idea, my friend, but I suppose from your
point of view you were justified. What are we to do now?"

"Get back to the aeroplane. It is useless for us to attempt the
cavern without a guide, and even if I could awaken Holloway, I doubt
if he could be induced to help us."

"You would leave them here--in a drugged sleep--defenceless? Why
man what are you thinking of? It would be worse than murder! And the
girl, too. Why, the idea is criminal!"

"For what sort of devil do you mistake me, Roland Jones? No, I
have thought of everything. We will place them all in the cavern
chamber where Miss Weston now lies. Then we will block, up the
entrance with large stones, build before it a great fire, and they
will certainly be as safe until morning as anyone can be in this
perilous place."

"I see. Well, perhaps it could be done. But first, hadn't we
better find out if every one is really asleep?"



CHAPTER IX



HAVING first lighted the electric torch, the two men crept
stealthily through the narrow passage. In the doorway the fire had
burned low, and beside it lay sprawled the figure of Jim Haskins. The
nihilist stooped over him and felt cautiously of his heart. Then he
straightened himself. "All right," he murmured, and they passed on
out. At each of the two other inhabited caves they made a similar
examination, and in every case Sergius' little dose had done its work.
Every one of their captors lay helpless.

"Let us begin with Paul," said Sergius, in his natural voice,
since no need of caution seemed to now exist. But he received an
unexpected reply. There was a sudden rustling, a sound of footsteps,
and there behind Paul's outstretched form appeared a slender figure.

"You here!" exclaimed Miss Weston. "What have you done to Paul?
Have you killed him? Oh, you--you anarchist!"

She dropped on her knees and felt anxiously for Paul's heart.

"My dear Miss Weston, certainly I have not killed my brother."
Sergius' voice showed not the slightest agitation at this discovery by
the girl he so much admired. "He is only asleep. They are all asleep.
We grew tired of seeing so many people asleep, and we are therefore
about to leave."

She sprang up and faced him with flushed cheeks and blazing eyes.
"You have drugged them all! How did you accomplish this dastardly
thing?"

"The tomato soup, Miss Weston. You did not eat of it?"

"Of course not. I detest canned tomato soup. Well, I--I hope you
are proud of yourself. I hope--I hope something will eat you! So, you
were going away, leaving your brother and all of us to be killed, were
you?"

"By no means. We were just about to provide against that little
contingency. But your being awake alters matters."

"Oh, does it? Perhaps you are ashamed of your work, now that a
woman has seen you at it?"

"Not at all. But on the other hand, I cannot leave you here,
awake, to be terrorized all night. Asleep, it would not have mattered.
When you awoke it would have been daylight and the others would have
also awakened with you. Mr. Jones, the aeroplane will easily carry
three passengers, We will have to take Miss Weston with us."

"Oh, I say," protested Jones, "do you think that is really
necessary?"

"But yes. She will be far safer on the Monterey than here, under
any circumstances. You need not fear me, Miss Weston. I am a gentleman
and Paul's brother, when we have settled our brotherly differences,
you may return to his side, if that is your choice."

He looked at her a trifle appealingly, but she flung back her head
defiantly.

"You dare!" she stormed. "I will not go a step and leave my
friends to be devoured."

Sergius took one stride across the body of his brother and seized
the young lady in his arms, holding her firmly, but as gently as he
could. She did not scream, but she fought desperately, and with an
amazing strength.

Jones's gorge rose at the sight. This was going much too far. He
sprang forward and seized his companion by the shoulder.

"Here, this won't do," he exclaimed. "You can't force the young
lady in that way, Sergius."

The Russian turned a disgusted face to him and said over his
shoulder, "Do you prefer to leave her here to be frightened into
insanity? Is that your idea of chivalry?"

"Let me go--let me go!" cried Miss Weston, beating fiercely at him
with her hands.

And just at that moment something black, monstrous, hideous shot
down upon them out of the blackness beyond the fires. There was a
harsh, grating scream, and the shoulder of a giant wing struck Jones,
knocking him down, and grazed the rock wall. He was involved in a
swirl of beating, struggling pinions, there were two more screams, one
human, the other quite the opposite, and the thing, whatever it was,
was gone.

Jones picked himself up, bruised and trembling from head to foot.
The girl lay limp in Sergius' arms, her face white, arms and head
hanging. Sergius himself was pale as a ghost, but he had not moved
from his position.

"I don't know what it was, Roland Jones," he said with a rather
stiff-lipped smile, "but do you still think we ought to leave her
here?"

"Great Heavens, how can we take her? How can we go ourselves?
Sergius Petrofsky, I believe that you have gone mad!"

"Not quite," said the prince patiently. "We have the rifles and
the electric torches, and I really believe we can make the trip
safely. I have myself passed through an African jungle in the same
way, and never received a scratch. We will carry Miss Weston as far as
the outer edge of the meadow, then we will revive her and go on. Later
we will open negotiations with my brother--he will not then have so
much advantage--and Miss Weston, for whom I have great reverence and
respect, will be far safer on the Monterey. Come! In the midst of so
many perils, the boldest course is best. You say that I saved your
life. It was a very ordinary deed, but for this one night let me claim
your gratitude!"

Jones was in a quandary. His innate chivalry revolted at the idea
of forcing a woman into accompanying them, yet the arguments of
Sergius seemed very plausible. And he loved this daring, fanatical,
imperious new friend of his as he had never loved any man in his life
before.

"All right. I'll do it. But afterward Miss Weston is to be free to
return here if she chooses."

"Very well, if you wish it. I give my word."

With no more talk they hastily dragged the insensible members of
the party into the selected cavern, and with considerable labor
blocked up the entrance. In the morning the imprisoned ones could
easily pull it down from within. Then they gathered all the fuel
together and made one enormous bonfire, that blazed and roared
skyward. Some of the logs were of very satisfactory size, and they
felt sure the fire would burn for some hours. It was then nearly
midnight and dawn would break shortly after three.

While they worked Jones found himself casting many apprehensive
glances upward, but the flying monster did not return and they
completed their task unmolested. Miss Weston, fortunately or
otherwise, had not awakened from her swoon.

Their own two rifles and ammunition belts, together with an
automatic pistol and cartridge clips belonging to Prince Paul, and a
heavy, old-fashioned revolver looted from Jim Haskins, they had kept
outside the cavern, together with two of the most powerful electric
torches.

With one last anxious glance skyward, Mr. Jones picked up the two
rifles, both torches and their heavy coats, which he was to carry
until they reached the place where Sergius' remarkable scheme involved
reviving the fainting lady. Sergius himself carefully raised his
scornful idol in two muscular arms, and so burdened they started out
across the meadow.

How they were to find their way along that thread-like trail,
between the hidden dens of impossibly large spiders and past the other
roaring, screaming, bellowing natives of Joker Island, remained to be
shown.



CHAPTER X



THEY had reached the first of the scattered outer sentinels of the
forest of slender palms. Dimly beyond it, by grace of the tropic star
brilliance, they could see the looming mass which they must penetrate
to reach the aeroplane.

So far they had met with nothing alarming. Everywhere, in and out,
giant fireflies danced in a mystic saraband, very beautiful to behold,
but also quite confusing to the eye. They had not yet used their
torches, fearing to attract more of the terrible flying monsters, of
which they had already seen quite enough to satisfy any morbid
curiosity they might have felt.

"Here," whispered the prince, although he could almost have
shouted without fear of being overheard above the general uproar, "we
must awaken Miss Weston."

Jones saw his dark form bending over at the foot of the slender
tree, and knew that he had laid his burden down.

"Shall I light up?" inquired Jones in an equally low tone, and
speaking close to his companion's ear.

"On no account. Not yet, that is. Will you hold up her head,
please? That is right. Now--this liquor would well-nigh rouse life in
the dusty veins of an Egyptian mummy."

"If it's the same you gave me, you're right. Look out--there's
something behind you--look out, I say!"

Over Sergius' shoulder he had caught a glimpse of two green eyes
glaring, balls of fire set in the black velvet of night. Sergius, with
the swiftness of a prestidigitateur, replaced the stopper in the small
flask he had been holding to Miss Weston's lips, reached with unerring
grasp for one of the rifles laid across Jones' lap, rose from knees to
feet in the same motion and laughed softly and lowered the weapon.
Stooping, he picked up a small stone and flung it straight at the
glaring eyes. There was a startled snarl, a fiendish yell, and the
eyes vanished, accompanied by a scuffling and crashing in the
underbrush.

"A hyena," commented Sergius, resuming his interrupted task with
unruffled composure. "No use wasting a shot on that sort of vermin."

"Good Heavens, man, have you the eyes of a cat? How could you tell
what it was?"

"Oh, I can see better than most in the dark, I will admit. I
should never have suggested this venture if it were not so. Now--ah,
she is awakening."

There was a cough, a little, strangled gasp, and Miss Weston sat
up very suddenly. Unlike more ordinary people, she did not exclaim
"Where am I?" although the query would certainly have been excusable,
but seemed to spring instantly to full consciousness and knowledge of
the situation.

Without a moment's hesitation she reached up in the darkness and
delivered a slap in Sergius' general direction which would have been
splendidly effective had he not sprung back with the same speed he had
shown in dealing with the hyena. A second later she was on her feet,
panting and sobbing, but not, Jones feared, with panic.

"Oh, you did it--you did it! You cowards! You left them there and
carried me away when I was helpless. Oh--if I live till morning you
shall be punished for this. You shall, I say!"

Gently, but with irresistible strength, Sergius took her small
hands in one of his, and placed the other over her mouth.

"Be silent," he said softly and sternly. "You must not endanger
your own life because of your anger against me. Paul and the rest are,
a thousand times more secure at this moment than we, unless you
control yourself and use your splendid vigor and determination to a
better purpose than recrimination. If I release my hold, will you come
with us quietly and softly?"

A miracle occurred, for Miss Weston yielded--on that one point, at
least. She must have nodded her head, although Jones could not see the
motion in the darkness, for Sergius released her and stepped back.

"Do not imagine that you have greater concern for my brother than
I, Miss Weston. We placed them all in safety, barricaded the entrance,
and built a fire which will burn until morning. And now, you will
please keep between Mr. Jones and myself. If we run, you must run
also; and if we should crouch suddenly down, you must do likewise. Do
you understand?"

"I understand," came the answer in a tone of suppressed rebellion.

"Very well. Will you give me one of those torches, Roland? You
have your rifle ready and cocked?"

"Yes--but I'm a darned bad shot."

The nihilist sighed. "One cannot expect everything," he said. "If
I tell you to shoot, aim between the eyes--you are likely to see them;
at any rate. And now, forward!"

Two long, white beams sprang into being, and by the shifting rays
Mr. Jones saw the narrow, trodden trail from which they had emerged in
the afternoon. More than ever he marveled at Sergius' almost
supernatural abilities. How had he managed to strike that one single
place where they had a bare chance of entering the jungle
successfully?

The Russian led the way, followed by Miss Weston, and Jones
brought up the rear. And now they had entered the very center of
pandemonium itself. Roars, shrieks, grunts, bellows rent the air upon
every side.

"Don't be frightened!" Sergius called back over his shoulder.
"These torches will keep most of the brutes off--but, good God, not
this one!"

Jones caught, a glimpse of a mighty bulk rearing itself high over
the head of their leader; there were three sharp, rapid reports; then
the thing, whatever it was, with a terrific snarl of rage, had lurched
forward and downward upon the unfortunate nihilist. Miss Weston, with
remarkable presence of mind, had turned, run back to Jones's side, and
then turned again to face this midnight terror, without a scream or
act which could have impeded her sole remaining guardian.

He, staring with horror down his little, wavering beam of light,
saw only a monstrous black head with snarling, savage jaws and two red
eyes that glared like coals of fire.

"Shoot him--shoot him!" It was Miss Weston's voice, and she was
shaking his arm viciously. "Shoot him--or give me that rifle!"

"Between the eyes!" gasped Jones.

"You're likely to see them!"

He had no idea of what he was saying, or that he had spoken. Then,
as he stood there, shaking in every limb, he suddenly reached the
extremity of terror, and passed beyond it into that unnatural coolness
and calm which is so efficient and, sometimes, so hard to reach. The
trembling palsy passed, and every nerve and muscle tautened to
abnormal firmness. From numbed quiescence his brain leaped to
lightning action.

He knew what he, "a darned bad shot," must do if he would save the
friend who lay invisible somewhere under that dreadful head.

With a sure swiftness of which none of his acquaintances would
have deemed Jones capable, he handed the electric torch to the girl,
darted forward to within ten feet of the monster, raised his rifle and
fired, aiming at the center of the forehead, and pumping one cartridge
after another into place as fast as he could work the lever.

Undoubtedly the fact that the brute had paused at all in its
attack was due to the dazzling effect of the electric torch, and if it
had not been for an unusual piece of luck Jones would probably never
have lived to marvel at his own feat. For at the first report the
light-blinded brute snarled again, started to lift itself, failed,
drooped, and sank slowly down upon the path. Jones, however, emptied
his magazine before he realized that he had actually killed the
creature with that first fortunate bullet.

Then he called back to the girl: "Come quick, Miss Weston; we've
got to pull it off from Sergius!"

She ran up, still bearing the light, and the two looked down in
consternation at the mighty bulk which lay like a monstrous black
tombstone over the body of Sergius Petrofsky. It was a great, hairless
mountain of flesh, The dropped head looked like the face of some
gargoyle carven in unpolished ebony. Its fore legs were invisible,
doubled under the body. Move it? They might as well have tried to move
an elephant.

Nevertheless, catching hold of the upstanding, rounded ears, they
tugged and heaved with all their might, but could only succeed in
shifting the head a little to one side.

"Sergius! Sergius!" cried Miss Weston, dropping suddenly in a
little heap of pathos beside that mountain of brute flesh.

She was answered by a moan. To their amazement, it did not come
from beneath the monster, but from some little distance to one side of
the path. Yet it was certainly a human moan, for it was followed by a
voice: "Over here. I'm--I'm coming."

Miss Weston sprang to her feet and accompanied Jones in a wild
rush toward the voice. There, sprawled out among the flowering,
tangled vines, they found the nihilist himself; and as the circle of
light struck his face, he sat and stared back at them with an
amazement equal to their own.

"What--what hit me?" he gasped.

Jones laughed aloud in his relief. "It did. How in the name of all
the saints did you get here?"

Sergius passed a bewildered hand over his head. "I--I begin to
remember. Something seemed to come right up out of the ground. I--I
fired at it--and then--and then--"

"It must have struck you with its paw and knocked you clear away
from the path," interrupted Miss Weston in a calm, indifferent voice.
Jones glanced at her in astonishment. Was this the girl who had been
sobbing out the name of Sergius a few minutes before? "If you are
hurt, you had better get up and go on with us--although I would
suggest that you let Mr. Jones take the lead, as he seems much the
better shot."

Jones helped his friend to rise, and as he did so Sergius laughed
without a trace of annoyance. "If you actually killed that brute, my
friend, Miss Weston is right. Did you kill it?"

"I must have, because it's certainly dead, although I can hardly
believe it myself. What on earth is the thing, Sergius?"

They had recovered the narrow path and stood beside the black hulk
which blocked it entirely, overlapping on both sides into the
underbrush.

Sergius examined the huge head with interest. "I never saw
anything exactly like it before. Where did you hit it?"

"Between the eyes. You remember you told me to fire between the
eyes, so I did. I fired about ten cartridges into it, but I think it
died at the first shot."

The nihilist looked up at him with a curious expression. "It did?
That's rather odd. The beast has a frontal bone as thick as a
rhinoceros', if I am any judge. No; here are three bullets embedded in
the bone, but not a sign of a hole. Ah, that was it, eh? My friend, by
very well-deserved good luck your first bullet did not strike the
forehead at all, but penetrated this left eye and went straight into
the brain."

"Great Scot!" exclaimed the American. "And I was about ten feet
away! It's a good thing the brute has a head as big as a barn-door, or
I'd have missed it entirely."

Sergius smiled. "Nevertheless, you deserve great congratulations.
If your first bullet had not gone a few inches astray, we should
perhaps none of us be alive at this moment. But what a strange brute
it is! I should say it was a monstrous bear, from the shape of the
head, if it were not so hairless. I wonder, now, if this is the
creature that pulled up the death cabbages there by the plane?"

"Prince Sergius," again interrupted Miss Weston, with a slightly
impatient note in her voice, "would it not be better to come back in
daylight to continue your zoological researches? If this creature has
a mate, and it should come this way, Mr. Jones might not be able to
kill the second one."

"And you are quite sure, after what has happened, that as a
protector I am an entire failure, eh? Well, perhaps you are justified,
but still I had better continue to lead the way. What do you think,
Roland Jones?"

"Don't be absurd. I'm a rank, bungling amateur, and you both know
it. Shall we climb over this thing, or go around it?"

"The underbrush is thick here--and there might be snakes, though
we have seen none. I think we had better use your victim as a
causeway."

The two men helped Miss Weston up to the gigantic shoulders, and
they walked the length of the huge creature, more and more amazed at
its bulk. From nose to hind quarters it must have measured a full
fifteen feet, and in his heart Jones wished that he might have
transported the head to his rooms in New York. How he could have
gloated over the surprise of a friend of his who was a big game-hunter
and very proud of certain rhino-heads and lion-skins, trophies of
African expeditions.

He reloaded his rifle carefully and resumed his position as rear-
guard with a new confidence in its powers which took no heed to the
fact that only by a lucky accident had his shot struck a vulnerable
spot.

Many times as they marched silently ahead, the underbrush by the
wayside swayed and bent, crackling, to the passage of animals of which
they caught not even a glimpse. Once a lynxlike beast as big as a
large panther dropped silently into the middle of the path ahead of
them, glared for a second into the bull's-eye of Sergius, and with
another spring was gone before he could fire at it.

This incident, however, encouraged the three, for it seemed as if
most of the jungle inhabitants shunned the blinding electric lights as
they would have shunned a campfires.

And at length there came to their nostrils a whiff of noxious odor
which told the two men that they had successfully passed the first
barriers to their escape. Vile smell though it was, it came welcome
enough just then, for it was the odor of the fungi that grew about the
roots of the death cabbages.

Jones realized with pleasure that they had passed the great
spider's trap without even being aware of it. He had subconsciously
dreaded more than anything also going past that dark incline, at the
foot of which waited the thing of long, black, shining legs and
protuberant eyes.

But as the full force of the stench enveloped them, Miss Weston
stopped dead, so that Jones almost collided with her in the narrow
path.

"Stop--I can't go on into this--this horrible vapor!" she called
after Sergius. He heard, for he turned back immediately and returned
to where they stood.

"What is the matter?" he asked a trifle impatiently.

"This dreadful smell. I can't--"

"Miss Weston, a smell won't kill anybody. At least, this one will
not. Mr. Jones and myself were in the midst of it for nearly an hour,
and we were not harmed."

"But--"

"Do you wish to be left here, then?"

The question was brutal, but it served its purpose. A moment the
girl was silent; then she threw back her shoulders and smiled
contemptuously. "I presume you would not hesitate to do that, either.
No, I will not oblige you by relieving you of my hampering company. I
can certainly face anything that you can."

Sergius looked at her with plain admiration on his face.

"Believe me, Miss Weston, this charnel odor is no worse than that
of the battle-fields to which you were going. I have been there, also.
Will you take my arm now? For we must walk through a very disagreeable
place."

"No, thank you!" she--well, she snapped, although it isn't a nice
thing to say of a heroine. "I am sure Mr. Jones will offer all the
help I may need."

"Very well." The prince shrugged, and without more ado they passed
from the forest of slender palms into the safe way, broken, perhaps,
by the very creature which they had encountered and ungratefully slain
that night.



CHAPTER XI



AS the three staggered out, one after another, from the acid-fumed
fungi onto the wiry grass of the central space, their ears were rent
by a sound of hideous and continued screaming which drowned out all
other noise entirely. Startled and shuddering, both Sergius and Jones
directed the rays of their lanterns toward the sound, and a most
extraordinary picture leaped into view.

The scene of the tragedy was one of the larger death-cabbages. Its
seventyfive-foot leaves were spread almost flat, and all the inner
tentacles were writhing and squirming upward, so that at first glance
it looked as if this vegetable flesh-eater were all on fire with slim,
scarlet flames. Then, as they moved their search-lights upward, they
saw what it was that screamed.

Clinging with huge claws to the upper stalk, just below the tuft,
was a dark, winged thing, and all about its body and head the
tentacles were wound and fastened. So wide were its frantically
beating wings that even where they stood, a hundred yards away, the
wind of them struck their faces in heavy gusts. The stalk swayed and
bent under the strain, but the tentacles had firm hold, and
continually new scarlet cords shot upward to aid in the binding of the
captive, until its body was no more than a bundle of flaming red.

The screaming grew weaker; the wings fluttered spasmodically for a
few moments longer, then drooped down helpless. The tentacles took
hold upon them, also. Into the field of light a pointed, serrated
thing rose slowly, followed by others upon all sides. The death
cabbage was closing its doors to feast in sacred privacy.

A moment later the vision of trapped prey was shut from their
eyes.

With a long, shuddering sigh, Sergius turned his own light slowly
about the grim ranks encircling the glade. Everywhere it fell upon
spread leaves and living, ready tentacles Only one or two other of the
cabbages were closed. Doubtless their dinner had come to them earlier
in the evening.

"What are they? What is this place you have brought me to?"

It was Miss Weston. Both men turned to her with a guilty start,
realizing that in their fascinated absorption they had for the time
forgotten her.

"I am so sorry," apologized Sergius, as if he and Jones had
invented the vegetable horrors, as her tone implied.

"It is like--it is like a circle from Dante's Inferno!" exclaimed
Jones, laying his hand pityingly on the girl's arm, and wishing with
all his heart that he had never acceded to Sergius' wishes; that they
had left the girl at the caves, or stayed there themselves. What might
not the effect of having witnessed such a scene be upon the mind of a
delicate, high-strung woman?

But she drew slightly away, and spoke again to the Russian, From
first to last she gave Mr. Jones no more attention than one grants to
a supernumerary--a necessary adjunct to the play, but scarcely of more
human interest than the furniture.

"You are sorry!" she repeated scornfully. "Your sorrow is rather
late, it appears. Where is the aeroplane?"

The nihilist bowed gallantly to her contemptuous tone.

"As usual, Miss Weston, you speak directly to the point. The
aeroplane is--why, where in the name of Heaven is it?"

For his light, flashing up the glade, encountered only empty
space. The aeroplane, which they had left not far from where they now
stood, had disappeared.

Jones felt his heart begin a slow, systematic descent toward his
toes. If the machine were actually gone, what would they do? Then he
gave a joyful cry as his own light, dancing spritelike over the grass,
flashed upon something broadwinged and motionless over near the wilted
death-cabbage which had so nearly made a meal of him and Sergius.

"There it is! It's all right! It's there!"

"Thank God!" breathed Miss Weston, frightened momentarily out of
her attitude of disdainful indifference.

"But how did it get there?" frowned Sergius. "Miss Weston, you
must not go so near as that to the cabbagges. Will you wait here with
Mr. Jones, while I go after the plane?"

"I will not," she replied instantly. "We will either all go, or
none of us will go, whichever you please. Oh, I'm not troubled for
your safety, Prince Sergius. Don't imagine that. But if you should be
killed or injured, who is to pilot the plane?

"I am overwhelmed by your solicitude for me," murmured Sergius,
bowing again. "If you must go, keep behind us. Here, take this light
and one of the rifles. Yes, please, I want my hands free. Come on,
then."

He set off at a swinging stride, followed by Jones and Miss
Weston, who looked pale by the reflected light of her lantern, but
very determined indeed.

The plane, they found, was fairly in the midst of the many-colored
fungi. But worse, and more important, it was quite near to a thirty-
foot vegetable which they had just had good testimony, would make no
more than a good meal on all three of them. In fact, as they
approached, it seemed to sense them, and stretched out a dozen hungry
tentacles in their direction. Two or three of these, feeling blindly,
encountered a rear strut of the aeroplane and curled about it. Then
the tentacles contracted suddenly, and the aeroplane rolled backward
an inch or so.

"That won't do," cried the nihilist, and seizing a forward strut
he braced himself and pulled, but with no apparent effect. More
tentacles reached toward him as he stood there, but he was partly
shielded from them by the plane itself.

To his credit be it said that Mr. Jones, without an instant's
hesitation, dropped his rifle, handed his torch to Miss Weston, and
springing to Sergius' side flung his weight also into the tug-of-war.
But it was evident that the strength of the vegetable was greater than
their combined efforts. The utmost they could, do was to hold the
machine where it was.

After several muscle and nerve-straining minutes, the nihilist
said to Jones in a low voice, not to be overheard by the girl, "My
friend, there is only one thing to be done and that is creep back
there, over the tail, and cut some of those tentacles."

"Impossible! Why, the others would get you in a second."

"I don't care if they do. I will cut them also. They are strong,
but a knife goes through them easily. Do you not remember yesterday
afternoon? Miss Weston, will you keep both lights trained on the rear
of the plane for a few moments, please? I am going to try something."

"I won't let you do it--" began Jones, but with a spring Sergius
had mounted upon the plane and was working his way toward the rear.

The withdrawal of his strength was accompanied by a surge of the
aeroplane backward, and Jones had to use all his muscle and attention
to keep it in place. Sergius was now out of his sight, but by a sudden
swaying and jolting and a scream from Margaret Weston, he knew that
his too-daring companion must have been found by one or more of the
questing tentacles.

The machine swayed again violently, then he heard Sergius' voice.

"Hold those lights steady, Miss Weston. Ah! two at once. Roland,
we needn't have been so worried--one might as well be afraid of a
stick of celery. You devil! Would you?"

There was a strangled, gasping sound, another scream from the
girl, then the Russian's voice again, somewhat hoarser but still
cheerful. "He almost got me that time--but not twice! That is right.
Send me a few more feelers! Pull! Pull, Jones, with all your force!"

Jones obeyed with the strength of desperation, as a sudden
lightening in the weight and a renewed swaying told him that Sergius
had jumped to the ground, Slowly at first, then with gathering ease
and speed the plane moved. In a minute it was out of the fungi and
rolling clear upon the turf.

The second that he dared, Jones let go and ran around to the rear.
To his great relief there was his nihilist friend, leaning against, a
strut and wiping his forehead. Miss Weston joined them with the
lights, and they all stared at one another in silence.

Then Sergius dropped his handkerchief, and brought his hand down
upon his thigh with a resounding slap.

"What a fool I am!" he exclaimed. "What an utter fool! All I had
to do was to climb into the pilot's seat and start the propeller. Even
that brute could hardly have outpulled the engine. And my neck would
have been saved a very unpleasant experience." He felt of it tenderly,
then laughed.

"Well, it is over now. Some inquisitive beast must have come by
here and given the plane a push, so that it rolled down that little
incline."

He began a careful examination of wires, struts, taut varnished
canvas, propeller blades and last, and most important, the engine
itself and its tank. In a few minutes now their very lives might
depend upon the thoroughness of that examination.

"I can find nothing wrong," he said at last, and his announcement
was greeted with an involuntary sigh of relief from both his
companions.

"Miss Weston," he continued, "I think you and Mr. Jones can manage
to occupy that seat together. At any rate, in a few minutes we will be
out of this intolerable odor. Here, Miss Weston, put on my coat, since
you will find it cold in the upper air, if you will be so kind as to
cover your face with your hands when we get up, you will not need
goggles. Are we all ready?"

"I shall certainly not take your coat," said the girl indignantly,
waving the garment away. "Not that your comfort is so important, but I
know a little about flying, and if you became numbed by the cold, what
would happen to us?"

Sergius laughed. "There is no danger of my becoming numbed in the
few minutes that we will be in the air. Your dress is a great deal
thinner than my tunic. I am sorry, but you will have to take it or we
cannot start."

"Let her take mine," interposed Jones. "I have nothing to do but
sit still, and it really doesn't matter whether I get numb or not.

"You are very kind, Mr. Jones." Miss Weston smiled sweetly upon
him. "Yes, since you insist, I shall be glad to borrow your coat."

And suiting the action to the words she took it from him and
slipped into it. Sergius frowned and looked as if he were about to say
something, then checked himself and turned away, putting on his own
coat without any further protest. But Mr. Jones caught what looked
like an expression of amused triumph on Margaret Weston's beautiful
face. It was the first time that she had really succeeded in annoying
Sergius Petrofsky.

A few minutes later, having pushed the machine to the extreme end
of the glade, turned so as to face the open run, they all took their
places and strapped themselves in. The rear seat was a tight fit
indeed for both Jones and Miss Weston, but it was only to be for a few
minutes, and the girl murmured that at least she was glad she did not
have to sit so close to Sergius.

Mr. Jones might have felt more flattered if she had not put in the
"at least."

The Russian started his engine, the propeller began to revolve,
and a second later the plane rolled forward across the uneven grass.
They did not gather speed very quickly, however, and it looked as if
the machine would refuse to rise in the limited course. Twice Sergius
raised the elevator, and twice the plane continued on its rough and
bouncing course up the glade, refusing to leave the earth.

They were now perilously close to the further end and the plane
was running at a speed of about sixty miles an hour. To stop was
impossible, and for a time it seemed as if their career was to end in
the maw of a particularly wide-spread and hungry-looking death-
cabbage, when just at the last minute he again raised the elevator,
the plane tilted slightly and took the air beneath its taut canvas
wings.

They barely cleared the crest of the deadly vegetable, and with
their hearts still in their throats found themselves shooting onward
and upward, away from thevalley of death.

Yet even as they drew in their first full breaths of relief and
clean, cool air, Death itself, though in another form, rose after
them.

The first consciousness that they were the object of attack came
as Sergius banked his wings and swung in a wide circle, preparatory to
straightening out on the seaward course. As the machine tilted against
the light breeze, a large, dark thing shot by its nose, just missing
the plane by a foot or so, and causing even the iron-nerved Russian
momentarily to lose control.

The plane dipped and shot downward at a dangerous angle. They had
risen scarcely four hundred feet, and there was not much room for
evolutions. He just saved them from destruction, and rose again,
casting anxious glances about in the darkness, for they had
extinguished the electric torches before rising.

The girl was not aware that anything had happened, for she had
covered her face with her hands to shield it from the sharp wind of
their flight. Jones stared about as anxiously as their pilot, but
could see nothing. Sergius' eyes must have been, as he had said, of an
unusual kind, for presently he shouted and pointed into the darkness.

A second later something huge came up from below, actually grazed
the left wing, and was gone again.

Jones knew that the dark thing must be one of the flying monsters,
of which this was the third they had encountered, and he earnestly
hoped that its interference was purely accidental. He said nothing,
fearing to frighten Miss Weston, but on a sudden impulse he loosened
the strap that held bah of them, with a vague idea that if they should
be flung to the earth they might have some chance of jumping clear.

That Sergius was fully aware of the danger was made evident, for
he began to climb in a swift, steep spiral. Birds of the night hardly
ever fly high, and if they could reach the upper levels of the air, so
easily accessible to them, they would be safe.

But the evil genius of Joker Island had no idea of permitting them
to escape so simply. Again, with a wild beating of vast pinions, the
winged peril was upon them. This time it struck downward from above
and even the skill of the nihilist could not save them.

Of what happened next Mr. Jones was never able to give a coherent
account. Probably the weight and impact of the creature partially
stunned him. At any rate, his next conscious memory was of finding
himself swinging and dangling over empty space, his arms and hands
firmly buried in something that felt like warm fur, and that he was
being carried along in great swoops and lunges, so that it required
his utmost strength to keep from being jerked off.



CHAPTER XII



WIDE, frantic wings were beating on either side of him, and even
in that desperate moment he realized that he must have grasped the
flying monster at the instant it struck the aeroplane. Doubtless much
against its will, it was now carrying him along as an equally
unwilling passenger.

As a matter of fact, he was clinging to its fur and the skin of
its breast, which was fortunately very loose, affording an excellent
handhold. But Mr. Jones was no acrobat, although he was certainly
playing the part of one. Already his hands were numb and aching. He
wondered if he could manage to climb around and up to the creature's
back, but gave it up as a feat too great for his weakening muscles.

Suddenly he found himself laughing wildly. He had remembered the
story of Sindbad and the Roc, which had carried him into the Valley of
Diamonds. But the Roc bore the sailor in its claws, and this creature
was not half so obliging.

Looking downward, Jones was sure that they were far higher than
when the beast had struck them. He should, even swinging so dizzily
through the air, have caught a glimpse of light where the fire must
still be blazing by the cliff, or perhaps, if they were very high, the
lights of the other encampment outside the wall. But all beneath was a
black void, under what seemed a swirling, dancing firmament of stars.

Then, sick and giddy, the moment came when Jones knew he must
shortly let go his grip upon skin and fur and whirl down, breathless,
helpless, into the waiting arms of death. Suddenly he began to kick
violently, and swing his body from side to side. If he went he was
determined that his involuntary captor should go with him.

Came a harsh scream from above, a few mad circles, and then,
though the wings still beat, he knew that they were dropping with
dangerous speed through the empty blackness of space.

The fall, however, ended a great deal sooner than Jones
anticipated, and not upon the earth but in the sea. There was one
terrific splash, as beast and man struck the water.

Mr. Jones, being of course underneath, had decidedly the worst of
the dive. In the first place he had expected to be hurled into the maw
of a death-cabbage, perhaps, or to be dashed to pieces upon the earth,
or, if he were lucky, that they might break their fall upon the crest
of one of the tall, slender palms. The one thing which he did not
anticipate was to be plunged into a cold bath. His mouth was open, and
his lungs nearly empty of air when it happened, and the consequence
was that he nearly drowned before recovered sufficient sense to let go
of the fur to which he was still clinging with the tenacity of the
dying.

Even then it was more by good luck than presence of mind that he
reached the surface, for all the water was in a whirl with the
flapping struggles of the creature which had brought him there.
Fortunately, although evidently it could not swim, its convulsive
efforts pushed it along, so that Jones came up at last a few feet
clear of the worst of the turmoil.

The sea was running in long, smooth, oily swells, nearly as kind
as quiet water to the gasping swimmer. He cleared his lungs, then
turned on his back and floated, drawing in the air in huge draughts.

As his blood became reoxygenated, he began to feel a certain
curiosity. What had become of the enemy? Turning again he swam slowly
and quietly, reserving his strength, and looking anxiously about from
the top of each swell as it came under him.

The sea, which was free that night from the phosphorescence that
often characterizes those waters, reflected very little light, from
the stars. He could see nothing--no land, no monster--nothing but the
stars above and beneath--blackness. He felt as if he had been dropped
into a sea of India ink, a sea where no man or beast had ever come or
sun shone upon.

Then he remembered the possibility of sharks and hoped devoutly
that no company of that sort would arrive.

His clothes dragged him down, and he determined to be rid of them,
at least. He kicked off his shoes and at last, by working carefully,
got rid of his khaki tunic. The puttees were hardest to deal with, but
he finally got them off, followed them with his breeches, and even
shed the thin, loosefitting silk underwear, as a last slight
impediment to what he intended to be a fight to the finish for life
and the chance to get back and finish his voluntary job of helping
Sergius, or find and bury his remains. The latter contingency seemed
the more likely one.

The water was warm, the slow, even swells friendly, and Mr. Jones
felt sure that he could keep afloat till dawn, which could not now be
far off. What he would do then depended upon circumstances, but he did
not really believe the flying monster could have carried him far out
to sea, and he hoped that when day broke he would see Joker Island
within easy swimming distance. Until then it would be dangerous to
strike out, perhaps in the wrong direction, so he floated a great
deal, only swimming enough to keep his blood in circulation.

In one of the periods when he was on his back, his ears in
consequence being under water, there reached them a peculiar,
vibratory, explosive sound. He had heard it before, while floating in
the quiet reaches of Long Island Sound, and with a great rush of hope
Jones turned over and trod water raising himself as far as he could
above the surface and staring from right to left through the blind
veil of night.

Nothing.

He turned himself slowly, waiting for the rise of each successive
swell to look long. Then he gave a wild shout and letting himself drop
back struck out with frantic strokes.

Very small, very far away, he had seen two lights which were not
stars, for one was red and one was green.

Had his mood of exultation lasted long he must have perished even
on the threshold of salvation, for such a pace as he had set himself
would have exhausted the most expert swimmer. Fortunately common sense
returned in time, and he realized that since he saw both the red and
the green it must mean but one thing. The vessel, whatever it was, was
approaching him, probably at a far greater speed than he could
possibly attain even if he could have kept it up.

He "loafed" again, rising on each swell with the deadly fear that
this time one of the lights would have disappeared, sinking again into
the trough with the blissful assurance that both lights still shone.

There is nothing much harder than to estimate distance at night
across water. Knowing this from his own yachting experience, Jones
floated several times, listening for the engine beat which the sea
carried so much farther than the wind. And each time he fancied that
it was louder, more distinct.

At last he raised himself again upon the crest of a swell and sent
a long, anxious hail across the waste. To his inexpressible joy it was
immediately answered.

Ten minutes later Mr. Roland C. Jones was picked up out of the
watery vastness of the Pacific Ocean by his own power cruiser, the
Bandersnatch, which had for three days been cross-quartering those
waters in the vain, despairing hope of picking up some trace of him or
his body.



CHAPTER XIII



ALTHOUGH the fact was not included in the extensive notices which
later appeared in the New York papers in regard to the loss and rescue
of the well-known millionaire yachtsman (his own friends told nothing,
but one of the sailors talked), there occurred a peculiar
psychological phenomenon as Mr. Jones came over the rail of the
Bandersnatch.

It was as if a dark veil, which he had scarcely known existed, had
been suddenly swept away from his mental vision. It had torn a trifle
when he recognized one of the men in the dingey which rescued him as
his old friend, Henry Martindale. He had sat in a silent, stupid-
seeming daze as they were rowed back to the yacht by the sailor who
accompanied Martindale, and listened to his friends' exclamations of
joy, amazement and congratulation.

But as he stepped, barefooted and naked, upon the white deck of
his own, familiar, beloved Bandersnatch, that veil split asunder from
top to bottom and vanished forever from his brain.

In plain words, Mr. Jones remembered. He remembered how for two
years, since the moment when a small, heavy clock, carelessly placed
upon a shelf in his stateroom on the Lusitania, had fallen at a lurch
of the vessel and struck him upon the temple, he had been the victim
of that queer mental disease, amnesia. Cared for by the best doctors
in London and New York, they had not been able to restore the delicate
equilibrium of his brain.

The loss of his memory had been accompanied by physical
deterioration, and this winter the physicians had ordered a long
cruise through Southern seas in the hope of improving, if not curing,
his condition.

They had, exactly as he had informed Jim Haskins, come around into
the Pacific by way of the Panama Canal, and were bound for the
Philippines when one night Mr. Jones actually did get up out of bed,
dress himself, not in yachting clothes but in a grey morning suit,
walk out on deck, straight across it, and over the rail, before the
men on watch could stop him. In the sea that was running they had been
unable to find him, but, although they had from almost the first,
given him up as drowned, still his good friends Martindale and Charles
Laroux could not bear to leave the spot of the disaster, but cruised
up and down, back and forth, for three whole days and nights, ever on
the lookout, ever hoping against hope that they might at least bear
his body back to New York for burial.

Upon falling overboard the shock of his sudden immersion in the
sea had, by one of those little jokes which Nature sometimes
perpetrates, started his mental machinery going again at exactly the
place where, figuratively, it left the rails. The equal shock of
finding his rescuers to be his friends, and the rescuing vessel the
Bandersnatch, completed the good work, and that deep abyss of two
forgotten years, wherein had been lost the great war and many other
memories less vast, was filled.

Once again he could spread out before him the pages of his past
life and find not one leaf missing.

Curiously enough, his first thought, after the sweeping
realization of it all came over him, was of his cousin, the Hon. Percy
Merridale, whom he had been going to visit on that unlucky voyage
across the Atlantic.

"Poor old Percy," he said, paying no heed to the flood of
questions which were pouring from the lips of both his friends, "why,
he was killed along with half his regiment at the very beginning of
the war. And here I have been wondering what he would think because I
did not arrive in London on time!"

"You have, eh?" asked Laroux, looking at him keenly. "Then you
remember that you did start for London?"

"Oh, yes. I remember everything now. Lord, what chums you fellows
have been, putting up with the crazy whims of a man with only half a
mind. But by Jove, I'm cold. If you'll have the steward get me
something hot to drink, and let me get dry and into some clothes, I'll
be glad to tell you all about it."

With bitter self-reproaches at their own neglectfulness, Laroux
and Martindale fairly hustled him below and to bed. They would hear
nothing of his dressing, but on one thing he held out. He was
perfectly willing to go to sleep--he had never felt so utterly tired
out in his life--but they must promise to hold the Bandersnatch where
she was, or at least near to it, until he awakened.

To this his friends agreed, and Jones slept the sleep of exhausted
but perfect health for eleven straight hours.

It was three o'clock in the afternoon when he appeared on deck,
and he immediately sought his two friends. They greeted him eagerly,
for they were more than anxious to know how he could possibly have
kept afloat for nearly three days, and settling comfortably down
beneath the awnings on the breezy afterdeck, they all lighted their
excellent cigars and the story began.

Before he had progressed very far their interest became other than
that of curiosity, and as he went on, two of the three cigars were
allowed to languish and die unheeded. From curiosity they passed to
amazement, and from amazement to carefully suppressed incredulity.

This, however, caused Jones no uneasiness, for it was about what
he had expected. Finishing the incident of the flying monster with the
utmost complacence and indifference to their more than dubious
glances, he called for Captain Janiver.

"Captain," he said, "I want you to locate for me an island which I
know to be in this immediate vicinity, although beyond the horizon in
some direction. What land is there hereabouts?"

The captain shook his head. "The only island I know of within a
hundred miles is hardly worthy of the name, Mr. Jones. It is nothing
but a high, barren chunk of rock sticking up out of the sea. As far as
I know it has never even been named."

"Oh, yes, it has," smiled Jones. "That island is Joker Island, and
I want you to put the old Bandersnatch's nose about and take us there
just as fast as she'll slouch through the water."

"Very well, sir, but--"

"Why, Jones, old man, we were at that place ourselves, and there
isn't anything there!" This from Laroux.

"You were there?"

"Of course. Janiver remembered the place and we went, on the slim
possibility that you might have been washed ashore. We cruised all
around it, and even landed wherever there was a beach. We found some
footprints and a few old, tin cans, but there was certainly nothing
else."

Jones grew suddenly very white. He had a sensation of sickness in
the pit of his stomach, and an overwhelming consciousness of some
dreadful disaster impending, he himself scarcely knew what.

"Captain Janiver," he said between his teeth, "put this boat about
and do as I directed."

The captain touched his cap and obeyed, not without a curious
glance over his shoulder. He was familiar with the idiosyncrasies of
his owner--all developed, however, within the past twenty-four months,
and he sighed as he gave the necessary directions.

"Too bad," he murmured, shaking his gray head sadly, "too bad.
Such a goodnatured, quiet young fellow as he is, too."

As for Jones himself, he resolutely declined to speak another word
on the subject until he had himself visited the scene of his recent
adventures. Clinging passionately to the belief that they had actually
occurred, he forced his mind to dwell upon the question of what might
have happened to Sergius and Miss Weston after he left the aeroplane
in such an unexpected manner.

He was possessed by a really loving concern upon this matter,
although the love was not for the Boston girl but for Sergius
Petrofsky, who had in the short space of three days won a place in his
heart never before occupied by any man, even his faithful friends
Harry Martindale and Charlie Laroux.

The two latter let him alone, when they perceived that he no
longer wished to talk. Like the captain, they, were accustomed to some
rather strange moods in their friend, although they had hoped for
better things with the recovery of his memory.

About five o'clock the rapid little Bandersnatch raised a blur
upon the southern horizon, which soon developed into a dark blot, then
gradually took shape as the familiar black outline of the crater-wall
of Joker Island.

With the sight all Jones's courage returned. He could not sit
still, but paced back and forth across the deck, and when at last they
came to; anchor in the very bay where the Monterey had lain, he fairly
tumbled into the small launch which was lowered to accommodate Jones,
his two friends and a couple of sailors.

Of course the Monterey was gone, but there was the place where the
nihilists had been encamped, though now no tents raised their brown
canvas against the cliff, Springing from the launch Jones rushed up
the beach and examined the place where they had been. There were, as
Laroux had said, a few tin cans scattered about, a good many
footprints, and the ashes of a fire, but these might have been there
for any length of time.

He ran down the beach, hoping to discover the marks left by the
aeroplane's launching, but this had been upon the smooth, hard sand
near the water, and the tides had obliterated them, if they had really
ever been there. If they had been there! But they had been--it had
happened! It was all so indelibly imprinted upon the tablets of his
brain that it was clearer than any other event in his whole life.

The caves, then. Beckoning to Laroux and Martindale to follow him,
he pressed on to the rocky promontory hiding the cleft, or ravine.
Well, that was there anyway. And there were caves, too, hundreds of
them. Into which of them had he crawled, following Prince Paul and
Miss Weston, followed by Jim Haskins and the two sailors? This one
surely, or--no, it might have been this, or any one of a dozen others.

He felt the touch of a hand upon his shoulder.

"Look here, old man," said Martindale with a gentle indulgence
which seemed to Jones well-nigh intolerable by reason of its
implications, "you must not take this so hard. Now listen. Charlie and
I know you are absolutely all right now--absolutely all right. Don't
let there be any question in your mind of that. Your memory has
returned, and you can go on to the Philippines, or back to New York
and take up your life exactly where you were before it--that accident
on the liner--happened.

"But just now you are suffering from the memory of a particularly
vivid hallucination. If we didn't think you were all O.K. we wouldn't
tell you that, you know. We'd humor you, and say we thought it was all
real. But you wouldn't want us to do that now, would you? You'll
believe, won't you, that while you were here on the beach, thrown-up
by the storm you--well, dreamed a whole lot of things that couldn't
possibly have happened? Then, still dreaming, you started to swim out
to sea again, thinking you were pursued by these impossible monsters,
and so we picked you up, by about one chance in a million. The
currents are very strong about here, Janiver says, and they carried
you a long way--clear out of sight of the island. Can't you believe
all this, which is the truth, and let the rest go along with the last
two years?"

He spoke earnestly, with a deep and loving tenderness, which made
Jones extremely uncomfortable. How could he convince these men that
those things had really happened? That there, within the island, was
at least one other friend of his, possibly in dire need of help, if he
yet lived? Then Holloway, Prince Paul, Haskins, the beautiful, sharp-
tongued girl-

Suddenly the mental defenses which he had raised gave way and went
down before the flood of damning, almost unendurable conviction.

"Harry," he said hoarsely, staggering a little where be stood,
"will you and Laroux get me back to New York? Just put up with me
till--till we get back to New York, won't you?"

"Don't be a fool, Rolly," cried Laroux, springing forward and
actually shaking him, but with a roughness that was all friendship.
"You aren't crazy--you never have been crazy--you've been in a sort of
delirium, like you have when you're down with fever. You're right as
Harry or me. If you weren't you wouldn't be ready to believe the
truth. It was nothing but plain, ordinary delirium, I tell you."

"Well, maybe it was," conceded Jones, with a somewhat sickly
smile, "but whatever it was, I know I want to get away from this place
and back to New York. I want to see brick buildings, and ride on
every-day street-cars, and eat dinner in a Broadway cafe. You boys
have been the best, most patient friends a man ever had. Will you
promise me something?"

"Of course," broke in Laroux, "but look here, Rolly, just to
satisfy you entirely suppose we stop in at Frisco and find out if such
a yacht as the Monterey was chartered recently by a bunch of Russians,
and--"

Jones held up his hand. "No," he said. "A man who's been off his
nut for two years, and knows it, doesn't have to go around hunting up
evidence to support the facts. I want to get back to New York just as
fast as the old tub will travel. What I want you to promise is this.
Don't ever mention any of this--this crazy dream of mine to me again.
I know you won't tell it to anybody else. But--I just don't want ever
to hear anything about it--again."



CHAPTER XIV



THREE months had elapsed, and Mr. Roland C. Jones remained, to all
appearances, a well and mentally sound man. Back in New York he
quietly resumed the peaceful pursuits of his easy-going, pleasant,
bachelor life. Laroux and Martindale adhered strictly and honorably to
their promise and never mentioned to any one the singular delusion
which had marked the termination of their friend's illness. Indeed,
they themselves had practically forgotten it, thinking of it only as
the overheard ravings of a sick man, not to be regarded as indicating
mental unbalance since the man had regained his health.

Mr. Jones's first act on reaching New York had been to consult an
eminent specialist in diseases of the brain, and have himself examined
for insanity. The report was reassuring. Whatever he might have been
in the past, this worthy physician declared him, to be now free from
any taint of the disorder he so feared.

Jones went to the theater, danced, golfed and made brief cruises
in the early spring, but an invitation to a flying meet was instantly
and firmly declined. He never wished to see another aeroplane in his
life. In fact, he did all that a man could to banish from his memory
that dream which he had dreamed while cast upon the barren beach of an
unnamed--absolutely an unnamed--rock in the Pacific.

If in visions of the night man-eating vegetables writhed their
flaming tentacles, or strange yet familiar faces smiled or frowned
upon him, he at least never spoke of the matter to any one.

So the three months had drifted by, and it was the latter end of
March. One morning Jones slept later than usual--he never was an early
riser--and when he sat up in bed, yawning, his window was a gray
expanse against which sleet drove with a continual desolate rattling.

"Darn!" exclaimed Mr. Jones, at the end of his stretch. "Another
day of 'indoor sports,' I see. How I hate a sleet storm! Philip!" he
called.

Instantly his English man servant, an elderly but intensely
efficient individual, appeared bearing coffee, newspapers, and the
mail.

"You can get my bath ready. Now, let's see. Who's going to be
married, and who desires the extreme boredom of my company--hello, I
wonder what this can be--"

"This" was a small flat package, wrapped in white paper and
addressed to himself in a small, perfect hand. Unlike a woman, he did
not pause to contemplate its exterior, but untied the string
immediately. Within the paper was a white pasteboard box, and inside
that another box of Morocco leather, unquestionably a jewel case of
some sort. He pressed the catch and it snapped open. What-in-the-
world-

The whole room seemed to reel and sway about him dizzily. It
vanished, and before him stretched a little glade all dark save where
two white beams of light flashed and danced. Sergius--Miss Weston--the
aeroplane--the flying monster! Was this some cruel joke that his
friends had perpetrated against him.

For within the box, upon a bed of white velvet, rested an
exquisite affair of gold, encrusted with blue-white diamonds. It was a
tiny aeroplane, and enmeshed with it, its wings and the plane's
interlocked, was a golden bat, with two tiny rubies for eyes.

Who had sent him this thing? Who had been so cruel as to taunt him
with such a reminder of his time of madness? He raised box and jewel
in his hand and was about to hurl it across the room when his eyes
fell upon one of the letters scattered before him on the counterpane.
The writing upon it was in that same small, yet distinctive hand that
had appeared on the box-wrapping.

Dropping the leather case Jones hastily seized the letter and
ripped it open. He, read:

MY DEAR FRIEND ROLAND:

"Two weeks ago I read in an old newspaper of your rescue and of
your return to your native city. Until that moment I--we all--believed
you to have been drowned in the sea, as was the enormous bat which
carried you thither. We found its body washed up upon the shore, and
believe me, my friend, I wept over it for sorrow at your loss and for
such an end to such an heroic deed as yours.

"I know, however, that you must have been far more overcome by
your terrible experience than the newspaper account indicated. You
will not need to explain to me that otherwise you would have taken
your yacht back to Joker Island and, if necessary, risked death in the
cavern labyrinth seeking to return to aid me, if I needed aid. There
are some friendships which spring into being without the need of years
to build them up, and though few words were spoken, I know that ours
was such a one."

"Well, the old son-of-a-gun," murmured Jones, "and he means it,
too." The eyes he raised to Philip, coming to announce the readiness
of the bath, were perceptibly wet, to that worthy Briton's great,
though unrevealed, astonishment.

"Get out, Philip," was Jones's only reply. "I'll bath after a
while."

Alone once more he eagerly resumed his reading:

"But enough of that. I am coming to New York soon--this is written
from Tokio, where I have caused to be made a small remembrance which I
am also mailing you--and then we can talk together.

"After you had so courageously and with incredible presence of
mind flung yourself upon the great bat--"

Jones grinned, remembering the actual state of his feelings in
that moment.

"--and been snatched away into the air, I managed to right the
plane and we went on across the wall. I did not even know that you
were gone. Miss Weston tried to tell me, but you know how great is the
noise in flight. We came down upon the beach and I was overcome with
dismay and self-reproach when I discovered that you were missing. I
could perhaps have pursued the bat and rescued you from the sea, but
then it was too late.

"Well, the yacht--the Monterey--was gone. I afterward learned that
the traitorous and rascally Ivanovitch, believing that I had been
killed or captured in the valley, and wishing to make off with the
yacht which he afterward successfully sold, had deserted me early in
the afternoon of the day you and I took flight.

"And, of course, Laroux and Martindale had to wait until the
Monterey was gone before they looked up the island," muttered Jones.

"There was nothing else to be done, so I took Miss Weston back
into the valley. We arrived there a little after sunrise and found
things at the cave just as we had left them. I pulled away the rocks
and we applied my restorative to my brother and the rest. They were
considerably annoyed at my little strategy, but Paul was, I am sorry
to say, so rejoiced over the desertion of my companions that he
forgave me and persuaded the rest to do so.

"After making one flight in vain, I crossed the course of a tramp
steamer and succeeded in dropping upon her deck a letter wrapped about
a stone. It was fortunate that I succeeded, for there was barely
sufficient petrol left to take me to land. The captain of the tramp,
more I fear for the reward which the letter offered than for humanity,
turned his vessel to the island and took us all off, together with our
possessions.

"I have little more to tell you, save that in the month we spent
in the valley Holloway, Haskins and I (Paul never cared for hunting)
killed off most of the more dangerous animals. They are a peculiar
collection. Over on the eastern side we discovered a cavern, or
grotto, much bigger than any which Holloway had before explored. In
it--it was, of course, daytime--we found scores of those enormous bats
hanging, asleep.

"They are nothing but bats, although they are so big. They are
fruit-eaters, subsisting upon the fruit of the palm-trees, something
similar to a large date. I do not believe that it is their custom to
attack other creatures, but, that they were simply actuated by
curiosity. Still we thought it best to kill them, and their skins are
really wonderful pieces of fur.

"Two of the best are for you and also the hide and head of the
bear-creature you killed. We bagged two more of them, and I think they
were the last of their kind.

"After we killed off the bats the death cabbages began to wither
and decay, and now they, too, are all dead. It is evident that they
lived almost entirely upon the bats, which they attracted by their
palmlike crests. I do not think the bats could have had any sense of
smell, though, do you?

"And now, I come to my conclusion to a very long letter. Mr.
Holloway was mistaken in regard to the quantity of the substance, of
which I told you, to be found in Joker Island. We were able to obtain
altogether only about a pound of it, enough to make perhaps a million
rubles' worth of what I told you it would make.

"This is not sufficient for the purpose of which I spoke, so, as
both Paul and myself are fairly wealthy, we agreed to divide it among
our companions. The largest share was received, of course, by
Holloway. We gave him our portion as a wedding present. Did I tell you
that Holloway and Miss Weston were married two weeks ago here in
Tokio?"

For the love of Pete! Jones thought. First I thought it was Paul,
and then I thought it was Sergius, only she didn't want him to know
it, and all the while it was Holloway! I'll bet Miss Weston had Jim
Haskins wondering if he wasn't the lucky one, too. Guess I was the
only one not in the running. Well-

"They have, of course, my very kindest wishes for their happiness,
but Paul--perhaps you knew of his hopes--he felt very badly. He has
returned to Russia and is now fighting at the front, having, I fear
purposely, obtained his transference to a very dangerous position. And
why am I not at his side? Because, although those men with me proved
traitors, such a thing would hardly turn me against the cause. And it
is upon a mission for the cause that I am now about to engage, after
visiting you in New York."

"Hurray!" ejaculated the reader. "Just wait until I introduce you
to Messrs. Cocksure Martindale and Laroux! Oh, when will I forgive you
two for the last three months?"

"It is a mission of some danger, perhaps, but also I think that it
might interest a man of your adventurous disposition. I will tell you
more of it later. Until that moment, my friend, believe me ever and
always your friend and comrade of the past, perhaps--who knows?--of
the future.
"
SERGIUS ALEXIUS PETROFSKY

It was a long letter, but Mr. Jones read it through twice. Then he
laid it down carefully, picked up the little box and stared at the
golden bat and aeroplane with shining eyes and exultant face.

The sleet still beat upon the window, but it didn't bother Mr.
Jones, for he was far away, on a little rock-walled island in the
Pacific Ocean, which did have a name after all, and a most appropriate
one--Joker Island!



THE END



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