PATRICK SHOWS HIS CLEVERNESS

Nattie and Mori exchanged glances of dismay.

“Confound it! isn’t that provoking?” exclaimed the latter. “That stupid
detective had to let him slip just when the chase commenced to be
interesting.”

“Patrick must have suspected something, and he was sly enough to fool
his follower. Now what are we going to do?”

“Get off at Yowara and take up the search ourselves; that’s all we can
do. Surely some one must have seen the Irishman. The very fact that he
is a foreigner should draw attention to him. Don’t worry, old boy; we’ll
find him before many hours have elapsed.”

“I sincerely hope so,” replied Nattie, gazing abstractedly through the
coach window.

After a moment of silence he said, suddenly:

“Perhaps Yowara is the rendezvous where he is to meet Ralph. Do you know
anything about the place?”

“No, except that it is a small town of seven or eight hundred
inhabitants. It is where people leave the railway for the mountain
regions of Northern Japan. In a remote part of the interior are three
volcanoes, one of them being Bandai-San, which is famous for its
eruptions.”

“Bandai-San?” slowly repeated Nattie. “Isn’t it at the base of that
volcano where those peculiar mud caves are found?”

Mori eyed his companion inquiringly.

“What are you driving at?” he asked.

“Just this: It struck me that Ralph and Willis Round would certainly try
to find a hiding place for Grant where they need not fear pursuit, or
inquisitiveness from the natives. I have heard that these caves are
avoided through superstitious reasons. Now why—-”

“By the heathen gods, I believe you have guessed their secret!”
impulsively exclaimed Mori. “It is certainly plausible. A better hiding
place could not be found in all Japan. The natives will not enter the
caves under any consideration. They say they are occupied by the
mountain demons, and to prove it, tell of the awful noises to be heard
in the vicinity.”

“Which are caused by internal convulsions of the volcano, I suppose?”

“No doubt. The mountain is generally on the verge of being shaken by
earthquakes, but it is some time since one occurred. It’s a grewsome
place enough.”

“We will search it thoroughly just the same,” said Nattie, grimly.

On reaching Yowara, they found the recreant detective at the station. He
had recently returned from a trip through the surrounding country, but
had not discovered any trace of the Irishman. He appeared crestfallen
and penitent.

The boys wasted little time with him. Proceeding to the village hotel,
or tea house, they sent out messengers for three _jinrikishas_ and in
the course of an hour were ready to start into the interior.

The spare vehicle was loaded with canned food and other stores, as the
railroad town would be the last place where such articles could be
purchased. Each had brought a brace of good revolvers and plenty of
ammunition from Yokohama.

Mori personally selected the _karumayas_, or _’rikisha_ men, from a
crowd of applicants. He chose three stalwart coolies to pull the
carriages, and three _bettos_, or porters, to assist on mountainous
roads. One of the latter was a veritable giant in stature and evidently
of great strength.

He was called Sumo, or wrestler, by his companions, and seemed to
possess greater intelligence than the average members of his class. Mori
eyed him approvingly, and told Nattie that he would be of undoubted
assistance in case of trouble.

Before leaving the village, the Japanese youth bought a keen-edged
sword, similar to those worn by the ancient warriors, or _samurais_, and
presented it to Sumo, with the added stipulation that he would be
retained as a guard at increased pay.

The fellow shouted with delight, and speedily showed that he could
handle the weapon with some skill. Thus equipped, the party left the
railroad and set out for a village called Inawashiro, fifteen _ris_, or
thirty miles distant.

In Japan the coolie rule is twenty minutes’ rest every two hours. Their
method of traveling is at a “dog trot,” or long, swinging pace, which
covers the ground with incredible swiftness. Mori’s skill in selecting
the _karumayas_ soon became apparent, the distance to the destination
being almost halved at the end of the first stretch.

The country through which the boys passed was flat and uninteresting,
the narrow road stretching across a broad expanse of paddy fields,
dotted with men, women and children knee-deep in the evil-smelling mud.

When a halt was called to rest and partake of refreshments, Mori
accosted a native coolie, a number of whom surrounded the party, and
asked if aught had been seen of a fiery-faced, red-whiskered foreigner
clad in the heavy clothing of the coast.

The man eyed his questioner stupidly, and shook his head. The sight of a
couple of copper _sen_, or cents, refreshed his memory. He had noticed a
short, squat foreigner (called _to-jin_) in the interior. He was mounted
upon a horse and had passed four hours before.

“Four hours?” echoed Mori, addressing Nattie. “Whew! he has a good
start. And on a horse, too. That is the reason we could get no trace of
him in the outskirts of Yowara. He must have left the train before it
stopped and skipped into the brush, where he managed to secure a mount.
He is certainly clever.”

“But not enough to fool us,” replied Nattie, complacently. “We will be
hot on his trail before he reaches the caves.”

After the customary rest of twenty minutes, the party resumed the road.
As they proceeded the general contour of the country changed. The flat,
plain-like fields gave way to rolling woodlands and scattered hills. The
second hour brought them to the small village of Inawashiro.

Here was found a well-kept tea house, with spotless matted floor, two
feet above the ground, a quaint roof, and the attendance of a dozen
polite servants. Before the party had barely reached their resting
place, the entire inhabitants, men, women and children, thronged about
to feast their eyes upon a _to-jin_.

Inquiry developed the fact that Patrick had passed through the town not
quite two hours before. This was cheering news. They were gaining on
him. A brief lunch, and again to the road. Nattie and Mori examined
their revolvers after leaving the village. Sumo cut a sapling in twain
to prove his prowess.

At the end of the fourth mile a crossroad was reached. One, a broad,
well-kept thoroughfare, led due north, while the other, apparently
merely a path running over a hill in the distance, bore more to the
westward. Mori called a halt.

“Which shall we take?” he asked, scratching his head in perplexity.

“That is the question,” replied Nattie, ruefully. “Confound it! we are
just as apt to take the wrong one as not. If we could run across some
person who has seen Patrick we would be all right.”

“Here comes a _yamabushi_, excellency,” spoke up Sumo, pointing his
claw-like finger up the path.

“It is a priest,” exclaimed Mori, a moment later. “Perhaps he can
enlighten us.”

Presently a tall, angular man emerged from the narrower road and slowly
approached them. He was clad in a peculiar robe embroidered with
mystical figures, and wore his hair in long plaits. In one hand was
carried a bamboo staff, with which he tapped the ground as he walked.




Mori saluted him respectfully.

“Peace be with you, my children,” said the priest, mildly.

“May your days be long in good works, and your soul as lofty as Fuji
San,” replied the Japanese youth, with equal politeness. “Pray tell us,
father, have you seen aught of a red-bearded foreigner traveling by
horse?”

“I passed him two _ris_ back. He was a barbarian, and beat his animal
with severity. Which is against the teachings of—-”

The good man’s words were lost in the distance. Nattie and Mori, with
their _’rikishas_ and attendants, darted past him and scurried up the
path at their utmost speed. It was scurvy repayment for the information,
but the news that Patrick had been seen within four miles acted as a
spur.

“Don’t falter, men,” called out Mori, urging the _karumayas_. “Ten _yen_
extra to each if you tarry not until I give the word. On ahead, Sumo;
watch for the foreigner. Be cautious and return when you sight him.”

The gigantic _betto_ scurried up the path in advance and disappeared
past a clump of bushes. The _jinrikishas_ speeded as fast as their
pullers could trot. As the party darted by an overhanging mass of rock a
head was thrust forth from behind it.

The face of the man was broad and burned by the sun, and under the chin
was a tuft of reddish whisker. The eyes were sharp and piercing, and
they danced with triumphant glee as they peered after the cavalcade.

“Oh, ho! oh, ho! so it’s ye, me bold Nattie? It’s a good thing Oi
thought of taking a quiet look to see if Oi was being followed. It’s a
bit of a trick Oi learned in India, and it’ll prove to be the death of
ye, me boys. Oi’ll just take another path to the rendezvous, and see if
we can’t kind of waylay yez.”