The Monster Men by Edgar Rice Burroughs - HTML preview
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The Monster Men
Chapter 1. The Rift..............................................................................................3
Chapter 2. The Heavy Chest.............................................................................12
Chapter 3. Beauty And The Beast.....................................................................19
Chapter 4. A New Face.....................................................................................26
Chapter 5. Treason...........................................................................................33
Chapter 6. To Kill!.............................................................................................41
Chapter 7. The Bull Whip..................................................................................48
Chapter 8. The Soul Of Number 13...................................................................58
Chapter 9. Into Savage Borneo.........................................................................67
Chapter 10. Desperate Chance.........................................................................74
Chapter 11. "I Am Coming!"..............................................................................80
Chapter 12. Perfidy...........................................................................................88
Chapter 13. Buried Treasure.............................................................................94
Chapter 14. Man Or Monster?.........................................................................101
Chapter 15. Too Late......................................................................................107
Chapter 16. Sing Speaks................................................................................114
Chapter 17. 999 Priscilla.................................................................................122
Chapter 1. The Rift
As he dropped the last grisly fragment of the dismembered and mutilated body into the small vat of nitric acid that was to devour every trace of the horrid evidence which might easily send him to the gallows, the man sank weakly into a chair and throwing his body forward upon his great, teak desk buried his face in his arms, breaking into dry, moaning sobs.
Beads of perspiration followed the seams of his high, wrinkled forehead, replacing the tears which might have lessened the pressure upon his overwrought nerves. His slender frame shook, as with ague, and at times was racked by a convulsive shudder. A sudden step upon the stairway leading to his workshop brought him trembling and wide eyed to his feet, staring fearfully at the locked and bolted door.
Although he knew perfectly well whose the advancing footfalls were, he was all but overcome by the madness of apprehension as they came softly nearer and nearer to the barred door. At last they halted before it, to be followed by a gentle knock."Daddy!" came the sweet tones of a girl's voice. The man made an effort to take a firm grasp upon himself that no tell-tale evidence of his emotion might be betrayed in his speech.
"Daddy!" called the girl again, a trace of anxiety in her voice this time. "What IS the matter with you, and what ARE you doing? You've been shut up in that hateful old room for three days now without a morsel to eat, and in all likelihood without a wink of sleep. You'll kill yourself with your stuffy old experiments."The man's face softened.
"Don't worry about me, sweetheart," he replied in a well controlled voice. "I'll soon be through now--soon be through--and then we'll go away for a long vacation-- for a long vacation."
"I'll give you until noon, Daddy," said the girl in a voice which carried a more strongly defined tone of authority than her father's soft drawl, "and then I shall come into that room, if I have to use an axe, and bring you out--do you understand?"Professor Maxon smiled wanly. He knew that his daughter was equal to her threat. "All right, sweetheart, I'll be through by noon for sure--by noon for sure. Run along and play now, like a good little girl."
Virginia Maxon shrugged her shapely shoulders and shook her head hopelessly at the forbidding panels of the door.
"My dolls are all dressed for the day," she cried, "and I'm tired of making mud pies--I want you to come out and play with me." But Professor Maxon did not reply-- he had returned to view his grim operations, and the hideousness of them had closed his ears to the sweet tones of the girl's voice.
If you chance to be an alumnus of Cornell you may recall Professor Arthur Maxon, a quiet, slender, white-haired gentleman, who for several years was an assistant professor in one of the departments of natural science. Wealthy by inheritance, he had chosen the field of education for his life work solely from a desire to be of some material benefit to mankind since the meager salary which accompanied his professorship was not of sufficient import to influence him in the slightest degree.
Always keenly interested in biology, his almost unlimited means had permitted him to undertake, in secret, a series of daring experiments which had carried him so far in advance of the biologists of his day that he had, while others were still groping blindly for the secret of life, actually reproduced by chemical means the great phenomenon.
Fully alive to the gravity and responsibilities of his marvellous discovery he had kept the results of his experimentation, and even the experiments themselves, a profound secret not only from his colleagues, but from his only daughter, who heretofore had shared his every hope and aspiration.
It was the very success of his last and most pretentious effort that had placed him in the horrifying predicament in which he now found himself-- with the corpse of what was apparently a human being in his workshop and no available explanation that could possibly be acceptable to a matter-of-fact and unscientific police.
Had he told them the truth they would have laughed at him. Had he said: "This is not a human being that you see, but the remains of a chemically produced counterfeit created in my own laboratory," they would have smiled, and either hanged him or put him away with the other criminally insane.
This phase of the many possibilities which he had realized might be contingent upon even the partial success of his work alone had escaped his consideration, so that the first wave of triumphant exultation with which he had viewed the finished result of this last experiment had been succeeded by overwhelming consternation as he saw the thing which he had created gasp once or twice with the feeble spark of life with which he had endowed it, and expire--leaving upon his hands the corpse of what was, to all intent and purpose, a human being, albeit a most grotesque and misshapen thing.
Until nearly noon Professor Maxon was occupied in removing the remaining stains and evidences of his gruesome work, but when he at last turned the key in the door of his workshop it was to leave behind no single trace of the successful result of his years of labor.
The following afternoon found him and Virginia crossing the station platform to board the express for New York. So quietly had their plans been made that not a friend was at the train to bid them farewell--the scientist felt that he could not bear the strain of attempting explanations at this time.
But there were those there who recognized them, and one especially who noted the lithe, trim figure and beautiful face of Virginia Maxon though he did not know even the name of their possessor. It was a tall well built young man who nudged one of his younger companions as the girl crossed the platform to enter her Pullman."I say, Dexter," he exclaimed, "who is that beauty?" The one addressed turned in the direction indicated by his friend. "By jove!" he exclaimed. "Why it's Virginia Maxon and the professor, her father. Now where do you suppose they're going?" "I don't know--now," replied the first speaker, Townsend J. Harper, Jr., in a half whisper, "but I'll bet you a new car that I find out."
A week later, with failing health and shattered nerves, Professor Maxon sailed with his daughter for a long ocean voyage, which he hoped would aid him in rapid recuperation, and permit him to forget the nightmare memory of those three horrible days and nights in his workshop.
He believed that he had reached an unalterable decision never again to meddle with the mighty, awe inspiring secrets of creation; but with returning health and balance he found himself viewing his recent triumph with feelings of renewed hope and anticipation.
The morbid fears superinduced by the shock following the sudden demise of the first creature of his experiments had given place to a growing desire to further prosecute his labors until enduring success had crowned his efforts with an achievement which he might exhibit with pride to the scientific world.
His recent disastrous success had convinced him that neither Ithaca nor any other abode of civilization was a safe place to continue his experiments, but it was not until their cruising had brought them among the multitudinous islands of the East Indies that the plan occurred to him that he finally adopted--a plan the outcome of which could he then have foreseen would have sent him scurrying to the safety of his own country with the daughter who was to bear the full brunt of the horrors it entailed.
They were steaming up the China Sea when the idea first suggested itself, and as he sat idly during the long, hot days the thought grew upon him, expanding into a thousand wonderful possibilities, until it became crystalized into what was a little short of an obsession.
The result was that at Manila, much to Virginia's surprise, he announced the abandonment of the balance of their purposed voyage, taking immediate return passage to Singapore. His daughter did not question him as to the cause of this change in plans, for since those three days that her father had kept himself locked in his workroom at home the girl had noticed a subtle change in her parent--a marked disinclination to share with her his every confidence as had been his custom since the death of her mother.
While it grieved her immeasurably she was both too proud and too hurt to sue for a reestablishment of the old relations. On all other topics than his scientific work their interests were as mutual as formerly, but by what seemed a manner of tacit agreement this subject was taboo. And so it was that they came to Singapore without the girl having the slightest conception of her father's plans.Here they spent nearly a month, during which time Professor Maxon was daily engaged in interviewing officials, English residents and a motley horde of Malays and Chinamen.
Virginia met socially several of the men with whom her father was engaged but it was only at the last moment that one of them let drop a hint of the purpose of the month's activity. When Virginia was present the conversation seemed always deftly guided from the subject of her father's immediate future, and she was not long in discerning that it was in no sense through accident that this was true. Thereafter her wounded pride made easy the task of those who seemed combined to keep her in ignorance.
It was a Dr. von Horn, who had been oftenest with her father, who gave her the first intimation of what was forthcoming. Afterward, in recollecting the conversation, it seemed to Virginia that the young man had been directed to break the news to her, that her father might be spared the ordeal. It was evident then that he expected opposition, but the girl was too loyal to let von Horn know if she felt other than in harmony with the proposal, and too proud to evince by surprise the fact that she was not wholly conversant with its every detail."You are glad to be leaving Singapore so soon?" he had asked, although he knew that she had not been advised that an early departure was planned. "I am rather looking forward to it," replied Virginia. "And to a protracted residence on one of the Pamarung Islands?" continued von Horn.
"Why not?" was her rather non-committal reply, though she had not the remotest idea of their location.
Von Horn admired her nerve though he rather wished that she would ask some questions
-it was difficult making progress in this way. How could he explain the plans when she evinced not the slightest sign that she was not already entirely conversant with them?
"We doubt if the work will be completed under two or three years," answered the doctor. "That will be a long time in which to be isolated upon a savage little speck of land off the larger but no less savage Borneo. Do you think that your bravery is equal to the demands that will be made upon it?"Virginia laughed, nor was there the slightest tremor in its note.
"I am equal to whatever fate my father is equal to," she said, "nor do I think that a life upon one of these beautiful little islands would be much of a hardship-- certainly not if it will help to promote the success of his scientific experiments."
She used the last words on a chance that she might have hit upon the true reason for the contemplated isolation from civilization. They had served their purpose too in deceiving von Horn who was now half convinced that Professor Maxon must have divulged more of their plans to his daughter than he had led the medical man to believe. Perceiving her advantage from the expression on the young man's face, Virginia followed it up in an endeavor to elicit the details.
The result of her effort was the knowledge that on the second day they were to sail for the Pamarung Islands upon a small schooner which her father had purchased, with a crew of Malays and lascars, and von Horn, who had served in the American navy, in command. The precise point of destination was still undecided--the plan being to search out a suitable location upon one of the many little islets which dot the western shore of the Macassar Strait.
Of the many men Virginia had met during the month at Singapore von Horn had been by far the most interesting and companionable. Such time as he could find from the many duties which had devolved upon him in the matter of obtaining and outfitting the schooner, and signing her two mates and crew of fifteen, had been spent with his employer's daughter.
The girl was rather glad that he was to be a member of their little company, for she had found him a much travelled man and an interesting talker with none of the, to her, disgusting artificialities of the professional ladies' man. He talked to her as he might have talked to a man, of the things that interest intelligent people regardless of sex.
There was never any suggestion of familiarity in his manner; nor in his choice of topics did he ever ignore the fact that she was a young girl. She had felt entirely at ease in his society from the first evening that she had met him, and their acquaintance had grown to a very sensible friendship by the time of the departure of the Ithaca--the rechristened schooner which was to carry them away to an unguessed fate.
The voyage from Singapore to the Islands was without incident. Virginia took a keen delight in watching the Malays and lascars at their work, telling von Horn that she had to draw upon her imagination but little to picture herself a captive upon a pirate ship--the half naked men, the gaudy headdress, the earrings, and the fierce countenances of many of the crew furnishing only too realistically the necessary savage setting.
A week spent among the Pamarung Islands disclosed no suitable site for the professor's camp, nor was it until they had cruised up the coast several miles north of the equator and Cape Santang that they found a tiny island a few miles off the coast opposite the mouth of a small river--an island which fulfilled in every detail their requirements.
It was uninhabited, fertile and possessed a clear, sweet brook which had its source in a cold spring in the higher land at the island's center. Here it was that the Ithaca came to anchor in a little harbor, while her crew under von Horn, and the Malay first mate, Bududreen, accompanied Professor Maxon in search of a suitable location for a permanent camp.The cook, a harmless old Chinaman, and Virginia were left in sole possession of the Ithaca.
Two hours after the departure of the men into the jungle Virginia heard the fall of axes on timber and knew that the site of her future home had been chosen and the work of clearing begun. She sat musing on the strange freak which had prompted her father to bury them in this savage corner of the globe; and as she pondered there came a wistful expression to her eyes, and an unwonted sadness drooped the corners of her mouth.
Of a sudden she realized how wide had become the gulf between them now. So imperceptibly had it grown since those three horrid days in Ithaca just prior to their departure for what was to have been but a few months' cruise that she had not until now comprehended that the old relations of open, good-fellowship had gone, possibly forever.
Had she needed proof of the truth of her sad discovery it had been enough to point to the single fact that her father had brought her here to this little island without making the slightest attempt to explain the nature of his expedition. She had gleaned enough from von Horn to understand that some important scientific experiments were to be undertaken; but what their nature she could not imagine, for she had not the slightest conception of the success that had crowned her father's last experiment at Ithaca, although she had for years known of his keen interest in the subject.
The girl became aware also of other subtle changes in her father. He had long since ceased to be the jovial, carefree companion who had shared with her her every girlish joy and sorrow and in whom she had confided both the trivial and momentous secrets of her childhood. He had become not exactly morose, but rather moody and absorbed, so that she had of late never found an opportunity for the cozy chats that had formerly meant so much to them both. There had been too, recently, a strange lack of consideration for herself that had wounded her more than she had imagined. Today there had been a glaring example of it in his having left her alone upon the boat without a single European companion--something that he would never have thought of doing a few months before.
As she sat speculating on the strange change which had come over her father her eyes had wandered aimlessly along the harbor's entrance; the low reef that protected it from the sea, and the point of land to the south, that projected far out into the strait like a gigantic index finger pointing toward the mainland, the foliage covered heights of which were just visible above the western horizon.
Presently her attention was arrested by a tossing speck far out upon the rolling bosom of the strait. For some time the girl watched the object until at length it resolved itself into a boat moving head on toward the island. Later she saw that it was long and low, propelled by a single sail and many oars, and that it carried quite a company.
Thinking it but a native trading boat, so many of which ply the southern seas, Virginia viewed its approach with but idle curiosity. When it had come to within half a mile of the anchorage of the Ithaca, and was about to enter the mouth of the harbor Sing Lee's eyes chanced to fall upon it. On the instant the old Chinaman was electrified into sudden and astounding action."Klick! Klick!" he cried, running toward Virginia. "Go b'low, klick." "Why should I go below, Sing?" queried the girl, amazed by the demeanor of the cook. "Klick! Klick!" he urged grasping her by the arm--half leading, half dragging her toward the companion-way. "Plilates! Mlalay plilates--Dyak plilates." "Pirates!" gasped Virginia. "Oh Sing, what can we do?"
"You go b'low. Mebbyso Sing flighten 'em. Shoot cannon. Bling help. Maxon come klick. Bling men. Chase'm 'way," explained the Chinaman. "But plilates see 'em pletty white girl," he shrugged his shoulders and shook his head dubiously, "then old Sing no can flighten 'em 'way."
The girl shuddered, and crouching close behind Sing hurried below. A moment later she heard the boom of the old brass six pounder which for many years had graced the Ithaca's stern. In the bow Professor Maxon had mounted a modern machine gun, but this was quite beyond Sing's simple gunnery. The Chinaman had not taken the time to sight the ancient weapon carefully, but a gleeful smile lit his wrinkled, yellow face as he saw the splash of the ball where it struck the water almost at the side of the prahu.
Sing realized that the boat might contain friendly natives, but he had cruised these waters too many years to take chances. Better kill a hundred friends, he thought, than be captured by a single pirate.
At the shot the prahu slowed up, and a volley of musketry from her crew satisfied Sing that he had made no mistake in classifying her. Her fire fell short as did the ball from the small cannon mounted in her bow.
Virginia was watching the prahu from one of the cabin ports. She saw the momentary hesitation and confusion which followed Sing's first shot, and then to her dismay she saw the rowers bend to their oars again and the prahu move swiftly in the direction of the Ithaca.
It was apparent that the pirates had perceived the almost defenseless condition of the schooner. In a few minutes they would be swarming the deck, for poor old Sing would be entirely helpless to repel them. If Dr. von Horn were only there, thought the distracted girl. With the machine gun alone he might keep them off.
At the thought of the machine gun a sudden resolve gripped her. Why not man it herself? Von Horn had explained its mechanism to her in detail, and on one occasion had allowed her to operate it on the voyage from Singapore. With the thought came action. Running to the magazine she snatched up a feed-belt, and in another moment was on deck beside the astonished Sing.
The pirates were skimming rapidly across the smooth waters of the harbor, answering Sing's harmless shots with yells of derision and wild, savage war cries. There were, perhaps, fifty Dyaks and Malays--fierce, barbaric men; mostly naked to the waist, or with war- coats of brilliant colors. The savage headdress of the Dyaks, the long, narrow, decorated shields, the flashing blades of parang and kris sent a shudder through the girl, so close they seemed beneath the schooner's side.
"What do? What do?" cried Sing in consternation. "Go b'low. Klick!" But before he had finished his exhortation Virginia was racing toward the bow where the machine gun was mounted. Tearing the cover from it she swung the muzzle toward the pirate prahu, which by now was nearly within range above the vessel's side-- a moment more and she would be too close to use the weapon upon the pirates.
Virginia was quick to perceive the necessity for haste, while the pirates at the same instant realized the menace of the new danger which confronted them. A score of muskets belched forth their missiles at the fearless girl behind the scant shield of the machine gun. Leaden pellets rained heavily upon her protection, or whizzed threateningly about her head-- and then she got the gun into action.
At the rate of fifty a minute, a stream of projectiles tore into the bow of the prahu when suddenly a richly garbed Malay in the stern rose to his feet waving a white cloth upon the point of his kris. It was the Rajah Muda Saffir--he had seen the girl's face and at the sight of it the blood lust in his breast had been supplanted by another.
At sight of the emblem of peace Virginia ceased firing. She saw the tall Malay issue a few commands, the oarsmen bent to their work, the prahu came about, making off toward the harbor's entrance. At the same moment there was a shot from the shore followed by loud yelling, and the girl turned to see her father and von Horn pulling rapidly toward the Ithaca.
Chapter 2. The Heavy Chest
Virginia and Sing were compelled to narrate the adventure of the afternoon a dozen times. The Chinaman was at a loss to understand what had deterred the pirates at the very threshold of victory. Von Horn thought that they had seen the reinforcements embarking from the shore, but Sing explained that that was impossible since the Ithaca had been directly between them and the point at which the returning crew had entered the boats.
Virginia was positive that her fusillade had frightened them into a hasty retreat, but again Sing discouraged any such idea when he pointed to the fact that another instant would have carried the prahu close to the Ithaca's side and out of the machine gun's radius of action.
The old Chinaman was positive that the pirates had some ulterior motive for simulating defeat, and his long years of experience upon pirate infested waters gave weight to his opinion. The weak spot in his argument was his inability to suggest a reasonable motive. And so it was that for a long time they were left to futile conjecture as to the action that had saved them from a bloody encounter with these bloodthirsty sea wolves.
For a week the men were busy constructing the new camp, but never again was Virginia left without a sufficient guard for her protection. Von Horn was always needed at the work, for to him had fallen the entire direction of matters of importance that were at all of a practical nature. Professor Maxon wished to watch the building of the houses and the stockade, that he might offer such suggestions as he thought necessary, and again the girl noticed her father's comparative indifference to her welfare.
She had been shocked at his apathy at the time of the pirate attack, and chagrined that it should have been necessary for von Horn to have insisted upon a proper guard being left with her thereafter.
The nearer the approach of the time when he might enter again upon those experiments which had now been neglected for the better part of a year the more self absorbed and moody became the professor. At times he was scarcely civil to those about him, and never now did he have a pleasant word or a caress for the daughter who had been his whole life but a few short months before.
It often seemed to Virginia when she caught her father's eyes upon her that there was a gleam of dislike in them, as though he would have been glad to have been rid of her that she might not in any way embarrass or interfere with his work.
The camp was at last completed, and on a Saturday afternoon all the heavier articles from the ship had been transported to it. On the following Monday the balance of the goods was to be sent on shore and the party were to transfer their residence to their new quarters.
Late Sunday afternoon a small native boat was seen rounding the point at the harbor's southern extremity, and after a few minutes it drew alongside the Ithaca. There were but three men in it--two Dyaks and a Malay. The latter was a tall, well built man of middle age, of a sullen and degraded countenance. His garmenture was that of the ordinary Malay boatman, but there was that in his mien and his attitude toward his companions which belied his lowly habiliments.
In answer to von Horn's hail the man asked if he might come aboard and trade; but once on the deck it developed that he had not brought nothing wherewith to trade. He seemed not the slightest disconcerted by this discovery, stating that he would bring such articles as they wished when he had learned what their requirements were.
The ubiquitous Sing was on hand during the interview, but from his expressionless face none might guess what was passing through the tortuous channels of his Oriental mind. The Malay had been aboard nearly half an hour talking with von Horn when the mate, Bududreen, came on deck, and it was Sing alone who noted the quickly concealed flash of recognition which passed between the two Malays.
The Chinaman also saw the gleam that shot into the visitor's eye as Virginia emerged from the cabin, but by no word or voluntary outward sign did the man indicate that he had even noticed her. Shortly afterward he left, promising to return with provisions the following day. But it was to be months before they again saw him.That evening as Sing was serving Virginia's supper he asked her if she had recognized their visitor of the afternoon. "Why no, Sing," she replied, "I never saw him before." "Sh!" admonished the celestial. "No talkee so strong, wallee have ear all same labbit."
"What do you mean, Sing?" asked the girl in a low voice. "How perfectly weird and mysterious you are. Why you make the cold chills run up my spine," she ended, laughing. But Sing did not return her smile as was his custom."You no lememba tallee Lajah stand up wavee lite clothee in plilate boat, ah?" he urged.
"Oh, Sing," she cried, "I do indeed! But unless you had reminded me I should never have thought to connect him with our visitor of today--they do look very much alike, don't they?""Lookeelike! Ugh, they all samee one man. Sing know. You lookee out, Linee," which was the closest that Sing had ever been able to come to pronouncing Virginia.
"Why should I look out? He doesn't want me," said the girl, laughingly. "Don't you bee too damee sure 'bout lat, Linee," was Sing's inelegant but convincing reply, as he turned toward his galley.
The following morning the party, with the exception of three Malays who were left to guard the Ithaca, set out for the new camp. The journey was up the bed of the small stream which emptied into the harbor, so that although fifteen men had passed back and forth through the jungle from the beach to the camp every day for two weeks, there was no sign that human foot had ever crossed the narrow strip of sand that lay between the dense foliage and the harbor.
The gravel bottom of the rivulet made fairly good walking, and as Virginia was borne in a litter between two powerful lascars it was not even necessary that she wet her feet in the ascent of the stream to the camp. The distance was short, the center of the camp being but a mile from the harbor, and less than half a mile from the opposite shore of the island which was but two miles at its greatest breadth, and two and a quarter at its greatest length.
At the camp Virginia found that a neat clearing had been made upon a little tableland, a palisade built about it, and divided into three parts; the most northerly of which contained a small house for herself and her father, another for von Horn, and a common cooking and eating house over which Sing was to preside.
The enclosure at the far end of the palisade was for the Malay and lascar crew and there also were quarters for Bududreen and the Malay second mate. The center enclosure contained Professor Maxon's workshop. This compartment of the enclosure Virginia was not invited to inspect, but as members of the crew carried in the two great chests which the professor had left upon the Ithaca until the last moment, Virginia caught a glimpse of the two buildings that had been erected within this central space--a small, square house which was quite evidently her father's laboratory, and a long, low thatched shed divided into several compartments, each containing a rude bunk. She wondered for whom they could be intended. Quarters for all the party had already been arranged for elsewhere, nor, thought she, would her father wish to house any in such close proximity to his workshop, where he would desire absolute quiet and freedom from interruption. The discovery perplexed her not a little, but so changed were her relations with her father that she would not question him upon this or any other subject.
As the two chests were being carried into the central campong, Sing, who was standing near Virginia, called her attention to the fact that Bududreen was one of those who staggered beneath the weight of the heavier burden."Bludleen, him mate. Why workee alsame lascar boy? Eh?" But Virginia could give no reason.
"I am afraid you don't like Bududreen, Sing," she said. "Has he ever harmed you in any way?"
"Him? No, him no hurt Sing. Sing poor," with which more or less enigmatical rejoinder the Chinaman returned to his work. But he muttered much to himself the balance of the day, for Sing knew that a chest that strained four men in the carrying could contain but one thing, and he knew that Bududreen was as wise in such matters as he.
For a couple of months the life of the little hidden camp went on peacefully and without exciting incident. The Malay and lascar crew divided their time between watch duty on board the Ithaca, policing the camp, and cultivating a little patch of clearing just south of their own campong.
There was a small bay on the island's east coast, only a quarter of a mile from camp, in which oysters were found, and one of the Ithaca's boats was brought around to this side of the island for fishing. Bududreen often accompanied these expeditions, and on several occasions the lynx-eyed Sing had seen him returning to camp long after the others had retired for the night.
Professor Maxon scarcely ever left the central enclosure. For days and nights at a time Virginia never saw him, his meals being passed in to him by Sing through a small trap door that had been cut in the partition wall of the "court of mystery" as von Horn had christened the section of the camp devoted to the professor's experimentations.
Von Horn himself was often with his employer as he enjoyed the latter's complete confidence, and owing to his early medical training was well fitted to act as a competent assistant; but he was often barred from the workshop, and at such times was much with Virginia.
The two took long walks through the untouched jungle, exploring their little island, and never failing to find some new and wonderful proof of Nature's creative power among its flora and fauna.
"What a marvellous thing is creation," exclaimed Virginia as she and von Horn paused one day to admire a tropical bird of unusually brilliant plumage. "How insignificant is man's greatest achievement beside the least of Nature's works."
"And yet," replied von Horn, "man shall find Nature's secret some day. What a glorious accomplishment for him who first succeeds. Can you imagine a more glorious consummation of a man's life work--your father's, for example?"The girl looked at von Horn closely.
"Dr. von Horn," she said, "pride has restrained me from asking what was evidently intended that I should not know. For years my father has been interested in an endeavor to solve the mystery of life--that he would ever attempt to utilize the secret should he have been so fortunate as to discover it had never occurred to me. I mean that he should try to usurp the functions of the Creator I could never have believed, but my knowledge of him, coupled with what you have said, and the extreme lengths to which he has gone to maintain absolute secrecy for his present experiments can only lead to one inference; and that, that his present work, if successful, would have results that would not be countenanced by civilized society or government. Am I right?"
Von Horn had attempted to sound the girl that he might, if possible, discover her attitude toward the work in which her father and he were engaged. He had succeeded beyond his hopes, for he had not intended that she should guess so much of the truth as she had. Should her interest in the work have proved favorable it had been his intention to acquaint her fully with the marvellous success which already had attended their experiments, and to explain their hopes and plans for the future, for he had seen how her father's attitude had hurt her and hoped to profit himself by reposing in her the trust and confidence that her father denied her.
And so it was that her direct question left him floundering in a sea of embarrassment, for to tell her the truth now would gain him no favor in her eyes, while it certainly would lay him open to the suspicion and distrust of her father should he learn of it.
"I cannot answer your question, Miss Maxon," he said, finally, "for your father's strictest injunction has been that I divulge to no one the slightest happening within the court of mystery. Remember that I am in your father's employ, and that no matter what my personal convictions may be regarding the work he has been doing I may only act with loyalty to his lightest command while I remain upon his payroll. That you are here," he added, "is my excuse for continuing my connection with certain things of which my conscience does not approve."
The girl glanced at him quickly. She did not fully understand the motive for his final avowal, and a sudden intuition kept her from questioning him. She had learned to look upon von Horn as a very pleasant companion and a good friend--she was not quite certain that she would care for any change in their relations, but his remark had sowed the seed of a new thought in her mind as he had intended that it should.
When von Horn returned to the court of mystery, he narrated to Professor Maxon the gist of his conversation with Virginia, wishing to forestall anything which the girl might say to her father that would give him an impression that von Horn had been talking more than he should. Professor Maxon listened to the narration in silence. When von Horn had finished, he cautioned him against divulging to Virginia anything that took place within the inner campong.
"She is only a child," he said, "and would not understand the importance of the work we are doing. All that she would be able to see is the immediate moral effect of these experiments upon the subjects themselves--she would not look into the future and appreciate the immense advantage to mankind that must accrue from a successful termination of our research. The future of the world will be assured when once we have demonstrated the possibility of the chemical production of a perfect race.""Number One, for example," suggested von Horn. Professor Maxon glanced at him sharply.
"Levity, Doctor, is entirely out of place in the contemplation of the magnificent work I have already accomplished," said the professor tartly. "I admit that Number One leaves much to be desired--much to be desired; but Number Two shows a marked advance along certain lines, and I am sure that tomorrow will divulge in experiment Number Three such strides as will forever silence any propensity toward scoffing which you may now entertain."
"Forgive me, Professor," von Horn hastened to urge. "I did not intend to deride the wonderful discoveries which you have made, but it is only natural that we should both realize that Number One is not beautiful. To one another we may say what we would not think of suggesting to outsiders."
Professor Maxon was mollified by this apology, and turned to resume his watch beside a large, coffin-shaped vat. For a while von Horn was silent. There was that upon his mind which he had wished to discuss with his employer since months ago, but the moment had never arrived which seemed at all propitious, nor did it appear likely ever to arrive. So the doctor decided to broach the subject now, as being psychologically as favorable a time as any."Your daughter is far from happy, Professor," he said, "nor do I feel that, surrounded as we are by semi-savage men, she is entirely safe." Professor Maxon looked up from his vigil by the vat, eyeing von Horn closely. "Well?" he asked.
"It seemed to me that had I a closer relationship I might better assist in adding to her happiness and safety--in short, Professor, I should like your permission to ask Virginia to marry me."
There had been no indication in von Horn's attitude toward the girl that he loved her. That she was beautiful and intelligent could not be denied, and so it was small wonder that she might appeal strongly to any man, but von Horn was quite evidently not of the marrying type. For years he had roved the world in search of adventure and excitement. Just why he had left America and his high place in the navy he never had divulged; nor why it was that for seven years he had not set his foot upon ground which lay beneath the authority of Uncle Sam.
Sing Lee who stood just without the trap door through which he was about to pass Professor Maxon's evening meal to him could not be blamed for overhearing the conversation, though it may have been culpable in him in making no effort to divulge his presence, and possibly equally unpraiseworthy, as well as lacking in romance, to attribute the doctor's avowal to his knowledge of the heavy chest.
As Professor Maxon eyed the man before replying to his abrupt request, von Horn noted a strange and sudden light in the older man's eyes--a something which he never before had seen there and which caused an uncomfortable sensation to creep over him--a manner of bristling that was akin either to fear or horror, von Horn could not tell which.
"Doctor," he whispered in a strange, tense voice, "you are mad. You do not know what you ask. Virginia is not for such as you. Tell me that she does not know of your feelings toward her. Tell me that she does not reciprocate your love. Tell me the truth, man." Professor Maxon seized von Horn roughly by both shoulders, his glittering eyes glaring terribly into the other's.
"I have never spoken to her of love, Professor," replied von Horn quietly, "nor do I know what her sentiments toward me may be. Nor do I understand, sir, what objections you may have to me--I am of a very old and noble family." His tone was haughty but respectful.Professor Maxon released his hold upon his assistant, breathing a sigh of relief.
"I am glad," he said, "that it has gone no further, for it must not be. I have other, nobler aspirations for my daughter. She must wed a perfect man--none such now exists. It remains for me to bring forth the ideal mate for her-- nor is the time far distant. A few more weeks and we shall see such a being as I have long dreamed." Again the queer light flickered for a moment in the once kindly and jovial eyes of the scientist.
Von Horn was horrified. He was a man of little sentiment. He could in cold blood have married this girl for the wealth he knew that she would inherit; but the thought that she was to be united with such a THING-- "Lord! It is horrible," and his mind pictured the fearful atrocity which was known as Number One.
Without a word he turned and left the campong. A moment later Sing's knock aroused Professor Maxon from the reverie into which he had fallen, and he stepped to the trap door to receive his evening meal.
Chapter 3. Beauty And The Beast
One day, about two weeks later, von Horn and the professor were occupied closely with their work in the court of mystery. Developments were coming in riotous confusion. A recent startling discovery bade fare to simplify and expedite the work far beyond the fondest dreams of the scientist.
Von Horn's interest in the marvellous results that had been obtained was little short of the professor's-- but he foresaw a very different outcome of it all, and by day never moved without a gun at either hip, and by night both of them were beside him.
Sing Lee, the noonday meal having been disposed of, set forth with rod, string and bait to snare gulls upon the beach. He moved quietly through the jungle, his sharp eyes and ears always alert for anything that might savor of the unusual, and so it was that he saw the two men upon the beach, while they did not see him at all.
They were Bududreen and the same tall Malay whom Sing had seen twice before--once in splendid raiment and commanding the pirate prahu, and again as a simple boatman come to the Ithaca to trade, but without the goods to carry out his professed intentions.
The two squatted on the beach at the edge of the jungle a short distance above the point at which Sing had been about to emerge when he discovered them, so that it was but the work of a moment or two for the Chinaman to creep stealthily through the dense underbrush to a point directly above them and not three yards from where they conversed in low tones--yet sufficiently loud that Sing missed not a word.
"I tell you, Bududreen, that it will be quite safe," the tall Malay was saying. "You yourself tell me that none knows of the whereabouts of these white men, and if they do not return your word will be accepted as to their fate. Your reward will be great if you bring the girl to me, and if you doubt the loyalty of any of your own people a kris will silence them as effectually as it will silence the white men."
"It is not fear of the white men, oh, Rajah Muda Saffir, that deters me," said Bududreen, "but how shall I know that after I have come to your country with the girl I shall not myself be set upon and silenced with a golden kris--there be many that will be jealous of the great service I have done for the mighty rajah."
Muda Saffir knew perfectly well that Bududreen had but diplomatically expressed a fear as to his own royal trustworthiness, but it did not anger him, since the charge was not a direct one; but what he did not know was of the heavy chest and Bududreen's desire to win the price of the girl and yet be able to save for himself a chance at the far greater fortune which he knew lay beneath that heavy oaken lid.
Both men had arisen now and were walking across the beach toward a small, native canoe in which Muda Saffir had come to the meeting place. They were out of earshot before either spoke again, so that what further passed between them Sing could not even guess, but he had heard enough to confirm the suspicions he had entertained for a long while.
He did not fish for gulls that day. Bududreen and Muda Saffir stood talking upon the beach, and the Chinaman did not dare venture forth for fear they might suspect that he had overheard them. If old Sing Lee knew his Malays, he was also wise enough to give them credit for knowing their Chinamen, so he waited quietly in hiding until Muda Saffir had left, and Bududreen returned to camp.
Professor Maxon and von Horn were standing over one of the six vats that were arranged in two rows down the center of the laboratory. The professor had been more communicative and agreeable today than for some time past, and their conversation had assumed more of the familiarity that had marked it during the first month of their acquaintance at Singapore.
"And what of these first who are so imperfect?" asked von Horn. "You cannot take them into civilization, nor would it be right to leave them here upon this island. What will you do with them?"Professor Maxon pondered the question for a moment.
"I have given the matter but little thought," he said at length. "They are but the accidents of my great work. It is unfortunate that they are as they are, but without them I could have never reached the perfection that I am sure we are to find here," and he tapped lovingly upon the heavy glass cover of the vat before which he stood. "And this is but the beginning. There can be no more mistakes now, though I doubt if we can ever improve upon that which is so rapidly developing here." Again he passed his long, slender hand caressingly over the coffin-like vat at the head of which was a placard bearing the words, NUMBER THIRTEEN.
"But the others, Professor!" insisted von Horn. "We must decide. Already they have become a problem of no small dimensions. Yesterday Number Five desired some plantains that I had given to Number Seven. I tried to reason with him, but, as you know, he is mentally defective, and for answer he rushed at Number Seven to tear the coveted morsel from him. The result was a battle royal that might have put to shame two Bengal tigers. Twelve is tractable and intelligent. With his assistance and my bull whip I succeeded in separating them before either was killed. Your greatest error was in striving at first for such physical perfection. You have overdone it, with the result that the court of mystery is peopled by a dozen brutes of awful muscularity, and scarcely enough brain among the dozen to equip three properly.""They are as they are," replied the professor. "I shall do for them what I can--when I am gone they must look to themselves. I can see no way out of it."
"What you have given you may take away," said von Horn, in a low tone. Professor Maxon shuddered. Those three horrid days in the workshop at Ithaca flooded his memory with all the gruesome details he had tried for so many months to forget. The haunting ghosts of the mental anguish that had left him an altered man--so altered that there were times when he had feared for his sanity!"No, no!" he almost shouted. "It would be murder. They are--"
"They are THINGS," interrupted von Horn. "They are not human--they are not even beast. They are terrible, soulless creatures. You have no right to permit them to live longer than to substantiate your theory. None but us knows of their existence--no other need know of their passing. It must be done. They are a constant and growing menace to us all, but most of all to your daughter."A cunning look came into the professor's eyes.
"I understand," he said. "The precedent once established, all must perish by its edict-even those which may not be grotesque or bestial--even this perfect one," and he touched again the vat, "and thus you would rid yourself of rival suitors. But no!" he went on in a high, trembling voice. "I shall not be led to thus compromise myself, and be thwarted in my cherished plan. Be this one what he may he shall wed my daughter!"
The man had raised himself upon his toes as he reached his climax--his clenched hand was high above his head-- his voice fairly thundered out the final sentence, and with the last word he brought his fist down upon the vat before him. In his eyes blazed the light of unchained madness.
Von Horn was a brave man, but he shuddered at the maniacal ferocity of the older man, and shrank back. The futility of argument was apparent, and he turned and left the workshop.
Sing Lee was late that night. In fact he did not return from his fruitless quest for gulls until well after dark, nor would he vouchsafe any explanation of the consequent lateness of supper. Nor could he be found shortly after the evening meal when Virginia sought him.
Not until the camp was wrapped in the quiet of slumber did Sing Lee return--stealthy and mysterious--to creep under cover of a moonless night to the door of the workshop. How he gained entrance only Sing Lee knows, but a moment later there was a muffled crash of broken glass within the laboratory, and the Chinaman had slipped out, relocked the door, and scurried to his nearby shack. But there was no occasion for his haste-- no other ear than his had heard the sound within the workshop.
It was almost nine the following morning before Professor Maxon and von Horn entered the laboratory. Scarcely had the older man passed the doorway than he drew up his hands in horrified consternation. Vat Number Thirteen lay dashed to the floor--the glass cover was broken to a million pieces--a sticky, brownish substance covered the matting. Professor Maxon hid his face in his hands."God!" he cried. "It is all ruined. Three more days would have--" "Look!" cried von Horn. "It is not too soon."
Professor Maxon mustered courage to raise his eyes from his hands, and there he beheld, seated in a far corner of the room a handsome giant, physically perfect. The creature looked about him in a dazed, uncomprehending manner. A great question was writ large upon his intelligent countenance. Professor Maxon stepped forward and took him by the hand.
"Come," he said, and led him toward a smaller room off the main workshop. The giant followed docilely, his eyes roving about the room--the pitiful questioning still upon his handsome features. Von Horn turned toward the campong.
Virginia, deserted by all, even the faithful Sing, who, cheated of his sport on the preceding day, had again gone to the beach to snare gulls, became restless of the enforced idleness and solitude. For a time she wandered about the little compound which had been reserved for the whites, but tiring of this she decided to extend her stroll beyond the palisade, a thing which she had never before done unless accompanied by von Horn-- a thing both he and her father had cautioned her against.
"What danger can there be?" she thought. "We know that the island is uninhabited by others than ourselves, and that there are no dangerous beasts. And, anyway, there is no one now who seems to care what becomes of me, unless--unless--I wonder if he does care. I wonder if I care whether or not he cares. Oh, dear, I wish I knew," and as she soliloquized she wandered past the little clearing and into the jungle that lay behind the campong.
As von Horn and Professor Maxon talked together in the laboratory before the upsetting of vat Number Thirteen, a grotesque and horrible creature had slunk from the low shed at the opposite side of the campong until it had crouched at the flimsy door of the building in which the two men conversed. For a while it listened intently, but when von Horn urged the necessity for dispatching certain "terrible, soulless creatures" an expression of intermingled fear and hatred convulsed the hideous features, and like a great grizzly it turned and lumbered awkwardly across the campong toward the easterly, or back wall of the enclosure.
Here it leaped futilely a half dozen times for the top of the palisade, and then trembling and chattering in rage it ran back and forth along the base of the obstacle, just as a wild beast in captivity paces angrily before the bars of its cage.
Finally it paused to look once more at the senseless wood that barred its escape, as though measuring the distance to the top. Then the eyes roamed about the campong to rest at last upon the slanting roof of the thatched shed which was its shelter. Presently a slow idea was born in the poor, malformed brain.
The creature approached the shed. He could just reach the saplings that formed the frame work of the roof. Like a huge sloth he drew himself to the roof of the structure. From here he could see beyond the palisade, and the wild freedom of the jungle called to him. He did not know what it was but in its leafy wall he perceived many breaks and openings that offered concealment from the creatures who were plotting to take his life.
Yet the wall was not fully six feet from him, and the top of it at least five feet above the top of the shed-- those who had designed the campong had been careful to set this structure sufficiently far from the palisade to prevent its forming too easy an avenue of escape.
The creature glanced fearfully toward the workshop. He remembered the cruel bull whip that always followed each new experiment on his part that did not coincide with the desires of his master, and as he thought of von Horn a nasty gleam shot his mismated eyes.
He tried to reach across the distance between the roof and the palisade, and in the attempt lost his balance and nearly precipitated himself to the ground below. Cautiously he drew back, still looking about for some means to cross the chasm. One of the saplings of the roof, protruding beyond the palm leaf thatch, caught his attention. With a single wrench he tore it from its fastenings. Extending it toward the palisade he discovered that it just spanned the gap, but he dared not attempt to cross upon its single slender strand.
Quickly he ripped off a half dozen other poles from the roof, and laying them side by side, formed a safe and easy path to freedom. A moment more and he sat astride the top of the wall. Drawing the poles after him, he dropped them one by one to the ground outside the campong. Then he lowered himself to liberty.
Gathering the saplings under one huge arm he ran, lumberingly, into the jungle. He would not leave evidence of the havoc he had wrought; the fear of the bull whip was still strong upon him. The green foliage closed about him and the peaceful jungle gave no sign of the horrid brute that roamed its shadowed mazes.
As von Horn stepped into the campong his quick eye perceived the havoc that had been wrought with the roof at the east end of the shed. Quickly he crossed to the low structure. Within its compartments a number of deformed monsters squatted upon their haunches, or lay prone upon the native mats that covered the floor.
As the man entered they looked furtively at the bull whip which trailed from his right hand, and then glanced fearfully at one another as though questioning which was the malefactor on this occasion.
Von Horn ran his eyes over the hideous assemblage. "Where is Number One?" he asked, directing his question toward a thing whose forehead gave greater promise of intelligence than any of his companions.The one addressed shook his head.
Von Horn turned and made a circuit of the campong. There was no sign of the missing one and no indication of any other irregularity than the demolished portion of the roof. With an expression of mild concern upon his face he entered the workshop."Number One has escaped into the jungle, Professor," he said. Professor Maxon looked up in surprise, but before he had an opportunity to reply a woman's scream, shrill with horror, smote upon their startled ears.
Von Horn was the first to reach the campong of the whites. Professor Maxon was close behind him, and the faces of both were white with apprehension. The enclosure was deserted. Not even Sing was there. Without a word the two men sprang through the gateway and raced for the jungle in the direction from which that single, haunting cry had come.
Virginia Maxon, idling beneath the leafy shade of the tropical foliage, became presently aware that she had wandered farther from the campong than she had intended. The day was sultry, and the heat, even in the dense shade of the jungle, oppressive. Slowly she retraced her steps, her eyes upon the ground, her mind absorbed in sad consideration of her father's increasing moodiness and eccentricity.
Possibly it was this very abstraction which deadened her senses to the near approach of another. At any rate the girl's first intimation that she was not alone came when she raised her eyes to look full into the horrid countenance of a fearsome monster which blocked her path toward camp.
The sudden shock brought a single involuntary scream from her lips. And who can wonder! The thing thrust so unexpectedly before her eyes was hideous in the extreme. A great mountain of deformed flesh clothed in dirty, white cotton pajamas! Its face was of the ashen hue of a fresh corpse, while the white hair and pink eyes denoted the absence of pigment; a characteristic of albinos.
One eye was fully twice the diameter of the other, and an inch above the horizontal plane of its tiny mate. The nose was but a gaping orifice above a deformed and twisted mouth. The thing was chinless, and its small, foreheadless head surrounded its colossal body like a cannon ball on a hill top. One arm was at least twelve inches longer than its mate, which was itself long in proportion to the torso, while the legs, similarly mismated and terminating in huge, flat feet that protruded laterally, caused the thing to lurch fearfully from side to side as it lumbered toward the girl.
A sudden grimace lighted the frightful face as the grotesque eyes fell upon this new creature. Number One had never before seen a woman, but the sight of this one awoke in the unplumbed depths of his soulless breast a great desire to lay his hands upon her. She was very beautiful. Number One wished to have her for his very own; nor would it be a difficult matter, so fragile was she, to gather her up in those great, brute arms and carry her deep into the jungle far out of hearing of the bull-whip man and the cold, frowning one who was continually measuring and weighing Number One and his companions, the while he scrutinized them with those strange, glittering eyes that frightened one even more than the cruel lash of the bull whip.
Number One lurched forward, his arms outstretched toward the horror stricken girl. Virginia tried to cry out again--she tried to turn and run; but the horror of her impending fate and the terror that those awful features induced left her paralyzed and helpless.
The thing was almost upon her now. The mouth was wide in a hideous attempt to smile. The great hands would grasp her in another second--and then there was a sudden crashing of the underbrush behind her, a yellow, wrinkled face and a flying pig-tail shot past her, and the brave old Sing Lee grappled with the mighty monster that threatened her.
The battle was short--short and terrible. The valiant Chinaman sought the ashen throat of his antagonist, but his wiry, sinewy muscles were as reeds beneath the force of that inhuman power that opposed them. Holding the girl at arm's length in one hand, Number One tore the battling Chinaman from him with the other, and lifting him bodily above his head, hurled him stunned and bleeding against the bole of a giant buttress tree. Then lifting Virginia in his arms once more he dived into the impenetrable mazes of the jungle that lined the more open pathway between the beach and camp.
Chapter 4. A New Face
As Professor Maxon and von Horn rushed from the workshop to their own campong, they neglected, in their haste, to lock the door between, and for the first time since the camp was completed it stood unlatched and ajar.
The professor had been engaged in taking careful measurements of the head of his latest experiment, the while he coached the young man in the first rudiments of spoken language, and now the subject of his labors found himself suddenly deserted and alone. He had not yet been without the four walls of the workshop, as the professor had wished to keep him from association with the grotesque results of his earlier experiments, and now a natural curiosity tempted him to approach the door through which his creator and the man with the bull whip had so suddenly disappeared.
He saw before him a great walled enclosure roofed by a lofty azure dome, and beyond the walls the tops of green trees swaying gently in the soft breezes. His nostrils tasted the incense of fresh earth and growing things. For the first time he felt the breath of Nature, free and unconfined, upon his brow.
He drew his giant frame to its full height and drank in the freedom and the sweetness of it all, filling his great lungs to their fullest; and with the first taste he learned to hate the close and stuffy confines of his prison.
His virgin mind was filled with wonder at the wealth of new impressions which surged to his brain through every sense. He longed for more, and the open gateway of the campong was a scarce needed invitation to pass to the wide world beyond. With the free and easy tread of utter unconsciousness of self, he passed across the enclosure and stepped out into the clearing which lay between the palisade and the jungle.
Ah, here was a still more beautiful world! The green leaves nodded to him, and at their invitation he came and the jungle reached out its million arms to embrace him. Now before him, behind, on either side there was naught but glorious green beauty shot with splashes of gorgeous color that made him gasp in wonderment.
Brilliant birds rose from amidst it all, skimming hither and thither above his head--he thought that the flowers and the birds were the same, and when he reached out and plucked a blossom, tenderly, he wondered that it did not flutter in his hand. On and on he walked, but slowly, for he must not miss a single sight in the strange and wonderful place; and then, of a sudden, the quiet beauty of the scene was harshly broken by the crashing of a monster through the underbrush.
Number Thirteen was standing in a little open place in the jungle when the discordant note first fell upon his ears, and as he turned his head in the direction of the sound he was startled at the hideous aspect of the thing which broke through the foliage before him. What a horrid creature! But on the same instant his eyes fell upon another borne in the arms of the terrible one. This one was different--very different,-- soft and beautiful and white. He wondered what it all meant, for everything was strange and new to him; but when he saw the eyes of the lovely one upon him, and her arms outstretched toward him, though he did not understand the words upon her lips, he knew that she was in distress. Something told him that it was the ugly thing that carried her that was the author of her suffering.
Virginia Maxon had been half unconscious from fright when she suddenly saw a white man, clothed in coarse, white, native pajamas, confronting her and the misshapen beast that was bearing her away to what frightful fate she could but conjecture.
At the sight of the man her voice returned with returning hope, and she reached her arms toward him, calling upon him to save her. Although he did not respond she thought that he understood for he sprang toward them before her appeal was scarce uttered.
As before, when Sing had threatened to filch his new possession from him, Number One held the girl with one hand while he met the attack of this new assailant with the other; but here was very different metal than had succumbed to him before.
It is true that Number Thirteen knew nothing whatever of personal combat, but Number One had but little advantage of him in the matter of experience, while the former was equipped with great natural intelligence as well as steel muscles no whit less powerful than his deformed predecessor.
So it was that the awful giant found his single hand helpless to cope with the strength of his foeman, and in a brief instant felt powerful fingers clutching at his throat. Still reluctant to surrender his hold upon his prize, he beat futilely at the face of his enemy, but at last the agony of choking compelled him to drop the girl and grapple madly with the man who choked him with one hand and rained mighty and merciless blows upon his face and head with the other.
His captive sank to the ground, too weak from the effects of nervous shock to escape, and with horror- filled eyes watched the two who battled over her. She saw that her would-be rescuer was young and strong featured--all together a very fine specimen of manhood; and to her great wonderment it was soon apparent that he was no unequal match for the great mountain of muscle that he fought.
Both tore and struck and clawed and bit in the frenzy of mad, untutored strife, rolling about on the soft carpet of the jungle almost noiselessly except for their heavy breathing and an occasional beast-like snarl from Number One. For several minutes they fought thus until the younger man succeeded in getting both hands upon the throat of his adversary, and then, choking relentlessly, he raised the brute with him from the ground and rushed him fiercely backward against the stem of a tree. Again and again he hurled the monstrous thing upon the unyielding wood, until at last it hung helpless and inert in his clutches, then he cast it from him, and without another glance at it turned toward the girl.
Here was a problem indeed. Now that he had won her, what was he to do with her? He was but an adult child, with the brain and brawn of a man, and the ignorance and inexperience of the new-born. And so he acted as a child acts, in imitation of what it has seen others do. The brute had been carrying the lovely creature, therefore that must be the thing for him to do, and so he stooped and gathered Virginia Maxon in his great arms.
She tried to tell him that she could walk after a moment's rest, but it was soon evident that he did not understand her, as a puzzled expression came to his face and he did not put her down as she asked. Instead he stood irresolute for a time, and then moved slowly through the jungle. By chance his direction was toward the camp, and this fact so relieved the girl's mind that presently she was far from loath to remain quietly in his arms.
After a moment she gained courage to look up into his face. She thought that she never had seen so marvellously clean cut features, or a more high and noble countenance, and she wondered how it was that this white man was upon the island and she not have known it. Possibly he was a new arrival--his presence unguessed even by her father. That he was neither English nor American was evident from the fact that he could not understand her native tongue. Who could he be! What was he doing upon their island!
As she watched his face he suddenly turned his eyes down upon her, and as she looked hurriedly away she was furious with herself as she felt a crimson flush mantle her cheek. The man only half sensed, in a vague sort of way, the meaning of the tell tale color and the quickly averted eyes; but he became suddenly aware of the pressure of her delicate body against his, as he had not been before. Now he kept his eyes upon her face as he walked, and a new emotion filled his breast. He did not understand it, but it was very pleasant, and he knew that it was because of the radiant thing that he carried in his arms.
The scream that had startled von Horn and Professor Maxon led them along the trail toward the east coast of the island, and about halfway of the distance they stumbled upon the dazed and bloody Sing just as he was on the point of regaining consciousness."For God's sake, Sing, what is the matter?" cried von Horn. "Where is Miss Maxon?" "Big blute, he catchem Linee. Tly kill Sing. Head hit tlee. No see any more. Wakee up-all glone," moaned the Chinaman as he tried to gain his feet. "Which way did he take her?" urged von Horn.
Sing's quick eyes scanned the surrounding jungle, and in a moment, staggering to his feet, he cried, "Look see, klick! Foot plint!" and ran, weak and reeling drunkenly, along the broad trail made by the giant creature and its prey.
Von Horn and Professor Maxon followed closely in Sing's wake, the younger man horrified by the terrible possibilities that obtruded themselves into his imagination despite his every effort to assure himself that no harm could come to Virginia Maxon before they reached her. The girl's father had not spoken since they discovered that she was missing from the campong, but his face was white and drawn; his eyes wide and glassy as those of one whose mind is on the verge of madness from a great nervous shock.
The trail of the creature was bewilderingly erratic. A dozen paces straight through the underbrush, then a sharp turn at right angles for no apparent reason, only to veer again suddenly in a new direction! Thus, turning and twisting, the tortuous way led them toward the south end of the island, until Sing, who was in advance, gave a sharp cry of surprise."Klick! Look see!" he cried excitedly. "Blig blute dead-- vely muchee dead."
Von Horn rushed forward to where the Chinaman was leaning over the body of Number One. Sure enough, the great brute lay motionless, its horrid face even more hideous in death than in life, if it were possible. The face was black, the tongue protruded, the skin was bruised from the heavy fists of his assailant and the thick skull crushed and splintered from terrific impact with the tree.Professor Maxon leaned over von Horn's shoulder. "Ah, poor Number One," he sighed, "that you should have come to such an untimely end--my child, my child."
Von Horn looked at him, a tinge of compassion in his rather hard face. It touched the man that his employer was at last shocked from the obsession of his work to a realization of the love and duty he owed his daughter; he thought that the professor's last words referred to Virginia."Though there are twelve more," continued Professor Maxon, "you were my first born son and I loved you most, dear child." The younger man was horrified. "My God, Professor!" he cried. "Are you mad? Can you call this thing `child' and mourn over it when you do not yet know the fate of your own daughter?"
Professor Maxon looked up sadly. "You do not understand, Dr. von Horn," he replied coldly, "and you will oblige me, in the future, by not again referring to the offspring of my labors as `things.'"
With an ugly look upon his face von Horn turned his back upon the older man--what little feeling of loyalty and affection he had ever felt for him gone forever. Sing was looking about for evidences of the cause of Number One's death and the probable direction in which Virginia Maxon had disappeared.
"No savvy," he replied. "Blig flight. Look see," and he pointed to the torn and trampled turf, the broken bushes, and to one or two small trees that had been snapped off by the impact of the two mighty bodies that had struggled back and forth about the little clearing."This way," cried Sing presently, and started off once more into the brush, but this time in a northwesterly direction, toward camp.
In silence the three men followed the new trail, all puzzled beyond measure to account for the death of Number One at the hands of what must have been a creature of superhuman strength. What could it have been! It was impossible that any of the Malays or lascars could have done the thing, and there were no other creatures, brute or human, upon the island large enough to have coped even for an instant with the ferocious brutality of the dead monster, except-- von Horn's brain came to a sudden halt at the thought. Could it be? There seemed no other explanation. Virginia Maxon had been rescued from one soulless monstrosity to fall into the hands of another equally irresponsible and terrifying.
Others then must have escaped from the campong. Von Horn loosened his guns in their holsters, and took a fresh grip upon his bull whip as he urged Sing forward upon the trail. He wondered which one it was, but not once did it occur to him that the latest result of Professor Maxon's experiments could be the rescuer of Virginia Maxon. In his mind he could see only the repulsive features of one of the others.
Quite unexpectedly they came upon the two, and with a shout von Horn leaped forward, his bull whip upraised. Number Thirteen turned in surprise at the cry, and sensing a new danger for her who lay in his arms, he set her gently upon the ground behind him and advanced to meet his assailant."Out of the way, you--monstrosity," cried von Horn. "If you have harmed Miss Maxon
I'll put a bullet in your heart!"
Number Thirteen did not understand the words that the other addressed to him but he interpreted the man's actions as menacing, not to himself, but to the creature he now considered his particular charge; and so he met the advancing man, more to keep him from the girl than to offer him bodily injury for he recognized him as one of the two who had greeted his first dawning consciousness.
Von Horn, possibly intentionally, misinterpreted the other's motive, and raising his bull whip struck Number Thirteen a vicious cut across the face, at the same time levelling his revolver point blank at the broad beast. But before ever he could pull the trigger an avalanche of muscle was upon him, and he went down to the rotting vegetation of the jungle with five sinewy fingers at his throat.
His revolver exploded harmlessly in the air, and then another hand wrenched it from him and hurled it far into the underbrush. Number Thirteen knew nothing of the danger of firearms, but the noise had startled him and his experience with the stinging cut of the bull whip convinced him that this other was some sort of instrument of torture of which it would be as well to deprive his antagonist.
Virginia Maxon looked on in horror as she realized that her rescuer was quickly choking Dr. von Horn to death. With a little cry she sprang to her feet and ran toward them, just as her father emerged from the underbrush through which he had been struggling in the trail of the agile Chinaman and von Horn. Placing her hand upon the great wrist of the giant she tried to drag his fingers from von Horn's throat, pleading meanwhile with both voice and eyes for the life of the man she thought loved her.
Again Number Thirteen translated the intent without understanding the words, and releasing von Horn permitted him to rise. With a bound he was upon his feet and at the same instant brought his other gun from his side and levelled it upon the man who had released him; but as his finger tightened upon the trigger Virginia Maxon sprang between them and grasping von Horn's wrist deflected the muzzle of the gun just as the cartridge exploded. Simultaneously Professor Maxon sprang from his grasp and hurled him back with the superhuman strength of a maniac.
"Fool!" he cried. "What would you do? Kill--," and then of a sudden he realized his daughter's presence and the necessity for keeping the origin of the young giant from her knowledge.
"I am surprised at you, Dr. von Horn," he continued in a more level voice. "You must indeed have forgotten yourself to thus attack a stranger upon our island until you know whether he be friend or foe. Come! Escort my daughter to the camp, while I make the proper apologies to this gentleman." As he saw that both Virginia and von Horn hesitated, he repeated his command in a peremptory tone, adding; "Quick, now; do as I bid you."
The moment had given von Horn an opportunity to regain his self-control, and realizing as well as did his employer, but from another motive, the necessity of keeping the truth from the girl, he took her arm and led her gently from the scene. At Professor Maxon's direction Sing accompanied them.
Now in Number Thirteen's brief career he had known no other authority than Professor Maxon's, and so it was that when his master laid a hand upon his wrist he remained beside him while another walked away with the lovely creature he had thought his very own.Until after dark the professor kept the young man hidden in the jungle, and then, safe from detection, led him back to the laboratory.
Chapter 5. Treason
On their return to camp after her rescue Virginia talked a great deal to von Horn about the young giant who had rescued her, until the man feared that she was more interested in him than seemed good for his own plans.
He had now cast from him the last vestige of his loyalty for his employer, and thus freed had determined to use every means within his power to win Professor Maxon's daughter, and with her the heritage of wealth which he knew would be hers should her father, through some unforeseen mishap, meet death before he could return to civilization and alter his will, a contingency which von Horn knew he might have to consider should he marry the girl against her father's wishes, and thus thwart the crazed man's mad, but no less dear project.
He realized that first he must let the girl fully understand the grave peril in which she stood, and turn her hope of protection from her father to himself. He imagined that the initial step in undermining Virginia's confidence in her father would be to narrate every detail of the weird experiments which Professor Maxon had brought to such successful issues during their residence upon the island.The girl's own questioning gave him the lead he needed. "Where could that horrid creature have come from that set upon me in the jungle and nearly killed poor Sing?" she asked. For a moment von Horn was silent, in well simulated hesitancy to reply to her query.
"I cannot tell you, Miss Maxon," he said sadly, "how much I should hate to be the one to ignore your father's commands, and enlighten you upon this and other subjects which lie nearer to your personal welfare than you can possibly guess; but I feel that after the horrors of this day duty demands that I must lay all before you--you cannot again be exposed to the horrors from which you were rescued only by a miracle.""I cannot imagine what you hint at, Dr. von Horn," said Virginia, "but if to explain to me will necessitate betraying my father's confidence I prefer that you remain silent."
"You do not understand," broke in the man, "you cannot guess the horrors that I have seen upon this island, or the worse horrors that are to come. Could you dream of what lies in store for you, you would seek death rather than face the future. I have been loyal to your father, Virginia, but were you not blind, or indifferent, you would long since have seen that your welfare means more to me than my loyalty to him-- more to me than my life or my honor.
"You asked where the creature came from that attacked you today. I shall tell you. It is one of a dozen similarly hideous things that your father has created in his mad desire to solve the problem of life. He has solved it; but, God, at what a price in misshapen, soulless, hideous monsters!"
"Do you mean to say that my father in a mad attempt to usurp the functions of God created that awful thing?" she asked in a low, faint voice, "and that there are others like it upon the island?"
"In the campong next to yours there are a dozen others," replied von Horn, "nor would it be easy to say which is the most hideous and repulsive. They are grotesque caricatures of humanity--without soul and almost without brain.""God!" murmured the girl, burying her face in her hands, "he has gone mad; he has gone mad." "I truly believe that he is mad," said von Horn, "nor could you doubt it for a moment were I to tell you the worst." "The worst!" exclaimed the girl. "What could be worse than that which you already have divulged? Oh, how could you have permitted it?"
"There is much worse than I have told you, Virginia. So much worse that I can scarce force my lips to frame the words, but you must be told. I would be more criminally liable than your father were I to keep it from you, for my brain, at least, is not crazed. Virginia, you have in your mind a picture of the hideous thing that carried you off into the jungle?""Yes," and as the girl replied a convulsive shudder racked her frame. Von Horn grasped her arm gently as he went on, as though to support and protect her during the shock that he was about to administer. "Virginia," he said in a very low voice, "it is your father's intention to wed you to one of his creatures." The girl broke from him with an angry cry. "It is not true!" she exclaimed. "It is not true. Oh, Dr. von Horn how could you tell me such a cruel and terrible untruth."
"As God is my judge, Virginia," and the man reverently uncovered as he spoke, "it is the truth. Your father told me it in so many words when I asked his permission to pay court to you myself--you are to marry Number Thirteen when his education is complete." "I shall die first!" she cried."Why not accept me instead?" suggested the man. For a moment Virginia looked straight into his eyes as though to read his inmost soul. "Let me have time to consider it, Doctor," she replied. "I do not know that I care for you in that way at all." "Think of Number Thirteen," he suggested. "It should not be difficult to decide." "I could not marry you simply to escape a worse fate," replied the girl. "I am not that cowardly--but let me think it over. There can be no immediate danger, I am sure." "One can never tell," replied von Horn, "what strange, new vagaries may enter a crazed mind to dictate this moment's action or the next." "Where could we wed?" asked Virginia. "The Ithaca would bear us to Singapore, and when we returned you would be under my legal protection and safe." "I shall think about it from every angle," she answered sadly, "and now good night, my dear friend," and with a wan smile she entered her quarters.
For the next month Professor Maxon was busy educating Number Thirteen. He found the young man intelligent far beyond his most sanguine hopes, so that the progress made was little short of uncanny.
Von Horn during this time continued to urge upon Virginia the necessity for a prompt and favorable decision in the matter of his proposal; but when it came time to face the issue squarely the girl found it impossible to accede to his request--she thought that she loved him, but somehow she dared not say the word that would make her his for life.
Bududreen, the Malay mate was equally harassed by conflicting desires, though of a different nature, or he had his eye upon the main chance that was represented to him by the great chest, and also upon the lesser reward which awaited him upon delivery of the girl to Rajah Muda Saffir. The fact that he could find no safe means for accomplishing both these ends simultaneously was all that had protected either from his machinations.
The presence of the uncanny creatures of the court of mystery had become known to the Malay and he used this knowledge as an argument to foment discord and mutiny in the ignorant and superstitious crew under his command. By boring a hole in the partition wall separating their campong from the inner one he had disclosed to the horrified view of his men the fearsome brutes harbored so close to them. The mate, of course, had no suspicion of the true origin of these monsters, but his knowledge of the fact that they had not been upon the island when the Ithaca arrived and that it would have been impossible for them to have landed and reached the camp without having been seen by himself or some member of his company, was sufficient evidence to warrant him in attributing their presence to some supernatural and malignant power.
This explanation the crew embraced willingly, and with it Bududreen's suggestion that Professor Maxon had power to transform them all into similar atrocities. The ball once started gained size and momentum as it progressed. The professor's ofttimes strange expression was attributed to an evil eye, and every ailment suffered by any member of the crew was blamed upon their employer's Satanic influence. There was but one escape from the horrors of such a curse--the death of its author; and when Bududreen discovered that they had reached this point, and were even discussing the method of procedure, he added all that was needed to the dangerously smouldering embers of bloody mutiny by explaining that should anything happen to the white men he would become sole owner of their belongings, including the heavy chest, and that the reward of each member of the crew would be generous.
Von Horn was really the only stumbling block in Bududreen's path. With the natural cowardice of the Malay he feared this masterful American who never moved without a brace of guns slung about his hips; and it was at just this psychological moment that the doctor played into the hands of his subordinate, much to the latter's inward elation.
Von Horn had finally despaired of winning Virginia by peaceful court, and had about decided to resort to force when he was precipitately confirmed in his decision by a conversation with the girl's father.
He and the professor were talking in the workshop of the remarkable progress of Number Thirteen toward a complete mastery of English and the ways and manners of society, in which von Horn had been assisting his employer to train the young giant. The breach between the latter and von Horn had been patched over by Professor Maxon's explanations to Number Thirteen as soon as the young man was able to comprehend--in the meantime it had been necessary to keep von Horn out of the workshop except when the giant was confined in his own room off the larger one.
Von Horn had been particularly anxious, for the furtherance of certain plans he had in mind, to effect a reconciliation with Number Thirteen, to reach a basis of friendship with the young man, and had left no stone unturned to accomplish this result. To this end he had spent considerable time with Number Thirteen, coaching him in English and in the ethics of human association.
"He is progressing splendidly, Doctor," Professor Maxon had said. "It will be but a matter of a day or so when I can introduce him to Virginia, but we must be careful that she has no inkling of his origin until mutual affection has gained a sure foothold between them."
"And if that should not occur?" questioned von Horn. "I should prefer that they mated voluntarily," replied the professor, the strange gleam leaping to his eyes at the suggestion of possible antagonism to his cherished plan, "but if not, then they shall be compelled by the force of my authority--they both belong to me, body and soul.""You will wait for the final consummation of your desires until you return with them to civilization, I presume," said von Horn. "And why?" returned the professor. "I can wed them here myself--it would be the surer way--yes, that is what I shall do." It was this determination on the part of Professor Maxon that decided von Horn to act at once. Further, it lent a reasonable justification for his purposed act.
Shortly after their talk the older man left the workshop, and von Horn took the opportunity to inaugurate the second move of his campaign. Number Thirteen was sitting near a window which let upon the inner court, busy with the rudiments of written English. Von Horn approached him.
"You are getting along nicely, Jack," he said kindly, looking over the other's shoulder and using the name which had been adopted at his suggestion to lend a more human tone to their relations with the nameless man.
"Yes," replied the other, looking up with a smile. "Professor Maxon says that in another day or two I may come and live in his own house, and again meet his beautiful daughter. It seems almost too good to be true that I shall actually live under the same roof with her and see her every day--sit at the same table with her--and walk with her among the beautiful trees and flowers that witnessed our first meeting. I wonder if she will remember me. I wonder if she will be as glad to see me again as I shall be to see her."
"Jack," said von Horn, sadly, "I am afraid there is a terrible and disappointing awakening for you. It grieves me that it should be so, but it seems only fair to tell you, what Professor Maxon either does not know or has forgotten, that his daughter will not look with pleasure upon you when she learns your origin.
"You are not as other men. You are but the accident of a laboratory experiment. You have no soul, and the soul is all that raises man above the beasts. Jack, poor boy, you are not a human being--you are not even a beast. The world, and Miss Maxon is of the world, will look upon you as a terrible creature to be shunned-- a horrible monstrosity far lower in the scale of creation than the lowest order of brutes.
"Look," and the man pointed through the window toward the group of hideous things that wandered aimlessly about the court of mystery. "You are of the same breed as those, you differ from them only in the symmetry of your face and features, and the superior development of your brain. There is no place in the world for them, nor for you. "I am sorry that it is so. I am sorry that I should have to be the one to tell you; but it is better that you know it now from a friend than that you meet the bitter truth when you least expected it, and possibly from the lips of one like Miss Maxon for whom you might have formed a hopeless affection."
As von Horn spoke the expression on the young man's face became more and more hopeless, and when he had ceased he dropped his head into his open palms, sitting quiet and motionless as a carven statue. No sob shook his great frame, there was no outward indication of the terrible grief that racked him inwardly--only in the pose was utter dejection and hopelessness.The older man could not repress a cold smile--it had had more effect than he had hoped.
"Don't take it too hard, my boy," he continued. "The world is wide. It would be easy to find a thousand places where your antecedents would be neither known nor questioned. You might be very happy elsewhere and there a hundred thousand girls as beautiful and sweet as Virginia Maxon--remember that you have never seen another, so you can scarcely judge.""Why did he ever bring me into the world?" exclaimed the young man suddenly. "It was wicked--wicked-- terribly cruel and wicked."
"I agree with you," said von Horn quickly, seeing another possibility that would make his future plans immeasurably easier. "It was wicked, and it is still more wicked to continue the work and bring still other unfortunate creatures into the world to be the butt and plaything of cruel fate.""He intends to do that?" asked the youth. "Unless he is stopped," replied von Horn. "He must be stopped," cried the other. "Even if it were necessary to kill him." Von Horn was quite satisfied with the turn events had taken. He shrugged his shoulders and turned on his heel toward the outer campong.
"If he had wronged me as he has you, and those others," with a gesture toward the court of mystery, "I should not be long in reaching a decision." And with that he passed out, leaving the door unlatched.
Von Horn went straight to the south campong and sought out Bududreen. Motioning the Malay to follow him they walked across the clearing and entered the jungle out of sight and hearing of the camp. Sing, hanging clothes in the north end of the clearing saw them depart, and wondered a little.
"Bududreen," said von Horn, when the two had reached a safe distance from the enclosures, "there is no need of mincing matters--something must be done at once. I do not know how much you know of the work that Professor Maxon has been engaged in since we reached this island; but it has been hellish enough and it must go no further. You have seen the creatures in the campong next to yours?"
"Professor Maxon intends to wed one of these to his daughter," von Horn continued. "She loves me and we wish to escape--can I rely on you and your men to aid us? There is a chest in the workshop which we must take along too, and I can assure you that you all will be well rewarded for your work. We intend merely to leave Professor Maxon here with the creatures he has created."Bududreen could scarce repress a smile--it was indeed too splendid to be true. "It will be perilous work, Captain," he answered. "We should all be hanged were we caught." "There will be no danger of that, Bududreen, for there will be no one to divulge our secret." "There will be the Professor Maxon," urged the Malay. "Some day he will escape from the island, and then we shall all hang."
"He will never escape," replied von Horn, "his own creatures will see to that. They are already commencing to realize the horrible crime he has committed against them, and when once they are fully aroused there will be no safety for any of us. If you wish to leave the island at all it will be best for you to accept my proposal and leave while your head yet remains upon your shoulders. Were we to suggest to the professor that he leave now he would not only refuse but he would take steps to make it impossible for any of us to leave, even to sinking the Ithaca. The man is mad--quite mad--Bududreen, and we cannot longer jeopardize our own throats merely to humor his crazy and criminal whims."
The Malay was thinking fast, and could von Horn have guessed what thoughts raced through the tortuous channels of that semi-barbarous brain he would have wished himself safely housed in the American prison where he belonged."When do you wish to sail?" asked the Malay.
"Tonight," replied von Horn, and together they matured their plans. An hour later the second mate with six men disappeared into the jungle toward the harbor. They, with the three on watch, were to get the vessel in readiness for immediate departure. After the evening meal von Horn sat on the verandah with Virginia Maxon until the Professor came from the workshop to retire for the night. As he passed them he stopped for a word with von Horn, taking him aside out of the girl's hearing.
"Have you noticed anything peculiar in the actions of Thirteen?" asked the older man. "He was sullen and morose this evening, and at times there was a strange, wild light in his eyes as he looked at me. Can it be possible that, after all, his brain is defective? It would be terrible. My work would have gone for naught, for I can see no way in which I can improve upon him."
"I will go and have a talk with him later," said von Horn, "so if you hear us moving about in the workshop, or even out here in the campong think nothing of it. I may take him for a long walk. It is possible that the hard study and close confinement to that little building have been too severe upon his brain and nerves. A long walk each evening may bring him around all right."
"Splendid--splendid," replied the professor. "You may be quite right. Do it by all means, my dear doctor," and there was a touch of the old, friendly, sane tone which had been so long missing, that almost caused von Horn to feel a trace of compunction for the hideous act of disloyalty that he was on the verge of perpetrating.
As Professor Maxon entered the house von Horn returned to Virginia and suggested that they take a short walk outside the campong before retiring. The girl readily acquiesced to the plan, and a moment later found them strolling through the clearing toward the southern end of the camp. In the dark shadows of the gateway leading to the men's enclosure a figure crouched. The girl did not see it, but as they came opposite it von Horn coughed twice, and then the two passed on toward the edge of the jungle.
Chapter 6. To Kill!
The Rajah Muda Saffir, tiring of the excuses and delays which Bududreen interposed to postpone the fulfillment of his agreement with the former, whereby he was to deliver into the hands of the rajah a certain beautiful maiden, decided at last to act upon his own initiative. The truth of the matter was that he had come to suspect the motives of the first mate of the Ithaca, and not knowing of the great chest attributed them to Bududreen's desire to possess the girl for himself.
So it was that as the second mate of the Ithaca with his six men waded down the bed of the little stream toward the harbor and the ship, a fleet of ten war prahus manned by over five hundred fierce Dyaks and commanded by Muda Saffir himself, pulled cautiously into the little cove upon the opposite side of the island, and landed but a quarter of a mile from camp.
At the same moment von Horn was leading Virginia Maxon farther and farther from the north campong where resistance, if there was to be any, would be most likely to occur. At his superior's cough Bududreen had signalled silently to the men within the enclosure, and a moment later six savage lascars crept stealthily to his side.
The moment that von Horn and the girl were entirely concealed by the darkness, the seven moved cautiously along the shadow of the palisade toward the north campong. There was murder in the cowardly hearts of several of them, and stupidity and lust in the hearts of all. There was no single one who would not betray his best friend for a handful of silver, nor any but was inwardly hoping and scheming to the end that he might alone possess both the chest and the girl.
It was such a pack of scoundrels that Bududreen led toward the north campong to bear away the treasure. In the breast of the leader was the hope that he had planted enough of superstitious terror in their hearts to make the sight of the supposed author of their imagined wrongs sufficient provocation for his murder; for Bududreen was too sly to give the order for the killing of a white man--the arm of the white man's law was too long--but he felt that he would rest easier were he to leave the island with the knowledge that only a dead man remained behind with the secret of his perfidy.
While these events were transpiring Number Thirteen was pacing restlessly back and forth the length of the workshop. But a short time before he had had his author--the author of his misery--within the four walls of his prison, and yet he had not wreaked the vengeance that was in his heart. Twice he had been on the point of springing upon the man, but both times the other's eyes had met his and something which he was not able to comprehend had stayed him. Now that the other had gone and he was alone contemplation of the hideous wrong that had been done loosed again the flood gates of his pent rage.
The thought that he had been made by this man--made in the semblance of a human being, yet denied by the manner of his creation a place among the lowest of Nature's creatures--filled him with fury, but it was not this thought that drove him to the verge of madness. It was the knowledge, suggested by von Horn, that Virginia Maxon would look upon him in horror, as a grotesque and loathsome monstrosity.
He had no standard and no experience whereby he might classify his sentiments toward this wonderful creature. All he knew was that his life would be complete could he be near her always--see her and speak with her daily. He had thought of her almost constantly since those short, delicious moments that he had held her in his arms. Again and again he experienced in retrospection the exquisite thrill that had run through every fiber of his being at the sight of her averted eyes and flushed face. And the more he let his mind dwell upon the wonderful happiness that was denied him because of his origin, the greater became his wrath against his creator.
It was now quite dark without. The door leading to Professor Maxon's campong, left unlatched earlier in the evening by von Horn for sinister motives of his own, was still unbarred through a fatal coincidence of forgetfulness on the part of the professor.
Number Thirteen approached this door. He laid his hand upon the knob. A moment later he was moving noiselessly across the campong toward the house in which Professor Maxon lay peacefully sleeping; while at the south gate Bududreen and his six cutthroats crept cautiously within and slunk in the dense shadows of the palisade toward the workshop where lay the heavy chest of their desire. At the same instant Muda Saffir with fifty of his head-hunting Dyaks emerged from the jungle east of the camp, bent on discovering the whereabouts of the girl the Malay sought and bearing her away to his savage court far within the jungle fastness of his Bornean principality.
Number Thirteen reached the verandah of the house and peered through the window into the living room, where an oil lamp, turned low, dimly lighted the interior, which he saw was unoccupied. Going to the door he pushed it open and entered the apartment. All was still within. He listened intently for some slight sound which might lead him to the victim he sought, or warn him from the apartment of the girl or that of von Horn--his business was with Professor Maxon. He did not wish to disturb the others whom he believed to be sleeping somewhere within the structure--a low, rambling bungalow of eight rooms.
Cautiously he approached one of the four doors which opened from the living room. Gently he turned the knob and pushed the door ajar. The interior of the apartment beyond was in inky darkness, but Number Thirteen's greatest fear was that he might have stumbled upon the sleeping room of Virginia Maxon, and that if she were to discover him there, not only would she be frightened, but her cries would alarm the other inmates of the dwelling.
The thought of the horror that his presence would arouse within her, the knowledge that she would look upon him as a terrifying monstrosity, added new fuel to the fires of hate that raged in his bosom against the man who had created him. With clenched fists, and tight set jaws the great, soulless giant moved across the dark chamber with the stealthy noiselessness of a tiger. Feeling before him with hands and feet he made the circuit of the room before he reached the bed.
Scarce breathing he leaned over and groped across the covers with his fingers in search of his prey--the bed was empty. With the discovery came a sudden nervous reaction that sent him into a cold sweat. Weakly, he seated himself upon the edge of the bed. Had his fingers found the throat of Professor Maxon beneath the coverlet they would never have released their hold until life had forever left the body of the scientist, but now that the highest tide of the young man's hatred had come and gone he found himself for the first time assailed by doubts.
Suddenly he recalled the fact that the man whose life he sought was the father of the beautiful creature he adored. Perhaps she loved him and would be unhappy were he taken away from her. Number Thirteen did not know, of course, but the idea obtruded itself, and had sufficient weight to cause him to remain seated upon the edge of the bed meditating upon the act he contemplated. He had by no means given up the idea of killing Professor Maxon, but now there were doubts and obstacles which had not been manifest before.
His standards of right and wrong were but half formed, from the brief attempts of Professor Maxon and von Horn to inculcate proper moral perceptions in a mind entirely devoid of hereditary inclinations toward either good or bad, but he realized one thing most perfectly--that to be a soulless thing was to be damned in the estimation of Virginia Maxon, and it now occurred to him that to kill her father would be the act of a soulless being. It was this thought more than another that caused him to pause in the pursuit of his revenge, since he knew that the act he contemplated would brand him the very thing he was, yet wished not to be.
At length, however, he slowly comprehended that no act of his would change the hideous fact of his origin; that nothing would make him acceptable in her eyes, and with a shake of his head he arose and stepped toward the living room to continue his search for the professor.
In the workshop Bududreen and his men had easily located the chest. Dragging it into the north campong the Malay was about to congratulate himself upon the ease with which the theft had been accomplished when one of his fellows declared his intention of going to the house for the purpose of dispatching Professor Maxon, lest the influence of his evil eye should overtake them with some terrible curse when the loss of the chest should be discovered.
While this met fully with Bududreen's plans he urged the man against any such act that he might have witnesses to prove that he not only had no hand in the crime, but had exerted his authority to prevent it; but when two of the men separated themselves from the party and crept toward the bungalow no force was interposed to stop them. The moon had risen now, so that from the dark shadows of the palisade Muda Saffir and his savages watched the party with Bududreen squatting about the heavy chest, and saw the two who crept toward the house. To Muda Saffir's evil mind there was but one explanation. Bududreen had discovered a rich treasure, and having stolen that had dispatched two of his men to bring him the girl also.
Rajah Muda Saffir was furious. In subdued whispers he sent a half dozen of his Dyaks back beneath the shadow of the palisade to the opposite side of the bungalow where they were to enter the building, killing all within except the girl, whom they were to carry straight to the beach and the war prahus.
Then with the balance of his horde he crept alone in the darkness until opposite Bududreen and the watchers about the chest. Just as the two who crept toward the bungalow reached it, Muda Saffir gave the word for the attack upon the Malays and lascars who guarded the treasure. With savage yells they dashed upon the unsuspecting men. Parangs and spears glistened in the moonlight. There was a brief and bloody encounter, for the cowardly Bududreen and his equally cowardly crew had had no alternative but to fight, so suddenly had the foe fallen upon them.
In a moment the savage Borneo head hunters had added five grisly trophies to their record. Bududreen and another were racing madly toward the jungle beyond the campong.
As Number Thirteen arose to continue his search for Professor Maxon his quick ear caught the shuffling of bare feet upon the verandah. As he paused to listen there broke suddenly upon the still night the hideous war cries of the Dyaks, and the screams and shrieks of their frightened victims in the campong without. Almost simultaneously Professor Maxon and Sing rushed into the living room to ascertain the cause of the wild alarm, while at the same instant Bududreen's assassins sprang through the door with upraised krisses, to be almost immediately followed by Muda Saffir's six Dyaks brandishing their long spears and wicked parangs.
In an instant the little room was filled with howling, fighting men. The Dyaks, whose orders as well as inclinations incited them to a general massacre, fell first upon Bududreen's lascars who, cornered in the small room, fought like demons for their lives, so that when the Dyaks had overcome them two of their own number lay dead beside the dead bodies of Bududreen's henchmen.
Sing and Professor Maxon stood in the doorway to the professor's room gazing upon the scene of carnage in surprise and consternation. The scientist was unarmed, but Sing held a long, wicked looking Colt in readiness for any contingency. It was evident the celestial was no stranger to the use of his deadly weapon, nor to the moments of extreme and sudden peril which demanded its use, for he seemed no more perturbed than had he been but hanging out his weekly wash.
As Number Thirteen watched the two men from the dark shadows of the room in which he stood, he saw that both were calm--the Chinaman with the calmness of perfect courage, the other through lack of full understanding of the grave danger which menaced him. In the eyes of the latter shone a strange gleam--it was the wild light of insanity that the sudden nervous shock of the attack had brought to a premature culmination.
Now the four remaining Dyaks were advancing upon the two men. Sing levelled his revolver and fired at the foremost, and at the same instant Professor Maxon, with a shrill, maniacal scream, launched himself full upon a second. Number Thirteen saw the blood spurt from a superficial wound in the shoulder of the fellow who received Sing's bullet, but except for eliciting a howl of rage the missile had no immediate effect. Then Sing pulled the trigger again and again, but the cylinder would not revolve and the hammer fell futilely upon the empty cartridge. As two of the head hunters closed upon him the brave Chinaman clubbed his weapon and went down beneath them beating madly at the brown skulls.
The man with whom Professor Maxon had grappled had no opportunity to use his weapons for the crazed man held him close with one encircling arm while he tore and struck at him with his free hand. The fourth Dyak danced around the two with raised parang watching for an opening that he might deliver a silencing blow upon the white man's skull.
The great odds against the two men--their bravery in the face of death, their grave danger--and last and greatest, the fact that one was the father of the beautiful creature he worshipped, wrought a sudden change in Number Thirteen. In an instant he forgot that he had come here to kill the white-haired man, and with a bound stood in the center of the room-- an unarmed giant towering above the battling four.
The parang of the Dyak who sought Professor Maxon's life was already falling as a mighty hand grasped the wrist of the head hunter; but even then it was too late to more than lessen the weight of the blow, and the sharp edge of the blade bit deep into the forehead of the white man. As he sank to his knees his other antagonist freed an arm from the embrace which had pinioned it to his side, but before he could deal the professor a blow with the short knife that up to now he had been unable to use, Number Thirteen had hurled his man across the room and was upon him who menaced the scientist. Tearing him loose from his prey, he raised him far above his head and threw him heavily against the opposite wall, then he turned his attention toward Sing's assailants. All that had so far saved the Chinaman from death was the fact that the two savages were each so anxious to secure his head for the verandah rafters of his own particular long-house that they interfered with one another in the consummation of their common desire.
Although battling for his life, Sing had not failed to note the advent of the strange young giant, nor the part he had played in succoring the professor, so that it was with a feeling of relief that he saw the newcomer turn his attention toward those who were rapidly reducing the citadel of his own existence.
The two Dyaks who sought the trophy which nature had set upon the Chinaman's shoulders were so busily engaged with their victim that they knew nothing of the presence of Number Thirteen until a mighty hand seized each by the neck and they were raised bodily from the floor, shaken viciously for an instant, and then hurled to the opposite end of the room upon the bodies of the two who had preceded them.
As Sing came to his feet he found Professor Maxon lying in a pool of his own blood, a great gash in his forehead. He saw the white giant standing silently looking down upon the old man. Across the room the four stunned Dyaks were recovering consciousness. Slowly and fearfully they regained their feet, and seeing that no attention was being paid them, cast a parting, terrified look at the mighty creature who had defeated them with his bare hands, and slunk quickly out into the darkness of the campong.
When they caught up with Rajah Muda Saffir near the beach, they narrated a fearful tale of fifty terrible white men with whom they had battled valiantly, killing many, before they had been compelled to retreat in the face of terrific odds. They swore that even then they had only returned because the girl was not in the house--otherwise they should have brought her to their beloved master as he had directed.
Now Muda Saffir believed nothing that they said, but he was well pleased with the great treasure which had so unexpectedly fallen into his hands, and he decided to make quite sure of that by transporting it to his own land-- later he could return for the girl. So the ten war prahus of the Malay pulled quietly out of the little cove upon the east side of the island, and bending their way toward the south circled its southern extremity and bore away for Borneo.
In the bungalow within the north campong Sing and Number Thirteen had lifted Professor Maxon to his bed, and the Chinaman was engaged in bathing and bandaging the wound that had left the older man unconscious. The white giant stood beside him watching his every move. He was trying to understand why sometimes men killed one another and again defended and nursed. He was curious as to the cause of his own sudden change in sentiment toward Professor Maxon. At last he gave the problem up as beyond his powers of solution, and at Sing's command set about the task of helping to nurse the man whom he considered the author of his unhappiness and whom a few short minutes before he had come to kill.
As the two worked over the stricken man their ears were suddenly assailed by a wild commotion from the direction of the workshop. There were sounds of battering upon wood, loud growls and roars, mingled with weird shrieks and screams and the strange, uncanny gibbering of brainless things.Sing looked quickly up at his companion. "Whallee mallee?" he asked. The giant did not answer. An expression of pain crossed his features, and he shuddered-but not from fear.
Chapter 7. The Bull Whip
As von Horn and Virginia Maxon walked slowly beneath the dense shadows of the jungle he again renewed his suit. It would please him more to have the girl accompany him voluntarily than to be compelled to take her by force, but take her he would one way or another, and that, this very night, for all the plans were made and already under way.
"I cannot do it, Doctor von Horn," she had said. "No matter how much danger I may be in here I cannot desert my father on this lonely isle with only savage lascars and the terrible monsters of his own creation surrounding him. Why, it would be little short of murder for us to do such a thing. I cannot see how you, his most trusted lieutenant, can even give an instant's consideration to the idea."And now that you insist that his mind is sorely affected, it is only an added reason why I must remain with him to protect him so far as I am able, from himself and his enemies." Von Horn did not relish the insinuation in the accent which the girl put upon the last word.
"It is because I love you so, Virginia," he hastened to urge in extenuation of his suggested disloyalty. "I cannot see you sacrificed to his horrible mania. You do not realize the imminence of your peril. Tomorrow Number Thirteen was to have come to live beneath the same roof with you. You recall Number One whom the stranger killed as the thing was bearing you away through the jungle? Can you imagine sleeping in the same house with such a soulless thing? Eating your three meals a day at the same table with it? And knowing all the time that in a few short weeks at the most you were destined to be given to the thing as its mate? Virginia, you must be mad to consider for a moment remaining within reach of such a terrible peril.
"Come to Singapore with me--it will take but a few days--and then we can return with some good medical man and a couple of Europeans, and take your father away from the terrible creatures he has created. You will be mine then and safe from the awful fate that now lies back there in the camp awaiting you. We can take your father upon a long trip where rest and quiet can have an opportunity to restore his enfeebled mentality. Come, Virginia! Come with me now. We can go directly to the Ithaca and safety. Say that you will come."The girl shook her head.
"I do not love you, I am afraid, Doctor von Horn, or I should certainly be moved by your appeal. If you wish to bring help for my father I shall never cease to thank you if you will go to Singapore and fetch it, but it is not necessary that I go. My place is here, near him." In the darkness the girl did not see the change that came over the man's face, but his next words revealed his altered attitude with sufficient exactitude to thoroughly arouse her fears.
"Virginia," he said, "I love you, and I intend to have you. Nothing on earth can prevent me. When you know me better you will return my love, but now I must risk offending you that I may save you for myself from the monstrous connection which your father contemplates for you. If you will not come away from the island with me voluntarily I consider it my duty to take you away by force.""You would never do that, Doctor von Horn!" she exclaimed.
Von Horn had gone too far. He cursed himself inwardly for a fool. Why the devil didn't that villain, Bududreen, come! He should have been along to act his part half an hour before.
"No, Virginia," said the man, softly, after a moment's silence, "I could not do that; though my judgment tells me that I should do it. You shall remain here if you insist and I will be with you to serve and protect both you and your father."
The words were fair, but the girl could not forget the ugly tone that had tinged his preceding statement. She felt that she would be glad when she found herself safely within the bungalow once more."Come," she said, "it is late. Let us return to camp." Von Horn was about to reply when the war cries of Muda Saffir's Dyaks as they rushed out upon Bududreen and his companions came to them distinctly through the tropic night. "What was that?" cried the girl in an alarmed tone. "God knows," replied von Horn. "Can it be that our men have mutinied?" He thought the six with Bududreen were carrying out their part in a most realistic manner, and a grim smile tinged his hard face. Virginia Maxon turned resolutely toward the camp.
"I must go back there to my father," she said, "and so must you. Our place is there--God give that we be not too late," and before von Horn could stop her she turned and ran through the darkness of the jungle in the direction of the camp.
Von Horn dashed after her, but so black was the night beneath the overhanging trees, festooned with their dark myriad creepers, that the girl was out of sight in an instant, and upon the soft carpet of the rotting vegetation her light footfalls gave no sound. The doctor made straight for the camp, but Virginia, unused to jungle trailing even by day, veered sharply to the left. The sounds which had guided her at first soon died out, the brush became thicker, and presently she realized that she had no conception of the direction of the camp. Coming to a spot where the trees were less dense, and a little moonlight filtered to the ground, she paused to rest and attempt to regain her bearings.
As she stood listening for some sound which might indicate the whereabouts of the camp, she detected the noise of a body approaching through the underbrush. Whether man or beast she could but conjecture and so she stood with every nerve taut waiting the thing that floundered heavily toward her. She hoped it might be von Horn, but the hideous war cries which had apprised her of enemies at the encampment made her fear that fate might be directing the footsteps of one of these upon her.
Nearer and nearer came the sound, and the girl stood poised ready to fly when the dark face of Bududreen suddenly emerged into the moonlight beside her. With an hysterical cry of relief the girl greeted him."Oh, Bududreen," she exclaimed, "what has happened at camp? Where is my father? Is he safe? Tell me."
The Malay could scarce believe the good fortune which had befallen him so quickly following the sore affliction of losing the treasure. His evil mind worked quickly, so that he grasped the full possibilities that were his before the girl had finished her questioning.
"The camp was attacked by Dyaks, Miss Maxon," he replied. "Many of our men were killed, but your father escaped and has gone to the ship. I have been searching for you and Doctor von Horn. Where is he?""He was with me but a moment ago. When we heard the cries at camp I hastened on to discover what calamity had befallen us--we became separated."
"He will be safe," said Bududreen, "for two of my men are waiting to guide you and the doctor to the ship in case you returned to camp before I found you. Come, we will hasten on to the harbor. Your father will be worried if we are long delayed, and he is anxious to make sail and escape before the Dyaks discover the location of the Ithaca."
The man's story seemed plausible enough to Virginia, although she could not repress a little pang of regret that her father had been willing to go on to the harbor before he knew her fate. However, she explained that by her belief that his mind was unbalanced through constant application to his weird obsession.
Without demur, then, she turned and accompanied the rascally Malay toward the harbor. At the bank of the little stream which led down to the Ithaca's berth the man lifted her to his shoulder and thus bore her the balance of the way to the beach. Here two of his men were awaiting him in one of the ship's boats, and without words they embarked and pulled for the vessel.
Once on board Virginia started immediately for her father's cabin. As she crossed the deck she noticed that the ship was ready to sail, and even as she descended the companionway she heard the rattle of the anchor chain about the capstan. She wondered if von Horn could be on board too. It seemed remarkable that all should have reached the Ithaca so quickly, and equally strange that none of her own people were on deck to welcome her, or to command the vessel.
To her chagrin she found her father's cabin empty, and a moment's hurried investigation disclosed the fact that von Horn's was unoccupied as well. Now her doubts turned quickly to fears, and with a little gasp of dismay at the grim possibilities which surged through her imagination she ran quickly to the companionway, but above her she saw that the hatch was down, and when she reached the top that it was fastened. Futilely she beat upon the heavy planks with her delicate hands, calling aloud to Bududreen to release her, but there was no reply, and with the realization of the hopelessness of her position she dropped back to the deck, and returned to her stateroom. Here she locked and barricaded the door as best she could, and throwing herself upon the berth awaited in dry-eyed terror the next blow that fate held in store for her.
Shortly after von Horn became separated from Virginia he collided with the fleeing lascar who had escaped the parangs of Muda Saffir's head hunters at the same time as had Bududreen. So terror stricken was the fellow that he had thrown away his weapons in the panic of flight, which was all that saved von Horn from death at the hands of the fear crazed man. To him, in the extremity of his fright, every man was an enemy, and the doctor had a tough scuffle with him before he could impress upon the fellow that he was a friend.
From him von Horn obtained an incoherent account of the attack, together with the statement that he was the only person in camp that escaped, all the others having been cut down by the savage horde that overwhelmed them. It was with difficulty that von Horn persuaded the man to return with him to the campong, but finally, he consented to do so when the doctor with drawn revolver, presented death as the only alternative.
Together they cautiously crept back toward the palisade, not knowing at what moment they might come upon the savage enemy that had wrought such havoc among their forces, for von Horn believed the lascar's story that all had perished. His only motive for returning lay in his desire to prevent Virginia Maxon falling into the hands of the Dyaks, or, failing that, rescuing her from their clutches.
Whatever faults and vices were Carl von Horn's cowardice was not one of them, and it was without an instant's hesitation that he had elected to return to succor the girl he believed to have returned to camp, although he entertained no scruples regarding the further pursuit of his dishonorable intentions toward her, should he succeed in saving her from her other enemies.
As the two approached the campong quiet seemed to have again fallen about the scene of the recent alarm. Muda Saffir had passed on toward the cove with the heavy chest, and the scrimmage in the bungalow was over. But von Horn did not abate his watchfulness as he stole silently within the precincts of the north campong, and, hugging the denser shadows of the palisade, crept toward the house.
The dim light in the living room drew him to one of the windows which overlooked the verandah. A glance within showed him Sing and Number Thirteen bending over the body of Professor Maxon. He noted the handsome face and perfect figure of the young giant. He saw the bodies of the dead lascars and Dyaks. Then he saw Sing and the young man lift Professor Maxon tenderly in their arms and bear him to his own room.
A sudden wave of jealous rage swept through the man's vicious brain. He saw that the soulless thing within was endowed with a kindlier and more noble nature than he himself possessed. He had planted the seed of hatred and revenge within his untutored heart without avail, for he read in the dead bodies of Bududreen's men and the two Dyaks the story of Number Thirteen's defense of the man von Horn had hoped he would kill.
Von Horn was quite sure now that Virginia Maxon was not within the campong. Either she had become confused and lost in the jungle after she left him, or had fallen into the hands of the wild horde that had attacked the camp. Convinced of this, there was no obstacle to thwart the sudden plan which entered his malign brain. With a single act he could rid himself of the man whom he had come to look upon as a rival, whose physical beauty aroused his envy and jealousy; he could remove, in the person of Professor Maxon, the parental obstacle which might either prevent his obtaining the girl, or make serious trouble for him in case he took her by force, and at the same time he could transfer to the girl's possession the fortune which was now her father's--and he could accomplish it all without tainting his own hands with the blood of his victims.
As the full possibilities of his devilish scheme unfolded before his mind's eye a grim smile curled his straight, thin lips at the thought of the fate which it entailed for the creator of the hideous monsters of the court of mystery.
As he turned away from the bungalow his eye fell upon the trembling lascar who had accompanied him to the edge of the verandah. He must be rid of the fellow in some way-no eye must see him perpetrate the deed he had in mind. A solution quickly occurred to him.
"Hasten to the harbor," he said to the man in a low voice, "and tell those on board the ship that I shall join them presently. Have all in readiness to sail. I wish to fetch some of my belongings--all within the bungalow are dead."
No command could have better suited the sailor. Without a word he turned and fled toward the jungle. Von Horn walked quickly to the workshop. The door hung open. Through the dark interior he strode straight to the opposite door which let upon the court of mystery. On a nail driven into the door frame hung a heavy bull whip. The doctor took it down as he raised the strong bar which held the door. Then he stepped through into the moonlit inner campong--the bull whip in his right hand, a revolver in his left. A half dozen misshapen monsters roved restlessly about the hard packed earth of the pen. The noise of the battle in the adjoining enclosure had aroused them from slumber and awakened in their half formed brains vague questionings and fears. At sight of von Horn several of them rushed for him with menacing growls, but a swift crack of the bull whip brought them to a sudden realization of the identity of the intruder, so that they slunk away, muttering and whining in rage.
Von Horn passed quickly to the low shed in which the remainder of the eleven were sleeping. With vicious cuts from the stinging lash he lay about him upon the sleeping things. Roaring and shrieking in pain and anger the creatures stumbled to their feet and lumbered awkwardly into the open. Two of them turned upon their tormentor, but the burning weapon on their ill protected flesh sent them staggering back out of reach, and in another moment all were huddled in the center of the campong.
As cattle are driven, von Horn drove the miserable creatures toward the door of the workshop. At the threshold of the dark interior the frightened things halted fearfully, and then as von Horn urged them on from behind with his cruel whip they milled as cattle at the entrance to a strange corral.
Again and again he urged them for the door, but each time they turned away, and to escape the whip beat and tore at the wall of the palisade in a vain effort to batter it from their pathway. Their roars and shrieks were almost deafening as von Horn, losing what little remained of his scant self-control, dashed among them laying to right and left with the stern whip and the butt of his heavy revolver.
Most of the monsters scattered and turned back into the center of the enclosure, but three of them were forced through the doorway into the workshop, from the darkness of which they saw the patch of moonlight through the open door upon the opposite side. Toward this they scurried as von Horn turned back into the court of mystery for the others.Three more herculean efforts he made before he beat the last of the creatures through the outer doorway of the workshop into the north campong.
Among the age old arts of the celestials none is more strangely inspiring than that of medicine. Odd herbs and unspeakable things when properly compounded under a favorable aspect of the heavenly bodies are potent to achieve miraculous cures, and few are the Chinamen who do not brew some special concoction of their own devising for the lesser ills which beset mankind.
Sing was no exception in this respect. In various queerly shaped, bamboo covered jars he maintained a supply of tonics, balms and lotions. His first thought when he had made Professor Maxon comfortable upon the couch was to fetch his pet nostrum, for there burned strong within his yellow breast the same powerful yearning to experiment that marks the greatest of the profession to whose mysteries he aspired.
Though the hideous noises from the inner campong rose threateningly, the imperturbable Sing left the bungalow and passed across the north campong to the little lean-to that he had built for himself against the palisade that separated the north enclosure from the court of mystery.
Here he rummaged about in the dark until he had found the two phials he sought. The noise of the monsters upon the opposite side of the palisade had now assumed the dimensions of pandemonium, and through it all the Chinaman heard the constant crack that was the sharp voice of the bull whip.
He had completed his search and was about to return to the bungalow when the first of the monsters emerged into the north campong from the workshop. At the door of his shack Sing Lee drew back to watch, for he knew that behind them some one was driving these horribly grotesque creatures from their prison.
One by one they came lumbering into the moonlight until Sing had counted eleven, and then, after them, came a white man, bull whip and revolver in hand. It was von Horn. The equatorial moon shone full upon him--there could be no mistake. The Chinaman saw him turn and lock the workshop door; saw him cross the campong to the outer gate; saw him pass through toward the jungle, closing the gate.
Of a sudden there was a sad, low moaning through the surrounding trees; dense, black clouds obscured the radiant moon; and then with hideous thunder and vivid flashes of lightning the tempest broke in all its fury of lashing wind and hurtling deluge. It was the first great storm of the breaking up of the monsoon, and under the cover of its darkness Sing Lee scurried through the monster filled campong to the bungalow. Within he found the young man bathing Professor Maxon's head as he had directed him to do."All gettee out," he said, jerking his thumb in the direction of the court of mystery. "Eleven devils. Plenty soon come bung'low. What do?"
Number Thirteen had seen von Horn's extra bull whip hanging upon a peg in the living room. For answer he stepped into that room and took the weapon down. Then he returned to the professor's side.
Outside the frightened monsters groped through the blinding rain and darkness in search of shelter. Each vivid lightning flash, and bellowing of booming thunder brought responsive cries of rage and terror from their hideous lips. It was Number Twelve who first spied the dim light showing through the bungalow's living room window. With a low guttural to his companions he started toward the building. Up the low steps to the verandah they crept. Number Twelve peered through the window. He saw no one within, but there was warmth and dryness.
His little knowledge and lesser reasoning faculties suggested no thought of a doorway. With a blow he shattered the glass of the window. Then he forced his body through the narrow aperture. At the same moment a gust of wind sucking through the broken panes drew open the door, and as Number Thirteen, warned by the sound of breaking glass, sprang into the living room he was confronted by the entire horde of misshapen beings.
His heart went out in pity toward the miserable crew, but he knew that his life as well as those of the two men in the adjoining room depended upon the force and skill with which he might handle the grave crisis which confronted them. He had seen and talked with most of the creatures when from time to time they had been brought singly into the workshop that their creator might mitigate the wrong he had done by training the poor minds with which he had endowed them to reason intelligently.
A few were hopeless imbeciles, unable to comprehend more than the rudimentary requirements of filling their bellies when food was placed before them; yet even these were endowed with superhuman strength; and when aroused battled the more fiercely for the very reason of their brainlessness. Others, like Number Twelve, were of a higher order of intelligence. They spoke English, and, after a fashion, reasoned in a crude sort of way. These were by far the most dangerous, for as the power of comparison is the fundamental principle of reasoning, so they were able to compare their lot with that of the few other men they had seen, and with the help of von Horn to partially appreciate the horrible wrong that had been done them.
Von Horn, too, had let them know the identity of their creator, and thus implanted in their malformed brains the insidious poison of revenge. Envy and jealousy were there as well, and hatred of all beings other than themselves. They envied the ease and comparative beauty of the old professor and his assistant, and hated the latter for the cruelty of the bull whip and the constant menace of the ever ready revolver; and so as they were to them the representatives of the great human world of which they could never be a part, their envy and jealousy and hatred of these men embraced the entire race which they represented.It was such that Number Thirteen faced as he emerged from the professor's apartment. "What do you want here?" he said, addressing Number Twelve, who stood a little in advance of the others.
"We have come for Maxon," growled the creature. "We have been penned up long enough. We want to be out here. We have come to kill Maxon and you and all who have made us what we are.""Why do you wish to kill me?" asked the young man. "I am one of you. I was made in the same way that you were made." Number Twelve opened his mismated eyes in astonishment. "Then you have already killed Maxon?" he asked. "No. He was wounded by a savage enemy. I have been helping to make him well again.
He has wronged me as much as he has you. If I do not wish to kill him, why should you? He did not mean to wrong us. He thought that he was doing right. He is in trouble now and we should stay and protect him."
"He lies," suddenly shouted another of the horde. "He is not one of us. Kill him! Kill him! Kill Maxon, too, and then we shall be as other men, for it is these men who keep us as we are."The fellow started forward toward Number Thirteen as he spoke, and moved by the impulse of imitation the others came on with him. "I have spoken fairly to you," said Number Thirteen in a low voice. "If you cannot understand fairness here is something you can understand."
Raising the bull whip above his head the young giant leaped among the advancing brutes and lay about him with mighty strokes that put to shame the comparatively feeble blows with which von Horn had been wont to deal out punishment to the poor, damned creatures of the court of mystery.
For a moment they stood valiantly before his attack, but after two had grappled with him and been hurled headlong to the floor they gave up and rushed incontinently out into the maelstrom of the screaming tempest.
In the doorway behind him Sing Lee had been standing waiting the outcome of the encounter and ready to lend a hand were it required. As the two men turned back into the professor's room they saw that the wounded man's eyes were open and upon them. At sight of Number Thirteen a questioning look came into his eyes."What has happened?" he asked feebly of Sing. "Where is my daughter? Where is Dr. von Horn? What is this creature doing out of his pen?"
The blow of the parang upon the professor's skull had shocked his overwrought mind back into the path of sanity. It had left him with a clear remembrance of the past, other than the recent fight in the living room--that was a blank--and it had given him a clearer perspective of the plans he had been entertaining for so long relative to this soulless creature.
The first thought that sprang to his mind as he saw Number Thirteen before him was of his mad intention to give his daughter to such a monstrous thing. With the recollection came a sudden loathing and hatred of this and the other creatures of his unholy experimentations.Presently he realized that his questions had not been answered. "Sing!" he shouted. "Answer me. Where are Virginia and Dr. von Horn?"
"All gonee. Me no know. All gonee. Maybeso allee dead." "My God!" groaned the stricken man; and then his eyes again falling upon the silent giant in the doorway, "Out of my sight," he shrieked. "Out of my sight! Never let me see you again--and to think that I would have given my only daughter to a soulless thing like you. Away! Before I go mad and slay you."
Slowly the color mounted to the neck and face of the giant-- then suddenly it receded, leaving him as ashen as death. His great hand gripped the stock of the bull whip. A single blow was all that would have been needed to silence Professor Maxon forever. There was murder in the wounded heart. The man took a step forward into the room, and then something drew his eyes to a spot upon the wall just above Professor Maxon's shoulder-- it was a photograph of Virginia Maxon.Without a word Number Thirteen turned upon his heel and passed out into the storm.
Chapter 8. The Soul Of Number 13
Scarcely had the Ithaca cleared the reef which lies almost across the mouth of the little harbor where she had been moored for so many months than the tempest broke upon her in all its terrific fury. Bududreen was no mean sailor, but he was short handed, nor is it reasonable to suppose that even with a full crew he could have weathered the terrific gale which beat down upon the hapless vessel. Buffeted by great waves, and stripped of every shred of canvas by the force of the mighty wind that howled about her, the Ithaca drifted a hopeless wreck soon after the storm struck her.
Below deck the terrified girl clung desperately to a stanchion as the stricken ship lunged sickeningly before the hurricane. For half an hour the awful suspense endured, and then with a terrific crash the vessel struck, shivering and trembling from stem to stern.
Virginia Maxon sank to her knees in prayer, for this she thought must surely be the end. On deck Bududreen and his crew had lashed themselves to the masts, and as the Ithaca struck the reef before the harbor, back upon which she had been driven, the tall poles with their living freight snapped at the deck and went overboard carrying every thing with them amid shrieks and cries of terror that were drowned and choked by the wild tumult of the night.
Twice the girl felt the ship strike upon the reef, then a great wave caught and carried her high into the air, dropping her with a nauseating lunge which seemed to the imprisoned girl to be carrying the ship to the very bottom of the ocean. With closed eyes she clung in silent prayer beside her berth waiting for the moment that would bring the engulfing waters and oblivion-- praying that the end might come speedily and release her from the torture of nervous apprehension that had terrorized her for what seemed an eternity.
After the last, long dive the Ithaca righted herself laboriously, wallowing drunkenly, but apparently upon an even keel in less turbulent waters. One long minute dragged after another, yet no suffocating deluge poured in upon the girl, and presently she realized that the ship had, at least temporarily, weathered the awful buffeting of the savage elements. Now she felt but a gentle roll, though the wild turmoil of the storm still came to her ears through the heavy planking of the Ithaca's hull.
For a long hour she lay wondering what fate had overtaken the vessel and whither she had been driven, and then, with a gentle grinding sound, the ship stopped, swung around, and finally came to rest with a slight list to starboard. The wind howled about her, the torrential rain beat loudly upon her, but except for a slight rocking the ship lay quiet.
Hours passed with no other sounds than those of the rapidly waning tempest. The girl heard no signs of life upon the ship. Her curiosity became more and more keenly aroused. She had that indefinable, intuitive feeling that she was utterly alone upon the vessel, and at length, unable to endure the inaction and uncertainty longer, made her way to the companion ladder where for half an hour she futilely attempted to remove the hatch. As she worked she failed to hear the scraping of naked bodies clambering over the ship's side, or the padding of unshod feet upon the deck above her. She was about to give up her work at the hatch when the heavy wooden cover suddenly commenced to move above her as though actuated by some supernatural power. Fascinated, the girl stood gazing in wide-eyed astonishment as one end of the hatch rose higher and higher until a little patch of blue sky revealed the fact that morning had come. Then the cover slid suddenly back and Virginia Maxon found herself looking into a savage and terrible face.
The dark skin was creased in fierce wrinkles about the eyes and mouth. Gleaming tiger cat's teeth curved upward from holes pierced to receive them in the upper half of each ear. The slit ear lobes supported heavy rings whose weight had stretched the skin until the long loop rested upon the brown shoulders. The filed and blackened teeth behind the loose lips added the last touch of hideousness to this terrible countenance.
Nor was this all. A score of equally ferocious faces peered down from behind the foremost. With a little scream Virginia Maxon sprang back to the lower deck and ran toward her stateroom. Behind her she heard the commotion of many men descending the companionway.
As Number Thirteen came into the campong after quitting the bungalow his heart was a chaos of conflicting emotions. His little world had been wiped out. His creator--the man whom he thought his only friend and benefactor--had suddenly turned against him. The beautiful creature he worshipped was either lost or dead; Sing had said so. He was nothing but a miserable THING. There was no place in the world for him, and even should he again find Virginia Maxon, he had von Horn's word for it that she would shrink from him and loathe him even more than another.
With no plans and no hopes he walked aimlessly through the blinding rain, oblivious of it and of the vivid lightning and deafening thunder. The palisade at length brought him to a sudden stop. Mechanically he squatted on his haunches with his back against it, and there, in the midst of the fury of the storm he conquered the tempest that raged in his own breast. The murder that rose again and again in his untaught heart he forced back by thoughts of the sweet, pure face of the girl whose image he had set up in the inner temple of his being, as a gentle, guiding divinity.
"He made me without a soul," he repeated over and over again to himself, "but I have found a soul--she shall be my soul. Von Horn could not explain to me what a soul is. He does not know. None of them knows. I am wiser than all the rest, for I have learned what a soul is. Eyes cannot see it--fingers cannot feel it, but he who possess it knows that it is there for it fills his whole breast with a great, wonderful love and worship for something infinitely finer than man's dull senses can gauge-- something that guides him into paths far above the plain of soulless beasts and bestial men.
"Let those who will say that I have no soul, for I am satisfied with the soul I have found. It would never permit me to inflict on others the terrible wrong that Professor Maxon has inflicted on me--yet he never doubts his own possession of a soul. It would not allow me to revel in the coarse brutalities of von Horn--and I am sure that von Horn thinks he has a soul. And if the savage men who came tonight to kill have souls, then I am glad that my soul is after my own choosing--I would not care for one like theirs."
The sudden equatorial dawn found the man still musing. The storm had ceased and as the daylight brought the surroundings to view Number Thirteen became aware that he was not alone in the campong. All about him lay the eleven terrible men whom he had driven from the bungalow the previous night. The sight of them brought a realization of new responsibilities. To leave them here in the campong would mean the immediate death of Professor Maxon and the Chinaman. To turn them into the jungle might mean a similar fate for Virginia Maxon were she wandering about in search of the encampment-- Number Thirteen could not believe that she was dead. It seemed too monstrous to believe that he should never see her again, and he knew so little of death that it was impossible for him to realize that that beautiful creature ever could cease to be filled with the vivacity of life.
The young man had determined to leave the camp himself-- partly on account of the cruel words Professor Maxon had hurled at him the night before, but principally in order that he might search for the lost girl. Of course he had not the remotest idea where to look for her, but as von Horn had explained that they were upon a small island he felt reasonably sure that he should find her in time.
As he looked at the sleeping monsters near him he determined that the only solution of his problem was to take them all with him. Number Twelve lay closest to him, and stepping to his side he nudged him with the butt of the bull whip he still carried. The creature opened his dull eyes."Get up," said Number Thirteen. Number Twelve rose, looking askance at the bull whip.
"We are not wanted here," said Number Thirteen. "I am going away and you are all going with me. We shall find a place where we may live in peace and freedom. Are you not tired of always being penned up?""Yes," replied Number Twelve, still looking at the whip.
"You need not fear the whip," said the young man. "I shall not use it on those who make no trouble. Wake the others and tell them what I have said. All must come with me--those who refuse shall feel the whip."Number Twelve did as he was bid. The creatures mumbled among themselves for a few minutes. Finally Number Thirteen cracked his long whip to attract their attention.
"Come!" he said. Nine of them shuffled after him as he turned toward the outer gate--only Number Ten and Number Three held back. The young man walked quickly to where they stood eyeing him sullenly. The others halted to watch--ready to spring upon their new master should the tide of the impending battle turn against him. The two mutineers backed away snarling, their hideous features distorted in rage."Come!" repeated Number Thirteen. "We will stay here," growled Number Ten. "We have not yet finished with Maxon."
A loop in the butt of the bull whip was about the young man's wrist. Dropping the weapon from his hand it still dangled by the loop. At the same instant he launched himself at the throat of Number Ten, for he realized that a decisive victory now without the aid of the weapon they all feared would make the balance of his work easier.
The brute met the charge with lowered head and outstretched hands, and in another second they were locked in a clinch, tearing at one another like two great gorillas. For a moment Number Three stood watching the battle, and then he too sprang in to aid his fellow mutineer. Number Thirteen was striking heavy blows with his giant hands upon the face and head of his antagonist, while the long, uneven fangs of the latter had found his breast and neck a half dozen times. Blood covered them both. Number Three threw his enormous weight into the conflict with the frenzy of a mad bull.
Again and again he got a hold upon the young giant's throat only to be shaken loose by the mighty muscles. The excitement of the conflict was telling upon the malformed minds of the spectators. Presently one who was almost brainless, acting upon the impulse of suggestion, leaped in among the fighters, striking and biting at Number Thirteen. It was all that was needed--another second found the whole monstrous crew upon the single man.
His mighty strength availed him but little in the unequal conflict--eleven to one were too great odds even for those powerful thews. His great advantage lay in his superior intelligence, but even this seemed futile in the face of the enormous weight of numbers that opposed him. Time and again he had almost shaken himself free only to fall once more--dragged down by hairy arms about his legs.
Hither and thither about the campong the battle raged until the fighting mass rolled against the palisade, and here, at last, with his back to the structure, Number Thirteen regained his feet, and with the heavy stock of the bull whip beat off, for a moment, those nearest him. All were winded, but when those who were left of the eleven original antagonists drew back to regain their breath, the young giant gave them no respite, but leaped among them with the long lash they had such good reason to hate and fear.
The result was as his higher intelligence had foreseen-- the creatures scattered to escape the fury of the lash and a moment later he had them at his mercy. About the campong lay four who had felt the full force of his heavy fist, while not one but bore some mark of the battle.
Not a moment did he give them to recuperate after he had scattered them before he rounded them up once more near the outer gate--but now they were docile and submissive. In pairs he ordered them to lift their unconscious comrades to their shoulders and bear them into the jungle, for Number Thirteen was setting out into the world with his grim tribe in search of his lady love.
Once well within the jungle they halted to eat of the more familiar fruit which had always formed the greater bulk of their sustenance. Thus refreshed, they set out once more after the leader who wandered aimlessly beneath the shade of the tall jungle trees amidst the gorgeous tropic blooms and gay, songless birds-- and of the twelve only the leader saw the beauties that surrounded them or felt the strange, mysterious influence of the untracked world they trod. Chance took them toward the west until presently they emerged upon the harbor's edge, where from the matted jungle they overlooked for the first time the waters of the little bay and the broader expanse of strait beyond, until their eyes rested at last upon the blurred lines of distant Borneo.
From other vantage points at the jungle's border two other watchers looked out upon the scene. One was the lascar whom von Horn had sent down to the Ithaca the night before but who had reached the harbor after she sailed. The other was von Horn himself. And both were looking out upon the dismantled wreck of the Ithaca where it lay in the sand near the harbor's southern edge.Neither ventured forth from his place of concealment, for beyond the Ithaca ten prahus were pulling gracefully into the quiet waters of the basin.
Rajah Muda Saffir, caught by the hurricane the preceding night as he had been about to beat across to Borneo, had scurried for shelter within one of the many tiny coves which indent the island's entire coast. It happened that his haven of refuge was but a short distance south of the harbor in which he knew the Ithaca to be moored, and in the morning he decided to pay that vessel a visit in the hope that he might learn something of advantage about the girl from one of her lascar crew.
The wily Malay had long refrained from pillaging the Ithaca for fear such an act might militate against the larger villainy he purposed perpetrating against her white owner, but when he rounded the point and came in sight of the stranded wreck he put all such thoughts from him and made straight for the helpless hulk to glean whatever of salvage might yet remain within her battered hull.
The old rascal had little thought of the priceless treasure hidden beneath the Ithaca's clean swept deck as he ordered his savage henchmen up her sides while he lay back upon his sleeping mat beneath the canopy which protected his vice-regal head from the blistering tropic sun.
Number Thirteen watched the wild head hunters with keenest interest as they clambered aboard the vessel. With von Horn he saw the evident amazement which followed the opening of the hatch, though neither guessed its cause. He saw the haste with which a half dozen of the warriors leaped down the companionway and heard their savage shouts as they pursued their quarry within the bowels of the ship.
A few minutes later they emerged dragging a woman with them. Von Horn and Number Thirteen recognized the girl simultaneously, but the doctor, though he ground his teeth in futile rage, knew that he was helpless to avert the tragedy. Number Thirteen neither knew nor cared.
"Come!" he called to his grotesque horde. "Kill the men and save the girl--the one with the golden hair," he added as the sudden realization came to him that none of these creatures ever had seen a woman before. Then he dashed from the shelter of the jungle, across the beach and into the water, his fearful pack at his heels.
The Ithaca lay now in about five feet of water, and the war prahus of Muda Saffir rode upon her seaward side, so that those who manned them did not see the twelve who splashed through the water from land. Never before had any of the rescuers seen a larger body of water than the little stream which wound through their campong, but accidents and experiments in that had taught them the danger of submerging their heads. They could not swim, but all were large and strong, so that they were able to push their way rapidly through the water to the very side of the ship.
Here they found difficulty in reaching the deck, but in a moment Number Thirteen had solved the problem by requiring one of the taller of his crew to stand close in by the ship while the others clambered upon his shoulders and from there to the Ithaca's deck.
Number Thirteen was the first to pull himself over the vessel's side, and as he did so he saw some half dozen Dyaks preparing to quit her upon the opposite side. They were the last of the boarding party--the girl was nowhere in sight. Without waiting for his men the young giant sprang across the deck. His one thought was to find Virginia Maxon.
At the sound of his approach the Dyak turned, and at the sight of a pajama clad white man armed only with a long whip they emitted savage cries of anticipation, counting the handsome trophy upon the white one's shoulders as already theirs. Number Thirteen would have paid no attention whatever to them had they not molested him, for he wished only to reach the girl's side as quickly as possible; but in another moment he found himself confronted by a half dozen dancing wild men, brandishing wicked looking parangs, and crying tauntingly.
Up went the great bull whip, and without abating his speed a particle the man leaped into the midst of the wicked blades that menaced him. Right and left with the quickness of thought the heavy lash fell upon heads, shoulders and sword arms. There was no chance to wield a blade in the face of that terrific onslaught, for the whip fell, not with the ordinary force of a man-held lash, but with all the stupendous power of those giant shoulders and arms behind it.
A single blow felled the foremost head hunter, breaking his shoulder and biting into the flesh and bone as a heavy sword bites. Again and again the merciless leather fell, while in the boats below Muda Saffir and his men shouted loud cries of encouragement to their companions on the ship, and a wide-eyed girl in the stern of Muda Saffir's own prahu looked on in terror, hope and admiration at the man of her own race whom she felt was battling against all these odds for her alone.
Virginia Maxon recognized her champion instantly as he who had fought for her and saved her once before, from the hideous creature of her father's experiments. With hands tight pressed against her bosom the girl leaned forward, tense with excitement, watching every move of the lithe, giant figure, as, silhouetted against the brazen tropic sky, it towered above the dancing, shrieking head hunters who writhed beneath the awful lash.
Muda Saffir saw that the battle was going against his men, and it filled him with anger. Turning to one of his headmen he ordered two more boatloads of warriors to the Ithaca's deck. As they were rushing to obey their leader's command there was a respite in the fighting on the ship, for the three who had not fallen beneath the bull whip had leaped overboard to escape the fate which had overtaken their comrades.
As the reinforcements started to scale the vessel's side Number Thirteen's searching eyes found the girl in Muda Saffir's prahu, where it lay a little off from the Ithaca, and as the first of the enemy clambered over the rail she saw a smile of encouragement light the clear cut features of the man above her. Virginia Maxon sent back an answering smile--a smile that filled the young giant's heart with pride and happiness-- such a smile as brave men have been content to fight and die for since woman first learned the art of smiling.
Number Thirteen could have beaten back many of the reinforcing party before they reached the deck, but he did not care to do so. In the spontaneous ethics of the man there seemed no place for an unfair advantage over an enemy, and added to this was his newly acquired love of battle, so he was content to wait until his foes stood on an even footing with him before he engaged them. But they never came within reach of his ready lash. Instead, as they came above the ship's side they paused, wide-eyed and terror stricken, and with cries of fear and consternation dropped precipitately back into the sea, shouting warnings to those who were about to scale the hull.
Muda Saffir arose in his prahu cursing and reviling the frightened Dyaks. He did not know the cause of their alarm, but presently he saw it behind the giant upon the Ithaca's deck-- eleven horrible monstrosities lumbering forward, snarling and growling, to their leader's side.
At the sight his own dark countenance went ashen, and with trembling lips he ordered his oarsmen to pull for the open sea. The girl, too, saw the frightful creatures that surrounded the man upon the deck. She thought that they were about to attack him, and gave a little cry of warning, but in another instant she realized that they were his companions, for with him they rushed to the side of the ship to stand for a moment looking down upon the struggling Dyaks in the water below.
Two prahus lay directly beneath them, and into these the head hunters were scrambling. The balance of the flotilla was now making rapid headway under oars and sail toward the mouth of the harbor, and as Number Thirteen saw that the girl was being borne away from him, he shouted a command to his misshapen crew, and without waiting to see if they would follow him leaped into the nearer of the two boats beneath.
It was already half filled with Dyaks, some of whom were hastily manning the oars. Others of the head hunters were scrambling over the gunwale. In an instant pandemonium reigned in the little vessel. Savage warriors sprang toward the tall figure towering above them. Parangs flashed. The bull whip hissed and cracked, and then into the midst of it all came a horrid avalanche of fearful and grotesque monsters-- the young giant's crew had followed at his command.
The battle in the prahu was short and fierce. For an instant the Dyaks attempted to hold their own, but in the face of the snarling, rending horde that engulfed them terror got the better of them all, so that those who were not overcome dived overboard and swam rapidly toward shore.The other prahu had not waited to assist its companion, but before it was entirely filled had gotten under way and was now rapidly overhauling the balance of the fleet.
Von Horn had been an excited witness to all that had occurred upon the tranquil bosom of the little harbor. He had been filled with astonishment at sight of the inhabitants of the court of mystery fighting under the leadership of Number Thirteen, and now he watched interestedly the outcome of the adventure.
The sight of the girl being borne away in the prahu of the Malay rajah to a fate worse than death, had roused in him both keen regret and savage rage, but it was the life of ease that he was losing that concerned him most. He had felt so sure of winning Professor Maxon's fortune through either a forced or voluntary marriage with the girl that his feelings now were as of one whose rightful heritage has been foully wrested from him. The thought of the girl's danger and suffering were of but secondary consideration to him, for the man was incapable of either deep love or true chivalry.
Quite the contrary were the emotions which urged on the soulless creature who now found himself in undisputed possession of a Dyak war prahu. His only thought was of the girl being rapidly borne away across the glimmering waters of the strait. He knew not to what dangers she was exposed, or what fate threatened her. All he knew was that she had been taken by force against her will. He had seen the look of terror in her eyes, and the dawning hope die out as the boat that carried her had turned rapidly away from the Ithaca. His one thought now was to rescue her from her abductors and return her to her father. Of his own reward or profit he entertained no single thought--it was enough if he could fight for her. That would be reward sufficient.
Neither Number Thirteen nor any of his crew had ever before seen a boat, and outside of the leader there was scarcely enough brains in the entire party to render it at all likely that they could ever navigate it, but the young man saw that the other prahus were being propelled by the long sticks which protruded from their sides, and he also saw the sails bellying with wind, though he had but a vague conception of their purpose.
For a moment he stood watching the actions of the men in the nearest boat, and then he set himself to the task of placing his own men at the oars and instructing them in the manner of wielding the unfamiliar implements. For an hour he worked with the brainless things that constituted his party. They could not seem to learn what was required of them. The paddles were continually fouling one another, or being merely dipped into the water and withdrawn without the faintest semblance of a stroke made.
The tiresome maneuvering had carried them about in circles back and forth across the harbor, but by it Number Thirteen had himself learned something of the proper method of propelling and steering his craft. At last, more through accident than intent, they came opposite the mouth of the basin, and then chance did for them what days of arduous endeavor upon their part might have failed to accomplish.
As they hung wavering in the opening, the broad strait before them, and their quarry fast diminishing to small specks upon the distant horizon, a vagrant land breeze suddenly bellied the flapping sail. The prahu swung quickly about with nose pointed toward the sea, the sail filled, and the long, narrow craft shot out of the harbor and sped on over the dancing waters in the wake of her sisters.
On shore behind them the infuriated Dyaks who had escaped to the beach danced and shrieked; von Horn, from his hiding place, looked on in surprised wonder, and Bududreen's lascar cursed the fate that had left a party of forty head hunters upon the same small island with him.Smaller and smaller grew the retreating prahu as, straight as an arrow, she sped toward the dim outline of verdure clad Borneo.